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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Have Confidence in Rain

Hi Betsy,

You may not remember me… you gave me some good advice a few months ago and it led to this: I sold my book. You gave me a good kick in the pants and told me to move on. You should charge for advice, you’re so good! I hope sending the good news isn’t tacky… Thanks again for your wonderful blog, your straight forwardness, giving us struggling writers the straight dope on what goes on, your tough love.

cheers from a snowy DC

Snowy DC first wrote to me back in July. She was confused about how to leverage agent interest. And now look at her! People, take notice. Snowy DC snagged an agent and scored a book contract. And she still remembers us little people. Snow-eee! Snow-eee!

Dear darling readers of this blog, write me with your questions and you, too, can get your ass kicked. I promise, I won’t be gentle. And though Snowy rightly points out that I should charge, I don’t. So please, avail yourselves of this free public service “Ask Betsy” and I’ll do my best to help you, too, succeed.

But now, just for fun, and after you offer your congratulations to Snowy D, what is the single worst piece of publishing or writing advice you’ve ever received? (Mine was to go into publishing, ha ha ha.)

30 Responses

  1. My first novel — which you rejected, as did 16 other editors — attracted David Rosenthal for a while. He urged me to junk two thirds of the manuscript and publish just the first section as a long story, with some other short stories, to make it a book. Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear was published — with all its parts — by Peter Ginna at Crown. It was wonderfully reviewed all over, was a NY Times Notable Book, was longlisted for the Dublin Impac, and won me a spot on the Granta list.

    • FYI Katharine Weber: Somebody is using your name to post comments on Betsy Lerner’s blog that make you look like an asshole.

      • What Vivian said.

        Katharine, your doppleganger is so gracious and humble and classy and… wait, oops, I meant she is a name-dropping, arrogant embarrassment, as in:

        Douchebags in Comments are Dumber Than They Realize.

    • Huh. Maybe I’M the asshole (wouldn’t be the first time), but I don’t get what’s so douchey about Katharine’s comment. Is it because she pointed out that Betsy rejected it (along with 16 others, so it was clearly an “emotional” book, or whatever that euphemism is that realtors say about houses that are very taste-specific) or is it that she pointed out its accomplishments?

      • Shanna et all,
        I don’t think anyone here is an asshole, and I am sure Katharine’s comment was meant merely as a truthful answer to Betsy’s question (worst advice received). In fact, it was/is exactly that…and with specific name calling.

        I don’t mind the vague details or added title of the book, but adding in the full names of those that rejected her and/or gave “bad” advice, is to me in bad taste. Adding the [multiple] accomplishment of the book along with the names, comes across to me, well, in a way I’m quite sure it wasn’t meant to come across.

        I am, however, just as guilty and a hypocrite, and should not have been snarky. I should have kept my mouth shut and opinions to myself, or finessed my wording to be kinder, given her the benefit of the doubt as to her intentions. It wasn’t any of my business who she named anyway.

        My apologies.


      • OMG! OMG! OMG! I like totally misunderstood the assignment! I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to not notice when someone uses any pretext to settle an old score (AGAIN) or to not see such pettiness as being in, like, really really bad taste. And if self-puffery isn’t the worst kind of puffery, then: my bad.

        I have GOT to work on my ingullibility.

      • Lola: I tried to leave a comment on your blog but I don’t have the right url address or something. So here’s what I wanted to write to you:

        No apologies necessary. You called it right the first time. When an agent rejects your manuscript you suck it up, you find a new agent, you get it published, you take your awards, and you move on. You don’t keep showing up on that agent’s blog to remind her that she rejected The Book That Saved Literature. Because that’s just rude and it annoys other readers.

  2. The speaker at a publishing evening I attended, now a top gun, said it’s dangerous to be too unique. “Better not be too unique,” he warned. He said if you’re too unique, they won’t know what to do with you.

    Practical advice today, maybe — but to me it’s the worst thing I’ve heard as a writer. So I used the experience in a short story. My revenge!

