Kindergarten, hell. I learned it all from Elmore Leonard.

I'm signed up to attend a local writing conference-- with completed first novel in hand.

The top editor from my favorite publishing house will be speaking (and her publishing house accepts unsolicited submissions and pledges to read through the slush pile and respond within six to eight weeks).
My impulse is probably not very couth. Is there any dignified, professional, non-offensive way to make contact with her?

Thank you!

Do you REALLY need to hear that trailing around after her with a sidecar of pages is a bad bad bad idea?

Do you REALLY need to hear that leaping out from a dark corner screaming "manuscript available" while your Ipod plays the theme from Rocky is a bad bad bad idea?

Do you REALLY need to hear that accosting her at the lunch table by announcing the availability of your deathless prose which of course you just happen to have in a valise under the table is a bad bad bad idea?

Despite all evidence to the contrary, editors are human beings. The universal "dignified, professional, non-offensive way to make contact with her" is to say "hello". Then if you have a brain in your head you'll offer a compliment on a book she edited. Then you'll ask a question like 'come here often' or 'what's your sign' or even the very brave 'how do you like the conference so far'.

We all know you're at the conference cause you're a writer with a novel. Be cool.


Dear Miss Snark,

What is the the best way to say "chick lit" in a query letter?

A. BLAHBLAH is a 60,000 word women's fiction novel

B. BLAHBLAH is a 60,000 word chick lit novel

C. something else

Since chick lit and women's fiction are NOT the same thing, you'd be better off using B.

Extra agents

Dear Miss Snark,

Last week, Kristin Nelson posted on her blog that, upon receiving an offer of representation, an author should contact any other agents considering his/her full manuscript and inform them of the offer. Ms. Nelson stated that the lucky author should then give the other agents a deadline, ex: contact me by April 1st (joke's on me) if you're interested.

My question: if you agree that this isn't too forward an approach, how would you suggest wording the Love-Me-Or-Lose-Me email so as not to come off looking like a complete jerk?

Dear Miss Snark,

While you've been lollygagging around Kristin Nelson has been working. She's offered. What's up with you SlothSnark?


Dear Miss Snark,

My manuscript has been gathering electronic dust on your hard drive for lo these many moons. If it's not too much trouble could you get off your sorry ass and read it so that I can accept Agent Kristin's offer?


Dear Miss Snark,

I've received an offer for representation from Kristin Nelson. She's asked me to get back to her by April 1.

What I don't like is when I'm given a deadline. Info yes. Deadline no.
And it's VERY helpful if you mention the agent. I'd be just as likely to bow out of the dance if it's Kristin cause I know for a fact you'd be in good hands. On the other hand, I always like whisking a good novel out from under the noses of my colleagues too. You mention one of the 20 Worst Literary Agents, we're going to have an entirely different conversation.

Proper order of steed and chariot

Dear Miss Snark

I'm doing a proofreading favor for a multi-published author who was my writing inspiration when I was younger. The job will take about 20 hours of my time. This author has won the top awards in her genre, which is also my genre. If and when my book finds an agent (I've had some serious interest) and a publisher, there's nothing I'd like more than to have this author blurb my book. However, I don't know her personally - I'm just doing this job through a recommendation.

I don't want to inconvenience the author but it seems like an opportunity I can't pass up. How do I ask for a blurb? I was thinking of something along the lines of: "If I get a publisher, please would you blurb my book?" Then she doesn't even have to read the book until it's sold (indicating, presumably, that it's worth her time), and I get to throw around her name during my agent search, and my agent gets to throw around her name while finding a publisher.

So - how do I word the request? Alternatively, I could ask her to blurb the book right now so I can quote her, but that might be asking too much.

You don't.
You don't have an agent, you don't have a publisher.
Most authors won't even consider looking at a book till it's got a deal attached. I specifically forbid my authors from reading unpublished work like this.

Do your job.

Do it REALLY well.

IF you get an agent and a publisher, you can put this author on your list of people to ask for blurbs, reminding her of the favor you did for her with proofing.

If you want some names to throw around during submissions get some pub credits.

Rejection letters

Ms. Snark:

I'm probably an obsessive nitwit for asking, but I have thick skin, so I'm prepared for the cluegun. I've become an expert at getting rejection letters. (Every blue moon, I get an acceptance letter, which causes me to faint dead away.) As my stack of rejections mount, I've found myself trying to decide which of the two rejection types is better:

Good plot, strong character, not for me rejection, short and sweet--sometimes even handwritten.


