Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, February 2, 2009

Can You Query If You Are an Unpublished Novelist and Your Novel Isn't Finished?

No.






124 comments:

Anonymous said...

But I swear you'll love it!

Ink said...

But I'm practically done! I'm on page 7...

Teri said...

This cracked me up. Thanks for the late afternoon laugh!

Ana Cristina said...

Short but sweet. LOL, thanks for the fyi. :)

Marilyn Peake said...

LOL. A one-word blog entry. Reminds me of your roast suggesting that you could host a one-word query contest. Kind of like flash fiction: Flash Blogging.

Don said...

When I saw the subject header in my RSS feed, I almost had the post written before I clicked on it. Except my version was, "Hell no."

Anonymous said...

No wonder I've been getting so many rejections. Just kidding. I see you already included this question in your FAQs.

Christi said...

It's my first novel in a series and I'm currently at a word count of 165,000 and expect to wrap it up in another 15,000...

Steve Fuller said...

This post was too wordy for my taste.

lindacassidylewis said...

At last, something I already knew about novel writing!

sraasch said...

But-- but-- it's unique! There's never been another novel like it! EVER! And I'm giving YOU the opportunity to represent it! How could you say "No"?!

Anonymous said...

I've heard some writers will do this just to get an initial reaction about the storyline. I wouldn't do it. But I know some who will. If the reaction to the query is good, they continue writing. If it's bad, they move on to something else.

nightsmusic said...

Too, too funny! Thanks for a great afternoon laugh!

linda hall said...

Well that was straight and to the point! LOL...thanks for cheering me up today.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I would pass along that Amazon and Penguin are running a new "Breakthrough Novel" contest folks.

http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1250570&highlight=

If I have overstepped my bounds with this post, Nathan. Please feel free to delete it with my apologies.

Morgan

DebraLSchubert said...

I'm sorry, Nathan. Could you be more specific?

Anonymous said...

But how will you have time to organize an eight house auction for a gazillion dollars if I don't send this now?

Vieva said...

All this equivocating is leaving me confused.

Could you please elaborate upon your answer?

*flutters eyelashes, runs from projectiles*

Kylie said...

I can't believe you had to clarify that. I don't understand why someone would do that. It's like going to a museum and saying "I've never had an painting displayed, but would you like to buy the one I'm planning on painting in a few months?"

Anonymous said...

Anon/Morgan at 1:07 --

I've wondered about this contest. Though everything looks legit it irks me somewhat that a pub has an outside way to find a novel -- don't they have submissions just as good or way better submitted by agents on a daily basis?

I don't get it.

RW said...

I wonder if that was one of my students. Just 10 minutes ago one of them emailed to ask "Does the assignment due tonight really have to [meet the criteria described in the assignment]?"
Yes, really.

beth said...

HA!

Annalee said...

what if we write the query on unicorn paper with glitter and perfume?

Anonymous said...

Danged if I know Anon...I saw the contest on mediabistro and linked it.

I still do things the old fashioned way, write, query, face the rejections...repeat.

Morgan

Brian said...

Why not? If you are unpublished what does that have to do with a query? It's not like the agent wants to read the entire manuscript right then and there.

Rick Daley said...

Annalee,

Not even if you swap the glitter for pixie dust ;-)

Madison said...

Uh......duh?

Rick Daley said...

Evil Editor posted his 3rd Annual Oscar Guess the Plot a few days back. I was lucky enough to be a minion, and some of my fake plots were picked. I particularly liked this one, and it's almost relevant to this thread:

THE READER
Words come to life under the power of The Reader. Kathryn Lloyd has a gift; anything she reads manifests itself in the material world. Unfortunately, her job as a literary agent unleashes havoc on the world as the contents of thousands of horrible queries come to life.

WORD VERIFICATION: evuls. What a coincidence!

T. Anne said...

Annalee,
I do this already. I highly recommend this technique to others. Add kissy lips to the outside of envelope and next to your name. Add small hearts to all letters requiring a dot. This helps expedite response time.

Anon,
Thanks for the contest info!

Sophie W. said...

Interestingly enough, I've known writers who wrote so fast that they could query with a novel about three quarters of the way done, finish the novel, edit and polish it, and then send out any partial or full requests they received.

They both have agents and their books have sold.

