Stupid Synopsis Part 1

Before we get started, I want to remind you that today is your last chance to enter the Hollow Blog Hop for your chance to win a 30 page critique, a query critique or a synopsis critique. Getting agent feedback before you query is priceless so don't miss this opportunity. Click on the big pumpkin over there. ----->

Now let's talk about the synopsis.

I have to say, that as hateful as these buggers are, they are immeasurably helpful when evaluating a query. A well written query illustrates a writer's ability to plot their story and create a satisfying ending. A synopsis shows you know how to boil down your story to it's core elements.

And if that doesn't sell you on why you need a good one, keep in mind that if you're writing a series, publishers will want to see one for your future books so they can decide if they want to buy more than one. A girl can dream right?

So what is a synopsis? According to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of SYNOPSIS: a condensed statement or outline (as of a narrative or treatise)

Examples of SYNOPSIS: I don't need to know every little plot twist; just give me a synopsis of the movie.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

When writing your synopsis there are a few things to keep in mind:
* Do not start your synopsis with As our story begins, On page one, or At the beginning of the novel. Your novel will need to establish normal before blowing everything up for your main character. All of this normal should be condensed into a single sentence immediately followed by the big hiccup set to change everything.
* Do not name every character in your novel. In fact, you should probably mention less than half of them. The more secondary characters you bring to light the more secondary plot you're including. Bad ideas on both account. Include your main character, a minimum of secondary characters that directly impact the main plot line and the Antagonist.
*  Do not be vague. The line The main character X encounters many set backs on her journey to finding Y may work for back cover copy, but has no place in your synopsis. Clearly identify the main obstacles in the way of the core plot and how your protagonist overcomes them.

* Do give away the end. This feels counter-intuitive, like telling someone the ending of a movie they want to see this weekend. However, this is a key component of the synopsis. Without it, an agent will be left to wonder if you know how to end a book. 

* Do exclude anything not related to the main plot line. This is maybe the hardest rule to follow. You've written a fully fleshed novel with tons of great twists, turns and intricacies. It's natural that you want to let an interested agent know about you brilliance. But don't do this in the synopsis. It's just not possible to fully explain all that's going on in your novel in a 1-2 page synopsis. Any attempt to do so is going to result in a jumbled mess of Huh? Stick to the key conflicts and let your work speak for itself.

Now that you know my "rules" for writing a synopsis, come back on Friday and I'll share my secret tips for how to write your synopsis in five easy steps.

Synopsis Part 2

Agency Lessons

Personal Preference. It's the coffin nail of the querying writer. If you've spent any amount of time in the query trenches you probably received this little gem in your inbox once or twice. It comes from the agent who tells you they enjoyed your story, or that your writing is strong, or any other very nice words that are all followed by "but". As in I liked your story, but...

I used to think the old "your ms just isn't for me" response was nothing more than a fancy no. And for some agents, it is a part of their form rejection. But this week I realized the "not for me" answer isn't always easy.

I read not one, but two submissions that were good. The writing was good and free of errors. The story line was interesting and I was excited to dive in and read. But at the end of the day, neither manuscript won me over. Why?

Sure, there are things I could point to as needing improvement, but someone from another agency might see them as easy fixes in an otherwise good manuscript. In fact, someone else might take a look and fall in love. And at the end of the day, that's what you want your agent to do.

Have you ever read a book, that was just okay, but everyone and their uncle thought it was the best thing since sliced bread? Now imagine it was your job to sell that book to everyone who hadn't read it yet. It's doubtful you'd be very good at it. If it was your book being sold, wouldn't you rather have a fangirl working to get your book into the hands of readers.

It's frustrating getting a query response with positive feedback followed by the enormous 'but'. There's nothing you can point to and fix to make the story better. But at the end of the day, you don't want an agent who only thinks you have a good story. You want your agent to LURVE your book.

When Insults had Class

If you're looking for the Bloghop critique giveaway, you can find it here. Or just click on the pumpkin to your right. 

