Miss Snark decamps for the Islands

That's all for this week dear Snarklings!
I'm away this weekend, catching up on my reading.
Mr Clooney is in town..and I'm gone.
This falls under the heading 'cosmic black humor'.

Animal Vegetable or Mineral?

A Snarkling wonders:

Dear Miss Snark:

Since you mention Mikal Gilmore's book, I'm curious about something. I once saw what appeared to be a book proposal for A SHOT IN THE HEART (how, I don't know, though it was lying about a cabin in Jackson Hole). It had been typeset and printed, and it had an attractive cover. I distinctly recall that it was a book proposal, but maybe it was some kind of publisher's promotional literature. In any case, it contained an overview, I believe, and a sample chapter of Gilmore's book. Have you ever heard of this kind of thing being done as a book proposal, and does it ever work, and, if so, in what circumstances?

I assure you it wasn't a book proposal, even without seeing it. Why? Book proposals like novels have to be in page (or electronic page) form. The reason is they have to go through the xerox machine. Bound books are hard to xerox efficiently no matter how pretty they look.

I'm going to guess it was a promotional teaser, or perhaps something for a movie pitch given it was in Jackson Hole.

One thing I know: it wasn't a proposal.

Under no circumstances, ever, do you want to print and bind a novel or a proposal. First, it smacks of complete ignorance of publishing standards, and second, you're just gonna have to do it over again right the second time.

A bundle of joy.....

I've heard via the cyber grapevine of a process whereby agents sometimes 'batch' or 'bundle' partials/manuscripts of several clients together and send them to an editor. This sounds scary, like a hit-or-miss shotgun approach to me. Am I suffering from paranoia, or delusions of grandeur thinking that my beloved manuscript deserves more individual treatment than this? Are there benefits to handling submissions in this manner? Is it a no-no? Or accepted practice?

I heard about an "agent" who used to box up ALL her clients' work and deliver it to the lobby of various publishers and say "here ya go". I heard about her cause she's now doing time for fraud.

I've never heard of this practice. I've certainly never done it. I can't imagine what the benefits are. I know some editors read this blog--if they have any insights or comments on this, I'd welcome hearing from them. It's too bad ol' 00 is not posting cause this really would be a good question for her since she was an editor.

A rose is a rose is a rose

Here's a question that your discussion of roman a clef prompted.

What's your thinking about pseudonyms?

It seems that it would help preserve the confidentiality of the characterizations. Since the
characters couldn't be linked to an indentifiable author observer, there's an added layer of protection.

Moreover, when writing about or drawing from your working life, your name on a book could lead to various tensions with colleagues and bosses. (I guess that's an occupational hazard for many writers. Some won't get fired, they'll just piss off their families and friends.)

Also, for some author egos, narcissism is more satisfied by anonymous fame (or lack thereof.)

What about marketing?

It would be tougher to put your face out there on Oprah, unless she agreed to a shadow silhouette.

In the case of Primary Colors, the pseudonymous authoring enhanced the PR when it became a great guessing game about who wrote it.

Do any of your authors get to publish anonymously?

What do you and publishers think about it?

Three words: John Twelve Hawks. Talk about grist for the snark mills.

Snarklings, don't worry about any of this. Just write. We'll figure this stuff out if and when someone coughs up some money for you.

This is like writing Mrs George Clooney in copperplate all over my chem II notebooks at Sister Whoopi Convent For Wayward Snarklings. It's all fine and dandy to think about but right now, it's a moot point.

Use all this creative energy to write something you'll WANT to put your name on.

Miss Snark Beams with Pride

Dear Miss Snark,

You rule! I'll treat you to a bucket of gin if I ever find out who you are. I am a newcomer to your blog, but I read back far enough to see your comments to people who sent in their first 300 words.

I had sent Chapter One of my thriller to 8 agents; none of them wanted to read further. (Ouch!) After studying your acerbic comments, I revised my first chapter, leaving out all backstory. I sent this new Chapter One to 6 agents last Friday, and today, I've already heard from one of them that she'd like to see three more chapters. Less than a week! And this wasn't even from one of the agents who expressed interest in my novel at a recent conference. So, I'm jazzed.

Miss Snark is very very happy for you!
If this gets published, Miss Snark is collecting on that pail of gin!

Snark On!

Get thee behind me, old Ned

Dear Miss Snark:

Uncle Ned, he of the accountant's black visor and moth-eaten cardigan, does not believe what you say. More precisely, he does not believe you exist.

Each afternoon at 12:15 sharp, I open the door to the room that we have built adjacent to the utility closet and bring him his lunch. Routine is one of Uncle Ned's greatest strengths. If there is not a dash of paprika coloring his egg salad, I will hear about it. Variety is tolerated only on Fridays when, in anticipation of the weekend, a handful of Doritos is added to his plate.

He looks up from the ledger on his desk and rubs his eyes. "So tell me again about this Miss Snark."

I gush with enthusiasm about the latest wisdom in your blog, throwing in the occasional word play that is your forte.

"No," he says. "Tell me about her."

"She is anonymous."

He arches his eyebrows, which in recent years have grown as wooly as the caterpillars that are predicting another long, cold winter.

"She drinks gin. She wants to go to Antarctica. She has this thing for George Clooney."

"Clooney? She never should have run off with that Jose Ferrer. Hooked her on narcotics, that's what he did," Uncle Ned says, leaning back on his oak swivel chair. "But boy, that girl could sing. You put paprika in the salad today?"

