I though of y'all when I read this

How, the naturalist begins to understand, after years of study. He records the when and where and which of the birds of passage, beasts of the field. Those are the very questions that system is poised to answer. But why will never be solved by system. No number of small corpses, dissected, tagged, and preserved, will ever begin to answer why.

Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile
by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Knopf: 2006)

This is a small, elegant, amazing book.
Every writer should read it.

More on pub credits

Dear Miss Snark,

I don’t usually write short stories, but recently one popped out fully baked, much to my surprise, and it is quite good. It’s a literary psychological suspense story.

I’m an unpubbed writer. I’m querying agents with a humorous crime novel, and working on a literary crime novel.

I’d like to send my short story to some magazines/journals for consideration. Which magazines would make the best publication credit to dress up my query letters for either the current or the new book? I’d like to start by sending it out to the top magazine and then work my way down the list.

Well, then you start with the New Yorker of course. And the Paris Review.

However, you're over analyzing this.

I'm not going to pass on reading your stuff if you're published in Spinetingler rather than the New Yorker. I like Spinetingler just fine. And Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine too. Neither one is the New Yorker, and they don't ever say they are.

All three of them though have exactly what I'm looking for in a pub credit: someone other than your mom who thinks you don't suck. If I've heard of the magazine, great. If I haven't, I'll google it. I find all sorts of good mags and zines from query letters.

Don't worry about the best place for your stuff. Just get it published by a magazine with editorial oversight and a web presence that gives me confidence.


Cover up those naked words!!!

Speaking of cover art, here's the link to a wonderful blog kept by the art director of Tor/Forge.

Thanks to Her Divine Pixiness for the link.

Title? Call me Your Majesty please

Oh snarky one,
I have a question regarding the writer's rights as to how the book is presented after your fabulous job of represending her.

This stems from a friend who, on the publication of her first book, was "gifted" by the publisher with the world's most ridiculous book title. I won't share; she doesn't want her name mentioned. But is it typical of a book contract that something as integral to the book be changed without the author's consent? Or is it more the norm to have some agree-upon input in the contract? As she had no agent at this time, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she suffered the effects of not shopping for an agent after the book was accepted.

Sorry, this one isn't cause she had no agent. Titles, particularly for first time authors, are the publisher's call. My experience is that editors don't surprise you with it. I've had MANY titles change but I ususally know way ahead of time, can tell the author, get a list of what they're thinking of, and contribute an opinion. Sometimes it does no good. And don't even get me started on cover art!


Snicker in your doodles

Dear Miss Snark,

I have an opportunity (perhaps that's too flattering a word?) to have a short story included in an anthology. The problem is, the 'publisher' will be using a POD company to make the books, and 'payment' for the authors is the 'right' to buy the book at wholesale prices, and resell it (probably to friends and family) at retail prices. Shiftier and shiftier, I know...

The thing is, I've always thought it would be fun to try to market a book. And I'd rather write a short story than a novel, if I'm going to market it myself. But is that sort of thinking stupid and ignorant? I suspect it is...I suppose I just need a good tap on the head with one of your lovely stilettos to remind me to stick with real publishers, and avoid PODs.

The problem is not that the "publisher" is using POD. The problem is the publisher has confused "buyers" with "contributors".

Many years ago when Miss Snark was a Keds wearing cherub, her local troop of Girl Sprouts had a cookie drive. Much energy and rallying of troops ensued. Buy a box of cookies for a good cause! Buy a box and teach a Girl Sprout the value of hard work! Well, Miss Snark being young and foolish bought into the whole charade.

Then she went home to Snark Central. Grandmother Snark introduced her to the concept of margin. The Sprout troop kept 10 cents on a four dollar box of cookies. Miss Snark got out her Hello Kitty pencil and did the math. Didn't take her more than a couple minutes (carry the three divide by x) to figure out that she was better off to buy the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and sell them door to door at a fifty percent mark up.

I tell you this to illustrate that if you think it's fun to market a book why not at least work on something where you have chance of a reasonable reward. If you're going to be selling them to friends and family, compile your own work, print it up at Lulu.com and keep the dough.

Miss Snark will give you a merit badge. And a cookie.


