Writing Books/"completed"


QUESTION: Hello Catherine,

In scouring for an agent, I came across one who says she is
“happy to look at the first few chapters of any book that is ready for sale.”

Now, not wanting to write to her directly and ask, exactly what does she mean by "ready for sale", it strikes me that that could mean thirteen different things to a dozen different agents.  

And so, my question: does a (non-fiction) MANUSCRIPT that is finished--except for the greater body of permissions (images, quotes) which are still outstanding, qualify, in your opinion, as "completed" in the intended context?

In other words, Do you think I would end up with egg on my face, sending (the invited parts of) my "completed" ms to this agent, only to be told by her, "No. It isn't!"?

Dan O'Hanlon

ANSWER: Dear Dan,

First, thank you for writing.

Second, you have excellent instincts.

Anyone who would respond to your query with the phrase "...be happy to look at the first few chapters of any book that is ready for sale” is either 1) not a reputable agent, but wanna-be writer who will be "happy to steal" your manuscript, hoping to publish all your hard work as his or her own; or 2) an agent, but not licensed, as are most of the 2,500 American agents today, and all of whom should be easily identifiable by several of listed and easily verifiable sources found here: http://www.writersservices.com/res/r_links_agents.htm OR
by the Independent Literary Agents' Association, found here: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/archives/collections/html/4079870.htm.

With so many reputable, excellent agents out there today (though they are few compared to the many more aspiring authors, making them thus hard to secure, but well worth the wait and the time) -- the words "ready for sale" just sounds "too good to be true" and is not the kind of language normally used by even the most enthusiastic, optimistic agent -- they all work with caution, as you may well imagine -- this sounds quite underhanded to me, and again, I applaud you for seeking validation of your keen instincts.

No manuscript is considered "completed" until the last of the 12 or 13 rounds of blue lines have been proofed by the artist, author, agent, editor, assistant editor, copy editor, etc.; affiliation with and the stamp of approval from the Library of Congress, who must provide you and your agent and publisher with the ISBN and other legalities, and the usual months of dealing with artists, their agents, clearance of any and all potentially litigious matters, sometimes requiring the assistance of an intellectual property attorney (paid for by your agent or publisher -- usually the publisher), and, depending upon your particular work, a laundry list of "crossing t's and dotting i's" that can go on, ad infinitum --

In other words, don't you dare send your hard work to this person; check out these websites for reputable, certified agents, and most of all, good luck!

You've already passed one test -- in publishing, like most businesses, you must first prove that you are shrewd -- only after that, then all good things will come, as they say.

Also, if all else fails, you can always call the Library of Congress directly to determine whether a particular agent is registered with them -- if not, it's a no-go.

All Best,
Catherine Van Herrin

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you, Catherine, for your extraordinary effort in answering my question. (God knows where you find the time.)

I suspected as much--even though the agent (one, "Ricia Mainhardt") was listed on a reputable database (Agent Query) and even though she claimed to be an AAR member, the AAR seems never to have heard of her.

New question. Could you possibly check out the Columbia web page address you gave me, since, as quoted, it doesn't seem to exist. Many thanks again,

Dan O'H

Dear Dan,

Well. I suspected as much.

Regarding the Columbia Library, since that comprises so few actual agents, I really shouldn't have sent that link to you at all; best thing in this scenario would be to simply "google" the name Ricia Mainhardt -- see where/if it comes up, and in what capacity -- also go to www.technorati.com and type in the name there, as well, where she may or may not have been mentioned in the great "blogosphere," as we have come to know it these days.

I wish you the best in securing a reputable agent who will take your manuscript on a proper consignment and shop it around legitimately --

Good Luck!

Catherine Van Herrin  

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Catherine Van Herrin


I am an American-born, native English speaker with a BA in English and more than 26 years of professional editing, writing, and proofreading experience. I have edited several books and book-length manuscripts. References and titles available upon request.

For further work or assistance with larger projects, see my profile here, with 190 excellent reviews: WordChannel Professional Reviews, Ratings

I can use British-English or American-English, and I am very familiar with Chicago and AP style.


More than 26 years' U.S. publishing industry experience, editorial (print). I provide crystal-clear, clean grammar; strict attention to style, consistency, flow, logic, accuracy, and spelling, and I work quickly and efficiently.

I do not format or provide technical assistance in publishing books. I use MS Word only.

If I can help you further, contact me at the website above (create a job request) or write to me at ceg33@myway.com. My rate is $0.008 per word. Send requests/inquiries to ceg33@myway.com. I accept currency only through PayPal, with 50% of the total at project initiation; the balance is due upon project completion.

Editorial Freelancers' Association, USA

AA, Liberal Arts, Anderson College, Anderson, South Carolina. BA, English, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. Post-graduate concentration: Post-war Irish poetry and early 18th century English fiction, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas.

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I have worked with authors in the UK, Canada, the US, and several other countries. References and titles available on request.

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