HH Com Rd 2 - #10 (173)

Hook here

"I don't like you, Lucy Campeon," Mrs Handine said to me, her wrinkled hands gripping her walking cane. It wouldn't surprise me if she chose to whack me over the head with it. She'd certainly whacked me enough with harsh words during the interview to make me want to crawl out the door. Over the past half-hour I stopped feeling guilty about deceiving the old woman; everything from the catnip on my fingers to the letter of recommendations my friend Alexandar Andrew, Veterinarian. I needed this job and Alexandar owed me a huge favor.

"But it's not up to me," her voice softened, "is it, Beaker?"

I dropped my gaze to the cat in my lap. Beaker rolled her face around and over my tainted fingers and I obliged her with a good scritching. The long chocolate fur, which had already shed itself all over my interview suit, would drive me nuts, but I would accept it if it meant money in my pocket.

And money Mrs Handine had. The old lady lounged on a beautifully carved couch, upholstered in striped silk. I sat on a hard little matching chair. And were those fresh flowers on the hardwood coffee table between us? Billowy curtains draped the windows and spilled out along the floor. Beaker must love those, I mused.

"But I will be having very little to do with you," Mrs Handine inhaled sharply through her nose, "as I will have my own concerns." Her hands tightened on the cane as pain flickered through her gaze. I turned my attention to the cat until the paroxysm passed. Alexandar told me she hadn't long to live. "Your job will be to keep Beaker happy, and that you seem to do."

It's amazing what kitty pot would do for a cat. Beaker's purrs made the ends of her long fur quiver. She'd hooked her paws around my wrist and rubbed her face vigorously against my fingers.

(Start here)
Mrs handine let out a little grunt. "I will be honest with you. You were bottom of my list, despite Doctor Andrew's recommendation, but you are the only person that Beaker has liked and for that reason alone, I will hire you."

Yes! The job was mine. I confess I dreaded the thought of having to take a McJob just to stay in graduate school, but this was perfect: time to study, a place to live and a paycheck to boot. "Thank you," I replied, as genteely as I could while giving Beaker a good snuggle. Beaker gave me a mouthful of fur and continued to rub against my hand.

Mrs Handine rang a bell. "Charles will take you to fill out the paperwork."

As Charles, her butler, appeared at the door, I rose and put Beaker on the chair.

"No, no!" Mrs Handine spat, waving her arthritic hand at me. "Take Beaker with you. If I'm going to hire you, you might as well start today."

I retrieved Beaker, surprised at the suddenness of my employment. "Oh," I uttered. As the old lady raised an eyebrow, I amended my comment so it didn't sound like I was contrary. "Okay." Beaker kept her head buried in my hand as we left the room.

Charles, dressed in the suit I expected a butler to wear, closed the door softly behind us. Aside from the clothing, he was not what I expected a butler to be. He was youngish, possibly early thirties, in possession of all his mousy hair and rather bland of features. His voice was a light tenor. "Come on. I'll take you to the office."

I fell in step behind him, but he waited for me to catch up so I walked next to him. "Since you're going to be working here," he began, "I hope you don't mind me being blunt, Lucy."

"Hmm?" I looked up at the sound of my name. Beaker was trying to chew my knuckle off. How long did this catnip last?

"Why you?" Charles asked. "Why did Doctor Andrew recommend you?"

That was blunt! I stopped and gave myself the once-over. "Why? What's wrong with me?" I'd dressed neat and clean, and while I felt uncomfortable in my rarely-worn interview suit, it fitted nicely. My hair was brushed and I even wore makeup.

Charles didn't stop until he reached the top of the stairs. He laid a hand on the rail then turned to me. "You're single, for one, and you are well-to-do."

Well-to-do. Maybe once. Not now.

I liked this hook you'll recall for the premise of the novel, not the actual hook. One thing I notice here is a LOT of description and a lot of set up. I really prefer to get right to the point or get started in a much more energetic fashion. Contrast this with #8 below. They both start in the voice of the main character. There's actually a lot LESS information in #8 than there is here, but the effect (at least to me) was much more electric. We didn't get a lot of description, but what there was said something about what was being described AND about the describer (shell shiny hair).

Here we have generic description. We have generic responses. What's missing is what made me want to read the book...

HH Com Rd 2 -#9 (151)

Hook here

"Darling, it was such an inspiring story. A woman organized a gang of juvenile delinquents into a baseball team. No one thought she could do it, especially since both of her legs were amputated, but she was determined."

Ivy wedged the phone under her chin and made another sale, all the while muttering "uh huh" noises to her mother. Customers roamed the bookstore aisles like cats on catnip: aimless wandering interrupted by sudden strikes. Ivy watched a woman pile a box of Georgia O'Keefe notecards and a One-A-Day meditation calendar onto the already teetering stack in her arms.
She tipped everything onto the counter, laid a memo pad on top, traced a pen down the list, and made two checkmarks. She looked at Ivy. Ivy covered the receiver with her hand and mouthed "my mother" at the woman. Another customer crowded behind her.

“And on top of it all, she included colored children on her team. It was a wonderful movie. You
can always count on Hallmark, can’t you dear?”

Yeah, that Hallmark, Ivy thought, they love cripples. It’s either a saintly super hero or a
convenient victim who waits to be rescued by the real character. And neither type ever gets laid.


"Yes, dear?"

"There's a customer waiting. I've got to go."

“What time will you be here on Christmas Eve? I’ve already put fresh sheets on the bed for you. So, about six?”

“Uh huh. No, wait Mother, no. We talked about this. I work that day. It’s better for me to rest
and, I promise, I'll drive out very first thing in the morning.”

"Ivy, I don't understand the difference. It's the same trip no matter what time you make it."

"Remember Mother, those articles I sent you about post-polio, how they said it was important to pace things and not get overtired – ”

"Ivy, don't keep that customer waiting."

At the sound of the dial tone, Ivy let the phone fall out of her neck. She had her standard stock of apologies ready, but the two women looked at her kindly. One of them said, "Tidings of good joy?" in an ironic voice. Everyone smiled, and Ivy slipped into retail gear as she rang up sales and made book suggestions at the same time. The phone, for once, stayed silent.

“Here you go. Need a bag?”

“I want something for my father.”

“And he’s, what?”

“Oh, loves that Reagan's president, hates I’m a lesbian but deals, World War II vet.”

“Here, take this.” Ivy handed her Genet: A Biography Of Janet Flanner and turned the book over to the picture of a monocle-wearing lesbian. “ She was a war correspondent in the European Theatre. The troops adored her.”

Next, a young woman, a student at one of the universities perhaps, slapped both Coming Out To Parents and Now That You Know down between them. She and Ivy grinned.

“Going home for the holidays?”

“Yeah, this time I’m doing it.”

Ivy gave a “right on” hand gesture and wondered, once again, how many of these books (and they sold a lot of them this time of year) ever made it out of the bottom of the suitcase. As she watched the customers leave, Ivy also wondered when she had started thinking of college students as young. More and more, being thirty-six resembled middle-aged.

People needed tending in the other room, but Ivy closed her eyes and let her head fall forward into a long stretch. She was feeling the pull between her shoulder blades when Kate’s voice snapped. “Ivy, hang up the phone." Without raising her head, Ivy turned it toward the
office. Kate had cracked the door and, from her sideways view, Ivy saw a four inch strip of cheek, shoulder, knee, and chair leg. Sometimes it was hard to remember they’d ever been lovers. Ivy looked for the receiver and found it buried in the bag of bags at
her side.

“Sorry, just a second.” Ivy slid a section of the cord out from under one of her push handles. She lifted an armrest to untangle another length and pulled until it uncoiled from around the brake lever. Twisting the wheelchair to the side, she rolled the casters over the cord, releasing it, and gathered the loops into her arms. Holding them high, away from the wheel spokes, Ivy dumped the tangle onto a shelf and put the receiver on the base. "It’s all yours."
A door couldn’t slam with only a four inch start, but it tried.

The main problem here is that it's set in the 80s. So much has changed since then that it's hard for a novel set in that time period to feel fresh...but it's not far enough back to feel nostaligic about yet.

