What do I need to know about agents?

November 24, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to ask, “With all the changes in publishing these days, what do I really need to know about agents?” Let me offer a dozen thoughts…

1. Do your homework before selecting an agent. DON’T sign up with somebody just because they say Questions Book Coverthey’re an agent and they want to represent you. I know that’s a temptation, but this is a professional relationship. Would you go to a guy’s office for your health problems just because he claims to be a doctor? Ask around. Check him out. This is the biggest mistake people make with agents, in my view. This past year at ACFW you could toss a rock in the air and when it came down it would most likely hit somebody claiming to be an “agent.” Um… these guys are going to be taking your ideas and helping you sign legal agreements regarding them. Don’t take that lightly.

2. Be wary of any agent who charges a fee or advertises what the charge is to work with them. That’s a total violation of the guidelines for the Association of Author Representatives (and, in fact, those agents wouldn’t be allowed as members of AAR). There are a couple fairly successful agents in CBA who do that. It’s unethical, and authors should stay away, if they want to keep from being scammed. On the other hand, I was VERY glad to have someone write and tell me that “Steve Laube is my agent and he’s good.” Don’t we all get tired of people sort of beating around the bush, telling us one person is bad and another is good, but never mentioning names? The fact is, Steve IS good. So is Bryan Norman at Alive, as well as Janet Grant and Wendy Lawton and Rachelle Gardner and Natasha Kern and Greg Daniel and Karen Solem and Greg Johnson and Andrea Heinecke and Robert Wolgemuth and Sandra Bishop and Amanda Luedeke (the last person works with me at MacGregor Literary). There are others who just aren’t coming to mind at the moment, of course. My guess is that none of these individuals are for everyone; and neither am I, of course. But they’re all professionals who have proven themselves by doing good work for authors. There are plenty of good agents, Just beware of working with “Bozo and Associates.”

3. Check out more than one source. As an agent, I can be perfect for one person and perfectly awful for somebody else. Besides, you’re more apt to get the facts by asking around. For example, there is one well-known author I know who has it in for a particular agent. I’ve heard her say some really bad (and in my opinion, overblown) things about that individual. Okay… she didn’t sell your manuscript. It happens! Get over it and move on to something else.

4. A couple people wrote to me to say, in essence, “I don’t have an agent because I like doing my own deals,” or words to that effect. Good for you. As an agent, I have to wonder if you know how to negotiate and therefore got the BEST deal, or if you really protected yourselves. Or if you really want to spend your time learning how to do that. Not everybody needs an agent, but if you don’t know the market, or don’t know about contracts, you might want to think carefully before throwing out the idea. You can bet the publisher has attorneys and accountants who know what they’re doing.

5. On two or three occasions I’ve had the chance to see a contract evaluation done by by a contract evaluation person. That one (Sally Stuart) did great work. If you don’t have an agent, at least consider working with an experienced contract person like that. Some company’s contracts read like they were created by lawyers from another planet, so be careful signing a document you don’t understand.

6. Cecil Murphey, who has been in the business since the Cooledge Administration and became famous after writing dozens of books, knows what he’s talking about when he says in a blog post, “Writers can still sell books without agents, especially to the smaller houses. What’s wrong with starting with smaller houses?” Nothing. All of us start small and move to bigger things. That’s how a career (any career) is built.

7. One author asked, “Are there times when an agent might hinder a publishing opportunity?” Sure…when the guy is a jerk. When he doesn’t know the market (which happens a lot… try using a big-time entertainment lawyer working with a small publishing house sometime). When he sees negotiation as a “win/lose” proposition. An agent should take the approach that publishing is a partnership between author, publisher, and agent. If he or she tries to squeeze the publisher to the point where the publisher is losing money, that is no longer a partnership. Yes, my authors expect me to protect their interests, but I have no interest in pushing publishers into losing money… that just hurts the market for other projects down the road. On the other side, I’ve seen publishers lowball authors way too many times. A good agent will recognize when that’s happening and take steps to protect you.

