Top Ten Reasons God Won't Get Tenure

1. Only published one book.
2. It was in Hebrew.
3. There is doubt He wrote it Himself.

4. When one experiment went awry, He tried to cover it up by drowning all the subjects.
5. When sample subjects do not behave as predicted, He deletes the whole sample
6. He rarely comes to class-just tells His students to read the Book.

7. It is rumored that He sometimes lets His Son teach the class.
8. Although He only has 10 requirements, His students often fail His tests.

9. He expelled His first two students for learning.
10. His office hours are infrequent and usually held on a mountain top.

I stole this from this guy but I've seen it before
so I'm probably stealing it from someone else too.

Read the fine print

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a tiny question about what constitutes publication on the web. My university is sponsoring a year-long writing project in which they put a different work on their website each day. They recently featured a short-short of mine. I would now like to submit it to literary journals, but I don't know if that's possible. Will this hinder my getting it published in print, or is it a plus and something I should mention in my cover letter? On the bottom of the site, it states, "all works copyright the individual artist."

Most BOOK publishers fully expect you to have published short stories before you wrangle them into a corral for publication. It's not a problem at all. If you look in the front matter of most collections you'll see something akin to "Miss Snark's Fiery Coiffure" first appeared in Hair Restoration for Dummies (March 2006).

Where you need to read the fine print carefully is literary magazines. Some of those guys don't want anything that's been printed or published online previously. They will tell you that in a pretty straightforward way in the submission guidelines. They aren't trying to confuse you or trip you up so they'll be pretty clear.

And remember, you always own the copyright. Always. When you publish your work you give the publisher a license. The publisher doesn't own it. They control the use of it for a period of time, but it's yours unless you assign it or otherwise sell it. The terms of your contract say "license" even though we use the word "sell". Again, look in the front matter of a book. The copyright is almost always the author, or the author's corporation (Michael Connelly's copyright page is particularly interesting).

This is NOT the same in the music industry so when you start looking around for info on this, make sure you're you're not reading music copyright info.

Who indeed


ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: Thanks. I'm setting up an office in my den and I'm thinking about buying a computer.


COSTELLO: No, the name's Lou.

ABBOTT: Your computer?

COSTELLO: I don't own a computer. I want to buy one.


COSTELLO: I told you, my name's Lou.

ABBOTT: What about Windows?

COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?

ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?

COSTELLO: I don't know. What will I see when I look at the windows?

ABBOTT: Wallpaper.

COSTELLO: Never mind the windows. I need a computer and software.

ABBOTT: Software for Windows?

COSTELLO: No. On the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

ABBOTT: I just did.

COSTELLO: You just did what?

ABBOTT: Recommend something.

COSTELLO: You recommended something?


COSTELLO: For my office?


COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?

ABBOTT: Office.

COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!

ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.

COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let's just say I'm sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?


COSTELLO: What word?

ABBOTT: Word in Office.

COSTELLO: The only word in office is office.

ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows?

ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue "W".

COSTELLO: I'm going to click your blue "w" if you don't start with some straight answers. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?

ABBOT T: Money.

COSTELLO: That's right. What do you have?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?

ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.

COSTELLO: What's bundled with my computer?

ABBOTT: Money.

COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?

ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.

COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer? How much?

ABBOTT: One copy.

COSTELLO: Isn't it illegal to copy money?

ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.

COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?


(A few days later)

ABBOTT: Super Duper computer store. Can I help you?

COSTELLO: How do I turn my computer off?

ABBOTT: Click on "START. . ."

Thanks again to the BiblioBuffet

Here's what a reputable contest looks like

I've been flapping my gums about Sobol for so long I thought it might be good to remind everyone what a reputable contest looks like. Yes, there are sponsors, yes there are guidelines, yes there are deadlines, yes there are promises of publication.

Festivus? no no Festschriften!

I'm rooting through 129 university press websites this morning hoping to find more scholarly brethren who will see the merit of a damn-good-book-that-probably-won't-sell -4000 copies.

