Small...but not short sighted

Dear Miss Snark:

I've heard it said before that the publishing world is very, very small, and I'm now starting to panic. Last year I attended a quite horrible "pitch" conference where I paid to learn my pitch in one day (ha) then pitch it to four editors (one senior, three acquiring) from fairly large houses. Needless to say, I felt my pitch at the time was horrible, and that I was horrible too (as in nervous as hell and not as prepared as I'd hoped). I did not show my writing to any of the editors except one (the senior editor) who asked for it and told me she loved my writing but thought that the first chapter needed revising for plot. She wanted me to let her know what I did with it, and I'm planning to send it to her again soon. My question is, have I now completely blown my chances of ever getting published with those other houses, since the acquiring editors didn't ask to see the writing after my pitch?? Or am I being paranoid. (I can feel the sting of the cluegun as I write this).

Don't worry.
If they haven't read your work, it doesn't count as a pass.

Pitching is vastly over rated as a way to present books.
I hate "the pitch", and I think it's useless from querier to agent. Being able to talk about a book persuasively in 30 seconds is NOT something you can just quickly learn to do. I work on it every day, and hone pitches repeatedly for books I represent and this is my FULL TIME JOB. I write down my pitch and I use a script to pitch when I'm on the phone. And I'm not nervous. Face to face with an editor at a conference, I'd be tongue tied and shaking in my stiletto heeled boots too.

Far better to write a zippy query letter with a good hook and some bio, and let me read five compelling pages.

Polish your query letter and get back in the ring.

Turnpike Woes

Dear Miss Snark,

I’m a newly published author and I need your advice. I got a $10,000 advance. Then I paid my agent 1,500 bucks, 300 more for agent expenses, 600 for my computer, 200 for a printer, 100 for paper, 200 on postage, 5,000 for a publicist, 100 for a pedicure, 400 for publicity photos, 300 for a web site developer, 400 for some new duds (my publicist said the bib overalls had to go), 400 to get my teeth whitened, 200 for typhoid and malaria shots (required since my book tour took me to New Jersey), and 400 for out-of-pocket expenses on the book tour.

I thought authors made money. I lost a hundred bucks! What am I doing wrong?

New Jersey will get you every time.

Ripped from the headlines--RIP

Dear Miss Snark,

What do you think the chances are that in 6 to 9 months time you will start receiving queries about a love triangle murder on the Space Shuttle? Or perhaps you have already?

In general, what correlation do you see between major news events (even if minor global importance) and the queries that you read?

It's not quite that direct. Right now all terrorists are Arab (especially if they are from Iran, a fact that makes me laugh out loud***) with the North Koreans taking up a position in the wings. All Wall Street bankers and hedge fund operators are evil, as are most Catholic priests.

And everyone seems to think no one else read The DaVinci Code, so why not just use those ideas and type up a book that will REALLY sell.

Using current events isn't an automatic no, but you better have something interesting to say about it that I can't read in Details or NY Mag.

And you'd do well to understand the world you're writing about.

**Iranians are Persian and speak Farsi, not Arabic. Further explanation here.

Pub Credits in Hell

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a question I hope you might consider. I sold a short novel to a small, royalty-paying print publisher. Naturally the sale became a credit in my query letters thereafter, although the book hadn’t been published yet. The book is presently still listed as ‘to be released’ on Amazon… but the publisher has folded.

I’m thinking it is safest to revert to using short story sales as credits. Yes, an editor read my work and liked it… but perhaps her opinion isn’t going to be too highly respected now. Also, once the book disappears off Amazon, there will be no accessibly evidence that this sale ever happened.

I would of course mention the episode if I reached a stage of discussion with an agent – and I mean discussion about new projects, not trying to resell the old book.

Have I truly and forever lost this credit?

No. You can mention it exactly as you did to me. "I sold novel Kiss of Death to Pestilence House of Publishing which promptly folded before the book reached the retail market."

It's not exactly a pub credit, and it will help a LOT if there's trade news about the publisher folding, but if it's the only or best "pub credit" you have, ok. The thing to do is get cracking on filling up your quiver with slings and arrows of publication fortune so you don't NEED this one anymore.

And if you think this is the first time any of us have heard this tale of woe, you'd be wrongo.