"You're thinking of Rosemary Clooney. She likes George Clooney."

He slashes his arm through the air as if cutting the space between us. "A Clooney is a Clooney."

Old Ned, poor Ned, he's dissed Mr. Clooney, now he is sooooooooooo dead.

Besides, I don't drink gin, I swill it.

Uncle Ned does not believe in computers. He does not believe in the internet. He lives in a world where people do not go dispensing valuable information for free.

Feel free to send twenty dollar bills Uncle Ned. In fact, let me insist.

Uncle Ned scoffs at the notion of gin. His preferred beverage is rabbit juice. Yes, rabbit juice. It is a quantifiable experience-- $87 per bottle, found only behind the counters at disreputable health food stores. One day, I fear I may smash the bottle over his head. Can you see what I'm up against?

First, he disses Mr. Clooney
Then, he disses Miss Snark's very existence,
and now, the final insult, he disses GIN.

Miss Snark will be sending her second (suitably uniformed) with a challenge to a duel.
Anagrams at forty paces!
Times crossword puzzles...in ink!
speed reading Finnegans Wake for comprehension tests!

Winner gets the blog! Loser leaves town!

Killer Yapp the junkyard poodle will be on your doorstep in an hour awaiting your answer.


Doin' the Lindy!

Dear Miss Snark

I have a list that I guard. Ferociously. Possessively. Obsessively. My little list of Dream Agents. BUT...a couple of my top picks are solo agents.

Death, dread disease, divorce, insolvency spring morbidly to mind. Not meaning to sound cold and callous but what steps can I take to minimize the effect of these disasters should I ever land a solo agent? How solo is solo? And what are your views on separate checks (which would probably screw up the expense accounting for those manuscripts copied and couriered to the Dream Editor).

This is an excellent question, I'm so glad you asked!

First, any agent who sets up a solo shop has to establish what kind of business structure s/he will be using. Most agents set up an LLC-a limited liability corporation. You'll see LLC listed with the business name.

Look for that. If you don't see it: ASK.
LLC will protect you in case of death, divorce and insolvency. It means that the money isn't tied up in a personal account. It's an asset of a business, not a person.

ALL agents should be willing to tell you how they are set up. If they aren't , do NOT sign with them, no matter what. Ever. Got that? EVER.

Ask how they handle their client's money. I have a separate account that is used exclusively for payments to authors and to deposit checks from publishers. It's not a trust account cause the rules in NY for trust accounts are designed for people handling trust accounts in the zillions and by lawyers. This money goes in then out in about three days. I don't have clients who want to divide money at the publisher (separate checks sent to author and agent). If a client wants to do that, he's getting a thirty day notice and we're done.

Some agents handle that differently.

Dread disease is something you can't plan for. It's true when you fly solo you don't have back up on the days when you've got a migraine, or the dog bit the mailman and you have to go bail him out of jail, or vacation days in Antarctica. Its just one of the hazards of the biz. I'm sure there are hazards of a multi agent shop but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

How solo is solo? Pretty darn solo here. There are interns that come and go, but the shop is mine and I do the work. If I croak there will be a lot of unhappy clients. On the other hand, no one tells me what I can or cannot take on, or that I’ve had a project too long that hasn’t sold and time to cut the author loose.

There is likely more info about this topic at the Author’s Guild website and the National Writers Union. Both are good places to get reliable and current info.

Do you have a square to spare...of writing paper?

A snarkling is taking notes at work and transcribing them in the powder room during lunch. She wonders:

Dear Miss Snark,

I've noticed there seems to be a lot of hoo-ha about novels that are Roman A Clef. How do you define what Roman A Clef is and what makes it so special that people knock down doors and throw horrendous amounts of money at (sometimes) virtually unknown authors who have this Roman A Clef slant on a novel? Is this something that is growing, stagnant or on the decline?

Keep up the good work Miss Snark!

Forever your snarkling......

Roman a clef (say: ro-man' ah clay) is French for "we say we're making this all up but it's really true now guess who they are".

Examples abound: Valley of the Dolls, Primary Colors, the Nanny Diaries and most recently The Devil Wears Prada. Thinly disguised fiction. Or fiction with a GREAT marketing hook that it’s really not, but the lawyers made it say it was.

Why are they popular? They've ALWAYS been popular. Same reason the National Enquirer is the biggest selling magazine behind TV guide (or used to be, I think TV Guide is gasping its last).

Same reason Vogue put Mr Clooney on the cover and People magazine invented The Sexiest Man Alive contest....we're gluttons for stud muffins of celebrity.

I know why I read The Devil Wears Prada. I'm fascinated by Anna Wintour and this was a book “about” her. I read The Nanny Diaries only at gunpoint cause I had to see what all the fuss was about. The authors of TND are author scum so I refused to buy the book. I stole it. (ok that's NOT true, put down the mouse, step away from the keyboard, do not send Miss Snark evil hate mail.)

I read Primary Colors cause I thought it would be fun to see the "inside story" of the Clinton campaign.

I read Valley of the Dolls cause it gave Maman Snark a fainting spell. That one I did steal...from Grandmother Snark's boudoir.

Roman a clef , indeed all cloaked things even unto this blog, can tell the truth in a way that can't be done otherwise. The trick to roman a clef is that the people you're writing about have to be sexy, they have to have a bit of bad bad bad to them, and you have to be in a position to know. Devil Wears Prada was written by a fashion assistant. TND by nannies, Primary Colors by a guy who covered the campaign. They were all "in the know".

