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Submitting Full Manuscripts versus Proposals

A reader asks:

As an aspiring author, I hope you can provide some feedback to me. If I have a manuscript that is, say, 80% complete (mostly because I wrote it in my spare time before realizing the necessity of a proposal), and which meets the criteria on an agent’s wishlist, but I do not yet have a fully fleshed-out proposal, should I refrain from submitting a query until the proposal is complete?

You didn’t clarify whether the book you are writing is fiction or nonfiction, narrative v. prescriptive, or anything in between so I’ll try to answer the question as completely as possible.

With fiction, you don’t need a proposal. You need an entire book. For debut fiction authors, you will need to have a completed (and fully revised) manuscript as well as a synopsis. Nothing else will be expected of you. If you are previously published in the genre you seeking an agent for, you can often get away with a fiction proposal. A fiction proposal is the first 50+ pages of the book as well as a full synopsis.

The only debut authors who can typically sell on a proposal are nonfiction authors writing prescriptive nonfiction. In other words, memoir authors will need to approach publishing as if they are writing fiction. Whether you’ve completed the entire book or not, you will still need a proposal which should include: an overview of the book, marketing information that highlights what you as the author can and already do to market the book (blog and social media followers, speaking engagements, teaching, Ted Talks, podcasts, etc), an author bio that highlights your platform, a detailed table of contents that shows what each chapter will be about, as well as roughly three complete sample chapters.

If you’ve gone ahead and written the entire manuscript, feel free to include that over the sample chapters, but you will still need all of the other information I’ve highlighted.

I hope that helps. Thank you for the question and good luck.

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