Friday, December 14, 2012

Synopsis vs. Outline

I'm really exhausted from staying up late two nights in a row to write a synopsis of my book. It's the last roadblock left before I'm ready to send it off to the people I hope will publish it.

I keep talking about it on Facebook, but haven't given much detail. A synopsis is a very short retelling of your story. Think back cover blurb, only you have to give away the ending. Potential publishers or agents want to know the whole story, because they want to make sure you can tell a good story from start to finish.

The definition of a synopsis is exceptionally difficult to find - it's seriously like herding cats, or nailing jello to a tree. I've spent months trying to figure it out.

Some people say 500 words or less. To put that in perspective, so far this blog entry is 149 words.

Other people say 3 - 5 pages, with 5 pages being on the very long end. There are undertones to most of those posts that suggest you'll be lucky if a reader (publisher's acquisitions editor, or prospective agent) makes it to a fifth page. If they can't make it to the end, they're very likely to toss the whole submission package. What's worse? They won't tell you they did it, so you're waiting with bated breath, hoping to hear from them, and after 3 months or so, you exhale, feeling deflated, and send it to someone else. My takeaway there? Less is more.

Still more people say that a synopsis should be a certain length for every so many words or pages you've written. The math on those suggestions typically comes out to say that an average first timer's novel (75,000 - 100,000 words) will have a synopsis that runs 10 - 15 pages long.

Oy. How are you supposed to know who's right?

Without fail, they all say to research the publisher that you're querying, and they will be specific about what they want. You may need multiple versions of your synopsis - some short and some long. Some publishers or agents aren't specific, so you have to guess if they'd rather have more detail, so they can see the diamond in the rough a little bit better, or if they're very busy people and they just want the bare bones to see if it's interesting to them.

For me, the cherry on top is this: some also ask for an outline.

Uhhh, well okay. Can someone help me define an outline please? If you google it, you're going to find tons of information on outlining before you write your story. Well, that's not how my story grew. It was pretty organic, and grew a life of its own over the years, with very little guidance from me. Honestly. The story presented itself, I just recorded it. To outline after the fact causes me to write this monstrosity that is half of the story. If five pages will make a busy editor throw away my query, what on Earth will this gigantic document make them think?

So, I've been hung up on writing this one document for months. Months, I tell you. My book was all the way finished maybe half a year ago, but every time I try to write my outline, I take a wrong turn and have to start over. In my defense, I did get sick for a few months, and couldn't sit at a computer for a while, but still... this is out of control.

Well, this week, I decided to regain control. I started over not one, not two, but three times! I made it almost half way through the book each time, too. I spent hours reading about how to construct a good synopsis, and trying to understand the difference between a synopsis and an outline, and I finally came up with some answers of my own.

I am not published, and am by no means an expert in this matter, but in the hopes that this will help at least one person, I want to share what I learned.

Here are links to the things I found online that I found to be the most useful:

In the end, what I did, was I found a blurb I had written a long time ago, and I added to it, until it got me into storytelling mode, and I just told the shortest version of my story that I could. Creating a logline and a blurb will be very helpful to you, even though they're hard to write.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blog Chain

One of my favorite authors is Amber Argyle, the very talented writer of Witch Song and Witch Born. She has lots of great things going for her, and she's right here in Utah, to boot. I found her on Facebook, and it turns out she's really down to Earth and friendly, too. So when she posted an opportunity for friends to join in on a blog chain, I jumped right in. Here is a link to her blog entry about it.

Basically, it works like those chain letters we used to exchange in Jr. High. Apparently, everyone has a different version of this, but in my school, it was a letter that you had to copy 10 times, and give to 10 people, or you'd have bad luck for 7 years, or some nonsense. This chain, however, is without lame ultimatums. Amber got the request from another writer, and when that writer answered the questions on her own blog, she included a link to Amber's page. Then Amber, answered the questions on her blog, and added links to some other writers' (mine included) blogs, and we are all supposed to do the same. And so on...

What I really like is that it gets me talking about my book. Not the process of writing it, or how soon it will be published - business-like details, if you ask me - but my actual characters and story. I also like that it connects me to these other amazing writers, and that we can help each other spread word of mouth about our stories.

So, let's get to it. This is the interview with my own answers about my book.


What is the working title of your book? 
Underground Rose

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
I knew who my main character and her best friend were before I knew anything else. I knew the first crazy thing that would happen to them, which is the catalyst for the rest of the story, but I had no idea what would happen after that. So, I started writing. I made it through 3 chapters, and realized I still hadn't figured out what would come next. 

