Happy Birthday Richard Yates

From Writers Almanac:

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Richard Yates, born in Yonkers, New York (1926). He spent his life struggling to pay the bills with teaching jobs, trying to find time to write. When he died in 1992 few of his books were still in print. But a group of writers, including Richard Ford, Michael Chabon and Kurt Vonnegut, began to champion his work and they brought many of his novels back into print including Revolutionary Road (1961) and The Easter Parade (1976).

One of the most compelling biographies I've read recently is Blake Bailey's A Tragic Honesty about Richard Yates. You might actually plant flowers in the gin pail after reading this.



Many of you (more than 100) got a form email saying your question was deleted. I'm real sorry I had to do it; it's not a comment on your question but more on my lack of time.

As the blog readership increased, the mail and comment volume quadrupled...in two months. What was just a an hour or two was almost six today. That can't continue.

I'll be answering almost no questions posted to the comment trail. I won't even automatically see them anymore.

I will try to answer questions emailed to me. It will be VERY helpful if you're new to the blog if you search the archives first. Google can help. Enter "miss Snark" and the topic, like "writers conferences" and you'll be surprised what pops up.

We need an index, and I'm working on it but it's not coming any time soon.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a short break to catch up on the real work.

Thanks for your patience. I'm glad to have this many readers, commenters, and convivial keyboard killers on the other side of the screen.

Back on Monday!

And speaking of blurbs

I love this article by Otto Penzler (right up until he dismisses John Cage) about "the worst mystery writer ever".

When to Add Acknowledgments with UPDATE

Hello Miss Snark,

So many people have helped me do research for my novel that it would be evil of me not to thank them. At what point would I add an acknowledgments section to my ms? I get the feeling that an agent requesting a full wouldn't really care that Aunt Milly let me use her library card or that Grandpa Joe was an invaluable resource on the minutiae of dairy farming.

You add the acknowledgements page when the novel has been bought by a publisher. Do NOT send acknowledgement pages, dedication pages, thank you pages or anything BUT your writing in a query letter or manuscript.

It's the sign of a rank amateur. It's ok to BE an amateur as long as you avoid the worst of the mistakes:

1. putting (c)1996 on the manuscript

2. putting your name, address, phone number, email, alternate email, title on the upper left hand corner (see below)

3. asking for pages back if you get a rejection letter but didn't send sufficient postage with the query

4. Telling me how much you want to be a published writer in the cover letter

5. Telling me you've just finished the novel

6. Telling me your spouse is your toughest critic and even s/he loved it

7. Printing in large, extremely black font

8. Printing in small, italic font

9. Saying you know this probably isn't very good but will I please look at it and answer the following questions

10. Including a 10 point questionnaire for me to fill out so you can decide if I'm worthy of having you as a client (let's all just agree now I'm not).

A couple of comments popped up that said "what?? no name in the upper left?"
The mistake of the rank amateur is to put that AND MORE in the upper left.

I get mss that say "Miss Snark/Miss Snark's Guide to Etiquette/1745 Broadway, New York NY 10023/212 782 9000, misssnark@wtf.com until 2/1/06 then misssnark1@wtf.com"
on EVERY page.

Correct format: Snark/Snarks Guide to Etiquette upper left. Page numbers lower right. That's it. All other info on cover page. Got it?

More on Publish America

Some time back I posted about PublishAmerica. In today's mail comes this:

Isn't it wonderful how Publish America takes something that you've said in their forums and uses it as a testimonial? Just another one of the great things about Publish America. Not!

Thank you for quoting me! Perhaps you should of referred your readership to my warning page on todays-woman.net, where I now share my not so pleasant experience with PA. Live and learn, I guess.

I am the last person who ever thought that I'd say, "Dee Powers and Dave Kuzminski were right." Rose DesRochers

"blurbs" have famously been taken out of context for movies. "I screamed with excitement when the man sitting next to me spilled his popcorn" becomes "I screamed with excitement...." in an advertisement. Abbreviated blurbs is one of the reasons critics went to stars, thumbs and number designations. We know what to believe if there are no thumbs mentioned and Roger Ebert i s quoted saying "I screamed with excitement": a bad movie.

Legitimate publishers don't need to publish blurbs from "satisfied clients". The product they want to sell you, books, is available in stores for preview, and if you don't like it you can return it. Posting blurbs is warning sign enough that their product isn't books; sucking them out of a discussion forum is just sad. But then...this IS Publish America we're talking about!

Career Nitwit

I queried one agent with letter and sample pages. He wrote that the writing was very strong but didn't like some aspects of the project as he interpreted them from the query. It was a rejection. I wrote back and said he might get a different idea of the book if he looked at the complete proposal.He agreed to look at the proposal. It wound up being a no in the end, but this incident shows that you can create a dialog with an agent and attain another look.

You're joking right? You think he read it and said no? uh huh.

My momma also told me never to burn bridges. But I couldn't resist a couple of snarky responses to agents who responded with a no months after I had representation. I responded with some of the same boiler plate rejection language I had had so much of: "This is a subjective business. I'm sure you're a worthy agent and I wish you every success in finding someone to represent."I know Miss Snark says no neener, neener, but sometimes you just can't resist.I'm going to have a hard time not sending out press releases to agents who rejected me about my nice book deal--if and when I get one.

You really want to make sure people don't forget you don't you?

So...your nice book deal comes around, and you send out books for blurbs. You think agents don't field those requests? You think agents are always agents and don't move around to other jobs or more likely..the people in their offices, NYU interns and assistants, don't move around to other jobs?

Quit acting like this is some sort of personal sandbox war in the first grade and that bad girl pulled your bobby sox down and called you a poopie head. Suck it up. Act with some degree of graciousness or you'll soon discover why "what goes around, comes around" is a horrible cliche.

Killer Yapp's Wardrobe

Oh, my God, the dog has a blog. LOL LOL

Hey, I love KY's blog. It's very, very trendy and very hot. I think you should put a picture of him/her up, complete with tutu or something.

Does KY take questions about publishing or is it just for questions about a dog's life?

Killer Yapp does NOT have a tutu. Sheesh. He has a pink tam, and a burberry smoking jacket it's true, but tutus are for girl dancers and KY is a boy although he does dance a mean tango. He'll be glad to explain "metrosexual" to you if needed.

He will explain the parts of publishing he understands: the arrival of the UPS man with large quantities of boxes; Miss Snark's odd inability to smell losers until she reads the pages; why cat-alogs should be chewed up and swallowed; and, the benefits of the largest publisher in New York being located three blocks from Central Park.

Thank you...I think

At what point do I thank the agent for his or her time?

Here's what I've been doing:
1) Query agent
2) Receive request to see partial or full
3) Send partial or full, thanking the agent for her time and interest
4) Wait
5) Receive rejection, the usual "writing is polished but I couldn't work up the enthusiasm" etc.
6) Move on

Now my instinct is to write back at number 6 and thank her for her time and speedy reply. No questions, no comments. No asking for more information. Simple.

But I've heard the agent should have the last word, so I haven't sent a thank you at this point. I have, after all, thanked her ahead of time for her time.What think you all? This seems a small enough point to get Snarkling feedback but maybe not big enough to bother Miss Snark.

Miss Snark is not bothered in the slightest by questions of when to send her flowers and choccies. Oh wait, that wasn't the question was it?

Do not confuse "having the last word" with saying thank you. It's never ever incorrect to thank someone for reviewing your work. Sometimes you don't need to, such as when you get a form letter or when the agent demonstrates rampant nitwittery (see preceding posts), or if you already have done so. It's ok to do so even then, but you don't lose your Snarkling Good Conduct badge if you don't.

Having the last word means simply that once the agent says no you do not go back with variations on why, you nitwit, you'll be sorry, or even neener, neener. No matter how justified.
No matter how much you want to do it. No matter how much you think you should do it. Don't. Just don't. Move on.

Pound Sterling

Earlier this morning a Snarkling asked about writing clips. Contained in her post is this:

You never know when you're going to stumble over the next hot product or crafter, so when a woman joined me on my bench in the shade, I introduced myself and said hello. She introduced herself, and we asked each other what we were doing here. She said, "I'm with Sterling Publishing. I'm trolling for writers and trends."

