SFWC 2018: Synopses

One of the most onerous parts of being a writer is having to boil down the entirety of your book into 1-2 pages. I’ve often said, “If I could tell it in a page, I wouldn’t have written a book!” Still, many agents still require a synopsis. So here is some info on how to write them.

Some agents ask for a 1-page synopsis. If so, you should write it single spaced with a break between each paragraph. If you’re asked for a 2-page synopsis, you should double space with no extra break between paragraphs.

A synopsis is always written in third person present tense, regardless of the POV of the book itself. Also, a synopsis is the one place where you’ll be asked to tell instead of show. For example, if your character is old and miserly, you might literally write in your synopsis: “SCROOGE is a crotchety old miser who hates Christmas.”

Notice that I also capitalized Scrooge’s name. The woman running this session said to do that the first time you introduce a character in a synopsis. I’ll admit I’d never heard that one before. It’s something we do in screenwriting, but I have never heard of anyone doing it when writing prose. I suppose it can’t hurt.

Although a synopsis tells the story of the novel—and yes, you should give away the ending—do not simply list the events that occur by saying, “And then . . .” Vary your transitions and keep it interesting. Give character motivations, too: “Seeing the vial of poison beside Romeo’s body, Juliet kisses him in the hopes that she might also be poisoned. When that doesn’t work, she takes Romeo’s dagger . . .” You get the picture.

In fact, reading a sample synopsis for a book you’re familiar with can help you figure out how to write your own.

Final rule: omit backstory and secondary plot lines unless these things tie in with the main plot. The example that was used in this session was that of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Could he be included in the synopsis? Sure. Is he entirely necessary? Probably not.

The goal of a synopsis is to give the skull of the book. I say that because, you know how forensic pathologists can recreate a face from a skull? The agent will construct a sense of your book from the synopsis. That’s probably a really weird analogy, but there you go.

SFWC 2018: Exploring Your Print Options

Let’s assume you’re going to self-publish your book. You’ll do an e-book, certainly, but then you have to decide whether or not to also do a print version. Some indie authors don’t. They say the print books don’t sell enough to make it worthwhile, especially since print-on-demand (POD) books aren’t stocked in stores. Especially not books printed by Amazon’s CreateSpace, which many bookstores view as the enemy. (I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve run into this problem myself. One of my publishers used CreateSpace for the paperback version of my book, and none of my local stores will carry it because of that.)

Still, there are people who don’t read e-books, and many industry professionals say it’s best to offer some kind of print version to maximize your chances of being read. Also, I’ve noticed many indie book awards require you to have your book in print.

So you want to print your book, and you don’t want to use Amazon. What are your other options? Well, it’s possible to do offset (traditional) printing, even if you’re an indie author. Let’s look at the differences between POD and offset.

POD
Pros: environmentally friendly since books are only printed when ordered; costs little to nothing for the author; the author doesn’t have to warehouse any stock
Cons: costs more per copy; there is no discount for a bulk order; choices of paper and trim sizes, etc. are limited; quality control issues; general stigma; bookstores won’t stock and libraries seldom order them

Offset
Pros: the more you print, the more money you save; more printing options overall; greater quality control; bookstores and libraries are more willing to stock them
Cons: costs more money up front; authors must warehouse the books or pay to have them warehoused by a distributor

How to decide? Sometimes it comes down to whether you have the money and the room in your garage to do your own print run. But really you need to know a couple things:

1. Who are you selling to? If bookstores and libraries, then you want to do offset. If directly to readers, POD might be fine so long as you’re relatively sure the books will print at good enough quality.

2. How many books can you realistically sell? Offset only makes sense if you print 250+ copies. Do you have space to keep those somewhere? Do you think you can sell that many at events, etc.? You also need to be prepared to fulfill orders from home.

Can you do both? Sure. You can have POD and a print run.

