Author Spotlight: J. K. Rowling (aka Robert Galbraith)

J. K. Rowling is using a pen-name these days, and wrote the novel THE CUCKOO’S CALLING under the guise of Robert Galbraith. However, the purpose of a pen-name is lost when the author reveals herself later, don’t you think?

Apparently not. In this case, it was an attempt to eliminate any hype and allow reviewers to leave unbiased critiques. Here is a quote from J. K. Rowling’s website: “I hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name. The upside of being rumbled is that I can publicly thank my editor David Shelley, who has been a true partner in crime, all those people at Little, Brown who have been working so hard on The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing that I wrote it, and the writers and reviewers, both in the newspapers and online, who have been so generous to the novel.  And to those who have asked for a sequel, Robert fully intends to keep writing the series, although he will probably continue to turn down personal appearances.”

Stephen King did something similar by writing books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He wanted to see if he could write a best-selling novel without having a best-selling author’s name attached to it. Bachman had some success, but not nearly as much as those obviously written by Stephen King. However, many might speculate that J. K. Rowling’s reveal was done on purpose. That perhaps the publisher was in on the author’s identity and had a plan in place to reveal the true identity of the author if it didn’t get X sales by a certain date. The Cuckoo’s Calling only sold 1,500 hardcover copies in approximately 3 months time, even after receiving pretty stellar reviews.

The Chicago Tribune details the events of her reveal as thus:  “The initial tip on Richard Galbraith’s real identity came from an “anonymous tweet” from a since-deleted account to an employee at The Sunday Times in London who had tweeted admiration for the book. On the scent, The Times quickly discovered that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” had the same agent, publisher and editor as Rowling. A computer-aided comparison of the writing to Rowling’s other work spurred Times editor Richard Brooks to confront Rowling with a direct question about her authorship, which was quickly answered in the affirmative.”

To get this book published, she went through all the normal wickets that a new author would, such as submitting her manuscript to publishers as Robert Galbraith – which shows great measures were taken to conceal her identity. However, even after she received tons of critical acclaim for her writing, it didn’t sell well. While this was a great exercise to test the quality of her writing, what does this say about the book industry? That the general public doesn’t like new authors? That book sales are declining? That the standard marketing methods are poor?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Advertisements

How to Write a Synopsis For Your Novel

Synopsis of Hamlet. This mind map gives a visual display of why it is so difficult to capture everything from a novel within the short length of a synopsis.

In my journey toward seeking representation, I have queried over 50 literary agents, all of which did not require a synopsis as part of the submission. I kept a reserve of ~20 other literary agents that I would submit to if my first round of submissions didn’t go so well. These 20 all require synopsis’s.  Unfortunately for authors, literary agents do not have standardized requests. Some ask for 1 page synopsis’s and others want 2 pages (a rare few even ask for a 3-5 page synopsis), which of course must be submitted along with your Query Letter and/or a sample of your work. While I do have one very promising agency reviewing my manuscript (fingers crossed!), I am preparing for round 2 (just in case) and just completed my synopsis.

SYNOPSIS TIPS & FORMAT:

At the top of the page (left or center) provide this info: Synopsis of “Title”. Genre: ____ Word Count: _____ By: “Your Name” (however, you can put your pen name if you wish).

Since most agents/publishers ask for either a 1 page or a “brief” synopsis, I think it’s best that you craft it to be within 1 page, single spaced. A synopsis is a narrative of your story, written with the same style and sense of excitement and wonder of your novel. Do not simply say, “Here is the main character, and this is what happens to him/her,” you must make the synopsis drool-worthy.

Synopses are always, ALWAYS, written in 3rd person and in the present tense. No exceptions! The synopsis must introduce your main characters. When you do so, you must make their full name in ALL CAPS, but only for the first time you mention their name. This makes it easy for a reader to locate the introduction of a character.

You do not have to detail all your sub-plots or all your characters, but the main story line must come across in your narrative. So it is best to ensure that you have captured all the major scenes and major plot elements and conflicts, and most importantly: The ending. Yes, you must give away your ending. How you conclude your story is especially important to agents and publishers.

PRO TIP #1:

Have a reader that is unfamiliar with your story read your synopsis and give you feedback. It can be difficult for you to be objective about your synopsis since you understand the meaning behind every sentence.

