Second Shot At the Marketplace

Dear Ms. Snark:
A well known agent sent out my novel to 6 "A-list" editors in late 2002, then did nothing more for a year. At that point I severed the relationship. Now, 3.5 years later, I'm starting the agent hunt again. The manuscript has been tweaked but remains substantially the same. Would you take on a manuscript with that history? Would you dump a client that lied about the submission past if the truth came out?
Your take/advice? Thank you.

I might take it on if I loved it so much I just had to have it. That doesn't happen often. However, six turn downs is nuttin' in this biz, and I'll bet you dog biscuits to bones that half those editors are gone or doing different things.

If you failed to tell me about this, and I found out when an editor said "oh yea we rejected this three years ago" I'd be very very angry. Like everyone else, I don't like being sandbagged, and this would qualify as that. And yes, I would fire you as a client because this kind of chicanary says you are willing to let me look like an idiot and try to get away with stuff if you can. I don't need to hear the Clue Gong to know that is bad bad bad.

Signing with an agent after two offers

Miss Snark:

My mind is too frazzled from writing my novel and trying to get an agent to create some witty comment about snarkiness. Forgive me for my snarkless salutation.

My question: I've received two offers for representation from highly regarded agents, both before they completed reading of the full manuscript. After a lot of snark-filled sleepless nights--and a couple of long telephone conversations with each agent--I've chosen one over the other.

First, have you ever offered representation before reading the entire ms.?
And second, now that personal communication was established, is it tacky to send an e-mail notifying the agent that I've gone with the other agency? I appreciate the time that was taken in reading my ms. and the feedback I was given, and I don't want to offend.

Snarkfully grateful . .

Well, no I don't offer a contract before I read the entire ms, but I'm not much of a hands on, we can fix whatever's wrong kind of an agent. I like things that are ready to send out into the world before I put my paws on them. That's just me though, and other good agents work differently.

Second, tacky, hell, you MUST email this other agent and the sooner the better. Thank them for their time, say you've signed with so and so, and resist mightily the temptation to say "not quite right for my needs". You don't need to offer a reason either. Just the facts are enough.

Fear Factor

Good Day Miss Snark,

I have a dilemma. As an amateur writer I dream of becoming a published writer except, I am scared. What I fear is that I am not good enough, I am scared of failing, I sometimes sabotage my writing so that I won’t find out the truth. Two years ago I took a huge step and submitted a synopsis for completed manuscript. I was asked for a full. I became frightened and did not send it. I made up all the perfect excuses not to and I got away with it. I got the itch again just a month ago, I completed a manuscript and entered it into a contest and was asked for a full. This time, I don’t have an excuse, except I can’t send it in because…I don’t know why.

My question is, is this a phobia among writers or am I being stupid? What is your advice?
Fearing failure

You might be surprised how often this happens. I see it at writer's conferences; a good idea then zippo, nada when I ask to see a partial.

Here's what I think will help. You need to remove yourself from this process. Write the query letter. Mail it. Employ a friend, or your mom to assist. Have the SASE addressed to her. When it comes back asking for a full (or whatever) your mom sends it. You don't even need to know.

Or you can just pretend to BE someone else. It's always easier to do things for other people than for ourselves. Heck, you'd leap in front of a speeding car for your kid, let alone stand in line at the mailbox for her.

Failure isn't trying and not achieving. Failure is not trying. Failure is letting your fear rule your actions. Suck it up. Wasting your talent is not ok.

Get your ass in gear or Miss Snark will track you down and introduce you to the motivational efforts of Killer Yapp, fearless poodle.

Up / Down market

Dear Miss Snark,

I recently received an email from an agency rejecting my non-fiction book proposal. She commented that the concept was good, but the proposal needed to be very tight and have more of an "up market voice." What is an up market voice? James from Agent Query suggested it was a voice that's "sophisticated, but still casual and accessible." Then he suggested I contact you.

Please define.

well, an upmarket title does not have 'hip' 'groovy' 'chick' 'love' 'fuck' or 'monkey' in the title.

Upmarket voice is Emily Post and Miss Manners.
Downmarket voice is the Sweet Potato Queens Guide to Love

Upmarket voice is Deborah Tannen's "You Just Don't Understand"
Down market is "He's Just Not That Into You"

Upmarket is Fodors Guide to New York
Downmarket is NFT (Not For Tourists)

Upmarket is Vogue
Downmarket is DailyCandy.com

Upmarket is Writers Market Guide to Publishing
Downmarket is Miss Snark

I can't define it but I know it when I see it.

Let Them Eat Cake..but no floury details please

Dear Miss Snark,
I do not have a finished novel but I have finished the first draft of one. I have heard several authors recommend that at this point in the writing process one should join a writers group such as Romance Writers of America. My question is do you find that you publish more from writers who have taken this step or is the small group of non-published writers and avid readers I have accumulated to read my ms just as good?

Thank you and feel free to call me a Nitwit now,

well, I would, but you know what you don't know, and that's not nitwittery.

First, let's start with the fact that agents don't publish anything except blog postings and websites. Publishers publish. We represent clients for the sale of their work. I mention this only becuase it's almost a 100% automatic rejection if you put "will you publish my book" in your cover letter.

Second, when you query me, you don't mention what you did to polish up your manuscript any more than Grandmother Snark tells me how she fluffed the eggs sugar and chocolate to make dessert. I know the cake did not spring fully formed onto the plate but the mechanics of the process dont influence my appreciation of the final product. (yummy, by the way).

