Miss Snark has a query or two of her own

Dear Miss Snark:

Stop posting up pictures of my baby's daddy - my relatives are starting to ask questions.

I have a few questions myself...

Inspirational Fiction-updated

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a new but admiring snarkling who is hoping to get a crapometer critique for a Christmas present. I know you mainly answer questions about query letters and why agents act or respond a certain way, but I was wondering if you wouldn't mind answering a broader question about the agenting biz.

Why aren't there more agents representing inspirational fiction? The inspirational fiction market is a sizeable one that's growing, but agentquery.com lists only 3 pages of agents for the Christian fiction market, as compared to 20 for the romance markets, and 32 for the women's fiction markets. I didn't think twice about the imbalance until reading Kristen Nelson's blog a few weeks ago. She complained about getting queries for Christian romance when she doesn't represent the genre. Until her post, I thought any agent that represent romance or women's fiction would also accept inspirational submissions in those categories but I guess that's wrong (or is it?).

Remember of course that I do not do romance (other than one on one submissions with Mr. Clooney in Lake Como) so I watch this market with half an eye.

Inspirational fiction isn't a moneymaker for us.
Not a lot of subrights interest to exploit and not a big market to sell into.

Agents are mercenary beasts. We work the money categories.

Publishers who do these books make money cause a lot of small books do sort of well, without a single title doing really well: 30 books that sell 1000 copies not one book that sells 30,000 copies. That means low advances, and small royalty checks. I'm not inspired to make those deals no matter how much I love God.

This might be changing so I'm keeping the previously mentioned half-eye on this category.


Bat Segundo

The latest two installments of The Bat Segundo Show, a literary podcast featuring interviews with today's contemporary writers, are now up. We talked with comedian Tommy Chong about his arrest and author Annalee Newitz about capitalist monsters within cultural narrative..

We apologize for the two week delay in fresh podcasts. As Mr. Segundo explains in Show #68, he attempted physical exertion, only to discover that Cuervo encourages an innate clumsiness rather than enlightenment. Further, Mr. Segundo has not yet understood that just because a show is named a certain number, it does not follow that he is entitled to illicit door prizes. Jorge is doing his best to get Mr. Segundo to understand the real world, but, while we admire Jorge's enthusiasm, we fear the worst.

The main Segundo site can be found here:

Here are the details for the next two shows.

Show #68
Author: Tommy Chong

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Recovering from a medical mishap.

Subjects Discussed: Examining Title 21, Section 863, whether Clinton was in power in the 1980s, salsa dancing, the requirements for being an FBI special agent, plea bargaining, prison life, bodyguards, the Bush family, the advantages of celebrity status vs. a common offender being incarcerated, Michael Milken, humility, trying to remember prisoner numbers, respect for victims of disaster, looking at objects differently after prison, Cheech Marin, Up in Smoke, Chong as director, the benefits of pot, Chong as lyricist, Pipe Dreams: The Musical, Eric Idle, conflict between Cheech and Chong, Cheech’s art collection, Terence Malick, Lou Adler, Born in East L.A., Radiohead, and groups vs. individual artists.

Show #69
Author: Annalee Newitz

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Looking for an unwholesome bargain.

Subjects Discussed: Capitalist monsters, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, brain movies, Birth of a Nation, the fear of white power being lost, class warfare, Sawny Beane, the individual impulses of serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer, the labor tools of killing, the Unabomber, serial killer and terrorist nomenclature, freeway snipers, Fight Club, avuncular hackers, V for Vendetta, narratives involving women who gorge, The Man With Two Brains, Darren Aronofsky, Pi, the labor principles of freelancing, a lengthy argument on H.P. Lovecraft, and the inevitability of decay.

To subscribe to the show with a podcatcher program (for later transfer to your iPod), copy and paste this URL into your program:

To listen or to subscribe to the podcasts through Odeo, you can go here:

Please note: You do not have to have an iPod to listen the show! If you go to the main Segundo site, you can save the MP3 to your lovely machine by clicking on the bat picture or, if you're the kind of person who would rather swing a bat instead of clicking upon one, we do have a user-friendly interface with many options.

