Reasons Why Your Manuscript Could Be Rejected… In the First Paragraphs

OK, so. A few weeks ago, I was terribly worried about book reviews. But then I finished Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, and discovered that she still very honestly reviews YA books.

So there you have it. It probably doesn’t matter that much if you review books.

So let’s move on to something that actually is a major issue: The fact that agents get so many submissions that they often decide to keep or reject your book based on the first page. Or even the first paragraphs.

This is not new information. This is not even surprising. But a kind reviewer linked me this post from the Author! Author! blog. It is absolutely terrifying. And possibly inspiring. And terrifying.

Author! Author! » The scariest Halloween ever: submitting your first page to a bunch of agents for critique

Let the “Do I do any of those!?” panic begin!

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4 thoughts on “Reasons Why Your Manuscript Could Be Rejected… In the First Paragraphs

  1. While there isn’t much to be done because these are the people that make the decisions and thus, write the playbook, that doesn’t mean I can’t balk at how super arbitrary some of these are.

    It reminds me of this article I read once about cliches never to use (cliche as in ‘never judge a book by its cover’, not ‘strong-willed lass now must combat a love triangle before she is consumed by how dashing that pretty-faced jerk is’). The comments all chimed in with their own cliches. A number were reasonable, a number were not. But by the time you reached the end of the page, so many phrases were now discouraged that the whole thing just became a meaningless exercise in language policing.

    This feels the same way. This list tells me what agents actually have rejected and yet, it simultaneously doesn’t help me figure out what agents won’t reject. It seems like damn near any pet peeve is game and that is frustrating and almost paranoia-inducing.

    1. There’s a list at the bottom (“This Is Why I Would Read Beyond Page 1”) below the list of 74 reasons for rejection, and I personally found those pretty useful. They’re more specific than what I’ve usually seen. I mean, they’re not intensely specific (Sure, I’ll just write something universally understood to be engaging, exciting, unique, but also pithy, but hinting at depth, in an intensely unique writing voice!) But it’s really hard to explain what good writing is like, and really easy to explain what bad writing is like. At least that list gives you some food for thought.

      But I’d definitely take these with a grain of salt. The thing I’ve heard a million times is that interesting writing gets attention, and while there are some things that are pretty much always bad, some things are definitely dependent on the writing. If you have a powerful, amazing, wonderful, engaging opening, you can probably throw in stuff that’d feel like “too much narration” out of someone else.

      (And of course that makes me paranoid, too. I’m not the kind of person to say, “Oh, yeah. I have absolute confidence that opening is engaging, unique, interesting, and amazing enough to get everyone’s attention.” I could edit my work forever.)

      I think it’s better to look at the spirit of their feedback than to try to say “Do I do (Item #XX on this list)”? It’s more like “These are things that can be used in a bad and boring way.”

  2. Also, seeing all of Rachel Hartman’s reviews does make me feel less bad about my own reviews page. So hooray for that!

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