Good vanity packets are hard to do well: you have to make it challenging to the audience, and you have to make it accessible. I think the majority of vanity packets I have played has had errors in one or both of these categories.
Let's talk first about making it accessible. I think vanity packets are much more interesting if the giveaways are accessible. For my James Bond packet of 15 tossups or so, here were my answers:
If you'll notice, around 60% of the answers are on easy things with real giveaways. If you have only seen the Bond movies once, you can probably get 90% of these answers by the end. That was done on purpose, and people writing vanity packets should be doing it more and make it feel less circle-jerky.Motorcycles, New York City, hotels or motels, (sniper) rifle, Japan, Valentin Zukovsky, License to Kill, Wint and Kidd, Rosa Klebb’s shoe,. James Bond being tortured in Casino Royale, policemen or sheriff, Elliot Carver, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the fight scene in New Delhi or the fight scene in India
For ACFNATIONALS, a JRPG tournament, I knew that Rob Carson, Tejas Raje, and Dylan Minarik were probably the better players of the field, - I didn't think they have encyclopedic knowledge of JRPGs - no one does*, each one of them may probably only have beaten 20-30 RPGs that are longer than 40 hours – and the majority of those games are probably Pokemon and Final Fantasy. So I wrote the tournament from there. If you’re assuming that people can name a single character from Shin Megami Tensei II, or Ar tonelico III: The Girl's Song that Pulls the Trigger of World's Demise, fuck you! One thing that shocked me about ACFNATIONALS was that 35(!) people showed up for it. I think that’s partly because it was well advertised, but also because the tournament was designed to be accessible.
Now let's talk about making vanity packets challenging. I think it would be wise for more vanity packet authors to consider the knowledge base of their audience. For example, my Bond packet clued from the movies, games and books. I assumed that people had pretty encyclopedic knowledge of the films, and middling knowledge of non-Goldeneye games, somewhat deep knowledge of Fleming's books, cursory knowledge of non-Fleming books and wrote it accordingly. Therefore, if I were clueing from Raymond Benson's books, it would be a very superficial clue AND a leadin etc. I also wanted to find upper middle clues that were distinguishing, in my mind, reaching deeper and deeper into the Bond films isn’t really testing more knowledge. I think a lot of the packets that I have played don't adhere to this, and it's stupid.
For ACFNATIONALS, Billy, Andrew Wang and I wrote the tournament with common links so we could mix in clues from all games. So that meant clues from games that say, only 1/10-1/2 of the field has played (like say Final Fantasy XIII-2) could be sneaked in as middle clues without clobbering people.
One more thing about vanity packets and what people know. They are designed to bring a smile to people’s faces. Some of my favorite buzzes of all time include Mike Cheyne’s first clue buzz on Wint and Kidd, or Benji Nguyen’s first clue buzz on Friedrich Nietzsche in JRPGs; if you know about Final Fantasy X, the tossup on Shoopuffs was designed to bring a smile on your face (and it did!) Point is: the reason why vanity packets exist is that you can get what Billy Busse has called a “satisfying buzz” out of them. Writing your tossups in such a way so that there are no satisfying buzzpoints is one of the hallmarks of shitty (vanity) writing. So for example, a shitty tossup on say the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies might leadin with "The first commercial for this film shows X." Seriously, no one fucking cares unless it's otherwise memorable!
Lastly, I want to point out something about vanity packets. Part of the reason I have been able to get away with being so circle-jerky about RPGs is that I actually write a fuckton of good questions, and do other useful things for the quizbowl. Therefore, after say writing ACF Nationals 2015, I felt it was OK to be a weeb for a while. But, you’ll come off as less of a dipshit if you actually write good questions elsewhere in addition to your vanity packet. It’ll also make your questions suck less, since presumably you’ll actually have learned a thing or two about writing in general.
*For those of you who don't know how big the JPRG rabbit hole is and want an example: Consider the ~Persona~ series, a pretty well known series of JRPGs that is tier 2 famous: Persona 4 takes around 150 hours to complete completely, Persona 3 about 131 hours, Persona 2, about 52 hours, and Persona 1 about 80 hours. That's not counting Persona 5, which is coming out soon. Nor is it counting Persona's mother series, Shin Megami Tensei, whose games also take a long (hundreds of hours) time to beat. There's also a series of spinoffs called Devil Summoner ... and about ten more games of spinoffs that are all RPGs. Further case in point: Billy and I have been compiling a master list of all JRPGs in English on a private doc. All the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games take up four lines on a normal word document. Our document is over 7 pages long and we're still not done.