Things That Will Make Literary Agents Throw Your Novel Across the Room

Illustration for article titled Things That Will Make Literary Agents Throw Your Novel Across the Room

The first chapter of your science fiction or fantasy novel absolutely needs to hook readers, and that goes double for any literary agents or editors who might be looking at it. But at the very least, you don't want your opening chapter to contain any of the red flags that make agents toss books in the "reject" pile.


Freelance editor Jodie Rennert asked top science fiction and fantasy agents what things make them stop reading a book after the first chapter, and it's pretty fascinating. Totally did not realize that "the main character dies in the first chapter" is a trope — but apparently people are sick of it. Also: prologues, dream sequences, and novels that begin with lengthy descriptions of the world.

Top image: Pelz/Flickr.

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This advice is a little vague. The "main character dies in the opening chapter" — what exactly is this trope supposed to indicate? That the protagonist dies, and the whole thing is a flashback? (Which fits in with the anti-prologue people.) Or the protagonist dies, and it's a dream/hallucination? (Again, there's another "anti-" contingent there.) Or the hero dies, but comes back as a ghost, or is resurrected somehow?

Also, I've been told that everybody hates portal fantasies now, so go figure.

Keep in mind that a lot of these "freelance editors" and "agents" are like twenty-seven years old. They don't have a lot of professional or life experience, and in a lot of cases their basic prejudices about what makes for a good book were formed when they were in middle school and haven't changed that much in the intervening years. They almost certainly have not taken Neil Gaiman's advice to heart about reading outside of your comfort zone as often as possible. So you're going to get tips on writing books that look a lot like what you see in the SF/Fantasy and YA sections at Barnes & Noble.

Bottom line is that I've seen and read plenty of recent novels that violate all of these rules. When advice is indistinguishable from whining, I recommend a second opinion.