Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Polishing, Primping and Pimping Your Prose Like a Pro!

Ruthy here, ready to do a little tear down and build up of your old clunker, AKA: your proposal!

Here's the set-up: You come back from RWA, psyched and with TWO REQUESTS for the same proposal!

Yay!!! You're happy dancing, sharing the news, doing shout-outs on facebook and tweeting everyone you can think of. Next step, book auction, and Easy Street!!!! SUHWEET!

And then you read a really good blog by literary agent Steve Laube entitled "Five Reasons Why You Might Never Get Published" and you realize you're in deep trouble. Why? Well, read Steve's blog, but here are some possible reasons, my beloveds!

1. You don't like change.
2. You don't like criticism.
3. You're brilliant but unappreciated.
4. Someone else beat you to the punch with your idea.

FIRST: If you're stiff-necked and inflexible, this is not the business for you. Successful authors revise, re-write, resubmit and swallow their pride on a regular basis. It takes guts and patience and endurance... and you only get one chance to make a great first impression! And that chance is now.

So let's break it down: Parts of a Proposal:

1. Cover letter

2. Three full chapters

3. Synopsis

First, your chapters. Because without solid chapters you're going nowhere.


Be anal. This is about the only time I will give you permission to be that particular, because you don't want their first glance to be their last.

Hook them on the opening page. Better yet, the opening paragraph. Steve Laube once said, "If I'm not gripped or provoked or laughing over the opening paragraphs, I'm done. That might sound harsh, but it's true."

Consider that. You might have one paragraph to make that impression. Make that paragraph work for you. Impact them with your words and clarity. Make them laugh, cry, or at least think as they envision the images created by your words.

"The sharp metallic click meant one thing.

Someone had a gun pointed in Colt Stafford’s general direction."   
                                                                        (Back in the Saddle, Waterbrook Press, 3/16)

Polish each paragraph. Make sure you're really ready. (Most of us don't do this and send things in pre-brilliance, GUILTY HAND  IN AIR, and agents and editors forgave me because I kept on working and polishing. Perseverance and tenacity are huge in this business. Nora once said something like "It's not always the most talented that get published. There are lots of talented, unpublished people out there. It's the ones who don't quit.")

"Suitcase. Laptop. Purse. Emergency supply bag. Lack of chocolate noted. Remedy situation ASAP.                                                                       (Silent Night, Star-lit Night, St. Martin's Press, 10/16)

The Town Square, Haywood, Oregon.... at Christmas
And if you think this changes as an established author, let me assure you it does not. Maybe for Stephen and The Nora... but not for us normals. We go through the very same process you're facing and compete against you... and every other published author out there, so it doesn't get easier, but it does become just part of the job. And that's okay.

For romance, are you using both points of view? Have you described the hero and heroine through each other's eyes? If they have a past, have you painted the emotions to grab the reader without a backstory dump? Remember, backstory does not sell books. Emotion does. If they've never met, is the conflict of their meeting enough to turn pages? Are you using too many big words?

 Do the chapters move the story forward emotionally and physically? Are there scene breaks and/or opposing pov's in each chapter? Or in alternating chapters? Back in the day it would be fine to have back-and-forths and expect the reader to follow along, and we did... Now clean povs are the mode of the day, so make sure you're balanced.

In Women's Fiction, are you totally depressing the audience on page one? Because that's potential manuscript suicide right there, and this can be problematic. Sure, you may have a hope-stirring ending, but if the editor has thrown the manuscript into the reject pile before finishing page one, you'll never know unless you indie publish it and get hammered by readers. Ouch. That's a rough way to learn a lesson.

The Cover Letter:

Write in the same voice/style as your featured genre. If your manuscript is funny and engaging romance (Mary Connealy), write the letter in that voice.

If your work is of more serious nature (Myra Johnson), write the cover in that voice.

If your proposal is kind of in-your-face-reality (raises hand), write the cover letter reflecting that.

If your proposal is historical, use historical points or whimsy to woo the editor/agent.

I use a blend of conversational English and lyrical prose in my work. What does that mean? It means I want my characters to sound normal and somewhat distinctive (secondary characters with a unique "voice" add depth to your work, but only one or two of them, like adding salt to chocolate. A little goes a long way)... while using a sprinkling of poetry in either mention or description. The two offset one another, and because I'm a poet at heart with a side of "snark", it works.


That link features the cover letter I used for my first Love Inspired book "Winter's End"... Hey, it worked! :)

The Synopsis:

1. Ditch the creative hat.

2. Wash your hands.

3. Don technical writer cap.

4. Stash of chocolate or nuts nearby.

5. Get to work.

I always start my synopses (and I've written at least 60 of them over the years) with the one-to-three-line blurb encapsulating the story. Why? Well, you need one for marketing, so why not do it now? That one-liner can grab the editor's/agent's attention more quickly than the five ensuing pages.

Example: Former beauty queen Emily Gallagher came home to lick her broken marriage wounds and help run her mother's event business while her beloved father fought a life-threatening disease. Grant McCarthy and his twins had been kicked to the curb by the one beautiful woman who should love them most... and didn't. He can't trust beauty and she's not willing to chance the anger within him... but as the needs of two precious children come into play, can they open their hearts once more, in time to embrace "Her Unexpected Family"?

Then I tell the backstory. This isn't the book, I want the professional to see the reasoning behind the story. Is it balanced? Believable? Thought-provoking? I use present tense and alternate hero and heroine backstories for balance. This may be a page or two long because it's critical. I don't know if everyone does it this way, but it works for me.

And then I morph into: "The story begins when..." or "This is where the story begins, when both protagonists have everything to lose and nowhere to turn..."

