The One That Felt Like Pulling Teeth

Okay, so, if you follow me on Twitter you might know that I've been struggling to finish up synopses of the next two books I'm hoping to write. My agent asked for them something like two months ago, but I've been dragging my feet, marathoning Canadian TV shows, revising, etc. Basically, doing everything in my power to avoid putting my butt in my chair and banging them out. The thing I realized while writing BLACK IS THE COLOR is this: I'm half pantser, half plotter. I go into stories knowing how I want them to end, a couple major plot points, and the main character's voice and identity... but I really don't plan out scenes, not until right before I'm going to write them. I'm assuming this is why my first drafts are always so long (BRIGHTLY WOVEN: ~135k, BLACK: 150k on the nose--which, yikes), but it's the way that works for me. I write in a very linear way; I've never been able to skip around in a story and later stitch the scenes together. I don't let myself cheat and write the "fun" scenes ahead of time, because each scene has to build on all of the ones that came before it.

I figure a lot of things out while writing and revising, and it's hard for me to hit on something really great ahead of time until I'm there, in the middle of the scene with the character. For instance, one of my favorite scenes in BitC (I really feel like I need to add an "H" word to the end of the title, just for the acronym) is one that was suggested to me by one of my early readers. And that same scene? Later went on to be referenced several other times in the manuscript and ended up becoming a huge emotional undercurrent for the story as a whole. That stuff--it's hard to predict ahead of time. It's hard for me to think about what will happen in book 3, if I haven't written book 2 yet, and it's hard for me to pull a plot out of my you-know-what when I haven't started the project yet.

So I typed up what basically amounted to two six page (single-spaced!) plot summaries and then tried to cut them down for my agent. Not right--I needed less, but I also needed more. So I tried again. And again. And then started worrying my agent thought I was an idiot because I just was not getting what she wanted. At all.

But I did get it, eventually. What she wanted wasn't an actual plot summary, but, instead a plot pitch. In my brain--as a former Ed Assistant--this is pretty much flap copy. And if you've ever been or known an Ed Assistant, you know that something like 50% of the job involves writing copy with a pitch/marketing slant. For every title (EVERY! TITLE!) you have: catalog copy, bound galley copy, flap copy, paperback copy... not to mention the presentations that need to be given at Pre-Sales, Sales, Launch, etc. All of this copy must touch on the main characters, major themes, and a very, very, VERY vague look at the plot. And, of course, different titles need different things, but the copy is always best when it highlights the thing most special and unique about the project.

I'm not proud to say that deadlines were never my friend as an Ed Assistant. There are just so many of them every season that what should have been a nice, easy jog turns into a mad sprint to get everything done. There would be days I'd have to pound out copy, after copy, after copy. You can imagine, then, that I learned how to draft fast.

Approaching the synopses as flap copy not only cut down on the length problem I was having, but let me write them in about ten minutes. And honestly? That copy was so much better than any of the previous drafts I had sent.

If you're struggling to write a query, a proposal, or even a synopsis, I highly recommend picking up a few books and taking a gander at the flap copy. You'll notice right away that there are formulas and phrases that get repeated over and over again--that's because they're perceived as "working," at least by editors.

Something to think about!