This therefore that, uh, no

Well, this is a clever way to see the limits of artificial intelligence.

Just type in Thomas Pynchon and see what comes up.
I mean David Sedaris is a wonderful writer and I love his work, but putting him closer to Pynchon than say Bill Vollmann...well...no, just no.

And Wayne Dyer on the same page as Laura Lippman? No, no, really no.

A rose is arose is a rows

Dear Miss Snark,

I have a novel in revision that I hope will be ready for querying in about a year. I've also written some short stories, which I plan to start submitting to markets. My hope is that when I'm ready to query agents about the novel, I'll have some publication credits to include in the query letter. I also want to establish a website.

My problem is my awkward, difficult-to-spell last name. If I find an agent, I imagine he or she can advise me on whether I should write under a different name that's easier for readers to remember and spell. But what about in the meantime? I'm concerned that if I publish short stories under my real name, and start a website under my real name, any visibility I'll have built up before I start querying will be lost if the novel is published under a different name. I wonder if it might make more sense to send out the short stories under my maiden name. It's an odd name, but since it's only 4 letters long, it's easier to remember and spell. Am I a nitwit for thinking about such things at this stage?

Well it didn't hurt: Mary Kay Zuravleff (I know and love her work, and I still had to look up the correct spelling of her name)

or Chuck Palahniuk

or Elfried Jelinek

or Michael Ondaatje (which I got from Kristin Nelson's blog post here, and she's of another mind on this subject)

If you've got a name thats hard to say, or easily misspelled one of the first things you want to do is put in keywords for your site that are the WRONG things people will type in trying to find you.

So if you are Killer Yapp, you also want "Killer Yap" as a keyword cause a lot of people spell it that way. Same with "Ms Snark" (sound of cocking clue gun as optional audio would be good here too).

People come in every variety of cluelessness about author names and titles. An easy to say or spell name is no guarantee they won't get it wrong.

Divisions within publishing houses

Dear Miss Snark,

When you submit to Ballantine, for instance, and receive a rejection, do you then submit to other Random House family publishers like Knopf or Shaye Areheart? Or is one editor's opinion applied to the entire family? Random House, again just as an example, has a whole slew of imprints and divisions, and it appears that many of them overlap in type of books they publish--for instance, a bunch of them publish commercial women's fiction. Or is each imprint very precise in what it handles, even if that's not apparant to an outsider?

Excuse me I think I fell off my chair laughing at that idea! KY is having a hilarity seizure at my feet. Where's the inhaler??

Now that we've restored what passes for order around here:
The big houses like Random, Penguin, Simon and Schuster, Holtzbrink and Hachette (formerly Warner) all have divisions within divisions, imprints within divisions and groups gathering many but not all under one VP. Confusing doesn't BEGIN to describe it.

I have maps to sort out who's where and reports to whom.

Just to make everything REALLY fun, some editors who work at a specific imprint can also acquire for other parts of a division. So, a guy who works for a science fiction division has lunch with me, mentions he likes cowgirl lit, and next thing you know I've sold him something that can be described as women's fiction but won't be cause it's going to be a western now.

I spend a good part of my day yapping with editors about what they are looking for and what they aren't. My colleagues and I exchange info so we can all try and stay up to speed on who's where and what they want.

I don't think any of this would be obvious or even fathomable to someone who isn't in the mix on a daily basis.

And just to keep us all on our toes, every imprint has different policies about whether no from one editor means no from everyone.

Miss Snark is...clueless!! yes!


I was wondering if you could suggest a website where I could get some feedback on the first chapter of my book. I've entered a couple of hook contests, but now I really want to know if my first chapter works. I've posted some things on writers.net, but I'm not convinced that is the best place to get constructive feedback. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

I have not a single clue but I bet people reading this have enough clues for us both.

Snarklings, help us out here!

Becoming an agent

Oh sage Miss Snark -
How do I become a literary agent? I have a BA in English Lit, editorial experience at college papers, sales experience, a lifetime of reading everything I could get my hands on, plus the desire to combine all of this into a career... So how does one go about it?

