Do you want a rejection or a refusal?

Is there some new query “guru” out there suggesting wording to potential authors? I’ve gotten at least three queries this week that say, more or less, should I send a sample by snail mail or email? Or – would you prefer I send a sample to your PO Box or some other address? The presumption being that I want them to send anything at all. This seems to be a new phenomenon.

This is straight out of parenting books! To wit, don't give the kid open ended choices: "do you want to go to bed at 8pm or 8:15pm?" not "Do you want to go to bed?"

I think you find "directed questions" in business books, particularly sales books, as well.

It's condescending as hell and, when done less than artfully, so transparent as to be annoying. Writing a sentence so that "no" is not the answer to "can I send you my manuscript" doesn't mean we're going to say yes. It means we're going to send you a form letter just like everyone else.

The danger of this kind of phrasing is that it makes us stop reading at the cover letter. That's not what you want.

Save the directed questions for your loinfruit.

Hang on a second, ok, that's my agent waiting line ringing

Miss Snark,

I have an agent question for you (surprise, surprise!)

I have been offered representation by an agent, but other agents are interested and I have notified them so I can chat to all before making my final decision.

What's the polite length of time I can take to do this? I don't want to leave the first agent hanging too long but I really want to speak to them all and make an informed decision.
I haven't heard back from the other agents yet after an email and I'm not sure how long to give them.

Any advice appreciated.

I waited two months for someone to finally tell me she signed with someone else. I was a trifle annoyed cause if I wasn't getting her, I would have an open place on my list ...and that backs up the process for everyone else. I have to have something to sell, so every day that I'm standing around with my thumb up my ascot waiting for you is a day I'm not doing something to make money.

That said, I would have signed her after the two months cause she was a darn good writer and I was mad as hell to lose her to Agent Elpheba.

So, get your skates on and stay on top of this. When someone emails me that they've gotten an offer I do try to let them know if I want in on the dogpile.

This is as close to a waffley answer as I've ever given, but there is no right/wrong here.

Where are you coming from?

I was wondering how many manuscripts have you taken on (percentage is fine) that were received by you as queries compared to how many you represent that you were alerted to or told of by friends/colleagues/the doorman etc?

I think I ran these numbers once before but I can't remember what they were. It's about half and half right now. The referrals are from clients and editors. The doormen only read poetry and have been known to spew quatrains of invectives at doubleparked delivery vans.

Membership doesn't get you through the velvet rope any quicker

Does it matter to you if I am a card carrying member of RWA? Like, will it put me to the top of the slush pile, or will I get filed right alongside the non-RWA members?

The slush pile is stacked up (or down actually) in order received. You can be a card carrying poodle and rise to the top of my slush pile...eventually.

RWA membership is good for a lot of things but slush pile priority isn't one of them. Other agents may differ on this one.

Let's try again

Dear Miss Snark;

Very recently I parted company with the small publishing house (not a vanity or subsidy press) I was with over issues of incomplete orders and failure to pay royalties. I have legal releases returning the rights of all my titles printed under this publisher back to me.

Now I'm getting ready to shop one of these novels around to agents, however I'm wondering how much information should I place in the initial query? Should I mention it was previously published and by who? I have no problems with coming forward with any or all of this information, however I don't want to kill my first chance with an agent by overloading a query with too much detail.

As an agent, how do you recommend I handle this situation?

You have to mention it, and you have to give the publisher and year published in the query letter. This isn't a question of a work that languished on an agent's desk, or even made the rounds of editors. This was published. What you're shopping now is not new work; it's a reprint. Most agents won't even look, me included.

Half crazy after all these years

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a really stupid question to kick off the April Fool's weekend so it might be best to pass it on to Killer Yap when he is finished with his morning munchies, but before he puts on his pink tam - Shiver - and heads out for his morning constitutional.

If a ms is copyrighted after it has been written as a memoir and then is rewritten as fiction, retaining only about 50% of the original story, with a different POV and a new title, is it still protected by the original copyright?

I understand the part about copyright attaching as soon as pen is put to paper. I'm wondering from a legal point of view what the cut-off is with regards to how much of the material may be changed before a ms is considered an entirely new entity that would require a new copyright?

Thanks in advance for the anticipated beatdown.

Hugs to KY,

Miss Snark is NOT giving legal advice here, let's all be clear about that.

You're correct that copyright attaches as soon as the word is put to paper. Thus, all your work is yours, no matter how what state of completion or transformation from memoir to fiction applies. Your draft pages are yours, as is your finished product. Copyright is a state of being, like life. You are alive, or you are not. Your work has copyright or it doesn't. "Half copyright" like "Half dead" is a metaphor no matter what you look like first thing in the morning.

Applying for a copyright from the copyright office is part of the publication process. If you've published a memoir, and rewrite it as fiction, copyright exists at all stages of the rewrite. If you publish the fiction, you'll apply for a copyright on that because it's a new book. If none of this is ever published, you still HAVE copyright on all your work.

Now, on to simpler things like cold fusion.

