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3Dynamic
09-18-2012, 04:53 PM
Good Morning,

Please allow me to ask this in strict sincerity, despite the laughter that may ensue.

Suppose I have the first 50,000 words of a novel completed. The idea has never been done before. And suppose the idea screams of financial success (yes, we all say that, and, yes, I may be delusional, I accept that, but please bear with me and stop laughing).

Has anyone ever successfully approached an agent with a 50% completed draft and gone on to secure an advance?

Note one fact: while I have never been published as a fiction writer I have had great success in my engineering writing. I am now under contract for a textbook. I complete what I say. Yes, this bears no testimony to my ability to write, but it shows dedication.

Now... one more thing... I did submit a novel for consideration to agents last year. And it was read by many. They all said the same thing: great style, excellent writing, but no plot. Now I have a plot. I am thinking of approaching the same ones. (There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)

Terie
09-18-2012, 05:03 PM
Has anyone ever successfully approached an agent with a 50% completed draft and gone on to secure an advance?

There are probably exceptions, as there are to every rule, but basically: No. A novel has to be completed before an agent can submit it. Unless you're Stephen King or George R.R. Martin or Norah Roberts or some such. Debut novelists? No.


Now... one more thing... I did submit a novel for consideration to agents last year. And it was read by many. They all said the same thing: great style, excellent writing, but no plot. Now I have a plot. I am thinking of approaching the same ones. (There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)

Sending your next work to agents who asked for partials and fulls from you before is an excellent strategy.

But the book still has to be finished before an agent can sell it, even if they take you on with an incomplete manuscript (which can absolutely happen -- happened to me -- though it's somewhat rare). Lots of writers start out with a bang but the book fizzles out in the end. No publisher worth their salt will contract a debut novelist for a book that hasn't been finished yet.

If you need money in a hurry, writing fiction is just about the last thing you can do to make that happen.

Undercover
09-18-2012, 05:14 PM
I agree with Terie here. Your odds are against you in that it isn't finished yet. Granted there are cases in which it has happened, but like Terie said very rare indeed.

Every beginner writer that thinks they have an awesome idea for a story and has NO idea what it takes to get published by a major publisher thinks this. First you have to get an agent to love it, not just like it. Then you have to get that agent to sell it to a big publisher. There's a lot of time and effort involved and it usually doesn't happen quickly either. Some cases the advance (if you even get that far) is given on publication. That might be up to two years from now. It all depends on so many things. It's too much of a long shot.

Better luck finding a day job if you need cash quick. Or the pawn shop?

Calla Lily
09-18-2012, 05:22 PM
No.

Cyia
09-18-2012, 06:06 PM
Good Morning,

Good morning.

Please allow me to ask this in strict sincerity, despite the laughter that may ensue.

No laughter, I promise( <--- makes sneaky face).

Suppose I have the first 50,000 words of a novel completed.

Woot! You're in great shape. (<--- sincere, not laughing)

The idea has never been done before.

Snerk. (<--- snort of laughter)

In all seriousness, this just isn't true. I'm now calling this the Literary Lady Gaga Effect, because the only way to have a "never before" novel is to have the equivalent of a Lady Gaga performance on the page. It might be unique, but I doubt it's something that translates well to the written word.

New spin - awesome and totally possible.
New idea - highly unlikely.

And suppose the idea screams of financial success (yes, we all say that, and, yes, I may be delusional, I accept that, but please bear with me and stop laughing).

Laughter is good for the soul. However, I hope your idea does bring you screaming financial success. The problem you've got is that ideas aren't worth anything; it's the execution that will make or break you.

Has anyone ever successfully approached an agent with a 50% completed draft and gone on to secure an advance?

I'm sure it's happened, but not very often. Settle in for story time because I've got one:

Do you see the cover in my sigline? Two years ago, I was getting ready to query a novel, but I had hit a revision block. To take my mind off of it, I wrote a funky little query, which I put up here, on my blog, and sent to Query Shark (if you're unfamiliar with la Shark, then go find her and read her blog). The shortish version (as it's too late for truly short) is that the query was a hit. The idea was sound. Agents and editors loved it so much that I had requests coming in for the novel (from agents and editors) without ever sending a single query.

Unfortunately, the novel wasn't finished. It was my "back-up" novel in case the lead one didn't sell, and I hadn't planned on sending it out for a while. I explained this to each interested party and the answer was always the same - "When it's ready, send it my way!" So even with ideas that they believe are great, they want/need a full novel - mainly to make sure you can complete one.

Once you've established yourself, it's more common to see deals for 3 complete chapters plus an outline of the rest of the proposed novel, but that only applies to writers that an editor is sure will be able to finish what they've started.

I finished the novel, it went on sub, and sold. The enthusiasm was still there, I just had to get the book together.