You get an internship, or a job as an assistant at an agency.
Publishers Marketplace lists jobs like "agency assistant" and "assistant to head agent".
Internships are generally not advertised and the interns I get my paws on come from NYU or Pace i.e. your college connections.

You'd be better off to start on the other side though and get a job at a publisher. You'll learn a LOT and if you're smart you'll make friends with the folks in contracts, sales and special sales. Everyone always talks about the editorial side of things but I can be of greater value to my clients by knowing how the sales, marketing and pr departments work than helping them unsplit their infinitives.

No, you can't do this

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm a literary agent. I recently moved offices and googled myself to find places that listed my name and address so I could email them to update the listings.

I was really shocked and hurt to find bloggers writing nasty (and un-true!) things about essentially form rejection letters. Bloggers who actually had their names on their blogs.

I'd really like to create a website like P&E but for potential clients from hell.

What do you think?

Suck it up.
It's part of the biz. You know it too or you wouldn't have asked.
People deal with feeling powerless in a variety of ways. Some channel their energy into writing so well they get published. Other blog about rejection.


I procrastinated about posting this contest...

which turns out to quite in spirit with the whole idea.


Does the Fifth Estate get the EZPass lane on the SnarkasaurusExpressway?

O Snarking One,

I’ve done a bit of Snarkive sifting and haven’t found a direct answer to this question, so here goes… when you’re looking over a novel query, would the fact that I am a journalist entitle me to any additional mileage on my trip through the Slush-Pile Republic? One of your mantras is “The Writing Must Be Good”—does a background in newswriting benefit me at all in your heady world? Or am I in an entirely separate realm?

I think it's a separate realm but the fact that you've probably written more words than the average bear is a good thing. It's certainly something to mention in your query, but I'm going to read your pages like I read all incoming pages-cruelly and mercilessly. You're probably used to that though if you've been a reporter.


I am an agent assistant at a small agency and yesterday afternoon I got a call from a man who works for agentresearch.com who wanted some information on one of our agents. What do you know about this? It seems like a scam, or at least preying on the nitwits—an author pays $400 to get “six to eight full reports of agents who have a track record of selling similar material, are absolutely legitimate, and are open to accepting new clients.” Plus, he doesn’t seem to know what he is doing, and when I named houses my agent worked for in the past he a). seemed to have no concept of which houses was bigger b). thought Harcourt Mifflin was a company and c). didn’t seem to know anything about my agency, and clearly hadn’t even googled us or done much more than read Publisher’s Market. Nitwits in the slush pile are a pain, but I still don’t want them to throw away $400.

oh I remember the first of several calls I got from this guy. He said his name and then started asking questions. I had NO idea who he was or what he was doing. He was really miffed I didn't know him cause of his "length of time in the industry" and "industry presence" and it took me a couple minutes to figure out he wasn't a writer with a Writers Digest checklist in his hand.

Back in the day before you could google damn near everyone his biz was sort of like hiring a guy to stand in line for you. I can guess he's got an amazing data base though since every agent has heard from him at least once.

I am unalterably opposed to paying for these kinds of services. It's my unswerving belief that querying widely with good work is MUCH more effective than trying to narrow the list to agents who've sold "what you write".

I recently had a very enlightening conversation with a valued colleague who said she'd rather look at excellent work outside her normal interest area than not-excellent work for the categories she's sold previously.

In other words, write well, query widely. Spend your money on stamps, not advice.

No dissing the writers

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm pretty new to this publishing business and even newer to the online writer's community--which feels enormous. I'm quickly becoming overwhelmed by how many would-be-authors are querying qnd getting rejected. Is there room on the shelves for more books? Do I really have a chance at landing an agent and a publishing deal? Does anyone?

Thanks for the en/dis-couragement (as you see fit).


Why Miss Snark Hates Postage Increases-Reason #1

Miss Snark,

I sent a partial to an agent, and I didn't take into account the postage increase on May 14th. If she sends me my SASE after that date, my stamp won't work. What should I do?

