Justifying Your Writing

Reminder: The January round of Critique Corner has been changed to a February round. Click here for the revised submission deadline and critique date.

I’ve been thinking about a topic that may be timely as we gear up for our February Critique Corner round. But it’s kind of a touchy subject. It has to do with putting your work out there and receiving feedback gracefully. It also has to do with reading another writer’s work, and giving honest, constructive feedback.

I had the privilege of reading a friend’s chapters recently and was entrusted to give my honest feedback. Now I don’t take this request lightly. I know how difficult it is for any of us to put our work out there, even those of us who have been playing this writing game for quite some time.

Usually it goes something like this…We hit the send button, but take a deep breath first. We wait by the computer, refreshing our email—wondering if the reader thinks our stuff is any good. We secretly hope that our words are received the way we picture them—a work of art destined to be the next Newberry Medal winner.

And then reality sets in—in the form of “I love your writing and you’re off to a great start but…”

The truth is, most of the time our critique partners see flaws in our work. They may not understand what we’re trying to say; or think that we need to clarify; or think we’re starting our story in the wrong place; or think our dialogue is flat…the list is endless. And no matter what the less than sparkly feedback we get says, it stings a little. We even might have the urge to explain our work, or justify what we’re trying to say. I mean maybe if they just read a little further they’d…

Okay, stop right there. It is never a good idea to justify your work. It’s never a good idea to explain to your reader what you were trying to say. And the reason is simple. The reader will not have you sitting next to them when they read your book. You will not be there to explain your words. Your words will need to stand on their own. I’m not saying you can’t brainstorm with your critique partners about ways to make your chapter stronger. That’s the point of having a critique partner! I’m talking about the times when you consider keeping your work the way you love it, even though it’s not perfectly clear or strong, just because you love it the way it is. I’m talking about the times you may be tempted to explain what’s really going on in the scene, secretly hoping this will make a difference or pull your reader over to your way of thinking.

See here’s the thing. Your writing needs to speak for itself. If a reader does not connect with your character, they will stop reading. If they are confused, they will stick around to have their questions answered, but they won’t stick around for long if they can’t follow the action. So my point is, if a critique partner or reader has questions, think of them as golden opportunities to make your story stronger.

On the flip side, as a reader or crit partner, we need to be careful to send the right message when giving feedback. We all know we need to be kind and constructive, I’m not actually referring to that. I’m referring to giving feedback at the right time.

Confused? Maybe this will help…

About six years ago, while I was drafting my second manuscript, I came across www.kidlit.com. , a blog written by then agent (now freelance editor), Mary Kole. It’s not an exaggeration to say I lived and breathed every word she wrote. Her site was (and still is) full of golden writing and publishing information. Check it out if you haven’t already! Back then, I was especially eager to learn the craft of writing—to hone my skills. I will forever be grateful for not only Mary’s fresh take on the publishing industry, but also on the nitty gritty of writing a novel.

So all while I drafted this MS, I was actually taking what I learned on her site, and using it to revise the MS too. It seemed no sooner had I written a scene, I read something that made me realize I had done it all wrong or at minimum, not as well as I could have. I also devoured writing books and took webinars during this time, so I had multiple sources giving me the same advice. Needless to say, it took me forever to draft that MS—like two years, in fact. But you would think after all that time my MS draft would be perfect, right? I mean surely I read these writing tips and applied them to my writing, right? Well, not really. Not at first anyway.

It took me several years of reading and meeting with two critique groups to make that novel passable. You see the problem was, I had to learn for myself where the problems were. I had to find them in my story. There were times my crit partners made suggestions, but I didn’t agree with them. There were times I read things about show/ not tell and didn’t think I had done that at all in my MS. I understood the concept, but I didn’t recognize it all the time in my own work.

It takes us a long time to master the art of writing well. We all learn at our own pace. And although I’ve improved immensely over the last seven years, I have still not mastered the art of writing well all the time. I’ve probably mastered the art of writing well sometimes.