Thanks again for listening,

The Bat Segundo Crew

I know what you really want

Dear Miss Snark,

In their submission guidelines, some agents ask for the first three chapters of the manuscript along with a query. I think such requests are predicated on short chapters. I have a 300-page novel with 13 chapters. Each chapter is semi-self-contained. I plan on submitting some of these chapters as short stories to literary journals. Here's the page count for the first three chapters:

Chapter 1: 1-33
Chapter 2: 34-57
Chapter 3: 58-77

Although I'm more than willing to "give 'em what they want," I don't want to inflict agents with a pound of paper. What do you recommend, oh exalted one?

I recommend you return your degree in mind reading for a full refund.

Follow the directions.

Submission guidelines are not tricks to weed out those who can't figure out what we "really want".

Follow the directions.

Agents flunked out of mind reading school. They won't know you're trying to help them out. They'll see you can't follow directions.

Follow the directions.

L'Arc(hery) de Triomphe

Most Enlightened Miss Snark,

You told a fellow Snarkling that her long-bow hobby was interesting, helped you get an idea of who she was. Were you being tongue-in-cheek about including that in the bio? (no) I've heard you say a lot more frequently that publishing creds were all that mattered. Surely this would be a topic to come up later?

I ask because I'm tempted to include cross-cultural experience (which is part of my novel's premise) in my bio, but have essentially written it off as fool's gold.

Unless your cross cultural experience includes mastery of 14th Century weaponry I've failed to be clear.

Publishing credits are more persuasive to me than long bows. However, if you don't have much in the way of previously published work, it won't hurt to tell me one or two INTERESTING things. Interesting is hard to define however, things that are NOT interesting include but are not limited to:

your loinfruit;
pets (including and especially poodles cause you think it's persuasive);
college degrees, particularly if you feel the need to mention where you did your undergraduate work;
marital status and duration;
geographical residence;
career path;
fondest hopes for changing career to "published writer";
past lives.

Your mileage WILL vary on this one. Keep it short.

Dissing Dewey in the Stacks

Dear Miss Snark,

My novel combines elements of alternate history, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction.

My twenty eight year old black coworker thought that the book should be labeled as “African American” because four out of eight main characters are black.

My thirty five year old wife thought that if I removed the sex scene (not going to happen) it should be YA because the main character is sixteen.

My seventy five year old cousin thought it should be alternate history track because he enjoyed carefully researched parts about World War II the most.

My thirty two year old friend who only reads mystery thought it would do well as murder mystery.

As for me, I think it’s an urban fantasy because there is “magic” involved, even thought I attempted to make it plausible to the point that one of the people who read it claims that she was able to stop wrist pain following my book’s instructions

My fear is that by choosing one aspect of the book and labeling it urban or contemporary fantasy I will shut many doors.

I can see Miss Snark reading my query and saying, “Hmm
Fantasy? That’s an automatic no. Where is that pesky form letter? Oh, well, this tissue would do, I only used it once. Okay, maybe twice, but who’s counting?”

If you can see me reading this in a cover letter and saying "interesting" your optician is a miracle worker.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: when in doubt "commercial fiction" works very nicely.

I pay very very little attention when writers tell me their books should be lableled such and so. About 25% of the time they are flat out wrong. Another 25% of the time, they're half right but chose the wrong category.

Don't worry about this. Write compellingly and I'll read it.

People who think they are the exception to the rule...aren't

Hi Miss Snark:

Can you tell me the importance of novel length for an unpublished author? Are there sort of standard minimums and maximums? If so, can you tell me how certain writers (David Foster Wallace seems to come to mind here) get their first novels published with over 400 pages. I'm a nit-wit, so if you could explain in detail, I'd be oh-so-appreciative.


David Foster Wallace's
first novel was published 20 years ago in 1987. It had 155,000 words in in it. Here's how I know that.

In 1987 FedEx would send someone to your door to pick up a document, take it to their office and miraculously FAX it anwhere in the country for about $20. It was a very very big deal.

If someone offered you that deal today, you'd laugh and point out the world has marched forward for good or ill, and what was a good deal then, isn't the same today.

Today there are a lot fewer places publishing literary fiction, and a lot fewer editors willing to take on big ass novels. I don't say this critically cause it's mostly a reflection of what people are actually buying.

