1.28.2006

I was young, I needed the money...

Two Snarklings with murky pasts:

Dear Miss Snark,
In my murky past, I have written and had published a fair amount of... Well, I believe the polite term is 'erotica' but I think 'porn aimed at women' is more accurate. It's mainly been in anthologies and one or two magazine publications - nothing really bottom-of-the-barrel but nothing that could be passed off as art. I've now completed my first respectable novel and, once it's been revised and polished the appropriate ten times, I'll be shopping it round to agents.

Should I mention my pornographic past? On the one hand, it demonstrates that I have some idea of the harsh realities of the publishing world. On the other hand - well, it's porn. Porn entirely lacking in literary merit, at that.

Is raising the subject likely to get an instant response of, 'Go away, pervert'? (Mailed, of course, in the SASE I have enclosed.) (more likely it will get "send pics and text, here's my FedEx number)


Miss Snark,
I tried posting this in your blog, but as it's madhouse over there I think it got buried:
I have finished my novel and am preparing to query... here's my issue:

I HAVE been published previously... numerous times. However, two such instances were in a gay eZine that specializes in... well... erotica. However, the pieces I placed there are NOT erotica, though sex exists (briefly) in both... I also published another similar (barely sexed) story in a gay adult newspaper in Arizona... and I published articles in a gay newspaper in California.

Should I just ignore these mini successes so as to not make agents think I'm some sort of erotica writing character and just not mention being published at all? What about the fact that all the presses are gay? There's a gay character in my current MS, but he's hardly the central point of the story (a divorce is).


The main point of publishing credentials is to show an agent that somewhere, somebody else looked at your writing and said "this doesn't suck", not that you know about publishing. If your writing was selected from a group of competitve submissions and you got paid for it, it's worthy of being mentioned, regardless of content.

The question of course is do you want to. If it's writing that shows you are a good writer, mention it. If it doesn't, don't. If the subject area is off the beaten path, so to speak, don't worry. Lots of the very best writers got their start in pulps and porn.

Gin as tonic

I was sitting here, reading through the feed and the odd question crossed my mind.

How much gin does a Killer Yap Lap if a Killer Yap does lap gin?


Killer Yapp is on the wagon after that unfortunate incidinet with the Great Dane triplets in Central Park.



As a bonus, this sounded interesting:

Gin Gin Mule recipe

1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
6 mint sprigs
3/4 oz ginger beer
1 1/2 oz Bombay Sapphire gin
1 splash soda water

Muddle the lime juice, syrup and mint sprigs at the bottom of a mixing glass. Add gin and ginger beer and shake well. Pour over ice in a highball glass, top with soda and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Serve in: Highball Glass

gin with vegetation!
Have you timed how long that takes?
One of the many advantages of gin a la pail is that it's damn quick.
This is medicine girl, stat! stat!

Writing editors

What about editors writing books? In their own lists or outside of it, say, a fiction editor writing a nonfiction book (for their own house? another house?) or vice-versa?If you got a query that said "I am an editor at XYZ House" and (it's not an editor you submit to, of course) what would you do?I think it happens pretty frequently (from what I read in PW) but I'd like the Snarkalicious take on it.


I look at the writing of course. Being a good editor does not correlate to being a good writer. Lots of writers get jobs in publishing to learn about the industry so it's no surprise that I get queries from these folks all the time.

Where it gets a little strange is if you take the book on, and you want to pitch it to the same house where the editor works. That's always touch and go. It also almost never works.

I don't object to editors writing books cause they can't acquire their own stuff, and mostly their own companies won't acquire them either. Agents are a different matter. And book reviewers.
That's where I shriek and wave my arms in the air.

Bad bad agent

When I was looking for an agent, one rejection came with a note saying the agent was busy trying to sell his novel. Please buy it. There was an ad attached to the rejection. Very tacky.I did look up the book on Amazon. Very low.

oh please tell me you are gently pulling Miss Snark's well shod and striped stockinged leg.
Pleeeeese.

If this is not a joke, I want to grab that pencil neck geek agent by the oversize ego and squeeze him till his brain has room for a transfusion of common sense.

ARGHHHHHHH

1.27.2006

Full time? Part Time? party time?

Miss Snark:

How many of your client are full-time writers? Excluding the Tom Clancy/John Grisham sorts who own most of the publishing GDP -- and writers whose spouse has a good job to make the BMW lease payment and keep the gin bin well-stocked -- how many writers are able to support themselves (and live in something slightly more elegant than a cardboard box) solely off their writing?


Not many. And it's not the money, it's the health insurance.
I have 6 full time writers. About 1/4 of the active list.
I have no idea if that's average or not.

One of the more interesting accounting practices is figuring out where most of your income is: if I have more than 20% of my income coming from any one writer in a year, I know I need to get cracking. It's the equivilent of putting all your gin in one bottle.

Agents should write checks, not books

Dear Miss Snark,

What do you think about agents who also write the same genre they represent? Is there conflict of interest there? Should a writer searching for an agent consider this a red flag, something to be avoided?Thank you! (leaving a pail of gin and some yummies for KY to express gratitude for your fun and informative blog. Sorry, I don't know George's phone number, or I'd offer that.)


Of COURSE there's a conflict of interest, but it's almost impossible to say so without sounding petty. Not that something like that even registers with Miss Snark of course. Agents who write in your genre may in fact be pretty good judges of what sells, but face facts: they're taking a spot on a publisher's list that could be a client's.

I can't imagine having a conversation like:

RING! RING!

MS: Snark Central, you called, you talk

Client: I see you have a new mystery coming out from Ballantine in hardcover "Miss Snark Solves the Case of the Missing Query Letter".

MS: yes, yes, I do, and I'm going to invite you to my book launch party.

Client: was that the same editor who passed on my book "Miss Fox Murders A Hen"?

MS: yes, yes, but ...

Client: passed on it cause the list was FULL???

MS: yes, but really, the two things are not related

Client: expect my termination letter to be delivered via rock through the window. You haven't heard the last of me missy, you and your little dog too.

MS: boy, I hope that advance holds out for a year, I have no clients. KY! KY! Get your harmonica, we're going busking in the subway for kibble.



I think it's icky. I think book reviewers writing novels is worse and New York Times columnists and critics being reviewed in the Times and selected as Notable books is the worst, but it all falls under the icky umbrella.

Lather rinse repeat, lather read repeat

Hi Miss Snark


I was just wondering what happens in the Snark Sanctuary when a manuscript hits the right spot. So you immediately reach for the phone to call the lucky supplicant when you finish the first read through, or is it a more considered “I’ll put this to one side and see if it still grabs me in a week’s time”?


Well, I let Killer Yapp read it of course. He's caught more than one cat-astrope in the making.

You're exactly right about the let it sit. I learned the hard way not to reach for the phone till I'd let some time go by. I probably read 10 novels a month, and let one sit for another read. Usually I say no even then. It has to be something I just can't NOT take on...and how to quantify that, I do not know.

But, you can't worry about this. You can't even think about it. Just write. Write the best you can, then go back and write better with what you learned. Leave Miss Snark to her mutterings.

Miss Snark Gives Up Her Life of Crime

One question Miss Snark: how the hell do you get any work done? The great blog written in proper sentences with finite verbs, the interesting taste in beverages...It's beyond me. Yours (anyone's really) in admiration.


Sleep is for wussies.

Besides blogging is a GREAT break from dealing with the slush pile or other tensions of the work day. Being able to yap about something in print means I don't have to spend all that time in the hoosegow for heaving water balloons out the window. My bail bondsman, Myrtle the Turtle, feared I'd moved to Florida when I got this blog. She's kind of miffed actually; her income has dropped several percentage points. I think she's writing a memoir to recoup her costs. I hear James Frey might blurb it.

Time to talk to your agent!

Dear Miss Snark,
What does it mean when an agent passes your work to someone else for a another read? Is this good or bad? is this some corporate thing where the higher ups have to OK it before the agent can offer you representation?

Also, per your post today on how to break up with your agent: What do you do when you're under contract for say, a year or two years, and your current agent isn't working out? Could one just ask to be let out of the contract? My current agent has suggested that I query others
about my latest work, which is in a genre he doesn't represent, but we haven't formally severed ties.


PS Killer Yapp may love his pink tam, but my Welsh Corgi just adores his royal-blue collar. :-) (corgis---not just for breakfast anymore-KY)



Wait. Your agent is encouraging you to find other representation?
This is not a good sign.

You signed a contract you can't get out of for two years, no matter what?
This is a worse sign.

