How Long Do I Have To Submit After a Literary Agent Request?

Beth asked a literary agent request question that I’d love to address. Here’s what she said:

My burning question: Is a week–or two too long to wait to get back to an agent requesting a partial? Based on a different agent’s feedback, I’d decided to do a huge revision of the beginning of my manuscript. Recently another agent (queried *before* my decision to revise) asked to see the beginning. Obviously I want it to be perfect before sending it, but I don’t want to lose the agent’s interest or have them think I queried them prematurely (which is actually the case, but it was an honest mistake).

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For those of you winding your pocket watches and working on a typewriter, some great news about literary agent requests.

You’ve Received a Literary Agent Request… But You’re Not Ready!

Honey, every writer I’ve ever known has made this honest mistake. OF COURSE you queried prematurely and now you have a literary agent request for your full. Why? Because, even though I’ve been saying not to f-o-r-e-v-e-r, you didn’t believe me. That’s fine. I don’t take it personally. I know it’s not fun advice, so I know most people ignore it (or think they’re the exception).

The only way to really learn this is to be in the situation where you’re sending a revision to a literary agent and to have that light bulb go off in your head. Even with things you’ve been told a million, billion times, it never resonates until you’re staring at the manuscript submission you just queried around and seeing all the flaws and you have that sinking feeling in your gut.

I won’t scold you any more about it, though. 🙂

Do Not Rush Through Revision

But now I will give you some advice that I really hope you (translation: everybody reading this who will be querying at any point in their future, and not just querying me) take to heart. If you’ve already made this mistake — to be clear, the mistake is rushing out a manuscript that wasn’t as fully revised as it needs to be — once, don’t make it twice.

DO NOT rush to complete this next revision just so you can rush it out to fulfill a literary agent request. How can you POSSIBLY do a “huge revision” in two weeks and have it fully percolate and marinate and settle?

This just happened to me, for example. I usually don’t talk about things where the writer will most likely be able to identify him or herself on the blog, but this is harmless. I asked for a full manuscript submission in, oh, October. I never ended up getting it. And I’m selective about the fulls I request, so I did remember that I’d asked for it, and every few months, I’d randomly think, “Hey, I wonder what happened with that one.”

Well, an email with a completely revised full showed up this week (April), with a note that the writer had done a serious revision and didn’t want to bug me before it was ready. You know what? Not only did I not forget this manuscript (a), but I now respect that writer, because they got a full request and were about to press the “send” button in their excitement, but they pulled back and really took their time on a revision (b).

Submit to Literary Agents Only When Your Manuscript Is Ready

I tell people at conferences the same exact things (are y’all listening out there from Dallas?!). Most likely, if you have a literary agent request for your full, you will not lose their interest. Let those new ideas percolate and settle. Take your time and do your revisions. Agents would rather see something good than something unpolished that comes quickly.

Let’s just say I prefer slow, gourmet food to fast food, because it takes a lot of time and care and craft to cook really delicious fare. (Edited in 2017 to add that I married a chef, so I take this metaphor super seriously!)

So, Beth, take your time with your revised manuscript submission. Don’t rush AGAIN. I know I’ll end up begging and pleading this particular point for the rest of my career, so here’s yet another entry into the Don’t Rush Out Your Submission Hall of Fame.

Let’s jump into your revision together. Revision guidance is at the heart of every one of my book editing services.

42 Replies to “How Long Do I Have To Submit After a Literary Agent Request?”

  1. So the challenge I forsee coming up is how to know what’s too soon. Ideally, I’d revise it to the best of my ability, show a group of beta readers, revise based on suggestions , show a new group of readers, revise, rinse, repeat until I no longer see significant agreement in what the beta readers are suggesting. The problem though, is that my supply of thoughtful beta readers is limited. After my critique group goes through the first draft, I have a few nonwriter friends who will make good readers for a second round, but after that, I have a feeling reading standards will drop. I could go the professional editor route, but that can get real expensive real quick. What are your suggestions on knowing when something is ready?

  2. Personally, I’d have dropped you a note letting you know I was revising (and probably apologize for the preemptive query)… and bugger the cynic in me, but it’s also possible said querier hadn’t completed his/her manuscript when requested… but good on ya for seeing the sunshine through the clouds 🙂

  3. Such great advice and definitely the kind us writers need to be banged over the head with repeatedly. I think we get so excited our emotions overrule our logic. And yes, I have to say (um, again?) it was great to see you in person at the conference, you’ll have to come out here again soon!

  4. Oh man… I SO did this when I was first querying, and it’s the advice I give to all my just-starting-out writer friends.

