Have you ever had the fun of waiting for the okay on a project?
My mother was filled with sage advice and sayings. “Patience is a virtue” was one of her favorites. Clearly that sentiment is not without challenges. For instance how many men and women are hopelessly practicing patience, waiting stoically for something to change in a bad marriage? Or waiting patiently for something to change at work because they’re afraid to speak up and change it themselves?
Patience isn’t necessarily a virtue, but sometimes it’s the best or only choice. For novelists who write for a traditional publishing house, practicing patience is a necessary part of the process. We learn to be patient with our own writing rhythms, aware that pushing ourselves harder and harder will often have the undesirable effect of making writing painful, unfulfilling, and in later need of revision. We learn to wait for ideas instead of digging frantically for them like a squirrel searching for buried acorns.
We also learn to be patient with those who publish us. We wait endlessly for decisions on titles, on covers, on pub dates and deadlines, on who will edit our books, on pricing, on publicity. We have surprisingly little input and we learn this quickly.
I’m playing the waiting game right now. When last I blogged under Writing Process 2015 (three weeks ago) I reported sending a proposal to my editor. What exactly does this mean? Well this time I was asked for a brief synopsis. The idea, I think, is that it’s easier for publishers to read a brief synopsis and perhaps even to turn one down if it doesn’t immediately appeal to them. I suspect editors believe if what we give them is short, we haven’t spent much time considering it, so it’s no big deal to ask for something different.
What is a synopsis? Picture you and me sitting down for tea and scones. You ask what I’m working on, and I tell you a brief version of the story. “This happens, and then that, and finally. . .” That’s a synopsis.
The problem with a brief synopsis is that an author can’t explain how she’s going to pull off a plot point, or why a particular character will act in a certain way. We turn in the synopsis with great faith that all the books we’ve written previously will be proof enough. Sometimes that works and sometimes? Not so much.
In this case the synopsis might have been brief, as asked for, but the story is well on its way to being fleshed out. In other words it’s a book-in-waiting, not simply an idea. I work that way. Can’t seem to help it.
I’ve responded to the first round of questions. It’s a complex novel, and not easy to summarize in one sizzling sentence. If it were, I would probably be further ahead since “high concept” is what editors are searching for today, and most high concept novels are easily summarized. That one sentence summary, of course, only hints at the complexity of the story, but it makes a great hook when time comes to market it. Need an example? How about: Top law student gets the job of his dreams only to find that he’s working for the mob. (John Grisham, The Firm.) Or this: A fourteen year old girl is murdered and watches from heaven as her family adjusts and changes. (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.)
So now I’m practicing patience once again as two editors take a look at my explanations and see if their questions have been answered.
I’m not a patient person, but I’m realistic. I may write my novels alone, but this business is all about teamwork. I won’t spend any more time explaining my idea. I know it’s a good one. I strongly believe the book will be good. But teamwork means we all have to be (pardon this pun) on the same page. So we’ll see if we are.
Practicing patience. . . How about you? What are you waiting patiently for? Or not so patiently?