Pub Rants

What If The Agent Asks For A Full?

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STATUS: It’s Monday. Mondays are always crazy and sometimes I’m not sure how that happens. It started off simply enough. I had three tasks to accomplish by evening and now it’s 6 p.m. and I’m only halfway through task 2. Some interesting fires happened today. In fun news, I’m guest blogging on another site tomorrow—a completely original entry so you might want to pop over to Romancing The Blog tomorrow for a peek.

Also, Rachel Vater is doing a query workshop over on her blog so if you are in the query process, you might want to pop over there to check it out.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU’RE THE ONLY WOMAN by David Pack

I was a little crazy this year, and I agreed to judge something like 6 or 7 contests. For the most part, contest judging is a lot of fun and if it’s allowed, I often offer a critique or some feedback with the judging sheet. But 6 or 7 contests is probably about 2 or 3 too many because of the time involved.

I’ll be learning to say “NO” a little more often for next year. Big smile here.

So obviously I recently judged a contest and this time, I really liked the winning entry—liked it enough to ask for the full manuscript once the winner was announced. I’ve actually only done this one or twice in the history of my contest judging so it’s rather a big thing (or perhaps it’s only big in my mind…)

Today the contest winner had to send me an email ‘fessing up. It probably took her a week just to get the wording right (and I thought she did a very nice job with it) but ultimately, she had to tell me that she had submitted chapters to the contest for a manuscript she had not finished.

Oops. That’s like querying for a project that only partially exists. It’s all well and good until the agent asks for the full. We have excitement, momentum, we want to read it right now and alas, we must curb our enthusiasm until the manuscript is complete.

A little tip: You never want to put the brakes on an agent’s excitement.

But don’t worry. I’m not going to punish this writer for her lapse or anything. Maybe she had every intention of finishing it and life got in the way. That certainly happens! When the manuscript is ready, she can send it. But there is danger in that. Perhaps the market shifts between now and then and what I was looking for today has changed by the time I see the manuscript. So much is dependent on timing as I’m often tell you blog readers.

So a word of caution to contest submitters. Have the full ready because the request just might happen and you don’t want to be SOL but able to send it ASAP instead.

31 Responses

  1. The Queen-a Athena said:

    While I absolutely agree with not querying before the manuscript is finished, I’m not sure you can apply that same standard for contests. Many, many writers use contests as a way to get impartial feedback on a WIP. For folks without a critique group, contests can be one of their only ways to learn if a story is working or not.

    I completely understand the frustration of learning that a really great entry isn’t ready for submission. But other than the Golden Heart, I know of no other contests (of course, I only know romance) that require the manuscript to be complete before submission. Since that probably wasn’t a requirement for the contest, it’s hard to fault the author for submitting an entry that was in accordance with the rules.

  2. Kanani said:

    Well, it’s gracious of you not to put her into a headlock and give her noogies!

    There are probably exceptions, but it’s always been made clear to me that a first time novelist shouldn’t put their MS out there until it’s finished. And preferably, not even the first draft, but the second, or even the third.

    Once, an agent came to talk to us and when she was asked how much editing a certain writer’s first novel needed when she submitted it. The agent replied: “Very little. The novel had gone through several revisions first with a group, and later a mentor.” Given that this is a book that won many awards, we all took what she had seriously.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I bet that author is kicking herself in the butt as we type.

    Kicking and writing at lightning speed, that is. 🙂

  4. Anonymous said:

    Lemme be the voice of Evil for a moment.

    In nearly any field but writing, there’s a subset of activity called “market research.” I think it’s interesting that agents & editors don’t want writers to do it. They say they do…but market research isn’t done by reading other people’s opinions, or passively looking at what seems to be selling. It’s done by actually trying to sell different things to different markets.

    They (editors & agents, otherwise known herein as Forces of Good) have some valid points on their side…but what if a writer were to, for instance, write a bunch of e-queries for different projects, using different names & email addresses?

    Even if the writer did nothing with any requests for partials that came in, this process would have to be a huge aid to understanding what does and doesn’t work.

    A reasonably fast writer might actually create some sample chapters after some threshold level of partials is requested. For some authors in some fields, completing a book in two months is not uncommon, and agents typically take longer than that to respond to partials anyway….

    I see possibilities here. Of course, there’s the problem of identifying yourself afterward, but you could always claim you just used that odd email address because you prefer to write using a pseudonym. Then you could let yourself be talked into using your real name.

