Join us on July 25th as Guest Blogger, Lily Silver, shares with us her experiences about Indie Publishing.
We’re so excited to have Dorothy McFalls as our guest today! 🙂 Dorothy, thank you, for sharing these wonderful tips on writing a great synopsis with us.
Dorothy St. James is the author of the White House Gardener Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The Scarlet Pepper, the second book in the series, was released in April 2012. Dorothy also writes romance as Dorothy McFalls. The Huntress, an independently-published kick-ass romantic suspense, recently climbed the Amazon bestseller list, hitting #4 in romantic suspense. You can find Dorothy at www.DorothyStJames.com or www.DorothyMcFalls.com or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/dorothystjames) or on Twitter (@DorothyStJames). Other books by Dorothy McFalls include The Nude, The Marriage List, A Wizard For Christmas, and Neptune’s Lair. Visit Dorothy’s website to see a complete list of her novels.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend an impromptu writing retreat with three other amazing authors. One of those authors also happens to be an acquiring editor. As we were talking, she mentioned how surprised she was at the poor quality of many of the synopses she receives with the submissions. She couldn’t understand why authors didn’t spend more time on writing a synopsis when it is one of the major elements editorial staffs look at when deciding whether to buy a project or not.
I have to admit that I used to struggle with writing a synopsis. The end result was often dull. Flat. And it, quite frankly, bored me to death. That was before I learned what I was doing wrong.
Your synopsis is not a summary of your book. Yes, the synopsis should contain a beginning, middle, and end. But don’t simply state what happened in your story. Don’t write an outline. First, that’s boring. Second, it doesn’t demonstrate to the editor how incredibly talented you are.
Your synopsis is an advertising tool to sell your book. This is especially true if you are hoping to sell on proposal (in other words—convince a publisher to pay you money for a book you haven’t yet written.)
Not only should the synopsis tell the editor about your book, you also want it to:
- showcase your unique voice,
- represent the genre you are writing, and
- make the editor excited about the story (so she buys it!)
The synopsis should match the tone of your book. If you’re writing a comedy, make the synopsis funny. If it’s a thriller, write it so the editor is on the edge of her seat when she’s reading the synopsis. If it’s a sexy romance, make the synopsis sexy. Let the editor know when the hero and heroine kiss and more. (I was forever leaving out the first kiss and deepening relationship details in my synopses for my romance novels. And, consequently, I didn’t sell a book until a writer friend insisted I add that to my synopsis. Remember: the synopsis is a tool for selling your book.)
Most novels are written using a three-act structure (whether the author knows she’s doing it or not.) So why not use the three-act structure to write your synopsis?
Act 1: The Beginning:
Just like in your book, start with an interesting hook. For my latest cozy mystery release, The Scarlet Pepper (a book that sold based on its synopsis), I opened the synopsis with:
Someone is tampering with the Presidential vegetable garden, and Casey Calhoun, organic gardener for the White House, is determined to track down the garden prankster. Red peppers are growing instead of the green ones that had been planted. There’s cabbage where the First Lady’s favorite variety of lettuce should be. And all the tomato plants are gone.
From this opening paragraph you know (1) who the main character is, (2) there’s a mystery to be solved, and (3) that the story will be light-hearted in tone.
Because your synopsis isn’t a summary or outline of the book, it doesn’t have to open where the book opens. Open the synopsis by introducing your main characters and the story problem.
Act 2: The Middle:
What are the major turning points in your story? What problems does your hapless hero face as he tries to win the heroine’s heart? How do matters get progressively worse as your amateur sleuth works to solve the murder? All of these things happen in the middle of your story. In your synopsis, you want to describe the obstacles your main character faces…and how things get worse.
If necessary, the middle is also where you would introduce subplots. For example, if you’re writing a mystery and there’s a romance subplot, you would want to introduce the subplot in this part of the synopsis. But I caution you to be extremely selective with subplots. You want a lean, fast-reading synopsis that catches the editor’s attention. Many subplots, while interesting in the book, will slow the action in your synopsis. When in doubt, leave it out.
Act 3: The End:
Don’t leave this part out! The editor wants to know you’ve written a complete story. She needs to know if the story fulfills its promise to the reader. She can’t know you’ve done your job if you don’t tell her how your book will end.
If you’re writing a romance, tell how the hero and heroine find their happily ever after. If you’re writing a mystery, tell how the mystery will be solved and the bad guys get caught. If you’re writing an emotional women’s fiction novel, show the conclusion of the main character’s emotional arc.
