A trusted group of people you can use to review what you write is invaluable. Gathering up the feedback from my own group, I compiled the information into a list that has helped immensely during the latest edit of my novel, Under the Darkened Moon.
My review group consisted of a few published authors, some unpublished authors and friends and acquaintances who like to read fantasy fiction. At the end of the last edit here is what I learned based on their feed back:
1 – Characters and character development
2 – Plot
3 – Pacing
4 – The ability to keep the reader guessing
1 – Comma usage
2 – Non main plot elements/background
So this tells me where I needed to focus. Grammar was the big thing. Sentences weren’t horrid, but many of the could definitely been improved. That is what I am focusing on fixing at the moment.
10 – It’s a Star Wars movie with an episode less than 4.
9 – It’s anything recent staring Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler.
8 – The plot includes a man and a woman switching bodies.
7 – It requires more than one of the following actors to make it look even remotely like a good idea to see it: Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Jason Statham and Arnold Schwarzenegger (yes, I do mean The Expendables!).
6 – It’s a movie based on a beloved children’t toy or cartoon (ie. Battleship, GI Joe or Transformers).
5 – The main character is an animated orange cat who like lasagna.
4 – It’s category is “Romantic Comedy”.
3 – It’s a direct to DVD release sequel of a movie whose first installment sucked (ie. Leprechaun!)
2 – The leading lady’s breasts are huge and prominently displayed so as always to be in your face.
1 – The first comment from your wife/girl friend upon seeing the trailer is “OH! That looks like it might be good!”
Just giving a shout out my my buddy J.R. Fitch who has been giving me some great leads on literary agents to submit my novel to. Ok, some of them don’t look like good fits but some of them do and I always appreciate the help.
I’ve started to construct an agent contact database to help track my submissions even though I am not quite there yet. I like being organized though.
My database looks like this:
The categories are:
The list contains both loose and hard matches. If an agent says generically that they accept “Fiction” they go on the list. They might not be among the first few batches of queries to go out unless I see that they have recently sold something in the Fantasy genre however. The category that agents through around that bugs me however is “YA Fantasy”. This field is so poorly and broadly defined that I have come to realize that no one really knows what it means and every one seems to have different definitions they opt to go by. But I will still target them as well as Under the Darkened Moon can easily fit into that category under many of the available definitions.
I think that this sort of a list will help me keep track of where my submissions have gone and see if there are any trends in terms of out right rejections versus interest.
Megan, one of my reviewers, has sent me a response to questions I asked of her after she finishing reading the last draft of my novel. She has been one of my best sources for critique, giving both praise and scorn when necessary. She’s been reviewing my drafts for some time now and she has seen both the original, very rough draft and the most recent one. I was very pleased when she opted to rank where my book in comparison to other novels she has read.
Ok, I’ve read about 20 books in the fiction/fantasy genres over the last two years. Here is how I would the top fifteen in my opinion:
1. The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower Vol 7)
2. The Hunger Games
3. The Mistborn Trilogy
4. Under the Darkened Moon
5. Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations Vol 1)
6. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
7. Paladin of Souls
8. The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Day 1)
9. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
10. The Girl Who Played with Fire
11. Catching Fire
12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
13. Towers of Midnight (The Wheel of Time)
14. A Game of Thrones (A Song Of Fire And Ice Vol 1)
15. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
I think with a little bit of polishing you have a great story here! The story might be a little weak in places, but honestly what novel isn’t? However, in terms of the genre that it is in I found it rather well contrived and sufficient unique and pleasing. I think you did something that few authors can do these days and that is tell a story, a complete story in a single book. Frankly I am so sick of everything being a trilogy! Good luck over coming the stigma of being an unpublished author which I think is going to be your biggest hurdle with this book.
I appreciate this reviewer’s high marks for my story. I was kind of taken aback by it. I mean, most people who have been reviewing the book have a lot of positive things to say about it, but for it to be ranked in someone’s mind with some widely acclaimed and read novels really gives me hope that I have actually done a good job.
Thanks Megan for the praise. But it still scares the crap out of me when you say things like this. Someone once warned me that what literary agents and publishers like is often not the same as what people who read like.
