The Submissions Challenge Month Four, in which I get more positive overall results. A list of four things I’ve learned so far through this process.

submissions challenge month 4The fourth month’s challenge, in which I decided to submit 30 stories in 30 days, was the most intense of all the challenges yet.  I can now report the stats:

I submitted 21 pieces to journals of various types.

Also, I submitted my novel query to 11 agents.

My results:

One literary journal acceptance! Also:  one agent request for a full of my manuscript.

Nine rejections, four with kind notes or invitations to resubmit.  Twenty items from the challenge remain in submission, along with a dozen or more previous subs.  The full of my manuscript was rejected after two weeks. However, the agent gave me some helpful advice and was quite cordial.

How do I feel?  I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

I went back and read my entire #submissionschallenge thread.  Seeing that I’ve gotten faster and stronger on submitting is really encouraging.  Important learnings in the last four months:

1) Sources for markets:  submittable, literistic, duotrope, and blogs which list magazines winning the Pushcart Prize such as this linked post at TheJohnFox.

2) You might want to consider paying for submissions since the economics of the situation have changed.  Then again, maybe not that often.

3) Multiple submissions, yes. It’s okay, really. If a piece isn’t submitted to four markets, the process of submitting, for me, is not complete.

4) Editors and agents are real people and they love literature as much as you do.  And yes, they are reading what you send them.  Perhaps the best introduction you can give as a new writer is that you know of their work and respect it.  I found this out by including what I appreciated about the literary magazines I was researching and by including details gleaned largely from @twitter in manuscript queries.

Free submission trackers along with a couple you have to pay for

How and by what do you track your submissions?  Personally I want to track progress by which piece I sent, what response I received, how many pieces are out right now, how many pieces are finished, and how many are unfinished.

Long ago I created a paper filing system I called “The manuscript stable” which was supposed to show which stories were in development, which were done and which were out on submission by the folder colors and their position on a shelf. It sortof worked. Meh.

Today, I want something that goes on my computer. I have investigated and categorized the trackers into two types, free and paid.  So, here goes:

FREE SERVICES THAT INCLUDE SUBMISSION TRACKING

These are the free submission trackers I’ve discovered:

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The Submission Grinder

This one is geared toward spec fic writers. You can add markets that aren’t in their database, but there’s plenty in there already: close to 7000, according to the site.  You can keep records of when you submitted, what you submitted, how long it’s been out, and if it’s rejected or accepted … and the site logs and displays your responses.  If you get an acceptance, you get a shout-out.  Logging your subs here, then, might be the quickest and cheapest, but also the most public method.

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The Triple Tracking Method — as published in Writers Write: This is a helpful discussion of the submission tracker construction process, in which the writer tells how to make your own tracker on Microsoft Excel.There’s a good discussion of why we track our submissions and what we hope to gain by doing so.  A workmanlike approach and one you can adjust to your own needs.

Write Life Submission Tracker image

In another similar post from The Write Life, the submission tracker is geared toward the working freelance writer who wants to earn money.  “Successful writers have learned how to tweak their spreadsheets to make them more useful and efficient, and to better support their work,” says Alicia de los Reyes, the author.  She tells you how you can create a speadsheet on Excel or use one they’ve provided (image above).

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Submittable — This one generates itself as you submit to the website’s managed journals which, whether you like it or not, currently account for about 2 out of 3 literary magazines. Unfortunately there is no way to put non-Submittable submissions in it, so although it’s free and automatic, it is only supplemental. I predict, however, that if you’re submitting to lit magazines, you’re going to be referring to this one often.

WritersDB.JPGThe Writer’s Database  — This one you have to enter all your own information, including in many cases your markets, but once you’ve entered the info, the analysis provided is pretty extensive.  Some markets you submit to may have already been added by other writers.  It’s simple, it’s free and it also includes some interesting charts such as how many words you’re writing per day. Allows you to group markets by tags, which means you can categorize by market type, etc.

 

Submission Tracker 2I’m uploading my own Color Coded Submission Tracker as well, which is a little different.  In particular, it uses color coding to simplify the spreadsheet so you can quickly see how it’s going for each story.  Dark brown, rejection, repeatedly might suggest you take another look at a piece, while another one, with lighter “rejected, personal,” or “no response” squares, suggests that it received a softer landing.

