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I’ll Bet You Think This Song Is About You

Lately, a few of my clients have asked if a particular post were about them. It’s funny because I think I go out of my way not to write about my clients and to never write about any ongoing deals, like the seven-figure advance I’m brokering for the White House party crashers. And the film deal with Happy Madison. Ixnay on the etailsday.

I'm so vain.

What’s your experience writing about people you know? Any horror stories? I sometimes think fiction is worse, more room for projection.

Be Mice Elf Agin

I'm her bitch.

A client just called in a panic: she needed help with her acknowledgments. She didn’t want to say too much, say too little, be too corny, or too cool. Should it begin with a little narrative or launch in to the list of people she needed to thank?  Did I want to be called Betsy or Elizabeth, should she refer to me as her editor, agent, friend, her dodo, her bitch?  It took a few minutes but we figured it all out. As we were about to hang up, she said, you’re with me right to the end. 

Hope you all have a good writing weekend. Kill it.

How Will I Know If He Really Loves Me

Nation, check out this letter:

I’ve had a Big Agent at one of the Best Agencies in NYC.   She wasn’t able to sell my novel, but I got to see the editor rejections and they all had nice things to say.  More than one asked to see something new from me.   My agent fired me after it didn’t sell.   I threw that novel away and wrote Novel 2.  I sent out queries on a Tuesday and had four offers by Thursday.  I picked a youngish, hungry agent at one of the Other Best Agencies.  He sent my ms out early this week.  My question is: how do I know if I have writing talent?  I added all this other stuff because it would appear to be in the “pro” column.  But how do you KNOW?    I read my stuff and I know it’s competent and maybe even good, but how do you know if you’ve written something that really jumps off the page?  Is such a thing even possible to know?

Okay, little lady, let’s break this down, as Miss Beverly used to say in step class.

“Big Agent…one of the best agencies in NYC.” First, if you weren’t with Betsy Lerner, you weren’t with a Big Agent at one of the best agencies in New York. You were at a puppy mill.

The agent fired me.” This just blows my mind. There are plenty of reasons to “fire” a client, but a book not selling sure ain’t one of them. The only real reason to fire a client is if they are unreasonably abusive and fail to gift you at Christmas.

I threw that novel away and wrote number 2.” That  is the fighting spirit this blog endorses unequivocally.

I picked a youngish, hungry agent.” That, too, is how I like them. Good job by you.

“How do I know if I have talent?” How do you know if you have halitosis, a bad credit rating, a gift for small talk. How does one know anything in life? Personally, I know my self worth because I step on the scale every morning.

Competent, maybe even good.” Hmmm. Sounds like WFM. (That’s Writer’s False Modesty.) After all, we’ve had shark agent, good editor letters, sent out your manuscript on Tuesday and got offers of representation on Thursday.  Maybe what you’re asking is, can this all fall apart again? Yes, sadly it can. But my guess is that you’re going to the world series with this one. The part of your letter that makes me say this is that you started book 2 on the heels of that devastating experience. That, to me, says it all. Talent will only get you so far. Drive, tenacity, and the ability to harness new material will keep you in the race.  We wish you luck and please write again and let us know how you make out.

A Pocket Full of Horses

I’m working with three new clients right now and I feel like I’m at the Kentucky Derby watching these incredible horses make their final circuit to the finish line as we prepare their proposals for submission. And this is also proof positive that I am an editor in agent’s clothing because there is nothing more satisfying for me than to see a revision come in stronger than I had even imagined, that my edits could, even in some small way, inspire a writer to greater success. I’m not saying it’s not fun to handpick editors, pitch books, field offers, and cash checks. That’s swell, too.

It’s funny because I always rail, even perversely, against the “process” people, against the “journey” people. Because I’m about results, winning, success. I say in FFTT, (and I’m paraphrasing myself, ha ha).,readers don’t give a shit about your process, only that your work appears seamless. And I believe that. But if I were to be honest with myself, I have to say I love this process. I love watching writers and writing improve. I love being part of it. So I guess I’m a big pussy after all.

And That Was All


Paths That Cross Will Cross Again

Beloved poet and friend

Jim Carroll  (August 1, 1950 – September 11, 2009) In the course of working together, Jim and I discovered two powerful bonds. The first that we both had August birthdays, born under a scorching sun. The second was a great delight in the numerals on the clock coming up in wonderful combinations like cherries on a slot machine. Whenever we spoke, we would mention recent sightings. Jim often awoke in the middle of the night at exactly 2:22 or 4:44. We loved it when four numbers in a row came up such as 11:11, or, most exciting, the clock’s equivalent of a royal flush, 12:34.  His voice full of relish and mystery, he would always exclaim, “ah, a most propitious hour.”