Here's the scoop: you CAN get out of a contract if everyone agrees. You'll probably have to fork over his commissions on the stuff he sold, but that's fair (although I've seen agents surrender their interest in royalties when clients left cause it just was easier all around).

This is where you need to have a straightforward talk with your agent. He may be glad to get you off his roster amicably if you're writing stuff he doesn't know how to sell.

And, in answer to your first question, I don't exactly know. Almost everyone I know really well builds their list autonomously. If an agent is brand new to the agency and to agenting s/he may need the head honcho's permission to make an offer. I know agents who aren't working for themselves read this blog; opinions welcomed!

You do need to get straight with your agent though, and quickly. This is not something that will work itself out in the wash. Time to agitate.

uh boy, this one is making Miss Snark's nitwit nose twitch

Dear Miss Snark,
Do you have an opinion about prologues?
My editor is urging me to consider using one. I'm trying to remember the last time I even read one. The dictionary says a proglogue is the preliminary act or course of action foreshadowing greater events.
This would seem to be what needs to be done in my case. BUT, there's a lot of pressure to snap people into the greater events immediately. The first page even. The first sentence even.(Tomorrow it might be the first word, even.)
In your experience, have prologues had the effect of discouraging you from reading further?
I have this shimmery thought that some people consider a prologue optional reading. In other words, they might skip to the first chapter, then, if interested, go back to the prologue later. I might be making this up.
Thank you very much.



Helloo!!!! Wake Up! Smell the coffee!!!
Don't ask me for dog's sake.
DO WHAT YOUR EDITOR SAYS.

Sheesh.

I'm full of good advice but if your editor says do a prologue or consider doing one: DO IT.

If you write one and don't like it, talk to your editor, or YOUR agent.
I'm not sticking my long skinny twitchy nose ...well, that's Killer Yapp's nose, but you get the idea, into YOUR editor's comments about a book he's read. I don't like science fiction; does that mean you're going to stop writing it? nooooooooooooo.

Sheesh.
You might have to be the nitwit of the day if no one else shows up.

Outline AND synopsis is overkill

I have been asked for an outline, synopsis, and first 50 pages. No specific comments on the outline length. Checked various sources but still uncertain on how long an outline should be if not specified by agent. In your opinion 1 - 2 pages?

An outline and a synopsis both? This agent must moonlight as a whip wielding sadist. Yikes.

1-2 pages is about right.

Outlines really make me want to punctuate an artery. Someone else's of course, but punctuate none the less.

Sick of trying to write the perfect cover letter?

Have you considered just sending pages with a succinct cover letter along the lines of "here's the first ten of my novel Snark Time" and not much else?

Don't.

I'm looking at one now.
The writing is ok, nothing much to howl about.
But what IS the novel? mystery? sf? chick lit?
The fact I don't know says the writing is pretty pedestrian.

Best to give your reader a few more guideposts. Are we expecting murder or aliens in the first chapter? How long is it? Who's the hero?

This guy is getting the famous 'it's not right for me' cause I"m not even quite sure what "it" is.

Miss Snark in her slush pile....call for the flame suppressant

Nothing sends Miss Snark's chapeau into spontaneous combustion more quickly than: "this popular novelist got it all wrong; it's time for the REAL story to come out."

For starters, if a novelist is popular and selling well, do you really think her readers are going to come on over to read you debunking her? noooooo.

If a novelist is popular and selling, do you think it might be because ...oh my dog, the concept...people LIKE the stories?

If you are moved to put pen to paper to right the tragic misconceptions of a series of novels involving an industry or a profession, and MOST particularly if you are writing to illustrate a bone headed political situation, hear this now:

A Novel Must Be Able To Stand On Its Own Merits As a Story FIRST.

You simply cannot expect a book to be taken seriously if your major goal in writing it is to "prove" (via fiction no less) that Jan Karon's Mitford series is all wrong; that Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes books are all wrong; that pedophilia is bad; that puppies are good.

Novels are about stories, and they have to be filled with compelling characters. You start yammering at me in your cover letter about the life lessons I will learn by reading this tome and you've got a lesson in what's not right for my list coming right back atcha.

I've practically sold the thing, but I'll be glad to pay you to just deliver it

MS,

Based on his reading of a short story of mine a couple of years ago, the Managing Editor of a top publishing house here in NYC offered to read the ms of my novel once it was finished. It's finished. Proofed and re-proofed, though not yet reproved -- which is what I'm most eager to get, as it's currently at 162K words. Problem is, he's prohibited from so much as peeking at an ms unless it comes through the door in the hand of an agent.

Is any of this relevant in a query letter, or would it simply sound like so much name-dropping?

I'm more than happy to give an agent 15% for her time and effort. In this case, all she has to do (it seems to me) is messenger or hand-deliver a document. Not read it, evaluate it, even think about it. And since the understanding I have with this Editor is a prior one, her reputation's not on the line.

Maybe I'm missing something. Please advise.


ya well, you're missing a lot.

First of all, that part about "prohibited from so much as peeking at a manuscript unless it comes through an agent" is bunk. I get at least one call a month from an editor who has a project they got through the back door and now need an agent on board for the process. They've read it, liked it and want to offer on it.

Second, the idea that I don't read everything that goes out of this office with my name on a cover letter is insane. I don't care if you're Stephen King, Gore Vidal AND Laurie King. The ONLY thing I have in this business is my reputatation for offering good projects. I'm not some sort of re-mailing facility.

Third, the publishing turnover rate is about 25% these days. Are you even sure the "managing editor" which is a newspaper title, not a publishing title as far as I know, still there?

And fourth. If you're under the impression that the only thing an agent does is send work to editors, you haven't been paying attention to this blog. That's just the start.

If you sent this information to me in a query letter, as you have it here, I'd probably pass. I prefer to sign clients who understand the value of an agent and don't think they're being kind and generous by paying for that value.

You'd be ahead of the game to simply say "Herbert Hoover at Chicken Pot Pie Press expressed interest in reading my novel after he read a short story of mine in 1962 (or whenever)". Leave out any commentary about how this makes my job easier and I don't have to worry about actually reading the thing. Good writing can overcome nitwittery, it's true, but try not to shoot yourself in the ass.

Wave of the future?

Dear Miss Snark,

Did James Frey muck it up for the rest of us memoirists?

I've been reading that publishers are going to be leery about taking on memoirs, that there's going to be tough fact checking, etc. I you had memoir making the rounds, how worried would you be?

Is there a contrarian view that any publicity for a genre is good publicity. After all, sales of Frey's book book of lies continue to be brisk. His reappearance on Oprah will probably only help sales.

A good friend of mine reminded me that the public's appetitie for deception can be satiated. That this whole thing will blow over in a couple of weeks.

What's your take on the state of the memoir market in the aftermath of Frey (who continues to cry all the way to the bank).



I do have memoirs making the rounds; two of them. One can be substantiated pretty easily since it's the life of a public figure. I've told my author to be prepared to cough up documentation. The other memoir is the more personal kind; stories of what happened to someone and how she reacted. Documentation is very sketchy. If anyone challenged us, I'd be hard pressed to verify. On the other hand, she doesn't claim to be "an addict, a criminal and a bad bad man".

MLP didn't pass the sniff test. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE who read that and didn't think it was hyperbole in at least some part is an idiot. Nan Talese isn't an idiot. Neither is Sean McDonald. Neither are Oprah's producers. And Oprah isn't either. I've said before, I'll say it again: everyone in publishing KNEW that book wasn't completely true. What we are seeing now isn't "oh my god I've been hoodwinked" but "oh my god, we got caught".

The Smoking Gun caught the obvious lies: the jail time. There were other things that triggered my disbelief, principally the dental work stories. That combined with everything else (principally how everything always worked out in Frey's favor) made me think it was off.

My memoirs pass the smell test. I'm not sure if editors going ask my authors for birth certificates and copies of memos, but if they do, and they've got money on the table, you bet we'll cough it up. The nice thing of course is ...we can.

Will that happen? No. Frey is today's fun topic. It's absolutely meaningless as an indicator of a sea change in publishing. As you point out, everyone is still making money off this. If Doubleday took a bath, then you'd 'sea' change.

ah, yes, the morning mail. Miss Snark has a chew toy

Dear Miss Snark,

I have read a assemblage of material (wtf is an assemblage of material??) about taking the next step in submitting a manuscript. There is much debate about a writer's choice to submit their novel to either a literary agent or directly to the Publishing House. (there is?)

