What the hell is wrong with you?

ok, maybe not you you specifically you, but maybe it is you.

Have you been querying lately?

Here are some things to remember:

1. A ten page synopsis in a query letter is prima facie nitwittery.

1A. A ten pages synopis isn't in fact a synopsis. It's blather. It tells me something about you. It tells me you are a nitwit.

1B: Enclosing a ten page synopsis while leaving out actual pages from the novel is breathtakingly witless.

2. Sitting in a car/truck/bus, telling me about the weather you're having is not not not compelling. Not now, not ever. Go rent a copy of the movie Jaws. Watch the beach scenes without sound. Not quite as scary is it? Here's the thing about novels. You have to show me the sound effects. Your writing, your diction, your pacing, your POV, your choice of focus, all have to get my attention and point me at the shark. You don't have to show me the shark, but I have to get a sense it's there.

3. "Traditional values" and "religious" do not mean "christian" by default. This is New York. We have Hasidic Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Unitarians, agnostics and Capitalist running dogs all on the same damn block. They have values as part of their traditions and NONE of them involve Jesus. Telling me someone has "a traditional upbringing" is lame ass, lazy writing and it annoys the spit out of me.

4. I don't care if you are my poodle's mother, include an SASE. Take note people going to conferences: this means YOU. I have to be nice to you cause you paid money to hear me yap at you, but if you send pages without an SASE, make no mistake...you've raised the bar for getting to yes. Don't write to tell me I'm an idiot about this. We've already established we don't agree. If you don't want to query people who are steadfast on this subject, invest five seconds and read the damn website.

5. When you've written a novel, and you tell me about it, include the publisher. I will google you. I will. That is a given. If I can't find the novel, you're going to "no". This does not apply to magazines and ezines, only published books. This is because some nitwits think (I swear this is true) Vantage Press "publication" means they're "published". If you don't know why this isn't so, click here.

6. The only time a series of stars is punctuation is when you are Wile E. Coyote making a left turn at Albuquerque. Unless you are Mr. Coyote, invest in a damn copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. You can actually subscribe to an online version now.

7. Look at every use of the word "was" and "that". 90% of the time you can take them out. That edit alone will jump you over about half the stuff I look at every day. Prune ruthlessly.

8. Don't over write: "The two observed a moment of silence mainly because there was nothing more either could think of to say" might work on page 300. It looks stupid on page 2. If you don't know why, email me and we'll have a tutorial about letting your reader do some of the work.

9. When you steal envelopes from your place of work, so that I'll be breathlessly agog you are a doctor, lawyer or professor, you might want to make sure the envelope doesn't make your query look like junk mail. Envelopes from a university touting the writing program look like soliciations to enroll. Particularly when you spell my name wrong.

10. Why did you write this novel? is not a question I ever want to see answered in a query letter. Let's just assume you wrote it so you could contribute to the coffers at Snark Central. Any personal goals you have are irrelevant anyway, right?

11. When you meet an agent at a conference and you like them, feel a sense of connection with them, and think you're buddies now: you're not. I'm no more going to snark you at a conference than Killer Yapp is going to start reading Sartre in French. You've paid money to be there; I'm a professional. Do not mistake me being pleasant for us being buddies.

What this means: don't email me a dozen times after the conference with little updates. Do NOT do this. Do not send me chain letters even for causes you know I believe in. Do NOT do this. Do not call me up to tell me you won the USABookNews.com contest, or that you are enrolled in National Novel Writing month. If you want to know why, email me, we'll have a tutorial on "query basics".

Going to a conference is the equivlent of a a query letter.

I know you think you are the exception to the rule; you're not. Neither are you.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Whoa! Bad night, Miss Snark?

Dragoon, heal thyself. I hear there's some lovely paintings at the Met.

Nick said...

Phew! Looks like I'm off the hook. (Mostly... I hope...)

Incidentally, Miss Snark, I ripped into a submission packet while standing in line at the post office because I remembered I forgot to stamp the SASE. Had to buy a new envelope and take a weird look from the clerk.


kathie said...

Holy shit, Miss Snark you are smokin' hot under the collar. I cringed from my computer screen with every scathing point. You couldn't have all these query faux pas represented in today's slush pile, could you? I'm ducking out of the way, feel free to swing.

