12.03.2005

More on letters and copyright

Well, the original comment sent Miss Snark scurrying to the internet to see what those clever lads in Congress have been up to since she last thought about copyright on personal letters.

Here's what turned up at PubLaw:

Allegations involving copyright infringement frequently occur when the author of an unauthorized biography makes use of the subject's published or unpublished letters and papers or possibly from oral conversations the author may have had with the subject.

In Salinger v. Random House, Inc., the author's use of extensive quotations from unpublished letters written by J.D. Salinger, the subject of the biography, without Salinger's permission was deemed to be copyright infringement. Under copyright law the writer of unpublished letters has the right to control the first publication of those letters.

Criticism of the Salinger decision as well as other copyright infringement decisions based upon what was believed to be excessive protection for unpublished works, resulted in Congress amending the Copyright Act. U.S. copyright law now provides that if a work is unpublished and it is used without permission of its author then the fact that the work was unpublished by itself would not be sufficient to constitute copyright infringement.

Subsequently, in Wright v. Warner Books it was held that when a work is one of "criticism, scholarship or research," that quotations from unpublished personal letters and journals might constitute fair use.

In Estate of Hemingway v. Random House, Inc., which concerned the publication of portions of conversations between the author and Ernest Hemingway, the court ruled that the author of Papa Hemingway did not infringe the common law copyright of these conversations by including them in a book on Hemingway's life. The court stated that even if the author used verbatim some of Hemingway's words that such use was minimal and qualified as fair use of the material.


Emphasis is mine to highlight the parts that seem to apply to what we're talking about. I think I was confused when I originally said "letters belong to the recipient"; confused between the concept of ownership of the actual physical letter, and ownership of the content. It does seem clear that the original commenter (and Writers Digest!) is correct in saying copyright attaches to the creator of a work even if it's a personal letter.

But copyright in and of itself is not at issue. What started the exchange was the idea that I'd have to "get permission to use the letters" if I compiled a book on bad queries. (Don't worry Snarklings, Miss Snark isn't intending any such thing). Even if I printed, verbatim, every query letter I received for a year (A Year In the Life of Miss Snark!), you'd be hard pressed to sue for damages (if such a loathsome thought occurred to you) because you can't sue for damages unless you register your work. Invasion of privacy maybe, but not copyright.

Copyright violation is a civil action, not a criminal one. The State of New York will not enforce the civil code against copyright infringement on your behalf, but it will enforce the criminal code of ..for example..no murdering literary agents, on my behalf.

But, by sending me an email, you grant implicit consent that it can be published on this blog. So watch out; no threats to stew Killer Yapp or I'll sic PETA on ya!

Paying to move to the head of the line

Dear Miss Snark,

I love that you're going to take partials via e-mail. I hope it's contagious. Save a tree and keep me from having to break my pink piggybank to pay postage.

Here's something I'd like your take on. Two established and highly recommended (by RWA or others) say on their web sites that I can get my work read faster or a critique of my query letter and partial if I send a check along for between $65 and $150.


Granted, we authors are kept out in the dark about what agents are looking for, and the mind-reading course I took hasn't kicked in yet, but is this the answer?
Or, is this a function of the piss-poor economy? Or, is something else afoot that only you, genius-agent know about? Please advise.

Forever Yours,
A Bodacious Snarkling


This is a function of a someone who has seen a way to make money unethically.
Don't do it.
Do not pay agents until they sell your work.
Reading queries, and the slush pile is part of our job. Charging people for it, or saying you can "tip the doorman" to get in faster is unacceptable.

Frankly I'm surprised RWA hasn't flagged this practice as the overt snakeoil chicanery that it is. You may quote me as needed.

Dear Miss Snark (c)

According to Writer's Digest (can't remember what month), the writer (sender) of email and snail mail have all copyright, um, rights. In other words, if you wrote a book about with these bad querys in it, you'd have to obtain permission from the writer of the letters. By sending them to you, the writer doesn't give you rights.


Actually, if someone mails me a letter, it becomes my property. I can publish it without their permission, as you can publish my letters to you because they are yours.

A third party, such as a biographer or scholor however cannot publish letters to me without my permission thus some interesting episodes wherein permissions were not granted, or were withdrawn, and biographies had to be re-edited at the last minute.

This applies only to actual physcial letters sent to a person, not to things posted on a blog, for which I technically retain copyright, but yanno...copy at will, have at it.

ok, not bound ms, but why not CDR or email?

If the first thing you do is to photocopy the MS, why not ask for it on CD or as an email attachment? The techy person inside me is sure that printing a large document on a laser printer is a lot quicker and a lot less bother that trying to feed 500 loose pages through a copier, ADF or not.I'm sure there are reasons, but I'm just curious.

It's the first thing we do for manuscripts that are making it to the next step. Not all manuscripts make it to that step (fewer than 1 in 10). We have to be ready for any manuscript to be run through the machine so the default "send pages, not bound ms" is what we ask for.

Miss Snark herself does not stand over the copy machine feeding pages like a mother hummingbird feeds the nestlings. Miss Snark engages the services of Entrepreneur Snark to do this.

I also don't want to print out every manuscript sent me. While I support the running dog capitalist system, I don't feel the need to enrich HP ink jet cartridge division beyond my normal requirements.

However, the modern world is making itself known and one of the things I'm going to be doing is getting partials sent electronically, and only full manuscripts on paper. This is my experiment for 2006 after I toted up the amount of paper that went out the door in recycling bags in 2005.

4am emails

What would you say to a wanna be writer who just deleted his 4 month old blog in a fit of drama before he had a chance to shyly ask you to look at it, to see what he knew was good stuff, to maybe give him some encouragement about this whole writing thing? Who now has only the gall to send you a simple, naked email?

What do you say to that person who has that soul, who can write, who can make you cry in happiness or in pain, but who doesn't know how to harness that beast? What do you say to that person who reads your little blog, just one of many out there, but who still feels that chain between his soul and yours, and finally, when it's too fucking late, asks you to give him some advice? When clearly it won't do the little fucker any good? What the fuck kind of writer would that be to represent, huh!?

What are you going to say to that person who, after four beers, wrote to you in a fit of self-induced depression about his now-deleted blog that he never had the balls to ask you to look at when it existed, but now thinks he can write some email that, just like that, conquers the Tower of Babel that stood in his way before. Do you say anything? Do you just post the email and and make a snarky comment to it? Whatever. I'll still be here.
First, I'd say, never post directly to a blog. Write in your word processing program and save your entries in a separate file. It's like a journal of sorts. Writing directly to blogs is like talking to the bartender: you may have some great lines, but no one remembers them in the morning unless you write them down.


This blog is about the business side of publishing. It's not about the art. I could no more tell you what to do at 4am with a crisis of artistic vision than I could fit into Killer Yapp's pink ice booties.

Get tough.
Get a grip.
Write.

Synopsis construction

I would like to at least use the first two sentences of the pitch as the first two sentences of the synopsis. Can I use some of the sentences and wordings from the pitch in my one page query letter or does that look lazy?

Yes, no.
Yes, using the same two sentences is ok,
No, it doesn't look lazy.

Killer Yapp

Say, Miss S: How long have you had Killer Yapp? I've been a Snarkling for awhile now, and I don't recall KY being much of a presence until the last few weeks or so.


Killer Yapp is a bit shy. He'd heard that publishing is a dog eat dog world, and he was reluctant to be part of the buffet of life. And of course for the past month or so, he's been quite busy with his entry in the NaNoMo contest.