My friend Dan is a literary agent. Unfortunately, he and his agency don’t deal with Fantasy novels so he cannot accept my manuscript. But he has given me some names and suggestions about who I should submit my novel to and has given me great advice on my novel Under the Darkened Moon to help me out along the way. But none of his advice has been as valuable or helpful as this:
“You hear about how 95% to 99% of all manuscripts are rejected right? Well, I don’t know that you should have to worry about the odds being that high against you. First of all, you have two things going for you that those 95% to 99% don’t have! First is that you have written one heck of a manuscript for being a first time author. I am very impressed with it. Secondly is that you are going to make sure that you submit your manuscript to the right people! I know you are because we have talked about this.
See, those there are the two reasons why so many books get rejected. They are either not submitted to agents or publishers who deal with the material the author is writting about or what is submitted are horribly written first or rought drafts with zero thought put into them. Plus, remember this please, that high rejection rate includes all the rejections of every manuscript sent to every potential agent or publisher. You submit to 99 times and are rejected by all 99 then you are at 100% rejection rate. But when you submit to the 100th and are accepted you are in that 1%.
I really hate how people in my industry try scaring off new authors with daunting figures that makes getting published look like an insurmountable moutain. It is hard. But when people put the time in they can be rewarded. Now go and submit! I am not saying you will get offers and ink a deal. However I do deeply feel that anyone who rejects your manuscript is going to wish they hadn’t.”
This kind of encouragement makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
One of my reviewers, Douglas, has given me hope:
“I would say that your novel ranks in the same league with published works such as Flank Hawk or The Blade itself by Joe Abercrombie. If those works can be published then yours should too. It’s much better than a lot of what is published these days. You have definitely taken a lot of the critiques given to your rough draft and made this much better. I think that for your first novel it is a sparkling achievement.”
HA! Now time to get disapointed I suppose as the rejections roll in.
Warning! May contain spoilers!
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the latest iteration of an often-told story; how people who have no beef with one another behave when forced to for survival. Whether it is any number of tales of gladiators, Koushun Tukami’s Battle Royale, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Steven King’s The Running Man or the movie adaptation, it is impossible to say that this topic has not been explored and that the concept is unique in any way. In fact, Collins’ tale of Katniss Everdeen is not unique in the grand scheme of story telling and The Hunger Games reflects many similarities to the stories I just listed. However, despite these similarities the story has enough significant differences from any of them in particular to stand on its own.
In a post apocalyptic America a totalitarian government reigns over twelve districts where residents slave to produce the goods demanded of them. Every year, as punishment for a revolt against the Capitol decades prior, The Hunger Games are undertaken. Sadistically the rulers demand that two children, a boy and a girl, from each district fight to the death until only one remains as a reminder of the power held over them. Katniss volunteers to take the place of her sister, who is initially selected, and thrown into a fight for survival along with her other Tributes from the other districts.
What I liked about the story is that it is told in the first person. Normally I find novels written in such a point of view dull and monotonous. And while the prose of this novel is extremely simple, the first person POV helps this story immensely. So many authors, when dealing with so many characters have the habit of resorting to head popping and flooding the reader with information that comes from too many sources. This has the annoying habit of turning a story into a long, drawn out trilogy of books. Had The Hunger Games adopted such an approach I dare say it would have been unbearably long and dull. Also, what I liked was how Collins kept a good pace to the novel from the mid point to the end. Even the slow points early on have purpose in the story telling.
What I liked least, I won’t say hated because that is too strong of a word, was, again the overly simplistic prose. It worked but there were many points where I felt it could have been better and more detailed. The book was, also, alas fairly predictable. The problem with first person narratives is that you are pretty much locked on to a particular character who you know is going to survive and that death is not going to touch. Sure, Katniss is in danger often, but you never fear for her and the question only becomes how will she escape this time right up until the very end.
