Sayonara Snarklings!!

Miss Snark has packed Killer Yapp in his Louis Vuitton humidor, and an array of manuscripts in her Burberry wheelbarrow. She's catching the train for the beach and plans to swill gin, and not answer the phone for three days. Tuesday is going to be insane so I probably won't post to the blog till (gasp) next Wednesday. If I had an ounce of compassion I'd have a guest blogger, but of course, I'm an agent, I don't.


Let's do the Time Zone again!

Miss Snark, Sometime back a snarkling submitted a cover letter that indicated they were an "Australian author living in Canada." You suggested that payment to authors living in foreign countries was problematic for tax reasons. I am a Canadian living (non-permanently) in Japan. Do you have any advice regarding where best to look for a literary agent? I know of Canadian
authors who are represented in the US, but they are mainly major writers (Ondaatje, etc.) Will a US agent simply return my work based on my place of residence/nationality? Are there any other problems, besides taxation, that might arise? Also, what's the best way to handle this issue in a cover

Thank you for your enlightening blog...it's rather addictive!

The advent of the net and electronic communications has made communicating with authors living in far flung ports of call a lot easier. I have a client who moved to Canada between the time I took her on and sold her novel. Surprise! She was smart and kept her US bank accounts though, and files US taxes. I have no idea what she does in Canada.

As long as you can get reliable internet service and you have a computer that generates files I can download and print, we're good.

The problem is of course, you're REALLY not available for touring nor for much promotion at all. Even if you can't leave your house in beautiful downtown not-NYC, (see post NO TOUR NO WORRY) you can be "on the radio" by phone. That does NOT work if you live in beautiful downtown not-USA.

Donna Leon lives in Italy full time and is published here, so it can and does work. I can't think of any others off the top of my head but I bet there are.

The good thing is that if you're writing about Japan you've got a much better opportunity for close observation and fresh writing.

There's more where that came from too!

I have a completed novel, which I have been pitching to agents for some time. In the query, I mention "this is my first novel" and that I'm working on the sequel as well as two other unrelated novels in different genres.

The novel I am working on now is one in a planned series. With this particular novel, I'm wondering if I should mention "this is my second novel," based on the completed one mentioned in the first paragraph?

I get the impression -- being an unpublished hack without representation -- that I should probably stick to the novel in question, and not mention any other unpublished ones collecting dust. Whaddya think?

Whenever I get letters like this, ones talking about a multitude of novels just waiting for me, I get a bit queasy. I've seriously gotten letters from people telling me they have nine novels done and waiting for the publisher. Usually they mention they have several more in outline. When I read the sample pages I can see why they have so many novels at hand: they didn't spend enough time polishing this one.

Every great novelist has three or more not-so-great novels under the bed that should never see the light of day. Those are the novels written while the writer was learning craft. Sometimes they DO see the light of day and everyone remembers why it's not such a good idea.

Focus on one novel in your query. You can mention you envision it as a series. Don't mention any others. Whether you wrote this first, sixth or fifteenth has no bearing on the point of your query to me: is THIS one something I want to represent.

One at a time.


Gimme yer digits dammit

I'm seriously annoyed with people who write really great blogs and don't list their email.
I'm REALLY f/ing annoyed with people who write really great blogs, mention ME, and don't list their email.

this one

and this other one

What's the problem here?
One too many emails from Nigeria?
Suck it up.

One too many emails offering to enlarge your penis?
suck it up!

One too many emails offering to publish your book for a very small fee, no surly agents required, needed or allowed?
Oh, ok I get your point.

But seriously, if I wanted to just read something, I have this odd little thing here called a book. When I'm surfing your blog, I wanna TALK BACK!!!!

Suck it up - post an email.

Don't think of yourself as a writer...

not a wannabe, nor a yet to be, nor certainly a soon to be
unless you own a copy of the book
that contains this paragraph:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentence short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline but that every word should tell.

The Elements of Style
William Strunk and E. B. White


Miss Snark, what is your goal when you attend conferences and what do you feel your job is?

Until this blog was born, writing conferences were the only way to actually teach writers some of the more practical aspects of how to get their work considered. All the questions on this blog from writers were the same ones writers asked at conferences. It's MUCH more efficient to teach large groups than small groups when we're doing the basics like "what goes in a query letter".

The writing conferences I've been to never asked if I was taking on new clients. Perhaps it was assumed I was since I said I would attend. The truth is I'm always on the look out for great work. The downside of that is I'm not going to take something half assed just to say I signed up a client from a conference (and conference organizers push for that HARD).

