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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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I Want to Know What Love Is



I’ve been getting a lot of fucked up query letters lately. People who clearly haven’t taken six seconds to look at our website and see what I’m interested in. People who come from inside an alien whale pod that hovers strangely above planet earth. One person wrote a six-page single-spaced query letter. Some proposals sell on less. The theory of relativity took fewer pages. I’ve received queries from people who seem to happily admit they have no credentials whatsoever. Pot heads, pill heads, prison guards. Journey, journey, journey. Is everything a fucking journey? Can’t anyone sit still?  One letter was in esperanto. Cuneiform. Formaldehyde. One asked me to explain how to write a query letter that he could send to other agents. Maybe it’s me.

I know it’s hard to write a good query letter, but we are talking about writers. Thoughts? Feelings?




18 Responses

  1. I have no patience for that shite either. It’s so tempting to have a form letter especially for these arses that says “Get it together and do your goddamn homework before you write to one more publishing professional!”

  2. I sometimes draw a diagram for my students for which I have no actual evidence, but that I’d like to think is correct.I draw a large circle, and tell them that within the circle or all the writers in the world. Then I draw a smaller circle within that circle, and tell them that these are the people who at least have a clue, who know things, for example, like what a query letter is at least supposed to look like. There are circles after that, each acquired after more hard work, or skill honed, blah blah blah. What part of the exercise is about though is to show them that with at least some hard work, no one will be writing blog posts about how shitty their query letters are.

  3. I sent you my “book” once and got this perfect rejection letter, probably from one of your assistant. It had your voice though. I loved it. I have saved that letter somewhere. Sometimes I think I should leave space for you guys, the “real”writers. I never did send anything after this. My bad, i know. But, I am thinking, since you asked…What about those who cannot write a query letter? And I do not consider myself among those. I bet I could one if i really needed to. But what about all the little people/ big writers who can’t? How do we take care of them? How do we take care of our writers?

    • I write my own rejection letters. I’m sure I bungled letters when I was sending poems to the New Yorker. And I’m sure I still fuck up. But I kill myself writing strong pitch letters to editors. Everyone, no matter how new or experienced, has to work hard to educate themselves about the process and then put themselves through the paces. And you should get your work out there or at least workshop it. At least I hope you will.

    • “How do we take care of our writers?”


      Who cares about WRITERS??? We — who ever “we” are — need to take care of our doctors, nurses, environmentalists, veterinarians, watchdogs and whistle-blowers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, physicists, soldiers, scientists, engineers, civil rights lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, sanitation workers — even the lowest-level topologist is worth more to society than a WRITER.

      The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?

      • Your “relatively pointless luxury item in the culture” has made my life so much more interesting and worthwhile, beginning with those Raggedy Ann and Andy books I taught myself to read at age five. And all of those workers you list would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

        • Jesus. How much more patronizing can you get?

          How much you want to bet that the majority of those sad workers with their sad lives don’t even bother to read? They are far too busy with their own stories, the ones they are living and telling each other when they get together for drinks after work. I’m sure they are as happy, or as minimally miserable as the rest of us, without knowing a single writer or giving a crap about The Girl on the Train.

          • Interesting. I agree about the story of people and it seems, from my experience, the only people that care about story are writers, for everyone else, from my experience, it’s life. And people talk about each other. My thought in this might be that we writers are a by-product of necessary human language and the real DElivery in all this story business is people telling each other stories and somehow that makes us more aware of our existence and then somehow we all live in some sort of heavenly peace after you figure out what the story means but now I’m even more confused ’cause really stories all mean the same thing – I’m alive. Wow. (Why do I love Betsy Lerner? Because she Is.) Weird.

  4. You crack me up, Betsy! You’re definitely not the only one, just the one who expresses it better than the rest of us.

  5. You nailed it — it’s hard work. I wish I had the feel for writing a good query letter, but it doesn’t come easily to me. Sometimes I try to be clever, but it comes off as cute and agents seem to hate cute. I need to learn to be serious, grow up, throw up and cowboy up. See? I just get in my own way.

    A book about sitting still? I don’t know… what kind of drugs are we talking here?

  6. Do your homework and don’t waste anyone’s time. Be honest and open and to the point.

  7. Read, or re-read my query. Better yet, read the manuscript. It will speak to you and the psychic pain of writers and artists.

  8. I’m still trying to figure out the photo. Koi? Carp? Or just your generic bottom-feeder?

  9. I think even good writers often have a hard time backing up to get the long view needed to write the query letter or synopsis/overview they deserve. A great start would be consulting http://www.agentquery.com. It’s an irreverent and indispensable site for guidance on how to write a query letter and which agents to target.

    That fish looks a bit lost and scared — is that the idea? Or is she the mottled oddball who stands out from the crowd and gets picked from the pile?

  10. Query letters are like writer’s roulette; there’s that one chance, and if you shoot yourself in the foot (ha), your chance is gone until another book is written.

    The internet was created so we could have knowledge right at our fingertips, i.e. the exchange of information. I can’t imagine why anyone, nowadays, wouldn’t do a little research, but a few thoughts come to mind.

  11. So nice to see that mine is not the only Day Job with such craziness. I’ve turned down projects from people who envisioned their large-scale renovation wouldn’t need a building permit and a mother-daughter team who thought it would be “fun” to re-do the mother’s house while she started chemo. Another woman called and asked me if I would help her set up her own design business – for no fee.

    More reasons not to need cable TV for entertainment; more fodder for my journals and writing efforts.

  12. To Whom it Should Concern:

    Even when I’ve taken pains to write an appropriate, succinct, meaningful, intelligent, you-name-it query letter it gets dumped in some quagmire of papers or read by assistants or disregarded by the upper echelons of publishing so frankly I’m sick of trying. The time and research and effort (done the homework) and consequent well-crafted query is its own cache of futility.

    You write it with a flourish of hope then receive the
    greatest insult: a form rejection.


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