Craft for a Conference: Part 1, Where to Look for Your Hook

May 27, 2015 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to Erin’s Tuesday blog on craft! After a few weeks off to accommodate back-to-back conferences on my part and an extremely important Bad Poetry Contest, I’m back to blogging and, inspired by my experiences at the aforementioned conferences, am starting a new series on the aspects of your craft you especially need to hone before taking your work to a conference. To kick things off, we’re talking today about finding the “hook” in your project so as to be better prepared to get an agent or an editor interested in seeing more.

You’ll hear a lot of different advice about what pieces and parts you should take to a writer’s conference– one-sheets, proposals, writing samples, your “elevator pitch,” etc.– and there’s really not one right answer as to what’s appropriate. Some agents want to see your one-sheet, others are only interested in the writing; some editors want to see the full proposal, while still others only want to talk about your platform. Whatever you decide to take to a conference, either on paper or as a prepared spoken pitch, the purpose of it should be 1) to gain the interest/curiosity of an agent or editor as quickly as possible and 2) stand out (in a positive way) from the crowd as much as possible. The “hook” of your project isn’t some elusive, magical tagline that you have to get exactly right or else you’re doomed– don’t get distracted by the jargon. When someone says they’re “hooked” on a book or tv show, they mean that they feel compelled to find out more/keep watching that story, so the trick with conference pitches or materials is to highlight all the most compelling/memorable elements of your project in order to gain an editor or agent’s interest to this extent. Hooks are going to be pretty short, sometimes one or two sentences, sometimes a short paragraph, but focus on keeping it tight and purposeful rather than on keeping it to an arbitrary word count or sentence limit. As long as it’s interesting from beginning to end and they can read it or you can speak it in a minute or so, it’s not too long. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes I see people make in their conference materials/pitches.

1. Too much background info. Just like the beginning of your book, the beginning of your one-sheet or proposal or pitch should not be an info-dump of backstory and detail. That’s all old news– you’re trying to sell me the story of what’s happening now, so why would you make me read three or four sentences about what’s happened in the past and risk losing my attention before I get to the really interesting part/what the story’s actually about? The here-and-now of your story needs to be front and center of your conference pitch. A good rule of thumb to finding your “hook” is to find the place the story actually begins by finishing the sentence: “When ___(something happens)____, ____(so what?)____.” “When” pulls us into the story immediately by fast-forwarding directly to your inciting incident.

For example, if I were writing a “hook” paragraph for Toy Story 3, I could start out by summarizing the events leading up to the third movie: “For 18 years, Andy’s faithful toys have stood by his side, helping him navigate the perils of childhood (such as sleepaway camp and moving to a new house) and sticking with him through adolescence, even as his interest turned to other things. Now, though, the toys face their biggest challenge yet as Andy heads off to college. Will he take them with him? Who will be left behind? Can the toys find a way to help their favorite boy one last time?”

The problem with this description is that the first half of it is telling my reader about a different story without saying a word about the actual events of THIS story. If I start out instead with a “when” statement, I can get right to the inciting incident and tell the reader about the action right away. “When Andy’s toys are mistakenly donated to a maximum-security daycare center…”  BAM, right away we know what kicks off the action in this story.

The “so what,”or second half of a “when” sentence gives the reader (who in this case, remember, is an agent or editor) another important element of a “hook” sentence or paragraph, the stakes. Make them care about the outcome of the plot right away by telling them what the danger is/why the struggles of the characters matter. “When Andy’s toys are mistakenly donated to a maximum-security daycare center they have to overcome feral preschoolers, gangs of evil toys, and childproof doorknobs to get back to Andy.

2. Too vague. The hook is not the time to be coy about what happens in your book. You’re trying to convince someone who already has 20 manuscripts to read to add yours to the queue– they’re going to be more interested in reading yours if you tell them about the twists/surprises/major events right off rather than trying to entice their curiosity with vague language and allusions. Tell me what’s interesting about your book, don’t just hint at it.

