Becoming Miss Snark

Miss Snark:

I am a snarky young woman living in New York City. I've been studying publishing and working some menial publishing jobs for the last year or two. I've been thinking (much to the dismay of my Better Judgement) that I would like to get into the agenting side of things.

My question is this: how did you go about the transformation from plain ol' Betty-Louise Snark from
East Cupcake, Illinois to Miss Snark, the Literary Agent?


Bitchy Smurf

Why would anyone would want to leave Cupcake -- let alone leaving Cupcake for Snarkville?

Well, you qualify for the first requirement: you're clearly deranged.

Second of course is you want to slink over to a literary agency that is hiring Bright Young Cupcakes and apply for work. You may need to be a slave..I mean intern for awhile, but lots of people hire their interns.

There are lots of kinds of agents: one person juggling acts such as Miss Snark, all the way up to the behemoth ICM. There are some stops in between at multiple person shops or bigger firms that have lots of agents working for them.

Best place, as always, to get the scoop is Publishers Marketplace.

As to how to become a stiletto heeled Snark, well, some Snarks are born, some are made and some have Snarkness thrust upon them. Miss Snark of course is all three. Genuflect as needed.

Amazon Ate My Reviews!

Where does Amazon get off censoring its reviews?

A week ago GINNY GOOD had 61 reviews at Amazon.com. Now it has 36. Amazon arbitrarily got rid of 25 reviews. What's up with that? Here are two reviews that Amazon in its wisdom didn't get rid of; the first is truly funny insofar as GG doesn't really have a lot to do with pro wrestling in the 60s and the second is seriously silly since the "reviewer" read only "a few" pages (which is very likely a lie) and it was one of the reviews Amazon chose to highlight.

This happened to a client of mine. One day there were 16 good reviews, the next day there were 8. No explanation. My client was not the kind of guy to let that pass, so he contacted Amazon. I did too of course, but the client really did most of the work here. He dogged their asses for months. FINALLY they emailed back that there was a glitch and they would fix it. MORE emails, more standing around, then it was fixed, and remains so.

Computers despite all novels of Robert Heinlein to the contrary are neither human nor perfect. They're like agents: inhuman and subject to random acts of mindless idiocy and favoritism.

You can fix this but you have to get on it, stay on it, and (pay attention Gerard) be NICE.

Should a Cover Letter Contain the Plot denouement?

Miss Snark,

I have heard different things about the short plot overview paragraph in the query letter. Is it better to tell the ending of the book in the query letter or to leave the reader of the query letter hanging about the end of the story, as in the blurb on the back of book covers?

You are confusing the query letter with a synopses. You don't need to reveal all in the query letter, but you do in a synopses. A query letter requires the hook, and some introduction to who and what an agent is going to read on your enclosed pages. When we are reading your query letter and pages, we aren't concerned much about plot. That comes later, after you've established you can indeed write your way out of a paper bag...or in this case, an envelope.

Not All Your Marvelous Work Should Be Mentioned

Miss Snark,

I am currently working on the umpteenth version of a query letter for a novel. Back in my senior year of high school, I self-published a book of short stories. I wrote it, had it edited, and then made many copies which I gave out to friends and family members. I never sold (or tried to sell) any copies of it. Should I mention that I self-published a book in my query letter, or is this likely to cause an agent to reflexively crumple my query letter into a ball and send it flying through the air into the recycle bin?

Let's think about this for a minute. First, is this writing that will HELP your career? Try to think objectively. Answer: most likely not. In fact I hope not cause I'm hoping you've improved rather dramatically as a writer in the however many years it's been since you Ruled The School as a Swaggering Senior (by the way, Grease the Musical has been banned in Fulton Missouri as "objectionable"...and here I thought all the kids were mounting productions of Rent).

The other thing is the agent can't actually check sales figures for a book you didn't sell, so it's meaningless. Agents are mercenary creatures. The reason we are interested in your "backlist" is to determine if you can write worth spit, and sell. We are not interested in checking your CV for initiative and community service as though you are applying to Yale.

Short answer: no, leave it off.

The Last Word on Manuscript Formatting...ever

Dear Miss Snark,

I was hoping that you could help me with a question that I have been recently researching today (and I am sure many of your viewers would be equally interested in your inestimable incitefulness, as there has been recent debate along a similar vein).

I understand well that the literary market is severally stratified with some people being the type who appreciate the challenging nature of heavyweight literature, while others favour a lighter read. Therefore, as a somewhat aspirant author myself, I would greatly value your opinion on what you consider to be the optimal weight for a novel?

Through my own aforementioned research I have seen that, for instance, Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" weighs in at a little under half a pound, while the latest "Harry Potter" is something north of 20 ounces, indeed forcing younger readers to seek assistance from a parent or guardian. What size would you recommend a first time novelist to aim for? Should we err on the side of something that the speculative book browser would be better inclined to carry home from the shops, or lean more towards something that offers a more attractive value proposition, price per pound wise?

Additionally, with further regard to the recent questions on editing technique: if you are working with a current or prospective client and have advised them that their manuscript could use a little tightening up, what approach would you recommend? Is it sufficient to simply lop a few ounces out of the middle (on the basis that the beginning builds the world and hooks the readers in; the ending inspires and enlightens; but the middle is, generally, padding), or would you rather see a more considered pruning, pulling one or two extraneous pages out of each chapter until the desired poundage has been achieved?