Long laborious letter saying, well, yes, we represent this kind of thing, but the writing just didn't grab us. Maybe we'll be interested future projects & best of luck.

I would appreciate any opinions.

More is always better. ALWAYS. Especially when it's full of the things they didn't like. Pay attention to the things you hear more than once.

Personal rejection letters are goldmines. Use them.

Pre empts

O Snarkissima,

In some reports of book sales to publishers, I see the sale described as a "pre-empt." What does that mean? I think of "Friends" reruns giving place to something insipid and useless like the State of the Union Address, but obviously it must be something much more delightful than that, as it sounds so heroic and dramatic.

A pre-empt is when a publisher throws enough bags of money on the table that you promise not to visit anyone else's vault to see how much money they'll offer.

In other words, it's enough money to clinch the deal, and it occurs before an auction-thus pre-empting the bidding.

Pub credits-the topic that will not die

Dear Miss Snark,

My biggest accomplishment so far as a writer is having a very well respected children's book publisher (Arthur A. Levine) request my full ms. at a conference. I am currently revising the story using the suggestions he and his editorial assistant were kind enough to provide. While I realize this is not in any way a publishing credit, I wonder if it wouldn't be worth mentioning in an agent query. Is it something you would wish to know?

Not only is this not a publishing credit, it's a rejection.
You want to lead with your strengths.

Shelf position

Dear Miss Snark,

I’m determined to be a successful author, despite the fact that my writing is abysmal. And I’m not about to waste my valuable time learning to be a good writer, either. Instead, I’m going to legally change my name so it’s identical to a famous writer. That way people will buy my book, thinking it was written by the famous person.

Here’s my question. Whose name do you think I should use?


or if you want two names

Complete Idiot


author pages at Publishers Marketplace

Hi Miss Snark,

I recently started subscribing to Publisher's Marketplace and noted a lot of writers have their own pages. They are all, of course, seeking agents. This is probably a silly question, but do agents actually look at this stuff? I would assume you couldn't possibly have the time nor the need to search for clients this way.


I don't look for clients that way but if I happen to google you cause you queried me, your Pub Mkt page comes up and I'll go look at it.

I do know however that people DO search these pages and the offerings page cause I've gotten calls from editors myself.

What to reveal

Hello Miss Snark,

An agent at a top-notch agency just requested a full (didn’t I say before that you’ve had a profound effect on my writing?). Included in her list of “stuff to send” is a submissions history. Obviously I’ll let her know that one other agent is currently reading a requested partial; I also understand that it’s not necessary to mention the other agent’s name.

However, I also submitted sample chapters to an editor back in December, who, after reading my work, referred me to an editor at a different publishing house. A referral – wonders never cease! My question is, in outlining my submission history to the agent who has requested the full, should I mention the specific names of the editors and houses, or simply state that my manuscript was referred from one editor to another, who now has sample chapters? My gut tells me to spill all, since I understand that this is important information for a prospective agent. But my businessman husband is telling me, “Don’t give more information than is absolutely necessary.”

So. Which one of us is right?

The agent wants to know if this work has been seen by so many people that it's narrowed the pool of possible submissions past what she would take on.

In this instance I would mention the editor's name and house. Here's why: some major publishers allow submissions to more than one division of the company. Some don't. If you've sent this off to one that does NOT, the prospective agent needs to know the potential market has been narrowed.

Another reason that is that agents have varying levels of rapport with editors. If you've sent it to someone I do a lot of biz with, it's a much easier follow up than someone I've never called before in my life.

Another reason to be specific is that there's no downside to it, whereas being coy, or too general makes you look clueless. Telling me your book is at "Penguin Putnam" is utterly useless, much like telling me it's at "Random House". Telling me your book is being considered by Liz Scheir at Roc after a referral from Mark Tavani at Ballantine tells me a WHOLE lot more.

Being specific is the best choice here.

When to give up

At what point does one simply give up? When does one say to oneself "I can't write, and I'm wasting my life doing so?"


Publication may be nice but it's not the only reward.

