Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On The Road To Publishville # 2 - "The Synopsis & Cover Letter"

# “(S)He's writing, (s)he's writing, (s)he's writing a novel. (S)He's writing, (s)he's weaving, conceiving a plot...” # - Cake

So! Your masterpiece is finished and lying in a conveniently unmissable place, either printed out on paper to encourage you and convince you that you really are a writer or instead sits quietly waiting, but nevertheless complete, on your PC hard drive… You’ve read it and read it till you’re (only just) sick of the sight of it and you finally (in my case a decade later) feel ready to allow other eyes to look upon it for the first time…

That's where I presently stand with "Moon Crater": the book what I wrote (still with a "cover name title") which I'd like to turn into my debut published novel... It's perhaps fitting that it's now 3 years to the day of this post, that I began blogging in an effort to kickstart me into finishing the novel I'd had the initial idea for way back in 1999 and then begun to write seriously between 2003 and 2005. At the end of 2005, I found I'd hit a rut or had just run out of steam with that particular story but always knew I'd return to it and the blogging phenomenon caught me at just the right time so that I could harness it's motivational power and use it to get to the final paragraph of my book...





But there'll be more on that 3-year anniversary that I mentioned in my next post here on my blog journal... For now I wanted to lay out just what course of action I now intend to take with my finished manuscript, not only for my own record of its journey to (fingers crosssed!) publication but also so anyone else sitting on their own hidden gem of a creative story, might find some helpful tips on how to unleash it properly onto the world for the first time...

There's sort of good news and bad news now because although the immense hard work is over in completing your story, there's still some effort needed to make sure you don't trip up with how you present your work to potential publishers or literary agents... The classic advice once you think you're ready to send off your work to the professionals is to prepare a synopsis of your tome, a covering letter to go with it and 3 sample chapters (normally the first three - it'd be daft to send say, Chapter 1, 13 and 29, anyway, right?) and that's the tricky task ahead of me now with my "Moon Crater" novel too...

Perhaps the easiest part if this trio of tasks to deal with would appear to be the 3 chapters (since you've finished them anyway!) But I recently had a lesson in not taking things that appear to be completed for granted... It was in my day job where I experienced intense "déjà vu" having to go back over a TV film that I'd 'finished' subtitling work on about seven years ago, back in 2002… Today, in 2009 it was being reshown with foreign language dubbing and so I needed to go back over my original file for it and create a template for the translators to use later - it provided me with a unique insight and opportunity into viewing something long left alone with a fresh eye (I could only just remember actually subtitling this film back in '02!) Incidentally, when I recall the stage that "Moon Crater" was in back in 2002, I realise how far I've come with that in the seven years since - I'd not even started the actual Write-Up and was probably still fiddling and fine-tuning my plotting plan or "bible" for the book... To say I'm immensely proud of how far it's come today is an understatement!

But, anyway, talking of my revisted film at work, in the same way that I went back over that supposely subtitled and finished file from seven years ago and realised some improvements could be made, coming round to revisit again the first 3 chapters of "Moon Crater" now, having been so distanced from them for a long while, I'm finding a fresh eye is just what is needed to improve them - and I'm glad of the lesson and chance to improve on them, especially since they're part of what will make my first impression to whichever publishing professionals I send them off to soon...

I'm not going to repeat myself in this post from what I've said before during my Type-Up of the novel but I'm realising it's the same key elements that I'm looking to improve on and polish up within the first three chapters, namely chapter titles, chapter length, end hooks and cliffhangers, general page-turning qualities, and of course the all important "continuity". But with the opening chapter (even though I have a 2-page Prologue that precedes it) I'm trying to improve how it comes "full circle" from its opening lines to its close... I so admire the first chapter of Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone where you don't realise the significance of the chapter title, which seems to not read right on its own, but then when you reach the final sentence of that chapter, all becomes clear... A tutor on the MA writing course I did had a theory for how to write first lines of a book and it's perhaps worth bearing in mind: include the main character’s name and say something that sums up the essence of the story (without giving anything major away, of course!).

I reckon it's useful to think of the cover letter that's needed to accompany the sample of your book in the same way you would a job application letter - there seems to be loads of advice out there for how much and how little to put in the letter, but I'm planning on introducing myself as a writer as well as the book itself, to help put the story into context, and say a little about where I'd like my writing career to go in the future (after all, it IS a career, I'm wanting to build) - no publisher or agent will be very eager to invest their time and money into a "one-hit wonder"... The covering letter of course will be different for everyone one, but it'll be important not to go on and on, and labour a particular point - just as it's imporant not to "over-write" within the chapters of the book itself, in your covering letter too, you need to keep it short and to the point... (flamboyant, indulgent paragraphs are best kept for your blog!)

I think the most difficult part of this whole "book application" process for me right now is the idea of writing a Synopsis for Moon Crater, but one IS definitely required and expected to arrive with your chapters and cover letter these days. The idea, as with the covering letter is to write 'precis' - especially since the industry standard seems to be only a one-page summary of your story. But it's maybe this aspect that I struggle with most - how can you collapse an entire, perhaps "epic", novel into a quick rundown that lasts only one-page? (i.e. only maybe 300-400 words!) I've read various theories for this, including, "write one sentence for each chapter" and "forget the themes of the book and just describe the action that takes place", which are all helpful to a point, but I've come to realise there's no real set of rules for synopsis writing, other than you've just got keep working at it (almost like drafting and redrafting a chapter) until you, yourself are satisfied with it.

