Delaying an Agent Submission If an Agent Requests a Full Manuscript

Delaying an agent submission if an agent requests a full manuscript isn’t usually a writer’s top concern. Why would a writer want to hold off on sending a manuscript? If an agent requests a full manuscript, most writers want to serve it up YESTERDAY.  But wait! There is a really compelling reason to be strategic in capitalizing on an agent’s interest.

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If an agent requests a full manuscript, they’ll be willing to wait until you finish revising. They want to see a strong project, too. But you have to play your cards right if you realize you need more time.

The Perils of Submitting Too Soon If an Agent Requests a Full Manuscript

Writers are humans. They are, whether you want to think so or not, vulnerable to the quirks of human nature. And one of those foibles is impatience. A lot of writers tend to submit their manuscripts before their manuscripts are truly ready.

I have been beating this dead horse for over a decade, but it’s true. In a lot of cases, writers are too eager to get their work out there. If an agent requests a full manuscript, they’re immediately off to the submission races. But wait, later that day, they have an epiphany and desperately want to claw that submission back. WHAT TO DO?

It’s okay. It happens to everyone. But this is my level-headed plea that you try and recognize if this is happening to you. Did you rush into submission? Are you about to send some manuscripts out that may need more revision?

Did you put your work away for a few months before doing one last pass? (Nobody ever follows this advice, but if writers disciplined themselves to wait, even if an agent requests a full manuscript, the slush pile may be a very different place.)

Too often, writers really want to see the fruits of their labor. They want to get “out there”, like, yesterday, and see if their project is worth anything. I get it, I really do.

But this sometimes results in a submission that will get rejected because it hasn’t had enough time and revision. And then you may have shut the door on a promising potential agent/writer relationship. (Dealing with rejection? Read some tips.)

Twitter pitch contests and similar opportunities only tend to make this worse, because they create this false sense of urgency. That you need to submit now now now or you’ll miss your chance forever.

Worth the Wait

Here is an excerpt from a conversation I had with a client. This client wanted my blessing to send the first 50 pages of a manuscript to an agent. The manuscript needed some work. This is how I responded:

Looks like you’re moving ahead full steam with this submission. However, you told me that you originally wanted to wait. Now it sounds like you talked yourself out of it. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I need to do it!” Well, I’m about to suggest some serious revision. And I worry that you’ll be tempted to rush through it in order to submit. Remember, even if an agent requests a full manuscript, you can call the shots on timing.

You seem to have a very hard time managing whether or not you’re comfortable waiting. “Not sure I can tell her to wait?” Why the heck not? I think you might be making these situations into life-or-death, now-or-never in your head. They’re not. Plus, if you send the first 50 and it’s well-received, I think you’re going to be up against this very same dilemma again if an agent requests a full manuscript. Immediately, it’ll be, “What do I do? Do you think the next 200 pages are okay to send?”

I suggest delaying an agent submission until the whole thing is ready. To pull off a successful revision will take months (learn more revision techniques). We’ve had extensive discussion about what happens when someone submits, then revises, and realizes, “Oh man, I submitted too early.” Even though it seems like you’re self-aware enough to know that you might be doing this, you still keep doing it, or wanting to do it.

You’re investing a lot of time and energy to get editorial feedback so that, I would imagine, you can revise your manuscript into submission-ready form. So do you want to submit early anyway? I would say no. Not only can you tell someone to wait on a submission, but there are contests running constantly.

This attitude of do-or-die, now-or-never is not going to serve you, not even if an agent requests a full manuscript and you are dying to get it out. It’s going to result in nothing but little bursts of anxiety when, frankly, you should forget completely about submission and focus on your book. Your strongest shot at publication isn’t getting into a closed agent’s inbox via the Twitter contest back door, it’s having a rock solid manuscript to impress them with.

Delaying an Agent Submission If an Agent Requests a Full Manuscript

Maybe now I’ve convinced you that a strong project, no matter when it arrives, is your best asset. That delaying an agent submission while you revise is a good thing. And that the Twitter pitch contest isn’t going anywhere. (We run a pitch contest with our editors, too! Check if there’s an upcoming StorySnobs workshop.)

But what if an agent requests a full manuscript after you’ve submitted an initial sample? Do you rush into sending a revision to a literary agent?

Nope! You can absolutely tell an agent that you need to go do some revision, and you’ll be back. Here’s an example of what you can say if an agent requests a full manuscript and you’re not yet ready:

Thank you so much for your interest. I’m doing one more revision pass, and I’ll submit as soon as I’m ready.

Boom! You don’t even have to give a timeframe. That might put even more arbitrary pressure on you that you don’t need. In most cases, agents will understand. They want to see a strong project, too, even if it takes a few extra months.

So cool your jets. Revise a little more. And come out of the gate with something that demands attention. It’ll be worth it when the full manuscript request comes through.

Need help getting a manuscript submission-ready? Hire me as your developmental editor. My “Submission Package Edit” gives you notes on everything an agent or publisher will want to see.

8 Replies to “Delaying an Agent Submission If an Agent Requests a Full Manuscript”

  1. Wow! I so need this post way too many times per year to count. Trying to build up my patience, though! Thank you for sharing. I will pull this up whenever I feel the anxiety creeping in!

  2. Ironically, I’ve just pulled a ms out of the moldering archives of work in progress and am elated that I didn’t sub it when I first thought it was “ready.” It wasn’t.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s good to be reminded that, if you are lucky enough to receive a “request for full manuscript” after the first 50 pages, you actually have to have the next 200 pages polished and ready to go. Yikes!

  4. Why are you so darned smart? Why?

    Ok, I’m taking your advice to heart yet again.


  5. This is very good advice. I was guilty of being way too premature with my submissions, and virtually slammed the door shut on myself.

  6. I can’t imagine better advice, especially coming from a former agent! 😀

  7. Thank you very much for your timely advice. I was not aware of twitter “pitches”. When I did- I felt like I was going to miss out on everything. Never get an agent, miss the boat etc. And it really did create a that sense of NOW. I need to take the time to step back and review what I think might be ready to submit. There will always be other contests, agents and publishers. thanks

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