Category Archives: contest

Offer to do first page critique

I just returned from the Henderson Writer’s Conference in Las Vegas. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. One of the best parts was finally meeting my amazing client, Nicole McInnes. We had a great time doing two unscripted panels describing the author-agent relationship. There was little time for gambling until the conference was over (or late into the night!), but there was plenty of time for the attendees to spend with the faculty pitching their books and learning about the business from a select group of seasoned professionals.

 One section of the event consisted of an American Idol-style critique where the first page of an attendee’s work was read out loud and a panel of agents would raise their hand at the point they felt the material went off track. Then, each panelist would share their thoughts on strengths and weaknesses of the first page.

As an agent, it’s a challenging but interesting exercise. I personally prefer to have the page in front of me rather than relying on the auditory cues. And then there are the differences of opinion that inevitably arise from our subjective views in that setting. On the other hand, it was interesting to hear a variety of ideas about what other agents respond to when considering a submission. In the end, no major shouting matches ensued and I think the attendees found the honest feedback useful.

So it got me to thinking this could be a fun exercise on the blog. If you are interested in hearing my first page thoughts on a finished book or work in progress, and you’re willing to share the page on this space, please send a comment by Wednesday, May 7th, and I will pick one person at random to do a critique. Obviously it won’t be Idol-style, but it still should be an entertaining and productive exercise. Thanks in advance for participating!


March Madness

It’s started, folks. The Morning News Tournament of Books kicked off yesterday. As you may remember, at the start of the year Jim set himself the goal of reading all seventeen books on the list; never one to avoid a challenge, I jumped right on his band wagon.

Well, I won’t ask Jim to report publically on his results, but I’m proud to share my success! So far I’ve read eleven of the books and by the end of this week I will have finished two more. Additionally, three books I read at least a hundred pages of before letting myself move on to the next title on the list (life’s too short and all that – though I won’t tell you the books that just weren’t working for me). So if you’re keeping up with the math, that makes sixteen TOB candidates under my belt, with just the second half of The Luminaries standing between me and (semi)victory.

I’m glad I co-opted Jim’s challenge, because I’ve discovered a few new favorites I might never have picked up otherwise! And because the TOB is, well, a Tournament, I decided to fill out an official bracket. Well, that was harder than I expected! After much agonizing, erasing, re-writing, second-guessing, here’s my prediction:


Yay, I already got one right! (Don’t worry – I filled this out before the first judgment was posted yesterday.)

If you want to play along, check out the Tourney website and download your own bracket! (We can meet back up here in a few weeks to second-guess the judges’ opinions and gloat about our brilliant guesses. Maybe I’ll even tell you which ones I actually liked best!)

Do you agree with any of my choices? Which book do you think will be the ultimate winner?


The Americans are coming! The Americans are coming!

Well, I guess it’s karma that after ignoring poor Jim Crace for all these many years, I’m now mentioning him in two blog posts in a row (though I still haven’t read HARVEST–bad, bad, bad). But of course, we must discuss the news that the Man Booker prize will be open to American authors next year—a move that Crace does not favor.

So, whaddaya think? Is it a good idea to include Americans and make it a truly international prize? Or, given the constraints we have on our own prizes like the NBA, should Booker remain closed to us Yanks?

I will say, it’s amusing to see so much hue and cry over the rules of a contest, much less who actually wins. And it seems like there’s a presupposition here that opening the doors to Americans means an American will win. Surely that’s possible, but can you really picture an American author beating a Brit on their home turf? To me, it seems more likely we’ll get a short-list nominee or two, and then a British author will gloriously be crowned the winner. In fact…maybe it’s all just a big plot to boost British literary self-worth at America’s expense?Very clever, Mr. Booker, very clever…

Okay, paranoid conspiracies aside, I’d love to know—should the USA be Man Bookers or not?


Love stories, in brief.

I’ve written before about my particular love for short, short, short fiction. Their poignancy is sometimes so great that a story half a paragraph long will stick with me all day or longer. I had an entirely different topic planned for today’s blog post, but just before I sat down to write, I took a minute to read some incredibly brief, yet strangely powerful love stories, perfectly appropriate for a post-Valentine’s entertainment. Especially since I just checked, and you guys it’s true, there’s no more chocolate left from the box in the kitchen and I’m feeling a little blue about it already.

