Sunday, May 24, 2009

How Long Should You Wait to Send a Requested Partial or Full?

That's me at the podium, doing a reading at the Tacoma Borders, and off to the far right (by the empty shelves) is a woman named Pam Binder. She is the president of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and a highly successful author. I think that she is a good source for advice.

It was sometime around the start of Fall that I asked her about whether or not I should wait to send my manuscript to an editor from TOR, who I had met at the PNWA conference. My reason for waiting was that I was getting a ton of valuable feedback right after the conference and I had just started getting workshop feedback from an award winning author named Megan Chance.

As a quick aside, Megan is awesome. If you ever get a chance to do a workshop with her or an opportunity to participate in a session of hers by all means do! And, if you did not know, she will be presenting on how to start your novel at this year's PNWA conference.

Well, Pam had unequivocal advice. She flat out said that industry professionals have told her that the biggest mistake new writers make is sending their stuff out too soon.

Her advice:


Make your story the best it can be.

Send the editor an email letter before you send the manuscript that explains things. But, by all means, wait until your story is as good as you can make it. Wait for Megan's feedback and your revisions.


So, I waited and I made changes.

A published author read my whole book and I made revisions based on her feedback.

Then, I joined a writing group and I made even more revisions.

Then, I submitted an excerpt from chapter one to a PNWA event called The Word is Out. That's how I wound up reading at Borders.

So, that's some of the history leading me up to the big question of when you should send a requested full or partial out to an editor or agent.

Now, I just meet with Donald Maass a week ago at the Write on the River Conference in Wenatchee Washington, and I was very glad about how it went. We had a good question and answer session. Then he told me a few of the things that he liked and requested the first fifty pages. Cool!

So, this brings me to the problem of when to submit those requested pages. Is my manuscript ready?

Well, I can already hear the four other guys in my writing group urging me to send the manuscript out NOW!!! That's what they said last Thursday night.

By the way, that was not my plan. In the meeting with Donald Maass, I made it known that I would like to work on the manuscript more before sending it. He seemed very cool with that and made it clear that I should send the first fifty pages when I am ready and make mention of our meeting in my email cover letter. This had me feeling settled on the issue, but then one of the guys in my writing group said that's just one of those things people say and Patrick made some good arguments for striking while the iron is hot. Hmmm?

I'd like to give you a few facts on my manuscript submission history and pose the question to you. I'd like your advice, but I would also like to hear your reasons for your advice so that we can generate some principles that could apply to all the followers of this blog. I will gather up the reasons and post the principles in my next Sunday blog.


July of 2007:

I had a request for the first fifty pages by two different fantasy editors that I meet at the PNWA conference. Also, an agent requested the first ten pages, which was nothing special--just her agency's standard request.

I waited about six months to send out the pages.

I emailed back and forth a bit with one editor. She liked my website. The result was an email back to me that explained how an editor had to be "in love" with a work to keep it from getting lost in the market. She said that she could throw it out there, but that she thought it would just get lost.

I did not email with the other editor and the result was a sorry Charlie form letter back.

I sent the first ten pages to the agent (six months after the fact) and got a nonpersonal rejection back.

March 1, 2008

I meet with an agent from a major house at a conference on Whidbey Island. She requested two full manuscripts. One was a YA play that I hoped to get made into a graphic novel and the other was my 115,000 word fantasy novel. She seemed very enthusiastic about my projects in the meeting and at other times when I saw her at the conference. I thought this might be my big break and I could tell that this agent believed in me.

Well, I decided to do the opposite of what I had done with the previous industry people. I sent the manuscripts out right away. They got lost in the mail, but still arrived within a week or so. The result was a personal letter full of compliments. Man, it read like a letter of recommendation. She had such encouraging things to say, but you know what's coming, the terrible word--"but, ..."

That was about a year and a half ago. I've done a ton of revisions since then and will most likely email that agent to see if she is interested in taking another look.

So, here I am now. You know my submission history, you know Pam Binder's advice, and you know that my writing group thinks that I should send my stuff NOW. What do you think?

Question of the Day:

How long should a writer wait to send a partial or full manuscript that an industry person has requested at a conference? Should you wait until your story is as good as it can be? Should you strike while the iron is hot? How long does the iron stay hot? Or, is it all about what's on the page, so the timing really does not matter?


  1. Thank you for raising this topic. I look forward to seeing the responses.

  2. The pages speak for themselves. It doesn't matter how soon you get it to them, if what you send is crap.

  3. I don't want to say too much, since I want to hear what other people think, but I do agree with notenoughwords in that the pages do speak for themselves. However, in this case, it seems to me more like a friendship kind of thing. You sent those pages immediately to that one agent and you got a long, detailed explanation as to why it didn't work. My assumption is that the agent felt more of a responsibility to explain herself simply because she'd so recently expressed enthusiasm. If you waited six months with her, she might have forgotten what she said, and thus, a shorter, more vague expression.

    Striking while the iron is hot won't give you any kind of advantage, but it just might give you a more-detailed reply. An understanding, I guess.

    But anyway...would love to hear from others. (Holy spaced out paragraphs, Dave! What happened?) =).

  4. Totally agree with Patrick. As much as I want to say wait until the pages are perfect, if there was any kind of personal bond created, strike while the fire is still burning. Waiting will only make the impact of that relationship fade into obscurity.

    My $.02

  5. These are tough questions, and a tough situation. I'm slowly learning that I shouldn't even mention work that I'm not ready to query and that is out for feedback. I shouldn't enter it into contests or pitch it or query it. Now... this is all what I'd like to eventually do. I'm the same boat you are, as you know - working on a novel to get it ready for an agent who was interested in one little piece.

    My personal advice? Communication. You were wise to speak with the agent about your piece and where it stands. If he says he'll wait, then do what you need to do. He'll wait. He's busy. He'll be glad when he gets your work. Send him an update now and then to let him know where you stand. That's what I've done so far.

    And why would you send it when you're NOT ready, anyway? That doesn't make much sense in my head. But that's just me and how I work. Good luck!

  6. Hi all,
    I was recently at a conference with four agents. On this issue, one said, "If I request a full manuscript and you need three months to finish, I won't wait." If you are interested, you can read the rest of what I wrote on that event on my blog. Best of luck to everyone in sorting this out.


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