Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How To Write A (Dreaded) Synopsis

Most writers wholly agree that writing a synopsis is the worst thing ever. While we all want to avoid this particular summary of our work, I hate to tell you that they come up a lot. 

I've published 7 novels now, and 2 of those were first submitted as a synopsis (Blindsided and My Little Brony). For my ninja sequel, my editor asked me to write synopses of ALL the ninja series so she had a reference to keep in mind as she worked through edits. Just this last week I wrote another one for a potential writing gig I want. Whether the synopsis is for a sequel or a work-for-hire or just reference, they are an important thing to know how to do. They can be the difference between selling your whole series or just one book. They can get you a job as a packaged book writer. 

So, how do you write these synopses things? Well, first you need to know what a synopsis must and must not do. Then the rest is up to interpretation.

1. Your synopsis needs to demonstrate that you know how to plot a novel. 
This is really the major thing an agent or editor is looking for when they request a synopsis. If you don't have a strong enough understanding of plotting—it will show in your synopsis. You will choose the wrong things to focus on or the plot points will be clearly weak. 

If you feel like you can't write a synopsis, my number one tip is to learn more about plotting. Read Save The Cat. Check out Dan Wells's 7-point Plot Structure. Brush up on the 3 Act Play set up. Dissect your own plot and the plots of other novels/movies/television. A synopsis will reveal all the holes in your story's plot, so use that as a tool to gauge your novel's strengths and weaknesses.

2. Your synopsis must not be boring.
This is more difficult than the average person realizes. You must reduce your novel to the bare bones, and then make those bones sound super interesting. How do you pull that off? 

Focus on the stakes, emotions, and complications for your main character that push them through the plot.

Don't strip your synopsis of voice.

Avoid clich├ęs.

Use active verbs to push action forward. 

3. Your synopsis must be focused.
Your novel will likely have way more characters and subplots and settings than you can put in the synopsis. This is okay. It is not a novel, it's a focused look at your plot structure. If you don't need to mention a character's name, don't. If you can skip a description, do. Look at your novel as a whole and pick out the most essential pieces. These will likely be your main character and their motivations, the plot twists and turns, and your villain and their motivations. 

4. Your synopsis cannot be too long.
While this is a longer version of a query in a way, your synopsis should not be 12 pages long. At least not one that you expect anyone to read with interest. around 1000-1500 words is about as much as you can get away with before it just starts to feel like too much. 


And that's the basics! I know this doesn't look like a lot, but these are the most important things when it comes to a synopsis. They certainly don't have to be perfect—they are mostly requested when an agent or editor wants to see if the book progresses like a well-plotted novel before taking a closer look. If you are struggling, please feel free to ask me more specific questions in comments.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Quiet Life

It's amazing how much can change in five or six years. When I was 25, I wanted to be famous, essentially. I wanted to be a bestselling author that everyone knew and complimented and thought was amazing in every way. This would make my life meaningful, somehow. Then I would feel like a valid human being. Or whatever.

Now I'm 31, and not only do I know that being famous (though I'm not exactly famous) sucks, but that none of that stuff fills that hole like I hoped it would. Having people talk about you and your book…it doesn't make you feel better or more important. Sometimes it even feels just plain weird that anyone would pay attention to what you're doing. But maybe that's just me.

This past 6 or 7 months has been a big struggle for me. I think it's been clear from my posts and my general lack of social media presence. I've just been, well, depressed. I've wanted to quit. I've questioned every choice I've made as an author ever. In a lot of ways, I've stepped back. And oddly enough I feel like I haven't even stepped back enough, what with all the conferences I committed to attend this winter and spring. But my conference blitz is finally over. And I'm back to just me and my own words.

You know what? I'm actually happy to be there. Just me and my stories.

All this publishing stuff—the marketing and cons and selling and interviews and on and on—I thought that was what I wanted for so long. What I'm finding now is that, as authors constantly say, it really always comes back to the writing. When I take away all the stresses of the business side, I still do love to write and edit my own stories. That part…that's something I can never get away from and it's something I personally need to focus on if I want to stay sane.

I suspect I may not be the only author this applies to. No matter you are on the journey—aspiring writer, debut, on your 3rd published novel or 20th or 50th—focusing on the writing seems to always be the answer. At least it's what I continually come back to: a quiet life filled with my own worlds where I can escape and have fun and explore my own views on life. That's the best part of all this. It's the part we can all have if we sit down at the writing desk with gratitude for the work we do and what it gives us.

