fuck off and die

Some time back I had a chance to read 87 rejection letters sent by a zoo of agents; one of my clients kept every letter he received saying no to a book I now represent.

The rejection letters ranged from the formulaic "not right for me" to "fuck off and die".

There was a comment to the blog recently about this topic also. It reads:

Anonymous said...
As for rejection, I much prefer NO to all the snarky comments agents feel so compelled to make. You guys should hire David Spade as a rejection consultant. No more creativity than Nyet or Nein, please. Or maybe a rubber stamp "Rejected." I don't need to hear you write how well I write but there's no market--especially when Agent no. 2 calls me out of the blue and says he can walk into any house and sell it. If you don't want to rep me, keep your opinions to yourself.

Back when Miss Snark wasn't wearing stiletto heels and was trying to get in touch with her inner Miss Congeniality, she tried to write helpful things on query letters.

Didn't take but a month or two to stop THAT. Some of Miss Snark's favorite swear words were learned from the responses to those "helpful rejection letters".

Unasked for advice is hardly ever welcomed.
Criticism is welcomed less than that.

And yet...at writing conferences, at parties, in the subway, on this blog, people are looking for information about why their work isn't making the cut.

So, what's a Snark to do? Stamp "fuck off and die" on 37 queries a day?
(Ok...that's damn appealing).

Or just keep sending "not right for our list but query other agents cause ya never know when
you'll hit the 1:87 who says yes".

Which is better: comments or rubber stamps?

Day 4: Day Timer Confessions...Final!!

Miss Snark was bad bad bad to the bone today.
Bad I tell you!

8am...NOT in the office
8:30 ...double ibid
I told you it was bad

9:00 Miss Snark slinks into the office carrying a gallon of java, a chocolate pastry, the NYT, wearing her sunglasses, and if we're not mistaken..the SAME ensemble she wore Wednesday.


9:01 am Calls to London to see if everyone is ok. Happily yes.
9:25 am confirm weekend escape route
9:30 am read incoming email. Drink more coffee.

10: 00 am put on telephone headset and make 39 calls in rapid fire order.
these are the follow ups, returning your call, doublechecking detail calls
that happen every day.

11:35 am Friend of long standing duration calls and tempts Miss Snark into
playing hooky. Miss Snark guiltily accepts.

12:00 finish phone calls to update clients on news of the week.

1:20pm race from office to movie theatre, stopping only for cool drink and a cookie.

2:00pm Yay!!! First previews Ive seen for "In Her Shoes" the Cameron Diaz,
Toni Colette movie based on Jennifer Weiner's book. I love Jen. I think
she's just the coolest. And her blog is named after ...ME. (well, ok, not,
but yanno..it could be!!!)

stare at Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt for two hours.

Miss Snark considers this an afternoon well spent, but slinks back to the office with repentance on her mind.

4:30pm Mail call!!
37 query letters. Nothing so wretched as to make me go "post-al".
But nothing grabs me. Same old same old. I swear if you write a novel
you should reverse the gender of all the characters to see if it makes
it more interesting.

7:00 pm last 100 pages of a manuscript I should have finished copy editing
last night but didn't...bad bad bad. (Miss Snark hangs head in shame)

10:30 sort out which manuscripts come for the weekend. Currently I have eight unread manuscripts from prospective clients and five from current clients who are either doing a second book, rewrites on a book we represent, or rewrites on a book I've sold.
Client manuscripts get top priority so I take three of them.

11:00pm Total up the damage for the day

Phone calls: outgoing: 45, incoming: 17
query letters: 37...all no
swear words: I forgot to count but "a lot" seems reasonable

12:30 am...read the blog comments and hone snarky edge for next day!

Miss Snark 1...world ...smackdown!


Day 3: the Day Timer Confessions

Talk about endless bloody useless waste of time.
Time to put on the bunny slippers and go to bed because tommorow has just got to be better.

8:00am Miss Snark is not caffeinated, nor awake. She is however on the telephone.
This is not a good sign. People who do not understand Miss Snark's office hours should rot in ..I dunno...Jerry Springer's green room maybe.

8am is early afternoon for our German friends and this call was from a potential client who lives in Germany. I've been able to send her some translation job leads but her work has never been quite right for my list. She's calling now to double check on some details. Phone call: 20 minutes. Glad she's paying.

8:30 am coffee. More phone. Sorting out art work on a project. Downloading pdf files and photoshop files and printing things. This was supposed to be really simple. Why isn't it?
Inevitably I end up printing things four times because I see things on paper that I haven't seen on the screen.