Dear Miss Snark,

First, I can't tell you how much I enjoy the blog. In the vast, shark- filled ocean of dis-, mis-, and half-baked information about agents, your site is a verdant island oasis, replete with shady palm trees, cozy hammocks, and friendly monkey butlers serving margaritas.

Obligatory bowing and scraping aside, I have a question about a novel (no pun intended) submission technique.

I have posted the first fifty pages of my unagented novel, (title), as a PDF file on a website I registered for the book (http:// yadda yadda yadda.com). I thought this could be a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, it makes it easy for a potential agent that I've queried to take an immediate look at the work, without having to request a partial. I include the URL in the initial query letter, whether it's on paper or via email. Since the file is a PDF, properly formatted, the agent can print it out or forward it to an associate.

Do you think this is an appropriate way to go? Are there any drawbacks you can see? My goal is to speed up the query process, provide an convenient way for the agent to evaluate my writing, and to facilitate access to the properly formatted, readily printable manuscript.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Well, if you send me a cover letter and a link to a URL with pages of your novel I can tell you that you're getting a form letter back from me that says "not quite right for me" and I won't have read any of it.

First, I don't always read query letters sitting next to my computer.

Second, I tend to read query letters fast, and if you've sent pages I'll read them, and if you haven't I'll say no. My website is pretty clear about sending pages, cause that's how I like to get stuff.

Thus what I think you've got here is yet another novel way to shoot yourself in the font. Other agents may disagree, but almost everyone I know won't click to read much of anything.

The Last Word on Sadistics...it's giving me a pain in my mode

From the comments section came this:

This process could only fairly be represented by several statistics

1) Percent of works submitted that are taken on

2) Odds of sale within one year if a work gets taken on

3) Odds of sale, ever, if the work gets taken on.

4) Average return on successful sale

5) Average client satisfaction with agent after X years or termination of contract, whichever comes first.

These are all statistics, and with them, one could make a pretty nice judgment. Sure, *one* statistic is grossly unfair, but having the whole collection will let you tell Binky Urban from Jane Noname.

Ok, let's take a look at what you'd need to generate those numbers:

1. To get a percentage of works taken on to works submitted, you'll have to measure both things. Let's talk about works submitted. Are you going to count only the people who mail me letters? What about the nitwits who send me equeries; do they count?
What about the people who don't include an SASE; do they count? Or the people who send a genre I don't represent; do they count? And the people who don't send pages and are asked to do so; do they count as a query or a partial? And what about the people I approach? How do you count them?

2. When does the year start? From the date you query me? From the date I read it? From the date you finish revisions? What if sell it and the deal falls through; is that "a sale"?

3. What about the book I sell that came from an idea the publisher gave us when I queried on your novel? He never buys that novel, but he buys the other. Does novel get counted as "never being sold?" even though the other work wouldn't count as a query?

4. Do you mean the advance? What if I get you a great royalty percentage with a lower advance? What if you don't want a big advance so you can earn out and get a multiple book deal? Does that count against "my stats"?

5. Well, the only thing to do here is quote the Rolling Stones.

And even if you could agree on what would be measured and how, here's the dogs honest truth about why no agent would do so: the only people asking for this are writers. And I know this is not fun to hear but it's the truth: you're a glut on the market.

I'm not going to invest ANY time or money in compiling stats to attract authors. I attract enough as it is, and I don't want to attract people who think you can correlate submissions to sales and effectiveness. The more effective the agent, the less they need to attract you. The only people who would benefit from this are frauds and scam artists who could say "we scored 100% on the Agent Effectiveness Benchmark".

If you think I'm blowing smoke, go check out the ICM website. They are the biggest agency in town, and I'm sure they close a lot of deals and high percentage of deals from work they take on. Under "contact us" they tell you as plain as can be-don't. They don't waste a single letter telling you they are big deal. They know it, you know it, and I know it. How do you know it? It wasn't cause you saw any damn statistics on their sales.

There are no guarantees in this biz. There are no across the board benchmarks. There is only the old reliable "what have you sold", and the remorseless teacher called experience.


Statistics, spreadsheets, and widgets

The hullabaloo about statistics has been very interesting.

