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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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A Few Times I’ve Been Around That Track

Today I received an email from a man following up on his submission. He noted that “a few agents had responded,” and asked if I had a chance to read. I had, in fact, read his proposal and sent a note the week before in which I had passed on the project. I wrote him to say that I had passed on the book, was sorry that my note got lost, and wished him well. He wrote back asking what the note said. I couldn’t find it in my sent box, and wrote back in somewhat vague terms that I didn’t click with the writing. He wrote me back again, could I give a full critique? I responded that other time demands made it impossible for me to give a full critique to every project I declined. And again, good luck.

What do you make of this?

62 Responses

  1. He’s just like the rest of us unpublished writers. We’re a little lost–little fishies swimming in a big sea. We have a whole lot of hope and we just want ONE person to show us the way and to give us some confidence.

    After typing out the first five reasons he may have acted in that way, I’ve decided I can’t really make anything of it because it could be a whole lot of things. I’d rather just set myself on one clear thought: he wanted to know what he could do to get a yes.

    And don’t we all?

  2. Think it’s fine. You did your job and were respectful and professional. I got upset with an editor once. She’d rejected a piece I’d submitted, but that wasn’t the source of the upset. The source was my feeling that her rejection letter was somewhat condescending and disingenuous, in that she praised the piece at some length, said it was well written and funny and insightful and then turned it down. I pushed for a straight answer about why she’d rejected the piece, imagining I could work to improve it. In retrospect, I realize she was probably just trying to be nice and let me down easy and that maybe she’d overdone it a bit. Understandable. But at the time I was stubborn and unemployed and had way too much time to obsess–so obsess I did. I pushed and it was wrong. Later I regretted my impatience and told her so. She told me she thought I had said she didn’t know what she was doing–I don’t think I ever said that. In fact I told her the truth, that I thought she was smart, funny and a good writer. And that I would just like to know the reason she thought I *sucked* (just kidding–asked again why she’d rejected the piece). Anyway, we patched things up ultimately, I believe, I hope, in the end. We even did it via email–a medium that is incredibly helpful in perpetuating MISunderstandings, as it’s difficult to read tone or have a conversation via email. Chat is probably a little better, the phone better still. Meeting in person is ideal (though also unworkable, I understand–given time constraints and multiple demands, plus why would you want to hang out with writers?). Unless of course the writer offered to bake a cake for you, in which case meeting in person is the only way to go.

    Sorry for the long comment. I’ve read a bit of your site and other things and it strikes me that you’re very passionate about being an editor. That’s a wonderful thing. 🙂

  3. I think he’s a masochistic nag with no pride. Sure a writer needs readers but once the door shuts I walk away for good and I never go back.

  4. He’s a needy twerp with barely disguised hostility. Bristling like a bony Sardine.. Buh-bye. Meanwhile, that’s a beautiful Rapala-style lure you got there. I’d take that baby over a rejection critique anytime. Get me one of those.

    • Those things have NAMES? Those dangling things that you put in the water to out-wit fish with brains the size of a gerbil turd? Why am I so surprised? (If there’s a different name for each of the thousand ways a guy can throw a basketball into a hoop, then there’s nothing that a man won’t give a name to.) Now I have to google “Rapala” and who knows where that will lead to, on a day that I’d planned to get some work done.

      Getting published is just like getting a job. Sending your ms. to an agent is the job interview, and if you don’t pass the job interview you don’t get to ask WHY. Because if you’ve ever been on the other side of that process, you really don’t want to know anyway (your would-be boss might not like your haircut, might hate your regional accent, couldn’t see herself working all day with someone whose verbal ticks include tacking the words “…and what-not” at the end of every other sentence). A writer who expects to get the same nuturing that he got in his college creative writing class from the real world is naive. You don’t get a critique with every rejection: They should teach that in Composition 101.

  5. By the way, off topic I know, but it’s totally annoying that all the comments have “so and so on such a date at such a time” Said, with a capital “S”. I keep thinking of Edward Said, of whom I was very fond and whose absence from the planet makes me sad every time I think about it. Which is every time my eye grazes down the comments section of the blog. Can this be fixed? It adds to the annoyance that it’s on your site, who be so fastidious in deployment of the language and in editing.

