FAQ #4: How long can the chapters be in a chapter submission?

From a question by Elizabeth Boulware:

"A recent discussion began on the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Chat Board regarding the length of YA chapters, with the question specifically being is 72 pages for the first three chapters too long for a submission. The consensus of the published writers was that it was and what was more that a submission of that size would warrant an automatic rejection, regardless of the strength of the writing. . . . How long is too long?"

"Too long" is the point at which the editor decides to stop reading (which can happen as easily on page 7 as page 70). Enormously helpful, right? But it's true: The entire point of submitting chapters is to give the editor a taste of your writing and leave him or her wanting more -- wanting the whole manuscript, to be exact. Anything that causes us not to want that whole submission is not your friend, and "excessive length" is a definite candidate for the Enemies List.

Very few editors will reject a manuscript solely on the basis of length without even glancing at the writing: We're too trained to look for possibilities everywhere and in everything, too aware of what might grow from that first "You never know." That said, if I pull out a two-chapter submission that runs 50-odd pages, I'll think two things: (a) "Good lord, this final novel is going to be long," which could be wonderful but might also be exhausting; and more importantly (b) "The author better be able to justify the length of these chapters in the characters, action, and writing." If the author can justify it, I won't really care how long the chapters are, as I'll just want as much of the manuscript as I can get, period. And if the author can't -- well, again, I don't care how long the chapters are, as I'm turning it down anyway.

Sorry to be so cold-blooded about this, but I just went through my last month's submissions mail this week, and given that that required a whole valuable afternoon at work, I'm trying hard not to waste anyone's time -- my time in reading submissions that won't work for me, and the writer's time in requesting things I'm not truly and thoroughly excited about. Other editors, feel free to chime in with your own opinions.

In other news, I just finished The Sea of Monsters, Book Two of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" by Rick Riordan, and it was just as funny, action-filled, and cracktastically page-turning as the first book -- I haven't enjoyed a series this much since Hilary McKay's Casson novels. And it turns out I'll be attending the Rutgers One-on-One this year, as a replacement for Scholastic's Dianne Hess; if you read this and see me there, do say hello.