Miss Snark said...

all today indeed. ALL.
It's Wednesday. Everyone who had a hot time at the writing conference last weekend mailed me something.

Zany Mom said...

Someday I'll have to start a blog in my own profession to vent about clients (or potential clients).

To quote some of MY nitwits:

But you became a [literary agent] because you love [to read], right?

Put your feet up and have some chocolate...

Min said...

I'm confused about #6. In what situation might one mistakenly use a series of stars as punctuation?

nick said...

Hmm... my synopsis is 2.5 pages, single spaced, with a blank line between paragraphs. Is that in the clue range or dangerously venturing toward Snark-retribution?


M. G. Tarquini said...

*calls gin delivery guy*
*turns on black-light poster of George Clooney*
*puts comfy pillow under Miss Snark's feet*
*sends the Zydeco band home*

McKoala said...


I think that you need a little therapy from the gin pain tonight.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

*quietly nudges an overflowing pail of gin over to her heels*

Though I don't beleive I've ever made those mistakes, I'll still go hide under a scrubber now.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Man, you need a gin-and-Clooney. If you have the leeway, take a little time and decompress and convince yourself that you couldn't possibly be subject to any more nitwits this week (since you got dumped on by all of them today). Of course, we know that's denial, but sometimes a trip down the river is necessary.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I don't understand what's so bad about a traditional upbringing. Look at me! I was born after a typical two-week gestation. What's wrong with that?

True, my wings blossomed right away, but this isn't that unusual. We all talk to (and understand) animals, though I admit to still finding conversation with snakes difficult. They lisp.

There is comfort in being average. The things about me that aren't average are not worth mentioning. There's the sword. I borrowed one once, but had to give it back; so I had a friend of my cousin make me one of my own. But it's a typical sword, nothing too unusual about it. The hilt is silver and the blade is fine steel. One must cover the blade in leather, because iron does not transport well unless it's covered. All that stuff you read about pixies being afraid of iron is just so much rot. It's the interdimensional travel that makes owning iron difficult.

My wings are a little prettier than most. But that's not my fault. I inherited them. It's all genetics. I'm not vain at all.

We are all born more or less able to mystify and irritate the devil out of our human fathers. So, I'm perfectly normal there.

So ... what's this objection to average upbringing? What's wrong with a little babyhood questing? What's wrong with invisible flirting? Sheesh! Normal is ... well, normal. I enjoy being normal.

I Said said...

My sympathies, but it served a great purpose by listing all those faux pas together in one post. Nice and concise. It also shows how p.o.'ed it gets an agent so it'll scare some folk straight. Thanks for letting it out.

If that makes you feel better at all...

Jean Marie said...

Oh happy day...I'm going to a conference on Friday, Miss Snark. Dog bless you for the pointers :)

Stokey said...

I like it. At first I thought Miss Snark was kinda tough; now I think she's kinda cool.

Simon Haynes said...

Aah, a fire breathing dragoon.

Kim said...

Ouch.... I thought I was having a bad day...

I do hereby solemnly swear to NEVER do any of the abovementioned faux pas.

Have a nip o' the ol' gin pail and thank dog today's done!

word ver- podvots - sounds kinda like what you'd call the people who use a series of stars as punctuation. Who the f*** does THAT?

overheard "those damn podvots are at it again! lookit all these frickin' stars!"

Anonymous said...

Oh dear Dog, I hope you weren't talking about mine -- it's the one about the alien dream. There's no dialogue ('cause of course they communicate telepathically, in symbols -- try to write that!)and the back story takes up about the first thrity pages. (smile)
Even in tirade-form, which I enjoyed btw, the advice is appreciated.

Mark said...

"Look at every use of the word "was" and "that". 90% of the time you can take them out."

One of my journalism profs also said this. I've made sure I've examined every one since.

overdog said...

Simon Haynes, you made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the stars thing, even with the explanations offered here. Where the hell does that come from? I've never seen it before, which is saying something given how long I spend online.

Kim Stagliano said...

