Under the radar at Publishers Marketplace

Hi there Miss Snark,

I've been browsing the agent deals in Publishers Marketplace, and I was just wondering: do ALL agents post ALL their book sales here? I was researching some agents who I *know* are very reputable, and yet I couldn't see many sales for them. So that got me to wondering if all their sales make it into this source. What would be an agent's motivation for notifying or NOT notifying PM?

PM is the best resource in town but it's not a complete list of deals. I don't list all mine there. I've left off things cause they were anomolies for my list, or cause we had other concerns.

I always have a spike in e-queries when a deal goes up at PM. I'm sure that agents who aren't looking for any queries, or who don't need to build their biz (think ICM, CAA etc) don't list their sales.

Miss Snark Indexed!

I'm just pleased as punch to introduce the birth of the Snarchives' Index.
Miss Adventure, who clearly is deranged enough to consider applying to work as an agent, has graciously indexed the first three months of this blog.

Herewith: Snarkives.Blogspot.com

Take a look. Let me know what you think.
Yes, several of the posts appear more than once due to Miss Snark's inability to stay on one topic per post.

And a big tip of the Snark Stetson to the treasured Miss Adventure. I see pails of gin in her future!

Qualifications for writing novels

Dear Miss Snark:

I am writing a mainstream novel featuring a young adult character of a Bosnian-Muslim background set in 1994. The crux of the story deals with her identity crisis as her extended family come from Bosnia as refugees and her mother being mentally ill.

In the query letter I shall have the descriptor of my novel (which as you can see from the last paragraph I have yet to write) and before my writing credentials I was going to write a sentence to the effect that just like my character I am of a Bosnian-Muslim background, have a mother who is mentally ill and my extended family came to Australia during the Balkan War.

While my novel is completely fictional I am dealing with themes that are important to me and I'm passionate about and I'm thinking about including this sentence as it in a sense says "this is why I'm the only person who can write this novel" as well as kind of setting a backstory that I would be promoting if this novel was published. I know that this is very important in a non-fiction novel
(there is no such thing as a non-fiction novel) but I want to know if it it will help or hinder a fiction novel query letter.

From an agent perspective would this be a good or bad idea?


By definition ( James Patterson aside) you are the only person who can write your novels, regardless of topic. You don't need to sell an agent on that. Non fiction is a different story, but you said novel, so the rules of novels and ONLY the rules of novels apply.

You don't need to establish your bonafides to write about a subject. The classic example is Stephen Crane writing The Red Badge of Courage.

Write so well that no one reading it can believe that it's NOT real, and you've done your job.

My guess is you might be writing in your second or third language here which is a tough task but certainly doable. You'll want a native English speaker to look over your work carefully to spot any oddities.

One of my dearest friends who arrived in this country at age 19 with no English whatsoever still makes some very funny statements. Her most hilarious was thinking "whitetrash" was a geographical designation like Brooklyn, and her befuddlement at the outrage of some folks from WestVirginia is STILL one of our favorite mutual jokes.

Aleksander Hemon writes in English now; he's from Sarajevo. His books are beautiful. Read them.

Dead Agents

Hi Miss Snark,

Suppose an agent with a good track record wants to represent me, but she’s elderly and a solo practitioner. Further suppose that the agent sells my book, and then dies or develops Alzheimer’s. The agent or the agent’s heirs would continue to collect a commission on my book’s earnings, but who would perform the agent’s duties? Who, for example, would go to bat for me if I encounter a problem with the publisher?

Would you discuss the provisions that should be included in an author-agent contract to protect the author in such an eventuality?

Yes, the agent's estate is entitled to all the money, but nope, there's no one there to do the work. Nice situation, huh. You want to ask how an agent sets up her biz. Is she an LLC? Who inherits?

And forget elderly...anyone can get hit by a bus in this city, or die at a young age. Just this past couple of weeks there was the sad news of the death of an agent who was under 45, and the closing of a publisher after the untimely death of the principal some months back.

The only people who really are in a pickle are the ones who have books that are still earning money but who are not writing any more books. Those folks have nothing to offer a new agent. If you are continuing to produce work, your new agent may be willing to work on the old stuff as a courtesy. Or, if the dead agent's heirs are willing, they can split the commission with a new agent.

If there isn't a lot of money at stake, the dead agent's heirs can assign the commission rights back to you.

This is a tough subject to ask about but it's one you should. The LAST kind of call you want is "Your agent is dead, and the last royalty check was cashed some time back and we have no idea by whom or where your royalty is."

What's wrong with this query?

February 24, 2006

Dear Ms Stark,

(paragraphs about specific novel deleted)

Would you PLEASE give me your opinion. I also NEED a crap-o-meter of my query and my full snyopsis. (sic)

Thank you for your valuable time.

