Dear Miss Snark,

Apart from absolute honesty, then, what does interest you on an unpublished fiction author's website? Do you always check out the websites (if they have them) of authors you're considering offering representation to? What kind of information do you (or an editor) like to see there? Blurbs of completed works? A hint of personality so that you can guess whether or not they'd be hell on wheels to work with? Their preference of gin brand?

If someone writing me a query letter has a website, and I'm not certain of some of information in the query letter (like who published a book), I'll go look.

If someone has navigated the hoops of fire and we are in discussion about representation, I check it out for two reasons: find out if it's any good (and thus doesn't need a huge makeover before editors start doing what I'm doing now) and to get a sense of their personality.

I've never turned someone down cause they had a lousy website. I've run screaming into the night when I saw websites full of wild ass political invective that seems ill thought out and hostile. You don't have to share my political beliefs but you have to write well about what you think.

And of course anyone who has a long blog about how horrible agents are gets a pass.

It's not required that you tell a prospective agent you have a website. if you've got one full of pictures of puppies and balloons and darling little foo foo bunnies, and your poems from sixth grade, it's perfectly ok to never mention it. Ever.

In fact, if you aren't published, you don't have much to put up there unless you're posting your work. I never read that stuff on a website. I have enough slush right here to keep New York's Strongest busy for quite some time.

Yo Matilda, waltz this

Pulled from the comment column is this good point:

I had a prospective agent check my Amazon listing once, only to find no books there. She turned around and told me I'd lied. Well, I didn't. As it happens, there are other countries in the world people publish books in. Like Australia! Needless to say, I went with another agent.

Amazingly enough books published in Australia, and even really foreign places...like yanno..Kansas, turn up on Google. If you've been published and you want to acquaint an agent with that fact you need to mention the title, and the publisher( the year published is helpful too).

If you don't, and we can't find it, I'm sorry, but we assume the worst. And it's not cause we're such raging curmudgeons, it's cause there are more people who think vanity press publishers are legitimate credentials, than are querying American agents with Australian books on their resume.

TNH owes me a new keyboard

A Snarkling commented below:

There's actually a nitwit out there who advises up-and-coming authors lie this in cover letters

Teresa Nielson-Hayden had a pretty good snark about what bad, bad advice this was. The author, in a mature, reasoned response to her criticism... moved his webpage. (I believe he also threatened her with legal action, but I stopped following the flame war after a while.) Bad enough that there's people out there who think this is a good idea. Worse that there's idiots encouraging them.

Im laughing too hard to properly punctuate my post. TNH is one of the most pleasant pull no punches bloggers in the world. I adore her. However, this was too much and there is now hot apple cider all over my keyboard. Next novel they buy from me will have a "keyboard replacement" line item in the payout line.

The Nitwit Brigade increases

Miss Snark received a query this morning that included not only a cover letter and sample pages but a letter from a "professional editor" extolling the virtues of the work submitted.

Miss Snark read the pages. And the cover letter. And the praise letter.

Miss Snark will never take this editor's recommendations seriously again.
The pages suck.
Not just sort of. Really sucks.
Sucks so much it crosses Miss Snark's mind that this is a set up from some clever Snarkling to see if this makes it onto the blog.

The only thing that makes me think it might not be a set up is I've heard of this editor before. This however is the first time I've seen some of his ..ah...product.

If you're thinking about working with an editor, don't just look at their resume. This guy has resume. Look at what he's done in his current job. A freelance editor with no publication credits is coasting on his former career.

The 10am nitwit

I'm reading the slush pile.

Dear Miss Snark, I am a published author. My novel Killer Yapp Does the Macarena won two awards in 2005.

Well, this is good news! A prize winning novelist in my slush pile.
What does Miss Snark rush to do?
Phone the author with a quivering offer in hand?
Race to the author's home town to sign her up before any other eagle eyed agents read their slush piles?


Miss Snark turns to her trusty flat screen computer which she loves really more passionately than she should, and calls on the elves to fire up the search engines.

Amazon..no hits.
Google..no hits.

Click on author's webpage which she has foolishly given me: ah, there it is. No publisher listed.

Snarklings, this is before I've even read the five pages this author enclosed.

Don't try to be cute. If you have credentials, list them. Don't say "it's published" if you don't list a publisher. I'll think it's POD. Don't say it won prizes if it came in first in the local chamber of commerce writing contest.

It makes you look like a nitwit. It annoys me. And it really chaps Killer Yapp's delicate pink snout that Killer Yapp Does The Macarena isn't going to win the Pulitzer next year.

Laugh riot of the day

A Snarkling very helpfully sent me a link to explain "urban fantasy". I slunk over for a read.

I about dropped my coffee cup.
Turns out I sold a book that is exactly that!
Who knew?

Which just goes to show you don't have to know what it is to:
1. love it
2. take it on
3. describe it
4. sell it

What a hoot!
And no, I don't take SFF at all, so how I ended up with this can only be explained by the first great rule of Snark: writing trumps all.

Winslow Arizona

Having been to Winslow Arizona, the idea Miss Snark could even pass through - much less stop there long enough to return from there - violates the rules of physics, even if one accepts the hypothetical assumption that massless fermions could be proven to be spin both ways.Ergo... I presume there is an unfathomable reference buried there regarding the Eagles song unless, of course, your intent is for the mere sound of those words strung together to create a temporary scranial magnetic stimulation of the brain.

You're not paying attention. Miss Snark is NOT in Winslow Arizona. Miss Snark is safely esconced in her steamheated abode with her lorgnette, coffee IV, rejection form letters while Killer Yapp guards the terrace from encroaching airborne evil.

The Crapometer is in Winslow, Arizona. We know this cause we received a postcard. Previously we know the Crapometer was in Fargo North Dakota. Same reason.

Miss Snark leaves New York City only under federal evacuation order.

What IS it with y'all and office supplies?

Do you own stock in Office Depot? Or you just have money to burn?

I'm doing the slush pile. So far today it's barely 9am and I have 36 paperclips, two binders and a folder. Guess where they are now? That's right.

Grandmother Snark taught us to not be wasteful so this offends my sense of balance in the universe. What in the name of all Snark am I going to do with a binder that has YOUR NAME on it? Or a folder with an address sticker with your name on it? They're certainly not going to stay here, particularly if I'm sending you a "sorry not right for us letter". Not even the neighborhood bag lady who culls the refuse bins wants these, let alone the roughnecks passing for schoolchildren who live in the building.

Quit it!

Rubberbands if you must, but just pages is best. Nothing else. And no, you are not the one exception to this rule no matter how cute your rubberstamped Hello Kitty folder is.

Notes? what notes?

I've heard a very well published author (100 some books) say that if you disagree with an editor or agent's notes, just disregard them, send the book back in a few months, and they'll never know the difference.Apparently, he was not talking about Miss Snark.

Or any agent with a brain.

The idea we won't recognize something, even just a glimmer of familiarity, after we've read it and given notes is pretty insulting. Besides, why would you do this? Does anyone think that what I thought was slow and poorly written in January is going to suddenly be fast paced and enticing in June? Not even Miss Snark drinks that much in the summer.


Nobody wants me!

Dear Miss Snark:

When do you cry uncle with a manuscript? My novel was workshopped in a competitive university literary program by six emergent writers and an award-winning literary darling.

