Six Figure Roundup: What you like the Most

The Wit, the Wisdom and the Camaraderie among writers who visit the blog on a regular basis

It's not predictable





Your sense of humor, your no nonsense advice about navigating the industry and the scathing way you cut down nitwits. Clever, and Fabulous (when you're wearing your stilettos)

That I'm learning from it, slowly but surely. I'd like to write a book someday, and could always benefit from the information.

Miss Snark's honest levelheaded approach combined with her sense of humor.

You recommended an agent, I queried her, I signed with her and two months after signing our contract we are but breaths away from signing a contract with a very good publisher!

Best publishing info on the web (plus a side of Beowulf.)

That it's so snarky, it begets a new definition for the term.

References to Killer Yap & George Clooney. Poodles in pink tams and handsome men with big brown eyes - there has to be a poem in there someplace.

Your snarky humor

The 'for dogs sake be reasonable' attitude.

Ridicule meted out to those who deserve it.

Pure unadulterated entertainment value

* What I like best about the blog: The snuseths (snarky, useful truths)

When Miss Snark's frosty heart thaws and dribbles rivulets of hope to thirsty newbies and wannabees.

Your humorous conveyance of information with a take-no-prisoners attitude

Why dear Miss Snark, it's you (not to mention the references to gin). You have a wonderful site that I pore over daily for advice, laughter and good, old-fashioned honesty. Your blog, along with The Writers Almanac are the first things I read each day before I begin my work. It's the best way I know to start a day.

The vast wealth of immensely useful material for wannabe writers here.

The precision skewering of the self-obsessed.


One, I absolutely love your wit! I'm a Midwestern girl who moved to Philly to marry an East Coast guy, and East Coast people still make my jaw drop at the way they just say it like they see it. What a breath of fresh air. It's a wonderful quality I wish I had.

Two, you have a wonderful "voice." Your writing conveys a smart, funny, good-hearted person. When I visit the blog, I feel like I'm sitting down with a friend, or at least someone with the qualities I like in a friend. You feel accessible, even if you make the point that you're not, and you provide clear, accessible and professional information.

Three, I value reality checks like the Snarkism above (which I printed, clipped and have fixed on the side of my file cabinet where I can see it while writing). It's helpful to people like me, who have confidence problems, to get hit upside the head with good advice from time to time.

What I like best about the site is your focus and commitmentt to the art form of writing. Where oh where can so many gather so much so easily!!!

What I like best about this blog is finding out that there are SANE rules and guidelines in agenting and publishing, that it's not a con, and not who you know, but about merit

I like finding out the rules, and knowing that when the time comes, I can dress my little manuscript up in neat, clean, and simple clothes, teach it some manners, and send it out into the world; I like knowing it doesn't have to have expensive clothes or shoes, because eventually a perspicacious, highly professional agent like Miss Snark will put her reading glasses on and look down at it with a shrewd eye and an open heart full of hope and see its quality and merit. I feel immensely relieved and reassured. Thank you.

Your honesty and willingness to admit your own occasionall nitwittery. Marks you as a genuine pro who is forever learning and growing. Very cool.

Your quick replies; your pithy answers; your respect for the readers.

Six Figure Roundup: What you Like Least

Assholes who don't get the blog


The Spelling Police

You tend to put punctuation outside of quotation marks. (ie, "I am not a bigot" is eerily akin to "I am not a crook".) The editor in me froths a little every time I run across it.

The overly-long bashing of nitwits in the comments -it gets excessive and redundant.

Keeps me from writing

That I'm not heavily promoted on it. (Kidding.)

Blatant Scottie discrimination!

No archives visible on the front page

My comment hasn't ever appeared!

Anyone who disagrees with Miss Snark. Hmph.

Commenters who pontificate just for the pleasure of seeing their nom de plume in print but who really have nothing worthwhile whatsoever to add.

When some A-hole tries to get the best of Miss Snark or KY.

No free chocolate (whatsup with that?)

the tight focus.

The only thing I hate about your blog is that I am now constitutionally incapable of firing up my laptop in the morning without checking the blog. Yours is the siren of blogs, I dare not sail past without listening to the honey tongued wisdom. Perhaps
not hatred after all.

Those who ask questions without searching in the archives for similar topics. Aarrrrrrrgh

Not always being able to be the one with a witty comment.

The fact that you can't reply to all questions (but I understand why, you probably have a social life, and when you're reading really really awful query letters and MS's you're probably drowning yourself in a bucket of gin ;)

Snarkling feeding frenzies (especially when they try (but always fail) to be as funny as the Divine Miss S)

Anonymous comments

Not getting Email questions answered due to popularity of Miss Snark :) (I've sent 3 in a year, but no reply, not even a "sorry I'm cleaning out the backlog so I'm deleting yours")

Sometimes when I read the comments, I think the Snarklings are just plain vicious. They can, at times, demonstrate a lemmingesque mob-mentality against perceived nitwits. That kind of behavior turns me off. Of course, I realize this is not something you control. It's simply part of the blogsphere.