My professional regards,

(several thousand words of synopsis deleted)

This has to be some sort of wager from guys who ran out of steam debating whether Wilma or Betty is the better cook. I can see them now, gathered around the bar, dreaming up ways to toy with Miss Snark's sunny nature.

If by some horrid chance, this was a legitimate query, stand back, the sunny nature is about to have a solar flare up.

First, you spelled my name wrong AND got my title wrong. You also didn't even bother to spell check or even spell czech the email before you hit send.

Second, this blog isn't a drive through crapometer where you get to send stuff and I'll just merrily work away on it. Even a cursory exam of the blog, let alone a trip through the FAQ would reveal that.

Clean up your act. This kind of sloppy writing and thinking is the bane of my existence.

MY professional regards, right back atcha.

PS Clearly the best cook is Betty-Barney doesn't even own a car to go for take out.

Hardcover Prices and Miss Marian the Librarian

Dear Ms. Snark, (Miss!!)

A couple of my writer friends recently signed publishing contracts with a small press that publishes hardcover books primarily for the library market. I'm so happy for them both to finally see their dream come true! My concern (and I haven't told either of them this) is that the cover price on this publisher's books is kind of steep at $27 per book. How many readers would fork out $27 on a new, unknown author's first book from a small library press? I would think this might hinder their sell-through, though I understand the print runs are small. I will
certainly cheer my friends on and buy (gulp!) both their books, but I am curious about your opinion on the whole cover price thing.

Well I think $27 for a hardcover book stinks. I know publishers have to charge that much to allow for the even stinkier practice of returns, but library sales are non-returnable so this stinks even more.

However, this publisher has targeted a niche market and it looks like they're serving it. They don't price their products for the general public or expect to sell much there. Faulting them for that is like faulting Miss Snark for not knowing much about science fiction.

One of the penalties of having writerly friends is you have to buy their books. One of the penalties of being an agent is you can't give books as gifts any more cause everyone assumes you get them for free or you have a financial interest in them.

Life's tough all over. Take a moment and think about how great it is that we have libraries in this country that are free, open to everyone and staffed by people who want to help you find great books or good information. Time to head to the library and tell your librarian s/he is your hero. Take cookies.

Miss Snarks Top Ten Annoyance List: "reworked pages"

Dear Miss Snark:

An agent has had the full (fiction) ms for about 10 weeks. He didn't ask for an exclusive nor give me an approximation of how long he would take to read it. In the meantime, based on comments I received on partials, I have rewritten the opening chapters.

Do I let him know the material has been revised or is that the sign of a nitwit extraordinaire?

Get out your Blackberry. Click on the calendar portion. Count up how many days make up 10 weeks. 70. Even on my machine that is calibrated to Agent-Time (which we all know runs sloowwwww) you know that full novels are allowed 90 days.

No, you don't get to email him that you've been rewriting. If you do, you won't be a nitwit you will be the Prime Example on Miss Snark's Top Ten Annoyance List. I cannot tell you how much I hate it when people send me "revised, reworked, touched up" or other editions of their pages.

Why do I hate it so much? Well, for starters, I have to go find your manuscript. You'd think they're in alpha order? Of course they aren't. They are in order of date receieved (sort of) which means all the mss that came yesterday are on top of yours probably. Then, once I've found it, I have to reshuffle the new pages in. And the few times this has happened, the reworked pages aren't enough better to justify the work.

If this was considered "ok" to do, I'd spend an hour a day doing only this cause I gotta tell you I've never met a writer yet who wasn't revising, reworking or tweaking their work. Well, ok, the dead ones aren't but that's about it.

At some point, your ms is DONE. Right now, for this agent, what you sent is what he's going to read. Send the revised version to other agents, or when he offers you representation tell him you reworked the first three chapters.

Under no circumstances do you get to send him revised pages. Don't even ask.

Resending Query Letters

Miss Snark,

I had a question. I wrote a query letter that, frankly, stunk. I re-wrote it, and now it sounds a ton better. Can I re-send it to agents who sent a form rejection before, or should I just chalk it up to a learning experience and save them for the next novel?

Thanks. I really enjoy your blog.

You're welcome, I'm glad you enjoy it; me too!

Yes, you can re-send queries after they've been hosed off and serially scrubbed. Make sure enough time has gone by so that agents aren't reading two letters from you in 90 days but re-sending is ok. Are you including sample pages? More than anything else, your writing is what gets our attention. Include pages.


Good Advice from Miss Genoese

Well, normally when I refer to Miss Genoese there are declarations of war floating around cause she adores Mr Clooney almost as much as I; however, this time, truce.

