Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Feedback Request

The author of the book featured in Face-Lift 1237 has submitted the following revision, and requests your feedback.

When ZUHAIR is in Katraden for a hunting trip, news arrives that his father ZORAB, King of Azaria, [The first sentence isn't even over, and you've already hit us with four unfamiliar names. Two of them being people whose names begin with Z. I can think of two characters in all fiction whose names begin with Z (Zorro and Zoidberg) and you have two in one sentence. Maybe you should change their names to Zuson and Zodad so I have some hope of remembering which is which.] is trapped in the castle, due to a rebellion by a cult. [I would just say trapped in the castle by rebels. A cult is a small group of people who share religious beliefs that seem crazy to large groups of people who share religious beliefs that seem crazy.] As the cult surrounds his castle, blocking the gates, Zorab realizes he has far too few troops and cannot exit the castle in case the defensive advantage is lost, nor can he deliver a message to his commanders and soldiers outside the castle to relieve [rescue] him. [Someone managed to deliver a message to Zuhair in Katraden, but they can't get a message to soldiers right outside the castle?] Zuhair takes an army from Katraden, shatters the cult, and saves his father and the Kingdom. [That was easy. What do you mean, he "takes" an army? Is it an Azarian army? Did he take an army on his hunting trip?] He is known [hailed] as a hero ever since.

But Zuhair is the youngest of three brothers, each with a longing for Kingship. FRAJOR, second son of Zorab plots to kill his father and GHORIL, the heir, so he can rule himself. Meanwhile Ghoril struggles with feelings of jealousy against Zuhair. Ghoril longs to be a hero, something his revulsion for the common people, and extravagance, doesn't allow him to become, and he blames Zuhair for it. [Those repugnant commoners disgust me, Zuhair, but I wish they treated me like a hero. I blame you.] 

As Azaria struggles with rebellion, treachery and war between brothers, the King of neighbouring Karta, Tavulun III, prepares for an invasion with a force of two hundred thousand strong. Tavulun is a tyrant who leaves demolished structures, dead bodies and wailing widows in his wake. If the Azarian Kingdom does not unite, it may fade away from existence. [If Azaria has enough troops to fight off an army of two hundred thousand, where were they when the castle was under attack by a measly cult?] [Also, "fading away" suggests a gradual decline. 200,000 soldiers leaving behind demolished structures, dead bodies and wailing widows sounds more like instant annihilation.]  

KINGDOM OF FIRE at 100,000 words is the first in a series. I have already started working on a sequel. [Do I need to read the whole series because nothing is resolved in this book, or will the ending of this book satisfy me?]


Who is supposed to unite? The cult and the regular army? The three brothers? Does each brother have an army of his own?

I would focus less on the military aspects and more on the family dynamics.

Also, I would change everyone's name. People with bad names seldom accomplish anything worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

Your writing has improved since the previous version(s). Unfortunately, it's still not publishable quality. The agent/editor you send your query letter to will assume the book is of the same quality and send you a form letter that means they don't want it.

If you don't see the problems on your own, I would recommend finding a writers' group either locally or on line to help you polish your writing skills.

e.g. "king" doesn't need to be capitalized when not part of a name. "The kingdom is ruled by a king named Bob XIV." vs "The kingdom is ruled by King Bob XIV."

Even if this book is the first in a planned series, it needs to have a complete plot that stands on its own (and it would be a good idea to state this in the query). Since you are working on a sequel, make sure that one stands on its own too, since even well written books sometimes don't manage to get published.

Don't put your characters' names in all caps in the query unless the agent/editor you're sending it to specifically says to in their guidelines, and then only do so for them.

Most writers will recommend you don't start multiple main characters' names with the same letter(s) since it tends to confuse the reader. Keep the number of proper nouns in the query to a minimum.

