Im Thrilled!

Miss Snark, Is the term thriller widely taken to mean plot-driven, as opposed to character-driven? If so, how should a character-driven thriller be described in a query letter? (Rip roaring, page turning, keep you glued to the couch compelling fiction?)Your blog is sweeeet, as my twelve-year-old would say.

You let a 12 year old read this blog??? You should be kidnapped, bound, thrown in a dark cellar and the fate of the free world should rest on your safe return. Which brings me to "thrillers".

Being adverse to reinventing the wheel I simply lifted part of the definition of a thriller from
these guys who thrill me to bits.

Thrillers are known for their pace, the force with which they hurtle the reader along. They are an obstacle race in which an objective is achieved at heroic cost. The objective can be personal (trying to save a spouse or a long-lost relative) or global (trying to avert a world war) and often is both.

So a thriller is always plot driven, always fast, always a page turner. To distinguish YOUR thriller from the pack, you might talk about character instead of plot. Use some imagination too. No honey haired blondes with exquisite figures, and no mad scientists with bushy hair. Alan Furst makes heroes out of ordinary people. Harlan Coben makes heroes out of guys who live in New Jersey. Talk about brave.

Ten Percent of Nothing by Jim Fisher

Well Snarklings, this book about put Miss Snark in a coma.

It's the story of Dorothy Deering, who is unaccountably called a literary agent in the subtitle and in the book when in fact she is a total con artist, but never mind that.

If you want a cautionary tale about how people can scam writers, this is the book for you. Zip down to the library and check it out ($27 for a hardcover...Miss Snark is saving her money for a side trip to Italy when she goes to Frankfort).

There are some elements of humor too: the FBI agent comments all the letters of complaint are very well written!

The prosecutor in the case sums it up: "There is nothing more vulnerable than a vain writer".

The heroes in the story are Kimberly Reese who had a website called Write Connection, and Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss of SFWA (Ann posted a comment here on the subject of scam agents a couple days ago).

These women bravely told the truth about what was going on and created a forum for writers to tell their stories and find out they weren't the only ones. They were threatened with lawsuits, harrassed and even got death threats.

Dorothy Deering bilked people of thousands of dollars and stole millions. She ended up going to jail.

Snarklings, I know you want to be published. I know it's hard. I swear I do. But please, do your homework. Don't pay an agent. Don't pay a publisher. Ask what they've sold. Ask how long they've been in business. Look in the bookstores for their books. If they don't answer your questions, move on. You are NOT NOT NOT the exception to this rule.

No one can scam you unless you believe what they say.
When in doubt, check the websites that talk about this stuff.
In an earlier post I said it only takes one yes, but often Dorothy Deering's "clients" got only one yes...and it was from her.

"real readers" my ass

I would like to know your thoughts on the following: it often seems that agents and publisher are out of touch with what the readers really want. When an unpublished book has received praise from many people who are “typical” readers (people who read commercial fiction regularly, don’t belong to the author’s family tree, and whose jobs are unrelated to the publishing industry), how do you explain that agents, or editors, can look at that same book and say: “Pass.”?

Ahh...the basic divergence between what people say they like and what their buying patterns show. Marketers have all sorts of sneaky ways to find out what people will buy versus what they say they like. (Case in point: a book I'm going to talk about soon TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING. I liked it just fine but I wasn't willing to shell out $27 for it)

It's akin to the research that shows 90% of people in a survey say they wash their hands after using a public restroom...whereas hidden cameras indicate the number is closer to 75%.

In 1964 about 65% of people surveyed said they'd voted for Jack Kennedy in 1960. We know that the margin of victory was a razor thin percentage around 50%.

So, what people tell you they like, and what they are willing to part with their hard earned pictures of Ol Hickory can be two entirely different things. Agents and editors have their eyes GLUED to Bookscan which shows which ISBNs go over the cash register. Bookscan covers between 60-75% of the market (it doesn't include WalMart for example).

And where are you finding people praising unpublished books? On your website? Let me hoist the flag of “wide enough statistical pool for accurate sampling” before we make any assumptions about publishing’s shortsightedness based on your sampling.

One good example would be the first Harry Potter book, rejected by so many publishers. "so many"...about 10 I think. And she got an agent very quickly--two queries. See
JK Rowling

But I could also mention authors like John Grisham,

15 queries, 3 yeses from agents.
See MS State article on John Grisham

Dr. Seuss, Jack London, or Mary Higgins Clark who struggled to get published.

these guys are all decades before my time and irrelevant to anyone wanting to be published in 2006.

You've missed the obvious ones: E. Lynn Harris, M. Scott Peck, Jack Canfield and the Chicken Soup boys.

Feel free (as if you needed my approval) to be snarky with my theory, with the publishing world, or both.

I have no idea what any of these writers submitted to agents or publishers. For all I know they revised madly every time they queried. I don't think editors and agents have a exclusive on "what's good" and they certainly miss some stuff. But generally editors and agents ARE readers and more important we know what SELLS. Yes we get surprised, no we don't have crystal balls, but I am pretty confident I've got good work on my roster and a lot of crap in my slush pile.

And if it takes 20 or 200 queries to get the one yes you need, so what. You only need one. If you want it to be easy, you need a different line of work. Mattress dancing perhaps.

Postcards from the Edge

Dear Miss Snark,

What do you think of this idea: In addition to an SASE, (just in case the agent wants to write a personal letter immediately requesting the manuscript because he/she is certain that I'm the greatest writer since Shakespeare and doesn't want to miss the opportunity to represent me) also enclosing a self-addressed stamped postcard that would read something like this:

Thank you for your time in reading my query for my novel xxxx. If you're not interested in seeing more of my manuscript, I'd appreciate your comments about my submission so that I may improve my craft.

1. The writing was fine, but the story didn't appeal to me.
2. The story was fine, but the writing needs to be improved.
3. Both the writing and the story need work. Take some courses and get help.
4. The submission is interesting, but we don't have a place for it in our agency's schedule.

Thank you again for your time. Signed.

