Dear Miss Sloth

Helloooooo Miss Snark,

Love the blog and I have a question (well, two actually) that I am hoping you might be able to help me with.

First, what is the appropriate amount of time to follow up with an agent who has requested a full manuscript? I know that they need sufficient time to get to it, and I thought I read somewhere that 3-4 months was long enough before bugging them about whether they have gotten to it. I have had three agents request full manuscripts but none of them indicated a turn-around time to read it. I am coming up on the three month mark for the first agent to request it and am wondering whether it would be a good time to follow up and see where I stood.

Second, there seem to be plenty of web sites and resources around for sample query letters, but do you know of any that give examples of how to word an appropriate follow-up letter? Not that I couldnt write a polite follow up on my own, but I am just wondering if there is a standard format that should be used for these.

Thanks in advance

Well, I'm so glad you asked. You don't even want to know how many manuscripts I have here that are four months old. If I've learned one thing from you all, it's to be religious about staying in touch with people when I have their work. They may think I'm a sloth but they know I've got it and I'm not dead.

90 days is industry standard on a full. LOTS of people take longer, me included right now. I've read some things in under six weeks, but other things just don't get read that fast.

Follow up is businesslike: Dear Miss Sloth, Thank you for your interest in my Huge Ass Tome Of Fabulosity. I sent the full ms on October 10, 2002 and I am just checking in to see if you've had a chance to take a look at it. I'm very interested to hear what you think (insert sound of sucking up here). Love, and kisses, Thomas Pinchin

I know it drives you crazy that it takes so long. Since I do all my own reading, my speed depends on how busy I am with other things. Right now, its nutso. That's a good thing for my clients, and me, but it's hell on wheelbearings for the queriers.

Hi! I'm Miss Snark and I'm an Agent!

Dear Miss Snark,

What, for you, makes a conference perfect? Or as near to perfection as possible? What are some of your likes and dislikes during the whole process? From initial invite to making it back to your office in one piece.

Start to finish here's what makes a conference good for me (not for a writer, but for a visiting agent).

1. Spell out the specifics of what you want me to do when you ask me attend: teach a workshop (ask me what my best workshops are but tell me you want at least one); appointments with writers; any kind of obligatory social thing. I HATE showing up to a conference to find out that there are six more things I'm expected to attend than I thought.

1a. Tell me what the expected weather is going to be, or any other conditions that are normal for you but abnormal for us. It rains a lot in Portland; Denver has altitude; it's hot as hell in Fresno in the summer...those things.

2. Spell out what you're paying for: airfare, meals, transportation; if it's reimbursement or you book it; and if there is a limit to the amount ($500 for airfare for example). If you're NOT paying for some of these, just tell me. Sometimes I'll come anyway but I will not get into a wrangle with a conference about reimbursement and ever ever attend again. AND I'll mention why to my colleagues.

3. Have someone pick me up at the airport. More than anything this makes me willing to do damn near anything for you. I don't drive, so I can't rent a car, and trying to figure out ground transportation in a strange city or how much cash I need for a cab is a pain after a long plane ride.

3a. Don't expect me to share a room with anyone. This is non-negotiable.
3b. the fewer meals shared with conference attendees the better. I'm not at my best at breakfast, and I like some downtime too.

4. You can work me as hard as you want for as long as you want if you have someone whose sole job is to keep my coffee cup full. In other words, I'll do back to back agent appointments for as long as you want, but if you don't bring food and water, I'm getting very very very grumpy.

5. Name tags for writers that show their level of expertise. RWA does this pretty well. It helps to know someone is a total neophyte when they show up with a 215,o00 word memoir of surviving the carrot patch on Rabbitania.

6. Giving people a list of industry terms in their conference packet. If I don't have to explain the difference between genre and category it helps.

7. Screen the agents who attend. If an agent hasn't sold something within the last year, don't invite them. If an agent charges fees, don't invite them. If an agent is running a sideline business in editorial services, don't invite them. I don't want to be on a panel with those people and I REALLY don't want to say anything on a panel (Miss Snark's defacto rule "what have you sold" for example) that will embarrass them.

8. Screen the writers. Don't let writers pitch projects that aren't finished if they are novelists. Set them up with info sessions.

9. Don't charge writers extra money to attend pitch sessions. It violates AAR rules. No one gets too strident about this but really, I'd rather not be put in the position of doing something I shouldn't cause you didn't know.

10. Have a clear, easily readable schedule and map when I show up. Remember, I need to have my best foot forward all day, every day. If I can't find a room, or I miss an appointment cause it was tucked away on an schedule addendum, that's the ONLY thing some people will remember about ME. They won't remember it wasn't my fault. They'll think I'm a nitwit. I can be a nitwit without any help as it is.