I really really like the mother character though...what a piece of work. And I like the last line a lot.

This is probably going to be one of the best examples of "not right for me" that really means "nothing's wrong, it's just not right enough". I'd probably give this careful read on the five pages with the query but probably not a partial. THAT is why you query a lot of agents-what I don't connect with may be just exactly what someone else is looking for, and wildly enthusiastic about.

HH Com Rd 2 -#8 (119)

Hook here

When the file folder hit the floor, Caroline Brister had three thoughts.

Her third thought: They didn't pay her enough to care about putting the file back together in proper order.

Her second thought: She'd dropped the folder because her hand had stopped working.

Her first thought: The splattering of the papers on the floor, the arc and fan of the invoices and envelopes and depositions reminded her of red and black blood sprays on the wall, which reminded her of Rorschach inkblots. It's a puppy! It's a flower! It's the guy from Accounting's brains! (your rhythm goes off in the last sentence. Read it aloud. It should be "it's the brains of the guy in Accounting")

The second thought stuck. Her left hand had stopped working. She looked at it. Ratty fingernails, wedding and engagement rings, and a scar from when she'd had a cyst removed. She couldn't feel it. Caroline tried wiggling her fingers. Nothing.

Well, this was odd.

A gentle knock at the door. Why would anyone knock on the door of the company file room? She glanced at the empty file folder cabinet.

"Hello, Caroline? Can I talk to you for a minute?" It was the head of Human Resources, Beth Something. Beth came into the room, closing the door softly behind her. "Oh, what happened here?"

Beth would have tried to smarm her way out. She would have identified the predicament of a disgruntled office shooter, and looked for a solution that was amicable to everyone.

"Let me help you with that," Beth said, stooping down to pick up the one piece of paper that was next to her. Her good deed for the day done, Beth straightened up and pushed a stray hair back into its shell-shiny helmet. (oh yes!)

"The agency told me... about your... situation. It must have been very traumatic for you."

The "situation". The "event". The "tragedy". No one ever said "slaughter". No one said "twenty-six people in an office and only one emerged alive." (this is good exposition)

"If there's anything we can do to help, just let us know." Beth smiled and twisted the gold rope necklace she wore.

Caroline thought to actually take her up on it. She'd ask to change her hours so she could take an earlier bus back to the apartment and get home at a reasonable time. But Caroline knew Beth would sigh and say that the company had standards to which it must adhere. There were a number of actual employees who would love to change their hours. If Beth allowed Caroline, who was just a temp, to change her hours, it would be a slippery slope. And so on.

"I'm doing fine, but thank you for the offer," Caroline smiled.

"Well, okay then." Beth turned towards the door. "Have a good rest of the day."

Beth wouldn't try to talk her way out of being shot. She'd push other people out of the way to get to the exit.

The temporary agency had told Caroline that the position was for a legal assistant. However, something had been lost in translation. "Legal assistant" actually meant "trained monkey."

Caroline photocopied. She photocopied thick stacks of documents, some on legal sized paper (so she'd have to stop and change the paper size), some stapled together with tiny staples she didn't see until the copier had jammed and crumpled up the document into an ugly fan, like she imagined a headache to look. She had to use the copier access code of the secretary for whom she was doing the work.

Caroline filed. Each floor's file room was tucked in the corner of the floor with the pop machine, the snack machine and a printer that no one used until the toner was just about out, and then everyone used it. Occasionally she would hear the bang bang bang of people upset that their Doritos were stuck in the curled wires of the machine. Many of them would swear.

John McKinley had sworn, though not for as long as the Dorito people usually did. "What the fuck is going -" was what he'd managed to get out before Tom had shot him.

Then, he'd switched to screaming.

"Most of these were here when I started," Blaine said as they regarded the file room on the 17th floor, "fifteen years ago." She shuddered.

Blaine was Caroline's supervisor at the company. She was Director of Records Management - inputting new clients in the computer system, running conflict checks, sending old files to off site storage. Blaine would have taken one look at the shooter, said "go ahead" and gone back to her coffee. Caroline liked Blaine.

This works. It's consistent voice that gives backstory in a way that meshes well with what's going on. It gives us a sense of character. Hell yes I'd be reading more.

HH Com Rd 2 -#7 (115)

3:14am, Friday, June 25 (hook here)

38o39.715’N 074o34.274’W

The WITCH, North Atlantic, 23 nautical miles southeast of Cape May, NJ

Alone at the helm, shivering in the predawn darkness, Hazel Moran listened between the soft rushing of the waves for sounds of any other presence. Guided by the familiar red glow of the compass she headed the boat through the night, while the dim green radar display monitored the empty spread of ocean for unwanted company. To the west the coast had vanished, swallowed by the horizon, leaving nothing but endless sea. Beneath the overcast sky, the Witch surged forward under full sail, cutting through the offshore Atlantic swells without running lights to reveal the small schooner’s position. There was no sound of luffing and no strain on the wheel as the Witch moved in balance with the waves and the steady south-west wind. The damp air was warm and heavy; by afternoon storms would roll through the Jersey shore.

Hazel switched on the flashlight, aiming the beam astern. The weather-beaten dinghy dragged reluctantly in the Witch’s wake, like a sacrificial lamb sensing its fate. It hadn’t sunk yet, but rode low as water seeped through loose seams. She shined the light on her watch for a moment, then switched it off, letting the darkness close back in. It was 3:22 on June 25th. Sunrise was an hour away, and her eighteenth birthday was in two weeks, though over the last night she began to wonder if she’d see either one.

For a moment she caught her reflection in the dark tachometer gauge, her small face framed by a tangle of long, dark curls, her brown eyes wide and troubled. Normally Hazel enjoyed the night watch, miles from shore during the hours before the sun came up, when everything else in the world disappeared. Normally the mahogany wheel, worn smooth from a century of use, was comforting, but adrenalin still raced through her and she fought to keep from shaking. Normally, there wasn’t a dead body onboard.

There was one positive side to the deceased cargo. At least now her father believed her. Only the night before, he said she was just being melodramatic. Actually, “full of shit,” was how he put it, words usually reserved for Micah. She should have been honored. Micah was always ‘full of shit,’ she was ‘melodramatic’, which was just a polite way of saying the same thing. “I think you’ve been reading too many Travis McGees,” her father said when she tried to explain how her P.O.S Miata ended out parked beneath thirteen feet of water. He didn’t buy her story of outrunning masked gunmen in a Ford Explorer. Even his friend Joe agreed that pushed the limits of credibility. Her father alternated between relief that she survived her long drive off a short pier and frustration that she held to such an elaborate lie. Just tell the truth, he insisted, and she’d be in less trouble. Just admit she was screwing around and miscalculated one of her high-speed drifting skids into the lot. It was a maneuver she’d honed to perfection, and yet another driving technique her father banned, arguing she’d either get herself killed or raise his insurance rates. It was hard to tell which worried him more.

“Stop lying,” he said. Over and over. He wouldn’t listen.

But now she had proof. She nearly said, “I told you so,” but the words choked in her throat.

The Witch plunged into a wave, taking spray over the bow as she drifted off course. Hazel shifted the wheel, watching the compass as she returned to a heading of 139o. Her destination was deep water, the deeper the better. The depth finder confirmed the ocean’s bottom, over one hundred feet below, gradually dropping away.

The companionway banged open, startling her. Light from an oil lamp spilled out across the deck as Joe came above. Sweat glistened from his shaved head and thick neck, soaking his shirt and making the octopus tattooed over his arm seem even more realistic. He staggered to the rail, gulping mouthfuls of fresh air, looking like a queasy pit-bull. Her father emerged from below, and he studied her with concern. His broad shoulders hung with exhaustion, sweat slicked back his long hair, and the strain in his eyes made him look older than his thirty-six years. “She’s still in shock,” Ian said, half to himself.

Joe rubbed the stubble on his chin and scanned the darkness. “All clear?”

Do you buy description by the gallon?
This is so over wrought I'm thinking Puccini should write the score.


Contrast this with:

It was to have been a quiet evening at home.