We tore this sucker apart and put it back together, and in the end everyone was quite excited about it (despite its 600 page length). In terms of street cred I've previously published a short story in a DAW anthology, written many magazine articles, and was short-listed for a major writing contest.
After about 40 queries to New York agents who claim to represent literary fiction I've had something like 3 requests to see the manuscript, all of whom ultimately declined with a version on "I have no idea where I would sell this."

I try to write somewhere between literary and genre fictions, and I'm wondering if this will make the book a harder sell: the genre types will claim it is too slow, while the literary types might feel it is too plot-oriented. It is also a rather unusual book in that it is a historical novel blending nautical fiction (think Master and Commander) with an artsy-fartsy literary theme (think Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).

Is my being a foreign (Canadian) writer a handicap when pitching to New York?

I've got over two years of full-time research and writing into it and it is my third novel. I've been writing full-time for five years, and with the feedback I received in my university program I thought that I had finally reached a level of writing that would allow me to get published.
Do I pack it in or keep slugging? I've already started the next novel and I find that pitching the old one detracts from this work.

First, ignore your sunk costs. You can't get your time back. Even if you sell it tomorrow that time is not available to use again. That doesn't factor into your decision.

Second, nothing makes my hair stand on end more than "workshopped this till everyone was excited about it". None of those people make their living selling books. MFA programs turn out some of the worst, most bloodless, self absorbed crap I've ever seen. And what the hell is an emergent writer? Someone with an MFA and no publications?

Third: you got 3 looks from 40 queries. That's not bad. All of them requested the novel? That's actually pretty good.

Fourth, being Canadian isn't a problem. We like Canada. It's like the United States only different.

Fifth. Don't compare your work to Joyce. Ever. Even if you just know you're his spiritual heir. It makes you look like an egotistical numbskull.

Sixth: 600 pages is mind boggling. It's no wonder they didn't know where to sell it. It's too big for a trade paperback and you'll need a crane to lift the hardcover. Invest in some pruning shears.

Now, "I don't know where I'd sell it" is the key. Good writing sells (mostly). It sells cause agents love it and won't quit talking about it till they find an editor who also loves it. I've sold a couple things after a LONG time cause I loved it so much I refused to give up.

I've also had people tell me they think something is hard to sell cause it doesn't fit in a category when it DOES fit into a category: crap.

I think you might benefit from running the first couple pages through the crapometer when it returns from Winslow, Arizona the last week of December.

I think you've got the right idea to move on with the next one too. Every great writer has a couple novels hidden away as a secret reminder that they weren't always a literary darling.

The belonging and the beshorting of it

When querying, should you list groups you've belonged to that might not be your current genre? I use to be a member of RWA but am now writing urban fantasy.

What the hell is urban fantasy?
Urban is the new phrase for hip hop lit.
Is Urban fantasy hip hop on dragons?

ok, enough snarkiness.

No. You include only the facts that are relevant. If you're writing a memoir, membership in the Romance writers association, while laudable, and perhaps a source of some of the good stories in the memoir, is not high on a list of things an agent wants to know. If' you've PUBLISHED things in other areas, by all means include those, but not just memberships without a credit list.

Miss Snark is a member of the Fruit of the Month club but tactfully leaves it off her calling cards and resume.

Are you press enough for ME?

Dear Miss Snark,
How seriously to agents/editors take it when an author publishes with a very small, new press that's hidden in the hinterlands of America. I have a friend who sold to one and is convinced that he'll do just fine. They'd doing hardback for his book and he thinks he'll get reviews.But really, does it count?

Like Unbridled Books?
Like MacAdam/Cage?
Like Hawthorne Books?
Like Akashic was?
Like Softskull was?

ya. They count.

Cue the Springsteen Song*

My full romance MS is currently under consideration by a phenomenal agent. My fingers ache from being crossed for a little over a month -- they're starting to cramp too, does Gin help that? I recently received a rejection on a requested partial for the same work from another agent. My MS made it past her two readers, but her letter said that she felt I was "a competent author writing an interesting story line" but she was passing because the "marketplace is tight" and it takes an "exceptional novel to stand out with editors."

Tell me, Oh Great One, is the romance market actually that tight or was this just agentspeak for something that doesn't quite make the cut?

Yes and yes.
First of all, the market is never not tight. I've never ever ever (did I mention ever?) heard an agent or editor say "oh yes, it was so easy to sell that year, they sucked up everything I offered just like they were Electrolux at a desk". Never.

What Agent B is saying is she doesn't think she can sell your manuscript. She's probably right.

However, that does not mean Agent A or Agents C through Z not to mention Little Cats 1 and 2 can't sell it. It's a cliche of rejection letters, but nonetheless true: what's not right for The Cat in the Hat, can be just what The Grinch is looking for.

Now, while you're waiting for A, you keep querying. Send those query letters out until you have an offer on the table or the Grinch steals your manuscript..which ever comes first.

PS Gin cures everything.

*Glory Days of course. Sheesh, you didn't get that?

G is for Genre, generalization .. and GIN!

Miss Snark, how do you define "genre?"I've seen it defined in so many ways. What's your take?

Genre is: westerns, mystery, science fiction and fantasy, and romance.

Like non fiction is what is not fiction , genre is the contents of that list.

What makes a novel fit into one of those categories or get described as particular genre is a horse of a different color. I don't spend a lot of time parsing out the difference between a novel of suspense, a thriller, and a novel of crime, and a mystery. Mostly editors who buy in the mystery genre will look at a wide variety of things that can be categorized as mystery generally.

I'm much more likely to say this is a great novel with these elements Piggly, Wiggly and Oink, than I am to say this is a thriller with overtones of romantic suspense.

Cue: that wretched song from "Annie"*

A Snarkling is looking, and looking, and looking before leaping:

How long can one reasonably (and politely) keep an agent waiting, once the agent has offered representation? I have an offer from an agent I feel pretty good about,but he's the first agent I've had any extended conversation with. I've gotten some positive feedback from other agents, and have some opportunities to meet with others-- in a few months.

For various reasons, the agent who's offered representation wouldn't be able to do terribly much for me between now and then (project is not ready to be shopped immediately), but it feels weird to say hey, I need a few months. Would it piss you off if someone did that to you, or would you respect that they were taking time to consider all of their options?

Months? You have to wait for the spring thaw before snowmobiling over the chasm to get to the corner store and a telephone?

You don't need to MEET agents to get a sense of whether it's a good fit. Talk to them on the phone, read their websites, read the books they've handled.

It's not so much a matter of pissing an agent off, cause really, this is a business. It's not like he proposed marriage and you said you had to date a few more guys to make sure he was a better than average kisser.

Here's the risk you run by sitting around: his list will fill up. Agents make their money selling projects yes, but if we're sitting on ten unsold projects come spring, we're not going to be in a position to take on one more no matter how enticing it is. I've had this happen to people who wanted to interview a gazillion agents then came back to me. I had to say no cause I'd taken on two writers in the meantime and I was not prepared to take on anyone else.

Get your skates on. You've got people interested. Figure out who will work well with you and then move to the next step. Waiting around isn't in your best interest.

* Tomorrow. ya ya, now you've got it in your head. Join the crowd.

Today's nitwit

Miss Snark is reading novels. Unpublished novels of course; Miss Snark is reading the "yes I'll read your novel, send it along" submission stack.

I'm reading Novel Q for the second time. When I read it the first time, I thought the author had a pretty good book up till page 200 and then it fell apart like he'd lost not only his focus but his will to live. Miss Snark wrote him a two page letter with comments.