Available for your reading pleasure here on the Hairpin, are just four very slight tales of love and romance, ultimately lost, rejected or simply faded away. The strength in these stories is that there is so much, so very much left out of them. There are no character names, sometimes the telling is a very straightforward “this happened and then this happened and then that happened and so there.” But somehow, as readers, we’re able to create an entire narrative arc. We can visualize the lovers, feel their hope, joy, pain, and ultimate loneliness.

It’s not just about writing a barebones plot and not saying much about anything, limiting yourself to a hundred and fifty words or so. Anyone can do that—I’ve tried. There’s a certain space that must be created. A vast emptiness between the lines where the real story lies. A good writer of short fiction can give just the right amount of information and the right type of information so that the story doesn’t feel cheap or lacking, but instead creates the feeling in the reader that they know exactly what the writer meant to be happening in the spaces left blank.

Love stories—particularly those about lost loves—are exponentially more effective when less is told. The emptiness and longing, nostalgia and regret are there simply because they are physically not there on the page. They become haunting instead of merely sad. Their brevity means they can be read over and over again, searching for any more hints of story, clues to what really happened.

I’d be interested in seeing any stories you can come up with in the comments—keeping it under 200 words.* It’s more difficult than you’d think! Otherwise, do you have a similar take on the style, or would you much prefer a long, fleshed out novel instead?


*The writer of my favorite story will be showered in cash and prizes! Minus the cash, but there is a DGLM mug in it for the winning, and you’re welcome to fill it wish cash of your own if you like.




This contest is now closed and I am pleased to announce the winner of a DGLM mug is Jan O’Hara! Jan, please email me with your information at and I’ll be in touch!


Book love: The winner!

As you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to find out what the verdict is on our lovely little contest of last week,  I won’t waste too much time waffling on about what creative submissions we received and about how much fun it was to actually imagine these pairings–which it was! Lauren and I actually agreed on the outcome here, so with no further ado, in her own words, here’s Lauren with the results:

OK, so full disclosure, there were a few I felt I couldn’t really consider, because I know them and felt biased because they’re all so smart and witty (client, grad school roommate, agency client), but I haven’t told Rachel so that she won’t have the same problem.  WordPress automatically emailed me the comments since it was my blog post, so I actually saw the email addresses before the actual entries.

My pick is Elizabeth Lynd for Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.  Not least because I actually felt as a kid that Margaret and Tony were kindred spirits.  Elizabeth, please write to me at to claim your mug!

Honorable mention goes to Jesse, because Perks of Being a Wallflower is always going to win me over.

So there you have it! Thank you so much for your participation and please, have a wonderful weekend!


Book love: a contest

UPDATE: Some great entries so far!!  I guess it probably would’ve made sense to set some deadlines and such, huh?  We’ll keep collecting entries till Friday at noon, and then Rachel will announce the winners that afternoon.  Keep ‘em coming!

Now normally Valentine’s Day is not my thing—in high school I established a cabinet for when I take over the world specifically to delete 2/14 from the calendar—but when Rachel sent me this adorable video, my icy cold heart melted just a bit.

Via Word Brooklyn, Rachel’s favorite bookstore, via Riverhead, comes this video from LA’s Skylight Books of books that are totally gettin’ it on throughout the store.  It’s charming and adorable.  (Except that dead Steve Jobs should probably not be participating in spin the bottle.  That’s sort of icky.)

But it made me wonder about what kinds of books actually would love each other.  Fortunately, Rachel helped me brainstorm some ideas:

The Great Gatsby would be all about EmmaLord of the Flies and The Hunger Games would go steady for sure, until their romance ended tragically and prematurely.  Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web could be a good couple since opposites attract.  And I could see a strong future for The Imperfectionists and Then We Came to the End, as long as one or the other managed to win the lottery so they didn’t have to bicker about how to pay the rent.

Which books do you think should hook up this Valentine’s Day?  Rachel and I will each select a favorite entry from the comments below to receive a DGLM mug!



As loyal followers of this blog know, I am a little headlines obsessed.  Usually, this takes the form of scanning 1,237 blogs and websites every day before our 8:30 meeting without actually reading a single article (you can learn so much from the right caption).  Sometimes, it manifests as trying to come up with the proper headline for an everyday occurrence which is just weird or eyebrow raising enough to merit column inches in The New York Post.  But occasionally, the right headline makes me think, “Ooh, what a great novel could be built around ’44-Year-Old UK Man Lives Off Road Kill for 30 Years’” (true story).

