Backside of contests

A Snarkling seizes on one of Miss Snark's snarks and asks:

" I don't have much respect for contests mostly cause I've judged a bunch and I hear what my fellow judges have done or said (think snakepit and you won't be far wrong)." Miss Snark, I'd love to see you elaborate on this to the extent you feel comfortable doing so. Pretty please with gin on it.

How about:
"oh I just looked them over on the plane trip coming out" or
"they're all pretty much the same so I just chose randomly" or
"they're mostly first person present tense so I chose the one that wasn't"

Two of the three are comments I heard during my last conference.

From second hand sources, i.e. people talking about contests on panels I've been on:

"I got all the entries too late to read any of them"
"I let my intern read them, I was busy"
"I picked the worst one just to give him/her a shot"

Not pretty is it?

Philosophy at Ten Paces!

Here is something to think about: Vanity presses and unskilled writers aside, there is a new "philosophy," if you will, rising up out of the dust of the old publishing regime. Namely, rather than viewing getting published as some sort of honor/privilege/reward for those who actually "break in" to the scene via a good agent and an editor who decides he likes the story, the "new breed" of author views publishing a book as developing a product -- a product he has worked hard on and perfected; a product he believes in.

He then uses whatever means he chooses to get the book into print, and markets the book like any other artisan markets his wares -- charcoal portrait-scribblers on the boardwalk; angora sweater-knitters on ebay; gourmet chocolatiers on the streets of Paris. It boils down to viewing a book as "the culmination of having been accepted by the publishing establishment and having therefore been officially 'published;'" or, viewing a book as "the culmination of having worked hard to produce a good product (re: book) that will ultimately be devoured or rejected by the reading public.

"Nobody who knits angora sweaters or makes divine chocolates (shipping worldwide, of course) has to be stamped with the same kind of approval that writers do (songwriters as well as authors) -- they work hard at their craft and then they sell it. They don't have to wait for somebody to tell them, "OK, your product is good enough now. We'll put it on the shelves for you." They put their product on the shelves themselves. And the savvy marketers and dedicated salespeople are very successful at selling their labor of love. That, I believe, is the basic difference in philosophy between the established publishing system and the "new breed" of writers who want to view their work -- and publish their work -- differently.

I have to disagree with your basic premise. Books are not products. Books are not sweaters or chocolates. They are not created with patterns or by following a recipe. I don't mean this literally either. I understand your point and I'm saying books are not fungible. One book is not another, whereas one Hershey kiss is another.

Books are not products. They are art. Even Bridges of Madison County. A person cannot reproduce that book (even if they wanted to), like they can a chocolate or a sweater. One sweater or another will keep you warm, and one chocolate or another will woo your true love, but one thriller is not the same as another.

I've never met a writer yet who's first choice for distribution was selling it on street corners or in the subway. They do that cause they didn't know how to get their book in front of the right person to work with them. I admire those folks actually, but they're there because they don't know what else to do, not because they know what to do and chose that.

You don't always need an agent or an editor to get your book published. There are scads of small and medium size publishers who produce all sorts of wild ass things. The hard part is finding them if you don't know where they are.

We've talked about how many query letters to send before you retire a project. I said 100. Think of this: there are more than five thousand publishers in the United States who publish more than 165,000 titles. If you query 100 of the five thousand, you've only asked 2% of them.

It's not that hard to get published if you've written something compelling. Agents and editors are not gatekeepers who admit only the handsome, strong, true and brave. The publishing arena is open to anyone who has a good book and is willing to work hard to find a publisher.

If you start adding conditions like up front money and a pr department at your beck and call, you reduce the number of available outlets ... but if you want to be published it's not that hard.

I've said this before and it's worth repeating: the process for how books get published works just fine. It's the distribution and sales model that needs fixing.

Yet another way to make Miss Snark REALLY loathe you

A Snarkling's comment reminds Miss Snark of another nitwitticism:

We had one signing with someone attached to Publisher A and they put us on some submission list where we kept getting solicitations from folks in Arkansas and California (our store is in a small section of NY that does not have a lot of foot traffic) to carry their books and have a signing.

Miss Snark does not get solicited to hold book signings in her office or even in the local gin joint. She does however get put on author's email press list, or, worse, on writers' personal email lists.

"My new book is out!"
"I've sold foreign rights!"
"The book is being published on Tuesday, make sure you buy a copy from Amazon to front load the orders".

If these came from Miss Snark's clients, ok, but they don't. They come from people I've met at conferences, or workshops or the Park Ave Poodle Parlor who've added my email to their data base and are now sending email to everyone they've ever met.

Worse are the ones that are personal. "I just had a baby" "I just got a divorce" and the WORST ones are "I never do this but here's a chain letter/link to Saks Fifth Avenue refugees for donations/my son's high school graduation poem that's just been published".

There is absolutely no gracious way to tell someone to buzz off when they announce they've had a baby. I've tried it and there just isn't.

I just dump these in the trash of course, but I remember I got them, and it makes me much MUCH less likely to be collegial or even cordial the next time we meet. This is a biz that runs on relationships. A smart Snarkling knows the data base and looks at every name before s/he hitting the send button.

Now, if you have Mr. Clooney's home phone number, feel free to email day or night.


Can You Top This

OK, what I wanted to say was that one of the most depressing things about self-publishing POD is that a lot of people (who aren't connected to publishing or bookselling) don't know the difference between those books and the books published by Random House. Not too long ago I was at a party and my friend introduced me as a published author. (not Random House, but a mid-sized royalty-paying publisher.) The response was, "Oh, my cousin is saving up so he can be published, too."

