A Word About That Incomplete Manuscript

ScribbleSince we publish Memoir, it’s not unusual to get queries on incomplete manuscripts. Can I be honest? I really don’t like this practice. An incomplete anything equals WAIT to me. And I’m an impatient soul. When something rocks my world, I want it NOW!

Wanna hear an even scarier confession? I currently reject every query that only has a book proposal and offers no sample chapters. I learned this the hard way, because every single contract I offered based on a book proposal ended up with my canceling the project. Every. Single. One. The problems were that the proposals rocked, but the manuscripts didn’t deliver. Didn’t even come close. And the reason for that was because the writers were up against a deadline, which meant that I got what read like first drafts.

I don’t want anyone’s first draft. My heart simply isn’t that strong.

First Draft or Polished?

But my impatience isn’t the only factor. It’s also about quality. A book proposal isn’t enough for me. I need to see the first three chapters so I can see how the writer organizes her thoughts, and get a feel for the writing style. If the author is busy still writing the manuscript, how polished are those first three chapters…provided they have chapters to offer? If you send me chapters that aren’t really polished because you’re still in the writing phase, then you’re probably going to receive a rejection. And that just sucks, right?

Changey Mindey

There is real danger in trying to pitch an incomplete manuscript based on the first three chapters – namely, those first three chapters aren’t gonna look the same when you’re done. I don’t know of a single author who hasn’t changed the beginning of their stories, be they fiction or nonfiction, because of how they ended it. Finishing a manuscript influences all kinds of possibilities that you didn’t have when you first started out…even if you’re working from an outline. And those changes often turn a so-so story into something much bigger and better. Now, imagine trying to pitch the story with its original three chapters.

When I think of my own novel’s humble beginnings, my intestines want to explode.

I Want More

Then there’s the case where your first chapters rocked and I want more. But, alas, there isn’t any more. I gotta wait, which gets me back to my impatience issues. I’ll remain on the fence about the project because three chapters does not a rockin’ story make. I’ve had many, many cases where the first chapters were fabulous, but the rest of the manuscript fell apart. I have to weigh that against the possibility that the writing will stay strong throughout. When I consider how much $$ we sink into every book, I’m usually pretty leery of going forth with the project. It may hurt to see the sale go somewhere else, but my gamblin’ days are behind me.

Do You Know WHO I Am?

The case can be made for offering a contract based on a proposal only when the author is experienced and has a good following. They have published work I can refer to. They’re a known quantity.

The debut author doesn’t have that, so it’s important to consider what elements about the author and their story will encourage a publisher to take a chance on nothing more than a proposal.

What’s Da Rush?

Back in the day, authors sold proposals all the time, and the idea was that the advance would give them the financial stability to write the book. But those kinds of deals are few and far between for the average writer…especially a debut author. The world is a different place, so trying to adhere to old-time practices will yield little more than frustration. Most writers can’t give up their day job. Because we have so many more books and writers and publishers in the world, sales are a lot more spread out, and publishers don’t have the capital to spend like drunken sailors.

The idea is to put your best foot forward, and having a complete manuscript is the surest way to capture a deal. Life is too tenuous to dally with a lot of unknowns. Finish your manuscript. Take your time. Do it right…and conquer the world!

4 Responses to A Word About That Incomplete Manuscript

  1. LindaGHill says:

    Thank you for this insight. I decided to polish my entire manuscript before going back to re-write my first 20 pages. On my first complete read-through I found the inconsistencies astounding!
    I just have one question: if an author is reasonably well-received after self-publishing his or her first novel, do you consider that enough incentive to give the author more than a once-over? Or is consideration solely based on the work in front of you? I suppose what I really want to know is, when you say, “They’re a known quantity,” does it matter how they’re known?

  2. I look for a verifiable readership, which means sales…which means checking Bookscan to get a general feel. Or I look at what kind of traffic their Facebook and blogs have.

  3. LindaGHill says:

    Thanks, Lynn. 🙂

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