One last thing that I struggle with a lot on synopsis writing is that you've got to tell the "WHOLE" story, from beginning to end - yep, you actually give away your ending... Apart from my paranoid nature in total exposure of an entire story before it's complete, it always seems odd to me that it's "OK" to spoil the story in this way without the whole manuscript being read and the story you've laboured at crafting and teasing out over various chapters having the desired impact you'd hoped for by the closing sentence of the final chapter (or Epilogue!) - but the reality is that in the writing business (and that's what it is, at the end of the day) agents and publishers just don't have the time to waste reading potentially duff stories that they can't publish, and so the synopsis sent by a potential writer-in-the-making is a very useful thing to have as it tells them if the story is any good, and also importantly if the writer is any good as well!

So that's about it - seem simple? Well, if you're in a similar position to me, I'd like to say good luck, cos that's what I feel like I need right now as well... Anyway, I thought I'd end this 2nd "On The Road To Publishville" special post with a short round-up of how my "writing portfolio" is shaping up as I continue through 2009... (your "writing portfolio" is quite literally a continuing and never-ending story, and for me, remains an ever-important part of my writing journey's progress on this symbolic “Road” of mine…)

  • As with the last first ever "On The Road To Publishville" post I've got some more bad news of yet another small publisher (this time online) who had accepted a story of mine but which has since gone bust... If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may recall last year me reporting that my short story "The Archenemy" had received a promise of publication by Dogeater Books. Well, sadly they're now saying they just can't publish any future works at all... I'm hoping this isn't "the jinx of Chris Allan" but rather a sign of the recessional times! Whatever it is, I'm trying to see this disappointment as well as the first collapse of both "Invisible Ink" AND their publisher Baineth Press as merely "two strikes", and with the "third time lucky" attitude that when I soon end off my with "Moon Crater" book's manuscript, hopefully I'll strike some publishing gold... But in the meantime, I'm happy to report that "The Archenemy" won't be allowed to die a quiet death as I'm busy redrafting it for a local short story competition right now... (I'll be sure to let you know if it gets anywhere later in the year!)
  • "Moon Crater Adventures" the online game book that I first dreamt up back at the beginning of 2007 and am now collaborating with artist Rich Windass on, has taken giant leaps for this kind-man... Anyway, corny jokes aside, as I've already reported this year we're now developing an online comic which will serve as an introduction to the first Adventure "Simulacrum" after first meeting up, ironically, to discuss the project on Free Comic Day this month... To celebrate this new era of expansion of "Moon Crater Adventures" and because I've also recently been inspired by Rich's awesome designs for our main characters, I've now put up a brand new title picture for the "Launch Page" to the Adventures which you can gain access to by going to my Official Homepage and clicking on the suitably "space-looking" object you can see on the desk top there... In July, there'll be a special preview mid-year post about the Adventures heading your way here on my blog in conjunction with the celebrations for "Lunar Landing Day", as well as a full round-up of this year's efforts on this space saga in our regular update slot in November... In the meantime I'm doing a lot of research and development now into all aspects of the planned "Simulacrum" story, heading towards it's conception anniversary in early 2010 when the story should be well on its way to being a lot more complete...

  • Watch out very soon for the 3rd of the Zip Code challenges, launching not long after the end of the month that it first debuted in, in 2008... Remember, this is your chance to gain an extra insight into the world of "Moon Crater" while at the same time finding out what the REAL title of the book will be! And, as part of my synopsis write-up, I've recently rediscovered my "imagined book cover blurb" for Moon Crater and have decided the prize for one of the future Zip codes will be an exclusive sneak peak to this very dust-jacket intro to the story - so, can you afford not to get cracking on the Code today?

  • And finally, the "Moon Crater MySpace page" has now finally launched!!! Eventually it'll be linked to and clickable through my Official Homepage but while it's still a "work in progress" and being built slowly, you can find it here for now: http://www.myspace.com/gravelbabington - there's already a few clues to the book on it, and more to come, so why not follow "Gravel Babington" on his journey into myspace and (my)time?
So there you have it, my "On The Road To Publishville #2" special post done and dusted... I've deliberately avoided talking about choices of Publishers and literary agents in this post, mainly because I knew there was enough to say about formulating the actual "application" before you send it out to one of these, and also since that's the planned subject of my next "On The Road To Publishville" post, which will be up here sometime in the next few months... In the meantime, there's going to be plenty to read on my blog journal still, starting with the post immediately following this one - it's been three years since I both first took the plunge and started blogging and also since my Official Writing Homepage was set up, and I think it's about time for a little celebration...

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations on finishing "Moon Crater"! I imagine it must feel quite wonderful to have the story finished, and I shall of course wish you and "Moon Crater" the best of luck with the publishers (and of course be following avidly). Well done!

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  2. Hi, Deb, thanks a lot for the comment and encouragement - much appreciated. Still seems like a lot of hard work on the horizon but the big rolling boulder is gathering pace finally and I don't think I could stop it even if I tried! ;p Chris

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