Moreover, when submitting a manuscript for consideration by an agent or publisher, is it necessary to put the weight on the cover page or simply refer to it in the accompanying letter (either approach giving the additional advantage that a quick turn on the scales will let you know if any pages have been misplaced during review); or alternatively is it better to put the weight on each sheet alongside the title and author name (the total weight of the opus, that is, not the weight of each individual page)?

Finally, assuming that the author is also interested in exploiting the foreign rights, is it appropriate to additionally state the weight in grams (rounded up to the nearest 10g), or can one assume that the foreign rights agent will be able to perform the conversion as part of the packaging? Or is it, in fact, necessary to prepare both English and metric versions of the manuscript?

(Note that I am, of course, talking specifically about prose; I am not a complete novice and do understand that poetry is generally handled by the foot).

Yours Sincerely Faithfully,

Miss Snark retires from the Comic SmackDown, beaten...nay, dare I say, pounded into ...err...submisssion.

What is ASAP in terms of days?

Miss Snark--Do agents ever quickly read a requested manuscript? A Dream Agent responded to my e-query asking me to email him a copy of the novel and he would like to read it "as soon as possible." Even in the literary agent world (where time stands still), might ASAP actually mean something?

well, sure. I read some things very quickly. Ransom notes. Royalty statements. Manuscripts that have been here for 85 days. Yanno..urgent stuff.

Ok seriously, agents read things quickly all the time. Generally the things I turn around quickly are the ones that come from: editors; other agents; with deals attached; or, are so good I think someone else is going to pounce.

However, "as soon as possible" does not mean you fall into any of those categories. Try not to pace the floor. 90 days on a full novel is still standard, and longer is pretty normal too. While you're waiting, go write ransom notes for my kidnapped youth.


Avoiding Dysfunctional Agents

Dear Miss Snark:

Does membership in the AAR provide any sort of guarantee that the agent isn't dysfunctional? Off in my world, belonging to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America is nice, but it's no guarantee that the bookseller has a lick of sense. So, aside from asking for their sales record, checking to see that they subscribe to the AAR code of ethics, and perusing their web site to confirm that there is no obvious idiocy, is there a way to tell if an agent is an idiot? Or, must one learn from sorry and hard experience?

I've already had one "idiot" experience and one experience with a guy on Ann and Victoria's "bad boy" list. I'd like to avoid a repeat. What, oh great and wise Agent, must I do to keep out of the clutches of the dysfunctional?

It's like anything else. Talk to them. Talk to people who work with them. Talk to their clients. Make sure you have an escape clause in your contract.

Yes, we all have bad days. Yes, there are days when I'd like to set a flaming bag of dog poop on client's front doors, as they would mine.

Generally however, when asked about me, my clients will say: 1. she gets back to me promptly when I ask her questions; 2. she answers my questions without making me feel like a dork; 3. she works hard; and 4. I like her. (I know this cause I see the emails sometimes)

Editors will say I'm straightforward, and I do what I say I will.

People at the dog run will tell you I talk on the phone too much and have been known to surreptitiously collect dog poop while chanting what sounds like people's names.

Yes, there are people who have agents they don't like it's true. But I think it's a pretty good measure of dysfunction whether people like to work with you. Really though, like dating and dogs, the only way to know is to run around the reservoir with one on a leash and see how it turns out.

How to Solve All Your Problems

ask Miss Snark and AgentC of course.

But, how to do that?

Well, don't ask a question in the comment trail of a post. We don't see comments quickly or regularly.

Send an email. The links are on the right side of the blog.

AgentC will be answering mostly toward the end of the day. Miss Snark as usual is answering when she can pry Killer Yapp off the keyboard (he's in a fevered romance with a goat, and twins called the Rott-en Sisters. Law enforcement intervention is at hand, I fear.)

Librarians Really Should Rule the World

Miss Snark is a devoted fan of the public library. Even though Miss Rumplestiltskin, the local card catalog czar, spoke sharply to a youthful Miss Snark about the impropriety of reading Balzac before noon, Miss Snark retains her devotion to the profession and the practitioners thereof.

Thus Miss Snark was glad to find there are librarians among the snarklings and even more happy to have received a link to a daily comic strip about...libraries. Miss Snark is getting a slow start on the day today so she read quite a few of these before remembering she's supposed to be lunching at the local G&P at 1pm and she's still wearing her bunny slippers.

Status updates

Dear Miss Snark,

I have been querying agents for about a month and a half. At this time, seven agents have partials and several have had them for nearly three weeks. I know that you tell us to avoid emailing before three weeks have passed, but I'm wondering if the following special circumstances mean that I should: Since sending the chapters, a mid-tier literary journal has accepted the first chapter of said novel for publication (good news) and I am about to leave the country for two weeks (and would be unable to get the full manuscript out during that time). Should I send a quick note letting them know this, or will I be seen as a sycophantic nitwit if I do?

