Loose ends

Dear Miss Snark,

I am just parting the ways, amicably, from an agent who turned out not to be the right one for placing my ms. There's a loose end, though, and I want to make sure it doesn't come back to haunt.

The agent sent the ms to an editor at a major house, who never responded to her subsequent queries; after about nine months my now-ex agent formally pulled the ms. So far as she knows, though, the editor still has the ms, presumably gathering dust in a closet somewhere. Although it seems awfully unlikely, what happens if the ms surfaces on the editor's desk - and the editor likes it?

When I land another agent, I'll certainly tell her the prior submission history, such as it is, but I want to make sure there's no awkward consequences from an ms that got lost in the shuffle ...

Well the editor is going to call your old agent cause that's what the contact info says. Tell your new agent about this loose end. If it ends up in a deal (VERY unlikely as you realize) it will get worked out. Agent agreements specify how long agents are entitled to commissions on work they pitch if you part ways. I think mine says six months but it might be twelve. I've never had to look at it very closely. Mostly if a client parts ways with me, I send them a letter saying they are released completely even if there are open projects.

But do tell your new agent. She'll want to know.

Flaming Corpses on Page one

Greetings Oh Sharp-witted Daughter of Harsh Gods,

Watching you at work on a most-excellent friend of mine, I was forced to notice the short-comings of my own beloved creations -- I don't write books with large numbers of corpses or explosions -- and I was left wondering...
Apart from writing a book more amenable to the query process, which is the better strategy...

a) creating a query that highlights the grabbiest parts of the book but will be sent with sample pages that are somewhat slower paced (creeping tension rather than immediate corpses) or

b) writing a query that reflects the more thoughtful nature of the book and so doesn't lead to a disconnect between salespitch and sample?

(or c) something else)
I await the enlightenment only your spiky-stilletoed self can provide,

Thank you :)

Ms Tortoise

I know this will come as a horrifying shock, but I've been known to take on and actually sell work that doesn't have a corpse or a flame thrower on the first page.

Those works came to me with compelling writing. They gave me incentive to read on. It's a lot harder than it sounds as you know.

One of the now-cliche pieces of advice on how to write compelling paragraphs about your book is to read the flap copy of books you like. Then you practice writing it for books you've read and compare it to what the flap copy says. Then you write one for your own book.

You might consider the End-of-the-Year CoM. If you can hook me without blood, bullets, and burning bouffants I'll be quite pleased to read your pages.

Blood, bullets, and burning bouffants aren't meant to be taken literally. It's a metaphor for grab my attention and keep me riveted.

Equal Time for the other side

I really thought this was funny.
True of course, but also funny.
Neither of us is going to win Miss Congeniality but that's ok with me cause Miss Congeniality never wins the paegent either.

Gawker gets it right

Yea, this from Gawker is pretty much right on.


Crapometer Questions

Don't put them in the comment trail.
Email me.
I'll prepare an FAQ before the CoM goes live.

You can send more than one entry but you have to use different email addresses.
Email addresses are how I track entries.
Witty ones are always appreciated.

Crapometer announcement

Crapometer will resurface at the end of December; sometime after December 15th.
There will be a couple days advance notice.

You will need two things:

1. a 100 word hook for your novel. A hook answers the question: why do I want to read this.

2. 500 words-the first 2-3 pages of your novel.

Everyone who enters will first send the hook.
I'll post them all.
I'll tell you which ones hooked me.

I'll critique the ones that hooked me.
Debate, of course, will ensue.

I figure the hook part will weed out the folks who jump in unprepared, and still give people who aren't quite ready for prime time a shot at seeing why.

Thanks to all of you who contributed your thoughts on the qualifier question. You helped me a lot.

Calling all space cadets

LOST magazine
December's issue will orbit the theme "Lost in Space." They're looking for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by November 1. Submissions guidelines here

(They're still reading fiction and nonfiction for the November issue,
and will be until Oct. 9.)


The 13 R's

Dear Miss Snark:

My agent has been submitting my first ms. for the past eight months. So far we've received ten rejections. He says he still loves the work and will keep trying. I've now completed my second ms. and I'm ready to send it. Before I began writing, I ran a synopsis and example of the voice I'd be using by him and received a green light.

My question is really about what you, The Great and Powerful Snark, see from clients on your side of the curtain. Although this new ms. has been through my critique group, and I'd call it pretty clean, it's still my first draft. I look forward to and need my agent's comments and guidance regarding story-line, plot, character development, etc. -- only, the 'newbie' in me is terrified to send it, especially since my first work hasn't sold.

