Miss Snark resembles a Shar-pei

Dear Miss Snark,

Being quite happy with my hook and nearing the completion of my novel, I have started devoting some time to agent-obtaining strategy. Which agent to pursue is at the top of that list.

I'm not a humble man, so I believe my manuscript has all the ingredients necessary for stardom. Yeah, yeah, everyone scream in unison that I'll eventually be humbled, whatever. I think it's good, has an appeal to a large demographic, and has excellent movie potential.

So, I set out to peruse the agents on Agent Query and, after some time, got an understanding of what I was looking for. I love the underdog, but I don't want him representing me, so I'm looking for the agency that exudes the greatest amount of arrogance and self-important bluster as well as the most accolades such as Nobel Prize winning authors I can find.

Assuming, and I understand this is a difficult leap of faith, that my work is as good as I think it is, are there drawbacks to going with "the big guys"? I don't want a friend for an agent; I want someone who is the best at skinning the wealthiest cat. So I'll look for an agency with a track record, possibly even accede to their request of exclusivity for a time. If they reject the work, then, after extensive psychotherapy, move down the list. There are no drawbacks to landing the big guys if I can manage to do so, right?

Miss Snark is laughing so hard she wrinkled her Sunday go-to-meeting ensemble. Now let's see how many people in the comments column don't understand sardonic deadpan humor.


I Said said...

Yeah, it's giggle-worthy. But underneath is a fine premise: Start at the top tier and work down.

If you have confidence in your work and the nods of knowing others (meaning it's been worked and reworked endlessly), then this is the best way to go. I send out short stories to the top lit journals first; then as the rejections come in, start in on the lesser knowns. It's just as humbling a process, and likely to offer the greatest high if and when accepted.

Sue said...

Well, Miss Snark, sometimes the arrogance of authors is so overwhelming that it is difficult to tell it from deadpan humor. One only wishes.

Even if this guy was 100% honest about what he was asking, he did it in a non-obnoxious way, so he would get a non-obnoxious response from me.

Now to chose an identity.

Anneliese said...

Oh I may be equally disillusioned, just in the opposite way. That letter must have been written by Michael J. Fox's character Alex on "Family Ties."

There is the "Nice Deal" definition to point our writer to over at Publisher's Lunch.

Dunquityer Dayjob

SherryD said...

After reading that, I'm assuming his book has potential.

Anonymous said...

I'm channeling Shakespeare right now and he says - I quote..."Haste yee, I didn't write that post. There's a reincarnation thingy breakdown; line's very long. I'm still dead!"

Haste yee back

Haste yee back

BernardL said...

I thought brevity was the soul of wit. :)

KingM said...

Writing fosters a certain schizophrenia. You have to simulaneously believe that you're such hot shit that millions of people should read what you have to say, yet be humble enough not to go nuts when it takes years of effort to achieve modest success.

Playing the odds, this guy is in for a rude awakening, but there is a valid (if common) question here. Go for the heavy hitters first, or the young and hungry?

Anonymous said...

From a big giant super-successful agency, you can expect to be at the very bottom of their priority list, unless you happen to be one of their top earners. You would be competing with the big boys and girls for their attention. I have heard authors who sell very very well bitch and moan about William Morris ignoring them because they just weren't big enough. I have heard of a beginning novelist being picked up by a huge agency only to be ignored soon after.

I would suggest you make sure the agent you choose (and chooses you, of course) believes completely in your work, and that you believe completely in their committment to selling your work and their ability to do so.

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, at the risk of getting tomatoes thrown at me, that pretty much sums up my take on the process. I am sure that coming in, tugging on your forelock and groveling at agents' feet doesn't get you anywhere, either. Might as well be optomistic.

Stephen Parrish said...

I, too, am channeling Shakespeare:

I just wrote a manuscript
But my attitude is bad
I asked the Snarklings what to do
This is what they said:

Fetch a fifth of London Gin
Soak the pages through
Take a match
Make a scratch
The world needs bellhops too

(Well, maybe not Shakespeare.)