I put a lot of thought into it, and one night, as my head hit the pillow, it was like the answer was inserted into my head - a thought that was not my own. "Underground Railroad," it said. Those two words gave me the rest of my plot.

What genre does your book fall under? 
YA Urban Fantasy, which just means that it's set in the world we live in now, and I didn't create a different world for my story. I'm still not positive I love that label. It's more like YA Rural Fantasy, since more than half of the book is spent in cabins in the mountains, riding horses, or tending to farms.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
I thought hard about this, and even did some research, and I just couldn't come up with anyone. Rose is a 14 year old girl, with wild, flaming red hair and flawless freckled skin, who is a tomboy, but is very beautiful and doesn't realize it. I have a picture on my Pinterest of how I picture her ... sort of ... but I couldn't find the name of the girl in the picture.  I didn't even get to the part of looking for Amber or Megan.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
Running from witch hunters was never in the plan for fourteen-year-old Rose Wilson, but when her best friend is mortally wounded, Rose discovers she has an ability to heal and is thrust into a world of magic and war, sending her on a dramatic journey to a safe haven on the sea.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
That is the question isn't it? I would sure love to have my book published traditionally. I intend to seek publishing with one specific label, but if that is not successful, I will seek out representation by an agent.

I think self publishing is a viable way to sell books, and some of my favorite books were published that way, I'm just hoping for more help with the business end of it, which you can get more easily through a traditional publisher.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 
Two years. I know, that's crazy long. I was learning as I went, and editing all the time, but this is how long it took for me to write an actual ending to the book. Then, I tore it apart and rewrote it, so I don't even know if I should count it as 2 or 3. It's been 4 now, and I'm really, really, really sure it's done. Until an editor tells me to fix it, that is.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
I have a hard time comparing it to anything, to be honest. I can tell you that, as a kid, I was inspired to write by Lois Duncan, and I've passed my love of her books on to my kids. I do think Underground Rose is something like her work, only 20 or 25 years newer. I also think the style has similar elements to the YA books from Maria V. Snyder, or Lisa Mangum.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 
When I first started writing my book, I spent a lot of time researching authors. I wanted to know their history, their story, specifically how they got into writing. Ultimately, I found that most authors were doing some other career or job before writing finally became their career. That process inspired me the most, and I researched dozens of authors.

I was inspired the most by 2 writers. First there was Brandon Mull, who wrote Fablehaven. He lives in Utah (I am big on supporting local authors) and he spoke at my kids' school. I decided I wanted to find out more about him, so I dug around on the internet, and I found out that Fablehaven was actually his second novel. The publisher who did Fablehaven told him the first one wasn't quite there, but if he wrote another book, they'd look at it. So he wrote Fablehaven, which spawned a phenomenal series of five books, and in the end, it landed on the New York Times Best Seller list. Pretty amazing for a guy who had a completely different job before that.

The next is pretty cliche, so please don't flog me. But I'm from Utah, and Twilight was big here. Stephenie Meyer got her education here, and it was pretty sensational that she was having such huge success. Her books really took off about the time I started writing mine, so she was on my mind. I read her story, and found out that Twilight was inspired by a dream. She wrote from the middle of the book to the end, and then from the beginning to the middle. And she did the whole thing in like six months. She was offered an enormous advance on her book, and the rest is history. She went from stay at home mom to household name in a matter of months. Although she went to school for it, she never really planned to write, she just couldn't get that dream out of her head. 

Before they were famous authors, they were regular people. I decided if they could do it, maybe I could too. 

I still check out the author before I ever read a book. I'm just as curious about the people who write the stories as I am about the stories themselves.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Rose really grapples with her decisions about her powers. She doesn't want them, because they make her different, and she just wants her life back. She wants to be normal. It takes saving a second person from serious harm for Rose to finally begin to accept her healing power as a part of herself. I think we all have something about ourselves that we feel this way about, and it's important to recognize that we are all unique, and our uniqueness is what makes us valuable and interesting.


The next person in my chain is the fantastic Deborah Bryan, who has written a number of things, but the two on my Kindle (so far) are The Monster's Daughter, and Memos From Your Closet Monster. You should definitely check her out. I think you will enjoy her wit and depth. See her blog here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fun With Words

I learned a new word this week that made me smile. I thought I'd share.


It means commotion.

In a sentence, you could say, "The neighbor's dogs are constantly barking, but when the fire engine goes by, it really causes a kerfuffle."

