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Archive for summary & synopsis

Publish yourself — but truly publish

Genuine publishing drives readers to the discovery of your book

This week a mystery author asked me about my plans for publishing my forthcoming memoir, Stealing Home. My book is the story of a father and a son on a road trip to the perfect game. I choose to self-publish because midsize and larger publishers have a limited appetite for memoirs from writers without a big platform, established fiction readerships, or swelling social media accounts.

For me, the story and the writing is the thing. This time through on the self-publishing journey, I will truly publish. Not just produce a professional looking book like my Viral Times and drop it onto the online sales outlets. Publishing means selling, the end result of finding an audience for your book by letting them discover it through your efforts.

I’ve hired an editor, then revised and expanded the story based on Dan Crissman’s evaluation and close edits. I have a publicist to consult with about my push for the book. I manage my own mailing list and I’ll be submitting review requests to bloggers, to review sources like Midwest Book Review, and to my friends and supporters.

There is a lot to recommend when selling paper books. Indiebound is a good resource to get yourself into bookstores. A distributor (Ingram Spark) can make that happen. Nobody will sell but you — first to the bookstore owners, then to the readers you can gather via emails and signing.

Any company that sells the services to edit and produce your book isn’t really publishing, but simply producing the book. Professional or not, this doesn’t drive sales. Getting it sold involves more work than that. Every author hates marketing — and without it, our books have a much shorter reach. Traditionally-published authors still operate their own publicity and marketing efforts to be most successful.

Ebooks may not be enough. Some review providers, for example, won’t review a book unless they can get paperback copies. That means your official release date has to be set months later than the actual availability of your ebook file and printed copies. You can do presales for months in advance on Amazon, for example.

The book advertising and discounting company BookBub shared a checklist from author Debbie Macomber about the steps needed to publish. Summarize with a synopsis (some reviewers need that). At the same time, a publisher must be scheduling for print production and create a cover to begin to draw interest in the book. Everyone must work up a set of author webpages as part of their website.

Reading and signing in Austin is on my own list. I’m considering a trip through the Midwest to the ballpark cities in the book, a tale of two weeks spent with my Little Leaguer in a convertible. I was driving to redeem my fatherhood after a divorce. I found a perfect game and the reasons why my own dad failed and ended his own life.

It’s useful to write such a summary over and over, because things like those descriptions, or podcasts, or video trailers, or appearances on radio and TV, all help people discover any published book. If this all makes the head spin, it’s a least a list of things to ask a prospective publisher about. The good ones can earn their keep and give you the 15 percent royalty.

Getting an advance is the tough part. Publishing yourself doesn’t give you an advance. Your book can be discovered, though, once it’s professionally produced. Your readership doesn’t start to grow until someone commits to publication. Sometimes that best person is you.

Use the power of premise to pump your stories up

Most of us start a story with an idea. You develop it into a concept. Then you build a character to turn that concept into a premise.

  • Secrets of church history hide in plain sight.
  • What if the DaVinci art held the secrets?
  • What if a professor of Renaissance art found secrets of church history that put his life in danger while they threaten leaders of the church?

Two elements work to create good stories together. That’s making a concept and then taking it to a premise. It’s all in service of making characters who can populate that premise.

“A big city cop moves to a small coastal town” is a premise. Your next step is to make a what-if, like “What if a big city cop moves to a small coastal town in South Carolina, then discovers a marijuana ring that’s illegal. The locals look the other way — can he?”

A story’s premise is more than a quick synopsis, or a simple thesis statement defining the theme or argument of a story. It is your canary in the storytelling coal mine and your lifeline as a writer.

A story premise, along with its tool, the premise line, is a container that holds the essence of your story’s right, true and natural structure. When properly conceived, it expresses your whole story in one or two neat sentences. Finding this premise line is no small task; in fact, the process of premise development can be the literary equivalent of skiing the black diamond trail. But when you get it right, the payoff in saved time, money and creative blood, sweat and tears is worth the agony.

That’s from a fine article by Jeff Lyons in The Writer magazine, a great craft publication.

There’s a five-step process in there to master. The essential component is a character to care about. Plot is just the plaything we use to enjoy our characters and their fates.

There’s more on using premise — and this is all character work that builds great plots — in Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. The book includes exercises. We all love those, just to know we’re learning. When you work with a coach on your writing, you have an expert who looks at your exercises to help see what’s working. Get the book and do some exercises. Let premise power your book.

Themes, power, and how they make queries easier

Theme is among the most mysterious and powerful elements of storytelling. In the classic pyramid of writing crafts from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, theme stands at the pinnacle. Theme is represented by symbols in that pyramid, the icons such as candles in a story about being lost. Even though it’s at the top of that diagram, theme is the nuclear reactor, the molten magma of your story. It bubbles up from the writing. It’s also got another superpower. Theme, and knowing yours, makes writing your queries easier.

If you’re just writing for the first time on a story, book, or script, theme will be lurking under the surface. Your motivations for your characters are your primary concerns in early drafts. The needs and conflicts of the characters drive your plot. Remember that plot is about events, and story is about yours characters and how they change. When you consider what each character needs, you may find the needs can align around a bigger idea. Freedom. Justice. Redemption. That sort of thing. Some characters oppose the theme to provide conflict, too.

The Da Vinci Code is about the power of knowledge versus the power of the Church. The Great Gatsby is about the American dream and how it fails. Your theme can be downbeat as well as uplifting. Lonesome Dove is about the power of friendship and it can push a man across a new frontier of his life.

The gift that theme gives to query is better focus. In a good query letter you have to sum up your story relentlessly. What’s the book about? You begin the task of answering by writing a synopsis. Then it becomes a paragraph. Finally, it’s tight enough to state in a single sentence. It’s hard to do, but you’re the best person to find your theme. You’ve lived with the story longer than anyone. You knew what you meant to convey with your book. Not the telling part; that’s plot. You want to convey a feeling, because the feeling is central to unlocking the meaning of the story.

Theme usually emerges later in the creation process. It’s almost like you have to write a draft all the way through to understand what you were meaning to show with the story. Theme then becomes a good tool to polish and pare down and redirect a story.

Answer these questions to discover a theme under the surface of your storytelling.

  1. What stories are you drawn to the most? What issues do you struggle with in your own heart?
  2. Why do you feel compelled to tell this story?
  3. What is this story about if what happens is…

Your characters’ voices will sound clearest when you listen for theme. Let them report on the theme. Write what they’ll ask about their challenge.