The Anon feature

Dear Miss Snark,

I read the blogs of several agents these days, although you were first. Sometimes I comment on your blog, because you're anonymous (and I know you don't handle my current genre). On other agent blogs I usually simply lurk. I'm nervous about making any impression on somebody who might be someday considering my work professionally, because I think that agents take comfort in the screen of anonymity that comes with an unsolicited submission from somebody they've never heard of before.

What happens when you get a query from somebody you recognize? I know it's unlikely, but presumably it happens, or it will someday. Would you rather it didn't?

In my case, I recently lost my head and posted a comment on the blog of an agent I do intend to query someday soon. I believe it's highly unlikely she'll remember me as long as I manage to control myself in the future but now I wonder if it's something I should even be bothering myself about. Of course, you are not her, but you're the one I don't worry about asking. Is silence golden?

I suspect this is one of those tiny details that vanishes beside the enormous significance of /good writing/-- but I'd like to be polite even if my writing isn't up to snuff.

Well, several of my colleagues report they are getting queries that say "I know who you really are but I won't tell" which is just hilarious since they are not querying Miss Snark.

And truthfully, I barely look at names in my slush pile. I read cover letters and pages and sometimes I wonder "did I see this in the Crapometer" but mostly it's in one eye and out the other.

And I don't remember many names on the comment pile, so if you comment once, you're as good as anonymous. I remember the people who comment often, make me laugh out loud, have goats, or have figured out ways to send twenty dollar bills.

I'm pretty sure all the other agents who blog have as much incoming material as I do. Frankly we're lucky to remember Mr. Clooney's name at the end of the day, let alone our own.

Bottom line: don't worry. Ask questions. Post comments. Query on. Good writing is really all I care about.

"Not Competitive"

Dear Miss Snark,

I've had a few partial requests for my novel and most of them sent back rejections saying that although my writing was good and the story interesting it wasn't competitive enough for the market. I'm not exactly sure how I'm supposed to make it more competitive. Do I polish my voice more? Make the writing tighter? Tweek the plot? A combination of all of them?

In a market this tough I'm not sure which direction to go. I've heard that voice is everything, well there's no discounting the plot, but does competitive equal voice?

Thank you for any help.

I'm assuming these are agents saying this, not editors. If it was editors "not competitive" means they don't think they can sell enough.

For an agent "not competitve" means you aren't distinctive enough. This is where the dreaded fresh and original comes in. I see quite a few books as partials or fulls that are pretty darn good but there's nothing there that makes me say "aha!" I have to be able to answer the questions "what makes this stand out from the crowd" "what is going to surprise me" when I send this to editors. Business as usual will not do that.

I suggest stepping back from the project for a bit. Work on something else for awhile. Then go back and really look at your characters and plot. You have to be able to look at your work with an objective eye. That's the single biggest weakness in writers: they can't see how their own work looks on the literary buffet.

It's not easy sometimes to see this when you are in deeply involved in it. It's a little like the third date with Mr Wonderful: everything about him looks perfect and you're thinking how fun a summer wedding will be but by June you've discovered he reads Danielle Steele and thinks poodles are merely decorative. Time for renovation or removal.

Song lyrics, permissions

Don't get Miss Snark started on copyright, clearances, permissions, and the avaricious and bloodthirsty music publishing industry. Miss Snark is generally a very law abiding soul but some of this stuff is turning her into a scofflaw, and Miss Snark does not care to live on Rikers Island instead of her current island perch.

However, help has arrived in its usual format (the graphic novel) and this one is on copyright from Duke University.

Thanks to "the other" Mr. C for the link. He may not have an Oscar but he's felix to me

Conjugating payment

Dear Ms Snark,

Thank you for providing a place to ask questions and receive unbiased answers. It’s a confusing business and full of pitfalls for the newbie author.

When a multiple book deal is made, I understand payment from the publisher is broken up, possibly over years. My question is: When do agents normally take their fee? Will an agent expect to receive the entire commission out of the first payment? Or take a percentage out of each check?

15% out of the amount in hand. We get ours parcelled out, just as you do.

Up and Down Market; Miss Snark's position therein

Recently, in a description of up and down market voice, Miss Snark described herself as 'downmarket'. Several loyal Snarklings rose up in wrath to say Miss Snark was many things but not downmarket.

Let's just say Miss Snark's Easter chapeau had to be enlarged after that round of compliments.


Downmarket is not a comment on quality. Or even a comment on better/worse than upmarket. It's jut a description. Downmarket voice must still be well written. It's not the literary equivalent of "Dogs Playing Poker" paintings sold in the parking lot at the local Piggly Wiggly. (Not that Killer Yapp doesn't pine for one of those of course).

Downmarket is conversational rather than formal. It's not bad versus good. Describing something as downmarket just lets an editor know what style to expect in the writing. It's like telling someone it's fish for dinner not beef so they know to bring white wine not red. (Of course, gin goes with everything.)

Why Are You Asking Miss Snark?

Several people have wondered aloud in the comments column about why anyone with an agent would ask Miss Snark about stuff. The unspoken thought is "surely you should ask your own agent about that", and in fact that is what Miss Snark advises sometimes.


Even if you have an agent asking questions here not being a nitwit by default. For starters, the stakes are lower. It's very hard to discuss "should I fire my agent?" with your agent, much less "is my agent a a nincompoop?"

And even for those minor questions, it's easier to ask someone who has no stake in the outcome or in the relationship. And a lot of times, it's good to see the answer you knew was right, but just needed to hear someone say it.

And it's also of benefit to a lot of other people. You ask your agent, and you'll know. You ask here, and one or two other people with the same question will see the answer too. It's very efficient...Miss Snark is very fond of efficiency.