She has posted an excellent piece on pitching editors at conferences.
Read it.
Take notes.
Read it again.
Know it, do it, be it.

And if you meet Miss G at a conference, tell her HANDS OFF MR CLOONEY!

(Thanks to "the other" Mr. C for the link)


Abandoned by Agent

Dear Miss Snark: Long time admirer, first time asker. I've got a short story collection--I know, not really your area, but I hope you'll be able to help nonetheless--pieces of which have been published in good literary mags, including one which Agent C lists as a "holy grail" journal. I had an agent for it, it went out, and I collected a cute manila folder of rejections, etc. Then, for some crazy reason, my agent decided to leave the business and get a Ph.D., leaving me agent-less. So the questions: May I rejigger the collection (I've since written newer pieces to replace some of the weaker ones) and start searching for new agents? Or will mentioning that an earlier version of this collection didn't fly reduce my chances to nil? And does the agency itself (where my former agent was an associate) continue hold the rights to the original collection? A million thanks with a bottle of Sapphire for yourself and a Greenie for Killer Yapp.

KY is drinking Italian soda these days in honor of the Olympics. He's hoping to turn out for the US Curling team for 2010. He figures his mastery of the Electric Slide will finally turn out to be a usable life skill.

To answer your questions: yes, no, and look at your contract. If there is no contract (and reputable agents and agencies oft times operate on a handshake basis) just tell them what you're up to. If there is a contract, find out what the termination clause says, and do it.

If you've had stories published in Holy Grails, you'll get interest. Don't forget to query widely.

Publishing Credential are not a Free Pass to the Dance

Dear Miss Snark,

This question rises from the depth of the other 90%. Those of us who are story-tellers rather than wordsmiths and try as we might will probably never write the gin-pail dropping query.

What if one of us poor slobs was to self-publish a novel, promote it on a web site and sell impressive numbers (insert own scornful number here.) Would you consider taking on another work by such a person with only that as a credential?

Before you cut & paste advice 3-C, (get off buttocks and do your time with magazine articles) let me be irritating and say that some of us feel that the qualities make for short articles are not the same as those needed to create a MS that doesn't have a serial killer or a shiny-toothed cop chasing an evil drug-lord.

My retriever says hi to KY and wants to know if he's up for a rabbit-hunt sometime?

First, KY wants to know if he has to bring firearms for a rabbit hunt. Sadly, his application for a concealed weapons permit was denied by NYPD. Something about his "known associates" being of questionable character.

Second, I'll consider anything you send me that's well written. You can write and self publish a great novel and sell ten zillion copies. I still won't consider it a writing credential, but it doesn't mean I won't read your second work.

If you write well, I'll read it. You can be unpublished, multi-published, published exclusively in Rabbitania, and looking to break into the North American market: if you write well, I'll read it. If I think I can sell it, I'll talk to you. If you aren't a nutcase, and I'm not swamped with projects, I'll probably invite you to the dance.

Publishing credentials are nice, but it's the writing that counts.

Once more with fervor: good writing trumps all.

Is it me?


I'm a long time writer with zero publishing credits. Even though I've written a dozen novels, none of them seem to interest the agent or publishing industry very much. I don't write according to industry standards, and I don't follow the crowd on what's hot and what isn't. I'm what you would call a 'rogue' writer. I write what I like to write, and I'm damned good at it.

But every time I submit a query for one of many of my completed book projects, I get back the usual rejection letter--telling me that it's not right for them, or they are full, or (here's my favorite line): "Hope you can find an enthusiastic agent for your work."

What's the hang-up? Am I supposed to follow the industry in order to get published these days? Or what?

Well, I'm not sure what you mean by "follow the industry". The industry is pretty big: 175,000 books were published last year, and more than half were adult trade books of some kind.

If you've only queried a few agents on each book, that's like wondering why you can't get a date if you only ask out supermodels. Widen the pool.

If you've queried 12 novels to more than 50 agents and all you get back is a form letter that says "we're full", "not right for us", chance are you aren't darn good at writing.

If you've not availed yourself of a critique group, or a writing conference, I'd suggest doing so. Run your stuff through the crapometer.

Just saying "I'm good but the sucky industry doesn't recognize my talent" is overwrought hyperbole and delusional. Wake up. Smell the coffee.


Exclusives Still Suck, only more so

I'm a nobody - the lowest of the low - unpublished without any citable credentials. But my query is pulling - in a short time I've put out 29 partials and ten have turned into requests for full.

Now my dilemma - I have a request for a partial from a big time agency. A-list agency with a lot of experience selling novels similar to mine. I don't want to get into specifics, but not only does this agency ask for exclusivity, the period of exclusivity requested is open-ended.

