Dear Mr McCartney: Can I use your song?

I'm on the second revision of a novel in which the main
character is deep into music and often uses the lyrics to communicate what she's trying to say.

Right now she's quoting about 16 songs--more than 1/2 by known artists. I know it's the author's job to secure permissions. The question is would it make you, the agent, or an editor reject the manuscript out of hand? (Years behind the editor's desk tells me what a pain this could be.)

One of Miss Snark's colleagues still has footprints on her posterior from trying to secure copyright permissions for rock lyrics. She had a done deal, an editor twitching feverishly on the hook for the book, all that remained was to secure clearances.

Well you won't be reading that book any time soon. Clearances were not only not forthcoming, there was much hullaballoo, screeching and yelling about even asking.

Out right rejection..no. Very very cautious consideration..yes. Plus, they don't just say ok. They say Ok, show me the money.

And, it's hard to get permissions unless the book is sold, and it's hard to sell a book unless you have permissions.

Miss Snark can dig up enough problems selling things without adding to the list by including lyrics.

And you thought Miss Snark was fierce!

Dear Miss Snark,

Many of the "top" agencies say on their websites that they do not accept unsolicited materials. For example, ICM says that it has "a policy that neither it nor any of its agents or other employees shall accept or consider any unsolicited material, ideas or suggestions of any nature whatsoever ("Unsolicited Materials".)" My question is this: do query letters count as "unsolicited material"? Because if one includes a synopsis in the letter, then that's one's creative idea, unsolicited, right? Or is it just the actual manuscript that they want to avoid receiving? (I understand about the lawsuit possibilities.)

Forgive me if you've covered this topic before; I'e been an avid reader for a while now, and can't remember seeing this particular question addressed.

Wow. I just clicked on ICM's website and it would be hard to imagine a less welcoming place.

That leads me to think that ICM isn't exactly looking for authors the way the rest of us do. I could be wrong but that notice sure is discouraging.

Then I surfed over to Publishers Marketplace and cross referenced ICM. There are definately some agents over there making mid size and smaller deals. Those agents must get their clients somewhere.

I know one author specifically who queried Esther Newberg without invitation, and she signed him and sold the book.

Maybe it's like entering a cloistered order: you have to ask three times before they let you in.


Vacation Announcement...here, have a tissue

More than one dear dear Snarkling has expressed sadness at the impending vacation of Miss Snark.

Miss Snark would be less then honest if she said such professions of devotion do not warm the cockles of her cold little cardio vascular system.

Miss Snark however takes a vacation or the free world will suffer. Trust me on this.

I'll be gone from Monday 8/15 to Saturday 8/29.

And while, yes dear Molly, there ARE internet cafes everywhere, Miss Snark intends to cavorting with George Clooney in a far far port of call untouched by electricity.
Or something like that. The George Clooney part may have to be filled by a player to be named later.

So, no posts.
Miss Snark intends to think about something other than publishing for awhile.

Rent boys
The deep blue sea

Then she'll come back.

The Tipping Point

I was just getting ready to rant a bit about manuscripts when this popped up on the comments:

What are the three most common reasons you reject a manuscript? In other words, if you had stamps you could use on manuscripts, what would the three you use most often say?

There's a wonderful book called The Tipping Point
that illuminates how trends happen, or how something becomes mainstream, or when an idea takes off.

The question applies to the submission pile in this way: what is the tipping point for saying no to something. Before you rush in to say "be positive" and ask what's the tipping point for YES, remember that tipping point signifies change.

Let's assume every manuscript that comes to me will be a YES. What happens to make it a no? What's the tipping point?

Use as an example the manuscript I read just this morning. (You can tell when I'm reading manuscripts and getting annoyed..I blog more!)

This started as a well written first 20 pages in the mystery genre. I asked to see the full manuscript. It arrived fairly promptly. All signs are still good. 100points.

First. The author sent me what she thought was "the rest of the novel". The first 25 pages are missing. She forgot she'd only sent me the first 20. Right off the bat, missing five pages.
Clue to the unwary: when someone asks for "the rest of the novel" send the whole thing. net loss: 5 points.

Second: in what can only be described as just pure bad luck, this writer had almost the exact same stock characters as a novel I'd rejected the day before. It was almost eerie. That was the start of the slide. I kept thinking "been there done that". Unfair to this writer? Agents read a LOT of things that never get published. You really have to be distinctive. minus five points. Net loss: 10 points.

Third: typos. I hate these. I just hate them. It just smacks of sloppiness and lack of professional pride. It reminds me of sellers who want you to see potential in their house for sale when the rooms are badly painted and dirty. Sure..maybe...but you're shooting yourself in the foot. minus ten thousand points Net loss: 11 eleven points really

Fourth: different paper stock, fading printer ink and tilted paper. This really should be 3.5 cause it is the same lack of professionalism. I don't date boys with dirty hair and I don't sign writers who don't give a shit about how their manuscripts look. Just for starters it means every time they send me stuff I have to go over it with a fine tooth comb to make sure it's ok. I want authors I can trust to do a good job. minus another zillion points. Net loss: 11 points still

Fifth: the writing is ok. Nothing special. And then the plot lines start to just fall by the wayside. What I thought was the major focus of the book turns out to just disappear about chapter 30.
Here's a clue: draw your book. Begining is at the start...middle is in the middle, and then..does your plot end at the end? Or does it end halfway through? This happens more than you know. (See post on partials for further ranting). Minus: 20 points. Net loss: 31 points.