So what does all this have to do with giving honest, constructive feedback to another writer and giving it at the right time? Well, we have to remember that in the end, it is their story, not yours. They may eventually come around to see it the way you do, but they may not. They may not be at a skill level where they see the issues in their own writing. The good news is, these are golden opportunities for discussion. I mean what better kinds of conversations are there, than ones that revolve around books and stories that we’ve written?

In my quest to master the art of writing, I have to say, the most important and helpful information I’ve received through the years, has come directly from my critique partners. And though it has taken me awhile to take their words to heart, I owe them more than thanks than any words I can skillfully write. And that’s why I believe it’s so important to be generous and honest when giving another writer feedback. You never know how you’ll impact their journey. Mine sure have made my journey an experience I’ll never forget- even if I have tried to justify my chapters a few times along the way! 🙂

Manuscript Monday #22

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

Hey Guys! I’ve decided to postpone the January round of Critique Corner. I consulted with Melyssa and she agreed to offer her feedback on each of the submissions even if we change the date. Plus, I’ve had several people express interest in participating, but it looks like the timing may be off for them. So…the January Round has been changed to a February round. And I’m good with that. If it works better for most of you, it works for me too! Click here for the revised submission deadline and critique date.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog, specifically these Manuscript Monday posts. Mostly because I’m struggling every week to write something interesting. In the first few weeks (months even) it was easy. I mean, who isn’t excited to talk about a sparkly new idea that’s itching to break free? Besides, I thought it would be helpful to share with new writers (or any writer who’s already lived this experience) just what it’s like in the real world to complete a novel. Not much has been posted on this topic. We all envision the daily life of JK Rowling and Veronica Roth, drafting away their next bestseller. But what about the rest of us. The ones who don’t write full time, who have spouses, jobs, school, kids, houses, cooking, carpooling? What is it like for the rest of us?

Well, I had to really think about that this week as I considered shelving this weekly topic—stopping Manuscript Monday at week 22 and call it a day until I have something tangible to share. I figured if I’m getting bored writing about my progress (or lack of progress) then all of you must be too, right?

But this is the exact kind of thing I wanted to blog about. The reality of writing a novel. The highs, the lows, the floods, the droughts. The abundance of time and ideas, and also the lack of both. Because that is the reality of writing a novel for most people. The difference between those that actually complete their novel and those that make excuses and give up, is that even during those low points, they keep thinking about their story. They keep writing something. They keep their hand in it, even when their mind is overwhelmed with life and they can’t actually put any words to paper. They daydream about their characters and their foes, and imagine a story that might be complete someday.

So, I completely understand if many of you tune out on Mondays. Hearing about my low points may not be that motivational. But for those of you that do continue to tune in, I promise to do my best to keep it real.

And so at week 22 of my newborn manuscript, here’s where I am…

In limbo. A few days ago I reread what I have drafted so far. And I have to say I really love it. Seriously. I love the voice. I love my characters. I love the world I’m beginning to create. I like the idea for the plot even though not much has happened in the story yet. Yet for many reasons, I am setting it aside for a bit.

First, I have a second ghostwriting project I’ve contracted for a small company. They want a sales book published (in their name) with elements of fiction throughout. You may remember that last fall I was a crazy person drafting another work project. Well that was the draft of the first book they contracted me for. Since that time I’ve made small revisions but now they have given me their major revision notes. So at this time, my days are pretty packed—between revising the first book and writing the second, all by the end of March. Yikes! Please say prayers and send virtual snickerdoodles!

Secondly, I am aggressively revising my completed middle grade novel. In a perfect world, I’ll start querying it before summer. Hmm. More snickerdoodles??

Thirdly, I have my regular life to participate in! Prince Charming, royal children, hockey mom duties, house stuff…all deserve my attention too. Do you think any of them would consider snickerdoodles in exchange for writing time?

And lastly, I’ve been throwing around an idea for my current manuscript’s sequel for several years now. Just this week I had a breakthrough for its plot. It would pull together loose ends that readers might not even know weren’t tied up in the first—a puzzle they didn’t actually know needed to be solved. I am beyond excited to write it, but as many of you know, until I know the first book is sparkly beyond a doubt…and has a home, it would be a waste to write the sequel right now. Unless of course I find myself with an abundance of time. Then of course, I will write away!

