Friday, June 30, 2006

Synopsis - Your toe in the door to being published.

Honestly can’t believe you rotten lot picked this one for me to do first…. Because let me tell you, I hate these nearly as much as the rest of the world does…

The synopsis aka the sucknopsis aka the synop-iss, is a very important tool when selling a book to an Editor. The partial that Harlequin Mills & Boon take (which is a rarity with Publishers) – will give them a sense of your writing style, your flow, your voice (the most important part in my humble opinion) – but the synopsis is what tells them where the rest of the book is headed…
Does it really matter about the synopsis if your partial is amazing? Well, yes, it does. Harlequin receives upwards of 20,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year at their offices throughout the world. That’s just the stuff that isn’t from authors already on their books. So when you send yours in, you need to make sure you’ll catch their attention…

How do you do this?

BY BEING PROFESSIONAL…

Do your research! Make sure the story you’re pitching is for the right line. There have been changes-a-plenty at the company in this last twelve to eighteen months and you need to stay on top of what those changes mean. So that you can use that in your synopsis to show that you fit into what they’re looking for RIGHT NOW.

My advice would be to read the latest authors bought for the line, maybe from 2000 onwards. (If you check my Links page you’ll see I’ve even started a list of them for you – Go me!) If you pick up their first books then you’ll see what got them pulled from the slush pile. If you pick up their latest then you can see how they’re keying into the selling points of the line having got the added professional input of the one thing they didn’t have before: An Editor. Read the first AND the latest… and you will see how their writing has grown. Mind you, of course I’m going to tell you that for sheer reading enjoyment you could pick up anything from the line ;) But this is for RESEARCH.

Remember this is popular fiction we’re talking about here. Which means it changes with the times. So reading a book from ten or twenty or thirty years ago, although no less of a great read, won’t tell you where the line you’re aiming for is headed now and for the next few years. You’re selling your work! So be a salesman. Look at the line. Make sure your story fits. Then sell that fact in your synopsis…

Chances are that our over-worked lovely Editor tries to get through a certain amount of subs per week. Their time is precious. So they’ll want something that doesn’t waste their time. A glance over a two page synopsis will tell them if the story will fit the line it’s aimed at. If there are major problems that will make the story difficult to sell. They may still read your partial, or at the very very least a few pages of it. But if you had the job of reading all those extra manuscripts and you already saw a problem in the synopsis and the first few pages of the partial didn’t over-come that initial doubt, then what are you going to do???

Remember you may have slogged for months, years, half a decade over this baby. But you’ve only got a few minutes to get an Editor interested in it. Not fair? My friends, welcome to world of publishing…

So: Read the guidelines… Go read through what the publisher has already told us about the lines at either the Harlequin or the Mills & Boon sites and jot down what you think are the key elements… Then read the back blurb of one of the books you’ve read and see how the Publisher sold them… Does your book sound like it fits???

Let’s take my June 2006 Harlequin release, The Wedding Surprise, as an example. ‘Cos I just happen to have it here…

Desperate to save her father’s business, Caitlin Rourke enters a reality TV contest with one thing on her mind – The prize money! To win she has to convince her family and friends that she’s marrying a stranger

As she gets to know her gorgeous fake fiance, Aiden Flynn, she gets increasingly torn between helping her family and keeping her feelings for Aiden a secret. But as their wedding day looms, and the camera’s roll there’s another surprise in store for Caitlin…

This is basically a very shortened version of your synopsis. It tells us, in the space of two paragraphs, the names of our hero and heroine, the motivation behind them being together, the basic conflicts they have to overcome, and it leaves the reader with a hook to encourage them to read the story… Which is what you want an Editor to do by the end of your synopsis, right?

But is it some ground shaking brand new plot that has never been seen before? I WISH. What makes it work for this new line is the way it’s told and the modern twist on it…

In order for any publisher to stay in business, it has to continue to make sales and that means moving with the times. Popular fiction will appeal to modern day readers if they can relate to what’s going on, if they can imagine themselves as the heroine.

As the new Romance Line guideline says:
‘This is an exciting new series with a brand-new editorial vision — offering fantastic short, romantic reads with a lower sensuality level — with stories that are contemporary and 100% relevant to today's woman.’

And the new Modern Extra Line:
‘These titles promise to deliver to the reader a feel-good experience, focusing on the kind of relationships that women between the ages of 18 and 35 aspire to.’

Your story, and therefore your synopsis – has to hit that common theme – The modern day reader has to be able to walk in those shoes and understand why the heroine may do the things she does.

So, my hint would be to write your synopsis from the Heroines Point of View. It’s through her eyes the reader will read the story, it’s in her shoes we want her to walk. Makes sense, right? But like anything, it’s all in the telling… So a hero point of view in there from time to time may work too…

Both lines will talk a lot about the ‘Emotional Journey’ or a ‘Rollercoaster Ride’ – so make sure that your synopsis shows that. Don’t make their problems ones that could be solved over a cup of coffee and a bit of a chat. And remember that we as women, tend to analyze relationships way more than men do. So use that! Let the editor see that you understand your heroine, that she has similar doubts and insecurities to us all... so that women readers will get it...

The one thing I’ve been warned about most of late, and that seems to have received the most rejections from new authors, is a book that is too heavily reliant on an outside plot to create the conflict. You could argue that it’s an outside plot that drives The Wedding Surprise – if it weren’t for the reality TV Show and the money they would never get together. But that’s not what the story is when you read the book. The outside plot is a device, think of it as a set for a stage-play. It needs to be there to give us an idea of where we are, but it is NOT the crux of the story. Not for these lines. These lines do what a good play does and take our focus off that back-drop and onto what's happening centre stage! So if your synopsis focuses on that outside plot then you’re not selling what they’re looking for.

