Publishers may ask you to submit a writing sample, a project synopsis or both. The way you execute on that request can significantly affect your odds of having your material accepted.

Writing Sample

  • Offer something from the work you’re pitching, not material from an unrelated project.
  • Settle on roughly 2,000 words unless the publisher specifically requests something different.
  • Preface the sample with a few sentences setting up the context — e.g., identifying where the sample comes from (beginning, middle, end) and what immediately preceded the sample. Avoid giving something so out-of-place that a new reader unfamiliar with the work will be irritated by a lack of context. However, if you need to supply elaborate backstory to make the sample meaningful, select a different part of the story.
  • Your goal with a sample isn’t to sell the story, but rather, to give the publisher some sense of your skill purely as a craftsperson of the language. So don’t go for a shock-and-awe scene that’s going to jar a reader unfamiliar with the plot or the characters, because questions about the story itself will inevitably disrupt the evaluation process, and not in the author’s favor.
  • Format your sample correctly. In the absence of specific direction, use 1-inch margins and a conservative typeface at 12 points.
  • Don’t forget your speech tags and quotation marks!

One of the biggest reasons we reject manuscripts is because the sample failed in one of two ways: Either it was larded with spelling/syntax/formatting errors, or the point-of-view and characterization left editors puzzled. Your task as an author is to make us want to ask you for the complete manuscript. So, as the old knight said: “You must choose [your sample], but choose wisely.”

On the Art of Developing a Writing Sample

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