I know you are bias (as you should be) that all writers (new author's in particular) should seek the representation of a professional agent. Common sense tells me that the agent has a holding cell of contacts (yea, that's where I keep all my editors--in a holding cell); is centrally located to the publishing hub; are well versed to the print business.(publishing is NOT printing; two separate industries)

However, there are arguably proactive (and lucrative) reasons why a writer would choose to solicit (by query letter) the publishers direct without literary representation. My questions are: Should a new author attempt this? Is this considered tacky or unprofessional or just plain, greedy? Has this been known to work in the author's benefit?




You seriously expect me to say it works to an author's benefit to send stuff directly? Hell no of course it doesn't. It works to MY benefit. Every looney tune, badly spelled, lame brain query sent to a publisher is one step closer to that publisher no longer taking unagented submissions.


Most big publishing houses simply don't accept unagented material.
Smaller houses do. Have at it. Let me know if anyone escapes my holding cell long enough to reply.

Having difficulty querying the effervescent Miss Snark?

Dear Miss Snark,

Since no nitwits have stepped forward to take up the challaenge, I will sacrifice myself to Killer Yapp for the greater good. I already have my Snarkophagus ready.

If, or rather when, we want to query you, how do we send an SASE by e-mail? I tried feeding it into the CD-ROM drive, but that only caused odd noises and tore the envelope. I will keep trying to send this one anyway, since it is one of my favorite envelopes, all covered with pink unicorns. Since I can't seem to get the e-mail to work, do you have a FAX machine I can send it to instead?

A Most Devoted Snarkling and a Soldier in the Ignorant Army Clashing By Night
Upon a Snarkling Plain.

damn, that was my last cup of coffee too.
thank dog for keyboard covers.

Expiration date on requests for partial/full ms

Dear Miss Snark,

Do requests ever "expire"? Common sense says (to me at least) one shouldn't wait a year+ to send the material, but how many weeks/months do you have to send in the requested material?


Technically no. Practically, yes.
First, you've got my attention when I ask for something. It's wise to leap on that opportunity with alacrity. My attention moves on as the days weeks months pass.

Second, if I'm considering you for a client, and you've demonstrated your glacial pace, I'm going to think twice about signing you. When a book is sold, the editor sends an editorial letter with changes requested. That can be 2 pages of not much, or it can be 15 pages involving a re-write. There's a deadline attached to those changes, and I want clients who understand deadlines and can meet them. Yes, deadlines can be changed. Yes, books can be postponed. No, this isn't my first, second or third choice of how to do things.

Third, markets change. If you're writing the hot new thing this summer, next summer I've seen five other things like it, and since they appealed to me, I may have signed one.

Get off your ass. Get busy. Write like it matters. It does.

Where is James Frey's Agent?

What do you think the Frey scandal will mean for his agent, Kassie Evashevski?


Has anyone seen or heard from her? You can bet she's collecting her 15% on all this (or Brillstein/Grey is, she works there).

Naturally enough it's Frey's agent I have the most questions for:

1. when did MLP become a memoir not a novel?
2. did you pitch the same editors on the novel that you did you on the memoir?
3. when you called Frey "authentic" had you actually read the 'memoir'?
4. who ducked the bullet? who underbid Sean McDonald?
5. since you mostly work in films, had anyone ever explained the difference between memoir which is "non fiction" and novels which are "fiction"?
6. Are you writing your memoirs about this? Can I fact check them for you?

The Real Power of Oprah Winfrey

It's not so amazing that she got James Frey to come back on the show, but I was still rather amazed he agreed to it ("come back Jimbo so we can pillory you LIVE on national television is not a persuasive phrase to me but then...I'm not quite the publicity hound he is).

What's amazing to me is that Nan Talese went. Consider this: she's not an elected official in a position of public trust who needs to account for her actions to the public. She's not going to lose her job, in fact, her company stands to make even MORE money from this "debacle". No one in their right mind is going to refuse an offer from Nan to publish a book even after this. So, why did she do it?

Nan Talese took one for the company today. Show up in Chicago; hankies all around; let Oprah score a few points for the great hoodwinked public. (No matter than any normal person reading that book has to have a few doubts. I mean, I did. You didn't??)

My guess is that if Nan or Doubleday higherups (there aren't that many more up the ladder from her actually) had said "f off Oprah" nary a Doubleday/Anchor book would ever see the light of day in Oprahland again. Indeed, Oprah might have banned all Random House books (Doubleday is owned by Random House).

That is Oprah's real power. If she so much as suggested that the largest publisher in the world would not be able to get books on her show, it becomes a very small sacrifice to send Nan over to do the mea culpa thing.

Too bad Harper didn't publish MLP. I'd give my 15% of next year's sales to see Jane Friedman on Oprah's couch. Two of out three falls, I'm betting on Jane.

Not sellin' film rights, no way, no how...

OK, I know you're going to laugh until your side hurts, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway.....what if you'd really honestly rather not have a movie made of your story unless it's done to certain standards? Obviously, you'll be out some money, and your chances of actually having a movie made will go way, way, WAY down, but will anything else bad happen? If you were my agent, and that happened, would you drop me flat on my ass like the nitwit I am?

Robert Crais refuses to sell movie/tv rights to the Elvis Cole series. I don't think his agent has fired him for that. He did end up writing some stand alones and selling the film rights there, but Elvis remains off the table.

If I had a client who felt so strongly about it they refused to sell rights, I'd have to respect it. I can't sell film rights unless the client agrees....but Miss Snark is damn persuasive when she's wheeling in bales of cash.

What you CANNOT do is sell film rights only to "someone who will not make a hash of it". You can pick the person you sell to, but unless you have an awful lot of juice, you've got zero creative control. Zero. Once you cash the check, you're done.

If you're that worried about quality control, you're better off not selling. What I would can your ass for is selling and then bitching about the results. Whining as you cash the check is not allowed.

1.26.2006

How to Fire Your Agent

Dear Miss Snark,

What's the most professional way to tell my current agent that I've found new representation?

My current agent hasn't been bad -- he's sold two books for me, and I got a slightly higher advance on the second than on the first -- but my new agent works exclusively with authors in my genre, represents a number of authors whose work I respect (some of whom have won major awards), and is far more aggressive. So I think he's going to be a better fit.

Should I just say that I've found a new agent who I think will be a better fit for my future projects? Like I said, my current agent isn't dishonest or evil, he's just not as well-connected in the genre I'm working in.

I hope you have time to answer this. I appreciate the resource you're providing. Thanks so much.



"It's not you, it's me"
"We can still be friends"
"I just need some time alone"
"Let's just take a break from being a couple"

sound familiar?
yup...they are all the bullshit lines we say to each other when a romance breaks up.

This isn't a romance. This is a business relationship. You don't have to sugar coat it. Polite, formal and NOW are the requirements. Generally one does not have two agents at a time as you now seem to do.

Look in your contract with the about-to-be-former agent. There's probably a 30 day termination clause there. Just write him a letter, send it with delivery confirmation and say "As per our contract this is a 30 day termination letter. It has been a pleasure to work with you and I look forward to our paths crossing in the future." You really don't need to point out you've signed with someone new. He'll find out soon enough.

I had someone "fire me" recently and her term letter said "because you haven't presented this work to any publishers, clause whatever will not apply". I'll tell you, it took me a week to be able to reply to her politely. The reason of course that I had NOT sent the book out was cause she hadn't ever finished anything presentable. Of course, what she was saying, and how I took it were two different things, but when a client is leaving, I never take things well. It's just not a happy day at all. So leave off any explanations, reasons, and foo foo crap. Just say "we're done, thank you, and gimme me back my toys, I'm going home".

You really have to get on this now though. And don't worry about parting ways with him. It happens all the time.

1.25.2006

Back under the bed!

You may have fielded this one before, Your Snarkliness, but should we mention the fact that this is our third/eighth/twentieth novel in our query to agents?I used to think agents wanted to discover phenoms, so I was all about "oooh publish my debut novel," but have recently given that up because hey! agents are people too and deserve the straight dope. Back to the question: Does copping to the manuscripts under the bed make you more credible in the eyes of an agent?


No.
Don't even mention them.
Don't even think of mentioning them.
Don't even remember you have them.
Put them away for a rainy day, and when it rains...put the boxes out in the rain and pray for a flood.

Miss Snark's Diet Plan for the New Year

Dear Miss Snark,

Thank you for your informative blog! I hope that you have time to make a suggestion on the following situation:

An agent has had my manuscript on referral since last March. Last July, I called and was promised that I'd be put on top of the pile. In December, I sent a note indicating that I was still interested in working with the agent, and hoped to hear from him at his convenience. I suppose that my manuscript hasn't been opened yet, or I would have received some response. Should I give up hope?