I click on the submission guidelines to see what they want to publish and now, twice, I've seen "we do not publish Festschriften". Given my German has deteriorated from "ist dis de zug nach Berlin, bitte", I had to look it up.

Sounds like a scholarly version of the Crapometer to me!

Miss Snark's Festschriften!

I kinda like it!

But, but...my friends tell me!

Dear Miss Snark:

I have recently completed a manuscript that I would like to send to Harlequin. On their website, they state they want a synopsis no more than two pages, single spaced, and a query letter. Several members of my writing group have advised me to send a longer synopsis, double spaced, and the first three chapters along with the query letter. They claim they have gotten requests for full manuscripts.

My question is, do I take the chance and send the first three chapters or do I go strictly by Harlequin's guidelines and send only the query and two-page synopsis?

Thank you for your time.

Let's see if I have this right.

Option 1: do what the publisher asks
Option 2: don't do what the publisher asks

I'm sure your friends are trying to be very helpful by advising you to disregard the posted guidelines. After all, they work at Harlequin, right? They're the ones reading the submisssions right? They have experience to draw on other than their own, right?

Is it clear yet?

No, thank YOU!

Dear Ms. Snark,

I am on deadline for a book for HarperCollins – due Monday! – but I am in good shape.

Just wanted to say – love the blog. As a successful author (thank you Lord Jesus!) I normally don’t pay that much attention to the “how do I get an agent side of things” but I got a huge kick out of your blog. I am a former journalist and through a friend, my agent asked to meet me, and after that, it was all pretty simple.

BTW, I know Joanna Pulcini – I am represented by Linda Chester… Joanna is a lovely girl, and you are most decidedly not her. She is also hugely devoted to her clients, so I cannot imagine she would have the time for a blog.

Okay – back to work!

Thanks so much for you letter. I got a huge kick out of it too. Fortunately I've learned to recognize what the left hand is doing when the right hand is dishing up compliments. I'm really sorry to hear you can't imagine an agent who is devoted to her clients has time to blog. But that's ok: one of my great pleasures in this blog is helping people discover new things.

Okay - back to work!!

Rants from the front lines

I think my favorite line in this post is "You’re not as much of a genius as you think", followed closely by "That makes tiny clown kittens weep"

Thanks to the BiblioBuffet for the info.

Reading your royalty statements

You say that it's not uncommon for publishers to screw up royalty statements. As an agentless children's author I'm reading my own statement. I contacted the editor to get some help interpreting the thing because I couldn't make the math work. I was told I *can't* make the math work given the information on the statement. Apparently there are other factors involved that aren't given. So how, exactly, am I supposed to check my royalty statements? Is this normal? Would an agent get a different statement? Should I demand one with all the info?

Miss Snark knows when to call in the big guns.
Reading royalty statements is a good example of that.
Thus, Miss Snark places a call to the cavalry for the answer to this. Fortunatley, the cavalry is located right here in NYC on the Lexington Avenue line:

Dear Miss Snark,

I love your blog!

Unfortunately, there is no definitive resource to go to for understanding your royalty statements. Over the years, with the assistance of the AAR, publishers have revised their statement formats to reveal information not previously obvious, such as reserves for returns, but the statements are still not easy to comprehend.

In response to the email you received from the children’s author regarding a statement that did not arithmetically calculate, this is not unusual. Most systems allow adjustments to be made and "forced" through in the royalty due column.

Since editors don’t usually get involved in the royalty statement generation area, they are not the people to go to for explanations, but I know how frustrating it is trying to get someone in the royalty department to explain. Agents don’t receive any better statements or information. This is definitely a red flag indicator that help is needed!

Whether agented or not, authors should have an understanding of their contracts. Look to see if an audit clause exists and if yes, does it have a limitation as to when a royalty statement becomes final.

