Synopsis and the beauty of brevity

Should a synopsis give a flavor for the writer's style, or do you view this simply as a means to an end--a tool to make sure the story has plot and doesn't veer off in any wierd directions?

I've heard some agents/editors say, lose the fancy stuff and just tell them the plot, then I've heard others say it should be a tool that sells your story AND your writing style. I guess it could be both but I know from my painful struggles that an effort to write both a pithy and artful synopsis often leads to insanity.

I can't tell you how many times I've had to rein in my voice in a synopsis because in trying to write it in the same voice I would the story, it ran too long. Now, my synopses have a little flavor for my voice, or I think they do, but recently a contest judge said my two-page (double spaced) synopsis didn't show off my voice. I'm not sure I believe her, but it did bring this question to mind. (Perhaps I'll send it through the crapometer and see what you think of it.)

Another related question is, in a short synopsis (500-1000 words), how much information do you really need? For both of my historical novels, the inciting situations involve complex backstory.

It would be impossible to give all the relevant setup info in the synopsis and still get through the entire plot, plus show emotional growth, motivation, goals, yada yada yada, yet inevitably, contest judges and sometimes crit partners want information that couldn't
possibly fit into such a short space, or even into a four or five pager.

If you read a synopsis for example, feel reasonably comfortable with the setup (sounds realistic, interesting, etc), but perhaps don't know all the gory details of how it came about, is this ok and are you
satisfied enough to find out in the pages?

A synopses is a blueprint of a novel. You show where the rooms are but now how they're furnished or what color the walls will be. A synopsis is a very bad tool for showing voice; you show voice in your sample pages. I can't imagine ever sending a synopsis without sending a sample of the writing along with it.

As you know by reading the blog, Miss Snark isn't much for backstory. In a historical novel you can assume some, if not most, of the backstory is known. You don't have to explain that in 1066 the Normans invaded England and go on for five paragraphs about why. 1066 conveys it all to an educated person. Same with "November 22, 1963".

Feel free to send it through the Crapometer, I hear it's chewing it's way back to NYC as we speak, currently in a feeding frenzy in Crawford, Texas.


Dear Miss Snark,
Warning: This is likely a stupid question.

How do you define "exposition" in a novel?

I understand the awkward, thinly disguised dialogue passage type "As you know, Vanessa, the love song of the Bulgarian tree frog..."
Would short internal monologue, mental observations, flash-backs, or memory passages fall under this dreaded and apparently verboten term?

I think of exposition as telling, in whatever form, not showing. Some is ok, lots is like too much salsa-painful.

Poetry contests

"Even if you win, including that in a query letter is akin to telling an agent you won Miss Snark's 25 word contest to finish the news story. Cute, fun, and useless in terms of demonstrating your ability to write a full length novel."

Is this always the case? I am a poet and a novelist (sigh, one no market, the other an impossible market. . .) and at least for poetry, one of the only ways to get published is to win a juried contest. I currently have a book length poetry manuscript entered in one such (very well regarded) small press contest. Should hell freeze over or lightning strike and I actually either make finalist or win, wouldn't that credit strengthen my query letters for my novels?

Poetry contests are an entirely different category. Contests are almost the only way to get noticed by presses. That's cause very few (approaching infinite zero probably) agents handle poetry.

Of course poetry contest scandals were quite the topic this year. Google "Foetry" and see what you get!

And make sure the contest is sponsored by a reputable college or press. There are several places where "you're a winner" is a form letter with an invoice.

Good luck in the contest.


Beam, Eye, yanno, Biblical

I've got a request for a partail on my novel in short stories. How should the letter I send along with it read? Should it echo the original query? The letter requesting the partail is poorly written and filled with gramatical errors and typo's, should I include it with the partail? Well?

You mean typos like: typo's, partail and gramatical?

I'd say count your blessings, send your partial, and get your head out of your ....crapometer.

Kanga, and Roo, Who?

I've been reading your blog for several weeks and may need professional intervention to curb my addiction. I’ve heard that Australian agents rarely (or never) consider taking on new authors and, as Snarkling from Down Under, I’ve often wondered whether it’s worth querying overseas agents. In this age of rampant globalisation, is being in another hemisphere too big a hurdle?

only if you spell things oddly, like humour, globalisation, and Snarque.

Donna Leon lives in Italy and manages to be represented and published here very well.

Why don't Australian agents take new clients? Do they think their current clients will live forever, or more to the point, publish forever?

MFA programs

I gather you're not too hot on MFA programs. Why so? Do you think other agents share your opinion? I'm actually in the process of applying to some programs right now, and am eager to hear what you have to say.

Depends on what you want to do with your MFA degree. (For those who aren't familiar with the lingo, MFA is a master of Fine Arts graduate degree, and in this case, refers to students in graduate writing programs.)

MFA programs turn out newly minted graduates like Willie Wonka turns out choccie bars. Too bad the supply doesn't get eaten up so demand remains the same. Out here in the real world, there aren't enough jobs for all those MFA holders. You spend two years and enough money to buy an apartment in Queens, and you're unemployable. Yum.

I also get a lot of query letters from said newly minted graduates. Treacle is the kindest word I can use to describe it. It's self involved, pretentious, and usually imitative. My view is that it takes quite some time to get over your influences and your teachers to find your own voice. Fresh out of graduate school is too soon. And those MFA programs tend to beat down the truly original voices.

What MFA programs DO provide is time to read, at least according to Jennifer Egan and Abraham Verghese, both Iowa graduates. Both have said that to me personally, and probably publicly as well.

So, if you're going to get an MFA so you can teach, think again.
If you just need time to read, there are cheaper ways to do it.
And if you're doing it to learn how to write, don't.

Other opinions welcomed.

From the comments column, a link to a much better explanation

Contest Entry Fees

Dear Esteemed Holder of All Wisdom, My brain is cramping and in dire need of your assistance. I have two short, less than 1k word count, stories in need of homes. One, simple and reportedly compelling and the other less than 0.5k words and spiritually inspiring. Neither belong with the markets that I have studied, which is genre fiction. I do not want to pander my stories to homes just on a first seen, first submitted basis. I would like to aim high and work my way down the ladder until they are properly placed. I am sure if I search harder I will find a comprehensive listing of fiction markets taking flash length. In the mean time, I have stumbled across the Writers Digest Writing Competition which bills an easy $15 for the first manuscript (4k word count max) and $10 for any other entries (it's cheaper to submit poetry at $10 and $5 a pop). Odds of winning aside, is the value of the query letter padding equal to or above the cost of participation should I win? Contest prize money aside (because some contests do not offer much as a reward), is standard publication better than contest winning in the long term writing career? I await mental succor from your response,

Even if you win, including that in a query letter is akin to telling an agent you won Miss Snark's 25 word contest to finish the news story. Cute, fun, and useless in terms of demonstrating your ability to write a full length novel.

Flash fiction is a gimmick. If you want to write a novel, do it. If you don't, that's ok too.

And do the math on those contests: 1000 entries at 15 bucks a pop? Nice profit margin especially if the prize is less than 10% of the haul.

Contest Results and We Have A Winner!!

Category: Best Disqualification for Verbosity
Clooney broke down. "No. I hid the ring her gin pail, and her poodle, Killer Yapp, swallowed it as he gnawed on the leftover ice." Both agent and star await the proof of his affection.