Lots of money on stamps, but right now I'd sell my own mother for some specific feedback from someone in the industry. (My mother, yes. My dog, no. But Mom makes a mean lasagne.)
P.S. No pictures on the postcard except maybe George Clooney wearing that coy smile he wears so well hoisting an extra-dry gin martini in a martini glass with a stem in the shape of a stiletto.

Thanks, Miss Snark.

Most beloved of Snarklings,

I hear your screams of frustration and I see this for what it is: you want to be a good writer, you want to be published and you'd like some guidance.

From an agent's perspective, feedback like this is a lose/lose situation.

First, it takes more time than (to use me as an example) I want to spend on things I know I'm not going to take. I like to get the "no's" out the door as fast as possible; form letter stuff.

Second, it invites dialogue and resubmission. I hate those cause I'm almost invariably going to say no again. And I know I'm crushing people's hopes cause if you get feedback, and you fix what you think is wrong, the next logical step is your work will be accepted. That's not how the biz works, sadly.

Third, there are loons in this world who'll show up at your door with a lemon meringue pie and start looking around for your face as a target. You know you don't bake, and I know you don't bake...but trust me...pie hurlers abound in one form or another.

Fourth, agents are afraid of looking like morons. So, if your work gets published, and it wins every award in the book and sells one zillion copies, agents are afraid you'll haul out that postcard and laugh at them on the international broadcast of the Oscars. And if you think I'm kidding, I've seen authors do that. It scares the bejesus out of us. (let alone posting all your rejection letters or your correspondence---people do that. It only makes everyone reluctant to say anything to anyone ever)

Fifth, you left out "this really sux in its entirety" and while I'm sure that's not YOU, trust me, it's a lot of what I get.

So, read as much as you can about query letters. Write as much as you can and understand the first million words are practice, and keep your eyes peeled for the revival of the Crapometer. I'll be hauling it out from under the tarps in the barn once things settle down.

Oh, and to answer your question, feel free to include the cards, but don't expect much authentic feedback. I never use them. I use form letters at all times.

Shred of evidence

A cover letter in my slush pile closes with:

"You need not return this but please shred it".

I'll open my rejection letter with: get over yourself.

When to NOT send a book proposal?

When you write a novel.

I thought this was obvious, but my slush pile this morning turns up a book proposal for a novel...complete with "competing works" that includes non-fiction.

In case this is news to you: for a novel just send the first ten pages with a cover letter.

Proposals are for non-fiction books.

Proposals are generally used when you're selling something that hasn't been finished.

You MUST have a finished novel before querying an agent, let alone submitting it for consideration to a publisher.

Any questions?


fe fi faux fumble?

A Snarkling fears:

I received a charming e-mail from an agent I met at a conference, saying she's looking forward to receiving my manuscript. I sent 250 pages to another agent from the same conference and gave her a six-week exclusive.

I e-mailed the agent, and told her I had given another agent an exclusive ('cause I met her first and she asked), and wanted to let her know, since, if I was rejected by the agent to whom I had granted exclusivity (highly likely) I'd like to send her the material, and didn't want her to think I was blowing her off, a procrastinator or disorganized. She e-mailed back a thanks-for-the-update. Was this correct conduct to play it straight, or did I commit a faux pas by letting one agent know I had sent on my stuff to another?

What did Miss Snark tell you about exclusives??
Well, never mind.
You did fine.
This happens all the time.
We're aware writers speak to many agents at conferences.

The tricky part here is, because you've sent it on exclusive, if the first agent makes you an offer, you'll need to decide whether to go with her/him before your ms is read by anyone else.

It's nice to be wanted though, isn't it!!

Category versus description

Regarding your 9/30 post on Nomenclature for Novels, could you please tell me how important it is for a writer to identify the category of the manuscript in a query letter? I ask because I'm receiving contradictory messages on whether or not to mention the category, but also on what the category of my manuscript is (e.g., chick lit vs. women's lit vs. hen lit vs. marriage lit, etc.)

Categories are how books are sorted out at the library, or at a bookstore.
Non fiction
Science Fiction

Description is less formal, a shorthand way to convey content:
roman a clef
tell all

Lots of times there are certain descriptions that fall out favor: "I've seen enough chick lit, I never want to see another book of chick lit again" from an editor means that my novel is NOW categorized as something different. It's the same book but I'm not letting too many pepto bismal pink covers get in the way of making a sale.

In a cover letter I'd stick as close to category as possible. You can't call a memoir “science fiction” unless you’re born on Mars or beyond and you can't call a biography “fiction” so try to be accurate, but don't pigeonhole yourself.

Hen lit, marriage lit, lad lit, all are horrid names and I hate them.
I like "rip roaring, page turning, keep you glued to the couch, compelling fiction".
Feel free to cut and paste.

Do Overs

A Snarkling wonders:

Was there ever an occasion when an author (and their novel) you’re representing was rejected and then you went back to the editor (or editors) to try and change their mind about their decision? Or is that considered unprofessional, too pushy or unbusinesslike? In other words, was there ever a time where you disagreed with the editor so strongly that you felt you had to go back and try again? And if you did, did it ever work?

No do overs.
Particularly not with novels.
However, "neener neener" when the book hits the best seller list, wins an Edgar, and is optioned for a movie, then takes home the Oscar for best screenplay is always fun.

This applies to agents as well.
Once an agent says no, just realize they are obviously deranged, it was a close call cause you almost did business with someone with no taste, and move on to the next person on your list.

Dearly Beloved

A Snarkling wonders:

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this piece of advice given on a website giving lots of otherwise useful information about agents:

"Salutation: Use a formal business greeting. We recommend "Attn. Ms. Jade Walker," or "Attn. Ms. Walker." In our opinion, "Dear Ms. Walker" is never appropriate in a business letter."

I have polled some writer friends and not one of us has ever dispensed with the "Dear Miss Snark" type salutation.

Are we all completely wrong and uncool? Have we been overfamiliar? Somehow starting a letter or email "Attn. Miss Snark" seems a little brisk. Not to mention brusque.

Thanks for your views! I really enjoy your blog.

Dear me.

Oh wait, I mean, Attn: me.

This is nuts.

“Attn: Miss Snark” sounds like a letter from my draft board.