  3. Congratulations Snowy!! I love that news.

    The worst publishing advice I got over the years was from people advising me what to go after and what to avoid: I’d make more money in magazine articles, they said, than short fiction — or forget children’s writing, go chick lit (or whatever was ‘hot’). Well, I did earn decent money for years writing magazine articles–and I was hating it! So I’m back to writing fiction for the kids and have sold a few stories this year plus received two grants on the basis of a YA novel manuscript, so whaddayano, what I love to write can pay too.

    But most of the advice I’ve received has been very very good (even if not always what I wanted to hear) and helped move me forward with my work. Without it I’m not sure I’d be published at all in any form.

  4. CONGRATS Snowy!!

  5. Worst writing advice I ever received: “It’s perfect. Don’t change a thing!”

    Fortunately, a few other beta readers let me know it was NOT perfect.

    Congratulations, Snowy DC!

  6. Shit. I’m the anonymous asshole in the above comment.

  7. Best writing/publishing advice I ever got was from an ex-girlfriend a week before she dumped me. I’d been submitting a query letter for a finished novel to tons of agents and had racked up 50 plus rejections (including Betsy).

    I told the girlfriend I was starting a new writing project as I was winding down submissions of the novel. I thought I was going to write another novel; she said to change genres and write something completely different. I did: a Self-Help book for people choosing colleges and majors.

    Changing gneres at that time was exactly what I needed to grow as a writer and not feel like the unpublished novel was a big failure.

  8. Congrats to Snowy DC.

  9. Congrats, Snowy.

    And Betsy, she’s right about you. You’re helping a lot of us struggling writers. Props to you.

  10. Begrudgery is so interesting.

  11. Shanna and Ionna

    Have you ever thought of doing reviews for Kirkus?

    Giving shit to an author on a public forum. Lovely.

    Congrats, Snowy.

  12. Same for you, Vivan.

  13. Aaugh. I really want to just leave this alone. And yet I can’t. Sally, if you think I’m giving an author shit in my post above, then you are misreading me. And inflaming the situation. I’ve already tracked Katherine Weber down and emailed her privately. Which, y’know, is great for my ongoing need to feed the gaping maw of my procrastination, and all, but seriously.

    Comments sections are the back alleys of the internets. It’s dark and I’m scared and I think I just stepped in vomit.


  14. <—eating mac & cheese and anxiously waiting for the next post…

  15. Next post.

  16. Not to use the word “flummoxed” because it was too big.

  17. How come I miss all the cool threads?

    “Do a blog tour.”
    “Have a web presence.”
    “Network with authors.”
    “Don’t quit your day job.”
    “Quit your day job.”
    “Use ‘track changes’–it’ll make the process easier.”
    “Use your real name in blog comments.”
    “You can tell your agent *anything*.”

  18. Congrats to Snowy! And yay for Betsy and her writer-loving (or tough loving) ways! FFTT and the blog are like salve to my wounded little writer heart.

  19. Go Snowy!

    Can’t think of any terrible advice I’ve heard.

  20. This is a good, precaution-inducing thread. Thanks for the anti-prescriptions, everyone.

    Um. I like hyphenation.

  21. eeeeeeeeeeeeek and this back and forth mean stuff, tiz fascinating, like Jersey Shore for writers.

  22. Mine was to leave my job as an executive assitant for the VP of Finance at St. Martin’s Press over thirty years ago (when I picked up after college to move to NY to follow a drug addled qualuude addicted boyfriend as well as all my college roomates) in order to be a famous writer. As I am sure you can tell I have trouble with the run on sentence. At the time St. Martin’s was a very young small publishing company. I only wanted to be on editorial side but was told by friends that that switch could never be made. I couldn’t even balance a checkbook. The HR woman took me under her wing, taught me spreadsheets but in my midwest naivete, I did not realize she wanted to teach me more until one fateful sunday morn when she invited herself up to the upper west side where I lived in a cockroach infested slum -25 W. 74th-kiddie corner to the Dakota. We went to brunch and then she wanted more…. I quit the job to move upstate with my artist girlfriend from Woodstock where we started hand painted clothing business. I was sales director and personnel and airbrush person. Second worst decision was to sell out my interest in that and move back home to Chicago where spent last 25 years as criminal court prosecutor of murder cases and frustrated writer!

  23. go have sex . . . with him. I didn’t go to that writers conference again!

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