Thursday, December 28, 2017

Writing Goals for 2018

The new year is upon us, and it's a great time to reflect back on the past writing year and set some goals for the next one. I always find it's best to keep New Year's resolutions within the realm of my own control: 'resolving' something like 'I want a six-figure book deal!' is great, but it's not something any of us can control. It might happen, but you're setting yourself up for disappointment if it doesn't. Instead, resolving something like, 'I'm going to write six hours a week' sets a goal that's attainable, measurable, and within the writer's control.

What are your writing goals for 2018? What are you most proud of from 2017? What lessons did you learn this year that you're going to apply moving forward?

Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Buying Motivations 2017 from the Debut Author Spotlight

In 2017, every Debut Author in our Spotlight was asked, "As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?" Here are the results.

Book Buying motivation 2017 Operation Awesome survey data

Favorite genres and good stories topped the chart. But two other big slices of the pie came from attractive covers and recommendations by friends. Established, favorite authors (like Patrick Rothfuss) ranked third as a motivation.

I have so many answers for this, but I'll try to keep it brief. I would say the MOST motivating thing is a recommendation from someone I know and trust. If a friend disliked a book, that wouldn't keep me from reading it, but it would make me think twice. But they would have to REALLY hate it for me to start questioning it. Also, if the story or characters pique my interest, like it's an interesting take on an old trope or has diverse characters - especially if it's people I don't know much about, then I will mostly likely add it to my tbr. I enjoy reading most when I get to see through different eyes. To be honest, I think that's the most important aspect of reading. How amazing is it that we get to step into someone else's shoes, if only for a few hundred pages?

Can I afford this? Does the cover excite me? Do I relate to some component of the book, the description, the title? I can be persuaded pretty easily to buy new books :)

I want to live in someone else’s universe. I want to baste myself in the details until I disappear into their environments and become a part of the world. If the rules are sufficiently complicated, make sense, and compliment but don’t distract from the character development, I’m in.

My workflow is the following. Is it by Patrick Rothfuss? If so, buy it. If not, does it check at least two the following boxes? `[ ]` Space. `[ ]` Sad robots. `[ ]` A journey through the wreckage of human souls. If two or more boxes are checked, buy it.

Word of mouth. When multiple people whose opinions I trust recommend it, I know it has to go on my TBR.

The synopsis and the cover.

Word of mouth, mostly. I will always buy books from authors I’ve previously read and enjoyed. But I buy a lot of books because a friend with similar tastes admits that they liked it or because I see a positive review on Goodreads.

The author’s name/pedigree and book reviews.

Most of the time, it’s because one of my friends told me how amazing a book was. (And they’re usually right!) Covers of course catch my attention, but I never judge books by their cover.

I’m a sucker for a great cover, but who isn’t? I will automatically pick up anything that has to do with prom, the boy next door, studying abroad, the UK, Paris, and swooning. I typically stick to contemporary novels, but there are many fantasies I’ve gotten sucked into (hello Sarah J. Maas!) and I love a good mystery or thriller every once in a while.

Humour is the first thing I tend to look for. I also enjoy books with complex and somewhat unusual characters.

I definitely am drawn to covers. But it can’t just be a beautiful cover. I’m most likely to buy a book if it’s YA contemporary or some comedian’s book. I love coming of age drama, but I also love a good laugh! I also stalk authors. So if an author I love has a new book out, I’ll buy it automatically.

I’m always a sucker for a good hook and a killer premise. I love books that can engage me from the flap copy or the first five pages.

Pretty much the idea I'll enter a new world. That's all I really need to know before I pick up a new book.

A great cover. Readers really do judge a book by its cover. Authors who have self-made amateur covers I always feel bad for. The cover must look professional and it needs to represent the story and genre inside.

I take guidance from the bestseller lists and award winner lists but also from my friends. If a friend recommends a book, especially enthusiastically, I will take a look.

I'll admit, I'm a super picky reader. I've been known to check out an armload of books out of our local library, take them home, and only finish one or two of them. Once I've found an author whose books I enjoy, though, I eat them up like candy. Things that always catch my eye: time travel (of course), unique fantasy elements, eerie and secluded settings, family secrets, and my favorite historical eras and events.

Is the book something like another book I'd read and enjoyed? Or is the book about something I want to learn more about? More and more, though, I buy a new book because I've met the author through social media or at a con. Or perhaps they're a friend of someone I have. After meeting them and becoming invested in them, I invest in their book. And get a great read out of the deal. What's not to like?

It’s not the cover – I’m not a massively visual person, although of course it’s good to have something nice to look at. A blurb that offers something new that I haven’t seen before will invariably hook me in.

If it's by one of my favorite authors, that's the easiest sale. But I didn't realize my other motivations until I started the "Down the TBR Hole" blog prompt posts on my blog. It turns out that I'm most motivated to buy any books about the Lenni-Lenape, and any books that remind me of my book or my characters.

There are authors whose books I buy as soon they come out, but my biggest purchasing motivator is story. Does the idea intrigue or excite me? I’ll spend twenty bucks on anything if I think the idea is cool.

The MC's voice. I'm always attracted to stories written in first-person, especially if the character is honest, funny, and has a unique point of view.

