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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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Andy Are You Goofing on Elvis?

Dear Betsy,

I’m a young(ish) literary agent working for NAME BLACKED OUT. I know you’re a very busy woman, but I’m good friends with a couple of other young editors/agents, who are also now addicted to your blog, and we would love to take you out for drinks or dinner at some point in the hopes that you would be our cool publishing mentor. If you have any interest in this please let me know and we’ll take you out and ask you a bunch of annoying questions and tell you how much we love you. If you’re too busy, no worries, we would just love to meet you at some point and soak up your literary wisdom (over booze, etc.).


Okay, twist my arm.

Met with these freaks tonight and they were me twenty years ago, only more together. And thinner. And better dressed. And not negative or fatalistic or depressive or self-destructive. (Which makes me wonder if they meant to invite me or a different publishing blogger for drinks, or perhaps they were working their way down a list and I was the first to say yes because I’m such a busy and easily flattered woman.) They were lovely, smart, hardworking, plugged in, and building their lists. I felt glad to be older for a change; it’s hard to say whether you can still have a good long run in this business. They all lamented how publishers are no longer interested in developing writers over the long haul. I gave them my best advice: start your own publishing company. A new financial model. New voices. Different assumptions. I hope I impressed them with my warmth, confidence, and savvy.

Celebrity sighting during my lunch date on Sixth Avenue above Houston Street: Ben Stiller. Much cuter in person than you would think. Large head, tiny body. No ass whatsoever.

28 Responses

  1. Sweet post. Glad to know there’s some good young blood out there in the business. They should take your advice and start something new, although I imagine that’s hard to do without an established name at the helm.

  2. It’s funny how together the younger set is these days, at least in professional settings. They teach’em differently as they’re growing up, at least that is my conclusion after (30 yrs on my day job) working with them and doing a spell as a recruiter. I *really* think they are socialized differently so don’t beat yourself up over it (if you really are and not joshing us.) They have their vulnerabilities, too, that’s why so many of them have problems forming deep one-on-one relationships and still have strangely strong relationships with their parents (no one will ever love them unconditionally enough as their ‘rents.) Don’t get me wrong, I love’em but it’s like observing an alien species.

    Sooo together. Like Stepford junior colleagues. Scary.

    • Oops, sorry, gonna be obnoxious and comment on myself. I meant to point out the hive mentality at work. Can you imagine in your day meeting with someone you hope to be a mentor EN MASSE? We were socialized to be individuals; be graded on our own work (don’t let anyone copy off your test in school!) whereas today it’s collective intelligence at work and on the web, etc etc.

      Another example: here in DC, home of the uber-wonk, all the 30-somethings and under, the women run marathons and the men run IRONMANS. Really, it’s a weird phenomena. And when you ask them it’s not because it was a personal goal, it’s because their friends talked them into it. They do it to be social–something as grueling and unnatural as running 26.2 miles because all their friends are doing it and they don’t want to be left out.

      You and I were raised in a different era. Is it becoming irrelevant? Not while the people at the top of our industries are have the same values. But it is a culture shock.

  3. Tom Brokow started it. Him and all that Greatest Generation stuff. They lived through the Depression and fought World War II and saved civilization and yadda yadda yadda.

    And then they were followed by a vile generation of Baby Boomers (selfish, materialistic, hedonisitc, and they dropped the planet-saving social-revolutionizing ball in the ’70s and RUINED EVERYTHING). Now, all those Boomer babies didn’t appear out of thin air, didn’t raise themselves…but nobody ever holds the Greatest Generation responsible for being the shoddiest parents EVER, do they?

    And now here’s Gen Y all marathon-runny and entreprenuring their way up the social and business ladders and electing the first African-American president and going Green with a vengence like a world-saving Greatest Generation2.0…I’m just saying that these awesome kids didn’t come from thin air, didn’t raise themselves.

    Those Baby Boomer bums must be the best freaking parents EVER, way way better than their parents ever were. At least in the context of your post today.

    I’ve been wanting to push back on that Greatest Generation crap for a long time. Thanks for the opportunity.

  4. Ben Stiller totally DOES have a big head! Kinda freaks me out. It’s not the 40 lb. bowling ball/Charlie Brown type Big Head, it’s longer and more rectangular, and awkward. Yeah, awkward Big Head.

    Congrats on scoring the free drinks!

  5. Dear Betsy:

    I’m a fat middle-aged obsessive prick and that’s the -problem- with those skinny bitches: they’re not negative or fatalistic enough. They still think the shit you do matters, which is basically ‘The Secret’ theory of publishing. You create your own reality through positive tweeting. If you don’t earn out, it’s because you’re not on the right mental frequency. God save me from the pre-embittered. It’s fine for you–they look to you as a mentor, because they’re working their way through chapter 12 of What Color Is Your Parachute? But to us, it’s a fucking nightmare, because -they’re- the ones behind the wheel of our personal hellride, gibbering about publicity and branding and developing writers in the long haul. Fuck developing writers in the long haul. The problem isn’t that writers and writing is commodified–we’re a commodity–the problem is that we’re bought and sold and traded by an industry of shitwits who waste $8 million on Even Colder Mountain and then make up the difference on the backs of broken hacks writing Care Bear tie-in novels. The problem is, our commodity is sold on consignment, with built-in annual planned obsolescence of our flagship product, a sales force that doesn’t work on commission, and a government-funded program in every town in the country that gives our product away for free. Speaking of which, does nobody hire lobbyists in this industry?