We've laid in a stock of penny stamps for this. Generally I put stamps on SASEs that don't have the new postage particularly if I've been a slacker and held on to something too long.

If you don't hear back in 30 days of course, write again and include an envelope with the correct postage.

Really smart queriers bought FOREVER stamps to put on their SASEs. The Forever stamp is the correct postage no matter when you bought it or use it It only works for #10 envelopes with a few pages at most, I believe (ie you can't put it on an catalog envelope for the return of 30 pages).

I hate postage increases.

Thanks though for reminding me. I better get the slush pile dealt with this weekend to beat the deadline.

Ignore idiot advice

Dear Miss Snark,

I've been happily reading your blog before querying agents, but I have a question that affects how I approach them, and it's one I've yet to see an answer to.

One widely agreed-upon bit of advice seems to be, "Narrow down your search for an agent by finding one or more who specializes in your subject matter" (the quote is from eHow.com).

Problem is, I'll be attempting to sell a golf novel, which isn't a full-fledged genre (or specialty, unless agents are, unbeknownst to me, incredibly specialized). I've found agents that have sold other golf novels, but I'm wondering how much that matters if I manage to sell the first and then novels two and three are on completely other subjects. ... Yes, I know it's optimistic to think that way, but what the heck.

Would you suggest following the "They've sold a golf novel" route, the "They do commercial fiction and look competent" route, or some other direction?

First of all, that's idiot advice you're reading. I never ever say "narrow your search to one or two agents". I say query widely. Query everyone who represents commercial fiction. Golf fiction isn't a genre in and of itself. Golf books can be everything from murder mysteries (Roberta Isleib leaps to mind with her spiffy golf series) to Pete Dexter's amazing tour de force Train, to Turk Pipkin's Fast Greens. Those books are as different from each other as can be and no one editor would probably acquire them all.

Write well, query widely. Ignore anything that says otherwise.

Agent tentacles

Dear Miss Snark,

I had an agent who shopped my book - editors kept coming back with the same particular comment, but my agent did not agree with them and did not advise me to revise. Agent finally gave up.

During our one-year relationship (the length of the contract), said agent showed qualities that hinted the agency was way too busy for me -- although when I signed and asked, based on the mammoth success of this agent and his agency, if that would be an issue he insisted it all ran like a "well-oiled machine."

So -- over a year later, I've got another book to shop and have taken a hard look at book # 1 (not counting ms. stuffed under bed) and, taking editors comments to heart, think I can revise it to address their concerns -- but of course, I would not re-submit to those same editors/publishers who rejected it.

However, there are a few publishers my agent 'missed.'

My question: I assume even my 'revised' book is not attractive to other agents. But, if I ever sell it, am I in some way obligated to use my original agent? Or, can I approach other agents with a clear conscience if, by some miracle, I am offered a contract?

Check your contract with the Well Oiled Agent. Make sure there are no clever little clauses that give him an interest in the book after he's not your agent. If there are get him to sign a contract amendment releasing you from that clause now before there's any money at stake.

You're under no obligation to him if you sell that book. The only way you would be is if HE sold it, or you sold it to someone he showed it to within a couple months.

Agents can't be like long lost cousins of lottery winners coming out of the woodwork suddenly when there's money to be had.


Happy Birthday Mr. Pynchon Haiku WC honors

Recognition for being clever
A Pynchon time saves
Nine and forty chums of chance
From lots of crying

Recognition for suitably obscure
The rainbow cares not
For gravity, thus mortals
Seek substance in vain

The ones that made Miss Snark laugh
…screaming comes across
The sky. Is it rocket? No.
Book lands on head. Ouch.

Are Snark and Pynchon
chums of chance? Oh, wow--this ought
to be really good.

Who’s this enigma,
Elusive as a rainbow?
Pynchon is Miss Snark.