Another thing that I liked was that Collins, while she focuses on Katniss throughout the narrative, never really makes you hate any of the other tributes, kids, fighting for their lives against her. Sure, you catch glimpses of Katniss’ disdain for the “career tributes” who, unlike her, are trained for this sort of thing out of pride, but you realize throughout the book that these are just other kids who are fighting for their lives as Katniss is. You are not given insight into the other tributes reasons, desires or particular situations except for when Katniss interacts with them. For example, late in the book, even though you have been drawn to care about Katniss and even Peeta’s, her fellow tribute from District 12, survival you catch a glimpse at how Cato, from District 2, rushes to the aide of the fallen Clove, also from District 2. You do not know what his motivations are, does he really care about her or is he just worried that he will no longer have an ally and be at a decided disadvantage? But you see that he does care about something and is not some faceless foe.
As for rating The Hunger Games as a novel I have had to consider this for a few days since penning this review. It is a good book. Part of me wants to give it three and three quarters stars just because of the simplistic prose, predictable plot and glaring similarities to previous stories tackling similar subject matter. Another part of me wants to rank it at four and a quarter stars because I still found it interesting and a good read from start to finish and one of the best books I have read in a long time. But, to give it such a high ranking would put it in league with some fabulous books I have read in the past which it really is not in the same category with. So, I have decided to split the difference and give it four out of five stars. This means that it is not in the same category as truly great books but certainly much, much better than most of what is published these days. I would highly suggest The Hunger Games.
Note: I have not seen the movie adaptation at this time.
Ok, I’m saying this again because apparently some people didn’t get the hint the first time around. If you are only going to follow me on Twitter because you expect me to automatically follow you back then please don’t bother even following me in the first place. Don’t send me messages asking me when I am going to click “Follow” under your name and “return the favor” and that if I don’t you will I follow me. You might as well just unfollow me now. If you have something I am interested in reading I will follow you. I don’t just randomly follow people who follow me. Especially if you are one of those sorts who tweets something every 30 seconds just to tweet!
I am compiling my final bits of feedback on my novel Under the Darkened Moon from my review group. Few negative comments. In fact, no real negative comments at all. Just lots of constructive ones. Of course, I’ve been working with some members of this group for several drafts now and we’ve pushed past the negative things long ago. The polishing draft is coming along and I am on page 211 of that and half way through. Lots of yellow markups which are mostly just me rewording sentences for my own preferences.
People are already asking me when the novel is going to be published so they can see the final product. But I haven’t even sent out the queries yet. And still half the group is asking me for the sequel, assuming that there is going to be one. Sequel? Hell, let me get the first one published!
I’ve been trying to work on a couple other projects, particularly Her Lovely Blood which i have really taken a like to but have not been able to concentrate on that with my polishing of UtDM proceeding. Started work on a fantasy/steam punk mix in The Arrow but after about 5,000 words I realized I need to do some more story plotting on that story before plowing ahead. Even Cry of the Golden Wyvern is not moving forward as I try to work out how to get the story to where it needs to go.
Basically I am in a rut I guess. I’m basically done with my first novel and in that place between polishing and submission. It’s been a year of my life dedicated to it and I know the process is really just getting started. It’s time to get a lot of rejections on the way to publication. It’s not the thought of rejection that is getting me down. Everyone who has read Under the Darkened Moon seems to really enjoy it and has high praise for it. So I am certain that someone, somewhere in the publishing world will like it too. And if not? Well screw them is what I say. I’ll put it on the shelf and write one of the other stories. I feel like a parent getting ready to send my child out into the world is what it is. You know what is going to happen, the struggles that will be forth coming for them and you just have to sit back and let it happen.
With the long weekend coming and no plans to do anything over the Memorial Day Holiday, I have decided that I will dedicate many hours to editing my manuscript for the novel, Under the Darkened Moon. I have started a polishing edit already and it amazing how many things I am still tweaking. Nothing major, mostly finding ways to say and show things in different, more succinct ways and cutting duplicated descriptions.
During my last edit, the word count ballooned to 149,873 words. I want to start cutting that down and I definately do not want to exceed 150,000 words if I can help it. Current page count at approximately 275 words per page is 544 pages.
I am not going to hack just to hack, but in 80 pages of this. Ew edit I have taken the word count down to 149,442. So, of this trend holds another 2,500 words will hit the cutting room floor which makes a target of just under 147,000 words. We’ll see how this week and holiday weekend go.