Plotting, Synopses, and ISBNs

Made some real headway into the plot this last month although, as is usually the case, life decided it would like to intervene. I’ve mapped out 105 of the 202 sections, and sat back in bewildered wonder as my characters, once again, decided to take their fate into their own hands. All good, as they say down here, progress is progress no matter how slow.

Aside from battling the intricacies of wooden fence construction, March hasn’t been without other writing challenges; one from my publisher of choice for DESCENT: DEATH, the other from Amazon.

So I’d sent a copy of the latest draft of DESCENT: DEATH across to my publisher a few months ago, as they said they’d have a bit of time early this year to have a read (and it’s always a good idea to get into the queue, even if it seems a little early). Draft received, no problems I thought, sit back and wait until March and see how it goes. So I get an email from them a few weeks back saying, in essence, all good to start reading now, Ish, can you send across your synopsis when you have a minute”.

Synopsis? Had to reach for the dictionary for that one, and my first reaction was “why on earth do you need one of those, you’ve got the novel”. That lasted for about 10 minutes, then I realized why synopses are critical.

Publishers are knee (if not neck) deep in submissions most the time, and to expect them to wade through full length novels just on the off chance they want them is a bit much. I’d sent across the blurb (or hook), so the novel’s concept was clear enough, but there’s precious little meat in those two or three paragraphs. The synopsis compresses a novel into it’s critical, bare-bones emotions and events, summarizing every twenty-five pages of novel in just one page of synopsis. It’s a tricky thing, an art of it’s own I believe, and I’m a long way from competent; but it’s an eye-opener. The novel’s laid bare, no room for fluff or filler, a warts-and-all encapsulation of effort, and for an hour of reading a synopsis (in DESCENT: DEATH’s case) a few days reading is avoided. Better use of the publisher’s time, and a very handy tool for all the self-promotion and publisher/agent hunting we all need to do. So now, regardless of how any of my future novels are going to be produced, first step after the final draft and before submission is to create a synopsis.

Which brings me to Amazon and ISBNs. I had to amend two collections of short stories I published through Amazon a few years back; one had an Amazon provided ISBN, and one had an ISBN I purchased. Both collections featured short and flash fiction I wrote that were published on the web, and whilst one sailed through (the one with my ISBN), the one with the Amazon ISBN had a tougher time. They wanted proof of my copyright ownership of the entire contents, some of which were published back in 1999 on now defunct webzines. Heck!

Although sorted out (and Amazon weren’t that tricky, just frustrating as all large organizations are), the nub of the problem seems to be publishing rights and attribution. If it wears Amazon’s ISBN, then Amazon as publisher has rights and obligations that can impact your work; if it’s your ISBN, then it’s on your own head and in your own control.

Don’t misunderstand me; Amazon’s free ISBN (and I think IngramSpark, Lulu and a number of others offer it as well) is a good idea if money’s tight and you don’t really care that much if your distribution channels are limited and you don’t want to reach brick and mortar booksellers or libraries.

But if you can find the $10 to $30 for an ISBN, and you want to really be in control of your creative output, then buy one. Or a block of ten, which is where you can usually get a discount rate; and unlike Easter Eggs, ISBNs have a long shelf life, you don’t have to use all ten in a year.