Miss Snark:

While looking through Jeff Herman's book for agents, I ran across an agent who said she wasn't interested in agenting "almost anything channeled." I've never heard of this before. Do you know what she was talking about?

For some time, and perhaps even continuing to this day, there are people who "hear" the books in their head as if from another person. There were quite a few famous books, and "channelers" in the 80s. More info on it is here

Mostly now "channeling"is a joke shorthand, and used (at least by Miss Snark's pals) to indicate one's mother is speaking, when in fact said mother is playing the ponies at Hialeah and NOT telling the loinfruit to eat his vegetables.

More on querying "agents you don't know"

Dear Miss Snark,

So, you are very firm about not querying agents I don't know (or, I suppose, tanking candy from strangers). However... I'm in a writer's group, with a lot of published people, and no one has an agent, or knows one. I have introduced myself to every published author I know, and no one will introduce me to their agent. Most don't have an agent. So my first question is HOW DO YOU GET TO KNOW AN AGENT?

And my second question is, can I invite you out for coffee, so I can get to know you?

Querying agents you don't know ABOUT.
That means just sending query letters to an agent who, say, keeps a blog.
I get queries like that regularly.

Most I delete, unread, and put the name on "junk mail sender" so I don't have to hear their nitwittery responses.

If you are querying a novel, you get an agent's name, contact info, and you learn about them by doing ALL of these:

1. Read the agency's website
2. Read the listing on AgentQuery.com, Preditors and Editors, and Writers Digest.
3. Google the agent's name to find interviews, writers conference listings and other misc info.

When you have done all three, you "know about" an agent and you may query.

And of course you can't buy Miss Snark coffee, are you insane? Miss Snark does not drink coffee she has Bustello on an IV drip hung from a rolling pole that also serves as decorum enforcement on the IRT.

How many?

Miss Snark,

Regards to KY. Was he by any chance touring the South recently? I believe I saw his likeness in a red Maserati at our local gas station.

I'm writing regarding a comment by a fellow Snarkling. Said Snarkling mentioned they had queried 60 agents in their search for fame/ fortune/ electric bill payment. I'm looking at my list of 12 agents that I'm querying and thinking that I'm an underachiever. I didn't even realize there were 60 agents that would all consider my genre, much less be the sort of agent that I'd want for my book.

How many hopeful letters do you recommend a writer sends out when they are trying to hook one of your species?


More on the reproductive habits of frogs

Yesterday I posted a 13 point rant on what I found in my slush pile that made me quite cross.

I've been reading your comments.

Some of you feel I'm too harsh.

Let's have a basic review of what your query letter does:

1. It is the first piece of your writing I read.
2. It talks persuasively about the book you'd like me to read
3. It tells me the first things I'm going to know about you.

This is not the place for "good enough". It's certainly not the place to think "I've seen very badly edited actual books so why is Miss Snark in an uproar about such petty details like the implication of the word 'bear'".

There are people in your office right now with a run in their stocking, unshined shoes, three weeks past due on a haircut and drenched in Eau de Gauloise, but that is NOT how they showed up for the interview that got them the job.

A query letter is like a job interview: put your best foot forward.

And remember, the default answer on query letters is NO. What I look for is something that makes me say YES. I assume from the start of ripping, reading and responding that I'm going to say no. You don't get dinged cause you think Missouri is in Central America. You didn't get chosen cause people who write that Missouri is in Central America don't know how to write well. Missouri in Central America is the visible symptom of the underlying systemic failure.

And if you didn't get the frog reference here's the lowdown: first, frogs being reptiles (ok, I'm wrong, you're right in the comments section/they're AMPHIBIANS) lay eggs. "Bear young" is pretty much a mammalian (NOT a frog like) thing. Second "entire species" hatching infertile offspring means instant extinction. It's also wrong. There is an increased incidence of frog infertility. See the difference? Not only is one right and the other wrong, one makes the point clearly and the other doesn't.

It ain't easy being green.

More on what to wear at a conference

thanks Kitty!


13 Ways To Be a Slush Pile Reject-just today!

1. Describing the "mind set" of the American public. I'm absolutely uninterested in sweeping generalities, and I'm absolutely uninterested in sweeping generalities that don't mesh with what I see in the world. If you want to be iconoclastic, be specific. If you want to illustrate a point, use specifics. If you want me to rethink what I "know is right" be specific.

