An Agent Requests a Full Manuscript: A Guide

Over the last several months, since I posted about an agent requesting my full manuscript, perhaps the thing that has come up most in the google searches that bring people to my blog on my stats page is some variation of “what do you do when an agent requests a full manuscript?” In an attempt to be helpful, and as both a writer and someone who has worked inside literary agents offices, I have decided to share a bit of the wisdom I’ve gained on the topic.

So, you’ve polished your novel. You’ve tackled your query. You’ve researched agents and sent out personalized queries to each of them. You’ve waited. And now the day has come when all this has paid off–an agent is interested in reading your full manuscript. First of all stop and take a minute to congratulate yourself. Having managed the slush piles of two different agents, I can tell you that your novel has something special about it if you’ve gotten this far. Maybe you wrote a great query. Maybe you added the first three chapters of your novel to your query (depending on the agent’s guidelines of course!) and there was something captivating about it. In any case, you did something really right. Because an agent has requested a full manuscript, and that’s an accomplishment.

Okay, now what? Well, formatting is really important. You should do standard manuscript formatting—12 point Times New Roman, double spaced, one inch margins. You should have your name, email, address, and phone number listed in the top left of the first page, and a word count on the top right. Sometimes it’s appropriate to put the title and a page number on each page, but definitely at least put the page number. Acceptable formats tend to be Word or PDF. I personally like PDFs because they can’t accidentally be changed.

Next thing you’re probably wondering is, “Holy shit, what do I say?!?” I’ve seen a lot of responses to requests for fulls, and short and sweet tends to do the trick. Just remember to keep it businesslike. “Dear <Agent Name>, I would be delighted to provide the full manuscript. You will find it attached in PDF/Word format. I hope you enjoy it and await your response.”

The exception, of course, is if other agents or small presses are currently reading your manuscript. If they are, you should let the agent know in your letter. This may get you to the top of the reading pile, as the publishing business tends to move more quickly when confronted with the possibility of a great manuscript getting snatched up by someone else. In that case, add something like, “In the spirit of full disclosure, my manuscript is also being read by an agent at <such and such agency>/an editor at <insert small press>.” No need for names. Don’t be pushy about it and don’t lie about it if it’s not happening. But do let agents know if it is. You really don’t want to piss anybody off.

Hopefully at this point you’ll get offered representation. But I’ll leave suggestions for that for another blog post. The important thing to note here, however, is if you don’t, don’t write a nasty note telling the agent what they’re missing out on. Stay professional, courteous, and pleasant. You never know what’s going to happen down the road.

Well, that’s the best of the knowledge I’ve found both through my own experience in agents’ offices and the vast knowledge of the web. Hope it helps!


About thebaffledkingcomposing

Pamela DiFrancesco is a writer with a community college degree in journalism, a fancy art school degree in fiction and a penchant for community organizing. A native of Pennsylvania coal country, Pamela lives in Astoria, Queens, writes, and does whatever else it takes to pay the bills. In the past, Pamela has worked for newspapers and taught children journalism in an after-school program. Pamela's fiction can be found on the web at Cezanne's Carrot and Monkeybicycle, in print in The Carolina Quarterly (who nominated "The Chuck Berry Tape Massacre" for the Best American Mystery Writing anthology) and forthcoming in The New Ohio Review. When not writing, Pamela practices acts of love and kindness in hopes of a radically different world, and is preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse through acts of badassery.
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15 Responses to An Agent Requests a Full Manuscript: A Guide

  1. Akkbar89 says:

    the baffled king composing,hallelujah, hallelujah. leonard cohen

  2. Becky says:

    The question that isn’t answered on the net (that I can find) is what do you do when an agent requests a full and then never gets back to you? I was so excited when a specific agent requested the full of my book. He mentioned that I should check in after a month or so because he tends to get buried. So I did. But then nothing. Almost a year since I first queried. Should I even bother to think about it anymore?

    • Weird, the same thing happened to me with the first agent who requested my manuscript. We should compare notes and see if it’s the same guy! Anyway, it’s just my thought, but if the guy isn’t inspired to get back to you after an email and a year, then he’s not going to be the right person to champion your book. I’d say try him one more time, and if he doesn’t get back to you, there’s plenty of other agents out there.

      • Becky says:

        I did contact him again, and still nothing. I think I will (sadly) just write him off. Every time I start wondering about it I get upset, and that’s not good for my creativity!

      • They say if it’s good enough that one person is interested, there will probably be more. Don’t worry too much about one agent!

    • J.Con. says:

      Becky–This appears to be a burgeoning trend among agents. I’ve had two books published by a major publisher. They weren’t bestsellers but they did well enough to keep me in the business. I was astonished that two agents from very reputable houses never responded after requesting a full manuscript. I still believe it’s a rare occurrence, but from what I’ve read on blogs and talking with colleagues, it is a growing trend.

  3. C.D.V. says:

    An informative post. Thank you.

  4. Juan Alvarado Valdivia says:

    Thank you for posting this info and tips. I’ve already referred to it twice. Cheers!

  5. TheGirl says:

    This is a great post, I have not come to this step…because I never took the first step really, but I think some folks I know would love to read this!

  6. katemartyn says:

    Nice piece, very generous to share your experience. It’s certainly a lottery out there. No matter what happens later with sales etc., there is nothing like the buzz you will get when you see an acceptance letter in your mailbox. Good luck with the submission. And thanks for following my blog, I appreciate it. I’ve also followed yours and look forward to more insights along your journey!

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