Continuing with our Toy Story 3 example, the description could continue: “But Andy is going through a crisis of his own, and when the toys finally find their way back to him, both the toys and the boy they love will have to reevaluate everything they thought they knew about their priorities and the future of their relationship.” Yech. This sounds melodramatic and high-stakes without actually telling me anything about what happens, the result being that I read this sentence mostly as “blah blah blah.” “A crisis of his own,” “everything they thought they knew,” “their priorities;” these are all empty words! They pull me out of the action and events of the story and into nebulous territory where each of these phrases raises a question mark in my head, and not in a good, “oh, I can’t wait to see what happens!” way, but in a, “now there are a bunch of blanks where I’d prefer there to be a clear picture of what this book is about and what makes it memorable” kind of way.

Remember, I don’t know your characters or your story yet, so it’s going to be hard to make me curious about internal conflict or personal struggles– you’re better off telling me about the unique events and actions of your story and letting my interest in those draw me in to the extent that I will read your manuscript and discover the rest for myself. “But even if they make it back, Andy is headed off to college, and only a few toys can go with him, if any. An encounter with a daycare girl with a big imagination causes the toys to consider how much more they have to offer to a child than to the man Andy has become. Together, Andy and the toys have to figure out, when is it the right time to say goodbye?” This description gives me the specifics of the personal crises the characters encounter while still framed in the context of the events of the plot, keeping things concrete and interesting.

3. No hint of voice/uniqueness. Now, “voice” and “uniqueness” don’t necessarily speak to the same quality in a manuscript, but both speak very clearly to how memorable a book is, and since one of the questions I’m asking when I read a hook paragraph or listen to a pitch is what makes this book stand out from the other manuscripts I’m reading in this genre, it’s to your advantage to be memorable/stand out right from the hook paragraph by alluding to what’s going to stand out about your manuscript. If you have a really interesting setting, someplace that hasn’t been seen in a lot of books before or that you think readers will find intriguing, I should hear it mentioned in the hook paragraph. If your main character has a crazy, quirky family that features largely into the subplots, introduce me to a few of the most memorable folks in the hook. If your writing is hilarious, there should be some humor in your hook paragraph. If you have a beautiful literary voice, there should be some artistry evident in your hook. Take stock of your story, make a list of all the most memorable or most unique elements of your story– characters with unusual professions, interesting places/hobbies/situations featured, fun or surprising plot twists– and of what elements you believe best define your voice, and make sure your hook paragraph includes several of these.

In our Toy Story 3 example, my reference to a “maximum-security daycare” gives the reader an immediate picture of the kind of setting we’re dealing with– a kid-friendly takeoff on a prison, fairly unique and, I’m hoping, memorable to whoever’s reading the hook. The list of “feral preschoolers, evil toy gangs, and childproof doorknobs” communicates a sense of “my” (in this case, the filmmakers’) voice by making what’s obviously supposed to be a humorous description of preschool children as “feral” and wryly including “doorknobs” in a list of the dangers facing the toys– this communicates the tone of the film, the tongue-in-cheek nature of the “perils” involved, etc. Finally, my last sentence about “the man Andy has become” and “the right time to say goodbye” lets the reader know that there are some deeper themes to this story even though it’s going to be funny and clever along the way, ensuring that I’m not underselling or overemphasizing any one aspect of the book and causing some editor who wanted funny and fluffy from beginning to end to be disappointed when they encounter deeper content upon reading the manuscript.

In the end, your hook paragraph or “elevator pitch” should be dripping with color and driven by action, without wasted or empty words, and should give an editor or agent enough information to know whether or not this is a story they want to read, as well as help them decide right away whether your story is going to stand out in its genre/the market– why an editor or reader is going to buy THIS cozy mystery or historical romance over THAT one. Give them current action, concrete information, and voice/uniqueness, and they’ll be better equipped to know whether they want to read the rest of your book.

