Strictly Inside Baseball

So, the other day I’m reading my agent’s blog, in which she is venting about the weird query letters she’s been getting lately.


A query letter is the short cover letter you send to a literary agent to give that important gate-keeper of the literary world an idea of what you and your book are about. The purpose of a query letter is to entice that agent into reading the sample chapter you have enclosed, thereby captivating that agent with your skill and charm as a writer, which will lead to either a request for the full manuscript or, as happened in my case, skipping straight to the contract which authorizes your new agent to sell your book proposal to a publisher thereby making you an AUTHOR.

So, you can see that writing a good query letter is a very big deal. It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. But some people are either too naive, too egotistic, or too crazy to do it right.

It also helps if you send a query letter regarding your sic-fi thriller to an agent who does not, say, deal exclusively with cook books. DO YOUR RESEARCH, in other words. And never start your query letter with a statement about how your book is the next Eat, Pray, Love. Agents are really tired of that pitch.

So, any way, that’s what my agent, Betsy Lerner, was complaining about.

One of the Commenters to her post responded:

What about those who cannot write a query letter? . . .  what about all the little people/ big writers who can’t? How do we take care of them? How do we take care of our writers?

And that’s when I lost it. I wrote back:

“How do we take care of our writers?” 


Who cares about WRITERS??? We — who ever “we” are — need to take care of our doctors, nurses, environmentalists, veterinarians, watchdogs and whistle-blowers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, physicists, soldiers, scientists, engineers, civil rights lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, sanitation workers — even the lowest-level topologist is worth more to society than a WRITER.

The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?

Yeah, I was so annoyed that I forgot to capitalize the “I” in that last sentence.

A third party who took offense to my Comment wrote back:

Your “relatively pointless luxury item in the culture” has made my life so much more interesting and worthwhile, beginning with those Raggedy Ann and Andy books I taught myself to read at age five. And all of those workers you list would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

Oh, where to begin listing all the things that are wrong with this? I did my best to keep it short:

Jesus. How much more patronizing can you get?

How much you want to bet that the majority of those sad workers with their sad lives don’t even bother to read? They are far too busy with their own stories, the ones they are living and telling each other when they get together for drinks after work. I’m sure they are as happy, or as minimally miserable as the rest of us, without knowing a single writer or giving a crap about The Girl on the Train.

I am not one of those writers who thinks that I possess a gift, or an acute humanity, or the delicate nerve endings of a seer and poet, or a certain specialness for which the world owes me readers and recognition. Or maybe I do, but my Capricorny sense of reality prevents me from ever whining about how the world, and persnickety literary agents, are too mean and snotty to appreciate my self-evident genius.

And, after investing a few hours reading half of Gone Girl before I figured out that I did not want to squander any more time of my one and only life with make-believe people who I really detested, I knew I could live a happy life without ever cracking The Girl on the Train. Fiction sucks.

But you don’t have to be me to see how incredibly pompous it is to claim that all the physicists and firefighters in the world would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

I for one would not want to read anything written by a writer who had that kind of attitude towards her readers. Would you?  Please discuss.

In other news, we here on Long Island got our first snowfall last night (Sunday, Dec. 11) and I have not caught you up on the Fall leaves in my backyard. Here’s a pic of the difference between Taffy (on the left) and our newest backyard boy, Dennis (on the right):


Top Cat has put away all the patio furniture except for one chair, for obvious reasons:


Dennis also has full use of the old rabbit hutch that we converted into a kitty condo (down sleeping bags on the walls and floor, straw for extra insulation):


And our prodigal Candy, who came back after disappearing on a six-week walk-about on Nov. 18, still has not ventured beyond the kitchen but she has let me give her a nice soft baby blanket to make her nap times more cozy:


P.S. I have not washed the kitchen floor since Candy’s come home because she’s still a bit anxious and flighty and any kind of bustle makes her freak out, and also because I really don’t want to wash to kitchen floor any way.

13 Comments, RSS

  1. Elizabeth December 12, 2016 @ 2:19 pm

    No, I am sure you do not want to wash the kitchen floor. That is one of the reasons we are thinking of returning to Morocco where I would never have to wash a floor again.
    I’m sure the cat is very grateful to have a nice warm home as the winter approaches.
    Yes, would-be writers are quite an odd and touchy lot…..
    I will look at your agent’s blog. I’m sure agents want to sell things as much as the writers want to – the question is who will buy this blather?
    Except they did buy The Girl on the Train (I read 5 pages and gave up!)
    They did buy the wretched Goldfinch which I read quite a lot of and was furious about as it was utterly unedited….
    and so we go on…..
    I’m thinking of researching my nice 18th century botanist….rather an an salable project.
    Let me know when you have a fab idea
    or else we could go drinking…..