Home is the Busted Flush, 52-foot barge-type houseboat, Slip F-018, Bahia Mar; Lauderdale.

Home is where the privacy is. Draw all the opaque curtain, button the hatches, and with the whispering drone of the air conditioning masking all the sounds of the outside world, you are no longer check to jowl with the random activities aboard the neighbor craft. You could be in a rocket beyond Venus, or under the icecap.

Because it is a room aboard, I call it the lounge, and because that is one of the primary activities.

I was sprawled on a deep curve of the corner couch, studying charts of the keys trying to work up enough enthusiasm and energy to

which is the opening of The Deep Blue Good Bye by John D. Macdonald.

I've stopped reading after paragraph one.

HH Com Rd 2- #6 (100)

Hook Here

Okay, Megan." Bill the engineer's voice echoed in the shadowy studio. "Your second caller tonight is Regina, who says she's having suicidal thoughts."

"Are you—" The intro music blared, ended. Megan glared both at Bill and her new boss Richard Randall, the station manager. They'd agreed calls like this would be referred to a suicide hotline. The silence stretched. Bill waved his arms and pointed, his face reddening.

Dead air was the worst thing that could happen on the radio. Richard drummed that into her so hard in the last few weeks leading to this inaugural show, silence of any kind was starting to make Megan uncomfortable. Not good when you lived alone and had no friends.

"Welcome back to Personal Demons," she finally said. "Our next caller is Regina. Hi Regina, how can I slay your demons tonight?"

Richard nodded. They'd fought over that stupid opening line, just as they'd fought over the immense publicity campaign the studio orchestrated. (radio stations are called stations, not studios. Movie companies are studios)

Richard won, because Richard signed the paychecks. (take out the because and make two shorter sentences. It brings that bit of explanation to a close and signals we're moving on)

Silence. Megan tried again. "Regina? Welcome to the show, Regina."

"I'm scared." The small, almost childish voice brought with it a rush of images that raised goosebumps on Megan's skin. The pale, pointed face of a woman, her limp blond hair tucked behind her ears. Blood, red and viscous, washed across her skin and hid her features. Gnarled six-toed feet stepped in the blood and left prints. (take out everything in italics)

Megan gasped, jumping back in her chair. The vision was so real for a second she expected to see the horrible footprints on the floor of the studio. She shook her head. What the hell was that? (you say this better in the next paragraph)

Bill and Richard went crazy behind the glass. Oops. Time to pretend she wasn't psychic and hadn't just been assaulted by images she didn't understand.

"Sorry, sorry Regina . We had a minor technical problem. You said you're scared?"

"Yes." Regina sniffled. "I can't do it anymore. I can't take it anymore."

"Can't take what?" Now the initial terrifying flash had passed, Megan received more mundane pictures. A car, an office looking like every other office. An attractive man, smiling down at her—at Regina. A boyfriend, maybe?

"The voices. They talk to me all the time. When I'm awake, when I'm asleep…I hear them."


Regina didn't answer right away. Megan pictured her nodding, forgetting they were on the phone. "Evil voices. They tell me to…to hurt myself. To hurt other people. And I don't do it, but I think I might. I have to make them stop."

Shit. This was much, much worse than anything Megan could handle over a quick radio phone call. "Okay, Regina," she said. "Where do you hear these voices? Is it just when you're alone, or is it when other people are with you?"

"At first it was just when I was alone. I tried to be around people all the time, you know? To keep them quiet. But now they're always talking, singing…chanting."

"And you're thinking of harming yourself?"

Regina sobbed, her hitching breaths loud through the phone. "I don't know how to make them be quiet. They won't go away, they won't go away, and they say horrible things, and they want me to do horrible things, and I think if I were dead I wouldn't hear them anymore. I don't want to die. But I can't listen to them anymore either." (exclamation points, use judiciously are your friends)

Regina's problems went further than simply being lonely and depressed. Megan didn't feel organic mental illness from the girl, but mentally sound people did not hear voices. And none of this accounted for that scaly, misshapen foot or the panic it inspired.

"Regina, suicide is never the answer. Listen to me. You can be helped. We can find out why this is happening to you, and we can make those voices go away. Okay? You can be happy again. You're a good person, Regina, and you deserve to be happy, right?"

"I don't know. I don't think so. They told me I'm not, they told me they're with me because I'm bad."

"You're not bad, Regina," Megan forgot her nerves, forgot the radio listeners, and spoke directly to Regina. "Not at all. I bet the people you work with don't think you're bad, do they?" The face of the man in the office flashed up again. "Maybe there's a few people there you can trust, who you can talk to?"

Regina blew her nose, which sounded wonderful on-air. "Maybe."

Pare down. You only need to say things once. And you'd benefit from speaking this aloud and seeing how you'd say it if you were actually talking.

I like this idea, I thought the hook was really good, but it needs more polish before I'd read past the five pages you'd send in a query.


HH Com Rd 2 - #5 (92)

Hook here

I, Steven Morgan Carter, being able to read and write, would like to give my stuff away if I die. After what happened this morning, I had to be sure the right things would be done, just in case.

My little brother, Justin, can have any of my toys he wants. Mom can have my clothes and pictures. Dad can have my video games. Andy, my best friend and the only one who understands Doorstep, can have him. And the red wagon we pull him around in. Pieter can have his checker board back, even though he’s been dead for five hundred years. I’ll tell you how to find him in a minute. ***

Everything started this morning. Dad was working on the computer and Mom was helping Justin with a school project. So I grabbed a donut and ran out the door. I cut across two yards to reach Andy’s house. His house is the smallest one on our street, and usually pretty messy. Not from Andy though. Mostly from his Dad. He doesn’t cut the grass or take out the trash, so his mom has to do everything.

I knocked on the back door and went in. I think Andy’s Dad must’ve been working. He’s a policeman. Sometimes he works double shifts.

“Andy’s upstairs. Would you like something to eat?” Andy’s mom asked. Even if someone didn’t know it, they’d guess that she’s a nurse. She’s always trying to take care of things.

“No thanks, Mrs. Turner.” I ran upstairs to Andy’s room. The whole house can look like a bomb exploded with papers and bottles everywhere, but Andy’s room is different. He cleans his own room. Puts everything he owns in piles or containers. He doesn’t like posters on the walls. He likes to hang up class pictures. I would too if I looked as good as him. He may be on the short side, but he’s got nice blonde hair. A lot of girls in Miss Donnelly’s class giggle when they’re around him.

Andy was sitting on the floor when I walked in. He had a bunch of tools spread out around him. He’s been collecting this stuff since the second grade.

“Let’s go to the old Kruger house!” I said. I hadn’t been there since school started a month ago. This would be just the break I needed from Miss Donnelly. She’s always inking up my work, and I can hardly read anything she writes. Going to the Kruger house would make me forget about school.

“But I just got these new screwdrivers.” Andy was busy sorting them. Sometimes I call him Handy. Handy Andy. He’s my best friend. He’s good at fixing things, reading books, picking noses, and scratching butts. His own, that is.

“Come on! You can do that later.” I said.

Andy looked at his Deluxe Micronic Steel Screwdriver Set then looked at me. “Okay. Just give me a sec.” He put everything away nice and neat and then we ran out the house.

We had to cross over two corn fields and one long patch of woods to get to the Kruger house. No-one’s lived there for a long time. It’s falling apart all over the place. Each time we go there, it looks worse and worse.

“You sure it’s not haunted?” Andy said when we got there. He always says that.

“Yeah, right. You gotta stop believing the older kids.” High schoolers think they can scare us. And I really wanted to see inside the house this time.

“We come here all the time. It’s time to go in. Let’s go.” I looked at the doorway and then at Andy. Andy’s afraid of ghosts, and deep-down he believes the high-schoolers.

“You first.” Andy said.

This was my cue. So I started pointing back and forth. “Eeny, meeny, miny, mo. My mother stepped all over your mother’s toe. If she kicks you, let her go. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo!”

“You’re ‘It’!” Andy shouted.

“All right.” I rolled my eyes. If Andy hadn’t been my best friend, he would’ve been bordering on the weenie category.

