Sunday, October 24, 2021

Not So Scary

 

This week's topic is our scariest book or book with the scariest scene. I don't feel like I write anything super scary. Intense, perhaps, and slightly evil, but not scary. At least it isn't to me. I may be a poor judge since it's my own work, but I'm definitely no horror writer. 

For me, the scariest thing to write was in The Witch Collector. I can't say what that scene is without spoiling things, but the imagery certainly gave me eerie vibes. It takes place in an enchanted frozen forest and involves an unexpected occurrence that endangers the main characters. While the book has a romantic subplot, the main plot takes a few turns into darker territory.

If you're curious, you can snag The Witch Collector now. There's even a hardback available for pre-order and there's a Goodreads giveaway going on through 10/31.

Here's the blurb:


Every harvest moon, the Witch Collector rides into our valley and leads one of us to the home of the immortal Frost King, to remain forever.

Today is that day—Collecting Day.

But he will not come for me. I, Raina Bloodgood, have lived in this village for twenty-four years, and for all that time he has passed me by.

His mistake.

Raina Bloodgood has one desire: kill the Frost King and the Witch Collector who stole her sister. On Collecting Day, she means to exact murderous revenge, but a more sinister threat sets fire to her world. Rising from the ashes is the Collector, Alexus Thibault, the man she vowed to slay and the only person who can help save her sister.

Thrust into an age-old story of ice, fire, and ancient gods, Raina must abandon vengeance and aid the Witch Collector or let their empire—and her sister—fall into enemy hands. But the lines between good and evil blur, and Raina has more to lose than she imagined. What is she to do when the Witch Collector is no longer the villain who stole her sister, but the hero who’s stealing her heart?

The Witch Collector is book one in a thrilling romantic fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Sarah J. Maas, and Jennifer L. Armentrout.



***



"If you like your fantasy with complex magic, an intriguing protagonist, a powerful romance, and a great cast of supporting characters, I highly recommend The Witch Collector. Charissa Weaks's high-stakes storytelling will leave you waiting eagerly for the next installment." — Juliet Marillier, award-winning author of the Warrior Bards series


A romantic, fraught and fantastic journey through war-torn lands and a deliciously malevolent enchanted forest. I loved the voiceless heroine who wields magical sign language and the tormented hero determined to keep her alive and save an empire. Welcome to a compelling new fantasy world and a truly epic tale!

~ Jeffe Kennedy, award-winning author of The Forgotten Empires and Dark Wizard


"The Witch Collector is a magical, enchanting, fantasy romance whose pages are filled with threads of love, loss, and healing. Highly, highly recommended for anyone who loves fantasy romance, fantasy with strong female leads, unique magic systems, and beautiful writing." — Alexia Chantel/AC Anderson, Author of The Mars Strain


I hope you have a blessed All Hallows Eve and a great week leading up to it!



Friday, October 22, 2021

Banned Book Week: Censorship

Nobody likes the notion of censorship. Artists of all kinds knee jerk when we hear the word. Yet we'd all probably agree there are bridges too far. Lies too egregious. Charissa and KAK mulled over the difference between censorship and quashing disinformation. Jeffe considered how we as writers censor ourselves. Alexia looked at how characters censor their worlds

I'm here to challenge you to consider the potential career benefits to being censored. Or, at least, having someone *attempt* to censor your book(s). I'm willing to bet you can rattle off a list of books that have been banned at one time or another. 

* To Kill a Mockingbird
* 1984
* Harry Potter (all of them)
* Animal Farm
* Fahrenheit 451 (our dose of irony)

I'm also willing to bet you've read several of these books and can name the authors for most of them. Why? I attribute it to spite. What happens when someone attempts to ban a book? Usually, it's some well-meaning, if ill-advised parent trying to protect a kid. This parent (or many of them) aren't just okay with opting their child out of reading the book. Instead, they decide no child should read the book and try to erase it from libraries, schools, and stores. 

You know what happens next. Maybe no kid was excited about the school reading list, but now. NOW. You've just told them they *can't* read something. That book flies off the shelves. The media gets involved. The author's name and book title are bandied about on national TV and discussed on major radio shows. And here's the kicker. It doesn't matter whether the conversation is critical or complimentary. It's free marketing. 

Is it possible that a book deserves to be banned? Most of us remember what it was like when Amazon finally went after the people writing pedophile porn. Not many of us would defend those books. I guarantee none of them show up in Banned Book Week. Banned book week is an awareness campaign undertaken by the American Library Association and Amnesty International. Bookstores across the US participate in the event, featuring recently and historically banned books. High schools and colleges across the land hold challenges for reading banned books that week. 

