Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Questions to ask at a conference ms evaluation

Rather than pitch at an upcoming conference (having read your many posts on that topic), I've spent some dollars on a manuscript appraisal by an Awesome Agent which includes a 15 minute, one-on-one session with the agent at conference.

I'm trying to prepare some questions in advance and read the list of suggested questions to ask a prospective agent in Colin's collated Treasure Chest (thank you, Colin!), but they don't seem appropriate in these circumstances. I was wondering what you would suggest is appropriate to ask an agent during this sort of meeting?

The focus of this meeting is the state of your manuscript, not the specifics of representation. Your questions should be about the work.

First thing I'd want to know is how much did they read?
(often there's a page limit on these kinds of sessions: first ten, first fifty pages. Did they read all the pages?)

Second thing I'd want to know is what's not working.

Third thing I'd want to know is if they have suggestions for revisions on what's not working.

Fourth thing I'd ask would be if I'd gotten the category right in the query.

Fifth thing I'd want to know is if the story starts soon enough.

There probably won't be enough time to cover all of these but it's a start.

I don't know if the conference will let you do this, or if you have a friend you can ask, but you might consider bringing a note-taker with you to this session.  Hearing what's not working can be difficult. Paying attention, and taking good notes might be one too many things for you at that moment. Having a fellow writer there to take notes might be useful.  Make inquiries to see if you can do this. And of course, you'd return the favor to the other writer.

And things to not ask:
Did you like it?
Do you want to read the rest of it?
Is it publishable?

Let us know how it goes, ok?


Kitty said...

What about asking if OP can record the session instead of having a note-taker? Or is that a taboo?

Colin Smith said...

I was going to suggest the same thing Kitty suggested! If you have a smart phone, it'll probably let you record. Ask if the agent would mind if you record the conversation--unless that's a no-no?

And you're very welcome, Opie! I'll have to add these posts about conference questions/pitches to the Treasure Chest.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am stuck with pitch session. I did not see the manuscript evaluation thing as a possibility at my upcoming conference. Maybe it was and it was beyond my budget.

This sounds great, OP. Enjoy yoiurself. And yes Colin is a treasure. We keep him in the vault too.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

And things to not ask:
Do you like it?
Do you want to read the rest of it?
Is it publishable?

And something to not say:
So, ah, um, you didn't like it because you didn't read all of it, therefor you consider it unpublishable. Your outfit sucks, you have spinach stuck in your teeth, and your mama wears combat boots. Where's the bar?

Colin Smith said...

The questions about pitch sessions put me in mind of that song by The Heights. You know the one I mean?

How do you talk to an agent?
How do you make the most of your tab at the bar?
How do you talk to an agent?
It’s like trying to start a stalling car.

Or something like that... Maybe more like this. ;)

Unknown said...

In the interest of time, you might collapse a few of those questions into, "What could I do better?" Good luck!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: Great question.

And thank you, Colin, Keeper of (and Dweller within!?) the Treasure Box.

Craig F said...

To me the first question would be if the agent saw any potential in the story.

After that it is all details and details can always be ironed out.

Sherry Howard said...

This was helpful. I don't expect I'll ever use it with an agent at a conference, but what a great set of thoughts for people who ask what kind of feedback you'd like when they read for you.

Thanks, Colin, for putting this one where we can find it quickly.

And, even though we shouldn't ask, all we really want is the answer to that first don't ask question: Do you like it? Do you like me? Can we be friends?

Sarah said...

Every SCBWI conference I've attended had a first pages critique (normally 10-15 pages). I learned–and continue to learn!– so much from my critiques.

A question I never asked, but wish I had, was whether the pages were unique or not. I hit a point a while ago where my writing and structure moved from Hot Mess (a step up from Steaming Pile) to Pretty Good. But the story I was trying to tell wasn't unique enough to stand out within the genre.

Good luck OP! Can't wait to hear how it goes!