So, would you mind describing how you work with your clients as they develop their latest work?

Thank you, and best regards and markings to Killer Yapp from Piddling Papillon!

Here's the thing: I hate reading stuff like this. Give me something ready to sell.

Of course, that never happens and I've read some works in progress a dozen times. If I had a dollar for every page I've reformatted, repositioned, regurgitated, repaired, renovated, retrofitted, resupinated, resusitated, retooled, retouched, retrenched, and retrofired I'd be retiring the national debt of Rabbitania.

Get that thing as ready as you can. Imagine your agent ISN'T going to change a single solitary word.

Agents provide career guidance, not editing guidance. Editing doesn't earn money. Sales do. Don't plan on sucking up too much time with questions about whether plot points work or characters develop. That's your job.

Here's the thing: every project that needs work, or my R-tful input gets put on the back burner. The person who gets my full attention each and every day is the client whose work I'm actively pitching. Be one.

This renders me incapable of speech at all, let alone a thousand words

Blame Canada...I do

Suppose you have toiled and slaved over a manuscript for the past two years. You have it polished, glossy and ready to send to the prom in a highly gown. Then, you're in B&N one day, you take a look at the shelf, and lo and behold, there's a book with a title almost exactly like your (unpublished) novel.

So you pick it up, read the book jacket. Good heavens, the plot is nearly identical, down to the first letters of the main character's names. Unnerved, you read the first page and think, "But, but I did it so much better! How dare this literary trollop steal my idea!"

Except, of course, you live in Pittsburgh and she lives in Saskatoon, so she couldn't have possibly stolen it. So the question is, what becomes of the poor unpublished book? Do you just have to sigh and trash it, or is it still open to shopping around?

Wait, you're willing to junk your novel when yours is better?
Are you insane?

Well, you clearly are, now that I think about it. The idea that Miss Snark would live in Pittsburgh is just...well... it boggles the mind. Not that Pitttsburgh isn't a nice place, full of Pirates and such but really.....they'd probably think it was weird to see a pink tammed poodle smoking a cigar and reading partials.

Change the title and the name, give it a polish, and full steam ahead. Those Saskatoonervillians won't know what hit 'em.

Get out of the attic, Emily

Dear Miss Snark,

I am sorely in need of guidance. I know I've been a nitwit, but I hope you will explain to me exactly how.

A best-selling author of my acquaintance was kind enough to read my first chapter, then suggested I send a partial to his agent. He must have contacted her as well, because she immediately requested the full manuscript.

A month later, I received a form rejection letter. I had been under the delusion that an agent who liked something enough to ask for 300 more pages would offer a sentence or two highlighting the book's inadequacies. I'm not talking about query letters or even partials - just full manuscripts.

So I emailed her. (Nitwit alert). I thanked her for considering the work and asked her generally where my manuscript lagged (character, plot, etc.). I'm serious about improving as a writer, so the feedback could have really helped me. I haven't heard back.

So, a) have I committed an unpardonable sin? (venial not mortal) b) did she only request the full manuscript to please her client? (no) c) will this faux pas reflect badly on my acquaintance, since his agent now thinks he has psycho stalker talentless friends? *(yup)

Obviously I shouldn't have asked for the favor of her reaction if she wasn't willing to offer it freely. On the other hand, how shall I improve if the only people who see the full manuscript are either related to me or choose to take their insight to the grave? You yourself get better at recognizing the quality or lack thereof in your work. You join a critique group. You find good beta readers.

Obsessing about this is really cutting into my writing time. so stop

On a related note, will the crapometer ever accept full manuscripts? Boy howdy, that'd be a help. Or you could auction off a full Monty crapometer (a full crappy?) as a charitable endeavor, with the proceeds going to fund a retirement home for the chronically unpublished.

You've gone round the bend for even thinking it is remotely possible enough to ask about. First, a full length novel of 60,000 words on the crapometer would require about 200 posts.

It takes a minimum of five hours to read 60,000 words. Add five hours of critique thinking and writing. For the benefit of ONE person. You can safely categorize this under "never".

You need to reach out and find some other writers. You're obsessing too much and you're losing touch with reality. Time for a cold dose of reality best found in a good critique group.

