I think Mike’s description of the beast of marketing’s awakening was spot on. Which is why I took my little beastie to its usual haunts on the Internet this morning, and fed it a carb-heavy snack of tweets and status updates. While it naps, I’ll take part in an Emudebut tradition–using my first post to share that magical moment when chasing the dream became catching it.
Like many writers, it took multiple years and manuscripts, as well as a plethora of supporting documents, the most cumbersome of which was the synopsis. But since synopses were necessary for writing classes, grants and contests, as well as agent-seeking, I wrote them, grudgingly. To my surprise, by the third manuscript, people began mentioning how much they liked my synopses. Really? Those useless, ol’ things? Okay, it was better than hearing folks hated them, but hardly cartwheel-worthy.
Once I landed an agent, hah! No more query letters; no more synopses! For my fifth manuscript, I constructed beat sheets, outlines, story grids, all that groovy, writerly stuff. And on a blue-skied day in March 2011, I finally got that knee-weakening, eye-watering, fist-pumping, oh-my-God CALL! Someone wanted to publish my book!
And then a funny thing happened.
A second publisher was very interested, but wanted to talk about some possible revisions. I agreed to speak with the editor. He described what drew him to my manuscript, and then he laid out the areas where it could be improved. Oh. It was one of those times where you instinctually know that what you’re hearing is right on the mark. At the same time, I calculated that addressing the issues would mean tossing out, let’s see, half the manuscript. Ack. Before I could faint or hyperventilate, we shifted into brainstorming mode. By the end of the call, I saw what the second publisher saw—a bigger, better version of my story. And, even though I could’ve gone with publisher number one (whose books I love) and saved myself a ton of work, you can’t unsee a vision once you’ve glimpsed it. You just can’t. I hung up eager to get to work.
Of course, imagining a substantially new plot is a far cry from writing it. In order to make the case for the powers that be to acquire my book, I had to prove that I understood their concerns and could address them. Because of the offer already on the table, there wasn’t time for a revise and resubmit. The only thing hanging between me and this second possibility, the one with that sparkly new plotline, was–you guessed it, a synopsis. At first I panicked, but then I remembered. This was something I could do. My useless skill would finally have its day.
Burning the midnight oil for a few nights, I replotted my story and produced a synopsis. Not long after, I had an offer. Not just any offer. An offer from a publisher who’d push me to make my book so much better than I’d imagined.
So when writers lament over synopsis writing, invariably using words such as “dreaded,” “daunting” and “evil,” I get it. Yes, synopses are difficult to write. There’s a reason for that. In roughly five pages, you have to hook your reader with the seduction of a query letter, make your main character’s voice compelling enough to care about, and present a cohesive plot with twists, turns and a satisfying ending. It’s the hardest type of writing we’ll probably face–the butterfly stroke in our swim medley, the decathlon in our track events, the a cappella in our repertoire.
But it’s also incredibly useful. Not just for getting the deal. But as a communication tool for agents and editors to share with sales staff, subrights folks, movie agents, etc… Who knew these little suckers could carry so much weight?
Well, now I do. I doubt I’ll ever find them easy, but they’re doable. And clearly, worthwhile. Which is a far cry from evil and useless.