Can I call John Updike the Nitwit of the Day?

So, John Updike thinks blogging is "like a video game" does he?
Has he ever read one? Or played a video game?
Now, admittedly my own experience with video games is mostly interactions with the new Chase terminals but I've seen Playstation and taken a few runs at Grand Theft Auto (the subway version) and much like porn and art I can tell the difference when I see 'em.

Here's what Mr. Updike said in the Rocky Mountain News:

"You type in your blog, and some other people read it, and so you create a print society apart from real society and you're getting the gratification of expressing yourself . . . It's a way to develop a public persona, but it's very undiscriminating, and very 'me-minded.' We're all me-minded. We all have egos."

Now, when you do a little judicious cutting and pasting in the Miss Snark video game you get:

You type your novel and some other people read it, and so you create a print society apart from real society and you're getting the gratification of expressing yourself . . . It's a way to develop a public persona, but it's very undiscriminating, and very 'me-minded.' We're all me-minded. We all have egos."

I'm not sure why Mr Updike thinks novels or writers should fear blogs. Dog knows talking about novels in public IS a dangerous idea, but yanno, I'm still gonna do it.

Thanks to the incomparable, if not fully recovered, Bellisima for the link


Miss Snark Hits a Triple

Dear Miss Snark,

1. What do you think of the use of the word "literary" to describe a novel--for example, in a query letter? The idea of using it, I suppose, would be to distinguish it from "genre" fiction. Drawbacks would be that it can sound pretentious and perhaps suggests a nonprofit quality. Would it be better to simply present the description and let the reader decide for her/himself?

Literary agents do not find use of the word literary to describe things to be ipso facto pretentious or a suggestion of unprofitablity.

2. How is "yanno" pronounced? Does it rhyme with "guano"?

Ha. No. ya know=yanno. Guano indeed.

3. When an agent sells a book, does she or can she negotiate a publicity budget or any terms relating to publicity?

Only if you are quite famous, or a lot of publishers want you, or you're one of the big authors at the house.

Miss Snark's Dictionary of Agent Speak

Dear supreme divinity (and your human too):
(Killer Yapp is glad to see you recognize divinity when you see it)

All the people who matter (my wife and my mother) have said they don't consider me a nitwit (though the vote is evened up when you ask my two kids), but I'm flummoxed by some agent-speak that I hope you can translate.

I think I understand what "no unsolicited manuscripts" means. It means queries are OK, but don't send the manuscript. (Is that correct?)

Recently, however, I came across an agent who said she gets so many submissions, she is no longer accepting "unsolicited submissions." This strikes me as a bit Yogi Berre-esque ("Nobody goes to that restaurant; it's too crowded.")

Is this further agent-speak for "queries are OK, but don't include manuscripts"? Or does it mean just what it says: No submissions of any kind are welcome? If so, I'm curious how she stays so popular.

I can think of reasonable answers to all these questions, but rather than paste the candidates to my dartboard, I thought I would pilgrimage to the divine font and seek Truth direct from the horse's ars.... uh, mouth. So to speak. My horse's arsis? You really are taking poetic license with my steed bucko.

Thank you for all you do. You are one of a thousand points of light making this a kinder, gentler world.
(Miss Snark is utterly horrified to hear THAT!)

Now, I know you are going to be amazed to hear this but it's quite true: there are some few agents in this world who have enough heavy hitter clients that they simply can't take on anyone new. These are the folks who say "no queries" or "no unsolicited queries". Take them at their word. If you meet them at a conference (unlikely) they might ask for something (that makes it solicited). If your friend says "I'll introduce you to my agent" and her agent is Agent Invitation, then that's also solicited.

You probably won't run into this very often cause the agents in this position usually try to get themselves OFF the lists you see. For them the slush pile is not anything other than a nuisance.

Auction results

Miss Snark felt the need to conduct an auction last night and several night owls were kind enough to bid on the rights to use a Snark Euphamism for "my agent sucked and I fired his sorry ass" in a query letter to new agents. You can sub license these rights of course.

