Hook an Agent Part III – The dreaded synopsis…

 

In Part I of my ‘Hook an Agent’ series I shared my submission letter for The Sister which you can read here. In Part II, here, Literary Agent Rory Scarfe told us ‘Never let your ideas be ordinary.’ We’ll skim over the part where my teenage son now thinks that’s a fabulous quote to get tattooed on his arm and move swiftly on to nailing that synopsis, often the most feared part of the submission package.

Today I’m joined by the utterly fabulous Rowan Lawton, from the dynamic Furniss Lawton, who will share her top 3 tips to bear in mind when writing that synopsis.

1) Know the difference between a pitch blurb and a synopsis.

There is a big difference between writing a blurb for your pitch letter and putting together a synopsis. Your synopsis should be a plainly written description of specifics – what actually happens in your novel. There is no rule about length but I’d advise sticking to a couple of pages at most.

Approach the blurb as though you are writing your own jacket copy for the finished, printed version. Imagine your book on the shelf in a bookshop and what elements of your story would entice someone to choose your novel over another.

2) Do give away the ending in your synopsis.

When an agent is reading your synopsis they want to see how it’s all going to come together at the end. Will it be a satisfying read? Is the plot convincing? We get so many submissions that we often want to know how a story is going to end before we commit to reading a whole manuscript.

3) Don’t try to make claims about the themes of your novel in the synopsis.

This advice applies to your cover letter and blurb too, apart from possibly a line or two right at the end. I want to know who your main characters are, what is going to happen to them and where the action is going to take place, much more than I want to hear generalisations about themes. ‘This is an epic love story exploring themes of loss, human connection and forgiveness’ tells me nothing about what’s actually going to happen the book I’m about to read!

Fabulous advice Rowan, thanks.

Now I’ve pondered how to share my synopsis for The Sister (submitted as Buried Memories), as I did my covering letter, and have been advised not to as it would ruin the book for those who have yet to read. I will however share my opening so you get the general idea without giving away spoilers. For me, it only came together firstly, when I was able to put aside the rich, descriptive language I love to use when I write and keep it very basic and to the point. Secondly, I had to stop viewing it as an enemy. The synopsis is a friend we use to demonstrate the plot hangs together and an epic love story doesn’t suddenly fall apart when aliens randomly appear in chapter 43 and in the epilogue it turns out it was all a dream anyway.

 

‘BURIED MEMORIES’ is a domestic noir story featuring Grace Matthews, an anxious 25-year old woman who is devastated by her best friend Charlie (Charlotte) Fisher’s death and can’t understand why Charlie’s Mum, Lexie Fisher, would blame her. She feels until she discovers the meaning behind Charlie’s last words ‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace, please forgive me,’ she can’t move forward.

Struggling to know where to start unravelling the mystery Grace remembers a memory box she and Charlie buried as teenagers and digs it up. Grace realises that Charlie’s biological father might know what Charlie did and decides to trace him. During the search Grace is followed by a mysterious figure and becomes paranoid and dependent on medication.

Dan, Grace’s boyfriend agrees to help find Charlie’s father even though he’s struggled to cope with Grace’s misplaced sense of guilt, and erratic behaviour, since Charlie’s death. They begin an online campaign and Anna comes forward. Anna tells Grace she is Charlie’s half-sister and that their shared father is deceased. Lonely Grace seizes the chance to form a bond with Anna, keeping a link to Charlie. Without checking her out Grace readily agrees when Anna asks if she can stay for a few days…

 

I do hope that was useful. Take a deep breath, remember to stick to the submission guidelines (the synopsis might need to be anything from 300 words to one or two pages).

You’ve got this. Good luck!

For the final instalment we’ll be joined next time by Eugenie Furniss who’ll give her advice for tightening those all important first three chapters.

 

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Hooking an agent part II – Agent Rory Scarfe shares his top tips for perfecting that submission letter

 

Last week I shared my submission letter for The Sister (originally titled Buried Memories) in the hope it might help those putting together submission packages. If you missed it you can read it here. Today I’m joined by agent Rory Scarfe, of Furniss Lawton, with his three top tips to give your submission letter a head-start.

1) Attention to detail 

As boring as this might sound, you would be amazed at how many letters fall at the first hurdle. This doesn’t just mean spelling the agent’s name correctly (though please don’t address me as Ms Scarfe), but also showing an understanding of what the agent/agency is looking for and why you have selected them particularly. That way you come across as focussed and thoughtful, rather than scattergun in your approach.

2) Show knowledge of the market

More than ever, it is the role of the author (as well as their publisher and agent) to have a commercial instinct and a long-term publishing plan. If you can demonstrate an understanding of publishing trends and give examples of recent comparable successes that you hope to emulate then you prove yourself a potentially winning proposition. And remember, agents want to publish authors, not just books, in the longer term.