I'm as snarky as they come about salutations but even I don't object to Dear Miss Snark. If it's fine with Emily Post it's fine with me.

Now, closings, that's another matter.

Miss Snark prefers "your obedient servant" but "Sincerely yours" seems to be the phrase of the day.

Thanks for your kind words about the blog.
It's a kick in the pants to write.

Map chat

A comment on a previous post:

The perfect example of what you're talking about was what happened to William Bright last month. Bright digitally shrunk the maps of the New York and San Francisco subway systems and made them available online so that commuters could download them for free onto their iPods.Both BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and MTA (Metro Transit Authority) demanded that he remove their maps from the Internet. They're claiming copyright infringement. Now, how the devil is this poor little guy hurting BART and MTA? He was doing a service for commuters that--at present--neither transit authority offered. It was one of the silliest things I'd ever heard.

So, the blogger took the novel and typed it onto her blog so readers could download it for free onto their coputers. Random House demanded the blogger remove the novel from the internet. They're claiming copyright infringement. Now how the devil is that poor little blogger hurting Random House? She was doing a service for readers that -at present- Random House doesn't offer.

Does it sound silly now?

We all scream for ice cream

In response to the "firing your agent" post:

I "fired" an agent who never sold a thing for me (and who spelled my name wrong on submissions to publishers -- and who actually had an assistant do the pitching, though I was given the impression that Agent would be doing it).

I consulted with my lawyer, followed protocol, and terminated. I did not use any unpleasant language, and, indeed, wished Agent well.

I then received a phone call from my now ex-agent, in which I was yelled at, accused, called names, and hung up on.

After spending many days in terror that I would be black-listed in the wake of Agent's fury, I settled down and was simply thankful that I could at last move on.

What the heck? Surely this isn't a normal response?

There are six reasons to scream at a client:

1. Client's hair is on fire;
2. Client has stepped into traffic on Third Avenue, forgetting it goes both directions at 14th Street;
3. Client has won the Edgar and the applause makes it hard to hear;
4. Client has swilled the very very last bottle of gin;
5. Client is getting ready to sit upon chair that is occupied by a reptile; or
6. Client has eloped with George Clooney.

You'll notice none of those involve your manuscript. Or your contract.

Of COURSE this isn't normal. This is rude, hostile and if I may say, indicative of a person lacking impulse control and social skills.

There are three things you can do:
Post this agent's name and your experience on every writers blog you can find;
Tell the agent to fuck off and die;
Move on.

I vote for two out of three.
Guess which.

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Que Pasa

Dear Miss Snark,

I am wondering if it is possible for an author in the United States to be published in a country of another language? For example ~ Let's say I am writing a fantastic account of the French Renaissance. Would it be possible for me to forgo the U.S. agent/publisher/general torture route and find representation directly in France?

Or do foreign publishers only deal with published works? Or would I have to first become a French mistress or something equally ..... well, interesting to have my work published....

Many thanks for your response.

A fan who thinks Miss Snark should have personalized stationary reading:
"Gin, Tonic & George Clooney"

Sure you can.
And if you want to seriously pursue this, you better pack your bags and head over to the Frankfort Book Fair in October and hang out with some of them thar Gauloise smokin', pate munching, champagne swilling agents Fran├žais.

This is like the idea that David Hasselhoff is really popular in Germany and can't get arrested here. And Jerry Lewis too. Whereas, Johnny Carson used to vacation in France cause he said it was the one place no one knew who he was.

You were planning to write in French, right?

beaucoup d'amour,
Mme Snarque

Cozying up to the numbers

A Snarkling is paying attention and comments on the post Nomenclature for Novels:

I was intrigued by your reference to "a limited number of editors looking for them." Based on this, would I be correct in thinking that one way you look at the market is by the sheer number of editors -- rather than the presumed number of readers --interested in a certain type of book?And what's a "cozy mystery"? Sort of like Miss Marple?

You're quite correct in noticing that I think of the number of places I can try to sell something. Using the cozy as an example, there are about six, maybe ten publishing houses I can sell a cozy to that will offer up enough dough to qualify a writer for membership in Mystery Writers of America.

Once I run through those 6-10 publishers I'm pretty much done.

On the other hand, there are 70 publishers at least looking for commercial fiction.

Commercial fiction has far more readers than do cozies, and as prima facie evidence, just look at any Best Seller list.

I can try to persuade editors that a book will be read by more than just "cozy readers" but it's a hard sell.

And a cozy is exactly like Miss Marple. Jill Churchill writes great cozies. There are others too but I've always really liked Jill's books. (and I'm not her agent).

Will Someone Please Tell Robert Parker to Retire

Just finished Cold Service the new Robert B. Parker novel.
I loved his Godwulf Manuscript.
I even liked Early Autumn and Looking for Rachel Wallace
I stopped buying hardcover after The Widening Gyre.

I kept reading his books from the library... up till now.
Now I'm not giving him any more time. Not even on Friday is Fluff night.

Robert Parker ran out of new ideas about 40 books ago.
He's still describing how Susan eats, in exactly the same way, like he’s never noticed it before and worse, we haven’t either. She still doesn't cook and she's better faster stronger and smarter than any other woman alive on the planet.

Hawk is still incapable of love.
And Spenser still struggles with his code.

Bob, you're boring me.
And even though I'm a great believer in dialogue, exposition through dialogue with little else gets as tedious as anything in overabundance can.

Athletes get the snot kicked out of them when they play too long. Or their contracts don’t get renewed. Writers don't have the luxury of a good shellacking or a firing as long as Putnam is making scads of dough. Consider this a well needed kick in the ass.

How To Sound Like An Idiot

From the slush pile today:

"Your agency enjoys a well-earned reputation for excellence on both sides of the publishing industry. Authors and editors all respect your professionalism and any author that you represent has the privilege of sharing that respect. That is the reason I am submitting this query letter to you."

And that is the reason you are "not quite right for my list".

I hear ya!

I've been very interested in the trend toward podcasting. Earlier this month, Holtzbrinck launched their podcast site as a PR tool for their imprint's books.

