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Four tips from agents about what they like and don’t like in a manuscript

I’m a notorious note taker. I write down ideas that spring into my head, take notes at writer’s conferences, and record insights from reading.

Every so often as the notebooks and scraps of paper pile up, I take a notebook or two and transfer all the notes into my computer so it’s easy to find and review them. It’s a great way to learn and relive the inspiration I felt when I wrote the notes the first time, and I often make new connections about my notes and how they apply to my work in progress.

In today’s post, I share random tips and ideas I’ve found in my notebook about what makes compelling manuscripts, including what agents and editors are looking for when they’re reading submissions.

1. An element of unpredictability. How does your writing surprise the reader? A hallmark of winning writing is an original idea. Think of how you can twist an old idea into something new.

2. Fully resolved plots. Have you spent enough time revising your work? Enlist beta readers who are more objective and can read your manuscript and spot any errors in logic or plot holes that need to be fixed.

3. Believable dialogue. Dialogue should move the story ahead. Does the dialogue sound realistic? Does it ring true? Good dialogue is loaded with emotion and subtext that add depth to your story.

4. Great beginnings and great endings. Ask yourself how can you end a poem, short story, or novel with an ending that seems surprising but inevitable, and even better, one that sticks with the reader for days.

Check your current manuscript or make a note of your own about these four elements and tape it to your monitor or add it to your writing revision checklist. Periodically, read the list as a reminder to check your manuscript against these key elements of good writing.

For even more insight about how to attract an agent’s attention, read Carol’s post, What stops an agent from wanting to read more of your story?

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