I don't want to miss out on the opportunity of having my stuff considered by them, and I think I have two choices:

a- Send the pages without mention to the exclusive thing and let them think what they want.

b- Send the pages with a letter explaining the status of the manuscript at the other agencies and hope they read it anyway.

I lean toward a.

What do you think?

I think exclusives stink.
I think open ended exclusives are insanity.
I think lying smells bad too.

I'd write back and say "yes you are the cat's pajamas and yes I want you to fall in love with my work and think I'm the best client you've seen since Nixon discovered the joys of chasing commies, and I don't want to start what I hope will be a long and profitable relationship with you by telling lies of either omission or commission".

Chances are they will work it out with you.
If they won't, you'll at least know where they think you are on the food chain, and we can all hum O! Planktonian at the next school of fish reunion.

Pitching editor or agent at a conference

I will be attending a conference in April, and will soon be able to choose the agent/editor to whom I would like to pitch. My first inclination is to choose an agent pitch, but I was wondering if there are advantages to pitching to an editor that might outweigh the advantages of pitching to an agent.

Also, the agent I am considering pitching to prefers the first three chapters and a synopsis from all would-be clients, rather than just a query letter. Since that's what most agents ask for at a conference pitch anyway, it doesn't seem like it would really get an author ahead of the game to pitch to her at the conference. Is there enough of an advantage to the face time of a conference pitch to make it worth pitching to her anyway, or am I better off using my one allotted face-to-face meeting to pitch to a different agent, one who normally requires query letters but may request a partial from those who are pitching to her?

I'd pitch an agent over an editor any day of the week. First, if you have an agent, you won't need to know what an editor wants; your agent will know. An agent gets you access to editors, one editor does not get you access to an agent.

Second, agents acquire more in any given year than one single editor does.

Third, agents can take things on if they aren't right for a particular publisher; an editor can't.

Fourth, I'm an agent, of course I think we're the first choice, top of the heap, and most desirable. Sheesh.

One Kidney, via media mail

Dear Miss Snark,

I am negotiating an offer with a well-known “how-to” publisher of writing books for a proposal that I submitted, which they are interested in. From the conversation I had with the editor, it sounds as though they will be making me an offer in the next couple of weeks. I am a novelist as well, and I am hoping to get back into the agent game (I was once represented for a different, unsold novel), but have been told by others that there really is no need to have an agent broker this deal. Do you think I should find an agent to broker the non-fiction deal? And if so, can I be so bold as to say: “Have offer, need agent…oh, and consider my novel too??”

Yes, you absolutely do have to have someone look at a legal document that you sign that involves your writing career and money. You don't need an agent to make the deal but you have to have someone (publishing lawyer or agent) look at that contract before you sign.

Boilerplate isn’t boilerplate; lots of things are negotiable even on a "standard publishing contract", and of course, there is this little known factoid: publishers write contracts that favor themselves (I know it's a stunner, but there it is).

Even if you sign it exactly as it is, if an objective reader looks at it and advises you, you’ll at least know when to send off that kidney.

Quote This!

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a multi-published author looking for an agent for the first time. I queried an agent at a prestigious company, who got back to me in record time (two days) to tell me she didn't handle my genre, but that she had handed my material over to another agent at the agency who would be contacting me.

Agent 2 contacted me in a few days, very cordial, had her assistant send me
a paper to sign giving permission etc. We had a couple email exchanges during that time...then nothing.

It's been eleven months. Every three or four months I send a polite email query inquiring about her timeline and get no response. Sometimes I alternate that by querying her assistant...and get no response. (Except for once when I was told how busy the agent was.)

Seriously...wtf??? Does she have any intention of ever reading this thing or am I fool for not considering that door completely closed? Is this a ploy to get me to go away and I'm just too dense to see it?

Let's review.
U send Q
A says "not I, but B"
B says "I'll read it, sign X".

Do you see anything here that marks YOU as the fool?
Ya, me either.

In all seriousness, why would you want to work with someone who treats you like you don't matter?

Fuck that noise.

Get an agent who treats you with respect.

You wouldn't tolerate this kind of behaviour in any other kind of professional relationship, why would you even consider doing so here.

Get off your ass, tell this agent she's a nitwit, and find a new one. And if you need assistance, just forward this blog posting to her and say "this is about you".

Miss Snark Dances in Follies

When I was more foolish than I am now, I sent my manuscript off to a well known publisher. What I sent was plainly trash. They rejected it. Now, I've really rewritten this thing. There is no comparison in quality. The first three chapters received the most attention. They were boring as heck. (Is heck boring? One wonders.) Anyway, I'm pleased with the rewrite. Would it be stupid to resubmit to the publisher who rejected me? And if I do resubmit, should I explain that they saw it once before, but it's been exstensively rewritten?