I'm sure Miss Snark's assistants will be reading this with glee and taking notes. Movie rights and t-shirts to follow.


A Snarkling subscribes to Vogue for Writers (cover art-George Clooney of course)

Miss Snark,
I'm newly addicted to your blog and have a question for you, if you don't mind. As a magazine journalist, I get highly annoyed when people submit stories to me that are chock full of obvious AP Style errors. Should writers submitting manuscripts stick to a certain style (Chicago? AP? Something else?) or would you be OK with it as long as the writer is consistent throughout?

There's a book about style? geeze, I maybe should get one.

Some nitwit (clearly not a snarkling) said on some sour grapes drenched post over yonder that clearly I wasn't an agent cause I punctuated my parenthesis and quotes incorrectly.

well, to that I say "fuckoffanddie".

Then of course, in the comments line over here somewhere, I get snapped at for ya'll instead of y'all.

Ya'll are in need of colon-ic: kindly, Miss Snark provides one.

Now to be on point so to speak: I totally agree there should be a consistent style in a manuscript. Most of the time I ask people to follow what's laid out in Writers Market or the other publishing books; that is, I'm not going to be rabid on the subject but you have to do a couple things right and the rest has to be consistent.

Mag journalism is different. They ARE nutso about style format. So are newspapers. Maybe cause they're working to deadlines that make Miss Snark reach for the gin pail and not a job application.

Almost every website I've seen gives suggestions for style, and things to watch out for. As in most things, following the directions given will be a smart move.

Now, I'd like to discuss the proper use of the ampersand. But first.. a gin&tonic.


The Perfect 10

My mailbox was all atwitter this afternoon with a devotion of snarklings commenting on the post over at Agent 007

Unlike some bloggers, I cannot churn this out every day, and since my first duty is to my authors, that will never change. But it may get even more sporadic in the coming weeks. I write when the inspiration hits, and right now, nothing is hitting me. I am simply too preoccupied.
In the meantime, maybe you want to check out Miss Snark. I only agree with about 10 percent of what she says (and if I were looking for an agent, I might avoid women altogether just to guarantee I woud not end up with her), but she posts several times a day and seems to have plenty of time to answer questions.

Gee. 10%. That's like...six percent less than the percentage of votes President Bush got in New York City. 10% is so off the Bell curve, I might as well resign myself to being two dimensional instead of three.

Yanno, I’ve always wanted to be a 10 ... but I don’t think this was what I had in mind.

The post got me to wondering why she feels so strongly about someone she doesn't know, and who has certainly never felt the need to take a pot shot at her.

I thought the best place to look for answers might be her blog. I spent a bit of time delving into her archives.

Turns out Agent 007 had A Purpose in starting and maintaining her blog.

She wrote on August 27: (for the full text click here)

Why am I doing this?

Okay, I’d be lying if I said I had no ulterior motives. I’d be lying, too, if I said that I started the blog on a whim—without purpose whatsoever.

A few times, I’ve brought up that I had this crazy idea that we—agents and editors—could do our jobs better if we understood each other.

I’ve spent a lot of lunches, drinks dates, dinners, phone chats, and emails telling editors and other agents about the inside scoop and trying to effect change. Not too efficient. There are still a lot of agents out there making hard work for editors. And a lot of editors out there who treat agents (and authors) like the secret enemy.

It sounds to me like 00 wanted her blog to be serious, read seriously, taken seriously, and a vehicle for the improvement of all mankind...or at least publishing. Her posts reflected that. They were long, detailed, well reasoned, carefully thought out.

Then along comes Miss Snark: loud, profane, absolutely irreverent, acerbic, snarky, fast, short and worst of all...frequent. I can see where this blog would drive her crazy...if those kinds of things mattered.

This reminds me a bit of when I had a new young dog who wanted to play play play. She'd chase her tail, she'd bite the rug, she'd pester the older dog to be more fun....until the old bitch just snapped and bit the pesterpup on the ear.

This blog is my idea of fun. I like doing it. I post a lot cause it's fun. If you don't like the blog, don't read it. If you think it's a travesty and should be banned from the face of the earth, get a grip. If you think I should be doing something else with my time, why do you even care?

The funny thing I'd always kinda liked ol' 00. I certainly read her blog periodically and appreciated her insights into this industry--but what the hell do I know, a ten like me.

00 closed her post about Her Mission with this:

It’s time we wake up and stop being so adversarial, so suspicious of generosity, so hesitant to be human with each other. It’s time to be the best versions of ourselves.

I quite agree Agent 007---but then what do I know? I'm just a perfect ten.

A Group of Snarklings is....

Ya'll are just entirely too chipper first thing in the morning (or for some late at night!)

The entries did indeed prove you've been reading the blog with a creative eye.

I did love "a clooney of Snarklings" very much.

"A sneer of snarklings"..well, I sneer but the snarklings tend not to...much.

"A gin pail of snarklings"..well..get OUT of the gin pail anyone who's in it!

My all time fave, and the winner and the name of a group of snarklings is:
a devotion of snarklings.

It was posted by Elektra and you may not have seen it posted under "Ghost of a Chance" (Blogger was being snotty with postings last night.)

It's Stephen King's birthday today. His book "On Writing" is probably one of the very best books about writing I've ever read. If you don't own it, make sure your library does so you can read it once a year.