PAID SERVICES THAT INCLUDE SUBMISSION TRACKING

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The Duotrope submission tracker features various types of analysis, including this one, clipped from their list of the “most challenging” 100 markets (lowest acceptance rates.)

Duotrope:

Duotrope is mostly a search engine for markets. You can find quite a few good markets there, including both those which pay and those which don’t.  Allows you to track deadlines, and blacklist and whitelist markets.

Perhaps the most interesting Duotrope function is where they track the acceptance/rejection rate of various markets.  This could be useful if you feel it helps you make decisions about where to sub.

The submission tracker is certainly effective, adding data such as the amount of time a market takes to respond on average. It is difficult, however, to look at individual pieces, how many times they’ve been out, what the response was, etc. At $5 per month it’s a little pricey.

Other possibilities:

You can use Trello to track submissions.   I looked over the boards, but it looks to me as if it’s more for the person who uses Trello to organize their whole life, in which case, you know who you are … also there is an app you can use on your iphone which looks quite serviceable, costs $7.99, but my phone is an android, so I couldn’t investigate further.

 

It didn’t take very long for me to get ticked off at paying for submissions

Yeah, I have to admit.  The first month I decided to try it, I spent $73, most on entering three contests, which do tend to be pricey, but the rest on those $3 Submittable submission fees.  And after doing it, I didn’t feel as good as I hoped. 

The stats on the paid for subs aren’t really promising, yet, either, although I have yet to hear from most of them: 


Paid subs:  8, one rejection, 7 still out.  That’s 13% rejection, and 87% still in submission. 

Unpaid subs:  28, 5 rejections, one requested manuscript, 22 still out.  That would be:  17% rejection, 4% acceptance (count manuscript request as acceptance) and 79% still in submission. 


The contests still haven’t been called, and they could be a big deal, or no deal, but at this point, the pay-for-subs plan is still unproven.

As for my emotional response to putting almost my whole allowance in the submission payments pile, well, that’s just one more hurdle faced by being a writer.  As is Monday morning ennui. 

Need to get up and go to the library. 

How will I know whether it’s time to send the Manuscript out? And what will I do once it is?

Since I started querying my novel last week, I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends on twitter and everywhere else too about the querying process, when you should send out you book, how many people should you query at a time, how long might it take, how will you feel, and how will you know if this is the final edit, the final agent, etc … it’s left me with the feeling Whitney Houston sings about in her famous song:  How Will I Know?

I found a blog post on The Debutante Ball this morning by Martine Founier Watson, debut author of 2019, who tells us of her own experience of getting an agent, including within the post all those intangibles (not how to write a query, but how to get the fortitude to send one out, for example) that you and I need to know to keep querying and keep revising.  I heartily recommend this blog post.  I have read a lot of blogs about writing and this one really delivers the goods. 

Thank you Martine!


Book Review: Memoir: Ruth Wariner gives us a family portrait of polygamy

The Sound of Gravel, Flatiron Books, 2015.

It’s dark outside and in at the beginning of The Sound of Gravel.  The polygamous cult in which Wariner is raised, 200 miles south of Juarez, Mexico, is a land of rural beauty and grinding poverty.  Living off the land is not exactly working for the 30-odd families of LeBaron, the town in which author Ruth Wariner grows up. And some of the people who are living there, particularly the writer’s polygamous stepfather, seem a little short-handed in the conscience department.

Wariner’s doughty mother, with five children, two of whom have serious developmental delays, stressing the family’s scant resources, is deeply loved by her children.  But they do not understand why she repeatedly forgives her husband for taking her public assistance money, or beating her.

When the mother takes the children back to California to see her parents for a visit, the grandparents try to stop her from returning to her “marriage,” which, it is pointed out at various times in the book, is not a legal entity. She is the second wife and was married in the church only.

Wariner paints a scene between her mother and mother’s parents:  “Makes me sick to think about all those old men bringin’ so many little babies into the world,” Gramdma shook her head furiously. “All those little bastards runnin’ round all over the place with no one lookin after ’em–“

But this type of argument matters little to Wariner’s mother. Procreation is the highest goal for these polygamous wives of the Church of the Firstborn, a fundamentalist Mormon sect. Families of ten or twelve children are common.  And to procreate, you need a man.

