January 6th, 2017

How Bad Times and New Starts Affect Our Writing

Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

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When I sat down to write this post I intended to write about writing. It’s what I love doing, and why folks tend to invite me to guest post on their blogs (which I appreciate). But this came at a time when I’m feeling reflective and optimistically hopeful about the new year after a rough 2016.

For me, it was a year of always being behind (raise your hand if you were here with me). No matter what I tried to do, something came along and knocked my schedule off track and prevented me from getting  much done. Ever worse, when I did have time to work, I was unable to write anything decent–if at all. I let the bad times bother me way more than they should have, which only exacerbated the problem.

Because the trap here is…

When we’re stressed, we often gravitate toward the easy tasks that make us feel productive, when the opposite is usually true.

I’ve caught myself spending time doing smaller, easy tasks that didn’t need to be done right away because doing them made me feel like I was accomplishing something–look, I crossed three things off my To-Do List! I was effective today! Problem was, none of those tasks needed to be done right away. I might have felt as though I was accomplishing something, but I was just getting more behind.

What I learned from this: When life spins out of control, prioritizing my day helps reel it in. Taking some time to determine what I need to do and what I can realistically get done that day lets me ignore the things that distracted me with a false sense accomplishment. Because just like our characters…

Sometimes, we have to let go to move forward.

There was a point late in 2016 when my To-Do List was rivaling my WIP in size. Just looking at the dang thing every morning made me feel helpless. There was no way I was going to catch up, especially with the holidays bearing down on me. I had to make a choice–keep struggling with an impossible task, or accept that my year was over and I’d gotten done pretty much everything I was going to manage until January.

What I learned from this: There’s no shame in saying, “I took on too much, I need to cut back.” It’s okay to wipe the slate clean and start over at a time when I’m more capable of handling things. Time away also creates necessary distance so I can better identify what’s a critical task and what’s just something that needs to be completed “at some point.” Because no matter how much we may want to…

We can’t do it all.

I know this, I’ve told myself this year after year, but I still keep trying. I was better in 2016 with letting things go and accepting my limitations, but I haven’t quite broken the habit of expecting more than I can reasonably do. But I have gotten better and using those high goals to motivate myself, and understanding that not meeting those goals doesn’t equal failure. Reaching for the stars and landing on the moon is still pretty darn good.

What I learned from this: That I still have a lot to learn here about saying, “no.” It’s not something I do once and move past, it’s a daily battle to not take on more than I can handle. Just because I want to say yes, doesn’t mean I have the ability to say yes. Which can be hard because someone gushing, “thanks so much, you’re the best for doing this,” takes some of the sting out of feeling like a failure. Because…

It’s easy to feel like a failure when we have too-high expectations.

Even though we should never compare ourselves to other writers, let’s face it, we do anyway. I stopped logging into Facebook for months during a particularly rough time last year, because seeing my fellow writers announce new books or great writing news made me feel like I was failing–even though I had new books and good things going on as well. I was happy for them, but also envious that they were doing what I was “failing” to do–meet those too-high expectations I’d set for myself. I also ignored the fact that dealing with personal difficulties (family deaths and illnesses) took a lot of my time and energy, and it was unrealistic to expect to be productive under those conditions.

What I learned from this: As the cliché goes, s*#t happens, and rolling with it is far easier than letting it sidetrack me. When life is demanding more time and my writing needs to take a back seat, I can’t beat myself up over it. All that does is make me feel worse and keeps me from getting anything done when I do get time. It’s okay to cut myself some slack when I need it. I can only do what I can do, and trying to match someone else is a waste of time and energy I should be using to write.

Three Things You Can Do to Make a Fresh Start

A new year means a new start, but any day can be the first day of a new routine (I like using Mondays). I’m starting 2017 with fresh goals and a new schedule to help me keep those (hopefully) realistic goals. If a fresh start will help you, here are some things to try:

  1. Make a work schedule you can live with.

Figure out what you need to do, where your priorities lie, what tasks run you off track, and plan accordingly. For example, Writing is my main priority, so that comes first (which is when I’m most creative, but if you’re creative at night, adjust your schedule to suit your needs). Checking and answering email is a major distraction for me, so my schedule includes time chunks to focus on email. I don’t check it outside of those times.

If you’re unsure where all your time goes, spend a week tracking what you do all day and how much time you spend on those tasks. Create a schedule that allows for the actual things you do all day, not what you think you do.