What do you call a group of Snarklings?

Miss Snark begins her mornings with Cafe Bustelo, a cold compress on her fevered brow, the New York Times...and Word A Day

Once a week, the moderator of the site collects the comments and emails them to subscribers (the subscription is free and it's great fun). Recently there was discussion about the names of groups of things: a murder of crows, a herd of horses...and then these suggestions!!!

An earful of iPod users.
A clique of photographers.
A scourge of evangelists.

A roll of tootsies.
A whine of teenagers.
A cacophony of DJs.

A barf of bulimics.
A sounder of politicians at pork barrel.
A surfeit of spammers.

A gargle of word enthusiasts.
A stonish of wonders.
An overcharge of plumbers.

A bling of celebrities.
A wanding of airport screeners.
A lunching of executives.

A blather of bloggers.
A conjugation of grammarians.
A contingent of understudies.

A flight of runaway brides.
A covey of highly effective people.

A pride of expectant fathers.

A lot of used car salesmen.
A pinch of shoplifters.
A stupor of television viewers.

A screech of American Idol contestants.
A tax dodge of gin palaces.

a dither of deans
a vacuum of Vice-Chancellors.
a tangle of hairdressers

An enthusiasm of AWAD subscribers.

My question is: what do you call a group of snarklings?



A Ghost of a Chance!

I'm not sure if this is a topic you have any experience with, but I'm wondering how folks break into ghostwriting. I've heard from a few people that their agents set them up with others among their clients who needed writers. Is this something you've done? Any other insight you might be able to offer into how all this works?

I don't take on people who are principally ghost writers. I rep them for a single project, usually one that I've brought to them. I keep a list in my mink lined address book(the one that George Clooney would have given me had he not been tied up filming in Paris when I saw it at Bloomies and fell on it with rapturous screams...but I digress) of people who are ghostly.

I don't do a lot of work requiring ghosties cause my work is primarily novels and genre fiction. I know that one of the "musts" for a ghost are publishing credentials up the wazoo, so think about getting your freelance writing career in gear as you look for ghost jobs.

You'll want to know editors too cause sometimes I'll get names from editors who love everything about a project except the writing.

And the biggest hint of all is keep your email and phone contact info current. Have a website with your name; I can't tell you the number of people I don't try to call a second time when they don't answer the first call or their number is out of date or their email bounces. Be easy to find. Be easy to work with.


If you were my agent—how would you approach this? I wrote my novel and got myself a reputable agent. He seemed to love my work so I was off to a good start. With a few changes here and there he got my book under the noses of some big name editors at some great publishing houses. But ultimately I got rejected. (A dozen in all). The trouble seems (to me) that these rejections were from some of the top names. I have re-written over the last year and strengthened the novel considerably addressing most of these editor's criticisms. It's ready for round two. Would you re-submit to these top dogs? Or just move on — knowing that there are plenty of other houses out there?

First, what does your agent say? Listen to him/her/it/them.
Second, did any of the editors ask for it to come back with changes? If yes, do so. If no, that's not someone I'd ask again unless I was out of options.

When this has happened to me, while I've been toiling in the lily fields, the author has been working on another book. I frequently take book two out for a spin to see if we've got a better chance there, and often times the answer is yes.

But mostly, what does your agent say? Listen to him/her/it/them.

A novel idea!

Dear Miss Snark:

I found out about your Blog courtesy of Anastasia Suen's listserv for people who write and illustrate children's books. I love the blog and I check it out every day. It's a warming cup of java and a healthy kick in the ass at the same time. In my business--the children's book world--anything that puts a smile on my face is something I hold on to; it seems like there is yet another Madonna lurking around every corner. Don't even get me started on Martha.

My question for you is: why aren't you writing novels? You know what's good and what's not. You know the industry. Your Snarkliness is extremely entertaining. Or, maybe you have and I don't know it, since I am a new Snarkling and off in my own little kids' book universe.

Nosey minds want to know...


P.S. Please try not to go on vacation again any time soon.

Miss Snark came back from the summer hols and immediately got out the date book to figure out when she could close up shop for Christmas. Not not not a good sign. But I digress.

You're kind to suggest I'm entertaining and capable of writing a novel. I assure you I am not. Novel writing requires imagination, and of that I have none. I'm a literal minded, semi-colon sniffing, snarkly eyed, snake oil salesman. I do know what's good, but I can't create it.

To misquote Justice Stewart about pornography "I know it when I see it but I can't actually do it".

I have the utmost respect for people who can look at a blank page and come up with something other than "it was a dark and stormy night". Almost everything I write about here, I've seen elsewhere or stolen shamelessly from colleagues. I can come up with a sentence or maybe a page, but then..nada. The blog post is a PERFECT size for me, as are cover letters, and Christmas cards.

Thanks for the compliment, I consider it highest praise.

I expressing interest all over the place..get the mop

A Snarkling hopes to sweeten the pot:

When you read a query , is it bad news to hear that a publisher has expressed interest in the project? (Not an offer yet -- just a request to see the manuscript.) I would have thought it spoke well of the book's commercial potential, no?

well...not no, but not exactly yes.

In order of preference here's what "expressed an interest" can mean:

1. You queried an editor by name at a reputable publisher and that editor asked to see the novel.
2. You queried an editor by name at a reputable publisher and someone else sent you a form letter saying "send pages".