John Davis Frain said...

Regardless how many of your questions you're able to plow through, wouldn't your FINAL question be to ask for the order? Something along the lines of, once I make these revisions, I'd like to query you. Would you like to read it?

ABC. Always Be Closing! Excuse me while I go watch a snippet of Glengarry Glen Ross.

Claire Bobrow said...

Thanks for asking the question, OP. I have a conference coming up this weekend with two agent critiques, and I'll be putting Janet's advice into action. Good luck at your conference, OP - hope you get helpful feedback!

Steve Stubbs said...

I must be having a dumb attack, because I can't figure out why anyone would want to travel thousands of miles just to watch some stranger try to suppress laughter or looks of disgust while reading his or her unpublishable MS.

Why not just purchase a crit from Writer's Digest or Eileen Cook or some other crit service? Avoid travel costs. Avoid having to dress up (you can read bad news from an online service in your underwear.) Avoid having to listen to peals of laughter as someone else is getting eval'ed, knowing that, "Guess what, pal? You're next."

Claire Bobrow said...

Steve: sometimes a conference takes place just a few miles down the road. No travel costs! Second, I've had a few agent critiques in these situations and they definitely did not laugh (in my face). In fact, while these experiences were somewhat terrifying, they provided valuable feedback and a chance to ask a few questions of a real, live agent. I wore jeans and t-shirt, heard inspiring talks, and met lots of wonderful fellow writers. My two cents? Totally worth it.

BJ Muntain said...

I'd be very interested in knowing

1) What conference is this?
2) How much did the manuscript evaluation cost?
3) How much of the manuscript do they read for that cost?

That would be something to keep in mind the next time I'm looking for a new conference to attend. (Won't happen this year, but who knows what the future holds, right?)

BJ Muntain said...

Steve Stubbs: Because there is a lot more to a conference than manuscript evaluations and pitch sessions. You go for the conference itself. The others are icing on the yummy, delectable cake.

Lennon Faris said...

Oh how I love a good list. Thank you, Janet! And thanks, Colin for keeping this stuff together!

Sherry, I was thinking the same thing. Those 'do not ask' questions would be burning in my mind the whole time. If I ever get this opportunity, perhaps Janet's stern "DO NOT ASK" will be all that keeps them silent!

Morgan Hazelwood said...

Best of luck Opie, you've got a good set of questions ready, now!

Colin Smith said...

Since Opie mentioned the Treasure Chest, I'll take this opportunity to address a couple of questions asked of me by more than one person (does that count as FAQ?):

Q) Where is this "Treasure Chest"?

Q) May I link to it on my blog/website/email signature/wedding invitation?
A) Sure. But be aware that the Treasure Chest has a context: this blog. While I'm sure some of the lists and articles in the chest will be of general interest, there are some things in there that lose meaning outside of this little community (e.g., the Writing Contest Spreadsheet).

Q) Why isn't it linked on Janet's blog?
A) Janet does link to it when she posts a contest, but, you are correct, there isn't a perma-link. Why? I don't know. Ask Janet! ;)

Any other Qs?

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks for the list, Janet.

Opie and Claire: Hope things go great at your conferences.

OT: After seeing yet another one of those felt circle thingies come off the bottom of a chair at my house, guess what I brought up at dinner last night? Getting chair sox! Oh, the breadth of education we get here!

Julie said...

I'm hoping queries are never OT here.

I'm doing PitchWars. (Anyone else? Bueller?)

I haven't written a query in well over a year, and... (sob)... I think I may have forgotten how! (Hanging my head in shame). I'm picturing John Cleese popping up over the French Castle wall yelling "We've already got one!" but I can't use that old thing.

Oh, well. Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming...

BTW, BJ, I was just saying that I thought Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale had the bestest of last names. That's all. Knot Knowing what a Kneale was. I know what a Kneazle is...

See, this is why Gracie accuses me of "Super-Awkwardness." I think.