So for the near future, who knows how much time I‘ll be able to devote to my little story of Atria and her adventures. But I will keep daydreaming of her, and of all the mischief she’ll someday get herself into.

And that’s the reality of writing this manuscript at week 22. Thanks for taking the journey with me, and as always, feel free to share your ups and downs too. Good luck on your journey. Keep daydreaming of your story, and get that pencil to paper whenever you can!

Happy Book Birthday: WAITING FOR UNICORNS!

I am so excited and thrilled to announce that today marks the release of WAITING FOR UNICORNS, the amazing Middle Grade novel by my great friend and critique partner, Beth Hautala…now a debut author!! Congratulations, Beth!

As most of you know, I blogged about this book a few months ago. In honor of it’s birthday, here’s a repeat of most of that post…

And here’s a peak at Beth with her now published treasure…

BethandBook

How seriously great is this picture??

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

WAITING FOR UNICORNS

Coming to a bookshelf near you January 22, 2015 Middle Grade Fiction (ages 10 and up) Philomel/Penguin (US) 

Talia McQuinn is much too old to believe in magic, yet she keeps a jar of wishes under her bed. When her whale-researcher father drags Tal to the arctic for the summer following her mother’s death, she brings the jar along. During her stay, Tal learns the ancient Inuit legend of the narwhal whale—the unicorn of the sea—and she forms a plan to make the biggest wish of her life. When the entire population of whales in the Hudson Bay mysteriously disappears, and an accident endangers the life of her new friend, Tal must confront the truth: no wish on earth can grant escape from her heartache, or bring her mother back. But sometimes, the release of one wish makes way for the granting of another.

Sounds amazing, right?? (Well, it is!!)

A few months ago, Beth was sweet enough to send me an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of her book. 🙂

Here’s my review of WAITING FOR UNICORNS by the talented debut author, Beth Hautala:

I came across the first 250 words of WAITING FOR UNICORNS in 2010 as an entry in the Bakers Dozen Agent Auction on Miss Snark’s First Victim’s blog. Beth’s lyrical writing pulled at me immediately, lulling me into a world she created so beautifully. I knew with certainty that I would see this book in print someday. I didn’t know Beth at the time, but I knew that her book was special. Now that I’ve read the entire story, I can tell you with even more certainty this is a book I will never forget.

Talia is a character readers will be drawn to from the start, maybe because of her circumstances—she has experienced a loss no child should ever have to, but more likely because she is full of hope even when she feels there is no more to be had. She is full of wonder, even though her new world feels unfamiliar and strange.

And she isn’t afraid to wish. And wish she does, with the help of her wish jar, a few new friends, and some very difficult to find unicorns.

WAITING FOR UNICORNS is an uplifting adventure that takes readers on a sweet journey to the arctic where the descriptions are so vivid, they may just need to wear their own wool hat and mittens. The characters are refreshing and real. Readers will root for Talia on each page as she searches for her unicorn and tries to piece together her broken heart.

Several things stood out to me as I read this book. Beth Hautala writes with such amazing beauty and grace, it’s as if she spent a lifetime choosing each and every word, precisely for this story. She has developed a world so splendid and different from what most of us know. I felt grateful to have experienced all that she exposed me to. And she created characters so real and a story so relatable that I just may feel a long lasting connection to both.  

For more information on Beth and her book go to www.bethhautalabooks.com

And so it’s finally here. Cheers to Beth and her newborn book! May it live a long and sparkly life in the hands of young readers everywhere!

The Writer’s Fairy Tale

Last weekend, it was Girl’s Night Out for my daughter and I. We watched Into the Woods at the little theater in our town, while stuffing our faces with popcorn. Buttered of course! I had wanted to see it with her for the longest time. She is the only person I know who loves fairy tales as much as I do. The movie, an original spin on several fairy tales, was amazing—the music, the characters…so good! In my own opinion, of course. 🙂

But here’s the thing. My daughter and her boyfriend hit a rocky patch a few days before. If you’ve never watched your child get their heart broken, it’s pretty much the same thing as having your own heart ripped out and run over by a bus. And even though she’s bounced back quite well, it’s still hard to watch. And so Friday night I was surprised when she picked that movie for us to see, when she had already seen it with her friends. I mean Cinderella and Prince Charming would be in it, after all. I had wondered if this movie would make her even sadder. I had wondered if her fairy tale illusions were forever altered. I know, cue the dramatic music…

