All About a Full Manuscript Request on Your Novel Submission

Here, I want to explain my philosophy on the full manuscript request. I only request full manuscripts for a novel submission, not partials. Part of it is the same rationale as why I say you should send 10 sample pages with every query, regardless of an agency’s submission guidelines: instant gratification. When I see an enticing query letter, I want to move on to a novel submission right away.

full manuscript request, novel submission, literary agent, query letter
Look at this dutiful agent seriously considering a full manuscript request.

How Some Agents Handle a Full Manuscript Request

Imagine if I followed the partial request plan of some agents:

  • Ask for the first 30 pages, evaluate
  • As for the next 50/70 pages, evaluate
  • Ask for the next 100/150 pages, evaluate
  • Ask for the full manuscript … eventually

This is a bit extreme, but I have seen all sorts of iterations of this for a novel submission. Why bother? Well, here’s the rationale. An agent who asks for a lot of partials ultimately ends up rejecting fewer fulls, because their decision process is long and fewer manuscripts get all the way to the full manuscript request (Dealing with a query rejection? Read the linked post). On the other hand, there are also agents who request a full after reading only the query. They probably reject the vast majority (~99%) of their fulls, since the first time they see a writing sample is when they make a full manuscript request. I request a full after reading the query and the first 10 pages. I reject a vast majority of my full manuscripts, but not nearly as many as the person who reads only a query and asks for the full.

The one downside to asking for a full is that, to a writer, a full request is a Big Deal. It is More Serious and More Important than a partial request for a novel submission. I wish this wasn’t the case. I only request a full so that I can read through the first 30, 50, 70, 100, 150, etc. etc. etc. and keep reading until a) the quality of the writing takes a nosedive, b) the plot stops making sense, c) the story takes some kind of bizarre turn, d) the characters warp, e) I lose interest. All of these things, unfortunately, happen sometimes. However, sometimes they don’t!

Why a Literary Agent May Stop Reading a Novel Submission

There are a million reasons to stop reading a manuscript but there are also a million reasons to keep reading. With requesting a full and not a partial, I don’t have to stop, ask for more, stop, ask for more. I can read for as long as I’m riveted and, if that extends to the end of the manuscript, I’m a very happy agent. With a full at my disposal, I’m free to take my time, have my process, really dig in and mull things over without going back and forth with the writer.

I wouldn’t advocate sending a full when asked for a partial, like I’d suggest you send a writing sample anyway, but I just hope you understand a little bit more of what goes through my mind as a literary agent and exactly what a full request from me means.

If you want to make a literary agent read more, you’ll want the strongest possible manuscript. Hire me as your novel editor and we can increase your chances at success together.

41 Replies to “All About a Full Manuscript Request on Your Novel Submission”

  1. Thank you for this post, Mary. I’m going to remember to keep things in perspective when an agent (or editor) has a full. I wish I would have done that a few years ago when an editor requested a full on a chapter book of mine. I thought it meant BIG THINGS WERE TO COME. Although I got a nice personal rejection with some great tips for improvement, I was heartbroken.

    P.S. You always write posts that writers really care about! (me, anyway.)

  2. A lot of writers on Absolute Write wonder how an agent can ask for a full and reject it the next day. You just answered why.

    Most readers abandon books that don’t hold true to the original promise (especially if it’s a library book), so why should agents be any different?

  3. Elliah — Thanks for your kind words.

    Stina — Exactly. We stop reading when something loses us… we don’t have the luxury of reading every manuscript to see if improves or gets stronger toward the end.

  4. Thanks for letting us peek into your cerebral cortex, Mary!

    I try to see the silver lining in a full rejection. If that rejection comes with even a scrap of personal feedback, I’m still happy. That feedback could help my future submissions. Learn and move forward, I say. 🙂

  5. Mary, thanks for the reminder. I hope anybody that’s been around the block a time (or ten) realizes this. What’d be nice would be if agents (regardless of partials or fulls) in form rejections indicated where they stopped reading. I realize this probably would open the gates to extra questioning (which hopefully could be stemmed by a non-contact entreaty), but as a writer, it would be a quite useful piece of info that doesn’t (I imagine) take much time (b/c the form rejection on a partial/full is absolutely brutal to the psyche).

    For example, if you stopped on an early page, I’ll probably realize you don’t like my writing style enough, whereas if it’s later on, there’s something more likely structural to the story (pacing, logic, etc.)

