Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to Write a Synopsis

Here's the thing, after a great deal of research, it seems that a lot of agents still ask for a synopsis and not just a query letter (or actual pages). So, as well as working on editing and editing and re-editing the query letter (and still editing the novel), I'm also writing a synopsis.

Google was particularly unhelpful when I asked it how to do this. It was super helpful with the query letter, so I was rather disappointed by this. Most of the links that came up said things like 'there's not one way to write a synopsis' or 'everyone has a different way to do this' or 'it's hard to give advise on the dreaded synopsis'.

None of those filled me with much confidence. But after a bunch of sites, it became apparent that even if there is not 'one way', there is a bunch of things NOT to do, and there's a few things that YOU MUST do. Unsurprisingly, neither of these lists were as clear-cut as the query letter ones. Are you getting a theme here?

One of my favourite things on the NOT to do list was: don't make it sound like a story. And for a while that confused me a lot, because it's the synopsis of a story, how can it not sound like a story? But after reading a bunch of sample synopses online, I realized what they were getting at. It's supposed to be boring. It's supposed to be 'this is what happens' and then 'this is what happened afterwards'.

That doesn't mean it has to be dry as dust or just a statement of events. One of the best pieces of advice Google gave me was to remember to put emotion into the synopsis. The story is all about how the characters feel and react to the events that happen, and the synopsis has to convey that. So it can't just be all 'Character X goes to a party and meets character Y.' 'Character Y is a bad boy and isn't good for her'. 'Character X falls in love with character Y.' OMG I'm bored already. There's no emotion in that. There's no story in that. It shouldn't sound like a story, but it should clearly show that you've written a story. A story is not just a bunch of things happening. It has to have emotion.

Now how to show that in the synopsis. Well, I'll get back to you, shall I, because I'm still writing it. Like the query letter, it's a work in progress. It takes time. It takes a lot of rewriting and reworking. It takes a lot of editing. And a lot of having other people read it and tell me how wrong it is. I'm not sure I'll ever be 'happy' with it, but I will reach the stage that I have to let it go. And hopefully, at the end of the day, the query will make the first impression...and the synopsis won't blow it too badly.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Dreaded Query Letter

I've been clandestinely working on a query letter for months now. Perhaps even since I first started writing the novel. For purposes of being mysterious, I'm going to call that novel Jordan Valley in these blog posts, but that is only its working title. I have a secret one I prefer and hope ends up being the published title.

After I had the novel written (which was by last spring) I started crafting a pitch for it. I kept it to 200 words, even though I know a pitch is often only a 100. I re-wrote it several times, then had a friend review it, then worked on it again. A few weeks ago, I took that pitch and started to write it into a query letter.

Janet Reid suggests a good query letter will take about two months to write, with several iterations. I guess one could say I've been working on this one for about that long, if you count the number of times I re-wrote the pitch. I've used most of that pitch in the query, but restructured it to fit the format Reid suggests.

If you haven't encountered Janet Reid, and are attempting to query a novel, I don't know where you've been. Her blog Query Shark is indispensable. There is a lot of information online about how to write a query. Reid offers a lot of information of how not to, and that's actually more useful. There are hundreds of queries she's critiqued, and also many of them give multiple iterations, so you can see how the author evolved the query with Reid's help. A lot of it may seem like common sense, but obviously there are a lot of people out there writing bad queries. And although a good query doesn't guarantee a book certainly helps a great deal.

I'm still working on it, and then it's going to go to a lot of people before it goes anywhere near an agent. Because that is how you do it.

[Also, because that's how long it's going to take me to work up the courage to actually send the damn thing out to anyone.]

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What Happens After NaNo

I talk a lot about NaNo, but beyond complaining about editing, I haven't really talked about the afterwards. Often, there isn't an afterwards. Half-finished or un-edited novels languish on hard drives the world over and no one ever gives them a second glance.

That is what happened with my first two novels. I finished them, but I never edited them. Mostly, I thought they were crap and might as well be rewritten from scratch than edited.

But in 2014 I wrote a novel for NaNo that I didn't think was an utter waste of words. I spent all of last year editing it, and even had it test read. I'm still polishing up the last few things on my long list of 'issues', but at least those are the little things like continuity of hair colour and making sure the calendar is right (there are a lot of events that happen in a very few number of days - and there are still only 24 hours in a day in this world).

Editing was not fun. There were times it was, but overall it was as hard work as writing the novel had been, and that hadn't been easy. This was not one of those 'words flowed onto the page' novels. This was a lot of work to outline, plot, world build, and then write. And it was just as hard to edit afterwards. It was scary as anything to have test read, because I've offered up plenty of my writing for public consumption, but never let a single person near my novels. Asking people to 'please read this and give me your brutally honest opinion' is terrifying. There's no way to do it without thinking 'what if they say it's awful and I should just delete it?'

They didn't, thankfully. They were actually very supportive and very helpful, and found issues I hadn't noticed. One of them was especially excited, because it was exactly her sort of genre and she fell in love with the story. Which is always a nice pick-me-up. That didn't mean she didn't send me a long list of questions, though, but at least I know what I have now is something she'd pick up off a book shelf. So I have a reading audience of one. It's a start.

Now I'm struggling with the next big thing: building an audience and a brand. I have no desire to self-publish (unless I exhaust every other avenue), but I still want to position myself in a way that will appeal to agents. I don't have a website (well, not one that's public anymore - thankfully), but I do have this blog. And so it's going to become much more writing focused in the coming weeks. And I'm going to be much more honest about the nitty-gritty. This is just the introduction post.