Once I'm into the actual story I use a chronological re-telling of basic story points. I don't try to spell everything out, I'm a pantser, so that would never work because the actual story might not go that way. But... I know the emotions of the story. I know the timeline. I know the essence.

A three-to-five page synopsis is fine. Stick to the points, be clear and concise, this is not the place for my poetry or your clever wording. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts.

At this stage, you're done. There will be much bigger proposals later, but this is the basic one that editors and agents are looking for when they say.... send me a proposal.

So let me offer you congratulations if you got a request... and if you're flying blind, hey... I did that, too! And my first contract came when Melissa Endlich was the final judge for the Finally a Bride contest from OKRWA... and the rest is history.

So let's dive in and chat this up. I'll answer questions and I'll give away copies of "Her Unexpected Family" and one writer will get a Ruthy critique of either their chapters or synopsis or cover letter, your choice.... But you have to tell me you want it in the comments, or I'll mess up and pull some sweet reader's name and she's going to say, "Ruthy! I want a book!!!"

Coffee's on, and peach pie is awaiting!

Let's do this!

Multi-published, bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne loves writing sweet books, playing with cute kids and hanging out with people.... She loves God, her family, her country, chocolate, coffee and cookies.... and romance! You can find her hanging around on facebook at Ruth Logan Herne (duh...) and on twitter @RuthLoganHerne or on her website http://ruthloganherne.com


  1. HA!!! This was set for 7:55 am and I fixed it which grants me first poster rights@!!! First one to the coffee pot and first one to taste the peach pie. With ice cream.

    Great post, Rufus. Spot on.

    Did you know that most conference requests NEVER hit the editor's desk?

    Don't be a shoulda, woulda, coulda!!!

  2. Hi Ruth:

    Great post! I feel like I should send in a proposal because I feel like I could write a very good now with your guidance.

    I'd like to know how multi-book contracts come about? Did an author write six proposals when we read that she just signed a six book contract?

    Also, do publishers ever send a proposal to the author? I know one LI author who was asked to write a Contemporary and didn't want to but did it because the editor was in a bind for a quick Contemporary.

    Please put me down for your new LI. I'm always more comfortable with a LI romance. Also please add me to the synopsis critique. Either is fine. A synopsis is like catnip to a plotter. : )\


  3. All very interesting thank you.

    This reader would love a copy of "Her Unexpected Family".

  4. I would love your new LI book!
    Peach Pie and ice creams for breakfast? Superb! And coffee. That's four food groups right there. Milk, fruit, bread and coffee!

  5. TINA!!!! Thank you, that's when I finished the Sunday or Monday morning edits and I thought I'd changed it over....AND DIDN'T CHECK!

    You rocked it!!!

    And first poster rights are yours for sure.

    I'm always sad when I see that statistic of how many requests never get fulfilled... God only sends us so many opportunities. We should jump on each and every one.

    Thank you for catching that, it would have been over four hours late!

  6. Synopses = catnip...

    or POYZEN like those poyzen cookies in "More Than a Promise"!!!!

    I am putting your name in for both, my friend, and here's the answers to the very good questions:

    Publishers offer multi-book contracts based on a proposal that includes everything I put here and then a brief outline for book 2 (one page or so) and a "blurb" (like back jacket copy) for book three... Most publishers then require pages of other things, but I kept this simple for the aspiring author.

    So based on me sending in a proposal like I described above (with the outline and the blurb) they might offer a 3-book contract or more. They may want wiggle room for more in the series... or they may want to lock the author in for more "blind" books, contracted books that have no base and you decide what the book(s) will be later. I've done that several times now, and it's fun because then I can leave a trail in books for whatever story I want to tell 3 books down the line...

    And sometimes editors are in a bind. Authors sometimes renege on their contracts for whatever reason. I answered a plea once for a Christmas book because an author didn't come through... That's how "The Lawman's Holiday Wish" came out. It was originally slated for February but I revised it and it came out beautifully...

    I think it's important for authors and editors to help each other. This business is such a complete circle. I see it like the old-time innards of a great watch, all those tiny gears and springs, and if one messes up, the whole thing stops working. So jumping in to help isn't just a nice thing to do... it's clutch!

    I'm so glad you're doing well, Vince!!!

  7. Marianne, I've tucked your name into the cat dish!

    Something about summer and peachy-goodness that calls my name!

  8. Great post Ruthy! This post is definitely one for the Keeper Book. I hope to be released out of the season I am in soon so I can write again.

    Please don't put my name in as I already have a copy of your newest LI book. :)

    Cindy W.

  9. Wow! This post is packed with great stuff, Ruthy! I can't wait to read Silent Night, Star-lit Night...that town square is beautiful. Thanks for a terrific guide. I'd love to have my name thrown in for your latest LI, since my current synopsis has been given the green light.

  10. Cindy, I shall not put your name in and I hope you fall head over heels in love with Her Unexpected Family!!!!

    And yes, as you rise from this current season... We can jump into the next!

    Glad you liked it!

    And do have some pie, it's amazing!

  11. Jill! Good for you, congratulations my friend! I'm so excited for you!

    And writing Silent Night, Star-lit Night was so much fun. I got to work with The Connealy and Margaret Brownley and they're such wonderful women and marvelous professionals... and Lizzie Poteet from St. Martin's is a peach! What a fun opportunity that unfolded by the hard work and collaboration of Natasha Kern. That woman is amazing, and she never stops working... we work so well together, I can't say enough about her.

  12. SPOT on advice. It doesn't matter how many books you've written or published, this is the process for each new project. Period. End of story!!!!

    In one RWA workshop I attended, the presenter told the audience. You think you are competing against other unpublished authors, but really you're competing against the publishers stable of authors. Read those books. Do better than the already published authors! There was a collective sigh in that room. BUT if you think about it, it's true.

