Tag Archives: Doubting River

Pitch or synopsis?

Writing a novel is hard. Imagine writers’ shock when, after finishing their masterpieces, they find the hardest tasks are yet to come: writing the pitch and the synopsis. One of the first challenges is understanding exactly what is being requested.

A pitch is used to entice the reader/listener to want to read the book. Think marketing pitch. Think copy on the back of the book. The pitch generally does not reveal the ending, and it can be a variety of lengths:

  • A logline is 1-2 sentences. Usually <25 words. It’s the “TV Guide” or movie poster hook.
  • The elevator pitch is a sentence or two longer than a logline. It’s a short paragraph — what you could reasonably say to someone in an elevator ride. Reasonably. 3-4 sentences.
  • The standard pitch is what’s used in queries and face-to-face pitches. General guidelines are 1-3 paragraphs and <250 words. Critical information to include in the standard pitch is the protagonist, the antagonist, the motivation or goals of each (which should reveal the conflict), the central obstacle, and the STAKES.

I, personally, find it critical to consider both the external plot and the emotional story when putting together a pitch. The agent or publisher has to know what HAPPENS — plot — but they also have to care — emotion.

A synopsis is a complete summary of the story, including the ending. It is not a pitch like you’d include in a query. However, it’s also NOT just a recitation of plot events: this happens, then this happens, and then that happens. Its job is both to engage the reader AND to describe the story and how it unfolds. Like the pitch, the synopsis can vary in length and complexity.

  • The most commonly requested length of synopsis is 2-3 pages doubles-paced or a single page single-spaced, which is generally just enough space to introduce major characters, setting, the main character arc, and the main plotline. Minor characters and subplots generally aren’t mentioned at all.

My personal rule of thumb is that in a 2-3 page synopsis, I don’t mention more than 3 or (max) 4 character names, because the reader loses track. Other characters, if they’re critical can be mentioned by a more general description such as “Marlie’s mother.”

  • A mid-length synopsis is 5 pages or so and goes into more depth than the more-typically-requested 2-3 page synopsis. It still is not a chapter-by-chapter recounting though.
  • The long synopsis is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. It can run 15-20 pages, but it’s usually asked for only by publishers and only for proposed books (such as the next two books in a series).
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Fear of writing

I had dinner with a dear, dear friend of mine last night. We haven’t seen each other since July, and we talked for hours. Life updates, puppy updates, and book updates — both mine and hers. She has an agent, has her first book out on submission, and is in final edits (hopefully) of her second book.

And then there’s my book. Sitting there. Untouched.

“You’ve been crazy busy,” she said.

“I *was* crazy busy,” I admitted. “But not now. Now I have time. Lots of time. But I’m not working on it. I can’t even open it. I’m doing anything I can think of except writing.” I proceeded to tell her all about the “Billy the Exterminator” marathon I watched all day on A&E.

She sat forward. “I know what it is. I went through the same thing. It’s fear.”

“Fear of what?”

She shrugged. “You’ve got people waiting on it. They’ve read the first part and declared it good. Now you have to make sure the rest of the book lives up to that. What I learned,” she continued, “is that it’s okay if what you’re working on is crap, because you can fix it during edits. The important thing is to work through it. Get the words on the screen.”

I sighed. “So I have to actualy sit down and write.”


“That sucks.”


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Julie & Julia

Friends have raved about this movie since it came out, but Jay and I didn’t get around to seeing it until last night. As probably every other person in the US knows, it’s wonderful. I expected to enjoy it; I didn’t expect to so thoroughly relate to Julie.

Julie is a person who, as she approaches 30, feels unaccomplished. She had planned to be a writer… but instead she works in a government job that emotionally abuses her. When she decides to write a blog about the things she is most passionate about — cooking and Julia Child — she gives herself a deadline because she never finishes the projects she starts.

