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Query Letter for Regnum Terra

I just spent the last 24 hours rewriting my query letter… and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. To be frank, I’m pretty sure the stupid thing counts as a straight-up obsession now. Technically, I’m on my 6th draft, but considering the fact that each ‘draft’ went through at least twenty revisions… well, you get the picture. Each night after polishing up my latest attempt at perfection, I’m tempted to quote The Princess Bride: “Good night… Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”

Check out my latest draft, and tell me what you think!

Query Letter

Hazel Alina Galbraith is a 17-year-old spy from an alternate reality with a secret that might save the universe. Or destroy it.

The only problem is, she doesn’t remember any of that.

What Hazel does remember is her life on earth: her recent breakup with her boyfriend, Josh; the mean-girl-esque bully who spreads rumors about her; that huge English project coming up. And Alek, an unfairly attractive foreign exchange student with piercing eyes that haunt Hazel’s dreams. Hazel can’t shake the feeling that she somehow knows Alek, and when his strange behavior convinces Hazel he must be hiding something, she decides to investigate.

Hazel’s search for answers leads to an accidental trip to a shadow dimension, an encounter with a pyrotechnic phoenix, and, most importantly, the truth about her past. Hazel learns she and Alek are from a realm called Hespera: a dangerous reality filled with mythical beasts and ruled by a power-obsessed Council of Warriors. Hazel has been exiled to earth for treason. And as she remembers why she was branded a traitor, Hazel realizes she might be the only one who can prevent the rulers of Hespera from destroying the universe.

With the fate of two worlds hanging in the balance, Hazel must decide whether she is willing to sacrifice her normal life on earth to save the world she’s left behind. After all, in a universe where dreams look more like nightmares, being normal might be the happiest ending you can hope for.

REGNUM TERRA is a complete 73,000-word YA genre-splice that blends fantasy and science fiction. It is the first in a planned trilogy, and will be enjoyed by fans of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I have a bachelor’s degree in English Teaching with a minor in Physics Teaching, and I currently spend 40 hours a week working with my target audience as a high school English and Physics teacher. The manuscript to REGNUM TERRA is available, in part or full, upon request.

Thank you for your consideration,

Ellie Penner

Comp Titles

As part of the querying process, many literary agents request you come up with some “comps” for your novel. A comp title is a previously published book that is similar to yours, either in content or audience. It serves to give agents and publishers a quick reference for what your book is like, how your book might do in terms of sales, and what your intended audience might be.

I knew right off the bat what my first comp title for Regnum Terra was going to be. When I first started writing my book, I was obsessively reading The Hourglass Door trilogy by Lisa Mangum. I loved the idea of a book that straddled genres; that didn’t fit neatly into pure science-fiction, but pulled on elements from multiple genres to create something new and fascinating. (Not to mention the fact that Dante, the main love interest, was pretty much perfect in my teenage-girl mind). When I began writing my novel, I knew I wanted to incorporate the genre flexibility found in The Hourglass Door. Regnum Terra uses the trope of a strange, attractive boy who captures the attention of the protagonist, but twists the conventional to add a layer of complexity to their relationship. Hazel, the main character of Regnum Terra, already has a relationship with Alek, the attractive foreign-exchange student who shows up unexpectedly in English one day. Although she can’t remember their shared past, Hazel instantly knows that, for some reason, this guy is different.

Coming up with a second comp title for my book was much more difficult. Because Regnum Terra blends science-fiction and fantasy, I found it hard to pinpoint another book that was similar. I was doing some research this week when I had a light bulb moment for my second comp title: the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke. Inkheart also sports a strong female protagonist who discovers some strange truths about her past, and, like Regnum Terra, involves people who interact with both the “real” world and a fantasy world. I loved Inkheart when I was younger, and it made me unbelievably happy to realize that the book I had created was in any way similar to such a wonderful novel.

If you have any more comp titles for me to add to my arsenal, feel free to let me know!

Writing a Synopsis

As some of you may know, I’m currently in the process of querying literary agents to represent my novel, Regnum Terra. I’ve really enjoyed the query process because it reminds me a little of turning in papers for my English classes, (which I did, in fact, enjoy. Yes I’m a little weird…) Each literary agent is different, but they all want essentially the same things:

A Query Letter

This is the most essential part to any query. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a letter where you basically ask a literary agent if they would like to represent your book. You introduce yourself and your story in a short, 1-page-ish letter, being sure to include crucial information about your book, such as genre, title, and word count.

Sample Pages

Before you query, (if you’re writing fiction, anyway,) you should have a completed, edited manuscript. Most agents ask for some sample pages, but the number they request varies greatly. The highest number of sample pages I’ve sent thus far is 30, or 3 chapters. Most literary agents request 10 pages, or the first chapter of your novel. The key thing I’ve learned with this requirement is that you should never send your sample pages as a link in an email, unless the agent specifically asks for them that way. All of the information in your query is usually pasted into the body of an email.