Now, I read in USA Today that Simon and Schuster premiered their SimonSays podcast this week with an interview by Jennifer Weiner. Time Warner's Little, Brown's podcast is featuring Michael Connelly. That's three out of the big seven publishing houses.

Are you seeing increased interest in audio rights by publishers in contracts for the books you represent?

I'm very excited about podcasting. I think it's part of a great and wonderful new way for people to "read". I'm not seeing an uptick in audio rights though. Publishers are starting with only the very very few novelists they know are brand names or very well known. Sadly, none of those writers are Miss Snark's clients.

Audio has always been a tough sell for fiction. Debut novels hardly ever get much audio interest. Once an author is known, and has an established name, (Michael Connelly and Jennifer Weiner as examples) it's easier. This is cause audio doesn't sell a lot. A novel that sells 10,000 copies in hardcover would be lucky to sell 100 audio books. The cost of audio books per unit is staggering.

For all of his self promotional hyperbole, Gerard Jones (author of Ginny Goode) is actually doing something pretty interesting cause he's doing his OWN audio book. I see that coming too...like self publishing for audio.

Podcasts, and satellite radio expand the market, and since I'm all about sell sell sell, I think it's just dandy.

Nomenclature for novels

Is it harder to sell a novel that doesn't really fit a genre? I may have asked something similar to this earlier, but your comment about Nick Sparks caught my interest.

Given the current market, is it more likely a genre offering - say a cozy mystery - is more likely to find agency representation, than an offering closer to say, Nick Sparks?

(since a Sparkian would, by necessity, be classified as Mainstream/Contemporary?

and are those easier to sell, or harder?)

I ask because I sent my novel off to an agency who liked the book, but, because they were more limited in their fiction than their web site indicated, said they couldn't figure out a good editor to submit the book to.

Thank you in advance for your Snarky response.

Genre is a word we use to distinguish only a few kinds of writing: SFF, romance, mystery (and all derivations like thriller, cozy etc) and western. Chick lit isn't a genre. Commercial fiction isn't a genre.

Nicholas Sparks is classified as "commercial fiction". Commercial is the key word. I hear that over and over again when I talk to editors. Phrases like "upmarket commercial fiction" about The Lovely Bones means it was literary fiction that sold well. The Historian, this years new hot book, is commercial fiction but you know darn good and well when she was writing it she thought she was writing genre fiction (vampire and mystery...gotta be genre right?).

The dissonance here is not about the writing itself. It's the description of the writing. I can call a western like "An Unfinished Life" literary fiction, and I can call a mystery like "The Rule of Four" commercial fiction. What I call it when I'm talking about it to editors has to be a close approximation (spaceships in a western better be part of a dream sequence) of what it IS, but any creative agent comes up with ways to make a project sound as widely appealing as possible.

So, again, and I've been saying this over and over again till I'm so blue in the face I look like a Scot warlord ...Just Write Well. Good writing, regardless of genre, category or description will find a home with an agent who loves it and can figure out how to describe it so other people will too.

And all novels are hard to sell. Cozy mysteries aren't impossible, but there's a limited number of editors looking for them. Commercial fiction has a much wider pool of editorial choices.

Miss Snark Incarcerated?

A snarkling offers:

we Snarksters will help post bond in lira if you should happen to be apprehended stalking in Italy.

Miss Snark is touched by your offer. Like all offers though, Miss Snark has a few negotiating points:

First, euros! European currency is now euros which is a good thing in Italy cause the suitcase of lira was getting old.

Second, Miss Snark is not stalking Mr. Clooney. She's making herself available to him. True, she's available at his driveway daily, but that's not stalking, that's..um...planning!! yes! Miss Snark is just being very very organized.

Third, Mr. Clooney is actually IN New York right now. The fact that Miss Snark is trapped like a rat in her office of towering manuscripts is clearly a cruel karmic joke.

However, feel free to send the cash anytime. Miss Snark can always use the currency to tip Guido the gin delivery man.


Question trifecta!

1. Do you have any idea how often imprints have "committee meetings?" (Like when an editor says she is "taking a book to committee.") I'm wondering if its usually monthly, or what?

I don't know. I know when my books are "auditioning" so to speak, but I don't know the regularity of the meetings. I'll bet someone out there does though...feel free to chime in on the comments!

2. Generally, do agents and editors hate attorneys? Do they hate having attorneys as clients/writers?


3. Is Miss Snark a shortened form of Mistress of the Snark? It could be, you know.
but it's not. Just like Grandmother Snark is not a shortened form of Grand poobah mother of pearl Snark.

Firing your Agent!

A Snarkling who has devoted himself to a life of crime offered up this link in the comments column: Craig Mazin on firing your agent

One of the things that really struck me was how deftly he described what I've been trying to in so many of these posts:

What concerns me is that there is often an imbalance of psychological power between writers and their agents, and that’s because agents are professional manipulators and writers aren’t.

Not that writers are poor poor pitiful me at all.
But you have to remember, we spend our professional lives being persuasive and not taking no as the final answer very often. It's hard to turn that off when dealing with clients. Let alone the county clerk who seems to think Miss Snark should serve on jury duty.


Love or money

Dear Miss Snark,

I completed the manuscript for my novel about a year ago. Soon thereafter, I was thrilled to be offered representation by an agent with one of the top literary agencies in NYC. Too thrilled, in fact, to be bothered by the little things like, oh, the fact that said agent didn't really "get" my book and doesn't rep anyone in my genre. I was swept away by the waves of praise and encouragement. I got all caught up in the "I have an agent" glory.

So the question is this, your snarkiness: Do I try to churn out something more commercial, as my agent has suggested and, hopefully, get a book deal and a "foot in the door"? Or, do I cut and run, starting from scratch to find an agent to "champion" my style and work?

Also, can I query agents while I'm still technically represented? Do I need to let my agent go before I start the process?

A pleasure to e-meet you.
Thanks for the blog.

Miss Snark can only answer part of this. What you choose to write, to invest your creative energy in, has to be your choice. I will not presume to advise you on that.

