The phrase that makes me doubt every word I've put on paper. It goes like this:

You pitch an idea to an agent. She loves it. She hands you her card like it's the Holy Grail (which it is) and says, "I really like that concept. Send me fifty pages and I'll look at the writing."

As John Madden would say, "Boom!" You made great yardage, but that tackle at the end is going to hurt tomorrow. Now, it isn't the idea that's at issue, but how well you present it. How well you write. So victory is tempered with apprehension. You'd better read that thing one more time and see if the writing is good, whatever "good" is.

Makes me think of all those times I made some poor student submit writing for my judgment. It has to be done, but "I need to see your writing" sure feels like a threat.

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Comment by Neil Nyren on June 23, 2009 at 2:40am
I never buy the ms of a first novel without reading an entire manuscript. It's the only way I can tell if the author is capable of sustaining the book all the way through. After that, when I know the author's work, I'm happy to buy from partials, but I have to know what the writer's capable of first.
Comment by Jack Getze on June 23, 2009 at 12:25am
IJ's comment makes me think of the HORSE WHISPERER, a book I only finished because the first 30 pages were so darned good, I kept thinking it would pick up again. It didn't. I hated the middle and the ending.
Comment by I. J. Parker on June 22, 2009 at 11:37pm
And that is why so many published books start out very strong and then disintegrate, both in narrative and language. The first 3 chapters were written as show pieces, perhaps with the help of a professional editor.

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