Category: Best Entry Calling Miss Snark a Horse’s Ass
she battled her big brown eyes, shook her massive head no, turned around and vanished into the sunset swishing her tail behind her.

Category: Best Use of Canine Characters
Miss Snark said, "Do you think I am filling this Jacuzzi with gin to bathe Killer Yapp?"

Miss Snark’s spokesperson, Killer Yapp, denied pregnancy rumors, but confirmed both the engagement and the incident of the pot-bellied pig and the gin pail

he lowered his voice and smiled. "My Tango's loaded with Bombay Sapphire...and a T-bone for Killer Yapp, to keep him busy while we...celebrate."

the proposal of a lifetime, Miss Snark was tragically unavailable. The only response was from someone calling himself Killer Yapp, who said "Bite me."

Category: Best Entry From A Clearly Demented Snarkling
She reportedly told Georgie that the diamond "needed work" and she'd send him a "revision request" once she got back into the office.

Category: Best Integration of Diamonds
she replied, "Alas, it's something I can't discuss." Rumor has it Snark suffered an emotional break-down herself following publication of Nicole Ritchie's trashy novel.

Category: Best Use of Medicinal Liquids
Snark replied, "I adore George, but Killer Yapp discovered George prefers bourbon. Torrid affair? Certainement. A lifetime with a man who doesn't drink gin? Impossible!"

Category: Best Use of Nitwit
Miss Snark shook two pleading writers off her slim ankles, flashed the diamond, and declared the reporter "nitwit of the day" for asking the question.

the actor said she was very polite, telling him that he had some
original lines, but that the bribery attempt marked him as a nitwit.

Category: Best Use of Rules for Submission
Clooney sighed. "She said I had to prove my love by reading her entire slush pile. I love her, but I can't handle that!"

Mr. Clooney was curiously mum. Later reports revealed that he'd forgotten to include an SASE, and therefore never received an answer.

he said his proposal was accidentally delivered to a "C. Rapometer," who wrote back,
"Show, don't tell."
"Next time," said Clooney, "I'm using registered mail."

he sighed. "Not yet. I gave it to her with the beginning of my novel rolled inside it. She's asked me to revise and resubmit."

And the winner WAS, until I checked the word count
Miss Snark screamed "Hurray!"
Hauled out the Tanqueray.
Said, "Dearie,
that is what I call a query."
Later, caused a flap;
best man was Killer Yapp

So the Winner is:
When asked if she accepted, Clooney lamented, "I never should have opened my proposal with 'Dear Agent.'

About face, march!

After collecting a stack of rave rejections for me on a complete novel and a partial novel, my overloaded agent has decided to "release" me.

In looking over her submission logs, however, I've discovered that a few editors -- major editors at mainstream houses -- simply never responded. (Neither by phone, email, nor land mail, it appears.)

Is there any good way for a now-unagented, unpublished writer to followup with an editor who still has a ms.? Or must I assume that if the editors were not interested enough to respond to my well-known, well-regarded former agent, they won't want to hear from me either?

The only people editors truly want to hear from are the guys in the Prize Patrol van at Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, but that never stopped any of us from giving them a shout.

You can always send a letter or email to follow up. It's not illegal, unethical, immoral or stupid. It's probably not going to produce a bite, but you'll feel better for doing it.

A better use of time is to finish the partial and get to work on the third novel. Clearly you've got some talent or your former agent wouldn't have signed you and the editors who read your work wouldn't have raved about it.

Time to quit looking back and start moving forward.

Party Nitwits

Some time back (before she OD'd on 25 word synopses of her romantic fate) Miss Snark mentioned she'd been to holiday revels also attended by nincompoops. Several people asked what Miss Snark does when confronted by such people.

Not for nothing is Miss Snark snarky.

NW: I want to tell you about my book! blah blah blah

MS: Did you bring sample pages?

NW: (in a tone of stupefied delight) Yes!

MS: Did you bring an SASE?

NW: What?

MS: A self addressed, stamped envelope.

NW: nooo

MS: Did you want me to read the pages right here and tell you what I think?

NW: (pretty sure now this conversation has taken a turn for the worse) well,no, not exactly.

MS: Without a stamped self addressed envelope with your pages, I'd really have no choice but to critique it here and tell you what I think.

NW: I guess I could mail it to you. Do you have a card?

MS: No, I wasn't planning on discussing business at a holiday party so I didn't bring my briefcase.

NW: (trying valiantly to save one shred of dignity) What's your website?

MS: I think the website that will help you the most is actually a blog: www.misssnark.blogspot .com. Check out the recent posts on the industry term "nitwittery".


Miss Snark Awash!

Well, seems a few writers read this blog.
We've brought in extra staff to handle the contest responses.

Miss Snark will be working merrily away on that rather than posting as is her usual midnight habit.

Things will return to normal shortly.

PS y'all are hysterical.

oh fudge

Oh, Lord. Gifts? My book is also forthcoming next year. Gifts are a lovely idea, but--What kind? What if I forget somebody?

Of course I know my editor and her assistant and the publicity director, but this past Sept. I went to NY and met about 8 other people in the office and have no memory of their names. (I know, I know--I should be flogged with a gin pail.)

What about a gift to the office, with separate notes to the people I know?Compounding my anxiety is the fact that last year I sent a box of gift fudge (made by actual live monks in a monastery) to my agent and received no acknowledgement. Which made me wonder if a) I'd committed some kind of nitwittery; b) the monks charged my Visa then ate the fudge themselves; c) the agent's assistant snarfed it and hid the evidence.

Would Miss Snark have acknowledged monk-crafted hazelnut fudge? Or had I crossed some invisible line of etiquette? I've never seen this kind of stuff addressed anywhere else--thanks again, Miss Snark!

First, your editor's assistant knows the names of the people you met most likely. Ask him/her.

Second, never send fudge. It's one of those gifts that sounds good, and it's easy to send, and who doesn't like fudge, right? Well....almost none of us. It sits in the too hot mailroom OR it sits on our waistlines. Ugly choices, both.

Give fudge to boys or men in their 20s who can eat entire buffet tables and not show it.

It's also entirely possible that the card got lost. You did include a card right? Cause the stuff stacks up here at the holidays and it's not always possible to read shipping labels.

And yes, Miss Snark acknowledges gifts. Hand written notes even. Even if they are fudge.

In her young and impressionable days, Miss Snark received a lovely box of choccies one Christmas week day. Too bad they weren't for her. She knew this cause the card said "to honeypie from grandma" and Grandmother Snark calls her granddaughter "Miss Snark" of course, not "honeypie".

Being a good soul (I told you, this was LONG ago) Miss Snark called the company to say the package was delivered incorrectly. The call center person promised to correct it. And did. Another package arrived, also addressed to a honeypie from Grandma, at Miss Snark's address. Miss Snark called AGAIN (very young remember) and was told "yes, we fixed that and resent it".

Nuh uh you didn't.

Miss Snark then got on the blower herself, looked up the honeypie in the local phone book and said "hey y'all Grandma sent you candy but you gotta come git it". Newp, no non-snark arrivals.

MissSnark waited two days.
Then she ate it ALL.
This may explain her aversion to fudge...and why she had to leave town after taking candy from a baby.

Snarkling contest!!!

One of my most keyboard destructive commenters, the beloved Kitty, has posted this news article. Sadly, truncated.

