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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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As I Was Walking That Ribbon of Highway

In the current issue of Poets & Writers, there is a section called “Critical Links,” and it charts how the author found the agent found the editor. Just as I always like to know how couples first met, I love to know how writers hook up with their agents, and how their agents in turn get them placed with publishers. It’s a form of matchmaking, and since I’m probably more interested in relationships than anything else I could read about these hook ups all night. For me, most of my clients come from referrals, from other writers, from editors. Some were friends from graduate school. Some queried me and I just liked the sound of their letter or project. And some I stalked.

What are your critical links?

37 Responses

  1. Thirty years ago I got my first agent by writing a query letter. I’ve had a lot of agents since then and I never once found them with a referral or a personal contact. Seems obvious to me that if you’re a writer with a distinctive voice, you can woo an agent.

    I woo well.

  2. My critical links are the ones closest to the bulkheads.

  3. I don’t have an agent but I do have an editor.
    My hook-up:
    You know hook-up used to mean collaborate; now…you’re fucking.
    Anyway, wrote essays and op-eds, stopped counting after 60 bylines.
    Stopped; family, job you know all that stuff.
    Years later, jumped back in, fiction this time.
    Two books later, no agent, agent’s loss; I’m right or delusional.
    Very discouraged, daughter says do what you do best, send one op-ed, after twenty years out, boom, I’m back in.
    Still looking for agent for fiction projects, want to quit, read Joseph Campbell’s quote, which I have posted here before: We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    On the day I read that quote…I write essay, write query, send essay, send query, holy freakin’ Jesus, I am a weekly columnist. Have a great editor who loves my column.
    Still hawking fiction, too many people tell me I’m not delusional, I’m right.
    Go figure.

    • Don”t despair. The business is fickle. Sometimes everything hinges on something so inane as the flavor of yogurt you like.

      • I agree. Try not to despair. It totally sounds like you’re moving towards representation & publication in a smart, professional way.

        “Patience.” I say this to myself all the time.

    • Why don’t you self-publish? You’d have the added benefit of your column providing a jump-start (not that you’d jam your fiction down their throats, but you certainly could have a line at the end, under your name saying, “Wry’s new novel, ???, just released.).

      I am excited about the self-publishing/indie movement, something I didn’t think I’d ever say.

      • Self-publish, jeez, I’m considering it but a part of me still believes it’s sort of like…nobody asked me to the prom so I’ll ask my cousin to take me instead.
        That the traditionals think I’m not good enough…frosts my ass. And then again maybe I’m not…breaks my heart.
        Ah…this is Betsy’s group-therapy blog right…and it was my time to speak…right.

        • Wry,

          I do understand all your feelings, and I recognize that my own foray into self-publishing is helped by having been traditionally published for many years. But, listen, these years are different from those years. Mainstream publishing has become exceedingly difficult — and you do have this option.

          In addition, because you’re a published columnist, it’s obvious that you’re a decent writer and, finally, you DO have the benefit of having been nurtured and supported as a writer from your column. Think of the literary types out there, new young writers, who truly believe they’re fine writers, yet they can’t secure an agent or a publishing deal. If they can do it, so can we.


  4. One question, not that the answer really matters, but, is the girl in the picture Snooki? I’ve never watched but…I was just wondering.

  5. My agent & I had a very dreamy beginning. First, I won a contest and came to NY to do a reading with writer Margot Livesey. (A dream-come-true experience for me. ML is a wonderful woman.) One of the journal editors gave me an agent referral at the launch party, so I queried her. She loved my novel, took me on then decided that she didn’t want War stories. (It’s not a war story. It’s two women from the Resistance and their post-war struggles, etc.) So we’ve kind of drifted from each other. She doesn’t do short story collections, either. Right now it’s romance and YA for her. I just don’t fit in.

    So, part 2. This summer. I’m polishing the novel and queried another agent who had contacted me after a short story had been published. He’s semi-interested. Asked for the first 50 pages last week.

    I should be sort of excited, but I’m a bit jaded. I know how quickly the excitement over a project can wane. But there’s hope, and I’m back in the game, so that’s good, for today.

