Get out there and DANCE

I have just begun focusing on short stories while my novel gets another layer of polish. Is there a list of the top short story contests? Or of anthologies in the works? Seems like so many contests are all fee, no glory. I'm only interested in contests that I can use in my query letters, should I be so lucky as to win. I'd rather go down in flames in a big-name contest than win an obscure one that my prospective agent will not have heard of. At least this will allow me to compare my entry with the winning ones and see where mine fell short. Two sources I like are Mystery Writers of America anthologies and Writer's Digest sponsored contests. Do you or your readers have others to suggest?

A colleague of mine just did a very sweet book deal with film companies chomping to follow initiated by a chapter posted on a pay-for-content website. A fairly obscure website that went out of business. The editor saw it, liked it, read the whole novel, bought the rights. Wham bam thank you Stan, and Ollie

It's not so much where you send things as that you do. (by this I don’t mean sending it to porn sites—look for quality production before you look for readership). This writer had been in zines, in anthologies, been to the moon on a pogo stick. Still, it was this one story lurking in a backwater of the web that did it.

Just get your work out there. Make sure you don't sign anything that gives them perpetual rights but other than that, to quote a Knight in Shining Armor: just do it.

And yes, I like Mystery Writers of America a lot.

Cash backwards

Would you be willing to address the history of "agent being paid by publisher, agent sending check to writer?" Why is it not the other way around, writer paying agent?

Mostly cause in the olden days, when this protocol began, authors owed money to their agents. Authors were broke, borrowed money from agents (remember this is the days before Visa Mastercard and AmEx were glad to lend you cash at exorbitant rates) and agents recouped costs from advances and royalties...most of the time. For a narrative of how that worked, just take a look at the biography of Richard Yates, A TRAGIC HONESTY by Blake Bailey. Here's a link to an interview about the book on Identity Theory

Plus it makes sense to have an agent watching your royalties. If you've got a publisher with a screwy accounting system (ie ALL of them) an agent has dealt with it before. You don't want to be arguing about whether the amount is right after you cash the check, trust me.

And an agent generally has more leverage with a publisher. You're one person. Even if you're doing ok, the agent has more leverage cause s/he's got several authors with the publisher.

And keeping track of what you're owed, and when, is one of those details that writers tend to be BAD at.

The system evolved into what we have now cause it made sense.

Long running fantasy sagas

In your Paper, scissors...rock post, you mentioned that larger novels are a bit easier to sell if they are fantasy novels. Can you explain why that is? I know you don't represent fantasy writers, but I'm hoping that you can enlighten me on this subject.

I think SFF lends itself to sagas. Authors are more free to invent things in SFF than any other genre so there are more possibilities. I mean, Nancy Drew is limited by the law of gravity but Robert Heinlein is free to tinker with it.

I can think of no other genre that has such long running stories as SFF. Diana Gabaldon is up to what now? 6? And the Dune franchise..10? And George RR Martin? Yikes. And those are just the ones I know..and I know NOTHING.

Those who read the form and have ideas, please, comment!


Do You Have To Have An Agent?

Katherine Kurtz sold her first trilogy (all 3 books) to Del Rey in the 70's -- all by herself. It was the beginning of a long and still-going-strong career in the fantasy genre. Obviously times have changed since the 70's. But success without an agent is certainly something that CAN be accomplished by the well-informed, yes?

You don't have to have an agent.
If you capture Osama bin Laden, I guarantee you that you can have a book deal without an agent.
If you win the Nobel Peace Prize cause you settled the conflict in the mid East..same deal.

If you are trying to be published in the less esoteric realms, like genre fiction, or memoir, or prescriptive non fiction, you still don't absolutely have to have an agent. Most major publishers won't look at unsolicited work, so you're limiting your access to publishers with big money, but ok.

You can submit your work to medium size houses and small presses; no problemo.

Here are a couple things to ask yourself:

Do you know what an escalator clause is?

Do you know the difference between translation rights and foreign rights?

What happens if the editor who acquired your book quits? or worse..is fired?

Who gets your rights if the publisher goes bankrupt?

Do you get paid for books that are sitting in a distributor’s warehouse when the distributor goes bankrupt and his assets are sold off for pennies on the dollar?

What happens when the publisher wants the advance back because they changed their minds about publishing your tome?

Smart people know they don't know it all. Really smart people recognizeit's not a limitation to acknowledge gaps in knowledge. Really really smart people surround themselves with people who know a lot about specific things.

Yes you can do this on your own. The better question is, why would you?

Amazon Rankings

Just how much of a reflection of how well (or maybe not so well) a book is selling IS Amazon's book *ranking?

Amazon rankings are meaningless.
Statistically, they measure your book only in relation to the sale of other books, not how many copies actually sell.

Here's an example: Miss Snark's Guide to Query Letters is published to great acclaim and fanfare. Devoted Snarklings rush to buy it. One thousand copies are sold in one day! Her Amazon ranking shoots up to #1. Great rejoicing at Snark Central. The key piece of information that is not apparent in that statement is that Miss Snark's ranking is #1 because Amazon didn't sell 1000 copies of any other book that day.

