Reading for Agents: What I’ve learned (so far)

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-8-03-07-pmSince May I’ve read over 30 full submissions for AGENT X. I have learned so so so so so much. Now, I’m a huge believer in the importance of reading good published works, but this has been (and continues to be) an awesome experience.

IF you’re curious about what genres  I’ve read:   Adult Historical Fantasy, YA Urban Fantasy, YA Sci/Fi Dystopian, YA Fantasy II, YA Historical ghost story, MG Fantasy II, YA Fantasy III, YA Thriller IIIII, YA Contemp, YA Magical Realism, Literary II, YA Historical Magical Realism, YA/Adult paranormal, NA, Romance II, General, memoir, non-fic, Historical Thriller

I recommended Agent X sign 7, give an R&R to 2, and pass on the rest.

Now. I know that there is NO WAY Agent X is going to sign all 7 of those people, but when I love something, I’m gonna say yes – that is AGENT X’s cue to maybe read the MS and to research the author. My guess is that Agent X signs between 1-4 clients a year, and I’ve given X twice that many in three months.

A few things I learned:

  1. There are a TON of amazing ideas out there – but don’t always have the solid writing to go with them.
  2. There are some incredible writers out there – people who put words together in SUCH interesting ways – but can’t tell a story that’s going to sell.
  3. An MFA does not equal a good writer. I read just as many AH-mazing books from non-MFA holding people as MFA holders, and I read just as many terrible books from MFA holders as non-MFA holders. The lesson? You get out of your MFA what you put into it, and you get out of your work on craft what you put into it.
  4. Your book needs to have a readership. You have to know WHO your target reader is.


  1. Sometimes books are good. The story is good. The writing is good. But it lacks something indefinable, and those are the most frustrating because there’s nothing “wrong” for the author to work on.
  2. CHARACTERIZATION IS KEY. I don’t care how well thought out the world and the plot is, if the character’s motivations aren’t clear enough (or feel convenient to the plot, which I see a lot of), the book probably won’t sell.
  3. A LOT of submissions fall flat after the first 50 pages or so. If you’re getting a lot of passes, invest in edits that go beyond the first 50.
  4. Too many things happening in the plot without the author bringing the reader into each of those things.
  5. Too many scenes in a row that have the same characters on the same slow build.
  6. TOO MANY COINCIDENCES – You’re allowed ONE, maaaaaayyybe two.
  7. More than one novel’s worth of story in a novel–I read a few with interweaving storylines that were so different, they’d appeal to very different audiences. Or books that try to cram 2 novels worth of story into one.
  8. Too many holes in the basic premise.
  9. Too many inconsistencies with reality.

What made me recommend a YES:

When I recommend a YES, it’s because the novel is the perfect marriage of a marketable interesting idea that snags and holds my interest to the end. It’s one with rich characters who are relatable but different. One with solid, good writing (no lazy descriptions or emotions). A story that’s different enough to be unique, but familiar enough to find comps and to be relatable. The novel has EVERYTHING. Nothing gives me pause or hesitation about the characters, the plot, or the world.


Every novel that’s been traditionally published with an agent found the right agent at the right time, and then the right editor at the right time… And then the HOPE is that it’ll be the right time for the audience.

All that tedious work that feels like your book will take FOR-EVER? That’s often the difference between people who are published and people who aren’t. There will always be exceptions. But put the work in, get the feedback, and GO FORTH AND CONQUER!

~ Jo