As always, this series will last until I run out of material, so if you have a craft question specifically related to conference materials or preparing your writing for a conference, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer it in the next few weeks. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Conferences, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: How long do I have to polish my manuscript after a conference?

May 26, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve had a bunch of questions come in recently, as people get ready for the conference season…


I have received a request for pages and a synopsis. However, I have also just went to a conference and had my head crammed full of ideas that I want to apply to my novel.  So, how long do I have to polish before I send my work out?  I don’t want to lose momentum or attention, but I so want to make sure that I have done my absolute best work.Questions Book Cover

If you attend a conference and an agent or editor asks to see more of your proposal, you want to get a polished chunk of your work into their hands as quickly as possible – I’d say within 30 days. Longer than that, and you’re running into the problem of the agent moving on. We see dozens of proposals, and it can be hard to remember one (even one that we liked at a conference meeting) for more than a few weeks. I’ve sometimes had emails that started with the words, “You asked to see this at a conference four years ago, but I’ve been polishing and revising my work…” Um, yeah. As though I’m going to remember that project years later. Or as though the market is the same as it was when we talked four years ago. Look, things change. All of us see a lot of projects. If you want to garner the attention of an agent or editor, have your piece ready, show it to them, then follow up fairly quickly after the meeting.

Can you give me your thoughts in regard to how and when authors should use editors vs. writing coaches/mentors as they progress through their writing project?

A mentor or writing coach is normally a long-term relationship, so that person is with you as you think through your stories, write your pieces, and prepare yourself for a career as a writer. An editor is most often someone you hire to make your completed manuscript as polished as it can be.

I’m curious about something: what makes a novel have movie potential? 

Most novels won’t work as movies because they are more complex, go more in depth, and have much more to share than can be captured on film in two hours. That’s why you rarely see a movie and think, “That was as good as the book.” (And it’s why it is a VERY rare thing for an author to be happy with the movie Hollywood made from her book.) But film companies are always looking for a few things in a novel: a straightforward story that touches emotions and has a lead character everyone wants to root for. They’re generally not looking for a bunch of subplots, or ruminations on the human condition, so much as a well-told tale that can be wrapped up in 90 to 120 minutes, and will keep us watching through to the end.

Do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here’s your chance — send me your question, and I’ll take a crack at an answer. And if you’re interested in questions and answers with agents, you might enjoy my new book — How can I find a literary agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers)

Posted in Agents, Conferences | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What’s the protocol with agents?

May 21, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

A bunch of questions recently about author/agent protocol…

Chip, could you talk about writers who change agents? Many of them seem to think that when they break the relationship, the agent no longer receives royalties on books they brokered.

Well, they would be mistaken. Your agency is on the contracts for the books they represented. That’s a legal document, that will guide the book for as long as the contract is in force. If you fire the agent, the contract is still in force, so the agent is still paid a commission.

This question also gets raised when an agent leaves an agency. When I left Alive after all those years, I didn’t get to take the commissions with me – the agency was on the contract, and I was no longer with the agency, so I didn’t get one penny to take with me. (I’m not complaining, by the way. Just explaining the situation.)


Following a writer’s conference, I sent out proposals to agents as requested. Since I don’t quite trust technology, I followed up the next day with an e-mail asking if my proposals arrived. Most agents/editors responded with a quick “Got it,” and some added a note about when I could expect a response. But one went on to say he didn’t have time to respond to every query that comes in, etc., and he made me feel I was out of order to have checked. Was I?