The idea you'd want to know my closing ratio (meaningless as I've said) or what percentage of projects I sell is pretty funny. It implies the best indicator for whether I can sell your book is either how many books or what percentage of my list I've sold. That's utter dreck. Some of the most effective agents working today sell less than ten books a year. Some of the least effective have sold a lot this year cause they are second/third books on multiple book deals and they didn't have to do a damn thing to ink the deal (generally speaking of course).

And, to be a number with any meaning, you'd have to know what other agents are selling and how much they represent, and what's "normal". 40% is a crappy test score but it sounds a lot better expressed as a .400 batting average. One agent's numbers are meaningless unless you have something to compare it to. (There are no benchmarks in publishing because agents don't collect, let alone give out, that kind of info).

And just to put the final kibosh on this, you have NO way to verify any of that. I could tell you I sell 100% of the works on my list. How would you know any different? AuthorHouse publishes 99% of the work sent to them. Are they "better" than FSG which publishes probably .01% of the work sent to them?

Here's a question an author should ask: how many publishers or editors are there who buy this kind of book? How many of them do you know? How many of those editors have bought things from you?

If an agent is consistently selling your kind of book and she wants to represent you, you'd be an utter fool to say no cause she's only sold 20% of the books on her list.

Using Real Things in "fictional novels"

O most awefull one

Can I refer to real media such as CNN or the BBC in my WIP? All my media characters are fictional.

Regards to Killer Yapp from his feral friend downunder

Thank you for your help.

KY wonders if his feral friends need winter boots? With pink pompoms? No stiletto heels sadly.

Yes you can use CNN and the BBC in your book. There's wording for the front matter of the book that basically says "we're using real people and companies for fictive purposes".

I'd pay to see that...well, ok, no I wouldn't

Dear Miss Snark:

(1) Is it standard practice, if an agency wants to represent you, to provide full or partial paid travel expenses to have a meeting with you? I'd be going West coast to East coast.

(2a) Also, is it standard practice, with a non-fiction proposal, to want the writer to provide the agency with additional writing (more than the standard three chapters) or (2b) proposal changes as part of the decision making for representing you?

(3) Does the proposal, e-mailing and a phone call usually give the agent all the information he needs to decide if he or she is going to represent you?

Or do they make a first-time writer jump through many additional hoops?

I could go on but I've picked the most unanswered and important to ask.

Thank you for your time.

1. no.
2a. no
2b. sometimes
3. mostly
4. ahhhh...how you phrase the question says a lot

The connotation for jumping through hoops is that it's a pointless exercise for our amusement.

Generally agents want to make sure they can sell something before they take it on. If you're getting a lot of requests to make changes or provide additional info don't look at as jumping through hoops, look at it as steps toward yes.

Generally, for amusement we read our slushpile.

Rock Around The Clock

Miss Snark,

Just a quick question. When you decide to offer representaion to an author, do you normally only call them during the accepted business hours 8-6 M-F? Or if they have previously stated to "Call anytime," do you sometimes call in the evening at say 9 or 10 PM, or on the weekend?

A Snarkling forever,

I will be calling you at 5am MY time and by dog you better be up, have run five miles uphill coming and going; be showered and shaved (whatever you shave!); and, eating a nutritious breakfast of muselix and prune juice or by DOG the deal is off.

Oh wait, no no...Miss Snark is enrolled in Armani not the Army.

I call you during business hours unless it's clear that you're working and only available after hours. Then I call you after hours. Actual clients on the other hand hear from me at all sorts of horrifying hours.


I finished reading MonkeyTown about 24 hours after I posted "epigraphs are a snore".
Of course, epigraphs are used to excellent effect in the book. They start the sections (three) not each chapter; they are excerpts from articles in the Baltimore Evening Sun written by H.L. Mencken, who is a character in the book; the third person voice is a marked contrast to the first person narration.

Ok, I didn't snore when I read them.
And I like Mary Stewart's chapter headings too.

"Leave the snoring to me"
----Killer Yapp


But ..but...they liked me...!!!!

Dear Miss Snark,

I am an unpublished member of Mystery Writers of America.
I used their Mentor Program to review the first fifty pages of my first novel and the review was good to outstanding.

I also submitted the first two chapters to a writing contest and got back three reviews/critiques. Again the reviews were good to outstanding.

