Counting Words

Your Royal Snarkiness of the Steel-Toed Stilettos,
If it would not humble you too far, would you please enlighten us (unworthy wretches that we are) of your views on word count (especially at the shorter end of the spectrum).

Leaving aside the oddly disturbing format of the question, let's cut right to the chase.

Miss Snark's favorite seven words:
Dedicated to Miss Snark, literary agent extraordinaire.

Miss Snark's' favorite six words:
Michiko Kakutani gives it a rave!

Miss Snark's favorite five words:
Mr. Clooney on line one!

Miss Snark's favorite four words:
We have a deal.

Miss Snark's favorite three words:
Six figure pre-empt.

Miss Snark's favorite two words:
unlimited budget

Miss Snark's favorite word:

Power reading

Your awesome blog goes so well with my morning coffee that I find myself getting a wee bit snarky whenever I consume caffeine. You know, the whole Pavlov's dog thing. That said, I've finally gathered up my courage to present my own question.

You've previously covered the subject of how much time it takes for editors to make a decision on agented submissions. Does the book's genre have anything to with this process? Let's say the agent is highly respected in the field, but is shopping a manuscript that is a hard sell, such as a humorous collection of essays about George Clooney's pet pig. Let's also say the book is extremely funny, well-written, and the agent is in love with it. Can the hard-to-sell collection of essays get a faster and more
positive response because of the caliber of the agent?


An editor isn't going to leave Esther Newberg cooling her heels with a hot project for very long. There are several very very very powerful agents in this town and Miss Snark isn't one of them (I know you are shocked to your shoes that I'm not Esther but there you have it)

I have no idea if those top dogs represent collections of essays.

The truth is, they can open doors simply by showing up whereas Miss Snark has to tap politely (steel toed stilettos are more than a fashion statement here). Miss Snark gets her stuff read but it's not ever hardly ever overnight. Within a week, sure, but overnights nope.

So, if you can sign with one of them, do it.

You may learn you'd rather be a big fish in a smaller pond (Miss Snark has a couple of those trout on her line) or you may like saying you're represented by the biggest name in town.

Lisa Scottoline has a character that talks about "dropping the Hbomb" when people ask her where she went to college. (Harvard). Same with musicians and actors who studied at Juilliard. Name power helps. It may not mean your work is better faster or smarter than the guy from Lake Woebegone U but it sure gets it looked at faster.

I'm not sure editors read certain genres faster than others. What seems to get them to glue their beady little eyeballs to the paper is the idea that someone else is going to beat them to the punch on a great book.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall..

I was hoping you could demystify something for me. How important is the physical appearance of an author? I've read all these articles about Nell Freudenberger and Zadie Smith, and most of the articles sound a lot like jealous rantings. They seem to be written by people who are having lousy luck getting published, and are grasping at straws to come up with some reason why they are being "discriminated" against other than their lack of talent. But is their any truth to their diatribes? I love reading your blog, and I think that if anyone can separate the BS in all the "looks sell books" rants, it would be you. Thank you very much for your time and your hugely helpful blog!

If your friends think they are being discriminated against cause they are butt ugly, ask if they sent a photocopy of their ass along with the manuscript. Otherwise, how would anyone know?

Until agents require you to send headshots with your manuscript, what you look like doesn't matter compared to what you write.

That however is for fiction.

Non-fiction is an entirely different matter and here, the ugly truth is, face counts. Why? Cause non fiction books require PLATFORM. That means you have your mug in front of people as a professional speaker, a radio show host, a frequent guest on Oprah, and things of that ilk.

And the truth is, that kind of performance type activity tends to select in favor of people who are good looking (Tony Robbins aside). You also have to have boatloads of personality.

It doesn't hurt to be good looking in any kind of industry including publishing, but hey, anyone who hangs out at Science Fiction cons, writers conferences and the American Library Association annual meeting knows they aren't in Atlantic City with Miss America and her coven.

If you mean during post publication that looks sell books, ask yourself when the last time was that you bought a book cause the author photo was hot. I buy Vanity Fair when Mr. Clooney graces the cover, and Mens Vogue of course (mint condition except for that teensy weensy gin splash). It might get the authors on TV but again, we know that what sells fiction is word of mouth.

"Here honey, read this Louis L'Amour, he's got a hot author photo"....

Almost no unpublished author thinks their work sux. Therefore, logically there must be another reason they keep getting that "not right for my list" form letter.

