Miss Snark goes dark

The blog is going dark for a week.
Don't worry, nothing horrible, just a short break sans phone email and the hurly burly of the daily grind.

No comments going up either so don't worry that I've deleted you.

Back a week from today, Saturday May 5.


Slow night at the toaster!

It's Friday, it's slush.

The things you do that turn your query into toast:

1. Remind me that you telephoned to ask permission to query. It's bad enough you did it. If enough time passes, I'll probably forget it was you. But no! no no, you lead the query letter telling me how nice it was to talk to me.

Here's a news flash: it wasn't nice to talk to you. I wasn't rude cause I'd run out snarl sauce and the new shipment is on hold at Customs pending a vermin search, but make no mistake about it, calling to ask if it's ok to query is stupid. Unless an agency specifically says don't, you can assume they want queries.

2. The letter is all one paragraph.
Ok, that's charming...not.
Then you single space your pages...which isn't the narrative, but descriptions of characters.
Not just toast...burnt toast.

3. "My novel is x thousand words but it reads longer". If you don't know why this is funny, need to sharpen your Sardonica bone.

4. A string of adjectives to describe the work (never a good choice anyway) topped off by the failure to tell me whether it is a novel or nonfiction. I don't know if you only tell me it's well written, riveting, and important.

Only four servings of toast in today's slush.
My dog, can it be...are you paying attention to the rants??
Miss Snark faints dead away at the horrifying idea of doing good in the world.

Snarkly Chronicles

Dateline: New York


(Dulcet tones of auto announcer in subway car) "This is the end of the line. All passengers must exit the train"

Disoriented woman looks up from novel, befuddled: WTF??? Where am I?

Impatient MTA conducter: Hey lady, get off the fucking train!

DW: Where am I?

MTA: Coney Island! Last stop. Get off the train.

DW (looking down at novel): But, but, I meant to get off at West 4th! In the 212! This! This is the 718, and damn near the 516!!

MTA: Lady, get OFF the train, it's the end of the line. This isn't West 4th Street. This is Coney Island.

DW: Oh my dear dog, I totally lost track of time.

MTA: Lady, I don't care, get off the train!

DW: wait wait, I'm on page 276, I'm almost done, I just need to finish....

MTA: Lady, I'm calling a cop if you don't get off the train this second.

DW: Look bub, if you had an ounce of brains, you'd realize that once I'm DONE with this book I don't need it any more, and I could give it to YOU to read.

MTA (looking skeptical) : What are you reading? Is it any good?

DW: This

MTA: Madam, please be seated. Can I get you a beverage?


Nitwit beyond even the last one

This morning I submitted a query to an agent I'd researched, and promptly received a reply from another agent at the house who had been forwarded my query from the original agent I queried. This agent asked for my full electronically, and I gladly sent it right away, settling in for the long wait. Not more than 3 hours later, I received a "Thank you for letting me read your manuscript. Unfortunately I cannot offer you representation at this time." Is this standard procedure in any way? Do I have grounds to be frustrated for the false hope, and that there was no feedback given?


I think taking the blame for giving writers "false hope" by asking to see their manuscripts may qualify as the nitwittiest thing I've heard all day. And as you can see from today's posts, you had SERIOUS competition.

I need a gin IV drip after this one.

Relative nitwittery


My BIL, I'll call him N, has offered to 'publish' my book free of charge and pay me some contributor's copies...promising to do local marketing too. Now, see this, he's not read anything and only knows bare descriptions of my wips. Now, I've discussed this with Ann Crispin and we agree this isn't cred, but my question is this. IF I had something that fit his requirements (basically around 120 pages), would it hurt me to let him publish it. Would a future agent ask me why I would do something like that?

N is a relatively smart person, but apparently doesn't know anything about manuscript prep...for example, he says that's 120 pages single spaced, 'which is closer to what the book will actually look like' to quote him.

He wants to start is micro-press with a work from me and one from him.

I probably won't be able to accommodate him, because everything I have is over 120 pages...even single spaced...I'm talking real cutting here.

