I know, irritating an editor sounds like good fun, right? After all, we’re such a tetchy lot, so a good round of watching editors pull their eyebrows out would be great sport. However, this frustration adversely affects authors, so it might not be worth the risk. Here’s how the scenario goes:
Me: I loved your first pages. I’d love to see the full manuscript. You may send it as a Word attachment at your convenience.
Author: Those pages are the extent of the edited chapters that I’ve written. Perhaps you’d be willing to sign me based on the strength of what you’ve read.
Me: <sighing loudly and demanding The Rescues go pour me some wine> I’m sorry, but we don’t sign authors based on partials.
And here’s why:
Reason 1: On the Fence
This is the most important reason of all. I won’t offer a contract with a partial because I may be on the fence about those first chapters. I need to see if the subsequent chapters turn into something wonderful. I’ve read terrific manuscripts where the first chapters weren’t as strong as they could be, but they finished up with such a bang that I ended up signing those authors. Slow beginning? Heck, I can always take care of that during the editing process.
But I won’t know how strong your manuscript is if it isn’t finished, and I’ll have no choice to walk away. And the author will have no choice but to keep on querying. Le bummer.
Reason 2: Gambling
I’ve been to Vegas many times, and I can’t stand gambling because I always lose. I look at the money the one-armed-bandit consumed with nary a “thank you,” and consider all the cool things I could have used it on instead.
We’ve gambled in the past and signed a few authors based on partials. To date, I canceled Every. Single. Project. The simple reason is that those manuscripts didn’t have the same quality as their first chapters.
And think about it; editors classically ask for the first three chapters, so those suckers get A LOT of massaging and tender loving care. Authors have the luxury of writing, putting it away, coming back later, re-writing, editing. It’s like getting ready for the prom. I remember spending horrific amounts of time primping for the prom. Just don’t ask me to repeat that same process the following day. Or any other day after that.
It’s the same for writing. Your first chaps are getting ready for the prom, and boyo, they look mahvelous. If I sign you based on how you look for the prom, then I’m basically contracting you to primp for the prom every single day until you’re crowned Prom Queen or King, and I’m giving you less time to look just as gorgeous.
Deadlines suck because most authors don’t realize how hard it is to bang out fabulosity while under the gun. Oh sure, you think you’ll be able to bang it out in time. Problem is, it reads like it. All the flavor and magic is missing because you don’t have the same amount of time you had when you wrote those first three chapters.
In my particular case, those canceled projects were victims of two separate problems: Insufficient time to do a proper job and/or the manuscript simply didn’t live up to its previous hype. I think of all the wasted time that could have been avoided if those authors had simply finished their manuscripts.
It sucks to cancel a project, which is why we no longer sign on partials. It’s heartbreaking to us and to the author.
But Aren’t Sales Made on Partials?
Yes, it’s somewhat common for nonfiction sales to take place based on partials, but these usually happen when the author has a solid readership based on terrific sales from previous books. There’s an identifiable track record. But if you’ve written in a different genre, say fiction, then you’re starting over again with no readership or track record in nonfiction.
Other cases where sales happen with partials is if the author has an amazing platform. A lot of your actor/actress/politician/public figure books are usually sold based on an idea: “Actress Debbie LaDouchbague promises to dish out the dirt on her years as the lead in the daytime soap, As The Stomach Rebels.”
But these cases aren’t the norm for the everyday author.
And may I just say that I’ve never quite understood the whole, “I’ll write the rest if I sell it.” I always wonder whether the author is truly committed to the project. “Oh well, if it doesn’t sell, at least I didn’t waste time writing it.” Hmm.
You want a sale? Finish the manuscript!
In the meantime, color me frustrated.