That you've quit posting poetry. I'm all for copyrights and protection, but I miss it. Besides, I think that it's a bit of a gray area of copyright law when you're actually causing folks to go out and find the books in question (as is evidenced by comments). Could be construed as marketing. (Yes, used to do permissions for a small house and yes, would've given you a blanket "yes" for this specific usage.)


Six Figure Roundup: Your Favorite Nitwits

1. My favorite Nitwit of the Day: I adore most of them; they're so charmingly naive and I have to believe that most of the snarklings remember a time -- not that long ago -- when they too would have qualified as nitwit of the day.

2. Career nitwit 02.02.06

3. Your favorite nitwit of the day: "I have this manuscript/book/bit of writting geniuz sure to change teh world!, and I was wondering if you'd take a look at it! Where should I send my query letter or first few pages?"

4. I'd like to nominate this for best Nitwit of the Day, from the 01/04/06

5. mainly to see if she gets pissed off about winning 5 - 30 - 06

6. Favorite nitwit: John Updike
Mr. Updike's nitwittery actually got me thinking about my own views on blogging. Some of the comments, also, made their points in ways that deflated his opinion while making me laugh.

7. favorite nitwit of the day: ME!

8. There are simply too many to mention. But I suppose it would have to be all the nitwits who actually e-mail Miss Snark with queries.

9. Favorite Nitwit of the Day/Week/Year: Barbara Bauer (Please, how can she not win this prestigious honor??)

10. MP (from 31 January 2006)

11. I chose this one because it reminds me of my mother who, with her 88-year-old arthritic hands, still blacks out her name & address on her junk mail: "First, when you hear about people prowling through the trash for "things of value" I assure you that your manuscript isn't even in their Top 100 list. They are looking first and foremost for SSNs, bank account info and proprietary info."

12. The guy who insulted your blog and asked why he hasn't heard back from the agent who he sent his unsolicited manuscript. Your reply was terrific. Can't remember the date of the blog. I searched to no avail.

Ballpoint Wren is a VERY handy resource.
She found it.

Six Figure Roundup: Your Favorite Snarkism

Prevailing sentiment: They're all pretty snarkelicious.

I even make my beta readers use it for whenever my writing makes absolutely no sense.

Second Place:

Honorable mentions to these:

Gin pail

"Somebody Grab the Clue Gun"


As Dog is my witness

Try to avoid shooting yourself in the font if you can.

"Take your media frenzy like a man, and shut the fuck up."

Miss Snark sails off into the sunset of another Saturday night with her lorgnette, gin pail and well thumbed copy of X Rated New York.

"Quit asking me why I said no, and go find someone to say yes."

"Books are not products. Books are not sweaters or chocolates. They are not created with patterns or by following a recipe. "Books are not fungible. One book is not another, whereas one Hershey kiss is another. Books are not products. They are art." 10.15.05

And one not even written by Miss Snark, but penned by the BallPoint Wren:
When Miss Snark sips from her gin pail, she doesn't get tipsy; the gin gets Snarky.

Six Figure Roundup: Your Favorite Commenter

Winner: Sha'el, princess of pixies
Sha'el, princess of pixies always has a way of making me wonder if I'm experiencing a sudden side effect of some long-forgotten prescription drug. I vote for her, if only for persistence.

Sha'el, princess of pixies (because she wears her heart on her sleeve)

Runner up: Dave Kuzminski
I always read Dave Kuzminski's comments.

Must I pick favorites? I especially appreciate comments by Dave Kuzminski

Honorable mentions to:
Dwight The Troubled Teen
Victoria Straus

And entirely too many of you voted for:
Moi, only because I feel very smug this evening. I also like to read comments from people I know or see on other blogs. Obviously I have far too much free time on my hands.

Me. It's not at all that I don't really pay attention to the usual commenters, as I'm coming from the lj feed and such.

me, of course but then I suppose I should give kudos to all the N.O.T.D.s who actually post and take the bullet for me.

A LOT of votes for:
Well in all fairness it would have to be anonymous (Ha Ha)
Anonymous usually kicks ass

Some votes for the quadrapeds:
Killer Yapp, the tamo'shantered wag with the pom pom tail

Bill E. Goat

And some folks who have a hard time with the word "chooose"
Anyone with an irreverent sense of humor who doesn't take themselves too seriously

And the surreal:
4. Your favorite commenter: I don't know the commentors. But John Madden is pretty cool.

Six Figures

A million and counting.
When I started this blog I was lucky to have twenty readers.
I still remember the first commenter. (Scaramouch, you clever thing)
And the friends who linked to me. (Ron, Sarah, Maud, Michael Cader)

And you.

I am honored by your readership.

I've learned some amazing things from you (mostly about punctuation and parenthesis, not that I'll ever apply it).

I've become a better agent because of what you tell me.

I've been able to help some of you in very specific ways, and you've been generous enough to tell me.

And oh man, you've made me laugh.

Thank you just doesn't begin to say it but it's the only phrase I've got.

Thanks...1,000,999 times at 3:51 pm!!

Feeling Lost?