Which prompted Dave, the ever watchful P&E guy (one of the true good guys of this biz) to say:

Um, Door Number Three?Check on the references first before you send. Make sure you haven't hooked up with a fee charger or someone worse. You could wake up in a tub of ice with a kidney or manuscript missing and your gin pail empty.

Because of course Dave has probably heard one gazillion complaints about SterlingHouse Publishers and rightfully does not have anything "sterling" to say about them over at P&E

However, Sterling Publishers is a pretty well known and respected publisher. Here's their website

You think it's a coincidence that they use a version of a successful well respected name?
Nope, me either. All the more reason to double check everything.

Why Miss Snark Leaves the Gin Pail at Home

I was in the happy position of being asked for a manuscript by both an agent and an editor I'd met in the bar at a conference. (All casual talk with one little, "Are you looking for material?" in the middle of it all. Answer: yes, looking for **** if that's what you have send me a partial.)

I sent to both -- noted this in the query letter -- and heard back from the agent that this was highly unprofessional and that by sending it to an editor at the same time I sent it to said agent, I had hemmed the agent in and so I would have to look elsewhere for representation. (I am.) No surprise, this agent also is a real fan of the exclusive submission.

There are nitwits in every profession. I'm sorry to say that agents are not excluded from that statement.

If an editor asks for a partial, even in a drunken stupor in a bar answering a casually dropped "are you looking for" you send it. As you would with an agent.

The idea that you send to the agent first and let them sit around for five months gazing at their slush pile hoping it will disappear is nuts.

This is YOUR career. If someone wants to see your work (even if they asked for it in a drunkent stupor) you show it to them.

No surprise here...Miss Snark thinks exclusive submissions stink.

Get off the plane for Nitwitville

Dear Miss Snark,

I can't believe I actually have a question. It might very well reveal me to be a nitwit of the highest water, but perhaps my exhaustion from covering a massive trade show explains my nitwittery.

You've written about writing conferences and the etiquette of meeting editors and agents. If I were attending such a thing, I would keep my clips with me at all times and if asked, I would whip them out and shamelessly show them to anyone I met, but I don't expect to meet book
editors at these trade shows. I really just expect to talk to manufacturers and artists.

Yesterday during a break, I left my heavy backpack in the press room and stepped outside to join the throngs of smokers enjoying the fresh desert breeze.
You never know when you're going to stumble over the next hot product or crafter, so when a woman joined me on my bench in the shade, I introduced myself and said hello. She introduced herself, and we asked each other what we were doing here. She said, "I'm with Sterling Publishing. I'm trolling for writers and trends."

I just about dropped my cigarette. And I desperately wished I had martini to slurp.

I replied, "Really! I'm a writer, and I'm trolling for trends, too!"

Thereupon we had a nice conversation about the things we were seeing, and she opined that the coolest crafters can't write. I interjected that I am the opposite -- I'm a writer who crafts.

She was also celebrating signing a much-desired crafter to a four-book deal. Although the craft in question isn't my area of expertise, I congratulated her heartily and again wished there were a bar so I could buy her a martini.
We exchanged business cards, and she invited me to send her queries if I found any nifty ideas.

Now my questions: How long should I wait before I follow up? And -- how horrifying is it that I actually said, "Now I wish I had my clips with me"? She pointedly did not reply, "Oh, yes, I would love to see your clips."

Am I a nitwit? Or just forgiveably exhausted? Help!

Well, you're not actually a nitwit YET but you have a ticket for the trip. Turn back now before the plane departs.

The editor gave you all the info you need to remain safely here in Rabbitania. Send her a query when you have a nifty idea (she's looking for trends). Do you have a nifty idea about trends? If YES, you may send her a query. If NO, you send her a nice note saying something like "nice to meet you, I'm looking forward to reading that hot crafter's new book and congrats on this other book from Sterling that I just read (cause you went to the store and looked up Sterling's books and have something nice and genuine to say about them) and here's what I liked best".

You'll notice the word clips did not enter into that paragraph at all.

Do not take your clips out to show anyone at a trade show or any other place unless it's a business meeting wherein you are being asked about your experience. It is akin to pressing your short stories onto agents or editors you meet at the dentist's office cause "you're ready to embrace opportunity". Embrace opportunity by meeting, and NOT shooting yourself in the foot.

PS Killer Yapp was quite keen on decoupage until he realized that "no thumbs" was even more of a hindrance than "all thumbs".

More on Revisions

Let's say an agent (or an editor) requests changes. The changes are made. The agent (or editor) then passes. Should the author continue submitting the original book or the latest version?(I'm thinking conceptual changes that brought the book closer to the agent's/editor's tastes and not fixes.)

Did it make the book better? If an editor requests revisions that I think make the book better, I strongly encourage my client to make them even if I'm not so sure an offer will follow. I say to the client "we'll have a better book to shop even if we don't sell it here".

If you think the changes are stupid, wait a month, think again, and if you still think they are stupid, don't keep them.

You shop the best book you can.

Miss Snark is Hard Pressed not to be a tad sardonic here

When, at a conference, an agent does ask do see the manuscript, does the writer send the entire manuscript or query first?

An agent asks to see the manuscript.

Here are your the choices:

1. Send a query letter asking if they want to receive the manuscript
2. Send the manuscript

Now, think carefully. 1 or 2?

Got it?

Tenacity is not the same as not taking no for an answer

I am currently awaiting word from an editor on my full MS. If I receive a form "not right for us" I intend to drop him a line via email and ask them something along the lines of:1. What made you decide to request the full?2. How did it not meet your expectations?I don't know if that's nitwittery or not, but it's where I'm at now. I do believe there is a certain sort of tenacity one has to have in the profession.Opinions?

I cannot fully express how much I hate and despise receiving those kinds of "why not" letters. Mostly I throw them away or delete them. Sometimes I simply send my reading notes which have things like "can't write his way out of a paper bag" and "aliens don't arrive soon enough to kill this putrid novel" and let them chew on that for awhile.

They remind me of the people who won't get off the phone when you say "I need to hang up now" or this bodega exchange:

Woman buying cigarettes at bodega, takes change from clerk, and collects pack of cigs.
Clerk: would you like a bag?
Woman: no thanks.
Clerk: need matches?
Woman: no thanks
Clerk: need a lighter?
Woman: can I just get the fuck out of your store now please?

You demonstrate tenacity by sucking it up and realizing that rejection is just part of the process. Then you move on. You demonstrate tenacity by realizing one person's opinion, even MINE, is just that: one person's opinion. There are a lot of good and successful books I can't stand, wouldn't take, and make horrid, nasty and dismissive comments about. Quit asking me why I said no, and go find someone to say yes.


Miss Snark Sent Me

Oh All-Powerful Snarkilicious One

Writing my queries according to the agent's guidelines, I encountered in Kristen Nelson's example a little sentence about how the author found out about her agency, to show that you have actually done some research into the agent and aren't just bulk mailing them.

But I found her through you.

So while I could honestly say "I found you in Publishers Marketplace" the absolute truth would be "Miss Snark recommended you as one of the best".

So here is my dilemma -- while I think that you have one of the best sites/blogs about publishing, and that your information is a lot more, well, informative than many others I've visited, I am not sure if finding her through you is considered "research". I really don't mean that in a bad way --I've looked Kristen Nelson up before but she hadn't been at the top of my to-query list, and I'm still not sure if mentioning your blog would be taken seriously.

Though, of course, her blog mentions you, and she did call you "sweet". (Don't hold that moment of insanity against her...normally she's much more cogent).

Oh, and I heart you Killer Yap!
Just tell the truth.
Mostly agents simply want to know how you got to their website so that if you do something stupid (like query with an attachment) they can go fix the listing that might not be clear. I've had a bunch of equeries that mentioned where they found my name so I was able to go to the site and say "hey bucko, no e-queries".

If you found a site here, say so. Try not to do anything stupid while you're mentioning my name of course. Like sending attachments. Or spelling her name wrong. Or querying her about books of love poems dedicated to George Clooney. I fear her devotion to Mr. Clooney does not come close to mine.

And Killer Yapp says thanks, he likes all this hearting stuff but he really wants to sniff your toes.

Less money? Miss Snark hisses and backs away

Miss Snark, have you ever encouraged a client to take a somewhat smaller advance, on the theory that if you don't earn out your advance, it's really tough to sell again? Or is that crazy talk?

