Don’t fall between the cracks; finish the dang book

There are times that I’m possibly interested in a manuscript, but I just won’t know unless I read the whole enchilada. Maddeningly, in my world of nonfiction, many enchiladas aren’t complete, so I have to make a decision based on what little I have – usually a book proposal and three chapters.

Most of the time, I can tell if something is a yay or nay, but there are those times when those partials are riding on the fence, and I need more in order to figure out which side of the fence the manuscript should drop. If the author doesn’t have any more, then I usually err on the side of caution and reject the project. And really, I can’t think of a sadder fate.

Who Sells an Unfinished Book?

Selling an unfinished nonfiction story used to be reserved for previously published authors. They were a known quantity, so editors could gauge the query’s worth based on the strengths of the author’s published works. But somewhere along the way, all authors were lumped into this, and we are now expected to make a judgement call on someone who has no publishing experience and a partially-written book and zero track record. This leaves a lot more room for speculation…and rejection.

So what elements make me want to see the whole enchilada?


In our world of nonfiction, nothin’ sez lovin’ like a solid platform. If I have a great three chapters but the author has a wee platform, then I want to see the whole book so I’m confident that the book stands up to our promotional efforts. Oftentimes, authors don’t highlight the right concepts about their books, so I don’t have a clear idea of the book’s potential.

For instance, let’s say your book is about working with abused horses, and how your experience with them helped cure you of your depression. Ok, it’s a cool story, but you haven’t said much about your platform other than you work with abused horses. If I read the full, then I can see that, Oh! you work with autistic children through horse therapy. Now we’re getting somewhere because that’s a book I can sell. I can already see the audience.

If you didn’t have the book written and didn’t really play up how you’re established with this book, then I will have missed it and rejected it. An editor sees things in manuscripts that authors don’t necessarily see, so they can create promotion plans around what they find within the manuscript. If it isn’t written, then those gems will be lost to the editor, and hello rejection.

How Well Written is the Book?

The writing of the beginning chapters may be pretty good, but I might be on the fence as to how I feel about it. If I have the full, then I can judge how well the story flows and how well it’s told.

And then there’s the ending. Is it satisfactory, and scratches all the right itches? I need to know how well you tell it and wrap it all up. I’m in the middle of just such an instance. The writing is ok, and the story is ok, but the potential is very big. I really need to see all of it in order to determine how the author handles the Big Kahuna parts of the story. It could be either really good or not so hot. Since it’s unfinished, I’m inclined to reject it with great sadness.

And that’s something you want to avoid at all costs. You never want to give an editor a reason to reject your book, and offering only a partially-written book could be an invitation to the curb.

Time Constraints

What I don’t understand is, why not finish the book? If your book sells, you’re going to have to finish it anyway, and you’ll have the added pressure of a deadline. Additionally, you don’t have the luxury of turning in your very best work. In most cases, you write your book, let it marinate, then go back and look for the warts, and do the rewrites. This may go on for a long time.

Case in point, an author we just signed took nine months to finish the book BEFORE we signed her, and it was well worth the wait. Had we signed her nine months ago, it’s doubtful we would have given her nine months to finish the book. So would we have gotten a lesser story and be disappointed? It’s not a small consideration.

When you have a deadline, you don’t have time to let it sit before looking for the warts. Most of the time, you’ll turn in a too-young draft, which can scare the stuffin’ out of an editor. Working against a deadline isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many times authors miscalculate how much time they need to finish their books, and they find themselves freaking out as their deadline looms ever closer. Are you the type who does well under extreme pressure, and do you believe you’re able to turn in your very best work?

Are You Committed to the Book?

Accompanying my confusion over why not finish the book, is commitment. If you love this idea enough to want to sell it, then commit yourself wholly to it and do the logical thing. Does this mean that if you don’t sell the project that you say, “Whew, dodged that bullet by not bothering to write the book.” If so, how does that thinking play into your commitment? With writing, you’re either in or out. There is no gray area.

The main thought any author should have is that you want to do everything possible to maximize your success. There are too many cracks to fall between as it is, so don’t create more for yourself. Finish the dang book!

2 Responses to Don’t fall between the cracks; finish the dang book

  1. Jeff Michaels says:

    Very timely for me today! We were just discussing several unfinished projects I have going. I feel invigorated by your posts. Sometimes a writer just needs a little extra nudge, a reminder of the value of commitment. Life can be so distracting that I find I often don’t even finish my replies to the

  2. Bill Webb says:

    You’re absolutely right, Lynn, I need to finish my…

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