Wariner’s mother returns frequently to a religious argument about the centrality of polygamy to the families at LeBaron. If you don’t live polygamy, God is going to deny you the pleasures of the afterlife.  For her, there is no real question of leaving her situation, despite the poverty, violence, abuse of children and women and safety issues that plague the family.

As the story unfolds, the reader is drawn in with sympathy for the mother and her brood. And yet the conclusion that the sorrows and hardships the children face are mostly created by their parents is unavoidable.

Because I believe this book is eminently worth reading, I will not give details that would spoil the high drama of this memoir, but I will say that, like Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, the book is almost as much a historical document as a personal story.  The fact that people voluntarily live as these people must to survive and rebel against “Babylon” (modern American values, such as TV, packaged breakfast cereal, and building codes) is a study on human nature.

If you’ve ever driven past a trailer park with derelict cars outside, and wondered how this happens to people, you might read this book.

For me, one of the most poignant images of the entire story is Wariner’s mother reading a romance novel, which she apparently did frequently.  The idea emerges in the reader’s mind that this woman felt that the only way she could get love was through her plural marriage. Desire for sexual love and romance is further suggested by the resentment of plural wives over where their husband visited on any given night, or who’s the “favorite” at the moment.

What emerges then is a resounding question:  Are there some family structures and belief practices that are just wrong? Secondarily, is this type of cult behavior a sub-variety of addiction?  Wariner’ story leads one to conclude that she thinks polygamy is morally destructive from its inception.  That’s the conclusion I think most readers will draw as well.

Should he give up writing? Not so fast, colleague …

ABC_man_overboard_cruise_ship_sr_140116_16x9_992I was reading Twitter last night when an unusual tweet showed up on my stream.  It was a cry of despair, it appeared, and reading it, I had the sensation of a being passenger standing at the rail of on an ocean liner, looking out over the sea and seeing someone in the water, waving frantically to be seen before it was too late.  The tweet was:

“See you later everyone. I’m giving up writing officially. It’s going nowhere. As a hobby it’s a waste of my time if I can’t survive off of it. I’ll be around for another fifteen minutes before I delete my Twitter … “

Man overboard! I thought.  I tweeted back, “I hope you’re kidding … ”

“Nope. It’s a complete waste of my time. No one besides my mom, my brother and two other people (hyperbole) have read my book or cares … “

Oh my gosh.  Yeah, I know.  It’s tough, the rejection, the indifference, the feeling that what you’re doing *ought*  to be getting more attention than it is.

I know. My ego, too, has at times been pulverized, my self-image, regularly diminished.  And yet.

I replied: “I understand.” I wrote:

“Just tonight, I was wondering: what if I just publish a couple short stories, and nothing else, what then? And I thought: well, what else was I going to do with my time? Knit socks? Ride horses? “

I mean, writing is easy and cheap compared to riding horses.  And I prefer, on average, writers as good-time companions to riders.

I tell myself I have to adjust my perspective. Writing is a lifelong journey.  I think most of us intellectually accept that there are no guarantees, in writing as in elsewhere in life, but we have to accept this emotionally as well. I have a vision of the work I want to complete, but I don’t get a guarantee that my vision will be fulfilled.  I wonder every day if by wanting to be a novelist and see my book read by thousands, I am not suffering from grandiosity of a clinical nature.

I said to my daughter, “I want everyone to fall in love with Carl (my WIP’s hero).”

She didn’t say “You’re out of your mind,” but I think her eyebrows did rise a bit. Meanwhile, I vacillate between confidence and self-doubt. A year ago I told my husband, Leo, that I was in despair because I wasn’t sure I could ever be the Writer I Dreamed of Being.

Leo, who has again and again in my life given me good answers to seemingly intractable questions, said “Look, you write, you always write, whether you journal or you direct your energy towards publication. So why not work to realize your vision? You’ll be writing anyway. Try to make something of it.”