Why do bookstores balk at stocking POD titles? Because bookstores are used to receiving a discount (of about 55%) from distributors. They can’t get that discount with POD. Also, bookstores can return unsold books to distributors, but not POD books. And, again, many POD titles come from Amazon, which bookstores see as a competitor.

A viable alternative is IngramSpark, which does have a POD option but also lets you set a discount for bookstores. And Ingram is a known distributor that bookstores and libraries are comfortable working with. You’ll still need to market your titles to bookstores and libraries, but you’ll be able to say, “It’s available from Ingram” and they’ll know what that means.

Be sure, when doing a print version, that you have a good formatter and designer. The skills to create a good print book are somewhat different from those needed for an e-book. Many book designers can do both, but do your homework and find a good one.

Clear as mud? Great! Indie authors have to make a lot of decisions, and how (or whether) to print the book is just one of a long list. I hope this post helps you choose the best way to bring your book into the world.

90s Kid Book Tag

I wasn’t exactly a “kid” in the 90s. In 1990 I finished eighth grade and started high school. But I still want to try this 90s Kid Book Tag.

The Rules

  1. Please, please, please steal this tag and spread it around! I only ask that you link it back to The Literary Phoenix so that I can see everyone’s answers!
  2. Tag, you’re it! Even if you weren’t a kid in the 90s, so long as you’re old enough to remember the 90s, I want to hear about those memories! And if you do participate, don’t forget to tag someone.
  3. Have fun!

Gotta catch ’em all!

Pokemon was big in the 90s. But we’re here for books. So: Which author do you need every book from? For me it’s Tana French. I received a copy of In the Woods when I was a reviewer for Blogcritics and it hooked me. Even though it took me forever to read The Likeness because I couldn’t immediately forgive French for dumping Rob and going on to another character. Now, though, I understand that’s kind of the point of the series, and I’ve learned to love it.

Ready, AIM . . .

Remember AOL Instant Messenger? How great it was to chat online before mobile phones let us text? What book(s) connected you with your best friend? Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I can’t even begin to describe how those books affected us. I checked Interview with the Vampire out from the school library (it’s a wonder our school had it) and read it in secret. Guess it’s not a secret now! Sorry, Mom.

Monstrous!

Furbies were all the rage. Well, okay, I didn’t have one, nor did I want one. Bottom line, though, Furbies were demon-possessed robots of pure evil that would go off in the middle of the night at random and never shut up. (I only know this because my children now have them.) In the book world, what book seemed like a good idea but turned out to be, well, a bad one? I have to say, nothing immediately springs to mind. I’ve probably blocked it out. I’ve read plenty of disappointing books in my day. Recently I tried to read The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman. I’d enjoyed The Lake of Dead Languages, and the idea behind The Ghost Orchid sounded really intriguing, but I just couldn’t like the characters. I wouldn’t say the book itself was a bad idea, only that it didn’t work for me. I’ll add that I feel that way about pretty much anything written by Roald Dahl, too—his books are supposedly classics, but I’ve never liked any of them.

Bye, Bye, Bye

N’Sync was the big thing. And while we still have Justin Timberlake to entertain us, what book did you hate to say goodbye to? So many! Anything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder for starters, The Changeling in particular. I really identified with that book. Du Maurier’s Rebecca, too, which swept me away.

Barth Burgers

You Can’t Do That on Television ended in 1990, so I guess it still technically counts? On that show, Barth would serve up disgusting meals at a restaurant one had to wonder how it ever stayed open. What book did other people eat up that you just couldn’t stomach? I’ll admit I never tried to read them, but I remember my friends going on about Francesca Lia Block books . . . I also never read Goosebumps or Christopher Pike. I feel like I sort of skipped a layer of reading in my life; I went straight from Judy Blume to Dean Koontz and never looked back.

Kill Me Now

Oregon Trail is something I hear people talk about a lot, but for whatever reason we never played it where I lived. Still, I’m now very familiar with the idea behind the game. What book made you wish you’d died of dysentery? For me, The Scarlet Letter was a real trial. I also don’t at all enjoy Moby-Dick.