Thanks for all you do. You've saved me from folly more than once.

First, how much time has passed? More than a week one prays. More than two years is better.
Chances are, if you were unagented, your work was read then by someone who is not still there reading the slush pile. They've either run screaming into the night, enrolled in obedience school or gotten promoted to another job.

Re-title it, re-send it, and keep your Killer Yapp muzzled.

And if this gets published, I want "miss snark, you've saved me from folly more than once" in the acknowledgments!

Miss Snark, old salt

Dear Miss Snark,

Let’s say I’m a writer and you’re an agent. In the post James Frey era of candor, which would you rather I be, the forty-something author of a first novel, or the fifty something author of three previous hardly selling YA novels (as well as seven other books of non-fiction).

Or, forgetting the age thing, as if you could, is it easier to sell the first novel of an unknown or the 11th book of a mid-to-bottom of the list journeyman (assuming it's the same book).

Well, I am an agent, and I'm pretty sure you ARE a writer so let's leave off the hypotheticals. None of these questions matter because no matter what I want, you are who you are, and your work is something I want to represent or it isn't.

What you are asking about is packaging, and any agent worth his/her salt can change packaging six days a week and twice on Sundays.

YOUR job is to write the best book you can and find an agent with a salt shaker.

Plogs....your chance to chime in

What do you think about "plogs" the combination plug and blog over at Amazon?
I started reading more about them over at Biblio Buffet and of course, several authors have asked me if they should be doing this.

As readers, not writers, what do you think of this?

Arthur A Levine Says it Better than I

A Snarkling brings this blog entry to my attention and I think everyone should read it. There will be a quiz.

I am my own publicist


I have a question regarding query letters. I know that a query letter should include any writing credentials such as previous publishing, contest wins, etc. I haven't published before and I have not taken the contest route. But I do work in public relations and would be able to promote my book were it ever published. Do you think it's worth mentioning my ability to publicize myself? I've been told by a couple of authors that that promoting the ability for a writer to promote their own work is becoming very important as publisher PR/marketing departments are overworked, but I don't know whether to believe them. I was just curious if this was true or would I be laughed at for including that as a possible selling point for myself.

It can't hurt to mention you work in pr. However, its much MUCH harder to promote yourself than promote other people and press release writing doesn't mean you can write a great novel.

The thing that would appeal to me about your PR background is your contact list. Do you have good contacts in non-book media that will help you with this book? Publishing companies have the book media down pretty well, but they can always use help "off the book page". More than your actual job title, who you know will be a plus.

Do You Have to Tell All?

Dear Miss Snark,

I had an agent. She submitted my novel to 12 publishers who summarily sent 12 rejections. After that, my agent dropped me.

It seems to me that it will be impossible for me to get a new agent now. If I query literary agencies again, do I admit that I HAD an agent and that she dropped me? Do I not mention it at all? Do I lie? What the hell am I supposed to do?!

It took me a very long time -- many, many queries! -- to even be accepted by the agent that I HAD.
The other option (that I see in my present state of doom) is to simply skip the agent scenario entirely and send my novel to small presses that consider unsolicited fiction.

Thank you. Really, thank you.

You don't have to say anything in the query letter. You must however mention it at some point before you open a vein and sign an offer for representation and mail off your first born child to seal the deal. Sooner is better than later. A new agent will be spitting mad if s/he finds out "Miss Snark's Snout of Gin" was previously rejected last year by the same editor s/he just sent it over as the next great True Crime tale.

And it's perfectly fine to submit a first book to publishers while you query agents on a second book. Just don't sign any publishing contract without having it looked at by a publishing lawyer or an agent, or that joke about blood and first born kid won't be quite so funny.

The Rime of the Ancient Snarkling

Dear Miss Snark,

Recently you remarked that if a prospective author informed you he/she was "ancient" that would not be a plus in your book. It raises the question of how much weight you give the author, as separate from the manuscript. Suppose you received a novel that you loved, and then discovered the author was "ancient". Would it give you pause? Would you think twice if the author, was garrulous, anti-social, clingy? (You pick your turn-off.)

Most authors, I'd guess, think it's the manuscript and only the manuscript. Maybe there's other stuff, aside from the givens of civility and a modicum of professionalism, going on.

Miss Snark is nothing if not avaricious. She likes the idea of signing authors who will generate exquisite works of great value (and cold hard cash) for years to come. That said, sometimes she's forced to sign people over the age of seven and hope for the best on the actuarial tables at Monte Carlo.

Age isn't a disqualifier any more than it's a qualifier. You can be 107 and write YA books. You can be 10 and write true crime. I don't care. I look at the writing.