Back comes the revised version. I'm is reading merrily along, slowly realizing this thing doesn't hold up well in a second reading. And then, here it is. The exact same stuff that made me crazy the first time. Exactly.

Here's a big fat clue: if you think an agent's comments are not in line with your vision of the book or you don't intend to revise with those comments in mind...DON'T SEND IT AGAIN.

Find someone who agrees with your vision, since you clearly think the comments are off base.

This nitwit got two pages of comments before.
This time it's the form letter.
Singed at the edges.


Agents can be idiots too

I just received a rejection on my full and they said it was too long. They also said that fantasy is not "selling" right now, so they would have a hard time getting an editor to look at it. My questions are - is that just another way of saying that they didn't like my ms., because if they did, they could have had me cut things, right? Also, is fantasy not selling? I just read an article in USA Today that said it is on the rise.

Not every agent is as up to the minute on what's selling as the estimable Miss Snark, and the devotion of Snarklings who read the news. Query someone else who doesn't have their head in their ...turkey.

Pick a Pack of Pseudonyms

On the topic of pseudonyms - what about us poor souls with unpronounceable names? Is it better to have an "exotic" name from a marketing point of view or is it time to think of a name Redneck Joe wouldn't have trouble saying?

Ya, I wonder how much better that poor Janet Evanovich would have done with an easier name.
And Oscar Hijuelos might have won prizes...if he'd had a pronounceable name. And that Rafael Yglesias...he could have really been someone if he'd changed his name.

It's best to write really well. No one has to be able to say your name to buy the book.

The LAST word on neener neener, I hope.

I once sent a ms to a big agent and she called me to talk about my book. Although she said she couldn't rep it because she didn't know who would buy it, she did say she felt it would sell and that I should keep working on it and keep sending it out.

We talked for about 15 minutes on the phone and then she asked me to let her know when I sold it so she could celebrate with me. (She was telling me it wasn't ready for her or anyone else. I got that. But she was also telling me that it could be one day and that she loved the premise.)

That was 6 years ago. It sold this year and I did email her to let her know that it had sold and that I was putting her in the acknowledgements because she was so supportive of my work. She was thrilled and life goes on.

I know, it's another take on this whole thing. But this kind of thing happens, you know. We do make some relationships along the way with people who take an interest in our work. And it's those relationships that have kept me going over the years because when a professional tells you that you have what it takes but you need to work just a little bit harder to get your work to a marketable place, well, I listen.I've gotten help from several editors and a couple of agents, none of whom ended up repping/buying this book, and I am very appreciative for the honestly they used in talking to me about my work. They helped me see the truly important things in my books and that helped me learn to develop them.

You know what I'm saying, Miss Snark. I'm sure you've made a friend or two along the way and that there are writers you have helped but ended up not repping.

Like the devotion of Snarklings?
You bet.
And I'm indeed glad to hear of those successes.

The difference here between the original question and what you are talking about is that the agent ASKED YOU to stay in touch. Of course if someone asks for info, it's ok to send. When it's NOT is when it was just a run of the mill turn down, no matter how nice the letter was. Absent the gist of "please do let me know when this sells so I can celebrate with you"...don't.

Antique Credentials Roadshow

A Snarkling looks at the portfolio and wonders:

I have an odd writing credential. I write historical romance now, but in the early 80's I had several (mostly humorous) articles published in a book by one of the major houses. However, my name is not on the cover. This was a compilation of articles supposedly written by women from all over the country on topics of relevance to women. In reality, 3 friends of mine (the ones with their names on the cover) asked me to help them write the stinkin' thing, since they had almost zero response from women all over the country and a looming deadline.I wrote articles like "How to flirt" and "How to do a strip tease", most of them pseudonymously. Is this something worth mentioning in an agent query? Like "I had several articles published in (name of book, name of publisher)"? Or does this just seem like grasping at credentials?

Miss Snark attributes much of her success to reading that article on how to do a strip tease.

Much like the vaunted but anonymous "fixers" brought in to remedy ailing plays on Broadway, this work may have saved the writers' bacon but it's not attributable to you. Play doctors get a reputation for being the "go to girl" when things fall apart in the second act, but no credit on the program at all. If you were to continue to do this kind of work, you'd find your name being circulated by people looking for such "fixers"; we keep a rolodex of names of people who can do interesting and unusual things just in case.

As it stands, chalk this one up to doing a good deed. The universe owes you one!

1, 2, 3...

A Snarkling is running out of fingers and toes:

Should we use a computerized word count for our manuscript submissions or the 250 words per page calculation (Courier 12pt 1inch margins double spaced pages)? Thanks.

The 250 words/page estimate is a holdover from the days of typewriters. Now with the handy dandy word counter on your computer, use that. And you don't need to be so specific as to list 53,204 exactly.

Word count is a general idea. You can say 54K or around 54K and that conveys what we need to know at this stage.

This does NOT apply to children's early reader and picture books. Those requirements on word count are MUCH more strict.

What am I?

What exactly does "commercial fiction" mean? I wish to query an agent with my science fiction MS and the submission requirements of said agent read "Literary Fiction | Mystery | Commercial Fiction | Fantasy | Thrillers/Suspense." Do I read "commercial fiction" to mean common genres such as romance, science fiction or what have you? Or does "commercial fiction" refer to something specific?

I'm targeting said agent because of a specific book she repped that leads me to think she may like mine. But I've run into the "commercial fiction" wall before in Jeff Herman's book and don't know if that knocks her off my list or not.

If you write science fiction or fantasy, you want an agent who says those specific words in "what I'm looking for". SFF is commercially viable but it's not "commercial fiction". Commercial fiction is mainstream, page turner stuff. Think Nicholas Sparks. Think Jodi Picoult. Think Dan Brown. Think "sales rather than review strength."

Agents who want to read work in a genre will say so: mystery, sff, romance, western. If that's what you write, look for those words.

Commercial/literary, upmarket, downmarket, all refer to types of mainstream fiction, which despite some websites interesting ideas is NOT a genre.

Neener Neener, part two

Further on the idea of calling an editor who didn't buy your book to "share the good news" that it sold. This comment surfaced in the comments column:

It's not like she called her the nasty names that might have been inside her head. I wouldn't do it- but I suspect in the wacky world of publishing far stranger and far more rude things come across this editor's desk. I doubt she's on some master list with a black mark next to her name. I would chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.

Far more rude things? Like what? from my perspective as the one getting this kind of call/letter/email, there is no purpose other than to say "you fucked up." The original post described this as "sharing good news". What's good about it for me? Remember, we're not friends. We're not siblings. We're not old chums from prison.

I don't remember the people I have to reject for whatever reason. I DO remember the people who call me up and are snotty.

If you don't understand why this is snotty, just take my word for it. And for everyone else, no matter what, do NOT call an agent or editor to tell them you placed a work elsewhere UNLESS they have the work in active consideration. I don't care if you think you know them, love them, have had sex with them even without regrets in the morning. Just don't. Y


Odd "credentials"..waste of space?

Dear Miss Snark,

A question about information to include in query letters. While I don't believe you deal with my genre - romance - perhaps the question and your answer will help not only myself, but others in different genres.

In romance, it's basically a rule of thumb to include not only any past publishing credits, but any romance related groups you belong to, such as Romance Writers of America. For some reason it makes you seem more dedicated to your writing, and hence, gives a tad more weight to your query.