The Kruger house had a small porch. There were vines hanging off everywhere-the roof, the floor, the posts. They looked like creepy green spiderwebs. Big, rotting holes covered the wooden floor.

The door was brown, with gray peeling paint. It was half open. That was the tempting part. If it had been all the way closed, we never would have gone in.

*** notice how that sly little sentence just slides in and leaves you wanting more? You've almost forgotten it but it's there, in your brain, whispering "read on, read on".

My only quibble with this is that I don't think boys notice appearance in a way that "nice blond hair" indicates. Most boys I know who are that age (a very very small number in fact) seem to judge how "tough" they each are. I'm not even sure they know the word blond, let alone nice.

This is one of the hardest things about writing kids books in first person--getting not just the voice, but the actual words right.

I'd read on though; diction is important but I can fix that if I had to.

HH Com Rd 2 - #4 (76)

Down Under (hook here)

New York City. August 3.

“We have a problem.”

The man behind the desk reached for a pen. “Well? I’m waiting.”

“You’re not going to like this,” his caller warned. “McDermott’s dead.” (you don't need "warned" cause you've already got "you're not going to like this. You don't even need "his caller warned. We know who's talking)

“How? Who?” The man demanded, in the voice of someone who expects his questions to be answered. (too much description slows down the narration)

“I’m not entirely sure. Autopsy’s pending, but fortunately I’ve got a local contact feeding me the results. Prelim cause of death is drowning. He was fished out of the harbor in Cairns after one of the tourists spotted a body floating in the water. Apparently, our group went out on a little cruise to the reef, and somewhere along the way, McDermott went overboard.

“Since he’s not the suicidal type, I suspect he had some help, but whether he was pushed, doped and pushed, clubbed and pushed, or otherwise assisted, I don’t know. The crew’s pretty careful about keeping track of the passengers, so they know everyone was accounted for when they left the reef. They usually do a head count when they arrive back in Cairns, but hadn’t had a chance before the body was spotted.

“It seems he was entangled in some sort of rope. I don’t know if that was deliberate, because someone wanted the body found, or an accident. It’s possible that his killer thought his disappearance might be overlooked.

“The boat had a couple of other tour groups on board, so besides our friends, there’s about 100 more suspects to consider, not counting the crew.”

“What about the tourist that discovered him?” Theman was jotting notes on a piece of paper.

“That’s the funny thing. She’s about the only one on the ship that has an alibi. It was one of the Boston women, Zoe Chandler. Apparently the lady was suffering from a bout of mal-de-mer, and spent the trip back either inside under the watchful eye of the bartender, or outside under the watchful eye of the captain. They’re probably used to seasick tourists, but this one is young and cute, and the crew is mostly male. She was wrapped up in a bright fluorescent yellow and pink towel, not exactly inconspicuous. If she moved, she’d have had at least one if not more of
the men at her side. (this is all set up blather)

“I’m mainly concentrating on our group, but I can’t rule out a crew member, or even one of the other tourists. I can’t believe coincidence, but I also can’t understand who would have anything to gain from his death.”

“Don’t you worry about that.” The man capped his pen. (what an odd thing to notice or include) “Just keep your eye on all of them, and don’t forget what you’re there for.”

“I won’t,” his caller said softly, and hung up.

Boston. February 14.

When my friend Jenna first invited me to accompany her to Australia, I had no idea what the future held. I pictured a trip filled with fuzzy kangaroos, handsome cowboys, and exotic fish, all bordered by deep blue ocean. And sunshine, but since it was a typical Boston winter, I would have stuck a sunny beach into any fantasy. In fact, had I known what I was actually getting into, I would have stayed home. It’s too bad no one has invented a good way to predict the future like they do the weather.

(here's your starting point)
“The forecast for Sydney in August: cloudy and cool, with a chance of corpses.”

We had just gone to a movie, to celebrate both being single on Valentine’s Day, and returned to Jen’s Back Bay condo to drown our sorrows with the better part of a bottle of Chardonnay. Outside, the wind was blowing and the streets were covered in dirty grey snow, so it was no wonder that the picture of bikini-clad surfers caught my attention. “What’s this,” I asked, picking up the thick brochure.

“Oh, that’s a conference I’m going to this summer. One of those dull programming seminars, but it’s in Sydney and the conference people have arranged for a couple of tours around Australia while we’re there. It’s a great deal-you get to visit the major tourist sites, probably for cheaper than if I arranged it all on my own.

“Actually, Zoe, you should come with me. It’s even cheaper if I share a room with someone, but I don’t want to deal with some random stranger. You can take a week or so off in August, can’t you? It’ll be fun.”

“I’ve always wanted to visit Australia,” I mused, looking wistfully at the surfers.

Splat splat splat. You've got a big fat wad of information in the first part--a dreaded prologue I fear. First of all, no one talks like that. Shorter sentences will help.

Second, you've told us there's a corpse, then you go back to Boston to let us know that Zoe is on her way to Sydney in six months?? I KNEW that.

Get to the story. Prune ruthlessly.

HH Com Rd 2 -#3 (40)

Tiny Chocolate Crosses (hook here)

One town over, they’re digging up the wrong daughter with a backhoe. I know this because I am home unexpectedly with a sick child and we are watching the local noontime news, sipping ginger ale. I hear the reporter say that most days this public works crew just fills potholes, clears storm drains, or weeds the flowerbed in front of city hall. I expect him to recount a kitten rescue or a black bear sighting in the business district. This is news in northern Michigan.

Instead, he uses a word I’ve never heard spoken in conjunction with kittens or native wildlife: “exhume.” Under the stoic eyes of local cops and the Michigan State Police, they were exhuming the body of a downstate girl, Laura VanRyn; college student, devout Christian, volleyball player, sister, and yes, daughter.

For five weeks the body of Laura VanRyn lay in a casket that was not her casket, buried in a hometown cemetery that was not in her hometown, deep in a plot marked with a headstone that did not bear her name. The 1,400 mourners who attended her closed-casket funeral weeks earlier had not cried for her. She did not appear in the video that was shown to celebrate her life; she was not the smiling blonde in the footage of a family enjoying Easter dinner together. The fresh flowers laid upon her grave were not among her favorites, and neither were the bible verses read aloud as she was lowered into the ground.

I turn the television off. My son is nine and for as long as possible I want him to go on thinking that having an ear infection on a sunny spring day is the very worst thing possible. But I find that I cannot pull my mind away from their story, neither right then nor for many months afterward.

That night, after all three of my sons have gone to bed, I turn the television back on. The newsman looks grim. More grim than usual, I think. He says that on April 26, 2006, five college students were killed in a highway accident when a semi-truck plowed into the van they were riding in. The driver fell asleep at the wheel of his 80,000-pound rig. The crash scene was a mess of torn metal, personal belongings, and bodies. Purses and backpacks were thrown awry.

One survivor was airlifted to an area trauma center. She had brain damage, broken bones, cuts over her face, and was in a coma. She would live. Her name was Whitney Cerak. The name on her medical chart, the name that was used to admit her to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, the name on the driver’s license and student ID card placed on the gurney with her, the name spoken aloud by onlookers, was Laura Van Ryn. Another girl would be pronounced dead at the scene and her body would be taken to a make-shift morgue. The name the coroner wrote on her death certificate, the name hospital staff used to identify her body, the name listed among the dead was Whitney Cerak. Her real name was Laura VanRyn

I think about my youngest son sleeping upstairs under his comforter with rockets and planets on it and how glad I am that he has an ear infection. Just an ear infection. I think about my two older sons, lanky big-eared teenagers with plans for college someday. College. Where they will study for tests, memorize poems and history dates, and maybe even occasionally miss their mother. College, where they will be free to get into cars with people I will never meet, and hurtle down the highway at ungodly speeds to this event or that. Where they will slide by untold numbers of sleepy men driving semi-trucks.

The CNN ticker rolls by on the bottom of the screen like a robotic soothsayer. “What a heartbreaking tragedy. Hard to believe this thing could happen,” anchor Wolf Blitzer says. He in his flak jacket and me on my couch have witnessed young soldiers blown up in the desert, whole villages washed away in a tsunami, airplanes crashing into history, dying babies on rooftops in New Orleans, and yet we are moved by this story of two families from insignificant mid-western towns, living out their good and anonymous lives. Whose daughters are these? Whose daughters were they in those five weeks when they carried each other’s names? Whose daughter, I wonder, am I?

