Welcome to Synopsis Camp!

IMG_2493What is more painful than writing a synopsis? Writing a blog post about writing synopses. Just kidding not really. While on an editor panel, I promised to write this post and I’m glad I did. From the bottom of my heart, I feel that banging out that synopsis is essential–and easy.

Let’s just get it out of the way, that every writer tells me, “I can’t write a synopsis.” And I can’t eat pickled beets unless you give me money, which is what my mother and brother did once. Seriously, you can write a synopsis. If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. Remember high school, college? It’s a matter of getting into the right head space and practicing. I don’t blame you for complaining. I have to write synopses, too, and I do plenty of whining about it. Then I realize what a skill it is: being able to summarize your work.

One thing to note: Editors need that synopsis. They have to pitch your story to higher ups. We might even require a refresher if we haven’t looked at your book in a few weeks. There are so many books that we read between your submission and that second or third read. A synopsis turns out to be a handy guide to your story. It introduces everyone to the basics.

But how do you write a dry synopsis on a story you are so passionate about? It can be done, I swear. If we can survive the elements, reality television, and the presidential campaign, we can tackle this onerous task.

Because I hate writing synopses myself, I’ve devised a handy way to get through the pain. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

  1. Choose two days where your goal is to write the synopsis. No other writing, no other big projects. Just the synopsis.
  2. Write a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences tops. Encapsulating your premise into one neat sentence is a talent and one you can show off when you pitch your story. You will use that logline over and over again.
  3. Prepare yourself psychologically for the longer synopsis. Editors have different requirements, but I like to ask for a five-page synopsis, double spaced. If you can do this, you’re in great shape. Line up your pencils, hydrate, and say, “I can do this.”
  4. Break down your synopsis into three parts. Act I, Act II, and Act III–but don’t label them as such in your synopsis. It’s easier to write a synopsis when you think of it in smaller segments. Never write a chapter by chapter breakdown. These are hard to follow.
  5. Write Act I in the morning. You have that surge of energy, you’ve had your coffee, so get out those first 500 words. You’ll be shocked at how little time this takes.
  6. Take a few hours off. Let Act II percolate in your head. Eat lunch. Have another coffee and then go at it. Get the middle of the story down in lovely prose. No need for gimmicks, just the story as if you were telling someone about it. Think generalities. Think that annoying paper that you’re writing for school. Readable, engaging writing that will inform the editor.
  7. Reward yourself. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Eat a Snickers and/or Cheese Puffs (see picture).
  8. It’s late afternoon, when you’re almost ready to call it a day. Maybe you want to take a nap, but you have one last item on your to do list: Act III. Make it dramatic and exciting! You’re on the home stretch!
  9. You did it. Was that so hard? Maybe, if you think mowing the lawn is hard. It’s just not something you want to do, but you did it because it needed doing. If you didn’t have a Snickers before, you deserve one now.
  10. Forget about your synopsis for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams! They will be sweet because you accomplished this one little yet crucial part of the writing process.
  11. Wakey, wakey! Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, too, but not so much since I finished a synopsis. After breakfast or whenever the neurons start firing, go over your synopsis, revise it, edit it, then look over it five more times throughout the day. Remind yourself how awesome you are for writing a synopsis, which all of us hate to do.
  12. You are now done–and a new graduate of Synopsis Camp. For good measure and because this is a heinous chore, reward yourself often.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to go over your work, but the hardest part is often getting the words down. As a writer, though, you’re used to that, right? In conclusion, I’ll let you in on a secret. The synopsis is important, though many of editors don’t love reading them. It is truly a guide. The most important part is your voice, your story. But we still want the synopsis.:)

When You Meet the Editor…

bitmoji-20160708104323We’re getting into serious conference season. You’re about to sign up to do a pitch, meet a publishing person for coffee, or a planned walk-by in the hall? Here are some incredibly easy ways to make this go smoothly:

Present your best self. There is no law saying you have to appear a certain way for an editor, but I notice things: a kind smile, general friendliness, cool nailpolish, maybe jewelry traits that make the writer uniquely herself. The overall package makes an impression. The best impression you can make is if you are fully yourself, open to the entire process, and ready to bring your story out into the world.

Nerves are okay. A compassionate editor will understand and guide you if your mind goes blank. We’ve been there oh so many times.  Hello, wobbly knees and shaking hands. When it’s really bad, I do as Ralph Fiennes does in Maid in Manhattan and demolish a paper clip or napkin as I’m speaking. This doesn’t happen as much anymore because of practice. When you pitch a lot, it gets easier.

Memorize the following to where it’s a mantra: My novel, _____, is a _____ word romance/thriller/contemporary novel, targeted for your ______ imprint. It’s the story of _______.  From there, you can relax. The details of your story should flow. And if they don’t, fret not! Pitching is still not the most frightening thing in the world. My cooking. That’s way scarier.

