Miss Snark Feels the Chill of Fear

I can write an intelligent, compelling, coherent two page synopsis of any book Miss Snark cares to name - except my own. Why, pray tell, does the synopsis of my own novel read like a book report by a dim-witted second grader?

Any chance you want to run 500 word synopses through your crapometer? It'd be shorter than doing first chapters.

I hate synopses. a lot. really.

But, it's probably a good idea.
Crapometer won't be back up till I clear out some of this slush..err...fine reading material.

But, yea, this is a good idea.
Snarklings: start your engines.
500 word synopsis-wordlimit STRICTLY enforced.
If you start working now, you'll be ready.

I'll put the call on the blog and there will be a 12 or 24 hour time window to submit.
Probably December.

Man, I DO want that house in Bermuda now!

TPO doesn't mean toilet paper

Several Snarklings picked up on a comment from a previous post and asked:

Miss Snark, What Do you think of trade paperback originals for debut authors?

I love them particularly if it means I can get an author published who would not make the cut for a hardcover debut novel.

TPO (trade paper original) is not the scorned downmarket loser disrespected category that it once was. Lot's of publishers are finding readers prefer trade paper, particularly book clubs and reading groups.

The downside is it's harder to get reviews, and it's harder to get library sales, and there’s less money in it both upfront and on the royalty rate. You can make it up on quantity but you work harder for it.

That means I'm VERY careful about who I push for TPO. I try to push people I think can sell, can sell to book clubs, have a strong regional presence, and will be able to make the jump to hardcover within two or three books down the road.

I also push it for authors who've had some, but not enough, success. It's a way to boost sales, build name recognition, get the author some reader exposure s/he hasn't had.

This decision is NEVER made by the agent alone. Editors and their bosses are the biggest part of the decision. Where it's important to have an agent who believes in the value of TPO is when the agent makes the list of editors to pitch. Some editors acquire ONLY for a hardcover list.

Who sent this partridge in a pear tree?

A Snarkling gets out his Amex card as he inquires:

Do many of your clients give you gifts--a bottle of gin for example--when you sell their books? Do you get upset with clients who don't give you gifts?

Miss Snark has some treasured gifts from wonderful clients BUT she strongly discourages gifts when it is possible to do so without looking churlish.

The reasons are these:

1. Miss Snark is a devoted minimalist. That means she does not have knickknacks, cutesypoo items, paperweights, mugs, or decorative cross stitch in her office or her lair. Miss Snark barely has books. It's not a good idea to send any of these things because it wastes your money and although Miss Snark's neighbors stand in line for her trash, they are not your intended recipient.

2. Of the items Miss Snark does keep in abundance (here's where the gin enters in) she has specific taste and doesn't want to find out you can't tell good gin from bad. I assure you there is nothing worse than getting bad gin, unless it's bad cigars.

3. If there are things Miss Snark actually WANTS (the subscription to Italian Vogue, ice skates for when hell freezes over) she will buy them herself. Of course, if you want to give her a house in Bermuda...feel free.

4.. Business gifting is abominable. It's spawned an entire industry of professional gift buyers but they are the only people who really benefit. It creates terrible anxiety in the giver (oh my god, did I send enough? too much? does it look like I'm fawning? unappreciative?). It creates a burden on the recipient (dang, I sold her book, now she's sent me a mink coat, how am I going to tell her I'm letting my assistant handle her work cause I never want to talk to her again).

If Miss Snark sells your book, you send a hand written note that says thanks. You can send a Christmas card. You can even come to New York and buy her a drink. But save the gifts for your family and friends.

Everyone wants you!

A hypothetical question for you. Say an author is querying many agents at once with her first novel. The planets align, fish rain from the sky, and three of those agents write back asking to see more pages. Now, since none of them have asked for an exclusive, the ecstatic author mails all three the pages they asked for. More miracles happen, and one of the agents calls her a few days later with an offer of representation. Is it beyond rude to ask her to wait for a few days because you want to see if the other agents will bite? Or should the author thank her lucky stars and take the one who called? After all, like a good snarkling, this author has researched her agents and knows that the one who's extending the offer is the kind of agent she'd like to have. Is there any value in waiting and comparing agents? Since all three will get the same 15%, is there enough difference (other than personal style) between 3 good agents to justify maybe pissing one off because you want to wait until all the offers are in before making a decision?

Thank you so much for your blog, it is a delight to read. I refresh it hourly.

That's a lot of refreshment!

This isn't a hypothetical question. This happens often enough to be what passes for normal around here. Well, the fish raining from the sky part, not so much, but frequently I'm reading something several other agents are too.

If you get an offer, you aren't going to accept right away anyway. You're going to have a talk with the prospective agent and make sure you're a good fit. There's no way to know that from just looking at a listing in Writers Market. You're going to talk/email to several of his/her clients too.

When you get an offer, you email the other agents reading the work. You say "I've gotten an offer and I'm in discussion with that agent. If my work is of interest to you I'd like to wait to make a decision with this other agent, but I do need to get back to him /her in a timely fashion."

We ALL get that. It's not a problem.

A cautionary note: it's not a given that if another agent is interested I will be, or that I'll stop everything and read your novel. At LEAST half the time I'll email back with a pass, knowing the author is going to get representation. So, do NOT use this as a tool to get people to read faster. That strategy can bite you in the refreshment zone.


Pay Attention to ME!

I'm an author with several well-received books under my belt. When I was searching for agents I ended up taking the first one who wanted. Now I'm wondering if I made a good choice. Having only had one agent, I don't know what constitutes an effective client/agent relationship.

Whenever I speak to my agent she always checking email and I feel like I only have half her ear. She never seems interested in following up on the progress of various sub right, royalty payments and pending contracts. When I have a new project to sell she generally groans and says she's swamped with reading material. There are times I'd like to ask her opinion on a book idea to see if its marketable before I invest time in, but I never do because she doesn't seem to encourage that sort of thing.

To her credit, she is a savvy negotiator, and manages to get good deals but that's pretty much all she does for me. It would be nice if you could explain some of things an author can expect from her agent. Maybe I'm wanting too much. Although I only talk to her only every six months or so I always feel I'm imposing on her.


Feeling neglected

You sound like those ex husbands in romance novels who wake up one morning and decide they’ve missed out on all those available women and want to go explore. What you want to avoid is discovering you’ve got a great agent only after you fire him/her.

The person you need to say all this is your agent. All of us fall into slack habits and checking email while we're hand holding could very well be one of them. (Talking about book ideas may not be your definition of hand holding but it might be his/hers).

Her slacking off on sub rights may be because someone else handles that (Miss Snark farms out her sub rights left and right) and you asking just means she has to email and ask someone else.

