As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier blog post, we’re rejecting a lot of submissions. They’re just not hooking us. The first five pages should snare us, wet our appetite, and have us begging for more, but it just isn’t happening as much as we'd like.
Are we too mean and picky? Maybe.
Should we relax our standards? Never.
Most agents ask for the query, the synopsis, and a “taste” of your work. Did you know that most agents, after reading the query, skip right to the sample pages? For the most part they could care less about the synopsis or plot of your story. They want to see what your writing style is like. They can get a good sense of who you are and what you have to offer—everything they need to know about you as a writer can be found in those first few pages of your novel. Then, and only then, if they like what they see will they take a look at the synopsis to determine if your story idea is intriguing, new, and fresh, something they want to represent.
Oh, those first few pages! They can make or break you. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? But agents are busy people. Editors even more so. And Hook’ers are no exception either.
So, just to give you an idea of what things we’re seeing that tend to cause us to say no (things you hopefully can avoid), I’ve compiled the following list:
1) 1) Stories starting in the wrong place. Get us into the meat of the story right away. If you start your novel with too much backstory and setup, then we will pass.
2) 2) Clichéd beginnings. Examples: (YA) The female/male main character comes to school and sees a new kid (girl/boy) in the office registering for classes (I can count on both hands the instances of stories starting off that same or similar way—Twilight, I Am Number Four . . .). For romance, any type of romance, the opening starts off with the female main character jogging. Enough said. For some reason, female characters must be joggers, because, it’s only through jogging that they happen to come across the main male character (vampire, sexy alien, werewolf, super buff dude).
3) 3) Starting off with a pretty cool hook/opening line, but then dropping it and never coming back to it. There have been a couple submissions in which that opening sentence was like wow, I need to read more. But then the story takes off in a different direction and leaving us feeling confused and mislead.
4) 4) Too many modifiers. The over use of adverbs, adjectives, and metaphors. (You know how much I dislike adverbs).
5) 5) The cadence or sound of the novel reads funny. Try reading your words out loud. Listen to the beat of the words as you say them. Even though they are written, they do need to have a smooth flow.
6) 6) Too much stage direction. You don’t have to tell the reader EVERYTHING the character is doing. It’s okay to end dialogue with simply “he said”. That’s good. Some narrative is great and appreciated. It breaks up the use of dialogue tags. But TOO many can be jarring. Find a balance.
7) 7) Not having a clean submission. I’m not talking dirty, gritty words here (Hook’ers can handle it), what I mean is that the manuscript has either punctuation problems, or margin issues, or copy/crossover over issues. Now, we don’t always reject simply because there is a misspelled word or two, or the margins are slightly off. We reject when there are too many and it tosses us out of the story too often. Anything that tosses the reader out of the story isn’t a good thing. You want to avoid that as much as possible.
If you can avoid doing the above, then you will be in a much better position to be accepted by Hook’ers and agents alike. Polish and refine, peeps. Polish and refine. Do some research and continue to improve yourself. Set yourself up for success.
Oh, and if you want to read a great book on how to make the first pages of your manuscript shine, check out The First Five Pages: The Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of theRejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. If you don’t have this book in your writer’s library, I highly suggest you do. It’s a great book to own.