Clues and News: 85% of what comes over the transom sux and 95% isn't publishable. You do the math.


Qualifications: Certifiable

A Snarkling who clearly needs professional help inquires:

This is way off topic, but how does one go about breaking into the lit agency field? Would one need to return to school and obtain a specific degree (English, JD, ?) or does one just need to apply like the dickens and hope that an agency takes pity on them? Just curious...

There are two things you need to be a successful agent.
Ready? Taking notes?
All ears?

1. A rolodex stuffed with the names of editors who buy manuscripts.
2. Quality manuscripts.

Now if you can figure out how to get those, nothing else matters. Not your degrees. Not your personal hygiene. Not even your ability to spell.

You can contract out your legal work.
You can do almost all your work on the phone or via email.
You can hire a whip smart grammarian to do your mail.

If you have projects that are good, and know who's buying you're in.

Obviously of course, that's like saying if you can run the 100 in less than 8 seconds you can have the world record. You can. There's a tad more involved than appears on the surface.

Many agents begin as editors. Not all.
Almost ALL agents had some sort of career in publishing before they hung out their shingle.

If you asked me for career advice, I'd say get some experience in as many areas of publishing as you can, particularly sales, and sub rights. Meet everyone you can, and be nice to everyone.
You might need to intern to get your foot in the door but there are entry level paying jobs.

When you get hired, be extremely good at the job you were hired to do. If you're an assistant, be a kick ass assistant. Don't think you're marking time till you get promoted. One thing I see over and over again are people who think they're so over qualified for their entry level job that they can't be bothered to do it. Those people get fired. I refuse to work with them and if an editor has a lousy assistant, it means I'm MUCH less likely to call him/her first with a hot deal.

So, spruce up your rezooom. Dust your shoes, file your claws and spit shine your incisors. Publisher's Marketplace is probably the best job board in the biz now, and I think there's one at Media Bistro too.

Blogs n Found

A Snarkling is plotting his next move:

Dear Miss Snark: Do you or other agents you know ever surf through writer's blogs or places like Publishers Marketplace writer posting/blogs to find good offerings or are you busy with what you receive in the mail and with referrals? Is it worth the money to invest in this, especially featuring me sections? Thanks ...a fan

yes and no.

I read a couple writers blogs regularly.
Jennifer Weiner, who is represented elsewhere, very capably.
Jamie Boud, who isn't
Ron at Beatricewho is
Charlie Stella, who is.

But, I read almost all of those cause I either knew the writer first, or cause someone else told me it was great. I REGULARLY check out the blogs listed on the blog rolls over at Sarah's blog, and at Secret Dead Blog.

I slink over to the blogs of people who link to this one; that is I zip over and if it's interesting I hang out. If it's full of just personal angst or a diatribe about the futility of publishing, I zoom off to something pithier after a quick scan.

So yes, I read things. What I don't do is hunt for clients. I've never solicited anyone from a blog. That said, I've sold things to editors who found my clients work in online collections, or on my Publisher's Marketplace rights listings.

I don't read the writers offerings at Publishers Marketplace. (Sorry Michael...and after that nice mention yesterday too...)

The rule is always: write well, and do everything you can to get your writing out. The most effective way is to be published by a reputable journal like The Paris Review, or The New Yorker. Short story anthologies are great. Even chapters at online sites..all good.

And this is only my opinion. There could be a great scrum of editors searching the listings night and day, and I wouldn't know about it. Try it. See if it's effective. Like all placements though, you've got to plan for the long haul. You can't give up after a week.

But..Harriet Klausner read it and loved it!

Queries a Snarkling with a Scrapbook:

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a question about track records --

My first book was published by a small but reputable press, and I never really considered getting an agent because I knew it wouldn't make any money. I ended up getting more reviews than expected, and while some were very positive, others trashed it. I didn't worry much about it, and I still stand by the book.

The thing is, I'm about to start shopping another manuscript, and this one, though as strange as the first, seems like it could have a better chance with a larger publisher. I know I'm supposed to mention my history when querying agents, but should I try to justify myself a little or just hope they won't check my [online retailer] page and see what [trade magazine] had to say?

Nobody cares what the reviews said. Well, ok ...you do. And your ma. And your fifth grade teacher who now uses you as the example to the boys in the back of the room rolling cigarettes and leering at girlie mags "the last boy who did that grew up to be a NOVELIST so just watch your step there bucko."

