Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Successful Synopses

By Lisabet Sarai

Writing a novel is an heroic endeavor. It takes not only imagination and creativity, but also more prosaic virtues such as perseverance, discipline, and attention to detail. Anyone who can generate 60,000 to 100,000 words without giving up in self-disgust has my admiration. I've done it myself, so I know how difficult it is. Yet many novelists quail in the face of a far less daunting task: producing a few thousand words for a synopsis of their work that is often required by publishers.

I think that one reason why so many writers claim to have trouble with synopses is that they may have misconceptions about what a synopsis is supposed to accomplish. Also, this may be a forest-and-trees phenomenon. Novelists are so deeply involved in the complexities of their fictional worlds, they may have a hard time pulling back and taking a more generalized view.

What is a Synopsis?

A synopsis is a summary of a longer workfor purposes of this article, a novel or novella. Publishers have different standards for the length and format of a synopsis. One common format is a chapter-by-chapter summary, with one or two paragraphs per chapter. Assuming 200 words per paragraph and 10 to 20 chapters, the length of a typical synopsis will be in the same range as the average short story: 2000 to 4000 words.

You should of course always consult your target publisher's guidelines before creating the synopsis. Some publishers want more detail, while others may ask for less.

Although a synopsis is of comparable length to a story, the similarities end there. A synopsis does not need to establish the setting, set a mood, or develop characters. Fundamentally, a synopsis is about plot. It is a prose outline of the major events in your novel. Your synopsis needs to introduce and identify your major characters, then explain what they do or experience during the course of the novel. Given the constraints of word count, your synopsis should not include much description or backstory. It does not need to create suspense. It should never contain dialogue.

The purpose of a synopsis is to convey information to the publisher (or editor or agent). The synopsis allows the publisher to evaluate whether the action flow of your novel makes sense, and whether it will be of interest to their target audience. If your novel is not yet completed, the synopsis also demonstrates that you have worked out the resolution for the conflicts and problems that you introduce in your early chapters. (It's sometimes possible to sell an incomplete novel on speculation, based on initial chapters plus a synopsis. In fact, I've sold four of my novels in this manner.)

A synopsis is part of your marketing package, but it is not intended to demonstrate your fabulous writing style. Your sample chapters should do this. (Of course, the synopsis must be free of spelling and grammar errors, but that should be true of every bit of writing you show to the world.)

A synopsis is also different from a "blurb"the few brief come-on paragraphs included on the buy page or the back cover. A blurb is intended for readers, not publishers or editors. Blurbs (which I find much harder to write than synopses) must be clever and engaging. They’re designed to hook potential readers and to make them want to read your book. A synopsis, in contrast, needs does not need to be particularly snappy or creative. Rather, it needs to be clear and comprehensible, communicating the essential structure of your novel while leaving out extraneous details.

How to Write a Synopsis

There are a variety of strategies that can be applied to creating a synopsis. They vary somewhat, depending on whether your novel is already complete or you're writing a synopsis for a speculative submission. Different strategies might feel more natural, depending on your cognitive style: linear and hierarchical versus non-linear and associative.

1. The outline approach.

This strategy works well for linear thinkers. Create an outline of your novel. Create a major item for each chapter. Within each major section, list in order the most important events that occur in that chapter as sub-items. Try to limit the number of sub-items to three or four. Focus on the one chapter you are considering. Don't go back or forward in the narrative flow.

Once you have your outline, turn each major section into a paragraph. Each sub-item should generate one or at most two sentences.

The result of this process will be a synopsis, but it may be hard to follow because it is missing transitions. Go back and add, as necessary, sentences that link chapter events back to previous chapters.

Once you have tried this approach a few times, you'll probably discover that you don't need to create the intermediate outline. You will be able to move directly from a mental summary of the major events in a chapter to the sentences of the synopsis.

A variant to this approach is to use the scene breaks in your chapters to identify the sub-items. In other words, one scene will become one sentence in the synopsis.

2. The Post-it Note approach.

Some writers do not feel comfortable with outlines, either when creating their stories or afterwards. Yet a synopsis is, structurally speaking, an outline. For non-linear thinkers, the scene-based strategy, in particular, may feel terribly artificial. For these authors, the Post-it Note approach may be more natural.

Sit down with a pad of Post-it Notes. Start thinking about your novel. On each Post-it Note, write down one story point that you think is important to your novel. Don't worry about temporal order; just jot down your first impressions. However, you should try to focus on actions or events rather than characters or setting.