You want to ask yourself too if you're willing to lose a "savvy negotiator" for someone more touchy feely. No agent is perfect (except Miss Snark of course, but even then, only if you understand her social skills were learned at shark school).

Back to Hell, Seat 12A on the aisle

Following up on Miss Snark's post about pitching at conferences a Snarkling offers up this question:

What if you're in a group pitch situation? Like there's four other authors sitting there with you and the agent? I know that happens at RWA's national conference, and I'm curious as to how you would recommend we handle it in a group situation where everyone else is pitching.

This is Miss Snark's definition of absolute hell. There is just absolutely no way group pitches work. I've done it; I hate it; I refuse to ever do it again.

First, the poor authors are pitching their work in public. Talk about nerves. And Miss Snark has to be discuss their work in public: YUCK. This group pitch thing should be banned from the face of the earth.

If however, you find yourself embroiled in one here's my suggestion for strategy.

If you can, go last.
Let everyone else pitch and then YOU say: instead of pitching may I ask a question?

If the answer is yes, ask what attracted that agent to a book you know they sold.
It's IMPERATIVE you come to this meeting prepared. You can't just say "what do you like about a book you sold" because the information will be meaningless if you don't know the book.

If you don't know the name of a single book this agent or editor handled, then you sit there and keep your mouth shut. Just say "I'm here to listen and learn". If you don't know what they've sold, you are wasting your time pitching cause you don't know what they are looking for.

Group pitches are worthless other than for practice. If they're a mandatory part of the program, I don't let people pitch, I make them ask questions. I let them give me their pitch in writing but I can't stand seeing people so terrified. It makes me really really uncomfortable.

THIS is when you email Miss Snark

I have a question in here somewhere; or rather, an elaboration on your "Small contracts" post. I have a contract in hand (well, technically it's in the mail, but will be in hand within two weeks) from a small (royalties: check...advances: not on your life) publisher. They have accepted the first two books in my planned series of five (that's what the contract is for). They have expressed interest in reading the remaining three as they are completed (book three is roughly complete; book four is begun).

My question: do I need an agent now? Should I finish out the series with this company and then search for an agent for further, non-serial novels? What if, contrary to the general attitude authors commonly fall prey to, I decide to (gasp) forego any monetary advantage I may see when my books shoot to the top of the NYT Bestseller List (of course they will) and stick with this small but friendly and competent publisher out of loyalty and general satisfaction -- where I will still receive no advance? Would an agent be in my best interest? And how about the interest of the agent: would they want 15 percent of nothing, plus royalties?

Yes you need an agent.
You REALLY need one if you're not getting any money up front.
Are you giving them world rights?
Are you giving them first serial rights?
Are you giving them film and audio rights?
For no dough?
Do you have graduated royalty rates?
Bonuses for hitting the NYT best seller list?
Who controls the rights? What's the split if there is one?
How many free copies are they giving you?
How much are they charging you for copies you have to buy?
Do they plan to give you your rights back in this lifetime?

If nothing else you need a IP lawyer to look this over.

However, I think agents are a better choice and cheaper up front. And yes, we do want 15% of nothing. We'll make it back on those NYT Best seller list sales.

THIS is when you email agents. Your subject line is: I have an offer, I need an agent.

Technically you don't have a contract till you sign and if the contract offer sux, an agent can help you negotiate. And make no mistake about it: everything is negotiable.

Start now. You need to get moving right f/ing now.

News Flash! Agents ARE Human Beings!

Dear Miss Snark:

I'm registered for a five-minute pitch session at an upcoming writers conference and I'm trying to prepare rather than simply panic.

What are the types of things that an editor might be interested in hearing from me?

I've memorized the fifty-word pitch for my PI mystery, the highlights/conflicts of the story, and my publishing credentials/honors. I know why I was drawn to my main character and how the events of the book are significant to me.

So what do I say for the next four minutes? ;)

Thanks in advance for sharing any thoughts.

First, don't recite your fifty word pitch when you sit down.
Second, don't recite it at all.

Third, use this time to CONNECT with the agent or editor. If you just sit down, spew lines and then sit there, I'm not sure who is more uncomfortable: you, me, or Killer Yapp confined to Miss Snark's Prada handbag.

Here's how to use five minutes:

You: Good morning. Thanks for seeing me.
MS: Good morning, it's my pleasure.

You: I have a fifty word pitch memorized but I'd rather ask your advice
MS: (puffing up with delight at being asked to share her pearls of wisdom) Sure, go ahead.

Then you ask three of the questions you want to ask this agent or editor:

(here are some of Miss Snark's)
What do you like to read best/what's the book you've enjoyed most recently (savvy authors write this stuff down)

What did you like best about (insert name of book editor worked on or agent sold)?

Do you like to be hands on with your author?

Do you have room on your list right now for (insert kind book you write)

What do you think of trade paperback originals for debut authors?

What books did you love as a kid?

THEN you ask if you can pitch. (Even if you don't pitch, you can then write a query letter referencing your really nice conversation at the conference plus you’ll have a much better idea of what the agent/editor looks for and likes in books).

You can pitch any agent or editor in the world in a query letter. What you have at this conference is an opportunity to make a person to person connection. Do not SQUANDER that chance by being nervous, or treating the agent like the judge at an audition.

TALK to the agent. Get him/her to talk back. We're human beings (ok, most of us are sometimes). We like to be asked our opinions, we like to be told we're fabulous.

Miss Snark attended a cocktail party recently wherein several desperate souls accosted her at the bar and began pitching their work. They actually asked Miss Snark to take pages then and there. Miss Snark gave them her mailing address for nitwits (101 Staten Island Landfill Road). Miss Snark subsequently enjoyed a hilarious conversation with two delightful women who never ONCE mentioned they were writers. They didn't have to. Miss Snark was at an event for writers and agents: she knew everyone who wasn't an agent was a writer.

The conversation was charming. Miss Snark was glad to give these two savvy women her card with address, phone and email on it. Why? They'd demonstrated they would be fun to work with and knowledgeable about how to behave well. They were FUN to talk to. Their work will get read. Those others won't.

At the conference, just relax. Think of it as a way to meet interesting new people who like to read as much as you do.

Which way is up?

I've come across the phrase "upmarket contemporary women's fiction" several times when reading agent web sites. It's never explained. I'd hate to offend an agent by sending the wrong kind of query. What does upmarket mean? Does it mean happy ending or something else?

First, the answer to the question, then the rant.

First, upmarket is a way for agents to talk about where a book is going to sell best. Upmarket means they're thinking hardcover and trying to get some review attention. Downmarket means trade or paper original and they're just going to sell it till the cows come home. As for what the distinction is: that's a harder question. Upmarket is Chris Bohjalian, Elizabeth Berg, Alison Lurie.

