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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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

 

Writing Diverse Characters – Book Review

 

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film is the third ‘How to…’ book by Lucy V Hay. Lucy is an editor and script reader with impressive credentials and I couldn’t wait to read this book.

Before I dived in, I looked up the definition of diversity in my Collin’s English dictionary “the quality of being different or varied.” As a disabled writer I was interested to find out what groups Lucy would cover in this book, after all my ‘normal’ is someone else’s ‘different.’ If I were a character in a book I guess I’d be classed as diverse and that initially made me a little uncomfortable but Lucy begins by saying we need diverse stories to actively change society and break down barriers and I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t believe a writer has to necessarily have experienced what they are writing about but creating a diverse character takes time and research. Lucy points out that the characters ‘difference’ does not have to drive the story and shouldn’t be used in a stereotypical way, i.e. a disabled person, depressed, alone and unable to cope. In other words although the character’s difference should have some relevance to the story and the way they live (everything featured in a book should earn its place and have a purpose) characters still need to be fresh and authentic.

Recently, social media has really shone a spotlight on diversity. Readers and movie watchers feeding back to the creators what they like and don’t like regarding plot and characters. With the current popularity of psychological thrillers, particularly female ‘unreliable narrators’ mental health issues are featuring more and more. This bucks the trend of historically main characters being male, white, straight and able bodied. But it’s important these diverse characters emerging don’t become ‘tick box’ created as it were. So does this book help?

Lucy mainly focuses on race, colour, disability and sexuality and it quickly becomes apparent she has done a LOT of research. There are references throughout to both novels and films which make her thoughts really relatable with specific examples frequently given. Lucy has also included quotes from a selection of those in the industry including agents and novelists. Helpfully Lucy also shares the common themes and characters she comes across day to day in scripts and how to think outside the box, suggesting ways to flip those ideas so they become a little less run of the mill.

There are sections in the book covering protagonist goals, character growth and supporting characters and how to research, and Lucy also shares what agents, publishers, producers and filmmakers are looking for – and why.

Lucy doesn’t give you a magic formula for creating diverse characters – there isn’t one – but what she offers is a well researched, thought provoking and concise book which will give you much to ponder on whether you’re a seasoned script writer or a new novelist. This is a valuable addition to my writing library and I’m sure it’s something I’ll be dipping in and out of for years to come.

Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and script reader. She is one of the founding organizers of the London Screenwriters’ Festival, associate producer of the 2012 film Deviation, and the author of Writing and Selling Drama Screenplays and Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays. Lucy has read for a variety of production companies, funding initiatives and screen agencies as well as individual directors and producers with her Bang2write script consultancy.

You can buy Lucy’s books on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

15 stages you go through when writing a first draft

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Obviously I am at stage 6 right now, how about you?

1. Brilliant – I’ve had the single BEST idea for a book. EVER. I’m so clever. It’s going to be AMAZING. Readers will love it. I can’t wait to write it all down.

2. Research – I’m still enthusiastic about my story but while researching I’ll just open a tab for Amazon – we could use some more towels. Oooh Twitter. Wonder what’s going on over there.

3. Not enough plot – How can I have run out of plot? I’m not even half way in. How did I ever think my incredibly stupid idea was enough to fill a book? This is going to be the shortest novel EVER.

4. Rubbish – Even my cat cringes as he curls on my desk and reads what I’ve just written. Nothing remotely interesting is happening. I need to throw in some twists.

5. Too much plot – There are so many different storylines running I have no idea who is who. There are too many twists. This is going to be the longest novel EVER.

6. Procrastination – I can’t possible start writing today until I’ve dusted the skirting boards, pulled hair from the plugholes, rearranged the cans in my kitchen cupboard into alphabetical order, written a blog…

7. My characters are amazing – I am so in love with them. They are quirky and interesting. Everyone will remember them.

8. Excitement – I am genuinely thrilled about this story. This is the one. My big breakthrough. I can feel it.

9. Constantly talking about it – Everyone I meet I tell them I’m writing a book and even in Asda when the checkout girl’s eyes glazed over I couldn’t stop telling her how fabulous it is.