Hook up

Dear Miss Snark,

I have been sending out query letters to agents, and so far I have had some great resonses. I have been told my writing is 'very good' and my story 'compelling' and that my book is very promotable. However, I have just been turned down by my number one choice of agent who says the book doesn't have enough of a hook to it. I obviously want to change my book so that it's better, but I don't really know what to do. Make it tighter? More simplistic? Any chance that you could help me unravel what he means?

You could give it a hook.
Just an idea.

Lights! Camera! Complaining!

Dear Miss Snark --

Okay, so I've gripped the basic concept that agents who handle book publishing projects don't usually also handle film rights. I don't understand why a book agent's initial contract with an author would include a clause that gives them a generous % of the film rights on a novel [say 10%] even though they don't handle film rights. Is that just a perk for the book agent or are they going to do a lot of work to earn it? If the author says -- this is all about books, let's either write a contract that includes your Hollywood subagent as a signing party, if there ever is one, or just leave the film rights you don't handle out of it -- would the book agent call her a snooty diva and give her the boot?


You never worked as a waitress or a bartender did you?

The people who couple 'generous' with "10%" are usually the ones who order the 16 ingrediant drink, the dressing on the side, and complain their gazpacho is cold.

If you think making a film deal is just a matter of sending your book off to Hollywoodland on the Sunset Limited, and your book agent isn't going to be doing quite a bit of work you are heading in the right direction: LaLaLand.

When prospective clients start quizzing me about why I get a percentage of a film deal, I take it as a sign that they don't understand the business very well, and they really don't understand that there's a lot of work they will never see, and a lot of work that never bears fruit. If I wanted to rob you blind I'd charge you by the billable hour, ask for a reading fee, and enroll you in the Killer Yapp Charm School.

And film agents aren't teamed with literary agents. It's entirely common for a literary agent to work with several different film agents on different projects.

Nitwitville Coming Right Up

Miss Snark,

Am I naive in thinking if an agent you met at a conference requests a partial, you should expect a little more than a form rejection?

I attended a conference that featured a 90-second public pitch. There were several agents and a small press on the panel. I had done my homework and only one agent represented Thrillers (she politely explained that she was concentrating on chick-lit). After the sessions were complete, I was surprised that one agent that did not "normally" represent Thrillers came up to me on a coffee break, handed me her card, said it was a great pitch and asked for a partial. I went home and fired it off to her with a "Requested Material" sticker attached.

To my surprise, less than 2 weeks later, I received a form rejection letter from the agent. Also odd that she presented material and claimed to be a very personable agent that really worked closely with authors. (there goes the coffee up the nose)

Am I a nitwit to expect, at least, a personal rejection from this situation? Or should I invest in a "Requested Material" stamp instead of relying on adhesive labels?


Agents are not in the business of saying anything more than yes or no at any stage. A 90-second public pitch is just about the worst way in the world to get any indication about what a book is like. Those things reveal whether an author is skilled in front of a live audience, and what they think the book is about. It has zero, ZERO correlation to the plot, and even less to the writing.

It's entirely possible she just didn't like it. It's entirely possible it's a sprawling mess. The only way you'll get an agent to say "this is a mess" is if you send it to a crapometer.

The idea that you are entitled to anything more than a form rejection needs to get nipped in the bud if you plan to attend any more writing conferences. Take a look at the myriad of comments in this blog alone about agents who don't respond at all, let alone as soon as "less than two weeks later".

As for it being odd that she rejected you with a form letter despite claiming to be a personable agent who worked closely with authors let's just all remember, you aren't one of her authors.

You are on the plane to Nitwitville. You might want to start scouting around for a parachute.

Miss Snark feels her leg being yanked-updated

Miss Snark -

When receiving a proposal from an author - how common is it that you receive a small gift w/ it (one that relates to the book being proposing)? Some how to books recommend sending something, but I feel silly doing it and wonder if it seems to the agent as "brown nosing" ... I'm very interested in knowing the answer to this... please help.


Which books say to do this?
I want chapter and verse, op cit, ibid and fuckwit.

This is stupid.
Don't do it.
Don't even think about doing it.
There is nothing that marks you as an amateur faster than this. Well...glitter and pink unicorns but those tend to arrive with novels not proposals.

Update: The original questioner wrote back. The reference is in Michael Larson's How To Write a Book Proposal. Without verifying the exact wording I don't want to say it's utter crap, but let's just leave it at this: don't do this.