When to Waltz the Cat Around the Kitchen

May (insert your extraterrestrial/heavenly host here) Bless you and KY:

Okay, I'll bite. You recently wrote your list of comments you don't want to hear when you call an author and say "wanna go to the dance?"

Obviously, everyone in the universe is euqally qualified to get "the call" (I know, ha ha) so on behalf of us cross-fingered folks dreading or hoping for the phone to ring, what does an agent expect to hear . . .other than profound sobbing or the flat-line-tone from an ECG machine?

Yeah, I wanna go to the dance, but what color corsage do I buy you? I just gotta know.

First, there's hardly ever a "do you wanna go to the dance" call out of the clear blue sky. Here's what happens at Snark Central:

You send me a query letter. I read it and don't retch.
I read it again to make sure I was right the first time.
I ask for a partial.
I ask for a full.
I usually email you with typos, questions, comments, some sort of back and forth.
I might phone you to just see if you're a loon or not but it's not "the call" cause right now all I'm doing is figuring out if the ms is still available, if the ms can fly, and whether you are a nitwit. (Sadly good writers and nitwittery are not mutually exclusive). I'm also letting you know I'm interested so you can do some more research and make sure I'm the agent you want. Here's where you might email my clients and find out I'm not kidding when I say I'm famously distant.

While all this back and forth is going on YOU are getting back to me promptly on emails and phone calls. If by some chance you are out of the country for six months (or planning to be) when an agent asks for a partial or full, TELL THEM. You don't do this at the query stage but if I'm reading more than that I'm interested. In this day and age of cell phones and public access computers, it's not expecting too much that you'll get my messages and respond. I won't work with people who are lackadaisical about the business side of things. It bodes ill for when the stakes are higher. Here's where I'm looking to find out if I can trust you to be a professional.

Now, these emails are not really an invitation to conversation. I am not your new best friend and you don't want to email me with anything other than answers to questions. No asking for advice, no telling me six other people are interested, and REALLY no "do you like it, do you like it" of "have you decided yet". Mind you, this is all happening in a matter of weeks. Once 90 days have gone by, you get to email with your chosen variation of "get off your slacker ass and tell me what you think".

This period of time is agony for writers I'm sure. That's actually one of the things I've learned from y'all here and I've gotten a LOT faster in getting back to people once I've asked for a partial and full. The flip side of that is I'm asking for fewer partials and a LOT fewer fulls.

After I've read the ms, decided it will fly, and think I'm the best pilot, I call you up. I say "this is really a good project, and I'm going to make you an offer of representation for it."

You say something like "that's great" "I've signed elsewhere" or "no thanks". You ask for a sample contract. You ask what the timeline is. You ask what I think I can do with this. We discuss how soon you can have a finished manuscript to me and probably some formatting stuff. (Here's the first time I'm going to care about font, size, page numbers and chapter headings).

We assure each other of our mutual admiration. We toast our coming success.
Then we both get back to work.
This is when you can faint, scream, jump up and down or waltz the cat around the kitchen.

No Explanations required

Dear Miss Snark,
I am a faithful reader of your blog and in need of your opinion. Last summer (August) at a writer's conference, I received requests from both an editor and agent for my second manuscript.

Six weeks later, as I about to print out a finished, polished version for each, my computer and the saved CD backups, went corrupt on me. I lost the entire manuscript. (I have since learned to do more saves in different locations and medias.)

I did notify the editor of this event as she and I were in correspondence about my first ms, which she had on her desk but ultimately, took a pass on. She did state in her last email (last October) that she was still interested in reading my second manuscript when it was ready.

Now, five months later and I am only half way complete with rewriting. Besides personal and professional dignity (both of which are shaky now) the only thing keeping me from trashing this rewrite from scratch/memory all together are the requests. I have no delusions that the editor or the agent is waiting with baited (unless you think we stink, it's bated) breath for this book. I know that each passing day isn't helping, but I guess I'm asking if it's hurting the situation and if I should offer an explanation of the delay and remind of the initial
request to both the editor and the agent when I finally get this book in the mail?

You'd be surprised to learn perhaps that Miss Snark herself has had to slink into editorial offices with a delayed manuscript. For a lot of reasons. In fact there are so many reasons an index under "Manuscripts-delay thereof" gives numbers so all you have to say is "sorry this is late; reason #12".

1. dog eating
2. computer crashing
3. stars realigning
4. death of writer (metaphysical)
5. death of writer (physical)
6. discovery of aliens in chapter 14
7. failure to paginate with base ten system
8. failure of will to finish
9. mysterious stench of fear emanating from pages

Agents and editors want good projects. We understand the travails of life and computer systems. We may screech a lot about it, we certainly don't PREFER things be delayed, but life proceeds at its own pace despite all exhortations from Miss Snark.

Finish it. Let it sit for a bit. Re-read. Fix. Send.
Say "I'm sorry this didn't arrive sooner. Thanks for your patience". No further explanations required.

Call Hizzoner and complain!


Dost Thou tosseth all Thy dastardly, offensively massive, unsolicited works into a mere workaday circular file, or into a recycle bin? Prithee, answer carefully and with much ponderous thought, for verily I say unto Thee: Thine answer shalt determine mine continued suff'rance of Thine in-your-faceness.