That scream of anguish you hear? That's every writer who read that comment.

It reminds me of a story: I was out in the hinterlands at some sort of festive event. I was wearing a VERY expensive, one of a kind top that I was just pleased as punch to have scored in a sample sale for pennies on the dollar (and I still had to swear off gin for a month to foot the bill).

Anyway, there I was seated next to some neighbors of the guest of honor, or childhood friends or something like that. We chatted. The wife said "oh I just love your top". I said "thank you, I'm so excited to have a place to wear it". She said "I have one like that..I got mine at Kmart. Is that where you got yours?".

Well, my face must have reflected what I felt: the desire to show her the receipt and tell her to get her eyes examined, and the need to maintain decorum at this fancy shindig.

Fortunately her husband saw my face and jumped in with "honey, I don't think that's where she got that." and gracefully changed the subject.


Only some months later did I realize that she'd said that on purpose to make me feel bad. It was clear I didn't live in where ever we were, and pretty clear I didn't shop for my clothes at Kmart. (I have other things from Kmart so don't go getting all huffy about me being a snob).

So, if someone says "yes my cousin is saving up to be published too" the only answer is "that's just great." cause they're either totally clue free and thus do not intend to hurt your feelings, or mean as a snake in which case graciousness is the best revenge.

I never wore the top again.

Lies, Damned Lies...and "common knowledge"

I once attended a $120 seminar given by a self-publishing guru who travels the country teaching people "how to get published." The whole point of her seminar was that it was impossible to get published by a mainstream press. Therefore, self-publishing was the only realistic option for would-be writers.During this seminar, she gave an explanation of what an "advance" was. It's not entirely clear to me how she knew about advances, since she had never been published outside of POD. Anyway, she made the statement that authors had to pay back advances if their books didn't earn them out. She claimed that Hilary Clinton had to write a huge check to her publisher becuase her book didn't earn back its advance. I tried to verify this story on the web, and found nothing.This is what I paid $120 for. And this was a seminar held at UNLV.That's why I'm glad blogs like this exist.

Advances do not have to be paid back if a book doesn't earn out.
Even if you are the Senator from New York (and her book sold nicely, thank you)
Even if you are a lying, agenda driven huckster selling seminars to would be authors.

You have to give back the money if you don't deliver a book (P.Diddy) or if the book is claptrap (Joan Collins went to trial over this and won).

Hey! We're Multiplying!

Agents Who Blog!

check out

Agent Kate


Zack Company

I took a quick look and they're both saying things I think are pretty smart!

Basic Stuff

A Snarkling is thumbing her dic-tionery

I have some questions about the basics of the publishing business on the writer’s side. I keep hearing terms that I don’t understand; can you please explain them?

Sure. You'll want to invest in a couple books about the publishing process if this is something you'll be spending your creative energy doing. Start with Writers Market. The essays and information, even aside from the listings, will help you. You can read a copy in your library, but this is one book I advise everyone to actually buy at least once, and read often.

What EXACTLY is an advance? Does an author every have to pay money back if the advance is never earned by the sales?

An advance is "an advance against royalty payments". The publisher pays the author some portion of the money the publisher thinks the author will earn from royalties. The author doesn't have to pay it back if the book doesn't sell enough.

How are royalties typically figured?

Cover price of the book x sales x royalty rate

$20/book x 1000 copies sold x 10% = $2,000 royalty

Do you have to sell a certain number of books to fulfill the advance, then start getting royalties?

And you get something like 6% of the cover price of each book you sell after that?


Does an author give 15% of royalties to the agent?

Yes. Technically the agent sends the author 85% of what the agent gets from the publisher but you've got the right idea.

Fifteen percent of EVERYthing?

We let you keep your first born son, but everything else...
Only 15% of deals we make, or deals that come from that deal.
Contract language varies.
We don't get 15% of your income teaching or your tax refund. Just the book stuff.

What is “earn through” or “sell through”? Is that when your books earn your advance?


And what of “returns”? How long does a bookstore typically keep your books, and how many do they return to the publisher and why?

Chain stores 6 weeks if it's not selling.
Indie stores maybe 3 months.

They return everything they can't sell. How many they can return is subject to their buy agreement with the publisher. Industry wide returns are 25-35% of a print run.

Will they always keep one or two just in case?


Speaking of Tense!!

Miss Snark is reading Publishers Weekly while waiting for Killer Yapp to bring coffee.

In the "Deals" column comes this:

Reagan Arthur at Little,Brown bought world rights to THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris from agent Julie Barer. Ferris is a recent grad of the MFA program at UC Irvine, where Geoffrey Wolff is already singing his praises. The novel, about a group of co-workers in a Chicago ad agency, is narrated in the first-person plural.

Holy moly. What will we think of next.

Reagan Arthur is a very very smart editor and Geoffrey Wolff is on the list of writers I’ll always read, so my guess is the book is probably pretty good. But..."we'll see"!

More on the POD people

Netted in the flotsam and jetsam of comments (POD people) was this:

From the iUniverse web site:"iUniverse's services in book publishing are endorsed by industry leading author organizations, including the Authors Guild and ASJA. iUniverse is a proud member of the Association of American Publishers, Publishers Marketing Association, and Small Publishers Association of North America. The company's major investors include Warburg Pincus and Barnes Noble."Anyone endorsed by the Authors Guild, ASJA, and Barnes Noble is not a scam. There are many POD companies that are out to rip people off, but iUniverse seems to be legitimate. I am not exactly impartial, however. My cousin and I used their services to publish a biography of our grandfather. This book was exclusively for our family and everyone was thrilled with the result. We were extremely pleased with their service, low cost, and the final product.