Moral of my rant: Censorship = bad. Until censorship = not so bad when it puts a dent in active, demonstrable harm or criminal activity. But even if the worst happened and your book was banned? You'd very likely be crying all the way to the bank.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

How do our characters censor their world?

black and white image of a hand drawn cursing emoji with a pen, taken from Alexia's novel notebook's curse words section

 I’m with Charissa on this topic…hmmm, f*ck. Instead, let’s all sit and watch Geralt together, shall we? 

That would be far more entertaining than discussing censorship. It’s both good and bad…which is also a bit like Geralt. Censoring is a benefit and hinderance in our society because it all depends on the personal opinions of who holds the power. And like the rulers The Witcher comes across, benevolence never seems to be the driving force behind what’s censored. 


To an extent, anyone with power/responsibilities censors what is revealed or passed down the chain. So, how do our characters censor what’s around them? 


Choosing an action based on personal goals is human. Choosing an action based on the good of others is heroic. And that’s why we write our characters with a mix of human and heroic traits. 


Who wants to read about a Captain America who never errs? He’s the good guy who will censor the bad guys to protect the innocent…until Cap’s intentions cross the line and his censoring ends up hurting people. 


We want to read about the ones who save the day, but we don’t want them to be perfect because then we can’t see ourselves in them. And as a writer you want your reader to connect with your MCs and be able to imagine themselves in their shoes. 


No, this isn’t anything new. But bring bits and pieces of the real world into your writing and give your characters flaws. Let those characters with power censor away, and give your MCs the power to deflect or protect.


And now, let’s all go watch Geralt!


Seriously, if you haven’t read this series and are into high fantasy…HERE!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

What Would You Write If You Weren't Afraid?

 

 I'm working away on my novella for the FIRE OF THE FROST midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology! The story takes place in the Bonds of Magic world more or less at the same time as the events in DARK WIZARD. You can preorder now for the December 2 release!

    

Also, this is really cool! THE ORCHID THRONE is on this amazing Book Riot list: 20 OF THE BEST ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS FANTASY BOOKS. Fair warning! This list might have you click-buying. It sure did for me. 

At the SFF Seven this week we're talking censorship. Charissa and KAK already provided excellent discussions of the difference between censorship and blocking disinformation and hate. So, I'm going to take the topic in a slightly different direction, which is looking at the ways we censor ourselves. 

A perennial problem for writers - perhaps for all creatives - is getting rid of the other voices in our heads. Something new authors often seem to ask is how to write about topics their families consider off limits for one reason or another. They can be concerned about dealing with sexual topics or gender-related ones, politics, family secrets, etc. It's not easy to free ourselves to write when there's that persistent worry that someone we love will read it and be angry. And so we censor ourselves, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. 

On a larger scale, we live in an era of loud voices. In an attention economy, where businesses thrive or fail based on clicks, the loudest, most persistent voices can be the most lucrative. This kind of environment isn't conducive to the silence creatives need in order to coax new art into being. Those loud voices can drown out the quiet whispers of something fragile and newly born to the world. The voices can also leak into our thoughts and dictate what we should and shouldn't write. Thus we censor ourselves, killing those new sprouts before we even have time to discover what they are.

What's the solution? There are no easy answers. I can offer that I have a poster hanging over my desk, one I made myself. It says:

What would you write if you weren't afraid?

I look at it often when I hesitate, when voices leak into my head, when I start worrying about the final story and how it will be received. It keeps me going. 

Write through the fear. You can always edit later. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Abuse of Censorship

Should censorship be a four-letter word?

Eeeeuhm. There's a loaded question. We have a knee-jerk reaction to the term "censorship" because we see it being abused as a political weapon and a tool of suppression for civil rights and social progress. What we tend to forget are the instances where censorship is beneficial and necessary. There are reasons How To Be A Pedophile and Maintaining The Upper Hand: The Benefits of Beating Your Wife aren't readily accessible to the mainstream. One has to go deep into the troll dungeons to find that shit. 

There are different types of censorship: government, religious, and free-market being the most obvious. While we want to chafe against any institution trying to control what we can and cannot access, we do so from within a space that's already been protected from the deluge of horrific crap. When the crap barriers weaken, we get things like Facebook and YouTube with their enabling and promotion of bad actors. 

So, short answer, no, "censorship" is not a four-letter word. Censorship is built upon the gray wobbly foundation of "morality." Alas, mortality is gleefully exploited by those lacking it. The ways to combat censorship abuse...would require me to write multiple doctoral theses. The shortest and most glib answer is "follow the money then take it away."

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Hmm...F*CK

This week's topic here at the SFF Seven is 'Should censorship be a four-letter word?' My response when I read that was very much a Geralt of Rivia moment--Hmm, F*CK.

I'll be honest. I'm not sure what this topic even means. I think it means--Should censorship be something we don't say or talk about? But I like four-letter words, so my entire understanding of this question is probably different from what it should be. Also, this subject can get really expansive, so I'll be brief.

