Writing Tips – How To Write A Synopsis

As an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher, I read many (many, many) submissions from authors hoping to be traditionally published. Usually, submission packages include a synopsis (a synopsis is required for this particular publisher and are usually required for most publishers). Unfortunately, I continue to be surprised by the number of writers who either don’t submit a synopsis (which makes it difficult to judge the quality of the story and results in an automatic rejection) or they submit something that is not a synopsis at all (same result).  Hence, this post.

Writing a synopsis is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. Depending upon the publisher’s length requirement (generally, length ranges from three to ten pages), and the complicated nature of your story, you will have to revise and rewrite your synopsis several times to make sure that the action is clear and consistent and that the story makes sense. But what story elements do you put in your synopsis and what do you leave out?  That depends upon you, the writer, and the nature of your novel. As you begin to write and revise your synopsis, it will become more clear.

So what is a synopsis? A synopsis is a thumbnail overview of your story that tells the reader what happens to your characters, from the first word to the last word. The purpose of the synopsis is to show that your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts make sense. Most importantly, the synopsis will show if you have any plot or logic problems. If the events won’t make sense you clearly have a problem. Often it is the synopsis that determines if your story will be read by an agent, editor, or publisher (if you are going the traditional publishing route). If you plan to independently publish take the time to write a synopsis.  You will learn to see areas of your novel that need improvement and revision which will help you to publish the best product possible. In the long run it’s worth the effort.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to write a synopsis, but generally it is written in present tense (Johnny Character runs into an abandoned building, escapes the bad guys, but is captured by Alien invaders), uses active voice (Johnny shoots the Alien invaders), not passive voice (The Alien invaders were shot by Johnny). Your synopsis shows the external story conflict (Johnny wants to live another day but he may be eaten by the Alien invaders) and how the internal conflict affects your main character (Johnny is distraught because the Alien invaders eat people and he thinks he is on the menu). Most importantly the synopsis shows how each conflict element is resolved (Johnny escapes down a garbage shoot, blows up the spaceship, and saves the world). A synopsis is clear. A synopsis is concise. A synopsis shows the ending. No exceptions.

A synopsis includes the inciting incident (that which gets your character moving), the conflict (that which keeps your character from achieving the main goal), the climax (the live or die moment), and the resolution (that shows your character’s success or failure). The trick is weaving all of these elements into a logical few paragraphs. If you can’t figure out how an element of your story works in your synopsis, then your story needs revision and is not ready for publication. It’s a harsh reality.

Writing a synopsis is not easy and it is something that is dreaded by many writers. It can be arduous. It can be tedious. But I recommend that you do the work to write it. As you work through your synopsis, you will see story problems that need resolution and you will be prompted to fix them. This will make you a better writer and you will publish a better product. Your readers will be happier with you and more apt to purchase your next book. It’s a win-win for everyone. So do it. Write a synopsis.

Writing Tips – How to Write a Promotional Plan

As a newly published author, you want your book to sell. In the current publishing economy your publisher is not able to dedicate extensive funds (if any) to your book promotion, and/or if you are independently published you won’t have any help or guidance. You need your book to sell either way.  To increase sales it is very important that you, the author, do you best to promote you book so that people will buy it.

I have put together some things to think about to help you create a basic promotional plan that you can use to promote your book:

  1. Who is your target audience? Who are your readers? Spend some time thinking about this. This will help you focus on who you want to read your book. This will help  you focus on who you need to contact. Who do expect to read your book? Why would they read it? Write a few paragraphs about your readers. Think about developing a relationship with your readers and how to best do that.

  2. What are your goals toward marketing your book. Be specific. What do you want to accomplish? Think big. Think bold. Think out of the box. Write a few paragraphs on this. If you just write, “I will sell a million copies,” you are missing out on a huge piece of the process.

