One of the questions we’re asked a lot at the Festival runs approximately as follows:
Agent XYZ read my first few chapters and really wanted to see the rest of my manuscript. Trouble is, I know that the middle bits / end bits of the MS aren’t yet up to scratch and I’m worried about letting an agent see anything that’s not very polished. On the other hand, THIS IS MY GIANT OPPORTUNITY and I don’t want to blow it. Maybe I should just get my material over to them anyway.
And the answer to that is No. Stay away from the envelope. Do not approach the letterbox. Put the postage stamps down and back away slowly. If you send an undercooked manuscript, the possible interest shown by your putative agent will evaporate instantly and you will never recapture it.
If on the other hand, you write to your putative darling, saying, ‘Dear Agent, I love you with every bone in my body and every sigh in my heart, but my manuscript is not yet cooked and will not be cooked for another 3/6/9 months. Please, oh fair one, grant me more time,’ the agent will ALWAYS answer, ‘Of course.’
Agents aren’t idiots. They know darn well that writing books is hard; that it’s slow; that the market is competitive; that you’re a new writer not a grizzled old hack. They honestly won’t care that the book is slow to arrive. Why would they? Offered a choice between an unsaleable book today and a saleable one twelve months hence, there’s no contest. And even if the book you have today is rich with glimmers of potential, an agent’s heart will sink at the time and effort involved in bringing that potential to its true lustre.
So take it slow. Follow Andrew Marvell’s famous courtship advice:
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
It’s difficult advice to take at times but it is – I promise you! – the right advice all the same.