One RingieDingaling (with apologies to Lily Tomlin)

I got back to my office yesterday and found phone messages with things like "has question about agency" and "do you want to read his book".

I was a tad puzzled about why a spate of dingalings were dialing Snark Central.

Then I read the slush pile. More odd references.

Then I cottoned on: The new Guide to Literary Agents is out.

If by some chance you are new to querying, here's one very helpful hint:

don't telephone me to ask if I want to read your novel.

Agents differ on email, snail mail, SASEs even. No one, and I mean NO ONE takes phone queries. This is a written medium. We have to see pages, be they electronic, papyrus, or #92 pink astrobright. Calling me to ask if something sounds good leads to the following:


MS: Hello Snark Central
NW: Hello? Is this Snark Central?

MS: yes it is.
NW: The literary agency?

MS: (texting the gin delivery service) yes.
NW: I'm an author


NW: hello?
MS: yes?

NW: I'm an author, I have an idea for a book.
MS: (watching Youtube videos) uh huh

NW: It's a great idea.
MS: Ok, I'll take it.

NW: you will?
MS: oh absolutely. I'm always looking for great ideas, so I'm glad you have one.

NW: oh that's so wonderful! Where do I send the manuscript?
MS: manuscript? I don't want a manuscript. I just want the great idea.

NW: but, it's a book. It's a agreat idea for a book
MS: oh. well, that's too bad. I only want great ideas.

NW: but, you're a literary agent! Don't you sell books?
MS: yes I do sell books.

NW: well, don't I have to send you pages?
MS: gee, why didn't I think of that. Sending pages. What a novel idea.


Richard Cooper said...

"Texting the gin delivery service.'

Gawd, I wish I lived in a big city...

Anonymous said...

I work with the public, and one thing I have observed is that we are all, every one of us, idiots. Not all the time; sometimes almost never, but we all have our moments of being dumb as the proverbial box of rocks.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, For me, times could not be much worse. Two days ago, my beloved boyfriend had cancer surgery. It's serious, but we are hoping for the best. My kids are a mess, my life is a mess, everythings a mess. I'm stuck on page 278 of my latest work, but I can't seem to go on. And then, in all of the darkness around me I click on your site and you make me laugh. I just want to say thanks. You know, you should write a book. You, Snark, are so damn funny. (-:

Georgia Girl

Bone-a-fide said...

hee hee. Hilarious little scene.

Anonymous said...

miss snark, you shouldn't make me laugh so hard that coffee comes out of the nose. (just what youtube video were you watching? perhaps that could be another contest.) i imagine you won't be able to keep the phone callers at bay. they can't wait, or feel they can convince you by power of their argument (or volume of their voice).

Anonymous said...

I love you, but you owe me another damn keyboard.

S A J Shirazi said...

How badly I need one!

Anonymous said...

Folks who are so bold usually make great salespeople. Perhaps they should consider self-publishing. Sell 30k copies and, hey, you're a best-selling author! -JTC

Feisty said...

Maybe there should be a clearing house where all authors must go to become educated before they sub to agents. In a sense, agents do this for editors, but who will do it for agents?

I picture it as a website with a class on submission rules, formatting, the whole nine yards. Then, when an author passes the standardized test, he/she is given a certificate that he/she can then send with their query to an agent.

It would solve so many problems. And it could be done as a public service. But then again, would most newbie authors know that it even existed?

I'm joking of course, but it's really not a bad idea. If you were becoming a brain surgeon, you'd have to pass a test. Or a teacher. Or a lot of professions.

Carrie said...

As Lily always said (from that fabulously large rocking chair)..."And that's the truth."

Anonymous said...

People don't seem to get this. Anyone who has the capacity to comprehend a children's picture storybook can come up with a story idea. Okay, maybe not a great idea but an idea. Graduate to high school level education and mass comprehension of poem, book, play, teleplay, screenplay. More people have more ideas. Some are good ideas. A few are genuinely great ideas. FULL STOP. College and graduate level education equals narrower comprehension and appreciation of fine or encoded art. Great ideas abound! FULL STOP. Actually WRITING an entire publishable/producible work (book, play, teleplay, screenplay, let alone a children's picture book) based on said "great" idea? Limited to a very small percentage of skilled and talented artists who've sweated laboriously to learn their craft. (Do people attempt to sell their "great ideas" for watercolor paintings? For musical compositions?) I can't imagine what agents endure hourly, let alone daily. We writers only have to hear it every month or so. "You're a writer? You know I have this great idea for a book. Tell you what...I'll provide the idea and you write it. Don't you think that's a good deal?"

