• 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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It Felt Good to Get Out of the Rain

I’m a huge believer in BRIEF query letters. In the first place, what I really want to do is read the pages. It’s all in the pages. I don’t want to wade through a two-page single spaced letter telling me what the book is about. What I want to learn from the cover letter is the following:

title: I’ve said this a hundred times, but a great title gets you more than halfway there.

Brief description that focuses on themes, possibly mentions influences, mentions an unusual setting or very specific world (a sideshow, a grist mill, a molecular lab, the oompah loompahs, a blind optician, you get the idea).

Credentials are super important. Where have you published, studied, worked, fellowships, prizes, major social media following, etc. Who do you know? Who might endorse your book? If you don’t have any of these, then just say:

This is my first novel. Many thanks for reading.

But I would like to make the point that you should be working on getting credentials, especially publishing credentials. Send out chapters that can be stand alone stories. Write essays and try to place them. Try to get yourself to a writers conference and connect with your teachers. When I pitch a book, the first or one of the first things an editor will ask me is where has the writer published, who are they. It’s better to say that you published a story in the Paris Review or that your first collection of stories won the Flannery O’Connor Prize, or that you have an MFA from Syracuse and studied with Mary Karr, you get the idea.

Let me know if this is helpful. How can I help?

8 Responses

  1. This is why I think I’ll never write another book. I don’t have ‘credentials’ and don’t want to work at getting them. I hate that the publishing world is all about these networks. Rather tell myself stories!

    • I totally agree, and I even have credentials & publishing credits. The industry has become so fickle and cliquey over the past decade, what with networking and social media demands, etc etc. Just look at last week’s mess with the kidney woman and the plagiarist. It’s an un-level playing field and embarrassing all around. Of course I’ll write & submit, but on my own terms. My money-making ventures can happen elsewhere.

      • Me too. I had three books published without a network. Then they woke up and realised I wasn’t helping them sell the books. Guess I was undeservedly lucky to start with!

  2. This is very discouraging. It implies that the mainstream publishing industry only values flash. What if you weren’t fortunate enough to win a big prize early on or can’t afford the submission fees to enter multiple contests? What if impressive accolades from previous books didn’t result in good sales because the publisher didn’t market the book well? Doesn’t this mean that only the lucky continue to get published and the merely talented may continue to fall through the cracks due to the marketplace values? Guess that’s capitalism, folks.

  3. You are helpful, Betsy, and you have helped. Many thanks.

  4. Yes, this is helpful. I like what you said about keeping it brief. Sometimes I get too impressed with my own words and, even worse, I try to be cute and/or witty. What’s valuable here, I think, is emphasis on sticking to the specifics and only including what’s pertinent. Yesterday I was walking through the woods and thought about an opening line, something like, I’m not famous and I’m as successful as a politician is honest, but I have a story to tell about families and love. Too cute? Not enough information? Stupid?

    As for the title, should it be a clear reflection of what the book is about, catchy or both? I’m working on the credentials part….

    And thank you, Betsy.

  5. Betsy you are very helpful. Please keep doing what you do. Age may fly me out of range but god-damnit I’m not giving up yet.

  6. […] Betsy Lerner talks about the importance of short query letters (I recommend between 250-350 words) and some of the things she looks […]

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