Should I throw something to him? Recommend he read something current from me? (last thing was at least six years ago) Or beg off?

It's not going to kill you but why would you do this?

The first question I always ask on any deal offered is "what's in it for me".
This isn't cause I'm selfish (well, I am selfish but that's not the reason I ask).

I ask cause there MUST be give and take or it's a favor, and favors have a way of being one sided on things like this, and you end up resentful.

The other thing I ALWAYS ask on deals is "what's in it for the other guy".
If I can't see how he's going to make money, or build a business or do something reasonably productive, I don't participate cause why would I consign intellectual property to the shredder aka throwing away money.

I'm all in favor of start up businesses, and I'm all in favor of micro presses, and I love and respect the people with entrepreneurial spirit. That doesn't mean I think they walk on water and can do no wrong. No no. You have a small start up press and I want to know you know a thing or two about what you're doing. I pay very close attention to what they say, what questions they ask, and how they propse to learn what they don't know. Absent that, go learn on someone else's intellectual property.

To answer your actual question: no, this won't come back to haunt you most likely but you want to make sure you have a written contract with this guy. A REAL one. If you need draft language, I'll give the name of someone who can help you.

A little quiz

This is hilarious!

And I learned something!

Can you guess what it was?

(Tip of the feathered chaeau to Nick for the link)

rights, licenses, POD and "perpetuity"

I looked in your archive and didn't see a reference to this subject specifically.

I'm working on a short story to submit to a POD anthology. In the submission guidelines is the following statement: "All submissions remain the property of the contributor. Due to the never-out-of-print nature of POD publication, the editors of Dead Will Dance reserve the right to reprint the collection in perpetuity."

Does the fact that I retain my rights to the work mean I can submit this story (if they accept it) to other publishers? Are there any "gotcha's" with this model?

Uhh...these guys are confusing apples oranges and orangutans.

First, ALL material is ALWAYS the property of the writer. When a publisher or the National Enquirer or the New Yorker or the Bamboozle Floozy Gazette undertakes to publish your work they buy a LICENSE to do so.

A license has two things: territory and duration. (it has other things too but those are the biggies).

If these clowns want your work in perpetuity the answer is no.
Say after me "NO".

And no, generally you can't sell something again that is licensed to another publisher. That's the territories part of the license agreement.

Chances are it will never matter.
Sometimes it does.

I was VERY careful to get reversion clauses in one of my authors contracts. The license buyer, a very savvy businesswoman, did not look on this as trying to hoodwink her. She understood exactly what we needed and agreed to the change in language without turning a hair.

Good thing too. A major publisher is now licensed to publish the work that includes what was previously elsewhere.

You have no idea what the future holds. Giving up your work with no chance to get it back (and for no money right?) is foolish. Don't do it.

Nitwit of the Day? No, this one is BIGGER than that!

Dear Miss Snark

Today I received this email:

I have a completed middle grade manuscript that I was considering submitting for your consideration. Unfortunately, the web page, (redacted) and in fact the entire web site, is unreadable in one sense or another. Dark brown coloured fonts on a black background just doesn't cut it. Perhaps I'm the only one who can't read the site and if so, then I apologize for taking up your time. Otherwise, without properly visible submission instructions, heaven only knows who is sending what to you.

Any idea for what I should say in return?

You mean beyond "FOAD"?

Why anyone complains to a particular agent at a LARGE agency about the website is nitwittery of the prize winning level.

Large agencies have things called webmasters. Small agencies do too. Even Miss Snark has one (yo, Yapp, put DOWN the mouse).

Here's the other major clue to think about before shooting off your foolish mouth: how a webpage looks on YOUR computer may not be how it looks on others.

Even if you think you're performing a service by telling an agent the web page is hard to read (and you're not, so don't) you should at the very least look at it again on a computer that isn't yours.

And if you really find an error, direct it to the webmaster.

