"I have read your book (AKA my bible) Write to be Published and I have one small query:
I understand why it is wrong to send a publisher an unfinished book (i.e. you are offering them a product, which may never get off the drawing board and therefore potentially wasting everyone's time.)
"However, you say - in your book - that it's also 'against the rules' to do so with an agent (although you yourself did it, then didn't write the rest of that particular book).
"In the case of an agent, though, if they are, as you say, interested in 'you the writer' as well as 'you the book,' are there ever grounds for making overtures towards a possible agent, ahead of completing the MS?
"I ask because of the length of turnaround time involved in sending off the completed work, whilst it then languishes at one agent's premises after another, awaiting a verdict on its suitability.
"This would seem to be avoidable, if an agent could be approached in advance, and given an idea of the style and marketability of your previous work, and a 'flavour' of your work in progress.
"That way, they could perhaps indicate whether - in principle - they feel any affinity with the author, and whether the novel in question is the kind of work they might wish to represent?
"Or should I buy a ticket back from cloud cuckooland asap?"In here is a fair question: "are there ever grounds for making overtures towards a possible agent, ahead of completing the MS ..." and the questioner suggests, quite understandably, that it would be great if a writer could pitch an idea and allow the agent the chance to say whether in principle they'd like to see more and work with the writer.
The short answer is no, you can't credibly do this. Well, you can if you're a celebrity... And you could thirty years ago. And you could if you're an already highly successful writer in another field. Or if you met the agent at a party, got her drunk, seduced her (supposing you are the gender that she is attracted to) and put a manipulative drug in her drink, and if you did all this so successfully that she agreed to your every demand. Against her better judgement.
You said that you understand why it's the case with publishers, because "you are offering them a product, which may never get off the drawing board and therefore potentially wasting everyone's time". Exactly the same with agents. And agents are more often unsalaried, earning only a commission on successfully sold books. Agents have even more to lose.
You said, "if they are, as you say, interested in 'you the writer' as well as 'you the book,'" - yes, but they first and mostly need the book, especially if it's your first book. If you have other successfully published books, they might well take you on as the writer without an actual book in progress. I know some writers this has happened to, but they are writers with genuine track record.
The thing is that without reading your work (or part of it) the agent simply can't know. And reading part of it only tells her that she likes that part of it and likes the premise. The amount of time she takes to read part of your unfinished work is quite likely to be wasted, because even you do not know whether you can finish it.
It's simply too costly in her time. And therefore risky. She also runs some risks because what if she says, "Yes, carry on! Sounds great!" And you do and you send it to her a year later (by which time she's forgotten it) and she reads the rest of it (but the first bit again, especially since you've redrafted it) and it's not good enough. You'll be cross. She told you to write it and now she doesn't like it. Meh.
So, from the writer's pov, it sound like a great idea. From the agent's, not so much.
By the way, you said, "although you yourself did it [approached an agent with an unfinished book], then didn't write the rest of that particular book". Ah, but:
- I didn't tell her it was unfinished! As soon as she said she was interested, I had to finish it!
- I did write the rest of the book - and it was the book she took me for and the book that got published. (Mondays are Red.)
- Also, it was 13 years ago. Things have changed. Novels must be finished.
Basically, if you believe in your book, you have to believe in it enough to want to write it, to need to write it, to burn to write it. And to take the risk that an agent or publisher doesn't like it enough. I'm sorry - not the answer you wanted!
More Dear Crabbit questions answered next week.