Sixth: Two endings. I swear to god. Two. Like I get to choose. This is part of 3.5 above.
minus: 60 points for sheer fucking stupidity. Net loss: 91 points.

Where was the tipping point? She could have saved it ..maybe.. if the plot line was fresh and the story line curved to the end. Figure you can drop five points and still be "sponge worthy" - or you need 95 to stay in the game. She ended up with 9. And this was a manuscript I asked to read. 95% of the query letters are no.

This example illustrates the three top "rubber stamp" rejections I have:

1. The plot doesn't work right. It either doesn't work, it's emotionally unsatisfying, or it's stupid.
2. You sent me something that looks like you don't give a shit about your writing
3. It's not fresh or original enough to be something I can sell with any degree of enthusiasm.

Now, off to write a rejection letter for this poor author. "Not right for us"...yea yea yea.

Who's on First? No, That's on Second? What? no..That's at 1745 Broadway

Miss Snark,When you send a manuscript to editors, do you focus on larger houses before making inquiries to smaller ones? How strongly do you and/or other agents focus on making sales to the bigger publishers?Thanks.

There are only 7 large houses left in NYC.

1. Random House and all its villages
2. Penguin Group
3. Simon and Schuster
4. Warner
5. Harper
6. Harcourt
7. Holtzbrink group (SMP etc)

Add to that the next tier down with good publishers who can cough up serious money:

McGraw Hill
Perseus Book Group
Houghton Mifflin

And you've got a decent list of places to look first for some serious money.

The downside is, most of these places have to sell a shitload of books to make the project pay.
So, if you have a great first novel, chances are you aren't selling it to Random House cause they think they need to sell 40,000 copies of something to make it fly.

But yes, we give them the first look. It's not exclusive though. Unless an editor is gong to read something this week, I keep pitching and sending till it's sold.

And if we end up selling it to someplace farther down the list, and it's an amazing success, we all chant "I told you so" around the campfire.

But, yes, I look for serious money first. Most of us do.
We'd be idiots not to, right?

Partials will break your heart

Okay, since you're answering, how horrid is it to send a query on a partially written novel? (ducking and running) Honest, I know two authors who landed agents on partials, and it makes it darn hard to think you always have to play by the rules. Truth: if you found a new author with a few chapters of stellar writing and a well-defined synop of the rest, would you really care that it's not finished? Really? Honest?

Short answer: yes I would care

Middle answer: I'd like to have a definition of "landed an agent" and actually see the contract before I totally believe this. Express interest sure. "Send more, we love this" absolutely. But a contract? Braver agents than I!

Longer answer: It's hard to finish a novel well. This is not news to you I bet. It's not news to Miss Snark either. It's heartbreaking to get through 300 pages of a wonderful well written novel and then have it fall apart at then end.

That happens more often than I care to think about.

Just this past week I read a wonderful novel with a great heroine and an interesting setting and a good story. Complex characters. Nice sub plot, good twists. At page 300 it was like the author was abducted by aliens. Splat.

If I'd sold that novel on a partial, the editor would be reading the splat first, not me. And trying to fix it. And not being happy. And remembering this the NEXT time I come to her with a "wonderful novel with a great heroine and an interesting setting and a good story. Complex characters. Nice sub plot, good twists."

No thanks.

In addition-I don't want to clog my roster with partials, half dones and hope to bes. I want to sell work. This is cause I like to buy gin rather than wait for it to be donated to the local Food Pantry. There are many many fewer editors who will buy on partials and an outline than will buy a completed draft. Miss Snark likes to have the best odds possible when taking a manuscript out for a stroll.

So, no. Send your partials to your DDS. Send your completed works to the SSD (Snarkily Selective Diva).

Various ways to skin cats and fleece writers....

I am a devoted Snarkling (we won't discuss how often I check your blog during the day). You've recently talked about fees for postage, copies etc and agents who ask client to "pay as you go." I have a related question -- what about agents who ask clients to send multiple copies of the same manuscript for submission to editors? Basically, the client is then absorbing the cost of the copying up front. I was sure this wasn't industry standard, but after having several friends tell me their agents ask them to do this (including some very reputable agencies) . . . I'm wondering if I was wrong.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Not only absorbing copying, but paying to send it. Who are these people? Shills for the Teamsters union??

First: reputable? hmmm
Maybe well known.

But reputable?
Coughing up dough OR the equivalent thereof for copies is a shoddy business practice. You can quote me.