Now my question is -and you'll have to generalize on this - what impact would it make for a writer to include in the experience section of the query to list that h/she also performs interviews for numerous authors in the same genre? Say for online websites, online mags, etc. etc. You couldn't actually call it a publishing credit.

I'm wondering about this because I've been doing interviews for authors in my genre since long before I became published. In doing so, my pen name (which I picked early on) is becoming more and more recognized by people in my target market, author and reader alike. Would a small mention in the query letter be appropriate, or just a waste of typing space?

These are not publishing credits of course but it is enticing info and should be mentioned. Why? Cause when you get published, those authors will be approachable for blurbs and promo muscle. Big fat juicy rolodexes of contacts are nice things to have.

You don't need to mention tons of details but if you can say "I've interviewed more than two dozen of the top names in romance including Miss Dewey, Miss Cheatham and Miss Howe for the Shyster Gazette" it will certainly be useful info.

Miss Snark does not condone...

Dear Miss Snark, A month ago, I called an editor at a big house in NY to share with her the good news that in Spring '07 my novel--that she rejected a couple of years ago, after keeping me hanging for months on end--is going to be published by another big house in NY. She was, as always, chilly about the whole thing. I thanked her for her interest, which kept me writing, and wished her well. After I hung up, I felt, well, wretched. Although I didn't actually say, "Nah-nah! You missed out!" my motives included this sentiment. Was it okay to let Miss Icicle know I am not spinning off into void because she didn't like my stuff?

No. This is called gloating. It ill becomes you, and you know it cause you felt wretched.

The only time it is ok to make these "neener neener" calls is if an editor still has your manuscript. Then it's called "withdrawing my work from consideration".

Love or money?

Dear Miss Snark,

Let's imagine you were given the chance to represent the next James Patterson or the next Martin Amis (or insert your favorite literary genius here). No one would fault you for going with the meal ticket over the genius, as crapola tends to make much more money than brilliant writing.

However, from your blogging persona I've gotten the sense that you're
aesthetically repulsed by the usual sex-and-shopping ditzfests and self-help bozothons that most agents use to meet their profit margins. So which is it for you: Love or money?

I ask because I've already taken the Ms Snark literary self-improvement course (and what kind of snarky advice is that to give to someone: get a library card?) and can already write like the Dickens. I'm not worried about whether or not an agent thinks I'm any good--I want to know if an agent is remotely concerned with anything other than how much they much money a given property might make them. This is important because it seems to me that if an agent was passionately in love with a given manuscript, she would be willing to do almost anything to help get it published. So what I'm asking is, which is it for you: love or money?

Not all aesthetically pleasing projects are dogs at the cash register. Miss Snark very happily represents some nice cash cows that don't repulse her at all.

That said, James Patterson isn't coming over my transom any time soon and that's ok cause I couldn't do a good job representing him.

If you write well, I'm going to take a serious look at your work. But I'm also going to consider whether I can place it. Miss Snark is a snob but she's not a bottomless pit of money and if a project doesn't sell she eats ALL the expenses.

I will sell something I love to a small publisher for not very much dough if I have to in order to get a client's work out into the world. I'm convinced some of those projects will earn significant dough on the back list and I've been right more than once.

Love or money? Baby, I want it all!

I love you I love you now change

A Snarkling sends a link:

If you haven't already seen this, you might find it entertaining: Free Rewrites
Interesting story. You'll notice he did NOT have an agent when he was doing the rewriting. I'm not sure of the specifics of course, and I don't work in kid lit, but no one is doing massive rewrites without a contract here. I've never actually had an editor jerk a client around like that. It doesn't make much sense for an editor to spend his/her time on a project they aren't serious about.

I have had editors who've suggested massive changes. I sold the books to someone else.

More more more!

Dear Miss Snark,

I have been thinking a great deal about the recent WSJ piece that talks about how midlist writers (crime fiction writers in particular) have been forced to write under pseudonyms when the computers at Border's and B&N decide that sales aren't worth ordering any new titles written by the "old" names. This seems to spell the death of the "old" name as well as any series written by that name. Have you had to drop this piece of news onto a snarky client? How does a writer effectively change gears like this? It seems to me it would be very painful. And, given the fact that Jeremiah Healy and Reed Farrell Coleman aren't exactly making a secret of this, isn't this one big chain-store circle jerk?

I haven't had to drop that ugly piece of news on a client, but I've got friends and colleagues in this exact situation. It sux. A lot.

Some explanation: publishers demand that writers sell increasing quantities of subsequent books they publish. Book one can sell five thousand copies, book two six thousand but by book five you've got to sell forty thousand. If you don't, the publisher doesn't renew the contract. It's very similar to get promoted or get out in the military. If you don't make a certain rank by a certain age, they ask you to retire.

Why do this you ask? It seems shortsighted; the book is selling. The reason is that if you've got ten authors selling 40,000 books each year, you've got a full list and no way for someone new to break in. Logjam.

And a logjam means it's harder to publish the novelist they're all looking for: the breakout book that is going to sell a zillion copies.

The reason publishers want zillion copy sellers from one writer instead of ten writers each selling one-tenth of a zillion is because of unit cost.

Unit cost is the cost of each book sold. Add up all the cost for printing, editorial time, design time, and a percentage of the fixed cost like heats light and water and voila and voila: what it costs to make a book happen. That cost is almost same if you sell 3000 books or 30000 books.

You can see where I'm going here. The REVENUE is significantly higher for 30,000 books than for 3,000 so publishers with the roughly the same costs would really rather sell more than less. Not so stupid.

What truly drives the madness of sell more or get lost is that publishers have to show an increase in earnings these days. It's not enough to bring in steady revenue. They always have to show MORE or suffer the wrath of Wall Street and the head office in BeanCounter, France.

Understanding how this works, doesn't make it more palatable and there are some very very anguished authors these days. However, the free market system will rise to the occasion and you'll see a lot more smaller publishers picking up big names and happily publishing 40,000 copies till the cows come home. And that is good news for those of us who like to read Reed Farrell Coleman and others in this boat.

Do Stepping Stones Sink?

Dear Miss Snark, I have one category romance, from two years ago, under my belt. I'm querying agents now with a literary women's fiction manuscript and I'm wondering if I'm getting snickers. My romance is a legitimate publishing credit, granted, but should I leave it off and only mention my other pub credit, some literary anthology work? I ask because I sent an e-mail query to an agent about my literary women's fiction ms, listing my lone romance as a pub credit, and received the response that she didn't handle category romance. As rejections roll in from single page query letters, I'm wondering if my romance is being considered my litmus test. Do stepping stones sink? I certainly want to be as forthcoming as possible, but do you think the romance title should be left off?

Single query page letter? Miss Snark raps your knuckles with her swagger stick.
You need to include your writing!! How else am I going to see what a fabulous writer you are?

And don't take off the romance publishing credit. It's a much more persuasive credential than a literary anthology (but put that in too of course).

The most important thing is that the agent see what you're writing NOW is not the same thing you published in the first book (and you didn't publish with any of those fly by night places did you, cause those don't count at all).

Remember, agents read query letters FAST. It's entirely possible we will miss some key information in a cover letter. Good writing trumps everything; make sure an agent at least sees what you've written.

Rejected Second Hand!

Not to obsess too much over a rejection letter, but...

I queried the Senior Editor, received a request for the full from same senior editor, but the rejection letter came from the Editorial Assistant. The rejection letter was your basic "does not suit our current needs." The last line read, "And should you feel you have a manuscript suitable for X Books in the future, I strongly hope you'll feel free to query me again."