Elektra bids:
The Crapometer shall usher in the Day of the Snark, during which all submissions must involve George Clooney, pink tams, or vast quantities of gin.
Additionally, the Cerberus in my WIP shall be renamed to Killus Yappus, and shall reform the Underworld with his New York savoir-faire

Miss Snark says: would Cerberus have pink tams on all three heads?

Ms Syrd bids
I bid a pleasant tropical breeze sent your way, about mid-January 2007.I would bid a fancy-schmancy golf vacation trip for you and Killer Yap to my home island in the tropical western Pacific, but Jack Abramoff isn't available to arrange the financing. Sorry!P.S. using my word verification-mssyrd-for id. A shortened "cute" version of Ms. Absurd-which in my case is just another way of saying clueless!P.P.S. Tell Killer Yap that there is a lovely tropical island in Micronesia called "Yap". I'm sure he'd be treated as royalty

Miss Snark says: here's a picture of Yap
Notice the conspicuous lack of gin joints and gambling dens, not to mention...sidewalks??? Miss Snark clutches her NFT, and murmurs "no no, I'll never leave home again"

"George-need I say more" bids:
my love

Miss Snark says: Monkey see...monkey do? Monkey guano from Curious George? ummm....no.

Rejected Writer bids:
I bid a native New Yorker who can find the state of Iowa on a map, an agent who doesn't drink, and an author for whom publishing is of tertiary consideration (after the simple joy of writing, and feeling good about one's self for just having actually written something).In other words, I offer you the impossible. And I promise it will come to you gift wrapped in a cleverly-constructed box made entirely of Bombay Sapphire miniatures.

Miss Snark
does not handle science fiction ergo must question the grip on reality of anyone offering an agent who does not drink. Also, I know where Iowa is. It's where the anvil salesman is ogling Marian's treble clef.

Dwight the Troubled Teen bids:
I bid metaphysically clairvoyant insight into man's constant turmoil in the struggle to free himself from the inhibitions that stifle a creative philosophy...Oh wait...And I'll throw in a pirate satellite decoder that unscrambles the porn channel.

Miss Snark says: you were in the running right up till you wanted to descramble the prom channel. Once was enough.

Virginia bids:
I bid a pail of that fancy cucumber gin I keep seeing advertised in The New Yorker.

Miss Snark says: only one pail? cheapskate.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies bids:
I've taken inventory. All I have that's worthwhile is a used pacifier (been drooled on and chomped by the best), a box of unused preemie sized diapers, one talkative goat, and two stale Oreos. And my word verification code, "kaehkugn," which must be some sort of record.I don't win, do I?

Miss Snark says: well, no, but it's certainly an array of objets d'art worthy of the new Dada exhibit opening at MoMA this week.

Tori Scott bids:
I bid three George Clooney clones, one George Clooney original(who needs no formal training in anything since he's already perfect), a year's supply of gin, an assistant to read all snark-causing sub-standard submissions so you don't have to, and a year of free grooming for KY.

Miss Snark says: NOW we're talking!

Inkwolf bids:
Well, everyone's gonna bid George Clooney, so...I bid TWO George Clooney clones, one of whom has just written an absolutely surefire best-selling series of books, and the other of whom has just graduated from the Kama Sutra School of Sensual Massage and Dog Grooming.

Miss Snark says: Inkwolf, meet Tori; Tori meet Inkwolf. You're co-winners and I want all five Mr. Clooney's Fed Exed for Saturday delivery. It's been a TOUGH week.

Be An Agent!

No wonder people think agents are overpaid extortionists.
They found this book in Non Fiction.

Since Miss Snark has no sense of humor whatsoever, she's glad to see everyone else being serious about what they read too. None of that sardonic sneering, parody, deeply suspect content for us nosireee(as I was saying)bob.

(I'd thank Ron for the link but GalleyCat is on Killer Yapp's Shred List now for soliciting cat pictures instead of recognizing metrosexual poodles as they should have).


How To Be a Poet

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

by Wendell Berry

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

from Given New Poems © Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C.

Miss Snark Opens the Auction NOW till 6am

O Queen of Snark,

I had a lean-and-hungry young agent who sold a number of books for me. As time passed, the market for my genre tanked, I sold fewer books, and I got a microscopic amount for the ones I did sell. Meanwhile my agent acquired some high-profile bestseller clients. It got so I had to e-mail him several times before he'd answer, and then he stopped answering at all. Another agent I know said that that's often the easiest way of getting rid of unprofitable clients, since they make a huge fuss if you drop them formally.