Searching for an agent is very high on your list of important things. You're tracking how long people have had things, and you want to be johnny-on-the-spot if anyone requests a novel. Sadly, that is not the case with the agents reading your work. It's not a reflection of the quality of your work, but on the fact that you are not an income producer right now, and you might not ever be. You're last on the priority list right now. You are not un-important, you're just not on the urgent-must do now list.

Do not email them. There are only two answers you're going to get from any agent: 1. no; 2. send the novel. Set your email program for an away message "I'm in Rabbitania for two weeks" just in case an agent emails, and save the literary pub news for people who request the novel. (This is another good reason to have an email account solely for your professional writing messages-you don't want to tell the local video shop you're gone for two weeks when they email to say "Vixens of Fargo" is overdue).

I get these messages from people all the time and I pretty much ignore them. Frequently I have no idea who they are cause they don't list the title of the book or their full name. -Delete-.

It doesn't make one whit of difference to an agent if you're out of the country, taking a vow of silence, or standing on your head on the Brooklyn Bridge right now. After you are signed with an agent, it will matter a lot, but not now.

Miss Snark Reveals Her Secrets

I have been published but was orphaned. First my line closed, then my editor left the editor world. In my agent search should I tell the agent my ex-editor once called my writing "quirky"? To her it was a good thing apparently, but I've never been certain I should pass that info on.

Well, if you are querying Miss Snark, you bet. As any reader of this blog knows, Miss Snark is into strange and weird. Quirky is a sort of genteel version of that, but it's appealing.

However, if you do not know an agent is into that, take a look at his/her website. Watch for the adjectives and adverbs the agent uses to describe the work s/he likes. Use those to describe your work if at all possible. Sort of like mirroring...when you cross your arms and tilt toward your honeybunch after he crosses his arms and leans toward you. Mirroring is an effective negotiation tool; Miss Snark uses it with officers of the law frequently.

Miss Snark Reviews the Facts of Life

Oh grand Snark One, forgive me I'm being rather nitwitish, but I am in need of your powerful wisdom. I have been recently shopping around for an agent; however, I must face the fact that I have never published anything, and that is seriously hindering my hunt. I would like to know if you have any advice on what types of work would be my best choice for actually getting published and that will please prospective agents. And at the same time, what kind of publications would make these agents snigger and pass me off like a peice of manky Snarkbait?

Thank you.
By the way, you're going to get me into trouble at work. While I should be working, I keep sneaking back to your blog to read more. Thanks for the great reads. I heart Killer Yapp!

There is no Holy Grail for getting an agent's attention. It's not a matter of writing a particular type of work, or being published in a particular magazine. If it were that simple, it would not be called Publishing, it would be called "Filling Out Forms at the DMV". While Miss Snark certainly learned her interpersonal skills at the DMV, she does not work there and you don't either.

Suck it up fella. It's a matter of writing well. There's no secret. There's only hard work, frustration, learning and relearning. Reading this blog will not make you a better writer. WRITING will make you a better writer.


Miss Snark Gets the Chalkboard and the John Madden suit

Howdy Miss Snark!

Heart the blog! Heart you! Heart Killer Yap!

Can you give us some insight on exactly HOW an agent shops a manuscript? For example, let's say you've just signed on with a new writer, Jennifer Hotshit. What's the first thing you do? Do you have an "A" list of editors at big houses you approach first and, if they don't bite, proceed to the "B" tier? Do you have your stiletto on the pulse of what specific people are looking for so you only approach those select editors, whether they're at a big house or
small press? And (although I'm pretty sure the answer to this is a dumbfounded "uh...NO") do you share your gameplan with Jennifer?

Hope you've got the time to answer this. Thanks much!

First thing I do is write a cover letter and from that talking points. Then I call up a select list (ha--aka..anyone I think will buy this) of editors and tell them what a great opportunity is about ready to land on their desk. Amazingly some editors, clearly deranged, pass. Fools! Fools!

Then, if I don't sell it on a preempt, an auction or on the first round, I keep going until everyone in the Free World has seen it. Then I change the title, call it "experimental fiction" and shop it again.

And I do tell my authors where it's going if they ask. I just don't ask for their opinions. (and no crap about that ok?...that topic has been done to death in 79999 earlier posts, if you disagree, well, ok, don't sign with my agency)

Miss Snark Considers the Atlas and shrugs

I was wondering how much an author's location influences your decisions? Does your heart sink when you see the stamps with kangaroos/bagpipes/other symbols that make it clear that this is not what you might call a local submission?

Let's say, for example, you get a nice query letter and five great pages from a writer in New Zealand. You would definitely be interested if it was from a writer in Boston. Would the writer's location matter to you? I'm assuming that if it's an outstanding submission you would progress it, but what if it's pretty good - but not outstanding?

The only location that is an automatic pass is a stamp that says Rabbitania (for those of you wondering what the HELL this reference to rabbitania is, you'll have to look in the Snarkives right after the Crapometer finished)

I don't even look at the envelopes when I open them. I'm reading your email as I slice and dice. Then I unfold the pages. If they are weird size I know I'm dealing with a furriner. We do not discriminate based on furr-iness here. KY does not allow that.

Currently I have a client who lives in Canada, and one who lives in China. I considered work from a woman who lived in Germany but the novel didn't work. I was able to hook her up with some other people for other kinds of writing, so that was fun.