Ever Thine humble,
Imnotta Totalfool

Well...let's start with the fact that there's no curbside paper recycling in New York City. Glass and bottles yes. Plastics yes. Not paper.

However, you ask if I toss all "unsolicited works". There's a difference here between manuscripts and query letters. I read all query letters. By virtue of putting my name on various lists of agents, having a member page at Publishers Marketplace and a listing in Writers Market, I've said "query me". There are guidelines about what I'm looking for and how to send stuff so it gets considered but basically I'm soliciting query letters.

I'm not soliciting manuscripts and I don't read "unsolicited manuscripts". I read the ones I ask for. I ask for ones based on query letters.

I guess it would be incorrect to say I hope you continue to suffer with my face...but thy construction is thine own.


And the first Clue Gun recipient of the night is...

Ms. Snark

How are you? I'm a long time reader of your blog. I'm an aspiring author and have found your blog to be immensly useful. Because of this, I'm going to offer you my latest book, a 4200 line novel called "Red Star". It got great reviews from everyone who has seen it! Please read it and get back to me as soon as possible, if that's okay with you.

Star Kr'welin is a spunky teenage boy on the planet Argenn, under the rule of the evil galactic kingdom of Golzak, whose royal line has been in existence over a thousand years, and who is about to change kings. Star was waking up one day, and he found that his father had left. He was abandoned, and a dry kvel was about to blow through the arid desert region. He got in his yellow speeder and raced off, but the blazing kvel approached quickly.

Far off, on the planet of Mal'Rel 1, prime minister Sloo'f is about to attempt to assassenate old king Lirpa. He will use poison in the king's food. But what does Star have to do with this ongoing Saga? Find out - read my novel!


(redacted), Author

PS: just email me and let me know if you want me to send pages!

Prize for Nitwit of the Day

Miss Snark will be handing out this to all winners of "nitwit of the day".

Of course, postage..what ELSE is there to ever discuss?

Dear Miss Snark,

I’m nitwit of the day and it’s not my fault. (well, it's not mine, and it's not KY's...that leaves only...Bill E. Goat!)

I just got back from the post office, sending out another batch of queries to my potentially favorite agents.

Following your advice, I’ve enclosed five pages and put together a neat little package in a 9 x 12 envelope with an SAE.

To save myself time, I had the post office weigh the package so that I could buy the right combination of stamps.

They advised it 63 cents and sold me a book of 39’s plus a book of 24’s == 63. I sent out four of these packages to my top agent choices just the other day.

Today, at a different post office, they weighed one of these letters. It was 24 cents off. Now, I live with the fact that these queries, to my top choice agents, will come with a “postage due” stamp. What can I do? Is there anything I can do? And if you were to receive such a thing, would you toss it in the trash?

It is obvious that I put the stamps on myself—that I was trying to do everything right. Does that count for anything?

I’ll be dipping into that bucket of gin shortly.

Ok, Miss Snark confesses she has not left the confines of the 212 for some time but surely "electronic scales" have arrived in at least the lower 48 states. Haven't they? These are handly little free standing machines, somewhat like ATMs. It weighs the package and dispenses the postage. You affix postage. You mail packet. They beat the hell out of standing in line I gotta tell you.

Now, if a packet arrives here and there's postage due, someone else deals with it, cause Miss Snark isn't allowed to interface with members of the US Postal Service after that disturbing incident wherein she mailed herself to Mr. Clooney...was a riot squad and homeland security REALLY necessary?

When mail does arrive with postage due, they pay it and throw it in the incoming basket. Mistakes happen. Just don't do it again or we'll stamp you "return as tinder".


Dear Miss Snark,

A writing conference offers the following activity to its attendees. My writing group is planning a conference and the organizers are intrigued by the idea. What's your opinion?

Speed dating agents and editors: what's it all about?

One of the things that makes the conference unique is the speed dating event with agents and editors. Each attendee who wishes to participate will receive three red tickets in their badge holder. On Saturday evening, the attendees will then line up outside of the room. Agents and editors will be seated in alphabetical order at tables along the periphery of the room.

At the beginning of the event, a certain number of participants will be allowed into the room, and will go to a table and start their THREE MINUTE pitches. You must convey the essence of your book quickly (we suggest using 25 words or less), allowing a response from the agent within your three allotted minutes. We suggest you use about two minutes to pitch your book, and allow one minute to listen to the editor/agent.

At the end of three minutes, when the bell rings, please give one of your tickets to the agent/editor and yield your chair to the person in line behind you. You may move on to the next agent or editor. When you have used your first three tickets, you will exit the room. We will have a person outside the exit who will give you three more tickets. You may then get in line to return to the room, and go back as many times as possible until the end of the session.

The energy level in the room will be high and we expect participants will find the speed dating event to be one of the highlights of the conference.

We do not charge an additional fee for the 'speed dating' session. This special event is included as part of your registration. You may choose not to participate, but everyone is welcome. Our intention is to make editors and agents as accessible as possible.