I got discouraged and stopped writing for a few years, but now I'm ready to get back in the game. I'm working in a new genre (related to the old one, so I'm not starting from scratch), and I want a new agent. But how straightforward should I be about what happened to the old one? I don't want to diss him, and I obviously don't want to say "He couldn't get a publisher to take my stuff even if he paid them, so he dropped me." From what you've been saying, though, it sounds as if it will raise red flags if I say "We saw things differently" or some euphemism like that.

All snarkist insight will be much appreciated!

A Fan

(Needless to say, I'm delighted if you print this on the blog, or even sell it at auction.) :-)

What am I bid for the rights to a Snarkly euphamism?

All bids in the comment column through 6am Eastern Standard time tomorrow (Friday 6/16) will be eligible to compete. Prizes awarded completely arbitrarily and any physical prizes will be sent ONLY to US addresses.

High Concept

Dear Miss Snark,

I admit it-I'm clueless. Some of the agents' listings I've looked at recently mention that they want "high concept" fiction. What is "high concept"? I mean, I understand high (in all its many ways!) and I understand concept, but when you put them together and apply them to fiction, I haven't a clue.

Thanks for any enlightenment.

A devoted Snarkling.

High concept is a term stolen from the mooovies. Remember Robert Altman's hilarious The Player? The movie opens with a variety of people pitching movie ideas in 15 second sound bites. "Jaws in Space" = Alien. "Jaws in Heels" = Miss Snark's memoirs. "Cujo: The Early Years" = Killer Yapp Takes Manhattan

High concept means you can explain the book without actually ever talking about the content.

High concept means The Devil Wears Prada, The DaVinci Code and books by TC Boyle. It does not mean good or bad. It generally means commerical. Bill Vollman is not high concept, but Motherless Brooklyn and Silent Joe come pretty close.

The attraction of high concept is that the books can be easily explained to buyers and readers.

"Where did I go wrong"

Dear Miss Snark:

So this published author friend of a friend offers to refer me and my completed novel to her bigtime agent who says he's intrigued and asks me to send three chapters--almost half of the book--to him. Within a week his secretary sends me a letter requesting that the rest of the ms be sent as soon as possible. My heart is racing and my hopes are rising. (ya, well, you'll learn not to do that again)

Two weeks later
(Snarkly emphasis inserted) I get a form rejection letter. So I send him an email asking how the book failed him. He responds, saying it is competent and sorry he couldn't be more specific. Meanwhile, I get to the full-read stage with three publishers who praise the work, saying it's well-written and funny and might even make a great film but they're going to pass on it because they have no idea how we'd market a book like this. My nails are bitten down to the quick and the brandy is all gone. I am mystified. Was it something I did or didn't do?

Have a nice day and thanks.

You are the client from hell in training. You got an intro to an agent, who read the FULL book in two weeks, and your response is "tell me why you didn't like it"?? The only thing you get to say at this point is: THANK YOU, and then you query on.

Do not email an agent and ask why they didn't take something. That is as close to a blacklist as I have, but I remember those people (I have your name and address on the data base if I read your novel) and I never ever want to work with them.

People who DO get a second shot are the ones who say "thanks for taking the time to read this, I'm sorry it wasn't a good fit for you. Between the time you requested it and rejected it I had someone else read it and she suggested several major changes. I've made those changes and it's a better book. If that makes it more appealing, you know I'd jump at the chance to be one of your authors". Yes, base flattery works, but there are two things here: you made significant changes and you didn't ask me to give you advice.

Here's why I hate being asked "what didn't work for you": I didn't read your novel with the idea of critiquing it. I read it with the idea "can I sell it". If I can't it may not mean the novel sux (and if I'm reading the full novel, we're pretty much past the sucky query stage) it may be just what those three publishers said...we don't know how to market this book. That doesn't mean someone else won't be able to.

You've only had four reads. Keep querying. No one has said your writing sux or the equivalent thereof.