  2. Elizabeth December 12, 2016 @ 2:20 pm


  3. Vicki in Michigan December 12, 2016 @ 5:59 pm

    You made me laugh out loud, twice, in one post. I hardly ever laugh out loud when reading blogs, so twice is really something. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    “The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?” Snort! 🙂 🙂 Still chortling over this one……….

    Agree totally that most fiction is unreadable! I looked at NPR’s list of “best books” of this year. A large proportion of the covers are black, and SO many of the titles include fall, dust, falter, death, devil, etc, etc. NO, right off the bat, without even reading the “recommendation.” And when they trick you with an interesting cover (actual colors, maybe) and a non-depressing title, you read the “recommendation” and it includes words like “gripping” or “harrowing” or whatever, and it’s NO again……………………….

    Why is all adult fiction depressing depressing depressing? Whatever has happened to comfort, contentment, ease, humor? Gone? Even in fiction?

    Real life is more than depressing enough. Especially right now!!!!!!! I need to be cheered up with artificial worlds where the people are interesting but nice, and all is well………………………………….


  4. Alex MacKenzie December 13, 2016 @ 11:05 am

    Thank you for making me laugh at the “writers” who will live mighty sad lives because no one wanted to buy their transcendent, harrowing novels penned in illuminating, delicate prose.

    This is why my fiction reading is primarily re-reads of P.G. Wodehouse, Angela Thirkell, Arthur Ransome, and Agatha Christie. I love a good story and have failed mightily to find good new fiction authors in any genre for many, many years. The absolute best, most riveting, most compelling story I read this year was “The Boys in the Boat” (Daniel Brown) which was nonfiction (about the 1936 Olympic gold-medal rowing crew from the University of Washington — HIGHLY recommended). Thank goodness for nonfiction!

    Washing the kitchen floor is highly overrated. It will just get dirty again, and Candy’s needs clearly come first!

  5. Megan December 13, 2016 @ 3:56 pm

    Well I don’t have much to add… people are weird, truly. Weird. I like cats, although I have a little weirdo cat, still I love him. Dennis, welcome aboard. Is is me or are there a lot of ginger cats about. Hello Taffy, try not to look too menacing. Gotta love him. I do hope Candy improves and gets back her confidence, it’s very sad indeed.

  6. Kirra December 13, 2016 @ 4:51 pm

    All I have to say is, if you want to be a writer but ‘can’t’ write your own introduction letter about your writing then maybe you shouldn’t be a writer!?!

    I’ve heard this advice for the internet before: never read the comments section. Except for your blog, where I always enjoy reading people’s comments, I try to follow it as otherwise I get enraged by the ridiculous stuff people write!

    This reminds me of when I went to see a really well known Australian writer, Tim Winton, talk about a new book. They had a Q&A session at the end and people just kept asking for advice for their own writing! Ahh!! He said he didn’t really have any, except that it is difficult (he writes really flowing descriptive sentences and people think it just comes to him like that, but he said he spends ages working on it).

    I like escaping reality and reading fiction myself. I do like older books (Jane Austen fan) and often read them again. But I also manage to find new books that I like, but I agree some of them aren’t very good. I just finished reading Middlemarch, which sucked me in and helped me avoid real life!

    Your cats look very happy in their own little spots, Taffy on the chair, Dennis in the cat condo and Candy in the kitchen.

  7. Kirra December 13, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

    Should have done this first but I just read your agents blog and it’s great! Though I do feel a bit sorry for her, sounds like she’s had to read a lot of crap recently!

  8. Angela De Marco Manzi December 15, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    Sounds like your agent needs a therapy dog.

  9. Anonymous December 16, 2016 @ 4:46 pm

    Two moments ago I lobbed into the Library Donations box Ngaio Marsh’s “Tied Up in Tinsel.” Nice jolly country manor mystery, I thought, English and cozy. Hah! Set in a decrepit mansion being rebuilt, staffed entirely by released murderers from the gaol just over the hill, moors stretching endlessly. Not precisely the cheery spirit I sought.
    I do know one of “those” writers. Every bit that sees print has acres of angst behind it. As a friend she’s fine. As a writer it’s all I can do not to grab and shake her.
    Your cats are fortunate cats. I hope they can feel love beamed from California.

  10. Judy Jennings December 16, 2016 @ 8:58 pm

    YOU are gifted. I have your books. I KNOW.

  11. deb mattin December 17, 2016 @ 9:52 am

    Good lord, another misunderstood lot needing support – the writer who can’t write a letter about the book they just wrote. Suck it up, buttercup – some folks have real problems – ha!

    Great pictures of the kitties – especially love the updates about Candy readjusting after her walk-about. She looks so cozy . Floor washing is highly over rated anyway.

  12. Monique December 17, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

    Bonjour Vivian;
    Just popping by with wishes of a nice and happiness in 2017,and a ton of inspiration..!

  13. Gail January 19, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

    I would hope that someone who claims to be a writer would be able to actually WRITE a query letter! Thank you for your recent winter tree instructional. Looking through old posts for more of those xo

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