"Dear Miss Snark"

Miss Snark has noticed some of you prefer phrases other than "Dear Miss Snark" when writing to your dear Miss Snark.

Always interested in helping you to be correct in all ways, Miss Snark offers up, courtesy of The Amulet of the Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (a book you should read RIGHT NOW) the following phrases stolen from a message bearing imp who
"goes my course, never pausing, unless I am so to fortunate as to be waylaid by your good grace and squashed under a stone":

O Most Glorious Person of High Repute
O S/He Who is Terrible and Great
Miraculous One
Exalted Being
O Most Beauteous and Merciful One
O Most Awful One*
O Brilliant Ray of Starlight
Lord of All You Survey
Oh Ace One

This book is hilarious. If I don't post for the next two days, don't worry, I'm reading. How the hell is it this guy isn't revered like J.K. Rowling?? Or am I just late to the party?

*Miss Snark's fave

All you had to do was ask, Sam!

Dear Miss Snark,

What is the best novel of the last 25 years?

Best regards,

Glad you asked.

It's Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee.
Runner up: Fight Club, Chuck Pahlaniuk

Closely followed by everything by Pete Fromm, Craig Lesley, Alan Furst, Pete Dexter, and Raymond Carver.

PWDO*= That's Disgusting! That's a Travesty!

Yanno (tm/patentpending) , you'd think these suits would get a clue.
The fastest way to draw attention to just about anything is to throw a hissy fit about "inappropriate for children or families".

Or cancel a speech by a childrens' book writer who draws grandmas with potato noses, purple skirts and children doing cartwheels...very very suspicious Patricia Polacco is; I've met her and I'm not sure I'd want to risk being portrayed cleverly by her smart, subtle, witty, colored pencils

Here are two paragraphs from a longer article on PW Daily (yes, this is total theft AND copyright infringement)

After being asked by a firm called Buchanan & Associates to speak at an event held at the International Reading Association's conference in Chicago earlier this month, Polacco said she accepted the invitation through her staff.

A number of exchanges between Buchanan and Polacco's people followed, largely regarding what the author would discuss at the event, until Polacco was ultimately told she could not speak against No Child Left Behind in her speech.

Frustrated and confused, Polacco went to the IRA looking for answers. It was then, she told PW, that she found out Buchanan & Associates was working for SRA/McGraw-Hill and not the IRA (as she had assumed).

Because SRA/McGraw-Hill publishes a number of the tests used in NCLB, the house was not eager to have Polacco speak her mind on the Bush-established initiative. And, after Polacco refused to alter her speech, she was dropped from the program. It was then, when McGraw-Hill neglected to release the details of why she did not appear at the events, that Polacco took matters into her own hands.

The people attending that event can decide on their own if Patrical Polacco is a whack job and pay her no mind; OR they can hear what she has to say after a long and illustrious career as a school visitor who makes her living by speaking to schools and selling books to parents and kids.

There are certainly places for censorship: war; bank account passwords; Miss Snark's love letters to Mr. Clooney. Not art. Not books. Not ideas. If you think a piece of art is offensive, (and yes, I think Piss Christ was an abomination) or a writer is a shoe pounding knee jerk dunderhead, fine. Other people may not share your view. Let people decide on their own.

But, honest to dog, why anyone thinks calling MORE attention to something, censoring it, and thus giving the story legs is an effective way to get rid of something, needs to spend a little more time in the library reading this.

* Publicity we dream of


Slush Pile Report

Here are some of the things you said in your query letter that made me pretty sure I didn't have to take you seriously:

1a. 190,000 word thriller
1b. 220,000 word historical fiction

2. "I gave my heart and soul to writing this, hardly had an ounce of sleep, lost all my friends, but I finished it."

3. Speaking of yourself in the third person (making you not only sound like an idiot, but also hard to figure out if you're perhaps a character in the novel yourself)

Here's some first lines/ first paragraphs that confirmed "not right for me" without further reading:

"As the two women in tank tops continued their walk beyond the lonely square , the taller of the two was clearly agitated."

"He glimpsed his reflection in a dusty pane" followed of course by a detailed description



Is it worth it for writers to shell out the chas to attend the Book Expo?

