Saturday, January 02, 2010

Do Publishers Require a Completed Manuscript?

We received a question the other day about selling full-length fiction to publishers.

I heard somewhere that fiction usually needs to be finished to sell to a publisher and non-fic can be the first three chapters and outline, but I'm not sure how accurate that really is. - M. B., Florida

Well, M. B., I'm glad you brought that up, because it's not true. At least it's not always true. I'm sure that the vast majority of novels are sold complete, simply because most of them come from newbies to the novel-publishing world, and that's how they write--from start to finish. Only then do they begin shopping their masterpieces around for publication. You know, the First-Step, Second-Step, Third-Step approach to writing.

The truth, however, is that many novels, particularly from well-tested and reliable writers, sell on the basis of a couple of completed chapters and a strong, detailed outline. In fact, I sold my very first novel on the basis of an outline only. It was 23 pages long and pretty complete, but the editor never did ask to see a sample from the book.

Which was good news for me, since I hadn't started writing it yet.

The fact is that professional writers--freelancers who earn their living from writing--couldn't possibly take the time to complete a book before selling it, running the risk that it might never sell. Full-time writers need to roll over their words continually into income. When a writer typically spends a year working on a novel, that means he's spent a year without generating any appreciable income unless he's working under contract and receiving author's advances.

Of course, an editor has to have faith in a writer's being able and willing to finish the book properly to offer a contract on the basis of an outline and a few sample chapters. Sometimes untested novelists do best selling their first properties as completed manuscripts. But it all boils down to the individual editor and the policies of the publishing house.

But for a professional writer working in these tough economic times particularly, that dog won't hunt, and most editors know it!


Copyright 2009 AmSAW

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is terrific information. Thanks so much. I have been wondering about this for years and have been unable to find anything of authority addressing my questions. You are a Godsend!