3. You met an editor at a writing conference and s/he said 'send me some pages'
4 You met an editor at a party and s/he said "send me some pages"
5. You know an editor and you're sure s/he will want to see this.

And if you think I'm making up 3, 4, and 5 I can only say I wish I did. I've had pitch meetings with editors set up by clients cause the client and the editor go to the same fortune teller or soccer camp or have the same drug dealer or something. I was never quite clear on how the connection so to speak came to be.

But, yes, if you've got situations 1 or 2, you bet that moves you up the list.

Miss Snark Takes You by the (crystal) balls

Ms. Snark:

First, it's Miss Snark. Always. Never changing. No matter what the New York Times says. MISS Snark.

I've written many novels for major publishers, a few of which have sold 50,000 copies in trade paperback original. I've been with the same agent and editor for quite a while. Not surprisingly, I continue to get the same size deals. Despite the high comfort level/genuine affection and respect I have for my agent and editor, should I switch things up a bit? See if I can do better with a new agent, or at a different publisher? Or just be grateful for the deals I get and shut up already?

Expenses Go Up, But Advances Don't

Madam Souvlaki my fortune teller has a wonderful saying: "Don't look in the crystal ball unless you want to see".

Well, at least that's what I think she's saying. It could be "fork over more dough or I'm never going to see Mr. Clooney in your future".

If you want to roll the dice and "switch things up a bit", you'd better prepare yourself to lose it all. Cause you could. Not saying you will, or even that there's a good chance, but you could. This is a risk.

Sometimes you DO need to shake things up a bit. Mostly Miss Snark rearranges the furniture or paints the blog when such a mood strikes.

People have made these kinds of changes. Romance writers who "breakout" of the genre, or change genre. Bill O'Reilly -who wrote what could be the worst novel of all time, and then discovered himself as a political ranter and sold zillions. Jon Letham who won the Macarthur genius grant today and is probably one of my all time favorite guys in the world said he had to move to Brooklyn to give his writing a new energy.

Static isn't always the right choice..but you've got to understand that sometimes when you take a flying leap, you crash and burn.

I wouldn't do this on a whim, and I REALLY wouldn't do it without serious advice from people who know your work. I don't. I'm just a font in the blogosphere, even though of course I'm utterly wonderful and all that.

POD technology is NOT the problem

A Snarkling Writes:

Miss Snark, you're a bit focused on the self-publishing part of POD and not on the presses that are using it as a printing method. Many of the college presses are converting their backlists to POD. The reasons are apparent: No inventory costs. No warehousing. No tax liability. Books stay in print in perpetuity. POD is potentially the savior of literature.

You're exactly write (ha!)
You're right on the money here. I tried to distinguish between POD the technology (which you're talking about) and POD the Slime House (whose detritus I deal with).

POD technology is great. I think it WILL change how publishing works.
What I object to is people being sucked into thinking that "having a book" from a POD Slime House is akin to being published by Random House.

I'm not sure how to distinguish the technology from the slimers but all suggestions greatly appreciated.

Miss Snark is not a Luddite, despite her use of 23 Skidoo, the gin pail and her fondness for telephone numbers that begin with "Butterfield" or "Lexington" or "Pennsylvania 6 5000"

Thanks for the chance to try and make that clear again.

Followup Follies

A Snarkling is preparing her follow up phone script and asks:

What are some of the most common mistakes writers make when asking for the status of their submission?

In no particular order:

1. Have you read it yet?
2. Why haven't you read it yet?
3. If you don't read it soon, I'm going to withdraw it and send it to someone else (the unstated premise here is: "someone else who appreciates me")

These are the ones that really irk me:

4. What the hell are you doing over there that you can't read a novel in 90 days?
5. If this is how you treat your clients I don't want to be one
6. I really need to know if you are going to take this on so I can get on with the next step.

For those of you who are regular readers of the blog you can probably figure out why Miss Snark would rather set herself adrift on the Hudson with no gin than take on any of these people.

For those of you unsure as to why these are ..shall we say..."counterproductive in your search for an agent", just drop me an email or a comment with the number in it and I'll post a full, complete, profanity fueled diatribe ..complete with flames.

As for now, Miss Snark is summoning Shyster Snark to the Penthouse for a confab: Miss Snark has been called for jury duty. She knew leading a blameless life was the wrong choice, and here it is...pigeons coming home to roost.

The Naked and the Dead

Publishers Weekly reports:

After two years of controversial choices, the National Book Foundation will present its 2005 Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters to Norman Mailer at its annual awards ceremony November 16. The NBF, which conducts the National Book Awards, drew some heat in 2003 and 2004 when it presented its Medal to Stephen King and Judy Blume, respectively. The King selection was criticized by some, who chided the organization for choosing a popular, rather than literary, author. The choice of Blume was knocked because she was viewed by critics as an author of controversial young adult works.

No one can quibble with the choice of Mailer, whose illustrious career includes winning the NBA and Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for Armies of the Night. In 1980, Mailer won his second Pulitzer for The Executioner's Song. In addition to his distinguished writing career, Mailer cofounded the Village Voice, was the editor of Dissent from 1952 to 1963 and served as president of PEN American Center from 1984 to 1986.

Miss Snark confesses:

I've never read any of Norman Mailer's books. Not even The Executioner's Song (although I did read Mikal Gilmore's incredible Shot Through the Heart).

Can I call myself well read if I haven't read Norman Mailer? How about Thomas Pynchon? Philip Roth? TS Eliot? James Joyce? Maya Angelou?