Hello Miss Snark:

I sent thirty queries, including the first few pages (10, 20, 50, whatever the agent requires) of my manuscript. It has been eight weeks and only half the SASEs have come back. What percentage of "just following up" messages do you receive from writers in whom you have some interest?

I understand that hundreds of submissions must arrive weekly (daily?). I guess that I'm asking if an agent can lose the initial submission from a "please send me more" writer as easily as from a "blechh, please go away" writer.

Happens all the time.

Right this very moment I'm on page 143 of a 211 page novel that I've had here since...hold on to your lid, September 2005. Now before you faint dead away, let me just say that I HAVE been in email contact with Mr. September a couple times in these last 11 months. He's been good about sending hilarious emails, and I like his stuff enough not to get huffy about being nudged.

There is no, zip, zilch, nada way to graph out an x/y relationship between time to respond and ANY other factor. Each agent works differently, and most agents don't even handle the incoming submissions as a regularly scheduled thing. I sure don't. I do them when I can. Sometimes I'm really prompt. Sometimes-more often- I'm a slug.

Don't fret. Don't nudge. Go read something really juicy.


Where Have I Heard That Before?

Dear Miss Snark,

I have an idea for a novel or screen play, and I'm so excited about it that I'm just about to begin putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

I can visualize the story so vividly in my mind that I'm a bit concerned that maybe I've read or seen it somewhere before. I think it's my very own story, but perhaps I didn't think it up after all.

What's the best way for a writer to check that he or she isn't unwittingly stealing someone else's idea?

Thanks very much for your blog. It's a really excellent part of my daily reads. Oh wait, maybe someone else has already told you that. Damn, maybe I've stolen this idea as well! :)

Steal away.
You can steal every idea in the book and be ok.
What you can't steal are the words.

You can steal the idea of doing a blog about publishing.
You can't steal my actual posts to this blog.

You can steal the idea of star crossed lovers come to a bad end.
You can publish it as Romeo and Juliet, then West Side Story.

You can steal the idea of an aging patriarch confronting his mortality and his daughters.
You can publish it as King Lear and then A Thousand Acres, and then Belly.

Try to write as well as Jane Smiley or Lisa Selin Davis and you're good to go.

Treble in the clef notes

Dear Miss Snark:

I love the blog, the book and all the rest. (the book? the rest? huh?) But I'm e-mailing you this to get a reaction. The following paragraph was pasted, verbatim, from the web site of THE DRILL PRESS. It seems to question all the things we (writers) are trying to perfect these days.

Only a fool would expect a novel to command attention from the first word, sentence, paragraph, or several pages. It is akin to expecting a symphony to open with a wild flourish and maintain such tedium. Nonetheless, when an agent or editor judges a work by the first sentence or page or even chapter, it is the equivalent of judging a symphony by the first measure. Of course, the soulless masses prefer short, soulless ditties. And the mindless prefer empty-headed writing. We don't expect to find readers or authors within this faceless clot of bozos.

A symphony doesn't need to open with a wild flourish to command attention. Think of the last symphony you attended. The audience came into the hall, sat down, coughed 8 gazillion times, then turned their attention to the musicians. They gave their attention to the performance.

Now, if the musicians stink (and they aren't your precious loinfruit) your attention wanders pretty quickly.

Even if they don't stink, if they're just not very good, your attention wavers. And if you think you can't tell the difference between the Florence Jenkins Junior High Orchestra and the NY Philharmonic after six notes, you need to turn up your hearing trumpet.

I don't take anyone seriously when s/he starts throwing around phrases like "soulless masses" in a marketing statement. I prefer my frothing at the mouth hyperbole to be confined to gin tasting contests.


Cover letter for partials

Miss Snark,
I have recently been asked to submit several partials of my manuscript. What are agents looking for in a cover letter when I send the pages? Anything specific I need to say, or can I just thank them for their request, etc.? Thanks. I visit your site everyday (when I'm taking a writing break).

Sleepless in PA

Dear Miss Yawninski:

I'm very much in favor of sending the query cover letter again with an opening line that says something like "thanks for requesting the first three chapters of Ma and Pa Kettle Meet Godzilla. "

I may have the original query letter lying around but it never hurts to send it again.

Answer any questions the agent asked. It annoys the crap outta me when I've asked some detailed questions and get no response. I instantly suspect shenanigans of course.

And make sure you've included all of your electronic digits and snail trails.

And a twenty dollar bill of course.

You're Obsessing Again

Dear Miss Snark,

I am a writer who hopes to be published in the future- though I won't start submitting until I've edited my manuscripts several times and maybe had one professionally critiqued.

I have completed three novels (one sucked, and isn't going anywhere but under my bed), edited one, and am working on a fourth because I've heard from several people that it's easier to be harsh on work if you let it sit for a few months.

My question is this: If you write in one genre, but drastically different styles, how likely is it that you'll need multiple agents?

All I write seems to fall under the sci-fi/fantasy section. However, one of my novels is written in a style that's very comical, and even in dire situations the characters make it seem funny. The edited one is written so, even though everything is very dark and serious, a glimmer of hope shines through and leads optimistically to the end. The one I'm working on now seems more suspenseful, with creakings from nearby and a dreadful, lingering fear of being caught.

