The author blog of C. J. Ivory

Tinkerer with words. Dresser-Upper. Adorer of Steampunk and VictoriaNoir fiction. Occasional Lawgineer.

April 18, 2011

Straight from the Agent’s Mouth: Ten Reasons Your First Pages Are Blowing Your Chances

Today I’m passing on words of wisdom from Kristin Nelson, agent extraordinaire and blog author of Pub Rants

Nelson recently wrote about her “Agent Reads The Slush Pile” workshop. This workshop is a bit like a stage show, where the audience watches Nelson pretending to be in her office, while a volunteer reads (aloud) the first two pages of a manuscript submission.

In the workshops, as the volunteer reads, Nelson says “stop” at the place she would have stopped reading. Since it’s a workshop, she’ll also state why.

Now, the scary part is, that Nelson believes 99.9% of what she sees in the workshop is not ready for an agent to read. And for her most recent workshop, “only one entry made it past page 1… the majority of the others, I said stop within the first 2 paragraphs.”

The biggest culprit, according to the experienced agent, is “a lack of mastery of writing as a craft”: the entries had “classic beginning writer mistakes” that agents often saw.

Very kindly, Nelson summarised the top ten classic beginner mistakes:
1. Telling instead of showing.
2. Including unnecessary back story.
3. Loose sentence structure that could easily be tightened
4. The use of passive sentence construction.
5. Awkward introduction of character appearance.
6. Awkward descriptions/overly flowery language to depict.
7. Starting the story in the wrong place.
8. Not quite nailing voice in the opening.
9. Dialogue that didn’t quite work as hard as it should.
10. A lack of scene tension even if the opening was supposed to be dramatic.

Phew. Anyone else feeling tense right now? 

You can find the original post here.


Trisha said...

Yes, especially as I'm still waiting on a response re: a first...FIVE pages. Yes, only five pages. :P

Dana said...

Thanks for this post--lots of good information here.

Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Do you know, I broke into a cold sweat when I saw #4. I have such a problem with over-using passive constructions... or should I say, "passive constructions are overused in my writing"? ;)

Writer Pat J said...

A very useful post. And so right but how do you see these things for yourself?? I seem to be blind to my own writing...

Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Good question! For me, the most helpful thing has been critiquing others' work. There are often opportunities on writer forums. I think once I get in the habit of "putting your editor glasses on" it becomes slightly easier to do the same with my own work.

MISH said...

Very informative post ~ thanks Charlotte


Jonathan Dalar said...

Very great post - some solid info from one of the pros. And it is a bit intimidating to see that list. Hard to see some of the greats passing that test, come to think of it.

To me, it looks like a shift in published/publishable material that we're seeing nowadays. It's getting harder and harder to break through, even if it isn't always the most gifted who do.