Thursday, April 14, 2016

#Writingtips: Writing the Dreaded Synopsis

All publishers want a synopsis of the book before they consider reading your work. If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of the word causes heart palpitations and cold sweats. I hate writing them and well...I just hate writing them.

What is a synopsis?

If you don’t know, don’t fret. Everyone has to learn everything sometime. If you’ve finished your book already, you would have encountered this by now. In layman’s terms a synopsis is a summary of the major plot points in your story that introduces the characters, shows the character development, highlights the conflict and reveals how the conflict is resolved.  

How to go about writing a synopsis

This month Randy Ingermanson gave some tips on how to approach this nightmare called synopsis. For those who do not follow him yet, you could follow worse people during your writing career. He doesn’t do the SPAM thing, but once a month, you get a newsletter filled with valuable tips and tricks of the trade. Now I’m not saying his way is the best way or the only way to approach writing of a synopsis, but it sure is one way to consider when you’re faced with the daunting task of putting the synopsis together.

Here’s the relevant part of the newsletter taken verbatim:

3) Craft: How to Write a Synopsis

One of the most common questions novelists ask is “How do you write a synopsis?”

First, let’s define what a synopsis is, because it’s sometimes called an “outline” which is a confusing term. Many of us learned how to make an “outline” in third grade, using Roman numerals and capital letters to break down a nonfiction piece into smaller and smaller chunks. That’s not what a synopsis is for a novel. No Roman letters will be killed to produce your synopsis.

A synopsis is a short summary of your story, told in narrative form using complete sentences. Usually it’s done in third person, present tense. Most editors and agents want to see a synopsis, and the typical length they want is two pages, single-spaced. Always ask them what length they’re looking for, and give them that length. 

Two pages is typical, so I’ll assume that’s the target for this article. Two pages single-spaced works out to about 1000 words. 

There are two common ways to write that 1000 words:
1. Expanding your one-paragraph summary 
2. Summarizing your scene list 

Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

Expanding Your One-Paragraph Summary

Use this method if you haven’t written your novel yet. 

Start by writing a one-sentence summary and a one-paragraph summary (as described in the Craft column of the last two issues of this e-zine). Then expand each sentence of the one-paragraph summary out to three short paragraphs.

The one-paragraph summary contains five sentences:
1. An introductory sentence that summarizes the setting and one or two of the lead characters. 
2. A sentence summarizing Act 1 of the book, which ends in some sort of disaster and a call to action for the lead character. 
3. A sentence summarizing the first half of Act 2, in which the lead character tries to solve his main problem the wrong way, and fails badly. 
4. A sentence summarizing the second half of Act 2, in which the lead character tries to solve his main problem the right way, and fails spectacularly. 
5. A sentence summarizing Act 3, in which the lead character goes right up to the edge of Ultimate Disaster and either succeeds or fails. 

I’d recommend expanding out that first sentence into about three short paragraphs. One might summarize the setting. The other two might each introduce one character.

Then each of the other sentences need to be expanded out into three short paragraphs apiece, explaining the three main story developments in each quarter of the book. 

That gives you a total of fifteen short paragraphs, which will fit nicely into two pages. You may go a little under if your novel is short. You may go a bit over if your novel is long. Don’t settle for half a page. Don’t go overboard with four pages.

Don’t overthink this process. Give yourself an hour. Drill out fifteen paragraphs. Read it over a couple of times. Stop.

You can come back in a day or two and polish. Done.

Summarizing Your Scene List

Use this method if your novel is already written. (If you’re trying to find an agent or sell your novel to an editor, they’re going to want a synopsis even if your novel is completely written. That sounds grossly unfair, and maybe it is, but it’s reality. It’s not because they hate you. It’s because it makes their job easier. You need them more than they need you, so grit your teeth and do it.)

A typical novel might have 50 to 120 scenes. On average, let’s say it’s 100 scenes. Your synopsis is supposed to be about 1000 words. 
That works out to roughly 10 words per scene. That’s not enough to explain a scene in any detail. Therefore, you can’t summarize every single scene of the novel in detail. 
So what do you do?
That’s easy. 

Create a list of all the scenes in your novel. You can do this on 3x5 cards or in Scrivener or in a spreadsheet or in my Snowflake Pro software or however you want to do it. The list should have one sentence per scene, no more.

Group the scenes into clusters of two to seven scenes. You’ll probably have ten to twenty clusters of scenes.

Now write a short paragraph that summarizes each cluster of scenes. If you have fifteen clusters, that’ll work out to fifteen paragraphs, which is right around two pages. 

Again, don’t overthink this. You’ll need two or three hours to create your scene list, by zipping through the story and summarizing each scene into a single sentence. Or you may have already done this before you wrote your novel.

Once your scene list is in place, give yourself an hour to drill out the summary paragraph for each cluster of scenes. Read the whole thing over to make sure the story logic flows. Stop. Come back to it tomorrow and polish it up. That’s it.