Don't go.
Don't even think about it.

First, editors don't go to BEA. SALES people go to BEA, and booksellers. I can't tell you how much sales people hate being accosted by writers stalking a big break particularly if the sales guys are stalking wary bookbuyers coming down the aisle.

Second, BEA will break your heart. This is a show that covers a gazillion square feet and almost every publisher in the known universe brings a fair proportion of everything they've published to display. It's like being a decent looking girl and going to the Miss America pageant...what looked ok at home suddenly isn't quite so fun.

Third, any stray agents at BEA are REALLY not there to meet you. They are there to talk to (amazingly) the SALES guys, the foreign rights people, and bookstore people. The last thing I want to do is be accosted in the aisle by someone who just knows I'm the right person for the 195,000 word novel he has in his backpack.

There are places agents and editors go to meet writers. They are called writing conferences. BEA is a trade show.

BEA is next week in DC. Miss Snark is attending so the blog will be on hiatus then, but don't worry quite yet...there's a week of nitwittery yet to come.

Why I Love The Evil Editor

Q & A (from The Evil Editor blog)

Aren't you afraid that the query letters you 'fix' are going to mean deception and disappointment for the agents and editors who read them and request manuscripts?

You seem to have confused "requesting manuscripts" with "reading manuscripts." An average timeline, measuring time in sentences (or ETU's, which, for those of you outside the editorial loop, stands for Editorial Time Units), for reading a requested manuscript is as follows:

3 ETU's: Start thinking, What planet was I on, and what was I smoking, when I requested this?

5 ETU's: Toss MS onto recycling mountain in corner, pour self a stiff one, and pop in DVD of Misery to watch an author being tortured.

Red pens and primers...not

Hello, Miss Snark---

Several members of my writing group have been debating the merits of gerunds. (good dog...you do that for fun??)

Examples include the following

"You startled me," he said, regaining his balance.
Erin admired the curve of his jeans, taking in the worn fabric. (um...it's not the gerund that's the problemo here)
Pausing at the intersection, Ned realized he was lost.

Some are under the impression that this is an acceptable way to describe something. Others think that is a weak method.

What is your opinion? Or Killer Yap's?

Killer Yapp is of the opinion that the only phrases worth writing are: "Walk time!" "Do you want a cookie" and "Squirrel!". He does contribute to the editorial pages of the Times, but perhaps not in the way ol' Mr. Sulzberger had in mind.

I had to look up "gerund" cause I can never remember this stuff. Gerund: a form that is derived from a verb but functions as a noun, ending in -ing: ie 'do you mind my asking you'.

I don't read your work with a red pen and a grammar primer at my side. You can gerrymander your verbs and dangle your participles while nounging around in your adverbial form if you want; I do NOT care. You can even (gasp!) have fragments. Yes indeedy! And slang!

What I care about is that the writing zips along, the story is well told and you have control of what you are doing. If you use gerunds, or dangling participles or fragments or whatever, it's cause you did it on purpose, not cause you don't know any better. And yes, I can tell the difference. So, when you take in jeans, understand that "taking in" means a lot of things and not just sucking up the view with your eyeballs.

Snark Noir

Dear Miss Snark,

I was so inspired by your last short story contest and it's introduction of the latest genre, Snark Noir, that I've considered beginning a serial. What agents represent Snark Noir, by the way? (Miss Snark does, of course!)

Here's my first installment

"Snark Noir"

It was five to seven on a Monday night. Killer Yapp was putting the query pile through the shredder and I had taken the last swill from my gin pail an hour before. I was down and out; my dogs were barking from dancing on the heads of bald vice-presidents, and I had just flicked a red stiletto off of my left foot when he walked through my door.

Normally I would have sliced his head off with a heavy stock, glossy form rejection card sent flying quicker than you could say “Bat Segundo,” but something about him made me pause. I hesitated with my hand under my desk and my finger on the rejection card dispenser, and casually reached to pull the stiletto back onto my foot. The light of the neon “wtf” sign outside my window traced his Clooneyesque features, and he pulled an envelope out of his jacket.

“Please,” he said, “you’ve gotta help me. I’m sitting on the biggest thing since The DaVinci Code, and I have no where to turn.”

