Yes, I should be reading, but yanno...I'm not

Some things can't be described, they just have to be seen to be believed.
This is one. Warning: cover the keyboard, set down the coffee.

It takes a village!

I'm crawling around the web this morning doing research on publishers.
I came across this story about Philip Beard, the author of Dear Zoe.
I think y'all might like it.
Here's the link: Philip Beard


Hot Cootier

Just for fun, what type of clothing should a writer wear when having that all-important very first face to face with an interested agent?

A red nose and clown shoes of course. I'm surprised you asked.
Or maybe that swan dress that Bjork wore to the Oscars a couple years ago.
Even better would be the costume worn by a (of course) costume designer made entirely of American Express cards...Preferably gold, and you pay for lunch.

You were planning to leave the bunny slippers at home right?

If you're coming to New York, you'll be taken for the trendiest hipster if you wear a plaid flannel shirt and a billcap with "HVAC Repair" on it. Of course you have to have black rim specs to complete the ensemble. Try to carry an obscure, well thumbed novel too. In French.
With a naked woman on the cover. This works really well if you yourself are also a woman.

If you want to look like one of us you'll wear all black. You'll carry two handbags and a bag from Bendels, or Victorias Secret or FUKC. You'll have your cell phone ring programmed with "answer the fone bitch". You'll have three scarves, mittens and gloves and wear black and white Keds with your Manolos in your purse.

On the other hand if you want to look like a writer, you'll look slightly dazed at the sunlight, clutch a subway map even if you're walking, gaze up up up at the tall buildings and ask a passerby to take your photo at the NY Public Library lions.

Try not to look like you can afford to pay the tab or I'll stick you with it.

Getting Lucky

Miss Snark, you never (that I can see) to talk about the luck factor in becoming a published author. And it seems to be more and more prevalent among the people I see being published. I'm not talking about the highly talented. I'm talking about the rest of the crap that gets published. I have spit my coffee across my desk many a time when I've heard the news that some half baked writer has sold a book. And trust me, I've heard it a few times. And the only reason I can think that their work is selling is because they got lucky or came across some equally half-baked editor.You know this is true. So when you talk about how good books and good writing sell, I have to chuckle a little because it's only partly true and every writer loses sleep over it, especially if they've been at the craft for a long time, write well, and have been passed up for one of these starlets.

There certainly is luck involved in getting published. But it's not the only thing, and it's not something you can control. There's that cliche "the harder I work, the luckier I get" but that's a facile response to what the Snarkling points out.

Here's the thing though. Luck is the last factor in the equation, not the first. By this I mean you can't be ONLY lucky and get published. Leave aside the celebrity book-as-brand-extention thing, which we've all agreed isn't really writing. If you write a book, it has to be well written for its intended market (well written for the romance market isn't the same as well written for literary fiction). It has to, at the very least, appeal to someone who wants to publish it, and probably an agent, an acquisitions committee and a few other people too. So, luck is the piece that comes AFTER you've polished your book, worked on finding an agent, and worked on getting it considered.

The best example for how luck works is in the book Transition Game by Jon Wertheim. It's a fascinating narrative about how Indiana high school basketball "went hip hop"... got faster, focused on the individual player and took to the air. Transition Game talks about a high school player who was not only the best player in Indiana (and college scouts had their eye on him from freshman year on) but was nationally ranked. This kid was good, fast, a team player, and smart.

By the time this kid got to college, the game had gone hip hop on him. The things that made him great were almost liabilities now. He never quite made the college leap. Not cause he wasn't good, but because the game had changed around him. That's luck.

BUT the point of this story is that luck was a factor ONLY cause he was at the top of his game. He'd done the fundamentals, he'd hit the practice sessions, he'd made one gazillion free throws on his backboard at home. It wasn't enough, he needed some luck which he didn't get, but he wouldn't have been in a position to take advantage of luck if he couldn't sink a three pointer from thirty feet.

So, no, I don't talk much about luck. I can tell you the things that make me nuts as an agent reading query letters. I can tell you how publishing works here in my corner of the world. I can't make you a better writer, I can't force you to practice, and I can't bring you good luck. For that you have to rub the bunny slippers with a twenty dollar bill.

Here's a link to the listing for Transition Game on Amazon, if you're interested. I read the book and liked it a lot.

More on film agents

A Snarkling wonders how many agents are on the payroll:

Do these rights agents handle all ancillary rights - or do some just do film rights? Back in the day, I only recall calling the main agent and then being able to get an answer on were they available - or not. I do not recall having to go to a third party just to find that out.And the couple times I had to start negotiations, the agents were with big agencies - Morris comes to mind - where they did that in-house.

Subsidiary rights. Everything that isn't the rights to publish the book in English in the world are called sub rights. So film agents are also sub rights agents, but the only sub right they handle is film. And most of them do only handle film. It's such a weird and bizarre biz out there in Movieland it's afull time job just keeping track of who's still in a position to buy.

Other sub rights like foreign rights can be handled by sub rights agents. Miss Snark has her colleagues in Greece, Albania, Turkey, Nigeria, and other exotic ports of call like Germany and France.

Your literary agent is the wrangler for all the rights but s/he will generally refer you to the film rights agent for questions. That's just how that biz works. I look like a Mafia don in front of Congress on those calls "I refuse to answer on the grounds I'll look like a nitwit".

And places like William Morris, and ICM, and now Trident, all have inhouse film folks. Miss Snark's version of an inhouse film agent involves her cell phone snapping pics of her ear.

More on Questions on query letters, spam filters and Miss Snark's aversion to your phone

A previous post (Spam Filters) generated two comments:

OK, I simply must ask, Miss Snark:What kind of "question" might you ask in regard to a query? I've had my share of rejections as well as the positive responses, but never in my "querying history" have I received a "question" preceding a rejection!

Yanno, basic stuff. Is this fiction? How many words? Are you in prison? Usually it's something basic the writer forgot to include and the writing is good enough to have survived the first round chop shop.

Uhh, how about a fallback strategy, like giving the writer a fast phone call?
Cause I'm not calling you unless I know I'm serious about acquiring your stuff. First, it creates unrealistic expectations if you get a phone call. No matter what I say ("i just need to know how many words are in this tome") the author will assume the best. That would be cruel to do to someone.

Second, I'll give you a million dollars in cold hard cash AND Killer Yapp if you can have a two sentence conversation with an agent and refrain from asking if they like the work. Cash. Barrelhead. Times Square.

So, email is the saving grace. I'd write a letter before I'd phone. When you hear Miss Snark's dulcet tones she's calling with good news, not cause you're a nitwit who can't manage to cover the basic info required in a cover letter.

Miss Snark Captured in a Spam Filter!!

