• Bridge Ladies

    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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You’re Only Dancing on This Earth For a Short While

Dear Betsy: Much of the work I do is written in 14-point font, but publishers and others request 12.  Why the 12 when 14 is easier to read? NAME WITHHELD

You know, every now and then you get a question that touches you deeply. That cuts to the core. Font size is one of those issues. Like penises, they can be too big, too small, or just right. 12-point is the standard, friend, don’t fuck with it. And don’t go all Boldoni or Helvetica on my ass either. Bring it in 12 point type, Times New Roman, double-spaced paginated pages because there is nothing uglier on the face of the earth than an agent who has reached over for  a sip of her Numi ginger tea and dropped an unpaginated manuscript all over the floor. And while we’re at it: don’t use colored paper, don’t use personalized stationery especially if it’s decorated with a quill, a typewriter, kittens, or a tiny shelf of books,  don’t include a picture of yourself (really, do not), no little gifties like chocolate or gift cards especially if they’re for Cracker Barrel, no perfume, or CD’s, or a small horse made out of ear wax. Don’t do anything cute, or funny (as in ha ha), or cheeky, or silly. This is not an audition for American Idol. This is your manuscript. Keep it holy.

Tonight there is only question: what the fuck?

106 Responses

    • Amazing tale on at the end of that link

    • God. Damn. I don’t even know what else to say.

    • Thanks, Shanna. All I can say is summed up in this comment there:

      I don’t even have the words.
      But you do – and bless you for it.

    • CJ, AC, Maine, you are my people. If you can read that post and not be completely moved–on any or all of several levels–you’re dead to me. Dead.

    • Holy shit. That may be the most excruciatingly powerful piece of writing I’ve read since Tra La La took the train In Last Exit to Brooklyn. I’m following your blog now, Shanna.

    • Yadda yadda yadda. Misery is easy, as easy as waking up every morning. Humor, kindness, love, work, getting even and getting over it is hard, and much more interesting.

      I’m so over misery. But I can’t wait to read Bill Hudson’s tell-all memoir.

      • Misery as they say, especially when insightful, has a lot of company.

      • “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart, and bids it break.”
        Shakespeare’s MacBeth.

        A drama I know. But, what the fuck.

      • But doesn’t misery have a place in literature? Why can’t there be a genre—Laments, for example—in which all the writer does is bemoan, at length, his or her fate? I don’t think that a book like that would necessarily be bad. It could be cathartic for the reader as well. Does such a thing exist already? The will to happiness can be just as oppressive as depression. I’m not trying to make light of misery, but there’s a certain intensity to it that a lot of people crave.

      • Art? Insight? There’s nothing artful or insightful about faking it. I have sat by baby birds with broken necks, waited for them to die, and buried them with a word of apology for their short lives (I have a lot of big old trees in my back yard). Birds with broken necks do not struggle, do not put up a fight: THEY HAVE BROKEN NECKS. And it was sloppy and cheap, mawkish and cynical for that writer to have put that fake bird in that story, completely alienating, and made the whole piece dubious.

        And that’s all I can say about this because I can only fight with one Commentor at a time and I have my hands full with Katharine today.

      • New Rule: No hijacking Betsy’s Blog with links. We’re getting off topic. What the fuck?

        I send this with 64-pt love.

      • Well, aren’t you clever.

      • More clever than you apparently. Read between the lines for once, hijackoffer

      • Uh, that was for Vivian, Anony-mouse.

    • When I catch my breath maybe I’ll have something to say. Or maybe there’s nothing to say, just do what she says.

      • Actually there are (I’m pretty sure) two K’s. The one who posted today certainly doesn’t need any defending from me but I will point out she’s an excellent writer and successful author.

    • For what it’s worth, it’s a myth that a mother bird will not keep her baby if a human hand has touched it; she will indeed nurture it. Yet I’m relieved you put that particular baby out of its misery.

      For double what it’s worth, I wish you’d been able to smother your grandfather while he struggled in vain.

  1. The Fuck.

    • I think you, Betsy, having the experience you have, should write a book about people that read books. What’s up with that? That could be interesting. Or really, really, sad. In my unfortunate headspace at the moment, that’s the fuck.

  2. And to think. . . all I wanted to know was. . .

  3. You had me at “like penises”

  4. What the fuck, indeed. I just finished writing a kick ass query and I know it! Thanks again for your feedback a few months ago when you let us sycophants submit for critique.

  5. Fuck. I’m still stuck on the last post where you asked what we’re looking for in an agent.

  6. What, like I can’t send a shoe in with my manuscript and then have the first page be all like, HA HA NOW THAT I HAVE A FOOT IN THE DOOR? Like I can’t hand draw the map to my seventeen volume fantasy saga on a seven by seven foot poster IN CRAYON and not expect it to blow your ever loving socks off? Like I can’t staple a $5 note to my query, and tell you to spend it on something nice? Or send a complimentary box of Kleenex so that you have something to cry your tears of joy into?!?




