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If there’s one word that unites 99.9% of authors in a collective body shudder, it’s synopsis. Dreaded by authors the world over, it’s a necessary part of getting your manuscript traditionally published or bagging yourself an agent. But what do they want to see in the synopsis and how much information should you give them? And more to the point, what is a synopsis?!
In this article, I’m going to talk about what your synopsis should say and how you should go about putting it together.
So, what is a synopsis?
The Oxford English Dictionary says:
In essence, your synopsis should detail what your book is about, the reader should be able to determine what type of writer you are and what genre your book is. It isn’t the place to fully outline each and every chapter/sub plot. So basically, you need to tell the reader what happens in your book. Easy, right?
Until you find out you have no more than two pages to do it in – and that’s from a generous publisher! Some want a single sheet – they do typically take it single spaced, but still …
Doesn’t seem so easy now, does it? So, how do you get your eighty thousand word story consolidated into one page?
The late Carole Blake said that the synopsis should answer the following:
She recommends describing the action, as the reader experiences it in the book, but without numbering it chapter by chapter. Don’t give the character’s full back-ground, just tell the reader what they need to know about the main plot lines.
Here’s my advice:
Work through each chapter, pick out the most important parts, and condense it down to two sentences.
The first paragraph should detail the world you’ve created – who is the story about, what are they going through, make the genre clear, and show your writing style. Then, put all your chapter sentences together and make sure the plot lines flow and make sense. You need to expose all the twists and turns and whodunnits. Flesh out the MOST important parts.
Now, read back through it and look at the character/plot arcs. How has your protagonist grown? Did they achieve what they set out to do? How was the plot resolved? Is it clear, concise, and consistent? Will someone reading it, who knows nothing about the book, know exactly what happens to who, when it happens, how it happens, and why it happens?
If you can answer yes to these, then you’re there.
Once you’ve got it nailed, you need to format it in a certain way. Most publishers and agents will detail their preferences on their websites but the general rule of thumb is:
What NOT to put in a synopsis:
There are some big, huge, absolutely-no-way-not-ever things you need to bear in mind:
Following these tips will give you the best possible start to making your synopsis practically perfect but it’s not a guarantee you’ll get a response.
Hopefully in a better position to tackle your synopsis than you were before you started reading this. Many agents and publishers suggest practising writing the synopsis for a book you know and love, maybe one of the classics. Practising pulling the information down to its rawest form and making it make sense to someone who knows nothing about the plot isn’t easy, but once you start doing it, it gets easier and easier!
If you’re still struggling, I offer a unique service to edit and critique your Submission Package, just click the link for details.
Next week I’ll be talking about the dreaded query letter so let me know if you have any specific questions before then and I’ll try to answer them for you.
Best of luck with your synopsis!
One of the most commonly misused punctuation marks is the apostrophe.
In this article I’ll be talking about, and sharing examples of, how to correctly use one.
In writing, we use ‘s to show possession after singular nouns and indefinite pronouns:
the girl’s hair the man’s beard anyone’s guess
For plural nouns ending in s, we just add the apostrophe:
the neighbours’ cat
And we punctuate time periods in the same way:
the days’ takings three weeks’ time
For compounds and of phrases, use ‘s after the last noun:
my mother-in-law’s cake the Queen of England’s swans
The double possessive making use of both of and ‘s can be used with nouns and pronouns:
a play of Shakespeare’s that car of her father’s
But not with buildings or companies:
a friend of the Smiling Mule the window of the hotel
This one’s a little tricky to remember but we don’t use an apostrophe for the possessive its (belonging to it) but we do for the it contractions (it is / it has):
the dog ate its bone it’s too warm today
The apostrophe is also used to indicate a missing letter or letters from a word. The apostrophe should ‘face’ the way the missing letters should be:
how you doin’ just you wait ’til
The apostrophe is NOT used for plurals. Nor is it used for the following:
Decades: 1960s / 60s
Names: keeping up with the Joneses / sixteen Hail Marys
Abbreviations: CDs / ABCs / DVDs
Other: dos and don’ts
These are just a few of the basics and if you learn these rules, you’ll be in a much better position to polish your own manuscript while going through your edits.
I follow the Oxford Style Guide and you can find more information in New Hart’s Rules.
Best of luck, have a great day, and keep writing!
In today’s article, I’m going to talk about the different levels of editing available and how an author should decide which they need.