    • And a comma. It needs a comma: Vince P, on September 29, 2010 at 3:19 am COMMA said:

      You’re up at 3:19 am??

      In the late 1980s I read an article that Edward Said wrote for the NYTimes. I had some questions about it, and not knowing that he was a busy, serious intellectual — I called him up at Columbia. We had a nice chat. If I hadn’t been so naive, I would never have had the nerve to take up his time. So sometimes being naive pays off, I guess, but it’s not the best strategy in life, or writing.

    • It’s a miracle I can attach a picture.

      • If somebody hasn’t already offered to, I could try to figure out how to fix that. I never even read past the commenter’s name, but now that Vince P. has pointed it out, I’m annoyed too. Or maybe we should just learn to ignore it.

      • By the way, in the phrase I wrote, “I’m annoyed too,” does a comma go after “annoyed?” I’m polymorphous perverse* when it comes to punctuation, but it seems like commas are being used less and less than they were when I was diagramming sentences in Miss Regele’s third grade at St. Joseph’s.

        *This is not true, since I’m quite orthodox in my punctuation, but it just sounded right, so I wrote it. I count on the fact that nobody spends much time analyzing these comments, but I could be wrong.

        Sorry to go off topic, Betsy. Won’t happen again, at least not too soon.

  6. He sounds like a typical needy writer who realized he has for one nanosecond the ear of an agent whom he admires, and he’s trying to get feedback. A little clumsily, but understandable. Worth shutting him down but not worth getting angry.

  7. Not at all angry, just curious how writers in the swim of this process respond to this scenario. I’m tired of my own point of view.

    • In the swim? More like in the hot, lonely bowels of hell…

    • Maybe he’s new, maybe he’s desperate, or maybe he’s just tired of his own point of view too. Looking for validation, direction, critique, or even just engagement. Like the crazy guy who preaches outside the subway station every morning, trying to catch someone’s eye, anyone’s.

  8. oh, come on people, the guy was hoping that Betsy would reread his work and change her mind. Hope, hope, hope is crazy-making….”If she’d just read it one more time, she’d get it, she’d be enlightened, she’d love it, she’d love me mem mememememememememememememememememememememememe , , , , , , , , , one more scotch and I’m done for this morning,”

    • This.

      Writers are liars. He got the note, he just wanted another chance. Good for him. Or maybe he wanted to punish Betsy for rejecting him, by wasting her time. Even better.

      Agents don’t owe writers anything until they rep us–not a critique, not even politeness. And we don’t owe them anything until then, either. Who cares about agents who reject us? Screw them, they’re not even -obstacles- anymore.

      Of course he’s a nag and twerp and a desperate needy hostile masochist. If -that’s- disqualifying, I’m even more screwed than I think.

    • Yeah, he got the note. And wrote that email after he swallowed the worm, probably. But the poor guy’s trying. He’s just trying. What else can we do?

  9. “What do you make of this?”

    It’s hard to know what to make of it for sure. I may not have enough of the facts to evaluate it adequately. But absent an explicit agreement beforehand, I never expect a full critique from anyone. All I expect from editors and agents is a basic professionalism: “Thank you for sending this, we considered it, it doesn’t meet our present needs.” Then I move on down the road.

    One thing I do wish editors and agents would dispense with is the “Good luck placing this elsewhere” line, which I suppose is tacked on to the rejection to ease the sting. It doesn’t. Its implication is, “What makes you think this piece of trash is publishable?”

    • I’m with you. I’m sure agents mean well when they wish us luck, but if a sneer isn’t implied on their end, I supply it from the bottomless well of my own insecurity.

  10. He may feel like he needs your critique more than anything, he may value your unique sensibility. It’s a lonely world out there…

  11. I appreciate clarity. I was dealing with an agent I wouldn’t mind sharing a coffee with but beyond that…. She said she wanted my ms but then her business started developing in another direction. When I asked her about it she admitted she didn’t have the time to spend on my book right then so I said ok. Everyone has to make a living. Planned my next move. She came back with a long email about how even if I pursue other options she’d like to be part of the process. What does that mean? I don’t get it.