Second day: Miss Snark is modestly mute about her fabulous work but Snarklings reading the archives rush to purchase the book on day two. Sales rocket. Two thousand books fly out of the warehouse. Miss Snark’s Amazon ranking plummets to #10 because nine other books sold more than two thousand copies that day.

You see the madness: you can sell more on day two AND have your ranking drop.

Authors can't resist looking at their rankings and grumbling mightily if they perceive themselves as "low" on the list. There is no way to talk them out of looking at those rankings. I've tried till I'm blue in the face--and blue is NOT a good color on Miss Snark.

If you can possibly avoid getting caught up in the rankings madness, your peace of mind, not to mention your family and everyone who knows you will be grateful.

Yet Another "Helping Hand"... reaching for your wallet

I thought you might appreciate a scary link, in honor of Halloween:
http://www.scriptblaster.com/bookblaster.php They say that "gaining access to literary agents and publishers who handle fiction is possible with Bookblaster." Funny. I thought writing nice, normal query letters took care of that nicely.

Of course, if it were really Halloween-themed, the page would have a testimonial from a hopeful author who put a minor attraction spell on their query, sent it out via Bookblaster, and wound up fleeing from a ravening tribe of undead publishing professionals slavering for their manuscript and/or brains.

I wondered where those e-queries came from when I'm pretty clear I don't take e-queries: email blasts from guys who for a "mere $95" will email your query to every agent on their list!

If you really think that is the way to go, just log on to Gerard Jones site, and email all 10,000 people on his list. It's free. My guess is that's exactly what these guys do, and charge you $95.

If someone wants to google the names of all the authors who are cited on the website I'd be very interested to see if any of them are actually published.

Ibid op cit ....f it!

I do have another question now I've read today's post - what about if you're a historical writer and a contemporary document quotes a historical figure as saying something and you use that exact statement or quote in your novel - is that plagiarism? I'm thinking not but now I'm a bit worried - particularly since you mentioned historical writers!

Let's be clear about what plagiarism IS. It's lifting something someone else wrote and passing it off as your own.

If I copied the above email from one of my beloved Snarklings, posted it here, sans italics, quotes or other "notification punctuation"..THAT is plagiarism because it will lead you gentle readers to think it is the breathless prose of Miss Snark.

You can quote anyone you want SAFELY if you cite the source. If you read Miss Snark’s blog and quote her in your writing, you have to credit the blog and Miss Snark. (We take credit and debit cards of course...and cash is always nice).

Go back to the Chicago Manual of Style (not published by Vogue but oh well) and learn all those ibid, op cits, and citation styles. Miss Snark had them down cold when she was writhing ...errr.... writing her thesis on the Use of the Past Pluperfect In The Novels of Barbara Cartland, but sadly, now that her sheepskin is on the wall, she's lost every bit of style she ever had.

This poor lad whose book has been rescinded erred in not CITING the source rather than just using it.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (Matt 22:21) so to speak.

Paper, Scissors, RockNRoll

Miss Snark,

Re: When to approach an agent

Before you roll your eyes, yes, I know after the book is written-but, what if you’ve sold your first novel (kidlit) to big NYC publisher on your own and you are now working on your second? Do you still wait until the mss is finished or is it acceptable to approach agents in the interim?

You call an agent before you sign the contract for the FIRST one!
NEVER sign a publishing contract without getting advice from an agent or a lawyer who specializes in book contracts (not contracts--BOOK contracts).

Most agents welcome query letters that show up attached to offers.

And yes, query now. And I'm not really rolling my eyes..I'm just exercising my newly threaded eyebrows.

I heard it through the grapevine

Several previous posts came from Snarklings hearing things on writers boards, or from the ether, or other sources. A comment asks:

In all seriousness, how do people get this sort of info? How can the great unwashed, er, I mean unpublished keep up with current events?

My advice: don't. Most of the posts on this topic have been people getting information that is either suspect or wrong. Writer's boards can be useful. They can also fuel your anxiety. They can be the home of people who think every agent is out to pick your pocket and the publishing industry is second only to Congress as a den of thieves. A question of "what do you know about Miss Snark" that elicits "she spends too much time on her blog to be a real agent" is not only snotty, and wrong, it's not the answer you're looking for.

If you really want to be plugged in and read what agents are reading, subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly. It gives the basics of who is buying what, who's selling what, and factual information. Miss Snark posts her sales to Publishers Marketplace regularly and you'd know she is both 1. real; and 2. making sales even as she blogs.

Your job is to write well. Every minute you spend worrying, or wondering about rumors is one minute less doing something constructive.

If you have spare time on your hands, read more great books. And this blog of course too.

Paper, scissors...rock

I'm wondering what happens when the author and the agent differ on what the book should be. For example, what if the agent suggests a large cut to the work, almost a quarter of the book, but fails to specify what exactly should be cut. As an author, I would rather have the manuscript pitched as is or broken in two books. Not that my prose is golden, but I strongly feel that cutting the manuscript would leave it crippled.

Let me guess. Your manuscript is more than 160,000 words?
Big fat manuscripts give me the hives.
Unless you're writing in the fantasy genre, they're also MUCH harder to sell.

