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 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

Sponge Cake & Self Doubt – The day before publication…

Today I’m distracted, unable to settle. I’ve opened and closed my wip, started and abandoned a short story. The puppy has trailed me as I’ve paced our overgrown garden, the cat rolling his eyes as I’ve stalked the places he thinks of as his own. I’m edgy, excited, easily distracted. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas, except it isn’t. It’s better.

Tomorrow is the paperback publication day of my debut, The Sister and even with a pile of paperbacks sitting on my desk and less than twelve hours to go I still can’t quite believe it’s happening.

This morning I’ve collected the bookmarks for my Waterstones launch tomorrow night, resisted the urge to dive into my cake and bought enough wine to fill the boot of my car. Each time I’ve been out I’ve darted into Asda and stood staring blankly at the books for so long an assistant came to check if I was ok and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that tomorrow, nestled amongst the other titles, my story will sit. It doesn’t seem real.

It’s been a long road to publication, and after signing with the digital phenomenon that is Bookouture I never dreamed that a year on I’d also have a contract with Sphere (Little, Brown). After all those no’s finally two yes’s.

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I feel so emotional today. So thankful that even when it seemed utterly impossible anyone would take me on I never gave up writing and submitting. Tomorrow in-between two radio interviews, I’m planning to visit WH Smiths, Waterstones and the supermarkets to reassure myself it’s really there. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I see Grace and Charlie’s story on a shelf although there’s still a part of me, a larger part than I’d like, that is half-expecting a last minute ‘sorry we’ve read the book again and changed our minds’ email. I’m not sure when this self-doubt will go, if it ever will, but in the meantime I’m watching the clock and waiting. Endlessly waiting. And for now, still resisting the cake.

 

 

 

 

How do you know when your novel is finished? Best selling authors share their tips.

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Writing The Sister took me 18 months. During that period I rewrote multiple times, changing the point of view, the tense, and even the genre. When I couldn’t write any more I paid for a professional critique, got feedback from beta readers, and still I wasn’t happy enough to submit it. After weeks of more tinkering there was absolutely nothing left I could do but I still hesitated in submitting it, was it ready? How do we ever know?

Writing The Gift has been a completely different experience. Writing to a deadline means I have not had time to go through the same process that I went through with The Sister. A process that involved putting in a drawer and coming back to it after a month with fresh eyes. Now I am coming to the end of my copy edits it is time for me to let go of The Gift and hand it over to my publishers to turn into a book. Is it natural to feel I am not quite ready for this? I enlisted the help of some writer friends to find out how they know their book is complete. I do hope you find this is useful as me.

 

51hdbnzkxnl“I think a book is finished when all the character’s stories and subplots are resolved and I feel like I have made some new friends, regardless of whether I have given them happy endings or not. I also know when I’m done with editing as I am so sick of the sight of the book. I’ve ripped it apart and put it back together again several times, looked up every word that I’m not sure of, cleared up all my research points and checked for accuracy, added as much drama as I can, read it aloud to see if it is pacey enough, and generally can’t stand reading it again. Then it’s over to someone else for fresh eyes.” Mel Sharratt

 

41u1a7rrnl“There are several markers I use to gauge when a novel is finished:

  1. Has the story been told? Have my characters gone from point A to point B as I planned?
  2. Are there any loose ends? Although this can depend on whether you’re writing a series or whether you want an ambiguous ending.
  3. Satisfaction. Regardless of #2 above, the reader must feel satisfied, their expectations when they finish the book must be fulfilled.” Sue Fortin

 

51GfU8XpvaL“My first book The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard took three years to write, and was a pretty agonising process. The book is 72,000 words in length, and for a long time this worried me. I thought it was too short, having read that a novel should be at least 90,000 words. At the time I was submitting to agents and publishers, and a few flagged this up, telling met it could ‘run a little longer’. I duly added in a few chapters, but they felt like padding. The book was submitted, then turned down by all the major publishers. A couple of years passed and I self-published the original 72,000 word version. It was a big success and continues to sell. No one has ever mentioned that the book is too short, or seems unfinished. I learned that you have to read your own work objectively, and every story has its own length. My subsequent novels have ranged from 53,000 words to 100,000. My first drafts are always finished in a rush, and I think the deadline dictates when the book ends, but I then like to build in time to put the book to one side for a few weeks, then read it back with an objective eye. Then I can work out the pacing and make sure that the book builds to a conclusion that is neither rushed or very drawn out.” Robert Bryndza

 

51i6rnaeunl“For me it never feels finished. Even after my own three drafts and then another three with my editor I am still left feeling that there was more I could have done.” Angela Marsons

 

51rxw1asmql“With my first draft, I know when I’m finished when I’ve reached my planned conclusion. That’s the easy bit. But at that point I know I will be editing, so it’s only the story that’s finished, not the novel. I tend to edit as I go, so once the first draft is done I do a read through to tidy up and check for consistency. Again, once this is done, it’s still not ‘finished’. My agent will read the manuscript and give editorial feedback (which is the stage I’m currently at with my second novel), then the changes will come. I will do my best to ensure that the plot holes are plugged and that the conclusion makes sense – once my agent feels I’ve accomplished that, then the novel is finished. Only it’s not, because then my editor will read it…

I think once you’ve had a few rounds of edits, and everyone is happy with it, then it’s time to let it go. You could go on and on with edits, because each read through I might think ‘ooh, that word would be better there’, or I will think of a bit of description, or information that might enhance a particular passage more. I think as you grow as a writer you look back at past work with a more critical eye. So, once it’s been decided that the manuscript is done – don’t look back, start a new novel!” Sam Carrington

 

51hyonm5tdl“As a new author, it can be tempting to rework your manuscript to death. Submitting to an agent or publisher is daunting, and it is common practice for new authors to keep manuscripts for longer than is necessary, reworking each sentence until all the words blur together and panic ensues. I work to deadlines, and after writing seven books, I have a good handle on my writing routine. I compare it to painting. The first draft is very rough, my canvas if you like. When I’ve dictated ninety thousand words, I begin to layer it with emotions and descriptive detail. I also remove the deadwood; words which are not moving the story forward. I do this several times, all the while keeping an eye on my deadline and working towards my daily goals. If you have time, rest your manuscript. Come back to it in a week or two with fresh eyes. Spend a little more time working through your words. When you come to the end, it should be ready to go. Don’t agonise over it, just be proud. Hit that send button and begin working on the next big thing.” Caroline Mitchell

 

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“I think the book is finished when your readers are fully engaged with your characters – when they’re sucked into the plot and the setting, totally believing in the story.” Lisa Hall