9:00 am Back to client files. Follow up on a myriad of details. This is the job that takes three hours on a Monday, and today takes 45 minutes.

10:00 am phone call with a client who just needs reassurance.

10:15 am...oh great. A publisher failed to register a copyright. This is basically meaningless but it's yet ANOTHER example of a small publisher who is disorganized and cutting costs in all sorts of stupid ways. I've searched the copyright office website. Neither my author, nor her title are there. I call the copyright office. I've dealt with them on public domain issues before and sing their praises. They are fast, they are polite, they are helpful. They are like librarians. I'd like every single tax dollar I shell out to go directly to them.

I download the forms for registering the copyright. I call the publisher to ask if Im just missing something.

Copyright is in place from the moment the work is created. Not registering with the copyright office doesn't mean the author is not protected. What it does mean is that if some scummy skanky beast lifts her work, she can't collect damages. She can file a lawsuit to have his work removed from the marketplace, but damages require copyright registration.

It costs all of $30. This small publisher isn't the first to skip out on this stuff. I read about a MAJOR publisher doing the same several months ago. Now it's just one of the things I check about six months after a book is published. Dot the i's, cross the t's. It's why having an agent is more than just making sales.

11:45 fuck. A prospective client calling about the offer. I told her to consult a publishing attorney. She consulted a "contracts lawyer". Those people think it's their job to find every possible place a contract could go wrong. Well folks. Shit happens. You can't write a contract that makes it impossible for that to happen. Im not going to have a paragraph included that says I wont steal your money. If you think that's even a remote possibility, sign elsewhere.
And if I take leave of my senses and do steal your money, file a criminal complaint. It's AGAINST THE LAW. You don't need a contract with me to spell that out any more than you need one that says I won't kill you. Well...on the other hand.

Maybe she'll get with the program, maybe not. Im not paying MY lawyer $350 an hour to review suggested changes from anyone. This is the old take it or leave it. I"ll explain what it means to you but I"m not changing it.

1:00pm This conversation is over and Im in shreds. I hate this kind of stuff. I read the news feeds and blog to relieve my snarkiness. You can tell when Im crabby. There are five posts in an hour.
1:15pm LUNCH...carbs are soothing. Bread and hummas are medically required today. So is this cookie. And that cookie too. And the chips.

2:00pm Mail call. Oh good, a fuckwit sent me all THREE of her iUniverse books. And a letter saying she's researched the agency. Ya right. NO.
16 query letters...16 SASE's.
16 NO.
For more discussion on SASE's see "Stamp THIS" below. I've decided to go back to throwing away letters that don't have them.

3:00pm Latest draft arrives of a nf book I seriously hoped was finished. Newp. I'll be reading and doing mark up for the rest of the night. It's soothing focused work, and it's finishable work. At the end, it's done, I can mail it back and have a sense of accomplishment. Every other thing today was some form of treading water, and those days are just harsh.

Miss Snark 0 World 1

Killer Bees...biblio style

Via Media Bistro comes this story out of , where else, Texas
about a library, a UNIVERSITY library that will have one
thousand books in the actual library.

If you need an idea of how few 1000 books is check the comments
to my post titled "I confess. I don't have much of a library".

Here's part of the article.
Allison B. Smith, a junior who is majoring in public relations, seems nonchalant about the truckloads of books that have been pulling away from the library, destined for other campus buildings. She usually visits the undergraduate library just to check e-mail between classes. "I've never been here to get a book," she says.

"The way things are set up these days, it's kind of a hassle when you have to go into the library to get a book," she adds. "I can get just about everything I need, right at home, through UTnet," the university's high-speed digital network. If she needs a bound book, she says, she can always get it from another campus library.

These are the kids who'll be using Vid Lit (see earlier post) to buy books.

It's coming Snarklings, it's already in Texas.
Like Killer Bees.

fuckwits surround us

From our friends at
Media Bistro
this juicy tidbit about a man who was teaching college students and thought it might be ok to blog about how sexy one of the students was. Talk about numbnuts.

This joins the the pablum-for-brains nanny who told her employer about her blog, and the nanny's employer who read it, fired the nanny, continues to read the blog AND wrote a piece in the New York Times about it
as a very good example of

Yanno, if you read more history you'd know that our Founding Fathers were "posting" vitriol that makes Miss Snark look like a rustic amateur. They also did it under ASSUMED names.

If it was good enough for Alexander Hamilton by god it should be good enough for us.


Stamp THIS!

Stamped, self addressed envelopes in case the jargon isn't second nature yet.
All agents require them if you query by snail mail.