That said, the essential ingredient in an agent client relationship is that the agent champions the client's work. The actual work, not the work to be done down the road if they decide to write something else, but this novel, the one in hand. If an agent doesn't like it (and it's not part of an existing deal) and has to shop it around, nothing replaces the energy of passion and enthusiasm.

I believe this with all my snarky little heart. I believe this cause I've worked on things I've hated. They didn't do well. I've worked with clients I didn't like. I was glad when we parted company. I've been in the biz long enough to know I have to like my clients (most of the time anyway) and believe in their work in order to be an effective advocate.

And yes, you have to end your relationship with this agent before you start hunting for a new one. Word gets around fast, and the LAST thing you want is to be saddled with a reputation as unreliable and sneaky.

This is a business not a romance. Have a business conversation with your agent. Express your concerns. Decide what to do, and proceed. This is YOUR creative life. Don't fuck around.

Two much novelty

A Snarkling has been very busy and now wonders:

And, if you have a moment, could you please advise us all on what an author's to do when they have two novels to show. Please don't be too snarky. The obvious answer would be to show the best one, I realize. I'm assuming that it is out of the question to query them both at the same time.

Well, the obvious answer, as you point out, is to pick one and run with it. The question of course is which one. I'd vote for the one you wrote second, without knowing anything more about them. I'd assume the second one is better given you'd learned a thing or two about novel writing in the first one.

You can't shop two novels at the same time to one agent, but there's nothing that says you can't shop two novels individually with a variety of agents. Send novel A to Agents 1-10 and novel B to Agents 11-20. See what happens.

Really though, I'd pick one and focus on it. And you might consider having someone with a snarky eye read both and help you pick which one is stronger.

Mr Clooney in elevator with Miss Snark!

Miss Snark has been known to rise to the top of buildings on her broom, but this afternoon, zipping back to the office, Miss Snark dashed into a crowded elevator car. Crushed in a sea of suit coats Miss Snark suddenly heard the voice of her beloved.

As if channeling a Labrador Retriever Miss Snark rose on her tippie toes and practically chinned herself on the suits surrounding her. She clawed. She scanned. She swiveled. She looked...well....deranged.

This is New York of course so not only did no one comment, they didn't even notice.

Miss Snark is practically dancing on the bald heads of seven vice presidents of a well known media conglomerate when she realizes Mr. Clooney is not only not IN the elevator, he's on the television screen by the illuminated panel of floor buttons. He's being interviewed by some tawdry news babe about his new movie.

It was only due to her complete mortification that Miss Snark did not let out a wail of disappointment.

Miss Snark crept into the nearest taxi and headed for the closest bar. It was across the street, but no matter.

NYPD may have to advise Mr. Clooney to come for Miss Snark soon...if only as a matter of public safety...not to mention the shoulder pads of Armani clad bald vice presidents.

Friday night books

A Snarkling with a Sophie-sticated style wonders:

what is your opinion on the Shopaholic books?

ok, I've read them.
All of them.
They're fluff. Not cotton candy fluff but more like hummus and wheat thin fluff: they aren't serious food but they're fun to inhale.

I call them my Friday night books. I can read them in usually about two hours, with my feet up, a glass of wine, and the phone off. It's a nice break from the clatter of the real world.

I just can't read manuscripts or anything too grim on a Friday night. It's fluff night.
Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to be reading Nicholas Sparks any time soon, but Sophie KInsella is funny, and I like her so I read her. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series is a Friday night book too. I read The Devil Wears Prada on a Friday night. I have a hard time remembering what I read but on Friday but it's got to be light, and I hope it will be funny.

And I'm not being patronizing I hope in calling them fluff. Nothing is better than fluff when that's what you want.

Pay it Again, Sam

Several days ago a snarkling emailed me the link to this agent blog.

I clicked on it and had a pretty good laugh; it was the post about the watchdog writers group. I've had calls from "agent monitoring services" before and it took me a couple minutes to figure out that they charged authors money for lists of "reputable agents". Of course, I told them in no uncertain terms that they could ...to use Sammy's oh so quaint phrase.."fuck off and die". People who charge money for lists of reputable agents have ONE goal: making money off you.

But the the fact Sammy charges reading fees is bad. A snarkling wrote to ask "Could this be true? Are there successful agents, i.e., successful in placing books rather than successful in taking in fees, like this out there?

The answer is, god knows there could be I guess. It's certainly NOT an acceptable business practice because there is so much room for downright fraud when agents to charge money up front. It took a long time for AAR to flat out ban the practice for members but they do.

I'm not going to tell this guy how to run his business. But I will say this: you should not pay an agent up front. Not for anything. A reputable agent with a solvent business shouldn't need your $100 to get your manuscript duplicated and messengered off. They shouldn't even need your $300 to get it DHLed to sub rights agents in Europe or Asia.

A solvent business means you can pay your expenses without asking your clients for money. It's pretty simple to my way of thinking.


Miss Snark is NOT Joanna Pulcini

Jennifer Weiner, all time cool writer, whom I adore mentions me...sort of..on her blog:

Finally, on a hopelessly inside-baseball note, writers who read this site might know that there's an agent out there who blogs under the nom de guerre Miss Snark.

Speculation's been rampant as to the identity of the masked agent, with some readers guessing that Miss Snark is, in fact, my agent, the divine and beneficent Joanna Pulcini.
How do I know this? Because Joanna told me so.

"They think she's ME!" she squeaked indignantly over dinner.

My editor and I almost dropped our profiteroles.

"You?" I gasped. "Snarky?"

Joanna looked even more indignant. "I can be snarky!"

"You are so not snarky. You're the opposite of snark. You," I told her, "are where snark goes to die."


"You went to Catholic school for high school, college, and graduate school!" I said. "If someone walked into your house, told you your sister was ugly and took a dump on your dining-room table, you'd offer them toilet tissue. Scented toilet tissue!"

"No, I wouldn't!" said Joanna.

"No, she wouldn't," said my editor.

"Okay," I said. "You're tough. But you're not snarky."

Joanna Pulcini is very cool. I like her a lot. I like Jen's editor too. I adore Jennifer Weiner. I'm not any of them.