I doubt you were out of order. If you sent it, I think it’s fine to check on it. Just be polite about it. And it’s possible you’re reading too much into the response – some agents automatically tell anyone sending them a submission that they just can’t respond to everything. I can’t. I mean, I’d love to, but look at this from my perspective – I’m an agent, who makes his living selling books to publishers. If I don’t know you, there’s no law that says your sending me a proposal automatically requires a response. What if you send me something I don’t represent? What if you send me something that’s awful? I don’t feel guilty about not responding to cold queries, since I could spend hours every week on them, and they rarely Questions Book Covergenerate income for me. So maybe the agent was just saying, “I’ll have a look, but I may or may not respond.” Or he could have been saying, “It takes me a while to read stuff, so don’t be in a hurry.” That, to me, seems reasonable.


If and agent’s guidelines do not specify that proposals be sent as attachments or within the e-mail, how should they be sent?

Nearly everyone wants proposals sent as Word documents, attached to emails.


The manuscript that I have completed is likely not as marketable as some of my other ideas.  Do you ever recommend someone pitching several ideas to agents at a conference? This would allow the agent to see there is potential for more than one book and to pick the one that is most marketable.

Generally, no. I would probably advise you to pick ONE idea, your strongest, most salable idea, and pitch it to an agent. You can mention the other ideas at some point, but normally you want to lead with one great book.

Look at it this way: What’s easier to sell — a car, or a fleet of cars? Having one great project will push you forward faster than having six pretty good ideas.

Hey, do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here’s your chance — send us your question, and we’ll take a crack at an answer. And if you’re interested in questions and answers with agents, you might enjoy my new book — How can I find a literary agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers)

Posted in Agents | 1 Comment »

Publishing & Technology: FBP and the Potential Resurrection of the Independent Book Seller

May 21, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

brt-headshotBrian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be examining the plight of the independent bookseller, reminiscing about indie bookstores long since gone, and trying to find some hope for the future. For an in-depth examination of the global history, contemporary iterations, and theory and practice of fixed book pricing check out For What It’s Worth: Fixed Book Price in Foreign Book Markets by Moe Nakayama on the Publishing Trends website.

If you knew me better, you’d know that I make no secret of my love for independent bookstores. I live in Portland, Oregon, home to Powell’s Books, Reading Frenzy, Mother Foucault’s, and a great many other excellent neighborhood and specialty bookstores. I make pilgrimages to bookstores of note whenever I’m in the cities that support them. And. . .I also, somewhat frequently, buy books online from Amazon. I’d prefer not to, but there are times when my schedule can’t argue with convenience and times when my wallet can’t argue with 50% off (and sometimes a great deal more – I’m a bit of a cookbook junkie). But I never feel good about choosing to buy discounted books over the internet because I know that if you can’t get people like me (people who claim to love independent bookstores) to support them, then they are doomed to extinction.

This is not news: in the years since the dawning of the Information Age the only conventional retail model to suffer greater financial losses than the independent bookstore is the video rental store (record stores may be in a dead heat for second-worst-off with independent booksellers, but for the sake of this post let’s set the widely reported suffering of the music industry aside – if for no other reason than the fact that live performance revenues and the hipster return to vinyl have at least done something to staunch a bit of bleeding). While I was still with Ooligan Press, I wrote a rather pithy blog post about the fate of independent bookstores and what they needed to do to pull themselves out of the fire and back into the frying pan. If you enjoy sarcasm, feel free to click here. It was my assertion in that post that the booksellers themselves were their own worst enemy and that the best thing they could do to insure their survival was to concentrate on the experiential aspects of their retail model, driving customer satisfaction in a hands-on way that digital retailers could not hope to match.

The first independent bookstore I ever patronized, Twenty-Third Avenue Books here in Portland, despite the rising affluence of its neighborhood location, permanently closed its doors in 2009 (for an article devoted to the occasion of its demise and its owner’s subsequent homelessness, click here. In years past, I would’ve blamed its failure on the confluence of market forces and lack of willingness/ability to change. Now, thanks to articles like the one I mention at the top of this post, I have a more nuanced understanding of the plight of traditional booksellers. I am no economist. I do not have the level of understanding required to know that something like legally mandated or agreed upon fixed book pricing would do much to save the independent bookstores that I love. I do know that it would give me a additional reasons to force myself out of the house and into area family-owned businesses to purchase all of my reading material.

