Author Opinions, Synopses, Hyphenation, and Agents

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book doctor 2015By Bobbie Christmas

Q: Is it ever appropriate for an author to express an opinion in a novel in an effort to influence readers? I’ve heard it’s called author intrusion, and we should avoid it.

A: My answer is that while author intrusion is rarely appropriate, authors still can slant a story or a character in a way that influences readers. One of my clients, who is opposed to killing sharks, wrote a gripping and successful novel about people who try to stop the slaughter of sharks for their fins. By the end of the story, trust me, most readers will be against slaughtering sharks as well. Never did the author intrude with a personal opinion; instead the opinions were those of the main characters. Through the characters’ research, dialogue, and actions, readers learn why slaughtering sharks is detrimental to the ecosystem.

In my nonfiction book titled Write In Style, I speak at length about author intrusion, ego, and voicing a personal opinion in writing. Although my book is about creative writing, I use as examples a character who is opposed to the use of shock collars in dog training. By the end of the chapter, my readers certainly have gathered the fact that I must be opposed to shock collars, yet I never actually voice my opinion.

Q: What makes a good synopsis?

A: This question is broad, and whole books have been written on the subject of synopses. I’ll give a short answer, though.

A synopsis must have certain elements in it, to be considered good. In one page, single-spaced, it must reveal the following information:

  • the title of the novel
  • the genre of the novel
  • the word count
  • the main characters
  • the arc—that is, the problem or plot
  • the ending of the story—the resolution

A synopsis is not intended to be a piece of creative writing, but it should be written in present tense and use active verbs. It is not a promotional piece or a teaser, so it should not end with a question or cliffhanger such as this: Will Dorothy ever find her way back home to Kansas? A synopsis is intended to tell the gist of the story, so agents and publishers can decide if it is a book they want to acquire.

Q: In the following, should there be a hyphen after “food?” A food and drink-laden coffee table separates them.

A: Because the table is laden with both food and drink, the sentence can be written two ways. It can be either a food- and drink-laden coffee table, with a space after food, or it can be written this way: A food-and-drink-laden coffee table separates them.

Q: Can the name Carolyn be hyphenated at the end of a line in a book (the word didn’t fit on the line) as in “Car-” on one line, and on next line, “olyn”?

A: Names should rarely be hyphenated, but sometimes breaking a longer name is necessary, to keep a line of justified type from being too stretched out or too compressed.

If the name must be hyphenated, I would not hyphenate it with Car- on the first line, because readers will naturally think of an automobile and mentally pronounce the first syllable incorrectly. They would then have to back up to correct it mentally, once they see that “Car” is pronounced as a name. We never want readers to back up or have to reread something to understand it correctly; it jars them out of the story. For that reason it is wise never to hyphenate a word except in places where readers would make a correct guess about the remainder of the word. In other words, not re-mainder, but remain-der would be acceptable. If necessary, then, Caro-lyn would be an acceptable hyphenation of the name, if it absolutely must be hyphenated.

Q: My finances are limited, and I am fearful that finances might be a problem, as everything I read suggests I sign up for some publication that will answer all my many questions concerning finding an agent, etc. I could spend a small fortune on books and spend all my time reading them, instead of working on my book. From what I gather, they all say pretty much the same thing. My greatest challenge is to find an agent who will feel as passionate about my manuscript as I do. Do you feel comfortable recommending an agent or agents to me?

A: I may sound cruel, but in a word, no. I do not recommend specific agents and do not tell prospects that I might be able to help them find an agent if they pay me to edit their books. As an editor, such a promise or implied promise would be unethical and a conflict of interest.

As a fellow writer, though, I feel your pain when it comes to having to obtain information and spend time reading and following advice, but every job has parts that are not as much fun as other parts. Being a successful writer calls for spending time (and money, if necessary) learning how to find an agent or publisher and then spending time researching potential agents and publishers and submitting manuscripts for consideration. No magic formula can circumvent that portion of the writer’s job, and no golden path leads to securing an agent easily, quickly, or without spending time doing it.

If it were simple to land an agent, every writer would have one. Instead, successful writers are those who have found potential agents, sometimes online or at conferences, and then researched each potential agent and selected those most likely to be interested in their type of book. In addition, successful writers have learned how to pitch their work, writing and submitting whatever documents potential agents want. Some want proposals, while others want only query letters. Some ask for sample chapters, while others want the full manuscript. The writers who land agents are those who met all the specific requirements of that agent, in addition to submitting a gripping and well-edited book. Writers who gain representation are the ones who dig in, do the work, slough off rejections, and stick to their mission until they find an agent or publisher.


Note to Readers: Write In Style, Bobbie Christmas’s book on how to use any computer to improve your writing, is available in either printed or e-book versions.


Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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