The only thing an editor really cares about is how well it sold.

Review attention is one of those things that are supposed to sell books. Well, some do. Library Journal reviews prompt librarians. PW and Kirkus prompt the book trade.

Ask any publisher though and reviews aren't what move books: it's word of mouth. Buzz.
Off the book page features help with that. Does anyone honest to god think that reviews moved a single copy of The DaVinci Code?

It's nice to have good reviews. They make us feel like someone else out there read it and liked it. But when it comes to making a deal, cough up sales figures on a previous novel before reviews.

You're actually better off to have that mixed bag of reviews. "Well reviewed" is a secret kiss of death cause it usually means it sold-for-shit.


Miss Snark stayed late to finish this week's mail.
These are drawn from the actual slush pile.

5. "this can be marketed as either a screenplay or a novel." Yes, and this can be marketed as a poem or a novel, or a shovel or a sword. Cause yanno, they're really the same thing..just different.

4. "I have done a novel." Gee, and I thought I was kinky when I only slept with books.

3. "Dear Mr. Snark" Don't assume the gender of an agent is male even if the name LOOKS that way. Flip Brophy is a girl. So is Binky Urban. So is Miss Snark. If you can't figure that out from reading the web page, or googling, then, shit-for-brains, call the telephone number on the website and ask. Anything beats looking like a fucking misogynist who assumes the default setting is male. Besides, in publishing the default setting is female. It's a female dominated industry.

2. Include an IRC (international reply coupon) instead of a stamp. IRCs require a trip to the post office and standing in line to buy an 80cent stamp. Guess how much I refuse to do that. Bingo! 100%. I mail the stupid things back to you. Here's the scoop: buy stamps online or query people who take email queries. File this under subheading: read the damn guidelines on the website.

1. "since you can't be bothered to take email queries I'll kill a tree for you." First, your attitude sux. Second, unless you personally chopped down a tree don't assume any trees died for your paper needs. Most paper is made from recycled stuff these days. And third: get over yourself. If you don't like how I run my business...don't ask to do business with me. Fuckwit.


The Age of Reason? no no...the Age of Aquarius!!

A Snarkling who has gotten dizzy from blowing out too many candles on his last birthday cake writes:

Off the wall question: Latest manuscript I am pursuing representation for begins with teenagers dating in the 1960's. Many agents, at least those looking for new clients, are young - too young to relate to this scenario. The bigger agencies have interns who are even younger - so even a bigger problem. Though, Jeff Herman does a decent job of finding out ages of some agents, it's a crapshoot when trying to find the right agent. Naturally, Miss Snark, being the Snarktress, would never reveal such information, but would she have any suggestions for us Boomer novelists?

Yes yes Miss Snark sees your problem. It's very very hard to relate to something so far away from our own time. Miss Snark personally sees nothing of herself in Romeo and Juliet, let alone Scarlett and Rhett, never mind those scamps Nick and Nora. And heaven forefend if that guy Homer sends me some dreck about that bitch Helen...well, of course I can't relate... I'm MUCH too YOUNG.

Miss Snark confines her reading, comprehension and her representation to people who can define "23 Skidoo", have opera gloves with mother of pearl buttons AND can sing all the words to Louie Louie.

C'mon dear Snarkling. Just write well. That's all you need. If the girl is in a plaid skirt, and saddle shoes, or wears Goth underoos, or she's in a Trojan (TOGA--get your damn mind out of the gutter there boyo) human emotion is pretty much unchanged for I dunno...ten thousand years?

As for Miss Snark's age, even DMV does not know. Miss Snark has a dispensation from the Pope to be a true relic.

Sushi Anyone?

A Snarkling is turning into a raw nerve right in front of our very eyes...

Dear Miss Snark,I did not write a cover letter like that. I promise. However, I committed several faux pas in a recent submission of a requested manuscript to my dream agent. I am writing to ask if it is doomed: 1. I sent it by FedEx; then read in the new Writers Digest that this is annoying to agents because they must remove their stilettos from their desks and go to sign for the package. Although the envelope I sent bears the signatory of the front desk receptionist. 2.I neglected to enclose a SASE. This is my first submission. I am jelly. I jiggled for three days after realizing this mistake. Then I fired off a letter with an SASE, explaining that I understood it was unlikely that it would ever be united with the original submission, but wanted to make an attempt nonetheless. 3.Even after this untimely missive, I STILL neglected to inform the agent that she could feel free to recycle the manuscript if it was not for her. Is this Snarkling crushed dust beneath the agent's heels for accidentally becoming high maintenance?