“Write a query.” I said with deliberate snark. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t send you straight to Rabbitania.”

The flash of a dimple caught me off-guard, and I was unsure for the first time in my life. My clue stick rolled furtively away from my heel…

(to be continued…)

Well, Miss Snark was traversing the aisles of the local BN just last week (her copy of Bleak House was sucked up into the ozone!) and came upon a large display from Akashic Books: Brooklyn Noir,
Manhattan Noir,
Dublin Noir,
DC Noir,
Baltimore Noir

It was enough to make Miss Snark reach for her fedora and unfiltered Camel, and her own well watched DVD of The Wire.

Who knows.. Snark Noir will be The Next Big Thing.
Maybe we can get Mr. Clooney to edit!

(c) Miss Snark

I recently completed my first novel and being a potential nitwit, I copyrighted it. At the time a certain amount of plagarism accusations were hitting the news so it seemed like a good idea. Since then I've been advised towards copywriting and against. The against advice frames the argument that it may date the work and cause publishers to think of it as stale. I'd like your expertly heeled self to settle the debate.

Nitwit or appropriately cautious?

First, there's a lot about copyright (NOT copywrite) in the Snarkives. Thanks to Miss Adventure (sainthood pending) those Snarkives are indexed. Dive in.

However, we're here now, looking at your (c) so let's review.

1. Your work enjoys copyright protection from the moment it is realized. That means when pen hits paper, stylus hits thinkpad, blood meets sweat of your brow, etc.

2. What you did is called REGISTERING your copyright. The only thing this does is enable you to sue for DAMAGES (not infringement...you can sue for that without registering) if someone infringes.

What this means is that if some witfree Snark wannabe takes Miss Snark's pearls of wisdom and creates his/her own blog and posts the stolen pearls as his/her own, Miss Snark can indeed come roaring down like the proverbial Kansas house and crush that striped stocking wannabe and make her delete the posts. What I can't do is collect damages because Miss Snark's blog is not registered with the copyright office.

Now, let's all agree that Miss Snark is a savvy beast, and avariciious as the next Kansas farmgirl in the big city, so if it was a good idea to register copyright, don't you think Miss Snark would have done it? exactly.

What you can do however is just not advertise your lapse to the world by NOT putting (c) 1986 on your manuscript. Just don't mention it at all. The chances that the title will change, and the content will change when you sell this masterpiece are pretty good so you'll end up registering the new version anyway. And...it's the publisher that registers the copyright, not the author.

You've made a novice error but you can recover. You'll make more. We all do.


Miss Snark Contradicts Herself and Becomes....drum roll...Nitwit of the Day!

A Snarkling gently reminds me of this post on 1.08.2006:
Synopsis spacing

Miss Snark: This may be a nitwitted question, but should a synopsis be single or double spaced when it is sent with a query letter?

This is not a nitwit question. If you're trying for the nitwit sweepstakes, you have to ask if Miss Snark has a day job.

Synopsis are traditionally single spaced. Double lines between paragraphs. Indents not needed. Go easy on big blocks of text. Shorter paragraphs are easier to read than long ones in this form. One inch margins all around, and in a readable font.
If you are tempted to tweak any of this cause you can't fit all your words on one or two pages, I STRONGLY urge you to whittle your word count before you start dropping your font to 8point.

Making something physically easier to read is just smart. Making it harder to read...well, that's the nitwit strategy.

The synopsis I've seen recently have been double spaced..but they've run for several pages. And truthfully, I'm not much of a synopsis reader. Yes they are traditonally single spaced, but if you've got a long one, boy double spacing is nice on the eyes.

Bottom line: make it easy to read.

Nitwit of the day: Miss Snark

Drag Racing Your Query Letter with Grandmother Snark

Dear Miss Snark,

Is there a downside to spreading a wide query net? I mean really wide. As in, what if I wanted to send out fifty at once -- fifty carefully researched, professionally written queries, each assembled according to the fifty agents' individual specifications. Would that be the height of efficiency or nitwittery?