Continue until you have twenty or thirty items on your Post-It Notes. Then go back and arrange them into the time sequence in which they occur in your novel. Next, survey your notes and satisfy yourself that all items are equally important. Try to remove items that are not critical to the plot, even if they illuminate the characters or perform some other narrative function.

Finally, turn each of your notes into a sentence or two. Fill in transitions as necessary. The result should be a reasonably coherent summary of the major happenings in your book.

3. The dictation approach

You've lived with your novel for a long time. Now, tell the story of to someone else. Record your narration. Then go back and transcribe your oral recounting of the tale.

When they tell a story out loud, people often discover a natural ability to select relevant detail and to focus attention on the essentials. A real audience will provide feedback, in their expressions and body language, that will help you to realize when you're getting into too much detail and when you are missing connections.

This strategy is particularly appropriate for unfinished novels. As you tell the story, you may find yourself making decisions about the course of the plot.

Some Common Problems in Creating Synopses

There are a variety of issues that can arise when following the strategies above. Some of these are general, while others are specific to writing synopses of erotica or erotic romance.

1. The plot is not linear in time.

Some novels contain frequent flashbacks that reveal information important for future events. Other novels (particularly in the science fiction or paranormal genres) may include parallel time lines. The guidelines above suggest that the synopsis should be linear in time; how can you deal with these aberrations?

My recommendation is to linearize as much as possible. Describe the prior events that are contained in the flashback before the events that they influence. For parallel time lines, try to deal with each one as a separate thread, and then include coordinating information that helps the reader to relate them. This approach can also be applied to novels in which several characters pursue separate activities which ultimately connect.

Remember that your goal is to explain the events of your plot, not to build suspense or gradually reveal the nature of the truth. The sequence in which you describe events in your synopsis does not need to match the exposition in the novel itself.

All this being said, there are certain novelsfor example, Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wifewhich can be extremely difficult to linearize. Even this novel, though, could be summarized by breaking its narrative into several phases: Claire's childhood, Claire's married days; Claire's life after Henry's death.

2. Many characters need to be introduced.

In presenting the strategies above, I haven't said anything at all about characters. Yet characters are responsible for most of the events in the plot; where do they fit in to the synopsis?

Typically, a novel will have a few major characters. Your synopsis should introduce them as early as possible, as soon as they begin to act or affect others' actions. You will need to provide some description for each character; try to focus on the attributes and historical information that is critical for the story. Usually, you can sum up a character in a phrase or clause. Once you've introduced the character, get on with the action.

If your novel has many characters, you may not need to mention them all, especially not by name. Restrict your introductions to the characters who serve as the engine for your plot.

3. Most of your novel is sex scenes.

In many erotic novels, the primary action occurs in bed (or on the kitchen table, in the shower, in the back room at the office, and so on!) Clearly you can't summarize the details of each scene, and probably you wouldn't want to:

"Lisa sucks George's cock until he comes. Then Roger comes out from the broom closet and takes Lisa anally while George jacks off"...

So, if you don't want your synopsis to read like a list of body parts and sex acts, what can you do?

For each sex scene, ask yourself: what changed because of this scene? How did this scene modify the relationship between the characters, or a character's self-image? This is what you need to describe in your synopsis; the sex itself should get no more than a mention.

You may want to highlight salient points. If this is a character's first experience with BDSM, for example, the audience may need to know. However, it's better to say too little about the sex than too much. Once again, you're not trying to arouse your reader (the publisher). You're trying to convey information, as succinctly as possible.

4. Your novel isn't finished.

How can you summarize a novel that doesn't yet exist? Clearly, you as the author must have a plan for the plot, even if you haven't yet implemented it. This plan should be what you describe in the synopsis.

Don't worry too much that you may change your mind later about the details, or even about major issues like the ending. Your synopsis is not a contract or a commitment. Publishers understand that writers sometimes have new ideas.

Editing Your Synopsis

Like anything you write, your first draft of the synopsis will probably need work. My synopses are always too long. I need to go back and consider what can be cut. Another common problem is lack of coherence. You need to communicate not only the story's events but how they are connected.

Get someone else to read the synopsis, then find out if he or she has any questions. That will help you identify points that you might have omitted, or areas that you have not clearly explained.

Obviously you want to spell check your synopsis and make sure that your grammar is correct. With the synopsis, you are not trying to dazzle the publisher with your literary brilliance. However, you do want to impress the reader with your basic competence.


This article is already much longer than it should be. However, if you'd like to see some examples of synopses which have actually sold books visit And please feel free to comment or ask questions here on the blog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sexy Snippets for July

Written anything hot lately?

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link.

Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Of course I expect you to follow the rules. One snippet per author, please. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.


~ Lisabet

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sex Ed on the NYC Subway: VD in Trench Coats and Other Lessons of History

 This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. For a historical novelist, the museum’s collection of vintage subway cars housed in a retired subway station is a true treat. Basically subway cars did not change all that much in a century-plus of underground transport. There are a few notable differences. The earliest cars had ceiling fans, naked electric bulbs and a sort of rattan upholstery coated in shellac. But even in 1916, passengers were distracted from their boredom by subway advertisements, which the museum recreated in the proper historical period in each car as part of the exhibit.

Since my ERWA column always turns my mind towards sex (not that said mind ever wanders far from that topic) I made sure to capture the VD ad on my cell phone for your historical contemplation. This ad dates from the WWII era when public education about sexually transmitted infections—back then the main culprits were gonorrhea and syphilis—was first allowed.

In the 1970s, when I had my one week of sex ed in gym class in seventh grade, we spent two days on male and female anatomy (sans any mention of the clitoris) and the rest on venereal diseases and their devastating consequences. The general tenor was pretty much like the ad in the New York subway in the 1940s. Even then I knew the teachers were holding back some serious information about the more pleasant aspects of heterosexual coupling. Yet my research has revealed that VD-scaring took a relatively enlightened approach to the official provision of information on sexuality.

Back in the 1910s, it was illegal to produce and sell condoms in the United States thanks to Anthony Comstock’s anti-obscenity law, which targeted erotica, contraceptives, abortifacients, sex toys and even personal letters with sexual content or information. Comstock’s law was passed in 1873 and was in effect in some form until 1972 when unmarried people could finally legally obtain contraceptives. I would argue that we’re still recovering from its effects. Back in 1917, sexual prudery and denial were in full flower. When the United States entered WWI, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau generously offered the American troops the use of the French army’s regulated brothels, a centuries-old French institution that provided “clean” women for the recreation of their soldiers.

The US secretary of war’s response was “Oh my God, don’t tell the president or he’ll pull out of this war before we send the first troops!” (This quote and all others in this post are courtesy of the wonderfully informative The Humble Little Condom by Aine Collier).

Although quite the passionate erotic letter writer himself, Woodrow Wilson felt that the young men he was sending to Europe to fight and die should be higher-minded. As he wrote in an open letter to the troops: “Let it be your pride, therefore, to show all men everywhere not only what good soldiers you are, but also what good men you are, keeping yourselves fit and straight in everything, and pure and clean through and through.... “

While French and eventually English troops had easy access to condoms, American soldiers had to either borrow from their allies or take their chances. Or remain pure and clean through and through. Alas for Wilson and his ideals, there were almost 400,000 recorded cases of venereal disease among American troops by the end of the war. The French were also annoyed because the VD rate among their prostitutes soared as a result of American patronage. Prudery has its dangers.

The war had a more positive consequence for our still-illegal domestic condom industry. Germany had produced the highest quality condoms in the early twentieth century, but the war cut off the supply of these helpful devices along with hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments and well-crafted wooden toys. American manufacturers had to step in to the breach. Latex condoms made their first appearance in the 1920s. Before that time, condoms were literally made of rubber. Like that joke about the Scotsman who said he’d ask the regiment if they should all chip in to repair their battered communal condom, some types of condoms could indeed be washed out and reused. Fortunately during WWII, the bigwigs of our armed forces took a different attitude toward the sexual recreation of servicemen. They recognized that real men, especially those facing death in war, have libidos and readily supplied latex condoms and education about venereal diseases. According to Collier, U.S. soldiers had sex with an average of 25 women during WWII--with a much lower rate of disease.

Public health education had proved a success, but by the late 1950s, many thought continuing education of that sort would only encourage promiscuity. With the advent of the Pill just a few years away, ads like the one in the subway museum became a thing of the past. It took the HIV epidemic to bring public service STI ads back into the public eye.

Collier quotes Dr. William Holder of the Mississippi Health Department who said: “That’s what usually happens... When a disease control program reaches the point of near eradication, it’s usually the program that’s eradicated, not the disease.”

It is a lesson from history we’d do well to remember.

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at or

Monday, July 11, 2016

Keeping it real

By Daddy X

What does fiction do for us? Take us to the outer reaches of the universe? To new worlds? Inside technology? To a contrived history of the pyramids? Do we, as writers, first experience our travels in the real world, then relate the trip to our readers? Or do we create the journey from whole cloth? What stimulates a reader’s mental and emotional synapses to trigger a particular realization the writer has in mind? How to get readers to process information the way we intend? Do we acknowledge sophisticated readers by subtle tricks, isolating ourselves from their own interpretations? Or do we hold their hands, explaining everything as we go along, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination. How do we make it all happen? How to keep it real?

