Happy Birthday Mr. Clooney

I'll be jumping out of your birthday cake!


Dear Miss Snark,

A post from 9/1/05 (thank you for the index!) (thanks entirely to Miss Adventure, or as we call her The Miracle Worker) states one month as a standard response time for a query.

What about mailed queries (fitted with custom SASE's) out to reputable agents for over two months with no reply?

1) Re-send the original query in the mail (with SASE enclosed)?
2) Email a copy of the query?
3) Consider the non-response a "no" response and move on?

Thank you for your kind clarification!

errrr....you might have actually queried Miss Snark on this one.
She's a tad behind on her queries cause she's been..well...not reading queries, let's just leave it at that.

Anyway. The correct answer is 1.
I've gotten some emails saying 'I sent you a query, what happened' and the honest answers are "I haven't read it yet but I will" OR "hell if I know".

One buffoon described the paper and envelope he sent the query in.
I'm going to search a stack the length of my arm for "cream colored paper with a pretty egret stamp"? Ya right.
I'm not going to search a query letter stack to save your life OR mine. I'll read the queries instead and maybe actually get to yours.

Some of my colleagues are as behind as I am, but the truth is that you might just possibly perhaps maybe have forgotten the SASE; or addressed it to me instead of you; or, written it in soluble ink and the PO now can't read it; or, used an address label that fell off, Or, KY could have eaten it. He likes egrets.

Meanwhile of course, you continue to query other agents.


Killer Yapp Faints Away... Miss Snark Follows

Someone sent a link to this site running some sort of writing contest but the hell with all that...we went straight for the dog pictures.

Killer Yapp was enticed away from the slush pile by Miss Snark's shrieks.
He saw the screen.
He fainted dead away.
Miss Snark managed to scroll through all 12 photos before she too was overcome.

Only the arrival of the hunky guys from FDNY revived us both sufficiently to resume feeble tapping on the keyboard.

Click here at your own risk.

Bombs Away!

Forgive me Miss Snark for I have sinned. It's been 2 years since my last sale. I have unwittingly committed a Cardinal sin. I sold my first novel, it hit shelves last year but sales bombed and my big-name publishing house dropped me like yesterday's news. Now my agent is struggling to sell my next ms. Can Miss Snark offer absolution in the way of hope, or am I destined to only sell to vanity and e-presses for the rest of my life?

Define "bombed".
Selling 10,000 copies is bombing for Random House.
It's a nice tidy success for Greywolf Press, Ig Publishing, Softskull, and other smaller, less overheaded publishers.

Find a small press. Make friends with them. Sell them the paperback rights to the bomb.
Then sell them the tpo rights for book two.
Then kick some serious sales ass.
Then put "Miss Snark is Da Bomb" on the acknowledgments page and email me so I can buy a copy.

Cover Letter Only

Miss Snark -

Just read your recent post on query letters and your advice to send five pages of your writing.

But what if the agent specifies that they want query letters only, or you're sending to someone like Kristin Nelson who only wants emailed queries? Do you stick the five pages in the body of the email? Do you ignore the agent's rules about sending a query letter only?

Just curious.

I have no idea how my colleagues who only read cover letters get a sense of the writing but they do so maybe they have extra smarts that Miss Snark doesn't. Half the partials I read are from stupid query letters..and the partials are pretty darn good.

Anyway, the answer is: if an agent says cover letter only, only send the cover letter.
Under NO circumstances would you send an attachment in an e-query unless asked to do so.
That's just inta-delete these days.

Here, let me do you a favor...

Dear Miss Snark,

A special interest group (a tax exempt organization dedicated to raising awareness about sexual abuse) wants to serialize my novel on their website. They claim the increased traffic to their site will serve as proof to publishers/agents that there is a large audience for the novel. (I believe they see this as a means for raising awareness about their organization and they plan to do some marketing if they serialize my novel.)

Would I be giving away first serial rights by doing this? How do you believe publishers/agents would view the results, assuming they were definitive?

I am so clueless.

Well, you're not so clueless you agreed to this harebrained idea.

First, they plan to take your work for no compensation.
Then they tell you it's for your own good.
Uh....aren't they supposed to be AGAINST abuse?

These people don't understand how publishing works.

They are also clueless in the extreme if they think anyone hasn't heard of sexual abuse by now. It's so old news it's ho hum.

It's also bizarre to think that hits on a FREE website bears any resemblence to what the market is for a book you have to pay for. You mention that in a query you will look and be the nitwit of the day.

Not to put too fine a point on it: what's in this for you? Market research? You'd do just as well to shop first serial rights...something you'd get paid for and would count as a publishing credit if it's in a serious publication.

Give these guys your money if you believe in the cause, but not your blood sweat & tears ...and the manuscript that goes with it.

Agent recc. an editor...when it's NOT a red flag

Dear Ms. Snark,

I’ve recently received a very nice full page rejection letter from a highly respected agent.

I’ve done all the checking and I know this agent is a good one.

The agent was kind enough to spend the time telling me what works—but declined to represent me because she feels more work needs to be done to bring the novel up to its full potential.

She said if I chose to work with an editor to address these concerns (she had named a couple issues), she would be delighted to look at it again.

I wrote back and thanked her and asked if there was an editor she’d refer me to. She wrote back with a name. Technically, I have asked for this info so it is not like she has suggested I use this person—still, it can be viewed as a red flag. I’ve followed up with the editor and I get a good feeling and, without me asking, the editor addressed these issues, advising her independence from the agent, advising that it is very rare for said agent to make this kind of referral, unless asked, unless the project is full of potential. My gut tells me I have been given a gift, even though I’ll have to pay for it.

For the time being, I will probably see what happens with the other fulls and partials I have out there before doing anything. Still, I wanted to know what you thought about it, because I trust your opinion.