Please note that this is a separate event from the individual editor and agent appointments. The individual appointments will be 8 minutes in length.

I think the idea of a harried three minute pitch is insane. I'd rather drink green tea and sing kumbaya with Bill O'Reilly than have streams of crazed authors giving me three minute pitches.

Now, if you want to just talk to me, ask three questions, or show me pictures of your pet python for three minutes, ok. Pitching is not a contact sport, nor is it suitable for "speed". There's a place for the auction mentality in publishing; this isn't the place.

And you'll notice it's on a Saturday night. I gotta tell ya, Saturday night at a conference is when I want to be swilling gin at the bar with other malcontents not listening to stories of Rabbitania's version of Peyton Place.

Has anyone actually done this? Let me know if it worked better than it sounds. I'll be glad to hear from people who have differing opinions.

Political blogging for a fiction writer

Dear Miss Snark,

I just wanted to let you know that I am huge fan of your blog. I read it everyday with while drinking my morning green tea.

Awhile ago, you spoke of the importance of writers establishing a web presence. So I started a blog. However I find myself blogging about my second great love, politics, and commenting on other political blogs. I believe that I have always remained respectful of other peoples opinons. (And when I can't, I comment anonymously).

However, close non-publishing friends have suggested that this is not exactly the most professional thing to do as a writer (of fiction, mainly scifi, fantasy and romance), and that I will alienate potential readers of anything I eventually publish. Should I halt the political commentary on my blog? Should I do as some others suggest, and start a new, anonymous political blog which cannot be tracked to my writing blog? Or should I have a seperate political blog where those who want to know my politics can find out? Still, would that alienate readers?

Thank you again Miss Snark, for your wonderful blog, and for taking the time to read my email.

You can blog about damn near anything you want if you write about it well enough . Those imps over at Making Light have some pretty political statements. No one seems to be sending them off to Siberia. Not that Siberia doesn't sound fun right about August .... but that's another story.

Editors and publishers publish people all the time who have crazy political views. I mean c'mon...the Dalai Lama?? What kind of stuff is that Buddhism non violence? Clearly the man has NEVER ridden a New York subway or he'd have those saffron robes of his hiked up to shove his way on to the 1/9 train just like we all do.

Write well. Write with a fresh eye. You'll be fine.

Never Explain. I mean it. Do not do it.

Hi Miss Snark,

Please sign me up for the idiot post. (sorry that position has been filled by the nitwit who sent me a query letter, then followed up with an email with attachments)

I made my first short-short story submission to a literary magazine in Canada. I sent my cover letter, the properly-formatted manuscript and the SASE like a good little wannabe writer. The problem? I didn't know the Canadian postage gods had upped the basic mail price from $.50 to $.51 on January 16, 2006, so my SASE is short $.01 in postage. (Those Canadians...they have it in for us!)

I know the external envelop had enough postage because it was over the basic weight limit and had to be paid for without lettermail stamps, so they got my submission. The question is, will I get my rejection letter? It's been almost six weeks.

Although I have been blissfully ripping off Canada Post since January, the other envelops I have sent to family and friends in various provinces have made it without hiccup (good thing, too, seeing as one was a 50th anniversary card for my grandparents). So if the journal staff don’t toss the SASE because it has insufficient postage and send it back to me, there's a good chance I'll get it, especially if the Post Office says "insufficient postage" as the return to sender is also me.

Which option do you recommend?
A.- Contact journal and ask whether a) they've noticed or b) I should resend
B. - Assume they junked it and resend
C. - Assume they junked it, resend, and explain why I'm submitting something they may have already rejected and sent back to me and which may or may not be lost in the postal ether

D - Wait another six weeks and see what happens.

What is this thing y'all have with explaining fuck ups? No one cares! Honest! It happens. Even to the great unfuckable Miss Snark...oh wait, that came out wrong I think.

I vote for D, and then B. Leave explanations for your spouse as to why the Chevy has a dent in the fender and the gin pail must surely have sprung a leak.

What Copyright is NOT

Hi Miss Snark,

I have a copyright question - I am a first time author of a Fantasy novel which I am still trying to get published. I started writing the book in 2003 and had it officially copyrighted in 2005. Just recently I discovered a book (written by one of the most famous authors ever), that uses my story-line. Although the authors story is written with a different twist, the general concept is the same, and he even uses the exact title I used for a major earth event. It is basically my novel written as a horror story rather than a fantasy. This author had his work copyrighted and published in 2006 (and it has made the best seller list). Do I have any rights? Can a relatively unknown (me) even have a chance against a gorilla in the industry? What options do I have?

Thank you for your time

Do you have any rights? You mean, because he came up with the same idea you did, you get part of his money?

Copyright infringement means that someone took YOUR work, your actual words, because they saw it, had access to it, or in some way used work that was not theirs. Copyright infringement is not "we had the same idea and he got his published first".

Copyright is not a patent or a trademark. You copyright the body of work, not your ideas, and not your titles, and certainly not names and phrases. Although, if you use the phrase "nitwit of the day" you owe me $20.

