Crested Butte Writers Conference

Crested Butte Writers Conference Day 3: The Dreaded Synopsis – led by Joanne Stampfel-Volpe

Many thanks to Joanne Stampfel-Volpe of the Nancy Coffey Literary agency, who made this mind-numbing topic interesting and fun.

First off, she suggests focusing on making your query and sample writing sparkle. The synopsis tells editors and agents where the story’s going and helps them prioritize their reading list, but out of everything writers send out, the synopsis is likely the last thing read. She said don’t sweat it, because “The synopsis doesn’t draw in anyone.”

Basic rules:

1. Title and author’s name need to be in the header. Genre and word count are nice additions.

2. Two pages max, one page preferred.

3. Single spaced, double spaced between paragraphs.

4. Times Roman 12 pt.

5. Number your pages.

6. Present tense – regardless of story tense.

7. Beginning, middle, end.

Rules of thumb:

All capping characters names is a film industry convention, but is acceptable. Characters must be in the beginning, middle and end to be included in the synopsis.

She had us give the characters and plot for Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Quirrel, etc. Then what happens? Harry discovers he has powers, goes to school, makes friends and enemies, learns magic and defeats the bad guy. That laundry list is a synopsis for J.K. Rowling’s first book. Joanne pointed out, we don’t even have to know Harry’s friends’ names, we just need to know he has them.

Do you have two main characters? Try revolving your main characters paragraph by paragraph. Have you had a chapter by chapter synopsis requested? Stick with your synopsis outline and use two sentences to describe each chapter.

I won’t say it’s a piece of cake, but even Hagrid’s fudge was edible. Anyone want to try it in the comments?

Day 2: How Twitter Can Work For You

Before I go any further, I wanted to thank Janet Lane for her wonderful handouts from the Crested Butte Conference and also for allowing me to post so many of her suggestions here.  If you all haven’t already done so, please head over to Janet’s site and see her take on the Crested Butte Conference and if you ever get a chance to hear her speak, run, don’t walk. She’s personable and about as helpful as they come.

As promised, here are the notes of the last “Twitter Handout.” I know I appreciated the last remark the most and have obeyed it the least. 🙂

1. Get published. Janet Lane, the author who gave this talk, mentioned that she new one person who got published as a result of her Twitter presence. It’s also true Diana Gabaldon found her agent through a literary chat group during the early days of Internet chat. But are these likely events?

2. Find people who can help you. Need a good editor, critique group, writer’s group(s)? Use Twitter (and other Social Media) to find such groups and get connected.

3. Make new friends. You can meet and befriend anyone from beginners to industry professionals out here. The professionals will share useful information about how to get published, the hottest trends, what’s selling. Janet mentions on her handout how she found a friend with a hearing problem who loaned Janet a book to aid in Janet’s search for information regarding a hearing-impaired character.  This kind Twitterer lived in a different COUNTRY.

4. Gain readers for your blog. Tweet about your new posts, and ask your friends to tweet about it. Take advantage of the viral nature of news.

5. Get feedback. Ask for help and invite people to make suggestions on your website, scene development etc. Make your twitters about this specific and easy to respond to.

6. Notify your readers of events where you’ll be appearing, new book releases, or share wonderful news if an agent or editor requests a full manuscript.

7. Develop your brand. Your followers will get to know you, perhaps come to rely on your updates about a particular area of interest or expertise, and if you can find a way to engage them in your writer’s journey, you can develop a presence.

8. Give your followers 98% useful content and 2% promotion and never Tweet when upset or angry. Share interesting aspects of your writing life, but not your personal life.

Here’s the part I mentioned earlier that I love, but don’t follow well: Set a limit on your social media marketing! Set a timer. Half an hour a day. Don’t sacrifice your writing time to Tweet. Or blog. Or Facebook. Find a way to integrate marketing into your life without letting it take control.

That said, what are some of your best/favorite Social Media Moments?

Day 2: Twitter & Social Media Marketing

Before I get started on my next set of notes, I need to know if the new Amazon links have annoyed everyone else or is it just how my system is set up? Right now, everytime I come to my site I have to click on a popup window six times before it will let me do anything. I’ve noticed a drop in comments since I tried using the links and if the links are why there’s a drop, they’re not worth it!

This was a talk given by Janet Lane who is definitely more Twitter-savvy than I. Almost everyone is. LOL. That said, she gave us a two-page HANDOUT of Applications  and ideas for marking Twitter work for you. I haven’t had time to implement any of them, but I will. I promise! Applications she mentioned:

  • Twitpic.com Lets you share photos on Twitter.
  • Tweetdeck.com is a realtime application that allows users to monitor information from several social media into one concise view. (Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?)
  • Digsby.com is a social networking tool that alerts you to events like new messages and gives you a live Newsfeed of what your friends are up to.
  • Twittercounter.com is like the CPA of Twitterworld, where you can glean such stats as the top ten followed Twitter users, who has the most followers, friends and tweets. In every time zone.
  • Twitterfeed.com allows you to feed your blog into Twitter. You provide the URL of a blog’s RSS feed and how often you want to post to Twitter. Twitterfeed does the rest. Halleluiah.
  • Twitterholic.com will help you find out who the most popular twitter users are.
  • Twhirl.com connects Twitter and other social media sites, notifies you of new messages, cross-posts and shortens long URLS.
  • Twitturly.com tracks and ranks what URLs people are talking about on Twitter.
  • Twtpoll.com is a feedback tool that helps you to create and distribute polls on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

