Friday, February 02, 2007

Synopses Still Suck (Pitching Part 3)

Practical advice on writing synopses.

1. Learn how to do it. If your career ever takes off, it's likely to be an important and painful part of your life.

2. This is easiest if you can A, write several of them in quick order, and B, get your hands on someone else's synopsis to read and really thoroughly critique. Knowing what worked or didn't work for you in someone else's synopsis is a great learning tool. Doing this with several is better, and synopses that have sold books are probably best, especially if you can read the book at the same time. You needen't ever give the critique to the author, that's not why you're doing it.

3. The normal structural stuff: one inch margins, double spacing, etc.

4. The abnormal structural stuff: Present tense. Five pages is standard for most synopsis requests. For pitch sheets one page, (single spaced!?!-what's up with that?) is what I've been told is standard and how I do mine. different editors and agents often have different rules for these, so YMMV.

5. Dig through your favorite books. Read the dust jacket or back of book blurbs. Really study the ones that successfully represent the book in question. Try to write several of those for your book. Do the the same with the ones that strike you as bad. Pick the best of your sample and expand from there. Don't try to trim it down from the book.

6. Again, what's cool to you should drive the synopsis. But don't forget plot, character, setting, and theme.

7. Try to write it in the same style as the book, not the same voice necessarily, but a funny book should have a funny synopsis.

8. Pace and swear. No really, this helps. So does a long walk away from the computer where you mutter to yourself about what your story is really about.

9. Call your writing buddies. If they've read the book, ask them what they thinks its about. This will be enlightening and possibly terrifying. If they haven't read it, tell them about it. Remember what you're telling them and use it.

10. Treat yourself when you're done. The job sucks and you deserve a pat on the back.

11. It goes to eleven!

12. Write the one sentence version. Expand from there.

13. If you outline, grab the outline and trim it to the right size. Then edit for tone and format.

14. The rules can sometimes be bent. My WebMage outline was ten pages double spaced. Both agent(s) and editors were cool with this. Don't try this at home, i.e. without the approval of your agent if you've got one.

Anybody got a 15?


Bill Henry said...

15. Kelly knows of what he speaks, true believers. Without his critical feedback and moral support, I don't think I would ever have been able to wrestle my three-book proposal into a form that didn't make my agent gnash her teeth and weep. So hark ye when he speaks. Here endeth the lesson.

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks Bill,

It was actually kind of fun to help out with someone else's synopsis instead of banging my head on one of mine—a good learning process.

I think I'm actually going to try to teach an advanced novel course at the Loft this fall and build it around the book proposal—three chapters plus outline. I'm not sure if that's entirely sane, but with the way things work in the biz these days you've really got to know how to do it.

MariAdkins said...

Learn how to do it. If your career ever takes off, it's likely to be an important and painful part of your life.

:nods: I'm horrible at this part. But yeah, I need to learn how to do it.