Give up hope? Time to give him a Bronx cheer!
Ten months is a tad long to have someone's ms, and not return phone calls.
At the VERY least, you have to respond to "are you still considering this".

I'll be honest. I've had manuscripts that long. It's not my preference but sometimes with big ass novels, I just don't get to them as fast as any of us would like. However, if the writer emails to me and says "so, honeybuns, are you like still alive" I always answer promptly.

This guy is behaving like you don't matter. Well, f that. You do. And is this the kind of repsonse time you want in someone working with you? I think not.

Email the twit and tell him your new year resolution is to lose some weight --starting with his fat lazy ass.

Or, wording of your choice.

Nitwit of the Day!

Miss Snark,

I come here to open my nitwit moment to ridicule. I sent out another batch of queries today, and was feeling rather good about this one, as the letter has improved quite a bit since the last batch. That is, I was feeling rather good until now. I just realized that I forgot to sign any of them. They all end Thank you,[blank] Can teenagers have senior moments?


Need to feel better? I spent a good part of today, and some of yesterday working on an email pitch to an editor. I'd been referred by another editor, and I really needed to make it good.

I slaved over it. Spell checked it. Read it again. Let it sit in "drafts" for an hour. Sent it.

Great email. Too bad I got the name of the publisher wrong huh.
My editor friend had given me two names. I mixed up the companies in the body of the email. I have the email right: Felix @ Doubleday; the text of the email talks about how this would be a perfect book for him at Grove Atlantic.

No, I'm not laughing.
Not at all.
I'm gnasing my f/ing teeth.
Ya, the editor laughed it off but I'll tell you, I feel like a NITWIT.

Yes, Miss Snark is the Nitwit of the day.
Sorry Elektra, not signing your letters isn't even close.
It's not something I think you should continue to do, but it's not a deal breaker. (How old are you anyway??)

writhing fingers at spam dot com

This may sound stupid, but do editors or agents think less of you if you have an e-mail address from a freebie place like yahoo or hotmail? I know I've seen "writer's tips" that give several reasons why "you should invest in a professional sounding e-mail address" -- agents and editors taking you more seriously being one of them -- but I wonder...as long as it's a professional, real-sounding name before the @ (not something juvenile or silly or scary), does the e-mail address make any difference?


Talk about perfect timing on a question. Miss Snark has just slunk back from a late afternoon of revelry with her drunk and debauched colleagues, and one of the topics of the evening was ..tadaa...email.

One colleague, who gets quite a bit of email said that anything remotely spammy (ie anything other than your proper name) got deleted. Others were a tad less restrictive but not much.

It's not so much the @hotmail, or @yahoo, it's the "prettyfingersflexing4u" kind of NAME.

I believe that to be true as well. I get quite a bit of email from folks coming off my website and the only ones I answer are clearly real people with real names. I avoid "doglover@bitches.com" although Killer Yapp swears the pictures aren't of him.

It can't hurt to invest in a good name and a website with email based on the site. That way too, if your server or ISP changes, your email address does not. I can't tell you the number of times I've had email to someone bounce back cause they aren't on aol anymore or something like that.

Refunds

Dear Snarkie, (Snarkie? what the hell?)

When books are turned into movies do authors have any recourse if the movie is just awful? Can one retain a measure of creative control when their book is being turned into a movie?

I've seen some good books turned into the worst movies and TV shows. Is there anything to be done, other than complain after the fact?


No.

However:

You could take out an ad in Variety and say "this movie sux so much even I won't go, and I wrote the book they've made this piece of trash from".

You can file a lawsuit for "public acts of lewdness on a movie screen".

You can call your film agent and cuss her out for making the deal (you have to stake out the high moral ground by first sending back the money though).

OR you can do what a lot of people have done in one form or another:
have your name taken off the credits.

The Crapometer's Evil Twin

Well, the crapometer seems to have aquired some new friends.

I surfed over to see if it was eating anyone alive, and so far, so good.

Fair thee well

O Snarkish One,

Would you kindly opine further about what might be going wrong--in the market, in the stars, wherever--when a fine agent with many successes throws himself behind a novel and works long and hard on its behalf (may his tribe increase) but simply...cannot...place it?

If life was fair, there would only be blue skies with puffy clouds and nary a hint of rain.

If publishing was a fairway, there'd be duffers on Broadway and shouts of "Fore!"

If publishing was a fairway, it would sell vegies, and Malomars too (inside NYC joke).

If life was fare, you'd be a bus.

But life isn't fair, good projects get overlooked and it's enough to make good agents scream with frustration. We all have at least one good book we can't sell.

Bottom line: it sux. Suck it up. Write another one. (easier said than done, I know)

Reserve for Returns, no Mohicans required

It says that Doubleday will issue refunds to those who bought the book directly from them. Will they be taking the entire blow, or will Frey have to cough up his royalties for those books?


ahhh...the underbelly of the royalty statement.

Every royalty account has a despicable little line that says "reserves against returns" and the publisher DEDUCTS a tidy sum against the far off day that a book comes back. They do this forever.

Example: your book sold 100 copies at $20.00 each and your royalty rate is 10%.

100 x 20 x 10% = (Miss Snark takes off her red and white striped stockings to count, and calls KY over for extra digits) $200.00 is owed to you.

Then the line : Reserves against returns 10% = and $20.00 is deducted. You get $180.
Well, Miss Snark gets it, deducts her whopping commission of $27 and sends you $153.00
Don't spend it all in one place.

So, ya, James Frey is going to get nailed for returns.
But, so does everyone.

Nan Talese isn't an idiot

The recent comments by Nan Talese in the Observer that MLP was "always a memoir" may strike some readers as disingenous. After all, James Frey himself said the work had started as a novel and then become a memoir when it didn't sell.

I've repositioned things. I've labelled things three or four different ways. I've talked about the same project in VERY different ways with editors, and that's true of almost every memoir I have on my list.

Agents want to sell. Without reenacting Glengarry GlenRoss for y'all this afternoon, let's just say, I want to sell books more than I want to tell authors I can't sell their books.

I can absolutely understand how having passed on a novel in a casual conversation, an editor could buy "memoir" on a second pitch.

And I truly understand how an author, caught up in wanting a work to sell, rewrites to make everything "true". I have authors tell me they'll do that every day of the week and twice on Sunday. They put it in their query letters, and they put it in their cover letters.

It's easy to stand here on the sidelines and say I'd never condone that, but honest to dog, I don't know that I already haven't. By encouraging repositioning, redrafting, honing, and editing, have I encouraged a memoirist across the line?

Man oh man, I hope I find out before The Smoking Gun comes calling.



Source: Publisher's Lunch
Talese Contradicts Frey's Account of Sale
Nan Talese talks to the Observer about the publication of James Frey's A MILLION LITTLE PIECES and her essential truth is different than the author's. She tells the Observer she "almost collapsed"after hearing Frey tell Larry King, "When Nan Talese purchased the book, I'm not sure if they knew what they were going to publish it as. We talked about what to publish it as. And they thought the best thing to do was publish it as a memoir."

Her statement: "When the manuscript of A Million Little Pieces was received by us at Doubleday, it was received as nonfiction, as a memoir. Throughout the whole process of publication, it had always been a memoir, and for the first year and a half it was on sale, it was always a memoir with no disputation. It was never once discussed as fiction by me or anyone in my office."

Miss Snark envisions "making a profit"

Kitty usually has to bring out her photoshop pix to make me spew, but this morning all she needed was this link to the Seattle Times. about a clever lawyer suiing to recover monetary damages for "lost time" spent reading MLP.


I can see it now:

Ring! Ring!

MS: Snark Agency. You called, you talk.

Caller: I just read your client Felix Buttonweazer's latest book. It was blurbed as "outstanding" and "a page turner" by someone named K. Yapp. This book is awful!
Aliens don't arrive until chapter 14!! I want a refund. AND you better pay me for my lost time.

MS: uh...how much money do you want for your "lost time"?

Caller: I read 100 pages in an hour. I'm a phone sex operator. I get paid $3.00 a minute, $180 an hour. You owe me $180 plus the cost of the book.

MS: What are you wearing?

1.24.2006

Meeting Agents and/or Editors at Conferences

Dear Miss Snark:

What advice would you give to an unpublished novelist about to meet face-to-face with editors for brief interviews at a writers' conference?

Thanks in advance from a snarkling who adores you. (Miss Snark likes that adoration part!!)