He then went on to tell me the story of Nietzsche, the great German philosopher and classicist, who was rejected by the professors of his day because his ideas were, let us say, a little too progressive. He came up with, among other things, the idea of the Ubermensch and the Death of God, which while controversial have become worldwide philosophical koans after his death. But Nietzsche didn’t live to see his work become canonical. He never made any money out of it.  When he died, his books were published in vanity press editions only. No paying editor would touch them. There was just one professor in the entire world who was teaching Nietzsche’s philosophy.  That one man told him he was a genius but the rest of his colleagues said he was an idiot, or worse, irrelevant.

This discussion with Leo made such a mark on me that I can remember it a year later, and since then I have never stopped trying to be the writer I dream of.  I have also come to believe, as I look at the world, that as education expands, and the world expands, there are more readers than ever before, and therefore, there is room for more writers than ever before.  So I think that as I do not allow myself to quit, my twitter friend should not quit, and neither should the readers of this modest blog, almost all of whom, I think, are writers as well.

I concluded my communication with a tweet that for me is the end of the discussion:

“At the end of the day I think the majority of the joy is in the writing itself not being published.” I should qualify that by pointing out that I’ve had work published — short form only, not books — hundreds of times.  So I’m not guessing.

Now that does not mean that I don’t do everything I can to write work that will satisfy my greater vision. It does mean that I understand that as Mr. Spock said, “No man can summon the future,” and I can’t force a solution.

I noticed that this morning my fellow writer who had neared despair was back at work and wrote that he had composed another 1000 words.  I commend all writers on their many journeys. May you all be read, and far more and far longer than you expect in your darkest moments.

Nietzsche certainly was.

 

 

Online Memoir Summit from Village Writing School: Going on now, and it’s free!!!

All right, if you don’t have something to do this weekend, and you’re interested in Memoir and Creative Nonfiction, or you just want to listen to  some very cool and inspirational writing videos by some knowledgeable and admirably-published writers, MFA teachers, and industry insiders, here’s your gig.  And you don’t even have to pay for it.  Unbelievable.

What: Village Writing School Memoir Summit

When:  This weekend

Where: Your home computer

How: By Youtube video

Why: Because it’s the exact same type of presentation you get from going to a writer’s conference, without the travel time and the price tag of $100 to $400.

Marcel Proust on the writer’s creation of fiction through fact and memory, and also, incidentally, rejection

The move to Colorado has left me absolutely busted, financially and to some degree emotionally, even as I feeimg_20181104_0706181487267935.jpgl a sense of victory and liberation to relocate to “the freedom lands.”  To sooth my jangled nerves, I have taken up listening to a biography of Proust while knitting.  Although admonished by a Facebook friend that doing so was “ like [reading] a Cliffnote’s version of A La Recherche du Temp Perdu (more conventionally known as Remembrance of Times Past).” I couldn’t find a full copy of the famous memoir-novel for free online listening, so I had to make accommodations.

The act of knitting while listening to a book is both relaxing and an extreme meditation on the writing.

Important writer’s knowings from Proust:

  1. “An I that is not I:” Proust created this formula for his masterpiece. It was at the time a new innovation.  First person narrators had been used before, such as by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre, but it seems that no one had yet created what I might called a semi-memoir:  A work which is partly factual, and partly fictional.
  2. Finding material: Proust handily changed a young man, Albert, into a young woman, Albertine, for the purpose of his love story.  Masking real people into characters, he combined others and renamed still others, basing whole families of characters on their real counterparts.  The anger and objections of people involved were predictable. Yet in this way he was able to write the semi-memoir and claim it to be fiction. It seems few were fooled.
  3. Rejection.  Proust was devastated when the first part of his work, Swann’s Way, was rejected by the foremost French publishing house of avant-garde works at the time.  But it seems the rejection was personal: the editor had met Proust and was offended by his social climbing and his dilettantish ways as a young man.  Thus the work didn’t get an unbiased reading.  This rejection occurred even though Proust proposed to pay for the publication. Proust was crushed and had to go with a newbie publisher.  This reminds me of how much matters extraneous to the work, such as personal impressions and thematic or subject specifics, can impact the reception of one’s writing.

Perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody’s Freddy Mercury is not gay enough for critics …the movie was great all the same

bohemian-rhapsody-2018-us-posterI almost didn’t go to see the new Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.  As the DJ said on the radio yesterday as I drove home, “the reviews are mixed.”  But now, after watching it, and being thoroughly moved, especially by the second half, I went back and re-read the iffy reviews.  What could the real journalists out there have disliked?

Steve Rose in The Guardian complains about Egyptian actor Rami Malek’s prosthetic teeth (they were a bit distracting) but most saliently takes issue with the claim that Mercury’s break with the band had to do with him “getting with the wrong crowd.” That rhetorical line apparently isn’t okay because the crowd in question were certain gay men.

Meanwhile, A.O. Scott at the New York Times called the film “A baroque blend of gibberish, mysticism and melodrama,”and “a plodding, literal-minded, conventional affair” in which “Freddie’s love affair with Paul Prenter is … a nightmare of debauchery, addiction and exploitation, with Freddie in the role of corrupted innocent.” I’m not sure, again, but it sounds like the script took the wrong angle in portraying its gay lead character?  Perhaps Scott is afraid the viewer will assume that only gay men can lead their lovers into nightmares of debauchery?  If so, I suggest that he give straight lovers more (or less) credit … anyway, nightmares of debauchery are routine for rock stars.

According to Owen Glieberman for Variety, the movie is “a conventional, middle-of-the-road, cut-and-dried, play-it-safe, rather fuddy-duddy old-school biopic” which “treats Freddie’s personal life — his sexual-romantic identity, his loneliness, his reckless adventures in gay leather clubs — with kid-gloves reticence … ”

Finally, Guy Lodge, also of Variety, wrote on Twitter, “If you’re not bothered by the de-queering of Freddie Mercury’s story for mass entertainment purposes, well, great … ”

In other words, according to some of the cognoscenti, the movie’s Mercury wasn’t “gay enough.”

I think this misses the point.  We all know he was gay. Really openly gay.  That yellow spandex suit he wore on stage kinda gave it away.  But this movie is not for rock journalists, or people who want a Master’s and Johnson type dissection of someone’s sex life, it’s for people who love Queen’s music.  I saw these people in the other seats at the theater today, watching a 3:40 matinee, thoroughly soaking in the story of a band and their art, a music heritage which enlivened and colored our childhood and young adult years.

Everyone who was alive back then remembers the story: Freddy was one of the gay men who contracted AIDS before much was known about it and died before effective treatments were discovered. He had a girlfriend he left for the gay life, he had a bunch of cats.  But what we came to the theater for was the humanizing touch that had been denied Freddy, most importantly because of his strong desire for privacy during his life.  Let’s be honest: even if he had been more open, his story might not have had a fair hearing much before now.

We already knew the band’s music, and we already knew that there was quite of bit of genius to go around.  What we get from the movie is a view of a musician whose greatness and downfall has shades of Achilles, of Greek tragedy.

Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddy gives us a closer view of the artist we have admired from afar.  Honestly I don’t know how much more fair or more comprehensive this portrayal could have been without making the movie a miniseries.  We are given a passionate young artist who finds collaborators and pursues his artistic vision while struggling with his own identify. We find ourselves in the 70’s with conventional parents who wear suitcoats or dresses, small clubs with a bar stand in the corner, and then almost overnight we’re in huge sold out venues.

Isn’t that real life, though, when you’re in a superstar rock band?

There are moments that are so 70’s that if you weren’t there, you won’t understand. One white leather jacket of Freddy’s prompts the comment “you look like a Frilled Lizard,” and he does.  The corrupt, artistically tone-deaf studio execs, the band members becoming a family without rules and without blood relationships ring true.  Freddy doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, least of all Mary, his girlfriend, but he’s unable to deny his attraction to men. This is an old story and a very 70’s story. But it’s presented honestly and earnestly and I think the movie makers deserve credit for putting this on record for a wide audience. Apparently it’s largely true to the characters and to the facts.  If that’s “fuddy duddy old school” or “too much like Spinal Tap” I wonder what the reviewers would have preferred?

Meanwhile, if Freddy’s lover Paul Prentis became a stock caricature — the false friend who nearly costs you your integrity — that might not be a weakness in the movie. Archetypes are archetypes. We remember false friends, and cheer as Freddy leaves Prentis and walks off into the rain. At least I did.