The contest: 25 words or less, what is the rest of the story?

Duration: 24 hours.
Start: 12/8/05 2:44pm EST
End: 12/9/05 3:00 pm EST

If you want the prize, you have to include your name and mailing address.

Miss Snark reserves the right to publish all or none, and she is the sole and final judge of the winner.

Snarklings, hone your nibs, let the game begin!

Ideas are cheap

Dearest Great Wizard of All That Is Snark:

Although, like many ladies, I work full time out of the house, and surely to God (it feels like) full time in the house, and must also tend my pesky muse who refuses to give up on my perhaps unfortunate dream of publication, still I don't have hundreds......thousands........millions.............of hopeful writers hanging onto my every keystroke and flooding my office with queries, partials and fulls. Yes, I realize that even in the day of the great Snark, there are only 24 hours.

But.........there had to be a but............it would be grand if there were a way for your faithful snarklings to run STORY IDEAS by you. That could save us from the fate of having agents reject the manuscripts pulled from long months of effort because it has been "done to death." In essence, you hold the power to stop the train wreck before it happens.

I know that folks always worry about the theft of "their" great and glorious concept, but in the balance of things, if you were willing to consider ideas, it would surely be not only a real life miracle for all the snarklings in the land, but surely some of the agents and editors who begin to see better concepts will laud your greatness with gin, diamonds, or cash.

Is there any way you could make a bit of room on your already crowded plate for this?

Well, no.
Sadly, when someone says "done to death" it means NOT that the plot is hackneyed but that you haven't done something fresh and new with your work.

There are only seven ideas in the world, as the old rubric goes.
It's the execution that counts.
Thus you, and Miss Snark, must beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Yes, Agents can be rude nitwits

Dearest Miss Snark,
You are just the most delightful companion to my Jack Daniels and cigarette at this late hour. (Sorry, I O.D.'d on gin in high school and lost my taste for it.) Here's something I witnessed once at a reading here in New York. An agent who was in the audience walked right up to the editor who was heading the reading - and started pitching one of her client's books right in the middle of everything. We just couldn't believe it! So an agent can be guilty of this kind of behavior too. Not that YOU would ever do this, well-mannered and charming as you are. By the way, that editor requested my material (at another time)and after six or seven months, has still not answered my emails or gotten back to me in any way. It seems that there can be rudeness from all ends, not just from us innocent, talented writers.

Very very true.
My comments are never intended to indicate nitwittery is limited to a specific person, or job. They exist everywhere, and in abundance. My comments, and this blog, are designed to make sure YOU are never in the nitwit category. So far, so good. Except for that cig thing.


My first book is forthcoming from a major publishing house. I emailed my agent to ask if it would be appropriate for me to send holiday gifts to my editor, her asst., and the marketing and publicity folks. She said yes. Would it be okay if I sent the same gift to each, or should I single out my editor for something more special?

oh boy. Giftage. Miss Snark loves gifts of course, but giftage is a mine laden field of wrapping paper, bows and shattered expectations.

Don't send your editor and her assistant the same thing.

If at all possible, include a hand written card extolling their wonderfullness. That, more than any gift, means the most. You can never hear "you rock my world Miss Snark" too many times, when you know the emotion is genuine.

Return of the Manuscript, like the Mohican, is OLD news

When I get a request for a full manuscript, my normal routine is to send it boxed and priority mail with postage and label for return in the same box (not registered, not signature required).

I realize there's a problem for returns because of the Post Office's rules that packages over 1 pound must be hand-delivered. Last full ms. I got back surprised me by coming back by UPS. Would it mark me as a hopeless amateur if I asked if they preferred SASE by UPS or USPS when I get the request?

So you're the one.
Miss Snark has been looking for you.

This is a bad idea in so many ways that just thinking about it makes me emit noises only heard by dogs.

First, you can send your ms in a box if you want but it's more expensive. This is paper you're sending; it's not going to break. Put it in a sturdy envelope. Fold over the end to make a tight package. Apply shipping tape. Send.

For the return, using the same box is foolhardy. Chances are I ripped it to shreds opening it. And of course, I have to keep track of it while your ms is in the stack, passed around to be read, or generally NOT sitting in the box.

And of course I'm not going to the post office to stand in line to send it back to you.

Here's a novel idea: don't have the ms returned. Include a #10 SASE for my letter to you, and solve the problem.

Returning mss is a holdover from pre-copy machine days. If you have to laboriously type each page by hand, sure you want it back. Now it's less expensive to print a new copy then send it back.

Now, to quote Grandmother Snark when accosted by hardhat admirers on the streets of New York "wise up sonny".


Nitwit of the Day

Miss Snark has been out with her pals at holiday revels. Gin pails and poodles have been flying and no pedicab cyclist is safe from the piercing whistle of girls in heels who like to watch well muscled men cycle up Sixth Ave.

Miss Snark has attended several festive events associated with her chosen field . No, not bootlegging, get your mind out of the criminal gutter here. Miss Snark attended publishing parties.

Now, dear Snarklings, should an opportunity arise to socialize with an agent, I suggest you take it. There's nothing that warms up a cold query letter more than "remember the great conversation we had trying on shoes at Barneys after the cocktail party".

However. And you knew there was a however.
However, what you don't want to do, ever are any of these:

interrupt a conversation between two agents and begin pitching your book, or the book of your significant other.

have a conversation and then ask if the agent will take your pages then and there

talk about your book at all.

Now, before you all begin telling me you'd never do this, let me say this. Of course you wouldn't. As devoted blog readers you know this is the fastest way to Nitwitville.

Of course all of those DID happen to Miss Snark and her boon companions within the last seven days.

No excuses, and i mean NONE

I would really appreciate any advice you can give me...

Last March Agent A read my manuscript as a favor for my sister, who is a friend. She said my characters were delightful, the plot was interesting, yadda yadda yadda, but she declined representation since was too much like one of her clients (previously mentioned in the Snark Files). She gave me the name of Agent B and suggested I submit to him and mention her name.

Real life got in the way and I didn't send off a query to Agent B until July. Since then I have heard nothing. (Maybe I should get a procrastination award as well, since that was five months ago and I haven't done too much to try to get an agent). Anyway, do I send another query to Agent B? ask Agent A for another alternative? put the novel in a trunk?

I think my query letter is the biggest problem, as I have queried other agencies and been rejected every time. I'm sorry I missed the crap-o-meter for that one...but I am working on my synopsis.

You follow up with Agent B.
You write a thank you note to Agent A.
You get a list of agents and you start querying on your own.
You do NOT go back to Agent A for more referrals. If you do, yes, you will be a nitwit.
You do NOT put the novel in a trunk unless you've started another one. That would be quitting, and that's not a good choice.

Referrals are like butter, they have expiration dates. You don't want to dilly dally around if someone says "call Mo at Larry Curly and Joe's Agency". You want to get ON it post haste.

You've gotten a lot of favors here. In fact, you've used up pretty much all the breaks you're gonna get. Now you have to do the work.

And unless "real life" means you, your spouse or parent, or your child was desperately ill, it's not an acceptable excuse. You make time for things that are important to you. If this is important you'll do it. If you're just lollygagging about cause you like the idea of being a writer...well, you can imagine what I think of that.

Get to work.

