Sayonara Snarklings!

Miss Snark is jetting off to the land of lederhosen, beer, and polka music. Also Kafka. Make of that what you will.

I don't plan to blog while I"m there, I plan to cause an international incident!

See you when I get back which should be early next week, unless of course I take a little side trip to Italy to Lake Como and visit the man of my dreams.

A Snarkling Challenges the Wisdom of Miss Snark's #1 Rule!!!!!!--is that hell I hear freezing over?

Dear Miss Snark,

I love the blog; it's both entertaining and informative. I do, however, question one of your rules --- the action should be up front.

Using Amazon's Look/Search Inside, I browsed through the first paragraphs of some of my favorites. Quite a few put action or the promise of action right in the first paragraph. Among my favorites: Par Lagerkvist's "The Dwarf," Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest," Georges Simenon's "Dirty Snow," and Flann O'Brien's "The Third Policeman."

But almost as many had no action in the first paragraph. Both Robert Harris's "Fatherland" and
Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved One" begin with descriptions of the weather. Both Ha Jin's "Waiting" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" begin with backstory. Graham Greene's "The Heart of the Matter" begins with a man sitting and watching events of no particular importance. How would these have fared in the Crap-o-Meter?

Granted, you've said before that this rule can be broken to great effect, but I find so many exceptions that I question its validity. Could this rule be more of a personal preference than a fundamental of good writing?

Let's use Robert Harris' FATHERLAND as an example. It was published in 1995 so buying sensibilities are fairly similar to today's market. (Many of your examples were written more than 20 years ago--never a good comparison point).

Here's the text:

Thick cloud had pressed down on Berlin all night, and now it was lingering into what passed for morning. On the city’s western outskirts plumes of rain drifted across the surface of Lake Havel like smoke.

Sky and water merged into a sheet of gray, broken only by the dark line of the opposite bank. Nothing stirred there. No lights showed.

Xavier March, homicide investigator with the Berlin Kriminalpolizei –the Kripo – climbed out of his Volks and tilted his face to the rain. He was a connoisseur of this particular rain. He knew the taste of it, the smell of it. It was Baltic rain from the north, cold and sea (blank), tangy with salt. For an instant he was back twenty years, in the conning tower of the U-boat, slipping out of Wilhelmshaven, lights doused, into the darkness.

This is three paragraphs, 139 words.
Is it slam bang into action? Nope.
Does it set the scene? Yes.
Will I keep reading? You bet.
Why? Cause if this guy was sending me a query, his cover letter told me what his concept was: Germany wins the Second World War. The first five reviews on Amazon mention the concept. Add the idea of a detective novel, or a crime novel set in this alternate history and you can describe the weather for another 150 words and I'll STILL read on.

The "rules" I talk about do not exist in isolation. You can't have a fabulous first paragraph and nothing thereafter. You can't have a great concept and lousy writing. You can't have good writing and a boring topic (boring to me, I am the default setting cause it's my list you're being considered for).

But neither are those rules absolutes. You can natter on about the weather when I’m hooked by the concept. You can kill a dog if you do it with grace and dignity (North by Frederick Busch, remember?). You can't drown kittens, and you can't bore me. Those are absolutes.

But they are MY preferences indeed. I hope I've been clear about that. The Crapometer was designed to give you MY view and if you think I'm the one full of crapola, so be it. (In fact you won't be the first, you'll have to march double-time to the back of the line which stretches around the block about now).

However, if you look at other sites wherein editors and/or agents talk about how they look at writing, you'll see "get us INTO the action early" said frequently. There are always exceptions. The trick is, do it like this till you learn to do it differently. Writers do not spring fully formed from their keyboard. It's a learning process.

Lisa Selin Davis was asked recently about her book BELLY, a third person but not omniscient POV. She said she wrote it in the third person cause she didn't yet know how to write in first. She's published by Little, Brown; she teaches at Pratt, and she's still learning. (Her book is amazing in case you want to read something that will stay with you for a long long time.)

So yes, they're my rules. Yes there are exceptions, but NO you may not ignore them with impunity.

Author websites

Miss Snark, you said "Every single time you hear something about publishing keep in mind who is telling you and what their agenda is. If you paid money to hear them, even more so. If they want you to buy more services from them, remember, they aren't providing services out of altruism, they're making money off your ignorance."