  1. Prioritize your goals in smaller time chunks.

Looking at the entire year makes me feel like I need to fill that year with projects, so this year, I’m focusing on three-month chunks. My goal of, “send my WIP to my agent by March 1, and have the next project ready to begin” is less daunting than a list of four books I want to write in 2017. It’s easier to see what I need to do and how much time it’ll actually take than a lofty goal.

  1. Keep a running list of tasks that need doing, but aren’t priorities.

I’ve added “free time” in my schedule to handle the unexpected. I know there will be days when I finish a task and have time to work on other things. It’s easy to go back to, say, my main writing project, but extra time on my WIP doesn’t help me re-organize my blog or line up those guest posts I want to do. A free hour is time I can use to knock one or two smaller “get to it someday” tasks off my list.

For this list to be effective, be as specific as you can about the tasks. For example, “redesign the website” is a huge project that can’t be done in a free hour. But “research web templates” is. Break the tasks down into manageable bites so you know exactly what needs to be done and can jump on it quickly. You can even organize these tasks by size, grouping all the quick tasks that might take 15 minutes together, followed by 30-minute tasks, then hour-long tasks. Pick a task that fits the free time you have.

A new year is an opportunity to reevaluate our lives and how we work. It’s filled with the promise and possibility that this year we can achieve our dreams. Take advantage of this opportunity to cast off old doubt and frustrations and embrace a fresh start toward your dreams.

 Are you making a fresh start this year? How do you plan to work toward your dreams?

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Janice HardyAbout Janice

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy, including The Shifter (2014 list of “Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and The Truman Award), Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She’s also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft, and the author of multiple books on writing, including the bestselling, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It).

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

January 4th, 2017

7 Tips to “Level Up” Your Writing Career

We’re at the beginning of another year. On Monday, we posted our annual “Word of the Year” blog. My main word is focus, but that’s not my only word. I have seven more that are going to help me make major gains in my writing skill and my writing career. I hope they can help you to get where you want to be by the end of 2017.navy-jets

  1. Discipline: Move toward my goals every day.  

Whether that means writing every day or not, I’m going engage in some activity that will advance my writing career. If you haven’t finished your first book yet, make a weekly word count goal that is reasonable for you, and keep your fingers on the keyboard until you’ve achieved that word count every week. If you’ve finished a book, revise it. Revise it some more. Make it the best dang book you can. Send out queries, if you’re looking for a traditional publishing path. Learn about self-publishing, if you’re thinking about an indie path. If you haven’t yet, develop your social media platform. Build a website. Every night when I go to bed, I’m going to say at least one thing I’ve done that day to advance my writing career.

2.  Attitude: Clear my mind of can’t. Use my attitude as a positive force.positive-attitude

     I’ve done a little research into the power positive thinking has on everything in our lives. The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work published in The Huffington Post compares what negative thoughts do to your brain versus what positive thoughts can do. This article from Johns Hopkins Medicine shares ways to build “positivity” in your life. It turns out, Pollyanna was right, begins an article in the NY Times. Reasonable optimism can pay big dividends for you this year. 

3.  Adaptability equals survivability: Stay flexible to deal with unexpected challenges.

     The publishing industry has been reshaping itself faster than a Rubic’s cube in the hands of a pre-teen. As authors we, too, must accept that the old normal is gone forever. Many multi-published authors from years past are no longer on the shelves. Were they unable to weather the changes not only to publishing, but to the current necessity of author marketing? Building flexibility into my schedule will allow me to deal with life’s curve balls while remaining professional and meeting my professional and personal deadlines. I’m going to use what I have at hand to conquer my challenges.

       open-book4.  Knowledge: Stay humble and listen.

            Last week I read an interesting quote about how you can close your mouth, but you can’t close your ears. The Dalai Lama says you can’t learn if you don’t listen. I’m working to improve my craft by reading books on writing and reading writing blogs. I’ve taken classes-in person and online, practiced new writing techniques, and read in my genre and outside of it. I critique with trusted writers and listen to suggestions. I’ve changed scenes, heck-chapters, that I loved. Knowledge is power. Powerful writing is writing that empowers my readers to use their imaginations, to consider new ideas, to continue reading when they should be doing something else. 

       5.  Excellence: Never lower my personal and professional standards.

            We’ve all read a book that we suspect was hastily finished on deadline. It wasn’t up to the author’s usual punch. The expected biting humor fell flat. The ending, well, it just ended. When my expectations aren’t met, I consider before buying that author’s next book. 

