01
Sep
09

Mad Props

As I mentioned before, my Marla Mason series is kaput, and since I won’t be writing more of those books… it’s proposal time!

It’s a peculiar thing about being a professional writer. The first novel you sell, you almost certainly had finished before you sent it out — it’s a rare writer who can sell a debut without having a completed manuscript, and for good reason: the publisher needs to know you can finish writing a book.

But, after you’ve sold a book or two or three based on finished manuscripts, you get enough credibility that you can try another approach: selling based on some sample chapters and an outline/synopsis. The sample chapters are there to give editors a sense of the writing style, the voice, the tone, and all that stuff, and the outline/synopsis is to show you have some idea where you’re going.

Here’s a little secret though: you can usually deviate pretty widely from the outline without anybody getting upset about it, as long as you don’t, like, totally change genres or something (though individual editors will doubtless vary in their tolerances for deviation). Hell, the sample chapters I included in my proposal for Poison Sleep were cut entirely from the novel when I rewrote the whole beginning! But my editor didn’t mind, because I made it better.

So I’ve been proposal-ing. I have ideas for three novels I really want to write, all with sequel potential. I decided trying to do all three would kill me (not to mention overwhelm my agent) so I settled on the two that seemed to have the most commercial potential. Both are sort of divergences for me: one’s a fantasy in an alternate-historical milieu, one’s an epic fantasy (though a quirky one). For each, I needed about 10,000 words of sample chapters (50 pages or so), and synopses.

The epic fantasy isn’t that tough to write. I spent a long time working on the characters, the plot is quite solid, and the world is well established in my mind (I’ve given glimpses of it in my stories “Another End of the Empire” and “Over There”). Since I know that one will be easier… I did the other one first.

The thing about writing a historical book, even one with a pretty radically-altered history, is that it requires research. I didn’t want to do hundreds of hours of research for a first 50, because it would be basically a lot of wasted time if the novel doesn’t sell, but I picked a time I knew a bit about anyway, got a few books from the library, and poked Wikipedia and other corners of the internet fairly vigorously. If I wind up doing the whole book, I’ll have to research more, of course, but I got enough to make the first 50 work, I think. I polished and revised that first fifty a few times, then turned to the dreaded synopsis.

After years of hating synopses and finding them mysterious and terrible beasts, I’ve hit on an approach that works for me: I write the synopsis like I’m telling a friend everything that excites me about my novel (albeit in a slightly more organized fashion, with fewer digressions). It’s kind of informal. I do my best to make the synopsis itself an entertaining document, rather than a dry recitation of events. If I can match the tone of the novel somewhat in the tone of the synopsis, so much the better. In short, I try to write synopses that don’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with boredom. Does this produce perfect synopses that editors find irresistible? I dunno. But it’s the only way I can actually force myself to write the things, so it’s what I do.

I got that proposal/synopsis done and sent it off to my agent a couple of days ago. As for the more epic fantasy piece… that’s what I’m working on the rest of the day. It needs another 4,000 words or so of fiction and, then, the dread synopsis. Wish me luck.

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3 Responses to “Mad Props”


  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    September 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Good luck! And really, isn’t it kind of thrilling? 🙂

  2. 2 rachel aaron
    September 2, 2009 at 6:11 am

    I am still beyond bummed that there’s no more Marla. My husband just finished Dead Reign (finally!) and he’s been gushing about it for a week. We just ordered Spell Games, so at least we’ve got that to look forward to, but after… we don’t know what to do!

    Your description of the proposal process is very interesting. It is a real switch to go from shopping a finished book to one so nascent it doesn’t even have its parts assembled yet. I like your idea of the synopsis, though! After all, what excites me is probably what’s good about the story, so it’s best to make sure that gets in!

  3. June 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Good post! As a fellow fantasy writer, it is inspiring. You must be thrilled to be fairly established in your writing career. I`m waiting for an agent to get back to me regarding my first novel!


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