The first time someone ambushed me with "what do you do with all those stamps" I was a little taken aback. I thought it was a joke. I was at a writing conference in front of 400 people so I said "I use them at the liquor store instead of cash of course."

Then someone else asked.

And then it showed up on the comments pile here.

I know I don't keep them. I know I answer every query letter I get that has one. I also know not all of you are getting them back.

First. Size matters. #10 SASE means a #10 sized envelope. It's the size a manuscript page fits in when folded in thirds. It's NOT a small envelope like you'd use in the offeratory plate at church or an odd sized envelope like you get for a wedding invitation. #10 is on the box of envelopes when you buy them. Look for it.

Second. Your address. Write it in ink. No return address labels from Easter Seals in place of the address. NO LABELS at all. If your handwriting sucks, learn to print envelopes on your printer. Pay your spouse to write them. Labels can peel off or get torn.

Third. Don't write the address in ink that smears. My office is infested with coffee gremlins, water bottles, and the like. The mailbox on the corner isn't exempt from being rained on.

Fourth. Put a stamp on it. You'd be surprised.

Fifth. If you don't hear back, write again. If you don't hear back again, you've just saved yourself from being represented by people who are not well organized. Not an expensive lesson at 34cents a pop. (oops. postage is 37 cents a pop as pointed out by a Snarkling in the comments section. All in all though, still a bargain rate.)

Sixth. If you don't hear back from ANYONE or more than 50% of the people you mailed to, the problem is on YOUR end.

Agents in the business of committing fraud do it in much more lucrative ways than stealing first class stamps. They ask you for reading fees. Or production costs. Or loans.

I want you alllll to myself--thoughts on exclusivity.

Don't do it if you can help it.

If you have to, make sure the agent is someone who is in a serious position to make that exclusivity worth your lost opportunity cost. That means they have sales with books like yours. Recent ones. Do your homework here. A month is the longest I'd ever ever ever agree to exclusivity. Ten days (or two business weeks) would be ok.

And exclusivity is not bondage. If you send something on an exclusive basis, and the agent doesn't get back to you, fire off a letter withdrawing the exclusivity. You don't have to be nasty. Polite is a much much better choice. "I sent you my manuscript Miss Snark Debits Dallas on an exclusive basis on July 17. I hope it's something you'd like to represent. I need to move forward in my quest for representation and plan to send out query letters to other agents on September 1. I appreciate your time and consideration." Give them enough time between when you send the letter and plan to query others --two weeks or so. Make SURE you include an SASE with this letter!!!

I don't ask for exclusivity on anything. I'll ask you if anyone else is reading this. If they are, just tell me. It usually moves you up the list a little but, not much. If Binky Urban or Jenny Bent make you an offer before I get off my snarkie ass...it's my loss.

"I'll get back to you"

From the comment pile on earlier posts comes a question about what does "I'll get back to you" really mean.

First let's distinguish two completely different groups of people.
First: clients
Second: queryers. Queriers? Queerists? Q.s.!

If you are a client of this agency, your calls and emails are answered the day they arrive. That said, clients are asked to understand MY work schedule and they do. They don't call at 8am. And they don't call on Sunday. IF they haven't heard back from me, they call or write again and I get back to them RIGHT THEN. Email isn't a sure thing sometimes.

If you are unagented, you fall in the Q group. I do not have a business relationship with you. I don't know you. You are a stranger asking for my time. That being said, I will do my utmost to respect your time and get back to you when I say I will. Turnaround time for query letters is
about ten days. Turn around time on full manuscripts is 90 days. I make no secret of this.
It's in the guidelines on the website and I'll tell anyone who asks.

People who write to me when I've requested a full ms and say "i'd appreciate an answer in 30 days" usually get one. And it's NO. The threshold for taking on someone like that is about 99%.
They'd have to have the hottest juiciest sexiest novel of the year, and even then I'd probably say no. Why? I don't want to work with them. And there are enough agents in this world that I don't feel bad about saying no.

When you write to an agent considering your work, you are somewhat like a job applicant. Would you TELL a recruiter when to get back to you? Probably not. You'd ASK what the decision timeline is.

If an agent asks to look at your work on an exclusive basis, you still ASK what the time line is. Then if the answer doesn't suit you, you counteroffer or don't agree.

Now, if an agent says "I'll get back to you in three weeks" and doesn't you should write (not email not call) a nice letter that says something like "thanks for considering my work. You thought you'd know whether this would be a good fit with your list by July 17. Should I move that date forward one week or two?" or something along those lines. Not "I assume this means no"
NOT: "what the hell is wrong with you that you don't keep your word. How can I work with you if you're this sloppy. (actual email from someone I swear). One guy called me at 8am one day AFTER I thought I'd have the project read.