Anyway. Off to study Queries. There's a site I know.


Steve Stubbs said...

Claire Bobrow and BJ Muntain,

Thanks for your responses. I had no idea people granted an audience by agents dressed casually.

AJ Blythe said...

Steve, I travel to a conference every year (the furthest I've travelled was (if I can convert correctly) about 2200 miles - and worth every cent. There are so many reasons to go to a conference, and here are mine:

- to be in a roomful of people who 'get' you
- to be able to talk writing 24/7
- to attend workshops. I've attended workshops on every aspect of craft, industry, writing business and general knowledge eg poisons, body language, sociopaths, hand-to-hand fighting (Disclaimer: I write murder, not trying to commit one *grin*)
- hear industry professionals talk about the state of the industry (and have the opportunity to talk with them)
- see my critique group (and friends) in person
- and yes, to take the opportunity to pitch. I don't 'pitch' in the conventional sense (I hang at the Reef after all), but I take my query letter and I use the time to my best advantage.
- varying other opportunities. This year attendees had the chance to sign up for one-on-one 15 minutes sessions with Google, Draft2digital or Bolinda (at no cost).

Conference inspires me and injects me with enough enthusiasm to fix any flagging motivation or confidence for another 12 months. And I don't even attend a conference in my genre (there isn't one in Australia).

MA Hudson said...

Recording the conversation would be so convenient, but I imagine the agent would be very uncomfortable with it. A disgruntled writer could so easily take sound bites, add them to inappropriate images, and post them all over the internet. Old fashioned pen and paper isn't so threatening, unless you happen to be using a Quick-Quotes Quill, of course.

AJ Blythe said...

Janet, would doing something like this then mean you can't query the agent? Or could you still query because the ms will be (with luck) a better version, thanks to the agents feedback?

BJ Muntain said...

Ah, Julie. I understand now.

You see, I think Kathy's last name is the best because it starts with 'J', and it's the same J-name as the J in BJ might possibly stand for...

Peter Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Taylor said...

Many thanks, Janet and one and all. Good luck OP! I'm having 4 appraisals with editors at a local Conference in early September.

I go to one Conference for children's book creators a year, SCBWI Australia (expensive) which is biennial and this local one the alternate year. Both have manuscript critique opportunities - often from editors rather than agents and costing about $60US per appraisal. At the 20 minute one to one discussion time at the event, the editor has always provided extensive written notes and editing suggestions - absolutely invaluable to my learning process and understanding what changes to consider and how the person and their house function. I always ask at them if I might send the work to them in due course, after revision.

I have had one contract directly resulting from an appraisal and two works have been taken to acquisition after amending to the editors' tastes ...but the whole teams weren't so impressed. There have to be whole teams somewhere that like them!

Unlike the US, many Aussie publishers are open to direct submissions from authors, even HarperCollins and Penguin Random and the like, though it is still beneficial to have an agent for other reasons. And the normally closed publishers allow submissions from attendees.

By attending conferences regularly (over the last 14 years), having appraisals, drinking and eating and socialising with editors, hopefully they get the impression that I will be easy to work with when I do provide a work they like, will be open to editing suggestions and deliver on time. Also, When they receive a story from me, they will remember our interaction favourably and read with heightened anticipation. Some editors now greet me, buy me a drink and ask what I have written that they might like and what I have in progress ...and consequently one Big 5 editor has asked me to make sure I send my current w-i-p to them first when it's completed.

roadkills-r-us said...

The other plus to having a note taker (if you can't record) is that even if you have no problem processing it, having a record of specifics is handy but most of us can't take notes and listen full speed at the same time. Having someone else take notes lets you maximize the time AND have everything recorded. Assuming a good note, fast taker, of course.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Julie, I have always thought the last name Kneale was cool. It means "Champion".

Ergo: Heidi Kneale = "Noble Champion".

More on my last name, for those who care.