Know your publisher and editor (a bonus). The more research you do, the more prepared you’ll feel. Follow us on Twitter or whatever platform we prefer.

Have the goods. It’s one thing to be a great pitcher. It’s another to finish the book. Having a project ready to present will boost your confidence. Want even more confidence? Have that second proposal waiting in the wings.

Be friendly. Unless you get a weird vibe from one of us (it does happen), you can banter with the editor, though given the time limit, you want to get to the point.

Impress me with questions about what I do. This can help your nerves and you will show your engagement.

Spoiler: I will probably ask to read your manuscript unless it’s wildly outside the bounds of our publishing programs.

Now isn’t that easy? One calming last thought is the knowledge that editors are human. You will find us messing with our hair in the bathroom, knocking over people to get to the dessert bar (okay, that’s just me, I think), and obsessing about a book. Next week, I’ll be at a conference and I’m ready to meet some writers.

Are you ready for us?

Snapchat. Because I Should Be Folding Laundry…

If Snapchat were to go away, I don’t know what I would do. How else to torment my brother with crazy faces? Give/receive newsy messages from my BFF as things happen? Or express facially my extreme anxiety? Or have a halo, zombie face, or a cat on my head? You too could partake in such silliness.

Behold, the Gallery of Snapchat Narcissism. And this ain’t everything! I won’t show you the one where I switch faces with Simon Le Bon…

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Memorial Day Thank You

My husband is very into genealogy right now. Today, I too felt the desire to discover my roots, but not enough to download the Ancestry app. Instead, like a good American, I thought about family, friends and colleagues who served our country so bravely–I swear this is true. I’m humbled by their doing a job I couldn’t.

I thought about the soldiers in my family. As much as my relatives tried to enlist, our family is one with ailments that kept us away from any front lines (i.e. really bad eyesight, bad knees). They volunteered extensively, and I’m thankful that I grew up with family intact. Others haven’t been so lucky.

My father-in-law served in WW II, which makes him kind of ancient (and adorable). He hasn’t said much about it, though I imagine he was as persistent about serving as he is now about selling insurance. My uncle was in the Navy and so was his stepfather. My stepfather was in the Army and every now and then he’ll say something about it. When I went to work, I started to meet amazing women who served in the military and they’ve told me some harrowing tales.

Their experiences are out of my realm of understanding, but that doesn’t mean I can’t  thank them over and over again.

Thank you.

 

It’s Happening: My 30th High School Reunion

mulletIn three weeks, groan, I’m attending my high school reunion. Let me muster the energy to drag my fabulous self to what can only be an unnecessary trip down memory lane. I am so over that.

Lie, lie, lie! I’m not even close to being over it! This eagerness must be palpable because somehow, I wound up on the planning committee and–wait for it–amassing enough 80s music to last 3 hours. I love the build-up, the preparations–emotional and wardrobial (that’s a word)–and the blinding nostalgia. How could you not want to re-live your painful adolescence?

In the spirit of reunions, let me revisit my reunions. Each one has a flavor.

My 5th Reunion: Um, I don’t attend this one because life is too traumatizing. See chapter 4 of my book, Romance Is My Day Job. I call this flavor “gum stain on the subway platform” because it is just that icky.

The 10th: It takes me months to pick out this purple gauzy dress and chunky patent leather heels. The hair is everywhere. Classmates are marrying and having babies, like my best friend Nici. Isn’t 27 too young for this? I breathe into paper bags over the idea that I could embark on such adult rites of passage. My recollections of this reunion are vague because I am hyper-focused on an impending first date with some dude in NYC, the dude responsible for my being in NYC. An important domino in my life. Would I be in New York if it weren’t for this date? Probably not. Flavor: Tiramisu because it is the first time I try the dessert in New York.

The 15th: Ugh, 32. That’s almost as old as Jesus before he died and I have done nothing too important. IMe, Nici, Kirsten do learn that my classmates are wildly interesting, but I eat too many strawberries (not sure what this means and yet it is my lame excuse for fleeing Connecticut before the real festivities). Jesus would not have done this. Reunion flavor: Strawberry Agita.

My 20th: I’m 37! Though I could be the only single one left, I am…okay. Am I? Oh God. Why did I cut my hair short? Why!?? Despite those pesky feelings of low self-worth,  sleek black pants and a raincoat hide a whole lot of sh&*t. I’m grateful, at least, that I have done nothing terrible ever. Job, roof over my head, loved ones, no longer living off credit cards: not too shabby. Flavor: One scoop of vanilla because I’m blessed.

My 25th: I’m MARRIED. Look at my husband! You all know him! He’s cool! I’m not a dork anymore! Married, married, married. Oh wait, I missed all the crazy after-hours shenanigans because I’m married married married. Okay, I’m still a dork*. Flavor: Two scoops of matching flavors, whatever he wants.