             As writers, we make a commitment to our readers to deliver our best with every word. Readers don’t know about the flu I had for three weeks before a deadline. I sure am not going to put a disclaimer on my book saying, “Warning, author’s brain was fried by fever during the final edit.” I’m taking the time necessary to make that book as good as I can. Luckily I built time into the production schedule for crisis management. And I’ve decided that perhaps I may have to release one less book this year. 

        6. Perseverance:  My key to overcoming adversity.

             The word most commonly associated with mathematicians is perseverance. Who dedicates her life to solving one problem? But even the perseverance I’ve had in my “other” career, sometimes withers when it comes to writing.

             If writing and publishing a book were easy, everyone would be a published author. Give up in the face of the many adversities on this path, and I’ll never be published. Some days, just sitting at the computer is a major adversity. And if I can’t bring myself to write for a day, or two, or more, that’s life impeding my dream. Oh, I eventually open up that story again and bring the lessons I’ve learned from my complicate life (whose isn’t?) back to the page. I have to. I’m a writer. Perseverance will allow me to power through-or around-the obstacles to my writing goals. I will stay the course. 

        girl-knight 7.  Courage: Stand by my dreams.

              Courage can be a tricky thing to hang on to alone. While supporting the dreams of others, I’ve learned to support my own. Standing by my dreams means I dust myself off when I fall, and I write. I cry when that rejection letters arrives, but I send off another query-or five. I take the time to learn, to create a body of work I am proud of. I write with my heart, not just my brain. And when my expectations are not met, I have the courage to reevaluate, revise my plan, and renew my enthusiasm. 

It’s time to level-up your writing and your writing career. It may not be easy. These are the Seven Keys to Excellence that are the basis for Navy SEAL training. Yes. Navy SEALS are encouraged to use these keys in their professional and their personal lives. 

You can do this. 

Can you share a hint for implementing one of the Seven Keys to Excellence? Is there one that presents more difficulty for you?

ABOUT FAE:

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.   Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen.

 

January 2nd, 2017

What word will guide your writing life in 2017?

The start of a new year has most of us reflecting on the previous year and making grand plans for the coming year. I don’t make resolutions. To me, they’re empty wishes. I set goals. And each year, I think of one word that will guide me through the year and keep me on track to meet those goals. I post that word in my office so I can see it every day. It’s a great reminder for those times when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

I once again challenged the WITS gals to think of their guiding word for 2017 –

Orly
celebrate
My word for 2017: Enjoy
Last year was a mixed bag for me – on the writing side, there was a lot to celebrate; on the personal side, less so. Those “less so” life events left a murky film on pretty much everything I achieved. As I started thinking about 2017, one thing came to the surface: My debut releases on May 2. That’s a huge achievement. With that in mind, my word for 2017 is Enjoy. I will shake that murky film and I will enjoy my debut author year.

 

Laura
My word for 2017: Trust
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2016 was a challenging one for me in my writing career. Finishing a contract, trying, and failing (so far) to break into New York in a new genre (women’s fiction) with three different proposals had me questioning everything:  my ability to tell a story, my self worth, my sanity.

I sat myself down about a month ago and had a talk. I decided that:

  • I am a good writer – I didn’t start this gig to be a bestseller. I started it to get the stories out of my head and on paper in an engaging, true way. I’m improving at this, every book.
  • I love writing – I’ll do it whether I have a contract or not
  • If I’m this ‘fluffy’, writing, what would I look like if I quit? (sorry for the visual)

Bottom line, I’m trusting what I know inside, not the outside yardstick of success. If I do, hopefully that yardstick will come into play again. If not? I’m having fun, playing with my characters. And if that’s all there is, that was enough to start me on this journey to begin with . . . so it’ll be enough, now.

Fae

My word for 2017: Focus

focusI made some huge decisions about my writing and my writing career in 2016. Decisions that have my writing time tightly scheduled with deadlines and commitments—to myself and to others. To learn what I need to learn and to produce at all levels, I have to maintain my focus. That doesn’t mean that I’m not having fun, but there can be no “bird walking” this year.

Focus will help me target what needs to be improved. Focus will allow me to look to far-away goals, like binoculars focus on distant objects. Years of work are coming together in 2017, and just as a photographer adjusts and tightens the focus of a lens, focus will give me the sharp edges I’ll need to attain my goals for this year. 

