• 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’s Hard to Get by Just Upon a Smile

Two brave souls shared their query letters. I’ve edited both here. They’re still not perfect, but hopefully gives you an idea of how to present your book and your credentials. Would love to hear your thoughts. TO read the originals, go into yesterday’s comments.

In this first letter, I’ve taken out most of the plot and focussed on the historical element, which strikes me as the most interesting part of the project. I like how she refers to comps as “could be shelved beside.” That’s a new one for me.

Dear Betsy Lerner:

The story for Becoming Mamie is inspired by The Maimie Papers: Letters from an Ex-Prostitute, eds. Ruth Rosen and Susan B. Davidson, Feminist Press, 1997. Set in YEAR and PLACE, it traces the life of Maimie as she is pulled into prostitution, pimped by white slavers, and finally establishes a halfway house for homeless girls. I’ve labored to bring historical accuracy to the novel. Major sources include Lost Sisterhood (Prostitution in America 1900-1918) by Ruth Rosen, Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott, Bodies and Souls by Isabel Vincent, and Prostitution and Prejudice by Edward J. Bristow.

BECOMING MAIMIE could be shelved beside Third Daughter by Talia Carner , The Flower Boat Girl by Larry Feign, and The Lives of Diamond Bessie by Jody Hadlock (2022).What makes it unique from these titles?


Dear [agent],

The Year of Least Resistance takes place in 1970s west Texas in America (think Last Picture Show meets Lonesome Dove or some such) Jeff Chorus and Kitty Davidson are teenagers who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. When they give up the baby for adoption, they imagine they can return to innocence. Add one or two more sentences here to close out the themes or the impossibility of turning back the clock.

My short fiction has appeared in such publications as NOON, New York Tyrant, Best Microfiction 2019, Atticus Review, and The Writing Disorder. I published the memoir “High Street: Lawyers, Guns & Money in a Stoner’s New Mexico” (2012, Outpost 19), and the children’s novel, “Franny & Toby” (2015, Silky Oak Press). I hold a degree in philosophy from the University of Texas at El Paso.

You’ll see that I took out a lot extraneous stuff from the bio. Also, don’t do your bio in the third person. It’s stilted. You really want to stick to writing credentials and education if it’s pertinent.. I like how your college ties back to the setting of the book.

Let me know what you think, and thanks so much for sharing your query letters.

6 Responses

  1. Thanks to you two brave souls and to Betsy! I’m just getting ready to dive into the queries and these will be very helpful. I always thought them to need so much more but I love that in this case, less is more!

  2. I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read and make comments. I use query tracker and have used Publisher’s Marketplace but maybe it was too soon. I will try again with your suggestions. I will let you know when I find an agent.

  3. Thank you, Betsy.

    The bio part’s always tricky for me. Often litmags ask for third-person bios. The one I used in the example I posted is lifted from my standing litmag submission bio. I wouldn’t normally third-person a bio in a query letter, so I won’t do that. This particular example is from a response to a publisher who specifically requested a third-person bio. As we know, or should know, what the publisher (or editor, or agent) requests, the writer delivers. But I will trim my standing litmag submission bio to match your suggestions, and, mutatis mutandis, any bio included in any future query.

    My weak spots in my writer’s bio are that I never earned an MFA, and that I’ve never won a notable award. I used to mention that I studied with Gordon Lish, but that was a generation ago. He’s largely forgotten now, so I leave that out.

    Giving a nice, succinct, wrap-up of the book is also a challenge. You would think that, since I wrote it, it wouldn’t be hard to distill it down to a potent paragraph. But it becomes a matter of not being able to see the forest for the trees. You know how that can go. I read that book of yours a long time ago. I have just now found it on my shelves and pulled it out. I will read it again. It’s on my short stack now, on the table right beside (and literally to the right) of my computer. There is one book ahead of it, which I started yesterday, then I shall return to the forest.

    Betsy, sometimes I hate this writing game. I staked my life on it. Sometimes I’ve written some beautiful, powerful work, doing things on the page that I never could have imagined I would be able to do. But sometimes I think of just chucking it all in. But I can’t do that. That would just be me telling myself that my life has been a waste. I can’t bear the thought that my life has been a waste.

  4. NOthing is ever wasted, especially writing. Think of it has practicing an instrument. There’s joy in it (and frustration) but you can only get better by doing it. I’ve never understood writers who say they hate writing. I feel like saying try archery. I’ve loved every miserable sentence I’ve ever scribbled. It may suck, but it’s not a waste. You’re a deeper, more interesting mental patient, like me.

  5. these are helpful edits, betsy lerner. thanks for that.

    querying is an unknowable experience for writers who receive a lot of advice from those in the know, and those not in the know, like that guy on the bus. write what you know; write about vampires/robots/disillusioned movie stars, that makes money; promote yourself; don’t be theatrical; be creative; be businesslike; write on your phone; write on paper with a blue pencil; write on blood onto your broken mirror.

    you know what i mean.


  6. Do not write on your broken mirror with blood! Lipstick! Eye liner! Please!

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