Writing to Miss Snark is a bit like a study group in grad school. Yes there's a professor out there (your agent) but you ask a lot of questions in study group that you'd never ask in class or in an appointment with the prof. (When was the war of 1812? Who's buried in Grant's Tomb? Is a pink tam too frivolous for an editorial lunch?)

So, Ask Away. Just remember to put them in an email to Miss Snark, questions in the comment column don't get read often or fast.


Do As You're Told

My agent told me to remove the underlines in my manuscript that indicate italics and to just use italics. I have absolutely no problem doing this because I graciously accept my low position on the snark pole, and I know he knows more about this than me. But this underline/italics thing is contrary to everything I've read about manuscript format. Miss Snark, what's your opinion? Is there a hard and fast rule in this regard? Do you advise your clients to underline to indicate italics or to avoid such? Or, does this depend on the editors you're submitting to?

Thanks in advance .

Do what your agent tells you to do.
Do not under any circumstances tell your agent that everything you've read or Miss Snark says he's wrong.

The reason you HAVE an agent is so you will have information about how to do things for the editors he's sending stuff to.

Even if Miss Snark says she asks all clients to "submit on papyrus in gentian colored ink while whistling Parsifial" it would matter not a whit. Miss Snark is not your agent.

Do What Your Agent Tells You To Do.

Writer Beware's 20 Worst Agents

Writer Beware has received the greatest number of advisories/complaints the past several years about these 20 agencies/agents. None of these agents has a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most have virtually no documented and verified sales at all (many sales claimed by these agents turn out to be vanity publishers). All charge clients before a sale is made, whether directly, by charging fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for "editing services."

Writer Beware suggests (and Miss Snark agrees whole heartedly) writers searching for agents avoid questionable agents, and instead query agents who have actual track records of sales to commercial publishing houses.

*The Abacus Group Literary Agency
*Allred and Allred Literary Agents (refers clients to "book doctor" Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)

*Capital Literary Agency (formerly *American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.)
*Barbara Bauer Literary Agency
*Benedict Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)

*Sherwood Broome, Inc.
*Desert Rose Literary Agency
*Arthur Fleming Associates

*Finesse Literary Agency (Karen Carr)
*Brock Gannon Literary Agency
*Harris Literary Agency

*The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:
-Children's Literary Agency
-Christian Literary Agency
-New York Literary Agency
-Poets Literary Agency
-The Screenplay Agency
-Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency)
-Writers Literary Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)

*Martin-McLean Literary Associates
*Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
*B.K. Nelson, Inc.

*The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
*Michelle Rooney Literary Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency and Simply Nonfiction)

*Southeast Literary Agency
*Mark Sullivan Associates
*West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary Services)

Lee Shore Literary Agency gets the No. 21 Honorary Runner Up mention here.

If I May Be so (Bodini) Bold

This is a pretty minor issue compared to most of the things you deal with, but I'm a nice guy (we would make an odd pair, you in your patent stilletos, I taking in water through my battered Air Walks, you snarking while I quietly sip from my bucket of scotch) and I want to make things as easy as possible for my potential agent and Best Friend In The Industry. So: I know copy editors prefer Courier, and quite understandably so, but the best font for markup is not necessarily the friendliest for curling up with a bucket of gin and reading out loud to a poodle, and the copy editor is still in the distant future. I'm curious, therefore, if you personally prefer something more poodle-friendly like Times, and to have italics be italicized. I understand yours is but a single opinion among many, but I am curious. It is a matter of seconds for me to switch; I just want to make life easier others down the pike

There is no way to know or keep track of what font an agent likes. And since I'm an agent, not a copy editor I'd be hard pressed to look at something and tell you what font it is. Yes, I click Select Bodini Bold on my trusty computer when I need to screech in a letter, but I wouldn't know Bodini Bold if I fell over it on a leprechaun infested Fifth Avenue this very morning.

Just make it something your grandma can read and we'll be happy.


Sudden Exclusives

Miss Snark,

Is Killer Yapp available to give an attitude adjustment to agents who tell you late in the game they want an exclusive?

I am following The Gospel of Snark and querying widely while researching my target agents. That means googling them, checking out any websites they have, etc., etc.

Two of my latest batch of queries came back with a, "I'd be pleased to review ..." followed by those evil words, "on an exclusive basis."

Believe me, neither of their websites had so much as a word about exclusives at any point in the game. I purposefully steered away from agents who very kindly put on their website that they would require an exclusive at some point in the review process.

To both of these agents, I've had to send an awkward, "thanks, but --er -- ahem --" I feel like a nitwit, and furthermore, they make me feel a bit like I've wasted their time.

So am I? A nitwit, I mean? And have I wasted their time? Or have they wasted MINE?

Oh and while you're at it, send cash.
This stinks.
Tell them to clean up their act.
You can quote me.

Here's the thing: there are Black Mondays after I've read three novels in a weekend and called the authors to see if they are people I can stand, only to be told "oh yea, I signed with Trixie Belden last week and just didn't get around to telling you yet".

Did I want to scream? Well frankly yes.

Did I rethink exclusives? Well, yes.
Did I actually DO exclusives? well, no, cause they still stink.

It's up to you. If you want to give them two weeks, ok. Absolutely nothing longer than that. If someone wants to tie up your work they HAVE to give it priority. If they don't understand that, well, that tells you something.

In our defense, I gotta say, I haven't looked at my website in months and for all I know it could say "submit your work in Sanskrit" cause some tricky bugger hacked into it and drew a mustache on Killer Yapp's snout while tinkering with the submission requirements. This sudden exclusive thing could be temporary, or only for one agent in the firm, or just a change in how s/he wants to do things for awhile.

