PDA

View Full Version : Any agents who accept unfinished manuscripts?



Dario D.
03-10-2007, 07:30 AM
'Not sure if this is the right sub-form to ask this...

I was wondering if anyone can point out some agents who specifically accept queries for unfinished fiction novels. I know they're out there, but I have to do lots of searching between each one I find.

Anyone know of any right off the bat?
Thanks. It would help a lot.

PS: I know some of you are just itching to jump in and say, "I don't think it's a good idea to submit unfinished material," but I've already gone over it several times, and find it to be my cup of tea until the novel is finished. I appreciate the concern (really), but wouldn't care to discuss it, if you don't mind. :) If they're specifically accepting unfinished material, then there's no problem in my book.

Maddog
03-10-2007, 07:42 AM
They are out there. And 99.9% of them are scammers!

If you manage to find one...well just don't. Finish your MS. Then revise it about 6 times. Or a dozen. Read Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. Apply what you've learned. Revise some more.

Then it MIGHT be ready to send out.

Dario D.
03-10-2007, 08:04 AM
I'll add a line to the end of my disclaimer:

PS: I know some of you are just itching to jump in and say, "I don't think it's a good idea to submit unfinished material," but I've already gone over it several times, and find it to be my cup of tea until the novel is finished. I appreciate the concern (really), but wouldn't care to discuss it, if you don't mind. :) If they're specifically accepting unfinished material, then there's no problem in my book. Also, I research each agency before accepting anything. I've read the horror stories.

transom-jumper
03-10-2007, 09:02 AM
Dear Dario D,

But a long, interesting life has taught me that there's an exception to every rule. However, I've also learned that success leans toward the rule far more than the exception.
I tried your idea when I was a new writer. I wrote 4 nearly perfect chapters and slapped together 200+ pages of schlock on the end to say it was completed. The ending was just junk. I'd send off the obligatory 3 chapters and agents loved it. I got multiple requests for the full manuscript, which didn't exist. I thought this would add pressure and inspire me to clean up and write the perfect middle and ending. The problem was there were plenty of other writers with completed manuscripts sending them to the same agencies. They got their novels published. The agents expected a completed work on their desk in 10 days or less. Most will allow a few days delay for a final read and tweaking. To get the first 4 chapters perfect took me months and months. The final 16 were probably more than a year's hard work away. I threw the endings together and got rejections. The agents could see that I could write well, but that didn't matter. They wanted a well-written and complete novel. Several of them commented on the discrepancies between the first 4 chapters and the junk that followed. I fooled no one. While I can't completely discount your idea, I'd suggest you be within striking distance of the end. If you figure the novel is a likely 320 pager, the first 310 pages should be finished and possibly edited 6 or 7 times through until they're as close to perfect as possible. An unfinished manuscript 10 days or less from completion might be okay. That way you can lock yourself in a room with your laptop for a 70 or 80 hour marathon session to polish it. After that it's a piece of cake to send it off in a timely manner, before the agent decides to represent nonfiction exclusively, isn't seeking new clients or doesn't remember who you are.

All my best,

Over-the-transom and through-the shredder,
Transom-Jumper

Popeyesays
03-10-2007, 09:22 AM
Frankly, I don't know of a single fiction agent who does take uncompleted novels.

Regards,
Scott

Toothpaste
03-10-2007, 09:41 AM
I know you have a million disclaimers, so I won't say anything. I was just genuinely curious why you wanted to look into agents before completing the MS.

Unimportant
03-10-2007, 09:45 AM
Sorry, I've never run across any agents who say they're willing to look at incomplete manuscripts.

joefalke
03-10-2007, 01:14 PM
In 1994, my first book was from an approach from Rosen Publishing Group to write FOSTER HOMES for teenage reluctant readers. Gina Strazzabosco later told me I beat out fifty-some other applicants for the honor.

The book was somewhat of a success... Then, after writing three complete novels, to which there was no interest from some-hundred agents, I received a request from Enigma Books for my manuscript investigating child spies of World War II. Hopefully they are for real... They are the first I have approached.

Moral: non-fiction is easier to break into than fiction. However, I didn't bother with an agent this time. I have some three hundred rejections from agents for the novels. I think they [the agents] automatically associate my name with REJECTION!

Manat
03-10-2007, 02:13 PM
Many agents will try and sell, and editors accept and buy, partial manuscripts ONLY if you're an already successfully published author. I have many friends who sell on synopsis and proposal, but only AFTER they've had one or two successful books under their belt. I've never head of an agent that will do it for an unpublished author though.

James D. Macdonald
03-10-2007, 07:50 PM
As Manat said, if you want an agent who will read and represent your uncompleted novel, first sell (and do well with) another novel.

The rules in non-fiction are different: there selling on proposal is more the norm.

The only question I'd have for the OP is why? Why do you want an agent for a manuscript that doesn't exist?

victoriastrauss
03-10-2007, 07:53 PM
I'll add to the chorus: unless you're already a successful writer, a reputable agent is not going to be interested in an unfinished novel. Also, since no one else has mentioned it, I will: "fiction novel" is redundant. A novel is by definition fiction.

- Victoria

Maprilynne
03-10-2007, 11:09 PM
I hate to sound harsh, but 99.9% of the time, the only agent who will take on an unfinished novel from an un-published author is as clueless as their potential client.

If that's what you want, go for it. I'll stick with my beautifully polished manuscript, my top tier agent, and my high goals. You're not going to get any of those without putting in the work first. Trust me. (And Victoria and James, and Toothpaste who are all in the same position.)

Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I think it's also pretty insulting to come on here and say, "Give me advice . . . nonono! Just the advice I want."

Maprilynne

transom-jumper
03-10-2007, 11:43 PM
Literary agents who only accept finished manuscripts? Did Adolf Hitler make up that rule? Are Nazis running the literary agencies? The next thing you know my boss will want me to complete a job before paying me. Yeah, right! The madness is spreading, too.
Recently a mortician refused to embalm and bury my gravely ill uncle. The blasted mortician wouldn't accept him as a client until he was officially dead. Talk about a stickler! There was a sale going on and my penny-pinching Uncle Bob figured he was 2/3rd's of the way dead anyway, so why not get the discount? My uncle tried to reason with him, but the heartless bugger said that the Reaper's work had to be finished before the discount applied. The sale ended and poor old Bob never got buried. Worse yet, he made a full recovery and is expected to live another 40 years. Can you imagine how expensive a burial will be then? A similar thing happened to my wife. She was two months pregnant but the pediatrician insisted that she deliver her child before he was fitted for the corrective shoes he needed for his flat feet. The bastard wouldn't even treat my unborn son's near-sightedness. Madness! Madness!

Transom-Jumper

ORION
03-11-2007, 01:15 AM
I have to admit I do not know any agents specifically who emphasize that they do -- but I do know that most agents at some point in time have considered unfinished material - most notably from prior published authors and MFA students whose short story work garnered awards.
When an agent sees a spectacular premise that can be uniquely told by that author then all bets are off. I understand Diana Peterfreund sold her first novel as a partial but she also had quite a body of work as a freelancer.

maestrowork
03-11-2007, 01:21 AM
Good luck with your search.

Dario D.
03-13-2007, 03:42 AM
(sigh)

Toothpaste
03-13-2007, 03:55 AM
Honestly Dario, what were you expecting? I guess we could have all just answered "no" to your question and have done. Would that have been better? (hey at least we answered your question, you didn't answer ours, namely what your goal was. Possibly if you would share that with us, we could understand the motivation and help more. Sometimes the question we ask won't get us the answer we actually want. For example, my hairdresser listens patiently to me tell her what I want. And then she does her own thing, and gives me what I was actually asking for)

BarbaraSheridan
03-13-2007, 04:16 AM
You can (sigh) all you want but the fact is there are no short cuts in this business, Dario, unless you have strong sales figures to back it up.