But I don't think they told the agents in question that they were querying unfinished novels?

Lars said...

Brian at 1:29...

If the agent wants to read your manuscript and you, the unpublished (read: of unknown quality) author, do not have one for the agent to read, you are wasting the agent's time. If you are already published, the agent may be able to use your existing work to decide whether to wait for you to finish the manuscript.

Carley said...

I assume that answer applies for my idea that I may or may not have on alternative fuel in the future too. Darn. ;) Thanks for the smile!

PurpleClover said...

But I'm going to need a royalty advance in order to quit my job and give the novel the time and dedication it deserves??!!!


;)

Richard Mabry said...

This raises another question. Are you being charged for blog space by the word?
Never mind, I know the answer. "No."

Lupina said...

But my neighbor's nephew loved the first chapter. And I am hoping you will help me with ideas for the ending.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I certain agent I know (who shall remain nameless) used to refer to the subject of this question as "premature submission". ;)

Mary Moore said...

You don't mince words, do you?

C.D. Reimer said...

Can you shop around a short story collection when only one story out of two dozen been published elsewhere?

I know what the short answer is ("no"), and the medium answer ("are you nuts?"), but what's the long answer?

Beside "no, are you nuts?" :P

Nathan Bransford said...

c.d.-

Yes -- this only applies to novels, not to short stories and nonfiction.

Erica said...

Thank you for giving me a good laugh!

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:12:

Or perhaps "novelus interruptus".

Ulysses said...

In one of life's sad ironies, the people who need to know this are the ones least likely to read this entry.

Audrianna said...

I love it! I needed that laugh!

Thanks!

Mira said...

Lol - that was funny. :)

Trashy Cowgirl said...

Does this mean that your feelings aren't hurt over the fact I haven't queried you with my Cormac McCarthy-meets-curves-and-commas-ms? Phew. I am so relieved, because you know I am just waiting until it's ready.

Heidi the Hick said...

Best.

Post.

Ever.

Jo said...

That's why we love you, Nathan. Just the facts.

Stephanie said...

Haha. I love this!!! It seriously made me laugh out loud.

Laura said...

absolutely NOT fair! You should take pitches! :)

Adaora A. said...

Short and sweet! How many times do people have to say it? Unless you're the biggest thing since sliced bread, a book deal just isn't going to come that easily.

AmandaKMorgan said...

I actually know someone who queried with her novel unfinished, got an agent...and then sold it to S&S.

Although that's the exception rather than the rule.

Lea Schizas - Author/Editor said...

Actually, you could but after that query you respond with a, "To save you postage, I'm sending you my rejection right now."

Scott said...

Okay, them how about $10 and the idea's yours? ;^)

Honestly, I've been tempted to test a few ideas against agents, but realized it was kinda wrong.

Funny stuff.

Marti said...

Not even if I enclose a SASE in my e-query?

*grin*

Thanks for the laugh, Nathan!

John said...

Hi Nathan,

Why is it that this applies just to novels and not to short stories or non-fiction? Is it simply that it's harder to judge a novelist by a sample than it is to judge the others? The rule has always been clear, the reason less so.

hannah said...

I love that two people have already mentioned me :D

Yep, I queried on a novel 3/4 of the way done, unpublished, for no good reason other than I didn't feel like waiting any longer. Got a bunch of partial requests, sent out the finished first 50-100 pages as requested. Got a full request. Finished the book that night. Sent it out the next morning. 4 offers of representation, coming out with S&S this summer.

I'm a terrible, terrible example.

(And no, the agents had no idea! I'm crazy, not stupid)

A Paperback Writer said...

56 comments on a one-word blogpost?
Wow.

Cam said...

The only way to top the effectiveness of this post would be to phrase it in a rhetorical question. I'd do it, but I'm too busy editing my novel to think in rhetorical questions now.

AM Riley said...

I don't understand. By 'no' do you mean 'no' as in 'no'? Please clarify. Does this mean you do not want to read the partial I've attached just in case?

Nathan Bransford said...

hannah-

Ha! I guess I'll make an exception: you can query, but if an agent wants to see the manuscript you have to finish it that night.

There.

hannah said...

Deal!

Sarah Jensen said...

I almost spit on my screen when I saw this on my blog and wondered if there was much to be said. Glad there's not.
Thanks for the chuckle!