If you include subplots within your synopsis, be sure they are wrapped up at the ending as well.
- Don’t forget to show/tell how the main character grows and changes over the course of the story.
- Leave out minor characters and most sub-plots. Give the editor what she needs to know and nothing else.
- Keep it short. Most editors want 3 to 5 page synopses. That said, every publisher is different. Check the publisher website to see if they’ve posted guidelines for what they want in the synopsis.
- Always write the synopsis in present tense.
- For guidance in developing a tight plot, I highly recommend Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book Save the Cat and his Beat Sheet (http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/)
Now, go write that synopsis and sell that book!
And writers, if you still need help after you’ve followed these tips, Written Dreams offers editing services for writing synopses and query letters. See our Services Page on our website for details. https://writtendreams.com/Services.html We’re happy to help in any way we can. 🙂
Thank you, Dorothy, for the terrific advice! She will be with us all day so feel free to ask Dorothy questions or make a comment on the post. Thank you! 🙂
E. Tip of the Day: Writing is a business of friends and relationships.
Before I started Written Dreams, I worked at Tekno Books for Marty Greenberg. One of Marty’s best friends was Isaac Asimov. Yes, that Isaac. The one and only. 🙂 I never had a chance to meet Isaac personally. He passed before I started working for Marty. But I had read short stories and books written by Isaac. Who hadn’t? They were so entertaining.
After all the work was done for the day, Marty would occasionally tell me stories about Isaac. Fond memories he had of the man he didn’t want to ever forget. But that was Marty. He had such respect for other people in the business. He knew how important it was to treat others the way he wanted to be treated. Marty always treated me with respect. He was an old-fashioned gentleman and generous of heart. He was very well-liked in the business, and an advocate for the underdog. Some say he was a prince among men. To me, he was a wonderful role model.
I made many wonderful friends while I was at Tekno. Dorothy McFalls was one of those amazing people. She and I just clicked. I believed in her writing wholeheartedly. We worked on her novel, The Nude together. One project turned into two, and so on. We became close friends. And like a good friend will, she encouraged me to go after my dreams. Thank you, Dorothy. I will forever be thankful for that support. 🙂
So, the next time you’re at a convention, don’t be afraid to say hi to someone you don’t know. They just might turn out to be the next Isaac Asimov or Dorothy McFalls. 🙂
Would you like to learn about writing from the pros? Mark your calendars for these upcoming Wednesdays! 🙂
Join us next Wednesday, July 11th when my good friend, author Dorothy McFalls aka Dorothy St. James, stops in to give advice on how to write a great synopsis.
Next, author Lorrie Kruse will be stopping in on July 18th to share news with us on her new release.
Lily Silver, author of Dark Hero, will be visiting July 25th, and answering questions on self-publishing.
And August 1st, we’ll have an interview with the one and only Jim C. Hines.
E. Tip of the Day: Today I wanted to expand more upon Laurel’s thoughts from yesterday on treating writing as a serious business. Writing a novel, or even a short story, can take many hours to complete.
There are days when I can be working on a book for 4-5 hours straight without a break. I’ll be completely engrossed in the story I’m editing, trying to help the author rework this plot point or make a better connection with that character, or whatever it is that needs strengthening. Time goes by fast when you’re having fun, and I truly do enjoy editing. 🙂
But I can’t ever forget this is my business. My livelihood. The way I support my family’s needs and put food on the table. Every day I make a point to check messages, and yes, I admit there are days even I spend a bit more time answering emails and doing what my mentor always referred to as “busy work” than I do writing/editing. But I also know there are people depending on me. The authors. My family. Me.
Who’s depending on you to finish your current story? If writing is a passion for you the way editing is an all-consuming passion for me, than YOU are depending on yourself to be disciplined and serious about your writing. Believe in yourself. Be confident. Make a point of setting time aside for you to write–like clockwork.
6 AM Write 500 words
7 AM Eat breakfast
7:30 Get dressed for the day
8 AM Go to work
Or whatever your schedule is. The important part of making a schedule is keeping it. Be consistent, and make writing a habit in your day.
YOU can do this! I believe in you.
Today I’d like to welcome Laurel Bradley! Thank you, Laurel, for being with us!
