Tuesday 26 April 2016

Query, Synopsis and Sample
As you know, my blog is about my writing journey. I've been ambling along, a few short story successes here and there and a finished first draft of a novel under my belt. In my last post, I reported that I was re-checking the edits ready to send my novel to my friend who'd offered to act as a Beta reader. Then on Friday, my journey speeded up. What happened? 

It was another #PitchCB day on Twitter and I did what I've done for the last few months prepared a tweet pitching my novel. If you haven't heard of it, #Pitch CB is an initiative by the agents at Curtis Brown where unpublished novelists may pitch the idea of their novels in 144 characters or less including the hashtag, #PitchCB. You are to pitch once only and over the course of the day, agents will read every pitch. If they 'like' yours, you may then submit a sample of your novel. Imagine how excited I was that one of the agents, Rebecca Ritchie, liked my Tweet! I had to tell someone so I messaged my friend, Sue, from Writing Group.

And then the panic set in! I checked the website and in order to submit, I needed to send a query letter, a 3000 word synopsis and the first 10,000 words of my novel. I'd never written a query letter and it was Sue to the rescue again. She's in the process of submitting her novel to agents and publishers and recommended an article in the February edition of Writing Magazine. In it, James McCreet looks at a sample cover letter to an agent and considers the best way to proceed. By having a sample letter to scrutinise, I found it helpful then to sort my own thoughts out. He is realistic when he reminds the reader how competitive the whole writing business is. '...your aim is to give (the agent) everything they need as clearly and concisely as possible. If they like the letter, they will; look at the synopsis...'

It was then on to the synopsis. I'd written a one page synopsis before so having up to 3000 words to write one for Curtis Brown should have been easier, shouldn't it? In fact, I thought it was harder and I didn't use up all the words allowed. Perhaps, the difference was that this time it was for real. Before, I'd written it more as an exercise and this was the first time it would be scrutinised by an agent. Writing Magazine continued with its 'Submission Under the Microscope' series and James McCreet looked at writing a synopsis in the March edition. I also found an excellent post 'How to Snag a Publisher First Time With Your Synopsis' on Sacha Black's Writing Blog. In it, she recommends a book by Nicola Morgan entitled simply 'How to Write a Great Synopsis'. My main difficulty was how to present a synopsis for a dual-narrative story. I started by writing a synopsis for each story but that didn't work as I found I was repeating myself. In the end, I included the main stages of the story, where there was conflict for the characters and how that conflict was resolved. It was important to show how the events in the 1947 story impinged on the 1965 story and I hope I achieved that at the end. It was too late for this submission, but today I have downloaded Nicola Morgan's book on my Kindle. Two sections in particular sound as if they will be a great help:

  • How to organise a non linear book into a synopsis
  • How to write a synopsis of a book from multiple view points
The final part of the submission was the sample from the beginning of the novel. I checked and re-checked, cut more words that seemed unnecessary and generally sharpened the writing - or so I hoped!

Everything took a long time but so it should. I wanted to give this first ever submission my best shot and yet respond quickly to show my enthusiasm. Have I done enough? I am under no illusion that I will be one of very many submitting after a #PitchCB Friday. The odds are very much stacked against Rebecca asking for my full manuscript in view of so much competition. So what have I got out it all?
  • Condensing the essence of your book into 144 characters is an excellent discipline. It makes you think about what it's really about. In Sacha's blog, she talks about writing a one sentence 25 word pitch.
  • The query letter made me identify my target readers and other authors who have influenced me. Also, it was important to include enough in the letter for an agent to want to read the sample and synopsis.
  • Writing the synopsis gave me the most trouble due to the reasons I've given. I know I have to learn much more about writing a synopsis for the structure of my book. Most synopses need to be one side of A4 so Sacha's recommendation that 'synopses are short and sweet' is something I'll have to remember!
This weekend has certainly been a learning curve for me as a writer and I can only benefit from the experience. 

Thank you for reading. Have you written a pitch for your novel in 144 characters or 25 words? Have you any tips for writing cover letters and synopses? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thanks. :-)

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Facebook page

Sunday 10 April 2016

Finding Clues
Tom's delight at finding his first ever 'geocache'!
There was no blog post from me last week. Our grandsons stayed on for an extended holiday after Easter and we spent a week out and about in the lovely weather. One of the things we did was go geocaching in the nearby woods. 
'Geocaching is an activity or pastime in which an item, or a container holding a number of items, is hidden at a particular location for GPS users to find by means of coordinates posted on the Internet.'
I've always loved Treasure Hunts. I have fond childhood memories of ones organised by the local Motor Club with my parents, but geocaching was a completely new activity for me. We just needed to upload the free App on the phone, remember to take a pen, don our wellies and we were away. Ten year old Thomas was in charge of the phone and we had a great time following the directions through the trees. It took a long time. We looked at the map again and again, knowing we were in the right spot, and re-read the clues. But we found nothing. We met another family who'd given up. Perhaps, the box had been removed? But Tom wouldn't give in. "It's only 2 metres away," he said. Bingo! It was still there and we'd found our first geocache thanks to one young boy's resilience. We duly signed our names with the date and returned the box to its hiding place. Here is a link to find out more about geocaching:

Day 2 Isaac found this one.
We're hooked on it now. We went to another forest the next day and found those clues more easily. Geocaches may be found anywhere in the world.

Later in the week, we looked for more clues in the form of a family favourite board-game. The boys were particularly good at finding 'Who dunnit' when we played 'Cluedo'. They ticked off the rooms , weapons and characters until they came up with the name of the murderer. 

The house was quiet when they left and I got back to some writing. Thinking back over the week made me consider how writers drop clues in their writing. Crime writers do this all the time. But what about other genres of writing? 

My story The Curse of the Turquoise Pool is included in the recently published anthology by Swansea's Writing Circle. In it, I drop clues about the identity of the young girl, Mari. Rhys notices some things that are strange about the girl and they only make sense by the end of the story. 
Garage 54 and others

Dropping clues is sometimes called foreshadowing. If you drop too many hints, the reader may lose interest, having anticipated the scene or action before it happens. Too few, and the reader will wonder where on earth that action, feeling or event has come from. A very concise explanation of foreshadowing appears on Cassandra Clare's Blog where she recommends dialogue as one of the best ways to drop clues. 'A casually dropped comment by a character, a mention of an anecdote that seems related to something else, all those can be used to foreshadow and drop clues.'

Another useful blog post on foreshadowing is this one by Connie Dunn. She likens successful clue-dropping to the 'breadcrumb effect' when tiny crumbs of information are dropped leaving a trail of hints throughout the story. They help the readers follow the thread of the story and keep turning the pages.

My novel is almost ready to go to my first Beta reader and I'm nervous. Very nervous. What if she doesn't want to keep turning the pages? Have I dropped enough clues? Are there parts that don't tie up? Teresa is an avid reader of a wide range of genres and I've asked her to be totally honest. I'd like her to tell me if and where she found her interest wandering, if there enough suspense, whether what happened rings true. And lots of other things... Wish me luck!

Have you any tips for dropping clues to keep a reader turning the pages?
What do you ask of a Beta reader? 

Thank you for reading the blog. I'd love it if you'd leave a comment. Thank you. :-)

You may follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit  and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.