Here are a few great insults from back in the day to kick of your weekend. Several of them are from or in regard to writers. Now, to find ways to make my characters as witty as these guys.


"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one." -  Winston Churchill, in response.

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." "That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill

 "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."  - Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain
 "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.."     - Oscar Wilde
 "I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."     - Irvin S. Cobb

"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others."     - Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."     - Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."     - Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."  Groucho Marx

Hollow Bloghop Giveaway

The fantastic Minnie at Sunset Reader Reviews is hosting a fun Halloween Bloghop giveaway. Tons of great bloggers are participating so I encourage you to check out their pages at the bottom of this post.

In the spirit of handing out treats, I'm giving away a 30 page critique. Comments will include observations such as characterization, plot/suspense points and continuity along with line edits for sentence structure and word choice. I've also wrangled a few agents from Corvisiero Literary Agency to offer up some Query and Synopsis Critiques!

Winning is as easy as ringing the door bell, holding out your bag and yelling "Trick-or-Treat". Just leave a comment about your favorite Halloween goodie and sign up with the fancy Raffle thingy.

Want to know more about our participating agents? Great! Here they are!

Stacey Donaghy is absolutely thrilled to be part of Marisa’s team at Corvisiero Literary Agency. Stacey is a professional trainer, educator, and public speaker. Her education and background includes social services specializing in gerontology and palliative care. Over the years she developed an interest in human behavior, and subsequently began to research and study criminology/profiling, and has completed trainings in behavioral management. Stacey has also been trained in Principled Negotiation Techniques, and Behaviour Based Interviewing. She has worked for over twenty years with vulnerable individuals and currently Chairs an Investigation process where she oversees all cases of allegations of abuse and violence in the workplace.  She manages an education and training department, with primary responsibilities that include research and curriculum development.

Jamie Drowley is ecstatic to take on a new role as Agent Apprentice with the Corvisiero Literary Agency with an amazing team of professionals.
Dr. Jamie Drowley is an Orthodontist, Air Force veteran, inspirational columnist, military spouse, mother of three, and pet rescuer extraordinaire.
Jamie is building a client list, and is a fan of YA fiction with elements of fantasy, humor, mystery, and action. She loves strong characters with a distinct voice and unique story lines that stay with her long after she is finished reading. In adult fiction, she is interested in romance, paranormal, historical, mystery, and thrillers. MG that makes her laugh and are imaginative with a clear voice.

If you're interested in querying these lovely ladies, check out their submission guidelines here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don't forget to check out the other stops on the hop so you can get your pillowcase full of goodies. :)


Agency Lessons

Let's talk for a minute about queries. I've recently started diving into the query slush pile. And while I love the excitement of hoping each new email holds something really fantastic, most of the time I'm sorely disappointed.

Here's the worst part. I'm not bummed because we aren't getting good stories. I'm bummed because so many of them don't follow directions. I've heard some agents claim that 50% of the queries they get don't follow the submission guidelines posted on the agency website. Honestly, this number feels low to me. I'd put it more around 75%.

At the agency where I'm interning, we actually give writers a do-over. If your submission doesn't follow directions we send you a handy email back detailing exactly what was wrong and invite you to send us a fresh new query. It's like the first one never happened.

However, most agencies don't work that way. If your query doesn't follow the rules, it's an auto-reject, no questions asked. This may sound harsh, but it's really just a survival mechanism. I've experienced first hand how much time it takes to respond to queries that don't include what was asked for. Additionally, some agents may see this inability to follow directions as a sign that an author is either unprofessional or may be hard to work with.

I may be preaching to the choir here, but for the love of all things holy, do yourself a favor and follow the submission guidelines. I promise that it puts you way ahead at the starting gate. If you aren't sure about a specific guideline, ask. Most agents are on Twitter or FB and several have places on their websites where you can ask questions.

For those of you who are in slush pile hell, what method do you use to keep track of submission guidelines for all the agents you are querying?

Stop. Edit Time.


