Crafting a Lightning Rod: The Truth of Queries & Synopses

Many successful authors explain getting published similarly. They say to get published you must 1) write a stellar novel, 2) get lucky, 3) have lightning strike. With the hundreds of thousands of potentials out there, all hoping for the same bolt of lightning to strike them, it’s nerve wrecking. How can I change my charge from those around me to attract that electricity to my camp?

Big money, No Whammys. Hit me!

Taking this metaphor another level, apocryphally Ben Franklin gave the answer. A key of metal to act as a lightning rod will channel that power directly where we want it. So, we strap ourselves to a homemade lightning rod and brace for the blast that we hope will blow our socks off and change us forever.

But what is this homemade rod to glory? Our rusty metal key is the well-crafted query and synopsis. Those are the small articles we count on to change our overall charge from those around us and bring heaven to earth. Yet every other nut is out during the rainstorm crafting their own homemade rod.

And yes, I’m in the rainstorm too. For the last week I’ve spent time crafting my query until I have ten drafts that I’m reasonably happy with, even if I will never be fully done with it. Working on this, I have researched and studied what the success stories with their blasts have explained about their queries. Also, I’ve studied the weather itself and what agents have said and joked about what makes a query stand out and what makes it a dud. So, for the moment, the head of my key is completed.

Now the tail of the key cries for the same time and talent. Thus for the last few days, I have turned my attention to a synopsis. Why is summarizing 400 pages in 1-2 so difficult? The story is completed. It is all there. No more surprises to discover. So, why does this seem like a tougher task than writing the novel in the first place?

Going back over what I’ve written already, I have one thought on this. It is because I’m being asked to take all the edge and excitement that I’ve spent years crafting into the story out completely leaving only its bleached carcass to finish my lightning rod with. I’m not a science wiz, but I don’t think bone is a very good conductor.

Doing the same research I did for my query, I’ve come across an interesting phenomenon. Almost every agent and editor I’ve seen who’ve blogged or answered questions about synopses nearly unanimously say they hate reading a synopsis. They are boring and tough to get through. Authors who were successful in writing them almost all say they hate writing them because they are boring and tough to get through. So, why do we do this? If everyone hates them, how on earth do they attract any electricity for us?

Finally, doing research, I got a decent answer. They are only to prove the author knows how to craft a story and character development. That’s what is being looked for in a synopsis. That’s why they are important. I was wrong. It isn’t the bare bones we are getting them down to; it is the strong structural design. And that structure had better be strong straight steel. Now that’s a good lightning rod.

So, today and tomorrow I am redoing my synopsis with this new image in mind. I’m looking forward and am incredibly nervous about casting out my homemade lightning rod and standing out in the storm. Here’s a toast in hope of getting the blast of my life.

Picture by: Suvro Datta

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About Courtney Sloan

I am a writing coach and ever hopeful author, striving everyday to improve my skills, usually learning from those I help. I am wife to a man who inspires all those around him, and mother to a son with creativity twice his size. View all posts by Courtney Sloan

One response to “Crafting a Lightning Rod: The Truth of Queries & Synopses

  • Kay Elam

    I also think some of the “behind the scenes” people (like those who work on book blurbs or cover art) may depend on the synopsis instead of actually reading the book–or so I’m told. Just saying…

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