Eeeee a request! All that inbox refreshing has finally paid off: an agent wants to see your work.
A manuscript request is the beginning of your relationship with an agent, and as with any first encounter, you want to ensure you’re making the best possible impression. I would never reject someone for not following the advice below, but it makes me happy when a writer does these things. And you definitely want an agent to be happy when she starts reading your book.
1. Make sure to send in the requested format.
This may seem obvious, but I frequently have to ask writers to resend their pages because they sent the document in a different format than I requested. Every agent has her personal preferences—I always ask for a Word document because I read manuscripts on a Kindle. PDFs don’t format correctly; I’m unable to enlarge the text. And reading on my laptop hurts my head, even with just a twenty-page sample.
If a writer sends in a different format, I simply email and ask them to resend as a Word doc. Not a catastrophe, but it does mean a slight delay. And attention to detail is hugely important in the publishing process; it can only help your chances to show from the start that you have that quality.
2. Send promptly!
Generally speaking, I hope to see a response to a request within about a day. Sometimes when I’m really excited about a project, I’m checking my query inbox eagerly, hoping it comes in so I can start reading immediately. If a writer takes too long to respond, I can’t help but wonder if the manuscript isn’t finished yet. If you need time for one last polish, I’m happy to read whenever it arrives—but it’s best to do that polish before you send out your queries.
Of course, life happens, and I highly encourage email breaks when you’re on vacation. Just let the agent know that you were out of town, and no points will be lost, I promise. Clear communication is necessary for a good agent-author relationship, and this starts with the query process.
3. Paste your query into the front of your manuscript.
When I go to my Kindle to read, I like to remind myself quickly of what the manuscript is about before I look at the pages. If you don’t put your query at the front of the manuscript, I have to look at my email to find your query. And since I’m often reading in places without Internet access, like the subway, I may skip your manuscript and jump to one for which I have context. I get to every manuscript eventually, but anything you can do to help the process along is beneficial.
4. Title your file with Title.Name.Date.Amount Included.
This is another tip that helps give me the context I need to start reading your work. I often get manuscripts titled “Request for Jennifer Johnson-Blalock,” which I know makes sense for your system but doesn’t help me figure out what I’m about to read. At the very least, your file name should include the title of your work. The author’s name (okay to use just the last name) is also useful. If you include the date you’re sending it and the amount (50 pages, full, partial, etc.), that will be a huge help in keeping me organized. And if the file name hasn’t gotten too long yet, and you want some bonus points, you might also include the name of the conference or contest, if applicable.
So for example, if I were sending a manuscript out, it might say, HEART-POUNDING ROMANCE.Johnson-Blalock.8.15.16.RWA.50 pages. And with that, the agent has the key background information, right in the name of the document.
5. Make sure your manuscript is clean and doesn’t include tracked changes.
Tracked changes is a wonderful tool for editing and a terrible barrier to reading. You’d be surprised how often I receive manuscripts that still have the changes from the last round of edits. It’s impossible to lose yourself in a work when you’re reading past a strike-through, so I have to ask the writer to resend, which delays my evaluation. Don’t rush to follow tip #2 only to send something that isn’t the final version.
6. Don’t change the subject line when you send.
For many agents' email systems, when you change the subject line to say REQUESTED or the like, it puts the email in a new, separate conversation. This means I now have two emails to keep track of in my inbox, and if you started an entirely new email instead of replying, I have to search to find the initial email to review the query.
Two caveats to this advice, though. First, obviously follow any stated guidelines or preferences of a particular agent. Based on the conversations I’ve had, many agents share my feelings on subject line changes, but there are always agents who have their own systems. Second, I do think it’s fine to change the subject line if you have an offer because it’s helpful to highlight that in the agent’s inbox. But make sure you’re just replying and then changing the subject, rather than opening a new email, so that the agent has the thread of communication to reference.
And there you have it, my best pro tips for putting your dream agent in a blissful state of mind when she picks up your work. Do you have any questions about manuscript requests? Feel free to ask in the comments section! Or chime in with your own recommendations.