Here's what you need to think about every time you whine "but X was able to". Go read my back post this week on going through the slush pile. 20 queries/5 surviving to be read in more detail. I don't think I mention word count in any of the instant rejections but I probably would have if it was over 200,000 or under 65,000.

Even if you don't tell me the word count, you have to write a compelling query letter about a book I think I'd like to read. That's the first and highest hurdle.

If in fact you make it over that hurdle, and then I discover you've got a big fat book, you've simply set the bar for the next hurdle that much higher. You have to be so good that I can't live without that book cause selling 200,000 words these days is harder than selling 100,000.

Maybe this will help:

Percentage of books on my list that are more than 125,000 words: 0

Chances you are the next David Foster Wallace: <0

Chances you are publishable if you understand agents are persuaded first by commerce then by art: >0

Miss Snark Recovers


Miss Snark Taken Ill---updated

But help is on the way.

Why Exclusives Stink -more

There's a post several rungs down the rail tonight about a publisher who wants four to six months to review a manuscript, and doesn't take simultaneous submissions.

This is stupid from a business standpoint, and why they haven't realized it, I don't know.

First, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, knows that less than 2% of the work that comes in gets published. This means they're holding 98% of the pool hostage. It's not that hard to sort the crap out in five seconds and respond with a form letter. I do it three days a week and manage to keep up.

Second, good writers will make that publisher their last choice. Frankly, I'd want to be the first choice of every good writer.

Purposely doing things that look arrogant AND inefficient is a patent pending process of the government. You'll probably get sued for infringement, but that's ok. You'll have the papers exclusively for four to six months before a jury of snarling writers gets to decide your fate.


My new mantra

The (publishing) business is a cruel and shallow money trench. A long plastic hallway where pimps and thieves run free and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side.
--Hunter S Thompson

I don't hate Ann Coulter cause she's conservative, I loathe her cause she can't formulate a logical position

Dear Miss Snark,

I once wrote an editorial in support of a capital punishment bill, in part because writing editorials was my job, but mostly to strut my dispassionate professionalism in front of some newspaper colleagues. It has bothered me for more than twenty years.

In the past you've made sensibly disparaging remarks about Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and Fox News, which is yet another reason I like your blog.

Would you accept someone like Coulter as a client? I have no doubt you could represent her successfully, but would you?

If not, would you represent a conservative writer who is less reckless? Or do you figure life is too short to devote some of it to advancing political agendas or viewpoints you oppose?

And yes, I recognize that only a nitwit would expect an answer that might polarize 49.7 percent of your readership.

I wouldn't take Ann Coulter as a client cause she doesn't write very well. Her statements are poorly reasoned and rely on invective rather than logic or example. I read the first three pages of Godless just this morning and had to put it down.

There are many conservative writers I admire. I probably would not take on a pro-death penalty book because I couldn't advocate for it very well.

One of the m any reasons I admire and respect Sister Helen Prejean is that when faced with opposition, she listened to what people were saying, and instead of calling them names, she prayed with them.

My hair isn't on fire cause I'm a flaming liberal. Idiots of any political persuasion are still idiots.

Out of the mouths of babes

Miss Snark,

My toddler just saw the photo of Mr. Clooney on my laptop. She pointed to it, giggled, and said, "That's my daddy!" Hahahahhaa! I SWEAR to you, I never touched your man!

Killer Yapp will be calling on you soon.

You're not as boring as you think

Dear Miss Snark ~

Upon doing a search of your blog I could not find a post pertaining to my question, so I thought I would bare my neck before your stiletto heels and ask.

Namely, when one is writing a fiction query letter to an agent (errr...fiction query letter??) do you feel it is important to include biographical information ... if there is nothing in one's biography remotely interesting? Many how-to sites strongly advise including a bio, but I am not published, I have no credentials, and I don't know anybody famous. I really don't think an agent will care that I train border collies and shoot a longbow, since that's not what my book is about, and the fact that I've read in my chosen genre since I was 10 does not sound terribly relevant to a sales pitch.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for the biography-impaired new author?

Well, I think it's quite interesting that you know what a long bow IS, and you know how to shoot one. I don't care if you're writing about computer crime, that's still an interesting thing to know about you. Also, despite the horrifying lapse of not having poodles, the fact that you like dogs is a plus.