11. Invite a geographical mix of agents. There are a lot of good agents who don't hang their bandolier in the 212.

12. If it's a multiple day conference, tell the conference organizers to wear the same shirt each day. If I've learned to associate you with the bunny t-shirt that says "Rabbitania rules" it will take me a couple seconds to figure out you're in a new ensemble on day two, and I'll have to be close enough to read your name tag. It's also easier to remember the Rabbitania Rules tshirt than names. I will try hard to remember names, but it's not even close to 50% on Day One.

My colleagues may have more to add to this. Perhaps they'll comment or email me so I can add their insights.

Query glitches

In my querying stage, I've recently gotten two envelopes back that were unopened. I checked their websites, and one of them has a notice on their page saying they're not taking submissions (mea culpa--I don't have internet at home and was relying on a book). Is it customary to just return the envelope to sender?

Would that it were and I had x-ray vision. Think of the extra time I could devote to swilling gin and pursuing Mr. Clooney.

I get 100 letters a week here at Snark Central. If there's only a 2% glitch rate, that means 2 people get weird ass responses, no responses, or letters from Killer Yapp asking for donations to the Squirrel Resettlement Fund.

When YOU get the error, all you see is your letter, you don't know you're the unlucky one or two out of a hundred.

Write again. Don't mention the glitch. You can call or email to ask if the agency is accepting queries, but please, I beg of you do not call to ask about your specific query.

I've barely recovered from aching ribs after a colleague related the following:

working busily on some tome on a Sunday, the telefono trills. In a fit of insanity, she answers:

Caller: Is this Agent Wurk O'Haulic?

AWO: Yes, hello.

C: I'm ..ah...calling, I'm calling to see if you got my query. (just a quick aside to remind you it's SUNDAY! He clearly expected a machine and to leave a message and that the agent would actually call back!)

AWO: I don't know. I don't keep track of query letters. We do respond to everything we receive.

C: Yes, I know, I got my letter back.

AWO: ...ah...ok...so, you know we got it.

C: Well, it was just my letter, there was no letter from you.

AWO: We respond with form letters to things we don't want.

C: There was no form letter even.

AWO: We email people when we want to see more pages.

C: But, did you even read this? Did you even see it?

AWO: I'm sorry, I don't recall specific queries.

C: Well, does this sound familiar? (and yes, dear readers, he begins reading his query letter aloud, to the agent, on the phone, on a Sunday afternoon).

Now, the best part of this story does involve facial expressions, which are sadly lacking in this rendition, but you're a novelist, you can fill in the blanks.

There are many things one can do when a querier reads the query letter over the phone just on the off chance you made a terrible mistake saying no the first time, and are suitably impressed by the diligence of this great and overlooked auteur. One of them is hang up. Another is ... not.

We're still laughing about that down at the watering hole but it's not the kind of hilarity you want surrounding your name, trust me on that.

Idiot agents who need to be clue-smacked

Dear Miss Snark,

I signed with a newbie agent. He has given me good notes and has been enthusiastic about my novel (we're in rewrite stage, not showing stage). He also has stood me up numerous times for meetings about next steps and does not return phone calls or emails. I had to write a letter to get him to respond to me suggesting that perhaps I needed new representation, and he had excuses about busyness (which is acceptable), but no apology or assurances that he would be more responsive in the future (which is less acceptable).

What now? He's guided the project to this point, so to walk would be unfair of me. But it's excruciating to work with someone who is the one sitting up the meetings he then bails on. Do I get a new agent? Do I put up with this? I don't want to be coddled; I just want a working relationship that works.

I have to tell you that the run up to going out on a book, what you call the showing stage, is the easiest, least frustrating part of the working relationship. It's just you and the author. If this part is hard, you're in for a world of hurt.

You are not an indentured servant. This is YOUR work and your project and your peace of mind. If you're writing to me NOW, you're going to be buying weaponry at the CluePorium once you get editors, sales people, publicity people and everyone else involved.

If he hasn't gone out on this book -if he hasn't shopped it-- this is the IDEAL time to make a change. Once he's started shopping it, you've got detritus to deal with.

Every single client that I sign hears the same thing from me: be very very sure right now cause there's gonna come a point when we need to draw from that well of confidence when things are going badly and we're both cranky as hell.

Agent sidelines

Dear Miss Snark:

I'm a relative newcomer to your blog, and I'm learning a great deal -- thank you.

You may have covered this, but I didn't see it in the archives. I recently ran across a literary agency that offers consulting services as a sideline: contact negotiation, general editorial commentary and line editing (three separate services). They are upfront about stating explicitly that if you submit to them and are rejected, using their paid services will not necessarily get you a
second look (though they do say that it might), and they charge an upfront retainer for those services.