Miss Snark reads her tea leaves

Miss Snark,

What sort of rejection notes do you get (and agents in general)? Are they typically just the same "not for us" that writers get? Do editors often/ever ask for a second look after changes? Give suggestions about what their list is looking for, apart from that particular ms? Or is that something you get in the general buzz of talking to editors?

Miss Snark has some doozies. Rejections for books she didn't submit. Rejections for fiction that are non-fiction. Rejections for length in a book that's 75,000 words. Oh yes, Miss Snark has rejections.

Mostly though I'm getting more than "not right for us". Couple reasons for this. First, I know the editors and we have on going relationships. They know I'm not going after them with a hatchet if they tell me the book sux. They know I'm going to get on with things and send them something else they like better.

Second, mostly we've weeded out the really bad fits cause they've said no on the phone. Mostly. There are some editors who say yes to pitches when they don't want the book but you figure out who does that pretty quickly.

Third, a lot of these editors or houses have published books of mine already. I'm a known quantity and they can be (relatively) honest. "We don't think he's going to sell more than 3000 copies and on this book we'd need twice that" isn't something an editor says to an author but you can bet they say it to me.

I don't get rejections if they are willing to look again at a revision. I get an email, or a letter with editorial points. Usually this means redraft and resubmit but I always call and make sure before making my client do it.

And I know what they are looking for generally cause that's my job. The only question is are they looking for something new, and are they looking for this specific project. I spend a lot of time looking at what publishers publish so I know what they like...it's like reading tea leaves but with pages.

No previous writing at all

What if I have no publishing credits at all? My credentials are only that I've been reading in my genre for over twenty years. Is the lack of publishing credit an insurmountable handicap? Will this slit my throat before I've even begun?

no, and no.
And no throat slitting till Miss Snark says so.
You don't have to be previously published.
It helps but it's not a requirement.
Press on.

Mind your P's and Queries

I must admit I don't understand what greeting I should use on a query addressed to Submissions without breaking the use-the-correct-name rule. Do I go with "Attn: Representatives of the Big-Deal Literary Agency"? "Dear people"?How about "Hey, you guys"?

For any letter, in which you do not know the name/ gender of the person to whom you are writing, you may properly use: "Ladies/Gentlemen:" even if it's only one person.

If you know the person's name but NOT the gender, I use first person thus: Flotsam Jetson is "Dear Flotsam:"

And in a pinch, I've been known to use "Good morning"

Source of all etiquette advice: Grandmother Snark

Crapometer Questions, more

I don't think anyone asked this in comments. In addition to synopses, will the Crapometer also be handing queries and first pages again this month? I rewrote both according to your snarkisms and, as I plan to start shopping the novel in January, would love to see how the revisions
measure up.

Sadly Miss Snark is required to sleep at least a portion of every 24 hours, and then there's that pesky Health Department mandate about showering and walking the dog. All these mundane requirements reduce the hours available to supervise the Crapometer.

Synopses only unless there is a low turnout.

Get out the Thesaurus: no, nope, zero, nada, zilchies

What about agencies that ask us to address queries to "Submissions?" Obviously, we should follow their guidelines, but should we target individuals with revised queries if the first answer is a no?

Cause of course no doesn't mean no till you've heard it ...how many times?
Of course, maybe you like spending money at the Xerox parlor and the Post Office; certainly there are stranger fetishes in this crazy old world.

You resubmit when you're asked to do so. Or if you have a NEW project.
One of the reasons I had to stop being helpful in my rejection letters was that writers took it as an invitation to resubmit. It's NOT.

Here's how you can tell if you should submit a revised query: the rejection letter says "please send back a revised query".

No Snarketta Stone required on this one, ok?

Publishing Credentials again...cause it was so much fun the first time!

Will it help or hinder an author if they mention in a query that they've had previous works published as an eBook with a small publisher? Is an eBook considered a legitimate publishing credit or not? Thank you for all of your snarkalicious advice! I'm certainly learning a lot by checking in on your blog each day.

It's not the HOW of your publishing credits that makes the difference, it's the WHO.
If Random House publishes your eBook, it's a whole different ball game than if you do it in your basement with software from Office Depot and a home computer.

Most eBooks right now ARE small publishers cause they aren't a big fat profit generator. Your job when you query and mention this is to tell the agent about who published it. A small publisher, yes, but one with an acquisitions editor who is not your mom? One with a list of more than your eBooks? Give some info, a URL and you're good to go. It may not help, but you won't look like you're trying to puff up nothing into something.

And just to clarify about the big issue of 'what counts':

It's NOT POD that's the problem. It's the idea that all "books" are equal publishing credentials. AuthorHouse and iUniverse don't edit worth spit. The result is a deluge of crap. Your book may not be crap but if you publish with those two sewage treatment centers, I'm not going to believe you if you tell me you don't stink.

When Nitwit is the best choice

Oh grand and snarkolicious wise one, forgive me for I have sinned. I, being weak, was impetuous and acted with undue haste. I did NOT wait until I had finished my tenth revision --as you have so wisely recommended-- and have now found several glaring errors in pages I sent to an agent who requested the material. Yikes! Should I call this agent, confess, and ask if I may re-submit? While gin provides solace, it gives no answers. Perhaps I need more.

Glaring errors? As opposed to smiling ones?
That will teach you not to listen to Miss Snark won't it (glaring at writer).
And, as much as it pains me to say this, LESS gin is probably the answer here.

This happens more times that Miss Snark wants you to know.

You send the corrected pages with a cover letter saying you overlooked some errors and these are the corrected pages.

It's better to be a nitwit than a crappy writer.

Now, repeat after me: revise, rest, revise, rest, revise, rest.

Get the Clue Stick

I've received several query responses scribbled on my actual query. One was so badly scrawled I couldn't figure out for a while which one rejected me.

Another was a rejection, with a personal comment and an invitation to send other work sometime. A few have been requests for pages, including the note from my eventual agent. And of course, some just "not for us". One was a very snarky rejection, in fact.But the fact they were scribbled on my query didn't bother me.

You couldn't tell who rejected you when it was written on your actual query? The Dear Name didn't give you a clue? Don't tell me, oh do NOT tell me you sent a form letter. No, I refuse to believe anyone who reads this blog would do THAT...no no no.

One of my most delicious pleasures is confounding people who send "Dear Agent" letters.
Particularly if they don't include a header such as "Miss Snark, Snarkolicous Agenting and Tomfoolery, Address, etc".

Those queries DO get a hand written response. Very nice hand writing too. Dear -name-, I'm sorry I have to say no, but this isn't quite right etc.

Then I don't sign my name.
And I don't put my address on the SASE.
Then I wave ClueDust over the envelope and mail it.

Formulaic answers

A burning question about the secretive habits of agents -- how many clients
must the average agent represent to survive?

And how much gin is enough to allow a manuscript over the transom?

Well, you only need one if it's John Grisham.

Some agencies represent hundreds of people but they're not all doing a book a year.
And our money comes in on the back end too--if your book keeps earning, we like that a LOT.

So the answer is-it varies. I have 20 or so active clients. That number is based not on how much I earn but how much I can do. More than that and I'd be too overworked to stay on top of everything the way I like.

And the answer is Zero on the gin question.
Manuscripts over the transom are rejected without being read.
I only read solicited work.
Now, throw your query over the transom all you like, I read everything I get.
But send your ms without the secret code, and it's Yapp fodder.

