So, your partial manuscript request just turned into a rejection rather than a full. Don’t worry, I have a plan. First, smash some shit.
Look, I spent ten years in the counseling field, and I’m telling you, there IS no therapeutic modality equal to dressing like a panda and wrecking something loudly breakable (and hopefully cheap and easy to clean up). But once you’re done whacking ice blocks with a sledgehammer, your manuscript will be in exactly the same shape it was when you sent it to that last agent or Pitch Wars mentor. Note: Step away from the matches. AWAY.
What next? Let’s break it down logically.
If an agent requests a partial, it means they like your concept, they like your writing, and you passed all their auto-no red flag warnings. There are a ton of factors that determine whether a query and sample pages will get you a partial manuscript request. But as for what will keep a partial manuscript from turning into a full? There’s really only one.
If they read your partial and don’t want to read more, it’s probably because the story didn’t go anywhere. The conflict did not drive the action forward fast enough for them to keep reading.
This might mean you need to tighten your pacing. Namely, make sure every scene is fully necessary, moving the plot forward, and doing it in as few words as possible. Do you really NEED that scene where your main character plays World of Warcraft and makes a sandwich? I know it’s character development, but maybe you could blend character development into a scene that also moves the plot forward. Kill two birds with one sandwich, that’s what I always say. Which may be why my husband seems so eager to do the cooking lately.
Pacing and conflict are very closely related. Go look at your conflict. Is there enough conflict? (Example: Does your MC want something? What stops them from getting it?) Is that problem introduced early enough? Without a conflict, you don’t have a story. You have people, doing stuff.
Yeah, that gif was boring AF, am I right? Would have been a lot better if a giraffe would have punted that bird, put a foot through his granny’s picnic basket, and spit on the sandwich.
So, more conflict. Faster pacing. Those are the heavy hitters when revising after several rejections on a partial, but there are a few more possibilities.
One: manuscript isn’t evenly edited. Don’t reel them in with your lipstick and miniskirt, and then show up to the second date in sweatpants. I’ve heard agents say for years that writers spend more time polishing their opening chapters than the rest of their book. People. STAHP. A polished opening will get you a partial request but it won’t get you an offer. You don’t just want a second date–you want a ring. Besides, if you don’t have an agent yet, you don’t have a deadline. Take as long as you need to polish your WHOLE book. You are not going to “trick” an agent into signing you with a really great opening and then a sagging middle that you didn’t revise as often as the first chapter.
Two: characterization. I think this is less common, because if your readers connected with your characters enough to get to a partial request, you’ve probably kept up the good work. But if the agent or mentor isn’t any closer to the characters after fifty pages than they were after ten, they will put the book down. So get out your favorite gel pen and make a list. What do we know about the characters after the sample pages the agent/mentor read? What do we know about them by the end of the pages requested in the partial? If the second list is short or nonexistent, you have characterization issues.
Three: synopsis. If the agent/mentor looked at your synopsis, go back and make sure your synopsis contains your conflict, stakes, and ending. Is it a good representation of your book? If this was ALL somebody knew about your book, would it be accurate or would you be scrambling to say, “Wait, but I didn’t tell you the cool twist with the robot-monkey or the part where the MC loses an arm!” The synopsis should not summarize every chapter, but if it doesn’t show what is unique about your book, it might be holding you back.
Take home message: If you’ve been querying for a while and you’ve gotten lots of partial requests but no fulls? Go back and take a look at the pacing and conflict. Then, polish the rest of the book to the same shine as Ch 1. Check your characters. Then, and only then, send more queries.
Also, buy an ice block. They’re cheap, fun to smash, and they melt so you don’t have to clean them up.