When was the last time you heard an author say "We were extremely pleased with their service, low cost, and the final product" when talking about a book published by Random House? Simon and Schuster? Hell, forget the big boys. How about Ig Publishing in Brooklyn? Akashic?

Never is the correct answer. That's a phrase you hear on television from someone endorsing a a product like storm windows or trusses.

iUniverse is selling you a product in the shape of a book. You are the consumer, even if you provide them the content they print.

If you want a short print run and limited availability (such as with a family bio, or a family cookbook...or Miss Snark's Guide to Clooney Love) one of these POD mills is certainly worth considering.

If you want your book to be in stores, it's not. It's that simple.

These POD mills make their money from the money you pay to publish. Publishers from Random House down to Ig Publishing make their money selling books. It's that simple.


POD people

In re-reading your Amazing Archives of Wisdom and General Spiffiness, I noticed that you take a rather dim view of e-publishing, equating it with self-publishing and websites like iUniverse and xlibris, where the author pays the publisher and is not subjected to a review process.

This is not the case with some e-publishers, particularly those that specialize in Erotic Romance. For example, an e-publisher like Ellora's Cave sells over 30,000 e-books a month, and that's not including the titles they do put into print and sell through bookstores (Red Sage, Whiskey Creek Press-Torrid, Liquid Silver, and many others are all e-publishers who do this.) Their books can be found, for example, at Borders, although they chiefly consider themselves e-publishers.

Would an agent make a distinction between this type of publisher-one that does not accept all submissions, does subject authors to an edit-and-revise process, and does pay royalties without asking the author to pay to be published-and iUniverse? Do you?

The scumbags at AuthorHouse, xLibris and iUniverse have really mucked up the pool of POD publishing. Because they are the most well known of the scam mills, it's easy to assume ALL POD publishers are the latest incarnation of vanity press.

I know that's not the case but sadly, if someone tells me they've been published by a small house that uses POD the burden of proof for "is it crap" shifts to them. I assume it is; you have to prove otherwise.

That said, if you're going to use this as a publishing credential, I'd advise investing some time in writing several sentences or a paragraph that explains (as you did here) that the publisher isn't a vanity house and including a link to the website. It won't get you past the truly convinced that "no good book was ever published by anyone other than traditional process", but it will get you to me. I'll look.

Also, let's remember e-books are NOT POD books. E-books are text on a screen, a special device that lets you read things, and coming soon to your cell phone, Ipod and Blackberry. POD books are separate objects: books. There's nothing E about them.

I don't think POD technology sucks. I think it's the wave of the future.

I think companies (and I will not call them publishers) who use POD to persuade people they can be "published authors" are one step up from Dorothy Deering (see TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING).

I recently read Yvon Chouinard's book LET MY PEOPLE GO SAILING. He's the founder and owner of Patagonia, the sporting goods and clothing company. He's persuasive by example that companies that do good in the world can change things for the better. As I look around MY industry I see incredible waste. 25% of most books are shipped back to the publisher and recycled. That's just wasteful in the extreme. Let's not even talk about the hundreds of thousands of pages of manuscript that come and go out of just my office here in a given year.

I envision POD technology changing how book production work and making us MUCH less wasteful and better earthlings.


Do you smoke?

Miss Snark is not going to wag a finger in your face ... Miss Snark has enough vices of her own, thank you.

Do you smoke in the same room you write? How about the same room where you store your printer and manuscript paper?

Moments ago I opened an envelope in my never-ending pile o'slush. The odor was not overwhelming but it was definitely noticeable. And nasty. Old ashtrays. Down at the heels barrooms. Derelicts who need a bath. NYC subways.

The paper was crisp and clean, the prose was ok, but nothing fancy. All I wanted to do was burn it.

Smell is a big trigger for memory. You know this. It's why the scent of the perfume you wore when you first danced with your true love recalls that night in vivid detail. It's why chocolate chip cookies in the oven make you feel safe. It's why you'll never use certain shampoos again.

If you smoke, the scent adheres to the paper. There's a stiff no smoking law in NYC now. Smokers huddle in doorways (despite signs telling them to stand out in the rain) and grab quick puffs as they come up the subway stairs. The smell of cigarettes and tobacco doesn't have good associations for most of us.

Sometimes we're not aware of why we react negatively to something. It's just "a feeling". One of the things that can produce that "feeling" is scent. Avoid shooting yourself in the foot subliminally. Store your paper in a smoke free room. If you smoke, you can't tell if your paper smells. I can.

Miss Snark's Sarcophogus of Surprises

Dear Miss Snark,
Is there a point where agents give up on selling a work? How long do you circulate something? Until every single editor you can sell it to rejects it? Or say, after six months have passed and you haven't had any interest? Thanks for the info. Rock on!

Miss Snark launches new projects out into the world like she's firing a cannon at Waterloo: lots of smoke and steam and screaming. Sometimes the enemy...I mean the publisher, sorry ... sometimes the publisher bites, sometimes not (fools! fools!).

I keep going till I've run through everyone I think SHOULD buy it, and a few more I think might. Then I stop and try to figure out if I'm the witless one. Sometimes things I love are just not things other people love (fools! fools!).