8. One writer wrote and asked, “How has having an agent affected the relationships you’ve built over the years with editors – or has it?” My perspective is that acquisition editors are my friends. Ask around and you’ll probably find that most publishers will tell you their relationship with our authors is better than if we weren’t in the picture. (Really.)

9. One person wrote to contend that “you should be given copies of your rejection letters,” and complained because her agent hadn’t shows all the rejections to her. Um… I have to respectfully disagree. It used to be true, when things were done via snail mail and there were far fewer projects. Now almost everything is done via email and we rarely get a detailed response. Most rejections these days are nothing more than, “We’re declining Bob Smith’s novel.”  There’s not much info to share. However, whenever I get a detailed response, or thoughts on improving the manuscript, I forward it to the author… AND I send a thank you note to the editor.

10. I also have to disagree with the folks who contend that “the agent will take over the marketing of my book.” Hey, an agent should be able to assist with the planning, but as an author, YOU are most responsible for marketing your book. Do not leave that up to the publisher, the agent, the sales staff, your mom, or anyone else. Nobody knows it better than you, nobody has more investment in it than you, and nobody is more committed to its success than you.

11. Again, the biggest complaint most agented authors have about their agent is “lack of contact.” That’s why you want somebody who you like (love covering a multitude of sins, and all that). But to the person who wrote to say they hadn’t heard from their agent in six months… That’s terrible, to my way of thinking. This is supposed to be a relationship. I guess every author is different. Some want to hear from their agent every week. Others are happy connecting twice a year. But talk about your expectations with your agent — make sure you both can live with them. But remember that most agents are working with lots of authors, so be willing to understand his/her business and adjust your thinking.

12. A thought…learn to be polite. I never mind an author saying to me, “HI Chip — I hadn’t heard in a while, and I was just wondering if you had an update for me. Have we heard from anyone?” On the other hand, I have a different reaction when somebody writes and says: “WHAT’S HAPPENING?! HOW COME YOU DON’T CALL AND SAY YOU LOVE ME? FOR GOSH SAKES, I NEED A LOT MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU’RE GIVING! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” (Of course, my mom used to say that to me, but I prefer not to have the authors I represent talk that way to me.)

I hope this helps…


Posted in Agents | 7 Comments »

A Natural Born Writer (a guest blog)

November 20, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Last spring, I was sitting in a class offered by a nationally renowned writing coach at a local writers conference. The coach was leading us as we brainstormed a story. The set-up—an English teacher who hated his job. “Why does he hate his job?” she asked the room.

I quipped, “None of his students know where the commas go.”Questions Book Cover

I was joking, and my friends laughed, because they know how I am about grammar. The word “Nazi” has been floated more than once.

The writing coach laughed, too. And then she said something I can still hear ringing in my ears. “Knowing where the commas go isn’t really that important.”

I didn’t argue the point at the time. Not out loud, anyway. From her perspective, grammar wasn’t important. She was there to teach us plotting and story crafting—and I was taking copious notes. But the idea that a bestselling author would say that grammar doesn’t matter gave me nightmares.

The fact is, knowing where the commas go is incredibly important. So is knowing how to spell. Knowing how to write fresh dialogue is vital to being a novelist, and so is the ability to punctuate it. Of course, no great novel exists without believable yet larger-than-life characters. And even with all that, if the plot is broken, the book will flop.

The truth is, there are thousands of things writers have to understand. And lest we feel sorry for ourselves, there are thousands of things agents have to know—and editors and airline  pilots and real estate brokers. Being a professional at anything involves knowing a bunch of stuff.

And most of that stuff has to be learned. As a novelist, perhaps you started with some skills. Maybe you had an inherent understanding of point of view. Maybe you came to the game with a unique voice. Some folks are great at creating quirky characters. Personally, I came to this quest with a great grasp of the minutia of writing—those commas and I have always been friends. (If I’d gotten to choose, that’s not the talent I’d have picked.)

So there are a thousand things you have to know. And perhaps you came to writing knowing a couple hundred of them—that still leaves a lot to learn. On the other hand, even the so-called natural-born writers can’t have started their first books knowing everything. Like us, the “naturals” are learners—plugging away for hundreds and hundreds of gut-wrenching days to achieve that “overnight success” we’re all hoping for.