The only thing I care about is how you write. It's not good enough to be good enough. You really have to be VERY good to get my attention even if you think haggis is a food, or grandma arrived on a prison ship, or pop was a pirate that retired on a south sea island or you live in that truly odd and unsual place...Boston.

Write well. That's it. And buy frigging US stamps for the damn return postage. The only thing I do with IRCs is set them on fire and chant your name followed by fierce invectives.

If It Smells Like a Scam...

A researching Snarkling asks:

"I found the following link on Newsarama (a comics and related fanboy stuff related website) . Since I write romance, I decided to have a look. It seems, though, that this is a bad deal: You send them a pitch, they ask for a script, and they see if they can get your story made as a comic book. In the meantime, though, they have the right to produce your story idea as a movie or TV series and not only do they not have to pay you, they don't even have to give you a credit. They give you $250 when they buy your idea and that's it. Am I reading that right? Can you see any advantage to submitting to them?"

My Grandmother always used to say: If it smells like a scam, it's probably a scam. I've never heard of them, but they may or may not be legit. But here's what worries AgentC: There is much language in the contract there that says basically, if you think we stole your idea, or think that something we do looks awfully like your own idea, then well, tough. Oh and you can't sue us. It's gotta be binding arbitration. Wha? Not that AgentC is especially litigious, but that seems to be a whole lotta squawking about whose idea is whose.

Run little Snarkling. Run away from the strange man in the van who says he's works for a "modeling agency." Go with your gut here.

Only the Fools Sign Young

Devoted Snarkling, who prides himself on being one of the millions of writers still unpublished who are younger than Jonathan Safran Foer, asks:

"I am a young (24) writer in possession a newly completed manuscript. Through dumb luck I befriended a very successful, NYT bestselling author during my writing process and he has been mentoring me through much of this. He is planning to give my mss to his agent. My question is this however, does my age have any factor on acceptance? And if it doesn't with agents, I wonder if it does with editors and publishers?"

I have no idea how old most of my clients are. I know the ones who are not 12 and I know the ones who are not 80. I guess I could ballpark it if I had to, but I'd never have to. Unless you need your legal guardian to co-sign the book contract, no one in publishing will bat an eye at your age.

Paris Review, Shmaris Review

M.G. Tarquini writes:

"For those authors with few or no credits, are there certain lit
journals that make you sit up and take notice. That is, which credits
make you think - "Hey! Maybe this person can write!" Do you mind
listing them?"

And I say:
AgentC certainly does look closely at the literary magazines and journals listed in queries. Sometimes that will turn the tide for me. So here's the short answer to your question: The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Zoetrope All-Story, McSweeney's, et al.
But those are the holy grail of pub credits.
There are other lit mags AgentC looks for, but those are the ones where she knows the editors, where her friends have been published, where she always loves the cover art, who gave her a free subscription once....it's an inexact science.
But what you're really asking here is "I want to submit to the literary magazines that agents like the most. What are they so I don't have to read 50 billion of them to figure out what they publish?"
Sorry, you've got to do some leg work. If you're sending crime fiction to The Paris Review, they're not going to publish it and you will have wasted your stamps. Go to the library. Read the journals that catch your eye. Submit to the ones you think your writing is most like. Then wait. Hey, no one said writing was easy, quick, lucrative, or satisfying.

Evidence of a lucrative, but tawdry, youth

Dear Miss Snark,

Thank you for all the advice you give your readers!

I've written quite a few erotic stories and novellas, under a pen name, that have sold on the internet. I've heard that agents hate hearing about internet publishing (even when the author is paid?), so that's my first reservation in including my experience in a query letter.

My second is that I'd rather not reveal my penname, because I started out writing (in adulthood, at least) on a lark, for a contest. Then I just wrote a ton and fast because I needed the money, so I learned the craft as I went along. With my luck, a googling agent would stumble across my first rocky writings out there. An agent wouldn't pay to read my old work, right? Would they just request the current project if it suited them?

Is my only alternative to pretend that I'm a beginning writer with no experience? Or include my experience without revealing my penname? And if I do mention that I've been published on the internet, do I need to mention that I actually got paid for it, lol?

The previous stuff is not a 'platform' to build on, as I'm writing in a different genre now.
Or should I just write about my current novel, and not worry about anything else?

Sorry (and thanks!) in advance for what is sure to be a stupid question worthy of snarkiness! (sorry, no nitwit award for you today, but you are eligible to compete next week)

Well, I think you've crafted a fine query letter here, albeit a tad wordy. There's nothing wrong with fessing up to paid writing gigs that involved heaving bosoms and breathless prose..many successful writers got their start in ...ahem...romance. Your romance is just a touch more ... visceral.

Don't lie and say you are a first time writer. First, it's not true, second, your tawdry past as a paid writer is actually a plus.

Include great pages from this new work, and people probably will want to read your old stuff which would be hilarious: agents paying to read your work.

No You Can't Have a Blog

Dear Miss Snark:

I'm itching to blog on writing and genre related topics. In addition to garden-variety craft topics, I'd like to be the calm voice of reason and plain speaking in some vociferous debates. And I want to do it in my own forum rather than an e-mail list owned by someone else. My opinions, like those expressed on Whattayaknow, would all be well-reasoned and insightful. And, in all seriousness, I wouldn't attack anyone -- especially not publishers and agents. Is this dangerous territory for a wannabe published author? Would a blog on writing be frowned upon by prospective agents and editors, or would they not care as long as I wasn't nasty?

