All Mistakes Are Forgivable...but these are not words to live by

Ms. Snark, (1)

You have written many times that when you read a partial or full, you make your determination whether or not (2) to represent the author on the strength of the writing first and foremost.

But, just out of prurient interest, of the manuscripts you eventually chose to represent, could you estimate the average number of typos/grammaticals (3) that you recognized (4) as you read through the first draft sent to you? On average? Less than five? Less than 20?

I assume that anything that looks as if it has (5) been typed by a dyslexic chicken does not spend much time on your desk, but I'm curious as to your (and by proxy other agent's) threshold tolerance for the occasional "oops." Does a single misspelling or punctuation faux pas guarantee a trip to the circular file?

Well, you've got five here and I'm answering so it seems the answer is more than five and fewer than six.

The actual answer, to quote Mr. Henslowe, is "it's a mystery". I read more rather than less if I like the idea; if you came with an introduction from Grandmother Snark's cabana boy, or other published novelist; if I'm not in a really crabby mood; if there was a good sale at Barneys and I have clever new boots; if you're the only thing I have to read on the train.

It's subjective beyond quantification. The best I can say is don't rely on sliding by. Some days the answer is Z for Zero.

Mostly though, the typos/errors are just the leading indicator of writing that needs a good solid scrubbing. Your letter is a classic example of that. Here's a redraft:

Dear Miss Snark,

When you read a partial or full, you decide whether to represent the author based first and foremost on the strength of the writing - that's very clear from your previous posts.

I'm curious: of the manuscripts you eventually chose to represent, can you estimate the average number of typos or errors you see as you read through the first draft sent to you? An average? Fewer than five? Fewer than 20?

I assume anything that looks like it was typed by a dyslexic chicken does not spend much time on your desk, but what is your (and, by proxy, other agent's) threshold tolerance for the occasional "oops?" Does a single misspelling or punctuation faux pas guarantee a trip to the circular file?

Red key:
1. Miss Snark. Getting my name wrong counts as a mistake.
2. Whether implies or not.
3. Grammaticals is not a word as far as I know. You mean "errors"
4. recognize, not recognized.
5. had, not has (and "was" instead of "has been" is stronger)

and of course I know you dashed this off, and it is not an accurate reflection of a query letter you would send. Think of this as a "floor model" query letter; not for sale, but good for a quick demonstration.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the Pod (cue music from Jaws)

Here's something to keep you occupado while I survive my exile from the 212.

Let me know your scores.
Frankly, I'm scared to play.

Just cause you can..doesn't mean it's a good idea *

Been obsessing about whether your query letters get lost? Whether your email gets deleted?

Fear not, once you are a published writer you will STILL be able to obsess about lots of interesting things. Not just how well your book is doing (Amazon Refresh! Amazon Refresh!) but now how well you are doing compared to the gopher in the next cubicle over whose uncle is the nephew of Judith Regan's love slave so got a six gazillion dollar advance for his book of poems "Love Among the Ruins". Now, thanks to this guy, you can do that. Quickly! Easily! I mean, why spend time memorizing poems when you can exercise your paranoia algorhythmically!

thanks to Towse for the link and the reminder to read The Nudist on the Night Shift

Thanks to Grandmother Snark for the title


Thank Dog!

Just today I was dripping up Central Park West to the B train thinking "thank dog I bought that new air conditioner two weeks ago" cause it's been sodden here. Forget sex in this city; I don't want to be near myself, let alone you (unless you are Mr. Clooney, and even then you better have ac in the limo).

Thus my delight to discover via those clever cats over at Media Bistro, and the tasty morsels at BookBurger that there is a whole new series dedicated to thankfullness.

Thank God I Can Spot a Scam
is the title of my entry!

What's yours?

Email return receipts

The earlier "pair a noya" post did NOT elicit the comments I expected, ie "WTF??". In other words email return receipts are clearly something y'all know about and have seen.

Well, count me clueless. I've never seen one or heard of it before now.

I'd like to know how it works, if it works on all email programs or which ones it doesn't work on.
Here's your chance to aim the clue gun right at Miss Snark's pointy little probiscus.


Fess up early

Dear Miss Snark,

At what point in the query process should the author disclose prior representation of a manuscript? I fear it'd be the kiss of death on an initial query, yet waiting until the agent says they wish to represent the author seems unethical.