Your agent, in telling you to cut, is giving you advice about improving his/her ability to sell this tome. In telling you to make the choice of where, s/he is respecting your ability to make tough choices.

You, in your reluctance, are thinking art not commerce.

I am an agent, thus commerce wins 9 out of 10 falls. My thinking is this: it doesn't matter if it's great art -no one will read it if I can't sell it.

I've had this exact conversation with potential clients. I won't take anything that's much over 100,000 words for a first novel. The plain truth is I have lousy lucky with big fat novels like that.
Maybe other agents can do it. I haven't.

In the end, this is your book. If you can't stand to perform a pageectomy on it, you need to either: find an an agent who will take it as is; write another, smaller, book; or, publish it yourself and prove everyone wrong.


When Copying is the WRONG thing to do

In an earlier post I talked about closely studying another writer's work and learning by emulating. The dark side of that advice is you must be scrupulous about not copying someone else's work. Particularly for those of you working in historical fiction, or with topics that require a lot of research, you must be vigilant about not incorporating someone else's work into your own. A well turned phrase here, a pithy description there and pretty soon, you've on the hot seat with your publisher trying to explain why you didn't know this wasn't your work.

This was brought to mind today by a news story on Media Bistro. Here's their lead
Brad Vice's short story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, earned a fairly complimentary review in last Sunday's SF Chronicle. It may well be the last review the book will get, as the University of Georgia Press has announced that it is withdrawing the collection from bookstores.

Here's the link to
the story on Galley Cat

There are computer programs now that search for plagiarism. It's not all that hard to be discovered. "I didn't know" and "I didn't intend" cut no ice with a publisher. His book is toast.

Don't get jammed up in the toaster, Snarklings.

Curiosity Smites the Kitty..with a list!

What are some of your favorite mysteries? Kitty

In no particular order:

Ruth Rendell
James Lee Burke
Alan Furst
Ross Thomas

Harlen Coben's Myron Bolitar series
Rochelle Krich's Molly Bloom series

Charlie Huston
Dan Fesperman

Lawrence Block
Michael Gilbert
Charles Willieford

Jason Starr
Margaret Marron, both series
Sharyn McCrumb
Barry Eisler
Marcia Muller
Maggie Estep

Robert Parker, up to Widening Gyre.

Guilty pleasures
Edna Buchanan's Brit Montero books
Jill Churchill
Lillian Jackson Braun (ok, shoot me, I like cats)
Rita Mae Brown when she isn't pontificating
Elaine Viets
Roberta Isleib
Dick Francis

and that's just off the top of my head as I work through the query list.

For ongoing lists of what's good, you can't beat Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind Sarah Weinman's blog about the world of mystery. I read her every day.

Who do you like in the mystery world?

Take a chill pill

An unpubbed friend has been asked for a full by an agent who's recently left a well-respected agency to start up her own thing. My friend is worried though because she's heard from the loops she's on that this same agent has taken on about four unpubbed writers in the last month or so. My friend thinks that this agent may be taking on more than she can handle since the unpubbed might need more agenting work than the previously pubbed.

My take is that a new agent is probably going to be more open to unpubbed than more established agents and that if she likes the feel of this agent - if she's asked the agent questions and is happy with the answers - she should go for it. Obviously, the agent feels she can handle the workload.

What do you think? Is my friend worrying about nothing?

And she needs to get a grip.

When you start an agency you need clients. This is your nitwit friend's chance to get in to an agency that probably won't be taking on new clients by next summer.

Instead of worrying about the agent she should be standing in line to FedEx her manuscript right now.

And just exactly where did she hear the agent has taken on four unpubbed writers? Agents announce sales, not client signings. And four is nothing. An agent in a solo practice can have ten clients without breaking much of a sweat.

You have the right to remain silent...don't

I just signed with a super agent who is also an experienced editor (large houses) who is helping with some revision of my novel. My question is: how much should I tell my agent about what I am doing. I have three novels completed and have won a couple of fellowships over the years (one in Paris) and would like to apply for the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford - which is non-degree and is aimed at letting the writer complete a specific novel/book of poetry. I will not be using the novel my agent wants to represent for application (I was told one at a time) but one that is in progress. Does an agent want to know about this before hand or only about the work represented?

Your agent is part of your team. Tell all! By this I do not mean send daily emails with your fat grams and number of cigs (unless you're named Bridget Jones of course). But do keep her/him informed on things about your writing life.

Just for starters, s/he may have some good advice. And second, your agent is connected to all sorts of people who can help you. If s/he knows what you're doing s/he is in a much better position to make things happen for you.

Third, it's good to have someone to talk to!! Writing is a solitary existence and when you have an agent, you've got someone who knows and understands that.

We're more than money grubbing claws in your pocket. Honest.

that Anon guy.. great writer!

What are your thoughts on writers who have done work for a packager or a series...writers that have written their first book as a "writer for hire"? I'm thinking more along the lines of creating an original book for an existing series...the characters and plot are your own, but because it goes into a specific imprint, you're considered a 'writer for hire".

If a writer had achieved publication in such an instance, with a major publisher (Penguin or Simon & Schuster, for instance)...and put that in their query, would it garner attention? If so, as much as a "regular" published writer? Is this a good stepping stone to selling my original work, assuming its in the same genre?