I think this is one of those things that is a technical but not spiritual violation of the rules. The rule of course is "It's a scam alert if an agent responds to a query with the suggestion you need an editor, and oh by the way, here's one for you". That rule is a very very good one cause agents do not normally send you to an editor after reading your query letter.

Here are the things in your email that make me think you are ok: the agent read the full novel and provided a letter about problems. She did not say if you hire this editor she'll take it on, she said she'd look at it again.

Scam proof yourself by talking with the editor herself about the projects she's worked on and how she came by the work. Was it an agent? Does she get work from a variety of agents? Does she get work from publishing house editors? Most important, have the books that she's worked on actually sold? She may not be able to tell you every book she's worked on but she should have a list of references. Look those books up on Amazon. Research the publishers. The best way to not fall for a scam is to verify everything.

I think you're smart to see what the results are on the other fulls/partials. One mark of a scam is being hurried into a decision. If the agent calls you to ask if you're hiring the editor, then I'd be VERY concerned. Most agents make recommendations and then forget about you till you show up in the mail bag again.

I've only sent one person to an editor and I gave them a list of several to interview. It's a very very dicey thing to do and I'm not likely to do it again.

tick tock! tick tock!

Right Hon. Snark,

I sent a full out to an agent about three months ago. At the time I sent it, her website said that an answer would come back on a full in three months. Between now and then, her website upped the ante to four months. It's now been changed to six. Would it be okay in this context to ask her where I stand in line, as it were, or should I just wait it out?

I don't want to pester, but six months seems an awfully long time for an answer on a requested full.

Well sure it is, if you think we actually read the things.
Silly you.
No no.
We use them to replace missing furniture legs; we use them as coffee tables. I use mine as a weight bench. We ignore them for as long as we can, then call in a special vacuuming service to suck out the SASE without actually disturbing the pages. Then we send you a form letter telling you that of course we read it, and sadly, alas, and to our ever lasting regret, the market is just so competitive, and really, it's such a tough world, (and we don't want to disturb the furniture), so no.

Miss Snark shakes herself like a Labrador to regain her focus.
Where was I?

oh yes, watching time march on.

Email her. Ask if your work is still in consideration. Mention the date you sent it. No need to actually do the math or state the obvious (you lazy slut, read this damn thing and make me an offer!)

It sounds like she bit off more than she can chew and is trying to not over promise. That sounds like a pretty good person to work with.

200 of you got the dreaded form email

I'm really sorry to do that but the backlog was making me nutso (ok, I can't blame all of my madness on you but I'm going to try!).

If you emailed a question before May 1, and I didn't send you an email saying "your answer is up on the blog", you're toast. (Jelly anyone?)

I tried to email everyone who was getting deleted but I probably missed a few.

Some of the questions had been answered in a different form or the info is in the Snarkives. Remember, there is an index to the Snarkives now thanks to Miss Adventure, who is being considered for sainthood after performing that miracle.

You can resend the question if you want but if you've gotten three or four of these "you're toast" emails, I"m probably not going to answer the question even if you resend it.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled Snarking.


Won for the no money

Miss Snark,

I (very) recently won a prestigious honor in my genre from a regional writing organization, and as a result will be presenting my work in a public forum in front of publishing industry representatives. (yay!) I've also been told that agents attend this event, as well.

For the past two and a half months, I've been corresponding with an agent. He hasn't signed me yet--he wanted me to make some revisions to mymanuscript before he offered anything, but has asked for an exclusive (Miss Snark has opinions on exclusives) when I'm done with my rewrite. I haven't finished the revisions yet (I'm almost done). Should I call him to let him know about the honor? Email? Is it that big a deal? I know when you have a contract in hand from a publisher, you're supposed to drop everything and race to the phone. Are awards the same way, or are they just nice sprinkles on the cupcake of a cover letter, and Mr. Agent won't care because he's already seen the work?

When you finish your revisions and send them off, include a cover letter that shares the good news. A prize like this is beside the point if he's already requested your material. He may mention it to editors he submits to if it's a significant prize, or it may just be one of those things that was fun to win but really won't do much to move your career along.

In any case, don't phone or email him. He won't tell you this but these calls are just annoying cause it's so churlish to say "This is meaningless" to an excited prospective client...but it is.

Grandmother Snark did NOT mention there'd be days like this...

I really love the Evil Editor. I've been prowling around over there, but I'd missed this gem until another devotee called it to my attention:

(Beverage Alert!)

I am not enclosing a manuscript at this moment. I wish to become more familiar with your company and its processes before divulging my work and I do mean work via any medium. I've spent the last three years on character develpment and background storyline layouts and because of the amount of effort that i've put into my literary work, I refuse to be foolish enough just to give the story away to anyone. The book, itself, consist of no measurable end as I will continue to write the story in a continuing series of cliff-hangers. I did not design the story for short term reading because of its potential to both evolve and to reach into new areas of the imagination. If you satisfy my requirements in the information I've requested, then i will submit to you the introduction for the book. The introduction, which consist of 16,000+ words, will give you an inclination of my writing skills. I wrote the introduction for two reasons. One, to familirize the reader with the main character and some sub-characters and two, it doesn't give any of the true story away in the event a company tries stealing something i've worked so hard on.


Nitwit of the Day!

Dear Miss Snark:

What if, after landing an agent (but before landing a publisher), a novelist hired a publicist to get publicity for a book, pre-sale. Yes, bass-ackwards you would say. But say the book involved current issues and a premise that drops jaws. (The Secret Lives of Dentists perhaps?)