Don’t Paralyze Yourself With Doubts

I’ve seen writers get stuck on the synopsis for months. 
Don’t do that. A synopsis is not a big deal. It’s two pages. 1000 words. You could probably type it easily in twenty or thirty minutes. 

Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft. Get it down on paper. Polish it later. 

The brutal fact is that most editors and agents hate reading synopses. They’ll insist on having one, but they’ll just skim it. They want to see that your story has conflict and structure. So make sure your synopsis highlights the conflict and the structure. Conflict is about wanting things and not getting them. Structure is about disasters and decisions. Focus on those things in your synopsis.

Once the editor or agent convinces herself that you’ve got good conflict and your story has the usual three-act structure, she’ll move on to the good stuff—your actual writing. If you’re going to have angst, spend your angst where it’ll be most productive—on your sample chapters. 

But don’t angst on your synopsis. Get it written. Then get it right. Then move on.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 14,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Monday, March 21, 2016

Writing Great Book Descriptions by Libbie Hawker

Writing tips on how to write a good product/book description or blurb.

I came across these videos explaining how to write good product/book descriptions to increase your chance of garnering more sales. Now some of the information is not new, but she gives valuable advise on how to go about the process in a two-video series.

Every writer knows that writing the book is only the first part of a difficult journey to get people to read your book. When published on Amazon or elsewhere on the internet, an author has mere seconds to convince a reader that the book he/she is looking at, is the one to buy. Libbie offers some sound advise on how to write the book description or blurb to better your chances of soliciting a sale.

Be sure to visit her page at for more on her and her books. These videos are quite lengthy, but they sure are worth watching.

Video 1 of Write an Awesome Blurb or Query

Video 2 of Write an Awesome Blurb or Query

So what do you think? Were these videos helpful?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Does Fear Prevent You From Saying I #Amwriting?

How many times have you thought of a brilliant idea that would change your world for the better? How many times have you acted on that thought to make it reality? What held you back?

If you’re anything like me, the fear of failure tied your hands behind your back and muted your voice. What if nobody liked the idea? What if they liked the idea, you invested time and money into it and it didn’t work? What if people laughed at your idea? What if ...what if...


Fear is the greatest inhibitor of progress known to mankind. Don’t confuse fear with recklessness. I’m not talking about jumping into a project without regard to the possible consequences or taking risks when the likelihood of success has been proven to be dismal. No, the fear I’m referring to is the one that paralyzes us when we’ve thought of all the possible scenario’s, weighed the risks and rewards, considered all the consequences and found the probable outcome to be favorable, but still we are afraid to take the final leap. 

In creative writing this fear of failure steals our ability to create when faced with a blank page on the computer screen. (I assume few people still use the pen and paper method of creating novels.) Staring at the screen for hours or writing the opening sentence over and over and over because it just isn’t good enough, proves that fear can be debilitating. 

Writers are fickle beings and need constant reassuring that they are indeed good enough at what they do to provide someone out there in the great big world with a couple of hours of entertainment. Few people write fiction to make a living – most of the writers write because that’s who they are – regardless if they make a living doing so or not. When the recognition of their hours of labor is dismal, their self-esteem takes a nosedive and fear takes over, creating a vicious cycle of inability to create. 

Some writers overcome fear of failure by using the free-writing method. One word triggers a ten minute session of writing without worrying if it could be published or not. Usually that’s all that’s needed to get the creative juices flowing in spite of the fear of failure. 

Other writers use the habit-method to combat fear. They write on their novel every day at the same time for the same duration regardless if they know what to say or how the novel has to progress. These writers claim to have less problems with debilitating fear causing writer’s Block as their minds are used to producing content at a certain time every day. 

Another method I’d read about is that some writers write complete rubbish for five minutes. They disregard spelling, words doesn’t have to make sense – it doesn’t have to be legible at all. They use the switch of context to give the brain a break from thinking it’s not good enough to progress on the novel they’re working on. Some proclaim that this method works miracles for curing writer’s block.

There are so many methods advocated to overcome writer’s block – which in my opinion is just another way of saying you fear failing at what you write, that somewhere in the maize of advise, one should be able to find a way to proceed that works for you. 

Have you found a method that worked for you?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Self-Publishing Platforms: Amazon, Smashwords, Etc.

After doing this a couple of years, I can safely say that I can now give a more accurate account of which platform worked best for me. I published books on both platforms, varied pricing and done some marketing. Here is what I've found after five years:

I have four Afrikaans novels and one English novel self-published at both Amazon and Smashwords. The English novel is an erotic novel and thus the demand is slightly different than those of contemporary novels. Afrikaans novels is a niche market with limited readership and the experience I had with publishing those novels might be different if they were published in English.

How Easy is it to Self-Publish E-books on the Platform?

As for ease of publishing, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing is the best. Their interface is straight forward with no real hassles. You need your manuscript in Word, properly formatted so that it displays well and a striking image for the cover. They make adding the rest of the writing to the image childsplay. (Although these days children tend to grasp these concepts much easier than their parents do)

Smashwords takes a little practice and if you want to go that route, I would suggest you read the Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker before you start writing your book.