Liz said...

This is what caused me to have heart palpitations a few weeks ago. After a wave of rejections, I grimly reassessed my MS and read and researched and re-read and had come to some tough realizations about changes that needed to be made. The changes were necessary and not insignificant. Then just as I was getting ready to dive into the text again, out of the blue came a request for a full - a response from a really fabulous agent that just happened to arrive a month after the wave of rejections. What to do? Sending her the manuscript in its then-current state was not an option. I might as well have written her reply rejection for her and saved her the time. So I *very gingerly* replied with a hearty thanks for her interest and casually requested a few days. Fortunately she was buried already in mss and encouraged me, with lots of caps, to take ALL THE TIME I needed. God bless her. I stayed in communication and took 2.5 weeks. It was a very fine line to walk without coming across as a completely unprofessional goof. I opted not to bother her with the gory explanation - just politely asked for a little time. It was a very uncomfortable position to be in, but in retrospect I don't think it could have been helped. I *thought* the ms was done (and yes, I'd already gone through significant rewrites and revisions and polishing) when I sent out the original queries.

Jess said...

Okay I asked this question in comments a while back because I've read a lot of first-author stories where they did it and it worked, and I was wondering what made them special and under what circumstances, IF ANY, it was okay to do so. Not that I think you should or would, but out of curiosity. So thank you, Nathan, for answering.

The condescending comments are another matter.

Robert said...

But my idea is a total Barney Stinson!

Suzan said...

I don't get it.

Furious D said...

Ah, but that's the beauty of my project. This novel never really ends. So far I've written 343,099 pages and it can be released in 1000 page "volumes" one at a time.

And by the way, it's all told from the point of view of a character who is blind, deaf, and has no sense of touch, smell, or taste, and communicates with no one.

I don't have a title about it yet, but everyone I mention it to, calls it "Senseless."

Dara said...

LOL. The questions people ask are funny.

That's like one of one of the golden rules of submitting a novel--make sure the thing is finished!

Of course, there are those off the wall exceptions (like Hannah). Even if I finished the rest of my book in one night, it definitely would not be ready to submit. That takes talent. :)

hannah said...

Dara--I wrote the first bit of the book in six days. While I was in school full time (I was a junior in high school at the time) and in two plays. I'm *insane.* I definitely don't recommend being like me.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I guess you were busy today, huh?

Sam Hranac said...

I'm confused by the vagueness of your post, Nathan. Please try to be more direct.

Melissa said...

Tune in next week for another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Bee said...

Uber-terse blog post/answer. I mean: Duh! as was so succinctly put by Madison.

emeraldcite said...

Even if my idea is so good that I promise that we'll make tons of money together and that James Patterson will be so jealous that he'll wish that he had someone else write it for him first so that he stick his name on it in a real large font and sell tons of copies for himself, but in reality, it's all for us?

Even if I add an evil laugh at the end?

Bwhahahaha.

Now can I submit?

**word verification word of the day: rehabin. Sounds like the next hit single from Amy Winehouse.

Not that bright, frankly said...

Er... What if you sent in a query kind of on a lark in the middle of the night because of sleep deprivation induced hysteria and a huge national agent liked it, so you quickly wrote a partial and the agent liked it VERY MUCH and now she wants to see a full and you haven't TECHNICALLY finished the full. (Because you haven't started it. Technically.) Do you thin that would lead to a No?

And, er, what if there was, say, a month long lapse between the time the agent sent the email requesting the full and the time you actually sent back the full. Would that irritate the agent? Enough that if they ended up loving the full they'd still be too irritated to take it on?

Not that I'm in that situation. Or anything. Not that I just got said request for a full tonight.

Um.

Not that bright, frankly said...

Also, what if, just THEORETICALLY, this agent said she had a month long lag time for reading fulls anyway. Would a one month lag on my end really be that noticeable?

Just theoretically of course.

And I meant think not thin.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I choked on my lemonade. Awesome.

Ann Victor said...

I don't know which made me laugh more: the post or the comments! Good one!

Ali Katz said...

Well, that says it all.

Thamuhacha said...

Just because I *have* to ask ...

The dynamic young novelist who starts a publishing war complete with six figure advances for their debut masterpiece ... that they haven't finished ... how did they get into that position? Is Daddy a publisher?