This is when I sometimes reposition a project. "oh wait, that's not a novel, that's a poem!" Sometimes I reread all the rejection letters and see if there's some info to be gleaned "oh wait, we killed a hamster with our bunny slippers on page one...bad mistake".

And sometimes I let a project rest. Sometimes I'll find a new publisher, an editor will move to a new house and be looking for something else, and sometimes the light bulb will go on over my pointy little noggin.

I hardly ever give up. Sometimes, but not soon, and not, never, ever, happily.
Just for starters, if I give up, I've got a big fat loss in my expense column that I'll never recoup and I hate that almost as much as my abacus wielding accountant Mr. Ray N. Mann does.

Good news..you won! Bad news...you won!

I'm a devoted snarkling (more of a lurker than a commenter) and while you may have addressed this in the past, I'm curious as to what your thoughts are on queries/partial submissions that are sent to you that have been finalists/winners in contests sponsored by chapters of national organizations. Does it make you take a closer look? Or does it mean less
than the paper it is printed on?

First, I want to be clear: I read all my query letters and at least three pages of whatever you send unless it's just gibberish. Sometimes (as we saw on the crapometer in August) writers have claptrap up front and don't get rocking till further in. I'll invest three pages minimum. If it's not just utter dreck, I read all ten.

Here's what winning a contest can do for you: if it looks weird, I'll keep reading. In the back of my mind is the idea that someone, somewhere found this to be interesting so maybe it's not as weird as it looks at first glance. Contest wins buy you some margin.

That's the same thing that happens if you're referred by a client, or you met me at a conference or you have some sort of ‘connection’. You get a few more pages before I pull out the Snarkogram that says "here's your hat, have a nice day".

I don't have much respect for contests mostly cause I've judged a bunch and I hear what my fellow judges have done or said (think snakepit and you won't be far wrong). I notice them in query letters though, so it can't hurt. The ones to avoid are the ones with big entry fees. No more than $10 to enter unless you've got serious, respected judges and there's a decent reward for winning...like publication.

I look for short story publications before I look for contest winners just FYI.

Tension Headache

The comments barrel is overflowing on the question of tense! Miss Snark wants to look away, but like seeing a python eating a supersize Happy Meal, you just can't avert your eyes.

For the record, Miss Snark does not loath any tense but the passive.

Those commenters who've pointed out that tense must serve the story are saying exactly what Miss Snark thinks. Bright Lights Big City was a wonderful novel and telling it in second person was a stroke of genius. It doesn't have the flexibility of first or third, but when it's right, it's just right.

For those of you not beaten into rote recitation with a ruler in French, Latin, German and English grammar classes, here's a link
that might be helpful.

"The courtesy of a quick look"

A comment on my earlier post (Nitwit Town) below made me think. The querier said she only wanted "the courtesy of a quick look". Is that REALLY how you want me to look at your work?

Right now it's 10am. The phone has already rung twice. I have 14 emails stacked up on my agency incoming list. (Miss Snark averages 60-75 emails a day-my agency account about half that). Those are the ones that require more than a quick response and are left over from yesterday when I was out of the office for a long period.

I'm still on my second cup of coffee.

Your email comes in. You have 300-500 words in the body of an email. You get five seconds of distracted attention.

Is that what you REALLY want?

The reason I personally do not take e-queries is cause I don't READ email mostly. It's skimmed. If I need to take action on things, it gets a closer read.

As a "courtesy" I'd like to at least read what you send me. I bet you do too.


Miss Snark Loves "You"

Miss Snark,

I am an editor and I have a question for all the novelists out there. Why is practically every novel I get on submission written in the first person present tense? Do novelists learn this in school? Do they think it's a novel way to write? If, for once, I can open my evening's reading and find a departure from this oh-so-tired way of thinking, I would immediately raise it to the top of my list of priorities.

You fall into your slush pile. You emerge, clutching an envelope in your sharpened fangs. You rip it open with fevered urgency. You discover a first person present tense narrative that makes you fear for the fate of civilization. Your howl of anguish is heard far and near.

Killer Yapp hears your cry and joins in. The cacophony rings over the city. The Philharmonic pauses, a moment of existential panic. Wynton Marsalis, rehearsing high above Lincoln Center cocks his head and listens, then returns to his horn.

Miss Snark hears your screams of pain, but ignores you. You hear her cackle of sneering sardonic laughter...and there, just beyond, what is that ..words? You listen hard... Is it , is it saying "bright lights big city bright lights big city"?

Tales from Nitwit Town

A colleague received an email query. Like Miss Snark this agent does not accept e-queries and the website and listing at Publishers Marketplace are clear about that.

In a fit of generosity (never to be repeated) the agent responded to the query --which opened with "I read your website carefully"-- by saying "I believe you missed the part about no e-queries".

Herewith the response:

I didn't miss it. I ignored it. And here's why:
I am a soccer mom in suburban hell and writing is my only outlet. Because it fills my passion but not my pocket, the only way I can afford to stay writing is to be very tight with spending. Snail mail queries are expensive and wasteful. After spending two and a half years writing- realizing no income, I don't feel it is out of line for agents to at least take a quick look at the writing via email to see if suits them. This saves the writer a lot of time and expense. Please don't make the writing community a self-selecting group who can afford the entrance fee.

Ah yes. Silly us. We forgot you're the one with the dispensation to be treated differently. You've gone to all that time and trouble to write it, to research the agents, why shouldn't they do you the simple courtesy of a quick look.

