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Synopses; success; and semi-colons | Elsie Granthier


‘This is a stupid question, but...’  


I promise you; it isn’t. So much of writing and publishing feels like the answers are buried deep underground. Start digging and you’ll only uncover more questions. Why am I only getting form responses? How do I use semi-colons? What is a ‘foil character’? Worse – sometimes you get conflicting advice. How long is a synopsis really supposed to be? Is changing tenses really a writerly sin, or something you can pull off with work?  


We’re here to give you answers. We won’t promise to give you the be-all-and-end all answer, or the answer that Twitter gave you. But we promise to give you the clearest advice we can in a muddy industry. 


This year we’ve been hosting Member Zoom calls so you can ask questions to real, visible people. Let me tell you the answers to some of your recent burning questions.  


I get conflicting advice on synopses: how am I really supposed to write one?  


There are two ways in which advice on synopses differ: how ‘dry’ it should be, and the length.  


The tone question is fairly simple. Your synopsis is a business and a writing document. Put the business first (provide what is needed and be formal), then inject your writerly flair where you can.  


Length is more complicated. We recommend 1-2 pages, but agencies have differing standards. This is where I get to give the advice that I repeat so often I’ve considered having it tattooed – check every agent’s submission guidelines thoroughly before submitting. More on synopses here. 


How do I show one character’s action while another character is speaking?  


‘I’m not sure how to do this,’ the Jericho Member asked while Elsie nodded thoughtfully. ‘Actually, never mind, I get it now!’  


Am I too old to be a writer?  


No.  


I could give you platitudes about the amazing story you have to tell, but I know sometimes you just need proof. Here’s a few examples of authors debuting at 50+:  


Fledgling – Lucy Hope, 52 

My Name is Leon – Kit de Waal, 56 

The Smallest Man – Frances Quinn, 57 

Journey to Paradise – Paula Greenlees, 58 

The Paper Palace – Miranda Cowley Heller, 59 

Call Me Mummy – Tina Baker, 62 

Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus, 64 

Annie Stanley, All at Sea – Sue Teddern, 67 

Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens, 69 

Meet Me at the Museum – Anne Youngson, 70 


You’re not too old to write that book – so go and write it!  


Does being a JW member give me a better chance of getting attention from an agent?  


No and yes.  


Simply advertising that you’re a JW member won’t garner attention. (Even though we think our members are the best).  


But being a member, absorbing information and using it absolutely will. Showing that you’re committed to writing and your craft will attract an agent. In short, don’t just tell them you’re a Jericho member – use it to show your commitment to being a writer.  


Does the number of semi-colons I’m using put people off?  


When someone announced they had a semi-colon related question, my heart sank. 


(I am not semi-colon proficient. Any semi-colon in this letter has been checked by a third party.) 


But this author feared that their overuse of semi-colons would put agents off. Personally, I’m a chronic hyphen over-user. We all have our writerly quirks.  


This question brought us back to our old standard – that the most important thing is a really good book. Agents aren’t in the business of turning writers down over easily fixable things. Put your energy and focus into writing a brilliant story.  


Can I call myself a writer even though I’m not published?  


Last night I made myself a cookie in a mug, snapped a picture, and sent it to the group chat with a chef emoji. Did I make something ground-breaking or cookbook worthy? No. Did I create something that wasn’t there before? Yeah, I did.  


Okay, I’m not being completely serious, but you get my point. Being a writer is not about getting published, winning awards, or the outfit that you’ll wear at your book launch (although I’m sure it’s not just me who fantasises about that) - it’s about writing.  


I hereby give you permission to call yourself a writer. Just do me a favour and add a couple of sentences to your WIP first.  


Asking questions can make us feel like we’re in the dark. But it’s the opposite: asking questions will help you dig your way out and up into the light.  


Never stop questioning.  


We’ll be here with the answers. 

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Comments (6)
    • I love this!! 

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      • Thank you! 

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      • Thank you! I needed this 🥺

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        • So glad to have helped!

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        • Thanks Elsie, I think I'm ok on semi-colons but it's given me another push to try and get published before I'm even older than than the oldest on the list. Though Diana Athill is my guiding star for age, style and how to write memoir. Maybe I'll take a leaf out of my Mother-in-law's book - she always deducted at least 10 years, even when that made it seem she had her son when she was 7... 

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          • Glad to give you a push to keep on working towards getting published! Hilariously great outlook from your mother in law too! 

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