I figured that was basic politeness, but one of my writing friends insists that's a positive note meaning I don't suck and that she really wants to see something else from me. What do you think? Common courtesy or invitation? And, does it mean I should query directly to the Editorial Assistant instead of the Senior Editor listed on the website as the contact?

Your friend is right. If you sucked you'd have gotten a rejection letter with no hint whatsoever that you should ever contact them again.

Don't query the editorial assistant though. First of all, s/he's the assistant to the editor you queried most likely, which is why you heard from her. Second, editorial assistants move around like water drops on a hot frying pan. If they're good, they move up. If they discover they hate publishing, they leave. What that means to you is you'd be sending a query to someone not there, and if enough time has passed, no one remembers. Not a good place for a query.

If it makes you feel better, I get rejection letters from editorial assistants too, even when I've spoken to the editors about a project. I call em up and introduce myself of course but that's only cause I'll be talking to them once a month until they leave and it's always nice to know who they are.

Bottom line: keep writing. You're on the right path. And pay attention to your friend's advice about the stock market too.


Jennifer Weiner interview at Bat Segundo!

Kitty reminded me of this wonderful interview with Jennifer Weiner over here.

Something to listen to while the turkey toasts!
It's a podcast that runs about 51 minutes.

You want stupid? oh man, have I got one for you

Today...by 8am I had done something so stupid it's beyond imagination. I was wondering if in honor of my stupidity you could relate to us one of the stupidest things an author, editor, etc has done in your general direction.

Oh, I'll do you one better. I'll give you a story of Miss Snark doing something so stupid that family members STILL remind her of it YEARS later.

Back when Miss Snark managed to snag a sheepskin and matriculate from an institution of higher learning (bribes are not tax deductible; did you know that?), she decided to bestow her presence on the world. Traveling with a bevy of friends Miss Snark embarked upon the Grand Tour. London, Paris, Venice, the fleshpots of the Casbah...Miss Snark was ready for anything.

While in London, the idea arose that instead of gadding about on stuffy old rail cars, the Snark Ensemble would ...drive. Yes indeed. In a right hand drive vehicle. Well. Arrangements were made, a vehicle secured, permits stolen, and off we went in style. Those round abouts in Britain were quite the adventure..who knew you were supposed to stop?? We thought the Brits were a tad vocal in their welcoming..turns out that "you bloody twit of a girl" doesn't mean "hi let's get a beer at the nearest pub" even when it's said in plummy tones.

So, the adventure continues. We motor about England. Then, the idea dawns that really, we could just drive over to France too. So we do. On a Sunday no less.

We zip off the ferry in France. France! Land of cheese, snooty waiters and DIOR!! We're all a'twitter. Then we realize the car is not just a'twitter, it's a'shakin. We need petrol and soon.

We motor up the road and find a petrol station. Miss Snark leaps out and gazes at the pumps. Mind you, she's been studying French since she was a pup, and can read not only novels but nuances of the sneers of French waiters.

She pumps the petrol, pays the French version of Trixie the Truckstop waitress, leaps back into LeCar and speeds off into the French countryside in pursuit of adventure. Marvelleux.

Soon it becomes apparent something is very very wrong. LeCar is having le last gasp. It is shaking more than Killer Yapp at a Doberman poker parlor. Le Car is clearly les miserable.

We limp into the next ville. We just happen to see a sign "Renault" and we are driving a Renault. Huzzah. Into the repair shop we go. We climb out of the car like clowns at Ringling Brothers. The grizzled grease monkeys with unlit Gauloise hanging from their sneering lips eye us like we're cherry tarts fresh from Le Frigidaire.

Miss Snark steps up to the plate. In all her years at Miss Muffet's Finishing School for Girls, automotive repair has never been on the French vocabulary quiz. No matter. "Ma voiture est malade," Miss Snark smiles. "Aidez-moi, s'il vous plait?".

The Gallic grease monkeys drop their gauloise and their sneers and laugh uproariously. But by god, they gather round and through various combinations of French, English, note paper and drawings that could be in the abstract expressionist wing at the Met, it is determined that Miss Snark has, oh yes, filled Le Car with Le Diesel.

Diesel of course is toxic on normal engines. And that they sell it at the pump next to regular and unleaded is clearly madness, but they do. And Miss Snark had never realized that Gazoil is French for "diesel". Well, now she knows.

And so does Amex who paid the freight on that little repair. Cost me two pairs of Manolos to fix the damn thing.

Estupide? Certainment.

And of course, whenever Miss Snark needs to be brought down a peg or two by her nearest and dearest DNA pool party mates, they simply say "gazoil" and Miss Snark is crushed into silence.


Further on breaking the rules:

The funniest thing about the article (don't go into seizure Miss Snark) The manuscripts were bound!

Miss Snark faints dead away.
The only things WORSE than unsolicted manuscripts are bound unsolicited manuscripts.
This calls for a double dip of the gin pail.

You want a look at the slush pile?

I just love the web. Clicking through on a story from Media Bistro just now, I found myself at Rosedog.com. It looks a bit like the Bookner concept, but without the review process.

Take a look. If you click through "walk through the showcase" and then select 'novel' and then 'mystery' you'll see the list I selected for. I like mysteries, I've always got my eye peeled for a good one.

So, once you read that list you'll see pretty much what my slush pile looks like on a bad day.

Notice the spelling errors? Notice the complete lack of hooks?

More important, notice how you start to skim, or skip cause you haven't seen anything you want to read more about?

I'd be very interested to see if anyone from this list has gotten representation or a sale.

magna cum silent

So I went to school with this one woman. She became an agent in a very reputable agency. I queried her. Didn't hear from her. Now, was I wrong in expecting to hear from her even if it was to say hey, wassup, how are you, but no thanks? I really expected her to respond. So far, out of all the agents I've queried, she's the only letter that has gone unanswered. Thanks.

Well, the first thing I'd wonder is if you included an SASE. And no snarling about how "of course you did" cause mistakes happen.

The other thing is if you think it's fun rejecting total strangers, think of how much MORE fun it is to reject people who knew you when you had braces, spots, and a cassette tape player full of Duran Duran.

She may be taking the easy way out by not responding. Miss Snark has embraced that path on more than one occasion to her everlasting shame.

You might query one more time, make sure you throw in an SASE, and then, if no answer, there's your answer.

Unsolicited manuscripts

In the December edition of Writer's Digest, a contributing author indicates how she obtained an agent with her debut novel - she broke all the rules. In addition to ignoring industry protocol on several other points, she mailed her complete 200-page YA novel rather than query agents and wait for requests to review a partial, and then the entire manuscript. She suggests this gives an agent three chances to reject you, so she bypassed the traditional process. I find logic in her initiative, but fear pissing off agents who could potentially view this as presumptuous that they would want to read my complete hard-boiled manuscript. What is your take on this?

This drives me crazy. I hate those "I broke the rules and made it" stories cause now, I've got 600 full manuscripts in MY mailroom, and I can tell you exactly what is going to happen to them: nothing. From a purely practical perspective it's a total waste of money.

Yes, people get published in odd ways. Does that mean that it's the correct way to go? No.
For every "success" story like this there are 250 very unhappy unpublished writers who can't figure out why they didn't hear back from an agent after they sent an unsolicited manuscript.

Now, for those Snarklings who read every post with an eye for consistency--how does this jibe with my lament about being unable to throw away query letters unread? Surely the same principal applies? Well, no.

