I've been hanging out at Nicola Morgan's excellent Help! I Need a Publisher blog like a dissolute Barfly at for two years now. Whilst I most definitely don't want a publisher (whether I need one or not may be another matter altogether, of course, but I am very happy without one), I do find it a fabulous place to meet people, share gossip, and learn from the ever-excellent Crabbit Old Bat, whose advice is always to the point and eminently wise. It is, therefore, an absolute delight to be part of the blog tour for her new and incredibly useful book Write a Great Synopsis - An Expert Guide. And an extra special announcement is that Nicola will be in Oxford tomorrow for a workshop in Blackwell's (details here).
Before I go any further I should explain that there is a fabulous competition going on alongside this. In Nicola's words:
"Win a synopsis critique and advice from the Crabbit Old Bat herself! Surrounding publication on January 20th of Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide, I will be visiting a number of blogs for a guest post, review or interview. If you’d like the chance of winning help with your synopsis, simply leave a relevant comment on any of the guest posts. (This could be a deep and meaningful comment or a plea to the gods of fortune to pick you!) One comment per post – but comment on each post if you wish. On February 15th, each blog host will send me the names of valid commenters and I will do a random selection, using a random number generator.
Prizes: 1st prize – a critique of your synopsis, at a mutually convenient time; plus a signed book of your choice, if available. 2nd prize – a critique of your synopsis. 3rd prize – a signed book of your choice, if available."
So, without further ado, I'll let the interview commence, and say a humungous thank you to Nicola for letting herself be subjected to questioning. I do hope my readers will go and visit the rest of the blogs on this fabulous tour. You'll find them appearing as they happen on the right hand side here. People who are new here, you probably want to avoid looking round carefully or you will be subjected to poetry, videos of poetry and highly iffy opinions about literature and publishing.
For details of how to buy this super book, click here or the cover below. Oh, and there's even a trailer vid at the end put together by Nicola's highly talented daughter. And finally, Nicola will be at Blackwell's tomorrow night!! Don't miss the chance to come along and give her chocolate!
Thank you very much Dan, for letting me come and talk about synopses, one of my favourite topics and not at all the nasty thing that most writers think!
1. So, the fantasy shoe...
I am brand averse. So, I’d never go shoe brand-hunting or choose/reject a shoe based on the name. My fantasy shoes are elegant, pointy toed, stiletto but not high, and a million times more comfortable than they look, because I’m no fool. They also stay firmly on my feet, because there’s nothing worse than them slipping off when I’m on the red carpet. (Well, you did say fantasy.)
2. Seriously, though. If Converse produced a Nicola Morgan special edition, what design would they have?
*checks internet to see what Converse shoes look like* Erm, I’d rather they didn’t. I remember you asking me once whether I was a Converse or something else (eh?) fan and I had to go and look them both up. Didn’t like either! Converse looks to me like an expensive way of dressing up a plimsoll.
3. I often joke that the main reason I decided to self-publish is so I don't have to write a synopsis, but I actually find them rather fun. Maybe it's because I went to a school where English lessons were frequently comprehension and precis. Why do you think the synopsis has such a mythology of dread around it, and what basic skills should writers be working on before they ever get to their own synopses to help them when they do?
I’m with you on the précis. I loved loved loved doing them. Why the dread? Because people mean several different things when they say “synopsis” and writers stress about which* one is being talked about and surmise that it’s all a flux-ridden mystery. It’s not. WAGS unpicks all that and more and removes all reason for fear. It even gives you a method and examples and answers to all the synopsis-related questions I’ve ever been asked. And it explains my patent Crappy Memory Tool. Skills? Verbal agility and a wide vocabulary but if you’re a good enough writer to write a good enough book, you’ve got those.
* And let me emphasise that in the book, as here, I make clear that the one I’m talking about is the one an agent or publisher wants before signing you.
4. My personal intuition is that most people who struggle with a synopsis do so because they don't know what their book is about...
I think they know too much about what their book is about and can’t see the clearing for the forest. They need to find the core and slash and burn the rest.
5. Honestly and, ahem, off the record, what percentage of agents read the synopsis before the manuscript and will go no further if it's awful?
I’m not doing percentages because I’d be making them up but from my enquiries and my intuition, the vast majority read the letter, then the sample chapters and only then the synopsis, and they only read that if the first two items were good enough. But if they did read it before the sample chapters and if it revealed that this was completely not the sort of book the agent would handle, they would probably not read on. But this would be because the book was wrong, not the synopsis. If the synopsis also revealed awful writing ability, they wouldn’t go on but I believe they’d have known that from the covering letter and would never get to the synopsis or the sample. The synopsis is the least important part of the submission, but it does have a function and it’s that function you need to consider..
6. Suppose the first three chapters are great. How likely is a poor synopsis to stop the agent asking for the rest of it, or have they already fired the e-mail off before they get there?
Unlikely. Only if (as above) the synopsis reveals that this is completely the wrong book for this agent. But they would most likely know that from the covering letter or sample. So, unlikely. And again, that’s unlikely to be the poor synopsis but the wrong book. Also, depends how “great” and how “poor”!
7.One of my pet peeves is the "How I sold a million by breaking all the rules" anecdote that every big name author seems to be able to drag out. Can you explain, without using the CAPS lock, why it is more important for writers to read a book like yours, digest it, then do what it says rather than trying to emulate this week's maverick du jour in being "original"?
Easy. I don’t need CAPS lock. I have three thoughts for you. First, it’s possible for someone to cross a motorway blindfolded and not be killed; that does not mean that crossing the motorway blindfolded is an advisable way to live a long life. Second, actually, you are perfectly welcome to ignore everything I say. Just read it first so that you know what you’re ignoring and why. Third, your idea of original could be off the agent’s nutter-scale.
8. If someone asked you how long it took to write a really good synopsis, would the chosen unit in which you responded be: 1. hours, 2. measures of whisky, 3. percentage increase in grey hair coverage, or 4. dairy milk bars?
Minutes. About twenty. Why would you need or want to spend more? You only need more if you’re messing around on Twitter.
9. Finally, and with huge thanks for being such a star, could you say, in summary points as it were, what the difference is between a synopsis and a plot outline?
I’d say read the book, tbh :) But, ok, in very brief: an outline a) is chronological b) is more comprehensive and therefore longer and c) includes such things as POV switches. A synopsis needn’t be chronological; it is shorter and more elegant. But it is still functional and let me leave you with that over-riding thought: a synopsis is not poetry but function. The function of the synopsis is to show its reader that you completed your story successfully and satisfyingly, in a way that suits the genre. It’s not a necessarily beautiful thing. But it can be.
Dan, thanks so much for hosting me! Happy synopsis-writing to all your readers.
Thank you, Nicola!
And here's the video!