This is really good writing. It's also a memoir about adoption ie a tough market because there's been a lot on that subject so the bar for fresh and new is really high.

I'd invest in 50 pages of reading to get a sense of this but I'd want a syopsis that showed me what was going to make this stand out from the crowd.

I'd want to make sure these two stories are integrated throughout the book as well, that it's not just up front to catch my interest like a big sign that says FREE and small lettering that says (after $100 purchase).

HH Com Rd 3 -#2 (29)

Leonardo's Secret (hook here)

Yesterday, Richie Parsons had returned his very overdue books—"Football Stars of the 1970's" and "Extreme Board Game Review"--to the library.

Today, Richie had to face the consequences.

"Dude, they're gonna make you clean out trash cans!" his best friend Jackson Gomez whispered to him in the cafeteria. Jack's eyes darted left and right.

"I don't know what they'll make me do," Richie said, biting into a ketchup-soaked fry.

"I heard a bully girl hangs out there and she like eats sixth-graders for snack!" Jack said.

"Who told you that?" Richie asked with a gulp. Maybe he could just quit school, escape to South America and grow a beard.

But since he'd spent his allowance on comic books, he really had no choice. After school, Richie walked into the Summerville Public Library with Jack's words echoing in his mind.

Librarian Jessica Goodwin sat at the desk adjusting the spines of old books. She didn't seem to notice Richie as he opened the wooden gate separating the librarians from the children sitting at the tables with faces drooped in their homework. (We're in Richie's POV-"Mrs Goodwin sat" has a better feel. We know she's the librarian and Richie doesn't know her full name probably)

Richie sat down in a chair opposite Mrs. Goodwin. She was now flipping through the books. She ignored him while Richie cleared his throat and fidgeted.

"Please don't just sit there like a rock, young man. Pick up a book and inspect it," Mrs. Goodwin said. She never did take her bifocals (does Richie know what bifocals are?) off the book she was looking through. Richie picked up a book with a green binding ("V is for Victory Garden") which looked as old as the librarian. He opened it and flipped through the pages. The musty smell came back at him in a flurry. At the section on tomatoes a small bookmark fell out and Richie threw it in the trash. So far, so good.

Just then, a girl walked up to the gate. She had long brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail . Her face was full of freckles and she wore a baseball shirt with half sleeves. "Aunt Jessica, do you want me to wait for him or should I shelve now?" she asked Mrs. Goodwin.

"We'll just be a minute, Shirley Temple. Why don't you get something to read until then?" The librarian went back to work on her stack of books as the girl left.

Mrs. Goodwin's hands worked on the old books as if they were on autopilot. She unfolded the dog-ears, smoothed out the wrinkles and adjusted the spines. More than just a book doctor, she was a book nurse who gave them tender loving care.

"Mrs. Goodwin, what should I do?" Richie asked, after a few moments.

"Fiction is alphabetical by the author's last name, so take this stack." She stood up and pushed the cart over to him. "And remember, if the first letters are the same, use the numbers."

Maybe cleaning trash cans would have been more fun. Richie rolled the cart to section A-C and shelved one by Anderson, and another by Anthony. The third book was written by O'Malley, so he turned the corner and headed to the "O-N" aisle. But the girl with the strange name blocked him, and in fact she sat exactly where he needed to shelve O'Malley.

"I have to shelve this," Richie said.

"Then shelve it," the girl said. She wore jeans that bell-bottomed around her canvas tennis shoes. She had drawn pictures of winged horses on her pants.

"The shelf's behind you."

"I'm reading," she said.

"Well there's a whole library for you to read…" he bent over to read the title of her book, "The Bride of Donnigan."

She seemed to get even more irritated. "It's 'A Bride for Donnigan' and it's none of your business what I read, so get!" (you don't need to describe how they talk-what they say, and your sentence structure should tell us)

"Just move your butt for a second and I can put the stupid book on the shelf!"

"You mean this book?" The girl stood up and snatched the book right out of his hand. Now she'd done it!

"Give it back!" Richie hollered. (again with the description) An unseen librarian shushed him as she put the book up nearly to his face to taunt him.

Richie was set to grab it from her hand when he felt the hardcover of O'Malley smash his nose as the girl punched the back of the book. He yelled and felt the blood drip out of his nostrils. While he bled all over the Summerville Public Library rug, Richie remembered Jack's words: he'd met the library's bully girl alright.

You're telling not showing in key places. At the climax of this scene, you've got long ass sentences when shorter more focused ones will SHOW us what's happening. This needs some of that book nursing.

HH Com Rd 2- #1 (27)

Hook here


The question screamed inside my brain.

Bouncing around in pinball fashion, rebounding and echoing, ever since the phone call.

I flopped down on the couch, vexed by self-inquisition.

Neither the brightly painted walls nor the peeling mural on the ceiling responded to my query.

I didn't want to be here. It was too eccentric, too loud, too…everything. Sensory overload inundated me.

As my eyes drifted aimlessly around the room, a wave of revulsion crashed over me.


Why to everything. Why was I here? Why had my father left me this God-awful place? Why were he and my mother dead?

An intense urge to escape overpowered me. I felt confined, imprisoned by this noisy, malodorous space. If I stayed another minute my head would explode. Grabbing my purse, I flew down the stairs and out the door. I'd run about twenty steps when a heavily accented man's voice warned, "Better lock your door! Thieves."

Startled, I stopped and turned so quickly I tripped over my own feet.

Oh God, why am I such a klutz?

Embarrassed by my awkward behavior and ignorance, I fumbled in my bag for keys, forgetting that the electronic door lock requires using the keypad, then glanced up to see who was issuing the admonition.

A short Italian man, who looked just like Mario from the video game, stood on the stoop of the adjacent building, smoking a cigarette. He scowled at me, hands on protruding hips.

Great, the Unwelcome Wagon. The strong smell of garlic drifted out his open door, assaulting me.

I hate garlic.

I blushed and attempted a weak smile while heading back towards my door. "Umm, yeah…. Thanks."

Focusing on my own doorway, I took a few clumsy steps, feeling foolish about my neophyte urban conduct. Liz, you're in the big city now, I chided myself. Kansas City's River Market area is not your idyllic little Ozark horse ranch, where you never needed to lock the doors. Feeling guilty for not acknowledging my neighbor any further, I glanced back up to see his door slamming shut.

Screw him.

I felt drained; all my emotions spent.

Typing the code into the keypad, I was now protected from "thieves" (and with all that damned garlic, werewolves) . I got in my car and turned on the ignition. For a moment, I wanted to lay my head on my arms and sob. Instead, I breathed in, wrinkling my nose at the intruding pungency, and drove slowly away. The large wrought-iron gates of Mt. Washington Forever Cemetery flanked me as I passed through them. I didn't even remember driving here, but somehow I had arrived.

A calming sense of familiarity came over me, and I traveled up the steep, winding lane, releasing a deep sigh.

God it's beautiful here.

I got out of the car, and noticed a black SUV driving slowly along on the avenue below.

A chill ran down my spine, then I felt foolish for letting everything get to me. I didn't recognize it, or know the make and model, but I'm not good at identifying automobiles, despite having recently test-driven dozens of them.

"Did you read all the consumer reports baby girl?" Daddy had questioned over dinner.

"Of course, Daddy. The Nissan tested the highest."

A new automobile - my parents' college graduation gift to me.

"Pick a model?"

I nodded admission, lest Mama reprimand me for talking with food in my mouth.

Daddy said we were going to Kansas City, grinned at Mama, and, as he always did, started singing the old song:

"Goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come," he crooned, using his fork as a faux microphone.

We all laughed, because Daddy couldn't sing worth a damn.

"But Daddy, there's a Nissan dealer in town," I said.

"Yes sweetie, but Dan Albright is a prick, and we're not buying a car from him."