My 30th: Married, married, married. This means I have another set of eyes and sharp senses to take in the entire event: my classmates, my teachers, the beautiful school itself, etc. I will enjoy this reunion and stay up all night**. Class of 1986, I’m ready. Beware of the girl who watches and records everything. She might write about it someday. Just kidding, sort of. But seriously, flavor: Whatever keeps us dancing.

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*but married

**to catch any shenanigans. The fact that I use the word “shenanigans” only proves my dorkiness.

Romance Pet Peeves: The Shefani Edition

gwen and blakeIn this age of negatives, I need balance, so please forgive–or love–my special combination of romance writing “pet peeves” and my latest obsession: the Gwen Stefani/Blake Shelton relationship. I haven’t been the same since November 4, 2015, when their couplehood was confirmed. No doubt, I see these peeves as a neon light (wink wink), which will brighten up your romance novel:

1. He knew… She realized… He wondered. The first time Blake saw Gwen in her flapping plaid paper-towel dress, he knew he’d have trouble resisting her. This sentence is not hella good (wink). Every now and then it’s okay for your characters to know, realize, or wonder. More often than not, the reader wants to see how Blake has trouble resisting her. Does he turn away and focus more on his bromance with Adam Levine? Does he wish he’d worn something nicer than his jeans and plaid shirt* from yesterday? Is he sweating or having trouble speaking?

Here’s another example: Gwen sat on the plane. She realized that she’d forgotten her Urban Decay makeup kit. Of course, her natural beauty would allow her to face the outside world, but still. She knew she had to keep a better To-Do list. Again, I’d rather experience the stress Gwen endures when she doesn’t find her makeup kit. It’s a bummer when you’re about to land, photographers are just waiting to see you not perfect, and you are used to being ready. I go through this every day…on a much smaller scale. Sure, I can realize I forgot to put on lipstick, but I’d rather show the reader how my pulse increases when I open my purse and don’t find my Kat Von D lipstick. I bolt for the closest Duane Reade and run up and down the aisles, then grab a coral lip gloss, which is good enough (but not Kat Von D).

2. So many qugwen-stefani-zoom-87aae920-0a3a-4769-b671-151aeb9b7975estions are annoying in life–and in romance novels, especially in a character’s point of view. See here:

The limo took Gwen from the private plane to Blake’s million-acre ranch in Oklahoma. It was her first trip. What would she find? Would her waterproof foundation and mascara survive country life? Would Blake approve of her red stiletto boots killing his tomato plants? Oh God, will he ask her to clean up horse poop?

Nothing ruins a visit home faster than family peppering you with questions, and you don’t want to do this to your reader. The reader is supposed to be asking these questions herself and letting the story guide her to the answers. As a writer, why not convey Gwen’s feelings over seeing her love interest for the first time on his turf? This will develop her character for the reader. And as far as I’m concerned, Gwen can wear her red boots anywhere. Probably not on a subway grate.

3. Here a but, there a but, everywhere a but, but.

It’s natural to critique. You give a compliment, and then take it away with a “but.” Watch any talent show and you’ll hear constant use of “but.” You’re an amazing singer, but your Vibrato sucks. Without a “but,” you’re perfect. But here’s my problem. I see this kind of paragraph often, full of “buts”: On The Voice, Blake felt absurd without his cowboy hat and bullwhip, but he couldn’t bring it onto the set. He loved the money and free drinks, but he hated being under those blinding stage lights when fish and ducks and trucks better scurry when he takes Gwen onto his surrey with a fringe on top. But would she want that?  Watch those “buts,” people. It turns a character into a big whiner.

That’s enough silliness for today. Do these pet peeves mean a rejection letter? Not necessarily (maybe they mean the end of my sanity). Today, I let two “but” sentences go by without changing them because they worked side by side. Rules/editor preferences aren’t life.

Happy writing and let us pray that I find another obsession the next time I post. Like, maybe the presidential election? Just kidding.

*That’s all I wear outside of work so no judgment here. Actually, I just wear hideous pajamas.

Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire

iStock_000016891929XSmallMy first few years in New York, working as an assistant editor, I lived on credit cards. It cost a lot to live in Manhattan and, once again, I’d chosen a career that didn’t promise wealth. Maybe I should have been more financially pragmatic and looked for an apartment in Queens or Brooklyn, but I wasn’t. Those years taught me a lot about cutting corners, which I still do to some extent nineteen years later. If you love to edit books, you can do better than survive. Here’s how:

Food:

Breakfast can easily turn into lunch. If you put off breakfast, tada, it’s lunchtime! That’s one meal you don’t have to pay for.

Lunch: If you want to stay healthy and save money, make your own. Most of us give in to the sandwich bar. Reasoning: you’re too busy as a working woman to prepare food. Sadly, this can’t carry through to dinner unless you want to blow all your money. Another way to save money: take out industry people. It’s professional, enjoyable, and it’s a write-off or your company will reimburse you.* Did I just say that out loud?

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