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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Querying With an Unfinished Manuscript

AS A FIRST TIME AUTHOR, should you finish your manuscript before you query an editor? I have been asked this question by all kinds of hopeful writers, and the answer is, sorry Kids, but yes. I know, I know. I’m not exactly the most experienced “published” novelist on the block. After all, my book isn’t out on the shelf yet (patience in publishing is a future post), but I am walking the road with both my editor and agent holding each hand. So far I have heard from both of them that it made a huge difference knowing I could deliver the manuscript before querying.

My manuscript landed in the hands of my agent at the right time, but if I hadn’t written all but a few chapters of the book, he wouldn’t have given me the time of day. When I heard he had the manuscript and wanted the rest, you wouldn’t believe how quickly I finished that book. By the time I spoke to him about actually representing him, I’d written the ending.

The way I found my agent was no less than extraordinary, but I believe that in any other situation, I wouldn’t have been considered if I hadn’t been able to say, “The manuscript is finished.” My agent tells me that for a first-time novelist, having a completed manuscript is paramount.

Personally, I think that a whole lot of the time that first-time authors put into marketing and pitching before they have even completed their book could so easily be put into finishing their WIP (Work In Progress) instead. Focus on finishing your story, so you can show an agent or publisher you are capable of finishing a book.

So, that is my two cents. There are writers out there who have had a different experience. And that’s great, but for the vast majority of us, agents and editors just don’t have time to take a chance on a new writer they can’t be sure will produce the product. And let’s face it. It’s our masterpiece. If we are fortunate, our agents and editors are passionate about the work, but this is business for them too. They need to know the product will be available before they buy it from a first time novelist. So let's write! Show them you can do it!

Tina Ann Forkner writes contemporary women’s fiction and has recently contracted with Waterbrook Press, a division of Random House, to publish two novels. The title of her first book will be Ruby Among Us. Visit her at


Cara Putman said...

Tina, Everything I've heard supports your advice. It's critical to complete that first manuscript before you shop it. Otherwise, agents and editors will say let me know when it's done.

Gina said...

I totally agree, Tina though if you'd have asked me a few years ago, I wouldn't have. Experience made me a believer.

I'd even go as far to say, even if you have one manuscript finished, finish the second one before you pitch it. Though I finished my first manuscript, and pitched a second unfinished one, most editors still wanted to see the complete manuscript. One asked for a synopsis and first three chapters, but a good rule is to finish it before you pitch it, unless of course you're a multi published author.

Finishing, BTW, is the hardest thing for me to do because I'm such a perfectionist, and I've be known to rework the first three chapters for over a year trying to get it just right.

Needless to say, I haven't sold any fiction yet, and I'm trying really hard to move past the editing as I write. I have several WIPs and my goal is to FINISH the smaller ones in the next couple of months, no matter how bad they may be!

Tina said...

That is a good thought, Gina. That way if they like book one, they might ask what else you have ready.
And some of us write like you are saying. I am a perfectionist too. The work will never really be finished, so polish it until you know you can let it go. Don't you think that sometimes it takes someone else to tell us it's ready? Keep writing girl, you'll make it.

Hi Cara. Good to know I am not preaching something that everyone disagrees with. But even if so, I think most of the time it's a good rule.

Janet Rubin said...

Hi Tina. This is what I've heard time and again. At this point I'm anxious to find out that I can deliver. It'll be good to have book #1 done! My first time at this blog. Pretty cool!

Tina said...

This is really a great site, Janet. So glad you stopped by! Gina is looking for submissions for Wednesday pick me ups. Maybe you would be interested! Love your stuff at Novel Journey (I have the right Janet I hope. :))


L.L. Barkat said...

I remember being surprised by this when I interviewed Moody editor Andrew Macguire... but he said he wants to see the whole book up front... not because he doesn't trust that the writer can write it, but because he wants to see that the work is so urgent for the writer that he/she would just write it anyway even if no one was buying. Any book that urgent is worth a look, in his opinion.