And the reason you're writing a blog is?
Cause you aren't doing your WRITING!!!

And well-reasoned, insightful opinions with no snark....yawn central.
Why on earth would you create a blog that is...perish the thought...boring?

It's not dangerous in the sense that people will hate you, it's VERY dangerous in the sense people will think you're dull.

Focus on your writing.
Focus on your craft.
Leave the blogging to people like Miss Snark who are mean and cruel and enjoy torturing helpless writers.

Miss Snark isn't Quite the Fluffy Bunny Slipper Girl You Thought She Might Be

Dear Miss Snark,

As your blog is a great source of information giventruthfully, I'm hoping you can help me make sense of this incident.

At a recent writer's conference, I pitched a book to a very well known agent. Although the agent wasn't interested in it, she did request a partial of another book I'd written that had finaled in a large contest.

Later on, a friend of mine overheard this agent publicly ridiculing the first book I'd pitched her to a another group of writers (my friend knew this book was mine as she'd helped me brainstorm it and it's a fairly unique twist on an old story).

What on earth makes this agent think this behavior is acceptable? How would you react to this? My ire is up to say the least.

Well, my ire is up too. But not at the agent first. Why is your friend passing this along? This is akin to "I saw Killer Yapp licking George Clooney's face but you weren't there Miss Snark". Some things you just don't ever need to know.

But to your question: what the hell is wrong with someone who'll ridicule people behind their backs? The answer of course is that we live in the postlapsarian world, and we are all bitterly human.

Yes, of COURSE you have hurt feelings. Yes of COURSE it's grossly inappropriate to ridicule someone behind their back.

However, given that this blog is named Miss SNARK and I have a nitwit of the day, week and year, and I tell people they are scum sucking pigs for charging fees, AND I run a critique that's called CRAPometer, the only difference is that I do ridicule people openly and to their face. Here in New York, we sometimes call this "master class". We even write plays about it and have them produced on Broadway. Sometimes they're called Master Class, and sometimes they're called A Chorus Line, and a lot of times they're called "reviewed by Michiko Kakutani".

I'm sorry dear reader but in this case, after I bop your "friend" on the noggin, I have to say "suck it up" to you. Of course, I wouldn't send that agent the partial either, cause her sense of decorum is a bit skewed, but other than that, if this is the most humiliating thing that ever happens count yourself lucky.


When Comparisons are Not Odious

I am a devoted, Killer Yapp-hearting snarkling who can read. Comparisons are Bad. Got that. But upon brief description, my WIP sounds just like Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (first person chapters from different characters about a dying person.)

My problem is that it's completely different: each character has only one chapter; it's set in a very different time and place; each chapter covers the same period of time rather than trading off the narrative between characters, etc. Then again, that makes it sound like Roshamon, but it's not: the plot is revealed from each character's different experiences rather than just each one's different view of the same events. (And yes, despite being "literary" it definitely has a plot.)

Would it be appropriate to include a sentence or two in the query like "It differs from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying in that blah blah blah..." and perhaps "It differs from Roshamon in that yadda yadda..."

Actually that first paragraph isn't bad for a query letter. I'd give it a thumbs up on the crapometer after it got polished a bit.

The Comparisons Are Odious rule is mostly for quality and writing style, not structure. Saying it's structured like As I Lay Dying is a much different comparison than "my book can be compared to As I Lay Dying". You, being a Killer Yapp hearting Snarkling, can see the difference at once.

I like books that have interesting and unusual structure and surprise me. I don't like novelists who think they are the next Faulkner.

KY here: and what's all this hearting business? Don't any of you know that it's liversnaps that demonstrate true love?? Must I do all the thinking around here??

Who Chooses Whom, and How Many Do You Ask to the Dance?

Dear Miss Snark:

While reading your blog, I came across one of your responses that I would, respectfully, ask you to elaborate on:
"After the basic stuff, query widely. You don't want to query "a" literary agent. You want to query MANY. It's more who wants to take you on, if you have good rapport with that person, if their working style matches yours, etc."

I've not done that. Instead, I researched many different agents, reading as much as possible about them from what was available online. I found a couple of agents that I felt would be appropriate for my writing style/genre/personality. I then took the time to narrow them down to one agent. (Who happens to be someone you hold in high regard.)

Now my question is this: I did my homework on the agent first, before querying - (and got a solicitation reply from the query for the first 30 or so pages of my manuscript. I am assuming... and I hope rightfully so... that this is a good step in the right direction) - and I chose the agent specifically because I felt that "this agent" would work well with me personally - which is very important, in my opinion.

It seems that the industry of agents and literary representatives is more geared to the agents choosing who to represent amongst a flurry of queries, instead of the other way around. But shouldn't the burden lie on the author to seek out the appropriate agent? Shouldn't it be the author's responsibility to narrow down and select a specific agent for their project?

