? Queue

Hear me, oh Oracle of Snarkilosophy and Yappitude,

What is the one question a minion should never, never, never ask an agent?
What is the one question that is a must?

Prospective agents:
1. How much can you get for this?
2. What have you sold?

Your actual agent:
1. Am I your favorite client?
2. Am I doing everything I need to in order to sell/promote my book?

Miss Snark:
1. Can I query you?
2. I have Mr. Clooney in the trunk of my car. Where should I deliver him?

Bookseller, writer, cop.

In today's Shelf Awareness email news comes this addition to the story:

R.I.P.: Nicholas Pekearo

One of the two auxiliary police officers who were killed in Greenwich Village in New York City Wednesday night by a heavily armed gunman was a bookseller at Crawford Doyle Booksellers in New York, where he had worked for five years, today's New York Times reported. Nicholas Pekearo, 28, "was steeped in hard-boiled, noir kinds of things," business manager Ryan Olsen told the paper. "He was our go-to guy for mysteries. He grew up with comics--that was a love of his."

Pekearo was revising a novel that Tor Books editor Eric Raab was interested in. "I see thousands of manuscripts a year," he said. "When I saw his, I thought, man, this guy's got something I've got to nurture."

Pekearo's girlfriend, Christina Honeycutt, whom he met when she joined the staff at Crawford Doyle, said, "He'd gone through the dark years of New York City as a kid, tripping over hypodermic needles in the street, and he'd come into this time of relative ease in the city and he just wanted to give back. He wanted to help anyone, like talking down a guy who wanted to kill himself one night."

Although Pekearo and his partner were auxiliary police (who work unarmed), they will receive full police honors at the their funerals. One friend commented: "He'd definitely get a kick out of [that]."


Officers Down

Two auxiliary police officers were killed in the line of duty in Greenwich Village last night.

Two ordinary guys, one of whom is thought to be a writer in his other life. Two guys who just wanted to help people. Auxiliary officers don't carry guns; they don't arrest people; their job is to be eyes and ears, and make New York safer. They don't get paid. They do it just to be of service.

Most of us will scarcely notice other than to feel sad when we read the newspaper stories, or see it on tv. There are 8 million people here; 579 homicides annually. Two ordinary guys are a small percentage of the people here, even of the people who die.

These guys weren't the wrong guys in the wrong place. They weren't innocent bystanders. They were guys who rushed toward the sound of gunfire, not away. They probably saved countless lives because the man who killed them was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a lot of anger, and when he shot those guys, the armed cops responded in seconds.

Eugene Marshalik and Nicholas Pekearo, it's a little late to say thanks but I'll say it nonetheless; thanks guys.

Give me a f/ing break

Miss Snark,

I wanted to say that I love your site. Your advice is wonderful.

The only thing that gets frustrating for me is that you have so many dos and don'ts and you are so upset and outraged if a writer slips up, even in the tiniest of ways, that it's almost like you want to create robot writers. And, the thing is, and I say this respectfully, writing is really about passion, feeling and emotion first and foremost... I just hope writers are not scared off by all the stiffness and 'knee jerk' reactions of publishers and agents and so forth.
Yes, there are many rules we must follow, but I hope you'll talk a little about originality and creativity and uniqueness rather than always focusing on all these robot rules... I'd rather not ever publish than become a robot.

But, I must say, you are tops with me... because I know these rules are pretty much part of the game. But, as i say, they're only a game, and they're not really the writing. Because all that really matters IS the writing IN the actual work and not all this other bologny. But, yes, we have to follow it.

Love ya, J-Cakes.

"they're not really the writing"??
What do you think the writing is?
Sitting around, drinking hooch and talking about what a great writer you are?

Passion, feeling and emotion are a glut on the market. Everyone has them. Everyone including Killer Yapp. I can't get you one thin dime for passion. What I can get you SERIOUS money for is well constructed brutally honed solid writing. If you think that compromises your emotions, creativity and originality you're right. Good writing is about making yourself and your ideas understood by someone else. It's entirely original to write nonsense verse. It's also meaningless.

You think a writer just pours words onto paper in a fever of creativity, and originality?
Yea, they do. It's called the first draft. Then comes the writing.