So, here’s the gray, drizzly Wednesday challenge:  Pick a headline from today’s crazy roster—The HuffPost on Blagojevich’s sentencing is “Big Hair to the Big House.”  Positively Postian, no?—on the blogosphere and give us a paragraph on what the book you’d write based on it would be.

(You need to tell us what the headline is and where it came from for authentication purposes. First prize is a cookbook by one of our lovely and talented authors.)


Rejections can be fun too

I just found out a book I passed on sold to a publisher I do a lot of business with. I was on the wrong end of that judgment call, but it happens and I know how important it is to learn a lesson from it and move on. As we’ve discussed on this forum before, rejection is part of the business. Unfortunately for all of us, writers and agents included, it’s a bigger part than we’d like it to be.

So when I came across this clever column from about a contest for faux rejection letters created by readers, it made me laugh. Think about books you love and books you hate and what you might say if you had the chance to reject them when you received the submission. The possibilities are endless!

Why not take a stab at it and see what you come up with? Put your editor’s hat on and send your pitches over to Writer’s Digest. If anyone gets picked for publication, let us know. Have fun, and look forward to reading your rejections!


High concept pitches (and a mug)

Film people—producers, agents, managers—come by our offices quite often and when they do, we all sit around the conference table and listen to them tell us what they’re looking for this season.  Lately, an interesting trend has surfaced.  In our last several meetings, a Hollywood person has told us that all they need is a title.  Often, they use Sh** My Dad Says or Go the F*** to Sleep as examples of titles that they can use to build a tv show or movie around.  The first time I heard it, I thought, “Well, dang, that’s taking the high concept thing in a tragic direction.”  I mean, it’s one thing to pitch someone the contents of a book by saying, “This story is Transformers meets Annie Hall,” but you’ll have to read the manuscript (or at least the coverage) to find out how that unholy pairing is possible.  It’s quite another to have the title be both the pitch and the content.

You might think I’m about to launch into a screed about  Hollywood’s ongoing jihad against our collective intellect, but you would be wrong.  The title-as-high-concept trend does intrigue me.  In fact, it has made me think about how much more entertaining query letters for books would be if, instead of a boring synopsis, authors included a succinct, pithy, immediately graspable description of their book.

Wikipedia tells us that “High concept narratives are typically characterised by an over-arching ‘what if?’ scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events.” I confess, I’m a sucker for “’what if?’ scenarios.”   If nothing else, it’s a fun parlor game to try to sum up your favorite books this way—e.g., “What if a sparkly vampire and a sullen high school girl fell in love?”

There’s also the Transformers meets Annie Hall approach, as mentioned above.

And, then there’s the title-as-high-concept. Snakes on a Plane anyone?

Applying any of these devices to commercial fiction is one thing but how about to literary fiction?  Are literary novels high-concept proof?  Can you guys send in your high-concept tag lines, either for your own work or published books that we’re all familiar with?  There’s a DGLM mug for the best high-concept pitch I get….

Blogging advice continued (and a prize!)

Last week I wrote about food blogs. I’m following it up this week with a fun timeline of food blogs published by Saveur. If you are interested in this category, this piece offers a great sort of who’s who, and a bit of information about the blogs and bloggers, along with some of their first posts. It’s amazing to see how fast this world has grown, and how some of the bigger names got their start. And I’m happy to see we have a couple of authors on this list.

For those of you looking for specific advice in the area of blogging, whatever your topic of choice, I found this blog post, shared with me by an editor friend, incredibly helpful. It’s really detailed, and my favorite part is that it offers the approximate time it will take you to successfully complete each of the suggested tasks. The advice is broken down in such a way that it avoids feeling overwhelming or too nebulous, and I think if you read it carefully and implement some or all of the suggestions (if you are already blogging, there will be things you can pass over, but I think there are good reminders here too), you will see results. Who’s ready to give it a try? If any of our readers take the time to follow the 21 steps listed here, let us know one month after completion if there is a noticeable increase in your blog traffic. When you send me the stats, I will send you a copy of one of my books. It’s a win-win – increased blog traffic and productivity for you, and a shiny new book to go with it!