Agent Croaks...what's froggie's next move?

Back in April, I did have an agent, but the agency had to "cease operations indefinitely". (I'm fairly certain that means they bit off more than they could chew and went bankrupt)

I feel like a total nitwit about this, but the agent released me through an email and attached letter. (both are saved to my computer that states that the letter and email release me)

So, should In-My-Wildest-Dreams agent does take a chance on me, when do I mention, We-Overextended-Agent or do I? I didn't mention the last agent in my query or cover letter when the full ms was requested. Does that make me an even bigger nitwit? Lord, I hope not.

Thank you so much for doing this Miss Snark. All flattery aside, you really are a big help to writers like me.

First, you MUST if at all possible get a list of places da Ceased Agent sent your work. That's almost more important than anything else cause if you score a New and Improved Agent, the LAST thing s/he wants to do is start pitching your epic to some editor who has literally heard it all before and said no.

Print out your release letter in case your hard drive goes up in smoke cause you do NOT want to lose that letter ever.

And yes, you mention it to the new agent. In your query letter you can say "I was previously represented by Ceased and DeSista".

You've done nothing wrong so you don't need to hide anything or feel like you have something to hide. Agencies, particularly solo practitioners close shop for a variety of reasons. Illness is a big one. Burnout another. It's hard to go bankrupt as an agent unless you're REALLY stupid, but that happens too.

And I'm very sorry, but you do not qualify for Nitwit of the Day. You'll have to do something really STUPID for that; so far, you're batting zero. Try again.

No Vacancy

I was wondering, if an agency says "I'm sorry, but we're not taking on any new clients at this time?" Does it actually mean that, or are they trying to keep from commenting on my query?

Oh, and this company kept my query letter, does that mean anything? I've sent, snail-mail, six query letters. Three have come back, two with the original letters. That's the only reason I ask.

Could it mean...possibly...their list is full? Heaven forefend we would actually tell you that.

Assuming it might be code for "you suck" herewith the Snarketta Stone:

"I'm not taking new clients" means you didn't wow me enough to make me want to endure the pain of more work. It also means your work doesn't suck so much that it's "not quite right for ME, but do query those bozettes down the street".

No, it doesn't mean anything if your actual letter doesn't come back. Well, it means that they threw it away, but don't attach significance to it. I send letters back too, but not on your actual query letter. Not that I haven't considered that--running it through the printer on the reverse side-- but it seemed churlish even for a Certified Snarkster such as I.

Snort Shories...hiccup...Sport Flories..err.. Short Stories

Miss Snark,

In reading your Blog today I came across your suggestion to pen short stories in the interim while a novel percolates... are published short stories a must to get representation?

I've been clinging to the New Testament According to Snark that says "If the writing's great, that's all that matters," is this not entirely the case? I've "published" some short works, but only on the web for various eZines... do I need to now consider short pieces as well before I begin to shop my novel around in the New Year?

Thanks! Plus, it's too early for gin, how about a Mocha Gin latte instead? That's something I could go for.

No, you don't need to publish short stories. It helps, but it's not required.

Killer Yapp "Mocha lattes are for pussies. Real Dawgs drink Rejection Letters no ice."

Peek a boo word count

Let's suppose a previously unpublished writer wrote a fantasy novel that, contrary to the author's intent to keep the word count more within the realm of "haiku on steroids", wound up "growing fat on the blood of victims" (not unlike the Crapometer) and swelled to a girth more in keeping with a George R.R. Martin title.

Let's suppose also that even after careful revision, the tome remained a BFF (big fat fantasy), however one the author believed possessed a cohesive plot that would suffer from the loss of even a pound of wordage.

Which of the following would be more offensive to a prospective agent:

a) Clearly indicating the novel's length in the query, and causing him/her heart palpitations (to say nothing for risking the query not being read past the first paragraph); or

b) "Conveniently" forgetting to mention the word count, and hopefully dazzling him/her with the samples pages? The novel in question is standalone (as opposed to a trilogy or series), which is at least ONE point in its favor.

Cause like we wouldn't notice?
oh please.
The FIRST thing you look for is word count when the SFF letters come over the transom cause you just KNOW it's not a delicate little tome that fits snugly in your reticule for easy reading.

BFF isn't a deal breaker in SFF. Mention the word count. If you leave it off, I'm just gonna email you and ask.

And get ready to embrace the pruning shears. You'd be surprised how much F can come off a BFF book when Miss Snark starts trimming.

Cuteness is banned

Do you have "pretty email"?
Background pics?
Lovely fonts?

My email catcher calls this "spam".
I get a little note from them "we've diverted this evil virus from your pristine computer".

If you are e-querying, PLAIN text. No cutie pie pics of the dogs.
No nothing.

Outback Snarkhouse

Here in Australia the publishing of literary fiction is dying a slow painful death (for several reasons that I won't go into but that have a lot to do with market forces).

A friend of mine who is an excellent writer - of literary fiction - has given up sending her novel to the miniscule number of publishers here who might be interested. I suggested she try for a US agent, via, of course, a query letter which I have been attempting to help her with.

My question is - how do you make a query for a literary novel sound great? There are no car chases, wisecracking main characters, serial murders etc. Do you focus more on character and theme? Or only send to agents who will also look at a couple of chapters of the actual writing?

Yes, those wobbly minded Australian publishers are not publishing literary fiction cause it doesn't sell. Silly them.

The way to write a good cover letter for literary fiction is as follows:

Dear Agent:

I found your name in Writers Market and it says you read literary fiction. Do you actually sell any? If so, I would like you to take on my novel DryAsDust which features Hortense and Herbert Haiku examining their navels.

Lest you think this is a self involved, MFA graduate type of novel, rest assured it is not. I have never darkened the door of any writing program, and in fact I'm querying you because my entire country has given up reading literary fiction entirely (Tim Winton doesn't count of course).

Look I'm from Australia. Think Thorn Birds meets Vin Diesel, but yanno...fewer swinging dicks.

Yours truly
Quantas Querier

Mama Mia

What about Mom-lit, Ms Snark? What are the things an editor is looking for in that genre? Chic-lit has evolved a lot since it's inception, has Mom-lit?

Yikes, Miss Snark does NOT know the answer to this one.

Besides "mom lit" is just the ickiest phrase in the world. Like "lad lit" and "hen lit".
Chick lit is cute cause it sounds fun, but "mom lit"??? man..tie your shoes and eat your vegies.

And really, Miss Snark avoids books with innocent children.
Like vampires avoid breakfast, mirrors and silver spiked hostess gifts.

Well, ok, unless they are...picture books.

Miss Snark saw Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser today and I'll tell you, it's just the most sublimely cute thing. Nancy is a girl destined for Snarokliciousness in her adult years!

None of this of course answers the question but Im hoping you forgot about that.


I have an opposing question... what does it mean when an agent or editor calls your work "stock"? As in, stock imagery?Thank you oh Snarkiness. You are the bomb :)

Not a good thing.

"blonde bombshell"
"evil banker"
"snarkolicious poodle"

You want evil blonde, bombshell poodle and a snarkolicious banker.
Harlen Coben plays with perceptions like this in his Myron Bolitar series.


Throw the BOOK at her!

Gotta love the days when a "literary agent" pleads guilty to fraud.