This is new for me, devoting so much of my day, and days, to writing, but it’s exciting. It’s amazing what a positive force attitude is. It’s sustained me for the past six months. Adding focus, as the marketing pieces kick in, geared to summer releases, will keep me on track. Laser focused Fae. At least, that’s the plan. 

Jenny

My word for 2017: Becoming

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After almost a decade of trying, I finally won NaNoWriMo this year. When I pulled this year’s experience apart to see what was different, I realized that I am the difference.

I stopped worrying about silly things and got out of my own way. We all have worries, and we cannot escape all of them, but some of what writers worry about is just silly creative-kryptonite type of stuff:

Will I ever get this book done?
Will it be any good?

Will this book ever sell?

I stopped worrying about all that and just wallowed in the fun of putting words on the page. I sped through word sprints with my pals. I joined write-ins with my fellow WriMos. I immersed in my story and just worried about the right now.

I not only allowed myself to become the writer all my pals here at WITS believe me to be, I allowed myself to believe it too. I plan to keep on becoming that in-the-moment writing powerhouse through the coming year. I dig that chick…she makes my soul sing.

 

Okay WITS readers, what say you … we want to hear your word for 2017 in the comments.

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About Orly

Orly-Ivy.jpgOrly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world, where she spent roughly sixteen (cough) years working in the space industry. Now she spends her days chatting up imaginary friends, drinking entirely too much coffee, and negotiating writing space around two over-fed cats. She is a co-founder and past president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a member of the Tall Poppy Writersdistance-homeShe is rep’d by Marlene Stringer, Stringer Literary Agency LLC.

Orly’s debut, The Distance Home, will be released by Forge on May 2, 2017.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonig, on Facebook at OrlyKonigAuthor, or on her website, www.orlykonig.com.

December 30th, 2016

How To Spend Your Marketing Budget In The New Year

Sherry Ficklin

sherry-ficklin-picFirst, let me begin by saying that if you don’t have at least a basic marketing budget set aside, you are going to have a very hard time promoting your book, whether it’s your first book or your 100th. A successful marketing budget is going to be a key part of your overall business, and needs to be treated as such. The idea that you can exclusively use social media (or other free outlets) to market is a wild misconception.

I’d also like to mention that if this IS your first book/launch, there are going to be basic things you will need going in the door, things that will cost more to start up at first. These are things like your website, newsletter service, and build-up of promotional materials, both online (such as graphics packages and press releases) and physical things like business cards. Those should all be things you already have if you’ve launched books in the past. If they aren’t, make them your priority.

You, and your books, are a business. And as the old adage goes, you have to spend money to make money. That is the case in any business but is often overlooked by creative professionals like authors. You have to invest in yourself before others will invest in you.

My first 3 years as a writer I spent far more than I made back in royalties. Because I knew, going in, that I was in for the long haul, I did it right, building my brand and marketing my books series by series until it grew into something I now have to maintain, but no longer have to spend huge amounts of time or money on. A good initial investment will allow you to do that. Think of it like flying a kite, it takes far more time and energy getting it aloft than it does to keep it in the air. A successful marketing strategy is no different. Once you build a fan base, you are able to loosen the reigns a little and you’ll find that it will, for the most part, sustain itself with little effort.

growing-moneyOf course, it’s getting to that point that’s the trick. In my first three years, every penny I earned was reinvested right back into my author business, and then some. I gave myself three years, because (not to get too technical on you) that is the amount of time you can file a business loss on your tax return and that loss will be deducted from any other income you have. So all my start-up costs, equipment like computers and office furniture, all my web design and marketing materials, all my professional memberships and the like were basically returned to me in my tax return. (Keep in mind that tax laws change like the tide, so know your options going in.)

For the 2 years after that I made a fairly small income, and I set my marketing budget for 75% of my income.

Here I am, 2 years later, with several successful series out, I’m making a healthy income. Still, I set aside 15%-20% of my annual income toward my marketing budget. The percentages of what you can allot for your budget will vary depending on your personal finances, but I feel like 20% is a good average once you’re established, closer to 40%-50% if you are just starting out or only have a handful of titles. To be frank, about a hundred dollars a month is a good number to go in with. As you make more, you can, and should, invest more.

Now, where should you spend that money?