Any agent worth having will want to see a completed fiction manuscript before signing you.

Popeyesays
03-13-2007, 04:54 AM
Finish it. Then the issue is resolved. The reason that agents don't want unfinished MSS from unpublished authors is because they don't have any guarantee it will EVER be finished. The only way to prove yourself able to finish is to do it.

Regards,
Scott

Dario D.
03-13-2007, 05:45 AM
Honestly Dario, what were you expecting? I guess we could have all just answered "no" to your question and have done. Would that have been better?
Yes. There's nothing wrong with saying no, as I asked a yes or no question. I also asked very politely to keep it limited to yes or no answers, and clearly stated that I've gone over this before, and didn't need lecturing. Isn't that worth respecting? Doesn't someone who's been there and done that not need to go there and do that again, especially when it's made clear and requested?

I'm grateful for those of you who were just trying to warn me, and who did so politely, and I even agree with you. Flying blindly with potentially scam agencies is indeed unsafe.

-

But now, for those of you who do NOT have gentle suggestions, let me go over my thoughts. First of all, I submit very few unfinished queries (3 so far), and only when I find the opportunity between my writing. My focus is getting my novel finished and polished, as I've done before. Second, I only submit to trustworthy agencies. For my first novel, I was quickly "accepted" by The New York Literary Agency, but immediately went to look them up before even replying. Now, I'm even more cautious.

And finally, to give testimony to my successes with the occasional unfinished query, I've only submitted 3, and gotten 2 positive replies. Both were rejections, as it didn't fit their list, but one praised how interesting it sounded, while the other *almost* bought it, and asked me if they could look at it again when completed. We went back on forth on it for a while, talking about how it's told and better presented to this particular genre.

The latter was none other than Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who have been referred to on this forum as "the big dogs" of Young Adult. They don't normally look for unfinished manuscripts, but I asked them about it since their website doesn't specify, and was invited to query. Not a bad start for some casual querying every now and then.

When the novel's finished, I'm going to hit the querying hard, but it never hurts to have generated some interest before completion. Not at all... In fact, I find this rather motivating. I find it useful in two ways: 1) If they like it, I know my time isn't being wasted, and that I'm on the right track. 2) If they don't, I have time to re-think my approach, and make sure I don't complete a big blunder.

I rather like the outcome, as my initial reason for sending an unfinished query in the first place was just to figure out if I was writing something marketable or not. I got the answer I was looking for, and then some, so it has helped me greatly.

Maprilynne
03-13-2007, 06:35 AM
the other *almost* bought it, and asked me if they could look at it again when completed.

Sounds to me like your "success" story gave you the same answer everyone else did. You didn't ask "is it possible to drum up interest on an uncompleted novel," you asked about agents who accept incomplete novels. You already got the answer from a great agent. No.

Maprilynne

BTW, we're not here to be gentle with you, we're hear to tell you the truth. And while simple "no" would have spared your feelings and ego, there are lot of newbie lurkers here who glean info from other people's question and I think it is veryimportant that they understand why this is a bad and unrealistic idea and why.

Dario D.
03-13-2007, 07:54 AM
My "success " story was indeed a success. The answer was not "no", it was "I like it. Get back to me". Not only, but it was achieved in only 3 submissions, with one other response that I very much like.

But even all that is to be put aside, because every novel is different. If I had gotten all "no" answers, or all "yes" answers, it would have benefit me just the same. As I said, my initial goal was to test the water, and get insight as to what agents thought of my in-progress novel, so that I could have time to make adjustments. And it served to accomplish that very thing. It may not work for you, but it has worked for me very well, and I love the option.

Also, the agents I've dealt with so far have been more interested in seriously considering my query than telling me there's anything wrong with my approach. If they accept, they accept, and that's because they see no reason not to. If they don't accept, then I don't query them.

KCH
03-13-2007, 07:58 AM
Dario,

What Maprilynne said.

Plus: I'm fairly new to the boards, but not to the conventions of normal courtesies. When people generously give their time and expertise at your request, it's customary to say thank you.

And no, you did not ask a yes or no question. You asked for names of agents who accept unfinished novels. You got the long answer because the short answer would have validated the premise of your question--that
there are indeed lists of reputable agents out there willing to look at unfinished fiction from unpublished authors.

Birol
03-13-2007, 08:04 AM
My "success " story was indeed a success. The answer was not "no", it was "I like it. Get back to me".

Have you considered the possibility that this is a formula response given to people who query about unfinished manuscripts?

Dario D.
03-13-2007, 08:08 AM
When people generously give their time and expertise at your request, it's customary to say thank you.
I agree, and said to them:
"I'm grateful for those of you who were just trying to warn me..."

However, you said "who generously give their time and expertise at your request"... The problem is that I did quite the opposite of request that.


And no, you did not ask a yes or no question.
I asked: "Anyone know of any (agents) right off the bat?"
And the topic of my thread is: Any agents who accept unfinished manuscripts?

The default format of answer is either "No" (or no reply), or "Yes, and here they are."


Have you considered the possibility that this is a formula response given to people who query about unfinished manuscripts?
No, as I went back and forth with them discussing the novel and future representation. It was not a simple "no" answer, as I explained in that post.

Even then, like I said earlier, *anything* that happened is beside the point. Every query will have a different response, so there's no use arguing that all attempts are guaranteed to fail. My testimony is that queries for unfinished material can succeed like any other query. All you need is a trustworthy agent who accepts it. That's it. If they don't accept it, then you don't query them until you're done.

Toothpaste
03-13-2007, 08:22 AM
Okay. Fine. You've made your point.

No.

Dario D.
03-13-2007, 08:22 AM
Okay, thanks. :)

Does anyone else know of any?

Stacia Kane
03-13-2007, 12:02 PM
No.

Susan B
03-13-2007, 05:46 PM
It's funny,even though they say that with nonfiction you are supposed to write the proposal first (and not let on if you have actually written the book first, as i had done) I found that even there some agents wanted the manuscript rather than the proposal. (I'd written a memoir, though, so sometimes that's treated more as fiction, I've read.)

Wanting to "test the waters" may be understandable, but a good way to do that is with query letter critiques--most notoriously Miss Snark's "Crapometer." She really does address the premise of the book, and not just how well the letter is written.

Good luck!

Susan

Moon Daughter
03-14-2007, 09:11 PM
In all honesty, fairness, and politeness...what was the point (Dario) of asking a question when you argue all the answers the people of AW have been giving you? If it works for you to query unfinished ms's, then fine. But what was the point in creating a thread that you already know the "answer" to?

As for my opinion on it, I pretty much agree with everyone here. If I were an agent and got a query for an unfinished ms, I would be weary. 1) Because I don't know if the entire story is worth my time; 2) Because I wouldn't want to take on an unpublished "author" that is not even ready for publication; it's a waste of time, plus, I want to know what happens in the end before I even process the thought of whether or not it's acceptable in my terms. Blah!

Besides the point, good luck with getting an agent with an unfinished ms.

PattiTheWicked
03-14-2007, 10:01 PM
Dario, the reason you got lengthy answers instead of just "no" from everyone who responded, is because generally it's considered polite to explain WHY the answer is no.

You're stomping your feet because you don't like the detailed answers you've been given, but that doesn't change the fact that all those answers still include the "no" part.

batgirl
03-15-2007, 02:36 AM
No.
Though I believe it's possible to get a 3-book contract from a publisher on the basis of one completed novel and another unfinished novel. You might want to look into publishers who accept unagented subs.
-Barbara

janetbellinger
03-15-2007, 02:53 AM
Well Dario, you've already mentioned one very good agent who will look at an unfinished mss. It sounds like you are quite capable of testing the waters with other ones. BTW, Andrea Brown turned me down too and actually let me send her a rewrite of the first couple of chapters. The answer was still no, though. It was a very polite no, but still no.