Publishers realize that a request to review the books and records is the right of an author, and it has become the ordinary course of business to them. We have never had a situation where negative ramifications have resulted from an author invoking his/her right to audit.
Although many accountants have audit expertise, you need to have an advocate with publishing industry expertise to get to the bottom of the problems.

For the past 15 years Royalty Review LLC ( has been assisting authors, agents, attorneys and publishers in recovering royalties. We would be happy to converse (email me at Royalty@aol.com, phone 212-754-1984) with anyone in need of additional information.

Gail R. Gross
Managing Member

Royalty Review LLC

845 Third Avenue, Suite 1300

New York,. NY 10022

212-754-3352 (fax)



Fodder for discussion

Always good to see people writing about what poets are up to these days.

Thank you to Miss Meow for the link

Not so fast Elektra!

The Spawn of Crap appears to need fodder.
Why y'all aren't over there working on your stuff eludes me.
It's all good and well to park yourself here and listen to Miss Snark rant and rave but really..shouldn't you be..yanno...working?

More on why you might not need a query letter

A previous post answering the hypothetical "say I write like David Sedaris, how do I go about pitching an agent" roiled up some interesting comments.

Let me be address this squarely since my more elliptical answer fell flat.

If you are well known in a medium like radio, agents come after you. Mr. Sedaris had a lot of very very funny work heard on a syndicated radio show called This American Life. I'm guessing he didn't write a single query letter about collecting those essays in a book, or writing a memoir. I'm guessing agents were after him from the moment they could start speaking again after laughing so hard they required oxygen.

Agents are on the lookout for fresh and new. My point about mentioning the radio show is that it is entirely possible to excel in something and draw the attention of agents without writing a query letter.

This works particularly well with deadpan humor. Miss Snark has been shouting orders and issuing instructions for years but it wasn't till she posted it on a blog that someone said "hey, you should write a book". (Miss Snark is not writing a book. Killer Yapp required a confidentiality agreement when he agreed to move to Snark Central).

If you "write like David Sedaris" think about forms that showcase your work. A place I spend some time every now and then is called The Moth Storyslam. I really love these events and I've found some very interesting people there.


No, Sara, I'm not taking the blame on this one

Publishers Weekly (finally) ran a full page column by editor in chief Sara Nelson, saying the Sobol Award "is lose-lose". Nice to know PW is catching up to what everyone else knew a month ago.

She continues on to say "the real damage though might be to the publishing industry as a whole". Whoa baby!

Don't blame this one on me!

You only had to read the Sobol website and have a modicum of knowledge about how agenting works to know that it wasn't quite the good news the press release made it out to be. Lots of us pointed that out after doing nothing but reading the site and posting the actual text.

The damage isn't to publishing. Publishing itself has nothing to do with what's wrong.

What's wrong is that reporters didn't do their damn job. They reprinted a press release with scarecely a single bit of independent work and it came back to bite them in the ass.

I subscribe to PW and I read it religiously but you guys (and everyone else except Reuters) dropped the ball on this one. Don't blame me for this one.

Define "pragmatic" then we'll talk

Dear Miss Snark,
Maybe this only works if you have already published several novels and held down a couple of high profile jobs in the entertainment industry, but lately my query has been 95% credits, with only the last line mentioning my new novel.

So far I’ve been getting about a 50% “Let’s see the book” response rate from agents (and 49% no reply). Given the obstacles you’ve just showcased with query letters and opening pages, do you see any reason for me to return to the standard synopsis and first five pages approach?

I'm not arguing with success, why would you?

Previously represented?

Dear Miss Snark:
After a long and wonderful face-to-face meeting, I was offered representation on the spot (and accepted the next day). Business began chugging along, until a few communication bumps began to assume boulder-size proportions. A few months later, we parted ways – without the contract ever having been finalized or any work submitted to publishers.

At what point – if any – do I tell a new agent about this? And what is best said or unsaid?

You only have to be forthcoming about representation if you were actually represented. That means an agent sent work out for you. If all she did was tell you what a great writer you are and how wonderful the novel is, that's contract-tease, not the real deal.

