• 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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Don’t Ever Look Back, Don’t Ever Look Back

So I’m competing for a new client. He has just published an article in the NYT and a number of agents and editors have contacted him — me among them. I write a friendly email introducing myself and why I’ve responded to his article. I acknowledge that his in-box is probably flooded but I’d love to throw my hat in the ring if he’s interested in writing a book. I receive a cordial email back. Yes, there’s lots of interest. Yes, he’d love to meet. We set a date to have coffee. The date goes well. We talk for over an hour. Small talk (we’re both Yankee fans, we both went to Harvard, we both love Pinkberry’s salted caramel flavor) followed by nuts and bolts. The only point of contention between us is how much of a proposal he needs to write  to sell the book. I’m old-fashioned in this regard and feel that a prospective author improves his chances for the best advance possible if he goes the extra mile with the proposal. Having worked at four publishing houses, I remember well how the publishers disdained the agents who turned in shabby or half-baked proposals. Though there were always exceptions when less was more. There is certainly no one right way to sell a book. I can tell the writer wants to write a brief proposal. I don’t know how hard to push for a more fleshed out proposal; doing so might compromise the chance to sign him.

Do I stick to my guns or tell him what he wants to hear?

41 Responses

  1. not knowing a thing about 1.) the industry, 2.) agents, 3.) editors, 4.) winning proposals, 5.) how to finish a book, 6.) how to get interest from an article alone, or 7.) how to get an article published in the NYTimes to begin with…i would wonder how the process will be, working with an author to write a book when the proposal is already a red flag.

    also, telling people what they want to hear almost always backfires on me getting what i want.

    • Agree with Josephine! Jealous that the guy has agents knocking down doors…only in my wildest dreams! But this may be the warning that he is hard to work with! Heck, if I had even one agent with half as much experience as you, I’d be doing anything and everything!!!

  2. I read this and think one thing: it’s your money too.

  3. Stick to your guns. You know better.

  4. You stick to your guns. You know your business. I mean, jeez louise, Betsy, you’re setting us up for a sucker punch. You know your stuff way better than we do, doncha think?

  5. Hmmm…If you want this client badly enough, go to work and draft the proposal for him. He will be grateful and should be eager to edit it to fill in the blanks. In the end, it’s a win-win. (I wonder if he’s following this blog.)

  6. The question is: why does he want to write a short proposal? Is he just too busy?

  7. You are doing yourself and your prospective client a disservice if you do not demand the best possible results regarding the proposal.
    If he wants to write a ‘brief’ proposal then perhaps he wants to write ‘brief’ book, show up for ‘brief’ readings, give a ‘brief’ talk…blah, blah, blah, you know where I’m going with this.

    Hey Betsy, you’re going to marry this guy, if you’re satisfied with a three minute fuck, go for it.

  8. Stick to your guns.

  9. He sounds like a problem client already!

  10. If I wanted to be your client, I would always remember that your years experience in the industry is important reason why I chose you in first place. Stick to your guns.

  11. Can he read? Does he use the internet? WIll he recognize himself here?

    If he doesn’t want to take your wise advice, then he isn’t the client for you.

  12. Stick to your guns! He’s lucky to have the opportunity to work with *you* — remember, you are the expert here. Talent he’s got, direction he needs.

  13. Damn if you are not on a yogurt trip. First you’re pissing everyone off by talking at the concert because you want to leave and eat fro-yo. Now you meet a guy who has one stinking article to his credit, and you’re bending over for him because he likes Pinkberry’s salted caramel. Okay, I’m calling my broker (if I can remember his name). I’m sinking my life savings into fucking yogurt futures. It’s a long hot summer.

  14. maybe he doesn’t incorporate proposals and outlines into his writing life?

    maybe he doesn’t know what you mean by a longer proposal? could you provide him with an example?

  15. If he isn’t willing to put the effort into a proposal, how much effort is he willing to put into the book? Sounds like he’s a tad arrogant to me, and already believes he “knows best.” One article does not a career make. You’ve gotta stick to your guns. He may be a very promising lump of coal, but you know how to turn him into a diamond.