Two reasons I say that. The first is purely practical. Unless you Snarklings have access to very good commercial copiers and a low rate, you're paying a premium to run your manuscript through the copy machine. Unless you pay 3cents or less, it's cheaper for me, thus you in the long run to do it. And its not like any agent is standing over the copy machine in the steaming heat. Miss Snark supports the entrepreneurial economy by having a very nice gentleman down the street do it for her.

Then you have to pay postage, go to the post office mail it and hope it survives the trip unscathed. Even if you send it media mail rates, you're gonna cough up $20 or more.

If an agency can't afford to pay for copies and wants you to do it, they need to look for a different line of work. This nickle and dime stuff is low rent.

The second reason it's a shoddy practice is because agents can get away with this stuff. Authors are eager for representation and will do just about anything including standing on their hands and whistling Dixie if an agent asks for it.

That kind of power imbalance is exactly why an agent should be scrupulous in his/her business practices. That fact that you CAN be a scumbag is all the more reason to make sure you are not.

And if a big and powerful well known and reputable agency does this, they should be ashamed of themselves. They should stop. Right fucking now.


The Changing Room...also Abattoir for the Unyielding

Do you have clients who are unwilling to change anything in their manuscripts? (Okay, I realize this little problem probably crops up BEFORE you sign anyone, and so you therefore don't sign an uncooperative--aka unrealistic--writer, but still one wonders....) When is it okay for a writer to protect the artistic integrity of her work? When should the writer be willing to change her work and when shouldn't she? If you want changes, and the writer doesn't want to make them, do you insist or send the work out anyway?

I'm curious because my earlier comment to your blog about the writer in my group who won't change her characters' ages got me to thinking about it. That would be an insignificant change, of course, but I was wondering about the bigger picture and what's worth fighting for and what isn't.

Short answer: no

middle answer: read your contract

Longer answer: Many agents have clauses in the representation agreement that they can make minor changes that don't affect the integrity of the work. MIne doesn't. We're going to agree on the finished format before it goes out. Publishing contracts also have those kinds of clauses.

I've never had a client flat out refuse to make a change. We've come to blows over some of those "was" "had" and "to be" verbiage that makes me crazy but in the end we agreed on what was going out to editors.

I have refused to sign clients who wouldn't make changes I thought were neccesary. As a reader, if I'm confused about something, and I read it again, I don't think the problem is that I'm stupid. I think it's the writing that needs to be cleaned up. Not everyone agrees with that truth. They're wrong. They're also represented as they say "elsewhere".

When should you not make changes? I don't know.
That's why it's important to have an agent you have some confidence in.
At some point, you have to believe in their judgement and value their input.
Same goes for your editor.
Intransigence is very Ayn Rand...but it makes really rotten clients.

Poaching clients...or frying, fricaseeing, filleting or fonduing

Do agents poach writers from other agents? How often does it happen?

wow, I don't know!
Can I have some of yours?
Oh wait, no, "that would be wrong".

That said...one snark's poaching is another agent's inablity to get the job done.
Or changing neeeds.
Or something.

It's a free market economy. People can move their business from vendor to vendor.

However, you come near Miss Snark's roster with anything other than a book for an autograph and a sweet smile, you're going to be looking at the scary side of Snark.

you you...mugwump! you know nothing..you you...DEMOCRAT!

Have you found that an editor's political opinions affect their treatment of submissions?After reading some editor's blogs, one has the feeling that even a mild comment by a character in a submission may be enough to damn an ms.

short answer: yup.

medium answer: so what

long answer: of course, editors for all their supposed industry savvy are people who mostly live in NYC. NYC you'll recall cast less than 20% of the popular vote for the current president. Any campaign manager will tell you that you can automatically cede 30% of the vote "just cause". Recall "Landslide Lyndon" was elected with 63% of the vote...leaving 37% for someone else. In the last election, the sitting president couldn't even come up with more than the deranged vote percentage in the 212.

What that means is NYC is full of rabid left wing granola eating old hippies socialists, rabble rousers and free thinkers. There's a reason Regnery is in Washington and Thomas Nelson publishers is in Nashville.

That said, all editors have preferences. Some are rational: this writing sux. Some are irrational: this writing sux.

I've had manuscripts turned down this week for: too much religious imagery, too much violence, too much alcohol, too much tawdry sex.

And this is in NYC!

So ya, it matters.
But...it doesn't matter to you. That's your agent's value: we'll know who to send it to if you want to write good things about the president of the united states, or other extremely suspicious political things..

Novel #2, done, undone, finished, refinished, or just waxed...

Wonders a snarkling:

My first novel was published by a small press in 2003 (no, I didn't have to pay for the privilege!). It's gone into its second printing, and, considering that it's a niche novel (gay fiction), it's doing well.

If I approach an agent to represent me for novel #2, I assume I need a completed manuscript. Or do I? At what point in my career can I sell a novel on synopsis/outline + sample chapters alone?

The smart ass answer is: when you sell a two book deal. But that doesn't really answer your question. Most novels as you correctly point out have to be done done done before an agent looks at it or an editor will buy it. That rule applies to almost everyone.

If your career takes off and you become Philip Roth, John Irving, Janet Evanovich or John Grisham, you can write an idea on a matchbook and have a contract.

