"The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final."
Truman Capote

"Well written stories are vivid, uninhibited, and pungently phrased, with sudden and surprising flashes of insight"

Gerald Clarke, Capote: A Biography

a little test

Every single day there are 20 query letters waiting for me.
No jacket flap copy to tell me it's a masterpiece, no blurbs, no marketing copy.
Just raw pages.

One of the very very hardest things about being an agent is learning to read stuff and identify really good things with no clues. Frankly, I'm still not as skilled at that as I hope to be (take comfort all you undiscovered masters out there!).

I think of that when I read things like this in the Washington Post.

And I always give money to street musicians.

Heart Smart

Miss Snark,

I am finally (after several rewrites and workshoppings and more rewrites) ready to start querying a novel. I am concurrently spending time in a wheelchair due to a heart problem that may or may not be permanent. I have gotten used to the looks and the people talking over my head, and what people might think about my choice of wheel-friendly clothing won’t bother me when I attend a conference next month. I won’t be pitching, although I am curious about whether showing up in a chair would cause an immediate, if invisible to the naked eye, inner recoil in an agent.

In a mail/email query, I’d be lying by omission if I let a prospective agent believe I could undertake a lot of high-intensity publicity effort. At what point in the delicate minuet between the first ‘dear agent’ and the final ‘I accept’ should I tell a prospective agent that I might not be the best bet for a book tour or other strenuous promotional activities unless a portable defibrillator is on the table next to the bottled water?

First, focus your energy on your writing. Make it great. You can ride tandem on KY's skateboard if you write well enough.

Book tours are over rated ways to promote books. You can do a lot from home, on the phone and on the net.

You don't have to mention it at the query process. You should mention it when an agent calls and wants to sign you up.

And, a lot of authors go on tour who aren't doing backflips for their morning constitutional. Ya work with what you've got. If we need oiled and muscular pool boys to carry you about on a sedan chair, well, no problem; I have those guys on speed dial.

Write well. We'll figure out the rest.

Hey baby, wanna see my pages

Miss Snark,

I hate writing query letters. Detest. Loathe. I can do it, mind you, just I'd much rather be working on my next story or sticking needles in my eyes. Is there ever a time when we (specifically, fiction writers) no longer have to bother with query letters?

For instance, if I have an agent who has sold a previous book of mine, do I have to hit her with a query before forwarding my new masterpiece? Or a situation I'm currently in: I don't have an agent, but I have a publishing house that published a book of mine in 2006 (didn't do great, but made *some* money). Do I have to query them before sending my newest manuscript? And if so, does it have to be the standard query letter or can I just send something brief asking if
they'd like to check out my new novel?

I have more than a dozen writers working on next projects right at this very moment. They just tell me what they're working on in pretty general terms. It's not a query because it's a certainty I'm going to read their work. Query implies a question of whether I will read it, and thus requires some persuasive reasons be included (thus, 'wanna read my next novel' is not a query but a lazy ass shirking of your persuasive responsibilities).

You're much more likely to need a query letter with a publisher but it certainly won't be the same form as what an unpublished writer would send. They know you, they know your work.

If writing query letters makes you grumpy, adjust your attitude. Don't think of it as asking me for my attention. Think of it as performing introductions. You know I'm looking for good work. Introduce your good work in language that is enticing.

You're a writer. Look on query letters as a place to strut your stuff. If you keep thinking how much you hate query letters, you'll stop writing them, or do a crap job with them, and that, that is a very very bad thing.

The Fog of Query

Miss Snark-

I have diligently tried to follow the mysterious and myriad rules that writers must follow when querying agents. I know that if agent A at agency 1 rejects me, I should not query another agent there.

I just got a rejection from Agent C (separate agency) who enthusiastically suggested I query Agent B at agency 1. So now I am conflicted. Should I have assumed Agent A passed my mss to Agent B and she passed, or should I take Agent's C suggestion and query Agent B?

Thank you for your blog and the constant help you give to us nitwits.

You're not a nitwit, sorry. You can try out again next week.

