A question editing clients often ask is “Would it be premature to submit my novel to agents?” It’s hard to know when a piece is ready to be submitted. Theoretically, a submission is a draft, not a finished novel, and therefore shouldn’t need to be perfect. However, the competition is so intense that you do yourself a disservice if you don’t at least aim for perfection. Here, a slew of easily corrected problems, insignificant in themselves, are probably scuppering this novel from being picked up.
Title of the work: Dragon Diplomacy
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Language: US English
Synopsis: Loriel, a young fairy living in Silverbell Wood, sets out to tame an unruly dragon by finding him a lady friend.
The silvery lake was like a smooth mirror underneath the clear periwinkle-blue sky. Only the faintest ripples marred its glittering surface, and a few pearly-white water-lilies grew close to the soft grassy banks.
Loriel put a foot forward and carefully probed the water with one toe. It was chillier than she had hoped, but after a long winter spent mostly indoors, the temptation of the first truly fine spring day was irresistible. She cast a furtive glance around to make sure she was alone and, being certain of that, slipped out of her dress and waded slowly into the lake.
The cold water made her shudder, but a giddy little laugh escaped her mouth and she plunged bravely forward. Soon her feet barely touched the bottom of the lake; Loriel swam slowly, casting a pattern of circular waves over the smooth calm water.
A sudden shadow, unexpected from the cloudless sky, suddenly fell over the lake. Loriel glanced up in momentary alarm and recognized the great winged form of Gadrak, the resident dragon of Silverbell Wood.
A shiver ran down her spine, though she tried to tell herself there was nothing to fear from Gadrak. He never came near the fairy dwellings of Silverbell – his hunting areas lay in the lands of the humans beyond the border of the little fairy kingdom. It looked like Gadrak flew off to start his day of burning fields, devouring cattle and wreaking havoc. Loriel felt a momentary twinge of pity for the unfortunate humans, but made an effort to push the thought from her mind. The fairies of Silverbell, after all, weren’t accustomed to meddling in human affairs.
The sun was climbing higher in the sky. Loriel figured she had better head home. When she went out that morning, the sky was just beginning to lighten, and now everything was flooded with golden sunlight and the trees surrounding the lake were filled with twittering birds.
Loriel lay for a few minutes on the grassy bank, allowing the spring sun to dry and warm her, and then slipped her dress over her head again. It was made of fine Spidersilk and shimmered in overlapping colors of purple, lilac and pink. She braided her hair, which was shining white gold and fell down her back in gleaming waves.
Instead of heading straight home, however, Loriel followed a sudden impulse of mingled curiosity and uneasiness, and turned in the direction which Gadrak had taken. She knew she cannot possibly catch up with a dragon on the wing, of course, but there was a steep hill in the vicinity, which rose well above the forest and afforded a nice point of enjoying the surrounding view. She thought she might see the dragon from up there.
Sure enough, when she reached the summit of the hill, flushed and breathless from her climb, she beheld a splendid panorama of the spring forest, the darker and denser stripe of wood along the eastern border of Silverbell, the river that ran along it like a rippling silvery snake and even the human villages on the other side. She scanned the skies, looking for the elongated winged shape of the dragon, but he was a great deal too far to make out with any certainty – she assumed he was the black speck hovering above the villages across the river, but it was hard to be sure.
All of a sudden, Loriel witnessed something that took all her uncertainty away. There was a great explosion of fire around the little black speck – a fire that spread to the ground and instantly caught on, consuming what was probably a field of early wheat. A column of smoke rose in the air, obscuring the scene, but unless she was much mistaken, some of the village’s thatched huts had caught fire as well.
A sharp, powerful gust of wind blew from the east, bringing with it a faint smell of smoke and, though it might just have been Loriel’s imagination, barely audible, desperate cries. She shut her eyes and turned around, unable to look upon the scene of destruction any longer. This was worse than what she had imagined.
She made a brisk walk back home, uncomfortably aware of the fact that it was now well past breakfast-time. Pessing the handle of the highly polished oaken door, she walked down a short flight of steps, and found herself in the spacious entrance hall of her underground home. Sunlight streamed through the circular ceiling windows, which were made of fortified dwarf-blown greenish glass, filling the hall with a warm glow.
Editorial comment: You said in your notes to this submission that you’re having problems getting agents interested in this book. There are a number of issues I think you need to address – fairly common problems that, although there are no guarantees, will probably improve your chances.
The first paragraph here is pure exposition. We haven’t even met the characters your story is about, but you spend the entire first paragraph giving us a fairly comprehensive description of the landscape. The problem is that readers coming new to a story don’t give two hoots about the landscape until they are grounded in the characters who are experiencing it. Ask yourself, if you omitted the first paragraph, what is your story missing? Is it necessary to our appreciation of the novel? I very much doubt it. This isn’t a book about a lake (I hope), it’s a book about Loriel, so start with her, which means cutting the first thirty-three words. If the description of the lake is vital, at least have Loriel describe it to us.
There’s another redundancy in the next paragraph. We don’t need “being certain of that”. She looks round to make sure she’s alone. She obviously is certain she’s alone, otherwise she wouldn’t disrobe. In the next paragraph you mention the “smooth, calm” water. One of those adjectives is redundant.
In the next paragraph you have “A sudden shadow … suddenly fell over the lake”. You can get rid of at least one “sudden”, and possibly both. On one of your editing runs through this book, I’d question each and every word and phrase and think – does this need to be here? Does it advance either plot or character? If it doesn’t, it’s just filler, and can safely be disposed of.
All of these issues would be picked out by a decent copyeditor, and there’s other work for them to do, also. Is her alarm really “momentary”? That means she’s worried for a moment, and then relaxes. Does she try to tell herself that she’s in no danger, or does she just tell herself? I think it should be either “It looked like Gadrak was flying…” or simply “It looked like Gadrak, flying…” and not “It looked like Gadrak flew…”. “Spidersilk” shouldn’t be capitalized, and colors don’t overlap. If she braids her hair, it doesn’t then fall “down her back in gleaming waves”. “She knew she could not” catch up with a dragon, not “She knew she cannot…”. “afforded a nice point of enjoying the surrounding view” doesn’t make sense. There’s a missing “away” in “he was a great deal too far to make out”. There are other problems. If you’re not going to get this book professionally copyedited, you’re going to have to find all these problems yourself. For some you could use software (even MS Word highlighted the missing “r” in “Pessing”), but aids like Grammarly and ProWritingAid will probably not query the issues I have mentioned above.
There’s one other problem running through this piece: that of filter words. Words like “witnessed”, “imagined” and “heard” are all filter words. Instead of your character feeling or sensing something directly, you are filtering her experience. I blogged on this subject. You might find it useful reading: link.
My conclusion would be that the reason you’re not getting too much traction with agents is that they probably think there’s too much work involved in getting this book to a state good enough for a publisher to see it, and will move on to their next submission, hoping to find a manuscript closer to the finished article.
Thanks for posting.