Avoiding the Dark Side

Dear Miss Snark, I was wondering if perhaps you would know the answer to my question. I'm looking to apply for a assistant position with a small publisher. My question is, how do I know if they're really a vanity press?

I'm not an author, so I'm not submitting anything so I won't find out if they charge fees. Their website (and 2 sister imprints) looks on the up-and-up. Ethically it would bother me if I went to work for a vanity press, but is there any way to find that out before hand?

The best way to do that is pretend you ARE an author. Look at the website. Read the submission guidelines.

Is there a lot of talk about what they DON'T take? Good sign.

Is there a lot of talk about how competitive submissions are? Good sign.

Is there mention of the fact that they don't take over the transom or unagented submissions? Good sign.

Are there specific but standard QUERY guidelines? No publisher who is legitimate as far as I know, will take full manuscripts on the first go round.

Does the website try to sell the prospective author on the publisher? Most small publishers would rather have LESS than more in their query stack so the tone of the guidelines tends less toward the Amway pitch and more toward the Snark view of the world.

Look for the books in the bookstore, and at the library. Bookstores and libraries don't as a rule carry books published by vanity presses.

Do a google search. If it's a vanity press you'll be able to tell because there won't be any independent reviews. If you need to tune your eye for this, do a google search on some very good and legitimate smaller houses:

Ig Publishing


Akashic Books

SoftSkull Press

Bleak House


You will fast see that despite being small, they have nimble pr folks who get the word out about books, have a pretty clear publishing identity and their books are for sale in stores, and have distribution.

C is for Check Out

I'm interested an a small-press. They managed to impress me, and I'm hard to impress. I know they don't pay a good advance, but they put out a nice product. How do I check on them further without actually submitting to them?

I'm interested, but i'm not totally stupid. Or, at least I strongly deny being that stupid. Ok, so maybe I'm an inch away from being stupid. I still want to check them out before I send them anything. How do I do it?

When you say check them out do you mean find out if they will break your heart by taking your book out of print if it doesn't sell 2000 hardcover copies in three months? Do you mean will they not pay royalties till a year after the money is earned? Do you mean even then they won't pay you if the distributor or wholesaler goes broke?

Cause if the answer is yes to any of those questions you're in a world of hurt cause that is standard industry practice.

If you mean, will they put out a book that looks good and you'd be proud to give your mom, feed to the goat, show off at your high school reunion, the best way is to actually buy the books they publish and read them. Or, if you don't have a couple hundred lying around to do that, get them from the library.

One of the very best ways to know anything about a publisher is read the books they publish AND see if the library system owns them. Librarians, those finicky beasts, tend not to waste their precious dollars on vanity press items. They are almost as flinty eyed as Miss Snark when it comes to sniffing out publishers who should be alphabetized as C not P.

And if you want to know what they are like to deal with, email their authors. Particularly the ones who aren't on the front list. Authors will give you the scoop, particularly if you ask "would you go with these guys again".

Small publishers are good people as a rule. The good ones love books and want to create good and lasting ones. The realities of the marketplace make that very very hard to pull off, but there are some good successful small presses.

If you are writing in a genre, check out the list of acceptable publishers for membership in MWA, SFFWA and the Romance folks. If this publisher isn't on that list, tread warily.


Inherit the Wind

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm just finishing up a novel and will be querying soon. Question: I am the grandchild of a middlingly-famous (deceased) writer. Should I mention this in my query (not up front and center, mind you, but in there somewhere)?

Nothing worse than someone thinking (erroneously of course) that you think writing ability is inherited like bank accounts.

IF you gain representation on your own, the pr department may be able to exploit this connection somehow but as far as an agent goes, the only thing we care about is whether you can write, not Grandmama.

Wasting Away

I have been digging in your archives and note you suggest querying several agents simultaneously. In AAR, I can only find 12 agents who are looking for new clients and are in my category (Science Fiction/Fantasy). Once I finish those, should I just move on to Writers Guide and have at it? I'm worried about using the "good ones" up on my first book and not having good ones available to query for the next book which no doubt will be much improved.

Let's assume you didn't pause, and re-read this email before you sent it.
Let's take that pause now.
Read again. See the problem?
Read it again.

Hint: read the last six words.
Ah yes, now you see, and without being bopped by a clue stick.

For those who are still flummoxed read on:

Don't waste my time or anyone's time on your first novel if you know the second novel will be better. Send the second one. You do not have to send every novel you write out to an agent for it to have value. In fact, we'd all be happier, you especially, if you don't.

Yes, it's mostly a total waste of my time to hear about first novels. But it's also a waste of your time, money, and most important, your enthusiasm and confidence. Write a couple novels, and see how much you learn and THEN send me a little perfume scented note on unicorn (pink of course) stationery telling me this is a sure winner.

The Not For Me Shrug

I've been reading Miss Snark almost since its inception. I often hear the term "it's not for me" or "it doesn't fit me," referring to anagent who is declining to represent the work. Assuming the genre is a match, what exactly do those phrases mean? Is this just more publishing lingo for "your writing sucks?"

No, it doesn't mean your writing sucks, it means I'm not your biggest fan. I don't like coffee ice cream, so in essence, it's not for me, but that doesn't mean it's the most vile concontion in the world.

"Not for Me" means, well, it's ok, but I'm just not getting behind this one. Or, the writing's good, but not great. Or, the story is good, but not fantastic, and I'm too busy for nonfantasitc stuff right now. Agents cannot, I repeat, cannot write detailed rejection letters to everyone. It is physically impossible. "Not for me" is a way for us to say that you'd find better luck with a different agent who can get more excited about your work.

