Why I recommend a “pass” instead of “you’re a genius, your work is fabulous and we should represent you!”

“Why can’t I get an agent to like my work enough to want to represent me?!” you’ve asked yourself over and over. Well, I don’t know. I really don’t. But I have compiled the top five reasons that I recommend passing on a manuscript submission:

1.Ā  Well, poor writing is a big one. That can mean that sentences are grammatically incorrect and there are spelling and punctuation errors. But it also sometimes means that the writer doesn’t use words correctly or uses the same old, tired words, phrases and descriptions over and over again or, even worse, uses a weirdly varied vocabulary, employing words and descriptions in bizarre ways that have me envision them sitting with a thesaurus looking things up while they write.

2. Lack of tension is a biggy, too. If there’s nothing urging me forward, niggling at me to find out what’s going to happen next, pushing my fingers to get to the next page, it’s a pass. I think I’m a pretty generous reader but if I’m not even interested enough to find out what happens next, nobody else will be either.

3. Stupid/uninteresting/boring plot. Um. I don’t really have much to say about that. I guess it’s really a matter of opinion, but that’s what I’m getting paid the big bucks for. My opinion.

4. Telling with not enough showing. I can’t really say enough about this. I might have to do a whole blog post about it. I think I might have already, haven’t I? Here’s what I’m talking about: “As the interview ended Joan didn’t realize she had made a serious faux pas by flirting with Tom. She thought she had gotten the job.” OR “Joan smiled at Tom at the end of the interview, that sexy smile where the tip of her tongue showed, just touching her front teeth. ‘Well, I guess I’ll hear from you then,’ she murmured. Tom forced a neutral smile, just to be polite, stood up, his firm handshake all business, and ushered her out the door.” I mean, that was just thrown together, but you get my point, don’t you?

5. Crappy characters. This has a lot to do with #4. When I read, I’m all about the characters. I want to care about them, know something about why they do the things they do, why they say the things they say. I want to have a reason to read this manuscript and I want that reason to be because the characters are interesting enough for me to follow for 200, 300 or 400 pages. If I don’t give a shit about the characters I’m really not going to read past the first two or three chapters of the book.

Why else do you think agents (or their assistants, readers, interns and other gate keepers) pass on manuscript submissions?


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5 responses to “Why I recommend a “pass” instead of “you’re a genius, your work is fabulous and we should represent you!”

  1. Hmm…maybe the author doesn’t have issues with any of your items, but their middle grade is 204,000 words.

  2. Hey Linda ,your blog shows self doubt and that is not how it works. Trust me when I say “you have what it takes” No you don’t have to bribe sleep with, or any other usual thing. Just keep on keeping on and if need be “self publish” but don’t give up!! Party on dudette. ā™„ cuz Molly

    • This post is not regarding getting my own writing published (although it also pertains), but rather how I screen manuscripts in my role as a reader at a literary agency, Molly. But bribing me (preferably with chocolate) has been known to work!

  3. Yup. There’s always luck. And lunch. But also folks need to REALLY research the agents and agencies where they send their work. If you write historical romance and you’re sending your manuscript to someone who does. not. represent. romance… you’re just wasting everybody’s time. No amount of luck is going to change that. In my humble opinion.

  4. These are all excellent reasons to pass on a manuscript. But I’ve always figured that luck also has a lot to do with it. Even the most wonderfully written work in the world might get a pass if the reader, for example, a) reads it just before lunch, when she’s tired; b) reads it just after lunch, when she’s tired; c) hates horses, which figure prominently in the story; d) loves horses, which figure prominently in the story, and has therefore just recommended three other horse-writers for representation; e) etc.