You can safely remain mum.


Less Than Zero

I'm pretty sure Ann and Victoria buy their fall wardrobe here

They've posted yet another entertaining (remember I like people blown up or eviscerated on page one) story about a "literary agent".

If you need to detect whether a literary agent is legit ask two questions:
1. What do you charge me before the work is sold?
2. What have you sold?

Only ONE of those answers should be zero.
I bet you know which one.

These people

MFA--mighty fine archive

Dear Miss Snark,

The university where I'm working on an MFA in creative writing has just decided that all theses and dissertations must now be electronic. I have dreams (probably delusional ones, I know) of getting my creative thesis published as a book. Several of the stories from the collection have been accepted by various literary magazines, which I suppose must help the book's marketability. Am I screwed, though, if the entire work, in more or less complete form, is available on the Internet as a downloadable PDF through the university's library system?

I do realize that it's easier to pass a poodle through the eye of a needle (sorry KY) than to get a collection of stories accepted for publication, and I know also that I would probably be looking at small or university presses. Still, I don't want to do anything that would make the odds of acceptance even lower.

My university says that it's possible to restrict access to the work so that it's available only to on-site computers and for interlibrary loan. Would that at all help my cause? And if so, for how long should I ask that the work be restricted in this manner?

You'd be surprised how easy it is to shove a poodle into small places when the need arises (sudden visits from the health department; arrival of Mr. Scrooge, the building super; good short story collections arriving in the slush pile).

Don't worry about this. Having your work in a library as an MFA thesis accessible only to library patrons isn't going to cut into the market for your book. In fact, should hordes of devoted fans read your work in pdf form I'm betting they'll want to actually buy a copy to carry around, underline, and read again and again.

Work on getting those stories out into the world. Don't assume you'll be "settling" for University presses or small publishers. There's a lot to be said for those guys and one of them is they'll publish new and interesting stuff. You sure as hell don't see the University of Nebraska publishing Nicole Ritchie.


When a query letter is not needed

Dear Miss Snark,

Say, for instance, I'm David Sedaris. This is, of course, before I've made the bestseller lists, all the lovely moolah and the devotion of the New Yorker. How does a writer like that sell his work to an agent?

Ah, that would be when you were working at Macys? or cleaning houses? or perhaps just writing one of the 20plus essays that got airplay on This American Life?

I doubt David Sedaris queried many literary agents. I think we were pretty much panting after him.


Formatting sidebars in proposals

Good day

I am working on a self-help book. It is my plan to insert boxes or sidebars with factoids, excerpts from research, checklists and the like. Can you please advise:

What is the appropriate way to show sidebars or other boxed information? Should I simply write sidebar and list the text below, or should I format the document as I envisage it would look if published and place my sidebars and other boxed information below or beside according to my intention?

Is it acceptable to place some passages in italics if that is how I visualise these passages being published (for example I might include anecdotes from other people with the heading “Killer Yap’s story” and the anecdote in italics) or would this annoy the *(&*^% out of the agent/publisher?

You're writing a non fiction proposal so chances are all the querying and submissions are going to be done electronically. This means you strip out every single bit of formatting you can. I can't tell you the complete and utter pain in the probiscus it is to have someone send me a word .doc with graphs and bars in it.

I have no idea why but it inevitably screws up spell check, pagination and everything else.

PDFs work well but they have other issues (like they are attachments and hardly anyone takes attachments in slush piles I'm told).

Make it look good when it's plain, and you'll never worry that someone said no cause they literally couldn't get column A into page B.

Nitwit of the day! We have a winner in absentia

I realize this isn't your area of expertise, but I might as well try: I've been working on a script. A friend of mine is sure there are agencies out there hesitant to take on writers from rural, "unmarketable" areas such as Iowa, where we currently reside. So much so that he is sending his own script to a friend in another state, just to have an address from Colorado on the envelope. I find it hard to believe that any agency that wants to make money would throw out any good work, but then again, maybe I just have a rural way of thinking. And if having 'Colorado' would get my work opened, read and decided on faster, I'm all for it.