Life experiences hint at ways a character may behave in a given circumstance or what reactions may result from certain stimuli. Creating an acceptably realistic scenario is a melding of what we know as fact with what simply could be. It’s a matter of blending the universally accepted knowable with conjecture. Sounds easy, as long as we’re simply writing what we know, what we’ve lived.

While I certainly do make up shit, I can’t say that I’ve ever been tempted to write anything too far out.  By that I mean crossing erotica with Sci-fi, paranormal, vampires, zombies (ick). I do have a couple thousand words set on another planet, but there it sits, in the ‘what next?’ pile.

Fact is I’m not really conversant in the very fantastical, except for those places I’ve traveled within myself and consequently still within my world. Doors opened and thresholds were crossed under the influence of psychedelics. Real life, whether interpreted within our conscious minds or not, is all so interesting (and fantastic) that there’s enough internal space to explore before I’d get to setting up other, unfamiliar, complicated societies.

 It’s hard enough to grasp the one we’re living in, for crissakes.

Clearly, a lot of readers do love these fantasy genres, and the artists who create them can be quite affecting. The great storyteller Stephen King is one who states the impossible and makes us believe it. The writers of the ‘Star Trek’ series, endowed with the innate ability not only to create new worlds, technologies, societal patterns, etc. also remembered to take us along for the ride. As if a phaser was something everybody had in a drawer somewhere. We felt we understood how warp drive worked.  

Feeling one’s way around a created fantasy world is at once a noble, frivolous, and difficult task.

Noble, in that alternative orderings of the human condition potentially reside in the random cards of earthly imagination.

Frivolous, for those who lead a more simple existence—even folk tales and creation myths, no matter how complex, tend to stay fixed within a culture.

Difficult—in that it all has to jibe for the reader.

We mustn’t forget the need for the human mind to create fantasy. Even in the most removed tribes, the otherworldly has a way of creeping into practical existence even though a moody, introspective state couldn’t be sustained for long. Not at least without the cooperation of others of like mind. It seems as though there’s a need in our species that requires flights of fancy. Escapism? Metaphor? A need to explore the creative process? This is the genesis of magical thought. To create an unsubstantiated story to explain who we are, why we are, and where we come from. Births of religions would fall somewhere within this realm.

The very complexity of our own way of life seldom makes sense, so why, one may ask, does ‘real’ matter so much in fiction? Good question, but fiction has to make sense relative to itself. Life doesn’t have to follow any rules. A reader’s observation may suggest that a particular outcome of a series of events would be impossible given the information provided.

At times it appears we accept such incongruities in our real lives much easier than we endure errors in our fiction. Reality is a state of flux. In the real world, we can’t always predict the effect of an action, whereas in the world of fiction we must. We can surprise, but the surprise must be congruent with what has come before.

My guess is it’s my own laziness, covering for some perceived inadequacy that keeps me from the difficult stuff of research, which would be necessary to any endeavors in writing the fantastic. Same as a historical piece for that matter, so it’s not just a simple fear of the unknown that keeps me from that noble task. 

My lamest excuse would be that at this stage of life, there isn’t time for researching something outside my experience. After all, I’m still a long way from exhausting what I’ve learned thus far. Going forward, it follows that research into esoteric and non-substantive issues could be a waste of time.

Time better spent writing.   

Friday, July 8, 2016

Erotic Lure Newsletter: Summer 2016

Dear Doyennes of Decadent Delights,

Welcome to the July edition of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website. Summer has officially arrived, and here at ERWA, we’re turning up the heat. Time to strip down, boot up, and follow me for a lazy ramble through some of the juiciest spots on the web. (Try not to be distracted by my naked booty. After all, it’s hot out...!)

In the Erotica Gallery, we’ve got five Awesome Authors to keep your mind (and maybe your hands) busy. They’ll take you from steamy Africa to windy Scandinavia, a prison cell to the family living room, with every stop a lusty new adventure. Our Storytime contributors offer up more sexy fiction (plus some clever poetry), with tales of the sweet hereafter, the bitter fruits of pride, and the tangled webs desire weaves.