Since I doubt one agent would ever accept all three, if I do need multiple agents how will I go about it?

What if you get hit by a bus tomorrow?

When it's time to look for an agent, query agents based on one book. Then, if you have a book that's a lot different, we'll deal with it then. You're three YEARS away from this being anything remotely resembling a problem.

Most agents who handle a genre handle all kinds of books in the genre.

Fret less. Write more.

No credentials, nada zilchies....

Ms. Snark,

If you have no related publishing experience, how do you punch up your query letter to impress an agent?

You enclose ten pages of superlative writing and a cover letter that says: read this.

Good writing trumps everything.

Even a blank resume.

Reading for Fun

Dear Miss Snark,

I suspect you drink gin both for business and pleasure, but I was curious if someone in your eh hem, position reads much for pleasure. I have found that since I've been writing seriously and honing my craft, that I just don't enjoy books as much anymore. I nit pick grammar, plotlines and even little petty things, thinking "If I'd written this book, I would have...".

Does this happen to you also?

I drink gin for medicinal purposes only. Any statements to the contrary are pure statistics...I mean lies, damn lies.

I read for fun all the time. There's a whole list of books I've read in 2006 on the blogroll on the right under Library Thing. Sure I nitpick and sneer at some things, but most of what I read to the finish I really liked. But..I'm not a writer. The only thing craft I'm honing is the Craftmatic Adjustable Montauk Hammock.

Gainfully employed...Miss Snark shivers with fear

Miss Snark,

Having slaved in the corporate world for just over a decade now, I find that I hate it. Financial reforecasts, margin analysis - it just doesn't get me going anymore. After much soul searching, I identified my top five dream jobs. Publishing is up there at #1.

What are the chances that the NYC publishing houses and/or literary agencies would take a chance on someone who is well into her 30s and willing to start at the bottom of the barrel along with the just-graduated 22-year-olds?

Do you know to wear shoes in the office?
Do you know to pick up the phone and not howl "Yankees Rule" into the mouthpiece?
Do you understand the importance of showing up for work every day of the week? On time?

3 out of 3 yesses and you're good to go.
Publishers Marketplace has a good job board.

However, I'm mightily amused by the idea you think publishing isn't somehow deeply involved in financial forecasts and corporate shenanigans. What the hell do you think we do around here. Read? Not during business hours. That's your after hours recreation. Unpaid.


Where's the wallop?

Miss Snark,

I'm shopping a novel (historical fiction). I have one previous publication, which is a college-text in an unrelated field. Should I mention the book in my query letter?

Sometimes seeing an example is helpful.

Dear Miss Snark:

I am writing about my novel Killer Yapp Meets Joan of Bark. My previous publication is a text on the Fiscal Implications of the Flat Tax.

I haven't seen many text books that pack a narrative wallop. Wallops of course are what I'm looking for in historical fiction. A well turned wallop.

The idea of listing publishing credentials is that I gain confidence someone other than Mom and Aunt Fanny think your writing doesn't suck. By "your writing" I don't mean letters, grocery lists, text books or love poems. I mean, generally speaking, the kind of writing you're trying to pitch me. Writing intended for the general trade market.

People pitch chick lit and tell me they have published science research papers. In my misspent youth, I read some of that there scientific journal stuff and I'm here to tell you it's got the narrative punch of stale ginger ale. E may equal mc squared but give me MC Hammer anyday of the week instead.

Playing Doctor

Dear Miss Snark,
An agent said my first 50 pages were "very promising" and requested the rest of the book. Sent it back two weeks later with--what I thought-- was a very considerate letter, noting that she enjoyed reading it but would need to see some revisions before she would be willing to "represent it as a paranormal romance." I thought it was a supernatural thriller; but what's in a name.

Even though it was rejected, I was bolstered by the fact that she took the time to note some suggested changes. She wrote that if I chose to make "some of her suggestions", she would be willing to take a second look. Of course I'm willing! She also cautioned (as you have) not to submit the same product repackaged as a "major overhaul." Got it. I've studied where I went flat and am deleting and adding chapters and scenes, adjusting story line, excising characters. Should take me at least a couple of months. I'm also reading some of the authors she recommended in that genre.

Question: Would I be exhibiting nitwit behavior if I asked said agent if she could recommend an editor (book doctor) who works in this genre? I want it to be as good as it can before I resubmit it, but I also want it to fall safely within the parameters of a paranormal romance.

Well, not class nitwit behavior but this is definately in the "no no bad dog drop it" category.
First, agents are expressly forbidden from sending queriers to editors by the AAR code of ethics. (There's a lot about why in the Snarkives.)

Some of us skirt the rules very very quietly by having a couple names, and some websites like the Editorial Freelance association which we give out only in back alleys under cover of darkness and only after you give the secret password of the day.

You don't need a book doctor. Book doctors are mostly for non fiction, mostly for people who aren't writers. People who have a good concept and a good platform and for whom writing is not their forte. It makes sense for them to spend the thousands of dollars that book doctors cost because they have a decent shot at recouping those costs.