When the book is set is a big one. I like histories. I also like humor, and I tend more toward fantasy. Covers will sometimes do it. Word of mouth recommendations will sometimes do it. One of the biggest things is if I meet the author in real life or online, and the author is a nice person. That makes me more curious to check out their work.

Either the subject/genre or recommendation from people you know and respect. Eye catching bookcover.

It depends on the situation but usually the description on the back of the book is the deciding factor for me.

I am most motivated by the description on the back cover, and if a trusted friend or two shares their passion about the book beforehand. If a friend can sell me on it (and I’m pretty skeptical by nature), I will probably check it out.

I’m a sucker for a good cover. If it grabs me I’ll read it. I’ve been guilty before of not even reading the blurb.

What about you? What motivated you to buy books new books to read in 2017?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Operation Awesome's Top Posts of 2017

It's been another fabulous writing year at Operation Awesome. The blog got a much-needed facelift. Our bloggers have hit new writing milestones, and hopefully helped our readers reach some goals as well. Pass Or Pages kept going strong, which was important to our team. We'll be bringing it back again in March 2018!

Here are our top posts of 2017 for you to look back on:

9 Places to Meet Writers and Start Building Your Network

Prioritizing the Writer’s Life via a Business Plan

What reading/writing topics would you like to see Operation Awesome cover in 2018?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis: Part 2 (and Call for Submissions!)

I'm re-running my posts from last year about how to write synopses. I'm also reopening my synopsis critique service: Fill out the form here, and I'll post one critique per week. Thanks for participating! Hope to see yours soon!

Last week, we covered the basics of synopsis writing. This week, as promised, we're going to get into the mechanics, using an example from a book most of us are very familiar with. Now take a deep breath, limber up your typing fingers, and let's get synopsizing! And keep in mind, if you'd like your synopsis critiqued on this site, the submission instructions are below.

Where do I start? Do you use an outline? If so, start there! Flesh out each scene from your outline's descriptions, focusing on the main plot, into no more than a paragraph each. Many scenes will require only a sentence, some paragraphs will summarize more than one scene, and some scenes won't require summary at all (focused on a subplot, character description, etc.). Once you have all the relevant scenes fleshed out, start connecting the dots: make sure going from Scene A to Scene B, all the way to Scene Z, makes sense in the context of your central plot. Then revise the language until it flows well.

If you don't have an outline, make a list of scenes from your manuscript, in order. Summarize each scene (you don't have to do this in great detail, just enough so you can explain what happens in your central plot in each scene). Then connect the dots and revise the language.

Some pointers
  • Use third person, present tense, active voice, regardless of what you used in the manuscript.
    • This isn't required, but it helps orient the reader if you put each character name in ALL CAPS the first time you use it. This makes the name stand out to the reader.
    • ... but no more than 4-5 named characters in the synopsis. For everyone else who isn't as integral to the main plot as those 4 or 5 characters, describe them by their relationship to the main character or the plot. For example, in a synopsis for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (the book we'll be working with below), the only named main characters should be Harry, Ron, Hermione, Voldemort, and Quirrell. There are obviously many other important characters in these books, but for the purposes of this book, everyone else can be described rather than named (Harry's aunt, the headmaster of Hogwarts, etc.). 
    • Start at the beginning. Weave in a brief description of the setting, the time period, and any other details necessary to orient the reader, and then get right into the main character and his/her 'ordinary world,' in order to lead into the inciting incident in the next paragraph.
    • Lead right into the inciting incident. What happens to propel your main character into action? You should get into this as soon as possible after describing your main character's 'ordinary world.' What changes?
    • Follow the Hero's Journey (explanations here) or Save the Cat (here) or any other plotting structure you used for your manuscript, and run through every important point that gets your hero from the ordinary world, to the inciting incident, to deciding to act, to trying and failing, to trying and succeeding, to ultimate victory/failure.
    • Give away the ending and all plot twists!
    An example

    Here's the synopsis (by an anonymous poster) from the Wikipedia page for Harry Potter & Sorcerer's Stone. This summary wasn't written to accompany a manuscript submitted to an agent, but let's pretend it was. I'm going to include my comments in bold/brackets throughout. Then, I'm going to rewrite this synopsis so it conforms more closely to the guidelines we've discussed (focusing on the main plot, limiting the number of named characters, etc.):

