3.04.2006

This is not "glittering prose"

Gotta love a guy who dubs himself Slush God so I slunk over to read his post on the latest slush annoyance. I think that one queried me too. Either that or KY has been preparing for the Oscars a little too vigourously.

Prolific? I don't think so.

Dear Miss Snark,

I've been enjoying your blog for a little over a month now...just wanted to ask a quick (and probably silly, nitwittish like question): how important is it to you that your clients are prolific writers? And how many books a year do they need to write in order for you to consider them prolific?


The longer I write, the faster I tend to write as I learn more and more about how to tighten (and how to begin each novel with a tighter base). What do you hope for in your clients?


Thank you (kitty Bonzai says 'hi' to KY)!



KY doesn't speak to cats anymore since that unfortunate incident at the Bronx Zoo but if he did I'm sure he'd say "hi" in return.

Now to your question: are you insane?


The last thing I want is to have authors cranking things out like this was a widget factory. At most I'd like one novel a year. You start producing more than that, you'll saturate the market AND most likely your writing will suffer.

I want authors who can produce good books consistently. Fast doesn't even enter into it unless the publisher is hot to make "expect a book every February" part of the marketing plan.

Generally authors who are writing too fast are missing out on the benefits of distance and objectivity. For that, you have to let something sit for awhile, then go back after you've cleansed your palate, not to mention replenished your word pallette, with something else.

Slow down. Speed kills.

No one went broke selling snakeoil

Most of this is from my blog, but I wanted your opinion on the ethics of such a thing. Some things are my comments on the idea, obviously.

This past weekend, my mother and I stopped by Barnes & noble. Mom wanted another book by her favorite author. I was looking for Ann Rassios's Godquake, which they didn't have. At the checkout counter, Mom asked the checker how a new author goes about getting noticed: we had just spent over an hour looking through the sci-fi/fantasy section and I was less than chipper.

The clerk talked about book signings, advance copies, and such, and then handed Mom a slick flyer with the announcement "Get published now" blazoned across the front. She passed it onto me; I glanced at the iUniverse label at the bottom and resisted blurting out, "This is a vanity publisher or something. This isn't my idea of publishing." (At this point, I'm sure someone will come out the woodwork announcing that THEY published through a vanity publisher and everything is peachy, but hey.) I didn't want to cause a scene--I'm not good at real life scenes, only fictional ones.

On the inside of the brochure, a double spread says that , "Barnes and Noble is opening its doors to the very best iUniverse authors." Open it again and there are testimonials from Natasha Munson, Sharon Boorstin and Gary Marino along with the steps needed to publish your book now. (tempting so far, isn't it?)

Step one: Publish your book for an introductory rate of only $999 Now, I can't be certain, but I pretty sure that I haven't spent $1000 worth of paper, stamps or time on sending queries yet, so I'll stick to what I'm doing.

Step two: When you earn Publisher's Choice, iUniverse will present your book and marketing plan to the appropriate B&N buyer. So how is this better than getting an agent, getting an editor and having the publishing house market it to the best B&N buyer? I was watching publishers very carefully in the store, and I didn't see iUniverse on anything

Step three: You book will appear on the Trade Paperback New Release table in the high traffic area at the front of B&N for a minimum of 60 days. Appear, like magic,huh? Good thing I write fantasy.

The rest is up to you the brochure proclaims.

The only thing left is the small print on the back. Publishing packages range from $299 to $1099. Some include cover design, or even a cover design evaluation and a "tune-up" of the promotional text on the back cover. "A great choice for authors who want their book to be a serious contender in today's competitive publishing environment."

They also offer editorial services "at an affordable price" and claim to "offer the most comprehensive range of marketing and publicity products available from any publishing services provider."

I need to go lie down. I'm feeling faint. It could have been the nachos, but I doubt it.




This is not unethical. iUniverse paid BN to hand out those brochures. In fact, the staff person at BN might actually think s/he is doing the customers a favor by giving them this info. You surely have noticed a few other areas where ad copy might be a tad suspect (Are you reading this by the memoir section? or by the diet book section? or by the "Get Rich in 30 Days without Breaking a Nail section?")

Snake oil salespeople are the second oldest profession. iUniverse and Barnes and Noble only count dollars on their bottom line. They don't get points for helping people, or worse, giving most people the very very discouraging news that probably they are never good enough to be commercially published. Why would they? It doesn't increase their bottom line.

However, just because this isn't unethical doesn't make it a practice I would want to support. Depending on how far you want to go with this, you can give the community relations person at the local BN a call or write her a letter and say "yanno, this really is a scam cause paying someone to get published is called vanity publishing, not trade publishing and making people think that's all they have to do to get into BN is a corporate policy I'm not very comfy supporting with my dollars". Then have your other local writer friends do the same.

Then shop at the indie store.

If you don't have one, shop at Powells.com.

You'd be surprised what voting with your dollars can do to a corporation that only values the bottom line.

Miss Snark steps up to the plate armour

I grovel in homage, O Most Exalted Queen of Snarks!

Please can you answer a market question, or at least point me in the right direction to research the answer myself?

I'm considering attempting a Medieval military adventure series in the vein of Cornwell's "Sharpe", but with more plate armour. Would I be wasting my time?


The thing is, this sub genre seems to be dominated by established writers of earlier generations: e.g. Cornwell and Macdonald Fraser.


Is this because the sub genre is dead, and these chaps persist through a kind of grandfather clause? Or is it simply that not many people can write historical adventure?


My sword is ever at your service (so beware sentences beginning "Who will rid me of this turbulent...")


There's something rather charming about a swordsman at one's beck and call. Makes the question of how to move those ne'er do wells out of the subway doors a bit more fun (for you non NYers, there is a sub group of sub humans who ride in the space in front of the doors on the subway and then forget to move their sorry asses out of the way when the doors open. It's the subject of many a rant on CraigsList).

But, I digress.

I didn't even know there was such a thing as medieval military adventure. Perhaps because my idea of military adventure involves a handsome man in a naval uniform rescuing Miss Snark and her poodle from a desert island...

but, I digress.

Here's the thing. You have to write the thing that fills you with passion. You have to write something you love the way you love your children: all the time, even when you want to murder them. You have to write something you love so much it doesn't even cross your mind to ask "am I wasting my time" because to NOT write it would be wasting your heart.

If medieval military history is what makes you lose track of time and space out during conversations with your spouse, then that is what you will write.

There isn't a genre in the entire world that is so glutted that there isn't room for a great addition. The key is "great". Which is why you have to love it, cause you may hear a lot of "no" but if you love it, you will persevere.

And there is no such thing as "a grandfather clause" about why books stay in print. I assure you that the beady eyed accountants in the basement at Random House do not leave books in print if they do not generate sales. Ergo, if they are still on the shelves, they are selling. And if the authors are dead chances are they won't be producing more books (you'd think this would be an ironclad rule, but it's not). And if there aren't more books coming and this genre is selling, well...sounds like a time for a good man with a sword to ride out of the hills...

But, I digress.

This is your creative life and your passion. Do what you love. Make it great.

3.03.2006

Slurping up the Snarkicisms

Oh Miss Snark is getting her paypal account set up right now. Forget all that stuff I said about pod people -- Miss Snark is headed for the Mother Ship!

Slurped up from the New York Times. I'd link to it but it's one of those registration sites--ewww.


By SEÁN CAPTAIN
Published: March 2, 2006

Though not all blogs may aspire to literary permanence, they can achieve it through the new Book-Smart software from Blurb, a publish-your-own-book service. The software, which is expected to be available free later this month at www.blurb.com, features a "Slurper" tool that automatically downloads and reformats the contents of a Web log into a book that bloggers and their admirers can purchase online.

Slurping is not all BookSmart has to offer. It simplifies the layout process by providing design templates for various kinds of books, including cookbooks, photo books, portfolios and volumes dedicated to pets and babies. The software guides users through design decisions like choosing text styles and how many photos will appear on each page. (Killer Yapp is ready for his close up!)

Pricing for printed versions of your book from Blurb starts at $30 for an 8-by-10-inch full-color hardcover volume with dust jacket and up to 40 pages. A book of up to 80 pages is $3 more. (Blurb plans to eventually offer paperback editions selling for about 30 percent less than hardcover.) Authors will also be able to set up online bookstores through Blurb's Web site.

