Category Archives: awards


Climbing Out from Under

I just got back from a terrific writer’s conference in warm, sunny Florida; Sleuthfest, hosted  by the Mystery Writer’s Association, was a beautifully run event, attended by authors who obviously thrive in a genuine community of writers.  I listened to Ace Atkins deliver a luncheon speech on persistence, and Laura Lippman deliver a frank, provocative keynote challenging the present—and artificial–schism between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I served on some panels, fielded solid pitches, invited a score of submissions, and returned not only to the frozen North, but a towering to-read pile that feels equally chilling.  I am in the midst of editing several proposals, getting ready to send out several more, negotiating contracts, and attempting to keep tabs my on inbox. I say this not to elicit any sympathy, since I know everyone else in this business is just as busy, but as a preamble to a general and sincere apology for my slowness in responding.  I know how excruciating it is to wait for a response. Remember, agents also spend time cooling our heels, drumming our fingers, and (unsuccessfully) cultivating patience.  So know that my crampons are on, my ice-axe sharp, and I am steadily scaling the Everest of my inbox.   It’s not been all slog, however.  Earlier this week my stupendous client Valerie Trueblood was shortlisted for the Pen/Faulkner Award (Hurray!), and yesterday another prodigiously gifted client, Qais Akbar Omar, placed an op-ed in the New York Times.  Not to belabor the climbing metaphor, but both of these were shots of pure 02.


What keeps you going when you feel utterly buried by work?


Bad Titles and Binge Reading

Nominees for the little-known but totally inspired Diagram Prize (an award dreamed up by some publishing professionals to forestall boredom at a Frankfurt Book Fair) have just been announced.   The Diagram honors the “oddest book titles of the year.”

“The first winner of the prize was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. Other winners throughout the years have included How to Avoid Huge Ships, Cooking with Poo, and last year’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop.”

You can find the 2014 nominees here. I’m partial to Pie-ography: Where Pie Meets Biography, which combines two of my favorite things.

I looked around on my own bookshelves in search of overlooked competitors, and aside from some academic books (which seem unfair to single out, since awfulness in titles is a skill that scholars are required cultivate) the oddest I came up with Neil McFarquhar’s book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday. 

I’m sure you can do me one better.

Another article I spotted—this piece by Julie Bosman— prompted some debate on whether binge watching TV has changed the way we engage with books.  I grant that publishers are keen to publish commercial fiction more quickly, but otherwise, I’m not yet convinced.  On the contrary, it seems to me that TV has finally caught up with books in allowing its viewers to do what any self-respecting bibliophile has long done—stay up impossibly late, shirk all other responsibilities and go on a bleary-eyed bender till the final bittersweet page. And beyond.  The truly intemperate can move on to an author’s entire oeuvre. Well before I was downing Downton Abbey in greedy gulps (I came to the show very late) I’d gone on an Evelyn Waugh tear.  Just reading his books can damage your liver.

In any case, what do you think? Is binge reading books a byproduct of Netflix-ation  and Amazon’s single click culture, or does it have a longer and more storied history?


Oscars, Tonys,Grammys…Fitzgeralds?

I am willing to confess that I am an enormous fan of awards show. I watch the Oscars, the Tonys, and the Golden Globes religiously. But I also watch the Independent Spirits, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, and essentially anything on television that has a red carpet pre-show. Obviously, this means I watched the Grammys last night even though a) they are always terrible, and b) I could care less about the winners.

The tragedy of my life is that I went into essentially the only branch of the entertainment business without a big awards show. Sure, we have the National Book Awards, but those aren’t even televised! Neither are the National Book Critics Circle Awards. ALA at least gets an internet live stream, but I have seen zero librarians show up in a moon suit OR a Givenchy gown.

So this is my hope: someone gets it together enough to put together a big awards show that has enough categories to maximize potential nominees, enough flash to make it on television, and a red carpet daring enough that I can hope to see J.K. Rowling carried down it in a giant plastic egg. Or George R.R. Martin. Or Philip Roth. I’m flexible on this point.

First, the awards need a serious sounds name tied to the industry somehow. Let’s call them the Fitzgeralds. Then let’s move on to some categories that we probably want to see:

Best Cover Design

Steamiest Sex Scene

Best Author Photo

Best Book Trailer

Cliffhanger of the Year

Best Protagonist

Best Supporting Character

Are there categories you would most want to see? And what author would have the best fashions? And who could wear this recent fashion week outfit? John Green?