  3. How you are going to reach your goal? Be specific. This will probably be a flexible document that you will edit and change as ideas come to you and you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Not everything works for every body. Map out your action steps. You may need to set up a calendar so that you can see what you need to do each day. Make marketing a daily task. Here are some suggestions:

  • You have spent significant time building a platform for yourself and you have significant followers who are interested in what you have to say. You have signed up for Pinterist, Google+,  Facebook, Twitter, etc. and you are going to spend 15 minutes every day with social media. You have this blocked out on your calendar.
  • You have joined several book communities on Goodreads, Booktalk, Scribed, etc…and you are going to post weekly, or daily, or monthly, or whatever works for you.
  • You joined HARO to make a name for yourself as an expert. You may not get contacted often or ever, but it is a simple step you can take to help get your name out there.
  • You have created your own (not free) author website. Free is good, but not the best. Spend $5 a month on your own site. You and your book are worth it. 
  • You created and actively participate in your blog once or twice a week. This should be your own blog. Pick topics that you know about and can comment on regularly. 500 words. You can do it. Add this task to your marketing calendar.
  • You will do an author blog tour and will blog at x number of sites in a specific time frame. This will take some planning and some time to set up. You will have to contact other bloggers to get on their publishing schedule. It is recommended that you start promoting your book three months before your release date to build up interest, and continue for three to six months after release to continue interest. Use your marketing calendar to map this out.
  • You have perfected an elevator pitch for your novel so you can quickly promote your book when you meet new people. This will take some time to work out. Distill you book into three sentences. Practice on your friends. Eventually, the nervousness will cease and it will become second nature. Practice. Practice some more. Add practice time to your calendar. 
  • You will purchase bookmarks, or postcards, or some other goodies that you can hand out to people as you talk to them. You want them to remember you. Don’t be overbearing. Give them your 30 second elevator speech and hand them a goodie. If they are interested they will ask you questions.  If not, move on. 
  • You will contact local booksellers and set up author signings. This is a very difficult task. You may or may not be successful, but make the effort. Schedule yourself to contact at least one bookseller per week. Start developing relationships with all your local booksellers now. Google independent booksellers for your area. Call them. Introduce yourself. Set up a a meeting. Buy books at their stores. Get to know them BEFORE you want to use them for marketing. 
  • Part of the author signing will probably entail readings…Yes, in public. Practice reading passages from your novel. Record yourself so you can hear what you sound like. Practice in front of your friends. Read to them in coffee shops.  Schedule practice time on your calendar. If you are deathly afraid of public speaking join Toastmasters. Get over yourself.
  • You will teach workshops at writers’ conferences to help get your name out there. This is another difficult task. This means that you will have to put together a workshop that you can teach. And after all the time and effort, you might not find a place to teach. Do it anyway. If you can specialize in a few topics, create a few workshops to have on hand. You never know when a writers’ group may need a last minute speaker. List your available workshop on your website. 
  • You will contact media outlets and schedule x number of interviews in a specific time frame. Again, you may not get responses, but you need to put yourself out there. Add this to your marketing calendar.
  • You will write a press release and send out to x number of media outlets. If you have never written a press release, go to the public library and pick up a book or two. Then schedule a time on your calendar when you will FAX or email a specific number of media outlets. Even one contact a week is better than none. Get yourself out there. 
  • You will hire someone to create a video book trailer which will be available at x number of sites (list them). Book trailers can be successful. I have seen some good ones. I have seen some horrible ones. Do you homework. Maybe you will need to do some research to find the right person to help you. Schedule research time on your calendar, interview them and ask to see some of their work. 
  • You will hire a publicist for three months. This is an option and it may be something you want to consider.  They can do some of the things that you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. But there are good and bad publicists. Do your homework. If you decide that you need a publicist schedule research time on your calendar. Interview them and ask for references. 

Marketing possibilities are endless. Some things work for some people but not for others and you may find that there will be some trial and error. Don’t get discouraged. You and your book are worth the effort. You will be uncomfortable doing some of these things. Push yourself and do them anyway. You want people to read your book so you have to get yourself and your book out there. You can do it. People need to see your book. If they see it they might buy it. If they buy it they might read it. It they read it they may like it. If they like it they will tell their friends. Only 999,999 more sales to go!