This kind of nitwittery will follow you around. Everyone at the LARGE agency knows your name now. As do I. Trust me, if a NitWit List existed you'd be on it.

"Equity publishing"

Dear Miss Snark,

While recently reviewing a copy of a colleague's book, I noticed she had changed publishers. She has several wonderful self-help books in print by a reputable mid-list house and one book in print through a BIG house. So, I was curious as to the change. This is the link to her new publisher:

What I find unsettling is that this company calls itself an equity publisher -- a term with which I am unfamiliar. On their website they make the distinction between four types of publishing (and I thought three was confusing): royalty, vanity, self-publishing, and equity. Is this a new breed of publisher?

I checked out their website, and I wish they didn't sound so defensive cause I think they're offering a fine service to a niche market. More power to them.

They've got a couple details wrong in their urge to make royalty houses sound evil, when really all they need to do is talk about money.

Their model is you pay for the book. They don't like the label vanity press, and since they don't take all comers, or all kinds of books, I can respect that quibble, but really, they are a pay to play publisher.

If they tell you how much up front, show you sample books, and introduce you to happy clients, I've got no complaints.

It sounds like a good deal for people who want to sell books in the back of the room at speeches (notice they are members of the National Speakers Association?), workshop teachers, people with very niched audiences who come to hear them speak or will seek out their books.

They are smart to limit what they do to what they clearly know will sell: biz, self help, inspirational.

What's smart about this for YOU is you get to tap into their expertise on book design and the mechanics of production. You don't have to learn it all yourself. Yes, you pay for that but you pay for all learning curves too.

I'm not sure they can get your books into stores or libraries (notice there's no information on the site for booksellers or retailers or librarians or "purchase now") and if you look at the prices on the books they are insane, but hey, if they can get it, why not.

And they're in Minnesota. Minnesotans are congenitally nice. That's one of the reasons Miss Snark is not allowed to go there.


Miss Snark has a rival

Words fail

Editors in their slush pile

I always love hearing editors talk about what they do so I leaped on this youtube video of Alison at Bleak House.

Watch for the shot when she's looking at the mail. Take a good long look. That's the mail for a week. Notice how much of it there is? That's the reason you don't do anything stupid in your query.

So THATS what this thing is for

so sue me, I love this

and no, you can't imitate her.
You have to come up with your own clever idea.

But this was damn good.


Not even nitwittery for this one

Miss Snark, does this Craig's List ad make you wonder if the writer's mother can read at an adult level? How adventurous, indeed! Wha...???

Literary Agent need for new unpublished children's author

I wrote a children's book for preteens. I have sent numerous query letters with many denials. I have had many people critque my book and love it. I just can not get a literary agent to spend time to see it. I would like to publish my book. It's adventurous and sci-fi.

This is how "literary agent" scam artists stay in business. It's why vanity POD mills stay in business.

There are some people so far afield they're even out of range of the clue cannon.

Resist Miss Snark barked, resist

Dear Miss Snark,

This is probably a nit-wit question, but I'm curious, so I'll go stand in the nit-wit corner and ask anyway. Have you ever gotten a creative query? (ie. A query for a pirate book on the back of a treasure map. Or maybe a package with a skeleton key, a shot glass, and a golf ball with the query saying "These were the only clues left for Detective Sly in the case of the missing golfer". Or perhaps a query in a mock up of the book they are trying to sell.) If you do get creative queries, are they annoying or welcome? I'm itching to send a creative query, but wondering if this would make me look bad. If so, I'll stuff my creativity into the trash and force myself into conformity.

Oh yes, I get these. They go directly in the trash.
Do NOT do this.
I don't care if anyone tells you they did it and got published. Don't do this.

First, if you're querying a lot of agents, you're going to spend a lot of money. Save your money for promotion where you'll need it.

Second, at the query stage of the process we're determining interest in your IDEA and getting a sense of your writing. Making this difficult, ie printing something on a treasure map, is counter productive.

Third, at some point in this process you have to write something that can be placed on the scanner of a black and white xerox machine and reproduced 50 times for the acquisitions committee to pick at. It might as well be now.