Note one fact: while I have never been published as a fiction writer I have had great success in my engineering writing. I am now under contract for a textbook. I complete what I say. Yes, this bears no testimony to my ability to write, but it shows dedication.

Dedication =/= successful completion. There are tons of dedicated writers, but not all can put a novel together effectively.

Now... one more thing... I did submit a novel for consideration to agents last year. And it was read by many. They all said the same thing: great style, excellent writing, but no plot. Now I have a plot. I am thinking of approaching the same ones. (There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)

I'm not sure why funding is a consideration, as no legit agent should be asking you for funds. If yo mean you "need an advance" rather than "to do this in advance," that I understand completely. I was in the same boat.



See, only one laugh. You didn't need to worry. ;)

Jamesaritchie
09-18-2012, 06:17 PM
You don't have to be a famous writer to sell a novel and receive an advance based on a partial, or even on a query, but you do usually have to be a published novelist. Barring this, you have to have name recognition, which means being famous for something outside of writing.

And three things. 1. I doubt there is any such thing as a new idea. There are certainly ideas you have never heard, but this does not mean the idea has never been done. You can take an old idea and do it better, do it different, but for the most part, there are no new ideas.

2. Ideas from unproven writers do not scream financial success. It isn't the idea that makes a novel earn money, it's how the writer tells the story and builds the characters. Ideas, all ideas, are a dime a truckload, and overpriced, even at this discount rate. Ideas are simply not worth the time it takes to write them down. Novels that turn that idea into a wonderful story filled with wonderful characters are what scream financial success. Until after you prove you can take an idea and turn it into such a novel, you're just another wannabe who hasn't shown he can do anything.

3. Why on earth would you even consider this approach? Even if it worked, which it won't, you would still have to finish the novel, still have to polish it to a publisher's satisfaction, so why not just finish it now?

When an unpublished novelist approaches and agent or publisher with an unfinished novel, well, what would you think of such a writer were you the agent or editor? It really doesn't say anything positive about the writer. It's a big red flag that tells the agent or editor you may not be someone they want to deal with.

As for funding, it doesn't take funding to finish, polish, and submit a great novel, it takes talent and dedication.

WeaselFire
09-18-2012, 06:26 PM
The idea has never been done before. And suppose the idea screams of financial success...
This is the perfect beginning to a Slushpile Hell entry... :)

Many, many authors have gotten extremely lucrative contracts with less than you have available. People across all genres, from Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell to Justin Bieber and Jimmy Buffett. Heck, some haven't even had to actually write anything, the publisher hired writers for that.

What do you bring to the table that could get you into the same type of deal?

Jeff

Stacia Kane
09-18-2012, 07:33 PM
Good Morning,

Please allow me to ask this in strict sincerity, despite the laughter that may ensue.

We're not laughing at you. Honest. :)



Suppose I have the first 50,000 words of a novel completed. The idea has never been done before. And suppose the idea screams of financial success (yes, we all say that, and, yes, I may be delusional, I accept that, but please bear with me and stop laughing).

Again, no laughter. We may think you're a bit naive, but that's okay. We were all naive once. And who knows, we haven't seen your idea; make sure you post your query in Share Your Work's Query Letter Hell section once it's ready and you have 50 posts (I suggest you head over there and read/critique some queries and excerpts; it's an excellent way to learn, and to get to know people, and to see how your ideas and work stack up, and all that good stuff. That's not me saying you need any of that, just that it's fun).



Has anyone ever successfully approached an agent with a 50% completed draft and gone on to secure an advance?

I know someone who got representation based on a short sample. But this person met the agent in person, and had a long conversation. His sample was amazing. The agent liked him and his pages shone like diamonds. They were hilarious and different and exciting.

He still had to finish the book before it could be submitted to editors. And yes, he sold for a pretty decent advance.

He is/was an anomaly. Still is. Even he tells people how rare and unusual his situation was.



Note one fact: while I have never been published as a fiction writer I have had great success in my engineering writing. I am now under contract for a textbook. I complete what I say. Yes, this bears no testimony to my ability to write, but it shows dedication.

It does speak to your ability to complete a book. But you still need a finished ms., because your ability to write is what matters. A great and new idea isn't worth much if the writing is dull, generally--again, not saying yours is.



Now... one more thing... I did submit a novel for consideration to agents last year. And it was read by many. They all said the same thing: great style, excellent writing, but no plot. Now I have a plot. I am thinking of approaching the same ones. (There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)


Absolutely approach the same agents, but I confess to being really confused as to why "funding" means you have to approach agents before the book is complete? They still won't submit it until it's done, and they don't pay you to write, so as far as finances go you'll have to wait the same amount of time, really.

An agent is no guarantee the book will sell, either. Or that it will sell quickly. Or that it will sell for more than a minimal advance.

You could certainly try, but I wouldn't recommend it at all. You're really only going to get one chance to submit this ms to these agents; they're going to feel you wasted their time if you query an incomplete book, and it won't leave a good impression.