Snarkiana Winners---and some pithy comments

1. What is the name of the Princess of Pixies?
This was so easy that if you didn't get it right you got disqualified.
correct answer: Sha'el

2. Which regular commenter writes westerns?

Some pretty hilarious offerings here including:
That truckdriver chick Hawkeye?
I think it's Kittty.
George Clooney
Er...Bill E. Goat? (Bill E. got two votes...and he writes paranormal goat romance not westerns)

And some of you fumbled but eventually came close:
2. Brady Westminster? or Westhammer? Westmorland? West?
2. Brady Westwood?

Correct answer: Brady Westwater (7 correct answers, 8 if f you include a rather sweet "moi?" from Mr. W himself)

3. What magazine is fortunate to claim MG Tarquini as a contributing editor?
Some wishful thinking included: The New Yorker, Paris Review, and three people who think the Bunions is a magazine (if it is, it's news to me...but so much is these days)
and 17 of you got the correct answer: Spinetingler
and two of you had some fun thinking what Tarquini meant:

---It always makes me think of a tall alcoholic drink with ice. I'm sure it's not quite as good as gin though.

----but i love the name tarquini. it sounds like a delicious gin-based cocktail someone named tarquin might make for their friends.

4. Name as many of Miss Snark's relatives as you can
Entirely too many of you named Killer Yapp, who I must tell you is REALLY offended you think he'd lower himself to claiming kin with creatures that are delusional about their superiority given they have ONLY two legs, no sense of smell, and a curious inhibition about pooping in the park.

Most of you got Grandmother Snark but only
one of you got Shyster Snark; and
one of you got Card Shark Snark.

Everyone missed Abacus Snark

Winner here is Bethany who got one I'd totally forgotten about:

Pappa (Father) Snark (with the Pentagon-days stamp that reads: Hogwash)

and one of you is looking for clues in very very strange places:
If it is true that "Miss Snark is the long lost love child of Joyce Maynard and JD Salinger," then that stipulates her parentage.

5. Who is Pat Walsh and why does Miss Snark talk about him in reverent tones?

Almost all of you got some variation of this. Mostly I wanted to again mention his book.

6. Who are Ann, Victoria and Dave and why does Miss Snark mention them?
You mostly got this right, but a few of you have real hang ups on how to spell Dave's name.
You'll notice I don't include it either.

7. What are three things Miss Genoese and Miss Snark share?

Let's remind everyone that Miss Genoese is NOT an agent. She's an editor.

A lot of you are soaking her in gin, and dropping ciggie ash on MY head but really the correct answers are:

devotion to Mr. Clooney
devotion to Mr. Clooney
devotion to Mr. Clooney

and the fact that NO ONE got it ALL right is really cause for great alarm.

In fact, let's just have a little reminder, right here:

8. When Miss Snark mentions her hair, what is she doing with it?
Almost everyone got the correct answer: setting it on fire.
There were a few who thought I was pulling it out but really, why do that when you can self combust.

9. There are six reasons to scream at a client. Which is your favorite?
Some of you thought I asked when it's ok to scream at an agent. No no, this was from a very early post wherein someone's (now blessedly former) agent had screamed at her.

No one got this right except the people who googled.
Herein the list:

The six reasons are as follows:
1. Client's hair is on fire;
2. Client has stepped into traffic on Third Avenue, forgetting it goes both directions at 14th Street;
3. Client has won the Edgar and the applause makes it hard to hear;
4. Client has swilled the very very last bottle of gin;
5. Client is getting ready to sit upon [a] chair that is occupied by a reptile; or
6. Client has eloped with George Clooney.

Winners here are Georgiana, and Maya, for choosing my favorite: #5

10. Miss Snark recommends books from time to time. Name any three.

Well, here's where we hit the motherlode. Many of you confuse my recommendations on the blog with the books I list on library thing. The books on library thing are ones I've read. No recommendation implied, although a lot of them are darn good.

Herewith what you remember:

Chang-Rae Lee's Native Speaker. I read it on your recommendation and enjoyed it a lot. I also followed up on Jane Kenyon and Candas Dorsey because of your suggestions. Thanks!

The Amulet of Samarkand... there's more in the library link on the right of your blog.

Gay Talese A Writers Life

Jon ? Motherless Brooklyn (like I say, I'm not googling!)

Pat Walsh as above - no that's cheating...
Um... Anything by Laura Lippman

Hey, cool, you like Dick Francis. I think I read every one, and suspect that his wife really wrote them.
The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathan Stroud;
Baby Proof, Emily Giffin.