Assume the writing ain't never gonna win no Pulitzer Prize, but has been edited by a freelance editor who's name all publishers will recognize. (all. ya, right)

Now say that the publicist actually managed to get some press for this (yet unsold) novel. Not NYT, but solid bites from a variety of regional newspapers. Is that the sort of thing that would help convince publishers that the book might actually sell?

What kind of press do you think you can get for an unsold novel? What you're describing here is getting press attention for a current issue. Unless your "jaw dropping premise" book is about orthodontia, I assure you that your sense of what's gonna get press attention and what IS gonna get press attention are two entirely different things.

Do you think editors read regional papers? Miss Snark may know the lovely folks at the PI; the Freep; the Rampage, and various incarnations of The Trib - not to mention the hunky guys at Cattle Today; that doesn't mean anyone else in the 212 does. And "read this feature/news/filler item, it's jaw dropping, in Cattle Today" is NOT a persuasive pitch for a novel. Not now, not ever.

Remember, novels take a year or more to be published. What's on everyone's hot list today is old news tomorrow.

Publicists START at $10,000. You're going to spend that before you have anything to sell? Yes, you are the nitwit of the day.

Clue: Write well. That's all.

Miss Snark, Guidance counselor....not

I like to write and wouldn't mind finding myself on a bestseller list someday. However much greater then my own desire to be an author is my love for books. If I was a multi-millionaire I would buy an extensive library before I bought an expensive car, or an expensive yacht. When I was younger my dream job was just to be around books by working in a bookstore. Now that I am older I am very interested in becoming an agent. I love the idea of representing authors and working with them, as well as publishing houses.

I have a few questions about the field. What is the education level required, is a Bachelors degree sufficient? Also is there a way to break into the field without interning, and if not is it possible to operate outside of New York. I would be more then happy to work in New York, but I am currently attached to Los Angeles. If I had a paying job I could relocate, but I couldn't for an intern-ship.

Is work as an agent as much of a numbers game as employment as an author is, or do definite steps exist which would help?

Thank you very much for your time. I am not sure if this is appropriate for your blog since you tend to deal mostly with writer's there. My reasoning is sound however. I figure anything that might help me get a job in the field would result in a slightly smaller slush pile for you. If I end up in a career unrelated to literature or publishing, there is a good chance that at least two or three submissions of mine will end up in your pile.

Being a literary agent involves selling.
Learn to sell.
This letter is as close to unpersuasive as you can be without being a nitwit.

And the Oscar for Best Screenplay Adapted from Another..unfinished novel goes to...

Dear Miss Snark

I've had a half-finished novel in my desk for years. Last year, a professional screenwriter friend thought the story would make a good movie script, so we collaborated on a screenplay. (He mostly wrote it, based on my material.) The process of writing the screenplay made me want to go back to the novel and finish it. The hitch is that a major director is interested in the screenplay and may want to option it. What do I need to do to protect my rights to my original material? Can I insist that the screenplay is "based on a novel" when it's not only an unpublished novel but an unfinished one?

Thanks for your help. I heart your blog and Killer Yap. (Killer Yapp hearts you back and wants to know if there's a poodle in your movie. If so, his people will call your people)

Miss Snark is singularly unqualified to answer this question.
She steers clear of those Hollywood types; her interaction is limited to calling the Gersh Agency and saying "go! go! go!" which she does on Tuesdays at 6pm.

Someone reading this will know more about how to answer your question so watch the comment column.

Mind your Ps and Q's...not to mention your B's knees

Dear Miss Knark, (ha!)

A few weeks ago I queried an agency electronically and was told to send the first 50 pages via hardcopy to a particular agent. The agent's name was right there on my computer screen, but being a nitwit, I somehow got it into my head that the first letter of the last name was a 'P' when, in reality, the agent's last name begins with a 'B'.

Of course, nitwittingly enough, I didn't realize my error until about two weeks after I mailed said partial (the outside envelope addressed to the same wrong name written on the cover letter, oh, say three times?) to said agent, and now I'm wondering if perhaps she took a match to my gasoline-soaked work rather than bothering to read it? My stupid sister says I should act on just that--send the agent another copy with a note attached, explaining how I'm resubmitting in case she set the first submission on fire. My stupid sister thinks this idea is so funny that it will actually speed up the review process (I told you she was stupid) because it will make the agent want to read my work at once.

My problem with this is that while I do so wish I had gotten the spelling right, I believe that my writing is strong and commercial enough for a good agent to see past the sort of blunder I made. Assuming the cover letter is excellent (it is), I think the agent should keep reading beyond her name, but maybe I am wrong and my stupid sister is right...What's your take?

There Miss Snark was, in her business-like yet fun summer frock. Hat, spiffy shoes. No poodle since this was a biz lunch. Enter editor. Miss Snark rises, greets her by name. All sit. Chat ensues. Miss Snark is warm, gracious and focused. She's on her game. Since she's read all the sales and networking books, she knows to use the editor's name - not often, but certainly more than once or twice in the course of the two hour lunch.

The bill arrives. The editor pays. Miss Snark sees the name on the credit card. It is NOT the name she has been using. The editor never says a word. Ever. Not even to this day.

Excrement occurs. It's not the end of the world. You will recover. Your work will speak for itself. It's an annoyance but it's not a deal breaker to miss one letter in a cover letter, particularly since its a requested partial. It will not hurt however to email a quick "oh my dear dog, I spelled your name incorrectly, very sorry."

We've ALL done this. There's not an agent in the world who hasn't called someone by the wrong name at least once and the older we get the higher that number goes.


"I Shouldn't Have to Do This"

Miss Snark,

After sending a query only, an agent has now requested a proposal and sample chapter. I don't have a sample chapter. I am an established author with three previously published books (well, two published and one forthcoming), all somewhat related to the topic of the new book I am proposing. Should I send a writing sample from one of my other works so that the agent can get a sense of my writing style? Can I send the proposal only? Or must I send a sample chapter if I have hopes of finding representation?