Yes, The ClueGun is Needed

Dear Miss Snark,

Could I attract an agent with a web page/blog instead of a query letter? Since many agents are now taking email queries, could this be the next progression? After all, I can pack a lot more pizazz into a web presence than a short letter, and blogs make it near trivial for anyone to do this. I've tried to set mine up so a potential agent can quickly get a sense of the book and decide if they want to see more. This was actually easier for me to do than write a query letter. I'm not so naive as to think they'll somehow stumble on my page, but couldn't I write them a nice, polite, best-selling-writer-ly email that essentially says, "Yo awesome agent! Check this out!"

I've only been reading your blog for a few weeks now, so if you're reaching for the cluegun could you please aim for the legs? I need my hands to type my next masterpiece.

Everyone who is all-fired hot for e-queries forgets that eventually you have to cough up actual pages. Pages. Not websites, not blogs, not electrons: pages. Those pages may come electronically but I assure you they get printed at my office, and probably at the editor's office.

A good web presence is never all text like a page. Even this blog, low-tech, visually plain, has a picture of the pooch, a top ten list, more than one color, a headline, links and some snarky bio. In other words it looks like a query as much as Killer Yapp looks like a horse. They both have four legs, two eyes and a wicked way with teeth but I bet you know which is which.

And look at the layout. Lots of short sentences. Lots of white space. There's a huge difference between a fun zippy webpage and a fun zippy book. Writing for the two SEPARATE DISTINCT forms requires two not-identical skill sets. Some of the worst websites in the world belong to writer's groups/writers/book people cause they think it's all about the writing.

You'll need a website but it will be for supplementals to your query, not in place of it.

If you wrote to me and said "hey check out this cool website" I wouldn't take you seriously, I wouldn't click on your website and I wouldn't be taking you on as a client.

IF you send a query and pages, as clearly requested, and you mention your nifty cool website in the body of the query, I'd look at it IF your writing interested me.

Just follow the damn directions.


Widows and orphans

Dear Miss Snark:

I came across the following phrase on an agent’s website, under things not to do when submitting the first 50 pages of the manuscript: No “widow/orphan protection”.

Can you enlighten me?

A "widow" is the last line of a paragraph that appears alone at the top of a page. An "orphan" is the first line of a paragraph that appears alone at the bottom of a page.

If you click "widow/orphan protection" on your word processing program, the program will move lines to make sure there are no widows or orphans. I'm not sure why anyone would specify to turn it off unless it doesn't translate well to the word processing program they're using or they think it wastes paper.

Cyberian leftovers

Oh Snarktastic One:

I am firing my agent and beginning the query process all over again. Ugh. I am worried that my Lazy Old Agent won’t remove my name from the agency website right away. If I’m Googled by any potential agents, this could create a problem for me. Do I mention that I’ve recently left another agency in my query letter? Also, I made many revisions to my manuscript for LOA. Should I submit it as it stands now or re-revise it back to where I had it before? I now question LOA’s judgement. But never yours.

You don't need to worry about your name turning up on the previous agent's website because you will say "my former agent and I came to a mutual parting of ways" at the close of your query. What other agents are going to want to know is whether this ms was shopped around. If it was, you're going to have to deal with the fallout from that (ie it's going to be hard to find a new agent for it). If s/he did not shop it, you mention that too: "my agent and I have had an amicable parting of ways before s/he began shopping this ms".

You have amicable partings even if firearms were mentioned or brandished. "I fired my lazy ass good for nothing sorry excuse for an agent" may indeed be the Dog's Honest Truth but it's not a persuasive sales point in your query letter. I have five clients that were formerly represented elsewhere and they were all very very polite in the initial query letter. Of course, I pried into the actual facts soon thereafter but that involved copious quantities of gin and blood oaths of secrecy.

I have no idea about the revisions part of the question, nor would you want me to comment on something I haven't read.

paper or electrons?

When an agent invites you to submit a full and gives you a choice to send your manuscript via snail mail or e-mail attachment, which is the better bet? My instinct says a real stack of paper will be likely to get more notice, less likely to get lost, and more like the final product.

Am I right about this? send your manuscript via snail mail or e-mail attachment, which is the better bet? My instinct says a real stack of paper will be likely to get more notice, less likely to get lost, and more like the final product.

Am I right about this?

I don't ask for anything except initial queries on paper right now. I love having all the mss in little electrons on my computer. The end of the heaping pile o'paper is great. I have a ms tracking system that allows me to summon up your contact info, the last email I sent telling you I was a total sloth, your polite response (and the the three not quite so polite edited versions before you hit 'send') and the ms itself.

If you send me paper right now, it sits here glaring at me and I hate it. I also don't haul paper around anymore. My sherpa days are o-v-e-r over.