That’s part one of my Twitter-repeat performance of Janet’s talk. I’ll do the rest in a few days. Final notes and suggestions include: Save social media networking for your end-of-day activites (assuming you write in the mornings). Fix your wallpaper on Twitter so that it mimics what you’ve got on your blog. You do have a blog, right? Retweet when you have nothing to say. If you don’t, you’re not doing your followers any favors and they can stop following you because you’re such a lump. (Ok, the lump part is what I wrote in my notes, and not what Janet said!) To look up topics within Twitter, do a search for your topic like this: #literary agent.

Anyone else have awesome Twitter suggestions? It might take me awhile to get the hang of Twitter, but I will try. 🙂

Day 1: Ginger Clark on Agent Dos and Don’ts

Yes, I’m STILL on Day 1. Can you tell why I needed to recuperate when I returned? These are some of my notes from Ginger Clark’s talk. She’s a straight forward, no nonsense speaker and had some great suggestions.

She suggested thinking of your query letter as a business letter. It should have 3-4 paragraphs including setup, main characters and conflict. Send it to Ms. Clark, but don’t bother with “Dear Agent,” folks.

This was a fascinating idea I’d never considered: Email yourself your query to make sure it comes through without the odd ### mark. Those oddities can happen for a lot of different reasons and sometimes we have no control over it anymore than we can dictate how someone else’s computer works because that’s what’s causing the marks. The end user’s settings can change how they view your email. However, if you copy and paste your query from a main file (admit it, you do) you need to make sure you’re not sending hash marks instead of quotations, etc. Know that any unusual formatting such as italics, bold, etc. will disappear. If it’s imperative that the agent know those words need setting off, consider upper case. However, use it sparingly. UPPERCASE MEANS YOU’RE SHOUTING.

Always follow the directions for querying listed on the agent’s website. In Ginger’s case, she said sending your ms in the body of the email is fine and so are attachments, but I will ask you to re-read the opening sentence of this paragraph. You only have one chance to make a good first impression.

There’s a lot of hysteria in the mind of a writer when they’re submitting. The agent requested my ms! Must send it out. I’ll just finish the last chapter and hit SEND.

Thou shalt not do this. Don’t edit the last chapter and hit send unless it’s your umpteenth edit of your umpteenth rewrite. Polish. Perfect it. The agent wants to see your best work, not your fastest. To quote Ginger Clark: “Do revisions for however long it takes.”

Ginger did say she likes exclusives, which also means you should let her know if someone else has it on their desk. She recommended hiring an accountant after publication. Since I’m hopeless with  calculators, checkbooks and all things numerical, this sounds marvelous.

Once your ms has an editor’s interest, try to cc your agent and editor on your emails and I liked Ginger’s suggestion to have your agent proof your emails. I’m the Queen (or Empress) of ending great relationships through a poorly written letter. Just remember, the recipient cannot see your facial expression or body language, so be concise and take a conciliatory/”teach me” tone in letters to your professional contacts in general. (One study states that 7% of our meaning is carried by our word choice. That means your emails and letters have lost 93% of your intended meaning.) If your editor has managed to piss you off, contact your agent, not your editor!

A few last tips: Don’t spend your massive advance on self-promotion. It’s not worth the return. Don’t blog about the submission process, your impatience, etc. This is where your writing network and email come in handy. Don’t put your frustrations on a public board where agents and editors you’re submitting to can read what a whiner you are. 🙂

For my next blog: Day 2. (Ooooh!)

Day 1: James Scott Bell On Plotting

Folks, if you ever get a chance to hear Mr. Bell speak, run, don’t walk. He’s not only an entertaining instructor, he makes even the most difficult concepts easy to digest.

I can’t convey everything he discussed because I never learned to take dictation and my notes are consequentially spotty in places. But I did manage a few gems:

On plotting: Plot should always have death as the ultimate stake:

  1. Physical death is obvious and probably the most commonly used obstacle
  2. Professional death – lose the case, lose your profession. He used “Silence of the Lambs” as an example.
  3. Psychological death – we become less of a person if we lose. I use this to a degree in my story as my character is tempted to kill someone who has betrayed him – someone he looks on as family – but he can’t do it because family is what my hero is about. To kill this beloved traitor means the villain has won and my hero has lost what makes him who he is. So instead, he forgives the traitor and adopts him instead. However, there’s still physical death at stake in my novel.
    The place where you see Psychological Death as a stake most often is in Romance.
    In a Romance, the lovers must obtain their loved one or they become less than who they otherwise might be. Check out “Pride and Prejudice” and you’ll see it. I had one friend comment this morning that it’s a sad commentary on our society that we have to obtain someone else to be fulfilled and complete and that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s not a commentary on society particularly. It’s a comment on Romance in that modern Romance is required to have a happy ending. If it doesn’t, it’s probably a tragedy or the first part of a series. It’s not a Romance.

Hope that’s insightful to you all. As you can see, it did make me stop and think about my work and what the stakes are. What sort of death do your characters face?