First, let’s look at the different levels of editing available.
There’s a detailed breakdown here but here’s an overview:
Structural/Developmental Editor: Will look at the big picture elements of your manuscript. Plot, characterisation, point of view, pace, and narrative.
Line Editor: Sentence level elements including: word choice, clarity, consistency, conciseness, dialogue, grammar, and syntax.
Copy-editor: Sentence and word level elements including: paragraphs, dialogue, spelling and punctuation, consistency in minor plot/character details, and clarity.
Proofreader: Sentence, word, and layout: basic formatting, dialogue punctuation, chapter sequencing, and indentation.
Many freelance editors will offer one or two of these services, and will perhaps combine two of them, but I’ve yet to meet any who offer all four levels. Typically, a line and copy-edit can be combined, and maybe a copy-edit and proofread, but a developmental/structural edit should be done on its own.
Now let’s look at some of the areas an author may find they’re struggling with:
The type of editor you need will depend on the issues you have, using the examples above, here’s who you’d need to call on to help:
As you can see, not all editors specialise in all areas and you need to find out what any editor you approach offers.
‘What if I don’t know what my problems are?’
It’s easy for someone in the business to say you need A, B, but not C, but that doesn’t always help the author if they don’t yet know what their sticking points are, after all, you can’t mend something if you don’t know it’s broken. A tiny gap and huge hole are very different things.
Consider this; an author skips a copy-edit as they’ve been told it’s the big picture elements that matter most, not a few typos. But what if it’s not a few typos? What if the novel has a wonderful and captivating plot, is beautifully paced, and full of characters their readers instantly fall in love with, but on a line level, it’s so full of spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes all the good stuff is lost inside and it’s too unpleasant to read?
Or, on the flip side, the author has been meticulous with their line level editing and proofreading, the sentences flow with no spelling, punctuation, or grammatical mishaps but the characters are one dimensional, there are plot holes galore, and the reader is left with nothing but unanswered questions.
It’s such a minefield for authors, especially newbies. The best advice is to find some beta readers you can trust to provide honest and constructive feedback, or have a professional critique done on your manuscript.
There’s also the possibility that a sample edit from a freelancer will help shed some light on where you may need assistance.
So, how do you know when you’re ready?
I love how Jane Friedman explains it:
[N]ever hire a copy-editor until you’re confident your book doesn’t require a higher level of editing first. That would be like painting the walls of your house right before tearing them down. (‘Should You Hire a Professional Editor?‘)
This is such a brilliant way to look at the editing process. There’s no point in having all the typos dealt with if your plot and characters aren’t doing what your reader needs them to do.
Therefore, there is a specific process, and it’s not based on importance but on logic.
Start your editing process with the big picture elements. Whether a professional critique or feedback from trusted beta readers, get all the structural elements in place. If no issues are found, brilliant, if there are mishaps, that’s great too as you can deal with them, either yourself or with a professional, before they are brought up in reader reviews.
Once you have the big picture elements sorted, you can look at the line and sentence level mishaps. I would always recommend an author employs a professional at this stage as although they may not be a specialist in the big picture elements, they will know if things are amiss.
They will guide you to getting your work into great shape and will advise if there are further needs.
I offer two main services, the Big Difference Edit which combines line and copy-editing, and Little Tweaks Proofread which combines copy-editing and proofreading. I also work with authors on a Step by Step and Consultancy basis
Your copy/line editor should be able to pick up other elements relating to the proofreading, but don’t expect miracles. They aren’t Superman and at this stage, there are likely to be more revisions to the manuscript during which further mishaps can be introduced. For more on this, read here.
Remember: Your editor, at any stage in the process, isn’t a ghost writer. As literary agent Rachelle Gardner explains:
Using a freelance editor can be a great idea – if you use it as a learning experience. You need to do most of the work yourself. I think it’s wasted money if you’re counting on someone to fix your manuscript for you. The point is to get an experienced set of eyes on it to help you identify problems and figure out how to fix them. (‘Should I Hire a Freelance Editor?‘)
There’s no doubt you need to have at least one professional editing pass on your manuscript. As this poem by Anon shows, we cannot rely on a spell checker:
Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word
And weight for it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its really eve wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in its weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.
As you can see, there are many mistakes which won’t be picked by standard spelling checkers as they are only checking for incorrect spellings.
So, what now?
You know you need an editor, but how do you find one you can trust?