Is this something that I could include in my query letter to an agent? I can understand perhaps one good review but when three or four people give you the same positive comments, I think that it is perhaps something to add in a query letter.

What do you think?


Comments from readers do not belong in a query letter. Not even if they are superbly marvelous agents who participate in the MWA mentor program. And REALLY not if they are judges in a writing contest.

If your writing is as good as they say it will stand on its own. As they say "don't tell me you have a good novel, SHOW me".

What the hell did I do with that cluegun?

Dear Miss Snark:
I'm fairly new to the site so don't consider me too much of a nitwit if you've already answered these questions:

Have you written and published your own fiction books? Or any other books for that matter? What qualifies anyone to be a literary agent, anyway? Seems there are more frauds out there than anything.

Have a great day,

Gee thanks honey, you too.

No I haven't written or published any of my own fiction books. Or any other book.
What qualifies me to be a literary agent? The fact that I know a little something about the publishing industry, how to advocate for an author and steer an author's writing career.

I'm sure you've queried a great many agents in your quest for representation. Here's a tiny little clue just for you: "no" is not a genetic marker for a bad agent.

Raw meat

I've started posting small bits of my fiction novels on a blog. Is there any way to promote my blog among agents?


You start sending emails to agents about your fiction novels or blog and you're going straight to the spam list.

Send a query letter. Try to avoid using the phrase fiction novel if you want to be taken seriously.

You want to measure something, let me get that yardstick out of your asterisk

Dear Ms. Snark:

On the average, how many of your submissions are sold to editors? (1)

In most industries, closing ratios are analyzed, but in publishing, standards are difficult to find. Is there an expected threshold to gauge a successful literary agent's minimum closing ratio--10%, 40%, 80%?

When I ask, I'm met with defensive, emotional responses.

Is it not standard business practice for agents and agencies to know the number of submissions versus sales in any given year or what closing ratio to strive for?

Closing ratios should be an important question for all writers; it gauges their chances of publication with a particular agent. (5)

I hope you'll give me a straight answer.

1. I have no idea. I don't track that. And you're asking the wrong question. You mean to ask how many of the projects I take on in a given time period end up being sold. It's absolutely normal to submit a project to ten or more people, auction it to the highest bidder and walk away with a fistful of dough. I closed ONE deal out of ten calls. Am I less effective for doing that than an agent who sells something for no dough to a publisher after one phone call? Her closing ratio is 100%. Which one do you want for an agent?

You can only sell a book once (generally speaking..we're not talking reprints, and sub rights here, ok?) If you have 10 customers at the Widget Factory you can sell widgets to all ten of them. My dream is to have ten salivating editors and only sell to one.

2. No

3. Yea, cause it's annoying as hell to have someone ask a question that demonstrates both a lack of understanding of the industry AND is patronzing to boot.

4. No

5. Wrong. Books are not fungible. One book is not another. Becuase I sell Mr. Midget's Digits to FlitterGibbet and Giroux has ZERO correalation to whether I will be able to sell your book Sales Tactics for Gorillas to anyone including FlitterGibbet and Giroux.

Straight enough answer for you?

Killer Yapp will Burp for $20...oh wait, you meant blurb

I've always wondered… how much do authors get paid for endorsing other books? Do the authors do it out of the goodness of their hearts because they love the books, or is this an extra income source, akin to a celebrity endorsing creams that make your wrinkles vamoose?

I do know an author (ignore the sudden green tinge to my complexion) who obtained an endorsement from an expert in her field prior to publication of her book. Who is meant to do this? My little ‘ol publisher wanted me to obtain endorsements for my second book. I did my best but I didn’t think they were stellar endorsements. The content was great, sang the praises of the book and its not so humble author. However I didn’t know any famous people so although the endorsements are from experts, I doubt they hold much sway with the average reader. That leads to my next 2 questions:
- who is responsible for obtaining endorsements for books? (author or publisher)
- how would an author approach a complete stranger for an endorsement

Okay may as well throw in a third question… how do I get Oprah to read my manuscript and give a dazzling endorsement (the book is on compulsive eating and she has recently stated that she is a compulsive eater).