Imagine my surprise to find out an email I sent in response to a query letter had been sucked up in the spam filter. Fortunately the querier saw it and did respond in a timely enough fashion that she didn't get a nice rejection letter for Thanksgiving.

A word to the wise, Snarklings: when you query, even by snail mail, you may hear from us electronically. Don't send us to SpamLand. You won't have our email addresses on your approved list, you'll have to either watch carefully, or use a fresh email address without the spam blockers. The email address I use to write to people is NOT the same one that is on my website, so you can't just add me in to your approved list before hand.

If I email someone with a question I usually only wait about a day or two to hear back, then I send a rejection. I can't let queries sit here for days on end or I'd be buried.

Preemptarooooo, I love youuuu

Okay, I'll bite. What's a preempt?

A pre-empt is when a publisher coughs up enough dough to keep all the other players off the field. They say I'll give you x gazillion dollars and you tell everyone else drooling onto your doorstep that the project is sold.

It's ALSO when you hold an auction and only get one bid. We call those preempts rather than "ooops".

Bunny Slipper Love Slave info

Existential Man braves the Snarkophagus to inquire:

Speaking of the "bunny slippered love slave" department, I'm curious about something. I happen to be one of those who tuned into Her Snarkiness from the get-to. I seem to recall that your initial "profile" included something to the effect of living with a guy along with Killer Yapp there in New York...Since you are now approaching celebrity status (what with snarklings locating themselves on the map and all), could you please (1) confirm my memory of your having included said boyfriend in the original profile; and (2) give us an update of your current love-slave situation? I mean, are you available or saving yourself for your one true love, Marvin Hamlisch?

No, Mr Ex Man, I'm waiting for you, of course. You missed the siren love call?
Marvin Hamlisch indeed.

Naturally, Miss Snark is married to her work. It's probably just as well, given she's a snark on wheels before nine am.

Thank you notes

I was lucky enough to receive a personalized rejection from an agent this week, with an invitation to send my next work to her if I haven't already received representation. I've heard that other writers send thank you cards in this situation, and wondered if this would be an appropriate thing to do? I'm very grateful for what she did, and I'd like to express that without seeming like a total loon.

It's never wrong to express appreciation.
A nicely written note amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the slush pile is always opened first.
No sparkles, no chocolates, no gin soaked hankies, no edible panties (although Killer Yapp does enjoy those), just a nice card saying "you rock Miss Snark" is great.

I'll be watching my mailbox.

Count on me!

A Snarkling strategizes:

Do online sales count toward an author's sales record the same way bookstore sales do? How does the online price (which is often reduced) affect this? And what about online pre-orders? Also, what about bookstore sales before the book's official release date (for sometimes, a book is shelved a few days ahead of time)? This last instance, especially, I've heard doesn't always count. The reason I ask is because there are a few authors whose work I enjoy very much, and want to make sure they're fully benefiting from my patronage.

You're talking about a couple different things here.

First, authors aren't paid based on where their books are sold, they are paid on the basis of cover price OR net proceeds. Net proceeds is used when big volume retailers (think BN, Borders, WalMart, Costco) buy the book at a steep steep discount (often 60% off cover prices). Author royalty rates for those buys are less than they are for other buys made by people who get a smaller discount (ie indie stores, libraries).

So, if you buy a book online from BookSense, you're contributing more to the author's bottom line than if you buy it online from BN. Same place, different vendor, different discount, different result.

Same for online preorders - from whom you order is the key.

All sales count on royalties except promo copies and certain other exceptions. If you buy the book, your sale will "count".

What I think you're asking though is whether it "counts" for making a book a "best seller". That's a horse of a different color. Those are relative figures. Like Amazon rankings, it's not the number of books that go out the door but the number in relation to other books.

Best seller lists have no direct correlation to author royalties. There can be bonus clauses in a contract if a book is, for example, a Times bestseller, or gets picked as an Oprah book, or something along those lines, but even without those clauses, the author benefits because of increased sales.

So, your unspoken question: when and how to buy a book to best line the pocket of the author: buy full retail from an Indie store that is a Booksense member, and then write a well reasoned, correctly spelled review on Amazon.

Oh, and take six friends with you to the bookstore!

Runs, hits...and errors!

We've all heard about the percentage of queries to agents that end up with offers of representation (about 1%, according to many), but what about the percentage of represented books that get sold to a publisher? Do you have any idea what the rate is industry-wide among respectable agents? I mean, I assume it has to be fairly high for agents to stay in business, maintain a reputation, and keep editors interested in their projects. In that regard, do you ever worry that your tastes won't keep up with those of publishers? Do you hit slumps where you can't sell several projects in a row? Or streaks where everything sells to the first editor who sees it?

Respectable and agent in the same phrase, and applied to Miss Snark's colleagues? Well, there went the coffee on the keyboard in a laugh riot!

I've got no clue about how the percentage runs in other agencies or industry wide. I know I sell about 50-70% of the things I take on..but don't ask me how LONG it took to sell them. Some took a week, some took two years.

Do I worry that my tastes are different from publishers, or more correctly, book buyers? You bet. Every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Do I hit slumps? I don't have one project at a time. I have 20. There's no "row". I can go a week without selling something, absolutely. I can go a month without selling something, and then it's panic time unless it's December, or August. Then I just chalk it up to seasonals, and get ready to work 16 hours a day in September.

I've never sold anything on the first pass. Well, almost never. Very very rare. And if I do, I always wonder if I could have made a better deal if someone else had seen it. Like buying the first apartment you see..always that niggle of doubt.

So yes, to your unspoken question of "are there days when you'd give it all up to be George Clooney's bunny slippered love slave".

Boola Boola Book reviewer

Yale's business school released an overview of a study that concludes customer reviews "do have an impact on what consumers buy" at Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. Observing randomly selected titles, they found "the addition of favorable reviews at one site increases book sales at that site relative to the other retailer. It also finds that negative 1-star reviews carry more weight with consumers than do positive 5-star reviews. The impact of a negative review is more powerful in decreasing book sales than a positive review is in increasing sales." Bear in mind, though, that the researchers were not using actual sales data; they were just working from posted sales rank data. (Publishers Marketplace-emphasis mine)

Nonetheless I find it fascinating that buyers have cottoned on to the "five star friend" phenom. Miss Snark is as guilty as the next agent of both writing reviews (hey I DO like this book...I didn't exactly buy it though) and soliciting friends, relatives and passersby on the street to do the same. Time for a new strategy I guess....finding books from your cross town rivals and writing 1 star scathing reviews.

So, does this match your buying patterns? Do lots of five star reviews make you think it's hype? Do one star reviews make you click to another book? Fess up Snarklings, the boys at Yale are watching!