I think her illusions were forever altered this week. But they weren’t destroyed. I could see it in her face as she sang along to the music and raved about its characters right along with me. This movie didn’t showcase traditional happy endings or happily ever after either. I won’t give anything away, don’t worry. But I bring it up because both my resilient daughter and the movie taught me something about fairy tales that night. Even when it looks as though you might not get your happy fairy tale ending, something comes along and either changes your perspective or changes your path. It may not be in your original plan. It may not be the way you’ve dreamed, but it may still be a good ending. It still may be your fairy tale ending.

So then, what about our writing? Will we ever get our fairy tale ending? If our dream is to someday get published, is there only one way for that to happen? My fairy tale ending looks the exact same way now as it did seven years ago. But as my story unfolds and obstacle after obstacle get thrown in my way, will my vision change? Will I change? Will my ending look completely different?

In a future post, I’ll be talking about different options for getting our books published. There are so many different prince and princesses out there, why wouldn’t there be different kingdoms for them to explore and castles to live in some day too? My happily ever, in some ways, is here right now. I’m able to write. I have adventures and characters in my head waiting to be turned into stories. Not many people can say either of those things.

The next chapter in my writing fairy tale awaits me though, and I’m sure yours awaits you too. Just remember, each of our adventures may look different, but that doesn’t mean they don’t each sparkle as brightly against the backdrop of your kingdom and your castle as someone else’s might.

So I encourage you to press on. Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep editing. This journey is your fairy tale. Make it a happy one!

Manuscript Monday #21

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

Hey guys! Happy Martin Luther King Day. For those of you with kids, I hope you enjoy the extra day with them or…survive the challenge of having them home an extra day this week! Today, I’ve turned my house into boot camp. Midterms are next week, so for my two teens I’ve planned a mix of study sessions, exercise sessions, eating sessions, and resting sessions. Seriously! I’m using a timer and everything. 🙂

The living room will be a quiet zone for studying. I’ll even do my work in there too. We have a fitness room in the basement, so my kids can exercise when they need a break. We may take a walk or run outside too. Call me crazy but the kids actually love this. I am there to quiz them when they need me, but to be honest they prefer to quiz each other. I can’t tell if that’s just because they’re so competitive and want to beat each other, they like the break, or they just don’t trust me with Pre-Calc problems and German vocabulary!

In case you’re wondering, Prince Charming (who works from home when he’s not traveling) happens to be in Florida on a business trip this week. How unfair is that?? So while he enjoys the sunshine, I will become a drill sergeant. Boy is he missing all the fun!

Hopefully I’ll get some writing work done too as I have a lot going on this week. I have a huge freelance project that I contracted last week. Yay! It’s going to take up a lot of time over the next few months. (More on that later!) I have revisions to complete on my “completed” manuscript. I’m getting closer every day with that one (thanks to Mel, my amazing CP). I also have my WIP I’d like to work on at some point if I can. And that brings me to week 21. Not much tangible work this past week, I’m afraid. But that’s okay. That’s the life of a writer, I guess, right? Not all weeks will be as productive as we’d like.

And then there’s our January Critique Round here on the blog…

So here’s the thing. I am so excited to host this round. It’s been quite a while since we had one. And we have Mel offering feedback too. How cool is that?? But, we have once small problem. No one has submitted their work yet. As in, not one person. 😦 😦 Now I know the deadline for writers to send their 500 words is later this week, and so the submissions may still be coming. I hope! I guess I’d like to know if we still have interest in holding it. I had several people indicate they were subbing, but that was over a month ago. Many of you out there may just not feel ready after the craziness of the holiday season. I surely can relate!

So how about this…if you are ready to submit, please shoot me an email or tweet to let me know, or just send your submission. Or if you’d like to participate, but just aren’t ready, let me know that too. I will consider moving the date if that’s what works for all of you! The point of the critique round is to help, and I’m up for helping in any way that works. I’ve talked to Mel about this too and she’s willing to help out whenever we need her! I am constantly amazed at the generosity of this writing community! 🙂 Thank you, Mel!