Focus more on story and less on plot.
Main character <- Zuhair

Wants <- the kingship (according to paragraph two, sentence one. Is this what you mean to convey? If it isn't, tell us what he does want)

Obstacles <- older brothers who have precedence in inheriting the throne

His plan to get what he wants <- become popular with the people?

Stakes <- Kingdom needs a strong ruler, his brother(s) want him dead

This is the information that needs to be included. You can cut the first paragraph and still get most of this across. Hope this helps with the revision.

AA said...

Consonant-heavy fantasy names with lots of x's, q's and z's should be doled out sparingly.

The story here: A young prince accomplishes something his older brothers cannot, making him a hero and favorite, but also a target of the immediate heir, his older brother. Then an even bigger threat arises.

This is only part of the story. We need to know a little more. Are the two eldest actively plotting against the hero? What is their plan, and how does it threaten the kingdom in case of war? We need at least a hint of the ending as well, or a decision that has to be made on the part of the hero. Does it come down to forcibly taking control of the throne in order to save the kingdom? Does he have to kill his brothers in order to do so? The hero should have something very personal at stake.

Mister Furkles said...

Character soup. Try something like:

John, third son of King Fred, breaks a siege at the royal castle and is hailed as the kingdom's hero.

Now what happens?

The query should answer Anon questions. Who is the main character, what does he want/need? (Or what choice does he face?) What blocks him from getting it? What does MC do about it?

Havi Sultan said...

I don't know what to do. My pathetic query letters cause me to question my writing skills.

Something in my head keeps screaming don't give up, but its difficult. Thank you evil editor for yet another criticism of my query that, hopefully will teach me to toughen up.

I already changed the names, completely, as you would have noticed from the last query. I will work on gaps in the book, query and synopsis for a month and then send a revised version.

Evil Editor said...

Questioning your writing skills isn't a bad thing if you come up with good answers.

You can always submit your first 150 - 200 words if you want feedback on your writing.

Anonymous said...

Everyone starts somewhere.

You've already improved from where you were before. You just need to keep working every day to keep improving. You will get there.

My personal opinion is that toughening up isn't as important as figuring out how to fix things so they're better. ymmv

endlessedits said...

Keep your head up. Queries are tough on everyone. The only way to truly fail at something is to give up. :)

Now, on with suggestions:
Unless this is written from multiple perspectives, I would focus on the main protagonist. Based on above, it seems like the first paragraph may be backstory and the most pressing conflicts are the encroaching army and the ambition of the elder brothers.

I like the story between the brothers. Inheritance and power create great motivation for people to act.

There are some great suggestions from other commentors.

Good luck with revisions.

PLaF said...

Strip it down to the bare essentials. This is the hardest thing in the world to do.
Don't give up just because it's difficult!
Writing queries - giving a short version of what the story is about - forces us to confront the shortcomings in the story itself.

InkAndPixelClub said...

Only three sentences of your query have Zuhair as the subject. Some of this could be fixed by rewriting and paring down, but my concern is that I still don't know much about the protagonist or why I'd want to read a lengthy novel about him. I know that he's a prince who once rescued his father and is regarded as a national hero for this action. I know that he has two older brothers who crave power and glory. I know the kingdom is being threatened by a foreign tyrant. But I don't know what kind of person Zuhair is, what he might try to do about these problems, and what might contribute to his success or failure.

Keep the focus on your main character and his main problem as much as possible. That's the content that's going to sell your story. Anything that isn't about those can probably go.

Author said...

Some questions please if you may allow it. I am sorry for being such a pest but this book is my dream and an escape from a life of financial hardship. You have been really helpful as it is but you and your minions might be the only people who can help. In the part I live in there are no writers conferences and those that are are not without an entry fee and I am living on the funds of my parents.

So here it goes:

1) Are the names really as bad? Game of thrones has many similar character names. Could it not give evidence the characters/places are related eg. Tywin and Tyrion, Tyrells are very similar names. Then there are difficult names like H'ghar. I am asking because I have changed names twice already but am coming to believe if the rest of the query is good it may not matter in the scheme of things. You can take a look at the first query entry and notice how I changed names. If you have time of course.