From Publishers Marketplace

Celluloid free thighs in thirty days

About ten years ago when I was a Big Deal in film development, finding out whether or not a book's film rights were available was a simple proposition. Call/fax the publisher and you'd get a simple one-sentence response in a few days. Or you could call the agent, and voila, someone -- an underling, an intern, anybody -- would get back to you.

What the hell happened? Now I'm doing some freelance work for a biggish production company here in L.A. and i'm trying to find out whether the rights are available for a certain well-received but decidedly mid-list novel.

I contact the publisher and am informed that they will get back to me within 6-8 weeks. Let's be real -- an entire studio regime can rise and fall in that time. So I track down and call the agent, and a week has gone by without a call back.
In my experience, this first step used to be just that -- a first step. I'm not pitching, I'm not buying, I'm just asking for info.

So what gives? Why has the process become so difficult? Or is it just my bad karma? (Hey, I am from L.A.)

It's you. Ok, not exactly you, but your ilk, LA babe. Sorry but it's true.
First, recall that "big time" and "freelance" are different places on the food chain (Miss Snark of course is not ON the food chain..she orders take out). Part of this may be that.

Second, I blame LA for all the rampant bad manners in the industry. It's convenient. It's based on a nugget of truth, and it means *I* am not to blame..always a good thing. I've made 365 calls to an LA lawyer for rights clearance none were returned. One a day for a year and a half.

First, you'd never call a publisher. No agent in their right mind sells film rights to a publisher.
Second, I'd look up the literary agent and call their associated film agent/s (Miss snark has three...all impossible to reach).

But the core of the problem is that people are lax about returning phone calls and emails. It's a rampant problem. It's an insane way to do business if someone wants to BUY something from you. It happens all the time.

An interesting side note is that about 40% of the people who sue doctors for malpractice say they just wanted to talk to him/her and get some information but the doctor never got back to them. You'd think someone in the medical field, let alone insurance, would have recognized THAT nugget and mandated people call patients back.

Literary and film deals aren't quite the same as saving lives, but the concept holds. Not returning legitimate business phone calls or emails makes people nuts.

Now, just to be snarky before nine am, do you return all your phone calls on the same day?
(Miss Snark pleads nolo contendre to that one..and is prepared for incarceration in a phone booth on Madison at 57th till she completes her sentence.)


Miss Snark...cult leader..send tribute

A mere 48 hours ago, Miss Snark was a dog totin', gin swillin', literary agent with a jones for George. Now she's a cult. If it wasn't so fun it would be scary.

Cult details are here at the Frappr/Snarkling site.

I can't believe there are almost 100 people reading this blog AND willing to say so in public.

Miss Snark better start combing her hair before 9am and the paparazzi get here.

Was it XLibris Nigeria?

I sent out my novel to agents for about 3 months under a pen name. I now have wonderful agent.

Today I received an e-amil from Xlibris, the Random House Ventures- yes, self-publishing - sent to my e-mail, the name on my e-mail address not even close to my pen name. The e-mail states that they have information about my wonderful writing. I have never had any communication with Random House for any reason, and the only people I ever used the pen name for any communication were agents. So, logically, who could have given my pen name out and my e-mail address? I chose only reputable agents, so am somewhat pissed that I even received this.

Are there agents out there giving out names to Xlibris? do they get a cut? What does Miss Snark think before I drink the entire bottle of Grey Goose as an antidote for cynicsm.

Step away from the bottle.
In fact, hand it over to Miss Snark for safekeeping.

There are all sorts of ways your email info can fall into the hands of the Empire. Just using your email on websites will render a snatch and grab. Log onto Writers Digest? They've got it.
Log onto the Random House website? They've got it.

How did you get the names of the agents who take e-queries? Someone's got your info there now too.

I have no idea if agents sell their mailing lists. I've never heard of such a thing. I've never been asked for mine, and I have a list of rejections that would choke a horse. Heck, a herd of horses.
I wonder how much they pay? I need a new mink coat this winter...and Killer Yapp needs new snow booties.

Email may be fast and efficient but it's not fool proof and I'm the fool who can prove it....wait, that came out wrong.

I guess I better give back that sadly depleted bottle.

Miss Snark is Dismayed

A Snarkling with some experience writes in the comments section:

I've found it very interesting over the past decades that I've been pursuing publication for my work that the scam agencies almost always offer a written contract and that many of the legitimate agencies do not. I gave it some thought after encountering how some of those scams used that in their dealings with writers.

Essentially, it has several purposes. One is to assure the writer that the scam agency isn't a scam. A second is to furnish the scammer with a tool that can be used to threaten the writer should the writer get wind of what's going on and attempt to refuse payment. That's why a lot of scams that do submit to publishers send the work to publishers that are a) not appropriate for the kind of manuscript content, b) sure to pass on a query so the scammer doesn't have to actually send in a full copy, or c) inappropriate and accepts queries so that there's no chance of a slip-up.

Then the scammer can produce some rejections, keep the money, and drag the writer along for as much money as can be coughed up. This way, the scammer can contest any court challenge with proof that he tried to sell the manuscript and that there was no lack of performance on his part according to the contract which the court would then have no recourse but to enforce. Unwritten contracts, scammers have learned, are harder to enforce when it comes to up front fees.

Holy shit.
This never occurred to me.
Yet another reason to remember the First Rule of the Snark: Don't Pay An Agent before s/he sells your work. Ever. No exceptions. Never.

Thanks for a the bucket of cold water on my head.

You want fine print? I'll give you no print!

Dear Miss Snark,
I just ran across something I have never seen before regarding an agent. A friend has received a request for partial from said agent, and was asking our crit group if anyone had any additional info about the agency.

Reviewing his site, I not only found that he has no experience in publishing what-so-ever, but he included this in his FAQ section:

Would I have to sign a contract?
The (XXX) Agency realizes that different clients prefer different things. We do offer a contract for those wanting one, however, we also offer verbal agreements.

VERBAL AGREEMENTS?????????????? What the???????

Am I just crazy thinking this bizarre, or is this some new trend with agents?

Actually, it's a very old practice. Written agreements between agents and writers is the new trend. There are VERY well established and respected agencies who don't do written contracts.

What might not be clear is that the publisher includes an agency clause in contracts for books they buy. That is the legal stuff that lets agents collect their dough even if no contract exists between writer and agent.

I like written contracts and I offer them to clients, and they have to sign them before we jump in the pool and paddle for dear life. I like to have everyone understand the money part upfront. We've all had experiences with people who didn't hear the same thing in a conversation.

Of more concern to me is that the guy has no experience in publishing. Even new new new agents usually have some sort of publishing experience. How does this guy plan to sell things if he doesn't know anyone?

Hey, Sly Stallone did it, why not me?

I've heard that novelists often don't make good screenwriters and vice versa, but what if I wanted to try, rather than just try to get the novel published and sell the rights?

