September 4th, 2009


letters from the query wars

# of queries read this week: 244
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 2
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: SF thriller (1), fantasy (1)

This week for some reason there seemed to be a large number of queries wherein the author had not yet finished writing their novel. I also received a couple pre-query emails asking whether the author actually needed to finish the book before starting to query. The closest to casualty was the query in which the unfinished debut novel was accompanied by an explanation of why, due to the economy, the author would be unable to finish the book unless I advanced them at least four figures. Um. I'm not even sure where to begin in answering that one.

In any case, the answer is yes. If you are a debut novelist, the publisher will want to see a full manuscript. Ergo, you should finish it before you begin to query. Agent Janet advises that you should write a second one before querying the first one.

Why do you need to finish (and polish and revise)? To some extent because a new author is an unknown quantity. Can they finish a manuscript? No one knows yet, but as those of you in the writing trenches know, it can be a challenge. For some reason the number of people who finish a novel is somewhat less than the number of those who start them. The other reason is plain ol' simple supply and demand rules. As anyone who reads agent blogs knows, there is a seemingly endless supply of new novels. Heck, a new novelist is probably born every day. Makes it darn hard to run out of queries to consider.

Of course, everyone has heard of at least one exception where some publisher paid a six-figure advance for a debut novel based on a two-page pitch. If I knew what was in the Koolaid they were drinking.....

Note: This only applies to fiction. In non-fiction, I understand it is quite a bit more common to sell on proposal, particularly if the author has a good platform. For more info on that see this entry on the BookEnds blog.