Repeat after me:

"what have you sold?"
"money flows TO the writer, not from"
"real agents DO NOT ADVERTISE in Writers Digest".

If you think I'm kidding, go read TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING again.

(Thanks to Publishers Marketplace for the info)

Very readable

What does an agent/editor mean when they say "very readable"? I've come across this term a couple of times.

In rejection letters? It's how you say it's not the worst thing you've ever read but you need to work on it more.

In reviews? It's how critics call something fluff.

In mentions about Miss Snark's blog? Base flattery. More! More!

The Nitwit Registry

I just finished reading "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman and he encourages the aspiring writer to do just that -- spend the extra money and have the letter registered. He says it may tick off the agent or editor, but it will get the person's attention. Not a trick I would personally try, but I pity anyone who read this part of the book and went out and did just as Lukeman suggests...like this poor bloke did...

Yanno, I just don't get this advice.
Maybe he works in an office with people staffing the door from 9-5 but I don't. And a lot of my colleagues don't either.

When you send a registered letter, the recipient has to sign for it. That means ME. Not my intern, not my dogwalker, not Grandmother Snark, not the doorman. If I'm not here to sign for it I have to go to the post office and get it. Now, unlike the post offices in OtherPlace, America, the postal clerks HERE are New Yorkers. They don't take no guff from no one no how.

So after you stand in line for 10 minutes (minimum) you get to the window, hand over the pink slip and then, the clerk squints at you: "ID!". You haul out your PASSPORT cause you don't drive and don't have a license. Clerk looks at the passport photo, looks at you, looks again. "Names don't match". This is of course because you've addressed the query letter to the AGENCY name which may not be the agent's legal name anymore (witness protection sure, but marriage and other crimes can be involved). You bring out your business card. No dice.
More squinting. More consultation with supervisor. Time ticks by.

Well, you get the idea.

Now, when all these shenanigans are finished and you're actually clutching the letter, is it a notice from Shyster Snark that you've won eight gazillion dollars in the Poodle Sweepstakes? noooo..it's a damn query letter. Take it from me, you do NOT want me reading your query letter at this moment in time.

And even if I AM in the office when PostalPete comes a'calling, do you really think that sending a registered letter from YOUR ADDRESS means I'm going to be fooled into thinking it's something that needs my immediate attention. Only if you work for a law firm, used their letter head and envelope, and THEN I'm still going to open it and find..yes, it's a QUERY!!!

Query letters go in a pile in the order received. Sending it via registered mail only means you are an nitwit. I don't care what anyone else says, it's proof positive you're an nitwit if you believe them, and double proof if you do it.

Chick lit writer driven to drink

I am currently at work on my second novel, a chick lit romp I can only pray will read as witty and fun as the work of Jennifer Weiner and Marian Keyes. I have no publishing credit in this genre, only a few random pieces of freelance travel writing.

Should I currently be more focused on getting short stories published so as to perk up my query letter for this novel? Should the travel pieces be mentioned at all, especially since they were written for obscure publications?

I'm just a bit disheartened at the moment as I just read an interview with a big-time
agent who stated that most agents don't truly consider first time authors with no publishing credit. Woe is me! May I borrow your gin pail?

No. I need it, particularly first thing in the morning.

Finish your novel.
Then, as you let it sit and percolate (cause you DO NOT SEND IT OUT before you've let it sit and percolate) you can work on short stories. Then when you've done all ten drafts of the novel that you need to do (no, I'm not kidding), you query. Mention the travel pieces, even if they are obscure. If, by that time, you have sold stories, you can mention that too.

Voice is almost everything in chick lit. You can fix plot, heck Miss Snark can fix plot, but voice is critical piece and the only one who can do that is you. If an agent loves it, s/he's going to take it on. Previous publishing credits don't matter as much here as they do for say literary fiction.

And I'm not kidding about drafts. The biggest mistake writers make is sending their work out too soon. It's how you miss the stupid typos, it's how you miss the forest cause you have your nose up a tree...yadda yadda yadda.

And don't worry about big time agent blather. First, two of the very best agents for this genre are probably off your radar screen completely (Kristin Nelson and Paige Wheeler). There are 750 agents in this industry and most of us are looking HARD for good chick lit.

Write well. That's all. (and don't think I didn't see you try to steal that gin pail).


For help creating a synopsis that is both elegant and brief, I heartily recommend visiting this website. Here you will see great works of literature in very helpful short form.

(Thanks to Kristy for the info)

Follow Me! (cue John Belushi in Animal House)

HELP! About six months ago I signed up with a small agency. I love my agent and have found her to be both supportive and willing to bluntly honest. She has her own "crap-o-meter" so to speak. We've had some nibbles and hope to sell the book soon. She's just emailed me to say she's going with another agency and asked me to go along with her. How do I decide to stay or go? I love the agency she is with- it has a strong leader and a focus on career building. Having said that- I love the agent- she's the one who is excited about my work. I still feel like such a newbie- how do I decide?

First, you look at your contract. It's with the agency, not your agent is my guess. That means those "nibbles" if they come to full chomp are "owned" by the agency not the agent. This means that if you go with your agent to a new home, she's going to be working on your book for zero dollars for a while.

She may have an arrangement with her agency to take all her projects with her and their ownership but this is something you need to ask. Ask the agency not the agent. Ask them if they want you to stay too. They may be willing to have her take you since she's the champion of your work and it hasn't sold (yet!).

Second --and this is really hard to do but you should-- you need to get a sense of why she's moving. Several good agents recently lost their assistants in a lightning move of betrayal that really left a sour taste in a lot of our mouths. The assistants copied files, contact names and lit out to form their own agency under cover of darkness.

Will it affect their ability to place books? Maybe not. What it does affect is their welcome on this side of the foul line. Those folks aren't getting any referrals from me, and they certainly aren't going to be included in any of the give and take that helps us all out from time to time. They are also not going to be spoken about with any degree of enthusiasm when people ask what I know about them.

Tell your agent all the things you wrote to me and that you want to support her but you need to make a business decision here, not a "whither thou goest" loyalty choice.

This is a business, not a friendship.


Im comin' to take a bite out of the big Apple

Miss Snark,

I have a question. I'm a west coast writer and I'm going to NYC in January. The trip had been planned for a while and it has nothing to do with my getting an agent. It is a vacation (I know, New York, in January?). I went to school there and I want to go visit. My question is, I still don't have an agent (three agents are reading the full ms) but is there anything I can do while I'm there to help my search? I'm not going to show up at an agent's doorstep and say "May I see so-and-so, I'm a writer and I need an agent," but is there anything else I can do? I'd appreciate your help on this matter. Thanks.

Check out events where agents are likely to turn up.
Bars, strip clubs, gambling dens .... yanno the usual spots.

MediaBistro lists publishing events.
Womens' National Book Association sponsors events
MaudNewton publishes event listings and readings.

Reading series are all over the place and are free.
Small Press Center holds all sorts of events.

Keep your eyes peeled and go places that book industry people might go.
And you're right to not just show up at the door.
That is prima facie evidence that you're NOT the kind of person I want to work with.

First Person Synopsis..Miss Snark isn't convinced

I always write my synopses in first person (my mss are first person present and I write chick-lit). I can't imagine writing in third. I hate third and can't write in third to save myself. Why write your synopsis in third when your ms is in first? I don't understand it. If the synopsis is better in first, gets your/your character's voice across and lets the ed. know exactly what's going on in the story, that's all that's important. Then again, I also write in Arial (naughty!).

