Before you query: To finish or not to finish

You’ve heard the saying from dozens of industry professionals and published authors: Finish your manuscript before you query an agent or editor.

But I’ve heard the very valid point from writers that often it takes 4-6 months before you hear back from a query. Why not do 3 chapters, then query, and finish the manuscript while you’re waiting? Why not get the idea out there while you’re working on it?

Here’s the reason—the agent/editor may not take 4-6 months to get back to you. They might take 4-6 DAYS. And in this industry, timing is everything.

If an agent/editor reads your query and wants the story, they might be thinking, “I know an editor who would want to see an idea like this right now,” or “This type of story idea would be perfect for an empty slot in our line.”

If you can’t send them the partial or full manuscript as soon as they ask for it—say it takes you 3 months to finish the manuscript, or let’s be optimistic, say it takes you one month. That one month might already be too late. The editor might find another idea similar to yours and contract that instead. Or the agent finds another idea similar to yours and sends it to an editor she knows is interested.

Repeat after me: Timing is everything.

Another thing to think about—you don’t want to leave an editor or agent hanging. Their time is very valuable and if they ask for a manuscript, it’s because they have time to read it and a possible slot in their stable for your writing. If you don’t send the manuscript in a timely manner, you don’t look as professional as someone who sends them the manuscript the next day.

Question: But what if you have three different ideas and want to query agents with all three ideas? Wouldn’t that be better than waiting to write three manuscripts?

Answer: What if three different agents each want one of your three ideas? Which one do you finish first? And if you choose one, your chance for the other two might be lost because it takes you 4-6 months to get the other agents the other completed manuscripts.

Question: What if an idea crashes and burns—wouldn’t it be better to know that before you write the entire manuscript?

Answer: Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and assume your idea won’t fly. Also, don’t query something if you don’t honestly think it’s a good idea.

If you need to “test drive” an idea, a contest is an easier, safer, and faster way to do it. You’ll also get more feedback from a contest than an agent or editor about what aspects of your idea might need work.

Go forth and write that manuscript!


  1. Oh your blog is my saving grace! I'm an ardent, aspiring writer, and you are my savior! I will definitely be returning and will also be adding you to my blogroll.
    - Jo


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