Why I stop reading your manuscript

As you know agents don’t have time for reading things that don’t grab us. So what is it that makes us stop reading?

Characters are not compelling

I have to be on board with the main character. I have to feel like I understand them and are strongly invested in their journey. If I am feeling lukewarm for the main character I am not going to continue on.

I have no idea where the story is going

I don’t need a predictable manuscript, but I need to read a plot that has a purpose and a direction. Set up the journey for the reader early on, let us know what we can get excited about in the coming pages.

It’s starting in the wrong spot

I don’t have time to read past the first 100 pages to find the ‘true beginning’ of your book. If you don’t know how/where to start your novel then I can’t go finding it for you. Not only does it make me stop reading, it tells me that there is some serious editing to do that I might not have time for. 

It isn’t what I thought it would be

Sometimes I get really excited about a query only to realize the novel that I’m reading isn’t anything like the query said it would be. Writing an accurate query letter to reflect your novel, its strengths and its themes, is the most important task for querying writers.

The voice isn’t speaking to me

I’ll know I’m the agent for the project if I don’t grasp the voice. I have to like a writer’s voice in order to work with them on this project and many more. Liking their voice will get us through the times where maybe the project isn’t selling, but we’re enthusiastic about their next one.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

11 thoughts on “Why I stop reading your manuscript

  1. It’s great to hear your take on this. Did you sit in on the Surrey Conference ‘Idol’ panel last month? Every year attendees get a firsthand look at what stops those agents from reading. It’s a fascinating learning experience. Listening to Jack Whyte do the readings is pretty special, too. :)


  2. To what extent do you have to “set up the journey for the reader early on”?

    I’ve a manuscript that begins, feeling contemporary, with science fiction elements, introduced slowly. I’ve heard the conventional wisdom that from page one, you need to let the reader know whether the story is contemporary, sci fi, romance, horror, etc. Is my manuscript automatically wrong?


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