Thanks for the advice,
A Snarkling

When Miss Snark was a tot, she ate all her Halloween candy as fast as her grubbly little hands could toss M&M's into her tinsel toothed maw. Other, more restrained, girls..the ones with ironed frocks, polished shoes and grandmothers who did not drag race flivvers on Broadway and moon after Valentino, saved their candy (till it rotted in the cupboard...a condition Miss Snark had not dreamed was even possible till she saw it with her own four eyes).

Now, you might ask what this has to do with queries.

You can shoot your wad now, and have nothing to fall back on or you can send them out in measured cadence and learn from your errors/experiences.

I number my cover letters on a project so I can make sure to send the best/most recent one and I'm always amazed how much better they get even in the space of a week. Questions editors ask, or just things that fall into my brain often help me refine what I say or say things in a new way. If you've sent all 50 queries out, you've got no place to put all that stuff you learned.

It's not a rule and its not nitwittery to do it the other way though. No, to be a nitwit you have to leave chocolate in the closet and let it go bad. That's beyond nitwittery...that's just criminal.
Miss Snark must lie down with a scented hankie over her eyes to recover from that terrifying memory. Those girls came to bad ends though...which is how Miss Snark has such great friends among the criminal element.

Don't Fess Up This Early

Dear Miss Snark

I need your agent's eye. (ok but I want it back)

In January I sent a synopsis and some extracts of my book to the publisher I thought most likely to take an interest. The publisher is reasonably well known in its field. It was the first time I'd ever tried to get anything published and I expected a long wait, but to my surprise the Commissioning Editor wrote back within the week saying: "Dear Funnywoman, it is extremely rare for me to get back to anyone so fast but your submission was just what I needed this morning. The extracts had me laughing away here - comic writing is not easy to pull off but you seem to have the knack'.

She asked to see the rest, which I sent immediately, my little heart athrob. Some time went by and I politely enquired if she had come to any decision. Her email was short, friendly and encouraging - 'I thoroughly enjoyed it all and am now sharing it with others on the team. Will get back to you within the week.'

That was four months ago. Last week I sent another very gentle email of enquiry and have had no reply. It's beginning to look to me like it's Dumpsville Time.

My next move (once I have actually received the rejection) is probably to try and obtain an agent. My query to you is thus: Obviously I must, I presume, mention in my query letter to agents that the book has been seen by this one publisher (and eventually rejected.) Will it count against me, as in 'a suitable publisher for a work of this kind has already turned this down' - or might (I pray) it work FOR me in getting past an agent's slushpile, as in 'a respected editor liked this enough to give it serious consideration'?

Saddened, but still hopeful,

You don't have to mention it. Not in your query at least.
No agent in their right mind takes a project they think they can sell only one place unless it's VERY specialized stuff.. which is not what yours sounds like.

And this sounds like a smaller press. Don't toss in the towel, or your cookies, quite yet. Those guys can take forever plus an eon.

However, while you're waiting, start sending that puppy out into the dog eat dog world.
Knowing someone turned it down won't help you; leave it out of the query letter.

If an agent expresses interest, you can tell her/him you're waiting to hear from Godot Press, and the commissioning editor phoned you to say she liked it. If it comes to that you can say "they ultimately passed" but they haven't YET which is why NOW is a good time to query.

Spring is a horrible busy season. Sales conferences, BEA, getting ready for Brangelina's baby..yanno(tm/patentpending) we're like BUSY here.


I curse Alexander Graham Bell daily....

Your Snarkiness,

I am not certain if you will find this as amusing as I did, but on the off-chance it will brighten your day as your blog continuously enlightens mine, I decided that I would send it to you. I currently work at a corporate law office, and usually have to deal with a completely different brand of nitwittery. However, I just had a conversation that I think was more along your line.

Me: "Sparkly, Shiny, and Stupid Things*, how may I help you?"

Caller: "Uh..."

Me: "How may I help you?"

Caller: "Uh, yeah...I'd like to get my book published?"

Me: *holding in the laughter* "I'm sorry, this is a sparkly, shiny, and stupid things office. We wouldn't be able to help you with that."

Caller: "Oh."

Me: "But off-hand, I can suggest that you look into getting an agent, or looking up publishing companies online."

Caller: "Yeah, thanks."

