Why Your Full Is Taking So Long: Confessions of a Literary Agent

Back in my own submitting days there was nothing quite so agonizing yet exciting about the wait while a literary agent considered my full manuscript. And wait I did, for one in particular. Wait. wait. wait. Until finally, I nervously nudged, it had been six months and everyone said it was okay to nudge, so it was okay right? A few days later there it was, the response. Breathless, heart fluttering, I opened the email and…

…form rejection.

Now on the other side of that desk, I have tried hard to be gentle with authors. Queries not for me are form-rejected as quickly as possible and rejections to a full manuscript are personalized to the best of my ability (it’s a difficult balance, because I don’t want to steer the author in the wrong direction editorially and sometimes reasons for passing are simply subjective). But for all my good intentions, the slushpile is a mean mothaf*cker and right now it’s winning. The average amount of submissions I get per day hovers around 15 and is not showing any signs of slowing. My patience and empathy are waning with each badly written query, obviously in the wrong genre submission, or snarky response to my form letter. And I’m slipping into that dreaded hole, the one where I hang onto manuscripts for far too long. I’ve tried requesting less, but there’s that feeling of “if I read just a bit more, I’ll know if I want it or not.”

The reality is, I’ve always got my hands full with client work, and my clients come first. I’m busy editing and shopping their manuscripts, and until I sell another one, I’m hesitant to take on anyone new. I’ve also always got a few potentials that I’ll have been working with over the last year or so and have yet to sign, but all indications point to I probably will. BUT I also don’t want to let go of that small, but ever-growing pile of manuscripts in my inbox. I know there’s a gem in there, I can feel it. But it wouldn’t be possible to sign all of them. So sometimes I’ll go into one, thinking I’ll come up with a reason to pass, but then I find myself 50 pages in, mentally editing it, and have to put it down because I don’t have the time right now to edit a full manuscript that isn’t one of my client’s and besides I’ve already got five or six R&Rs floating out there. I know it would be kinder to simply pass with a form rejection early, rather then sit on them for months at a time, but then I remember the heartbreak I went through and I can’t bring myself to do it. So these fulls languish there, and their authors patiently wait, and wait, and wait…

…at least I hope I can do better for them than a form rejection. But there’s definitely a guilty little gremlin voice in my head who whispers, “you now understand those other agents’ point of view and wish you could just do the same.”

The slushpile is turning me into a mean mothaf*cker.

I hope this confession inspires those of you waiting on a submission response to move forward. Write your next story, and keep pitching your current project in any way you can. Don’t pin your hopes on an agent who has your full, because it could be a long wait.

And maybe, just maybe, if said agent can pull her shit together or sell another book or two, she’ll come back to your manuscript that’s been there for the past 8 months and actually have the space in her head to fall in love with it.


  • Peaches and Paprika

    December 18, 2019 at 3:04 pm Reply

    I am reading this at the end of 2019 after a google search entitled “why do agents take so long, etc .” I’m glad I happened across this little gem. Even a smidgeon of clarity about the mysterious “literary rejection after six months” process soothes the fevered brow a bit. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 7, 2020 at 6:14 pm Reply

      Glad it was a bit helpful 🙂

  • Tom Richards

    November 7, 2016 at 7:50 am Reply

    Hang in, Mary. Oh the joys of a stress-filled life. (At least the election is almost over – so that’s one source of stress out of the picture. Until Wed morning, of course.) 🙂

    • Mary C. Moore

      November 7, 2016 at 10:54 am Reply

      Lovely note, thank you!

  • Parmita Dubey

    October 5, 2016 at 9:30 am Reply

    Not sure how this’ll sound, but I really am grateful for all the effort you put into your work including showing consideration towards querying authors. You don’t owe us a response and it isn’t your duty to give us feedback. Yet, you take the time out to do both. Last year, I queried you and for some reason, the email got lost into the virtual void. I (hesitatingly) tweeted to you about that and you replied giving me another chance to query even though you were closed to queries. It made me happy because a response, no matter how trivial it may seem or howsoever late it comes, makes the day for people like me. It’s enough to show you understand and care. So, thank you for being the agent you are. And you have set the bar high for the rest of the agents! I’ll probably worry after I submit this comment, but I couldn’t resist letting you know how important your thoughtfulness is. Please continue being an agent extraordinaire.

    (This is my fourth attempt! I hope the comment gets through.)

    • Mary C. Moore

      October 5, 2016 at 9:36 am Reply

      Thank you! Although I will say, most of the agents I know care as much as I do, if not more. They just don’t blog about it. 😉

  • Rod Edgar

    October 5, 2016 at 8:28 am Reply

    I love the insight provided by posts like this. Thank you. Waiting is never fun, especially when followed by rejection.
    Rejection is always disappointing, but if my work isn’t quite there or the story simply wouldn’t sell it’s better to learn from that and take that experience to the next project.
    My understanding is that it’s better to approach this as a marathon, not a sprint.

    • Mary C. Moore

      October 5, 2016 at 8:44 am Reply

      Great way to look at it.

  • Jonathan Porter

    October 5, 2016 at 7:02 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. As an aspiring author, I think it is easy for me to forget the daily drudge an agent must endure. It’s good to know that both writers and agents face challenges that test our sanity.

    • Mary C. Moore

      October 5, 2016 at 8:44 am Reply

      Happy to provide some clarity. 🙂

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