Part of telling me this in your Query Letter for Fiction is to give me an inkling of who you are. If you have a crackerjack novel, we're going to be working together for many productive years I hope, and knowing you are adept with weapons of medieval mass destruction is good to know.

PS Killer Yapp wonders if border collies read Haberdashery for Dogs?

Talk about Raw Suckage!

Dear Miss Snark,

I was bouncing and flouncing my way around the web this morning looking at various publisher websites and came across one that I thought would be a very good fit for my novel. Reading their submission guidelines they do accept queries directly, and since I dont have an agent (yet) I was considering sending a query. Then I came to the last two points of their submission guidelines:

8. Please allow at least four to six months for your manuscript to be considered. If you haven't heard from us after four months, and wish to make sure your manuscript got here, please write a letter stating the genre, the date of submission, and the title of the manuscript, rather than calling. We will respond promptly.
9. We do not accept simultaneous submissions.

Now, the 4-6 month thing I can handle - they are busy, they have a lot of stuff to review. But... the last point about not taking simultaneous submissions - does this mean they honestly expect me to basically put my novel into "Literary Limbo" for six months and not send it out to anybody else for representation.

Am I misreading something here because this seems a bit much to me. How bad would it be to send to this company but still seek representation elsewhere. They have published some quality books from some well-known authors, but the time frame still seems ridiculous to me.

This sux.

If it takes this long to review a submission, fine. You email the author before you start reading and ask for a five day exclusive if it's still available. You take your chances some better organized, more efficient, smarter, hungrier company beat you to the punch. (spiked punch of course).

This isn't just ludicrous, it's disrespectful.
Screw them.

It's also the hallmark of a company that doesn't have confidence you'll choose them over anyone else. I NEVER ask for exclusives and most of my fellow agent buddies don't either. I figure if you want to work with me I'd better be able to tell you why I am a great agent for your book and what I bring to the table that those other sloths in the industry do not. I specifically do not want to sign anyone who hasn't queried elsewhere. That's the fastest way in the world to get a client with buyer's remorse the second something goes awry (and the first rule of publishing is that EVERYTHING goes awry).

Exclusives stink.

If you queried me about a novel that was tied up for four to six months, I'd probably pass. I like to sell my clients' work, not watch it grow mold.

Writers Conferences

Dear Miss Snark,

I understand the different types of writer's conferences. I have been to some wonderful conferences and have had the pleasure of working with some wonderful authors such as James Houston and Dorothy Allison. I have been keeping my eye open for conferences which feature agent interviews but whenever I think I have found one, when I start researching the agents that will actually be there, I find that they specialize in Science Fiction, they aren't listed in Writer's Market, or (horrors!) they are not from New York. What's a girl to do?

Well, let's find out.
Any suggestions?

PS Geography should not be a basis for choosing an agent. Some of the best agents making deals today live in the non-212, poor dears.

There is no secret to getting noticed in the slush pile

Dear Miss Snark,

I was at a creative writing course recently – as a published author teaching – and the ex-journalist editor of a creative writing magazine was confidently telling people how self-publishing will work for them beyond actually making sales themselves. Because, according to him, when editorial and agents’ offices have a blitz on the slushpile, telling everyone to grab a handful of submissions to deal with over the weekend, actual books are always grabbed first as being easier to read.

He genuinely seemed to believe this and as far as I’ve been able to establish, he has no links with any self-publishing outfit. Professional courtesy kept my mouth shut and since I wear my hair with a fringe (‘bangs’ in the US, I believe) no one could see how far and how fast my eyebrows shot towards my scalp.

It still sounds like nitwit advice to me. I’d be very interested in your take on this.

It IS nitwit advice, and I'm glad you recognzied it instantly.

First of all, slush that arrives here in book form is thrown away unread. Most publishers aren't interested in doing second editions of novels. Plus, the production values are usually so bad I don't want to read it anyway.

Second of all, I don't blitz the slush pile. I don't have enough room here to leave stacks of paper lying around for the dog to sleep on, the fan to flutter, or for Grandmother Snark to use to dash off a phone message from the Mayor asking her opinion on caberat law reform.

