Are agents not being forthcoming with advice?
Getting ready to submit in the new year?
The definitive guide to what’s wrong with most manuscripts:
1. All internal conflict, no external conflict. Does more happen in the character’s head than in the plot? This is going to be a problem whether it’s literary or commercial fiction. Make sure enough things happen.
2. Pace. The most important thing to get an agent’s attention is to keep us turning the pages and stop us from doing other things. The moment things lag, you’ve lost us.
3. Voice. This one’s more subjective, but the way to check if your book has voice is whether we can tell the difference between whose head we’re in or who is speaking at any given time. Everything about your writing style needs personality. What makes your book special? Your voice. It’s how we separate all the books out there.
4. Dialogue. This goes with my point above. I should be able to tell who is speaking–a character, not you the author. For me, this separates the beginners from the advanced writers.
5. Length. Does your book follow word count guidelines? If not, it’s an easy pass.
6. Structure. Getting experimental? Are chapters vastly different lengths? Jumping drastically from POV? If we can’t follow your structure, you’ve lost us.
7. Characters. Some people feel differently about the ‘likeability’ aspect of characters. Personally, I enjoy ‘liking’ characters, but more importantly: Do they grow? Do they evolve? Do we care about their stakes and what happens to them? If not, I’m not on board.
This comes from reading many, many slush pile manuscripts that I often like but don’t love.
Use this as a checklist.