So Take a Letter, Maria

Query Tips

Betsy Lerner

45bf51994e779d764df10e907e30a7bbI’m sorry, but it’s time to go back to basics. I have been receiving the most cuckoo for cocoa puffs query letters lately. It’s like watching a person shoot himself in the head instead of pitching his book. I can see the blood spatter on the wall.

I’ve said a zillion times: the letter has to be professional, but should give a sense of the writer’s style or sensibility. The letter should be three paragraphs: 1) introduce the project; 2) expand on it in an interesting way via the themes or good comps or most salient details  (no plot points please!);  and 3) your credentials. Writers often ask me, what if I don’t have any credentials? I always answer: get some! What if we can’t, they cry? It’s strange to think that you can sell a book before you’ve ever sold a story or an article. THough stranger things have…

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Acts of kindness

In my continuing effort to make the world better I’m sharing this post from Throwing Chancias.

This small town junior and high school has not been able to buy new books since the 90s.

Do you have diverse books? Young Adult books? Middle Grade books? any books to help stock this library? Please consider sending one book. A book can make all the difference.

Here is the mailing address:

Greenville High School/Indian Valley Academy

Library Project Attn: Margaret Garcia

117 Grand Street

Greenville, CA 95947

Thank you for your support.

If sending during the month of July (when school is closed) please send to

Library Project/Margaret Garcia

PO Box 585

Greenville, CA 95947

Click this to read the full story.

What if

What if instead of spending the next week hammering away on our keyboards crying out in pain and outrage people got up and engaged in the world?

Instead of posting clips and filibusters for gun control, people used Google to look up a LGBTQ centers and volunteered. What if a person chose to go to a church, synagogue, mosque or unity center and asked how to help. Maybe make lunch for a hungry family or read a book to a child who struggles.

Volunteer at a help hotline. Call a friend you haven’t spoken too because they made you mad and make up.

Talk to people. Face to face. See how your words impact the other person. Remember empathy while people are alive. Remember we don’t all have to agree. Have a difficult conversation but instead of focusing on changing the other person’s opinion take time to listen to what they say. Learn why they belive what they believe. Don’t throw insults if you’re frustrated.

What if you apologize for a long ago misdeed or one you did accidentally five minutes ago?

What if you disagree with someone. Instead of being a shame troll take a moment and think why does that person value a situation differently?

Don’t wait for likes engage in life. Likes don’t make something real. Likes don’t prepare you for life.

We are the United States of America. The world’s melting pot. It looks as if the U.S.A. forgot its identity. There is race baiting, name calling and dehumanization. We don’t need a million labels to define ourselves. We are UNITED. It’s in our name. It’s important to be united.

Where is the love? Where is tolerance? Where are you?

Let’s change the dialogue. Let’s demand all media research stories instead of perpetuating stories. There are two sides to most stories. Why is there a right and left biased media?

Let’s not show the faces of murders. I ask all media to stop naming them, showing them, speculating on facts before knowing them. Let’s stop watching 24 hour news coverage.

Let’s unplug and be part of humanity. Try it for 15 minutes. Don’t look how many emails are waiting for you when you wake up, look at the people around you and make eye contact. Smile- that smile may make their day.

Opposite opinions aren’t made right by digging in one’s heels. A person recently mic dropped me on FB when he cut and pasted opposing views of mine on a feed. He told me to stop reiterating my husbands opinion. He insulted me and I could swear I heard him stomp his feet and flip me off. Really, this is how the world is now? (I know, it was my bad for thinking I could share my opposing view with a person who had to win at all costs- including insults and attempted shame.)

Here is my challenge. Post a comment on how you helped someone or some animal or school or charity below. I need to see the love I know that’s out there. I believe we all have it in ourselves to make this world better.

Please, prove me right.

To Brock Turner’s Father, From Another Father

This is John Pavlovitz post. It’s a letter to a rapists father.

John is a man of honor. John’s letter will help others heal, I hope.

If you are a vicitm of rape be courageous. If you are scared read my story.

It wasn’t your fault. Rape is never the vicitms faul.


Dear Mr. Turner,

I’ve read your letter to the judge on behalf of your son Brock, asking for leniency in his rape conviction.

I need you to understand something, and I say this as a father who dearly loves my son as much as you must love yours: 

Brock is not the victim here.
His victim is the victim.
She is the wounded one.
He is the damager.

If his life has been “deeply altered” it is because he has horribly altered another human being; because he made a reprehensible choice to take advantage of someone for his own pleasure. This young woman will be dealing with this for far longer than the embarrassingly short six months your son is being penalized. She will endure the unthinkable trauma of his “20 minutes of action” for the duration of her lifetime, and the fact that you seem unaware of this fact is exactly why we have a problem.

This is why young men continue to rape women.
This is why so many men believe that they can do whatever they please to a woman’s body without accountability.
This is the reason so many victims of sexual assault never step forward.
This is why white privilege is real and insidious and usually those with it are oblivious to it.