Although an early version of the software occasionally stuttered or froze, Blurb expects to have the kinks ironed out in time for its public release. (Oh Miss Snark is the first in line!)

PS for those who may be new to this blog, or perhaps still bleary from the evening's festivities please remember you'll need a lever to get the eyebrow back in place when Miss Snark sounds like this, ok.


(Thanks to AN for the linkage)

it's not paranoia when they really ARE talking about you

Yanno that odd feeling you get in the subway just before the guy next to you throws up on your shoes? That odd feeling right before an editor calls to say, "yanno, we had the deal memo all banged out but I'm moving to Rabbitania and they aren't going to do Snit Lit here anymore"? Yanno?

Well, yanno, I got that feeling tonight. It might be from reading my email and the links to Something Fell

Boy, once the curling competion at the Olympics is over, these Canadians really have a lot of time on their hands to write really amazing true crime stories.

(Thanks to quite a few people who also love her site for giving me the heads up)

Private Dicks

Dear Miss Snark,

At the risk of becoming the nitwit of the day, I have to ask a question. Forgive me if it seems so obvious from your post, but my little pea brain is fighting it. Since only one person commented on it, I must be in super denial mode. You said, "I can't sell private detective novels to save my life right now."

Is that market over saturated? Can you please give me some insight as to other markets that are over saturated from your stilettoed (is that a word?) vantage point? What about cozy mysteries or suspense?

I thought a good character, a good story, and good writing would win every time, but maybe I'm missing something here.

Many thanks--you give this stay-at-home mom of three who hopes to become published someday a break during the otherwise chaotic day.


First, let's all remember that if you want to write private detective novels, you should. Things go in and out of fashion and trying to write to the market is just nuts.

That said, I can't sell private detective novels right now. By private detective I mean things like Robert Crais' Elvis Cole series: a guy in an office solving cases. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not getting them in the slush pile much, and I'm not seeing new authors who write this on the shelves, and I'm not finding many editors who want the one I have.

I'm seeing a BOATload of weird ass amateur sleuth novels. Some of the listings on PM make me wonder what's going on over there at Berkley. It's like "What Color is Your Parachute" lists meets the cozy. This is not to say I think that's stupid, cause I don't. It's just unless you plan on having your heroine be a professional goat herder and harpist, they aren't going to buy it. (That example is just for you Bill E. cause I think you're quite the quadraped)

I need high concept stuff for other places, I need "sensual crime thrillers" for a new line over at Bantam; I need suspense in a bunch of places, but almost no one says "send me a private dick".

But, as sure as I post this, some of you are going to come out of the woodwork with examples to prove I'm a nitwit. Before the blood bath begins, any examples MUST be debut writers in 2004, 2005 or 2006. The protagonists must be private dicks, NOT crime fighting computer geniuses (like MonkeeWrench) or bounty hunters or ex cops turned lone wolf hero.

Have at it!

So, you didn't send pages...shall we call for wits to knit?

Dear Miss Snark:

Please help me!!! I sent out 32 queries with a SASE but no sample pages!!! Worse yet, my query letter left alot to be desired (so does my synopsis and outline...but I'm working on them per your snarknicitious comments).

My only defense is that I did this long before I found out about the holy grail of snarkness. Never-the-less, I received almost all of them back with a form letter rejection, which was not a surprise after reading your blog.


What can I do to stop the blood loss? And does this mean I'm 32 steps closer to the 100 rejections that prove I'm a completely witless writer?


Also, I fear that I might sound like a nitwit asking this, but do I send the first five pages with the query or can I use five from another chapter?


P.S. By the way, a gin 'barrel' might be best for those long slush reading sessions. It's helped me through several bouts of nitwittery...cheers!


well, let's just say that "pail" doesn't start with P for petite, puny or pint. More like "Plentiful"


Now, to your query question.
You can rework and resend that query letter, and this time include the first five pages. Yes, they have to be from the first chapter..and if you have some sort of horrible prologue, forget sending that. Send 1-5 of chapter one.

None of those 32 got a chance to see your actual writing. They'll probably all say no again, but what the hell, why not. It's not against the law, it's not even nitwittery.

Two Writers, one agent...ohhh...a threesome?

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a literary agent and am currently working on a proposal for a memoir. An completely different non-fiction proposal is being formed with another person - he does not have a lit agent.

I know that I'm supposed to find out if my current agent has an interest in representing/selling this co-authored proposal -but how does writing a book with another person work? Does he end up signing with my agent? Should he and I draw up a written contract so neither one of us can legally walk off with the idea and sell it? If he gets a different literary agent, does each agent split the commission on the sale? Are there different percentages worked out for co-authors, or does the advance get split 50/50?
I'm also assuming that approaching my agent with this new book is a bad idea, since we are focusing on nailing my memoir proposal and, of course, selling it to the best publisher for the best advance possible. But the side project is a nice respite from all the personal drama. Thanks in advance!



You fail to mention this groovy new idea to your agent and you're in a WORLD of hurt when one or both of these sell. Book publishing contracts almost always have a little clause about what you can publish before the book in question has hit the market and how long after. Yes, it's boilerplate and it can be negotiated, but the boilerplate is there and if someone misses it cause, gosh, they didn't know, well...you'd soon discover what Stiletto Wrath Looks Feels Sounds and Smells like. Let's just say they write vampire novels about this.

Ok, now, about co-writers. I have two teams working right now. I insisted that I represent both parties because, as you might expect, Miss Snark does not work and play well with others. The clients were ok with that cause none of them had an agent in the works. If the other writer signs with someone else, the split is negotiated. Assume nothing.

Here at Snark Central each writer has a separate contract with me-my standard agency contract. Each of the two teams have written agreements with each other, spelling things out. I have copies of all that stuff.

I make it VERY clear to both parties that this is team effort, no running around trying to cut anyone out of the deal.

We did have an author who left one of the projects before it sold but we just wrote yet another agreement to deal with that. (You can see why sending things to me makes me nuts...I have files and files and files of paper!).

I think you should hash out the agreement with the other writer before anything else. That's the weakest point of all these relationships. And if you're both writing NOW, you need to decide NOW who owns what piece, percentage wise. Trust me...when people start talking money, reason is on vacation.

Speaking of topics that refuse to die...credentials

Hi Miss Snark!

I am forever editing my cover letter, and have a question about credentials.


While I have published short stories and articles, which will be included in my query, I also have some other things I'm wondering about:


I am the head writer of an Internet firm. My writing, essentially, appears all across the Web. I have written websites for major clients including Kellogg's, Perdue chicken, various pharma companies, and tens of other companies in every sector from technology to publicity.

A quick example: I have written a bevy of articles that appear in www.strengthforcaring.com, a website recently launched by Johnson & Johnson.

Does any of this matter to an agent? It shows that my writing has been approved by many people (internal and client-side, stakeholders and the general public); my words have been read by thousands of people the world over (I've also written International websites).


Again, does this matter? Or do I stand a better chance by writing that I was once interim mayor of Rabbitania?


No, it doesn't matter. Unless of course you are trying to persuade an agent to represent you for your web/technical/perdue chicken writing.

Agents are interested in credentials that relate to the project at hand. Narrative credentials for a novel or memoir. Unless you wrote a saga about chickens for Mr. Perdue, no dice.

And the very fact that you use the word "stakeholders" in a letter to an agent says you've had your head up the corporate ladder too long for my taste. Anyone talking to me about stake holders better be talking Westerns or Vampires. Maybe both at the same time!!

PLEASE stop worrying about this. If your writing is good enough, you won't need to mention chickens, drugs, or whatever else you are up to over there.

Now, the Mayor of Rabbitania..that one I'd lead with.

Agents without Contracts

Dear Miss Snark:

I've been working with my agent for five years. I've never signed a contract with him. Our relationship is defined on paper when we sign a contract with my publisher. Is that normal?

When I was starting out, I read most agents don't ask clients to sign contracts until they've sold a book. Lately, I've been reading about authors who have contracts with their agents before selling anything. I've always had a suspicion that my agent wants to give himself the freedom to back out of our relationship whenever he wants to and that worries me.

Would you please explain why some agents require clients to sign contracts and others (or just my agent) don't?



Many legitimate, effective, successful and hot shot agents operate on a handshake basis. No written contract from an agent is NOT a red flag at all.