2. "Impacting" "impactful"
This is instant no.
I hate this.
I hate it so much it had an impact on my standards for rejection.
Unless you're talking about your wisdom teeth, I don't want to hear about anything that was "so impacting on your life" that you blah blah blah.

3. Missouri is NOT in "Central America".

4. Getting basic historical facts, particularly dates wrong. This drives me crazy. And before you get all huffy and say "copy editing can fix all that" let's just remember that what it REALLY means is you do NOT know what you're talking about in the novel. John Adams and Abraham Lincoln didn't take tea together. If you don't know why, don't ever query me.

5. Telling me you paid to have the book edited is shortsigted. Telling me the editor "liked" the book when she was finished is tantamount to asking for a clue rocket. If you can't figure out why, let me know.

6. "deals with the pain" "shattered lives" . These are such cliches that any confidence I had in your writing instantly evaporates. It also misses the obvious: novels aren't about shattered lives. Novels are about how people deal with/muddle through/survive terrible circumstances or events. If you can't see the difference, think about it for awhile while you read more novels.

7. "final bizarre shocking twist ending" usually means deus ex machina. It doesn't make me want to read your book.

8. "the absurdity of" followed by only one noun. The entire concept of absurdity requires contrast. The absurdity of innocence is meaningless (and convinces me you can't write worth spit) unless you place the innocence somewhere unexpected, like the green room at the Howard Stern show.

9. "Such and such an author has given me permission to use him as a professional reference." Clue: you don't need references to write or query a novel. What exactly am I supposed to do, find out if you wash your hands before reading a library book? You're not interviewing for a job here.

10. "it is a 90,000 word piece of work". ok. I believe you. Next!

11. Including a photo of yourself. This just boggles the mind. Thank all dogs you weren't naked.

12. "leave the memorial service for their late friend"...yea, those memorial services for the living are much more fun.

13. "entire species of frogs are now bearing sterile young". If you don't know why this is hilarious, you weren't paying attention in biology.

Turnaround Woes

I've been reading your comments about all the ways agents make you crazy about not returning your queries, or letting your manuscripts sit for too long, or general crapola that annoys the snot out of you.

Let's all pause to reflect on the numbers.

You: send 100 query letters in the course of your submission process at the most. Most of you send fewer than 20.

Me: I get 100 letters a WEEK. 52 weeks a year.

You: If you get two or even 15 out of twenty screw ups you're convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket and agents are the reason why.

Me: 15 screw ups out of 5200 is still a pretty good batting average. If I only mess up one a week, that's 52, and I know the average is probably at least 5. That's 250 mistakes, and that's just me.

Try to remember the volume of stuff that physically comes through the door, and that's not even counting any of the electronic stuff.



Dear Miss Snark,

Should query letters be single or double spaced? Does it matter?

I've been reading up on how to format queries, synopses and manuscripts, and I'm getting totally confused by conflicting advice from different books and websites. Two Writer's Digest books disagree on line-spacing for queries, and both make it sound like theirs is the only correct format.

I suspect like a lot of neophytes I'm getting balled up in trivia, but there is an overwhelming feeling that I've only got one shot, so I'd better get it right.

Thank you,

A query letter is a business letter. Single spaced.

If you include pages (and you should unless otherwise instructed) those are manuscript pages. Those are double spaced.

Anyone who says different is just plain wrong.

And yes it does matter. Send manuscript pages single spaced and I'll know you don't know what you're doing. It's also very hard to read which means you better have a gripping first sentence cause that's about all I'm going to look at.

This applies ONLY to print. Email submissions are formatted for email.

Time and Desire march to different drummers

Dear Miss Snark,

A few months ago, a couple of agents requested my full manuscript. I've heard nothing since. I've been perusing the comments on your blog. It seems that if a lot of time passes without word, it's highly unlikely that an agent is going to suddenly read/want the book. Am I correct?


What to wear to a conference in NYC in April

Dear Miss Snark,
I just signed up for my first Writers' Conference (in NYC) and am terrified about making a good impression--what do writers generally wear to these sort of things?

This is like visiting the reptile house. They're as afraid of you as you are of them. Honest.

First, this is New York in April. It's going to be wet and cold. And we walk everywhere so bring your brolly and your walking shoes. This is NOT the day to break in new sneaks. Bring your comfy ones. Every woman in New York carries a purse and a bag. The bag has our shoes. We change on the street, in the elevator or under our desks.