It also means that if you type in courier or arabesque, I can click twice and change it to a readable font. It means I can highlight your typos, write on your margins, and send it all back to you without seeing the inside of the penal institution known as the post office.

If you have a choice, do what works for you, but don't assume paper is the better choice.

But, but...I have good reviews!

Dear Ms Snark,

I recently received a rejection letter from XYZ Publishing a full ten months after I sent them a query. Naturally the requisite word, unfortunately was in the text, just before the specious pep talk to keep me from commiting suicide. Anyway a lot of water has passed under the bridge since March 13, 2006. My book has been picked up by an e-publisher, been e-published and has received three very favorable reviews.

My question is this: Should I write back and say their rejection letter is ancient history and include copies of the reviews, since I retained print rights.

From their perspective nothing has changed; your book is the same, and the print market is the same. Unless the reviews are from Michiko, Stephen King or someone of that ilk, they won't drive sales and editors pay scant attention to them.


space cadets return

Greetings, O Queen of Snarkdom,

It looks like you’ve started something.

On the heels of the COM, Anne Mini over at “Author! Author!” has been presenting a very helpful overview on how to write a well-formed query letter. Her tips have been helpful, and have led me a fifth or sixth meaningful revision of my query and hook, but one bit of advice left me puzzled. Under the heading of “standard mistakes that send agents screaming into the night,” she says:

“I’ve literally never seen this advice given elsewhere, but it is a fact: to people in the publishing industry (and the magazine industry as well, I’m told), business format – be it in a letter or a manuscript – looks illiterate. And that’s the last thing you want to convey to someone you expect to take your writing seriously.

“Indent EVERY paragraph the regulation five spaces. (Yes, in your manuscript, too. If you don’t know why this is an automatic rejection offense, please see the FORMATTING MANUSCRIPTS category at right.) Single-space the letter, and have the date and the signature halfway across the page.”

I’m puzzled: business format looks illiterate? I know that you’ve said time and again, “Formatting doesn’t matter: it’s the writing,” but are you alone in this opinion? Is there a secret cabal of indentation-loving, business-letter-shredding agents in New York just waiting to be addressed chummily by a new author? Is a 5-space indent the secret handshake that will usher me into the inner sanctum so that my work can be judged on its merit?

I don’t want to obsess over minutiae, which is what this feels like. On the other hand, I don’t want to pull the agent-querying equivalent of walking around Times Square with a tour map and an “I Heart NY” shirt on. So what’s the verdict? Is this a great insider tip, or could you and your fellow agents care less about they way I format my paragraphs?

Well, I think this is crazy. I don't care about much except the very very basic things: use a font I can read, double space your pages, and don't print on both sides. I don't care if you print on the diagonal (sure, I notice, but who cares?).

I'm MUCH more concerned with your spelling and syntax than your spacing.

I'm MUCH more interested in what you have to say than your indents.

Writers obsess about things that would be amusing if they weren't so crazy.

And just as a rule of thumb, don't believe anyone who says "agents do this, or editors do that" unless they are actually yanno editors and agents. Writers who tell you how to get published are usually telling you how THEY got published and one size does not fit all.

Submission services

Dear Ms. Snark,
What do you think about submission services, such as Writer's Relief?

I think they're a waste of time for submitting novels to agents.

They may be useful for getting a list of places to send short fiction. It's hard to track down some of those smaller journals that only pay in copies, and pub credits are a good investment.

Anyone who says they can find the right agent for you for a fee is wrong.

If they couch it as "help you find an agent more efficiently" they're still going to cost you more in money than the postage you'd buy to find out for yourself.

I routinely reject anyone who submits work indirectly. I think it's the mark of someone who thinks there's a secret to getting noticed or published that doesn't involve writing well.

Decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

Miss Snark:

Last spring I was rejected by two agents who requested partials of my mystery manuscript. Since then, I have revised the manuscript and then had it reviewed by my critique group. Is it appropriate to re-query these same agents, indicating I have revised the book and request to resubmit, or is this a bad idea?

Well, they aren't going to arrest you but you might find yourself being fired on by the cluegun.

There are a lot of agents who handle mystery. Give the rest a shot before you go back to people who've already said no.

When I say no to partials, if I want to see revisions, redrafts or retrofitted turbo charged syntax, I'll say so. Unless you heard something very close to "query me again if you revise", move along.


Tell em you like the nitwits...look what happens

Dear Miss Snark,

I’m an aspiring author and have studied the publishing industry intently. Despite a lot of negative talk floating around out there I only see four tiny little problems with the industry: Authors, agents, publishers, and book stores.