M. G. Tarquini said...

Fetch a fifth of London Gin
Soak the pages through
Take a match
Make a scratch
The world needs bellhops too

Seems an awful waste of gin. Kerosene works just as well and has no medicinal uses.

Chumplet said...

Measure fifty agents into a mixing bowl. Include the best, the next best, and the hungry newbies. Mix thoroughly and store in a cool, dry place.

Once every three months, pick five random agents from the bowl. Send your best query. Track the results.

If you get form rejections, improve query. Edit. Improve premise of novel. Edit again.

Pick out five more randomly chosen agents from the bowl. Send improved query.

Repeat until you hit BINGO! Or start your next novel (which you should be doing, anyway).

-From an eternal optimist.

Tattieheid said...


You are meant to drink the gin not waste it on bonfires. Gasoline works wonders and you can combine self immolation at the same time. :)

I like this post but personally I wouldn't care how big the agent is, I want someone I can work with and trust. Big isn't always beautiful or effective.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Why, sure! There are plenty of drawbacks to working with the big guys! Here's one: where are you going to put all those piles of money?

What I find most amusing about this is that I thought this way too, eight years ago. Or maybe it was ten. Whenever it was I finished my very first train wreck... er, manuscript. Yeah. That's the word.

Maya Reynolds said...

I agree with Chumplet. When I started my agent search, I made a list of agents, rating them A, B, and C. I sent six queries at a time, choosing a couple from each list.

The feedback I got helped me to refine my query and initial pages AND I didn't burn all my top choices at the outset with my earliest, unrefined effort. I'm thrilled with my agent who sold my first book in about seven months.

Kate said...

If you don't have some kind of faith in your book, that at least you can sell it to someone, then you're probably never going to manage it in the first place.

On the other hand, if you're assuming that you're the be-all and end-all of writers, that's going to worm its way into your query letters and I'm sure that the agents in question are just going to have a good laugh at your overblown ego.

As my psych professor would say, it's all on a continuum.

Anonymous said...


My bitter flower of gin, can you keep a top ten list of such letters?

O my tea-cup shame of artistic pride, but we need the humility, we need to be whipped!

Snarkles, we are falling through a void; is there a good way to fall? No.

Merciless botanicals of the lavender sky, Snarkles, remember this!


Rashenbo said...

Well... having a strong sense of self-worth is good. I wouldn't come across like that - but that's just me. I have to admit that I blinked a few times when I finished and thought to myself, Is he serious or joshing?

I've got a list with my "I really wish I could get on 'awesome agent's' list." and then I've got my next list of favorites and then my list of everyone else. When I send out my query letters (I'm not there yet) I plan on the first 10 or 20 being test runs. I will want to gauge the responses. If responses are good, then I'll query a mixture of agents from the list A'ers and list B'ers - no more than 10 at a time.

But that's just my plan and I'm not there yet.

HawkOwl said...

Is it just me, or is this blog less and less about advice to the unpublished, and more and more about living the Miss Snark persona through the grovelling of the snarklings? It's come of age, I think.

ORION said...

In actuality, this writer poses a good question. Do you look for a young hungry less experienced agent or run with the big dogs at a large agency?
That is a question only the writer can answer after looking at their body of work and matching it with what an agent (agency) handles.
I lucked out. For me, William Morris has been amazing to work with. I am a debut author but I was treated with respect from the time I was signed (July) to when my book sold (December). My novel will be released in August of 2007.
My emails are answered promptly and my phone calls returned. On my part I do my job and write...and write...and write.
So the big dog may be the right one for you.
BTW thank you Miss Snark for your kind congratulatory email - I was stoked!

Anonymous said...

The main drawback to landing one of the big guys (or girls) has already been mentioned: you'll be very small fry to them, until and unless they get you a massive deal. If you sign on with Binky Urban, and both you and Brett Easton Ellis have something urgent in the pipeline, who do you think will get the majority of her attention that day?