First, what's the plural of faux pas? Fox paws? Fox Network News? ..but I digress...

Snarkling dear one, your work was requested. That moves you out of the Sudden Death round, and into the more forgiving, "Try Not to Fuck Up Too Badly" category.

If you just-must-gotta send something expedited, Fed Ex and UPS are the best choices cause if I'm down at the local pool hall playing snooker with Snookums instead of poised at my desk for mail call, UPS and Fed Ex will come back the next day. The Post Office makes you come play fetch. Miss Snark does not play fetch. Roll over and play dead..well..never you mind bucko.

You sent the SASE eventually. They will find each other in the stacks. True love happens in Miss Snark's slush pile all the time. I think they breed little letters which is why I never quite get finished with the pile.

And we can figure out if you send a #10 SASE you don't want the manuscript back.

Quit worrying. Go write something. Better yet, go read something fabulous.
I just finished Made in Detroit. If you think no one could combine Faulkner, Coleman Young and the Catholic Church in the same book and have each shed light on the other: read this. I dare you. Author: Paul Clemens. Agent: Not Miss Snark. Hardcover from Doubleday. Get it at the library.

Knit One, Purl Two; Nitwit One, Hurl Too

A Snarkling hoping to avoid his ticket to Philadelphia wonders if Miss Snark has ever received this:

Dear Miss Snark, Bob's Way is very similar to the best selling Tom's Way by Tom (who I have discovered is your biggest client). Of course, Bob's Way is probably written better and I'm sure will sell even more copies. Would you be interested in seeing it? Bob

Of course. There is no shortage in the nitwit brigade applying to me and every other agency in town. There's a REASON big publishers don't take anything except agented work. It's to deal with this exact thing. Dealing with these kinds of query letters is part of the job but it will never ever be something that earns any money. Publishers with a sharp eye on the bottom line just farm out the non paying stuff to agents. Works a treat for them. (There are other reasons they want to take agented stuff only, of course, so hold off on the vituperative emails.)

Anyone who deals with the public has these kinds of stories. Some days I can laugh about it - and some days I just want to track them down with a supersoaker hose and clean out their cranium... wherever it might be.

PS If any one reading the post wonders WHY this is a query letter from a nitwit, ask me. I'll be glad to explain it.

Second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia, right?

I just read your blog for the first time, and I believe you deserve a double header. So I'm giving you a shot at both my novels. In fact, if your response is correct, I will throw in a third, my debut novel published by me at 1st Books (AuthorsHouse).

This query is being sent because I am seeking an agent who has strong, close and personal contacts with editors and publishers who are committed to working with serious, literary talent offering broad commercial, universal appeal. If you are such an agent and suffer from the incurable Max Perkins Syndrome, I'd like to hear from you.

Hear this.
This is the query of an idiot.

Headline Writer Gives Miss Snark An Attack of the Vapors

However, she recovered nicely when she read the actual article. Those scamps in the headline department just love to tweak Miss Snark's moral outrage before breakfast.

From ArtsJournal.com a wonderful place to find mainstream news and some interesting blogs comes the headline: Dumbing Down The Classics?

Needless to say, Miss Snark clutched her six volumes of Proust close to her heart and read on:

Publishers realize there are plenty of books out there that everyone knows but few have read. Is it because they're too hard? So publishers are putting out "new editions of some of the great, often unread, works with a fresh emphasis on 'accessibility'. Some may call it dumbing down. The books will be, well, simpler. One of the first to receive the treatment is Tolstoy's War and Peace, republished this month by Penguin in a new, reader-friendly translation."

Then there is a link to the actual article in the UK paper The Guardian.here

Turns out they are bringing out the first new translation of War and Peace in fifty years.
Not quite what "dumbing down" means in common usage, and thank god for that.
A new translation of W&P is cause for celebration. Taking out the difficult-to-follow parts, or cleaning up the names ...that would be dumbing down. As you can see from the article that's not what the translator is doing. He's using less formal grammar perhaps, but I don't think it sounds like W&P is going to be significantly shorter or much altered.