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

From the agent's side of things, what are your expectations for writers?What do you want from your clients as far as attitude, actions, questions, responses, etc?

Ohhhhh, this is a good one. I want a weekly box of chocolates and a posh gym membership to counteract the sugar. I want flowers on my birthday and a steady stream of "Man, you are the greatest agent in the world! And mighty fine, too." emails at random intervals. And a surprise pail of vodka wouldn't hurt every now and then.

But from the writing side of it, I want perfect manuscripts that don't need any editing. Writers with bountiful platforms and Oprah beating down my door (ummm, well, maybe.) Certainly no nagging, mandatory hand-holding, or questioning of self-worth. (Why won't anyone buy my book? Don't they like me? Did I use the wrong font? Aren't I a good writer?) A gentle, pleasant disposition and proper table manners are a plus.

Of course, I'll settle for good ideas, good follow-through, logic, reason, trust, and a normalized sense of self and ego. And a Christmas Card.

The Truth About Copyright

I started my MS in 2002, finished it this year. Should the copyright date on the title page be 2002 or 2006? I'd always thought 2002 -- but if I sent it to agents with a 2002 copyright date, does this make it look like the MS has been doing the rounds for four years?

Ok, think about this: Joe Schmoe writes a book, his agent sells it (hooray!) and Shmandom House will publish it in Fall 2007. He finished it and handed it in to his editor in April, 2006. What will the Copyright page of his finished book say?

The answer is 2007. The copyright date reflects the year the book was published.

And please note: You do not need to write "Copyright 200X" on your manuscript. It's not really legally binding, as far as I know, and I doesn't matter to me one way or the other what year you wrote it. And frankly, if you send it to one of those evil, lecherous agents who poaches ideas from their slush piles, (who I think is right back there with the guy who'll cut your Achilles tendon in the parking lot from under your car, and people who go wading through trash to hunt up your old credit card junk mail) your idea will be long gone and "exploited" before you might find out, leaving your "copyright" pretty useless after the fact. Keep an eye on your manuscript, protect your work, but don't stress over the copyright.


When one is querying for an agent, let's say for the, oh I don't know, Young Adult market, how many agents do you think one should target in the search? 5? 15?

Query until someone says yes. Pick some agents, send it out, pick some more. It's that simple.

More on Word Count

Dear Miss Snark,

I know editors claim the story should determine the length of the book, but I have also heard publishers get squirrely when ms length passes 125,000 words. It also seems that historicals tend to be a bit thicker, 150,000 or so.

How long is too long? At what point does the word count become a liability for you in pitching a novel?

When the weight of the pages exceeds the body weight of a pink tammed, cigar smoking, t-bone chewing, MoMA loving poodle.

100,000 is a sort of benchmark. Too much over (like 125,000) and you'd better be able to show me a synopsis that has plot to die for, and a pretty well written partial. Anything under 50,000 and I'm not so sure that's a book either.

I won't even consider something over 150,000 words for a new writer. Remember, I don't represent historical fiction and I don't represent SFF and those two categories are famous for Big Ass Novels.

When to send a synopsis if it's not mentioned in the guidelines

Dear Miss Snark,

When first submitting to an agent, I know you submit a query letter. I also know you've made it quite clear to submit what an agent specifies as well- be it ten pages or the first three chapters. What I don't know is if you submit a synopses with your query letter, etc. or wait until they've replied saying they'd like to know more. Would you please clear this up for me?

Give Killer Yapp my regards and a t-bone steak. Oh, and I've entered you in a random drawing for free gin. (What kind of gin and did I win? KY says thanks for the T-bone.)

A synopsis is by request (ie it's in the submission guidelines) , or if you are asked for a partial.

The query letter is to figure out if you can write.

The partial is to figure out if you can write more than ten pages and your plot holds together.

The full manuscript is when we get down to the nitty gritty of does THIS novel work, and do I think I can sell it.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Miss Snark,

At AgentQuery.com I noticed a few agents had items in their profiles saying they were most interested in sticking by writers over the long haul - building careers, etc. I thought all agents wanted that? Do there, in fact, exist agents who prefer only to help first-timers get their start and then let them move on to longer-term agents - a "starter marriage" of sorts?

And is that one of the questions new writers should ask... not just what you've sold, but how long your clients have been with you, "relationship" philosophy, etc.?

I've never felt the need to say "I want you for the long haul" in my agency listing cause I thought it was akin to "I want you to produce good work"...obvious. I can't imagine a "starter marriage agent" by choice. For one, it's cost ineffective. Most novelists don't get out of the red with me till their second book, and even then there's usually a paperback deal or some sort of other deal that has helped. (The novelists themselves make money; remember I only see a portion of the proceeds AND I've invested more than one and less than one million hours in you).

As to what you should ask a prospective agent, you've got to remember that you cannot, absolutely cannot determine if something is going to work without fail. You take a risk when you sign with someone, as we take a risk signing you.

The questions ahead of time should first focus on making sure the agent runs their business responsibly: accounting practices, business structure, codes of ethics etc.

Second, you should make sure the agent's business practices mesh with what you want: does she invite you to participate in strategy, share rejection letters, stay in close contact etc, or is she like Miss Snark-cool as a cucumber to all advice and input and much more "I'll let you know when I have something for you to chew on".

After those questions, you just have to sacrifice a goat, say three Hail Marys, chant to the east, return all your library books on time with dollar bills tucked in them as a mitzvah, and hope for the best.