  13. Ruthy, you had me with peach pie. Is there any left? I love how you can be straightforward about the biz, say it in a funny way, and writers just smile when you hit them upside of the head with the truth. Better to learn now than later. Editors hate divas. Many won't work with debut authors because writers are convinced every word is too precious to change. Why is Meryl Streep still working as an actor? Directors love her. She's flexible and a dream to work with. Listen to Ruthy. She knows what she's talking about.

    Ruthy, I'd love to win your critique!

  14. Rose, that's very true! And that should always be our guideline, too, that if we get lazy or cut corners, there are dozens of people aching for our spot... and possibly winning it!

    Now if we can get more people to buy books and read, we can open MORE PUBLISHING SPOTS!!!

    That's the simple Ruthy way of getting more of us published... and then of course there are oodles of indie opportunities out there, and that's a good thing, too!

  15. First off - the title of this article is great! Who doesn't love a litany of lively alliteration?!

    If I haven't been to a conference and I haven't quite finished my book, should I start NOW sending out proposals to potential literary agents and, would you recommend a particular website to get a list of said agents? I am so new at this, can you tell?

    I'm very green and even more determined so that should hopefully work in my favor, though I should probably also disclose that my fingers are trembling and my palms are sweaty as I type this.

    All good things...

    I'm thrilled to be seeking on Seekerville. Many thanks, Ruthy!

  16. Barbara Scott, who did an amazing job editing "A Cowboy for Christmas" my part of "Cowboy Christmas Homecoming" wants a critique???

    Now I'm Nervous!!!! :)

    Barb, new authors can be delicate flowers, very married to their words...

    That was part of why we started Seekerville, so aspiring authors could glimpse the reality of this business and gear themselves up to handling those tough revision letters and rejections.

    They're part of the job, and our job is to fix things and move on!

    And that makes editors understandably happy.

  17. Josee!!!! You came over and talked, well done!

    I'm so glad you jumped in the water, girlfriend... keep treading while I talk a lot. :)

    I would finish a book or two first.

    All editors want a completed book from newbies/aspiring authors. They want to see that you can follow through with the self-discipline it takes to wade through the middle and come out at a happy ending.

    Having said that, of course I jumped the gun as a newbie, convinced I was the icing on the cake.

    I wasn't.

    I was the flour they use to dust the cake pan, but I didn't quit, and there's the secret. To keep writing more books, to polish, and to submit.

    But I'd have at least one or two books done before actually submitting, Josee, and I'd enter that first one into contests now (if you haven't already done so) and see what kind of feedback you get from your intended audience.

    I'd scope out what books you love, love, love... and do you write like those authors or aspire to write like them?

    I know you've ghost-written things, so this is like being the back-up singer that grabs a spot on The Voice as the up-front artist... We want to develop our own voices, our own audience with time, so this practice is essential, like jumping to a baby grand piano from a low-end Spinet.... There's a whole different scope of possibilities in the richness of the baby grand... even though the notes are labeled the same.

    My big stick on this whole thing is to write every day. Get that 1000 words in. Polish them later, but you can't polish a blank slate, and you can't sell an unwritten manuscript...

    Well, eventually you CAN, but not at first! :)

    Not often, anyway.

    I am over the moon delighted to see you here!!!

    1. Wow, Ruthy! Thank you so much for the feedback and the encouragement! I'm sopping it up like a slice of wonder bread! Would you mind sharing a link to information regarding contests? Thanks again!

    2. Oh and please put me in for your book and a chapter critique!

  18. Not being married to your written words. That is sooooooo key. You're right.

    The tips and examples (I like examples) are tops Ruth and they could really be used as a good 'checkup' during the writing process to make sure a story is still on the right track.

    I've often wondered how you proposal without giving your whole story (book or script) away!

    Now, please pass some of that peach cobbler! *I'm hoping some is left since it's already close to 9 am* LOL.

  19. Good morning, RUTHY! Great post on that ALL IMPORTANT proposal--because a proposal isn't just used to get your foot in the door when you're an unpublished writer. It's the key to your NEXT contract, too! So give it all you've got!

  20. Ruthy, thanks for the Ruthy Pep Talk! (Yes, capitals on purpose since your inspiring posts are a genre of their own!) :) I love your idea of doing major backstory in the synopsis. I do some but should probably include more. I think it can help show what the story is really about.

  21. Great post, RUTHY!! You've answered some questions I've been dying to ask! Especially about proposals. Thank you so much!! I do have a follow-up question about the opposing POVs.

    You said: "Are there scene breaks and/or opposing pov's in each chapter? Or in alternating chapters? Back in the day it would be fine to have back-and-forths and expect the reader to follow along, and we did... Now clean povs are the mode of the day, so make sure you're balanced." Is that for all publishers now? Or is that for LI? I've got well-balanced POV (I believe), and I've been careful not to do the "head-hopping" thing, but I do have a few scenes where it shows both their thoughts - and it works so much better (for me) but I don't want to be one of those "you don't like change" people. I really want to do it right. Especially if all the publishers want the clean POVs now. Any thoughts or advice?

    Please put my name in for the critique.

    Hi JOSEE!! I've been hanging out here since November and, and as you can see, I'm still asking "green" questions :-)

  22. Jill, congrats on having your synopsis accepted!! That's huge! :)

  23. I would love a copy of your new LI, Ruthy. Congrats! The cover looks as good as the peach pie..lol.

  24. Hi Ruthy!

    Great post. Love it! And such good advice.

    NOTE TO THE NEWBIES: Listen to Ruthy! It is because of advice like this here on Seekerville that I am now a published author!