This guide feels like it's written in Greek (for an English speaking person) the first time you read it, but after you've gone through it and applied the tips, you'll find that even publishing at other platforms is easier because the manuscript is cleaner and devoid of any strange code. You'll get a lot less gibberish when the book converts. If you implement the changes while writing the book, your publishing experience will be so much more fun.

Where to Distribute your Book?

Kindle Direct Publishing publishes, well...on Amazon. Their books are sold in the Amazon online stores of which there are thirteen in different countries. Amazon is however the popular choice for obtaining e-books as their checkout procedure is so easy, their delivery system almost instantaneous and their customer service usually on the ball.  

Smashwords distributes to various other online retailers including Kobo, Apple, Barnes and Noble and various libraries. Your books are for sale on the site as well, but I found that most of my sales originated from the expanded distribution channels. 

Both platforms introduce your book to a vast audience, so it is wise to consider both options. 

Then there is KDP - Select. This means that you will publish your e-book exclusively on Kindle for a period of 90 days. During this time you have to ensure that the digital version of your book is not available elsewhere on the internet. I would suggest that if you want to go this route you do so when first publishing the book. Only publish on KDP and be safe in the knowledge that there couldn't be another version floating around. You may  not even sell from your own website for this period. 

I found the benefit of KDP Select negligent with the Afrikaans titles, but it definitely worked with the English title. You get to do Kindle Countdown Deals where you can run promotional prices, you can run Kindle Free Book promotions, your book gets included in the Kindle Prime program where you earn for pages read. Would I recommend this for the initial 90 days? Hell yes! You need eyeballs on your book and what better way to get people to read your book for free and gather some reviews. Would I permanently ignore the other platforms in favor of KDP Select - No!

Where Do You Earn the Most from your Self-Published E-Book?

That depends entirely on what type of book you have, how good you are at marketing and how tenacious you are. To me, both platforms performed reasonably well, but the majority of the sales originated from Amazon's Kindle store. It is very important that you publish new material regularly as this is what keeps the sales turning over. Once a book loses momentum it is difficult to get the sales graph moving upwards again.

Although I didn't depart any earth-shattering information in this post, I hope you enjoyed reading more about self-publishing. I am by no means an expert, so if you are in any doubt, please consult an expert on the matter. 

Until next time — happy writing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: A Lifetime for Revenge by Natalie G Owens

A Lifetime for Revenge (The Valthreans: Book 2) by Natalie G Owens

Keeping it simple doesn't always work out so well…

After exacting his longed-for revenge, Massimiliano “Max” Damiani’s life is about to get more complicated when he is sent by the Valthrean Council to investigate the mysterious death of one of their Councilmen. Duty-bound to protect the victim's daughter and her young brother, the stakes are upped as Max and those around him become targets of a dangerous enemy. The Cult is closing in, threatening the future of their kind.

Fate is a cruel mistress…

Piper Ingram’s existence is thrust into turbulent waters. Her father has been murdered in cold blood and she is now sole guardian to her little brother, Charlie. After years of helping others come to terms with their problems and move on to better lives in a domestic violence shelter, she now needs help protecting herself and her kin.

Salvation comes when we face our deepest fears…

Max values his independence above anything. Meanwhile, this case brings him more trouble than he's bargained for, pushing his limits, and testing his fear of commitment. While striving to keep his personal demons at bay and holding on to his set ways, he fights his attraction to Piper, but he fast learns some things are not within his control. Will he save those entrusted in his care this time? And most importantly, will he finally find redemption ... and love? 



Max Damiani is a strong man with a checkered past and proud of it. He avenged his sister’s death the only way he knew how and although he is not proud of the methods he had to employ, he suffers no remorse for executing the deed. Used to being the problem solver everyone calls upon, he suddenly finds himself in the precarious position of having to protect a woman and her young brother. This is his worst nightmare come true as the boy reminds him too much of his sister and the woman pushes all the wrong—or is it the right?— buttons. 

Piper Ingram is used to protect other people at the shelter she runs. Now she has to submit to being protected by a man who made it clear that he would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else, rather than being charged with the responsibility to protect her and her brother. To top it off the only safe place seems to be Max’s house. 

So the stage is set for a tale of modern romance laced with enough suspense to keep your eyes glued to the pages. Several undercurrents of evil run simultaneously only to converge under the expert hands of the author. Unlike the first book in the series (An Eternity of Roses) this book takes place in the present time only. 

This story illustrates how love can overcome sadness and hatred and how it can provide courage when you thought you had none. Once again this is not a quick read and readers should expect to spend some time enjoying the characters Ms. Owens so expertly created. 

It is a book filled with razor-sharp imagery and on-the-button descriptions of inner conflict. Most of all it is a book that will leave the reader with sense of satisfaction when the last sentence is read. 

Definitely a book I would recommend for readers of paranormal romantic suspense.    

You can buy the book here:

or at any online retailer.