5 Things To Do If An Agent Has Your Manuscript For Months

Writers always ask: What does it mean if an agent has my manuscript for awhile?

Answer: Nothing.

It means nothing if we’ve had it for a long time.

It doesn’t mean we aren’t interested.

It doesn’t mean we’ve read it and are failing to get back to you.

It means that we likely haven’t even got to it yet. So you can presume absolutely nothing.

So, what do you do when an agent has had your manuscript for months?

1. Write more. The answer to everything is keep writing. Don’t let the waiting game slow you down. When an agent is interested they’ll want to see what else you’re working on too. So keep writing.

2. Check their guidelines. Most agents say they’ll get back to writers of requested material in 6 weeks to 3 months. But some say 6 months. And some say they’ll only reply if interested. Base your expectations on their actual guidelines.

3. Only follow up once their guidelines timeline is up. Or, if you have an offer or other news to update them with (important blurb, award you’ve won etc).

4. Keep querying. One nibble doesn’t mean you’ve caught a fish. The more lines you cast the better chance you have!

5. Avoid playing games. You’ll waste a lot of unnecessary energy playing games like reading too much into an agent’s social media feed, emailing them to ask about the status of their slush pile, or other things like that. It’s not worth the stress. Remember: no answer means nothing.

Don’t forget: You can always listen to sad music and write angsty poetry or start a funny parody Twitter account. You know, if you’re still feeling melancholy.


“Is it my query or my sample pages?” Why you are not getting full manuscript requests

dialogueOne of the most common, and most subjective, questions I get asked at writer’s workshops is: “How do I know when it’s my query or whether it’s my sample pages that are stopping me from getting full manuscript requests or offers?”

Ultimately, every circumstance is different, but in my experience the situations look like this:

When you are not getting requests because of your query…

…it’s because you aren’t targeting agents who are actively building a list. Established agents have great and enviable client lists, but they usually aren’t signing many debuts.

…it’s because your query is a synopsis and not a pitch. Know the difference and don’t make that mistake.

…it’s because you don’t know what your book is about. Don’t write a rambling paragraph about themes, we want the drama.

….it’s because your query doesn’t explain the external conflict, character motivation, and stakes. If you have a great book but can’t tell us about it, how will we know?

When you are not getting requests or offers because of your sample pages… Continue reading “Is it my query or my sample pages?” Why you are not getting full manuscript requests

Top 4 Reasons Agents Pass Based On Your Sample Chapters

good booksAs you know, agents get hundreds of submissions a month. We narrow that down to a select few to request that catch our eye. On top of all the client reading, contract negotiation and putting out fires, we have to squeeze time in to read your sample chapters. It takes us weeks to get to them because we have so many other things on our plates that have higher priority.

When we finally find time to read some new projects there are a few things that go through our heads: 1) we are looking for something TRULY great with outstanding writing and an electric premise; 2) we have so much on our plates that if we do really like it sometimes ‘like’ isn’t actually good enough and we still pass; and 3) if we’re looking at a dozen partials things can blur together and we need something that is absolutely memorable–and that rarely happens.

But here are the Top 4 Reasons Agents Pass Based On Your Sample Chapters:

1. It simply doesn’t stand out from the pack. As I mentioned above, we read batches of partials at one time. If you don’t make a unique impression on pages 1 through 5 we’re not going to be reading any further. We see trends because of the high volume. Don’t be a trend, stand out with your unique voice.

2. The pitch was more exciting than the sample material. Some writers workshop their query letter more than they workshop their manuscript pages. That gets us excited about your pitch, but leaves us underwhelmed with your sample chapters. You’re building up our expectations with your query letter, don’t let us down! Make sure those sample chapters are as exciting and relevant as your pitch is.

3. The book starts in the wrong place. 90% of slush pile manuscripts I see start in the wrong place. If you don’t know how to start your novel, or spend too much time setting up a scene instead of getting into one, you’ve already lost us. Get into the action. Make sure you flirt with how much information to give us and how much to hold back. Don’t overwrite the setting. Think: how can I make sure my reader starts on page 1 and never wants to set it down?

4. It doesn’t fit into its proposed genre or target audience. For example, we get pitched YA projects that are actually MG etc. The purpose of your pitch is to whet our appetite and set us up to enjoy your work based on the expectations you’ve outlined in your query letter. Know your target audience. Read in your genre. Be confident that you are pitching the correct agent for the correct project.

For many of these reasons, we’ll send a simple form rejection. It’s hard for us to reply to each and every one of you individually and get across the feedback you really need. There aren’t enough hours in the day and frankly that’s not part of our job.

If you want your sample pages to stand out follow these simple steps:

  • Properly format it
  • Make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors
  • Make sure your pitch letter correctly reflects your manuscript
  • Pitch agents that rep what you write
  • Query the best book you can write

6 Things That Are Wrong With Your Manuscript

notepageI love talking about the great things writers do and how they surprise me all the time with their wonderful prose, but from time to time I need to stress the things that go wrong with manuscript submissions!

Here are my top 6 things that are wrong with submissions to agents:

  1. Your story starts in the wrong place.
  2. All dialogue is one generic voice, when I should hear each character speaking to me in a unique way.
  3. Introducing characters’ appearance and personality with an ‘info dump’, and not weaving into the story itself.
  4. Treating your novel like your main character’s journal. We don’t need to know when they get up in the morning, what they eat for breakfast, and how their day progresses. Focus on moving the plot through important actions, not narrating their day.
  5. For Children’s Fiction: Make sure your target age group, your voice and style match what you’ve written.
  6. Telling instead of showing. (I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s still apparent in many submissions.)

Use this as a checklist before submitting your manuscript. We’re looking for great projects from great writers with great voices–don’t sell yourself short with an unedited manuscript.

Q: What else is on your editing checklist?