If I were to write a synopsis for The Wedding Surprise the key things I would want to get across at the beginning of my synopsis would be these:

Caitlin Rourke is a twenty-eight year old woman who, when she discovers her family is in financial difficulty, needs to find a way to help, and fast! She accepts a place on a reality TV show in order to win the money. But to do that she must lie to all the people she holds dearest, the ones who know her the best. And having had their unconditional love and support for all her life, especially when her fiance was killed, she knows it will be the toughest thing she’s ever had to do.
But when she finds herself falling in love with the man playing her fiance for the show, she has to find a way through the web of lies and broken trust. So that the people she loves understand why she wants to be with someone whose life has been such a polar opposite to her own. A man who she discovers has been telling an even bigger lie all along and may well have broken her trust in him beyond repair…’
What this does is show us that her conflicts are ones we can relate to. Who amongst us hasn’t had money problems? We’ve all experienced loss, so we know how it must have felt to lose her fiance, a man she loved. We can understand why she might be closer to her friends and family because of it. And we can believe that it’s not going to be an easy journey for her to take. – ALL focused on her. All on the emotional journey. And all things that we, as modern day women, can understand…
And in the space of a couple of paragraphs, just like the back-blurb of a book, we not only have the gist of the story but we have, hopefully, shown the Editor that the story has all the elements they’re looking for… Then, we can use the next page and a half to elaborate on that.
We have approached the synopsis in a professional manner and we have done our best to SELL THE STORY.
Which is, realistically, all that a synopsis is supposed to do. It won’t automatically guarantee a sale; your writing has to do that. But it will get you noticed out of that slush pile and with any luck; a request for a Full Manuscript. Which is one step closer to that sale…
So…
Have a read over your manuscript. (And the best tip I’ve ever received was to make sure it was finished first!)
And…
Make sure it fits into the line you’re pitching it at. (Read all you can and do your research!) Tell the Editor clearly that it’s for that particular line and that the word-count is inside the set parameters.
Then…
Focus on the characters and make sure we understand there’s a believable emotional journey to be taken; one that has conflicts that will hold them apart for the entire length of the story even though circumstances and emotion/mutual attraction may push them together.
Tell…
In the rest of the synopsis the key scenes that push the story forwards and how they are gradually resolved so that we believe these two people have found the kind of love that will last beyond the final page of your story…
And you’re done.
Then all you have to worry about is your writing…
Places you might find useful of the World Wide Web:

Harlequin - list of requirements for the various lines and where to send them.
Mills And Boon - list of frequently asked questions and contact details.
Catauniversity – More articles on Synopsis writing.
Romance Divas – Workshops galore and free to join up!
Eharlequin – The boards where writers can chat about writing and ask questions without fear of general laughter.
Trish Links – A listing of many of the latest signings to Harlequin Mills and Boon.

Feel free to ask any questions you might have on the Blog Comments – you don’t have to have a blog to do it guys! And I’ll do my best to answer them…

So, shall we just work on the next most popular topic you choose in the Poll? Keep voting then. You say – I blog…

8 comments:

Michelle Styles said...

One way I found to practise my synopsis writing skills was to write a one page synopsis of every M&B I read.
And I do agree that reading the new authors in each line is important becuase it also shows you the direction M&B are heading and each new author must have produced a book that fulfils M&B promise to its readers...

Anonymous said...

This is so helpful Trish. Thank you so much for doing it.

I'm particularly interested in how to balance internal and external plot when writing a 2 page synopsis for the Tender line.
Do you have a short synopsis of one of your published Tenders you wouldn't mind posting in its entirety? :)

Janet

Donna Alward said...

Trish - and Janet - I'm one of those "new" authors who got caught on "too much external plot" recently.

Your external plot facilitates the situation. But all the conflict from then on should pretty much spring from the characters and their actions.

The best way I've found to do a synop is to do a plot list- numbering what happens thoughout thebook both internal and external. I put the intro paragraphs in, take out the numbers and connect the dots so to speak. But that's just what works for me.

D

Trish said...

I'm with you Michelle! That's an excellent tool to polish up synopsis writing. And one I would recommend too would be to do the same thing for a movie. They do exactly the same thing with a DVD to market it these days as they do with a book... Short synopsis and hook on the back... So many similarities really. Marketing is marketing I guess... I know I harp on about this similarity incessantly but it just makes so much sense to me...

Janet - Really? One of my full synopses?? Must I? I did mention I found them as tough to do as the rest of the world, didn't I? Oh lordy... if it helps...

And yes, bullet notes are great Donna, you don't need them for every scene... but for scenes where the events show a crisis or a turning point they are great. Two pages to fit in 55,000 words worth of story...mmm...

Anyone have any more questions before I do the next post then???

I'm off to that dark little hole where I store my synopsis to find the least embarressing one...

Donna Alward said...

Well, by using my plot list I usually come in around 1 1/2 - 2 pages. I don't hit EVERY detail, but the biggies for sure.

Trish I read your next entry (your synop) and do you always structure them that way with setting ,etc.? Also, I noticed you didn't put in the ending. Is that something you don't usually do either? I've always heard editors say that they need to know how it ends, and not to end the synop on a hook. In all the time we've critted together we haven't really talked about synopses!

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