More on pen names

Dear Miss Snark,

Your archives are like a box of Godiva chocolates someone gives you for Christmas; you are torn between gorging yourself and gobbling them down in one sitting or pacing yourself so the pleasure lasts for as long as possible. Sadly, I'm almost through reading the archives and I'm at a loss what I'll do with myself after that. Your blog is so darned addictive!

But enough of wallowing in my own self-pity. My question relates to pennames. All of us, I am sure, can think of myriad reasons to use them: avoiding detection by Jihadist death squads, irate mother-in-laws and deviants.

My confusion arises from a thriller I am currently reading. The name after the copyright (which I assume is the author's real name) is different from her penname. Seems to me if the "copyright" name is the real one, she hasn't accomplished much in terms of anonymity. Am I missing something?

Most people don't take pen names for anonymity. They do it for marketing reasons. You can register a copyright to something other than your own name if you want. Take a look at who owns the copyright to Michael Connelly's books. You can also register a corporation that can own copyright as well if you are determined to hide. That has tax implications; don't try this without good accounting advice.

I Can't Afford Hardovers...

Hi Miss Snark -- I hope you don't mind a respectful question regarding the recent NY Times article about Morgan Entrekin and paperback originals. This article suggests that the demand for hardcover books originates not so much with publishers as with agents and authors (which I read as "agents", because I am guessing most authors defer to their representatives on issues like this).

I just posted a rather strongly worded piece on LitKicks calling for the industry to find a better way to price new books.

I thought it might be nice to follow this up by asking an agent if my ideas and arguments are way off base. Thanks for your time, and thanks as always for your excellent site.

Snark on ...

Well, I'm sorry to be the one to break the bad news but the publishing industry is interested in making money. A sad revelation I know, but since you heard it here first, feel free to blame me as the bearer of bad news.

The publishing industry will sell continue to sell hardcovers to libraries and other people willing to shell out the bucks for them as long as they can make money doing so. "It's not affordable for me" is close to irrelevant in their calculations.

Yes, I push for hardcover editions cause it's good for library sales, and national reviews. Yes, I like trade paper originals to build genre writers. Howver, for literary fiction, I know my market is librarians who read LJ, Kirkus and PW and will buy a hardcover book, not a guy in Brooklyn thumbing through the inventory at Brownstone Books thinking "do I want to buy this" no matter how nice he is.

The thing you want to rant about is the returns policy. That's 25% of the cost of a new hardcover book. It's absolutely disingenuous for publishers to blame agents and authors for unaffordable hardcovers when they refuse to change this outmoded and insane returns policy.

Career Advice

Dear Miss Snark,

I am currently a buyer and events coordinator at a beautiful independent bookstore. I adore my job, and I am good at it. However... well, the fact is, someday I want to be a literary agent.

The good: I'm mad about books, I am a born schmoozer, and I know about a million authors and illustrators. I love to champion a small book and get people to buy it and be as passionate about it as I am. While I know that it won't happen anytime soon, I am willing to put a tremendous amount of time and energy into becoming a great agent.

The bad: I'm woefully ignorant about the details of agenting. I don't know anything about things like contracts or negotiating. I don't even know how an agent who doesn't live in NYC sees the publishers - do they fly to NYC constantly, or is it all via email, or what? Whenever I read about "auctions" or "pre-empts" in Publishers Lunch, I imagine a gaggle of suits shouting at each other over a large burled-mahogany conference table and then knocking back martinis - but it is probably nothing like that. (Or is it?!)

I know that agents come from all sorts of different backgrounds and that there is no one formula for success. Still, is there any advice you would give to an aspiring Snarkling?

Agenting, good agenting anyway, is not an entry level job. I know one person who started out as an agent but that was 16 years ago and I don't know you could actually do that now.

Plus, agenting is hardly ever about the books and authors. It's about contracts, rights, sales and selling. If you love books and want to talk about books, you've got the ideal job right now.

However, if you are bound and determined to come over to the Dark Side, don't quit your job. Take a leave of absence and come work in an agency here in NYC as an intern. Get a sense of what it's like.

Outside NYC agents come to NYC regularly to meet with editors and publishers. They pack in more lunches in a week than I do in a month.

Preempts and auctions are conducted by phone. You don't have to be in NYC to do it.

Very very good agents live outside NYC but there's a lot to be said for being HERE and being able to take advantage of all the stuff that goes on here.

Remember too, agents are on commission. You don't sell, you don't get paid.

But the first thing is to find out if you really do want to do this. Come work here for a summer or a season and you'll have a much better sense of how it goes.

The Manuscript Line

Miss Snark:

If an unagented author sends something to a publisher on his own and the publisher sends an email to this writer saying "I read your work, and I want to talk to you about it, but I'm going on holidays and I'll speak to you about it when I get back," what advice would you give that author.

(Outside of the obvious, "Get a life a-hole. You can't sit and ponder what the editor wants to say for an entire two weeks. You must go to work. Eat. Sleep. And inhale copious amounts of gin. Even though said author hates gin and would prefer to smoke like an addicted fiend even though he quit that nasty habit years ago)

Does this warrant mustering up an agent? Do editors call to talk about revisions? Should I say to hell with my health, my breath and my son's asthma and buy that pack of cigarettes? Should I just do nothing and wait and see. Oh Lord.

Yours in admiration.

Going crazy in Cincinnati.

We on the other side of the Manuscript Line forget what it's like over there where you are. It's so usual to get a call like this from an editor cause they'll clear their desk before a break, fire off an email saying "let's do lunch when I get back and we'll talk about that novella of haikus" that agents don't think anything about it. We calender the item (yes I know calender is not supposed to be a verb, but it is used as one here), and go on. It's easy to go on, cause no matter how much in love with the project we are, it's one of many, and we've got a lot of other things to do.

You on the other side of the Manuscript Line have one project, and probably not much else to obsess about in your writing career right now. However, hacking up a lung is not a good career move, so ashcan the cigs idea, save your lungs, and take up long distance running.

It's entirely impossible to predict what the editor wants. The only thing to do is hang out and wait. Work on the other projects you've got, or better yet, do a close analysis of a book you love. You just need to turn off that ADD hamster running his wheel in your brain.


You Gotta Be You!

Miss Snark:

I am currently starting my third book and for the first time am in a quandry over point of view. My first two books are in first person, because the stories needed the intimacy of it and it just 'felt' right. I have noticed that many more books seem to be written in first person than in the past and I'm wondering what your personal opinion is on first person versus the more traditional third. Is either more marketable in your opinion? or does it really matter at all.

Does it impact the selling of books or how they are perceived? After asking my agent, my editor and several other writers there seems to be no real consensus. I thought i'd add your learned opinion to the pile. Perhaps as usual it is just how damn good the writing is not whether I am talking about it, or she is.... much thanks.

You wake up to the smell of wet poodle and hot coffee and the next thing you know someone asks about point of view. You know there's probably a good artistic reason to say "do what the story demands" but you've had one too many conversations with editors that involved threats of violence concerning omniscient first point of view to just brush the question off idly. What you do know however, (and you know this for a fact) you know there should be more second person POV narrative. You know this in your heart and soul. You know this cause of the bright lights, big city. You know this cause You are you.