I understand you trying to humanize your son in your letter; talking to the judge about his favorite snacks and swim practice and about the memories that are sweet for your as his father—but to be honest I don’t give a damn and if his victim was your daughter I’m quite sure you wouldn’t either.

I imagine this young woman had favorite snacks and sports too, and parents who had wonderful plans for her that didn’t include this nightmare.

There is no scenario where your son should be the sympathetic figure here. He is the assailant. He is the rapist. I can’t image as a father how gut wrenching such a reality is for you, but it is still true. 

Brock has to register as a sex offender because he sexually assaulted an incapacitated young women. This is why we have such requirements; because one vile act against another human being is one too many, because we don’t get a do-over when we do unspeakable things, because people need to be protected with knowledge of others in their midst who have failed so egregiously at respecting another person’s basic dignity.

The idea that your son has never violated another woman next to a dumpster before isn’t a credit to his character. We don’t get kudos for only raping one person in our lifetime. I don’t believe your son is a monster but he acted like one and that needs to be accounted for. To be sure, this decision is not the sum total of Brock’s life, but it is an important part of the equation and it matters deeply. 

And to be clear, Mr. Turner,”alcohol and sexual promiscuity” are not the story here. The story here, is that young men have choices to make and these choices define them, even if those choices are made when temptation is great and opportunity is abundant. In fact, our humanity is most expressed when faced with such things, we choose integrity and decency; when we abstain from doing what is easy but wrong. 

We as parents don’t control our children. Most parents understand this. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, they fail and fall and do things we’d never consent to. I certainly hope this is such an occasion, though it is not coming across that way in your letter. It feels like you want more sympathy and goodwill toward your son than you want for the survivor of his crime, and that’s simply not good enough for her or for those young men and women watching.

Here is her story.

You love your son and you should. But love him enough to teach him to own the terrible decisions he’s made, to pay the debt to society as prescribed, and then to find a redemptive path to walk, doing the great work in the world that you say he will.

For now though, as one father to another: help us teach our children to do better—by letting them see us do better.


I’m in awe of the Stanford rape victim’s courage and perseverance to prosecute her attacker and to stand strong in the face of so much adversity. This is the link to read if you haven’t already read her statement. She is my hero. She has my support.

Shame on you to all media showing a smiling image of her rapist. Show his mug shot. Don’t be lazy journalists.

My message to the survivor. You will be okay. You will heal. You are amazing.

In my attempt to show solidarity, I will share my story of rape.

I did not tell then. I didn’t prosecute then. I kept my shame a secret for 13 years. Don’t keep rape a secret!


15 years old.


On my parents bed.


While I lay still and thinking

“This is it? This is sex?”


Staring at the blue fern patterned wallpaper


Bleeding in the middle of the bed.



How do I keep this secret?


What did I do to cause this?


How old is he, 20?


My voice, white noise from a transistor

radio across the room saying,

“Stop,” saying, “No.”


My parents aren’t home.


My friend (?) Tina playing pool downstairs

in the living room with this guy’s friends.


15 years old and confused,

he’s done.


He gets up. He’s wearing a condom, where did it

come from? When did he put it on?


He walks away and down the stairs.

Raped and sitting in my blood.

Raped and standing next to my parents bed,

looking at the bright red blood in the middle of the bed.


In the afternoon.


and cleaning up the mess on my parent’s bed.


The dog jumps up and begins licking the bloody sheets.


and not understanding sex or why

he wanted to have sex with me.


15 years old

I stand at the top of the stairs leaning over the black banister

and call him back upstairs.

Everyone in the pool room cheers.


He complies.

He walks upstairs and I lead him to my bedroom.

Four purple walls covered in Duran Duran posters.


I lay down again.

Stuffed animals bear witness to my platform bed.

There’s another condom.

I try to learn what he is doing.


I try to pretend it’s my choice.


It’s over again.


He goes back downstairs,


I clean myself off.

I put all the sheets in the wash.


I bleed for one week from the wound.


He said he couldn’t believe it was my first time



Do you remember your first kiss?

An essay of mine is up on In it I reminisce about first kisses. And it’s a short stroll down memory lane for me.

The comments section amazes me. All those opinions about me and the story. So many harsh judgements. But I found some who understood where I’m coming from. They read it for the sweet story I wanted to share. Thank you!

It’s perplexing to me that one day after another campus shooting, when people ought to be brought together in our shared humanity, that some people prefer to sit on their cyber thrones hurling stones.

I want to encourage the critics to try some form of art. It may make you happy. Here- Kurt Vonnegut said it best:kurt_vonnegut1



My essay is live on Kveller published my essay. Happy news is fantastic!

Happy loving family
Funny family! Mother and her child daughter girl with a paper accessories. Beauty funny girl holding paper glasses on stick. Beautiful young woman holding paper glasses on stick.


in other news:

My days are filled with YA MS revisions. I decided to try rearranging my chapters to add tension. My MS is told via flashbacks, letters and real-time so Time is fluid.

I didn’t think it was going to ba as hard as it is to put it back. The MS looks a bit like Humpty.

The good news is I’ll get through it.


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