Good versus bad agent agreements

A Snarkling picks up on a comment I made in an earlier post and asks:

How do you tell what is a good or bad contract? Aren't they all written in legaleze?

Agency agreements (distinct from publishing contracts-they are two very separate things) should NOT be in legalese.
They should be straightforward and easy to read and understand.
There are examples in almost every writing reference book.

A bad contract doesn't give you an easy way to part company. Mine is 30 day notice by either party, in writing.

A bad contract doesn't tell you what happens if your agent dies. (If you die, your agent can still represent your estate)

A bad contract doesn't spell out commissions and when they're owed. (not every agent charges the same percentage..plus you have to deal with sub rights)

Some agents don't offer written agreements.

On the other hand, my agency agreement does not cover every last detail. For example it doesn't address how often I will contact you other than to say "keep you generally informed". It doesn't include that because you can't enforce it. The only recourse for a violation is termination of the agreement. My contract already says you can withdraw with 30 day notice for any reason or no reason. Putting extra clauses in just makes for a bad bad bad agreement in my opinion.

I've had authors rewrite the agreement with all sorts of weird additions. Mostly I was glad to find out before we went ahead that they were not temperamentally suited for me. Other agents can and do disagree.

Atlas Shrugged

A Snarkling gets out his atlas and wonders:

What's your take on agents outside of New York?

Some of the very best agents I know are outside New York.
And not just New Jersey-outside. Really outside...like...yanno...Colorado. Seattle. San Francisco.

Those agents blow into town and meet with editors, do the rounds, then head home. Us New Yorkers probably have less face time with editors than they do! Most of my work is phone and email.

I have more chances for serendipity stuff than they do, but that's maybe one or two deals a year at most. And I see editors at parties and events too, but in all honesty the last thing I do at those events is talk about work. Mostly we talk about our tattoos. And boys. And maybe books. Maybe.

In this day and age, you don't need to be in NYC. However, Miss Snark is never leaving the city not even (sit down for this one) not even for Mr. Clooney.

It Ain't Easy Being Greeeeeen!

A Snarkling doing her colors wonders:

In general, what's your take on a green agent in a well established agency?

There's no way to make choosing an agent risk free. The only thing I tell you to absolutely steer clear of is:

1. anyone who charges money (of any sort, including expenses, if they haven't sold anything for you).

2. bad agency agreements (no way to disentangle, indentured servitude, first born children in lieu of cash..that stuff).

3. anyone who is coy about what they've sold (this means they tell you straight up that they are new and don't have sales)

Every agent starts out with zero sales. Someone starting out but affiliated with a large agency is most likely going to have access to their information on editors, the rolodex of phone numbers and a wealth of info.

Just make sure this is someone who values your work, and you can work with.

My final post on the Bookner concept

I had to laugh when Mr. Bookner-dude said his market was "early adopters" and open minded agents and publishers. I'm not sure such a thing exists in traditional publishing. Traditional publishing was one of the very last industries to go electronic...and even today many agents don't take e-queries (ME for one).

Where you see early adapters in publishing is in self publishing and subsidy publishing. Those folks are always the leaders in adapting new technology and figuring out ways to make a buck. I love to read their discussion boards and see what they're talking about. They are frequently years ahead of all the rest of us.

One guy who is a VERY smart man, and did in fact change how traditional publishing operates is Michael Cader over at Publishers Marketplace. Michael Cader revolutionized this industry by making information about deals readily available, searchable, and archiving it.

He started out with an email service called Publishers Lunch. It would be interesting to see his subscription figures but I bet it grew exponentially in the first years. Now he's able to charge a subscription fee of $20 a month for it. It's probably the best investment in publishing. It actually costs MORE to subscribe to PM than to Publishers Weekly the trade magazine. It's worth every nickel and I'd pay double or triple if I had to (please Michael not this year ok?)

If anyone wants a business model on how to do something different, make money and perform an incredible service, they'd do well to just look at Publishers Marketplace.

But here's the other part of the story: Michael Cader spent quite some time IN the publishing business before he become Mr. Lunch. I don't know how he realized agents needed better deal info (more transparency to use the current buzz word) or how he persuaded agents and publishers to share that info with him, but he did, and in doing do, completely altered the publishing landscape for the better.

People in the industry have enormous respect for Michael Cader plus he's a really nice man. That might be one of the reasons he's successful.

From Writers Almanac


As neatly as peas
in their green canoe,
as discreetly as beads
strung in a row,
sit drops of dew
along a blade of grass.
But unattached and
subject to their weight,
they slip if they accumulate.
Down the green tongue
out of the morning sun
into the general damp,
they're gone.

It's the birthday of the poet Kay Ryan born in San Jose, California (1945). She grew up in a series of small towns along the desert. Her father was always trying to come up with get-rich-quick schemes, selling Christmas trees, and buying land mining operations. He died while reading a get-rich-quick book.

Kay Ryan went off to college. She just started writing poetry as a teenager. For ten years she only wrote when she had some spare time. And then a few months before her 30th birthday, she decided to take a cross country bicycle trip, 4,000 miles to give her time to think about what to do with her life. She was out in the middle of Colorado when the rhythmic movement of pedaling the bike got her thinking about poetry, and she realized she had to devote her life to being a poet.

She got a job teaching remedial English composition at a local college, and she made sure she'd only have to teach two days a week so she could spend all the rest of her time writing. She pared her life down to the basic essentials so she could afford to live on her meager salary.

She's published just four books of poetry over thirty years, including Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends and Flamingo Watching.

You can subscribe to the daily email from Writers Almanc by going here
It's one of my favorite things to read.

A Short Seminar on Marketing; Mr Bookner please listen up

The comments column on my post on the new website Bookner coughed up some interesting comments, including this, from Mr. Bookner himself.

-1-Dear Ms Snark, thank you for mentioning Bookner. Despite the negative slant of your review, I am still grateful because at this juncture, any publicity translates into awareness, and that is fantastically good. In fact, we got 12 new members over the last 24-hour period (which is how I discovered this post) bringing us closer yet to our goal. -2-So I won't be rebutting any of the points you make. I would like to point out, however, that it's kind of interesting how it tends to be the -3-people in the publishing industry who do not bother to do more than casually glance at our website before latching on to one comment and going off on a diatribe. I suppose you become that way, over the years, if you have a never-ending stream of manuscripts to review and no system to -4-help you cut down the review time. It's kind of sad, really.

