Saturday, February 21, 2015

Query Question: "next work" outline/synopsis/nothing!

I have a manuscript on submission now that's getting requests. It's part of a series. I've started working on the second book, but I'm also working on a second, entirely different book. I always have two projects going and it's possible project one will never sell.

What I wonder is, being a woodland creature, what happens if I get interest in the manuscript and they ask for an outline on the second one in the series or the second and third? I spent ten days trying to force an outline and my brain just doesn't work that way. I see scenes and write them. I know how the books start and end and some things in between, but not everything. Things just sort of fall into place at the right time. Are agents or publishers going to take a chance on an airhead who can't plot out a book?

Yup. I've got a bunch of 'em here taking up real estate on my client list. I tend not to think of them as airheads however as much as pantsers.

When you get an offer on the book on submission, the editor will often ask "what else does the author have?"  You don't need an ouline or a synsopsis, but it does help to have a concept statement and something about what the book is about.

That said, if you don't, you don't.  I've sold LOTS of books that no one knew anything about (including the author.)  Most of the time it works out just fine.

Stop worrying about this. Worry about how cold my toes are and send cat pictures to warm me up!


Some of you are actually sending photos but I can only post the first few or I'll never get any work done!

Donna Everhart's Little Dog

Carolyn with 2ns Harley


And just to end this on a festive note, this a photo from a client:

that's a grizzly bear paw


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hm. Wish I were like this writer. "Things just sort of fall into place at the right time." Or if I am I'm on an extremely loooong time line. Just found more plot holes yesterday in my ms.

And appreciate that QOTKU takes a chance on airheads, pantsers to give them some real estate on her list. It gives me hope. Some day, some where, some agent.

AJ Blythe said...

Cute kitty needed, stat!

*cute kitty here*

Stay warm and safe, Janet and everyone else caught up in the big freeze.

As a plotter I shudder at the thought of writing a book
I know nothing about. Writers who can do that amaze me.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I have not a clue how to link a pic here but I sent you one via email. Just like a kitty this house critter has four legs and a tail but he's not a cat. He's Harley, the bestest of the bestest boy with a tragic and scary beginning, now living a long life which has filled our family with love. Wuff, says he.

Regarding today's post, I like the questioner, work on more than one project at a time. Prior to being all writery and authorery I used to read two and three books at a time. Depending on my mood and likes, I could choose a different world in which to immerse myself. Now, with my head under water in projects, catching a breath and snagging an agent is the aim.
Memoir, started fishing for an agent again.
First novel, on rewrite.
Second novel, off to editor again,
Column, on time for deadline.
Ideas, too long a list to even consider.

Kitty said...

My cat, Baby, who's deep in thought on this synopsis/outline business.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. I so LOVE this answer. I am a total pantster. I work just like the person who asked the question. I've tried to outline a story, and within a week I was so offtrack from the outline, I realized it had been a waste of time, and was utterly useless.

For instance, sometimes all I have is a setting. (like current project) That means I have to sit and think. And think. And think. Eventually though, I get the beginning and an end. I start, and, will stop to think. And start. And stop. And pull hair. And drink. And write. And stop. That's my process. :)

Bit of a sidebar here, but there is something that occurs from time to time with the questions. When I read this one, I took it to mean the questioner has an agent and the book is on submission to editors. After a second pass, I think the questioner using on submission means they are querying for an agent. I came to that conclusion because they said they're getting requests (for fulls or partials I assume). It's the term submission that muddies the water b/c, I tend to think of submission as the agent putting mss on submission to editors.

Anyway. Maybe it's just me, but the use of submission for querying an agent has confused me more than once until I re-read.

Susan Bonifant said...

20 million views can't be wrong. It might not warm your toes but it will make you laugh if you think about the two guys who created it.

On writing via scenes that assemble themselves into story: I think it's very, very hard to remain committed to those scenes as imagination enters the picture, nevermind an outline. A fantastic story can come up like a storm, and then fall apart with further exploration. And so on. But I would think editors know that only part of writing takes place at the page as planned. If we're imagining, we're writing and story is going to evolve.

Megan V said...

Here's a SharkCat on a Roomba chasing a duck.

And for some extra warm fuzzies, here's a kitten with a book.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Donna: yes, I end up doing an outline after I'm done writing and THAT's when I discover my plot holes.

