13 Things You Should Know by Now

With experience comes knowledge. With knowledge comes power. We’re not just surviving midlife but thriving in it, so we’re fairly well equipped already. But who couldn’t use a few more power tools?

From the MORE editors
Photograph: Photo by: iStockphoto

1. How to Pick a Protégé

Mentoring can be a deeply satisfying experience. But there’s a fine line. You don’t want to nurture an Eve Harrington any more than you want to rule with an iron stiletto, à la Miranda Priestly. So we asked Jill Smart, senior managing director of human resources at Accenture, a global management consulting firm, how best to appraise an apprentice.

What’s in it for her? Yes, your wisdom and experience. But "there has to be some match with what the mentee is looking to get out of the relationship," says Smart, who has mentored dozens of women, "whether it’s learning how to cope better in a male-dominated industry, to achieve work-life balance, or advance in her career by getting to know whomever she should know within the company."

But enough about her. "I’m very selfish from a mentoring perspective," Smart admits. "I want to get something out of the experience as well. So I like to take on people who are willing to teach me." Whenever she coaches a mentee through a crisis, Smart says, she picks up something that ultimately helps her make her own decisions.

So what the devil are you waiting for? There’s a newbie out there with your name on her.

2. How to Get an Agent to Read Your Manuscript

DO: Wait until you have a professional, well-edited proposal or manuscript to send out. "Consider joining a writing group or hiring a freelance editor to help polish your work," advises New York literary agent Denise Marcil, who has been picking winners for nearly three decades. For fiction or a memoir, you will need to have a completed book; for nonfiction, your proposal should include an outline, a sample chapter, and an analysis of where your idea would fit in the market. Once your book or proposal is perfected, set it aside and work on a killer query letter, which will be your first contact with potential agents.

DO: Explain concisely in a vivid one-page letter what your book is about, who the characters are, what the basic plot points are, and how it is different from and better than what is already out there. Be sure to include any credentials you have, such as an MFA, previously published stories or articles, or expertise in the field you are writing about.

DON’T: Send your query to the wrong person: Some agents only look for mysteries and thrillers; others want cookbooks and how-tos. The Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents lists the specific genres that agents represent, plus some of the recent titles they have sold.

DO: Pay close attention to the response. If an agent is intrigued by your query, she will ask you to send either a few chapters or the entire manuscript. Send exactly what she asks for (make sure it’s the first three chapters, not three random chapters), and send it immediately. This is why you want to have a polished product: If you wait a few weeks after tinkering with it, the agent may lose interest and move on.

3. How to Talk to His Ex

Which would be worse: to be his ex-wife and have to see wife number two every time your child does something of note, or to be wife number two and have to sidestep conversational land mines every time you see his ex? Each wrecked marriage has its nuances; still, the question is a bit like asking whether you’d prefer execution by lethal injection or hanging.

But Jann Blackstone-Ford, founder and director of Bonus Families, a nonprofit in Discovery Bay, California, that brings divorced parents and their families together, says it doesn’t have to be that way. And she oughta know, because she wrote the book on it. Or rather cowrote it — with her husband’s ex. She and Sharyl Jupe are syndicated columnists and coauthors of Ex-Etiquette for Parents. Not bad for two people who barely spoke at first. "It took us five years to get to where we are now," Blackstone-Ford admits.

We’re not asking you to go into business together, but you and his ex had better get over yourselves because you’re going to be seeing a lot of each other. "You’ll have graduations, weddings, grandchildren, funerals," Blackstone-Ford says. "You don’t have to be buddies, but you do have to be cordial in public."

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