If you receive a partial manuscript request from a literary agent (or a full), congrats! You’ve beaten the odds and it’s justifiable to celebrate. Go buy yourself that big cigar.
However, you’d be surprised at how many e-mailed partials agents get that just say “Here it is” and attach 30 pages with no other info. Which means the agent has to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out what it is and then search through their e-mail files and… well, most agents like to be efficient.
So. If you receive a request for your manuscript, follow these steps:
Include your original query and the agent’s partial request
Most importantly: when you e-mail your include your original query letter and any conversation you’ve had with the agent at the bottom of the e-mail.
This one was so important to me when I was a literary agent. Otherwise, when I sat down to read your partial a week to two weeks later I had to go hunting through my files to find the original e-mail to refresh my memory, and even though I keep them in one place sometimes they’re hard to find, and it took forever, and made me Mr. Cranky McCrankyagent, and I wanted to be in a good mood when I was reading partials.
So please: include the query. Please.
Take the opportunity to personalize the note
Sending the partial is a great opportunity to include another very short personalized note. No pressure or anything, but it’s another opportunity to present yourself as a very cool, awesome writer who so totally isn’t stressing about whether or not the agent will ask for a full manuscript.
Respect the agent’s request
When I was an agent, I usually asked for the first 30 pages, even though I knew it was somewhat irrational to ask for partials. Couldn’t I just request the whole thing and read as much as I wanted?
The key thing for me is that it established expectations with the author about how much I was really planning to read.
It was also one of my many self-coded tip-offs for when authors would contact me again. If an author came back to me and I’d previously requested the full manuscript, I’d want to look at the new manuscript almost 100% of the time. If I had rejected a partial, I’d consider it a bit more like a regular query. It was a way of signaling my level of interest to my future self so I could be more efficient.
So if an agent asks for a partial: send the amount they ask for. If a chapter ends at Page 32 I’m not going to kill you if you include 32 pages. Whatever makes for a natural break.
Start at the beginning
Send the first 30 pages (or 20 or 50), not just any ole 30 pages. If your book has a prologue, send the prologue. Show the agent where you think the novel begins.
Check your formatting
Make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly.
Keep the agent posted on any new developments
Keep the agent apprised if you receive another offer of representation (they don’t need to know about additional manuscript requests). Here’s a post on how to handle an agent offering you representation.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Alfred Stevens – The Letter