Is this a red flag? They're not referring people to outside editors, and they're not making any promises, so it didn't seem wildly unreasonable, but it didn't sit quite right, either.

Am I being overly suspicious?

Thanks again. (And thanks especially for the "Links to Cool People" -- I'm now a huge Maud Newton fan!)

You'd be better off to hire a real editor if you want editorial advice. Agents are not editors. Ex-editors may be better editors than those of us who weren't ever editors, but still, why hire a salesperson for the assembly line?

The elephant in the foyer here is that people believe, no matter what we say, that if we just read their work we'll want to represent it. They'll pay for editorial consultation to get it read. There is no amount of "warning" that will dissuade them.

I know we can't save people from themselves, but this is exactly why AAR has a rule about this kind of thing.

I look at agents who have little sidelines going and I remember the best advice I ever read about being good at something was in "Waiting for Dizzy". The advice was from a musician who said you can only play one instrument really really well. You can be ok on several instruments, but superb on only one. You have to focus. I think about that every single time I'm tempted to make a quick buck doing "consulting".

Rights reversions

How possible is it for a contract with a publisher to state that when/if my book goes out of print rights revert to me? I'm okay with it happening years after the book has been out of print, but if a publisher isn't willing to or can't keep up a backlist with all the print-on-demand and ebook technologies out there why can't I do it myself?

Publishing contracts have a standard "reversion of rights" clause that spells out when the rights come back to you. If by some horrid chance you signed a contract that does NOT have a rights reversion clause, well, next time you know to ask Miss Snark before you sign a contract you don't understand, and you can amend the contract.

Rights reversions happen all the time. You don't have to wait years. If the publisher isn't exploiting the rights, chances are you can get them back just by asking.


Looking for an SFF agent?

One of my colleagues has a blog.
It's pretty good. No where near Snarky enough, but probably he's MUCH nicer than Miss Snark because he lives in Cable Car City.

He lists science fiction among the books he represents. And he takes e-queries (cause he thinks those of us who don't are old fogies----and he's RIGHT!!).

Letters of intent

Hey Miss Snark --

I'm speaking to a book agent now who I've been dealing with for the past two weeks or so. I haven't gotten to hand her in my non-fiction proposal yet because I've been so swamped with other things, though I have an online campaign building momentum for this book and I believe she's seen it and now believes even more in the project than she had, before.

She just wrote me and said that she understands that book proposals take time, so don't worry, but in the meantime, she'd love to do a letter of intent with me. I think this sounds like great news but am just unaware of what that actually means in the publishing world?

Could you pleaaase enlighten us, over here in my neck of the woods?

My guess is she wants to nail you down so you aren't shopping this to other people but I don't know. I've never heard of issuing a letter of intent before but perhaps some of the Snarklings can enlighten us both.

Have trees, need forest

Hello Miss Snark–

If an agent chooses clients based on excellent writing, a great plot, and a polished manuscript, what is left for an editor to do? I’m not being snarky. I’m just curious after reading lots of agents’ blogs.

buy the project.

Pitch sessions at writing conferences

Hi Miss Snark,

What are the specific goals of an agent who offers pitch sessions at a writing conference?

Survival till the bar opens.

What can a writer expect from the 10-minute experience?

Glazed eyes

Is your hook formula from the last COM a good place to start creating a pitch?


Do you think it's possible to pitch more than one project in the 10 minutes, or should one fill the time with greater detail about a single project?

yes, yes

Should the author expect to do all the talking or is there some give-and-take?

dear dog in heaven, this is NOT a lecture or an info-mercial.

Agents hate these.
We do them, we hate them. Almost everyone hates them a lot but I hate them the most of anyone in New York.

I hate them because 99.9% of the people I talk to have high hopes and unrealistic expectations. Those qualities will help them survive the writing apprenticeship BUT it's absolute agony to listen to them talk knowing full well the project they are pitching is unsaleable.

Conferences are sending out invites for the coming year, so it's a topic we are discussing at the watering hole lately. When a conference asks me to attend, I look up their past list of agents, find one I know and get on the blower to them pronto. My question is always "was this a well managed conference" and "did you find any clients there". The answer to the second question is hardly ever yes.

I think that's because writers tend to go to conferences while they are still learning craft. They're pitching projects before they are ready. What they learn there will help them hone their pitch and hone their work and come back months or years later to query me. I'm still getting queries from conferences I attended in 2002.

All that wailing aside, a writer would do well at ANY pitch session to remember that an agent is a human being and being asked a question is a whole lot more condusive to conversation than being told about anything.

So, you say "good morning, how are you" rather than "let me tell you about my novel".