Ah, Editing. The magical time in an author's life when we hammer our manuscript to tiny little pieces and then put it back together again. We may not have all the king's horses and all the king's men to help us (though without hands I'm not sure how much help the horses would be), but there are plenty of other resources.

I have a new workbook I've been using in preparation to start edits on my latest project and I can't say enough good things about it. Enter, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.

Here's what I like about this book. For starters it's a workbook which means each section is followed by several hands on your manuscript tasks to work on. And while it has some space for writing notes and such, it isn't one of those workbooks that's mostly pages of blank lines.

I'm also a fan of the way Maass presents the information. Most of the time his techniques are about getting you to think about your book in new ways. He gives you permission to think crazy about your characters, their problems, the world they live in and the impact of other characters actions. And while he encourages you to use this new material as much as possible, he doesn't follow any hard and fast rules. He observes the use what works and toss the rest approach.

Most editing book that I've read are about polishing your story as it already exists. Maass's focus isn't on accepting what you have and tweaking it into perfection. He wants you to look at what you have and see if you can do better.

I can't wait to incorporate the new ideas I've generated using this workbook. I know that they are going to deepen my characters, add more tension and excitement and in the end, I'll have a much better book.

Have you come across any editing books that have made a difference in your ms. Which ones and why were they so helpful?

Take Charge of the Kryptonite

Yesterday I learned a valuable writing lesson...from Jon Stewart.

Yep I said that right. Stewart interviewed JK Rowling and amidst random discussions about  magic and wonder of monarchy, they started talking about writing and what makes a good character.

You can watch the whole video here: Jon Stewart Interviews JK Rowling, but the crucial part comes at the end when Stewart says "Without Kryptonite, you've got nothing."

Ah, genius!

His underwear is on the outside and we still love him! Source

Superman is awesomesauce. He can do anything! Fly over buildings, race a speeding train, stop a bullet! But even a man who can look sexy wearing tights and a cape would lose much of his charm without a weakness. 

Enter kryptonite. The  glowing green substance that renders the man of super to a powerless puddle of mush.

I think most writers understand that readers are not going to accept a practically-perfect-in-every-way character unless you're Mary Poppins.

However, a lot of writers fail to utilize their characters flaws to the maximum extent. If Superman knew where all the kryptonite was stored and only had to avoid those warehouses in order to beat the bad guy, the story would be boring. But if the bad guy forces him to go through a gauntlet of the green stuff to save his precious Lois. we got ourselves a story.

Once you've given your character a flaw, force them to overcome it in order to "win". Is your character forcefully independent and driving everyone away? Make him team up with an unlikely partner in order to solve the mystery. Is your protagonist self-centered? Force her into a situation where she has to make a sacrifice for others in order to beat the antagonist.

Flaws make our characters more realistic and help our readers relate to them, but don't write 'em up and put 'em on a shelf. Make those flaws work a double shift and add some extra tension to your novel. 
 Take charge of the kryptonite!

Agency Lessons

Today is the first of what I hope will be many posts containing all the magical treasures I'm learning during my internship. In honor of this post (and because procrastination is fun) I even made a fancy picture to go with it. Yeah!

Today's lesson is all about deciphering publication notices. These are put out by Publishers Marketplace and, I was surprised to learn, are self-reported by the agencies. I guess I always imagined some fancy database that tracks all the sales, and sub-rights and agent happenings and then spits all the information out in organized little tidbits. Lesson number one: there is no fancy database. Book sales are reported on a fairly non-complex little web form. If I had to guess, most of this is done by minions such as yours truly.

I have seen these little tidbits show up on author's blogs, FB postings and Twitter quite a bit and always wondered what they mean by "nice deal". I imagine I'm not alone. Lesson number two: nice deal is code for how much of an advance the author got. Oh, it's like overhearing gossip in another language. You don't know what it means, but you think it's juicy. :)

Lesson number three: Here's the code.