You don't pay for endorsements, and in publishing they are called "blurbs". The author and publisher and agent work on this together given they all want the same thing: hot blurbs.

You approach a complete stranger the same way you queried an agent. You write them a letter. You can write to Oprah too. I'm not saying you've got a good chance of hearing from her, but it doesn't hurt to try.

On Second Thought....nope

Dear Miss Snark,

I noticed a post recently by a published author who cautioned against accepting just any offer of representation. Given the necessarily subjective nature of agents‚ tastes, though, why wouldn't an unpublished writer accept the first offer of representation from her list of (legitimate, reputable) agents she queried? Assuming an agent expressed sufficient enthusiasm for my manuscript, she would have to make some pretty bizarre statements in that initial conversation for me to decline without any other offers in the wings.

Thank you for considering this question.

Well....there's an amazing amount of stuff you find out after you read the manuscript and talk to the author on the phone. I've gotten all the way to the phone call stage and pulled back. I assume writers are the same. It's entirely possible the agent is not a good fit. Miss Snark, famously distant, cruel and cold to all and sundry, is not a good match for a client who wants to be involved in every part of the process (please don't write to tell me I'm a lousy agent cause I can't stand this...just find an agent who does).

And maybe after reading the book the agent has a vision that you think is ..well...nutso.

I offered a contract to a guy who didn't like what it said and rewrote it for me. Thankfully he realized we were not a good match and pulled the plug before I did, but I would have too.

There are lots of reasons to sign on the dotted line. And more than one or two not to.

Department of Good News

PW reports: AuthorHouse Ordered to Pay Up

by Claire Kirch, PW Daily -- 8/8/2006

The Kansas district judge presiding over the defamation lawsuit brought by romance writer Rebecca Brandewyne against AuthorHouse ordered Friday that the POD subsidy publisher pay Brandewyne $200,000 in punitive damages. Brandewyne’s co-plaintiffs in the suit, her parents, also were awarded punitive damages of $20,000 each.

This past May, a Wichita jury found AuthorHouse guilty of publishing a book, Paperback Poison, in November 2003 by Brandewyne’s ex-husband that libeled her. The jury awarded Brandewyne $230,000 in actual damages (PW Daily, May 16).

In his 14-page decision, Judge Jeff Goering asserted that AuthorHouse “acted towards the plaintiffs with wanton conduct,” in publishing Paperback Poison, despite the fact that Gary Brock, the book’s author, had informedAuthorHouse during contract negotiations that iUniverse had rejected the manuscript on the grounds of possible libelous content.

The judge acknowledged that, based on its business model of dealing in volume, AuthorHouse “cannot read every book cover to cover,” and that the company, to a certain extent, is entitled to hold authors responsible for the content of their work. But, Goering noted, “The misconduct in this case is AuthorHouse’s failure to act when it had information that would have placed a prudent publisher on notice that the content of Brock’s book was harmful to the plaintiffs.”

Bryan Smith, AuthorHouse president, said he was disappointment in Goering’s decision, stating that he does not believe that AuthorHouse’s actions “justified the verdict or the damages awarded.” AuthorHouse canceled the book a month after publication.

In determining the damage award, Goering rejected AuthorHouse’s argument that any award be capped by the company’s gross income in 2002, the year AuthorHouse was formed. While not revealing AuthorHouse’s sales, Goering noted that the company’s 2002 gross income was 3.5% of its gross income in 2004 and 2.8% of its gross income in 2005.

AuthorHouse has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the award.

Sounds like if you write a book intending to libel your wife, just don't tell the publisher!

Jumping Ship

My previous post on why you should not look for a new agent while still represented elsewhere elicited several comments asking how one does jump ship.

Look at the contract you have with your agent. There's a clause in there that says "30 day notice by either party". That's how.

Oh? No contract? You send a letter, NOT an email, NOT a carrier pigeon and NOT a phone call.

You say "later gator".

In all cases you wait 30 days and then you're free to query again.

And for the commenter who asked if I would blacklist or blackball or drop a piano on the head of a client once they'd left the fold, the answer is no. This is a business and sometimes things don't work out. I've released clients, clients have left me. I have ex-clients of very good agents, and some deranged agents have ex-clients of mine. It all works out.