You say "what books did you love this year" rather than "you'll love my book"

You ask "what do you like to know about a project at sessions like this".

And here's why you, and you alone will be the radiant exception in the sea of horror at that conference. When the agent answers the questions about "what would you like to know" you can tell her those things. You can tell her because you have prepared EXTENSIVELY and perhaps even have notecards with answers to the following:

word count?

plot line?


who would read this?
is it like any books I've sold?

what is interesting to you about the characters or the story?

The key to good pitching is to remember that it's SELLING. The key to good selling is to solve your buyer's problem. One question I ask every editor is "what are you looking for that you can't find". Sometimes I have it, sometimes I can pass the info to colleagues. I'd MUCH rather pitch them a book they've told me they're looking for than persuade them they want what I have.

Mostly what these conference sessions do is let you meet agents and get past the chill of a cold call. I give more attention to queries that come from people who attended conferences where I spoke. I do this cause I assume they listened to me, or talked to me, and don't think I'm a drooling idiot (all evidence to the contrary).

Whatever you do, don't expect an agent to critique your work, or sign you on the spot. And if an agent asks for pages, remember it's exquisitely hard to say no in person. I never do unless the person is just absolutely so clearly not ready that it's a waste of postage and time to send anything.

What writing conferences are good for I've learned from you all here at the blog is making contact with other writers.

How full is a full?

Dear Miss Snark,

If an agent requests a full after reading a partial (say chapters 1-2), then do I have to resend the partial or assume that the agent has held on to the pages and just requires the remainder of the manuscript (i.e. everything but chapters 1-2)?

If the agent hasn't specified, ask him/her. There's no industry standard on this. I ask for the entire thing all over again, but I also ask for it electronically, not on pages. I do this because as I've read the partial I've noted all the typos and told you about them, and expect them to be fixed not just in the partial but in the full. This is one of the things that tells me a lot about what an author is like to work with.

For example if I've pointed out the misuse of "lay" (and that's the #1 error on otherwise well honed mss) on page 3, I expect you to search out all uses of "lay" in your ms and FIX THEM before I see a full.

Don't worry about asking question at this point. If an agent is interested in your work, your questions aren't in the "don't bug me about your query" category. I'm interested in working with you, you're interested in working with me, we're getting to know each other.


Word of the day: DRAGOON!!

I subscribe to the Word A Day listserv and it's always interesting. Today it's one of my favorite words, even though I misused it lo, these many years. DRAGOON. I thought it meant a regiment but no, it's one guy. Also coercion, another of my favorite words.


This week's theme: words with hidden animals.

dragoon (druh-GOON) verb tr.

To force someone to do something; coerce.

[From French dragon (dragon, to dragoon).]

This is a good example of how a term transferred from an object to a people to an action. Originally it referred to the firearms, either from the fact that they breathed fire like a dragon or from the shape of the pistol hammer. Eventually it began to be applied to a European cavalryman armed with a carbine. Today the term is used in the sense of forcing someone to do something against his or her will.

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:

-Anu Garg (garg wordsmith.org)

"Canadians should not be dragooned into going down the same garden path. We should say no to no-fly lists."
Ground Canada's No-fly List Now;
The Gazette (Montreal, Canada);
Jan 16, 2007.

Alien love

Dear Miss Snark,

I've noticed a lot of agents indicate they're not interested in receiving queries for fantasy/science fiction, more so than any other genres. Why is that?

Hopefully this question is merely clueless, and not nitwitry...

Sorry, no clue cannon for you today. Your parting prize is the answer to your question. You may play in the Nitwit Stakes again next week.

SF/F has fewer publishers and a smaller market. Hard to make money doing it.

End run

Dear Miss Snark:

If an agent doesn't keep a client informed on the status of a book and rarely answers infrequent emails, is it ever all right for a writer to contact editors? You may be wondering why I don't fire my agent, and believe me I'm thinking about it.

A big hello to KY from me.

If the book is sold to a specific editor at a publisher, yes.

If the book is on submission, no.

If your agent isn't answering your emails, get on the phone. If s/he isn't answering the phone, write a letter.

Remember though, publishing moves at a glacial speed and there simply may be nothing new to say.

That said, one of my biggest rants is agents who treat clients like they are a pain in the ass. Even if they are, they're the ones writing the stuff that brings in the money, and answering their emails is one of the requirements of the job.

KY wants you to know he offers agent contacting services at a discount rate to blog readers. First bite is free.

Literary Agent Row

Miss Snark,

As I edited the address of a new query letter (over the address of a rejected agency), I noticed the strangest thing. Not only was the street address the same but the new agency even had the same suite number as the previous one. I thought it must have been "user error" but I double checked both entries in Jeff Herman's guide and the addresses are identical. Is it common for two agencies to share space or should this be a red flag?