Slicky Boys by Martin Limon,
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt and
Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd

Timothy, or, notes of an abject reptile;
Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract

PERSUADER by Lee Child
BELLY by Lisa Selin Davis
RAINFALL by Barry Eisler
Other recommended authors: Michael Connolly, James Lee Burke, Frederick Busch, Laurie King and Sara Paretsky

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (I finally bought it)
Rainfall by Barry Eisler
Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King

Portraits, by Michael Kimmelman;
The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp;
Motherless Brooklyn, by Jon Letham

Motherless Brooklyn by Jon Letham,
Persuader by Lee Child
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

10. Alan Furst, Larry Brown (thanks for that one), and I think I got James Lee Burke from you, about a year ago. I also think you mentioned Dennis Lehane some time back.

Elements of Style,
Lunar Park

Bleak House - Charles Dickens,
Saints at the River - Ron Rash;
Last Night - James Salter

10 Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell by Jim Fisher

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

To Kill A Mockingbird by Lee Harper

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit,
Monkey Town,
78 Reasons....

Gay Talese's writing book,
Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract,
78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might is worth reading

'78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might', 'Confederacy of Dunces',
'The Lovely Bones'.

I know you've recommended Michael Connely, Dick Francis, and any of the Spenser novels up until recently when Parker starts repeating himself.

The Amulet of Samarkand,
Jenna Glatzer's book, and.
.. Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors?
And you didn't perticularly like Jonothan Stange and Mrs. Norrell (no kidding!)

Buried Alive; the Biography of Janis Joplin, by Myra Friedman
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
What Remains : A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love, by Carole Radziwill

Amulet of Samarkand by Stroud,
A writer's life by Gay Talese,
Timothy: or notes of an abject reptile

Writer's Guide to Literary Agents,
Literary Marketplace,
Chicago Manual of Style

"The Amulet of Samarkand,"
"Tropic of Night,"
"So Yesterday"; all were fabulous; thanks for the recommendations. Also, Steven King's "On Writing." My recommendation backatcha: listen to Simon Jones’s performance of “Amulet”; it’s a treat.

What Is Life Worth, Kenneth R Feinberg
Saints at the River, Ron Rash
Last Night, James Salter

Hitman by Lawrence Block (just read it and the follow up Hit List, one per day - great books!)
Brooklyn Noir
A Writers Life

11. Bonus points: for which phrase has Miss Snark applied for a patent?
Yanno, everyone got that right except the people who quibbled that it's a word not a phrase. Those people are disqualified of course for not knowing that 'you know' is a phrase.

and a quick word to everyone who is in some sort of snit about this:
Get over yourself.

If, on the first Sunday in October, I decide to see what kinds of things people remember over the course of fifteen months and three thousand posts, don't get your knickers in a twist.

If you thought this was related to the crapometer, you need your head examined. Also a remedial course in reading retention.

But of course, if at any time you are unsatisified with the customer service provided here, I'll be glad to provide you with a complete refund of all your entry fees. Step right up to make your claim.


Know Your Snarkiana-Submission Window Shuttered

compilation/results/prize announcements to come

These were the questions.
this is NOT the qualifiying quiz for the crapometer.
I'm reading your comments about that and contemplating being reincarnated as a bug.

1. What is the name of the Princess of Pixies?

2. Which regular commenter writes westerns?

3. What magazine is fortunate to claim MG Tarquini as a contributing editor?

4. Name as many of Miss Snark's relatives as you can

5. Who is Pat Walsh and why does Miss Snark talk about him in reverent tones?

6. Who are Ann, Victoria and Dave and why does Miss Snark mention them?

7. What are three things Miss Genoese and Miss Snark share?

8. When Miss Snark mentions her hair, what is she doing with it?

9. There are six reasons to scream at a client. Which is your favorite?

10. Miss Snark recommends books from time to time. Name any three.

11. Bonus points: for which phrase has Miss Snark applied for a patent?

Crapometer qualifiying quiz

I've been trying to think of ways to thin the herd for the crapometer, and I'd like to weed out people who just drop in for the fun stuff and haven't been around long enough to know Miss Snark is not ms-erable.

As I was perusing the Murderati site this morning, the light bulb went on. Well, ok it was the light in the fridge when KY went to fetch more coffee beans but still...

We need a qualifying quiz.

The quiz goes up a week ahead of the opening bell.
If you pass the quiz, you get a qualifiying number to enter in the crapometer if you want.

You can take the quiz and NOT submit work of course, I wouldn't want to deprive of the fun of a quiz.

NOW...we need questions!!!

Feel free to comment or email.

Have at it.