Don't give me one single bit of guff about rules and knee jerk publishing. It's a whole lot harder to do it than feel it.

"not right for us" means that but ONLY that

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a very good writer -- and if you don't believe me, I've got signed notes from several of your colleagues to prove it.

Seriously, I just received another handwritten "you're good, you're a good writer, but this book isn't for us, and I personally wish you great luck with it" rejection.

If it's as good as they say, why won't they take it on? Any tips for when good writing doesn't seem to trump after all?

Query other agents.
Not every good book is right for every agent.

Just recently I got a query with blurbs from established authors I knew and liked a LOT. The book sucked. Not just sort of, but REALLY sucked. Do I think those writers were wrong? Yes. Do they think I'm wrong? Yes. Solution: find another agent.

Query widely.
Don't fret about no.
Get to yes.

What does this mean??

Dear Miss Snark,

I just received (my first) rejection for (my first) manuscript. But what exactly does he mean? Is the story fundamentally flawed, and I need to ramp up the drama in the plot or develop the characters differently? Or is it simply not right for this agent?

Any clues are greatly appreciated:

Hi (name) I really like the voice here (the part with him writing his "Will" cracked me up) but I have to admit the story and the whole time travel aspect didn't sweep me away. It's just a personal disconnect, no doubt, but I'll step aside with my thanks for the look. Good luck with this project.


It means no. Nothing more nothing less. Do not pick it apart for meaning or clues. Move on. Query more. In fact, you should send out five queries right now. Do not obsess about this or you will make yourself crazy. The ONLY thing you want to hear is yes. Anything that is not yes is no.

Get back to work.

But enough about me...

Dear Miss Snark,

Help! I've got a murder mystery I've been writing, self-editing and polishing, and I want to try to get an agent. Unfortunately I don't have much relevant experience to offer: never committed or investigated a murder; never published anything; never won (or even entered) any writing contests. Basically the Bio section of the query process scares the crap out of me, so I hope my writing will stand on its own. But as I desperately scour my background for signs of relevant experience, I find myself wondering, "Would Miss Snark consider any/all of the following to be legitimate accomplishments worthy of a mention in a query?"

- I have a B.A. in English from a Top-25 university.

- I'm a part-time freelance proofreader and, among other projects, have been involved in preparing 8 books for self-publication.

And a part of my history that I doubt is relevant but I'll run by you anyway...

- I have had exposure to criminal law, as I went through a training program for paralegal certification. (Although to you I must admit that there were only about 15 hours of class time devoted to criminal law. Additionally the paralegal job I worked in pertained to family law, not criminal!)

You don't need any experience to write a novel. You can make it all up. You can imagine it. Your bio can be as simple as: Miss Snark is a New York literary agent with a low tolerance for nitwits and a high regard for herself.

Don't sweat the bio.

Write well. That's all.

This gun for hire, ok, but not this agent

Dear Miss Snark,

Can I buy a verb?

There is a thread on the comments about the use of the word "hire" when talking about agents. Thank you for the smack with the clue-by-four because now I know that word is not acceptable, indeed is somehow offensive to agents.

What is the proper verb the writer uses when an agent has agreed to represent the writer's work? I have signed with an agent? I have contracted with an agent? I take it one does not "have" an agent, either. I suppose I can not say, "I now have an agent..."

I need a shot from the cluegun so I don't seem like a nitwit for using the wrong verb.

Thanks, and hello to Killer Yapp.

Killer Yapp does have an agent...on a leash no less.

You are represented by an agent. You have an agent. An agent represents your book. You seek an agent. An agent takes you on. You signed with an agent. An agent signed you up.

All those are fine. "Hiring" implies an employee/employer relationship. You don't hire an agent any more than I hire you as a client.

Killer Yapp regularly offers to hire Mr. Clooney as his perambulator supervisor, but no dice...so far.

Nitwit of the Day!!

To Whom It May Concern:

Space Ark!, a great science-fiction novel, is now ready for representation to publishers or producers including having been professionally edited, copyrighted via the U.S. Library of Congress and registered with the Writers Guild of America.

We cordially invite you to visit our web site, where the book is featured, and whose URL is listed in the automated signature of this e-mail, to begin your consideration of it.