Comments are keyed to the text above (numbers inserted by me)

1. Well, we all know how much Miss Snark loves being called Ms. And this dovetails so nicely with his later assertion that I didn't read his site very carefully. Perhaps he thinks people don't read his site carefully if they disagree with him. News flash: it's entirely possible to read the website with a reasonable degree of care and still disagree with what is said. This is akin to those patronizing politicos who say "we have to educate the voting public to understand our issues". In fact what they need to do is persuade the voting public of their position. We understand Bookner just fine, we're just not convinced.

2. "Won't be rebutting any of the points you make". My fundamental point was you don't understand the publishing business nor do you understand how agencies work. For a guy who thinks he's going to offer major reforms to that process, the idea that you don't understand it to start with is something I'd want to challenge, were I you.

3. "People in the publishing industry". What's hilarious about this is that WE are his target market! He wants agents and editors and publishers to use the website to find clients. If "people in the publishing industry" think his product is whack, it bodes ill for actually like...using it! And what's more, agents are the folks he thinks are going to PAY for this at some point in the future.

4. "help you cut down on review time". When I need help Mr. Bookner, I'll ask. As far as I can tell, literary agents are not asking for help reviewing their incoming queries. I've never had a single conversation with any agent about what needs to change in the current method of handling queries. The only thing approaching this topic, is discussion of e-queries.

Mr. Bookner has made a classic marketing mistake. He's listened to WRITERS talk about what they perceive as weaknesses in the system, not agents. And my guess is he's listened to writers forums online that are filled with people who can't get representation and can't figure out why.

If Mr. Bookner wants to perform a needed service that really would benefit agents AND writers, and improve the publishing industry in general, he'd run the Crapometer full time.

The online anonymity affords the opportunity to speak more freely. If he ran the system, he could also deal with the fall out: the nasty ass emails that come back from people who think you're full of crap cause you don't like their work.

People who can't get published, or get an offer of representation, and are only getting "sorry not right for us" must be frustrated as hell. Even if they paid a dollar a page for a review from an anonymous (and unpaid) agent, they might get an idea of what is holding them back. He could pay for the site, he could even pay for some lessons from Dale Carnegie. Agents would probably be GLAD to do this for free: the problem we face is not the system, but the lack of quality.

Unasked for advice is about as welcome as three day old fish, but what the hell.


Turnaround time

Say a writer sends a great query to an agent who represents the kind of book said writer is composing. Let us further say that the agent responds quickly to the emailed query, requesting to see the full book proposal and asking if it is an exclusive submission. Further, the writer sends the full proposal as an exclusive, giving the agent a month to respond. Writer, not being the overly optimistic but yet hopeful sort, includes a SASE.

The questions: At what point would the agent respond? Before the exclusive time is up?
Or never if they are not interested, and if this is the case would they use the SASE and return the pages or just dump them in File 13?

First, you don't compose a book, you write it. You compose music. You can even compose yourself. You can compost your manuscript after you write it but that's it.

Now, the actual question. Answer is: I don't know. I know how I run my biz, but other agencies may not adhere to the Snarkolicious Rules of Response to Query Letters.

If I read something exclusively I try to get it back in a week. Two at most. From what you said though, the agent didn’t ASK for exclusivity, s/he asked if anyone else was reading it. There’s an important difference. I always ask if someone else is reading a project, but I never ask for exclusives cause it’s darn hard to turn them around that fast.

Assuming agents are human...err what I mean to say is assume agents act like humans..no wait, what I’m trying to say is assume agents behave normally...oh this is just getting worse by the minute.

New paragraph.
Agents put off doing things till the last minute like everyone else. WRITE (or email) to touch base when the month is up.

An agent you'd want to work with responds to your queries if you send things when asked. This crapola about "we'll get back to you if we're interested" is something that leaked into publishing from TV and radio. It's a patronizing way to treat people particularly if they're taking e-queries.

I would say write twice more; once when the month is up if you haven't heard. Once again if you haven't heard for another two weeks. Then cross them off your list and count yourself lucky.

Agenting is not rocket science. It's about being organized and responsive. If an agent can't keep it together enough to answer query letters, or worse, respond to material they've asked for, it doesn't bode well for their time management skills. Now, mind you I'm not saying they need to have READ the material, just responded to your follow up.

I frequently get behind on submission stacks, despite my best intentions cause stuff pops up. What I do NOT get behind on is answering emails or letter from people asking if I've read their stuff. That gets same day turnaround. If I can't read your work in a timely fashion (and lots of us can't...sorry but it's true) the LEAST we can do is respond to your inquiries and keep you informed.

Which came first? Miss Snark gets her fowling piece and takes a shot at the answer

A Snarkling contemplates her proposal and wonders:

Dear Miss Snark,

I am working on my first book proposal. I've consulted several of the various "how-to" books on how to put together a coherent book proposal, containing all of the different parts that prospective agents will expect to see. However, most of these books seem to be aimed at those writing their own "how-to" books; narrative non-fiction doesn't get much of a look-in. Several book proposal advisors recommend including sample chapters from different parts of the proposed book, e.g., Chapter 3, "The Kama Sutra and the True Martini," and Chapter 6, "The Ramayana and the Gin Fizz." This makes a certain amount of sense for a book on "Gin and the Seven Cocktails of Highly Spiritual People," but seems odd for a book with a more linear narrative arch. Would a proposal for a narrative historical biography fall further along the spectrum where novels live, meaning, should I send the first two chapters, rather than a chapter from the beginning and the death-bed scene?

Miss Snark favors starting at the beginning. (That’s cause she’s an Alpha snark) Miss Snark is one of those people who does not like to miss even the previews at movies (although the commercials are exempt from that obsession). I read books in a series in order. I hate prequels. While scattered chapters can certainly work in a non-narrative book I still like to read the first chapter.

Why? Cause that's what editors read, and that's what buyers read.