    “Public Lending Right (PLR) is the right for authors to receive payment under PLR legislation for the loans of their books by public libraries. … Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK.” http://www.plr.uk.com/allAboutPlr/whatIsPlr.htm

    The last thing we need is more shitty little publishers with clever names and literary hard-ons. Jesus Christ. ‘Plugged in and building their lists.’ I hate them all. I hope they choke.

    • August:
      Please, dear lord, these young women are wonderful. For all I know, they are throwing up their lunches, cutting, embezzling, and/or screwing their bosses in self-destructive acts of gigangeous low self-esteem. But I truly hope not.

      • They happen to be three of my very close friends and they’re doing nothing of the sort, just so you know. They were beyond excited about meeting with you.

    • Ah, August, got up on the wrong side of the world today, did we?

    • August, August, August. Oh honey.

      • Too much? Sometimes I have trouble locating the brakes. And I finished the last pill from the baggie my mother-in-law left for me after a recent visit. I dunno what those were, but they really took the edge off.

        And of course I don’t actually hope they choke. I hope they live long and happy lives and finish the crossword in the Sunday Times before noon.

      • Congrats on The Swimming Pool coming out Holly. Can’t wait to read!

      • I spend one afternoon at the plastic surgeon’s office and all hell breaks loose. (Yeah, I said the plastic surgeon’s office, judgers.)

        Re: the question of too much, August. If they were all winners, you wouldn’t be playing this shithole. Bitter/unbalanced. Such a delicate line. I cross it all the time. Thankfully it’s not a rubicon.

      • Sadly, Shanna, this is my best stuff. You should see what I send my agents.

        You can’t just drop plastic surgery into an offhand comment. I expect a full-on blog post. I’d respond there–loved Dogs and Monsters–but it tells me I need to log on, and c’mon, there’s still no getting around all those fellowships.

      • Oh, there WILL be plastic surgery posts, trust me. And I’ll be on pain medication, so there’s no telling what will come out. And re: posting on my blog, your identity is safe with me. Swearsies.

    • crikey.

    • August, I know this is may be an attempt at caustic humor but these three happen to be friends of mine so I know of what I speak when I tell you that you are way out of line They are all extremely bright, creative and passionate and could be working for way more money doing something else but they’ve chosen to work in publishing because they love books. I’m not pointing this out because these three happen to be my friends but because they are representative of most of the young people who are working in publishing industry right now. And what do they get for that sacrifice? For trying to live on a pittance in one the most expensive cities in the world and working overtime all the time without extra pay? Assholes like you mostly. And bosses who pass down the bad decisions you’re referring to. I know that being bitter is your thing but you need a reality check.

      • I’d be shocked if the assholes they usually get are writers. Have you seen how writers treat the agents and editors who nobly sacrifice themselves on the pyre of publishing? We grovel and writhe. I’m sorry, but I don’t weep for the young editor or the struggling agent. I don’t doubt for a moment that every single one of them is bright and passionate and could make a shit ton more money in another field–but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even get -their- crappy thankless jobs. You wouldn’t hire me as an -intern-. I’m supposed to feel what, pity for them? Avuncular tenderness? Gratitude that they deign?

        They ‘love books?’ What is that, a merit badge? I love books too; doesn’t buy me health insurance. Doesn’t buy me a line nobody’s allowed to cross.

        So yeah, being bitter is my thing, and of course I don’t -know- your anonymous friends. I’m sure they’re wonderful people, but fuck ’em: they’re twenty years younger than me and already making decisions about my career. They’re just another layer of resentment between me and something I want.

      • Oh yes August, writers never treat their hard-working agents, editors and publicists like shit. No, they’re just full of gratitude and sunshine all the time. Seriously, I truly hope that you save your bile for blog commenting and don’t put it on your agent/ editor/ publicist and good on you if that’s the case but while some writers are lovely, sweet and grateful many others are total egomaniacal, raging ASSHOLES.
        And I’m sorry but no one asked you to be a writer and no one deserves a merit badge for loving books or choosing whatever career and life they choose. Your suffering is no nobler than anyone else’s.
        All I’m saying is that we should ALL be thankful that smart young people are still chose publishing as a career because they’re the only hope this Godforsaken industry has.

      • I’m a writer, SC. My suffering is a -sacrament-. Those Care Bear books don’t write themselves.

  6. Nice post! It’s got to be a really tough job now. But what a compliment to you.

    Interesting reactions–sounds like some of us ate the brown acid for breakfast.

  7. I think they’re smart and they chose a good mentor and you’re good egg to meet with them.

  8. Very cool. I so want to take you and the lot of them out for drinks. I can offer absolutely nothing wise or worthwhile in the way of mentoring, and possess no youthful power to change the publishing world. However, I’m definitely open to being developed over the long haul.

  9. I think it’s fantastic you met with them! They have found a great mentor in you I’m sure, and August, you are a grump extraordinaire. We need more young people in the business and who better to inspire them than our dear Betsy Lerner.

  10. So right Betsy–a new financial model is needed–one that circumvents an inventory cash register big bucks mentality. One routed in love of good language and good stories. We need them, the stories and the people who believe in them. Good on you for letting the future buy you a drink.

  11. Names, please, so we know who to look for when they start their publishing company? 🙂

  12. Agreed…names? Kinds of books? Kinds of authors they’re looking for?

  13. Nice post Betsy. A week or two ago I was about to ask Where’s August? He showed up yesterday it looks like.

    I’ve been reading the blog here and there the past 2 weeks ’cause I’m still taking a lot of punishment from playing chess, PLUS, I’ve started to read The Big Short. Another awesome Michael Lewis book. I’d like to take him home with me, set up a couple of pup tents in the back yard and be his best friend for the weekend. Play with squirt guns, bubbles. Maybe jump on the trampoline.

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