Form e-queries

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a literary agent at one of the larger New York agencies (boy, we literary agents love you and your campaign against nitwittery!)

My firm does accept email queries, and I've noticed an annoying, and in my opinion, totally nitwitted trend among query writers recently (I wonder if you're noticed it, given that you don't accept email queries).

I get over a hundred queries a week. Many of the email queries I get sound eerily familiar, as though they're being generated by some kind of automated query program, that inserts one's name, title and synopsis. Perhaps there is some universal form available on the internet being heralded as THE form to use for queries. Each of these supposedly unique queries has same tone, phrasing, salutations and even charming little jokes!

Needless to say, it's quite off-putting to see that writers pitching the singular uniqueness of their novels would use a form or a program that makes every project sound identical.
These form queries are a terrible turnoff!

I go through my queries 50 or so at a time, and it becomes so tiresome to receive these that at a certain point I just issue a form rejection without even reading the letter.

I know queries are hard to write and mind-numbingly boring, but what does it say about you or your project if you can't even summon up the enthusiasm to write your own query letter?

Yes, queries have a basic structure. They will all inevitably sound similar. But when they have the same exact wording as 20 other queries in my pile, they get filed directly in the trash bin.

Somewhere in the Snarkives is a post about a company that for a "small fee" will email "select agents" with the great news that you! have! a! novel! just! for! them!. I think this might be what we're seeing here. No more than junk mail gets your attention, does junk email get an agent's.

There are some good places to get advice on how to write a good equery. Sending a query via electrons doesn't mean you switch your brain to Off. And why you'd PAY someone to send form equeries that get tossed is beyond me.

Advise me to do what I want!

As a certified and certifiable giver of advice, commentary and suggestions on all things book, bookish, bookner and bucolic, I laughed with recognition at this latest from Levi Asher who went up the Y to hear a panel on publishing.

Thanks to GalleyCat for the link.

Talk about a Deal He Couldn't Refuse

Yet another reason to call my insurance agent today:

Agent Sued for $1 Million

Cover Girl

The creativity and hilarity among the devotion of Snarklings never ceases to amaze me.
The latest is Miss Snark's Book Cover
by Lady M.

Best seller list here I come!


Richard Nash is a very smart guy...

... and it's always interesting to see what he's up to. He's the guy over at SoftSkull Press (along with some other very smart, very interesting folks too) and the latest offering is a subscription based poetry series.

Here's the link to the site that talks about it.

There have been others who've done this for their own novels, but I don't think a publisher has done this for poetry. Given that poetry is truly a labor of love (ie not only no money, negative money) this sounds like a pretty good idea.

If any of you do subscribe I'll be interested in hearing your comments.

(Thanks to the purrrrfect GalleyCats for the link)


geeze...half a million hits?

We are within striking distance of half a million hits on this blog.
Visitors run about 3,000 a day and we're at 497,000 or so at 9pm EST.

Thank you for coming over here, for reading, for commenting, for emailing me, for talking about this blog on your blogs, and generally becoming part of a collective that enriches and delights us all.

Many of you have been kind enough to comment or email that this blog has helped you. I'm very glad it has. In turn, you all have helped me become a better agent. I've learned a lot from you and I'm glad to be part of your day.

Thanks a (half) million.


Writing Conferences

Miss Snark,

Have you heard of "The Muse and the Marketplace 2006" conference sponsored by Grub Street, Inc in Boston?

I'm in the Beantown area and thinking of attending. I'm also thinking of shelling out the additional money for the manuscript mart--it's a bit pricey, but the money is a donation to Grub Street, Inc, which seems like a good organization.

Are these types of conferences worth the price of admission? Or should I save my pennies for query postage?

I looked at the website and I know quite a few of the agents and editors on the roster. Whether it's "worth the price of admission" I don't know cause I've never attended one of these things as a writer ...ie paying to go. I sit on the other side of the desk with Killer Yapp and shout for refills of the gin IV.

My guess is however that among the readers of this blog are a fair number who have attended conferences like this, or even this one in previous years. Let's ask them to give us the scoop:

Have you attened a writing conference like this?

What are the "this is a good thing" signs to watch for?
What are the red flags to watch for?

Was your experience "worth it"?
Would you attend again?

Email me your experiences and I'll post them. If you want anything to be confidential, let me know in the email.

Miss Genoese published a lovely bit of advice on attending these kinds of conferences. If you're thinking of going, you might want to print it out, memorize it and live it.

Word Count...get the fire extinguisher

Dear Miss Snark:

Can you tell me what the acceptable word count should be (a range would be helpful) for a young adult action/adventure fantasy novel aimed at an eleven to thirteen year old readership?

I have been told that 60,000 words is the max for a first time writer. Is this true?

Thanks for your help.

Sorry, I have no idea. None. Zero. Zilch. I don't do YA, and I don't do fantasy.

The best way to really figure this out is to look at what's on the shelves in bookstores. Pick a novel in your category. Pick several. Make sure they are front list ..ie published this year. Count the words. You'll get the general idea.