I had the privilege of listening to another great writing coach, the brilliant James Scott Bell, at the Write Well, Sell Well Conference in Oklahoma City last month. He talked about how, early in his writing career, he would identify an area he needed to work on and then set about to learn that one thing. At one point, he decided he needed to learn plotting—and he did, to the point that he wrote one of the best books on the subject for novelists—Plot & Structure. When he got plotting figured out, he moved on to another weak area, and then another, and so on.

He worked hard to improve. Consequently he’s winning awards with his fiction. Was he a natural-born writer? What would that look like—somebody who knows it all? Impossible. Perhaps a natural is a person with some inherent talent and the drive and ambition to learn what he doesn’t know.

I’ve been doing the same thing as Mr. Bell for some time. I’ll discover an inherent flaw in my writing, and then I’ll focus on that. When I improve—after lots of work and practice—I’ll move on to something else.

Meanwhile, I keep writing and publishing books. My books aren’t perfect, and they never will be. But thanks to an excellent agent (thank you, Chip!), a whole lot of great critique partners, and a professional editor, they’re enjoyable. And besides, perfect is an impossible standard. Right now, I’m just reaching for better. Better than my last book, better than the one before. Better, always. And never to believe I’ve arrived—because as soon as I think I’ve learned it all, I’m sunk.

I don’t have to be a natural-born writer—but I do want to look like one. Someday.


Robin Patchen is one of the contributing editors to Five Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction, which is available for preorder now and a great place to learn some of those thousand things you need to know. She lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released in April, and its free prequel, Chasing Amanda, released in July. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she wo
rks as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at RobinPatchen.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Can the Audiobook Save B&N?

November 20, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: Can the Audiobook Save B&N?

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 talking about audiobooks. As Yasmine Askari reported on the Digital Book World last week, Barnes & Noble recently announced the launch of a Nook audiobooks app for iphone and ipad, as well as a new website to support the app with more than sixty thousand audio titles available to download without the purchase of a subscription. I’ll leave the prognosticating around whether or not this will be the magic bullet that saves Barnes & Noble from the same fate as Borders to smarter industry analysts. I’m more concerned with the audiobook as a product and it’s future in publishing.

My first attempt to get into audiobooks revolved around my year and a half stint covering the Inland Northwest territory as a B2B salesperson calling on grocery stores from the eastern side of the Washington Cascades all the way to the Billings, Montana – a vast, beautiful, and relatively empty landscape. I would sometimes drive as much as six hours in between sales calls, this in the days before rental car stereos came with audio jacks and in a land with almost no local radio signals. It was dull. So, I tried to spice up the windshield time by bringing along one of those suitcase-sized collection of audiobook CDs.

I couldn’t tell you the title or author of that book so many years later. What I can tell you is that I almost died listening to that book, lulled to sleep while driving a desolate Montana two-lane highway by the sultry voice of whomever was narrating. Like so many people, I walked away from the whole audiobook thing because of lack of convenience and a love of reading the actual text and fleshing out the characters with the voices my imagination created for them in my head. I figured that audiobooks were fine for older folks losing their sight, or for drivers that could stay awake in the face of narration, but not for me. What I learned years later while getting into the publishing business regarding the stagnation of audiobook sales would reinforce this impression.

My second attempt to get into audiobooks was on the production side, while working for a podcast marketing startup here in Portland. What I was told by industry professionals at the time was that Amazon’s purchase of Audible and ACX (the largest audiobook producer), along with prior arrangements between Audible and Apple RE: distribution through iTunes pretty much had the entire industry locked down. It remains to be seen if what I was told at the time was true or not. People have a way of populating their thoughts about Amazon and any of its subsidiaries with their feelings and the general need for a scapegoat. Suffice it to say that I am a bit surprised to see Barnes & Noble making a big deal of their staggered entry into the audiobook distribution game. Will audiobook distribution apps for Apple devices help to resurrect the once easily blamed corporate bookselling giant? Time will tell, but I remain skeptical.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

What does an unpublished writer do with her completed manuscript?