Call me crazy, but I always believe every book I sell is going to do well. I'm always shocked as hell when a book tanks. And yes, some have. It's just totally f/ing depressing and even thinking about it makes my face paler than Killer Yapp's delicate snout.

No, I never encourage anyone to take less dough cause I think the book won't earn out. I encourage clients to look at more than money: for back list support, editorial expertise and stability, and publicity and marketing support. That's worth reduced upfront dough.

But mostly Miss Snark smiles sharkly at editors and encourages them to open their coffers a bit more and pull out the file marked "serious money".

Who's on First?

Hello Miss Snark,

My question has to do with whom to query first. I noticed you posted a similar question recently called Writer Conference nibbles.

I, like the writer who asked, went to a writing conference. I got to do the short meeting pitch with editors and agents. Both agents and the editor I met with expressed interest in seeing the finished work. So, now that it's finished, whom do I query first, the agents or the editor? Or do I send the manuscript to all who asked to see it at the same time?

You send it to everyone who asked for it at the same time. After a writing conference, everyone knows you'll respond to everyone who asked for it. They don't expect exclusives or prioritizing.

Responding to "no" with "why not"

If an agent answers a query (or responds to a submission of, maybe, a synopsis and a few chapters) saying "No thanks. Not right for me" -- or "I didn't fall in love with it, so can't see representation," is it ever permissible to ask for suggestions, explanations, pointers? Or have agents got much better things to do with their time than coach someone whose work they don't particularly care for?

I'm not a writing coach or an editor. There are many other places to get that info. And sometimes there's nothing "wrong" it's just right for that agent.

You don't want to pay for stamps (since you're the same person who posted that comment about having agents pay for reply letters) and now you want me to respond individually to your query. I get 100 queries a week. It would cost me 45cents in paper and ink, and at least twenty minutes for each query to offer even rudimentary suggestions.

Forget the $45 in paper and ink: that's 30 hours. How many hours a week do you want me to work for free? And once I've spent that 30 hours giving you suggestions, is that when I settle down to actually do work for clients..the clients whose work brings in the money to pay for the ink and paper and stamps you think you shouldn't have to pay for?

My Work is JUST like .....that novel you liked so much

Miss Snark,

Is it really a treacherous thing to compare your work to that of others? I've talked to a few heads of publishing companies, and a few published writers and have been told that you SHOULD compare your work to that of others.

If someone compares their work to another's, is that as grevious as, say, NOT sending an SASE?

Because I'm torn. If comparing myself to others, as I've been told to do, won't HURT my query's chances, then I'd rather hedge my bets and compare the voice of my work to The Rules of Attraction with a twist of I Know This Much Is True..

It's not as bad as failing to send an SASE cause I'll read it.

However, you run the risk of shooting yourself in the foot by saying "my work is like The Rules of Attraction" if the agent you're querying doesn't like that book at all.

I always suggest you say "readers who liked The Rules of Attraction" will like this because it's not a comparison. It's a signpost.

See the difference?

And mostly people who say "my book is like this other book" either didn't read the same edition I did, or aren't objective enoug about their writing to see why the comparison is ludicrous.

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot inadvertently if you possible can.

Trick questions

Dear Miss Snark:

I've prepared my 500 word synopsis and perfected my query letter.
But in the query letter, the paragraph about me, the author, has me stumped. What is the best way to say that "this is my first novel for which I am seeking your representation"? The agent I will be querying requests that in the author paragraph I discuss how I started writing and what my accomplishments/credentials are.

Well, I've learned to write on my own - without college classes, writing groups or critique partners. I did take one on-line writing course. And I have had one article on humor published in a nursing journal. Do I mention that? It was 18 months ago and while it wasn't a bad article, my writing has improved leaps and bounds in that time.
I'm hoping you can shed your usual bright light on the subject.

This is a trick question. It's designed to weed out people who haven't written enough. I'm sorry to say, you're probably in this group. That's ok though, it's not a permanent designation. You can write your way out of it.

As you write, you learn to write. By way of example, I had to learn how to write a blog. Yes, I knew how to write. Yes, I knew how to rant. But, how do you write a blog that will get people's attention, keep them coming back, provide useful information, and not kill you with work? That I had to learn, and I learned it by writing. I didn't know I was learning it till I had learned it and had some perspective.

I learned how to generate interest by inviting people to ask questions. I stole that directly from Agent 007. I learned that people will write back in the comments section more readily if you pose a question at the end of the post--I learned that by stumbling upon it. And I learned that posting a lot late at night allowed people to comment first thing in the morning, and thus build comment momentum during the day, and I learned that from Ron at Beatrice.com

So, when someone asks you how you learned to write, the answer is I learned by doing, and by reading these authors, and here's what I learned from whom.

The reason I know you haven't written enough is cause you think you learned it only by doing. That's only done half the job. Every good published writer I know can tell me what they learned for their own writing from reading other people. Jeff Parker's riff on reading Tom McGuane motivated me to go read all of McGuane again..and I'm glad I did.

If you think you learn to write on your own, you haven't learned to write yet.

Write more. Read more. You'll know how you've learned when you've learned it and used it.

Clippings -not just for poodles anymore!

Miss Snark, I am devoted member of the devotion of Snarklings!

A question: I recently retired (threw out the kids and their dirty clothes, etc.) and began collecting writers' guidelines from print and other serials, with an eye to making some pin money while I decide whether I want to write the Great American Novel in my -- er -- golden years.

It's been a long time (20+ years) since I did much article writing for paying magazines, and I had forgotten that editors would like clippings!

I don't have much of anything like that any more (she wailed). When my husband retired, we closed the business, leased the house, moved overseas...to the South Pacific! We moved back. He died. I remarried and moved 2000 miles. Etc.,etc.

Can I just use that excuse, and maybe send a few of the original files (thank God for Macs!), or should I just write some more stuff for the non-paying venues and collect those clippings? (And what if my current venues are mostly electronic?)

First, my body of knowledge is book publishing, not magazine or article publishing/writing/editing. That said, I can tell you that reviews from books that are old (like more than 20+ years) don't carry much weight with me. Here's why: today's book reader isn't the same as the 1986 reader. What sold then probably isn't going to sell now. Yes writing quality matters, but if you've got a pool of people who ALL have good writing you're going to go with the person who's demonstrated they can write successfully for today's reader in today's market.

So, I'd get busy and get some current clips. And electronic clips are easy. Copy, cut, paste. Badda bing badda boom.

That South Seas thing sounds pretty nice right about now. Do they let poodles in?

Revision deadlines

What kind of turnaround times are expected for rewrites? Hypothetically, let's say we're talking about removing a subplot or condensing/deleting characters, something that involves making changes throught the whole work, vs. changing one chapter.

Depends on who's asking. If you're rewriting for an editor and you've sold your book, your deadline is in the contract most likely. If you're rewriting on spec, for agent or editor, your deadline is two weeks sooner than you think it should be.

It's a tough call: you have to write and let it sit long enough to get some objectivity but you want to get it done and turned in. If non-clients are revising on spec for me, they always take less time than they should; if they're clients, they always take too long.

I'm not sure if that's of any help.

Comparisons are STILL odious

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm sending out my first full manuscript to an agent. It's very short (65k). Would it be appropriate to mention in the cover letter that many similar novels (most notably Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451) are also short?


It shows you haven't a clue about the difference between front and back list. Both of those books may be classics but they were published before most editors and agents were born. Editors and agents are looking for things that can be sold TODAY (and no comment screeches about how dare I suggest Animal Farm couldn't be sold today.)

65K isn't very short, particularly if you're writing genre fiction. It's just short, but within acceptable limits.

And don't compare your book to others. If anything say readers who liked the novel Miss Snark's Guide to Etiquette will also like this, or this book will appeal to readers who liked Miss Snark's Guide to Etiquette.

Requested Revisions from an Agent

Dear Miss Snark,

First off, thanks for such a lovely blog. I recently found an agent thanks in no small part to the advice I gleaned here. (yay!!!!)

And my question: A dear friend's manuscript was just rejected by an agent who had held it for nine months. During that time, my friend rewrote the manuscript *twice* to accommodate this agent's editorial suggestions.

Is this typical? Have you ever requested rewrites before signing with a client? Perhaps the following sentiment will reveal my closet nitwittery, but it seems strange that a top agent would invest so much time in a potential client, only to give her the ol' Heisman. (Heisman?)

