Pub Rants

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Just recently I did a workshop where I had the participants partner with another person in the class and exchange the first 30 pages of their manuscripts. The assignment I gave them was to read the 30 pages all the way through once. After that was completed, to go back and start rereading. On the second read, I asked them to go page by page and outline the plot points in a neat list list by chapter.  I stressed that they were not summarizing the chapter. Simply listing the action found in it.  Then I had them email me the outlines before I started reading.

Those were the instructions and everyone in the class tackled the exercise just fine so I’m confident all of you can do the same.

I’d take a quick glance at the by-chapter outline and as an agent, I’d know what was wrong with the manuscript before I even hit the first page and started reading. I would then read the document to confirm what I already knew. One hundred percent of the time I was right.  I’d say 90% of what we see on submission has these issues so it’s definitely worth taking forty minutes to do this exercise with a writing partner that you trust.

Because the two main culprits that will nix you getting a full manuscript request are these:

1) The work is missing a plot catalyst to really start the story (so there is a lot going on action-wise but no actual story unfolding).

2) There is nothing at stake for the main character.

Happy revising!


17 Responses

  1. Michael Price said:

    These are two reasons not in my book, but there could be other reasons. Any other reason you might pass besides these two reasons? Thanks for the helpful information too.

  2. Colt Taylor said:

    This might explain why my first partial was turned down. I’ll finish my second book, and see where that takes me.

  3. Wendy Spinale said:

    Love that you share what goes through your head when you put on your literary agent hat. Thank you for your “food for thought” blog this week. I’m off to revise (again)…<scrap the prologue, bring what's at stake forward, good god..did I really write that?,…gotta make the first thirty pages count!). Happy reading, Kristin!

  4. Robin Leonard said:

    Great information Kristin, I worked on this after my last writers conference, revised and feel relatively confident that I have a good catalyst in the first 5 pages and high stakes for my main character. I’m curious about something getting past over simply because its not some new fresh idea. Is there any hope for a good read thats old school?

  5. Emmi said:

    This is an interesting point. But I agree with Amy DeLuca, it would be helpfult to see an example or two to clarify what you mean. I understand what you mean, but it would be nice to see what you mean.

  6. Emily McDaid said:

    Great post, thank you! One thing I’ve been wondering about my current WIP is, when you have two protagonists, is it OK to have the stakes very clear for one, but the stakes slightly “cloudy” / mysterious for the second? Or do you recommend that both protagonists have very clear stakes? Thoughts on that would be really appreciated. Thank you!

  7. J W Troemner said:

    Now that you mention it, that method you mentioned would also work really well with helping querying writers make a synopsis. Because God help us all, that feels like the part with the most headaches on our end.

  8. R Leigh said:

    Wow! Am doing this now with my critique partner. We’re practicing on a book we’ve both read before we attack each others. What a great resource! Thanks.

  9. Heather said:

    I think I’ll take a post-it to my MS that’s settling while I rework something else and remind myself to do this when I start to edit it.

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  11. em1lykate said:

    So so very helpful. I approached my novels with a new, slightly more critical lens after reading this and it’s helped me to put a lot more direction into the stories. I saw my glaring lack of a plot catalyst in one. Yikes! Thank you for posting Kristin.