Would that be something to bring up *if* an agent expresses interest in my novel (and I know that's a big if, given how competitive publishing is)? Or would I try sending out the novel to literary agents and the screenplay to agents for screenwriters?

If someone expressed interest in one, would that help the other (e.g., if a literary agent expressed interest in the novel, then would that help in selling a screenplay or vice versa)?

Do you want to do the cover art too? Design the jacket?
Focus on writing a good novel. Then secure a literary agent.
Trying to secure an agent for a screenplay is next to impossible for someone not in the business.

You also don't want to just send your screenplay out to agents unsolicited. The rules on content control are much MUCH different in the film world than they are in publishing. You start sending your stuff out you're likely to see it at the local cineplex with no mention that you came up with that nifty idea of cowboys in space and shapeshifting.

One thing at a time.

And don't tell a literary agent you want to do the screenplay. It pegs you as a total amateur.
Film agents acquire rights to novels, they don't buy screenplays. They acquire rights, then attach people to the project. If you want to write the screenplay, you can certainly say so if the film rights are sold, but don't hold your breath.

This is what your friends won't tell you

Always a bridesmaid...never a bride - well, kind of.

Profile of Bachelorette Number God-Knows-How-Many: once-agented, never shopped, Malice Domestic Grant-winner in the last round of editorial consideration with Poisoned Pen Press, CWA Debut Dagger short-listed, "fine writer," "ready for prime-time," "unique," "distinctive voice," Most Requested Partials and Fulls of 2004 and 2005 (if there were such a prize), probably rejected by Miss Snark herself...

...and yet, agentless.
There are so many agents in love with my work. Still, I can't count anymore how many have said "It's the market - so sorry." I'm rather tired of pastel chiffon and jewel-tone satin. What's it take to get to wear the veil?

They aren't in love with your work. Agents are a moneygrubbing lot. We only really love what we think we can sell. Not that we're ever going to tell you that, particularly if we're saying no.

Good writing sells. Almost good writing or writing that is good but like the last six novels I've read won't.

Agents are not in the business of saying that. They'll step on their tongues first.
Why? Cause you're going to get better, get published, and you will remember every rejection you ever got. Trust me on this. I have a stack of those "neener neener, coulda had me" letters.

I encourage you to get tough on your writing. If you can't see what's holding you back, go read 50 novels in your area. 50 FRONTLIST novels, i.e. things published this year and preferably in the last six months. How to find those books? Go to your library. Ask to see the last six months of Publishers Weekly. Look in the back under Reviews. Make a list of every book published and then request it from the library. If the kind of book you write isn't reviewed in Publishers Weekly, go to the website of publishers who do that kind of book and look up what they've published this year. Request from your library.

If your library doesn't have or can't get these books, consider a membership at the Mercantile Library of New York. You have to pay to join but they will buy any book a member requests I'm told. They specialize in fiction.

I've given this advice before and I hear wails of dismay "all I want to do is be a writer". You can be just a writer all you want, but if you want to be in the business of writing, and be a published writer, you have to invest some time in doing other things like a focused reading list.

I get a lot of queries and pages that are good. They just don't pique my interest cause there's nothing fresh and new. I won't say anyone can write a novel, cause that's so not true, but of those who can write a good novel, only a few can write something fresh and original. That's your challenge. Rise to it.

The Long and Winding Tome

A Snarkling stops writing to ask:

Having scoured various Literary Agents web-sites I'm aware that practically everyone and their partner wants a covering letter, a synopsis, and x-thousand words or 3+ chapters to read initially.

My primary concerns are:
A. Should a synopsis encapsulate the entire story, or simply give a thumbnail sketch (in a similar manner to what I might read on the back of a trade paperback)?

B. Given that three or more chapters are requested: One presumes that the first chapter of one's work should be included but, where a story stretches to "... Order of The Phoenix" lengths, is it better to supply additional chapters which are nearer the start of the tale or ones nearer the middle or the end?

I ask the above as I'm finishing off a 550,000+ word piece which I suspect would be best served in three parts. My own personal thinking is that I should concentrate on selling an agent on Part 1...

I'll be honest and say that I don't think what I've written would be your cup of tea (glass of gin?) but if you've any interest in giving the synopsis a once over I'd be most grateful. More importantly, your thoughts and opinions on the above would be most graciously received.

A. A synopsis covers the gist of the book: important characters, plot, subplot, character development, and how the story concludes. It is NOT just an enticement to read the novel (which is what the flap copy on a published book is designed to do). It's also not just a recitation of the plot. Synopses are horrid to write.

B. First three chapters, in order, most particularly if you're writing something in SFF where chapter 100 could have characters and plot points that are a mystery if you haven't' read chapter 53.

550,000 words is five novels. I think you should invest in scissors.

However, you're right that I don't represent SFF, I don't read it (other than the basics like Tolkein, Heinlein, LeGuin and godhelp us Anne McCaffrey) so the comments section from people who do read/write/edit/acquire will probably be of more help.

I'll be glad to look at the synopsis when the Crapometer returns from vacation in Italy..probably the last week of December.

And it's "pail of gin".

One down. 99 zillion to go

A Snarkling reviews her correspondence stack and asks:

My previous novel, a historical along the lines of Bernard Cornwell's 'Sharpe' military adventures but in a different historical period, garnered a dozen form rejection letters from agents before I decided there must be something wrong with it and gave up. As the rejections were all form letters of the 'this is not for us' school, I don't know what was wrong with it, but I suspect that either the first few pages weren't successful in hooking interest or that the story as outlined in the synopsis wasn't good enough. While I was querying agents with this, I wrote another in the same setting and with some of the same characters but quite a different story. It would have been a sequel to the first, but it is an independent story and can stand alone. My question to you is: is it worth querying agents with this second novel (with no reference to the first), or does the fate of the first mean that the whole idea is unsaleable and I should try a different period or a different kind of book altogether?

That novel writing stuff is hard isn't it!
You're probably right that it was the first few pages (were agents reading only pages with a query or partials or the whole thing?) or the synopsis.

I encourage you to persevere. ONLY however after you've really worked on the second effort, the new one. Get some readers who'll give you good feedback.

Every novelist I know, EVERY one, tries to improve with each book. All of them have pages under the bed that will never see the light of day. This one will be yours, but ONLY if you really buckle down and read your work critically.

Your unspoken question is "am I too much like Bernard Cornwell; did agents think this wouldn't sell cause he's got the market locked up" and the answer is no.

Press on. Work hard. Bread and water till you fix the first chapter!

You might run the synopsis through the Crapometer when it returns and get some feedback here. Keep your eye peeled for when that starts up again-December.


Bill Vollman takes home the prize

The 2005 National Book Award Winners were announced live at a black tie ceremony and dinner at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, Times Square.