Second, at this particular writing conference you'll be up and down marble stairs all day long. This is NOT the day for a business suit or a skirt. Wear pants. And comfy ones. And sturdy ones. This is not the day for delicate silk. This is a dirty town and this conference is in a building with a library and a school, so the dust and general grime is a fact of life. In fact, I'm there at least once a month and I don't even think about it till I look at my mittens and wonder what the HELL I grabbed onto.

No one is expecting you to turn up in business casual. Jeans and sweater will do just fine. If your t-shirt just happens to say "I heart Killer Yapp"

well, so much the better.

And it's not your clothes that will impress us. It's your calm confidence, your cheerful smile, and that you laugh at our jokes when you attend a panel.

Relax, have fun, and don't forget that MoMA (53rd Street @Fifth Ave) is just a few blocks away. And Grand Central (42nd and Mad Ave) is still one of the most amazing places to see in NYC. (Thank you eternally to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who spearheaded the drive to save the building as a national landmark).

(love the art-thanks Stuart!)


"we'll get back to you if we like you"

Dear Miss Snark,

A protocol question.

Many agents who accept or even prefer email queries indicate in their listings that they will respond only if they're interested in seeing more. Aside from whether a no-repsonse policy is "fucking rude" (your words for it more than a year ago) or whether it's even logical (it takes less time to hit REPLY, paste in a form rejection and hit SEND than it does to stuff the same letter into a SASE and seal it), it also creates a problem for writers considering a subsequent query to another agent at the same agency.

Let's say I do my homework and assemble a list of twenty agents to start with. Agent 5 and Agent 19 both work at the same large agency. Both accept only electronic queries, but due to the overwhelming number of submissions they receive, they are afraid they can't respond to each of them.

I email a letter and some embedded pages to Agent 5 and wait, oh, six weeks. Does her lack of reply mean a lack of interest? Probably, and I'm okay with it. But I've worked my way down to Agent 19 in the meantime.

I know enough not to send simultaneous queries. I could shoot Ms. Five a quick email to make sure she's already moved on, but how clueless does that look -- and how effective is it likely to be -- in an environment in which replying to a query is too much trouble? I could assume that two months on a query is long enough, but that would be just a guess, and I once received a positive response after waiting longer than that.

So at what point does " " shift from "I'm working, be patient" to "not right for me, thanks"?

30 days minimum, 45 maximum. If someone can't bother to reply to an email in 45 days, fuck em.

I find it loathsome that my colleagues do this. And if you're reading this, and you're an agent, and you do this, stop it. You're making us all look like arrogant asswipes, and frankly I don't need any help on that score.

Uphill both ways in the snow...only I'm not kidding

Dear Miss Snark-

I snagged an agent last year for my first novel. He's sent it to 11 editors and received 10 rejects and does not plan to send to any more (our 6-month contract is almost up).

Can I try to get another agent? I had another one very interested before I went with the one I have, one who sells more literary fiction. Will the fact that my agent wasn't able to sell it dissuade another agent from considering me? Should I send a list of the editors who passed to a prospective new agent? I've also revised the book recently.

No (but if by some miracle an agent bites, you'll need to be able to send it then).

This is going to be a VERY hard sell to an agent. Unless your agent called it a romance when it was a Western, it's going to be really hard to find someone to take this on.

You'd do well to query another novel and leave this one for the second book on a two book deal.

Look BEFORE you send off your query letter

Dear Miss Snark:

I got a contract offer from a small print publisher the other day. I should be thrilled right? I was for a day or two. Then I got the contract in the mail. Is it crazy to not accept a contract from a publisher just because

1. they only publish 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 size books? They sell for a much higher price than "normal" paperbacks.

2. The publisher sells the books through Amazon, and B&N online, but they are not in the brick and mortar stores yet. This doesn't sit will with me. It just makes me nervous. They recently hired a distributor though.

I sent my manuscript because a friend of mine was accepted by them, and she was raving about how nice they were and how much they do for their authors. Then I started doing a bit of research and found out they haven't been in business very long. My friend's cover is beautiful. The quality of the book is fine. Am I being silly?

It depends on what you want to accomplish. If you want a lovely book with a lovely cover, go for it. If you want people who are "nice to you", go for it. If you want to have your books in bookstores, you'll need to rethink this.