Advice most welcome.



This stuff drives me to distraction. I have a client who's doing this to me now: "I've published X books, surely they know I can write this one". Well, maybe.

Here's the deal. It's easy easy easy to say no. The editor can say no, the acquisition committee can say no, everyone from Adam the receptionist to Zelda the armory keeper can say no and derail your project.

Why make it easy for them by NOT doing what they want?

People get caught up in "I shouldn't have to do this, I've published before I'm a known quantity.".

That makes me think of the stories about film actors who wanted roles so much they auditioned for them...even when they were known actors, award winning actors.

The difference between making a deal and not is sometimes as simple as just giving them what they ask for, and doing it very very well.

Yes it's a pain in the ass. Welcome to the real world.

Miss Snark Revises

I have made all sorts of comments about contests being good fer nuttin but just today I realized there is one instance when contests, and also previous publication of pieces of the novel, come in handy.

I received a query letter. The whole entire premise of the novel sounded so stupid I almost didn't read on. Then in the third paragraph came the news that pieces of the novel had been published in literary mags, and another piece won a prize I'd actually heard of.

I kept reading. Knowing somewhere, somebody didn't think this was stupid was enough to make me read more carefully.

So, enter the contests, send out the pieces, quote the results, it may be your salvation in the slush pile.

Even Miss Snark must revise upon occasion!

Fukin' a -write you are!

Dear Miss Snark,

Does the appearance of the f-bomb in a manuscript reduce its chances with publishers? Obviously many novels have f-bombs and do quite well, but I've noticed that most novels, even those in genres where the f-bomb would be acceptable, don't have the f-bomb.

Is it better for a first-time author to play it safe and not include f-bombs?

Thanks a fucking lot. :)

Well, as usual it depends on what you're writing.
Arthur Nersesian's The Fuck Up and Robert Lasner's For Fucks Sake both have the f-bomb, as you so quaintly phrase it, in the very title of the book. I about dropped my fangs when I saw The Fuck Up at BN on 6th Ave.

If you're sending something to Center Street, the new warm and fuzzy imprint of Warner Books in Nashville, you better not have fuck or anything remotely like it in the title or the body of the work. Their audience is not likely to find it amusing, or appropriate.

If you're sending to Akashic Press, I don't think Johnny Temple is going to turn a hair at the word.

If you plan to sell your book at WalMart, I think they have a fuck-detector at the warehouse door...but I've never been in a WalMart so I only know this by rumor.

It won't kill you to leave it out if you can. Unless it will. Be yourself, let your characters swear like Miss Snark on a bad slush day...you don't want a namby pamby agent if you use ..ahem...colorful language.

And please don't tell Grandmother Snark that Miss Snark has a potty mouth. She may be getting on in years but she'll still wash out a dirty mouth with soap...and while Miss Snark may have dropped her fangs at BN, that's not her first choice on how to polish them up.

Formatting the dreaded first page

Miss Snark:

I enjoy your daily blog filled with your worldly Snarkism.

My nitwit question:

When a partial/full is requested from an agent, is it proper to start the first page of the first chapter half way down the page? I think I read this somewhere, and as we all know, if it isn't blogged on your site, then it must be questioned.

Thank your for your enlightenment.

Well, I think it's a stupid waste of paper, but that's what the usual guidelines say to do, so do it. In a 36 chapter book it wastes 18 sheets of paper which annoys my green heart, but there are some things (like only printing on one side too) that aren't very green, but do make actual sense from a biz point of view (copying two sided paper is a total PITA...and SLOW).

Suck it up and do it.

Charmingly Interested

Dear Miss Snark,

Three-year-old Johnny labors over a drawing and upon completion brings the drawing to his parent for praise. The parent looks at the drawing, is unable to decipher the scribbles, glances at Johnny (who is obviously waiting for some sort of praise), and says, “How interesting” or “How charming.” Johnny is satisfied and trots off to create more scribble masterpieces.

What has this to do with writing? Well knowing how “interesting” or “charming” are sometimes used ambiguously, I wonder what to think when an agent/editor sends a rejection that says the work is “interesting” or “charming.” Technically, interesting means arousing curiosity or attention and charming means delightful or fascinating. If the work “aroused curiosity or attention” or was “delightful or fascinating,” wouldn’t an agent/editor want to represent/purchase the work?

So does the industry use terms such as “interesting” and “charming” to pacify the writer and allow us to happily trot away to create more interesting and charming masterpieces?

No. Agents may be reptilian but we do have enough cognitive function to know you're not three years old. "Interesting" and "charming" mean "not right for me" which also means "no". It also means "this doesn't suck so much I want to move and not have my mail forwarded so you'll never query me again".

Sometimes a cigar is just a charming and interesting cigar.

In the Slush Pile today

1. "Having finished my novel, I'm now seeking representation". Having read your first sentence I am now saying no.

2. "Fighting her personal demons" "getting past her personal demons"
Unless you are writing SFF I don't want to hear about demons unless it's demon rum and you're offering me a swig.

3. "Reality TV attracts big audience numbers and this novel taps into that audience". This is a novel. Not TV. The only thing that assures audience crossover is a book ABOUT a specific TV show (Buffy being the primo example of that now). Just cause your book is about reality TV doesn't mean people who watch reality tv will buy it. The fact you think this is so, or that perhaps you know it isn't but hope I think it is, means one of us is an idiot. Let's vote. You win.