That said, good agents - big or small - won't take on a book unless they're pretty sure they have the time to do it justice. Huge agents, in particular, don't need small sales; they have no reason to take something on unless they think it can do very well or unless they really love it. I'm a brand-new newbie, and early this year I signed with a Big Guy who has some really huge names on his books. Within a couple of months, he got me some utterly amazing deals.

judy said...

Big or small agency, seasoned agent or newcomer to the field, your best bet is finding an agent that YOU truly like, can communicate with, are on the same page with, and believe in. Add to that their reputation, sales, and future potential (if they're new). And the house they work with.

I'd much rather have a newer, hungry agent who loves my stuff and is all excited about it than an established agent who will put me at the bottom of his/her list.

But in all that, there's such a mix of personality types and experience that it's going to take you a while to sort it out.

Unless you get lucky, this is going to take some time. Maybe a long time.


Anonymous said...

to hawkowl: Sorry but I think it's just you.

LadyBronco said...

The truly sad thing?

I don't thnk he was joking.

Nubbin said...

I have a question to those of you whose strategy is to compile A, B, and C lists of agents, starting with your B and C lists to refine your query before hitting your A list -- What if an agent from the B or C list offers to represent you? Will you turn him down?

Kim said...

It's definitely the fish in the pond syndrome... And no, you might not get the attention that John Grisham does, but you also have to remember that once upon a time, even John Grisham wasn't John Grisham.

But that doesn't mean the newbie will never be John Grisham, either.

Ah... quite the conundrum, indeed.

I have a list. Not A or B, just little a. I chose all that I thought would suit me and am slowly sending out queries. They aren't in any particular order - that way I'm not crushed if I get the dreaded rejection.

hmm... maybe I need to be more glass-half-full??

ObiDonWan said...

You're very generous in estimating this writer's motivation.

BernardL said...

Hawkowl, I would gladly accede to the label curmudgeon, but I'll never be a snarkling, and I don't do groveling. :) I agree with your point though, but any popular blog attains a similar following. Blogs are like in 'Forest Gump', when Forest takes up running, and a bunch of people run in his wake. When Forest stops and goes home, the herd is left staring at each other. :)

Anonymous said...

Just so I understand clearly what some of the comments are insinuating, go with a big agent and you'll be treated like dirt until you get big. Doesn't that fly in the face of the "where's the writer's loyalty" screams any time someone mentions that they may want to get their feet wet with one agent, then move up? Wouldn't it be more likely that small agency is more likely to devote more time to the work that doesn't have an immediate appeal? If something is good, wouldn't both types of agents be able to spot it and devote the necessary time because it means money to them? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Do I have an agent for you! Andrew Wylie is waiting for your call!

Zany Mom said...

Good advice, Chumplet! I got requests for partials and a full with my first 6 queries (and 3 flat out rejections). At least one agent wasn't the right fit, even before I'd queried, but I'd met her at a conference and she invited us all to submit when our ms was complete. I also queried a big guy and got a copy of a copy of a copy form rejection letter, where the type wasn't even square with the paper.

I was totally green then (not that I'm that much wiser now!) but I'm glad I didn't blanket query every agent on the planet. While I did get some encouraging feedback from those who read pages, I think a bit more tweaking of the ms and the query is in order.

I like the idea of ranking agents and sending small batches every month.


Anonymous said...


It's not just you. Not Miss Snark's fault.

E. Dashwood said...

Speaking of Shakespeare, a few weeks ago, All Thing's Considered, did an analysis of Shakespear as a business were he alive today and held all the copyrights to his work. He would be big business. Bigger than Neal Simon. Publishing royalties would be around $10 million annually. He'd be big in Hollywood and would pick up millions more from live production royalties. A production of Measure for Measure in Denver--a mid-sized market--did $470,000 in box-office, and Shakespeare royalty would be 10 percent of that. He would also have to have a team of lawyers fending off plagiarism suits because he lifted almost all his plots from others.