Because dear one, your synopsis is not your novel, and you are not your novel. At some point you must recognize this. Sooner would be better than later. A synopis in the first person begs the question of how you remove yourself from the narrative at all. (On the other hand, let's all remember Miss Snark speaks of herself in the third person often, changes POV between paragraphs AND has a novel writing dawg---who is she to be talking weird, right?)

I'm not saying it can't work; strange things work all the time. Are you sending it to the crapometer? I'd love to see how you do this.

And Arial isn't that bad. Copperplate..bodoni bold...those are auto-rejects.

Miss Snark rushes to hand you an offer

Further to Miss Write...I'm thinking that having George Clooney hand deliver a query might just get Miss Snark's attention. Alas, I fear that her attention might not be entirely devoted to the query.

Here's an offer, now leave me to my canoodling with Mr. Clooney. We have much to discuss for the upcoming nuptials.

Down with Love!

Is this true? You don't deal romance? At all? None of your clients? So it would be pointless to send along a romance synopsis when the great synopsis blitz begins?

Miss Snark is a flinty eyed stiletto slinger with a picture of Cruella De Vil on her bedside table.
Down with love!

That doesn't mean you can't submit a synopsis for a romance to the Crapometer.
Unlike Miss Snark, the crapometer is a tempest tossed objet d'heart who lusts for Miss Snark's toaster.

Nitwit of the Day!

Miss Snark is taking a break from being interrogated by the Secret Service to dive into her slush pile.

Ah, yes. The Eager Beaver lad who spend $13.65 to send me a query letter by Express Mail.
He mailed it on 12/1. It's on my desk now. Yes, I opened it, thinking it might be my acceptance letter from Sundance (Killer Yapp vs The Vegan) but no, it's a query letter.

Guess where it goes? Yup. Right on the pile of all the OTHER letters that arrived in envelopes with a 37cent stamp.

Try not to look like an idiot in your query letters is my standard advice.
Don't BE an idiot and send it the most expensive way possible.
Trust me on this.

Synopsis sizing: none of this super size me crap

Is a 500 word synopsis a standard short synopsis, or is it that short for the sake of the crapometer? I've seen 700 word sample synopses, and I can just get mine to 600 words, but 500 really is a "haiku on steroids" as you said, and I'm despairing of being able to master the form.I love that this blog is anonymous and so you can be snarky and we can be whiny without fear to our respective reputations!!

I'm sure there is some guideline somewhere about how many words should be in one of these wretched documents. For my purposes, shorter is better. People who send me synopses that are single spaced, no paragraphs, and five pages just get tossed aside as the last thing I want to read today.

For our purposes here on the blog, 1000 words is the max. That's about four pages in a readable font with reasonable borders and layout.


It's quite amazing what you learn before 9am on any given Monday morning here at Snark Central. I won't tell you what I thought FILK was the first time I saw it, but I'm glad it wasn't that.

Anne's plea in the comment column started us off:

Please, Miss Snark, I'm dying. The office is being dismantled around me and I require an injection of sanity!

I'm not kidding about the office either; we are moving the Wednesday after next, and the office admin, in her wisdom, has decided to get rid of all the furniture...now.

I came in last week to find all my desk drawers gone and my stuff packed into boxes. Today I came in and the printers were on the floor, because she's given away the desks.
Please, post some witty, pithy and erudite dissection of some clueless person's publishing follies, or I shall go mad! I shall!

Oh, the humanity! (And if you know where that quote came from, I will immortalise Killer Yap in filk.)

Well, Killer Yapp is quite fond of being immortal and rushes to google for poodles. He posts:

Origin of "oh the humanity" Roadfood
Now, fork over.

PS what is filik and I hope it tastes good

This morning, Kimi arrives to view the carnage in the comments column and breaks the news:

Yapp..." I will immortalise Killer Yap in filk." Since I know Miss Snark sometimes like to divert her attention from the slush pile I'll do my thing and give you this and she can explain it to you. Honestly Yapp....I don't think you'll like it. :)

Well, KY had hoped he was being rendered immortal in something like marble or at least cheese, but this could be even better: song!!! Of course, there should be a part for the canine voice, don't you think?

KY awaits sheet music. In fact, he's poised at the door right now.

Synopsis dancing

In this post: you say not to do anything weird with your synopsis and not to use 4 points of view. My book is in first person. Can I write the synopsis in first person?

Nor can you write your query letter in the first person (oh yes...not quite the fresh and original, let alone enticing ploy you thought it was)

A synopsis should be in third person. It should be in the active voice. It MIGHT contain a snippet of dialogue...a line or two, for the height of conflict or resolution.

Synopsis are not pleasure reading. They are for information. Rein in your inner Twyla Tharp here.

Seattle Public Library

Harry writes in the comments section:
I love the new library. Here is the main site.
Click on the Central Library link, then check out the slideshow. I'm not kidding. Look at it. It's beautiful.I love the new library (did I mention that?) The book spiral is just a fun idea, the kids' section is huge and easy to access, the top floor is covered with open reading and writing space. It's not old, dark wood and gothic arches, though. It's more like brushed stainless steel, glass exteriors and bright colors. Here are more pictures at another site. It really is wonderful.

Harry, you are just the cat's pajamas today! I gotta go see this!


Book titles

How about "Presidential Vices"?
Or, alternately, "How to Kill the President in Six Easy Steps"

It is illegal in this country to threaten to kill the President, to make statements about killing the president or to suggest it's a good idea. The Secret Service takes this REALLY seriously.
The first amendment protecting free speech does NOT apply to this.

Yes, you meant it as a joke. The Secret Service has no sense of humor. None.
How do I know this?
I know

Bad Guy protagonist

I know I've read a book or two where the POV character (the antagonist) is actually the 'bad guy'... but I can't think of a single one right now.

Barry Eisler's Rain series: Killing Rain, RainStorm, Hard Rain
Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series

Lawrence Block's Hitman character whose name I totally forget

there are others.
Remind us, snarklings.

Bribing the gate keeper

C'mon! Miss Snark and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Zack, have provided means for us to have our Qs and Synops reviewed. Judging by the responses, it is a welcome proposal. Personally, my writing groups consist of a bunch of sycophants barking a chorus of obsequious observations meant as critiques. What I need is a practiced eye. And though I don't like the idea of imposed reading fees, the poster said this was an offer; that is notably different. Bodacious-to whom do I make out the checks?
PT Barnun. There's one born every minute.

People who charge money to critique your manuscripts are called "editors".
People who charge you money to read your manuscript at a literary agency are called "fee charging agents". AAR is pretty clear about how it views that practice.

If your critique group is a barking chorus of obsequious nincompoops, you need a new critique group, NOT a fee charging agent.

Killer Yapp is interested in your critique group however.

Ping Wrong

Miss Snark,

I'm sure it varies for every agent, but when do authors' pings for updates on ms status shift from reasonable to annoying? Mine told me several weeks ago that she'd pass on news when she had it, but nothing since. Should I ping her again, or just get on with my job (the sequel) and let her get on with hers?

And, dare I ask, how often does "lollygagging" by an editor mean that an ms really is getting passed around internally?