Because you sent an attachment?
Because we ask you to submit work in the way we want to receive it?
Because this is a business, not soccer league where "everyone plays"?

I'd like to have Office Max give me printer ink for free too. I mean...don't they WANT me as a customer? It's the least they could do. We all know ink is overpriced and ink is how HP actually makes money since their hardware is a loss leader. Surely Office Max doesn't want to limit their customer base to a self selecting group who can afford the entrance fee.

And that entrance fee. Gosh darn. It's $2 per query. And if you query fifty agents, thats $100. It's such a burden, but nevermind, we'll bend the rules just for you; you're entitled being a soccer mom in hell and all. What were we thinking, asking you to behave like this was a business. Silly silly us. Please, send your work. In fact, we have your response letter all ready. We'll even put our own stamp on it to save you 37 hard-earned cents.

Dear Soccer Mom:
Thank you so much for sending me your query letter and sample chapter via email. Today, at 10am when I received it and downloaded the attachment, my computer crashed. No matter, I was GLAD to get your work. My computer technichian had us back up and running in a jiffty. He charges $85 an hour to do diagnositc work and he was here for two hours, but you know, we had lots to do while we waited. We read those boring snail mail queries from people who aren't really special enough to know the rules don't apply to them.

And your work: it’s breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. I don't think I've read a novel that made me shiver in just that way before. Of course we'll be offering you a contract. Before you sign it, you need to send me fifteen copies of your 1500 page novel. I'd like them shrink wrapped and mailed separately. I know you won't mind because of course, you wouldn't want something as vile as expense to come between us would you? Of course not.

Much love,
Miss Snark


I asked this question a while back, so I beg pardon in advance for repeating it. What's in the writer's best interest to say when an agent asks for a writing game plan, and the writer doesn't plan on any more books?

Ya, that's Miss Snark quivering in the corner avoiding the question.

An author I love very much, and who is as charming in real time as he is on the page, John Dunning once told me he never takes an advance or a contract until a book is done. He's never sure if he can actually write another. He's written four or five now I think; when he told me that he'd written three and it was some years ago.

You're not the first author who wonders if there will be another. I saw Christopher Kennedy Lawford interviewed over the weekend about his memoir; he said if he ever wrote another book it wouldn't be a memoir cause he'd said all he had to say in this one.

Tell the truth. And don't sign a two book deal. But know, also, that you never know what will stir your creative elves and get them dancing around on the keyboard.

It also reminds me of a dreadful joke:

Nikki Hilton: "Paris, I'm trying to figure out what to get my boyfriend for Christmas. I thought maybe I'd get him a book."

Paris Hilton: "Oh, don't do that. He already has one".

Get Smart...Get Control!

How much input do you have on your authors' process? Once you've agreed to take on a new client how much editorial control do you like to have over her work? I know of at least one big name agency which contractually insists on editorial control (whether they enforce this, I have no idea).

Suggestions to make the book stronger are one thing, editorial control by agents seems to me to be another animal entirely. Isn't that the domain of the editor and publisher? In this triangle of agent-editor-author where does editorial control fit?

I'm not precious about my work but I rather suspect that 'editorial control' strictly applied might make me end up in one of those places with white coats and white walls mentioned in an earlier comment!

Editorial control rests with the author no matter what anyone says. I can't imagine an agent changing parts of a book and then sending it out without the author's ok. Except of course, I've done that.

Let's distinguish between novels and non fiction first. I've redrafted sample chapters of non fiction proposals to make the writing stronger. Many of my non fiction authors are not writers, they're business people, or historians, or something, but not writers. They have a great idea. They get most of it right but then I come in and take out passive voice, extra "that's" , clean it up. Of course, they KNOW I’m doing this!!! I don’t just start ripping into things without the go-ahead.

The down side is I'm going to be doing that for the full book as well unless I can get the writer to see what I've done and do it himself/herself.

I've made suggestions for content and organization in NF books...a LOT.

In the end however, it's the author's call. If they think I'm deranged, they pull the project. I'm in a wrangle with a client right now cause our vision of the book doesn't match. She may go elsewhere. If she does, I think her book won't be as strong, but that's just my OPINION, and God knows those don't carry the full weight and majesty of the law (despite Miss Snark's lobbying in Albany of course).

As for fiction- I don't change anything. Not a word, not a comma, not a semi colon. If I think changes need to be made, I mark it up and send it back. I've wrangled with clients about endings but we've always worked it out. They know I'm their reader but also their advocate. They trust me to tell them when something doesn't work.

Once a book is sold, I'm out of the editorial stuff. I handle the biz, that's my strong suit. Editors and my clients communicate directly about stuff, UNLESS there's a problem. Then I come stomping in and send everyone to neutral corners and put on my Henry Kissinger hat and negotiate peace.

I'd like to hear more about agent's who require editorial control. I've never heard of such a thing!

I know John Grisham's cousin's latte stylist's ex boyfriend....

Do requests for your clients to blurb other books come through you?And, is this something you get excited about?Who handles this? The Editors? The PR people? The agent?

Sometimes they do. I pass them along to the author.
Getting blurbs is everyone's job. It's really kind of fun. You end up talking to all sorts of people. I cold call people for blurbs on books I think they'd like. I have all sorts of rejection letters from famous people.

PR people are mostly getting quotes from reviewers and trade outlets. I like to start working on blurbs once we have a signed deal in place. I always have my clients working on lists of people they know, and people to approach.