If you let me invest hours of my time reading something and THEN disclose it's been shopped till it dropped, I'm going to auction off your nether regions on ebay...before I remove Killer Yapp's delicate pink snout from your left ankle.

If you've been represented before you gotta tell me. Early. You don't have to give me all the prurient details but the more along the lines of "my former agent was abducted by aliens and left publishing for a lucrative speaking career" the better. In other words, I'm not going to be all that eager to look at something that's made the rounds and hasn't sold.

On the other hand I just came from a dinner engagement with a colleague where we toasted her success just today in selling a book that had been shopped extensively by someone else. She had a few tricks up her sleeve that no one else did. The key however was the author was SMART and revealed all, early. My pal knew the stakes and was willing to get fired up.

I think I compared this to dating after a divorce. I don't want to hear about your ex wife and how she took you to the cleaners but I do want to know she left you with six kids and psychotic golden retriever.

MIss Snark puts on her a pair a noya

Dear Miss Snark,

I am nearly ready to begin querying agents and a question just occurred to me. I have been reading your blog faithfully and I don't remember this question coming up. When you send an email query to an agent, is it okay to use a read receipt on your email for your peace of mind that it was read? I've seen many agent's websites say if they haven't responded by two weeks to a month (of course this varies widely), they either haven't gotten the email or they aren't interested. A return receipt would at least avert the worry that they haven't received it. What do you think?

uh...you can tell when I open and read your email to me?
when did I open this one?

Filthy Lucre

Miss Snark,

I have absolutely no interest in sales. Not that I wouldn't mind making a small fortune off writing but I don't expect it to ever happen. I know most writer's don't make their living by writing. I write because I want to communicate with a reader. While I don't intend to say this in my query letter is there any hope for me in the cut-throat world of publishing? Am I naive to think if I can write a decent book finding the right agent will take care of the business stuff I don't care much about? If it matters at all the genre is young adult fiction. I've read agency listings in market guides that say things such as, "We want writers who are serious about their career." If so few writers can support themselves on writing why would it seem so many agents want writers who are going to get a rude awakening? (Don't take this as I don't care about the "how" I write. I want to continue writing in both quanity and improved quality.)

You may not care how your book sells but I assure you that every publisher in the world will. Publishers are in the business of publishing books; keyword business. They may not run it with the blunt force trauma sales teams of other retail products but make no mistake about it: if your book doesn't sell "well", you're not getting another deal.

And I care a lot about sales too. I make money from it just like you do, and unlike you this IS my only job.

So, yea, I want someone who is deadeye serious about making the book a success. I want clients who say "what can I do" and "can I do more". People who say "I wrote the damn thing, surely that's enough" are not likely to end up on my list or anyone elses for that matter.

If all you want to do is communicate with your readers sans the filthy tiremarks of the Highway of Commerce, write a blog.

Clocking in at the Widget Factory

Dear Miss Snark,

I have an acquaintence who completed a novel two or three years ago. She sent out a number of queries and started collecting rejection letters when, at the point of giving up, she received an offer of representation. Since then she has, at the behest of her agent, rewritten the novel several times. For two years. Without the agent sending it out to any editors. I don't know this woman well enough to ask if she has paid this agent money. I did ask her if she was concerned that the book had not been shopped at all in two years. She says trusts her agent, whom she recently met on a trip to NYC. The agent apparently loves her book, but isn't sure it or the market is quite ready yet.

From what I can gather, the agent is the foreign rights representative for some agency (the author won't divulge the name) and worked for a time as an editor at Random House. Does this happen -- this long term babysitting of a work in progress? It doesn't seem to fit the patterns you describe here on the site.

It's really hard to comment on a situation without knowing what the agent is actually saying. I've heard people talk about letters from "their agent" only to realize they were referring to ongoing rejection letters.

Without commenting specifically on this example, I can tell you that yes, this does happen. I've got a couple things right now that are being redrafted. Usually I only take on things that I think are ready to be shopped right away but sometimes I don't. And sometimes I'll send things back for redrafting after we've gotten some feedback from the rejection letters.

Your more general question of "can stuff happen that isn't like what is described here on the blog and not be a red flag" the answer is a big fat 'you betcha'. There are a lot of agents, a lot of projects and authors aren't widgets. Not that some of them wouldn't benefit from a ball peen hammer to the diemold some days...but you get the drift.