I don't keep track of what organizations my writers belong to. It doesn't even register when I'm reading their work.

I've been rejected by the best...wanna see my stuff?

Dear Miss Snark,
If you don't have publishing credits is it a minus, or rather, is it a plus if you do?
If you've received flattering rejection notes from, say, The New Yorker and Esquire is it worth mentioning? Or, is that worse than having no pub credits at all?
All the best,

I've had people quote "flattering rejection notes" in their queries to me. 99.9% of the time they are quoting form letters.

Don't mention rejections in your queries to agents and editors. Not even those with Killer Yapp's delicate pink snout prints on the signature line.

Cock eyed optimist...or sadist...you choose

Dear Miss Snark:

I've garnered more than a dozen helpful tips from your blog in only a month of reading it. Thank you for everything. I would mail you a pail of gin, but the Post Office has nasty things to say about that. (I quite agree)

I've encountered the following situation too many times to count. I write a query letter that says, "Would you care to see a proposal and sample chapters for a novel about {a trucker who eats pine cones for breakfast and operates a ham radio station}?" and the editor or agent writes back, "That would be terrific! Send it along!"

So I send the editor or agent my proposal and sample chapters, and eight weeks later s/he gets back to me with, "This was pretty good, but no one would read a book about truckers, and there's no interest in ham radio, plus eating pine cones for breakfast--isn't that a bit bizarre?"

I promise I'm not going to throw myself off the Brooklyn Bridge if they reject the query letter. If {whatever} is not going to sell, just say so. But it baffles me how many times I have explicitly laid out the premise in my query letter and then the manuscript gets rejected with, "Awesome writing--but the premise won't sell."

Can you explain what's happening on the other side of the desk? I'm just confused.

What's going on is Agent Optimism. We always hope. We see great writing, we ask to see more. Only when we've read more does the rational part of the noggin kick in and we think ...oh wait, I can't sell that.

At the query stage I'm not thinking 'can I sell this' very much. I'm wondering 'is it good writing'. I read a lot of things I end up deciding I can't sell and it's not cause the writing is bad.

I've mentioned recently I can't sell private eye novels to save my life. That hasn't stopped me from reading about a dozen partials in the last month or so. I have to write back and say "I love this but I can't sell it, maybe someone else can". When I ask for them, I'm hoping there will be something so stellar I can just bang open the door at some of these publishers and storm the barricades with a novel so good they HAVE to publish it. I always hope that novel is yours.

Date specific responses, and cover letters

Hi Miss Snark!

I just received an email today from an agent interested in a partial and a synopsis. An interesting bit, though - she asked me to send it after a certain date (March 20th to be precise).

Why such a specific date? I'm not confused or upset or any of that sort of thing - just curious. Is it her personal method of organization, or is after March 20th when agents finish one round of something?

Also, when I DO mail it to her, what type of letter should I include? Clearly not the full query, as she received that... is it just a "Dear Rock'em Sock'em agent, here is the 75 page partial MS and synopsis you requested that I send to you after March 20th, I have also enclosed an SASE as per your request"?

Be sure to bundle KY up today, it's cold and looks like it's about to rain! (KY sneers at cold and rain. Also Rottweilers)

I can't think of anything off the top of my head that is associated with March 20 other than everyone is back from London and clearing their desk of the accumulated debris after a week away.

Clearly she's looked at her calendar and doesn't want to start getting stuff till she's got time to read it. I do this too, but it usually involves "hell freezing over" or "Poodle Appreciation Day, 2008.

And it won't hurt to send her the same cover letter you did before to remind her why she wanted to see it. Or a cover letter that says "herewith what you asked for" and a copy of the original cover under that.

People send me partials with NOTHING and they really shoot themselves in the foot by doing so. I keep track of what I've asked for but I don't keep pages. If someone just sends pages, frequently I don't know if I'm reading memoir, true crime, or an expose of New York State Assembly. Never assume an agent remembers anything, even when they've asked for stuff. You can't go wrong being thorough.

Miss Snark Hands Out Calendars and red pens

Dear Miss Snark:

I've been reading your blog for quite some time and consider myself a loyal snarkling. Thanks for all the stellar advice! Hopefully you can help me out with my questions.

What is a reasonable amount of time for your agent to finish your reading your manuscript? I sent my agent my second manuscript more than a month and a half ago, and she still hasn't read it. Worse, she keeps putting me off with emails saying, "I'll finish it this weekend and we'll talk next week." She's sent me one of those every week since the first day I sent it to her.

I'm tired of waiting for a "next week" conversation that isn't coming.
Do I chalk this up to "she's just really busy?" Or do I give in to my insecurities and realize that maybe "she's just that not into me?"

My first manuscript, after three close calls, didn't end up selling and I'm worried that she's lost enthusiasm for me as a client. Should I keep mum and hope for the best? Or should I dig deep and broach the topic with her?

When you say a month and half it sounds like forever. How about this: 45 days, and 12 of them weekend days. And how about the idea that agents sometimes like to go to the circus on Saturday instead of read?

Yes manuscript reading is part of our job and yes getting to it promptly is always the goal. But I'll tell you, good intentions do not get pages turned and stuff happens like you would not believe.

Right now, you've got an agent who is responding to your email and hasn't said "quit bugging me". If you are emailing her every week to find out if she's read your manuscript you ARE bugging her. Quit it. And it sounds like you started emailing her the week you sent it. If that's the case, you're lucky your agent is not Miss Snark, or your literary executor would be handling your royalties.

