Stuff Agents Hate →

When you’re contacting an agent, don’t do any of this crap.
Agents Chapter 1 Pet Peeves:


“Anything cliché such as ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ will turn me off.  I hate when a narrator or author addresses the reader (e.g., ‘Gentle reader’).”
        - Jennie Dunham, Dunham Literary

“Sometimes a reasonably good writer will create an interesting character and describe him in a compelling way, but then he’ll turn out to be some unimportant bit player. Other annoying, unoriginal things I see too often: some young person going home to a small town for a funeral, someone getting a phone call about a death, a description of a psycho lurking in the shadows, or a terrorist planting a bomb.”
        - Ellen Pepus, Signature Literary Agency (formerly Ellen Pepus Literary)

“I’m really turned off by a protagonist named Isabelle who goes by ‘Izzy.’ No. Really. I am.”
        - Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management

“I dislike opening scenes that you think are real (I rep adult genre fiction), then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.  And so many writers use this hackneyed device. I dislike lengthy paragraphs of world building and scene setting up front.  I usually crave action close to the beginning of the book (and so do readers).”
        - Laurie McLean, Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents

“I do in fact hate it when someone wakes up from a dream in Chapter 1, and I dislike an overly long prologue.  The worst thing that you can do is let that crucial chapter be boring – that’s the chapter that has to grab my interest!”
        – Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management (formerly Wendy Sherman Associates)

“I don’t like an opening line that’s ‘My name is…,’ introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly. I might be prompted to groan before reading on a bit further to see if the narration gets any less stale. There are far better ways in Chapter 1 to establish an instant connection between narrator and reader. I’m also usually not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
        – Michelle Andelman, Lynn C. Franklin Associates (formerly Andrea Brown Literary Agency)

“I hate seeing a ‘run-down list:’ Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes.  Other things that bother me is over-describing the scenery or area where the story starts.  Usually a manuscript can lose the first 3-5 chapters and start there. Besides the run-down list preaching to me about a subject, I don’t like having a character immediately tell me how much he/she hates the world for whatever reason.  In other words, tell me your issues on politics, the environment, etc. through your character.  That is a real turn off to me.”
        – Miriam Hees (editor), Blooming Tree Press

“Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition – when they go beyond what is necessary for simply ‘setting the scene.’ I want to feel as if I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I’m feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further. It is what keeps me up at night saying ‘just one more chapter, then I’ll go to sleep.’ If everything is explained away in the first chapter; I’m probably putting the book down and going to sleep.”
       - Peter Miller, Peter Miller Literary

“1. Squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief — been done a million times. 2. A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape. 3. A trite statement (“Get with the program” or “Houston, we have a problem” or “You go girl” or “Earth to Michael” or “Are we all on the same page?”), said by a weenie sales guy, usually in the opening paragraph. 4. A rape scene in a Christian novel, especially in the first chapter. 5. ‘Years later, Monica would look back and laugh…’ 6. “The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
       - Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary