Sunday, December 05, 2004

FINISH your Manuscript FIRST!

 "Which should I do first?
Submit a query letter to a publisher 
or finish my story?"

An Author wrote:
"... I'd like to write a novel some day, like everyone I guess, but I'd rather find a publisher first, submitting a few sample chapters to see if my work is marketable, before writing the whole blessed thing."

Another Author replied:
"... a word from someone who's been there done that several times unless you are a celebrity, few publishers will consider a book from a new author unless it is finished..."

Another Author is Absolutely Positively CORRECT. You NEED to finish your manuscript (MS) BEFORE you even consider submitting a Synopsis or a Partial. ESPECIALLY if you have never submitted before! 

Editors are NOT patient.

Most editors that accept a pitch, proposal or partial, expect that book to be already completed and in the mail the same day. If you are an unknown, and you make a large NY publisher wait, you will kill your entire career before it get's off the ground.

Having your manuscript already done says to the editor that they don't have to WAIT and hope you actually finish it. Too many authors freeze at this point and chicken out - even experienced authors - simply because the idea they pitched wasn't all that solid to begin with. By offering a completed MS, you are telling the editor that YOU know how to commit and complete. YOU are a reliable professional who knows how to make their job easier...

I don't know about you, but I don't want to deal with:
"You said this would be done last month. When are you sending it to me?"
Not every story can be finished quickly. My first 90k novel took over a year to complete. I finished my next novel, a 100k piece in three months - but the following novella had a far more intricate plot and it took nearly six months. It's a million times less stressful to write it as I feel like it and then let them know I have it - when it's done. 

If the Publisher has your signature on a contract
- They OWN You.

If you are accepted on a partial, and you are not done, you will need TIME to finish

A deadline is no way to finish a book if you are still new to it.

The pressure to write to deadline is enormous, and engenders Mistakes. I don't mean grammar & typos, I mean: plot-holes the size of Nebraska, watery characters, weak descriptions and flat dialogue. These are things that YOU have to take care of before you submit. (Beta-readers are your best bet for catching stuff like this.)

Editors are Not book doctors. 

They're good for the small stuff like typo hunting. Unfortunately, they rarely have time to coach and coax a new writer into polishing their writing. It's too easy to set your work aside and pick up the next MS that has all this stuff already handled and only needs a grammar check.

Until it's written you WON'T know exactly what you have to offer.

I have quite a few books out and three ePublishers that will take anything I care to write, yet "I" absolutely positively refuse to sign a contract until the story is finished.

Why not Sign the Contract?*

What if the story in progress suddenly takes a turn and is no longer suitable for that line? I'm screwed, that's why not.

Once you are committed to contract you HAVE to give them exactly what you told them you were giving them. If the story suddenly shifts into a masterpiece, but your contract says those changes are not what they want then you have to slash and burn and deliver something less than perfect, because that's what you signed for.

My story "Uber Gothic" is a prime example of this. It was supposed to be a 30k (thousand) word story - it turned into a 80k novel. But the editor that wanted it doesn't accept novels,  they have a hard limit. I had two choices: chop it and deliver, or send it elsewhere. 

The editor did NOT want me to send that book elsewhere. Instead, she very much wanted me to chop it into pieces so she could sell it in serial format.

But I didn't want to chop it. Revising a novel into a serial takes an incredible amount of work that I just didn't want to do - not when I had two other publishers that would take it as a novel.

Luckily, I never signed a contract, so I was not committed to the sale. "Uber Gothic" was released for Halloween at Extasy Books as a whole novel. 

FINISH your Book.
It'll just make life easier for you in the long run.  
*Note: An experienced author who has more than one book on the bookstore shelf can sign on the contracts they want, but a new author should avoid sticking their neck out unless they know for a fact that they can complete their work --to spec-- on time!

Morgan Hawke
“The only good plot is a delayed f*ck.”


  1. I love your tell-it-straight blog. I have a question I hope you can help with. I've had a few shorts published. I can sit down and bang those out pretty fast, and I've written over 150 songs that I've performed and gotten lots of good response for.

    The problem is, I seem to be stuck in short mode. I have some ideas for novels, but when it comes down to writing them, the idea of going full length paralyzes me, and I just don't know where to start, or, I have the opening chapter for the thing, and I can't quite figure out where to go from there.

    When I write, it's always been seat-of-your-pants, but I'm not sure how to do this-or if I can-with a longer mss. Any suggestions would be appreciated.


  2. O.K., I took a look at your 'How can anyone write a whole novel?' thread, and have to say that's a pretty concise wrap up you've got. I like that, because it seems like it leaves some wiggle room for the story.

    One author I've read on this subject says you need to plan out each chapter, with a set number of (3) scenes, go through and write a short 'script' for each scene and what takes place in it, then go back and flesh it out.

    What if I don't want three scenes per chapter? What if I only want two-or one-or I decide I need five? The idea of planning something out that precisely drives me nuts! (I write like roarshak regurgitation, just kind of barf it out, wipe up the messy part, and see what pattern forms in the shapes left on the page. In other words, I don't really KNOW how I do it, I just DO it.)

    But the idea of writing a whole novel with no outline at all gives me hives-I liked your take on it, but it still seems intimidating, like biting off more than I can chew at one time. How do you get past the stage fright aspect of stuff like this?

    And can you expand a bit on what you mean in step three of your basic plot arc by 'reversal'? (Climax I get, but I'm not quite sure what you meant by reversal.)

    I'm going to bottle my frustration and shut up for the time being. Thanks for any help you can offer. I REALLY appreciate it!