Already during the book's self-publication phase, 2,790 copies of its original manuscript have been sold! So, hurry to be the first to be able to rep the book if you're an agent, or publish it if you're a publisher, for its debut in physical book stores and in e-stores on the Internet.

A copy of the manuscript with digital color cover and inside illustrations is not free to publishers or agents. You MUST purchase a copy of the ENTIRE BOOK via our web site to peruse it. No sample chapters will be sent; no exceptions. No author biography or synopsis will be sent as all such preliminary info. is available at www.spaceark.net. If you do not want to begin consideration of the book via our web site, then we're not interested in dealing with your company; no exceptions.

We have no qualms about obtaining the modest retail price for the book's manuscript, plus shipping & handling,($35.00!) before sending a copy of it to any prospective agent or publisher whom expresses interest in the novel since many actual or ostensible agents have requested from $250.00 to as much as $500.00 in up-front fees from us just to begin consideration of Space Ark! That just barely covers our costs of printing and binding, etc. anyway. You should be willing to make a minor investment on an item whose potential for manifold return is great! If not, then we're not interested in doing business with you.

Please don't ask for any up-front fees as they are illegal, immoral and unethical and we therefore will not pay any such bogus fees regardless for what purpose they are requested; and again: no exceptions. Thank you for your cooperation.

There you have it: all the whys and wherefores of our basic policies and standards; you have yours, we have ours, and ours preside if they're incompatible. Meaning that would be a win/
lose situation because this book will be published; it's too important not to be! So, it's just a matter of whom will choose to publish it and thereby also be a winner making that a win/win outcome for both parties! The only question remaining is: will you be a winner?

Having expressed the mutual essence of an agent/client relationship, you can choose to work with me to change this hurting world through the ideas in Space Ark! Or, ignore the opportunity to free yourself and this whole world and simply remain part of the problem
rather than a force working for the solution!

We thank you for your interest in Space Ark!

well, that's one way of doing it!

And Spaceboys, if by some chance you read this, here's a clue: legitimate agents do not charge fees to read your manuscript.


You like to torture me with hypotheticals, I know

Dear Miss Snark,

Who wouldn't be delighted to be accepted by an agent who then lands a publishing deal? I believe most of us know that a good agent does the very best he or she can, involving wits, intelligence, humor and perhaps an assassin poodle at times, in negotiating this deal.

My question: have you ever had an author, or ever heard of an author, say to his or her hardworking agent, "Nope, I want more."

What happens then?

I've never had a client say no to a deal I've advised them to take.
I've advised several clients to say no to offers.

I have no idea what would happen if a client refused to take what I thought was a good deal. Hell would probably freeze over and the client skating on thin ice.

It's not a conspiracy

Dear Ms. Snark,

I found an agency and, within that agency, found the particular agent who represents my type of work (young adult).

The problems:

1. The agency website and (more reliably) the 2007 Writer's Market list two different addresses to send queries to -- in different states. I don't know which address this agent would be at, though there are phone numbers I could call to try and find out.

2. The agency's information says to send any non-nonfiction query to a man who doesn't represent what I write (he does sci fi, sports, & literature).

Do I ignore the directions to "send all other snail mail queries to E.S. in Texas" and go ahead and find out where Ms. Represents My Stuff works? Or do I play it their way?

I've said it before, I'll say it again: follow the damn directions.

We are NOT trying to confuse you. We are NOT trying to trick you. We are trying to HELP you get your work to the person who is supposed to see it. Our entire livelihood depends on finding good writing. We're looking for it, and we tell you how to send it so we get it.

Follow the damn directions.

Conference meetings

Dear Miss Snark,

I was choking in the sea of confusion and darkness as a new writer trying to break my neck in to the literary world, and suddenly I saw your blog site. God bless, it held me up from the water for a good few minutes and I was able to catch my breadth - thanks for so many insightful answers to questions from my fellow chokers.

I queried a few agents of my genre and also found out that they'll be at a writers conference shortly. Should I follow up with them at the conference by booking appointments with them? Does face to face impression count or I should sit here quietly until my query piques their interest?

You can certainly make appointments with them. Don't expect them to have read or remembered your query. Treat it as the first chance to talk to them.

There are a lot of posts in the Snarkives about how to have a successful conference meetings with agents.

