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Author Tip: The Sample Chapter

The sample chapter might seem like a pointless exercise to a new author, even more so to an experienced author. After all, if you’ve written an acceptable proposal, surely you’ve proven to your acquisitions editor that you have good writing skills. Why do they need a sample chapter?

First of all, the sample chapter will help you (the author) determine if you can write to the series guidelines/template provided by the editor. You might be a great writer, but do you have the skills to write to the appropriate audience? Are you able to deliver on all the key elements in the series? Are you able to provide the right amount of material for each topic in the chapter?

Second, if you’ve never written a book before, you’ll see how long it takes to write a chapter. You ought to be able to extrapolate from that to determine a reasonable, and realistic, writing schedule for the entire book. If it takes you a week to write the sample, don’t assume you’ll be able to write each subsequent chapter in 2 days or less. Also, don’t let your acquisitions editor bully you into thinking you’ll be able to write faster. You know your schedule, your other commitments, etc., better than anyone else.

Use the sample chapter to your advantage. Insist on detailed feedback from the acquisitions editor and/or a development editor. If you’re going to invest your time in a sample chapter, the least they can do is give it a thorough review and help coach you. Be very skeptical if the editor simply says, “hey, it looked great…we don’t have any comments…keep writing!” This could be a warning signal that nobody had the time to look it over and they’re anxious to hit the next manuscript delivery date on the schedule. That could mean a lot of rework for you and the editor down the road.

By the way, be sure to keep track of the amount of time you have to spend reworking the sample chapter to address the editor’s feedback. This will help you gauge the amount of work you’ll be faced with at the author review stage for the rest of the manuscript. However, if the editor does a good job providing high-level feedback, you should incorporate that feedback in the later chapters, making for less author review work down the road.

Comments

Brad Hill

Another reason to write a sample chapter: It helps new authors gauge the pace of their writing, and understand how much space is actually needed to cover their outline points. One of the common mistakes of new book writers (and I was vulnerable to this) is to overestimate how many words and pages are required to explain something. In particular, first-timers tend to think that important points require more space than less important points--definitely a false correlation. The most crucial feature of the book's topic might be the most easily explicable. I've helped a few newcomers, and in some cases whole chapters can, and should, be reduced to sidebars. There's nothing like doing some actual writing to figure out the book's pace.

EconOpinion

You hooked me within one minute of looking over the blog. I'm emailing the link to this website to everyone I know who is or might be an author. Now on to a comment about sample chapters. All of my coauthored books, which are textbooks, were sold to the publisher through a detailed outline plus two sample chapters. I intend to write at least one additional nonfiction book in the next year and will follow the same game plan. As I put the plan into motion, I'm looking forward to going through the archives and seeing what additional tips I can pick up.

Joe Wikert

Thanks for the support!

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