As I move into a quieter time in writing for me, I find I'm actually looking forward to the "reset," so to speak. No deadlines. No contracts. No events or publicity or whatever. It's like I'm a brand new author again, and for once I really want to be that. I want writing to be magical again. I want editing to be satisfying and educational. I want to be proud of my work regardless of what other people think, much like I was when I was an aspiring author. And I hope by wanting it, I can make it happen.

Here's to the quiet author life. If you're there right now, savor it, because the busy times are exhausting and you'll find yourself wanting the slower pace in the future.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WIFYR Novel Intensive!

New author photos! I'm getting my
use out of them lately:)
I've mentioned this before, but this summer I'll be teaching a week long class about novel writing and Writing & Illustrating For Young Readers. It's a fantastic conference, and well worth the price if you are looking for a lot of personal one-on-one instruction from a professional writer.

Here is my class's description, should you be interested:

Great fiction is all about the lens you bring to a story and how you choose to crop and manipulate what’s on the page. Utilizing my art background, I will teach my students how to compose a novel on every level, from creating a solid world to painting vivid characters to choosing the details that will give your story nuance and flair. Each student will submit 30 pages of their finished novel for critique by the class, and through detailed critique of your work I plan to give you every tool you need to make your novel a masterpiece.

And after I’ve taught about crafting your book, I will give you all the knowledge I have about how to sell your art. It’s a difficult business, both emotionally and financially, and as a hybrid author I can give you an honest look at the many paths now in publishing. Never have artists had so many choices, and I’d love to help you decide what direction is right for you.

If you'd like more info about the conference, check out www.wifyr.com.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Writing, Publishing, & Solitaire

I've been playing a lot of Solitaire lately. Which probably sounds a little weird, but with my Mac devices not having the program it just hadn't occurred to me to get the app or whatever. But my mom recently visited and I saw it on her phone and was like "Oh, I should download that."

Like most people, I used to play Solitaire back on my family's old Dell when I was a kid. It came with the computer and was one of the few games we had, so it got played by all of us at one point or another.  There was something addicting about it, like Tetris.

We all know the game—basically you're organizing cards over and over in the hopes that you can organize the whole deck. You alternate between black and red. You play it all on your own. It is at once boring and somehow entertaining and also a bit challenging.

Because, even though it's a game for one, you can lose.

Who are you even losing to? Yourself? Fate? Chance?

Funnily enough, as I've been playing I've realized that Solitaire is a lot like writing and publishing.

Though it doesn't feel like it sometimes, being an author is really a game you're playing all on your own. Just like Solitaire. Sure, other people are playing the game, too, but they aren't playing your game of Solitaire. They've been dealt a different order of the same cards, which may or may not end in a win for them. And you've been dealt your own cards—it's up to you to follow the rules and see if you can organize them just right.

Writing and Publishing have rules, too, vague ones, at least. But how you get to that end goal is different for everyone…and sometimes a certain deck just isn't going to get you a win no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you just have to shuffle the cards and start over. Hope you get lucky this next time. Maybe all the cards will line up just right next round, or it'll be challenging but ultimately you'll work them into the right order and win.

Most people have accepted this fact in Solitaire. When I hit that point where I know I can't win—the freaking ace of hearts is buried under cards I can't move—I accept defeat and start over without much thought. It's just how the game is. I can't change it.

Well, writing and publishing are the same. Sometimes no matter what you do, a story isn't going to work and you have to shuffle the deck and start over. Sometimes, you get really, really close to publishing a novel but then that one card is buried and you can't move it. And it doesn't feel fair but that's the game and you have to start over whether you got blocked on card twenty or card fifty. Except it hurts a lot more when we are playing Writing Solitaire, and reshuffling that deck can discourage us. It feels, after we've tried and failed many times to get our publishing cards to line up just right, that it might never happen.

But anyone who has played Solitaire knows that eventually your luck will change. Just like you lose against the chances in the deck, sometimes you can win, too. And it's those wins that keep you playing, that keep you thinking, "Okay, just one more game."

You just need the courage and determination to keep shuffling the deck.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When It Feels Like Everyone Is Getting What You Want

It surprises me that people still find my post from 2010 when I talked about being on sub for the first time and how crushing it was to fail. When I wrote that, all I wanted to do was get everything off my chest that I had to keep secret for those long 15 months. I had no idea it would not only go "viral" in the writing community that day, but still have a lasting impact on people. I actually got a sweet email from a writer on sub just today that is triggering this post, because I had so much to say I figured I should say it on the blog instead.