Laurel Bradley, author of the newly published suspense Trust No One, time travel romance A Wish in Time, and humorous contemporary romance Crème Brûlée Upset, lives in a small town in Wisconsin with her handsome husband and the youngest of their five charming children. The first three kids are now men. The eldest is grown and flown. He’s a rocket scientist, no less. The second is in seminary discerning the Catholic priesthood. The third just graduated from college in three years (yes!) and is getting married to a wonderful young woman at the end of the month. We are thrilled. Number four is the sole girl. She just finished her freshman year of college. So…there’s only the youngest son at home. He’s amazed how much mowing and shoveling there is to do and shocked that his older siblings think he has it made.
WD: What person or event made you interested in writing?
LB: I began creating stories long before I took pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. When I was young, my parents used to read to me at bed time. When they’d had enough or couldn’t read to me, I’d make up stories to tell myself. Putting those words down on paper was the next logical step. I started writing seriously when I was on bed rest with my fifth child.
WD: What method do you prefer writing in: long hand, typewriter, or computer?
LB: I try to imagine what writing was like before the days of computer. My first manuscript, still unpublished, was written long hand while I was on bed rest (there’s no need to sit up to write with a pen). One of my sisters typed it for me. It was after that I decided to ignore the advice of my high school typing teacher and type…er…keyboard my second novel. My instructor would be shocked by how proficient I am on the keys now.
WD: What was your journey like from writing the first pages to getting the book accepted on Trust No One?
The easiest part of writing is…well, writing. The hardest part is finding someone else in the publishing world who likes your book as well as you do. Trust No One had a lot of “almosts” on the road to publication. It was contemplated by a couple of well-known agents and at least one New York firm but eventually rejected.
I became disheartened. In fact, I was fairly certain I wouldn’t ever get published again. I had two published books, I’d just be happy with that.
I demoted writing and publishing from job to hobby—a very healthy move for me as it turned out. I re-evaluated my priorities, putting God first, family second, and everything else third—something I should have done far earlier. I was still writing, but I decided it would be okay if I never published again. I let go of the dream of publishing book three.
Then, out of the blue, I got an email from Brittiany about a new publisher. I ignored the email. Next, a friend and fellow writer forwarded me the same email. I ignored it a second time until she mentioned it while we were in the car. (Thank you, Lorrie.)
I submitted, thinking, “What the heck. What’s another no.” Alan and Goldie Browning of Storyteller Publishing loved it. I hope, if you read it, you’ll feel as they did/do.
WD: Who is your favorite character in Trust No One?
That’s pretty much like asking who of my five children is my favorite. I don’t have one. They are all different and I love them equally, yet differently. I like the nice characters and the creepy ones.
When asked who of her grandchildren was her favorite, my mother said, “Whichever one is with me at that moment.”
I think I’ll borrow that in reference to book characters. Since I love writing because I get to be all the characters, my favorite is whoever I am at the moment. That means that lately, my favorite character has been Dr. Liam Frank from the book I’m polishing. Sorry Taylor, Cochran, Phil, Sean and Accawi.
WD: What was the first scene of Trust No One you had written in your mind?
LB: The house explosion. I saw it go. Saw Taylor and mug… and then I had to figure out what the heck happened.
I have writer friends who plot their books. I admit to being a bit jealous. Part of me would love to know what’s going to happen next. It’s not in me, though. I find out what is happening and why as it happens.
WD: What other books have you written?
A Wish in Time is an award winning time-travel romance that Cheryl Jeffries of Heartstrings Reviews calls, “…a must-read for fans of twisting, turning, wish-fulfilling romances.”
WD: What are your experiences with using a Writer’s Critique Group?
LB: I’ve learned a HUGE amount by being a member of a critique group. One of the things I learned was that in a truly critical critique group, writers need tough skin. I sometimes need to remind myself, it’s the phrasing/or the plot turn/or the lack of character motivation they’re objecting to, not me as a person. They point out things I didn’t think of or didn’t think of in that way. My mantra for Writer’s Group is “better writing is only a rewrite away.”
WD: What was your celebratory dinner when Trust No One was accepted by Storyteller Publishing?
LB: True confession time. I know you’re supposed to celebrate every victory in this industry, but I’m not the jump up and down and squeal type of girl. My first thought upon reading the acceptance email was, “Really? Wow.” Remember I’d given up on publishing. The second was about edits and marketing. “Okay…now the real work begins.”
WD: What advice would you give to new aspiring authors?
LB: You know what they call a writer who doesn’t quit? Published.