This is how the business used to operate - it was "gentleman's word" and of course the relationship and authority to act was spelled out in the publishing contract. I'm not sure when it changed but lots of us now offer written contracts. I prefer it cause it spells things out and there's a written record of this that and the other is agreed upon.

I know your agent doesn't operate on a handshake cause he wants to be able to dump you in a heartbeat. Even those of us who have contracts can give clients the old heave ho with a mere 30 days notice and a letter. If we're really furious with you, we send it in the SASE you sent your original query in..oh wait, guess I shouldn't mention that in case JA Kornrath is reading.

Nothing you've mentioned makes me think there's anything amiss. Quit fretting. Go write something to make you both wealthy.

Online Writing Forums

Dear Miss Snark:

Your Snarkiness surprised me with an offhand comment a little while ago (Post: I'm Almost Finished with the novel) where you advised everybody to stay AWAY from online writing forums.

Gasp! Far be it from me to snark back at you, but WHY?

I've been part of an excellent online forum for two years now, and it would be hard to measure either the quality or quantity of the myriad benefits I've gotten from it.

My willingness to learn trumps my pride. What am I doing wrong? Please help my nitwit brain to understand! If you have a reason why we should avoid online forums (and you must, or you wouldn't have said anything), then please, PLEASE, share it with your loyal Snarklings, so that we may learn the better path.

For sake of reference, the forum in question is Forward Motion. In fact, it was someone there who first recommended you to me.

Thank you for considering my question. May your ginbucket (gin pail) never run dry.
P.S. My cats send regards to Killer Yapp, and want to know: would he consider it tribute or copyright infringement for one of them to adopt the name Killer Yeow? (KY here: no trademark infringement as long as I get to chase them up trees in Central Park regularly)



Ok, it was an offhand comment, and I should have qualified it a tad more.

I don't mean places that actually talk about writing or critique your work. I meant places that talk about aspects of the writing life and seem to be full of people who are doing everything but writing, and are chockablock full of "information" from people who aren't in the industry and aren't published. Questions that start "I heard this on a writer's forum" seem to have a high proportion of utter bunk in them. And my dog, some of the people who post on them make Miss Snark look like Merry Sunshine.

Additionally, the question was from a novelist who was 80% finished and struggling to make that 100%, and that's a very critical point requiring focus and dedication. At that point the ONLY thing is to finish and anything that distracts you from that path should be ruthlessly pruned away...even to the point of (dare I say it) NOT reading Miss Snark daily. The great thing about archives is they are there when you are finished with the novel. There's nothing here (or on those writing forums) that is so date specific that it needs to be read the minute it's posted. NOTHING.

It's easy to squander time and it's really easy to get caught up thinking you're learning how to write by reading how to do stuff, but you learn to be a writer by writing. It's like math class: listen to the teacher all you want, but you actually have to put pencil on paper and figure out x and y to learn how it's done.


3.02.2006

Miss Snark Contemplates moving across the park

It has come to my attention that WordPress also offers blogging, and the site is searchable, a big plus considering Miss Snark's depth of commentary.

Here's the proposed new site

I'm just soliciting opinions right now.
What do you think?



PS ONE benefit is it's easier to post links correctly!!

Work for hire versus advances

Hey Miss Snark!

Wondered if you'd care to comment on the blog post, written by a woman who wants to bring back "work for hire" and
get rid of advances and royalties. (Something I'm sure the creators of the Superman comic strips would have something to say about.) This sounds like an utterly stupid idea for writers -- while being a terrific idea for publishers.

What think you?



Well, Miss Snark is always in favor of something that brings more money in for her authors. Let's do some math:



Author turns in manuscript and receives lump sum payment.


Year 1 Income: $25,000 from publisher who now owns the work outright, and rights to all income the work produces.

Year 2: Film company options rights to book.
Income to author = 0

Year 3: publisher in UK buys UK rights.
Income to author = 0

Year 4: Paperback edition to tie in with film opening is published.
Income to author = 0

Year 5: Audio book and ebook rights take off with success of movie tie in.
Income to author = 0

Year 6: Author has second book ready, and no publisher is willing to buy it for the amount of money it's demonstrably "worth" based on the success of the last one because they don't want to cough up 1.5 million on spec.
Income to author = 0


Gee...the only time Miss Snark likes six zeroes is when there is a 1 leading the line up.

This doesn't help authors as far as I can tell. Show me where I'm wrong; I'll listen.

The Guidelines all say different things!

Dear Miss Snark,

If the agent info in Writers Digest (that says query with SASE) differs from the same agent's info on agentquery.com (that says query, SASE, and first three chapters) (and yes, this does exist!) am I to assume I follow agentquery as the most up-to-date source?

Or am I to assume that agents are just trying to drive us crazy?


Yes, we are trying to drive you crazy. It's all part of our evil plan for world domination. I think it's going pretty well, don't you?

Here's the thing: y'all pore over those listings like they are the Holy Grail. We, on the other hand, fill them out once and forget about them until such time as it's clear there's something really wrong.

For example: If I got a dozen query letters for science fiction saying "I saw you on AgentQuery.com" I would drop them an email saying "hey guys, does my listing say SF?? If it does, can you take it off, cause I don't". AQ is pretty good about fixing stuff and getting back to me so I have some confidence in the site.

I don't update my listings, or even look at them very often. I don't even look at my website very often so it's entirely possible that of seven listings including my website, there could be seven different "what to send" instructions. (well, ok, you know Miss Snark is obsessive so there aren't but there COULD be).

Here's the way to deal with it: check as many listings as you can find. You can rank the sources as follows: anything printed and published like "Guide to Literary Agents" is out of date the minute you buy it; website listings (like AQ or P&E or WD online) managers are able to update much more frequently; and, an agency's website info is the default guidelines.

THEN, when you query you write in your cover letter "as per the guidelines on your website (or AQ or whatever) I am including" and then say what you're sending. That tells me where you got the info. It also helps me figure out if the instructions or the listing aren't clear.

And now, off to make other writers crazy.

True Crime Memoir

Miss Snark,

Would a sort of true-crime memoir need a full proposal such as would be included in a true-crime book (market, competition, bio, promotion, sample chapters, etc) or just the cover letter plus sample page submission required for a novel or memoir?

Normally, I would think cover letter plus sample pages for a memoir, but because this man's memoir has such a true-crime feel to it (he has court documents and police reports), I'm not sure. I ask because this gentleman wants me to write his proposal, but I don't want to waste his time and money if agents are going to want to see the whole manuscript instead.


I can sell true crime a whole lot faster and with less fuss than I can memoir these days. I don't even use the word memoir right now.

The last true crime I sold was pitched with a proposal but they wanted to see the whole book before coughing up the dough. It took me long enough to sell the thing that it was ok, cause while I was shopping the proposal the author was finishing the book so it was ready to go when I finally hooked an editor.

Bottom line: you'll need a proposal AND a full manuscript, proposal first.

Sporty Miss Snark?

I thought you'd be amused to hear that I was telling my husband about your blog and I mentioned the name, and he said, "Oh, yeah! Miss Snark. I hear about her all the time. She's great."

Considering my husband is a scientist working in politics who does not read fiction and we live a lot closer to Winnemucca than we do to New York, I thought this funny. Especially since I only
discovered your blog last month and I am a full-time writer. He said he's seen you mentioned on CNN, ESPN, and a variety of local and regional political blogs. Your fabulous snarkicity knows no bounds!

When you take over the world, can I still live in it?
(of course, but you have to bring the cookies)

Miss Snark is totally bewildered by the idea that ESPN would mention her snarkolicous self. She does not even own a pair of flats, let alone Keds. And, Easy Spirit commercials to the contrary, most baskbetball players aren't wearing stilettos.

Can this really be true? Has anyone else had a Snark Siting on ESPN? Or is there (peerish the thought!) another Miss Snark marauding about??

Miss Snark retires to her fainting couch with a cold compress and a tisane to recover from the very idea of breaking a sweat before noon.

3.01.2006

E-Queries...the other topic that refuses to die

Dear Miss Snark,

Why do most agents prefer to receive a query only (no partial) in the mail instead of email? I'm stating most based on the published guidelines.