    Original Synopsis with Comments:
    The most evil and powerful dark wizard in history, Lord Voldemort, murdered married couple James and Lily Potter but mysteriously disappeared after failing to kill their infant son, Harry. [THIS IS BACKSTORY. WEAVE THROUGHOUT THE SYNOPSIS, BUT DON'T LEAD WITH IT] While the wizarding world celebrates Voldemort's apparent downfall, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and half-giant Rubeus Hagrid place the one-year-old orphan in the care of his surly and cold Muggle uncle and aunt, Vernon and Petunia Dursley and their spoilt and bullying son, Dudley. [TOO MANY NAMES AND TOO MANY DETAILS ON BACKSTORY BEFORE GETTING INTO HARRY'S STORY. ]
    For ten years, living at number Four Privet Drive, Harry is treated by the Dursleys more like a servant than a member of the family and is forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs. [THIS IS WHERE THE STORY REALLY STARTS. MAKE THIS THE FIRST PARAGRAPH, WITH SOME DETAILS FROM THE OPENING PARAGRAPH SPRINKLED IN] Shortly before his eleventh birthday, a series of letters addressed to Harry arrive, but Uncle Vernon Dursley destroys them before Harry can read them, leading to an influx of more and more letters. To evade the pursuit of these letters, Vernon first takes the family to a hotel, but when the letters arrive there too, he hires a boat out to a hut on a small island. [THIS IS TOO MUCH DETAIL FOR A SCENE THAT CAN BE OMITTED OR SUCCINCTLY SUMMARIZED TO GET TO THE INCITING INCIDENT, WHICH IS HARRY RECEIVING HIS HOGWART'S LETTER]
    It is Harry's eleventh birthday and at midnight, Hagrid bursts through the door to deliver the letter and to tell Harry what the Dursleys have kept from him: Harry is a wizard and has been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. [THIS IS THE INCITING INCIDENT, AND SHOULD BE PRESENTED EARLIER] Hagrid takes Harry to a hidden London street called Diagon Alley, where he is surprised to discover how famous he is among the witches and wizards, who refer to him as "the boy who lived." He also finds that his parents' inheritance is waiting for him at Gringotts Wizarding Bank. [TOO MANY DETAILS, WE DON'T NEED ALL THESE NAMES. WE SHOULD BE ON OUR WAY TO HOGWARTS BY NOW] Guided by Hagrid, he buys the equipment he will need for his first year at Hogwarts and as a birthday gift Harry receives a pet owl from Hagrid (which he names "Hedwig").
    A month later, Harry leaves the Dursleys' home to catch the Hogwarts Express from King's Cross railway station. There he meets the Weasley family, who show him how to pass through the magic wall to Platform 9¾ [LITTLE DETAILS LIKE THESE ADD A LOT OF COLOR. PLATFORM 9 3/4 GIVES THE READER AN INDICATION OF THE KIND OF MAGICAL WORLD WE'RE IN. KEEP DETAILS LIKE THESE, BUT KEEP THEM SMALL], where the train that will take them to Hogwarts is waiting. While on the train, Harry meets two fellow first years, Ron Weasley, who immediately becomes his friend, and Hermione Granger, with whom the ice is a bit slower to break. Harry also makes an enemy of yet another first-year, Draco Malfoy. Draco offers to advise Harry, but Harry dislikes Draco for his arrogance and prejudice and rejects his offer of "friendship". [DRACO ISN'T IMPORTANT ENOUGH IN THIS FIRST BOOK TO EVEN INTRODUCE]
    At Hogwarts, the first-years are assigned by the magical Sorting Hat to houses that best suit their personalities. While Harry is being sorted, the Hat suggests that he be placed into Slytherin which is known to house potential dark witches and wizards, but when Harry objects, the Hat sends him to Gryffindor. Ron and Hermione are also sorted into Gryffindor. Draco is sorted into Slytherin, like his whole family before him. [KEEP THIS MORE VAGUE. IF ANYTHING SHOULD BE KEPT HERE, THE ONLY IMPORTANT DETAIL IS HARRY AND HIS FRIENDS ARE SORTED INTO THE SAME HOUSE, WHICH AIDS IN THEIR GROWING FRIENDSHIP AND LOYALTY TO EACH OTHER]
    Harry starts classes at Hogwarts School, with lessons including Transfiguration with Head of Gryffindor, Minerva McGonagall, Herbology with Head of Hufflepuff, Pomona Sprout, Charms with Head of Ravenclaw Filius Flitwick, and Defence Against the Dark Arts with Quirinus Quirrell. [NONE OF THIS DETAIL IS NECESSARY, THOUGH QUIRRELL SHOULD BE INTRODUCED] Harry's least favourite class is Potions, taught by Severus Snape, the vindictive Head of Slytherin who seems to loathe Harry. Harry, Ron, and Hermione become far more interested by extracurricular matters within and outside of the school, particularly after they discover that a huge three-headed dog is standing guard over a trap door in a forbidden corridor. They also become suspicious of Snape's behaviour and become convinced that he is looking for ways to get past the trapdoor. [WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL. CUT DOWN TO ONE SENTENCE]
    Harry discovers an innate talent for flying on broomsticks and is appointed as Seeker on his House’s Quidditch team, a wizards's sport played in the air. His first game goes well until his broomstick wobbles in mid-air and almost throws him off. [SUBPLOT. NOT DIRECTLY RELEVANT TO THE MAIN PLOT, EXCEPT FOR THE NEXT SENTENCE, BUT CAN BE CUT WAY DOWN] Ron and Hermione suspect foul play from Snape, whom they saw behaving oddly. For Christmas, Harry receives an invisibility cloak from an anonymous source and begins exploring the school at night and investigating the hidden object further. He discovers the Mirror of Erised, in which the viewer sees his deepest desires becoming true. [IRRELEVANT SUBPLOTS]
    Thanks to an indiscretion from Hagrid, Harry and his friends work out that the object kept at the school is a Philosopher's Stone, made by an old friend of Dumbledore named Nicolas Flamel. Harry is also informed by a centaur he meets in the forest that a plot to steal the Philosopher’s Stone is being orchestrated by none other than Voldemort himself, who would use it to be restored to his body and come back to power. When Dumbledore is lured from Hogwarts under false pretences, Harry and his friends fear that the theft is imminent and descend through the trapdoor themselves. [THIS IS A GOOD PARAGRAPH. PRESENTS THE STAKES WELL AND EXPLAINS WHY HARRY AND HIS FRIENDS WOULD PUT THEMSELVES IN DANGER]
    They encounter a series of obstacles, each of which requires unique skills possessed by one of the three, and one of which requires Ron to sacrifice himself in a life-sized game of wizard's chess. In the final room, Harry, now alone, finds Quirrell, who admits that he had tried to kill Harry at his Quidditch match against Slytherin. He also admits that he let a troll into Hogwarts. Snape had been trying to protect Harry all along rather than to kill him, and his suspicious behaviour came from his own suspicions about Quirrell. [I WOULD LEAVE OUT THE SUBPLOT ABOUT SNAPE UNLESS YOU'RE WRITING A LONGER SYNOPSIS. FOR 1-2 PAGES, IT CAN GO]
    Quirrell is one of Voldemort's followers, and is now partly possessed by him: Voldemort's face has sprouted on the back of his own head, hidden by his turban. Voldemort needs Harry's help to get past the final obstacle: the Mirror of Erised, but when Quirrell tries to grab the Stone from Harry his contact proves lethal for Quirrell. [A LITTLE MORE DESCRIPTION HERE SINCE THIS IS THE CLIMAX OF THE BOOK] Harry passes out and awakes in the school hospital, where Dumbledore explains to him that he survived because his mother sacrificed her life to protect him, and this left a powerful protective charm on him. Voldemort left Quirrell to die and is likely to return by some other means. The Stone has now been destroyed. The school year ends at the final feast, during which Gryffindor wins the House Cup. Harry returns to the Dursleys' for the summer holiday but does not tell them that under-age wizards are forbidden to use magic outside of Hogwarts. [THIS IS A CONFUSING ENDING. END WITH A SENTENCE THAT'S RELEVANT TO THE PLOT, NOT SOMETHING THAT LEADS INTO FUTURE BOOKS]