Furrin rights, not to be confused with foreign rites or foregone conclusions

Dear Miss Snark, I was wondering if you could fill me in on how you go about selling foreign rights?

My agent gets me to post out my books to scouts (I therefore know she's only submitted to five people) and says, after a sale has gone through (she has sold twice to foreign publishers who contacted me via my website), that she 'never chases up payments as they are notoriously slow and will turn up eventually'. Is this normal procedure?

Forever your snarkling...

If I had a nickel for every time I've had to chase down missing money from Tinkerbellistan I'd have enough cash to buy my own saloon and quit paying retail for gin.

There are a couple ways to capture the foreign rights market. One is to sell to a publisher who has a crackerjack team in place and let them do the heavy lifting. The other is to hitch up with a foreign rights specialist and let her do the heavy lifting. The third is to query foreign agents and scouts directly to dangle appetizing offerings in front of their picky little probisci.

As you might imagine, we do all three, depending on the book and the publisher.

Foreign rights are notorious for slow pay, late pay, no pay and screwy bank deals. They also can be barely worth the money. However (you knew there was a however right) they ARE good for buzz and "rights sold in Rabbitania, Slovakia, Pluto and New Jersey" are very nice things to trot out for creating interest in the book here.

I'm not sure if "they money will turn up eventually" is anything I'd ever want to hear my agent say about royalties but generally it's true.

John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith, no no ..the other one!

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks so much for your terrific blog. I look forward to reading it first thing every morning. (Miss Snark-not just for breakfast anymore)

I have written a YA novel with another one on the way. I am starting to query agents. I'm wondering at what point I should consider using a pen name.

I have a unique and unusual last name. A close relative with the same unique and unusual last name writes a lot of fan fiction (science fiction and fantasy TV and movies) and self-publishes extensively on the web. I write realistic fiction and would never publish anything on the web. Do you think I should use a pen name, and, if so, at what point do I start using it?

My fear is that an agent is going to google me, see all the stuff posted by my close relative, and assume I write the same.

Thanks so much,

A devoted fan

You don't need a pen name on your query letters, you simply need to say "that other guy isn't me if you run a google on my name". I like people to query me with their correct name. It makes it less embarrassing if I call up and your kid says "never heard of her" when I ask for John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith.

There's time enough to get a pen name in the works when the tome is accepted for publication.

I have a client who has had three names in the time I've represented her. Her files here are A, her books say B, and her editor calls her C. It's a tad confusing, but we manage.

April 12 is Drop Everything and Read Day!

Who knew?

I think this is a made up celebration day, but when something is well done, and is about Beverly Cleary who wrote one of my all time favorite books (Otis Spofford!!!) well, I'm all for it.

Here's the link to the Drop Everything and Read website.

Maybe we should celebrate the day with a contest.

Any ideas? (and no, NO crapometer stuff, Miss Snark gets the vapors at the very idea)

Miss Snark Considers

Has anyone ever considered a new reality TV show called Trading Spaces for agents and writers?? I think it would be a run-a-way hit. I would love to be traded and have an agent slave over a rewrite of my novel based on agents' suggestions while I swill gin and read a partial as I donate blood. I could have dinner with George Clooney at The Rainbow Room, and the lucky agent could sleep with my husband (just kidding!!)

Do you have HBO?
Can I bring the poodle?

Bambi Meets Godzilla, Round 2.

I am not an author. I am a programmer geek with something to offer authors.

My question to you is: Do author agents handle all of an author's marketing or do they recommend marketing opportunities to their authors? Basically I am wondering if I should become gum on the authors' shoes... or the agents?

Thank you for your time.

Agents don't handle marketing at all. However, that never stopped anyone from emailing me with information to pass along to authors. And of course, I'm always interested in things that help move books over the cash register.

Naturally, then, I clicked on the website in the signature.


Begat by gum

Dear Miss Snark,

Say you get a query with the first few pages as requested in the guidelines. You decide there are three or four questions on the proposal topic; the hook and so on, and you return the query in the SASE with these questions written in the margin. The writer/potential author/client then responds to these questions in an email. Is this improper? Did the agent want a hard copy response? Or is email just completely not kosher in this context? Because this is a far cry from "not right for my list." Thanks.

Respond to the questions with the same form. Paper begets paper. Electrons beget electrons. Lipsticked cocktail napkins begat ...well, never mind.

If you get something back in your SASE, and you respond in an email, there's a very very big chance the agent will not make the connection with what you've sent previously. Absent the direct instruction "email this answer to me", respond on paper. And if you're REALLY savvy, you'll include a photo copy of the page with the scrawled notes.

Not that I have trouble remembering things due to ...well, I forget what but...never mind.
Hello Miss Snark,

What are the odds of an established agent (NYC or otherwise) agreeing to accept a query from a poor third world writer who can't afford to travel or make international calls?

Pretty good, since we really don't want to see or talk to you now or ever.

Query letters are sent by mail. They are not hand delivered nor dictated over the phone.

More stuff that doesn't matter but you like to obsess about

Dear Miss Snark:

When sending the first five pages of a manuscript with a query letter, should the first page start halfway down the paper like the opening page of a chapter?

Thank you,

It doesn't matter. Just don't skimp on margins, don't print in some half assed font that's impossible to read (and people, NO font comments ok?? we've done that topic to death earlier), and don't leave a sentence unfinished on the pages you send. That annoys me to drink. Well..I don't need to be annoyed to hit the hooch..but you get the idea.

Yes, it's fully edited and it's STILL crap...such is my life

Dear Snarkilicious One

I was wondering what your opinion of book doctors is.

What is your reaction when a query letter says 'this manuscript has been fully edited by xxxxx (someone you've heard of)?

Would you think 'Great, this one should be in good shape' or would you think 'this manuscript may be OK, but how much support will the author need to reach an acceptable standard with their next work'?

I think "shaddup already". Trotting out the list of people who've enlarged your bust, straightened your teeth, nose, or sexuality, is just plain bad form.

Unless this is a "My Story by Greta Garbo as told to Felix Buttonweazer" I really do not want to know about who had a hand in making you the writer you are today.

And mostly, when someone tells me something has been "fully edited" I cringe for the editor, cause that right there is crap writing.
Dear Miss Snark,

I queried an agent, mentioning that I've had one book published and that I've been featured in two anthologies. I gave titles and publication dates. This agent recently requested my full manuscript. To my confusion, she asked for a bibliography.

Given that I already told her what I've published, does this mean she wants a formal bibliography, as in adhering to MLA guidelines? Is this typical? It's such a small thing, but I'm about to curl up like a cutworm over it.

Thanks for your help.

No, it means she lost/tossed/vaporized/returned your initial query letter, or you sent it via email.

And no, none of this MLA stuff. Is anyone here clutching a copy of Moby Dick and muttering about harpoon metaphors? No no, this is Snark Central: we're reading Mobylives.com, talking about Richard Cranium's latest editorial demand and clutching drinks while harmonizing with the karoke chorus. Save the MLA stuff for people who know it doesn't mean "miserable literary agents".

Q&A with Miss Snark

Hi Miss Snark,

I’m interested in knowing how you go about doing your job (quite well, I imagine)

there are days that the bottom of the well is more apropos ..but never mind about that now.