Perhaps I am too new to the field and/or too inexperienced to know what I am doing - but is it possible with a single query to find excellent representation by an agent of your choosing? Has it ever happened before?
I feel that each agent should be given a chance to be "singularly" approached and given the option to accept or deny a project before the author rushes off to another prospective agent.

I firmly believe in loyalty and honor and believe that it is my responsibility as an author to make the agent's life easier, instead of stressful - which in turn, will allow the agent to be more fruitful for me in the long run.
Is this too idiotic of a belief? Could you please explain why it is important to shop "MANY" agents in your opinion?

Well, it's not idiotic at all, but what happens when everyone on your short list says no? Cause they might. And it might not have a darn thing to do with your work. They could be busy; the list could be really full; they could be in a bad mood the day they read your query; they could be getting ready to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the local God Shop.

My idea was not that you need to blanket the universe and query all agents known to breathe and several recently passed over, but rather query more than one, and in fact plan to query a hundred.

If someone you thinks is a good fit turns out to be so, well, groovy. But what we sound like on paper may be a far far cry from what we're like to work with. You don't have to scan too far down the blog to see people having horrible realizations that their "reputable, first choice agent" is a candidate for the next Hail! Bop comment.

The other thing is agents are horrifying slow about reading things. Takes me 90 days to read a novel, and that's AFTER I dinked around for a month with a partial and two weeks with a query, not counting transit time. So, if you query one at a time, you can query 24 at most and 3 at the fewest in a year. I don't know about you, but that seems um...slowwwwwwwwwwww.

As for who chooses whom, those of us who've pursued the estimable Mr Clooney know it's not simply a matter of knowing the perfect choice, it's also a matter of him knowing I am HIS perfect choice. Sadly, those two things are NOT synonymous. Mr. Clooney probably gets as many hotel keys a week as I do query letters. He gets to choose which one, even though it's clear he's the perfect choice for all of us messengering them over.

Photos of Killer Yapp

Killer Yapp told Miss Snark it was a publicity photo.
Little did any of us imagine just *what* KY was publicizing till we saw
The Photo.

Miss Snark has fainted dead away.

Miss Snark Calls in Reinforcements!

To deal with the blog's surge in popularity Miss Snark has shanghaied her stiletto wielding colleague Agent C to assist.

Her first posts will pop up here soon.

You can email questions to her.

You can email questions to me.

Double the Snark, Double the Fun!

Back List

Flem Snopes asked:

Miss Snark said "When I pitch something I talk about what this book can do for them: it will back list well" --does any type of fiction "back list well?" Or is the backlist limited to textbooks, cookbooks, etc?

Textbooks don't backlist as well as fiction. People are always updating textbooks to accomodate new knowledge.

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was published (ie front list) in 1960. There are three editions on the shelf today at Barnes and Noble. I just bought one. That's back list with serious muscle.

And it's not just classics. Lots of amazing books/authors chug along under the radar selling nicely year in and year out: Pat The Bunny, Charles Bukowski, Zane Grey, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Orson Scott Card, Lord of the Rings, Tom Spanbauer.

Publishing makes most of its money on backlist. Front list is like Haute Couture during Fashion Week: noisy, loud, demanding all the attention. Back list is where the money is made, like the royalties for the dresses that realy work in real life and never saw the runway keep selling at Bloomingdales all year long.


Writing Conferences if you have an agent

Dear Ms. Snark,
(I've always found that Ms. is so much more sophisticated than Miss; when I think Miss, I think ballet slippers and chugging beer, not stilettos and sloshing pails of gin). (Miss Snark drinks gin in her tutu, not ballet slippers)

Anyway, here's my question. I'm going to a conference but I already have an agent (yay for me!). I have several projects in the works.

Do I still request editor appointments?
I definitely do not want to:
A. Step on toes
B. Make a fool of myself
C. Make my agent hate me because it looks like I don't trust her to do her job.
Thanks in advance,
Ask your agent.
I'd hate to say it won't matter if your agent is one to whom it will.

Why are you going to a writers conference if you have an agent? I may just be out to lunch on this, and I hope some of you can enlighten me, but I thought the point of a conference was to snag an agent or editor's attention?

I'm not much on clients approaching editors directly mostly cause they don't know how to do it. Most authors focus on how good their book is, when from an editorial standpoint that's a given. When I pitch something I talk about what this book can do for them: it will back list well; it will fit with a current title; it will get them some serious award consideration; it will appeal to a hot new market (think Latina fiction here). Yes of course it's good, is the unstated assumption, I wouldn't be talking to you about it if it wasn't.

Fictional categories *insert sound of hysterical laughter*

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm about 40,000 words into my first novel.

Here's my problem. I'm really struggling to 'categorise' my novel. Its not romance. Its not detective. Its not fantasy. It could possibly be YA. I'm not too sure. As to commercial and mainstream fiction...call me a nitwit and drown me in gin.....(the cheap kind that strips the varnish from your nails) but I don't know what any of that means. Not really.

I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction. This is partly because I like Faulkner and Twain and, can and have, reread them until I'm blue in the face. But mostly because I spend a lot of time in academia and text books. I just wouldn't know where to start.