You query Agent B directly. You say "Agent C suggested I query you". You don't need to mention Agent A was shortsighted enough to pass already.

What you DO NOT say is "Agent C rejected me but said you were the lucky next winner" and you don't say "Agent C referred me/recommended me". Agent C suggested Agent B, use that language, and that alone.

Querying is a minefield, no doubt about it, but unlike other weapons, the slings and arrows of obstreperous agents won't actually remove body parts from unwary writers. You'll live to type another day.

Rejecting requests

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm still pinching myself; the unbelievable has happened and at any moment, Rod Serling will come out and tell me that I'm dead or something.

Anyways, I've landed an agent in record time and have politely notified other agents currently reviewing partials and fulls. My question is: Should I notify agents in the e-query stage that I've signed? I'm getting bombarded with requests, and believe it or not, I actually feel bad rejecting them.

I've earned hundreds of rejections over the years. I certainly can take it, but can I dish it out?

Hopefully, I won't have to endure the sting of an editor's rejection--that would really hurt.

All you have to do is respond politely to the people who ask you for partials or fulls. You don't have to send an email to everyone you queried.

Don't feel bad. Give $20 to the next street musician you like and you've squared up your karmic load.

fang fur fey feng shui

Here's a chance to get your work looked at by non-snarkly writers, and a chance also to have Rachel Vater look at it.

In case you're wondering, Rachel Vater is a very very smart savvy agent, and you'd be a world class nitwit to pass up this chance.

The details are here

The first finish line

Dear Miss Snark,
About five minutes ago I finished my novel. Cheers. Smiles are on the house.

I don’t know what to do. Call my mom, the pope, the girl in high school who broke my heart – tell her to watch out, I’m going to be famous?

Or do I keep the secret. Get down to brass tacks and edit (please note, I didn’t say brass tax- I’ve been taken to school already for that one).

It took me two years to write 65,000 words. Without you it would be 120,000. I have a bonsai tree. I want to put query letters in the mail tomorrow. I’ve edited all along the way. I’ve removed the double verbs when it was possible, I took the word “that” out about a thousand times where it didn’t belong. I’ve been up and down this thing countless times. I know where it curves in and where it curves out.

I’ve read a number of times an author needs to sit on it for a month.

Should I? This thing has possessed me for two years. I’m ready to cut my Siamese twin. Do I let her hang to my skin another month? What do I do in between? I’m not ready to write number two – I need a break from those people.

First, you revel in this achievement. I'm not kidding. It takes a lot to finish a novel and every agent knows it. Why else do you think we we always say "you have to be finished before you query"? So, first you buy the champagne and toast yourself. I raise the gin pail to you as well. Killer Yapp doffs his tam.

But yes, you aren't "done". You do need to let it rest. Don't even think about it for a month. This is harder than it sounds. You've been working on this so long it's a habit to think of it, but for the next thirty days you'll have to stop yourself. Kick back, do some fun reading, go to Coney Island, watch Season two of The Wire all in one fell swoop.

Whatever you do, don't query.

In 30 days go back and just read it. Don't think "ok, I'm going to edit". Just read it. See what you think.

Read this

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.
Read it.
It's amazing.



Dear Miss Snark,

Having written no less than four apparently inappropriate missives to you, it is with extreme trepidation that I make yet another attempt to request advice. I have found my genre! It is poetic prose, which I am led to believe is quite out of fashion these days. Is there any point in mentioning this category in my query letters if no one is publishing it? Or am I misinformed?

wtf is poetic prose?

EE doesn't know either

Well, that's one strategy

After many consecutive rejections written on the outside of my unopened query letter envelop, I have decided on a different approach to querying.

My plan is to kidnap George Clooney, duct tape some caviar-flavored Scooby Snacks and a couple of bottles of prime Mountain-made Gin to his chest. After writing my query letter across his butt in Sharpie, mail him to the agent most likely to read and respond to my query. So that no physical harm would come to him, I will include a Sharpie-removing sponge bath kit in the query package.