In fact, if you are a huge name author, your books are promised so far ahead you have to change publishers to write anything outside your "established" genre (Miss Evanovich) or change your name to start writing other things.

At this stage, you do have to be finished.
And for MOST novelists, you have to be finished. Second book deals require detailed outlines for a deal but those deals are subject to editorial acceptance so if they don't like what you write and think it sux...they can rescind if you don't have a smart agent who makes sure your contract protects you.

Besides you have to write it anyway, why not now?

Top Ten Reasons Miss Snark Loves You

A dear Snarkling queries:

OK, Miss Snark. What kinds of things do you think an agent looks for in a potential client? Besides good writing. I'm referring to people who perhaps already have a book out in the universe.
A go-getter? Someone willing to do signings, and read fan mail, and update their website periodically? Someone elusive, mysterious, a hermit?
Both types of authors exist - which do YOU prefer?

10. A client who understands that "willing" is not the right word for "publicity". The correct phrase is "understands the value of and knows it's a requirement. " I get query letters from people every day of the week that say "of course I'd be willing to be on Oprah" to promote the book. Ya, who wouldn't (ok..Mr Twelve Hawks but he's just weird). It's the 2am phone in radio shows in Fargo North Dakota that separate the troupers from the amateurs.

9. Someone with a good established content rich website that draws a lot of people and who updates it regularly.

8. Someone with a sense of humor about this crazy world and is willing to laugh first when books don't arrive in Fargo for the booksigning...and scream second.

7. Someone who thanks me in their book. I was crushed to the core when one of the first novels I sold didn't have me in the acknowledgement pages. Everyone else was there...no Snark.
It did color how I felt about the author. It made me feel he had no clue what I'd done for him.

6. Someone who answers their emails, and phone calls right away. Who lets me know when they are out of the country/ preparing to give birth/moving to Mars.

5. Someone who takes criticism without screaming too loud. Criticism sux. No two ways about it but it's part of the game. I hate being told my prose is less than sterling, I know my authors do too. But...there's the gap between what they think (Miss Snark is sack of horse apples) and what they say ("thanks, let me think about this and get back to you:).

4. Someone who understands I am not their friend. I'm a professional colleague. As such, do not invite me to the beach house for the weekend. Weddings, christenings, Nobel Prize in Literature ceremonies, you bet. Nothing that involves Miss Snark wearing her bunny slippers.

3. An absolute ability to not panic. Things go wrong all the time, every day of the week. Controlled chaos is part of the game. The ability to standfast when everyone is screaming the sky is falling is a quality I cherish.

2. Civility. Civility. Civility. When the chips are down, it's a whole lot easier to pick up the pieces for someone who hasn't just called you six versions of unforgettable when a book deal goes sour.

And the Number One reason Miss Snark loves you is:

1. You write well. Again. And again, and again. It is one of the greatest joys of my life to see what my clients create. Some of them have work that moves me beyond words. That I get to help them bring this project to the attention of other lucky readers is a blessing for which I am grateful every day of my life. I am truly truly lucky to have work that I love, colleagues I respect ... and Snarklings I adore.

The "ick" factor

I've read three manuscripts from the Snark Stack in the last two days. My eyes are rolling around in the back of my head.

Two were no, sadly.
One is the second novel of a client who has a three book deal.

Each had some serious flaws, but each also had some event that made me put down the pages as I sat on the Snark Sofa and say "ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww". Not gross out like eating raw eyeballs or anything (in unison now: ewwww).

but other just sort of weird stuff.
Wearing a dead guys clothes...
Eating cat...
moms yelling at scared little kids...

One Snark's ewww is another reader's Stephen King.

What makes you ewwwww?

Call for Questions

Its 95 degrees.
It's three days before vacation.
Miss Snark has not one single ounce of interesting left in her.

Time for Questions!!

You may email Miss Snark directly

or post them here.


the return of Returns

A snarkling writes:

An independent bookstore buying from the Ingram Book Group can only return 10% of their overall purchase history. That's not a lot of returns for a small bookstore. And so, while an independent can purchase what they want and display it anywhere they please (unlike a big box) we still have to take care of the quantity we buy and can't take great advantage of "taking a loss" like a big box and buy huge stock only to return huge stock.

Indie bookstores account for about 17% of general consumer book sales. WalMart and the box stores count for 50% or more.

Not too long ago a Barnes and Noble in the town of Miss Snark's alma mater decided to move to a new space across the parking lot. It was a sum total of 478 yards. Miss Snark, laughingly, asked the Community Relations manager if they would be seeking volunteers to wheel the books across the lot.

"oh no," she heard, "we'll just return all these and get new ones sent to the new store.
That way the store never closes and our patrons aren't inconvenienced."

After Miss Snark revived, she realized that any business model that made it cost effective to return every piece of merchandise in the store rather than trundle it 478 yards (and this wasn't in the snow or 100 degree heat either) was seriously out of whack.

If the big box stores ran on the same return requirements that the indies do, it might be a darn sight better.