Homage to the previous writing contest winner
Seventy gables
Cast longer shadows across
The old Pynchon elm

Recognition for best birthday visual
Blowing comes across the cake
Seventy candles

Recognition for honoring another literary milestone
t. pynchon's rainbow,
el arco iris in spain.
cervantes' spectrum

Recognition as Miss Snark's finalists
Gravity's Rainbow,
Pulitzer? Nebula? No.
Magnum Opus, Yes.

What goes up comes down
Apogee's apology
Gravity's Rainbow

Meaning focuses.
Gravity is understood
Her heart feels the poem

Chums of Chance balloon
into inverted rainbows
Pynchon's gravity

And Miss Snark's selection for the prize

"Chums," said Tom Pynchon
of skydiving, "just take a
chance with gravity."


Happy Birthday Mr. Pynchon Haiku Writing Contest-42

Entry #42
Pynchon's Chums of Chance
Such a gravity to read
by summer rainbow

Entry #43
Too many of us
Grasping, wanting, fighting, hope
Chums of Chance fly on

Entry #44
read with gravity
t. pynchon's lot 49
gives rainbow migraine

Entry #45

A Pynchon my bun:
Chums of Chance say Gravity
Pulls them close to me.

Entry #46
Our love for Pynchon
Love in rainbow gravity
Left us Chums of Chance

Entry #47
A Pynchon time saves
Nine and forty chums of chance
From lots of crying

Entry #48
Pynchon, chum of chance?
Gravity's impressive, but
My rainbow's bigger.

Entry #49

Where's our Chum Pynchon?
Hiding under the Rainbow
- sailor boy gone bad

Entry #50
Students slog pages
Written only in zeroes.
Please Pychon, no Maas.

Entry #51
I can fit Pynchon
and rainbow, even gravity
Can't fit chums of chance

Entry #52
Gravity is clear; machine
Gun fondue a bomb.

Entry #53
War-weary worlds watch
Pynchon's rockets rising on
Rainbow wakes of flame.

Entry #54
Pynchon, sailor boy,
sing me sea songs: dawn, thunder
fading, the rainbow.

Entry #55
Verne, Joyce, chums of chance
deconstructing gravity
Nobel rainbow wakes

Entry #56
War-weary worlds watch
Pynchon's rockets rising on
Rainbow wakes of flame.

Entry #57
The rainbow cares not
For gravity, thus mortals
Seek substance in vain

Entry #58
I'm Pynchon myself,
To see, on chance, gravity,
Flatten rainbows, chum.

Entry #59
I fight gravity
With gym work-outs. My spouse asks
What will I Pynchon?

Entry #60
Pynchon stood aghast
as Chums of Chance crashed and burned
This was not correct

Entry #61
Pynchon's Gravity
casts not just a Rainbow, but
lures of fabled gold.

Entry #62 (Inspired by recent events in Kansas)
Beyond gravity,
Spring thunderstorm's fury spent;
Rainbow bears witness.

Entry #63
Seventy is old,
Children cherish Chums of Chance,

Entry #64
Wild spring gravity
Pynchon rainbow sky juice drizzle
Chums of Chance weird dance

Entry #65
…screaming comes across
The sky. Is it rocket? No.
Book lands on head. Ouch.

Entry #66
The rainbow cares not
For gravity, thus mortals
Seek substance in vain

Entry #67
Pinch on my cheeks, chums.
Of chance, fleshy bums and rain
Bow to gravity.

Disqualified but fabulous

twenty-five thousand,
five hundred sixty-seven
mornings--well lived, Tom.

Pulitzer: Rainbow's
v1 you thought too dense? well,
V-2's on its way

Real gravity hides
Beneath the Groucho glasses
And the clown car plots

Happy Birthday Mr. Pynchon Haiku Writing Contest-1-41

Entry #1
waitress said to bob
stop pinchon my ass, fuckwad
we blanched. chums of chance.

Entry #2
Gravity's Rainbow,
Pulitzer? Nebula? No.
Magnum Opus, Yes.

Entry #3
What goes up comes down
Apogee's apology
Gravity's Rainbow

Entry #4
Being snarked hurts good
Cluegun shifts my gravity
Rainbow gin saves me

Entry #5
Are Snark and Pynchon
chums of chance? Oh, wow--this ought
to be really good.

