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Write just the sample chapters or finish the book before submitting?

edited October 2010 in Writing
Hi all,

Sorry, I think this question has come up before but can't find it just now!

Do you think you should finish a book before submitting sample chapters? I'm working on something and the first 3 chapters should be finished this side of christmas. I've made a shortlist of agents, and two of my preferred agents just want the first three chapters. I'm tempted to send them in, hoping that I'll be able to crack on and write the rest if they're interested. If not, I'll crack on anyway and then sumbit to those who want to whole book rather than samples.

What do you all think? Any thoughts/experiences to share?

Thanks and happy writing!


  • You should definitely finish the whole book before submitting. Most agents only ask for the opening chapters to see if the author can write but they do expect to see a completed manuscript if and when they ask for it.
    Good luck for when you do submit though.
  • Tracy's said it all!
  • Definitely finish it. You could send a synopsis with your first three chapters and then find the story veers off in a completely different direction! Has been known ... Finish the book, send out the first three chapters (if they want that many, some only want the first one) and say that the book is done, and then get busy with the next one while you wait.
  • Definitely finish it.
  • Yes, I must reinforce what the others have said, Michelle. You must write a book that deserves to be on display in a bookshop before you submit it. Otherwise your submission will come straight back at you and you will have wasted that agent. (You don't get a second chance). Yes, it takes time, but you will have to spend that time completing and editing your novel anyway. The time to submit is when you are ready to move on totally to your second book.
  • I seem to be telling this story a lot lately . . .

    A few years back I was querying my first novel. One agent came back and said they would like to see the full manuscript.

    Fantastic you would think?

    No, because this was back in the days of floppy disks, and the disk containing my novel had been corrupted and I hadn't backed it up. I lost the whole thing. I did have a hard copy from the last edit, so I had to re-type all 100,000 words. It took several weeks. I cringe now because it made me look like an idiot.

    Finish the book because you might come unstuck. You might just get a full request with agent #1 as you are writing chapter 4.
  • Thanks all for responding, good advice as ever! I'm now planning to finish, and then crack on with the next one while I wait. Will keep you all posted and thanks again!
  • Might be getting a bit dated, but I'm re-reading 'From Pitch to Publication' by Carole Blake (of literary agent Blake Friedmann.)
  • I loved that one, Stirling. It was the first 'How to' I read, a while ago, and I'm grateful to it for grounding me in the basics. Another one was Noah Lukeman's 'The First Five Pages'.
  • That's not the only reason for finishing it... there are many people who start a novel and never finish it. Agents (and publishers) do not accept someone who has only written the first (relatively easy) 3 chapters. Novels aren't just great openings, they are consistent style, perfect story arc, great pacing, successful interweaving of plot-lines etc.
  • [quote=Dwight] Another one was Noah Lukeman's 'The First Five Pages'.[/quote]

    That one is also on my desk. :D

    Since I'm getting near to subbing to agents, I've promised myself that I'm going to learn as much as I can about the publishing process!
  • Hey, it's great that you've reached that stage. How exciting, but I suppose you have to curb your urgency and make sure your book is as good as you can make it first. That's not so exciting. Two good books on the publishing process, both by Alison Baverstock: 'Is There a Book In You?' and her follow up, 'Marketing Your Book', both A&C Black. Black spine with red lettering.
  • Thanks all, might take a look at some of these how to recommendations. My problem is sitting down to finish something. I have a million and one ideas and get very easily waylaid. But this year I've set myself the challenge to finish one piece of work before starting the next. It's been slow as I'm not a 'completer finisher' but have my book planned, plotted, and almost 3 chapters in draft. As Liz says, that's the easy bit done! But I'm cracking on. There's no point in saying I want to be a writer if I can't deliver a completed manuscript!

    Happy writing all.
  • Michelle, that admission, that your problem is finishing something, is the precise reason why you must not send out those chapters! What if you don't finish it? You would blot your copybook with that agent forever! Get going and check in on either of the writing threads, let us know how you're getting on.
  • Michelle, I've finished three novels (not managed to get them published yet though) but with every one of them I've got to the end and thought, 'No the beginning's wrong', so I've gone back and rewritten the first two or three chapters completely.I really feel the novels are stronger for those changes. If I'd already sent them to an agent, I couldn't do that. So no, finish the book, let it sit, re-read it, let others you trust read it and be sure it's a coherent whole before you send anything off.
  • Also sometimes you can hear back sooner than you expect - my latest (email) submission was replied to the same day, asking for the rest. Unfortunately it was a 'no' eventually, but I was glad I had the file ready to send straight away.
  • As everyone has said it must be finished before sending it to an agent. However, having said that, there is nothing wrong with posting a chapter or two on a site where you can get a little feedback. One small POD publisher, encourages writers to submit a sample chapter and based on that he may offer to publish the book when it is ready and he has sampled more of it. There are lots of sites where you can post a sample of your work, finished or not. I see Authonomy has just chaged it's rating system for the better. Now, any friends I may have on this site, will I hope help me out by appraising a first chapter of a new book I am writing. Not my usual genre and it may have social implications. It's called 'Billy' and it can be read on my blog site httpl://www.colintheakston.blogspot.com or Colt the Author on Google.
    Please take a trip along there and tell me what you think, but no swear words please.

    Colt the Author
  • on the other hand, Colt, you have to be careful about posting stuff on line. Some publishers and editors take exception to something having already been in the public domain, so unless you plan to self publish, avoid that route if you can. Get criticism from a closed site if possible.
  • I wouldn't advise looking for criticism while writing a first draft, the criticism might do more harm than good. The advice is to polish it to your best ability before looking for criticism. The same goes with subbing to agents.

    [quote=Dwight] How exciting, but I suppose you have to curb your urgency and make sure your book is as good as you can make it first.[/quote]

    Tell me about it! I've picked the first agents I'm going to sub to, but I'm cooling my heels until I'm happy with it. I am subbing to the CWA Debut Dagger comp this year though.
    I have both those books too! I'm looking forward to Jane Wenham-Jones' new book. :D
  • Thanks again all. Yes, I'm now geared up to finish before I submit anything. TBH even in completing the first three chapters things have changed quite considerably, so will probably be a completely different book by the time I've finished!!

    Thanks again for the excellent advice, and I'll let you know how I get on.

    Happy writing!
  • Good luck with it, michellez!
  • Thanks Lou! Will keep you posted...
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