(In the comment section, an astute reader points out that the questions asks about editors
and Miss Snark promptly substitutes the word 'agent'. Not for nuttin is Miss Snark self involved. In the answer below, just equate agents with editors. Except the part about tall buildings. Editors have to use elevator...not that there's anything wrong with that.)


When you have little confabs at conferences, try not to panic. Agents, despite all evidence to the contrary, are human beings. Yes, we can leap tall buildings with a single bound, but then, you can invent entire worlds and people them with strange and fantastical creatures. Which is harder? exactly.

Now, when you meet someone for the first time do you say "hello would you like to hear about my book"? noooo. You say "hello, how are you". Same is true here.

You'd be stunned how many people just launch into a pitch.

So, you say your howdies, then you say something like "what information is most helpful to hear about a book"? Then the agent says things like : what kind of book is it? how many words? who's the hero? what challenges does the hero face? Is it first person present tense? Are aliens planning to arrive? etc.

Here's the trick. Don't talk about your book. Answer the questions. Take a synopsis. Take a sample page. Be prepared for the agent to say "I'd like to read it, here's my card, send it to me"....ie don't faint, don't weep, and whatever you do, don't throw up (Miss Snark is 0-3 on those).

Then, after you answer the questions, if you have more time, ask the agent for his/her opinion: a book she loved; a book she loathed; what websites she reads that she thinks are good; any advice she'd like to see every person follow while querying her. We ALL love to give advice and have people ask our opinions.

And remember, this isn't an audience with Her Majesty the Queen of the Universe. It's talking to an agent who watches American Idol just like you do (ok, not Miss Snark, but yanno, generally).

Miss Snark retires, weeping, to her settee

Dear Miss Snark,

inspired by your very useful advice and the trusty Crapometer I set about reducing my hitherto 3752 word synopsis to a readable 998 words. And then I set about the task of contacting targeted NY agents (via e-mail as I'm based in Spain). It appears a goodly proportion of NY agents want 250 word synopses. So, my question is thus, is there any chance in the future you'll be running a 250 word Crapometer?


From Spain yet.
There, lolling on sunny beaches, being served margaritas by smiling senoritas, this cruel cruel man asks about the Crapometer.

Miss Snark, looking out at 39degrees and the forecast of snow, while the office next door is remodeled (think: sound of jackhammers), and thinks...ya bub, you do the crapomter, I'll go to Spain.

After I regain my composure, the answer is a resounding maybe.
At this point the idea of doing anything with the crapometer again makes me run screaming into the night...ok, that's not unusual here, but still, you get the point.

There's More Where That Came From!

Dear Miss Snark:

I have a friend who insists that it's worthwhile writing the second book in a mystery series before you've sold (or interested an agent in) the first. She says that if she can't find an agent for the first book, she'll start querying about the second book and then tell any interested agents that the first book exists.


This doesn't make sense to me. It seems highly unlikely that an agent would want to pick up the second book in a series if no one wanted the first. My question is this: How would you respond to a query that says, "This is the second book in an as-yet-unpublished mystery series?"



I laugh merrily. It usually means they haven't written enough yet, not too much. Most good writers have a tome or three under the bed before they get an agent interested. They might be standalones, they might be parts of a series; what they universally are is pretty terrible.

I assume the book you're sending me will need to stand alone. That's how I read it at the query stage or the full novel stage.

And, if you're not getting better with each book you write, you've got a problem. Once you have written the third, fourth or fifth book, you're going to look at the first book and cringe. You won't want Miss Snark to get even a whiff of it, let alone try to sell it.

One of the most reliable indices of "not right for me" is "this is my first book, fresh off the printer".

Write a lot. Write ten books in a series if you will. Send me the best, it's probably the last one.

Do you need a mailing list?

Good Evening Miss Snark,

I'm at the beginning of my writing career, have some short stories published, and working on a novel. As you can see, I'm miles away from the answer to this question. However, I also am one of those-gasp-writers who realize that no matter what style it is; this is a business. I'm wondering what you're thoughts are about a writer that can can come to you saying, "I've got a newsletter with 600 email addresses". I write literary fiction which, from my experience, doesn't always equal a balance of sales and art, but it's my argument that you do what you have to do to get your story-art-to as many people as possible and let them decide merit.

In the big picture, 600 email addresses isn't much, but does the fact that I'm a writer that considers the power of marketing make me a better candidate for a sale? What does readership mean to publishing houses?




Just because Miss Snark owns a thigh master does not mean she has svelte thighs. Having 600 email addresses does not mean you've got 600 people lined up slavering for the tome. Would that it did, Miss Snark would be capturing email addresses left and right.

However, your point is that you've started to think that your novel will not magically fly off shelves just cause you wrote it on a wing and a prayer. That's good. However, it doesn't matter one whit to Miss Snark when she squints at your pages. What makes a difference is if you've been part of a reading series that draws people; if you've published in magazines that have significant editorial oversight and competitive submissions; and, if you know BOOKSTORE owners and event coordinators.

A mailing list of 600 will most likely return at slightly higher than direct mail ratios: 2-3%. That means 12-18 people on your list will actually buy your book. That Grandma and your mom will buy multiple copies is a given.

Mailing lists are valuable for keeping track of your fans, and letting them know when the book is out, but it's one to one buying. I want authors who can reach bookstore owners/managers, cause those people can reach hundreds of buyers themselves. Do publishers look for people with built in marketing muscle? You bet. A fan club on a website is a beautiful thing, but it won't make the difference between yes and no for acquisitions.

Now, do I get a lot of novelists who cough up bookstore contacts on demand? More than you'd think; less than I want.

It's not a requirement that you come armed with lists. Just write well. That you know it's a business is good. That you understand the dynamics of marketing is better.

1.23.2006

Why Miss Snark is a Space Cadet

Dear Miss Snark,

I've been searching for agents who represent my kind of fiction and agencies with lists I'd like to read. I've looked at several dozen agents and have sent out a total of eight queries, one query per agent, one agent per agency, only to those who accept sim-subs. I've spent a lot of time personalizing my query letters to reflect that.

No mass-mailings, no carpet-bombing, no letter that begins "Dear Agent."

Today, while adding an agent to my spreadsheet, I notice that two of the agencies are located on the same floor of a building. Two other agencies occupy the same suite! Note: these agencies are legitimate--not the shingles of some preditor & editor evil person.

Did I just earn the nitwit label for querying different agents in different agencies who, for whatever reason, share office space? (no, but you are eligible to try again in 24 hours)

With NYC office space as tight as it is, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at office-sharing. But, okay, I kinda am.



ok then. Stand up from your computer. Go into your living room. Mark off ten feet. Turn left. Mark off five feet. Turn left, mark off ten feet, turn left, mark off five feet. Look up ten feet.

Thats 50 square feet, 500 cubic feet. Small? That's the biggest office here.

Now, write me a check for $600. Every month.
Oh, and pay your Verizon bill too.

That's what we pay for space here. You bet we cram our offices on one floor, and in many cases in the same suite. For starters it makes sense on the durable goods expenditures like copy machines, and desks. It makes a lot of sense to be able to buy paper, ink cartrides and gin in bulk. And one clerical person can be shared by several agents.

It makes sense to have people around you so you can tap their knowledge base too.

This is absolutely the norm. And yes, they are all separate agencies. I want to split costs, and share information, NOT income!

Fauxpasto

Miss Snark,

I'm reading suggestions on many sites that say a publicty photo sent along with your ms. can make the difference if the publishing committee is on the fence about buying your book.

I'm a former broadcaster and have been in front of the camera for years. Our resume and tapes are what landed us our jobs. Despite television being a very visual medium, sending an 8x10 glossy along with your resume and tape was considered the ultimate in tackiness. Though of course, there were always the fringe people who still suggested this to fledglings.

Is this the case in publishing? Tacky-no or Hoochymama-yes?I do recall one Sr. Ed showing off the back of a flap and pretty openly drooling over the male author they'd highlighted.Is this the case with some of these site?


I laugh and throw them away. IF I take on a client, and IF it's a plus to say "he looks like George Clooney" then I might advise someone to put a good pic on their website and tactfully let an editor know.

Include a headshot with a manuscript? Never.
I know these wags who toil in publishing. They'd have a LOT of fun with that photo and none of it's printable on this blog, and half of it's illegal in five states.

Save the glam photos for your local matchmaker.

Why Miss Snark is Not Miss Winfrey

A few weeks ago I emailed you with the idea of creating your, and your faithful snarklings, list of great books to read. Sort of like Miss Snark's version of Oprah's book club. I never saw anything mentioned on the blog and now feel as if my email were mistakenly deleted. ??