Entry #6
Pynchon fĂȘted, yet
I'm barfing bananas, and
The rainbows explode.

Entry #7
Gravity’s Rainbow
Against the Day of Pynchon
Chums of Chance float by!

Entry #8
a post-horn rainbows
gravity's autumnal sky.
chums of chance screaming.

Entry #9
Gravity pushes
Rainbows arch over Vineland
Pynchon's seventy

Entry #10
Rocket to the brain
that explodes comprehension.
Gravity’s Rainbow.

Entry #11
Gravity stopped him
Pynchon could see the rainbow
Chums of chance no more

Entry #12
Pot of gold waiting
At rainbow's end, or maybe...
Multi-book contract?

Entry #13
Behold great Pynchon;
slithered by on Chums of Chance,
reflects on hard days.

Entry #14
Gravity and Sky,
lovers, not chance chums, Pynchon
Rainbow’s cheeks… both sets.

Entry #15
gravity at hand
global ruin in earth’s tears
rainbow tribe of one

Entry #16
Marvelous Pynchon,
Switch rainbow ends with me. Flip
fates; ride my seesaw?

Entry #17
Head hits the pillow
Gravity gives us a pinch
On our rainbow cheeks

Entry #18
Rainbow bends to earth
Is elusive Pynchon there?
Slow Learners are we.

Entry #19
Chums of Chance unite
Beneath Pynchon's full rainbow
To fight gravity!

Entry #20
gravity at hand
global ruin in earth’s tears
rainbow tribe of one

Entry #21
Lust and gravity:
"Hey! Who's that pynchon my ass?!"
Rainbows from her punch.

Entry #22
Meaning focuses.
Gravity is understood
Her heart feels the poem

Entry #23
Let 49 just
Cry Rainbow tears
for our Chums of Chance

Entry #24
Chums of Chance pynchon
to the rainbow of their dreams
gravity stops them

Entry #25
Who’s this enigma,
Elusive as a rainbow?
Pynchon is Miss Snark.

Entry #26
"Chums," said Tom Pynchon
of skydiving, "just take a
chance with gravity."

Entry #27
Chums of Chance balloon
into inverted rainbows
Pynchon's gravity

Entry #28
Gravity keeps me
below your rainbow, Pynchon
with my chums of chance.

Entry #29
Seventy gables
Cast longer shadows across
The old Pynchon elm

Entry #30
Blowing comes across the cake
Seventy candles

Entry #31
Wherefore art thou Thomas
Salinger says you are a
Catcher of Rainbows

Entry #32
Chums of Chance take flight
rising towards Pynchon’s rainbow
Gravity be damned!

Entry #33
'Twas the chums of chance
served by Rasputin-like kin
pulled my rainbow down

Entry #34
on a rain-wet bough
last leaves bend to gravity
lovers eloping

Entry #35
Gravity's Rainbow
Such an enduring story
By Thomas Pynchon

Entry #36
Does the love of death
In Pynchon’s gravest novel
Trace a rainbow’s arc?

Entry #37
Pynchon's posthorn chums:
Lot cries. Benny stencils, and
Chances traverse Webb

Entry #38
t. pynchon's rainbow,
el arco iris in spain.
cervantes' spectrum

Entry #39
Pynchon's rainbow prose,
Bright and weightless; his greatness,
Optic illusion.

Entry #40
Rainbow gravity.
Pynchon and Clooney collide.
Snark asks: Chums of chance?

Entry #41
Gravity up on
Heat and sky, wind and sea, lost.
Chums of chance. Gone. Gone.


Writing Contest-May 8

In honor of the 70th birthday of Thomas Pynchon, Miss Snark is conducting an unannounced writing contest.

It opens at 8pm tomorrow, May 8. It will be open for 7 minutes.
Eastern time. That's Greenwich mean time minus 4 hours.

