"If you are within a few months of having a finished, edited manuscript, I advise you to carry on without an advance, without that false feeling of completion, without that bit of good news to announce to a lot of people before the job is really done."Now Vonnegut was talking about securing an advance--i.e., a book deal--before the book is finished, something that he called "hard to get." In the present day, I'd have to say that for a first-time novelist, a book deal without a finished manuscript is only as "hard to get" as, say, a reservation at the Lunar Hilton. But I think a lot of you know this. I rarely hear people asking about how to secure that $100k advance from Random House before their book is even finished.
I do hear people tearing their hair out about the agent search, the publisher search, the marketing ploys, how to best use Facebook, etc., before they've finished their book. Occasionally someone will ask if it's a good idea to submit a partially finished manuscript. (It isn't.) Or: Isn't it okay to submit your really well polished first few chapters and then continue editing the rest while you wait for an answer? (No.)
Publishing is a two-headed beast. Head #1 is the Writing. Head #2 is the Marketing. If you're going to feed Head #2--which includes querying, researching agents, Facebooking, blogging (ahem), etc.--then Head #1 may well starve. That happens to people who already have finished their mauscripts. People who haven't might as well just buy a plot and stone for poor Head #1.
Head #1 drives the whole game. Without nourishment, it dies. Without attention, it dies. Give your book your all. If you happen to run across the name of an agent who sounds perfect for you, great. Write down the name. Keep a running list. But don't waste your energy crafting queries and synopses. That's creative energy that needs to go to the Writing. Stay buried in your fictional world, and then, when you've written the best book you can, put your energy into researching, querying, and all the rest. Your writing and publishing careers both will be better for it.
image: The Muppets' version of a two-headed monster. Link here.