For this #authortoolboxbloghop, I decided to return to a topic I’ve already touched on – and that is reasons why submissions are rejected. This post is based on my experience as an editorial assistant at Entangled Publishing and former literary intern. I’ve read A LOT of submissions in the slush pile, and I’ve learned a lot about what makes a submission stand out – and what doesn’t.

For my next post, I’ll focus on why agents/editors may pass on a manuscript, but on this one I’d like to focus on the initial submission. What makes an agent request a partial/full after you submit your query and first pages?

Often, an agent will ask that you include your first chapter, so I’m going to focus on things in a first chapter that may lead to a rejection:

  1. Your MC doesn’t have an active role:
    • It’s one of the things I most note in my reader reports. That, in the first chapter, the MC doesn’t actually do anything. The first chapter is filled with mundane events, or we’re in the MC’s head too much and there’s no action, etc. A great way to make sure your MC has an active role is to give them a small goal in that first chapter. That way, they’re actively working toward something, and readers will want to keep reading to see whether or not this goal will be achieved.
      • Again, this can be a small goal or short-term goal. It doesn’t have to be the main goal that the MC will pursue throughout the MS.
  2. Didn’t connect with the MC
    • This could connect with the above point, and it can be pretty subjective. Why should readers root for this MC? Why should they care about them? I’m not saying the MC has to be likeable, but there should be something that readers connect with to want to keep reading about this character.
  3. Nothing happens
    • I read a large number of MS where the story doesn’t actually begin until chapter 2, 3, 4…sometimes even later. In other words, that first chapter could be cut and it wouldn’t affect the plot at all because nothing happens in it anyway. As you read your first chapter, ask yourself: would it change the plot significantly if I removed this? Would it make a difference? Because if nothing’s happening in that first chapter, an agent won’t be compelled to read further and so won’t request additional pages. This chapter should take place on the day that something changes for your MC.
  4. Voice & Writing
    • This is a tricky one. Voice is SUPER important. And I’ve heard a lot of people say they’ll forgive a lot in that first chapter if the MS has a great voice. Unfortunately, voice and writing are harder to talk about in posts like these because you can’t really teach them. I think it’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice. Although, some things you can do is:
      • Read the text, especially dialogue, out loud to make sure it sounds realistic and not clunky.
      • Check for filter and filler words.
      • READ! Honestly, I find I write best after I read a good book in the genre I’m writing. You see all this theory in practice and it’s honestly one of the best ways to learn.
  5. Concept
    • Unfortunately, one reason agents/editors may pass is because the concept is overdone. If it’s something they’ve seen a hundred times before or that is crowded in the market, they might not be tempted to request further.


Here are some other things you can do to make a stronger first chapter:

  1. Introduce conflict
    • If you’re going to give your MC a goal in that first chapter, what stands in their way? Introducing some sort of conflict is a great way to create tension and keep readers hooked.
  2. Avoid info-dumps
    • We don’t need to know everything about the MC and the people they come across right away. You can sprinkle that information as we go, but you shouldn’t overwhelm readers in that first chapter with a bunch of information.
  3. Avoid cliches/stereotypes
    • This one’s pretty self-explanatory. But stereotypes and problematic content can be a fast way to rejection.


And that’s it! As always, keep in mind that there are always exceptions to the rule 🙂



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