                $1-$49K                Nice Deal
                $50-$99K              Very Nice Deal
                $100-$250K         Good Deal
                $251-$499K         Significant Deal
                $500K +               Major Deal

You should know that I feel like I'm breaking at least ten rules by posting this, but the truth is that anyone with a Publisher's Marketplace subscription already has this information. This may not even be news to most of you. I could be the last one to know any of this!

I've heard tons of people ask "what is a typical advance?". If the chart above tells us anything, it's that there is no such thing as a typical advance. But because everyone's curious, I looked up a few folks with pretty big books to see what kind of ca-ching they were able to rack up.

Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (as in all three books) sold as a Major Deal. 

Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy (again all three books) sold as a Significant Deal

Marissa Meyer's Cinder (which sold as a four book deal) went for auction as a Major Deal in the high six figures.

So you start looking at this and you think wowsa, everybody's a winner! But I know that's not the case. To take a look at the other side of things, I went back and looked at the announcements for some new YA books that are releasing this week. Here's what I found.

Crickets, chirping softly in the silence.

Most of the debuts didn't have PM announcement (remember lesson number one) and for the few that did, there was no designation for how much the book sold for. In agency speak, this means it wasn't very much.

 All of this leads us to Lesson Number Four: There is no normal in publishing. One author gets a six-figure check and a world tour to promote all the foreign rights and another author gets a slap on the back and an atta-boy. The only thing all these books have in common is that the authors worked their tail ends off to write something that agents and editors think people will want to read.

Stop worrying about what's "normal" and what's happening for "everyone else" cause it's not happening for everyone and the only way to make it happen for you is a big dose of hard work.

The Next Big Thing - Week 16

This one has been making the rounds for a while (16 weeks to be exact), but I love that everyone has been sharing their current project. It's so fun to hear what other people are working on. Everyone's so creative. I've been tagged by Adrianne Russell who may or may not have referred to me as a "Fleet-fingered fast drafter of fantasy worlds". I have to figure out a way to work that into a query letter.

But before we put the cart before the horse, let's talk about my Next Big Thing!

What is the working title of your book? RITE OF REJECTION. It works for now, but I am horrible at naming all things including book titles and characters. I like to think I did okay with my kids' name, but I had help. :)

Where did the idea come from for the book? I wish I knew. I need to start writing this stuff down. I have no idea how I come up with any of my ideas. However, most of them come to me in the shower because that's where my muse lives. Now if I could just teach her how to use a sponge and some Clorox I'd be golden.

What genre does your book fall under? YA Dystopian, though I'm told Dystopia is dead so I'm open to any creative rephrasing ala the ChickLit change to Women's Fiction. Genius!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? This one makes me laugh, because we don't watch television and I only get to the movies about once a year. I have no idea what teen actors are out there right now. But if I had to pick someone to play my MC, Rebecca, I'd pick Kirsten Prout because of how innocent she can look. Of course, she's too old now.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? When a corrupt government labels a teen good girl as a threat to society, she has to let go of who she was before she becomes no one. 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I will query this one with agents. I'm shooting for the beginning of the year. I still have lots of editing to do.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I started this story in June for CampNanoWrimo, but after 30K words it stalled and I ended up scrapping it. When I restarted after getting some kinks ironed out it took me just over a month to finish the first draft.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I'm not sure about this one. I've tried to find other books that are similar, but nothing really matches up. I like to think of it as the YA book version of Minority Report.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? Most of what I write is fantasy based with some kind of magic system. I wanted to try my hand at something completed grounded in reality with no magic or mythical creatures.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Teens in prison, dumpster diving, dancing in the rain, hot guys (yes that's plural), a multicultural cast, silk gloves and dance cards mixed with biometric machines and Airbusses. 

All an agent does is...


I've been an intern now for a whole week and...I'm exhausted.

Don't take that the wrong way, because I'm loving every minute of it. But there is so much to do. And I haven't even started looking at the queries yet. :)

In my head I knew that agents are busy people and I understood why on the surface, but I didn't really get it.

There are tons of queries to read, and I mean tons. And that takes time because even a minute on each one can suck up your hours before you realize it. And then there are the manuscripts. Granted, if it isn't working, the agent can always stop after a few pages and move on, but what if it takes more time to know.