November 18, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to ask, “If a writer has never published before, but has a completed novel manuscript ready to go, what would you recommend he/she do with it?” 
I like this question, since it’s a situation I see frequently. If an author has a manuscript done, I’d Chipheadshot1-150x150encourage him or her to spend some time creating a few other pieces: a one or two page synopsis, a quick overview, a one sentence hook, a good list of three or four comparable titles to give the novel context, and a one-page bio that focuses on platform. All of those things are going to be important when you get to the important stage of talking to an agent or editor.
Next, I’d probably say, “The first draft of any novel is usually bad.” So I’d encourage the author to use the next couple months to polish it. Take it to a critique group. Have writer friends read and comment. Get it in front of an editor. Pay for a professional critique, if that’s possible. Not every bit of advice you get will be great (or even correct), but listening to the wisdom of others, particularly those who are farther down the path, can help you improve your book. Take your time to improve it, rather than typing the last word and sending it off. Make it as sharp as possible, since that’s the best way to get it published.
Then I’d say to the author, “Check out ALL your options.” Should they introduce themselves to agents? Sure. Should they try to get it in front of some editors at a writing conference? Of course. Should they consider small presses? By all means. Should they explore self-publishing? Yes. The world of publishing has changed completed over the past five years, so start looking at the various options you have as a novelist. But don’t jump on the first opportunity that presents itself. Take your time, get some counsel, and try to move forward professionally. You may find it best to sign with an agent, who can get it in front of good editors. But you may find you’re writing to a niche audience, and the best step is to land with a micro-publisher who specializes in reaching that particular segment of the market. Or perhaps the best option is to simply get it up on Amazon and see how people respond. As I said, check your options, get some counsel, then decide.
My take: Too many writers are in a hurry. The writers who get it done, THEN take steps to get it polished and ready, will stand a better chance at succeeding. Does that help?
I’d love to hear from unpublished novelists… What questions are you wanting to ask an agent?

Posted in Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 31 Comments »

How can we create a great launch party?

November 16, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

A friend wrote to say, “I’ve been told we should have a launch party when my book comes out. Is that a good idea? And what what makes a good launch party?”

I think a book launch party is a great idea — it allows an author to involve friends and acquaintances in the release of the book, is an easy way to garner some local media, and can help you kick off book sales. (Besides, it can be great for an author’s ego, if done right.)  Let me offer a couple of suggestions to help make it a success…

First and most important, you want to make sure you INVITE people. In other words, don’t sit around and hope people show — be proactive and make sure you get a house full. That means you need to find a big group who can be supportive, like your local writer’s group, you church congregation, the organizations you belong to, all your relatives, people at the clubs or sports you’ve joined, and all your fans in the region. Pick a venue you can fill up, since getting 40 people in a tiny bookstore makes it feel like a great party, but getting those same 40 people in a huge shopping mall gallery can feel empty. Determine a definite start and end time, and make sure everyone sees it’s a celebration. Again, you’re trying to get the word out, and get commitments from some folks to attend.
Second, if you really want to make people show up, offer an incentive — books at a discount, or free chocolate, or wine and cheese (a few big boxes of wine don’t cost much and seem to bring people out of the woodwork). If you can’t do wine, ask a couple people to bring their latte machines and offer free lattes to everyone. Your only expense is the price of coffee. But have something that is an incentive to their showing up — one author I know had a drawing for a trip, another had local stores donate a couple items for a giveaway. Again, treat this as a party, not a sales event. A drawing works great if there is a friend who can donate something really cool. (Um… I don’t know what that would be, but maybe something associated with the book? Tickets to something? A trip to the book’s location?) It’s got to be something that people will want — and all they have to do is show up and you will do a drawing of some kind.
Third, involve your local bookstore. If the owner or manage of your local store has a mailing list, ask them if they’d be willing to send an email blast to everyone, or include information about the release party in their mailer. Depending on the space, you might be able to do it in the story (often a great place for a signing, and it brings potential customers in). If you do that, ask them to post a sign ahead of time in the store, to draw in other readers.
Fourth, tell anyone who has your other novels they want signed to bring them, and that you will sign all books for free. Once people are inside, go around and greet them, have a black Sharpie with you, and know what it is you’re going to sign in each book. (Hint: Make sure you ask how to spell their name, even if it’s something easy like Susie or Nancy. There are currently 27 potential spellings for the name “Jasmine.”)
Fifth, make sure to contact the local media. Ask a local newspaper writer to come do a feature story. Check to see if the local radio station wants to send someone. Call the TV stations — use a “local girl makes good” sort of angle for them. See if the local writers groups or community arts councils want to do an interview or feature ahead of time, to let the community know.
Sixth, you don’t have to have a big presentation, but it’s good manners to say thanks to the group, and if you have any talent in front of people, you may want to do a short reading from your work, then take questions, then invite people to buy a copy and you’ll sign it. This is the time to offer the giveaway, if you’re having one.
Again, the most important thing is to invite people and make them feel like they’re going to GET something out of attending, rather than you want them to come BUY something. Make sense?
We’ve all heard stories of terrible launch parties — three people in a room set up for three hundred. You can get around that by getting commitments from friends, planning something fun, and keeping it short. I hope this helps.

