In the past, the agents who scared me the most were those who requested a query and 2 or 3 pages, no more, of the book. A year ago I spotted an agent's demand for the first page alone. Now, other agents also scared me with requests for 10, 20, 30 or up to 50 pages--by which time I'd have just finished clearing my throat and be moseying along to the Good Part. starting to tie things together, etc. Part of me could see their point...but 1-3 pages? How could even the best of those agents spy the epic grandeur of my work, its marvelous complexity, from a sample that small?
My thinking has changed on this matter. High time, too, I might add. After all, when I go to a bookstore and a new novel's cover has captured my eye, what do I do every time? Flip through a couple of pages. I'm not necessarily looking for an action-packed opening set piece. But in the books I choose to buy, some magical something has spoken to me: something in the prose or authoritative tone has led me to know that I'll be in good hands--even though I may not know where the heck the book is going.
Luckily, my thinking had also changed on the writing itself. Though I took my time unraveling the new book's central mystery, I'd come to feel that certain things should happen at definite stages if I were to draw readers in. And my beta readers had also saved me a couple of pages of lard at the start. Result: for the first time in my career, I felt as confident in sending out a few pages as I did fifty.
A little later on, I plan to post a detailed chronicle of my querying process for this book. For now, my advice is this: if you're fearful of showing small bits of your work, the writing's on the wall: Rewrite!