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Friday, January 28, 2005
posted by Jen at 1/28/2005 02:55:00 PM

I heard back from the New Yorker. Alas, I will not be gracing their pages with my prose. The email I got mentioned something about how they recently did a story that had elements in common with the piece I was proposing. Also, they like to keep their Talk of the Town pieces local, and Philadelphia is not New York (don’t you love it when the thanks-but-no-thanks comes complete with a geography lesson?)

I’m disappointed, but I figure there’s a way to turn the lemon of rejection into the lemonade of advice. And so, herewith, How to Query the New Yorker (if you are a Female Writer of Popular Fiction who Does Not Look like Nell Freudenberg).

Step one (1982-present): Gather courage. After all, this is the New Yorker we’re talking about, literature’s holy of holies!

Step two: Get idea for “Talk of the Town” piece. Spend three hours honing single-paragraph pitch letter. Consult New Yorker’s website; email query, as suggested, to talkofthetown@newyorker.com. Mention your career as a journalist, name-check some of the more prestigious places you’ve been published, add titles of three novels.

Step three (six weeks long): Nothing. Not a phone call, not an email, not even an autoreply saying that yes, the query arrived. Nothing.

Step four: Email husband, attempting to convince him to pose as assistant, call New Yorker, ask for editor’s name so you can send query directly to him/her.

Step four (a): Patiently explain to husband that yes, you know he is not actually your assistant, but that it won’t hurt him to pretend.

Step four (b): Promise husband that yes, some day, should it become necessary, you will pretend to be his assistant, too, or anything else he wants, provided there are no handcuffs involved.

Step five: Husband comes through! You have names! Actual names of Talk of the Town editor and her assistant! Send query off to them directly.

Step six: Nothing. Nada. Niente. Rien.

Step seven: After a week has gone by, call Talk of the Town assistant. Voicemail picks up. Explain who you are and that you’re calling to make sure she received your query and to feel free to call you with questions.

Step eight: Paranoia. Decide that Talk of the Town assistant is twenty-two-year-old Brown graduate with size zero leather miniskirt and degree in semiotics who automatically shuns any book or short story with actual plot and unambiguous ending. Imagine Talk of the Town assistant as mean-faced girl from freshman year of college who corrected your pronunciation of “heinous” in front of a room full of classmates, including guy on whom you had a crush.

Step nine: Google mean-faced girl from freshman year of college. Find out she now serves on board of major charitable organizations and has baby slightly younger than your own. Feel heinous.

Step ten: After two weeks of non-responsiveness from miniskirted Gauloise-smoking Derrida-quoting assistant Talk of the Talk editor, and one very bad dream in which Eustace Tilly ignores you at the Sadie Hawkins dance, give up. Call your literary agent. Explain that you have this idea for a piece that you’d love to write for the New Yorker, that you’ve gone through all of the appropriate channels via email and phone calls and gotten nowhere. Can she help?

Step eleven: The next morning, literary agent writes to David Remnick, editor in chief of New Yorker. Email mentions the fact that you attended Princeton (just like he did) approximately seven times, wisely gives the titles of your novels not at all.

Four minutes later: Pay dirt! David Remnick emails literary agent. Single terse sentence contains instructions: send query directly to him and he will pass along. Huzzah!

Tell literary agent you will name second-born in her honor. Spend giddy fifteen minutes swooning over hunkiness (and penetrating intellect, of course!) of David Remnick. Enjoy daydream in which you are married to David Remnick and you end each night with long, intellectual discussions about foreign events and domestic policy and similar. Suffer regret when you realize you have inadvertently taught twenty-month-old daughter the phrase “he’s dreamy.”

Step eleven: Later that afternoon, email updated version of query first sent seven weeks ago directly to David Remnick. Strive for attitude of breezy good humor as opposed to less winning tone of pissed desperation.

Step twelve (twenty-four hours later): Receive email from Talk of the Town editor saying that David Remnick passed along your query. Her email will not mention that she's heard from you before, but either way, the piece is not for them.

And Philadelphia is not in New York.

Step thirteen (ongoing): Convince yourself you didn’t want to write for those snobs anyhow.
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