A big hats-off to the author of Fred the First for volunteering to be the first submission! I hope this site becomes a really helpful resource for writers wanting to know where their work stands in the eyes of the industry. It’s hard to know, as a solitary writer, whether your work really is of a publishable standard. It’s possible to get some feedback from friends and family, but, being friends and family, they’re not always exactly honest, and even if they are honest, they’re not necessarily the best judge. You can hire a professional editor to give their opinion, but not everyone can afford one, and not all books are really ready for professional editing anyway. This site gives a professional editor’s opinion of whether an opening works, or if it needs more tweaking, and, if it does, gives some suggestions as to how best to go about it.
On with the first submission:
Title: Fred the First
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Language: BrEng/Aus vocabulary
Synopsis: Living in poverty in Sydney, eleven-year-old Fred discovers he is not a nobody, but a descendant of King Arthur and rightful heir to the legendary sword Excalibur. Forced to deal with a wicked enchantress who covets Excalibur, he is thrust into a series of exciting adventures and new horizons.
[CHAPTER THE FIRST]
Little Freddy knew in his heart of hearts his daddy loved him ever so much. Whenever his daddy winked and smiled in his particular way, little Freddy felt as if something wonderful had been shared.
When little Freddy’s mummy fell sick and went to heaven, he and his daddy had been so sad. When his daddy eventually learned to smile again, it seemed almost as if mummy had come back.
So much had happened since losing little Freddy’s mummy. There were lots of strangers and a long journey and a new place to live. Little Freddy had to learn a new place name: “Sydney”. The sun shone brighter and warmer, and the air had a different, nicer smell to it compared to where they used to live.
Instead of being indoors so much, little Freddy loved to visit a broad beach walking-distance from their house. Together with his daddy, they ran up and down on the soft, squelchy sand under the bright warm sun. The ocean expanse frightened him, but little Freddy still liked to watch his toes disappear under the sand as warm waves washed over them at the sparkling shoreline. When he wasn’t building sandcastles, he could always find something of interest, like shells and seaweed and vivid blue jellyfish little Freddy wasn’t allowed to touch.
One day, little Freddy’s daddy took him to a restaurant they sometimes liked to visit. To little Freddy’s surprise, a woman and a young girl already sat at their favourite booth.
“Cass, this is the four-year-old I’ve told you so much about,” his daddy said to the woman. “Freddy, say hello to your new mummy … and look! You’ve got a new sister as well! Say hello to Patricia!” Startled, little Freddy couldn’t help be shy. He made sure to stay close to his daddy.
Editor’s comments. Let’s stop right there. For a start, there’s an immediate disconnect between the way the story is described in the blurb, “eleven-year-old Fred discovers …” and the way the text begins, “Little Freddy knew in his heart of hearts his daddy loved him ever so much”. An agent might not even read further. They’d think, “This author has no idea how to write an eleven-year-old boy” and reject the piece without even waiting to find out that in this scene Fred is only four. You don’t reveal his age for 250 words, or a full page. All the while the agent, if they’ve even continued reading, is going to have a growing conviction that the ‘voice’ of Fred is totally misplaced. Your target middle-grade reader might have more patience, but you don’t know how many of them you’re also going to alienate with this opening. “How’s the book, son?” “I started it, but it’s about a four-year-old, Dad – I got bored. I think I’ll go and torture a small animal instead.”
What to do? Well the obvious solution is to cut all this backstory and start where the story starts, in medias res, as they say. This is a very common problem and it’s not going to be the first time I say it on this site, I’m sure. You say in the blurb that the story begins when “eleven-year-old Fred discovers …” So why begin writing when Fred is four? It’s nicely written, but there’s nothing overly compelling about this first couple of pages, no vital information that can’t be leached into the story in a much more organic way later on in the narrative. My advice? Start when Fred finds the sword, or very shortly before doing so. That’s when everything changes for Fred, when his real story begins. Up until then he’s just a kid whose mother died, father remarried, and who doesn’t get on too well with his mean step-sister. Even kids whose life this mirrors won’t want to read this – it’s too close to home. What they’ll want to read about is how Fred overcomes his circumstances and (metaphorically or otherwise) slays the dragon, or whatever he does with Excalibur.
So it’s a rejection from me, unfortunately, as most of these submissions are likely to be. I think this beginning needs more work to be saleable. Hone in on the start of the real story, and establish as quickly as possible eleven-year-old Fred’s ‘voice’. However, if it’s any consolation, the actual writing was excellent. Copyediting a manuscript of this technically high standard would be a pleasure, and that alone will stand you in good stead with agents, and editors. Thanks for posting.