One third of the cost of a hard cover book is the cost of returns.

I'd love to be paying less for my next copies of Alan Furst, Dan Fesperman, Jennifer Weiner and Harlen Coben...particularly since it would not mean the authors got less.

Miss America for Books

What's your opinion of first novel contests? I'm thinking specifically of big name ones, like the annual Delacorte PBFYR first YA novel contest. I've read that winning a thing like that "launches careers." Yet if you win, it seems you're locked into a pre-written, generalized contract, something (as far as I understand) you legally agree to by virtue of entering. True? And is this a good way to start a career?
If a writer who has won something like that approaches an agent, what if anything does/can/would that agent do? Would the agent still get 15%? Can the agent make any changes to the publishing contract? Any other tidbits you may have about these types of things?

well, for starters, no one can force you into a contract against your will. God know Miss Snark has tried to lassoo George Clooney but so far the Supreme Court keeps upholding that silly little no slavery amendment. Miss Snark soldiers on.

Truly, if you win, you can negotiate anything you want. Or just not sign it.
And if you approach an agent after winning one of those things, that's exactly when you'll see what a good agent can do for you.

And heck ya we're gonna nick ya for 15%.

See the post on whether you really need an agent, below, for more on that.

A few simple questions....

From the comments section of the blog came a link to some site wherein very annoyed writers reprinted their emails with some poor fool who thought he'd found a fast way to make dough.

Herewith the list of questions asked of Agent HS:

1. How long has your company been in business?
2. How long have you been in the agent business?
3. What are your qualifications?
4. How many books did you sell in the past 3 years?
5. What publishing companies did you sell them to?
5. What are the titles and who are the authors and who were the publishers.
6. Could you give me a few names of satisfied clients that I could contact?
7. Are you a member of AAR?

Thanks for taking the time to answer these few simple questions.

For starters, if anyone sent me an email like that, I'd hang up on them too.

Tone, Snarklings, tone in your emails is important. This guy makes it sound like the fate of the free world hangs in the balance here.
This isn't an interrogation, and world peace doesn't depend on you getting straight answers.

First: the first question you ask is number 7.
If an agent is a member of AAR, they subscribe to a code of ethics and they have made verifiable sales. You can't just hang out your shingle and join AAR. They check on whether you've sold stuff. Trust me, they look. They also police their own. Screw up, and you're on the bad girl list. AAR takes that stuff seriously. (and they should)

Second, no way on hell's half acre am I giving you names and email addresses of my clients. I'll tell you what I've sold, to who and for whom, but giving out my author's contact info is the SUREST route to having the folks who've actually put cash in my slender reticule mad at me.

Third, questions 4 and 5 and 5 (interesting numbering system but ok) are all asking the same thing: What have you sold?

And this dear Snarklings is the crux of the matter. Why on gods green earth are you querying an agent if you don't ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION???

Are you querying blindly off some sort of list? For all its usefullness Everyone Who's Anyone In Publishing lists names and addresses only..NOT what people have sold (mostly). Just emailing people blindly off that list gets you EXACTLY what you deserve if you end up with a scam artist.

You are not helpless children. You are NOT waifs. You are not innocents in the minefields of publishing dammit. You're adults. You change the oil in your car, you get your teeth serviced, you manage to get to work and raise reasonable replicants of human beings.
Due diligence before querying an agent isn't rocket science.

Do your homework, and you'll put the scammers out of business.
I've said it before I'll say it again:
every person who pays money to these folks could have avoided it if they'd spent five minutes doing research on the net.

Do writers really need agents?

A snarking wonders if indeed the Emperor has no clothes (we know Miss Snark does. We've seen her L&T bills)

when do you think a writer should GET an agent? With their first book, after they get one book published with a small publisher, or have a long list of magazine/ anthology/ article/ whatever publishing credits? Do you think, with some genres, that writers don't really need an agent. I know that sounds stupid, of course writers need agents, or how would agents get paid? But it's an honest question.

Do you really need an agent?

Ok, take five and everyone revive.
Deep breaths.

No, you don't need an agent.
There are many places that take unagented submissions.

And trust me, if you're the flavor of the month and Judith Regan wants you for a book, the lack of an agent isn't going to deter her one tiny little bit.

Now, before tossing aside your tomes on acquiring agents, let's look at a different question:

What value does an agent provide?
Assume you have a good agent.
Lousy agents are worse than no agent in my opinion, but that's cause I have three clients who are on their second agent now (me) and I'm picking up the pieces of the damage.

Back to value.

Agents know a lot about parts of the publishing process that never get covered in writing conferences or in books on how to get an agent. Things like how to get the editor, the publisher and the sales force moving to print more copies. How to read royalty statements. What language in letters or emails signifies editorial acceptance. What IS editorial acceptance. What to do when you get a contract that talks about indexing and you've written a novel. What to do when the contract is wrong. What to do when they want your next novel and you also write non fiction. What to do when your editor is fired/moves on/goes over to the dark side.

You can learn all that but why would you? Why make all the first time mistakes yourself?

