Advise Miss Snark

No sooner is conference season over then it's time to think about next year.

Usually agents are asked to present workshops at conferences. We all have our old reliable topics; Miss Snark's of course includes "Clue Gun Sharpshooting" and "Be Your Own Nitwit" but she's also looking for a couple new ideas.

Are there things you've not seen on workshop rosters that you'd want to know about?

Feel free to fling ideas left and right!


hollowaymcc said...

Author Website Strategies: whether or not to post stories already published in lit mags, how often to update blog, how to manage reader responses, how to score links, basic blog etiquette (i.e. keep Medea fantasies to oneself, don't diss editors?), and technical mechanics.

Maybe you already do this topic--I don't get out to conferences much.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

Clue gun sharpshooting. Giggle.

I'd love to know more on marketing after a book sells. I keep hearing how newbie authors get no marketing budgets, so it'd be cool to get ideas on what the author herself can do to promote the book.

desert snarkling said...

Living a balanced life while being a writer.

Whenever you talk about going out and looking at art you show that you have some sense of this.

Writers so often get wound up too tightly in their own little worlds. Ways to not forget to go out and live and stay sane while still pursuing this writing thing.

Homie Bear said...

You could do a workshop called "Every Agent's Worst Nightmare" with a companion seminar on "Every Agent's Best Dream". Which is probably what you all do anyways, in various guises.
How about looking ahead to some emerging trends in agentry and uhhh, clientry.

Anonymous said...

How about a workshop on scams?

While a lot of people get mad learning that poetry.com, professional editors, and MFA programs do not advance your career no matter how expensive they are, it would be nice to hear what's standard practice and what isn't.

Although that's kind of the point of this blog, heh.

retterson said...

Me? Well, I have a lot of questions about SASEs.

Everyone takes them for granted -- flings that acronym around like everyone's supposed to know it. (Makes a newbie feel real dumb when you pros do that, you know.)

Questions that might be addressed include:
* SASE pronunciation guide -- How do you say that ancronym? Is it "sase" like base" or "sassee" like Count Basie or S-A-S-E?
* Enclosing an SASE, Basic -- What to enclose it with/in?
* Enclosing an SASE, Advanced -- Where in the stack does the SASE go? On top? Behind the cover letter? Paper clipped or with the flap over?
* Folding the SASE -- One crease or two?
* Stamping your SASE -- Lick or stick stamps? Is it worth it to get a special theme stamp or is the run-of-the-mill flag one really good enough?
* Self-addressing Part 1 -- will the Post Office know how to find you if you just put "self" on the outside or should you use your own name, or your pen name?
* Self-addressing, Part 2 -- What does "self" really mean? Can you type instead or use one of those free address labels you got in the mail from a charity and never sent them money for? (Is it worth it to research the agent's favorite charities and use one of those?)

Easily an hour or two lecture there.

carlynarr said...

I've only been to one writers conference, so I'm no expert on what has or hasn't been presented, but I think a workshop on attention-grabbing first pages (of all types) would be immensely useful.

workingonadeal said...

So much emphasis in writing novels is on the first few pages. Sure, great beginning chapters get the attention of agents and editors. But no matter how great the start, a disappointing ending ultimately loses the deal. I'd love to see a workshop session with pointers on how to find a winning ending.

lindazbraden said...

How about a presentation on SASEs (Sorry-Assed Silly Explanations -- for Nitwits).

You could demo how to legibly print your name, address, etc. -- don't forget the zip code; affix the appropriately calculated post and then fold a #9 into a #10.

Seems to be a hot (and confusing) topic.


Stephanie said...

I wouldn't mind seeing a point by point critique of query letters of conference participants as you've done here.

Anonymous said...

Empress Snark,

"How a Chick Lit Writer Can Resurrect Her Career in a Rapidly Dying Market" might be a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, of the few conferences I've been to, the majority of classes offered haven't provided any content over and above articles you see in Writer's Digest or a basic writing class (e.g. Make Your Characters Come Alive -- just shoot me now).

What I'd like to see, and what I think an agent or editor would be in a fairly unique position to provide, given the volume of writing they read every day, is a class on "Dare to be Bad." In this workshop, the instructor would proffer those tips guaranteed to get one's manuscript moved into the "pass" pile, like "describe what your protagonist looks like by having her pass a mirror or storefront."

Maybe Miss Snark already covers this in "Be Your Own Nitwit." If so, I want front row seats at her next conference.

jimmy the hyena said...

Be your own demon. Nail gun sharp shooting (be your own Jesus). Your bedroom as the laboratory of the approaching apocalypse in which the works prefiguring the coming bloody flaming end will be elaborated.