I'm going to Backspace tomorrow. Unless I see Clooney checking into the Algonquin and manage to sneak a quicky with him behind the large fern next to the checkout desk YOU WILL NEVER KNOW I WAS THERE!

I shook in horror last night as I read this post. "My Dog, is Miss Snark clairvoyant (or purple or obsequious?) - I actually DID think of emailing you for a brief second just yesterday-- I got a cool pub credit yesterday on a major political blog. Thought better of it -- You'd just have HUFF(ington Post)ED and shouted in your FEARLESS VOICE.....

Kim, still quaking and psyched for Backspace. Sit, listen, smile, learn.

Christine said...

7. Look at every use of the word "was" and "that". 90% of the time you can take them out. That edit alone will jump you over about half the stuff I look at every day. Prune ruthlessly.

This annoys the crap out of me. GO BUY "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers", people!

If you can take out the 'that' and the sentence makes sense, then LEAVE IT OUT. Same with 'had'

The was -ing crap all the time is irritating too.

Miss Snark said...

yea, i was thinking that too

Anonymous said...

Would you mind forwarding No. 3 (traditional values) to the nation at large? Many thanks.

michaelgav said...

Dear Mrs. Snurk,

We met at the 7th Annual Writing for Alcohol Conference last weekend, and I enjoyed the time we spent together at the hotel and I thought I would send along this manuscript that I thought you will surely enjoy, given all the nice things that you said in your remarks.

I thought I would start off this letter as I tantalize you with a "hook" that comes right off the first page or even the dust jacket like you said.

The rain was beating down on them like tears from a debutante that was disappointed in how things had gone at her first cotillion. They sat in the old pickup truck that had seen better days *** MUCH better in fact, due to the fact that it was the pickup truck that used to bring the Reverend Muncey to town *** Being as they were both saved, the boy and girl knew better than to be sitting alone in a pickup in the traffic in the rain, but HOW dangerous a decision this was would rapidly be discovered soon enough!!!

They waited with baited breath for the traffic that was congesting things to finally move. It was a wait so forlorn that parapalegics waiting for the only handicapped stall could only be grateful they never have one like that!

I wrote this novel 169,055 words because something kept telling me I needed to put things right in our present day society. I know you agree based on some of the things I over heard you saying to the man behind the bar. (Also, dear, some of the snippier things you say may come out just a tad more ladylike if you cut back on the clear liquids.)

Enclosed is a synopsis 4,168 words that you will find relates the key elements in this story that we truly could use in this day and age.

If you do not see the need for this BOOK as I do, please return the 4,168 word synopsis by UPS or Federal Express, as our mail is not so reliable here. The basic cardboard letter container is all right.



GutterBall said...

Look at every use of the word "was" and "that". 90% of the time you can take them out.

God bless my favorite college professor for giving us a list of words to use sparingly, if ever. While I blather in comments, I do eye each of those no-no words suspiciously in my actual writing.

Mr. Rodgers (no, I'm not kidding), thank you!

Anonymous said...

Pardon me, but based on the picture posted in the past, I think KY is a Bichon Frise and not a poodle.

Termagant 2 said...

Podvots? Really? Can I steal this? Pretty please? The Podvots will match my other alien races excellent well. I can just see them alongside the Squonks and the Pit Vugs.

T2, whose word is osnikio, which obviously means Oh, Sneaky You

Christine said...

I'll bet you thought that as well, huh, MS ;)


Kim said...

T2 - My podvots are your podvots (assuming, of course, they ARE mine - are word verification words copyright protected?) Of course, I expect full acknowledgment or else I shall reclaim said podvots ;)

katiek said...


Everyone who had a hot time at the writing conference last weekend mailed me something.

... and the rest of the story. Too funny.

Dee said...

I SWEAR it wasn't me...it wasn't me...I did none of those things. It wasn't me. Please stop KY from gnawing on my ankles.
If I have to confess to something, then it WAS me who stole your gin, but only to taste test it to make sure you weren't going to be poisoned by some disgruntled nitwit.

You'll thank me in the morning. (hic)

Anonymous said...

Copy/paste/save. The end.

Paul Riddell said...

So...I take it that you're going to participate in next year's International Slushpile Bonfire Day?