Why do publishers ask for the first three chapters of a MS?
Have you ever read the first chapter of a book and found it really bland, but because you’ve spent money on this book, or an author has asked you for an honest review, you push yourself to read at least the next two chapters. And when those do nothing for you either, the book is cast aside.
How many reviews have you seen with the words ‘couldn’t finish because I couldn’t relate’ or ‘the first chapters were so boring i figured the rest of the book will be the same’.
When author’s send a query to the publisher, attached is a book synopsis. How the synopsis is written influences whether or not the author will receive a callback requesting the first three chapters of the MS. This is where the author either secures a contract or receives a rejection letter. These first chapters need to be engaging, drawing the reader in and keeping them hooked to the end of the book. I call these chapters bait because they determine the readership of that book.
So can we blame publishers when they ask authors to either add or subtract to it? Can we truly blame publishers when at the end of the day, the book should be carrying the editor’s name not the author’s because it doesn’t resemble the original work?
Publishers never sign books that are not marketable despite how great the story may be. They would never place themselves in a position of facing huge losses because they believe in an author’s vision, in their creative ingenuity crossing their fingers hoping readers also see this. In circumstances where the publishers find the story interesting enough, they do ask authors to rework the book and re-submit.
Usually i ask myself, ‘why should i struggle to identify what i need to rework when i have no idea what they see as being wrong with it?’ This is because the publishers doesn’t want to spend more than what they deem necessary on editors. The less work the book needs the better/ cheaper for them. And once an author ‘reworked’ (and some authors just change one or two words and resubmit) and the publisher deems the changes satisfactory, the author receives a contract. The publishers gave the author a chance to perfect the MS and once the contract is signed, it’s their turn to do with it as they think best.
There is all this lingo that you need to read and understand before signing on the dotted line and most of the time, authors don’t take the necessary time to read and understand. Well, there are three sections that need undivided attention, the Royalties, rights and terms of agreement.
‘The author agrees to be open about changes the publishers believe the manuscript need and should not be obstinate. if so, the contract will be broken and author will pay for work already done up to the point of disagreement’
Yeah, authors really need to watch out for this line in their contracts because holding onto your integrity will end up costing a bundle. So for those who have no other choice but to agree, they do find that the book has undergone so many changes it doesn’t resemble the story s/he penned down. Why? Because publishers only publish marketable manuscripts. For those who published vampire books during the Twilight craze, they did find their books resembling that series a lot, just not so much as to risk being sued for plagiarism, because Edward and Bella was what was marketable during that time.
Book covers aren’t immune either. The author describes what they like, what they believe best tells their story in a picture or the models pose. You’d think that would be simple enough. No way. If publishers don’t like the description given, the author receives an email containing a cover s/he either didn’t approve of the first time or didn’t ask for with the comment ‘the publisher has made the executive decision to chose the final book cover‘.
Clearly, the publishing industry is just like any other entertainment industry in the world. Author’s are forced to conform to what is in season at the time and unique becomes the ugly step-sister. Well, unless there is just one or two things that make it standout from all the other zebras. It does explain why publishers have authors write books under one theme, or a plot line. See why there are so many self-published authors who do better than those represented. Because they are uniquely themselves, not a clone of Stephanie Meyer or the other big names in publishing.
So do you as an author fight for your vision or do you compromise? When does an author say I’d rather invest in my own work and be uniquely me or will they say as long as I’m getting paid they can do the hell they want with the book?
Books ought to be judged by their own merits, and what makes them unique and if the creative vision is compelling and engaging and not some business model. Personally, I don’t read books with the same plot line or story line unless there is something very unique about them. What’s the point of paying for three to five books that are the same nursery rhythm with the same melody and lyrics just sang by different people at a different tempo?