The list of must-be-read to be well-read is arbitrary...and fistfights break out in literary saloons all over America when certain authors are mentioned.

I'll just limit myself to the call to confession: who haven't you read that you know you should have. Fess up, Snarklings!


From the Media Bistro news highlights email today:

Simon Dumenco: Who is Men's Vogue going to put on the cover now that they've done George Clooney? There just aren't that many sophisticated, rakishly handsome male stars that are worthy of the Vogue brand.

All Clooney, all the time!
Hell it's only a monthly magazine, you only need 12 photos.
You put Mr. Clooney on your cover 12 times, I'll subscribe.

sheesh, talk about a no-brainer.

This is the road to madness....batteries not included

I've recently finished reading The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) and am wondering what you think of this LARGER-THAN-LIFE-RUNAWAY-BESTSELLER? Was it two million that the movie rights have sold for?

Had you received a query would you...ask for the manuscript or pass and why?


Publishers Marketplace reports "seven figures at auction" so it's more than one million and less than ten. Two sounds nice.

Every agent has nightmares about passing on what turns out to be the Next Big Thing. So do editors. Editors have it worse cause, when something hits, they have bosses glaring at them demanding "why didn't we buy this". Miss Snark has no performance reviews to survive but she still gets the nightmares.

Would I have passed on this? Man, I hope not. Did I see it? I'm pretty sure I didn't. I did pass on a vampire novel some years back that I still think about...it was hypnotic and lush but had no plot. Those are the ones that kill you.

We've talked here about what sells books: word of mouth. We've talked about reviews and the value of blurbs. Miss Snark reads things with no introduction whatsoever. No blurb, no review, no jacket copy, no flap copy, nothing, nada, zilch. Just bang, here's ten pages, is this any good.

One of the THE hardest things about taking up the agent challenge is developing an eye for quality. Then refining the eye to "will this sell" and then hardest of all "there's something wrong here, what is it and can it be fixed".

I'm sure I've passed on some books that have sold. But, I have books on my list that other people passed on as well.

What I never do is kick myself over "I could have had that". That is the road to madness and insane acquisitions cause it becomes not "is this good" or "do you love this" but "I don't want someone else to have it cause it might be good".


Parsing the POD

A Snarkling wants to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin:

If you sold over 1,000 copies of your iUniverse book, would it be considered a real publishing credit, or would it pretty much still be regarded as a funny paper?

Let's start with some hard truths: most books-80%- published by iUniverse and their ilk, sell fewer than 200 copies. (Hello Aunt Gertrude? Wanna buy a book?)

Less than 1% sell more than 1000 copies.

Xlibris published 10,269 titles through March 25, 2004. (emphasis mine)
352 or 3.4% had sold more than 500 copies.

1,463 or 14.3% had sold more than 200 copies.

The average per-publication sale number of an Xlibris title is about 130 copies.

 source:  --The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2004. via DanPoynter's site Thanks Dan!

My gripe with POD publishing is not that it doesn't sell, (it doesn't) it's that most of it is crap. It's mostly crap because "authors" are not subjected to much of a review proces --in fact that's their big selling point. Most POD companies make their money on the sign up fees authors pay. For them, 10 authors of crap who sell 100 copies are MUCH better than one author of not-crap who sells 1000 copies. (I can lay out the math for you on that if needed, just ask)

The source of the comment was an earlier post about a Friends of the Library contest offering an iUniverse publishing contract as a prize. That a Friends of the Library group could in fact offer a publishing contract with every confidence it would be accepted is prima facie proof of my position.

So, you can sell 10,000 copies and my default position is: "it's crap". You’d have to show me the book to get me to change my mind. And, there are books that aren't. I read one this summer that wasn't. The blogger over at PODdyMouth has found six or seven while slinking about the blogosphere.

Most of those probably haven't sold anywhere near 200 copies I'll bet.

And by the way, using POD technology is not the problem here. It's just technology. It's the business model and editorial acquisition policies of the companies that are the problem.
The two things, POD the technology, and POD the business model, have each been shortened to POD and they seem to be used interchangeably and synonomously but they aren't.

My disdain is for the sleaze parlors who say "you can be an author without working at it".
I have too much respect for my clients, and writers in general to think that's anything but crap.

Miss Snark Reaches for the Clue Gun..again

Ah, the slush pile, Miss Snark loves it so.
Grist for the blog.

Today, a lovely large white envelope. Nice query letter for a novel. Some pages even...all good. Then, what to Miss Snark's astonishment should appear but a "blurb sheet".

Miss Snark was fascinated. Normally one sees blurbs for books that are PUBLISHED. In fact, obtaining blurbs is one of Miss Snark's favorite tasks because it means she gets to yap on the phone with friends and pass it off as work.

Perhaps this was a book previously published, or a sequel? No no. In fact, it's a list of blurbs from...can this be right...editors?

In fact, what this NITWIT has done was cull phrases from his REJECTION LETTERS and use them to try to persuade me to represent the book. And not even personal rejection letters, this guy thinks “due to my heavy workload I can’t take this on” means that.

Clue 1: a rejection letter from an editor means you've already pissed in the pond so taking you on means I have fewer places to submit.

Clue 2: rejection letters from editors mean they aren't willing to BUY it, a sure clue for ME that perhaps this isn't going to be a project I love

Clue 3: the fact you think this is a smart marketing move; that perhaps I don't recognize the names of editors means you are the nittiest of nitwits and thus absolutely ineligible to be a client.