I snickered, my brother Tom snorted and Mama rolled her eyes. "Jim, don't talk that way at the dinner table," she said, but she was trying to refrain from chuckling too.

"Alice, there are a lot worse things I could have called him, and you know it. Like…"

Mama swatted at him with her napkin. "Don't you dare! Not at the dinner table!" She smiled though, with a tender look in her eyes.

Memories flooded over me as I approached the gravesite. Two fresh mounds. The sense of melancholy many graveyard visitors experience did not engulf me though.

ok, this one is a flop.

It's over written starting from the first three sentences: The question screamed inside my brain. Bouncing around in pinball fashion,

and then there's this clinker: vexed by self-inquisition.
followed by this: Neither the brightly painted walls nor the peeling mural on the ceiling responded to my query.

I've stopped reading at this point.

Over writing-using too many words, using complete sentences in thoughts, and saying things twice is one of the biggest faults I see in writing I'm getting in the slush pile.

Pare DOWN.

You don't need Sensory overload inundated me to say "sensory overload". We infer inundated from sensory overload. Short sharp sentences communicate the feeling more than actual words.

I'm glad you're alive to say this Barbara Seranella

I've always loved the Munch Mancini novels.
I think I'd like the author too.

Here's why
(LATimes site requires registration)

Miss Snark is not a man

You railed at one (HHCom) writer for mentioning a Jewish character that didn't have any apparent reason to be Jewish. Is it considered poor taste to have some characters in a large cast be non-WASPS primarily for the sake of diversity? Or is it just poor taste to call attention to a character's ethnic/racial/whatever status in a query and/or synopsis?

My objection is that "the doctor who was a Jew" didn't tell us anything we needed to know in the hook and thus comes off as using religion to describe something that didn't have anything to do with religion. Would "the doctor who was a Zoroastrian" be seen the same way?

If the doctor couldn't work on Friday cause he's Hasidic that's something that adds to the plot.

It's like the newspapers that used to mention race ONLY if the subject wasn't white, as if white is the default setting for race. You'd find it hilarious if everyone assumed people were female unless otherwise indicated (females being the majority).

I much prefer a writer using assumptions against expectations. One of the most brilliant uses of this was one of Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar novels; I forget which ones. Harlan Coben is actually a master of using your expectations against you. I'm not the rabid fan of his stand alones that I am of his string of Myron books, but I do think he's a fabulous writer and story teller.

How many email addresses do you have?

When you're talking to an agent: ONE is the correct number.

Here's why: We get a lot of email. I don't take e-queries and I get 175 emails a day right now (not counting the email from this blog which is in a different mail server program). I use a mail program that allows me to color code things: red for current clients; blue for editors; pink for poodles; green for (CLUE) prospective clients. If I'm reading a partial or a full from you, you're not choppped liver, you're GREEN. The drawback is, I use the email address you put on your query letter and if you reply to me with a different address, you're back in the basic black slush. Even if you leave my subject line intact I might miss it, and I'll for sure be slower in responding.

This is not good. No no.

Pick one email address. You might consider having a separate mail program just for your book biz, and having a default address to send things.

This particularly applies if you have mail on your website.

This isn't some sort of "automatic no" if you don't do it. It just makes life easier. And it means I can get back to you with the kind of speed we BOTH want.

More on exclusives...#3 topic that will not die

Dear Miss Snark,

Post Crapometer, I inserted my (much improved) hook into a query letter and sent it out to ten agents. Agent A responded quite promptly with a request for my full. I was VERY excited. I sent the full out a tenth of a second later. I remain VERY excited.

But what am I to do if Agent B requests my partial/full? Can I send it to her? No discussion of Exclusive Look v. Non-exclusive Look ever occurred with Agent A, so I have no idea what’s okay with him. I want to act in way that is both nice and professional. I don’t want to piss anyone off. What do you advise?

Send your ms, full or partial, to everyone who asks. If an agent asks for an exclusive (boo! hiss!) you explain other people are reading it and you'll be glad to send it if s/he would like to read it knowing that.

If you get asked for an exclusive, it's up to you, but do make sure there's a time window clearly understood and it's SHORT. I don't give more than a week to EDITORS who have cash in their reticules, so you shouldn't be giving agents much more than that.

I've said it before, I'll say it again:

Exclusives Stink.


Nitwits are surpassing bamboo as the fastest growing brainless life form

Hi Miss Snark,

I have a question that will make you want to punch me in the mouth. I remember when the commission for literary agents was 10 percent. It was so ingrained that agents were known as ten-percenters. Then, about 8 or 10 years ago, you guys raised your commission to 15 percent. At the same time, authors’ royalties were dropping. Deep-discount royalties used to be a rarity, and now they’re the norm.

How do you justify your humongous 15 percent commission?

What the hell are deep discount royalties?

If by some chance you mean royalties from deeply discounted sales, like those to WalMart and Costco, the sales outlet is called that but it's not the royalty rate.

I'm pretty sure royalty rates haven't dropped much, if at all, but then I'm not an old fart kvetching about how much prices have gone up since the good old days.

Feel free to not send me a query letter if you think I'm not worth it. In fact, hang out your shingle for 10% and see what you can do. Keep me posted on your progress.

Finding Satan

During the last Book Hook Snark-O-Meter I saw you respond over and over to various entrants, "Where is the antagonist?" But what if the book is a mystery and the antagonist shows up as a normal person all throughout the book and it's only at the very end when the protags find out who the killer is, although they both knew him as a friend?

Doesn't the hook mainly focus on the beginning of the story and the protags' problems and what's keeping them from solving them right away? Or did you maybe mean the antag should be mentioned in the context of the problems he presents, in this case the crime? I'm speaking of a book that doesn't have scenes in the antag's POV. From reading posts on DorothyL over a period of years, most of that list's inhabitants strongly dislike scenes where the reader has to get inside the antag's head and listen to all that angst, as do I because it's been so overused in recent years.

So my question is: If you don't have any antagonist-head-scenes, how would you expect to see the antag presented in a hook, if at all?.

Mostly I want to know you HAVE one. When you send me a query, there's been no filter. I don't assume you even know what a bad guy is or that aliens don't belong in chapter 14. Your hook helps me see that you have a correctly constructed novel. From the examples you saw (and in the upcoming round two) you'll see that vivid writing can trump all of that. A good percentage of the "bingo bango bongo" entries didn't follow the XYZ form at all.

XYZ is to help you make sure you DO have all the elements and that you talk about them, rather than world building or long ass descriptions.

The function of a hook in a query letter is MUCH different than a hook on the dust jacket of a book. By the time someone picks up the book in a bookstore, more than a few people have read it and said "yea, this is good". When you send me a query letter, I'm reading with no such assurances. Being clear you know what you're doing is a good thing.

Ok, no ice floe just yet...

Yet another reason to love youtube: Mr. Clooney interviews

(Jaye gets thanks for the link, and the coffee out the nose)

Miss Snark considers the ice floe for herself

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks for running the blog and for your occasional crapometers. They are very educational for us. Hopefully the quality of queries you receive has improved some since you started this.

After reading 1000? of your crits of hooks, queries, synopses, and first pages, I think I'm clear on what generates an automatic form: bad writing, no organization, not following directions, querying a genre/topic you just don't represent. But lately I've known a lot of people who've been getting forms on requested fulls. Since the agent has already seen the writing and a synopsis, what does a form mean on this level? I'm not saying that an agent should sign all fulls s/he requests. I just don't understand what the form response means.

Let's start the New Year right by reminding everyone what my job is: selling. I only make money when I sell something. SELL. Every minute I spend writing non-form letters to you on a query, partial, or a full is one minute I'm not doing what generates income.

My job is NOT to edit, coach, be nice, or be helpful.

Form letters mean No.

That's it.

One of the things I learned from running the HHCom this time around was I am very much ok with saying "you get a form letter from me". We did 650+ hooks here. I read EVERY ONE and thought about what to say. I could do 50 in a day, and at the end of it my brain was fried. I get 100 query letters a week; I read 5 partials a week, and 5 fulls a month. Do the math. That would be an EXTRORDINARY amount of time spent on feed back...NONE of which earns me any money at all.