The first rule is to remember agents, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, are human beings. Just smile, be nice, don't panic, and start off with a question like "how many agents does it take to change a lightbulb"*** and you'll be fine.

***one, but you have to provide the bulb or we'll just leave you in the dark

Unpubbed novels...social pariah

Hi Miss Snark,

I'm interested in the tip you gave the other day about not discussing an unpublished novel socially--ever. A number of Snarklings seem to get this and embrace it and even want to have it tatooed on their bodies.

Seems like not talking about the novel is progress would be like not talking about your boyfriend--even though you've been with him a couple years--just because he may not end up being The One. Or not talking about your young child because she may turn out to be a juvenile delinquent. Or not talking about your job--even though you spend most of your brainwaves on it--because you might get fired some day.

I don't think I get it though and wish you would explain your hard-line position. Thanks so much.

There are six reasons you don't talk about your unpublished novel in social situations. The first is probably more persuasive: you don't need criticism at this point. When you talk about your novel you think everyone will say "gee whilikers that sounds just peachy?". Nooooooooooooooo. People say things like "why don't you write a good rousing romance with none of that naked stuff, I bet that would sell" or worse "you really think you can write a whole book?". You don't need to hear that.

You don't need advice from anyone either, and you're likely to get that.

You're likely to get idiots who want to share their ideas with you, and you don't need that.

Those are all the reasons you want to hear. Here are the ones you don't.

It's rude. It's rude to talk about something no one else knows about or can read. Like showing your vacation slides...the only person really interested in how good a time you had is ...that's right: you.

It's really rude to talk about it to editors or agents in a social situation, much like it's rude to talk about your rectal-craniotomy inversion reversion at dinner with doctors.

It's really really rude to force me into hearing about your novel if I'm an agent cause it puts me in the socially unbearable position of saying either "yes of course I'd be glad to read it it" or "shut the fuck up, I have no interest in this".

I don't care if you think it's ok to do this. It's not. Not ever.
If you think you're the exception, you're not.

The only place it is ok to discuss your unpublished novel is in a business setting such as a writer's conference, a pitch meeting or a workshop.

There are no exceptions to this rule. The people who think, no who KNOW they are the exception, or that I'm just wrong wrong wrong, are the EXACT reason agents do not tell people what they do when they are out amongst real people.

Pod-dy Mouth Retires!

And it's a sad, sad day.

I always liked to read her blog, and she introduced me to my one of my all time favorite bloggers, and writers Jamie Boud.

What I DIDN'T know was that she got FIVE HUNDRED emails a DAY!!!! That's just insane.
I thought I got a lot and I'm tipping just over 100 and that's Miss Snark's blog and Snark Central combined.


I know agents watched her blog for good books.

I know we all wanted to know who she was so we could buy and read hers.

I know she'll be greatly missed by the writers who got noticed cause she read and liked their books.

I know I'll miss her too.

Thanks for a great run.


How Time Flies when you're reading great books

Dear Ms. Snark

Is there a fault line between "historical" and "contemporary" in describing a novel for a query?

Grandmother Snark wants you to know in no uncertain terms that if she was alive that year, it is NOT historical.

If I was alive that year, it is contemporary.

If Killer Yapp was alive, it's cutting edge modern and probably a text message.

Contemporary fiction is a sensibility rather than a spot on the timeline to my way of thinking. Jon Lethem writes contemporary fiction even if he sets it in 197o. Thomas Pynchon writes contemporary fiction even though Against the Day takes place at the turn of the previous century.

Don't get yourself wrapped up in terminology. Call it a novel. Tell me the year it takes place.

Well, here's an original question

Dear Oh Great Goddess of Snarkiness,

I would like to start a book in another language for one page that's not the main language of the book. If I warn the agents in both the query and cover letter, would they reject it based on this? Would it hurt the marketability of the book to do this? I have a reason for doing this. I do
not want to persist to do this for the rest of the book, just the first page.

It would also not appear to be roman letters either.

This is something you might add in if someone wants to read the full, or even better not until the book is slated for publication (similar to an acknowledgment page that is added last). Even if you warn me it's there it's pointless to include it cause I can't read it.

I vote no on including anything that makes me think you're clue free.

