I mentioned Sisyphus this morning right? He was the man with the impossible task of rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it go rolling down again - eternal punishment for something he did to the chagrin of the gods.
Since I've completed my novel and intend to send it to agents - the starting point for any novelist hoping to publish - there have been the inevitable tasks to complete, ends to sew up tightly, advice to be read and heeded. It was quite a strange transition to make from one day being immersed in a world of words to the next when I was on my own again, orbiting that world instead of walking it. The tasks are writing the dreaded query letter and writing a synopsis. Ick. Double ick.
The query letter is a basic, basic, basic letter no more than one page long. It is the piece of writing one emails/mails to an agent, selling one's book in a matter of two (sometimes three) well-crafted paragraphs... in other words, just a handful of sentences to grab his/her attention. The first paragraph involves the hook sentence much like that on a book jacket that encapsulates the novel's story, essence and selling-potential in one go. The next paragraph is a slightly bigger expansion or synopsis of that hook paragraph. The third is a discussion of one's credentials. Etcetera.
Somehow I wrote it, rewrote it, embellished, pared down, expanded, pared down, cut, cut, cut, until the thing was the epitome of professional succinctness and naunce. It is not easy, I tell you, to "say more with less" but it can be done. After all, writing 125,000 words is a lot easier than 500 or 300: greater margin for error, for one thing. I think if one comes out of the process with a satisfactory query letter one doesn't mind showing to friends and complete strangers, one has grown as a writer.
The synopsis is my present onus. This is a 1-2 page summary of the book, written dryly with all the facts about the story more or less revealed in sequence. I didn't realize I needed one until I began to look at submission requirements to particular agencies and did a little subsequent research. Luckily, Chuck Sambuchino of Writer Unboxed posted some advice on this very thing months ago, of which I found helpful. One of the things I learned is that a synopsis is very important in genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, bla, bla) so that agents can easily follow whether or not one's novel has Acts I, III and III in the right places and in the right proportions. It makes perfect sense, and yet it seems hopelessly Sisyphean.
Of course, my novel is science fiction, and I realized there is no way around this thing. "One to two pages?" I asked aloud. No one heard but the cat, who thinks I'm a nut anyway. "Double spaced? How can I implode an entire 125,000 word novel into two pages?" The camel through the needle's eye... sort of...
When my panic wore off, I had to remind myself that I thought the exact same thing for the query. Then, the reaction had been, "An entire novel in one paragraph? Can't do it!" Obviously, I could and did, but it took me a while. I'm in the process of reminding myself that the synopsis is really just a bit bigger than the query itself, another expansion of the details presented in those little paragraphs. But slogging through it in the meantime is utter torture.
Advice to self (and others):
1.) Work on the synopsis a little every day, just like the query letter, then put it away and work on something else. The first versions will stink, but first drafts of anything usually do. If you don't have a first draft, how else can you write a better second draft and a good third draft?
2.) Patience. When I'm on roll - having just finished a project or otherwise blindsided with enthusiasm and overconfidence - I often get the delusion that I can send out the query letter or the entire submission inside of a week if I just work hard enough on it. This is unrealistic thinking. Better to take time on something like a query or a synopsis than to send something off that it is rough around the edges. Remember that you don't have a deadline yet. That will come later. Above all: no self-deprecations!
3.) Simplify, simplify, simplify, as Mr. Thoreau said.
4.) In the hours spent away from the query or synopsis, write something from the heart - get back into a routine. Otherwise, you may feel drained and blocked for no reason. Writing a query letter or a synopsis does not preclude you from going ahead with new stories. This is for your sanity.
5.) Read lots of advice on formatting, etc. Don't ignore it.
6.) Remember that you are doing this for your novel, your brainchild. It is worth the torture. And it might not nearly be as bad it seemed at the end.
All right. Back to the boulder up the hill...