I know my novel is about backwood Appalachia (Because it's always odd and curious and good for a character or two...and I know it well). Its funny. Its tragic. Its about children. Its about murder. But its mainly about life and death and the coping. (well, we know it's not about punctuation)

Is this commercial fiction? Mainstream? I don't know. I'm really stuck on how to label it. Any advice?

Oh Miss Snark always has a word or ten thousand of advice. Fear not.

First, you know it's NOT genre cause it's not romance, mystery, western, or sff. After that, all you have to call it is fiction. Let your agent, whomever that lucky sod turns out to be, figure out if it's mainstream or commercial. Who knows, maybe it's a whole new genre!

Commercial is generally how editors describe things that make their P&L statements sing: commercial means they sell a lot of it, or think they're going to sell a lot of it.

Mainstream is more staid. The Lovely Bones is literary ficiton, Sandra Brown is commercial fiction, and Jodi Picoult is mainstream. Oprah tends to pick books that are mainstream. Airport bookstores tend to sell a lot of commercial fiction.

And, don't worry about this right now. Finish the novel. Keep the serial scrubbers from Rabbitania to a minimum and worry about what to label the thing later. Right now your job is to write so well that agents don't care what it is they must sign you instantly.

Get to the point!

Dear Ms.Snark, (Miss Snark!)

There always seems to be a discussion on writer's boards re: how a query to an agent should read. Some say start off with a hook and a paragraph about the book because agents read so many queries a day, and they want to know immediately what the book is about.

Others say start out with a one or two sentence intro, such as "I have read that you represent mysteries, and I'm inquiring if you might be interested in representing my novel, Mystery Mystery." Then on to about the book, etc.

What's your opinion?

I'm in favor of you talking about your book, which I don't know about, rather than my fabulosity, which is of course well known to all.

I like a hook at the start. Hard to write good ones, but if you get and keep my interest I'm more likely to read your pages at something other than the speed of light.

All that namby pamby compliment shit is just blah blah blah. Winter is horrid enough without adding to the blahs.


Those Pesky Postage Questions

I've searching for an agent since well before I found out about the postal rate increase. I've got several SASEs out still there with . . . gasp . . . insufficient postage. I'm finding conflicting information online about whether these letters would be delivered postage due, or returned back to the agent/sender. You don't have any in your slush pile, do you? What do you do with them?

Of course I don't have any in my slush pile. I answer query letters within about five days of receipt, and that's way up from my normal 24 hour turn around time.

Miss Snark harumphs mightily at the idea that a standard query letter has been out for more than a month, but not everyone is as brutally efficient as Killer Yapp the Query Letter Organizer.

For letters that are dated before 1/8 (ie when the postage went up) I put on the 2 cent stamp. Letters after that are cast to the munificence of the post office. Mostly I think the PO will process the mail but this is just a reminder to put your OWN return address on the envelope in both the TO and FROM positions.

Where is Miss Snark's tinfoil when she needs it?

Ms. Snark-

I have developed a new children's book concept - technical/educational/literary, new to the international market. I am in the process of applying for a patent in the United States.

How can one get through to an agent or a publisher when one cannot send a query letter which
is specific enough to allow someone to copy the idea? The idea of sending out prototypes to random agents and publishers frightens me.

I have tried to set up appointments with potential publishers on a confidential basis to no avail (thus also learning the term nitwit).

Where should a foreigner unaccustomed to wading in alphabet soup begin?

When exactly are you planning to reveal your new concept? In confidential meetings at publishers? Are you planning on frisking the attendees? Making them surrender all pens and pencils at the doorway? Undergo Vulcan mind meld to make sure they don't even think about stealing your idea?

You're quite right to be wary of agents and publishers trying to steal your ideas and concepts. We live for that. It's why most of those letters with SASE's don't get returned. We steal the ideas, copyright them (cause of course we tell you you don't need to do that, remember) and then publish them as our very own. John Grisham, Dan Brown, Sandra Brown, not to mention Encyclopedia Brown don't actually exist. In fact the only mistake about the James Frey affair was the casting....we should have picked a guy to play the author who didn't snivel quite so much. But water under the bridge and all that.

When the patent office gives you your patent, and dog knows the way things are headed there, they just very well might, then go knocking on doors. Make sure you take an SASE with you. I have the patent on those.

Miss Snark Suggests a Stunner

Esteemed Miss Snark, Once an agent agrees to represent a client and requests revisions to a first chapter, what is a reasonable expectation of response time? (48 hours upon receipt) This agent did not acknowledge receipt of the revisions. After three weeks a request for response elicited this in part: I should not have to remind you, and I won't ever again, that I am also working with nearly a dozen other authors on their work, reviewing submissions daily, researching publications for the best matches for my authors, building connections within the industry, and creating submission packages for my authors, not counting the basic paperwork side of the job such as standing in line to purchase stamps, mailing off rejection letters and keeping files organized. My reaction was, "But that's your job!" Am I missing something?

Yes, a small stun gun, suitable for your reticule carried to your next meeting with this doofus.

This from any agent, let alone your own, is unacceptable. It's rude. It's more than rude, it's downright hostile.

Miss Snark has a long rant on why an agent is not "employed" by a client but one does not need to be in an employee/employer relationship to demonstrate common courtesy.

That aside, a couple things puzzle me. S/he says she can't email you cause s/he's standing in line for stamps? Working with a dozen authors? Researching and building connections?