    Trying to break into the business as an unpublished author isn't easy, but once you do, you have street cred. One of the reasons why my editors at Revell were willing to pick up my stories is that I had a track record with Love Inspired. I had shown I could deliver and story and that the books would sell. I had also shown I could be on board with marketing once the book was published.

    So I guess my point is that you were right, and you are right. And I'll say that to anyone who asks!

    Don't put my name in the cat dish - I just bought your book this weekend! :)

  25. Megs, editors and agents want us to give the whole story away to them. They have to know what's going to happen. It's just the reader to whom we slowly reveal the story. :)

  26. By the way, I'm sharing some photos of my son's wedding today at the Cafe! (Link is in the tabs at the top of the page)

  27. Boy, Ruthy, what a timely and important post!! And I totally concur with all of your points, especially: "I always start my synopses (and I've written at least 60 of them over the years) with the one-to-three-line blurb encapsulating the story. Why? Well, you need one for marketing, so why not do it now? That one-liner can grab the editor's/agent's attention more quickly than the five ensuing pages."

    YES, YES, YES!! Those blurbs are definitely eye-catchers, and I include them in my synopses, too. They're critical for selling books to readers, but since the publisher is the most important reader(s) you will ever have to hook, do it for them and then you have it for future reference, promo, etc.

    You said: "In Women's Fiction, are you totally depressing the audience on page one?"

    LOL ... this made me laugh because I am not a women's fiction fan, and this is one of the reasons why. Of course, I am a "Calgon, take me away" type of gal vs. slice-of-life, which is what WF is, so it's all subjective. But nobody reads to be depressed, so yes, I can see how not spilling your guts on page one is good advice. ;)


  28. Great information! Thank you for sharing. I would love to be entered in the drawing for a synopsis critique or the book. I am starting to write my second book, and I'm sure these tips will help make the process easier.

  29. Hi Ruthy Great post on that basic proposal. Good points and I always enjoy your humor. Great way to start the day. And Peach pie? Oh my.

    Ruthy has critiqued my work back in the day. Be prepared. She's tough. But spot on. (as she says)

    You are so right, Ruthy. We both know that editors and agents can be tough.

  30. Just thought of something else I like to add to my synopses, and that's the first line of my novel because let's face it -- first lines are critical to books, so we work hard to strengthen and empower them, right?. So why not let it do double duty?

    I did that in my synopsis for Love at any cost, using my first line to kick it off as follows:

    Sweet thunderation—deliver me from pretty men! From broke to brokenhearted, twenty-two-year-old Cassidy McClare has had it up to the brim of her pretty cloche hat with life in Texas.

    And then I did it in Surprised by Love as well, (although the first line of my synopsis below eventually ended up in another paragraph of the final book when my editor opted to go with "I hope you’re hungry, Mr. Caldwell, because I’m serving up crow" for the first line instead).

    Close your mouth, Devin Caldwell, you’ll swallow a fly. The very thought twitched the edges of Meghan McClare’s mouth with a smile that tingled all the way to her toes.

    Another favorite thing I like to open synopses with is dialogue from the book because I think it helps give a synopsis a "novel" feel. In fact, I do it so often -- not only opening my synopses with dialogue from my book, but using snippets of dialogue throughout the entire synopsis -- that both my agent and my publisher tell me my synopses read like little novels.

    Anyway, here's an example below from the first paragraph of the synopsis for Dare to Love Again, where I used actual dialogue from the book to begin the synopsis and hopefully hook the reader:

    “Oh, it’s your limo outside—you here to teach or just out slumming?” Twenty-two-year-old Allison McClare glanced up at the tall, disgruntled stranger who’d just spoken, blinking at his muscled body as it cocked against her classroom door. Closing her gaping jaw, she figured if she waited long enough, his face would crack … something she’d pay good money to see. If there was one thing she disliked more than a drafty classroom in an abandoned school in the wrong part of town, it was steel-eyed police officer scowling in that same drafty classroom as if she’d just committed a crime. Which, given the snide look on his handsome face, she was sorely tempted to do …

    Anyway, GREAT subject, Ruthy!!


  31. Good morning everyone!

    I so needed this reminder this morning RUTHY. I'm beginning a new suspense to enter into the Oooo Canadian Blitz--first chapter plus a 3-7 pg synopsis. I'm struggling w/the synopsis because it's been awhile since I've written one.

    Emily R. had recommended to tell the story like you would to a friend. Uh, she's never heard me try to explain things even to friends. Many times they have the far-off look like they're trying to understand what in the world I'm talking about...

    Thanks. And feel free to toss my name into the hat...

  32. Hey, great post. I found it all very interesting and I was taking notes. At the present moment I am an indie author so I do not have to worry about proposals and that whole kit and caboodle, but I kinda want to get this next series I am working on published traditionally so it would be great if you entered my name for the synopsis critique. Also I would be interested in winning your book so please enter me for that too.

    Again thanks, and I plan on re-looking up this post later down the road when I am trying to get my book published!

  33. Love this proposal breakdown, Ruthy. Very helpful! I do many of the same things--short, catchy blurb up front, the important backstory for each of the main characters, then "the story begins" and the main turning points (vague enough to leave plenty of room for my pantser writing style).

    Fun to see my newest book as one of your examples--bless you!

  34. RUTHY, this is a terrific post on writing a proposal that sells! That means hard work and as you say, pubbed authors still go through the process.

    Early on, I didn't realize LI editors wanted the hero and heroine to meet ASAP. Not just see each other and have both of their POVS, but to actually meet. Fortunately that oversight was fixable.

    Whoever wins your generous offer of a critique will be mighty lucky!


  35. Ruthy, great post!

    Congratulations to everybody who received requests!

  36. As always, a great post, Ruthy!

    Please put my name in for the book drawing!