It's a sort of serious question. Take a reasonably famous example: Zadie Smith's "White Teeth". How do you get in that position at age 21 with only half a book? Don't tell me that the 3 chapters made it to the top of 5 slush piles simultaneously.

Newbee said...

But... what if your third cousin's uncles, nefew wrote it? Surely that would be a exception? (LOL)

I might not know much... but, at least I know the answer to this question.

Anonymous said...

Hannah....

You wouldn't by chance be related to the person who reached a word count of one million only halfway through NaNoWriMo.....would you???

O.O

lol!

Charlotte said...

Right, back to work then.

David Quigg said...

Funny post that makes a clear point. But I need to dissent. At least a little.

To do it, I'm going to concoct a writer who I don't resemble in any way. So what I'm about to write may be foolish, but it won't be self-serving.

It's a big world. So let's say that somewhere in this big world there's an old woman we've never heard of. She's raising her grandchildren alone and working two jobs to keep everybody fed. For the last 15 years, she's also been using every spare bit of energy and time to craft what is shaping up to be a behemoth of a literary masterpiece. She can't afford a computer. So she writes at the public library.

At her current pace -- with her current impediments of time, equipment, and exhaustion -- she might finish the book in five years. Or maybe she'll die first.

I hope that Nathan's succinct "No" leaves some room for the reality that literature would be best served by an agent who considers this hypothetical writer's unusual circumstances, reads her existing 629 manuscript pages, recognizes their extraordinary merit, and makes a deal with a publisher that yields enough cash for the writer to quit her jobs, hire a babysitter, buy a computer, and craft the balance of the novel at ten times the pace she was writing before.

Can you tell I'm not the biggest fan of rigid, absolute rules?

Diana said...

Nathan, you've done Strunk & White proud.

Concision!

December/Stacia said...

Why not? If you are unpublished what does that have to do with a query? It's not like the agent wants to read the entire manuscript right then and there.



My agent enthusiastically requested the full three hours after I queried him. He offered representation two days later.

I shudder to think what his response might have been had I said the book wasn't done.

Anonymous said...

Against this advice (and general opinion in the comments) I did this with my third novel - and succeeded.

Novel no.2 got a string of rejections, but it paved the way to getting to know an agent. Though she had rejected novel no.2, she said she would be interested in future writing.

It had taken her six months to reply.

So I asked myself this - am I going to finish novel no. 3 and then wait six months for an answer, or am I going to send off the first 80 pages and get the rest finished in time for her answer?

After three weeks she replied. She loved it and wanted to see the rest.

It was a bit embarrassing telling her I hadn't actually finished, but she understood my point - after all, I had expected to wait six months.

One year later we have undergone lengthy revisions and we are at the final polishing stage.

hannah said...

12.25 Anon--no, but I did finish NaNo on day 12...

Samantha Tonge said...

This has been my main mistake - i've always finished before subbing, as in the first draft, but haven't taken enough time to hone and polish.

It is hard though! I think patience is a writer's greatest asset.:)

Anonymous said...

Gotta admit I know better but had a novel all but finished except for the last chapter and I just sat on it. So I figured I needed a nudge and queried just a few agents to see what sort of response I might get. Figured at worst they would ask for a partial. Immediately had three requests for the full. So there was my incentive to finish it off. Which I did that weekend. Kids don't try this at home.

Dara said...

Hannah, that's amazing. Seriously. There aren't many people out there like that :)

I'm not talented enough to write a whole novel in that amount of time. Unless I locked myself away in my study for the entire week. Even then, I don't think my attention span can go more than 3 hours at a time writing my novel.

I told my husband I need to lock myself away in my study this weekend to finish my book. That's the only way it'll get done any time soon. :P

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hannah said...

Haha, thanks, Dara. I definitely write in bursts--if I don't finish a first draft in a few weeks at most, I get bored and give up.

Scott said...

What I meant to say was:

But it's guaranteed to be a best seller. It's about this vampire wizard who falls in love with a werewolf while searching for the secrets of the knights templar in the ruins of a lost pueblo in Arizona where this old guy used to live (only it's not da Vinci, it's Michaelangelo, who turns out to have been an actual person and not just a turtle--who knew?) with little people who look like hobbits but are actually called Rockids on account of they live in the rocks and when there's danger around they glow red so everybody's always looking for the rockids red glare (it's really quite patritotic.

clindsay said...