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Who are the humor writers you enjoy?

May 19, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I recently got this question in my in-box: “How about tossing a few crumbs to us humor writers on your blog? Do you have a favorite book on humor writing? How different was doing stand up comedy compared to writing humor?”


My favorite books on humor writing probably include:

The Comic Toolbox, by John Vorhaus

The Hidden Tools of Comedy, by Steve Kaplan

The Deer on a Bicycle, by Patrick McManus

Stand-up Comedy, by Judy Carter

There are a bunch of others that have value. Gene Perret has several good books on comedy writing. Greg Dean and Jay Sankey offer great pointers in their works. And Judy Carter’s book is there to help you be able to tell funny stories, more than write comic novels, but I find it’s a book I used to go back to time after time.

There are similarities with these books, by the way. You create a script. You establish a character. The words you choose are important. But writing a humor piece is very different from performing standup comedy. When I did standup, it was all about timing and attitude. Pauses (silence) were crucial. The energy I brought to the stage was important. And, of course, the single most important thing to success as a standup comic is that the room has to LIKE you. If they like you, then you can do anything, and they’ll find it funny. If they don’t like you, no matter how great your material is, the performance won’t work. In writing, on the other hand, there’s no facial expression or tone of voice or obvious attitude for people to pick up on – all that matters is the word on the page. And it better be VERY good, because people who want humor don’t want to just smile once in a while… they want to bust out laughing while reading. That’s incredibly hard.

It’s easy to tell a story and get the occasional smirk out of the reader, but really tough to create a belly laugh. That’s why these are books on “how to create humor in your writing,” as opposed to actually being “funny books.” There’s a difference. Kurt Vonnegut used to make me laugh out loud. Dave Berry does. Jenny Lawson is a brilliant comic writer. And the memoirs of Tina Fay and Haven Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres have all been very funny. But in my view, it’s a short list.

Who are the funniest people writing, in your view?

Posted in The Writing Craft | 6 Comments »

What have you wanted to Ask An Agent?

May 18, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from writers about the author/agent relationship…

I’m a published nonfiction author, looking for an agent to represent my fiction work. How do agents view writers looking for a “new” agent, given my change in genres?

I tend to ask a lot of questions. I’d want to know if your nonfiction agent is on board with you working with someone else on your fiction. I would want expectations to be very clear. It’s true that most agents work predominantly in fiction or nonfiction, but it’s also true that most authors work with ONE agent for the bulk of their work.

I’ve noticed that many agent websites state they hope to have a long-term relationship with their authors and help them publish for many years. On the one hand, this is very encouraging and certainly a desirable goal. But it does raise a question for those writers who are… less young than they once were. How have you found that agents/editors respond to a newer writer who is chronologically older? Is there still a willingness to work with these folks as well as the younger writers?

Hmmm… I like the question, because it makes me think through the issue. Yes, I prefer to work with an author for several years and manage his or her career. But no, I don’t think I would normally say to myself, “This author is older, so I’m not going to choose to work with her.” The fact is, we’re all looking for great ideas and great writing, no matter what the age of the author is. I’ve taken on some writers who retired from their day jobs in order to focus their energies on writing.

My question is whether a writer who is new to fiction, but who has written several non-fiction books needs to have the book completed before submitting proposals?

An excellent question. Yes – if you’re writing your first novel, you’ll find it just won’t sell unless the manuscript is complete. (Okay… maybe it will sell if you’re Ellen Degeneres, or Lady Gaga, but aside from being an iconic cultural personality, your novel won’t sell unless the manuscript is complete.) Nonfiction is different – we can still sell a nonfiction book based on a proposal and sample chapters. But fiction? Very tough to sell a book without a completed manuscript.