  12. Ambivalence. But you should move on. The new agent doesn’t want to be saddled with a backseat driver, and it’s unclear if she wants a percentage as well. I’d make a clean break.

    • Thanks for verification. I’m thinking of heading for the Adirondacks this weekend. Have never attended a workshop and know I would get a lot out of yours. If I can swing it I’ll say a quick hello. The mountains should be beautiful this time of year.

  13. It sounds like a pretty typical reaction from a beginning writer (or at least one just starting to submit to agents). I think you were polite to respond to let him know you couldn’t offer a critique. You didn’t even owe him that…once a piece has been rejected, writers need to learn to move on.

    As long as he didn’t throw a fit after you told him you wouldn’t critique his ms, I think we can forgive him for asking. If he keeps querying long enough, he’ll learn never to ask for a critique in this sort of situation anyway.

  14. You were nice to him. Most agents wouldn’t have gone past the initial rejection and your responses were different. I’m sure he felt the rare personal attention meant on some level you were interested. He probably debated with himself about asking for more then decided what the heck. Might as well run with it.

  15. He was a nightmare client and you were wise to pass. He either doesn’t understand good business etiquette, or he’s a jerk.

  16. For someone so long (and gratefully) out of the dating world, I can’t help but be reminded of break-ups when I read about these experiences, Betsy. I imagine you and the writer at a coffee shop, and that impossible awkward silence as he/she knows they have your attention for only a few more minutes and want desperately for that “perfect” explanation as to why your relationship won’t work. We’ve all been there, on both sides of the table, but in time we look back and realize that there’s little point to digging for the answer. No means no and the sooner we move on, the better. For everyone.

  17. Sometimes, persistence doesn’t pay off. What happened to tact in this world?

  18. The following I just stumbled upon at the Howling Dog Press website, and it seems it might fit here, somehow:

    “There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.”

  19. Here’s what a writer, who finally sold a book has to do to market it when it isn’t coming out until spring 2011.
    Comments and help from Betsy’s crew appreciated. It’s tough out there, really tough, especially when you’ve gone through the rejection period, but never, ever begged…..

  20. He sounds like the writer equivilent of the guy who just CAN’T understand why that stripper doesn’t want to go on a date with him. She’s always so nice when he comes by the club! It’s misleading!

    • You’re equating agents with strippers? In some fashion?

      No, that can’t be….

      • Speaking as a former stripper, I can say definitively that they’re not even close. An editor is more analogous to the customer than the stripper. Now, editors and porn movie directors . . .

  21. Rampant insecurity. And maybe the arrogance of the ignorant? Wonder if he had the slightest glimmer of a second thought after he hit the Send key. No, probably not.

  22. He’s just looking for love. Bless his heart and don’t write back.

  23. the news just couldn’t get more depressing…..Snookie from Jersey Shore just sold a big book for $$$$$$$$$$$
    Now that needy writer can really cry!!

  24. I’m assuming the proposal was a full? If that was the case then I think I understand his asking for specifics on the pass rather than a vague response. In similar circumstances, I would have wanted to make the same request for a critique but would not have had the guts to ask, partially because I also understand this would be an imposition on your time which I didn’t really earn. I certainly can’t fault you for how you handled it. But, still, it’s a shame the original letter got lost.

  25. what do you make of this?

    he wanted you to hold his hand and then he wanted a handjob.

  26. Oh, and the guy was bluffing; there were no other agents interested. When he found out you weren’t either, he tried to take advantage of your good nature by asking for a critique. His duck was dead in the water and he wanted you to perform CPR on it.

  27. It seems to me that chap wasn’t very good at judging varieties of “No.” There may be some “No”s in this business that mean “Maybe,” but it sounds to me like Betsy’s “No” meant “No” rather than “Chase me a little more and see if I give in.” So I wonder whether he was young in life experience or young in publishing experience–or both.

  28. Normally neurotic. You were gracious, Betsy. I suspect this sort of thing happens to you more often than others because you are real, kind, helpful.

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