3) Have a point of difference and originality 

The great irony of publishing (and frustration) is that publishers are constantly on the look-out for something that is exactly like a recent success but also completely original and totally different. But that is not as impossible as it sounds. If you have a killer concept that can be pitched to an editor while they have a million other things to do and get their attention, even though the lunch hour beckons, then you are on to a good thing. Never let your ideas be ordinary.

The best of luck to everyone subbing.

In the next instalment agent Rowan Lawton will be giving her top tips on tightening that synopsis. 

Hooking an agent part I – Sharing my submission letter for The Sister

Writing a book was initially a distraction from the chronic pain I was in, a hobby once I suddenly found myself with severely restricted mobility. Even now, I still remember the utter disbelief and excitement when I realised I had an actual finished novel and it was only then I started to think about putting together a submission package and sending my debut, Buried Memories (later retitled The Sister by my publishers) out into the world.

I devoured books, blogs, Googled endlessly for tips on how to write the perfect submission letter, and word by painful word, crafted my offering, almost editing it more than my manuscript. My palms were clammy as I sent off my first submissions, only to two agents at that time, and sat back to wait the alleged 6-8 weeks I’d read about. To my surprise both agents replied within a few hours, they’d loved my letter, been hooked by my elevator pitch, thought the premise was brilliant and and would start reading straight way. Do keep them informed of any offers. What happened to an 8-week wait? Cue total panic (never sub before your manuscript is ready – but that’s another story).

I’m no expert, and neither do I claim to be, but I’ve a few friends at the moment who have reached submission stage and so for them, and everyone else putting together a package, I wanted to share my letter. I do hope it’s helpful.

Next week, for Part II, I’ll be joined by fabulous literary agent, Rory Scarfe, of Furniss Lawton with his guidelines to giving your submission letter a head start.

Good luck to all those subbing!

 

Dear

I enclose the first three chapters and synopsis of my domestic noir novel, ‘BURIED MEMORIES’ a book about a grieving girl who thought there was nothing as frightening as being alone – she was wrong. The novel is complete at 80,000 words.

‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace. I hope you can forgive me.’ Grace Matthews, an anxious young woman is devastated when her best friend, Charlie, dies and feels that until she discovers the meaning behind Charlie’s last words, she cannot move forward. As Grace becomes sucked into the mystery surrounding Charlie’s family, her association with them, especially with Charlie’s sister Anna, threatens to destroy Grace’s career, relationship and ultimately, end her life. Grace’s hunt for the truth forces her to confront the childhood she desperately wanted to forget and she realises she can’t trust anyone, especially those she loves.

I am submitting to you because

This, my debut novel, began life as a flash fiction piece in a writing group challenge last year. I was given three words and ten minutes and the bare bones of Chapter One was born. I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking about Grace and Charlie and felt compelled to write their story. I’ve written non-fiction for various publications and websites for several years. I’ve had a column in Holistic Therapist Magazine (LJ’s Journal) since April 2012 and was a contributor to Tiny Buddha’s 365 Love Challenges (HarperOne/Harper Collins.) I attend writing workshops, evening classes and retreats whenever I can – I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning; show me a literary festival and I’m there! I’m currently working on my second novel, ‘Second-hand secrets.’

Kind regards,

 

Louise Jensen

The day before publication – Why The Surrogate was never meant to see the light of day…

Tomorrow my third novel, The Surrogate, will be released and I can’t express just quite how excited I am about this story.

The Surrogate was never intended to be my third book. I’d written the opening chapters of a dark and twisted tale that was going to be book three and sent it over to my agent and editor to see what they thought. While I was waiting for feedback I had to go to the doctors. Flicking through their dog-eared magazine a photo caught my eye. A beaming couple holding a baby, with a lady lovingly looking on. In this case the surrogacy worked out really well but my writer mind started whirring. What if the surrogacy hadn’t gone according to plan, and even worse, what if the surrogate was an old friend with a hidden grudge?

By the time I’d driven home Kat and Lisa were fighting to be heard so I opened up a blank document to write some notes as a potential surrogacy storyline but never intending it so see the light of day for at least a couple of years as I’d already had an idea I was excited about for book 4. Later that week my feedback arrived, my publishers loved the original idea I’d sent them over for book 3 but by then I knew Kat and Lisa wouldn’t rest until I’d told their story and I couldn’t tear myself away until I knew the conclusion.

Kat and Lisa are the most complex characters I’ve ever written and this is the most layered plot that surprisingly (to me!) evolved very naturally. It’s full of twists, is emotional, with an ending that made me gasp and I can’t wait until release day tomorrow to get it into the hands of readers.

Early reviews have been phenomenal. Book reviewers are calling it my best story yet and one of the best thrillers of 2017 so far.

You can pre-order The Surrogate over on Amazon here so it will arrive in your chosen format (eBook, paperback or audio) for publication day tomorrow.

Please join me tomorrow evening at 7pm GMT over on Bookouture’s Facebook page here where I’ll be taking part in a live Q & A chat with Kim Nash, the Marketing Manager of Bookouture Publishers where we’ll be talking about books, the writing process and getting published.