Bad idea? I for one am sick of searching around the bookstore, spending twenty-or-so dollars, only to find myself home with pages of crap that bore me to bits.


The Scene: Miss Snark's evil lair. KILLER YAPP paces the perimter checking for feline intruders. MISS SNARK slumps in her red leather chair, reading her slush pile, bemoaning the rules of decorum that forbid gin before noon. She is stealthily adjusting her watch to London time when we hear

TELEPHONE RING

MS: Snark Agency. You called, you talk.

Client #1: So, I see you have a book club on the blog of yours.

MS: -reaching for emergency gin- uhh...yes

Client #1: You've been telling people about books to read. Good books. Books you love.

MS: -reaching for straw- uhhh...yes, that's right.

Client #1: You didn't mention any of MY books. None.

MS: -swilling gin silently- uhh...no, I didn't. I felt it would be unethical to tell Snarklings to buy my client's books without revealing I had a stake in it.

Client #1: Well, I can solve that problem for you. I'm leaving the Snark Agency. And don't send the blasted dog over here with the 30 day termination letter. Last time he was here, he sent my cat into a gender identity crisis with that pink tam. I had to get neuticals at the vet to make him feel like a tom again.

MS: -sliding to floor in a sodden drunken heap, moaning softly- my last client has left me. What shall I do? Where shall I go, I might have to (sound of satanic laughter) get a real job.

The End

Yo: yo mama

Oooh, I feel so dirty, now. Last year I did multiple email queries. Personalized them, though. Sometimes I even queried three and four agents at the same agency. Worse, I didn't check to see if they accepted email queries!

But wait, it gets worse. One of the agents I queried emailed me back. She was aware I was submitting to other agents in the office! She didn't even accept email queries, she said. Wait again.

Now it gets good. I signed with her. Turns out she liked my book. You and your rules, Agent Cool. So not cool.


Great.

Look sometimes exceptions work. Sometimes. Not always, not often and not most of the time. When you post this kind of "I did the exact opposite of what Miss Snark said was industry standard" and I got an agent!!! you do a HUGE disservice to the 85% who will not be the exception to the rule.

This is the same kind of thing that ruined BEA: people went there, hooked up with a publisher, told eveyrone how they "broke the rules" and now every nitwit with a manuscript thinks its the secret way to success.

This blog is not about the exceptions. This blog is about how not to shoot yourself in the foot by querying sixteen agents at the same agency and getting nothing from any of them, cause that IS the norm.

There's a business book, I think one of the Guerilla books, that advises "at a football game, throw business cards in the air at every touchdown; you never know who you might contact." Sounds all innovative and shit till you think about it. When was the last time you picked up a business card off a sticky stadium floor and said "wow, this is great, I was hoping to hear from a life insurance salesman today". Sure it might work, maybe. But wouldn't your time and money be better spent calling people who have had a new baby and might now NEED extra insurance. Exactly.

The unsexy advice is: do what has the most chance of success.

I'm not telling you to follow the rules cause I'm some sort of thin lipped Prussian martinet with a yen for order (despite all evidence to the contrary). I'm telling you this cause it's mostly how things actually work.

Agent Cool assists Miss Snark in steering Snarklings straight

One of Miss Snark's colleagues, Agent Cool, sends the following:

Could you please tell your readers (of which I am one):

1. No more querying mutiple agents via email! For those of us who accept email queries, we certainly can read the CC line to see that you also queried the rest of our office. And even if the author is quick enough to use the BBC function, agents just kinda know if something's been shopped around. One agent, one manuscript per agency at a time. You can do a mutiple submission--just one agent, one ms per agency at a time.

2. Not to submit more than one query at a time to an agent. No more letters with "I hope you'll like at least one of the twelve novels I've written " in queries. Frankly, and I think you will agree, that when I read that the author has 12 unpublished novels on the shelf, then there's got to be a reason why none of them have been published.


Agent Cool makes a very good point and I'm glad she wrote in since Miss Snark does not accept email queries and it hadn't yet occured to her that anyone would be nitwittish enough to send email queries to "dear agent".

Email queries vary only in their delivery system from snail mail queries. Yes, you have to put the agent's name on them. Yes "dear agent" or "dear submissions review board" or "dear Mr. Snark" are all BAD BAD things.

1.22.2006

e-books

Two Snarklings (one good, one evil) have asked about e-books:

Hi Snarkie! (Snarkie?---yikes)

Would you please comment on e-books and ebook publishers. Is this a viable market?

Miss Snark Dear,

How does e-book publication rate these days with an agent or print editor as a publishing credit?


e-books are so not-viable that it annoys the crap out of me that publishers even want the rights, cause they have no useful way to exploit them. However, they learned from the audio book fiasco to hang on to everything they can get their greedy little mitts on so just in case e-books become money machines, the money will be in their coffers not mine.

Basically e-books are gimmicks. Yes people have them, yes, you can buy readers. Yes those people claim they are the wave of the future. No, no one I know actually reads books like this (but I'll bet this post will bring some of them out of the woodwork).

Once the e-book reader devices become more user friendly I think they'll take off. I don't think that's now, but I think it's coming. Maybe ten years, but that's just a wild ass guess.

And as for being published in e-book format, it's less the format I look at for "is this a legitimate publishing credit" than the review process. If an editor chose selected pieces to publish from a pool of submissions I'm more likely to take it seriously than "come on over and let's build a book in the barn Mickey" take all comers kind of approach.

I think e books will be used for text books and medical manuals and things that need regular updates before it will be used for entertainment reading. But, that's my opinion again, I have no independent info on that.

Blurbing books before submission

Dear Miss Snark:

My agent is getting ready to shop around the proposal for my fourth book.

An author friend suggested that I solicit author blurbs now to send out with the proposal to editors. You know the type of thing: "Laughed 'til I peed my pants," Carl Hiaason; "Cried 'til I hiccupped," Anita Shreve.

Only problem is, I don't actually know Carl Hiaason or Anita Shreve. I do know some talented authors, well-respected in their genre, more successful than moi, but not household names. Would including blurbs like this make my proposal stand out in the editor's over-flowing in-box, or is this just unicorn stationery by another name?

Appreciating any insights Your Snarkiness can provide,


This is not unicorn stationery.

It's never a bad idea to show that your work has the respect of your peers, and that they will be available to blurb the book itself. And since I know you (ha! you didn't know Miss Snark knew you did you! but she does!) and I've read your novels, I don't think you'll have any trouble.

Just email the authors and introduce yourself. Or write to their agents. I do this stuff all the time. It's one of the fun things.

And don't be discouraged. You're a very good writer. You can quote me!

When You are the Favee not the Favor

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a freelance magazine writer and my new hubby has just written his first novel. (He has an MFA in poetry, and yes, a "day job.") Naturally, I think it's brilliant.

A former writing teacher of mine has heard of his reputation as a writer -- they attended the same MFA program, though not at the same time -- but has never read his fiction. She has offered to "introduce" my hubby's novel to her agent. (She has published many wonderful nonfiction books.) Is this a good go? (1)

Are my husband's chances any better with an introduction from a successful client?
(2)

Am I just being an annoyance to take up my former teacher on this offer?
(3)

How should we proceed?
(4)

Will we embarrass ourselves by inviting the former teacher over for a lavish dinner of lamb and Bordeaux??
(5)

I mean, I want to follow all of our options, and I want her to know how much it's appreciated. (And I LOVE dining with fellow writers!) But I don't want it to look as if I think it's quid pro quo, or that it's not simply about the writing.



1. Yes
2. Yes
3. No

4. Ask the writing teacher what to do. Normally my clients give me a heads up that something is coming that they like from a friend/colleague. The friend sends the ms with a cover letter that references my client.

5. No, but out to a restaurant is better. Entertaining at home is for personal friends. This is a biz dinner. (or maybe it's done differently outside the 212 cause you have more space. I'd no more let a colleague in this place than I would saute KY for dinner) (KY-damm straight, Miss Snark)

Miss Snark-Career Counselor

Good evening, Miss Snark.

I am neither asking for nor expecting minute details -- but did you start out your career wanting to be an agent (does anyone?), or did you have other things in mind?

Thanks, and have a great week.


When I began my career I didn't even know what an agent was. I'd seen vague references to people lending money to Fitzgerald and Hemingway but they all looked like boring old sticks and I wanted to dance in the fountain not sit in an office.

Repeated calls for bail money soon put a stop to the nekkid fountain dancing, and a stern conversation with Grandmother Snark about the lack of foliage on Arborus Dollorus, soon forced Miss Snark to invest in a smart black suit and attache case. Once she actually discovered that there are free books for those who work in the industry, she signed up for a lifetime cruise on the good ship Publishing.

