Saturday, 27 August 2011

What is a Synopsis and Why? . . . Part One

As a general rule, I believed a Synopsis was used to sell most fiction books, whereas a Book Proposal was the selling tool for nonfiction.  My book is a memoir and I was taught a book proposal would be required for submission.  I spent agonizing months laboring over this monster to put it kindly, and was ready to throw a party when I was finished.  Yet my research  uncovered a conundrum between the two . . . different books, articles and agents say one thing . . . while others say just the opposite.  Great!
The solution:  Be prepared to do both . . . unless you know something I don't know, or plan to self-publish.

. . . See B is for Book Proposal . . . Part One and Two in May & June.
Your initial contact determines the agent's first impression of you.  You want to be professional and brief.  Research plays an important role, show the agent you've done your homework.

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."       Anne Lamott
Submission guidelines . . . The agent I described in my last blog stated they do not accept email queries.  This pleased me because of all the email queries I've sent . . . only 1 replied.  Instead, this new agent asked for a query letter,  a 1-3 page synopsis, and the first 50 pages of my manuscript, which is different from most.   Rewriting my query letter was a snap compared to the synopsis.  My original synopsis is part of my book proposal.  I slaved to shave the 109 chapters in Diary of a Vet's Wife down to 7 pages and I was RELIEVED when it was DONE!  Now I'm being asked to condense this same information into 1-3 pages!  Are they serious???

The SYNOPSIS is the most important part of your submission package!!!

It's your selling tool . . . your ticket in the door!  And it can prove harder to write than the actual book, but it's worth it.  You must develop, sweat over and polish it . . . giving it the same attention you devoted to your book!

Your query letter and synopsis are what sells the editor on your manuscript!

Your synopsis is an outline describing the general events of your book written in the PRESENT TENSE NARRATIVE. 

Some key questions to answer in a synopsis:

  What is your story about?
  •   Who are the main characters?
  •   What do these characters want?
  •   What stands in their way of getting it?
A short description of the main theme of a nonfiction work should focus on:
  •   The Main Characters
  •   The Main Plot
  •   The Main Conflicts 
How to Write a Great Synopsis . . . 

  1. Focus on your characters and what is happening to them!
  2. Give editor a sense of setting, tone and pace of your book.  They are your reader . . . entice them.
  3. Follow the editors instructions!!! 
  4. Don't reproduce first pages of your book!  Make synopsis original, yet a true representation of your story at the same time.
  6. Don't include character's physical description
  7. Don't include secondary characters, unless important to plot and affect your character
One Step at a Time . . .

Don't be intimidated . . . break it down . . . step by step
  •   Sit for a final reading with a pen and notebook
  •   As you finish each chapter, write a 1 or 2 paragraph summary
    •   What happened?
    •   Where?
    •   To which character?
Notice themes running through chapters as you read.  Make note of themes.  You may uncover your one-line summary agents and editors like so much.

When you are done, you will have a chapter by chapter book outline called the author's outline.

Though this outline is no longer favored by editors and agents, it will remain one of your most valuable writing tools.  Never throw it away!  This outline will help if you ever decide to revise your novel.

Immediate use for the outline . . . Now you can pinpoint the most important plot points in the outline and put them into the synopsis. 

To be continued . . .

My trip to Ohio . . .

At my mom's, I was greeted by 100 empty cream puff shells, covered in plastic wrap, waiting on my bedroom dresser.  She's 94 and my cousin assisted in this endeavor.  As tradition goes, I help mom and my sister fill and frost these delicate shells the morning of the reunion. 

Mom was up early, too excited to sleep, and had 40-some filled before I wandered into the kitchen for coffee.  Everything went well until it was time for the frosting.  Mom didn't have a recipe . . . it's in her head and all she remembered was the list of ingredients!  What to do?  So, like 3 mad scientists, we added a little bit-of-this and a little bit-of-that into the pan hoping it won't turn to fudge. Soon mom announced, "It feels right," as she sat stirring the smooth, warm chocolate with a wooden spoon.

The cream puffs were perfection.  All 45 at the reunion once again savored this infamous delicacy . . . unaware of our chaos.

