Writing Tips

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?