III
03-30-2007, 12:04 AM
As Manat said, if you want an agent who will read and represent your uncompleted novel, first sell (and do well with) another novel.


I have a close-to-the-topic question. Suppose you're re-starting the process of romancing agents after having gotten the cold shoulder the first time around. You've completed a novel or two and gone the self-publishing route. What ballpark of sales or general accolades would you want to include in your query? I'm assuming "over 10 units sold and a very favorable review my mom posted on Amazon" won't exactly blow their doors off. Jim, you mentioned "do well with another novel", and obviously I'm not looking for a magic number, but maybe you could elaborate on what you would consider "doing well". Thanks.

Jay

Jamesaritchie
03-30-2007, 12:45 AM
Strange conversation, beginning to end. No matter how favorable the responses seem to be, it's still a horrible idea to query an agent about an unfinished novel.

Julie Worth
03-30-2007, 01:28 AM
If you already have a successful novel out there, I think many agents will be interested in a partially complete ms. If you get a short story published in the New Yorker, same thing. If you're a freshman at Harvard with connections to a book packager, you can even get a six figure advance and a movie deal.

victoriastrauss
03-30-2007, 01:55 AM
You've completed a novel or two and gone the self-publishing route. What ballpark of sales or general accolades would you want to include in your query?The figures I've most often seen cited are 5,000-10,000 sold within the first year of release.

I imagine there are exceptions, especially if you were able to get media attention--but I think you'd at least need to cite sales of several thousand.

- Victoria

Jamesaritchie
03-30-2007, 07:22 PM
The figures I've most often seen cited are 5,000-10,000 sold within the first year of release.

I imagine there are exceptions, especially if you were able to get media attention--but I think you'd at least need to cite sales of several thousand.

- Victoria

Those numbers sound right to me. I talked to a self-published writer recently who said mainstream publishers and agents ignored him until he hit 7,500 sales. and then they jumped all over his novel.

Jamesaritchie
03-30-2007, 07:24 PM
If you already have a successful novel out there, I think many agents will be interested in a partially complete ms. If you get a short story published in the New Yorker, same thing. If you're a freshman at Harvard with connections to a book packager, you can even get a six figure advance and a movie deal.


Yes, these will do it. If you have a successful novel already published, you can usually get a contract for the next novel based on a short outline, let alone a partial. But I would not want to be in the shoes of that Harvard freshman.

III
03-30-2007, 09:15 PM
The figures I've most often seen cited are 5,000-10,000 sold within the first year of release.
- Victoria

Wow, I guess that thins out the herd of self-published authors. Even with a great manuscript, an excellent web-page, a large network of friends and doing book signings at every B&N in the state, I don't see how a self-published author (selling a book for twice the price of a published author) could generate the interest to move 10,000 units in the first year. I'm not questioning what you're saying about needing to sell that many to impress a publisher, but what have other authors done to hit that rarified air? Do they advertise, or can a strong product create that type of attention on its own?

johnrobison
03-30-2007, 09:27 PM
Wow, I guess that thins out the herd of self-published authors. Even with a great manuscript, an excellent web-page, a large network of friends and doing book signings at every B&N in the state, I don't see how a self-published author (selling a book for twice the price of a published author) could generate the interest to move 10,000 units in the first year. I'm not questioning what you're saying about needing to sell that many to impress a publisher, but what have other authors done to hit that rarified air? Do they advertise, or can a strong product create that type of attention on its own?

I think you'll find that successful new authors choose a mainstream publisher and they work together to make their first book a success.

If you look at what goes into the production of a major book from a big house, and then you look at what goes into "making ready" a self published book, you would understand why mainstream publishers don't take them seriously.

Here are some of the things my publishers has done to produce my book:
1) The executive editor spent a man-month of time doing the rewrites with me.
2) The legal department spent a man-week in review, after which the EE and I had minor changes
3) While all that went on, the cover artist came up with cover ideas, and one was chosen. That was several man-weeks of work, too
4) Also at the same time, the book designer figured out the layout for the book.
5) At that point, the book went to copy edit, which was a few more man-weeks of editing time.
6) That takes us to final revision, where a bit more time is spent in final review, and then it's off to make galleys.

The list above illustrates how much effort goes into the production of a mainstream book once it's written. None of those steps happen for self published books, except in a very small way. But those things add up to make a package that people will want to buy.

Once the book is done, a big house is going to have some marketing clout to get the book reviewed and get it into stores.

victoriastrauss
03-30-2007, 09:53 PM
I'm not questioning what you're saying about needing to sell that many to impress a publisher, but what have other authors done to hit that rarified air? Do they advertise, or can a strong product create that type of attention on its own?If you scratch most self-publishing success stories, you'll find a special circumstance: a media or celebrity connection, contacts in publishing, a captive audience (for instance, the owner of a bakery specializing in low-carb baking self-pubbed a cookbook with AuthorHouse, and sold it at his very busy store--it did so well that a large house picked it up). They also devote substantial time and money to promoting their books--touring, hiring publicists, setting up at book fairs. Even with this kind of investment, it doesn't always work.

- Victoria

Toothpaste
03-30-2007, 09:59 PM
III - Check out the story of Christopher Paolini (author of Eragon): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Paolini

III
03-30-2007, 10:23 PM
Thanks for the feedback everyone. In my 20's I went through a similar learning curve with the music industry - it doesn't matter how tallented you are, you need to tour constantly, advertise, work your tail off and ultimately have a good amount of luck to get signed. Unfortunately I have a good paying job and four school-aged children (actually, I guess that would be "fortunately") so I'm not up for book-tours or extensive promotions. But ultimately I guess we make art for ourselves, for our own enjoyment and the hope of edifying others. It would just be nice to have somebody else pay for it and do the leg-work. I guess it's my own fault for writing fiction instead of a diet book or financial planning book.

Victoria, I like your angle of having a celebrity involved to boost sales. I wonder if I could punch O.J. Simpson while holding up a copy of my book. I was planning on punching him anyway, so maybe I can leverage it for financial gain.

Toothpaste
03-30-2007, 11:05 PM
III, why not try and get published? While most publishers like authors who are willing to tour, they nonetheless do a lot of the legwork for you as john mapped out for you above. Don't think it is an impossible goal. There are many people here who are first time published authors, who never had any connections or anything, who still found agents and publishers.

III
03-30-2007, 11:44 PM
III, why not try and get published?

Oh believe me, I spent the past year trying to get published. I finished writing a novel, got beta readers, edited like crazy, researched everything I could find on the publishing industry, and sent out dozens of query letters to agents and publishers. I found out the hard way there were two big strikes against me:

I had written a Christian Fiction novel, which initially pidgeon-holed me into a nitch market where there are few publishers or agents.
My original manuscript was 170k words. I thought publishers would like an "epic" work of fantasy, but I found out none of them had any interest in risking their funds on a 400 page book from an unknown author in an underdeveloped genre. I certainly can't fault them for that.Long story short, I split my novel in half and decided I had two completed novels that were just the right length. Since the few doors that might have been opened to me had already been closed, I decided to self-publish. So now one novel is self-published and the second one is in the self-publication process through iUniverse. I have three more novels planned for the series, so I'm hoping against hope to get some momentum for the first two and be able to take the completed manuscript for the third to an agent or publisher.

I know everyone thinks they've written the next great best-seller. I don't have any delusions of grandeur, but I'm a voracious reader and I'm sure the books I've written are an excellent quality - especially compared to the lackluster, slim-pickins you find in the Fiction section of a Christian bookstore.

All that to say, I would LOVE to find a publisher. I guess I need to just perservere and keep getting smarter about the process. Oh yeah, and start going to writers' conferences. And of course learn from those of you who have had success and are kind enough to share your insights.