If it makes you feel any better, I do the exact same thing with editors. Editors lose manuscripts, they bite off more than they can chew and get behind, they said yes to persuasive little ol me when they should have said no (I hate that!!). Mondays I spend at least an hour doing follow up on submissions. To quote a guy who sold four million books last year "I feel your pain".

Day 2: the Day Timer Confessions

Of all days to have back to back meetings this was just the worst.
It's a damn sauna in NYC today and everyone who is on the street
is wet, annoyed, and annoying. It's too hot to hurry so we're all getting the
Full Olfactory Experience of NYC Summer.

8:30 am Coffee, and the usual reading cut very very short.
9:09 am Penn Station to meet a client coming in for a day
of meet and greet.

10:00am first meet and greet at a large publisher. Six forms
of ID required in the lobby. Must be a new assistant cause
she forgot to clear us ahead of time. No time to snarl, time
to surrender the snark in fact and put on my "you must fork
over LOTS of dollars to get this project" face.

10:15am Meeting with exec ed and two other editors to
talk about a non fiction book proposal they have seen and are
"interested in". They want to "explore
ideas". What they really want to do is see the author in
action. Is she attractive? Can she speak well? Is she
charming? Will she look good on TV? Is she a bitch
who will make their lives miserable?

Delicate questions about how much her speaking fees

My job here is to make sure my author knew the hidden agenda
and to prep her with how to answer questions. Also moral
support of course.

This is her first big book deal. She's done smaller books
with regional publishers and she did some quickie POD stuff
that was only sold back of the room at her speeches.

She wants to move up. I want the publisher to offer enough
money to make that move worth her time and effort.

12:10 we regroup over a quick lunch. She's a wreck. Me too.
It's like a job interview. Or speed dating. With a chunk of money
at stake.

1:00 we do round two at Publisher 2. Only five pieces of ID
required in the lobby. Only one editor. Pretty much the
same questions.

3:00 put her back on the train and get back on my train in
the other direction.

4:00 fall in the door of the office to START the day.
4:01 pm call liquor store to see if the delivery man has arrived.
4:02 pm call back up liquor store
4:03 pm go to bodega and discover the healthful benefits of
something called a malt beverage. It's pink. It's cold.
It's better than nothing.

4:15pm Answer emails, answer phone messages. Mostly these
are in response to the stuff I sent out yesterday. Title clarification.
Offer to buy second book in a series.

6:00 pm Mail. Light light day. Yes!!! Mail comes in spurts. After
a three day weekend, it's a mess here. People use the extra
day to write query letters I guess.

6:00 pm compose cover letter for manuscript going out on what
I'm praying will be a preemptive offer. Composing cover letters
is how I share your pain of writing query letters. When I take on a client I try to lift as much as I
can from the original query letter. This one doesn't have that
luxury. He came to me from a client referral. No query, just
a great great manuscript.

The editor I'm sending this to told me she'd read it within the week.
It's five hundred pages so an overnight is really out of the question.
I'll call her or write late next week, probably Thursday morning to
see what she's going to do. Unless she says she's coughing up
an offer, the ms will go to the xerox parlor and have ten copies
made and the following Monday I'll send it to the rest of the herd.

A preempt would be nice. And LOTS less expensive.

7:00 pm cover letter is done. Ms is enveloped and delivery
service booked for the morning.

I'm going to call it a day.

Calls: Outgoing - 2 Incoming -34
Mail: Letters - 5, pkgs 0 (yes!)
Swear words: Required - 75 (minimum for day pounding the pavement in the humidity)

Miss Snark: 1 World: 1


Day 1: the Day Timer Confessions

Oh Miss Snark does not like this at ALL.
This is like having Mother Superior walk behind your desk to make sure you aren't reading comic books (Miss Snark was not...she read Nancy Drew).

Herewith what Miss Snark did today.

8:30am arrive in office with first of the cafe bustello jolts needed to be fully human and semi-kind.
Read my incoming email from Writers Almanac, Word A Day, Today in Literature
AND most important DailyCandy.com online.
Read Arts Journal.com (80% of the publishing news is some hairy kid in the UK).

Read email that has piled up over the weekend. Drop a quick post onto the blog.

10:00am Begin daily look see through client files. This means I check every client to make sure everything that is supposed to be happening is, or send them a reminder. This leads to calls to editors to do things like follow up on title changes (which lead to URL changes etc). I call a few people I know for some blurb action.

