Saturday, April 11, 2009

Guest Blogger Rob Walker - Part 1

Rob Walker is making the blog rounds, so I snagged him for help on synopses and outlines, two bugaboos for many authors.

Rob teaches, edits, and has written too many books to count, using his name and four pseudonyms – Evan Kingsbury, Glenn Hale, Stephen Robertson and Geoffrey Caine. His work includes three series. His newest crime fiction novel is DEAD ON, to be published this summer.

And heeeeree’s Rob …

“Blurbs, Synopsis, Outline & Selling It
With a Look -- Advice to Publish By”
By Robert W. Walker

Part 1 – The Synopsis

First blurbs – you can accumulate useful buzz even before your book is sold or published if you have worked to create a network, a support group, so to speak, of people you meet at writers/readers events and conferences and/or online.

Once you have established a relationship either at the hotel bar or the online deCafe since you are on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Crimespace, Plaxo, Linkdin, blogs and chat rooms, and conferencing, then you have to take that brave, nervy step—you have to ASK. Ask for a read—even a cursory read and comment on your book from folks who will either say yes or no.

Do so with the attitude that you will get some turn downs and you must make NO judgment on “turndowns” (as they feel a lot like a rejection letter) and let that one go, and go on to the next. Try your best to gain 3 to 5 blurbs or at least 2 strong ones from your pool of acquaintances.

Finally, if you are resourceful in this age of information and you locate the author you most admire and contact me…I mean him or her…this person might be finessed into reading maybe your first three chapters with a synopsis and an outline—and you might again never hear from this person, but then again shock, awe, and surprise along with lightning striking happens from time to time.

This then below is an example of blurbs gathered long before the publication of my DEAD ON due out in July from Five Star/Tekno Books. Three blurbs from three extremely busy authors:

“Whip-smart dialogue, vivid characters, and ever-building tension make Dead On a terrifically compelling read.” – Tess Gerritsen, bestselling author of The Keepsake & more.

“What happens in this book shouldn’t happen even to a fictional character. In addition, Walker’s prose cuts like a garrote; he is a master at the top of his game.” —J.A. Konrath, author of Whiskey Sour, Dirty Martini, and Afraid.

“Walker’s a master of fiction, and that’s the holy all of it.” —Ken Bruen, author of The Killing of the Tinkers & more.

Now let’s take up the SinNOPSIS or Synopsis. Why do many authors find this so hard to write? It amounts to a single page, two at the most, so it’s not like writing a 300 page novel. It is less than 500 words and never longer than 700, so it’s no BIG deal, right?

Yet it confounds writers, so we first ask why the mayhem and chaos over this and outlining (which we will get to). Here’s the deal as to why our palms sweat when we are asked to write up this “pitch” for our novel. It is not fiction. It is a kind of brag sheet that walks a tightrope between overwhelming arrogance at one extreme and boring matter-of-fact essay on just the facts, ma’am!

So it is an entirely different hat the author needs to wear when writing this the “shortest” and “most important” short story s/he will ever write—the story about your story. You have to remove the fictionalist’s hat and slap on the marketeer’s cap, the PR person’s peaked hat, that of the crafty sales person’s slick Fedora.

Indeed this is a grand opportunity to turn the book over in your head (or do it literally with the manuscript and craft/create/imagine and produce what you would most like to see on the back flap or back copy of your soon to be “sold” (if that’s the manuscript status) or soon see light of publication (if that’s the book’s status).

You know the character(s), setting, plot, sound and sense of your book better than any stranger as in a copyeditor who is likely making far more money writing your back copy than you will make on the book! So set yourself up as a Stranger, a Copyeditor with a job to do—to write decent copy on the book.

Sure, some might say the author knows his/her book too well, and so falls into too much detail, but sit down and read twenty or forty or sixty or a hundred models of copy writing on the backsides of books, and after modeling these, decide on what sort of bell you want to ring on the backside of your book.

Setting and characters named in sentence one—establishing time and place and who it is about immediately? Or do you want some moody tonal sentences leading to a last sentence in that paragraph, which hammers home the character(s), setting, time and place?

Here you give the appetizer for the reader who has an opportunity to “sample” the five questions about any novel—Who, What, Where, Why, and sometimes How—the same five questions found in any newspaper story. In short, this “shortest, most important” story fills a needed job, one the novelist can’t deliver on so well as the PR person or writer who can learn the non-fictional elements and art of writing a story about the story.