And that’s it for today. I’m off to boot camp. Eat. Work. Run. Eat, Work. Write. Eat. Repeat. Quiz in between. Tell random jokes to keep my kids entertained. Just kidding on the last one but I might break into random dancing if I feel like it. 🙂

Have a fabulous week, my writing friends. I hope it brings you all that you hope it will!

Putting your Genre Under a Microscope

I’m pretty sure (if you’re reading this post) that you hope to get your book in the hands of readers someday. You hope to get it published. The method of publication doesn’t really matter at this point, but if getting published is your goal, you must make sure that you’re familiar with the genre you’re writing in.

How well do you know your genre?

You may know the difference between genres like historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction and contemporary for example. Those differences are easy to learn. So much can be found all over the internet on each one. But do you know what exactly makes a science fiction story—science fiction? What specific nuances can be found in science fictions books? Are there similarities in the science fiction books that have been most recently published?

For the most part, publishers want to see stories that fall into a specific genre. There are exceptions to this, of course. You will see stories that don’t neatly fit into a specific genre. Today, I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about writing a story that is clearly one specific type.

Once you determine your genre, it’s important to read as many published books in that genre as possible. Pick several authors, from bestselling to award winning to debut. Read their books. Analyze them. Note the similarities. Note the differences. Pretty soon you’ll see a pattern. Of course every author writes with their own specific tone and voice, and setting aside those differences you may notice some things that seem almost necessary. Readers come to expect certain things from fantasy novels for example. So make sure your story fits the genre you intended to write in.

Many new writers have a vague idea of their genre. If writing is to become something you’re serious about though, it’s your job to be sure you’ve learned as much as you can about that genre. Maybe this will help…

Pick five books in your genre. For example, if you write Middle Grade (category) Contemporary (genre), you might list such books as:

Love, Aubrey

The Double Life of Zoey Flynn

Olive’s Ocean

At Your Service

All Four Stars

There’s a mix here of best-selling books, award winners, and debuts. They are all very different stories, but you’ll also find some similarities. To compare them, make a chart if that will help. List any of the items you wish to compare. Some things you might look at are chapter length, number of POV characters, whether the book is written in first or third person, how quickly the conflict is introduced, sentence length, chapter ending type (cliff hanger or thoughtful), etc.

After you’ve made your chart, read each book, studying them in fact, for the items on your list. Do you notice any similarities? Any differences?

This exercise may help you fit your novel into its proper place. Publishing is a business and publishers need to be sure your book can be easily marketed. Besides, readers come to expect certain kind of things in the books they love and you don’t want to disappoint them. I love fairy tales and I will tell you with certainty that at that end of the story, I am definitely looking for a happy ending, even if it’s not an obvious ending!

This exercise can be simplified by zeroing in on the opening paragraph. Does something in these contemporary books scream contemporary? Sure. Just like a fantasy book or historical fiction book will have elements that scream each one. The tone, pacing and voice will certainly give this away. Are there certain must haves? Now take a look at your own opening? Are there ways to make it stronger by adding some of these necessary elements?

The point is, that in order to write in a particular genre, you need to know that genre. In order to learn it, you must read widely. Read as many books as you can. But don’t forget to read books in other genres too. You’ll learn the differences even quicker by doing so.

Give it a try, even if you are an experienced writer. Even if you consistently read the latest books in your genre. Have you ever actually put a few of your favorites under the microscope? Do you know what makes them work and what doesn’t? This might just be the trick you need to fine tune your writing, to ensure that your readers choose your book and then keep reading it once they choose it!

So grab a newly released book in your genre. Read it for fun. Then read it a second time under your microscope. Find out why the publisher thought this book was great enough to publish, and why it screams its genre. It might just help you to make your own story great enough to publish too!

And don’t forget… I’m accepting any 500 words of your WIP or completed manuscript for our critique round right now. It’s coming up fast, so get them in. You can find the details here.