More soon. And if you have a question you’d like to ask an agent, send it to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. 

Posted in Agents | 8 Comments »

Faith Happenings: A Guest Blog from Casey Herringshaw

May 15, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

FaithHappenings is a new site from longtime literary agent Greg Johnson, who apparently didn’t have enough to do… Okay, maybe he saw a need in the culture for people of faith to share information on what is going on in their local area. It’s gotten off to a fast start, as authors have been using it to announce book signings, release parties, writer gatherings, and other events, so Iinvited Casey Herringshaw, who is coordinating things for Greg, to talk about the new wrinkle they’re starting. There are good options here for writers, so have a look…


Looking for more ways to build your platform, sell books and create awareness about your ministry?

If so, is launching a new feature to do all of that. It’s called “FH D7K0A0014-2aily.”

Have you heard about or browsed around If not, in a nutshell it is Your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource. Long-time literary agent Greg Johnson at WordServe Literary developed this site as a one-stop national resource for all books, music, videos, counselors, family fun options, wedding venues, speakers, bloggers and much, much more.

FH Daily is a new feature set-to-go-live-on-May 15th. It provides authors, such as yourself, with a new and exciting marketing vehicle to reach out and snag the attention of the everyday reader.

Much like the newspapers of old, FH Daily will contain inspiring quotes and stories, interviews, recipes, spotlights, prayers, top ten lists from books (and other sources), instructional or encouraging lists and much more. Many features will be changing daily, drawing readers in on a regular basis to see what is new.

So how do you get involved?

It’s simple.

FH Daily is in need of Author Interviews. Are you planning a book launch or just released a book in the last six months? Then you’ll want to do one of our interviews.


How about writing some Top Ten lists? Think ten bulleted points to explain your title. For example: “Top 10 Ways to Show Your Husband Love Before He Leaves for Work in the Morning.” Or… “Top Ten Ways to Get In and Out of the Grocery is Twenty Minutes Flat with Three Toddlers.”

Got the idea?

FH Daily will be arriving in reader’s emails in the next couple of weeks, reminding them to check out, share on social media and spread the word about the great, fun and inspirational content they have available to them on a daily basis.

Interested in submitting content? Just email me at:

I’m excited to see your content submissions!

Posted in Current Affairs | 0 Comments »

2015 Foreign Rights Trends & Market Roundup

May 14, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: 2015 Foreign Rights Trends & Market Round-up

BRT-Headshot Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be highlighting some of the developments and trends in foreign rights as reported by the Publishing Perspectives team of the Frankfurt Book Fair in their 2015 Global Perspectives on Book Rights and Licensing white paper. For the full white paper click follow the link on this page.
“Translation can be your biggest market.”

According to Samar Hammam of London-based Rocking Chair Books a book that might sell three to ten thousand copies domestically could conceivably sell ten times that amount in a single overseas market. Furthermore, according to another industry source “authors are achieving cult status” in foreign countries.

The majority of translation deals are still made face-to-face despite the proliferation of digital listing services.

Although many of the big houses have converted their internal systems to digital, or at least are in the middle of transitioning, lack of industry-wide definitions about rights, contracts, and royalties, among other logistical concerns, continues to impede the drive to a true digital marketplace for foreign rights and licensing.

Market Round-up:

Moving from fiction “toward nonfiction and children’s books…especially in China”

Russia, Greece, Italy, and Spain, as well as The Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries remain cautious. France and Germany “remain strong,” while the Polish and Czech markets are growing.

Reports from Brazil are mixed, while the remainder of Latin America has begun to garner special attention as the “ongoing publishing crisis in Spain” has driven many agents and rights directors to “split rights among various Spanish-language territories and regions.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

And the winner of the 2015 Bad Poetry Contest is…

May 12, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Bad Poetry rules. One day those weenies who run the Pulitzer Prizes will wake up, realize they’ve been wasting their time with serious poets who want to write about stuff like “meaning” and “loneliness” and “reconciliation,” and instead they’ll realize there are a BUNCH of bad poets out there. People with no discernible skill. People with the depth of a potato chip. People who want to write bad poetry about squelching a slug with salt, or washing the dishes at mom’s house, or shooting zombies. In other IMG_0302words, my kind of people. 