Now get thee to a newsroom in your head and think News Release, PR, marketing. Put the feather from the pen to your newsman’s cap.

Below is the actual Synopsis for DEAD ON. As you read it, imagine an acquiring editor getting this covering the first three chapters. Will it move an editor to ask for the entire manuscript? Will it get a green light.
PI Marcus Rydell is out to reclaim his hold on life, as for the moment only suicide offers an escape from his pain. Dr. Kat Holley seeks a fiery revenge on a maniac who has destroyed both their lives. Together, hero and heroine become hunters who come to respect and understand one another, and to share a bond that colors this suspense-thriller filled as it is with bright touches of romance, light banter, and laugh-out-loud humor alongside terror from without and battles within. And as in any good noir thriller, there figures a black dog; this one’s named Paco.

Just when disgraced Atlanta cop-turned-PI Marcus Rydell prepares to eat his gun, a kid in trouble, a call to duty, and a dirty blonde named Kat Holley stop him cold. Kat Holley pulls Marcus from a suicidal depression, and his soon-to-be demolished apartment building—only to make him face a past he cannot come to terms with without her. But not before she leads him on a deadly hunt deep into the blackest forests of the Red Earth State. Near the Georgia–Tennessee border in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Lake countryside, the pair witness a safe paradise become their death trap, as their prey is no ordinary man. They seek to destroy a local legend, a cave-dwelling ex-marine who happens to be a multiple murderer. In fact, their prey is a monster whose instincts and military training have allowed him to survive in the wilderness for four years, eluding the Feds as well as the Atlanta PD.

However, the hunt for the evil torturer and executioner, Iden Cantu, pivots. And now Cantu comes for them, leaving the dead in his wake. In the end, they must duel with this psychotic deviant, who is equipped with night-vision, a high-powered Bushman, and a cruel intent to kill by means of mental and physical pain.
Such a “synopsis” can be used again and again as an oral or written “pitch” for the manuscript. It can do double and triple duty, used each time you present it to an editor in whatever form—written or verbal. In fact, at a pitch—as you leave, you can and should leave a single page synopsis/pitch with that lady from Bantam. It can make a great, delayed impact (so be sure your contact information is on the page as well).

If your synopsis is getting too long and involved, you are getting into fine and wonderful details that belong in the novel; the synopsis is about creating a CAPTION that enraptures and enthralls a reader—like the stuff found on the back of a book is supposed to do. Which leads us into the less than enrapturing and enthralling, often despised-by-its-author OUTLINE, and the difference between outline and synopsis.

(Check back for Part 2/The Outline on Sunday)


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

I hate to admit it Robert, but you said it MUCH better than I could!!! (Just kidding, of course.... NOT)

Great way to approach this monster with two heads. You take the monster out of it and make it a pussy cat. Good job. Now, when I start working on the synopsis for my fourth book, which I will soon be starting, I know who to email for one of those sassy sentences! The question is--will I ever hear back. Of course I will!

Jean Henry Mead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean Henry Mead said...

Well done, Rob. I think of a film trailer when I write a synopsis. Present a short, grabber scene, then hit some of the high spots.

Jackie King said...

Really helpful information. Thanks so much. Every writer I know sweats bullets writing that dreaded snyopsis.
Jackie King
ISBN 978-0-937660-53-9

Ben Small said...

Rob, that's the best description of a synopsis I've seen. Well done and thank you.

And Jean, thank you for bringing Rob our way.

Anonymous said...

Ahem, Ben, it wasn't Jean. It was I (not Jean) letting Rob have my Saturday space for Part 1, plus Sunday for Part 2.

Part 2, the Outline, contains a complete "bullet outline" for his upcoming book, DEAD ON.

Pat Browning

Ben Small said...

Oops! Sorry, Pat. Looks like I'm in trouble now. Will advanced age (my birthday was yesterday) save me this time? :<)

Rob Wallker said...

I'm so glad my comments have been so well received I am a fire and brimstone preacher when it cones to talking writing, I sometimes surely come off as a blather-er and a bore, a prof type but it's only cause I want you kiddies to do well with your book marketing techniques and hell I am kind of an abbot with this stuff....been at it long enough.
Don't you hate a stinker? At any rate, showings better than telling so tomorrow's actual Outline for DEAD ON ought to be instructive in and of itself. Hope to see you back here on Easter and have a wonderful one!