There have been the occasional pirates who've tried to woo Miss Snark from her cruise ship but Killer Yapp fends them off with a cutlass --- and how he learned to drive the Cutlass, I'll never know.

Miss Snark is the Picture of Perplexity

Dear Miss Snark,

My picture book came out two years ago. It got good reviews and won two awards. Sales were pretty good, but not sky-high. I'd like it to come out as a paperback or board book, but I don't know what steps to take to make that happen. My agent says to take it up with my editor; my editor says, "well, maybe..." Is there anything I can do, or is this my publisher's decision?

Thank you.


What?
Your agent said for YOU to take this up with your editor?

Unless there's something vastly different about picture book deals than EVERY other kind of book deal, this is your agent's job. If she's not willing to do it, you need a new agent.

Look at your contract. See what rights the publisher bought. It's not a given that they bought hard/soft/board as a bundle. Probable, but not always. If they own the rights, there's not much you can do if they don't budge. That's why your agent should be doing this.

You look good on paper...how do you sound?

Hi Miss Snark, As a nonfiction writer, I've had a few agents over the years. Before agreeing to represent me, each of them wanted to either meet with me in person or, if we were geographically separated, have a long phone conversation with me. I assume their aim was to assess my personality and other relevanrt characteristics so they could transmit this information to publishers. If my assumption is correct and if you engage in this practice, what qualities do you look for in a potential client other than writing talent?


well, I want to avoid the raging nitwits. And the whack jobs. And the people who make me consider re-joining the Sisters Of Perpetual Partying over on Convent Ave.

I want to make sure you don't sound like Elmer Fudd. I want to make sure you can carry on a conversation. I want to make sure you're alive.

I want a chance for odd information to surface: you're a member of the Nazi party; you think Bill O'Reilly is too liberal to really know the depths of the left wing conspiracy; you think John Kerry is too conservative to truly understand the depths of the right wing conspiracy; you know you "have to" have an agent but really they're worthless and you hope you don't need one for long.

I listen for how intransigent you are about editing; how responsive you are to things I need. I listen for how you talk about your wife. I ask about your last agent.

And if you're smart, you're doing the exact same thing.

List of every rule for subitting manuscripts

Is there a single web page that details all the rules for submitting manuscripts. I keep getting snippets from the blog (SASE, Double Spaced, etc) but it would be valuable to have all the rules in one place.


It's called Writers Market. It's a book. It's in the writing reference section of your library or bookstore. BUY a copy. You'll use it endlessly.

Not Quite a Nitwit, but Miss Snark still isn't all that happy

Dearest Miss Snark,

A friend of mine is working on his third book for HarperCollins. In the course of conversation the other day, we started talking about titles for the new book. He ran a couple by me, then said, "Well, it doesn't really matter what I call it. The publishing house can call it whatever it wants once the contract's signed."

I said: "So the only reason for creating an interesting title is to get the attention of an agent or publisher?"

"Exactly."

Do you agree or disagree? Knowing whether the original title is irrelevant will save me a lot of wheel-spinnin' time.

Thanks so much for deigning to read the email. If indeed you read this email.

deign: to do something considered beneath one's dignity.

Um...I don't deign to read email from you..until you act like a nitwit.
I appreciate the time you spend reading this blog and asking questions.
I appreciate the fact you WANT to learn about this industry and be successful.
I appreciate the wit and humor and almost unfailing generosity of the people who read this blog.

Don't you DARE say I think writing this blog and talking to you is beneath my dignity. It is without a doubt one of the things that ADDS value to my life and I'm grateful to every person, even nitwits, who read it.

Now, about your question.

Yes, titles don't matter. Titles change all the time, and mostly you have no control over it.
Don't obsess. I never reject anything based on the title. I've retitled several projects between the query and offering representation stage and the sending to editors stage.

Just call it A Heartbreaking Work of Swaggering.... err..never mind.

Call it Snark's Guide to Fine Deigning...not

This idea..stinks!!

Will knowing I cannot help market kill the sale? While I am certainly willing to do anything in my power, if and when the time comes, to help market my work, I am terrifed of doing public appearances - not because I'm afraid of doing readings or shaking hands, but because I am quite violently allergic to most perfumes. I end up with brutal migraine headaches that render me quite useless.

I suspect insisting that all signings, readings and other appearances be advertised as "fragrance-free" will not win me much admiration from either agents or publishers. Margaret Atwood has the right idea with her autograph robot machine.


There is a long thread on this in the snarkives, probably in July or early August. It's entirely possible to not do readings or public events and still help promote your book. It's not my first choice, but yanno...that's life.

I kinda like the idea of those book readings having an olfactory pat down though.

Schedule M for mistakes

Dear Miss Snark,

How is an author (or her agent) to know how many books were sold, remaindered, at what price, et. al.? Here's a a website that gives one pause.


Cause publishers send royalty statements that say how many books were sold and in which category and at what royalty rate. They are fearsome documents.

Every good publishing contract gives writers or their representatives (ie accountant or agent) access to the publisher's books at least once a year to make sure the royalty statement is an accurate reflection of what the publishers' accounts show.

Mistakes happen all the time. ALL THE TIME.
The only question is whether it's intentional. I vote for no as the default explanation but there are times I'm wrong.

There is a company here in NYC that only does royalty reviews. They don't charge you any money up front or if they don't find any errors in your favor. They earn their entire income by taking a percentage of errors they collect for you. That says a lot. Gail is #5 on my speed dial cause when I need her, I'm too fired up and pissy to actually remember where she is in my address book.

Insiders Guides to ...extracting cash from your wallet

Dear Miss Snark,

Among the many books on writing that I purchase, I did buy -- get this monster title:

"Author 101: Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents: The Insider's Guide to What Agents and Publishers Look For by Rick Frishman, Robyn Freedman Spizman, Robyn Spizman, With Mark Steisel"

on a whim. It looked like a fluff book but it did have some interesting points inside when I took it off the bookshelf at B.

I found a quote to the effect of the then writer/now agent who submitted her first manuscript via an offer from a Hawaii's writing group. A writer would send a manuscript to this group for a $50 or so fee and supposedly within a few months, they will send you responses from agents. I dropped the book, nearly choking with laughter. This lady highly recommended it but it sounded like a lot of those scams out there.

Have you read about this and have you ever heard of a legit writing group who does this sort of service? Have you ever read any ms from such a service? I was just curious, because the woman sounded completely serious. The only reason I bring it up is because she had a number of credits to her name. (Not sure if that's a big deal or not.)Have you read that book? Do you have a recommended reading list for fiction writers?

Love the blog. Thanks!


Let's start with the obvious point, but one that may not be obvious to the average writer and buyer of this book. Rick Frishman is a nice guy, and I like him a lot, and I've spent some memorable time chatting with him in his office here in NYC but Rick is not an agent, and he's not a publisher, and he's not even a writer. Rick is the head of Planned Television Arts. Rick is a publicist. Robyn Spizman is not an agent. She's a professional speaker. I don't know who Mark Steise is but my guess is he's the hired gun writer.

These guys have an Author 101 series from Adams Media, a very reputable publisher in Massachusetts. I've worked with them for years.

Here's the thing. The book's underlying premise is there are tips and tricks available ONLY IN THIS BOOK that will help you get published. So, the authors (who serve more like editors here, compiling info) look for all the fun, cute, success stories they can find, and collect them. They hope you will think "if it worked for Felix Buttonweazer here, it will work for me." That is a fundamental failure of logic, but no one said sales appeal was about logic.

Paying someone to critique your work isn't stupid. Paying someone you don't know just cause they say they can get your work critiqued by "an agent" is. On the other hand, being smart only works about 80% of the time. The other 20% is blind stupid luck. Somedays it's better to be lucky than smart.

Writing books are like diet books. They promise to make you better faster stronger smarter leaner and hot spit if you buy the book and follow their advice.

They leave out the fact that unlike diets, success is not a given if you follow the directions. Some of you, and most beloved Snarklings I mean YOU, some of you will not ever be published writers. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write. It doesn't mean you should give up. What it means is this is a business, and there are factors at work far beyond your control. No book can tell how you to write the one book that appears in the right editor's or agent's hands at just the right time.

Advice books, like advice blogs, can keep you from fucking up your chance if you get to an agent, and how to avoid being bilked by agents, and how to get out of your own way in the quest for an agent ... but we cannot give you the formula for being published. There isn't one. That's why everyone wants one, and why these books sell. Sales appeal isn't about logic, it's about assuaging fear. These books like you to think that if you just follow the rules, know the hidden secret, listen to what they say, you can be a sucess. That's just not true.