    Or there’s Lawrence Block’s suggestion of simply accepting payment as your pseudonymous self & endorsing the checks over to your day-job identity.


    That was a fun thought.

    Unfortunately, I don’t write quickly enough to make it work.

  5. Nadia said:

    Anonymous, I don’t think your reasoning is valid. If you research through querying agents what works and what doesn’t, then go and write a book based on that, your research will be invalid by the time you’ve finished your ms. Furthermore, agents and editors receive hundreds of queries every week. Working through them is a big job. I think it’s just nasty to deliberately not have a ms ready and waiting at the end of the slog.

    Or you’re just messing with us and I have egg all over my face for taking you seriously…

  6. Anonymous said:

    Hi Nadia-

    Well, yeah, I was kidding. But really it’s no worse than research that goes on all the time in other areas. It’s called “dry testing” & can be very effective.

    Also, I suspect a program like this could be very effective as a way to learn some general rules about what actually works in a query. Some might say your query should be absolutely straightforward, for example, while others might advise a little fancy language. Do you start with a hook or with the reason you are contacting a particular agent? Mention a second book in progress, or not?

    As things stand, nobody’s really in a position to know what works–all anyone can do is tell you what he/she would personally accept, or believes he or she would accept, or feels others would like to see. The human mind does funny things with anecdotal evidence…actual statistical data tend to point out counterintuitive principles.

    Also, if one could write a novel in a couple of months, I doubt the market would change too month between the mass query and the production of the novel–long past the completion date, one would still be waiting to hear from most of the agents who had requested partials.

    On the other hand, I do have a conscience & I think agents do writers in general a service, so I don’t want to gum up the works.

    Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

  7. Linda Adams said:

    Unfortunately, I know someone who did exactly what Anonyn mentioned. He’d just started writing a historical and wanted to do a market test by submitting queries to agents. Amazing, without a story, he got eight requests for partials, wrote three chapters in a panic, and got eight rejections. The worst part was that he was trying to start a business relationship with someone, and he was starting it off by lying.

  8. Liane said:

    Eeek,(said in very small voice)..I did that. I was only in rough draft stage of a mainstream novel when I entered a big name contest. A lovely agent who’d judged it asked for the entire manuscript, as did the judging editor from RH….my son got diagnosed with autism in between the time that I entered and the time I won. One year later, other son diagnosed…I’ve been hiding under a literary rock until this year, hoping my name isn’t mud anymore.

    Rules are written for a reason, and lives have the most awful way of getting in front of our best intentions.

    I learned the hard way…Funny thing is, I pulled out the draft the other day…and….I still love that book. I’m going to finish it as soon as my WIP is off my plate.

  9. Christa M. Miller said:

    When I started querying, my novel was complete. I was convinced of that. 29 rejections later (some based on partials), I thought something might be wrong. I sent it to another writer who had had more success than me getting requests for fulls. She – along with one of the agents – thought it needed an overhaul. And she was right.

    Something like four chapters into it, an agent I had queried in that first round requested a partial. I was able to send her those chapters, and I let her know I was working on a revision. Life happened in the meantime, so it’s still being revised… but I plan to finish it before November.

    Should I not have sent the partial? I don’t know. I saw a chance and grabbed it, and honestly, I think the agent has been very patient! I guess most of all I’m hoping that as Miss Snark says, “Good writing trumps all.”

  10. JDuncan said:

    Given the general time lag in responses from editors/agents, I would think there are a fair number of folks out there who start the process ‘early.’ Maybe they are in the middle of editing the draft, knowing they’ll be done in a month or something, or the first few chapters are done and they are polishing the rest. Now, while I agree you are flirting with potential disaster doing this, I’d lay odds it has been done numerous times with success…as well as failure. It is sorely tempting to get the process going early. One wants to know if their project is worthwhile or not. I know I’m certainly in that boat. Certainly it can’t be advised to do such a thing, but if you are certain of your writing process and given the sometimes large turn around times, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a big no-no either.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Validation of your work should come from your beta readers, or critique groups. Not from an editor or agent.

    This is the kind of stuff that gives writers the reputation of having no business sense whatsoever.

    It’s just dumb.

  12. Ryan Field said:

    I’m sure she never imagined anyone would ask for a full so quickly. Of course she was wrong to assume such a thing, and it’s something everyone should consider.