An artist of Freddy’s caliber deserves a biopic that emphasizes his gifts and his successes.  They were monumental and beyond diminishing at this point. I’m sorry if in this movie he was not gay enough for you, Guy Lodge, but he was gay enough for me.

Most of us in the theater are just people who bought those vinyl records back when they came out. If you’re a Queen fan of any type, unless you’re a rock historian or an activist of some sort who can’t bear a somewhat soft edged and glamorized retelling of the story of a rock martyr, then go see the movie about Queen and Freddy Mercury.

 

 

Write a synopsis: 7 prominent bloggers tell you how

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The empty page is even scarier when starting a synopsis …

Just when I thought it was smooth sailing to get starting on pitching agents about my novel, I realized that there was one step I had so far skipped: rewriting the synopsis.  My heart fell to my very shoes.  Dusting off my old synopsis for this WIP, I quickly realized it wasn’t very good.  So, off to the blogs:  Thank God, my writer colleagues were there waiting to help me. And they’re there for you too, if you’re so inclined.

 

1. How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel I put Graeme Shimmin’s post about writing a synopsis first because he gets it with humor: this writing thing is as emotionally fraught as it is all-consuming. Finding out that after you’ve finished your novel that you’ve got to write a synopsis is not just bad news, it’s downright painful.  His linked blog on archetypes, based on the famous writer’s tome Hero’s Journey, is also useful reading.

2. Jane Friedman is building on all that: The synopsis is probably the single most despised document you might be asked to prepare.  Make sure you detail the character’s motives and emotions. This is what really drives your story.  She gives a detailed list of what to include and what to avoid.  And a list of links on how to write the synopsis, including to Miss Snark’s 100 synopsis archive.

3. How to Write a Novel Synopsis with An Example Jericho Writers.  Well this has some indispensable formatting nuts and bolts, such as: Bold your character name. Write your synopsis from the bones up, from the novel’s structure. Tell what plot developments mean for your protag, what’s at stake, people! Comes with Agent Submissions Builder pop-up, which I can’t vouch for because I didn’t do it. You might take these people a little more seriously if I told you:  They’re from Oxford, UK. Real deep intellectual country.

4. Agent Carly Watters: How to Write a Book Synopsis  Five steps to writing your synopsis, and remember the character arc:  “A one dimensional main character will suck the air out of your manuscript’s tires.” Well said.

5.  How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel  by Glen C. Strathy.  (OMG he spells his name the same as my ex husband, but I’ll put his blog in here anyway.)  Go ahead and rush past the intro to the meat of this blog post, which details various elements including plot, character, relationship, and theme that your synopsis must have, and then continues to tell how to make a set of index cards which will, if not write your synopsis for you, make it significantly easier.

6. How to Write a Novel Synopsis According to novelist Pearl Luke, ” what you present must be a stirring distillation that leaves readers eager for more.”  Okay, I look at my own personal synopsis and think, I may not be there yet.  But there’s hope. Luke provides you with a very detailed plan, including writing a “major synopsis” (my term) 20 pages long that she says will be useful later in the marketing of your book, before whittling to a “minor synopsis” of less than five pages.  Also includes detailed formatting notes.  If you refer to this one and number 3 above you should have a pretty sound idea of how to format.

7. Learn how to write a synopsis like a pro by Courtney Carpenter.  No roundup of blogs about how to do anything writing would be complete without an entry from the venerable Writer’s Digest, which has been advising writers since before print went decisively digital.  This brief blog will give you critical synopsis vocabulary, and also a quick list of what to avoid. Unfortunately, just before they actually tell you how to write the synopsis, they instead recommend you buy a course for $79, by Jane Friedman, to get the pertinent details.  Jane Friedman’s blog post on the same topic, of course, is #2 on this list.  Having read quite a bit of Jane’s blog, I admit I would wholeheartedly like to see that webinar.  But given that my budget for writing development for November would be wholly subsumed in the purchase, and would leave nothing left for Submittable.com and contest entry fees, I will have to mortify my curiosity, and just write my synopsis based on the blog posts I’ve summarized.