Word of mouth is the first place to start. Ask in the writer groups you belong to, (if you’re not in any groups, but would like to be, let me know and I’ll guide to some brilliant groups) who do other people use? If you’re not in any groups yet, you’re left with Google. There are many search terms you can use: freelance copy-editor/proofreader for example, this will bring up lots of pages for jobs and companies who offer these services but scroll through a few pages and you’ll eventually start to see the freelancers.
Always speak to more than one editor, and to help you determine they know what they’re doing,
here’s what they should be asking you:
here’s what you should be asking them:
Any editor worth their salt will be able to answer those questions for you. If they can’t, I’d be tempted to move on to the next person on your list. Full transparency at this stage is vital, you don’t want to end up in a position where you choose your editor, get your heart set on them, only to discover they charge twice as much as your budget will allow and aren’t free for a year.
So, there you have it.
You are now able to make a fully informed decision on which editor you need, you understand the roles played by both the author and the editor, and that full transparency by both parties can, and will, lead to a wonderful working relationship.
If you’d like to have a chat with me about your project and my services, please do drop me line, I’d love to hear from you.
Best of luck with your project!
One of the most confusing elements of writing dialogue is how to format and punctuate it properly.
There are so many perceived rules and regulations it can become a nightmare for authors to remember what to do and when.
I’ve broken it down into three simple steps:
Emma and Paul were watching TV. ‘Come on,’ Emma said.
‘Let’s go to the pub.’ She grabbed his hand to pull him off the sofa.
‘I’m not sure I’m in the mood,’ Paul said. ‘Shall we go tomorrow instead?’
Only the words spoken and punctuation marks are placed inside the quotation marks. Other parts of the sentence – dialogue tags, actions, and thoughts – go outside the quotation marks.
Dialogue always starts with a capital letter, regardless as to its place in the sentence, although interrupted speech is lower case when it resumes – see the later examples.
Next I’ll show you the most used combinations of speech, tag, and action with their correct format and punctuation. There’s a printable version of this list so you can keep it to hand.
One line of dialogue with no tag: the whole sentence, including punctuation, is enclosed in the quotation marks:
‘I love you.’
One line of dialogue with tag: The dialogue is enclosed in the quotation marks with a comma within them. As the tag, he said, is part of the sentence, it is not capitalised. The full stop ends the sentence:
‘I love you,’ he said.
One line of dialogue with tag first: The comma is still needed to separate the speech from the tag but comes first in this instance and the full stop ends the sentence within the quotation marks:
He said, ‘I love you.’
One line of dialogue with tag and action: The dialogue is enclosed in quotation marks, a comma follows the dialogue and before the closing quotation mark, this is followed by the tag which is separated from the action by a further comma. A full stop ends the sentence:
‘I love you,’ he said, hoping she had heard him.
The tag and action can come first:
Moving closer, he said, ‘I love you.’
Tag interrupted dialogue: The same sentence of dialogue can be interrupted by a tag and an action:
‘I love you,’ he said, ‘and I always will.’
‘I love you,’ he said, pulling her close, ‘and I always will.’
Question marks in dialogue: The question mark goes inside the quotation mark and there is no comma. The tag doesn’t need a capital letter as it is still part of the same sentence, the same goes for exclamation marks:
‘You know I love you, don’t you?’ he asked.
‘I love you!’ he shouted, running after her.
Dialogue interrupted by dialogue: If a character interrupts another midsentence, an em dash is used:
‘I love you—’
‘No, Paul, you don’t.’ She held up her hand to stop him continuing.
Trailing dialogue: If a character starts to say something but the speech trails off before they complete the sentence, ellipses are used:
‘I love …’
Names in dialogue: always use a comma before and/or after the person’s name who is being directly addressed:
‘I love you, Emma,’ he said.
‘Emma, I love you,’ he said.
‘Paul loves you, Emma, you know that.’
‘He loves you, Emma, more than he loved Sarah.’ (note there is no comma before Sarah as she isn’t being directly addressed).
This may seem complicated at times but following these ‘rules’ will make your dialogue punctuation and formatting correct 99.9% of the time. There are other combinations, for example, paragraphs and longer speeches, but I’ll keep it simple today and share the others with you at a later date.
You can download a copy of these examples by clicking here: Creating Perfection – Formatting Dialogue – Print Out
I hope this helps and do let me know if you have any questions.
Have a super day, keep writing!