Your entry must be in haiku form

five syllables in line one
seven syllables in line two
five syllables in line three

It will help your chances at winning if you include any of the following:

Chums of Chance

you must email your entry to killer yapp at gmail.com

Miss Snark reserves the right to not post all the entries (finally getting smart!).
All decisions by the judges are final, whimsical and not subject to any griping or second guessing.

You must provide a US address to receive the prize.
If you ARE Thomas Pynchon and you win, I'll be happy to send the prize to your editor, no questions asked.


Dear Miss Snark,

I'm planning on getting two pet rats and naming them Miss Snark and Killer Yapp. Do you think I'm setting them up for crushing failure and self-esteem issues when they do not live up to their namesakes?

(What is Killer Yapp's feelings toward rats? How do they rate in relation to squirrels?)

A squirrel is now the president of France so Killer Yapp is busy rerouting his Tour de France itinerary to avoid ...well..France.

We're not much fond of rats either but that's tempered by a recent rereading of Charlotte's Web and the snarly wonderfulness of Templeton.

I think you should name those rats Jimmy and Cagney cause "you dirty rats" is best said in a Cagney sneer.

offers from agents

Hi Miss Snark,

Glad to have you back. Here's a question I don't think you've answered before: When an agent makes an offer, is it rude or inappropriate to ask to see her boilerplate contract as part of the thinking-about-it process? Or do the agent and author simply assume they will be able to agree on contract terms? The author wouldn't want to say yes to the agent, withdraw her submission from other agents who are considering it, and then find something she doesn't like in the agent's contract. So reviewing the contract as part of considering the offer might be a good thing. Right or wrong?

Let's review terms. Boilerplate is NEVER used to describe an agent's contract with an author. It's used to describe standard contracts with between publishers and authors. You'd never ask to see boilerplate before you signed with an agent because you don't know which publisher is going to buy your book.

The offer of representation from an agent in written form is called simply a contract. You ALWAYS ask to see it before you sign. Always. You ask every question in the book before you sign.

The rub though is that most of us will not change our standard offer terms for you. I run into this every so often usually when someone has given this to a non-literary lawyer to look at.

I had one potential who wanted me to set up a trust account at the bank for client money. No dice. Trust accounts are a separate kind of checking account and operate under a very stringent set of rules. Not even AAR requires that. My accounts are separate for client money and operating expenses (in line with AAR stipulations of course) but the client account is not a trust account.

He didn't understand that and it was clear he thought I was trying to hookwink him. We solved the problem quite nicely by parting ways before we ever got started.

Another one wanted to include something in the contract that the agent would never say or do anything to damage the book. I asked if that meant he was sending me ziploc bags for the manuscript. Again, we parted ways before signing.

Another wanted to include a provision that if he was unavailable for 30 days, I could sign contracts for him. I explained I could not do that, and would not do it. I think he thought I was irresponsible shirker, but it doesn't matter-he's toast.

So yes, you get to look at the terms before you sign. Make sure you understand them, and make sure there's a way to part ways from an agent that doesn't include her agreeing to it. There's lots of advice about this floating around and most of it's pretty good.

Who sends the money?

Dear Miss Snark,

Supposed that the Gods smile upon me and my agent and my book sells well.

Given that, who pays my agent? Do I receive the check form the publisher and then write a check or does the publisher write two checks?

The publisher pays me and I pay you, less 15% for my work.
If you fire me, the publisher still pays me and I pay you, less 15%

If you have a new agent, the new agent sells new work, gets a check from the publisher and pays you. I still pay you for the book I sold.


Dear Miss Snark,

You write:
"Any agent who won't give you client contact info should be avoided at all costs."
"All reputable agents expect to be asked for this information, it's not seen as intrusive or unwelcome."

I have a friend who is happily represented by a reputable old literary agency in the 212. They do not give out clients' names, I recently learned, and they disapprove of prospects' trying to contact authors -- even authors who publish their agent information at their own websites. I don't know how this works for them, but obviously it does.


This is the same mindset as "you're lucky to get us" and "don't tell the other girls what you make for salary". In other words, a little too rarefied for my stiletto heels. Agents are not deities and even the best ones can be total pains in the ass. Better to know going into the deal than discover it when it's really too late.