Oh please, we're stuffed into office space like bees in a hive. The cost of square footage is really high in NYC, and agenting income is erratic. Smart agents keep their "monthly nut" low. Sharing office space and a copier is smart. It's also great to have access to other people for quick consultations.

No red flag at all.

Publishing jobs

Miss Snark -

I've been looking for an assistantship at a literary agency or publishing house for a while. Now, when I get good advice I take it - when you said make sure to have read at least one book on the list of the agent/editor you're interviewing with, go to more readings, etc., I made sure I did.

But there are a few things I keep hearing from people when I tell them I'm looking for work in publishing. Two discouraging things.

1. Publishing is more nepotistic/connection-based than other industries; you've got no hope unless you have a friend/parent of a friend/etc. who can refer you to a job. Even if your credentials are otherwise great.

2. Everybody in publishing is miserable. Go be a lawyer instead.

Any chance you'd weigh in on these two downers?

I have no idea if publishing is more nepotistic (is that even a word?) than other industries. I mean, you can try to be the Queen of England on your own but I think you need connections. Publishing is a SMALL industry so there are fewer actual jobs thus the presence of friends/family may be a larger percentage but it's entirely possible to get a job in this town without knowing any one.

2. Yea, like lawyers are all happy. First year associates work 80 hour weeks and get fired after two years and partners are under enormous pressure to rack up billable hours. There's a reason all those lawyers and doctors are writing crime fiction.

Publishing is low paid and frustrating. It's also glorious. As an agent, I work with people who are smart, funny, creative and extraordinarily happy with their lives on the whole. My job is to help them be successful. The details of day to day life can be frustrating and filled with angst. Show me a job that isn't. I have the best job in the world, and I thank God every single day for it.

D0 what you love. Tell those naysayers to fuck off and die.


Death, taxes..oh wait, no death (darn) just taxes

Dear Miss Snark,

I'll keep my question short, lest I provide fodder for the clue cannon.

Could you recommend a good book (or other resource, but I like books) about tax laws for writers?

Many thanks for your informative and entertaining blog.

Yes, much like a writer's tax return I am informative and entertaining!

No clue cannon though, sorry. This is a good question. You may try for nitwittery next week.

I don't know the answer to this question since my part in your taxes is limited to sending you a 1099.

I'm sure many of the readers of this blog can help out though.

Weigh in, oh Snarlings of the Ledger sheet!


This isn't a beveraage alert, this is a beverage WARNING

I'm having trouble settling in to work today.
Maybe I'll go for a bike ride.

Maybe not.

Don't mind me, I'm just here gathering fodder for my novel

Oh Great Wise Snark:

I have written a scorchingly satirical mainstream novel based on the general insanity of my corporate work environment. (Yes, Houston, we have a plot.) Names, locations, events, etc., have all been changed to protect....well, whatever needs protecting. I've spent a year letting the manuscript cool off, and invested another six months in revising and polishing. I'd really like to begin the query process, but have some nagging fears keeping me awake at night:

1) How "loosely-disguised" can reality be to pass as fiction?

2) If I haven't given away any industry secrets, or otherwise broken my non-disclosure agreement with the company -- can I get fired for writing this?

3) Would this be a case where it would be appropriate to write using a pen name?

I am cringing in dread of painful clue-stick blows, but would prefer death by clue-stick (or Killer Yap) to losing my day job for being a nitwit.

Of course you can be fired for writing this. You can probably be fired for writing anything negative about your company. Companies fire first and deal with wrongful termination suits later. And they have no sense of humor about writers satirizing their company or their products.

If you think a pen name will protect you, you're nuts. You think those guys can't read a copyright registration form?

I have no idea what question number one is asking.

You screwed up, how to recover

Dear Miss Snark,

I went a screwed the pooch. Having recently whipped my manuscript into final draft form I've been honing a query letter.

There was one agent on my list,that I really wanted to make a slam bang impression with, but she only takes queries via standard mail. Okay, I thought. No problem.

So I take my query letter. It's rock solid. It could cut frickin' diamond. I get the first ten pages of my manuscript printed out. I'm feeling good. I put it all in a package after pacing around. I lick the envelope shut, stalk out to the post office box, and drop it in.

An hour later as the postman is pulling away from my apartment bloc I about shit myself because: FUCK I FORGOT TO INCLUDE THE FUCKING SASE THAT'S SITTING RIGHT ON MY DESK.

Now I have this feeling that the manuscript won't even make it out of the slush pile, because they'll just pop open the envelope, notice there's no SASE, and chuck the whole damn thing.