Downmarket is Toni Sorenson Brown’s series Shirley You Can Do It (SMP); Patti Berg (Avon); and Robin Wells (Dorchester).

Now the rant: don't fine tune your queries like that. Query widely. So WHAT if some nitwit agent says "I don't understand why you sent me downmarket fiction when I clearly asked for upmarket". They can't reach through the computer and strangle you (Miss Snark has funded research for this but it's early days). Upmarket and downmarket are largely in the eye of the beholder and besides, writers mostly don't know diddly about this. That's the AGENT'S job to sort out.

Now, I'm not advising you to query agents with detective fiction if they only represent academic non fiction. But if an agent takes detective fiction, and you write that, query him/her. If an agent takes women's fiction, and you write that, query!

I've taken on projects (and sold them!) I'd have sworn I would not have. The writing just wooed me right out of my bunny slippers.

So, invest in stamps and a big old box of envelopes. Query widely. Don't worry about offending agents. The only way to truly offend us (rather than annoy) is to ignore us when you have a good project.

I writer right wing claptrap...do I have a chance at fame?

Okay. To find an agent, I need to find someone who represents the work that is similar to
mine (by similar, I mean - my work is a fawning photocopy). After much thought, I realize
that Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is the closest thing - except her book is smarter and my novel
is more exciting.

In case you are curious: my novel is set in an alternate future where America has lined its borders with patriot missiles and has retreated into a position of radical isolation. No one outside the US knows what's going on in there. The protagonist starts off in Montreal and through an adventure of sorts, finds passage into the U.S. When he gets there, he finds the country completely abandoned and the denouement leads to the discovery of where all the people went.

Don't you think it would be very hard to find an agent who would consider the clap-trap of a right-wing nut?

No. Just google the name of every person working in the White House or married to a Vice President and find out who agented their novels. If that doesn't produce a long enough list, find out who published the FIRST edition of Bill O'Reilly's novel THOSE WHO TRESPASS and and query them. He chose that publisher cause they promised not to change a single word.

Under no circumstances should you query Miss Snark. Her theory of the alternate future involves Mr. Clooney, sunny beaches, and an indestructible liver.

oh boy do I have a deal for YOU!

Several Snarklings emailed me about "recommendations" they've gotten from Writers Digest. As I've surfed the blogosphere I've seen sites for writers that have banner ads from places like iUniverse and AuthorHouse. This leads me to the question: what, if any, responsibility do publishing professionals have about taking advertising.

When the Snarklings emailed me about the information they got from Writers Digest, they identified exactly as that: info from WD. I asked to see the exact email and it is in fact NOT from WD but from "one of our marketing partners" which is a fancy word for advertiser. Someone paid WD a chunk of change for access to their email list. PW does the same thing. Took me weeks to get off their spam list.

However, my question is this. Does WD have a responsibility to screen their advertisers before they take their money? Do they have a responsibility to not take advertisers who offer "pie in the sky" to writers?

Some say no; authors aren’t children, we can all read, let the reader make his/her own determination. After all, the services offered are neither illegal nor immoral.

Miss Snark says different. Rather than think of this as merely advertising, people would do well to think of people who rent their mailing lists or appear on their site as people renting their brand name. Remember, the Snarklings who sent me these emails clearly identified them as coming FROM WD even though the first paragraph was pretty clear about "marketing partner".

This is the same trick my bank uses to try to sell me mortgage insurance. The offer comes in an envelope with the bank's name on it.

The folks who understand the danger of this very clearly are at Consumer Reports. They don't accept advertising in their magazine at all. They say it taints their image of objectivity. Not that it DOES taint them, but that it looks like it does.

So, what's the difference between the New York Times Book Review running full page ads from Author House and WD sending emails about "great opportunities". Both are marked advertisement. You sign up to read both online.

Well, to quote Miss Snark's favorite philosopher, the Mayor in River City from the Music Man: it's the phraseology.

Here's the lead, so to speak, on the email:

FR: WritersDigest
TO: misssnark@earthlink
SENT: date
SUBJECT: Special message brought to you by Writer's Digest

It's like TV ads in the 50's and 60's: now a message from our sponsor Geritol. You'll notice they don't do that much anymore. People came to associate the product with the show and savvy product marketers realized (probably before the tv producers) that this was a double edged sword. Geritol got burned in the Quiz Show scandals, and fashion mags were quick to dump Kate Moss when pictures of her doing cocaine were on the front page of the paper in London.

But that still doesn't answer the question of responsibility. Whether something is savvy marketing is not the same as responsible.

I'm not sure of the answer. Writers are adults. They're not stupid. Most of them lead organized, productive lives. Free markets, and democracy, depend on unfettered access to information so people can make decisions with as much information as possible.

I wonder if Michael Jordan has his panties in a wad over shoe companies that advertise "for the athlete in all of us". Probably not. But then, people buying those shoes aren't sending him letters asking for tryouts for the team either.

What do you think?


You Sux..now pay me...part 2

A Snarkling responds to YOU SUCK ...NOW PAY ME posted below:

A few days ago, Miss Snark posted that if a best selling author turns in a subpar book, neither her agent or her editor will tell her that the book is bad, because the author will fire the agent, buy back her contract, and find a new agent & house that will tell her she's great.

The more I think about this statement, the more it upsets me. I count on my agent and editor to be my guides. To fight for me, but to also help grow my career. If I can't depend on them to tell me when my book needs work, who can I count on? It doesn't matter if you have the highest profile agent in the industry--if she won't be your conscience and your guide as well as your advocate, you have nothing. A great agent/author relationship is a two way street. It's not a one-way trip down Admiration Lane. If my agent didn't stop me from making bad decisions, then what am I paying her for? So she can stand back and let me crash and burn? No way.

But I guess that's me. Some people simply want an agent who gets them money and then gets out of their way. Not me. I'm not an idiot. I don't have delusions of grandeur that I can succeed on my own. I know I need a partner, a team, and it starts with my agent.

The rest of the post is on her blog here.

Now first let's all remember that what I said was "there's no motivation" to tell an author s/he sux. NOT that it will not happen. It probably does happen. Those are the books we think are great but may not have started out quite so good. It’s just very risky to tell an author who brings in millions of dollars that the book isn’t that good.

And I don't mean to convey that all authors would pack their bags and decamp, but I assure you that many would (and HAVE!) And perhaps rightly so. An agent who doesn't think your work is good, and an editor who agrees is probably NOT the right person to be on your team. I've been saying that from the get-go.

Here's the rub: Opinions vary. We've seen that here. I've been frothing at the mouth about Robert Parker's crappy writing for months. Yet, there are people brave enough to post comments disagreeing with me. Given it's my blog, and I have a viper tongue, my guess is there are additional people who disagree with me and were just unwilling to risk posting their opinion. (Not that Miss Snark would take their head off or anything...guillotining is illegal after all..isn't it?).