A writing conference is just a walking slush pile. 75% of the work there isn't publishable and probably won't be. Ever. Not even with all the seminars, classes and pitch meetings. That's just a cold hard fact. No one ever made money telling people they were probably never going to get published so the writing conferences don't ever say that. And they hardly ever let you give anyone an honest critique. In fact, bringing pages to a conference is frowned on. Giving pages to an agent is frowned on. Letting agents actually teach a class using writing samples from the conference attendees is rare. What conferences pitch is the idea that you can sit across from an agent and in five minutes "pitch" your work and have them want want want it.

It's a racket. Conferences actually charge people extra money to sign up for pitches. I'd MUCH rather read a query letter and ten pages than listen to a shy, embarrassed terrified author talk about his/her work. The only way you ever get good at that kind of challenge is to do it a thousand times. I STILL write phone scripts when I pitch a new work and I've done this MORE than a gazillion times.

I'd probably never say any of that to a conference organizer cause it would be such a slap in the face. Most of them are good, well intentioned people who work incredibly hard for no pay and only want to see writers succeed.

I know there are agents who feel differently about this. Good agents too, not just the attention hounds who like to be treated like rock stars in downtown Not-NYC for the weekend.

Head of the Class

Us wanna-bes compare notes after conferences. We talk about "that guy" and "that agent and what did she say to you?" That is how agents end up marked off some wanna-bes lists. Not that agents need to care. They have more slush than they want/need. I doubt they are passing up a single gem--but I wonder what other agents think and I also wonder if someday it will matter because a lowly, new editor saw or heard certain behavior at a conference? The balance of power makes it easy to set aside professionalism--I used to see it in engineering. A hot-shot engineer would treat other engineers, tech writers, other managers, testers like dirt. They didn't need us because they were going to be great inventors, rise to the top. But after many, many years, there was a pattern. Those that were professional, that cultivated help, that had that little thing called CLASS--whether they were dealing with the janitor or the VP--were certainly happier people and overall, their careers were more successful. They were promoted into management--making more than the best of engineers. They were often the ones that when they needed help, they got it.

One of my favorite stories along this line is from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. A group of six well tailored men approached the entry gate. They had event tickets but not the Olympic pass they needed to get in. They spoke English with crisp European accents and were clearly important, cultivated men. Told they needed a different kind of pass, the leader of the group nodded, and turned away.

Some minutes later they returned with the correct passes. The passes listed the ticket holder's name. The person staffing the gate was horrified to realize he had turned away the King of Norway.

His Majesty never said a word. Never said "do you know who I am" or "it will be alright, I'm the King of Norway and I'm on the Olympic Organizing Committee" (which he was). Nope, he just went and got the right credentials and proceeded to his seat.

That's true class.

Literary agents often times do not work in a corporate setting. There is very little reward for being "nice" or cultivated or classy...other than the reward of being cultivated and classy in and of itself.

People may not like you. They may think you are a stinkbomb on feet, but if you have good clients, mostly they'll work with you. And writers who are eager for "big name agents" will put up with all sorts of crass behavior cause they think they're getting the top dog. And crass behavioir is often times mistaken for aggressive selling.

This is a generalization and not meant as a comment on any specific person in case you're getting hot under the collar. In fact the only people to whom it applies will not think that it does.

Playing Cards

I've had agents say, "Don't bother to give me your card, I'll just throw it away." Uh, geez, thanks, but polite, professional courtesy would be nice even if you are going to throw it away. So some agents don't want cards. I've had other agents not want to give out a card, hording them as though Clooney might walk in at any time and beg for the whole lot.

uh oh. I've said that very thing to authors at conferences. Miss Snark was not trying to be more hostile and curmudgeonly than normal but oh well, not the first time.

I throw away the cards that come with query letters too. Why would I keep it? So I can call you up next year and tell you I've been ruminating about your tome, and I clearly made a horrible mistake by passing, and oh hope hope hope it's still available. Chances of this happening approach zero.

At writing conferences everyone knows the agents by face and name, particularly smaller ones. We know NO ONE. If I keep your card I still won’t know who you are. If you send me a query, your cover letter reminds me we met at a conference, and probably I still won’t remember you if it’s more than a month since the conference.

If you become a client I'll have all your info on my data base including the name of your cat. I still won't need your card.

If you have cards (and you should), use them with other writers or give them to people who ask for them. Handing them to agents or editors who don't want them is just throwing money away.

As for giving you my card, I've been less than willing to do that too. Why? It has my phone number and email on it. I generally do not put those on form rejection letters. Yes, you can find it if you look but I like to make it just a bit harder to get a hold of me if you think I'm dead wrong about not taking on your magnificent work of art.

I don't hand my cards out at conferences. I hand out my address.

I may have to rethink this strategy since it clearly sounds from this Snarkling’s email that it's perceived as rude hostile and well....snarky.

No Tour? No worry!

What happens if you can't travel because of your health? Will agents and publishers not want you or your book?