Status reports on partials/fulls

Hello Ms. Snark,

I attended a conference in January in which six agents requested to see my first 50 pages. I promptly sent those off. A few have passed, one has requested a full, and I haven’t heard from two others. So, here’s the question: should I let the two I haven’t heard from know that I’ve received a request for a full? If yes, should I note the agency that is requesting the full? I don’t want to betray confidentiality, but I also don’t want these agents to think I’m making this up to get them to reply to me re: my pages.


Status reports are annoying up until you have an agent making an offer. Then I want to know so I can get off my sorry asterisk and read your work and throw myself into the wooing fray.

The Cat(egory) in the Hat Comes Back

Miss Snark:
Can you please a working definition of Commercial Fiction versus Literary Fiction? Am I correct in believing that the former is a bit more formulaic (with many sub-genres such as Romance, Mystery, Sci-Fi, etc) while Literary is highly original but with only limited, highly refined, appeal?

Despite the discussion earlier in the week about the reproductive habits of frogs, I must remind you that the phrase "publishing science" is an oxymoron. There are no hard and fast rules about what is commercial and what is literary, no phylum, genus and species to safely categorize what is L and what is C.

I throw both those words around to suit my evil mercantile plans. If I have a great project and an editor wants commercial fiction, by dog, this is commercial fiction. If an editor wants more literary toned things, well presto magic, this is literary.

Generally I stay within the realm of reason and don't pitch Killer Yapp's Sunday in the Park graphic novel as literary fiction but I would if I thought I'd get a deal out of it.

When agents talk about commercial fiction they mean the stuff that sells well. When they talk about literary fiction they mean the stuff that gets reviewed well.

Don't worry about this. Call your work a novel or a mystery, or a romance and leave the category dance to the pros.

Helpful Hints!

Miss Snark,

I've just about finished my fifth edit before sending the first chapter of my WIP to an agent. I use MSWord and the footnote feature allows me to keep track of plot elements that I worked in; things to come, references and hints about characters/situations, etc. They are visible at the bottom of each page unless they are removed or hidden.

I would think that removing these before printing is the smart bet. But, am I wrong? Most of these notes clarify the characters secrets, motivations, and plot twists (usually in 15 words or less) as they are revealed in later chapters.

What are you thoughts on this?

I think this qualifies as WTF.

Let's review the purpose of an agent reading a first chapter: can you write well; is the premise of the book interesting; and is the voice compelling? (and you need all three, not just one or two)

Inserting footnotes that are the equivalent of "Felix Buttonweazer's motivation for sneering at Miss Snark is revealed in chapter three" is idiotic UNLESS it's an actual part of the book. Why? Cause an agent WILL assume it's part of the book! We don't read your novels with Cliffs Notes in any form. That comes much letter when you are part of the canon, not fodder for the clue cannon.

Don't do this.

2nd books

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a question about-two book deals, which I've seen a lot of in the deals section of Publisher's Marketplace. Suppose a first novel did moderately well for the genre, and an agent sells novels two and three in a different genre in a two-book deal. If book two is complete, how much of book three would have to be written? In that case, could a novel sell on just a synopsis and sample chapters?
What about two-book deals with the writer's first two novels? Can the second one be partially written in that case?


When I sell multiple book deals the second (or third) book is rarely written at the time we do the deal.

Reviewing your royalty statements

Dear Miss Snark...

Wonderful blog you have here. Anyway, here is my question:

If an author (unagented) has reason to not exactly swallow whole every word given to him by his independant publisher, what recourse would he have in terms of verifying sales vs. returns and other complicated royalty calculations? Are there ways of independantly verifying this information? Must one request some kind of audit? Your experience and wisdom on such matters would be much appreciated.

Standard publishing contracts have an audit clause. It allows an author, or an author's representative to audit the books once a year.

If you suspect chicanery or erroneous reporting, drop me an email. There is a company here in New York that specializes in royalty review. If she finds a mistake, she gets a percentage. If she doesn't it's free. She makes her living doing this. That tells you something.

And it's not always chicanery. Royalty statements are notoriously complex and unclear. Even the publishers can't explain them.

A slice of clue cake

When I was about half way through writing a novel a while ago, I wound up having a long conversation with an editor I'd known socially for many years.