And don't think of this as forcing yourself into conformity. Think of this as following the directions so that you and your brilliant idea and writing can shine through.

The place for showing your brilliant origianl creative work is when I call you after reading your query letter and start begging for more.

previously published and contests

Our writing club is self publishing a book an anthology this summer. It does not have an ISBN number. Are these short stories considered published? Some of us would like to submit our stories to contests that say “no previously published” stories.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Contests that say "no previously published" stories pretty much mean no stories that have seen the light of day: no blogs, no websites, no ezines, and no anthologies published on Lulu.

The industry standards on this are not exact, they're in flux.

You may be confused because I've previously said that publishing things on the web or at Lulu doesn't count as "published" as far as book publishers are concerned. That still holds.

The answer to "is this published" really depends on who's making the rules. In this instance the contest is writing the rules for material they will consider and yours doesn't qualify.

How much more do I need to say about hook?

Oh Wise Master of Snarkiness,
After looking through countless suggestions for creating a compelling hook for a query letter, and participating in several query/hook critiquing contest blogs, I've come across the following dilemma. In a novel that features a relatively large cast of protagonists, with three separate "main" characters, each with their respective storylines, how do you structure a compelling hook? If I spend time to give a brief description of each character and storyarch, it doesn't seem like there's enough space to make any of them sound particularly compelling/interesting/"hook"ing, but if I focus on a single character, I lose 2/3 of the story, and could theoretically have 3 completely different hooks for a single novel.

Look at Airport, or Hotel, or any novel by Arthur Hailey.

Look at novels by James Michener or Leon Uris.

Look at Bleak House by Dickens.

Read the flap copy on big sprawling books.

You'll get the idea.

And if you need more help, there's an entire 600+ entry crapometer on hooks.

Work for hire as pub credit

Senorita Snark:

Late last year I finished writing a "work for hire" manuscript of a travel guide to Spain, due to be published in the spring of '08. My questions are 1) at what point can I claim this as a pub. credit (i.e. do I have to wait until next year?) and 2) how do I reference this kind of work, as I have no rights as the author?

You can claim it now. You write "I completed the work for hire project Senorita Snark Slinks Through Seville (Publisher: forthcoming 2008)".

You mention it only if you don't have anything else to mention. As pub credits go, this isn't top drawer but at least it's something.

Agents understand your name won't be on the cover or copyright page. On the other hand don't be tempted to embellish. You don't know if I know the publisher or will check up on what you tell me.

I hope you gave him a wedgie

Miss Snark,

I've written a mystery about a child that is abducted - she is rescued in the end. Recently, I was given critiques from several writers - one of them suggested that the subject matter is too tough of a sell. What is your opinion on this (other than if it is perfectly written it will sell)?

What the hell does your writer friend know about selling? If she's published she either sold it herself so her opinion is drawn from her own limited experience, OR her agent sold it and your friend didn't even do that much selling.

And if she's not published, her opinion is based on her own difficulty getting something published.

She's probably basing her opinion on something she's read or heard: the publishing industry is FAMOUS for agents and editors bemoaning the state of the industry.

I've ranted about this before, here it is again: be choosy who you listen to. Your writer friends mostly don't know much about selling work to publishers; Miss Snark on the other hand doesn't know much about character development (and you can take that any way you want to).

Anyone who says "this subject matter is overused" is offering an opinion. Opinions, unless you are a judge, don't have the force of law.

And really, everything is a tough sell.

Write well.
Focus on that.

electonic query turn around time

Dear Miss Snark,

A week ago an agent mentioned to me his new associate recently informed him there were over five hundred e-queries that hadn't been read; some over six months old. He was innocently shocked by this and told her to go through them all and respond as soon as possible. One of them turned out to be fantastic, and he wound up selling the book for a nice figure.

