Wednesday, March 6, 2013

8 WOW Wednesday: Elizabeth Richards on How to Get a Full Request for Your MS

Elizabeth Richards is an award-winning journalist, who spent her early career reviewing videogames before making the bold (or crazy) move into travel writing, despite suffering from terrible travel sickness. In her spare time, she ran a successful lifestyle website aimed at teenage girls, where she got to interview many of her favourite bands, go to gigs and basically blag loads of free swag all in the name of ‘research’. She lives in Buckinghamshire, England, with her husband. Out November, 2012, Black City was her debut novel. Find Elizabeth on her blog, on Twitter as @theredpenofdoom, or on Facebook.

How to Get A Full Request for Your MS

by Elizabeth Richards

So you’re finally ready to query. Your manuscript has been fine-tuned, you’ve got your list of dream agents alphabetically ordered in an excel document, and your cover letter has been critiqued, redrafted and proofread a dozen times. You’re ready to go! You hit the send button. You wait. You hit refresh. You wait some more. A few hours, days, or weeks go by. Finally you get your first response! Your heart stops. You feel giddy with excitement. It’s going to be a ‘yes’, you can feel it, and with your favorite agent too! Visions of getting a major deal, quitting your day job, and doing book signings flash through your mind. It’s really happening. It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of. It’s—

A rejection.

World ends. Bottom lip quivers. Wine is drunk.

You dust yourself off. It’s fine. You’ve still got ten other agents to hear back from in this round of querying. You wait. You stalk the agents on Twitter in case they’re talking about you (hey, it happens!). You hit refresh. You check your Spam folder, just in case. You hit refresh again–HOLY CRAP! Two agents have responded! Your heart stops. It’s got to be a ‘yes’ this time. You click on the emails.

The first is a rejection. BOO! The second is an agent asking to read a partial. YIPPEE! Champagne is drunk, hope is restored, resignation letter is typed up in preparation. You send your partial to the agent, and the waiting begins again. A few days later you get another email. It’s a polite rejection.


And so it continues. So what went wrong? Well, if you’re constantly getting rejected at the partial stage, then your opening pages clearly need to be revised. Here are a few tips to make your partial more effective, and secure that all important request for your full MS.

Tip 1: Start your book with a bang

“An air-raid siren wails in the distance, alerting Black City citizens to lock their doors and turn out the lights. They don’t want to be out in the dark alone. They might meet something dangerous. Something like me.”
Opening paragraph of BLACK CITY

The opening paragraph is the most important paragraph of your entire novel, so invest plenty of time on it. I rewrote my opening paragraph at least a dozen times before I was happy with it. Remember, agents receive numerous queries every week, so you have to immediately grab their attention and make them want to read on. If your opening paragraph is mediocre or plain boring, then an agent is unlikely to carry on reading. Yes, you can lose them that quickly.

A good tip is to look at the opening paragraph of your favorite novel, then read yours. How does it compare? Does your first paragraph make the reader curious to know what’s going on? Is there any action? Does it set up the scene/characters/situation/tone of the book at all? Is it cliché (i.e. does it open with dialogue or a description of your character)? You can always find a way to make your opening paragraph better, so revise, revise, revise.

Tip 2: Jump straight into the action

So you’ve perfected your opening paragraph, but you’re still not getting any requests for the full MS? Why is that? There’s a good chance you’re taking too long to start the plot. If you think your opening lacks pace, then a good tip is to simply delete the first three pages of your MS, and start your narrative from page 4. Chances are those first 3 pages were just scene setting, and page four was where the actual plot kicked-off. Obviously you’ll have to tweak the opening slightly, as you need some scene-setting, but we’re talking just a few paragraphs before getting the plot started. By jumping straight into the action, you’ll find your story has a lot more immediacy, pace, and impact.

Tip 3: Time your reveals

When you query agents, many will ask you to send a partial along with the cover letter, so they can get a sense of your writing style/ability. Most agents will ask for one of the following:

  • First five pages
  • First 10 pages
  • First 50 pages
  • First three chapters

As such, it is vital that on pages 5, 10, 50, and at the end of chapter 3, you have some sort of revelation or cliff-hanger, so the agent is left wanting more. This probably means you’ll have to rewrite those first 50 pages, but trust me this will massively increase your chances of getting a request for a full from an agent.

Tip 4: Spell check!

Don’t make any rookie mistakes. While agents will forgive the odd little error (we all make them! That’s why we have editors, copy editors and proofreaders!), they won’t forgive an MS littered with spelling errors and missing words. I suggest you print off your partial, as it’s much easier to spot mistakes if you read from a hardcopy, and get a second pair of eyes to look over it too before you send your partial to the agent.

Hopefully by following these simple tips, you’ll turn that partial into a request for a full! Good luck!


  1. These are great tips, Elizabeth. And very timely for me as I'll be querying soon. I loved BLACK CITY, BTW.

  2. Timing your reveals is an awesome tip! Great post. Thanks for sharing your insight, Elizabeth.

  3. It's interesting about the first pages. I put my first chapter through endless revisions, the First Five Pages (hugely enlightening!) exercise and much else. And it's ended up as Chapter 3. The question I had to ask myself was 'which character does the action REALLY start with?' And it wasn't guy the book initially kicked off with!

  4. Great advice, Elizabeth! Love your opening paragraph :)

  5. Definitely taking this advice. Thanks so much.

  6. Thanks for sharing these great tips Elizabeth.

  7. Great tips, but especially the one about timing the reveals--genius! :)

  8. Thanks for the advice. I had never read about having a cliffhanger at the end of ch. 3! Great idea! Thank you.



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