This works for all sorts of genres not just this one. I can tell you one thing, Writers Digest another but what I'd believe first are the actual books on the shelves.

A Nose for Nothing

Dear Miss Snark,

The agency I would like to query says clearly on their website "...nothing should be enclosed with the letter; don't send any sample material until we advise you that we'd like to see it." So, for this case, I should not attach the first few pages?

I see an almost zero correlation between enticing query / cover letters and enticing writing so I always want to see actual pages.

However, if the guidelines specifically say "send nothing" I have to advise that you send nothing.

They must be better at scenting good writing from cover letters than I. I'll blame the gin.

Paging Mr Frey, Paging Mr Frey to the info desk

Overheard in New York is mandatory reading cause of stuff like this:

They Started at the Mystery Section

Girl: Excuse me, do you have any biographies of TuPac?

Library guy: Probably, though they'd be with the other biographies on the second floor.

Dude: But isn't this the fiction section?

Library guy: It is. You might be able to find some books about him in non-fiction.

Girl: "Non-fiction"?

Library guy: Non-fiction means true.

Dude: ...And fiction means false.

Library guy: Sort of.

Girl: So if it's in non-fiction then that means he must still be alive.

Library guy: I don't think you understand.

--Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza


Calling for the Clue Gun

Aren't all agents lazy and slow in responding to anything?

Especially Manuscripts?

Unless an established writer tips them off to something amazing...agents just stay in bed? If it's similar to the Da Vinci Code then they'll buy.

These days ficiton is a no-no.

Yes or No.


Miss Snark Says

Miss Snark,

You often give permission for people to quote you in contacting their agents (admittedly more often the poorly performing ones).

This gave rise to a question, which is more curiosity than anything else. Have you ever received something from a writer, quoting the venerable, wise, and ever-so-witty Miss Snark?

I've had colleagues quote me to me. The first time it happened I damn near spilled my gin.

I've gotten query letters referencing things said on the blog but not "Miss Snark says".

And several of my colleagues have gotten emails saying "I know you're Miss Snark but I promise I'll never tell --wink wink" which is of course hilarious in the extreme cause they're...wrong.

It's great to know that lots of people feel the blog is helpful to them. I have such a good time writing it that it's just a big bonus that's its also actually useful.

email discrimination

Dear Miss Snark:
I'm an editor of a small newspaper in the midwest. I don't read or respond to email coming from hotmail.com. I don't feel that way about gmail or yahoo addressess, however.

Do literary agents discriminate against email domains in a similar way?


However, I do look at email NAMES. If your name is "2hot4words" at whatever dot com, I'm probably not likely to open your email.

Same if you put a subject heading along the lines of: this needs your attention.

If I hear SASE one more time I'm going to set my hair on fire

Dear Miss Snark,

Does good news ever come in the SASE?

I've heard these are reserved exclusively for rejections, and any requests for paritals or fulls comes via phone call or email.

(I know you indicated otherwise in your post dated 18 March 2006, but I would love for you to, as you so adeptly and lyrically do, spell it out.)

Thank you for daily doses of entertaining enlightenment.


A Faithful Follower

Well, it depends on what you call good news. If you mean do I ever send an offer for representation in an SASE...no. I do mostly request partials by email. I do hang on to the SASE though and use it for the reply to the partial...mostly.

However. If this tempts you to not include an SASE, we've had that discussion but here's a brief recap on why it's a bad bad bad idea.

1. I won't read your stuff. For every nitwit who tells you they got a deal by querying without an SASE I can tell you ten people last week who didn't get read cuase they didn't send one. You might get a deal without one..from someone else. I assure you I won't read your stuff unless you send one. You choose.

2. People send just a cover letter querying a novel. I send them a note in their SASE saying send pages. If they don't include an SASE I don't request pages by email.

3. I do put notes on query letters like "I don't do SFF, try Felix Feelgood" or noting places they've done something beyond stupid like misspell the name of their book. I figure maybe if I mention it, they won't do it on the next round. Don't send an SASE and you've got zero chance for feedback. You may never GET feedback, but you've made it possible for it to happen rather than eliminating the chance completely.

This SASE question has gone beyond ludicrous. You're trying to distinguish yourself from 100 people a week. I tell you how best to do that for my agency. Why would you think those guidelines don't apply? I absolutely fail to understand that. And don't give me crap about "it's empowering" to make an agent contact you if they want you. My idea of being empowered is making a big sale, not shooting yourself in the foot on step one.

This isn't rocket sceince. Follow the instructions or not, as you see fit. If you want to waste your time and your stamp, be my guest. It makes absolutely no difference to me, cause there are lots of other people writing good stuff who manage to include an SASE just fine.

Daisy, Daisy Give Me Your Answer True..I'm Half Crazy Over the Sight of Youuuuuuuu

Daisy, my cat, periodically gets her whiskers in a bunch. I think she isn't fond of KY. I've had conversations with her about diversity and tried to get her to raise her acceptance level of those who are not, well, cat-like, but she isn't buying any of it. Not even for a New York minute.

