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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 Was Once Like You Are Now


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Dear Readers of this Blog,

I received the following letter in my Gmail account. I asked the author if I could post it anonymously. The writer agreed. Does anyone have any wisdom they can share?

Hello Ms. Lerner, my name is XXX I am a creative writing student at XXX and an aspiring author. I was hoping to take a moment of your time to ask you about publishing. I am looking to improve my craft however I can and would greatly appreciate it if I could have to honor of learning from you. 

Before self-publishing my first novel on Kindle I inquired at about 100 agencies around the U.S. to see if I could get it published traditionally. All attempts failed, and I think I now know why. Even after much research and practice, I am admittedly poor at the actual selling of my stories. Letters, blurbs, summaries, and pitches are well outside my expertise. 

So I would like to ask you, what is it that truly grabs you and keeps a manuscript in your hands? How do you know what you should read out of the endless piles of manuscripts?

 Thank you so much for reading. Any wisdom you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

16 Responses

  1. Gosh. I’m searching for that same, elusive, magic charm, too. Accepting the Life isn’t fair and that, often, Luck eclipses talent has been a sobering lesson and yet a reason for me to trudge forward. Still, I wish that young writer all the best.

  2. Wild story, subtle storytelling.

  3. “. . . Luck eclipses talent has been a sobering lesson and yet a reason for me to trudge forward.”

    Truth there, by Karen.

    I’m going to write the very first thing that came to me – there is no magic formula to finding the magic ms. I would speculate that Betsy knows right away, or within the first few pages if she’s going to like it, and likewise in the other direction.

    But, this is no different than any other reader out t/here. I know immediately if I’m going to love a book. Sometimes I start reading and I’m skeptical, but I keep on, and often find I’m enjoying it. It’s rare I read something I don’t like b/c I’m choosy – but an editor can’t be, b/c they’re having to slog through the slush pile to find a gem. But again, there’s no magic – it’s completely dependent on her tastes.

    Second, I think it’s a positive you know where you made mistakes in your first attempt at the submission process. No author I know is good at the things you mentioned, but to work under contract will require that you improve, particularly when it comes to synopses, outlines, and any sort of self-promo.

    The best of luck to the anon writer.

  4. i can only respond as a reader and writer, as i’m not in the business side of things, but i do regularly read for a small lit mag and for literary contests. i think that when a writer is connected, really connected, to their project, it shows in the first page.

    then there are the rules of the first page:
    1. is the title memorable?
    2. who is the main character and are they interesting? further, what do they want?
    3. where is the story taking place?
    4. are the sentences well constructed and flow logically from one to the next?
    5. is there a bit of magic in the sentences? this is hard to define, i know, and speaks to the writerly voice.

    if i don’t answer positively to the above questions, i stop reading.

    if you care about your project(s)/writing you can learn how to write a pitch. it’s a pitch. take a look at screenwriting sources (books; blogs). that’s a good start. it’s okay if you’re awkward about it and it doesn’t come naturally. you’re trying. that’s what matters.

    good luck.

  5. Right material, right way, right agent at the right time. Don’t dismiss serendipity but don’t depend on it. And most of all never stop learning your craft. May the writing gods shine down upon you anon.
    I sound like I wear tie dye and slept in the rain at Woodstock. Instead I was in Africa reading about the mud and Jimmy doing a 2 hour set.

  6. You’re young, you’re respectful, you’re earnest. Good qualities on your side. Be passionate about your craft, and keep your expectations low. It’s a tough world out there, but keep slogging along. If nothing else, you’ll be true to yourself.

  7. Make sure you write it first, then worry about getting it published.

    Every word counts. Every morpheme. The devils and the angels both are in these details.

    Be patient. With yourself and your world.

    Be demanding. With yourself. All you can control is your ability to make the best work you can possibly make.

    Write. Write write write. Very few people are good at this writing business coming out of the gate. Practice. Everything you write counts as writing. Everything.

    Read. You must read widely and well. Turn off the electronic distractions, focus your mind, and read.

    Be honest. It will show. People won’t read writing that comes from a dishonest space.

    You’re writing for people who have read everything and don’t have time to waste. Make your writing worth their while.

    Pro tip: You have to hook your reader on your first line. Everything that follows has to arise from that line.

    You’re not assembling a pre-fab building — you’re growing a garden.

    All your writing has to do is say, Be with me — I am with you.

    If your writing means enough to you to pursue it, it will cost you your life. If you can’t pay that price, get out now.

    You knew all of this already, even if you didn’t know you knew, except maybe for the pro tip. Now get to work. Time’s a-wastin’.

  8. As always, you speak the truth, Tetman.

  9. Write. Write more. Find a writing group. Attend writing workshops. Research your publishing options. Decide your goals for writing and publishing. Rewrite more. Never give up.

  10. I listen to a very practical podcast called The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. They do a segment called books with hooks about query writing. I’ve learned a lot. Plus many interviews with published authors and the work it took to get there. Highly recommend. Have listened to other writing podcasts and I like this one best. Good luck!

  11. Just fuckin’ get some. Hold it in your hands mold it in your image and fuckin’ get some. Don’t be stupid don’t waste your time axin’ if you exist, fuckin’ get some. Make us suffer through it. Get it?

  12. Read, read, read. Write over one million words. And let them go. Quantity isn’t quality. But it’s a start. We can’t see what we write. Get some help if you can afford it.

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