When is a Display Site Not a Display Site?

…When it’s a contest!

A manuscript display site called Zirdland, which describes itself as “The literary marketplace for the 21st century” and promises to “provide a solution to the ever-widening rift between the writers and the market,” has been threatening to open its doors since late 2004. As of this writing, it still hasn’t done so. (For the math-challenged among us, which might just include the Zirdland folks, that’s two whole years.)

That hasn’t stopped it from running a contest, however: That First Line writing contest, launched in 2005. Here’s a description, from the official press release:

“Every great book, every hit song, every moving poem, every inspired speech, every intriguing article, every movie, play and opera, all began with that first line,” spouts the new writing contest: ThatFirstLine.com – where writers (professional and amateur) can enter an original, unpublished opening line from a book manuscript, screenplay, poem, song lyric, article or essay and vie for the opportunity to win a cash prize of $500.

I don’t know about you, but a writing contest that spouts gets my vote for originality.

The entry fee is a modest $5 (with all profits, it’s claimed, going to literary charities), and entries will be judged by “a panel of 50 editors, literary agents, and published authors” (no word on who they are. Hmmmm). Winners are profiled on Zirdnews (which also features industry newsbytes that are more than a year out of date), and finalists from the most recent contest (Spring/Summer 2006) have their lines posted on the contest website. So far, it looks as if many people are treating it like the Bulwer-Lytton contest. I would have voted for this entry:

Gruber, the ground-breaking, hip-shaking master of plaster frescos, edged back on his stilts, smelling cinnamon somewhere, wondering if he should add one more stroke, but then–bounding madly round the Rill corner–came the tricycles, the sprinting nuns, the peanut vendors, all but one of the city council and what appeared to be a dwarf rhino…

Ummm…so what’s my point about all this? I don’t have one, really, except that it all strikes me as rather silly.

Oh, and for anyone who was wondering about the expertise behind Zirdland…Zirdland’s sites are registered to InterMedia Development Corp, which seems to specialize in producing TV shows for cable access channels. InterMedia’s owner, Joel Ratner, has a page on Publishers Marketplace, where you can assess his literary success to date. Of Zirdland’s other apparent front man, P. Barry Jones, there’s no information other than his own description of himself (see message 3), which is rather short on specifics. A third individual involved with Zirdland, Jami Harrah (responsible for a spam campaign to publicize the site in early 2005), shows up only on Writers Net.


  1. I’m taking short odds that their “literary charities” begin and end at home.

    Nah, forget it. No odds of any kind. It’s a sure thing.

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