Unsolicited manuscripts are big, fat, space hogs. Query letters are svelte. For some reason I don't feel a single twinge when I toss manuscripts unread. And I do. All the time. I do not want to spend my time reading unsolicited manuscripts. I want to spend it reading work I've expressed an interest in. And really, if you think about it, so do you.

Why Writers Digest doesn't publish that with a warning "don't try this at home" I do not know.

Verily, do you suque?

Miss Snark, I'm far from published but I've won awards for writing in the past, and I like to believe I'm good at it -- maybe not incredible, maybe not great, but a solid performer anyway. I've finished a novel and I've done my homework in querying agents, but all I've gotten is "sorry, not right for us," time and time again. Verily, I suck?

Ah, the age old conundrum: good but not good enough. Verily, you sucketh not probably. You just aren't offering up something that is in the 98th and above percentile. Which means if you write in the 96th or 97th percentile, you're writing damn good stuff..but not quite right.

I'm sure it must be maddening.

All I can say is, hold on to those pages and run them through the Snarkometer when it comes back from vacation in Fargo North Dakota. Maybe I can give you more specific comments once I see it.

Till then, soak up some really good books and tune your eye for great writing. Latest example of a guy who breaks every rule in the book and yet is mesmerizing: Matches by Alan Kaufman. It's about war, be forewarned.

So, how much money do you make, dear?

As an wanna-be writer just about to start sending out her first manuscript, I'm getting a lot of weird looks from my family when I tell them that selling a book does not equal finding a suitcase full of money. If it's not too rude to ask, what's a common advance for a first novel? I'd like to have some realistic figures to give them over turkey when the questions start flying at Thanksgiving.

I about fell off my chair at BEA when Gillian Blake said the "average advance" she paid was $40K. Fortunately I was held in place by six other slack jawed agents in the row of chairs. We all wished that was the case.

Gillian Blake is the chief bigwig at Bloomsbury. They publish really great fiction very selectively. They probably DO pay an average of $40K but unless the only place I'm selling is Bloomsbury and their ilk (Holt, FSG, Random, Viking, SimonandSchuster, Warner) my average is going to drop like a rock when you factor in the small presses I sell to.

And make no mistake about it: I sell a lot to small presses. I love those guys. They are willing to take risks, to publish books that only need to sell 10,000 copies to be a raging success, and generally they don't have to answer to HerrGottzRocs from the mother company overseas.

So, if I can sell your novel to Bloomsbury, drag out the Louis Vuitton and let's rub the relatives nose in your new found suitcase of fun.

If I sell it to Ig Publishing in Brooklyn, you'll make money on the back end we hope but up front isn't going to break any records.

Now, I know this is delicate territory but if someone asks you what a writer earns you can just smile very enigmatically and say "my agent handles the money end of things. I just write GREAT prose." This works for everyone but your dad if you still have an account at the First Bank of Father.

I'm partial to you

I recently attended a writers' conference. I met with three agents there, all of whom requested that I send in the first three chapters of my manuscript for consideration. Would it be best if I send my chapters to one agent and wait for a response before sending to another, or is it okay to send a partial to all three at once?

Send them all off at once. Agents who attend conferences expect multiple submissions. In fact, if you slink around in the Snarchives you'll find my rant on exclusivity (it stinks-don't do it).

You don't even have to mention how many agents are reading this unless asked. Multiple submissions is the default setting these days.

Your cover letter MUST mention in the first paragraph that the agent met you at Winnemuca Word Wrangle and asked to see your work.

Comment moderation is ON

I turned on comment moderation, and turned off word verification. Also, you don't have to have a blogger account to comment now either. I figured if I was looking at all of them first, the spam and the nitwits can get chomped on without the added layers.

Let's see how this works. Feel free to let me know if you think it sux.

Keep Hope Alive!

I began querying agents, convinced my novel would be rejected at once. Imagine my surprise and delight when several asked to see chapters. Since then I've received some feedback. Yippee, I thought, I'm actually getting advice from publishing professionals!

I fell upon the first comments with enthusiasm hoping to use them to improve my story, but as more came in I noticed something odd. They contradict each other. Somebody loved the protagonist and setting but wasn't too thrilled with the plot, another thought the concept was great but didn't fall in love with the heroine. One told me they loved the way the setting was described, another mentioned too much description bogs the story down.

Miss. Snark, please put me out of my gin soaked misery - does this mean the whole thing is rubbish and they just can't bring themselves to tell me, or is there still hope?

First, if one is gin soaked, one is not miserable. It's a contradiction in terms. One might be flammable; one might be unconscious in the gutter, but miserable? Never.

Second, not only is there hope, you've probably got something pretty good. I know this cause you're getting feedback. If you're getting "sorry not right for us; do query my unlucky colleagues with this drivel" then I'd think it was you.

In this case it's us. The short clever answer is we think we know it all but sadly, only Miss Snark knows it all. No more than you and your friends are going to agree on what makes Guido Pompadour the leading practitioner of Elvis on velvet paintings (available at your nearest roadside attraction) will agents agree on what they like or don't about a novel in progress.

Here's my advice: save the letters. Let them sit for a bit, like a month. Get over the giddiness of discovering correspondence that doesn't say "your work sux". Then reread the letters. Some will make sense. Some will sound stupid. Pay really close attention to the ones that sound stupid.

In my experience authors get so close to their work that they sometimes miss some major faults. Then, when those faults are listed, they disregard the list as idiotic. It's the stuff out of left field that can give you breakthrough ideas.

On the other hand it could be crap too. But, you can't even begin to look at this with a degree of objectivity till some time has passed. Have a great Holiday season and look at this after the New Year. And lay off the gin, Miss Snark needs to replenish her pail soon.


Default answer

Sometimes there are exceptions to the wait-till-you're-finished rule. An agent asked me to query; I did, with an explanation that the novel wasn't finished yet and perhaps I should contact her again when it was. She asked for a partial and a synopsis (which I'm now scrambling to write) immediately. But the thing is, she knew up front it wasn't done; in fact, I told her I didn't know the word count either. She still wanted to see it. Wouldn't recommend this as standard procedure, however.

There are lots of rules I yap about here, and almost all of them have exceptions. Some of you may have noticed I edited your emails to take OUT the weird and unusual things you did before I post comments on the blog. I do this for a reason.

By its very nature this blog has to give general answers. First, it's written from my experience base and no matter how hard hell freezes over, I'm not going to become Binky Urban and have her experiences.

Second, I can't parse out every possible exception because I'm missing very critical information : what you're writing. I don't mean just category (although I often don't even know if it's fiction or non fiction) but also the quality of the work you do.

Third, quality itself is subjective. I sold a book today that 26 editors didn't buy. It's the same book for each editor and I know darn good and well some of them thought I was nuts for loving it. (ha on them!).

My answers here are the default setting. Expressed another way: they are the hump in the bell curve and cover about 60-80% of the situations you'll encounter.

That other 20-40% will be the exceptions. But it's like keyboard shortcuts: you gotta know what you're doing before you starting reconfiguring your system or you're gonna end up with a hard drive crash and the blue screen of death..never a happy place to be.

Some Pig!

I'm close to finishing the last draft of my novel before I polish and start querying. I know it is likely that an interested agent will ask for changes before starting to shop to editors. So - what changes do you typically ask authors to make? What changes do editors typically want? (Plot? Characterization?) Do you find these changes involve extreme changes to the work, or minor ones? What is the line between a work you will accept that needs more work, or one you reject because it needs too much? Most of all, how do you suggest changes that will improve the work and still hold true to the author's vision?