Oh that is too bad cause Killer Yapp really really loves cats. They run up trees and hurl invectives at him in Central Park! They taste good fricaseed! And best of all, he looks better in his tam than they ever could. I'm sure Daisy just needs some ... consciousness raising. KY volunteers to moderate the session. Well..moderate may not be exactly the right word.

Do Me a Favor...

so, you're sending follow up emails to agents, or you're responding to an email from an agent.
Checked your spam blocker lately?

I cannot tell you how much I hate being asked to fill out little forms when I'm responding to an email from someone asking for information from me. You started the conversation, I'm not spamming you by sending a reply.

If you have spam problems, set up a clean email account and use it exclusively for your publishing stuff. Either that or double check that you've added my email to your ok list.

Kristin Nelson mentioned this in her response about e-queries. If her reply to you bounces back, she doesn't fill out the "please let me email you" form. She deletes it.

Just a word to the savvy query writer on this lovely Monday morning.

Chien Chapeaus and Lazy Ass Agents

Dear Miss Snark,

First - and I know this is mean spirited, but it's a comment from my dog, not me (he's a black lab with a penchant for poodles - his current squeeze is a white poodle down the street with a puppy cut) - when I told my dog that Killer Yap wore a pink tam out in public, he yakked up his dog biscuits and went to hide under the dining room table, refusing to come out until I assured him I had made the whole thing up and that no self-respecting dog, not even KY, would wear a pink tam in public.

Anyhow, my dilemma: Agent asked for a non-exclusive full. Following Miss Snark's advice not to be a pest, I waited 3 months + 2 weeks and then sent a VERY polite, deferential email asking whether he had, in fact, received the ms and expressing my curiosity about the time line of his reading log. Two weeks later, no word from the agent.

Should I: (a.) join the Hemlock Society immediately? (b.) maintain my email vigil? (c.) buy a super-sized container of clue dust?

Thanks again for making my day - every day!

KY understands there are Birkenstock dogs and there are Manolo dogs. There's no shame in being a Birkenstock dog. Yakking up perfectly good cookies though..that's just wrong wrong wrong. You might mention to your delicate stomach hound that a pink tam is much like an orange safety vest in deer season when you are a white poodle leaping about in Central Park snowdrifts.

But, to the subject at hand.

I choose B. You've given him three months. It's not pestering to email and say "hey lazybones, ya got it? ya like it? ya think ya want it?"...or perhaps something less ...um...Scorsese. And you get to keep doing it every two weeks or so until he has the courtesy to answer. He doesn't have to have it read in two weeks but not answering email from someone when you have a full manuscript is rude. You may not want to quote me in your emails, but you can.

Do you like it? Huh huh do you do you?

Dear Miss Snark,
Wish I had discovered your site earlier! I am waiting to hear from an agent and wondering when or if I should contact him.

I originally sent off the first 50 pages. He responded within a week asking for the whole manuscript. I sent that off by first post but not by recorded (because writing books always advise against this). After 6 weeks of nervously biting my nails and resisting the urge to call, I tentatively emailed him, only to find it had gone missing in the post! (yea right, it's in his office only he can't find it)

He got the second lot and promptly asked to meet me. The meeting went fine and he asked me to expand the book, which I have. Now, it's been four long weeks since it was sent. Nary a word. No contract. Nothing.

Will it be pushy to ask if he liked it? Or should I wait? His firm's policy is to give an answer within two weeks but that applies to first submissions. Please advise!

Four weeks is nothing. (it took me ten days to answer this question..and that's just a question!) Give him 90 days. You'd be amazed at the things that require immediate attention on any given day. Reading and signing new clients is important but it's hardly ever urgent. Please please please do not pester him. You will shoot yourself in the foot. I've not signed people with good books cause they drove me crazy.

I have a visceral dislike of people who email me with "do you like it" after a couple weeks. Since you did the confirmation thing, you know he's got it. He'll let you know.

Rejection mistakes

Miss Snark,

So, I sent a query letter to an agent, along with the first three chapters.
The response: standard form letter, which is no big surprise. But in the form letter, the agent mentioned the title of the novel. Problem, the title wasn't mine.

What's the best way to go about find out whether or not my query letter also deserved the old heave-ho, or that perhaps there was just a mix-up down at agent central? I'm assuming the agent wouldn't still have a
copy of my chapters.

Is the best course of action just to send another letter, along with the same chapters, explaining the situation and asking them to take another look?

Or, as an overwrought writer, should I flame the agent mercilessly on the Internet for having the temerity to be human and make a mistake and, if she ever crosses in front of me in traffic, speeding up?

Thanks for the fantastic blog and all your help.

I vote for B. Eviscerate the agent on every writer discussion board you can find. In fact, you might want to post your doubts as to whether the agent actually read it since she got such a fundamental thing as the title wrong. And of course, this is proof (yet again) that agents are evil, interested only in commercial pop star fiction, and really, POD is the way to go.