Now, I know you would never want to be part of such a scheme, but I thought that you might have an address or two of some worthy agent that would be interested in my query letter. Could I prevail upon you for such information?

Esther Newberg
825 8th Aveneue
New York, NY 10019

Suzanne Gluck
William Morris
1325 Ave of the Americas
New York, NY 10019

BAD bad bad idea

Dear Miss Snark,
A friend and I, in an attempt to encourage ourselves to get off our duffs and submit the manuscripts we've been sitting on, thought of posting the rejection letters we are sure to receive on a blog with possibly amusing comments from one or both of us. Would agents be likely to get upset if the blog were generally available for reading by whoever happens by? That is, should we go the more-traditional route of papering our walls with such letters or using them as scratch-paper? We're aware that most of these are likely to be form letters and therefore not fascinating to anyone but us.

au contraire, mon cher.

Posting your rejection letters with "amusing comments" is funny right up until you post one from me. The advent of the "egogoogle" means I see a lot of what you write about me that you perhaps wish I hadn't. I don't send you rejection letters with the idea you'll post them and comment. You can certainly do it, but you'll have to embrace the fall out as readily as you do the fun of the moment.

I had recently heard from an editor who told me about a blogger who was outraged to hear a writing conference wanted her blog posts about agents attending the conference to be "toned down". The blogger thought she was being helpful. The agents who read her comments were more than a bit taken aback to find their bios critiqued and their job history reviewed.

(If you want an explanation of why that was not a good idea, remember agents are guests of conferences; don't get paid to attend; and being critiqued in public may be a job hazard these days but it's not the part we like best. It doesn't feel very welcoming if you look up a conference, and one of the blogs linked to the site is shredding you. Consider it this way: would you feel good about a conference that posted your bio/resume and critiqued it?).

These are the kinds of conversations and amusements best left OFF your websites and blogs. This is what dive bars, cloak rooms and Miss Snark's Salon for Wayward Agents are for.


Phoning it in

Miss Snark will be taking phone queries.

(thanks to Kitty for the link)


Michael Dibdin has died

this is just sad sad news.

Michael Dibdin, renowned crime novelist, and a really really wonderful guy, has died.
Here's the link to the BBC notice.

Getting carded

Dear Miss Snark,

Writing conference season (in my neck of the woods) is approaching. What is your opinion on business cards from writers? I have business cards, but it’s all the info from my day job. That information is irrelevant and not the contact info I would use with an agent anyway. Should I go to my local Kinko’s and have some cards printed up with my name and address?

How important are business cards? Will having them or not having them make a whit of difference? Will I seem like a pretentious poser if I have them? Will I seem like a complete nitwit if I don’t? Is this in the same category with the stamp obsession?

Lounging Labrador sends her regards and a half-chewed slipper to Killer Yapp.

Killer Yapp accepts with pleasure and wonders if the toe was there when it got sent?

This is covered in the Snarkives but it bears repeating. Business cards are a networking tool for your conversations with other writers. Don't give them to agents, or editors. Yes, we take them. Yes it appears we put them in our card case. Don't be fooled. It's the first thing I throw away. I don't even take them home. They hit the trash bin in the hotel room along will all the other useless crap I don't need.

Here's why: first I don't keep a card file anymore; I keep everything electronically. Second, I don't keep names and addresses of writers until they are at the "we want to offer you a contract stage". Until that point, I have your query letter, and I keep it in a file. NO agent I know keeps writers' cards in a rolodex. If they keep them at all, they are in a box somewhere with other junk.

However, for the other writers you meet at this conference, cards are a good idea. I beg of you: avoid cute. Avoid logos of feather pens and colored art and photos. Please please please make this straightforward information. Name, email, phone. Your city and state if you want. Website. NOTHING else. No motto, no slogan, no nothing. Those things scream "amateur".

When someone gives you a card, you write on the back of it why you got it. When you give someone a card, you make a note on the back of it to remind them you met at this conference and you both are looking forward to reading Space Ark (in other words, the venue and reason you were in contact with this person).