Toothpaste
03-31-2007, 12:18 AM
Well it sounds like you are doing a lot of the right things, primarily actually listening to people. Seriously good luck! It's tough and especially as you yourself said in such a niche market. Just never give up! That's the key!

Chumplet
03-31-2007, 12:50 AM
If you're looking for feedback on your query of an unfinished novel, why not take advantage of various agents who are kind enough to critique queries and hooks in their blogs?

That way, you won't waste their time when they take the time to read your query, ask for chapters, then the full, and then find out you can't deliver the goods. Don't forget, there are hundreds of authors behind you in the queue with a complete and saleable product.

Their job is to sell a product. If you don't have it, they will pass. Again, and again and again. You may even end up closing a few doors behind you if you try to query them again.

Good luck.

Marlys
03-31-2007, 01:47 AM
I was under the impression that the Christian fiction market was booming. Have you checked out the ACFW (http://www.americanchristianfictionwriters.com/) website? They currently have a contest (http://www.acfw.com/genesis/) for unpublished Christian fiction, and a conference coming up in September.

Jamesaritchie
03-31-2007, 02:26 AM
The Christian market isn't as large as some other markets, but it's hardly small, and a good Christian novel has an excellent shot at selling. Quite a number of first time novelists break into the Christian market each year.

I'm not sure why you see closed doors? Since you turned the too long novel into two right length novels, every Christian publisher out there is again open to you. Just because no one wanted the thing at 170K does not mean they won't look at it again now that it's the right length.

This bothers me. I know everyone thinks they've written the next great best-seller. I don't have any delusions of grandeur, but I'm a voracious reader and I'm sure the books I've written are an excellent quality - especially compared to the lackluster, slim-pickins you find in the Fiction section of a Christian bookstore.

Everyone is sure the novels they write are of excellent quality, and they're wrong at least 99% of the time. And if you really believe the fiction in Christian bookstores is slim picking, and of lackluster quality, my guess is you haven't written a Christian novel many are going to want to read. Those novels in Christian bookstores are there because fans of Christian fiction love them, and think they're wonderful. They aren't looking for a writer who doesn't like what they usually read and love because it means he won't be writing what they usually read and love.

III
03-31-2007, 06:45 AM
Everyone is sure the novels they write are of excellent quality, and they're wrong at least 99% of the time. And if you really believe the fiction in Christian bookstores is slim picking, and of lackluster quality, my guess is you haven't written a Christian novel many are going to want to read. Those novels in Christian bookstores are there because fans of Christian fiction love them, and think they're wonderful. They aren't looking for a writer who doesn't like what they usually read and love because it means he won't be writing what they usually read and love.

I wasn't intenting to get anyone riled up, but I understand your point and appreciate your feedback. I just have a big personal hangup about the entire "Christian Mainstream Media Machine". Go into a Christian bookstore and tell me how many hundreds of Beth Moore and "Purpose Driven Life" books you see, then tell me how many new fiction authors you see. Turn on a Christian radio station and tell me how many Chris Thomlin songs you hear, then how many you hear from indie bands. Turn on a Christian TV station and tell me ... well, tell me what a Gen X'er could possibly watch. Christian movies are getting a quick gasp of air because of "The Passion", but Hollywood will lose its interest again once the fad is over.

Christian media is slim pickins all the way around, unless you happen to love what is popular right now (Joel Osteen books and Hillsong music). I like "The Office" and "South Park" and "Pulp Fiction" and Stephen King and System of a Down, and so do most of my Christian buddies, so why aren't the Christian markets going after a piece of my six-figure salary?

All that to say, to the best of my observation, the Christian markets are very risk-averse. Music and literature seem to be even more trend-driven than in secular markets. You can find hundreds or even thousands of Fiction authors in any given B&N, but how many different ones will you find in a Christian bookstore? A precious few. There are alot of Gen-X Christians who are STARVING for the type of entertainment that's so widely available in the mainstream, but so rare in the Christian market. I'm trying to write stories that aren't already out there - not provide more of what people already love. Isn't that what art is all about - trying something different? Like most people, I have an above-average intelligence so I know of whence I speak.

I do apologize if I came across as bashing the successful Christian authors. God bless them - I'm glad they're impacting people's lives and I hope they continue to have success. I just wish there was a wider variety of Christian media. Christian self-help, Bible study, and Bodie Thone books dominate the "big Christian market" you're referring to. I see plenty of new Christian novelists on Amazon but not in the brick and mortars. If you know of many new Christian authors who are "pushing the limits" and are in the stores, please let me know and I'll be happy to eat my words and buy their books.

So you really think more than 99% of people who write are delusional about the quality of their own writing? That doesn't bode well for the rest of us. Personally, me write super-duper so not worried.

Boy, that did turn into a rant, didn't it. Probably best if nobody reads this post.

III
03-31-2007, 06:52 AM
I was under the impression that the Christian fiction market was booming. Have you checked out the ACFW (http://www.americanchristianfictionwriters.com/) website? They currently have a contest (http://www.acfw.com/genesis/) for unpublished Christian fiction, and a conference coming up in September.

Thanks for the links Marlys - I'll check them out. Let me know if I can return the favor by modeling my amazing abs for your next book cover. (Will the moderator ban me for lying about my abs?)

Silver King
03-31-2007, 06:59 AM
So you really think more than 99% of people who write are delusional about the quality of their own writing?
Yes. And more than likely, it's closer to one hundred percent, but then we'd be splitting hairs.

Popeyesays
03-31-2007, 08:27 AM
I find splitting hares to be the best way to grill them.

Scott

Memoirista
04-03-2007, 12:09 AM
True, I don't have a yes or no answer on agents. But I'm on Dario's side. I want to be able to query on an idea and a plan. It is very, very common in academic work to submit a 300-word abstract for an unwritten paper to be presented at a convention six or seven months away.

With any major undertaking, I want a taste of how it will feel to have finished it. If I am going to get pregnant, I want to know how it feels to hold a baby. If I am going to choose to spend my major free time for six or eight months writing and revising my memoir, I want to know that someday it will be in circulation. Otherwise, I should pay more attention to getting ahead in my day job.

On the other hand, this is something I have to write. I like what appears to be Dario's plan, of locating agents to query, sending out a few as he continues to write, taking some response as an encouragement.

DeadlyAccurate
04-03-2007, 09:31 AM
If I am going to choose to spend my major free time for six or eight months writing and revising my memoir, I want to know that someday it will be in circulation. Otherwise, I should pay more attention to getting ahead in my day job.

If you look at writing as nothing but a chore, then yes, you probably should pay more attention to your day job. Because there are no guarantees, and if you don't actually enjoy the process itself, you're going to be really miserable.

How can you write to a publishable level if you don't, yanno, actually write? Your first book may very well not be publishable. Neither may your second. Or third or so on. But you can't write a great fourth novel if you never finished a bad first one any more than you can be a professional baseball player if you never go out and practice.

Would you go up to a pro baseball team and say, "I don't want to waste my time practicing if I'm not going to get a contract, so let me know if you want me on your team?" So why would you expect any breaks in writing before you've proven you have what it takes?

Unimportant
04-03-2007, 09:46 AM
Memoirista, I'm not sure your analogy of a 300-word abstract for an unwritten paper to be presented at a convention six or seven months away is appropriate. The submission of an abstract implies that the study is complete and the data in the abstract are solid; moreover, you're not "selling" the abstract. Perhaps a better analogy would be a grant proposal, in which you're asking for someone else to invest in your research ideas. But any granting agency will require that along with a worthwhile and detailed research plan you also have academic credentials, a solid background in the field demonstrated by publications, suitable facilties to carry out the study, etc. An agent, in requesting a completed manuscript, is likewise asking for a demonstration that you can complete a novel-length work, can tell an interesting story, and can write readable prose.

aruna
04-03-2007, 09:54 AM
True, I don't have a yes or no answer on agents. But I'm on Dario's side. I want to be able to query on an idea and a plan.