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 4 Comments »

Four No-Fail Ways To Market Your Book And Grow In Confidence (a guest blog)

November 14, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

When I decided to become a writer, I did it mostly because I liked silence. I liked the idea of sitting with my own thoughts and sculpting words in my preferred order.

But then I got published. And I realized that silence and control over my books wasn’t mine anymore. I was now expected to market them? I was expected to talk to others about my books and try to persuade them to exchange their hard earned cash for them? This was not what I signed up for. I didn’t think I could market. I didn’t think I’d be good at it.

Unfortunately, in this extremely competitive market, I don’t have a choice. I must engage with future readers, pitch my stories and talk about myself in a way that would make others want to read my books.

In the short time that I’ve been a published author, I’ve discovered four no-fail ways to easily transition me from sullen, reclusive, cat-hair covered wordsmith who likes silence to cheerful, enthusiastic, non-pushy salesperson who likes taking other people’s money. The best thing about these ways? They’re cheap! They’re not too hard! And I’ve almost come to the point that I can do them effortlessly! You can do them too!

  1. Have business cards. I designed my own cards and bought them through Moo.com. (Moo is the coolest place to get cards, IMHO!) So for $20 I have 200 cards that have a lot more than my contact information. My cards have said, “Author, Homeschooling Mother, Queen.” My cards are a manifestation of what I want to be, which gives me confidence. When I pass out a card, (that I always have on hand) people are impressed that I am prepared, that I am professional, and that I am willing to share who I am.
  1. Carry your books with you always. I put my most recent books in a ziplock bag, to keep them dry and then put them in a padded envelope to keep them from getting dinged up and then carry them in my handbag. They won’t stay in my bag for long. In the month of June, 2015, I sold six books, right out of my bag because I would start conversations about my writing. When others asked questions, I’d say, “Would you like to see my book? I have it right here!” More often than not, they pulled out their checkbooks or forked over cash. I signed the books in front of them and both of us are thrilled. What do you think they do next? They go up to their spouse or their friend and say, “Hey! I just bought this from Katharine! Did you know she’s an author?”
  1. Have a cozy relationship with your local library. Make a point of visiting it on a regular basis for two reasons: one, to pick up a book (you should always be reading something!) and two, to chat with the librarians. They should know who you are. Then, when it comes time for your next release, you donate a copy of it to them. Ask them if they have any events for local authors. Most of them do! Good libraries will enthusiastically promote a local author. (And leave them your business card!) Your first readers should come from your local community and your library’s connections should be at the center of it all.
  1. Be a comfortable conversationalist. If speaking to others about your books is difficult, then you must practice. Then have questions prepared for the people you meet, like “how is it you are here today?” “Are you enjoying/hating this weather?” Notice that these questions have nothing to do with your books, but they have everything to do with making others feel at ease. The more you get the other person talking about themselves, the more they trust you and will be potentially open to your passions. As you grow more comfortable in your conversation, ask a question that has to do with books. “Do you read?” “What kinds of books do you enjoy?” And allow their responses to guide you. Don’t feel rushed. Don’t push your agenda. Just relax. The worst case scenario is that the conversation never gets around to your books. So what? You’ve practiced talking with someone and you can speak to them again in the future. But the best case? Their eyes light up when they talk about their favorite books. You can then say, “I’m a author. Would you like to see my books?” And put it in their hands.