Then there's editing and submission packets and contracts and all that.

But there's a whole other level that I hadn't even thought of. Like the time agents use to be a part of contests. As writers we love this stuff, but it's seriously a big time commitment for agents. And then there is PR, which is where my focus is right now.

Updating all those fabulous sites we all use to find and organize agents for our query lists takes time, responding to questions takes time, maintaining a presence on Twitter, and FB and a blog takes time. And you could say that those things aren't crucial. After all, people are always going to find the agents and send them queries. But if you're going for quality, this isn't something you can skimp on.

I've learned so much in such a short period of time, I can't wait to see what more is in store in the future. And as promised, you will always have a front row seat to the show.

Doors, Windows, and all that Jazz

It's been 9 months since I packed up shop and moved my family halfway across the US to the middle of nowhere Texas. Honestly, Best Decision Ever!

At the time I didn't think that was the case. In order to move here, I had to give up a job I loved working in Marketing for a really fantastic children's hospital. And while I was excited about the idea of staying home with my girls (jobs in West TX being scarce) I knew I would miss the challenges of my work and the great relationships with my co-workers.

I found solace in my writing. In January I finally finished my first novel after working on it for 15 months. Apparently, that's all it took to light the fire under my behind. My writing was always something I did quietly for thirty minutes before bed. A way to relax my mind and unwind from the day.

But once I finished, I knew I needed more. And I got it. Since January I have:

1. Joined several critique groups (online and in-person)
2. Fallen in love with the online writing community
3. Became a group moderator on YALITCHAT
4. Polished my novel
5. Queried my novel
6. Written 2 more first drafts
7. Wrote a piece for inclusion in an Anthology
8. Started freelance editing

And as of the start of this week, I am the new Intern/PR Specialist at Corvisiero Literary Agency!

I am so excited about all of these wonderful experiences and can't wait to see what the future holds for me.

Back in January I was nervous and scared and it would have been easy to fall into victim mode. I'm so glad I took advantage of my circumstances to turn something I've always loved (reading and writing) into a whole host of new opportunities.

None of this would have been possible if we hadn't moved. If I was still back at the job I loved, I'd probably still be working on that first novel with absolutely no intention of ever trying to get anything published or be more involved in the literary world.

They say when God closes a door he opens a window. It's a cliche, but it's so frequently cited because it can be so true. Of course, in my case, I feel like He closed a door and opened the flood gates.

So what about you? Have you ever used a negative situation to find something even better for yourself? Are there things you're holding on to that you need to let go of in order to move your career forward. I'd love to hear your stories.

My First Book Festival

This weekend I made the long (4 hour) drive down to Austin to attend the Austin Teen Book Festival. It was a convention center full of teens, adult YA readers, YA authors, and tons of books. Yeah, I know, awe-some!

Me loves all the books Source 

Libba Bray gave the opening remarks. That lady is hilarious. She kept everyone laughing while making sure to teach us something (well, several things) valuable about reading and writing.

After that it was time for some great author panels. I got to hear from more amazing authors like Ally Condie, Dan Krokos, Lex Thomas (which is actually two people), Marissa Meyer and Ally Carter. We heard about their writing process, how they generate ideas, and the often wondered how do you ditch the parents in a YA novel.

I also had the chance to meet some folks in person who I've only ever talked to on Twitter. That's always a bit of a surreal experience, but fun all the same.

My favorite part of the day was hearing questions from teen writers in the audience. Kids who gave up their whole Saturday to talk about books is awesomesauce. They wanted to know everything from how do you keep secondary characters interesting to where can I learn how to write a query. Seriously! I didn't even know what a query was until a few years ago. These kids young people are on the ball, motivated, and going places.

It was a super long day but well worth the experience. Sign me up for a day filled with people who geek out about books as much as I do any day. I can't wait for next year.

Now it's your turn. Do you attend book festivals and what's your favorite part?