Well, first of course, in order to prove themselves worthy, all clients must translate their work into pig Latin. We call these first translation rights. Very valuable.

Then, we call in the pig Latin editors and switch all the first person narratives to third cause first person pig Latin isn't melodious. Just try saying aye yay yay yay a lot and not sounding like you need a guitar and sombrero.

Then of course we change all the endings to a deus ex machina pig pull in Charlotte North Carolina. This is cause we revere the work of EB White and his masterpiece.

Tossing Submissions unread

Miss Snark is a heartless beast. She's nasty, cruel and mean. She's been known to shove elderly ladies aside at Westminster so Killer Yapp can gaze with awe upon the bitch of his dreams.

Yet, even Miss Snark, terror of the slush pile that she is, cannot bring herself to discard mail unopened.

She's undergone aversion therapy, hydrotherapy and thermonuclear therapy to overcome this failing, all to no avail.

Other perhaps are not so flawed but Miss Snark reads every dang letter that she gets. Kind of like Santa Claus. Santa Snark. Oh ya. I see a Macy's balloon in my future.

Good news for the dragon riders amongst us

Stolen from Publishers Lunch today with absolutely no shame and remorse is this tidbit of news that will make you fantasy writers hap hap happy!

Fantasy Rises
Genre fiction of all kinds has flourished in recent years, and fantasy has been particularly strong--helped by Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but much deeper, too, evidenced most recently by strong anticipation and sales for new books by George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Christopher Paolini.

BN buyer James Killen tells USA Today, "Fantasy makes up roughly half the sales in the science-fiction/fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, and the lion's share of that is 'epic' or 'heroic' fantasy - adventures of huge scale told over numerous volumes. On average, we've seen annual increases over the last few years in the area of 10% to 15%." And Borders'sci-fi and fantasy buyer Micha Hershman adds, "We have seen a double-digit increase in sales this year over the same period last year."
USA Today

Oh by the way, Miss Snark will now handle the details

I couldn't get an agent so I finished my non-fiction book and just got a yes from a trade/academic press. Should I now look for an agent or will this upset the publishing company? What's the protocol when you submit without an agent and get accepted?

Publishers don't think agents eat small children for breakfast. Mostly.
They actually champion literary agents for a variety of reasons (mostly self serving ones, but better than being considered scum on the pond of life).

It's very much ok to involve an agent at this stage.

The thing is you're going to have to get your skates on. You don't have a gazillion years to consider the offer. This is when you EMAIL agents with the subject line: "I have an offer and I need an agent".

Academic houses are notorious for buying every right they can get their claws on without any way to exploit it. Can you say: audio, foreign and film rights.

At the very very least, you MUST have the contract offer reviewed by someone who understands the arcane argot of the publishing contract. An agent is fine, a lawyer too.

Nitwit Question of the day..and it's still early

What are your snarky thoughts on unpublished authors with web sites? Necessity or nonsense?

Cause there should be quality control for website posting? Good luck with that idea Inspector 11.

If someone puts his/her work on the web, so what?
The only time I'm involved is if you send me an email with a link and invite me to read it.
Default answer: thanks, no.
I have enough to read.
Nitwit questions for starters.

Agent Web Pages

Shouldn't an agent have a web page? It is very frustrating to research agents only to find tidbits of information on search engines or in the front of books (dedications) or in outdated at publication, writing books (LMP, Writers Digest Books) It is so much easier if they'd share via web. After all it is (almost) 2006. Perhaps what I should be asking is why is it so darn difficult to find information about an agent, besides the basics (name, address, serial number and AAR membership)?

They don't want to hear from you. You're surprised? You haven't been paying attention.

Some agents have full client lists. They might take on one or two new clients a YEAR, if that. They get those clients by referral: from editors, other agents, their authors or other seriously connected to the lit world folks. Those agents don't want a slush pile. They are also the ones most likely to get slush cause they're successful.

A web page is an advertising tool. It's like a listing in the yellow pages. If you don't want customers you don't list in the Yellow Pages.

I'm absolutely unconvinced that a web presence increases the quality of the submissions I get. Therefore, from my perspective, I'm paying out good money to create work for myself that won't be financially rewarding. This is the very definition of stupid. Miss Snark is a lot of things at 8:36 am but stupid isn't one of them.


The Great Wait Debate

As an unpublished author working on their first book, I was wondering if you recommended finishing the book first or if you thought it was ok to query an agent if I found one I wanted to work with. This particular agent wants a one page query letter giving some info about my book and myself before they will decide to ask for a synopsis, etc. Since it takes time for everyone in the publishing world to do things is it ok to get the ball rolling even if I'm not done yet?

No. You have to finish it. Then you have to polish it. Then you can query.

Third Time is a Charm!

I have a question and I couldn't think of a better place to go for a (brutally) honest answer, so if you think the other Snarklings would be interested I hope you might respond. I've seen the question come up a couple of times about when you give up on an unsold project, but I've not seen the question of when you give up on a client entirely.

Have you ever taken on several of a client's books before one of them sold? How many is too many?
My agent is shopping around two of my novels - one for a couple of years and the other for a few months - and neither has sold (yet, I still hold out hope especially for the later one).

This is a reputable agent who's represented successful authors and my manuscripts have gone to good editors at good houses that buy the types of books I've written, so the agent is not the problem, I am (or my books are).
Now I'm working on a third novel, but if the others remain unsold when it's finished, is it just horribly poor form to ask my agent to look at yet another one? I know the market is tough, but how long can I just to be a drain on the system, costing this agency money and bringing in none?

I know that's a judgment call for the particular agent and of course I will ask, but I'm interested in your opinion as well. Is my situation odd or does this sometimes happen? If I were your client, would you want me to just go away?
Thank you for your blog. I know you hear it all the time, but you do rock. Greetings to Killer Yapp. Do we sign these advice column style, like "Confused in Texas" or something?
Let's see, how about just,


You're right that the only person who can answer this question is your agent. I've sold second novels before firsts. I've never sold novels for clients I still have. I've cut loose clients I don't think I can sell. Each choice is absolutely individual. There is no blanket policy of "two books and get the hook" kind of a thing.

I have two novels and a memoir that I think are just great and I can't sell them to save my life. About every six months I call the three clients and say "I'm still paddling away here but nothing yet". They are kind enough not to lose faith despite the total lack of evidence I'll be able to make this happen.

So, don't worry about offending us or getting on our nerves. Writing good novels even if we can't sell them is never offensive or nerve wracking.

Killer Yapp says "yo, woof".

New Snark City

Rooting out Evil

1) Pretend you work at one of the big agencies in NYC, some outfit from page one of www.everyonewhosanyone.com , Trident Media or William Morris or whomever. How do you get paid? Are you on a draw? Any rough idea what the split is with the house?

Nope, not a clue. Miss Snark has never worked at any of those places and hasn't yet asked how her friends can afford their bar bill.

2) Talk to me about joint accounting. Only bestselling authors can have each book stand on its own, right? Or does that vary from publisher to publisher?

It varies from publisher to publisher and on how the books are sold. One offs are generally accounted for one by one. That is, I sell a book to Publisher Z and Z sends royalty statements on that book and only that book. If the book fails to earn out the advance, their loss.