Now, there are agents and editors who just don't care. I've been on panels at writing conferences with them. They just read merrily along and if they like the writing, they like it. This makes Miss Snark weep with frustration.

It won't hurt you to send the first two with people who don't give a fig, and it WILL hurt you to send something OTHER than the first two to people who not only give a fig, they masticate it, swallow it and incorporate it into their aura ... so why not just send the first two and reduce your risk of rejection for sending the wrong thing?

And in a narrative form, reading chapter six when you haven’t read two through four is bound to be confusing if you’ve written it well.


Pass the canapes, and would you like to read my novel?

In your esteemed opinion, what does a writer do when they have met an agent at a book function and the agent agrees to see work (which we already have learned is a simple courtesy and not a promise) and the writer sends a sample but does not hear back (four months have gone by)? Is it proper to send a short note reminded the agent of the who, what, where, and why? Or should the writer just cross the agent's name off the list.

Please forgive me if this has been discussed already on your blog.

It's never incorrect to send a nice note (with an SASE!!!) inquiring about status. Something akin to "It was great to meet you at the launch party for Paris Hilton's new book. We talked about my manuscript "We'll Always Have Paris: a discussion of dogs as fashion accessories". I messengered the proposal to you on March 1. I'm writing to touch base about the status, and to thank you again for your time and consideration. Most sincerely yours, Helen of Troy"

Meeting an agent at a book function is a very unreliable indication of interest. It's very hard to say no to someone's face, although of course Miss Snark does it often and quite well.

Bundle of Joy...second delivery!

Further to the posting below on the practice of bundling:

I said I've never bundled a bunch of partials or proposals and sent them off but in fact, when I read the comment about group rejections, I realized I have done exactly that.

Editors who work and live outside NYC come to town every couple months and set up meetings with agents. We cover a lot of ground at those meetings and frequently they'll want to see more than one project. I mail all the projects (with separate cover letters) in one envelope. Sometimes I get one rejection letter for all the projects.

It will also happen with newly hired, promoted, or just changed jobs editors. They're looking to build a list and want to see LOTS of stuff. I send it all. Again, batched stuff, and sometimes batched rejection letters.

So, yes it happens. It's such a rarity I didn't even think of it till later. The proviso is of course that every project has been requested by the editor. It's not just dropping a bunch of manuscripts in the mail room and hoping for the best.

Nitwit phrase of the day: "I'm here to make your job easier".

A Snarkling who is lollygagging about the internet discovers:

I'd like to get your snarky opinion on the newest writer showcase Web site, Bookner

I ankled over to give the site a look. My first question when anyone sets up something like this, is how they intend to make, or at least not lose, money. Blogger is free, and the amount of bandwidth is minimal for each blog, but a site like that with archives of text and lots of traffic is going to get spendy. I am VERY suspicious of altruism as a business model. I notice he says access is free "now" for literary agents which implies it might not always be that way. I guarantee I will never ever pay money to surf a site with writers' work on it. I don't need to. I’ve got manuscripts coming out my ears as it is.

Which brings me to reading his cris de couer:


So you'd expect literary agents to be hungry for new manuscripts, right? You'd expect them to sit at their desks, drumming their fingers in anticipation of the mail carrier's arrival.(blah blah in the same vein).

Of course, this is not the way things are. Literary agents are not keen on writers sending them manuscripts. In fact, literary agents do their utmost to dissuade writers from sending them manuscripts. They actually make writers ask for permission to send them stuff! And even then, many will not accept a whole manuscript - perhaps just the first three chapters. Most literary agents, when they go to bed at night, dream of strangling the mail carrier who keeps delivering unsolicited manuscripts.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is strange. This is like a record company asking musicians to, please, not send them any demo tapes. And it is like judging a musician's ability by listening only to the first 60 seconds of a song. If literary agents were A+R executives, they'd definitely be out of a job.

Ok Mr. Bookner, you're wrong. So wrong it's actually laugh out loud funny cause that's EXACTLY how A&R guys listen to music!

I'm not sure what planet this well intentioned but severely misinformed guy is on but I've been IN music meetings, and been to Film Music Group panel presentations and listened to music supervisors talk about how they pick music.

In addition, I also sell music books and work with composers and musicians. You're lucky to get 60 seconds of attention.

What this guy is missing is what I've been talking about with this blog. It's not hard to get the attention of a literary agent, or an A&R guy if you've got the goods. MOSTLY the stuff that gets rejected is crap. Agents and A&R guys can look at ten pages, or 60 seconds and know if they want to hear more.

Where Mr. Bookner here is going astray is in thinking that agents give EVERYONE only sixty seconds or ten pages. That's not the case. IF you've got the goods, IF your work is good, A&R guys listen further and agents read more, or ask for more. It's akin to making the second round of the playoffs. If you don't make the second round, it's not cause they didn't have enough arena space or time, it's cause you didn't win the first round.

The literary agent system of gate keeping to publishing isn't broken. Good writers get published all the time. NEW writers get published all the time. The people who are in dire straits right now are the folks with two or three or more books under their belt who haven't sold in big enough numbers to keep a publisher offering contracts.

Agents and editors are actively looking for good work. If you write well, you'll get attention. The problem is people don't know if they're writing publishable stuff. Sending material in for other, unpublished, writers to judge is akin to the blind leading the blind.

Think about it. How many of you sent in postings when we did the Crapometer here and thought you'd written something pretty good and then had me rip it to shreds in a whirlwind of brutality? And...something can be a perfectly fine piece of writing and not be publishable.

I think this guy is one of those well intentioned folks who knows a little bit about a big industry and less about a bigger industry.

The only positive thing is he's not trying to charge you any money. That gets him out of the scum bucket and into the "just trying to be helpful" nitwit zone.

I've always reserved the most scorn for scum buckets trying to separate you from your money, but it occurs to me that this guy is separating you from an even more precious commodity: your time. If you post your work, I think you end up obliged to read other people's manuscripts and critique them. For a writer, time is almost more precious than money. I think you'd want to give careful consideration to where you spend it.

If you want to post stuff here, have at it.

I think it's a total waste of time.