This is exactly the kind of idiot advice that trips up writers. He's never worked a publisher's or agent's slush pile in his life, and "published authors" know what worked for THEM, not what works normally.

Agents and publishers aren't trying to trick you by telling you how to send things to them. If you follow the guidelines, and you aren't having succes: IT'S THE WRITING.

Miss Snark in her slush pile

Here's what you did today that made it easy to say no:

1. "This book has been printed not published" but of course it has an ISBN number on it.
Clue! Clue!

2. "I'm a nationally known X"...and Google has never heard of you. Well, you'd better tell me why in the first paragraph.

3. "I've just finished the first draft" of A for Anything.

4. Describing your main character as "female protagonist". This is not the Army despite the close order drill by Grandmother Snark's Ladies Sewing Circle. Nor is it the Police academy. Nor is it an autopsy.

5. "I'm looking for help marketing my novel". No you're not. You're looking for an agent.
Clue! Clue!

6. "Querry letter" is an auto-reject. If you sent it, I didn't read it. Try again.

7. "My historical novel is set along the Oregon Trail" -then proceeds to describe North Dakota. Get your facts right. Nothing makes me reject (even good) writing faster than getting basic facts wrong. It's stupid and sloppy and insulting to the reader. I know better. You should too. It's not that hard to google things. If you need a picture of the Oregon Trail it's here

8. "My books were published to regional acclaim" but you list no publisher and I can't find you on Amazon. Maybe the region was Rabbitania. Assume I'm going to fact check your query letter. Make sure everything you tell me will survive a google search.

9. 8pt Times Roman; marbelized puce-colored stationery; right justified margins. I read 100 queries a week. I'm reading them NOW, at 9:19pm. I'm tired, it's been a long (but good) day and when your query letter is physically hard to read, I'd rather reject it than make the effort.

10. Including the table of contents, the dedication page, a title page or anything else between the cover letter and the page with "it was a dark and stormy night".

Here's the tally for just TODAY:

20 queries opened and stacked
Autorejects: 10
Query by referral from an Always Read Old Friend-top of the pile for tomorrow when I'm not tired: 1

That leaves 9 I'll put my eyes on for about five seconds right now.

1. Stupid cover letter, skim the writing, ick, no.
2. Good cover letter, good premise, writing isn't obviously crap-hold on to.
3. Not bad cover letter, good premise, killers on page one-hold on to
4. Query from published author with a website that shows me he's got some muscle-hold for reading.

5. Not bad query letter but the novel's premise is utterly boring and so last century-yuck-no.

6. GREAT query letter, premise about something I usually hate, but this one might over come that-hold for reading.

7. Query letter with all the right stuff, but a topic I don't ever do-no

8. Boring ass query letter about "colorful characters coming of age". Yuck. no.

9. Sucky query letter, and just to make sure, yes, the writing sucks too. Try to keep all your verbs in one tense in the first paragraph unless you are Thomas Pynchon. Not Pynchon-esque. The actual Pynchon.

Final tally:
5 no
4 to be read. That's not partials. That's the number of queries I'll actually read with the idea of asking for more. 25% of the day's take (when you factor in the one from the referral).

Don't make it easy to say no to you.

is there too much of a good thing?

Dear Miss Snark:

You have a new, unpublished client. You love her voice, her characters and witty dialogue, the way she uses just enough words to paint a memorable scene. And, despite a couple of plot flaws, you've signed her up because the flaws can be fixed with a bit of rewriting.

My first question: Once this is done, will you then read the entire manuscript again?

My second: Does a re-read take away some of the magic? Would it, perhaps, make you less excited about the story (in this case, women's fiction) because you already know how it ends?

My third: Are you aware your name does not appear in my treasured Roget's Thesaurus, copyright 1975?


No. The hallmark of a really good book (which of course is a given if you're one of my clients) is that I like being in the book, and with the characters so much that even knowing the ending doesn't spoil the experience.

One can hardly blame Roget for failing to mention Miss Snark in 1975. One hopes the 2006 edition has been perfected.


Don't be a meathead

Your Snarkiness,

I find myself sitting on several finished novels. None of them are published, but I'm close to finishing my third, and I feel confidant in my ability to retrofit the other two with... shall we say, publishability.