Give her another six weeks of blissful silence. In the meantime start working on the next novel.

Author approvals

Miss Snark,

I love the blog and dread having the appellation 'nitwit' applied to me, but I must ask two questions regarding the publishing process.

Assuming a publisher buys the book, does the author have final approval over the galleys and cover art? Is this a typical negotiated item or do some publishers have hard and fast rules about this sort of thing?

This is not a nitwit question, sorry. You are eligible to try again next week.

Now to the answer: no and no.

That said, this isn't a face off with author on one side and design or editorial on the other. Everyone is aiming in the same direction: a well published book that will sell.

I've had meetings when the cover art made me faint dead away but I'm not a designer. Those guys know their job. They know what's passe, they know what works for the size of the book, and with the marketing department they are a hell of a lot smarter about what gets someone to reach out for a book and pick it up in the store than I am. They don't tell me what "fresh and original" is and I don't tell them how to design a book.

In other words, unless they spell my author's name wrong or want to give it a title that breaks the law, I'm not arguing too much.

Sometimes the designers lose their minds though and I have had a few conversations that start out "are you insane?" but those are really few and far between.

Most authors do not have cover approval in their contract. No one I represent does.

As to galleys, by the time we get to galleys we've gone back and forth on the text a lot already and everyone is as happy as an author ever is when told they have to quit fiddling with the text. If an author absolutely doesn't agree with suggested editorial changes, we find out LONG before we get to galleys. The only option there is buying the book back if the editor and author can't agree. I know there are certain "don't change a word of my text" authors but I don't represent them.

Remember though, this isn't adversarial. We all want your book to sell really well.


A Report from the journal "Balderdash"

Dear Miss Snark,

I was informed once I received a contract, the book would not be released for 2 years. I was told this is standard for every book contract. Furthermore, I was told if a writer is published in under 12 months of signing their contract, they are sleeping with someone. This is supposedly also the case if a new author receives more then $20K in advance. Is the publishing world really this corrupt? Are any of these items true?

Thanks for reading.

A humble snarkling ...

None of it is true.

It's possible books don't get published quickly, but I have books coming out this year that I sold last year. And I've seen books get published in six weeks. Not neccesarily really good ones, but still published.

The person telling you this is full of crap.

Will You Read My Novel?

I had an on-line writer friend ask me to read her manuscript. I am not an editor by any stretch of the imagination, but we both write in the same genre and it was within my comfort zone to oblige her. Okay, so now the problem... I read her proposed book.

Her writing is outstanding when it comes to the detailed descriptions of some things, but her character development is not there at all, I mean not at all. The plot is lacking also. (Lacking is an understatement as the book could have easily been thrown into a wall several times and I'm not all that hard to please!)

Now what do I do? I don't want to sound high-minded but I sure don't want to tell her that her book was a wonderful read. I only offered to read it because of how well written some of her sample work was. (Boy did I learn my lesson!)

I sure don't envy you your job. I thought that reading bad poetry was bad, but I'm thinking that a bad book is a whole lot worse, especially when you have committed to read the whole thing!

She doesn't know that I have finished reading her book, and I hate to deal with this, but I'm left with no choice! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated and all advice will be followed to the letter!

A fledging Snarkling.

You can send her my usual letter when I read something like this: "Thanks for letting me read your novel. It sucked. Get a job".

or not.

Actually, before I was an agent I worked in the industry in a different capacity. Lots of people knew I "did something with books" even if they weren't quite sure what it was.

One Saturday night I was, well, shall we say, enamored of a certain gentleman. He returned the enamorization and we were canoodling on the beaches of love. The locale of canoodling changes to his thatched roof hut and by the light of tiki torch he says (one hand on my thigh) "here, you like books you should read this".

Well, I thought he was going to give me a book of love poems, or maybe some Anais Nin, or at worst Harold Robbins.

oh woe, no.

It is, I swear to dog, printed pages, printed on both sides no less, in a "illuminated manuscript" font like Bodini, about 8pts, and full of every adjective known to man, and few imported from Rabbitania.

I was speechless, and not just cause his tongue had been down my throat.

So, I feel your pain. And here's what to do.

You say "I was glad to read your novel. I never offer comments but I can answer questions about it." General questions like "did you like it" can be answered truthfully with "not as much as I hoped I would after reading -and this is where you insert the name of the work you did like." You'll know she has no idea about character development if she doesn't ask anything about it.

Criticism is a tough game, and not for the faint of heart. I have a lot of respect for the people who sent their stuff to the Crapometer for 'fondling'.

If your online friend takes exception to your comments, well, she needs to learn how to accept constructive criticism, and you've learned how to be Miss Snark!

Post Rejection questions

Esteemed Miss Snark:

Some of us have been engaged in spirited discussion re: whether an author is "allowed" to correspond after a NMR (negative market report, i.e., rejection. Some of us have sent a short note thanking an editor for looking at the MS and asking what they liked about it. An editor on this loop said this was rude and she wouldn't answer such a note.

What do you think?

Well, I like the 'esteemed' thing, I may put it on my business cards.

You are "allowed" to correspond with anyone the law allows. Whether it is a good idea is another question. To my way of thinking someone asking for feedback after a rejection is raw meat to the wolves. If they ask, I've been known to send them my unedited reading notes. This is how NASA plans to populate Pluto cause after reading them, people have been known to go into orbit.