  6. Bane — I completely agree with you. Knowing WHEN and WHY a qualified reader STOPPED reading is priceless information. However, you’re right. I’d love to be specific in my responses but a) this opens me up for defensiveness, for follow-up questions that I don’t have time to answer because I am serving my clients, b) some writers will be horrified to know how EARLY I stopped reading their manuscript, and c) it’s often a combination of things that makes me stop, and that’s often hard to articulate. Again, I’d love to be more honest and straightforward but reactions from too many people have led me and other agents to err on the side of too little info rather than too much.

  7. I’m itching to know what disgruntled rejected writers say to you agent folk. I read a post on Nathan Bransford’s blog about this a few days ago, about A**holes, and the response it got was unbelievable!

  8. That’s too bad that people can’t take (or at least absorb) the heat (personally, i think it’d do us a whole world of good to know just how early you stopped reading — no pain, no gain, right?). Sounds like you need a bouncer 😉

  9. Thanks for the agent’s viewpoint – it is helpful to know this. I do agree though, it’s frustrating to get form rejections.

    An idea: what if agents had a standard rejection form with 5 or 6 one sentence categories. Depending on the ms, the agent would check off the appropriate sentence.

    Weak beginning
    Lost midway
    Weak ending
    Not structurally sound
    Writing craft needs honing
    Storyline doesn’t interest me

    Maybe include a statment at the end that you are unable to field any questions.

    Wishful thinking! 🙂

  10. Siski — It’s really not worth stewing over. There are lots of angry people everywhere who take things way too personally. But writing is a learned craft. You can’t expect to be amazing at it from the get-go and I think that’s what a lot of people think will happen.

    Bane — I wish I could be honest and helpful and thorough but I have time constraints and it has backfired on me many times in the form of an insulted, outraged writer.

    Karen — Literary agents are more difficult to herd, I’d imagine, than cats so good luck! 😛

  11. good reminder. my first novel i used to get all excited when the word “full” was in the body of an email from an agent. I’d do my poor excuse of the snoopy dance and send it off. lol. ack. to think of all the things I’ve learned since then : ) it seems like there’s always something new to learn in writing.

  12. This is exactly why I love the internet/blogs/twitter so much. It really does help to hear agents’ and editors’ processes and to know that they don’t cackle evilly as they hit the reject button. 🙂

    You seem like a really nice person, and I really appreciate what you do here.


  13. I’ve never understood the incremental approach. Like you, I appreciate instant gratification. It feels like an incredible waste of time to wait for the next chunk of someone’s manuscript.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s fun to be inside an agent’s head. 😉


  14. Hello Mary,
    Thanks so much for the advice. I’ve found these agent blogs to be a well of such wonderful information, suggestions and such but it can be confusing sometimes, too. I went through a submission period for my first manuscript, had a few partial requests and then rejections, stopped for a while, re-wrote, and am now ready to get back in it. All the while I’ve read the agents’ blogs and some say, “Follow the submission guidelines!!” and I see yours says to send in a sample regardless, which I much prefer to do, but I’m curious that if they say, “Follow the submission guidelines!!” and you send in a sample where one was not asked, the agent won’t stamp a big FAIL on the sample before even reading the first line?

    Again, thanks so much for help!!

  15. Well, this makes sense and also helps with the heartache of having a full rejected. At least a little. Thanks for posting this. I can’t believe I’ve just now discovered this site. This is a wonderful resource and I plan on going through all the past posts. Thanks again.

  16. I suspect that with e-mail becoming a preferred method of communicating in the business world, more submissions will be sent electronically instead of in hard copy. This being the case, I would guess it would be just as easy for agents/publishers to ask for fulls – but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

    Thanks for the insight!

  17. Kelly — It all depends on what you’re confident with. If you know your first 10 pages are irresistible and will only help your case, send them. But I realize that won’t be for everyone. I’ve personally done it — back when I queried around, in a past life — to great success.

  18. Yes, speaking as a writer, a full request is a Big Deal. And, despite the let-down with a rejection, I’d rather risk it and send the full for the reason you listed. If an agent likes what they’ve read, they’ll keep reading while it’s fresh. As a reader, I want to be able to inhale the entire book in one sitting–I can’t do that with a partial.

  19. This totally makes sense to me. You can tell a lot about a writer by the first 10 pages. And let’s face it, if those pages don’t have it, then the rest of the ms doesn’t have it.