    They don’t listen… you’re right they NEVER do! I’ll be all, “For serious, yo. Just sit on the book a month then go back and read through it.”

    And they’ll be all, “Oh. I just queried a few… you know fifteen or twenty.”

    Heavy Sigh.

    But the thing is, I can’t blame them. The idea of an agent reading your manuscript on their [ereader of choice] in a trendy coffee shop and falling in love is just too sweet.

    Your new Texas friends feel the same, oh yes they do. Get your man to book a geek conference down here and then you won’t have to work the whole time… you can just come hang out. (I can see it now. We’re sitting at the bar, nerds everywhere and I yell out: SHE’S a LITERARY AGENT and SHE LOVES HIGH FANTASY NOVELS! Then they devour you.)

  5. I think everyone takes a serious second look at their manuscript when a partial or full has been requested. I usually take a serious look at it after a rejection of a full or parial- back to critics groups, revising, editing, etc… I sometimes feel like ‘perfect’ is what I’m striving for but doesn’t really exist. And about that advice- it’s like telling kids that too much candy will make them sick. They never believe you. Until they’re up at midnight after an easter egg pigfest and puking all over your new carpet…..

  6. An agented writer whose blog I read was talking about this several months ago, and it really struck a chord then. Wait, she said. Make it perfect. Then, if an agent rejects it, you know they’re rejecting your very best work. There’s nothing you could have done differently. No regrets.

  7. Writing is a journey, and getting to the point where you know whether your MS should ferment before sending queries is somewhere you eventually get to. But it is difficult to realize that you’re not there until something hits you upside the head.

    My first MS is like this. I started writing it 2? 3? years ago, and I thought it was done last year, and I was ready to query. But it wasn’t ready and I had a lot to learn, and it’s now shelved until I can come back and fix it, when the story/characters solidify in my head.

  8. Mary, so right! I think you’ve got to go through to undertand this. it’s such a DOH! moment, and one I’m too familair with from my first manuscript!

  9. Thank you! I know there’s no way I can have a huge revision done in even a month. These things take time! And I deserve the scolding (which is basically a repetition of what’s been going through my head the past two days).
    About how to know when it’s ready to send out initially (Livia’s comment): I truly thought I did everything. Everyone read it. Two different writer’s critique groups, friends who love the genre, and I worked it and reworked it. Then the agent’s feedback, and I was like, OH.
    Mary, based on what your hopeful client did, should I let the agent know I’m revising the beginning, or just wait until I’m sure it’s polished and send it then?
    Thank you again for your help, and for shouting this same thing again from the rooftops. I won’t be making the same mistake again. AND I’ll see you next week in Reno…without a query, since the book isn’t ready. 🙂

  10. Thank you for this again Mary! For many years I’ve heard, “Don’t send it out until it’s finished,” but many DON’T emphasize that revising the entire thing a million-gazillion times is the key to finishing. Oh, how I’m learning and thanks to great teachers like Mary, I’m learning A LOT 🙂

  11. Sorry, I just realized that it sounds like I’m making excuses for myself in my comment above, and there really is no excuse. I deserve my scolding and I’ll wear my shame like a mantle of…shame.
    Maybe we should all have to wait about three months between “finishing” our manuscripts and querying agents. A year would be better, but I’m probably too impatient for that!

  12. I echo Naomi- I know to have my MS finished before querying, but nowhere is the suggestion to make sure it’s also revised again, again, and AGAIN. Thank you for this useful reminder!

  13. Reno! D’oh. Agree with Jamie’s idea on getting back down here. And as for the mention of you loving high fantasy novels…gotta mention ones specifically with maps on them… 😉

  14. I got the message in Dallas and again today. Thanks

  15. Thanks for reminding me to slow down and not rush to query. I needed that right now.

  16. Diana Murray says:

    Oooh. I’m afraid I’m guilty of that. Even as I was hitting the send button, I knew it was wrong, and yet I still rushed. It’s so hard to be patient when a decision is looming! Well, hindsight is 20/20. Ah, good ol’ hindsight.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  17. Thank you so much for posting this. I recently entered a contest thinking there was no way I would win. I didn’t win but the agent running the contest requested that I send him a query.
    Yep, my project is no where close to being complete.

    I would rather send in my very best and know it was the work that wasn’t good enough than have a doubt.

  18. Great advice, Mary. It’s so hard to wait, though, isn’t it? Hopefully you have a good crit group that would say, “Hey, wait. Don’t send out yet!”

    I’ve been told that before. Thankfully I listened.

    Nice post!