I described my novel. He sounded interested.**

I said, "But your company mostly publishes X and Y. My novel is only a little X and is mostly Z."

"It's OK. Send it anyway when it's done."

As he's also been known to agent for people, I figured what the hell. Even if he couldn't buy it, perhaps he could point me towards an agent or editor who might be interested in it.

When I finished the novel the following March, I double-checked that he still wanted to read it, he said he did, so I sent it to him.

I know he had a very busy year. However, after eight months, I hadn't heard anything, so I dropped him a note and said I'd rewritten part of the novel - did he want to see the rewrites? He said sure so I sent it to him.

Nearly four more months have gone by.

I would really like an acceptance or rejection from him so I can move on and try to get an agent for this novel. Should I just say, "It's been a year and I need to know if you're planning to read it or not?"

Here is a slice of advice from a two layer clue cake for you:

1. NEVER ever ever stop querying until a project is accepted. You've wasted a year here. Start querying. Don't wait for him to respond because;

2. He was being nice. You don't have a sense of it cause you're on the other side of the equation and you think of editors and agents as being tough as nails. They aren't (Miss Snark of course, is) and many times people ask for things cause they don't have the intestinal fortitude to let the conversation lag when the natural next statement appears to to be "yes I'd like to read it".

Here is a bonus clue cause clues come in threes today: don't ever talk about your novel to anyone socially until it's published. Ever.

**he sounded alive


Merely mortal? Not to worry

Dear Miss Snark,

A while back it dawned on me that many authors only became famous after they died. I thought, well hell it’s worth a try, so I faked my own death. The strategy worked, and my scholarly tome is being published next month. But now I have two problems (well, aside from the IRS), and I’m hoping you can help me.

Number one, book signings are going to be problematic. How do you suggest I handle those?

Number two, I’m almost done with my second novel. It’s going to look suspicious if a dead guy suddenly comes out with a new book. Should I claim it was penned by a ghost writer?

Not to worry. Make sure the signings are at night, arrive in a hearse with a spider eating associate and people will know you're a vampire. They won't bat an eyelash.

As to the second book, again, not to worry. We all know deathless prose when we see it.

When to query a memoir

Dear Miss Snark;

I have written my fabulous memoir about my journey through sex, drugs, rock and roll and Cancer. I am still in the process of “polishing” the practically completed manuscript.

The research I’ve done has not provided a clear answer to this question: When is the proper time to start sending queries to agents for a memoir? It this like a novel in that it should be absolutely complete with all spelling and grammar checked and rechecked? Or because it is non-fiction, can it be submitted as a proposal and partially finished?

Of course, my query letter will be brilliant based on all of the things I’ve learned from you, but I want to make sure to have everything else ready when my dream agent contacts me.

Memoir needs to be finished before you query. And more than spelling and grammar, you'll need to let it sit untouched and unread for at least a month, and then look at it one more time before you start querying.

You get one shot on this. Don't fuck it up by querying before your ms is ready.

Querying while a partial is out

Dear Miss Snark:

I am new at this querying business and recently received a request for a partial, which I sent. As requested, I sent it by e-mail and haven't heard back yet (it's been a couple of weeks). My question: I realize that it may take a fairly long time until I do hear back, so what is the etiquette about continuing to query other agents while I wait? She did NOT ask for an exclusive on the partial. Is it a no no to continue on my quest for an agent or would I be naive to stop doing so until I receive her answer? Is it even a given that I will definitely hear back?

You can and should keep querying till you get an offer. Your query letters don't need to mention anyone is looking at a partial either; in fact it's better not to. We all assume multiple submissions these days. I'm always shocked if something isn't.

It's not a given you'll hear back, much to the everlasting shame of my side of the industry.

Do you really really suck?

Miss Snark and Killer Yapp,

I've received quite a few rejection letters lately for various pieces of writing, and I'm beginning to suspect that my writing sucks. I know you've suggested that writers never stop writing, but I also know that many people, Stephen King included, believe a competent writer can become a good writer, but a bad writer has no hope.

Friends and writing groups will offer positive suggestions to improve your writing, but who will tell you that you just need to put the pen down?

The Crapometer has been known to call 'em as it sees 'em.
The Crapometer however is currently running a presidential campaign in Iowa and thus unavailable.

