Quick Ways to Turn Off a Literary Agent


Literary agents read the material of new writers continually, searching for the next big author. In screening through piles of manuscripts, these professional readers develop pet peeves about writing errors. Author Chuck Sambuchino, blogging for Writer Unboxed, lists things writers do that antagonize literary agents.

I have excerpted portions below for educational purposes. To read Mr. Sambuchino’s blog post in its entirety, please click here: http://writerunboxed.com/2013/04/22/april/#comments

“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter 1. Why did I just spend all this time with this character? I feel cheated.”
– Cricket Freeman, The August Agency

“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
–  Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition – when they go beyond what is necessary for simply ‘setting the scene.’ I want to feel as if I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, and  starting a story with long, flowery, overly descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I’m feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read
further.”
– Peter Miller, PMA Literary and Film Management

“I know this may sound obvious, but too much ‘telling’ vs. ‘showing’ in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me. The first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how.”
– Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency

“I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect. Heroines (and heroes) who are described physically as being virtually unflawed come across as unrelatable and boring. No ‘flowing, wind-swept golden locks’; no ‘eyes as blue as the sky’; no ‘willowy, perfect figures.’ ”
Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency

“One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
– Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

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3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity: Literary Agents: The Writer’s Ultimate Ambiguous Relationship | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  2. Pingback: How depressing | Jaye Em Edgecliff

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