Agents are a pretty fair value for what they can provide,
But no, you don't have to have one.
And if you think they are pond scum, out to get you, and general sharks...you probably shouldn't have one anyway.

And when should you get an agent? When a good one makes you an offer? When should you start looking? When your novel is FINISHED. NOT before.

Do Not Pass Go...go directly to Slushies

Wonders a Snarkling:

(Comments about Miss Snark's early am snarkieness deleted)
Rumor has it that some scammers and/or well intentioned agents are redflagged at most publishing houses. As soon as the package arrives with certain return addresses, it is immediately shuffled over to the slush pile. I can understand the concept because I had an agent offer to represent me but I had to pay the $9 for every copy he sent out to NYC. (little research revealed the above information)Of course, we know Miss Snark has repeatedly said she calls the editor first and her mss. are always expected and welcomed.Just curious as to how prevelent is the concept of editor rolling eyes towards the gin bottle when packages arrive with certain zip codes on them?

That's a good question for Agent 007. I do know early in my career, despite only sending manuscripts that were requested, and having personal conversations ahead of time, the response time was...shall we say...numbered in weeks rather than days.

That ended pretty abruptly when I started calling editors to tell them they could discard the ms because I'd sold it elsewhere. They got used to knowing that my stuff would, and did sell.

But, I don't know if there's a list of "bad addresses". I've certainly never heard an editor say that..but I"ve never asked.

In the olden days, I know talk radio producers had lists over the phone of people who couldn't get on the call in line for love or money.

And did that agent charge you less if s/he sent the manuscript someplace other than NYC? Sheesh.


Let's do the math...chapter two

Last week a Snarkling wrote in with news of an offer from an agent. The offer required upfront "marketing fees" be paid in advance. Miss Snark swore like a sailor, gave her pithy advice and asked to be kept informed of developments. Herewith:

Snarkling: Here's some more info on the Let's Do the Math post
from August 4. I asked the agent for an offer with no
upfront expense for marketing and postage. Following
is the response.

Agent: "There are two reasons I charge. The first is 99% of
all the people who come through our door lack the
patience it takes to make a deal. So long before I
ever see any kind of success they are off bouncing
around from agent to agent and I am out the postage

Miss Snark interjects: Really? That means one of two things.

1. He IS taking too long to sell projects
2. He's not doing what a good agent does upfront---tell a client how long things can take. That's part of the job--helping clients understand how this industry functions.

And postage is just such a burden these days. A 500 page novel costs $7.65 to mail, less if you send it media mail.

Do that ten times and you've really spent large: $76.50

Gee. do that 20 times and you'd better call in the mortgage broker for a re-fi on the Snark Penthouse.

To spend $300 (a figure we'll see later) you'd have to copy and mail this thing more than 20 times. That's a LOT of submissions.

The second is that when I started as an agent I worked
for an agency where our practice was billing. It was,
and still is a very large agency. I still do billing
for people I know and like, however, it presents its
own problem.

MS: Oh this is just rich! He'll bill the people he knows and likes but you have to pay upfront? I guess that means he doesn't like you. Even if that's not true, it's a stupid ass thing to say in a business letter.

On billing there are no caps, so an
author would end up paying 1/3 or more of the advance
in commission and expenses.

MS: This is just utter horseshit. No, and I mean ZERO agents spend past a certain preset limit without a client's permission. Most limits are set around $300. In fact, it's IN the contracts of most agents.

Now, for horseshit plus, let's look at that math.

Just for ease of calculation since most of you don't have your trusty abacus at hand like Miss Snark does, say Agent HS brings in a $10,000 offer. That's low but the math is easy.

$10,000 gross
Less: expenses of up to $300 =$9700
less: agents 15% commission ( $1455) = $8245
(notice that you take the commission AFTER the expenses. You don't pay commission first, you pay it last)

$1455 + $300 = $1755 = 17.55% of the advance, which, last I looked, isn't close to 30%.

Note also that expenses don't rise in proporiton to the advance. The commission does but the expense figure does not. That means the the more money he gets the LESS percentage goes to expenses.

Also note: $300 is a lot of dough, expense-wise. I just looked at my last three payouts and we didn't even charge for expenses cause they were under $50

This guy is full of shit....and it gets better.

When I was thinking about
dropping my other memberships to join AAR a few years
ago I asked what people were doing. I think you will
find most will bill you for postage as you go, but
almost no one is left who wants to take it out of the

well, no. NO reputable agent charges "as they go". Industry standard, repeat after me Snarklings, INDUSTRY STANDARD is to charge for and collect expenses ONLY after a project is sold and the money collected. I don't know any one who collects as they go.
MAYBE some foreign rights specialists, but mine doesn't.

As for "dropping other memberships to join AAR"...what the hell?
It costs about $175 to joine AAR now I think.
What the hell did he have to drop to cough up that?
It costs more to register a business in NYC than it does to join AAR.

If this guy can't come up with that kind of petty cash, he's not an agent. He's a hobbyist.

He's also a lying sack of shit and you can quote me.

I hate agents who do this. And you can quote me on that too.