Young People's Literature
Jeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)

W.S. Merwin, Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (Knopf)

And the coup of the night, Bill the Wildman Vollman wins.
He was the guy with the highest odds. Thank god I always bet on my pals.

William T. Vollmann, Europe Central (Viking)

Membership has its plotlines

A Snarkling is a card carrying member of the St Johns Worrywort Society

Is there a rule of thumb about including a significant mention of a real organization in a work of fiction? Such as having a murder mystery series having a recurring set of characters who are all members of a nationally known civic or charity group, and having the local chapter's meetings and activities be a background setting where some of the players interact during various parts of each novel's plot? As an agent, would this give you heartburn?

Like The DaVinci Code mentioning the Catholic Church?
Like Jennifer Weiner mentioning Princeton?
Like PD James mentioning Scotland Yard?
Robert Crais staging a shootout at Disneyland?

On the other hand April Henry's publisher Harper Collins had her invent an auction house rather than use Sothebys in her first mystery.

And those mean assed librarians at the ALA might get miffed if the president of the organization turned out to be the killer in your next mystery, Dewey Decimates Dallas.

You can use "public figures" in fiction. That includes public institutions and companies. Sometimes publishers get nervous not because it's illegal or actionable but because fending off a suit is expensive and time consuming.

It's certainly not a deal breaker at the query to the agent stage, at least not with me.

Ah yes, Sammy boy

A Snarkling kvetches:

I wonder if you'll respond to Sammy's latest post. I'm very curious about who you are too, like if your many blog claims coincide with your realities (I'm often curious about people in this way, no matter what their professions may be). Will any of you supposed insiders ever reveal who you really are? Have any of you? I cannot stand the anonymity of the web sometimes.

You know how sometimes Bill O'Reilly can say things that actually make sense but you're so used to thinking he's a nitwit you initially discount it? That's kinda how I look at Sammy. He's said some pretty interesting things but the way he says it makes me want to pour a bucket of ice on his head. He's doing the putz persona really well.

He's also so busy yapping he's having a hard time reading what I actually said.

It's pretty clear we approach the business differently. That's ok. There's room for everyone. People who think Sammy is the cat's pajamas aren't a good fit for hanging out with Killer Yapp anyway.

Miss Snark is Miss Snark. She's not anyone else. If you keep fretting about "who" you'll miss the imporant stuff about "what" is happening here. Ask questions that will help you get published. Everything else is just a distraction.


Miss Snark:Why, why do you write "sux" instead of "sucks"? I spelled like that as a freshman in college. I still blush at the memory.

I like how it looks on the page.

Who is Killer Yapp?

A former Snarkling wondered:

What is a Killer Yapp? And will it taste better with ketchup?

Killer Yapp is Miss Snark's familiar. He is a metrosexual poodle, equally comfortable in a leather harness at butch dog runs and sporting a pink tam at Bloomingdales.

He prefers novels about Doghouse Reilly, hair of the dog cocktails, and cab rides down the FDR with open windows.

He can hail a cab, jump a turnstile and stowaway on a pedicab without missing a wag.

He was the inspiration for the great American masterpiece Dogs Playing Poker.

Come near him with catsup and you'll be lucky if he's the only who bites you.

A Snarkling observes the Cocktail Hour

I was wondering if gin is the drink of choice for agents? I browsed a few other agent blogs and they too mention this beverage. I associate gin with floozies and pink thingies. Most of my writing buddies do vodka or whiskey. Some of the more determined writers will do needles but I don't crochet so that doesn't work for me. What do publishers and editors prefer? I wonder if our profession is the only one where getting tipsy make our work read better?

1. You can put gin in an Evian bottle and even the worst writing conference perks up dramatically.

2. Miss Snark IS a floozy. However, she lives in NYC so she doesn't own anything other than black or white. Killer Yapp however has been known to sport a pink tam.

3. Publishers and editors drink the blood of writers and agents and hang upside down in their closets overnight. I can't believe you didn't know this.

4. Vodka and whiskey are for pansies. Real men drink Everclear.

A Snarkling calls Foul

A Snarkling holds up a glass, darkly:

Ok, now that we've all had a good yuck about the poor little rich girl, what if Miss Snark had said this was a bootlegged version of the latest J Weiner or C Bushnell? How do you think the snarklings would have then reacted?
Strikes me as the reverse of the coin of Doris Lessing shopping around a ms. under a pseudonym and experiencing universal rejection.

I like to think I call dreck when I see it. There are previous posts taking Robert Parker to task for bad writing. And the Snarklings are not all that shy about weighing in with contrary opinions.

The difference here is that clearly Nicole Richie has a book deal because it's part of an overall marketing plot, not because she has wanted to be a writer since she was six, or she went to an MFA program, or she had something to say.

And Doris Lessing writes some really weird stuff. The Good Terrorist was my most recent favorite but I've never managed to get through some of her earlier stuff.

I understand your point, but I don't think it's valid in this particular brouhaha.

Work those quads!

I'm worrying somewhat about the quadrology I am currently revising. Do I query only the first part? (They're not very standalone, they're one long book split into four.) Do I query the first part and mention the others? Do I treat the first one in detail and say 'in parts two three and four, Rhailed and his friends get kidnapped, destroy a famous landmark, uncover the enemy's evil plans and foil every stage of them before making major changes to the governance of their kingdom and making tentative peace overtures?' Do I go into detail for the whole thing?

this is non fiction right?

You query the whole darn thing. However, you don't just recite the plot. What makes this compelling? What will draw the reader in? Why on earth do I want the good guys to win? (Miss Snark is bored with the triumph of good over evil.)

Then you break the news about length. SFF skews long so seven gazillion words is not a deal breaker in this genre (there are posts about that earlier on the blog). Tell me that this saga unfolds over four books. At this point its not important to know which book covers what. What's important is the concept and the execution. You tell us the concept, and how well you write those pages and your cover letter tells me about the execution.

Detail is the devil in query letters. You can't go into much, but broad generalizations are boring. You have to find one or two compelling details that really entice a reader. Try not to panic though. Even if your query letter truly sux (9 out of 10 do), if your pages are good, you're still in the game.

And why are there no SFF characters named Susan? or Fred? or Barney? Do they all have to have unpronounceable names? F'lar, Lessa, schmessa.

Gay Paree!

I've finished a good second draft of my commercial fiction novel. I've had friends read it and gotten comments that were nice, but not helpful. I joined the guppies group of Sisters in Crime and had the fabulous experience of swapping critiques with another writer. She really put her finger on things I needed to change. I've revised based on her comments. I realize I need a few more good critiques like hers. The novel reads well now, but my gut tells me it still needs another draft or two before I send it out to agents. How do I source good critique partners? How do I get critiques on my draft from people who actually know the craft of commercial fiction? I haven't got any more guppies who want to swap. I don't have any friends who are commercial fiction writers, or retired agents or editors. I live in Paris.