Your friend is a nitwit.

The Second Agent

Dear Miss Snark:

An agent was very excited about one of my psychological thrillers and agreed to represent me. I suspect she expected to make a quick sale. She sent out nine copies of the manuscript to major publishing houses, got back a few interesting replies, some personal, others appear to be standard rejections. She felt she was right on the edge of acceptance, then illness forced her to shut down her agency before a second round.

Now, I'm in a quandary. Please shed some light on how you -- or another agent -- would feel if approached under these circumstances. I feel it would be less than honest to approach an agent without the full story.

I keep telling myself about the famous authors who were rejected repeatedly by publishing houses before success. (Agents are not publishing houses, let's be clear about that.)

First, you query a new novel.
You don't want to go out on something that's been shopped. You say "I was represented by X until illness forced her agency to close. She did not sell Novel Y, a previous novel, and didn't handle Z, the novel I'm writing to you about now" (or something less clunky but you get the idea).

We see this all the time. I ALWAYS read the stuff that comes in like this cause truth is, if one of my colleagues thought she could sell your work, I'm likely to think it's saleable.

Synopsis versus plot outlines in queries

Dear Miss Snark,

Go ahead, call me a nitwit.
(many are called, few are chosen. try again next week)

I submitted to the Crap-o-meter, didn't get in, and now I think that's probably a good thing. I've been reading your comments about each of the entries and, while I've picked up some stellar tips, there's one thing I just don't get.

In response to many (many, many) of the queries you chide the writers for not including an obvious plot. You tell a few entrants that they've confused query with synopsis though. Is there a magical line where plot pique-ing ends and synopsis begins?

If so, where can I find it?

Right here: you need the outline of a plot in your query letter, such that hero, villain and conflict are clear.

Anything more than 50 words, or a paragraph, is heading to Synopsisville. A full page and you've gone way way way too far.

Now, for all of you screaming with anguish about not being able to pare down your 226,000 word novel to 50 words, yes you can.

Here's how:

My hero is:

He faces this problem in the first 50 pages:

His sworn enemy/treacherous friend/love interest is:

A twist in the plot is:

Answer those questions and you're in.

Start giving me genealogy and/or a police blotter report, and you're out.

It took me 25 seconds to type this.

It will take you 25 days to construct it.
Writing briefly is insanely difficult.
I know this first hand.
I write cover letters and pitch emails for a living.
I don't feel your pain cause I medicate it with gin but I know it's there.

Personalizing a query letter

How important is personalizing a query-letter? I.e., beyond obvious stuff like name of agent and address and writing to someone who you think would be right for your work, (I think it's obvious too, but you'd be surprised how many people get it wrong wrong and really wrongo) is it critical to actually lead off with some non-content material that tries to establish a connection with THAT particular agent. I wrote what I think is a compelling, streamlined query letter that starts (I fear) to look like a cumbersome query-letter if I beef up the first paragraph with a bunch of material about that particular agent.

You always stress a "just the facts, please" in your own writings, which leads me to believe that you might answer this by saying "get to the cool content and cut the rest of the crap." But surely there's plenty of agents out there who might be less favorably disposed towarda seemingly more generic letter even if it was a little bit longer?

If you have actual substantive content that is personal, ok.
Things like "we met at the Poodle Parade on 5th avenue and you invited me to send a query for my novel about the travails of poodle parlors".

Things like "Grandmother Snark wears Army Boots...and I know cause she buys them at my store" are funny, true, and not quite up to stalking level.

Things like "I like how you squeeze the avocados at Zabars and you shouldn't buy so much mango ice cream"...not so smooth.

Honest to dog, you do not need this. I know you think it will help, and it might distinguish you from the pack, but for every one of you who has this kind of connection, 10,000 of you are now going to obsess that you need one.

you don't.
What do you need?
Shall we say it all together now?



you guys slay me

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading what y'all write?