Here's the only upside I can see: I included my e-mail address and phone number in the heading. What should I do? Send a second query package with a note apologizing for the lack of the SASE in the first, or just quit being neurotic and figure that if my writing is good enough they'll shoot me an e-mail if they want more with a slap me on the wrist for being an idiot.

Am I being overly optimistic with the second scenario?


Wait about three weeks. If you hear nothing, query again. Do Not Mention your previous foray into forgetfulness. No reason to ever mention it ever again in fact.

The three week window applies ONLY to cases where you forgot the SASE. Normal turnaround time on queries is 30 days. A colleague and I were laughing just yesterday about an email she got asking the status of a query sent on 1/10. Yesterday as you know was 1/29.

I wrote up a little message to send back but I don't think she used it: Dear Querywort: In order to turn queries around in under 30 days, we limit ourselves to reading only the first line. I'm afraid your first line 'I'd like to present my novel' is rather over used, doesn't provide fresh perspective and thus not something we can take on. I hope we got back to you promptly on this so you can query others.

Topics I won't read, no matter what

Dear Ms. Snark:

I really love your blog, thank you so much for sharing, (and venting).

My manuscript is complete and polished, my query is professional and enticing, and I have only queried agents who are actively looking for manuscripts in my genre, (commercial fiction). However, my subject matter is controversial.

How do I get an agent to look past the fact that my story involves abortion, and see that the overall story is worth reading. I will greatly appreciate any suggestions you can offer.

Well you've heard it here often enough: write well, but in this case you're going to meet the other reality of publishing: every agent has topics they won't read. This is one of them. Child abuse, sex abuse, alcohol/addiction recovery stories are some others.

Particularly with abortion, it's very very hard to get past "this is an important message from our author". I hate message books.

It's also very hard to be funny about abortion. No, it's impossible. Not even mordant, dark humor. And humor can be illuminating and carry a message much more effectively than any kind of "serious exploration". I don't look for serious explorations in commercial fiction. I run and hide from them in fact.

So, short answer: you can't.

Another take on getting better

Hey, maybe this is on purpose (had enough of my comments?), but your blog's not letting me leave a comment. There's no word in the verification box. So here's my comment to the guy who lives rurally and can't join a writer's group.

I live in the back and beyond. Read. Read. Read. Then read some more. Then read. Read. Read. And when you're done, read some more. Read what you're interested in writing for now, but also read other things too. Then read some more of what you're interested in. Don't even write. Just read. Have I made my point?

Three years ago, I barely read at all, but boy did I write and all I ever got were nibbles and no thank yous. Now I read 2-4 books PER WEEK and have been for over 2 years. I have an agent who is "seriously considering" me, one in the wings waiting for a full, two manuscripts with a third almost done, and an editor at a big house who will read anything I write without requiring a query because she's sure we're going to find a match soon.

Reading did this for me. If you have to invest in inter-library loan costs, consider it furthering your craft

I have no control over the vagaries of blogger with comments-my world domination skills need a tune up I see.

I think this is a good point, and one not mentioned enough.

I heard it through the grapevine

Dear Miss Snark,

Can you give us bloggers some examples of conversations you have with publishers? When they love a manuscript do they simply say, “We love it? We want it.”? When they seriously considered a manuscript but decided to pass, is that what they say, “Liked it, but we’re going to pass.”? When they think something sucks, are they ever specific about what exactly it was they hated, and do you ever pass that information along to your clients, good or bad?

Like agents, editors hardly ever say "it sux" to projects. They have dreaded form letters much like we do, and I have a stack right here to prove it.

Mostly they email. If we're in a phone call, the rejection is usually pretty low key. UNLIKE my queriers, I have an ongoing relationship with most editors so we're both motivated to behave nicely, even under the extreme conditions of the editor losing her mind not to mention her taste in rejecting this obvious masterpiece.

And if this foolish rejection contains some nugget of useful info, and the client asks to see it, I send it along. Generally though, rejection letters are not critiques. Editors save their editing for work they're actually acquiring.

When they buy, what they usually say is "yes we're going to make an offer". Then the fun begins. Savvy editors hardly every say "I love this I must have it" for the same reason you don't say that on a used car lot.

Killer Yapp says "I told ya so"

words AND pictures

(we notice Miss Buffy Squirrel did NOT send this link; thanks to LL for it!)


well, hell, why not?

Yea, ok, I think it's cute. So sue me.

Miss Snark, spawn of Satan

To Her Most Tyrannically Inebriated Gin Drenched Snarkiness,
Keeper Of the Most Bichonesque KY,
Expounder Of The Hidden Secrets of the Hook,
Wielder Of The Mighty and Most Feared Cluegun,
Guardian of the Passage to Nitwitville,

I was thinking of adding a short questionnaire to my query letter. Something along the lines of:

"Please tick any and all that apply for rejection
(I will not take any feedback as an invitation to correspond with you further, unless explicitly indicated.):
_ I don't handle this genre.
_ This has subject matter I don't deal with.
_ No plot indicated.
_ This is poorly written and needs to go through several re-writes.
_ I like it, but I can't sell it.
_The market does not buy manuscripts like this."

Would that be completely inappropriate? I mean, it would take a bit more time than a form letter, but hopefull not that much more.

Should I do this? Or should I ready my passport for a certified stamp from the sovereign city-state of Nitwitville?

No. You and I both know you'll honor the "I promise never to follow up on this" but the agents don't. Trust me on this: we've all been on the wrong end of 'please give me some feedback' also known as "there's a reason we print up form rejection letters and it's not cause we can't type".

I never answer these things. I use form rejection language unless I want to say something nicer than "no".

I understand your thirst for assistance but that is why Dog invented Crapometers, critique groups and the Evil Editor. Miss Snark was spawned by Satan, as were all of her ilk.

Fantasy, foul play and fine novels

Dear Miss Snark,

I would like to join the ranks of those who have thanked you for your work and your time (beyond the call of duty) responding to the latest crapometer submissions. Very, very helpful.

It seemed that a majority of the hooks fell into either the fantasy/sci fi category or involved dead bodies. Could you comment on this? Do you see these same percentages in submissions to your lit agency? How does this reflect what gets published? And finally, how's it going with the Pynchon?

Much as we all like to think of ourselves as the center of the universe here, in fact, this blog is a tiny little backwater in the sea of publishing. Most of the writers who read it are early adopters of electronic forms...ie science fiction readers and writers. The other group, the dead body group, arrived and stayed cause they know that's the genre I love to read and most often use as illustrations of my instructions for non-nitwittery. There's probably good info here for romance writers, but I'd think they probably hang out at places that love romance the way I love Satan.

And dear dog, the Pynchon. Every time I start some wild eyed novelist throws a book at me and shrieks "I must have representation". Trouble is, they're turning out to be good writers. I've been reading some damn fine stuff lately and it's cut into my Pynchon time. This work thing really doesn't help either.

Bartleby the Scrivener***

Dearest Miss Snark -

I have a question about mentioning non-publishing credentials in a query for a genre novel. If I'm committing the crime of nitwittery, I plead guilty and fling myself on the mercy of the court (making sure I don't accidentally land on KY on the way down).

My genre is mysteries. I worked as a (poorly paid, but professional) journalist covering crime and police for a few years. I'm now working on a doctorate in criminal justice with an emphasis on policing. In both capacities - journalist and academic - I've logged quite a few hours in police ridealongs, conversations with police, studying (and teaching) policing, etc.

When I send a query about my mystery novel to an agent, is any of that information germane?

Here I thought you were under arrest when I saw you in that patrol car. Must.Stop.Conclusion.Leaping.

You can certainly mention your real life experience but don't emphasize it. It's a bonus to the (we hope) good writing, but what it mostly does is provide an extra ounce of confidence that if you use an odd word, or fact, I won't think you're making a mistake.

The Ph.d thing has no resonance with me. I'd much rather know you've been in the Tombs than in the ivoried halls of academe.

But then...Miss Snark is an agent with a bail bondsman on retainer and a restraining order from the Harvard Club.

***points to the person who (without resorting to google) can identify the joke in the headline

Incomplete isn't wrong, but that doesn't mean it's alright either

Your Royal Snarkiness,

When writing in first person narrative, is it okay to use incomplete sentences? I understand they are sometimes preferred in dialogue, since 99% of the world speaks that way, and it seems to me that in my book, to engage a reader with the narrator, it would help to speak casually.

I brace for the cluegun.

Yea. Well, yanno. It's not all that hard to do. Write truncated sentences I mean. Cause, you're right...well, mostly. It's how people talk. But it's not exactly how they read. And what we say with a wink and a nod, you have to convey on the page. And, the thing is, choppy can get tedious. Like vernacular. Or trying to convey an accent.

Like snarkiness, pepper flakes and punctuation, a little goes a long way.

Ok does not mean hog wild. Ya falla' me?

So, you don't list an email on your blog

Killer Yapp: "Snark! Snark! Miss Snark!"

MS (one eye from under the duvet): "KY, it's Sunday. I'm ...ah...reading".

KY: "Flash! Gordon!"

MS: "there's an email from one of the cabal?"

KY: "affirmative!"

MS (leaping over tall pile of slush balanced precariously on gin cases): Print, KY, Print!

KY (reading aloud): Dear Miss Snark, I'm looking for a girl werewolf novel and I saw a comment a while back on your blog about someone working on a girl werewolf novel. Her name escaped me, but if you remember, could you have her get in touch. Love, Agent InNeedA

MS: KY! Keyword: werewolf! Search!

KY: Here! Here! Here!

MS: Excellent. Three comments, all from BarkOLounger. Click on her blog. Get her email.

KY: Digits! Absent!

MS: What?? A blog with no email address?

KY: Nada

MS: KY you need glasses AND a hair cut, let me look.

KY (leaping off keyboard in a snit): Lasik my asterisk.

MS: Damn, the dog is right. Who would write a blog and comment extensively here, and not give me a way to get in touch??

KY (recalling previous frustration): Buffy! Squirrel!

MS: She's busy cleaning her shoulder mounted rocket launcher.

KY: Chase her down! Me! Me!

MS: Ok, Buffy Squirrel AND anyone who writes about girl werewolves, drop me an email, IF you know what's good for you!

KY: (sound of typing)

MS: And while you're there at the keyboard, answer a few more blog questions too, ok?

KY: Sloth

MS (from under the duvet): I heard that.

KY (texting): u r that

Parody the paradigm

I know that manuscripts are to be pigeon-holed in a query letter, in order to be done the same in a bookstore. But what of us who cheat and use Literary as a catch-all, assuming that our language, structure, or content can pass muster as literary?

I suppose mainly I'm asking a personal question to which I'd like an answer, for which I shudder at having to see in public, knowing your procivity to be out-spoken.
But 'girding my loins' as it were: Is there any use in sending a fantasy send-up to an agent who says she doesn't take fantasy? Present company not excepted.

Would you deep-six it as soon as you saw fantasy--as in a literary parody of fantasy? Kinda like...well, no sense giving my pitch away since if your answer is it's fine to try, then maybe you'll see it anyway by some luck of the draw.

Thank you for your time--and your site.

You can write anything you want, have at it in fact. But when you write to me, the ugly variable of commercial enterprise enters the equation.

Generally, parody appeals to the same audience as the item being parodied. Weird Al Yankovik's parodies of rock songs do NOT appear on the Country Music Channel. Parodies of noir do not appear in Romantic Times (at least not intentionally).

If you are writing fantasy, parody or not, leave the decision about whether to call it literary up to me. You tell me it's the parody of a genre I don't represent and I'm going to wonder why you'd want me to read it let alone represent it. Oh wait....this is a parody of a query letter! I get it. How about I parody my stock rejection. I have new note cards. I'll use those.

homage? non non

Dear Miss Snark:

I'm reading the trade paperback version of Any Place I Hang My Hat by Susan Isaacs. On page 121, we meet a character by the name of Mrs. Snarck who corrects people who call her Ms. Snarck.

An homage, I presume??

Yips to Yapp

I doubt Susan Isaacs knows I'm alive despite the fact I love her work, like her personally and gaze upon her visage on the subway (ads for one of the colleges feature her).

Miss Snark may be the cat's pajamas but there are other items in the wardrobe.

Paging Dr Cluenstein

Hello Miss Snark,

I was directed to your blog by a friend, and found it very helpful.

My question is this: when an agent says they want the first three pages of a manuscript, does that generally mean three pages single-spaced, three pages double-spaced, or the equivalent of three pages single-spaced: six pages double-spaced?

Thank you for your time.

It means three pages...physical sheets of paper. We're not trying to trick you. Pages means pages.

Some of you may think this is a joke, but I get at least one query a week from someone who has missed the "industry standards" part of the tutorial at Query School.

Before you query ANYONE you need to learn some basics. You need to get one of the many books on the fundamentals of querying like "Guide to Writer's Market" and read ALL the material about how to query.

Among the things you'll see are "musts" few agents mention on their websites cause we assume you already know it. Included among these are: double spaced, print on one side of the page, no screwy font.

I can and do overlook a lot of nitwittery in the slush pile. "Overlook" means I don't throw it out unread. It does NOT mean "I read it carefully".

If you show me you're ignorant of the basics, I may read one or two lines at most. I don't read single spaced pages. I don't read pages printed on two sides. I don't read oddly formatted stuff. I don't need to. I don't want to. Whether you think this is smart, or good, or mean, is irrelevant. It's how it is.

There are more of you than there are of me. There may be several agents clamoring for one or two really good writers but most of you will get ONE agent offering to take you on. Don't fuck up your chances by not investing time to learn the basics. It's not obvious to you now and it wasn't obvious to us either when we started out. We had to learn it; you do too.

This answer applies ONLY to paper queries. If you are querying electronically you do not double space. You also strip out all the cute little word processing tricks that put -> and =20 in place of all your returns and drives me to distraction on listservs.