There are LOTS of reasons you can have a very successful published book without being in a bricks and mortar store. Specialty sales, back of the room sales, very niche markets sales...all those kinds of books can do well without being stocked in the corner Bookasaurus.

If you write fiction, none of that applies.

And I'm a great believer in a low price point for first time novelists. The easier it is to get books into the hands of future fans the better. A high price on a book is the kiss of death, and, more than "not in stores", that makes me wonder if these guys know what they're doing.

And the trim size sounds like a trade paperback. You can actually see trim size for books at Amazon, and I looked up two that are here on my desk and that size looks right to me.

And publishers don't "hire distributors" anymore than you "hire an agent". Distributors are very selective about who they take on, so it's a good sign for this publisher that a distributor wanted them.

And why did you query a publisher you didn't know much about?

That's not what T-Rexual meant

Dear Miss Snark,
I've just finished a novel that is basically a collection of sex scenes strung together with a contrived plot. It's an excellent and well laid-out plot though and the sex scenes are highly crafted works of arousement.
Would I be hurting my chances for representation if I labeled my book "literary porn" in my queries? Or would it be safer to promote it as "erotica"? I guess my real question is how does that phrase resonate with agents and publishers these days?

I don't think you need to worry about what you call it. We know it when we see it.

"Query agents who handle work like yours" is BAD advice

Dear Miss Snark,
Many agent blogs say it's a good idea to query agents of books similar to your own project. My manuscript is historical humour, which isn't exactly the biggest genre out there. I drew up a list of authors working in a similar vein, but I haven't been able to track down their agents with my google-fu. Searching for "author name" "literary agent" or similar terms gets me hundreds of pages and no helpful results. Author's webpages don't tend to list the information: probably to avoid being inundated with hundreds of copycat queries. Barring author dedications, is there a way to find which agent represents a specific author?

This is advice that sounds good in theory, and sux in practicality.

You don't have time to read enough books to find out if they are "like yours" before querying agents anyway. And besides, I don't want books that are just like other people on my list. I want something fresh and new.

And some books that are "like yours" may be represented by people who don't like the books at all but inherited them from colleagues, or the author changed genre.

What you do instead is figure out your category and query agents who represent novels in that category. Don't make this any harder than it is, and don't go crazy trying to find the perfect match. Query widely. Write well. Forget all that cross referencing, colored pens, power point presentations and ....oh wait, that's not you, that's me. Never mind.

The reason the advice "query agents who represent books like yours" sux is not cause it's hard to find out who reps what cause you can find those by looking at Publishers Marketplace or in the rights lists of publishers catalogs, and usually on agent's websites.

Don't tell, don't ask

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm preparing a query letter for my second novel. I have no pub credits to speak of, but my first two books (one of them non-fiction) were agented. At first I was going to mention this in my query (at the same making it clear that I don't want to market the earlier books again) but now I hesitate, for two reasons:

1--Agented though they were, the books didn't attract a publisher;
2--I don't think a query is the place to explain why I'm not still with the agents who represented me before, assuming that the agent queried wants to know.

Don't mention your earlier efforts. This is a new project, and you get to start afresh.
Besides, anytime someone tells me they ditched their first agent, it pings my Danger Will Robinson radar, and that is NOT a good thing in a query letter. Sometimes you have to mention it (like when you're shopping the SAME novel that was represented, or you have backlist) but if you don't, don't.

Agent Snoozabelle

Dear Miss Snark,

I never in a million years thought I would be the one to bring this up, but I have stumbled upon a great dilemma. I recently signed with a small, but reputable publisher. However, today I received a letter in the mail from Uber Agent asking for a partial for the same story. Since I have already signed, I know the story is no longer on the table, but how do I tell this to Uber Agent without burning any bridges? I would love to have Uber Agent in my corner, but I know that I can't with this particular manuscript. (I queried her LONG before the publisher, but the publisher replied first.) Please, any suggestions would be helpful.

Needing Tact...And An Agent,

Pre-printed postcards saying "You Snooze, You Lose" probably don't qualify as the kind of tact you're looking for but then again...

You write Agent Snoozabelle and say "I sold this to Publisher Alacrity on my own but I'd still like to work with an agent", and send the partial.

Agents do more than sell work. You're smart to have not said "oh darn" and tossed the letter.

The final post on squirrels

The squirrels are redeemed.

