Thursday, 13 May 2010


I bring you another brave writer's work for a Submission Spotlight. If you don't know how these work, do check out this post here. And perhaps read some of the other SSs (see the label for them on the right in the index of topics) so you can see how people comment.

NB to those on Twitter - if you like, you can also comment there, using the hashtag #submissionspotlight10 I will then transfer tweets here later for all to see.

This is from Penelope (not her real name). As always, note that a normal sub would require a synopsis and more than 500 words, but this is not what I've asked for so you should simply imagine them. Also, imagine that Penelope has put the publisher's name and the date, and correctly headed the letter, as she would have done. Finally, please ignore any oddities of layout / line breaks - I'm having problems with formatting today.

By chance, it's similar in age-range, market and genre to the one we had last month. Interesting to compare??

Dear Publisher,

The King is slain. Princess Tremorgan must embrace her destiny and free her brother from the enemy before it's too late.

TREMORGAN'S GIFT is a fast-paced YA fantasy novel, complete at 85,000 words. It is the first book in a planned trilogy. Please find included a synopsis and the first 50 pages.

Princess Tremorgan flees her home after witnessing the brutal slaying of her Father, the King of Agoria. Lord Drostan, her father's murder, wants the crown for himself and he'll do anything to get it. Pursued by Drostan's henchmen, the 'Silver Snakes', she sets out on a desperate quest to find her brother. Aided by her Palatine bodyguard, a telepathic shapeshifter, and a reluctant wizard, Tremorgan must unlock the legendary magic of the Stone of Remembrance. She cannot afford to fail. If she does, the Prince will die and the throne of Agoria will fall into Drostan's hands.

My short story, /Fire of Hope/, was published in an anthology titled FUEL FOR THE SOUL in October 2009. I'm co-founder of The Mad Scribbler's Tea Party (a critique group) and a member of the Dunedin Writer's Workshop.

In terms of web marketing, I have my own blog (*****) and I can use other webmedia, such as podcasts, to promote my books. I'm happy to make myself available for book signings, interviews and readings.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work.

Yours Sincerely,

Penelope Gryffin
Contact numbers
Blog/web address


/Chapter One/

/The Gift/

The ringing notes of a bugle pierced the cacophony of sound filling the castle bailey. /They come. They come./

Princess Tremorgan pushed open the horn-paned windows and leaned out. Below her the bailey seethed with the movement of servants, nobles and their horses. They came for the Oath-giving: four days of celebrations
where the Agorian nobles would swear fealty to her father, King Asreal. A feeling of excitement filled the castle. Over the towers coloured pennants snapped in the breeze and somewhere a fiddler played a merry tune.

Tremorgan's fingertips whitened on the window ledge, her eyes searching the noblemen's faces. In three days a grand feast would be held to celebrate her fifteenth birthday and her father would chose one of them to wed her. Her mouth dried at the thought.

Beyond the cream stone walls of Castlewood, green land dropped away to sheer cliffs and the wild Western Sea. To the east she could see the fringe of Castle Forest and the dark ribbon of the Eastern Path. A breeze tugged strands of ebony hair from her pearl-studded hairnet. The air was heavy with the sweet perfume of blossom and new cut grass.

The bugle call rang out again. /They come. They come./

Hoof beats clattered across the drawbridge and into the cobbled inner bailey. A black robed figure led the company of knights. A silver snake, poised as if to strike, glared at her from the black shield hanging at
his mount's withers.

She shuddered and stepped back from the open window.

“You look troubled, Tre.” Her father pushed aside a fistful of documents and raised his brows.

She forced a smile.

“Your birthday?” he asked, steepling his fingers.

Shrugging, she wrapped her arms across her chest.

“Do you trust me Tre?”

Surprised, her eyes darted to his face. “Of course I do.”

“But you would rather choose for yourself?”

Her heart leapt. “You would let me choose my own husband?”

He smiled and shook his head. “No. But, if you have a preference I'll take it into account. You have three days to make your choice, fair enough?”

Bobbing a curtsy she said, “Thank you, O king.”

He chuckled. “Now, play the lute for me. I need a distraction.”

“What troubles you?”

“Oh, nothing.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Rumors of giants in the Black Mountains.”

