Twitter has once again spawned a discussion subject in my brain. Thanks, twitter. Really. I should be working on other things right about now!
Joking aside, this is something that writers of all calibers should pay attention to.
Your first three chapters are very important. They will be what gets the interest of an agent or a publisher. It will be what hooks your reader into the story. Everyone knows that a story needs a strong foundation to stand upon. This is often done within the first three chapters. In fact, if you haven't built into your real story within the first three chapters, well, there is probably something very wrong. Even if your plot doesn't directly tie in with the climax or conclusion, it should somehow lead your character towards it.
Even if it is a swift kick in the butt to leave their door and go do something with themselves.
I feel that this is a generally accepted concept. However, I am going to take the mold and I am going to go smash it into a wall over there.
Do not polish your first three chapters and neglect the rest of your novel. The first three chapters are important. There is absolutely no denying it. You cannot have a great piece of fiction without a strong start.
You cannot have a great piece of fiction without a strong finish.
I like to call the syndrome, "Great opening and then came the can o' crap!" Crap is generally viewed as a negative thing. Because really, poop is gross. Toilet humor can be funny, but unless your book is about toilets or somehow features poop, you do not want this to be a descriptive term of your story.
I have read many manuscripts during the course of editing and critiquing that have really gripping starts and then they turn to crap. The polished, flowery language that worked so well in the first few chapters turns into a tired, lame horse that can't quite manage to climb the hill. The disappointment factor is typically so great that I have to step away from the computer so that my line edits are constructive rather than mean.
Those of you who have endured my critiques are probably aware of how bluntly honest I try to be. I firmly believe that you can learn the art of writing by doing a *lot* of critiquing. I certainly learned how to improve my craft this way.
This is advice, do as you wish with it. But, if you spend the same amount of time polishing your first three chapters as you do the entire novel, chances are that you will have a novel really worth something at the end of the day.
Also... just because you have polished your first three chapters, do not send them out immediately until your entire novel is done. This is just.... ugh. Don't do it. You never know when an agent or publisher will get back to you. You need to be able to send it out the next day if you get a reply asking for the complete manuscript.
True story: A friend of mine got a reply from Tor asking for the complete manuscript. She IMs me in a complete panic. She has not edited her novel.
Some 8 hours later I returned a line edit so she could panic through her corrections. It was perhaps the worst evening of my life.
I did it because she is my friend, but you should never put yourself into this situation. You want to be a responsive writer who is prepared. If they want the manuscript? It better be ready, printed, sitting on your desk in a nicely wrapped package and ready to send out the following morning. You don't necessary need to overnight the manuscript unless there are circumstances where they ask for it by a certain date. If it is by email, you should just have it ready for emailing.
There is nothing wrong with doing a one last reading before you send, but you should not be needing to do any significant edits. When you send your proposal or query, your novel should be ready from start to finish.
Your new editor or agent may suggest changes, but you should be sending them something that you feel is up to the publication standards of your genre.