4. The utter nitwit who taped shut the pull tabs on the PRIORITY MAIL plus Delivery Confirmation envelope (total cost $4.55 plus SASE thankfully only at 39cents) such that when I cut it open with scissors I sliced his SASE beyond repair AND sliced his query. This over taping thing is beyond stupid. Priority mail querying is stupid too but if you want to enrich the post office that's your problem, not mine.

5. Dear "Mr." Snark.

6. "Knights of Templar/secret codes/hidden messages." Last year's news bucko. If this is what you're writing, you better try harder to make it sound fresh and interesting, cause "just like Dan Brown only better!" isn't as tempting as you think it is.

Tally: 15 queries, 6 so annoying that I don't want to read them. Actually, a pretty good day here at Snark Central.

Lazy ass agents...again

Dear Miss Snark,

About four years ago, when trying to market my first novel, I had a stroke of beginner's luck and was able to land a two-book deal on my own. Around this time, an agent approached me and offered to help me pitch my next proposal to my publisher, as I was coming up on contract renegotiations. According to my agent, my publisher said the novel was too dark for their line. My agent advised me to finish the complete book and said she'd pitch it to other houses once the novel was complete.

A year later, I submitted the novel to my agent. She gushed about how much she loved the book, and said it was on its way to an editor at Random House and two editors at Warner. Two months later, I found out she had only sent it to the Random House editor and had only PLANNED on pitching to the Warner editors.

Once I emailed her to check on the status of the manuscript, she went ahead and queried the two Warner imprints. Essentially (to make a long story short) nine months passed, and in those nine months, she only submitted the novel to a total of five editors. Whenever I emailed her, she'd make me wait a week, sometimes up to two weeks, for a response, and would be as vague as possible about the status of the project. Finally, after submitting the book to five editors, she came to me and said I would either have to table the book or revise it extensively. I wondered why she hadn't provided editorial advice before this. I took the book back and began revising it.

Meanwhile, I began to focus my efforts on two brand new proposals, each with a more commercial concept than the "dark" novel that needed revising. I told my agent about them and she said these would be ideal for my former publisher. She also said they were so highly appealing and commercial she'd be happy to pitch them elsewhere if my publisher passed.

Well, my publisher did pass, and now my agent has absolutely refused to market these proposals elsewhere. She says my chances of selling on proposal are impossible since I am not a New York Times bestseller. She is also beginning to rub my nose in the fact that she has never made money off of me. I could turn around and say the same to her, but she has turned this into a power struggle, making it seem as if I am lucky to have her and without her, would have no guidance whatsoever in this brutal business.

All I know is that before her, I felt like an up and comer. And now, I have one big unrevised mess of a novel sitting before me, along with two promising proposals that will never see the light of day, unless I finish the complete firsts, which will keep me out of the game even longer. She has advised me to switch to another genre entirely, so I am now working on a NEW novel.

Miss Snark, when an agent is continuously contradicting herself, refusing to market your work, and putting a negative spin on everything you write.... is it better to have no agent at all? I might add that she is with a "reputable" firm and has had some legitimate sales, so I know she isn't a "quack." Still, I have written documentation to back up everything I have said. What would you advise?

If an agent starts telling you how lucky you are to have her, it's time to bail. Seriously.

Much like when a lover tells you how lucky you are to be with him/her...you know they have a pretty one-sided view of what should be a two-sided relationship.

My clients like me most of the time. They are lucky to have me, ya ya ya. The real truth is: I'm lucky to have them even more.

They are bright, creative, and very very talented people who work very hard to achieve success in a very competitive world. I have the utmost respect for them. I add value to their work, but it is THEIR work that feeds us both (not to mention the dog!)

If I can't sell their work, it's not their fault.

Let me repeat that: it's NOT THEIR FAULT.

There are couple things I don't understand in what your agent told you: why she's only submitting to so few editors (and two at Warner at the same time?). Most of the submissions I do involve 10+ editors and for solidly commercial stuff, I can cough up 25 names before I break a sweat. That's not to say you send all 25 out on Day 1, but I don't begin to think about slowing down till I've seen 25 no's. And this is not cause I'm sort of Ramboesque never-quit agent. It's cause I like to sell..and make money. I'm at a complete loss to think of how an agent can stay in business if she's not trying to move those projects into the sold column.

The idea you have to wait longer than five seconds for a list of where your work has been is a huge red flag to me. Five seconds after she opens the email of course, not five seconds after you send it. Almost every agent I know can tell you pretty quickly where things are and what the status is. With six clicks I can send you an attachment that has my entire call sheet for the project (complete with "this sux" comments if you really insist on seeing those).

The only time it might take me longer is if I'm in the middle of working on your stuff and haven't updated the call sheet that day. Maximum turn around time then is 24 hours.

This is not some sort of feat of extrordinary organization and precision march agenting. This is NORMAL. Every agent worth his/her salt can do this and does, and doesn't even think about it.

The ones who can't are lazy, disorganized, or AREN'T WORKING.

You are not some sort of flotsam or jetsam on the tide of human indifference. She's an agent, she's not God. She's treating you like crap. Tell her to stop, or tell her goodbye.


Writing as a competitive sport

Oh Snark, oh Snark,

My critique group is in a tizzy while getting prepared for a local writer's contest. Perhaps I don't tizzy well, but I am not among the enthusiastic members. We seem to see the opportunity in two different lights. They seem to feel that winning will bring editors knocking, pleading for the awarded work. I sigh. I say that winning a contest simply helps sweeten the query and that's about it. It might catch the eye of an overworked editor/agent and convince them to give the work a read, but the work must stand alone. If it ain't good, no blue ribbon will make an editor send a contract.

I just attended a conference and got four requested reads (and I have no awards). I feel my time was better spent. So, are contests worth the effort? They're a bit expensive. Would a ribbon convince you to request a read?

