“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. 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.
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?