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Hilarious Epic Fails from a “Grumpy” Literary Agent—and the Worst Self-Help Book Titles Ever

I’ve just discovered a wonderful, Onion-worthy site for much-needed if wicked comic relief. Although I’m sorry to report that it’s not a parody site but one compiled from the real world of a self-declared “grumpy literary agent” who sounds as if he’s setting new records in his drinking life and perpetually on the brink of a nervous breakdown of despair. 

The site’s Slush Pile Hell, and it includes pages of deliciously botched, mangled, and riotously presumptuous query letters from aspiring authors, and the agent’s wry responses.

Here are some of my favorites. Visit the site for many more:

"I recently quit my job to become an author. As a result, I am happy to say that I now have a manuscript for your review.

Congratulations on an incredibly wise move! I always advise my new clients to immediately quit their day jobs and to go ahead and put down payments on Italian sports cars and villas in the South of France. Anything else is a negative, defeatist attitude that, quite frankly, makes me want to vomit."


"….While this is a literary novel, I believe it could appeal to low-class readers.

And all the “low-class readers” will rejoice at your largess, bequeathing such a literary gift to them. I hereby nominate you as Humanitarian of the Year."


"Dear xxxx, let’s not waste words. I’ve attached my manuscript. Get it published.

Dear author: yes, let’s not. Bite me."


"The DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS MANUSCRIPT AND ALL PUBLISHED MATERIAL I’ve read, is this manuscript’s perspective is different and FOCUSES the reader on the one “thing” that should get as much focus as it can.

Thank you for clearly articulating how your manuscript stands apart from all others. I can’t wait to tell editors that I have a manuscript that they should give serious consideration because it’s different than other manuscripts, in that it … uh … has a different perspective. Ka-ching. Let the auction begin."

Slush Pile Hell answers a question that I once put to my own brilliant and savvy literary agent. “Why are you always working so hard to develop good projects,” I asked her. “You must get hundreds of wonderful queries each day.”

Um, yes, well….

Slush Pile Hell also sponsors occasional contests for followers, including one to generate the “worst self-help book…ever.” 

The winning entries are hilarious:

We asked you to come up with THE WORST SELF-HELP BOOK…EVER (yeah, I know, we did the same thing with children’s books last week—are you surprised?). Too many entries to count this time, and a wealth of comedy gold. Here are the goldest of the golden gold.

@TheresaMarieP:  A Hypochondriac’s Guide to the REAL Diseases You Need to Worry about and Their Symptoms

And the rest of the TOP 25, in no particular order:

@alexandradonald:  He’s Just Way Too into You: Learning to Love Your Stalker

@spencerseidel:  50 Ways to Avoid Your Intervention

@Billjonesjr:  Mensa for Dummies

@larazielin:  Who Moved My Cheek? Your Guide to Plastic Surgery Transformation

@cathy_bryan:  How to Text and Drive Faster: The Last Self Help Book You’ll Ever Need

@NovelistCindy:  Crushing Dreams and Cashing In: How to Become a Literary Agent

@Juniperjenny:  Make Yourself Ironic!: From Redneck to Hipster in Five Easy Steps

@WritingAgain:  The Fine Art of Overreacting: How to Make Your Coworkers Fear and Shun You

@KatieAlender:  The Arrr of War: The Pirate’s Guide to Victory in Battle, Business, and Life

@BleedingSweat:  Redneck Acupuncture: A Self-Help Guide to Ya’llternative Medicine

@Figmentfiction:  No, No. YOU’RE Right. You’re ALWAYS Right: How to Be More Passive Aggressive

@RandyTayler:  The OTHER Secret: So Secret Not Even the First Secret Knows about It

@Dogfaceboy:  Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: A Dating Guide for the Man Who Fears Commitment

@DeadlyAccurate:  Breaking His Spirit: The Nagging Wife’s Guide To The Perfect Husband

@hkranch:  Narcissism Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

@Querypolitan:  Marriage with a Muggle: What To Do When She Discovers Your Magic Wand, and Other Helpful Tips

@prettyandi:  Why SELF-Help?: How to Get Someone Else to Do it For You

@carpediem1991:  Eat, Pray, Love, Eat, Pray, Love, Eat, Pray, Love: How to Overcome an OCD.

@ZubZub:  Hacking your Pacemaker: A Guide to Overclocking for Better Stamina

@MelissaEcker:  Talking to Jews: Mel Gibson’s Guide to Interfaith Dialogue

@thxithink:  The 12 Steps to Overcoming Your Fear of Stairs

@realsmivey:  Do It You’re Self: A Guide To Self-Publishing

@loysboy:  Rosetta Stone’s Speaking in Tongues

@TPRJones:  Don’t Buy This Book!: How to Kick the Self-Help Habit

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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