On Submitting to an Agent

Read the entire blog post here.

An excerpt, of the list of why an agent would, or would not, read past the first page. Sometimes they don’t make it past the first line. Reading her words, Anne Mini impresses more on me how difficult it is to land an agent.

It also drives home why they say you work hardest on the first page, the first paragraph, and recommend you spend half your time on that very first line. It isn’t to say an agent will pick you up if you do that, but it’s the best chance.

Oh, for the list:

This is Why I Would Not Read Farther:
1. An opening image that did not work.
2. Opened with rhetorical question(s).
3. The first line is about setting, not about story.
4. The first line’s hook did not work, because it was not tied to the plot or the conflict of the opening scene.
5. The first line’s hook did not work, because it was an image, rather than something that was happening in the scene.
6. Took too long for anything to happen (a critique, incidentally, leveled several times at a submission after only the first paragraph had been read); the story taking time to warm up.
7. Not enough happens on page 1.
8. The opening sounded like an ad for the book or a recap of the pitch, rather than getting the reader into the story.
9. The opening contained the phrases, “My name is…” and/or “My age is…”
10. The opening contained the phrase, “This can’t be happening.”
11. The opening contained the phrase or implication, “And then I woke up.”
12. The opening paragraph contained too much jargon.
13. The opening contained one or more clichéd phrases.
14. The opening contained one or more clichéd pieces of material. (The most I counted in a single submission was 5.) Specifically singled out: a character’s long red or blonde hair.
15. The opening had a character do something that characters only do in books, not real life. Specifically singled out: a character who shakes her head to clear an image, “he shook his head to clear the cobwebs.”
16. The opening has the protagonist respond to an unnamed thing (e.g., something dead in a bathtub, something horrible in a closet, someone on the other side of her peephole…) for more than a paragraph without naming it, creating false suspense.
17. The characters talk about something (a photo, a person, the kitchen table) for more than a line without describing it, creating false suspense.
18. The unnamed protagonist cliché: the woman ran through the forest…
19. An unnamed character (usually “she”) is wandering around the opening scene.
20. Non-organic suspense, created by some salient fact being kept from the reader for a long time (and remember, on the first page, a paragraph is a long time).
21. The character spots him/herself in a mirror, in order to provide an excuse for a physical description.
22. The first paragraph was straight narration, rather than action.
23. Too much physical description in the opening paragraph, rather than action or conflict.
24. Opening spent too much time on environment, and not enough on character.
25. The first lines were dialogue. (To be fair, only one of the agents seemed to have a problem with this.)
26. When the first lines are dialogue, the speaker is not identified.
27. The book opened with a flashback, rather than what was going on now.
28. Too many long asides slowed down the action of an otherwise exciting scene.
29. Descriptive asides pulled the reader out of the conflict of the scene.
30. Overuse of dialogue, in the name of realism.
31. Real life incidents are not always believable.
32. Where’s the conflict?
33. Agent can’t identify with the conflict shown.
34. Confusing.
35. The story is not exciting.
36. The story is boring. (Yes, they did differentiate between this and the one before it.)
37. The story is corny.
38. Repetition (on pg. 1!)
39. Too many generalities.
40. The character shown is too average.
41. The stakes are not high enough for the characters.
42. The opening scene is too violent (in the example that generated this response, a baby’s brains were bashed out against a tree).
43. Too gross.
44. There is too much violence to children and/or pets.
45. It is unclear whether the narrator is alive or dead.
46. The story is written in the second person, which is hard to maintain.
47. The story is written in the first person plural, which is almost as hard to maintain.
48. The narrator speaks directly to the reader (“I should warn you…”), making the story hyper-aware of itself qua story.
49. The narration is in a kid’s voice that does not come across as age-appropriate.
50. An adult book that has a teenage protagonist in the opening scene is often assumed to be YA. So if the agent doesn’t represent YA, such a protagonist may trigger automatic wonder about whether this book is not in a category s/he does represent.
51. What I call Hollywood narration – when characters tell one another things they already know. (They don’t call it by my term for it, but they don’t like it, either.)
52. The tag lines are more revealing than the dialogue. (The example used: “She squawked.”)
53. The writing switched tenses for no apparent reason.
54. The action is told out of temporal order.
55. Took too many words to tell us what happened.
56. The writing lacks pizzazz.
57. The writing is dull.
58. The writing is awkward.
59. The writing uses too many exclamation points.
60. The writing falls back on common shorthand descriptions. Specifically singled out: “She did not trust herself to speak,” “She didn’t want to look…”
61. Too many analogies per paragraph.
62. The details included were not telling.
63. The writing includes quotes from song lyrics.
64. Overkill to make a point.
65. “Over the top.”
66. “Makes the reader laugh at it, not with it.”
67. “It’s not visceral.”
68. “It’s not atmospheric.”
69. “It’s melodramatic.”
70. “This is tell-y, not showy.”
71. “Why is this written in the present tense?”
72. “It just didn’t work for me.”
73. “It didn’t do anything for me.”
74. “I like this, but I don’t know what to do with it.”