  37. Ruthy, this post is FABULOUSLY helpful! Haven't been asked for a proposal yet but wanna have it in my arsenal when the time comes. :)

    And peach pie is one of my all time faves so yeah for that!

    I'd love a critique of any kind so toss me in for that one pretty please!

  38. Meg, I brought more peach pie, no worries!

    You know a common mistake is for newbies to leave the ending or black moment off of the synopsis so they WON'T GIVE IT AWAY....

    But of course, they need to give it away to the editor, right??? Oh, I remember so many newbie Ruthy mistakes!

    Megs, I use a checklist for the variables I want/need in a story. Right now I have one that says "Faith, Hope, Love, Fear, Christmas, Teen Crush, Winsome, Self-doubt, Guilt, Growing light (it's the Christmas season emerging)"... and all of those terms remind me of what I want/need in the paragraphs and chapters.

    The checklist rocks!

  39. Glynna, good morning!

    Yeah, getting these down is clutch... because even if they're rejected, at least you've practiced spelling a story out in detail. And it helps me write the story more quickly because I'm invested in the steps.

  40. Missy, I don't know if using that much backstory is right or wrong, but I do it with all of my stories and it goes all right... and then they can see why the H/H are at that launch point without me going into backstory detail in the synopsis because it's all covered and all up front.

    I don't know if I stole this idea from Margaret Daley or Lenora years ago, but I might have... and it works!

  41. Laura, I'd have to see it... Here's what seems to be the clean deal now....

    Her pov for however long in the scene...

    His pov for however long in the scene...

    With either a skipped line or a scene break ***** thing between them.

    So if you're in one scene and she's thinking/reacting, and then he thinks/reacts, that's head-hopping which doesn't bother me at all when it's done right because it quickens the pace immensely. And it's just plain fun.

    BUT... most places won't look at that now to the best of my knowledge, and no, not just LI... None of my publishers will overlook multiple POVs in a scene, and that's like five different ones at the moment...

    I am crazy blessed, aren't I?

    And they're all in agreement in the nicest way possible, of course! :)

    Post a little if you dare!

  42. Laura and Josee, I still ask "Green" questions, LOL!

    The rate this stuff changes, none of us are as old hat as we could be!

  43. Jackie, the books came late, but I have one on the way to you, I believe, to be an influencer...

    I sent them last Friday/Saturday, so they should arrive soon. Somehow they never got author's books sent to them until almost release day, so no worries about reviews (although I love 'em!!!) because I know it's a time crunch!

    And I hope you love it when you get it!!!

  44. Drexler, what lovely words!!!!

    And huge thank yous for buying Her Unexpected Family.... it's such a delightful story... Like Beauty and the Beast, and just as touching as all get out. Melissa Endlich was instrumental in taking that story deeper... and it WORKED.

    I have learned to listen to editors even through my pigheaded Irish brain!

    Jan and I get to room together in Nashville! SO FUN!

    And yes, she's right, not about the listening to me... (well, that too!) but that a track record is a wonderful thing to have.

    Hard work pays off.

  45. Julie, I can't wait to pick your brain in Nashville!!!!

    Yeah, the Women's Fiction thing is tough because women love emotional moments, but if you don't give the reader a reason to champion that hero or heroine from the get-go, then you've lost your chance to woo that publisher... like you said!... and no one reads the book!

    A conundrum!

    And I really believe that practice makes perfect with these things. The more I write them, the more I see the story unfolding in front of my face... and I can envision it...

    It's a huge help to me!

  46. RUTHY! Books, critiques, peach pie with ice cream...please put my name in for everything! Thank you!

    Great thought-provoking post! On the positive side, I might have the synopsis at an acceptable level. However, I am STRUGGLING with the opening pages. (BTW: I loved the first lines of Back in the Saddle!!! Honestly, I rewrote the first pages of my manuscript uncountable times and still don't feel it is right. Of course I thought of a slightly better beginning AFTER I'd sent it off. :(

    Thank you for the GREAT KEEPER lesson on proposals!

  47. Michele, you're in, darling, and huge congrats for finishing that first book!

    TOP 2%.

    That's where you launch yourself by getting a book done.

    98% of people Never Finish The Book.


  48. Sandra, waving!!!!

    Sandra was the ONE AUTHOR willing to put up with me back in the day... and I love her to pieces.

    And she's right, editors and agents are tough out of necessity... and I laughed when Steve Laube mentioned in his blog that "I admit some have gotten away..."

    Which is a WAY BETTER admission than an agent who (instead of saying "yup, a few have gotten away..." said "God didn't intend that for me, clearly."

    Now I believe in God's timing, but I'm a big girl and I'm a big fan of human responsibility, too!

    Give me the guy who can admit that every now and again, gosh... we're just plain wrong!

  49. Julie! That's another great way to showcase the story/writing/style/mood!

    That's AWESOME!!!! I'm so glad you came back and shared that.


  50. Connie I agree with Emily wholeheartedly.

    I start with the backstory, including the fear/guilt/remorse/sadness angle of why this character will act/react the way they do.

    Then go to timeline, as much as possible, trying to show turns.

    Weave in the roller coaster of emotions.

    Then black moment.

    Happy ending.

    If anyone else has stuff to add, jump in here!

  51. Myra, that book and your heartfelt work were perfect for that! Just like Mary's was the prime example for that fun, fast-paced gallop through romance in the 1800's!

    And our style of synopsis sounds similar! YES!

  52. Nickie, a lot of us have indie published works, and work for traditional publishers as well... and I can see where it can be either advantageous or cannibalistic...

    I'm so glad you stopped by! If you come back, tell me why you're looking at traditional publishing as well.

    I love the scope of variety. I can do beautiful things with my traditional publishers, and get my books into so many places...

    But I love the Kindle effect, too! There's a broad-based spectrum that goes with that.