That's not you. You're writing a novel. A skilled and ruthless critique partner can do it all for you. And you can probably do it on your own.

Closing in on a million

holy spitball, batman!
The blog is at 987,000 hits.

That means we'll hit a million sometime in the next week.
Amazing isn't it?

In honor of your achievement let's have a roundup!

Send me your nominations for:

1. Your favorite Snarkism
2. What you like best about the blog
3. What you like least about the blog

4. Your favorite commenter
5. Your favorite nitwit of the day

And I'll post them.

You have to email your nominations. Put "A million" in the subject line.
Miss Snark's email address is
Miss . Snark at gmail . com

no spaces
@ of course not at.

You'll get a reply saying I've gotten it but it's not instant. If you email me and DO NOT hear back in 24 hours, email again.

Nominations close at 995,000 hits or Friday 8/4 at 5pm Eastern Daylight Time whichever comes FIRST.

Morton Feldman style Word Counts

Dear Miss Snark,

Just sent in my query to EvilEditor and he brought to my attention that there is such a thing as ' too short a book'. My own is just about 40,000 words for a non-fiction piece. Will this be a big problem when soliciting an agent? Having already tried to add more - for there is are a lot of events I can add - it seems to subtract from the texts value. Any advice on which is better of the two evils?

Mr. Evil is right (of course). 40,000 words is about half a book (stand down all you sharpies ready to point out exceptions-this is GENERALLY not specifically speaking).

The reason I'd elevate a plucked eyebrow at 40K is that I'd wonder if your narrative was fully developed and your story well told. I'm a minimalist to the core, but cursory is not minimalism.

The other part of the equation is 40,000 words means you're going to have a lot of white space on the page or a 48 point font to use enough pages for a book. It's bad enough paying $27 for a hardcover of 400 pages, but $25 for a hardcover with 100? yuckola.

It's not a deal breaker but I'd be put off by the low word count if your query landed on my desk.

More? You want MORE?

Dear Miss. Snark,

An agent read my partial and has requested the full manuscript (oh joy!). Since I was diligently writing another book (not a sequel) while my query made the rounds, I now have a second book to offer. These are chapter books for children and while all the writing rules apply, the relatively modest word count means I can be productive. As an unpublished, unagented writer, I intend to send the agent the requested ms with a thank-you and copy of her request. I am wondering if I should briefly mention other projects in my coverletter?

I want the agent to know I'm committed and productive, not a one-trick-pony. Yet I don't want to be tossed in the pile of nitwits-who-think-I'll-want-all-their-work-right-away.

You're safe. Mention the other work. Briefly.

The "don't overwhelm me with tales of your output" advice is generally for those of you working on big ass novels who have a sixteen part series all ready to go.

Kids chapter books are hard to write, in part because the word count is so low, but many very very fine writers produce more than one a year. I miss Paula Danziger a whole lot.

Shut up, Mel

Dear Mel Gibson:

Take your media frenzy like a man, and shut the fuck up.

"I am not a bigot" is eerily akin to "I am not a crook".
If you have to say it, you pretty clearly demonstrated you are.

And Mel, ye of little faith, try to remember: Jesus was a Jew.
Not just sort of either. An observant Jew. And Mary, mother of God, full of grace, hallowed be her name?

Jewish woman.
Jewish mother.

You're not the first Catholic to forget this.
Maybe you can be the last.
Meanwhile, shut up.

Third Dimension

Dear Miss Snark,

You might not be the person to ask this, but I'm not sure who to approach. And since I already know you (sorta)...

Have third-person narrators gone out of fashion? My writers group says anything told by a "narrator" (as opposed observed or thought by a POV character) is the author giving information to the reader, hence "author intrusion."

When I studied fiction in college though, it was accepted that the "narrator" was often someone other than the POV character, though he/she was not always defined.

You can do anything if you do it well. Third person narrative included. Third person is telling, but not in the same way that "show not tell" is objecting to. It's hard to do well.
Here are three recent books that do it very well:

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass (I loved this)
Company by Max Barry (no one writes better corporate satire. He's absolutely the best)
Triptych by Karin Slaughter


The XYZ Affair

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a manuscript I am about to query, and I have been researching agents. One of my dream agents doesn't appear to represent my genre (historical fiction), but she, I discovered, represents three authors, who write in very different genres, and whose work I happen to admire very much. Should I not even bother with the query or should I try it, assuming it likely won't work, but tell her I'm querying her because of authors X, Y, and Z?

Query widely.
The worst that can happen is you hear no and spend two stamps.
Besides, I always read query letters from people who like my authors.

Letterhead on query letters

I know you dislike getting query letters on lawyer or hospital letterhead - how do you feel about getting queries on an author's personal letterhead? Does it ever seem pretentious to you? Or does it depend on whether the author is already published?

Turk Pipkin (great name isn't it!) is a writer with a great business card:

Turk Pipkin
Words and Deeds

I thought that was cool.

Unless you've got something truly stellar, leave it off.