Yes. Good writing is good writing, no matter how you're paid for it. It also suggests you know how publishing works which is a strong positive for me.

I have several clients who were published as ghosts, or "withs" or works for hire before I got my claws on them. I like working with them cause they're fast, and good: solid pros.

Are You Sure You Know What You're Doing?

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a first-time non-fiction writer with a fabulous agent, only possibly rivaled by you in her snarky goodness and graciousness. This agent used to be a well-respected editor, has a kick-ass list, and has lots of friends in the biz.

My agent's plan is to submit my proposal and sample chapter in the beginning of next month (November).

In the unpublished ghetto that I am clamoring to get out of, word is that I'm doomed 'cause by Nov, publishing houses are all mentally checked out of work and checked in to Turkey Day, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, etc....through January.

I'm terrified that my project will be pushed aside for office party tush-xeroxing and I won't get the chance I would like to think my efforts are due.

Is it true that there is a "better" time to submit proposals and sample chapters than some other times?

And is it true that publishers don't really give a flying fig (pudding) about acquiring new works around the holiday season?

Am I doomed? Should I request that we wait until the eggnog wears off in January? Or is my agent really the sleuthy one, playing off of the expectation that others might believe in this old wives' tale (like not swimming after you eat) and actually submitting at a fabulous time, laughing at the stupidity of others while savoring her SASE-paid for, gin-spiced Frappuccino?

First off let's look at what you told me. You have a kick ass agent with a great list who knows a lot of people. She told you the proposal is going out in November. Then in the "unpublished ghetto" people are telling you it's a bad time to submit work.

Which opinion carries more weight?

You're obsessing right now cause you're anxious. This project you've worked on, maybe for donkey's years, is out of your hands. You're not used to not thinking, worrying, fretting about it.

Time to move ahead and fret about something else. How about world peace?

I have a client who is doing much the same thing you are right now. His proposal is being shopped. He's crazed about, of all things, the subtitle. He emails me about three times a week with changes to it. I haven't broken the news to him yet that he's wasting his time. I'm not going to call an editor to change a subtitle in the first place, and titles are subject to change in the editorial process anyway. I doubt any editor looking at this could tell you the subtitle without looking it up. But, he's anxious and this is how he copes.

As to timing: I'm writing this on 10/27/05. Thanksgiving break starts 11/23/05. That's 3.5 weeks away. We come back from Thanksgiving on 11/28/05. We'll break for Christmas at the EARLIEST on 12/21/05. That's another 3.5 weeks

Publishing isn't exactly Wall Street with it's emphasis on working weekends and 16 hour days but we do manage to show up pretty regularly. And you missed the events that screw up the schedule more than anything: maternity leave.

Quit obsessing. Trust your "kick ass well respected agent". Turn a deaf ear to people telling you how the industry works when they aren't IN the industry. And get started on that World Peace thing. Christmas is coming.


Frayed Not

I have a novel I want to sell and it's now out with an editor who asked for a revision a year or so ago. (I don't like this revision without a contract thing, but I'm a nobody, so I do it.)So, given that she'll probably reject it, here is my question. I sent this story out a few years ago before this major revision and received a few rejections on a partial and on my query. Seeing that it was sorta out there a few years ago, does this make my manuscript shop worn? Is it, in the industry, considered a loser because it had a history of a few rejects (most of them queries or partials). In fact, when I think about this, hardly anyone has read the whole ms. What's your take on mss that have evolved over time (5-6 years) gone through many incarnations (I don't write a book a year like many of my writer friends), and have grown along the way? Is it death for a book?

There was an idea floating around in the Renaissance that you become a whole new person every seven years. I kind of like the idea. Makes some of those high school year book mug shots less agonizing to look at.

The question here is really, when is this a new novel. Once you've shopped it around it does become shopworn. Editors are much less likely to be able to buy something if the exec editor says "yea, we saw that and passed on it five years ago.".

First thing of course is you need a new title and a new opening. Then shop it as a new novel if you've changed significant parts of it.

You might consider this as your practice novel though, and think about writing an actual new book. I'm always surprised at how much better most of my author's second novels are. You really do learn a lot by actually finishing one and starting the second.

Take me or else..

So this unpublished writer works closely with well-established writer in a mentee/mentor kind of relationship and at the end of the their 6 months together the mentee is convinced a referral by mentor to her/his agent is gold.

Is it? How much influence does mentor (ie, well-selling author) have with her/his agent? Can s/he convince agent to take on his/her mentee?

An author's recommendation buys you reading time and consideration. After that your writing has to hold up.
I can't imagine a situation short of a parent/child, husband/wife, lecherous writer/nubile love object wherein an author would insist the agent take someone on. And, frankly, if an author of mine started talking about what I "have to do" we're probably headed to splitsville.

I have many people who send me stuff because one of my clients recommended them. I read their work sooner and give them more time. I don't take anyone I wouldn't have taken if they came in the slush pile. Maybe ICM can afford to carry deadwood, but I can't.

Introductions open the door. After that, you're on your own.