Back when I sat down to write that first novel, I didn’t know that marketing would be required of me, but it turns out I enjoy the transaction that leads to cash in my hand. I also like meeting new readers. I also like having to restock on books in my purse and business cards in my wallet. I still like the silence of writing, but I’m seeing the value in the risk taking of meeting others, of asking questions and extending my hand.

I am a writer and a marketer. By using these four easy first steps, I’m finding success in marketing. It’s not as fun as the writing part, but it’s getting more fun with each conversation I have.

Who knew?


Katharine Grubb is the author of Write A Novel in 10 Minutes A Day, and Soulless Creatures. Her new book, Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A Day will be released November 11, 2015 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. She also leads the writers group 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook. She lives with her large family in Massachusetts.

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 2 Comments »

Nonfiction that Stands Out

November 11, 2015 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wToday’s question comes from a nonfiction author:

“Apart from platform, how can I stand out to an agent or editor? There’s a lot of demand for books in my subject, but also a lot of similar titles already in print.”

Great question! It shows especial savvy that this author began with “apart from platform;” obviously, platform is usually one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) factor in catching an agent or editor’s interest as a nonfiction writer and it’s best to be realistic about that. That said, relatively new and non-famous nonfiction authors are published every day, and the factors that caused an agent and then editor to say yes to those authors are often the same as the answers to the question asked above, “How can I/(this project) stand out?”

The answer to this question is part knowing-your-project and part developing-your-project; in other words, there are probably ways in which your project already stands out in its field that you just need to identify and highlight in your pitch materials, and there are probably also a few ways in which your project has the potential to stand out in its field that will require you to do a little re-writing or re-framing of the manuscript or proposal. We’ll look at both.

Knowing the Stand-Out Aspects of Your Project

To identify ways in which your project already stands out, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What is the best thing about this project? What do you do REALLY well that is obvious in your nonfiction book? Is it the writing? The easy-to-understand instructions? The unconventional teaching methods? The fun anecdotes? If you don’t know, ask a few people who have read several similar titles to read yours and tell you what stands out, what you do better than anyone else they’ve read.
  • What is the most unique thing about this project? What do you do differently from the majority of authors/titles in this field? Why is that an advantage?
  • In what way does this project target a more specific audience than the competition? If there are a lot of home improvement titles aimed at do-it-yourself-ers, how is yours tailored to a more specific segment of that readership, such as women in their 30s, or retirees, or _______? You don’t want to get TOO specific– there probably aren’t a whole lot of publishers willing to sink big money into a title geared toward Southern Baptist pastors’ wives who want to know how to remodel doghouses, just because that’s not a huge segment of the reading population, but a slightly more specific target audience puts a publicity department one step closer to getting your book in front of the people who are most likely to buy it.

Once you’ve identified all these factors, make sure they’re front and center in your pitch– if your home improvement project’s strong points are its deadpan humor, the 1970s styling of all the how-to photographs, and its target audience of trendy young professionals, you should lead with that information and be specific about those strengths– if it’s truly hilarious (let someone other than yourself or your mom be the judge of that), make that clear in the pitch rather than taking the chance that an agent will read past your undersell (“this project incorporates humor throughout”) to see for himself. Better yet, start off with an example right away– “Moustache Man brews his own beer and now he refinishes his own cabinets to the sounds of an indie steel drum folk trio on vinyl in my new how-to book, Hipsters Take on Home Improvement.”

