Writerly Wednesday – Proposals, Synopses and all that Jazz

Last week Colleen asked if I’d write about what the submission/proposal process was like once an author was a little further along in her career so that’s what I thought I’d talk about today. As I always say, there is no one true way. I am not an expert, I just do this as my job so mainly when I talk about writing it’s opinion and specific to how I think and work. Blah blah, you all know the drill…

When I first started out, I submitted full manuscripts to my editor and then when I subbed to Laura Bradford (my agent) I also sent her full manuscripts. In the beginning, chances are most authors will need to submit full manuscripts to editors at publishing houses or agents. For many reasons – they want to know you can write an entire book. It’s not as easy as many people assume. Some writers are awesome at the openings but the book falls apart in the middle or at the end. They want to see if you can plot and follow through. If you don’t have any books out before that, they don’t have anything to rely on for that knowledge. My first sale to Spice and then to Berkley was based on a full manuscript submission. I’d love to sell outside romance and I know I’ll most likely have to write a full, even though I’ve got an established sales and publication track record. That’s part of the deal too.

So anyway, you do this for a while and if you do it long enough and well enough and you create a good relationship with your editor and enough books under your belt and they usually allow you to submit by proposal. By proposal I mean a synopsis (how much detail will often depend on the author and the editor) and sample pages – usually the first 1 – 3 chapters.

I didn’t use to write synopses. I’m a pantser at heart and plotting out the entire story in detail seemed an insurmountable task. I wrote the full first and then the synopsis, LOL, which should have made it easier, but I always get hung up on just exactly how much detail to go into. But that’s how it works and while I could write the full first and then do a synopsis afterward, I don’t really have the time to do that anymore (which is a good thing actually, because I’m working on things I’ve already sold). Mainly, I’ve accepted that synopses are part of the process and I keep trying to learn more and make them better each book.

Over time, I’ve found writing a synopsis to be helpful to the process without it hindering the natural progression of the story. The truth of it is, in my case anyway, my editors know I’m never going to write the book exactly as I laid it out in the synopsis. Because all the details, the filling as it were, is organic. I don’t quite know how it will all flow, other than general things, until I start the actual writing. My characters often surprise me when I write. So the synopsis is the foundation and all the internal decoration is up to me.

Anyway, back to the subject – so the next step, as I said above, was for me to submit with some pages and a synopsis. Generally, I like this process. Usually I like to write the pages to get a feel for a new story or characters – even before I do a synopsis. This is nearly always how I submit new material to my existing editors at this point. The sample pages give me a flavor, give me some insight on the characters and the overall voice of the story and they can do the same for an editor – give her a chance to see what I’m doing with more detail than simply just a synopsis.

I have also reached the point where I sell on a synopsis or blurb. Generally I do this with novellas, etc, though I have sold full novels this way as well. Always to an editor I have an existing relationship with, who knows I can finish a book and all that jazz. The key is to give a sense of the progression of the story – the high points of the characters’ interactions and their motivations as well as the dark moment and how they get past it.

I’m not an ace synopsis writer. Sometimes it’s easy. But most of the time writing one is unpleasant and annoying. And yet, it’s part of the process. And we do our time and pay our dues. I hear newbies complaining they have to do things I don’t. My answer is suck it up. I did my time and I continue to do so. I have to do things people who’ve been around longer than me don’t have to as well. Everyone pays their dues, that’s how the world works whether you’re a writer or an accountant. I know there are authors who just give a few lines to their editors and that’s how they sell. All of this stuff is going to depend on a whole lot of individual things – who the author is, who the editor is, the stage in the author’s career, what her sales are like, how she works with her editor – all that stuff and more.

The key is to do things how they work best for you and your creative process all while remembering you work as part of a larger team who also need to know where you’re headed (in varying degrees of detail). Things change depending on a wide array of individual factors. It’s not insulting to be asked for more pages. It’s not a personal affront that I have to write sample pages and author X doesn’t have to. It’s all part and parcel of your own place and journey in this biz. I try to always remember (even if I’m annoyed) that if I make each experience something to learn from, it only benefits me in the end. And no one is going to care one way or the other if I sold X book with a full or on a blurb in the end. It’s on the shelf, and that is what matters.

I just wanted to touch on this briefly but if you have any more questions – let em fly in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

2 comments to “Writerly Wednesday – Proposals, Synopses and all that Jazz”

  1. Christine
    August 4th, 2010 at 12:43 pm · Link

    You have mentioned Goddess w/ a Blade on and off for a while what is this book about?

  2. Michele Lee
    August 4th, 2010 at 6:07 pm · Link

    I totally agree. I write queries and synopsis between drafts 2 & 3 and it helps me really focus the story for that final edit. I still don’t think they’re fun, but I find them so useful I don’t understand why so many people hate them so much.