Just finish the book. As Jamesaritchie said, you have to finish the book anyway. You may as well do it now. What if as you hit the final third you realize the plot should go in a different direction? Or has holes in it that you can't fix? Or whatever else? You want to submit your very best work to an agent, and I think the best way to guarantee that is by having a finished ms. :)

quicklime
09-18-2012, 08:14 PM
I don;t know that a "nobody" has ever sold their novel half-finished. Of all books ever, ever started, I would guess under 20% (probably WELL under) get finished. An agent is gonna want that to happen before they invest.

On the flip side, there's actually several threads here where folks pitched a half-finished novel without telling the agent. Those all went somewhere between "poorly" and "spectacularly bad."

Finish it. Then actually have someone look it over. You can do it quick, or do it right.

leahzero
09-18-2012, 09:11 PM
(There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)

Publishing is notorious for its glacial pace.

Even if you miraculously found an agent willing to sign you based on a partial, there's no telling how long it would take for you to 1) finish the book and revise it, 2) go on submission, 3) sell the book, 4) complete several rounds of revisions with your publisher, and finally 5) receive payment from the publisher, which will likely come in segments anyway (e.g. half upon signing, half upon publication, etc.).

And even then, there's no telling how high of an advance--if any--you'd receive. Your advance may be paltry, and you may end up waiting for quarterly royalty checks, or something.

And this is all assuming a best-case scenario where agents fall all over themselves to sign you, and editors swoon at the chance to buy your book.

What I'm saying is that making any sort of plans based on potential income from an unfinished, unedited, unagented, unsold book is pointless. There are way too many variables involved.

If you need money quickly, like other posters said above, trying to get a novel published in the traditional manner is a really bad way to go about it.

quicklime
09-18-2012, 09:41 PM
(There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)


then you are way, way, way in the wrong area. self-pub OR published trade, if you need money soon you'd be far better off devoting 100 hours of your time over a couple months to bagging groceries.....that money comes every two weeks.

even if you sold your half-finished book (and remember the likelihood is on parity with you just riding to the agents atop a unicorn) you won't see anything anytime soon.

suki
09-18-2012, 09:47 PM
(There is a personal reason I need to do this in advance. It has to do with funding.)

I'm sure there are exceptions, but you are likely to be summarily rejected if you query an unfinished novel, no matter the concept etc.

For many (Most?) reputable agents, an unfinished novel is an auto-reject. Several have tweeted in the last few weeks not to do so, and I have heard several say that it is a sign of an unprofessional and not ready to be published writer (ie, they don't understand the processes and expectations, and lack patience, etc.).

And if you don't mention in the query that it is incomplete, if an agent asks for the full, you will then have to tell them it is incomplete - and then you risk being branded (and dismissed) as untrustworthy, as well as unprofessional.

I assume your reference to funding means you are broke. Unfortunately, many writers fall in that category. It is not an exception to conforming to professional, industry expectations.

ETA: Yes, as quicklime says, even if you landed an agent with the half-finished novel, it would need to be finished before he/she could pitch editors, and they may take months to consider it and work through their procedures...and then contract negotiations might take months...so even if you were the rarity and landed an agent, who agreed to shop it unfinished (even I'm having trouble swallowing this scenario), then you are still months and months from a penny of the advance.

~suki

Alexandra Little
09-19-2012, 12:56 AM
The only author I can recall getting a deal on a partial is YA author Ellen Hopkins, but she had published twenty nonfiction children's books before moving onto YA fiction. I heard her speak about the deal, and she emphasized that she got the deal because she had a proven track record on not being late for deadlines. I can't remember if she approached agents/editors cold, or if she already knew them through her nonfiction work.

Filigree
09-19-2012, 01:30 AM
My situation involved an e-book offer from a good publisher, and they moved fairly fast on the contract and mms. I queried in early February of this year, had an offer by mid-March, and found an agent to iron out contract quirks. I signed the contract in mid-April, I believe, then turned in the final-copy edited mms by the end of June. The book launched in late July. I'm getting my first month's royalty check this week. It will be for a medium three figures. I'm already contracted for a sequel, which I'm writing at the moment.

Most of us don't make large wads of cash at this.

Undercover
09-19-2012, 01:36 AM
I think 3Dynamic is one dimensional now since he/she hasn't returned. Maybe too overwhelmed by the realities of it now.

KalenO
09-19-2012, 01:37 AM
As others have said, I can think of a couple writers who have gotten agents with unfinished WIPs that went on to sell, BUT the circumstances in any case like that are so specific to the individual there's no use in basing your hopes or strategy on them.

So yes, it CAN happen, but in no way, shape or form can you count on it or even plan for it, so you're better off reevaluating what it'll take for you to complete the work without an agent or pub offer and query the traditional way.