However, once we get to "am I the right agent for you" then it's not the writing. It's all about you and your "needy, garrulous, anti-socialist, clingy" self. Some of those make you a very very bad choice for SnarkCity. Others make you a charter member. When I talk to clients before signing, one of the things I'm trying to do is get a sense of that.

I certainly wouldn't say no to a great novel cause the author was 103 but I also wouldn't sign them to a three book deal.

"Writers Wanted" ads

Dear Miss Snark,

I often see blind ads in the backs of magazines "Manuscripts Wanted, for submission to publishers in North America" or something along those lines.

When I see an ad like that, I automatically think, "Vanity pub or scam". Am I right to assume that? Are there any legitimate agents or publishers that advertise in such a manner? Does it matter in what publication I see this (for example, is such an ad in Cosmo more likely to be a scam than one in Writer's magazine?


No legitimate agent advertises for clients. Legitimate agents WILL sometimes call you or contact you if they see your work in a publication (like Harper's, or Cosmo, or the New Yorker).

No legitimate publisher advertises for writers. They may give you guidelines for submitting work on the website but they do not PAY to solicit you or yourwork.

No exceptions.

Reason: they don't have to. Every agent and publisher gets enough material over the transom or by trawling the net or lit pubs. Paying money to get more is just witless.

The only people who need to advertise are those who generate revenue by signing clients (ie fees for reading or publication) and not by selling books.

Legitimate publishers advertise books, not themselves.
Legitimate agents are listed in directories, not the classified ads.

Paying for Blurbs

Dear Miss Snark,
I came across this announcement at BookSurge.com:

Promotional Copy by a New York Times Bestselling Author
Full book review and quote for your cover by a New York Times bestselling author $399

I found it alarming to think that authors whose works I loved may have fallen on hard times, forced to alternate between blurbing books for $399 a pop, and submitting verses to greeting card companies.

You’ve written in your blog about how much fun it is to find authors to blurb books—and I assume you accomplish this feat without proffering $399 to potential blurbers.

What do you advise your authors to do when they are being courted by other agents and authors who want blurbs? Do your authors limit their blurbing to books by friends—or do they decline to do so, to avoid the risk of someday losing the friendship of a good friend who has written a bad book? Do they focus on books by first novelists, as a way to repay the kindness of the famous authors who helped them? Are they elitists, who will only blurb for a book that will be released by a publisher they regard as equal to or better than their own, or are they more egalitarian, willing to blurb any book, even a self-published or vanity press book, if it is truly deserving of their recommendation? Do they write something positive, even if they are lukewarm about the book?

When it comes to blurbing, what would Miss Snark do?

First of all, paying for blurbs is NOT industry standard. Would that it were we could all quit buying knock off blurbs full of ellipses and clever editing from the Senegalese Blurb dealers at 57th and 6th.

BookSurge is a POD mill. Nothing they do should be accepted at face value, or taken to mean it's "industry standard". They may produce books but they aren't in quite the same industry I am.

There is no cut and dried, accepted standards and practices about blurbs. We know they are pretty much meaningless for sales but we still do them.

I solicit blurbs for clients, as do editors. I pass on solicitations that come to me for my clients. If they don't want to do it, I help them devise ways to say that while avoiding "you suck and your book does too".

Some authors won't do any, some only do a few. Each author has his/her own criteria.

Miss Snark on the other hand will comment about just about anything put under her long quivering snout. Oh wait...that's Killer Yapp's nose.


How Long waileth the author

You stated in a recent reply that it takes you sometimes 90 days to read an entire manuscript. If you send a manuscript to a top editor in one of the major houses in New York, about how long does it take? I know an agent has no control of this, but ballpark. My agent recently sent my novel out, but I did not ask him how long he thought it would take. I guess I didn't want to seem anxious.

Sometimes overnight, sometimes a weekend, sometimes a month, sometimes a year.
There's absolutely no standard whatsoever.

Generally if I'm doing a big push on a book I think will sell fast and well, I try to get someone to buy it on an exclusive, or preempt over a weekend or a week. Generally however, novels get read within a month or so if you're doing a big push.

Things I'm just sending out cause I've already done the big push and the damn thing didn't sell, those can take longer.

I pretty much pull a submissiion if I haven't heard from someone in 120 days. Sometimes we go back and forth with "I'll get to it soon" and "have you gotten to it" for another couple months.

I've also had editors send rejection letters, then actually read the ms a year later, and reject it again.

Try not to worry about this if you can help it. There's no way to control it, and there's no measure of "what's standard".

When are you actually a client?

Dear Miss Snark,

Some months ago a friend put me in touch with his agent. She read my novel (literary fiction), liked it, said she wanted to represent me. Given her profile, and what I knew about from my friend's experience (whose work it took some time to sell, but she persisted and got him a nice two-book deal), I was happy to have her on board and decided to forego the all-out agent search, a process I'd been dreading.