Freelance editors, and book doctors

There is a rather interesting discussion going on about editors and book doctors in the comment section of "Agent C gives you financial advice". It all started when a Snarkling inquired what the best use of $500 would be (Im stunned that her first choice wasn't flying to NYC to offer up gin and choccies to Miss Snark..but yanno, devotion isn't what it used to be)


The conversation about editors has produced comments that agents who send you to editors are scammers; that anyone would be wise to send their book to an editor because NY editors don't edit anymore; and, that even freelance editors don't edit very well.

All that can be true, but it's not the general rule.

First, agents do refer people to editors all the time. Yes we have lists. How can you tell if an agent is trying to scam you by sending you to an editor? Here's how:

1. If I send someone to an editor, it's not the FIRST thing I say. It's not in a form rejection letter, or a personalized rejection letter. It's not in a rejection letter at all.

2. I don't give people ONE name. I give them several names AND the url to the editorial freelancers association, Publishers Marketplace and the Womens National Book Association.

I let the author seek out, interview and hire the editor they want to work with. I've been happy with some of the results, unhappy with others.

3. I tell the prospective client in writing that I have no financial or vested interest in the editing arrangement.

If you query an agent, and they write back "you need help and here's where to get it and it only costs X", run, run like the wind. THAT is the Sign of the Scam.

If you query an agent, and they look at your work, you have conversations, you've sent in some redrafts or had discussion about changes, and the agent says "this really isn't my strong suit, you should consider an editor, here's how to find one", that's ok.

And by the by, New York editors edit all the time. I've had editors who worked so closely on books they knew it better than the author by the time we were done. I've also had editors who knew the book was finished when I sent it to them.

Bottom line: I don't send a project out unless I am willing for it to be published, as is, no changes, with my name prominently displayed in the acknowledgments. You shouldn't either.
The idea that you should send something to an agent to "get an idea" if s/he's interested or s/he'll help you polish it is rubbish if you're a first time caller to the Snark Radio Show.


Hustle and Flow

Dear Miss Snark,

I had some good news recently--an agent offered to represent my novel. The agent and I had a longish chat about my writing, and I liked him and felt we could work well together. However, he is just starting out (at a well-reputed agency) and has few sales to his credit. Some of my published friends, who have read my novel and are optimistic about its prospects, have advised me to shop the manuscript around, and try for a more prestigious, well-established agent. (yea, mother in law friends...'you can do better, sooo much better.')

My question is this: what sort of benefit might I expect from having a more established agent? I would like someone who has time for me, and for whom I am not their least important writer. Yet, I don't want to give up potential access to better editors, bigger houses, and more lucrative publishing deals. Agent #1 acted as if he expected I would be showing it to other agents, but I also don't want to delay the process any longer than necessary, and perhaps cause his enthusiasm for me to wane.

So, he was ok to ask out but now that he wants to dance you want to check for better looking dates? Oh wait, middle school flashback, sorry.

Your agent knows he's new. He knows you want Binky to phone you and throw herself at you, followed by Flip, Esther and Andrew Wylie.

If that happens, take good notes, you can dine out on that story for years.

You have an agent who likes your work. You can query till the cows come home but you simply may not get any other offers. Binky et al are busy with very very high powered clients who have lots of deals going, and agents like that don't take on a lot of new talent every year.

When I offer someone representation, I give them my best pitch and then I give them a month. If they haven't gotten back to me, I email them once, ask if they've made a decision, and if the answer is anything but "yes Im on the Snark Tobaggon team" I figure it's no, and move on.

And I do move on. I need to sell stuff to keep my sled greased and Killer Yapp looking better than Kate Moss. That means if you aren't on the team now, I'm going to go find the next guy who will be. If you come back in a month, I may very well have room, but maybe not. I can only run a certain number of active projects at a time, and I've learned the hard way that no one is happy when I'm feeling like I've got too much to do and clients aren't getting all the attention they deserve.

A more established agent might, MIGHT, get you a better deal. There's no way to know. And you can't phrase your choice that way, cause that's not the choice you have. Your choice right now is: 1. sign with this guy now OR 2. hold off, query others, hope for another offer and failing that go back and hope guy #1 is still available.

Bottom line: if you think you can get higher up the food chain , have at it, but you better hustle your bustle cause no one is going to hold off the fiddler waiting for you to get in the dance line.

Miss Snark Funts- and updates her Funt

Miss Snark,
I'm in rather an unusual circumstance. I'm an unpublished and unagented author.
I have a Blog that has attracted significant attention and through that blog I have been contacted by book reviewers for newspapers and blogs who have volunteered to read my novel and review it with no strings attached. (i.e. good or bad they were free to say as they pleased).
I don't know of many other writers that this has happened to before they are published so my question is now what is the best way to use these reviews?

Reviews are generally used to SELL books. Your book is unpublished therefore not available for sale. IF you place it with a publisher, you'll have poisoned the well for these folks reviewing the published version.

Why on earth would you send an unpublished novel to someone to review on a blog or a newspaper? And why would any of those people want to read a book no one could buy? I don't understand this at all.

Is this one of those Candid Camera guest shots? HI MOM!!!

And then this in the morning mail:

Actually I was a little surprised at your response. If reviewers take it on themselves why is this so bad? Wouldn't it add to a query to know that the work has been reviewed and written about? I have had two small publishers inquire about my novel from the first review and the second reviewer is a much "bigger name" shouldn't this be an advantage?

Ok, I guess I wasn't clear. No. This will not help. If your novel lands on my desk, and you tell me that reviewers asked to review an unpublished novel, I will discount the information as hyperbole, lies, or other forms of query letter nonsense. It may not be any of those things, but the idea that a legitimate book reviewer would volunteer to read an unpublished novel is so far divorced from what I know about reviewers and their practices that I would discount what you said without thinking twice. Even if you included the clippings I would suspect something strange because IT IS STRANGE.