What I'll say is this: Censorship means different things to different people, usually based on their politics and sometimes (often) religion. Someone might fight the school board to remove a book with gay characters from the school library. This is an attempt to censor what people read based on personal beliefs. It is not a danger to expose and educate kids on diversity and tough topics--people and parts of the world they live in. It can build empathy and understanding--these are good things. If parents think it's harmful, they can discuss that with their children. What IS dangerous is promoting hate speech or books that promote hate against marginalized communities. 

It really isn't hard. If So and So Author wants to publish a book that promotes neo-Nazi activity, it shouldn't be a surprise if this is prevented or the book rejected or removed from libraries or schools. Decisions should be based on certain professional judgments and standards, not government or religious beliefs and not even on personal taste or because someone doesn't like the ideas presented. 

Also...people. Not educating your kids about the real world around them is doing them a tremendous disservice. 

NOW TO A HAPPIER TOPIC!

I'm announcing a couple of cool things this week on Instagram, so if you don't follow me, come say hi! 

One cool thing that I'll post here is that I received an author blurb from the AMAZING Juliet Marillier, who I admire so much. I was so nervous the entire time she was reading my book ;) But I think it turned out okay!

"If you like your fantasy with complex magic, an intriguing protagonist, a powerful romance, and a great cast of supporting characters, I highly recommend The Witch Collector. Charissa Weaks's high-stakes storytelling will leave you waiting eagerly for the next installment." — Juliet Marillier, award-winning author of the Warrior Bards series



If you'd like to pre-order the ebook or purchase the paperback, check here for links. BUT, that cool news? It might be about another reading option, so check out my Insta tomorrow!



I hope you all have a fabulous week!




Friday, October 15, 2021

What I Write Before I Write

 

I can tell you all about what I write before I start writing a draft of a book. But the fact is that I'm in the market at the moment. What I've been doing is inadequate to the way my life works right now. Flux is the kindest word I can conjure. Here's what I've done in the past, though:

Nothing. I jump in. I usually have a concept. From that concept, I see if I can write three chapters as a proof of concept. If I can do that, THEN I stop and go back to pre-writing work. That comes in the form of super in-depth character templates. I use the ones from Break into Fiction by Mary Buckham. They begin and end with what drives your characters. It's a lot of psychology and delving into old psychic wounds. It's really great if you're a character driven writer. It worked brilliantly for me for years - years I didn't have an overwhelming full time job, and aging parents living with me. It worked when I had time and brain space for staying immersed in the characters and their feelz.

Those days are gone for the moment. I can either admit that, or I can go on wasting my life waiting for it to 'get better'. What I need now is a means for adding a plot outline or a necessary scene list so I can maximize the tiny windows of writing time I do have. The downfall of the character templates is that they leave your story open - you can still pants your way through a book with character drives and emotions and wounds. That's fine - it's just a bigger investment in time, in my experience. Lovely if you have the privilege. Less so if you're working three jobs.

Maybe this is where writing goes from being self-indulgent fun thing to wallow around in and explore. Maybe under duress, it grows up into something a little more -- I don't know. Packaged? I feel like I'm asking for creative briefs for my own content. Oh hey, did I mention I'm a technical writer for the day job? Yeah. That's all packaged. It's my job to interview the person who hired us and find out what they want in a piece of writing (and when and for how much). Then I find out what source material they have to teach me and the other writers about the product we'll write about. I'm proposing using the character templates as my source material to teach me about my own content. My goal now is to come up with a clearly defined definition of what's required in the end product based on what I know from the source material and what I know about what I'll find fun and interesting about the story.

I mean it *sounds* like a good idea.

Here's hoping it'll do the job. Cause what's happening (or not) right now, just ain't working.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Before Chapter One: Outline

close up image from Alexia's spiral bound notebook where she's drawn out a three act graph to fill in with plot details

 How do you start a book? 

That seems to be the most common question I get asked once it becomes known I’m a writer. And it also happens that this week’s topic is Before Chapter One: What do you have in place before you start drafting?


I may not physically be a laboratorian any longer, but inside I’ll always and forever be a lab girl. And lab people follow the procedure! Each step of the way. 


Step one, for me which means YMMV: outline


It seems like I’m in the minority when talking to others in the writing community. I love having an outline. I love knowing the main plot points from beginning to end. I love being able to see the story’s loose form right away and watch it tighten into a solid novel. 


I’m going off the before you start drafting here. Because technically before I do an outline or being my detailed synopsis, I have a scene in my mind. It’s always in full technicolor—meaning I can see, smell, feel, and hear everything in that scene. 


Preferably, I want that key scene to marinate in my brain for a good 3-6 months before I explore it further. And I really want to have a story idea for a solid year before I start writing it. I find that the words flow out of me much easier if I take the time to do that. 