Miss Snark is retiring to the gin parlor for a stiff one.

To Fight the Unbeatable Foe...

A Snarkling's comment plucked from the comment roll at "To Dream the Impossible Dream":

Here is a related question to your statement, "I don't send form rejection letters to people I think just need a bit of reworking. Those folks get specific letters and suggestions." I once received just such a letter from a top agent -- lovely letterhead, personal signature, the works. The advice was invaluable, but it did not include an actual suggestion to "resubmit at some point."

So, when YOU send a personal letter of this nature, do you have expectations? Do you specifically ask to see something "later?" Or might you be "testing" the writer to see if she's up to snuff? The agent who honored me with this kind of personal response went so far as to express "frustration" at having to pass my work by. What does that say to you? What should it say to me?(For me, it ultimately led to serious revisions resulting in a better work.)

When I send a letter that says something other than "not right for us" the only subliminal message is "you're writing something that I recognize as closer to what I'm looking for than the usual stuff". It's not a test. It's also not an invitation to resubmit. It's encouragement to do exactly what you did: revise and get better.

After you've done that, then you query again.

The biggest problem I've found with people getting these kinds of letter is that they redraft, and resend at the speed of light. You'd think they had Mr. Scott running their damn mail room. Even when I specifically say to sit on the manuscript for a month, I've got another query on my desk in 31 days. I can't over emphasize the power of letting time pass and looking at something after it's had time to cool. Writing is not a soufflé. You can quote me.

The other thing to know is I don't keep track of those letters very long. Maybe a couple months just in case. I have enough stuff to track without worrying about the query letter/slush pile.

If I want someone to resubmit, I say so. I try not to make it a game of "will she figure out what I want". Clear communication is hard enough without trying to be clever. I assume most agents operate the same way, but truthfully I've never inquired.

A Snark and Tonic for Breakfast...excellent idea

Miss Snark,

Thank you for answering my question. As always, you're insightful.

I have another question of even greater import. You appear to be a gin expert. In fact, I'm surprised you don't have your own brand. We should all be able to order a "snark martini" or a "snark and tonic." I can imagine the ad campaign, "Whether you've just been offered a six-figure advance or rejected for the hundredth time, Snark Gin is the perfect way to end your day -- or even begin it." Or, perhaps, Snark Gin -- it's not just for breakfast anymore."

My question is, what gin brand do you drink? I read a review of the best gins (see best gins ) and discovered that Bombay Sapphire was ranked #1. In my opinion, Bombay Sapphire is like drinking water. I like to taste the juniper berries in my gin and have always enjoyed Beefeaters, which was ranked the worst. I'm not an expert but I do have a degree in "mixology" from Bartenders' Academy.

P.S. Do you know the story of the Gibson -- a martini with a cocktail onion instead of an olive? Seems Gibson was an entertainment lawyer who like to negotiate the best deals for his clients. During power lunches, he'd order a martini but secretly tell the waiter to bring him a cocktail glass with water in it and an onion. That way he could stay sober while those he negotiated with drank the hard stuff.

Miss Snark DOES have her own brand of gin.
In fact Miss Snark has her own distillery.

Sadly, it's unavailable for public consumption because of a tiny little flaw in the liquor laws of New York City. Turns out you can't actually sell home made fire water. You can give it away of course, and Miss Snark threw parties that even Page Six couldn't quite find the words to describe. Well, one too many complaints and Miss Snark was turned out of her position at Gracie Mansion (Morals and Manners Monitor) for raucous behaviour and had to settle in to a life of subdued debauchery in the literary field.

Speaking of revisions

"Suddenly, his mind jumped to something that had occurred to him the first time he had played chess with a computer. He had made a mistake and was about to take it back when he thought that, in life, you can’t really take back what you’ve done wrong. The only thing you can do is to improve your way of playing from there on to make up for your mistake. He had decided then that he would never take back a move when playing chess with a computer. Sometimes with a winning game, he made a bad move and lost. He then went back step by step to find the move that had lost the game. That self-imposed discipline not only improved his game, it made him more thoughtful in life.

SPY’S FATE, Arnaldo Correa, (Akashic: 2005)


Great Expectations in a Bleak House

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm interested in your comment that "The only thing an editor really cares about is how well it sold." It makes perfect sense -- after all, publishing is a business.

I've heard that selling 7,500 copies of a non-fiction book is considered "successful," although it seems pretty low to me. My first book has sold 2,500 copies in the first six months. What is the lowest sales level that would get an editor's attention? I have no idea what "typical" sales are for a first non-fiction book or at what sales level a publishing house would consider a book profitable enough to be interested in a second book.

Ah yes, this is the question that makes us all crazy.
It's impossible to answer of course, because books vary so widely, as do publishers expectations.

The key here is "expectations". If you exceed expectations, you're going to be ok. It's like coming in second in the New Hampshire primary...it's a big "win" if you were expected to trail the field, or you came closer than anyone thought you would to the guy who came in first.

And likewise, you can sell a million books and have furrowed brows at your next editor lunch cause they thought you'd sell five million.

I've had novelists sell 16,000 copies and be disappointed, I've had novelists sell 5,000 copies and be ecstatic.

Selling 7500 copies of a non fiction title if you only expected to sell 500 is a good thing.

Frequently I'll include how many times the novel had to be reprinted if I'm pitching the next book to a bigger house: "we sold through three print runs, in excess of 7500 copies, it was hard to keep the thing in stock" kind of thing.