Agents and editors are well within the bounds of courtesy to not answer such letters. No guff from me about that at all. From our perspective it's not that we don't want to tell you, it's that it seems to open the door to further questions, clarifications, and worst of all..submissions. I cannot spend time answering questions about why I didn't like something every day or I'd never get to my paying work.

The Clue Gong Sounds for Thee: asking authors for help

Dear Miss Snark,

This might put me in the category of nitwit of the year, but I need to know so I don’t do the wrong thing.
(close but no cigar)

I happen to live in the same town as a best selling author who writes books in the same category as mine.
The author also started out like me, not that long ago, with little credential, but managed to succeed despite the overwhelming odds.

Speaking of these odds, as I begin the query process, little unknown me, I fantasize about a way to connect with this author. The author has connected with other popular novelists in the area (somehow she did it) and I’m wondering if there is a way for me to do same.

I have sent her a couple thank you notes after attending her talks—this is as far as I’ve come. I certainly don’t want to be a pest—and I have a real fear I will be perceived as one. After all, who the hell am I? I’ve even heard her comment about people coming out of the woodwork asking her to read their manuscripts—and she has to turn them down.
(insert sound of ClueGong here)

I know I have no right to ask for anything.
(insert sound of Clue Gong here) But I wonder, is there anything I can ask for? Anything I can do to facilitate a relationship without seeming like a desperate, needy, pest? The part of me that is supposed to be the fearless aggressive marketer sees an opportunity here—but I am having trouble identifying exactly what this opportunity is.

What can I do and if there is something to do, when, if at all, is it appropriate? Part of me thinks that this author was in the same position as me now, so maybe she will be willing to help—however, I’m not blind to the fact that approaching someone simply because you want something from them is never a good idea.

Thanks in advance for your snark-filled wisdom.

You are making the classic networking mistake of asking "what can you do for me" before you've answered the question: WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU.

People will help people who have helped them. You can bet that if Miss Adventure wants her query letter read (this is an example, she's not an author) I'll do it, and do it happily. Why? Cause she's busily indexing this blog, even as we speak. She is helping me with a task that is of real benefit.

Similarly friends of mine in publishing are searching for jobs. I send them leads and intros as often as I find them. Will they be glad to do things for me if I need them? You bet.

The secret of good networking -which is what you are trying to do here- is to be of service to someone. You may have a connection that's helpful, useful knowledge, or simply the fruits of your labors.

If you see this author at events, pay attention to what she says about what she needs. Maybe she needs someone to answer her fan mail. Or an introduction to someone. Or you recommend her book for the One City One Book read...or something.

Networking is not about getting, it's about giving. The best networkers are the ones who think "what have I done for you lately", not the other way around. What is in your Rolodex that might help her? And if not her, then other authors in your town. I'm glad to help people who come to me with an introduction from someone in my network. I figure I'm expanding my reach.

Anyone read this book?

Is this a book I should be telling people about? Has anyone read it?
It's got some good blurbs on the website from people I trust.
(This...after me saying blurbs are meaningless!!! the irony! the irony!)

Let me know what you think.

What if My Agent can't sell my book?

Dear Miss Snark,

How many times do you take on writers who you eventually find you cannot sell?

From my point of view, it seems that if I get an agent, my chances are very good that I will get published, but what I am afraid of is that I am wrong and that there are lots of agented writers who don't get published. My random shot in the dark is that about 90% of agented writers get published (the hurdle of getting an agent seems so high to me that I can't really imagine that number
being lower), but I really don't know enough about the industry to validate that number; could you give me a better idea of how this part of the agent & publishing world works please?

PS--You'll be happy to know that I am so terrified of making a grammatical mistake in any correspondence to you that I've checked over this e-mail three times! If I've still messed up, then I'm just going to dunk my head into a gin pail; it's been a head-dunking-in-gin-pail kind of day!

No mistakes, but you sent it twice. Prepare the pail!

Right now what you are doing is the equivalent of what 15th century mapmakers in Spain did.....they drew pictures of monsters at the edge of the map. Right now you're in Spain preparing to set sail and you're looking at the map seeing only the unknown. Just remember that where they drew monsters is present day Hawaii.

There is no way to quantify how many agented writers don't sell. It does happen. But here's the thing: you can't worry about this. It's totally out of your control and it's just worry that drains the tank, nothing that will help you write better faster stronger.

Reassure yourself with this: agents don't make money till you sell, so we are REALLY motivated to sell your work. Focus on writing well. Let Miss Snark worry about the fleshpots of Waikiki.

Oh, Miss Snark is avoiding work today

Well, I thought this looked like fun, so I logged in and looked.

The beauty of this site is that it is NOT just people posting their own work but their faves from other stories. I've been meaning to read Gogol's The Overcoat, and presto here it is.

If you scroll down you'll find the link to "Fiasco" origianlly broadcast on This American Life.
This is, hands down, the funniest thing I have ever heard. I have it on CD and it's my emergency feel better CD. If you don't think this is funny, you need immediate therapy.

I found this at Susan Henderson's blog
Thanks Susan!


Brian DeFiore on querying more than one agent

A few posts back, the question of querying more than one agent at a multi-person firm rolled in. I prevailed on some very nice agents who work in companies that are not solo practices to answer.

Fresh in from London comes Brian DeFiore:

There's no hard and fast rule for how agencies are structured-- but you can be fairly certain that there's no 'meeting' at which agents are talking about things that they DON'T want to represent. Such a meeting would take hours and earn not a dime.

