Conference season

I don’t know if it’s the time of year, or if these things happen year round, but I’ve noticed several agents talking about conferences and workshops lately.

The problem is, they almost never seem to name which ones they’ve been to. I’d love to see an agent write a post with a round-up of the biggest and best conferences around. I know about RWA’s annual conference, but how do you find out about others? Through RWA networks? Writers’ groups? Google searches (tried this one and wasn’t very successful). And how do you know whether a conference is right for you and worth spending money on if you don’t have an inside source saying whether a certain conference has been well run/helpful/a complete shambles?

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Questions to ask your manuscript

If you do get a critique partner (or, say, you have a wonderful PhD-candidate husband who’s studying literature and who looks at your last post lamenting the lack of a critique partner, and says in his most sympathetic voice: “I’ll be your critique partner”), what exactly do you get them to comment on?

It seems to me that it’d be handy to have a list of criteria agents and editors use to judge whether a manuscript is worth taking on. I’m sure this will be different for every agent and editor to some extent, but there must be certain questions that guide their decision-making process.

My initial thoughts are:

1. Are characters drawn realistically enough, or do they feel flat and one- or two-dimensional?

2. If they are realistically three-dimensional, are there any scenes or pieces of dialogue where they let themselves down and start to sound manipulated?

3. Are there scenes where your mind starts to wander to your to-do list? If so, how could I jazz the scene up or improve its structure?

4. Does the conflict help build tension, or is the story arc too flat?

5. Are there any scenes that seem to come from left field, in an unpleasant way?

What do you think? Do you have a list of questions you and your critique partner use to guide your discussions? If you’re an agent or editor, do you have set questions you ask yourself about manuscripts you receive?