Lessons learned . . . my two cents

"Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality."  C.S. Lewis 

Sunday, 7 August 2011

2011 Agents . . . What Do They Really Want?

It was November 2010 . . . I had made a vow to query agents and publishers for one full year before I'd seriously consider Self-Publishing my memoir.  But somewhere along the way I was subtly seduced by the many facets of marketing, drawn from a multitude of online articles and books I discovered.  Soon I was up to my chin in market research gasping for air, while my Agents sulked in the corner.

This came to a screeching halt last Sunday afternoon when I realized how many days and months had vanished . . . it was time to get back on track.

Self-discipline is a writer's key to success!  We must be as passionate in our self-discipline as we are in our writing!  It doesn't come easy, but it can be attained with practice.  I must stay focused!

The future of your book is in the hands of the person who knows more about it . . . cares more about it . . . and will benefit more from it than anyone else . . . you!     
               Michael Larsen, How to Write a Book Proposal

My initial blog on Agents was posted June 19th, so let me continue . . .

At first, I was excited to be searching for an agent after spending 16 years writing my memoir.  Once the novelty wore off, I was able to look at the process more clearly and uncover key data . . .
  • Most agents want clients with the ability to produce more than one book stating they represent careers . . . not books.
  • If your writing focuses on a particular area . . . you may benefit by submitting your work directly to a small or specialized press.  Small presses often give greater attention to the writer with editorial help and marketing expertise. 
Since my book is a memoir, my research should focus on the small or specialized presses.  I will never stop writing . . . I'm only uncertain of the genre.

An exciting find for my memoir . . . On Friday, I came across an agent who has worked in the publishing business since 1979, first as an editor at W.W. Norton.  There she published DEAR AMERICA: Letters Home From Vietnam, which became an Emmy award-winning documentary.  This is the first agent I've found who was passionate about my subject.  Will my query letter ignite this flame again?  Only time will tell.  This weekend I plan to redraft my query for submission.  All prayers are welcome . . .

What are agents really looking for?
  • Agents can only spend a minute at most reading your query letter . . . explain what you want them to know IMMEDIATELY.  They want to be taken by SURPRISE.  Be surprising!
  • Fiction - Agents look for a track record.  Are you committed to your craft and building an audience?
  • Memoir is a tricky genre.  Agents look for two main things: a UNIQUE story and GREAT writing.  Memoirs should read like novels.  They should have suspense, conflict, emotion, character development, dialogue and narrative throughout.  Why will people be interested in you?
  • Why are you qualified to write what you wrote and how does it DIFFER from what's already been published on this topic?
  • Agents want to see a MARKETING PLAN.  What the author can really do that will sell the book, not wishful thinking.
  • It's not rude to ask for more detailed feedback following a rejection . . . but be POLITE.
A sampling of agent footnotes:
  1. "We like storytelling defined - by its extraordinary power to resonate universally on a deeply emotional level."
  2. "We seek strong new voices in fiction and nonfiction and are fiercely dedicated to our authors."
  3. "Narrative nonfiction - projects that simply teach me something new about the greater world and society around us."
  4. "Accomplished storytellers with their own distinct voice, who are able to create psychological conflict with their narrative."
  5. "Projects that tackle big topics with an unusual approach."
  6. "An analysis of why your proposed book is different and better than the competition is essential."
What your giving can do is . . . help your reader be braver . . . be better than they are . . . be open to the world again.   Anne Lamott, bird by bird

The 34th Annual Family Reunion . . . 

I leave for Ohio on Thursday at 8:05 a.m.  This is where I grew up . . . until my husband was transferred to California.  Yipee!!  I escaped the SNOW!

The announcement displays a full-color group photo with my mother, the matriarch of our family, seated in a folding chair surrounded by grinning faces and a sea of children at her feet.  42 attended last year.  These are my roots, where I feel safe in times of trouble.  Though we may not always agree, we're a family who cares with unconditional love.

At 94, my mom still lives at home with the help of a caregiver five mornings a week.  Her mind is sharp as any of you, though her body grows weak.  She may use a walker, but every year she makes over 100 cream puffs from scratch for "her family."  This is tradition. 

I look forward to this trip back in time, surrounded by family and friends, reliving tales of when we were young.  Two weeks brimming with lots of love, lots of laughter and lots of food.  These times I truly miss . . . until I remember the SNOW!

Lesson learned . . . my two cents  

"We meet no ordinary people in our lives." - C.S. Lewis