I've had two clients bite my ass this morning cause they wanted some handholding. The reason I'm behind is that I've been doing follow up on sales, sorting out royalty problems, and negotiating a deal. The five minutes in to and out of the Grand Central Station post office to buy stamps at the dispensing machine doesn't even register on the radar.

This guy is full of crap. Please tell me he's made sales and lots of them, or you'll have to stand in the nitwit corner holding a sign that says "I could be writing but I have to fire my agent".


Dream big...I need the money

What is your opinion of this competion and its "prize?"

well, let's look.

The prize is a trip to NYC (yay!) and a meeting with four editors or agents.
Oh, and you'll get a publishing package from a ...wait, wait, wait..Outskirts Press?
Wtf? Who are they? Oh...uh huh. POD on a stick. Yummy.

But I don't get this: why are you meeting with editors and agents if your work will be published (and thus unavailble to be published by say..the editor's house).

And which editors/agents?

They sure haven't asked me.

How much does it cost to enter?
$15 for each ms.

Ok, let's do some math.

Figure 10,000 entries (and heck, we had 100 on the crapomter in 72 hours so I know 10,000 is a reasonable number).

$150,000 gross. Less some prize money, and a trip to NYC ($30,000). That's $120,000 to open some envelopes...and do they even say send in an SASE for a response? if no, it's just open, scan, shred...man, I'm in the wrong business.

It's not quite bait and switch cause they'll probably do exactly what they say. But if you have dreams of Binky Urban or Esther Newberg taking you to lunch at Michael's and signing you to a multi book deal, you're clearly cut out to be a novelist cause you have a great imagination.

It's probably not a scam in the true sense of what a scam is: what it is, is bunk. These people will PROFIT from your closely held dream that your work is fabulous and it will be like a ray of light in the mailbag. Everyone believes that to be true of their work. EVERYONE. These people know that. They're going to turn a profit next quarter knowing that.

Will it do you any good to enter? Probably not.
Will it hurt you? Probably not?

It's like buying a $15 raffle ticket for a chance at a prize of three days in New York. Of course, when Miss Snark buys a raffle ticket, the proceeds benefit the good works of the Sisters of Perpetual Prada; here it's benefiting the profit margin of Writers Digest. Sister Snark is not amused.

No More Spinach for you Miss Popeye

Ms. Snark:

I am trapped in the Twilight Zone of genre definitions.

My MS is a romance novel set in the late Regency Period which coincided with the early California Gold Rush Period. Since it was set in a certain period of history, I thought it was a historical romance. I ran the Synopsis through the Crapometer where it was posted as #97. I have been querying agents about the work.

One agent replied that I could send him my first 100 or so pages and he would review them. He was honest in his request, saying that he wasn't taking on new historicals just now, so mine would have to floor him for him to consider it. He wrote back that he really liked the story, but his historical list was full. Essentially, the MS didn't knock him off his feet. Just this weekend, I did equeries to some other agents who specified that they were looking for historicals. Two of them replied that my MS was not a historical because it has a male protagonist and that makes it a mainstream love story and not a historical and they are not looking for mainstream.

My MS has a strong female love who ultimately proves wiser than the male, at least in matters of the heart, which is sort of my view of the universe. However, I can't deny that the male figure is central to the story, and it is essentially his conflicts that are at the heart of the
obstacles and resolution.

What exactly is a historical romance verses a mainstream love story? Frankly, I thought the historical market generally was shrinking, and a mainstream love story might have a wider market base, which would be a good thing. But I find this whole thing to be a lot like the Twilight Zone. The same MS has been rejected by one agent because it is a historical and he's not taking on more historicals and then rejected by two others because it isn't a historical and they want historicals. The whole situation has me feeling like my law school roommate's hamster who spent a lot of time running around his little wheel and never getting anywhere.

I emptied the gin pail but that just left me frustrated and hungover, so I've come to the great one for help. (more gin is the cure for a hangover...that's why you buy pails not paltry little bottles)

Thanks in advance,

Unlike Popeye ("I yam what I yam") genre isn't genre. I can't tell you the number of times I've called something "a western" or "chick lit" when I really think it's something else, but hey, if I can make a persuasive case that it IS, who's to say it's not.

Categories can be fluid, but the trick is to remember to focus your query or cover letter to emphasize the parts that reinforce the genre you're pitching. In a western I emphasize the setting is (duhh) The West; that the heroine runs a ranch; that she's beset by evil lien holders. All are standard tropes of The Western.

I can also pitch this as chick lit, romance, and on days I need to really run on the hamster wheel: science fiction (ok, just kidding about that).

If one agent is looking for historicals, you pitch that. If his historical list is really full, you pitch to the side that isn't.

What you don't say is "this is a historical with elements of ..and then a long list". Pick ONE thing for each query, and assemble your case that this book fits that category for that query letter.

Genre bending is something I see a lot of now, particularly in mystery. Charlie Huston's dead detective makes him a vampire, but honest to dog, it's a mystery not a horror novel even though there are zombies.

This is very similar to wearing a Chanel suit to a negotiation. You're the same person you were in your bunny slippers but people are prepared to take you tad more seriously cause of how you present yourself.