What happens after you win a Newbery or Caldecott?

The Newbery and Caldecott award nominees are being announced on Monday, January 28th. Each year I look forward to seeing who is chosen for these prestigious awards. Children’s literature has exploded over the last decade and the quality of material being published in this category is outstanding. When I create my reading lists for pleasure, there are always at least a few middle grade or young adult novels on there. Recent additions include  the much-hyped bestselling FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green and CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth E. Wein, which I recall receiving starred reviews when it was released from all of the major trade publications.

So I loved coming across this piece in Publisher’s Weekly recently which interviews previous recipients of this award to ask about how winning has impacted their lives and careers. The answers vary considerably, but it’s always interesting and can be insightful to learn about how writers respond to this type of rare positive attention to their work. Most seem to agree the media outreach and public speaking present a new and unexpected challenge. It’s like becoming a literary celebrity overnight!

I’d love to know if you find any helpful advice for your own work in these interviews, and also if there are books you think or hope will be nominated next week. Please let us know.


What Really Happened with the Pulitzer

Just yesterday, Michael Cunningham, one of the Pulitzer jurors this year, posted a letter on The New Yorker’s website explaining why there was no fiction winner this year. Finally, some clarification! Or, so I thought–but then comes the acknowledgement that because the Pulitzer board’s discussions are sealed, nobody but the board itself will ever really know what happened. Oh well…

Disappointment and curiosity aside, Cunningham’s letter was a refreshingly honest glimpse of what it’s like to take part in nominating books for such a renowned and highly regarded prize. The highlight for me was when he cited the differences between the three jurors, and which features in novels they’re each partial to. I also found merit in the comment, made by HENKE_M, that suggested seeing this as an opportunity to read three worthy novels, instead of just one.

Cunningham posted a reflective follow up letter today, outlining the issues that arise when faced with choosing the best, and observing that even the most lauded critics can miss a classic.

So, now, I’ll reach out to you, have you read any of the three nominees: “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace, “Train Dreams” by Denis Johnson, or “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell? What title do you think deserved to win?


A Book in That

In all the flap over the National Book Awards and the Chime/Shine mix-up, which made Laura Miller’s critical piece in Salon appear rather kindly, I forgot to perform a little happy dance in honor of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded jointly to three women (none mistakenly): Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee; and Yemeni pro-democracy activist Tawakkul Karman. Their award was a bright spot in an otherwise grim news cycle, and I’ve tried to spend a bit of my spare time getting to know their respective stories. To that end, I just watched the documentary about Leymah Gbowee, Pray the Devil back to Hell, which is presently being streamed on PBS. Watch it if you can. It’s an extraordinary, powerful, gut-wrenching story. That Gbowee should have been inspired (or approached) to write a book about her experience was only right, I just wish I had something to do with it.  I was interested to note that Gbowee’s memoir, Mighty be Our Powers, is being published by Beast Books, the publishing division of the Daily Beast. Good for Tina Brown. I hope it sells like mad.

In any case, watching the documentary meant that I could officially stop thinking like an agent, which is to say, wondering, “Is there a book in that?” In this case, the answer was yes and it was already written. It can be a funny lens through which to view the world, and every so often it’s nice to switch it off. I imagine writers are similarly afflicted.  Do you view your day to day life in terms of writing projects?


National Book Flub

Maybe I shouldn’t blog about the National Book Awards kerfuffle since once upon a time I interned for the foundation for one semester. But oh man, I love a good scandal, and I can’t help myself.

For those who don’t know, when the finalists were announced for the Young People’s Literature Award last week, they had to go back and add a sixth nominee because something had been included in error. No one actually said what book wasn’t supposed to be on the list, but it was pretty quickly deduced that Lauren Myracle’s SHINE wasn’t intended as a finalist. So there are six books up for the award instead of five and one author being forced to look like an idiot. “Congratulation on your nomina….PSYCH!”

According to Myracle, at the end of last week, it was decided that she should withdraw from the running in order to protect the integrity of the award. The integrity of an award that couldn’t even get its nominees listed correctly in the official announcement.

