Why 3 Pages?

May 6th, 2008 • Kate

On my submissions page, I recommend that writers querying me include the first1 three pages of their manuscript along with their letter. Why these three pages? Mostly because I recognize that the art of writing a good, strong query letter isn’t the same as the art of writing a novel. (What to say or not say in a query letter is a WHOLE other topic to be tackled on another day.) Sometimes a writer’s voice sings out from the letter alone, and just on the basis of that material, I know I want to read more. More often though, I need to actually see something from the text to make my best, informed decision.
And if I’m on the fence about something? Well, if all I have is the letter alone, and I’m not sure about the project, 9 out of 10 times I’ll decline. But if I think “maybe” after reading the letter, and can then go on and read three pages — well, you might just convince me to ask for more.
Nothing’s a slam dunk, of course. The flip side of the above is that I might recognize in reading the first three pages that you have a killer idea, but I might see in the pages that you lack the expertise to write it well. That’s a chance you have to take.
When I get together with writers over lunch, or chatting at conferences, and someone pitches me, I always tell them to check out my guidelines online and email me. Why? Because that’s what I need to see to make my decision: a query letter and three pages.

1 Yes, the FIRST three pages. If your best sample pages aren’t the opening ones, how do you expect to catch a reader’s attention?

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3 Responses to “Why 3 Pages?”

  1. Caryn Says:

    I'm glad that you recognize that. The first three pages give you more to go on than just a query, but they don't take too much time to glance over and therefore slow down submissions too much. Several agents have said to just send the first three to five pages with every query, even if they haven't been requested. Still haven't decided if it's a good idea or not.

  2. Niko Says:

    The wording on the submissions page is pretty vague. It almost sounds like you'll "permit" writers to submit three pages, like, "I know you're all DYING to submit manuscript pages so I might as well let you," but here in the blog you say you prefer it. You might think about changing the "if you'd like to" on the submissions page to "I prefer that you," or something like that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Kate Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Niko. I've updated my submission guidelines to be more clear.