And you can also assume that the letter is structured as one person writing with the editorial "we," rather than a true indication that it speaks for everyone in the agency.

Many agencies do have a 'first reader' or a 'screener,' (in the form of an assistant/secretary) who decides which submissions the senior agent(s) should bother taking home to read. The form rejection letter you received may well have come from that person... who will see your query again if you resubmit to another agent in the shop. If you're talking about a large
agency like ICM or William Morris or Writers House, with very large staffs, it's probably not going to be noticed. If you're talking about a smaller place, it very well may.

Ultimately, there's no right or wrong here. It's going to be a personal call based on how much you want a particular agent versus how embarrassed you're going to be if you get another rejection letter marked 'like we told you the last time...' And you might.

Reading Fees Alias

Dear Miss Snark,

How do you feel about an agent who doesn't charge a reading fee, but charges a "small consultation fee" of $65 if the writer would prefer a personal response to their query rather than a form letter?

About the same way I feel when someone says "Oh gee, I forgot my wallet" when the bill for dinner comes.

If you pay an agent it is a reading fee. Even if they only charge it to those people who pay it. Even if they call it something else.

It's the signal an agent will take advantage of people.
It's not someone I respect as a colleague.

Query letters are part of our job. Suck it up. If you don't like it, go work for Madame DeFarge's On Line Fortune Telling Services where they charge about the same rate for "non form letter" readings.


Literary Couture

Dear Miss Snark,

I pen this with much fear and trembling, but what exactly is "literary fiction"? I've been hearing about it, reading about it, I think I've even been reading some of it. Nonetheless I remain confused. So far this is the info I have gathered.

Literary fiction contains beautiful/fancy writing that may not sell well but is sure to win numerous awards. It has been accused of being plot less and often features a tear conjuring protagonist who dies, is dead already, or is abused throughout the work until she is finally forgotten/abandoned by the known world. It seems to be held on a pedestal over genre fiction, inducing one agent to declare that her authors wrote literary fantasy. I know for sure that my best friend would love it, but I'm not sure what it is. Does literary=good writing?

Literary fiction is shorthand so agents and editors know what a novel's audience is. It's used primarily to separate more commercial titles from other, ie literary, titles.

Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore write literary fiction.

Literary non fiction is what John McPhee writes, what Melissa Fae Green writes, what Mark Kurlansky writes, what Simon Winchester writes.

And I'll hold Michael Connolly, James Lee Burke, Frederick Busch, Laurie King and Sara Paretsky up against anyone in the "literary fiction" category even if what they write is shelved as "crime fiction/mystery".

Go into any bookstore and I challenge you to find "literary fiction" as s shelf category. It's either genres or "literature".

Commercial fiction is supposed to sell. No one cares if it doesn't get reviewed.
Literary fiction is like haute couture; real people may not buy it but it's what's featured in the pages of the New York Times and defines your line.

Well, here's an interesting tidbit

The Times also notes this interesting stat: "According to Publishers Weekly, of the 18,108 titles published by the American self-publishing company iUniverse in 2004, only 14 were on sale in Barnes & Noble and only 83 sold more than 500 copies."

(Stolen from Publishers Lunch of course; the source of all meaty morsels.)

Miss Snark is Chided

miss snark
you were too kind to the knucklehead who wanted to make his agent search contingent on simpatico politics.
my agent is a pinko.
i'm a libertarian who believes the second amendment is the most important one because without it, the rest are at the mercy of the government.
who gives a shit?
all i care about is that she's a smart, creative, tenacious and tough agent. She is, so i'm happy.
you're getting too nice. watch it, please.

Yikes! Miss Snark retires to her desk to fire up the pink semi-automatic machine pistol and knock off a nitwit or two before the dinner hour!

Look, some people don't give a shit about their agent's personal beliefs, like you don't. And I don't care if my clients are flaming lefties/righties/rabbitonians. However, there are zealots in the world who insist on associating only with their own kind. Have at it I say, less chance you'll query me.

This guy didn't ask if I thought his was a wise choice. No no. He'd MADE the choice, he just wanted to know how to implement it.

Whether I was too nice is of course your opinion but I will run sandpaper over my claws before typing the next answer, the better to be stern, snarkly and abrasive (sounds like good agency name doesn't it: Stern, Snark and Abrasive?)

No neonetcon agents for me!

Dear Miss Snark,

I know a writer and agent aren't going to hang out together around the gin pail but still, I'd like to know that my agent shares my general sensibilities about the political situation in this country. I fired my insurance agent after he came to my house with a Bushbot sticker on his bumper and absolutely cringe at the thought of collaborating with a literary agent who, unbeknownst to me, condones illegal invasion and occupation, torture, assault on the poor, cronyism, and the laundry list of other horrific acts committed by this administration.

I was able to delete some candidates from my agent search because their web sites touted Reaganomics and past professional association with Grover Norquist, but aside from these instances, how is a writer to know?

Not only don't I want a relationship with someone who thinks everything's hunky dory right now, I don't want my agent's 15 percent funding the radical extremists currently running roughshod over everything I value.


Rabbitania Is Starting to Look Good

You'll just have to ask.
I don't think you'll have much trouble if your agent search is confined to the 212. The last election netted 16% of the popular vote here for the president and much of that was outer boroughs 718.

You've decided this of course not based on the correalation between effective representation and politics, cause there isn't one. And you might be surprised by the political atmosphere on Rabbitania. I hear it's gone to the dogs.