Hindsight is 20/20, but let’s imagine how this would have gone under slightly different circumstances: five finalists are named. A sixth finalist is added and we’re told that there was an error: usually only five books are up for the award but the judges selected six this year. Because of the unusual circumstances, one accidentally got left off the official announcement. The sixth book is added, and everyone goes about their days. No authors are publicly acknowledged as NOT finalists thus reducing the potential for humiliating someone through no fault of their own.

Much to her credit, Myracle has handled the situation with aplomb. And the $5K that she would have received as a finalist has been donated to the Matthew Shephard Foundation. AND…free publicity! After reading so much about her book SHINE, which deals with a girl whose best friend falls victim to a vicious hate crime, I actually ordered a copy. Maybe others have as well? It sounds like a stunning novel, so I’m now really looking forward to diving in. I mean…as much as you “look forward” to reading really sad-sounding things.

Still, while Myracle could get some new sales out of this, I’m pretty sure she would have traded some sales for not having to be put through the ringer for the past week. Poorly played, former employer. Poorly played.



When the nominees for the National Book Award were announced this week, I was embarrassed to note that I’d read not one of the fiction shortlist, not even Tea Obrecht’s  widely praised Tiger’s Wife. I was pleased to see that small presses (Bellevue, University of North Carolina Press) were represented among the nominees, and I looked forward to the pleasant possibility–dim though it may be, given my to-read pile– of getting hold of these novels. Thus, it was with dismay that I read Laura Millers piece in Salon in which she accuses the National Book Award of being “irrelevant” on the grounds of its “esoteric” choices. Miller argues that the NBA should instead help the people “who can find time for only two or three new novels per year read something significant.”

While I don’t dispute her claim that most of the nation neither knows nor cares about publishing industry buzz, I would submit that the reading public—whether pointy-headed out-of-touch intellectuals or occasional book buyers in search of a good read–has little difficulty encountering the season’s Big Books. Geoffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, one of the novels she singles out for having been passed over, is everywhere. The same was doubly true of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (cover of Time Magazine, anyone?).

Miller might dispute the judges’ choices on the basis of merit (having read none of them, I can’t comment on their worthiness) but to be categorically dismissive of these selections, which she likens to the “literary equivalent of spinach,” seems not only unfair, but absurd.  We all know that book promotion and review coverage are in short supply, so if the NBA sets out to cast a wider net than what the media serves up, how is that a bad thing?

What do you think?


Late Bloomers

Earlier this week I listened to Terry Gross’s interview with author Donald Ray Pollock, whose novel, The Devil All the Time, was just released. His first book, a collection of short stories titled Knockemstiff, set in the eponymous Southern Ohio town where he grew up, was published in 2008. His gritty, often bleak tales won not only critical acclaim, but the PEN/Robert Bingham Award and the 2009 Devil’s Kitchen Award in Prose. His was an unusual—and protracted—journey to being a writer. According to NPR, “Pollock dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to work in a meatpacking plant. He then spent 32 years working in a paper mill before quitting to pursue his dream of becoming a writer.” I thought this was a pretty terrific story. I found further inspiration re-reading Malcolm Gladwells 2008 New Yorker piece on late bloomers.

In it he writes “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

I wondered if any of you are, like Pollock, relative late (new) comers to creative writing?  Holler if “forbearance and blind faith” sound familiar.


Do I have to like an author to enjoy reading their work?

This week there was a big brouhaha over Philip Roth winning the Booker prize.

How could someone so unlikeable be celebrated in such a prominent way, many asked.

This made me think—does a writer’s personal reputation affect the opinions of those who read him or her?  Two examples came quickly to mind:

The first is Jonathan Franzen.  When I picked up The Corrections, it was right in the middle of Franzen’s refusal to go on Oprah after she picked his book for her book club.  How dare he?  But I read the novel anyway.  It was indeed brilliant, but I have to say that because of my take on the author’s arrogance, I didn’t love it.  And despite the fact that friends and colleagues have raved about Freedom, I have absolutely no desire to read it.

And then there is James Frey.  I never read A Million Little Pieces and after the news that much of it was fabricated came out, again, I had no desire to.  But I was curious about his novel, Bright Shiny Morning.  I did read the book, which I thought was interesting and well done, but I didn’t fall in love. I think one of the main reasons for that was the author’s personal reputation.

So what do you think?  With all the wonderful books to choose from, are you affected by the author’s notoriety?