No one is a nitwit...yet.

Bound for...something

Greetings Miss Snark,

I've been a loyal Snarkling for a full month now! :-) However, your blog is helping me procrastinate all too easily when I should be writing. :-(

I have a borderline nitwit question, but I'll let you be the judge of that. I would like to waste money turning my novel manuscript into a nice, clean "reading copy" similar to what you'd get at a POD house, but for internal use only. Like an ARC, I'd put Not For Sale on it. The purpose would be to have a book I could share with trusted friends and colleagues whose opinions I respect, without having to send out a bunch of unwieldy, loosely bound manuscript pages. And yes it's purely psychological, but it would be useful for me to see the novel in a novel-like format. Of course, I don't intend to send this "reading copy" to an agent or publisher, unless they requested it over the other, more traditional format. (NEVER send this even if you think they're asking for it...they're not)

But my concern is this: would this constitute a publishing event that could in any way jeopardize the rights I hope to sell to a publisher? As long as I don't try to sell the reading copy, am I in the clear?

You're fine. Number the copies and when you sell the novel and become rich and famous, the value of those "prepublished versions" sold at Sothebys will keep us all in champagne for years to come.

And never, ever send a bound reading copy to an agent. If you don't know why, you can ask, but think about it for a second, ok ten seconds, and you'll figure it out.

The Dratted Finished Line

Dear Miss Snark,

You said that every writer has at least one novel written and hidden away. I believe you called it a learning experience. Supposing the writer realized what an oozing manure boil the script was before it was finished. Must the writer complete it to be considered a valid learning experience, by your definition?

There's a lot to be said for the discipline of finishing a novel. The pages between 80% done and 100% done are often the hardest to finish. That's one reason if someone queries me on a novel it has to be finished before I'll read so much as a sentence (this varies by agent and author but for me, with a first time novelist..no exceptions).

On the other hand if you've written yourself into a hole and there is no ladder in sight, well, you've learned something that can certainly be put to use in novel two.

No hard and fast rule here other than really try to finish if only so you know you can.

Why are Librarians Like New Jersey?

Dear Miss Snark,

You and many other people have said that in the query letter one should list any contacts that might help sell the book. I really only have one. My wife is a children's librarian for a major system and writes reviews occasionally in their journal. Many children's books don't get reviewed otherwise. I feel funny about mentioning this and given that the novel I am revising (one more time) is SciFi, I am not sure if the connection will be of any use in selling the book.

Would I just look weird if I mention it? Would I be stupid if I didn't?

You won't look weird, but you will look like you don't have a clue how publishing works. First, you don't need to mention any contacts who will help "sell the book" in your query letter unless you are Oprah or Oprah is your love slave. Even if you are married to someone who is the booker/selector of topics on a major radio/tv/newspaper you are at a disadvantage cause spousal units don't get to pick their spouse's stuff (unless of course this is poetry..but that's a separate scandal).

What can come in handy is if you are known to bookstores (cause you've had a successful book) or Sessalee Henslee thinks you're the bee's knees. That's the kind of connection that will be of interest.

Telling a science fiction editor that your wife reviews children's books for the library...well, that's like telling Miss Snark New Jersey is beautiful place to live. It may be true, but she's deeply puzzled why you think she needs to know.

You're not doing this on your own

Dear Miss Snark,
Whenever you suggest someone read "so-and-so's" work, I cringe. The more serious I get about writing, the less I read other books, and here's the reason. If I was a painter and visited the Dali Museum I can guarantee you that in the next dozen or so paintings I did, each would have a clock dripping over something. That would change when I visited the Grandma Moses Museum. I can't help it, if I like something I latch onto it. If I cram my head full of other peoples work, guess what my stuff is going to sound like? I'm afraid that I'd get rejections simply because what I wrote would sound like a cheep imitation, and not a personal creation. Do you have any clients who have this...disorder? I sure hope so. Also, should I be hitting the Valium harder than I am?

Every artist goes through this phase. It's called "being a student". As you write more, you'll develop your own voice and nothing will sound quite like you and you won't sound like anyone else. It can take years so I'm told by people who are artists, musicians and writers.

That said, it's important to read good writers. They will help you be a better writer and a better reader. Read outside your 'realm'. I know most mystery writers don't read other mysteries when they are "in progress". Or ever even. They do however devour non fiction and poetry like you would not believe.

Good writers read and read a lot. You're not going to be the exception to this. And the most brilliant composer I know listens deeply to all kinds of music, takes notes and thinks about what he hears. He also goes to the Met and MoMA frequently. You cannot create art in isolation no matter you've heard about starving artists in garrets.

Phrases that make me stop reading your cover letter

"They're all there: the whore with the heart of gold, the chick-magnet, the rebel, the girl who got away".

Telling me you have stock characters means I stop reading.
No exceptions.

I'll stop reading your novel too if I see "flaxen haired beauty" or "raven tresses" or "buxom beauty" and you're not being satirical or ironic.

I don't mark them, I don't tell you, I just say no. Take a look at what you're writing. Have you stepped outside the norm? The first step of fresh and original is knowing what's usual.

Stepping off the genre plank

Miss Snark

Do agents ever step outside their chosen genre? ie. an agent known for repping "chicklit" all of a sudden takes on a "serial killer" novel.

If so how do they discover a novel or MS etc. is it by word of mouth or from another agent?

Well, you know these writers. They just refuse to churn out the same thing over and over again. Miss Snark keeps sending them Fungible Widget lessons, but they are sadly remiss in taking the hint.

