How To Get Professionals to Read Your Work- The Emily Dickinson Way

Step One:  Find someone to send your submissions to.

 Emily Dickinson chose to send a few of her poems to social reformer and writer, Mr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Step Two:  Sit down to write query.   When addressing it, be blunt.   Emily simply wrote, “Mr. Higginson,”

Step Three:  Begin query with rhetorical question. 

Emily decided upon, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?”

Step Four:   Compose letter.   

MR. HIGGINSON,–Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?

The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.

Should you think it breathed, and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude.

If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me would give me sincerer honor toward you.

I inclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true?

That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.

Step Five:  Compose this letter in a large, looping penmanship that is difficult for anyone to decipher. 

“It was in a handwriting so peculiar that it seemed as if the writer might have taken her first lessons by studying the famous fossil bird-tracks in the museum of that college town.” (Amherst). – Mr. Wentworth Higginson

Step Six:  Decide this difficult to read,  rhetorical-begun query is so brilliant that you don’t even bother signing your name.

Mr. Higginson later said, “The most curious thing about the letter was the total absence of a signature”

Step Seven:   Decide you’d better include your name somewhere.  Just in case.  So scribble it on a card using the the same large, loopy handwriting.

Step Eight:  Stick your work inside the card.  Emily enclosed four poems.  Send whatever you wish.

Step Nine:  Seal envelope.  Address it to person’s home address.  Emily mailed her poems to Mr. Higginson’s house in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Step Ten:   Put on sneakers, prepare to head out to the Post Office, when a creeping thought enters your mind: 

Perhaps times have changed.


Published in: on September 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm  Comments (22)  
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22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That. Is. AWESOME.

    Honestly, I’m afraid my query letter wasn’t much better. Though it did have my name on it. And yet, here I am, agented and biting my nails hoping editors don’t laugh at me.

    There’s hope yet. 😀

  2. Hey Amy,

    Thanks! Really glad you liked it.

    And be proud- you agented one! 🙂

  3. Dickinson was cool indeed. And her method of submitting poems to ‘professionals’ should still be used. Adds a little spice to life, just like writing sealed letters with real paper.
    I just stumbled on your blog and must say I have this feeling I am going to love it for several reasons:
    -you write
    -you like the Victorian era
    -and your posts are intelligent and spellchecked.
    I’ll be around to read more 🙂

  4. ROFL!! I especially like the part of the separate card with her signature. Perhaps I’ll create some calling cards with just that.

  5. You know Melanie, your cards might just work. Just make sure to write it in the penmanship of bird fossils. 😉

  6. Hi Syzygie,

    Nice to meet you, and thank you very much! 🙂

    I love Emily’s method, too. Shame it wouldn’t work today. But at least it gives us something to smile about.

  7. At least it sounds like the recipient at least looked at the query! That’s more than you think happens to a lot of things that get sent off these days!

  8. Hey Dominique,

    He did indeed look at it. It was the beginning of a twenty-five year long relationship between the two. 🙂

    Which reminds me, “White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson” by Brenda Wineapple is a great book.

  9. I saw that book reviewed on Powells web site months ago. It sounded fascinating. The two never actually met in person, did they? Or am I thinking of another book?

    And I’m not so sure something that outside-the-box wouldn’t get read today. Taking quirky approaches to submitting manuscripts has paid off for more than one author.

  10. Hey DD,

    They actually met twice in person.

    Hmm, I think most agents immediately toss any manuscript that is handwritten. But yeah, they might read a short note out of curiosity.

    Oh, you might want to pick up the book. Higginson was utterly fascinating himself. A huge player in the abolitionist movement and the rights of women.

  11. A terrific post! Yeah, times have definitely changed.

  12. Thank you, Patricia! 🙂

  13. Her letter was better poetry than some poetry.

  14. True, Edward! 🙂

  15. Hahaha…rhetorical question part especially makes me giggle!

  16. Hey Colby!

    I know- agents love those rhetorical questions, eh? 😉

  17. Oh, this is just awesome. I love the way you dig up these fascinating stories and share. I’ll treasure this one as I dive back into the query writing agony.

  18. Thanks, Uppington!

    I love discovering little facts here and there. Glad others enjoy reading them. 🙂

  19. Mah! Hilarious! I LURVE IT. 🙂 Absolutely love it. 🙂

  20. I love Emily Dickinson’s poems, but I was wondering if you’d ever read this poem *about* her. It’s by Olga Cabral.

    In Amherst Emily lived on
    though the world forgot
    moving with calm coiled hair through tidy days.
    Her face shrank to a locket. She explored
    miniaturized worlds known only to moths and angels
    walked to the far side of a raindrop –
    on Infinity.

  21. Heya Sput,

    Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  22. Marian,

    Thanks so much for posting that poem. It’s fantastic. It does sound familiar. So glad you reminded me of it.

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