When an Agent Requests Your Manuscript

I’m seeing some of this in my slush and want to clear something up regarding what to do when an agent requests your manuscript. When I send out a manuscript request, I’m emailing to ask you, “Hey, can you send me a full manuscript?” or, “Hey, can you send me a few picture book manuscripts to review?” or, “Hey, do you have an illustration portfolio?” This means that I saw your work, read it, and really liked it. When I do this, I’ll give you instructions so that you can submit it as requested material and bypass my slush.

when an agent requests your manuscript, manuscript request
Think you can shoot to the top of an agent’s inbox by marking your submission “requested” even when it’s not? Think again.

Don’t Be a Trickster

There are a few tricksters out on the Internet who say that writers should just mark something as requested material, trick the agent into opening it, and get past all the gatekeepers and become Dan Brown. Here’s the thing: when an agent requests your manuscript, they’ll remember doing so. It’s not only a waste of time but also an annoyance to mark something “Requested” when it really isn’t. This tactic probably works better for mail submissions, when the agent or editor might get confused about the name and open the envelope anyway, and not email, where we can instantly search your submission and figure out whether we’ve corresponded with you before or not. Either way, the jig will be up when we open your “requested” submission and realize that it’s just slush. We’ll be able to tell, nine times out of ten, because it won’t be of the same kind of quality as something we’d normally request.

When an Agent Requests Your Manuscript: What it Really Means

To clarify, sometimes I will ask a writer to resubmit. This is if they do not follow our submission guidelines. Some agents, at my agency and other agencies, will automatically delete a submission that doesn’t follow guidelines. Our guidelines require the first 10 pages pasted into the body of the email, along with the query letter. If I get a skimpy submission of query letter only, I will send the writer a form message asking them to resubmit. Yes, I asked them to (re)submit something. Yes, this is technically a request from me (that they follow the submission guidelines). It is not, however, a manuscript request.

I can’t tell you how many enterprising scamps have then emailed me, proclaiming that they’re sending in a manuscript request. It’s not. It’s me giving them a chance to correct their submission error. When an agent requests your manuscript, they’ll remember. This kind of cheekiness isn’t appreciated. I hope the distinction between a requested submission and a resubmission request is clear and makes a bit of sense. (For extra credit, check out my post on how to approach a literary agent and interpret submission guidelines.)

The best way to get out of the slush isn’t trickery; it’s submitting a strong manuscript. My fiction editing services will help take your project to the next level and stand out in the slush.

33 Replies to “When an Agent Requests Your Manuscript”

  1. It always blows my mind that writers try to pull these things on people they, presumably, would like to work with in their career. It is a really hard business and I get the frustration, but I doubt they’d be okay with an agent scamming them into something, so why would they try the same tactic?

    And the sample material thing – you’re definitely not the only agent who recommends sending a few sample pages with a query. I generally only include one or two pages if the submissions guidelines are query only, but I’ve never had anyone yell at me yet, and it has resulted in a number of requests.

  2. I’m amazed that people would put “requested” when it hasn’t been requested. It’s hard enough to get an agent, and have a chance of being published, so how many writers realistically get either by “tricking” the recipient?

  3. You mean people actually put “requested” on stuff that hasn’t been requested?

    Holy Moly. . . .

    I’d never even consider that because it does seem just as you said here: “Here’s the thing: we know what we request and why we request it.”

    Goodness. I mean, agents are busy, I understand that, but if they liked something enough to ask for a full, they’d probably remember it. . . just seems logical.

    Anyway, good post. Happy Monday!

  4. Okay, I get all that. But if I submit a book about a character going on a quest for the second time, can I say it’s a “re-quested” submission?

    Just kidding. I won’t really do that.

  5. I can’t imagine an agent wanting to work with someone who starts the relationship straight off–in the subject line, even–with a lie. Even if the work is good.

  6. I guess desperation makes all a little sneaky in one way or another. Some just carry it a little too far.

  7. I recently managed to screw up in the exact opposite way to this. I sent a query and received a request for a full from a publisher. Yay! But in my excitement I rushed sending it, and forgot to put ‘Requested manuscript’ in the subject header. Now my email may be languishing in slush when it should be elsewhere! What a donut. Impatience = a death sentence for your writing career.

  8. Don Cummer says:

    Makes you wonder about the number of manuscripts out there. In the depths of a winter rainstorm, I have a visual reminder of how much “slush” can accumulate.

    Mary, can you give us a sense of the size of the slush backlog and the relative numbers of times you actually request to see something more?

    Happy Robbie Burns Day, everyone. This should be the global holiday to celebrate poets!

  9. I have worked as an office/HR assitant and receptionist to know just how often people try to claim something is requested when it’s not. I wish I could say I’m shocked and surprised that authors do this to potential agents/publishers, but I can’t.

    On the other hand, maybe enough of them will piss agents off this way that my NOT writing “requested” in an unsolicited query will make me look better…

  10. I can’t help thinking that the work probably isn’t that good if the writer is resorting to trickery to get it noticed.

    Thanks for another enlightening glimpse into your life, Mary.

    – Liz

  11. It’ always amazes me that people try to get ahead of the line, whether it’s for show, a book signing, or an agent’s attention. The old adage, “honesty is the best policy” works here as well as other places. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to start a working relationship with someone who doesn’t follow the stated guidelines.