Good Intentions..yes, they do pave the road to Hell.

Writes a Snarkling on the comment line about good places to find agents:

AND even with all this, you're going to come across scammers, or maybe even worse, agents who think they're agents - they might not take your money, but they will take your time - they've never had a sale, don't have the contacts, but, like us, are hoping against hope to find or be the next Nicholas Sparks.
These well meaning folks are the hardest to detect because they don't show up as being scammers.
But your gut feeling should be if someone takes your novel and shops it around for a year, and still hasn't sold yours or the thirty other ones she is shopping about, there is something terribly wrong.
Miss Snark, am I wrong here?

Miss Snark hangs her head in shame. She has several novels that haven't sold in a year. More than one year in fact. Some more than two.

Of course, the second half of that sentence doesn't apply. I have sold other novels in the meantime. Just not ..these.

So the question is (you've heard me say this before) WHAT HAVE YOU SOLD.

If the answer is close to zip, nada, zilch, it's not neccesarily the end of the world but it better be from an agent who's starting out.

Lots of novels don't sell fast. Philip Spitzer who is probably one of THE best agents in the industry, and a true gentleman, had a novel of James Lee Burke's in submission for more than ten years. TEN years.

Sometimes it takes awhile. But...if the agent isnt' selling ANYTHING...that's the flag.

And an agent who hasn't sold anything shouldn't have 30 novels on his/her list anyway.

Trends Schmends...

Ponders a Snarkling

Miss Snark,One assumes that agents/publishers are acutely aware of trends. The success of the Potter books has probably caused an explosion in YA,in submissions as well as print.Considering the time it takes for an accepted ms to reach bookseller's shelves, do you have any impression/comments on the next publishing wave?It seems to me that agents are particularly positioned to observe this. If enough writers, through some basic, sub-dural impulse/ understanding/awareness of the public's interest, are impelled to write a certain type of genre/sub-genre/ cross-genre, inevitably, some of them will be good enough to be accepted and inevitably some of them will take fire with the readers, a reverse domino effect.

Miss Snark is clueless about trends. CLUE FREEEEE.
I know what's sold in the past.
I know what I like to read.
I watch what people are talking about and if they are talking about new and interesting things.

But trends are a strange and odd science.
Faith Popcorn gets zillions of dollars to predict trends.

But as soon as you start thinking you know what lies ahead, God says HA! and Bridget Jones becomes a smash hit, and everyone who said Judith Krantz was still the style leader was proved wrong.

Harry Potter and Eragon are a trend? The next best selling series books are Lemony Snicket and The Gossip Girls. Describe a category that holds all four of THOSE.

And is chick lit a trend or is Jennifer Weiner just such a good writer that people want to read her work? (I vote for the second half of that)

Agents and editors like to think they can see ahead, but they can't. If you watch how editors talk about that season's hit book you'll almost always hear "surprised the hell out of us when it did so well".

The people who have crystal balls? The sales guys. The sales guys were the first to catch on to DaVinci Code, to Prep, to Lovely Bones.

And they can't see ahead, but they sure as hell know what works now.

Ignore trends. If you write to fit a trend you're a pale imitation.
Write original stuff. Become the trend, don't try to follow one.


Captain's Snark log, dateline today.

Queries a Snarkling:

Dear Miss Snark:
What is your opinion on the diary format for a novel?

Isn't today the 10th anniversary of the first publication of Bridget Jones?
I think it might be.

And I like the DIARY of BJ v.v. much.

Diary of Anne Frank ... also v.v. much

Hard to imagine two more disparate authors/subjects/tones.
Yet both are diaries.

I have a fondness for epistolary novels: Daddy Long Legs, Ella Minnow Pea,
True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, which is not shared by enough editors or writers.

I'll read just about anything for ten pages. If it works, I'll read on. If it doesn't, I'll stop regardless of form.

If you're writing in an unusual form, you'll want to announce that fact in your cover letter so you avoid the v. v. bad response of "what the f is this??" that arises from reading along and suddenly everything shifts abruptly cause the narrator is an unintegrated multiple personality.

Hot Cross Buns Anyone?

Thanks to Jessa (who really does find the most interesting news items,
Miss Snark is rethinkiing her plans to attend the London Book Fair after reading what they do to literary agents over there.

Maybe Judith Regan doesn't have a lock on quite all the pervs yet.

Glorified printers

Sniffs a Snarkling:

Are publishers becoming nothing more than glorified printers?

Well, Miss Snark doesn't have to remind her well read and knowledegable Snarklings that publishing in fact started with printers. Printers who lent poverty stricken writers money for the print run, and helped them sell the books when it was done.

The question is have we moved the business model so far from that original concept that we've begun, like the puppy, to chase our own tail.

Consider returns for example: publishers now allow huge volumes of books to go out the factory door to bookstores knowing full well that 1/3 or MORE will come back. Who makes money there? UPS.