12.02.2005

Yuletide Query

My question: What sort of holiday schedule do most agents keep? I've finished and polished a novel, and I'm about to start querying agents. Is early to mid-December a good time to do so, or are agents more likely to be cranky from pre-holiday pressures? Would it be better to wait until after the holidays?

Agents are always overworked, cranky and looking for their next gin. Well, Miss Snark is...and that's the only one that counts, right?

Queries are a routine part of our business day. We don't (mostly) ignore them in favor of swilling gin at holiday parties. Some of my colleagues use the holiday week downtime to get caught up on queries, so it's a good time to be in their mailbox. Some of my colleagues use this time to lie on the beach in St. Tropez, but your query letter will be waiting when they get back.

You absolutely cannot time queries so just polish it up and send it out.

I'm not sure how everyone else will be doing it, but the Snark Emporium of Good Writers and Great Deals will close for the hols on 12/22 and stay closed till ...well February seemed a bit much, so 1/4/6 seemed like a nice number. Killer Yapp will be retrieving messages and mail while Miss Snark reads trashy novels and makes prank phone calls to George Clooney.

Miss Snark the Phenom...

Miss Snark,
What is your readership? You seem to be quite a phenomenon. Do you know the actual numbers? And are you surprised that so many people have become slaves to your blog, or is this what you expected all along?


Expected all along? Yes, my evil plan to enslave the blogosphere is taking shape nicely. Don't resist the urge to send cash. The more you send, the better you'll feel.

My sense of who reads this comes from three places: the email I get; the comment trail; and most interestingly, talk about this blog on other blogs.

You see a lot of the email I get cause I post it: questions. Some of the other email I get is from regular readers who send my hilarious jokes, or people with questions that are too individual to answer on the blog. Very few poison pen emails, for which I'm profoundly grateful.

The comment trail turns up novice writers, devoted readers of genre fiction, the occasional publishing professional and a lot of people who should be baking cookies instead of making Miss Snark snort coffee out her nose at 9am.

The people talking about this blog on other blogs are the most amusing. They fall into two groups: people who read the blog and seem to like it; and, people who think Miss Snark is the anti-Christ. You can easily see who they are by googling "miss snark". You'll get about 130,000 hits but only 200 or so listings.

At the bottom of the blog you'll see a site counter. It counts up the number of hits per day, week and month. Right now the blog averages about 2000 hits a day. There are spikes (for example when this was mentioned on Galleycat there was a huge spike) and there are lulls (days I'm busy bailing myself out of jail and not posting).

My sense of the people who participate in this blog by virtue of reading and writing back is that we are a community, bound by the same interests. We love to read, we're not shy about expressing our opinions, we enjoy spiffy language and zesty style, and all think Killer Yapp is the cat's pajamas.

Miss Snark's sexual preferences

I'm a new male snarkling that has been reading for five days straight now. I've read all the archives but June and plan to do that soon.I do have a question, I've yet to see you refer to a male client. Do you have any? Or are they all perfect?


Miss Snark's clients come in all three genders.
You have seen references to s/he, but that is "she or he".

Synopsis forms

The return of the Crapometer is a month away and already I'm getting the "snakes" (Snark plus shakes equal snakes.). If a manuscript has 16 chapters and the synopsis is limited to fewer than 1,000 words, you obviously can't detail every chapter. Does one just take broad swipes at the narrative thread, possibly grouping three of four chapters in every paragraph of the synopsis?

This is probably one of those situations where there is no single "right way," but Miss Snark is already sharpening her stilettos for the multitude of "wrong ways." How will the poor snarklings ever survive?


Survive? Ohh....I never thought of that as a goal. What a novel idea!

Synopsis is not a detailed outline.
It's broad strokes about plot and character with a focus on how those things MOVE.
You shouldn't need more than 1000 words, four pages for anything unless you're channeling George RR Martin.

Bound vs unbound

I recently completed my final edit of my mystery, and raced off to Office Max and faster than you can toss back a double Gin Fizz, had the manuscript printed on both sides of the page, added an electric blue cardstock cover and had it bound with a nifty little spiral-notebook contraption. Not to worry, I know better than to send a bound manuscript off to an agent. These went to my trusty critique partners for the official bloodletting. I kept one for myself for my own hardcopy edit.

After critiquing dozens of unbound manuscripts over the years, which often had me chasing windblown pages across the lawn or having to take the time to reorganize 365 pages after a close encounter of the canine kind, I found I much preferred the pages held together in one cohesive unit.So, could you please explain to me why agents prefer unbound mountains of paper that cause all manner of frustrations over the more manageable bound variety?

Because the first thing we do is run them through the xerox machine. Xerox machines do not like bound copies. They chew them up and spit them out and say "follow the guidelines". Same reason you can't print on both sides of the paper. It makes the Mr. Xerox very unhappy. Miss Snark prefers to keep Mr. Xerox happy, and thus Mr. Technician from becoming a close personal acquaintance.

What exactly IS a crapometer?

Um...crapometer? Send a thousand words? If I ask you to explain, will I get stomped on?

Since readership has tripled since September, there are probably quite a few people who wonder what the Crapometer, aka Snarkometer, is.

In the early days of the blog Miss Snark opined that most of the work she got in her slush pile was crap. Several Snarklings wondered if their work was in that category. In a fit of total madness Miss Snark said "send me the first page and I'll run it through the Crapometer".

Those posts, in August, all sixty of them, are in the archives.

The crapometer, like many monsters, grew fat on the blood of victims and took on a life of its own. Now roaming the countryside seeking grist for the mills, the Crapometer is scheduled to return to NYC after Christmas. For a change of pace, we'll feed it synopses.

For the rules of the feeding frenzy, see the post below.

Hot Diggety Dog, Jonathan Yardly likes what I read!

Lots of the Best of the Year lists are ..not to put too fine a point on it...boring.
Self involved; self congratulatory (can you say "Maureen Dowd on the NYT list"--c'mon).

However, courtesty of TheMillions comes the good news that Jonathan Yardley, book critic at the Washington Post, has both Michael Connelly AND John Grisham on his favorite books list.

My faith in book critcs is restored. Maybe they ARE human!

What is a synopsis actually used for?

What exactly is a synopsis for? Mechanics aside, what do you look for in one? How does it help you, and the editors you send it along to? Obviously not as a writing sample, since no one can write a good one, and it can't convey much if anything about character, atmosphere, etc. So I'd imagine it is to give you a sense of the plot. But can you tell from the synopsis whether the plot is likely to hold up?


Lucienne Diver, who is a very good agent, once said "synopsis tell me if aliens arrive out of the blue in chapter 12". I thought she was kidding. She was not.

Synopsis tell you if the plot fails. It gives you an idea if the requirements of a genre are met, or played with in an interesting way.

Synopsis, when they are well written, give you a sense of character development and where the plot turns. Badly written, they tell you "what it's about" but not why you'd want to read it.


I have synopses for all the books on my list. When I'm placing projects, I read the synopsis before making a sales call. When you're shopping five books at the same time, details like names can get jumbled even in Miss Snark's well organized mind.

More on how much fiction is published

How many fiction titles are published each year by commercial houses, or respected small presses - titles that Miss Snark would regard as a professional credit? How many of those sell over a thousand copies?


I'm not sure. The Book Industry Study Group, from whence comes all my stats these days, could probably tell us if you wanted to dig deep on their website.

