What I’m Doing this Summer (or: How Not to Pitch an Agent)

angel/cherub statue reading a book on the grass - https://pixabay.com/en/the-statue-of-angel-art-boy-1398281/

Image by Diego Torres via Pixabay

 

Wondering what I’m doing this summer? Here’s the story behind one project.

It all started in April, when I took a crash course in pitching an agent. I had registered for Books Alive! 2016, presented by the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a local conference with workshops, speakers, a book fair, and book signings.  It also features the coveted Agent Speed Pitches.

My goal was to brush off a journalism fellowship proposal about Judaism and food, make a book proposal out of it, and convince an agent to love it in five minutes or less. Soon, I’d be on my way to a book deal.

It’s not hard to do what I did. Just follow the simple steps below.

How Not to Pitch an Agent

    1. With about six days to go before your book proposal must be ready, discover that six days is a preposterously inadequate amount of time to write a book proposal.*
    2. Write a good query letter. While working, sing a little song about how the kindly agent will adore your query, swoop in, and help you write that pesky proposal.
    3. Do not use a single sentence from your query letter. Instead, craft a pitch from it and use that pitch.
    4. Practice the pitch on nonfiction writers, novelists, and your cat. At least one out of three will give constructive feedback. Treat the other two to a rendition of that song about your guardian agent.
    5. At 6:45 am on the day of the pitch sessions, as the Uber waits downstairs, decide to print your query letter after all. Clutch the letter close throughout the morning.
    6. Use the pitch on agents — the ones assigned to you for speed-pitch sessions as well as the one who magically asks you about your book while you sit around the lunch table. That last one will listen intently until you must both stop for the keynote by Bob Woodward.
    7. Note the questions the agents ask and suggestions they make about structure. Note also how said questions and suggestions are not at all consistent.
    8. Note also how, though the agents are all wonderful people, not one extended a cloud-like wing to envelope you.
    9. Rejoice that several agents asked to see either a sample chapter or full book proposal.
    10. Realize this is better than a guardian agent. Also understand that you must produce a book proposal.
    11. Attempt to write a book proposal. Take more than six days to do it.
    12. Start now.

So there you have it. The Book Proposal (incorrect capitalization for Emphasis) is one of my projects. I look forward to posting updates.

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*Why inadequate? Thanks to author friends Michael Chorost and Fran Hawthorne (plus online searching), I learned that a book proposal comprises some 50 to 60 pages of details. It covers the content, author, and market. Sample chapters also go in there. As you can imagine, a normal human can’t do this overnight. If you’re interested in more information, here’s a great guide from Zimmerman Literary.

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If X Were Your Y

If X were your Y

For your reading list

If you’re prone to binge reading, close this tab right now.

Think you can handle it? Here it comes: Check out the Toast’s If X Were Your Y. This section caught my eye with If LaVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma Were Your Dads by Nicole Chung and Karissa Chen. Then I read another piece. And another. You could say it’s my latest obsession.

The premise is as simple as one phrase: “If ___ were your ___.” Writers fill out that phrase, and then take it to its logical – and then far beyond logical – conclusions. With that Chung-Chen piece, the idea led to passages like:

If LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, when you were a kid, every time you had a question about anything (“How do you spell ‘loquacious’?” “Do sharks sleep with their eyes closed?”), LeVar Burton would tell you to take a look, it’s in a book. And when you complained about how annoying Dad was being, Yo-Yo Ma would play a slow, sad song on the cello, and they’d laugh at you (never unkindly) as you stomped away.

Logical enough. But did you know “if LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, your orchids would never die, no matter how much you overwatered them”? That one waves to logical as it passes, keeps going, and ends up three galaxies away. Another great one: If Justin Bieber Were My Terrible, Golden Son. Continue reading

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Writer mothers

people-woman-girl-writing

Photo from Pexels.com, used under Creative Commons license CC0

Last year, I had a lesson in writing as a woman. I want to share it today, in a pre-Mother’s Day post.

The lesson started at a reading by Mary Gordon, an author I’d known in my childhood. To me, Mary was my friend’s mom. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how most people identify her: As a famous writer of novel and memoir, a professor of writing at a prestigious New York school.

When the Q and A commenced, I popped up to the mic and asked Ms. Gordon, essentially, how she did it all. How was she the parent who fed us dinner and a creative force to boot? How could she embody both mother and writer? Continue reading

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A chocolatey story for Valentine’s Day

Chocolate bars and flowers

Undone Chocolate bars with Himalayan sea salt get dressed up for the holiday. Courtesy of Undone Chocolate.

 

My story on DC’s own Undone Chocolate appeared on The Jewish Daily Forward this weekend.

Check it out:

Sweet Momentum — Valentine’s Day at Undone Chocolate

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Loaves and enchiladas

Challah cooling after baking

Challah made by experienced and novice conference participants, December 2015. Photo by Rhea.

Last Friday, I joined a crowd of around 500 for MLK Shabbat at Sixth and I Synagogue. The service brought together members of Jewish community and the Turner Memorial AME Church. On Sunday and Monday, many celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fight for civil rights at church and interfaith services.

These events remind me how a yearning for social justice can bind communities of faith, as well as the centrality of the sabbath.

Leading up to that weekend, I was honored to publish a piece about challah, the bread central to Jewish Shabbat tables:

A Thoughtful Loaf From ‘Yeast of Eden’

Earlier in the week, the Forward also posted a story featuring a recipe by local cookbook author and healthy eating guru Natasha Rosenstock Nadel:

Vegan Enchilada Casserole

I’ll end with a plug for another event. If you live in DC, check out Why Ethics?: Blacks, Jews and the Crisis of Political Solidarity in an Age of Terror tomorrow.

Happy eating, and may 2016 bring us closer together.

 

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Publication: Oils for Hanukkah

Think Before You Fry: Latkes frying in a pan

Tablet Magazine just published my piece on cooking oils for Hanukkah. Check it out:

Think Before You Fry

 

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Thankful for NaNoWriMo

Rhea at the laptop

Working off Thanksgiving dinner in New York. Thinking burns a ton of calories, you know. Photo credit: Marji Yablon.

As I write this, it is Thanksgiving. It’s also Day 26 of NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. Like many others, I’m grateful for both the family and food I’ve enjoyed today. Like a hefty helping of my fellow writers, I’m also thankful for an opportunity to write (mostly) fiction (almost) every day this month.

I want to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve been doing for the past three-plus weeks. My arrangement is a network binding myself and three other scribes into a daily writing practice. We haven’t pledged to write a novel from whole cloth during this month (though one of us has, indeed, put the final stitches in her book-in-progress. Congratulations, Celeste!) We haven’t even committed to 30 days of fiction. It’s just about writing creatively–for any amount of time–every single day.

What has this meant for me? Let’s see. I’ve written:

  • Nine flash fiction stories
  • Five zygotes of additional stories
  • One pitch for an article (which was accepted!)
  • The article (link coming by Hanukkah)
  • Another pitch for an article (awaiting review)
  • A mysterious file that is blank except for the title “Maybe we thaw and gel”

Great thanks to Celeste, Dottye, and Cheryl for making this happen over daily emails. I’ll miss those one- and two-sentence check-ins. Looking forward to four more days, at the least.

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