On Requesting Twenty Pages

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On Requesting Twenty Pages

PaperstackThere are tons of different ways for agencies to ask for submissions. Some places request just a query. Some ask for a query plus a few pages. Some less reputable agencies ask for a query plus a head shot and your measurements.

When setting the submission guidelines, we at Upstart Crow had a lot to decide on. Should we accept queries through email or through an online form? What should we project for response times? Should every writer begin their query with a knock-knock joke? And, most importantly, how many pages should we ask for?

At my old agency, we asked for a query and the first two pages of a manuscript. I found with that setup that I could easily spot manuscripts that were completely wrong for me based on the query, and I could usually figure out in two pages if the writing had promise or not, but I found myself requesting a decent amount of material where I was somewhat unsure. I broke it down once and figured out that my request rate for seeing manuscripts was probably about 10% of the total queries I read.

With Upstart Crow, we decided against knock-knock jokes and instead to ask for 20 pages pasted into the body of the manuscript. (To see which 20 pages, refer to this post). I’m finding that the 20 pages gives me a great chance to read a good chunk of a manuscript and really get a sense of the writing, the pacing, the plot, and the strength of the characters. Do I know whether I’ll sign a book in 20 pages? No, of course not. Do I have a good sense of whether the author is serious about her story? For sure.

For me, the 20 pages makes it more difficult getting through submissions, since there’s more to read, but makes it easier for me to pass on material I may have flip-flopped on before.

How do you feel about it?

  1. Great post, Chris. I agree: Twenty pages makes getting through submissions more challenging for me, but it also gives me a better vibe on what I’m reading–and if I can/should pursue it.

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  2. My only problem is the whole in-the-body-of-the-email part. My yahoo mail wouldn’t allow me to send it that way because it was deemed “suspicious” activity (compounded, I’m sure, by the number of queries I had sent out in recent days). So I had to send from another, less professional, email address that I don’t check very often. I see where you guys are coming from and I’m more than happy to have you reading my 20 pages but it causes a bit of a hurdle for some email users.

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    • Hi Jen— Alas, we ask for it in the body of the email to save ourselves from viruses that the unscrupulous might disguise as manuscript submissions. Completely outlandish fear, but best to play it safe.

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  3. Twenty pages is good. I also agree with your reasoning. Coming from a writer’s perspective,I would say it also gives us a better chance that the agent will get hooked on the work, instead of just passing it off on first glance, as it might have been with just a query or synopsis.

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  4. I’ve been wondering, since many agents are going to electronic submissions, no attachments–how does that work for author/illustrators who want to submit a dummy or thumbnail sketches as part of the manuscript package?

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  5. As an author, I love the twenty pages with the query approach, even it takes longer for the agent to read my submission. Sorry to hear I can’t include knock-knock jokes…I’ve got a few good ones 😉

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  6. The 2 pages policy was nerve-wracking. 😀 Though getting 20 pages probably narrows your request rate, it’s better for authors – fewer will get their hopes up for naught. And, like Elysabeth Williams said above, it gives writers a broader opportunity to deliver the goods.

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  7. I love the twenty-page deal.

    I have noticed, though, in crit groups where we require a writing sample, that sometimes people who can’t write have crit partners polish their early pages to a high gloss. We invite them in and find they don’t know the difference between present and past tense or some other silly thing.

    Still, I’d much rather send twenty pages than five. It’s big of you. 🙂

    I imagine you can tell in the first couple of pages–or paragraphs, sometimes–if you’re going to reject, so it shouldn’t take you any longer to wade through the bulk of the submissions, I wouldn’t think.

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  8. I’m a big fan of the sample pages. The more pages, the better. For me it comes down to the idea of less back and forth for both the agent and author. The agent can see right from the first email if they like the story and writing not just the concept which gives the writer peace of mind knowing that it doesn’t all come down to the query. When you write over eighty thousand words it feels pretty good knowing you can at least share some of them from the start.