Dumbing down is significantly altering a work to make it "easier" or more politically correct. There was a great hullabaloo here in NYC about the Regents' exam using such dumbed down, sanitized or Bowdlerized versions of great works that the selections missed the whole point of the novel and were sometimes unrecognizable. It's hard to read James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison if you take out all mentions of the "n-word", and violence. There were some egregious examples in the New York Times but Miss Snark was too shocked to remember them.

Think of it as though a Bible had been rewritten leaving out all the "begats". It's a boring section right? I mean, you don't really need it, right? (If you are reading this and do not understand why taking out the begats is a problem, feel free to ask...I have a rant ready).

A new translation does not translate to dumbing down. Writing headlines that miss the point of the article...that's dumb.



A reader who has now been stripped of her Snarkling status writes:

Now that you've gone all fancy with your blog, it just doesn't seem as snarky.

oh really?
well snark THIS, bubbelah!

When Miss Snark was a tender sprout making her way in the world she had cause to be in the thick of things at a television station. Breaking news! War! Fire! Pestilence! It was exciting! It was energizing! Miss Snark's position required her to answer viewer calls during and after the evening news broadcasts.

Lead story: Three Alarm Fire Guts Warehouse, Homeless Cats Saved in Nick of Time!

Principal viewer response: "Hello, I don't like the anchor's hair! She looks like something the cat dragged in!"

Lead story: Marauding Grammarian Arrested for Displaying Colon in Public!

Principal viewer response: "Hello? Why is the anchor wearing red tonight? It doesn't do a thing for her hair..which is still a rat's nest by the way!"

Lead Story: Sanitation Workers on Strike! Steaming Piles of Rubbish! Mayor Declares Olfactory Emergency!

Principal viewer response: "Hello? That anchor really looks fat. Is it her dress? And why haven't you fixed her hair??"

Lead story: Pope Elopes!

Principal viewer response: "Hello? It's really not a good choice to wear black when you're talking about weddings! Plus, it makes her look fat. And why did she change her hair? It was much better before."

Miss Snark tabulated content categories for the Program Director.
Hair/clothes/fat generated about 63percent of the calls.

Thus it comes as no surprise to Miss Snark, long removed from her television career such as it was, that comments about her hair, clothes, and fat font, should lead the category.

Does Miss Snark do the Hustle?

A Snarkling ponders Miss Snark's role in the post publication process

Curious, though, as to the amount of help she expects from her clients? Are they supposed to be out hustling? Taking care of local outlets, doing PR, Does she orchestrate this - or work out a plan with the author and/or publisher?

Miss Snark's idea of post publication involves a lawn chaise, a pool and well oiled cabana boy. Sadly, she has been unable to work that into any publishing contracts even under cover of darkness using invisible ink.

Publishers are well intentioned about publicity..mostly. Individual publicists are too. The problem is they've got a lot of work, and most of them are based in NYC. Their knowledge of pr in ..to put it kindly..."outlying areas" verges on nil. It doesn't make them bad, lazy or stupid. There's just a limit to how many regions you can know much about if you're a 25 year old publicist in NYC. (Publicists' average age skew young..it's an entry level job).

So yes, my authors are out hustling, you bet. They're showing up at places like Bouchercon, and RWA and other fan sites. They're booking readings and appearances. They're blogging. They're writing book reviews for the local paper and other places.

Publishers can usually be counted on for getting books out to the trade journals and hitting some highlights. For deep market penetration, like a 25 city tour of California, the author is usually on his/her own.

Laurie King, quoted on Sarah's required reading blog says PR is like raising kids. Mostly it's about being there, showing up. I agree. Nothing beats knowing the manager of the Borders in Fargo North Dakota because you've been in his/her store and said "howdy". The big tour stores like Powells, Eliot Bay, Tattered Cover, and Book Passage are all nice places to know too, but they see a lot of authors..hundreds a year. The indie book store in Burns Oregon doesn't see quite so many...and they sell a chunk of books for the people who make the trek.

Do I orchestrate all this? No. I tell clients what they need to do and help them be realistic about what they can expect from the publisher. I offer information on how to be effective doing pr and marketing, but my job now is to make deals for them, not be their pr babe.


And now, for my next rabbit in the hat trick...

Dear Miss Snark,

What exactly is an agent's role in the world of 21st century publishing? I've been reading your blog for a while, I search the internet, I read, I read and read again, but there really aren't any answers that satisfy me as an unpublished writer. So maybe you can help.

