We’re in Puerto Vallarta for a week – no job, no housework, no husbands, no kids. We feel as if we’ve been set free. Having a beer the first night we discover that the labels slide off the bottles with ease. Something to do with the heat and humidity we figure.
“Hey,” says my sister. “I could collect these labels, paste them on a bar stool, and then varnish it. What do you think?” I’m a bit jealous. She’s the artsy one. I would never have thought of that, but I’ll happily help her collect labels.
Flying home, she digs out her collection from between the pages of her journal and counts them. Fifty-three. “We drank fifty-three bottles of beer in a week?”
I chuckle at the horrified look on her face and confirm the count. “But, don’t forget. Those guys at the next table gave us their labels.”
“They only gave us two. That means we drank fifty-one bottles. Oh, my God. We’ll have to sign in at the Betty Ford clinic.”
“No!” My sister sounds a bit snappish which is unlike her, but to be fair for the last week she’s heard the same question over and over.
Are you twins? An innocuous enough query and we do look alike. Personally, it didn’t bother me at all. Why the ire on her part? Well, the fact that she’s eight years younger might have something to do with it.
“Pink diamonds!” I’ve just seen a poster in the entry of the Strand Arcade in Sydney and I’m enthralled.
We find the diamond store and I inquire about prices. They’re astronomical. Does my sister discourage me? Drag me out of the store kicking and screaming? Tell me I can’t afford it? No! She helps me pick out a diamond and assures me I’m doing the right thing.
Yes, I love my pink diamond and yes, sisters are great.
You’ve written a novel, agonized over character names—after all you’re going to have to live with these people for many years. You’ve progressed from the draft to rewrite rewrite rewrite, and then to edit, polish, and proof read. Along the way you’ve made the difficult decisions regarding your title, and cover design. Finally, you have it all in place. You’re done!
NOT! Reading agent and publisher submission guidelines you learn that you must include a 1 to 2 page synopsis—a summary of your novel—an objective outline of the story which includes all the key points of the entire main plot through to the end. Well now, that can’t be too hard.
“Writing a synopsis is like slowly pulling a tooth with pliers.”
“I hate it.”
“The deconstruction of a novel to reduce it to its simplest form is insane.”
“You never feel you’ve done your book justice.”
“Too much information to compress into too little space.”
“It’s the hardest writing we have to do.”
Oh, come on, don’t exaggerate. You authors are so sensitive. Numerous sites offer advice on how to write a synopsis. Check them out. It’s easy, you’ll see.
Written in present tense, third person, (in the same style of writing as your book) it’s a summary of your novel—with feeling. You do not have to include every character or every scene or plot point, but you should give a clear idea as to what your book is about, what is at stake for your heroes, and how it all turns out. Yes, you must put the conclusion to your novel in your synopsis. No cliffhangers or teasers.
Armed with all this guidance, you sit down to write the synopsis. One hundred drafts later and you’re crying in your beer, tearing your hair out, reduced to a blubbering piece of mush.
And no, even if you self-publish, you’re not off the hook. Now you need to produce the shorter, and even more difficult to write, synopsis meant for the public—the blurb or book description used to promote the book.
A blurb is not something that sums up your book in a nutshell. It’s meant to create enough excitement and interest to get people to want to READ your story. Think ad. Think movie trailer. Keep it short and simply written, easy to skim. Build in conflict and end with a good hook—a question that will get the reader to click that “ORDER” button.
Here’s the current version of my blurb. I think I’m getting a little closer to a good description, but undoubtedly, there will be more rewrites.
Emily doesn’t believe in heaven, but she has an insane desire to go “up there.” A yearning that’s so strong that she can no longer function in daily life. Even the wonderful Dr. David can’t help her find the answers she needs.
Then a stranger arrives claiming to be her soulmate, claiming to have loved her in other lives. She is inexorably drawn to him even as she runs from him.
To prove what he says is true, Yves takes her to his world. There she meets gods and Powers and people rescued from doomed planets—living the perfect heavenly life. She knows she belongs “up there” with Yves, but all is not as idyllic as it appears. Emily is the only one who sees the danger. Can she leave her family and friends to stay with Yves? Will she be able to save him and his world?
