This was my second year attending Hippcamp in Lancaster, PA, and I was just as impressed as the first time. If you get the chance to go, do, especially if you are local--but there were attendees there as far away as Singapore!
Last year, I shared a resource for submitting to literary magazines. This time, I thought I'd share little snippets from my notebook-- the best resources and tips and tricks learned from the conference. This isn't, of course, everything, but it's the stuff I decided to write down.
Without further ado:
Tips on query letters/pitching (from a panel of agents):
- Your query letter is a like a cover letter for a job, nothing more and nothing less.
- You want to include the hook, the book, and the cook: something to capture the agent's attention, brief info about your book, and info about you (social links, previous pubs) and how you are planning to market the book.
- The agent shouldn't need to scroll to read your query email. Keep it short.
- A "no" from an agent could mean a "no" from the agency, so you don't want to risk rejection just because you sent your query to the wrong agent. Wrote a memoir? Make sure it gets to the agent who represents memoir. Do your research.
- For fiction, no unfinished manuscripts!
- You can submit to some small presses without having an agent.
- Good hashtags to follow are #claqueries (every Weds.) and #mswl (manuscript wish list) where agents post what they are looking for.
- Ways to fail:
- Ignorance- You don't know your comp titles, you don't know your audience, and you don't read other writers in your genre.
- Ambition>Effort- By the time you pitch an agent, everything should already be in place, and you're simply giving the agent the opportunity to hop aboard a train that's already traveling full-speed ahead.
- Idea>Execution- Your execution should be simple and direct. Think of your pitch like a tweet, and give only the important stuff the agent needs to know.
If you're struggling with writing good dialogue, read these books:
- The Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
- Anything by David Mamet or Eugene O'Neill!
- Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
To learn from the magic of poets to make your own narrative better, read these:
- In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kawit
- Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Rueflein
- Writing poems by Robert Wallace
Mary Karr on what you need/ need to do to be a memoirist:
Carnal memories, memories that are physical and that come back to you via your senses. Sometimes this takes work.
Information and data about your topic.
Self discipline and faith.
Judge yourself more harshly.
The ability to move back and forth through time.
The ability to think and figure and guess and scheme.
Let the reader know what your standards of truth are.
Set emotional stakes.
Don't share how you suffer, share how you survive.
This list really doesn't do her keynote justice, but of course it doesn't. Another glimmer that I loved: She talked about the truth being like the hand on the banister in the middle of the night, a solid surface for the sleepwalker to grasp.
There was also a keynote session from David Cameron on productivity and also several takeaways for science writers--let me know if either of these topics interests you and I'd be happy to share my notes.