Does this also apply to websites? I can't help wondering if a) an author actually needs a website and b)how much time and effort actually goes into building and maintaining them, and how much an author should be paying for such a service.

Is this an area where the newly-published could get ripped off?

a. yes you need a website if you're going to have a book. You want a place to post your reviews, your bio, links to Miss Snark's fabulous blog, and all sorts of other things.

b. not that much once it's built

I don't have a clue about cost. However, most websites will tell you who designed, built and now maintains it. You can click on the icon and email them. Look at websites you like and ask those people. You can get template sites and you can pay a fortune to a webmaster but really, its not that hard. I bet there are a lot of author focused web sites that talk about this. I just tell my authors they have to have one. They hear and obey!

Ex marks the spot

Suppose you drop your current agent for whatever reason (communication problems, different ideas about your career, you want more of a shark, etc.). When querying new agents, should you mention "I was formerly represented by so-and-so"? Or is it better to say something like "I'm seeking new representation"? Or should you not mention it at all? Thanks.

Mention it, even though agent hoppers are high on my list of people to avoid.

Despite that, I have quite a few ex-clients from other agents in town who are happy here at Snark Central. We had an in-depth conversation about what was not satisfactory in their previous representation. You really do need to be honest about that part though or you'll just be changing again and you only get about three "it just didn't work out" before I'm not that thrilled to be hearing from you.


Miss Snark, Re: What does Stylish mean? I see it sometimes in the description of a book. For example, the book "The Constant Gardener" was described as a stylish thriller. "Rain Fall", Barry Eisler's first was described as a stylish thriller. "Memorial Day" by Vince Flynn also.Love your outfit, by the way.

Stylish! got it! That's not content description, that's PR chat! It's also a very undescriptive word if you think about it: one Snarkling's Mahnolo Blahnik is another Snarkling's Birkenstock.

Barry Eisler writes cutting edge neon noir. Much more descriptive than "stylish" isn't it.

And if you're trying to think of how to "style" your book in your cover letter: DON"T. Just tell me what it's about in 100 words or less.

"This is an acid rain drenched, dive bar story of love gone wrong among the robots" tells me a lot.

Glad you like the bunny slippers. They seem to be multiplying.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

I've just started to read "How to Write a Blockbuster Novel" by Al Zuckerman and I've found my protagonist is not a ridiculously successful person. Actually she's a homeless person finding her way back to sobriety, sanity and purpose.

According to this book, I might as well kill her off now and bring in a fashion model.

But I like her, she's funny, off beat and she grows in my pages. She fits your likeability model. Frankly, I'll finish the book because I want to see what happens (I know, but I don't, not really), but should I realize since she doesn't play a major role in history she is doomed to obscurity?

Frankly I don't like those ridiculously successful characters who are smarter, faster and more successful than everyone. I like real people in unusual situations. Am I out of step?

BELLY by Lisa Selin Davis
RAINFALL by Barry Eisler

THE QUITTER by Harvey Pekar

Every single book written by Jason Starr
the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke

I'd say you're in damn fine company.
Don't worry, write well.

Need something good to read?

Those clever boys up at Time magazine clearly had some sort of hellacious New Year cause in January they decided to compile a list of the 100 best books published since 1923. 1923 is of course the year Time was founded, and since Ulysses was published in 1922, cleverly lets them off the hook about whether it's truly a great book (ya ya ya, I know, but yanno, people still debate this)

Here's the link to their story of
how they chose the list

and the
100 Best books since 1923 list itself.

How many have you read?

Miss Snark's score: 20.
Too much crime fiction I guess!

Thanks to Michael Cader, publishing god for the link.

Dear Mr Sulzberger: I need an agent.

This Snarkling continues to parse out what counts as a publishing credit from a previous post:

Miss Snark, What about a number of letters to the New York Times on a topic relevant to the book you are querying about? It's about as hard to get a letter published as it is to find an agent. Is it a joke to mention this?

This is an excellent question because it perfectly illuminates the difference between material for your bio sheet and publishing credits. Letters to the NYT are bio fodder. Jane Smiley writes a lot of letters to the NYT and is published on average of once a month I think. It's a fun fact used by her publicists. And yes, it's hard to get a letter in the Times.

Letters to the NYT don't count (at least with me) as publishing credits. They're not a joke though, and if you mention them it doesn't put you in the nitwit class.