Publishers mark the price on a book so that if a book is in high demand (think Harry Potter demand) and there's not enough supply, bookstores still sell at the "low demand" price. Miss Snark didn't pass economics 201 to miss the idiocy of THAT model. Amazon made NO net on 1.5 million copies of Harry Potter out the door. Jeff Bezos is a smart guy but that's a recipe for disaster.

Consider that time and again customers tell us that the reason they buy books is that a friend or someone they know told them about it. YET we focus on huge national pr campaigns for a select few to the detriment of pretty good writers down the list who could use just a little bit of help getting their books in the hands of regional newspaper reviewers.

Consider we use webfeed press to print 2000 copies and then have a hard time deciding whehter it's cost effective to print another 2000 when the stock gets low when if we used POD technology we could print books on demand and fulfill author's book signging need, or sudden upsurge in demand with less than a week's turnaround time.

Has most publishing gotten too big? Has the business model outlived its purpose?
There are a lot of smart people in publishing but when I hear them say "you can't touch returns, the stores won't let you", I KNOW in my heart that we are due for a huge change.

We're publishing 175,000 books a year. The one thing about books is that they don't have an expiration date. Those 175,000 books are still around next year, and the year after that. Some of them are thrown away, sure. But a lot of them find their way to used book stores, and sidewalk vendors here in NYC. Half the readers I know don't give a fig if a book is "new" this season or published ten years ago.

We've got to start thinking smarter or we're gonna find ourselves on the wrong end of the puppy here.


I'm not the only one thinking about Whose Life is It Anyway!

Great minds working alike of course.

Slinking through
Sarah's blogroll turned up
Bella Stander writing about her experience with a friend who fancied herself the Anais Nin of the New Century:
(let's all remember too that Anais Nin REGULARLY edited, deleted, added and othewise doctored up her "diaries" for effect)

The last part of the post is here:

"However, this affair caused me to think about some larger issues. Namely: Whose story is it? When you write about your own experiences, where do you draw the line between your life and others'? Whose memory is right? (think of "Rashomon") And what do you owe the people you write about? Do you describe them and your feelings about them exactly, even though it might hurt them? Do you ask permission to write about them? Do you even tell them at all--and if you don't, are you opening yourself up to legal action?"

Interesting questions, and ones we're going to see a lot more about.

The blogoshpere is all atwitter about people getting fired for bad blogging judgement; Augusten Burroughs has a big fat lawsuit on his hands now for Running With Scissors, his memoir; not to mention Judith Regan chasing down murderer's ex girlfriends waving a book contract... with the wealth of platforms to talk about ourselves, it's gonna get worse before it gets better.

Miss Snark is now off to hid the gin pails from those sneaky Page Six photoboys.

Where are you looking--results

The Snarklings respond:

Helpful books:

1. 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published, Pat Walsh (Penguin)
2. The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Rennie Brown (HarperResource)

Helpful places to research agents:

4. Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents

"the one-stop shop. WM et al pale in comparison. Nothing else is more precise. It's where I found my agent and it's where I send all my workshop students. Just my two cents, but it blows the others out of the water."

5. Guide to Literary Agents, Writer's Market

"If you read it carefully, you can get lots of good information.I wonder if there is a preponderance of agents with last names beginning from A to D who get a preponderance of queries--just because exhaustion can set in and writers can get impatient going all the way through to Susan Zeckendorf Assoc. Inc. But, as I did, sometimes you begin at the Z's and go backward."

6. EveryoneWhoIsAnyoneInPublishing

"this guy is the consummate bitter writer, but he has good info. If I were an agent, I would not respond to his queries because he posts absolutely everything. As a writer, I pay attention."

7. Writers Free Reference
"it's good because it lists agent websites. You can tell a lot about anyone from their website, especially agents. Some are merely listings pulled from Publishers Lunch; others are works of art. And, as you can see, many agents don't bother to set up websites."

8. Publisher's Weekly: reviews section online

"for the agents who represent authors I enjoy reading"

9. Conferences

And from Miss Snark:

10. Association of Authors Representatives

"The Dirty Little Secret"..Miss Snark wants MORE

Writes a Snarkling:

Of course the dirty little secret of many of the literary small presses is that many of their works of fiction and poetry are subsidized by the authors. My last book was published only because I turned over to the press $5,000 from a state arts council fellowship in fiction. The book did manage to get some nice reviews -- from PW, American Book Review, and various gay magazines -- and has sold enough copies that I've made some of my "investment" back in fairly substantial royalties.It seems fair to me. Like the authors you are discussing, I am an amateur and a hobbyist. It was a good enough experience that I am now trying to find a press who will let me subsidize my next story collection and avoid the Publish America/XLibris/iUniverse black hole.

Miss Snark retires to her fainting couch with this revelation.

I had no idea small literary presses wanted you to cough up dough. Probably because none of them would suggest it to Miss Snark for fear of a a stiletto heel to the noggin.

Agents are touting university presses now; my colleagues have placed several books there recently and I've sniffed around them a bit. I've slunk around to some smaller presses as well.

Is this "pay to play" experience wider than just the one?

Do tell. Miss Snark is not only all ears, she's tuned up her ear trumpet just for you.