As an agent do I tell an author I think the work sux? Sometimes yes. But often I'm not completely confident my taste mirrors that of the author's general readership. Agents get jaded. We read for fresh and new a LOT. Many readers aren't looking for that in their old favorites. They LIKE same and ordinary. That's exactly what several of the posts about Parker have said: we like this - it's comfort food.

As a reader, I think Robert Parker’s new book sux. As an agent, I’d be happily cashing a six figure advance.

My job as an agent is primarily to make sure a writer gets the best deal s/he can. Is the Cause of Literature served when Swifty Lazar gets Random House to change boilerplate acceptance language for Joan Collins? Not hardly. Who is served? His client of course. That was his job.

That doesn't mean I have to like it, or that I can't rail about it on this blog.

I'm glad my beloved Snarklings would rather dance naked in Times Square than publish a book that sux. THAT serves the Cause of Literature more than any statement of integrity by an agent.

Furriners Want My Work!

Agent, who doesn’t usually rep my genre, expresses interest in my work. Not a concrete offer of representation, but a willingness to consider it. What to do? Disregarding the popular theory that any agent is better than none-is this in fact a good idea? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

One bridge at a time bucko. Send your work. You might not get an offer.

I'd also look at how long the agent has been in business. If this agent is new, s/he is actively looking for new areas and you could be the first to benefit from his/her energy.

But, first things first. Let the agent read it.

You know like Moby Dick..but in space

Dear Miss Snark,
In the role agents play as filters between editors at big publishers and the ocean of scribes "out there" how often do fiction editors request works on a certain topic or theme? That is, do you get editors saying over lunch or the phone “God, I'd really love to have a fresh timely novel on whaling and the Bible! Or, gee, where have all the Taylor Caldwells gone? I'd love to see another Tobacco Road Redux; a grit lit meth lab novel; grandma under the Tundra's wheels. You got any southern writers in your stable? (horse whinny in background).”

But seriously, do you mostly pitch novels coming from your writers? Are editors mainly passive and reactive to what you pitch? Or do they in a sense pitch ideas for fiction back to you? Perhaps it makes more sense for editors to stimulate books on nonfiction topics. "Need a book yesterday on nicknames and political scandals in American history! Gotta a writer who can scoot to the task?"

When I get requests from editors for certain kinds of books it is invariably non-fiction and pretty general: "I need more books for my marketing to small business" list.

I've never had an editor ask for Tobacco Road Redux but I've had lots of editors say "I'm looking for the next Lovely Bones".

Editors who love old books will frequently try to bring out new editions of the work. There's at least one story in the trades every year about an editor doing that.

So, again, and always, write your best stuff. Don't worry about what editors are looking for. Miss Snark will make them realize in short order that what they really NEED is your book.

Anthologies Vol 2

Hi Miss Snark I have an anthology idea and want to include authors who are 1) not pubbed with my house and 2) not represented by my agent. (they are all agented and pubbed by different major NY houses). None of us are "big" names but (I believe) all on the cusp and we have diverse readers, though write in the same general genre.

How do I approach this with my agent? (Basically, I don't want to look stupid ... been there, done that.) Is it even kosher to suggest an anthology without a common agent/agency or house?

What are the logistics of something like this (my agent is the best of the bunch; I'd want her to negotiate and her lawyers to review the contract) but do all agents get a cut? Is it split like royalties in an anthology? Am I even making sense? I think I have a great idea but just need some impartial, professional advice on how to put it together.

The first thing you need is a publisher. Pitch the idea of the anthology and see if it flies. Your agent can help with this part.

When writers contribute to an anthology it's frequently done on a flat fee basis, like a work for hire. You want to avoid the 25 way royalty splits at all costs. There's some prestige in being included in an anthology so writers are willing to do this.

The writers can work it out with their own agents on how to split the dough. My clients don't have to fork over for work I didn't sell for them but I do always review any contract they sign. I look on anthologies as a good way to get my clients' names out in the world, and I'm not going to kibosh a deal over 15% of nothing.

Anthologies are a hellacious amount of work. They can be a lot of fun (Brooklyn Noir 1 did 25 readings in Brooklyn during the summer of 2004 and lots of them were in bars-Miss Snark's venue of choice for all festive events).


Small contracts

Dear Miss Snark

You mentioned on your "That's SOME book!" blog post that "All this should be in your contract. It's not? I guess I'll add that to my list of reasons I think people should have agents even for small press contracts with zero money."

As you may recall, I recently asked you some contract negotiation questions. This was in regards to a small press contract with zero money. I would have *loved* to have a Miss Snark, or even an agent who is only one-zillionth as bootielicious as Miss Snark, negotiate that contract for me. But would any agent other than a fee-charging scammer have touched such a contract that was an author's first sale? Is a small press contract even worth mentioning in queries to agents?

I would be delighted if you were to address this issue on your blog, as I've seen it mentioned many times in various writing groups. The vicious circle in which one needs a sale to get an agent, but needs an agent to get a sale, is enough to make a hamster-writer feel that he's stuck on a never-ending exercise wheel.

First, anyone who writes to me and says "I have a contract in hand and I need an agent" gets a call back that day. Many times I've not taken the author on, but I've looked at the contract and given a few pointers. It's the very least I can do - sort of like banking some good will to make up for some of my other less savory activities.

However, you can always find an attorney versed in intellectual property to give you some advice. You need to be VERY clear that you just want a review, not a negotiation. You also want to sent some limits on time so you don't end up with a bill that's bigger than your mortgage.

You can also get a LOT of good legal advice about clauses that should be in book contracts from Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract.

What? No Guidelines?? But..but...I want you to be my agent!

What do you suggest if we can not locate an agent's submission guidelines? For instance, ICM does not seem to post them anywhere. I remember that you like a query letter, synopsis and first ten pages, but can't recall if this is your personal preference or a good standard if we are unsure what to send.

I suggest it means they aren't looking for unsolicited material.
However, that never deterred anyone I know so this is when the default "industry standard" kicks in:

1. Novels: query letter of ONE page max, with 5-10 pages of writing with a #10 SASE.
2. NF-Query letter of TWO pages max, with a #10 SASE.

This is where it can be VERY helpful to have met one of the agents at a conference. That reminder of the meeting is your FIRST sentence in the query letter.

Do they really not want my fabulous book?

It is widely asserted that you need an agent to get a manuscript in front of editors at the big houses, but that you can submit work to indie presses directly. Yet I notice that many small publishers, from A to Z (Akashic and Zumaya cases in point) are now posting on their websites that they are 'temporarily' not accepting submissions because they are swamped.