Once you have signed a client, I assume you have some publishers in mind—people you have worked with before etc…

mostly yes.

But do you go to the big guns first—like Viking etc?? (Just like some writers do when we go for the big agents first—why not go for it?) Or, do you approach smaller publisher you know would be a good fit? What factors into this?

Viking is not some monolithic one person one size fits all kind of publishing house. You'd be surprised what rolls off the presses down there. Some books fit Viking perfectly (even if Paul Slovak keeps saying no to my brilliant projects...he'll be sorry when ..well...probably not, he's got Vollman, he's probably a pretty happy guy).

It's not a given that you run it by the Big Dogs first.
Some projects are right for them. Some aren't. Each project is campagined differently.

And, if you do get an offer from a publisher, do you then call other publishers advising you have this offer, trying to get them interested also?

yea, we call this an auction.

And, how is an advance determined? I imagine a publisher comes up with a figure based on expectations for sales—but is this amount also negotiable? (is there ever a back and forth between you and publisher on the amount)

There's a long post spelling this out in the archives. The short answer is, they offer, I laugh, I hit them with an abacus, they see the error of their ways, we all toast the new figure. Yes there is a formula to figure this out, which is why you studied algebra in high school very carefully. This is where you find out what x=expectations means.

Thanks in advance for your Snarkalicious wisdom.

yea, well, I'm not sure how much wisdom there is this, but you're certainly welcome.

Requerying? think again

Hi Miss Snark,

If I rewrote to change POV/tense shifts but the essential story (hence the query letter) didn't change, is requerying still OK? Do you really truly notremember queries you've received, or should I mention that I did the rewrite just to be on the safe side?

(I think the voice is stronger with the rewrite, which I completed after one agent expressed a dislike for present tense... so I'd like to requery some of my shortlisted agents. For all I know, "not right for me" meant the weaker voice and/or POV... right?)

What do you mean "still ok"?? I am NOT a big fan of requerying at all. No, it's not illegal. No it's not the dumbest thing in the world and there's some pretty stiff competiton for nitwittery status, but still...why??

If "not right for me" was only "I hate present tense" I probably would have said the latter, not the former. Don't get your hopes up here. You'd be better off with some serious rewriting before requerying.

However, if you're going to requery, and Miss Snark fears she can't talk you out of it, the first thing to do is REVAMP that cover letter. I don't remember much that slides past my eyeball when I'm wading around in the slush, but if something sounds familiar that is not ever a GOOD sign. You might think "oh yes, she remembers me, yay". I am thinking "oh this sounds like a something else I've seen recently, and I know I didn't ask for a partial, so..pass.. NEXT!".

At least get me to the revised pages by changing the cover letter or all you've done is enrich the post office and further contributed to the perpetual gloom of Mordant the Mail Carrier.


Dear Miss Snark,

First let me thank you for your biting wit, those razor-sharp castigations that overlay a truly sincere and helpful disposition. The contrast certainly sets this old heart atwitter, not the least for the way you remind me of my oldest daughter, Ella, who has likewise mastered the loving art of brutal honesty.

I'm afraid I've been a bad boy. I had a lovely and hardworking agent who was with me for years. She was there for my height in the late 70s when we cracked the NYT bestsellers, and she stuck with me through the 90s when I was savaged by the critics. But after a series of fiascos during guest speaking engagements, bawdy romps through pastoral writers, camps, and shenanigans at cocktail parties, she dropped me through sheer exasperation. Plus she said my latest manuscript showed "little potential."

I sulked.

But now I'm back. After a near-death experience, a third ugly divorce, and several years of good wine and food, I've produced a pair of, I think, exceptional manuscripts. My agent won't have me back (nor should she). She's moved on with younger and better behaved writers. I've been querying other agents, though, and I've received only form rejections. I expect that the younger agents won't remember my work (nor, I hope, my bad behavior) but hundreds of thousands of books sold and international sales up to my eyeballs (they still love me in
Berlin) have failed to tempt them into taking a chance.

So, should I change my name and query as a new writer? Or should I write an apologetic query insisting that I've reformed my ways; after all it would only take a few calls on the part of an agent to collect anecdotes on why I'm a potential nightmare client. I am at a loss at how best to proceed.

I will whip up a Florentine frittata, pour a glass of pinot grigio (sorry no gin--this old fish can't stomach spirits) and await your suggestion.

So, let me get this straight. You're pretty sure the agents you've queried don't remember you but you're sure they're rejecting you cause of your reputation as a bad boy?

Does that actually make sense to you? How much pinot grigio did you pour?

We agents are an avaricious lot. We like making money. We like it so much we put up with wine swilling writers who are a public embarrassment. The only thing you have to do is produce work we can sell.

Here's the brutal truth of the day: they don't remember you; they don't care. Your writing isn't what you think it is. You may be the chien's chapeau in France, but that's the back list.

You don't mention if you've got readers who also think you've produced 'exceptional manuscripts'. That would be my first suggestion: find some readers who'll tell you the truth and ask them.

And to actually answer the question: no you don't query as a new writer, you don't change your name and you don't mention your history. Just query the work you've got. Time enough for people to find out you travel with a personal redcap for all the baggage. If you've actually got "an exceptional manuscript" they can decide then if you're worth the risk.


Nitwit of the Day; we have a REAL winner

Dear Miss Snark,

What you think of the following piece from ebookcrossroads:

"What Do I Do After An Agent Asks To See My Manuscript?

First, call them. Try to sound confident. Ask a few questions about their business, such as: Who are their current clients? What do they consider their strengths? What do they think makes their agency special? etc. Now it's time to talk about you. Tell him/her what you have had published (magazine articles for example) or contests you have won, ask what questions he/she would like to ask you. These phone calls will give you a sense of who you feel comfortable with and who you think will provide you with the best deal. Take notes for your final evaluation."

Ummm, I just sent the ms as requested and plan to wait for a reply. Am I right to think that following the above advice would qualify me for nitwit of the day?

yes. Not just the day either.
Anyone who tells you to do this is not only a nitwit, they are so wrong as to be suspiciously malicious...are you sure it wasn't a joke?

I gotta tell you, if you call me up "just to chat" about who my clients are and tell me about your magazine pieces and find out why I think I'm special, I can tell you right now that you are "not quite right" either for my list, or in the head.

This is nuts.

It's not the content, it's the timing. You don't start calling agents up until they've said "yes this manuscript is something I'd like to take on". Until that point, whether you think they are perfect for you or not is irrelevant; the agent hasn't decided if s/he thinks s/he can sell this.

There's not that fine a line between being careful and being a nitwit.

I wonder how much he paid...

Miss Snark is perusing her Publishers Weekly.

March 6 issue, page 81, the classified ad section produces:

Category: Seeking Agency
Headline: Wanted: Literary Agency

Body: To examine a rare 107,000 word Self-Help manuscript introducing a flowing patented reading format. Also, the Agency would manage the licensing of the reading format. Selected Publisher should be flexible in typesetting and speedy in publication.

There are days when there just isn't enough clue dust in the container.

"All Things Being Equal"

First this question came in:

Hello Ms. Snark.

How is the best way for a writer to handle two or more agents offering representation? Each one knows the material was not an exclusive.

then this one:

After about a 100 rejections and a horrible first agent experience, I find myself in the unenviable possition to have to chose between two great-sounding agents.