Parsing out the playlist

One sees on web sites and Agent Query and such the phrase "actively seeking new clients." Does this necessarily mean they are truly interested in queries from the previously unpublished? I've noticed some sites specify "new writers". Some don't. Or is it an invitation to established writers unhappy with their present circumstances, whose agent has fled the country, died and gone to heaven, moved back into editing, turned pathological or whatever? An obvious industry understanding that in our bounding enthusiasm, we fail to comprehend.
Interpreting even seemingly plain language can be a bitch when we lack the insider context.

The funny thing here is agents also parse out what will draw the clients we want and discourage the hobbyists. By hobbyist I do NOT mean unpublished. I mean someone who is writing for fun and not investing much time or effort in learning about the biz. (Reading this blog of course removes you from that category by royal decree from the Queen of All That Is Snark).

It's been awhile since I listed myself with the Writers Market and Agent Query and their ilk. Truthfully I send answers to them if they email me, or if my contact info changes, but otherwise I don't really think about it--which leads to info being out of date I'm sure. As I recall they give you choices to indicate what you want to receive and "actively seeking new clients" is one, and "only by referral" is another. There isn’t a place to write something like “new but only if you’ve read Miss Snark’s blog faithfully and know what you are doing sort of”.

The writers who have shed their old agents usually come to me by referral. They ask their writer friends, or their editors for recommendations.

If you are a new unpublished writer, query everyone. Even if they say they only take people by referral. You have nothing to lose. If they write back and say you're a nitwit, that's the cost of being bold. You'll need to develop a tough hide for scathing reviews from Dale Peck when your novel is published, and loathsome reviews on Amazon from people who are envious, so you might as well start now. And if you are fabulous, trust me, writing trumps everything including “no newbies” warning signs in Agent Query.

Is Anyone Else Reading This?

Here's a query question: when an agent asks for a partial and wants to know if any other agents are looking at the novel, how does the writer's response affect how they look at the work?

"Yes, I'm shopping this around right now" --
versus "I'm sending a couple of other requested partials to other agents but I'm not querying new people just now" --
versus "I've only sent this to you, you are my Dream Agent, and if you take me on I will give you this fluffy kitten"?

I mean, there's an obvious answer in terms of what to say -- tell the truth, and don't threaten with kittens. But I'm curious: does this information make you more/less likely to be interested, or make you review it faster/slower? I searched your archives, but I didn't see much about requested partials and the cover letters they love.

Probably because I don't request a lot of partials. I request full manuscripts. But, when I do, I ask if anyone else is reading it. And you're right: tell the truth and don't threaten with kittens.

I fully expect people send work to more than just one agent at a time. Sometimes I'm glad to see other agents are reading partials cause it confirms that I'm not the only one who thought the pages were good (not an isolated or irrational fear in this biz, believe me).

It doesn't make me read things faster, generally. I read in chrono order UNLESS I've got something really fun and juicy and fast and I read it cause I'm in the mood for that.

I advise AGAINST telling any agent "you are my dream agent" even if you think it's true. What you really mean anyway is that your novel is a good match for their list or their interests. It might just be me, but someone telling me "you're my dream agent" makes me a tad nervous. Especially if you are a guy. Ratchet down the smarm factor and go with cool, calm and collected.

I like the second choice best: "I'm sending a couple of other requested partials to other agents but I'm not querying new people just now"

Bitch slap!

I was wondering if you have any plans to turn the Crap-o-Meter on in the near future. I have a first page that is just begging to be bitch-slapped! Thanks!

I have fourteen unread novels sitting on my bookshelf right now. And not published ones that I want to read for fun. Fourteen actual people waiting for me to read their work. And after reading the comments log from people who waited a year to hear back when they submitted work to publishers, I'm reluctant to be in that slow poke group.

That's of course in addition to the revisions, re-reads and second novels I'm supposed to be doing for clients. I have four of those.

Realistically it will take me till the end of this year to clear out the stacks here.

This is not meant to elicit pity (unless accompanied by twenty dollar bills of course) but to explain why the Snarkometer is probably on the shelf till the Christmas break. I've had lots of queries about this, and it is fun to see the variety of work that slithers in the door, but realistically that's where we are.