I have some "outside the norm" stuff on my list. It's almost always something from a writer who wrote in one genre for the first book and then did something else for the second.

Then of course there are the ones that started out being a mystery and when I took it out for a spin down Editors Row I learned that it's considered "something else". Well, I'm not about to toss in the towel, so off I go to sell ...something else.

And then, there are the things you fall in love with. I have two of those. They came via referral. "you have to see this". I did. I loved it. I said to the client "you don't want me as an agent, I don't do this work, I'll have to learn this entire field, I love this but do yourself a favor".

Well, she didn't listen and she said "enthusiasm counts most" so now I have this thing on my desk. I work at it every day. I make so many mistakes I just want to scream. I call up the client and tell her I am the Nitwit of the Day. She just laughs and says "quit complaining and get back to work". If I ever sell this thing I'm going to buy myself a Tiffany tiara and declare myself Queen of the Nitwits.

Short answer: yes.
Realistic answer: don't count on an agent leaping the genre fence for you if you're not already in her corral.


Enthusiasm after eight months in the trenches

Miss Snark,

I have a question. I'm represented by an agent, whom I like personally. He's pleasant and nice to talk to and had some really good suggestions about edits to my book.

The book in question has been on the market for over eight months now, has gone to at least seven editors and has recently gotten one rejection letter. I didn't bother my agent for months after the book was sent to the editors, he'd said be patient, but I also didn't hear from him much. On average, once every four months.

When I ask, he tells me to be patient, but doesn't give specifics. I'm starting to get frustrated. I also know from several sources, the genre I write in is in a slump right now, and editors are buying very few new authors. But not sure if I should continue to be patient, or be concerned that my agent has lost enthusiasm for my book.

Would greatly appreciate your advice.

It's your agent's job to be enthusiastic about your book. It's not in the contract or anything but it's still part of the job.

It's also part of your agent's job to give you specifics when you ask. Are you asking? This isn't my strong suit either but when a client asks, I send them my notes and I usually call them to go over the details. Any time they ask, I give them the info. Unless they ask, I tend to forget. Miss Snark does not hold this up as the model of how things should be, but rather how things are...and therein of course much ado.

There are some novels that don't sell. Eight months is about the time to start saying "what should we do if this doesn't sell". If he's lost enthusiasm for you/the book/life/poodles this is when you'll find out. Ask him. If he splutters around, ask again. This is your life. Take charge of it.

Miss Snark Hopes This Is A Joke

Dear Ms. Snark,

I am confused - I give up - can’t take it anymore. I feel the need to jump off the writers bridge any moment. I appreciate your advice on my early question. Now I have another problem. Gee, am I allowed to have two in one month…I will dwell on this issue later.

After reviewing several of the posts on your site, I crammed my nerves together and wrote to my agent asking what publishers had seen my MS over the last six months. She had never offered before and I had not asked before, this was the first. I know it is a huge no-no to ask what person but I thought it was okay to ask what publisher. I was gentle in my question as to not come across mean. Can you say BIG MISTAKE? I can. The response I received basically ripped out my heart. I was told it was none of my business. Her comment was that I was no different from every other author, it was all about me. She then revealed she had a more then serious lead and would follow-up on it as it was in her contract to do so. Who knew – not me as she never shared this tasty morsel before. I sent her an apology e-mail because I felt terrible after her two page attack response. She never responded. After four boxes of Kleenex and a bucket of gin I don’t know what to think.

I know agents are riddled with work. I also know agents work their tails off for their clients. Yet I don’t believe I have crossed any lines. Or have I? (1) If I had been mean that would be one thing, but my e-mail was also filled with how much I appreciated all her hard work. Do I run for the hills (2) or start looking for a new agent? (3) Needless to say, my confidence level fell under the carpet somewhere. Miss Snark, I humbly ask for your guidance.

One last tid bit - This person was my editor first – after I paid $5,000.00 to have her edit my fictional novel (80,000 words) she became my agent. Do I smell Idiot of the Year award? (4) Or is this typical?(5)

1. No
2. Yes
3. Yes
4. Yes
5. No

Miss Snark truly hopes this is a joke. Really. She hopes you're pulling her delicately shod left foot with a big yuk yuk yuk to be enjoyed by all.

If not, you've been scammed.

"Agents" who yell at you for asking where your work is are to be avoided at all costs. It's one of the Seven Red Flags of Scam Artists. Any legitimate agent who does so is an idiot. No exceptions.

"Agents" who charge you money to edit your novels are scamming you. No exceptions.

"Agents" who tell you that they have one lead to follow up and they'll do so cause it's in their contract are scamming you.

If you signed with her without checking the P&E list, yes you are a nitwit.
If she's not ON the P&E list, please email them post haste, tell them Miss Snark sent you, and please report this.

And if you're pulling Miss Snark's leg about this situation, Killer Yapp will track you down and explain why you are "not quite right".

Miss Genoese Steals Miss Snark's Thunder

Despite her shocking lack of decorum in trying to steal Mr. Clooney's affections, Miss Snark rather likes Miss Genoese, editor extrordinaire. Particularly when she posts something so good, so comprehensive, and so completely true that Miss Snark feels rather overshadowed.

Read this. Then read it again.
In fact, just print it out and memorize it.

First Fifty Pages

First, thanks for your very helpful and entertaining blog; give Yapp a treat if he's the one actually writing. (he's the one proof reading)

My question is about the lack of any standardization for the original "submission requirements." Some agents want only a query letter, some a query and synopsis, but many request a query letter, a synopsis and the first 50 pages. The latter, while affording the agent a more comprehensive look, seems to me a bit over the top to request right off the bat. What makes 50 sample pages the magic number? When I pick up a book, I usually know before page 50 whether or not I am going to keep reading. Or is 50 pages just the maximum that can be crammed into a 9x12 envelope for the mail?