Miss Snark adjusts her pedagogical chapeau and prepares to answer the Age Old Question: what the hell good are you anyway since you don't produce anything!

oh wait, that's not really the question is it?

Miss Snark steps back and numbers the questions because she likes to be very very organized.

1. What is an agent expecting a prospective author to bring to the table when they receive queries and partials (besides it being well written and legible)?

2. What sort of relationship does an agent expect to have with a new writer they've decided to take on board?

3. What do you feel are an agent's responsibility to an author?

4. Do you feel than a new writer is expected to know exactly where their manuscript fits into the market?

5. Is it an author's responsibility to "hustle" their work to an agent whether they are or aren't aware as to where their manuscript fits?

Let's start with 1. It's a prosaic choice, but hell, it's easy. Almost as easy as Miss Snark.

First, let's remember that due to a very very sad oversight Miss Snark does not rule the world and thus can't speak for other agents. I can only tell you how I handle things and my sense of how other agents do, and what I know to be industry standards.

so, #1. You toss off well written and legible like they're nothing but they're not. They're important and less common than you'd think. That said, I look for fresh writing and interesting choices. Something that keeps me guessing. Something that holds my interest. Talking cats did it way back in 1980 but they aren't going to now. So if you write about talking cats and you are annoyed cause everyone knows Lillian Jackson Braun gets published so why not you..remember, I've read all LJB's books and I don't want to read your imitation thereof.

That's the creativity part. Hell I can write a decent sentence. I can write quips and I can even write a fairly funny and compelling blog entry. Can I write a novel? I doubt it. I have a hard time imagining things. That's YOUR job. I may not be able to write it but I know it when I see it.

#2. You're signed now what. Answer your emails. Listen when I tell you it's going to be hard work to get ready for publication. Ask me questions when you don't understand something or you wonder about something. It's easier to answer questions than fix screw ups. Understand this is a professional relationship.

Understand you're not my only client. Would that you made such bucketfuls of money you were. The only person who wants that as much as you, is me.

#3. What is an agent’s responsibility. You mean besides sell the work, negotiate the contract, push the subsidiary rights and cough up a movie deal? Well, given that only takes five minutes a day, let’s add: keep them generally informed of how things are going. Regular contact even if it's just hi howdy, I'm closing the office for two weeks and going to Antarctica with George Clooney. We've had snarly conversations here about the minutia of what "generally informed" means, but if you want me to do something different, I'd prefer you just tell me rather than seethe.

#4. Do you feel than a new writer is expected to know exactly where their manuscript fits into the market?

No. If possible, sure. But knowing the market is some of the value I bring to the table.

#5 I don't understand the question. Can I have another? Better yet, can I have a drink?

As to the general question of what is the value of an agent when anyone can go out and get published these days, let me just say this about that:

1. Do you do your own brain surgery?
2. Do you mark your own hems?
3. Do you ask the librarian for help if you can't find a book or do you just keep searching or go home in disgust?

The answers to these are all the same: you benefit from time and expertise learned over a long period of time, and a lot of time you benefit from a second set of eyes, and most of the time it's a smart choice to have someone on your team who has done this stuff before.

Of course, you're welcome to pick your own brain as needed.
I'll provide the gin for anesthetic.

Maui Waui!

A Snarkling is contemplating getting his novel lei'd.

Ms. Snark:

ahem...that's MISS Snark. Miss Snark is not politically correct in her choice of honorifics. In The Least. But...anyway, on with your tale:

I've been looking at the Maui Writers Conference webpage and found something there called the manuscript marketplace. For $149 authors can submit a query, synopsis, and writing sample that will be reviewed by participating agents.

I wonder, what are your thoughts on this? Does this online blitz submission service have a good reputation? Is it really the shortcut it appears to be?

Here's the link...


I'm of two minds on this kind of thing.

First, I've never been to the Maui Writers Conference but it's had some big name folks attend and I've never heard anyone bitch too much about the long flight from NYC to Honolulu when they've been asked to attend.

On the more general topic of paying for critiques at a conference, here's my dilemma. I hate to see it cost $150. And I really hate that it's one on one. As you know from this blog, I think we all learn more when Snarklings (or in this case conference attendees) are brave enough to let their work be looked at in public. Or even small groups.

Just for starters, once you're published, people ARE going to read your book and say critical things about it. Get used to it, it won't kill you.