Joint accounting is the concept that books are bundled accounting wise: if you sell book A and book B to the same publisher, the accounting is on one page. Most important, if A fails to earn out the advance, and B is making money hand over snout, the publisher can use the revenue from B to "top off" the account for A and make it break even.

As you might imagine, this is not a concept I like. There is no up side for the author. Generally you don't run into this in a contract unless you have a multiple book deal on one contract, or an option. I negotiate them away with vigor. Publishers love them cause it's another shot at not losing money, the greedy beasts.

You're Not in AAR? Off with your head!

In the comments to a previous post someone mentioned that it's important an agent have AAR membership. Several big name agents at big houses aren't AAR members. If they offered representation, I'd leap at it. What am I missing here? Also how about an update on books you've enjoyed reading this year and, more importantly, why they worked for you.

You're only missing the info that AAR frowns on book packaging and some big agents do that work. Also, some agents don't belong cause they aren't looking for new clients. And some cantankerous and brutally effective agents subscribe to the Woody Allan "oops, wrong person" Groucho Marx dicta: I'd belong to no club that will have me as a member.

Principally AAR is a marketing tool for agents: we subscribe to this code of ethics, have to meet a minimum standard for admission etc. The benefit is we can market ourselves as AAR members. There are other benefits too of course, but principally it's a shorthand way of saying the agent has been in business, made sales, and promises not to rob you blind.

There are some very well respected agents who don't belong. You're wise to know not to dismiss them out of hand. Like every rule, there are exceptions. This is one.

And I'll do the list of books but more toward the end of the year I think when I have a chance to collect my wits from where I left them on a cross town bus.

Multiple Personalities

I'm trying to find representation for a science fiction novel (yeah, yeah, I know... but the characters decided on THAT, not me) and the pool of agents to query is smaller than for other genres. I'm still in the single digits in acquiring rejection slips but already feel the walls closing in.

Say Mr. Big-Time-Agent Agency reads science fiction submissions. I try him and he rejects me. However, several other agents who accept science fiction submissions are also at the agency. Do I consider Mr. Big's dimissal a blanket rejection? Or is there a problem about approaching other agents within his agency? HE didn't want it-- but perhaps another agent there does.

I've asked people in my writing group and the opinions were varied. So, I'm going to One Who Actually Knows Stuff *s*.

Thanks for great information you provide on regular basis. Your blog has provided me lots of insight.

Snarkling X (who works in the TV industry and has actually been around Mr. Clooney but never worked directly with him. If that changes, I'll be sure to give him your regards *s*)
Los Angeles, California

Around him? Works for me!! I'll send the contracts overnight.
oh wait...
must turn away from the ethical lapse...
must not behave badly in full view of the devotion of snarklings far and wide...

Actually, I don't know the answer to this question.
I fly solo. Killer Yapp wanted to represent Paris Hilton's jilted dog in a tail-all memoir, but he had a hard time finding Tinkerbelle's new address.

My educated guess is that you can query everyone in the agency without fear of overstepping. Surely they don't agree on every client or have one bite satisfies all policies.

But, I'll be glad to hear from other folks who work in multiple person agencies weigh in on this. AgentKate are you listening?

Yaddo, Dabba Do I!

I've seen you discuss writers conferences quite a bit on your blog, but no mention of artist colonies. Clearly, several weeks at a retreat with nothing to do but write is a wonderful opportunity for a writer, but how are these seen in the larger publishing world? Does the mention in a query of fellowships to colonies with highly competitive application procedures -- such as the MacDowell Colony or Yaddo -- get your attention any more or less than, say, publications in well-regarded journals? Your blog is wildly entertaining and a great boon to writers. Thanks for taking the time.

Writers Colonies! Miss Snark has heard such wild tales she almost wishes to take up the pen and apply.

For those not familiar with the concept: Writers retreats or writers colonies like MacDowell, Yaddo, and Hedgebrook are like going to a free hotel for writers. Nothing to do but write all day. Many of them do your meals too, or do meals cooperatively so you don't have to starve. It's also a great place to meet other serious writers. No editors, agents or snarks attend. Here's a link to a whole slew of them Artists Communities

You bet I pay attention to that in a cover letter. For starters, MacDowell, Yaddo et al are not first come first served. You have to apply -and the competition is pretty stiff. If you get in, that's akin to a literary journal publishing your work: someone read it and thinks you've got something to say in an interesting way.

It would be impossible to quantify "more or less". Sufficient unto the day to say if you won a fellowship to one of these places, it's definitely worth mentioning unless you have six prize winning novels you'd tell me about first.

Steam Heat!

Three weeks ago I mailed Agent A a query letter and one page synopsis. She responded via e-mail within a week, asking for first three chapters and full novel outline. I mailed them pronto. Within another week she PHONES me and leaves a message asking that I call her back. Whooeee! This agent is a biggee. So I call her back, her receptionist puts me on hold for maybe ten secs max. Heart palpitations. Surely the agent is calling to request representation. Then the Illustrious Agent is chatting with me, saying how much she loves my writing--- but that the novel doesn't quite have enough "heat." Big sigh.

But she wants to see something else of mine. So I describe the beginning of Novel Two (totally different from One) and she says e-mail it in Word, which I have done.

What's going on here? I'm encouraged to a degree. I suspect the story of Novel One didn't quite get it. It sounded to me as if Agent A is saying I've got the technical skills of fine writing, but it's what I'm writing ABOUT (i.e., compelling story) that is the hold up.

Sounds about right to me.
I'm not sure what the technical definition of "heat" is, but it's probably akin to what Miss Snark describes as "oomph". Does it produce a visceral reaction in the reader? Do you have to set the book down sometimes to catch your breath?

Sounds like you've got an agent on the hook to read your stuff! Burn baby burn!

Robbing Peter to pay Snark

Do agents take on people who are self-publishing?

No. Agents make their money by taking a percentage of the money paid to an author by a publisher. If the publisher and the author are the same person, the agent didn't sell the book and thus, no commission.

The Velveteen Snark

How can a real, working, successful agent have so much time to blog all day. With this many posts each day, methinks you ain't real...

Ah yes; I don't fit your vision of what a "real, working successful agent" should be, so the problem is me. Right.

This is the same lack of critical thinking that on the flip side allowed Dorothy Deering (TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING) to hoodwink people into giving her hundreds if not thousands of dollars to agent their books. They wanted to believe she was an agent so much they didn't actually LOOK at what she was doing. In this email we have someone (and there have been others) who are so convinced no agent could or would do this that they don't actually LOOK at what's going on.

Ask yourself: do the posts make sense? Am I telling you anything that doesn't jibe with what you've read or experienced in your own publishing career?

Second: look at the comments or questions from self identified agents or editors. Do they write in to say "Miss Snark you're full of it"? You only need to look as far as the Bookner website to realize editors aren't shy about calling them as they see em. Corollary: realize that anyone can comment if they have a blogger account, I don't review comments before posting, and you don't see a bunch of comments withdrawn. From that you might reasonably conclude that people, if they want, can comment that the post is crap and it will appear on the comments column.

Third: You're basing your doubt on the thing you know the least about: the amount of time Miss Snark has available. Unless you work in this office or live at Snark Central, you don't know anything.

Here's some info for you to consider: I don't take care of children. I don't drive. I don't cook. I don't keep house. That alone adds about three hours of available time to my day that other people don't have...if not more.

You're welcome to think what you want of course. I'm not quite sure what you want to accomplish by sending me emails expressing doubt that I'm real. Perhaps you can't figure out how someone else can do this cause you can't?