(thanks to Ellen for the linkage)


Is it soup yet?

Dear Miss Snark,

I recently asked out a lady that owns a bookstore. We went out for dinner, and it was strange. She insisted the restaurant have lots of publicity and rave reviews. The building itself had to be made of brick and mortar. She asked for the manager and demanded we get 40% off the menu list prices, and that I should have 60 days to pay the bill. Plus, she insisted on a full refund for the food she left on her plate.

She did like how the menus were organized by category (appetizers, entrees, etc.), but then she complained that the menu selections weren’t in alphabetical order.

She wouldn’t even touch her peas. She said she wouldn’t have anything to do with stuff that came from pods. Before we left she tried to get me to autograph all of the menus.

Do you have any advice for me?

Find out her laydown date, and returns policy.
And woo her with home cooking.

Delivery confirmation

Dear Miss Snark,

You recommend USPS Priority + Delivery Confirmation for sending out requested manuscripts, but I think it's bum advice because I just did exactly that and my pages arrived on Saturday when the agency was closed, so a notice was left for them to either pick up my manuscript at the post office or call the post for redelivery. How inconvenient and off-putting is that! Maybe that's what assistants are for, but I don't think assistants appreciate the extra Monday morning hassle either.

Well, I'm surprised there was mail delivery to an office on Saturday here in NYC. Most offices have the mail held over till Monday.

My experience has been that the mail carrier scans the bar code and leaves the envelope on a delivery confirmation. I've never had to trek to the post office to get one.

Don't confuse confirmation with certified mail. Two entirely different things.

And if in fact the mail is at the PO chances are the agent will NOT go get it. I never do.

And I didn't recommend it at all. The wording was "if you really absolutely have to spend more than a first class stamp, use delivery confirmation". I think priority mail is a total waste of money.

Tracking down agent references

Dear Mistress of Snarktitude --

I've got one for ya.

So say an agent CALLS (yes CALLS) and says they want to respresent your beloved cherished novel --

and you WANT to say yes, but then Miss Snark's holy words reverberate in your ears -- check with other clients first.

Now how do you gracefully do this? Do you hunt them down yourself? Ask for a list of "references." Trust that this agent has sold many a book cause you see them listed at Agent Query, on the agency website or on Publisher's Marketplace?

Been querying agents you don't know, huh??
You know my position on that; all together now: do not do that.

By "know" I mean not that you have tea and crumpets on the lanai regularly, but that you've done some basic research like finding out who the agent represents and what they sold.

When an agent offers you representation you say very nicely "I'm thrilled. May I contact some of your clients to make sure you're not a scuzzbucket". I give out client emails at that point (but not before) and only of those clients who've said "sure" when I've asked if they'll be willing to speak to prospects about the Wonders of Snarkistan.

Listings at AgentQuery and Publishers Marketplace are just that: listings. You want to be in communication with folks who've actually worked with the agent.

ALL reputable agents agree to fork over this info. NO reputable agent refuses it. They may not give you Thomas Pynchon's email, or their really famous clients, but there should be contact info for legitimate clients with books that have sold. Do NOT accept any equivocating on this subject.

Hell is freezing over

Killer Yapp: Miss Snark! Miss Snark!

MS: what? I'm busy. I only need three more rows to finish.

KY: Doorbell Guest!

MS: KY, I'm not paying you to announce guests. Go deal with whomever it is.

(some time passes)

MS: KY! Where are you? I need a new pen!




Miss Snark hauls sorry ass out of chair, focuses eyeballs, notices it's dark outside, and looks around for the missing hound.

Note on credenza (in purple ink):

Dearest Miss Snark,
I'm so sorry I missed you. Didn't you get my email? I flew up from a location shoot to take you to the new Choclateria. Your faithful companaion said you were busy with something called Sudoku which translates as IdiotTimeWaster? I didn't exactly understand his yapps.

Love, George

(anguished scream)

(sound of splat ias Miss Snark consigns her sorry self to the Brady Westwater Memorial Vat).

(sound of door closing as Killer Yapp heads to the after hours dog run and round of canoodling with a fetching Pomeranion minx).


hell with banning trans fat..ban SUDOKU!!!

one word: sudoku

two words: instant addiction

three words: Killer Yapp intervenes

four words: "just one more game"

five words: "Step away from the keyboard"

six words: "Walkies now! Walkies now! Walkies NOW"