Etiquette When Submitting a Manuscript

L.D. asked some etiquette questions that may be of help to everyone:

– How long do you wait before following up with an editor/agent once you’ve sent your requested manuscript to the editor/agent?

– If you’ve already sent the proposal to the editor and they’re preparing to present it to the editorial board, but you have an article published from a highly respected magazine, do you send in an updated proposal to the editor with the new article published? Or are several emails to the editor over a course of a few months annoying?

– If you have been through your proposal more times than you can count and also had someone else edit it, but after submitting it you notice some grammatical mistakes, do you submit a corrected version or is that irritating?

How long before giving the “nudge” is a common question and a good one. If the guidelines say eight weeks, then wait eight weeks. I’ve had people call my office 48 hours after sending their proposal asking if I’d read it yet. That is not a good idea. The issue for us is sheer numbers. The priority in the agency is always “client business first”; then if there is available time, we can dip into the pool of proposals and manuscripts.

If it is a full manuscript of 60,000-100,000 words, it is going to take even longer as it is a huge time commitment to work through an entire book.

If you get another publishing credit during the wait, there is no need to bring it up with the editor/agent. If your manuscript is strong enough, it will survive scrutiny. Another byline won’t suddenly make the proposed manuscript look better.

As for finding errors? That is unfortunate. But not uncommon. All you can do is hope Steve Laube is reading it because he is a terrible proofreader and will never see them!  Minor errors are always found in manuscripts. It is part of the editorial process. Therefore, stay confident in the craft of the manuscript.

The problem again is sheer numbers. Think of it on the editor/agent side. Let’s say you sent your material via email on 11/16. Then on 12/11 you discover the mistake you want to correct. If you send a new version, you are asking the recipient to find the previous email and delete it, which technically could mean you’ve lost your place in line. In those four weeks, that editor/agent may have received more than 200 proposals and manuscripts. Your request to replace one is asking them to search and spend valuable time. I don’t recommend it.

But not all editors/agents are alike. Some are not grumpy like me and may welcome your communication. But some would prefer an unimpeded look at your work.

The challenge with etiquette is that there are no hard and fast “rules,” only opinions and preferences that are never written down. My recommendation is to put yourself behind the editor’s or agent’s desk and imagine if they would want to receive your updates and how meaningful they would be. A lot can also depend on your relationship with that editor/agent. A long friendship will have an open door. A one-time meeting in the hallway at a writers conference is still nice, but the friendship has not had time to flourish.

Thanks, L.D., for the great questions!


15 Responses to Etiquette When Submitting a Manuscript

  1. Linsey March 4, 2019 at 6:06 am #

    Thank you so much for these very helpful responses. I really appreciate them!

    • Steve Laube March 4, 2019 at 9:29 am #

      Thank you for the questions!

  2. Meg MacDonald March 4, 2019 at 7:26 am #

    There’s also the very real possibility that your query—or inquiry about policies—will be completely ignored. Chances are you’ll never know why. All you can do then is move on.

    • Steve Laube March 4, 2019 at 9:29 am #


      An unfortunate reality. There is also the challenge that when we do provide feedback there are times when the recipient replies with vitriol. Undermines the desire to help the writer.

  3. Roberta Sarver March 4, 2019 at 8:08 am #

    An agent who is a terrible proofreader? You know, don’t you, that you may have set yourself up for a deluge of manuscripts? All your readers may consider that as a tip to defer to YOU with their work, hoping you won’t notice their amateur mistakes. 🙂

    All kidding aside, thanks for the helpful instructions via your blog. Reading it is the next best thing to attending a writer’s conference.

    • Steve Laube March 4, 2019 at 9:26 am #


      When the waters have already submerged one’s ability to tread….more water won’t make much difference.

      A morbid metaphor for a Monday morning!

  4. Maco Stewart March 4, 2019 at 9:07 am #

    Very timely: many of these issues have been arising in the Jerry Jenkins Your Novel Blueprint Facebook group. I posted the link there. Your psychic powers do you credit, Steve.

    • Steve Laube March 4, 2019 at 9:27 am #


      Shows that these are regular questions that have no “Emily Post” book available on etiquette.


  5. Lillian March 4, 2019 at 11:43 am #

    Great Post as usual. Love this line…”If your manuscript is strong enough, it will survive scrutiny.” How reassuring for those of us who stress over whether or not we’ve submitted a grammatically flawless manuscript. Nice to know that a unique idea and a well-developed proposal can weather a missed place comma or an absence of one.

  6. claire o'sullivan March 4, 2019 at 1:07 pm #

    Excellent post. I did a lot of nail-biting, flubbed up a lot, but in the end, the agent was gracious in his decline, it was the best ever rejection letter, and I learned a lot.

    I don’t believe in vitriol because each failure is an opportunity to learn. I must say my first manuscript I sent out years back (yes, I am still working on the same one…), someone actually took the time to email me the rejection: ‘never send anything ever again to this PH.’ I laughed and laughed. Then went back to work. Am back, working to make this MS stronger.

    So the last rejection letter was kind, helpful and encouraging. I believe the agent wrote the email with more pain than needed. Words of encouragement meant everything to me.

  7. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 4, 2019 at 1:42 pm #

    Dear Agent, did you get my work?
    Have you begun to read it?
    Waiting here, I’m a bit berserk,
    but it’s good, you must admit.
    Did you read it in the den,
    did you read it in the dunny?
    But don’t be drinking when
    you’re reading, as it’s very funny!
    There is one dangling participle
    on page eight-hundred-fifty-two;
    I know this won’t cause a ripple,
    but felt compelled to tell you.
    Awaiting my contract, oh, agent, what d’you say?
    I’m getting kinda anxious; sent the MS yesterday!

    • claire o'sullivan March 4, 2019 at 1:59 pm #

      Andrew, you are too funny!

      Just got A New Mexico Christmas and looking forward to it~

      blessings and prayers for a pain-free day.

  8. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D March 5, 2019 at 2:31 pm #

    Steve, thanks for the great info. I wish you would re-visit the writers’ conference video that you did a few years back! Maybe for a Fun Friday?

  9. Rita Rogers March 11, 2019 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you for this peace-giving post. I have less gray hair now.

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