It’s competition time!
I’m giving one lucky author the chance to have their manuscript proofread, as detailed in my Little Tweaks Proofreading service, free of charge!
All you need to do is email and tell me, in no more than 500 words, why you should win.
Entries must be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: I’m an Indie Author and I Should Win Because by [YOUR NAME] and your entry must be sent as a MS Word attachment. In the body of the email, tell me a little about you and where you are on your writing journey.
The competition closes at twelve noon on Friday, 27 April 2018 and the winner will be announced on Monday, 30 April 2018.
Your manuscript doesn’t need to be complete immediately, but you must be in a position to claim the prize within three months.
All entrants will be eligible to a 25% discount on this service if booked and paid for within six months of the competition closing.
Here’s the small print:
Feel free to share this far and wide!
So, you’ve completed your manuscript and now want to find a home for it. Your next step, if you’re not interested in self-publishing, is to try to find an agent or publisher.
But where do you start?
There is so much to consider and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the information and advice available. I’m going to try to consolidate some of the information for you here.
First, you need to find out who will be the best fit for your manuscript. There’s not point sending it to a romance publisher if it’s a horror, you’ll be wasting everyone’s time doing that.
Second, once you have a list of target publishers, research them.
Third, do you need an agent?
Fourth, putting your submission package together.
Once you’re ready to hit send on the email – STOP!
Get it checked over either professionally or by someone in the industry who can help you spot any mishaps and provide their critical feedback.
To introduce my new Submission Critique and Editing Service, over the next few weeks I will be sharing insider information from publishers and agents to help you create an outstanding submission package, from creating a superb cover letter to nailing your synopsis, I will guide you to making a fantastic first impression.
Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll do all I can to answer them for you.
Click on the picture above to watch one of the funniest writer’s remorse clips ever!
Have you discovered that your cosy historical fiction now contains space vampires?
Your MMC’s pet dog has grown sixteen legs and a twenty a day habit?
Are you so familiar with your WIP that you cannot see where you have had the mishap from the perfectly developed outline you had planned to the jumble of words you now appear to have?
Are you about to hit delete or burn the pages?
STOP RIGHT NOW!
Check out my new Step by Step Editing service and see if I can help.
This service was developed for those who may have gotten to a point in their manuscript where they are stuck with the direction, the flow, the character arcs, or who perhaps need to bounce ideas off someone new to ensure that they are on the right path for their work.
Don’t give up, help is available! You may just need a fresh pair of professional eyes to take a look and reassure you that you are on the right track, or to guide you back in the right direction.
Happy writing x
Regular readers of this blog will know that for the last few months I have been sharing the journeys of some self-published, indie authors.
They have shared with us the highs and lows of their experiences, from having to learn new skills and discovering a whole new world of online marketing.
Although all have shared that there are low points, the majority are success stories, maybe not in that they are all multi-award winners with a case of bestsellers under their belts, but every one has overcome something to achieve their dream of being a published author.
I asked all the authors involved if they had any advice for others looking to start their journey and a staggering 70% said that the main thing to do before you publish your manuscript is to ensure you have a great editor:
Pauline Barclay, author of six self-published novels says, ‘Always use a professional editor, never assume you can do it yourself.’
Stephen Enger, who self-published his first six books and is now traditionally published for his last five (Endeavour Press and now Bookouture), says, ‘I wish I’d spent more time seeking professional editing support for those early books. The stories are good, but the quality of writing is not as strong as it perhaps could have been.’
Conrad Jones, who has self-published seventeen novels told me, ‘Editing is king! Finding a good editor/ proofreader is everything.’
You can read their full interviews by clicking on their names, and search #SelfPublishingCaseStudy to find more advice from other authors.
There was lots of other advice given too, when I asked Rachel Amphlett, self-published author of fifteen crime thrillers, what she wished she’d known before she started on her journey, she told me, ‘You really need to sit down and prepare a business and marketing plan rather than leave everything to chance. In fact, if you’ve only got one book available, I’d wait until the second one is ready to go before you publish, simply because that way you can maintain your visibility on the retailers’ websites.’
While Alan Jones credits his success to date to the help of book bloggers, stating, ‘I wish I’d known about Book Bloggers and Facebook book clubs. The limited success I’ve had so far is almost entirely down to them.’
