Ms. Mystery is the Career Authors resident Dear Abby.  Agony Aunt.  Miss Manners. Who, from time to time, will be here to answer your burning questions about writing, books, and publishing. Politely, graciously, and as always, with tough compassion. And then shepherd you gently in the right direction.

Dear Ms. Mystery,

Can I sell my novel with just a partial manuscript? 

I know, dear, it’s disappointing, but probably not. If you are writing fiction, and you are a debut author, almost certainly not. Yes, it’s intimidating to think that you have to ride a Whole Novel on spec, without   having any reassurance that anyone will ever publish it, or that you will ever get that whole year back. Welcome to writing.  But, tough love, better to spend your time writing it than asking questions about how to get out of writing it.

And if you’d appreciate an actual rationale:  Let’s say someone agrees to read your partial novel. ” Oh,”they say, (in our imaginary situation,) “this sounds wonderful! Send me the rest, and we’ll talk.”

While you are frantically finishing this thing, the agent/editor is also creating their own version of the fabulous ending they imagine.

And when you, flushed and thrilled, present them the real thing–their most likely response will be: disappointment.

Oh, they’ll say, This is not what I expected. This is not as good as the (imaginary) ending I envisioned.

Dearest writer, do not put your fragile self into this fraught situation.

Just write the book.

(If you are writing nonfiction, it is possible to sell your book with a massive outline and chapter by chapter list. More on that here. But for a novel, sorry, in almost all circumstances,  you have to write it.)

Dear Ms. Mystery,

Would it be helpful to have my good friend who is an author who has an agent ask that agent to read my book?

Sad truth. Probably not. Your  good  and true friend could probably recommend your book to an agent, and in some universe, your good friend’s approval could move your submission higher on the massive to-be-read pile. But there’s nothing, nothing, no relationship or friendship in the usual world that is going to make an agent actually offer representation on the recommendation of someone else. The only reason they’ll offer is that the book is fabulous.   The way to find an agent is to do all the things that everyone always tells you to do to get an agent.  There are no shortcuts.

Dear Ms. Mystery,

Is it a good idea to ask my favorite authors to blurb my unsold manuscript?

Please don’t do this. It is faddish (and desperate?)  I’ll admit that  sometimes an agent can find that useful in a sales pitch. (And if they ask you to do it, that may means they think it will make a difference in a specific situation, and that’s why you have an agent.)   But will it make or break your book? It probably will not. And mostly you will just wind up having approached an author who will say no, and then feel bad about it, and then your relationship will be forever changed. Come to your favorite author with a book that’s sold! Hooray, you can say.  Can you share my joy in this book?

Dear Ms. Mystery,

How long in advance should I ask an author to read my book for a blurb?

As long as you can.  If you give an author less than a month to read a book, they will gasp, clutch their throat, fall on the floor, and say they cannot do it. Even two months is not very long. Authors  are juggling crowded schedules, impossible deadlines, proposal writing, public appearances,  and the books they have already agreed to read. And their own personal life, such as it remains. The longer you can give an author the better. Don’t even approach someone with less than a month. And be sure to give them a deadline!

Dear Ms. Mystery,

If  an author agrees to blurb  my book, and then I never hear from them, and the deadline is looming, what should I do?

Oh, dear. I’m so sorry, and I understand your pain and frustration. Because you want to be polite, but you are yearning for this blurb!  There are several ways to graciously handle this perplexing situation.

One,  when they initially agree to read,  indicate that you will remind them two weeks before the blurb is due. (I am always thrilled when someone does that, and when you warn them in advance, a follow-up is  simply fulfilling your promise, and not being a nudge.)

If you haven’t set up a nudge-expectation system, you can also simply send them a quick email when the time comes, saying: No pressure, but if you are still interested , my editors are crossing fingers that you could get it to us by whatever date.

And you can do that once.

No one is going to fault you for that.

But you should be aware that Sue Grafton used to say that if she were asked for a blurb, she would tell the author that she would read the book and if she liked it, would send her endorsement via snail mail. But, she would add, “If you don’t hear from me: don’t email, don’t write, don’t call, don’t inquire, do not ever mention it to me again. ” In other words, Sue’s silence meant “No.”

Dear Ms. Mystery,

If an author agrees to read my book for a blurb, does that mean they will definitely give me one?

Oh, clutching pearls.   Of course not. One would never take such a thing for granted.  In fact, an accepted construction for a blurb request is to ask them to “read my book with an eye to a blurb.”  That’s fair, and open-ended, and allows them to gracefully bow out if they don’t like your book. Even though it sometimes feels to you as if “yes” to read means the same thing as  “yes” to endorse, it doesn’t. Even though you sent a book, and even though they agreed to read it, that  does not guarantee  the blurb. Sorry again, I know it’s disappointing.

Dear Ms. Mystery:

I sent my manuscript to an agent six months ago, and I have not heard from them. I am afraid to bother them because I think it will make them angry. What should I do? 


Oops, time is up for Ms. Mystery, dear writers.  Watch this space in the coming months, and if you have questions, put them here on the Career Authors Facebook page, and we forward them to her at her cottage by the lake.