The Dreaded Bio sheet

Dear Miss Snark:

I got asked for another partial. The agency wants a bio, synopsis, 30 pages. I got the 30 pages and synopsis part down, (mix both equally with uncut gin), but I'm stymied on the bio. There was a short bio in my query, an award, some short stories that are out there - nothing very exciting.

What more do they want? Should the bio be on a separate page? Do they want to know my degrees? What kind of jobs I've worked at? Whether I like sushi? How many cats, dogs, kids and husbands I have? Where I live? Whether I can surf? If I've ever been arrested?

They're looking for publicity and marketing fodder. Have you been published. Do you have an interesting element in your bio that can be used as a hook for media interest (Stephen King's manicurist! Miss Snark's gin delivery van driver! Paula Abdul's love slave!).

Yes it should be on a separate page

Degrees: sure, but unless you went to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets ...err..Poetics...will they really be interested

Jobs: sure, particularly if they relate to the book (example: Elaine Viets uses her jobs for a a hook with her "Dead End Jobs" mystery series).

Sushi: only if you know a better place than I do

Menagerie: too cutesy for my taste but you can't go wrong with puppies and kitties

Kids and Husband: only if the number exceeds 5 for kids and 1 for spouse (concurrently).

Surfing: only if you mean water and include a picture of you in a wetsuit and you look good

Arrest: oh please, who hasn't!


Dear Miss Snark,

Have you ever taken on a client without a query, without a proposal, without a book, just because you liked some of his other published work and felt, between the two of you, that you could come up with a great idea? Or, that this writer might be a perfect fit for a project a certain editor of your acquaintance has in mind? If so, how would you find such a writer--and vice/versa.

Such a Writer

Well I haven't. I tend to find my clients the old fashioned way -- prison work release programs and waterfront dive bars.

I'm sure there's someone somewhere with a story about how they got picked up by Agent Hot Stuff with out ever writing a word, but those kinds of stories make me slightly ill cause they inevitably lead people to think they too can do that.

When you say you're "such a writer" do you mean this happened to you and you want Miss Snark to pinch you so you aren't dreaming? Miss Snark stands ready and willing to pinch as needed (thus her familiarity with waterfront dive bars).

And if you've not secured representation, are you really seriously hoping someone will just call you up and say "let's dance?". Think again. At some point, writing will be involved. Might as well be now.


Spinning ideas into paper

Dear Miss Snark, my new best friend:

I'm a journalist and have a fab idea for a sports book. But I've never written a book before and I'm not sure if I should query the heavy hitters, like Esther Newberg, or go to agents who maybe aren't so busy or famous. What do you think? And do you have any suggestions for agents I should query? Finally, is it a mortal sin to query more than one agent at one time?


Absolute Total Rookie

PS: Thanks for considering this.

You know you don't know much. That puts you ahead of people who don't even know how much they don't know. The first step however is to learn a few things before knocking on anyone's door asking for representation. Go read the archives on this blog or at the very least read a book on how querying works.

I absolutely guarantee you that if you call up Miss Newberg and tell her you have a great idea but have never written a book she's going to ask if you have anything written, and when you say "no" she's going to say "talk to me when you do". That's of course if she hasn't sent you a "later gator" rejection letter which is much more likely.

Ideas are a dime a dozen, great ideas only slightly more expensive. Getting something down on paper is a lot harder than people think.

Miss Snark Resists Temptation

I have a project that is best as an audio tape. What agent would handle that?

Generally audio sales are handled as a subsidiary right. They are sold after the book is sold, and often after the reviews are in and the sales figures are in if it's an unknown.

I know of ONE guy who did an audio first, Ron McClarty, and he is a professional actor who did his own and it got noticed by Stephen King.

Gerard Jones did his own audio and if memory serves, the Great Publishing Pest (whom I just adore actually), is giving it away.

If you intend to do this solely as an audio tape you'd do well to talk to the folks who do music and spoken work productions. They know about this stuff. I have no idea how to find them but I'm guessing a quick turn down Google Lane will provide an address or two.


Inheriting novels and memoirs--UPDATED

Hi Miss Snark,

I'd like to know what the procedure(s) are/is for submitting the intellectual property of some one who has passed on.

My father left behind, diaries from his whole life, including his war years during WWII. They're fascinating. And on top of that, he's left behind three complete novels and well over 100 short stories. Some of them are fairly good, but need editing. I'd be happy to do that.

What I'm really interested in having published are the WWII diaries, they're stellar, and with the populace of veterans dying, I think it's a shame to let testimonials land in netherspace.

Any advice on how to proceed with this?
Thank you.

P.S. The spell-checker here tells me to change, "Snark". :) (to what??--Snarque? Souffle?)

This is a great question, and I'm so glad you asked. Let's talk about the two things separately, first the diaries.

This project is probably not a good candidate for general trade publishing no matter how fascinating. Publishers want to sell more than 10,000 copies of anything they take on and it's VERY hard to do that if the author isn't around to be on tv/radio etc. Plus, it's also very hard to interest a publisher in diaries/memoirs unless there is a major hook (you didn't mention one, maybe there is, but in any case you'd need it).

There are other places where your dad's diaries would not have such high sales figure hurdle: university presses, niche publishers, or historical society presses.

And of course, even if none of those places are interested, you could contact the historical society or museum to ask about donating his papers so they wouldn't be lost.