I cannot imagine why a legitimate book reviewer would ask to read an unpublished novel ever. And before you get huffy and say "it's cause they think my work is great" remember, they get tens if not hundreds of books a month. They have enough to read. I'd suspect they want to curry favor with you for some reason. And, since people want to curry favor with me all the time, I don't put much stock in it.

Besides, it's WEIRD.

Is that any clearer?

You're Dead...sign here

Have you ever handled work for an author posthumously? If so, did they die midword, slumped over a keyboard in some drafty garrett somewhere, or did someone handling their estate find the sweatstained manuscript left behind and think "OMG! Bestseller stuff here!"

(I know, this is an off the wall question; must be because it's overcast and rainy looking in my normally sunny neighborhood) Thanks for thinking about it, or sorry for making ya think about it.... )

No John Kennedy Toole stories for me, sorry. I'm pretty sure I couldn't get a dead author published for a first novel today. Someone else maybe could, but not me.

However, clients do die (the miserable turkeys) and after Miss Snark dabs a tear from her cold flinty eye, she accosts the survivors and makes sure they know Miss Snark is their friend.

Author estates can go on for years. JM Barrie bequeathed the royalties for Peter Pan to a London hospital. You can bet there's an agent taking 10% who is making sure no one thinks Peter Pan is in the public domain.

Where it gets tricky is if the agent dies. That's a very very very different situation, and one of the reasons you should always ask an agent how they structure their business before you sign. I'd also want to know if the agent has any plans for the disposition of the agency's assets if s/he were to die. The thing is..the agent gets the 15% even if s/he's dead, so it's not just a matter of moving on with things and signing up with someone ..err...breathing.

No one ever really talks about this but it's something I'd always ask about were I getting ready to sign with someone.

Separation Anxiety

Dear Miss Snark:

I signed with an agent last year and she's been shopping my book for 9 months. She's a newer agent with a few small sales on PM. Our styles don't mesh (she doesn't pass on rejection letters or ANY feedback from editors even after I've asked for it, and I don't like being in the dark). So, yeah, she's getting my work out there on the right desks, but if possible I'd like to have an agent that matches me better.

In the meantime I've finished my next novel. I have a list of 20 agents I'm interested in. Is it unethical to query these 20 agents for my new book before I terminate my contract with her for the old book? Obviously, before I sign with a new agent, I will terminate my contract with her. But can I start the process?

My big fear is that I terminate with her and then start querying for the new book and fail to sign with another agent.
In addition to the question of whether or not it's the ethical thing to do... is it the common thing to do?

It seems like authors switching agents happens all the time. I'm wondering what they usually do. Do they have something else lined up before they cast off the old or do they terminate first and take the risk of ending up alone?

Ok, here's what I'm supposed to say: never ever query another agent till you've terminated your old one.

Here's what happens in real life: People jump the gun all the time. I have two clients who were "separated" from their agent but not "divorced" when they talked to me. I didn't sign them till they were finished with the old one, but I also knew both the old ones and talked to them about the clients before hand.

You're unhappy with her style, and you don't think she's getting results. There's NO guarantee another agent will do better for you. And if you start approaching other agents you've got to have something more concrete in your quiver than "I didn't like her style" cause that can come off as "Miss Difficult the Client from South Hellespont".

Why didn't the fellow just reject my butt?"

Dear Miss Snark,

I queried a top NYC agent and included the first 3 chapters of my suspense novel. Within 2 wks he replied with excitement that I should send the entire ms. I did. 8 wks later, I asked how things were going. He said he would get back to me. 6 months I queried for a progress report. He emailed back that he needed another week. 12 months
later I requested my ms back. Da nada.

I called, left a pleasant message on his answering machine, something to the effort of time passed & if he wasn't interested, could he pls use the postage included in my kit to mail my ms
back. Da nada.

I've long since moved on & am now waiting on another agent who requested my ms. I gave this agent an exclusive read. It's only been 2 wks, so there's still a chance he's a winner.

Apart from OD'ing on TUMS, I realize there's nothing I can do about the first guy, but I can't let it go. I've gone thru 2 agents who were quick to sign me, then promptly spent the next 2 yrs ignoring me. How does one stop themselves from going insane?

My question is "Why didn't the fellow just reject my butt?"

You have a nice ass?

Recently I called an editor to follow up on a ms she'd had for donkey's years. Ok, months, but same diff. I'd emailed her a couple times with a perky little "checking in!!!" kind of thing with some comment about a recent buy she'd made. Nada zilcho silencio.

Finally I called her.

"oh," she said, "yes of course, you've been emailing me about that, well I can't find it."

Insert sound of me slamming my face into the computer monitor. It takes all my strength and resolve not to SCREAM "why didn you just tell me; I would have sent another one over".

It gets better.

I don't scream, the convo continues, I tell her about this ms. It's clearly wrong for her after we get talking. I say so, she agrees. Here's the fun part: another editor at her company had told me to send the ms to her.

The only thing that explains this logically is that when she couldn't find this, she was a touch embarrassed, then got caught up doing other things and forgot about it.

My guess is that's what happened to you. Agent NeedsANanny forgot, now he's totally embarrassed, and how do most of us deal with that? You got it: ignoring the email.

It's not personal. It just happens. Think of it this way: the only stories people really want to hear in the bar at writing conferences are the horrible ones. If you have none, you don't get to be the center of attention ever. This poorly organized, cretinous excuse for an agent has done you a favor. I think you should thank him in the acknowledgments.