What would you suggest your readers do if faced with a rewrite request from an interested agent?

I'd say: Do It.

Rewrites. The piece of information you're missing here is the agent's perspective. Yes, your friend rewrote, but my guess is first that he wasn't able to get it "right enough" for the agent. I've had this happen, and recently. I liked a book well enough to start thinking about where to send it. It needed some work, not a lot but some, and I thought what needed to be done was pretty clear. I wrote the author a detailed letter. He rewrote and sent it back. He done almost nothing I'd asked. I wrote back, he sent it again, same problem. By that time I was just annoyed. Either do the rewrites or tell me why you think I'm all wet but reading something three times without seeing changes was nuts.

The author was really shocked when I said no cause I think he believed editorial comments meant an offer was a pretty sure thing. I said, look you didn't make the changes I suggested twice. Even if you did them now, I've got no confidence you'd be someone who can handle editorial direction if I sold this. Needless to say he was not pleased. I wasn't all that happy either but from a totally selfish point of view, there will be other books coming to me, and I want authors who will either make changes, or tell me straight out that they haven't. Just sending something back and hoping I won't notice, cause you don't agree with my view, is not ok.

I don't know if this is typical. I do know that more than half the people on my list rewrote BEFORE I signed them and two or three are still rewriting based on comments from editors and new ideas I have. It took me a while to understand that this is an ongoing process: it's not just write send submit sell. It can be in some cases, but a lot of times it's not.

The next part of the question is do you do extensive rewrites for an editor without a contract. More on that later.


Miss Snark, you ignorant slut

It seems there have been several brief mentions of various genres on the blog lately.

I'm wondering if you might give us a brief overview of the most salable genre as well as the most difficult to market.

Also, are books of a metaphysical nature (reincarnation or astrology) next to impossible to find an agent to represent?

Thank you again :)
I heart Killer Yapp (I don't want him to feel left out in the cold)

You're thinking of changing genres to find the one easiest to break into?
of course not. If you write westerns, you love and write westerns. yee haw.

All books face enormous hurdles. No one genre is easier than another. The people who tell you it's a piece of cake are clearly in some sort of glucose induced madness and should be force fed green peas till their head spins.

I have no idea about metaphysical books cause I don't even know what metaphysical is. Anything I said about it would be highly suspect cause I have no clue about any of it. Probably cause I'm an extremely literal minded Year of the Dog bitch.

Killer Yapp says thanks, he was feeling a tad left out with all this SnarkHearting going on.

Give Back The Money?

So - if James Frey's books are returned, does he owe the publisher his royalties back? And, if he has to pay back money would his agent bear the brunt also?

There's something I've been wondering about in regards to advances and royalties (apologies if the answer is already somewhere in the Snarchives). I know that a writer doesn't start receiving royalties until they 'earn out' their advance, but what if the book doesn't sell, and they never earn out the advance - does this happen? If so, and the book is remaindered, would the writer then have to repay the outstanding amount, or would the publisher simply cut their losses?

Thank you, Miss Snark - I can't say how much I appreciate your blog. (well, you just did, and you're welcome)

James Frey doesn't have to give back the money. Neither does his agent.

And if his book had tanked, he still wouldn't have to.

Advances against royalties are at the publisher's risk: you don't have to pay them back if the book doesn't earn out. You do if you fail to deliver the book.

More than half of all books fail to earn out their advances. This is not a happy thing.

More on "being seen"

To address the anonymous post about painters vs. writers: One key difference is that paintings can be seen without purchase. In art school, I was basically taught to make art and not worry about sales. Resume, sure. Sales, pfft! Just keep painting. But as a writer, your work isn't "seen" publicly unless it's published and subsequently bought. (red emphasis is from MS)

And I heart Miss Snark, too. Can we get bumper stikers that say that?

ahhhh. Are you saying my "writing" isn't seen? I beg to differ. There's a clicker on the bottom of the log that shows just how seen it is.

There are lots of ways for people to see your writing that does not involve being published, or an agent. Far be it from me to tell anyone that writing a blog is useless; it's one of the things I get a huge kick out of. And there are all sorts of ways to write starting with newsletters in groups you belong to, Amazon reviews on books you read, and the comments column of this very blog.

Being published is a worthy goal. My point is that if you don't reach that goal, you haven't wasted your time. And I'm never going to suggest you give up. I have clients right now, on my list this very second, who took YEARS of editing suggestions and finally got something I can take a run at the market with.

I like the bumper sticker idea!!! I wonder if the MTA will let me put it on the train?

Miss Snark Passes...a gas of a post?

Do you often send queries to other agents? For instance, if you got something on your desk and thought, "It's pretty good but not what I do, however Agent Wendigo digs this," would you contact that writer and suggest Agent Wendigo? Would you pass the stuff along to Wendigo yourself (if you knew her)? Similarly, do editors recommend other publishers/editors when you present material to them? "I'm not looking for This Week's Da Vinci Code WannaBe but Editor Chupacabra over at Mystery House would kill to get this."

welllllllllll, sort of. Sometimes I think it's just me, that I don't appreciate the finer aspects of a novel about the archeology of Rabbitania, or the healthful aspects of serial scrubbers, so I get out my trusty list of Snark comrades in arms and refer.

I give the querier the agent's name. I never forward a query myself. For all I know the querier thinks Miss Snark's comrades are all ne'er do wells, and wouldn't want to have their sase sullied by close proximity to, let alone arrival in, their zipcodes.

And no, editors hardly ever say "not me but send it to Kerfluffle and Floozy". They send me deals that need an agent when their own house is buying but if they pass, they don't give me suggestions. As you might guess, that's ok with me.

James Frey's Agent Surfaces!

Yes, but the real question: is she giving up her 15%?

In an exclusive interview with Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson, James Frey's agent says basically she never shopped it as a novel, she believed every word, and of course "now that the trust is broken" she "can't possibly represent him anymore".

I'd be guffawing only slightly less if she'd accompanied that statement with 1. a check refunding all her commission money 2. a notarized revocation of her interest in future royalties; 3. she'd actually fessed up to some introspection about the demarcation lines of "fiction based on a true story/memoir/novel"

This is hogwash. She's leaving the sinking ship as fast as she can crank the lifeboat and avoid being eaten by the feeding frenzy of sharks. The fact that there's no more money to be made probably made the decision only quicker (Frey's film deal is pretty much toast now).

Broken trust my Aunt Fanny. WE KNEW. Everyone knew. You can't read that book and NOT know. The only thing that changed was that after The Smoking Gun posted the results of their fact finding mission, people started talking about it publicly. (well, I was but it was early days of the blog before anyone was really paying attention except Sarah Weinman and Peter Winkler).

This is almost enough for me to feel sorry for James Frey. Well, I'll feel sorry for him right up until he signs with Andrew Wylie. Then I'll go back to thinking he's an arrogant nitwit.

Querying Miss Snark

I am new to your blog and boy am I glad I found it. Anybody who uses WTF as much as you do---well, you are my gal.

Killer Yap is certainly lucky to have the pleasure of knowing the real you—which brings me to my point.

Your posts, your line of thinking, your abrupt but tender personality—I want to…………query you.

My agent search is just beginning and all the horror stories of dud agents, not returning phone calls, disappearing off the face of the earth for years.

And this from people who felt good about their choice.

I know you wouldn’t do such a thing. (Miss Snark hides her tickets to Antarctica)

So maybe, I was thinking, you might share some information with me (only me) so that I can contact you. Nothing of the stalker sort… does K Yap accepts email queries? (yes, but you really don't want to know what he does with them---litigation is in fact pending about unnatural use of a mouse)

Look I appreciate the vote of confidence, I really do. It beats the hell out of "agents are slime pods cause they want you to pay for your own rejection letters". But despite my warm and fuzzy bunny slipper response, I'm not going to let you query me here, and I'm not going to out myself to you.

Rest assured, if you query NYC based agents you'll probably end up on my slush pile.

And for those of you who are working on non-fiction, particularly geared for the same audience that reads chick lit, you'd do well to zip over to Kate Epstein's new agency and give her a shout. She's just hung out her own shingle, she was formerly an editor at Adams, and I think she's got a great career ahead of her. Tell her Miss Snark says howdy while you're at it.