And regarding the use of query or submission. Maybe it's just who's doing what? Authors query. QOTKU receives our submissions. Do agents query publishers and then publishers receive submissions?

Susan Bonifant said... to cats-playing-patty-cake didn't work. Bummer.

MB Owen said...

I REALLY appreciate "concept statement" vs. outline. I SWEAR every time I write an outline my characters wander off the page.

I'm not a fan of trophy hunting (not saying this is that) but that bear claw is magnificent. (Lived in Alaska for a bit. Had a moose cozy underneath our back porch.)

Julie Weathers said...

I read this and thought, "Whoa, I'm so glad she brought this up. That's totally me."

Well, yes, idiot, you sent in the question.

Janet, thank you. I can do concept. I know what the story is, just not exactly how it happens. This has really been worrying me that I can't outline this darned thing.


It's exciting when the scene you wrote three months ago falls into place like magic, but it's kind of nerve wracking when you spend days writing it and wonder if it will find a home. Some don't, but usually by some miracle, the boys in the back know what they're doing.

Donna, yes, by submission I mean querying with partials and fulls out. I don't know, when I submit to agents, I consider those submissions. Might be off here.

I have a vague idea about the shape of the story. I know what happens to the most of the main characters at the end. Of course, that is all subject to change. I know the final scene.

I just finished the aftermath of a battle scene. I can see the rounded backs of the wounded inching off the battlefield in the blue moonlight like worms after a rain as clear as if I'm watching a movie. I have no idea what led up to the battle. I know the MC will take her Riders and try to cut the enemy supply lines in order to slow down the pursuit of her retreating army. Beyond that, nothing.

I brought you a Savannah to keep all of you warm, not just your toes.

Sweet Little Savvannah

Janet Reid said...

MB Owen, that bear paw is on a live grizzly. S/he was being tagged for study, not stuffing.

And I agree with you. Hunting a creature like that feel sacrilegious to me.

Craig said...

Can you work with a timeline? When I agreed to try to write I thought it would be sci-fi. Things, as usual, got weird and a timeline developed. Outlines got flushed as editing moved the pieces around. Now I have four outlines for the first work and none for the follow through works.

MB Owen said...

Oh! I'm so glad you cleared that up, Janet. It sort of made my Saturday to hear it wasn't dead.

What an interesting client/woman she must be to be out tagging grizzlies!

Susan Bonifant said...

MB Owen, I'm with you. My day improved immediately.

Colin Smith said...

It's Saturday. I slept in. And I was going to send you some pictures of Sam the Cat... but it seems I'm late to the party on that one. *sigh* Oh well.

I could probably muster up a query blurb on upcoming projects, largely because I've found that to be a good way to start--i.e., writing the query before writing the novel. It really helps make sure all the necessary elements are there (protagonist, antagonist, crisis, etc.), and identify major weaknesses before I've even started the first chapter. Of course, there could be no guarantees that what I say the story is now is what the story will be in three months' time. :)

Good question, Julie!

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I wonder what a concept statement look like.

Here was my dog with a something the neighbours fished.
Jack Russell and tuna

Julie, love your Savvannah, she's beautiful. What kind of cat is she? I'd love to have a cat and a horse but I'm allergic to their dandruff.

AJ that cute kitty makes you want to squeeze it. Kudos to the photographer.

Baby is also beautiful.

Julie Weathers said...


Well, that was a typo. It's a Savannah cat. I don't have one, but when I sell my first book I shall have one by all that is holy.

They're a very large, affectionate hybrid cat that weighs between 7-25 pounds. Hence, a Savannah could keep more than Miss Janet's toes warm.

What a lucky sharque she is.

Anonymous said...

Julie - you beat me to the punch about the cat...b/c the first thing I noticed was HOW BIG it was! Yikes! But beautiful, without a doubt.

Yeah, that whole submission thing doesn't matter, it's just I've seen it used a few times for questions, and I had to decipher what stage the person was at by hints. (i.e. requests in this case)

@Lisa..., La Sharque will know better, but I think a submission from an agent requires no query.
I think an agent simply targets editors they believe are a good fit, puts together a submission package (cover letter, etc) and sends it on. Or maybe calls them and shrieks, "you gotta read this NOW!"

That's the submission process I always dream about.

That bear paw! Good GAWD, no need to play dead here if I EVER found myself in a situation where a grizzly was chomping on my head, or taking a swipe at me with THAT. I'd drop, right there on the spot.