The Evil Editor has been known to be brutally frank.
And is Elektra still holding forth on the less Snarky Crapometer?

And you can always post it to your blog and invite comments.

More on parting with agents

Dear Miss Snark,

A year ago, I met an editor at a writer's conference who invited me to submit the entire manuscript of my novel. A few months later, I hired an agent, who was brand-new. I let the agent contact the editor, which she did.

The editor ultimately rejected the novel with the very kind words, "I will be actively looking for whatever this author writes next."

Soon after that, the agent stopped sending out the manuscript and gave up on it, so I politely severed our business arrangement.

I am going to another writer's conference in a few months, and will be pitching a brand-new, shiny manuscript to the same editor who almost liked my work before. If the editor says, "Didn't you have an agent before?" What do I say? I don't want to sound fickle, nor do I want to sound like an idiot for getting mixed up with such a lousy agent.

You say "my agent and I have parted company amicably". The word lousy never enters your mind let alone your conversation. And don't worry, she's not going to ask, and she's probably not going to remember you unless you mention it first.

And you don't "hire" an agent. If such a state of affairs should come to pass, I know you'll be glad to offer an hourly rate commensurate with my value.

Bet hedging...not just for Wall Street anymore

Dear Miss Snark,
I signed with my agent almost a year ago, but she hasn't had any luck selling my manuscript. I feel that she is submitting, doing her job, but I don't feel she is as much of a go-getter as I would like. Now, I have a new completed manuscript, very different than the first, and I don't feel she would be right to represent it. What is the protocol? Sever my relationship with her first, then query other agents? Query agents now and let them know I am currently represented by someone else? What is the proper etiquette?

Thank you for your advice and I look forward to hearing your response.

Well, you're not going to like the response but here it is anyway.

You have to end your relationship with your first agent BEFORE you query anyone else. Anyone who says differently is an idiot.

Here's why: publishing is a small world. You have no idea who your agent knows or who she talks to or what gets said. You start shopping your ms around and your agent finds out second hand and you're toast. The liklihood that she will find out is in direct propoprtion to how much you DON'T want her to know, too.

And on the other side of things, if you query me before you part ways with your agent and I find out it's an automatic rejection. Even if you write really really well.


Pitch THIS

Bon jour, Miss Snark!

You recently said, "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."

Is it customary to discuss with an agent HOW they're going to pitch a book? I had a friend who learned her agent was pitching her project as a middle grade book when, really, it was a teen book (due to subject content). She wasn't very happy (the book never sold). Should she have trusted the agent's vision of the book or should she have corrected the agent's pitch?

The day my clients start "correcting my pitch" is 30 days before they get a new agent, and I'll be happy to waive that by fedexing a release this very day.

My clients have a hard enough time picking the correct category for their novels without trying to figure out how to pitch it. Fortunately we have a division of labor here that works well: they write wonderful books, and I figure out how to sell them.

The reason I'm waving my arms in the air and howling about this is cause 99% of the authors I know do NOT know how to position or pitch a book to an editor. Your friend is a CLASSIC example. YA and middle grade do NOT divide based first on subject matter. First it's vocabulary, sentence structure and tone. You can have middle grade books with very difficult subject matter but not written with YA vocabulary. And you can't sell middle grade vocabulary to the YA market.

My comment about romances and westerns was mostly for illustration. I've had some clients with oddly checkered submission patterns and taken them on cause I thought the book could be pitched in a new way. I've done this only twice, and both were as favors for long standing well established industry friends/colleagues. If these exact same books came over the transom I would have said no. Neither sold on my pitch either.

I've also repositioned novels after a round of rejections but that's mostly calling something a thriller rather than a horror novel to expand the pool.

Anonymous at the Eponymous

Dear Miss Snark,

After querying my favorite agent, who heads an eponymous agency, I received a response a few weeks later -- except it wasn't from the agent, or any other agent there. Could it be a reader? A secretary? I dunno, but this mystery person thanked me for the query and said, "I've read your material, and am not enthusiastic enough about it to feel that we're the agency for you."

Now, I dunno, do small agencies make group rejections, like, is this basically a rejection from all 2 or 3 agents at the entire agency? Should I query the others, or have I already been permanently shown the door?