    I have no issue with pasting the pages into the email and see why it’s a good precaution, but I find that random symbols and numbers are placed within them from AOL. Very strange things like =20 will appear between two words in a sentence so I pray the agent doesn’t think this is a typo on my part!

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  9. Personally, I’m happy to wait a slightly longer period of time to hear from an agent if the exchange is that my story (and my writing, obviously) is judged on more than just the first couple pages.

    Maybe I’m an odd reader, but I don’t think I’ve ever put a book down because the first two pages didn’t grab me by the throat and drag me in. And a lot of books I consider favorites I didn’t necessarily love right from page one.

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  10. […] This post was Twitted by rillajaggia […]

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  11. I think it’s kind of crazy NOT to ask for twenty pages, ya know? Why would you just ask for a query when you can essentially read the partial whenever you want?

    And, if you HATE the query… then honestly there’s no reason for you to read the sample pages.

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  12. Bonnie, in terms of illustrators — rather than mail or attach a dummy, it’s an easy matter to have a link to a website. And saves on postage. And on time uploading and downloading massive art files. So I’d suggest emailing the text and, if that grabs us, we’ll take a look at your art on a website or ask you to email it then.

    The twenty pages are just an initial salvo. Once we ask for more, we’re happy to look at attachments. Just protecting ourselves.

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  13. First— Congrats on the new company! Kuddos…

    Mr. Richman,
    If submitting 20 pages will cut you off just a few pages from a comp’d Ch– would advise just adding the extra pages? OR is that too assuming?

    Welcome back,
    Charity Malm

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  14. I appreciate the opportunity to send in the twenty pages right off. It’s a nice time saver.

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  15. In the end, I like the 20 pages better too. As Jamie said, there’s no harm in including it (in an e-query, where no paper is wasted), because the agent can trash the email after reading the query if they want. And a request means more, because the agent has already read a small partial!

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  16. I like it. A query is a pitch. A lot of good writers aren’t good at pitching. In Hollywood pitching can be a specialty separate from actual writing. 20 pages is enough. If you suck at 20 you’ll suck at 200.

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  17. Charity: If adding an extra page gets to an end of a chapter, I don’t mind. If it takes 16 additional pages, I’ll likely mind.

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  18. For whatever its worth, when I started sending out agent queries, I specifically targeted agents that wanted bigger slices of my manuscript to review. I’m sure a lot of decisions are made within the first couple paragraphs of a query, regardless of how many pages are sent. But it seems like having more material to work with would streamline the process a little. Since electronic submissions so much easier than paper to store, acceess, and delete, it seems more efficient to request more, rather than traditional query-wait-partial- wait- full -wait process.

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  19. I appreciate that you accept 20 pages with a query letter. Though the initial reading must take longer, I imagine in the end, it saves you and the writer time. I also love that submissions through Upstart Crow are electronic. It’s amazing how much paper and ink are used in submitting manuscripts. Your policy is both a time and money saver. Thank you.

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  20. Chris – looking forward to being faculty with you at Midsouth. I met elizabeth in LA and she is hilarious and brilliant. what a combo. I was surprsied to find out that Egmont is the only nonprofit publisher around. amazing.

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  21. It’s not like you need another vote to call it, but I’m all for the twenty pages. The need to ‘hook’ a reader (whether agent, editor or bookstore browser) is clear, but not all stories explode into action in the first 500 words. Sometimes, a slightly slower, gentler start is what the work requires — and thus 20 pages gives a better idea of the whole than say, five.

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  22. I think the 20 page policy is great. It’s fair to writers, the manuscript, and yourself. Besides, you can stop reading at anytime or you can ask for more.

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  23. As a writer, this seems like it would give me a better chance to get a partial request…but if I were in your shoes, the daunting task of 20 pages to read for Each Query would keep me with two pages!

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  24. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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  25. […] ago, when we Crows were newly hatched, I wrote a post about how our submission guidelines ask for 20 pages with your queries. At the time, I was unsure whether or not this was the best way to go, more […]

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