Why Copying isn't a Dirty Word

Your Royal Snarkiness,

Along with several million other readers, I happen to love the work of a fiction author whose craft leaves something to be desired. This author most recently hit the NYT bestseller list about five years ago. Most of her novels have enjoyed this distinction.

The thing is, her novels in no way resemble what is conventionally deemed "great writing." Her turgid prose contains long passages of scene, tons of "telling, not showing" in describing characters, POV shifts within a paragraph, etc. Despite this, she is a best selling author.

I would like to write the same type of novels this author does. (I think this type of novel is described as "place" or "cottage" fiction.) Since she's a best seller, would I in any way benefit from emulating her style? Should I do so, I imagine myself facing the wrath of agents who splutter in indignation over my lack of basic writing skills. Am I wrong here?


Well, I have no idea. You wouldn't get through the door here, but you wouldn't want to. I don't read that kind of book, and I don't represent it. That said, there are agents who do and they are the ones you want to ask.

On the general subject of emulation: When you are learning to write I think it's a very very smart idea to really study one writer you respect. Study a particular book so closely you actually count words, diagram sentences, outline plot. When you see the guts of a book you learn how the author constructed it. Then you can copy that structure. As you do that, you'll learn. It's the same way we learn to do almost everything: watch someone who knows how then copy them.

Now, the writing that you do in this effort may not be the novel you send to me. Every great novelist (and by this I don't just mean those stiffs who get nominated for big fat prizes and get talked about in the Times) has about three books under their bed. Don't be afraid to practice.
It's not failure to practice. It's actually the only way to get good.

And lest you think I don't respect "cottage" books, think again. I have several friends who read them and love them. Some of those friends work low level jobs and have pretty rough lives. Those books are their escape. And some of those friends are high level executives who could buy and sell Miss Snark, Killer Yapp and the entire bathtub gin set up here at Snark Central. The books are escape for them too. Just cause I read murder mysteries for my escape fiction doesn't make me any better than people who read other things. Plenty of stuff I read is crap, and I love it.

Pay no attention to that man in the stiletto heels!

In some genres (romance comes to mind, but is not the only one), most novels are written by people of one sex. So a novelist may take a pseudonym of the opposite sex if he (or she) desires to write in that genre. Obviously, personal appearances are out in that case. So what's an author to do who swims against the tide? Stick to blogs and e-mail interviews?

Well, no one is all that shocked that the editor at Beatrice.com is a man. Or that ChekhovsMistress blogger is a man. Or that Miss Snark is a man...wait, that's not quite as humorous as I thought it would be.

The idea of a grizzled, fedora-wearing, cigar chomping Lou Grant writing romances as Fifi LaFemme is pretty funny but I bet the girls over at Romance Writers of America would get a kick out of it. Heck, there are so many girls at those conventions that a man, even in a fedora, would be kind of fun.

I don't think writing as the "wrong" gender precludes much of anything. Heck in this day and age, even dogs and cats write books and no one blinks an eye when humans show up to do the author talk.


Where to go to feed the dream

Here's a question for your blog - do writers get invited to book shows like Frankfurt? Only the huge names, or a wide variety of authors? Feed the dream - show me what it's like on the other side of the published/unpublished divide.

First of all, don't think about Frankfort. It's a show for foreign rights. I paid no attention to anyone other than people who were buying rights. If there were authors there, I shoved them aside as I raced after the fiction buyer from RandomHouse-Macedonia.

If you want to see what publishing is like, get credentialed for Book Expo America. It's in DC next year and it will cost you about $125 for three days. Trust me, you'll go home sobbing. It's utterly overwhelming to see how much is published.

Or, if you want to see the people on the front lines of book retailing go to the LOCAL Booksellers association trade show: Southeast Booksellers Trade Show, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Trade Show, Norhtern California Booksellers Trade Show, New England, Great Lakes, Texas...and on and on. There's where you see the folks who will sell YOUR book. Your local market is your friend.

And if you want to really feel the love, go to the Library Association convention next June in New Orleans. Librarians are freedom fighters not to mention super heroes for books. Some of them even travel with capes and bulletproof brassieres.

Ignore Frankfort. That's only for gin soaked, abuse hardened agents who have Hell on a leash.

I miss you Paula Danziger!

What do the promotional requirements (or expectations, anyway) look like for YA authors?

Oh the joys of classroom visits! Writers of YA and books for younger readers often times promote their books with classroom visits. It can be really fun. It can also be slave labor.

YA authors also need a HUGE web presence. Expect tons of letters and the idea that you really will respond to most of them. Kids have no concept that 3000 other people are writing to you. They only know that YOU are their favorite person in the world and they want to tell you so.

Kids books hardly ever get media attention, but they are HUGE book store draws... and lots of fun. I always take my Dracula teeth just in case I need to enforce discipline in the line of people waiting. Talking to kids in line is such fun. Sometimes there will be a whole family, and I'll ask the youngest one "is this your sister?" The kid nods. I say "are you sure?". Takes a minute but then they just crack up. The parents don't think I’m as funny as the kids do but heck with those sticks in the mud!

YA promotion also involves going to library conventions and conferences. That's a HUGE market and those ladies are a hoot. I love librarians with a passion. Even the ones that look down their noses at my tendency to forget little things like due dates.

