There is an important question that needs to be answered in your book proposal in the “Manuscript Status” section. When will your manuscript be ready?
This information is important whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.
When Will Your Book be Done?
Fiction: If you are a first time novelist, never before published, your answer should be “The manuscript is complete and available upon request.” Agents and publishers rarely will take a book from a debut author unless it is already complete.
Why? Because you might have spent 15 years perfecting your opening chapters but the story falls apart on page 200. We have to have confidence in the whole story before we represent it or before a publisher will contract it.
If you are an established author with a track record with major publishers you know to pick a reasonable completion date that you are confident in achieving. A publisher will look at your delivery date and add one year and begin planning for which season your book would release to the market.
Non-Fiction: In non-fiction you can get by without a finished manuscript in most cases. A detailed annotated chapter outline should suffice. In non-fiction the author is usually presenting a case for a topic or writing a biography or a how-to, etc. The concept is already well presented in the proposal. The author’s platform is stellar. And the sample chapters show off the writing skill. Most of the non-fiction we contract is based on an unfinished manuscript.
However, since the book is not finished, you need to give a time frame for its completion.
Delivery Date: If the manuscript is not finished you should give a rock solid estimate as to when you think you can finish the book. This goes into the publisher’s discussion about whether to contract the book. This date could become part of the contract itself.
Be careful in choosing an exact date. Better to use an estimate like “will be complete within six months of contract” or whatever time frame fits your situation.
Avoid something like, “Manuscript will be complete January 1st.” If you commit to that date you will miss Christmas with your family! You’ll be in your writing cave while everyone else is opening presents.
How do you estimate the amount of time it will take to finish the book?
Why do you think established novelists are given a pass on this issue?
What happens if a non-fiction author cannot write the rest of the manuscript very well?
[Some of the above has been adapted from an earlier blog post and from a chapter in my free booklet Book Proposal Tips and Tricks – it is free in PDF if you join The Christian Writers Institute newsletter list or 99 cents if you want to read it on your Kindle.]
Rebekah Love Dorris
Thanks for the information! When you say “stellar platform,” is that solely based on social media/email subscriber figures? How much “borrowed” platform is acceptable from places a writer contributes? Any?
I write non-fiction, and I’ve gotten better at it. It takes less time to get the last chapters to the finished state than the first chapters. But I still have to factor in the resting time I need to come back with fresh eyes and better fixes. And enough time for others’ eyes to find the goofs and gaps. Some things can’t be rushed.
Thank you for this advice! As a first-time novel-submitter(?) I am soaking in all this wonderful information.
I have a question that is slightly relevant to this post. I have several (fiction) book ideas that I am actively researching but I am only ready to publish one book. Does a literary agent/publisher need to know that I am already working on book #2, so that they know I’m a writer they can work with multiple times? Will that help me get an agent, or should I just stick to one book at a time? Thank you again!
I remember when I was in a similar situation, it was the best experience an aspiring author can have….. don’t stop at researching write!( This is how it happens, your maind stop moving in the direction of the manuscript you’re working on, getting worried you panic!. But wait a minute! When you look at the manuscript you just began, it’s like you have just woke up in the morning, but ironically you have been writing till late in the night).
Do it, for its a monotony breaker.
Another great post. I believe established authors are given a pass if they cannot meet a deadline because they are just that…established authors. They’ve already proven they are trustworthy and can do the work. Aspiring authors must establish their rapport with publishers by following through and meeting deadlines as expected.
Excellent post. I finished my manuscript ‘then’ the proposal. Turnaround time for the MS? A millennia. Turn around time for the proposal? Another era. I pantsed the MS. My next MS I planned, plotted, established every character, and every bump in the road. Well, two years later, it is still in the works. My thought is to polish as best as I can for a month + send it through my shredder (critique and beta). After which, I can send the proposal with an approximate six months to send said MS to the agent. Now ask about how long it took to write a synopsis (forever — that was still crappy after I read it a month later).
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
When I write a book, I know that I can complete about 1,000 words per day. Every day. That might not sound like much, but I teach at three colleges and have a lot of things on my plate.
The books I have submitted to my agent have always been complete, though, because I am very new at this publishing business and know that publishers are loathe to take a chance at an unfinished manuscript by an unknown author.
I had to disconnect from a very talented co-author because she couldn’t meet a deadline. As a teacher, I am very used to deadlines and believe that meeting them shows respect for those I work with.
When i was writing my first novel, i gave little thought to deadline or even how i would publish it when it was finished. I started it in 2008 – then started college as well! after graduation, i picked up the MS and had her finished within six months. i’m a pantser and i edit as i go – and knew nothing of critiques or beta readers. books 2 & 3 (which sequeled the first one) took roughly a year each.
i then embarked on a series, Seasons, and wrote all four >withinestablished<
and as to non-fiction authors who can't complete the MS, i'm not sure
In the past before I met Jesus I wrote banking on selfpulishing(because of unfunctioning systems in Africa no author can trust a publisher who keeps you waiting for years-people wait for up to five years for acceptance letter, quit a problem for a writer with more than one manuscript but just trying one to see if the system works) but God has a way of dealing with his people, because I now realize how easy it is to persue this American agency system, especially when I looked at the information provided by Lesley stobbe’s website. Wich I come across while perusing a list provided by a Christian publishing House.
Yours is exceptional service, an angency a writer coming from the “World” , and into the ministry needs. For I clearly remember my writivism errors and the straggles of selfpulishing and financial implications of the time that lead me into a dich, it took months of spiritual warfare to get freedom.
I am a now born again Christian writer from Africa (Nairobi Kenya) and am interested in this agency for submission of my monuscript/ proposal between now and December, for by the grace of God Almighty I’ll be joining a Theological Bible college next year.( I am not a hooper, I like persuing the first position my intuition directs, I’d rather spend the time reasurching for my manuscript.
Yes, I have gone through your entire website and blog posts,vitualy turning everything upside down!. And am left with one question.
How do you cater for the African market? For I also prefer had copy submission, but the postol system is completely compromised. And because of so much beurocracy DHL and other international courier company’s are just way to expensive.
Otherwise you guys are just above the rest in the Christian publishing segment, may the Almighty God bless you abundantly.
Sorry Steve laube, I think I fremed my question wrongly, I humbly request a deletions of the same.