Top 4 Reasons Agents Pass Based On Your Sample Chapters

good booksAs you know, agents get hundreds of submissions a month. We narrow that down to a select few to request that catch our eye. On top of all the client reading, contract negotiation and putting out fires, we have to squeeze time in to read your sample chapters. It takes us weeks to get to them because we have so many other things on our plates that have higher priority.

When we finally find time to read some new projects there are a few things that go through our heads: 1) we are looking for something TRULY great with outstanding writing and an electric premise; 2) we have so much on our plates that if we do really like it sometimes ‘like’ isn’t actually good enough and we still pass; and 3) if we’re looking at a dozen partials things can blur together and we need something that is absolutely memorable–and that rarely happens.

But here are the Top 4 Reasons Agents Pass Based On Your Sample Chapters:

1. It simply doesn’t stand out from the pack. As I mentioned above, we read batches of partials at one time. If you don’t make a unique impression on pages 1 through 5 we’re not going to be reading any further. We see trends because of the high volume. Don’t be a trend, stand out with your unique voice.

2. The pitch was more exciting than the sample material. Some writers workshop their query letter more than they workshop their manuscript pages. That gets us excited about your pitch, but leaves us underwhelmed with your sample chapters. You’re building up our expectations with your query letter, don’t let us down! Make sure those sample chapters are as exciting and relevant as your pitch is.

3. The book starts in the wrong place. 90% of slush pile manuscripts I see start in the wrong place. If you don’t know how to start your novel, or spend too much time setting up a scene instead of getting into one, you’ve already lost us. Get into the action. Make sure you flirt with how much information to give us and how much to hold back. Don’t overwrite the setting. Think: how can I make sure my reader starts on page 1 and never wants to set it down?

4. It doesn’t fit into its proposed genre or target audience. For example, we get pitched YA projects that are actually MG etc. The purpose of your pitch is to whet our appetite and set us up to enjoy your work based on the expectations you’ve outlined in your query letter. Know your target audience. Read in your genre. Be confident that you are pitching the correct agent for the correct project.

For many of these reasons, we’ll send a simple form rejection. It’s hard for us to reply to each and every one of you individually and get across the feedback you really need. There aren’t enough hours in the day and frankly that’s not part of our job.

If you want your sample pages to stand out follow these simple steps:

  • Properly format it
  • Make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors
  • Make sure your pitch letter correctly reflects your manuscript
  • Pitch agents that rep what you write
  • Query the best book you can write

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.

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