Patrick Stewart, a Shakespearean and Captain of the Star Ship Enterprise, wondered whether Will would have concentrated on real estate, after all his real wealth, which allowed him to retire to Stratford and apparently never right again, came from his shares in the Globe.


Anonymous said...

I know this guy!

HawkOwl said...

Bernardl - exactly. "Coming of age" for blogs.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I think some of the comments have clarified it nicely. Make sure to come with your hat in your hand, don't you dare look the big agents in the eye because they can't be bothered to make eye contact, and it is a literary mortal sin to believe that what you wrote is good. Got it.

Kim Stagliano said...

I met a roster of agents at Backspace. And the one who impressed me the most was not the biggest name. The one I think will be the best team member for my MS is not the superstar of rent a cars that everyone was drooling over. If you'd have told me that I would have passed on Mr. Agent of the Day (who is highly successful) for an agent whose name does not trip off the tongue of every querying writer on the planet I'd have called you a nut job. And yet, there I am. That in person contact made a huge difference for me. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

On a side note:
What is the deal with the "excellent movie potential"? Is this something agents look for in query letters? I've read pitch letters from agents before, and somehow I don't recall "movie potential" being part of the pitch.
Isn't saying the book has a great movie potential the same as saying "my book is trite and imitates about 1000 movies I've watched"?

Ryan Field said...

I'm stealing the line,"I want someone who is best at skinning the wealthiest cat," and I'm going to apologize for it either.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, tarquini, there is no such thing as a waste of gin. Gin is an abomination. But if it burns well - even gin has a use, after all.

Anonymous said...

Some posters are talking about "small" agents as if they will always remain small. However, a confident writer might have faith in his or her ability to spot the potential of a just-starting-out agent. By the time the writer's career reaches bestsellerdom, that agent might be a big name.

Anonymous said...

The writer of this comment reminds me of Gerard Jones. I can't remember how long it took Jones to get "Ginny Good" published, but in the process, he developed even more of a bitterness/ego problem than he started out with. Now he goes onto amazon.com, submitting rants about how the company's out to get him, deleting positive comments--rather, raves--and leaving the negative ones (in his opinion, written by morons).

I've always felt it was important to keep the author separate from the work. Some of the world's biggest jackasses were/are geniuses. But Gerard Jones won't allow his book to speak for itself; he can be found wherever it's discussed, shrieking that his brilliance isn't being recognized. Ugly behavior, and it made me wary of spending full price for a new copy. If it's good, I'll be impressed. If it's not quite as good as he keeps saying it is, I won't be surprised.

The thing about people who don't boast about their superiority is that I admire them all the more when I recognize that intelligence for myself. When people overestimate their brainpower by even a small amount, it creates a huge chasm between their ego and reality. I went to school with geniuses; they didn't represent themselves like these jerks.

Also, the boasting of someone who's just entering the agent-hunt isn't very impressive. Yes, you have to believe in yourself through rounds of rejections, and persistence is important. But starting out with hyperbole like this guy's... well, maybe he's the next Peter Benchley or Michael Crichton, but odds are, he ain't. And he sounds like he'd be rotten to work with.

Bella Stander said...

Stephen Parrish's "Ode to Shakespeare" is a marvelous homage to a ditty I learned in my youth--to the tune of "Hatikvah," as I later discovered:

Once I had a dry goods store
Business was so bad
I told my wife, my darling wife
And this is what she said:

Get a can of kerosene
And pour it on the floor
Take a match and make a scratch
Say "Goodbye, dry goods store!"

Akuseru said...

Is it bad that I initially read the subject of this post as "Miss Snark reassembles a Shar-pei"?

AnotherHack said...