Perk! Paris?

Miss Snark nobly volunteers to come right over and help you out.
Do you live near a train station?
Do you know a good milliner?

I'm pretty sure several other among the devotion of Snarklings will volunteer to come too.
Party in Paris!

-Miss Snark returns to earth-

In this electronic age, you can critique with people in Peru and not even break a sweat. Peru, Indiana too. I suggest you prowl around writers sites and find some folks looking for critique groups, or partners. There are some posts about "how to find" buried in the Snarchives.

Paris has a wonderful expat community. I know several writers who live there. Haunt the local English language bookstores. Make friends with the clerks. You're not the first to ask this question.

Bonne chance!

Exclusivity Sux

A Snarkling gnashes her fangs

I guess to get an agent you have to learn the unspoken rules. I had a partial requested a few weeks ago by an agent at (big name agency). Yay me, right? She explained to me that she only considered material on an exclusive basis. As I had not submitted any other partials at that point, I assured her the submission would be exclusive. She allowed me to email my partial,
synopsis and bio, double bonus. I knew she was getting it right away. After two weeks, I had received a couple more requests for partials. So I emailed her, and told her that I appreciated that she was considering my material, and I hoped she would continue. I explained to her that I'd received a couple more partial requests, and would like to send those out, but that I would continue to await her response on the material before making any definite decisions. She emailed me back and informed me that she only reads on an exclusive basis; and since I was allowing other agents to read she would not be considering my material. And good luck to me. So what's up with that? I mean the email she sent me indicated that she hadn't even begun to review my material. So how long did she expect to have it exclusively- a couple months, so she could read it while bored on a holiday vacation? I realize that agents are super busy and it takes time to get to all those partials. But to tell me to piss off, just because I am interested in getting published this decade? That seems incredibly harsh to me, and I was wondering about your take on it. I've sent out two more partials, so I'm not out of the game. I just think that agents should realize that, unless their offering concrete representation, we need to continue to exhaust our resources. I mean, they have tons of clients, but we only get one agent. And we need an agent before we can proceed! So time is somewhat of the essence. And how much time is standard for an exclusive read anyways?

First of all, you may have seen "oh good I don't have to say no" in action. Agents hate to say no. We have to do it a lot so any opportunity to say no without actually uttering the word is welcome. Thus, she seizes on your email, "misreads" it and is saved a rejection. That's my first guess.

My second is she read the email in 1.2 seconds, and in fact DID misread it and figured you were a nitwit who couldn't follow directions.

Here's your error: you didn't establish how long she had your partial on an exclusive basis. You do this UPFRONT, before you send it. She should offer a time frame, and if she doesn't, you ask how long she wants it and decide to say yes or no. (no negotiating, sorry).

A partial should be on exclusive for no longer than two weeks. C'mon, it's fifty pages, anyone can read it on the train, at lunch, or while you're on line at the damn DMV.

Exclusivity sux. Some agents can get away with it cause they are in such high demand. That doesn't make it any less sucky.


Pop Culture Quiz

A Snarkling clutches People magazine and snarls:

Aren't we supposed to pay attention to popular culture (sic) in an effort to publish to the masses? Just curious.

well, no, not exactly...
but knowing what people are thinking, doing, and talking about is not a bad thing if you intend to write about people who are in the real world.

By this I don't mean we breathlessly race to the newsstand for the latest copy of Us or InStyle, or we have Gawker or Jossip as our default page on the web browser -- however Miss Snark pleads guilty on all counts.

I'll tell you this: at a panel some years back at the Small Press Center here in NYC Jane Friedman the CEO of Harper Collins, when asked what she did in her spare time, told us she watched television. You could hear the rush of snob revulsion in the crowd but Miss Jane pointed out that her job was to be on top of trends and know what the zeitgeist is. She's no dummy.

Knowing who Nicole Richie is, or being able to sing the words to the theme song from Gilligan's Island, or knowing that Guy Ritchie is more than a hot shot movie producer is not always the sign of a misspent life.

Miss Snark can outsnob the snobs but don't you dare touch her latest issue of New York.

Get with the program!

A Snarkling wonders about Miss Snark's amazing ability to organize and track royalty statements:

What kind of programs do you use? Simple Microsoft (if anything they did could be called simple...) Excel and Acess? Or is there a program that is better tailored to royalties and your various accounting needs?

Microsoft Office. Entourage for the address book. Excel spread sheets. Simple is good. VERY good. Works like a charm. There are specialty programs but by the time I buy it, learn it, import the data, debug it, and threaten the tech support desk with bloody murder, it's easier to stick with what I know.

One very good thing about using this is that the data is easily exportable to my clients, their accountants and anyone else who needs to take a look.

I have friends who swear by Time and Chaos. I love the name but I don't use it.

Killer Yapp eyes the real estate in Miss Snark's office

A hopeful Snarkling counts her pennies..

Miss Snark, I know you're from the green eyeshades, work-standing-at-your-desk retro school of publishing, but aren't copying costs becoming relics with the advent of electronic submissions? At least that's what I've been told.

Not soon enough. I'm working on my third quarter expenses (ya ya, I'm late, I know) and not having the xerox bill from hell sound just dandy to me -- not to mention the costs of messengering fifty pounds of exciting paper every damn day of the week.

I'd say only about a quarter of my submissions are done electronically.
(I only read things on paper but I always have an e-copy of everything I'm shopping just in case an editor prefers that format.)

One of the things I'm considering is taking e-submissions and printing them out on this end. I'm considering this because it will save space and be much less cumbersome to organize and track. I currently surrender about 45 cubic feet of usable office space to the submission stack. I could use it for Killer Yapp's BarkOLounger.

Does she date the xerox salesman?

A Snarkling is wondering if it's gold embossed paper:

Hi Miss Snark - my prospective agent says she charges eight cents a page for photocopying or I can simply mail her the copies - which might actually be cheaper but would mean I'm paying her upfront charges. What do you think of this?

I think it's highway robbery.
Agents are hardly retail consumers of copying. Most of us either have our own machines (and count the repairman among our closest friends) or we have a sweetheart deal with a copy center.

Miss Snark is charged, and thus charges her clients, three cents a page. It's on 86 bright paper, and it works just fine.

The Check is in the Mail

A Snarkling is calculating the odds of chicanery:

It seems strange that there are still discrepancies with contracts and accounting with the top tier publishers? I know it's not a perfect world but do they try it with the noob writers -- to see what they can get away with?
How often do you smell a rat when looking over a contract? More importantly, how do you keep on top ALL the other books you've brokered to make sure the numbers are in line.
And a fierce devotion to my abacus.