PRO TIP #2:

Think outside the box. You don’t have to write your synopsis in the same order of events as your novel. You can explain things out of order, which can help when you are trying to condense things down to one page.

PRO TIP #3:

Before writing your synopsis, bulletize the main points that you want to write about. This will help keep your novel at a high level and will help prevent you from diving into the details.

PRO TIP #4:

Don’t go down a rabbit hole. Beware of explaining one event/scene that forces you to explain another. Rabbit holes add additional details to your synopsis that only raise more questions than answers.

PRO TIP #5:

Less is more.

PERSONAL OPINION:

Why did I delay writing a synopsis, you ask? Because, summarizing your entire novel into one page is quite possibly the Achilles Heel of every author. Reducing my 100,000 word novel into an ~900 word page is difficult, to say the least. For most novels, there are so many complex sub-plots that hold a lot of weight to the overall story (as shown in the picture above), and not being able to fit them into your synopsis can be torturous.

When I joined NaNoWriMo this year, in order to fill out my profile, it made me write a synopsis of my novel before I even began writing it. I must say that writing the synopsis beforehand helped me identify character motivations that I hadn’t even considered in my outline. It was profound, and it helped me expand on my planning. However, if you were to write a synopsis before hand (which is similar to the Snowflake method of outlining, which I discuss here), you can bet, with a certainty, that you will need to revise it after you finish your novel.

STEPHEN KING’S APPROACH:

In his novel, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King doesn’t touch on writing a synopsis, but what he does talk about is plot – which is what a synopsis is supposed to capture. Steven King’s novels are not born from the conception of a plot, but are based on a single situation instead (I wrote more about it here in my discussion of the 7 basic plots). He is able to reduce his entire novels down to one sentence. It struck me that when writing a novel using this approach, it would probably be a lot more friendly when it’s time to summarize your novel into a synopsis. And even more helpful for the purposes of writing a Query Letter (explained here with additional detail here).

What Good Writing Is

I had the pleasure of reading On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King over the weekend and it really slapped me awake. It is a highly recommended read for any and all aspiring fiction authors. In my writing, I had to overcome one large hurdle to change my style and now I’ve found that I need to overcome another. So, as I perform some last minute revisions to my manuscript, I thought I would offer up some of the advice that Stephen King had provided (this is a summary of only a select few of his points and the examples are my own).

1) Show, don’t tell. This was my first obstacle that I had to overcome, however this weakness in my writing was brought to my attention by my most trusted friends early on, and I was able to adapt to reveal information to the reader in a more scenic way. I’ve encountered a lot of this in my readings on Critters Writer’s Workshop, so it does warrant mentioning. Telling is required, but only up to a point. Mr. King emphasizes the fact that you should always show the reader, rather than tell the reader.

Example of tell: The hag makes a foul and putrid mead that many rumor to taste like swine’s piss.

Example of show: Eric watched as the hag swirled her broomstick to stir the bubbling stew that filled her bathtub. She threw in a honeycomb speckled with dead bees into the mixture. The hag bent low to retrieve a stein from the mudded floor as she pat her pet pig. She dipped the stein into the bath and scooped up some fluid.

“Here’s your mead,” she said as she plopped the iron stein onto the counter.

2) Adverbs are the devil. Anything that ends in -ly should be removed. This is my second hurdle that I am now addressing in my manuscript. Adverbs are a clear sign of a new writer. It’s lazy. Describing scenes and actions without them promotes and fosters more detailed writing. Mr. King emphasizes that they should especially never be used to describe how a character says something. “He or She said” is all that is required.

Example: “I love you,” he said passionately.

Alternate Example: The candle light shone in his eyes as he held her hands in his. “I love you,” he said.

3) No fluff. No Redundancies. Often times simple scenes can be over explained, or you describe the obvious. Plain and simple, Mr. King’s recommendation is to follow this formula to tighten up your writing. It increases pace and matures your work.

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

4) Don’t stop reading, and don’t stop writing. Getting better at the craft requires both. There has never been a successful author that doesn’t have the time to read. Additionally, Mr. King suggests setting a goal for yourself: Set aside a block of time each day and try to write at least 1,000 words a day. Sticking to a regimented schedule is important, even if you don’t meet that goal every day.