I'll ask anybody I can think of to read something for a blurb. What are they gonna do? Say no? Big whoop. I've been told no more times than a two year old in a candy factory.

Happy Birthday Richard Price

How have I managed to NOT mention Richard Price in all my rantings about good writing. I should be locked overnight in the library without my reading specs for punishment.

My daily email from
Writers' Almanac turns up this:

It's the birthday of the novelist Richard Price, born in New York City (1949). He grew up in a housing project in the Bronx in a tough neighborhood full of street gangs. But Price didn't take part in gangs. He suffered from a mild form of cerebral palsy. He said, "I was a member of the Goldberg gang—we walked down the street doing algebra."

He wrote his first novel, The Wanderers (1974), about a group of teenagers trying to make it out of the Bronx, and it was a big success.

Price went off to Hollywood to try to write screenplays, then came back to the East Coast and started to hang out with cops in Jersey City. He spent three years following the cops around, getting to know some of the drug dealers as well, carrying a notebook, writing down everything he saw and heard. The result was his novel Clockers (1992) about a young drug dealer named Strike who's trying to make enough money to get out of the drug business without getting killed or arrested. It was one of the first works of fiction that tried to describe the crack cocaine trade from the point of view of the dealers, and it was a huge success.

Richard Price said, "I want to create an awareness that certain people exist. Let me just put them on paper so the reader can see who they are."

If you're a fan of the HBO series THE WIRE, Richard Price is one of the novelists who writes teleplays for them. His books are wonderful. Read them If your library doesn't have them, speak sternly to the librarian. If she balks, threaten to lock her in the stacks with Miss Snark.


Read this

If you missed the link in the comments section on a previous post, here are two good pieces by Jennifer Crusie about how to find an agent that's right for you. I don't agree with everything she says (I don't agree you "hire" an agent for example) but she's right on the money about most things.

Here are the links:
It's all about you

impossible dream

Excess gin, my aunt fanny

Money flows FROM the agent to the writer. To be oh-so-technical, Miss Snark, shouldn't that be FROM the publisher THROUGH the agent, to the writer? Miss Snark may be doing very well indeed (witness, two vacations in as many months) but I strongly suspect the only thing flowing from her is excess gin (carefully dabbed from the corner of her mouth with a cocktail napkin) during careless swilling.

Of course the money comes from the publisher.
And we all come from God too.
Doesn't mean I'm praying for my Con Ed bill to disappear.

The point is the writer doesn't pay the agent.

And don't get snarky with ME, boyo.
There's only room for one snark here I have the patent on it.
Now slink off and go write something so Miss Snark can pay her electric bill.

Blurbie love

How important is collecting blurbs prior to landing a publisher? For example, if an author had a legal thriller (agented, but not yet sold) would having a list of judges and law professors who'd agreed to blurb it get a publisher's attention?

Law professors?

I can barely think of a single group LESS likely to draw my interest. Have you READ the stuff they call "legal writing"?? DRY. BORING. REPETITIVE. REPETITIVE. All tell, no show.

For a legal thriller if you want to grab my attention with a blurb, I want to see someone like Scott Turow, John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, heck, I'll even take Barry Eisler (who writes about a hero on the WRONG side of the law) before I want to see a judge, or god forbid a law professor.

The point of blurbs is to have someone who's writing you KNOW and LIKE to tell you this book is yummy. KNOW means it's a writer generally not a law professor (unless it's someone like Alan Dershowitz) and LIKE of course means they write well.

You don't really need blurbs before publication. "I think this book is cool" won't hurt but it's not going to be the difference between yes and no.

Leave the professional boys to their briefs. You need some heavyweight BOXERS to jump in the ring with you.

Who Pays....part two

I thought agents were routinely reimbursed some portion of their expenses to attend a conference. They show their receipts, and get up to $250 reimbursed (for example).Normally that reimbursement is a cost factored into the overall registration fee, and not broken out (in small part) as this seaside conference does it.Breaking it out means the individual conference goer shoulders a slightly higher proportion of the agent's expenses than the model where every conference goer, knowingly or not, subsidizes these costs, but, either way, it seems to me that the net effect is the same -- agents are reimbursed in whole or in part for costs.I don't think it is the same as reading fees.

Agents do attend conferences at no cost. ALL their expenses are paid (not just $250--you can't get me for less than $750 these days). There is a difference however in charging conference attenders $20 to meet with an agent one on one and paying expenses. (The conference that started this discussion says it's not going to pay expenses next year, it's going to give a $250 honorarium and then split the meeting fees. I'll be interested to see who comes to the conference).

Look at it this way: you want to meet me to pitch your manuscript. You fly to New York and come to my office. You sit down in my conference room and remove Killer Yapp from your ankle. You pitch your book. I give you an invoice for $20. Does that sound like a reading fee to you? Pay to play? It does to me. The only difference is I didn't have to leave NYC.

Covering an agent's expenses makes the agent a guest of the conference and the sponsoring organization. When you start giving them money to read stuff, you're not a guest, you're contract labor.

It's also a BAD idea to get people used to paying reading fees. "It was ok over here at the Lone Ranger and Tonto Writing Conference for Wayward Cowgirls but it's not ok to pay an agent direct?"

The reason I am so adamant about not paying agents is that it's the road to abuse. I'm not just whistling Dixie here either; reading fee scandals were common place in the 90's. And how many times do I have to say "Dorothy Deering" anyway.