Julie Weathers said...


Ah, yes, we are soul mates.

Currently I am reading:

Beloved Bride, Letters from Stonewall Jackson to his Wife.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson--epic fantasy

Beyond Style, Mastering the Finer Points of Writing by Gary Provost

Re-reading How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack--Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (and they will) by Chuck Sambuchino --This is my purse book for when I'm waiting on something.

I'm going back through a finished manuscript based on some suggestions.

Working on a sequel to the one out in the nethers and 40,000 words in. That kind of worries me because it is still very fragmented.

I'm toying with the Civil War paranormal and only have about 10,000 words done on it.

My alternate work I go to when I'm stumped is 30,000 words in. It's another epic fantasy with a female lead, dragons and Vikingesque semi-mortals.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like I'm completely scatterbrained, but instead of forcing words, I work on something else. While I'm doing that, the boys in the back work out the log jam and the spice flows again.

DLM said...

Like Donna, I am a total pantser. I don't have daily goals and the only outline I create is a timeline of what happened when in history.


Given a writing goal my wee and paltry little brain can understand, I actually can write very well to an assignment. This is why I have such a hard time with synopses and pitches - there are as many writing goals expected out there as there are agents, editors, etc. I have seen guidelines ranging from 2-3 PARAGRAPH synopses to five PAGE synopses. Even with a concept of what I need to accomplish, the sheer variance in quantity requested means I feel that each rewrite to meet Agent X, Y, or Z's requirements leaves the synopsis weaker and worse. End result is, I think every version of my synopsis sucks, and find myself facing the dragon that is editing/rewriting with a lousy butterknife, and really just wanting to go home defeated.

Once I'm agented, there'll be a clear voice asking me to provide work I'll be able to understand. Until then, I'm really glad my novel itself is good writing. Because the rest of my pants-work is, erm, ass.

Dena Pawling said...

I'm a hybrid, sort of like Julie. I have a general idea of where my story is going, but my characters usually don't follow a pre-made outline. Would be nice if they did, but interestingly enough, they usually tend to have minds of their own. Which makes me have to revise the manuscript %#$%! times before it's actually finished.

I found this while searching for a relevant photo for Janet's now-withdrawn request. No, I don't remember Colin's how-to on making it clickable.

And, um, Janet? I think Harley's person should be Carolynnnnnnnnnnnnnn? [Maybe with just 2Ns]

Colin Smith said...


Here's the How-To:

How to Hyperlink

Julie Weathers said...

Criminy, that bear is big. I'd like to see a picture of the whole thing.

My dad had a gold mine in Montana and occasionally they'd have a run in with a bear. It was a historic mine that had been in production since the mid 1800's so there were quite a few stories to go with it. One included a grizzly attacking the miner who shot the bear. They both died from wounds and people who later came to check on the miner as he hadn't come down for supplies found the two bodies together.

Fortunately, bears and people usually just avoid each other.

Julie Weathers said...


Yep. I had a place where I needed to get my MC into court, but she's a barely 16-year-old girl fresh off the farm in a women's unit of the military almost everyone despises. What logical reason would she have to be around a royal baby?

In walks a senile sorcerer mushroom character and says, "Hello, my name is Saerowyn. I'm the royal arcanist and she's my aide."

It took the story in a whole new direction, but it was much better.

One thing about being a pantser, every day is like a treasure hunt. I can't wait to write and find out what's going to happen.

Dena Pawling said...

Thanks for your instructions, Colin, but when I tried, I got this message:

Your HTML cannot be accepted: Reference "”http:" is not allowed: A

Oh well. Off to an award presentation for my kids. Supposed to rain here this weekend. Lord knows we need it.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Considering the number of times I've thought "well, geeze, I should outline Book 2 of the werewolf trilogy, now that I have it started" and then drove my enjoyment of the project right out of myself (including any clarity of the greater arc), I'm glad this is an understood thing. There will be book 2. What happens on page 40? I dunno. Something.

Also, let's see if my html tag will work like you swanky folks (if it doesn't I'll delete this comment and just repost with a non clickable link)
I give you Elka, in a fleece blanket, on our brown couch. Elka and I have been spending a lot of time in hoodies and under blankets, huddled together on the couch.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Awe Janet thank you for giving our old boy Harley a shining moment, he deserves it.

James Ticknor said...

I am excited to see who my future agent will be. It's like taking a business partner and a spouse and rolling them up into one person.