  6. Rooting for you. That’s where I want to be: back in the game. Does two days back at my desk qualify?

    • Yeah, it qualifies, but it’s summer. Go play!!!

      Thanks for the encouragement, too. Really.

    • Get sunburn, mosquito bites, and an unhealthy dose of nitrates from lots of hotdogs. Eat plenty of pink slime hamburgers, drinks gallons of chemicaly laden diet soda and then and only then get back in the game.

  7. When I was in my twenties I was a fellow at The Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College and wholly unprepared for the opportunities it afforded me. I was courted by a famous agent, a lovely woman with flaming red hair who had supposedly been the prototype for Brenda in “Goodbye Columbus.” At the time, the agent lived in a glass house near Harvard Square. She invited me over one afternoon. She said, “Of course this house was designed by Philip Johnson,” and I nodded knowingly (having no idea in those days who Philip Johnson was). The house was surrounded by a 9-foot wooden wall. She unlocked those doors for me and briefly I was inside those beautiful glass walls and the pulse of the literary world. Another New York editor took me to lunch and bought me a potted plant for my office. She was heavy and full of warmth. I still remember her billowy black summer dress with crocheted panels. She went on to become a well-known cookbook editor. And I look back at myself with some wistfulness, a shell-shocked 20-something girl incapable of bending down to gather the riches at her feet.

    • Oh my god, oh my god. And now? And now?

      • Well, after that I wrote on and off and screwed up a few more opportunities. I also teach creative writing quite happily. I’ve had some fabulous students. Right now I’m expanding a novella into a full-length novel. I have a new writing studio with two walls of windows which I’m subletting from a painter. So, am trying just to stay in the present and feel pleased that the words are flowing.

    • Roxie,

      I worked at The Radcliffe Institute in MY twenties! What a hoot.

      Big mouth here has to give her two cents: you were who you were. Don’t worry about it.

      Who are you now?

      Best, Jody

      • Hi Jody,

        No kidding? Radcliffe Institute was and is such a cool and interesting community. You’re so right. I was who I was. I feel lucky, in any case, to have had the experience. After some years of not writing and a few false starts, I’m typing away at a novel.

        Best wishes, Roxie

    • When I was in my twenties, a young man who is now a famous professor and regular contributer to the New Yorker gave me a tour of the magazine’s offices. The connection came from my college and my mother and somehow, somewhere I’ve lost the thread, but the point is, I, too, was clueless–at least of how to maintain the contact. I felt it would be presumptuous or dishonorable to ask for anything. I even felt it would be too obvious a sucking-up to write a thank-you. So, alas.

      • Roxy and Hope,
        OMG your stories sound so familier.
        In my twenties, through no effort of my own I was paid an advance for book based on three pages. I bought a Cadillac and a white German Shepard that bit everyone, including me. I know, some here have heard this story before, anyway, I blew it. Car payments crippled me and a speeding pick-up truck took care of the mean dog. I was young and stupid. My greatest regret…the poor dog.

    • Sounds like the marvelous F.M.

  8. right now my critical links are all the friends who humor me by reading my drafts. fucking angels for that. am feeling like a bit of a no count nobody reading others posts here. the day job calls.

    • Here’s to those angels, Ruth.

      I’m reading the above and thinking: when I was in my early 20s I’d never heard of Radcliffe, that’s how far off the mark I am.

      But I’m still hopeful.

      • The same here Teri…I feel so ignorant about some of the things others write in this blog that I’m constantly finding these two sentences popping in my head, “who the hell am I kidding?” and “what if I’m a big fat fraud?”

  9. The question – what are you critical links?

    As of now, my agent of course, and the other is the editor I’ve used since before the agent. It was nothing but sheer luck to have found her. I originally did a bit of internet sleuthing and found the editor of one of my favorite coming of age novels (ELLEN FOSTER) I contacted her, figuring what I’d written would be something she’d be interested to read. She did read it, but it needed work. After the revisions, I contacted her again, but, she was booked solid for the next 3 months. She was kind enough to suggest another name of an editor who was a friend of hers. I wasn’t sure I wanted to switch up, but I thought about it and then contacted the other editor. It was the right thing to do. Not only have we now worked together for almost two years – she’s the one who helped me get an agent. She believes in my writing and when I’m in a real funk, she has been the one who has straightened me out, told me “you must keep writing.” Because she’s been in the industry so long, knows how “the beast” works, she’s the one I actually tend to rely on at this point for a reality check.