On the other hand, this happens all the time. It happens to me with letter from editors and publishers. They've rejected fiction that was non-fiction, characters instead of authors, Agent Fabulosity instead of me, and in a one time only takes the cake example of BAD database management...a novel they'd already bought. Ah yes. Let me tell you that one gave me heart failure. THAT was the one where I called up and said "hey...".

But I also call up on the other stuff too but it's cause I have an ongoing, working relationship with these editors. I don't ask em why they screwed up, I just say "thanks for looking at my novella in haiku, sorry it wasn't right, how do you feel about linked short stories in the second person".

If someone wants to see more is they will write you a letter asking for it (or an email). Getting things wrong on the rejection letter is a mistake of course, but it's rejection none the less.

If you really really think it's a mistake (which of course you do cause you're a writer and by definition think all rejections are a mistake) just send it back. Please do NOT mention the previous mix up. You're going to get another form letter but this time you might believe they really did look at your work.


"It's a Book!"

Dear Miss Snark,
I can't imagine what it must feel like the very first time you walk into the local bookstore and see your work on a shelf. Have you ever shared that experience with someone you represent?

Nope. I get books long before the bookstore does. And most of my authors live in far flung ports like... East Somewhere, New Jersey.


There's nothing like getting the cover art; then galleys; then seeing the actual book, and phoning the author to say "it's a book" to really make a day sweet. Those are really really nice days.

Readings are fun too particularly if no one knows I'm connected to the author and I can eavesdrop on their conversations.

Send Heat

Hey, Snarky (snarky??)

I have a collection of short stories which include graphic (though, I think, tasteful) descriptions of sexual situations. Frankly, I'm embarrassed to have written stuff like this, but I think it's good, and I think it's saleable. But to whom? Maybe there is no outlet for this.

Say hi to the dog. (KY elevates one eyebrow in return..no cookies? no escargot? no dice)


Six of the last 20 editors I talked to last week are looking for some form of "erotica". They all buy women's fiction as their main list builder but they're all looking for heat now. And I'm talking 1745 Broadway and 175 Fifth Avenue not PO Box Pawtucket neither.

But enough about me...

Miss Snark.

I recently wrapped up production on my first 'oeuvre de yum yum' and have been consuming your spoonfuls of Snarklicious consomme with a great deal of slurping and chin wiping. I also have partaken of several nuggets of lightly breaded submission guidelines from various agent websites, and here's where something got stuck between my teeth, leading me to seek the benefit of your Snisdom.

Many agents, it seems, request a brief bio as part of the query letter; and most that do specify that it should include the history of your writing wonderfulness. What if you have no such history? Is it better to not include a bio at all or should you still put a couple of sentences in telling them who you are, where you're from and that you once met the lead singer of Megadeth?

Any toothpick shaped advice you can give me would be very much appreciated. I'll set aside an escargot for KY.

KY is not sure about this escargot thing. While Miss Snark is fond of snail mail, KY's preference is to bite the snailmailman and slurp up soupcon de chat.

Alors, back to the topic du jour.

If an agent asks for a bio, what they really want to to know is stuff that will help them sell your piece de resistence. That's why they ask about writing credentials. It doesn't hurt to mention you were the lead singer of Megadeth or George Clooney's love toy, but unless it's gonna sell your book, I'm not interested. People tell me they are retired accountants, nurses, undertakers and the like. Ho hum. Now, a retired hitman, or spy..that I'd be interested in. People tell me which university they attended (the pathetic ones mention their gpa). The true straw graspers tell me they are big readers.

If you don't have stuff for a bio, it's ok to say nothing. In fact, if you're unsure whether to include a particular fact, look at ten author bios on books you love and see if something akin to it is is listed. If it is, go for it. If not, leave it off.

And for heaven's sake, if you have a website in your bio, clean it up before you start sending query letters out.

Bond, James Bond

Miss Snark,

I was cleaning about the house the other day and I allowed myself to be distracted by an old paperback copy of Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming. I estimate that I bought it in 1964 and the cover price was a whopping 60 cents. This is the day when a new car would cost $5000.

Just for giggles, I did a word count on the thing and it came to about 61000 words and is slightly less than a half-inch in thickness.

Now I understand that the customer wants value for the dollar and that novels have been expanding in size ever since. In your most knowledgeable and Snarkish opinion, Is this a good or bad thing for the writer?

Now to my second question: Do you often see mss that have been 'stretched' to get to the 100K word target and is the 'stretching' a benefit or hindrance?

Oh, those wonderful Bond books. They are treasures of cobblestone noir aren't they. Anyone who has only seen the movies has NO idea what the real James Bond is like.

And of course, it's a thriller, it's designed for a fast pace. Since you really don't need any character development, you save about 20,000 words in every book. (Would that Tom Clancy had paid closer attention to Mr. Fleming).

I do have books that came back with "yes we want this but we want more". Not "we want 5o more pages" usually but more like "we want more story, more this, more that".

And as far as I can tell its usually better. Of course, these are people whose work I've already taken on and sold; it's a given that I think it's a good book.

And I don't think novels have been expanding. For every 61,000 word novel published in 1956 (you've got a mass market American editon most likely) I can show you two that were 100,000.