Once I have the scene and MCs (main characters) formed, I do a three act outline and from there I start my synopsis which usually rounds out around 6 pages. From there I break the synopsis into chapters so I have at least one sentence for each one. As this process is happening I’m researching names and places and adding images to their respective folder in Scrivener. 


Does anyone else pre-plan the crap out of their novel? And if you do, how much do you put into your program/Scrivener? 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

FIRE OF THE FROST Cover Reveal!

Cover reveal!!!

I'm super excited to share the cover for FIRE OF THE FROST! Out December 2, 2021, this midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology includes stories from the fabulous Darynda Jones, Amanda Bouchet, Grace Draven and myself. You can preorder the ebook now from all the major retailers (iBooks coming soon) and the print preorder through my webstore. (There will be print available from the other retailers eventually, but not until release day.)

   


From Darynda Jones, a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Amanda Bouchet transports The Kingmaker Chronicles to modern-day New York City. An exiled warrior finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. On a vital mission for Athena, he meets an imperiled French teacher from Connecticut, and soon they’re knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena.

Grace Draven brings a novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

From Jeffe Kennedy comes a standalone novella in the Dark Wizard world, where an ancient holiday is resurrected and clandestine lovers find the courage to pursue forbidden joy.

   

This week at the SFF Seven our topic is: Before Chapter One. We're asking each other, "What do you have in place before you start drafting? Inspiration board? Top-level plot bullets? Full outline? Flushed out Character Profiles? Etc."

This is kind of funny for me to answer today because I'm starting Chapter One on the novella for this anthology. And yes, it will be Chapter One, because I'm a linear writer. What do I know about the story at this point? I know this: 

It's set in my Dark Wizard world (Bonds of Magic), where an ancient holiday is resurrected and clandestine lovers find the courage to pursue forbidden joy.

Heh. I had to figure out that much so I had something to say for the reveal.

At least I know the world? That's because I've already written and published the first two books in the Bonds of Magic series, DARK WIZARD and BRIGHT FAMILIAR. My as-yet-untitled story in FIRE OF THE FROST occurs away from the protagonists of the main arc, but I don't know yet who the characters will be. This is a departure for me as I start with character 99% of the time. So, this will be interesting!

But my short answer to the question is: nothing. Pretty much all I have before I start drafting is a twinkle in my eye, as it were. 

Let it shine, baby. Let it shine!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Before Chapter One: Skeletal Plotting

Before Chapter One: What do I have in place before I start drafting? Inspiration board, plot bullets, full outline, character profiles, etc?

Hello, my name is KAK, and I'm a skeletal plotter. That means before I start drafting I have something between plot bullets and a full outline. I know if the book is a stand-alone or part of a series, and the respective story arcs. I know my primary and secondary character names, dominant attributes, and points of introduction. I know what relationship and purpose those characters have with the main character. I have a vague idea of setting/environment. I know the highlights of the magic system and if there are magical creatures. I know the plot's three arcs and the ending. I have a primary theme/purpose for every chapter, thus I know the path of the primary plot. I also highlight relationship milestones/changes/challenges chapter-by-chapter.

I also know that 60% of that outline isn't going to reflect the final story once it's drafted. It's okay. The 40% that remains is what keeps the story on track. The 60% isn't wasted effort; it's the flexibility that still allows me the wonder and enjoyment of discovery without jumping off the rails.


Monday, October 11, 2021

How to get started

So this week's subject is how to get started on yiur next novel. What do you have reeady to go before hyouremready to go as it were.

Wel, that's an interestintg question, especially since Im a pantser. I basically just sit down ad start. I don't have a list of prepared character names. I don'tnusually do outlines. I have never even once filled out charcter cards, though the idea always sounds interesting to e. No 3x5 index xards, no tree of possibe scenes. It just isn't my thing.

I have nothing, ecept a vague notion of what I want to see when it's all said and done. I MIGHT have a few vague ideas for scenes in my head, but the closest comparison I cn give is a few stepping stones to help e across the river as I start my walk.

Here's the thing: for me, half the fun is the mystery. I know that I'll need a town before it's all said and done. I often prefer small town settings, because there' a certain level of intimacy to them that is washed away in big city settings. I know I'll ned a few character, but I like to learn about them the same way that readere learn about them. That is to say I like to learn abot them as I move throgh the story. It is eceedingly rare for me to have a well deeloped notion of what a chaaracter will become as the story progresses, because I DO think chaarcters should change as they move through a tale. Like all of us, they shouod be shped by their surroundings by their past, and by what happens to them in every day events.