WD: Below is a few tips from Laurel for new writers.
— Make certain you have your priorities straight and keep them straight. Writing and marketing can and will devour all your free time if you let it. Publishing is validating, but don’t make it more important than it really is.
— Enjoy the process. Writing is fun. Well…most of the time. Creating worlds and peopling them feeds something in a writer in a way nothing else does. Conferences and writers groups offer great opportunities to talk about writing with other people who understand what we writers find so very attractive about writing.
— Be realistic about your expectations. The latest statistics I’ve seen on the subject state that 93% of all books written don’t sell 1000 copies. Which means that the vast majority of published authors work other jobs out of necessity. The top 3% of authors make enough money to live off, and some of them do very well. The rest of us buy coffee and support our writing habit by financing our conference attendance. (Okay, it’s not that bad, but if people knew how little the average author actually made off her/his books, there wouldn’t be pirating. Or maybe there would. I don’t understand theft, but that’s an issue for another time.) The point is, be realistic. Writing and publishing are fun and satisfying, but don’t expect to be able to quit your day job.
— Join a critique group or find a critique partner. No matter how good a writer you are, you need someone else to point out where you weren’t as clear as you thought you were. It’s best if you set the rules up front so each member know what is expected. It’s easy to burn out a non-writing critique partner, so editing reciprocity is important.
— Join a writer’s group. No one understands writers like writers. We’re fun/creative people who aren’t nearly as crazy as our non-writing friends/family think.
— Have fun with it. Most writers don’t make much money. Therefore, we don’t write for the money. If you aren’t having fun, why are you doing it?– Don’t get discouraged. Most skills are learned. Writing is a skill. Besides, if I can get published after “quitting,” you can get published while actively pursuing your dream. Timing, sometimes, is everything.
— Make certain you say thank you—when someone helps you, when they read your manuscript, when they take the time to offer constructive suggestions, when they buy your book, when they host you on their blog… (Thank You, Brittiany!)
I wrote a version of this a few years ago and updated it for this blog because it still holds true.
Don’t Be a Newbie
Rules to follow to avoid looking like an amateur
As a reader, there has probably been a point in your life when you’ve read a book and thought, “I wish I’d written that,” or perhaps, “I could write better than that.” I read somewhere that 83 percent of Americans dream of writing a book. Chances are you are one of them.
If so, welcome to the club.
I’ve been authoring stories long before I set pen to paper (or fingers to keys). It started with telling myself bedtime stories and progressed through scribbling in a notebook as I watched my kids play to seeing myself become published.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. There were, and still are, many times I wished I had a list of rules to do and things to avoid doing. After considering my blunders and polling fellow writers, I’ve come up with a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.”
1. Format correctly.
- One inch margins all the way around. (Go to “page set up” under File to modify margins.).
- 12 point Times New Roman or Courier font.
- Five space indent.
- Double-spaced, single-sided pages are standard.
- One space after a period and an end mark.
- Start new chapters halfway down the page.
- Underline where you’d like the text italicized (internal monologue, titles, etc.) WD: This is important because sometimes during the publisher’s formatting process italics are lost. Underlining helps the publisher know where you need italics.
- Separate scene changes within a chapter with one-line space, using three asterisks separated by spaces * * * if said break occurs at the end of a page. WD: The # sign can also be used.
- Use white paper if the agent/editor wants a hard copy. Most want an electronic Word document.
- End a chapter with a hard return (hit Ctrl and End at the same time). This will start the new chapter on a new page.
2. Make certain the agent or editor handles your genre before querying them.
Read your prospective agent, publisher, or editor’s website. Do they publish/handle what you write? Are they accepting queries? There are a lot of books that list agents, publishers and editors. (Jeff Herman writes a good one.) Read the books published by particular houses. What type of voice do they seem drawn to?
3. Read how an agent or editor wants to be approached and follow the rules.
Agents and editors receive hundreds of queries a day. Again, check with the specific agent/editor’s website or the most recent Writer’s Market or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agent.
4. Treat writing as a business.
Make your correspondence business correspondence. Queries and cover letters should be typed and formatted as a letter, complete with the return address and the contact information. If you are sending hard copies, make certain they are clean and properly formatted. Treat emailed queries as business letters and format them accordingly.
Note that sliding a manuscript under the bathroom stall at a convention is NOT something a serious business person would do.
Better yet, have someone else proofread your work, including your query letter. Sometimes authors are so close to their work, they cannot read what it actually says, and read instead what it is supposed to say.
