Querying Without a Manuscript

Two weeks ago, I told you about the day I got “the call” from my agent. I had a book deal. And, I had two months (and a few days) to actually write the book.

Now, the big question I’ve been getting lately is this: Why didn’t you have the book done before you queried and agent, much less sent it on to a publisher?

Here’s why: Non-fiction is different from fiction. From what I hear (and all you fiction folks correct me if I’m wrong), if you’re writing a novel, you’d better have the whole thing in tip-top shape before even thinking of querying. But non-fiction is different. Oftentimes editors want to shape the direction of the book, add components and leave other components out. So, with that in mind, my agent told me NOT to finish the book when I was waiting for “the call”. She advised me to wait until a publisher had seen it and advised me on the direction they wanted it to head.

This makes for a frantic few months trying to finish a book before a deadline, but it helps you avoid a ton of crazy rewrites.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t have it done before I got the deal. My editor at Guideposts is awesome awesome awesome and really listened to me and allowed me to have a lot of input in the direction of my book, but she did have some very specific requests. She had me move a few chapters in the outline. She wanted me to beef up the content in a few places. She had me take a few things out. And had I written the book before the deal, I wouldn’t have known that and a lot of time and effort would’ve been for naught.

So, what DID I have done before I queried my book?

– I had a really (REALLY) well-researched outline. I read other similar books to see what they included in certain chapters, looked online for top-rated articles on pregnancy sites and outlined the sections and sub-sections of every chapter.

– I spent a lot of time on a detailed comp list. I read the books that were competing with mine and spent time brainstorming what I could do to make mine better.

– I wrote an intro and the first two chapters.

– I wrote back-cover copy, a tagline and researched a title.

– I spent time thinking about my platform and how it could be used to best market my book.

Question for you: Did you (or will you) finish your book before querying?


  1. You are so right about non-fiction:) With fiction, I need my book done, and it is except for the editing.

  2. I did on the first three but not #4 and hopefully not #5, though God knows best.

    Very cool! Are you working with Beth? She is so nice!


  3. You're right about fiction…I've edited and rewritten my m/s like crazy. I can't imagine having such a short time to write a book, but it sounds like you did a lot of grunt work upfront.

  4. Hopped over here from Kathi's blog. Congrats on your book! It looks GREAT! If you're writing a sequel (Christian Mama's Guide to Baby's First Year) and want a book to use as "research," let me know. I wrote one a few years ago and it went out of print (boo!), but how fun would it be to have someone quote it in HER (wildly successful) book?? :)

    Rachelle is my agent too. So far I haven't given her anything worth getting sold, but I'm hoping that changes super soon!

    Nice to meet you, Erin! I hope your book does AWESOME!!

  5. Amazing the diff between fiction and non. I had seven complete picture books and four mid-grade novels before I signed with an agent or sold a book. I actually love re-writes and am cool with working and re-working a piece, if it benefits the book.


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