Let me put thT in a slightoy different way. When I strted writing I was a very different peron than I am now. My beliefs were different, my lifestyle was certainoy different, and I promise you the me from 25 years ago would have never expected the me that lives in my skin now. I have eveolved as a result of life events, changes in my environment, and incidents that reshaped me in commpketeoy unexpected ways. I bet if you look back even a decade, you can say the same and if I am wrong, yu are very much an exception to the rules.

Oh, some things haven't changed much. I still love Halloween and I think Stephen King is about he best writer out there these days. I think my writing has evolved immensely, and I know that my opinions arent what they were half a lifetime ago. I have, in some ways, become jaded. I have, in other way, remained remarkaboy the same.

But what has n9t changed is my preference to go into a story with onoy a seed of an idea. I find the mysteries that unfod as I write are haof the fun. I can look back at my very first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, and I can remember how surprised I was by some of the charctes. Lisa Scarabeeli comes to mind. I made her to be a throaway. She was supposed to die horribly in the story, but she surprised me No matter what I hit her with, and I hit her ith a LOT, she simply would not die. If I had outlined the novel as thoroughy as some writer I know, that wouodnt have happenede She'd have asted two scenes and then she wouod have been gone I would have lost tht element of surprise. A writer I knew for a long time. Rick Hautala, once had a long debate with me about that Rick outlined everything meticulousy, effectively writing so detiled an outline for himself that it wouod tke 20,000 words to finish the outline he wouod then flesh out that that outline and have a finished novel. I toold him then, and I still hold to it, tht for me, the element of surprise is removed by having a detailed outline. I can no longer surprise myself, so how can I expect to surprise the reader?

He never quite got that. That's okay, I couod never quite work my wy through his form of outlining, either.

The thing to remember is that there is nio right ot wrong in writing. There is only what is right or wrong for YOU.

Do you need an outliune? Maybe you do. All I need are my aforementioned stepping stones Brief snippets of scenes thT might or might not actually take place in my stories. I had one scene in y head when I started writing that first novel. It was a scene tht wouod not leave me alone and I wrote un til I had that scene fleshed out properly, which was roughoy fifteen thousand words in three days. By the time I had finished writing that scene, I knew what the next few importaant beats in the story wouod be and that was how I kept writing. 178,000 or so words later, I had finished my first novel's first draft.And I was happy with it, and I still am. Oh donpt get me wroing, I'd have written a very different story than what I wrote then if I were to start with the same seed as I did back in the day. I am, as I have already sid, a very different person than I was back then. Different aspects of the sme tle woulde ahve been moe important to me if I wrote the book today instead of in the pst.

Here's what I really need to get strted i need an idea. I need at least one scene that I a desperately eage to write, and I need to hav4 a vague notion of what I want to have hapening somwhere near the end of the book. That's it. everything else isw done spur of the moment. i do not have a list of nakes, when I start. I make them up as I go. Those names will be added to a one or two page leicon as I go along. Especially in a fantasy settting where the names are markedly different than the common names I find in my world. That lexicon will include the naes of characters, often with a one sentence description to help me remembr imortant things about them. Tyler wilso-smart ass-nerd-very near sighted, wears glasses. Mark Howell--overwight, dremer, holds a grudge. cassie Monroe, athletic, jogs every day, is adrift emotionally. Thaat's three chrcters and as fleshed out as they were when I started.

I do the same with locations: Summitvikle, small town, near a big lake, xenophobic atmsphere.

How much mire do you need?I want enough to fire my neurons and remind me of the peron/place. That's all. I don;t outline.I ask myself questions. I don't answer them diretly. I answer them in the story. I might add in the name of good friends or family member as I go. Cindy Howell, Narks mom, was fifteen when she had her son. Blonde hair.

The rest is details, The notes are the clay I'm sculpting from as it were. I don't want more than tht I want the shpe and teture nd design to suprise me as I go along.

Probaboy thtt isnpt a helpful pile of inforation I know most of the writers I deal with hve very different processes than I do. I collaborte with riters with fair regularity and most of them outline much more than I do, The exception is my friend Chrles rutledge, with whom I regularly collaboraate. Charles is as weird s me, and whoile we ahve written several novels and novellas together, the closest we've ever come to an outline is about three sentences worth of story idea, followed by a luch meeting ot two when we were halfway through a book. But as I have waid before, I'm not normal and neither is Charles.The first novel we worked on together, BLIND SHADOWS, took us three weeks to write. The second novel we worked on together, CONGREGATIONS OF THE DEAD took us two weeks. The third, A HELL WITHIN, was about five months, The thing is we had three books and a novella come out of bout hree sengtences. We should do a story with the local cop and a detective who run across a monster when they're just going abiut their normal days. Mayne set it in the mountains. Do it sa a crime story, but there's also this supernaatural thing going on, too.

That was enough. We had a blast firing chptes back and forth on each and every tale.