They may not have room, or need, for this particular kind of historical record (they have space limitations like everyone else, sadly) but it doesn't hurt to ask.

If you want to preserve the work for your family, here's where POD technology can be very very handy. Don't go with one of the scam/bait houses. Go with something like lulu.com that offers you printing without trying to sell you on getting into BN or becoming famous.

Now, as to novels. I'm sorry but that is pretty much a lost cause. Realistically, the only posthumous novels published are from writers who have a body of work to their credit before they left us. Yes, John Kennedy Toole is an exception, and a famous one, but trust me, he's one in ten million.

However, if you want to send out queries on the novel or the diaries have at it. Writing is property so who ever inherits the estate owns the work (in the absence of a specific bequest of the intellectual property of course --Miss Snark is assembling a list of suitable heirs for her intellectual property if she gets run over by a zambonie anytime soon).

And an addition from a Snarkling librarian:

Hi -- Another place that would like to have diaries and memoirs would be a university library. Most universities (and colleges, for that matter) have Special Collections Depts. where they keep such manuscript materials. In fact, the library of the university where I work has a fine collection of war memoirs, including WWI and WWII. You don't have to give it to the first place you try -- each different library or archive has a specialty. You can do research at your local library to find out which collection is appropriate for your manuscripts.

Many libraries have this reference book, or you can borrow it through Interlibrary Loan (there may even be a newer edition):

Special collections in college and university libraries / compiled by Modoc Press, Inc. ; with an introduction by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern. New York : Macmillan Publishing Company ; London : Collier Macmillan Publisher's, c1989. ISBN: 0029216516

No unsolicited queries

Miss Snark,

What does it mean when an agent says they're not taking any unsolicited queries?
Is there any way around that?


Mostly it's a way to cut back on query crap from people who just click or lick instead of firing up Google or some other research tool. There are a lot of places literary agents are listed out there and several of mine now say "not accepting unsolicited queries" cause I'm tired of getting queries for science fiction, poems, romance , and theories on the origin of Snark--areas I do not represent.

Generally it means unless you meet this agent at a writing conference, or on the subway, or while serenading her at the window with your car alarm, you should not plan to send a query. It generally means you'll get a form letter that says "I'm not interested in getting query letters from people I haven't expressed interest in."

There are a lot of agents in this cold cruel world. Why you want want to 'get around' this is beyond me. S/he isn't interested in over the transom queries. Querying agents who ARE strikes me as a better use of your time and energy.

Miss Snark Gets Advice!

Miss Snark,

I recently received a rejection letter from an agent who I really wanted to work with. The agency has a fantastic reputation and all the agents are making sales in my genre. Would it be a waste of my time to query another agent at that agency?

The form rejection letter I received stated, "We are unable to offer representation."
The word "we" was used throughout the letter. Am I to assume that none of them will be interested in my project?

Do agents ever meet together and make determinations about what the agency as a whole would like to represent?
Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Well, one of the hallmarks of wisdom is knowing what you don't know, and I don't know much about querying other agents at the agency cause the only other one here is KY and he's busy taking a bite out of the slush pile most days ..but not quite the way I'd hoped when I promoted him to assistant.

Thus, I turned to two very smart, very savvy, very successful agents and asked if they'd answer. Sure enough, Jenny Bent and Lucienne Diver did ...and they have different viewpoints! Here's what they said:

Jenny Bent, Trident Media

There are no hard and fast rules about submitting to more than one agent at a multi-agent agency except one: don't submit to more than one of them at a time!!! My advice to this person would be to e-mail the agent who rejected them and ask if they mind if they query another agent in the agency. If they get a yes, or no response, they should go for it.

BUT, when they query the other agent, I think it is only the right thing to do to mention that they were turned down by the other agent, and they should name them. At Trident, for example, if I was told by a querying individual that John Silbersack turned them down, that wouldn't prejudice me, because I know that John and I do very different kind of books. Even if I knew Kim Whalen turned them down, that wouldn't make a difference, because even though our lists are similar, we have completely different tastes and often pass projects back and forth.

And Lucienne Diver, Spectrum Literary Agency had this to say:

If we think something might be right for one of our colleagues, we'll generally put it before him or her. So, chances are you'd be duplicating your effort and wasting postage. We won't drum you out of the aspiring writer biz, but we may take a mental note that we've had to duplicate our efforts as well. 'Cause even giving something a quick read to realize that we've seen it before takes time (opening the envelope, giving it a look, stuffing the return envelope). It doesn't sound like much, but when you receive one hundred to two hundred queries per agent per month...well, it does add up!

So there you have it. No hard and fast rules, but you'll want to check before you send to someone else, and mention it's been there before.

Now, Miss Snark is off to query the gin truck delivery man about an emergency delivery.

Grandmother Snark!

Now Agent C has gone, how about drafting Grandmother Snark on to Blog duty? It's high time we got to meet her.

Grandmother Snark! What an idea! I think she has her hands full as a one person intelligence service for the PA-6 exchange area, if not the entire 212. I'd ask her but I'm afraid she might say yes.

Going back with a second novel

Your Holiness, (you think Miss Snark looks like Pope Benedict?? nicht danke)

Over a year ago I sent out queries for my first novel. I got requests for partials, requests to see the full manuscript, and a few very nice, thoughtful, personal rejection letters. I got a clue. The book wasn't ready for prime time, so I shelved it. (Actually, it's not on a shelf, it's in a drawer in the desk in my basement.)