Yikes. Do they give out ribbons for participation? Miss Snark remembers those ribbon award days well, given her innate ability to conk her compatriots in the shins with field hockey sticks...an ability not matched by the hand-eye coordination required to do anything productive like score a goal-for her own team or anyone else's.

But I digress.

Writing contests feed on the fevered hopes of writers that this will be Their One Big Chance.

If you think you're Lana Turner sitting on the bar stool at Schwabs (for those of you in the Pacific Northwest...this Schwabs is NOT the tire dealer based in Prineville) remember that Lana Turner wasn't actually discovered that way, and neither will you.

But I digress.

No, writing contests don't mean a thing (unless it's Miss Snark's Second Annual Writing Contest of course). It is, however, a way to focus on getting something finished, and having someone outside the critique group read it. It's not going to kill you to enter. It's not going to keep me from reading your stuff if you send it to me. It's also not going to be an automatic "oh dear dog I must read this incredible tone poem that won First Place in the Frangiapani, North Dakota Writer's Bar and Grill Sweepstakes". I reserve those swoons for writing that involves royalty checks.

Top Ten Reasons You Can Not Query Miss Snark

Miss Snark leases all her clients from Alloy Entertainment.

Miss Snark purchases her clients from estate auctions at Sothebys.

Miss Snark only signs self published writers hawking their novels on subway lines above 59th street...east or west side.

Miss Snark only accepts clients who have queried her with illuminated manuscripts delivered by footmen.

Miss Snark only accepts referrals from the Nobel Committee.

Miss Snark opens only that mail with a return address of Lake Cuomo, Italia.

Miss Snark is so famously distant anyone who actually wants her as an agent is automatically rejected.

Miss Snark has decided to forgo the query process entirely and move directly to selling things she doesn't actually represent--- thus cutting down on the amount of client interaction required.

Miss Snark accepts only those queries for work that excludes the letter e...as must the query itself.

Miss Snark accepts only those queries traded on the Chicago stock exchange--commodities market, sorry -- with pork bellies, chocolate futures, and other such low-risk items.

More on Query Letter Suckage

Dear Miss Snark,

You said, “Most queries suck. Most writers can't write query letters to save their lives. Odds are you are one of those people. This is not a comment on your query cause I haven't read it but if I know that most ie 75-80% of query letters suck, I'd be an idiot to bet yours didn't.”

So, if 75-80% of query letters suck, is it only the 25-20% of letters that don’t suck that get representation? What if the query letter sucks, but the actual novel doesn’t? How will the agent/editor ever know the novel is good if they pass because the query sucks? Do agents request work even if the query sucks? If so, what in the sucky query makes them request to see the manuscript?

IF you are a SMART Snarkling, you put five pages of your actual writing in with your query. I do read pages even if the query letter sux. Mostly the pages suck too, but sometimes, just enough to keep me hoping, they don't. And even if the query letter sux, if it's a topic I'm interested in, I'll overlook it. Remember, I want to find saleable projects. It's your writing I'm going to sell, not your query letter. I'd be the Nitwit of the Century to overlook good writing cause you can't query to save your life. That doesn't mean skate on your query letter though AT ALL. If the query letter sux, I'm giving your pages a very very fast look, just to make sure it does suck. This is NOT the place you want to be.

Not sucky, but not right either

Mademoiselle Snark

I recently received a form rejection for a partial I sent in. However, inked at the bottom was a handwritten message: "Please keep us in mind for future projects"

Would you say this is an encouraging sign? I mean, obviously, not "please allow me to represent you, oh talented one, and feel free to borrow my Jag any time" encouraging, but at least perhaps "your writing is sufficiently unrepulsive that I wouldn't mind giving you a second bite at the kumquat" encouraging? Or does it not really mean a thing?

I seem to remember you saying that you occasionally scribbled a note or two on your form rejections, and wondered how often you did that and what generally motivated you to do so.

It means you're not one of the 80% sucakage rate but you're not writing something I like well enough yet to read more of. Did you kill a puppy on page one? (Killer Yapp would like to speak to you if that is so) Leer at a buxom blonde rocket scientist on page 14? Forget that I don't read or sell anything remotely "sweet, innocent, or (gag) coming of age" oriented?

I don't mark this often. Maybe once every 500 queries..maybe. Mostly I read things I think have potential to sell, and say "no dice" to the rest.

The Snarkometer challenged!

An editor, an honest to dog editor, is critiquing query letters on his blog.

A smart person would go over there, take a look, take another look, probably take notes and submit stuff, given Mr. Evil seems to be (gasp!) helpful rather than just ..well...snarkolicious.

You can come back over here for Snarky comments about other things of course during your breaks from actually, yanno (tm), writing.

PS This guy MAY be funnier than Miss Snark, but I must keep reading to know for sure.

Polish your halo, you may need it later

I know you may have covered this before, but I'd like a clarification if I may. If/when I'm offered representation by an agent, I know I need to notify anyone else who has my work. But does this apply to partials AND fulls, or fulls only? Thank you for your wonderful advice and give KY a belly rub for me.

KY says thank for the prompt, Miss Snark has been lax in her poodle attention duties.
It won't kill you to notify everyone, and it's a nice thing to do. Free too.
It will burnish your karma, or your Karman Ghia whichever you prefer.

I have an offer..why won't an agent take me on?

Your snarkness,

Now I've heard everything! A discussion on AgentQuest brought up writers who have gone after publishers themselves and landed interest enough to be offered a contract. They then contacted agents asking for representation to negotiate that contract. The ones contacted claimed no interest because their work had already been done. ????????

During my selling career in travel this would have been considered a freebie. Sure there is work involved but not the tough slogging sales pitching while competing with hundreds of others for the same prize.

Ya got any comment here?