I hate equeries.
There's no way to format or write an email that is visually easy to read without chopping things up into two sentence paragraphs. Formatting survives transmission only intermittently.

I use email for things I need to keep track of: conversations with editors and clients. I don't need to keep track of queries.

And once someone has your email address, it seems to magically transform itself into an invitation to "communicate".

When I opened my agency, I did do email queries. I was ready to embrace the electronic age. Didn't take too many really nasty responses to rejections for me to change my mind.

And I realized too that I was just giving the work a cursory look. If I'm clicking through my email while I"m on hold, waiting for Killer Yapp to finish his security sweep of the closet, or waiting for the UPS man to stagger up the stairs after I buzzed him in, then you're getting about three seconds of my attention, and not undivided attention at that. That's not how I want to look at queries.

How other agents feel about it I don't know. I know one agent who takes them and the number she gets is staggering. I haven't really asked my colleagues why they take them or don't. Maybe some of them will weigh in on the comments section.

And for those of you who think I'm the nitwit of the day for not taking equeries, put a cork in it. We've had that go round and the referee declared a winner. Case closed.

And if you're mailing a query, I think you should include five or so pages of the work to show how you write even if the submission guidelines say "send a query letter". Yes, there are some cover letters that demonstrate a person is utterly clue free about writing and publishing and you wouldn't have to read the pages to say no BUT most people, even good writers, can't write good cover letters to save their lives. Query letter = cover letter + pages.

The Colour of Spell Czech

Dear Miss Snark

Your post about spelling got me thinking. If you are being queried by a writer from Australia or Britain who use the British system of spelling (colour instead of color, realise instead of realize), would you prefer that they utilise the American spelling system? Or is your only priority that the MS is consistent and there are no spelling mistakes, whatever the preferred spelling method?

I also have a lead-on question. If the novel was published in America will the spelling be converted from British to America or stay as is?



I've read enough books with Brit/UK/Aussie spelling and syntax not to be thrown by it. I don't consider it a mistake at all. Just don't spell werds rong for whatever system you are using.

Some books are "Americanized", others are not. Lynn Truss' marvelous Eats, Shoots, and Leaves was not altered at all from the UK version, but the forthcoming "Is It Just Me" will be. It's the publisher's call.

Come back to the five and dime Crap O Crapometer

Dear Miss Snark,

My husband dared me to put "query" in the subject line and refer to you as Ms. Snark, but I resisted.
(excellent choice!)

I am indescribably fond of your blog, and want to thank you for providing such a uniquely helpful service. I learned more from it in a few sittings than I did in a semester at the feet (or at the end of one of those ubiquitous oblong workshop tables, at any rate) of the critically acclaimed author who taught my undergraduate fiction writing class. "Bloodless, self-absorbed crap" was the phrase for it indeed, although "hopeless mediocrity" is a better match for the teacher.

I know it's only been two months or so since the last one (regrettably, before I stumbled upon the blog), but are you planning to run the Crap-O-Meter again any time soon? I'd like to submit to it, of course, but watching and learning are nearly as good.

Your obedient servant,



Oh! I like that obedient servant thing!!! Does this involve warm towels, Mallomars and private screenings of Mr. Clooney's movies?? Sign me up!

I'm very sorry to report the Crapometer was deported to Paris, France. Something about undesirable alien, or maybe it was just undesirable influence, or maybe it was alienation of affection. Those legal papers had such a small font it was hard to tell. Dick Wolf has optioned the rights so I'm sure the true story will be revealed soon enough.

The State Department is working night and day to resolve the matter, given the clamor of Snarklings, but someone may have to step up and pay for a peace bond before Law Enforcement is assuaged.

I'm pretty sure this won't be resolved till Summer. Meanwhile, keep writing.

I love it but no

Dear Miss Snark,

As snarky as you are, I'm sure in your career you've sometimes had to write the inevitably tearful letter informing a novelist that although you dearly loved his book, you have to turn it down, but you're certain he'll be snapped up by the very next agent he submits it to.

My question is: what are you really trying to say? If you love the book so much, then what's preventing you from taking it and sparing us both a lot of agony? If you didn't really love it, why didn't you just reject it with a form letter? (Or, is this in itself a form letter?) In any case, is there something an author can do--within the law--to turn this around, through persistence, ingenuity, revision, chocolates, celebrity endorsements, having an excerpt published in a literary magazine?

Have a nice day (within reason),



Well, as you might expect, I never write letters tearfully saying I love it but can't take it on. I say things such as "I like this but I don't think I can sell it". And that's the dog's honest truth. I can't sell private detective novels to save my life right now. And I LOVE them. The market just isn't there for new ones. Or at least for mine. And really, that's the measure ... do I think I can sell it.

Alternatively, if I like something but you have proven to be a complete and total pain in the pita bread to be around/work with/deal with, you are "not right for my list" and will probably be much happier down the road anyway, so here's a rejection letter to get you started.

As to the form letter, if I've read your whole novel, I write you a realio trulio one of a kind letter. Try not to parse out hidden meanings. The only meaning is clear: no.

If you're getting a lot of "I love this but I have to pass on it" just keep sending queries. You'll hit the jackpot eventually.

Almost Done with the Novel? Read this

Hi,

I'm fairly sure you get emails like this all the time, but I'm not really sure how to find my answer and thought I would ask you, if you don't mind. I'm almost finished writing my first book. I've got about 80% of the rough draft done and have the outline to finish the rest. I've been writing for the last five years and am now not sure of the next step(s) to take.

While I live in New York and have some friends who are writers, no one I know is a published writer or an agent. I know I shouldn't solicit people I don't know, but I don't know anyone! I don't have clips of articles or stories to send to someone; I don't have a blog (ugh-how much am I lamenting the fact that I didn't start writing a blog instead of a book?) and I really don't know how to begin approaching people or if I should until I have something to send them--is a synopsis and a few chapters enough?


Any advice you could offer or websites you could point me to would be much appreciated.



First, finish the book. Nothing else until then, ok? Don't even think about query letters, synopses or who you know till then. If you violate this instruction (since you live in NY) I'll track you down and let Killer Yapp demonstrate what expensive orthodontia looks and feels like.

Second, write the next book.

Third, using what you learned from writing the second book, reread the first book. Fix all those things you didn't see the first time.

When all that is done you may think about query letters. When you get to that point email me, and I'll give you the next three steps.

And stay off the writer's discussion boards. You don't need to do anything but write, read some good books and as much good poetry as you can find.

This process will take two years. Just accept that and do it. Yes I know you feel like five years is enough but it's not. Better to invest your time wisely NOW and have a better product to send me than jump the gun and shoot yourself in the foot. KY doesn't like the taste of a lead foot, so slow down.

Form Rejection Letters

Dear Miss Snark

Every time someone asks about the meaning of form rejections I get more confused.

Is it standard practice among agents and editors to have one form rejection letter that they use for all rejections? Or is it standard practice for them to have several different form rejections with slightly different wordings, so for example they have one form letter for submissions that they think are crap, a different form letter for submissions that they think are okay but that they haven't got excited about, a different form letter for submissions they think are good but the list is full, etc, etc.......?


Well, I don't know about editors, since I'm not one, haven't been one, and after showing up at Random House for an appointment with an editor who works at Harper the security guards may never let me in to even speak to one.

However, your question was about form letters, not Miss Snark's diminishing grip on reality.

No, I don't have a wardrobe of form letters. I have one for "no" at the query stage. I have one for "no" at the partial stage. If I read the full ms, I'll generally write you a specific letter ("this sux, what the hell was I thinking").

In most cases it doesn't matter why I'm not taking something, it only matters that I'm not.

Promotions, yes it stinks, but here's some soap

Dear Miss Snark,

It would seem that all the cards point to authors having to be more proactive in their own promotions. Okay, fine.

Assuming we aren't all Lizzie Gruber, even the best efforts of most authors will get them a nice big buzz locally, maybe even regionally. But what about the rest of the nation? How many units sold is considered good enough that a publisher will consider extending another deal to an author?

If an author's ability to promote and market their own work is so important and has a direct impact on sales, what about the flip side of it all - when even the best efforts doesn't move enough units?

Does the publisher take any accountability when a book's sales aren't best-selling or even good-selling?