“Giants?” Tremorgan snorted. “What nonsense!” Obediently, she lifted the instrument from its case and settled on a chair. She strummed the lute strings, listening and tweaked the tuning pegs. Satisfied, her fingers
danced over the strings and sweet music filled the chamber.

Walking to the window, King Asreal clasped his hands behind him. A smile curled his lips as he watched her play.

He cocked his head, listening, a frown creased his brow.

“Stop!” His cry sliced through the melody.

Tremorgan's fingers stilled and the music died on a discordant note.


DOT said...

"Alas!' I cry. "Have I not read the like afore? In truth too often to entice me to settle by the hearth with this noblely-assayed yet sadly over-wrought and familiar work"

Anonymous said...

Dear Penelope,

Well done to you for putting your work up for scrutiny. It takes a brave soul.

To be fair this is only 500 words on which to judge you, no doubt the story goes off at a steaming pace but of course we don't get to see that.

Based on your 500 words my main feeling was you were trying too hard, (I know this probably sounds ridiculous, how can you try too hard), but it's wordy. The descriptions are breathy.

Perhaps it would be nice to take a few descriptions and elaborate more. See what is around you, feel what is around you.

As writers we are told to start in the thick of it and I know (from experience) there is a temptation to go crazy with that first sentence.

If it were me I would look at your first sentence again. Something like,'A lone bugle cry pierced the air,' could be just as effective as 'The ringing notes of a bugle pierced the cacophony of sound....'

All in all you've done extremely well and I know how much goes into writing 80K + words. It's a mammoth task and you deserve a huge pat on the back.

I'm not an expert on medieval fantasy and prefer other genres of YA but fingers crossed you will get others on here who can give you more feedback in your chosen area.

From a writer and a reader of YA.

Nicola Morgan said...

All - if you're on Twitter, you can comment there using the hashtag #submissionspotlight10

Katherine Langrish said...

I agree with Anonymous: Penelope is being very brave here, and definitely a pat on the back - but I also agree that this is too slow a start. It reads as though you're too anxious about getting in background information. I'm finding the king quite irritating and dismissive; and you'd think Tremorgan would feel that, instead of obediently playing the harp. And the king's going to be dead soon anyway, so why waste time? Begin with the murder, bang!- and give the princess something important to cope with right from the outset.

Katherine Langrish said...

Lute. Not harp. Sorry. But you get my drift?

Anonymous said...

Very brave indeed putting this up.

I kind of agree with the above commenters on it being a slow start, but not necessarily for the same reasons. I think there is a lot of potential in the scene for more tension; she's clearly apprehensive about the upcoming marriage, and she has an interesting relationship with her father - one of respect as well as a sense of fidelity that means she'd drop everything for him for simple request.

The comment above about the language being over-wrought is also on point. Perhaps shorten the opening section of description and go faster into the interaction between her and her father, or focus more on the man in black with the silver snake - there is a hint of things to come with him, so maybe make more of that?

I do like your letter very much; on point, gets the plot across, and is exactly the sort of thing readers in this genre would like. There is, I think, great potential here.

The Wicked Lady said...

The Query:
Even though I like fantasy, the first paragraph of the query puts me off. It doesn't tell me that this will be any different than the hundreds of other fantasy novels out there. The second paragraph should come near the end, and the strongest paragraph to start with is the third.

The text:
Is Tremorgan her first name or her last? When I'm introduced to characters I like to learn their full names right away (a la Tolstoy: "Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky - Stiva as he was called in society"). It gives the impression of a more detailed, fully thought out character. If she doesn't have a last name, then "Princess Tremorgan of..." will give that same fully-fleshed feeling.

The place names could also use some development. It's fine to have one or two generic names, but when you have "Castlewood, Western Sea, Castle Forest, and Eastern Path" all in one paragraph it feels as if the world lacks history. I use these sorts of names in my rough drafts, when I don't want to sit and think up history, but I change them in draft 2. (Caveat: if this is a fairy tale or is meant to be tongue in cheek, those names make more sense).

There also seems to be some uneveness in the tone of dialogue. The king says "I'll take it into account", a very modern term, while Tremorgan uses phrases like "what troubles you?", which is more archaic.

The writer seems competent, so I'm guessing all this novel needs is another fine-toothed revision to flesh out the world (or at least show us early on the world is fleshed out) and even the tone of the dialogue and descriptive passages.

PS: I also agree with Katherine Langrish. Start with the murder!

Leila R said...