With the advent of Cyberia and radio interviews by phone, you can do a LOT to promote your book without ever leaving your lair.

Donna Leon lives in Italy and thus unavailable for US travel very often and her books do quite nicely.

Lots of other authors don't tour in support of their books for one reason or another.

You can cross this off your things to fret about!


Post Toasties

As a writer with an agent, should I post my book in the "available rights" area of Publisher's Marketplace.com? Does it give the book any more visibility, i.e. do editors look there?

You have an agent. Why are you trying to sell your book?
If your agent puts it up on available rights, editors can and will see it.
Ask her to.
It doesn't cost anything.
I've had several nice juicy bites on the rights offerings list.

If any of my clients started posting rights offerings independently I'd have a conversation with them that would involve their ass in a sling.

I keep track of every place I send a project, who's said no, why, leads, all that stuff. You start sending stuff out to editors on your own and it's going to get very confusing very quickly. Plus it makes me look like an idiot and frankly, I can do that just fine on my own.

Leave the selling to your agent. That's why you pay him/her/it the big bucks.

Acorn Academy

As an agent and former editor can you explain the value of book signings as a promotional tool? In the past three months three different writers I know have done book signing tours--one mostly at the expense of her publisher, the other two out of their own pockets. Overall not one of these tours was a success--even with lots of advertising the turn-out was low and sales even lower. I know there's some value in getting out and meeting booksellers but is there any other reason to do book signings? I'd rather do readings and talk about writing at various libraries--they do buy my books.

Miss Snark has been many things in her wild life, but never an editor. That's "the other agent" who blogs. Miss Snark worked in the distaff side of publishing, and of course those years as a taxi dancer in a grimy waterfront gin joint...but never mind about that now.

Book signings can be fabulous. They can be horrifying. Sometimes both at once. Neil Gaiman had people lined up for three hours last time I hung out with him in a store. John Gray had four people at a signing years ago. Miss Snark was number five.

Book signings do a couple things you can’t measure. They raise your profile with book sellers. PW lists books that have planned author tours, and promotion info mentions it as well. This tells booksellers to pay attention, that the publisher is putting effort behind the book.

Library talks are great, but libraries are not in the business of selling books. Bookstores will do off site events, but it’s better to have events in stores so people can buy more rather than less.

Book signings let people connect with the author.

Before the untimely and heartbreaking death of Iris Chang, author of the Rape of Nanking, she went on a book tour for the hardcover edition. People came to her readings and wept. Her book was, for many people, the first time someone had ever spoken aloud about what they'd suffered. For others it was the first time they’d seen what their country had done during war. I will never forget those people and their pain as long as I live. There is no substitute for seeing an author, pressing her hand in yours and offering a thank you.

The most effective author on tour I've ever seen is sci fi author Dan Simmons. He's funny, he's good on his feet, he talks in a way that makes the audience feel they know him. He sells books to people who don't even know what sci fi is. Harlen Coben is in that league too.

People came to readings for all sorts of reasons. Does it sell books? Yes. You can see the blips in the sales numbers as people tour. Is it a pain in the ass? Yup.

Author tours, like all publicity is like acorns and oak trees. You drop a thousand acorns, but only one grows into a tree. You don't know which one so you tend them all the best you can and hope you do enough.

The only thing you know for sure is NOT tending them means you won’t get any results.

1 800 GOA WAYY

How often should you e-mail/call your agent? We've all heard the horror stories of needy clients and how much agents hate them. I try not to be one of those, limiting myself to brief e-mails and only e-mailing when I have business/news (like I'm going on vacation or am about to finish a new book and ship it to the agent).

I recently e-mailed my agent about my most recent book and where it stood with various editors. She wrote back saying that publishing is a long, drawn-out process and slamming my constant requests for updates. I didn't understand the "constant" part since the last time I'd heard from her was a month ago.

Is it her? Is it me? How often is too often?

In her misspent youth Miss Snark worked (if you could call reading Zane Gray in the stacks actual work) in a library. The head librarian, who could have posed for Norman Rockwell, doddered about the place fluffing up the books and tidying the shelves. She liked things organized and neat. She was heard to say, on more than one occasion when the books were askew "this would be a lovely place if it weren't for the patrons".

Miss Snark is reminded of this when agents behave as though this would be a lovely business if only we didn't have those messy clients.

First thing is you've got a communication problem here. You need to ask your agent how often she wants to hear from you with things OTHER than vacation updates, address changes etc. (Miss Snark will not point out this is something you want to ask before you sign on the dotted line)

If her idea of "regular communication" or "generally informed" is once a blue moon, you have a choice. Live with it, or just tell her that's not ok and continue emailing her, or...part ways.