I've turned down several people who've arrived with a contract in hand. I didn't like them, or I didn't like the project. Selling the book is what everyone focuses on when they talk about the importance of an agent, but if you're in sales, you know it's also important to "service the account". For agents that means making sure the author gets paid correctly, making sure the sub rights are being offered/sold/paid, making sure the book gets nominated for awards and prizes. And it means talking to the author. If I don't like someone you'd have to arrive with a contract worth so much money I could hire someone to talk to you. And I really don't want to be involved with a book I don't like because as soon as that book is listed as one of 'mine' I'm going to get a ton of queries for books like it.

If you're a good agent (and I am) there's no such thing as "just negotiating a contract". If that's all you want, you're MUCH better off with a contract review specialist not an agent.


Now What!

Greetings Miss Snark

I am a newbie, alone and friendless in the world of publishing (I can see from your blog that you enjoy the occasional sycophant, but alas the nearest I can come is being pathetically pitiful). I began to write in April last year and to my amazement sold my first ms in early March.

The thing is, having sent my contract back I still have heard nothing from the publisher. I don't even know what is supposed to happen next in the process of publishing and the only place I have been able to find any sort of information is Romance Writing for Dummies, which is rather focussed on Mills&Boon.

Should I be pestering the publisher at least for a release date or something?
Is my ms going to suddenly appear needing to be rewritten in the space of three weeks?

Should I just relax and continue to spend my evenings sipping lemon ruskis and working on my next ms (possibly titled Diary of a Drunken Housewife - not so glamorous now is it Brigit Jones? stuck at home with two screaming children whilst Mr Darcy spends every waking hour at work avoiding your slow festering resentment). Any guideance would be gratefully (ok, AND sycophantically) received.

In an email, I asked you for the name of the publisher and scooted over to their website for a quick look around. They publish e-books as far as I can tell, which means that turn around time is pretty fast. No messy printing stuff to slow you down.

What should happen is you get a contract back with the publisher's signature. You should get something telling you when the book is going to be for sale. This should happen pretty quickly after you sign contracts. Certainly within a month. So:

You need to get a copy of your contract back with their signatures.
You need to find out what the production schedule is.

You need to know how they plan to pay you.

The thing was, I couldn't find any of their ISBN numbers at the Library of Congress. I'm not sure if e-books need ISBNs, but the website showed them. LoC can take a while to register them (like a couple weeks) but I would have thought they'd be up there for earlier releases.

Ebooks are still pretty low-revenue companies and a lot of people are doing them who just want to publish things but are pretty clue free about business/money/accounting etc.

It's ok to stay on their case to get this stuff straightened out. A concise businesslike email asking when to expect the signed contrcts is a good first step.

I'm sure some of the regular readers of the blog will chime in with their experiences as well, which will be helpful.

Older, Wiser...deeply chagrined

Dear Miss Snark,

About four years ago (when I was a moron) I signed contracts for two of my books with PublishAmerica. Now, with a lot more knowledge, I'm querying agents on a new novel.

I don't mention the PA books in the query letters, but I'm wondering if I have to mention them at all. Possibly at the stage that an agent might be interested in representing me.

Either way, leaving that info out or mentioning it in a phone conversation gives me the willies since I'm quite ashamed of those books. Not only because of the name of the publisher, but also because I know now why I was rejected so many times before falling into PA's trap. I was a young writer still in desperate need of some growth.

It will be our little secret. You don't really have to mention it unless someone wants to tout you as a "debut novelist". Speak up then and give your publisher/agent the info before they decide to do that. PA doesn't really count as publication, it's more like an expensive printing job with an ISBN number but you don't want to win "Best First Novel" and have to give back your tiara.

Bottom line: you don't have to mention it in your query at all. And don't be ashamed of it. All of us do things when we are young and stupid. Miss Snark did not publish with PA, but she's hoping Grandmother Snark never discovers what the check given to Miss Snark for her 16th birthday actually paid for.

I'll reject you at noon next week if it will make you feel better

Dear Miss Snark,

Some literary agencies are apparently much more efficient than others. Most websites indicate that email submissions require at least 7-10 days for a response (if they respond at all).

So I email out 4 queries late one evening. Surprise! In less than 10 minutes I have my very own rejection! A second rejection was in my inbox first thing the next morning.

I am puzzled. How in the world can we-are-so-busy-don‚t-dare-waste-my-time agencies
receive a query, open it, read it, and make a decision so quickly? And, in the middle of the night! It would be unprofessional to accept email submissions and then reject them unread, wouldn‚t it? They would never do anything like that, would they?


No, they wouldn't.

When exactly do you think we read queries? Ten am on Monday? Are you nuts? That's when I'm yapping at editors like the Hound of Offerville. Do you think I'm doing it at 6pm on Tuesdays? No, that's when I'm howling at film agents, and my foreign rights agents.

We read queries when we aren't doing anything else. For some us that's now. 10pm on a Sunday night. That's EXACTLY what I'm doing now, while I also post to the blog.

Scroll back through the archives for a couple recent posts on "Why I stopped reading" and you'll see why many times it doesn't take more than 1/4 of a NY minute to know "it's not quite right for me".

Most queries suck. Most writers can't write query letters to save their lives. Odds are you are one of those people. This is not a comment on your query cause I haven't read it but if I know that most ie 75-80% of query letters suck, I'd be an idiot to bet yours didn't. Cold hard brutal facts, but they are facts nonetheless.

Rejection transmission timing

Dear Miss Snark,
In an attempt not to appear needy and annoy my agent, I thought I would ask you. Whereby I'm probably annoying you. But I was wondering how long you take to pass on any rejections by publishers to your clients. Is it easier just to email any rejections straight away, or do you hold on to them in an attempt not to provoke a spate of needy/woe is me emails from the writer. I can actually imagine being tempted to do this if I were an agent, especially if I were extra busy, or quite frankly not in the mood for gloom and angst.