Before you spend a penny, you must know your target audience. Research your reader’s habits. Do they spend time online, on social media, where do they shop, how to they find new products? Once you have those answers, you will know better where your marketing focus should be.

You also need to ask yourself, where are your weak spots? Where do you need help? What are you doing effectively or what can you do better? If you aren’t sure, I know several companies that offer marketing evaluations and they are worth the cost.

So let’s say you have the basics (The basics being your website, social media channels, newsletter, media kit, and business cards).

Your marketing budget should contain as much of the following as possible:marketingstatsadsmall

  • Travel Budget

Even if you can only afford to attend one local event each year, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Face to face connections will not only increase your fan base, but is great exposure and experience for when you can do more, larger events.

  • SWAG

Don’t go too crazy, but know that, especially if you are marketing a series of books (as opposed to a stand-alone or single title) you want to invest in that entire series, not just one book. I recommend bookmarks, postcards, and other paper items you can hand out at events or easily mail to fans, all branded with both the series as a whole and your author brand. As your budget increases, you can add more funds to this category, but this should never make up more than about 15% of your TOTAL annual budget. (However, I do recommend investing in permanent items like a standing vinyl banner and stand. It’s a one-time purchase that will last years, but can also eat a big chunk of this budget, initially.)

  • Website Maintenance

If you can easily update and refresh your website’s content, that’s great. But every 3 months you should be refreshing your content. Not a full overhaul, not changing your author brand, but keeping things new and adding new material for repeat visitors. This section of the budget should also cover any hosting and domain fees you pay annually.

  • Professional Memberships

If you are a romance writer, for example, and are a member of RWA (or any other professional organization) be sure you budget for those annual fees as well.

  • Paid Advertising

This is a big one. Your budget for advertising should be at least 50% of the total marketing budget (varying; higher when you are going into a launch cycle and lower when you are in a gap between projects). Where you use that budget will depend on your audience. Remember earlier, when I told you to know your audience? This is why. If you aren’t sure about what advertisements are going to work for you, try a few out. Spend a quarter of the year investing in Facebook or Twitter ads, then analyze the results. Spend the next quarter advertising with subscription services like BookBub. See where your dollars are most effective.

  • Hire a Publicist or Digital Marketing Consultant

If you have a $2000 budget and no idea where to spend it, don’t be afraid to hire help. You can get a really good publicist or consultant that will walk you through the process, and often they will be able to lead you toward improving your reach and influence. They can absolutely help you make the most of your social media and marketing funds.

  • Incentivized Giveaways

This is to cover your monthly social media giveaways, newsletter subscriber campaigns, or Goodreads giveaways. Be sure you have a budget set aside for this which includes the cost of the giveaway items AND the cost of shipping.

  • Blog Tours

If you have the time and connections to create and run a blog tour all by yourself, more power to you. I’ve done it, and while it’s not impossible, it is increasingly difficult. Spending the money to hire a tour company will save you in the long run as well as get you in front of bloggers you may not have had access to before. This budget should include funds for other types of tours as well, including cover reveal blasts and book tube tours. Again, wherever your audience is, that’s where you will want to be.

  • Graphics

This is another place where some authors think, I can do that myself, which often leads to a less than quality return. High quality, professional graphics can make all the difference online, where your images ARE your brand (or at least pieces of it). This includes book trailers, static images, and Instagram videos. A professional graphics person won’t break the bank, but you’ll be glad you invested, and you can continue to use the graphics for years to come.

  • Consumables

These are things like printer ink, paper, notebooks, pens, all those things you must have but burn through quickly. (A great way to get these items is to hit the post back-to-school sales and stock up for the year.)

Also keep in mind that everything you spend should be recorded (even if it’s just in a simple Excel spreadsheet) for tax purposes. A good advisor can help you figure out what you can and can’t claim as a small business owner and how you will want to file. So keep those receipts!

This is a good overview of a strong marketing budget. No matter how you publish, indie, small press, or even with a traditional house, you are going to have to do a great deal if not all of this on your own so please don’t fall into the “my publisher will do that for me” trap. You may also find you have other expenses you need to budget for, things like child care, classes, or therapy (yeah, we all need it). As you hone your business and grow your fans, you will see higher and higher returns on these investments. It can be hard, especially when you start out and are making so little on your work, to turn around and dump funds back into it, but I promise that if you do, the rewards will be there down the road.

Do you have author marketing tips or questions to share? Budget ideas or ways to save money?