Have a great week everyone. Thanks for checking in! 🙂

Manuscript Monday #20

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 20 week-old manuscript:

Hey everyone! Happy Monday. I hope your weekend was full of awesome, or at least full of a break from the week day monotony. 🙂

I have to say week #20 was good for my WIP. I managed to add a few thousand words to my draft. Yay! Not bad considering I also did some revisions on my completed manuscript too. It’s tough for me to completely immerse myself in my WIP. This darn “other” manuscript keeps getting in the way! I so wish I was done with it and was querying it to agents. There’s kind of a freeing feeling when that happens. It’s sort of like, “Well, this manuscript is as good as I can make it and now it’s out of my hands until I hear back from enough agents.” Do you know what I mean? At that point I can completely focus on my next story. And as you know, I sort of rushed things a bit this time. That’s why this new manuscript is so hard to draft. But it’s all good. I wanted to document my progress on it, and so there it is. A few thousand more words this week. I’ll take it!

I had some success writing out of my comfort zone this weekend too—as far as location goes. Some of you may remember I mentioned in an earlier post that I don’t do so well writing in cute coffee shops. I want to write in cute coffee shops but I’m so distracted by my surroundings, and thinking about how awesome it is that I have free time to write in a cute coffee shop that I don’t actually get much writing done. Phew. Did you get all that?

But Friday night I had a date with my revisions at Starbucks. Yes, just me, my Caramel Apple Spice, and my manuscript. I figured that if I can’t draft very well out of my own home, maybe I can revise that way. Besides, I had an hour and a half to kill. My daughter’s friends were taking her out to dinner for her birthday. And much to my daughter’s dismay, I would not let her drive—even though she now has her senior license and can legally drive any time with any number of teen passengers. Call me crazy but three girls, in the dark, on snowy roads (even if the roads weren’t that snowy) is more than I am ready to allow just yet. And so I became the driver.

And it was a success! I was focused. Not at all distracted. And I got so much done! It was peaceful, and quiet, and my head was totally into my story for almost exactly 90 minutes–while in a cute coffee shop no less! I feel like that’s an accomplishment right there. I guess maybe a change of scenery is good for our writer brains sometimes!

So in week #20, I managed to draft a few thousand words of my WIP, and revise about 100 pages of my completed manuscript. I feel good about my progress finally!

On another note, Our January Critique Corner is almost here! I hope you’ll submit and tell your friends to submit also. I can’t wait to read all the great submissions. And don’t forget, my amazing critique partner, Melyssa, is going to be offering feedback too. Yay, Mel! It’s a great chance to hear how you can improve your work.

And on another note… The release date of WAITING FOR UNICORNS, by my other critique partner extraordinaire and debut author, Beth Hautala is approaching fast! January 22, 2015 to be exact! I am so excited to see her book in bookstores, and can only image how she must feel. So treat yourself this month. Buy Beth’s book. It’s the perfect story for winter and I promise you will love it so much. Even if you don’t read middle grade. It really has something for everyone. For my original post and review, click here.

I guess that’s it for today, my friends. If I sound a little spazzy, it’s only because so many exciting things are happening right now. Words have a way of energizing me—even in the icy cold of winter!

So have a fabulous week and don’t forget to get your 500 words in. I am so looking forward to reading them!

Struggling through the Synopsis

*Reminder… I’m now accepting pages (500 words) for the January Critique Round. Click on Critique Corner tab for details!

One of my goals for this website this year is to include information on publishing—anything from grabbing the attention of a literary agent to self publishing. I’ve never written about any of these topics before, and there’s a few simple reasons for this: I do not have a literary agent; I’ve never been published by a traditional publishing house; and haven’t ventured into the world of self publishing. I never felt I was qualified enough to speak about any of these topics. I mean, really, who am I to tell any writer (beginner or not) how to make any of this happen?

But I’ve changed my tune. Not because I am an expert now, but because I do have a lot of information to share with all of you. I’ve scoured the internet for years trying to find any information that will help me write the perfect query letter. I’ve followed writing blogs since the first day I decided to write a children’s book on how to format a manuscript. I’ve researched agents. I’ve interacted with other writers on the same quest as me. I won’t profess to tell you what to do with any of the information I’ve come across, but I’m hoping that something I say will be worthwhile to even a few of you.