Slither and yon

May I query for a new agent before firing my old one?

Worried about ending up with no agent? Well, trying this is a pretty good way to end up without one too.

You don't know how closely your agent is networked in with other agents. We don't all know each other, but you'd be horribly surprised by how many of us do know each other and what we talk about.

I'm frequently in the offices of several other agents. I see query letters and packages and offers and contracts all the time. I don't pay much attention mostly cause I assume that most queries I get are sent to a lot of other people. However, if I saw the name of a current client on a query letter, or if I found out you were querying in any one of the myriad ways that info can leak out, I'd release you in the four seconds it takes to type up the termination letter and mail it off. And I'd feel no obligation whatsoever not to mention that fact to anyone who asked. If you act like a snake don't be surprised if you get the boot.

You may be bitterly unhappy with your agent and want to part company with them as fast as you can but you'll be better off to do it right.

A tip for review requests

Dear Miss Snark,

My quandary: A writer friend, "Vicky" (not her real name) whom I've never met personally but have known online for nearly 2 years and have exchanged critiques with, has self-published her second novel.

Vicky is not your typical self-publisher. She's the real deal, and her first book sold well enough that it's amazing (not to mention discouraging) that no traditional publisher picked up her second.

So what's my problem? I reviewed Vicky's first book on Amazon and gave it 5 stars where it probably deserved 4, just because (a) she's my friend, (b) I admired what she'd done, producing and marketing a high-quality book virtually on her own, and -- okay -- (c) I wanted to sow some good karma.

The first book had some copyediting issues, but I'd seen the same issues in traditionally published books, so I looked the other way and didn't mention them in my review.

Well... book number two suffers from a lack of copyediting so profound that I'm frequently "pulled out of the story" by howlers of word misuse and bad grammar. It's like Vicky got over-confident and/or was too rushed to give this one a thorough proofread, and perhaps didn't recognize the need for a professional copyedit.

Vicky has asked a large group of her writer friends -- me included -- to buy the book, read it, and post reviews on Amazon. In checking the book's page there, I see a handful of us have already complied -- all 5 stars, and no one has mentioned the sloppy editing. But I have this perverse sense of honesty that says I can't lie to prospective book buyers.

For character, story and prose style, I would give Vicky even higher marks for book two than for book one. But there's no excuse for sending a book to press with the type and volume of errors this one suffers from, and I'm both disappointed in and embarrassed for her.

I bought the book, and I read it. That's two out of three. But I'm in a real bind with this request for a review, and my question is: WWMSD?
(A) Write another 5-star review and just don't mention the errors (lie by omission)

(B) Write a truthful, 4-star review, briefly noting the problems (and hope Vicky isn't too offended)

(C) Ignore the request and do nothing (and hope Vicky isn't too offended)

(D) None of the above

One of the Many Faithful

Dear One-dering:

Some years back Grandmother Snark took several business associates to dinner. The service stank. Late, cold, sloppy ... you name it. She was horribly embarrassed but determined not to pull out her derringer and right the wrongs that make the whole world scream. She merely paid the bill, left no gratuity, collected her parasol and poodle from the coat check and departed with her clients to flag a cab.

The waiter chased her onto the street to berate her for the lack of a tip. (Hint: do not berate women of certain age armed with parasols). Grandmother Snark does not use foul language but you can rest assured that poor waiter retired from the fray with little of his genitalia intact. I believe her business associates signed the contract offer on the hood of the taxi, too terrified to negotiate further.

I tell you this to illustrate that a review, like a tip, must be given freely. You are under no obligation to tip a surly waiter, nor to review a book you don't care to.

I choose option C.

If Vicky is offended, tell her Grandmother Snark will be happy to write your review for you.

Q is for Boring

My Dear Miss Snark:

Each chapter in my novel begins with an epigraph. I quote some bits of Auden, John Bunyan, and Shakespeare, among others.

When I send the manuscript out, should I take out the epigraphs? I wonder especially about the first ten pages of the ms. that are attached to the query letter; I worry that I am raising the stakes too high, and an unfriendly eye will judge me presumptuous from the get-go to be pairing myself with Auden et al. They might also be distracting. On the other hand, I think what I've written is good--and it's my attention to the right word, the right punctuation, the right allusion, and in short, every tiny detail, that have made it so--thus I am reluctant to scrape the poetry away unless ordered to do so by my future agent or future editor.

