Who wouldn’t be excited when a literary agent asks for a full manuscript? It’s likely to send you into a proof-reading frenzy (comma overdose,,,,,) your fingers wobbling over the keyboard as you finally hit Send. Then just after you do, you’ll spot a typo.
Things go oh-so-quiet after all that frenetic activity. And you wait, your imagination looping UP – the next time the phone rings, it’ll be her – and then whoosh – DOWN – If she rejects me, I’m never going to get another chance like this, never.
It’s going to be a nail-chewing, neck-tensing, grump-inducing time, so here’s some tips:
1. Don’t start monitoring the literary agent.
Googling her name, looking up other people who she’s offered representation to. Sound familiar? Force yourself to look away from the screen, and stop logging onto Twitter every five minutes to see if she’s posted. Put your energy into starting something new. A short story. A new novel. Read or collect ideas for future work.
2. Don’t bombard the agent with emails.
Coo-ee, just wondering how you’re getting on with The Masterpiece? Then two days later: Me again. And, don’t phone. That’s the equivalent of repeatedly ding-donging someone’s doorbell when all the lights are on, but no one’s opening up. Reading a full takes time. Some agents take about three months to reply to an initial submission of three chapters and a synopsis, so how long is it going to take to read your 90,000 words? A few weeks ago I read an account by a published author that went something like this. I wrote to a literary agent and 24 hours later she offered me representation. Two days after that, she negotiated me a three book deal with Penguin. I lay my head on the desk and almost muttered the words, I’m unworthy. I ate a scone instead. Thing is, it doesn’t happen like that for most writers. Exercise patience, distract yourself, keep writing. Agents who’ve requested a full can take anything from one month to six to reply.
3. If an agent who requested a full hasn’t replied after three months, do email and say you’d welcome some feedback.
Sometimes when an agent requests a full they don’t reply at all. Yep, this happened to me with an early version of my first book. It’s happened to other writers I know too. Try not to take it personally, it’s more of a reflection on the agent than on your writing. So there!
4.When the agent turns your book down with feedback, don’t do anything apart from flaring your nostrils and swearing.
Don’t bash out an instant reply. ‘Thanks for your patronising comments, but…’ Step away. Go for a run. Punch that pillow. A rejection usually comes with pointers. ‘The narrative wasn’t taut enough,’ for instance. ‘The plot lost direction halfway through.’ File the email somewhere other than in your inbox, so it’s not staring out at you for the next few miserable mornings as your damp cornflakes slap onto your keyboard. When you’ve calmed down, read the email again, process it and adjust your manuscript accordingly. Send it to an editor too – you might think that’s a waste of money, but the fact that anyone has requested your full means that there’s some magic to it. An editor could be just the genie you need.
5. When the reply doesn’t contain any feedback, write back saying you’d welcome some.
Most agents will be more than happy to give you their thoughts. Don’t expect compliments. Do expect constructive criticism.
6. When an agent reads a full, and asks for a second read once you’ve made changes, definitely send it back to her.
Once you’ve made changes, you could send out more submissions too – to up to six agents at a time – after all, by the time your MS has risen to the top of the slush pile, your almost-agent might have signed or rejected you anyway. Alternatively, you could stop sending your book out. But remember, this is limbo land – an exciting yet anxiety-ridden place. Do whatever feels right for you. But whatever you do, eat scones, don’t cyber-stalk, and keep writing.
The Maid’s Room by Fiona Mitchell is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton.