And Then We Came to the End!

Bonus Content--like DVDs!

Dear Miss Snark,

As a hugely successful and incredibly wealthy New York literary agent, I gotta tell you that you’re really causing me heartburn.

In the good old days, crappy writers did a crappy job of submitting their crappy queries, and I was able to cull through the crap at the rate of five per nanosecond, no problemo. And then you came along, dishing up advice and giving away our industry secrets.

I now have thousands of submissions in my slush pile that are perfectly executed, beautifully formatted, and follow my agency’s amazingly complex and intentionally contradictory instructions precisely.

So, even though 99.9% of the actual writing is still atrocious, it’s taking me ten times longer to slog through the slush.

Are you trying to make my life a living hell, or what?

Clearly my work here is done!

Bonus Content-one last post

Dear Miss Snark,

I’ve got papyrophobia (fear of paper) and bibliophobia (fear of books). My therapist says my phobias are the most severe she’s ever seen, and there’s no hope of a cure for me.

I’ve written a novel (on my PC, as you might expect), and now the publication date is looming. I’m deathly afraid of seeing my novel rendered on paper, in the form of a book. And yet I’m thrilled that others will be able to pick up a copy and read it.
I want to make sure the book is okay, but because of my phobias I can’t get anywhere near one.

So, since you’re in New York, and my publisher is in New York, would you be willing to pick up a copy, call me, and read it to me over the phone?

oh shur, no problem.
Is your phone number 648-9487?***

*clue: telephone numbers also have letters


Miss Snark is quite overcome

Killer Yapp (activating Nextel two way collar radio): "Grandma Dog! Grandma Dog!"

Grandmother Snark: "KY? What's wrong?"

KY: Snark! Snark! Melting!

GS: Miss Snark is melting? I'll be right there, open the patio doors!

(Grandmother Snark rappels down east face of building and swan dives into Snark Central).

KY: Here! Here!

Grandmother Snark: (aghast) oh dear dog in heaven, hell must be freezing over, where are my skates, Miss Snark has tears running down her flinty cheeks!

Miss Snark: 300 plus comments on the blog retirement post. I thought I was tough. They got me! They really got me!

Grandmother Snark: And it's only Saturday night. I better buy stock in Kimberly Clark.

The Post-Snark Snark

Some questions have popped up in my email and in the comments:

1. What are you doing next?
The only thing retiring is the blog. I'm still agenting. KY is still chasing squirrels and Grandmother Snark is still blessedly unaware of Miss Snark's potty mouth. Please resist the urge to reveal all to her.

2. What about the blog?
The blog will stay up. You can search the archives (most of the posts have labels now and google will turn up a lot if you use "miss snark" and "what ever you're looking for" as search terms).

3. We can still comment, right?
No, comments are now off as of 5/22/2007. You can see the previous comments but you can't comment now.

4. Are you going to write a book?

5. Can I print up your blog as a book on Lulu?
No. Please don't. If you want to print it out and put it in a pink unicorn binder for your own personal use, ok, but please don't turn it into book form or sell it, even at no-profit.

6. Was it something anyone said or did, and if so, can I kill them for you?
No. It wasn't a specific event. The questions were increasingly ones I'd already answered or ones I couldn't answer. Managing the mail was actually more time consuming than the blog.

7. Are you alright? You're not sick or anything are you?
No, I'm not dead, dying or disabled. I'm slightly dehydrated cause the outpouring of such marvelous comments and email and video and blog posts has been very very overwhelming, but you didn't make me cry, you didn't you did NOT.

8. Are you marrying George Clooney?

Miss Snark is Retiring

Two years; two million hits (2.5 actually as of 5/20/07);
yes, Miss Snark has run out of new things to say.

It's been an amazing run.
This blog wouldn't have been any fun at all without you, my devoted readers.

I know I'll miss hearing from you.
I hope you'll miss hearing from me.

Yes, the blog will stay up cause I'm pretty proud of what we did here. And by "we" I don't mean just me and Killer Yapp, I mean you too. You sent me questions, trusted me to snark your work, made "crapometer" an industry term and most of all, you gave me perspective on what it's like to be on the other side of the slush pile.

There will be a few more days of clean up as I close out my email and spruce up the blog roll.

You can reach me through Killer Yapp.

Thank you for everything.


Email query format problems

Dear Miss Snark:

I've sent out a bunch of e-mail queries and noticed when I received some answers (and my query shows up at the end of the responses) that sometimes my letter looked strange on the other end. I copy and pasted my query from a Microsoft word document into the body of the e-mails and some of them apparently look like I wrote it in a foreign tongue. My apostrophes have been replaced by Russian looking letters. The columns and everything look out of whack. Other replies show that my query looked fine, just as I had sent it from my end. It looks normal from my "sent" column and it also looked fine when I sent a test run on some of my friends' computers. What's going on? Am I doing something wrong? Are these agents seeing Russian letters instead of my apostrophes? Thanks.

Yup, they are, in some cases.

I have one colleague who reliably sees weirdness in my emails so I have prevailed upon her to be my "reader". All she has to do when I send her a practice/draft email is hit reply when I send it to her for testing (her email program prints the text of my email at the bottom).

That way I get back what the finicky computers see, and I can fix it. It usually takes three or four "send/reply" cycles to get all the problems fixed.

The trick is to find the one friend who will see it like that, and bribe her into helping you.

There are other tricks to employ here too, and I'm sure some of the comments will give you some additional good ideas.

The good news is, most of us are pretty used to seeing that. It's annoying, but it's not a deal breaker. You DO want to fix it though cause it's really hard to read.

Resist! Resist!

Dear Miss Snark,
I recently received this email:

(Agent's name)

I see you've already rejected my query on (title redacted) oh, a month ago. And you're in great company. Sorry-- please disregard the query I sent ten minutes ago because I don't need another rejection.

It's a fun read. Why is everyone passing?

Can I borrow a match to set my hair on fire too?

Yes indeed.

Just to underscore the obvious:
If you screw up and send a query twice, don't compound the mistake by writing to say so. Don't say you don't need more rejection, cause really, who does??

I know you get tired of hearing no, but the person to ask "why" is not the agent.

Thank yous (and giftage)

I recently entered a writing contest (a well-known one) and didn't make the short-list. No biggie, I learned a lot and made some good progress with my writing. Then I got a very encouraging letter from one of the contest judges (the chair), letting me know that I'd made the informal "long-list" of the top 20 entries and giving me some feedback on my submission. She didn't have to do this (the contest stated that feedback would only be given to short-listed folks), and made it clear she did it on her own behalf. This was very cool and much appreciated. My question is this...would it be okay to send her a short thank-you note care of her publisher? Just a "thanks for taking the time to do this, much appreciated" kinda deal? I'm not looking to come off as some psycho-stalker chick, so should I be grateful in silence, or is a brief note okay?

A short thank you note via the publisher is always in order.
You'd do better to email her from her website; publishers are notoriously slow about forwarding author mail.
You only come off as psycho-stalker chick if you send gifts, or more than one note.
Never send any object to an agent or an editor until you've signed a deal with them. Given the lunacy of this day and age, gifts from strangers mostly get thrown away still wrapped and unused.

More on rejections

Dear Miss Snark,

If your oven wasn’t already in use as a file cabinet, I’d be asking to stop by so I could stick my head in and turn on the gas. After the one-millionth rewrite and almost as many rejections, two agents requested my manuscript AFTER reading partials. Such a hopeful sign, but alas, both NO’s. But it was the nature of their comments that has me competing for space in your oven.

The first pass was from a pair of agents who work together. Their comments were all very positive, but they didn’t think the market was large enough for the novel. They did, however, ask me to resubmit my next project.

The second agent passed because she felt the story needed to be told in a far more brutal voice. Because of the nature of the material, I purposely avoided sensationalizing the story.

Who to believe? At this point I am committed to finishing my second novel, a very commercial project, furiously rewriting with the hope of submitting next fall. But I can’t completely shake a nagging doubt that agent #2 is right about my first novel and the first agents were just too kind to tell me my writing sucks.

I’m trying to talk myself into putting the first manuscript away for now, stop submitting and rewriting it and hope that, some day, it finds a good home at a small press where it probably would be most happy.

I really need someone, who is objective, to say, “Stop! Put it away and get on with the next project.” I am so confused.

Thank you for all you have done to help writers like me and please give Killer Yap a big kiss on his furry snout and, of course, a cookie.

Killer Yapp says "excellent idea" and heads for the cookie jar.

One of the ironclad rules of rejection letters is they all say different things. Too long, too short, too violent, too placid. You don't have a large enough sample to draw any reliable conclusions.

And NO agent asks to see future work if they think your writing sux. Never.

You in fact have TWO agents who said something other than "not right for me" and that says to me you're probably a damn fine writer, and it's other things that needs some work.

You're exactly right in what I'm going to tell you: finish the second book. Send it out on a round of queries. THEN look at novel #1 and see (with what you learned from writing #2) what, if anything, you'd chanage.

Quit obsessing. Write well.

Killer Yapp adds "eat cookies".


Oh here, let me help you

Dear Mistress of the Highest Snarkitude

I'm in the early stages of querying my mystery novel, and a top New York agent is currently reviewing the full manuscript. Meanwhile, an acquaintance of mine recently read my manuscript and gave it glowing reviews. Knowing she'd be too polite to tell me if it sucked, I smiled and moved along. But apparently, she was serious. She's contacted a friend who works for a production company that develops movies for, ahem,well, a women's cable network. This person is now asking for a screenplay based on my novel, which she has NOT read by the way. I have no screenplay, and creating one would take precious time and effort –time I'd allocated to crafting the novel's sequel.I've tried to politely decline this request, but my acquaintance is pushing the issue.

What to do?
-Should I drop everything else to write a screenplay? No

-Am I correct in suspecting the production-company contact is just being polite? Yes

-Even if the interest is genuine, would you advise an unpublished author to pursue this?No
I mean, if the story is "used up" in a made-for-TV movie, will it hurt my chances to have the book published? No Will it piss off my dream agent(s)?Yes

-Am I a snob for wincing at the thought of my masterpiece appearing on a woman's TV network? In the book, the love interest is a delightfully dangerous hottie who owns a gun store. I fear the TV folks would transform him into a first-grade teacher who owns a
little antique shop. Now, I like teachers and antiques as much as the next gal, but my guy's an alpha male, and I like him that way.

- On a scale of one to ten, how paranoid am I? The voices tell me not to worry, but they also suggested I seek your advice.

I'd be eternally grateful for your insight. All of us– me, the voices, and my fictional hottie - send you and Killer Yapp our kindest regards.

First, you have no clue how to write a screenplay and if you think writing a novel was good practice for that, you're wrong.

Second, you don't want to go anywhere near film people without an agent. That industry works on much more stringent rules about what they'll consider (and I think that most legit places require you to register your work before they'll look at it). And, film rights are in important piece of the package for a novel. You write a screenplay, send it off, and you've just made it a LOT harder for an agent to sell film or TV rights. Do NOT do this.

Clearly this friend of yours has badgered her friend at the production company and this is the standard brush off.

What you need to do with this clueless friend is say "thanks for your help. I appreciate it" and STOP talking to her about your novel. Her "helpfulness" does not oblige you to accept it or report back on your progress. Once you're published lots more people will have "helpful" ideas for you. Some of them are good; 99% are not. This is good practice for how to deal with them politely. Respect the intention, but that's it.

Stop, drop, (sc)roll

Dear Miss Snark,

Since I read your advice not to mix genres in query letters I've been planning to market my novel as a mystery. The problem is that although I throw out some hints early on, the 'mystery' itself doesn't emerge till page 100 or so. I've also tried to make the book stylistically interesting. Is 'literary mystery' a viable genre option, or should I just leave well enough alone?

Nothing makes me want to set my hair on fire faster than hearing "I've tried to make the book stylistically interesting". You tell me that in a query letter, I'm reaching for the lighter fluid.

And when you say the "mystery" doesn't emerge till page 100, that's akin to saying the "the plot doesn't start till page 100".

And avoid the use of the word "literary" with "mystery". Tell me where it goes in the bookstore. That's all.

I'm gonna suggest you scan down the previous posts till you come to the one that has a bunch of crit groups and the Crapometer Annex listed in the comment column. The post title is "Miss Snark is Clueless" I think.

I have a feeling you need some readers to look at this before you send it off to hot-headed Miss Snark or her colleagues.

"no deals" isn't always what you think it is

An agent whose name I have seen several times with offerings but who has no deals listed under her name on Agent Query or P.M. has asked to see my complete manuscript. She requires a 1 year contract. (Yes I know I'm getting ahead of myself.) I've heard "no agent is better than a bad agent." On the other hand, everybody has to start somewhere..so.. your thoughts?

First, let's all remember that PM and AQ are self-reporting websites. Not all agents post their deals there.

The key piece of information you need to find out is this: has this agent made any sales. Don't assume she hasn't just cause you can't find them on the web. ASK. It's ok to ask at this stage. She wants your full, that means she's interested in your work.

If she's new to the biz, she may not have any sales at all. In that case, ASK about her previous experience. If she has not ever worked in a company that does book deals, on either side of the desk, I'd be wary. I see a lot of websites with well intentioned people who want to help authors sell their books but what they don't know about how to do that or who to approach would be a book in and of itself.

As for the one year contract, there are several quite reputable agents who do that. They give you a year and if they can't sell it, you're released from the agency.

An inexperienced agent is not a bad agent by default. And "experience" isn't some sort of universal either. I'm pretty experienced but if you hand me category romance, I'd be a VERY bad agent since I don't know the genre, don't read it, and don't know the editors who buy it.

Movin' on

I have been peddling a completed middle grade novel for some time now and have had three requests for full submissions. The first two came back with personal rejections and invitations to submit future projects. I am still waiting to hear back on the third full but have been told to expect a wait of 3-5 months. Having endured an additional 40 query rejections and several others on partials with seemingly personal invitations to query future projects--I now have all my proverbial eggs in this one last basket.

However, I am nearly finished with my latest "future project" and wondered if I should wait the 3-5 months to hear back regarding the full sub of my last book before sending queries to the inviting agents on the new one. Is it unwise to overlap the query/submission process of two different projects?

Their slow pokieness should have no bearing on your forward motion.
You can have a variety of things in submission at any given time.

IF Slow Poke Publisher makes you an offer, great. If they pass, you've got other irons in the fire.

If EVERYONE makes you an offer you'll have fun juggling offers.

There's no down side to getting your "new" work out into circulation.


SASE...cause really, there's SO much more to say

As a service to an author who isn't in it for the money and who can afford my rates, I'm putting together queries for a nonfiction book I edited (his secretary will do the printing and mailing; he will sign the letters himself--big of him, I know). I'm dutifully checking the submission guidelines for each and every agent on the list I've assembled so far, with every intention of following the instructions to the letter.

Then I come to this one:

"SASE – Due to new postal regulations, all self-addressed envelopes must follow these guidelines. Use postal stamps only. No metered mail. Envelopes must be addressed and include our address as the return address in the top left corner of the envelope. Use self-sealing envelopes."

How anal can an agent get? Yeah, sure, if I were the author, I'd probably just go out and buy special envelopes and do the return address thing, too. But geez, don't you people even have rubber stamps you can use for the return address? And you can't wet a gummed envelope with a sponge? Gimme a break!

Bottom of the list, dude. Plonk!

OK, I know you think it's anal, but its only cause I'd burst into flame from your enraged glare that I don't have this on MY site too. I LOVE it when people send self sealing envelopes, the ones with the pull strips.

The meter mail thing IS a rule at the post office. I drop SASEs in the box with meter stamps all the time, but I have NO idea if they get back to the querier. The thing about meters is they have dates. You meter an SASE and it says I mailed it the same day you mailed your query to me. You'll need to be writing more than science fiction to make that happen.

The only thing I think is weird is having the agent's name for the return address. I'd rather you put your own, but again, I've read in the comments column from people that the post office does require that.

And for a general comment on the overall obsessive nature of agents, trust me on this, this is a quality you WANT in an agent. You want someone who researches what works, tells you about it up front and makes it easy to understand what they need. Careless, slipshod, and "it'll all work out" are not things you want to say about the person negotiating your contract.


what! what! you mean...I'm NOT the exception??

Dearest Miss Snark,

I fear that I already know the answer to this question, but I am compelled to ask, nonetheless...

I have a successful "day job" career, but I'm trying to pursue my dream of writing a novel. I therefore recently signed up to attend my first writers' conference (a costly affair). I will have two one-on-one sessions with well-known agents. So far the writing is going well, and I hope to have a polished, final copy in about six months. Here's the catch: the conference is in one month.

I know, I know... I normally would not even dream of prematurely attempting to launch an unfinished work of fiction. I know that it should be finished, polished, put away, re-polished, etc., ad nauseum. The only reason that I am even thinking about dashing my chances prematurely with these two highly-coveted agents is because a) I am writing in a genre that is considered "hot" right now (and all things hot burn out quickly, as we well know), and b) my prominence in my "day job" gives me an excellent platform (it is directly related to the genre) that I believe any P.R.-minded agent or editor would drool over.

Am I a complete nitwit to even consider pitching an unfinished work, given the above?

Feel free to waste my time at a conference, I really don't care. I have to sit there all day anyway and one more guy with an unfinished novel is one easy answer: no. That said, we can sit there and drink gin.

No matter how enticing or hot or yummy, I can't sell an unfinished novel from a first time novelist. Maybe someone else can, but I'd get laughed off the phone by most of the editors I deal with.

They know, like I do, that the final 20% of the novel is harder to write than the preceding 80%. They know too that a first draft (which is what you're talking about when you first write THE END) is hardly ever something you should show anyone except your dog. That means you're a year from being really done, if you ever finish at all.

You've spent a lot of money hoping the rules don't apply to you. Even if you GET lucky and these agents ARE interested, they're buying for 2009 right now so anything you think of as hot NOW is something we were selling two years ago.

There are lots of reasons to attend a conference other than meeting agents. Take full advantage of them but do NOT expect agents are going to be falling all over a hot idea with an unfinished novel.

Holy Burning Bakery, Batgirl!

Miss Snark is glad to see that others too like to light their hair on fire.

But, but, I did that on purpose!

Hi Miss Snark--

I've been querying my novel since March and have gotten responses from a few big agencies. I'm in my second round now, sending samples to the agents who said yes to a letter, and presentation packets to those who said yes to a sample. All of the former have turned me down. (what the fuck is a presentation packet for a novel anyway??)

One agency requested temporary exclusivity on a three-chapter sample after reading my letter. This is, I've read, one of the most (reputable? powerful?) agencies in the industry, but they had no submission guidelines listed anywhere, not even on their own website. I sent the sample over, but also sent an e-mail saying that while I'd be happy to give them exclusivity effective that day, my submission was already simultaneous (this was also stated in my query). Their rejection came less than a week later.

Given the very quick turnaround, I can't help but think that this was because I could not offer them exclusivity. But had they been interested, I might have been caught in a lie, which I think is no way to establish a business relationship. Would it have been better to lie? Am I just being naive here?

Another agent sent along a few criticisms with her rejection, and, my gigantic writer ego aside, I thought they were preposterous. She suggested that I stop using the passive voice, add more dialogue, and put in more vivid descriptions--all intentional personal style choices that were direct results of the novel's story.

My own business sense and understanding of the market, coupled now with the fact that big agencies have responded to my queries, tell me that this novel is most likely sellable. That being said, I'm thinking that this agent--and the others who said no to a requested sample--liked the premise, but not my writing style in executing it.

But if a novel has marketability, does its style really affect that? Or is there something I'm missing here?

Yea, a clue.

What on earth led you to conclude the novel was "sellable" (and it's "saleable" but maybe you chose that word on purpose too)? You've got a fistful of rejections from people who've READ the thing!!

Just because someone said no quickly doesn't mean they didn't read it. I can turn things around pretty damn fast if I see right away that it doesn't work.

You've got passive voice, limited dialogue and flat description. Yes, I know you described it differently but that's what I get from what you said. Say what you will about downmarket fiction, it's usually full of dialogue and pretty vivid.

What you have here sounds like a high concept, badly executed book. Of course I haven't read it, so take that with a grain of salt. The only thing that really makes me think I'm right on the money here is the idea you actually have a presentation packet for a novel. I'm almost afraid to ask whats in it.

Submitting work that's in a contest

Dear Miss Snark,

Please help me avoid acting clueless. I want to maximize my opportunities without doing something that will make agents snarl. Here's the deal. I will be submitting my recently completed novel in a contest. The contest meets the Snark Test, as it is one YOU posted some months ago with a note that if we felt compelled to enter a contest it was a good one. (Bless you...it was your blog that put me onto the contest.) The winner gets a publishing contract with St. Martin's.

So, the question. I want to query agents while the ms. is under contest consideration. If I wait until I hear that I did not win, I've lost six months. If I do win (Dear Dog in Heaven, get me the smelling salts), then I'd like an agent anyway to advise me on the 'standard contract' they will offer the winner. But will prospective/interested agents be put off that the ms. is in a competition?

Querying agents while the ms is in a contest: bad form or good business? Please advise.

I think it's fine. I wouldn't elevate an eyebrow at that info in a query letter.
In fact you're smart to pursue all avenues.
(You do want to mention it in your cover letter of course.)

And if you win, email me again. I have a lifetime supply of salts here at Snark Central. One must always be prepared for a sighting of Mr. Clooney...or this guy



Your Snarkiness,

While lounging at the bookstore today, browsing through the tables of "Was $25, now $3.99" books, I wondered... who takes the loss on these huge discounts? The publisher has sent the books to the bookstore, but I know the bookstore can get its money back if it returns the books to the publisher. But if the bookstore instead sells them at what I presume is a loss, is it the bookstore that takes the hit? Or does the publisher somehow not get its full price?

Basically, I'm just hoping it's not the author, but I have a bad feeling...

My two cats send a wary greeting to Killer Yapp and wish him a pleasant afternoon, as far away from them as possible.

Killer Yapp is safely passed out cold on the sofa after a busy day at Grandmother Snark's gnawing on roast beast and fetching a red rubber ball that seemed to always be bouncing around (silly humans, losing things, you don't notice poodles losing their toys).

I think I know the answer to this but I'm going to foist it off on Ben at BleakHouse for his podcast.

Ben...would you school us all on remainders?

Another good place to find out about publishing

You want to find out what goes on at a publishing company?
Here's your chance.

Ben at Bleak House books is doing a podcast a day about publishing.
Here's the link.

First thing I wanna know....
When's the new John Galligan book coming out?? I'm desperate here.

Miss Snark shops at Alphabeta of course**

Dear Miss Snark,

There are approximately 6,800 spoken languages in the world, but only around 2,200 of them have writing systems. That leaves 4,600 languages that don’t have alphabets. When I saw that data I pounced on the opportunity, and I’ve just completed my new book titled “How to Invent an Alphabet”.

But I can’t print the book in any of those 4,600 languages, because they don’t have alphabets yet! And if it’s published as an audio book, those people might not see the need for an alphabet in the first place.

I know my book will be a best seller if I can get past those tiny little details. Any suggestions?

Who wouldn't want to have books and a library after seeing this

**when she's not down to the PigglyWiggly of course


This therefore that, uh, no

Well, this is a clever way to see the limits of artificial intelligence.

Just type in Thomas Pynchon and see what comes up.
I mean David Sedaris is a wonderful writer and I love his work, but putting him closer to Pynchon than say Bill Vollmann...well...no, just no.

And Wayne Dyer on the same page as Laura Lippman? No, no, really no.

A rose is arose is a rows

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a novel in revision that I hope will be ready for querying in about a year. I've also written some short stories, which I plan to start submitting to markets. My hope is that when I'm ready to query agents about the novel, I'll have some publication credits to include in the query letter. I also want to establish a website.

My problem is my awkward, difficult-to-spell last name. If I find an agent, I imagine he or she can advise me on whether I should write under a different name that's easier for readers to remember and spell. But what about in the meantime? I'm concerned that if I publish short stories under my real name, and start a website under my real name, any visibility I'll have built up before I start querying will be lost if the novel is published under a different name. I wonder if it might make more sense to send out the short stories under my maiden name. It's an odd name, but since it's only 4 letters long, it's easier to remember and spell. Am I a nitwit for thinking about such things at this stage?

Well it didn't hurt: Mary Kay Zuravleff (I know and love her work, and I still had to look up the correct spelling of her name)

or Chuck Palahniuk

or Elfried Jelinek

or Michael Ondaatje (which I got from Kristin Nelson's blog post here, and she's of another mind on this subject)

If you've got a name thats hard to say, or easily misspelled one of the first things you want to do is put in keywords for your site that are the WRONG things people will type in trying to find you.

So if you are Killer Yapp, you also want "Killer Yap" as a keyword cause a lot of people spell it that way. Same with "Ms Snark" (sound of cocking clue gun as optional audio would be good here too).

People come in every variety of cluelessness about author names and titles. An easy to say or spell name is no guarantee they won't get it wrong.

Divisions within publishing houses

Dear Miss Snark,

When you submit to Ballantine, for instance, and receive a rejection, do you then submit to other Random House family publishers like Knopf or Shaye Areheart? Or is one editor's opinion applied to the entire family? Random House, again just as an example, has a whole slew of imprints and divisions, and it appears that many of them overlap in type of books they publish--for instance, a bunch of them publish commercial women's fiction. Or is each imprint very precise in what it handles, even if that's not apparant to an outsider?

Excuse me I think I fell off my chair laughing at that idea! KY is having a hilarity seizure at my feet. Where's the inhaler??

Now that we've restored what passes for order around here:
The big houses like Random, Penguin, Simon and Schuster, Holtzbrink and Hachette (formerly Warner) all have divisions within divisions, imprints within divisions and groups gathering many but not all under one VP. Confusing doesn't BEGIN to describe it.

I have maps to sort out who's where and reports to whom.

Just to make everything REALLY fun, some editors who work at a specific imprint can also acquire for other parts of a division. So, a guy who works for a science fiction division has lunch with me, mentions he likes cowgirl lit, and next thing you know I've sold him something that can be described as women's fiction but won't be cause it's going to be a western now.

I spend a good part of my day yapping with editors about what they are looking for and what they aren't. My colleagues and I exchange info so we can all try and stay up to speed on who's where and what they want.

I don't think any of this would be obvious or even fathomable to someone who isn't in the mix on a daily basis.

And just to keep us all on our toes, every imprint has different policies about whether no from one editor means no from everyone.

Miss Snark is...clueless!! yes!


I was wondering if you could suggest a website where I could get some feedback on the first chapter of my book. I've entered a couple of hook contests, but now I really want to know if my first chapter works. I've posted some things on writers.net, but I'm not convinced that is the best place to get constructive feedback. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

I have not a single clue but I bet people reading this have enough clues for us both.

Snarklings, help us out here!

Becoming an agent

Oh sage Miss Snark -
How do I become a literary agent? I have a BA in English Lit, editorial experience at college papers, sales experience, a lifetime of reading everything I could get my hands on, plus the desire to combine all of this into a career... So how does one go about it?

You get an internship, or a job as an assistant at an agency.
Publishers Marketplace lists jobs like "agency assistant" and "assistant to head agent".
Internships are generally not advertised and the interns I get my paws on come from NYU or Pace i.e. your college connections.

You'd be better off to start on the other side though and get a job at a publisher. You'll learn a LOT and if you're smart you'll make friends with the folks in contracts, sales and special sales. Everyone always talks about the editorial side of things but I can be of greater value to my clients by knowing how the sales, marketing and pr departments work than helping them unsplit their infinitives.

No, you can't do this

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a literary agent. I recently moved offices and googled myself to find places that listed my name and address so I could email them to update the listings.

I was really shocked and hurt to find bloggers writing nasty (and un-true!) things about essentially form rejection letters. Bloggers who actually had their names on their blogs.

I'd really like to create a website like P&E but for potential clients from hell.

What do you think?

Suck it up.
It's part of the biz. You know it too or you wouldn't have asked.
People deal with feeling powerless in a variety of ways. Some channel their energy into writing so well they get published. Other blog about rejection.


I procrastinated about posting this contest...

which turns out to quite in spirit with the whole idea.


Does the Fifth Estate get the EZPass lane on the SnarkasaurusExpressway?

O Snarking One,

I’ve done a bit of Snarkive sifting and haven’t found a direct answer to this question, so here goes… when you’re looking over a novel query, would the fact that I am a journalist entitle me to any additional mileage on my trip through the Slush-Pile Republic? One of your mantras is “The Writing Must Be Good”—does a background in newswriting benefit me at all in your heady world? Or am I in an entirely separate realm?

I think it's a separate realm but the fact that you've probably written more words than the average bear is a good thing. It's certainly something to mention in your query, but I'm going to read your pages like I read all incoming pages-cruelly and mercilessly. You're probably used to that though if you've been a reporter.


I am an agent assistant at a small agency and yesterday afternoon I got a call from a man who works for agentresearch.com who wanted some information on one of our agents. What do you know about this? It seems like a scam, or at least preying on the nitwits—an author pays $400 to get “six to eight full reports of agents who have a track record of selling similar material, are absolutely legitimate, and are open to accepting new clients.” Plus, he doesn’t seem to know what he is doing, and when I named houses my agent worked for in the past he a). seemed to have no concept of which houses was bigger b). thought Harcourt Mifflin was a company and c). didn’t seem to know anything about my agency, and clearly hadn’t even googled us or done much more than read Publisher’s Market. Nitwits in the slush pile are a pain, but I still don’t want them to throw away $400.

oh I remember the first of several calls I got from this guy. He said his name and then started asking questions. I had NO idea who he was or what he was doing. He was really miffed I didn't know him cause of his "length of time in the industry" and "industry presence" and it took me a couple minutes to figure out he wasn't a writer with a Writers Digest checklist in his hand.

Back in the day before you could google damn near everyone his biz was sort of like hiring a guy to stand in line for you. I can guess he's got an amazing data base though since every agent has heard from him at least once.

I am unalterably opposed to paying for these kinds of services. It's my unswerving belief that querying widely with good work is MUCH more effective than trying to narrow the list to agents who've sold "what you write".

I recently had a very enlightening conversation with a valued colleague who said she'd rather look at excellent work outside her normal interest area than not-excellent work for the categories she's sold previously.

In other words, write well, query widely. Spend your money on stamps, not advice.

No dissing the writers

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm pretty new to this publishing business and even newer to the online writer's community--which feels enormous. I'm quickly becoming overwhelmed by how many would-be-authors are querying qnd getting rejected. Is there room on the shelves for more books? Do I really have a chance at landing an agent and a publishing deal? Does anyone?

Thanks for the en/dis-couragement (as you see fit).


Why Miss Snark Hates Postage Increases-Reason #1

Miss Snark,

I sent a partial to an agent, and I didn't take into account the postage increase on May 14th. If she sends me my SASE after that date, my stamp won't work. What should I do?

We've laid in a stock of penny stamps for this. Generally I put stamps on SASEs that don't have the new postage particularly if I've been a slacker and held on to something too long.

If you don't hear back in 30 days of course, write again and include an envelope with the correct postage.

Really smart queriers bought FOREVER stamps to put on their SASEs. The Forever stamp is the correct postage no matter when you bought it or use it It only works for #10 envelopes with a few pages at most, I believe (ie you can't put it on an catalog envelope for the return of 30 pages).

I hate postage increases.

Thanks though for reminding me. I better get the slush pile dealt with this weekend to beat the deadline.

Ignore idiot advice

Dear Miss Snark,

I've been happily reading your blog before querying agents, but I have a question that affects how I approach them, and it's one I've yet to see an answer to.

One widely agreed-upon bit of advice seems to be, "Narrow down your search for an agent by finding one or more who specializes in your subject matter" (the quote is from eHow.com).

Problem is, I'll be attempting to sell a golf novel, which isn't a full-fledged genre (or specialty, unless agents are, unbeknownst to me, incredibly specialized). I've found agents that have sold other golf novels, but I'm wondering how much that matters if I manage to sell the first and then novels two and three are on completely other subjects. ... Yes, I know it's optimistic to think that way, but what the heck.

Would you suggest following the "They've sold a golf novel" route, the "They do commercial fiction and look competent" route, or some other direction?

First of all, that's idiot advice you're reading. I never ever say "narrow your search to one or two agents". I say query widely. Query everyone who represents commercial fiction. Golf fiction isn't a genre in and of itself. Golf books can be everything from murder mysteries (Roberta Isleib leaps to mind with her spiffy golf series) to Pete Dexter's amazing tour de force Train, to Turk Pipkin's Fast Greens. Those books are as different from each other as can be and no one editor would probably acquire them all.

Write well, query widely. Ignore anything that says otherwise.

Agent tentacles

Dear Miss Snark,

I had an agent who shopped my book - editors kept coming back with the same particular comment, but my agent did not agree with them and did not advise me to revise. Agent finally gave up.

During our one-year relationship (the length of the contract), said agent showed qualities that hinted the agency was way too busy for me -- although when I signed and asked, based on the mammoth success of this agent and his agency, if that would be an issue he insisted it all ran like a "well-oiled machine."

So -- over a year later, I've got another book to shop and have taken a hard look at book # 1 (not counting ms. stuffed under bed) and, taking editors comments to heart, think I can revise it to address their concerns -- but of course, I would not re-submit to those same editors/publishers who rejected it.

However, there are a few publishers my agent 'missed.'

My question: I assume even my 'revised' book is not attractive to other agents. But, if I ever sell it, am I in some way obligated to use my original agent? Or, can I approach other agents with a clear conscience if, by some miracle, I am offered a contract?

Check your contract with the Well Oiled Agent. Make sure there are no clever little clauses that give him an interest in the book after he's not your agent. If there are get him to sign a contract amendment releasing you from that clause now before there's any money at stake.

You're under no obligation to him if you sell that book. The only way you would be is if HE sold it, or you sold it to someone he showed it to within a couple months.

Agents can't be like long lost cousins of lottery winners coming out of the woodwork suddenly when there's money to be had.


Happy Birthday Mr. Pynchon Haiku WC honors

Recognition for being clever
A Pynchon time saves
Nine and forty chums of chance
From lots of crying

Recognition for suitably obscure
The rainbow cares not
For gravity, thus mortals
Seek substance in vain

The ones that made Miss Snark laugh
…screaming comes across
The sky. Is it rocket? No.
Book lands on head. Ouch.

Are Snark and Pynchon
chums of chance? Oh, wow--this ought
to be really good.

Who’s this enigma,
Elusive as a rainbow?
Pynchon is Miss Snark.

Homage to the previous writing contest winner
Seventy gables
Cast longer shadows across
The old Pynchon elm

Recognition for best birthday visual
Blowing comes across the cake
Seventy candles

Recognition for honoring another literary milestone
t. pynchon's rainbow,
el arco iris in spain.
cervantes' spectrum

Recognition as Miss Snark's finalists
Gravity's Rainbow,
Pulitzer? Nebula? No.
Magnum Opus, Yes.

What goes up comes down
Apogee's apology
Gravity's Rainbow

Meaning focuses.
Gravity is understood
Her heart feels the poem

Chums of Chance balloon
into inverted rainbows
Pynchon's gravity

And Miss Snark's selection for the prize

"Chums," said Tom Pynchon
of skydiving, "just take a
chance with gravity."


Happy Birthday Mr. Pynchon Haiku Writing Contest-42

Entry #42
Pynchon's Chums of Chance
Such a gravity to read
by summer rainbow

Entry #43
Too many of us
Grasping, wanting, fighting, hope
Chums of Chance fly on

Entry #44
read with gravity
t. pynchon's lot 49
gives rainbow migraine

Entry #45

A Pynchon my bun:
Chums of Chance say Gravity
Pulls them close to me.

Entry #46
Our love for Pynchon
Love in rainbow gravity
Left us Chums of Chance

Entry #47
A Pynchon time saves
Nine and forty chums of chance
From lots of crying

Entry #48
Pynchon, chum of chance?
Gravity's impressive, but
My rainbow's bigger.

Entry #49

Where's our Chum Pynchon?
Hiding under the Rainbow
- sailor boy gone bad

Entry #50
Students slog pages
Written only in zeroes.
Please Pychon, no Maas.

Entry #51
I can fit Pynchon
and rainbow, even gravity
Can't fit chums of chance

Entry #52
Gravity is clear; machine
Gun fondue a bomb.

Entry #53
War-weary worlds watch
Pynchon's rockets rising on
Rainbow wakes of flame.

Entry #54
Pynchon, sailor boy,
sing me sea songs: dawn, thunder
fading, the rainbow.

Entry #55
Verne, Joyce, chums of chance
deconstructing gravity
Nobel rainbow wakes

Entry #56
War-weary worlds watch
Pynchon's rockets rising on
Rainbow wakes of flame.

Entry #57
The rainbow cares not
For gravity, thus mortals
Seek substance in vain

Entry #58
I'm Pynchon myself,
To see, on chance, gravity,
Flatten rainbows, chum.

Entry #59
I fight gravity
With gym work-outs. My spouse asks
What will I Pynchon?

Entry #60
Pynchon stood aghast
as Chums of Chance crashed and burned
This was not correct

Entry #61
Pynchon's Gravity
casts not just a Rainbow, but
lures of fabled gold.

Entry #62 (Inspired by recent events in Kansas)
Beyond gravity,
Spring thunderstorm's fury spent;
Rainbow bears witness.

Entry #63
Seventy is old,
Children cherish Chums of Chance,

Entry #64
Wild spring gravity
Pynchon rainbow sky juice drizzle
Chums of Chance weird dance

Entry #65
…screaming comes across
The sky. Is it rocket? No.
Book lands on head. Ouch.

Entry #66
The rainbow cares not
For gravity, thus mortals
Seek substance in vain

Entry #67
Pinch on my cheeks, chums.
Of chance, fleshy bums and rain
Bow to gravity.

Disqualified but fabulous

twenty-five thousand,
five hundred sixty-seven
mornings--well lived, Tom.

Pulitzer: Rainbow's
v1 you thought too dense? well,
V-2's on its way

Real gravity hides
Beneath the Groucho glasses
And the clown car plots

Happy Birthday Mr. Pynchon Haiku Writing Contest-1-41

Entry #1
waitress said to bob
stop pinchon my ass, fuckwad
we blanched. chums of chance.

Entry #2
Gravity's Rainbow,
Pulitzer? Nebula? No.
Magnum Opus, Yes.

Entry #3
What goes up comes down
Apogee's apology
Gravity's Rainbow

Entry #4
Being snarked hurts good
Cluegun shifts my gravity
Rainbow gin saves me

Entry #5
Are Snark and Pynchon
chums of chance? Oh, wow--this ought
to be really good.

Entry #6
Pynchon fĂȘted, yet
I'm barfing bananas, and
The rainbows explode.

Entry #7
Gravity’s Rainbow
Against the Day of Pynchon
Chums of Chance float by!

Entry #8
a post-horn rainbows
gravity's autumnal sky.
chums of chance screaming.

Entry #9
Gravity pushes
Rainbows arch over Vineland
Pynchon's seventy

Entry #10
Rocket to the brain
that explodes comprehension.
Gravity’s Rainbow.

Entry #11
Gravity stopped him
Pynchon could see the rainbow
Chums of chance no more

Entry #12
Pot of gold waiting
At rainbow's end, or maybe...
Multi-book contract?

Entry #13
Behold great Pynchon;
slithered by on Chums of Chance,
reflects on hard days.

Entry #14
Gravity and Sky,
lovers, not chance chums, Pynchon
Rainbow’s cheeks… both sets.

Entry #15
gravity at hand
global ruin in earth’s tears
rainbow tribe of one

Entry #16
Marvelous Pynchon,
Switch rainbow ends with me. Flip
fates; ride my seesaw?

Entry #17
Head hits the pillow
Gravity gives us a pinch
On our rainbow cheeks

Entry #18
Rainbow bends to earth
Is elusive Pynchon there?
Slow Learners are we.

Entry #19
Chums of Chance unite
Beneath Pynchon's full rainbow
To fight gravity!

Entry #20
gravity at hand
global ruin in earth’s tears
rainbow tribe of one

Entry #21
Lust and gravity:
"Hey! Who's that pynchon my ass?!"
Rainbows from her punch.

Entry #22
Meaning focuses.
Gravity is understood
Her heart feels the poem

Entry #23
Let 49 just
Cry Rainbow tears
for our Chums of Chance

Entry #24
Chums of Chance pynchon
to the rainbow of their dreams
gravity stops them

Entry #25
Who’s this enigma,
Elusive as a rainbow?
Pynchon is Miss Snark.

Entry #26
"Chums," said Tom Pynchon
of skydiving, "just take a
chance with gravity."

Entry #27
Chums of Chance balloon
into inverted rainbows
Pynchon's gravity

Entry #28
Gravity keeps me
below your rainbow, Pynchon
with my chums of chance.

Entry #29
Seventy gables
Cast longer shadows across
The old Pynchon elm

Entry #30
Blowing comes across the cake
Seventy candles

Entry #31
Wherefore art thou Thomas
Salinger says you are a
Catcher of Rainbows

Entry #32
Chums of Chance take flight
rising towards Pynchon’s rainbow
Gravity be damned!

Entry #33
'Twas the chums of chance
served by Rasputin-like kin
pulled my rainbow down

Entry #34
on a rain-wet bough
last leaves bend to gravity
lovers eloping

Entry #35
Gravity's Rainbow
Such an enduring story
By Thomas Pynchon

Entry #36
Does the love of death
In Pynchon’s gravest novel
Trace a rainbow’s arc?

Entry #37
Pynchon's posthorn chums:
Lot cries. Benny stencils, and
Chances traverse Webb

Entry #38
t. pynchon's rainbow,
el arco iris in spain.
cervantes' spectrum

Entry #39
Pynchon's rainbow prose,
Bright and weightless; his greatness,
Optic illusion.

Entry #40
Rainbow gravity.
Pynchon and Clooney collide.
Snark asks: Chums of chance?

Entry #41
Gravity up on
Heat and sky, wind and sea, lost.
Chums of chance. Gone. Gone.


Writing Contest-May 8

In honor of the 70th birthday of Thomas Pynchon, Miss Snark is conducting an unannounced writing contest.

It opens at 8pm tomorrow, May 8. It will be open for 7 minutes.
Eastern time. That's Greenwich mean time minus 4 hours.

Your entry must be in haiku form

five syllables in line one
seven syllables in line two
five syllables in line three

It will help your chances at winning if you include any of the following:

Chums of Chance

you must email your entry to killer yapp at gmail.com

Miss Snark reserves the right to not post all the entries (finally getting smart!).
All decisions by the judges are final, whimsical and not subject to any griping or second guessing.

You must provide a US address to receive the prize.
If you ARE Thomas Pynchon and you win, I'll be happy to send the prize to your editor, no questions asked.


Dear Miss Snark,

I'm planning on getting two pet rats and naming them Miss Snark and Killer Yapp. Do you think I'm setting them up for crushing failure and self-esteem issues when they do not live up to their namesakes?

(What is Killer Yapp's feelings toward rats? How do they rate in relation to squirrels?)

A squirrel is now the president of France so Killer Yapp is busy rerouting his Tour de France itinerary to avoid ...well..France.

We're not much fond of rats either but that's tempered by a recent rereading of Charlotte's Web and the snarly wonderfulness of Templeton.

I think you should name those rats Jimmy and Cagney cause "you dirty rats" is best said in a Cagney sneer.

offers from agents

Hi Miss Snark,

Glad to have you back. Here's a question I don't think you've answered before: When an agent makes an offer, is it rude or inappropriate to ask to see her boilerplate contract as part of the thinking-about-it process? Or do the agent and author simply assume they will be able to agree on contract terms? The author wouldn't want to say yes to the agent, withdraw her submission from other agents who are considering it, and then find something she doesn't like in the agent's contract. So reviewing the contract as part of considering the offer might be a good thing. Right or wrong?

Let's review terms. Boilerplate is NEVER used to describe an agent's contract with an author. It's used to describe standard contracts with between publishers and authors. You'd never ask to see boilerplate before you signed with an agent because you don't know which publisher is going to buy your book.

The offer of representation from an agent in written form is called simply a contract. You ALWAYS ask to see it before you sign. Always. You ask every question in the book before you sign.

The rub though is that most of us will not change our standard offer terms for you. I run into this every so often usually when someone has given this to a non-literary lawyer to look at.

I had one potential who wanted me to set up a trust account at the bank for client money. No dice. Trust accounts are a separate kind of checking account and operate under a very stringent set of rules. Not even AAR requires that. My accounts are separate for client money and operating expenses (in line with AAR stipulations of course) but the client account is not a trust account.

He didn't understand that and it was clear he thought I was trying to hookwink him. We solved the problem quite nicely by parting ways before we ever got started.

Another one wanted to include something in the contract that the agent would never say or do anything to damage the book. I asked if that meant he was sending me ziploc bags for the manuscript. Again, we parted ways before signing.

Another wanted to include a provision that if he was unavailable for 30 days, I could sign contracts for him. I explained I could not do that, and would not do it. I think he thought I was irresponsible shirker, but it doesn't matter-he's toast.

So yes, you get to look at the terms before you sign. Make sure you understand them, and make sure there's a way to part ways from an agent that doesn't include her agreeing to it. There's lots of advice about this floating around and most of it's pretty good.

Who sends the money?

Dear Miss Snark,

Supposed that the Gods smile upon me and my agent and my book sells well.

Given that, who pays my agent? Do I receive the check form the publisher and then write a check or does the publisher write two checks?

The publisher pays me and I pay you, less 15% for my work.
If you fire me, the publisher still pays me and I pay you, less 15%

If you have a new agent, the new agent sells new work, gets a check from the publisher and pays you. I still pay you for the book I sold.


Dear Miss Snark,

You write:
"Any agent who won't give you client contact info should be avoided at all costs."
"All reputable agents expect to be asked for this information, it's not seen as intrusive or unwelcome."

I have a friend who is happily represented by a reputable old literary agency in the 212. They do not give out clients' names, I recently learned, and they disapprove of prospects' trying to contact authors -- even authors who publish their agent information at their own websites. I don't know how this works for them, but obviously it does.


This is the same mindset as "you're lucky to get us" and "don't tell the other girls what you make for salary". In other words, a little too rarefied for my stiletto heels. Agents are not deities and even the best ones can be total pains in the ass. Better to know going into the deal than discover it when it's really too late.

On the eighth day God said "let there be boilerplate"

O Glorious Miss Snark
Answering my question will really help nobody in any way because it isn't a particularly useful question, but I've been curious about this for a while. Please share your wisdom. When and why did the profession of Literary Agent come about? I understand how invaluable you are in the current market, but I get the feeling people in "olden days" didn't have agents. So what happened?

thanks for any illumination on the subject, and please give my love and this juicy steak to KY.

KY is pretty bummed out that "this juicy steak" is made from electrons and not a steer. I'm not sure if he's sulking or plotting in the corner and but he appears to be mapquesting your house.

And no, Shakespeare and Milton didn't have agents. The profession is pretty new.

Here's a link that gives a nice overview of things got started if you're interested.

Squirrel elected president of France

Killer Yapp reads several papers around the nation. His discovery of this headline merited
what can only be described as a true Gallic sneer and sardonic "as if".


When's it ok to trash talk?

Dear Miss Snark:

I know it's never okay to badmouth a publisher, but...is it ever okay?

Seriously. What if this is a legitimate complaint about unpaid royalties, or the "buy" link for an ebook not working for weeks on end? If you plan to complain in a professional manner, not "Publisher X stinks" posted all over your website and blog, but just saying that you've had problems with them, and these are the problems, and not everyone's experience might be that way but yours is?

What if the process to break a contract is rather confusing and involves copies of letters sent to people whose names are not given anywhere, but if you go public with your complaint there's a good chance they'll drop you?

What if you already have a different publisher? Does any of it matter?

Is it ever okay to voice real discontent? Or would I be a nitwit no matter what the situation is?

The key components are adjectives, and first person. If you are stating facts, you aren't badmouthing. Saying the publisher is a dirty rotten cheating scoundrel and anyone who does business with him/her/it deserves what they get is a far cry from "they didn't pay my royalties on the agreed upon schedule". Using your own experience to state facts is important. That means "and I've also heard" is not ok.

And yes, it's ENTIRELY ok to make facts known in a calm, businesslike manner. Sharp operators depend on people not hearing about their inadequacies until it's too late.

Badmouthing is emotion laden ranting along the lines of "they didn't do enough for me" or "they didn't ever want to talk to me on the phone". You don't know what they "wanted" you only know your calls weren't answered (and there are plenty of people who think I never answer the phone either since I insist they email me because they're such pains in the ass I want written records of all conversations).

You want to keep this to a minimum of course but you're not going to shoot yourself in the foot to discuss your experiences in a calm rational way. Leave the flaming coiffures to those of us with fire extinguishers at the ready.