It’s the lack of follow-through I most relate to. Feelings of guilt and failure made my stomach sink every time someone told her she never finished anything. The point was reiterated over and over by her husband… her friends… her mother. It was like they were saying it right to me: You’re a failure. You waste your time on projects that will never go anywhere.

“I know!” I wanted to scream. “You don’t have to tell me! I’m a loser! I suck.”

In bed that night, Jay said, “I thought of you during the movie. When she never finished anything.”

I sighed and nodded.

“I thought about your dog training book.”

When I wrote Click for Joy, I was so incredibly proud because I had finally finished something. I felt, truly, like I could accomplish anything! I had the same feeling when I finished the two screenplays I’ve written.

“I had forgotten about that,” I admitted.

During the movie, I couldn’t think of anything I’d finished, probably because the thing I most want to finish right now — my novel — seems hopelessly out of reach. After the overwhelmingly positive response at the conference this summer, I was motivated to get the novel finished and out. Unfortunately, my big summer project necessitated putting it on hold — just for a few weeks, I thought.

A few weeks stretched into two and a half months. My exhaustion was compounded by River. I thought the project was wrapping up the week I brought him home. Instead I spent the last five weeks a slave to two masters. In Julie & Julia, she suffered meltdowns when the pressure and problems and doubt got to be too much. I’ve suffered a few of those this month. More than once I wanted to give everything up — River, my job… and my novel. If I can’t get River to pee outside, how on earth can I finish a whole novel? It’s a stupid dream. I’m going to fail at that like I fail at everything.

Except I don’t fail at everything. When Jay sees someone who has trouble finishing things, he thinks of me. And he remembers how I succeeded.

I can do it. I can do anything.

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An agent called!!

Every year in May, Brenda Novak holds an auction of all things writerly for diabetes research. One of the categories is agent critiques. Agents — probably 100 participate — offer some type of critique service for auction. (The most common, I would guess, is a query, three chapters, and a synopsis but it varies greatly from agent to agent.)

I won an auction for a critique of three chapters and a synopsis from agent Loretta Barrett. I polished up my submission and submitted it. Last week Loretta’s assistant e-mailed me to say they had everything and would be getting back to me this week. On Monday, she e-mailed to say she had Loretta’s dictated notes, and she would type them up and get them to me tomorrow.

Imagine my surprise when I got a call from the 212 this morning!

Long story short, she loved my partial and wants the full when it’s done. That was extremely validating, because she’s the first publishing insider to give me feedback on the pages. She said she liked my style — again, nice to hear. This is my first novel, and I’m the first to say that prose fiction is tough for me. It’s good to hear that I’m going in the right direction though.

She had her assistant send over the comments, but she said that had I not won the auction (and paid for the critique), she wouldn’t give the feedback at this stage. She said she didn’t want me to stop writing and try to address her concerns. I read through the comments, though, and there was really nothing there that concerned me. I’m happy to say that everything she hoped would be fully explained later, is. She had one concern about the opening chapters that I’ve heard before — and worried might be true. So I’ll definitely address that.

Overall, the conversation was extremely positive and left me floating on air!

Now I just wish this work project was over so I could concentrate on the novel instead of working overtime.

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The winning pitch

Here is the pitch for Doubting River that was so favorably received at the conference:

Former runaway, Charm Freeman, returns to his old life in Nowheresville, MS, after his sister Marlie’s husband is killed in a car accident. Initially planning to fulfill his brotherly obligation then disappear for another twenty years, Charm reluctantly agrees to stay and help with Marlie’s injured son. The siblings clash, however, over how to best help the ten year old deal with the death of his father.

Before the accident, the boy and his father were training a neighbor’s retriever for a field trial. The boy desperately wants to fulfill his father’s dream, but his mother believes anything to do with the dog is a setup for heartache. The past belongs in the past; the way forward is forward. Against his sister’s wishes, Charm and the boy join together to turn an injured retriever into a champion, a journey that forces the family to face the issues that tore them apart, only to find salvation in the past they tried to forget.

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