I Was Miss Snark's Love Slave!

Dear Miss Snark,

A friend writes memoir and is under the impression she does not necessarily need a platform -- just an exquisitely written manuscript.

My sense of the market (which seems to be re-assessing itself in the wake of 9/11, media mergers, tight economy) is that mainly celebs and those with platform are having memoirs published. The caveat being that there are always exceptions to the rule, which of us is correct? Also, is memoir submitted to agents in standard book proposal format?

By the way, I'm hoping she wins this bet because I love well-written memoirs by ordinary people overcoming extraordinary situations. Thanks so much for your help. Love you and your blog.

Memoir is the platypus of publishing: it's non fiction that's sold like fiction- you have to have it finished and you generally don't need a complete proposal. It's also promoted and marketed like fiction. You'll see the same kinds of blurbs "gripping" "well written" "enticing" that you see on a thriller.

But memoir is very very tricky to sell. Lots of editors and agents hate it. Here's why: it’s VERY hard to write it well. And even if it IS well written, it's got be something that hasn't been done already. A life altering event to you is often time a ho-hum "seen this before" event to an editor or agent. Breast cancer? been there, done that. Horrific abuse? yesterday's news. Held hostage by the Chinese? last year's headlines. Adopting a baby from a war ravaged country? ho hum.

Every editor and agent I know HATES memoir pitches at conferences cause it's not something you want, and rejecting it, it's hard not to feel you're rejecting the person herself. Contrary to what you might think, telling a mom who lost her sixteen children in a five alarm chocolate factory fire where they were indentured servants to Satan is not all that much fun. In fact, I'd rather shave the cat...without gloves.

So, contrary to my usual advice to just write well and ignore the market, if you want to sell a memoir, check to see what you're up against. Go ahead and write it for your own self, but once you decide you want to publish, it's not all about you and your recovery. It's a business. Get ready to be treated like a product. And clean up that chocolate that spilled on the floor!

MizBigShotz Rides Again!

So, how does one use a "blurb" from a traditionally published and well regarded author in a query letter?

Should I state under what circumstances the author has come to read and comment on my work? Is that what you are suggesting?

Personally, it makes me cringe to include the blurb; and I've gotten mixed advice from some publishing veterans I know.

Please advise.

Well, first, Miss Snark doesn't really want to be a veteran; Khaki is just not her color.

Here's how to do this:
I took a writing class with Miss Snark at Platypus U in March. She critiqued my work as "bellicose with a certain underground charm".


Miss Snark was kind enough to read my work at a writing conference and commented "you suck but so does everyone else so you should have no trouble finding an agent to sell this".

Miss Snark, who has been my friend since pre birth, ripped this out of my word processor as I wrote it, so eager was she to see what happened.

Well you get the idea: just a phrase about context. When you say "Miss Snark said such and such" I wonder if you're just lifting phrases out of her form rejection letter. Lest you think that is my fevered imagination at work, dig into the archives. It's happened.

Tic Tax Dough

How do taxes work in the publishing world? By trade, I’m a booth-renting hair stylist, and I set a portion, (about 30%) of my income and set it aside for taxes. I talked to a tax person not too long ago, and she wasn’t versed in tax laws for writers, but she did say she thought that the tax laws were different than a “regular” business.

you mean like a business that makes money?

As a writer you are the owner of a small business. Welcome to the world of Schedule C. You keep track of your expenses and income. You read the instruction book carefully. You DO NOT CHEAT. By this I mean when you go to Miss Congenialty's Strip Club and Novel Writing Seminar, you only claim the novel writing seminar part as a deductible expense.

When you get a big fat advance, Miss Snark sends you a check. At the close of the fiscal year (cause she's organized in a linear fashion it is 12/31) Miss Snark sends you and the IRS a form detailing how much you've gotten.

What your tax person may be referring to is when expenses are accrued. I am NOT NOT NOT an expert on this. If you have enough money to matter (ie you're making more than pocket change from your writing) I advise you to seek advice from an accountant who knows publishing law. Do this NOW not April.

My business runs on what is called a cash basis. I spend money and make money and at the end of the year I account for all of it. Some writers accrue expenses..that is list them before they occur or hold them over to a year when they will actually earn income. This is legal if it's done right. Get advice.

She also may be referring to the fact that you actually have to earn money at some point for your writing to be a business. You can't keep expensing things without showing income. I think three years is the limit but again...GET ADVICE.

Are you ready for your closeup Miss Dickinson?

was watching an interview on TV, I think it was the ruler of Time Warner Book Group (Kirshbaum? I can't remember.) He was rattling about how he loved authors who go out and sell their own stuff. He said they put all their authors through some kind of media training so they'll be better interviewees and be charming on TV. I was wondering how you feel about this. How would you react to an author who was more introverted, reclusive, who refused to do readings and make appearances?I

Well, I think you'll be very happy at AuthorHouse cause that's about the only "publisher" who'll be interested in your work.

If you write non-fiction, you have to be willing to do the dog and pony show. You may not have to leave your house; radio interviews can be done by phone, as can newspaper interviews. To refuse to do those is a deal-breaker. Besides, the likelihood of a publisher signing a non fiction book for an author without established platform is very low.