A form letter means no. It doesn't mean you stink, your writing sux, or should fling yourself on an ice floe and give up writing.

It just means, for whatever reason, I am not taking this project.

Move on.
Don't obsess.

the 411 on the 011

Dear Miss Snark,

I clearly understand the process of selling a book to US publishers, through an agent.

Does the writer's agent automatically work to sell the book overseas for foreign rights (assuming that the novel is of the type that would translate well) or does the writer have to request the agent specifically to look into translation rights and foreign rights?

Thanks for your information.

It depends on what rights you sold to your US publisher. If you sold "world rights" the US publisher will be ferreting out the deals in Dubai. If you sold them "North American", your agent might be canoodling with Kirabati OR she may have a relationship with an agent who will canoodle on her behalf. And there are a lot of projects where we do a little of both.

Your general question though is "should I prod the old girl into telephoning Tonga for me" and the answer is "Malo e lelei!". If your agent hasn't mentioned shopping foreign rights, go ahead and ask what's being done. This is your agent, and your book. You don't need permission to speak to her or ask about the status of your project.

Miss Snark is in the market for a rocket launcher fully loaded with clues

Original question:

Miss Snark:

I have recently sent a query letter to an agent and this was his answer:

Hi Steven,

This sounds ambitious, and could have potential, but I wouldn't be the right agent for it – you might try the [Name of Agency] on this, or [Name of Agency].

Best wishes,
[Name of agent]

What exactly was his point? If it has potential why didn't he want it and "threw" me to other agencies?

Miss Snark replied:
This is called a referral. You thank your lucky stars for it right fucking now and send him email saying same.

Clues are on special this week at Wal-Mart. Stock up.

And lo! and behold, the email provides this follow up:

What do you mean by that? Should I send the same agent again the query letter?

Here is the best advice I've ever given anyone: stop querying. Stop right now. You are so clue free as to be a menace to yourself. You may have the next Harry Potter on your harddrive but like a 10 year old in a Ferrari, you can't see over the wheel. Spend some time learning about the industry. Don't rush. Right now you've got your head so far up your alimentary canal you'll be able to lick your lips.

Do us all a favor, sit quietly and learn something.

It's never enough, is it?

Miss Snark:

I have recently sent a query letter to an agent and this was his answer:

Hi Steven,

This sounds ambitious, and could have potential, but I wouldn't be the right agent for it – you might try the [Name of Agency] on this, or [Name of Agency].

Best wishes,
[Name of agent]

What exactly was his point? If it has potential why didn't he want it and "threw" me to other agencies?

This is called a referral. You thank your lucky stars for it right fucking now and send him email saying same.

Clues are on special this week at Wal-Mart. Stock up.


Agentese translation with a PS

Miss Snark: I hope this isn't a nitwit question but... What does it mean when an agent tells you they liked your material but "it would be a difficult book for us to market"? Is that just a kind way of saying your writing stinks?

Nope. It means they can't think of who/where to sell it. "Your writing stinks" is "not right for us at this time".

PS: "not right for us at this time" doesn't always mean your writing sux. But if your writing sux, you're not going to hear much beyond "not right for us at this time".


Hi Ms. Snark,

Recently I was contacted by an editor at a small publishing house. I wrote a commentary for a newspaper and he was writing to let me know that he'd enjoyed my writing and was interested in me having my own single-author book. I'm really excited and this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but...I'm mystified and have so many questions.

At which stage do I need a literary agent?

Should I be content and move forward with this company or attempt to capture the attention of other editors (if at all possible?).

Because it's a small publishing house is there a chance that I wouldn't be as visible as I would with a larger entity ?I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I do want to do things properly and not make major decisions out of overwhelming excitement.

Did you think this editor is just the first in a horde of eager New York editors who are a day behind him cause they can't read the map and had to stop for directions?

You've got ONE guy who wants your work. That's it.

You need an agent but you probably can't get one cause there's not enough money in the deal. If you proceed, email me again and I'll give you the name of a contract review specialist who will review the contract for you. Don't sign anything without a publishing expert looking at it.

This could be a good opportunity for you. Sell the hell out of this, and you may well have a shot at bigger things.

Grateful is not a word you want to use in a business relationship. You have a good product; this guy stands to make some money if it sells. You can both be grateful if you want but it's not just a one sided dea..

Nitwit of the Day!

If a literary agent says"email me the book"--all 385 pages of it, is this a wise thing to do, or should one insist on wasting the $25 on postage and send an old fashioned snail-mail copy?

Follow the damn directions.

Friends indeed

Dear Miss Snark,

Here is my situation: in graduate school, I told a prof about my writing (my degree was not an MFA). He mentioned that he happened to be friends with a certain well-known literary agent--when he told me her name, I almost fell off my chair. He also told me to give him my novel as soon as it was ready and he'd show it to her.

Fast forward. I have spent the past two years in Europe, living and working and writing my novel. Now it is almost ready. The prof is willing to hand it over to his agent friend without having read it himself. So...how will she feel about this? Is she going to be annoyed and just toss it aside since it came from a friend who isn't in publishing, and since she is also super busy and doesn't accept unsolicited work anyway (at least according to her website)? And how should I just give my whole novel to my prof to hand over? Should I include a pitch even though he says to "just give me the whole thing"? Should I bother giving it to him to show her at all, or is this all very unprofessional and rude? (I confess, his promise to show it to her gave me the last bit of confidence I needed to move to Europe and write this book). Would you yourself bother looking at a novel given to you by a friend, and if so, would you have less patience with such a situation than if you had asked to see the novel?

He's giving his agent "friend" a novel he hasn't read? I assure you, he's not really good friends with her or he'd know to not ever do that. However, never miss a chance to let your stuff arrive with a warmer introduction than the slush pile. You don't need to send the whole novel; you can just send a cover letter and the first chapter. If the agent likes it, she'll get back to you. You might tuck an SASE in for good luck.

I read everything my friends send me. Mostly though my friends are savvy enough to just lob an email over the back fence saying "I gave so and so your name cause he's got a great novel".


411 for the 415

Dear Miss Snark,

I regularly contribute book reviews to several national newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle. I'm wondering how I can use my platform as a freelance book critic to find an agent and get my first novel published. (1) If I were to add that I'm at work on my first novel into my tagline in the newspaper reviews, is that the sort of thing that an agent or editor would spot and possibly use to track me down if s/he liked my writing?(2) In a query letter, would putting my publishing credentials up front be a good idea?(3) Does a website that collects my reviews and advertises my novel help in any way?(4) Any other ways you can think to make the leap from sometime journalist to novelist?(5)

1. You don't need platform for a novel. You need to write well.

2. You can certainly add "unpublished novelist" to your tag line and I assure you it will make every author you review sneer at you.

Agents and editors hardly ever read book reviews except for ones about books we've sold. Publicists do, and authors sure do, but I don't. I read Michiko, and the other Times reviewers but that's it. I know who the reveiwers are at the various papers and I talk to some of them, but I don't trawl for clients on their pages.

A book review is not a publishing credential. You can certainly mention it but writing a cogent book review isn't much of an indicator for whether you can write a novel.

4. And you'll want to be REAL careful about publishing those reviews on your website. My guess is that they were created as a work for hire and belong to the Chron. And how do you advertise a novel you haven't written?? "watch this space??"...uh no.

5. Yea, the best way is to write a good novel.

Clue! Clue! I need a Clue!

Is there a way to make your query stand out amongst the others?

Well, you can try writing really well. I've heard that works.

Go for Broke

How much money can a fiction writer expect, on average, for a first book? Assuming he's not a sap. I'm sure you have this somewhere in your FAQ list, but I couldn't find it. (it's not there)

Forget for a moment the speal about how a writer has to "bleed to succeed," and set aside the romantic "writing for the love" angle, and let's talk cashola. Some fella or dame wants to make a living as a fiction writer and has kids to feed and a mortgage to pay. What do blokes like that gotta do, assuming they can pass the Starting Gate and get published?

What sort of money are we talking about? How productive does the writer have to be? One 80k word book per year? Two per year? Twelve?