See? That's fun. You're welcome.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Welcome to Sara Burr Books

Well, here we are, standing at the cusp of a new beginning. The beginning of Sara Burr, the writer. I am Sara, yet I am not. I have another life outside of Sara’s life. Sara is a stand in, you see. The technical name would be pseudonym or pen name.

Do you ever feel like you have this one thing about yourself that defines you to people? Like the amputee with a prosthetic limb, or the young girl with a bald head. When people meet you, it’s the elephant in the room. You can never move on to the person that you are, behind those things that define you, until you’ve addressed the elephant in the room. Only after you’ve talked about it, will it be possible to move on and develop a relationship in a normal way. You just have to get them to see past that one thing about you first. For the same reason as the amputee would cover the prosthetic with clothing, or the sweet, fighting bald girl would wear a wig, I want to write under another name. 

I would never want my name to be the elephant in the room. I love my writing, and I’m so proud of it, but I don’t want it to define me to every new person that I meet for the rest of my life. I want people to like me for me, not because I wrote a book that they think is awesome. Although, I do still want them to think my books are awesome. I just think of J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer – I doubt either one of them realized what kind of changes were about to happen in their lives, but imagine the way people must act when they meet. I just want to be a normal person who happens to make a living writing books. I’m not looking for fame.

When I first got serious about writing novels, I was shy to talk about it. I was afraid people might think I was a crazy dreamer. Maybe I would never be good enough, and then I’d be embarrassed that I told all of those people. It was something that was really private to me. I wrote to express myself in a deep, abstract way, and it worked. It was the best therapy I could have asked for, during dark times in my life. Almost like a journal. In fact, the first 3 chapters of my book were written by hand. I still have the notebook. Very little of what is in that notebook still exists, but I like it because it reminds me of the humble beginnings of this venture.

Because it was so private to me, when I finally started to open up and talk to people about it, I felt vulnerable, raw, extremely exposed. 

My online writing profile still has the following quote in my signature: “And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd ‘cause these words are my diary screaming out loud, and I know that you’ll use them however you want to.” (Anna Nalick – Breathe)

To equal amounts of delight and horror, as I started to talk about it, I discovered that people wanted to read what I had written. It took a lot of courage for me to show those first pages of those first drafts to close friends. And then something amazing happened. They liked it! They wanted to read more.  And I came to the realization that if I truly wanted to write a novel, in the end, my hope would be for thousands of people to read it and love it. 

So, I got online and found a writing community where I could participate in discussions about writing, and critique other writers’ work. When I was brave enough I posted bits and pieces of my own, and they liked it there too. I became a real part of that community, and developed some deep friendships there. No one understands a writer like another writer.

Oh, I had a long way to go, from that first draft. They call them rough drafts for a reason, and mine was particularly rough! Thankfully, a few people who had seen some success were willing to give me some tips. I’ll never forget one, in particular, from a previously published writer. He said he rarely gave critiques to anything this poorly written because the writers were so often very defensive. But he saw something of promise in what I had posted, and in the hopes that I would take it all in stride, he tore apart my chapter. I was crestfallen. But after a day or two, I was able to look at it objectively, and learn from it. I still consider him to be a great teacher to me, because he wasn’t afraid to tell me I had a long way to go.

So I studied, and learned, and revised. Then, I rinsed, lathered, and repeated… a few hundred times. In the end, I can now say I have written so many drafts of my book that I have lost count. Once, I even used the then current draft as a guide and rewrote the whole darn thing. Each draft became more frustrating than the last, because I just wanted to be done, already. But I learned so much! And now, when I write something new, it comes out much smoother. I understand the rules a lot better. Editing comes easier. 

I’m proud to say that I have completed my book. It’s sitting on my hard drive, in all its electronic splendor, waiting for me to tie up all the little loose ends (query letter, outline, fancy printing job, etc...) before I can begin querying publishers and/or agents. There have been so many road blocks along the way, but I have been, and continue to be determined. It feels good to be on this end of the first book. I’m sure when a publisher picks it up I’ll have plenty more to edit, but for now, it’s done.

And those people who I trusted to read it? They really do like it – from start to finish. And they can’t wait for what I write next. That gives me the courage to move forward to the next stages in this journey. I dream of becoming a published author, and I dream of holding my book in a hard cover with beautiful art on the front. I also dream of the other books I will write, and I have all sorts of notes stashed here and there with ideas I want to expand on, someday.

Even though I don’t want it to define me, I love the part of me that it is. The writer part of me. Her name is Sara. 

Welcome to Sara Burr Books!