I say again, and with feeling, tee is no right or wrong way, theres onoy the way that works for you.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Queries, Synopses, and Taglines, Oh My

If the question is are queries and synopses bane, benefit, or both, my answer is yes. All the things. I have a decidedly love/hate relationship with them. 

I've spent months (possibly years, to my dismay) thinking in terms of broad strokes, long arcs, interwoven threads, and the details that build a complete sensory world in a book. It took me way too many words to do so. Now you want me to boil it down into a single page synopsis? This is bane. It's bane because of the cognitive shift that has to happen from writer to marketeer - a shift that apparently comes at emotional cost for a lot of authors, including me. 

However, synopses done well are absolutely a benefit. They really do force you to distill the main conflict, emotion, and themes. From that synopses, a query can be born. From that synopses, pithy one liners about the story and the characters can be used as teasers across social media and ads if you're so inclined. If you'd asked me what was good about a synopses a few years ago, I'd have said, 'when they're over'. But somewhere along the way, a critique partner relayed a message from her editor at a large house - learn to love synopses because it's how the big trad houses sell you and your story. Did you think anyone other than your editor read your book? Doesn't happen. The cover art skims the synopsis. Marketing skims the synopsis. If that synopsis is a toss off, it shows. Love that impossible quest to write a synopsis. It's what gets you where you want to go. 

I'm aware of a couple of schools of thought on synopses. One is that synopses are nothing more than a point by point logical flow through the plot. The second says that synopses are a story in and of themselves that should reflect the voice and feel of the book. My synopses tend to fall into that second category. I want the feeling in the synopsis. I want all that character angst sitting on some marketing person's chest, staring into their eyes. That means I select for melodrama when I undertake a synopsis.

Don't think there aren't several false starts, hair tearing, and wails of 'why is this so hard'? I usually end up with a couple of half done versions full of stilted phrases around what happens in the book. Then I get mad, say 'melodrama, stupid' and go for a paragraph describing the heroine and her goal, one for the hero and his goal, and then the rest is how those goals collide and how everyone's gonna die if the two of them can't get it together. It's not a patented formula or anything, but it does seem to work well. 

I also only speak in terms of the synopsis because for me, the query is the teaser for the synopsis and is derived from it. Some authors start with a tagline and then build longer and longer focused content until they hit synopsis length. I go the other direction. Long form that boils down farther and farther until I have a single tagline. But by the time I'm done, I have a query, a synopsis, and a back cover blurb all ready to go in a media kit that I can pull from easily. 

But ye gods, I still dislike having to stare at a blank page and a flashing cursor after having written 'The End' on something else.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

An Author's Bane: Writing a Query & Synopsis

 

a close up shot of the ? and @ keys on an old typewriter, they're round and worn at the edges

This week we’re talking about a common bane to all authors…writing queries and synopsis. 

The topic actually asks if these are a bane, benefit, or both—but if you’re a writer, and if you’re honest with yourself, they’re both stressful and challenging. Writing a query or synopsis does not use the same mind-tools as writing a novel, you need to switch gears and view your book from a marketing standpoint and how best to leverage its saleability. Thus, bane! 


If you’re scratching your head right now, I’ll give you some background:


Query: a query is roughly one page in length and its purpose is to entice an agent or editor to want to read your work. 


If a writer desires to work with an agent there’s a high chance they will contact them with a query letter. And if an author has an agent or wants to sell their book to a smaller press they will need to present a query—which equates to a proposal if your agent is sending it—and synopsis. 


the Guts of a Query:

  • a hook, one sentence that summarizes your book
  • title in all caps
  • genre and word count
  • comp titles (list a few books that are comparable to yours)
  • one to two paragraphs describing your plot/characters
  • writing credentials, if you don’t have these, don’t make any up
  • thank you, the most important thing to remember is be respectful
  • complete within 300-400 words


Please do not blanket copy your query letter. You are sending it to different people, right? Does everyone like the same kind of pizza? Nope, and they’re definitely not going to be hooked by the exact same query. Personalize, at the very least address it with the correct name, and stick to their listed requirements. If you do not have any stated requirements, go with your gut, but be respectful


Are your palms sweaty and your stomach cramping? It happens because: stressful writing here! If you’re struggling with writing a hook check out Publishers Marketplace, they list book deals with their one sentence hook, or peruse Goodreads, sometimes the blurb starts out with a one sentence hook. 


I honestly can’t recall anyone ever saying they enjoy writing a query, but I’m sure there is someone out there that loves it! Though I have heard a few authors say they like writing the synopsis. 


What’s a synopsis?


Synopsis: an overview of a book from beginning to end that reveals the entire plot. 