I can guarantee you that the first fifty pages of the book you pick up there in the bookstore is not the same first 50 pages I saw on my desk two years ago. You'd be utterly amazed at how many people don't really get their novel started till chapter two or even three. It's like they have to warm up or something.

I'm doing close editing work with a multiple published client who has a project on deadline. She sent me the first three chapters. I called her and said "take out chapter one, it's just warm up". She looked, and agreed.

The agents looking at the first 50 are doing you a favor (ha! see previous post!) by asking for this much. Rather than what I do (first ten, better be good) they'll cut you some slack by looking at chapter two to see if it picks up.

And yes, there is no uniformity in submission guidelines. There aren't any for publishers either so we'll both just have to live with it.

Query Letters, entitlement, and both sides of the park

Dear Miss Snark,

I've had a rash lately of e-mail queries, which I don't accept, from writers who make it sound as though they're doing me a huge favor by allowing me to consider their work. Authors would be understandably irked if I in turn came across like I was doing them a huge favor by bestowing my time upon them. How is it they don't realize what a turn off this is? I'm wondering if you would be interested in addressing this on your fabulous blog. The close timing of all these queries makes me think these writers are getting bad advice from somewhere else.

I've had a rash of email queries recently too, and they're all beyond awful. My guess is some guide or other just updated and forgot to sprinkle clue dust on the pages.

But, the thing is, most agents DO make it sound as though we are doing people a favor by looking at their work. We have lists of Do's and Don'ts and threats of extinction for not following the rules. We even ask them to pay for the postage to tell them 'no dice'.

That said, from purely a utilitarian, supply and demand standpoint, it makes no sense to annoy an agent at the start of the query process if you can help it. And you can control the tone of your query letter.

Things along the lines of "here's a great chance to make some money" "here's a great chance to be known as the agent of someone famous" and "I want to give you the chance to see this" are all non-starters in the enticement category. "Please get back to me soon" and "I know you'll be interested in this" are ones that make me want to say no before I've even read a page of text.

And if an agent doesn't take e-queries, don't get all bent out of shape when you don't hear back. I used to have a form email I sent people saying "mail only" but that just invited people to respond with some variation of "I'm entitled to query you any way I damn well please". Now I just delete them, usually after looking at the first line (my email browser lets me do that without opening the email) and laughing.

But, I'm preaching to the choir here cause anyone who's done a modicum of research and certainly anyone who's read this blog for more than five minutes will already have Clue One about this.

It's the people who won't ever see this blog, or buy a copy of Writers Market, or any other writing reference book, who will populate the rent controlled (so they never leave) Clue Free Apartment Building of Life.

Part of our job as agents is not letting those folks make us crazy. There's always going to be a nitwit in the bunch. Suck it up ...but save the really good stories for me at the bar!


Book clubs

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm kind of a book club junkie. Doubleday, The Literary Guild, etc. I just adore those enrollment packages where I get several books at a buck apiece, purchase a couple more at slightly higher prices and then cancel, and repeat.
But I'm curious about how the authors get paid when I buy their book for $1 from Doubleday?

Is there a set per-unit payment to the author? Should I save my book club selections for authors that I'd like to check out, and purchase the ones I love from my bookstore? Yanno, so more of my money rolls to my favorite authors?

I should add that I'm cheap because I'm a stay at home mom with a zillion kids. And so far my "writing career" has netted less than $200, and has no chance to improve unless I learn to love revision.

Book club rights are part of subsidiary rights and are sold separately from the main North American rights deals. You can buy your books from the book clubs with no fear that your authors aren't getting paid.

However, with a zillion children to feed, clothe and educate let me say two words: public library. If you are far from a big library you can still get wonderful books via inter library loan. AND if you really want to have fun, you can join the Mercantile Library here in New York. I think they mail books to you if you're outside the area.

Size 14 Query Letters in a Size 8.5 x 11 world

Miss Snark,

I have a nitwitty question about query letter etiquette: does length matter? I'm not suggesting that its permissible to write 3 fully packed pages, but wonder if a closing paragraph and signature can slip onto a second page.

I've been drafting my query letter and in order to make it a single page I'm using 0.5" margins all the way around. I would prefer a one inch margin but that puts me at an even page and half.

My novel description is a 180 words. Am I simply not being concise enough in the rest of letter, or like most of your readers, thinking and worrying too much about minor stuff?

A loyal, devoted, enthralled snarkling,

Let's see how enthralled you remain when I tell you that if you send me a letter with .5 margins I will express mail it to the goat for dinner....and I know people who know goats, don't think I won't.

I really really hate letters that are jampacked onto one page by virtue of oxygen starved margins, anorexic fonts and other forms of query letter abuse that should be banished forever.

Two pages is better than cramming.

That said, one page is better than two. Start trimming.
You don't need to describe the novel I'm about ready to read the first couple pages of. Just some orientation: POV, setting, time and genre work for me.

It's very very hard to write succinctly. In fact it's an art form. It takes me WEEKS sometime to hone my pitches..and I do this each day every day, and have for years.

There's your challenge for the week: rise to it!

Many People Desire Me..just so you know!

Dear Miss Snark:

I'd like your expert opinion.