Is this in fact a 'temporary' situation? (It seems to have lasted more than a year for some of these presses...) Can an agented manuscript get past this hurdle, or are these presses genuinely buried under their commitments?

Well, my last conversation with Johnny Temple at Akashic was conducted in a bar so I'm not sure if my transcription is accurate but here's what's going on there: they got REAL successful with their Noir series. Brooklyn Noir took off like a shot, followed by Brooklyn Noir 2, SF Noir, Chicago Noir and Godhelpus Dublin Noir. Considering each is an anthology, they have 25 authors in every book to wrangle. They ARE truly swamped. I know and like Johnny and have a lot of respect for what he's doing over there. If and when he's not busy, he'd probably tell me if I asked.

I don't know Elizabeth at Zumaya very well but I see her around on some BBSs I read. Most likely she's as tired as we all are of our slush piles and is just trying to get on top of it.

The value of an agent here is that we usually know the folks. The ones in NY we see a lot; the not-in-NY ones we see at BEA or other path crossing places like the Edgars. It's a lot easier for an agent to get a call returned or get an email answered than it is for a regular author. That makes sense from a time management view: agents represent a LOT of projects, individual authors just one. I tend to return phone calls from Bantam a lot faster than those from Bumf..err..you get the idea.

If you want to talk with these guys, the Small Press Fair is in New York every year. It's coming up in December 3 and 4. Here's the link:Small Press Center that sponsors it.

Some Agents Need a Lesson in Manners

An agent who asked to see the first three chapters of my manuscript emailed to decline it with the notation that it might be more suitable for a "small press audience." Questions: Are there agents who specialize in selling to small/independent presses? If not, is the direct query to a small press much the same as a query to an agent?

First, send a bag of flaming dog poop to whoever emailed this to you. (Killer Yapp will be happy to help you with this)

It's code for "it's not going to sell enough to be worth my time". Well la de dah with a horsefeather.

Yes there are agents who don't have their head up their ass. Look for agents with sales to smaller presses.

Many of us take pride in selling work to small presses, or selling first works to small presses, or selling works to small presses that do just dandy thank you very much.

And if you're approaching a small press directly it's like querying an agent. BUT if you land a contract, you must have it reviewed by an agent or an attorney or Miss Snark won't let you read her blog any more so there.

Getting an anullment from your agent

A Snarkling wonders:

Please help me out, as I'm about to drown my sorrows in copious amounts of gin. Back when I was but a snarkling, I pitched my ms to a plethora of agents, and ultimately ended up signing with one. When I chose said agent, many of the others - either while gently passing or when I opted for said agent - asked me to feel free to submit my next work to them and to keep them posted on my future projects. I developed a nice rapport with several of them, and their offers seemed genuine.

The novel that my agent then sent around came very close to selling. Very, very close, but ultimately, it didn't. (Cue more gin.) However, again, many of the editors asked to see my next book, a sign, I think, that they believed in my talents, just that this particular work wasn't for them. So I tossed away the liquor bottles and got writing, and produced what I believe to be a far superior book, and my writer's group agrees. Fab! My agent and I, however, do not see eye to eye on it (for reasons that I won't bother with here), and my instinct says that while we have had a lovely relationship, this might be the time for me to walk away. (I suspect that you might advise me to stick with my agent if I respect his opinion, but for the sake of this note, let's say that after careful consideration, I still want to bolt.)

Which brings me to my question: I'd like to go back to the agents who requested that I stay in touch, but I'm not sure how to approach them. Obviously, they'll be curious about what happened to ms #1 (rightly so), and I don't want it to sound like I'm making excuses for my near-miss (marketing committees, second reads, blah, blah, blah). At the same time, I also don't want to bad-mouth my agent, as this really is coming down to a subjective difference of opinion on this work. (And no, I'm not stubborn or sticking to my guns! In fact, I've changed things drastically to fit his vision...we've just reached an impasse.) So what do I say? I don't want to shoot myself in the foot right out of the gate by offering up too much, but I also don't want to look like I'm dodging the obvious. Do I tell them about the raves the book received and the request for future ms? Or just say, "Hello, it's been a while, here's something you might like."

First, any agent who said "stay in touch" when you told them you were signing with someone else isn't reading your letter/email very closely. I'd consign those folks to the second tier of queries.

You want to address the issue of previous representation clearly and briefly. I advise something along the lines of "I was represented by Agent 008 for a novel, HISTRIONICS, that did not sell. We've come to an amicable parting of the ways. I'm writing to you today about my new novel, STILETTO, since you were kind enough to ask to see other work/stay in touch/whatever they said in your letter of 1/1/2005."

Basic info, no adjectives, adverbs, and very professional tone.

Stuff happens. Every agent whose had a sale has also had a no-sale. I've sold things other agents didn't, other agents have sold things I couldn't. This is not algebra: there is not just one correct answer. (Well, there is, but it's always the Snarky one).

That's SOME book!

A Snarkling wails:

I recently had a book published by a small press and when I received my books, I was shocked to find numerous errors -errors that weren't in my manuscript, but I believe were caused by the typesetter/editor/ etc. What makes me so darn mad is I paid good money to have my manuscript professionally edited before submitting it the publisher. Now everyone will read and think it was me, won't they? I am only glad for one thing right now and that is that the galleys I sent out were clean and have received rave reviews! What's a snarkling to do? And no, I don't or didn't have an agent when the contract was negotiated.

First, I'm puzzled you have perfect galleys and imperfect books. Generally, galleys are the first run of the book wherein you make last minute and expensive changes if you find errors. And if you find errors that were not in your manuscript, you don't have to pay to get them fixed. All this should be in your contract. It's not? I guess I'll add that to my list of reasons I think people should have agents even for small press contracts with zero money.

You can kick up a huge fuss with the publisher. I've known authors who insisted books be recalled when colors weren't right in a children's picture book, or when there were serious misprints in non fiction.

Most small presses don't have the money to do much other than live with it.

Is there any chance they are using POD technology? If so, you're in luck cause you can fix that really easily. DEMAND that it be fixed if that's the case, and that the publisher pay for it.

Otherwise, yup, you've got a book with errors and it's humiliating as hell. Does it help to know it's happened to me? It has. I wept when I saw the book. I screamed and yelled to the publisher to absolutely no avail. I'll NEVER work with that publisher again but oh man, that did little to assuage my anguish at the time. My author was more kind and gracious about it than I was...but then, Miss Snark is not paid big bucks to be kind and gracious.

Now, off to file my teeth for a new day chewing nitwits.

Miss Snark is GUILTY AS SIN!!

I was wondering about publishing on the web in particular. Is something written on a blog, for instance, free for the taking?