On the eighth day God said "let there be boilerplate"

O Glorious Miss Snark
Answering my question will really help nobody in any way because it isn't a particularly useful question, but I've been curious about this for a while. Please share your wisdom. When and why did the profession of Literary Agent come about? I understand how invaluable you are in the current market, but I get the feeling people in "olden days" didn't have agents. So what happened?

thanks for any illumination on the subject, and please give my love and this juicy steak to KY.

KY is pretty bummed out that "this juicy steak" is made from electrons and not a steer. I'm not sure if he's sulking or plotting in the corner and but he appears to be mapquesting your house.

And no, Shakespeare and Milton didn't have agents. The profession is pretty new.

Here's a link that gives a nice overview of things got started if you're interested.

Squirrel elected president of France

Killer Yapp reads several papers around the nation. His discovery of this headline merited
what can only be described as a true Gallic sneer and sardonic "as if".


When's it ok to trash talk?

Dear Miss Snark:

I know it's never okay to badmouth a publisher, but...is it ever okay?

Seriously. What if this is a legitimate complaint about unpaid royalties, or the "buy" link for an ebook not working for weeks on end? If you plan to complain in a professional manner, not "Publisher X stinks" posted all over your website and blog, but just saying that you've had problems with them, and these are the problems, and not everyone's experience might be that way but yours is?

What if the process to break a contract is rather confusing and involves copies of letters sent to people whose names are not given anywhere, but if you go public with your complaint there's a good chance they'll drop you?

What if you already have a different publisher? Does any of it matter?

Is it ever okay to voice real discontent? Or would I be a nitwit no matter what the situation is?

The key components are adjectives, and first person. If you are stating facts, you aren't badmouthing. Saying the publisher is a dirty rotten cheating scoundrel and anyone who does business with him/her/it deserves what they get is a far cry from "they didn't pay my royalties on the agreed upon schedule". Using your own experience to state facts is important. That means "and I've also heard" is not ok.

And yes, it's ENTIRELY ok to make facts known in a calm, businesslike manner. Sharp operators depend on people not hearing about their inadequacies until it's too late.

Badmouthing is emotion laden ranting along the lines of "they didn't do enough for me" or "they didn't ever want to talk to me on the phone". You don't know what they "wanted" you only know your calls weren't answered (and there are plenty of people who think I never answer the phone either since I insist they email me because they're such pains in the ass I want written records of all conversations).

You want to keep this to a minimum of course but you're not going to shoot yourself in the foot to discuss your experiences in a calm rational way. Leave the flaming coiffures to those of us with fire extinguishers at the ready.

Agency websites with errors

Dear Miss Snark,

Write a novel. Rewrite it. Write a rough query letter. Edit novel. Edit letter. Get both critiqued by people trusted to be harsh, though not cruel. Write synopsis; edit twice. Narrow list of agents from all in existence to only those who handle your genre. Edit novel again. Edit query again. Get picky over the details. Hand it off for a second reading. Prepare a dozen SASE's. Go back to agent websites and double-check you won't be sending your Fantasy work to an agent who specializes in Horror.

Am I allowed to be horrified, and cross agencies off my list, upon seeing that they misspelled words? And not just any words- one agency has a side bar with things such as "Query Guidelines" "Recent Work" and "Apperances", spelled just that way. I'm obsessing over details, and... *shakes head and tosses KY a bone*. Yes, they represent my stuff, have AAR membership, have sold things recently- including something that's similar to my book- but they don't care enough about appearances to spell the word right on their main site.

Agent nitwits, or should I overlook it?

well, I'm not objective, given I've had spelling errors on my site too.
It happens.
It's not the end of the world.

And a lot of times, the agency website isn't maintained by the agent and/or it's a pretty low priority.
No excuse I know.

My vote is to overlook it. Whatever you do, don't mention it in your query letter, not even to be funny.

