The first thing you should know is that agents want you to have an absolutely technically flawless manuscript before you start submitting. This means there cannot be any punctuation, spelling, grammar or sentence structure errors, and ideally, you’ve got one hell of a plot and some amazing characters too. This means that submitting your manuscript to agents and publishers prior to having it finished and perfect is highly frowned upon. You are risking looking like an amateur at best and a crap author or not a serious author at worst. If you are even considering this, you better clear your schedule, and you better bring your writing “A” game.
Why You Maybe Want to Start Submitting Anyway
If you are still contemplating this treacherous time-saver, here’s some reasons and the drawbacks to those reasons.
1. The Submission Process Can Take Months and Sometimes Years
Humans, unfortunately, do not have an unlimited lifespan. This means there may not be years to wait if you want to be a successful and published author and enjoy the fruits of your labor, and this can be especially true if your an older author who already had a career is and is now doing the author thing that you’ve always wanted to do. If you want to cut weeks and months off your agent or publisher search, you start submitting the minute you can guess a word count, and you have a solid first 30 pages or three chapters.
When you send out your initial submission packet via email, agents typically want a query letter, short or long synopsis and the first three chapters or 30 pages. If you have this much, and it looks damned good, you can start.
The Potential Problems
The caveat is that once you submit those pages, you cannot touch them again. You better damned well leave them alone and not change anything unless you find a typo or missing word.
Your second problem is that whatever word count you listed in your query is the word count you have to meet or stick to. This means that if you told the agent you have an 80k manuscript, you better have a word count that rounds to 80k by the time any agent or publisher requests your full manuscript. To have a significantly different word count than your query alerts the agent that you were still working on it when you began the submission process.
2. You’re Losing Steam and Not Making Progress
How long have you been working on your manuscript? Has it been months or years, and it’s still not done? Starting the submission process can light that fire under your tail because once you start submitting, you could have as little as 2 to 3 weeks before someone requests your full manuscript, and you better have that manuscript finished and formatted.
The Potential Problem
Once you get a manuscript request, you have 24 to 48 hours to get that material sent to the agent, and the faster the better before they forget you exist. This means that if your book is not done, you better be prepared to pull an all-nighter to get it done, or you better be prepared to send in a less than perfect novel.
3. You’re Only Waiting on Beta Readers or a Final Edit
If you’re within two weeks of finishing your manuscript via one final edit or waiting on your beta readers, there’s no reason to not start the submission process. At this point, you’re so close to being done that nothing significant should change within the book and especially not in the first three chapters or 30 pages between now and the time you finish the book.
The Potential Problem
The caveat is that your beta readers and/or editor may find errors in the plot or subplots that require a significant reworking. If you get devastating news on your novel, you need to be prepared to rework it fast and remain within your queried word count.
Reasons Not to Start the Submission Process Early
If you are considering it, remember that there are very real reasons not to submit your manuscript before it’s completely finished, proofread and formatted.
1. You’re Not Even Close to Done
If you just started your novel and haven’t even completed the first draft, you’re going to need more than two weeks to finish it. Even the fastest writers need at least a month to write a book, and most writers need two or three months to write a book, even if they’re writing for several hours every night with no days skipped.
2. You Don’t Have Time to Speed-Write Your Novel
If you have obligations that tend to suck up all your free time, you don’t want to start the submission process early. Those obligations could slow you down so much that by the time you get a full manuscript request, you’re still not ready. I don’t know about you, but I can’t write and edit 80k words in 2 days. It’s not possible.
3. You Found Major Errors in Your First Draft
It goes without saying that you better have a completed first draft that’s in good condition before you start submitting and that means reading it after you finish it. If you find major errors or gaps in your manuscript, you need to hold off on submitting. Major errors and gaps can significantly impact your word count and make it impossible for you to estimate a final word count. It can also take more than two weeks to fix major errors and put the final edits on your book.
Before you begin submitting to agents, ask yourself how close you are to being finished. If you can’t finish your book within two to three weeks, it’s best to wait.