10. My characters are so boring – Really – why did I think that was quirky? No-one ever actually does THAT.

11. Disheartened – I am genuinely despairing of this story. This is not the one. It will finish my career.

12. Never talking about it – When people ask if I’m writing I shrug and look at my shoes, wondering statistically what the chances are of the ground actually opening up and swallowing me.

13. Wonder – I’ve written the most emotive piece of prose. I’m so proud of it. I’ve read it aloud six times. Even my cat looked vaguely impressed.

14. Shame – I can’t believe I wrote that over emotional drivel yesterday. What was I thinking? Delete. Delete. Delete.

15. The end – I’ve finished! I’ve written a first draft. Tomorrow the rewriting starts. Send wine. Lots of wine.

If you’ve enjoyed this you might want to hop over to ’15 stages you go through with structural edits.’

Why my family dread me writing the middle of a book…

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Last week I started writing my third novel. It seemed a long time since I sat to write anything new and I was feeling quite nervous at the thought of facing a blank page.

Once I wrenched myself away from Twitter, stopped browsing Amazon and had selected some music to listen to on iTunes I couldn’t put it off any longer. My fingers hovered over the keyboard, I took a deep breath, and to my enormous relief the words began to flow.

I’m a fast typist, but not a quick writer. I can’t help tinkering as I go, spending too much time editing scenes that I know most likely won’t make the final cut. By the end of the first day I had a word count of around 1000 words which, when I’m writing my way into the story, getting to know the characters, I’m quite happy with, but more important than my word count was the fact I had enjoyed it.

‘I LOVE this part of writing.’ I told my husband later as we sipped wine and discussed our days. ‘The beginning of a brand new story, not knowing which direction the plot will lead me in. It’s all so exciting.’

‘I love this part too,’ said my husband.

‘Why is that?’ I was puzzled as he doesn’t write and doesn’t read my novels until they are finished.

‘It’s the calm before the storm,’ he said. ‘The bit before all the tears. The happiness before the ‘I can’t think of a middle,’ the ‘My book is so boring no-one will EVER read it,’ the ‘I’m NEVER going to be able to finish it because I’m not a proper writer,’ but if we can ride that out we get to the end, which you love, then you hate, then you change, then you love again, and then you hate, and then you change…’.

‘Umm I may have found The Gift challenging in the middle, but I’m sure I didn’t with The Sister.’ img_0369

‘Yes you did, Mum.’ My son chipped in. ‘And you said after The Sister was No.1 you wouldn’t doubt yourself again and then you were exactly the same writing The Gift, and when that hit No.1 you said you wouldn’t doubt yourself with the next book, but you will.’

‘It’s your process,’ my husband said. ‘But this time, if you can relax a little, and have faith that’s the way you work, you might find you enjoy the middle, and we might get through less tissues, and less bottles of wine.’

So for this book, when I get to the middle, I’m going to have faith in the process, or at least when I find myself crying into a large glass of wine at the end of the day I can read this blog post and remind myself that it is completely normal. My normal anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing – Letting go of characters

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Writing The Sister was a real labour of love. I put my heart and soul into my debut and over the 18 months it took me to finish my first novel the characters became so real to me it was almost as though they were my friends. Last November I told my husband we were going out to celebrate Grace’s birthday, and as I was applying my make-up he asked ‘who is Grace?’ and I froze, mascara wand hovering in my hand, before whispering ‘she’s my main character.’ It struck me in that moment that I might have got a little carried away. Never one to turn down the chance of a dessert we went out anyway, and I raised a glass to the girl who had reignited my passion for writing. By the time The Sister was published I was so familiar with all of the characters they were as real to me as anyone else in my life.

img_0369After I’d finished writing The Sister I felt bereft. I missed Grace, Dan and Charlie horribly. At a loss to know how to occupy my time, I quickly started writing The Gift. Jenna, my main character, is very strong, independent, and has been through a terrible ordeal. But while I was getting to know her, my heart was still very much with Grace and I found myself idly writing short stories about what I thought happened to Grace and Dan after the epilogue in The Sister.

During this period I was lucky enough to sign a book deal with a publisher and with a publication date set for The Gift I knew that had to focus fully on my new book and let Grace go. In a way, it felt like I was abandoning her and it was hard at first, to not try to make Jenna a carbon copy. As Jenna took on a personality of her own there were times I found myself thinking ‘Grace would never do that.’