The Dreaded Synopsis

And now to the beast… I mentioned earlier that I’ve enjoyed the query process, but for the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to write a synopsis. “What is a synopsis,” you might find yourself asking? That’s exactly the problem… a synopsis is a document that details the narrative arc of your novel, explains the plot, introduces the characters, and spoils the ending. Essentially, you have to condense your 300-plus page novel into 500-800 words. Ooof.

Not all literary agents request a synopsis as part of their submission requirements, so I kept putting off writing it; that is, until I found one literary agency that seemed just perfect. You know how, sometimes, you look across a crowded room and see someone you just know is a kindred soul? It was like that, but for a literary agency. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to work with these people. Only problem? You guessed it: they wanted a synopsis.

“That’s it,” I told myself. “No better time than the present, right?” So I sat down and promptly re-wrote the first paragraph of my partially-started synopsis… and re-wrote it… and re-wrote it… until, an hour later, I was on my sixth-or-so draft, and absolutely exasperated with the whole thing. I mean, it took 300 pages to tell this story; how could anyone expect me to condense it to 500-800 words, and still expect things to be interesting?

After a lot of internet research, a ridiculous number of drafts and edits, and cutting out way more of the side-plots than I would have liked, I finally finished my synopsis. I’ll be honest: it’s a little dry, but that seems to be the norm for these kinds of things. The moral of the story? Sometimes, you just have to sit down and do something hard. Finding time, consistently, to sit down and work on my book was hard. Figuring out the ins and outs of the querying process has been hard. Sending out drafts to beta readers and taking their feedback has been hard. Writing that darn synopsis was really, really hard. But in every single case, doing the hard thing has been absolutely worth it.

Writer’s Block

The other day, I had a student come up to me and ask for some advice. He’s been working on several science fiction novels, and one story in particular has been hard for him to move through. “There’s just this scene that I have to write,” he complained. “It’s so boring, but I need to include the information, or else nothing afterward will make any sense. If I’m this bored while writing it, there’s no way anyone will want to read it. I’m stuck! What do I do?”

Personally, I hate writer’s block almost more than anything else. For me, it comes when I start judging my work too harshly. I’ll re-write a paragraph ten, fifteen, twenty times (not even exaggerating), and still feel like what I’ve written is clunky, boring, or just lame. This contrasts with the times when my fingers fly across the keyboard because the story seems pre-written in my head and I’m just typing it out. Hitting the metaphorical wall that is writer’s block hurts, in a very emotional-hurt kind of way. I start to worry that I’ve lost any skill I’ve had with writing. That I’ll never finish writing the chapter I’m on, much less the rest of the book. That I’ll never be able to write anything readable ever again. (Yes, my brain is ridiculously histrionic, and tends toward worst-case scenarios).

Although I don’t have a sure-fire cure for writer’s block, there is one thing I’ve found to be particularly useful when I’m faced with the beast:

Move On!

When I find myself ramming my head against the wall, trying to perfect a paragraph that refuses to cooperate, I have to remind myself to take a step back. I look at my painfully messy writing, and I tell myself “you’ll come back and fix this later.” And then I move to the next scene, or the next chapter, or the next part of the story that just works. I move on to convince myself that I can still write, and that this story that I’m crafting is actually going somewhere beyond the scene I’m struggling with.

As the amazing movie, Meet the Robinsons says, “Keep Moving Forward.”

Beta Readers

Thank you to everyone who has signed up to beta-read my novel, Regnum Terra! I look forward to hearing your feedback and opinions. A few things that I’m looking for from my readers:

Your Opinion!

Did you like my book? What was your favorite part? Who was your favorite character? Books, in my opinion, are meant to be shared and discussed. Go all book-club with me, and tell me what you think! Constructive criticism makes good things great.

Pacing!

The one thing I always worry about the most is whether my writing flows the way I want it to. While you were reading Regnum Terra, how did it feel? Which parts of the book felt fast-paced? Which parts seemed to drag a little bit? Were there some scenes you would cut altogether? Let me know!

Characters!

No story is complete without characters. The best stories have characters that feel like real people; that are more than two-dimensional, and whose lives hook the reader and make them feel something. How do the characters in Regnum Terra match up? Is there a character you’d like to see more of? Is there a character you just love to hate?

Grammar!

Maybe a bit less fun, but save me from some embarrassment please! If you notice any grammatical or spelling errors in my novel, please let me know. My writing is far from perfect, so take the opportunity to call me out on it!

If you haven’t yet signed up as a beta reader, there are still a few slots left. Help me out, and I promise you a riveting story in return.

Thank you for supporting The Regnum Trilogy! Stay tuned for future updates!