What does success mean as a writer?

High rec pic

Many writers have a clear idea of what “success” looks like to them. It’s a publishing deal, or selling millions of copies of their book, or the green-light for that movie script…it’s usually something BIG.

When I was a younger, child-free (and hence much more time-rich writer) I had these aspirations too. I still have some version of them, but expectations change the longer you’ve been at this writing thing. It’s hard, it’s ultra competitive and writing something good is no guarantee of commercial success. What it takes many writers quite a while to work out is that commerciality is concerned with how much money your writing product will make for the producer of said product and no matter how artistically wonderful it is, (and I’m thinking of friends who’ve won major awards, yet not been picked up commercially) it all comes back to money.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, it’s subjective. Years ago when working on my first novel manuscript, I applied for an both Arts grant and for a literary award to develop the book. In the same week, I had two very different responses to the same work — the grants board rejected my application with the off-handed remark that my work “lacked spark and artistic merit”, while the literary awards mob shortlisted my work at a national level. Had it not been for the short listing, those ill-thought out words from the arts board may have crushed me so badly that I’d have given up right then and never written another creative piece. But the important lesson I learned was that it’s SUBJECTIVE. What one person may love, another may hate. That’s true of even the most successful books and movies. I mean, I really didn’t like Mad Max (the new one with Charlize in it). Nope, was bored sh*tless. Many others disagree. It’s subjective.

Which brings me to my point. A few weeks ago, I entered a short story in a prestigious competition, then forgot about it. The announcement date for winners passed and I heard nothing, so assumed I’d won nothing. Then, a few days later, I received this in the mail. My story had been given a Highly Commended. My critical self reacted by first thinking that just wasn’t good enough. It was acknowledgement, but not a win. There were at least two other stories better than mine, which wasn’t good enough to win.

In a sense, that’s true. But again, I remind myself that it’s subjective. Different judges may have liked my story more, or others less. Receiving some acknowledgement of the quality of my work is still “success”. Affirmation is important as a writer, but what I’m learning more and more is that affirmation is empty if you don’t simply love writing. Sitting down, committing your story to the page, that is the real reward. Of course, the major, best-selling book deal is still a dream, but even if that never happens, to quote Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog):

“I write because it makes my life shine.”


Romance Writers of Australia online course – The Synopsis

You’ve written a stand-out story and now it’s time for (gasp) submission. Eek! You know if you don’t get this part right, the agent or publisher won’t even get to that manus…

Source: Romance Writers of Australia online course – The Synopsis

Romance Writers of Australia online course – The Synopsis

You’ve written a stand-out story and now it’s time for (gasp) submission. Eek! You know if you don’t get this part right, the agent or publisher won’t even get to that manuscript you’ve just spent the last year (or ten) slaving over. Oh, the pressure!

Relax. Breathe. It’s OK.

Most writers know they need to provide a “book package” that varies slightly from publisher to publisher, but will inevitably contain a synopsis, cover letter, author bio and perhaps blurb. The good news is you can prepare a kick-arse package that’s ready to go, and tweak it to suit the individual specifications of your intended submittee.

When I was starting out some years ago, I thought whoever devised the concept of the synopsis must be a complete sadist. I mean, what kind of cruel and unusual torture involves reducing 400 pages of novel to two 1.5 spaced standard A4s?! This task necessarily means you have to leave stuff out. Lots of stuff. So what parts do you leave out, what bits do you leave in, and how should you write the darned thing? Just what makes a good synopsis that will hook your ideal agent or publisher and MAKE them pick up your amazing manuscript?

I asked all these questions and more of the many mentors I’ve had and I can thankfully report that, with some examples, an explanation of the theory behind the synopsis and other tools, it’s not the hand-wringing task it at first appears. Which brings me to the OWL I’m teaching in September called “Synopsis, blurb, cover letter, bio — your book selling tools”.

I work best when I understand the purpose of a thing, and have good examples to work from, so that’s the approach I’ve taken with this OWL. I’ve included lots of theory and I’ve called upon my network of writer pals to provide me with examples of their materials. You’ll get to see what different types of synopsises, cover letters, author bio’s and blurbs have worked for a variety of published authors. I’ve also strong-armed my longstanding mentor and editor, Robb Grindstaff (http://robbgrindstaff.com/writing/) into providing a bit of assistance, and he’s going to be available on our forum to answer your questions — many of Robb’s clients have landed agent and publishing deals, so make good use of him!

Also, because I teach in the Professional Writing stream at TAFE, I’ve seen first-hand that one-on-one feedback is often the most useful part of a course. So I’m also offering all participants the opportunity to submit their synopsis to me in week four (after we’ve covered the theory, done some exercises, and seen examples, of course) for individual feedback about your strengths and weaknesses. Feedback can pickpocket Dear Writer of their blind spots which is always helpful, not necessarily painless, but I do promise to be gentle! For this reason, I’ve capped the number of participants or I may drown under a sea of synopsises — yet another reason they are instruments of torture — so book in quick!

If you want to book, you can do so here: http://www.romanceaustralia.com/owl/24

Hope to see you in September!

How to write a synopsis, cover letter & author bio

Winter HeatHi there!

Are you a writer ready to submit your work to a publisher? Perhaps you’re just interested in what you’ll need to do when you are ready. If that’s you, I’m teaching an online course through Romance Writers Australia this September. It’s just $35 for non-members, and $40 for members. For details and bookings, click below.


And here’s what you get:

Most writers know they need to provide a synopsis of their novel, short story, or screenplay to prospective publishers before they’ll request your manuscript. But what should a good synopsis look like? Is there an industry standard for what should be covered? Do you give the end away or tell them just enough to pique their interest? And what about all the other stuff publisher’s websites commonly ask for – a cover letter, your elevator pitch, your author bio.

This course will look at each of these essential ‘book-selling tools’, what you should and shouldn’t include, and how to get that submissions editor to request your work. Advice will come from both the presenter and professionals in the field, including an internationally successful writer and book editor. You’ll get working examples from published authors and if you want to have a go at writing your 1-2 page synopsis, the presenter will also give you individual written feedback.

Week 1:

What is a synopsis and why is it so important? This lesson will look at the role of a good synopsis and canvas the divergent advice on what you should include. Examples from both the presenter and published authors will be included. Robb Grindstaff, international writer and book editor, will be available to answer questions from participants on the FB forum.

Week 2:

How to write a blurb and an elevator pitch. These short, sweet tools can be the key to a publisher requesting more from you. This lesson will provide examples on how to summarise something big (like a novel) to something small (like a sentence or two).

Week 3:

Your cover letter and author bio. There’s an art to these too. This lesson will teach you what to include, what to leave out, and how to standout.

Week 4:

No lesson this week. Instead, email me your 1-2 page synopsis, and I’ll provide you with written feedback.

Students will be provided with a weekly PDF lesson via email each Monday (except in week 4 when written feedback will be provided in lieu of a PDF). Questions will be answered on a closed

Moodle group during the week. Depending on availability, Samantha is hoping to have at least two prominent writing professionals join these discussions, and once they have been finalised, students will be emailed to let them know who the ‘special guest’ will be, and to email their questions before posting them to the group.