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve bookmarked your blog and plan to stop by often. You offer a wealth of information to children’s authors.

  12. Beth Hull says:

    It never ceases to amaze me the things desperate writers will do to get noticed. Sad, really.

  13. I would have never thought people would be so shallow! But apparently they would…

    Personally, I think that if your manuscript is good, you shouldn’t have to trick the agents into reading it.

    What a wonderful post, though – sure is interesting to learn more about the exciting [yet confusing] world of publishing.

  14. Dishonesty is in everything. Even children’s writing. So sad.

    I will include my first 500 words in my query only and see how that goes.

  15. Honesty is always the best policy especially when you are trying to make a first impression.

  16. Yes, it’s amazing what people will do…and of course, rule follower me, I worry when I meet an agent at a conference and she says “send” will she remember when I send?

    Okay, am I neurotic enough to be a writer?

    Useful posts, I’m glad I found you via the contest listing.

  17. I love that term “enterprising scamps”. Well, at least you’re able to stay pretty light hearted about it and that’s a good thing. 🙂

  18. Wow, that takes some nerve! Sad, and desperate though!

    Your subject does inspire a question: If a writer, sends out queries to agents and is rejected, can they resubmit a query after they take a year to polish the novel?

    I speak from experience. I was so excited to even finish my first full-length novel that I jumped the gate, thinking my book was the best thing in the world! Thankfully, I only sent it out to five agents.

    I laugh now at how naive I was to think four revisions of the first three chapters was enough to polish my story.

  19. Rachel — I’m really glad you had this experience because it is human nature and happens A LOT. It is perfectly fine — even at ABLit — to send another query for a previously-rejected project if you have given the manuscript extensive revision. Just take your time, don’t query immediately, and make sure the changes are really substantial.

  20. Conde — Editors and agents at every conference usually invite writers to send stuff (usually for a period of 3 or so months afterward, but listen carefully to what they tell you). Mention in your cover letter/query that you attended such and such conference or that you met them. This is enough. If you talked to them, they probably remember you, if not, your submission from the conference — if properly marked and if it follows the instructions given — will still get you through the door.

  21. Mary, I thought sending revisions (unless requested) was a big no-no, but it’s good to know second chances exist.

    I break out into a cold sweat thinking about this. How on earth do you know when to gamble with a re-query?

    I’m always too chicken to do it, even with agents who give encouragement and/or feedback. I’ve heard stories of folks who get banished to the spam box forever.

  22. Thanks for clarifying this, Mary.
    I’m pretty excited, I got a rejection last week that had lots of positive feedback and a few areas for improvement.
    The letter included the words “we would be happy to consider a revised draft of this novel or another manuscript of yours down the line.” I feel like I can at least see the top of the mountain, even though I’ve still got a long way to go.

  23. Some people have nerve or just don’t care to respect the rules of etiquette for proper manuscript/portfolio submission.

    But, I’m very glad to hear that there are second chances!
    Thanks for the clarification!

  24. I guess I can understand why people feel desperate after all of the stress, emotion, and hard work of putting together a book. However, if the end product is good, it seems that we should trust agents to notice. If it needs work, we should respect being told that, too.

  25. Gayleen, that is very positive feedback.

    If you agree with the suggested changes, make them and send it back. I hope it goes well for you!

  26. That feels like taking your life in your own hands. Trying to trick an agent or editor into reading your manuscript could give you a really bad name.

  27. I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to at least some of these authors who may have thought their resubmission was being requested. I don’t like to think there’s a lot of writer scam-artists trying to misrepresent themselves. But that’s me… I like positive thinking and trying to understand someone’s mistake rather than just judging them harshly, especially when I’m not in the situation.

  28. The bad thing about those tricksters is they are trying to cut in line in front of the rule followers — daggone it. Don’t people realize lying is probably not the best foot to put forward -or- a good way to start a relationship!

    Better luck with submissions now that this has been aired 🙂

  29. I remember, many years ago, contacting Ronnie at Herman and her taking the time to get back to me. We had a number of emails, and illustrations, go back and forth as she tried to see if I could change my “buggy eyed” children into something softer, like dots for eyes, or if I could draw more for the older child crowd. No matter what my mind said, my wrist just drew the way it always did and so we gave up and parted ways in a very friendly fashion. If I had continued to email and hound her, based on a small amount of her interest in my work, then it would be the same as an author, lightly turned down, resubmitting. Twisting either a kind rejection into an invitation to resub or worse yet, sneaking it in under the guise of a request.
    It’s not done, it’s not professional and it’s not going to result in anything but rejection (and name recognition… not the good kind, if we have anything NEW to submit down the road)

  30. Ah, the perils of being a professional.

    If it makes you feel any better, I know a slew of writers, and I’m one of them, who–after being rejected by numerous agents–subscribe to all the blogs written by the very agents / publishers who have rejected them. The thing is, some of us want to succeed badly enough that we have a desire to know what you all want–even if it’s not our work.

    Rejection happens to everyone. We learn to live with it, just as you learn to live with having to send those rejections. =) It’s the nature of the market.

    Thanks for all the advice.

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