Sunday, March 2, 2014

7 Five Agents Share What Makes Them Stop Reading Sample Pages

Welcome to our monthly Agent Round-Up Post! This time we have five amazing agents sharing their responses to the following:

What would make you stop reading when reviewing sample pages?

Jordy Albert of The Booker Albert Agency

One of the main things that would cause me to stop reading the sample pages would be if I noticed too much telling/info-dumping, or too much backstory.

Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency

Voice is the first thing I look for when I’m reading sample pages. I want the words to jump off the page, to feel immediate, specific to this character, and different from what I read elsewhere. It’s equally important to connect with the character, so I’ll also be looking for what the character wants – even if that initial want doesn’t prove to be significant as the story develops, what a character wants tells me something about them and gives me that connection. Often, I see opening pages that jump into action, before establishing character. Without that, it’s hard to be very invested in action and pages can feel like a bunch of stage directions. Of course, you don’t want to bog the opening down with too much exposition or description either. The key is to strike a balance so that you give the reader enough background to care, and enough action to feel like they must know what’s going to happen next!

Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, Inc. 

A number of things could make me stop reading sample pages: an overabundance of spelling and grammar mistakes, a voice that doesn’t grab me or a premise that feels too familiar to name a few. The biggest one is definitely voice for me. If the project doesn’t have a compelling one, it’s a hard thing to fix.

Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency

When I review a manuscript (from a query, a published author, client, or in final format as a book in a bookstore) my criteria remains the same. I look for an engaging premise, characters I care about, and a hook that grabs me and makes me want to keep reading. Novels/manuscripts that have this--they keep me invested from page one all the way to the end. Those are the types of projects that make me forget I'm working. I'm lost in the story and along for the characters' journey (and when I reach that satisfying end, I'm reminded--yet again--why I love my job so much!) Unfortunately, I don't always get that can't-put-this-book-down feel. There can be components within a manuscript that detract from the story. These issues, if pronounced, can cause me to stop reading altogether. So what are these evil forces? Well, they vary. But here are some of the issues to watch for: --Believability. (As in, characters say or do things that sound false. Or their actions don't match who they have been presented to be. This believability factor also applies to the plot and worldbuilding. If I don't believe the constructs of the 'world' within the book, then I'm pulled out of the story and will stop reading.) --Premise. (Sometimes, the premise falls apart. A story might sound amazing and start off with a bang, but then the plot and premise begin to unravel. For example, if we're looking at a contemporary YA geared toward teens, and the protagonist is totally anti-technology--no Facebook, no texting, etc.--and into 70s music, there should be a really really good explanation for this. Otherwise, the premise of this character doesn't hold up with the audience.) --Relate-ability. (I need to be able to relate to the characters. By this, I mean I need to care about them. I have to be invested in their goals, and faults, and their adversities. If I don't connect with the characters--and this is the #1 reason I stop reading something--then it becomes difficult to stay invested in the story. Look for ways to make a reader care about the characters. Your hero/heroine should possess some traits that are universal. For example, maybe they are: funny, neglected, physically/emotionally strong, the underdog, courageous, scarred, innocent, afraid of something, willing to stand up for others, bullied, etc... Look for ways to make your characters human. And get those details on the page, asap. --Pacing. (Every scene must advance the plot. There should also be a good balance between prose and dialog. Sometimes authors include scenes that are funny/poignant/necessary for a single detail--and these slow the story down) --Bad Writing. (Passive writing. Poor grammar. Repetitive words such as get/got, look, was, feel, walk, see--all of which are indicators of passive writing. Lack of discernible voice). There is a positive side to the above list of negative issues . . . they're all easily fixed! Seriously. Send submissions in small batches. If you aren't getting the feedback you're looking for, then take a good, hard look at the project (and preferably have a beta reader with 'fresh eyes' step in and read) and make some edits. EVERY book can be outstanding. EVERY author can sell. It takes time and effort, but writing is a craft. And this craft can be honed. Never give up, because with hard work, EVERY author will succeed. Please excuse any typos in the above--I'm diving back into a manuscript from my queries--that has me thoroughly hooked! :-)

Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.

This might sound harsh, but I stop reading when I'm not hooked. Which means: I read the first line. If I'm interested, I read the second line. If I'm still interested, I read the third line, and so on. I keep going until I hit the end or until I don't feel compelled to keep going. This means that sometimes could stop at page 1, page 2, page 5, page 28, or even page 135. I recently signed a YA project. I started reading it, and I did not get out of my chair, I barely even moved positions, until I finished reading. I was completely sucked in. If I'm bored or if I take the time to go get lunch or walk around the office or check my email, I'm ultimately not hooked enough to keep reading.


  1. So useful to get me thinking about directions for revision! Thanks for this great round up.

  2. I agree with Andrea. These are great tips on what to look for as we revise and also to see if our critique partners can help us pick out these issues.

  3. I'm in revision mode for a couple of projects and this is certainly helpful, particularly the items that are echoed by the agents.

  4. This is a very helpful post. Thanks for all the great tips. Now, if I can just remember these while I'm writing!

  5. This was one of the most helpful posts I've read in a long time! Thank you for this, everyone! :D

  6. You are all so busy! I appreciate you taking the time to help all of us aspiring writers, especially for the encouragement. I will press on!

  7. EXCELLENT blog. Thanks for providing these insights. Will post for my writing students.


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