Down this road lies madness

From the comments line on a previous post comes this:

It doesn't matter to me whether an agent/editor accepts email queries or not--as long as they SPECIFY and stick by their own claims. I've met 3 agents whose websites say they take email queries--In person, Agent 1 and 2 said, "My website says that, but I don't read any that come in." Agent 3 said, "I prefer hardcopy. The agency I work for has a main page that says we take them, but on my page I think I say I don't accept them. At any rate, I ignore them." If agents/editors don't want email queries, just say so (like Miss Snark!) There are enough problems in the process without agents pretending to take a form of query they don't want.

Wow. No wonder authors think we're evil. I can think of nothing more likely to make an author nutso than saying "yes we take this" when that's not the case. This is a lose/lose situation. The author thinks they're rejected (and authors need more of that like New Orleans needs more water) and the agents who say they read this and don't might be missing out on some good stuff.

It says something about an agency if they can't be straightforward about their query process!!!

The $120 seminar...and if you read this before midnight tonight!!

A Snarkling commented he'd attended a $120 seminar wherein he was told advances had to be returned to the publisher if book sales didn't cover that amount. I was amused by the idea anyone would actually tell people such an outright lie.

Silly Miss Snark, I should have asked WHY someone would tell such an outrageous lie. And the story behind the lie is this: these seminar producers want you to buy their services. Why am I not surprised.

Here's the link so you can see for yourself: BooksAmerica

I clicked on the title "God Doesn't Shoot Craps" because I realized it's a play on the Einstein quote "God doesn't play dice with the universe". There's a VERY slick opening ad. Then the author makes the classic amateur huckster mistake: he lets you read two chapters free. Well. This man needs an editor. Maybe two. One for his active voice and one for his passive voice.

I imagine this author went to one of these $120 seminars and heard how hard it was to get published. That dovetailed with his experience since I bet he had a stack of rejection letters for that novel. He decided to publish on his own. The seminar leaders then give him a way to sell his book on the web, and better yet, offered fulfillment serives: someone to answer the phone, take the order and ship it. All for a small fee-$375/annually and 20% of your RETAIL price.

Every single time you hear something about publishing keep in mind who is telling you and what their agenda is. If you paid money to hear them, even more so. If they want you to buy more services from them, remember, they aren't providing services out of altruism, they're making money off your ignorance.

20 seconds!

I've posted ad nauseum on why I don't take e-queries but I always feel like I’m on the defensive about it. Well, no more!

In today's issue of the New York Times magazine, an article about interruption science (who knew!) MEET THE LIFE HACKERS by Clive Thompson (page 43) offers up this:

In 1997 Microsoft recruited (Mary) Czerwinski to join Microsoft Research Labs, a special division of the firm where she and other eggheads would be allowed to conduct basic research into how computers affect human behavior. Czerwinski discovered that the computer industry was still strangely ignorant of how people really used their computers. Microsoft had sold tens of millions of copies of its software but had never closely studied its users' rhythms of work and interruption. How long did they linger on a single document? What interrupted them while they were working, and why?

To figure this out she took a handful of volunteers and installed software on their computers that would virtually shadow them all day long, recording every mouse click. She discovered that computer users were as restless as hummingbirds. On average, they juggled eight different windows at the same time -- a few email messages, maybe a Web page or two and Power Point document. Most astonishing they would spend barely 20 seconds looking at one window before flipping to another.

The bolding is mine, to highlight what I see is the critical point.

I’d be very interested to hear from agents or editors who take e-queries about how long they read something, or how much they read, or if they batch all the emails and read them at a certain less-busy time of day.

I know there are agents (good ones too!) who prefer e-queries, and those in fact who take ONLY e-queries. Given a choice, with this information, I'd send a letter.

20 seconds!

Second Hand Words

What's your take on used book sales, via Amazon, Alibris, ABE, eBay, et al., and their impact on author royalties, publisher sales, etc.? What about sales of ARCs (which Alibris allows sellers to do a year after pub date)?

In a perfect world, everyone would buy brand new beautiful hardcover books at full list price.

Oh wait, Miss Snark is on a different planet.

The reality of the marketplace is there is ALWAYS going to be a secondary market: used clothes, used books, used dogs (down Killer Yapp, you're NOT for sale!).

The original producer doesn't ever benefit from those secondary markets. You hear a lot of screaming and yelling about this in the art world: paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat that he sold from his studio in the Village for hundreds of dollars now command hundreds of thousands of dollars in galleries. He (or rather his estate) gets none of the mark up.