I agree that plot and characters are not exactly original, but I do think it's well-executed. I have a sense that the author knows something about the world they're describing (horn-paned windows, for example); unlike some writing in this genre, it didn't feel as if the setting had been lifted from World of Warcraft. It also avoids being too wordy, which is again something this genre seems to suffer from. It establishes the situation and conflict quickly, and there's a nice bit of foreshadowing with the giants.
I'm not sure I believe in the relationship between father and daughter: cosy and affectionate on the one hand, yet he's about to marry her off in cold blood.
It feels a little too 'told' at the start - I want to see the 'movement of servants, nobles and their horses'. I don't feel the change in atmosphere as she pushes the window open, as I would like to.
There's some over-writing: her hair can just be black, not ebony. And there are some cliches: 'her mouth dried'.
On the whole, though, I do just feel that I've read it a thousand times before, and so if I were an editor or agent I wouldn't take it on.

I think the covering letter and synopsis are very good: short and clear.

Ruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Penelope here.

Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment. It is really appreciated. While this is a humbling experience it can only make my writing stronger so please do keep the comments coming.

Good point about the first sentence Anon. *cringe* It was a bit pretentious. Fixed now.

Getting the balance right between giving too much background and description seems to be something I need to work on. I obviously over did it while trying to create a sense of time and place, before everything turns to custard.

Perhaps I should just cut all the marriage-related stuff. What do you think?

Thanks Wickedlady for your comment about names and places. *blush* I'll make suitable adjustments.

The order of paragraphs in query letters always makes me want to tear my hair out. Almost everyone seems to have a different opinion. Should I try to come up with a new hook of just start with paragraph 3? Will move 2 as suggested.

I really do want to make my writing the best it can be so thank you all again for your advice and encouragement.

catdownunder said...

I admire anyone who is brave enough to do this. Thankyou. I am learning a lot from it as well.
My own feeling is that (1)it needs to start with something more attention grabbing. If you don't want to use a murder what about a prologue-paragraph? (2)The language being used is inconsistent. It sounds both 'ancient' and 'modern'. It needs to be one thing or the other or it does not flow. Hope that helps.

Nick Green said...

Here's a thought. Ask yourself, "Why did I write this?" No-one sits down and writes 80k+ words without a reason. You obviously wrote your book because you thought it would have something about it that you had not found in any other book you had read. There must be something in it that's unique to you. Its raison d'etre.

Find that thing, and shout about it in the submission letter. That is your unique selling proposition. Don't try to make it look like other successful books that you know of. Try to show them what is different, too.

Nicola Morgan said...

Great comments here, guys. Penelope - they are spot on.
Start in middle of action; careful with maintaining the appropriate archaic language; careful of clichés; identify how this will stand out from the crowd; and avoid over-egging the poetry - anon's suggestion for your first sentence is a perfect example. If this had come to me at Pen2Publication for an MS appraisal, I'd have been using my red pen on many examples of this. (Mind you, I would have in the last submission spotlight, too, but wasn't able to comment as was away from desk and overwhelmed by "stuff").

One thing I do like, for a YA writer, is that the idea of arranged marriage / lack of freedom of choice, is a good one for YA readers - modern resonance in lots of ways.
And, as Leila said, you've got a real feel for the world you've created - you just need to lighten and tighten the language and focus all the time on carrying the story forward.

A brave effort to come here! well done.

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Anonymous said...

Penelope here.

I want to thank you all again for you help.

I'm reworking the query to try to bring out some of the unique elements of the story without losing too much of the flavour I had there. It's getting there slowly.

I'm re-writing the first chapters. So far I'm pleased with how it is working out. Immediate crisis. More urgency. Much sharper and less wordy.

Thanks Nicola for this opportunity.

Nishant said...

I do like your letter very much; on point, gets the plot across, and is exactly the sort of thing readers in this genre would like. There is, I think, great potential here.
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Anonymous said...

you're really brave and I think it's fabulous you've managed to churn out 80000+ words. But I must say I actually prefer your query to the sample you've provided. Your querie's straight forward, and simply written, while the excerpt from your novel shows you have a tendency to over-write. But I think you can fix that very easily by simply editing and re-editing until the novel reads better. I have the same problem and I've found it helps if I read other YA fantasy novels when I find myself writing particularly badly. Good luck with your revisions! :)