If you've been published the place to mention that happy fact is in the letter itself.

At the query letter stage I only want to know your name, address, phone, and email. I don't want to know you're a writing consultant. I don't want to know you're an editor. I want to know how to reach you in case it turns out you really ARE a writer and not just an assembly line word organizer in the Factory of Novels.

non-virgin queries

Dear Miss Snark:

I sent out maybe fifty queries on a novel about two years ago. No bites. I've since taken some writing courses and entirely rewritten it, though the basic plot and title, which I love, remain the same. When I send out queries now, with a totally different letter, might agents recognize it from before and not even read it? Would it be a good idea to change the title and even alter my name slightly so they don't recognize it as something they've already passed on?

If the only thing agents saw was a query letter, don't worry. Even Agent Elephant doesn't keep that kind of detail in his head, and I don't know anyone who tracks query letters. Fulls and partials, yes of course, but not queries.

If any of the agents read more than a query letter, tailor the query to tell them what you told me-it's faster, stronger, smarter with newly polished six million dollar shoes.

Agents understand that writers learn from experience and they retool and polish work that made the rounds a while back. This second query would not be an automatic pass, particularly with what you've told me: two years, writing course, reworking.

The resubmissions I'm not keen on are the "major revisions" that arrive too soon (less than three months) and don't mention any kind of outside help. Those get a cursory look. Yours I'd read.

Parsing out "query again"

Dear Miss Snark,

After I'd forgotten I'd even queried them, I got a wonderful rejection. It however is rather ambivalent: "This sounds wonderful, but I just can't fit this in my schedule. Please consider us again the the future. Best Wishes!"

I was jubilant. But confused. Does this mean "please consider us again (when we're not so busy?) Or please consider us again with another book?

At any rate, I'd given the rejected book up as a "never sell" because I've worked so long and hard on it that now *I* loathe it. But I do have a new one in the works.

Comments on rejection letters, even when written by Miss Snark, are not edicts from She Who Must Be Obeyed.

If you can't stand Novel Alpo by all means query them about Novel BiteMarks.

The problem of course with "query when we are less busy" is you have no idea when that is. Thus you can't make it a factor in your Grand Query Strategy. Keep this agent on your list but don't read more into that reply than 'you don't suck'.

No Dogs Need Apply? KY dials his mouthpiece

At the recent RWA conference a panel of 2 reputable agents and an editor held an "American Idol" workshop in which someone read the first 2 pages of a manuscript. The panel would say 'stop' when they felt they'd reached the rejection point. For many, it was obvious that the writing didn't hold up. However, in others, it seemed arbitrary. The fact that they said they hardly ever looked at the query letter but went straight to the pages seemed unfair, as they would reject something set outside the US, for example, as soon as a location was mentioned. However, stories often begin with an 'elsewhere' incident, and the action could move to their good old US of A on page 3, which they wouldn't get to if one of their reject countries was mentioned in paragraph 2.

One way around this might be to call that incident a prologue, in which case one would hope they'd read on if the writing was strong enough, but then we hear that prologues aren't in favor, especially when the action picks up only a short time afterward.

Since the panel was requesting partials from a few who made it through two pages without being cut off, I'd think they weren't being arbitrary. It's enlightening to see what kind of slush you wade through daily. But it's scary to think that agents will toss your stuff without even the slightest interest in the 'whole' picture and decide they know where the book is going based on three paragraphs. Are we that predictable?

What's a poor novice to do? If my writing sucks, or my story doesn't interest you based on a query, so be it. But what if my chances are shot to heck because I set an opening action scene in another country, or mention a dog (yes, KY, some agents say they auto-reject dogs)? We don't have a master list of what not to do for each agent's pet peeves.

This is exactly why the phrase "query widely" appears regularly in Miss Snark's pearls of wisdom. This is why you do NOT make a list of three "dream agents" and get all pouty when they say no, or worse, get pouty if they pass it along to an assistant or colleague who DOES like it.

There is no checklist. There is no master list. All you can do is query everyone you can and write as well as you can. Some queries are going to be rejected for arbitrary (foreign lands) and/or stupid (no dogs) reasons.

I can see this is frustrating as hell to writers, but honest to dog, there isn't a short cut around it. Don't be tempted by anyone who tells you there is. Usually that shortcut come attached to an invoice amount and a lot of hype.

Query widely.


Fly me to the moon(pie)

Dear Miss $nark:(ha!)

I am a snarkling, so I understand that during the sales process agents submit multiple copies of a MS simultaneously. I know what a pre-empt is. I know what an auction is.

Say a developing novelist is dealing with small presses, modeling her tactics on her favorite agent's. Stipulate she is honest about submitting simultaneously and follows the several SP's respective guidelines. Assume she gets two acceptances (setting aside thoughts like "lightning," "lottery," and c.).