But, this is something you need to work out directly with your agent. There is no law about what is too much and what is not enough. Bottom line: asking for updates on where your work is, even if you ask everyday is annoying but it's your right. If you're ok with a terse list in return, we're fine.


What? No Bill Shakespeare?

Garnered from the slush pile, today's winner:

TITLE is written in the spirit of such books as Kerouac's ON THE ROAD, Milton's PARADISE LOST and Dante's INFERNO.

This has masterpiece written allllllll over it. Lucky me.

Sadly, I turned down three books that had the splendor of King Lear last week. It's a bad week for dead white guys. Sorry Jack.

If someone else calls your work Lear-like, ok. When you do it, my reaction is to blind you and throw you off a cliff.

Should a novelist start a blog?

I read your comments today on bloggers-- how six people with book deals this season are bloggers and how agents google the names of potential clients.

Would you advise would-be novelists to start a blog? And at what point in the creative process would a blog be most helpful to a writer's career?

I'm worried that writing and maintaining a blog will take away from my much-needed real writing time.

And what kind of things do you look for when visiting potential clients' blogs? Publishing savvy? Humor? Evidence that they enjoy a dry martini? A certain professional commitment? The lack of felony convictions?

Let me clarify: I visit blogs of people who mention me. They are not potential clients. When someone sends a query letter, I read the pages. I hardly ever read the blog or a website unless the writing gets my attention. So, your first job is to write well.

Blogs are a nice bonus when you're talking to an editor about the fact this debut novelist is not unknown. Short story publications help. So does a well clicked blog.

Blogging sucks up time like a hoover. None of my novelists blog unless they are on the road. I asked. They're busy writing their novels, or writing to me, or writing to their fans. Mostly they're writing.

And blogs can suck up your creativity. I'm reminded of a scene in one of the Fletch books by Gregory McDonald. A columnist does a whole rant on "my wife liked your book". At the end of the rant, he ruefully says "there goes a great column. Once I've said it I can't write it."

The value of this blog for me is that I get to hear from writers who aren't all caught up in the burning question of whether I like their novel. I've learned a LOT from the questions that've been asked and the links y'all have sent. Not to mention learning how to punctuate y'all correctly.

Plus it's like an early morning diner with the local townspeople. Not a lot of that here in New York. I like that. It's fun.

But, it sucks up time like a whale at the Circus Circus plankton buffet of life. I don't sleep much and I don't watch television at all so that's where I get the time, but if you're trying to write a novel AND work you don't have much time as it is. And a successful blog is work, and has to be updated OFTEN.

I advise posting comments and reading them rather than writing one. Or joining forces with other writers. They do that over at Romancing the Blog

No, I don't advise novelists to start blogs. I advise novelists to revise more.

I Gotta Be Meeeeeeeeeeeeee

A Snarkling is contemplating his blog:

Writers are often told that a web presence is a useful marketing tool and they should establish one. Then they are told to be very careful what they say. Obviously, acting professionally by not dissing other professionals is good advice. Yet anything they say might offend someone--a potential agent, publisher, editor, reader--who doesn't share their opinions or beliefs. How do you create a web presence without actually saying anything? Or is it just publish and be damned?

No one in their right mind would think I hadn't offended anyone in my ..er...um...forthright posts. (Dear Mr Bookner comes to mind..but he's only the most recent in a long line of snarliepusses).

Those people I HAVE offended are probably breathing a sigh of relief they didn't query me. God know I am. Offend the RIGHT people and you're fine.

Say what you think. Say it well. Don't call the dissenters anything stronger than "clearly deranged" and never call Miss Snark a lamebrain.

Humor helps. Don't take yourself too seriously. (Miss Snark elevates an eyebrow at her own self when she sees THAT!)

For a blogger who writes with tons of attitude and damn the torpedoes, take a look at

The Career Path that leads to Snarkville

Dear Miss Snark, Literary Agent
I only very recently became a Snarkling, but I really appreciate the help and advice you offer on your site. Now, naturally, I have a few questions. I'm thinking I might like to become a literary agent. I'm a second-year University student, and would like to know what particular classes or areas of study are helpful to becoming a literary agent? I'm taking English, Comparative Literature, and Creative Writing right now, would those classes help? What lesser occupations should one apply for to work one's way up to becoming a literary agent? What skills (other than
people-skills) are necessary for becoming an agent?

Have you lost your mind?
Are you sure?

Actually being an agent IS fun. I love it. Even on very very very bad days. Even at conferences (and Maria, honest, I never whine, moan or complain when I'm the guest of a conference - that's what this blog is for! When I'm there, I buckle down and work my snarkly ass off)

Agenting is never the first job you have out of university. For starters you need to know a lot about publishing. You need a job in one of the less glam aspects: think sales, pr, or sub rights.