As to how to avoid them, I don't know. If I did I'd bottle it and make zillions. My best advice is to look at his client list, contact a couple of authors and look at how long they've been with him.

Thank you spelled out in chocolate kisses?

Dear Miss Snark and/or Agent C,

My agent has just negotiated a very good two-book deal for me (my first sale) and I am thrilled, delighted, dancing on air...yanno. Bearing in mind that we're new to each other (I just signed with her last fall and haven't yet actually met her in person), and that our relationship to date is very cordial but chiefly business-like, what is an appropriate way to express my happiness and gratitude apart from the effusive verbal thanks I've already given her? Sorry, I'm not planning on any more children so naming one after her won't work. Nor do I know if gin is her tipple of choice. How can one appropriately thank an agent for doing her job well? What is the etiquette here?

Well first of all you're going to thank her in the acknowledgments of your book. And not in the also ran, middle of the paragraph along with your second grade teacher Sister Prunehilda who taught you to diagram sentences.

Other than that you hand write her a card. You address it by hand. You mail it to her.
You take a picture of yourself holding a sign that says "I couldn't have done it without you" and you email it to her so she can look at on bad days.
Then you send her a red feather boa.

But mostly you just say thanks and on the really bad days (and there will be some) you send her an email that says "I'm glad to be on your team".


AgentC Gives You Financial Advice--and Miss Snark has a snit fit

Let's say a miracle happens and I land $500 to spend any way I like. If buckets of gin and/or bribes to agents such as yourself or MissSnark are out of the question, what is the best way for me to spend my$500? Should I:

a) go to a conference (and if so, which one)?

b) hold the money and pray that my book gets published, then use it on promotion?

c) hire an editor to read over/correct my ms (and if so, how do I find a good one)?

d) use it for postage and supplies because, Lord knows, I will definitely continue to need them?

e) show up on Miss Snark's door step with aforementioned bucket of gin and
doggy treats for Killer Yapp and pray for the best?

Thank you for your help!

Re: Choice A: Meh. Maybe. You might meet a few people, but I don't think it's the best bang for your buck.

B is not bad, but won't help you right now.

Definitely not C. Sorry to those of you who make your living this way, and believe me, I've thought about doing it a hundred million times, but I just don't think it's the best use of this snarklings' money. Your agent and editor, fingers-crossed, will most likely edit it again anyway so why pay someone else to do it again?

My pick is D. Statistically, the more people reading your mss, the more likely someone will want to represent or publish you. You gotta be in it to win it, and other vaguely sports related slogans. Maybe you could subscribe to Poets & Writers or PW to keep up with the biz. Oh, or a monthly subscription to www.publishersmarketplace.com. It's cheap and uber-useful. Ok, enough shilling. Go forth and spend your hypothetical money little snarkling.

(And just for the record, AgentC is more of a vodka girl.)

Wait wait wait. Just a darn tootin' minute here. What happened to Option E????I vote for that..and so does Killer Yapp.


Fish or Cut...Book?

Let me try to explain my problem without being overspecific (just in case my agent lurks hereabouts).

About a year ago I acquired an agent (I had more than one offer of representation) with a decent sales record. The agent was enthusiastic about my book, which she viewed as a major commercial proposition. I made the revisions the agent suggested, without any whining or footdragging, and the agent sent it out to a few editors high up the food chain. They came back with compliments on the writing, story, and pacing, but shied from the subject matter.

We talked, and the early enthusiasm already seemed to be flagging. Suddenly my ‘terrific’ book with its ‘terrific’ characters didn’t seem so terrific. The agent sent it to five more houses. We haven’t heard from all of them, but what we’ve had back so far have been more of the same—praise for the writing, and no thanks (though some have been kind enough to say that they are probably making a decision they will regret).

When I ask what the plan is from here, my agent replies that there aren’t really any other 'top markets' (which isn't really a direct answer, is it?). When I ask about other publishers or options—and I would never bring those up if the agent seemed to have a plan—I receive rather curt notes explaining that those really aren’t reasonable possibilities.

I have the feeling that I am being dropped as a client without being formally dropped. One novelist friend (who has been publishing for over thirty years) tells me that this is becoming a fairly common agenting style when representing unpublished novelists—throw it high a few times, see if it is sticks, and if not, neglect the author until they go away.

I’m reluctant to simply walk away from the book. It’s not immortal literature, but it’s a good novel. Heck, even my agent thought so, once upon a time.

What does this look like from the other side of the fence? Thanks for whatever light you can shed.

Ouch. Well, it depends on how many houses your agent sent it to. If your first round was 20, then she sent it to 5 more, 25 no's is a pretty good indication that it's not going to sell (And yes, those of you who sold your book after 376 submission, please post a comment here and prove me wrong). If she only sent it to 10 total, there's probably a few more places she can try, but her confidence is obviously flagging.

I've had plenty of "terrific" manuscripts hit the ground running, only to slowly lurch toward their unpublished death. Agents are pretty good at hunting out the good stuff, but that doesn't mean publishers will always or ever agree with us.

I suggest asking your agent bluntly if she thinks this book has run its course. She may give you a blunt answer back, so be prepared. You are probably not being dropped as a client, but your agent may not think spending all her efforts on this particular book is a good use of anyone's time.

If you're not happy with your agent, if this is a deal-breaker for you, then find another one. If you don't want to leave, then move on to the next book. I don't know about your friend, but I certainly don't throw 15 billion projects on the wall to see what sticks. Does your friend also complain about those young wippersnappers who drive too fast and listen to the rap music?

Working with clients who'll be in it for the long haul pays off better for everyone in the end.