So this year I’m not quite able to convey a Pulitzer to the winner… but I do have a copy of Hiroyuki Nishigaki’s celebrated self-published book, How to Good-bye Depression: If you constrict anus 100 time everyday. Malarky? or Effective way? (Look it up. That’s the correct title and subtitle, complete with errors.) Many people in publishing believe it may be the worst self-pubbed title ever sold on Amazon. One chapter is titled “Erase your badf stickiness and multiply various good feeling.” Another has this surefire title: “Stare, shoot out immaterial fiber, ucceed  in concentrating, behave with abandon-largess-humor and beckon the spirit.” (A favorite chapter of mine. Complete with the word “ucceed.”) Anyway, this year’s lucky winner will receive their own fabulous copy. Try not to be jealous. (oh… the photo. That is a sandwich grilling machine that embeds the face of Christ into your sandwich. It’s called the “Grilled Cheez-ez.” It has nothing to do with the Bad Poetry Contest, but seemed somehow appropriate.)

In third place is this bit of deepfulness from Christ Eleiott, how much pizza, which he notes is to be read in a breathy tone, with annoying peaks and valleys:

A breath.

A spirit. 

A chicken. 

Children play.

Children laugh. 

Children walk on the moon.


Why will we never see Jonathan?

Why does grandma eat cake for breakfast? 

Pino key can unlock the mysteries of our hearts.

How much pizza? 


I know — Chris is doubtless off his meds again, and we’re all thankful for it. The faux depth, the reflective tone, the stupid questions marks. It all points to True Badness. I loved it.

In second place (and this is important, because if our champion is unable to meet all of the obligations that come with being a True Bad Poet, this person will be forced, possibly at gunpoint, to read Nnishigaki’s book) is Deanna Fugett’s ode to Bad Cows:

The crinkly sheets wiggle in the waves of nothingness.
The cow of serendipity waltzes past the barn of conformity.
Moo moo.
I said moo.
Bad cow. Terribly bad cow.
Terrible. Bad cow.
Kill the cow.
Wait, no, stop. Don’t kill the cow.
Just do it.
Bad cow.
Dead cow.
Cry. Tears of bloody bloodiness.
Terribly dead cow now.
Oh how?
Bad, bad cow.

Terribly bad! Putrid! Loved it! And now, timed nicely to occur the same week as the finals on American Idol, comes our Grand Prize Weiner, Lydia for her poem about death and crying and not being appreciated as a Truly Bad Poet:




the Pain of Love
Is like death
The Pain above
is like Death

Darkness surrounding
alcoholism Rebounding

A tear trickling Slowly down one cheek
like a river Of misery sliding Down my face
A waterfall Just East of my nostrils so bleak
Everyone Loses The Race

death, Death, death
It’s like when people Die
I Now Will Not Now Fly

No one Is Metaphysically free
No One appreciates me

I’m sad


How true! No one appreciates a Bad Poet until… um… well, actually, no one really appreciates a Bad Poet, period. But that won’t stop us from trying! Thanks to all who participated — I loved reading about rapid I movements and how to goodbye depression and all the other stoo-pid stuff you came up with. You’re all wonderfully bad. (Lydia, be in touch and I’ll send you a copy of the book.) Until next year, keep faking the depth, people. Nobody appreciates your soulfulness and pain, because you’re completely unique… just like everybody else.

Posted in Bad Poetry | 10 Comments »

It’s time for our annual BAD POETRY CONTEST!