You can't cut and paste something from a website and use it.
Ok, we all do it.
In fact, I did it below with the Caterpillar poem.
I didn't pass it off as my own, but still, it's a violation of copyright to do it.

Robert Bly probably isn't coming after me with a writ of seizure for my gin bottles and expensive poodle but he'd be within his rights to call me up and say "cease and desist, sister, if you know what's good for you". A snarl would probably accompany the threat.

Why won't he? Well, he's probably got better things to do, and he might actually think that posting the poem would be a good thing, and besides...he'd be hard pressed to prove actual damages.

That's the rub. Copyright is a civil matter not criminal. They don't haul your sorry ass off to jail for posting poems, they send the accountants and ask if you made any money, or cost them any money. If the answer is no to either or both, you're likely to get off scot free as a practical matter.

Morally of course, you're going to Hell. But that's ok, you can sit here next to Miss Snark, Mick Jaggar and David Bowie in the smoking section.

When (c) stands for Chucklehead

A long running debate on a large writers discussion board is whether or not to copyright your work prior to sending it to an agent. Some say if you do, you are flagging yourself as an amateur to a prospective agent, some advise that not doing it is leaving yourself open for a writer with a block to do a bit of creative plagiarism. A published author added that your ms is copyrighted as soon as you put words to paper. So, our all-knowing Miss Snark - I toss it to you yet again. Do I spend the money on copyright or can I put my spare pennies into my gas tank? Thanks!

First of all, everyone is right. And none of them have quite ALL the story.

Yes, your work has the protection of copyright as soon as it leaves your feather pen and hits the page.

Your work must be registered with the copyright office within three months of publication in order to sue for damages if someone lifts your work. PUBLISHERS register a copyright on behalf of the author; it's boilerplate in every book publishing contract, no exception.

The question you are asking is really two fold: do I register the copyright and do I write (c) on my cover sheet so everyone knows not to steal it.

Answer: no and no.

It does mark you as an amateur. If you want to really look like an ignoramus you'll write: (c) 2005, all rights reserved, do not reprint without author's permission.

The FIRST thing that happens to a manuscript I want to represent is that it goes on the copy machine and gets sent to people. You think you want to hear from me EVERY time I want to xerox it? Not in this lifetime bucko.

Secondly, it's a bit like pointing out "a human being wrote these words"...publishing people understand when copyright attaches so pointing it out is unneccesary.

Third, the idea that someone is going to steal things from your MANUSCRIPT is like worrying about being hit by an asteroid. Yes it's possible but really, I'm not trading in my fetching chapeau for a miner's helmet anytime soon. Acceptable risk.

All the plagiarism we've been talking about here involved an author lifting work that has been PUBLISHED. If there has been a case of a novelist having sections of a book stolen from manuscript form, I'd like to hear about it cause absolutely NONE come to mind.

None of this applies to screenwriting which is a whole different industry. Control of the content is a huge issue cause ideas do float around and you want to be careful who sees your stuff. But, if you send stuff to a literary agent, we're talking books even if you harbor dreams of an Oscar.

Save your money. Don't put (c) on your cover sheet. DO make sure you put your name address phone and email though.

And while we're at it: every page has Author/TITLE in upper left and page numbers in lower right.


"A Caterpillar on the Desk"

"A Caterpillar on the Desk"
by Robert Bly from The Morning Glory. © Harper & Row.

A Caterpillar on the Desk
Lifting my coffee cup, I notice a caterpillar crawling over my sheet of ten-cent airmail stamps. The head is black as a Chinese box. Nine soft accordions follow it around, with a waving motion, like a flabby mountain. Skinny brushes used to clean pop bottles rise from some of its shoulders. As I pick up the sheet of stamps, the caterpillar advances around and around the edge, and I see his feet: three pairs under the head, four spongelike pairs under the middle body, and two final pairs at the tip, pink as a puppy's hind legs. As he walks, he rears, six pairs of legs off the stamp, waving around the air! One of the sponge pairs, and the last two tail pairs, the reserve feet, hold on anxiously. It is the first of September. The leaf shadows are less ferocious on the notebook cover. A man accepts his failures more easily-or perhaps summer's insanity is gone? A man notices ordinary earth, scorned in July, with affection, as he settles down to his daily work, to use stamps.

Oh ow...that hurt....right

"Synopsis they are" is ungrammatical. If you mean the plural of "synopsis" here---as your verb "are" indicates---it's spelled "synopses".I'm just politely ignoring "Miss Snarks rules" because I know that some people who can't figure out where to use apostrophes pretend to crusade against them. Question for a future post: How do people who can't write English get to be agents? Oh wait. You're not an agent. You work in...what? Agriculture? Ah, of course. Shovelling sh**, no doubt.;)DTG Pussy Talk

So I clicked on the site to see who was up in arms about Miss Snark (joining a long list of the disgruntled).

Well, like I said earlier. Sex scenes are very hard to write well. Very hard.

Do I know you from somewhere?

I had a short story published this past summer, and I'm thinking of using the characters from that story in my next novel. That story would be the first chapter. Is there anything wrong with doing this? The magazine (online) took one-time publishing rights, and the rights reverted to me on publication. So, obviously it would be cool with the mag. But would a publisher or agent have a problem with this? A novel where the first chapter was previously published in an online mag?

Thanks! You're Snarkalicious!

I was wondering why people keep biting my bustle...I'm snarkalicious!

This should pose no problem. In fact, I'd see it as a plus. It's a publication credit of sorts (if you mention it's been published DO include the website) and that's good.

This is a good point to remind everyone that the fine print on those contracts IS important. Don't grant rights in perpetuity or rights much one publication on a website. Make sure the contract spells out that the rights revert to you and when.

It's easy to think, oh this won't matter, but it does. You never know when you'll need a story for an anthology, a first chapter in a novel, whatever. Keep hold of your rights.


You Stink...now pay me.

A Snarkling confesses:

Yesterday, I did something I've never done before: I returned a book. Usually, even if the book is horrible, I don't bother because on my little island the petrol needed to return the book would cost more than what I would get back. However, this particular book disgusted me so much that I had to bring it back on principal. It was the newest book in a series that I had been following religiously (never again) and it was so bad that I donned my ugg boots (stilettos give me
blisters) and trekked over to Ottakers. To come to the point, my question is, what do agents do if a client has signed a three, four, five-book deal with a publisher, but when the client delivers the
newest manuscript, it's crap? Do you still send it, assuming that the author's popularity will sell the book? Or do you tell a long-standing client that the book isn't up to scratch and you can't sell it?

Was it Robert Parker by any chance?
I took him to task for a lousy book a few posts back.