One was a recommendation from a writer-friend who's known her for as long as she's been in the business (over 20 years) and thought we'd be a good match. The other is one of my last top picks (she's been in the business about 3 years, is probably around my age or a bit younger, and has a nice sales track record).

I've talked to both on the phone and seen their agency contracts. I like what I hear from both of them. I've even got emails out to a few clients on both sides and a list of recent sales. How can I figure out how to tip the scales one way or another?

I've asked my gut but it's not answering.

The first thing you make sure to do is exactly what Questioner 2 did: ask clients about their experience, talk to each agent on the phone, take a look at the contract.

But all things being equal here's what I think:

1. A list of sales to a wide variety of publishers. Some agents have their "usual suspects" and they sell repeatedly to the same houses. Not a problem at all, but all things being equal I'd want an agent who sells to and respects small houses as well.

2. A list of books that have done well. Not just sales but books that have done well.

3. The agent that gets back to you most quickly.

4. Books that have film deals and solid sub rights records.

5. In NYC rather than not.

And before everyone gets hot under the collar and fires off an angry comment/email/carrier pigeon let's all remember VERY good agents live outside NYC, and take a while to respond, and only sell to five houses in a given year. This list is simply what I would look at "all other things being equal".


Once, Twice, Three times a rejection

Dear Miss Snark,

I wonder if you can help me interpret some puzzling agent behavior. I queried someone at a large agency and got a request for a partial signed by someone else. I sent it, and a month later, I got a form rejection letter signed with the firm's name rather than that of the agent I sent to or the person requesting the partial. Two months after that, I got the same letter, again signed with the agency's name. Three months later, I got the same message by email.

What are they doing, other than letting me know I should never darken their doorstep again?

Well, actually they aren't saying that at all. What they're saying is they've got turnover like you wouldn't believe among the interns and assistants reading the slush pile and none of them are keeping good notes.

We've all done this. It's the flip side of not answering query letters. For your three rejections there are two other people who haven't heard at all. Often it's only a data base error, and less often thank all dogs, it's a system crash that wipes out a week of work.

Just today I had an editor send me a rejection letter for a book she read but instead of writing the author's name, she wrote the protaganist's name. Does that put her on the nitwit list? No.

Query on!

Talk about "you'll never eat lunch in this town again"!


March 21, 2006 -- DON'T cross Claudia Schiffer . The Teutonic temptress just forced her former cook into bankruptcy. Sophie Mitchell had borrowed a quote from a letter the supermodel wrote to her mother and put it on the jacket of her new cookbook. "We love Sophie, and everyone loves her cooking, too," appears on the cover with Schiffer's name in giant type. But she never gave permission for Mitchell to use it, reports British Vogue Online. Ordered to pay damages, the cook has subsequently declared herself bankrupt.

That's just cold. Truly truly cold.
Yea, you shouldn't use stuff without permission, and how the cook got access to the model's letters to her mother is perhaps a different story, but really now...do you suppose the cookbook sucked so much CS didn't want her name on it? Or maybe she's embarrassed to have people know she actually...eats?

(thanks to Miss Kitty for the link)

The DaVinci Code case in 50 words or less

Miss Snark,
This morning on the "Today" show , a reporter said something about how if the guys suing Dan Brown over their material maybe being ripped off in "The DaVinci Code" won their court case, it would "rock the publishing world." (That last bit sounds better if you read it in an ominous voiceover while show B-roll footage of stacks of the book in a major book store).

Of course, that's the where the story ended. So I'm wondering, just what kind of an impact would it have on publishing if Brown lost? Given the recent brouhaha about James Frey, does that make the Brown case any more significant?

In a nutshell it would mean you can sue for using non fiction 'facts' as the source of a novel. If someone wrote a book explaining Miss Snark is the bee's knees, and you wrote a novel about a literary agent with beeswax kneecaps, you'd be vulnerable. Doesn't take even an ominous Today show voiceover to make that sound scary.

The Frey case is a totally separate legal issue. And publishing is always having fun like this. It's like a more expensive version of croquet...lots of ball whacking, sticky wickets, and people standing around pining for the good old days when no one whacked you out of bounds.

Just Starting Out...

i have a question on the query letter what if you don't know the editor's name I just have the publishing place and address what do I do. Can I send out more than one copy to more than one place or is that a bad idea to do that. Can you help me I am just starting out.

The publishing place is called the publishing company, or the publisher.

If you have the company name and address, look them up on the web.

Find the place on the site that says "how to submit work" or "submissions".

They will tell you whom to send it to.

Unless a publisher says they want exclusive submissions, you can send it to more than one publisher.

You might want to invest some time in learning more about the industry before you fire off a query letter. "Just starting out" is not the time to query.

Did you ever see the short film "Bambi and Godzilla"? Well, you're not Godzilla.

Beat the Rush

Dear Miss. Snark,

Thanks for this blog. I lurk and learn here daily.

I write romance and have a query question. There are romance conferences year round, but The Big One is in July. Agents, publishers, and writers attend The Big One in droves. Writers come out of this convention pumped, er, hyped up. I'd assume all that renewed enthusiasm leads to a deluge of queries in the couple of months following. Yes? (not as much as you think)

I have a completed novel working it's way through my writer's critique group at the rate of a chapter a week. That time frame allows me to use the critiques I receive to polish this novel, while still leaving time to work on writing my new one.

Is it worthwhile to double-time the finished novel through the critique process (two chapters a week) in order to get the query for the polished novel into a slush pile I assume will be smaller in May/June than it is in August/September? Doing so would mean temporarily spending less time on my current WIP.

I will, of course, be sure when I send my query-plus-five to put loads of interesting stickers on the envelope and spritz the inside pages with plenty of expensive cologne.

Oh yes, lots of stickers. Lots of cologne. Excellent idea. (Killer Yapp opens one eye at the sound of sardonic howling)

There's no way to time the arrival of your scented stickered masterpiece. Agents don't adhere to a master schedule (Ok! All agents in the pool, NOW) for vacations or conferences. And even a 10% increase in my query letters in a given week means I'm reading maybe two more a day than normal. That's nothing to worry about.

It's better to invest your time in making this book something that will survive the slush pile no matter how many manuscripts are competing for attention there. Making this the very best you can is the ONLY thing you have control over. Don't skimp on the time needed to develop it in the mistaken idea that you have to beat the rush.

Oh by the way, I have some changes...

This is more a question for a publisher, I suppose, but how much "fixing" of a manuscript can be done when it's in galley form? I'm thinking in terms of a non-fiction book in which circumstances are likely to be different by the time the proof is done, and it might be necessary to add some material, not more than one page. Plus, little diddly things, rewording a phrase, adding a sentence here or there -- is that reasonable? Or should one only count on making changes necessary to, say, dodge a libel suit?

Don't plan to change anything once it hits galley stage. Fixing typos is one thing but you start mucking around with page order and they're going to send you an invoice.

Your publishing contract will cover this. Standard terminology is usually they'll fix errors but not something you change your mind about.

However...there are several stages before you get to galleys that allow for all sorts of changes. There's time between "yes we want to publish this" and "here's your book" to fix all sorts of things but earlier is MUCH better.