I’ve decided to streamline the process and eliminate a lot of those problems. I’m going to self-publish. Except I mean REALLY self-publish. I bought a huge high speed copy machine and three pallets of copy paper. I’m busy now printing copies of my 500,000 word novella.

To turn a profit I’m going to have to sell 100,000 copies of my book for $89.95 a copy. I know the math might seem flawed, but to be honest I think I paid way too much for the copy machine.

So tell me the truth. Am I a genius, or what?

Or what, indeed.
Miss Snark is actually quite smug about her decision to invest in Xerox after reading this.
Quite smug indeed.
Whir little print drum, whir.

Selling unfinished work

Some authors on my list were talking about selling on partials or selling projects from proposals. One or two said they wouldn't write anything unless they already had a contract for it.

Can one query an agent with a proposal if one has a good record of publishing under one's belt, or does this apply only to editors?

Let's be clear about what a "good record in publishing" means. It means sales. Over the cash register, actual books out the door sales. Not advances, not deals: sales.

And yes. You can.

You can't sell a debut novel that way (99.99% of the time) or memoir, but almost all non-fiction is sold via proposal and sample chapter/s.

I sell client's second and third books on chapters and outlines all the time.

Some basics on small pond tadpole starts

Miss Snark,
So, what if your novel has been accepted at a POD or an ePress, what if the press doesn't have any distribution other than Amazon and ebook type sites, in fact, you may have to pay the POD set up fee if you want to see your book in hard copy ... if you later come with a new novel, do agents look favourably on these publication credits? Can I really launch my writing career with an ebook/POD press? And, if so, how many copies do I have to get out and sell before it becomes impressive to you?

Thanks for your time,

First, let's make sure you understand that an e-book and POD are entirely two different things. They also refer to how a book is manufactured, its form, rather than how it is acquired and edited.

I don't care if you have an e-book, a k-book (printed on Kit Kat candy wrappers) or a book written in smoke by an sky plane. What I care about is whether an editor read your work, selected it from amongst many, and decided to publish it.

That's if you want me to consider it a publishing credit. I don't care how much it sold really because I know there are a lot of really good books at small presses (both POD and traditional print technology) that don't sell a lot of books.

The only time sales figures are important is if you are talking about licensing that rights to that same book to a larger publisher. That's when "you have to sell 2000 copies to interest anyone" comes into play.

Ebooks routinely sell under 1000 copies because it's not a popular form yet. If you have a book at an epublisher, I don't look at sales figures, I look at the publisher to see if they have two wits and good taste.

Of course you can launch your career doing this. Not a lot of people do but it's entirely possible.

So, why go?

Dear Miss Snark,

Love the blog. Read it every day, sometimes twice a day. You're addictive.

You make conferences sound pretty hellish for agents, and somewhere along the line I think you said you almost never pick up a new client at a conference. Why go at all, then? It doesn't seem like a good use of your time ... unless perhaps you have a friend in the city where the conference is, or you're getting paid real money to show up, not just reimbursement for travel.

Until the advent of the blogosphere, going to conferences was about the only way to interact with people who were potential clients and give workshops and classes on "how to query" and the like. Given this blog is less than two years old, that change over is in its infancy and many agents go to conferences to do exactly that. It's a lot more efficient to teach a class than just say "no, this isn't right" on a gazillion query letters.

Some agents do find clients at conferences. I'm pretty sure Kristin Nelson mentioned she had (but, again, she's nicer than Miss Snark, people aren't afraid of her).

I also go cause it's fun to talk to the other agents. We do have a good time at these conferences and never you mind how much gin is swilled.

And much as I complain about leaving the 212, I have seen some very nice places out in the world, courtesy of writers conferences. Buffalo. Fargo. Butte. Bumblebee, Arkansas.

Two million

We're on target to crest the two million hit wave sometime in the next 24 hours.
I'm amazed to have held your attention, let alone your interest, for this long.

There are great and important things going on in the world; people and events that will shape a future we can only dream of. Most of that is just stuff I read in the Times. My life is the simple daily stuff of what I get in the mail, who I talk to on the phone, what we eat for lunch, and with whom, and what catastrophes lurk in the email inbox that send my authors into tailspins.

This blog is a treasured part of that daily life and I look forward to your comments and your emails. Even the nitwits. Especially the funny stuff. Always the people who are perplexed that we can collectively help.

This is fun. Thanks for being here with me.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled Snarking!