Currently, I have my full ms out to one editor and three different agents. It's only been a month, so I'm not stressing (well, not too much). But just the other day another agent asked for the full, which I sent. Should I tell the three other agents that another agent has requested the full as well, or leave it alone and wait to see what happens? To clarify, I'm not sending out new queries or partials, this last request came from a partial I sent out before Christmas.

Thank you for all your wonderful advice.

There's no need to let all the contenders for your affections know the status of the competiton. Time will come when you'll have to sort out who gets your hand for the big dance and some of us will find out the hard way that sloth is not its own reward.

Emails from people telling me "Agent Fabulosity has just requested a full, just fyi" make me grind my teeth. Like this is gonna make me read faster? slower? give up? IF Agent Fabulosity makes you an offer and you are seriously considering it, then I want to know. Evreything up to that point is just nagging.

And there are those out there who've been known to emulate the Used Car Sales Pitch book..and have told me "several reputable New York agents are also considering this". What does that make me? Disreputable? Not in New York? There's no way that ever sound like anything other than what it is: grasping at straws.

Leave the straws for Bill E. Goat to stand on with the nags in the barn, while you get dressed for the big dance up in the main house.

A POD Success Story!

Self-Published Book Wins National Award For 'Best Single Breed Book' And Becomes Surprise Bestseller - Authors Pictured In The New York Times

'The Havanese' Wins the Dog Writers' Association of America Maxwell Award forBest Single Breed Book of 2005

Best-Seller Is Independently Published through Print-on-Demand Web Site,Lulu.com

'We received real medals,' says author...

RALEIGH, N.C., March 13 /PRNewswire/ -- A self-published book billing itself as "the quintessential handbook for Havanese dog-owners, breeders and fanciers" has won a prestigious national award as the "Best Single Breed Book" of the year and become a surprise bestseller. "The Havanese" by Diane Klumb and editor Joanne Baldwin, DVM, has won the Dog Writers' Association of America Maxwell Award for Best Single Breed Book of 2005. The book's success is all the sweeter since Klumb and Baldwin decided to publish the book themselves, using Lulu.com, because of what Klumb calls "a bad experience" with a traditional publisher. "They wanted to change everything," explains Klumb. "And the great advantage of publishing on Lulu is that we didn't have to deal with someone else's idea of what makes a good dog book."

"Complete control allows us to be completely honest with no soft-peddling or bowing to special interests. After enjoying the control, the audience and the margins at Lulu, the Dog Writers Association Award is just icing on the cake for us. They gave us lovely medals and put our pictures in the New York Times!"

Even before the award and resulting publicity, the book had been a consistent bestseller on Lulu. Klumb and Baldwin publicized their book in an old-fashioned grass-roots way, with personal notes to the many national and regional Havanese mailing lists. Now word of mouth helps "The Havanese" stay on top of the Lulu bestseller list.

"This is yet more proof that independent publishing and print-on-demand is legitimate and successful," says Bob Young, CEO of Lulu.com. "The Internet is truly the great equalizer and gives everyone the chance to publish, especially people such as Diane Klumb, whose award-winning, best-selling book would have never seen the light of day without Lulu."

"The Havanese" is available at Lulu.com, $39.94 for the full color version and $19.97 for the black and white. All proceeds from "The Havanese" and the accompanying Havanese 2006 calendars are used to support H.E.A.R.T.'s current research project, the Havanese Genetics Project at Texas A&M, under the direction of Dr Keith Murphy. H.E.A.R.T. was founded, by Joanne Baldwin DVM & Diane Klumb, in 1999 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization to support research into health issues affecting the Havanese dog and to educate breeders, fanciers and the public about this wonderful companion dog.

ABOUT LULU: Lulu is the world's fastest-growing source of print-on-demand books. Founded by Bob Young, who previously co-founded Red Hat, the open source software company, Lulu provides independent publishers with free access to on-demand publishing tools for books, e-books, DVDs, music, images and calendars.

(Stolen from Publishers Lunch, of course)
Copyright © 1996-2006 PR Newswire Association LLC. All Rights Reserved.
A United Business Media company.

Are there standards for voice, like there are for writing?

Miss Snark,

I've been a true fan, you're advice is always honest. That's why I knew you would be the right person for this question. As an author you have to be able to take criticism and I do understand that is part of the business. I recently received a rejection letter from the agent of my dreams, it was earth shattering to say the least, But now that I've calmed down I'm worried about why he rejected me. He said, "The work is polished but the voice didn't win me over." Now tell me honestly, does this mean all agents will feel the same way. Is voice universal with agents, like good writing?


For evidence you only need look as far as this blog: some pepole think Miss Snark's voice is just the bee's knees. Some find it a bit stingier than that. And those few, those proud, those marinated craniums , think Miss Snark is ... well...a bit of braying bitchy balderdash blathering (did I mention bitchy) barn floor contents ... not to put too fine a point on it.

Perhaps all of them are right.

Query on!


When to Get Permissions

Dear Miss Snark,

First of all, thank you for your great blog. I've learned a lot from reading the posts. I'm in the process of writing my proposal. I will need to get three permissions; two from music publishing companies and one from the publisher of a book that's quoted. I thought that I might wait until I had an offer from a publisher before securing permissions. I don't want to pay for permissions unless I get an offer for my book. What are your thoughts?

I would also like to have simple line illustrations in my book. Should I go look for an illustrator or just let the publisher choose one? Also, what are the customary financial arrangements with illustrators? Please let me know.

No one is going to sign off on permissions until you have a publisher lined up, unless it's just a normal everyday person you're asking. They'll want to know all sorts of details that only your publication contract and editor can provide. You're going to foot the bill most likely, not your publisher. There's a standard clause in contracts about side material that says bascially "you get it, you pay for it".

