Business & Craft of Writing

Synopsis Length… the vexed question

Back in the days of paper submissions, every publisher and agency had specific requirements laid out, i.e., query letter, first 10 pages, 5-page synopsis and SASE. Or whatever.

In these days of email or webform submissions, I did a spot-check of agencies listed on RWA’s website, and a handful of publishing houses, and discovered that is no longer the case. Not one of the agencies I looked at specified a length for the synopsis. With publishing houses it was even harder to find anything about submissions at all; of those few that did, only Harlequin specified a length, and just to confuse things more, they asked for 350 words (so not even pages!). Granted this was just a spot-check; I didn’t do a thorough research (I’ll be doing that after I finish this manuscript, hopefully by the end of this weekend). If you go by contests, most of those I’ve entered or judged permitted (or required) a 5-page synopsis; Golden Heart says no more than 15 pages.

This is not a change for the better. It is, moreover, frustrating as a writer. When querying an agent or editor, naturally we want to give it our very best shot, to increase the chance they’ll at least look at it. And that means giving them exactly what they are expecting to get… which we can’t do unless they tell us. Without specifics, we’re left either guessing or assuming. Not a good thing. If there’s an “industry standard” now, I sure couldn’t find it, and if there was one, I wish it was announced in big red letters everywhere! Researching this on the various writing advice, tips and blog sites is totally At Your Own Risk… for every site that says 2-3 pages there’s one that says 5 pages, or 1 page single-spaced, or 10 pages, or even the formulary 1 page per 25 manuscript pages (or 35… or…).

Editors and agents have to be aware of this huge grey area regarding synopsis length. They’re almost bound to have a preference for what they want to see, so why don’t they state it, so that’s what they get? Or do they really want to see whatever it is that we send? Which is fine too, but I’d like to know that’s their take on it… rather than send a 10-page synopsis, only to hear back that they wanted a 2-page one, or send a 2-page one and hear back that they wanted 10 pages. Why not just have it in the submissions guideline section? That’s what it’s for, after all.

My personal advice to writers is to have at least three versions of your synopsis for each manuscript: 2 pages, 5 pages and 10 pages. It’s better to have it written and not need it, than need it and have to go back to the drawing board. But it still comes back to the same vexed question: If they don’t tell us what they want, how do we know which to send?

Business & Craft of Writing · On Writing

A rejection letter to cherish

Rejection letters are no fun, even if they’re nice. It’s depressing. But I got one from an agent, querying for my very first book, Truck Stop, back in 2000, that said:

“There’s no question of your ability.  I think you have a very fluid, commercial style which is remarkably polished and self-assured… I think your writing has a lot of commercial potential…”

She hadn’t liked the actual premise itself, which is why she was rejecting it… but then, she said if I hadn’t found an agent by the time I finished my second manuscript, which was well under way, she’d be happy to take a look at that!  Waaaay cool!  I’ was more about celebrating that letter than feeling bad, LOL!  To top that off, some writers whom I’d shown the rejection told me that this particular agency is top-of-the-line and rarely take beginning writers at all, that they frequently turn down *published* writers, so that I should absolutely pat myself on the back because she’d invited me to submit to them again!

Just to put the final cap on this validation (despite the fact that it was a rejection)… another writer reassured me: “Sometimes this takes years of writing to generate a rejection letter of this quality!”

I still have that rejection letter, carefully in a box with my letter from the Undiscovered Writer II contest, the first contract with the epublisher, and the first copy of the paperback, plus the long-stemmed white silk rose I got from Desert Rose Chapter of RWA for a first sale 🙂

Business & Craft of Writing · On Writing · Truck Stop

How I came to finish my first novel

Year 2000 was a turning point in my life; that year, I completed not only my first, but also my second-ever novels, both contemporary romances. So this is the Cliff’s Notes version *laughs*

I’d been writing on and off all my life since as early as I can remember (I specifically remember 3rd grade, writing in bed at night under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping). But I was never “A Writer” (TM), it was just … my stories. That’s what I called them. I wrote bits and pieces as they came to me. One day, on a whim, I joined AOL. I have to admit, I joined it because I watched “You’ve Got Mail” and the computers said “You’ve Got Mail” when they turned them on, and so I joined on a free trial, just for a lark so I could hear my computer tell me I had mail. Yes, I’m that easy 🙂 Anyway! AOL had writers groups, and I found them. REAL writers. People who were writing and/or had written… even *gasps* PUBLISHED writers! I never met a published author in my life. Kinda like happening across the Holy Grail by accident. Anyway, so I got involved in some of the writers groups, and heard for the first time about Romance Writers of America. No kidding? I joined on the spot.  The next thing I started to be made aware of was writing contests run by RWA chapters. Reading the lists of contests in the RWR had me just hot to join a contest and see. I mean, my mom said my stories were good, but she’s my mom, right? I mean, it’s in her job description to think her duckling is a swan and that her daydreamer daughter can be a writer. I mean, she also told me that I was smart, when my dad always told me I was stupid. Hmm, actually she turned out to be right, when she tricked me into taking a test for Mensa when I dind’t have a clue what it was, and then qualified… but eh, that’s another story.

So there was this contest, the Undiscovered Writer II contest by an RWA Chapter, Love Designers Writers’ Club and Rendezvous Magazine. It required a first chapter and a synopsis. I decided to give it a shot… see what kind of feedback I got and if anybody thought I could write at all. I thumbed through my (112 by then) stories, and pretty much at random chose Truck Stop. I didn’t, of course, have the opening scene written, much less a whole chapter, but I had 3 various scenes written, and a rough idea of the main conflict. Fortunately my Muse kicked in, as she sometimes does (unreliably), and I came up with a first chapter, and one with which I was actually pretty pleased. Then I took that very rough idea of the conflict, along with the first chapter and 3 various scenes, and hammered out a 3-page synopsis, and sent it off.