  7. I 1.5 space until I have to hit send. I don’t ask questions of submissions if they don’t ask questions of me.

    Lisa 🙂

  8. For me, the “what the fuck” is getting invited to a Tweetup in the city I live in, by an author I think is awesome and genuine and not the least pretentious, and knowing there’s no way in hell I can go, because I’ve recently gained fifty pounds and am wearing one stretchy pair of pants five days a week and a 15-year old men’s LLBean parka because none of my cute winter coats fit. And also the “WTF” means that I know the people at the Tweetup…and the author…will probably not care one wit about what I look like or what I’m wearing (because I’m smart and funny–people not related to me tell me so) but even so: I cannot bare to to show up, and smile, and interact, while being so very hyper-aware of NOT LOOKING LIKE THE PERSON THAT I FEEL LIKE I AM.

    That’s not just a big fat WTF. It’s a lost opportunity. And I know my therapist will give me hell for it.

    • Oh, honey, I get it. I’m hiding behind a freakin’ playing card.

    • I understand. But embrace the title of this post, buy some new stretchy pants, put on your ugly parka, and dance out the door.

    • After checking the Tweetup handbook, the dress code is in fact stretch pants and parkas. Get up, get dressed and get your groove on. Don’t be the one to hold yourself back. There are too many people out there ready to cut you down to size, don’t help them out.
      But for the love of all things holy, don’t forget the lipstick. You aren’t a cavewoman.
      WTF Is A Tweetup

    • Oh heavens, don’t let the haters win. The haters are probably only in your head anyway.

    • I’m so out of it I don’t know what a Tweetup is, let alone what the dress code is.

    • Go, don’t let the haters win. I use to not go to places becuase the didn’t like black people or I thought I would feel umcomfortable becasue I was the only black person there, The only person that really lost out was me. So go grab every oportunity you can to get the best out of life. Nobody should care what you look like and if they do well ….you know what part of hell to tell them to go to.

  9. i was writing a sex scene whilst sitting in a coffee shop today. i felt dirty. and kinda tingly.

    what the fuck?

  10. fuckin font fucker


    14-point font? what the fuck? i bet you use a lot of exclamation marks too, right? i see you. typing your manuscript with your Stephen Covey desk calendar wearing that goddamn sweatshirt with some nature scene on it. who the fuck do you think you are? William P. Young?

    you make me wanna vomit.

    go smoke a cigarette. get your nails dirty. stop calling your favorite radio channel asking them to play Lady in Red.

    real writers don’t need it easier-to-read. we want to make it hard as fuck (that’s what she said), but so damn good you can’t stop.

  11. So, letterpress embossed wax seals and the like are out too? What the fuck indeed.

    I do get how cute and gimmicky can seem somewhat like the weird ass newly friended stalker on Facebook who thinks he’s got you figured out and peppers your message box with what he’s gleaned as “inside jokes.” Creepy. Yucky.

    The 12-point normative font rule makes sense. It’s the pages, the words, that set a manuscript apart. Why should it be anything but?

  12. I’ll take any Cracker Barrel gift cards you do not want. Olive Garden, too.

  13. “Are we human, or are we dancer?”

  14. I read children’s book mss so I got all that stuff plus fairy dust (glitter), painted rocks with googly eyes, peanuts with fuzzy hair, unicorns, rainbows, and butterflies on stationery…it was both very annoying and also very sad–that’s why I could never read slush again. (Yes, I’m contributing to slush piles now, but at least I send a plain letter and ms.)

  15. Tonight there is only question: what the fuck?

    I thought the optimal question was, “who to fuck?”

  16. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JT Ellison and Christine Macdonald, sillystoryideas. sillystoryideas said: You’re Only Dancing on This Earth For a Short While: Dear Betsy: Much of the work I do is written in 14-point f… http://bit.ly/eO1R7E […]

  17. So much to keep straight. My head is spinning. I think I feel nauseous. Is there a casting couch I might rest on, just for a moment? I promise. I’ll be good.

    • Move over, sister. Above us is a fight about a broken-necked (or not?) baby bird, and below us poor Katharine (Katherine? two different people, it seems) is defending her chutzpah and some guy named Reif. I think a quill just flew by.

      Wanna spoon?

      • Finally, a sister in arms!

      • I thought it was the same person. When Vivian mentioned a previous post by the K who dissed Betsy’s “what takes you back?” post, I looked up that post and it was by the current K (Weber), so I assumed that Viv knew it was the same person.

        If it isn’t then I deeply apologize to Ms. Weber.

    • Room for one more? I’m scared.

      • As long as you keep your elbow out of my ribs, Spring.

        (This reminds me of those slumber parties we had in third grade, when we hid under a sheet tent and practiced French kissing on each other so we’d be ready for a real kiss, from a real boy.)

