Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Question From A Writer - Why Only A Partial?

Scott, I have noticed that many agents request a full manuscript from the beginning of the submission process and you only request a partial. Why? Just wondering?

This is a great question and actually one a lot of people have asked.

I guess I do need to start by saying that I do request fulls and I do go beyond partials and ask for more writing if something hooks me. I don't make all decisions based on a partial but I will explain that a bit later.

I actually started this process early on with Greyhaus and much of it stemmed from hearing a comment, then Kensington Editor, Hilary Sares once made at a conference. She had described the 4' tall stack of submissions in the corner of her office that never seemed to decrease in size. This got me thinking. If there is that stack of new submissions coming in, combined with the work of the current authors she had, it would turn into a pile of paper that would seem insurmountable. I knew there had to be a better way of dealing with this.

And there was...

I have tried really hard to establish for potential authors, as well as for myself, a clear criteria of what I am looking for in a story. This includes they types of characters, the general premise of the story, the theme, and certainly the voice of the story. Having a clear sense of criteria early on allows me to really see the potential of a story with less material.

I should also add that I do know that many editors and agents, even though they do ask for full manuscripts, often make that decision at about the same point that I would make a decision on the writing. We have to remember that just because they ask for a full does not mean that they will finish the whole thing. The same goes for me as well. If I do see some potential and request a full, but the story just starts to fall apart, I don't keep reading. The decision is made and I can move on to the next project.

What I have found though, is that the opening chapters, I often request the first three, can tell me a lot about the writing style of the author. Sure, I might not get to the really exciting chase scene, but in those opening pages, the voice of the author, the writing style, the command of the language, the ability to tell a story and the way the author develops the character and the plot are established.

Now, if those opening pages are looking good, you have to remember that I am also looking at the synopsis. This tells me the premise of the entire plot. The assumption (and the hope) is if the writing is good in the first three chapters, it will continue right through to the end, given a great storyline. It is amazing how many times I look at the synopsis, however, and see the author really struggling around the 50%-60% mark in the book. We see additions of plot elements that might not be necessary. We see repetitive scenes. We see rambling past that halfway point. This tells me a lot. Yes, some of that might stem from a poor synopsis and that is why, if those opening pages are good, I ask for the full. I am hoping that it was just the synopsis or it is something I can fix.

I am sure there is a follow up question out there in some of your heads. Does Scott ever request a full from the start? The answer is YES! If you pitch a project to me that is amazing sounding. If you pitch something that I know editors are looking for, I jump at the opportunity. My last "immediate full request?" My current author Jean Love Cush. We just sold ENDANGERED and her follow up MISSING to Harper Collins. My gut instinct on that first book felt right - a multicultural book about a hardworking single black mother from the Philadelphia projects learns that her 15-year old son has been arrested for a murder he didn't commit, and a human rights organization takes on the case arguing an extremely controversial angle.

I promise that I do give all of the stories a good read through before making a decision. If I request a partial from you, I do read it all. I do think about it. I do consider if there are things we can do to make it work. And yes, if I do request a full, I do get as far through it as I need to make a fair decision. The hope is always that I can't put it down.


  1. This is fabulous info. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing what you request and why. I've wondered why I've been asked for partials from some agents and full requests from others.