I'm 50,000 words into my first book. Based on my plot and roadmap, that's about 25% of the way into it, so about 200k.

I have roughly 110 pages in a good place, as I've already re-drafted three or four times, polishing it up to get it ready for submission. This part is ready, but obviously the remaining 3/4 of the book isn't even drafted yet.

The question is: do I need to have a first draft completed to the ending in order to start talking to or submitting to publishers or agents? Is the first five chapters enough?

(Aside: I've done my research and I recognize that 200k is very long for a debut novel. But it's not unheard of, so I'm writing it first and I'll worry about word count later.)

  • 2
    Expectations have changed over the last 20 years. Your suggested approach is old school. Although most agents will only request a sample, they will all want a word count. However, you can always query with what you have, and if they want more, you can give a time frame. I like to wait until I have at least a rough draft with a few polished chapters but ... . Then there are the sample (beta) readers that will help refine your story into a winner. What seems polished now may not be so in 6-12 months.
    – Stu W
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:28

2 Answers 2


Do not try to query with an unfinished manuscript.

Dear Query Shark,

I have an incomplete fantasy novel

here's where I stop reading and send a form rejection letter

-- Janet Reid, http://queryshark.blogspot.co.il/2009/09/134.html

Google will find you this advice over and over: an unpublished author should not query an unfinished novel. e.g. 1 2 3 4

An agent or published have no reason to take any risk or spend any effort on a writer who has not yet completed one book. It costs them time, and puts them at risk of you not finishing the book, or finishing the book poorly.

Finish the book. Edit the book. Polish the book. Get the book as perfect as you can, so the moment someone says "OK, let's take a look," they'll have nothing but a marvelous read ahead of them. Then you can start querying.

  • Why the downvote? I've read Query Shark, too. Part of the reason I'm asking! Thanks for the other links, hadn't seen those.
    – kmunky
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 22:46

It's completely up to you. Most likely, the first few people you contact will turn you down, even with a completed first draft.

This is actually a pretty good idea, because you will not have to wait hardly as long for an agent to read through what you have and tell you their thoughts.

I'd say go for it, and don't be discouraged when it is turned down. If you already have an agent and have published a book with them, they like to see the beginning of the book and read through as you progress to give you tips and ideas.

It's all up to you if you want to do this or not, because either way will work about just as well. I you publish a completed first draft, you will have many more ideas about how the story would progress. If you give them a plot summary of 3/4ths of the rest of the novel, you won't have nearly as many ideas for it as when you've gone through and written it all out. I find that I come up with my best ideas on the go as I write.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.