I picked up the October issue of Writer's Digest and found a few interesting articles. One of the ones that caught my attention was an article titled "10 Reasons Agents Pass After Requesting Your Full Manuscript." It's written by agent Marie Lamba of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency. She had a lot to say and some interesting points. I thought I'd share the highlights.
Reason #1: It's not what was promised.
Your query is a promise to the agent of the story you're trying to tell. When the story you send in doesn't match the query, you have problems. The fix is simple. Make sure your query accurately describes your novel.
Reason #2: It's wrong for the genre/audience.
Works that are clearly not actually a good fit for the intended market get rejected. Like when you write age inappropriate things into a mid-grade book or two thirds into a romance you suddenly throw in the paranormal. The fix is simple. Identify your readers and your genre, and study up to know what the marketplace standards are for your manuscript content and length.
Reason #3: The story lacks authenticity.
Your story must be smart and authentic enough to appeal strongly to the audience. Errors, false notes and lazy writing will only make the agent roll their eyes at you and pass on your manuscript. The fix is simple. Read widely. Do a lot of research. Don't just parrot what you find in travel guides or online documents. Open your eyes and your mind and put that into the manuscript.
Reason #4: The manuscript falls to pieces.
The beginning of the book is polished but the rest of the book falls flat. Agents will pass on manuscripts that aren't strong all the way through. The fix is simple. Polish the whole manuscript, not just the first three chapters.
Reason #5: It takes you too long to get on with it.
Your opening pages draw the reader in, but that's as far as you go. You take so long to get to the point that people lose interest and stop reading. The fix is simple. Figure out if you're starting the novel in the right place. Make an outline. Cut scenes that don't push the story forward.
Reason #6: The writing lacks confidence.
Too much description to make sure your readers understand the scene can really pull a story down. Instead of letting the main plotline do the job, the author stacks on more and more stuff. Overwriting can destroy a good story. The fix is simple. Find the large blocks of description and see how you can pare them down. Search for feel and felt. Show, don't tell, but keep the showing down to a minimum. Also, don't make your plotlines too complicated. Less can be more.
Reason #7: Too familiar.
Predictability is a killer. If an agent sees the twist coming well in advance then it's pretty obvious you're not going to keep their attention. Don't write your books as slightly altered copies of popular works. The fix is simple. Follow your own ideas. Make sure your novel stands apart.
Reason #8: You haven't made me care.
If an agent loses interest and starts skimming the pages, you're probably not going to get a deal out of it. If they put it down and aren't driven to pick it back up, that's another bad sign. An agent has to be invested in the story if you want to sell it. The fix is simple. Analyze your character's development. Make sure you're doing all you can to engage and keep your reader's attention.
Reason #9: Disappointing payoff.
If your payoff doesn't match the previous writing, your reader will feel cheated. If an agent finishes your manuscript thinking "That's it?", then it's probably going to be an automatic no. The fix is simple. Figure what is driving the story and look at the climactic moments. Make sure you answer the book's big question in a satisfying way.
Reason #10: It's just not strong enough.
Ms. Lamba says this is the hardest book for her to reject. The author's done so many things correctly but the book still doesn't scream at her to be published. Agents aren't looking for good books. They're looking for amazing books. If an agent doesn't feel confident in the manuscript, they're not going to be able to pitch and sell it to publishers. The fix is simple. Find your novel's strength. See if you can find a way for that strength to be heightened. If it's plot driven, make it more innovative. If it's character driven, make the character more memorable. Whatever makes your novel special and amazing, make the element even stronger as the book progresses.
She finishes with the advice that what one agent rejects another might accept. Don't revise after every rejection, but if you're getting constant rejections it's time to take a look at the story. As a published author as well as an agent, Ms. Lamba has the experience in the market that many of us hope to have.