  16. I need to know who this guy is. You have to tell us one of these days. I want to read the article that gets agents flooding his inbox. Can he be THAT good?

    OK, just answer this: have we heard of this guy? Has he been in the news?

    If he’s THAT good, and editors are calling him too, go with the brief proposal and sign him.

  17. What was nyt article about anyways? What could make all you editors/agents go gaga after reading one piece?

  18. Proposals, like synopses, are a right pain in the tuchus, so some resistance is to be expected, right? Plus, he’s probably a bit anxious—there’s a lot of word count, research and narrative arc difference between an article and a book.

    I’d keep explaining the reasons, at least for a while, why a full proposal is good to have on hand.

  19. Wait…Pinkberry makes a salted caramel flavor? You kinda buried the lede.

  20. In my Day Job world, many people don’t want to admit they have limited knowledge of the subject and will hide behind a Stance. They don’t want to hear what I know; they want to hear what might adversely happen to them.

    Over the years, I’ve collected several versions of telling the client what s/he doesn’t want to hear: a. yes, a permit will add to the project cost and increase your property assessment, but I really don’t want to see our names in the paper and the City Council records for non-compliant work on a job this large; b. I’m sorry- if you apply those funds for non-loan-related expenses you will be breaking several federal laws and I really don’t want to have to testify against you; c. yes, he does have the lowest bid, but his insurance company is located in a Third World country (and/or: his company address is a PO box, he reeks of alcohol, none of his workers speak English, let someone else be his first client). Several clients have not always followed my suggestions. Every one of them have later admitted “I should have listened to you”.

    Good Luck with this potential client!
    And a Happy 4th to everyone!

  21. You’ve been playing this game long enough to know how you want to win. It’s been my experience tortoises do not easily change into hares, and they rarely keep the same company.

  22. …i can’t…it just doesn’t…i smell a rat. it doesn’t add up. my crap detector’s clanging…we’re being played, peeps…i can sense it, like an unseen presence in a pitch-dark room…i can just feel it…

  23. Bang bang.

  24. Hmmmm. Stick to your guns. Might make him respect you more. Might make him choose a different agent–the fool. Either way, you stuck to your guns.

  25. Tetman is right as usual. Not complaining but just saying that ruse is a little transparent. There is something/someone else you are really grappling with…i dont know if we can offer you anything unless the scenerio rings more true. The pinkberry thing is mildly interesting but can you blog about Nora sometime soon?

  26. It’s possible that a short proposal, in this particular instance, would be more effective. He’s the writer — maybe he’s actually right.

    And maybe you’re right, too.

    Ya know what I mean?

    YOU’RE BOTH RIGHT. (And you’re not a match, therefore.)

  27. I always thought you agent people arm wrestled for new clients. Talk about demystifying the process.

  28. Why would you ask us? What the hell do I know? Not that it ever stopped my from throwing my 2¢ worth in, but this is business. And mightn’t he read this blog and realize you’re talking about him behind his back?

  29. If your house is not about to be foreclosed on, if your family is well, if you are loved, if you have all the food necessary for nourishment plus some, stick to your guns. Why kill off a piece of yourself if you don’t have to?

  30. If you insist on adhering to your core beliefs, then try your best to sell him on a more detailed proposal. However, from what you describe I suspect you are likely to lose him, based on your sense that he doesn’t want to do that. Judging from the flood of responses to his article I suspect he’s right. The interest is just so very high. So odds are he doesn’t need to go there to sell his book. Your decision thus becomes one of what you feel is the best approach to selling his book. You might decide it can sell with the less fussy proposal. But also, you should search your heart whether you would be a good fit professionally with this writer going forward, despite your common interests in the Yankees, etc.

  31. Wow, to be fought over. How many writers does that happen to? So thinking this person is at the beginning of their career bookwise does the set up then give them a sense of entitlement in the future? Might make the working relationship a bit nightmarish. I’d agreed with the bang-bang folks. No pinkberry where I am but there is yogurt flavored gellato. Which is so good it’s stupid.

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