Agents are the world’s most optimistic people. No matter that the last ten manuscripts they read (the first paragraphs, anyway) were stunningly bad, they keep hoping that the next manuscript will be The One. So unpublished writers really DO have a chance to impress them. They WANT you to impress them. They stay up nights PRAYING you’ll impress them.
Just don’t make the following mistakes, guaranteed to drive them crazy.
Premature Novelization. The writer sent the agent a great cover letter. He or she has a premise guaranteed to make editors slaver and readers to shovel money into the agent’s, publisher’s and writer’s bank accounts. So the agent asked for the first couple of chapters and they looked good, so he asks to see the complete manuscript.
Except there isn’t one. “Well, I haven’t exactly finished it,” the writer says. “But I’ve been working on it for five years, and I think the two chapters I do have are pretty good!”
Never, never, and I mean ever, contact an agent until you have a finished manuscript, as perfectly polished as you can make it, including the grammar, spelling, and manuscript formatting. Without that, the agent can do nothing. And don’t send it asking for “feedback.” That isn’t an agent’s job, unless you’re a signed-up client.
“I know you don’t represent fantasy novels, but this one is different.” Every agent will tell writers what the agency does or does not want to see. You could be Tolkien, but they still wouldn’t want to read your book. You’re wasting everyone’s time, yours included.
You haven’t done your research. This goes with the above paragraph. Agent’s listings in writers’ magazines or their websites will tell you everything you need to know: what the cover letter should tell them, how many chapters (if any) they want to see, what kind of books they represent, whether they want email or snail mail (some still do), whether they want an exclusive look at the book or they don’t mind multiple submissions, and other information. Don’t think you’re the exception to the rules. You’ll either tick the agents off, or they’ll think you can’t or won’t follow directions — which means you’re probably going to be A Problem.
Just finish your book, write a great cover letter (there are a bazillion websites showing you how), and be sure you start a new novel while you’re waiting to hear back. Otherwise, you’ll be a nervous wreck.