Don't buy 1000. Chances are good at least your email will change before you use anywhere near that many.

Don't make them yourself. (Don't give me grief about this. The only people who should make their own business cards are graphic artists and they generally know how to get them professionally produced anyway). Really don't make them yourself if you want to save money. There are a LOT of places that do template business cards very inexpensively. Homemade cards scream "amateur".

Don't include them in your query letter. I throw them away. I throw away a lot of what you send anyway, and it offends my preference for living lightly on the earth to see this kind of thoughtless waste. Don't do it.

Pat or Pat

Dear Miss Snark,

Well, I started researching agents today and came upon a crucial question that I don't believe has been asked before.

Now, I know better than to address something 'Dear Agent.' But this person doesn't have a listed phone number, AND their first name is androgynous- let's say Pat. Patricia? Patrick? No idea. No phone number, so I can't ask.

Is it terribly inappropriate to address it "Dear Agent Pat Bellbottom"? And if it is, how should I handle this, since there's no phone number for me to call?


Dear Pat Bellbottom is fine. However, there's one step missing in your sleuthing process. Google the agent's name. Chances are you'll come up with some sort of bio from a writer's conference, a PW article, a media bistro article, something, that uses a pronoun.

I do this ALL the time when I'm getting ready to fling myself upon new editors. Actually I do it to all editors before I query I cause I still remember in vivid detail the horror on a colleague's face when I referred to an editor as 'she' and that was wrong wrong wrong. The only thing that kept me from self-defenestration was that I'd actually not called the editor yet.

Hypotheticals just to goad me, right?

Love you, love the blog.

Here's my queston -

What would you say is the more important consideration in selecting one offer from multiple offers:

quality/power of the editor
size of the advance
size/power of the publishing house

None of the above.

I look at terms of the deal and what kind of marketing and pr support is being offered.
"Size of the advance", it's assumed that all the advances offered are figures the author would accept.


Miss Snark still loves ol Nick

People are so down on my honey pie Satan!
It's really unfair!

On the other hand, I was laughing so hard when I read

this book

it was hard to maintain my snit.

Who gets custody of the submissions?

Dear Miss Snark,

What happens when a writer parts ways with his agent midstream and novel #1 is still out with an editor or two? Is the submission withdrawn? Will the writer blow his chances with those editors? Will his name and his agent's name be bandied about, humiliating everyone?

Also, is there an official cooling off period before the writer should begin querying other agents? Say, sixty seconds? Six days? Six weeks?

I've been on both sides of this one.

When I get a new client who has pending submissions from a former agent, I talk to the former agent directly. Usually they just say "take it, no problemo". I do the same thing. I'm not hung up on getting "what's mine" cause I know there's a lot more to a sale than sending a manuscript.

When a client leaves me, I send them a list of where their work went and the status. I don't pull the submission normally. I just let it wither away. Without me calling to follow up, there's not much traction. On the other hand, if by some miracle an offer comes through, I tell the former client and ask how they want it handled. Amazingly most of them want back in at Snark Central.

There are no hard and fast rules here other than to behave well and not get emotional.

There is no cooling off period but you should check your contract with your agent to see what it says about notice. Absent a specific release date, most of the time you need to give him/her 30 days notice.

Stamps---the topic that has more lives than a herd of cats

Forever stamps are first class postage forever. Thus the name. Put them on your RETURN envelopes--the SASEs. Don't waste them on your outgoing mail. You're mailing it today, postage rates aren't changing between now and Friday. I swear.

No one cares how many stamps you have on an envelope.

From an aesthetic standpoint I like one stamp, but yanno..it's not something I give a rat's ass about. I do notice cute stamps and new stamps but only in a very very cursory way and cause I look at a LOT of stamps in the course of a week. I don't remember you sent something with a particular stamp. I just notice cause I'm sitting here opening mail.

Every time you start obsessing about stamps I want you to stop, think, and return to your desk. For every wayward stamp obsession you owe me twenty minutes of writing.

Write well.
That's all.

Tossed overboard

Miss Snark,

Though I doubt it could ever happen, I need to ask: Have you ever been dumped? By a client, that is.

Unfortunately, I need to part ways with my agent and begin the search for a new one. I get what I'm supposed to do -- letter, 30 days notice, etc.

But is there a way to soften the blow? I know, I know, I'm going to have to toughen up if I'm going to continue on this path to published, but I made the mistake of not only thinking she could sell my work, but liking her, too. Damn.

Help me be mean. In kind of a nice way, of course.

I've been dumped indeed.
And sometimes in ways that make me think of revenge and required Father Finbar to be rousted from bed for an emergency session in the confessional at St. Patricks. This being New York, not much phases (ok, sorry, fazes) Father Finbar, but I notice he does clutch his heart when Miss Snark slithers in.

Kristen Nelson posted something about parting ways on her blog, you might google to see if you can find it.

I prefer a very short letter saying "yer toast Snarkles" cause in the end, why doesn't matter. The urge to point out flaws, mistakes, miscommunications or other indications of less than stellar performance are understandable but too late. You've decided to part company. I only want to hear about problems when I have a chance to fix them first.

There are different kinds of "dumping" too. If she hasn't sold your work, it's not all that unexpected. If she's been your agent for five years, sold three projects for increasing sums of money, and has saved you from the chopping block once or twice, well, nothing is going to soften that blow and I'm going to be mad for a good long time...err..I mean "the agent" will be mad for a good long time.

Plain, simple, straightforward, no "I'm sorry it had to be this way".

overseas deployment when querying

I'm in the editing process of my first novel, it's fantasy genre. I just found out I'm deploying to Afghanistan in November. When I send my manuscript out to agents, in my query letter should I let them know that I will be overseas by the time they reply back to me? I really think that my military background (US ARMY INFANTRY) helps give some of the scenes in my book credibility, but I don't want my chances to suffer because I'll be out of the US for a year. Any insight you could provide would be great.

You think your stint as infantry gives credibility to your fantasy novel?
I'm not sure I want to know why.
No, I'm absolutely sure I don't want to know why.

DO let agents know that you have a day job so to speak that is taking you out of the country and when. You'll be better off querying electronically of course and most agents do take e-queries these days.

You've got a job a lot of people disparage, few people understand and that a lot of political baggage is attached to. You've got my admiration and respect. Come home safe, soldier.

The itsy bitsy spider ...fought back

Dear Miss Snark and KY,

I have a question on dress for a conference. My dilemma is a direct result of an act of personal Nitwittery about a month ago.

I was stung by a brown recluse spider that had taken up residence in my right shoe. I'm not going to go into all the gory details, but I narrowly missed getting three toes amputated. Aragog has NOTHING on a brown recluse fending off a home invasion of the size 8 variety!

I am off crutches now, and have been wearing leather moccasin style slippers for a few days. My Dr tells me to get used to it. No stillettos for me for a while. I can't even where sneaks because they're too constricting. I am going to a writer's conference next month and this is wreaking havoc with my planned wardrobe. I'd planned some nice, relaxed businessy type outfits for the day, and some slightlier dressier outfits for the evening events, and of course, some jeans and a nice t shirt for the rest of the time. Do I hold my head high and make the strangest fashion statement ever with brown mocs? Do I grit my teeth, try to find a decent pair of flats that won't hurt my recovery too much? Do I have a sudden relapse and go back to crutches so I can moc the right foot and sneaker the left foot? Do I just run amuck barefoot waving Frankenfoot under everyone's nose, thereby being certain to make some sort of impression? How important is appearance anyway? I hate to say this, but we (as people in general) base so much of our opinions of people that I'm worried that I'm literally shooting myself in the foot on this one. Would you, or any of the Snarklings make a snap judgement on a woman who's mostly put together except for wild foot gear?

I realize that the important thing for an unagented writer at a conference is networking. But I'm worried that if I run around looking like a refugee from Nitwits R Us, no-one will take me remotely seriously. I don't have a novel to sell yet. It needs some re-working before I'm ready to start querying again. I just happened to be traveling to the city in question for work, and my boss was kind enough to give me a few extra days on my plane ticket to attend the conference. So I figured as long as the trip was free, I might as well take advantage and attend the conference.

Am I obsessing too much over this?

Yes, but it's better than some of the other things y'all obsess about.

You need a nice t-shirt that says "ask me how I survived a brown recluse spider bite with only this brown moc slipper as a souvenir".

No one is looking at your feet. If they are, they're envying you for what looks to be comfortable shoes. You're hyper conscious of it; no one else is looking. And I swear to you: Anna Wintour neither attends, supervises nor monitors fashions at writing conferences.

However, I know that does not assuage your anxiety.

Spend some time shopping for the nicest shoe you can find that your doctor says is an acceptable choice. If mocs are it, so be it. Don't compromise your health for a writing conference.

And make sure you have the funny story ready of how the spider bit you. If you're laughing, so is everyone else.

Subsidy presses are not always scammers

Miss Snark;
Not sure how I happen to get on these lists, other than the fact that I’ve mentioned on different weblists (there ya go) that I’m a (wannabe) writer. It amazes me that people will send me countless offers to publish my manuscript without even having had a query from me, or even a sample of my writing. I’m not even close to finishing anything, as I mostly do this for fun and when I have the time (what’s that…?). Anyway, just thought you’d want to take a look (because you have so much time of your own). I didn’t see Dorrance on the top 20 worsts, but thought it would be worth a warning or notice. If not, chuck it with the rest of your junk mail and keep on snarking.
Hugs to KY.

This isn't an offer to publish your manuscript, it's an offer to print it.
Dorrance isn't a scam house; they're a vanity press. They'll tell you up front they aren't going to do anything but print your books and a very limited amount of pr.

And truthfully, there's nothing wrong with that. If you want a nice book, go for it. If you want to sell it in stores, have it stocked in libraries or reach readers other than people on your Christmas card list, this isn't the best choice. And they'll tell you that, in fact they do. They're VERY clear about it-and that's the best indication of a non-scammer I can think of.

These guys have been in business since 1920. They're not flim flam artists or scammers. They aren't publishers either, not that the two are always mutually exclusive.

You've got it exactly right when you notice they suck up your email address from writing list serves and websites and message boards. You're exactly the kind of person they want to meet. You've got a manuscript, they've got a printing press.

Scammers over promise and never deliver.
Legitimate subsidy publishers like these guys, don't promise you a trip to the moon then hand you a pogo stick.

say: Snark

I fell off my chair at this one.
Honest to dog, I'm not sure I've ever laughed that loud at 12:07am when sober.

(audio alert if you're sneaking this at work)


Postage rate increases

First off, love the blog. It’s absolutely a necessity for me anymore.

This may be an idiotic question, but I’d figure you’d let me know if it was. With postage rates rising as of May 14, would you recommend to writers that we affix an extra stamp to our SASEs if we even suspect that the reply time will overlap that date? Seems like the logical thing to do, but I would guess many writers would rather not unnecessarily dip into gin funds to produce extra postage, however small that may be. Though I suspect slathering our SASE with postage may scream “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Thanks for the fount of valuable advice and having the patience to indoctrinate the clueless.

Oh you haven't heard about the "Forever" stamp!
It's always a first class stamp, no matter what you paid for it.
Here's the link to USPS.

You pay 41cents NOW and your SASEs don't need an extra stamp even if Miss Lolly Gag delays replying until the cows come home in June, 2009.

I think this is pretty darn brilliant.


Miss Snark is here to help you

I'm always looking for more cost effective ways to manage my agency.
Steaming stamps off SASEs is a long established practice of course.
Making sure all novels are under 100,000 words and printed in a small font saves paper.
Corraling interns to read the incoming mail; always a plus.

My ISP bills have always been a problem though. Thank goodness Google is now offering FREE ISP service. The details are here.

Miss Snark will be taking on staff

Here's why