    Tell us what you're thinking, if you don't mind!

  53. I've got to duck out for a couple of hours... But I will be back with fresh coffee, sweet tea, Diet Snapple and more pie and I do believe I saw chicken salad for lunch!


    We've got it with walnuts and cranberries, and plain.

    Any way you want it!

  54. Well for one, I really want to try it out. I'm always out for an adventure and while trying new stuff can be daunting sometimes I LOVE to do it! I like to experience all the different things available in whether it be in writing or any other field in life. A second reason is that I want my books to get out there a bit more. I'm hoping that if I were to publish traditionally and my publisher were to get my name out there readers would start looking up my other indie books too. I'm not so sure about the whole having to change your story to fit the publisher's need as I'm very possessive over my stories (one of the reasons I publish my books indie style), but I guess I'll just cross that bridge when I get there. As for now I have to write the book! LOL, That always seems to be the hardest part for me.

  55. Well that pretty much says it. Quit whining and do the work. I have trouble knowing when to stop rewriting and sometimes too many conflicting thoughts muddy the waters. Still I'd be interested in a critique of my chapters. Respecting what you've shared here. Thank you!

  56. Cover letter, Ruthy? Uh.... You wrote a wee bit more than here-it-is! I do start with a one-to-three line blurb, but I could definitely do more. And I love Julie's idea of starting with the first line of the book, provided my first line is as powerful as hers!

    Great tips today! (And everyday, because this is Seekerville. :-) ) Thank you!

  57. Great info, Ruthy, and all so true. Although I must admit that my synopses are longer than yours. I wish they weren't, but I need to cover the suspense angle and make sure it works...or I get questions from my wonderful editor! :)

    The peach pie is yummy. Are you sure you're not Southern?

    And chicken salad, which is what we had for dinner last night...over a bed of greens. Perfect for a hot summer's night.

    Must read the comments. Back later! Hugs!

  58. Ruthy, great post! I always have trouble getting the right voice down for my synopsis and cover letter. A friend helped me with my synopsis for a contest earlier this year, and I was amazed at how she helped it to come alive. Any tips for learning how to develop the right voice for these?

    And peach pie sounds good right now (just don't tell my dentist, who I just saw. ;) )

  59. I Love, Love, Love this much-needed post!! My summer break is over in t-minus five days (where did that expression come from anyway?), and I'm scrambling to piece my manuscript back together. It looks much worse right now than it did when I began these revisions at the start of summer. Please, tell me this is normal, and my baby will come out all the more beautiful because of the major surgery I've been performing (as per the editor's request). I don't mind revising, but it would be much easier if my fairy godmother would just come along and wave her wand. ;)

    Please enter me for a critique. . . or a book. . .I'd love either one. . .

  60. Chicken salad with cranberries? Be still my heart.

    Oh, why, oh, why isn't there a Whole Foods around here.

  61. Rhonda, I'm doing surgery on my WIP too! So I'm feeling your frustration...
    You'll be able to put all the pieces back in the right order. I'm sure of it!

    Good luck to you. Good luck to me. :)

    Did you get a slice of peach pie?

  62. Josee, Welcome to Seekerville. We do a monthly contest update here in Seekerville..WELL, VERY MONTH. The next one is coming up August 4.

    Look at the tabs at the top. And you can also check out our about page for info on our Welcome Packet.

    But here is the July CONTEST UPDATE

  63. Jeanna, remember the editors want to read about the hooks, conflict, black moment, etc. You don't necessarily have to include each plot point, as Ruthy mentioned, although suspense synopses needs a bit more development...but the key points are what the editors are looking for. If you can't capture the voice, at least capture the basics of what they want to see. Actually, they want to make sure you'll include those points in your manuscript.

  64. Welcome to Seekerville, Michelle Matney! Be sure to check out all the tabs at the top of the post for all things available to you!

  65. Jeanne, sorry for the "a" I added to your name. :(

  66. Rhonda, I did a whole blog post on my personal blog about how I was amazed I was able to take my story apart and actually put it back together! :) That was after my the revisions on the first book I sold to LI. So yes, your baby will be beautiful after "surgery." :)

  67. Tina, I've always wanted to be able to check out Whole Foods. I just realized I haven't checked for one since I moved. I'll go do that now!

  68. Thank you Tina. I appreciate your pointing me in the right direction. So excited to have found this amazing resource!

  69. Whole Foods: 8 miles / 15 minutes away. :)

  70. Nicky, there's nothing wrong with your reasoning... and honestly, I've found that editors know their audience and they see beyond what we might see...

    But I know lots of authors get possessive and that makes it tricky! So go forth and write, and I'm so glad you came by today!

    I'll love hearing about your progress!

  71. Missy, from you, or from me?

    It's HOT out there!

    Josee, you are very welcome. Any other questions, feel free to email us at seekers@seekerville.net

  72. Debby, no peach pie for me today. I'm on a restricted diet for a few days due to a medical procedure I'm having done Friday. :(

    Missy, I need a link to that blog post. ;)

    Whole Foods: I love Whole Foods! The closest one to me is about a 40 minute drive, but I try to go once every two months or so.

  73. Thanks! I've actually been taking a little break from writing since I finished writing my second book. Since then I've only been writing a little each day because it took a lot out of me, by the time I was done with it I was all written out. Also I have been making some huge changes with my current WIP so I'm still trying to get my head to stop reeling from that (these changes affect the whole dynamics of my story). As for today I think I'll just go read a good suspense novel while sipping some homemade punch. Give my brain a chance to rest, and all.

  74. Hi Ruth:

    I think "Red Kettle Christmas" may be the best story ever considered but not used by Hallmark Hall of Fame movies. However, I can just see the proposal as it hits the producer's desk!