If you KNOW things are going to be last minute, you work with your editor on this so it's not a big surprise to all concerned.

Miss Snark the Musical-updated

I learned the hard way to put down the gin pail when Miss Tarquini sends me a link.
Well, ok, I learned it the hard way six or seven times till it stuck.

Now of course, it's not just put down the gin pail, it's fasten your seat belt or you will be on the floor, rolling optional: Miss Snark The Musical I not only laughed so loud I woke the poodle from a sound sleep, I raced over to Rock Center to join the Rockette kick line.

Update: Well, the Rockettes said I had to give up gin, so that's another crushed dream. Fortunately, I guess I'll be singing in a saloon soon. I even have a signature song to smooth the auditions.

E-Queries...Miss Snark Calls in Reinforcements

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a long time Snarkling with a tendency to lurk. (I almost commented once but KY caught my scent as I peeped over the fence and chased me away with one sharp--well, there's no other way to say it--killer yapp.)

Pride (and doggie treats) in hand, I approach again, this time with much fear and trepidation, etc., etc. to ask a nitwit category question about one of your VERY favorite subjects: e-queries.

I'm in the midst of the query process and have saved the e-query only agentsfor last. I verified that your recommendation was that we include pages, even in e-queries, and I was wondering if you could tell us what formatting you've seen work well for this. Most e-query agents DO NOT wantattachments, and I'm a little uncertain how to throw the pages in the email without making them look ridiculous (and I do realize that e-mail programsalso do a number on formatting.) Any advice? Before you say it, I know I'm getting caught up in the details (I know, I know!), but from everything you've said about e-queries being so easy to ignore I don't want to do something annoying and lose the 6 seconds of attention I may get from the agent.

Well, as we all know, Miss Snark writes only with a quill pen, on foolscap and delivers her rejection notes via footman, so all e-query folderol needs to be handled by someone who actually Knows Her Stuff. Agent Knows Her Stuff is in Denver and people there call her Kristin Nelson. She's been kind enough to pop in and answer this for us all.

Kristin writes:

Because Miss Snark doesn't accept e-queries and I do, she kindly asked me to guest blog and see if I could answer your equery questions.

First off, I have to say I have no idea why you would save the equery-only agents for last. There are so many good agents who accept them now and it doesn't cost a cent to send, why in the world would you wait? Most equery agents will also respond within a week or two. Sure beats waiting for Bob the Postman to haul his cookies to your door every afternoon.

Of course, there are some agents who don't respond at all but don't let them give equery-only agents a bad name.

I congratulate you on knowing that equery agents don't want attachments. We won't open them so you will want to post the first 5- 10 pages of your manuscript in the body of the email (if that is requested). I suggest only the first 5 pages or so. Any more than that is often overwhelming to look at in email form and to be honest, most agents make a quick assessment of whether the work is right for them (even by snail mail) within the first five to ten pages.

I personally just prefer a query letter; however, if the writer also includes around 5 sample pages, I will give it a look if the query letter itself is of interest to me. If the query letter doesn't grab me, I won't bother reading manuscript pages even if they are included.

As for the formatting issue, I'm not a computer expert (and I'm hoping some more computer-savvy Snarklings will jump in on the comments section to help out), so I actually don't know why the formatting gets messed up when sending. I have noticed that some of the big email providers such as AOL or EarthLink tend to be the biggest culprits for format issues. Maybe there is an issue in cutting and pasting from Microsoft Word into their email-writing
program? You might try formatting those sample pages in a txt file? Honestly, I wish I knew.

I do know that you can do a test run first. Email a copy of your query letter to your friends who have a variety of email programs (some who use Outlook, something else, AOL etc.) and see how the end product turns out. Then you can fiddle with it.

I will still read the email queries with strange formatting, but I won't tackle the sample pages.
That's just too hard.
Kristin Nelson


"Who is buying novellas" challenged a Snarkling after my comment that novellas are making a comeback.

Herewith the most recent sales lifted directly from Publishers Marketplace, the source of all yummy things.

Sisterchicks series author Robin Jones Gunn's FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS, a novella about a young American woman who spends Christmas in the Cotswolds where she reads the words of Christina Rossetti about fathers and how to find the childlike faith to trust once again, to Warner Faith

Eden Bradley's THE DARK GARDEN, about the emotional and physical jouney of a woman who makes the transition from dominance to submission and unexpectedly finds love along the way, as well as a three-novella anthology, THE BONDS OF LOVE, THE LAIR, and LOVE AND DISCIPLINE, to Bantam Dell

Anastasia Day's BODICE RIPPERS, a look at those politically incorrect romances of the 1980s with a kinkier spin in three novellas, and LOVE BITES, with vampires and a little bondage, to Berkley Heat

Marvin Kaye, ed.'s WIZARDS, an anthology of novellas, to Bookspan

Bonnie Edwards's THIGH HIGH, a collection of erotic romance novellas linked by underwear to Aphrodisia

Sylvia Day's contemporary erotic novella, A FAMILIAR KIND OF MAGIC, about a rogue Familiar and the warlock who tames her, to Avon. (Deidre sold this one)

Haven't heard from your agent in a while?

CJ Box tells a hilarious story about not hearing from his first agent in a while.
Then I read this from Robert Dugoni on the Warner Books web site.

yanno, I might have to rethink that advice about "don't worry if you don't hear from me for awhile".

Your Web Site is Atrocious

Maybe I spend too much time online, but as I plow through the Web- based part of the agent-research process, I am finding that lame-o, underdeveloped, freshman-remedial-looking Web sites are giving me bad joo-joos about that agency.

The Web-indifferent half of my brain says this: "Who cares? They're word people, not Web people! It's charming and traditional to be clueless about modern technology, so a site that looks homemade is a sign of high literary standards -- in the same way frayed tweeds and
dusty brogans go with blue blood dating back to the Plantagenets."

Yet, the digitally-infected half of my brain says, "Is this agency even functioning in the 21st century? Sure, maybe they sold some stuff, but how of-the-moment can they be with an online presence that looks like it was designed by someone's third-grader?"

I know, I know. I shouldn't even be thinking about this kind of thing. But, yanno. Us scribes, we obssess.

Props to you and KY, always and forever.

I hear ya. But don't obsess yourself out of a good agent. Cause what I'm NOT doing is learning html and tinkering with my website. What I am doing is selling your work. I'm one person and lots of agents are also on their own. If someone leaped out of the sky and said "here I'll gussy up your site for free" it would STILL be a PITA cause I'd have to look at stuff, make decisions, write new text...yadda yaddo yabba dabba doo.

The only thing you should consider about an agent is whether they are effective and whether you can work with them. Ignore their address, web or otherwise, and look at what counts.

And publishing is not filled with people who are up to the moment on much of anything. Publishing is filled with people whose idea of a rollicking good time is to read a book. How very ...well...Edwardian.

Put Down the Coffee....Cover the Keyboard

There are days it's just beyond fun to open the mailbox.


UK based agent

Dear Ms Snark,

I have an agent in the UK. I originally intended to return there after a few years in California but that's not going to happen. I like and respect my agent, she's been around a while and took me on when I was fairly new at this writing lark.