Reading fees are a bad idea. Agents in AAR aren't allowed to charge reading fees in any form.

Who pays?

Today you wrote that you'd buy a writer a gin...which makes me wonder, who buys the lunch when you meet the writer? I had an awkward moment a couple of weeks ago when discussing some revisions with my agent in a trendy San Fran bistro, which I had suggested to her...

Agent pays.
That's the general rule.
However, if you start suggesting trendy little bistros with waiters named Phrank who offer you scented hand towels to go with the teaspoon of rice and a bean sprout that cost more than my Con Ed bill...then you pay. Before we show up though I'm going to tell you if something you suggest is off my price range. I'm not just going to sit on my hands and look demure while we hope the check evaporates.

There are exceptions to this of course. I have several clients who are gentlemen of advanced years. They would no more let a lady pick up a check then they would strip naked and do karaoke in Times Square (not that Miss Snark hasn't offered the opportunity of course). These are gentlemen who are not quite used to women and particularly women young enough to be their daughters reaching for the check. I let them pay because to insist would make them feel uncomfortable.

If I take a client to an event that has a bar, I buy the first round of drinks and generally a second. Any more than that, they're on their own.

Opperknockity Tunes But Once

Pulled from the comment line up on "Turkey" was this from a snarkling:

What I'm wondering is why he was attending a conference and participating in one-on-one time with writers, when he isn't even accepting new clients??I find that very odd.

and it brings up a very good point (but not the one the snarkling thought she was making)

This is the original question on the post:

I recently attended a relatively small book festival (small compared to, say, the National Book Festival). It was community-based, and the proceeds went to area charities and scholarships. Included in the schedule of events was the opportunity to reserve a one-on-one appointment with an editor, publisher, or agent. The appointments lasted for ten minutes, and during that time individuals could ask questions about publishing or even pitch an idea.

What's important to realize is that the Snarkling was attending a book festival not a writing conference. As such it's entirely possible that agents and editors will be there who are not looking for new clients. The Festival organizers were slack by listing all the things you could do in your one on one meeting and NOT double-checking that some agents and editors weren't looking to build up their list. This is what happens in those hodge podge things that don't have a focus. Hear a reading, pitch your novel, buy a caramel apple all on a Sunday afternoon. As entertainment it's great. As a professional conference...well, it's NOT a professional conference so I shouldn't take them to task for not behaving like one.

This brings me to my point: look at the event menus carefully when you sign up. Is it focused on craft? Look for editors. Is it focused on pitching? Look for agents. Is it focused on having a good time and talking about books? Leave your manuscript at home and just enjoy the day. BUT...keep your eye peeled. Take advantage of one on one meetings even if they turn out to be useless.

One of my favorite stories is about the singer Madonna, here in NYC in the early 80's. She was a real party animal and frequented LOTS of dance clubs. She always carried her demo tape with her on the chance she'd run into someone looking for new artists. She "never left home without it".

That's a good model to follow. Not carrying your manuscript around, but always be ready for opportunity. Some of the things that look like opportunity... i.e. this meeting with Agent Man who turned out to be a turkey...won't be. But, you never know.

Are you ready for opportunity to knock?


Please Miss, Can I have another?

I have an agent. Unfortunately, I'm not pleased with him. He doesn't communicate. He won't show me my rejection letters and ignores my emails. I'm going to stick out the year with him because my book has already been sent to 8 houses (no idea how many if any have rejected yet), so no one else would pick me up for that book anyway. There's the backstory, here's the question. In the meantime, I have finished another novel, one in a different genre from the one he's representing. Can I shop this new novel around to agents while I already have another novel contracted with a different agent? Can you have two agents at one time (for two different novels)? I really don't want to give him this new novel, too, because we don't agree on communication expectations. But I don't want to end it with him yet because he's in the middle of submitting my old novel.

You don't have an agent.
You have someone holding your book hostage.
Trust me on this: there's a difference.

You usually have one agent at a time for books. The exceptions are if you are writing in two very different categories: children's picture books and porn; academic non fiction and chick lit. You get the idea.

The trick there is the agents all know about each other.

What you can NOT do is start shopping a book behind this guy's back no matter how odious he is. One at a time. Like yanno...wives.

Writing Conferences...again, and again some more.

Dear Miss Snark, I am a volunteer at an annual writers' conference in a particularly gorgeous and sunny sea-side town that just started including an Agents Day last summer. I contacted the coordinator yesterday to check my facts, because I felt certain that - at least in our case - it was not the money-grubbing, greed-based exercise in futility that you seemed to think it is. Here is her response (names changed to protect the innocent):"Miss Snark is certainly snarky! Whew! Here’s the scoop on our Agents Day. We charged $20 for each slot with an agent, half of which went to the conference, half to the agent. However, we also paid for all their lodging (two nights at stiff rates) and, for some, travel expenses, and I lost a lot of money on the deal. We won’t offer free lodging or expenses next year, but will offer a flat $250 honorarium for any agent who comes. I’d love to make money on the deal, but it’s most likely going to be a wash. I’ll tell you that many of the agents who came last June were thrilled with the quality of our writers – several went out of their way to mention it – and [Major Agent at Well-Known Publisher] has signed at least one writer and is talking seriously to four others I know of. So, Miss Snark ought to come to [our conference] perhaps. What do you think? :) "I'll admit that there was a small but vocal minority who thought it was a bad idea, and who likened the $20 to 'reading fees'. Conferences are expensive to run, and we do our absolute best to make it a good deal for everyone, including the agents. The focus of our conference is on craft, and the entire week is spent in read-and-critque groups led by multiply-published authors with expertise in their literary niche. We placed Agents Day early in the week so that attendees could quickly shift their attention away from 'the pitch' and back to the craft. It worked. We had happy authors, happy agents, happy staff and happy volunteers.Your experience with other conferences may be vastly different. I just wanted to set the record straight for any among your wide and exalted readership who may have attended a conference last June in said beautiful sea-side town and were concerned about where their money went.Thank you for the magnificent blog.Ever Yours,A Sea-side Snarkling

I bolded the parts that cause Miss Snark to have heart palpitations.