  13. Bernita said:

    An established writer may be able to get away with submitting an incomplete – they have a track record and comprehend deadlines – a first time writer probably can’t.

    A small point, Anon 6:19, the only validation that counts in the long run is that by agents/editors.
    There does come a point in a manuscript’s life when only industry eyes can tell
    if a novel sinks or swims.

  14. C. said:

    Very interesting discussion and very timely for me as well (since I got a partial request from a pitch workshop but didn’t have the full ready so wasn’t sure whether to send the partial – still struggling for answer).

    First, I’d like to disagree with Nadia that “I think it’s just nasty to deliberately not have a ms ready and waiting at the end of the slog.” I think that an author choosing to query off a partial isn’t nasty, it’s just their choice. As Kristin said, her enthusiasm may cool but it may not. The author is deliberately taking that risk of having the agent cool. There are trade-offs to this choice but it is still a choice.

    I don’t think that querying or sending a partial without having finished the full is unprofessional. I think that not sending the full when requested is unprofessional – there’s a difference. Clearly, some people think they can finish the ms up after a request for it and find out that they really can’t.

    I’m always willing to have my mind changed on these thoughts and I always find the tug between sending the partial to see if there’s a market vs. finishing the full and potentially wasting time interesting. Plus, I think there’s a difference between contest, pitch workshops, etc that don’t require there to be a full versus querying an agent directly.

  15. Anonymous said:

    Now, I’m really confused. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree with complete manuscripts, but there are agents who violates their own rules on this. Such as accepting a manuscripts (partial or full) by word of mouth (friends talking to agents about their friends MS–I personally call this agent whoring) and “THOSE” who goes though the system the right way.

    Am I the only one who feels like this?

  16. Anonymous said:

    I think you need to put your absolute best effort out there. It doesn’t go out until you’ve written and revised it as many times as it needs.

    If there is any question, then have it reviewed by writers you trust. If a writer is using an agent as a ‘test run’ to see what the response is, or to get some advice, then they’re wasting not only the wait time, but also the agent’s time.

    I know there are lots of new writers who skip over the critique process, and there are critique groups that spend more time tearing down than knowing how to help a writer strengthen their skills. Giving a good critique is a skill.

    I’ve found high levels of resistance to going through this process, mainly because they’re afraid of rejection. But wading through that muck is part of the process to becoming a writer, as is rewriting, as is learning to take rejection.

  17. Cindy Procter-King said:

    When it comes to contests, though, Kristin, sometimes writers like to use them to test the waters of a new idea. IMO, that’s not the same as querying an agent or editor when you don’t have a full manuscript. However, I do see your point about how your enthusiasm might wane between the request and the submission.


  18. Anonymous said:

    If writing is a business (isn’t that what they keep telling us?) then doing market research is part of the business. I see nothing wrong with sending out queries and partials for incomplete mss, as long as the writer understands she’s taking a risk. It’s possible to do this without lying (except by omission – but what do you think an agent’s “I don’t feel I have the passion to represent your work” really means?!).

    A friend of mine has seriously considered doing this, as he’s a very fast and very good writer. His problem is that he doesn’t really write to the market, he writes what he wants to write. If he wants to make a living off writing, he needs to write to the market (at least at first) – so sending out a bunch of different queries and then whipping up a partial in a week, and a full in a couple of months, seems like good business sense to me.

  19. Anonymous said:

    I agree it would be prudent not to send an editor or agent a query for an incomplete project, but I don’t think the same limitation applies to a contest. People enter contests for a variety of different reasons — some for a critique, some for a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes, some to increase name recognition, and other assorted reasons. Not all are entering in hopes of an editor or agent request — though it is certainly a lovely bonus. And if the final judge editor or agent is not in the habit of requesting fulls (easy enough to track by watching contest results that list such things) then it’s a fair be the writer really isn’t expecting it.
    But when it comes to directly querying an editor or agent with a project… well, there’s usually only one reason for that, in which case the writer ought to be ready to get the manuscript in the mail in a timely fashion.

  20. spy scribbler said:

    I also politely disagree about not entering contests before the full manuscript is ready.

    I see your point, and you’re right: if it’s good enough for agent to request, it’s a detriment not to have the whole thing finished.

    But like queen-a athena said, many contests are for learning: that’s why there are such extensive score sheets and comments are encouraged from the judges.

    Just the other day, I blogged about the query workshop you did at TWL_Author Talks. From my three sentences, you managed to extrapolate every single problem with my manuscript. That was so helpful.