The 195,000 book number is actually ISBNs. That includes calendars, all versions of a single title (hc, tp, mmpbk, movie tie in edition etc). It includes everything published by all those vanity houses like AuthorHouse and iUniverse. Even if you figure there are 100,000 new titles published every year, it's still a lot particularly given fewer people are reading for pleasure and many of those of us who do are reading less.

Heck with waiting...I'll Do It Myself!!



It may be a myth, but in the UK record companies used to be said to bulk-buy (using teams of buyers in 'disguise'!) CDs at the stores which generated the music charts.Have you ever heard mention of publishers bulk-buying books to get a book onto the bestseller list? I wonder how much it would cost an author to try to inflate sales in this way. If somebody got a big advance - this is very hypothetical - of, say fifty grand, maybe spending ten or twenty grand on books would pump up sales enough to reach a bestseller list? So many people only look at the books which are on the bestseller list, this might then generate enough interest for some kind of a snowball-effect to occur?


Oh yes, it has happened indeed. More than one clever beast decided to skip the bothersome stuff of having actual readers buy the book and bought bulk copies himself. David Vise, author of The Bureau and The Mole did it in 2002. There's more about it here at The Book Babes


The Times list puts a dagger next to books that have "bulk buys" and has done so since 1995.

Like everything there's a way to manipulate best seller lists. You've got to be seriously self involved to think buying your own way onto the list means much. Like stealing Miss America's crown so you can "be" Miss America.

Get back to work

Hey Miss Snark,

Everyone keeps talking about submitting to agents, but what about the morning after? Once a girl has found her agent-guy and his part of the submission bargain begins, what do I need to be thinking about while I wait for that million dollar deal (yes, I am laughing at myself)?


Should I just sit back and wait for Stella, my muse, to bring me my second book on a silver platter, or should I start thinking about promotion?


People talk about getting the word out to distributors, but what is the best way to do that? And with what?Can you tell me how the NYT gauges who is a best seller and who isn't?


My book is women's commercial fiction. Should I be starting a mailing list? To do list? S--t list?I know this is kinda like planning your wedding on your second date, but hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.


While your first novel is making the rounds, you work on your second one. Don't even think of calling a distributor. Don't even think about finding out who they are. If you are desperate to do something other than write, become a dog walker.

When your first novel sells is when we will let you start working on promoting it. You'll have a year between sale and publication and that's soon enough to get started.

Right now you don't have anything to promote.

The New York Times calls certain 'select and secret' bookstores to see what's flying out the door. Do not even think about this even after your book is sold. You have no control over this. You have control over how hard you work to promote your book but not the results. It is not a quid pro quo. You can work your ass off for nothing. You still have to do it cheerfully.

Get back to work. Or walk the dog. Killer Yapp wants a quick lap around the reservoir.

Yes, you are in trouble

I was wondering what kind of advice you'd give if one of your authors was in this situation.

Let's say she has had three novels published by a major house. Sales have never been great, particularly for the last one, which tanked. She loves her editor and the feeling seems to be mutual, but her editor has expressed concern about how past sales will affect whether or not the house will want to buy the author's current novel (in progress).

It just seems that, even if the house were to publish the book, nothing would change. It would likely be published as a trade paper original (like the others) without much publicity (also like the others). No money would be dumped into it, no hardcover, no big promotional push. The future seems grim. What would you advise?


Get ready to look for a new publisher. I don't care how much your editor loves you, if the last book tanked, you're in trouble.

But, it might be good trouble. A fresh start at a new publisher with more marketing oomph, or better market penetration, or lower sales requirements to keep the bean counters happy may be a very nice solution indeed.

You also can't count on the publisher, any publisher, to really push the book. You'll have to do that yourself.

This is third down and ten. You're going to need to really focus to stay in the game. You need a comprehensive plan about how to make this work. You didn't mention if you had an agent, but if you do, s/he knows you're in trouble. Work out a strategy with her/him and then follow it.

You're at a critical juncture. A LOT of people do not get past over this "not enough" sales hump.

12.01.2005

How many books?

Your Snarkness,

I have heard/read from different sources that somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 books are published in the U.S. each year. This includes ALL titles. And then I've heard/read that only 8 to 10 percent of new titles each year are fiction.

So...between 5,000ish and maybe 10,000ish fictional titles published each year. Any validity to this?

Tell Killer Yapp my toy fox terrier, Reggie, said hey.

More like 195,000 books are published every year. Fewer than two percent sell more than 1,000 copies.

There's no such thing as a "fictional title" unless you mean a title that doesn't exist. "Killer Yapp Does The Macarena" is a fictional title. I think what you're intending to ask is how many of those 150,000 books are works of fiction, or fiction titles.

Answer: 25,000.
Source: Poets&Writers


Killer Yapp says Reggie looks good in leather but lose the cigar.

Opening doors

I have the opportunity to get my nonfiction book proposal to a senior editor, now vice president, at a major commercial publishing house. Not only that, it's likely that one of the editor's most noteworthy clients would recommend my proposal.

Having come up short looking for literary agency representation over the past few years, I'm ready to try this avenue, even though it's through the back door (maybe, on second thought, the front door).


My question is this. I don't know if the editor would consider my proposal for publication; but, if so, I'd want to be represented by an agent. I've come to know two or three who turned me down, but I respect them.

What's the correct protocol in this situation? Is the agent obliged to simply work out details with the publishing house on my behalf, or does he or she have the green light to shop the proposal to other houses? If so, what do I say to my influential friends who got my proposal to the senior editor/VP in the first place?


You've got the cart before the horse here.
It's no problem to get your work in the door on the recommendation of friends rather than through an agent.

If this senior vp wants to acquire the project, you go back to the agents and say "I have an offer I need an agent". If you don't reach an agreement with this publisher, the agent may simply return the project to you or ask if you want to him/her to shop it around further.

What you say to your influential friends does not depend on the outcome. They introduced you. You say thank you and buy dinner and drinks, no matter what happens. When the book is published you put them in the acknowledgments even if someone else publishes it. People remember that.

All you SFF fans, here's one for you

Show #15 of The Bat Segundo Show, a literary podcast featuring interviews with today's contemporary writers, is now up. But neither Jorge nor Bat Segundo are to be found. We're hoping that they will return for the next show. The producer explains the situation in the first minute of this week's show. The latest show runs 41 minutes and 11 seconds long and features Octavia Butler.

The main Segundo site can be found here



To subscribe to the show with a podcatcher program (for later transfer to your iPod), copy and paste the following URL into your program:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/segundo

Please note: You do not have to have an iPod to listen the show! If you go to the main Segundo site, you can save the MP3 to your lovely machine by clicking on the bat picture.

We have many more exciting shows in the works. Stay tuned for perverse authors, social theorists, esteemed historians, D-list entertainers, and a few wiseacres. We're hoping to hit Show #20 by the end of the year, time permitting.

Here are the details for this week's show:

Author: Octavia Butler

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unknown. We can't find him this week.

Subjects Discussed: Anne Rice, the advantages of writing vampire novels, research, the ambiguities of persistently repulsive material, Fledgling as ripping vampire yarn and multilayered quest story, setting vampire rules, naming character names, the influence of the state of Washington upon atmosphere, Butler's editorial relationship with Seven Stories, Warner vs. Seven Stories, on being categorized as a science fiction author, auctorial labels, Butler's three primary audiences, Dorothy Allison, the influence of criticism, fiction as prophecy, Bush and global warming, education, Margaret Atwood, why Butler dislikes Survivor, the Parable books, why this is the first book in seven years, on writing a "continuous first draft" Butler's working methods, typewriters, technology, Alfred Hitchcock, cell phones, how Butler's computer is set up, T.C. Boyle, on being a baby boomer, being "comfortably asocial: inner introverts , polyamory, sexuality, the science aspect of science fiction, and science fiction vs. fantasy.