I digress. When I am querying my third novel, should I mention the other two? I know that many people are of the opinion that one is not ready to be published until one has several manuscripts lording over the dust of the third sock-drawer to the left.

While it seems silly to me to mention efforts that went unpublished, I don't want the people I query to think I've never written fiction before.

One of the most reliable predictors of crap is a cover letter that tells me how well edited the book is or how many novels are under the bed.

Have you ever noticed the people who feel compelled to tell you how honest they are, aren't?
How handsome and how much the girls admire them, aren't?
How important and powerful they are, aren't?

People who are honest, courteous, smart and witty don't need to tell you. You know it by looking at them, listening to them, and reading their pages.

Show, don't tell, starts at "Dear Miss Snark" not "page one".

Don't tell me about the hours you sweated in the gym. Show me the beefcake.

Action (with) JACKSON

Dear Miss Snark,

I attend a face-to-face writers' group a couple of days a month. One of the members who is senior to me shared with us the means by which he knows whether his manuscript was read all the way through: he sticks a $5 bill between certain pages. He asserted that the bills always came back. " 'I read your entire manuscript . . .' Yeah, right!" he said.

Of course I know what I think about that tactic (and the one-upside-down page thing, and the single hair between certain pages), and what it demonstrates of the writer's opinion of the person he or she is submitting to, but I don't run the group and I didn't want to cause a scene by pointing out how ill-advised such behavior would be.

So, though I refrained from scratching my snark-itch there, I wonder if you have some thoughts on the topic and if the other Snarklings had heard of, seen, or even (gasp!) tried other techniques to "check up on" the agent or editor.

Off now to nurse my much-chewed tongue.

Everyone knows it's a TWENTY dollar bill that makes the difference.


Buy Lingual

Dear Miss Snark,

English is my second language and I mention it in my query letter. Do you think I should keep doing it?


Very interesting question.

It certainly won't hurt; no agent in their right mind would not read pages because you aren't a Native Speaker

Besides, we're all looking for Nowhere Man .

In fact it could help you on your trip into the Heart of Darkness.

Miss Snark in a quandary!

Miss Snark needs a drink recipe!
By tomorrow!!!

apparently "dial gin delivery service" is not a recipe!

If you have a good recipe, send it over!
We'll make up a pail or two and test it.

Postings to the blog may slow down until we achieve our goal and meet our deadline.

Ready! Set! Swill!

I want to be Miss Snark

Dear Ms. Snark,

I think I have what it takes to be a literary agent--I love reading, know lots of writers, editors and even a few publishers. I've worked in public relations (though not on books) for the past 12 years and know how essential a good "hook" is to garnering attention. In the 80s I was a real estate broker, so I'm too old to work in a mailroom. I've been researching the publishing industry (I know the Booker Prize will be announced today, for example).

I know you're snarky, but hope you'll take a moment to give me your sage advice.

You might want to find out what a literary agent actually does before assuring me you have what it takes.

Even if you don't think you can start in the mailroom, you should just sit in an agent's office for a week and watch what happens. Very few of your "qualifications" are actually relevant.

Killer Yapp is still laughing

This is a video clip.
It's funny as hell.
It's vulgar as well.
Do NOT click on this if you are easily offended or under the age of 35 (the acceptable age to begin dating according to Father Snark)


More about e-queries

I was slinking about the net this morning and came upon this post by agent Jenny Rappaport about equeries, and response time.



I am sending out query letters to try to interest various university presses in my book. I am following their instructions to the tee. Sounds like a silly question but I need to know the answer. Can I staple any of the sample pages together? So far I am just separating various pages with colored paper, as I have done when sending out the entire manuscript. What about with query letters? Can I use staples?


No colored paper either.

Attachment disorder

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a newbie question for you. I sent an e-query (preferred method of the agency) with a Word attachment. I did write if they would prefer the query in the body of the e-mail, I could resend it. Since I've been reading your archives, I realize I should have pasted it into the body of the e-mail. Do you think I'm okay or will my query get deleted?

The default setting for e-queries is no attachments. Only if the website guidelines for the agency say "in an attachment" do you send it that way.

Resend the query.