If you want to study things that will be helpful, think accounting, law, or marketing. You don't need to know the structure of Moby Dick to negotiate a contract.

No matter what job you take, writing well is an asset.

And as for those lesser jobs: this is the best piece of advice you'll ever get and it's right here free for the ogling. Do It Well. Even if it's the worst job, with the worst boss in the worst place in the whole world. Do It Well. People notice. They notice when you slack and they notice when you don't.

The key to getting promoted is to be a GREAT person where you are now. An assistant who never complains, does what is asked of her, does it fast, and always on time is the one who gets promoted. How do I know? I'm the one promoting you. And if you've spent one too many lunch hours nattering with your pals about how this job just sux and you can hardly wait to get a new one my contribution is: I'll be glad to assist you in the goal - you're fired.

And don’t overlook internships. They’re a great way to get your foot in the door and start making contacts. You can do that even now.

Miss Snark Benefits from a Snarkling

Vacuumed up from the comments on an earlier post was a link to Michelle's blog. You have to click on the writing section at the left, then scroll down to the 8/30 post, but she has some good, valuable and (most important to Miss Snark) humorous comments on writing conferences and benefits thereof.

From her post:

The best thing you can do at a conference, whether you have a novel ready to pitch or not, is network, network, network.

It’s amazing to me how many people can’t seem to do this. I know we’re all writers and more used to living inside our heads, but you’d think we’d be able to manage a simple, ‘Hello how are you? Do you have a card?’.

And do you have a card? Surprisingly few people do.

Business cards are essential to networking. They enable people to contact you after the conference so you can continue to develop a relationship.

Why should you care? Why network with the unpublished masses?

First, because they are your graduating class, your peers. You are rubbing elbows with the authors of tomorrow and who doesn’t need a few published authors in their corner? So be nice to everyone. Hold doors open, offer your seat, offer your assistance whether it’s helping someone with their pitch or sharing your bottle of Motrin, and smile.

Secondly, all the writers I currently exchange crits with I met at conferences and, to date, they have been the best crit partners I have ever worked with.
We’re even looking at putting together our own writers retreat complete with booze and hot tub. When we’re not trying to coordinate our drinking and writing, we exchange information on markets, agents, and publishers.

Miss Snark's comments about writing conferences completely missed the concept of the writers getting to know each other. Miss Snark is self absorbed, it's true, but she recognizes her omissions on occasion. This is one of them.
Thanks Michelle!

Garden Variey Critique Groups

Due to a travel-crazy job, I've only been in online groups... which have yet to work out for me. Maybe someday I'll find one that works. In the meantime, I have a group of writing friends who I can ask for crits when I'm having problems with something, or before something goes out to an agent or editor. It's working much better.I think the best presentation I've seen of the problems inherent in writers groups is Brian Plante's Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers here<> . Definitely worth a read. (And, uh, if you have issues with the idea of what he's doing, skip to the last entry -- just trust me there.)

Read the entire blog of this.
Don't skip to the end!
Takes about half an hour.

One of the great things about this blog is what you Snarklings send me!


Miss Snark Pleads No Contest to the Charge

Writing contests have been suggested as a means to obtain critiques of one's work. Now, the RWA chapters all have writing contests - but what about us poor slobs who are working on a novel length mystery, thriller or even a western?

Can you recommend any worthwhile contests?

Contests offer critiques?
I thought they offered comments.
There's a HUGE difference.
And who's judging?

Before you shell out for a contest, have you considered taking a class from a writer? There are tons, and some of the best value for the money. Plus you'll meet other people who are writers and you can help each other out. Long term ongoing critiques are of more value than a one off from someone who may be rushing through contest entries at the last minute.

Live and In Person! Miss Snark!

Could you say a few words about the value of meeting with agents at conferences rather than querying them by mail? Why would agents want to do this? What do they get from five minutes with a potential client at a conference that is better than what they get in a query letter? It seems kind of inefficient to me, but what do I know?

First of all, if efficiency is the yardstick, most of publishing fails miserably. This is not an efficient industry because it's so subjective. You KNOW that an SUV gets crappy gas mileage and what the insurance company is going to charge you to put the beast in your barn before you buy, but books aren't so easily evaluated or rated.

But I digress.

I despise writing conferences. I go only under threat of death. (Threat of death means someone I like begs me.)

Which brings me to why I hate writing conferences. There's hardly any opportunity for real, or helpful feedback. Remember the story in the comments section below about an agent who was asked to review pages during lunch? And did! And then the author told the agent why he was wrong? Not an anomaly that tale.

I've been to writing conferences when people stopped me on my way to the ladies room to talk to me. I've been to writing conferences that auction off a lunch date with you to anyone who wins. And you have to sit there with a total stranger one on one and listen to their story cause they've paid HUNDREDS of dollars to be there. Yikes.