It's already been drilled into my head that I'll have to promote my snarkilicous buns off to sell my books. But if 90% of the burden is on me and my resources allow me only to build a buzz within a 4-hour car drive..okay, maybe six, that still leaves a heck of a lot of potential readers out of my reach.

When is my best good enough, so that my publisher will say - hey, we like her writing and she tried...Meh, let's go ahead and extend a new deal?


Frettin' the promo circuit,


First of all, your agent has an arsenal of stock phrases to get around bad sales. Some of them even work.

Second, you're assuming that you need national reach to sell "enough". Absolutely not so. If every single one of your 50,000 hardcopies sell in a particular zip code, it's still 50,000 copies.

Third, one word: internet. Even the most remote of authors (hello again Winnemucca!) can reach past the 775 into the 212 via her trusty ISP. If you want to reach readers in far flung ports, well, this blog is a great example of the reach of reader sites. Go click on the fan club link and follow the links to the map of where the Snarklings are located. World wide!

Fourth; Lizzie Grubman isn't a book publicist. I knew that instantly when, queried about which six novels she was taking with her to jail, she said simply "Danielle Steel"

Fifth: you can do a lot of outreach to indie bookstores via phone and email.

Sixth: you can do a lot of outreach to book discussion groups via phone.

Don't worry about this. Yes, you have to do it but it's not the Mt Everest you think it is. It's not a walk in the park either, you'll have some elevations, but one step at a time, and the next thing you know you're over the mountain and into the undiscovered country.

Get moving!

Dear Miss Snark,

I sent out about 6 query letters a few months ago for a non-fiction book I'm writing, and got a request for my proposal and sample chapters from an agent I think the world of. After I sent them she wrote to tell me she loved it, and then wrote again to ask for more time to think about it. She has some concern about my platform (or lack of it, actually), and says she needs some time to think out a plan for "finding a home" for me.

It has been almost 2 weeks since I've heard from her, and today I received a request for my proposal (from a query I sent out months ago) from another super agent who seems enthusiastic, too.


I do not want to rush Agent A because I know I would love working with her, but also do not want to miss the opportunity to work with Agent B if A decides against a contract with me.

Neither has asked for an exclusive, but I did stop querying others when Agent A expressed interest (I really adore her).
Other agents have asked to see it, too, but I haven't been tempted to send anything until today. What is the fair and smart thing to do here?



The fair and smart thing to do is GET OFF YOUR ASS and get to the post office. In fact, just read this blog on your Blackberry as you walk over. SEND your materials to B. Then send more query letters. DO NOT STOP until you have a contract in hand.

This is a business, it's not waiting for a boy to call for a Saturday night date. Besides, if you get 2 offers for representation (or more!) you're in a much better position to choose the best agent for you.

And there's a huge difference between "adoring an agent" and actually working with her. Lots of people think Miss Snark is the poodle's pajamas, but would be an atrocious fit for working with her. Even very nice people. Yanno, like you. Get cracking.

oh, so you want me now, huh??

Let's say a writer has had interest from agents, but before one offered a deal the writer was offered a publishing contract by a small publisher. Writer returns to agent and says they have an offer and the agent seems surprised, although they knew the writer was submitting their work elsewhere.

As is often the case, once you get material out there and the agents learn you aren't signed to another agent but still have a book deal, some seem to get interested in you.
What advice would you have for writers in such circumstances?

I think everyone who reads your blog believes in the value of an agent, and let's say the writer still wants an agent. Would you say they should consider offers from agents that rejected them before? Or jump at the chance for representation if someone credible comes knocking?


One author told me that they had no time for agents that got interested after a sale - as they put it, you've already done their job.


Yea, someone once told me that enough monkeys and typewriters in a room could write that author's novel too.

Of course it's nice when a prospective client shows up with a deal in hand. It jump starts the process and puts a deal in the win column; always a nice thing.

If you have a deal in hand and several agents making offers, evaluate the choices on a clean slate. Get over the "they rejected me before and they just want me now cause I did all the work" cause you've only STARTED the process, not completed it.

Choose the best agent you can get, and then you'll see just exactly what value we bring to the process.

2.28.2006

The Spelling Test Metaphor

Miss Snark is wading through the slush tonight. Several query letters had some "spell czech" errors. I noted them on the query letters, thinking I was being helpful for the next round these writers would send.

Then it dawned on me. They will get the query letter back, and think "ok, I'll fix this one thing that was wrong and then send it back to her"... like when you fixed mistakes on the spelling test in 4th grade and handed it back in for a better grade.

The problem of course is that a spelling test is a linear measurement. Spelling is either write or wrong (ha!). Diction is either right or wrong (usually). But whether I like a project enough to either read more or take it on is not linear, it's three dimensional, or more likely, four.

There's no 'fixing' things and working your way up to "ok I'll take this" generally.

If you get a query letter back with corrections, I did it with the best of intentions, trying to help but I think it creates unrealistic expectations.

What do you think?

Avoiding Agent's Never Never lists

Dear Miss Snark,
Since we all have personal tastes I was wondering what would happen if you received a MS that was well written and marketable, but was from a perspective you hate. What do most agents and publishers do if a story conflicts with their personal, political, moral, or religious views. In your case would you fill it full of stiletto holes before it landed in the garbage, or would you hold your nose and send it out as you might any other work? The only reason I ask is should it be the first option, then I have another reason to be nervous about who I'm sending a query to.




I don't take on work I can't stand. It may be well written but if it involves poodle evisceration it's not going to be on my list. I have about five things on my Never Never list. I tell people when they query me this is just something I have no interest in and I'm the last person in the world they want near their book.

There's no way to know this in advance cause I don't put it on my website. You'll just have to query everyone and take your chances. It's not a mistake to query someone and find they don't like something.

There are enough agents in this world that if you're writing really well, you'll find someone who thinks Miss Snark is a pinhead and can't wait to take on FifiFieFoFum the Poodle Slayer of Doom.

New Agents

In your opinion, is it often a better fit for an unknown novelist to sign with a newbie agent at an established agency or with a veteran agent.

I've been signed with a veteran before. My novel didn't sell and I got lost in the shuffle of her more lucrative clients.


But how does a newbie agent at an established agency send mss to editors? Do they even know editors?


Yes, they know editors. And if they work in an established agency they have access to the collective brain of the people who work there. And they have the name of the agency to open the door.

"Hi this is Newbie Doobie-Do at ICM" is a phone call that gets answered.

I think you should sign with an agent who loves your work, and has red hot enthusiasm for it and a couple of good ideas on where to send it and can hardly wait to get started. Age and experience are helpful but there's not a lot that beats excitement and willingness to work.

Everyone Knows This is True usually means it's not

My fellow writers and I have noticed a trend. It takes longer and longer for agents to get back to people. These days, agents routinely take six months to get through the process of reading partials and fulls before offering a contract.

But when I thought about the fact that advances are down, it made sense. Authors used to be like silvery fish, now we're krill. Agents must suck in vast amounts of us to make the most modest salary. To make things worse, publishing money seems to be moving toward non-fiction, big-book authors with clear platforms -- people who don't need agents.

Because of the increasing delays in dealing with agents, many of my friends have stopped submitting to them and are submitting to the few editors who allow it. More than half of my recently pubbed friends sold by going straight to an editor.

So here's my question: If the math demands a 70-client list, but an agent can't effectively deal with 70 clients, will agents become a thing of the past?


You've made some very interesting assumptions.

1. Advances are the sum total of an author's income
2. Agent's "routinely" take six months to read something
3. "Big authors" with "big platforms" don't need agents

When your thesis is based on three false assumptions, it's really hard to engage in dialogue. I guess I'll go count my meager earnings and avoid reading partials.

Nitwit of the Day!

To: "miss adventure"
From: "nitwit"
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2006 23:46:15 EST
Subject: Help!
>
>
> Miss Snark. Love the site, and the humor. Now, on
> to business.


uh huh. Let's take a brief pause here and review.

I am Miss Snark.

I am not Miss Adventure. I'm not Killer Yapp either.


If you want to send a question to Miss Snark, have at it. Do send it to her however, and not to someone who isn't.

Should I Fire My Sweet Old Agent?

Dear Miss Snark:

M. and I have been agent/client for 7 years. I've written somewhere in the neighbourhood of 13 books, seven of which have been sold during that time. Reasonably successful, prize-winning (or at least nominated, and hell, that's an honour, isn't it?), grant-receiving, and otherwise lauded (and occasionally panned and eviscerated) adult, juvenile and YA novels. I've been published in German! Russian! Croatian!