Savor words that sizzle:

Hopefully youll get some time off this summer. If you need beach reading, weve got you covered. (Or should that be uncovered?) Our new, expanded Books for Sensual Readers section offers hundreds of choices for the erotica aficionado. Like short stories? Check out Strokes by Delilah Devlin, Alison Tylers The Big Book of Kink, or one of the featured Excite Spice themed boxed sets. (Dont worry, they only look heavy!) If you prefer something longer, scroll through our huge list of erotic novels. My pick for this month is Taint, by S.L. Jenning, a taboo-busting tale of a sex tutor whoturns housewives into whores.

For those of you who crave a happily ever after, weve got dozens of erotic romance titles, including Fionna Guillaumes Not So Square, with its deceptively ordinary accountant hero, and Giselle Renardes shocking and arousing Two Complete Strangers. Youll find plenty of LGBTQ erotica and romance, too. I marked R.A. Thorns Untethered for my TBR list, a historical romance about a gay Air Force pilot during WWII. On the FF side, Ive been wanting to read Ily Goyaneswidely acclaimed anthology Appetites: Tales of Lesbian Lust since I first heard about it. I can also recommend—personally!—my lesbian fantasy The Witches of Gloucester, which is reviewed in this edition by Bob Buckley.

One of the great things about the e-publishing revolution is the new availability of many previously out-of-print erotic gems. In our Classics pages you’ll find everything from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs to Portia da Costa’s The Devil Inside.

This is only a small sampling of the books we list. And every single one can be yours with a few clicks of your mouse. If you do decide to satisfy your craving for any of these titles, please use our affiliate links. Everything you buy via those links helps keep ERWA gloriously free!

Feed your erotic imagination:

When you’re in the mood for something visual, head over to our Adult Movies section. Headlining this edition is Adam & Eve’s newly released feature “Babysitting the Baumgartners”, based on the best-selling novel by our very own Selena Kitt. Once you’ve snagged your copy, (you know you want it!) check out our list of twenty five other “must-have” porn features. From classics like Marilyn Chamber’s “Insatiable” to curiosities like “The Uranus Experiment Trilogy” (billed as offering the world’s first zero gravity cum shot), you’re bound to find something—um—stimulating! We’ve assembled recommendations in many categories: porn for women, porn for couples, best-selling porn... Hey, we’ve done all the hard work (and I use the word “hard” advisedly). All you need to do is watch and enjoy!

Get graphic:

In this edition’s Sex Toy Playground, we highlight toys for men, including a wireless vibrating thong to make him squirm and a Fleshlight that’s an anatomical copy of super-star Anikka Albrite’s luscious pussy. Don’t worry, ladies—we have goodies for you, too. How about a pair of Nipple Play Pleasurizers? Or the Kgoal Smart Kegel Exerciser? Working out was never so much fun!

Toys that aren’t meant for kids:

Inside the Erotic Mind, we have a lively debate about the possibilities for long-lasting ménage/polyamory relationships. The general consensus: not easy but worth the effort. Come share your opinions and experiences. Just click on the Participate link to contribute your thoughts.

Musing about some other sexy topic? Check out the other, on-going forums in the sidebars. Our visitors are discussing everything from blasphemy to cybersex. Add your voice!

You’re in good company Inside the Erotic Mind:
Remember that ERWA is for erotica readers and writers. Of course, many of us play both roles. Whether you are a newbie author or a veteran, you’ll find information and encouragement in our Authors Resources section.

We offer up-to-date listings of submissions calls, contact information and guidelines for more than three dozen publishers; links to editors, cover artists, marketing companies and other author services; and much more. The ERWA Archives link gives you access to articles on the craft and business of writing, dating back as far as 2006—book and toy reviews, too!

If you are a publisher or provide author services, use our handy form to tell us about yourself, and we’ll get you added to the page!

And while I have your attention, authors, let me invite you to join the ERWA Writers and Storytime private email lists. On the former list we discuss writing-related topics such as research, language, publishing tips and ways to handle burnout. The latter is an on-line critique group for posting and receiving feedback on stories, flash fiction, poetry and novels-in-progress. Storytime submissions are also the source of our Erotica Gallery stories, flashers and poems. Sound like what you’ve been looking for? Just click the link on the Authors Resources page to subscribe.

Expose your fantasies to the reading world:

Find the treasures in ERWA’s past:
Well, we’ve reached the end of my tour of site highlights. I’ll leave you to explore the many other delights of the new edition on your own. Just don’t do it at work!

Meanwhile, I’m going to take a dip in the pool, then spend the rest of the afternoon naked in the hammock with an appropriately steamy book. Ah, summer!

Salaciously yours,

P.S. If you’d like to be added to my VIP email list, just drop me a note: lisabet [at] lisabetsarai [dot] com. Every month I do an exclusive contest, just for my VIP readers.