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.]