discussions writing & publishing

7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter

What it says in the header, for all you budding novelists out there. This is some pretty useful stuff.

Here are some of the common reasons panelists stopped reading.

1. Generic beginnings: Stories that opened with the date or the weather didn’t really inspire interest. According to Harmsworth, you are only allowed to start with the weather if you’re writing a book about meteorologists. Otherwise, pick something more creative.

2. Slow beginnings: Some manuscripts started with too much pedestrian detail (characters washing dishes, etc) or unnecessary background information.

3. Trying too hard: Sometimes it seemed like a writer was using big words or flowery prose in an attempt to sound more sophisticated. In several cases, the writer used big words incorrectly. Awkward or forced imagery was also a turnoff. At one point, the panelists raised their hands when a character’s eyes were described as “little lubricated balls moving back and forth.”

4. TMI (Too Much Information): Overly detailed description of bodily functions or medical examinations had the panelists begging for mercy.

5. Clichés: “The buildings were ramrod straight.” “The morning air was raw.” “Character X blossomed into Y.” “A young woman looks into the mirror and tells us what she sees.” Clichés are hard to avoid, but when you revise, go through and try to remove them.

6. Loss of Focus: Some manuscripts didn’t have a clear narrative and hopped disjointedly from one theme to the next.

7. Unrealistic internal narrative: Make sure a character’s internal narrative—what the character is thinking or feeling—matches up with reality. For example, you wouldn’t want a long eloquent narration of what getting strangled feels like—the character would be too busy gasping for breath and passing out. Also, avoid having the character think about things just for the sake of letting the reader know about them.

Tough, isn’t it? Obviously you should tweak all of these for the genre in which you’re writing. I’d guess that genre writers are particularly guilty of number 4, what with having the terribly difficult task of Explaining Weird Things.

You’ve probably only got the first page to really hook agents and publishers. Probably only the first paragraph, in reality – that and your synopsis. I’d love to give some better advice, but the whole process is so subjective, and I hate preaching about how to write. Do whatever works for you.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

5 replies on “7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter”

On March 31st, 2009 AD, aged twenty four and the great grandchild of Hilda Taylor and Hercules Roy P. Sinclair Junior OBE, David Roy Jefferson awoke and opened his spherical eyes. Of course, the eyes were not opening as such, for this would leak the fluid that is required to maintain internal pressure and focus light onto the retina, thus ruining visual acuity and hence defeating the purpose of ‘opening them’ in the first place. Merely, in actual fact, some flaps of skin were raised, like curtains made from highly stretched elastic bands. It is worth noting, esteemed reader, that his musculature was adequate and his penis on the minus size of average when fully erect. He had had sex a 67 times in his life with three partners, one of them a one night stand in Missouri.
Bugger me, I’m being strangulated about the throat until I be dead, he thought. This is rather akin, in many ways, to drowning, only the differences are subtle but multiple, the absence of water in this instance being just one of those differences.
It all started six weeks earlier when he failed to attend a conference in rectobiotics of the future. David’s sister, Zoe-Chloe, had done her lipstick and nails and attended to her feminine needs. Then she had breakfast (toast, coffee, orange juice, with low fat margarine and a sliver of marmalade that was almost silver) before sitting in the sun. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Pedro had gone for a job with NASA.

Thanks for sharing this list. I know this will be really helpful for me in the future. I have to admit my beginnings tend to be very slow or overly cliched and I have to spend a lot of time tweaking them and then I still don’t think they are overly impressive. Something to work on.

Scott, it’s far worse when the book ends with a character waking up for a dream! Those ones should start with a character explicitly going to sleep so i don’t have to waste time reading it.

Avoiding having a character thinking something just so I can reveal some story/insight is my guilty vice when playing with writing. Avoiding obvious cliches is easy but sometimes it’s hard to spot sublte ones and I hate clunky attempts at writers failing to invent their own.

Comments are closed.