Royalty statements are an arcane accounting form. There's absolutely no "industry standard" and every publisher does it their own way. It's a frigging pain in the parchment.

Software helps. Royalty statement dates and amounts are equations. You plug in the numbers and set the reminder dates to ping you.

There is a firm in NYC that earns their entire income from the percentage they receive finding mistakes in royalty payouts. They only take a percentage of what they recover for you; no upfront fees. Scary huh.

Most publishers aren't trying to steal from you. They just prefer to keep the money as long as possible. Days. Weeks. Years. Forever. You know..the same amount of time I've stalked Mr. Clooney.

Where is my ninja rejection reader when I need it?

A Snarkling reaches for the Rosetta Stone:

I'm beginning to get personalized rejections now, which I'm told is a plus.
Most I can't interpret. Maybe you can help?

An agent wrote:
"Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to consider pages from (your chick lit novel). While I found this to be well written with fun, interesting, contemporary premise, I do not feel the ms. is ready to be marketed successfully."

"You have a clear prose style and the voices were skillfully rendered. Missing, for me, was a more engrossing story that hooked me."

Do this mean she didn't like the first page because it didn't hook her or does it have other, more substantial problems? Something else?
Thanks in advance for your answer, An adoring snarkling

oh boy. The joys of trying to figure out the arcane language of rejection.

Did you ever read Shogun? James Clavell very successfully conveys the "yes is no" style of speech from feudal Japan. Well hey, those kimono and sword boys got nothing on agents.

First, remember agents are terrified of saying what they actually think if they are saying no. More than one of us rejected DaVinci Code, Lovely Bones, The Historian, The Bible and other bestselling tomes. Don't we feel stupid. Imagine seeing that rejection letter in print. Yikes.

Thus is born the "I'm saying no but I'm only going to tell you what I like" kind of letter.

Reading what you've got my best guess (and it's a guess) is that you have a plot that needs some work or needs some freshening. Agents read a LOT of the stuff that never gets published. Plots that seem ok to you may seem old and tired to us.

It can also mean you've got a good concept but the writing wasn't strong enough.

I write these letters all the time, cause I really don't want to see my rejection letters published on a web site for everyone to pick over. People never ask if they can publish those things and it's just embarrassing as all get out. If Miss Snark wants humiliation she goes to swimsuit sample sales in buildings with no dressing rooms and fluorescent lighting.

This is madness!

I've taken the liberty of creating a Snarklings page at www.frappr.com - in case others like me would like to drink gin, recite poetry and discuss your overwhelming brilliance while you are engaged in your very important work on our behalf. A Snarkling does sometimes feel alone in the world - especially those of us in the outer regions, if you know what I mean. This Snarkling was offered pork rinds and chicory with her (frozen) bagel this morning....but wouldn't it be loverly to discover another Snarky soul somewhere in my general vicinity?

If you think its okay for us to congregate without you - maybe you'd let the others know about this? If they go to www.frappr.com/snarklings they can add themselves to the Snark Map.

No no no.
You're not supposed to be talking! You're supposed to be WRITING!!!
However, this is kind of nice.
I get to see where y'all are from when I clink on the site meter.
This way you can see each other.

Miss Snark has taken the plunge.

Insert This

Do you have places that need some work done in your manuscript?
Do you mark them with "insert spiffy episode here"?

Do you use "insert" to flag things that aren't finished?

A word to the wise: search for all instances of "insert" in your sample pages and your manuscript before you start sending it out. It's not a deal breaker, but why look like a nitwit who can't read if you don't have to, right? (insert pithy remark here).

Best Comment of the day ...so far.

Okay, I give up. Who is Nicole Richie? Is she one of those "reality show" people?

Miss Snark is laughing so hard she accidentially speed dialed the bootleg gin supplier.

Take the Last Train from Snarkville, I'll meet you at the Station

Any among the devotion of Snarklings in the environs of New York City will find this event of interest: an evening to "meet the lit mags", all those super cool (ie small) literary magazines that publish groovy hipster writing.

Miss Snark will be there. Killer Yapp chaperones.

Here's the link
to more info and directions. Yes, it's in Brooklyn but it won't kill you, it's one stop on the L from Snarkville.

Thanks to Flavorpill for the heads up.

More on Nicole's "book"

The subject of Nicole Richie's "book" is a sore one among many of the snarklings who have burned up a hole in the comments line with disgust at the news she's getting a book published.

It took those imps over at Jossip to remind Miss Snark that Nicole Richie's book is just an extension of her "brand". Like perfume for Calvin Klein -- but with less quality control (although, in truth, the quality does seem to fit dear Nicole like a glove).

I hate books being used like accessories. I hate it a lot. Is Jane Friedman, the CEO of Harper Collins, going to throw up her hands in despair to hear that? Newp. Miss Jane is going to dance all the way to her profit and loss statements and laugh in Miss Snark's face.

Even Miss Snark needs to be reminded that publishing is a business and we ain't in this for our health when she gets all snarky about who deserves a book deal.

The only people who can stop this craziness are readers. Ain't the free market system grand?



A nouveau Snarkling consults her contract and asks:

Dear Miss Snark, My first novel was published by a small press a few months ago. Since then, they've done nothing. There's no promotion, I've had to supply Amazon with details about the book, and I've had to buy my own copies of the book at the normal rate. I don't think this is normal. The contract's about to expire, and I am thinking about not renewing it and trying to get the book published elsewhere. If I decide that I want to leave this publisher, what should I do next? I don't have an agent, but I have an attorney who has looked over my contracts before, but he doesn't know what I should do. Will publishers and agents be receptive to my queries if I started sending them out again? Will my book being published elsewhere be a detriment or an asset to the process.

Your contract is up? That's not a phrase used to talk about publishing rights. What you need to know is how long the publisher has exclusive rights to print the book. That's usually in the first three sections of a contract. Generally "reversion of rights" (not 'my contract is up') is based on how long a book is considered "out of print", and it's a couple years after that you get the rights reversion.

This is largely an academic question though. Few publishers and even fewer agents will give you the time of day for a previously published book. Second editions (which is what the next edition is for you) are not attractive sales prospects. When you read about someone getting picked up by a big house it's generally because they sold a significant number of copies or won a big ass prize. If these apply, great. If not, you're out of luck.

Time to get busy on the second novel and learn from your mistakes.

Tell All!

A Snarkling is gazing into his Kristal ball:

Over a year ago I submitted a ms to a midsized, reputable genre publisher. After several by-monthly emails back and forth--always very polite and prompt on their end, but of course they're swamped and quite behind--I learned my book had passed a couple of readings. I mentioned that I had the second book in the series finished and ready for review. The submissions editor there told me that it would help speed things along if I sent it in, so of course I scurried it over to the post office. They've now had that book for four months. My question is this: Do I mention anything of this situation in my queries to agents? Is it a hook at all, or is it basically like saying that I've already been rejected by one publisher?

