If a house asks for three chapters and a synopsis, is that all you need to have completed? For a non-fiction proposal, this can be enough: they require an outline of your project and its market, a sample of your writing, and some information on you.
For a fiction submission it’s far better to have finished the whole book. If an editor or agent really likes what you have sent, finds it topical or can immediately think who it might appeal to, then that’s a great start. If they then ring you to request more, and find out they already hold all that exists, there will be frustration – and your moment is lost.
For an illustrated children’s book, getting to the right stage of readiness does not necessarily include assembling the pictures. Children’s publishers deal with more illustrators than any author could possibly be aware of, and if they like the story enough, they will find the artist to match.
Agent Philippa Milnes-Smith specialises in children’s books: ‘Whilst we don’t need the pictures, an outline of what you see going where is really helpful; a mock-up showing how the pages relate to each other. The Ahlbergs (Janet and Allan, famous husband-and- wife author and illustrator team, and the creators of my all-time favourite baby book Peepo!) would send in tiny little versions of their new books, with all the writing in place. These were things of beauty that I longed to keep – but they showed how seriously they took the way their books should work.’
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