Second, you'll see an agent's prejudices, favorites, and idiosyncracies MUCH more clearly if you see her/him review six manuscripts instead of just your precious tome. Plus it's easier to see the agent isn't just totally full of crap (or IS !!) if it's not your work being eviscerated by that bitch from NYC, and who does she think she is anyway.

I love doing what are essentially master classes at conferences. They runs like the Snarkometer: six to ten people send their ten to twenty pages to me a month ahead of the conference date. When we all get to the conference, everyone in the group gets a copy of the works and we read them aloud. I stop and critique as we go. I've had people tell me it was the best and worst experience of their writing lives all at the same time.

Now, before everyone gets all hot under the collar, I should tell you I’m not Snarky with them. It's one thing on a blog but in real life, kindness is a requirement. (If you quote me I'll deny it but it's true)

As to Maui, if you've got the dough, and the time, I think having someone look at your pages and give you more than "its not right for us" is probably worth every nickle.

In a perfect world run by Miss Snark, the organization would be different but the concept would be the same. How's that for unifying two minds!

Cross genre and the limits of category

Following a post defining commercial fiction a Snarkling with spurs vents:

But what does one do when one writes literary fiction set in the 19th-century West? Particularly when it would never be published by anyone who does publish Westerns and it also does not easily fit the commerical fiction mode.My problem is that even with what I felt was an excellent query letter - read and approved by three of my more impeccably published (Holt, Random, St. Martins, etc.) friends - each reply simply stated that they do not, under any circumstances, represent... Westerns. Nothing else.Several of them even seemed to take considerable pride in refusing to read the submitted chapters. I might add that of three friend's agents - only one of them would even agree to read it despite their strong recomendations. And then that agent quit her job last week and left for Europe.I do not expect that there is anything you can recommend... other than keep trying. Just venting...

Time to put on your problem solving chapeau, dear Snarkling.

Who best to see the merits of a work about the west, than those IN the West.
First thing I'd do is get out your trusty Guide to Literary Sharks ...err Agents, and start looking up agents based in the West...Nebraska and westward. There are quite of few of them.

I'd look for publishers in the West too. There are lots of them. And if you're so inclined, there's a whole bevy of them assembling in Portland Oregon on 11/19 for the ...Publishers of the West Conference. They even have a trade association.

If you write well enough, someone will see it. And if you get this tome published, Miss Snark wants credit for spurring you on. Yee haw!


And now a pause for a commercial break....

Dear Miss Snark,
What is the latest industry definition of "commercial fiction"? Please?
I have seen agents declare they are looking for literary and commercial fiction but no genre fiction, especially, no fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, etc. - which I thought would be considered very commercial.

Commercial fiction is the stuff that sells that is not genre, and not literary.

Sort of like describing "non-fiction" by what it's not : fiction.

Commercial fiction is a sales phrase. It's code for "this isn't some experimental novel from a writer's colony or an MFA program or some half baked numbskull who thinks artful use of the semi colon takes the place of plot". (down! down! no nasty emails...it's a JOKE!)

Commercial fiction can be upmarket or downmarket. Bridges of Madison County was indisputably commercial fiction. So is anything by Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts and Jodi Picoult. They don't win prizes, they mostly don't get reviewed, and they laugh at this all the way to the bank.

What is NOT commercial fiction is EL Docterow, John Irving, Bret Easton Ellis, Sue Monk Kidd, John Updike, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, or Jane Smiley. No matter how much they sell. They are literary fiction. They win the big prizes and the recognition. Sometimes they laugh all the way to the bank, but usually only if there was a big ol movie deal.

Genre fiction can be commercial and/or literary, but it's hardly every categorized that way. If you write in a genre (western, mystery, SFF, chick lit etc) you look for agents who say they handle that kind of work. Genre tends to be acquired by specific editors who know the market.

If you have any questions about what you write, go to the bookstore and look where work like yours is shelved.

In the end though, don't worry about this. Just write something fabulous and it will all work out. More than once I’ve had to break the bad news to a writer that they are not writing what they thought they were!

I demand CocoPuffs..oh wait, you meant "serial", nevermind

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm wondering about the excerpted works you sometimes see in magazines, for example a chapter of Ian Frazier's On the Rez that was printed in the Atlantic Monthly around the time of the book's publication (reading that chapter made me buy the book as soon as I could get my hands on it). You also sometimes see citations of prior copyrights for certain chapters inside books. I once read an essay that was clearly a early version of a scene in a book, although neither the website that published the essay nor the book acknowledged the connection.