A first edition James Lee Burke is worth hundreds of dollars on the secondary market. Mr. Burke realizes no monetary benefit.

You'd think any agent with an eye on the bottom line would be mortally opposed to that wouldn't you?

You'd be wrong. Here's why: Secondary markets can create cachet. If you're willing to spend $500 for a first edition James Lee Burke, you're probably going to buy the upcoming book too. More than one, in fact. People were collecting T. Jefferson Parker for years before he won two Edgars for best novel. Collectors are smart people.

The other reason is secondary markets create readers. On any sunny day in Manhattan you will find a very interesting group of people, mostly men, mostly old hippies, selling books on the sidewalks of New York. (Arthur Nersessian wrote a novel about a street bookseller called CHINESE TAKE OUT-it's a good read). For $6 you can have pretty much any used trade paperback you want. I'm much more likely to buy three of these used books than one hardcover new front list book. BUT, buying Philip Roth novels as used books made me a huge fan. When The Plot Against America was published I bought it front list, hardcover, full price. I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't read him in used books first.

Now, about ARCs. For Snarklings who do not have the Snark Guide to Publishing Acronyms at hand ARC means Advanced Reader Copy. They are the "paperback" advertisement/first look that publishers send to long-lead review outlets like Publishers Weekly, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times etc. They used to be rare. A publisher printed 100 or so and sent them out.

Then someone got the bright idea of sending them to booksellers to talk up the book before they placed orders. More ARCs get printed and sent out.

Pretty soon so many are printed it's no longer uncommon to see print runs of 1000 or more and mailing to everyone who's ever been associated with publishing.

In economic terms we call that a glut on the market. Enterprising booksellers took to selling them. Devoted collecters of authors like T. Jefferson Parker or James Lee Burke soon wanted not just the first edition of a book, but the ARC for the book as well. All those folks at the varioius newspapers discovered they could sell these things and donate the proceeds to charity. Less scrupulous people sell them to used bookstores. There are long running debates about whether it's ok to do that but The Ethicist in the New York Times magazine says its ok.

ARCs are fearsomely expensive. MORE expensive to produce on a per unit basis than the actual book itself.

There's no easy solution to the problem of ARCs flooding the market: publishers are desperate to get attention for their books and bookstores aren't going to not sell them cause that money is pure profit. (ARCs are given way free by publishers).

I don't worry about ARCs or used book markets very much. I firmly believe that readers who find MORE of what they like will buy more. It's a truism of non profit fundraising that the person most likely to give to the organization is someone who has given before. If a reader buys your book on the street, or buys an ARC cause it's cheap, s/he’s going to get hooked and buy it front list full price one of these days.

A Snarkling channels Harold Lloyd

When my (lovely) agent sends my manuscript out to editors and after a month (or two) we've heard nothing, is that necessarily a bad sign? (So far it as been; I've had 11 passes.) Is it ever possible that the editor is giving it an extra-careful look or getting another reading in-house? I've had some near misses (lots of positive comments and a few editors asking to see my next novel) but each time there's been a relatively long wait and then a pass. I keep reading about writers whose agent sends out their manuscript and a week later they've got an offer. Is there any reason to hope after two months?

1. no
2. yes
3. yes

I hope this is what your (lovely) agent is saying too. My experience with editors is they can make instant decisions (usually no) and quick decisions (yes) but they can also dilly dally around like they have something better to do than read MY submission to them. I've sold novels that have been on an editor's desk for a year. I've sold novels in a week. To the same publisher.

Your agent will do the follow up to make sure you don't get lost in the shuffle (Miss Snark sold a novel once that resurfaced from a forgotten drawer so the editor said although Miss Snark did not quite believe that)

Forget this novel that's making the rounds. Think of it as your college student kid who's out in the world. When it needs attention, you'll get a call. Meanwhile, plop yourself down in front of that computer and write that next book editors are asking for. Don't fret. Write!!

Location, location, locomotion

Dear Miss Snark

A while back I considered short stories as a way to get publishing credits. But when I started looking at the markets... Gulp. It was information overload. Trying to fathom which publications would carry weight (yet might realistically still publish my writing) and which were a wash out, started consuming ALL my fret time.

I decided to concentrate on finishing the damn book instead. Recently the idea of writing short stories stirred again. Any suggestions on where to find a concise list of reputable short story markets?