What I have seen from this #casestudy so far is that self-publishing isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a solo journey. Although you may have spent hours and hours locked away with your manuscript, getting it out into the world isn’t something you should attempt on your own. There are a whole host of people who can help you ensure that your manuscript is practically perfect, that your cover is current and eye-catching, that you get the exposure online you need to reach potential readers. But you have to put in the effort.
Don’t hit the publish button until you have built up an online presence and made sure that your book is the best it possibly can be.
Make a start on these while you’re writing. Start chatting to people in Facebook groups or on Twitter. Start researching editors and finding out what you are going to need to save to pay for their services. Start saving now so that when you are ready you are in a positon to hire the editor you want.
Take a look through the other case studies, they are filled with some invaluable advice! And, if you’re an indie author who would like to share their journey, click here for the questions.
I’ll leave you with this piece of advice from Louise Ross, bestselling author of the amazing DCI Ryan series:
You have spent months and months getting your manuscript into the shape you want it. You are confident in your plot lines and character development and, little tweaks aside, you are certain that you can hit the publish button.
But can you?
If you are the only person to have seen your work so far, then the chances are you need to get a fresh pair of eyes to look over your work. Your overfamiliarity with the manuscript will mean that your mind will see what it wants to see, and what it thinks should be there.
It happens to ALL authors and is not something to beat yourself up over but there will be room for improvement.
But who do you need? Where do you turn? Here’s an overview of some of the services available to you before you publish your novel.
Your first port of call should be a trusted beta reader. These are people who you can trust to give you honest and constructive feedback and who you will not be offended by when/if they are critical. A beta reader’s job is to cast a critical eye over your manuscript as opposed to being a supportive friend who will only tell you what they think you want to hear – that is pointless and counterproductive.
This type of constructive feedback at this stage is critical to your success as it will allow you to identify and rectify any plot holes that you may not have noticed and deal with any core elements that may need some revision prior to publication.
There is a temptation to use lots of beta readers to try and ensure that every issue is picked up, but I would strongly advise that you use no more than five trusted people, with the worry being that if you use lots and they all come back with different suggestions, what do you do then? Whose advise do you take? Too many cooks can spoil the broth and this is true with your manuscript and your confidence. Twenty different opinions will do more harm than good at this stage in the process.
It is wise to have your manuscript professionally critiqued. This is where an experienced editor will look at the big picture elements and give you detailed feedback on the overall style, structure, and content, outlining the strengths and weaknesses.
Structural, substantive or developmental editor
This is a more hands-on involvement and involves you employing the services of a developmental editor. They will give you advice about the overall plot, characterisation, sub-plots, continuity and consistency, and point of view elements. This isn’t a line-by-line edit, but once again, taking the bigger picture into account in their feedback.
Once you are completely happy with the big picture elements, the overall structure, and plot, you should consider investing in a copy-editor. Looking at your words on a line-by-line level, your copy-editor will help to ensure that your text is correct in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, they will query any areas which they feel may not be clear to the reader and, whilst doing this, will ensure that your voice is maintained throughout your manuscript – they are not a ghost writer. The list of things a copy-editor will help you with is a long one! Take a look at my Big Difference Editing service to see more about how I can help with this.
The very final stage of the process, a proofreader will help to try and catch anything that has slipped through the previous editorial passes on the manuscript. With a delicate eye, they will check for spelling, punctuation, and grammar, continuity and consistency from a textual, typographical, and point of view angle.
Be aware though, proofreading can only be successfully carried out on a manuscript where the majority of the sentence and word-level problems have been dealt with and all the big picture elements have been perfected. You can see what my Little Tweaks service includes here by clicking the link.
There is no right or wrong way to get your manuscript ready for publication. Only you know what you feel you need help with and what you can afford. I would strongly advise that you save up if needed and employ the services of at least one round of professional copy-editing or proofreading though. When you read book reviews, the main area of complaint from readers is poor grammar and punctuation – it is also the area which many indie authors who didn’t go down this route, admit to regretting and wishing they could go back and change. With many actually employing the services of one or the other retrospectively. But by this point though, the damage is already done with some of your potential readership.
Bear in mind though, there is no guarantee that all the errors will be picked up either. Even the big five publishing houses, who run their manuscripts though several passes of edits, publish books with errors in them. Editors and proofreaders are only human.
Trust me though, we will do our utmost to ensure that your manuscript is practically perfect in every way.
I do hope that you find this information helpful and as always, let me know if you have questions.
Happy writing x