I know it's more like pricing wine than soda-pop, but even wine has general price RANGES. Like so,

Guy From Mars: "Hey, Earthling, how much does wine cost?"
Earthling: "About fifteen bux. That's for a standard 750ml bottle of table wine. Some is way more, some is way less. Stuff that's way more is probably really good. Stuff that's way less is probably not so great."

If you you want to pay a mortgage and feed the kids, this is the wrong career for you. VERY few writers make a living. Even fewer make a lot of money. Those that do tend to be people who've got backlist that keeps selling for years.

There's a reason a lot of writers have "other" jobs. It's not cause they like flinging suds, or washing duds, or donning scrubs...it's cause they need to earn some dough.

Average advances for fiction run under $10K. If you can live on that, screw writing fiction; write a how-to book.

Let's Kill Cats!

Dear Miss Snark, Two agents asked to see my book. I let both know that another agent was looking. One has asked to know the other's name. What's the rule here? Do I share the names? Many thanks, and wishing you a happy and interesting new year.

"May you live in interesting times" is an old Chinese curse, but I'll overlook that for now given I don't think that's how you meant it...did you?

There is no rule here.

I always want to know who's got their greedy no-good hands on work I want to take on. I have to restrain myself from hacking into the prospective author's email files or sending KY out on a surveillance mission. A small matter of restraining orders and maxed out credit at the bail bondsman on Broadway.

I'm curious cause if it's Barbara Bauer, Ph.D. we're gonna have a whole different kind of conversation than if it's Jenny Bent, or Rachel Vater.

Your real question is though: do you have to reveal that info and the answer is no. Technically it's none of the agent's beeswax. Since curiosity kills cats, we indulge in it frequently here (ok, ok, ....no defense of cat yowling please) but it's still just curiosity nothing more.

Hackney Howler and Phrase..literary agency to the ..um...

I've been glued to your blog these past few weeks (as well as a few others). I don't envy you, but appreciate your generosity.

Anyway, I've seen you mention "hackneyed phrases" and "howlers" that make you reach for the SASE. Another blogger compiled a list:

Can you tell your loyal readers (who are trying to be concise and use "vivid language") whether or not these words and phrases scream cliche! Stale writing! and warrants a "sorry, not for me."

-race against the clock
-web of deceit
-determined to unmask
-wants nothing more
-spins out of control
-torn apart by
-vows to expose
-world falls apart
-forced to confront
shaken (by)
and: desires, mysterious, (the) truth, entire, suspicious, revelation, diabolical, conscience.

Yes, and no.
Yes when they are used in the usual way. For examples you need look no further than many of the HH Com posts.

No, if they are used in a way that brings a fresh or new perspective to the phrase.

"Miss Snark raced against the clock to save the world" is hackneyed. (Of course it's also ludicrous-Miss Snark would never try to race. She has been known to crawl toward gin in a speedy fashion, but racing is left to others.)

"Miss Snark raced against the clock, Hickory Dickory Tock, behind Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley and Sage, the Theramin Marching Band, in the First Gin of the Year 10K "--that's not quite the cliche it should be.

In other words, think about everything you write.

And howlers are phrases that have unintended meanings. Like "Miss Snark's attentions gave rise to Mr Clooney's hopes."

Mr. Clooney-better than Bustello!

Ahhh...now I can actually work; I've gazed upon Mr. Clooney for a morning pick me up!

(thanks to CEP for the linkage)

Oh, the places you'll go!

Hi there,

My name is "Legion" and I'm from "Rabbitania". I recently read White Man's Grave by Richard Dooling, and not only did I really enjoy the book, I appreciated it for the plethora of vocabulary words that will appear on the GRE that I'm taking in January. You seem knowledgeable about writers and I thought you might have an idea of other authors, at par with Dooling, that also use bigger words without being cumbersome or heavy.

Let me know if you have any ideas.

Yup, I'll get right on it.

Memoir-a pesky category buster at best

I've helped a friend prepare her memoirs for publication (she's elderly, not computer savy and a bit disorganized now; she stopped writing 20 years ago.). Two questions for Miss Snark:

1) Should the query letter be in my name on her behalf or written AS IF she had written it?

2) I've taken the manuscript behind the woodshed and chopped off 600 pages of autobiographical and historical material, and darned if a compelling story ( i.e, her experiences during the Nazi occupation of Lorraine, deportation and life in post-war Paris ) didn't emerge from the block.What's a good ratio of early childhood background to the the "real" story of interest in a memoir of an unknown person?

Thanks, Miss Snark, for your invaluable blog!

Is your friend around the bend? Can she take phone calls? If she can't, you've got a problem. Agents are going to want to talk to her directly. Clearly she doesn't have email so you can use your own email contact for the letter.

You'll want the query letter to be from her.

I can't really make even a guess at any ratios, but it's always a good idea to focus on the interesting parts more than the idyllic childhood chasing butterflies around the vineyards.


Closing in on 3500

3493 posts as of tonight.
Hard to believe, isn't it?

A couple of you have been here from the start (waving to Remodeling Repartee, Ami, Brenda Bradshaw, and ScaryX-first commenter!)

A heady thousand more just sailed in for the last COM (stats for Friday 12/15 were triple the usual highs on Mondays).

A lot of you have ruined a lot of keyboards for me (yes Miss Tarquini, and your bevy of bunions, I'm looking at you, and you too Bill E Goat).

A lot of you have gone to a lot of trouble to do wonderful things for me: gift certificates; charitable donations; songs! youtube videos! Mr. Clooney's direct line (ok, that's pending, but I know it's on your list).

All of you have my thanks.

I'm deeply gratified by your time and attention. Even when you think I'm my own nitwit. Especially when I AM my own nitwit. Even when I'm cranky (some of those HHCom posts WERE cranky as hell, it's true); even when I'm frothing at the mouth (Sobol anyone? SASE's? red letter offers!); even when you're spanking me for stealing poems and posting them regardless of copyright (Seuss v Snark- litigation pending).

You provide a voice behind the slush pile. Because of your comments and your email, it's much easier to remember there are real people sending work they care about--and not just nitwits who don't understand what "no paperclips" means. Every time I'm tempted to write "wtf" on a query letter, I can come here and rant. If it helps you, great. It saves my sanity...not to mention the wall plaster and the little dog's ears. You help me remember not to get too high and mighty; to remember I wouldn't have work I love were it not for the work you do.

You provide a way for me to think about my work beyond the daily grind. The need to write, or in my case attempt to write, cogently about this industry helps me think about it more logically and with more focus.

You help me learn how to talk about what I need, and what I look for. It took nearly 700 posts but I can talk about what makes a hook work a lot better now than I could three weeks ago. That's thanks to you, and your willingness to send me your work and have it snarked publicly. That took a good deal of your emotional will power and courage. Each of you who participated in ALL the crapometers have my respect and gratitude. Even the ones who "failed", especially the ones who got "WTF" in purple letters.

There would be no Miss Snark, "nice" or nitwit, were it not for you, the people who read this blog.

I don't take your time and attention for granted. Every time you say thank you, please know I also thank you.

Thank you.
Thank you sincerely.

Before Round Two

Before you read the pages you've requested, could you predict, based on your real life slush pile experience:
the percent of the pages you will like;
the percent that will disappoint you; and
the percent you won't remember why you asked for more?

I am enjoying reading each and every entry. I've already improved my hook based on your comments regarding the 600 (!!!!!) that you've done so far. Thanks so much for doing this.

Pages (or entries really) I will like- this will be a high percentage. If I've read the hook and liked the voice, I'll probably like the pages. "like" is never the pivotal question: 50%**

Percent that will disappoint: well, there will be those that don't live up to the hook, and those that are just crapola on toast. Probably 35%

Percent that will be: what the F was I thinking of to ask to read this (a category I do indeed have an use on my submissions data base): 15% (which is high cause I only read hooks. It runs 5% on my slush pile).

Glad the HHC was of use to you!

**the pivotal question is "do I think I can sell this"--not "can it be sold" but can *I* sell it.

Counting Down?

Here's a top ten list I really like!!

And this one isn't half bad either!

(thanks to GAG for the link!)