The best way to put readers off your novel is to write a scene-by-scene synopsis. Or so it can feel. Prose is replaced by dry description. It’s like looking at an image of your most precious one rendered as an x-ray skeleton; the bare bones revealing nothing of what made them special.
Yes, I’m in the midst of writing a synopsis for a potential literary agent … and not managing it very well … and feeling that because of it i will fail, facing a winter of rejections. I don’t know if this is a common feeling. But it’s when the doubt creeps in – going over the whole thing again and finding yet more careless errors.
The main problem: how do you compress 100,000+ words into less than a thousand? Whole scenes have to be omitted. Which ones? This is where it’s so easy to become lost; not able to see the wood for the trees. The funny thing is, writing a blurb-style teaser précis hasn’t been a problem – you give an impression, set up the tension (must stop rhyming now). But by the same token that can build false expectations in much the way advertising often does.
I’m certainly not expecting much sympathy from anyone in the publishing industry. They’d probably tell me: “If you can’t manage to sum up your novel in less than a thousand words then maybe there is something wrong with the book itself.”
Very little reward, if you’re one of the ninety-nine percent of fiction writers. Well, that’s what it feels like when you read about the latest multi-book/million [insert currency] deal, and you’re still trying to make that breakthrough, still getting the rejections. Or self-published and garnering fewer sales than some second-rate generic knock-off that managed to get five-star reviews from well-wishers (or dare I say it: followers). Actually some of the most brutal reviews have appeared on Amazon, not so much for my novels but those who have achieved acclaim for their previous works; well that’ll knock ’em down a peg or two – is perhaps the thinking, but also it could be that expectation has been built up way beyond anything a mere mortal writer can fulfill.
So if you do make it to the big league it’s not all plain sailing. Acclaim doesn’t guarantee good sales, neither does fame. I was shocked, looking at the sales rankings for authors with big publishers who are probably only selling in the hundreds. Maybe that goes to show that less and less readers bother to even notice if it’s HarperCollins, Tor or some small press, and instead look for reviews and recommendations. And, yes, this is when it’s good to have many followers. One big league author who got a huge advance and deal was questioned over whether he might not make even more money if he self-published, such has the indie route come of age. He pointed out that it was a risky option – and it is: many successful self-pubbers have accepted the lure of a big publisher, because that means less hassle and more security, if less profit for said author. Editing one’s own book is the most difficult thing an author can do, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.
Of course, writing novels can be a rewarding experience. Just not, in my case, financially.
My site: http://www.adriankyte.com/
In a book review I read only this afternoon someone decried the use of a prologue, recommending that you skip it, saying it detracted from the story. While that can be true, it can also give an insight onto the essence of a novel, a flavour (if it’s done properly) of the style as well as story. In brief, a shortcut.
Not that I’ve managed those things perfectly. There’s always been something of a compromise, having to balance interesting or entertaining writing with explanation (though trying to avoid exposition). There may have even been inconsistencies. My latest focuses more on a key character than any important plot point; it’s about his condition as result of his predicament.
A prologue is not about leading you into the story’s beginning but more like a snap-shot taken from a different angle to the rest, maybe a wider angle or a narrow focus, whatever seems the most interesting and revealing. If it focuses on a specific point in time dealt with later on in the novel then best to avoid repetition, even if the reader has forgotten much of the prologue by then. Peter Watts’ Blindsight is a the best example I’ve read in recent years.
It’s true that the prologue seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion. I don’t know how much publishers and agents are reflecting this or leading the way but many now are showing their dislike, judging by blogs I’ve read. Maybe it became too obvious a device; in science fiction often used to ease the reader in to a complex storyline concept. Then that dreaded word formulaic is invoked.
But here’s a final plea from someone who still cleaves to that old device, not as a standard formula, but just as an option. Because sometimes there seems no better way to begin a story.
If I am to follow the much sage advice I should be preparing my latest submission proposal email for the next agent, instead of writing this. A sophisticated form of procrastination, perhaps.
But you get to a point when you think where have I gone wrong? Especially after having felt i’d finally got it right, then that rejection comes through (or passes through my over-zealous spam filter. The last couple of times in red, as if the computer was somehow alerting me that it could be a dangerous one to read – dangerous to my happiness, especially on a Friday). OK, so it could be the content of those first few chapters. Otherwise I may have missed a trick in my pitch.
So is there a secret to The Pitch? Truth is, if I knew of one I may’ve succeeded. But what I have learned is that it’s best to condense the synopsis and introductory letter/email into something that can be read within ten minutes minutes. (Agents would doubtless speed-read.) Start with a few lines to say what it’s about. I also provided a blurb link http://www.timeover-sf.com/ which does the same, but that might be overkill. I added the synopsis as a separate doc, so more emphasis is on those first few lines to encapsulate a 100,000+ word novel. Not easy!
Really, at the most, all I can tell you is how to fail better.
Btw, I’m still having that technical problem mentioned in my last post. Will have to do something about that.