So here I am hoping something I say will help you in your quest to be published one day. As we know, there are no guarantees, but we all have to start somewhere. Maybe this site can be a stepping stone on your path toward getting your story in the hands of readers—whether the path you take is through a literary agent or an independent online publisher.

I considered starting at the beginning of getting published. Starting with a topic you would need to know right away, once your manuscript is complete. But let’s be honest. I’m not that organized. And if I start with topic 1, I’m certain a few weeks from now I’ll wish topic 1 would have been a different topic. So instead, I’m going to randomly write about topics that have been important to me. I guess my writer’s brain works in random ways sometime and this is one of those times!

I thought today would be a good day to start with writing a synopsis. The dreaded synopsis. Maybe because I want to get this topic over with, or maybe because I’m writing mine right now and the topic is fresh in my mind. Most likely though I want to start here because writers and agents alike seem to have differing views on their importance and I thought it would be helpful to write about a topic where writers have questions and opinions!

Here’s my two cents.,,

The research I’ve done, both on writer’s websites and literary agency websites has shown me that most (not all) people in the writing community hate them. Writers hate writing them because it’s hard to summarize their 50,000- 75,000 word story into a 1-2 page document. Plus, it’s a dry form of writing. Agents hate reading them because many (not all) like to be surprised as they read a requested manuscript. They don’t want to know the twists and turns ahead of time.

I’ve noticed that more and more agents do not even require them. They feel the query letter and first 5-10 pages is enough to know whether they want to read more. I’ve read the submission’s guidelines of so many literary agencies through the last several years, saying no synopsis is necessary, that I’ve actually gotten lazy. I’ve started my own submission process this third time around without writing one. Sure I wrote one (UGGH) for my first two middle grade novels, but not for this one.

And that is a rookie mistake. The fact is, there are literary agents who want one. There are authors, hosting contests, that ask for one. There are editors of major publishing houses who require one. And if that isn’t reason alone to force your lazy, fearful butt to write one, then this reason should be:

Writing a synopsis will help you gain a better perspective on your story.

It’s true, many writers struggle to write a decent synopsis, and submitting just an average synopsis may not make or break your chances of getting an agent if your query sparkles and your first chapter shines. But…

Why not tackle it head on and make your synopsis dazzle like the like the rest of your submission package? What are you so afraid of? Getting to know your story? Seeing obvious plot holes? Focusing on only one or two characters and the main plot, and leaving minor characters and subplots out? Giving away your ending? Adding just enough emotion to make your summary interesting?

Don’t be afraid. I’ll help you. I’ve struggled through a few over the years. Here’s what you need to know:

A synopsis is a narrative summary of your book. It should be one or two pages, but one page is best. It should be written in third person, present tense, It should be single spaced with only the title of your manuscript written at the top like this:

Synopsis of: (Title of Book) centered across the top of the page or title of book centered across the page with the word Synopsis (not in italics) centered two lines underneath the title.

If it’s longer than two pages then double space. If single space, leave a line between paragraphs.

It should include the time and place of your book, and be written in the same style as your book. If the tone is serious, your synopsis should be serious. If the tone is sarcastic, the synopsis should be sarcastic too. You should include main characters, the antagonist, and the main conflicts of the plot only. The point of the synopsis is to provide a summary, not every detail. However, the emotion of the story is important here too. In as much as the plot of your book is the external goal, the story of your book is the internal goal. Both elements must be included.

The synopsis needs to provide a clear idea of what your book is about. What characters will we care about (or pretty much hate), what do they stand to lose if they don’t reach their goal, and how does the situation resolve itself? How does it all turn out in the end? Definitely include the ending. You must show that you know how to complete a novel.

The synopsis may feel like a report of your book, and it should—with as much feeling as possible without cluttering it with details

The opening paragraph should hook your reader enough to make them keep reading. The closing paragraph should wrap things up. My best suggestion when writing yours though, is to do your own research too. Find a sample or two to get the flavor of what they read like. I considered adding some links for you, but to be honest, there are so many out there for so many different age groups and genres, it would be hard for me to find a sample that would be relevant to each of you.