Unless the illustrations are graphs, or photos, you don't want to even start on this till your editor talks to you. If they want illustrations, they'll make those arrangements. And they'll pay. Lots of publishers aren't too keen on illustrations in trade books cause it raises production costs.

Multiple Choice

Dear Miss Snark,

Should I be careful about how many manuscripts of my book I have out with agents?

After a dreary and discouraging winter, suddenly--ahem--suddenl y-- following a just-shy-of-major rewrite and heeding your advice about sending the first chapter rather than the prologue as sample pages--I find myself with five fulls out, and pleasantly perplexed about whether or notI should continue my current querying pace.

My cynical self--I call her Reggie, and Reggie says: "If all these agents reject you, there's definitely something wrong with the book. Better to see how it goes with them, and if, as is likely, they pass, you‚ll know you need to revise, and you won't have any more copies of the same flawed MS out than you do now. Not that anyone, anywhere is going to ask to see
it ever again, of course."

Flo, who's rather indulgent, jumps in with: "You finished a book! I'm so proud of you! And you've been so diligent in querying! With all these manuscripts out, you definitely deserve a break, and that new project you've got going could use the extra attention."

And sensible Barbara points out: "You could finish up that Visa balance with what you've been spending in postage and 24 lb. paper."

Then, Susie: "You know what's going to be icky? When three different agents call you up and you have to figure out how to choose, and how to let the others down. Very awkward!"

Now, Susie, I beat her back down into her rabbit hole whenever she bobs her naive little head, having learned to cope with this agent-hunting process by expecting rejection and letting everything else be a pleasant surprise.

But those other ones, I'm tempted to listen to, at least until I get some further feedback. What do you think, Miss Snark? Because there's this other girl, and she's got a whip, and she's saying, "Like hell! Having a few manuscripts out means nothing. Do you hear me? Nothing! You get those queries, you get those samples, you get whatever you can before as many eyes as you can, and you never, never let up."

I didn't even know this girl existed until a few months ago.

So, five fulls out: What's the smart thing to do now? Awaiting your wise advice.

Many sincere thanks,
Sybil & Friends

PS: Your advice about chapter one versus prologue really was like magic! (Miss Snark sees an acknowledgments page listing in her future!)

Your bevy of beauties raise good points. With five full manuscripts out, if all five come back saying something like "I liked it up to chapter 14 and then you took a nosedive to Rabbitania" you're going to want to readjust the novel's GPS.

The likeliehood that five agents will say the same thing is of course nil. They'll probably all say different things and Reggie will have a nervous breakdown. I think Reggie spent too much time in the convent anyway though; she needs a bikini and a cabana boy.

What you want to do here is adjust your timing. Count forward thirty days from the day you mailed off your last full. Send queries that day. You'll get some requests then, and you spend the next 30 days sending things off. By that time (Send + 60) you'll have started to hear from people. Just keep the process in motion. Keep going. Don't stop. Momentum is more important here than quantity. As long as you've got queries, partials and fulls out, you're fine.

And when an agent calls you can gush "you like me, you really like me".

submission is submission is submission....not

Ms. S,

I am in need of your advice.

My agent began the submission process for my novel last September. The last time I spoke to my agent was mid-December when I called to see if there was any news regarding my manuscript. At that time, I was told it was being shopped and it had submitted to a couple of editors that it should appeal to. I've been told for new authors the submission process can be time-consuming. My agent also mentioned that since it was near the holiday he didn't expect to hear anything immediately. He said that he should have a better indication by mid-January. He said he didn't want me to get impatient and that I should keep working on my second book.

I haven't heard from him since that phone call. It's now mid-March. I really don't know how long the typical submission process takes and I don't necessarily want to be a pest of a client, however, I am interested in an update. Do you think I should give him another call? I'm a bit hesitant based on his comment about not getting impatient and the generally accepted trend of not calling an agent just to check-in. It's a catch 22. You are supposed to have access to your agent but they also say that you should not call just to check on the submission process.

Please let me know what you think I should do.

You're confusing two concepts of submission process. The first one, where you aren't supposed to call, write, or even breathe in the direction of Snark Central lest we hurl invectives upon your noggin is the query/submission/are we right for each other process.

The submission process to editors wherein you are a living breathing client with an honest to pete agent...well, that's different. Even the famously coldhearted misanthropic Miss Snark would expect to check in with her authors once a month. It might take the form of an email but you'd hear from me. And if you called, that's not a problem at all. You're a client, we've established a business releationship, we're working on the same team.

A client who asks me for an update gets about a five second turn around between opening the email and sending a reply cause I have a date base of who/what/when/where/comments that I can send with two clicks of the mouse. Pretty much any other agent can do that too.

Yes you can call. Yes you can email. Here, in case you're hesitant is some text you can cut and paste.

Dear Agent:

Get off your slacker ass and tell me what you've done. September to March is six months and I want to know who's seen this novel and what they've said about it. Now is fine.

Love and kisses,

World rights royalty pie...how many pieces?

Dear Miss Snark:

If the publisher acquires world rights to a novel and takes 25% of any foreign sales, crediting the remaining 75% to the author’s royalty statement, does the author’s domestic agent take an additional 15% off of the top once that royalty statement earns out? Put another way, can the author expect to net roughly 60% of any foreign sales? Thanks for any insight on this.

Yup, you pay us coming AND going. If you retain foreign rights your agent is going to probably use a foreign rights agent to sell the work overseas and you'll pay her, AND me. Those Urdu translations really add up.