Me: *Points at the phone and starts cracking up*

So out of morbid curiosity, tell me, have you ever had to deal with an inquiry by phone? Just how fast would he have been laughed out of town if he actually had managed to connect to the correct party?

I trust that Killer Yapp will accept some home-made chocolate chip cookies, and that you enjoy, if not my story, then the pint of gin sent along with my regards.

Sadly, KY is still a dog, and thus unable to eat chocolate. Miss Snark bravely takes on the role of chocolate chip cookie tester. She will be glad to discuss your efforts. Each cookie is rated separately so plan on a dozen at least.

(wiping mouth with sleeve)

Telephone Nitwittery!

1. "Do you accept phone queries"
2. "Are you still alive"

3. "I'll be in New York on Tuesday, can I meet you"/"I'm in your lobby, why won't your security guy let me in"

4. "Where are you?"

5. "I have a great idea, do you know any writers"
6. "I'm calling a few select agents to see who's interested in bidding on my project"

7. "This is the NY Public Library. We'd like to speak to you about a patron named K. Yapp who seems to have returned a book on "obedience for people"with tooth marks...and something that looks like a torn pink tam"

8. "Are you an agent?"
9. "Are you a girl or a man"

and my all time favorite call from "an agent referral service" which I get about once a year:

AR: we keep lists of all the active agents and have 20 questions to ask you
MS: Do you charge people money"
AR: some of our lists are free
MS: Don't list me, please
AR: all the agents want to be listed with us.
MS: A minus one then; don't list me
AR: We'll just list you as non-responsive
MS: Fuck off and die isn't non responsive. It's the response everyone is thinking when they talk to you.

How Time Flies When You're Being Burned

Dear Miss Snark,

A year ago, I queried an agent who subsequently requested Novel #1. Before I sent it, another agent read Novel #2, loved it enough to ask for Novel #1, which he also said he loved. Though we didn't yet have a formal agreement, I agreed to revising Novel #2 to get it ready for him to submit. From everything this agent said, I assumed we had a good thing going (he loved my writing, loved the voice, was giving me names of editors he planned to sub to, etc.). Nevertheless, after nine months and two major revisions, he decided against representing my work. (KY here: I hope you enrolled him in the Rottweiler of the Month club after that little disappointment)

Now I'd like to send Novel #2 to that first agent, but it's been such a long time since she requested it that I'm not sure how to proceed. Should I send the novel without mentioning the time that has passed? I assume she's not holding her breath; still, I feel strange not acknowledging the passage of so many months. Should I send it with an apology for taking so long? An explanation? Instead of sending the mss cold, should I requery?

I fear I may deserve Nitwit of the Day for my stupidity in giving the second agent such a long exclusive, but it's done now. By the way, the mss has been requested by other agents, too, so it is out there. No more exclusives. I learned that one the hard way.

Send her a nice letter. Say something like "I'm sorry it's taken so long to follow up on your interest. Would you still like to read Title?". Don't mention that other agent or your disappoinment.

We all learn the hard way. Miss Snark carries an aqua feather duster at all times so she can dust herself off after falling on her face.

Patently stupid...but here it is nonetheless

Dear Miss Snark,

I've noticed this several times, so I thought I'd bring it up. A lot of
people in the comments seems to think that you can't have a plot as your
intellectual property -- only a specific work. This is not the case.
Storylines can be patented:

What does the great arbiter of all that is snarky think about such a
development? Honestly, after seing what software patents have done to the
computer world (like how Amazon patented "One Click Shopping" then started
suing their competitors to make them deliberately complicate their checkout
processes), this scares the heck out of me.

You'll notice it says 'application' for a patent.
Like lawsuits, anyone can file anything.
We'll see how it goes.

I myself am applying for a patent on the letter "I".

KY of course already holds a patent ... leather shoe of course.

Drive on the right side of the road cause I said so

Dear Miss Snark,

I love your site.

Whare are synopses single-spaced? I would think that the rationale for double-spacing manuscripts would equally apply for synopses.

They are?
The ones I see that tend to go for more than a page are double spaced (or my favorite break the rules manuever: 1.5 lines).