Giggle as we might, deep down all writers feel as this Snarkling does about our own work. Come on, now, admit it. Otherwise, why (and how) would we keep at it? All this humility is nothing more than forced necessity designed to shield our tender egos.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said: Ah, I think some of the comments have clarified it nicely. Make sure to come with your hat in your hand, don't you dare look the big agents in the eye because they can't be bothered to make eye contact, and it is a literary mortal sin to believe that what you wrote is good. Got it.

Oh, look: faulty reading comprehension combined with a persecution complex. That's original.


Kara Lennox said...

I don't really understand why there's a feeding frenzy here to ridicule this guy. His post was totally tongue-in-cheek about how great he thinks his book is; if you read between the lines, he thinks his book might be pretty good. (If he didn't, why would he think it's ready for an agent?) But he's left room for doubt--he did say it was a big leap of faith.

And his question is a very valid one. Are there drawbacks to being a first-time author represented by a very big-name agent?

The answer is, yes. It does happen. However, I wouldn't let that stop me from putting the big-name agents at the top of my list.

Georgiana said...

Seems an awful waste of gin. Kerosene works just as well and has no medicinal uses.

I'm almost sure I've read that kerosene can be used to get rid of lice...

Anonymous said...

Are there drawbacks to being a first-time author represented by a very big-name agent?

I haven't found one yet. I have to admit that I approached the situation exactly as the original poster did. I lucked out--although I do like to think the book was pretty good... ;)--and have been very happy ever since.

Anonymous said...

Is it bad that I initially read the subject of this post as "Miss Snark reassembles a Shar-pei"?

Well ... I thought she would look more like a poodle. :-D

Seriously, from my yet-unpublished standpoint, there's no harm at all in querying the Big Boys - providing one is confident their query letter and submission package is first-rate. That's where I sort of oopsed on my first round. My package was not as good as it should be, I did submit to some large agencies, and I was sumarily rejected. I now wish I could go back and say, "No, wait, let me try this over again, the first time was only practice." I wasted my shots in those instances.

But other than that, gad! I'm entirely of the mind that one should always aim high! If you miss, you can adjust for windage and elevation later. *G*
Cheers ~

G. Atwater

Anonymous said...

I think Miss Snark should make an example of this guy. Let us know which entry is his and we'll judge for ourselves if it's all that. Since he's so confident, he shouldn't object to a little critique, right? Better now, here, where it's anonymous.

Bella Stander said...

Now let's see how many people in the comments column don't understand sardonic deadpan humor.
I'd say about 95%. Miss Snark might consider asking Santa for a Laff Gun, which shoots exploding canisters of Humor Dust.

Anonymous said...

Was anyone else's first thought: 'This guy will be a /nightmare/ for any agent who picks him up?'

Anonymous said...

I wonder which is more contentious and adversarial, the relationship between aspiring author and agent or the one between aspiring author and aspiring author.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I've had enough fun. I thank you all for your constructive criticism. I particularly liked bieng doused in gin and burned in effigy. Miss Snark took the e-mail as intended, though she may have cheated, having received several previous e-mails from me filled with hand-wringing. The point of the e-mail was: I have no fucking clue how I'm going to pick which agents to pursue and "Get a load of some of those agency web sites!"

Thanks for the laugh guys.

Anonymous said...

Just so I understand clearly what some of the comments are insinuating, go with a big agent and you'll be treated like dirt until you get big.

Interesting interpretation, especially as I can't see where anyone said anything along these lines. What people did say is that an agent is unlikely to take you on unless he knows he can give your book the attention it needs, but that you shouldn't expect to be the 24-7 number-one priority for an agent whose list includes already hugely successful authors.

In some people's minds, of course, not being the 24-7 number-one priority does indeed equate to 'being treated like dirt'. That tends to make both their lives and those of everyone around them unnecessarily difficult.

Is it bad that I initially read the subject of this post as "Miss Snark reassembles a Shar-pei"?

Now THAT I would pay SERIOUS money to see.