  20. I will then, Mary, definitely. Go bold or go home, right? I have another, non-request related question for you. With writer websites, what are your thoughts on posting sample chapters for non-published or non-represented writers? Would it be like giving away the milk without getting the cow sold or do you think it’s a good way to generate attention?

    Thanks so much for you reply. You’re awesome!

  21. Very interesting topic.

    I do wonder: How many “dings” does it take before a piece of writing is rejected? I suppose that varies based on voice, tone, overall quality of writing, plot, and any other thing I happen to be leaving out. I read on another post where you are willing to work with a “flawed” piece if there was something you liked about it. I hope many of your colleagues follow that philosophy! 🙂

  22. Laura — It is completely subjective. Considering a manuscript for representation is a lot like dating. What’s a deal breaker? If the manuscript has these problems but also these wonderful qualities, what can you live with? What can you fix? What is a craft issue versus a plotting issue? How well will the author be able to revise? Does the voice jive with you? Is the topic one you can be passionate about? And investing in a flawed manuscript is a lot like investing in a long-term relationship, warts and all. It just depends on how much time and energy you have to give and how you think your hard work will pay off.

  23. Thanks Mary! I’ve been querying w/o sample pages…I will make the change!

  24. Jessica Capelle says:

    Coming out of lurk to say thanks for the great post, Mary. It helps put the querying process into perspective. I think we, as writers, need to adjust our expectations on the fulls. A full request is still great, no matter how little the agent has reviewed, because it means that your concept and/or initial writing is interesting enough. But it’s not instant ticket to fame and fortune! lol If you’re rejected after a full request, you know that you need to reevaluate the writing- it’s not the concept, but something’s breaking down at some point. The far worse thing is no one wanting to request anything past the query! 🙂

    Thank you for taking the time to give us such great information- it’s much appreciated.

  25. I haven’t seen many agents ask for pages with a query, and yet it makes so much more sense! I have seen agents ask for a synopsis. What are your thoughts on synopses?

  26. Sometimes the reason(s) that a book doesn’t click with me as a reader are very subtle. I don’t just mean “the evil man is named the same as my beloved little boy” or “I hate Vegas and gambling, and it’s set in Vegas with a lot of gamblers.” (Although that is sometimes a factor!) And I don’t even mean grammar and spelling issues–although those are a deal-breaker for sure.

    If the scenes seem to be those stock scenes that are in every movie shown on “Lifetime for Women” (my elderly mother lives with us, and that’s what she turns the TV to every chance she gets–yikes), then I’ll grow weary more quickly than if scenes are set in places I’ve always found interesting. For example, if a book has a really promising first few pages (it usually means they’ve had it polished up by sending it off to various contests and workshops and critique partners) but then degenerates into phone calls between women bemoaning the men in their lives and sitting around drinking, I’ll yawn. There are other ways to get the setup done or to advance the story, surely.

    The book has to fulfill the promise it made to the reader–sometimes an implicit promise, but other times explicit, such as “I intend to find the person who poured ink on this watercolor!”–or the reader will call shenanigans. Many books have one of those Really Exciting Openings with shootings and bleeding and screaming, but the book doesn’t continue to escalate the tension, mostly because you CAN’T escalate. You have to dial back, pull the lens back to see a wider field, and explain. Then you’ll lose the readers who are in it for the chase scenes. And if you don’t make readers care about the character or identify with her/him in some way pretty soon, then they won’t care if he gets into a battle or falls off a cliff. I judge a goodly number of contests for RWA and MWA conferences, and these are things that make me mark down entries. Does that make sense? I’ll bet agents notice these same issues.

    But agents can’t be expected to TELL you this. It takes me up to an hour, more likely twenty minutes, to write the comments on ONE entry in these contests. Typically, an entry is three chapters, around 25 pages, and it takes me a while to read that entry. Then I do some thinking, fill out the “rate 1 to 5” sheet, and consider the comments. If it is an electronic entry, I use MS-Word’s “comments” feature to comment inside the entry. Man, that takes a while! I spend probably an hour to an hour and a half “doing” one entry. If a contest has seven entries in the category I am judging, that is a big commitment. I do it to “pay it forward” and to try to bribe God to give me a break in publishing. Agents have no such need to bribe God, so they can’t spend that kind of time. Besides, it could have been a visceral response to the work that decided them.