In the last year I've sold to Ellora's Cave and Virgin 'Cheek'. But as erotic romance is all the thing now and agents are selling many authors to new print lines, I fear I might miss the boat. I'm not sure if she has the pzazz of a New York agent or the relationships to act on this interest. I know she is subbing my work to the U.S. publishers but I think she's happy to wait and see what happens rather than really pitch.

Am I being ungrateful? Do I really need a pushy New York type of agent to get on (and let's be honest, there's no guarantee that I'll find one) or should I stick with what I know?

You might consider approaching your UK agent about co-agenting with someone based in NYC. There's a lot to be said for a US based agent pitching NY editors. Yes, UK agents do sell here, and it's entirely possible a NY agent will not have any more success than she does.

However, there's a lot to be said for being here. First, it's a lot easier to phone, and no matter what anyone says, phone calls matter. Yes, email is great. Yes we mostly email. But when push comes to shove, I'm on the phone. Yes you can phone from the UK but let's face it...it's not the same.

A co-agent gives you all that AND you retain your UK agent too. Give it a whirl. Ask, see what happens. Let me know.

Novellas, dog help us all

Ms. Snark,

I am finishing up collection of four (ostensibly “literary”) novellas, all tied to a central theme. I intend to pitch them as a single ms. My friends and family tell me that, since I am unpublished, this is an unmitigated act of cojones grande. I keep running into an attitude that indicates that one has to be Stephen King or Gabriel Garcia Marquez before one can be deemed worthy to publish a collection of novellas.

The collective word count will end up in the 85K to 90K range and, as mentioned, all four novellas were written to blend together thematically.

Does the hair on the nape of your neck bristle at the thought of receiving the apocryphal query letter for such a ms? Well, no, it doesn't

Better to place my head on your chopping block of nitwittery than to bugger my chances with my short list of choice agents. I am traveling under the following assumptions:

The query letter and synopsis should include four separate bullet points describing each novella. Yes

Aforementioned synopses and descriptions of the novellas should be abbreviated to make sure it stays within the recommended page limit. Yes

If I am ever fortunate enough to be asked for a partial, I should only send my pick for the strongest of the four novellas. Yes

While I am soft on the working title for the collection at this moment in time, I should NOT say anything to the effect of “ ‘Love in the Time of Playground Wedgies’ is my working title for my collection of novellas, but I am not married to this title should yourself or anyone in the publishing chain have a suggestion for a meatier hook.” Yes

Which spawns the totally unrelated question number five:

Do editors ever request a title change between solicitation and printing? Yes

My chinstrap is secured, and I am now prepared to be Snarkrimanded. Thank you, Ms. Snark. May I please have another. OUCH! Thank you, Ms. Snark. May I please…Yes

Someone has been reading too much Betty Page. However, all calls for discipline aside, you've actually got the essence here of how to query weird ass stuff. Observe all the rules for normal stuff and hope for the best. Try not to include sentences like "I know this is weird ass stuff" in the cover letter. You don't need to state the obvious.

Novellas are making a comeback. You might actually be on to something.

Querying for multiple genres

Dear Miss Snark,

At what point in the process of acquiring an agent do I mention that I write in more than one genre? In selecting agents to query, I made sure that each one on my list represents both of the genres in which I write. Should I mention in my query that, while I'm seeking representation for book X in genre 1, I'm looking for someone who can also represent a book in genre 2? Or should I leave that kind of subject until later, and if so, how much later?

Query your strongest work. When you start talking to agents who want you, mention that you have works in another genre. The question isn't whether they do it, but if they're good at it, want to work in that genre and have enthusiasm for it. That's one of the ways you can choose between Agent Eclectic and Agent Focus when the time comes.

I'm not a big fan of mentioning "oh I also happen to have a science fiction novel in my back pocket" in a query letter for a novel told in haiku. I much prefer separate query letters wherein you can fully explain the wonders of your SFF novel set on Rabbitania told in the second person.

Compelling versus competitive

Miss Snark:

My agent sent me two rejection letters from two heavy-hitting publishers. One editor stated there were too many similar books; the other praised the proposal, saying it was compelling, fascinating, impressive, but she feared that the crowd of competitive books made her think she wouldn't be able to make the book stand out from the rest.

My question: Could compelling writing conquer competitive titles?

This is non-fiction, right? One thing about a crowded field is that you have to say something new about the topic. Without that, it's pretty darn hard to persuade buyers to shell out for a book. "This one is better" may be true, but it's not much of a sales hook for books. It works on cola and toothpaste, but not books.

I had to deal with this just this morning. A very good proposal about a very interesting topic but there's already a book out there about the event. I looked up the book and it's from a big house, with a starred review from PW. First question an editor is going to ask is "what's new and better about this one". Without a very compelling answer to that question, you can have great writing, but I can't sell it.

This is one of the reasons non fiction is sold on proposal. You don't have to produce the gleaming prose till yo know the publisher actually wants it.

Nitwits in the Slushpile today-Elaborated

1. "This novel is the first to explore the highly charged theme of gay marriage now that it is safe to do so since the movie Brokeback Mountain".

Brokeback Mountain was a novella. Published even. That's why McMurtry's Oscar that says "Screenplay adapted from another medium" isn't talking about a clairvoyant. Secondly, you'd have to be under not just one rock but several to think publishers haven't been dealing with gay topics. You didn't know Heather Has Two Mommies? How about the entire publishing company called Alyson Books?

2. "Every male in Chicago will respond to this book". Even the ones that are under age six and can't read? You think 16 year old boys respond to book that babies do? oh honey...you don't have teens do you?

3. "There is a vast conspiracy between the Catholic church and the US Government". The US Government can't conspire among its own branches let alone adding the Pope and his good fellas to the bunch. Gimme a break.

What joins all three of these nitwittery statements is that they are grandiose assumptions that have no place in a query letter UNLESS they are followed by: and here's three facts to support it. Just telling me something doesn't mean I'm going to believe it. no no, I learned my lesson the hard way when that book that was sure to "be a New York Times bestseller" was missing not just an ending but a plot.

Lesson for the day: Don't worry about querying me for something off my list. As you can see, that's not even in the nitwit ballpark compared to these things.

And if anyone isn't sure why 1-3 are nitwittish, let me know. I'll be glad to stand on my soapbox and yap. and yap. and yappppp.

Junior Agents

Dear Miss Snark,

Though I am aware that Miss Snark, like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, walks alone, I hope she might be able to answer a question about those agents who travel...in bunches, like bananas? In murders, like crows? (in devotions, like Snarklings?)

Consider a well-known, long-established, medium-sized agency, with 4-5 agents. A newbie agent there tells prospective clients that, although the newbie agent hasn't much of a track record, the newbie agent can use the connections of the agency and its esteemed founder to
help place books.

I'd like to believe this is true, but how realistic is it? Do Big Name agency owners really try and help place books for the juniors they add? Does the agency letterhead make much difference to the editors? Or is it Nature, red in tooth and claw inside the agencies themselves?

Miss Snark as we all knows has a one seater broom stick for swanning about town. Thus she called on one of her favorite people to answer this one. Herewith Ben Salmon of Rights Unlimited:

Answer: It's pretty realistic. We crows like to stick together. After all, if one of us finds a carcass to gormandize, we all feast... Or maybe that's buzzards. (No comment on the buzzard-agent comparison please.)