I revised the manuscript and sent it back about 4 months after our initial contact. After that, several emails I sent went unanswered, and on the chance they were getting blocked by an overzealous spam filter, I finally sent a fax, very politely inquiring about the status of my ms, and asking her to simply let me know if her interest in the book had waned since our earlier contact, since I would in that case need to seek representation elsewhere.

I received a prompt email reply, apologizing (not too profusely, it must be said); the ms had been on someone else's desk, she had read it, likes what I've done, thinks it's ready to go, and she attached the agency agreement (which I haven't returned yet).

We did have one phone conversation, but unfortunately I was not in good form and did not ask as many questions as I should have.

Basically I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with our interactions, and am contemplating looking elsewhere. I'm hoping you can tell me where I stand.


--Must I tell Agent A that I've decided to seek representation elsewhere before contacting other agents?

--Must I tell other potential agents about the situation with Agent A, and if so, do I name Agent A (note that no submissions have been made)?

I'm torn about this. Agent A has a fine reputation, and did good work for my friend. She has a huge client list, I know, and I'm afraid this means she takes on lots and lots of projects but maybe doesn't sell so many. I know it means she won't have time to do a lot of hand holding, which is actually okay with me, but I'm also afraid it's going to mean unanswered emails/phone calls when I have questions or things I want to discuss. Most of all, of course, Agent A wants to represent me, and there's not telling whether Agents B-Z (and beyond) will. In fact, during the long period of not hearing from Agent A, I did approach Agent B (who I met and so was able to avoid a messy query process), who turned me down. One rejection, I know, but it gives me the jitters. Thanks for all the good advice.

Ok, let's start with some basics. "Hand holding" is not how one describes answering emails from clients. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I'm as distant as they come, but even I respond to emails from clients or potential clients (ie those I've read and expressed interest in representing) and I don't lose manuscripts for four months.

Second, you have an offer, but you don't have acceptance so technically no contract exists between you. Thus you don't have to tell anyone else you query about Agent Absentminded.

I understand your loathing for the agent querying process. The only person who loathes it more than you is I. However, like caterpillars and cocoons, querying serves a purpose beyond the obvious.

You KNOW what you're getting into if you sign with A; no sympathy from me in six months if you feel slighted, undervalued and unappreciated. The only thing that takes the sting out of that is a big fat sale which it sounds like she can do.

I'm not going to tell you what to do but I am going to tell you to pay attention to what you're seeing. A stands for Absentminded, not Anomaly.

Too Fat! Too Thin! Too Tall! Too Small!

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm pulling my hair out. I've received several personal rejections with specific feedback on my partial. The problem is, they contradict one another. One agent felt that the pace of the opening was too slow and focused too much on character at the expense of the story. Another said that it was too fast paced and didn't give her a chance to delve into the characters! Aargh! What's a writer to do? (I swear they received the *same* chapters.)

We do this on purpose. We're alerted by your post office (all agents pay an annual fee to the post office for this service) that you've sent chapters to two or more agents. Once alerted we put your chapters aside for our weekly meetings on "Make the Authors Crazy" night. We draw random comments from the hat and put them in our rejection letters. Then we mail them back to you. This is also the night we burn SASEs to light cigars and cherries jubilee. It's really a lot of fun, and pretty much the reason I became an agent.

Well, ok, that's not exactly 100% true. When have you known any three people to agree on what makes a book suck, or makes a book great? You only have to delve through the comments section of this blog to see a HUGE divergence of opinion on books that are mentioned.

Another blogger and I periodically exchange emails with "you liked THAT???" as the subject line. She's a pretty fair reader and astute judge of books...mostly. Every time I disagree with her of course, she's wrong.

As for what to do with these varying comments: ignore them unless you can see they all point to an underlying problem. Or, think all of them are right and consider what the book would be like if you made the changes.

One of the things that most writers have a very very hard time learning is how to distance themselves from their writing. You can use rejection letters to help you learn that. Assume the criticism is spot on and read the novel to see why the editor thought that. Learn from it.
Or, just continue sending out chapters for our weekly meetings...once I post this, I fear our slush pile will drop dramatically.

Querulous about Ages

Miss Snark, I'm working on a book right now and I'm about halfway finished. I'm 17 and will be turning 18 in August. I was wondering something. If I finish the book and query an agent when I'm still 17, would the agent take me seriously? Should I wait until I turn 18 to try and query or still attempt to query an agent when I finish the book, even if I'm still 17?