    "Let me get this straight. You want to film in NYC, in the winter, in 1947, and you want to stage a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in bad weather?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Are you nuts! That would take ten years of Hallmark's movie production budget! THINK: contemporary, small towns. cheap farmland. people and actors wear their own clothes and drive own vehicles. Never forget the Golden Rule: Small towns, small budgets, big profits."

    "That's a great idea, boss. Let's recast it in Churchville, upstate New York, present day. We'll call it, 'Small Town Red Kettle Christmas'. "

    "Fine, see if you can get the author to go along with a some minor changes in date and location."

    Now you know the rest of the story. : )


  75. This comment has been removed by the author.

  76. Rhonda, covering your procedure with prayer!

  77. Linda, nice to have you on board! I'm tossing your name into the cat dish for the critique...

    I like your succinct take on this: Quit whining and do the work. LAUGHING because it's true!

    And I think learning to simply tell the story without trying to go too deep or off-course is really important. So we keep practicing!

  78. Meghan, waving!!!! And isn't Julie's idea marvelous? That would force us to have great opening lines!!!!

  79. Josee, The Amazing Tina does a contest update every month right here on Seekerville. Here's the LINK TO JULY'S CONTEST UPDATE

    If I did that right, you'll come right to it and she'll do another one in August on August 4th....

    So not far off now!

  80. Deb, it's longer for suspense, for sure. You've got that extra thread going on, and you have to dot so many extra i's and t's....

    Mine used to be longer, but then I realized that about 25% never made it into the book, so I keep it a little more general now... and it seems to work.

    But yeah, the extra element of suspense adds its own story!

  81. Thank you Ruthy!

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

  82. Hey, I would appreciate it if you would put my name in for the synopsis critique and chapter critique. Also please throw my name in the hat for your new book drawing.

  83. Jeanne, I keep it clinical. Really, truly clinical except for the backstory because that's the emotional build up to the story. The nuts and bolts of why it shouldn't, couldn't work...

    But then I go short and sweet because the editors get it.

    And I don't like contests with synopses involved for very good reasons.


    It's important, but if you've grabbed an agent or editor with your voice and story-telling techniques, they can work with you on what they like/don't like in the synopsis. That wonderful second chance when a revise-and-re-submit letter comes in!!!

    Those are an invitation to see if you take direction well... and many don't... and to see if you've got the work ethic to do the work.

    If not, there are others who will, so it's really a wonderful thing to get one of those R&R's!!!

  84. RHONDA!!!!

    I always pray that when all is said and done, the new version makes some kind of sense because by the time I have 3 versions in my head, I'm second-guessing myself about which one is the real, current, going to be used and sold version!

    You are not alone!

    I do best by pushing through all the revisions, front to back. My linear brain.... but then I make little notes as it occurs to me to check a scene, or add foreshadowing, or delete something because I changed a timeline.... And when the first full revision is done, I go back and do all of those things.

    That way I'm not interrupting my train of thought and for me, that's crucial when I'm doing a steep revision.

    Light revisions aren't nearly as scary or thought-provoking, but those full body makeovers... that's like taking a Model T from the junkyard and making it showroom ready!!!

  85. Tina, we went to a great grocery store in Scottsdale, and a funny "farmers' market" store (kind of pricey, and there are no real farms there, so everything came in from CA) and they had great selections of stuff....

    We don't have Whole Foods, either, but we have Wegmans and Tops, and I love them...

    Pretend you have cranberries.

    That's what I'm doing. :)

  86. Vince, LOL! So true! I'll blame the setting and timing, absolutely!!!!

  87. Laura, it is generally a complete no-no now.

    I have no problem with it. I like that back and forth and you did it well!

    But I don't know an editor who wouldn't tag it and have you change it, so it's better to change it first.

    Nora can still get away with it. She raised us all on head-hopping and it's a natural story-telling technique. It works.

    BUT if we want to sell our stories, then we jump on board the rules train and mosey on down the tracks!

    You used a very natural flow for it... but I'd change it to one POV if it was me, and you can do that easily, my darling....

  88. Boo... Welcome to Seekerville and I love that name.

    Ever since I met Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, I've loved it. You're in!

  89. Phyllis, you're welcome! Good to see you!

  90. Thank you for the answer, RUTHY, I truly do appreciate it!! I'm going to jump in and make the changes! But first, coffee...and lots of it :-)

  91. Welcome to Seekerville, Boo!

    What do you write?

  92. I spent the past two days at a writing workshop for teachers. At one point, the presenter was discussing trying to keep all the points of an essay in mind and she commented about how writing creatively places a HUGE cognitive load on the brain.

    All I could think was no wonder my poor brain hurts trying to keep all these pieces of the story in mind.

    And then I read this post.

    We writers are a self-tormenting lot, aren't we. Forget what we do to our characters. Just look what we put ourselves through in the process.

    And we LOVE it and wouldn't choose anything else.

    So I don't really know what that says about us. My poor brain can't fathom it. ;)

  93. Okay, Ruthy, you definitely win the Tongue Twister Title for blog posts! And the Amazing Alliteration Award.

    Thank you for this post. I'm reviewing a synopsis -- your help arrives at just the right time.

    One more thing, any way you can get them to release Nick Stafford's story (Double S Ranch) before October? Could we maybe bribe them with peach pie and ice cream?

    Nancy C

  94. Yeah okay so this wasn't up before I gave up and went to bed with a really good book....so here I am late in commenting...oh well, a cup of Ruthy's famous coffee & a slice of warm peach pie (don't forget the vanilla bean ice-cream) will fix what ails me :-)

    Have I mentioned lately how I absolutely admire you authors? How your hard work on perfecting your craft doesn't go unnoticed by this reader? How brilliant each one of you are? And how very much I appreciate each one of you, bringing me fantastical stories to get lost in? I do love learning the bare bones of writing craft through Seekerville posts. You guys are AMAZING!!