Be Miss Snark

Dear Miss Snark,

I write a combo of space opera science fiction, science fantasy, and romance all loosely wrapped in humorous chaos. Normal agents and editors do not say send me your space opera science fiction, science fantasy, and romance all loosely wrapped in humorous chaos. However I do enjoy the heck out of getting lost in my own stories and others seem to enjoy reading them. My question, am I pounding sand in my desires for finding a publisher/agent. If not, whither mightest I goest? The obvious answer mightest doest because I have not the cluest.

Thanks for firing your random neuron for me,

Contracts and references

Oh Great Guru of Wicked Snark,

I have two very short questions. Number 1 – if the agent does happen to want a deal, will I be made to fly into the bastions of New York to sign the contract, or do I even get to meet this person? Number 2 – since I will probably be spending a lot of time with this person, when does it come along to ask for a reference for services, without offending said agent and blowing the whole deal?

for all protestations of devotion in your signature (redacted) you haven't slithered through the Snarkives very thoroughly cause I know I've answered both questions before.

However, here ya go:

1. You don't have to fly to NYC to sign a contract. I have several clients I've never met. I do try to meet them but it's not a consideration before signing if I haven't.

2. You ask for references before you sign up with an agent. Any agent who won't give you client contact info should be avoided at all costs. This is absolute. I have some clients I don't give contact info for, but I have several who are willing to be contacted and I give their names out when asked without a second thought. All reputable agents expect to be asked for this information, it's not seen as intrusive or unwelcome. It's also fine to contact an author directly without an agent's ok. You may not get an answer but it's still ok to do it. I hear about this from my clients all the time.

"Must be typewritten"

Dear Miss Snark:

My day job is transcription. When we are busy (which it has been ever since I was hired) I spend 10 to 12 hours on the computer every day, only taking time to cook dinner and kiss my spouse-creature hello when he gets home from work.

As you well know, every agent out there requires everything to be typed up in a specific way and frankly, I don't really do any writing on my computer any more. With all the computer work I do during the day, I simply cannot bring myself to write my novels on the computer. I write long hand with a special fountain pen that provides extremely fluid, stress free writing to my work-weary fingers and wrists. I figure this is better than never writing at all.

Have you any advice for someone like me who would love to become a published author but hand writes all her work? Are those days of sending in handwritten manuscripts gone with the wind? Is there any way to explain my predicament to an agent without sounding like I'm whining and begging for sympathy? Am I a hopeless nitwit in want of a clue gun smack upside the head?

I look forward to your answer. The pain will take my mind off the soreness of my digits. Must go sink them in ice now. Or maybe I should go soak my head.

The only people who get a pass on "must be typewritten" are the boys down at the city jail. Some of them even send in typed stuff via wives/girlfriends/clever poodles...the usual roster of amanuenses (and before you wave your Latin dic at me, that's the PLURAL form of amanuensis)

There are people who will type up your words for you. They are called typists. They'll charge you for it. Others are called sweethearts. They won't charge you for it, but you're better off paying for it up front rather than hashing it out in divorce court after you're rich and famous.

This is pretty much a non-negotiable condition these days. Someone has to type this up and I can tell you it's not going to be me. You can talk to Killer Yapp about it but he's in the amenuensis union and I think his rates include cigars, walkies, and no mention of squirrels in the book.

Book two

Dear Miss Snark,

After following your advice with care and diligence, I snared myself Agent Wonderful. She is out pimping my very first book to editors, sending me updates when warranted. In short: Yippee!

In the meantime, I have finished my very second book. Friends are encouraging me to send VSB off to Agent Wonderful. But Agent Wonderful has only been shopping VFB for a short while (in Publishing Time) and I know she's working hard at it, rattling editor cages all over town. I suspect she's also busy with other clients. She knows I've been working on something. She has not asked to see it. When/if should I bring VSB to the attention of Agent Wonderful?

Tell her you've got it and ask if she wants to see it.

Generally I don't want to see book two till I've sold book one. If I can't sell book one of course, I'll read book two and see if that might have better luck.

I never shop two books by one author at the same time unless they are wildly different things such as a book of sonnets and a Western set in space.