Second Chances

Say you once had a very promising writer, a writer you thought would go places one day. You got on very well with the author; you were friends. ( I never mistake representation for friendship) You sold that writer's first books to a major publisher for big advances. However, the books did not sell as well as everyone hoped, and the writer had a hard time getting said publisher to accept fourth novel, also because she would not accept your wise advice. The writer went into a funk and wrote you a rather rude and ungrateful letter, firing you.

After a year, the writer writes back, saying she has a red face, a sincere apology, and a peace offering. She admits you were right all along, and tries to explain her reaction at the time. She has written a great new novel, a highly commercial one, and that is her peace offering. She tells you that you are the most wonderful agent in the world, that you are her first (and only) choice for this new novel, and she asks for a second chance.

Would you give her that second chance? Would you forgive?

You know what happens when the next problem arises? The same thing. People hardly ever change. They want to think they have, but they don't.

I get enough crap from the amateurs in the slush pile. I don't need clients who act like spoiled brats. Someone else can take them on.

It's one thing to not take advice and fire an agent. That happens left and "write". The trick is to not do it with a "rude and ungrateful letter".

I've fired clients, I've been fired. It's never fun but it happens. I've never regretted not taking anyone back, no matter how well they sold later, if they were snots in their dealings with me.
No matter what, no matter what, keep your conduct businesslike. No matter the provocation, not matter how well justified you may feel.

And, when you end up looking for another agent, I also don't say "she was a snot" to anyone who asks. All agents know people part ways for a variety of reasons. I'm not going to poison your future relationships for spite. I might want to..but I'll vent on the blog instead of to your new agent over drinks.

On the other hand, Miss Snark is an unforgiving cold hearted bitch. It certainly won't hurt you to write to your agent and say "you were right, I was wrong, let's go make some more money together" but don't be surprised, and don't be offended if she writes back "not quite right for my list".

Holy Random Questions, Batman!

Welcome Agent C, I anticipate your remarks and suggestions with enthusiasm. I might mention any one of the snarklings could give you a better name than Agent C. Agent Chocolate, Cunning, Cowbell, Cotton Swab. Ha Ha. Agent Cotton Swab. (AgentC's name was bestowed by the ancient agent monks of the Lower East Side. She must carry it for life.)

Now that I have not gotten on your good side, I might move into my questions quickly before I feel the sting of the delete key: Do I need to finish this novel before I begin querying agents? Sounds like the publishing process will take forever and I'd like to get on with it. I will probably only be sending partials for awhile anyway, right?Do you know where I can find a summary of books published/sold in the US in recent years broken down by category or genre? My novel is set in a US city and exposes some powerful racial issues that occur there. Do you think the industry might shy away from something like that? I mean, the characters and plot reveal the truth as I see it (I didn't set out to hang anyone ), but it's not going to give a reader the warm fuzzies about this region that is trying desperately to bring commercialism and tourism to the city. Is there a line of decency or a limit to what ugliness is unacceptable to the industry?
Thank you for your efforts and beware of the dog.

Okherewego: Yes. Yes, but you should have the full ms ready. In your dreams. No. Yes. Take a few yoga breaths, snarkling. Then focus.

The other topic that will not die: fees

Dear Miss Snark:

I noticed a lot of agencies listed in Writer's Market and those in the Literary Agents Guide mention that the author will be responsible for copying and shipping charges. Those specific charges would come out of the actual book sale, correct?


Some also mention things like 'charges clients $75 disbursement fee/year'. Is that suspicious?


Is there a gray area to this topic of illegitimate agencies attempting to fleece writers?

I don't know about gray area. I know that authors should not pay agents. Ever. No exceptions. Money for expenses is deducted from the proceeds of sales. Receipts are provided. No handling fees, escrow fees, or just cause I can get away with it fees.

No exceptions. Black and white enough?

Are You Putting Out Your Own Shingle?

Ms Snark, (and AgentC, I presume) I know
you've said the Hollywood is really something a writer should leave to the experts.

But here's this story. This relatively unknown writer who's with a major agent gets a major pre-empt deal for his novel, making him a writer who's gonna be known. In a chat room, another guy who's worked a long time in the Hollywood movie biz says congratulations to the writer and then says to the writer to contact Hollywood talent agencies immediately while the buzz is on. That is to say, he recommends the writer to contact the head of agencies directly himself via fax immediately while the deal is a major buzz, mentioning the pre-empt in order to get a feeding frenzy going.

What's your take on this?

What does your agent say? If you asked your agent, do you think they would get mad b/c it might seem you are trying to do his/her job? Do you think your agent intends to send your mss out while the buzz is strong or after? Yep. Uh-huh. There's your answer. Especially with movie business. Ask. Your. Agent. Oh, and one more thing. Would the chatty movie-guy gain anything by having you, the author, take your mss to the movie-vultures without your agent? Probably.

Writing Credentials Dipped in the inkpots of Academe

Dear Miss Snark,
I have been working on a novel for several years and I think that I am finally ready to seek representation. All my publications to date--and they are few--are academic. Is it worth mentioning them? Would an agent care about an article on an obscure topic in an equally obscure journal?

I am also in the slightly odd position of being an extremely mediocre academic at a very prestigious university. My mediocrity might not be apparent to anyone outside my field (touch wood); would the name of the institution carry any weight? I realize that this is shameless. And I am ashamed of my shamelessness. But should I mention it? A google search would, of course, turn this information up. Would it seem strange if I HADN'T mentioned it? Am I obsessing over nothing?

Well, you're a writer, you have to obsess over something. Soon enough you'll be obsessing over form rejection letters.