WD: We offer this service to authors, if they need it. 🙂 Query letters and synopses can be tricky.
6. Know the tools of the trade.
- Take classes and read books on writing so you know what story arc, sub plot, tension, and theme are.
- Buy a manual of style—either Chicago Manual of Style or AP Manual of Style—and refer to it for grammar and punctuation questions. Most publishers that I’ve talked to prefer Chicago Manual of Style but not all.
- Learn the difference between strong writing and weak writing.
7. Develop name recognition—even if you aren’t published.
It is never too early to market yourself as an expert.
- Enter contests.
- Write positive book reviews. Yes, positive. If you don’t like a book, don’t review it.
- Create and maintain a website.
8. Learn about the profession from the professionals.
- Join loops and professional groups.
- Subscribe to and read professional journals (i.e. Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, Romance Writers Review)
WD: Check under Resources on our website for more information on this subject. https://writtendreams.com/Resources.html
9. Write daily.
Even if you aren’t actively working on a book, short story or article, write something. Journaling counts.
10. Ask for help.
As a group, authors are incredibly generous. Everyone started as a beginner. Most authors are more than thrilled to help if they aren’t working under a deadline.
1. Don’t “head hop.”
Head hopping is changing point of view (POV) several times within a single scene. Sometimes head hopping can get so bad that the POV shifts with every paragraph or every line. While some authors are more skillful at it than others, head hopping tends to pull the reader out of the scene. Never a good thing. Naturally, this does not mean an author can’t have more than one point of view in a scene, just that it shouldn’t be done frequently. Keeping a scene in a single point of view strengthens the reader’s connection with the character and the action.
2. Don’t tell every minute of your character’s day or his/her entire life history.
Strong writing means that each scene should have purpose and advance the plot. If it doesn’t advance the plot, it should be eliminated. This goes for chunks of “back story” as well. The “back story” is the events that happen before the book starts.
3. If submitting a hard copy, don’t bind or perfume your manuscript.
Wrapping it as a present and printing a cover are also unnecessary and will mark you as an amateur.
4. Don’t mention how much your mother, father, and Aunt Clara love your work.
5. Don’t discount small presses and e-publishers.
Not so long ago self publishing, electronic publishing and small independent publishers were the ugly stepchildren of the industry. Thankfully, things are changing. There’s money to be made in the smaller niche markets and most readers don’t care who published a book as long as the story is compelling, the writing is strong, the editing is clean, and they are able to get the book in the format they want.
6. Don’t write bad reviews or bad-mouth agents, editors, publishing houses, or other authors on the loops. What goes around comes around.
7. Don’t send a manuscript before it is ready.
Really—wait until it is polished before querying.
8. Don’t expect agents and publishing house editors to be your therapist or friend.
They are nice people, but their job is to sell books not counsel on personal matters. Giving career advice is a different story. That IS part of their job.
9. Don’t expect someone else to market your book for you.
Authors wear a lot of hats, and marketing/publicity agent is one of them. If you are fortunate, your publisher may allocate a limited marketing budget for your book, but don’t count on it. Count on working to promote your own book. It has been said before by others—writing is the easy part.
10. Don’t give up.
Dreams do come true. Sometimes you have to make them; other times they fall into your lap. Either way, make certain you have your priorities in order. This business will eat you alive if you let it. Don’t.
WD: Thanks so much, Laurel, for the great tips! If you have any questions for Laurel or advice to add, please post a comment on our blog. Laurel will be checking in today to answer any questions. You can also email Laurel directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would love to hear from you and add your words of wisdom to the list. Visit her website at http://www.laurelbradley.com/
We still haven’t heard from Teagan, Bill, Joanie, and Karen. Teagan won our May contest and Bill, Joanie, and Karen participated in our June contest.
If you know them, please let them know they have a FREE edit to claim. Contact us at email@example.com with any questions on prizes. Thank you!
June 1st -5th, we’re holding another contest on Facebook. Check out the details at http://www.facebook.com/writtendreams
You’ll need to log into your Facebook account, then search Written Dreams to find our page. Just look for our logo.
In May 2012, we held our first contest for 2 Free 15 page critiques. Joanie C. Murray and Teagan Oliver were our first winners. There will be many more contests to come so watch for them on our Facebook page. Visit Joanie’s blog http://www.buglehillfarm.blogspot.com/ to read about her experience with Written Dreams.