Anonymous said...

Back in the eighties, before web sites or computers, the only way to query agents was snail mail; and you found the addresses through listings in books about agents. Many of the listings were either wrong or dated, and you took a chance wasting money on postage (time never counts). So, I once called an agent (no names, but one day this agent would be well connected to a certain awful, ugly woman in flat shoes who worked for a certain wonderful US President and made his life living hell for a while)to confirm an address, assuming I'd speak with a receptionist.

But to my horror the agent answered and we went through the same routine as this most recent Snarkpost. Fresh out of college and not prepared.

The moral here is never call an agent...for anything...about anything. Good intentions don't count (the nitwits of the world have already ruined it for you). Just don't call; it's not done.

But there is a happy ending: the withered, greedy old $@tch I called for a simple address is now in Yestermorrow...a place (somewhere on the Upper West Side) where no one cares who you were, what you've done or what you might do in the future.

Anonymous said...

Poor-poor newbies! Let us take a moment of silence for them all and pray that they find the blue borads for guidence!

N.C. Murphy

The Rentable Writer said...

Hahahaha! "A novel idea." LOL.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt you might have actually had that conversation.
I used to work at the library.
One day when I was unloading the GIANT blue metal book drops that said in GIANT letters BOOK DROP and someone asked me (over said GIANT book drops) if we had book drops. I will now believe anything of anyone.

Anonymous said...

You are great. I love your blog and thank you for answering so many of the questions many of us are too embarrased to ask.

I was wondering if you could address a couple of questions of ethics in your next blog. There is no manual on this and I need to know...

When having lunch with your agent, what are the ethics on offering to pay? What about when having lunch with your editor?

My editor is expecting. Though I was not invited to the baby shower I have considered sending a gift when the baby arrives later this month. Are gifts every ethical?

angie said...

Lily Tomlin would be proud!

Anonymous said...

Judging by this post, I'd suspect the inbox at uranitwit@wtf.sol is full. sol indeed.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Bill E Goat: Mistress! Mistress! Hey, slow down!

Me: Yes, Bill?

Bill E: I want to use your cell phone! Hurry!

Me: Bill, your mouth is too far from your ears for that to work.

Bill E: Of course it’ll work. I’ll shout. … But I need you to do the numbers.

Me: Whom are we calling, anyway?

Bill E: I have Miss Snark’s secret phone number. Quick! I gotta call before she changes it.

Me: Bill? Who gave you the number?

Bill E: Horace.

Me: Who the heck is Horace? Oh, the neighbour’s donkey. You know he’s a great big jack a … umm well he’s not too bright and he lies.

Bill E: Ya, ya. He lies. But I believe him this time.

Me: Why?

Bill E: He got it off AOL.

Me: Oh. And you believe everything on AOL?

Bill E: Don’t you?

Me: Not since … Oh forget that. Why are we calling Miss Snark?

Bill E: I’ve finished another novel. It’s about the Great Spirit Goat of Crater Lake. See there’s the spirit of the great mountain goat of Crater Lake that died back when the mountain went kablooie ….

Me: No. Just no. Don’t ask. I’m not “dialing” and you can’t try it with your tongue again. They couldn’t repair my phone last time, and I got charged extra for exposure to hazardous material ….

Bill E: Goat saliva is not hazardous!

Me: The answer is NO, Bill. And Goat spit may not be hazardous, but using my phone will be. Don’t even think about it!

River Falls said...

My editor is expecting. Though I was not invited to the baby shower I have considered sending a gift when the baby arrives later this month. Are gifts every ethical?

I'm not the person you asked, but that won't stop me from answering. :-)

In my experience, gifts to editors and agents are ethical and welcome. I've exchanged Christmas gifts with my editor and agent for Christmas, weddings, and new babies. When my agent landed me a breathtakingly lovely new book deal a few months ago, I sent her flowers.