Just cause, yanno, we didn't flog the SASE topic enough last week

I've always been curious about this quaint tradition since I first discovered it many years ago (the first time I submitted).I think there's something heroically ironic about the fact that aspiring writers -- some of the poorest people I know (except for those who are REALLY poor) -- have to foot the postage for something they'd really rather not be doing, and then again for news they'd in most instances rather not hear. This irony is only further compounded when occasional (say, every two - three years) postage rate increases mean that the time you've waited for a response has now left your SASE with insufficient postage -- and so it either ends up in the dead letter office, or comes back to you with a request for a few more cents. All for the joy of reading a form letter that says "Thanks, but no thanks."I wonder whether this is because agents/publishers really fundamentally HATE new writers, or because they're simply tight-fisted little scoundrels. Anyone have any insight?

yes, that's right, we hate new and old writers alike. We don't distinguish, we lump them all into that sneered upon pile of festering slush. We'd rather not deal with it at all.

So, let's just reverse the question: what's your alternative?

As I see it there are three ways to do this:

1. you send me a query letter with an SASE and I respond
2. you send me a query letter with no SASE, and I respond, paying postage
3. you send me a query letter with no SASE, and I don't respond.

Are there other choices?
Let's just leave the email option aside for a moment, since in fact some agents DO take equeries.

Now, you tell me why #2 or #3 are better options than #1. Remember that your ability to persuade me will rest largely on answering the questions: what will it do to make my life easier, more efficient or less expensive. "just cause I don't want to pay for postage" is not a persuasive arguement. If you have other points, I'm glad to hear them.

Hola, que pasa?

Dear Miss Snark,

In my reserach on agents, I've come across several who mention "Latina Fiction". I've never heard of the genre or type before. I assume that it might be romance with hispanic protagonists, but none of my seraches have come up with anything beyond university classes on Latino Literature of the Twentieth Century. What exactly is Latina fiction?

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez

It's exactly what you think it is. 1/3 of all Americans --err...as is so ably pointed out in the comment trail, Miss Snark's nitwittery is on full display here--. 1/3 of all people who live in the US (not "Americans") will speak Spanish as their FIRST language by the year 2020. Publishers can read demographic studies almost as well as pop music producers.

Papa Was A Rollin' Stone

Hi Miss Snark!

I imagine some of the issues I'm having in the literary world (namely my status as a "published-challenged" individual) could stem from my general lack of SASE's in my partial packages. My excuse to myself has been my "establishe-roots-challenged" existence. For lack of better words, I'm a gypsy. My unfortunate childhood, confused adolescence, and alcoholism-ridden, "legally-challenged" young adulthood mean the most I've spent in one place since 16 is a year. So my "mobile" email address is a much better route to contact me. (As you can see, I'm quite the "challenged" individual!)

I realize this is my problem, and not the agents/editors who are kindly requesting partials. Up to now, I wasn't alluding to the reason behind the lack of SASE in my packages. Perhaps if I were to mention this briefly, it would help. Of course settling down would probably be the better solution; but Poppa was a rolling stone, and just like my daddy.

Three words: post office box.

And if you're moving state to state, invest in a mail forwarding service. You pay them a certain amount and they'll forward mail to you where ever you are. You may be more readily available by email but as everyone knows by now, sans SASE, Miss Snark has already recycled you.

Familial fun

Dear Miss Snark,

I live in Ireland, the land of saints, scholars, Guinness, and Cork Dry Gin (really rather yummy), but alas, also a land of few literary agents and publishers. Something to do with that larger, jolly country off our east coast which hosts many of the world's major publishing houses.

I've written a literary novel, and over the last seven months, I've been sending it to Ireland's literary agents, plus many of the ones over the water to the east. Things move slowly, as you know, but I'm starting to get the tiniest bit of tentative interest and (holy moly!) a request for a
partial. Fine so far.

My problem is my cousin. He also wrote a novel--dashed it off in two months when he was supposed to be processing parking fines for Ballygobackward Town Council--and he then immediately went to a POD self publishing crowd. Six weeks later, and he's lounging around in a velvet smoking jacket and lace-trimmed gumboots, expounding to all who will listen about the hard life of a writer, and dropping "my agent" or "my publisher" or "my editor" into
every other sentence.

I've read his book. It's not the worst, although there's a good few grammatical errors, which of course get ignored by a POD crowd. But now, our families are looking pityingly at me, saying things like, "Oh, Finbarr must be the real writer in the family, as his novel was snapped up in a blink, and have you seen it, it's the one with the pretty purple and pink artwork
on the cover."

Now, you know, and I know, and all the Snarklings reading this know, that POD Vanity Publishing isn't the same thing as being published by Gill & Macmillan. But I'm getting really sick of both Finbarr, his book, and our families. Is there a tactful way I can explain the differences between vanity publishing and real publishing without looking churlish or putting
down Finbarr too much?

And if you can answer this question, Miss Manners....er... Miss Snark, then I have another pressing question about removing egg yolk from a silk cravat.

Miss Snark steps up to the plate on both questions.

1. When one's family makes noises about dear Finbarr, you wrinkle your nose, look perplexed, and say "you know, I really want to read this great novel but I can't seem to find it at the library. The librarian called it a vanity project. I wasn't sure what she meant. Do you know?"

When Finbarr makes noises about his agent, ask who it is. Purely to send flowers and choccies for congrats of course.

2. The best way to remove egg yolk from a silk cravat is with a tongue. Yours or, as is more often the case here, Killer Yapp's.

Nitwit of the Day

First of all, whoever keeps saying I heart Miss Snark, please stop it.

Secondly, Miss Snark sees fit to conclude her brief encyclical with the following, somewhat over-sentimentalized bit of advice: "If it's never published, so be it. YOU will have loved, understood, empathized, prayed, rejoiced and enjoyed. In the end, that's all that matters." Rubbish! Every serious writer worth his or her salt desires publication - craves understanding readers - dreams about affecting perhaps even influencing others with their original view of the world -- in short, it certainly does matter. A lot. What's the point of suffering through the act of creation if you truly believe that publication doesn't matter? Far better, then, to just give up now chuck your manuscripts under the bed or into the fire.

First of all, anyone who wants to heart Miss Snark is welcome to do so.

Second, if you don't like encouragement when things aren't going well, take your little icicle ass off to someone else's blog. This blog is not about telling writers to give up. This blog is about learning about how I, as an agent, look at work; how the publishing industry works; and the fact that writing is something I value. I would no more tell someone to give up writing cause it wouldn't sell than I would tell my five foot ten nephew to stop playing basketball cause he'll never make the NBA. The things he learns playing on the team will stand him in good stead for the rest of his life. Learning to write; and regular writing, can have a lot of value outside the marketplace. Just for starters it makes you a better reader, and a consumer of books..all things I think are just fine and dandy.

If the only reason you want to write is to impress and influence other people, I suggest you apply to work in the sign-making department of the MTA. Eight million people will read your words daily, and they'll talk about it a lot. Oh, and here's an extra metro card for your ego. I don't think it will all fit through just one rotation of the turnstile.

Sentimental indeed. F off and die.

Writing Conference nibbles

Dear Miss Snark,

An executive editor at a major house asked to see my ms after an advance reading at a conference. What is the best way to convey this opportunity in the query to my target agents?Thanks for taking the time to answer all of us. - A Snarkling with high hopes.

Dear Miss Snark:

(opening paragraph about your novel)

(second paragraph about your fabulosity)

Brunhilda Gobsmack, executive editor at GotRox, asked to see (title) when I met her at Reading Writhing and Rum in September.

Love and kisses to Killer Yapp,


When to Stop

At what point do I say to myself, "Self, you're pretty much a no-talent writer and you should give this all up. Your view of the world is not what everyone else's is. Your writing style sucks grapefruit without sugar; and you're too dang short"?

When you're standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter is busy discussing his novel with Miss Snark.

Look, writing is supposed to be hard. It's supposed to be utter agony. If it were easy, there would be no trees left at all, and what would Killer Yapp whizz on in Central Park?

If you must write, if you love to write, if writing makes you understand yourself or the world better; if writing is prayer; if writing is fun; if writing is what you think about when you see something strange or wonderful in this old world, then write.

If it's never published, so be it. YOU will have loved, understood, empathized, prayed, rejoiced and enjoyed. In the end, that's all that matters.