  18. This blog cracks me up! These are the best commenters ever, badly behaved or not.


  19. Ahahaha, I loooove this.

  20. Copyeditors read at 150% anyway. Saves our eyes.

  21. Why people need to go outside the box in this area, I’ve no idea. I LIKE being told what to do in a query, which size, which font, how many pages to send (unless it’s five, FIVE! Still not over it), it adds order to the chaos of querying.

  22. Wait. Those rules are only for fiction writers, right? Us memoirists can still hand-letter our mss, right?

  23. I have for years maintained the 12 pt Times Roman double-spaced paginated white paper rule for anything my writing students expect me to read and comment on. (No illustrations, especially not by your mother.) But I made an exception for this one thesis advisee, Reif Larsen, who had little drawings and diagrams and marginal text all over the manuscript, and that worked out pretty well all around.

  24. Conform, people! Otherwise, how the hell do you expect to stand out?

    I just learned you’re only supposed to put one space between sentences. WTF. My fingers are too old to learn new tricks. Sue me. So I did a global replace on my resently completed, fully revised and DONE ms (12 pt, Times New Roman all the way) and realized a savings of a page and a half.

    I am in awe.

  25. Wow. Don’t see it as chutzpah especially — his ms. looked at a glance like exactly the sort of thing a writer should never, ever do, and yet it was brilliant. A rare exception to the standards formanuscripts. Why your determination to see my comment as a problem? Surely the comment section in this blog is not reserved only for the hopeful? Why is Reif Larsen’s success upsetting you ? Or is it simply that I am the one who posted the comment?

  26. I’m not upset about anybody’s success. Maybe I’ve got you mixed up with someone else. If that’s the case, sorry.

  27. betsy,

    what about Jennifer Egan and a power point presentation inside her text? that’s an unholy digression and it worked for her.

    • I seriously doubted even she could pull that off and she did because she’s that brilliant. So basically if you’re going to pull a stunt like that, be Jennifer Egan.

      And I’ll take your Jennifer Egan and raise you a Jonathan Safran Foer and his Extremely Gimmicky and Incredibly Obnoxious sophomore effort.

  28. We’re trying to get published and sometimes we’re clueless. We should know a good intern will make certain the unsolicited, banal or visually outrageous queries never reach an agent, but still cling to the belief that a brillant manuscript written with red sharpies on napkins, brown paper bags and along the sealed folds on the backs of envelopes, will someday receive more than a hasty dismissal and a call from the Stalker Awareness squad..

  29. This is one of the best post on this subject I’ve ever read. Thank you!!!

  30. VERY UPSET. I hate Times New Roman font so much I could cry. If Times New Roman were an outfit, it would be a jumper dress with tights and soft-soled loafers from LL Bean. TNR serif looks so oogy, like a gingerbread Victorian on the village green when I would prefer to live in a repurposed factory with heated cement floors at the edge of town. Why, why, why oh WHY can’t I have my Arial, that looks so much more like I (aspire to) write? Clean, plain, and yet, somehow…fresh. Racking sobs!

  31. Century much better than TNR–a clean well kerned font.

  32. 14 would be easier to read.

  33. I’ve been a noncomformist since my breech birth, but this is a no-brainer. Why ignore such a simple guideline if the entire publishing world seems to prefer it? Better off saving that originality for your plot.

  34. You kicked ass on this one, Betsy. Your post kinda scared me. But I liked that.

  35. BL — I could have SWORN you told me to send my mss to you in 14 pt.! SWORN.

  36. “Tonight there is only question: what the fuck?”

    I don’t know. I just fucking don’t know. I could guess, but speculation is rarely admissible as evidence.

    It must make screening the submissions easy at intake. You or your staff (have you staves?) can automatically discard any of the cutesy stuff you listed. I know I would.

  37. Well thank you for making me think of your grandfather’s root first thing on Sunday morning. Just one thought on that: a story of giving pappy an hj is not compelling. The fact that so many think so makes me wonder if the true purpose of this site is a place where Dean Koontz ghost writers can have a giant circle jerk when the need arises. (god that was compelling!)
    and as to the original thread, there are fucking rules, who cares why they are there, just know they are! reminds me of something my mom used ta say, “hurry up and get outta bed, your dad’s home.” (damnit, that was compelling too!)

    • You’re always taking a chance when you click on a link. It’s like playing the slots. Sometimes you get the cherries, sometimes an old man’s teabag (and it wasn’t *her* grandfather’s, btw). You can’t win ’em all.

  38. It’s consistently astounding to me that people are willing–eager, even–to be so shitty under the cloak of anonymity.

  39. No one likes being lied to, ask James Frey.

  40. That’s such a huge accusation. Where can I read YOUR writing, just curious?

  41. When I worked at The Drama Review in the late ’60s, Vito Acconci used to send snapshots of his latest self-mutilations (eww); they made an interesting counterpoint to the well-made plays that A.R. Gurney submitted weekly (or so it seemed). I received a veritable gallery of nude photos, plus some toilet paper (thankfully unused), while at Houghton Mifflin … What people won’t do in their misguided quest to stand out!

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