I've been to writing conferences so hell bent on making money they book 15 minute appointments from 9am to 5pm with a half hour off for lunch...which they don't want to pay for.

Mind you, agents are NOT paid to attend. Our expenses are covered but trust me, an all expense paid trip to Beautiful Downtown NOT-NYC is not a place I want to be.

The good thing about conferences is that it's about the only way to actually see an agent face to face unless you have one. And that's a good thing if only to realize we aren't all caped and bulletproof (excluding Miss Snark of course, who is).

I think it humanizes an aspect of the industry that does its best to be daunting to writers. And meeting an agent gives you an idea of the discord between what they say on their site and what they are like in person. (Miss Snark doesn't actually BREATHE fire, she just has to be careful with her gin soaked exhalations and Bic flickers.)

yes it's inefficient. yes its a pain in the ass. But it's pretty much the only game in town.

They're almost useless for finding clients, but I do know agents who have.

Google me this

Have seen a certain buzz in the blogosphere about agents surfing the net in search of marketable writers, with subsequent advice for self-censorship about whining about rejections, cold and heartless editors/agents, etc. on personal blogs.

The advice part is good - whining is what mosquitoes do - but the buzz seems to have taken on aspects of an urban legend.

I can see an agent/editor googling a writer's blog AFTER they have become interested in a submission, but the idea of agents so hungry for talent seems, well, ridiculous. Could we have a stiletto observation on this latest version of the film star discovered at Burger King?

Thank you. You delight my days.

Well Bernita my devoted snarkling, does it alarm you to know I read yours?

And there are six people this season alone who wrote blogs and got book deals. It happens. It’s going to happen more often.

Agents and editors cruise around the blogosphere like anyone else. We look for our names. We look for our client's names. We look for gossip about people we know. So if some blogger is yapping about cold cruel heartless Miss Snark, chances are I'm reading it. If you show up on Google, I'll see it.

I think it's a VERY bad idea to whine about people by name if you're posting under your own name, or can be identified. That stuff has a way of coming back to haunt you.

Now, the exception to this is of course if an agent is running a scam, or if someone is holding out promise of results that are statistically unlikely in the extreme. Thus I'm not bothered by posting about the Bookner site, nor about Dorothy Deering nor about those sleaze mills iUniverse et al.

But, if you start posting that Miss Snark is a lamebrain, I assure you, I'll not only see it, seventeen people will email me the link before noon.

I may not be looking for clients when I cruise your site, but I'll see what you're saying.

Suck it up Snarklings.

Duck and Cover

A Snarkling who might want to open her umbrella to avoid the shitstorm about to fall on her head innocently inquires:

An editing client and I are both wondering whether it's necessary anymore to send a novel synopsis at any point in the query process - for example, if the agent or editor requests only a partial ms?

Did s/he ask for it?
Yes..then send.
No...then don't.

I've said it before, now I'll jump up and down and say it: send what they ask for.

Normally I'd not be jumping up and down but people send me the weirdest, stupidest, most god awful stuff. I swear they not only have no clue about how small our offices are, they don't have clue about presentation skills.

No videos. I don't have a television or a vcr in my office. Silly me, I know.

Nothing with glitter! I can't tell you how humiliating it is to show up at a business lunch and discover you have glitter on your blouse.

Nothing with food. I swear to god, we had the exterminator in twice before we figured out some moronic nitwit asswipe had sent COOKIES in a package. Roaches in NYC are a fact of life. They are not welcome tenants here in the office. Anyone who causes them to think they are welcome is automatically excluded from representation even if he has a first hand account of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.

By it's very nature a list of what not to send will give some moronic nitwit asswipe the idea it's ok to send something since it wasn't on the DO NOT SEND list.
Thus the rule is: SEND ONLY WHAT THEY ASK FOR.

You can lower your umbrella now, the storm has abated.

Writing Groups

Extracted from a comment on a previous post:

Does Miss Snark have any thoughts on critique groups? As in the thoughtful post of 10.2 regarding agents, is a bad one or the wrong one more harm than good?

Critique groups can be great. A couple of really really good writers I know came out of a long running writing group called "Dangerous Writers" that evolved from a class taught by Tom Spanbauer -among them Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), and Joanna Rose (Little Miss Strange).

I think it helps to have someone reading your work, and having to produce pages on a deadline. I also think if the wrong people are chomping on your work it can be deadly.

Writing groups can also be useless if it doesn't help you improve your work. Early in my career when I sent trying-to-be-of-help rejection letters I'd mention critique groups to writers who lacked really basic stuff..spelling, grammar, diction. One writer was so offended she wrote back and said she'd been in one for years. I almost laughed cause of course she'd missed the obvious conclusion; the group was wildly ineffectual if she was sending out work that made me think she needed one.