(my bold)

Nothing wrong with wanting this. But as you'll see nce you start the querying process very few of us get what we want! Wanting is cheap!

Have you read slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)? If not, please do.

Oh, and to the OP's question: No.

aruna
04-03-2007, 10:03 AM
Here's a post from Miss Snark on unfinished mss. (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2007/02/selling-unfinished-work.html#links)

Wallflower
04-03-2007, 06:07 PM
Hello! I've been lurking on Absolute Write for a little while and found this to be a very interesting thread. I'm wondering, does it ever happen that an agent receives a manuscript and finds it too brief? If the agent genuinely likes the manuscript, might he request a rewrite, or would brevity be grounds for an automatic rejection? Thanks.

DeadlyAccurate
04-03-2007, 06:19 PM
Well, my agent thought the ending was too brief and anti-climactic and asked for a rewrite before she signed me. So yes, if the agent is truly interested enough, they might.

Wallflower
04-03-2007, 06:25 PM
Good to know, and congratulations on your signing.

I wrote a rather short book, queried an agent and received a request for the manuscript, so I'm sitting on my hands waiting for a response and second-guessing my submission. :)

allenparker
04-06-2007, 10:35 PM
Or does it feel like too many people are depending on luck?

If we define luck as the point at which opportunity meets preparation, then perhaps luck is part of this equation. My belief is that if you write a good solid story, mind your story arc, prose, plot, sub-plots, characters, timing, pace, theme, motions, and everything else that can go wrong in a story, and develop the manuscript into a tight, coherent novel, then all you have to do is select the right agents, publishers, and hope that the story you wrote is marketable.

For those commercially published authors, am I wrong? Should I spend less time writing and more time looking for four-leaf clovers?

Damn, this gets harder every year. I do not have time to plant a field full of clover.

Memoirista
04-07-2007, 10:39 AM
Memoirista, I'm not sure your analogy of a 300-word abstract for an unwritten paper to be presented at a convention six or seven months away is appropriate. The submission of an abstract implies that the study is complete and the data in the abstract are solid; moreover, you're not "selling" the abstract. Perhaps a better analogy would be a grant proposal, in which you're asking for someone else to invest in your research ideas. But any granting agency will require that along with a worthwhile and detailed research plan you also have academic credentials, a solid background in the field demonstrated by publications, suitable facilties to carry out the study, etc. An agent, in requesting a completed manuscript, is likewise asking for a demonstration that you can complete a novel-length work, can tell an interesting story, and can write readable prose.

And for the memoir I would propose, the data are all in. I have my second Ph.D. in hand, I have a wheelchair in which to sit and a laptop on which to write. I have completed two novel-length works, and edited a third for someone else. I have written eleven juried publications in thirteen months, for an editor who resented my Ph.D. (the first one, that is) and rejected my first submission every time. I can definitely write readable prose -- and footnotes, as well. Also, I do enjoy writing, even after rejections, or I would never have completed those eleven papers.

From my educated perspective, it is not rational to proceed in a vacuum. Dario's "I like it; send it when it's done," from one agent takes away the vacuum. When the vaccuum of outer space is gone, it is more rational to proceed.

It is also not rational to expect an agent or editor to accept my work because I'm a nice person or because my children like it. That's a generalized "I," by the way.

We are negotiating rationalities, and I (me, Sigrid) think the balance is out of whack. I hear everyone in this thread saying in response to Dario and then to me, "The balance is just fine as it is. Of course you write and write and write, and send the finished work to the agent." But why not send out a partial, if one has some kind of experience, or even if not?

The rational argument for sending a complete manuscript is that many people write in patches, in episodes, that fit together in their heads, but don't approach coherence until near the end of the novel or memoir. I don't. I write fifty pages that set everything in motion, set themes/arguments (depending on whether it's memoir or non-fiction, and then write in patches. Also, I throw a lot of stuff away, and edit ruthlessly, refining what I've already written as much as writing new stuff. So by halfway through, that first fifty pages is as good as it gets until the last overall edit.

There's writing seriously, with a goal in mind, and there's writing foolishly, with a dream in mind. I love to write, either way. Unless I have a validated goal in mind, I am wasting my time in wishful thinking.

Memoirista
04-07-2007, 10:53 AM
If you look at writing as nothing but a chore, then yes, you probably should pay more attention to your day job. Because there are no guarantees, and if you don't actually enjoy the process itself, you're going to be really miserable.

How can you write to a publishable level if you don't, yanno, actually write? Your first book may very well not be publishable. Neither may your second. Or third or so on. But you can't write a great fourth novel if you never finished a bad first one any more than you can be a professional baseball player if you never go out and practice.

Would you go up to a pro baseball team and say, "I don't want to waste my time practicing if I'm not going to get a contract, so let me know if you want me on your team?" So why would you expect any breaks in writing before you've proven you have what it takes?

And not many pro basketball players also play football, but sometimes it happens. And some pro basketball players refuse to practice; look at Alan Iverson.

Deadly Accurate, I want to congratulate you on your getting an agent. On the other hand, I question your accuracy when you say "If you look at writing as nothing but a chore, then yes, you probably should pay more attention to your day job." Where did I, or Dario, ever indicate that we look at writing as a chore. Taking writing seriously is not the same as looking at it as a chore. I've always loved writing. It's the exercise of a skill and a challenge, and often there's a goal to be reached.

"How can you reach a publishable level if you don't, yanno, write?" I didn't say that either, Deadly Accurate. I do write. It has often been a reciprocal process, however, with an editor or a reader, and an audience for what I write. Lacking those things, with an agent as the gatekeeped to those things, I am looking for some rational encouragement for the effort.

Irysangel
04-07-2007, 05:10 PM
The rational argument for sending a complete manuscript is that many people write in patches, in episodes, that fit together in their heads, but don't approach coherence until near the end of the novel or memoir. I don't. I write fifty pages that set everything in motion, set themes/arguments (depending on whether it's memoir or non-fiction, and then write in patches. Also, I throw a lot of stuff away, and edit ruthlessly, refining what I've already written as much as writing new stuff. So by halfway through, that first fifty pages is as good as it gets until the last overall edit.


But this is the inherent problem with what you're proposing.

Think of the romance industry, for example. In romance, it's very BIG to participate in contests (Golden Heart, Molly, etc). In a lot of these contests, all you need to enter is the first 3 chapters or so. Some people spend months and months and MONTHS polishing the heck out of these three chapters, and walk away with numerous wins.

And yet, a lot of them don't finish the manuscript. They never do. They just like the thrill of winning. But they'd still have a very plush writing resume compared to mine, with all those contest wins.

You're assuming that if people query with a sample and an outline, that they're going to be professional about it. That they're going to finish the novel, polish it up, stick to the outline, and send it on. That might happen for you, and maybe 1% of the general population. The rest of the time, there's going to be aliens in chapter 14 (as Miss Snark would say).

What you're proposing sounds a lot like selling an idea. And ideas, as we all know, are a dime a dozen. I've probably written the first 50 pages in at least 20 different novels that seemed AWESOME at the time and then peter out 10 pages later.

Happens to everyone. But this in particular is a business, and you're asking them to put you in the horse race when your horse hasn't even been born yet.

popmuze
04-07-2007, 06:36 PM
If all you're asking is to send a query and fifty pages to an agent just to see if any of them give you a positive response, you can query anyone. Just don't tell them the book isn't finished.

Of course, I wouldn't expect an agent who got excited over the fifty pages to remember you a year later when you finish the manuscript. Or, if they did remember, they'd probably not be too thrilled to hear from you again.

But you would have gotten the validation you sought. And there's plenty of other agents for your finished manuscript.

I say, go for it.