2) Would mentioning that the story has a dramatis personae or list of characters that comes at the beginning help. Because in this query I have been cheap with character names. There are more than 30 characters in the story. Will that then justify the first line with 4 names?

Anonymous said...

A word of warning: writing is highly unlikely to buy you an escape from financial hardship. Most writers survive on the income from their day job.

You can do a search for online writer's groups. Most of them work by having members critique each other's work instead of charging a fee. Check individual groups for more details.

You can also search the internet for blog posts or lessons on grammar and punctuation. Check your local library for study aids.

Read as much as you can in both the genre you wish to write in and other genres.

You might also want to try reading over other queries on this site. Reading the comments may also help.

1) The names you use for your characters are up to you.
Similar names can confuse your readers. Readers don't like being confused. Readers are the ones who may or may not buy your books. In a fantasy world, the names should be consistent with the culture/society you've created for your characters' background.

2)Don't mention the list of characters in the query or the synopsis. You want to be cheap with names in the query. The query should be about your main character, what your main character wants, what's opposing you main character, and what's at stake for your main character.

Evil Editor said...

You're worrying too much about the names. The names can be changed at the last minute or not at all. You could change the first sentence to While ZUHAIR is away on a hunting trip, news arrives that his father, King Zorab is trapped... That gets rid of the two place names. We don't need to know the place names, as they aren't real places, and thus mean nothing to us.

By anagramming your names, I come up with Hurazi, Boraz, and Jarrof. Ghoril and Tavulun are ok.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Author, I should tell you that writing did secure me escape from financial hardship. It took 25 years. My first book sold for $300. My third book sold for a whopping $10,000. That sounds like a lot, but... it was 15 years after my first one. I made about $20,000 in those 15 years. After that I had better luck. I'd say about one in ten of the published authors I know has such "better luck". Most authors probably bring in a couple thousand a year. Maybe three to five thousand if they're with a major publisher? And they work hard for it, not just at the writing but at constantly improving and learning.

Now, it's different if you have a bestseller, but... bestsellerdom is what most authors want and few authors get.

As a rule, when you get a critique, you should seriously consider anything that anyone brings up. Whether you change it or not is up to you. If only one critiquer mentions it, it may not need to be changed. If more than one mentions it, it probably does need to be changed. If they all mention it, change it.

Here's why. A critiquer is a reader. When they say "I have a problem", they're telling you how your potential readers will react to what you've written. If these readers find something annoying, or don't understand it, they won't make an effort or make allowances. They'll just put the book down and pick up a different one. It's what all of us do when we're in a library or a book shop.

Personally I had a problem with the names, and also with the story line, but i didn't say anything because I'm not a fan of epic fantasy anyway, so figured I'm not the intended audience.


Havi Sultan said...

Thanks for the advice, everyone. I think I will have to seriously think about other means to make money though at this rate 1000 a month is a big sum for me too. I will try and improve my query letter as much as possible.

Thanks EE for all the support and help. Further I will send the beginning of the novel for criticism in the future. I dream of being a member of this sites "success stories."

I will send an updated query next month. Just put up with me some more EE so I can get there with my book, my dream.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

A thousand dollars a month is a whole lot more than the average author makes.

This is not a way to make money.

Anonymous said...

EE...What about Zaphod Beeblebrox????

IMHO said...

RE: Game of Thrones ....

George RR Martin spent decades writing short stories, novelettes (read Sandkings for example, published in 1979) & screenplays, before he wrote Game of Thrones. If you can write characters as compellingly as he does, then yes, you get leeway on character names.

There are markets for short stories in fantasy, horror, & science fiction. Writing short stories and getting feedback on them is a good way to improve. If you are interested, check out the Submission Grinder, a free site where you can search for short story markets. http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/ (click on the search button). Not all markets listed in the Grinder pay, but all are good practice.