This is Why I Would Read Beyond Page 1:
1. A non-average protagonist in a situation you wouldn’t expect.
2. An action scene that felt like it was happening in real time.
3. The author made the point, then moved on.
4. The scene was emotionally engaging.
5. The voice is strong and easy to relate to.
6. The suspense seemed inherent to the story, not just how it was told.
7. “Good opening line.”
8. ”There was something going on beyond just the surface action.”

My upcoming novel actually has one of those reasons why not to read on – however, there was a reason in my plot to do it that way, and it wasn’t simply a crutch. I’m hoping to learn more for the next project, but I still have to iron out a few of those items.

Novel Outline Template

A friend was looking for a template to outline a novel. Made me really think about these, but I’ve never used one. I started looking for one, but I don’t see anything like it.

I saw something similar on the software I plugged last week – mynovel.biz. They had templates for everything, including one called Hero’s Journey that you can see without purchasing the thing.

Does it make you wonder about novels written off templates? Are they the same? It feels like they ought to be different because each novelist takes a different tactic. Or is it part of the outlining process that makes things unique for each project?

I suppose we ought to remember this quote from the one site I did skim, “novelists are 20 times more likely to finish a novel with an outline than without one.” It definitely makes me think that outlining is worth the effort.

I’m sure next time I start a project I’ll finish the outline first! (Did I just say that out loud?)

On Naming, Con’t.

The other problem I run into with names, is I am so picky about naming my characters.

For characters I like, they have to have a name that sounds one way and very appealing to my ears. (I can’t speak for my readers, but I’m sure they’ll have their say at some point.) For characters I don’t like so much, there must be names with a slightly different sound, but generally not a name I hate.

I know other author friends of mine use different techniques from random name generators to asking others to setting up polls to see what a character would be like. I’m often one to pipe up with a random name idea, and sometimes I get to see my naming efforts put into action. Names are a hobby of mine, and I enjoy them.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll run out of names. I don’t like to give main characters too similar of names. However, it is a great place to use all those possibilities that I might have named a child if only I could get it past my husband. It might be a personal thing for me, but I didn’t want to name a character in a book and then my child the same thing, so I keep certain names in reserve.

For my latest novel attempt, one of the protagonists is named Allegra. It’s a beautiful name; it’s even with the trends because of the Italian derivation, but my husband hates it – if only because it has an allergy medicine associate with it. Dang pharmaceutical commercials! If not for you – I could’ve had an Allegra! As with all compromises, we’re working toward something else. No one can stop me from having Allegra live on as a character in my book, though.

Well, perhaps a publisher if that were the only stumbling block!

On Names

So many times I’ve been looking at names, and found a book at the library that showed a different perspective.

Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana

The authors go through several different ideas to show how names evolve into what’s hot and what’s not – and sometimes why. I’m starting the section on TV and how we use these names for our children- not that everyone does it, but it influences us. More likely Soap Opera Digest than the TV Guide to pull some random new name.

I find that fascinating. I don’t really watch soap operas, other than a short stint as a teenager when someone was buried alive on Days of Our Lives. It was the first time it had been done, and I was intrigued by it. Then they dug her out and it really just wasn’t as interesting.

Back to the names, though. It seems like it might be interesting to skim the names of Soap Opera Digest and TV Guide to figure out what will trickle down into the general population as the next trend. Makes me wonder what it would take to bring a name in from a character in a book (or even a book-made-into-a-movie) as well.

The main character in The Art of Science is named Janie. It’s not a common name at all right now and it’s supposedly staying out of the norm. At least one of the characters is on the up-and-coming list, guess you’ll just have to read it to figure out who.


A lot of writers I know talk about how important it is to read. We don’t always make distinctions on whether it should be good or bad pieces, or in our genre or not.