If you write fiction and you refuse to give readings, I won't sign you. Most publishers expect, and indeed include in their contract with you, that you'll be part of the promotion process.

Yes there are authors who don't do this: Anne Tyler, Thomas Pynchon, JD Salinger, JT Leroy. I can probably think of ten others if you give me an hour. They are the exception, the very very RARE exception. And most of them were writing long before the huge media maw opened in the 90's.

If you want to be a recluse, write poems.


Dear Miss Snark,

I know some well published authors who have written their synopsis in first person, if their manuscript was written in first person. The response from their agent and editor was very favorable as it captured the flavor and style of the manuscript. I realize not every agent or editor would like this idea, but I guess it's a gamble people choose to take.

My question is: What is your opinion if you asked for a synopsis and it was divided into 4 x POV, just like the manuscript was written in. By saying this I don't mean one paragraph is in first person present, the next in third person past. But the manuscript and synopsis is divided equally and obviously into four stories (and POV), all interlinked, to make one big story (a six degrees of separation-type thing). Would you throw something at Killer Yapp, or would you raise your gin pail to the author if it is done really well and gives you a sense of the style and flow of the manuscript? Or do you not even bother reading a synopsis and get stuck straight into the manuscript?

The purpose of a synopsis is NOT to give you a sense of style and flow of the manuscript. It's to tell you what happens and who's important. The first five pages of your manuscript should convey your style.

I STRONGLY urge you to not do something weird with your synopsis. And this is weird. If you have four linked stories linked, just say so. Straightforward is the ONLY way to go for synopsis if you are trying to get attention from an editor or agent. If you are already published and have an established relationship with an agent, you can write your synopsis in haiku for all I care cause I don't have to read it or sell it. BUT if you are sending material out for consideration, don't do this.

More on The Wave of the Future

Snarklings, polish your surfboards, the wave of the future is near at hand.

From the Sunday New York Times, art section, page 27, an article by John Anderson, ONCE IT WAS DIRECT TO VIDEO, NOW IT'S DIRECT TO THE WEB.

Here's part of the fourth paragraph about independent movie makers trying to get their work out:

What about more general fare with no stars, budgets or hope? That's where IndieFlix, founded by (Scilla) Andreen and her business partner, the filmmaker Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi comes in. Directors submit their films, which are then posted on the Website (www.indieflix.com). When users log on and click to buy the films that capture their interest, IndieFlix burns them onto a DVD and ships them out. The price for a feature length film is $9.95.

Is this going to replace big budget blockbuster popcorn and date night movies at the cinema? No.

Is it going to replace art house features? no

It's going to EXPAND the market. People who go to the movies on Friday night with Miss Congeniality are likely to also want to see a movie on Tuesday with Fido on the couch. With this set up, the DVD arrives at your door.

Right now, if you want to see a movie at home you can order HBO on Demand, or from a couple online providers. That's like having access to one library of content.

This IndieFlix system gives you access to an entire library system because people who can't get
distribution deals will be able to list their movies here.

Will there be more schlock? Yes.
Is that a bad thing? not my concern. You get to make and live with your own choices here.

The implications for publishing are clear. If we can't see this, we're not paying attention.

The SASE Divorcee

A faithful Snarkling asked if we should mention former agents (in query letters). You said yes.

Out of her two options, which do you prefer? Naming the former agent or just a casual mention of previous representation? (Assuming the agent isn't NoName Joe from Podunkville or Binky)

You can handle it either way but if I like your work and want to discuss representation with you I'm going to ask who what when where and why before we go much further.

Agent hopping can be a sign of bad agents but it can also be a leading indicator of a client with unrealistic expectations. I have several clients who "divorced" their first/second agents and we had very frank discussions about how I work and what they can expect. Some folks never got passed that stage cause it was clear they needed a much different style of interaction than what I offer. That doesn't make them difficult or wrong, it just makes me a bad fit for their needs.

Telling me upfront you were formerly represented by anyone isn't an automatic no.

Baby, it's you

What happens to all the postage I send to agents who have asked for my manuscript (and a SASE)? My experience is that three out of four times I get the brush-off via e-mail a month or so later, and the manuscript, I suppose, is recycled. And the postage? Is hoarding stamps one of the perks of a literary agent, along with glamorous lunches and parties?

We don't hoard them, we steam them off your envelope and take them down to Starbucks on the corner where we use them to buy mocha frappucinos and talk about how stupid people are to actually send SASEs when they know we do this.

You didn't know Starbucks redeems stamps? You thought the only place to use stamps was on letters? Silly you.

If your SASEs have a return rate of 25% I guarantee the problem is you, not me.

Are you sending postage to return the entire manuscript? Don't. No one returns manuscripts weighing more than 16 ounces. The post office sends them back to us or trashes them as "hazardous". Any mail over 16 ounces has to be handed in personally at the post office. This means hauling the ms to the PO, and waiting in line. Almost every agency in town doesn't return mss any more. It's just too troublesome. Standard format is send the ms with a #10 biz envelope and a 37 cent stamp. We recycle the pages and send you a letter.