Zany Mom said...

In reading over your past Crap-o-meter entries of queries and first pages, I personally loved the ones which, after several paragraphs of rambling, you bluntly pointed out: Your story starts HERE!

Very, VERY helpful!

And I agree on some endings. Does it have to be tied up neatly in a bow? Does it have to be so convoluted that only the reader who picked up every single dropped clue along the way will get it? Or does it just have to not be the obvious ending?

Anonymous said...

I'll second the 'living a balanced life as a writer'.

Dixie said...

How about one entitled "If You Must Crawl In The Box, Please Don't Close The Lid?"

The class could teach something that the Divine Miss S teaches here - that writers often do a poor job identifying their genre and get trapped in a cycle of querying the same group of agents who don't quite get their stuff.

I could imagine a discussion of genres and their characteristics and perhaps even a workshop where writers bring their query letters, complete except for genre, exchange letters and discuss. In addition to "guess the genre" a subtopic might be - how would you rewrite the first paragraph.

Of course, its always possible I'm the only one who suffered "genre confusion" until the Divine one pointed the way, but I make the suggestion in the unlikely event there are others who are (almost) as dim as me.....

The Queen-a Athena said...

I never see enough workshops on career planning - setting goals, nailing down precisely what you want to write, how far you want to go, planning for the unpublishedetc. I just did a workshop on this for my local RWA chapter and it was a real eye opener for a lot of people. I can only imagine how useful it would be coming from somone with a Snark perspective.

Alley Splat said...

Yep, a presentation on how to shoot yourself in the font/how to give your Ms an even chance would be invaluable, because there must be an awful lot of people out there still who haven't Seen the Snark, poor innocents.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think I'd settle for there just being a writers' conference in my country that I could go to.

Anonymous said...

Most of the stuff I see is about getting the agent and getting published for the first time. What about maintaining a writing career? Do you need to put a book out a year? What are some of the problems midlist authors encounter and what are some solutions to try? Assuming no bestseller, how do you build an audience? What about the genre hopping writer? To blurb or not to blurb (ethics, time, and good manners)?

Or a topic on hypothetical problems with a publisher and smart ways for the writer to handle them (aka when to call your agent).

Or smart business practices for the writer (aka when to call your agent, be polite to EVERYONE at the publisher, don't quit your day job, your agent's word is your bond, etc.)

Or the education of a new writer (aka preventing problems): what's the difference between the copyedited ms and galleys? What do these funky symbols on the ms mean? Why did the copyeditor change that (conforming to the publisher's standards)? Why you don't rewrite in the galley stage. Why it's important to meet deadlines. What do you do when your going to miss a deadline?

Basically what are the pitfalls for a published writer and how to avoid or climb out of the holes?

Shouga Tea said...

I always like things that expound the variables. Like, say, how those many housewives (and there are plenty published) make their career worth agenting. Or, how young people can make an asset of their youth without making an ass-jack out of themselves.
We know what the norm is. (Well, us superclued Snarklings do.) What about how to make your personal vagrancies work for, not against you in publishing?

December Quinn said...

Second, buffysquirrel!

kitty said...

Before I discovered Miss Snark, I didn't even know that I should find an agent. I thought agents would come to me after I had found a publisher. I would hear about people sending out their full manuscripts -- in boxes -- to publishers. I wasn't so much a nitwit as I was clueless.

With that in mind, how about a workshop titled "I've Written My Book. Now What?" Or has that been done to death?

PS: I heart Miss Snark, and her little dog, too :)

macadam said...

There is so much info now around the web and in books about query letters that I think any how to/spellcheck/get agent's name correct discussion of them is a waste of time and of participants' money. If someone can't find this stuff on their own, they are nowhere near ready to get an agent.

So what I think would be invaluable is a workshop where actual query letters are presented, from clients you have hired, which are used to show how one writer got one agent's attention. There is so much info how to theorectically write a query, but so little on actual successful queries.

If you could put together five or six queries to give attendees in a handout for different genres that you handle, oh man, that would be worth the price of admission and a martini to go.

LPA said...

I second Dixie... Figuring out genre is driving me nuts. Where's the line between literary and commercial? What exactly is "quirky/offbeat"? Is any commercial novel written by a woman automatically regarded as chick lit? Women's fiction?

retterson said...

Cross-Genre Dressing – When to Leave the Stilettos at Home

Genre Confusion – Face It, You Could Be Bi

Smart Enough to Write a Book, Too Witless to Get It Published – 100 Things We’ll Say That You Won’t Listen to Anyway

Manuscript Bonfires 101 – How to Recognize the Best Uses for Your 600-Page Manuscript

acd said...