    Ruthy, please add my name to the (clean) cat dish for a chance at a copy of "Her Unexpected Family", thank you! And congrats on the new release by the way :-)

  95. Hi Ruthy, thanks for the great tutorial. You make it sound simple. I think I have something that could use some perusing. So...I'll dare a synopsis crit and if not that DEFINITELY your newest book. I love, LOVE, love Ruthy books.

  96. I've written in various genres, but I started with superheroes and spies and that's what I keep coming back to. I started doing young adult under the pen name Jes Drew, but more recently I've been doing new adult and my current WIP is a spy... who will eventually become a superhero.

  97. HI Ruthy You're so right about God's timing. I have learned that lesson clearly and dearly.

    But you're right also in that we need to do our part. God gave us gifts and He expects us to use them. Not in the exact same way as everyone else, but in our own unique way and in His individual timing. That's what I love about our God. smile

  98. Tina and Missy Hubby calls Whole Foods, Whole paycheck. LOL. But if you shop there all the time, you find the sales and bargains and it isn't so bad. I do LOVE shopping there. smile

  99. Hubby is napping. Back to my writing cave. Hugs

  100. Great info, Ruthy, and it comes at just the right time for me!

  101. Great post! Not quite to that stage yet, but getting there. I printed it off, so I will have it. I am struggling with writing a synopsis.

    One thing I started last week was to read outloud the book. I am finding a lot of errors this way or awkward sentences etc.

  102. Great tips from a great writer!

  103. Laura, you're welcome! I love crushing nice people!!! :)

  104. Cate, I hope you had a ball at your writer's session! That's so cool!

    You know, I always consider the ins and outs of this as a challenge... and I never, ever, ever back down from a challenge.



    So yeah, we put ourselves through a lot, but we love it when it's done!!!!

  105. Nancy, I called Waterbrook and they said SURE!!!! :)

    Actually Jan Drexler is endorsing "Home on the Range" so she's read it and liked it!!!

    YAY JAN!!!!!!!!

    Nancy, I can't wait, either. I hope you love it!!!!

    Now I have to go stare at that amazing cover....

  106. Trixi, my darling, you're in! Silly me not setting the timer, it's like what I do when I'm baking cookies. At least one tray burns because I forget to set the timer!!!!

    And what kind words, thank you! You bless us by being you... a reader and reviewer and good friend.

    That's a treasure right there.

  107. Deb H, I love you right back, but your book is already on the way to you! They're late because of a printing problem, so author's copies were delayed, but yours is on the way and I hope you love it!

    But I will tuck your name in for that synopsis! ABSOLUTELY!!!

  108. Boo, that's fascinating.

    I'm working on a middle grade series in my spare time and I love dabbling in the surreal and fantastic and a little science and history on the side!

    Good for you!

  109. Sandra, I totally agree. We're all so unique, so special and so delightfully different, that we all march to God's tune in slightly different step!

    Go us!

    Go God!

  110. Ruthy, you can steal my idea anytime, sweetie. God knows I've stolen things from you! ;)

    Meghan said: "And I love Julie's idea of starting with the first line of the book, provided my first line is as powerful as hers!"

    Thanks, Meg, and I have the utmost faith in you, darlin'! :)


  111. I always enjoy a Ruthy post! :)
    Thank you for all these suggestions - - going to the front of my keeper file.
    I must admit I still shudder at the very word "synopsis" and am hoping I'll eventually get over this, LOL. Even though I've written a few, writing one is not my favorite thing to do (but I know they're SO important).
    Glad there's some peach pie left - - YUM!!
    Hugs, Patti Jo

  112. P.S. I'll be purchasing HER UNEXPECTED FAMILY so no need to enter me in the drawing! :)

  113. Ruthy, Please enter me for a critique

  114. Cara, go for it! Practice makes perfect on these things...

  115. Wilani, that's a wonderful way to check our work! You get a real sense of the flow, of mistakes, of how it sounds vs. how you want it to sound.

    And never get discouraged, the art is in the polish. We snip and tuck and do everything we can to make our little words presentable! Like dressed up in its Sunday best!

  116. Aw, thank you, J!!!! :) You made my morning!!!!

  117. Shelli, I love the enthusiasm!!! I heard there were a few Internet bumps in the road overnight, so I deleted two of those, but I'm so glad you stopped by! Thank you!

  118. Patti Jo, thank you! First for your kind words, then for buying the book! I hope you love it, my friend!

    And yes, this is my favorite peach pie recipe in the world. It doesn't get runny, so the bottom crust stays perfect.

    I will confess to loving perfect pie crust.

    Anything less than perfect shouldn't be allowed.


  119. One of the things that I love about Seekerville is that the posts are so educational! Thanks for sharing your success steps! (Again!)! If it's not too late put me in for the synopsis critique!

  120. I agree. If the book doesn't catch me in the first few paragraphs I know it might take awhile to get it read..
    Pie & coffee sound delish! How do you find the time??

  121. Hello!

    I love hearing about the process of writing. So 3-5 pages determine if a story will go forward? That makes or breaks you to a certain extent? Like you said, those have to be pretty amazing pages.

    I would love to win a copy of your new book, "Her Unexpected Family" as a reader. ;-)
    Becky B.

  122. This was such an informative post, Ruth. I went back to your November 2011 post and read your query letter...spunky! You are right. Cover letters shouldn't be boring! If I'm bored writing it, think of the unfortunate recipient who is reading it! PS...I'm a fan and love your books! Blessings to you.

  123. I'd love to win a copy of Her Unexpected Family. I enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing!