Should I Finish my Book Before Finding an Agent?

Things to consider when deciding to query with your manuscript.

by Adam G. Fleming

The premise of this post is that you’ve decided that for sure you want to take your book the traditional publishing route. There are pros and cons, as there are for self-publishing or hybrid publishing, and if you haven’t explored all three, I recommend reading our blog on the differences between the different avenues.

Finding an agent or traditional publisher can be really tough, but that, too, is a topic for another blog. I’m not here to discourage you, but to educate! 

Great. So you want to try to find an agent, and you want to know if you should finish the book first. 

Here’s the first question: 

What kind of book is it? 

Not all books are made alike. There’s trade fiction and trade nonfiction, as well as a few other categories like children’s, and young adult, etc. Let’s talk about nonfiction first.


No, you do not need to finish your book first. Instead, you will write a book proposal and your agent will pitch it to a publisher for you. The agent will need to know what your platform is like. They may even have a specific format they request that you will need to follow with precision if you want them to consider pitching your book. I had a remarkable opportunity when taking over as the Executive Director of a nonprofit. My predecessor had written a book and gotten it published; the nonprofit owned the rights to the book, and I called the publisher about that. At the end of the conversation, I said, “Hey, are you open to a pitch?” The publisher said yes, and by the end of the year I had a traditional publishing agreement for The Art of Motivational Listening. That’s about as rare as finding an Easter egg in your Christmas stocking, but then again, stranger things have happened to authors. 


Yes. If you’re writing a novel, whether it’s trade, young adult, or whatever, the book needs to not only be finished, but you should have it polished like my father-in-law’s 1957 Thunderbird. You need to have it edited and re-edited. You need to have it proofread. Gone are the days (Back when they made Thunderbirds) when you could submit a draft and the publisher would assign you an editor to shine it up. You either have a great book, and I mean really great, or the agents are going to pass. They get SO MUCH stuff every day, and they’re looking for a reason to pass on your work first, not a reason to take it. This is where a company like Victory Vision can come in—we can help you edit that novel and make sure you’re prepared to query. Does that mean we’ll guarantee you’ll get an agent? No. We know that the odds aren’t good, even if your book really is. On the other hand, if it’s well edited and proofread, then you’re just a few steps away from hybrid or self-publishing, should you tire of the querying process. 

Mistakes I made: In 2011 I thought I had my novel, White Buffalo Gold, ready to query. I sent query letters to 90+ agents, out of which I got 3 nibbles from agents requesting just a bit more, sent the first few chapters, and then got 3 rejections. But my manuscript wasn’t really yet the absolute best I could make it. I hired someone to give me overarching story critique, then hired the best copyeditor around. By then, I was tired of querying and wanted to get the book printed in time for a major event, so I self-published it. 

Children’s books:

One thing I know about publishing children’s books is that if you do get a traditional publishing deal they will likely want to work with their own illustrator. So, if you’ve been considering getting an agent for a children’s book that you’ve also done illustrations for, and you’re quite married to your own illustrations (or those of a family member—say, your daughter, or your uncle) then you might save yourself some time and just self-publish. But far be it from me to say “never query.” You never know what publishing offer you might get if your illustrations are pure gold. 

What’s next?

Whether you need coaching or advice, editing, proofreading, or children’s books illustrations, Victory Vision Publishing is here to help. Sign up here for a free consultation and we’ll discuss the specific nature of your book and support you in whatever way makes sense for your goals. Yes, we do sell our self-publishing services, but we want to understand your goals so we can only sell you what you need, and want.

Adam G. Fleming, PCC, is an ICF certified coach and trainer. He has trained people in coaching skills around the world and has also led other seminars as speaker and facilitator. Using both traditional and DIY methods, Adam has published 13 books in a variety of genres, and serves as the CEO and lead ghostwriter for Victory Vision Publishing, Inc. He lives in Goshen, Indiana, with his wife Megan and their four children. Contact:

Interested in getting to the next step? Click here for a free discovery meeting with Adam.

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