Slow Down

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 03 2009

When I request a partial from an author, sometimes I request the material be sent via email and sometimes I request it be sent via snail mail. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that sometimes I like to sit down with paper and sometimes I use my Kindle. Whatever the reason, it’s my own little quirk, so there you have it.

What amazes me though is how many people can’t seem to get the submission right. In my request I state clearly how I would like the material sent and say clearly “as per the guidelines on our web site,” with a link to that page. In other words, go to the web site to take a look at how it should be sent. I suspect what happens is that a lot of authors see the request and get so excited that they send the material immediately, which almost always results in a mess. I get the material emailed in three different attachments or three different versions of the same material attached to one email. I’ve received the entire partial cut and pasted into the body of an email, and then of course there are the three or four email follow-ups because the first one wasn’t quite right, so while the author apologizes, here it is again, etc.

Slow down, everyone. While we certainly recommend you submit requested material in a timely manner, speedy and timely are two different things. Take the time to review the agent’s guidelines one more time (if they exist), take the time to double-check your material, and then send it out.

I think we can all agree that when asking anyone to do anything for us we would much rather have it take an extra minute or two and be done right than rushed and sloppy. Remember, the perception of how the material is sent and how well you follow instructions also play into my perception of whether or not you’re a client I would want to work with.


28 responses to “Slow Down”

  1. Good post. I've only sent out one query and it led to a partial request. But I remember feeling like, I don't want to seem unprofessional so I need to respond immediately…as in yesterday

    So certainly it's good to hear that we can take a bit to assess. Would you say that responding in 24 hours is too long?

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I have a job where I work with the public. Believe me, following instructions is a lost art.

  3. Define 'timely". Two weeks? Two days? How long is too long? Even though the work is finished and on the shelf there's a strong urge to reread the thing one more time when a request comes in.
    I think I have a minute of fear when I get a full request that I'll do something stupid to screw it up. Like you'll be really mad if I give you a word doc instead of an rtf. Or everyday life will get in the way and I wait two weeks and you'll forget me.
    Good reminder to double check.

  4. Avatar Dave F. says:

    A group I worked in had a boss that just grabbed anything to give to a boss when asked. "I need this report" the big boss said and this jerk picked up what was not ready and ran with it. When it got criticized, it wasn't his fault.

    Please don't do that.

    When you get a request for a partial. Go outside and celebrate. Then come back and prepare the partial. Make it the best it can be and then have a friend read it.

    Why, you ask. From my own experience, I used to write meeting notices for technical talks with a paragraph about the author and a paragraph about the talk. I ALWAYS had it proofread. Even after ten years of monthly notices, I still wasn't perfect and the proofreaders found mistakes.

    Take the time to do it right and then check it over, twice. I've made enough mistakes to give that advice.

  5. Avatar Rick Daley says:


    One query + One Partial Request = My respect and admiration

    That's a pretty good ratio. You must have been doing your homework. Best of luck to you!

  6. Avatar jfaust says:


    That is impressive. Congrats.

    I would say response within 24 hours is certainly not too long. However, the goal is to get the material out to the agent while she's still interested. I think that once you start querying you want to feel that your book or proposal is already ready to go. Sure you're going to want to second guess yourself, but I think you want it to the agent within a day or two if possible.

    I don't know if there's a strict time frame on it and I don't think anyone will be mad if you send doc v. rtf or vice versa. Double checking just helps everyone.


  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Guilty as charged. I would be one of your jump the gun responders.

    And from a personal perspective, it was totally a result of excited freak out. I know that this is what you do for a living, but for me it was a chance…maybe the chance. So the adrenaline took over and a few brain cells might have gone into critical care for a moment. But have no fear; the brain cells have made a full recovery.

    So please take pity on us overly excitable authors; that thrill is what we live for. But like I said in my response, I'm not really as spastic as I may seem. *wink*

  8. Avatar Stephanie says:

    Well said! The thrill of a partial request is indescribable…. as another poster said…it could be that one gleaming chance at publication. I know I've been guilty of the hasty excited response.

    Live n' learn!!

    Hopefully your blog will help others to not make this mistake 🙂

  9. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Sounds like a newbie mistake. I'm sure a lot of great stories blow their chances as a result. This is why it's nice when an agent or editor accepts re-queries. So much is learned during the first few months in Queryland.

    When I receive a request, I take my time and go through the material one more time. Doesn't matter how many times I go over a manuscript, I always pick up mistakes. Sigh.

    I think the longest I've taken has been a month because I didn't expect any sort of request, but had received constructive feedback from another agent who'd passed on the Full and wanted to revise accordingly.

    I don't get excited over requests anymore. Besides having received truckloads of requests for Partials and Fulls on three different novels so far, I start a new story as soon as I launch the last into Queryland. This way I'm so emotionally preoccupied with the new story that the requests and rejects for the old barely register.

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I would like to qualify my statement above though, by saying…

    Yes, slowing down is an invaluable piece of advice. You go through the entire process of writing the book, polishing the manuscript in order to get it ready to send out, then you research which agent would be the best bet for you, and proceed in the query process. The last thing…and I do mean the last thing, you want to do is screw up the agent’s impression of your professionalism when they ask for a partial/full.

    I was absolutely mortified after the screw up. Trust me; I really and truly wanted a “RETRIEVE” button on my email so I could have gotten it back after it was sent. But mistakes happen. Just take that breath. Squee, and dance, and freak out – revel in the moment. Get it out of your system, and then get back to the computer and send that agent a carefully crafted response worthy of the care and energy that you put into writing your manuscript in the first place.