Mind you… I wasn’t entering this contest with any thought, or even hope, of winning. I just wanted to see if the feedback I got back was in anyway validating. The burning question here was, CAN I WRITE?

What I never expected in a million years was that… it would WIN!

Which it did. AND… that the prize for the winning manuscript was to be read by an senior editor at Silhouette. Who already had my name, and I had a PHONE NUMBER (yes, really!) to CALL!!! She’d already read it when I called, and wanted to see more.


Um. I explained that the book wasn’t finished (massive understatement there.. I had the first chapter and 3 random scenes). She said send along the first three, and I agreed, no problem. Once I was off the phone… AGGGHHH!!!! I scrambled to get two more chapters written. Plus, my synopsis had taken some heavy criticism from the contest judges, so I got a copy of Writers Market and dove into the section on synopses, and came up with one that seemed much better, to send along with the new chapters.

Then I sat back to relax in total satisfaction that I’d written THREE whole chapters and had a great synopsis, VERY pleased with myself, and waited for my “Thank you so much for submitting but…” letter to arrive.


It was a “Thank you so much for submitting, please send the full manuscript” letter.

WHAT???!!!!! I hadn’t written any more on it in the intervening month (only one! not 3 or 6 or a year like I’d been warned), and I figured I had plenty of time to write more, since I now had lovely new 3 chapters and a shiny new synopsis to send out to agents/editors, once Silhouette sent their rejection letter. And then *they* would take months to reject it, too (See? I  was totally totally all mentally prepared to take the rejections!). I had lots of time! It never, EVER occurred to me that they’d actually want to see the complete manuscript! I mean… I was a totally newbie! This just didn’t happen. It takes months… years! to get this far!

So I got to writing with a passion. From May 8, 2000, when I received the letter from the Undiscovered Writers II Contest, to October 10, 2000, I wrote, and finished, the whole book. (I also made a major move to another state in the interim, partially accounting for the time factor).

Ultimately, Silhouette did not make an offer on the book, because it didn’t fit into their lines. We discussed it at length, but given the conflict was absolutely crucial to the plot, there was no way to get around that obstacle… or they *would* have!!!! I went on eventually to accept an offer from a small epublishing company in 2001, and when it was published in paperback, I sent a copy to Romantic Times magazine, and it got a four star review in February 2002!

For anyone interested, click here to go to Diary of an Aspiring Novelist to read the complete story. Warning! This is very long, and is probably only of interest to my close family & friends, and other beginning writers 🙂

Business & Craft of Writing

Business Plan? Who, ME?!

I signed up for a class that has brought up the subject of business plans. I strongly recommend this article they sent us to: plus you’ll want to read

My first thought to all this was: “business plan? whaaa…?” I have ONE epub book out. That’s it. Also, to me, business plans dealt with…you know… numbers and flow charts and such. *shudders* But then I opened the plan and read the fine print, and I could *feel* my brain kicking into gear! Even my Muse poked her head up and said “oh really?”

When reading through the article on introducing the business plan for writers, this pretty much jumped off the page and smacked me in the face:
* What path will take us toward our success goal? Are we on that path already? If not, what do we need to do to get on that path?
* Are we spending time on activities that impede our goals? Are adjustments needed to refocus on activities that match our goals?

um… well. *blushes* My bad. I do have the time to write, but I allow myself to get distracted. No excuses. So I have to really face that, and accept that challenge head-on. I DO want to write, I do want to be published. It’s my #1 priority in life (after breathing). So if it’s not getting done, that’s on me. The buck stops here, and all that.

There are, however, some valid issues that arise from time to time, that interfere with writing. So… (this first lesson really got the brain working, I must say)

1. Pain. I have spinal stenosis and a knee that’s bone-on-bone. Acute pain is a frequent issue. I always have a certain amount of low-level chronic pain; mostly I ignore that, but if it ratchets up, it can and does interfere with the writing process…. even more if I have to take pain meds, which make me sleepy/groggy at worst and loopy at best. During those times, however, I *can* edit. Doesn’t matter if I can’t focus for long periods of times, I can work on a paragraph at a time.

2. When the scene is there in my head, but the words to write it just won’t come. This is a Serious Nasty trick my Muse likes to play on me. I do have a a work-around on this one, the problem is, I dont DO it. It’s like having a headache but you don’t go take aspirin until it’s too late, right? I’ve found that dictating the scene while it’s in my head, is amazing. It comes out stream-of-conscious just as I see/hear/feel/experience it in the moment, and I dont’ have to worry about struggling for how to get exactly the right wording down. By capturing it in-the-moment in voice, then when I go back and transcribe it, I can take my time with the wording, while the recording keeps the in-the-moment feel of the scene that it had when I recorded it.

The problem with these solutions above? It doesn’t WORK if I don’t DO it!!!!!! The problem with these solutions above? It doesn’t WORK if I don’t DO it!! So.. starting now, I’m taking this on!

For the business plan itself, I found it was very helpful to actually get down in black and white, things I already knew and had swirling around in my mind. Which wasn’t more than just the basics, and in no particular order. So I downloaded the form from the article, and got those thoughts all sorted and organized 🙂 It’s not much, admittedly. But it’s a starting point.