The very act of writing is its own reward. It teaches you (if you pay attention) how to see the world through different eyes; how to wield language skilfully; how to organize a persuasive presentation.

You recognize that writing is a creative art and brings you joy.

You recognize that doing something difficult over and over again, and trying your utmost to improve is a worthy endeavor even if you fall short of your goal.

You recognize that these moments of despair or frustration or fear are part of the process, and will make the achievement of your goal just that much sweeter.


Dear Miss Snark

The business news recently had an article on Publishers Group West filing for bankruptcy protection from creditors. PGW had simply not paid anybody - agents, writers, printers, shippers for 3 or 4 months and now claim that was because bankruptcy can demand payments made within the past 90 days be returned. Which is true, although not done very often. The creditors in a bankruptcy have rights to assets, too, so this doesn't automatically release a book right back into the market. Books can also become captive orphans for other reasons.

What's your position on orphan book clauses in contracts?

First of all, PGW doesn't pay authors, writers or agents. PGW is part of AMS which is a distributor. Distributors deal with shippers and publishers.

Second, the news about PGW has been all over the trades for weeks. If you want to know more, just read Publisher's Lunch. Their coverage has been pretty thorough.

The fall out from the AMS bankruptcy will have an impact on authors and agents indirectly. There there are several companies vying to purchase PGW and thus the situation will resolve itself shortly.

I have no idea what you mean by an "orphan book clause". Orphan books are those books at a publisher where the editor has left before publication. It has nothing to do with bankruptcy of a distributor.

What IS this?

It was easier when I wrote smut. But lately, after a few decades of successful pornography, my characters seem to want to find something to do with their clothes on.

This is fine. Being surprised by my characters is the fun part. But I believe trying to pitch a story that doesn't fit neatly into a genre category might be a problem. Or is it?

When pitching work that doesn't fit into genre categories, is it better to invent an intriguing-sounding yet accurate genre moniker, or to pick some standard genres that are sort of almost kind of close, or to skip it altogether? What if I can suggest the audiences I think will be interested in the story -- which I think is the point of a genre ID, yes? -- without tagging by genre?

Or clue-gun me if I am getting spun up unnecessarily. Or unspin me. Please?

(Meta: It was difficult to obey your command to leave off the compliments, but I complied. It was much less difficult to obey your command to search for your previous answers to this question, of which I found none.)

Maybe the post labels will help people find things. Dog knows those cute clever funny and downright obscure joke titles have not been much use!

Don't worry about what to call your work. Pick from: literary fiction, commercial fiction or one of the genres: mystery, western, romance, sf, fantasy.

Don't waste a lot of time telling me what your work is. Show me. Concentrate on your writing and your voice. You write something so compelling that I have to read on and even if you call it codswallop in space, I'll read it and want to sell it.

For dog's sake don't start inventing things and don't use more than two words. Romantic western with overtones of regency fantasy pretty much announce you as an nitwit. This is not a good way to persuade me you've read much in your area.

I have to always remind myself to ignore "category" when I read a cover letter. Chances are 1:10 you've got the wrong one anyway.

Don't be a pest

Dear Miss Snark,

I just got an agent who has actually made sales and isn't a scam artist or anything! Woo hoo! The problem is, I want to email her ALL THE TIME! And not just about my book (which is already out with a bunch of editor dudes). I want to tell her about my old boyfriends. I want to invite her to go drinking. (I don't drink and I live 2000 miles away from NYC.) I want to send her chocolates in the mail with a note that says, "Be my BFF!!" For the love of all that is holy. Can you PLEASE snark some sense into me?

Thanks so much, I think you freaking rock!

She-who-desperately-needs-to-hear-that-"Your Agent is not your friend"-speech-one-more-time

Don't be a pest.

Your agent is friendly, but she is not your friend.
She is a business associate, a colleague.

She is your only agent, but you are not her only client.
You want her to sell your book, not spend time canoodling with you on email.
The two ARE mutually exclusive because no matter how much time you spend writing science fiction, this world still has only 24 hours and Miss Snark must drink gin for several of them, and woo Mr. Clooney for several more.

Resist Resist Resist.

Right of first refusal

Is "right of first refusal" the same as an exclusive?

First right of refusal generally means someone has the option to buy something from you on the exact terms of an offer you received from someone else.

It's not an exclusive, but it does tie you up in knots like one.