If I'm querying agents, unsure if my novel will ever see print, is it a bad idea to try and sell a chapter of it to a magazine? Would that ultimately complicate rights more than it's worth, or would an agent be more inclined to consider a new author who has already published a chapter of the novel in question?

Thank you for your help.

Those are called "first serial rights" and they refer to your right to publish some (not all!) of your work in magazines or other places before the book is published.

Many agents, and I do too, encourage people to submit parts of their work to magazines cause it makes it easier to sell your work when you say "This dear Snarkling has an excerpt from her novel "My Life as a Snarkling" in this month's New Yorker"

The trick is how much. First serial rights are covered in book contracts. Sometimes they spell out the number of words, sometimes not, but it can be negotiated. If the boilerplate contract says first serial not to exceed 10,000 words, and your story was 15,000, your agent just goes back and says "fix this" pretty much. Publishers of books LIKE sold first serial rights for exactly what you described about with Ian Frazier...it whets the appetite of readers. Even if it complicates the deal, it’s a good thing.

Just keep track of where you sent things and what the response was. And of course, keep track of anything that SELLS!!

Oh so helpful.....ya right

A Snarkling offers up a morsel of amusement, with a serious question:

Dear Miss Snark,

I just received a rejection letter that was standard until it got to this:

"As you probably know, there are a number of other ways to find publication. There are companies that will supply your book for very low fees. Some of them advertise that they will do e-books and others will print copies on demand if they accept your manuscript."

I'm fairly new to this, but it took me so completely by surprise that I had to laugh. Would you look upon this as a red flag against the agent? Or could it just mean that the agent is sick of getting hounded by desperate writers?

Confused and amused,

One of the great requirements for a good agent is the desire to be helpful. Good agents really WANT their clients to succeed..and not just for the money.

I think her intentions are pure but it sure sounds patronizing doesn't it?

It reminds me of a friend's story from this summer when she was interning with a radio station. The station had just changed email configurations so my friend's thankless task was to email everyone on the data base to give them new info..and process all the responses.

One chipper little publicist at a big New York fancy pants publisher emailed back.

"I didn't find you on our data base, but I've added you in. Make sure you fax us your review copy requests on letterhead. And," she added, oh so helpfully, "you should get your show listed in Bacons! All the big houses use it to find shows."

My friend didn't know whether to laugh or cry. First of all, clearly the publicist hadn't figured out that if she was getting an email, my friend's show was already ON the data base. It's pretty much the only way you get that info is to be on the list already.

Furthermore, Bacons, for those of you who don't know, is a massive tome with a listing of every show, station, producer, and contact info all across the country. There are volumes for radio, tv, newspapers, and a separate one for sub categories like health, and one just for New York City.

Being listed in Bacons means you get flooded FLOODED with people pitching books. My friend interning at a high profile show would no more list the show, producer and contact info with Bacons than she would publish the info on Craigslist. She knows who needs to know her contact info and she gives it to them. (That's why some agents aren't listed in Writers Market and aren't in AAR's searchable data base: they don't want to hear from people they haven't solicited)

This well intentioned but clearly inexperienced publicist just hadn't grasped that idea. She was just trying to be nice and helpful.

In answer to your question I'd just chalk it up to trying to be helpful and not having a clue how it sounds on the other end. Maybe she'll read the blog.

Post 9/11

Thanks to all of you who wrote to me about this anniversary, and what you were doing on 9/11. It meant a lot to me.

One of the big subway transit hubs here, Union Square, has an ongoing memorial to 9/11.It's not a part of the station I see very often so when I walked by last week it was the first time I saw the graffiti. Regardless of politics, (in NYC you can pretty much assume the politics is left left left of left,) I was dismayed to see a big ol’ swash of "Bush Lied" across the names of the people who perished.

It seemed akin to painting "Johnson lied" across the VietNam memorial. It may be true, and I don't want to get into that, but it's out of place.

My brethren in Christ, those street theatre folks in ActUP! and EarthFirst, would tell you that "out of place" is irrelevant. The point is to rouse people and get attention.

However, co-opting a memorial wall for a political statement is the act of a political vulture. Vultures have their place, just ask the Zoroastrians, but "flipping us the bird" in the subway is the act of someone whose sense of decency has taken flight.

Keep your damn spray painted political performance art off the names of people who just went to work one day. A day, dammit, just like today.