And if you just neglected to tell me that you included "thank you for reading my manuscript at the speed of light" in that email, well, ignore the rant and know someone else needs the advice even if you don't.


Handshake deals

Miss Snark: What is your take on agents who use verbal agreements instead of written contracts? Should this be a cause of concern even if the agent has years of experience, a solid client base with award winning books, and consistent sales? Thanks in advance!

Lots of very very good, reliable and honest agents do not use contracts. It's NOT a red flag at all.
Just like very good and reliable agents don't belong to AAR sometimes. Don't use this as an absolute criteria or you'll miss some really good people.

Agents who don't have contracts do have agency clauses in the publishing contracts though.


This aint magazines, you don't get paid by the word

Dear Miss Snark:

I am in the final stages of writing a historical novel. The editing is almost over. It has been great fun. In a couple of weeks the unfun part will be starting, with queries and the like. One problem: I hit the word count function on my word processor and I have 235,000 words! And this is after a liberal use of pruning shears.

Is it going to be an immediate turnoff for an agent or publisher? The thing is divided into four parts of 55,000/60,000 words each, but it is a single story.

Any suggestions?

Miss Snark is as fond of lifting weights as the next slacker couch potato but 235,000 words is 135,000 too many.

Yes, something this size is a problem. First, if you're a new author, you're going to be most likely published in paperback (tpo or mm). 235,000 words makes a HUGE book, and subsequently the price is high. When you are starting out you want the lowest price you can do because while Miss Snark lies on the couch she reads econ texts that tell her price and demand are related.

Right now you are in love with your words, and the idea of pruning them is anathema. Get over this at once. You must be ruthless with your prose. Trim it like kudzu.

You have a couple choices.
First is prune. There's a LOT of advice about this in the comments trails on previous posts about length.

Second, just split the thing into two, or better yet, three books.

Three, query and see what you get.

I vote for #1 with all four feet.


subject line "Congratulations, I may Already be a Nitwit" was too funny not to recycle

Dear Ms. Snark,

I may have done a very nitwitted thing. I found an agent who takes submissions in my genre on the Publisher's Marketplace website. In that agent's listing, it said that queries could be e-mailed to the agent, or submitted by snail mail with an SASE (the listing didn't indicate a preference). I sent an e-query over a month ago. I haven't heard anything back yet.

Today, I was reading a book "Guide to Literary Agents", which listed the same agent. The book said, however, "No e-queries." Perhaps this is why I haven't heard anything back yet from the agent.

I have only been able to find about 20 agents who accept submissions for the genre that I'm writing in, so I really can't afford to lose any potential agent opportunities. What should I do?

1) Send an e-mail apologizing for sending an e-query, and asking if I can still send him a snail-mail query. No.

2) Send him a snail-mail query and explain my e-mail faux pas in the query letter. No.

3) Do nothing, hope that the Publisher's Marketplace listing was correct and the book listing was not, and hope that he is just very busy and might still get back to me.

4) Give up all hopes of this agent ever accepting a query from me, as I have royally f*%ked up my chances with him.

(what no more options?)

On a related question, how long is it acceptable to wait for an agent to respond to your query before sending them a "status check" letter? I have several agents who haven't responded to the query letter I sent them over a month ago (and I did remember to include SASEs).

Thanks for the help.

In answer to 1-4 you send your query in the mail with an SASE but you do not not not start out apologizing. NO. You just query.

Generally Publishers Marketplace is more current than anything in book form. We submit the info to the Writers Guides almost 15 months before they are published. Lots changes in that amount of time.

To answer the second question:
If the agent's website doesn't tell you what the time frame is (30 days on a query, 90 on a partial etc) I'd give them six weeks. I'm pretty nice to the people who nudge me on a query at six weeks cause really, I should have responded. Things happen, people get behind but if the query didn't get there, you don't want to wait too long to find out.

What makes me nuts are people who ask after a week on queries, or a month on FULL manuscripts, particularly since I think I'm pretty clear what my time frame is. That's the sign of someone who thinks the world revolves around them, or is a basic illiterate about directions, or worse, thinks the directions are for everyone BUT them. yuckola in the extreme.

You don't qualify for nitwittery on this one but keep trying...the week is young.