Toothpaste
04-07-2007, 07:58 PM
Memorista - I think another fallacy is this: "From my educated perspective, it is not rational to proceed in a vacuum. Dario's "I like it; send it when it's done," from one agent takes away the vacuum. When the vaccuum of outer space is gone, it is more rational to proceed."

This may take away a bit of the "Will anyone want this" but it doesn't take away the "Will anyone publish this". Just because an agent says, "You know from reading what I have read, I would like to read the whole thing" does not necessarily translate into representation. Now I suppose it does suggest that you are more on the right track with what you are writing, to get a request for a full. But it is no guarentee either. And I worry that if certain types of people use this technique, they might get their hopes up, think that it's "in the bag" as it were, and be utterly devestated when they are rejected later on.

Also on a personal note, I sent my stuff to 14 agents. Got rejected from all of them and only got a request for one full. However that one full got me representation with an incredible agent and some amazing book deals down the line. Now if I was being pragmatic, doing the pre-finished screening, and I only got one full request, I would look at my ratio and think, "Okay the odds are not good, I must tweak this book in order to get more requests." (which of course as we know was unnecessary). Or conversely if I got a full request then I might assume many other agents would request fulls as well, and if in the end my agent had rejected me, and I discovered that actually no, no one else wanted it, well then that would suck too.

Am I making sense? Sometimes my arguments become very convoluted!

DeadlyAccurate
04-07-2007, 09:09 PM
Today, from Miss Snark (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/) herself:


First, you revel in this achievement. I'm not kidding. It takes a lot to finish a novel and every agent knows it. Why else do you think we we always say "you have to be finished before you query"? So, first you buy the champagne and toast yourself. I raise the gin pail to you as well. Killer Yapp doffs his tam.


The rational argument for sending a complete manuscript is that many people write in patches, in episodes, that fit together in their heads, but don't approach coherence until near the end of the novel or memoir.

Actually, the rational argument is that many people don't finish the book at all or go off on some strange tangent that makes the book unpublishable. A lot of people write great beginnings, decent middles, and terrible endings.


On the other hand, I question your accuracy when you say "If you look at writing as nothing but a chore, then yes, you probably should pay more attention to your day job." Where did I, or Dario, ever indicate that we look at writing as a chore.

What you said was:

If I am going to choose to spend my major free time for six or eight months writing and revising my memoir, I want to know that someday it will be in circulation.

I read that as, "If I'm not going to get something out of it, I don't want to waste my time doing it." But what if you knew, with 100% certainty, that your memoir would never be published? Would you still write it?

I knew, writing my first book, that the chances of it being published were very, very slim. First books rarely get published. But I wrote it anyway, because a) I had to know I could finish a book, and b) I wanted to start getting comfortable with the submission process. I learned a lot from that book. I learned a lot from the second one, and the third one. It's only this fourth one that actually stands a chance of being published, though. Books one and three will never see the light of day. Book two might get rewritten someday.

You might be the exception to the unpublished writer who can finish and create a publishable manuscript on spec, but agents don't know that. Most writers cannot. So the agents aren't going to be interested until you finish the book.

Unimportant
04-08-2007, 01:16 AM
Memoirista, I think you must be the exception rather than the norm. Because there are plenty of people who have an advanced degree, have published manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, have written several hundred thousand words of fiction, and have been editor/beta reader/red pen wielder for professional novelists -- but who *can't* yet write a book good enough to cut it in mainstream publishing. The problem is that in submitting an incomplete manuscript to agents, you're asking these agents to take your word for it that you are the exception rather than the norm. And since it's their arse and their reputation on the line with editors, they're likely to not take the risk, especially when their slush pile is overflowing with completed manuscripts and with proposals from authors who have an established track record in the genre.

That's not to say it can't happen. An agent might be impressed enough with your sample chapters to offer representation. And then she'll likely ask you to finish the manuscript -- representation does not guarantee a sale, though, so it might all come to naught. There's the very small chance that if the proposed book is totally mind-blowing she might be able to sell it on spec to a publisher, who will then naturally require that you finish the manuscript, and who will undoubtedly have a contractual clause stating if they're not happy with the complete ms they don't have to publish it. So even with all the luck in the world there's still no guarantee of the book being in circulation.

Memoirista
04-08-2007, 12:53 PM
Thank you to Popmuze and Toothpaste for a more cheerful perspective. Toothpaste, I don't know whether I could disentangle your argument completely, but I get it, even so. Whatever the odds of the "what the hey" submission I can make, as popmuze suggests I certainly *can*, the rational certainties are all on the side of finishing, and then approaching the sales part of the task as professionally as possible. My straightforward memoir has turned squishy, anyway. Not a reason to stop, but a reason to question whether the memoir could or should be so straightforward. Thanks.

Memoirista
04-08-2007, 01:16 PM
DeadlyAccurate, quoting Memoirista's earlier post:
The rational argument for sending a complete manuscript is that many people write in patches, in episodes, that fit together in their heads, but don't approach coherence until near the end of the novel or memoir.

Quoting DeadlyAccurate in response:
Actually, the rational argument is that many people don't finish the book at all or go off on some strange tangent that makes the book unpublishable. A lot of people write great beginnings, decent middles, and terrible endings.

Quoting Memoirista's earlier post:
On the other hand, I question your accuracy when you say "If you look at writing as nothing but a chore, then yes, you probably should pay more attention to your day job." Where did I, or Dario, ever indicate that we look at writing as a chore.

Quoting DeadlyAccurate's response to M's post:
What you said was:
Quoting M's still earlier post:
If I am going to choose to spend my major free time for six or eight months writing and revising my memoir, I want to know that someday it will be in circulation.
And DA's reply to that in the context of the later posts:
I read that as, "If I'm not going to get something out of it, I don't want to waste my time doing it."
So DeadlyAccurate asks:
But what if you knew, with 100% certainty, that your memoir would never be published? Would you still write it?

And I respond:
No. The purpose in writing this memoir is for it to be published. I think I have an eminently publishable frame. It is the most publishable of any memoir I can think of writing. I might instead write an account of two people I happen to know whose existence is very much a hardscrabble thing. Or write the family story for my grandson/grandchildren. Neither of these seems as saleable, though.

Memoirista
04-08-2007, 01:35 PM
Memoirista, I think you must be the exception rather than the norm. Because there are plenty of people who have an advanced degree, have published manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, have written several hundred thousand words of fiction, and have been editor/beta reader/red pen wielder for professional novelists -- but who *can't* yet write a book good enough to cut it in mainstream publishing. The problem is that in submitting an incomplete manuscript to agents, you're asking these agents to take your word for it that you are the exception rather than the norm. And since it's their arse and their reputation on the line with editors, they're likely to not take the risk, especially when their slush pile is overflowing with completed manuscripts and with proposals from authors who have an established track record in the genre.

That's not to say it can't happen. An agent might be impressed enough with your sample chapters to offer representation. And then she'll likely ask you to finish the manuscript -- representation does not guarantee a sale, though, so it might all come to naught. There's the very small chance that if the proposed book is totally mind-blowing she might be able to sell it on spec to a publisher, who will then naturally require that you finish the manuscript, and who will undoubtedly have a contractual clause stating if they're not happy with the complete ms they don't have to publish it. So even with all the luck in the world there's still no guarantee of the book being in circulation.

Hmm. I'd have to say "Yes and no" to your first paragraph. I've known a lot of academics who got an amazing diversity of material published, and one who did a full memoir, that wasn't published, and rightly so. I don't know how all of these academics actually got their work published, though.

The premise is as mind-blowing as climbing Mount Everest on one foot, and returning to tell the tale--to answer your second paragraph. The premise doesn't make the book, though.

I do get what the real world is like, and what is involved in an agent's job. Within that world, what an agent does is rational. In the larger world, what a writer does on the outside chance she will connect with an agent is not rational. Therefore, agents connect with irrational writers, and, what? Agents don't connect with even more irrational writers who don't produce the highest quality work they possibly can? Does that describe the world?

