Cocktail Napkin Doodles

I have often heard of urban legends where writers have sent query letters with the first few chapters of an unfinished novel; I have never heard a happy ending to those.  Today on twitter I stumbled across some wonderful advice at literary agent Jennifer Laughran's blog.  If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend popping over to the dear lady's blog post haste.  It's sound advice on whether to pitch an unfinished manuscript.

What are your thoughts?  Have you ever taken the risk and pitched to an agent with the synopsis, and the  first few chapters?  If so, were you successful?  For myself, I'm set on getting to the happy ending for my character before pitching however I wonder if anyone has gone the cocktail napkin route. Unless you are a celebrity or a deity of sorts, the back of the cocktail napkin would be particularly difficult, especially in these times with publishers watching the bottom line so closely.  What say you?

Cocktails for all, please help yourself!
Napkins removed for everyone's own safety.

When do you think is the right time to pitch your manuscript?

A/N: Photocredits purchased via shutterstock


  1. I think the right time to pitch is when I'm finished. This is what's best for me though. I'f other people want to do it another way, I support them in that as well.

  2. For me, the right time is when I'm finished (have a WIP now). If the opposite works for others, that's fine. But I've read where even famous mortals are having problems pitching proposed books in this economic environment.

  3. I can't imagine pitching an unfinished, unpolished manuscript. Sure, maybe if I were JK Rowling (which would be AWESOME), but otherwise, I would just feel like I didn't have a shot at all.

  4. ha ha I must be JK rowlings evil twin then, I write romance and the harlequin medical office had a fast track in august where they allowed us to submit anything we had from one chapter to the full MS I subbed a chapter that I wrote in 8 days and I got a request for 3 more chapter with revisions included.
    i also know the london office allows people to send in partials to them, so for pple like me bent on becoming a harlequin author if the partial does not work I put it in a later file and start on a new idea.
    Is my partial going to have a good ending? I don't know but i really hope so.

  5. I think the right time is whenever the author feels "right" because there is a chance that agent you met on the subway really is interested, but for the most part I think it's in the best interest until it's as sparkly as Stephanie Meyer's vampires. :)

  6. I'm enjoying hearing everyone's thoughts. Thanks so much for posting.

    Melissa - quite agree, and I do think its up to the individual writer when they want to pitch.

    Kittie - right now its difficult unpublished first time writers to get a foot in. Publishers may be on the lookout for next hottest thing but they also need to keep their businesses running. I can only think of a handful of deities who may get by with cocktail doodles. ;))

    Meredith - now there's a question. Who is the next Ms Rowling? *whispers* it could be you, never say never. ;)

    Joanna - *cue evil laugh* I'm so glad you posted your experience here. You've piqued my interest - good luck on the partial. Am curious, I would probably have heart palpitations with this approach, partial pitching and waiting. And if they do come back requesting the rest of the book - how soon can you write it? You must be a wizard dear lady! ;)

    Bethany, thats a good point, the author has to feel the time is right to pitch. I'm now having visions of pitching to an agent on the train. In London, the whole carriage would be critiquing my pitch. "Excuse, dear agent but have you met my dear Mr Sparkly?" *cue agent's furrowed brow and rustling of papers throughout the carriage*

  7. I'm having a lovely time writing my current WIP - really enjoying the freedom of writing a ST instead of category (giving that a break for a wee while) so I'm going to preserve my languid state of mind and I'll submit AFTER I've finished.

    Doodles, Talei? Good heavens girl, the only thing cocktail napkins are good for is writing down telephone numbers!!;)

  8. I'd say the best time to pitch is when you're 100% finished with your novel. You've revised, polished, revised some more, had critique partners read it, and it's ready to go. Because if you do get that interest, you might end up needing to submit that partial or full or whatever right away (trust me, this happens :D). Not only this but then you'll know your story up and down--so in case you're doing a verbal pitch, not just a query letter, you can answer any questions an agent or editor might have.

  9. Elissa - quite right dear lady, these napkins are for phone numbers only!!! ;) Happy writing!

    Cindy - great comment! Completely agree. I'm a former girl guide - 'Be Prepared' is still a great motto. ;))

  10. I've heard that you should always, always have the book done first. It's hard, because I'm always so excited to get my stuff out there. But probably a bad idea to pitch something that's not finished.

  11. I would wait to be finished and I've always heard that that's what you should do.

  12. My grandmother always used to say if you start something then finish it. Of course she wasn't involved in publishing, and it was often used for me when I was having a dinner I didn't like, but I still think it applies!

  13. Oh, definitely when I'm finished. Though I guess I have entered pitch contests on blogs for my current ms that is ALMOST done! But no queries til it's polished and done!

  14. Oh such a loaded question... I'm calling unfair!

    I will say that I would never propose a napkin idea to an agent, unless I had been with that said (currently invisible) agent for quite sometime and they knew my kooky ways.

  15. Carolyn, it's exciting isn't it? I know what you mean, its like chomping at the bit. You really just want to get on with it. ;)

    Quinn, I think thats the consensus though there are is always the lucky exceptions who can pitch their ideas verbally and then write the book. ;))

    Lisa, your grandmother advise is wise - apples or writing!! ;) Think my mother is of the same school.

    Kelly, Ooh I look forward to trying out some of the pitch contests. ;)

    Jen, Ha! ;) Kooky sells!!

  16. I'm definitely waiting until I've got my ms as good as I can get it before I start querying. Maybe someday when I'm rich and famous I can go the cocktail napkin route. :)

  17. Thanks for your comment on my blog! So sweet.

    Since this is my first peek at your blog, I'm assuming you are an aspiring writer. So am my head anyway. Don't know if you've been published, but there is a contest at the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore in Paris for new writers...check it out. English language of course :).

    Also... If you go to, they have a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I found out about it last year on October 30, and I met the challenge. It was the first thing I ever wrote in my life. The novel has sat on my shelf for a year now gathering dust. I'm paralyzed at the thought of editing it...don't know where to start.

    If you know all about this stuff, sorry, but thought I would pass the info along.

    Happy writing!

  18. I would never in my wildest dreams pitch an unfinished MS. Seriously, my drafts take so long that I couldn't promise to have anything to turn over if I'd pitched after 30 days or so. (My current project, I think, has passed the 100 day mark for draft 1. And it's nowhere near ready to see the light of day.)


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