Really, you should write more of these one-word answer questions. It does tend to drive the point home in a great way. =)

Toni Kenyon said...

Are you on deadline, Nathan?

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I can't decide whether your rejection is *form* or *personal*. Maybe you can add a smiley to it?

(hee, guess what I'm about to do ;))

Anonymous said...

I personally know someone who's done it and gotten an agent and Zadie Smith did it, Bock of Beautiful Children did it, Danielwski did it...I doubt that the majority of people would get away with it but it happens. Ah well.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

YES you CAN QUERY if you're unpublished and your novel isn't finished... IF YOU'RE A CELEBRITY!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

tl;dr

Sheryl said...

I know that this is the standard wisdom... but there is at least one YA author I know of who started her book during nanowimo (or whatever that acronym is supposed to be)... submitted the partial to a 'top tier' agent the following Jan '07 and he took the partial out and sold it (2-book deal) to Delacorte. It will be released March 10th. It's called The Forest of Hands and Teeth, author Carrie Ryan. I figure this is one helluva manuscript. I can't wait to read it. Just sayin'...

Michelle Miles said...

Okay I LOL'd at this!!

Zoe Winters said...

LMAO, Nathan! I bet you loved today's post day. One word, time for a coffee break!

Anonymous said...

but, not all rules are universal. i would not have the two book contract that i do, if i hadn't started querying before i was done with my novel.

mrmurph said...

Oh.

Sharon Norwood said...

But... but... my idea is the best one EVER!

Anna Lefler said...

I respect a man who can blue-pencil his blog posts down to two letters.

(I think the period could be trimmed back a bit, but that's more an issue of personal style, yes?)

Margaret Sue Turner Wright said...

Can you Query if your a Celebrity's daughter, and your Memoir is not finished?

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veronica Schultz said...

That's hilarious. Or maybe sad that people ask this frequently.

Definitely either hilarious or sad.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I have a question about this...I write literary fiction, have been in contact with 5 agents in the past 12 years (3 referred to me by published novelists--Bob Shacochis, Barry Hannah, and Christopher Castellini; 2 whom contacted me after seeing my short stories in literary journals). I have a collection of short stories--many which have been published--but no finished novel ms. Yet. (I am about 3/4 through it).

I was in touch with some of these agents...they read my story ms., wanted to see the novel 'when I was ready.' I fell out of the loop for a while, just writing...looks like the first draft of the novel will be done in the fall.

My question: do I re-contact these agents? And if so, how? Or do I just start fresh with the query process?

nishith said...

Elegant!

Anonymous said...

It seems by these posts alone, there were two exceptions to the given rule of no submission without completion. That said, what is the point of unthinking generalities?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

There isn't any unthinking generality about it. You're always going to find exceptions in publishing, it doesn't mean the advice isn't sound.

chillyspoon said...

Hilarious; made me actually "lol" instead of just typing it. :D

@chillyspoon

P. Grier said...

best blog ever.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
For a first time writer it might be helpful to get some feedback on their ideas, *before* those ideas solidify in any specific shape or form.

I am thinking memoir, but the specific lens/point-of-view..etc may gain by previewing the publishing market, don't you think?

Is it at all possible to meaningfully "converse" with an agent with an idea that is only half boiled..?
Thanks!!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

The best way to do that is to attend a writer's conference and sign up for a pitch session. But just tossing out an idea is not what the query process is for, and if you query with something that's not ready you could hurt your chances later on.

Otherwise, you could always solicit feedback in discussion forums like the one on this site or over at Absolute Write.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!!! Appreciate the instantaneous response two days before Christmas.. Happy holidays!

Rebecca said...

But, Mr. Bransford... What if you're an unpublished novelist, and your novel IS finished? Can we query you then?

Anonymous said...

hello this is your indirect rejection towards the new novelists and their entire work which may be most attractive for them. wow, you are absolutely imperfect.
bimal from nepal

Matthew Hartmann said...

Haha brilliant answer! Don't worry, I won't be sending out a query for my novel until it's finished.

Anonymous said...

Still curious, as is "John", why this only applies to fiction? It's a different answer for non-fiction?

Rob said...

Well there go my hopes and dreams.

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