It's all good. And I should be happy about it.

Right?

Or should I?

When I look back, I realize that I sold the first two myself (she signed me with pending deals and I was so completely out of my depth that I jumped on to the first ship that invited me aboard) -- subsequent novels went to the same publishers (mostly) who said they would have worked with me anyway. There was one exception, which she actually did sell (and we did sequels to, at the publishers request).

M. calls me an "easy client" because I make virtually no demands. I don't push her, I don't call her and natter, I don't whine, I don't make unreasonable demands, I don't ask her to do anything if I can do it myself. I don't expect her to get me reviewed in the New York Times, I don't expect her to sell rights to Hollywood for a million dollars, I don't expect that everything I write will win the Pulitzer and blame her when it doesn't.

However, I think that it's possible that by being the "easy client", she's relegated me entirely to the back burner. Case in point, a very big impressive (to me) publisher has shown interest in a series that I have completed. It's a complicated deal -- two of the books are owned by another publisher and require the rights reverting -- and the last book needs a re-write, which I'd be delighted to do (in Pig Latin, if necessary, to work with this publisher). In this instance, I tugged M.'s sleeve about ten times, reminding her to call the publisher back, asking her for details of what they need, etc. Her responses were to simply forward notes from the publisher (who is extremely keen and all but promised a contract) with little tag lines ("will call later! must run!" and "talk next week!") And then, yesterday, I found out that M. actually forgot that the publisher had made a specific request. She did not pass it on to me until yesterday with an "Oops! Missed this!" pre-amble to the forward of the publisher's e-mail to her. Apparently, tired of waiting, the publisher called her and twigged her memory. I suppose I'm lucky that the publisher was interested enough to bother.

This all made me pretty vexed, I must say. It smacked an awful lot of dropping the ball, or at least forgetting that the ball was even in the air. So I took a look through my e-mail history with M. (I tend to do everything via e-mail and not over the phone because I like to have a record) and in retrospect, I can see several different instances of publishers being extremely interested, M. forgetting to follow up (or just accepting "we would take it, but it needs this that and the other" as rejection), and the whole deal falling apart or never getting off the ground in the first place.

God's teeth!

I'm very frustrated. Yesterday I wrote her a note saying that perhaps she ought to drop me if I was so easily overlooked (I was pretty angry) and I haven't heard back from her.

Am I out of line here? Isn't it her job to not forget any detail of any potential deal? Her "on my way out the door! will call later!" technique of answering almost every single one of my questions (and I've sent her specific, unanswered questions about particular deals that she's fumbled) is starting to lead me to believe two things: 1. That I'm an idiot. 2. That she just doesn't care.

Then she does something nice, like knits my kid a sweater and I think, "She likes me! She really really likes me!"

She's as nice person. At least, I think she is. But that doesn't change the fact that my bank account is hardly bulging and potential income is being lost.

I hate to admit it but I'm starting to feel like a person in a stupid awful relationship, whose friends are all sitting around saying, "Christ on a bike! She should leave that asshole!" Meanwhile, back at the farm, I'm just being an "easy client" and writing book after book after book while deals fade away in the distance.

Tell me what to do. Do I fire my sweet old agent who likes me and helped get me where I am today?



One does not have to be a jackal to be a competent and effective agent. One needs to be organized, and have enthusiasm for the actual work. Actual work is not lunches and award ceremony dinners. Actual work is following up on the endless details and keeping track of what needs to be done AND pressing ahead with foot dragging publishers.

Your agent is not doing this, and no amount of sweaters, hand knitted or otherwise, is going to pay the mortgage, and keep you published.

You need to have a frank discussion with her. Make an appointment to speak with her by phone or go there in person. If she blows you off with "rushing out the door", you give her one more shot. If she does it again, then you say we're done.

Agents don't get a pass on working hard for you even if you've had past success. The long standing relationship is why you don't fire her without notice, and why you give her a couple chances to discuss things, but its NOT a reason to stay with her unless you both agree that things have not been handled with the degree of enthusing you expect, AND that she plans to make some changes.

She may be overworked or over her head, or just doesn't like you much. None of that matters or should affect your decision This is your creative life and your income. You need someone to whip you up some deals, not a sweater.

Finding a Writing Coach

Dear Miss Snark:

Three agents (all AAR) have passed after reading my manuscript (topical literary fiction/family saga) and a fourth is now reading it. Any day I'm expecting a response that I'm guessing will mirror the first three: "Great story, but I'm not taken in by the writing (translation - good story but your writing sucks) -- signed, You're Dead to Me Forever (Miss Snark's interpretation of Best Wishes.)

I flinch as I ask the following question: Can I assume that reports of my death are premature and write the agent requesting the name of a topnotch, legitimate writing coach (as if somebody like that would take on my sorry ass) since the agent will never represent the work?

Note: The film rights to the ms were optioned early on to a legit film company so I assume the agents aren't BS-ing me about the quality of the story. However, because the story is very topical (and I'm not getting any younger here) time is of the essence.

Thanks in advance for the Beat Down,



If you've only queried four agents you need to query 96 more before you stop. You're not getting much more than a form rejection letter here so you don't know what they think of your novel, you only know that they aren't going to take it on.

If you've queried more than four, and four is the number who requested the full ms, and then passed with a form letter, yes, your writing needs some attention.

However, no legitimate agent is going to hook you up with a writing coach particularly if they are members of AAR. The Canon of Ethics for AAR is pretty clear about referrals to editors and it's not something they take lightly.

You need to search the archives for the posts about writing groups, and critique groups and get involved in one of those. I can hear you right now saying "but I don't want to waste time doing that, I just want my manuscript fixed right now". Impatience is the one thing that stalls more writers at the submission stop than anything else. They get impatient and send things out too soon, they get impatient with the process and quit querying too soon.

If you are hell bent on hiring a writing coach or an editor, cough up $20 and join Publishers Marketplace and search the site for people who do that kind of work. READ the books they've worked on before you make a choice. And expect to pay through the nose if you want good work. Good editors aren't cheap.

Yes, Agents can be rude nitwits...further examples

Dear Miss Snark:

First of all, thank you for this blog and all the hard work you do. It has been a well needed kick in the pants.

Here is my situation: I am a mother of three small kids (one, three and five) which means that any moment I have to write is a freaking gift from god. That being said, I have been able to write three novels in the last few years. The first was utter dreck, and while it was a good learning experience, it sits in a little box in the back of my closet collecting dust, and likely providing food and shelter for baby mice. The second, a YA novel, was completed two years ago. Last year an agent at - well, I don't know if I'm allowed to mention specific agencies . . . . Let's just say that her name shows up regularly on Publishers Weekly and her agency is
generally considered to be in the range of fancy-pants. Anyway, she requested the full manuscript last March. Last March. Not a word since. I've sent three requests for a status report (and yes, all with SASE's) and no response. To be honest, I don't really mind so much. I hate, hate *hate* the submission process. I find it stressful, mind numbing, and a
dreadful distraction from writing. I wish I had a secretary. The nice thing about the novel being out on an exclusive is that my mind was utterly freed up to write a third book, a mystery this time. I am still tightening it up, but I have to say that I am rather proud of it.

So here are my questions.
1. Do I assume that the agent is going to pass on the novel?

2. Do I write to the agent and let her know that I have completed a second novel?

3. Do I simply write to her, retracting the novel and commence the soul-crushing process of agent research and submission?

4. When submitting new queries, do I query each novel individually, in which case, what happens in the ever-so-unlikely event that different agents say yes to different projects? Can someone have more than one?

5. Should I contact the original agent and let her know that I will be in NYC for the pitch-and-shop conference, and perhaps I should stop by? Is that even done? Sometimes I imagine agents to be like exotic birds found in the wild. Easily startled. No sudden movements. Back away slowly, for god's sake, or they'll disappear forever.



1. The hell with whether the agent is going to pass-YOU are going to pass on having her represent you. I don't care how fancy her britches are, failure to respond to status requests for a year is rude. You may quote me. In fact, print this out and mail it to her and say "this is about you" with Miss Snark's compliments.