I'm imagining a huge pile of rejections accumulating on my agent's desk and she is being nice/ too busy/ or not in the mood for having to coddle a distraught sooky writer (take your pick) to send on the bad news to me.

Thanks for your wonderful blog which has taught me not to bother my agent. I've let four weeks go without making up an excuse to email her.

Regards to Killer Yapp!

Killer Yapp says "regard, shmgards, where are the cookies" but he's just grumpy cause he had to put away his winter boots today and his toes are sore from the pavement.

Now, back to the even sorer spot of rejections.

Some of my clients want to see every rejection. I think this is madness but it's their call. I send them the moment they come in cause I don't like things sitting around waiting for me to forget to do them.

Some of my clients want to see only rejections that have substantive comments. I send them the moment they come in in cause I don't like things sitting around waiting for me to forget to do them.

Some of my clients don't want to see anything other than "let's make a deal", so I note the rejection and file it when it comes in cause I don't like things sitting around waiting for me to forget to do it.

Are you sensing a pattern here?

Miss Snark however is not the template for all agents, despite the fact that would make the world so much spiffier (ow! ow! wait, turn OFF those heated glares, my ears are on fire!) and some agents may set them aside.

The trick here is to ask YOUR agent whata she does. And tell her what you want. Contrary to popular belief, we do like keeping our clients happy. It reduces wear and tear on the 'do if we don't have to pull our our hair all the time in frustration.

"Write what you know" is crap

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a question about queries. (Hopefully it's not a Nitwit of the Week-worthy one!) As I have a novel I'm revising and intend to submit, I've been doing a good amount of research on the subject. However, I'm finding some contradictory information, and I'm hoping you'll be willing to clarify for me.

Several articles say that in addition to mundane details (word count, genre, etc), synopsis, and professional credits, a writer must also include a paragraph telling the agent or editor why she wrote the book and/or why she believes she's the right person to tell that particular story. Other articles and blog entries from published writers don't mention anything about this at all.

I would think that unless there is an reason pertinent to the book itself (perhaps the writer is a psychologist and the novel takes place in a mental hospital?), that it wouldn't be necessary to include it. I'd think that it could even be detrimental, if the writer pads because it's "supposed" to be there.

Could you please shine some light on this subject?

I don't care if you are singularly UNQUALIFIED to write on a subject: I care only if you write well.

One of the best books of all time is Stewart O'Nan's The Speed Queen. Stewart O'Nan isn't a girl, he's not on Death Row and as far as I know, he's never worked in a drive in. You'd never know it from reading the book.

Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage was written by a man who did not serve in the Civil War.

I'm pretty sure Anne McCaffrey as never seen a dragon, JK Rowling has never seen a wizard, and Harlan Coben is a perfectly law abiding guy who lives in New Jersey. That all of these people can imagine a world completely apart from their everyday haunts and suck me in so far that I not only think their worlds are real, I can't imagine they AREN'T, is a testimony to their writing and imagination.

Write well. Imagine deeply. That's all you need to do.

Miss Garbo, I presume?

Hello Miss Snark,

When do you tell your agent that you want to write under a pseudonym? When you query do you sign off as :so and so aka. so and such? Or not even tell them at all what your real name is and when it comes time to be paid: "Oh by the way could you make the check available to..."?

Um, you better sign your real name to my offer for representation or we're gonna have a talk about the fundamentals of fraud. This is not a talk you will enjoy.

Tell me who you are. If you write under a different name, you can put:

Stepen King
(writing as S.K. Inkslinger)

so I can see what you're doing. If you don't ever intend to tell me your real name, we have big problem cause I have to write you checks that you can cash AND fill out little forms for the IRS that require me to affirm this form is correct or face prison time. Now, Miss Snark is as fond of caged heat movies as the next gal, but she doesn't want to star in them.

So, tell me who you are, let me know you're writing under a pen name, and let me get busy making you rich and anonymously famous.

Yes, you can, but Miss Snark is not happy about it

Dear Miss Snark:

I recently queried my first novel and was elated to receive several requests for the full manuscript and one partial. Feeling studly and well stocked with ink catridges, I mailed off said manuscripts and the puny partial. Lo and behold the partial requestor got back to me and said "compelling voice, but I don't feel drawn in enough."

A full requestor gave another reject letter basically saying the same thing and I gathered that he didn't get beyond the first 80 pages.

I ran back to manuscript, reread it, and indeed,these two agent are right - the beginning of the novel is weak.

My question to you is: Can I rewrite the beginning, contact the people holding onto a full manuscript and ask them to replace it with the new version?

I understand that if they have already read it and chucked it, I am out of luck, but would someone be willing to dig through their "to be read" pile and swap out a manuscript?
Thanking you in advance,

Well, I'm not sure you're going to thank me when you read the answer...

I hate it when people do this to me. Hate with a capital H. The reason is that I don't keep manuscripts in any kind of sortable order. The one on top is the one that gets read next, and trying to remember that THIS one has a whole new beginning, or a better/faster/stronger version on the other shelf is a total PITA.


Given that what agents REALLY want is to find good work, it makes no sense to deny them the opportunity to read your best work. Email them. Tell them that you've revised based on feedback from other agents (that's the key piece of info). Ask if they want the BFS version. The scream you hear will be those agents ripping Miss Snark's hairs out one by one while roasting her over an open flame but still, you gotta do it.

This does NOT apply to query letters, only to full/partial manuscripts where an agent is getting ready to invest serious time.

And for the sake of Miss Snark's coiffure and epidermis please try very very hard to not do this ever ever again.