On Permanent Rotation

Mix tapes (or CDs) were all the rage. It was the biggest sign of affection to create one for someone. We didn’t have MP3s, after all, so making a tape or CD took real time. And it was a great way to introduce people to your favorite songs or bands. (My husband made me a mix tape when we first started dating, and Marillion’s “Kayleigh” remains one of my favorite songs.) Which three books would you put on your “playlist” by recommending them to anyone, anywhere, anytime? I often find myself recommending Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch. Also, A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice and The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero.

Dialing In

Who can forget the sound of the modem connecting? And how it took forever to connect, often only to be ruined by someone either picking up the phone or calling? What book took ages to read? For me it was Watchers by Dean [R.] Koontz. I loved that book, and I’m a quick reader, but I remember that one took time, maybe because I was savoring it.

Water, Water . . .

In the 90s you couldn’t escape things like Adam Sandler. What book do you feel like you see referenced everywhere and is in everything? The Harry Potter books, of course. Those books have entered the general lexicon. Also Shakespeare.

No Peeking!

Cover your eyes and count to ten. Did you look through your fingers to see which way everyone ran to hide? What book did you read the end of first because you just couldn’t stand the suspense? I’m proud to say I’ve never done this. In fact, I can’t stand the thought of doing it. For me, all the fun in reading a book is in getting to the end.

Red Slice Anyone?

We all have fond memories of old foods and drinks that are no longer with us. I remember drinking Red Slice in the UT cafeteria. What are some of your favorite bookish snacks? I find when I’m reading, weirdly enough I crave bread and butter or toast.

Spooky Mulder

Did you love The X-Files? Did Eugene Tooms or the Flukeman rob you of sleep? (For me it was Brad Dourif in “Beyond the Sea.” Something so much more creepy about a realistic killer.) Name a book that kept you up at night. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Remains one of my favorites by him, too.

Mr. Wizard

Like You Can’t Do That on Television, Mr. Wizard’s World didn’t last much beyond the 80s. Still, I learned plenty from him, and from MacGyver, too. Name a book that taught you something new. Though fiction, King and Goddess by Judith Tarr taught me about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and engendered my interest in ancient history in general. The Memoirs of Cleopatra likewise gave me a deeper vision of that queen’s life.

I hope you enjoyed this book tag. Pretty extensive! Try it yourself if you’re brave enough! Or just tell me about your favorite books in the comments.

IWSG: Genre Love

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I’m insecure about no one wanting my words. I’m tired of being invisible. People keep telling me to “take a break,” but I haven’t written in over a month. Never mind a break, I think I’m flat-out broken.

Question of the Month: What do you love about the genre you write most often?

I’m not sure I have a genre I write most often. I write a lot of different things, and none of them any more than the rest. Well, let’s say it’s an even split between mystery and fantasy (but there’s more historical romance coming!). But really, no matter what I’m writing, I love two things: (a) the characters, and (b) the world building.

I’m a character writer, no question. I really do fall a little bit in love with each of mine. As for world building, I just love the craft. There’s something so satisfying about creating a whole world—even if it’s not a fantasy world. Even if it’s just another time period or a made-up town, I enjoy the work immensely.

Your Baby Is Ugly

We all think our own babies are beautiful. Our extended families do, too. Perhaps they—and we—see something beyond the physical. Perhaps we add the preparation and labor to our overall vision of this baby and, because of all that went into having the baby, we think it must be beautiful. We could not imagine a world where all that work resulted in something . . . if not downright ugly, possibly subpar, or at best average.

Why are we talking about this? you wonder. Because your manuscript is your baby. And, sweetie, it’s ugly.

At least, it’s ugly when it first comes out. Then it gets cleaned up a bit, and looks a little better. Once you start really caring for it, your baby might not be model material, but at least it no longer looks like an alien. It looks, you know, babylike.