    Rewritten Synopsis

    Ten-year-old HARRY POTTER lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, who treat him more like a servant than a family member, and force him to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry can't remember his parents, who died when he was an infant. He mostly keeps to himself, avoiding his cousin's bullying and his uncle's unpredictable wrath. But when strange things start happening around Harry, including his sudden ability to converse with a snake, and an influx of letters addressed to him flood the house, Harry realizes he's part of something bigger than the only world he's known.

    Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a huge, good-natured man shows up with another copy of the letter, despite Harry's uncle's attempts to destroy all of them. It's Harry's acceptance letter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The man explains that Harry is a wizard, and in fact, his wizard parents were murdered by the most evil and powerful dark wizard in history, LORD VOLDEMORT, who disappeared after failing to also kill Harry as a baby. Harry is shocked to learn he is famous among the inhabitants of the wizarding world, who refer to him as 'the boy who lived.'

    Soon afterward, Harry leaves his aunt and uncle's house to attend Hogwarts. On the train, he meets RON WEASLEY, the fun-loving youngest son of an established wizarding family, and HERMIONE GRANGER, a brainy know-it-all who is the only witch in her family. When they arrive at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all sorted into Gryffindor House, the House associated with bravery and loyalty.

    Soon after starting his lessons at Hogwarts, which include subjects such as Transfiguration, Potions, Charms, and Defense Against the Dark Arts, Harry and his friends discover a huge, three-headed dog standing guard over a trap door in a forbidden corridor. None of their professors will tell them why the dog is there or what it's guarding, but that doesn't stop Harry and his friends from sneaking around the school at night, having a horrifying run-in with a troll, or using Harry's newly-acquired invisibility cloak to spy on their classmates and professors.

    Eventually, Harry and his friends learn the hidden object is an ancient artifact called the Sorcerer's Stone, which gives the bearer eternal life, and in turn, near-limitless power. Harry soon realizes the plot to steal the Stone is being orchestrated by the disembodied Lord Voldemort himself, who plans to use it to return to his body and resume his evil reign. But Lord Voldemort must be using someone on the Hogwarts grounds to acquire the Stone for him. Harry and his friends initially suspect their dour Potions professor, who has a history of associating with Voldemort and despises Harry for unknown reasons, of being his helper.

    Then, the headmaster is lured from Hogwarts under false pretenses. Left unprotected, Harry and his friends fear the theft of the Stone is imminent and descend through the trapdoor themselves to guard it. They encounter a series of obstacles, each of which requires unique skills possessed by one of the three: Hermione must solve a difficult puzzle, Ron sacrifices himself in a life-sized game of Wizard's Chess, and Harry must use his newly-discovered flying talent to retrieve the key to the final door. 