    It’s very tough to figure out why I like _Catcher In the Rye_ and others hate it with the flames of a thousand suns. You have to chalk it up to “life” and go on as best you can.

    My QUESTION (and I did have one), however, is: do you hate “thank-you notes” in e-mail from authors you’ve rejected but have said something nice about in the rejection? How about if I have another book, and I turn around and query you on that one right away? Is that a hopeless venture? (Some say not to query an agent right away on another book. Writer’s Digest used to tell us to do that through the 1970s and 1980s, but the rules have probably changed. *grin*)

  27. Mary,

    Thank you for providing such candid insight into your screening process for manuscripts.
    Your advice regarding the inclusion of the first ten pages, whether requested or not, along with one’s query is a refreshing and invaluable revelation.
    I will be sure to implement it in my next submission.


  28. That makes complete sense to me. I think it makes more sense to do this than to request more and more pages at different times. This is a very interesting topic, thanks for posting on it!

  29. Toni WEstbrooks says:

    What a great blog! I am slowly making my way through the world of writing and I would have absolutely made a huge deal out of a request for the full manuscript only to cover my face from embarrassment if nothing comes out of it. I’ll still celebrate, if it happens, but be mindful that it’s just a request. Thank you so much. I just saved this link to my favorites… Thanks again.

  30. Now with email, it’s just as easy, no easier to attach the full as a partial, so it makes sense to me. I don’t think a request for a full after a query read is more exciting than a partial request anymore because of this. Both are equally exciting.

  31. Shalanna — I’ll do a quick post about sending a query right after a rejection. It’ll take a few days. Watch out for it.

  32. Thanks. Good info to have. It will help me keep a request for a full in proper perspective.

  33. My late agent:

    Always insisted on me sending him full manuscripts–he didn’t even want to talk about a project till I had the whole first draft done! 🙂


  34. I’m still waiting for that wonderful day when I receive a letter requesting a full.
    This mama will be doing her famous Woo-Woo-Woo dance. 🙂
    I’ll probably do the dance and then receive the rejection-hahaha.

  35. Thanks for this post Mary.

    I finished my first MG novel about 6 months ago and the third agent I queried asked for the full manuscript. My brain was filled with fantastical outcomes – only to be pretty disappointed when it was rejected. I tried to reframe (after a few weeks of stewing about it) the situation to see it in a more positive light: 1. Agent liked the first chapter enough to request full, 2. Agent’s comments did help me to make improvements – especially in getting out of the character’s head a little more and 3. The agent turned out to actually be a human and I at least got the feeling that I wasn’t submitting to a black hole.

    Thanks again for your perspective on this and it is good to remember to try not to take rejection personally.

    Jennifer C.

  36. Mary,
    Thanks for the encouragement to send 10 pages regardless of an agency’s submission guidelines. I now feel I have professional permission to do what I’ve wanted to anyway! I wrestled with conficting adivce to ‘obey’ submission guidelines when they ask for only one page. (You don’t want to tick that agent off) And I know you guys are good at what you do, but one page? Yikes! 🙂 That’s a lot of pressure on us wannabes.

  37. Over time, as email queries continue to grow, I think full requests will become more common than partials. It just makes sense (especially when you consider that the cost to the author is the same, regardless).

  38. Miss_Tammy says:

    I was just wondering if, since you request a full every time, do you ever flip to the end first just to see if things end up somewhere other than “And that’s when she realized, it was all a dream.”

  39. Tammy — Not really. I like to flip to the last page in published books but not in manuscripts. If a manuscript is keeping my attention and I’m enjoying it, I trust the writer will probably find a good way to end the story. I’ve actually never read a “it was all a dream” ending in my slush. I guess some bad writing myths are just that…

  40. This is fantabulous advice! I love hearing your ‘behind the scenes’ take on things. It makes perfect sense, other than the sheer amount of forests being killed by paper and insane postage! LOL 🙂 I guess that’s why most writers never invest in sending fulls or agents don’t request them? Too much paper? That’s why I originally thought they only requested small samples, but now that I think about it, at the end of the day, more time, paper, and postage is wasted in sending multiple sections than just sending in the full. It also makes more sense to see the work in it’s entirety. Otherwise, it’s like trying to judge if your date is a good catch or not by seeing a headshot of them; it tells you nothing and just wastes time! 😀 haha Alright, saga ends here…

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