Another Braying Voice

Anyone who actually signs with an agent is foolish. There's no need to sign a contract with an agent. I've been writing and publishing for years, have had three agents and never signed with any of them.

Uh huh. Glad to hear it. Hope it continues to work well for you.

I don't work that way. I like my clients to know, in writing, what they're going to pay. I like them to know, in writing, how to get out of my clutches. I like them to know, in writing, that the laws of the state of Rabbitania apply. I like them to know, in writing, that I may have to pay a foreign rights agent, and how much that will cost them. I like them to know in writing, what expenses I charge them for and when. I like them to know, in writing, that if they leave the agency, they still have to cough up commissions for work I sold.

This is a business. It's not a social relationship. That means we're not taking vows "for life" and "better or worse". It's a letter of agreement that spells out our understanding.

Some agents do not have letters of agreement, or written contracts. They rely instead on the publishing contract to spell out the agent's duties. That's all good and well till you get to the part the publishing contracts don't address at all. Like expenses, communication, foreign rights, film rights, binding arbitration, and the fact I represent people whose work competes with yours.

I look on an agency contract as a statement of good faith by me to you.

You can disagree all you want, but it certainly doesn't make my clients foolish. Foolishness is, as they say, represented elsewhere.

Miss Snark Gets Wicked

This was my first conference pitching a story and was very happy to have three requests for partial submissions. (one editor and two agents) YAY..but then a fellow author said they just ask out of courtesy..Huh? I would think the last thing you want is another package of 3 chapters or 100 pages flooding your office if you don't intend to read it, but it put the question in my head anyway.

REWIND to Writers Conference

Snarkling: I'm very excited! Two agents and an editor asked to see my partial. What a happy day!

Fellow Author: oh they just ask out of courtesy; it doesn't really mean anything.

Cue: sudden burst of lightning, giant pink balloons fall from ceiling and MISS SNARK arrives in a bubble like Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, accompanied by KILLER YAPP in sunglasses, burberry velvet smoking jacket and matching chapeau.

MS: (Seizes FA by throat and enunciates slowly) WTF? Is this how you respond to good news? You churlish, mealy mouthed sapsucking nitwit. YOU may think it's a courtesy cause YOUR work came back with a rejection at the speed of light, but don't assume that's the default setting. You're clearly a person of limited social skills and rampant nitwittery so YOU will not have much luck connecting to someone at a personal meeting but other people do not share your lack of social graces. People such as the Snarkling here, to whom it did not even occur that you are jealous back biting nimrod; instead she doubted herself.

Killer Yapp bites FA on ankle, spits out bile, reaches for an Altoid

No, it's not just a courtesy. I've said no to plenty of things at conferences.

And even if it WAS just a courtesy, that person is a pill for saying so. May the earth swallow 'em up.

Miss Snark Can't Believe Her Eyes

Miss Snark,

you're being quite reasonable in warning authors not to obsess. In the bigger picture, though, agents do have different submitting styles. Some love auctions, while others refuse to even consider doing them. Some even prefer exclusive subs. An author has to be comfortable with stuff like that (and needs to know it before signing with an agent).

An agent who refuses to do auctions?
An agent who only sends to editors on an exclusive basis?

Comfortable with that? Are you insane?
Here, have a clue stick, hit yourself with it, cause an agent who categorically refuses to do auctions or multiple submissions is not someone you EVER want to be comfortable with.

It's not quite 10 am so there's hope you won't be nitwit of the day with this comment, but something REALLY amazing is required to over take it. (well, you're safe, the post above takes the cake)

So, you think email queries are great, huh?

My email program allows me to sort email addresses into categories. Each category has a color, so editors, clients, publishers, marketing and pr folks all have their own color. When their email pops into my mailbox, their name and subject are in color so I know to read it. Anyone emailing for the first time has no designation and so their address is in black.

Helps weed out email from Nigeria and Rabbitania, and those wanting to help me enlarge my ...um...vocabulary.

IF you've queried Miss Snark and we've had some correspondence, you also have a category. It's called "potential clients". It's a nice lovely green.

This morning I had an email. I didn't remember the email address, but because it was green, I knew to open it.

Alas. A chain letter. A chain letter about the year of the dog.

Clearly this person had added Miss Snark's email address to her address book, and then just sent this email to "all".

First of all, don't ever do that anyway.
Second, please, don't EVER send that shit to an agent. If I'd been thinking of taking this woman on as a client, I'd be having more than second thoughts now. This is the behavior of the rank amateur.

Keep a separate email address for your e=queries, and put agent addresses in those. Don't send us anything personal, even if you think it's good for our souls, pocketbooks, or our business. NO EXCEPTIONS.

New kid in the blogosphere

Well, look who's calling Miss Snark "sweet". Clearly deranged. Clearly.
Probably the lack of oxygen in the Mile High City.

Kristin is probably one of the very best agents around for chick lit (and she's looking for science fiction too). You'd be hard pressed to get a smarter, savvier agent. And she takes e-queries, so all those questions about that now have a new resource.

Give her blog a read.


A Snarkling's Revenge

Hi Miss Snark,

Please don't rip your hair out and set it on fire. Time to kick off the stilettos, sit back with a gin pail Killer Yap at your feet, and maybe take a look at this. I have to say, what I like best about him is his voice (yummy) and his sense of humor. Okay, so I also like his politics too.

I was *so* sorry I forgot to bring a camera. Then again, I might have done something shameless and brazen if I had remembered.

Oh the horror of finding out that one of the Snarklings was in the room with Mr Clooney and

1. Didn't slip him my phone number
2. Didn't call me to tell me to get there at once
3. Didn't take a camera to record his wonderfullness

Miss Snark is retiring to her settee with a pail of gin, and plans for revenge. Aren't you glad you aren't in the slush pile tonight! Oh wait....maybe you arrrre!

More on Sizes and designations

Is trade paperback the same as quality paperback?I have one author I try to get all her books in quality ppb since I can't afford hard cover but adore her work enough to WANT to buy it in hc. Quality paperback is my compromise and each book costs between $11 and $16 or $17.Do authors have any input on which way their book will come out? (I'd imagine new authors don't, but since i have yet to publish a book, I have no idea.)

Quality paperback was actually the name of a company that published trade ppbks for a book club.

It's like calling a copy machine a xerox machine, but yes, you have the right idea.

Yes, authors have a say in this. You don't have to sell all the rights to all the kinds of sizes if you don't want to. If a publisher buys hardcover rights, that's all they've got. If they buy ALL the rights (hc, tp, tpo, mm, mmo) then they get to do what they want. What they want is to make money...as inefficiently as possible of course, but you get the general idea.

Miss Snark Rips out her Hair and Sets it on Fire

Pursuant to Miss Snark's post on "contributing to strategy" comes this from the comment column.

As long as the writer knows this, then there shouldn't be an issue. It's a style thing, a matter of fit. Are you open to suggestions, if a writer has an editor they'd love to have it sent to? Or is that off-limits completely.I know I'd want an agent that I could ask about editors, offer suggestions and just discuss strategy, so it's good to know that's something I should be upfront about before signing on.:)

Oh yes, the infamous "I want you to send this to Carrie Ferron". Yes, she's Laura Lippman's editor. Yes she's cool and groovy. Do you know what she bought last week? Do you know what she bought last month? Do you know, most important, what she didn't? Of course you don't...YOU'RE NOT AN AGENT.

Clients get these dream editors list from Publishers Weekly or acknowledgement sections of books and then get all snarly when you say things like "this editor doesn't like serial killers"; "that editor doesn't like dismemberments"; or "s/he has to sell 40,000 in hardcover and this isn't going to do that." Even if you say that, the next response is "but can't you just send it to her/him/it and see what the response is".

Unless you are living breathing working agent "offering suggestions" is akin to sitting on Santa's lap and telling her what you want. Even if you're published. Even if you think you know a lot.

As you can see, this stuff drives me up a wall. YES, this only a matter of style. If you want to offer suggestions, and discuss strategy, ask before you sign. You'll be extremely unhappy here, but not as unhappy as I am, and that's a VERY bad thing for both of us. You worked hard on your project, find an agent you're comfy with. Miss Snark is VERY prickly, and abrasive. You can live with that...or not.