First, about those academic journals. Frankly, I'd leave them off. Usually when I see a query letter that talks about academic or legal writing my first reaction is "uh oh" cause what works in academia and legal briefs is NOT generally what works in a novel. When you're writing for those audiences you spell everything out; you don't want your readers "filling in the blanks" with their imagination, far from it. The best examples of this kind of writing are the Perry Mason novels. Even when I was ten I recognized that ESG was not a master prose stylist. Didn't keep me from reading every last one of them but you get the point.

As for mentioning your post in the halls of academe: this is up to you. No it's not weird if you don't mention it.I have a client with a fistful of degrees from Harvard but the only thing publishers cared about was whether he could write (answer: you bet your effete eastern seaboard snob boots he can).

Mostly though quit worrying about this. Worry about world peace for awhile. Just send your novel out - good writing trumps all.

You Guys Just Have Sex on the Brain

Erotic romance and the like has been "The Hot Thing" for awhile now but it seems that it's only for the usual male/female pairings (be it human or supernatural/alien). I've been told by a couple "name agents" that "Vivid" sex scenes between males make it a no-no that could only be pitched to a handful of smaller gay-lesbian presses.
So the question--finally--is Do you see the critical success of Brokeback Mountain having an influence with publishers in the near future? I'm not talking lofty literary tomes but plain old entertaining genre fiction.

Agents, editors, publishers--everyone loves movies. They're a marketing bonanza. They get everyone's attention--especially those who don't normally pick up books. So, the short answer is, yes, I think Brokeback Mountain will spawn a flurry of copycats and hangers-on. Will that increase the amount of M4M sexiness we can find in genre fiction? One can only dream. You might be able to find a few more agents willing to take a stab at some gay-cowboy fic, but don't expect 1000 agents to be beating down your door just because you write about a pair of wrinkled champs in a pile on the floor. The tide turns slowly in publishing...

Newbies Helping Newbies

I've just gotten an offer of representation. Now normally in this situation, you're supposed to ask questions like 'what have you sold'. This agency, however, is brand new. They used to be a very small e-publishing company, but are now switching over (their website says it's because they want to work more closely with authors, though I suspect the publishing thing just went under). What sort of questions should I ask to make sure that they'll be able to shop my novel effectively?

You could still ask what they've sold, just expect a shorter list. Ask how many clients they have. Ask whatever you'd ask any ol' agent. There are tons of agents out there who can shop your novel effectively--and still not be able to sell it--myself included, even with my 157 years experience. That's just how the manuscript crumbles. If this is the only offer for representation you get, then maybe give them a shot. Trust your instincts. If you have two or more offers, ask the same questions and make a decision. Just because an agency is new, doesn't mean they're clueless. Maybe AgentC is feeling generous today.

TNH is the Cat's Pajamas

Everytime I think I've written something pithy and fun I find that Teresa Nielsen Hayden has written about the same topic with more style elegance and wit than I could ever hope for. If I didn't like her so much, I'd be putting magic marker mustaches on her photo ID.

The latest example: the slush pile and rejection letters. I think I'll start including this URL in every rejection letter I send. Every writer should read it. Yes, even you.

(Thanks to Jarsto for the link from the comments column)


Trying Again

Dear Miss Snark,

Last year I had a few literary agents request the first manuscript I ever wrote in full. All of them ultimately passed for varying reasons, but none of them actually said "your writing sucks". I have since written manuscript number two, which I believe is much, much better and has a wider commercial appeal than my first manuscript.

I would like to approach these agents again as they were all in my top ten list. When I send them a query letter, should I mention the name of the first manuscript they requested in full to refresh their memory? Is this worth doing or am I better just to pretend they'd never read my first manuscript?

No, no and yes.

Absent any sort of comment that is "send me what else you have", most agents probably won't remember your name unless reminded. Why remind them that they passed before? This is a new novel, it's better, being passed on previously doesn't give you a leg up. There's no bonus for telling them, and a lot of down side ie "oh yea, I do remember that novel it sucked even though I didn't say so".

I'd much rather read a query and pages with a fresh eye than knowing I'd passed on previous work, much like candidates for Miss America don't tell you how many times they try out before they win (I was amazed to discover the answer can be ...lots).

Association with a Hotspit Writer

Miss Snark,
I was just given an opportunity to study under a respected writer in a well established novel writing workshop wherein several of the current members have had previous novels of theirs published. Not to sound too calculating here, but exclusive of the obvious benefits of a reputable writing group for an unpublished writer, would this be something worth mentioning in a query letter?

The only thing I care about is whether you can write. Plenty of nitwits have studied with fine writers, much like plenty of whack jobs read the New York Times.

IF however, your respected writer reads your novel, and says "this is hot spit" THEN you get to mention it to me. You might consider getting it in writing too. The way things are going I only believe what I can see and verify.

Q: What's Your Sign? A: Dollar

Dear Miss Snark,

These questions are for those who have an agent and are wondering about the next step. What percentage of agented manuscripts sell? I'm referring to legitimate agents, not scammers or well-meaning but gormless agents. Do you sell a majority of the projects you represent? I read somewhere that only 1 in a 100 agented manuscripts is sold. Can this be true?

What is the average time it takes for a ms to be sold? I know it varies, but on average, does it takes 2 weeks to sell a ms or 2 months or 6 months? Beyond what time frame is there little hope for a ms? In other words, if a project hasn't sold in say, 8 months, is it fair to say it probably won't sell at all?

Thanks for your help! Your blog rocks, your rock, and KY rocks!

We're not rocking quite so much today...more like skating. iceeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

You're trying to apply science to art and sadly for your (and my!) peace of mind it doesn't work that way. There is no "average" because there is no uniform product. Books aren't widgets, and authors are not fungible.