To Dream the Impossible Dream

A Snarkling high on WhiteOut wonders:

I'm wondering about querying agents again AFTER a major change has been made to a fiction ms (i.e. main character changed from a woman to a man which now leads to a more traditional relationship with another character, man and woman rather than woman and woman.) I realize that there are a "gazillion" agents in NY, but there are still those that fall into a select group that have high sales and would be considered a "dream agent." Would it be improper to query those agents again with the changed manuscript?

Let's distinguish between improper and useful. Improper is telling Miss Snark she's a nitwit for overlooking your sure-to-be-a-bestseller. Improper is accosting Miss Snark in the powder room at BEA and thrusting pages at her while she files her teeth. Improper is sending naked photos of oneself inscribed "you coulda had me at hello", particularly when you send them to Miss Snark's penthouse and Grandmother Snark opens the mail.

Useful is more what you're asking. Will it do you any good? Well, it can't hurt. And agents are looking for good work. If you reworked something significantly give it a shot.

But I must caution you, if the only thing an agent didn't like was some character stuff, s/he'd probably send you a note that said so. I don't send form rejection letters to people I think just need a bit of reworking. Those folks get specific letters and suggestions. I don't send many of those letters, maybe three a month, but I do send them.

Don't be disappointed if s/he says no again. Just get out that handy dandy list of the nightmare agents...well..what's the opposite of a dream agent anyway?? --- and query them.

You might surprise yourself.

How to Charm Miss Snark

A Nouvelle Snarkling wonders:

Dear Miss Snark,

Is it permissible to query you through this blog email site? I only know you through your blog, courtesy of Publisher's Marketplace which recommended that we PM readers enter the Snark World.

Having done so, now, I'm enraptured with your snarkness and snarkdom.

This, dear Snarklings is what to do when you don't know: ASK.

Of course, this snarkling includes two key pieces of info: where s/he found the blog and that s/he's read it. (Obviously not far enough in the archives to hear Miss Snark's scream about this topic, but ok).

It's ok not to know stuff.
It's really ok to ask.

So, even though, NO I do not take e-queries on this blog, I will not force feed you a stiletto heel.

Power Reading, part deux

This was posted in the comments section of "Power Reading"

But isn't part of Lobster (Don Imus's name for his agent) Newberg's power the fact that she represents sure things. Editors know they can sell her projects, many of which are celebrity pieces--i.e., el platformo grande. And was she as powerful as Swifty Lazar who regularly made deals for clients he didn't even represent? He'd walk right into the office of the president of major houses, make a pitch, and if they ask just a wee question, he'd say, "Well, I see you're not interested," and walk out.

There are no sure things.
Not even with el platformo grande.
Not even with Esther Newberg as your agent.
Esther would probably be the first to tell you that, too.

Esther represents people editors think will do well, but there's a lot of stuff that can and does go wrong between a pitch meeting and moving books out of the warehouse in Paramus New Jersey.
She's got some war stories too, and she tells them well, and she's got a sense of humor about them, but she's got them, which means: no sure things.

As for Swifty Lazar, those days are pretty much gone forever, at least in publishing. He dealt mostly with movie stars, not writers. His business style, from what I've read, makes me cringe.

Dewey (Decimal) Cheatham and Howe

Dear Miss Snark,

A friend (yes, it really is a friend and not me) asked in an email to a writing group about a wonderful idea the local Friends of the Library is kicking around.

The idea: hold a contest and one lucky winner will win a chance to get their book published by...hold onto your gin pail...iUniverse. The contest organization will pay the fees to iUniverse and place a copy of the finished product on the shelf at the local library. Plus, the book will be printed by print on demand and it will be listed online. (Yes, I think this is supposed to be a positive thing to encourage more entries.)

If you'd like to blog about this, I could direct my friend to your blog and show her one agent's thoughts about the proposed contest and reaction should the lucky "winner" query Miss Snark proclaiming their win.

A Snarkling in Training


Here's a metaphor that might help: Saying the prize for this contest is getting your book published is akin to saying you'll get it in the newspaper, when the newspaper is one of those joke sheets you can buy on Eighth Avenue with the phony headlines: "Miss Snark Weds George Clooney" kind of thing. Yes, it's in the paper, but it's not the REAL newspaper, and it's not what people think of when they're told they will be "in the papers". This is a classic case of saying "first prize is a car" and the fine print says "matchbox car".

The prize they are offering is to get your book PRINTED and put on the library shelf, and available in book disguise to someone who wants to shell out the dough (mom, uncle Fenster, sister Wednesday, Mr. Lurch..yanno..friends and family).

I notice the contest is sponsored by Friends of the Library, not the library. Every library I know in the world, and I know a few, has an acquisition policy that pretty much precludes acquiring crap. If they haven't checked with the librarian about this brilliant scheme, it would be a good idea.

This kind of contest is perfect for people who only intend their writing to be a hobby, or just for fun. Or for people who want to collect Uncle Fenster's bright ideas in book form and give it out as a holiday gift kind of thing.

Let me say in unequivocal terms: iUniverse books are NOT a publishing credential. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded. There are virtually NO exceptions to this fact of life. If someone thinks they will be the exception, here have a lance, there's the windmill have at it.

I understand FoL searching for new and interesting ways to raise money for a good cause. Time to put the thinking caps back on, cause this one is ..well...you said it...it sux.