The Gift has now gone out to reviewers prior to its publication next Friday and after The Sister reaching No.1 and being so loved I have expected inevitable comparisons. To my surprise the feedback I have received so far indicates that some readers are preferring The Gift to The Sister. Although I am delighted, in its infancy stages, The Gift is being so well received, and the first review was thrilling to read, there was a small part of me that inexplicably felt a little saddened. ‘Poor Grace,’ I thought, with the feelings a mother has when one child is more popular than the other.

gift-1-spell-error-correctedWith The Gift being released next week I know now it is time for me to start writing book 3, and with such a tight deadline there is not the time to have a decent break and put some space between me and Jenna. If any writers have tips on how they let go of their characters I would be extremely grateful to hear them.

 

The Gift will be released Friday 16th December and you can pre-order the digital version here from Amazon UK or Amazon US. Paperback and Audio will be available from 16/12/16.

 

The Sister is available here (UK) and here (US).

 

 

Does writing books get easier? Author to author chat with Claire Seeber

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Writing The Sister was such fun. There was no pressure, no deadlines, no expectations. Signing a three-book deal is something I am still super-excited about and very grateful for, but the prospect of writing two more books to a deadline is a little daunting.

It was with great relief I settled down for a chat with Claire Seeber. Claire is currently editing her sixth (sixth!) thriller and having just devoured her latest novel, The Stepmother, in one sitting, I couldn’t wait to bombard her with questions.

Claire, six books! I can’t imagine. That must be an amazing feeling?

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing it long enough to have written six books! I’m just very grateful anyone still wants to read them!

I’ve found it quite emotional leaving behind the characters in The Sister to begin something fresh. How did you find writing a second book in comparison to your first?

Er..my 2nd book BAD FRIENDS was actually the book I started writing first! I was working full-time as a TV director when I had the idea, inspired by a programme I was making at the time (the book is about a TV producer who gets stalked by someone possibly very close to home). I wrote a few chapters and then left it on the shelf. When I got my first deal with Avon/ HC a few years later, I needed a 2nd book synopsis to prove I’d got more ideas up my sleeve, and BAD FRIENDS was it. Having said that, I remember being taken out to the River Café by my first editor (those were the days! Now it’s a Nandos!) and she asked me what I wanted to write about next, and I said ‘infidelity’. Simple as that, but I think that must have been for my 3rd book NEVER TELL. My books are meant to be in part about things that ‘matter’ as well as being hopefully a bit thrilling.

You certainly achieved that blend with The Stepmother. I’m feeling a lot of pressure to produce something that will be as well received as The Sister has been. How hard was it for you to write a second novel.

I think I was lucky that it wasn’t more difficult to find an idea – I certainly know the ‘2nd book syndrome’ can be horrible, and I was definitely worried that I wouldn’t deliver a book my editor liked as much as my first. Luckily she did – but it didn’t do as well as my first, ironically – though then my 3rd, NEVER TELL, did really well thank goodness.

That’s good and now book 6! I keep looking at the paperback of The Sister which sits on my bookcase and I can’t imagine how thrilling it will be to see another cover on with my name on it. Thankfully the idea for book two came to me as I was wrapping up book one but I’ve no idea what will come after this. Do you have ideas for future stories squirrelled away or do you take it one book at a time?

I always have lots of ideas scribbled down – I’ve learnt that if I don’t write something down IMMEDIATELY, I will forget! If I have a cracking idea at midnight as I’m dozing off, and convince myself I’ll remember in the morning – well I won’t!!! Many an idea’s been lost that way. When it comes to a new book, I sift through things in my head and my notes, and see what feels most important to me at the time, most current etc. Usually I will have a discussion with my editor about what I am writing next, and what she thinks is the best plan too – and that will push me in one direction or another. We don’t always agree, it has to be said! So more ideas, yes! Not sure if they’re any good but I’ve got them!