Memoirista
04-08-2007, 02:00 PM
(my bold)

Nothing wrong with wanting this. But as you'll see nce you start the querying process very few of us get what we want! Wanting is cheap!

Have you read slushkiller (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html)? If not, please do.

Oh, and to the OP's question: No.

I couldn't find my way back to this thread until now.

I'll quote you to the students in my writing classes who want an A! As your slushkiller link further reminded me, A's take some effort and skill.

Toothpaste
04-08-2007, 07:25 PM
Yeah, I know I can twist my own arguments onto themselves very well.

One further thing. You said that "the rational certainties are all on the side of finishing, and then approaching the sales part of the task as professionally as possible", and I totally agree. But the point I was making is that you are missing a crucial step in there. If an agent asks to see your full MS once you have finished it (so you've shopped around a few chapters to get a sense of the response to your work and they requested it from that), it still doesn't mean that they'll sign you once they recieve the work. I would ammend your sentence as such:

"the rational certainties are all on the side of finishing, BEING SIGNED, and then approaching the sales part of the task as professionally as possible."

aruna
04-08-2007, 08:10 PM
Y If an agent asks to see your full MS once you have finished it (so you've shopped around a few chapters to get a sense of the response to your work and they requested it from that), it still doesn't mean that they'll sign you once they recieve the work. I would ammend your sentence as such:


There is also the point - which I;ve heard on quite a few agent blogs - that if they get exciteb by the partial, and aske for the full, and the writer says "er, um, I haven'et written it yet," they immediately lose interst, and by the time it's finished they have forgotten the query. Their memory is quite short in that respect, and in the meantime the window of opprtunity - perhaps an edtor had asked for JUST such a project - has closed.

Unimportant
04-09-2007, 12:10 AM
Memoirista, to go back to your OP, you said: "I want to be able to query on an idea and a plan."

The discussion here seems to be going around in circles, because some of us say "this is how it is" while you and some others say "but this is how I want it to be." This seems pointless. Whether or not I agree that agents *ought* to be willing to sign an author based on an unfinished manuscript, or *ought* to be able to sell an incomplete novel to a major publisher, or *ought* to be able to guarantee a sale, that's *not the way it is.* There are exceptions to the rule -- no one is saying that by querying agents with an incomplete manuscript your chances of success are zero -- but there are no guarantees that any given individual will be that exception.

Most of us have pointed out that by having a completed manuscript, you increase your chances of attracting an agent's attention. By having a track record of prior publications, particularly within that genre, you increase your chances of attracting an agent's attention. By having a compelling story that is compellingly written, you increase your chances of attracting an agent's attention. And by having an agent, you increase your chances of selling your book to a major publisher. That's the truth, like it or not.

You want to query agents on a partial? Go right ahead. No one will stop you. However, the agents' responses to an incomplete manuscript are outside your control, outside my control, outside Toothpaste's and DeadlyAccurate's control, outside the control of everyone but those agents. *Wanting* isn't going to change their practices or decisions. You get what's on offer, the same as the rest of us. And you make your own choices as to how you'll proceed. Your choices don't affect me or my career one whit, so all I've tried to do, as has everyone else here, is to give what we consider to be helpful, unbiased advice. Take it or leave it.

Edited to add: AW has a forum on memoir-writing here: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=42 You might find it useful to ask the folks over there, as they all will have sold or are trying to sell works within your genre and thus might have better “inside information”.

Unimportant
04-09-2007, 03:28 AM
And I've learned something new today! From Miss Snark: "If you write a memoir about someone else, it's not a memoir unless you're the ghost writer. It's biography or narrative non fiction."

I love learning stuff :-)

johnrobison
04-09-2007, 04:49 AM
While I sympathize with you as regards not wanting to waste a huge amount of effort writing a book no one will publish, I'm afraid that's the unfortunate reality. As others have said, wanting it to be different will not make it so.

There is no shortage of complete memoirs on the slush pile of every major publisher. Agents have plenty in their slush piles, too.

The thing that sold my book was its power as a book. How could I possibly have conveyed that in 500 words? And even if I could, how could they or I know what the final work would be like?

If you want to sell your memoir from a proposal, publish some mainstream works with well-known publishers first. Get a sales history. Then approach publishers with an outline for your memoir.

Memoirista
04-09-2007, 11:19 AM
While I sympathize with you as regards not wanting to waste a huge amount of effort writing a book no one will publish, I'm afraid that's the unfortunate reality.

Thanks, John, for using the word "reality." It is what it is; perhaps this reality of publishing is the best of all possible realities. But on either end, writers invest their lives in producing fiction, memoir, or nonfiction, to a degree that isn't rational.And on the other end, agents invest their lives in consuming and evaluating fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, to a degree that is irrationally nonproductive.

Well, if not the memoir, perhaps it would be more fun just to analyze the system! I'm interested in various kinds of meta analysis. Where would that lead?

johnrobison
04-09-2007, 03:16 PM
Thanks, John, for using the word "reality." It is what it is; perhaps this reality of publishing is the best of all possible realities. But on either end, writers invest their lives in producing fiction, memoir, or nonfiction, to a degree that isn't rational.And on the other end, agents invest their lives in consuming and evaluating fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, to a degree that is irrationally nonproductive.

Well, if not the memoir, perhaps it would be more fun just to analyze the system! I'm interested in various kinds of meta analysis. Where would that lead?

It might lead down the path I followed.

I studied the success rates for all the different publishers. I studied sales of similar memoirs. First, though, I tried to determine what "similar" would be. I studied the track records of the editorial teams. I analysed every statistic I could find.

But until I actually submitted my book, I just had to hope that someone would want it. I had gone to working part time to finish it, and it was a big investment for me in all respects.

When I submitted a manuscript, I found myself in the extrordinary position of having every major house want it. I chose the team that seemed to love it the best.

At about the same time that we finished the rewriting - which was pretty extensive, by the way, for a supposedly "complete" work - PW printed it's "Bestsellers" issue. It turned out that the publisher who loved it best (Crown) also placed the most non-fiction books in the top 15 hardcover list. And it turned out that the particular editor who loved it best (Rachel Klayman) did several of the biggest books on the list.

Now, all the houses I met were at the top of this field, and all the editorial teams were the best there are. But I still liked seeing a statistical vindication of that.

And the analysis never stops. Rachel sent me the Fall catalog, which they held up to feature my book. So what do I do? I analyse the previous Fall catalogs - how many of the titles are hits? How many hits as compared to the Spring or Summer catalogs? How does the relative placement and promotion stack up?

And don't forget Amazon. How many people are pre-ordering the book? How does that compare to the other titles in the catalog?

The analysis never ends. But you have to write the book to keep it going.

In the end, you have to decide if it's worth it to you to write the story and take your chances with the market. It's an emotional decision. You have to feel that you must tell the story. You can't make that judgement based upon any kind of statistical analysis, because the odds against you (and every other new author) are just too long. You might as well buy lottery tickets.

In rough numbers:
200,000 new titles go into print every year.
250 of those go on to be non-fiction best sellers
25-40 are memoirs of some kind
1-2 of those come from new (unknown) authors.

As you can see, from your current position (which is the same position I occupied a year ago) your odds of a hit memoir are less than winning many lotteries.

And yet thousands try for it, every year. A few, like me, make it. And those of us that do make it, probably can't tell you specifically what the magic is that made our books acceptable when the thousands of other's weren't.

If you do decide to go ahead, and you are also lucky enough to find eager publishers, you can then analyse to your heart's content. Until that time, though, anaysis won't really take you anywhere.

And with all that analysis, no one knows if my book will sell when it hits the stores September 25. No one knows how the reviewers will react.

The public is fickle.