Crapometer Questions

In breathless anticipation of the return of the Crapometer, I am wondering if we can get some advanced guidelines. Not just for myself, of course, but also for all the other avid fans tuned in to your enlightening blog.

I would like to make sure that should I ever get to meet you or Killer Yapp, that I make no errors that would incur the wrath of sharp pointy teeth and leather clad bodyguards.

What is the ideal? Short story/flash length, single chapter, outline and first three or just the first 13 lines? One entry per person? Lit Fic only? No f/sf/h? Should we leave Romance at the bar?


The Crapometer sends word that the ETA is after Christmas.
Synopses this time.
All fiction categories.
1000 word limit and less is more.
Email submissions only and ONLY when the crapometer is "up and running": no early bird stuff.

Spelling counts.
ALL work is answered on the blog; no private consultations.

Killer Yapp will enforce the rules.

When is enough?

I've been querying agents for about a year. I've sent out over 70 queries (one of them to you, I'm pretty sure). While I've had a fair number of requests for partials and three requests for the full manuscript, I still don't have an agent. Maybe my novel's no good. But maybe it is--it's been critically praised by some respected authors and several chapters have been published in literary journals--and there are other reasons for my failure to nab an agent, for example that agents don't think it has enough commercial potential. My thinking has been that if I were to give up on getting an agent I would then star approaching some of the small literary presses and perhaps also enter the novel in the contests through which some university presses select books. So the question: When should I give up on getting an agent? At a year and a half? A hundred queries? How and when do I conclude that my agent quest has failed?


Not "failed" so much as" suspended until we come to our senses and realize what you've got". That happens more than you think.

My benchmark is 100 queries. You may have a problem with your cover letter and first pages if you've only gotten three requests for a manuscript from 70 queries. It's hard to know without seeing the work of course.

I think it's a very good idea to pursue small presses and contests. Agents overlook good stuff more than we like to confess. You catch me on a Friday afternoon when I'm tired and I can overlook a delicate novel as "bloodless" pretty easily. Or if I've seen seven riproaring thrillers in a row, the 8th is probably going to get a pass cause it feels familiar.

You might consider running your synopsis through the crapometer when it comes back from Nicole Richie's launch party.

Agent referral "services"

Because I read your blog faithfully, never in a million years would I entertain the idea of mass e-mailing hundreds of agents at once with my query letter. However, a couple of authors on a discussion list I belong to say they received nearly instantaneous representation from reputable agents when they used the service publishersandagents.net In fact, not only did they land an agent within 48 hours, those agents actually sold their books. Are you familiar with this service (or others like it), and what is your snarkalicious opinion of it (them)?


Did the people on the discussion board tell you the name of the book and the publisher?

Let's assume for discussion that they did land an agent and sell a book. What we really need to know is how many other people tried this and didn't. If one person tries and succeeds, that's 100% success. If 10,000 people tried it and one succeeded ... not quite the success rate you're hoping for when you write the check for whatever amount they are going to ask you for.

Categorically I despise agent referral services. They sell you on the idea that they can hook you up with "the right agent". There are two fundamental errors in that offer:

1. They only know what you write based on your description of it;
2. They only know what we have taken on based on our descriptions.
No one is looking at the actual writing-and it's the writing that counts.

The only person who can tell you if I will be interested in your book is me. And I'll be glad to give you my opinion for 74cents. You mail me a letter; I'll mail you one back.

Other agents are even less expensive if they take e-queries.
You can find agent's emails, submission standards and recent sales on Publishers Marketplace for a grand total of $20 a month.

Agent referral services are not altruistic. They are profit making ventures. I'd rather see you save your money for important things: Miss Snark's thank you gift, your ensemble for the Oscars, and ticket's to Killer Yapp's next joust with butterflies in Central Park.

I want to be rich AND respected

I'd love to hear your take on hardcover v. trade paperback. My demographic is smart, savvy women, and one prospective agent told me that she thinks TP is the best outlet (better sales), while another said she'd aim for HC (more prestige).

Does an agent's lack of desire to go for the HC, which I think I'd prefer, indicate a slightly less enthusiastic attitude or a belief that this book won't be a huge seller? Or is she just telling me the straight skinny, while this other agent might have her head in the clouds?

And is it narcissistic for me to bring up film rights? (Surely, nearly every writer thinks that his or her work is good enough for film, but well, I think my work is good enough for film!) I don't want to come off as delusional, but at the same time, I want someone who is going to secure as much as possible for me.


Trade paper originals are very very smart for first time writers reaching smart savvy women. You want sales not prestige. Prestige doesn't keep you published; sales do. That said, if you sell in hardcover and you lead the publisher's list, you'll get a lot more marketing and sales support. No agent can tell you if a hc will lead the list until it's sold, and even then, it's subject to change.

It's all a crapshoot and there is absolutely no way to reduce this to even poker table odds. You're going to gamble and hope for the best.

Ask each of the prospective agents who they work with for film deals. All of us have film agents tucked away in LaLa Land. Your literary agent, whomever she turns out to be, will send the ms to her film agent for shopping. Then just forget about it. No amount of nagging, nudging or asking for updates will move that manuscript around one little bit.

Thanks, but no thanks

Hi Miss Snark,

I'm presently in the amazing position of having several offers of representation for my commercial fiction project. Cue heavy gin drinking! I'm ecstatic. However, my buzz is slowly wearing off now that I realize that I actually have to CHOOSE among these fabulous people who actually want to sell my work. I've spoken to plenty of people who have told me the right questions to ask and echoed that "I should go with my gut." (Right now, my gut is telling me nothing other than I have no idea how I'm going to do this!)

I'm curious, though, about the other end of this situation: how agents receive the news that you're going with someone else or even that you need to weigh your options and get back to them (within a very reasonable amount of time). For some reason, I feel like I owe these people something, even though I'm reasonably sure that they wouldn't give a second thought to most of their rejections.

You only owe them the courtesy of fairly prompt reply.
Do NOT tell them how close the competition was, or how hard it was to choose.
You're not Martha Stewart and this isn't The Apprentice 2.
No notes telling us we just didn't fit in but good luck elsewhere.

Thank them for their time and consideration. Say you're electing to go with another agency.
Sincerely yours, badda bing badda boom.

Don't agonize. This happens all the time.

Do you still like me?

Miss Snark,

A while ago I e-queried an agent that I found listed in the back of one of my favorite author's books. I did it as a lark, not expecting a thing back, considering how successful this particular client was. But, lo and behold, he wrote me back and asked immediately for a full. No synopses, no nothing.

Now, he always took some time to write back, which I understood then (and moreso now, that you give me a peek into the life of a successful agent).Anyway, the long and the short: he had good things to say but blamed the size of the market (non fiction queer memoirs) to be shrinking, aka: a common way of saying, as you've taught me, "No thanks, but don't fling horse pies at me when you sell it elsewhere."

When he told me no, I immediately wrote back to the agent, thanking him for reading and getting back to me, and asking if it would be okay if I sent him my next MS. He never wrote back.