May 4, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

This week is a special, heart-touching time of year, when all young writers turn to thoughts of bad poetry. That’s because, each year at this time, we take a week to celebrate my birthday — not with cards, not with songs, not with cutesy memes on Facebook that will make me want to gag. Instead, here we do the more creative thing… we create bad poetry. The badder, the better.

A note about bad poetry: Some people just don’t get it. They seem to think we’re making fun of great poets. No indeed. We’re making fun of ALL poets. Those who think they are deep. Those who want to show they’re smarter than you. Those who rhyme “love” with “dove,” “glove,” and “above.” And most of all, those who call out, “Hey, look at me! I’m sensitive!” So the time has come once again to your bad poems. Stop the wordsmithing madness and start constipating on wrong rhythms and awful word choice. The 2015 Bad Poetry Contest is here!IMG_3310


For those not in the know, we deal with books and publishing 51 weeks out of the year, answering questions and offering insights to writers and those interested in the world of publishing. But one week out of the year (my birthday week), we set aside the topic of publishing in order to share something much deeper… much more meaningful… much stupid-er. In the old British tradition of offering something falsely deep yet with a veneer of thoughtfulness, we hold a Bad Poetry Contest. Each year the readers send in truly horrible poetry, then a team of experts (me…and sometimes Mike, if he’s sober and I can convince him to help) offers a thorough evaluation of each piece (“That sucks… but this sucks worse.”). Eventually we come up with a winner, who is presented with a truly fabulous Grand Prize. One year it was a lava lamp — the epitome of stupid cultural crud posing as something deep and thoughtful. Another year it was a very special book that had been sent to me in hopes of finding representation: Does God Speak Through Cats? And once it was a 45 record of Neil Diamond singing “I Am, I Said” (which contains these deep thoughts: “I am, i said, to no one there, and no one heard at all not even the chair.” Wow. Sing to me, Neil.) You see the theme here? We go for a mood of deepfulness and reflectivosity. And YOU need to participate.

This year’s Grand Prize? A copy of what has been called “the worst self-published book ever.” How to Good-bye Depression is the product of that great writing mind Hiroyuki Nishigaki, who added to its fame by creating this winning subtitle: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Every Day. Malarky? or Effective Way? (No, I’m not making this up. That’s the subtitle. Complete with punctuation errors.) Chapters of the book include Erase your bad stickiness and multiply various good feeling, Save sex energy and rotate vortex, and, of course, my favorite chapter, Stare, shoot out immaterial fiber, uceed in concentrating, behave with abandon-largess-humor, and beckon the spirit. (I checked to make sure I had that one exactly as published — right down to the word “uceed.”) Let me just point out that I’m not only a huge fan of this book, I’ve long been in favor of rotating your vortex. I’m not as big on shooting out immaterial fiber, unless you’re out-of-doors and wearing the proper headgear. Anyway, this book can be ALL YOURS if you win the 2015 Bad Poetry Contest. So don’t delay, brethren and sisteren.

Some rules:

1. Don’t send me a birthday poem, unless you want me to slug you. Yeah, this is my way of celebrating. But “Happy Birthday oh Chip o’ mine, Hope this finds you well and fine” gets tired in a hurry.

2. Use any form you want. This isn’t hard, people — you just create a bad poem and post it in the “comments” section of this blog. How hard can that be? Any kind of poem is fine. Free verse, rhyming couplets, limericks — the key is that it needs to be BAD. (And by “bad” we don’t just mean “sort of stoopid.” We mean “falsely deep,” “annoyingly awful,” and “please-shoot-me-before-I-write-more treacle.”) We’re looking for bad imagery. Incorrect word choice. Irresponsible concepts. Awful metaphors. Smarmy tripe. We don’t just want dumb cutesyness — we want mind-numbingly BAD poetry!

So put on your stinking cap, and think up something rotten. It’s a tough job, but SOMEbody’s got to create bad poetry. You have been chosen. Feed your gift. The contest starts… NOW.

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