2. No

3. Yes. Only you do not think of the agent search process as negative. You adjust your attitude so that it's not something you hate so much you make bad choices like you did with FancyPants. The process is the process, but how you choose to think about it can change.

Every single time you think "oh man I hate doing this" you stop yourself and refocus. You'll need a phrase to remind yourself to think of this differently. Figure out what works for you, but it's along the lines of "finding an agent is looking for someone to champion my work and help me achieve my goals. It's worth doing well, and with positive energy." And you say that every single time you snarl at yourself, and you'll be surprised how much better you feel.


4. Yes, no.

5. no. NO. Really really no. Besides, you don't want her for an agent. You want someone who recognizes your value and treats you with respect.

What is pestering?

Dear Miss Snark -- How long do editors typically take to get back to agents? Or (hidden meaning exposed!), when has it been long enough since I heard from my agent that asking her "what's up?" is a reasonable touching bases, not pestering?



It's not pestering to expect an agent to update you monthly. Some editors are quick, some projects are hot, but alas some of both are not. Thus, it's entirely possible that "nothing new to report" is the report. Even then it's reasonable to ask your agent where your project is and what activity if any has occurred in the preceding month. If you don't hear from her/him by the fifth of the month, it's ok to fire off an email asking "wazzup".

2.27.2006

How many agents can you have?

Dear Miss Snark--

First of all, I wanted to say thank you. Reading your blog has been one of the elements that helped me craft successful query and cover letters! ("miss snark rocks" in the acknowledgement section is thanks enough!)

On to my question. I have been incredibly lucky: I co-authored a novel with a Well Known Author and it's been picked up by his Well Known Agent. The agent wants to see more of my work, and I do have manuscripts to send--but one that I think to be agent-ready is in a genre this agent does not represent and has no interest in representing.

I know it's not really kosher to have two agents, but how do you and multi-genre authors handle this? Or should I just count my lucky stars that I've gotten a Good One while I'm walking to the bank?

Yours, Hopefully Not More Evidence That Published Authors Can Be Nitwits

Sorry, this isn't a nitwit question. You may try again next week.


First, the WKAgent is technically an agent for you as part of a team. You need to ask him/her whether he wants your solo work. If he does, nothing precludes him from selling a book outside his normal interest area. This happens all the time. Authors have this terrible tendency to actually grow and change which can just wreck havoc on Miss Snark's well laid plans but so far her order for Robert B. Parker "write the same novel endlessly" fairy dust remains on back order.

If WKAg doesn't want this genre novel, you're free to shop it to another agent. You MUST tell prospective agents up front that you're part of a team represented by WKAg. The absolutely last thing you want is two publishing companies with rights to your "next work" cause neither agent knew to get that clause struck.

It's not all that common to have multiple agents for books, but it does happen. It can work if you're very straightforward about everything, and it will help if the agents know each other. You might ask WKAg for a referral.

Verb Forms

Dear Miss Snark,

Thank you for indexing your older blogs. I love it and can actually find things. Bravo to Miss Adventure for doing such a fantastic job. (Miss Adventure rocks!)

So there I was reading 'Miss Snark gets tense about verbs' and realized that I need more on this topic. This is an area that continually keeps me tense and longing for a massage. Verb tense, and how to avoid mixing them in a single sentence, let alone paragraph, is akin to black magic for me. I hope you'll consider revisiting this issue.



By the time your work gets to Miss Snark, you'd better have your verbs massaged, oiled, and organized. The only thing I do with grammar here is point out your mistakes. Heaven forfend I actually help you with it. That job is someone else's, not mine. There are a lot of good resources for this on the web. I periodically have to google up some myself particularly the ablatavive case for "to reject".

The very last word about Word Count

Ok, quit obsessing. Yes YOU. Quit it right now. Do NOT make Miss Snark get out her Word Ruler and whack you over the head. Cause she will. AND she'll enjoy it.

When you submit your work to an agent, and you need to indicate word count, click the little button on your word processing program that says "word count" and use that number. That's it. Do NOT start counting up pages and multiplying by 25o. Do NOT start obsessing about whether Times New Roman font is bigger/smaller than another font and thus can't adhere to the "250 rule".

Word count is an estimate. It's not like a bank account where you have to balance to the penny. It's not a way to trip you up ...oh my dog, the cover letter said this was 74,002 words but it's really 67,040 so I'm sending it back. Even if you are off by ...gasp...6958 words, no one cares. We just need an idea of where you are on the scale. At this point, I've read enough manuscripts that I can estimate how many words it is by counting the number of typos in the first chapter. The more typos, the more pages. Double points for every misused word. It's an ironclad corollary.

Obsess over your writing instead and you'll be much better off.

Mentioning Previous Representation

Dear Miss Snark,

A few years ago, I was repped by an agency known for launching the career of a top bestselling author of our time. About the time I was signed the principal died. Though I was still bound by a three year contract, I was disappointed that the successors didn't circulate my manuscripts as I had expected.

Nonetheless, upon contract expiration, we parted cordially , and they have fully released me from future obligation.Would mentioning this in my query letters make me appear
a)more desirable (the star-producing agency's loss is the new agent's gain)
b)less desirable (if star-producing agent couldn't sell him, who can?)
c)obnoxious (name-dropping, bitter, agent-basher)?


Mentioning what? That you're able to part cordially with someone who didn't circulate your manuscript? That you're willing to sign three year representation agreement? And what the HELL kind of future obligation could you possibly be released from?

Maybe what you intend to mention is you've learned your lesson about agents?

You neglect to mention the most important info. Is this the same book you're seeking representation for? If yes you have to tell prospective agents that the book has been shopped around, when and to whom.

If it's a different project you don't have to tell them.

The question of SHOULD you mention it is harder to answer. Agent hopping clients are generally not seen as "catches". On the other hand it's not agent hopping if your agent ain't hoppin' cause he's dead as the proverbial rabbitania doornail. If you're hoping for prestige by association, well, you aren't alone. There's a reason buildings on 51st street have a Park Avenue address and it's not cause the front door opens onto Park Ave.

Frankly, I'd leave it off. Let your writing woo prospective agents. And no more of this three year contract thing. That's just nuts.

Is this blog a public forum?

Several recent posts generated comment trails that were ruthlessly pruned by Miss Snark. In the course of that pruning, the statement "this blog is not a public forum" was thrown down. Several people rose to challenge that idea.

There's nothing Miss Snark enjoys more than a good wrangle over what words mean. She arms herself with an OED , a red ink quill pen, and asbestos underpants.


"Public accommodation" laws address whether or how an owner or manager of a facility can bar entrance to people he doesn't want to have on the premises. Generally as a public accommodation you cannot bar people without cause--they have to violate a code of rules or a uniformly applied standard. So, a motel can't refuse to rent to you because you are a writer but they can if you don't have a credit card, as long as they require credit cards from every person registering not just writers. The MTA can't bar homeless people from being in the subway system...but they can throw someone out for sleeping on the benches. The public library can't ban a homeless person from occupying a seat all day, but they can require him/her to behave according to a posted list of rules that include "not being an olfactory disturbance to other patrons".

My use of "public forum" was based on that sense of public. Your comments can be deleted at will, and arbitrarily. I can delete things that make perfect sense, and are totally accurate and illuminating to the discussion at hand. I can leave up comments that cast aspersions on the character of defenseless poodles. And I can change the rules capriciously. That's because this is not a "public blog". It's mine. Yes, it's used and seen by a truly terrifying number of people, and barriers to reading and commenting are pretty much non existent. BUT, if you don't like what I do, you don't have recourse, other than to stop reading. You don't have a right to be heard here, or a right to post. Even if I call you a nitwit. Even if you ARE a nitwit. Even if you are right, and even if Miss Snark is wrong (don't hold your breath for that one of course).

On the other hand, blogspot itself can't randomly take down blogs for no reason or for reasons that violate anti discrimination public policies and laws. They can't just take down blogs from citizens of Rabbitania at will, but they can take down blogs that are obscene or libelous. They have to post and adhere to a "terms of service" agreement with users. Even though we don't pay for the service, even though we don't have "a right" to have a blog on blogspot. Interesting, huh!

The difference of course is access to posting on THIS blog specifically and access to blogging in general.

Feel free to comment as I oil up the deletious button.