Sure, newbies get help. These are some of the reasons why:

1. The bottom line: More projects sold, more money comes into the agency. Why wouldn't the owner want to help a newbie place a project? More money in her pocket. The owner or another agent might make some suggestions of who to contact and the newbie will make some calls saying "Hello, Mr. Editor, Such-and-Such-Agent-who-I-Work-for/with took one look at this project, thought that you would love it and suggested I send it your way. She says such wonderful things about you, that I just had to call and introduce myself." The editor (especially if he's a slightly more junior editor) will be delighted his name was passed on, might thank the original agent who did the passing for expanding his network and will look at the project almost as if it was submitted by the agent he has a close relationship with. Editors usually don't complain about expanding their agent networks (established agent networks are one of the things an interviewer will look at and consider closely when editors are applying for a new job), as long as the agent isn't sending them crap. And then, yay, the project sells (hopefully)
and the owner didn't have to work as hard as if she represented it herself, but still sees some money and a possibly strengthened editor relationship or two. And an incredibly happy employee.

2. Employee retention: Face it, most assistants at agencies aren't career assistants (they're not paid nearly enough to be). They're suffering through the menial administrative duties because they desperately want to be the next Binky Urban (but most likely with not as cool a name). If the agency owner likes this assistant and wants to keep her and is invested in her, he'll want to grow her as well. And maybe she's restless, so it behooves him to help her out representing a couple projects.

3. Team spirit!: Some agencies are pretty team oriented and run almost more like an imprint at a publishing house than a traditional agency where in-house competition could be brutal. There, it might be good for an agent's career, even, to help out a newbie. In the name of being a
team player, all agents would help out others, especially juniors, which could be seen as an important commodity and help an agent move up the ranks.

4. Pay it forward: We were all new agents at some point. It's tough, especially tougher if you don't have a good mentor, someone to help you out. Agents who got help, or even kind words of encouragement, remember that and might try to do the same for someone else, a way to pay back to kind person who helped the agent get on her feet.

5. The teacher: Some agents just really love being teachers. They enjoy teaching the process, introducing newbies to editors and might even get a jolt of energy from seeing the spark in a newbie's eyes. And hey maybe that newbie will become the next Binky Urban and owe you one.

There are other reasons too, I'm sure. Heck, some agents are just nice and genuinely want to help others. (Miss Snark looks very startled at such an odd idea)

The structure of the agency also impacts how much help a young agent might receive (or that a young agent might even exist at the agency). You have your medium-sized agency (for these purposes, we've agreed that constitutes 4 or 5 agents or so) where each agent works entirely on
commission, part of the commission going to the company, part going to the agent. These folks act almost like freelancers who have a long-term, full-time agreement with one agency and might be a little less likely to help out a young agent, unless they see money from the transaction (such as the owner would). Or... There are agents who are kept on a small
salary accentuated by some kind of commission; those who receive only salaries (though most likely would receive bonuses for an incredibly successful project); agencies where profit-sharing is set up in order to encourage every agent to be responsive to the needs of the organization and work as a team; and any combination or other possible business

And sure, the letterhead can make a difference. I mean, a crap project is a crap project, even if it's typed in gold leaf and on the White House's letterhead. But an agency with a strong client list has some power and might be able to get a project a faster read, depending on the

Scattershot indeed

Hi Miss Snark,

Now that I am in the active querying process, I look up agents on AgentQuery.com whenever I hear about them and they are not on my125-agent-strong spreadsheet. I've noticed something that I hope you canshed some light on: agents whose lists don't match the genres on their

Example: agent whose notation says "Commercial/Humor." Two of her listed novels fit clearly into literary historical. Now, I'm sure they must have commercial and humor merit to fit on her list. This, however, seems to indicate that careful research *doesn't* necessarily turn up the "right" agent. It would almost seem like a scattershot approach is better - meaning I'd be just as well off querying agents who look for "Literary/Commercial"
as "Crime/Mystery/Thriller."

I know you get irritated by writers who query you for genres you don't represent. But sheesh, how do we make it easier for you and ourselves? How do we find that line between "good writing trumps all" and "not for my list"? It seems awfully broad and blurry.

Ok, here's the Snarkism of the Day: It's not a mortal sin to annoy an agent. It's not the first thing you want to do, or something you want to aim for, but there's a trade off here of risk and annoyance. I vote for risk at least 80% of the time: query widely. Which means querying someone who might think you're a nitwit for querying them but so what? There isn't a " nitwit query list" that all agents look at before signing people up. If Agent Annoyed doesn't take "commercial masterpieces" then she's going to say no, annoyed or not.

There ARE some annoying things a writer can do that, no matter how good the writing, an agent is going to show you the door, but querying for a genre s/he doesn't represent isn't even on the list.

Remember too, categories are fluid. What I think of as mystery/thriller may look like a tone poem to someone else. What's the worst that can happen? "Not right for me". If you query enough agents to find the right one, you'll get so used to "not right for me" that you'll never give it another thought.

Query On!


Do I really NEED chapters?

Miss Snark,

Hugs and kisses, love your advice, oh and a wink is thrown to KY from Bailey the wonder dog from upstate. While I do fear your rath, I must ask this question that's been bothering me of late since I'm about finished (yeah right)editing and about to begin querying. So many agents ask for the first few chapters. Is it necesary to have a novel broken down into chapters before sending it off?

I don't write with specific chapters and chapter breaks in mind, is this something I should concentrate on doing? I know many agents also say to send x number of chapters or the first x number of pages, I was just curious if most people submit with chapters or if it's not truly needed. I just don't want to appear too green when querying agents by making rookie mistakes.

Have you ever seen Touch of Evil by Orson Wells or The Player by Robert Altman? Both movies open with very long tracking shots, more than six minutes long. The effect is to build suspense until you are on the edge of your seat. That's what writing without chapters is. One long buildup.

Unless you have an explosion, or a car wreck at the end of those six minutes, it starts to feel like Bolero with a skip in the record--endless buildup to nothing. Your reader can't stay with you endlessly-- it's exhausting to read something that has no page punctuation. And unless you have one long tracking shot narrative there ARE breaks in your story.

Writing without chapter breaks screams amateur and undisciplined to me, UNLESS you mention it in your cover letter along with the reason why you've decided to choose this format.

Avoid it if you can.

Oh, I've been meaning to tell you

Dear Miss Snark,

Five years ago I signed on with a new agent in the business. She wasn't AAR, lived in a trailer somewhere down south, and took 20% commission on sales. What can I say? I was green.

One editor at Berkley saw the mss and passed. Six months later, smelling something fishy in Denmark, I terminated the relationship with my agent via registered letter. She responded by e-mail, saying, "That‚s fine, because I closed my business down two months ago." Well, howdy do.

I'm with a new agent now and never mentioned the previous agent. He's trying to sell a different book at the moment, but the book that the editor saw (five years ago) has been revamped and merged with another and now is ready to start making the rounds. Do you think this is something my agent needs to know? My husband says no, because my first agent wasn't a real agent. What do you think?

Look, this isn't a porn video with Killer Yapp, Paris Hilton and the Sultan of Swat you're trying to live down. It's not a stain on your character to have signed with someone who was..charitably..less than stellar in her chosen profession.

