We have all done it… We’re a couple of months into a writing project, the story is taking shape and you have a couple of thousand good words down on paper. We feel good and we are pretty sure we know where the novel is going. Slowly the question arises in our head: ‘Is this good enough?’ You consider the idea of submitting it early to a publisher or agent — after all, what do you have to lose? If they reject it then nothing’s lost, the novel is in its early stages after all. If they like the book, it will give you the validation you need and, you never know, a book deal.
Please, please, please ignore this voice in your head — it is not your friend.
Under no circumstances should you submit your book to an agent or publisher until you are 100% sure it is finished and ready to go.
Let’s deal with the reasons why you may feel the need to submit your unfinished manuscript to an agent or publisher:
1. Validation: I understand: all writers have that nagging voice at the back of their mind that is telling them that their work is not good enough, and I mean ALL writers. Now, let me let you into a secret, no publisher will ever make that voice go away. No matter how many books you write, no matter how many bestsellers you produce, that voice will remain. No one can make it go away. All you can do is ignore it. IF, and it’s a big if, you need some early validation then look elsewhere for the answer. I suggest a professional editor (like BubbleCow) or a reading group or even a friend, but not an agent.
Books are rejected for many reasons and quality is just one. If you pitch early to a publisher in the belief that a yes means it’s good enough and no means it’s rubbish, you are destined for heartache. An agent or publisher just can’t give you what you need.
2. A reason to go on: If you are a quarter of the way through a novel and its getting tough, then tough. Suck it up and keep writing. If you need external motivation at that early stage, then writing really isn’t for you. Writing is a lonely, nerve-wracking and confidence-sapping pastime. You need the constitution of an ox and the determination of a bull. You need to be able to ignore the logical and reasonable voice that is telling you to stop and get validation, and just keep writing. Get words on the page. There are many techniques that will keep you writing; looking for an agent to offer you a book deal on a partially written novel is not one of them.
3. A book deal: I personally know many published writers, and I can safely say, hand on heart, not one of these was offered a deal on a book that was partially written. Does it happen? Well, yes. Debut novelists do get offered book deals on partial manuscripts… but it is very rare. In fact, as the publishing world alters it is becoming almost unheard of. So in reality, if you submit a partially written manuscript to an agent or publisher the most likely response you will get is ‘no thanks’. The best possible response you can reasonably expect will be a request to see the full novel, and this leaves you with a problem. The publishing world moves quickly and the agent will not wait around for six months (or a year) for you to finish your book. The result will be that you go into a tail spin, stabbing away at your computer, rushing through your novel, all for the sake of an agent who has shown a glimmer of interest. The resultant novel will probably be sub-standard, the agent will read it and reject.
The cold hard truth is that you get one chance with any agent. Why would you blow that chance by submitting a partially written novel?