Sadly, I don't have clue one on how to find a good one and how to identify signs of a bad one.

Ist das die zug nach Lake Como?

A Snarkling consults his Lonely Planet Guide to Book Fairs and Wonders:

what do agents do at big book fairs? For example, the Frankfurt Book Fair is this month and I know that many agents from around the world are going. Do they bring specific books they know editors will be interested in? If an agent lets his/her authors know that he/she is going to Frankfurt, can you ask if your book is going also?? And, Miss Snark, will you be going? Thanks

What do we do? Carouse. Drink. Talk, talk, talk, talk, and then drink some more. It's insane. It's intense. It's fun in a sort of weird way.

I take info on ALL my books, past, present and in the works. You never know who'll want what, and serendipity is a big part of these things.

Mostly I go to meet the folks who actually DO the sub rights work. I don't. When my clients retain their sub rights I immediately contact my list of sub rights agents and let them know what's coming. Those guys are the ones who actually know the market and sell. I'm clueless about the book buying habits of the Hungarians.

And yes, I'll be gone from 10/19-10/23 with a couple days at either end of limited availability.


Further on "Firing Your Agent"

A Snarkling reports:

Seven editors is the number my former agent sent my manusript to. All seven rejected it. Six without any real feedback. One with wonderful feedback and an invitation to send her more of my work. It took less than a month to three months to hear back from all seven.

At the end, my former agent wanted a revision or new material. I agreed that it needed to be revised. We disagreed about how. I felt the editor who gave real feedback was right on the mark with her comments. Yes, the writing was sloppy in spots. The hero did appear very unheroish (my word, not the editor's). I disagreed with the editor about her comments calling the plot weak. It wasn't weak, it was worse, contrived. Still, I could fix that. I was pleased when she loved the same unique traits of the story that I added to make the book different from others.

The things that were important to me appeared to be important to her. My former agent was hung up on a different editor; one who stated in the rejection letter that she loved the title, then went on about how everything else was so disappointing. Nothing specific to fix though.

I opted to write new material since we weren't on the same page with the previous one. Six months later, I felt like a hack. I wasn't feeling any of the "love" that I'd felt earlier. In fact, emails went unanswered.

It took years, many manuscripts and way too many agent rejections to get an agent. But as we approached our year anniversary of working together, I didn't care. I was tired of thinking everything I wrote was crap.

We parted company. We were friendly about it, but I don't know which of us was more relieved. I wasn't writing what my former agented wanted to represent. I found it harder and harder to write anything at all.

That was over sixteen months ago. I'm still without an agent. Would I do it again? Yes. It took the next year for me to learn how to trust myself again. Or to learn how to enjoy the process of writing.

Was my former agent a bad agent? No. My former agent was the wrong agent for me.

The bottom line, being able to say "my agent" doesn't mean crap if the agent/author relationship makes either of you feel like a failure.

Know why you're severing the relationship before doing so. Make sure it's in your best interest. When my agent and I parted ways, I tried to fix the problem first.

Also, I knew when we parted company I wouldn't use the previously shopped manuscript when querying new agents. I'd present new material.

I still love that story. I still believe in it. But I want a new agent to have fresh work to shop, not one that's already been around the block. Once my new work has sold, I can pull out the revised old story, give my new agent the history and see what s/he thinks.

We writeres are told over and over and over that a bad agent is worse than no agent.

Sometimes the obvious gets lost: the wrong agent is also worse than no agent. There are plenty of great agents and writers who are wrong for each other.

A Snarkling

Exactly so.


Miss Snark, I've been nosing around the internet trying to learn as much as I can about books and publishing for quite a while, and recently I heard something I find dubious, even though it came from a pretty good source.

A writer (one who sells very well) said that publishers keep one or two slots in their schedule open specifically for new authors. He said unpublished writers don't have to compete against established writers, only other unpublished wannabes.

I found this hard to believe, but haven't been able to confirm or refute it. He was being kinda nuts, wasn't he?

I don't know.
Every piece of fiction I've sold, they've pretty much just told me which catalogue it was going to be in. Sometimes we've bargained for better positioning or earlier/late pub dates but I've never been told, "no, you're the debut novel for this list you have to stay here".

On the other hand, hard as this is to believe, Miss Snark does not know everything.
There are other agents, and editors reading the blog.
If they care to chime in, or send an email for anon posting, I'll be glad to hear what they know.

HonestCritiques blogger

Miss Snark, I love reading your blog but can't post from the site as I don't have a blogger account. I just wanted to know... while we are waiting for your crapometer to return, what do you think of this site for feedback?