Just make it easy to read. This isn't a contest to put one over on an agent. You can do anything you want to, it's not against the law to send tripled spaced, italic font, lambie pie stationery. It makes you look like a nitwit, that's all. The Cover Letter Police are busy steaming stamps off the SASE; they don't have time to actually read what you send.

When I look at a big splat of type on a page, I just don't want to read it. Do yourself a favor: make me reject your writing cause it sux, not cause your synopsis looks like a Rorshach test.

Just when you thought Miss Snark was the only Loon in Tunetown

It's official!
The Evil Editor HAS lost his mind!

I for one am eagerly awaiting the results of THIS!!


Auto-pitches on rejection letters

This, from the comments tail on an earlier post, says it best:

Rejection's hard enough to take without being then "pitched" to BUY something from the person who just declined to buy anything from you.

I think I'll reverse my position and say this to my colleagues: leave off the advertising on rejection letters and emails.

And now, back to my regularly scheduled snake oil sales.

Grocery lists are not a publication credit even if you're writing about food

Miss Snark,

I have written short stories but they've never been published & I've never tried to have them published. Can I include a line in my query letter like: "this is the first novel that I have ever written, but I have previously written short stories", even if the stories were never published? Of course, if the agent were to ask in a subsuquent request for a partial, I would say that my stories were never published. But can I put it in my query, just to show that this novel isn't the first time that I've put pen to paper?



Dear Miss Snark,

When mailing requested material to an agent, should I put a label on the outside of the envelope indicating that it's something she requested?

Thanks for all your help.

Only if s/he tells you too.
Otherwise it's pointless.

I've stopped having people do this cause some sharp operators started putting "requested material" on things that weren't. Now I have numerical codes and I keep track of the things I really ask for and anyone who writes "requested" on stuff that isn't is an automatic rejection. I can't stand that crap.

I always mention something is requested, or discussed in a phone call, in the cover letters of stuff I send to editors. You should do that too.

I've had an actual client put "Requested material" on stuff he was sending. I finally mentioned that despite any evidence to the contrary I did know who he was and did open his mail first. We had a good laugh...I think.

Publishing Credits...cause yanno, too much isn't quite enough

Dear Miss Snark,

A previous blog post (which is, as usual, completely fabulous) includes this snippet:

Tell me if any of your work has been previously published. Tell me who published it and what year. Leave this blank if you don't have it. It's not a deal breaker.

Um. Nitwit question. I've written some nonfiction articles that have appeared in specialty magazines. OK, I wrote a lot of those. (It pays better than art.) Do I mention that if it has absolutely no bearing on the 82,000-word piece of fiction that I'm currently querying?

In other words, does journalism or trade publishing confer any advantage whatsoever on one's chances in the vast and frightening world of serious literary fiction?

I continue to hang on your every word,
P.S. -- I would still like to make KY a tam out of paper. It's acid-free, lignin-free, and water- and light-resistant. Does that sweeten the offer? No? Then I shall just send sausages.

KY: send sausages soon, MS is having a hard time focusing after her George Clooney Birthday fest.

You can mention you've been published in non-fiction areas that have no bearing on the novel. You can say just exactly that in fact. I like knowing people have been publlished in some form or another. It gives me hope they've learned that 'no' isn't personal and "chop 500 words" isn't a directive for literary seppuku.

What gives me the yawns are when people write in that they've been published in the DMV Quarterly and think it should be treated as some sort of achievement. Nothing against the DMV Quarterly but c'mon.

Certainly don't list all your articles, and don't say "I'm the right person to write the novel cause I've been published in these fields"...all of which I've seen this week in the slusherooo.


First serial rights

Miss Snark,

Do posts on writing community websites count as granting first rights? About six years ago I had the first draft of a story I'm currently trying to gain representation for (the current version has a doubled word-count and completely different POV over the draft I posted but the overall gist of the story is the same) available online. Do first drafts count in these types of situations? Is my paranoia justifiable or am I sliding into nitwit territory?

There is no such thing as "first rights" for books. I think you mean first serial rights.

First serial rights are rights to print excerpts of a book before publication. The question isn't whether you've given them away..you have. The question is whether you can sell them again. You have to read the submission guidelines of the magazine or contest or whatever place you want to sell/submit them to see if they will take "gently used words".