Is there any accepted, etiquette-level guidance for how to handle this? Gratefully accept the chronologically first offer? (no) Re-query agents for help? (yes) One-off with a lawyer (seems like they might miss opporutnity)? Take the most favorable contract and wish the other fair winds and gentle rains? (no)

If you have two offers (and yes, lightning is involved) the first, and I mean THE FIRST thing you do is look at their sales channels. Who distributes? Do they HAVE distribution? What's the biggest book they've sold (a publisher who's never had a big book is going to learn on yours...yuck). Do they have pr and sales people? Do they have pr and sales budgets? Are they thinking you'll do it all? Do they know what BookSense is; have they had a BookSense book; will they pay for one if you get picked. Do they know any niche marketing?

All small publishers are not created equal. There's a LOT to be said for small nimble companies where you can dial up the marketing director at 8am on Monday in Vermont and speak to a live person. There's a lot to be said for a company that knows how to get your book into libraries. There's also a lot to be said, and none of it good, for people who have good intentions but no means to achieve them.

A publsher can offer you the moon and the stars, but you better be standing on a launch pad looking at a rocket if you plan on getting anywhere.

Forlorn and flummoxed in Fargo

Miss Snark,

This is from the department of "you asked for the partial material, and six months later won't respond, even to reject it." It came from an assistant to be fair, and yet no amount of cordial prodding of the Internet variety seems to work. Is this no news? Not long enough, yet? Or go screw yourself pilgrim? As always, thanks for the insight behind the curtain.

Unanwered emails from an assistant?
My first guess is that person doesn't work there anymore and the company server just eats the email instead of spitting it back out with an auto-reply of "sorry charlie".

If you really want to know if you're getting the brush off, phone and just ask the person who answers if "Sally Suds-Muffin" is still working there. 1:3 gets you a no.

If she does, write her off. That means keep querying as though it's a no. It may not be, but this isn't the time to bet the farm, or even a thin dime on her calling up and saying "whoa baby, this is the next DaVinci Code". Besides, do you REALLY want to work with someone who thinks ignoring email is acceptable?

Ah yes, insult me, then ask for a favor...interesting game plan

Hello Miss Snark,

I have recently stumbled onto your blog and find myself wishing I had found it earlier. I find your attitude refreshing, especially in today's world.

I was wondering if you had any agents that you felt would welcome a query letter for a first time wouldbe author? I had written a book about two years ago, but was met with nothing but rejection. I found myself saddened after having put so much time into writing this book. I put the book to rest and went about my life. After a while I took my book out of hiding and reread it. It was garbage and I understood why it failed. I wasn't proud of the content, form or flow of the book, I was proud of the fact that I wrote a book.

I then set out to write a better book. I believe I am finishing that very book (first draft) now, but would love any advice you can give as far as good agents. I know there are hundreds of lists out there with thousands of agents names. But after reading your blog I am left with feelings of corruption within the agent world.

Thank you in advance for any help you may render. Please feel free to tell me to F-Off as I'm sure you get way too many of these e-mails on a daily basis. If you do feel like writing back though, I will gladly come to where you are and bow down and kiss your sky high stiletto's in appreciation.

Miss Snark is not a matchmaker even though Crossing Delancey is good movie (with books!!!).

Nor is she inclined to feel favorably to someone who writes "after reading your blog I am left with feelings of corruption within the agent world" given that -sound of the cluegun being cocked - Miss Snark IS an agent (not to mention that sentence is subject to severe misinterpretation about the location of corruption).

In fact, Miss Snark sincerely hopes this is one of those spoof emails from people who think it's fun to get an faux letter answered.

"This and only this" parsed out

Dear Mss Snark:

I started querying two weeks ago for my first novel and received, in addition of course to a few rejections:
- a request for the first 50 pages, a bio and a SASE;
- a request for the first three chapters;
- a request for the first five chapters; and
- a request for a full.

I was told that it is important to send an agent EXACTLY what he or she wants, no more, no less. That is what I did. Since nobody requested a synopsis, I did not send one.

Now I read that you are ALWAYS supposed to send a synopsis with a partial or full. Is it true? If so, should I follow up with the agents in question to apologize and send one now? (no) Are there any other items that, even when not requested, should accompany a full/partial? (twenty dollar bill) Of course, I always send a cover letter thanking the agent for his or her interest, which seems self-evident, but am I missing something essential here?

Thank you in advance.

If someone requests a full ms, it won't kill you to send a synopsis. It won't kill you on a partial either.

Mostly this "only send what we ask for" is cause people will send the stupidest damn things in the world if you don't just hammer them with "this and this ONLY". To wit: rocks; CDs, videos; stuffed animals; and hand crafted portfolios showing several options for the cover of the book. Mind you, this is the initial query letter.

And this doesn't even address glitter, folders, express mail return envelopes for unsolicited 500 page novels and chocolate treats that have melted and hardened four times in the varying temperatures in transit.

Three extra pages for a synopsis isn't a deal breaker. You start interpreting that to mean three extra pagodas with incense..then you're toast.

And if agents want something you haven't sent, they'll ask. That's why you list your email address and your phone number on the cover letter.

Time for the ClueGun...literally!