Sue for $1 a typo!! I love it!!

I'm late to the game on this news, but I still think it's hilarious.
You call yourself a publisher, I guess people might think you are one.
Silly them.
Well, until you agree to publish a book from a guy who knows how to file lawsuits.

Building Blog traffic

I always pay attention to what Michael Cader reads, and talks about. Always.
He's one of the very smartest, savviest guys in publishing and I admire him enormously. Don't tell him I said that, he's a modest guy, but it's true.

Michael Cader linked to Seth Godin's article on building blog traffic.
I thought it was good..but also pretty funny in that it advises bloggers not to have comments, but the blog itself has comments!

I love the comments (mostly) on this blog cause it's the closest I can get to actually hearing what you think about what I'm yapping about, and of course, calling me to task for mistakes (navel gazing, naval gazing, yadda yadda yadda).

Ya wanna steal my blog?

well, now, THIS is interesting!
It looks like some low life is swiping blog content, and republishing it (sans attribution of course) to get google ad hits.
Like DVD sales in the subway!
You know why the street vendors and the DVD sellers lay all their wares out on a blanket?
So they can grab it easily when they hear their partner's whistle that means "cops!".

It will be interesting to see how this one gets resolved.

(thanks Tessa for the link)


No, Miss Snark isn't taking queries, not here, not there, not ever

Hello Miss Snark -

First, let me thank you for both the excellent practical advice you dole out on your blog and the
daily laughter your responses usually bring to me. And give my best to KY.

At the risk of being your nitwit of the day, I saw the tantalizing cryptic note on the sidebar of your blog: "Thinking of querying Miss Snark? Send an SASE to uranitwit@wtf.com for complete instructions." First, is it a joke? The listed e-mail address at wtf.com
bounced the message, so if it is a joke, then good one! (Knee slap here) If not, are you talking blog-question query or the BIG Next-Big-Thing QUERY? And finally, how does one send an SASE to an e-mail address?

While I don't know you, I like your style and take-no-prisoners approach. I'll be pitching my first mainstream novel (yes, it's complete) to anyone who will listen at the PNWA conference in about a month, and I would love to send a query to you as well, if only I knew who you were (but then you'd have to kill me, I know. . . .). I'm a finalist in the PNWA's literary contest this year in the essay/short memoir category, and I took second place in Ohio Writer's Best of Ohio Writers competition several years ago.

So if in fact you are providing instructions on how to query you, REALLY (which I have trouble believing, somehow), just reply to this email with the aforementioned "complete instructions." In any case, thanks for taking the time to read this request.

All the best,

I have to admire your tenacity and willingness to look like an idiot. Not enough to break my ironclad rule of no queries of course, but enough to not think you're a nitwit.

The reason you're not a nitwit is cause you asked. Nitwits are the one who say "hey, that email bounced, I want to query you, send me your address". You at least realized that maybe it was a joke (yes it is) but you weren't quite sure, so you asked pretty nicely.

Plus I have a fondness for Twin Peaks.
And the NYT Puzzle was easy today so I'm not my usual snarly self.

Bottom line: no querying Miss Snark. the @wtf.com URL is a joke. And yes, you can't "send an SASE" to an email address.

And before anyone starts whining about the lack of snarky reply, don't worry. There's snark enough for all.

Format again, cause yanno, obsessing about actual writing is so...yesterday

Dear Miss Snark:

Underline For Italics? Or just italics? Or does it matter?

Writers Market guide books say to Underline in place of italics. Have now been hearing otherwise - or that it doesn't matter - since it is the story that counts.

This is a holdover from the pre-xerox days when retyping manuscripts, let alone correcting them was laborious and expensive.

Now, with a flick of a button you can do all that stuff and more. Thus, I prefer to read manuscipts and pages that use italic for italic and underline for emphasis.

Here's the thing: depending on where I sell this masterpiece of yours, the publisher will have very specific copy guidelines. When you prepare the edited version of the manuscript for the typesetters, you'll follow the publishers' instructions to the letter. Up until that point, I truly don't think it matters that much. HOWEVER, if submission guidelines address the issue, follow them. Always follow the guidelines on an agent's website. If there aren't any, they probably don't care much either.