One of my friends started a goal to read a book in print every day. Then it started catching, and we’re all trying to remember that reading is a great way to learn. It isn’t just about emulating an author – we all have our own styles. It’s also about being inspired to be better, and keeping an example around to remind us what we’re working toward. It just makes sense, because books are what led us to want to be writers anyway.

I’ve read there is a time where it isn’t the best idea to be reading, but it’s only during a certain time period when writing a novel. The point was not to get discouraged because someone else wrote something better (that’s always going to happen) and not to give up. I think everyone who’s attempted a novel knows that point, and if reading changes how you feel at that point you should definitely give it up for a time.

Sometimes, however, I feel we get too wrapped up in our own stuff and forget to read the other things out there. How do we stay in touch with our target audience if we don’t know what else they’re reading?

Launching a Book

So many things are involved, trying to get a book to launch. It’s nice being “just the author” because I don’t have to deal with some things like the printer. That author title does mean I have to think about a lot of other things, though!

It’s all about promotion. This is not entirely on my shoulders, but the more I can do to get the word out and generate excitement, the better this book may do.

I’m looking around for some new fun ideas to make this launch cool. I have until the end of April, though I know there will be other demands on my time soon.

Media kit, press releases, appearances, scheduled readings… I’ve been wondering what part of the book I ought to read to get people interested. I don’t want to read the end, because that seems like it’d give away too much of the book. I don’t know if I want to read the beginning, but it does seem like a solid place to start. I don’t know if I read something from the middle if it will make enough sense without a huge lead-in. So many things I don’t know – but I will admit them.

One thing I’m glad for, it sounds like the latest the doctors would induce me with this baby would make her old enough to stay with Dad while I’m doing these things.

Using Your Words

That reminds me of some of those movies where a mother-figure attempts to teach the children about swearing so they use other ways to express themselves.

It means something different to me as a writer. The pursuit of words keeps me occupied for hours. Some of them are common. Others are overused (and I do my best to fix that when I find the little buggers). A few are oddities that I stretch to find the proper fit for the picture in my head.

I don’t think it matters if you write for adults or for children – the audience can still learn and grow with your words. The comment on some of the words I use in the critique. One man loved that I used the word ‘hied.’ Another didn’t understand my use of the word tattoo – not meaning the graphic art on skin, but the pulsating beat definition.

The meaning must be clear, but using unfamiliar words isn’t the most important thing to me. Why is it that most adult fiction books are written at an 8th grade level for vocabulary? It’s not like the majority of the audience hasn’t completed higher education…

Just another thing to ponder.

What did the Leprechaun bring you?

I got another look at my book. Fewer things to find, just as many things to check. I am definitely getting faster at reading this thing.

It takes so much longer to write than to read. To edit, to rewrite, to polish – these things have more time and effort than I can think about, but are worth it in the end to get a finished product.

Still, I can’t think of a nicer gift from the leprechaun than to do stuff for my book. It’s a good change from the baby stuff going on around here. She’s not even here yet but she seems to rule the roost. Can’t make plans without at least a nod to the schedule that she isn’t sharing.


I read through my book another time. Did we catch them all? Time will tell.

Sometimes I just get the feeling there will be a glaring error that we don’t find until after it’s out. We’ve all put a lot of time and effort into it, but nobody’s perfect. It’s so much better than the first draft I put to paper, though sometimes it’s hard to remember back that far.

One day I’ll put together all the things I’ve learned writing novels and tell everyone what not to do.

I just hope people dig the story. I have the acknowledgment, dedication, discussion guide, copyright, and a story that wants to grab attention. The final cover is now available on the Art of Science page. I’m so excited! My proofread copy also has the ISBN numbers, so looks like I’m ready to finish up everything.

Wow. Where does the time go? It’s like it was just yesterday that I was amazed I finished a novel. Not really, but it does feel like this last little bit has just flown by.

The Race is On!

So far, the book is winning. Received the author’s proof PDF today. So, I sat down to read a book I’ve read many times before, that I wrote.

I made it over halfway through so far. Marking up random things that haven’t translated. You’d think we’d have caught everything with as many eyes have gone over this manuscript by now. Most of it is simply formatting for the printer. Okay, all but one definitely are, but reading through another time to make certain that’s all there is.

I think I can get through this by Monday.

Perhaps the book will be done first? All I know is I’m in for a very interesting month.