GiantRampagingPencil
09-19-2012, 03:15 AM
What everybody has said already. I'm a newbie and my ego still has that 'new author smell' that tells me my work is somehow different, but even I know better than to submit a partial.

Think of it as going into a job interview at a hospital and saying "I haven't finished medical school, but I'd make a great cardiologist because I have some novel ideas of treatment."

We're talking enough red flags to equip an army of matadors

Granted, most authors can earn great wodgers of cash, but only if they ask to be paid in pennies.

tko
09-19-2012, 04:54 AM
Boy, do I know what that is. Too funny.

tko
09-19-2012, 04:58 AM
When they see the phrase "never been done before," it typically means the author isn't very well read.

How many books have you read in your lifetime? Over a thousand?

ARoyce
09-19-2012, 07:25 AM
First, I agree that your novel needs to be complete before you query. Even if you have a solid nonfiction background, there can still be a long time between a finished draft and a polished fiction manuscript. Many agent blogs point out that they are interested in manuscripts that are ready to sell.

Second, has it ever happened? Well, I'm pretty sure she had more than 50% of the manuscript complete, but Diana Gabaldon, author of the wildly popular Outlander series and the connected Lord John series, did get an agent for Outlander (the first book) when it wasn't finished yet. And, yes, Outlander was a bit "outside the box" when it first came out. But keep in mind that 1) she was a successful nonfiction author and had written for Disney and 2) it was back in the early 1990s so publishing has changed a lot since then. Oh, and 3) while Outlander was published as a complete novel the story still technically isn't finished...she's working on Book 8 and counting!

Her experience seems to be much more the exception than the rule.

Filigree
09-19-2012, 08:47 AM
Also worth repeating: this was 20 years ago. I sat in on a NASFiC panel in 1992 where Diana discussed the events behind her discovery. She'd posted segments in an online bulletin board, and caught some notice. The Internet was very young, the noise-to-signal ratio was much less, and there were fewer people trying to market themselves.

Terie
09-19-2012, 11:19 AM
Second, has it ever happened? Well, I'm pretty sure she had more than 50% of the manuscript complete, but Diana Gabaldon, author of the wildly popular Outlander series and the connected Lord John series, did get an agent for Outlander (the first book) when it wasn't finished yet. And, yes, Outlander was a bit "outside the box" when it first came out. But keep in mind that 1) she was a successful nonfiction author and had written for Disney and 2) it was back in the early 1990s so publishing has changed a lot since then. Oh, and 3) while Outlander was published as a complete novel the story still technically isn't finished...she's working on Book 8 and counting!

This doesn't actually apply to the OP's actual question, though. He asked about selling an incomplete debut novel, not getting representation with an incomplete debut novel. As I mentioned in my reply, it's somewhat rare but not at all unheard of to secure representation with an incomplete novel; I did.

The question was whether one can expect to get a publishing contract with a debut incomplete novel, and the answer remains: pretty much no (with exceptions an order of magnitude fewer than securing rep, which is rare enough).

All the anecdotes about how authors secured representation with unfinished novels don't really bear on the question of getting a publishing contract before the novel is finished.

JSSchley
09-19-2012, 05:53 PM
Has it been done? You betcha. Megan McCafferty sold Sloppy Firsts off the idea alone--she'd pitched it to an editor, he asked for her to write the first 50 pages, she got a deal and then got an agent.

Is she the only one out of the hundreds, possibly thousands of authors I can think of off the top of my head that did it?

You bet. And she was also a very established writer at the time, just in nonfiction. And this was almost a decade ago.

You're going to get a bunch of "no's" anyway when you query with the finished book, because that's the reality of the business. Why not just finish it? The chances that you're going to get an agent and a sale with an unfinished book are extraordinarily slim, so why risk it?

Plus, I obviously haven't queried with an unfinished book, but I don't know that agents will send you a letter telling you that's why they rejected (unless they're already interested in the book, as in Cyia's case.) You'll just get a "this isn't for me" letter, with no invitation to re-send once you have a complete manuscript. So then you've lost your ability to query that agent.

Why slam doors in your own face? That seems very counterproductive.

waylander
09-19-2012, 06:25 PM
This happened fairly recently with Hannu Rajaniemi's 'The Quantum Thief'.
It was agented and then sold on the basis of 1 chapter plus and outline.

Jamesaritchie
09-19-2012, 06:40 PM
Of course it's happened, but in every case I've seen there were circumstances that meant it wasn't just an unknown writer who tried it. Something made that particular writer stand out, made that writer an exception. Unless the OP has something going for him beyond what he's stated, it ain't gonna happen here.

And even when it does happen, you still have to finish the book, and the finished book still has to be written to the satisfaction of the publisher, before it gets published. No publisher will release a completed novel they think is inferior. Anyone who has a novel contract has seen that clause.