Book publishers don't buy first serial rights. They buy what's called world rights, or North American rights, or some such geographical description of the right to publish your work in BOOK FORM.

If you're well known enough, publishers will buy all sorts of things that have been published previously (Maureen Dowd of the New York Times comes to mind instantly, as does Dan Savage of The Stranger).

You may have seen that publishers aren't interested in things that have been published on the web but it's because they think you've tapped the market sufficiently for the work, not that you've sold the rights they'd need to have to publish.

You may have seen agents who say "we don't take on anything that's already been self published". It's not cause they can't sell those rights, they could. They just don't want to bother with it cause generally that's not a very profitable market.

There's a distinction between "don't want to bother" and "not available to be sold".

Yea, it's a pretty nitwitty question, but still not quite Nitwit of the Day

Miss Snark,

I'm sure this e-mail will at least qualify me for consideration in the contest for the Nitwit of the Day award. My question is, when agents ask for "the first 50 pages of the book", are they asking for whatever the first 50 pages happen to be after you have converted the document to double-spaced format for the agent to read, or are they asking for what the first fifty pages would be in single space (if the first three chapters equal 50 pages single spaced, then should I just send 50 double-spaced pages, even if that only results in the agent seeing 1 or 2 chapters?)

Eagerly awaiting my official inducting into the Royal Order of Nitwittery.

Fifty pages in the correct format. It helps if you don't stop in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, and a complete chapter is better, so 50 pages "more or less" is really the best.

Mostly what we're looking for here is whether the novel is moving along and the characters are doing more than talking to themselves about nothing (ya ya ya, I read Becket too, doesn't mean I'm going to sell him today).

Try not to look on this as some sort of contest to see how much you can send and still be within the 5o pages. You don't get points for creative margins and obscure fonts. We want to know if you can write, not create font art.

Stop reading Miss Snark and go write

Your Holiness

I kneel at the throne to kiss the ring, bearing a liter of Bombay and tartar of Kobe steak for KY. I face a dilemma. After thirty years of observing pathetic attempts to influence the government of your state and only three years attempting to write a novel about the same, what should I do? Start a blog for political nitwits? Or, perhaps, finish the dog damned novel and write a killer query letter, which, IMO, is harder than getting a bill passed?

Today’s Nitwit

I vote for the second one.

It's easy to get distracted thinking the stuff you do (like blogging, or sorting your files, or doing a lot of research) will help you write the novel. Wrong.

Nothing takes the place of actually writing. Nothing.

Get busy. Quit reading this blog, and go write. There's nothing on this blog that is going to help you finish.

No, no, but this is one that was yes

Dear Miss Snark,

An agent I queried responded to say he'd passed my email on to an assistant who was interested in that sort of work, which I take to be a good sign! It was just a little strange, though, to read on and see that he'd included advertisements for published books by the agency's other clients. Is this a normal sales strategy?

I've come down hard on my colleagues who use rejection letters, or rejection emails as a venue to announce or sell their own books on writing/how to get published etc. I find it not only insensitive, but bad bad manners. It's like your boss selling Amway at work, or state sponsored religion: there's an element of unspoken coercion based on an imbalance in power that just does not sit will with my egalitarian self.

Announcements about client books are different.

First, it's a good idea to see what the agent took on and sold. That's pretty helpful info. Second, you can get the books out of the library. And third, yes, as an agent, part of my job is to talk about the books my clients write. If I take you on, I'll be talking about yours as well.

One of the biggest parts of my job is making connections for my authors. I do this by keeping my ear to the ground for publishers who are starting up new lines, editors who are moving to different houses, and anthologies that are looking for submissions. One of the ways I also do it is by putting my clients' names out in to the world in a variety of ways. You never know who's reading.

I agree it can seem a trifle pushy, but good agents ARE pushy and aggressive. The best of us do it without being obnoxious...or we try to.

