Writing Tip Wednesday: Top Reasons Agents Stop Reading Submissions.

I subscribe to the Nelson Literary Agency newsletter. In the recent newletter I received, Kristin Nelson shared the top culprits for why an agent stops reading a submission. Kristin says if you say yes to any of the following questions it’s time for a revision!

1) Does your opening chapter begin with action, but then stop abruptly so that your character can sit and think or reminisce? About 50 percent of the pages we tackled did just that.

It’s a passive way to begin a story and means you’ve started in the wrong place.

2) Analyze your opening dialogue, and then the exposition that immediately follows it. Does your telling simply reiterate what was already clear in the dialogue?

3) Do you have a prologue? Is it in a different voice or style from the rest of the novel, or does it take a different direction? Is the prologue just an info dump about the world or backstory you think the reader needs to know? Decide if it’s really necessary to include a prologue, as most agents will skip to chapter one or will stop reading altogether.

4) Do you repeat a fun element that was absolutely funny the first time around, but when it is repeated, it loses impact?

5) Does your opening chapter include nothing but dialogue? Not anchoring the reader clearly in a physical scene is a key culprit for why agents don’t read on. They have no way to imagine the scene.

6) How much of your opening chapter is in the current scene and how much is backstory? Remember that you, as the writer, need to know your character’s backstory, but the reader doesn’t need to know it right away in order to be pulled into your story.

It’s great to have some insight into how an agent thinks. Hope this was helpful to you. Happy Writing 🙂

8 thoughts on “Writing Tip Wednesday: Top Reasons Agents Stop Reading Submissions.

  1. Good tips. Over the years I have judged writing competitions for RWA and the glaring issues I’ve seen is –

    * uninteresting start
    * too much backstory
    * telling me (not showing)

    Writers need to polish their writing before submitting. If the best bit starts on page 5 then that should be page 1.

    Having a CP or writing buddy who can review your work in a constructive way is a bonus 🙂

  2. I’m not a writer, but I think the same can also be applied to reviewers. A boring and repetitive storyline with overdone jokes tends to make for a dull book. I’m one of those who read to 25%, regardless if it’s not my thing. I think we need to give books a chance to find their feet. It’s a fascinating look into the world of publishing. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh my… I think every story I’ve ever tried to write has been guilty of #1. But never #5. I’m hopeless at dialogue and therefore decided to try to eliminate it from my stories… probably not a great idea either. Thanks for sharing these tips, Rochelle!

    1. I actually like writing dialogue. Saying your dialogue out loud helps you hear if it sounds natural or not, you could try that if you haven’t already. But yeah, I think all writers are probably guilty of at least on of the above in their life, especially starting out. I myself am partial to prologues, and a lot of agents don’t like those.
      Thanks for stopping by.

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