    Behind that door is not the Potions professor after all. It is PROFESSOR QUIRRELL, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. He admits he is one of Voldemort's followers and is now partly possessed by him. In fact, Voldemort's face has melded with the back of his own head, and has been hidden all year by Quirrell's omnipresent turban. Voldemort needs Harry to get through the final obstacle and retrieve the Stone for him. Harry is able to get the stone, but when Quirrell tries to grab it from Harry, the physical contact proves disastrous for both Voldemort and Quirrell. Because Harry's mother died to save Harry, she left a powerful protective charm on him and Voldemort cannot touch him, even through someone else's body. Voldemort vanishes, Quirrell is injured but no longer possessed, and the Stone is destroyed.

    The school year ends with a feast, during which Harry and his friends are honored for their roles in saving the Sorcerer's Stone. Harry returns to his aunt and uncle's house for summer vacation. This time, though, Harry goes with the knowledge that he is a wizard and his real life is at Hogwarts with his friends. And no one, not even his awful family, can take that from him.

    Here are some great resources on synopsis writing:

    Tuesday, December 19, 2017

    Operation Awesome's Favorite Books of 2017

    I love the end of the year--looking back at the old, and looking ahead to the new. Here are some of the best books we read in 2017, and some of our most anticipated of 2018:

    Jaime Olin
    My favorites of 2017 were:

    And my most anticipated read of 2018 is:

    Leandra Wallace
    Favorites of 2017:

    Most anticipated of 2018:
    A Thousand Perfect Notes by CG Drews and

    Kara Reynolds
    Jaime and Leandra already called two of my favorite books from this year (THUG and The Empty Grave) so I GUESS I'll pick new ones. And since I'm the one writing this post, I get to pick more than five!!! Here are my faves of 2017:

    And my most anticipated of 2018 (there are so many how can I just pick a few???)

    A Blade so Black, by L.L McKinney, and 

    J Lenni Dorner
    My favorites of 2017 included:

    And in 2018, I'm looking forward to:

    What were your favorite reads of 2017? What books are you most looking forward to next year?

    Thursday, December 14, 2017

    Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis: Part 1 (and Call for Submissions!)

    I'm re-running my posts from last year about how to write synopses. I'm also reopening my synopsis critique service: Fill out the form here, and I'll post one critique per week. Thanks for participating! Hope to see yours soon!

    Here's an increasingly common scenario. An agent has had your partial or full manuscript for several weeks, and you finally get a long-awaited email from her. Your heart pounding, you open the email. "Can you please send me a synopsis?" she asks.

    Or you just found out about a contest you know you want to enter. The contest judges will be deciding which entries move on to the agent round based on a query letter, the first page/chapter of the manuscript... and a synopsis. The entry deadline is tomorrow. Your query letter and the manuscript itself are word-perfect, edited, beta-read, and revised. But can you write a great synopsis in 24 hours?

    In this post, we'll discuss what a synopsis is (and isn't), how synopses are used by agents and authors, and the basic requirements for writing a good one.

    Next week, we'll go through the mechanics of synopsis writing, and I'll post an example of a synopsis that works.

    After that, I'll be critiquing your synopses - we'll add a form to next week's post so you can submit!

    What is a synopsis? A synopsis is a summary of your manuscript's plot. It details the entire main plot arc (including the ending) and also mentions the most important subplots and characters. It doesn't include many character or setting details, and also doesn't include dialogue, metaphors, or detailed descriptions. Think of it as the blueprint for a house. You don't need to show the tablecloths and chandeliers, but you'd better make sure the dimensions of all the rooms are accurately represented.

    Why does everyone hate writing synopses so much? Because it's hard! You've spent months (maybe years) writing your book, weighing every word, stressing over character arcs, settings, and plot points. Now you have to condense tens of thousands of words into a couple of pages? It's definitely daunting, but it's doable.

    How is it different from a query letter? I like to think of a query letter as 'teasing your story' and the synopsis as 'telling your story.' It may not sound like a huge difference, but think about it: With the query, you want to say just enough to entice an agent, to excite her so much about your story that she just has to request pages. You don't want to give away the ending in a query - you want to end on an uncertain note, a cliffhanger, with the action or decision your main character will have to choose. You want to hook the agent, but you don't want to reel her in. On the other hand, with the synopsis, you're reeling her in by telling the entire story.

    Why do agents and contest judges want synopses? An agent might be reading your full manuscript, but also have 100 other fulls to read. If she starts reading and knows right away she likes your voice, your writing, your characters, and the concept, she may request a synopsis so she can get a 'cheat sheet' for the plot without having to read the entire manuscript. It's a way for her to confirm the plot isn't going to go off the rails in the middle or end of the manuscript, and that you can sustain momentum throughout the book. Same with contest judges - they often have hundreds of entries to pore over. A synopsis helps cut way down on reading time.

    How long does it have to be? The most common requests seem to be 'no more than two pages' and 'no more than five pages.' I've always started by writing a five-page synopsis, and then cut it down to two pages. The opposite works just as well. Once you've got both, you're ready to go, and can comply with a request for either a short or long synopsis.

    What formatting should I use? Use the same font/size as your manuscript (12-point Times New Roman, etc.). For the five-page synopsis, double-space and indent paragraphs. For the two-page synopsis, you can single space and add a space between paragraphs instead of indenting.

