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How Do You SOlve a Problem Like Maria

I’ve spent thirty years as an editor and now agent talking writers off the ledge. That’s what we do. And it’s never more intense than in the two months before publication when anything and nothing can happen. When all your hopes and dreams could fill a dirigible floating over the city. Your fears and anxieties florid and deranged.

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HOw do I talk people off the ledge. First, I remind them their book is awesome, how much work it took, their dedication, their craft, how worthwhile it is even before a single copy is sold. Then I tell them stories the way you tell children stories to keep the bogey man away or stories to make them feel hopeful, about little trains that could. Or little books that grew up into mighty oaks. I get them thinking about their next book, about their inner life as a writer, about the long distance race. If all this fails, I suggest, they go shopping, to the movies, mani/pedi, hit the gym, start tutoring kids. If you’re in therapy: stay. If you’re not: start.

When I try to talk myself off the ledge, I realize something very scary. I am the ledge. Any advice?

 

 

Love the One You’re With

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It’s not in my DNA to say I’m a writer. When someone asks me what I do, I say I’m a literary agent. SOmetimes I say I’m an accountant if I don’t want a conversation to ensue that invariably ends up with the other person telling me about a manuscript they are writing or wish they were writing. Or that their cousin is writing.

When people ask what you do, what do you tell them.

 

 

Don’t Tell Me Not To Live

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Last night, I had the great honor of escorting my friend and client George Hodgman to the National Book Critics Circle Awards; his book Bettyville was a finalist. Ittook place at New School’s beautiful auditorium that looks like the inside of a deco egg. It was a star-studded event. To the left of us, Helen McDonald sans hawk. Directly in front of me Paul Beatty who I’ve loved since his first book of poems. Wendell Berry seemed annoyed to be receiving a lifetime achievement award. Everywhere in attendance proud editors, agents and family members. Margo Jefferson’s memoir Negroland won in George’s category, autobiography. No complaint there, but still I have to admit that in the moment before the winner’s name is announced, I found myself hoping with the fervor of a small child making a birthday wish. We consoled and celebrated over a long and delicious dinner with friends where much publishing gossip was exchanged. A meal in itself. When I think about reading the first pages George shared with me and sitting with him last night, and all the work in between that went into Bettyville, I feel so fortunate. Publishing doesn’t always fuck you over,

They Say as a Child I Appeared a Little Bit Wild

 

tumblr_m5agp4ws751rxiaoto1_500Someone recently asked me if I felt anxious about the book coming out because it is so personal. Get to know me. I’m anxious because it might not sell. I’m anxious because the New York Times might say mean things, or worse say nothing at all. I’m anxious because if I fail it’s not only in front of my friends and family, but the publishing profession where I work. I’m anxious because I’m not in therapy and I probably should be. I’m anxious because I don’t feel like myself, meaning I feel a little hopeful and that is just not part of the package.  I’m anxious because it’s all out of my hands now with the exception of boosting Facebook pages and going up and down Fifth avenue in the sandwich boards I’ve made with the Queen of Hearts on both sides.

What makes you anxious about getting your work out there? What’s your worst fear?

THe Tears of a Clown

Question: The last book that made you cry?

Salman Rushdie: I don’t cry when I read, really, though I did cry once while writing the death scene of a character I loved in “Shalimar the Clown.”

I just can’t say anything. But here’s what I’m thinking: Really? You’ve never spilled a tear over someone else’s writing besides your own? A chin quiver? A Sierra Mist? What about when Beth March dies? What about Tess of the D’Urbervilles? What about Jenny Cavalleri?

What books have you bawled over? Four hanky reads? Watcha got?

There’s a Kind of Hush All Over the World Tonight

THE RESULTS ARE IN
AUTHOR OF THE BARTER
Siobhan Adcock weights in

#1
Lyra’s pick:
What a beautiful and frankly terrifying evocation of how scary books work on you, in the dark hours of the night. The vampires in the pecan tree–totally unforgettable, and I know exactly the feeling she’s talking about. To paraphrase Stephen King himself, I never in my life freaked myself out reading like I did when I was 13…does anyone?

#2
Jude’s pick:
I love Jude’s point that the scariest books aren’t always tales of terror or even ghost stories. The most chilling moment for me in that book is when Merle says icily, “Please be careful with that precious object.” Yeeesh. Henry James had a way with dark corners: I read and re-read The Turn of the Screw many times when I was writing The Barter.

#3
Amy’s pick:
Please, please, please tell me that this didn’t really happen or I might never sleep again.

Please send your snail mail address to betsy@dclagency.com for your copy of THE BARTER. And thanks to everyone for participating. And thanks to Siobhan!

It’s Hard to Get By Just Upon a Smile

Let’s go back to basics. Query letters. Here are ten opening lines from letters I’ve received or concocted.

Dear Betsy: I am a huge fan of your blog and The Forest for the Trees, which I recommend to everyone I know.

Dear Ms. Lerner: Your agency website says that you like the hard to categorize.

Dear Betsy Lerner: I have written a fiction novel of 130,000 words called The Lost Letter.

Dear Betsy Lerner: Have you ever been afraid, really afraid?

Dear Betsy Lerner: I am a Harvard graduate and a Buddhist.

Dear Ms. Lerner: I am a survivor.

Dear Betsy (if I may):  I was about to give up writing until I read your book — I am the wicked child.

Dear Miss Lerner: Part memoir, part travelogue, this is the story of my return to Los Angeles.

Dear Betsy: My novel, The Launching of Fawn Roth, is about a young woman a lot like Lena Dunham.

Dear Betsy Lerner: I am writing to you because of  your personal interest in mental illness.

If you were an agent, which one would you respond to?

Anyone want to float their opener?