Include in a Synopsis:

  • present tense third person narrative
  • capitalize your characters’ names the first time you introduce them
  • only use Main Characters’ names
  • emotions!
  • simple writing—don’t get wordy, you don’t have enough room
  • pages: 1 (short) to 2 (2-4 is considered long)


Yes, you must include your entire plot and the ending. Twists and all. Agents and editors read the synopsis to ensure your story has structure and is free of plot holes. And they need to know how everything comes together at the end. Why? Well, you don’t want to be pitching a romance that ends in one of the characters dying or a sci-fi that wraps up with an out-of-the-blue, magical miracle.


#WritingTip: write a short and long synopsis because, like pizza, 

different people will require different lengths and you don’t want to be unprepared.


The thing is, love them or hate them, suck at it or excel, there’s pressure when you write a query or synopsis. Work at it and perfect it. It’s worth the time because you get one shot to hook someone. So, writers. Embrace the bane and go sharpen those hooks.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Syns and Queries: If You Can't Write Them, Your Story Isn't Ready Yet

Queries & Synopses: Boon, Bane, Both?

Both. Mostly boon, though, because--as Jeffe mentioned on Sunday--both types of summaries force you to crystalize the essence of your book. If you can't do it, there's a really strong chance your plot isn't as clear nor as tight as it should be. You may have written 90k of what felt like a compelling story, but if you can't distill it down to 250(ish) words, then open a blank page and chapter-by-chapter write a one-sentence summary for what happens in that chapter. You should be able to condense those 30(ish) sentences into a shorter summary that still tells a story. The continual refining of your "short story" is akin to zooming out, just keep mentally hitting the Ctrl- keys until you've hit the requested length. If you can't craft a flowing story from the chapter summaries, then you might have embraced an author's nemesis--the tangent. Fun to write, but nothing that advances the plot or the character development. Thar be edits in your future, matey. Better to know that before you send your "completed" mss into public. 

I consider synopses and the meat of queries to be a critical "is my book ready for submission/public" check. 

Also, as James said, you've got to be able to write your own marketing copy. From your back-cover blurb to the hook on your website to your social media promos. Regardless of which publishing path you've taken, those super short BUY ME statements are necessary. Here are examples for my Immortal Spy UF Series.

Side tip: When you're promoting your book on social media, in addition to the short hook, use your genre hashtags, include a Call To Action (Pre-Order! Buy Now!) with the corresponding link, an image that includes the cover art and book title. Use the title in promo the text too. Make it easy for a total stranger to ONE click-to-buy and ONE click-to-share. 

Example:


It breaks my heart when I see book promos that are little more than "I have a new book out today!" Without the supporting info mentioned previously, you're disinviting potential new readers to discover your work. It's like saying, "If you don't know the details without me telling you, then you're clearly not cool enough to hang with me." Eeep. That's like, anti-marketing. The un-sale notice. Don't, don't do that.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Selling the Sizzle

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Queries & Synopses: Bane, Benefit, or Both?"

I hate querie. I hate synopsis. To be perfectly honest about it Id w=rather be writing the book, but they ar ncessary evils. Yu cannot sell a book without them, or rther, it's a damned sight harder.

in a perfect world i could sit with an editor over a cup of my preferred beverage and make a sale. It doesnt work that way very often however. Seems that most editors have to show their pitches to a committee who talks about whether or not a project is going to fit with what the publisher has planned. So, yeah, learn to amke a good pitch, and that includes a synpopsis and like as ot a few query letters.

That said, there are endles books out there on this subject and I'll not try to counter the wisdom of those fine authors.

I willl suggest tat you know the following things:

the long pitch: quite literally a full synopsis of your novel. The Medium Pitch: A one page su=ynopsis of your novel. More like what you'd see on the back cover text for your work, it's hitting the high notes and trying to get the editor's attention. This shouod e something you couod say about the work in a conversation. It does not have to ahve great detail, but you better know the story well enough to expaand.

and then there'the Elevator pitch. You have fifteen seconds. Wow the editor enough to have them wanting to continue this cov=nversation. Can you do that? So tell me about your novel in one sentence. Under The Overtree: It's about puberty and monsters and whether or not there is a difference.

Serenity Falls: A town falls victim to a 300 year old curse.

Fireworks: A UFO crashes, and the f=government movesin to make sure what crashed is kept safe from prying eyes.

It isn't always easy, but all three of those pitches worked to sell novels.

Selling your books is part of the process. The synopsis has to be able to sell your work. It's that simple. The rub? Make them interesting and make people care in a much smaller amount of space.

It's October! What are your Halloween plans?

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Synopses - the Pain Never Ends


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "Queries & Synopses: Bane, Benefit, or Both?"

Besides all of us immediately screeching BANE – because all sane human beings hate writing synopses – I’m here to tell you to learn to, if not love, then at least bear with them. Being able to write a decent synopsis is a critical skill for a writer, even indies. Same with queries.