Agency websites with errors

Dear Miss Snark,

Write a novel. Rewrite it. Write a rough query letter. Edit novel. Edit letter. Get both critiqued by people trusted to be harsh, though not cruel. Write synopsis; edit twice. Narrow list of agents from all in existence to only those who handle your genre. Edit novel again. Edit query again. Get picky over the details. Hand it off for a second reading. Prepare a dozen SASE's. Go back to agent websites and double-check you won't be sending your Fantasy work to an agent who specializes in Horror.

Am I allowed to be horrified, and cross agencies off my list, upon seeing that they misspelled words? And not just any words- one agency has a side bar with things such as "Query Guidelines" "Recent Work" and "Apperances", spelled just that way. I'm obsessing over details, and... *shakes head and tosses KY a bone*. Yes, they represent my stuff, have AAR membership, have sold things recently- including something that's similar to my book- but they don't care enough about appearances to spell the word right on their main site.

Agent nitwits, or should I overlook it?

well, I'm not objective, given I've had spelling errors on my site too.
It happens.
It's not the end of the world.

And a lot of times, the agency website isn't maintained by the agent and/or it's a pretty low priority.
No excuse I know.

My vote is to overlook it. Whatever you do, don't mention it in your query letter, not even to be funny.

Be Miss Snark

Dear Miss Snark,

I write a combo of space opera science fiction, science fantasy, and romance all loosely wrapped in humorous chaos. Normal agents and editors do not say send me your space opera science fiction, science fantasy, and romance all loosely wrapped in humorous chaos. However I do enjoy the heck out of getting lost in my own stories and others seem to enjoy reading them. My question, am I pounding sand in my desires for finding a publisher/agent. If not, whither mightest I goest? The obvious answer mightest doest because I have not the cluest.

Thanks for firing your random neuron for me,

Contracts and references

Oh Great Guru of Wicked Snark,

I have two very short questions. Number 1 – if the agent does happen to want a deal, will I be made to fly into the bastions of New York to sign the contract, or do I even get to meet this person? Number 2 – since I will probably be spending a lot of time with this person, when does it come along to ask for a reference for services, without offending said agent and blowing the whole deal?

for all protestations of devotion in your signature (redacted) you haven't slithered through the Snarkives very thoroughly cause I know I've answered both questions before.

However, here ya go:

1. You don't have to fly to NYC to sign a contract. I have several clients I've never met. I do try to meet them but it's not a consideration before signing if I haven't.

2. You ask for references before you sign up with an agent. Any agent who won't give you client contact info should be avoided at all costs. This is absolute. I have some clients I don't give contact info for, but I have several who are willing to be contacted and I give their names out when asked without a second thought. All reputable agents expect to be asked for this information, it's not seen as intrusive or unwelcome. It's also fine to contact an author directly without an agent's ok. You may not get an answer but it's still ok to do it. I hear about this from my clients all the time.

"Must be typewritten"

Dear Miss Snark:

My day job is transcription. When we are busy (which it has been ever since I was hired) I spend 10 to 12 hours on the computer every day, only taking time to cook dinner and kiss my spouse-creature hello when he gets home from work.

As you well know, every agent out there requires everything to be typed up in a specific way and frankly, I don't really do any writing on my computer any more. With all the computer work I do during the day, I simply cannot bring myself to write my novels on the computer. I write long hand with a special fountain pen that provides extremely fluid, stress free writing to my work-weary fingers and wrists. I figure this is better than never writing at all.

Have you any advice for someone like me who would love to become a published author but hand writes all her work? Are those days of sending in handwritten manuscripts gone with the wind? Is there any way to explain my predicament to an agent without sounding like I'm whining and begging for sympathy? Am I a hopeless nitwit in want of a clue gun smack upside the head?

I look forward to your answer. The pain will take my mind off the soreness of my digits. Must go sink them in ice now. Or maybe I should go soak my head.

The only people who get a pass on "must be typewritten" are the boys down at the city jail. Some of them even send in typed stuff via wives/girlfriends/clever poodles...the usual roster of amanuenses (and before you wave your Latin dic at me, that's the PLURAL form of amanuensis)

There are people who will type up your words for you. They are called typists. They'll charge you for it. Others are called sweethearts. They won't charge you for it, but you're better off paying for it up front rather than hashing it out in divorce court after you're rich and famous.

This is pretty much a non-negotiable condition these days. Someone has to type this up and I can tell you it's not going to be me. You can talk to Killer Yapp about it but he's in the amenuensis union and I think his rates include cigars, walkies, and no mention of squirrels in the book.

Book two

Dear Miss Snark,

After following your advice with care and diligence, I snared myself Agent Wonderful. She is out pimping my very first book to editors, sending me updates when warranted. In short: Yippee!

In the meantime, I have finished my very second book. Friends are encouraging me to send VSB off to Agent Wonderful. But Agent Wonderful has only been shopping VFB for a short while (in Publishing Time) and I know she's working hard at it, rattling editor cages all over town. I suspect she's also busy with other clients. She knows I've been working on something. She has not asked to see it. When/if should I bring VSB to the attention of Agent Wonderful?

Tell her you've got it and ask if she wants to see it.

Generally I don't want to see book two till I've sold book one. If I can't sell book one of course, I'll read book two and see if that might have better luck.

I never shop two books by one author at the same time unless they are wildly different things such as a book of sonnets and a Western set in space.


A Tribute to Nicholas Pekearo

I've mentioned the two auxiliary officers who were killed in Greenwich Village on March 14. One, Nicholas Pekearo, was a writer and a devoted reader. A young man who volunteered his time to make our city a good place to live. In other words, one of those guys you never hear about until he's dead before his time, and it's too late to thank him for stepping up.

There's a benefit concert on May 9, here in New York, for a cause this man believed in.

A Tribute to Nicholas Pekearo

Benefit Concert for PROTECT featuring Jesse Dayton, a hard rocking, good time guy from Austin, TX.

Don Hill's 511 Greenwich St., New York, NY

May 9, 2007 : doors open at 9PM

cover : $20.00 (100% donated to PROTECT)

Complete details can be found here

To blog or not to blog

I have a paranormal mystery novel at the submission stage - thoroughly critiqued, polished to the best I can get it, and quite original IMO. Of course, agents and publishers may see it differently, but that's another subject.

I am thinking about starting a blog on the subject matter of the story: the paranormal and the divide between those who believe and those who don't. (Not quite, but close enough. I'm trying to be a little cagey about the core issues, as I think the idea is original enough to consider it in my best interests to keep it close to my chest.)

On the issue of blogging writers you have said:

"Do I look for writers by reading their blogs? No I find writers the old fashioned way: they fall into my mailbox with nice letters. However, if someone queries me and says "Dearest Miss Snark, I have a blog that gets 1000 unique hits a day" and "my blog is about my writing" of course I'd pay attention."

Does this apply to subject matter not directly related to writing or publishing? I think, if done properly, the blog could attract some attention and get some good traffic. But is it really a useful tool when the writer is unpublished to try and sway the prospective agent/publisher that the subject matter generates a lot of interest?

There are many good writers blogs out there and I'm sure the world doesn't need another. But if you had one that dealt with intriguing core issues covered in your story, and it was interesting enough to attract a lot of, well, interest, is it a good marketijng tool?

Key phrase: interesting and done well

In case you're wondering, it's not all that easy to keep a good blog. I see a lot of crappy ones out there and a few that are downright damaging to an author's public face.

I also don't troll the blogosphere for writers but when I google hot prospects, you bet I look at their websites or blogs.

Here are the things I think make a blog work well for a writer building an online presence:

1. pictures
like here

2. hilarious
like here

3. informative
like here

4. slice of life outside the usual
like here

5. very very focused
like here

And really almost all of those blogs are all of those things and they're well written.

Starting a blog just cause you've heard it's a good idea is the wrong starting point. The right starting point is do you have anything to say, and do you have enough of it to say one new thing every day for a year.

And just cause you have a blog doesn't mean anyone will ever read it. I'm stunned by the number of people who read this blog now, but when I started there were about six of us and three of them were poodles. I was very fortunate to receive mentions by GalleyCat and Publisher's Lunch within several weeks of launching but that was almost two years ago when blogging was still relatively new. I think I was one of fewer than ten publishing professionals keeping a blog at that time. Now there are hundreds.

A dead blog isn't a plus.