You're in the running for Client Most Likely to Be Voted Off The Island if you keep "pinging" your agent. She told you she'd let you know when there is news. Absent irrefutable evidence she is dead, drying out with Miss Snark at the sanitarium, or entering the convent leave her alone.

I have a client who does this. It drives me crazy. I have nothing new to say, and nothing of substance to add to the last update. The unspoken question is "why aren't things happening faster" and the honest to god answer is "hell if I know".

I have a vested interest in selling your project. I'm going to be stealing Killer Yapp's kibble for holiday hors d'ouvres if I don't sell stuff, so just let me do my damn job, and YOU go write.

You'll be the second ..no third...to know when we get an offer. Me first, then a relieved KY, then you.

And no, it doesn't mean it's getting passed around the office. It means the editor took too much to read, had a sudden increase in workload when another editor moved to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, or got inundated with projects HER boss told her to look at right away.

This harangue does not mean your agent goes months without speaking to you. I update clients once a month minimum, just to keep in touch even if nothing appears to be moving. There is a big distinction between "pinging" and "staying in touch". Don't confuse one for the other.

Eenie Meenie Miney...no

I have a very specific question. I hope it is not presumptious to ask something so narrow.

An agent, in rejecting my partial, said the VP was not likeable, and a protagonist should be likeable. Fine, except the VP is the ANTAGONIST. I am afraid my title might have caused confusion. Would you please vote on one of the following titles? Or suggest a new one, of course.

The story concerns a female Vice President who wishes to assassinate the President, and the female White House staffer who wishes to stop her. I picture George Clooney as the President and Killer Yapp as the staffer when the film comes out. The VP role is still open, if you are interested.

The working title is "Madame Veep." Two other titles under consideration are "Killing the President" and "Hell to the Chief."

Do you like any of these?

Miss Snark has a hard enough time picking out a frock for the annual Snarktown Stomp, let alone picking titles. I'll leave this question up to the devotion of Snarklings who think up all sorts of things.

Article link: Safest Way to Search for An Agent

Miss Snark,
what do you think of this article:

The Safest Way to Search for an Agent by Victoria Strauss

sounds like pretty reasonable advice to me.
And of course the exact people who should be reading it closely and following it ...aren't.

and from the comments column comes the link to their blog which I have also put on my blog roll. These two are fabu. Anytime you have folks getting threatened by scammers you KNOW they are doing good work.

It's trash I tell you, trash.

Miss Snark,

I ran across your site for the first time this evening and look forward to perusing your archives to catch up. What a great resource for the legions of wannabe (gonnabe?) novelists like myself. Thanks, I get a kick out of your posts!

This is the second reference I've seen to the relatively tiny number of books that see even modest sales each year. I'm left with a burning question. Why is there so much crap published?

I go through a lot of novels, and lately it seems like half of the newer ones (cozy mysteries are a particular culprit) are simply bad. I realize tastes differ, but I'm talking poor diction, swarms of tacky adverbs, lame-ass dialogue....Really.

Why is there so much bad fiction out there? Is there money to be made in publishing it?

And remember, you aren't the average reader anymore. You're reading as a writer. I have several friends who read "trash" and barely notice lame ass dialogue not to mention plot endings that resemble train wrecks of coincidence. They aren't reading this for anything other than pure escape. Think "Desperate Housewives" and "The Gong Show" between covers.

Planning for promotion

You said in your reply, "You also can't count on the publisher, any publisher, to really push the book. You'll have to do that yourself." I feel ridiculous, but I don't know how to promote the book myself. What would you suggest an author could do to push her book?

You thought getting your book published was hard? Welcome to book promotion and marketing.

First, off you go to the library to get every book you can on book promotion and publicity. Then you crawl around the web to see what's out there. Then, and this is the best piece of advice you'll get today, you find discussion boards of PUBLISHED authors who are talking promotion/marketing etc. An excellent example is MurderMustAdvertise.

Then you make a list of 100 things you can do to promote your book, and you do them. Find out what your publisher will do from the list (like submit to PW and trade review sites) and then you do the others. You can't do the 1000 things suggested in all these places, but you can plan for and do 100 of them.

And don't' feel ridiculous. "Promoting and marketing your book" was not a factory installed application when you were created, nor was it for any of us. We ALL learned this the same way you will. Ridiculous is thinking you know it all if you don't. I much prefer clients to ask for help early instead of making me think they know what they're doing if they don't.

and behind the curtain..MORE

I have a question for you. Let’s say You-Could-Only-Wish agent decides that yes, s/he is willing to take a chance on me. The story s/he agrees to rep is presented as a single title romance. (Yes, I know you don't deal in romance, but man, I wish you did)

Now, the ms can stand alone, but in all reality is the first in a series. When should I mention the other 3 ms? (sequel finished, 3rd half done and 4th outlined)

Should I mention it at all until the first is sold? Help! I’m so lost and don’t want to sound over eager should You-Could-Only-Wish agent truly does want to rep me.

Thank you in advance and my Chihuahua/ Fox Terrier, Lucifer, wants Killer Yapp to know that there’s always an extra dog bed ready for him to crash in should you all visit the Seattle area.

You query the finished novel only. You mention it could be a series if that was a good idea. You do NOT list how many books are done, and status of each. If the agent takes you on, s/he'll ask. If an agent likes this work but thinks it's not quite ready, you can mention you have a second book finished (second books are often times better than first ones...amazing huh).

Listing all the books you've written in a projected series begs the question of selling the first one.

Killer Yapp is packing his bag as we speak. He wants to see the beautiful new Seattle Public Library. He's in a bit of a quandry about a tasteful hostess gift for a dog named "Lucifer".


To the peerless Miss Snark:

I am frustrated. My manuscript has been out with two editors for four months now. One has not been responsive when my agent nudges him, and the other finally responded by saying he was rereading the novel -- he'd begun it and then got sucked into the vortex of a couple of big projects -- and would get back to him within the week. This was about two weeks ago.

I guess the question is: at what point does an agent give up on an editor and just send the ms somewhere else? Is lack of responsiveness a bad sign, or are they just too busy or too rude to answer? I'm hoping, of course, that the editor who said he'd get back to my agent a couple of weeks ago is circulating the manuscript internally and not just blowing it off, but I fear it may be the latter. . . .

Your agent is the best one to answer this. Ask him/her.

I'm a trifle surprised your novel is only with two editors if it's taking this long. My practice is to get a project OUT to editors, particularly if the first and second are lollygagging about. I'll send it to an editor that I think will be really interested for a short exclusive (like a week or ten days) but after that, the push is on.

But again, your agent should tell you what's going on here.

To reassure you: I've sold projects to editors who lollygagged. More than one in fact. You're not necessarily being brushed off.

Copyright--the LAST word

I thinking of making the main character in my next novel a DJ (mostly because I used to be one). I know that if you put lyrics in books, you need to get permission. But if the main character were just to mention band names and song names (but no lyrics) would I need to get any permission? Are there any issues involved in this?

Miss Snark has visions of the sheriff arriving with a summons to court for giving legal advice, and worse, legal advice someone relied on for permissions.

IF you're going to do this kind of stuff, I cannot advise you strongly enough to consult an IP lawyer. Laws change, court cases are decided that have an impact on what law "means' and the last place to get reliable legal advice is the internet.

As we've seen from the recent headlines, it's better to find out if you need permission than ask forgiveness for infringing.