I learn the weirdest ass things from what you send me, and from your comments.
For every spelling and grammar Rectalsaurus there are dozens of you who make me laugh. I've learned to set down the coffee and cover the keyboard for a couple of you.

And now, the things I know about goats and pixie wings. And Macedonia. Dear dog in the reservoir, what will you all come up with next.

It's Monday. Y'all have been pretty much the bright spot of the day.


Now, back to our regularly scheduled Snarking.


Do I even want to know what "non funky deodorant is"?

Dear Miss Snark:

Right now I'm working on a novel. I figure it would help if I had some short stories published before I start submitting it. So... do you know of any online literary/sf journals that a potential agent might take seriously?

I've been searching but I'm turning up a lot of dreck. I would go after print journals, but I'm on deployement right now so that's sort of a non-starter. I'm ecstatic if I find non-funky deodorant at our exchange, so finding journals/ writer's market info is out of the picture.

Thanks for your time.

You're asking the wrong person. My idea of literary sf is a royalty statement.
There are people who read this blog, and through no fault of their own are devoted SFF fans and writers. (Probably cause their moms confused Mr. Spock with Dr. Spock for advice on rasiing babies, but never mind. ) Anyway. I'll post this and let's see what the comment trail churns up.

Generally, when someone tells me about a publication credit, I google it if I haven't heard of the thing. I look at their submission guidelines. If it's clear they are selective, it "counts". If it's just the in-house website of IWannaGetPublished.comma then, not so much.

But again, good writing trumps all. Pub credits are nice but they aren't any where close to required.

Snarklings, give the guy some good advice.

Why KY is on staff at Snark Central

Dear Miss Snark,

Do publishers ever "lose track " of a book?

I have had some of my books translated into foreign languages. My ex-agent's assistant says that my second book has not earned out with one of its European publishers. Unfortunately, I cannot find that book's royalty statement for December 2004: I may have lost it, but I'm wondering if I never received one, and just haven't noticed till now? (I've been a bit lax with checking statements, as I don't always understand them. I simply trusted my ex-agent.) It's just weird. The book earned €6985 in hardback in 2003, just €17 short of its €7000 advance. It only needed a few copies sold to earn out in 2004.
I asked my ex-agent to re-send the 2004 royalty statement; she's ignored my mail.

Meanwhile, my first book continues to sell decently (for a hardback) in that country; 2005's royalties amount to over €2000, according to ex-agent's assistant. My ex-agent herself doesn't seem to be replying to my mails or checking the stuff I ask her to.

Isn't it strange that one book should continue to sell well even after four years, and the other should abruptly stop selling after one year's good sales? That's why I asked if publishers can ever lose track of books.

I am a member of the Society of Authors in the UK and I could get free legal help but I don't want to make a fuss over a minor matter. I just want a copy of the 2004 royalty statement so I can check sales for myself.

Another question: what do you think of the fact that this publisher doesn't pay out royalties till October or November following the December they are due - almost a year later? Is this normal? Shouldn't I at least get interest for late royalty payments?

I am not a very businesslike person, as you can see; but I've learnt my lesson and promise to pay more attention to the paperwork in future. Thanks for all your help and the time you spend on us.

It's not so much they lose track of things as this is one of those "on my list but no one is screaming bloody murder and she's not a client anymore" things.

Publishers screw up royalty statements ALL the time. There is a woman whose job is sniffing out royalty statement errors. She only gets paid if there is an error she collects for you. She has a very successful business, and has had for years. Frightening isn't it.

Of course you need to avail yourself of your help from the Society of Authors. You don't have an agent, they aren't returning your emails, you're not screaming bloody murder. They're going to ignore you until someone puts a flaming bag of dog poop on their front stoop. I know how to staff that out here in New York of course, but you'll need someone there who knows how to ring and run. Get busy. It's your money. Go get it.