Also, the need for them never goes away. If you want to be a career author, you’ll be pitching/querying your books and writing synopses for the rest of your life.

Did I scare you? It IS October, after all!

I totally sympathize, by the way. When I was a newbie writer, I was fond of saying that if I could synopsize my novel, either in an elevator pitch or a couple of pages, then I wouldn’t have had to write the whole book. Which is true in a way, but also precious.

People rightfully rolled their eyes at me.

I sucked it up and took a class on writing synopses.

The main thing I learned from the class was not necessarily how to write a synopsis, though I kind of did, but that condensing a story concept to 10 pages, 5 pages, 2 pages, 1 paragraph, 288 or 144 characters, or 1 line helped crystallize the essentials of the tale. And I had to face the very uncomfortable truth that, despite my newbie arrogance about having written this entire novel to tell the story, the main reason I couldn’t write a synopsis or come up with an effective short pitch was that I didn’t have a clear focus on that story. I didn’t KNOW what the essentials were.

That’s why I say that even indies – who may never need to write a synopsis, but will certainly need to write a blurb – will benefit from developing this skill, too.

And if you’re going for trad at all… Well, let’s just say that a synopsis is hovering in my near future. I’m not looking forward to the painful process of writing it, but I know that, in the end, I’ll understand much more about the story.

Which is always a positive.


Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Witch Collector Goodreads Giveaway

This week's topic here at the SFF Seven is writer fashion. Since I'm terribly boring with my yoga pants and t-shirts, I decided to share something bookish instead.



The Witch Collector release is a month away! In preparation, there's a Goodreads Giveaway the entire month of October. 15 signed paperbacks are up for grabs :)

Here's a little book info!

Advanced Praise

“The Witch Collector is a finely woven tapestry of everything one could desire of fantasy—compelling characters, intricate world-building, gripping action, and burning romance. The threads of this story sing in Weaks' skilled and passionate hands." — Annette Taylor, Bookstagrammer and Early Reviewer

"The Witch Collector is a magical, enchanting, fantasy romance whose pages are filled with threads of love, loss, and healing....Highly, highly recommended for anyone who loves fantasy romance, fantasy with strong female leads, unique magic systems, and beautiful writing." — Alexia Chantel/AC Anderson Author

"The Witch Collector has everything you want in a fantasy story - characters with depth, cool magic, political intrigue, ancient gods, a sinister villain, and exquisite romantic tension building. Up there with the best!" — Emily Rainsford, Bookstagrammer @coffeebooksandmagic

About the Book

Every harvest moon, the Witch Collector rides into our valley and leads one of us to the home of the immortal Frost King, to remain forever.

Today is that day—Collecting Day.

But he will not come for me. I, Raina Bloodgood, have lived in this village for twenty-four years, and for twenty-four years he has passed me by.

His mistake.

Raina Bloodgood has one desire: kill the Frost King and the Witch Collector who stole her sister. On Collecting Day, she means to exact murderous revenge, but a more sinister threat sets fire to her world. Rising from the ashes is the Collector, Alexus Thibault, the man she vowed to slay and the only person who can help save her sister.

Thrust into an age-old story of ice, fire, and ancient gods, Raina must abandon vengeance and aid the Witch Collector in saving the Frost King or let their empire—and her sister—fall into enemy hands. But the lines between good and evil blur, and Raina has more to lose than she imagined. What is she to do when the Witch Collector is no longer the villain who stole her sister, but the hero who’s stealing her heart?

The Witch Collector is book one in a thrilling romantic fantasy trilogy, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Sarah J. Maas, and Jennifer L. Armentrout.


If you enter, good luck!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Fashion Victim

Writer. Fashion.

Isn't that an oxymoron? I mean, at conferences maybe some of us could be viewed as semi-fashionable. I am not among that number. I'm far more fashion victim than fashion maven. Used to be you could count on me to dress up for conferences and events - to the point that it was clear I was trying too hard. But not now. A day job and very limited time to write makes my writing uniform pretty flexible. It's boat clothes, y'all. Boat clothes. Even if there isn't a boat at the moment. I'm still out here in cut off shorts, men's tee shirts and wearing men's Keens. I've found my gender-neutral happy place, and regardless of whether I'm out on the lanai writing or walking at the treadmill desk, this less than fashionable outfit stays relatively cool and dry. I never imagined I'd need to plan for fungal diseases like jungle rot (not a joke - my grandfather had it and never got rid of it) but staying cool and dry is a thing here. So every last goth bit of me has been packed away in a box for that time in the future when wearing black won't be a death-by-heat-stroke sentence.

The only thing that might change is whether or not I'm wearing the blue-light blocker migraine glasses. Or the Cefaly. Distinctly not fashionable, but so worth using to keep migraine at bay. 

I'm afraid if there are author beauty contests, I'm going to have to let the cats stand in.