I would be most appreciative and grateful to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please convey my best wishes to K. Yapp.

Killer Yapp wants to know if you quote Dr. Seuss. If not, he's retracting his offer to read it.

I have no idea why authors like epigraphs. I find them a total pain in the asterisk. And all they do is take up space in a query letter. Save them for the full manuscript if and when an agent requests it.

Epigraphs are a snore
--Miss Snark

Count on this

Dear Miss Snark, I got a problem. I have a novel. It's my first. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. BUT it is only 45,000 words. I am making some effort to make it longer. So here's the question. Is there ever a MINIMUM number of words for a first time novelist before sending query letters and shopping for an agent???

As a public service to my colleagues I'm going to tell you to not even think about querying an agent quite yet. If this email is any indication of your writing, you need to worry less about the number of words, and more about the quality.

If you want to find out more about word count, there are a lot of posts on this in the Snarkives. I'd recommend however that you spend more time in the Crapometer section.


Bambi Meets Godzilla, (3)

After querying an agent, if they request a copy of your work do you send them something that is not published? I'm not sure if the work you send them is the actual work they will first take if they become your agent or if it is just a sample of your work.

Should one of our first steps be trying to find an agent? I have a short story coming out with an online publisher. I also have a novella finished as well as half of the second novella in the series. Is this too soon to start scoping out agents? I would like to move into print books instead of online but I didn't know if you can do that with novella's or not.

Ok, let's review the concept of a query letter. A query letter asks an agent to consider a specific work. That is the work you will send to them for consideration.

You do not send a query letter saying "will you be my agent"; you send a query letter that says "will you be an agent for this novel/novella/cluebook".

The right time to query an agent is when you have work ready for consideration. Based on your email to me, that is not now.

Don't do me no favors

If a niche magazine publishes an excerpt of a soon-to-be published book in that niche, would the writer normally be paid? Or is the writer typically not paid seeing as the excerpt serves as good publicity for the book? Is there an industry standard on this situation?

Yes. It's called first serial rights. And yes, you get paid. Even if it's not much. "Good publicity" is a feature article or a review. It's not an excerpt from the book.

Sharpie magazine editors are always looking for good content. Don't let them skate on paying you by telling you they are doing you a favor by publishing it.

Indent-ured serve a 'tude

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm writing to request some more formatting advice for submissions. Is there leeway in the following? Or are any faux pas that would make agents or editors brand the submission as AMATEUR (and make KY yowl):

* Should the first paragraph of each chapter be flush left or indented?
* In the snarkives you indicate that page numbers should appear in the lower right; is it a big deal if a submission's page numbers are in the upper right instead?
* Does one include a title page with the approx. five sample pages attached to a query letter?
* On the title page, should a genre description appear (for ex, Mainstream Novel)? If so, should it go in the upper right below the word count?
* Should the word count for a novel be rounded to the nearest 1000 or 5000 words?
* In the query letter should the first mention of the manuscript's title be
in ALL CAPS? Only the first mention?

Does my obsessive attention to detail garner me the nitwit of the day award? Pour on the snarcasm (and pour yourself a well-earned pail of gin while you're at it). Actually, I've consulted many "how to format a manuscript" articles, and naturally they contradict themselves on these points, so I decided to approach your royal snarkiness for a sanity check.

The reason they all contradict themselves is cause there is no absolutely-no-exceptions-right-way to do this.

Plus, I don't care.

If you write well enough you can leave off the page numbers, lose your tab key entirely and describe it as "fiction to die for". If you write well enough you can spell my name wrong, and call me a man. If you write well enough you can think Killer Yapp is a cat.

Exquisite writing and storytelling trumps all.

There are some things I DO care about, and I put them on my web site. Follow the instructions.

There are some things I don't care about and say "follow standard formatting instructions". Generally you can use Writers Market as a template for formatting.

Why you're sending a title page in a query letter is beyond me, but again, I don't care. I don't look at them. I read your cover letter and if you don't sound like a total nincompoop, I read your pages.