People Tell Me It’s a Sin to Know and Feel Too Much Within


 For the record, I actually had a superb day. Pitched a new project this morning and felt…hopeful. Later, some excellent dish at my agents’ lunch. Apparently, on a publishing panel at a writer’s conference, an agent, who unfortunately has to go unnamed, got up FOUR times during the panel because he was in the middle of an auction and his Blackberry was vibrating more than a Magic Fingers in the Tenderloin.I hope I can pull off a stunt like that when I’m on the agents’ panel at Tin House next week. That’s more than agenting — it’s performance art. We were going to talk about the Endeavor/William Morris merger, but we forgot to. Yawn.

Later that same day, I ran into my  client on the street, coming from an interview with Leonard Lopate. He’s from Vermont  and I rarely get to see him. I bought him a sandwich and we commiserated on the state of publishing. This guy won THREE major literary prizes last year and still no review from the NYT. What’s up with that?

And, finally, went to a kick ass party for the launch of Josh Lyon’s first book, PILLHEAD. My colleague, his agent, Erin Hosier hosted the bash and it was filled with people who all looked fantastic. They even had a special drink called “The Pillhead” made with Absolut Pear, lime, maybe a little Fresca and I think a few oxy’s thrown in for the hell of it.



Then, as providence would have it,  walking back to the office  through Washington Square Park under a darkening sky, my shuffle delivered up Simple Twist of Fate.


The best thing about getting published, aside from the heaps of cash, are the fan letters. One of my clients recently forwarded a fan letter he received with the note: makes it all seem worthwhile. I knew exactly what he meant. When all the dust settles, the reviews (good, bad or non-existent), the sales (good, bad, or non-existent), the expectations dashed, the dreamed of prizes and literary acceptance proven elusive, you might be lucky enough to receive some letters from readers who felt you understood them, maybe even changed them, entertained them, and finally compelled them to write to you and say as much.


I have this fantasy when I’m in the nursing home, wearing purple and smoking Marlboro’s, that I’ll read through all the great letters I’ve received. The best one was typed on a plain white postcard with one single sentence across it: What a fine book is The Forest for the Trees. I taped it on the wall next to my desk. I don’t look at it for encouragement or succor. It’s the look of letters banged out on an old typewriter and the odd syntax that give me hope.


Nation, tonight on The Colbert Report, please check out Neil de Grasse Tyson. Yes, he’s the guy on Nova, the director of the Rose Center and Hayden Planetarium, author of Merlin’s Tour of the Universe, Death by Black Hole, and the Pluto Files among others. He’s the guy who downgraded Pluto’s cold ass from beloved planet to icy comet, and thereby became Public Enemy #1 to fifth graders everywhere. Most important, People named him sexiest astrophysicist of the year.

FAQ: How Do I Know If My Agent Is a Douche?

Amy L. from Los Angeles asks: How do I know if my agent is doing a good job? What can I expect?

God did not create all agents equally, and likewise no two clients need exactly the same thing from their agent. So having a good working relationship is as much about the right fit as anything else. If you can communicate easily with your agent and you feel he or she is responsive, then you’re ninety percent of the way there.

I would think the basic services include:

  • Editorial feedback on the proposal or novel, readying it for submission.
  • Keeping you apprised of the submission process, including which editors are considering, how many, the game plan, handling rejections, parlaying interest into an auction.
  • Removing sharp objects from your medicine chest if the book doesn’t sell.
  • If it does, negotiating your contract.
  • At least one good lunch.
  • Exploit ancillary rights such as audio, film, translation, etc.
  • Read the manuscript when it’s done, or in stages as you write.
  • Run interference if there is a breakdown in communication between you and your editor/publisher.
  • Generate ideas , where possible, to promote/support the publication.
  • Attend the book party and/or reading. (I’ve been in the doghouse for failing to make a few parties. C’mon, I live in New Haven!)
  • Again, remove sharp objects if the book sinks without a trace.
  • Brainstorm new ideas for your next book.

Guess which agent went on to become a star of stage and screen, or more precisely an author, an hilarious fixture on the Jon Stewart Show, and a shill for Apple?