The reason you tell your agent about this stuff is so he has all the facts before he goes barreling into Berkley and someone says "oh ya, her, I remembe that" and your agent is left wondering what ELSE you haven't told him.

I hate getting blindsided. I have several clients who came to me sadder but wiser.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell is how we get around "no occupancy" lofts here in NYC but its not a good premise for agent/client communication.

Tell him.


Dear Miss Snark:

Having found the perfect title for my novel--catchy, resonant, fits the plot, all that--I looked it up on B&N and realized that an extremely similar title is already taken. But its sales rank is in the 45,000s, it was published seven years ago, and it's adult fiction rather than YA (although hers and mine are both fantasy).

What do you think? Should I find another title for querying purposes, or use the one that fits my book best? How important IS the title, anyway?

Thank you so much for this blog. It makes the search for an agent seem a lot less scary.

Miss Snark is extremely scary, make no mistake about THAT. However, after coffee, a blow out, a trip to the Lancome counter and soft lighting, she's only intimidating, not truly terrifying. Oh wait ... you weren't referring to her appearance were you?

As to titles: don't worry. Pick the one you like. It's very common for titles to be changed (so don't get your heart set on this one, ok?) and for very different books to have the same title. Thus Billy Graham's memoir, and E. Lynn Harris' hot sexy romance were both titled JUST AS I AM. I never saw the confusion in the bookstore but I'll bet it was hilarious.

You're Fired

Dear Miss Snark,

I had an agent. Her agency sent me a contract regarding The Work and its sequel, which I signed; eleven editor rejections later on the Work and said agent said she would not send it out anymore. She did not request revisions; I offered. She said sure, if I wanted, and then went on to ask what other stories lurked in the depths of my imagination. We discussed four or five plot ideas; she was enthusiastic about one and said, ‘write it’. I did. I sent it to her. To make a long story short, she passed on it—after sitting on it for nine months—and offered no suggestions for revisions. During the nine months she sat on the MS, I had started querying other agents—I let her know that I was—on the New Work; an A-list agency just requested the full. I sent it.

Question one: My contract was for the original Work; it does not apply to the New Work, correct? (The first MS and the second are nothing alike; the first is a Historical Romance, the second a Crime/Thriller).

Question two: When said agent informed me she ‘had run out of editors’ to send the original work, was she in effect signing off on it, or do I still have to send her a polite, ‘You’re Fired’ letter? I plan to revise that original manuscript and start querying anew, but I want to ensure I won’t encounter future problems. What think you (and KY, of course)? (KY thinks everyone should sniff more flowers and all cats daring to live in NYC should be deported to Katmandu)

One: Assume that the representation applies in the broadest sense, and act accordingly. That way you won't be surprised.

Two: Miss Snark is a great believer in little notes that make sure everyone knows who's fired. I call them "memos of understanding" but they serve the same purpose as a "you're toast" letter. I also use them when someone is being a cretin about returning phone calls/emails/signed messenger receipts.

It says something like "Dear Agent, Thank you for the work you did on (insert novel name that is covered by contract). Per your contract paragraph x this is notice I am withdrawing from the agreement for representation. Love and kisses, You're Gonna Be Sorry".

Now, there's probably a clause in that contract that says if you sell that first novel to anyone the agent pitched you'll owe her some dough. There's probably a time limit on it. I know you said you aren't querying anyone for it yet, but look at your contract just to be sure. Don't query until the time limit runs out.

IF there is no time limit mentioned, your wording on the 'you're fired' memo of understanding should say something along the lines of "and it's my understanding that if this novel sells in the future I don't owe you a commission". It's probably not necessary but I'm a very very big fan of having stuff spelled out. You absolutely do not know what can happen when tempers flare and there's talk about who owes what to whom. Those conversations can get very ugly very quickly. Having a memo isn't a fail-safe but it beats the hell out of "I assumed" or "you didn't say".

Party of the first Part

Dear Miss Snark,

Having read your brilliant separated (huh?-spell czech strikes a hen) for some time as a resource for infinite literary wisdom, I now come to you with a most pressing dilemma.

I have been working for some time now on a book that I intended to be part of a series of three books. However, after reading about how unlikely it was to get an agent if I say that the book I'm sending is part of a series, and after realising that the first book is going to be much shorter than I intended, I decided to make the series into one book separated into three parts. If you received a partial that had "Part One" in front of "Chapter One", would you immeadiatly remove the offending material from your presence? Crush it under you stilletos? Would it be a hindrance to have a novel in parts when querying a novel, or is this just a nitwitty question?

Think about this for a second. Why would you send a page that says "part one" and another page saying Chapter One if you're sending only a partial?

I'm AMAZED at the stuff people send as part of a query letter or first three chapters/fifty pages: tables of contents, acknowledgment pages, dedication pages, little poems, "Part one".

All I care about right now is the writing. That's it. If you have great fresh fabulous and interesting writing, you can have a Partridge in a pear tree section and I won't care.

If someone asks to read the entire novel, then you include the designations that make it easier to read. That means ok for "Part one" and so on. Other than that, save it.

Associating with Agents

Hello there Miss Snark

I was wondering if you could clarify what an Associate is? On several agency websites, they list the agents and then 1 or 2 people titled 'Associate'. *Some* websites list 'Associate Agents', others just 'Associate'.

I sent a query to an agent and received a rejection from an associate. I'd like to query them with another project but I'm unclear as to whether I should query the person who sent me the reply, or whether associates don't take submissions (the website isn't clear about this).

Any input you have would be helpful... thank you!

Well, Killer Yapp is Miss Snark's associate and he does take queries but mostly along the line of "do you want a cookie" and he's got a much higher acceptance rate than Miss Snark.

Associate can be a fancy way of saying assistant or not-agent. In other words, a person who is hired, getting a paycheck and probably at the start of their career. NOT a person who acquires most likely. They are associates if they are there full time, 'readers' if they are there part time or free lance and 'interns' if they are slave labor from NYU, Pace or Columbia Publishing programs.

Associate agents however are agents, and just might be sharing office space, or "associated" in some way.

This happens in publishing houses too. Editorial assistants aren't acquiring but assistant editors are. Sometimes a person is the assistant to an editor but also starting to acquire on his/her own.

The best way to find out is call and ask. You'd say "I queried Agent Absent and received a response from Ms Present. Should I query Ms Present for other projects now?".

And of course "do you want a cookie" is always a good question to start with.

Magna cum Location

Miss Snark,

I'm a returning college student (I'm 26) and have an address that reflects my current status as a student. I've been kind of nervous about the query letters I've been sending because I don't want to draw the impression about being grouped in the standard demograph for college students. How much focus is given to the address (or does it matter as long as there's a SASE?) Is this valid or am I just being paranoid?

I really like the blog; it's a great service to writers. (Thank you, it's great fun to write)

Well, unless your campus mail situtation is better than when Miss Snark was bicycling around The Quad and majoring in poodle paleontology, you'd do well to get an off campus mail drop or a real post office box for your SASEs. Post office box rentals for the letter size are pretty inexpensive and worth the investment.

To answer the question though: no, it doesn't matter. I never look at the address on the envelope, and I don't attach any meaning to a college address. Unless of course it's the Ringling Brothers Clown College in Florida. Then I send my answer in invisible ink.