I always enjoy hearing about the industry by the numbers--how much it takes to publish a book, how many of them break even, that kind of thing.

In the past you've mentioned that there seems to be a good-but-not-good-enough contingent of writers--the 85% to 95%--who are competent but just not stellar enough to make it. I'd love to hear any advice about breaking out of that segment, making ideas and prose shine, taking things one step beyond the capable into the extraordinary.

Maria said...

Query letters definitely--even just a list: Word count. Novel type. Don't say you're the next wonder of the world. SASE or you get thrown out. #10 envelope; you don't need your pages back. Two or three good examples, two or three bad examples if handouts are possible. Simply a link to a place people could go look at the examples later. A list of useful links: Miss Snark at the top...and then many of the other blogging agents.

What is hot in the industry right now?

The one other thing I would love, love, love is a QA. It seemed to me that agents all had speeches cleverly available--to an audience with wide experiences from none to published. These inevitably turned into lectures (and, well, not every agent is a good speaker.)

One conference I attended was willing to organize the questions beforehand (an email address where you could send in the questions.) They also took questions on a panel-like setup. The taking of questions at the conference didn't work quite as well. People didn't have time for a follow up, they didn't have time to organize their question and there were too many panelists for any amount of decent detail.

The reason your blog is such a treasure is that you take questions. You answer them. It's gold.

Anonymous said...

I third Dixie and Ipa.

Is my comic thriller more a comic mystery? Maybe it's an adventure-comedy. Perhaps it's NOT funny. Hmm. I know ... it's a cosy mystery - with humour!

As a comic thriller it's being rejected. It's a children's novel, and I'm now considering not mentioning genre, at all.

Brady Westwater said...

I agree with everyone on the value of Q & A - with one caveat. Have all the quesions submitted written on index cards.

That way you spare yourself - and the audience - the five minute 'questions' that are really pitches for their book and you can select the best questions first.

Anonymous said...

More workshops about climbing out of midlist--what it takes to make it as a career writer AFTER you've published. Newbie workshops are a dime a dozen, but there's little advice out there for published writers looking to advance their careers or kickstart them after a stall.

Desperate Writer said...

How about...

REJECTION LETTERS: Beyond the form letter, how to get a better, more deatailed letter that fills you with slight hope and not the feeling of eternal failure.

:) Seriously. I'm at the point that even a rejection letter that goes that one step beyond form letter would make me feel like I'm making progress. Don't get me wrong, I don't want one to just soothe my battered ego, I don't expect busy agents and editors to waste time placating me. I want to EARN a better rejection letter. I want to inspire an agent to want to mention something about my story or whatever back to me in my rejections. ;)

shelby said...

I definitely agree with the genre issue, and I really like the Q&A with pre-submitted questions.

I also would be interested in learning more about how we can improve our writing once you send us off to do so. Often people say, "go join a critique group" but how do you know if a critique group is being helpful? Every critique group I've ever been has been just as clueless , if not more, about good writing than I am. Some tips on what a worthwhile critique group looks like would be helpful. Though I don't know if that's the kind of question an agent can really answer, so take or leave.

Kim said...

I like the suggestion of a point by point critique of query letters - but I'd like to see letters that aren't so obviously awful. I know that they're real (can't make up some of the ones I've heard about at other conferences!), but I'd rather hear about letters that were thisclose, but not quite there yet. And Maria's suggestion about the pre-submitted questions definitely gets my thumbs up.

Of course, cluegun 101 might be entertaining - sort of a hands on where we get to fire the gun (or cannon) at various nitwits brought in for just such an occasion. (or would that be considered needless violence, even if it is in the name of Art?)

just a thought

Eileen said...

It might be interesting to have a panel of agents and discuss the author/agent relationship. Different agents have different relationships with clients. Some edit, some don't. Some like to discuss ideas re: new books, some don't. Some tell all, some don't. I don't believe many writers understand what agents do- how long the process takes (maybe a year in the life of a book?) and we don't always understand different agents approach their client list differently. If you want a good match- the writer needs to be honest about what they want/need. Perhaps a agent panel with established agents versus new.

Patrice Michelle said...

How about a class where the agent gives handouts answering the basic query letter/partial/synopsis questions so that the agent can spend the bulk of the "class" time discussing the types of questions the agent wished the attendees would ask. That way, those attending would get a feel for how that agent likes to work, ie what the agent feels an author should focus on when looking for an agent.