    Contests are a fantastic learning experience. I would hate to see them taken away for only full manuscripts. Not only do they help writers, but they also earn money for their non-profit chapter (in the case of RWA).

    But querying is a whole different ballgame. It’s just plain rude to query before the manuscript is ready.

  21. Anonymous said:

    many contests are for learning

    Contests are for putting your best effort out there and standing a shot at WINNING.

    All other such thoughts are nonsense and speak of someone who was always chosen last for the team.

  22. spy scribbler said:

    Wow, anonymous, that was quite harsh. I hear and respect your passion, though.

    Not all contests are for fulls. If a full manuscript is not listed in the rules, then there is nothing wrong with entering if you don’t have a full.

    Contests are for winning; you’re right. But they’re also for learning. Otherwise, why would you enter a contest? Why not just query the agent or editor?

    Ultimately, who wants to win a bunch of contests for the point of winning? No, the point of contests is to grow so that you CAN be published.

    I don’t see the relevance of getting picked last on team. I just know that when I sit and judge an entry, I’m intent on making comments that will help that entrant grow as a writer, and hopefully be published one day.

    Of course, you should put your best effort out there, I agree with that statement.

  23. Anonymous said:

    Anon 9:53 AM said: accepting a manuscripts (partial or full) by word of mouth (friends talking to agents about their friends MS–I personally call this agent whoring)

    Well, that’s just about the silliest thing I’ve ever read. Talking up your friends’ manuscript to your agent is agent whoring? Are you kidding me? No, it’s called networking. Ever heard of it? Same thing with a financial advisor telling a friend about a hot stock tip, or your girlfriend telling you about the shoesale at DSW. You have a commodity that someone else thinks has a viable shot at selling and they help you out. Networking. And people who help their friends with an agent introduction are supportive friends. Especially when they recognize that your work is quality and might sell. It sounds like you’re quite bitter that your friends can “whore” you to their agents and that’s just the most asinine statement from the writing world that I’ve ever seen in print.

  24. Marley Gibson said:

    I agree with you, Spy Scribbler, and I do the same thing when I’m judging contests.

    Contest are, very simply, what you (one) make it out to be. It can be a place to test a new idea. It can be a place to try and final and get in front of an agent or editor. It can be a place to get an in-depth critique, if you don’t have a critique partner. It can be a place where you test a scene to see if it’s working (there are contests for “scenes” like First Kiss or Between the Sheets or Launching a Star) and it can be a place where you think you can win, get your name in RWR and garner some attention for yourself and your writing.

    There are many, many reasons to enter a contest…so, you just need to know, going into it, your purpose for submitting the particular entry.

    I do agree that it’s “wrong” and unprofessional to query agents with something that doesn’t exist. I worked in the world for 5 years for a company that sold, basically, vaporware. It was a great concept on paper and the beta versions were good enough to make sales, but when the clients started wanting product and there wasn’t anything there…well, imagine that, they wanted their money back and were furious that their time had been wasted.

    I view agents and editors the same way. Don’t waste their time on something that doesn’t exist just so you (one) can say you have x number of requests or validation that an idea is interesting enough.

    Just my forty cents…

    = )

  25. Diana Peterfreund said:

    I entered stuff in contests all the time to get feedback. And it was great feedback too, from successful authors in the genre I was writing. Saying that the only point to contests is to “win” is not taking into account some of the fabulous feedback non winning entries can get. I only agree insofar as contests with no feedback at all, like the Golden Heart. But then again, you must have a complete manuscript to enter that one.

    It is unfortunate that this particular winning chapter wasn’t a part of a complete. But there is a reason these people are entering contests rather than querying agents with their work. They AREN’T putting it on the professional marketplace.

    And, excuse me? “Agent whoring?” That’s the silliest thing I ever heard. If I’ve read work I think is great, I would definitely want it to “get out there” and I would definitely try to introduce it to the people I know in the business who could help make that happen.

  26. Anonymous said:

    On the “agent whoring” thing, some agents don’t take queries, and only look at work of a potential client when it has been referred by an existing client. As someone said, that called networking.

  27. Anonymous said:

    I have just submitted three chapters to an editor without having the full ms complete. During the three to four months that it will take the editor to read the partial, I will complete the ms.

    I call that good writing sense. Since the query/partial/full process takes months and months, I might as well be completing my ms and polishing while I wait.

    –Anonymous writer