Sunday, July 12, 2009


As writers we’re racing the clock, and some periods of our lives are better suited to writing. We have an undefined number of years when drive and health are at their peak. During this time, many writers give themselves a deadline. “If I don’t sell in four years I’ll move on.”

We’re all dying. We’re all running out of gas, and the full manuscript policy makes no sense. While spending years (in many cases) working on a full manuscript, the unpublished writer isn’t honing the craft, really isn’t learning how to make the book better. He’s just learning how to get to the finish line.

He’s proving he’s serious and dedicated enough to finish a book. And by the time the manuscript is submitted, years have passed. And this is the point where he hears the bad news, the crushing news.

Truth is, a story can be evaluated pretty accurately in 30 – 50 pages. That’s because those early pages are some of the most important pages in the book, and also the most difficult to write. And 25 pages is approximately the spot where agents, editors, and judges stop reading if the material isn’t working.

I would like to see more agents accept fifty pages of material. I’d like to see this broad rule of full manuscripts disappear.

Demand of a full creates a misconception and skews the writing process. The goal becomes the full, not the craft. When writers finish that last page, they’ve accomplished what they set out to accomplish. And one, two, three years have passed while they toiled away in their cozy little bubble. Now it’s time for the material to go out, and they soon discover that it’s not going to sell. For many, the journey stops there. Time is up. Some might go through this process one or two more times before calling it quits. All the while the clock is ticking.


  1. I agree with you. And I think I'm shifting more toward this approach for my own sanity.

  2. That ticking clock is one of the reasons I stick with short stories. I keep learning, keep writing and there's a great satisfaction in that for me. Especially as I'm nearing the 60 years mark of my life.

  3. heather, hopefully you can find an agent who will accept something less than a full. not sure they exist anymore though. :(

    sandra, i'm becoming a fan of shorter fiction too. never used to be.

  4. Time ticks, it's true. And yet, I've been spending the last three years on my novel. Though I can't say I've sold the book or that it's ready to be printed, I can say that it's developing into the story it needed to be.
    I don't think it could have done that in the confines of a short story.
    When someone starts his/her novel because they have no choice--because that's the space their story needs, or because the unique elements of a novel are what they need to play with--I don't know if a book can end in defeat.

    And even if it could, there's no point in trying to dissuade someone as arrogant as that.

  5. I'm not saying writers shouldn't spend years on a project if that's what it takes and that's where their heart lies. I'm doing that very thing at this moment. I'm just questioning the fairly new policy of agents requiring fulls.