Monday, January 11, 2010

What Agents Hate

Finding an agent is an important part of the writing process. Well, at least if you plan on pursuing publication. Not that I'm saying you can't be published without an agent, because you can. However, finding an agent, for many of us, is a must.

An agent is someone who is there for you during the good times and bad. She will hold your hand when you're ready to cry and be the bad guy, so you, the author, will shine. More importantly, an agent acts as a potter who molds and shapes the most important piece of pottery: your career.

When we unagented, unpublished, aspiring authors have a chance to find out what agents hate, you better believe we listen. And listen well, because I know, personally, I don't want to be rejected for a simple mistake that could have been easily corrected.

The agents have weighed in on, well, what they hate. So listen up! This might be your only chance to hear what all those agents we've all been querying to absolutely hate.

Below, I've posted some of my favorite "agent dislikes". Please visit Writer's Digest for more of "What Agents Hate".

What Agents Hate
by Chuck Sambuchino

Literary Reps vent about their chapter one turn-offs.

Ask any literary agent what they’re looking for in a novel’s first chapter and they’ll all say the same thing:“Good writing that hooks me in.” Agents appreciate the same elements of good writing that readers do. They want action; they want compelling characters and a reason to read on; they want to feel an immediate connection with your writing.But what about all those things they don’t want to see? Obvious mistakes such as grammatical errors and awkward writing aside, writers need to be conscious of Chapter 1 clichés and typical agent pet peeves—either of which can get a rejection letter sent your way. Here, dozens of established literary agents vent about everything they can’t stand to see in your all-important first chapter.


“I dislike endless ‘laundry list’ character descriptions. For example: ‘She
had eyes the color of a summer sky and long blonde hair that fell in ringlets
past her shoulders. Her petite nose was the perfect size for her heart-shaped
face. Her azure dress—with the empire waist and long, tight sleeves—sported tiny pearl buttons down the bodice. Ivory lace peeked out of the hem in front, blah, blah.’ Who cares! Work it into the story.”

—Laurie McLean, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents

“In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a
strange man in her bedroom—and then automatically finds him attractive. I’m
sorry, but if I awoke to a strange man in my bedroom, I’d be reaching for a
weapon—not admiring the view.”

—Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency


“Avoid the opening line: ‘My name is … .’ ”

—Michelle Andelman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency


“A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the
reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one
that’s just silly. “An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of
overtly sexual dialogue. Or opening with a hook that’s just too convoluted to be
truly interesting.”

—Daniel Lazar, Writers House


“I hate it when a book begins with an adventure that turns out to be a
dream at the end of the chapter.”

—Mollie Glick, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency


“Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the
plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the
plot. The character’s backstory stays with them—it’s in their DNA. “To
paraphrase Bruno Bettelheim: ‘The more the character in a fairy tale is
described, the less the audience will identify with him. … The less the
character is characterized and described, the more likely the reader is to
identify with him.’ ”

—Adam Chromy, Artists and Artisans

Feel free to visit Writer's Digest to read the article in its entirety.


  1. Hmm a lot of that makes sense! Thanks for posting their advice. Like you said, any little thing helps when you're trying to find an agent!

  2. This is a list all writers should read. All of us have made these mistakes before.


  3. a. Great list. Of course, as with all "rules," they can be broken if they're broken well... but it's a good idea to at least know them. (And usually follow them.)

    b. You're interviewing Becca Fitzpatrick?! GO YOU! I can't wait to read that. (Both the book and the interview...)

  4. Oh, this was a great post on what agents like and don't like. Good job sharing it here!

  5. Chasing - You're Welcome! I hope it was helpful. : )

    Ann - Yes, I completely agree. This list is very helpful to all writers. I know, personally, I've probably all of these mistakes in the past (or at least most of them). : )

  6. Kristan - Yes! Rules are meant to be broken, and I do think some of these can be broken and you will still have a great MS! : ) I know I am breaking some of them in my WIP, and I'm okay with that. Because I think some of the "hates" listed are just personal dislikes rather than "no-nos".

    And, as for the interview...Thanks!

    Hush, Hush is AWESOME!!! I am planning on re-reading it again...soon!

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  8. I find it interesting that an agent calls a prologue a "backstory"...isn't that a preface? Doesn't a prologue refer to something that's going to happen a teaser, and a preface would be something that happened in the past - backstory. Personally, I LOVE prologues, and I'm not going to get rid of mine because a handful of agents don't like them. While it's great to take examples away from agent rants, stay true to your book - you can't conform to every single agent's tastes, or you'd never get published, because every agent is completely different from the next.

  9. Kristin - I love prologues, too. And sometimes you just have to have them! I completely agree that you should stay true to your book. We shouldn't try to please every agent, because they should love us and want to rep us for what we write...not because we followed their instructions.

    Rules are made to be broken! : )

    I know, I break those rules all the time. Oh, the agents will just love me! : )


    Good luck Kristen.

  10. Oh they're gonna love me, too! Hahaha.

  11. Thanks for the post! As I'm in the beginning of my new WIP these tips are a perfect thing to keep in mind as I begin. For me, beginning has always been the hardest part!!!

  12. Thank you for posting this! I will definitely bookmark this post! All of these tips make sense. I have a few things I need to change. Thank you.

  13. What a great compilation! Thank you.

  14. Wonderful list. Very informative. After reading it I noticed potential problems with the start of my book. I have been feeling like something was wrong and now I think I can see what it was. I'm editing it tonight!

    ...and maybe listening to some Florence and the Machine while I edit :)


  15. Thanks for sharing this! I always find it interesting what agents like/dislike...

  16. Kristin - Yeah, they'll love us both together. Crazy : )

    Kristi - I'm right there with you. Beginning is the hardest part. Good luck on your new project!

    Victoria - I'm glad it helped you. I know it helped me, so I posted it. I'm already breaking one rule, but I'm still not changing it, though. Guess I'm just a Rebel...ha! (That's funny!)

    Good Luck with your WIP!

  17. Suzette - I'm glad you liked! Have a great Monday!

    PS - to everyone - if you haven't noticed I really like exclamation points! Really, really like them! : )

    Eva - I'm so happy it helped you out, especially if you already felt something was wrong. Don't you hate when that happens? You know something's wrong, but you can't pin point it. I hate that!

    Oh, and if you're editing to Florence and the Machine, well, you'll do just fine. They're AWESOME!!!

    Sarah - It is interesting, isn't it? I hope it helps and good luck! : )

  18. Oh my goodness this post is helpful! It's really helped me to pinpoint some problems. Thanks for posting it!

  19. Tiana - I'm so glad it helped. Good luck!

  20. I love these types of lists and most of the likes/dislikes made perfect sense! Thanks so much for sharing.

  21. Lisa and Laura - Yes, most of them did make sense, with the exception of a few. I'm so happy you liked! : )

  22. i am definitely glad you came by my blog so i could read this little article.
    it's funny because i considered starting with....... most of these. XD
    now i know what NOT to do!


  23. Brigitte - I'm glad you stopped by! : )

  24. I was so inspired by this I had to come back. So... I got home today and went to hacking the beginning of my novel. I took the prologue out and placed it at the appropriate place in the book and polished the beginning of the first chapter. Voila! It sounds so much better. I knew something was wrong but until I read this I couldn't pinpoint what it was. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this. You have no idea how much it helped!

  25. Eva - WOW! I'm inspired by you for fixing your problem so fast! Good job! And I'll keep an eye out for other articles like this. They seem to help everyone.

    Good Luck! Isn't it amazing that one little tweek and now everything is perfect?