Like I said before, I do not profess to know all there is to know on this subject. But I’m hopeful this information will give you a place to start, or at least get the conversation going. If you’ve come across any other tid-bits on synopsis writing that might be helpful, please feel free to comment. If there’s enough other information, I may even post again on this topic. Like I said, I’m trying to shine mine up like many of you, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re tackling this particular writing gem like me right now, good luck. Let the polishing begin!

Manuscript Monday #19

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 19 week-old manuscript:

Do you wait until your first draft is finished to let other writers read your work? Do you wait until you’ve revised the completed draft at least one time? Or are you more likely to let them read your chapters as you write them—in order to get more immediate feedback?

There’s no real answer here. All writers are different. I’m guessing that many of you could use a fresh perspective on your work though. Whether you already have a critique group, or you’ve never had anyone read a word of your story, you may benefit from hearing what other writers think. That’s why I started the virtual critique meetings here on the site. A story is a story whether you live in the Pigeon Forge, TN; West Palm Beach, FL; or Paris, France. We all want to hook our readers with the strongest possible story, and critique groups are a great way to do this.

Imagine a virtual cafe, where we meet with our cups of coffee in hand, to discuss our chapters. The beauty of this virtual meeting is that we can do it from our own homes (or coffee shops) at our leisure. We can read the entries when we have time, and make comments on them when we have time as well.

This month, I encourage you to participate in our January Critique Corner. Click here for details. I’m accepting any 500 words right now. This is a great opportunity to fix up a problem section of your story, or to see if readers are hooked with your opening. You choose what 500 words you send. It can be the first 500 but it doesn’t have to be. Just give us a few lead in sentences (if you choose a section that isn’t the first 500) so that we know what’s going on with the story.

Please get them in by January 23rd, but sooner if possible. As I mentioned last week, the Fabulous Melyssa (@MyInnerMG), my critique partner extraordinaire, will be offering feedback on each participant’s sample. I’d like to give her enough time to read them through before they go live, so she can give a more thorough critique. I’m so crazy excited that she has offered to do this. It will be awesome to read her thoughts on all the samples! I’ll be sure to offer my feedback too, and with feedback from each participant as well, it will be an awesome virtual critique meeting, I’m sure!!

So please spread the word if you can, on Facebook, Twitter, wherever. The more participants we have, the more feedback we’ll have too. If you participated in the last round, you are still free to submit. I will consider taking more than the maximum if we need to. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

It feels great to be getting back to writing. After a busy holiday season, I bet you guys agree with me! I have managed to sneak some writing time in, but it’s pretty much been that—sneaking it in. 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there. Even though I feel most myself while I’m being creative, I actually thrive when I have a schedule to be creative in. So this week I am supremely happy at the thought of order that my normal routine will bring!

At week 19 of this new manuscript, I’m not feeling the love for this story at all though. And this worries me. I’ve never had this happen before. I’ve always been 100% into whatever story I’m drafting. 150% actually. For some odd reason, my heart is not in this one. I’m chugging along the tracks with this one like the Little Engine That Could. Only I feel like I’m the Little Engine who Doesn’t Care if I Make it Up the Hill. I care more about the story I’m revising…my other manuscript. With that manuscript I feel like the Little Engine That Will Make it Up the Hill If I Have to Tie Moon Shoes to My Wheels, Jump the Track, and Bounce My Way Up The Hill.

So what do I do? Keep drafting even when my heart isn’t in it? I’m not sure, but that’s what I’m doing. I’m hoping the love will come back when something I write shakes me out of this writing funk. And if it doesn’t, at least it’s an exercise in plotting and character development. But at best, it will eventually turn into a story I love and that my readers will too!

What about you? Any updates on your writing or your revisions? Do tell, please! I’d love someone to commiserate with. Or any questions on submitting to the January Critique Corner? I’d love to answer those too.

So until Wednesday… keep writing. Even if you don’t feel like it. Every word gets you closer to your completed story. And that’s the goal, right? To get your story in the hands of readers? So well then, go ahead. Open up the document! Type a few letters. Then some more. I believe in you. I know you can do it. Believe in yourself. You’ll be amazed at the all sorts of awesome your story will become!!