As for the tagline, that catchphrase or slogan to advertise your book, how hard can that be?
Keep it simple, tell a story, be clear, be scenario driven, be creative, be memorable—all good advice from the Internet, but not so easy to put into practice. Movie taglines—In space no one can hear you scream. Alien (1979), Houston, we have a problem. Apollo 13 (1995)—are inspiring, but aren’t always the ticket for a novel.
This is what I’ve come up with so far for my books.
Aliens take over Em’s life. Trouble is the guy in charge is a rookie. Of course he messes up.
Jasmine is convinced she’s invincible. The visions she experienced as a child told her so.
Abby believes the clickings she hears in the fillings of her teeth are messages from aliens. She’s right.
Emily is obsessed with the notion of going “up there.” She arrives to a world in crisis. Saving it and the man she loves is up to her.
Mali to Mexico and points in between (coming soon)
I have to tell you a story. Snippets of a life well lived.
I’m reading 419 by Will Ferguson—a powerful story, well told, with turns of phrase that delight.
“Storms without rain. Winds without water. She woke, and when she sat up, the dust fountained off her and the voice that accompanied her once again stirred, once again whispered, “Get up. Keep walking. Don’t stop.”
Vivid imagery abounds.
“Zuma rock denoted not only the traditional geographical centre of Nigeria-the “navel of the nation” as it was known-but also the border between the sha’ria states of the north and the Christian states of the sough. Zuma rose up, rounded and sudden, on striated cliffs etched by a thousand years of rainfall and erosion. The ridges carved down its sides were the sort of lines that might be left by acid or tears.”
A woman from Canada, a girl from the north, a young man from the Delta, and a 419er. How will the lives of these disparate characters be woven together? I’m fascinated, enthralled, eager to read each evening, yet dreading the end, dreading the time when the story will be only a memory. The narrative makes me cringe and cry. I know this is a book I will read more than once.
I email my young Nigerian friend to tell him about the novel. He responds:
“ 419 – an internet scam organized by Nigerian scammers (aliases: Yahoo Boys, G-Boys). 419 is an alias that dates back to the past (I believe 1994-1997) in Nigeria, when innocent people, mainly teenagers, were repeatedly abducted and killed. Their bodies or body parts were then used for big money rituals.
I’ve come across painful remarks on Twitter, Facebook, and some other interactive sites about Nigerians being fraudsters. That they target white people and rob them of their money using various means; including telling them pitiful stories just to incite their help.”
I’m about three quarters of the way through the book at this point and the urge to learn more about Ferguson’s research can no longer be ignored. Googling proves to be a huge mistake. The first items that come up are reviews from highly respected sources, and while they don’t lambaste the book, they do contain enough negative comments to diminish my pleasure in the reading and cause a rather sour feeling.
I turn away from the computer in disgust, push the reviews out of my mind, and return to my Kindle. I refuse to let someone else’s opinion color my own judgment, my own enjoyment of the novel.
Sitting now, writing this, I wonder if I should stop writing reviews. Am I guilty of spoiling another’s enjoyment, of perhaps causing someone, because of my arrogance, to dismiss a novel without even giving it a chance? Conversely, does a review I write of a book I love convince a reader to pick up that book only to find that it doesn’t work for them? What makes me think I can or should pass judgment for another reader?
But the author in me craves reviews. They’re our “word of mouth” and vital to marketing. If we’re to have sales at all, we need people talking about our books, reviewing them, recommending them to fellow readers.
Amazon sends me emails. “So, Darlene Jones, how did this item meet your expectations?” Do I answer? What do I say? My own sister, daughter, and aunt don’t always like the books I deem worthy of their time.
Yes, I did write a review for 419. Book buyers may or may not read it. They may or may not take it to heart in their decision making, but I’ve decided writing reviews is my obligation to fellow authors. It’s my “word of mouth” gift to them. I hope readers of my books will do the same for me.