And while we're on the topic of short stories, let me use some fret time to ask IF they do get published what are the chances of selling them as part of an anthology down the line or is new work the buzz for new writers?

There are all sorts of places that publish short fiction. Writer's Market publishes lists of them I think. But, pick up a copy of "Best of -insert category here-" the anthologies published at the end of the year. Best American Short stories, Best crime writing, best sports stories, etc.

Look in the back. There's a list of where the winners were first published, and more important a list of where the top 100 were first published. Yes, there is a preponderance of New Yorker, and Playboy and Esquire, but there are lots of others too. Make a list. Check them out.

Next, go to your local indie book store and find the fiction buyer. Ask her/him what journals are good.

Next, go to your local library. Ask the librarian who buys fiction what s/he reads or looks at or considers a good source.

And don't fret. Write.

The All Nude Review!

Snark Quote 1.
Miss Snark writes "I look for short story publications before I look for contest winners just FYI."

Snark Quote 2.
Miss Snark asserts "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."

Where do Internet literary sites fall in this debate? A lot of reputable magazines keep online versions (Mississippi Review, McSweeney's, etc...) and some online sites publish quality fiction and have the same editorial process of submission. The question I guess is, what do you see when a query letter has publications from online journals? Is that still looked on as being silly, or are online ventures (like OpiumMagazine and Pindleyboz, who coincidentally launch print versions from their online content) gaining some ground in respectability?

We need to be clear about how I read query letters first. I read your cover letter. Mostly they are crap but I ignore that cause most authors can't write good cover letters to save their lives. What I want to know first in the cover letter is what I'm reading. Is it a mystery? Chick lit? YA thriller? Then I want to know just enough about the plot to make me think it sounds interesting (the hook).

Then I want to know if you know anything about publishing, or if you've been published by someone who looked at your work critically. This is where the part about contests comes in, and now, the question about internet literary sites.

The key part of any publishing credential is whether the work was subjected to editorial review. If anyone can post to the Killer Yapp Dog and Pony Show book chat...those posts are not subject to editorial review and they carry no weight with me.

Contests are problematic in many times that I don't know who judged them. If you win a contest and you know who the judge was, say so. A contest judged by Stephen King is going to carry more weight than a contest judged by some anonymous literary agent (Miss Snark includes herself in that stellar group).

Which brings us to online sites. If I don't know the publication (and there are a lot of small literary mags I don't know off the top of my head) and IF YOUR SAMPLE PAGES ARE GOOD, I google your writing credentials. When I look at the site and see the submission requirements I make a decision about whether I think it has merit.

Remember though, writing trumps everything. You can have no, zero, zip, zilch writing credits and if you write well, I'll read it. You can have a million publication credits, and have won every contest you entered, and if I think the writing sux, you're not getting into the pool.

Your name in print isn't the same as 'published'

Would you care to post a message about some of the worst "credentials" that an author has used to try to get you to read a manuscript? I've heard of authors using one POD notorious for pretending to be a "Traditional Publisher" as a publishing credit, but I'm sure you have seen a few that top that. Have you ever seen any queries with real howlers in them, like bragging that the attached novel is a NaNoWriMo winner?

For those Snarklings unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it's short for National Novel Writing Month. And kind of like the Special Olympics, if you cross the finish line, You're a WINNER!

They have a lovely web site that explains it all.

Now, there's nothing wrong with doing NaNoWrMo. Have at it. It might actually do you some good to have a deadline and be forced to post your progress.

However, don't use "winning" as a publishing credential in your cover letter to Miss Snark or any other agent.

I've never gotten a query using that, but I have had people tell me they're published poets..and they list the poetry publisher who publishes almost everything entered in a contest and then charges $65 for the book. I've used to write back saying "this isn't what you think it is" but now I don't.

I've had people tell me they are book critics when they mean they post reviews at Amazon. I've had people tell me they are columnists at the local paper when the local paper -desperate for free content- will publish "guest opinions" from anyone in the zip code.

These folks aren't trying to put one over on me. They honestly don't know that what they're doing isn't taken seriously by agents or editors. Most of them are nice people who enjoy writing as a hobby. I don't fault them for that. More power to them in fact--they READ the books I sell.