I have scribbled notes but when I come back to them I can barely decipher my writing! So reviews…. Although the reviews I have been sent for The Sister have all been very kind I’m trying to finish a decent draft of my second novel before I dive into Goodreads and find out what everyone really thinks. I’m not expecting everyone to love it, of course, but I’d rather have the second book written before I read anything that will potentially knock my confidence as a new writer. Did you write your second book before or after you published your first and do you think that makes a difference?

I wrote it after I’d written the first book LULLABY. As I’ve said, I’d had the idea beforehand for BAD FRIENDS, but I think I scrapped those early chapters and started over. I was on a tight deadline with Avon, and I remember it as a pretty stressful time; we’d just moved house into a complete wreck and I had two little boys under three at the time. It was pretty tough to find the time to write it!

Wow – when my boys were that age it was a challenge to even get dressed sometimes! Your reviews are brilliant. Do you feel the pressure to keep up the same standard or are you more relaxed about writing now?

Ah bless you! I could find you some bad reviews! There’s always someone out there who will say something bad; but I have learnt to take it on the chin, though that’s been a relatively long process.   It’s too soul-destroying to take it all personally; we have to realise that the internet breeds critics and everyone thinks they’re entitled to their opinion, (which they are, of course, but there are polite ways of criticising aren’t there?!). I’ve also learnt that people have very different reactions to the same book and that’s normal.

A thicker skin is something I’m going to have to work on I think. I feel quite protective of my characters. With The Sister I wrote Grace’s story as it flowed. I never once thought about genre or marketing. I never intended it to be anything other than what it was. Now, I’m aware I have signed a deal to produce two more psychological thrillers. Do you find genre is something you are very conscious of as you write?

Well, I suppose I’d made a conscious decision with LULLABY that I was writing a certain type of book and I knew that ‘crime’ in general was the biggest seller of the time (I needed to make some money, I had a very feckless now-ex husband & a baby I was desperate to stay at home with). Remember though, this was back in 2004 when the ‘domestic noir’ of today didn’t exist. When I was first looking for an agent in 2005, having written LULLABY, I found they were unsure what bracket I fitted into: it wasn’t straight crime as they knew it. It seems really odd now to remember meetings at Harper Collins HQ where they were unsure what readership to market, and had pie-charts and things about demographics! Then Gone Girl came along and the market EXPLODED!! But that was after my first 4 books had been published!

 In answer to your question, I knew I wanted to write what I called psychological thrillers (of course they’re called that generally nowadays), and those were stories with strong female protagonists, who had to deal with some frightening scenario in their ordinary lives, and usually had some kind of relationship issues/ romance thrown in too. So it wasn’t a genre I had particularly chosen, more a type of book I wanted to write, because I liked reading it. The closest contemporary books to what I was writing were Nicci French, when I started out. My ‘genre’ in my mind was a combination of lots of things – dangerous, scary, but a bit comic too, with a hint of romance often (though not always) – and about why people do bad things to each other.

That’s something that has always fascinated me too. I’m not very good at planning, I don’t even know what I’m having for lunch. Working to a deadline I think I need to be more organised. Do you outline your plots?

Yes and no. It’s a good idea to, I think, if you are on a deadline, because it can be easy to go all over the shop if you don’t. I did with my first, because I’d never written a whole long book before, and it meant I knew what was coming next. I did with THE STEPMOTHER, my new book, because I was under a lot of time pressure. In between, not always!

Planning is something I want to explore. I feel it has been a massive jump, writing for fun in my bedroom to writing to a deadline. How do you feel the writing process has changed for you from your first book to your sixth.

It’s definitely not so much fun, to be honest, once it’s a ‘job’ – as you’ve found out! Though the paradox is that you know someone wants it at least! My first book was very much escapism: I used to disappear into the world and it was a break from washing dishes and changing nappies.   I still do disappear into it, to an extent, but with a different mindset eg knowledge of deadlines/ realities of knowing I’m not the next best-selling Agatha Christie etc!

I think Agatha Christie is definitely in a league of her own! There’s plenty of books around on how to create a good thriller. Is there a formula?

I always write the best book I can; I want to write to a certain standard and to keep the pages turning for the reader, that’s the key to thriller writing, in my mind.   Not too ludicrous a plot, and page-turning! With characters the reader can believe in, if not necessarily like.

 Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me Claire.

You can find out more about Claire’s (6!!) books here.

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