Dear Miss Snark,

Here is something I have been wondering after months of reading your sample queries. Suppose one is trying to find an agent for a manuscript wherein it seems all along that Miss Scarlett did it in the Library with the Rope, but at the end it turns out through some masterful plot twist that in fact it was Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the Lead Pipe, and he and Mr. Green have been conspiring to frame Miss Scarlett because she threatened to tell Mrs. White that far from wanting to marry her, Colonel Mustard really intends to elope with Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum's intended, whom he's been boffing for months. Mr. Green's motive,
the greatest secret of all, is also revealed in an even more masterful plot twist.

The question is, should the author tell the agent in the query letter that the novel is a clever-ish interpretation of Clue where Colonel Mustard did it but the reader is led to believe it was Miss Scarlett until the very end, or, should the author just allude in vague terms to the fact it's a saucy new rendition of a cultural icon with a delightfully clever surprise ending? Your sample queries seem to be more of the "vague allusions" persuasion, but it seems to me that cutting to the chase would make the agent's life easier. What say you?

I say if you start telling me that you work is a saucy rendition and/or clever reinterpretation, I'm going to stop reading and hit you over the head with the ClueGun (trademark Miss Snark, patent pending).

Don't tell me it's clever: be clever.
Don't tell me it's funny: be funny.

And don't tell me the entire plot in the cover letter; that goes in the synopsis.

Do we need to review the Keys to Success in a query letter?

1. What is this?
2. Who is the hero and what happens to him in 35 words or less in the first chapter of the book.
3. Why should I want to read on?

4. Who are you (not your name, I can read your signature we hope) but a little bit about you and why you are fabulous.

5. If you have room you can mention how much you love Killer Yapp's festive new Yankees cap.

You should also know that Clue the game IS trademarked and using it is a huge red flag. You'll need to address that issue specifically.

Now Im investing in a rope manufacturer

Dear Miss Snark:

I query agents by email only. I try my best to only query agents who accept email queries, but occasionally I send queries to agencies that do not accept them by accident. Apparently such was the case as I received a response from a VERY reputable agent with ICM (who usually don't take unsolicited queries). I queried regarding a non-fiction proposal. The following is a timeline that will best set up my question:

4:00 PM: I send out about 20 queries to agents from an internet resource.

9:30 PM: I receive this email from said ICM agent: "Fascinating. Please send the proposal. I look forward to receipt."

6:30 AM (next morning): I reply, inquiring whether she prefers email or snail mail.

6:50 AM: She responds, indicating email. (bold is Miss Snark's addition)

8:30 AM: I send the proposal as an attachment, with a cover letter as the email itself.

11:00 AM: She replies: "Many thanks. I'll print it out and have a look"

Now for my question:

It has only been a few days, and I know you HATE nudges, but when, if ever, should I follow up? (and how?) I know standard rule is about 2-5 weeks, but the speed at which all of this occurred, and her last reply leads me to believe that she would be reading the proposal soon. Is it a good sign that she hasn't responded yet? If it is a rejection she probably would have just sent an email, being that that is our correspondence media thus far. What should I make of the situation if two weeks pass?

Wait, you got an email from someone at 6:50 am and you think she was in the office?
Have you lost your mind?
"I'll print it out and read it" is shorthand for "got it, I'll read it when I can" cause most people don't want to sound as cold and cruel as Miss Snark...even at 6:50 am.

You know she has it.
She'll get back to you.
Three weeks MINIMUM and five is better.

The fact that you heard from her promptly and at that horrid hour most likely means she's clearning up her email box before vacation.

Try to avoid shooting yourself in the font if you can.

I'm buying stock in Pfizer

Dear Miss Snark, I

'm about 20 queries into the process on my first novel. I've had some interest: 4 requests for a full manuscript and 2 requests for a partial so far. I know complaining from here is like looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I'm about to anyway.

Although I'm getting positive
feedback (The writing is great and characters well rendered, etc.) none of the agents seem to believe they can sell it. And it appears the three agents who have rejected it so far have consulted with assistants who've also agreed it isn't quite for them.

Does this mean it's advanced a little further in the process or that it's so iffy they needed a second opinion?
Is it common practice for agents/assistants in one office to discuss manuscripts this way? (I realize you are a solo agent but thought you might have insight into the inner workings of agencies in general.)

I know you advise querying widely, and I plan to send out a hundred of these things before throwing in the towel, but when three well-respected agents (and their assistants) say they don't think they can sell it, does it mean no one can?

Can you sleep at night?
You are a basket of raw nerve endings, and they are all twitching.
I'd offer to share my pail of gin but no dice; buy your own. Your medical insurance will probably cover the cost of the pail and delivery.

First, you're getting good results on your query. Keep querying.
Second, just cause one agent can't sell it doesn't mean another one won't snap it up.
Third, there are lots of reasons to consult-primarily to get feedback on something from younger, hipper, groovy girls with toe rings and myspace.com websites. Is your book targeted to that demographic?

Fourth, you have NO, ZERO, ZIPPO control over what people say or why. You cannot obsess about this and keep your sanity. You need to start work on the next novel. Then, when a smart agent calls you up, you'll be just that much ahead for the two book deal.

And quit biting your damn nails too.