Super short queries...ewww

Hi Miss Snark,

I just got an email from a friend who attended the San Diego Writers' Conference. She said the agents and editors she met wanted super-short queries (maybe 150 words) and one-page synopses (250 words). I know the queries you ran through the Crap-O-Meter ran closer to 250-300 and the synopses 1,000. Is there that much of a variance in agents/editors' personal

Miss Snark wants thin thighs in thirty days but so far no luck on that score either.

The truth is we very seldom count words if the letter is well written. This word limitation is to keep those folks who have little of value to say, from saying it at length.

The danger is you won't write enough if you're trying to be so brief you're obscure. I wrote a post on that yesterday I think...I had no idea what the book was about from the cover letter.

One page query letters, synopsis under a thousand words, you're probably ok. I have no idea why people ask for a synopsis of 25o words on a novel unless they're just trying to make everyone's life miserable. If the first three paragraphs suck, I just stop reading.

What Have You Sold

Miss Snark,

Perhaps I'll recieve nitwit of the day for my questioning, but I must ask: Exactly when can you ask an agent, or group of agents, what they have sold? If it's not posted on their website, and you haven't been able to ask anyone who knows them personally, then I honestly can't see how you'd ask until you've already sent them your manuscript.

Sorry, this is NOT a nitwit question. You are eligible to try for the Nitwit Stakes again tomorrow.

Here's how to find out:

1. Look at the website.
2. Google the agent's name
3. Invest $20 in a subscription to Publishers Marketplace (the BEST value in publishing today, bar none) and use the "search deals" feature. This is NOT available on the free service.

4. If all else fails, ask them. This is not privileged information. This is not a trade secret. Any agent that says you're a nitwit for asking IS a nitwit. If people respond that way to you, send me your email asking them, and the response, and I'll post it.

Here's the proviso. DO NOT ask this in your query letter or before an agent has expressed interest in your work. You can do all the research you want ahead of time, but save the "4. Ask them" for agents who are considering your work.

I love to wax enthusiastic about my deals and my upcoming projects. Heck, I still send PW reviews to Grandmother Snark for her fire engine red refrigerator door.

Query the world, but only SIGN with someone who will tell you what they've sold and when.

Book sizes

You refer to "trade paper original" and "mass market." I don't know that I've ever heard the phrase "trade paper original."

Trade paper original, or TPO, is a book that's first published in paperback, but in the bigger size, not the small mass market size. Mass market size are the ones you see at the grocery stores, retail price $6.99.

TPO are bigger, just slightly smaller than a hardover, and retail for $12-$15 and up.

There are other offbeat sizes too, but don't worry about those.

Generally rights are divvied up as: hardcover (hc), trade paperback (tp) and mass market (mm).

Any of those sizes can be original if the book is published FIRST in that form.

This kind of information is useful and you can find a lot of it in one place in Writers' Market books. Even year old editions can be useful if you want to save dough. The contact info in them is outdated almost as soon as it's published....they asked for our updates for the 2007 edition in January of 2006 to give you an idea of lead time.

Yo! Colleagues!

Do you take email queries?
Do you reply with your auto-signature?
Does that signature include links to your author's websites, and mention upcoming books?

Think about how that looks to someone who's hearing "not right for me".


Email is cold and tone-deaf enough without adding to the misery of people by shoving their faces into links of people whose work was right for you.

And don't get me started on links to your own books about how to get published. That rant needs to simmer for awhile before it's cool enough to post.

Get Ready to Hang Miss Snark in Effigy

Miss Snark,

We've all heard about "the talk" you have with an agent when you're considering an offer of representation. What about the talk when your stuff is ready to make the rounds of publishers?

Could you kindly outline any suggestions about what to ask the agent about submission strategy, such as: how many will you submit to initially? Will you modify approach based on initial feedbac? How many total and when will you give up? How will you inform me about responses? Etc. Does that about sum it up? Any other snarkiferous suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Ok, hang on to your hats, this is going to generate a shitstorm.

Your agent, who let's all just assume, knows what she's doing, will send your stuff out. Asking about submission strategy, numbers, how I'm going to do it, and all that other stuff, makes me nuts.

It makes me nuts because it's like a committee where everyone has input of equal value, and there's a vote at the end on what to do. That is not the case here at Snark Central. It may be the case at other places. I'm not going to tell you how to dangle your modifier; you're not going to tell me how to dangle my fetching project du jour (even if you wrote it).

Just let me do my job and judge the results. I'll report back with an offer, or after a month, which ever comes sooner. I'll always tell you where something is; I'll tell you what editors are saying if you ask. Parsing out what those editors say is a waste of time, but doghelpme, almost every client wants to do it. No is no, for whatever reason. Move on.

My experience is that people who want to be involved every step of the way are a BAD fit for my agency. If you think this is how you'll be, you need to find out BEFORE you sign with an agent. If I had a conference with every client before I started sending his her work out, I'd lose a work day a week. Honest to dog, wouldn't you rather I DID the work than talk to you about it?

We've had forty rounds on this subject earlier on the blog. It's simply a matter of style. Some agents love to yammer with clients about strategy. Good. Sign with them if you want that. Some agents prefer to bathe their clients in neglect until they get an offer; that's me. I'll tell you that upfront. I'll even make you say it's ok. You don't have to like it, but you do have to live with it.

Now, the proviso here is that your agent knows what she's doing. No agent should EVER refuse to tell you where your work is. EVER. No exceptions. If you want cover letters, and rejection letters (or notes) you are entitled to get those promptly.

I will send you every letter you want, and I'll mail you rejection letters till the cows come home. I just don't want to engage in endless conversation about it. Writers obsess about this stuff and it's extremely tedious and a waste of time for me.

More on "expiration dates" in queries

Dear Miss Snark,

Your advice has kept me going (i.e., writing) during a particularly difficult time. Thanks for being there. (
thank you, that's very kind)

On my first (rather timid) attempt at querying, I emailed three excellent agents and got two immediate requests for partials of my novel. One agent even asked for the full ms. While both agents eventually passed, they each provided excellent comments and advice about my work which I took seriously. i decided to resume the querying process only after a rewrite.

Round two: I did a lot of research and one day (almost five months ago now) I prepared individualized query packets for twelve or more agents. I also emailed a few additional agents who accept e-queries. I was thrilled to get an immediate emailed response from an agent I greatly admire. He asked for 50 pages.

Later that same day I got word that my
83-year-old mother was seriously ill and I left town to be with her. The months that followed have included not only many trips to the hospital, but the storing of eveything I own so that I could move across country and spend more time caring for my mom.

Things have finally settled into a routine and I am ready to try again.
I'm not worried about the packets that were never sent by mail. I'm redoing those with new dates, etc. (And yes, they each include an SASE.) I am, however, wondering about the protocol of reconnecting with the esteemable Agent A, who requested 50 pages and never got them.

By sheer coincidence, I recently met an (as yet unpublished) client of Agent A who sang the man's praises and told me to use his name.

But here's the rub:

Do I:

a) contact Agent A again and apologize for the lateness in getting the partial to him,
b) explain the reasons (and if so, how?),
c) use his client's name,
d) assume Agent A has moved on to other things by now and just forget the idea of ever working with him?

I don't want to be a nitwit - so I hope you'll provide your usual good advice.
Thank you.

a. yes
b. yes
c. yes
d. NO

First, despite all evidence to the contrary, agents have mothers too. Some of us even like ours. And I'll tell you this: if I heard you'd focused on getting your partial out instead of caring for your elderly mother I'd personally arrive at your door and give you a piece of my mind.

Of course you did the right thing. You know that. I know that. Agent A will know that.

You simply say "the illness of my 83 year old mother has taken my attention for some months. I am writing to follow up on the email you sent asking for my first fifty pages. Would you still like to see them?".

You are not a nitwit. You're not even close. Give my best regards to your mom too.

Some Background on Miss Snark's Antipathy about Reviewer/novelists

I'm a little puzzled by assault on book reviewers who are also authors, since this is common practice. Indeed, some novelists argue it is almost a duty to be out there reviewing.I wouldn't, the nature a of karma being what it is. But, boy, is it common practice.

I was remiss in not explaining the subset of 'reviewer/novelist' that makes me scream. I don't object to novelists being reviewers of books here and there for the Times etc. Lots of novelists do it, and it's interesting to see everyone look for hidden agendas (my god, that woman's ex husband is friends with the author...no matter she hasn't seen or spoken to him in 20 years kind of thing). The world is much more entertaining place for Dale Peck reviewing, and I don't object to that at all.