It doesn't matter to you what the average is, even if we could determine it. What matters is -will YOUR book sell. If you have an agent, you have someone who thinks it will, and is willing to stake some time and dough on his belief.

I truly doubt that the sell through rate is 1 in 100. For starters, no one could afford to stay in business if they spent all their time flogging things that never paid off. Contrary to what you might think, it's a whole lot easier to earn a living by making big juicy sales than steaming the stamps off SASEs or dunning the no-sales for expense money.

It is the very nature of humanity to look for logical explanations in the face of the unknown, or failing to create a system that explains the unexplainable (numeroloy, astrology, speed dating). Publishing is many things, logical isn't really high on the list.

Erotica gets-we fear-respectable?

Was it just last week Miss Snark headlined a post about writing erotic as "a tawdry past"? Well, she's clearly behind (ha!) the times. From PW online today comes this:

Avon Gets In Between the Sheets with New Imprint

by Rachel Deahl, PW Daily -- 2/13/2006

HarperCollins's Avon Books imprint is expanding its reach in one of the strongest genres of women's fiction, erotica, and launching its own line to produce trade paperbacks on the topic: Avon Red. Noting that the popularity of the genre is "increasing steadily," Avon's publisher, Liate Stehlik, said the imprint will look to "provide the best, most sophisticated erotic fiction available."

Following other romance publishers like Kensington, which announced its own erotica-dedicated line called Aphrodisia in October (PW Daily 10/28/05), Avon will also publish its new imprint's titles as e-books (a format which is particularly popular among readers of the genre). Avon Red will launch in June with two anthologies—Parlor Games and If This Bed Could Talk—with plans to release one title per month beginning in September. The imprint has already signed six titles in total, among them Toni Blake's Swept Away (September) and Cathryn Fox's Pleasure Control (December).


Second thought of the panic variety

I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago, and met two editors who requested my full manuscript. Initially, I thought this was good news, but now I am not so sure. Firstly, I worry they only asked to be polite. Both seemed kind souls, and the conference was oriented to newbies, so they may have been trying to be encouraging. Secondly, as I reread my manuscript before sending it out, it seems to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. So, my question is, if I chuck this novel under the bed, will the editors remember that I stood them up the next time I query them? I've been trying to improve my manuscript since the conference, but I'm just so nervous about the whole thing, I've had a two week stomachache. What to do?

Send it.
One of the best ways to learn is to DO.
Part of being published is sucking up the nerve to actually send stuff to people.
Even when they ask for it, those suspicious souls.

Most great writers I know are never satisfied with their work.
It maybe true that your work is not ready for publication but actually getting yourself together enough to send it is an important step.

And agents hardly ever do thing like ask for novels just to be nice. And yes, we will remember every last person who fails to send us manuscripts and we will hunt you down and deliver form rejection letters not just for the novel you didn't send but the next, and the next and the next.

Face it, sending it now is really the only safe thing to do.

FAQ for the blog

Several very brave souls risked being thought nitwits (which they are not) by asking "what the heck is all this stuff about serial scrubbers and Rabbitania".

It was clear that there are some basic facts about the blog, as well as some long running jokes that needed explaining. Thus: SnarkFAQ, the blog was born. It's listed on the right, under Very Cool People (mostly cause Miss Snark is very cool today..there's a foot of snow on the ground).

If there are other questions that should be answered in the FAQ, drop me an email and let me know.

All other questions will, as usual, appear here. The FAQ is only for questions about the workings of this blog, not publishing in general.

Snark On!


Miss Snark tore herself from the arms of Lethe this morning to find a world gone crystal!
It's snowing in NYC: the first BIG storm of the winter but it's really just so pretty that storm hardly seems the right word.

We're at "over Killer Yapp's head" levels right now. He says it's akin to living in a Sol LeWitt sculpture.

I'm staying home, staying in, and 14 people are going to be glad it snowed cause I'll read some partials!

I hope all the Snarklings are warm and snug in their own abodes. Anyone in Florida, Texas or San Diego had just better sit on their paws and NOT email us with their weather report.

Manuscript turn-around when you are represented

You say 90 days is the standard turnaround for mss, but what about for mss from existing clients?

Before signing with my current agent, he read my first manuscript virtually overnight (knowing he had competition from another agency). It's a year later, the novel hasn't sold, and now I've delivered another ms, and there's been no word for a month. Should I feel neglected or not?

Miss Snark must shamefacedly admit she has one or two manuscripts lying around here with cobwebs that are from clients. Yes of course you should feel neglected but the real question is: should you do anything irrevocable about it like depart from the agency, hurl invectives, or threaten your agent with the arrival of serial scrubbers? Answer: no.

Things get backed up here like plumbing at a family reunion, and it's just about as pretty. I'll come into the office on Monday with a clean desk, a cheerful countenance and next thing you know, my hair is on fire with things that need My! Immediate! Attention!. Those things do tend to get my attention and by the end of the day, or week, it's all I can do to crawl home and gaze longingly at Mr Clooney on DVD. All my good intentions to read a manuscript have fallen by the wayside.

Your course of action is 1. make sure s/he has the thing. You'd be surprised how often things aren't here that the post office says should be. I suspect Miss Rumplestiltskin, the retired librarian in 3X is responsible for this.

2. If indeed it is there, drop the agent a note that says "what's your time line". Then double it. Then if you haven't' heard a peep, then you start thinking about what major steps to take.

The key is to ask the agent what his/her timeline is. You don't impose yours but you do ask him/her to adhere to theirs.