If you're sending a #10 envelope and they aren't coming back:

Are you using the address labels sent to you free by Easter Seals or other charities as your address on the envelope? (there's a reason they are called return address labels and it's not cause they go on SASEs).

Are you addressing the envelope to yourself with the right address? (I get SASEs with MY address as the both the to and from)

I've heard this complaint from a couple of people over the years but almost everyone else I know who sends queries with the correct SASE hears back. If you don't, it's probably a problem on your end.


Frankenfurter wit catch up

Should I be disappointed that my agent isn't catching the flight with you to Frankfurt to pitch my book?

By this I mean that I have a sneaking suspicion that all the good stuff happens there. Do you hold back on some of your hoard for more opportune dates like fairs at Franfurt/NyC/London?

Can you let us know more about the timing of your pitches! Is there a season to this literary world?

Not everyone goes to Frankfort. It's mostly a place to do foreign rights although some American rights are sold or announced there. It's a place to meet the publishers from the non English speaking world like Finland, Thailand and Nigeria (who knew!).

Mostly these folks are interested in work that's already been sold here. I take finished copies and of course lists of projects available.

I go to shop the stuff that my foreign rights people aren't doing. But mostly I go to revel.

There is definitely a season to the literary world and we're in the middle of the busiest time of the year right now. I'm not reading much that is just over the transom right now; it's all I can do to keep up with the day to day biz and the works in progress that are selling right now.

On the other hand, don't even think about this. Just write. Then send. We'll read your query when we can. It just may take longer. If you try to time it, you'll go crazy.

Miss Snark's First Word on RUDE AGENTS

So for those of use who have e-queried agents, what happens if we don't hear back from them? I know you're not supposed to query again, but what if they fall into the category of simply deleting messages without reading them, and we don't realize this? Is it okay to, after a certain amount of time, send in a paper query? After how long? Thanks!

Miss Snark has absolutely had it with her colleagues who think that by virtue of being literary agents they have license to abandon the rules of business etiquette.

IF an agent elects to accept e-queries, common courtesy dictates a response should be sent. It can be a form response "thank you but not right for us" but there should still be something.

This hogwash about we'll get back to you if we're interested is ridiculous. If you don't want to deal with queries then DON'T but to just blithely disregard them as though some sort of Ridley Scott robot is on the other end and not a human being is just plain BAD MANNERS.

There are enough times when common courtesy goes out the window in this city: morning subway rides leap to mind, and people who whistle in elevators.

We're not curing cancer here and lives don't depend on our decisions. We aren't so busy that we can't be courteous.

So, colleagues, shape up. Answer your damn emails or stop taking e-queries.

As to the actual question the Snarkling asked, if you don't hear back, I'd mail a query within a month. But I'd also not be all that excited about working with someone who thinks it's ok to brush you off cause you're "just slush".

Repetez S'il Vous Plait

I jumped the gun by submitting queries/samples before the book was ready (and the issues were all in the first chapter - ha ha damn). Obviously, my top choices for an agent have not changed, so I was wondering if there is a proper approach for resubmitting the same material?

None of them asked to see revised versions, right?
How much time has passed since you got the cold shoulder?

If more than six months has passed (and if it hasn't, stop reading and go back to revising),
you can do one of two things:

1. Query again with the revised chapter. Don't mention you've sent this before. I'll bet you one yapping poodle to a box of doughnuts that the agents don't remember it.

2. Query again with "I took your advice to heart and revised like crazy".

Your chances of getting a yes out of this batch is pretty low. I don't have a single client I said no to on the first round. I have several who got 'not ready, revise this and send again'.

One of my least favorite things to get are re-submits of material I wasn't interested in the first time.

And it may be time to consider that your list of top agents just may not have a lot of room on their lists. Query widely.


Miz BigShotz likes my novel

Ya, and so does your mother. The question is, will Miss Snark? Probably not, but it's worth asking. And to warm up your query letter, sometimes you tell Miss Snark about other people who think your novel doesn't suk. I'm gazing with awe upon one such query letter now.

It quotes, and thus I do too, "Anthony Award winning novelist" Miz BigShotz says "yadda yadda yadda" and further Nobel Prize winner Mr Carnivorous says "yadda to the second degree".

ok, sure, but can you please tell me what they read: This novel? A short story?
and WHERE they read it: Your kitchen table? A writing contest? A writing conference? a rejection letter for a blurb?

Sadly Miss Snark lost her innocence on the baggage carousel at Heathrow and thus is deeply suspicious of everything. If you don't give me context, I just don't believe it. And worse for you, I disregard it.

It's entirely common for people to take the comments of writing workshop teachers and use them in cover letters. I once got three query letters in about a week's time, all quoting a writer I know pretty well. I called him up and said "what's with all these folks you're sending me". He was a bit dumbfounded, cause of course he hadn't sent them to me. He'd taught a class, critiqued some work and next thing you know he's on a query letter in my mail box. We had a good laugh, but I never believed any kudos without context again.

So: credential your kudos; a word to the wise.

Miss Me?

The strain of being nice for a week is really too much.
Miss Snark has polished her stilettos and is ready for the world!
Bring it on!