Miss Snark Brand: $nark

Your Snarkiness,

When I riffled through the book section of my local bookmonger megastore recently, I noticed a trend. Every book seemed to obsessively mention A LOT of products by name. Nobody orders whiskey anymore, it has to be Jim Beam, stirred with a promotional AT&T swizel

I know Hollywood has for years sold space in their movies to products (ET and Reese's Pieces etc.). Are publishers inserting these references based on deals with these manufacturers, or has some evil writing teacher convinced a whole generation of innocent writers that using product names rather than real English is somehow good writing?

Or maybe the writers think they'll start getting free cases of Jim Beam by having their character splash it on his tie as he engages in a car chase? Are we going to have characters who say, "Hold on a second while I visit the American Standard?" Despite what it might say about the writers, I hope it's not the publishers doing it.

Well I don't think payola is involved in things like this

or this

or even this

but this was.

I do not think the use of brand names is ipso facto bad writing. Here's a piece from the Wikipedia article on John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra

In the 1930s it was unusual to mention brand names in fiction. Biographer Frank MacShane says that O'Hara wanted his book to have a similar authenticity to those of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom O'Hara admired as a writer who "could come right out and say 'Locomobile' instead of 'high-powered motor car.'" MacShane says O'Hara "filled Appointment in Samarra with the names of popular songs, politicians, sports figures and cars of the period." English (the protagonist) is a car dealer, and O'Hara assumes that readers will understand the social distinctions between a Cadillac, a LaSalle, a Buick, and a "Chevvy" (which O'Hara spelled with two V's). But beyond cars, the novel is full of other brand names, which O'Hara obviously expects to convey subtle social meanings to the reader:

He reached over [in his car] and picked up the hat beside him.... The brim did not snap down in front. It was a Stetson, and Julian wore Herbert Johnson hats from Brooks Brothers." You would look at Mrs. Waldo Wallace Walker, dressed in a brown sweater with a narrow leather belt, and a tweed skirt from Mann and Dilks, and Scotch grain shoes with fringed tongues..."

There is a line in an old Patrick Dennis novel (I think The Genius, one of the best novels of all time EVER) that describes a character in a Peck & Peck suit. It conveys everything you need to know about the woman. (Of course, now that no one except Miss Snark knows what a Peck & Peck suit is, it's not as good a description, but Miss Snark is resigned to being the last person on the Snarksdale train wearing kid gloves to lunch at the Automat too).

Were you to describe Miss Snark in written form it would be much more evocative to say she sucks up Cafe Bustelo rather than merely sucking up java juice. Saying she sucks up Folgers isn't quite the same thing either, not that Miss Snark would ever do such a thing...even in her Peck&Peck suit.

Sorry, he's right, you're not

My Dark Distant Mistress, (and really , i wouldn't have it any other way) (me either)

I've enjoyed reading Evil Editor for oh, 2 days, until today, where he queerly went off on a query letter because the writer said:

"I'm enclosing a SASE."

He sort of excoriated her for not saying, "AN" SASE. As in, AN elephant. AN espadrille.

I am mystified. "I'm enclosing a SASE", seems like pretty standard English to me. "An" SASE makes no sense to me, and when i tried to politely say so in that thread, he chose not to include my polite comments about it.

I'm not runnin to you boo-hoo. But he's no Miss Snark, is what i'm sayin'. It'd be nice to have an editor's side but this is just weird. I know you've a thousand things more important but..wtf?

Best to you, and KY.

What part of EVIL isn't clear?

And "an SASE" is correct. Say these out loud to see what I mean: "an herb garden, an evil editor, an essay, an SASE".

And it's his blog, he gets to chop whatever comments he wants, polite or not, just as I do.

Old, old...and really old

Dear M.S.

In polishing my query for a new agent, I'm wondering if too many previous publications can ever be considered a negative, especially if some of these books were published before the advent of Ipods, cell phones, personal computers, cable television, electric typewriters, fast food, soft cover originals, the bicycle, magic, and fire?

Good question.
I don't think there is a yes or no answer.

I've read novels from guys who first published in the 60's, outlived their agents, and were on the scout for new representation. They had long lists of pub credits. Trouble was, they were still writing like it was the 60's so it was hard to think of where I could sell it. The writing was good..it just wasn't something I thought I could sell in 2006. If the writing had not reeked of mothballs I certainly would have considered taking it on.