I just detest underlining cause it's ugly on the page. Same reason I hate 14 point bold too but, honest to dog, 12/10 pt TNR, with correct margins, one side, and anything else I'll overlook.

You can obsess about this but really, I prefer you obsess about your writing.

If Stephen King needs an agent?

Dear Awful One,

"Yanno, that's exactly what someone asked Stephen King three days before he received the National Book Award for outstanding contribution to American letters."

This makes me wonder, if Stephen King contacted you and said he needed a new agent, would you be his agent?

No. Not cause I don't like him or his work but because I am not competent to handle the complexity of his agenting needs. However, the NEXT Stephen King who comes over the transom, you bet. It's an entirely different matter to grow with a client, than take on one who already has a complex body of contracts and overlapping deals.

Which comes first: one off or collection?

Miss Snark:

I have a collection of essays -- some funny, some not, all previously unpublished. I am about to begin querying agents.

1. Is it possible/stupid/ill-advised to write in my query that I am interested both in hocking them individually and as a collection?

2. Is that a given?

3.Or is it best to just query an agent with simply a "collection of creative nonfiction" ... Period? And leave out all the qualifiers.

Thank you.

Well, first you're not hocking these unless you have a pawnbroker at the ready. If you do, let me know cause I too have some unpublished essays and a fondness for cold hard cash.

Here are the answers:

1. Not stupid, but not needed.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.

Should this query be leaping over my transom into the slushpile, I'd be interested in it as an entire collection. Once I sold that, I'd hawk the individual essays to magazines for first serial rights. I think it's easier to get mag eds to look if you can lead with "collection forthcoming from BrilliantAndSavvy Publisher".

Read my Lips, Mr. Smooth

Miss Snark:

My current WIP is a love story about what happens when the relationship is essentially put on trial in a criminal courtroom. A legal seminar company offers a yearly workshop for lawyers who write featuring speakers like Lisa Scottoline and Stephen Horn. It also sponsors an annual competition. This is my first attempt to use my law license in my writing so I thought I'd enter. My work is a little different for the genre, so I emailed the group to be sure I qualified and I did.

In preparing my submission, I sent the 2,500 word excerpt to my husband, asking that he read it and give me his thoughts. He is surely not a romance reader, but this is a little different from hardcore romance. After a while he replied saying, "Are you going to ask me for my opinion about this? Please don't. I love you." The email conveyed his opinion in a rather "in your face" fashion, so I didn't ask.

I'm about 81,000 words into the book - not quite at the end but it's in sight. The problem is that now, when I sit down at my keyboard, instead of my characters, I hear my husband's email running in my head, over and over. Somehow, I can't seem to get past it.

I know I risk being labeled nitwit of the year, or even whiner of the year (or possibly the decade) but do you have any suggestions for how I might deal with a bad review from the person whose opinion matters most?

Thanks in advance for your help.

I'm sorry but YOU do not qualify for nitwit of the day week or year. Your husband on the other hand...yikes!!! I know you love him but please let me kick him...just ONCE...in the legal brief of your choice.

Aside from his subtle cruelty, Mr. Smooth may actually have helped you. You need feedback from people who can help you figure out what works and what doesn't. Cue: Theme from "Critque Groups Are Your Friend" and a visual of Mr. Rogers singing. Find a critique group, or a writing partner. Have them read the pages. If the WIP isn't W-ing, they can tell you where it falls apart. Elektra's Crapometer can be of help there too...I haven't slithered over in awhile so I don't know what the back log is but throw yourself on her mercy and tell her your marital wellbeing depends on it.

The important thing here is to get past those hurt feelings (much easier advised than accomplished of course) and use this info to move forward. Of course, the visual of Mr Smooth being eviscerated by Killer Yapp may assist in this endeavor. Feel free to use it as needed.

And of course you can learn the music to "Beauty School Dropout" from Grease and just make it your own:

His story sad to tell,
A first reader ne'er do well,
Most mixed up spousal unit on the block!
His future's so unclear now,
He's been outted on Miss Snark's blog now,
Won't even get a snarkly smile!

Angels: (La lalala lalala lalala...)