Now, months later, I have that different manuscript I am currently polishing. It's fiction and not gay-centric as the last one was, ie, nothing like the last I sent him.Would it be considered bothersome to re-query him again with this new piece?


Not bothersome at all.
Fire away.
Mention his previous compliments about your work.
Don't mention he didn't write back.

Miss Snark would like to buy a clue

I was wondering if you could tell us what agents mean when they speak of b-voice or b-characterization?


I have not a single clue. I don't think I've ever seen that used.
Snarklings?
Has anyone got a clue for the lady in aisle b?

non credited work


Dear Miss Snark,

I've written five guidebooks for an independent publisher as "work for hire". I visited the locations, lived on a bowl of watery rice a day for months, slept in a cardboard box underneath the viaduct, wrote all the book (except the introduction), took all the photos, and sent prompt dispatches via carrier pigeon. As it was work for hire, the editors' names are on the front. Yeah, I know, that's what work for hire is. My name is inside the front cover, along with the other minions who did the layout, and made the coffee. I'm called a researcher.

All was cozy and huggy, until, when the fifth book was published, they stopped paying me. To cut a long story short, they're struggling against bankruptcy, and I had to find an attorney to get me some money. So, it's safe to say I'm not exactly their favorite person. And I'd like to set Killer Yapp on them.

However, now I'm pitching for other guidebook writing opportunities. I've got the experience in buckets, and I obviously give the names of the Publishers From Hell as my previous publishing credits. But, so far, no luck.

How do I get around the fact that if they google the titles, there is NO mention of me in connection with these books, other than on my own website? I seriously doubt that the Publishers From Hell would give me a reference, or even acknowledge that I worked for them. That's assuming anyone can find them. My attorney's still trying. I've photocopied the inside front cover that does have my name, and any cover letter I send includes a URL where
they can see it. I've cut my fingers off to avoid bad-mouthing them in public forums.

What's the best way to address this situation in my cover letters?



You've got the correct phrase right there: work for hire, credited as a researcher. Agents and publishers understand this means your name isn't on the cover. Most work for hire happens that way.

Just make sure you say those exact words in your letter and you'll be fine.

Not badmouthing the publisher is also a very very smart move.

You can also have the books on your website with covers, listing you as "researcher". Don't state you wrote the books cause if the only place someone sees that is your website, they'll wonder.

One way around that is to talk on your website about the story behind the story. What was living under a viaduct like? How did you write? Use some of the stuff that didn't make it into the book, particularly photos. It will be interesting, show your writing style and substantiate your position as the writer. Of course since this is work for hire, the publisher owns the rights to all this stuff, but s/he'd have to come out of lurkdom to sue you so that's a bonus as well.

Killer Yapp is available for drive by chewings but he does require a limousine, bodyguards in leather pants, and retains all film and reality TV show rights.

How long is Miss Congeniality congenial?

I recently had an unpublished manuscript that placed on the long list of finalists in a competition. The press said it plans to send out excerpts of our entries for promotion separately from the promotion material announcing the winner. The long list was announced October 31. The winner of the competition will be announced before the new year but the long list information won't be sent out until January, at the earliest - there's no definite date.

What I'm wondering is, what's the shelf life on placing in a competition? I've already had an agent ask for this manuscript, but if I was querying agents is there a point where it wouldn't be useful to mention this? Say, if this one agent passes on the manuscript, would it still be worth mentioning 6 months from now?


Yes. I've had query letters mention contests more than a year old.
Let's hope you win-that's a big boost.

Even being a finalist though is worth mentioning if you're just starting out.
Keep querying!
Use this window of time to get your material out there.

Then, if you win, or place, or show you can write/email the agents looking at your work to update them. This is one time when it's ok to email agents..but only those actively considering your work at this time.

Good luck!

Show me the damn money!

When does an author get paid? Hypothetical situation: Author who is signed with an agent makes a deal with a publishing house, an advance is on the table of $10,000. Publishing date has been set for January 2007. After the agent gets her 15%, when does the author get her part of that advance? I have been told it's when the book is released. Is that correct.


Only if you have the world's worst agent.

Standard terms are half on signing the contract, half on delivery or acceptance of the manuscript. There are variations, particularly when you're in the rariefied air of seven figure advances but $10k isn't that.

You sign the contract. It goes back to the publisher for countersignature. You get your copy and a check. Probably two months.

Don't count on this money to fund your rent or your kidney transplant. It's absolutely slow and unpredictable.


SEE THE COMMENTS COLUMN FOR ADDED IMPORTANT INFO ON THIS

Talk about Train Wrecks

Brad Vice, the author who saw his career go up in flames over "unacknowledged use of source material" (something less charitable people call ...um...plagiarism) has discovered once people find out you lied about one thing, they go looking at everything else. And it turns out, of course, they found it.

Another guy who had his background looked at with zeal was the guy who espoused lying on cover letters, or puffing up your writing credentials. He had his own credentials looked at by the folks who hang out over at Making Light. I'd rather be interrogated by the IRS than have these guys after me. They're not only thorough, they're hilarious. And it's one thing to be discovered to be a lying, cheating scene stealer. It's worse to have them doing it with wit and style.

But the point of course is now that everything in the world appears to be up on the net, people WILL look. Plagiarism has always been wrong. Now it's just stupid.

11.30.2005

Officer Dillon Stewart, age 35

A good guy was gunned down in the streets of Brooklyn two nights ago. He was a cop doing his job, chasing a guy who turned out to be armed, dangerous, and really stupid. The stupid guy lived. Officer Stewart, father of two, husband, brother, son, didn't.

Seven cops have died in the line of duty since 9/11. I'm not sure why this story resonates with me so particularly but it was all I could do not to break down and sob when I offered condolences to the cops on the street I see here every day. I didn't know Officer Dillon Stewart. I don't know any cops really. But this one really hit home.

I love reading detective fiction and crime novels. People get killed in those books all the time; in fact, it's almost a requirement of the genre. Cops get killed in them too.

But I think that the reason I like reading crime novels is the same reason I'm so sad about Officer Dillon Stewart. Crime novels make sense of the carnage. There's always a reason. There's always a motivation. And there's always a sense of justice.

In this case, a guy who has been a loser all his sad life is alive, and Officer Dillon Stewart who from all the reports in the Times seems to have been one of those very good, very valiant, very special men this city has to offer is gone. There's no sense, or justice, or reason for that at all.

And no neat endings. No overarching narrative theme. Just a very bleak sense of the injustice in the real world.

"Best of" Anthologies

Do you ever read The Best American Short Stories anthologies? What do you think about them?


Only when I have clients in the year's edition. This year, only an honorable mention in one of the genre ones...but better than a kick in the pants!

I think they're a great idea. A good way to get stories out to people who might not see them. I always look at where they were originally published so I can keep my list of "good places to have my fiction writers investigate" is current.

Of course, I'm deeply offended that I myself have not been selected for the Best of Snark volume.

Don't Kick Serendipity in the Keister

O wondrous Snarkalicious one, I got an email this afternoon from a Very Large Agency who pretty much said, "We're still looking at your book-- is that all you have? Do you have anything set in Japan, where you grew up?" My first reaction was, "Ohmigod they might want to see more of my writing!" which was quickly followed by, "Huh?"I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, because I'm honestly so thrilled that they gave me a second thought in this crazy world that I'm speaking in cliches, but I only mentioned in my bio that I used to live in Japan. It wasn't like I said, "I lived in Japan! Ask me how!" Naturally, I responded to them immediately offering up what they wanted to know, but I'm still wondering at this. Why in the wold would they ask for something so specific?