  19. I’m still out here marinating…and loving my characters all the more because of
    it thanks for the sage advice! 😉

  20. Great advice. Definitely something to be said for putting your best work out there.

  21. Beth — yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about! We’re so blind to our own writings’ weaknesses. I suspect that a significant proportion of writers who query too early honestly thought it was ready at the time. So how to get around this? I suppose this is why it’s a good idea to query in batches, so you can revise based on feedback you get as you go along…

  22. I admit I’ve done this before. But I also learned from it after I got two full requests within a week. I had to scramble to finish said manuscript. Not fun. Not fun at all.

    I believe writers like to query early because they’re so excited about their books and want to “test the waters”. The best advice (even after beta readers have ripped it apart again and again, and once more for good measure) is to let it sit for a couple of weeks and come back with fresh eyes. You’ve been reading the same lines and paragraphs for soooo long that you don’t know what’s going on anymore. (Didn’t I just change that scene? I thought this character said that. I *think* I applied those edits.) You get the idea.

    Breathe. Take a break. Come back to it. Great things take time.

  23. On the #pblitchat. . . . that was quite a marathon! Thanks for the tip on that, Mary! Great job. Was so interesting to “hear” the questions of other PB writers.

  24. Ooh, boy, this is a good post.

    Of course, sometimes you’re (translation: I’m) too thick to even know serious ninja style slice and dice revision is necessary.

    It’s a good thing there are conferences and workshops and crit partners and ridiculously witty agents to teach us the Shaolin way of WIP discipline.

    This little grasshopper will not give up. I will keep trying to create something worth falling for.

  25. Ah yes, Beth. We have ALL done it. I think it’s a requirement to being a writer.

    I lurked in on the PB chat last night. Great and informative stuff (even for those of us who don’t write PBs.)

  26. Beth, I’m with those folks who say we’ve all done it. The thing is, how do you get past the writer’s blindness?

    Every time I make a good change to my WIP, I think, this is it! This is the one! By the time a few weeks pass, I realize there’s still more to do. So I continue bashing away at it. With a machete, more often than not.

    My big fear is that I’ll slog through all that revising and critique group exchanges and dust-gathering time…and still accidentally send it out too early. I guess maybe I’ll try to find a new (to me), knowledgeable reader to exchange MSs with before I send it out. But no matter what, you can never be sure.

  27. I’m, er, (pauses to blush) looking for some author friends who’d like to swap MSs for review. My current author friends aren’t KidLit peeps.

    Look me up on Facebook or Zoetrope if you’re interested (Mary Baader Kaley). My projects are MG/YA, and I co-admin a forum called Write Stuff Extreme where I post and review.

    And I like reviewing stuff.

  28. This is such a great reminder. Patience is not one of my virtues but I want to make sure I do it right the first time — and so I wait and revise. 🙂

  29. Great advice – writers normally get one chance with publishers and agents, it is better to wait a few months and get a yes, than submit today and get a no!

  30. Colleen Lindsay says:

    Great post! Although as a fellow agent, I would say that if a writer didn’t contact me to let me know they were planning to revise, and then expected me to remember his or her manuscript six months after I requested it, I would have no clue what that manuscript was once it arrived. I’ve moved on to other projects by that point.

  31. I understand the importance of waiting and polishing a manuscript until it shines. If I did rush querying, and then decided to revise while requests were still out, and I got a request for a partial/full, would it be appropriate to email the agent and tell them I’m going over the manuscript and will send it as soon as revisions are completed? Or should I just take my time revising and leave the agent wondering?

  32. Colleen — It would be worth including the original query and the agent’s request in your email when you submit something so late after the request, just to jog our memory. And, of course, being forgotten and passed over is one risk you run when you wait this long.

    Jen — Yes, go ahead and email. Keep us in the loop. All I care about is that the mss. is in the best possible shape it can be, I’m, personally, not as picky when it comes to when it arrives.

  33. A-ha! I’m glad to know this, because I’ve had a few incidents where I’ve been asked for a full only to have my brain freeze up.

    I also found that a good writer’s group comes in handy for revisions and feedback; a competent group can help you spot all the little problems and potential quibbles before you send your work off somewhere.

  34. The food! That makes perfect sense. Thank you, thank you! The best rationale I’ve heard on querying now or later:

    *I’d rather see something good than something unpolished that comes quickly. Let’s just say I prefer slow, gourmet food to fast food, because it takes a lot of time and care and craft to cook really delicious fare.*

  35. Pingback: When to query
  36. Thank you for this post! Of course, I had an editor at a publishing house who asked for my manuscript at New York Pitch Conference and I decided to hire an developmental editor to review it. And now she’s no longer an editor. But still, my manuscript is so much better than what I would have submitted, so it’s better, I think, that I didn’t receive the rejection from the publishing house.

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