The point here is that while so many of us are electronically oriented these days, there are still a lot of people (including some excellent agents) who aren't. Unless the agent's guidelines specifically state they don't respond to e-queries unless they are interested, would this be an example of why it's important for writers to re-query if they don't hear anything? Would three months be a decent time frame to re-query? Or is it all just a matter of wait and see?

I despise equeries.
If an agent doesn't say they prefer e-queries, I'd always go snail with an SASE.

On the other hand, there's no logical explanation for letting six months slide by on email. The only advantage of equeries is they are fast. Fast to answer with a form letter, and fast to send.

The same rules apply though: a month on queries. I know that sounds like forever with equeries but honestly, some people let them stack up and then read them in batches.

The thing is though---during that time you are busily querying OTHER agents. Preferably ones who answer their email.

Synopsis woes...cause really, why read the Synopsis crapometer

Dear Miss Snark,

As I was preparing a partial and a synopsis to go out to an agent this afternoon, I couldn't help but notice that my synopsis sucked. Not just a little suck. A suck like the Vaccu-flex 3000 Maxi-Bag. Not grammatically or logically or any of those quantifiable fashions, but stylistically. Quite simply, my amazing masterwork is presented as a tactless, gutted, unappealing skeleton of a novel in two concise pages.

Please tell me that the agent will glance briefly at this only to make sure that I didn't have any aliens landing with George Clooney to resolve the major plot issues at the end, and will then go on to read my brilliant prose in the novel itself?

How much weight does the synopsis carry?

The purpose of a synopsis is both what it has (plot, ending, narrative arc) and what it does not have (aliens arriving in chapter 14, no resolution/deus ex machina resolution, no plot at all).

I don't read your synopsis for style. That said, look at each word and see if there is a leaner, more kick ass word, a word with energy and vitality, you can use in its place.

You don't want every said to be snarled/hummed/purred/choked by any means.

You do however want Walther ppk rather than handgun; licensed to kill rather than tough guy; and Pussy Galore instead of everyone else.

I guess I've been watching too much Casino Royale.

You get the idea.

Kick ass and take names (instead of good luck)


Eight million stories in the naked city

Dear Miss Snark,

I’ve been a practicing nudist for over 60 years. I wrote a book about my lifelong love of the nudism lifestyle when I turned 82, and the book is due for publication in the fall. My publisher wants me to go on a book tour, and I’m excited to do so. The only problem is that I never wear clothes, and so I’m a bit concerned my naked body might shock some of the more timid people in the bookstores. I can’t bring myself to put on a full set of clothes, even for a book signing.

Do you think I can get away with only wearing socks?

well, no. You also have to wear out your welcome.

Email gremlins

Dear Esteemed Miss Snark,

I was horrified recently when an editor informed me that the short story I had attached (as per the guidelines that I read in their entirety) came through as gibberish at the foot of the email. The lovely (truly lovely, possible the best eventual reject I've gotten in a while) editor asked me to resend with the story pasted in the body of the email. I tried changing every setting I could find and sent emails to a yahoo account I keep for signing up for things (you know, in case it's likely the address will get sold and spammed). I discovered without a doubt it was my email program and not my ISP. I have fixed said program (again, tested and confirmed) by installing a newer version. But looking back, I have no clue how long this problem was a problem. I have over thirty submissions this year, and many of them have not yet been responded to.

Do I send apologies out? Or do I just pretend it didn't happen unless the editor mentions it? And, I know I deserve a quit obsessing, but is this an annoying enough offense to get automatically rejected?

This is not a quit obsessing. Sorry.
You've got a sweet little problem here, and one that I haven't seen before.

I think you've got to assume your submissions didn't get through in good order. You don't need to apologize --technology happens.

You do need to resend those you can with a SHORT note of explanation at the bottom of the email along the lines of "I've discovered my email program was toasting my attachments so I'm resending in case it was not received properly".

Particularly since you received no replies to your work you should resend. If I get gibberish I assume spam, not email glitch and I just toss it in the trash and set it on fire.

There's a lot to be said for gmail, one of which is I don't think it fucks up like this.