Sunday Style Section

Miss Snark, What exactly does the term "stylish" mean when describing a book, not Miss Snark's wardrobe?

Good thing you asked this before you saw what I am wearing: bunny slippers, sweater, jammies and last night's party hat. I'm hoping Killer Yapp is exploring his feminine side cause if not, I have lingerie in my pocketbook and that's never really a good thing on Sunday morning.

Now, stylish.

I don't know. I don't think I've ever seen a book described as stylish.

There are publishers with such a command of style their books are instantly recognizable: Dorling Kindersley, Workman, Adams. Anything designed by Chip Kidd up at Pantheon, same thing.

There are publishers who don't know diddly about design and produce books that look like crap, but they shall remain nameless. I always look at book covers when I'm investigating a new publisher. You can tell a lot about a publisher by the covers.

If you want to give me an example of where you saw "stylish" used I can take a run at this question again.

Does anyone make money around here?

Your post about earning through your advance, prompts some questions.

Just because an author doesn't earn through his or her advance, does it mean the publisher isn't making money on the book--or at least breaking even?

The publisher is getting its own cut of the revenue. Isn't it possible that that it may see a break-even point that covers all its expenses--including the author's advance--before the author earns through?

And could that mean publishig a second book for the author even if the advance wasn't earned through?

Here’s the equation I used before:

$20/book (list price) x 1000 books sent out x .20 royalty rate = advance on royalties

Frequently publishers use this calculation and then give you half up front. If they think you'll earn $2000, they'll give you $1000 up front. This is particularly true of small publishers and is called hedging your bets.

The number you want to look at there is the 20%. That means 80% of the pie is yet to be divvied up.

Remember, booksellers generally pay at least 40% off list and frequently higher discounts are given to the big retailers like Costco and WalMart (you can buy books at Costco for less than the local indie store has to pay... an ongoing source of friction).

That leaves 40% (20% to author plus 40% to bookseller = 60%) for the publisher.

Yes it's entirely possible a publisher can cover their costs before the author earns through.

The thing about publishing to remember though is that there is more profit in one book that sells 50,000 copies than in five books that sell 10,000 copies. Why? Preproduction costs.

That one 50K book required an editor, a designer, an artist and the other folks that add value to the manuscript before it goes out in the world dressed in its Sunday go to meeting dust jacket and binding.

There's a certain amount of their salaries, and other fixed costs like heat lights water and gin, that are part of the cost. Let's say a publisher needs to sell 10,000 copies to earn the cost of making the book ready for the store. Once that book sells 10K everything else is gravy (I'm simplifying for demonstration purposes all you economists out there). So, if a book sells 50,000 copies the costs are already paid and the publisher gets more profit. The five books at 10K each have only broken even at that point.

You can see why the midlist suffers now, right? And why publishers LOVE the books they think will fly out of the stores in vast numbers? Why celebrity books with name recogniton are easier to place? Publishers would rather take a flyer on a celebrity book they think will sell really well, or perhaps on a new author they think they can turn into this season’s hottie, than publish someone they KNOW will sell 20,000 books.

Even if you earn back your cost, and earn through your advance, you’re still not out of the woods. This is the reason people who sell “not enough” are finding it hard to get published on their second, third or fourth novels.

One of the reasons I keep yelling about returns and the broken end of the publishing biz is cause 25% of the cost of a new book is eaten up by returns. Think of how many more smaller books could be published if that column on the ledger was reduced in size.

Thus endeth the rant.

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing!

"Any advice you get from ANY source should be taken with a grain of salt..." And here I've just trashed 12 pages of a first chapter of a novel because Miss Snark said...

I said in an earlier post that I don't change a word in novels I just mark them up and send them back. That does not evoke the blood letting screams of agony I hear when the ms arrives back in Authorville. Frequently I've marked out entire paragraphs, pages and on more than one red letter day: entire chapters.

I'm not sure why this is but writers have a hard time jumping right in to the action. There's always some sort of set up like describing a sunset, or their situation or what they're looking at out the window. Out! Out!

However, that writing is not wasted even if it does go in the burgeoning trash can. Everything you write whether you use it or not is part of the process of becoming a good or better writer. It's the equivalent of batting practice. Even the guys batting .400 (damn Yankees!) take batting practice before a game. You should hear a soprana warming up to sing Wagner!

Those twelve pages are batting practice. Now step up to the plate and SWING!