    I’m also in the process of picking up my jaw at the fact that Betsy replied to two posts out here. I went and looked out my window just to make sure we hadn’t had some sort of apocalyptic event.

    • It only feels like the end of the world.
      I love your editor’s mantra: you must keep writing.
      That’s it in a nutshell.

      • I loved it too – especially because she said it when I was questioning my writing ability. She’s been tough, she’s never minced words, at times she’s been downright brutal. To get that from her meant a lot – it meant she believed it was worth my effort and her hair pulling. I printed it out, taped it to my whiteboard – I see it each and every day when I sit down at my desk.

  10. Friends and kind strangers: the ones who tell me I can write, the ones who tell me I can write way better than that, and the ones who tell me to quit with the kvetching and soul searching and go write already, because jeez.

  11. My first agent contacted me after I published a story in a Virago anthology and said she wanted a novel with a twist. She said stories didn’t sell, then when I wrote my Africa-based novel she said Africa doesn’t sell. I grew so disillusioned I started a romantic comedy which she said had too much sex, but it was taken by a small British press, who’ve also taken a book of stories for next year. I always thought we would end up falling for each other properly instead of this half-assed way, but I know not!

  12. I got nothing. My agent I got the usual way. My husband I found on line. My kids were all expected consequences of sex at the right time. I’m a critical link cliche.

    I’m much more interested in other people’s critical links. The accidental passions, the hook-ups that fly in the face of good sense. Love gone awry, and then to hate.

    Today I spent hours in a freak hail storm in Southern Austria. They closed the road and it was one of those Autobahn pileups you always hear about. I thought for sure I would be blindsided by a truck, or swept off the road in a waterfall of a flash flood. Part of me thought: well, this might be sort of cool and romantic, drowning in the Julian Alps. And just then, on the radio, the Germ-lish D.J. quoted David Foster Wallace–that bit about the fish asking “what’s water”? Do you know it? The Kenyon commencement speech about the dangers of filtering every moment through self-absorbed bullshit? The one where he says, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

    I sort of knew then that I wasn’t destined to die in the hail storm flood, and really, my most pressing problem was simply that I had to pee.

    And, I guess as an epilogue to that thought, if and when my agent manages to sell my book(s), it won’t be anything magic or destined or astrological. It’ll just be a numbers thing. Critical mass. Knocking on door after door after door after door.

  13. I landed my agent after a brief bit of querying, and I’m fortunate to have her. She’s a quick and insightful editor and she’s supportive beyond belief. Even as I’ve missed deadlines (illness, family disasters) no cracks have formed in her oft-professed love of my work. She makes me want to build my career, at least partly to provide a return on her investment of faith.

    My first editor signed me for a two-book deal. When I need a quick pick-me-up, I still occasionally read his reviews of my first book. He’s since moved on, but I’m expecting great things from my new editor.

    I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but here’s to my fellow Lernerites being as lucky.

  14. I didn’t get invited to the prom, but at the reunion, one guy said, “I wish I’d known you were going to tun out like this.” Don’t miss the dance. Go by yourself, but wear a great dress. Lots of people will ask you to do a few turns around the room. Some will say you are one terrific dancer.

  15. I gotta say…you guys are very encouraging, thank you.

    Donnavae: I too was so shocked Betsy joined in that I was afraid to say something lest a hole open up under my rolling chair and swollow my ass.

  16. This is my favorite of any of the strings of comments I’ve ever read here. Poignant, encouraging. I feel the love and just had to pipe up and say so.

  17. I’m late to the party, but my link right now is a roommate. I’ve been writing for 12 years now, still seeking the elusive “success.” Two novels (one full manuscript under consideration–with a dream agent–as I write), five screenplays, contest awards, “interest” that peters out, encouragement, and then ultimately nothing. As I was preparing for a conference last month, my roomie said, “You know, I always felt like I could write, that I was a writer. But I had no idea what it took. I see you working so hard, for so long, and I say, now *that’s* a writer.”

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