    What parts of my manuscript do I need to cover? All of it! Well, okay, that's not exactly true. You need to set the scene, introduce your main character, and run through the entire main plot. All of the significant events (and characters) from the main plot need to be included. Subplots and secondary characters can be included if they are directly relevant to the main plot. And you MUST give away the ending.

    How many characters can I name? Rule of thumb is no more than 5. More than that, and it starts getting difficult for the reader to keep track. For all other characters, you can refer to them using their relationship to the main character (for example, John's brother, Mary's teacher, etc.).

    Do I need comps, word count, genre, a bio, etc.? Nope. Save those for the query.

    Does the writing have to be stellar? Why not? This is another opportunity to show the agent or contest judge that you've got the chops. Write your synopsis like you're answering the question, "What happens in your story?" You want that answer to be colorful, intriguing, and complete, and for it to showcase your writing abilities.

    My book has a great twist at the end. I can't possibly give it away? Too bad. If an agent has requested a synopsis, then he wants to know how the plot of your book progresses, and that necessarily includes the ending.

    When should I write my synopsis? I usually write my synopsis when I'm about halfway through the first draft of my manuscript (note: I do create broad outlines before I start writing, so if you're a pantser, you might prefer to wait until the first draft is done). Writing a synopsis while I'm writing the book lets me know whether the plot is working. Is there a clear through-line for the main plot? What's missing to connect Points A, B, and C? Does a character appear in the first chapter of the book and then isn't heard from again until the 50% mark? A synopsis helps you see the forest for the trees - you can make sure your main plot is working while you're writing the draft. Besides, after you're done editing the manuscript and sweating over the query letter, it's nice to know you've already got a draft synopsis waiting in the wings!

    Got questions about the 'Tackling the Dreaded Synopsis' series? Feel free to ask, or start a discussion, in the comments. And tune in next week for more on the mechanics of synopsis writing, a sample synopsis of a novel 99% of you will be familiar with, and the official call for submissions!

    Wednesday, December 13, 2017

    Meet Carrie-Ann Schless in this Debut Author Spotlight

    Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

    Another Woman's Man

    1- What does the library in your house look like?

    There are books all over my house! I have a small bookcase in my living room, then a large one along my upstairs hallway, as well as books in all three bedrooms! My kids love to read as much as I do. They are all jumbled and have no order to them at all. Books are like my children.

    2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words


    3- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

    When I was eighteen I was happy. I had a good group of friends, and all my time was spent either at work, training at a nursery or with my friends. I had no time for writing. We were always out at various pubs and clubs. Also, my best male friend Maddie had appeared back on the scene. We had always been close but it was one of those friendships that we didn’t see each other for months, even though we lived in the same street, then when we did it was like we’d seen each other yesterday. He was forever disappearing off to live in Brighton or Spain for a few months. I was falling for a guy and Maddie gave me his full approval. We always vetted each others choice in men. The day before my nineteenth birthday I was finishing training and heading to Maddie’s to make the final arrangements for my birthday weekend. I had missed calls on my mobile from my best girl friend Kelly so I rang her back and she asked me to meet her as she was picking me up. I thought it was odd, but kind. The second I saw her her face crumbled. Maddie had died that morning. I’d even seen the ambulance on the way to his house that morning. I was devastated. I still am. I’ve never got over it. But I started to write again. I wrote a speech and a poem to read at his funeral.

    4- What ignited your passion for writing?

    I come from a very artistic family. We are music lovers and lyrics are a huge part of that. Writing came very easily with me. My Mum was always writing poems and things and they must have rubbed off. We would always write a mushy message in our birthday cards to each other. I learned that I could evoke emotions from people with my words, especially when I made my English teacher at school cry, and it seemed to encourage me to carry on with it.

    5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your cats and/or dog?
    Meet Carrie-Ann Schless in this Debut Author Spotlight -- and her chug ~ Chihuahua cross pug~ dog!

    This is my dog Crystal. She’s a 3 year old chug (Chihuahua cross pug) who is always snuggled near me when she can be.

    6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

    Short term is just to enjoy the experience of being published. It’s all very new to me at the moment and still very exciting. I’m starting to get feedback from readers now and have just signed a second book so I’m floating at the moment. The long term goal would be to be able to write for a living and never have to worry about childcare again, but it’s a dream. I write because i have to, it’s just nice now people are going to see it and it’s not stuck in a drawer for eternity.

    7- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

    Apart from my mum, who has to love it, and my children, who haven’t read it, my biggest fan is my friend Claire. She’s read the book twice over in the lead up to publication and was still one of the first to buy and read it. She just said she loves the story and couldn’t put it down even third time around. I’ll take the compliment.

    8- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

    My book will probably stir a few emotions with people. It focuses on different types of relationships. Not just the obvious ones like girlfriends and boyfriends but she has a strained relationship with her mum. It also shows us the seedy side of social media. I think the theme that will probably resonate with readers is Casey’s miscarriage. A lot of family’s are effected by this and not all speak out. I believe a miscarriage is a very personal thing that stays with a couple forever and everybody deals with them differently.