If you're worried about not being taken seriously because of your dewy youth, don't mention your age. You'd be shocked, shocked! at how many people don't mention their ages in query letters. In fact, the ones that do generally are ancient, and they don't realize that's not a big plus in my book at all...not that there is anything wrong with being ancient; I plan on being it myself one of these days.

Remember too, you can't sign a contract without a parent or guardian's signature if you are under 18 as well.

Can I Ignore the Guidelines?

Dear Miss Snark:

An agent with strong credentials recently started her own agency. I sent her a partial on a project, following the online submission guidelines. I also received a form response, assuring me the submission materials were received.

The guidelines were very specific that responses would come in 1-2 months and not to query on the status of the submission. The guidelines also asked not to query multiple projects.

More than 4 months have passed and I've not yet heard on my submitted partial. And, I've got a new project that has editor interest for the full manuscript. I'd like to get this project in front of agents and the reputation of this particular agent, coupled with the fact that she's building her client list, puts her high on my A list as I seek literary representation.
While I want to be respectful of her guidelines, I'm unsure of how best to proceed.

Is it acceptable to send an email, asking the status of the first partial? Or is it better to query the second project through the online submission guidelines, ignoring any mention of the first?

She's overwhelmed with submissions, and if she's starting her own shop, she's got a LOT of things going on. The query stack is pretty much at the bottom of the To Do list every day, and right above it is "reading partials".

Therefore, as appetizing as this agent is for you, you should query others, and you should query now. You should NOT send another query to Appetizing if she hasn't gotten back to you on the first one.

You can email her about the status of the first project. If Appetizing has said "I'll get back to you in 1-2 months" and doesn't, then normal business etiquette applies. Yes, you can email her. Yes, you still have to be polite, but agents are not deities despite all our efforts to appear as such. You do not need permission and you don't need to apologize. This is a business transaction not a supplicant seeking the attention of the Great and Powerful Agent of Oz.

What you can also do if another agent offers representation is email Appetizing and say "you're at the top of my list of desirable agents, I have another offer, can you let me know if you still want to go to the dance with me".

Most agents are not slacking off on purpose. It's daunting to see the reading pile at the end of the day and most of us don't want to just summarily eject all comers.

Independent publicists

What's your opinion on the value of new writers (I have one book out now, another coming out in the fall) hiring publicists? I am going to try to make a concerted effort to do more with my website, which I understand is my best marketing tool, but other than that, do you think a professional publicist is the way to go or a waste of money?

It depends on what you need to accomplish. If you need media attention in a short amount of time, ie a big fat splashy launch and lots of review and feature attention, you'd be a nitwit not to hire a good publicist.

If you are a new writer, and you've got 2000 hardcovers to move, you'd do well to focus on talking to book clubs, and readers directly. No publicist can do that for you cause that's marketing not PR.

I'm a big believer in the value of publicists but they are not the universal answer to getting attention for your book.

Miss Snark Gets Succinct

My novel has been requested by several agents and there are two (very good) agents reading it now. However, an excerpt of the novel is going to be published in an upcoming anthology by a major publisher with a 15,000 starting print run. This is the second anthology in a trilogy (I also have a story in the first book). Should I have mentioned this to the agents? Would it be beneficial to do so now, while they're still reading?


Does the fact that a partial has been seen by a potentially large readership -and yes it is said in the antho that it's an except -matter at all?


My second question is: I've had a couple of editors request the manuscript-they are both from major publishing houses. I also failed to mention this in the query thinking it was not important (I know I'm in the running for the Nitwit award). But I'm rethinking it. Should I perhaps tell them what editors and from what houses requested it now while they are still reading, perhaps sending as an update?


Always include this kind of info. What on earth made you think you shouldn't? Yes, you are in the running for the Nitwit of the Week award, but the week is yet young.

P and E statements

Hi there Miss Snark

Thanks so much for keeping the blog going -- I do love it.

I often read the acknowlegements page in books to trawl for agents' names. In one I picked up recently, the author thanked her editor and her publisher. I was wondering: what is the difference; what does each one do for the book and what contact do they have with the author?

Thanks so much!

Sorry about the absence. I was away working on a Chapter 14 Mission: rescuing the Free World from an alien invasion.

Publisher is both "the company that produced and sold my book" and the actual person who runs the company. In cases such as with Random House, Penguin Group and other Big Ass Companies, publisher is a title, somewhat like Vice President.

The editor is (generally) the person who does the editing work and is your go to person for solving editorial problems. The publisher is the chief decision maker generally--the one who had to say "yes" for your book to be bought.

The bigger the company, the less likely you'll work with the publisher in any meaningful way. The bigger your book, the more likely. Put both those on a graph for some 3D viewing pleasure.

The publisher makes it all happen, the editor makes sure that what's happening is a good product.