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Sherry Ficklin offers marketing, social media, and new author coaching through Author Branding Essentials. abe_logoBook an hour of coaching before January 31 and get $5.00 off. Use this promo code: NYMARKETING

You can also go to the website to download a free copy of the tracking worksheet. 

Sherry is a full-time writer from Colorado and the author of over a dozen novels for teens and young adults including the best-selling Stolen Empire series. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she’s on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is only seen in blurry photographs.
Sherry is also an acquisitions editor for Clean Teen Publishing and Crimson Tree Press and appears as a guest speaker at several conventions annually. You can find her at her official website, www.sherryficklin.com, or stalk her on her Facebook page www.facebook.com/sherry.ficklin or on Twitter: @authorsherry on Twitter. She is represented by Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary.

 
 
 

 

 

December 28th, 2016

2017 Submission Alert — Your Synopsis

Suzanne Purvis

new46A new year full of writing possibilities, hopefully including the most exciting possibility: sending out your submission package to agents and/or editors.

You’ve finished your novel, revised, revised, revised, and polished.

Your query letter is tantalizing.

Now you’re in need of the last, and most important, piece of your submission package–the synopsis.

Oh, no.

I hear the rumbles and grumbles echoing over the cyber waves.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most writers cringe at the word synopsis.

But we all know, writing, and especially submitting, isn’t for the weak. Stay strong. Build more writing muscles, and write that sparkling story summary.

open-book-with-sparklersSparkling summary–seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

But with your synopsis, as with any piece of writing you submit to agents, editors, contest judges, the synopsis should reflect your voice, your style, and be your best work.

Let’s take a quick look at what a synopsis is and what it is not:

What a synopsis is NOT:

 

  1. It is not a blow-by-blow summary of every single plot point in your book.
  2. It is not back cover blurb.
  3. It is not a backstory dump.
  4. It does not introduce every secondary character.
  5. It is not your main character’s resume.
  6. It is not a dry list of events.
  7. It doesn’t include dialogue or paragraphs from your manuscript.

What is a synopsis?

  1. It is a narrative summary of your book written in the voice of your manuscript.
  2. Its primary purpose is to summarize your story in a way that makes the reader want to read the whole text.
  3. It is written in present tense.
  4. It is written in third person–even if your book is written in first.
  5. It is written in active voice.
  6. It is told in chronological order from beginning to end, no flashbacks.
  7. It introduces only your main characters, main conflict, and basic emotional arc.
  8. It delivers major plot twists and your ending. No cliffhangers allowed.
  9. It is a skillful weaving of your characters, the stakes, and the major plot events that move your characters from beginning to end.
  10. It shows the pacing of your novel.
  11. It should be in the same tone as your novel.

An ideal synopsis should be like reading a mini version of your book.

The query hooks the agent or editor.

Your first pages will convince the agent or editor they want to read more.

With a synopsis you have the chance to showcase your complete story’s style, your writing, your excellent plot, and your VOICE.

A lot of synopsis writing involves plot, but . . .

Let’s Consider Voice

It’s important to establish your voice early in the synopsis. You’re striving for the same tone and mood as your story so the editor or agent can get a true sense of your writing.

If you’re having trouble with your voice and tone coming through in your synopsis, or in certain paragraphs, imagine your main character.

How would your main character write the synopsis? 

You can even do this as an exercise.

Write your synopsis, or parts of the synopsis, in your main character’s POV either in first person or close third.

But remember, a synopsis is usually written in third person present tense. However, it’s not hard to convert to this POV from the above first-person exercise.

Let’s look at some example synopsis paragraphs.

Listen to the tone and voice in Sandra Tilley’s first paragraph for her 500-word synopsis for The Ghost and Mrs. Miller, soon to be published with Wild Rose Press.

LIBBY MILLER grew up on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, where life was simple and new ideas were as slow as her Southern drawl. Childhood friends were forever like ELI ANDERSON, master prankster and keeper of Libby’s secret; JESSE KING, ace quarterback, on and off the field; and NEIL MILLER, studious, stable, and the friend she marries.

Here’s a different voice and tone from a piece of my middle grade synopsis for Hertz Gets Fused.

