Six Reasons Why an Agent Might Pass On Your Work


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  1. Prose, while clear and adept, lacks real emotional depth and singularity.The voice is competent but not really dimensional and striking, doesn’t make me FEEL much of anything, even a couple of chapters into the book.
  2. The point of view is overly distanced/authorial, keeping the reader at a remove from the story.
  3. Synopsis suggests that there’s not much at stake for the main character, that he or she is borne through the piece by the desires and striving of others or that the real protagonist, the one with the most to win or lose, is another character in the story.
  4. Familiar tropes, conflicts and settings are played out on the page. The story, characters, and goals feel well-represented in fiction already.
  5. In speculative genres (science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, horror), the world building feels thin or unremarkable, doesn’t bring anything new and striking to the page.
  6. The protagonist seems aimless or inert, waiting for story events to push him/her into action. Even if goals change, we should have a sense of a character with a life and desires right from the very first page.



When editing a manuscript to reach a certain word count, what aspects of the work would you look to cut or reduce first?  Or looking at it from
another angle, what would you focus on keeping or bringing to the fore?
All manuscripts are different, of course, but maybe there are things a
majority of us do, that we could trim away.

Awesome question, thanks so much!

First, I'd turn a critical eye to passages of exposition, especially to backstory or, especially in speculative genres, to lengthy explanations of a story world's development, technology, or social structure.

Does the narrative explain things to the reader that he or she might better be able to pick up through observation of the characters in action? Can you accomplish in a few words (like Nabokov's "picnic, lightning" to describe the death of Humbert's mother) what you're currently doing in paragraphs or pages?

Secondly, I'd look for static "sequel" moments in which characters reflect at length about a significant recent occurrence. Or one in which that character is rehashing events to another character. Such moments can always be trimmed greatly or cut, with just a line or two reminding us of a character's emotional state and renewed or realigned motivations.

Thirdly, I'd consider scenes that seem to unfold at the same emotional temperature as previous scenes, rather than giving us a feeling of emotional escalation, of greater and deeper emotional and physical challenges for your protagonist.

If you're writing a journey story, is your character just visiting one place after another, perhaps having quirky encounters with no real sense of strong propulsion toward a final destination?

In a mystery, are you just rehashing scenes of investigation that don't tighten the noose at all? In a romance, are your lovers battling the same issue over and over without increased complications?

For any scene you've written, ask yourself, "How did my protagonist get here, what does he/she want, and if I got rid of this scene, how would the book suffer?" Lacking really compelling answers to each of those questions, your story might be stalling and your scene might be a candidate for the chopping block.

Many articles and guides online will tell you how to trim the fat from your prose, so I'll just offer a few quick suggestions.

First, look for the "indulgent three" in your prose and edit mercilessly. Instead of saying, "She looked at me like my hair was on fire, like I'd really alarmed her, like she couldn't believe what she was hearing," pick one expression and stick with it. Or even better, pick a single, sharper, phrase with even more punch.

Secondly, spruce up your verbs. Instead of saying, "He walked aimlessly," say, "he wandered." Instead of saying, "She lifted her shoulders absently," say, "she shrugged."

Thirdly, conduct a ruthless campaign against weak gerund phases like, "he was watching her" in favor of crisper versions ("he watched her').

And lastly, look for unnecessary phrases of discernment, such as "HE LISTENED as they screamed a metal anthem in the next room" or "SHE WATCHED as eleven and a half Girl Scouts crossed the street." For most narratives, the point of view is close enough that we understand that what is being heard or seen is filtered through the viewpoint character.

So, simply saying, "They screamed a metal anthem in the next room" already suggests the character is hearing it. No need to employ those extra words to communicate as much.

Hope that helps. Good luck with your revisions!

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