Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Feedback from the 2017 Strelitzia Contest: Part Two

Following our highly successful first Strelitzia contest, the organisers and judges have some valuable tips to share with those considering entering in 2018. In my previous post, I shared the most important feedback we received: read the instructions!

In Part One of this series, I discussed our file formatting requirements, and why we have those specific guidelines for the Strelitzia contest. In this post, I'd like to look at the other requirement a lot of our contest entrants struggled with: the dreaded synopsis.

In 2017 a synopsis was only required for those only submitting the first few chapters rather than a completed novel. Believe it or not, that was us letting you off easy! Since many entrants would not have had time between the announcement of our contest and the closing date for entries to complete an entire manuscript, we figured we'd open up the contest to more entrants if they only had to write a 2 page synopsis, rather than another 200+ pages of book.

However, several entrants queried this, asking if they could submit their first few chapters only, but not submit a synopsis. One even opted not to enter at all because of the synopsis requirement!

The synopsis was a non-negotiable requirement of entry, and from next year will be mandatory for all entries.

While it is of course your prerogative not to enter due to the synopsis requirement, the only person you are harming is yourself. Yes, writing synopses is hard. But it is also an essential part of being an author. If you ever plan to become a professional author, you will need to learn to write synopses. Agents and editors require them, and you can’t query them and say “oh, but I don’t like writing synopses, so I haven’t sent you one.” (Well, of course you could do that, but you would be ending your career right there!) Even bestselling, multi-published authors still write synopses - this is how they sell their as-yet-unwritten books to publishers.

Agents and editors require synopses for exactly the same reason we do: to see if the author has a grasp on character development, to see if the characters’ conflicts are sustainable, to see whether the story will be satisfactorily resolved.

No matter how brilliant the prose of your opening chapters, if you do not have a handle on plot or character arcs, you may not yet be publishable, and you certainly should not yet be winning awards. Harsh, but true.

But the converse also applies. If you have a gripping plot, the characters have growth arcs, and the ending is sufficiently satisfying, many editors and agents will overlook a few mistakes and writing that still needs polishing, because they can work with you on polishing the writing to publishable standard.

So do yourself a favour, and write a synopsis. I can promise you, our judges at ROSA are a lot less critical and much easier to please than most agents and editors!

For those who struggle with writing synopses, bookmark this blog, as we'll be posting some helpful tips on how to construct a short 1-2 page synopsis in January 2018.

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