  11. Avatar Dawn Maria says:

    I just sent a query yesterday and the agency was very clear about it being only one page. Normally that's not a problem, but they did ask for some additional info I don't usually have in my query, so I made sure I got it right (okay, I messed with the margins) but if they actually print it off, I wanted to demonstrate that I did indeed follow their directions.

    Viva comprehension skills!

  12. Avatar ryan field says:

    I think it's the stress of actually getting a request for the material. I've edited a few anthologies in the past, and for the most part, I've always received great submissions where everyone followed the guidelines. But I think that's because the writers weren't stressed and did take the time to check everything with care.

    So you're right, take a little time to make sure it's the way it should be before you send it off.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I think most writers know how to follow instructions by now…
    What about the agent who doesn't follow their OWN guidelines? e.g.
    They say: "I'll respond to queries in two weeks and mss. six weeks" and then six MONTHS go by?

    Very frustrating to follow an agents' rules to the letter when they don't abide by their own…
    I spent a week crafting a synopsis for an agent who insisted on one then snail-mailed it as requested, only to wait forever for a reply (only after I nudged). Of course, it was a rejection.

  14. Jessica,
    Now, you know what most writers are gonna think…

    Ah…she wants electronic partial. Subtext in authors mind. WOW, she wants to read now! Good on me!

    Ah… she want snail mail. Subtext, Hmmm, she must not be to excited to wait a week or more to read!

    LOL, always readin' between the lines.

    Haste yee back 😉

  15. Avatar Meg Spencer says:

    @anonymous 10:39 Kind of besides the point, isn't it? Sure it's frustrating to follow the rules when other people are breaking them left and right, but other people being unprofessional isn't an excuse for YOU to be unprofessional.

  16. Avatar Christina says:

    I'm going to agree with Meg. This whole disgruntled author thing is really, really getting annoying. I get that some agents are rude, crass, unprofessional, what-have-you. But I've never seen anything on Bookends' blog to bring that negativity here.

    Let the chip on your shoulder go, Anon 10:39.

  17. Jessica, thanks for the info.

    But don't be too impressed. Ms. Blasdell passed on my partial in about 15 seconds! Then I noticed my voice came in about halfway through the manuscript. So now I'm going back and reworking the first half…wish me luck! 🙂

  18. Once I realized that page requests totally freak me out (in a good way), I made myself take time to calm down before I sent anything. If I'm really sure I know what they want, and it's already good to go, I'll get it out quicker, but it's always good to take a few minutes to just chill.

    Thanks for another great post. =o)

  19. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Negativity? It's just fact. How many agents have you submitted to who have responded in a timely matter?

    Maybe we're tired of hearing complaints about what writers do wrong, and want to hear some positive feedback about what we do right…that'd be nice for a change!

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    What really worries me is the thought of computer glitches. It’s bad enough trying to control the things I know(and I know a lot about computers), but I have seen word documents come out wrong on someone else’s system a lot. I hope that doesn’t ruin my chance. The unknown really scares me. Paper is so much more reliable you can see the finished product.

  21. Avatar Christina says:

    @Anonymous 12:03 – I think you’re talking about two entirely different complaints here. If you’re tired of being told what authors do wrong (which is one of the reasons for an Agent's blog to begin with – teach authors how to navigate the system correctly) and you would rather be told what they are doing correctly, then that's an understandable opinion.

    But to gripe about how agents in general suck at (fill in the blank here) just because you had a bad experience or two…or because you want to turn it around on the agents is something completely different.

    But what I was trying to say was…Have you had this experience with Jessica or any of the other agents at BookEnds? Or are you just spouting off in general? Because just griping for the sake of griping is rather annoying for everyone else.

  22. Avatar Marjorie says:

    I was a teacher for 34 years. I know about following instructions.
    Now, I have a blog with interviews. I have interviewed Robert Siegel, the writer of "The Wrestler" and Jerry, who Edie Beale called "The Marble Faun," and Mary Engel, the daughter of the photographer, Ruth Engel.
    I find that if a writer puts her work on a blog, she will learn to follow instructions because it impacts the appearance of the blog.
    I also have a memoir in a blog. It's funny.

  23. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Yes, this particular frstrating experience did happen w/ Bookends
    (and others) so can we leave it at that? I know how to follow instructions–I'd just appreciate the same courteous treatment we give to agents.

  24. Avatar Anonymous says:

    My email limits the size of the document I can send, so I wonder if perhaps that was why you got a MS in three parts.

  25. Avatar Beth Light says:

    Haste Ye Back,
    Jessica requested a partial from me in snail mail form and after much screaming and laughing like a maniac (it was my first partial request) I thought exactly what you said, she must not be very interested if she didn't want it electronically. *sigh*

    I sent it out 4 weeks ago and I'm still waiting, but at least I did take the time to follow the instructions. I just hope it didn't get lost in the mail (a little writer paranoia, here).

    This post did help me feel a little better, though. Thanks Jessica! 🙂

  26. Avatar the wanderer says:

    I am often amazed at how many people don't follow directions. It's so frustrating. Despite the fact that it says not only on my agency's website, but also on the email I send out when requesting partials "no attachments" so many people go attachment crazy.

    Last week, I requested a proposal via snail mail, and the author emailed the proposal instead and then sent 6 additional emails with attached pictures!

  27. This good advice for many situations–slow down, read what they really said rather than what you assume they said, carefully follow the directions, and double-check before you send it. 🙂

  28. Avatar Matthew says:

    That sounds like dealing with students. They never seemed to be able to follow the simple instructions (or pay attention to any part of class).