Great-granddad POPS dresses patriotic-weird and drives a Cadillac, named ANASTASIA. When Anastasia breaks down on the way to Show Low, Hertz is worried. Pops is not and Hertz gets his first tool-filled lesson. Back on the road, Pops makes a stop for pancake sundaes and things go awry. Avis pukes. Hertz slips. And two local boys, JORDAN and MATT, recognize Hertz as the Phoenix Firebug–the kid on the news who set his house on fire.

Here’s another unique voice for Yves Masson’s historical fiction novel in progress, Under the Gun.

Haunted by the trauma of combat, the horrors he witnessed, and the death of the woman he loved, estranged from his family for years, Alain has to fight the toughest battle of his young life, alone, against a hidden enemy, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, only known at the time as battle fatigue.

And one more example. A unique Christian YA thriller voice in Megan Menard’s synopsis for her novel in progress Pursued.

ZACH NELSON is a sixteen-year-old problem-crusher and solution-maker, MVP-ing his soccer team to the championship in hopes of a college scholarship, protecting his little sister CELIA from his mom’s abusive boyfriend, CARTER WRIGHT, and fighting for safe foster care—but finding God and learning to trust him with his family and his dreams requires the scariest play of all—surrender.

Even though your synopsis has to be tight and trimmed to the bare essentials, there’s still room for your voice.

Let’s Consider Writing Tight

That’s probably the biggest fear I see when working with writers on their synopses.

Synopsis language has to be very stripped down. Every must word count, and often do double-duty. 

With practice, patience, and super sharp scissors 🙂

it is possible to cut and trim and tighten, yet still maintain voice and tone and intrigue.

Here’s an example of tightening a synopsis sentence:

Very Wordy:

At school, Kelsey searches for Brandon all through the halls and finally finds him in the music room, where she tells him she can’t believe what he said about her in the cafeteria and wants nothing to do with him ever again.

Tight:

After searching everywhere, Kelsey finds Brandon in the music room, gives him her I’m-dumping-you speech, using the cafeteria incident as her excuse.

Let’s look at an example of tightening from Lauri Corkum’s synopsis for her novel-in-progress The Prism Protocol.

Lauri’s original:

She wakes, cuffed to a hospital bed alongside Tom, also wounded in the shootout. Realizing she is going to be thrown into a prison for terrorism, Danni breaks out of the cuffs and escapes from the hospital.

Trimmed:

She wakes, cuffed to a hospital bed beside Tom, also wounded in the shootout. Realizing she’s going to be thrown into a prison for terrorism, Danni escapes.

Here’s a nice tight piece of Alice Yu’s 300 word synopsis for her novel-in-progress Soul Affinity.

Vaktar Councillor BERTRAM SINCLAIR, mastermind behind the murders, uncovers Aziza’s secret and attacks her best friends. Aziza risks everything to save them. Her plan backfires: the Vaktar order her immediate execution.

Another tight piece, this one from Becky Rawsley’s 500-word synopsis for her novel-in-progress Merlin’s Children.

Devastated by Cale’s death, Tess returns home. But there’s no time to grieve. Morgana has taken Tess’s brother and mother to the Fae realm.

Synopsis writing comes with its own set of challenges, but like any piece of writing, it can be conquered, and believe it or not, can even be fun.

I’ll leave you with one more checklist.

Synopsis Checklist

* shares character descriptors which may explain their beginning conflicts and motivations.

*  the story setting is clear and grounds the reader.

*  provides goals, conflict, and motivation enough to make characters believable and easy to relate to.

*  goals are strong enough for characters to keep going with the odds stacked against them.

*  identifies major conflicts, both external and internal.

*  identifies major turning points.

*  synopsis is well-paced.

*  voice shines through.

*  tone reflects that of the manuscript.

*  writing is clear and tight.

*  adequately resolves all major conflicts.

  • avoids grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes.
  • uses standard industry-accepted formatting.

And if 2017 finds you in need of a sizzling, scintillating synopsis, maybe you’ll want to consider my upcoming January class with Lawson Writing Academy. where we truly have a blast curing that horrifying writerly disease–synopsis syndrome.

Why do you think a synopsis is so difficult to write? What “tricks” do you have to get you through one?

suzanne-purvisSuzanne Purvis is a transplanted Canadian living in the Deep South, where she traded “eh” for “y’all.” An author of long, short, flash fiction for both children and adults, she has won several awards including those sponsored by the University of Toronto, RWA, Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable, and Women Who Write. You can find her work in print anthologies, magazines, ezines, and ebooks. www.suzannepurvis.com