Cause five minutes ago an editor asked for something like that and three minutes ago they realized they didn't have it "in stock". This happens more than you think.

This is also called being in the right place at the right time. Don't miss the opportunity.

I read Karin Muller's JAPANLAND: A Year in Search of Wa this summer. Japan is getting to be a very hot topic.

11.29.2005

Say....cheese it!

I'm an old, shopworn, retired elementary teacher. After I handed in my chalk, I enjoyed doing nothing. No shoes to tie, no noses to wipe, just free time. Then God looked down or the devil looked up, saw me wallowing in sloth and put me to work as a writer. I still haven't figured out why because I'd never written anything in my life. My first novel was published by a small publisher when I turned 60.

Now, Harcourt has my latest novel. Here's my question. The author photo. I don't want one. It would definitely not be a selling point. Now, I was in the cutish category for the first half of my life, not anymore. Do the big publishers insist on author photos? I haven't brought up the subject with my editor because I'm hoping she'll forget about it.


Well, you might check your contract. Lots of them say "pony up a photo".
This is one thing you don't want to leave till the last minute.

Couple things; first of all, you're more self conscious of how you look than anyone else is.

Second, you'd be surprised what makeup artists can do, not to mention the airbrush stylings of photo shop. For proof, you need look no further than the hilarious comments posted by Kitty --who has managed to convince herself Miss Snark is Elaine Benis, AND put her in the arms of George Clooney. A situation to be devoutly wished for, but nonetheless....a far cry from reality.

If you want to see a truly wretched beyond belief awful photo of a guy who's not that bad in real life take a squint at Dan Kennedy's author photo in LOSER GOES FIRST. I think he was hungover. Or dead. Or both. No matter how you tried, you could not look worse.

And relax, Harcourt is no slouch when it comes to picking beautiful writers.

Equal time for Sandra Scoppettone's response

I can't believe the reactions to my blog. My blog is about nothing but writing and what it's like to be published, get a contract, not get one, feeling bad on a writing day, feeling good, etc. It's not about anything personal like my cat or what I wear.

As Ed Gorman said to me this morning:"What's the point of publishing a cowering blog?" Why should I shutup...the whole point of the blog is to take the reader with me as I go through the life of being a published writer. Guess I won't be published anymore, huh?


And nobody reads because I also said:"I’m not saying an editor of that age has to be horrible, in fact I know that someone so young could be the best editor I’ve ever had."
I don't think a single person read my post correctly. This is because in this form as in email there are no nuances.

And if you'd read further, Rick, you'd know the hem had to be shorter because the book takes place in 1943.
I guess I'm shocked at the reaction I got because if you read my post you'll see it's really all about projecting and that I make fun of myself.Why do I think there are a lot of wannabes leaving comments?

Seems like a lot of fuss over very little.



There's an old saying: if one person tells you you're sick, don't worry. If five people say it: lie down.

One of the things I've learned from this blog is that people read things I did not intend. Does that make me right, and them wrong? Of course it does. That's also not the point.

If you are blogging, and writing about your work world, people are going to read it and draw conclusions. Conclusions you may not like, you may not agree with, that you in fact think are stupid. Telling them so is like a food fight (cue: Animal House!)--you may win, but you're still wearing green jello.

I'm not going to give a line by line response to this.
I stand by my original post.
All opinioins to the contrary, misguided though they be, are welcome in the comments section.
Unless of course you don't think Animal House is funny. Then you are consigned to a life of Ingmar Bergman movies.

Threesomes

A question for the blog: I finished a paranormal romance and sent the manuscript to my agent. He read it and said it was enjoyable, but not the sort of thing he would know how to sell. He gave me the OK to find an outside agent to rep the work. What does this really mean? I initially signed with the agent with a mystery.


Did he sell the mystery for you? If not, this means you're getting a new agent. One who, it is to be hoped, will know how to sell more than one thing. Paranormal romance isn't Hindu Haiku. It's part of a genre that is purchased by most big houses and a wheelbarrow load of smaller ones.

If he did sell it, and you intend to write more mysteries, you might not want to burn any bridges. And if you have a contract with this guy, you'll need to look at that very carefully.

It's not unheard of for people to have two agents but the things represented tend to be MUCH more far apart than mystery and romance.

The right agent wants you too

When agents leave/quit, is there a protocol for how they handle people in whom they've expressed interest? I had an agent say she really liked a project of mine, and to let her know before I signed with anyone else. She also asked about a second project, and when I sent her the synospsis she never wrote back. I thought a) if she'd been really interested in either project she would have offered representation instead of waiting to see who else jumped b) either way it was rude for her to not respond at all to the query she requested. I later found out that right around that time she switched agencies, to an agency that had previously rejected me. She didn't notify me of the change. Is this complete lack of interest, or could I have been lost in the shuffle? I ask because I'm at the point where I have a few other offers, and am wondering whether its worth it to drop her a line at the new agency.



Yes, Miss Snark has misplaced a query or two in her day.
Yes, there was great consternation to find out John Grisham could have been warming his toes at the Snark fire if only his query hadn't disappeared under the credenza.

That said, if you've got interest from other agents, I'd follow up with them first.

The one that got away is the stuff of romantic ballads, not flinty eyed professionals like us, right?

Nitwit of the day

Please Sandra, shut up.

You're not, and I mean really NOT, listening when the commenter to your blog said that people would read what you wrote and pay attention. I came to your blog from GalleyCat which has a gazillion readers. Check your site stats, I bet they went through the roof.

I beg to point out that the new editor you're assigned will most likely be less than 30, in publishing for fewer than 10 years, probably five, and the FIRST thing s/he'll do is read your blog.

Young energetic and excited editors are exactly who you want to be friends with. They're not burned out. They may lack experience, but you've got that in abundance and can be a resource.
You'll be lucky to get an editor now whose first impression of you isn't "she's a whiner".

Yes, Joe Blades leaving is a melancholy day. But, it's not the end of the world. And in fact, some of those editors over there at Ballantine, whippersnappers though they are, are pretty damn good.

Shut up and count your blessings.

Miss Snark Polishes Her Spectacles

Much like the tabby cat who brings a mouse, Snarklings like to drop odd things on Miss Snark's doorman while she's out replenishing the gin pail. To wit: AutumnBridge

This is the start of the guidelines page:

Note:
Please read our guidelines thoroughly before you even think of submitting manuscripts, poems, novels, etc., and even before you pitch any ideas to us. Get to know us well. Read through our website. Examine the work of the artists and writers we include. Failure to follow these guidelines will severely hinder your chances of being published.

First, a few important points!

1) Artists and Writers only may submit. We do not work with agents!

Miss Snark, suitably chastened, nonetheless looks around for what these oh-so-selective people are publishing.

Now, it's true Miss Snark is not as young as she once was. In fact, Killer Yapp has been known to be passed off as a seeing eye dog but usually only at 2am after a night of revelry.

So, perhaps it's just Miss Snark's failing peepers that ..can it be?...there are no publications listed other than the site owner's book of poems?

Snarklings, say it isn't so! Tell me I'm overlooking the raft of Artists and Writers this man has oh so nobly assisted. Fie on ISBN numbers! Fie on Agents! This is ART by god, and you are ENTITLED to be heard.

Miss Snark waits with bated breath. Well, ok it was tuna on rye so it's more like baited, but oh well.