Backlist soup

Dear Miss Snark:
Have you ever had a situation where you signed an author only to find he/she has an backlist of unpublished novels? I'm not talking a plethora of drawer books, but solid, decent titles that didn't find homes because the market turned or they just weren't breakout enough. How do you handle this? Do you deal with one at a time, or perhaps pitch a few, looking for a multiple book deal? What if you don't love the books as much as the one you signed the author on?

sorry, lots of questions, I know. I'm just looking for a glimmer of hope, here.

thanks in advance, juicy soup bone to KY.

KY says thanks for the mastodon soup: yummy!

Miss Snark says: I'm pretty sure every client I've EVER signed has a bunch of novels they think are good and that didn't sell. Generally the back list comes out for consideration when we're trying to find book two. I read them one at a time. So far the record is six: six reads to find the one I thought I could sell.

And I've had clients fire me cause I didn't like what they had up their sleeve too. Not fun, but from their standpoint, the right decision.

And I've sold books I didn't love.

Hook as in right hook

I have a novel called THOUSAND DOLLAR ADULT. It is about a woman who cannot box worth a flip, so she becomes a literary agent. All is well until she starts developing homicidal impulses toward some turkey in California who keeps sending her nitwit queries stuffed in with stale cookie crumbs. Tormented by her inner demons and her envy of Muhammad Ali, she stalks the would-be novelist and blows his brains out, not with a .357 magnum, but with a surprise attack right hook from her old boxing days. And he thought she invited him to dinner to discuss his book. What a sap.

The agent is put on trial, meaning she has to pay lawyers for years and years and years (the crime took place in California, after all and they are in no hurry.) She doesn’t mind the prospect of death row, but the legal fees are killing her ahead of schedule. Fortunately while the idiot prosecutor is not watching, the defense attorneys stack the jury with other literary agents. Then at the climax of the story the agents in the jury box all stand up as a group and shout “Not Guilty!” (I stole this from the movie HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE.)

That despite twenty eye-witnesses, a signed confession, numerous character witnesses who testified for the prosecution, and an old Wal-Mart security video showing her giving the janitor a shellacking.

Finally she gets back to her office in New York, only to be confronted by the result of a long absence: The Slush Pile From Hell.

My only concern is that this story could never happen in reality and that no literary agent will take it seriously.

What say you?

Bring it on.

Thank yous

Dear Miss Snark,

Three related questions:

First, I've heard it said not to send anything to one's agent as a thank-you other than a nice, handwritten card -- stressing that this is a job, and as the agent is not in fact being "nice" but just doing a job, anything else is overkill. I've read stories of wilting flower bouquets and uneaten fruit baskets, and although I'm pretty sure you'd make an exception for a gin pail or George Clooney's home number, what, in your opinion, do other agents tend to think on this matter? I'd feel like a little bit of a nitwit if I called my agent and said, "so what would you like me to send you to say thanks?" (But if you can think of a tactful way to do just that, I'd be game!)

Second, when in the process does one send whatever it is one has deemed appropriate? When the contract is signed? When the book goes on sale? When Miss Snark plugs the ARC on her blog? All of the above?

And third, I've noticed I tend to say "thanks!" in most of my e-mails to my agent. I'm not trying to be suck-up-ish, I just think I have an awesome agent who does her job very well, and she deserves to know I appreciate her hard work. But how does one know when enough becomes too much, the agent's eyes start rolling, and George is summoned to start the IV gin drip?

Thanks (see, there I go again!) so much.

1. I've received an assortment of things, most recently the entire inventory of a saloon which comes in quite handy on the days it's raining too hard to slink over to the Bathtub Bar and Still.

Flowers are almost always lovely, bottles of hooch as well. You can ask the agent's other clients what they sent. But really and truly, giftage is not a requirement of the deal.

2. Mostly I get the swag when contracts are signed. That's kind of a big deal moment, and we all feel like celebrating a lot, particularly if it was a long process.

3. It's never ever wrong to say thank you to your agent in an email (well, ok "you stink, you're fired, thanks for nothing" is the exception). Even Miss Snark's cold cruel heart is slightly thawed by "thank you, you're the best" in emails.

Takes a lickin' and keeps on bitchin'

The topic that will not die

dunce cap for the publicist

Dear Miss Snark,

It's springtime, the season of birds, bees, and cologne/weightlifting/highheels/shortskirts... et cetera.

Some highlights from The Romance Revolution:

~ 55% of women and 41% of men have said "I love you" in the hopes it would lead to sex.

~ 64% of men and 72% of women "want more romance" in their lives.

~ 86% of those surveyed believe it's "cool to be romantic".

In honor of the season, (publisher redacted) will issue its annual Romance Report this Wednesday, whose findings tell us what we already know: America is a nation of romantics. This year's report, The Romance Revolution, took the romantic pulse of American men and women, interviewing about their hopes and perceptions on the state of America's art of love.

Because of your blog coverage of Romance Lit, I've attached the report's press release, scheduled to go on the newswires tomorrow. I hope this brings a little springtime steam to your page, and if you want any more information on the report, drop me a line and I'll get right back to you.

Con Amour, I'm sure.

yea right.
My coverage of Romance Lit?
I may end up with a noise complaint from the neighbors I'm laughing so hard at that one.

Yes, this guy is spamming Killer Yapp.
No, it doesn't matter worth a damn to me.

What it means to YOU however is that if you write romance and your publisher tells you they have an email press campaign, you might want to see what they think that entails.

There are many many ways to be effective on line. Spam isn't one of them.

As a writer you must be prepared to advocate for your own book online. You absolutely cannot expect anyone else to do it effectively. Publishers can cover the trade outlets (like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal) and they can get review copies to newspapers but I've NEVER yet seen an effective online campaign from a major publisher.

If you go back and look at the books I've talked about on this blog you'll find two things:
1. they are books written by people who read this blog, and who've been reading it for awhile and are known to me from the comments column; and

2. they are books Snarklings, or someone I know, or a blogger I read, recommended.

In other words, a pr department telling me about a book has ZERO effectiveness here. Marketing and PR in Cyberia happens one-on-one or in places that feel like one-on-one (like the DorothyL list or Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).

One of the great things about most blogs is people are writing about books about which they have genuine emotion-be it love or loathing. I actually read a book cause someone hated it so much (figuring I knew the guy was an idiot so I'd probably like the book--I didn't).

I tell all my authors to find blogging communities they like, and to be visible in those communities. Not every day, or even every week, but known. People buy books of people they know and like (or perhaps in Miss Snark's case--know and fear).

And tell your publisher not to spam Killer Yapp. It's interfering with his efforts to learn Catalan.

The venerable Bede? no, that's Miss Bent to you, bucko

Miss. Snark,

I recently submitted an email query to Jenny Bent and she replied in less than 24 hours asking me to send her a partial (50 pages) via email. It has been two weeks since I sent it and I got no confirmation that she got it but I am pretty sure she did. Is two weeks a bad indication that it has been rejected after such a quick response to my query? How long should I wait until I inquire if at all?

I am a first time author so I am not sure how long these things take.

First clue: there are 4000 posts on this blog. At least ten percent of them deal with timing. My guess is you've read none of them. Before you ask basic questions, at least make a stab at finding the answer. There are two direct benefits: you'll find out faster AND you won't look like a nitwit.

Second clue: Here's what Miss Bent's daily schedule is

9am arrive at office via sedan chair

9:05am receive editors lined up begging to buy projects

12:02pm first lunch with Michiko

12:42pm second lunch with Oprah

1:30pm return to office to sort through offers from morning's editor line up

1:45pm return phone calls from worthy editors

3:10pm afternoon tea with Mick Jagger who is seeking advice on a ghost writer for his long overdue bio

3:45 pm read emails in slush pile

3:46pm sort through invitations from beseeching prize committees such as Nobel and Pulitzer

3:47pm conduct six auctions simultaneously with color coded ink pens and briskly efficient team of assistants

3:52pm make five editors weep in frustration as the Next Big Book goes elsewhere

4:15pm telephone calls with clients who offer up a litany of thanks, chocccies, loinfruit (first born of course) and really good scotch

5:00pm sedan chair for trip home

7:15pm dinner with Pope who is overheard whispering ruefully "oh such sweet temptation"

9:15pm returns home to peruse manuscripts

10:00pm fall asleep in bower of rose petals

As you can see Miss Bent is extremely busy doing what they pay her for down there: selling books. And partials get 30 days even if she isn't.