Abaddon Open Subs: the sample
2 years ago
Okay, here’s Blog #5 for our Open Submissions Month. This time I’ll have a crack at that pesky sample chapter…
And as before, some of this applies to any submissions channels you might go to in future.
READ THE GUIDELINES
Okay, go back to the blog on the synopsis and read the bit about the guidelines again, but twice this time.
Got it? It’s, like, extra important for the sample.
One of the most dismaying things to find, when you open a fresh submission manuscript, is a wall of really basic errors: typos, bad punctuation, word repetition. Don’t be this writer. Once you’ve written your sub, check it. Check it again. Get a friend to check it. Run a spellcheck (but remember that it’s no substitute for a human being).
We’re not going to be dicks about it. It doesn’t have to be perfect – hell, no book is perfect, even after all the rounds of edits and proofreads – but it does have to look like you took some effort. A handful of errors on a page is reasonable; a handful of errors in a paragraph is more of a problem.
Think of it as a job application (which it totally is!). When the job you’re applying for is “writer,” the one thing an employer wants to see on your application is proof you can write to a professional standard.
Look at what’s in the sample. Does it give us a good idea of what the book’s going to be like? If your book’s going to have a distinctive voice, is that voice evident in the sample? If there’s going to be a lot of action in the book, is there a bit of action in the sample? (This is super-important; a lot of otherwise great writers really struggle with action, so we’ll be looking for it.) Are you giving us a feel for the personalities of the characters?
Now, it may be that in the story you’ve planned, this stuff won’t all turn up in the first chapter. Fine; give us a later chapter. But in that case, tell us about that decision in your covering email. If your sample isn’t the beginning of the story, we’ll inevitably worry about why you don’t have confidence in the beginning. This is more important than you might think; at some point, a member of the public’s going to pick up this book, and whether they read past the first few pages depends a lot on how much those first few pages grab them. That’s why a lot of books start in media res (that’s fancy Latin for “in the middle of the action”), and only get to the worldbuilding and backstory after the first scene.
That said, we totally want you to strut your stuff, and if you think a later chapter’s the best way to do that, then go for it and tell us why.
And that’s it, really! This is the biggie; it’s where we can tell if you can write. As I mentioned in the Why They Won blog, we’ve commissioned people whose pitches we didn’t like, because the writing sample was strong enough that we invited them to pitch again. Make sure you shine!
Next up: Diversity.