Agents and editors have no, zero, zippo, zilcho motivation to tell a best-selling author that the new book sux. Doing so just means the author fires us, buys back the rights from the editor and hightails it over to another house who is GLAD to get him/her. Miss Snark has gin to buy yanno...she needs the dough.

The only person who can stop the madness is you the reader. Quit buying books of authors who are skating on past success. Return them! Tell your librarian the books suck and to quit buying them on automatic order. (Librarians have certain authors on automatic order-they don't read the reviews they just buy them).

Remember though, as the comments trail on my post about Robert Parker showed: one reader's "this is skating" is another's "this is comfort food".

So, when you find a series has disappointed you beyond redemption, strap on your skis, and return the book. Tell your friends not to buy it. That's one great thing about the web: real readers can connect and discover great new writers...and help those old hacks hang up their skates. Of course, you'll all have to chip in for Miss Snark's gin. Perhaps she'll establish a paypal account for your convenience.


I Love this guy...sadly, he's married

Sometime back, you'll recall a Snarkling found a UK editor who was blogging and taking submissions for critiques. I've clicked over every so often and agreed with him a lot of the time.

Tonight he's in rare form.

click here for Torgo on Bookner

After you read this week though, keep reading..he's got a critique of one of the Snarklings!
Dare I hope that the Crapometer can be mailed postage paid, no SASE!, to the UK??

Miss Snark captured on film!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day here in New York. We've had endless rain following a muggy ugly summer that didn't relent till October. When I saw the weather forecast was upper 60's I cancelled my messenger service pickups and “volunteered” to go out to do the deliveries.

I was strolling through the East Village looking somewhat like the Hunchback of Notre Dame cause I had a donkey load of paper on my shoulder. I was paying pretty much no attention to the people on the sidewalk cause I was calculating how fast I had to walk to get all this done and still get up to Central Park before dark.

Suddenly I realize everyone around me looks..well..odd. This is the East Village so odd is a way of life but this wasn't Village odd. This was surreal. It didn't take long for me to realize I'd walked right through a movie set. Somehow I'd missed the Production Assistant whose job is to keep civilians off the sidewalk during a shoot. I just kept walking figuring if I stopped and looked stupid I'd really make 'em mad.

Sure enough as I cleared the last duct taped electrical cord I saw the chairs with stenciled names stenciled, the trailers with doors marked, sardonically, "Desi" and "Luci", and a couple of VERY annoyed security guys who kept me in sight till I cleared the end of the block.

I don't think it was Law and Order, there was too much "stuff". I think it was a movie, but I'm not sure. I recognized a couple of face famous people but of course, their names escape me.

This is one of the really fun things about New York. You never know if you’ll get discovered just around the corner on your way to Viking Penguin.

Two Wrong Turns..you're heading right again

Hi Miss Snark,

I have a literary agent from a reputable agency interested in my work, but now that I have his attention, it been called to mine that everything I've been doing up to this point has been totally wrong.

I only contacted one agent. I chose him because his submission guidelines were kind of funny. Then I sent him my website, which he said was cute but what was he supposed to do with it? I sent him some work and he wrote back to say send him more work when it had more "meat" to it.

So a few months later I sent more, and he asked for meat, and a few months later I sent more, and he said, "Hey, I need meat", and I tried to explain that there was meat. I'm pretty sure he was giving me a brush-off, but was really nice about it because I seemed a little crazy.

I was about to send him new stuff from my website, but I actually stopped and thought about what he'd been writing to me. He was right--my work was a fluffy salad. I did more personal and meatier work and when I was done I sent him a significant number of pages.

He emailed me back less than a week later, very excited about the new work. He used the word "love" five times (once, four times in a row). After he emailed I started asking my writer friends if that was a good thing and if they'd ever heard of his agency and there was a bunch of freaking out.

So apparently I've stepped into something really big. Besides continuing to work on the book, what do I do? Should I keep sending him clumps of pages whenever I've finished them? I've seen no protocol for this situation because I did everything all wrong to begin with. I'm really feeling the weight of my own ignorance.

This is an excellent question and I'm glad you asked because it gives me a good example of why "follow the rules" and "follow the directions" is good advice, but not carved in stone.

You've done everything RIGHT: you've accomplished the goal of getting the attention of an agent who responds positively to your work. If you did it in a weird and unusual way, ok. It's not against the law.

Do I advise people to do things in weird ways? No. Why? Those weirdnesses are the exception to the rule. For every person like you who connects there will be hundreds if not thousands who will not.

Some of the comments trails on previous posts about “do you need an agent” had postings from people who fit in this category. They did something off beat and it worked. Great, more power to them. There is always the exception to the rule.

BUT, the point of this blog and my ranting is NOT to encourage you to try and squeeze into the exception, the .05% who break the rules and find happiness anyway. My goal is to familiarize you with how the world of publishing works, or at least my perspective on it, so you you can be one of the 10% who finds happiness through normal channels.

So, try not to fret. You're not doing anything wrong. Just work. You've clearly got boatloads of talent because this agent didn't send you packing. Ask him what he wants to see next. He’s clearly interested in your work. Unless you email every day with frivolous questions, you’re going to be ok. He WANTS you to stay in touch. You’d know pretty damn quick if he wasn’t interested. Trust that the agent will give you correct cues here. You both want the same thing: your huge and long lived fame and fortune.

Miss Snark feels sexually harrassed...sadly Mr. Clooney is nowhere to be found

A Snarkling wonders

Miss Snark,

I write women's fiction, and my current WIP opens with my main character engaging in a romp with a local cowboy she picked up in a bar. It's not written in a sexually explicit way, and the scene focuses more on what is going on in her mind during the interlude. I've had feedback from some in my critique group that this may close some agent doors as this type of opening is "old and been done a million times before." I really believe in my ms, and I feel that this opening is truly the gateway to rest of the story. So - I throw it to you...
To have sex or not to have sex? That is the question.

So, the critique group has seen this "a million times" huh? Did they name any titles?
It's certainly not something I've seen a million times, but then I don't read the hard sciences or much self help either.

Here's the deal: if you write it well, it doesn't matter what anyone else does. If everyone did it and you did it so much better, you'll get noticed. Think of it like basketball: everyone in the NBA can sink a two pointer. Michael Jordan just did it more often and with more flair than anyone else alive.

What I get annoyed about is not that the situation is common but that the writing is pedestrian. Flowing blonde mane and heaving bosoms are a one way ticket to the "not for me" missionary position. Same with whores with hearts of gold, and serial killers stalking coeds. You have to write REALLY well to make that fresh and original.

Sex is very very very hard to write about. Reading about some prince licking some peabrain's toes while she moans "the sacrifices I make for England" is very low on my list of things to read about.