Your Agent is Seriously Ill

I have an agent who has been shopping a novel around to A-list publishers. Hadn't heard much since October; not even a bill for copying. Thought he'd given up. Couple of e-mails on handling a pitch to a tv net got no response for several weeks...until yesterday. His wife informs me he in in hospital waiting for a liver transplant. Feeling lousy on every possible front. What to do?

Oh man, this is just the worst kind of situation. You feel like a rat for enclosing a "you're fired" note with a get well card, but this is your livlihood and it's not a good thing to have it stalled.

First, get on the net and find out what happens with a liver transplant patient. What are the odds he will get one? Do patients recover enough to work? Is it more than possible, is it likely he can resume work? How long does that take? I'd find this out from the net rather than asking Mrs Agent cause she's got her hands full and some of the answers may not be pretty.

If this is a long standing relationship, and you think he'll recover enough to work in six months, hang in there. Otherwise, I'd start shopping for a new agent, and ask the new agent to act as a co-agent and split any commissions with the former agent for a while.

And you stay in touch with the former agent, and his wife, and you offer up whatever form of communication with the deity that you do that he may be restored to good health lickety split. Goat sacrifices optional.


Hello, Miss Snark here...

Dear Miss S,

I posted these questions on Writers Net a couple of days ago and Ann Crispin referred me to your blog. Ann said she would love to hear your response.

What might turn an agent off if and when he/she makes THE phone call to ask to represent a writer?

Herewith some of my least favorite responses to "Hello, Snark here, wanna go to the dance with me on Saturday night?".

1. Who?

2 It's about time. What took you so long?

3. Ok, let me get back to you. Six other agents are reading this and I want to pick the best of you.

4. Well, ok, I guess. I have a list of questions for you. Have you ever sold anything like mine?

5. Did your really like it, no I mean really? What did you like best? Are you sure? Do you think "thwap" is really a verb? Maybe I should change chapter three before you send it to anyone.

6. Ok, let's set up a regular schedule for you to keep me informed on what you're doing for me. And fax a copy of the offer to my lawyer and accountant. They'll be in touch with changes.

7. I'm leaving the country for six months, but don't worry, we have satellite phones in Antarctica.

8. This is great, just great. My mom and I will be in New York next week to meet you. What day is good for lunch?

9 Well, I'm just not sure if I'm really ready to have editors see this. I'm still working on it. I'll get back to you.

10. Oh! I signed with Kristin Nelson three weeks ago, and she sold my book. You didn't see it on Publishers Lunch? Sorry.

You must tell me why you're worthy?...naw, not today

Miss Snark,

I'm writing my query letters, and I'm not sure if it is appropriate to mention why I am sending a query to these particular agents. Of course, I know that they represent authors whose books I've read, and have sold books in the genre that I'm writing. Just as importantly, I liked what they had to say on their websites, or in articles that they have written. Do agents care why you are sending them a query - whether you simply found a list of agents or have reasons that you would want them in particular to represent you? Is there a way you should mention that you believe they are people you could easily work with, or should you just not mention it at all?

Also, if an agent requests a query letter, synopsis, and the first three chapters - do they read the synopsis or the chapters first?

If you liked what someone said in an article definitely mention that. Less so the website cause chances are the agent didn't write all the stuff that's on it (particularly at a multi-agent house). And clients and books are fine to mention if you've read the books. I can't tell you the number of time someone has said "I see you represent Forrest Gump, so I know you'll like my book about tree surgeons". Sometimes I think it's the latest test from the New York Department of Mental Hygiene and I've failed ...yet again.

And I've also gotten those generic letters that say "I've sent this to a few select agents"...don't do that. And "I'm sending this to you cause you're a well known science fiction agent"...think again bucko.

The writing may be grand but they've raised the hurdle on whether I want to work with them cause it looks like they are absolute nitwits.

And don't mention you think they'd be agents you could easily work with; we assume you think so when you query.

In general you don't have to come up with a reason you're querying. We know why; you want us to love your book. That's all it takes really. The personal connection thing is nice (oh! she read my article in Poodle Pyrotechnics about the Dog Days of Fiction!) and it shows you're doing the reasearch but if all you said was "here, have at it, it's a mystery, 83,000 words, first person POV" I'd still read your pages.

And for the second question: skim the cover letter, read the pages, look over the synopsis in that order. Remember though, I don't ask for a synopsis and three chapters in the query package. Other agents do. A very astute comment to an earlier post pointed out the importance of all three of those documents working together.

Evidence of Divine Mercy: Rick Bass

Should any of you wonder on this fine Sunday morning whether God exists, is dead, or just playing dice with the universe I offer up proof of divine mercy: Miss Snark has not been struck dead for failing to mention Rick Bass.

Rick Bass is a fabulous writer. I've known his work for years but somehow never managed to mention him before. Yes I should be taken out at dawn and shot.

I was reminded of this travesty when I read his piece in Narrative magazine on being shy. (you have to sign up but it's free and they only want an email address)

What he talks about in the essay applies to about six recent posts. Just read it. Then buy his books. You'll notice I don't say go the library. The thing about libraries is they make you give the books back and Rick Bass is an author you want to own. I'm sure he's written crap somewhere, sometime, but I've never seen it.

25 Books to Remember

The New York Public Library has released a list of 25 Books To Remember from 2005.

I'm ashamed to admit I've only read two. Must be too many nights in the slush pile (ya right...too many nights reading thrillers is more like it).

One of the things I love most about lists like this from my idea of the modern day superhero, librarians, is that they have no vested interest in what goes on that list. Did you see how many of the Times Notable, or best, books were written by Times authors? ya, me too.

So, how many of these have you read? Fess up!

Thanks to the Reluctant Mr. Champion for the link.