I'm sorry I had to turn off the anon comment feature. It was too hard to keep all the anons separate, particularly when one was a real snarlpuss. If you want to comment, send me an email and I'll post it for you.

Now, as to Torgo.
He's running a free critique service.
Talk about brave.

Says he's an editor reading a slush pile during his day job. He's in the UK so there's not much chance I actually know him personally.

But what the heck. A cursory look at what he's got up seems to be ok. I'm NOT going to read it in depth and at length. I've got my own personal slush pile right here.

If you want some commentary, why not? Like all things, take it with a grain of salt. Read the postings, look at his comments, see if what he says makes sense.

Unlike Bookner, the solution in search of a problem, you don't have to invest scads of time, and he's not asking you for money, so it seems ok to me.

Do you like Miss Snark?

Do you think the protagonist has to always be "likeable" and "sympathetic"?
if I could take those words out of existence. . .
this is regarding women's lit, by the way

Do you like Miss Snark?
Is she likeable?
Is she sympathetic?
(Correct answers listed below)

I think protagonists have to be compelling.
In chick lit, and romance and women's fiction you probably can't get away with a Jack Reacher (Lee Child's hero) or a John Rain (Barry Eisler's hero) .

I mostly want to smack Sophie Kinsella's protagonist Becky but I like reading about her.

Is Scarlett O'Hara likeable? Sympathetic? Maybe. One thing I know --she's compelling.

And the second Mrs. DeWinter in Rebecca....she's pitiable.
How about Jane Eyre?

You have to be compelling if you're not going to be likeable and sympathetic.

(Correct answers : yes, no and no.)

Miss Snark Reprimanded by Snarkling!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love your blog. But I have one small pet peeve to pick with you. You often refer to books and suggest that your readers pick them up at the library. Isn't that a little like someone in the music industry telling people to steal all their music off the internet?

For current books, I'm of the opinion that writers (and their publishers and agents) deserve all the support they can get. If a book is worth recommending -- worth someone spending eight or ten hours with -- it's worth the twenty bucks.

That way, writers get paid for all their hard work (as do agents), and publishers decide, hey, maybe this author's next book is worth publishing as well.

Go to the library for research -- for older books -- for peace and quiet. But for new books, put your money where your mouth is.

Yours in snarkiness...

That's telling Miss Snark isn't it!

Actually it's a good question: why would any literary agent worth her salt, and looking at her bank balance, tell you to get a book at the library instead of shelling out dough for it.

Here's a fact I want you to hold close to your bosom: library sales are non-returnable.
Returns are the plague of this industry. They account for 1/4 to 1/3 of the retail cost of a hardcover. The ONLY people who make dough on that business model are the printers and the Teamsters. While I don't want to end up sleeping under the Meadowlands with Jimmy Hoffa, it's also not my job to enrich the truck drivers of America.

Second, libraries buy early, they buy in hard cover and they buy multiple copies. Miss Snark adores all those things.

Third, writers have enough expenses without buying hardcover books BEFORE they've read them at the library to see if the book is something they want to add to their collection.

Last, and most important I believe libraries are the foundation of democracy. Supporting them supports giving people who DON'T have the money to buy books at all the chance to read.

I love libraries. I encourage everyone to use them and make sure the books you want are there at all times. The more you read, the more you buy. That’s an absolute truism of marketing.

When am I really really rejected?

How many rejections is a lot of rejections? How many does it take before you worry it won't sell and/or your confidence in the strength of the book falters? My agent has gotten 7 rejections on my chick lit novel and, after initially being a great champion of the work, now seems to expect only more rejection. I really love this book and want it to have a chance. Has it been shopped/rejected by too many to take it to a new agent?

I went through my data base.
I know 65 editors who acquire some form of chick lit.
Unless those 7 rejections you’ve got are the top of the pyramid at each publisher (and my guess is they aren't), you've got a ways to go before you've talked to even half.

Figure you can talk to about half, cause you can’t really pitch someone else if his/her boss has already said no.

If you think your agent has lost enthusiasm, talk to her. Not email. Phone, or better yet, lunch.
Ask her if she'd rather not shop it.
The time to get out is sooner rather than later if enthusiasm is the only problem.
You don't want to have this discussion with her if she's unenthusiastically pitched your novel to 14 editors instead of 7.

What are the rejection letters saying?
Are you getting comments or just "not right for us".
What's the turn around time?

If you're getting comments, pay attention.
If you're getting "not right for us" ignore it.
(If your agent won't show you the rejection letters, fire her at once. I mean right then, on the spot)
If the turn around time is six months or longer, your stuff isn't at the top of the heap.

It's hard to think of giving up an agent once you've secured one, I know. But this is YOUR book, YOUR creative life. Believe in yourself and your work.