Start with the last point: there is no such thing as a major agent with a well known publisher. Agents are not publishers. Publishers do not have in house agents. If your writing conference coordinator said this, s/he is seriously misinformed about how publishing works. Perhaps it’s just a misprint. This underscores the point that every single writing conference I’ve seen, read about or attended is organized by a person, or people, who are not publishing professionals.

Second, I agree with the people who compared the $20 to a reading fee. It is.

Third if you focus on craft, you don't want agents. You want editors.

I would like to be clear that I don't think writing conferences are snake pits of greed. I think they are walking slush piles that offer people hope they will get published when they can't. That's not my concern. My concern is the behaviour of agents who accept money for reading manuscripts. That's not ok. If an agent is a guest of a conference, that's one thing. If an agent is earning income at the conference it's not. Money flows FROM the agent to the writer. It's a rule. Really.

And of course there are agents who love this. That doesn't justify it.

Conferences that focus on craft, that have published writers and working editors can be a very very good investment. Someone mentioned one on Cape Cod in the comments section recently and I looked it up. If you write SFF, you'd be a twit not to sign up for this if you can.

Conferences that focus on selling your work can be valuable. Agents should not be paid reading fees to participate. Their expenses should be covered by the conference but they should not have income from it. I'm pretty sure AAR covers this in the rules but I haven't looked recently.

Don't pay agents.

Turkey talk

I recently attended a relatively small book festival (small compared to, say, the National Book Festival). It was community-based, and the proceeds went to area charities and scholarships. Included in the schedule of events was the opportunity to reserve a one-on-one appointment with an editor, publisher, or agent. The appointments lasted for ten minutes, and during that time individuals could ask questions about publishing or even pitch an idea.

I had two appointments: one with an editor, the second an agent. Agent-Man was patronizing and condescending. He told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t taking any submissions from anyone (which I could respect, despite the tone in which he expressed himself). When I asked his advice on what steps I should take to find an agent (once the manuscript is finished), he... well, he basically told me I needed to “read more.” I needed to eschew Austen and James and Bronte and Wilde and read more modern fiction so that I would have a better idea of what’s marketable. He made a point to ask me “who” I was reading, and grew even more patronizing at my reply (Sayers, Gaiman, Pratchett). I’m also reading McCullough and a few others, but I blanked – it was a question I wasn’t prepared for. He recommended researching who represented the authors who write in the same genre as I do (but this seems to me to be vague advice, since I’m fairly certain the authors I read belong to agents who probably aren’t looking for new writers to represent). I then asked him about the question of nomenclature and genre and was told “to visit bookstores more often.” (I hold an MA in English; bookstores are my Mecca. I love to read. It was hard not to be insulted by Agent-Man.)

I don’t know if this gentleman is the norm or not. I also don’t know if it was simply a case of not knowing the right questions to ask. I was as polite and professional as I know how to be and was met with an indulgent (metaphorical) pat on the head and got told to read more and visit more bookstores. Is this common?

Miss Snark hopes not!
Miss Snark would like to poke that guy's presentation skills with her parasol. What a turkey.

Too bad he made some good points.

One. You can and should read all the classics but I'm not sure Agatha Christie could be published today. Nancy Drew sure couldn't. Times and tastes to change. Reading the books that are front list is a good idea. I do NOT advise trying to write for the market, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of it.

Second. It is a good idea to query agent who represent books you like. Even big time agents are looking for good material. Those that don't have room on their list may refer you to someone who does. I've gotten and given clients that way.

His attitude makes his advice difficult to take. It was good advice. His attitude sucked. Majorly. However, Miss Snark says the same thing but she says it with much more élan and only after she's bought you a gin so it sounds nicer.

One for the money..two for the ..what?

I and a male co-writer (who is not my husband or boyfriend) are getting ready to submit our action-adventure thriller to agents. At a writer's conference, we met several agents who didn't quite seem to know what to do with the two of us; it was like they were distracted by the co-writer part or couldn't figure out how to treat us. Is our co-writer status creating confusion that may work against us?

I don't know a lot about this because I don't represent any co-writing teams. I have "author" and "ghostwriter" which is totally different.

You two are preparing to share in copyright? And share in editorial decisions? There are people who do this successfully: PJ Tracy ,and Perri O'Shaughnessy come to mind.

You might need to go to those meetings with some proactive answers about how you plan to work together.

If anyone reading the blog has experiences with this, as either writer/editor/agent, I'd sure like to hear about it!

Thank god! Back from the Wilderness!

Miss Snark returns.
Clutching her smelling salts, parasol, Killer Yapp's Burberry carrying case, and a half full bottle of gin, Miss Snark stumbles back to New York glad to have survived Out There.

Miss Snark is not leaving again.
Oh wait,
yes she is.
She's going to Frankfurt.

Quick, more gin!!