Thanking Agents for their Fabulosity

Miss Snark,

What are the expectations for agent "upkeep"? No, not that standard contract stuff, but letting my agent know I think she's a fabulous person. I don't want to seem weird (admit I'm weird?), but I do want to assure she knows her efforts are appreciated. I'm doing the recommended stuff--not being demanding or impatient (which is easy because she sends updates without my asking).

So-- if I see a book by an author we've discussed that I think she'd like or some other little thing, is it bad form to get it for her? Send holiday cards? Something? She works hard for me, and yes, I know it's a job not a friendship, but really she's just so fab I want to let her know I appreciate her without seeming like a simpering nitwit.


An email every Monday morning that simply says "thanks for all you do, you're deeply appreciated" would be really good.

If you think Miss Snark is a tad more distant than your own agent, you might email his/her other clients and get some ideas that way. Or all of you can pool funds and get some thing seriously nice that comes in a blue box from Tiffany. Killer Yapp suggests Steak of the Month, but please don't listen.

If you're truly rolling in dough from books I sold, feel free to buy me a house at Montauk.

It's not bad form to send gifts, or cards, but I always discourage it cause I'm such a minimalist and I live and work in a VERY small space.

Just saying it every once in a while is perfect. You never know when those little messages are the very best thing that happens to her that day.

oh man, this one hurts-Fred Busch dies

This one just plain hurts. Here's the obit from the Washington Post.

From the source: Publishers Market Place deal reports

An earlier post wondering if all deals get posted at Publishers Marketplace, and the ensuing comments, brought the head of PM to the Snarkosaurium. Herewith Michael Cader's comments:




In our experience, there is no single reason people do or not not post deals to PM.com, and to try and simplify that process will only lead to incorrect conclusions.Relative newcomers should understand that PM.com itself has had a transformative role in how deal information is viewed and used, and that process is still very much underway.

Deal reports used to be almost entirely ego and/or initiative. Which meant they were both sparse and inconsistent (among other things). Our driving idea from the beginning was that there were multiple important business purposes to be derived from a consistent presentation of deal data, distributed widely throughout the community. "Transparency" is not something the book business was immediately comfortable with, and there are still many who resist it--even as, over time, the abundant benefits become clearer to those who participate rather than simply make assumptions.

When we started, the deal flow was small. For five years now, it has grown month after month--and still, as Miss S. notes, it comprises only a slice of overall activity. (Let's say it was around 4,000 transactions in 2004; 5,000 in 2005; headed for 6,000 or more in 2006; etc.)

Reporting parties are not just agents; we get deals from editors, publicists, authors themselves, foreign purchasers, sub-agents, and film agents. Over time, deal records become a big part of the functional resume of agents, editors, and other licensors; they signal your buying interests (and client styles) to the market; and most importantly they drive collateral activity--foreign sales; film/tv interest; media leads; submissions; and more. And in the macro sense, a more transparent marketplace is a smarter and more efficient marketplace, in all kinds of ways.

No disrespect to Ms. Gerritsen, but my sense is that the main reason certain big authors (and it is not all by any means) don't have their deals reported is because they are often renewals of existing contracts, or they have multi-book deals in the first place, or the web of relationships--foreign publishers, interested film parties, etc.--is already so mature that eliciting additional interest and attention produces unwanted leads rather than driving productive contacts. For better or for worse, there's little that's hidden about the finances of the most successful authors (even though I empathize with the impulse); you could learn a lot more about the earnings of a big author by running a few simple calculations from their Bookscan figures than you would ever get from a PM.com report--where our quirky deal scale is designed to encourage a useful level of financial information, without requiring full disclosure.

Yes, there are a small number of agents and agencies who will not report as a matter of longstanding (e.g. pre-PM.com policy), though even those agencies will sometimes have their deals reported by the publisher, or the author, or a foreign buyer. But no agency of scale does not participate--run a search on ICM, William Morris, Trident, Writers House, Janklow Nesbit, Inkwell, Sterling Lord or others and you will find ample entries. Not their entire line of business for sure, but still a large number of reports.

Octavia Butler--updated

Even I, avowed non-reader in the SFF categorey, knew and admired the work of Octavia Butler. She died this weekend at age 58. Galleycat, as usual, has the scoop.


Here's another place to read more about her, an interview at Jelanicobb.

I found her when she wrote "Parable of the Sower" and didn't have to read much to be uterly drawn in and engaged.

If you've read her, what did you most like about her writing?


(Thanks to Cindy for the heads up on the interview link)

Kate Braverman

In an earlier post, I linked to an LA Times article about Kate Braverman. The article painted a picture of a writer who seemed seriously over the top about herself. I'd never heard of her or read her work, so I was rather amazed to hear she thinks of herself as in the canon. I thought maybe the article was a bit of a joke.

Well, no, it's not.

Turns out Kate Braverman has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder but doesn't take medication because it stifles her creativity. Ok, fair enough.

So, knowing that Kate Braverman is ill (and bi polar disorder is an illness as we all know) why would the LA Times print this? Did they want to make her look like an ego obsessed bitch?

Knowing she has this disorder makes asking her questions about her place in the canon akin to asking Grandmother Snark's opinion about Miss Snark ability as a literary agent and printing that she is the best agent the whole wide world, and most of the known universe-- it may in fact be true but the source is a tad unrealistic.

If Kate Braverman is in fact bipolar, she's not a reliable source of information about herself.

Taking advantage of a person who is ill seems pretty low to me.

I read the article once before I linked to it, and again, after the comments it generated. The information about her bipolar condition is buried deep in the article and never referenced again as the source of the grandiose statements. Bad bad writing, and worse, cruel.

Is this for real?

For all her charter membership in the irony, snarkasm and elevated eyebrow deadpan, dry sense of humor department, there are times when Miss Snark isn't quite sure whether something is really a joke, or so awful that it IS a joke.

Most recent entry in the category: the LAT interview with Kate Braverman




(stolen from Publishers Lunch of course, where else!)

Hands on/ Hands off/

Dear Miss Snark,

On one agency's website, a FAQ was available that explained how hands-on the agency is with authors. It said something along the lines of:

"When you're new to the agency, we read everything before submitting it to editors; however, once you're published, you'll deal directly with the editor and we probably will just read the book when it's released (if then) because we're not editors and therefore don't edit. We'll carry you out of the hole you dig yourself in if you are flailing about with the plot, of course."

I don't doubt the agency itself; the response they gave just made me curious. Does that mean that the writers would be working directly with the editors in regards to rewrites and such? Is this the norm for how relationships between agents and clients work, or do relationships pretty much come in all kinds of flavors? I believe Miss Snark's flavor would be Double Gin on the Snarks, but how does it taste? Are you always the liaison between the clients and editors, no matter how many books they've published, or do your clients work directly (more or less) with the editors?


Generally speaking, once a book is sold, the editor and author talk directly to each other about edits/rewrites/"matters of art". I hang out, file my nails, watch George Clooney DVDS and eat bon bons.

I'm not an editor. My job is to handle the biz side of things: pitching that finished version to film agents, foreign rights agents and making sure the publisher pays you on time etc.

However, I'm also a total freak about reading manuscripts before I send them out with my name on them, so even if you've been published more times than I can count on Killer Yapp's toes, nose and tail, I'm still reading the manuscript before you send it to the editor the first time.

And yes, this is all "varies by agent" stuff. But an FAQ that says "we might not ever read your book even if it's published" sounds a tad too much hands off even for the famously distant Miss Snark.

Winnemucca

Miss Snark,
I know this is a strange question, but on 11-22-05 (I am reading through your entire archives, having just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and realizing immediately what a fabulous resource it is) you mentioned Winnemucca, and I'm curious if you know of Winnemucca, Nevada. I live nearby and my husband was born there and it's just so very seldom we Nevadans hear any mention of any city in our state besides Las Vegas that it caught my eye.

Thanks for your blog. Not only is it full of great information, your wit and snark are just a joy to read.



Oh Miss Snark basks in admiration. Too much more of this and she's going need her hats expanded.


As to Winnemucca, who has NOT heard of it? For starters it's just such a great name to say out loud (Win A Muck A) and it's the very epitome of "not the end of the world but you can see it from here" kind of town. Miss Snark loves those kinds of places. She doesn't go there of course, cause that would involve actually leaving New York City, but she's fond of them none the less.