    9- Is there anything you'd advise someone to say (or not say) to a woman who has miscarried and is seeking emotional support?

    I think every woman who has a miscarriage firstly blames herself. You can’t help but worry about what you did wrong. I would advise to remind them that it is not their fault, but let them be sad. Grieving is an important process.

    10- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

    The best way to get better at writing is to read. I love lots of different genre’s and tend not to stick myself to one type. Seeing how other people use words, both what you like and what you don’t, all helps to sculpt your work into something you can be proud of. Also knowing that a first draft is just that. Expect to rewrite it

    11- Which do you prefer: Physical book or ebook?

    I love the smell and feel of a real book. I cannot bear book with folded corners though! GET A BOOKMARK!!! And the new art of folding them into messages, it looks amazing but it makes me want to cry. Ebooks are so practical though and I do a lot of my reading on my kindle app on my phone. Doesn’t stop me buying the book too!

    12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

    Good question. I don’t think any of my characters have big noticeable traits. Casey does argue with herself a few times, and even talks to herself of a few occasions, but who doesn’t? I do it all the time.

    13- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

    Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters covers a few squares. It’s about a woman called Nan, and her self discovery whilst living in Victorian London. It’s been so long since I’ve read it i may have to dig it back out. It covers gender, sexism and class difference with lesbian sex and cross dressing. I watched the tv series first. I heard they turned it into a stage show too!

    14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

    Casey is so smart, but when it comes to Danny she can’t help it. She lets her guard down. I think it shows the danger of instant messaging. It’s easy to be brave and pretend things aren’t what they seem when you can hide behind a screen. Telling herself she isn’t doing anything wrong until she’s in too deep.

    15- What is it about Freya North's books that you love so much?

    Where do I start? The first Freya North book I ever read was Chloe. I was about sixteen, on holiday with my family. I had been all upset because I was missing my boyfriend and although we were in a lovely villa in Spain I was doing a great job of being a stroppy teenager. Her book was on a bookshelf and I was hooked almost immediately. When I got back to England one of her books was free with More Magazine and I now have every single one of hers. She paints such a beautiful picture with her words. Her characters are so believable and they all have such fascinating themes. Through her stories I’ve been behind the scenes of the Tour-de-France, met a clown-doctor and a wonderful eccentric uncle that I want to adopt for myself. If you haven’t read her books do it now. You won’t regret it.

    16- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to potentially benefit hundreds of other authors or readers?

    I find it sad how many people tell me they don’t read! They’ve either never enjoyed it or just don’t have time. I tried to write a book that was easy reading with short chapters because I struggled to find time too when my babies were young. If only I could invent a machine to match people up to the perfect book for them. Oh, and reviews should be mandatory!

    17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

    I’m a sucker for a good cover. If it grabs me I’ll read it. I’ve been guilty before of not even reading the blurb.

    18- How will you measure your publishing performance?

    This is difficult to answer as I haven’t been brave enough to ask my publisher yet. I have six 5 star reviews so far so I’m happy with that but as far as sales go I have no idea. My ranking graph doesn’t look too bad, but I don’t know what it should look like!

    19- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

    I figured I would try to get published and if nobody had faith in it it would go back into the drawer. I was so shocked to be accepted by Crooked Cat, who were the first ones I tried. They have been so lovely and the support network of authors I’ve met has been amazing. Couldn’t have been happier.

    20- What is one question (or discussion topic) which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

    I suppose I would ask what is it that grabs your attention with a book from a new author. What would make you try somebody new?

    21- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

    Meet Carrie-Ann Schless in this Debut Author Spotlight

    What if you’re in love with Another Woman’s Man?

    Casey Turner finds herself sad and single again after a seven-year relationship. Having suffered multiple miscarriages, she is adjusting to the realisation she will never be a mum, just as all her friends are all getting married and having children.

    Feeling alone, she finds herself drawn to a man she can’t have: her ex’s best friend. Although he has a girlfriend, she can’t stay away. But does he really care for her, too, or is he just having his cake and eating it?

    Torn between her feelings and her morals, is Casey destined to follow the wrong path, or will she see sense before time runs out?

    Please feel free to visit my website at to read my blogs, learn more about me and find links to my social media.

    Another Woman's Man

    Tuesday, December 12, 2017

    Last Reading Roundup of 2017!

    With NaNo and revisions going on, I haven't had a ton of time to read. That always makes me sad. But my revision is nearly finished, and I'm looking forward to reading some good books by the fireplace my husband just built!

    If you're looking for a book to read, here's a few ideas for you:

     I love Doctor Who, and thought I would love a novelization of an episode I'd heard of but never seen. It was okay. I'm guessing seeing it play out on a screen would be better.
     I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train, and so I had high hopes going into this book. It did not disappoint! I think Hawkins has a real skill in making unlikeable characters sympathetic, and that's a real strength. Plus a great, eerie, mystery. If you like the show Broadchurch, you'll like this book.
     I am so sad this series is over. I really loved it. This book wrapped it all up perfectly except for one tiny detail that I won't say because it's a bit spoilery. I can't wait for my kid to be old enough to read a book this long on his own, ghosts are right up his alley.
    I had to re-read this so I could read the second in the series. There are a lot of details to remember, so I was glad I did.

