Monday, July 31, 2017

What I Learned at Yale

I got a great suggestion via Twitter to share what I learned when I was at the Yale Writers Conference in mid-June.  Sorry this is coming so late, but there has been a lot going on this summer!  First off, I have to say, this was probably the most impressive conference I have ever been to (not a surprise).  I was so bowled over by the quality of the writing that I saw in pitch sessions and the detailed questions asked during the panel.  There were a few questions in particular I thought would be really helpful to share with you!

What is more important: voice or plot?
One attendee asked which of these things was more important.  The answer is that both are essential to crafting an excellent manuscript!  However, in terms of what you can work on improving with your agent and editor, it is MUCH easier to fix problems with plot than problems with voice.  Voice is something (to a certain extent) that can't be taught.  In my opinion, it's also harder for agents to pin down.  I can easily tell where a plot is weak and think of suggestions to fix it, but if the voice isn't quite right, it is harder for me to advise an author on how to change that.

As a side note, when I was listening to pitches at the conference, there was one pitch that I wasn't fully excited about plot-wise, but when she read me her opening paragraph, the voice was so incredible that I immediately changed my mind!

How important is genre distinction?
Another thing that came up is the important of getting your genre right when querying.  This is something that we thought was not essential.  You don't want to be wildly off the mark and call yourself book club when you are literary, but if you're worrying about the distinctions between literary and women's fiction, you don't need to panic when querying.  It is something, however to discuss with your agent once you have one, since the way you decide to brand the novel will determine what kind of editors will look at it.

How important is having your writing published in literary magazines, etc. and how often do you find authors this way?
This is such an interesting question and one I had an awful answer to.  Having your writing published in journals or online can be a great way to build an audience and your platform (my author Nicole Trilivas first had her work appear on Wattpad and was a Marian Keyes contest winner), although is not essential for fiction writers to do this.  I have personally reached out to self-published authors, such as my author (and NYT bestseller!) Suzy Quinn, but it's something that I only do once in a blue moon.  

So if you're planning on submitting your work to magazines or publish it on online, keep in mind that you'll most likely still have to do the legwork when it comes to finding an agent.  We're a pretty busy group and even though it's the smart thing to do, many of us don't have time to scour these places to look for new clients.  

There were some other standard questions about agenting and our role in the publishing process that I won't share, but I hope these were interesting and helpful to read about!  If you have any questions about the conference or questions in general, let me know in the comments section with hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!


  1. I wish I could have attended the conf, but you covered some interesting points.Voice vs plot is a good one. It took me a while to understand what my voice was and now I know it's an innate trait. Good to know if an agent loves my work enough she/he will help with "perfect" genre classification. Great post, Carrie.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Carrie. Even as recently as when he wrote "On Writing," Stephen King insisted that publishing in journals/mags/etc. was super important. All well and good, but writing, polishing and submitting short stories is extremely time consuming, especially for us slow writers, and has gotten kind of expensive, with an ever-increasing number of outlets charging a $3 "reading fee." I wonder how much of the short story reading audience shifts over to buying novels when those authors do get published.