So, to that aspiring author and all the rest, I'm grateful that I could provide any comfort. It's hard. I haven't forgotten how hard it is because it's still hard for me.

When it comes to being on sub, I wish I could provide some kind of positive quip about how if you never give up it'll happen! But, well, I'm more realistic than that. And I know it's not true. I have only sold my original work ONCE in America. In 2011. Yes, I'm published, traditionally and indie, and I'm still on sub and failing on sub consistently. 

Truth be told, I tried to sell four different books to my own US editor and they all got turned down. Then I went wide with FISH OUT OF WATER, and while it sold in the UK it was on sub in the US for a year and a half. Longer than my first failed sub. And it did not sell. I've been on sub with another project for…7 months? I'm losing track. Hardly a word from anyone. And of course all rejections. So sub pretty much always sucks, unless you are one of the few who makes it big and can sell almost anything. (But even they can't sell everything, I have bestselling friends and know this to be true.)

In the email I got this morning, this heartbroken writer talked about how hard it is to see other people selling in the blink of an eye. How they felt like there was something wrong with them because it hasn't been that way for them. Oh, how this tugged at my heart, because I know those feelings. I've bathed in those feelings for years, feeling insufficient and sometimes an utter failure even now.

I remember watching the success stories when I was on sub for those 15 months, how difficult it was, how conflicting. I was at once happy for those authors and hopeful that I, too, could sell—but at the same time viciously jealous and frustrated that I couldn't sell and had no way to make it happen.

Because it feels like you should be able to make it happen. If you're brilliant enough, if your book is perfect enough, or whatever…and yet really none of that matters when you get to sub. All that matters is the whim of a publisher and a lot of luck. Both are things you have absolute zero power over. And you feel helpless and annoyed that all your work, your whole life basically, every hope and dream, are resting on something as shifting and unstable as the book market. It's enough to drive anyone insane.

Beth Revis. That was the story that killed me when I was on sub, actually. Which is hilarious if you know her full story, but we all have those authors we attach our icky feelings to when we're on sub. Jodi Meadows was also on my list to some extent. (I'm mentioning these people because I know they'll understand and won't be mad at me—I think all published authors get these feelings more than aspiring authors think.) They both got agents around the same time as me. Both sold pretty fast. They seemed like such big deals to me, and on top of that their books were agented and published within the time I was just on sub. All that time I spent waiting…that was all the time it took for them to get what I wanted. And it was hard for me to watch, even though rationally I knew I was being stupid and ridiculous and just plain jealous.

Why am I going over all this? Well, I guess to tell you that in someways is does get better.

Not in a "you will become a rich and famous published author" way, but more of a "it won't hurt so much after awhile" way. The first time I was on sub, I thought about it a lot. I waited and imagined and hoped. The second time—the time I sold—it was really hard but I knew what to expect and I was prepared to distract myself. It worked a little better. Each time…it's gotten a little easier to accept the unknown, to accept the possibility of failure, to be more at peace. This sub? Sometimes I forget it's even happening. I'm not over here crying at the prospect of it not happening like I used to do. It sucks, but it's not anything I haven't been through before. And I'm still alive. Sub hasn't killed me yet despite its best efforts.

I've filled my life with other things. After my first failure on sub, I realized how out of whack my life was, how solely focused on writing I was. I started stepping back, putting other things at a higher priority than my writing dreams. I realized it wasn't the end of my world if it never happened. I still wanted it, but in a lot of ways I made like Elsa and let it go. I didn't have to stop enjoying writing just because I couldn't publish.

It hasn't been a walk in the park. I think that's evidence by all my recent blog posts in which I've vaguely referred to my trying to decide if I really want to keep trying when it seems so futile. But looking back at 2010…that was my rock bottom in a lot of ways. And I'm not that far gone currently and I'm glad for that.

So when you feel like everyone else is getting everything YOU have wanted forever, I know it hurts but don't forget those feelings don't have to rule your life. I won't tell you not to feel that way, because we all go there now and then, but pay attention to how often you go there. If it's more often than not, try to look deep and figure out why. For me, it was a feeling that "all the spots were getting taken." Sometimes it felt like if I didn't sell NOW, that publishing wouldn't be around long enough for my writing to become a book. Which was silly. Publishing is tumultuous, but it's not going anywhere.

