Is your proposal/book ready to submit?

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

Recently, I’ve received a few query letters for top-notch ideas, but when I look at the proposal or manuscript, I realize the author shouldn’t have submitted the project yet. The idea and bones of the book are good, but the writing could use some major editing.

A writer who sends a query letter too early doesn’t take the time to have critique partners look at the project first and then make the suggested changes. He or she is setting him- or herself up for failure. If an agent requests a project and sees it’s a mess, that agent is unlikely to re-request, even if the book is amazing after more work has been put in.

I know that sometimes an author can get a request for an unfinished or unedited project because of a connection made at a conference or through an author recommendation to an editor or agent. If you make a connection like this and your project is requested before it’s ready, you can wait to send it. Let the agent or editor know that the book isn’t ready, but that you will send the proposal as soon as it is. Also, more often than not, you will grow as a writer through the classes you take at a writers’ conference. When editors and agents request projects during a conference, we expect to wait a little while while you get the manuscript fixed up before you send it in. If there’s a rush for some reason we will make this clear at the time of our request.

An author-friend of mine who was chatting with an editor at a conference about what the publishing house was looking for. Off the top of her head, she came up with a book idea that blew the editor away and fit right in to what the house was looking for. The editor wanted to see a proposal for the book. My friend took a few weeks to come up with a strong synopsis, proposal and sample chapters and then submitted the story. I can’t remember if this project was contracted, but I think it was. I know that the time my friend took to prepare the proposal helped her to put her best foot forward with the publishing house and showed that she cared about creating a great product.

Have you ever received a manuscript request before your book was ready? What did you do?

What are the steps you take to make sure your project is in the best possible shape before sending your query letters?

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  1. Rachel, thank you so much for this post because I absolutely needed this information for the upcoming Northwestern Christian Writers Conference this coming weekend. I have what I believe is a wonderful book, but because I was taking care of my sister from Dec. 4th 2017 through April 10 of this year, my time has been so limited, but I have been working very diligently to get as far as I can. I have been surprised how much has been accomplished, but it is not as completed as I would have liked. However, it I have had so many people I’ve talked with about it: Christian, other faith, no faith, and they liked the concept and strongly encouraged me to keep going. So, I have. This is what I needed, as I face these final days before the conference. Along with preparing myself, I am also preparing a young man who are like a son to my husband and I. My husband helps him in nutrition, working out, and being a man of God. I have been helping him with understanding the Word of God, and his education. He is the first to graduate high school in his family. Now his siblings are following his example. This is his first ever writing conference. So, we have designed and ordered cards, discussing what to talk about at his one on one, and other things. So actually, this benefits both Todd and I, as well as others. Thanks so much…so very, very much.

    • Sorry, for the typos. I am on my cell, and the lighting I’m in isn’t as good as I would like.

    • It is so wonderful you’ve unofficially adopted this family into your lives. I know Todd will benefit well beyond the writing aspect. Praying for you both as you prepare for the conference.

      • Thank you so much Crystal. Yes, Todd is having a lot of firsts, on Sept 15th he will attend our biological son’s wedding. It will be the first wedding he’s ever been to. It is both a privilege and pleasure to be a part of his life as Mama B. It’s also exciting to see the relationship with his own mom grow.

  2. Rachel, thank you for this post. I am preparing to write my first proposal and it gave me peace of mind to know it is okay to take my time and not rush to make it my best foot forward. I have two requests out due to contests and have been biting my nails trying to get it all put together and returned. I am focusing on a last run of edits through crit partners and then sending out the proposal requests… eep! I haven’t done a query letter before, but that is next up on the list. Thanks for sharing, Rachel.

  3. Only suggestion I have is make every draft you write the best one you can write, because you never know when lightning’s gonna strike.

  4. Toni L Wilbarger says:

    No. As a wannabe novelist, I always make sure my novel is complete before I submit. And even before I submit, I usually re-read the manuscript to correct something I may have missed.

  5. Many years ago, I submitted a proposal ahead of its time — to Mary Keeley at this agency. In the nicest of words, she told me I wasn’t ready for prime time. I ran across that proposal a few weeks back and cringed. It took Moses four decades to prepare for the burning bush. I figured I needed just a few months. I was after “instant” and God operates in “eternity.”
    * “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

    • So true, Shirlee. I think we are all that way. We think we are ready, but as time passes, we grow in our craft. And later we realize that we were nowhere near ready. But I have a feeling it will always be that way, because hopefully we’ll always continue to grow.

  6. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Yes, I received such a request and newbie that I was at the time, I sent it. It languished and died. (Most chapters had been through critique group, but the novel still had issues. Critiquing once a month has its limits, especially for character arcs and such.)

    Now when I think a story is finished, I let it sit and come back later for a complete read-through to assess the 3,000-foot view before pitching. Amazing the things you can find with some distance! Thanks, Rachel, for the excellent perspective.

  7. My experience: A few years back I saw a Harlequin historical contest posted, and thought I’d enter. Whatever possessed me to enter when there was only 1 1/2 mos. left to go, I’ll never know. I’d only had the first three chapters done for another contest, but whipped through it and ended up sending in the first draft of the entire story, plus query & synopsis.
    Well, they let me know that I’d gotten through the first round, and on to the second (25 out of 326). I thought that had to be it–it wasn’t even edited! Many of the other writers had sent in completed and polished work.
    In any case, my intent was to see if the “bones” of the story were worthwhile to pursue (much like meeting up with an agent or editor at a conference, I’d hoped). I almost passed out when I was notified that I ended up in the final round of ten! But that’s where it halted dead in its tracks…and though it had a lot of “potential” it needed major revisions. I didn’t care; I’d gotten the information I needed, learned about revisions, how to get them done, and was thankful I’d gotten that far.
    I feel blessed that I’ve grown, and learned how to do something to the best of my ability.