    I like how this book upped the stakes and kept the story going. I'm definitely excited for the last in the trilogy.

    I like the "fake engagement" trope as much as the next, and this was perfectly adequate.

    Literary fiction is not my favorite, and literary fiction written in 3rd person present is especially not favorite. That being said, I did finish it, and it was not bad. There were some characters I really enjoyed, which is important for lit fic.

    Thursday, December 7, 2017

    A Peek Behind the Curtain: Being a Mentor

    This year, I have the honor of participating in Author Mentor Match as a mentor. If you don't know about this program, it pairs aspiring Young Adult and Middle Grade writers who have completed manuscripts with experienced authors for mentorship ( This was AMM's third round (many writers from past rounds have already signed with agents, and the first AMM mentee book deal was announced last week), and the first time I've ever mentored in a contest or program like this. It's been a GREAT experience (and I'm beyond thrilled with the mentee I chose!). Below, I'll share a bit of a 'peek behind the curtain' that should be relevant to all mentoring contests like this one.

    1) Choosing a mentee is really, truly, subjective. Sometimes, an entry's writing can be really polished, the concept interesting, and the characters fully fleshed-out, and a mentor still won't choose you. In many cases, it has absolutely nothing to do with the manuscript itself. When a mentor is wading through a inbox with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of entries, something will catch their eye, and it's impossible to say why. Could be something about the concept that resonates, or the main character's voice, or even something as minor as the setting. It often comes down to a je ne sais quoi, something undefinable, and that's obviously very frustrating for contest entrants. The best advice here is to keep entering contests with your strongest work and hope that it will eventually resonate with someone.

    2) Some entries aren't chosen because their manuscripts are already query-ready. I always thought this was an urban legend: Sure, mentors will say this, but is it really true? I'm telling you, based on my own inbox in AMM this year... yes. It's true. I had a few entries where my only feedback was, 'Sorry I didn't pick you, but you don't need a mentor. Go forth and query!' It's maybe not the most helpful feedback, but I hope it was validating for those entrants.

    3) A lot of entrants don't follow the rules. This came down to not attaching the right number of pages, forgetting a synopsis, attaching a query instead of pasting it into the email, etc. The biggest issue I found was entrants submitting a manuscript in a certain genre when I'd been clear in my mentor profile that there were genres I did and didn't want. This didn't bother me per se (I'm a contemporary writer, but it's FUN to read the occasional fantasy and sci-fi), but authors shoot themselves in the foot when they do this. I'm simply not the best mentor for fantasy or sci-fi, because it's not what I write, and I don't read much in those genres. You want a mentor who's really familiar with these genres because they'll be best situated to help you revise and query!

    4) Giving feedback to all entrants takes a really long time. Before the submission window opened, I vowed to myself that I would give feedback to every author who submitted to me (as long as their entry wasn't chosen by another mentor). But let me tell you, that takes a LONG time. For each entry, I read a query, first 50 pages (sometimes more), and a synopsis, then wrote up 1-4 paragraphs of feedback. On average, it took about an hour per entry (and I'm a really fast reader, so it could have taken someone else quite a bit longer). I'm happy I did this, but it did amount to basically another full-time job over about ten days. So don't get angry if you submit to mentors and don't receive feedback for a long time, or don't ever receive feedback. I didn't realize until I did it myself that it's an extremely long process!

    5) Gratitude means a lot to us. On that note, most of the entrants for whom I provided feedback sent back an email thanking me for doing so. That's in no way required, but it's really nice to know the feedback is appreciated. Especially helpful is when the author mentions what part of the feedback they found helpful, and/or what they expect to implement. That helps me hone my feedback-giving skills, which is something I, in turn, appreciate!

    Do you have any questions or comments about the mentoring process? Feel free to drop them in the comments and I'll answer them!

    Tuesday, December 5, 2017


    Synergize is a fun word to say, and it's also the 6th Habit of Highly Successful Writers!

    When you synergize, you bring a team's strengths to the table and achieve more than you could on your own. When we think of writing as a solitary pursuit, we miss out on opportunities to experience synergy in our creative process.

    The ending of my (perpetual) WIP has changed at least five times. I have never quite been able to nail it. The last set of notes I got from my agent on this book were all fairly minor, except when we got to the ending. It was still not where it needed to be.

    I consulted with a few of my CPs. My husband let me talk through the problems with him. I emailed my agent and got her input on a couple different ideas. Finally, I decided on an ending that worked for me and seemed like it would satisfy readers as well. Then I sat down to write it. It was like I was flying! The words just kept coming. Everything clicked, everything flowed. And I realized I was experiencing synergy in action. I used my team and their strengths and came up with something better than I could on my own.

    Effective writers know when to bring others in to help them, and how to use everyone's strengths to get the best outcome. And when it works, it's glorious!

    Friday, December 1, 2017

    YA 2018 Releases

    I stumbled upon this nifty list of 2018 releases for YA books, compiled by Book Birds, and thought I would share. Lots of great stuff coming out next year, and loooved seeing all those gorgeous covers.


    2018 YA Releases