Absent them advising you to forgo an SASE; to send a full manuscript unsolicited; and/or to threaten Miss Snark with those nekkid pics you took from the spy cam on her roof, their advice is probably just as good as the next guy's.

There's nothing I can say that will dissuade you from buying those books. Some of the more unusual suggestions may in fact have worked for the people who tell the stories. Don't think they will work for you cause they worked for someone else.

What those books CAN do for you: they can help you start thinking of more imaginative ways to present your work. They can motivate you to keep going by telling you success stories. They can be fun to read cause they're about people in the industry you want to be part of too.

Think of them less as books of advice, and more like spiffy pep talks, and the money is probably well spent.

And sure, I've heard of a lot of places that will critique your writing for you. There's mention of at least one several posts down on the blog. The comments trail on those posts reference a lot of other places to find critiques. Whether any of those places will help you is absolutely beyond my ability to answer.

New Rule for Asking Questions

Gday Miss Snark

Is it true that only women buy novels, and that in even traditionally male genres like space opera have to be pitched in terms of their relationships problems, or is this just an artefact of the reality that male editors a are thin on the ground.

I figure men are still reading novels and such but that they are downloading e-book versions of their favourite authors over peer-to- peer file sharing networks.

Is that fact that women are the only ones buying novels mean that the end of publishing book is nigh? How long before they download them too?

The book won't disappear but publishing might? Should I worry about all of this or just release my novel on p2p directly and fail that
way instead.

Miss Snark, what does the future hold? What does your circle of contacts think about this?

My contact is circling the computer thinking aliens have arrived.
He's hoping they brought biscuits.

New rule: One question per email.
And that question has to be coherent.

Slip Sliding Away

Dear Miss Snark,

When I finished writing my first novel, I formatted it and uploaded it to a hidden section on Café Press so I could buy a copy to hold in my little hands. (You can see, I have issues which may beyond the reach of your professional expertise.) Have I done a really bad thing? I.e. have I made it impossible to sell this fabulous work?



No, but you're inching closer.
First, I think Cafe Press doesn't assign ISBN numbers. That's a GOOD thing for avoiding the label "published" or "first edition".

Second, don't sell it to anyone.

IF you just use Cafe Press as a printer..ie you have a copy printed out to take to your therapist or your mom, or your mom the therapist, that's ok.

Miss Snark only hisses at you when you attach an ISBN number, sell it to your Mom's bridge club and then query Miss Snark about the tome and mention it was "well reviewed" and "sold well" and now it's time for Miss Snark to find the pot of gold for what's clearly the next American masterpiece....in bodoni bold font, of course.

Bottom line: you're ok so far, but step away from the slippery slope.

Big or Small, Miss Snark Explains it All

Miss Snark,

I'm really curious to know how much effect the size of a publishing house (generally) has on the sales of a book. I assume that the bigger houses have more money to spend on promotion, but do they also get the books into more stores? I find that when I browse at Chapters, the majority of the books on the shelves are from big houses. Do the smaller houses have a hard time getting shelf space?


yes and no.
first, you're confusing promotion, marketing, and "taking a position".

Promotion is all the stuff that goes into making you aware of the book outside the store: radio interviews, buzz, mention on blogs, Miss Snark accosting you at your door with the good news that it's time to buy one of her books.

Marketing is the advertising, outreach to stores, things generally that are paid for by publishers. Included in this is "new voices at GotRoxStore" "new non fiction" "hot reads" etc.; those big displays you see on the front table of chain stores; and all the swag you get like bookmarks, magnets and "car with purchase" kind of thing. Yes, publishers pay bookstores for placement. Yes it happens all the time. No, they don't talk about it much, and bookstores scream with outrage when the word "payola" is bandied about but it doesn't make it any the less true.

So, yes, smaller publishers with fewer swag dollars and payola accounts have less muscle when it comes to that stuff.

Taking a position means big chain stores will get behind a book..or not. Large publishers can have books that tank just like small ones. If the head fiction buyer of Barnes and Noble, Sessalee Hensley takes a big position on "Miss Snark's Guide to Etiquette" it's going to be displayed big. Publishers spend a lot of time reading Miss Hensley's tea leaves and trying to persuade her to do just that.

However, that does not mean you should prefer a big publisher to a small one. Small publishers have to be nimble and they know it. They're more likely to spend less on shotgun approaches and more on target approaches cause they have to.

And lastly, it's not the size of the publisher that you really want to investigate. It's how they get their books into the marketplace. Whether they have a distributor is key. Small presses who are distributed by Consortium are MUCH better places to be than publishers who only sell books off their website, or who say "available through Ingram".

"Available through Baker and Taylor, and Ingram" means you can order a book there, NOT that a bookstore will stock it. Many of the large publishers also distribute (ie handle the fulfillment and sales to bookstores) for smaller presses. It's how they make a lot of their money.

And none of this has a direct correalation with how books sell. About 75% of the dollars that roll into publisher's coffers come from the back list...books published last season, last year, or the last century. They're not what's "new! and ! exciting!" but they are what keep the ConEd bill paid.

More on BEA

Miss Snark:
just to clarify about authors and the BEA (yes, hit with with a clue stick if you wish!): I have a book coming out next week with a NY house--I made a commitment for the weekend of the BEA this year--should I click my heels, forget the BEA, enjoy my weekend, and continue writing and flaking the new book that's come out?

If I get your drift, it's my agent who should be there, working her list, and yes, talking about my book if the opportunity presents itself?


You got it. Your agent will be merrily selling your book to Andorra through Zoroastria while you are off lollygagging about in the sunshine. Enjoy it. There are other places where your presence will be the one needed but BEA isn't it.

BEA is a zoo. The regional bookseller trade shows are MUCH more efficient and inexpensive places to meet booksellers. I'm a huge fan of the regionals and haunt them regularly.

Miss Snark is even less amused

Miss Snark,

Been reading your blog and it seems that quite a few people are not so much interested in having their work published and rather interested in writing or starring in movies about themselves. That's fine, it helps to see their aim. (starting out an email to me by patronizing the people who read this blog is stupid)

I have a question that I may already know the answer to, but would still enjoy seeing it: (yea, that's called masturbation and it'll give you hairy palms) I am a writer who has written several things, has a stack of 60 or so rejections, two or three publications and a reading in San Francisco under my belt. The reading was for (college), and after that I am hooked - strung out - addicted. I want more of it. How? (yea cause wanting to be the center of attention for college students is so much more high brow than say..wanting your book made into a movie)

A former professor at Arizona State told me to "write with a fury" and that the "writer is the one who stays in the room" - not that he was advocating me being a shut-in, just motivated and savvy to the time it takes. I've been writing and submitting to big journals, small journals, very few e-journals and it all seems rather hit-and-miss, like hunting butterflies with a shotgun from sixty paces . . . (yea, so?)

I'm not looking for an easier way, I'm looking for a more effective way. My system now of writing and polishing short projects and long projects concurrently with September and February submission seasons in mind helps me get the writing done - but isn't padding my resume. Should I consider columns and essays? Go the route of Nataro and Sedaris? Or should I just continue to follow Ron Carlson's advice and write when my fingers itch, and write with a fury?


What's the question? You want to have more readings? Hire a publicist. Meet event curators. Write a book and go on book tour.

Meanwhile, get your head out of your ass.

Ghoulish timing

Ambulance chaser or not, do literary agents feel any moral obligation to delay the publishing of books in instances like the WV miners?I'm interested at times on what happened, and to whom, but not so anxious as to read a book on the subject before all of the details are even in.For the sake of the (widows), can't we just let them be for a little while?

Literary agents don't control publishing schedules. That's the publisher's SOLE domain.

I didn't read a single thriller for six months after 9/11.
The publisher of a book about bombing in the London Underground was horrified to be new on the shelves the same week there was that bombing there this summer.

It's a tough call. People like to read about events in the news. Are we ghouls? I hope not. I know when I want to understand about a disaster I always read the Times coverage. Is that ghoulish?

I was glued to the coverage of Diane Downs when she killed her children, and I read Ann Rule's book about it. Am I a ghoul?

Is ghoulishness a function solely of timing?

Carole Radziwill talked about "tragedy whores" in her book What Remains. She described them as the people who were ever present at tragedy, eating up the energy of a crisis and taking almost a delicious pleasure in being in the center of things. Is that ghoulish? I'd say yes.


Is it ghoulish to make money from tragedy? Well probably but stand in line, we're not alone.