And, who knows? It could happen. You could eventually sell a book, or a few. And then suddenly you've only been published for 2 years but you have 7 books out in the world. Maybe I'm not a huge bestseller, but that's what happened to me.

If someone told me in 2010 that I'd have 7 books published by 2015, I'd have laughed in their face and maybe called them insulting things for being such a sunny positive person raining sunbeams on my negative parade.

You just never know. That's the hardest thing. We can't see the future, and we hate waiting. But we have to wait. For who knows how long. I'm sorry for that. Truly. It sucks.

But at the same time, you don't just have to sit on your hands and watch your email until it happens. You can do other things. You can keep growing as a person (which I've found has made me a better writer). I've found solace in exercise (yoga, running, biking), in my family, in cooking, in drawing and playing video games and gardening and Kdrama and anime and traveling and hanging out with good friends. I've filled my life with all sorts of things I enjoy that have become just as important to me as writing, and some more so. You might be waiting for one thing, but you don't have to pause the rest of your life or withhold your own happiness until that one thing happens that you think will make everything better.

Spoiler: It doesn't make it better. It won't fill that hole you're carving out in your heart as you want and want and want. Publishing is great, but it comes with its own bucket of crap.

So, if you can, find the joy now. Find ways to laugh and accept and relax. It might be hard, but try anyway (just like with writing!). You'll need those skills in the future, if and when you do publish. Hang in there.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Checking Out For A While.

All that spring cleaning I've mentioned in the previous post? Yeah, it's getting done and it's wonderful but hard. I feel like I've been learning a lot about what I do and don't want in my life in the last couple weeks, and I'm seeing more and more that social media is something I really *don't* want around on a large scale.

I have to admit to myself that it's not fun for me anymore. It's not helpful in my career like it used to be. It stresses me out when I get online and see all the STUFF. Just so much stuff. Clutter. I can't handle clutter right now.

I'm not the writer I used to be. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about writing and publishing and a big part of me is considering ending my pursuit of it all. I'm in a really negative place about it all. I have been trying not to feel like that, but it's not stopping. Every time I think about anything writing…I just don't want to deal with it. I get anxious and I feel the panic attacks coming on.

I don't know what it all means. I don't want to go into all the details of my ugly feelings in public. All I know is I need to step back in a big way.

So that's what I'm doing. In all aspects of my writing life. I have no contracts, which means it's a good time for me to take a break and see if I really want to keep doing this. I will of course keep my current event schedule, but that's about it.

See you when I see you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring Cleaning

After I turned in my secret book at the beginning of March, I lay on the ground in this daze of mental exhaustion. Last year…guys, last year. My goal for 2015 was to slow down, and I started off the year writing a book in two months under contract. It was an unexpected opportunity, one I was happy for but knew would kill me. And it did.

I've been saying a lot that after that book, I would quit writing. Lots of people thought I was joking, but I wasn't entirely kidding. I put out four book last year. I've already put out one this year. A break? I really, desperately need one of those. Not because I don't want to write anymore per se, but because my creative wells are depleted entirely.

I need a lot of time to fill up again.

That's the thing about writing, about creative professions. There will be writers who claim that it's a job and thus you must approach writing practically, but there is a creative, muse-like aspect that I think is unhealthy to ignore. If you take it out completely, writing becomes lifeless, flat, lacking that spark that makes someone connect with your work.

So it's time for me to not write, to absorb all things that inspire me and remind me that I love to tell stories. It's time for me to clean out my house and explore and think. Doing those mundane things…it's incredible how much they make you ponder life. And it's nice to have a clean space.

Clean spaces are like starting over.

Well, at least for a clutter bug like me. When I do Spring Cleaning—it's like a huge ordeal. I go into this heartless, purging mode where I just start throwing away all sorts of things. I guess that comes from living in a small space. If I'm not using it enough, it has to go. And then there's room for new things.

I'm really looking forward to new things and clean spaces and more time to do fun things that aren't work. I'm looking forward to a new story cropping up in my imagination, something that gets me excited about writing again. Now that I'm cleaning out all the cobwebs, I know something will come up.

I used to be scared that there'd be nothing there after Spring Cleaning, but now I know it's the opposite. Somehow, there always ends up being more. And that's exciting.