My objection is full time, paid, staff reviewers for major publications such as the NYT, Chi Trib, LAT, PW, Kirkus, Time, Newsweek etc. writing and publishing novels while they are reviewers.

Here's the conversation:

Ring! Ring!

Editor: Hello
Miss Snark: I have a delicous new novel from a fresh voice. You'll love it, I know cause you love novels about pigs that fly and live on Park Avenue and perambulate through the park.

Editor: Well...

Miss Snark: oh, and I should also mention, he's the chief book reviewer for Time Magazine.

Editor: We'll take world rights for six figures, Alex.

Cause yanno, what editor in their right mind is going to say no? To the guy who can decide single handledly if their books, and indeed all the books at the publisher are reviewed in a magazine of some umpty ump million readers? Exactly.

If you want to write while you're a full time paid book reviewer, fine. Just don't try to publish it "on its merits" till you retire, resign or clone yourself. Anyone who thinks a book like that is treated objectively is out of touch with how the real world works. Or maybe they really do think they write that well. Cluegun for aisle six please.

Hats off To Victoria and Ann, again, as usual, and always

Scammers aren't stupid. They know you'll ask "What have you sold" and the smart ones have "lists" that look good to the unwary. Writer's Beware says it better. Read it.

Victoria and Ann do a HUGE service to publishing by keeping track of, and talking about not just scammers, but lazy ass ne'er do wells. They have my utmost respect and gratitude.

Well, at least you ASKED before standing in the nitwit corner

Hi Miss Snark,

An agent who has represented mutiple best-sellers wants to represent my modest book. Unfortunately, the author-agency contract she asked me to sign specified that disputes will be settled by binding arbitration in the city where the agent is located. That's a problem because she's in Washington, DC and I'm in New York City. I therefore asked her to change the contract to indicate that arbitration will be held in the city of the respondent. She refused. Would I be a nitwit if I dumped this super-successful agent?

Particularly about something like this.
It's $40 to take the bus to DC. If you end up in binding arbitration with this agent, email me, and I'll give you two nice crisp twenty dollar bills.

Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish.
I don't change the major terms of my contract for representation either.

The Book Buffet Serves Up a Question

Thanks for the tip on Laura Lippman. I'm reading TO THE POWER OF THREE now (great stuff) and have her first Tess book in my reading stack.

Question: Imagine anyone you really, really enjoy reading. Would you want to represent that person (if you don't) or would the ups and downs of the relationship spoil the reading experience for you?

Like if Laura Lippman needed some Snark in her corner? Well, she doesn't, she's ably represented as they say "elsewhere" but if we might just use the Divine Miss L as an example, hell yes, I'd take her on. Do I look insane? Don't answer that till I wash my face and comb my rat tail hair.

Yes, it would absolutely change how I read her books. Right now I pounce on them, retire to the settee on a Friday night, turn off the phone, and just dive in. I leave all my objectivity in the refrigerator to chill out. I read LL strictly for fun and pleasure. She's like a delicious torte: rich, yummy, and satisfying.

I don't read client's books for fun or pleasure. They are not tortes. They are oatmeal cookies; still delicious, but more businesslike. They ARE fun and pleasurable to many people; I've got some writers here that are absolutely the cat's pajamas (to mix metaphors madly). My job is not to be their fan. My job is frequently that of first reader, first editor, and ALWAYS objective eye for the market.

There's room on the book buffet for tortes and oatmeal cookies. Are there any tortes I'd want to convert to oatmeal? The money would be nice sure, but Miss Snark needs torte too.

Translating "not right for me"

Unless I misread your blog (which I love!) and totally misunderstood (which happens to me sometimes), it seems that an editor who rejects with "this isn't right for me" is nicely saying "your writing isn't quite up to par".

I've got two rejections of this type from editors responding to my agent's pitch, although both love my premise and hope I find the right home for my novel.
So my question is this: are they really speaking in code and saying my writing isn't up to par? Or are they really just saying what' on their mind and that it isn't right for them? My agent says not to worry, this isn't necessarily indicative of where I'm heading because it's only two rejections (and he has many more editors to pitch to). But it still makes me wonder.

Wonder not. Your agent is right. If your writing sucked, you wouldn't have an agent. Believe that if you believe nothing else.

Editors don't have the luxury of publishing everything they love. They have to answer to the higher ups who will point out that the last book XYZ published about dancing poodles did a major header DOWN the sales charts. Woe to the next dancing poodle story, regardless of writing.

And editors don't like everything that's well written. All you have to do is publish a list of "Ten Books That Rocked My World" and you'll have differing opinions coming out of the woodwork, thick on the ground, and cluttering up your bandwidth.

Writers obsess. It's one of the things that makes you good: obsessing about words, rhythm, punctuation, character, plot, and all the other things in a novel. However, obsess ONLY about the things you have control over. Time to go obsess about that tricky bit of dialogue in chapter three of the next novel. Leaving obsessing about lamebrained, half wit, slimey...err, I mean over worked and under appreciated editors to your agent and me. We've had LOTS of practice.

Miss Snark's Homily for Sunday morning

Dear Miss Snark;

I've been thinking about the question you answered the other day concerning FT vs PT authors and income, and I'm curious.

Have you ever had a client who DIDNT want fame and fortune through their writings? I'm sure there are those who write independent of their incomes, but does any writer actually go out of their way to avoid having their name attached to statements etc? Perhaps a living writer, who donated work prehumously so to speak, just to see it in print.

Probably a nitwit qualifier question, huh. Just wondering, since in my best fantasies of eventual publishment my daydreams become nightmares of taxes, insurance, and the evil IRS boojums. (I'm really not an outlaw Miss Snark, but like to stay very low profiled hehe) Yours in Snarkiness,

Two words: Thomas Pynchon
Three words: John Twelve Oaks
Four words: James Frey, (he wishes)

Five words: Don't fear the unknown future.

And just a few more: Just write. Write well. That's all. Don't spend a single moment worrying about what anyone else will say or do, or what the future will hold. Just write. If you love to write, write. The rest will fall into place. I promise.

S(uper) W(riter) seeks agent, manuscript hot for presses

Dear Miss Snark, When searching for a literary agent to query, what would you suggest are key factors/criteria to consider and should the agent's geographical location to the author be of importance?

First thing you want to know: "What have you sold". Accept NOTHING but a clear answer to this. It's either titles, pictures of book covers, ISBNs OR the perfectly acceptable statement that the agent is new. Do not fall for smarmy brush off tactics like "we have books in consideration by all the best houses"; "our list is confidential till you sign with us"; "we've had many best sellers"; "we've worked on books such as". The EXACT phrase you want to hear is "I sold this title, and that title, and this title and they are published/forthcoming from this, that and the other publishing house". NO exceptions.

That's the first thing. You'll probably knock 25% of the agents off your list with that. There's a lot of obfuscation slithering around agent lists.

Second, you want to know if the agent is a member of AAR, OR subscribes to the Code of Ethics. Several very good agents aren't members of AAR cause AAR doesn't let you do packaging. Some just choose not to be part of the group. Some newish agents don't yet qualify.

That's all ok, as long as they say things like "we don't belong; here's why; we subscribe to the code of ethics". Avoid anyone ANYONE who says AAR is for wusses, it's too expensive, I don't want to be in the club, etc." That's the sign of an agent who can't qualify.

Third, no reading fees. Not now, not ever. Never. No exceptions.

Fourth, location. You don't need an agent based in NYC to have a good agent. Many very very good agents are outside the city. Boston, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and some very foreign place called...New Jersey...all have excellent agents.

That said, I like being in NYC cause it's where the action is, it's where all the fun stuff goes on, there's a greater opportunity for serendipity and besides, I love New York with all my heart. You'll get me out of here only when a house falls on me, or Mr. Clooney diverts the subway to his own private lair in Italy.

After the basic stuff, query widely. You don't want to query "a" literary agent. You want to query MANY. It's more who wants to take you on, if you have good rapport with that person, if their working style matches yours, etc.

It's a bit like having a list of things to look for in a date: yes he has to be Catholic (or whatever) but you can learn to love brown eyes instead of blue.