Yes, you mention it. And you mention the editor's name. Not just "people at PublishOrBeDamned Inc. are looking at my tome" but "Herbert Snuffleuffagus is reading this, has had several readers and asked for a look at the second in the series".

Specificity here means an agent will know you aren't just blowing smoke. I've had people query me saying their work is being "considered" at FSG when what they did was send in an unsolicited manuscript and they haven't gotten the form rejection letter back cause they didn't include an SASE. You see the difference.

An agent may be more likely to give you time and consideration if it looks like MrSnuffleuffagus is serious about the thing.

Four Seasons, Four Reasons..let's just check in to Hotel California and be done with it

Dear Miss Snark: I recently received a rejection letter from an editor, a full page, thought out, personal letter that went on about how compelling, and intense my book was and how much she enjoyed reading it. She went so far as to point out which sentences and images she liked in the book and how true she felt the story was. She ended her letter by telling me that she was sure that some editor would fall in love with it and publish it. She never really "rejected" it. She just found a way of doing that without saying so. While I was flattered by her efforts, I was also thrown a few steps back. If it was so darned good and she liked it so darned much, why didn't she buy it?

1. Her boss didn't like it enough to ok an offer.
2. She's getting ready to quit so she's not buying anything
3. She's acquired everything she can for the next five seasons so she has no room on the list.
4. She's lying through her teeth and she really hated it and just sent you that letter to make you feel bad.

Choose one and ONLY one answer.

Just like George Clooney...but different

Two editors (one paid by me and one not) independently identified the protagonist in my manuscript as having a Holden Caufield-like voice although the story bears no resemblance to "Catcher." I originally had thought of adding a description like that to my queries, but I reasoned that you would probably Snark me to smithereens. Was I correct?

Yup. But not for the reason you think.

If I had a dollar for every time some nitwit (not you dear Snarkling) said their book was like Catcher in the Rye or (fill in the blank of the best selling novel of the day), I'd buy a round of gin for everyone at Yankee Stadium in the next World Series.

It's a terribly overused comparison. Being overused means it carries no weight and in fact is now seen as a negative.

Let your writing stand on its own. If you MUST use a comparison to indicate genre or approach or tone at least phrase it as "readers who found Holden Caulfield's voice compelling are the target audience for this novel".

If you want to include the editors' comments, a little self deprecating humor can go a long way toward making the point "I don't think my mom paid the editor to make Holden Caulfield comparisons but here's her number if you'd like to verify it". Now, I'm not saying to be dumb silly or stupid, just try not to sound pretentious overblown and full of yourself. Those are the three first things that come to mind if JD Salinger appears in your query letter in any form other than "I"m the long lost love child of Joyce Maynard and JD Salinger".

This is like the bozo who told me he looked just like George Clooney but different when I was meeting him for the first time. After seeing him, it was more like George Costanza. He may have been a perfectly nice guy but disappointment nixed the deal. Don't set your work up for disappointment by over reaching on comparisons. If you're good, we'll see it.

Slinking down to Kinkos...your treat

A Snarkling is reading the new Writers' Digest listings:

What's your take on agents who charge manuscript copying fees? I'm re-launching my writing career after a ten-year hiatus and have read my first Writer's Digest since the prior millennium. In the text WD touted a few agents, who announced they "sometimes ask(s) for fees if ms requires extensive copying and mailing." (p. 64, Oct. 2005) I was stunned.
How extensive is this practice? Are these agents merely the truthful ones, stating their fees up front?

You have to distinguish between up front and after sale. I recoup copying and messenger fees after I've sold something if it was a substantial chunk of change (like more than $300). My contracts with authors indicate I can recoup everything from $1 up but I try not to nickel and dime the authors, particularly if the advance is less than $10K.

I do not charge any money whatsoever, zip, nada, zilcho, up front. If it doesn't sell, I eat the expenses. This is the standard literary agent practice and the industry standard. NO EXCEPTIONS.

If someone does it differently it doesn't mean they are a crook, but they are NOT adhering to industry standards.

This is one place where you ask up front. An agent should be able to tell you when they charge for expenses and how much. We do our expenses at cost. If it costs $35 to FedEx your tome to LA for film rights, that's the bill. You can even see the receipts if you want.

Don't get hung up on this though. Some very reputable agents charge a nominal fee (like $35) up front. I think they should stop doing it, but my Queen of the Universe powers seem to only function in my immediate vicinity.

The chicanery lies in the folks who want you to cough up anything more than $50 to get started. That's not OK. There is a previous post about the cost of copying and messengering manuscripts. If an agent can't pay that upfront, they shouldn't be in business. Copying and messengering is part of the cost of doing business.


It's not the end of the world...really

A Snarkling confesses:

okay... here's a real problem: I liked some of the writing (in the Nicole Richie "book"). I laughed at this line: "At Mode, people acted up, hooked up, and threw up, and the paparazzi stood outside to shoot the stars as they went in looking fabulous and staggered out totally gone." I'm sorry--but mostly for myself. Obviously I need to get out more or consume less junk food. Anyone have any suggestions about what I should be reading to regain some taste?

Dickens. Dive into Bleak House. It will take you a month to get through it but you'll have reconfigured your reading synapses.

James Salter.

PD James.

Philip Roth.

Raymond Carver.

After a bout with my slush pile, or my requested manuscript pile I always have to read something to "retune" my ear. Really good detective fiction and thrillers are my "oboe" of choice. I just finished the new PD James TO THE LIGHTHOUSE and there is a delicious thrill in seeing a master at her craft.

For every Nicole Richie who gets a book deal cause those very smart folks over at Harper know how to read the pop culture zeitgeist, there are at least ten people getting published that aren't awful and aren't getting the attention Mizz Richie is. Take heart Snarklings. It's not the end of the world. I will announce when that is upon us and advise you of the reading list for the train trip.

Are you scraping the bottom of the question barrel here or what

I've never been to a writers' conference, but hear that the triple compulsions at many are getting published, getting drunk, and getting laid. Thus, a sweet young thing, perhaps fortified by a few shots of booze, might approach Norman Mailer and say, "Ooh, Mr. Mailer, you're so handsome." After they have sex, Mailer will, the sweet young thing hopes, read her manuscript and recommend it to the editor-in-chief at Random House or a stellar literary agent like Ms. Snark.

Is there a smidgeon of truth to these rumors?


There's a reason Miss Snark does not hand out business cards at writing conferences. This is it.

If you want Norman Mailer to discover you, the best thing to do is write to him from your prison cell.

For an explanation of why that is "funny" go here.