For all of you birthing novels during NaNoWriMo, keep this in mind. Your first draft is ugly. That doesn’t mean you can’t show it to anyone. You don’t have to throw a blanket over your baby’s head and hide it from the world. Actually, what you should do is show it only to people you trust. People you know will tell you the truth about it—but gently. By which I mean, find a critique group. They’re a “parenting group for writers.” Some of them have experience because they have a lot of children themselves. Some don’t. But they’re all there to support you.

And if you’re a member of one of these groups, remember to first compliment the baby! “She has beautiful eyes,” you might say. “Look how blue!” Do that before pointing out, “But her feet are deformed. You might want to do something about that.”

(I’ll admit, coming from an editing background I sometimes forget to do the complimenting part. But I do try to remember!)

Bottom line: every baby is born ugly. They get cuter as they grow. Just be sure to take good care of it, and seek advice from other book parents as needed.

Remakes Blogfest

So the point of this blogfest, as conceived of by Alex J. Cavanaugh and Heather M. Gardner, is to blog about a favorite remake. This means movie, song, whatever. Is there any time a remake is as good as—maybe even better?—than the original? Of course, that’s a matter of opinion. So FWIW, here’s mine.

My favorite remakes tend to be songs. Two in particular spring to mind. I really like Sheryl Crow’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi.” To be fair, I heard Crow’s version first, so I had no preconceived notions of the song going in. I think we often prefer the first version we see or hear of something because that’s the one that makes the lasting impression. We can appreciate other renditions, but it’s not the same.

The second cover I particularly enjoy is Rob Thomas’ [gasp! you’re so surprised, I know!] version of Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.”

Here’s the original, which is a great song in its own right:

You can listen to Rob’s version on iTunes here.

I was never into Smashing Pumpkins much, so I think my love of the remake is probably rooted in my love for Rob and his music. Matchbox Twenty did a really haunting version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again,” too, which I adore. You can listen to that here. Compare it to the relatively upbeat original here. I do really admire artists who can take something and completely transform it.

A Funny Thing Happened…

I started re-reading Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers yesterday, and that prompted me to look up fanzines online. I was curious, really, whether anyone still publishes hard copy fanzines, or if it’s all just FanFiction.net and that kind of thing now. I guess I was just feeling a bit nostalgic. I started out as a fanfic author, after all, and a young one at that—I would turn up as a guest at cons and no one would believe I was who I said I was. (Remember, they couldn’t just look me up online back then. Yes, I’m old.)

Anyway, one zine I was published in was called Texas Revelations, though it only had about four issues. And I stumbled on this Wiki site and, well, I was floored. I don’t know why. It’s not like anyone did a page about me specifically, but hey, I got a mention.

Perhaps I should mention that I used to be A.C. Langlinais. Back in the day.

Not only that, but someone made a separate entry for my undergraduate thesis project, which was an X-Files spec script called “The Bane.” There’s a photo of it. How did they even get a copy?! (To be clear, I wrote a short story version of “The Bane,” which is the one published in Texas Revelations. The story started as a back-and-forth writing project between me and my best friend Tara.)

I’m weirdly flattered. And a little freaked out. But mostly flattered. I was definitely more successful as a fanfic author, if by “success” one means “widely read and praised.” I didn’t make any money, of course, but I was asked to conventions and got a lot of great fan mail. Ah, those were the days.

Moving on, let’s not forget today’s WIPjoy:

18. Share a line you absolutely love.

I think the opening line to the novel is wonderful (and many others have said so, too), but here’s another little exchange I love:

All sweetness left my mother’s face. “I loved him, too.”
“Clearly, since you went and got another one just like him.”

WIPjoy #17

17. If ___ liked my book, I’d die happy.

Oooh. I don’t know. School librarians, maybe? I’d love to see my book shelved in libraries and/or recommended by teachers. (Not as a substitute for the actual Hamlet, of course, but as something to enjoy in addition to Shakespeare’s work.)

And I’d certainly be happy to see my book in the hands of just about any modern Shakespearean actor. I’d hope they’d get a kick out of it.