You're done. It doesn't matter who read or signed the letter. Look at what it says:
"not right for me" leaves some wiggle room but "we're not the agency for you" is pretty much the game, set and match.

Quit focusing on favorites and play the field. Query widely.

Conveying fulls and partials to Snark Central

Dear Miss Snark:

Certainly I would never waste an agent's time or my own money by sending a routine query letter using any method other than regular snail mail. But what if an agent requests a partial or (Thank you Jesus!) a full? Given the problems I have occasionally had in the past with the USPS, I am extremely reluctant to entrust them with something this vital to my fledgling career as a writer. Especially when a busy agent may take several weeks--or longer--to respond to the submission, I feel that the cost of sending the material FedEx is well worth it, simply for the comfort of being able to track the package and know that it actually arrived at the agent's office.

I hafta tell ya that this writing business is about to drive me totally effing crazy as it is. Please, please don't tell me that, in addition to all of the other things I have to be concerned about, I now also have to worry that I will antagonize an agent and perhaps prejudice her against my submission simply because I chose to use a reliable carrier to deliver material that the agent had requested.

You can send your prose by Pony Express or liveried footman. You can send it accompanied by flemenco dancers and the Vienna Boys Choir covering "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp". You can send it in a box of LiverSnaps hackeysacked by a pack of poodles if you so desire.

The objection is not in the method (although I find sending queries by FedEx to be indicative of nitwittery as we all know) and I certainly won't think more or less of you for your chosen conveyance. In fact, by the time I actually read it, I won't even remember how it arrived**.

The problem with FedEx is that it seems to alter the expectation of queriers that their work will be read faster or with a more favorable eye. It won't. As long as YOU know that, fire the manuscript off in a cannonball and we're fine.

The only thing you can't do is make me go to the post office to fetch it.

**this reminds me of one of my favorite stories. A man is herding his five children in Central Park. All five are approximately the same age, and of clearly varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. A tightly coiffed and furred matron stops to view the children playing. She says "what darling children, are they all yours?"

"yes, they are" replies the father.

"Which ones are adopted?" inquires the helmet head

"I'm don't really remember anymore," replies the dad "Once they're yours you kind of forget how they got here".

Option duration

Dear Miss Snark,

I was talking to someone last night who signed with a publisher who publishes fiction for a very narrow niche market. She had to negotiate several points in the contract but the publisher wouldn't budge on one issue -- first-refusal rights for seven years. I was shocked because this publisher didn't have this clause several years ago. The publisher didn't even limit first-refusal to the type of books they publish. I told my friend that this was author servitude and that she lost control over her work for seven years.

My question . . . is this a common practice among publishers these days?

There are two pieces of the clause: what they have, and for how long.
First refusal means they have the right to look at it first and the option to buy the book on the same terms as the first book

How long they have to do is the other part. Seven years is insane. Most publishers want 60 DAYS and we agree to 30. We also limit what the author has to show on the option. We try to get outline and we settle for outline and a chapter.

This is worse than not being published because even if this author says "sod you and the horse you rode in on" to the publisher, she is unable to sign with anyone else because that new contract will include a clause saying she has the right to sell them the book...which she doesn't. She'll need a signed release for every project for seven years.

This is nuts.

"More information needed" on AQ

Some commenters wondered what 'more information is needed about this agent' meant on the AgentQuery website. So I asked. Herewith:

Dear Miss Snark,

Thanks for writing. Love you. Love your blog. Love your snarklings.

"More information is needed about this agent" on agentquery.com means just that. We don´t know everything that we´d like to about that agent, and we hope either the agent herself or her clients or someone out there in cyberland will provide us with some more insight.

Sometimes it just means we need to add the titles of the books that the agent has represented, (and we just haven't gotten around to it). Sometimes it means we don´t have all the contact information or we aren't sure about the agent's specific tastes or what she may be looking to represent.

What it DOESN'T mean is that AQ--in some way--is uncertain about the legitimacy of the agent. In other words, it is not a red flag against the agent. Our site doesn't rate agents--good or bad. That's what writer friends are for.

Thanks for checking in with us. Hope that clears things up for your snarklings. We´re always looking for updates. Lots of times, they come from the agents themselves. But more often than not, our AQ users provide the scoops. And we always love them for it.