The First 50 Pages – Part 1 – Staying out of the slush pile

Submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher is a scary event.  By the time all is said and done, your hair and your fingernails may be gone, your nerves will be shattered and you may suffer from months of sleep deprivation.  Even after you hit that submit button or hand your manuscript over to the postal service, you still wonder what happens on the other end.  You wait and you wait and you wait some more.  Heh.  You thought the submission part was the worst?  Wait until the waiting begins.  Torture.  Pure torture.

So how can you ensure your submission has the best chance?  Assuming you have done your homework and have submitted your manuscript to an agent/publisher who specializes in your genre, there are several things you can do to make sure you manuscript shines as much as possible.

Today, I’m going to give you a common list of things an agent or publisher looks for to reject a manuscript.  Remember, they are busy bees and they are looking for reasons NOT to accept your work.  It is your job as a writer to make sure you don’t give them a reason to reject your MS.  Arm yourself.  Be prepared, and even if your work is rejected, remember, it is not personal.  Publishing is a business.  Learn the business and you have a better chance at succeeding.

A published author gave this list to me at a writer’s group so I apologize if don’t credit the right person for the information.  If you wrote it, please send me your info so I can credit you properly.  This list was put together by agents and publishers and gives the primary reason manuscripts are rejected within the first 50 pages…most of the time within the first 2.

  • weak first sentence; lack of engaging hook
  • starting with a dream scenario
  • passive voice
  • stale story idea
  • prologues that don’t work
  • telling instead of showing
  • point-of-view errors
  • shallow characters
  • plot with no spine
  • too many stock characters
  • lack of beats for pacing and description
  • stilted dialogue
  • clumsy fiction craftsmanship
  • inadequate descriptions of characters and settings (or details arrive too late)
  • starting the main action too soon
  • too much back story
  • too many clichés
  • going into flashbacks too early in the story
  • story starts too slow
  • too many characters introduced at one time
  • jumping to a new viewpoint character to early
  • too little conflict
  • lack of stakes or a ticking time bomb
  • mechanical and grammatical errors

If your manuscript starts with any of these, you may want to reconsider another edit before sending it off.

Hope this helps.  Can you think of anything else that may cause an agent or publisher to reject a manuscript?  Please feel free to let us in on your rejection experience if you have one and what you learned.