Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Dreaded Synopsis

The Dreaded Synopsis

Ask any author which bit they most hate writing and the chances are they will say it’s the synopsis. Tied firmly in with plotting, it is some sort of commitment to the storyline. Many people I know actually write the synopsis at the end but if you want to pitch a novel with a partial, (a few chapters only) this can often be impossible without a synopsis. We have discussed before how some people always finish a story before sending in even the partial. I like to know that what I’m writing is likely to be accepted before spending too much time on it, so I send a partial, three chapters or so, before I finish a book. Even though the partial may be approved, there are still no guarantees the final product will be accepted. However many books are behind you, the current work is only as good as it an editor considers!

So, what is the function of the synopsis? It should clarify the story’s drive, give an outline of the main characters and show the potential publisher how it all hangs together. Even three chapters may not be enough to show how the characters are going to turn out. Looking at a publisher’s guidelines, it become obvious that there are many different ways of producing the synopsis. Some require multiple pages with chapter outlines and huge amounts of detail. Others want an A4 page with the outline of the plot. Clearly, it is important to know exactly what is required before sending out material. Sadly, not all publishers or agents make it clear, so approaching a new publisher could be doomed at the outset if you get it wrong.

Writing the synopsis at the beginning of the work is really a form of plotting. If ever I do start with the synopsis, I rarely seem able to follow it all the way through. My characters develop their own lives, their own characters and often find them doing something quite unexpected. This can take the plot into a different route entirely. I may have the idea of what is to happen eventually and even begin to write that bit, far too early. The synopsis then has to change to accommodate this. I suppose I am saying that I don’t really like to plot in too much detail as this doesn’t leave the scope for developing characters to drive the story themselves.

My most recent People’s Friend Pocket Novel was the fourth in what started as a one off and turned into a series of five. My editor was enthusiastic about the series and didn’t want to see a synopsis at all. This was great and things kept happening unexpectedly (for me too) and made it a fast moving story to write and I hope, a good pace to read. Of course, this depends on an editor knowing a writer and both having a mutual trust. And dare I say it, on having reasonable experience.

Unlike the ‘blurb’ on the back of a book that is designed to draw in the reader, the synopsis must present the whole story and characters and is a key selling point for the book.

Dreaded or not, the synopsis exists to sell your work.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Fall seven times, stand up eight

A few short years ago we were hoping that one day we’d see our work in print, and now we are published writers. It's what dreams are made of. In spite of numerous rejections, 'turn downs' if you prefer, our perseverance has paid off. At times we have struggled to keep ourselves motivated; often we have considered quitting and each time we receive a rejection we ask ourselves where we are going wrong. Without the support and backing of each other and our writing group we would have given up by now.
After each rejection, the manuscript is put to one side while we consider why it wasn’t acceptable. Then we dust it down, re-read it, re-write according to the editor’s suggestions if we feel them appropriate, and send it off again.
We teamed up to write pocket novels, which we enjoy very much. It would be good to be more successful with them, but we are learning through reading, workshops and taking the good advice on this blog. Our fingers are crossed for the ones we have out with Maggie and Tracey at the moment.
If you are a writer and feeling despondent about your lack of success we hope we can encourage you to persevere with your writing. Whatever disappointments or setbacks you have, don’t give up.
Which bring us back to perseverance. According to the Chambers 20th Century Dictionary perseverance is: going on till success is met with.
Keep working at your writing and hopefully success will follow, but above all don’t let anyone steal your dream.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Our Books - in every genre

This time I'd like to explore not only the romance books we write for Pocket Novels but also what else each of us writes. And, more importantly, in today's competitive publishing world, how our readers find us.

This is a multi focus article, I guess, but I believe it is all connected. Naturally our attention on this blog is centred on our romantic pocket novels and primarily these are found in newsagents, corner stores, supermarkets, etc. The good thing is that they go on in many cases to have a further life in the form of large print romances in libraries and, for many of us also, as ebooks to get them out to an even wider audience. After all, we write from our own inner drive or need but also, ultimately, for readers to enjoy what we create.

It's amazing to learn how readers discover us. Pocket Novel readers will go to their usual retail sources each month but what about other books by that author or their backlist once the current novel is taken off the shelf and before a new one comes out? According to the Smashwords blog on ebooks, for example, 29% of readers discover your book via blogs and message boards, Facebook and so on. 18% go out and particularly look for their favourite author. I know I tend to do that. Find an author I love or who has been recommended to me, so I seek other titles by that writer.

Many good reads are simply found by browsing and 14% of readers find us that way. The very smallest percentages are retailer recommendations, free ebooks, sampling then downloading, reviews and bestseller lists.

I have to say, personally, I do a lot of browsing, mostly online, to find my historical and romance fiction. I would be interested to hear how others - both authors and readers - acquire books to add to their reading pile.

As for what else we pocket novelists write, I love Australian history, genealogy and the Middle Ages, so my works both published and planned reflect that interest. Besides my last pocket novel, WOMBAT CREEK, which comes out in large print in libraries in September, my latest release is an Australian historical saga/romance ebook, BARRATT'S RUN, set in the pastoral country of the lush Western District of Victoria, Australia, where I live. I'm hoping this will become available in print within a year. I've just finished writing a squatter saga about the Penross family dynasty set in the same region which is really book 1 of a planned 6 book series. Plus I have 4 novels planned in the medieval era, a few modern mainstream stories roughly drafted out and heaps more romance novels titled and planned.

I know my fellow pocketeers write all kinds of different genres so this is a great opportunity to hear more about them. Over to you ladies...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Real Characters in a Make-believe World

Following from Cara's blog last week, I was thinking about how we have to put totally believable characters into a make-believe world.

The headlines in the newspapers are usually all doom and gloom, but our little pocket novels are fairy stories where everything turns out right in the end. But not the fairy stories of Grimm or Hans Anderson, which are sometimes really dark, because we have to stay on the light side, even if our protagonists are faced with life-changing traumas. Fairy stories, according to my dictionary, are made-up stories designed to mislead. So how do we make them real?

Our hero must be charismatic, good-looking, and have a few flaws to make him human; the main storyline can be funny or poignant; but our heroine has to grab our hearts from the first moment we meet her. How much of ourselves we put into this creaure depends on the story, but she has to be believable.

Many years ago I read a chapter of a novel I was in the process of completing, to a writing group. My main character had been sexually abused as a child and everyone in the writing circle thought I was describing myself. It was a bit embarrassing because no one would believe I had made it all up and I got sympathetic looks for weeks afterwards, but it proves my character must have been totally believable, and that is all that matters.

Our stories don't have to be factual, we write fiction, but our readers have to believe every word we write. They have to believe there are gorgeous men out there who will fall head-over-heels in love with them, and they have to believe there will always be a happy-ever-after ending. That is what writing a pocket novel is all about.