Oh, I also send a small Christmas gift to my editor's assistant, too.

PS: Yes, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but these people do.

Bernita said...

Careful with that "instrument," Miss Snark Dear.

Anonymous said...

I've figured it out, Miss Snark. You're in cahoots with the keyboard manufacturers. Every time I snarf all over my keyboard and have to buy a replacement, you get 15%.

Anonymous said...

It seems phone calls get Miss Snark so worked up, she forgets to capitalize.

none said...

Novel idea.


You don't know my dad, the King of Bad Puns, do you?

Anonymous said...

Buffy Squirrel, I AM your father.

Anonymous said...

Being broke and not having long distance has turned out to be a good thing for my writing career. I can't call anyone on the phone and I can't afford to fall for any scams. I highly recommend it. The worst writing mistake I've made so far is my horrible first query. And that Ballad of John Bobbit that I wrote in high school. Probably not the best idea.

Corn Dog said...

Miss Snark is watching the YouTube videos of people launching homemade bottle rockets fueled by Diet Coke and Mentos.

Bill E.! I voted for ya as best commenter. I wanted you to know. Bill E. for President.

Don said...

I was at Barnes & Noble and saw the latest agent guide. Since my brother is currently in the query letter stage, I decided to see what it had to say and how much of it was good advice. Flipping to a random page in the tips for authors section, it actually suggested calling agencies where there is no website listed to get information about the agency.

So now you know.

Anonymous said...

On the website for the Australian Literary Agents' Association, they say:

"...look up a suitable agent from our list of member agents, and phone them to check that they wish to see your work. Phoning first saves time and expense, because some kinds of writing are not of interest to some agents." (thier bold)

In light of this post, would one be advised to follow that advice, based on the assumption that in Australia they run things differently, or not?

- Tsana

Anonymous said...

Things are different in the UK too. You can call agents to ask, for example, whether they are open to submissions, or who the appropriate person is for a certain genre. I have done this on numerous occasions. Far fewer agencies have websites which may be a contributory factor.

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert, but I'd assume there are two types of phone calls to an agent, one nitwittier than the other.

There's calling an agent to ask for preliminary info that you need in order to query: 'Hi, I'd like to send you a query on my mystery novel; could you tell me which of your agents handles this genre?' or 'Hi, I'm interested in querying your mystery specialist, Blake Jones; could you tell me whether the query should be addressed to Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss?' Assuming that this info isn't available elsewhere, is this really all that nitwitty?

Then there's calling an agent TO query. the way Miss Snark describes: 'Hi, I have a wonderful book, would you like to represent it?' That one's nitwittery of the highest order.

Am I wrong, or is there a big difference?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... "I work with the public, and one thing I have observed is that we are all, every one of us, idiots. Not all the time; sometimes almost never, but we all have our moments of being dumb as the proverbial box of rocks."

Oh dog - you've been into the store where I work, and you came to my register. Sorry!

Anonymous said...

I send and receive Christmas cards from the editor and her assistant at Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. (They started it.) I assume they send them to all the writers they have currently published. I can't imagine ANYONE taking offense at a small gift or card.
I would be curious to hear Miss Snark's answer to the original question(s).

litagent said...

I don't publish a telephone number for exactly this reason. Not on my website, not on Publishers Marketplace, not in any of the various Agent listings. But damned if every few months some enterprising author doesn't track down my HOME phone number and call anyway. Once you're a client, you will have all my numbers -- office, home, cell -- and you will be welcome to call at any time. Until then, put down the phone.

Anonymous said...

Goats don't usually live to 39. Isn't the consititutional minimum age 39? I dissremember.

Besides, I want to be King of Ireland next year at the Puck Fair! They give you a crown and a queen and even feed you.

That word verification thingie is uwztvg, which my mistress says means something very bad about UW Huskies, and she further says every Cougar knows what it means. I don't. But perhaps you can figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Is it permissible to call an agency to confirm spelling of name and address before sending a snail query? Also, how does one find out the gender of agents? Many times one can discover this information by googling, but this doesn't always work, and some agents don't have web sites with photos.