Refining Your Sample Chapters

For nonfiction book proposals, the sample chapters must equal your very best efforts. Some of the guidelines may seem like no-brainers, but just in case, we’ll list them again.
Writing Tip for Today: Polish the sample chapters until they are squeaky clean. Have at least two other readers check for typos or errors. Here are some other considerations:

  • Always submit the first 3 chapters as your sample. If you cull from chapter 15, for example, the agent/ed may wonder what’s wrong with your opening.
  • Keep your chapters an approximate length. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but readers get stopped if chapter one is 30 pp long, followed by a 5 page chapter and so on. Ten-twelve is a good length, but say what you need to to complete an idea and make the reader want to turn the page.
  • That’s right–even in nonfiction, I think chapters should at least raise more questions in a reader’s mind.  If you have the great idea in chapter 1, the other chapters will have a hard act to follow. Save your best material until the book is nearly ended, like a novel’s climax.
  • Watch for passive language. In nonfiction, passive constructions are a real danger. Stay with active verbs where it’s possible.
  • Watch the preachiness. You are passionate about your topic–that’s great. But don’t try to hard-sell or hit your reader over the head. Readers don’t (usually) like to be yelled at, talked down to or preached at. If your motive for writing is to educate, word your text in a way that is inviting and accessible.
  • Phrase your sentences in the positive instead of the negative. Do these things is easier to read than Don’t do this and that.

Readers: Send me any other questions or comments about nonfiction proposals and I’ll try to answer them.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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