So, if you think it works well, captures the reader's interest and is absolutely the best writing of your life, tell your critique group to go..er....never mind.


Synopsis Vs Outline-best three out of five falls

Would you mind clearing up one other mystery? In the context of fiction writing submissions, is there any difference in meaning between the terms "synopsis" and "outline"?

Miss Snarks Rules for What is Considered an Outline.

I. Lack of narrative
A. phrases rather than sentences
B. Bullet points for critical action moments

II Chronological structure
A. Lack of however or "meanwhile back at the ranch" points
B. Structure of outline may not resemble structure of book

III Presence of order, and Roman Numerals
A All hail Caesar
B. Orderliness appeals to Miss Snark and her chaotic world

Miss Snarks Rule for What is considered a Synopsis:

Hamlet's father has been killed. His uncle marries his mother and steals Hamlet's rightful place on the throne. Great consternation ensues and Hamlet is bewitched bothered and bewildered. Ophelia, prototype for clingy bitch, is sent to the madhouse or the nunnery depending on the reader's interpretation, and dies. Everyone dies thus Hamlet is deathless poetry wherein everyone dies.

Some authors do outlines for books. Some write synopsis. Most editors who are looking for a synopsis or an outline want one or the other, not both, and it's up to the author to decide.

Most of my authors, being narrative guys, write synopsis. Lousy ones mostly, but synopsis they are.


Synopsis Flopsis

This was the first question from a Snarkling, posted in the comments section:

I have a question that relates to both this post and the previous one about following directions. Sometimes an agent requests a synopsis to accompany the chapters, but rarely do they specify how long it should be. When I was querying, I cheated my way around this by repeating the one-paragraph summary from my query in the cover letter, and letting that suffice as a synopsis. But for snarklings more interested in following the rules, how long should a synopsis be, if the agent doesn't specify?

In response to that comment was this from a second Snarkling:

Short synopsis - 2-3 pages
Long synopsis - I think its 3-5 pages for every 10-15K words?
Or some ratio like that. There are websites dedicated to what should be in the short and long synopsis. I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I know I've seen them. Google is your friend.

if you ever send me five page synopsis for every 15K words I'll toss it unread.

3-5 is the MAX no matter how long your novel is. And no cheating by using 5pt fonts and .25 inch margins.

Synopsis are not a blow for blow recitation of the plot. It's major points, turning points, character description and development and it's SHORT.

I hate them. I've yet to see one that's any good; I've seen about three that don't suck, and those were from writers who have a string of publiciations and thus lots of practice.

A synopsis is just a totally weird form. It's like haiku on steroids. Everything that makes you a good writer works against you for writing a good synopsis. I've just thrown in the towel on reading them until after I've signed a project. Then I tinker with them myself in case an editor wants to see it...and much to my dismay they sometimes do.

Anyway...3-5 pages max.

Now, off to find the peacock feathers, body paint and green stiletto slides for my Halloween costume.

A is for Anthology, E is for editor, I is for Inclusion, O os for 'ow to.

Miss Snark: Following up on a previous post, how does a newbie writer grab the attention of anthology editors? It seems that there's always space for a new writer in most anthologies. How does an intrepid but un-famous one learn about anthologies in the works?

Most anthologies I know are assembled by the editors. They ask their friends and writers they know. Case in point: Tim McLoughlin, edited the first Brooklyn Noir (Akashic) and has great stories about tracking down writers for certain sections of Brooklyn. He found some who'd never been published: Thomas Morrissey won an Edgar for best first short story for his entry. Tom was a bartender who just happened to ask Tim what he did for a living one night while serving him a drink.

Short of hanging out at watering holes in Brooklyn (though always a good idea) you'll want to get your work out there. The way to get known is to put your work up there for people to read. And meet writers when you can. Go to readings. Go to conferences sponsored by organizations like MWA or RWA.

Keep your eye peeled for "calls for submissions". There's even something on the net called

Anthologies Online that has a place for editors to look for work.

But mostly, write really well and get your work out there for people to read.

Enclosed please find my heart, soul...and a twenty dollar bill

A Snarkling takes the next step:

Say an agent requests a partial from a query letter. What sort of things are good to include in the cover letter that goes with the partial? Do you blurb the book and put in your credentials again, like in a query letter, just adding a line mentioning that they requested the partial? Or should it be something different altogether? Everyone talks about query letters, but you never hear a whisper about cover letters once your query letter worked.

Excellent question!

You can include a copy of your actual query letter to remind the agent why s/he found you enticing. The cover letter can then include info you might have left out of the query: word count, whether it's being considered elsewhere. If you re-read your query you might find some other points to cover but succinct is a virtue here.

Make sure you say what you're sending: first three chapters or first 100 pages. Despite my rant below about following directions, if a chapter breaks at page 98, I'd send only 98 pages and tell them so in the cover letter. (ya ya ya, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds--well Miss Snark has a big head, we all know that).

Remember- Don't tell an agent how long s/he can have it exclusively. Don't send any partials on an exclusive basis unless the agent asks and then it should be two weeks or less for under a hundred pages. Agents who want to tie up your work for longer than that aren't acting responsibly. You can quote me on that. If an agent does want an exclusive, you can say “I’m confirming you asked for this exclusively for two weeks; until December 25, 1902” if you want to be clear. Clear is good.

Also, don't give deadlines. If you're leaving the country for an extended trip, say so, but do NOT say "I'd like to hear back before I canoe across the Pacific with my new spouse Mr. Ahab".

Don't forget to include a #10 SASE on a partial.

A good closing is: “Thank you again for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Then, pop it in the mailbox and dance for joy! Send pics of the dance part!

Why is following the directions such an ongoing question?

An agent requests the first 3 chapters of your novel. Simply for the telling of the story, you send 1, 2 and 12. How great a sin has been committed?

The first rule is ALWAYS, without exception: follow the directions.

Agents don't make this stuff up to drive you crazy or to be obstreperous. We WANT to sell your work! Most editors want to read the first three. If anything, send the first three and then include 12 if it provides information needed in the story--like the hero dies and the POV changes or something.

One of the things that makes me crazy is the sense I get from some query letters that "the directions are for other people; they don't really apply to me cause I'm special" and "if you will just read 1, 2, and 12 you'll see why the directions don't apply."

You're not special. I don't care what Mom said. Until I sell your book and we make some money you're a debit on my balance sheet. That's not what you want to hear, but it's the truth. We won't ever say it to your face but it's true nonetheless. You can be an acceptable debit by writing well and being easy to work with. You can be an unacceptable debit by having good writing and being too difficult to work with. Where that demarcation line is, is different for every agent, but every agent has one and you'll be a fool to find out where it is this early.

So, it's not a mortal sin but you're headed in the wrong direction.
Follow the directions.