Now I'm almost done with novel #2. When I'm finally ready to start querying agents again, do I mention novel #1? (1) Particularly to the agents who took the time last year to give me feedback? (2) Would they by any chance remember me? (3) Would I be in their filing system? (4) Does our previous contact have anything, positive or negative, to do with their interest in possibly taking on my new book? (5)

Or should I just query about the new book on its own merits and pretend the past never happened?
(6) (We'll always have Paris.) (or in this case, Vatican City)

Thanks again for your fabulousness. And thanks for writing fewer posts lately -- it's forcing me to spend more time writing!

1. no
2. no
3. probably not
4. on a data base maybe but probably not
5. no
6. yes, with the following exceptions: The agents who wrote you long personal helpful letters. You say to them "you gave me some really good advice on a previous novel which I implemented, thank you". That's it. Don't put the word rejection or pass or "not right for me" anywhere near this cover letter.

I get a couple of these kinds of things every three months or so..maybe 20 a year. I always hate to see "you rejected me last year but here's my second try" cause I think it influences me subliminally and not for the good. I'd MUCH prefer to read something and think "wow this is great, that author's name looks familiar" and go look him up rather than "oh yea, rejection last year, I guess I better read this and see if he's gotten any better".

This isn't a financial report; you don't have to list your debits with your credits. This is a personal ad: you want to talk about the good points exclusively.

A Nitwit Candidate

Howdy Miss Snarkypants!

I am a first time author and have queried about 25 agents. I received 3 requests for a full manuscript. How likely is it that an agent will take me on since I don’t have other work? Don’t most agents want to represent a CLIENT? Should I just not even bother with agents and skip right to publishers?

I hope that the snarkypants comment doesn’t make me nitwit of the day…I hope my question does! Hardy har har!


Dear Miss Annoypants:

Just exactly what do you think a client is? "Client" is by definition what an agent represents.

This is like asking if a parent has children. You can't be a parent without them (and for all you nit pickers, even if a child has died, a parent remains the parent of a child and anyone who says differently is a cold hearted fool).

Do you mean to ask if an agent wants clients with publishing credentials? Asked and answered in other posts but short answer is: don't worry if you don't have them, write well (and you seem to be doing just fine since you've got requests for your work).

Skip right to publishers? You have three agents who want to read your full ms and you ask this? Yes, this may be the nitwit question of the week, but it's Monday, you're not a shoo-in.


-insert standard obsequious copy here-
-insert acknowledgement of Killer Yapp here-

You mentioned earlier that at present you can't sell a private detective novel. Which, as you might expect, is what I'm trying to sell. Damn!
What types of novels are easiest to sell in today's market, if we assume all are equally well crafted? Most difficult?

-insert humorous yet ironic sobriquet here-

-insert answer to unanswerable question here-
-insert sound of sardonic hyena here-


Agent C Elopes with Mr. Clooney

Well, ok, not exactly, but close.
Sadly, real life has gotten the best of her and she's had to hand in her SnarkWand.

We'll miss her more than she knows!

Writing about what you're not

Dear Miss Snark,

What do you think of women who write gay fiction?

You've said many times that we should just focus on writing well and I'm constantly striving towards that goal. But with publication eminent (I bet you mean imminent) how do I handle promoting myself if I'm not a member of my audience or even close to my being one of my cast of characters?

I'm not suggesting pulling a J.T. Leroy here, but should I sell myself like the male writers who write historical romances under women's names or even create a more gender ambiguous pseudonym--expecting any confusion to be revealed at book signings or interviews? Or should I just come out with it and risk frightening off some of the target demo. In this age of writer as celebrity, how do you suggest writers handle this issue when addressing agents, editors and the public?

First, you write a novel that is so "true" and so emotionally compelling that everyone in the audience faints dead away when you come to the podium to speak.

Then, after smelling salts all around, when some grim visaged matron huffily asks how you knew all this stuff about dykes when you "clearly aren't" gay/straight/ambidexterous/curly/kinky/slinky/size two shoe, you fix her with a beady eye and sweetly say "thank you for the great compliment of thinking my novel sounded so true it had to be real. It is in fact, a novel. I made it all up. Next question please."

The idea that you have to BE something to write about it is hogwash. It's a left over from a much more compelling situation which was that some literary voices were ignored or considered unsaleable. I've heard publishing execs say with a straight face that "Terry McMillan proved black people would buy books". Black people were buying books long before Terry McMillan started writing, or even before Terry McMillan was born. What Terry McMillan did was show the publishing industry that books written by black women with black female characters in romantic situations would sell by the car load. You don't have to be black/gay/straight/snarky to write about people who are. Bad writing is patronizing and leads people to think you are clueless about them. Good writing makes people think you ARE them.

And once again when people get huffy, it's really a compliment. I'm hardpressed to think of a better thing to say to someone about a novel than "It felt so real". Well..."it won the Pulitzer Prize", sure...but Miss Snark isn't in charge of that, sadly.

Pod-dy Mouth Stat!

People thought I was crazy doing the crapometer but Girl on Demand at Pod-dy Mouth Blog puts me to shame. She invited people to tell her about their POD books...and said she'd read and talk about the ones she liked. She received 5,959 queries from people asking for her attention in the course of a year. A tad over 100 a week.

That's pretty much what I get too at Snark Central.

Here's a list of her stats for that year. Read 'em and weep.

I wish I knew who she was so I could buy and read her book but yanno, gotta respect the cloak!