What Happens When a Literary Agent Requests Your Manuscript

A pile of manuscript papers

You’ve queried your dream literary agents. You’ve waited an indeterminate period of time. You’ve obsessively been checking your emails and/or Query Tracker. And there it is, burning up your inbox: REQUEST FOR FULL. A literary agent requests your manuscript. Your heart leaps. You need a big drink. Or a hug. Or maybe a little happy cry.

The: “Request for Full” email

You tentatively open their message, which might go something like this:

I’ve received your query, and I’m intrigued by your premise. Please upload your full manuscript to Query Tracker.

Or:

I’ve read your sample chapters/first ten pages, and I love your writing. Please can you email me the partial manuscript (first seventy-five pages), under separate cover, changing the subject line?

As tempting as it might be to squeal with delight, upload, and immediately hit send, take a moment. Breathe. Re-read their note, and bask in it for a little while. A literary agent wants to read your work! This is exciting.

Carefully follow instructions

Now, carefully read their instructions, and follow them to the letter. Every literary agent has their own style, and may request your manuscript in a different format. The difference between a “partial” and “full” is just that, and you need to be ready for both. Obviously, a full shows more interest, but the truth is that agents are extremely busy people, and may not have time to read the whole thing. A partial (or sampling) or your manuscript will give them a good enough flavor of you work, and help them decide whether they want to make you an offer of representation.

It goes without saying that you should not be querying without a fully finished manuscript. So you should be in a good position to respond and send within 48 hours. Any longer, then it will look like you are scrambling. Not a good look. However, it doesn’t hurt to give your manuscript another quick once-over before you send, checking for any obvious errors or typos.

Basic dos and don’ts

Be wary if a literary agent requests to read your manuscript exclusively. Not only is this extremely unfair to you (it effectively prevents you from submitting elsewhere), but you have likely already submitted to numerous other agents. If the other agents also come back with a request for a partial or full, this puts you in a sticky situation, and weakens your position.

Think of a request as leverage. When you have multiple requests, there’s nothing to stop you from going back to the other agents you’ve queried to let them know. Interest breeds interest. However, do not spam them. Do not call them. And do not mention the other agents’ names. Oh, and most important of all – DO NOT STALK THEM ON TWITTER (I can’t state that one strongly enough). Position it casually, but don’t overplay your hand, informing them that your full manuscript is currently getting some interest and is being read by other agents. This might just bump you up to the top of their slush pule. Of course, the ultimate leverage is when you have an offer in hand, but we’ll come back to that another time.

Patience, young grasshopper

As I’ve established, agents are busy people! You are asking them to read a book, which may or may not make them money! In like, five years! Think how long it takes you to read a book from cover to cover. Give them time. And space. Exercise patience, kindness, and get comfortable with waiting. It could take them 24 hours, or it could take them six months. I had a request for a full come in nearly two years after I had signed with a literary agent. I was like, erm, missed the boat there… Or – and this is a harsh reality – they may never reply. A rejection is almost better, in a way. A rejection is a solid thing. A no-show? That’s way worse. But listen: someone liked your query and your sample pages enough to at least ask to read it. There’s something salvageable in that.

Be prepared to move on

Sadly, requests sometimes result in yet more rejection. Good literary agents will give good reasons why your work isn’t a fit for them. They might also give vague and useless reasons. Personally, I welcome any and all feedback. And if you disagree with it? Hey, that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks. Shrug it off, polish your armadillo armor, and move on.

In the meantime, celebrate your triumphs. A literary professional liked your query enough to want to read your manuscript. That’s big! Send your baby out into the world, distract yourself, and write something else while you wait for their decision. Remember: success breeds success. Just keep going until someone says yes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *