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Prologue Is Past

I stripped the prologue from my novel recently. I had to do it, and that makes me tense. Let me explain.

Old typewriter with "Prologue" crossed out by a red pen.
Prologue vs. the Big Red Pen

No, first, some catchup: I took time off from my novel last year (hence the lack of updates here). I needed to distance myself from it so I could see it with fresh(er) eyes. Once I came back to it, I realized the beginning wasn’t as tight as the ending, where I’ve spent far, far more time.

I fixed that, and in the process I made myself nuke the prologue. Agents and editors are mixed on prologues these days, with the haters strong on the hate. I suspect it’s because so many new authors misuse their prologues as info dumps.

I’ve seen it repeatedly in the writer forum I hang out in. Everyone feels their readers need to know all the cool world building stuff they came up with, and they cram it into the prologue. Many new authors push back when dinged for the info dump, and watching them go through that process taught me a thing or two.

Of course, my prologue was done right (said every author with a prologue, whether or not it’s true). Seriously, I think I did mine right. George R.R. Martin’s prologues in A Song of Ice and Fire series are my model. Set a stage. Show action germane to the story that’s not part of the main character(s)’s POV. Make it so those who read your prologue get something from it, while those who don’t are still able to follow the real story.

I did all that. Or so I think. But during my time away (and after talking about it with a friend), I finally accepted that my chances of getting an agent are significantly heightened if I query without a prologue.

If you’re going through this yourself, here are my thoughts on the issue:

1.) The first thing is that if you have a prologue, you must include it when an agent asks for your first [X] pages/chapters. Since your prologue should be tangential to the main POV story, it will seldom fit into your query. Therefore, the first thing the agent (or their intern) reads has little or nothing to do with the query letter.

For instance, my story is about a private eye dragged into a fight to keep AIs from destroying humanity. My prologue is was a combat scene, and many beta readers told me they thought the novel was going to be a space opera or SciFi military story at first. Agents reading my query and my submitted material are likely to go through the same thought process, but unlike my beta readers, agents (or their interns) aren’t going to keep reading.

2.) Due to the work load agents face, the harsh reality is they are looking for reasons to reject, not to accept. Being confronted by material that is different from the query letter that sparked their interest in the first place turns into a quick reason to reject.

3.) Knowing that some publishing editors are squeamish about prologues is another reason for agents to quickly pass.

4.) There is a lot of information on the Interwebs telling new authors not to have a prologue. When an agent sees a prologue, many might assume you were too lazy to do your research, another fine reason to pass.

Now maybe your prologue is so outstanding it won’t be a problem. If so, you probably have a bright future as an author and you do not need my advice. For me, while I am confident my prologue was good, I want an agent and I want to sell my book. I decided to optimize my chances at both.

Which comes back to the frustrating bit. My novel doesn’t need the prologue, but I think the prologue makes it a better story. It makes it less sellable, but a better read. That seems ass backwards to me.

So be it! I’ll most likely end up posting the prologue as a bonus short some day.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

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