Christina Seine said...

Donna, Little Dog is the cutest thing I've ever seen.

I've lived in Alaska for 26 years and had more run-ins with bears than I can count. Almost always, they end with both me and the bear running (screaming) in opposite directions. (Thank God). Only once have I run into a grizz with extremely poor manners, and in that case my husband and I were celebrating our anniversary by camping near a creek. I’d packed Filet Mignon for the BBQ, olive for martinis - you name it, all the good stuff. The bear came around about 2 am and trashed our camp, opened the extra-tough with all our food in it (set a safe distance from our tent, of course), and took exactly one bite out of everything. He even put a tooth through my plastic coffee mug. As he sniffed the zipper to our tent he made a sort of "woof" grunt that sent a shot of adrenaline to every cell in my body, all of which were silently begging my Creator to Make It Go Away. Bears have a very specific scent, by the way - sort of wet dog plus grass clippings plus trash can. In the morning when we finally came out, we saw his tracks – the size of dinner plates. I never forgave that bear for ruining my favorite coffee mug.

Oh, and thank God I’m not the only punster I know anymore. I thought I had a defective gene or something, after being bombarded with plotting-type books at conferences lately.

Christina Seine said...

Oh how funny - I wrote pantser, not punster. Spell check knows me better than I thought. ;)

Anonymous said...

Christina... Little Dog, a.k.a. "Bundle," thanks you from the bottom of his tiny paws. B/c he is all of 4lbs, and a bundle of love. We adopted him at the age of 3. He's now 5, and has some odd little quirks, but he makes me laugh EVERY day.

The bear incident. I hear or read about this sort of thing on the news, and of course, never having lived in such a place, that's all I know of bear attacks. Something tells me they are a lot like shark attacks. We used to think of those happening like in the movie JAWS, and I guess my mind want to go to a similar bear comparison - CLAWS (???) for them.

Based on what you say, (running from each other) it's never as bad as we think.

Unless La Sharque is doing Chum Bucket.

Anonymous said...

Ooops. One more thing about Little Dog. His real name is "Mister," so, "Mister Everhart" is called when they're ready for him in the vet's exam room.

Cracks me up - every time.

Bundle is just my little "pet" name for him.

Karen McCoy said...

Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley helps my pantser brain at least think through the main parts of plot (inciting event, mid-point reversal, etc.). Save the Cat is also good, even though it's directed at screen writers.

And this post by Janice Hardy is excellent.

I've built outlines with these resources, but oftentimes, due to my pantser nature, the outline will change. But this at least helps me get the big concepts down in a manageable way.

Guess I got a little link happy. Thanks to Colin for the instructions. Now I'm off to get some word counts done.

Julie Weathers said...


We used to always have to go with a rifle when we had to trek up the mountain for one reason or another. Usually, it was both bear and people would run screaming in opposite directions, but sometimes not so much and it takes a shot to scare them off.

One bear tried to come in the trailer one night and had the door ripped off. They had to kill it. I think that was the only fatality in 40 years a gold miner.

Marissa Doyle said...

Will you accept a bunny picture with a shark in it?

Anonymous said...

Karen - thanks for those links!

Karen McCoy said...

No problem! And of course, I forgot one:

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Plot

Kate Larkindale said...

Good to know I'm not alone… I can't plot or outline in advance. If I know what's going to happen, why would I want to write the book to find out?

The one time I did outline first, I was so bored writing the book, I got about a third of the way in and dumped it. No more outlines for me!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It’s like me to be a day late but, hey that’s the way my life has been going lately.
In a former life I used to be a stained glass window designer. Homes, churches, a foot square panel, a 3 ft. by 12 ft. behemoth - my job was to draw the design and eventually cut and assemble.
The designing was the really creative part, I loved it. But once the drawings were approved, deposits made, I then had to build the baby.
In my mind the window was complete. The actual building was often “just a freakin’ chore”. Did I sometimes have to deviate from the original drawing, sure did, that’s the nature of glass and light. But always...once the windows were complete, cleaned and backlit, WOW, “did I do that”.
Yup and all of it was started per drawing, per outline.
My writing is like that, often just simple outlines in my head and sometimes they are complicated scribbles reflected on the light-box of my mind.
Yowza, that last sentence sounds positively sixties-ish. The decade not the age.

Anonymous said...

"Yowza" does too, 2N's. :)