Friday, April 7, 2017

The Business of Writing

It’s one o’clock in the morning and I’m taking a break from some writerly business to try to put this post together. A better person would simply write a post and schedule it in advance, but I am not that person. But as long as I’m still hip deep in it, I thought I’d talk about some of the nitty-gritty of being a writer that people don’t often see.

Literally me
(but purchased from iStock)
In my opinion, the synopsis is the worst part of writing. I loathe, loathe, loathe them. It’s not so bad coming up with a three-paragraph summary once the book is finished, but when you’re writing “on spec”—putting together a proposal for a publisher who’s interested in your next unwritten book—the synopsis must be highly detailed and several pages long and needs to cover every part of the plot, back story, and character development. Worse, you have to write this monstrous thing in advance. As a dedicated “pantser,” I don’t know what’s going to happen in a book until I write it, so writing a detailed synopsis about something I don’t know about—and don’t want to know about yet, because it tends to suck all the creativity out of the story and get me bogged down in a static idea—is extremely painful.

And it can also be physically painful. I’ve been at my standing desk for five hours tonight so far, after a full day at the office, working on a short synopsis and a couple of character descriptions, and the pinched nerve from a herniated disc in my neck is now at “excruciating” level. This particular synopsis, at least, is only five paragraphs long, but I had to distill it down from the ten-pager I’d originally written for the proposal. The short synopsis, character descriptions, and key scene descriptions are all part of a package for the publisher to put together an art briefing for cover design. This also involves scrolling through hundreds of story themes/tropes and settings to help build the metadata for the ebook version.

And then there are the titles. I start with a working title when I’m first drafting a book then come up with a better one for submission to the publisher. But the publisher will often have other books with similar titles or knows that certain words don’t really grab readers as well as others, so they’ll ask for a list of alternatives after rejecting a proposed title. That’s when I pop out my handy-dandy thesaurus and start a game of word association with all of the key themes in the book—then try to fit some of those words into an existing title format if I happen to be working on a series. (My current series uses what I call “Verbing the Noun”: Waking the Serpent, Bewitching the Dragon, and the new one whose proposed title was Redeeming the Wraith but which is now in the “alternatives” stage with the noun being Viking.

So that’s my “night in the life,” just a little glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the business of writing.

Sounds glamorous, right? ;)


Diane Burton said...

Jane, I feel the same way about a synopsis. Elmore Leonard once said that once you've written a synopsis, you've told the story, so why write it. Since I self-publish, I don't have to write one. To me the worst part of writing is the business end--for tax purposes. Yuck! Then there's the promotion. Double yuck! I just want to write my story. Good luck!

CJ Burright said...

I've never had to write a pre-book synopsis...I can't even imagine. But all the pain is worth it, right?! :)

Victoria Craven said...

I feel your pain. I hate writing a synopsis. Even if you're not a pantzer, compressing your ideas feels monumental. But the alternative is having no one wanting to look at your work. Just know that you must be doing a good job if they are asking questions. I wish you best of luck.

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Oh, Jane, from one panster to another, I feel your pain. Great post.