Musical chairs

I queried a particular agent at a multi-agent firm. Within a couple weeks I received a form rejection. A week or so later, I read that the agent I queried is now out on her own, forming a new agency. The old agency has since taken on two new agents. Should I bother querying the old or new one again? The old agency's website says that if you query one, you don't need to query any others...but is that true in a situation like this?


Of course you should query the agent in his/her new digs. S/he's probably looking for fresh meat...err..I mean New and Improved Clients.

It's not going to hurt to re-query the old agency either. I work alone so I don't know what happens to query letters addressed to someone no longer there but my best guess is they get funneled to the new guy/gal on the roster who has a stack of mail that looks like the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

Requery the agency but don't mention the previous query. And address it to the newer agents.

--

Odd credentials...the very last word on that!

What if I'm a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters? Is it worth mentioning?

Only if you have an author photo that includes your stick shift.

You can't fire me, I've got manuscripts arriving

What I don't get is why agents who've liked your query, ask for your manuscript knowing they're on the brink of leaving their agency. This has happened a couple of times - you'd think they'd know some time in advance that they're on their way out.


Well, they may not know. "You're fired" is more than a catchphrase on The Apprentice. And when an agent is fired, they are out out out the door. No chance for copying rolodexes, files, query letters, nada, nuthin', no how.

The other side of the coin is agents who move on their own. They too tend to move fast. I've had friends change agencies in less than a week. First I know of it is when emails bounce and the receptionist gets snotty when you ask for Bowser at the front desk.

This where Miss Snark's days on the football gridiron come in handy. Coach screamed "suck it up you little girls" and we pulled up our knee sox and took to the field.

I've got a great idea for packaging!!

Dear Miss S:

Most of us think of a book as a front and back cover with pages in the middle. I am readying a proposal for a non-fiction book, but its production must be -- by necessity -- a little off the wall in something of a medium-is-the-message statement. I envision the book as loose-leaf 3 X 5 index cards nestled in a file box. (OK, it's a diet book.)

My question: Should I go to the trouble of doing a mockup? I would offer in the proposal to send the mockup upon request. The mockup would essentially be the finished product without the slick printing and packaging. My first thought is that this sounds amateurish, but it certainly does get the concept across quickly.

(I searched for your balloon in the Thanksgiving parade to no avail, but I thought at one point I did see a giant Killer Yapp!)


All sorts of things are masquerading as books these days. Those elves in the production department are really Bright Young Things and full of great ideas.

That said, you don't want editors to reject your work cause they don't think they can sell the packaging. You're offering content, not package. If Production wants to make the book into a scale model of the Eiffel tower with receipes hanging off the side like wings, your only response, is thank you where's my advance money.

I have people send me queries with production specs more often than you think. I almost routinely say no because I don't want to fight with them about why the editor will buy content but not production.

If you really really really insist on your own version, you're going to be happier doing it yourself. On the other hand, diet books are a huge category, and after Thanksgiving Miss Snark herself is rolling through the aisle of the local feed and seed looking for "Dieting for Dirigibles".

Yes, I AM ready for my closeup

Okay, Miss S. How about this one... I'm a member of the Directors Guild of America. Of course that isn't a professional credential for a writer (that would be WGA), but I've had people (published writing people) suggest strongly that I include it in queries. Would you care?

Actually, since every literary agent wants to be friends with Hollywood folks, yes I would. Added enticement to reprsentation would be tickets to your next premier, and if you really want my attention, offer to cast me in your next movie with George Clooney. Oh, and Killer Yapp needs a speaking role too.
Dear Miss Snark,

What's the worst query letter you ever got? Also, do you sometimes request a partial from a really DREADFUL query just for a good laugh at a party? I'd love to see a book of really terrible queries!


Even really horrible query letters are never stored on my memory "harddrive". I send a rejection, it's off the desktop so to speak. I'd recognize it if it popped up again in two weeks or even a year, but I couldn't tell you what it said without actually reading from the page.

And no, I never request a partial just for a good laugh. I get those from some of the partials I request that started out well. There's a category on my data base "what were you thinking when you asked for this???" and there's at least one entry in that every couple months.

For my daily laugh requirement, I just read the comments section of this blog. Y'all keep me in stitches, and have from the first days (Kitty!!!).

11.28.2005

Give me verbs or die!

Miss Snark is in the slush pile again.
What is it with you guys?

Was there a sale on adjectives at Saks?
If I read one more description of a character in a cover letter I will scream.
Who CARES what color hair someone has???
NOT ME.

The point of a cover letter is to entice someone to read. That means ACTION.
What happens to the blue eyed blonde in the hot red convertible? If you don't
give me action, my response is "so what" and your response is a flat little envelope that says "no thanks".

Return those adjectives and invest in some verbs.
Now!!!

Odd Credentials, further

What are your thoughts on including in a query letter my formation of a writers' workshop? We've managed to attract NYT's bestsellers, prestigious literary journal editors, and even, gasp, renowned literary agents to speak at monthly forums. My gut tells me it demonstrates to agents my initiative and understanding of the market, but it doesn't necessarily relate to the project at hand. Thanks so much for your help.



I'm sure Miss Snark's invitation to attend was just lost in the mail. Or perhaps Killer Yapp ate it. Not the first time Miss Snark has been sitting at home alone with KY.

I think you should mention it too. Not a lot, but just a mention. It demonstrates you have contacts, and you're not an ignoramus about publishing. Those are good things.

Kiss and Tell

When you send out simultaneous queries, is it like dating back in high school? Do you let the agent know you're sleeping, whoops, shopping around, and have sent out to other agents.Will they still respect you in the morning?Do most agents accept the idea of simultaneous queries these days?Thanks for your help...enjoy what you say, even when it slaps me in the face.


Almost every agent I know expects queries to be multiple. (If they expect exclusivity, they'll say so explicitly.) You don't even really have to say so in an initial query. If they ask to see a partial or a full, that's when to lay your cards on the table. I always ask people if someone else is looking at a ms when I'm ready to invest some time. It's never a deal breaker, I just want to know if seventeen other beady eyed money grubbers are poised at the offer line.

Sorry about the face slapping part.

11.27.2005

Query slut

Dear Miss Snark,

How many queries do you recommend sending out at a time? I have six queries pending, plus two agents are reviewing the full ms, and two are reviewing a partial. Knowing the high rejection rate, I wonder if I should have more queries circulating. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your reply.

This isn't like sleepaway camp where the more boys you kissed, the sluttier you were considered to be.

You keep querying till you sell it. Keep good records, and don't mortgage your dog for stamps, but don't stop till you get to the next step.

My favorite phone calls are the ones withdrawing a project from consideration cause I sold it. I savor them.

The more you have out, the more chance you have to make those kind of calls. On the other hand, all the rules of querying remain in effect, so no querying Miss Snark with science fiction just so you can withdraw it later, ok?

"too unique"

It's always good to hear that agents and editors want material that is new, fresh, and original. But, as far as I can tell, you, Miss Snark, are the only person who really means this. I went to a publishing evening here in New York a while back, and an editor from a respectable mid-sized house said that it's not good to be too unique, because "then we won't know what to do with you." His statement has haunted me ever since; so much so, that I've put it into a recent short story I'm writing. Any comment about this, Miss Snark?


I think he was being sardonic. The truth is that the financial demands of a for-profit corporation require publishers to produce books they think will meet a certain threshold of sales. "Unique" is a scary prospect for those guys (just insert the word "untested"and you get a better sense of it).