Hope to see you there. Louise X

 

Blogger & author shenanigans- it’s more than just drinking


Yesterday, I bid my husband goodbye & jumped on a train to Birmingham for a day of drinking hanging out with bookish peeps. Writing is absolutely my dream job. I wouldn’t change it for the world but sometimes even dreams can have cracks in them and I admit that going from a hustle-bustle-busy working environment, to spending long days talking to creating characters, can feel a tad isolating at times. 


It was fabulous to catch up with old friends and have the chance to make some new ones. The book bloggers I haven’t met before, but feel I already know, were just as warm in person as they are online. I’m now even more excited about The Surrogate Blog Tour next week (and receiving my toad in the hole recipe from Joanne Robertson!


For me, the chance to grill other writers about their approach to novel writing is invaluable and after a long conversation with the lovely Barbara Copperthwaite, I came away feeling much better about something that had been troubling me about my own approach to writing a first draft, which had felt quite slap-dash. Slowly, and largely due to events like these, I’m realising we all have our own way of doing things. There is no right and wrong.

It was wonderful to hear the news that several I’d met last year had finished their novels, some  were submitting and there were 2 book deals to celebrate. Each and every writerly success I hear of gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that had nothing to do with the wine. There can never be too many books.

On the journey home, I was exhausted but happy. Feeling incredibly grateful to be a part of such a friendly and supportive community. 


Huge thanks to Kim Nash & Holly Martin for organising the event.

Publishing my 3rd book – here’s what I’ve learned so far…

 

My third novel, The Surrogate, has recently been published. A new author asked me if I still feel nervous bringing out a book, as I’ve done it twice before. Yes! I still remember vividly the way I felt before my previous books The Sister and The Gift were published, and although I knew what to expect this time, on the days leading to publication, those feelings hadn’t changed. Here is what I have learned: –

 

1)        It’s okay to feel vulnerable and scared. The story you’ve put your heart and soul into, your precious words, the book you’ve lovingly crafted, line by line, chapter by chapter, is about to be released into the big wide world and there is no predicting how it will be received.

2)        You should feel proud and excited. The blank document you started with is now a novel and sticking with it through the sticky middle, ironing out plot holes, developing characters, is an incredible achievement and possibly a lifetime dream.

3)        There will be readers who will love it and those glowing five-star reviews will boost your confidence and keep you writing on the days the words don’t flow. These reviews are lovely but they don’t mean there’s no room for improvement. Never grow complacent.

4)        There will be readers who hate everything about your work. Those scathing one star reviews are often written to hurt, and they do. Never let these reviewers make you feel you can’t. Go back to point 3, dust yourself off, and write some new words.

5)        There will be constructively written reviews and you can glean a lot from these. I love to learn what readers like and don’t like and it really helps with future books, but bear in mind you can’t please everyone and your next book must be written much as your first was, as one you would love to read, not one that you think will please every reader out there. It won’t.

6)        It’s normal to have a last-minute panic, to wonder whether your editor was right, to want to reinstate characters, cut entire chapters, and generally write the whole thing again from scratch. Relax. If it wasn’t good enough it wouldn’t be published.

7)        Most writers find themselves obsessively checking the Amazon rankings around release date. My husband is now the one who checks the charts, that way I don’t get distracted, disheartened or too excited to write.

8)        Publication day is often like a wedding. Full of the best intentions to relax and enjoy it, but in reality often much to do with interviews and social media. Find time in the day to celebrate. You deserve it.

9)        It’s normal to want to hold on to your characters, they have become as real to you as your friends. Don’t be reluctant to start something fresh, you have a whole host of new people to get to know.

10)      It’s okay to question whether you can ever write another book, but you can. You will. And then you’ll go through all this again.

 

The Surrogate is currently part of a flash sale and is only £0.99/$1.31 across all digital platforms, you can find it on Amazon here.

Slipping back – An excerpt from The Surrogate – #flashfiction

Image courtesy of Sarah Potter

The moon is hiding behind the rain clouds, and everywhere I look is black. Crushing. The horn blares again blasting cobwebs from my dusty memories and I think of the other time I was in a car with the dark and the rain. Suddenly I am terrified.

I’m arced over the wheel now, hyperventilating. Panic tearing my chest in two. I haven’t felt like this for years. It’s all starting again. Just like I always knew it would.

Lisa is back in my life and I am slipping into the past.

The good. The bad.

All of it.

 

I was delighted when I saw this week’s cobwebby prompt as if fits perfectly with an excerpt from my forthcoming book The Surrogate which will be published next week! I’m ridiculously excited. Early reviews have been fabulous. If you want to, you can find it over on Amazon here

Friday Fictioneer’s is a weekly photo prompt posted by Rochelle. Can you write a 100 words flash fiction story? Join in here – it’s great fun.