Toothpaste
04-09-2007, 07:28 PM
In the end, artistic pursuits, no matter which (acting, writing, painting) are illogical. Yes most authors churn out books that will never be published, but they do it because they have some basic need to do it (just because you don't, doesn't negate this fact). A drive that is inexplicable. While illogical, I also think it is rather lovely. Not everything in life is about numbers, and logic. Somethings are driven by pure passion.

Of course most of the successful authors out there are the ones who manage to follow their passion through the initial creative process, and then revisit their work with cool logic.

III
04-10-2007, 01:54 AM
[quote=Toothpaste;1254279]In the end, artistic pursuits, no matter which (acting, writing, painting) are illogical. Yes most authors churn out books that will never be published, but they do it because they have some basic need to do it (just because you don't, doesn't negate this fact). A drive that is inexplicable. While illogical, I also think it is rather lovely. Not everything in life is about numbers, and logic. Somethings are driven by pure passion.[quote]

I'm with you, Pasty Teeth. You create because there's something inside you that wants to get out. Once it's out, you chip away at it and polish it so other people will enjoy it, and hopefully pay you for it.

Memoirista
04-10-2007, 09:41 AM
Memoirista's previous post:
"I'm interested in meta-analysis. I wonder where that would lead?"


It might lead down the path I followed.

I studied the success rates for all the different publishers. I studied sales of similar memoirs. First, though, I tried to determine what "similar" would be. I studied the track records of the editorial teams. I analysed every statistic I could find.

But until I actually submitted my book, I just had to hope that someone would want it. I had gone to working part time to finish it, and it was a big investment for me in all respects.

[ . . . ]

If you do decide to go ahead, and you are also lucky enough to find eager publishers, you can then analyse to your heart's content. Until that time, though, anaysis won't really take you anywhere.

And with all that analysis, no one knows if my book will sell when it hits the stores September 25. No one knows how the reviewers will react.

The public is fickle.

I first pursued graduate degrees in the 70s, when one psychologist I knew predicted I would never finish. I examined the success rates of the various members of the faculty in graduating women, at least, and women with children, at best. Then I chose to work with the person who had the greatest success rate. Of course I also loved the field, even studying statistics!

Thank you for giving me an example of a rational approach to situations with long odds. I'm mulling over another way of shortening the odds. That would be to offer, and find an agent for, a simplified presentation of the ancient text in translation that is part of my dissertation--while working on the memoir. The simplified presentation (6 Maccabees) is already to go. That, and the published dissertation (I have a proposal already for that, would be a platform of sorts for the memoir. And it is looking at the statistics you presented, on the odds of memoirs by unknowns joining the bestseller lists, that suggested that strategy. That is, to be in the 23 to 38 memoirs by people who are somewhat known, out of 250 nonfiction books that become bestsellers, rather than among the 1 or 2 unknowns who have gotten published on the great strength and appeal of their narratives. I'm assuming, and may be wrong, that those 23 to 38 memoirs are not all celebrity memoirs.

Much success with Look Me in the Eye.

Sophistes
11-10-2007, 02:22 AM
Stumbling upon this post has been a timely help -- if somewhat discouraging. I have been trying to interest eight agents in my unfinished manuscript (4 chapters and a detailed outline), with 8 rejection letters to show for my trouble.

However -- and please forgive me if this topic has been dealt with somewhere in these four pages -- I differ from the gentleman who began this thread insofar as I am, by the standards and stats of academic writing, a VERY successful author already, with sixteen books to my name (not to mention about 80 articles in academic journals, collections of essays, and reference works). I send this vita along with my sample, thinking that my track record (which is all in non-fiction writing, of course) will buy me some air time with an agent dealing with historical novels (I am seeking to write fiction in the period of my non-fiction specialization). Am I deceiving myself?

My trouble finishing this manuscript first is not that I find writing a chore, but that I have contracts for six more non-fiction books. In other words, it's hard to justify writing a book that may or may not go anywhere when I have several books with a "guaranteed" future to write. Finding an agent and a publisher for the novel gets the novel a place in the queue, as it were.

Provrb1810meggy
11-10-2007, 03:19 AM
Your non-fiction credits probably look good, especially since they are related to your novel, but being able to complete a non-fiction book doesn't mean you'll be able to complete a novel. That's probably why it'd be best to finish your book first.

waylander
11-10-2007, 12:25 PM
Writing a novel is also a different skill than putting together a good non-fiction book. You don't have to worry about dramatic tension, pacing and character development in non-fiction. I think you have to demonstrate you can do these things well before someone will take a chance on it.

Marian Perera
11-10-2007, 04:40 PM
In other words, it's hard to justify writing a book that may or may not go anywhere when I have several books with a "guaranteed" future to write. Finding an agent and a publisher for the novel gets the novel a place in the queue, as it were.

If you need a contract to justify writing or completing a novel, that might be a problem, because I can't see why the agent or publisher should be interested in a novel that's incomplete when there are dozens if not hundreds more writers knocking at their doors with complete novels.

Will Lavender
11-10-2007, 05:59 PM
Interesting, but baffling, thread.

Finish the novel. Query.

Is that so hard? Really?

Marian Perera
11-10-2007, 06:52 PM
Finish the novel. Query.

Is that so hard? Really?

I can't speak for anyone else, but the pleasure for me is in writing the novel. The querying part is just not as much fun. I'll do it, but for me, the writing stage isn't going to be bypassed or short-shafted in favor of the querying stage.

victoriastrauss
11-12-2007, 09:35 PM
However -- and please forgive me if this topic has been dealt with somewhere in these four pages -- I differ from the gentleman who began this thread insofar as I am, by the standards and stats of academic writing, a VERY successful author already, with sixteen books to my name (not to mention about 80 articles in academic journals, collections of essays, and reference works). I send this vita along with my sample, thinking that my track record (which is all in non-fiction writing, of course) will buy me some air time with an agent dealing with historical novels (I am seeking to write fiction in the period of my non-fiction specialization). Am I deceiving myself?
Several issues here.

First, fiction and nonfiction are very different fields. If you are established in one and trying to break into the other, you may well be able to command more attention for your query because of your existing credits--but you will have to prove yourself almost like a new author in other areas. The ability to write stellar nonfiction doesn't guarantee the ability to write good fiction, and vice versa. Agents and publishers are likely to want to evaluate your entire manuscript, to assure themselves that it's really marketable.

I ran into something similar when I was switching from young adult fiction to adult fiction. Editors were very willing to look at my work because of my previous track record, but they wanted the complete manuscript, not the kind of chapters-and-proposal submission I was used to for my YA's.

Second, if your previous publication credits are with academic presses, this may not cut a lot of ice with agents for commercial fiction, given the small sales numbers that are typical for academic books.

Third, straightforward historical fiction (i.e., historical fiction that can't be cross-marketed to romance, fantans, and/or women's fiction readers) is a bit of a tough market, which makes agents all the more interested in carefully evaluating an entire ms.

If you sell this novel and do well, you may well be able to sell your next novel on the basis of chapters and a proposal, but for now, I think you'll be banging your head against a wall (and squandering opportunities with agents who might otherwise be interested) by trying to sell it uncompleted.

- Victoria

dantem42
11-13-2007, 07:44 AM
If you sell this novel and do well, you may well be able to sell your next novel on the basis of chapters and a proposal, but for now, I think you'll be banging your head against a wall (and squandering opportunities with agents who might otherwise be interested) by trying to sell it uncompleted.

- Victoria

I second Victoria. You just need to set aside the time and get the thing done, contracts or no contracts. You also don't want to get into a situation where you leave the agent wondering if you're just going to be a fictional one-shot wonder because of too many other commitments. You can't tell an agent you couldn't get around to finishing your novel because of other stuff, even if they are writing-related. Many of us who have even sold a novel have day jobs and other responsibilities that make it difficult for us to write consistently, and we work around them somehow.