1. The Piper

    The Piper Contributor Contributor

    Dec 28, 2016
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    Formatting Chapters

    Discussion in 'Publisher Discussion' started by The Piper, Sep 8, 2019.


    I think I've asked a question about this sort of thing before, but more related to chapter titles when we're moving between different time periods. This time, it's all about length! And if it needs moving, feel free, but the only other place I could think to put this was general writing, and I don't want to clog that up too much.

    So, a couple of questions.

    The way I've been formatting my chapters in my latest project has been to make them longer, but split them up. Probably doesn't make any sense. Essentially, I'll have a chapter, titled: eg. CHAPTER ONE: HARPER'S SONG. And then each scene in that chapter is numbered, so in this case 1,2,3,4,5,6. The scenes themselves are mostly between 500-1500 words, and the chapters have all (so far) been about 8,000 words total.

    With me so far?

    What this gives me is chapters that are more like parts, which I'm absolutely loving. I feel more comfortable giving them titles, what with them being more significant, and it's actually helping me write. A lot. I'm talking speed (which I know isn't necessarily always a good thing) and, in my own opinion at least, quality. Three months in, I've got three chapters left to go (a lot more work than it sounds, but I feel like I'm getting close to the end of my first draft).

    The problem is:

    1. How will a reader feel about this? I doubt it would make too much difference, but if the chapters start to feel more like parts - and if we've got 9 or 10 "parts" - then is that going to be jarring?

    2. How would I send samples? Usually (I know they all vary a little, but if it's any different they normally ask for a certain amount of words and that's pretty easy to figure out) the sample size asked for is three chapters. So in this case, would that mean three "chapters" (and therefore about 20-24K words) or three numbered scenes within my first chapter (about 2K words)? Neither of these obviously falls within the usual sort of amount so I'm wondering how that would work. Usually, with the length of chapters in my previous books, it would be about a 6-8K sample. Any thoughts? I've considered, for the purposes of submitting, re-numbering the scenes in my first chapter so I send the whole of it, and turn those 6 scenes into 3. Wouldn't make too much of a difference, but I don't know how they'd feel finding out that that's not actually how it's written.

    As I say, any thoughts would be appreciated. Sorry for the babble!
  2. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Jan 28, 2014
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    You probably could put this in General Writing, as we don't yet have a Formatting forum, I don't think. I could move your thread starter if you like.

    To tackle your question: This is just my opinion, mind you, but a typical fiction reader should be fine with it. Just be consistent. Only reservation I'd have is if there were but five or fewer of these larger divisions. If I've got a 400-page book in hand and the table of contents says there's only four or so chapters, my heart would sink and I'd be thinking, "Oh, no, I'll never get through a chapter that long!" Around ten would be good, I think.

    As to sending samples, you mean to an agent or a trad pub editor? Do you have an agent or editor already? If not (since this is the Publishing forum), I'll urge you to turn your back on that idea and explore the wonderful new world of independent publishing. Unless a trad publisher thinks you're going to make them a boatload of money within six months of release, they won't do much for you past the editing and cover design and listing your book in their wholesale catalog. Bookstores won't be obligated to stock your novel, the marketing will pretty much be on you, you'll be lucky to earn 12% per copy in royalties (of which you'll have to pay 15% to your agent), and your rights will become part of the publisher's intellectual property, not yours, for as long as the contract is in effect. Which is usually for a very long time. As an indie, you can hire inexpensive editors and cover designers, and you'll be at a lot less time and effort and grief over it than you will be sending out query after query, after query.

    If you're determined to go trad, leave the chapters and scenes the way you have them. You've got them like that because they're part and parcel of your artistic vision for this novel, right? If you say, "Well, actually . . . " to an agent after she's interested, it might look like a) you're not confident in your own work, and b) you're not being honest.

    If the novel goes to publication with a trad company (and that is a very big If for those of us just starting out), their editor will be more than happy to rejigger your system (and a lot of other things) if she thinks the book won't sell the way you have it. But don't borrow trouble now.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
  3. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

    Oct 29, 2018
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    Stephen King. I don't know how much King you've read, but he does it all the time, and regardless of whether or not one loves or hates his work, he's one of a few gold standards for acceptable practices when it comes to modern, marketable devices. Many of his longer works (200k+) use this format (and several of his regular size books too.) He very often uses not only chapters and subchapters, but parts as well, so he'll have 3-5 parts, 5-20 chapters per part and 2-15 subs per chapter, sometimes more of each. All three vary wildly in number and length.

    So as far as formatting for the reader, you're golden. Shorter subchapters make it easier to consume, especially for busy people and people with short attention spans who nonetheless feel the need to reach a milestone before they can stop reading for the night. Longer chapters and parts also make for bigger milestones and break up monotony.

    As to how and what to submit, you could always reformat temporarily just for your query. I have no experience here, but I have been researching, and I'm being told over and over to never buck the system when it comes to prescribed submission criteria. You could find the cut off point that works best as a submission and split it up from there for the benefit of the intern/agent/editor who's reading it. You can replace subchapter numbers with line gaps and split the longer chapters into smaller ones, whatever fits the rules they laid out in their guidelines. If they're only asking for (and therefore only willing to read) one or two or three chapters, fine. They can see the better structure when they ask for more.

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