Agents fork over expenses on a book to get it into submission, but it's the publishers who lose actual cashola if the thing doesn't sell. And they also lose market muscle. They've got the most to lose, you'll have to forgive them for being timid.

Editors are right smack in the middle of this. They have agents breathing down their necks with "the next best thing since Bible", and the editor in chief breathing down their necks for bringing in things that will sell, while all they really want to do is sit in their office and read good books.

The good thing, in fact one of the best things, about being an agent is you get to find those "too unique" projects, figure out how to cloak it as 'the next best thing' and then trot it around to a variety of places. You get to stay with something till it sells, rather than being forced to say no "cause we don't know what to do with it" and watch it go elsewhere.

There's a reason editors move to agenting a lot. That's one of them.

oh Nicole, you clever thing

I'm sorry, I can't seem to get over my fascination with Nicole Richie, novelist.

But then again, neither can the New York Times.

Today's Arts section, page 4 - Nicole and the next guru of publishing 50cent have sidebyside book comparisons. Mr. Cent is not quoted but Miss Richie is, to wit, "...it's a story. It's a fiction novel."

Ya, those non fiction novels are so much harder to write.

The phrase she's really looking for here is roman a clef but I guarantee you she can't use it in a sentence without thinking a hill in Italy is involved.

Some perspective

My Dead Daughter

Every spring
my dead daughter spraypaints
PLEASE DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE
on the road where she died.

My dead daughter has a flute
at the grammar school
for kids who's parents can't afford
a flute of their own.

My dead daughter
sends fifth graders
to art
every year.

This year
instead of marching with them
my dead daughter is helping
send her classmates to college.

My dead daughter's
changing the world.


I always turn the radio

I always turn the radio
off
when I stop at the
stop
sign
by the white cross
where you died
I always turn the radio
off
some sort of ceremonial
moment of silence
today
I forgot
for the first time
to turn the radio
off
I was talking
to a new friend
can you forgive me
for forgetting
to turn the radio
off
and also
for living

by Robin Merrill from Laundry and Stories 2005 © Moon Pie Press.


(lifted from Writers Almanac)

The best editor in the business says I'm the cat's pajamas

So how does Miss Snark feel about writers using editors? Is it worth doing - assuming said writer can find a reputable editor? And then, should it be mentioned at any stage when querying/sending partials, or kept under the writer's hat/beret/green eye shade?


I think it can be valuable if you're not really a writer and need some help getting your idea polished and ready. By "not really a writer" I mean people (and I have several clients in this category) who have interesting narratives (principally memoir) but are butchers, bakers and candlestick makers by trade.

For a novelist, a critique group can perform much the same function.

I'd leave it out of my query letter for these reasons:
1. it's not essential information and you've only got about 250 words so why waste them;
2. it's not persuasive information- I don't give "edited" pages a closer look than any other kind of page.
3. it's not "withholding" information if you don't mention it.

Should I?

Empress of All that is Snark,

For several years, I wrote an advice column parody that was published only on the Web. By Web standards, it was quite successful. I have toyed with the idea of pitching a book based on this concept but haven't done anything about it yet.

Within the next few weeks, several of my satirical articles (not the advice column) will be included in an anthology being published through a (very) small press. Go ahead and rap my knuckles with a swizzle stick: I just accepted the contract as given and did not seek an agent's representation on that deal.

I've recently received another invitation to submit satire for a different anthology. I plan to do this. Even after a half-dozen dry martinis, I can see it would be a wise career move to publish as much as possible in this genre before I pitch my own book.

However, after gazing at length into my Cristal-filled punchbowl, I cannot divine an answer to this question: would it be a good or bad idea to try to place some of my advice columns in this new anthology? Will it help or hinder my chances of subsequently pitching my own book if I've already had some of the work published? And if any of my columns are accepted for this anthology, should I seek an agent's representation?



Yes and yes.
It looks like your work is getting interest from people and that's a good sign.
I have a client who just sold his first major book after being collected in every anthology under the sun. The editor who bought his book ran across his work in one of those collections and called me.

Get your work out there.

And yes, look for an agent. At the VERY least get a lawyer to look at the contracts so you're not surrendering all rights forever. That was the value I provided my client when he was getting picked for those anthologies..I made sure his contracts were ok.

Online advice column...hmmmm....Miss Snark hopes you have a raging success and editors start trolling around for something like it..only about ..maybe..publishing!!

How do you know?

I have a question for you.

What book ideas do you and your colleagues want to see more of that you would consider innovative and original? E.g., maybe you and your colleagues wish you saw more novels about men with sweater vest fetishes, because you think that could really sell.

When you guys talk around the water cooler (or however ideas come about - forgive my ignorance), what book ideas or topics or genres really strike you as something you'd be interested in seeing and selling? Or do you not do any talking like that at all and simply rely on fate to throw books your way, hoping that something strikes your fancy?

I guess I'm curious about the process of how you know what you're looking for when you dig through the slush, and what you consider to be original and innovative, since that seems to be one of the best ways to get a writer out of the slush pile and on the way to a book contract (of course, assuming that the writing itself is great).

Hm. On second thought, perhaps the better, easier question is to ask you what book ideas you never want to see EVER again. haha


This is a hard metaphysical question so I of course will use pornography as the metaphor.

Justice Blackmun I think it was (correction from the comments column-it was Justice Potter Stewart), when asked if he could define pornography, said "no, but I know it when I see it". Fresh and original voices and work are much the same thing.

One reason I try to read as much as I can in areas that I represent is so that I CAN know it when I see it. As a reader you have the exact same material available to you which is why I always suggest that if you want to be a writer, you must be a reader too.

When I heard Charlie Huston at BEA I didn't need to hear much of what he read to know he was amazing. Same with Jeff Lindsay and the Darkly Dreaming Dexter books.

The difference between reading just for pleasure and reading to keep your eye tuned is I have to think about what I'm reading in a more analytical fashion. That's why pink jacket Friday night escape books are so fun--I don't represent them, I don't have to think about them, I can just go away inside of them while Killer Yapp makes prank phone calls to Catwoman.

There's not much standing around the water cooler chat going on here; I'm a sole practioner. When I sit around with my colleagues we talk mostly about editors and other agents. We might share horror stories of query letter writers who were really strange, but there's very little esoteric talk about what makes something work or not.

PBJ - picture book jousting

Oh Snarkamous-Oneder:

I have recently written a picture book manuscript that my agent liked. She took it to an agency meeting and the decision came down as a negative, that in this miserably tough PB market (friggin' celebrity books!) it just wouldn't sell. Now, my agent and I have an understanding that if she ever refuses to submit a manuscript, I may do it. I'm considering it on this one, though I haven't before.

IF, I do this, should I mention that I'm agented in my query? Or would that prejudice the reader, make them think either, "this joker is lying, else why is she submitting this herself?" or "well, if the agent isn't submitting it, it must not be very good." I also wonder whether I really should try, I mean, they must know the market better than I, should I just take this as my barometer?


Yikes. Miss Snark looks around for a lifeboat in these deep waters. First, I don't work in the kids and picture book market at all. They have their own arcane rules of courtship there, and something that might be just dandy out here with the snark on skates crowd might not go over so well with the bunny slipper girls.

That said, my answer is go for it. I'd leave out the part about the agent who loves your work but works for people who don't think they can sell it.

What's the worst that could happen? A scented rejection letter?