This takes about three hours on Monday, and about 20 minutes by the end of the week.

1:00 pm A quick look at my data base of editors to see if there are any I haven't spoken to in a while. These kinds of touch base call sometimes gets a good lead for book slots the editors need to fill unexpectedly.

I'm just finalizing a deal that came about when I called an editor who had a book suddenly not ready for the Winter 2006 list. I had something ready, she bought it and we're all happy.

The downside is this is tedious work. Less than 10% of the calls will bear fruit. Heck, less than 50% of the calls are even actual conversation! I can't figure out a way to get around it though, so I do it on Monday so I don't have to fret the rest of the week.

3:00pm I'm sick of the world, sick of books..oh wait..I haven't eaten. Call to the corner pizzeria and get some mood elevators delivered. Yum.

3:30pm calls to west coast editors and my sub rights agent in LA. Im prodding them about books coming out soon so that they will be talking about them when the reviews hit. Subrights are great little sources of money. Film and tv are great BIG sources of money. Agenting for that stuff is like brain surgery. Get the best, pay the freight and don't do it yourself.

4:00pm Mail call. Oh good, lighter than usual. Oh what's this? "I read your website carefully".
Ya sure. That's why you sent something we don't handle. Form rejection letter #3. Three more query letters get form rejection #1. One query with no attached sample pages gets form letter #2. One manuscript I'd requested last week. Oh good the cover letter avoids telling me to get back to her in 30 days or less. Smart girl. Five more that aren't awful, but just don't sound ...interesting. Form rejection letter #1.

5:00pm uh oh. Hysterical client. "They're ruining my book. I want it to look like this and not that". I look at the proofs. He's right. The cover sux. Ok, slipping into the nearest phone booth to don my SuperAgent unitard. Back to the phone. Clutching thesaurus for nicer ways to say "this sux".
Call the designer. Lots of talk about branding. Previous two were good, we want to continue with this motif. No artsy shmartsy crap. Stick with the stuff that worked. If you want trendy, go work on a zine.

Much ballyhoo, new proofs by end of week. I don't even WANT to know what that poor man is saying about me about now.

6:00pm Longer conversations with two writers who may work on an upcoming project. Lot's of explaining the concept, explaining the parameters. This is like being a translator at the UN with the nominal author on one side, the prospective publisher on the other, and the writers as the third parties. Each will get the proposal I sold to the publisher. We'll see who wants to do it, can do it in a reasonable amount of time and won't charge an arm and a leg.

7:00pm Last cover letter printed, pitch package and novel enveloped and scheduled with the messenger service.

7:30 Now to the must-read section of the daily webcrawl: Media Bistro, PubLunch, PW, more on AJ , Sarah's blog, Beatrice and others I get to when I have time.

This is a nice slow day. Summer means people are taking four days off, or at their country houses or just hiding in their offices. No one is going to lunch and no one is rushing around to parties. It's kinda nice.

Daily tally:
Calls: outgoing 36, incoming 17.
Mail: letters10, packages 1
Vulgarities: required by law 6, optional extras for particular fuckwits 19

Miss Snark 1, World 0.

The only HP post from me...I promise

Harry Potter, the latest incarnation of child saviour, has just set a new records for books flying off the shelf...presumably without the aid of a magic wand. Scholastic is of course thrilled, JK Rowling is rolling in dough, and children at sleepaway camp finally have something to read rather than boring old ghost stories around the campfire. Even His Holiness got some ink by questioning whether Harry Potter squelches Christian values before they have time to develop.

A normally well balanced friend of mine is tearing her hair out about Harry.
"What the HELL is this madness about," she howled. "It's not even like they
are good books."

Of course not. For the madness of crowds and the lure of "must have" statistically you must appeal not to the top 10%, but to the top 30%. For ten MILLION people to buy books, you must have something akin to McDonalds burgers...good enough so adults can stand to eat one while the kids scarf down the "forbidden pleasure".

And why not? It's not like the kids are going to read something else instead of Harry. They'll choose from the array of activities available. Their menu is not McDonalds or Burger King, it's hamburgers, chicken, tacos, sushi , pizza and for the truly unlucky, a loving meal cooked at home by an adoring mom who probably doesn't let them eat junk food OR read Harry Potter.

This is not rational based economics we're seeing here.
This is just frenzy.
Yanno, like the tulips in Holland.
and the south sea bubble.
and the dot com boom of the 90's.

JK Rowling is VERY savvy in telling people the series is limited.
Sort of like DeBeers numbering diamonds.
"There could be more, but there won't. Don't miss out."