Developing Your Project to Stand Out

If you’ve asked the above questions and haven’t found very definite answers, that doesn’t necessarily mean your project can’t stand out, only that it currently doesn’t as much as it could. To start thinking about ways you could revamp the project to stand out more without starting over from scratch, ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What is the best thing about you as a writer? As a personality? If you were just writing a blog post or an email to a friend, or if you were doing a TV segment or vlog, what would your main “draws” be? Are you funny? Extremely well-informed? A fabulous writer? A conversational speaker? Once you’ve identified the characteristics that set you and your writing apart, look at your proposal or your manuscript and brainstorm ways to incorporate those trademark qualities into a project that might otherwise be a little bland. And then don’t stop at simply incorporating them– saturate the project in those distinctive qualities so that every chapter is instantly recognizable as yours, ringing with your unique voice.
  • How could you reinvent your project so that it is purposefully more unique? Note: I said “purposefully” because it’s not much of an advantage to be unique if the thing that makes you unique is dumb or pointless– “This is the first home improvement book published in the US to teach you Italian while teaching you to refinish cabinets!” How could you reorganize or bundle your information in an unorthodox or surprising way that stands out as fresh, or appeals to a non-linear thinker, or______?, e.g., “This home improvement book shows readers how to bundle like tasks for four home improvement projects at a time so that users’ time is used to better advantage and so they can accomplish more for their time and money.”
  • What audience does your book currently appeal to, and how could you target an even more specific audience? If your current audience is “adult readers age 40-65,” take a look at your strengths, tone, differences and similarities to other titles on the market, and try to identify the most logical way to refine your target audience, perhaps to “empty nesters looking to modify their homes to live more simply.” You would then change your outline and chapter summaries to reflect this more specific audience, checking that your language and syntax match that of the median age of your reader, perhaps swapping out a few anecdotes and changing some of your examples, in addition to adding some new framing language to the introduction and chapter summaries to reflect the “living more simply” focus rather than the more generic “home improvement” theme.

As before, once you’ve revamped your project to reflect your strengths and more uniquely reach a more specific audience, include those selling points in your pitch materials– don’t be shy about telling an agent or an author exactly how this project stands out, where/why it fits in the market, and exactly who’s going to buy it. That’s the kind of new nonfiction author we notice even without a million Twitter followers.

Have a craft-related question you’d like to see answered in the blog? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading~

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

How do I create a great book proposal?

November 9, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Your novel is ready to go. Your nonfiction book is fleshed out. NOW WHAT?

We’ve got a brand new book releasing to help all writers who are trying to create the best book proposal possible. Step by Step Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is the new book from longtime editor Holly Lorincz and me.

Pitch Book CoverThis book uses clear, detailed explanations, work-sheets, and annotated examples to walk you step-by-step through: industry terminology, querying, pitching, creating a proposal, and formatting the whole thing. You’ll find helpful information regarding what to say, who and when to query, and how to find contacts. Suggestions on how to create a pitch are offered, along with sample pitches, as well as advice from a speaking professional on how to deal with a face-to-face pitch.

Inside, there are detailed instructions for building professional, industry-standard proposals, both fiction and nonfiction, using plenty of examples and multiple samples of successful, real proposals. In fact, that’s one of the things that sets this apart from other books on proposals — I went back to authors whose books I had sold, and asked their permission to use the proposals we created. So the text offers real-world examples of proposals from books that actually sold in the market, including a couple bestselling books. There are also worksheets available in each section which readers have found extremely useful, walking the writer through their own material. There is even a section on how to format a manuscript before attaching it to a proposal. Here’s what some people in the industry have said:

“Chip MacGregor was my first literary agent and helped me get my very first book deal. I don’t know if there’s a better possible way for me to answer the question ‘Does Chip MacGregor know what he’s talking about?’ than that!”  – Jon Acuff, New York Times Bestselling author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck
This book is clear, concise and well written. Although one might feel this is just a reference book on proposal writing, it is much more . . . it is also a good basic primer instructing the reader in the art of selling your work and how to handle most any situation that you may encounter along the way.”
– Michael Hingson, New York Times bestselling author

“Chip MacGregor and Holly Lorincz’s Step by Step, Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is a keeper, whether you’re a newbie or multi-published. Fiction and non-fiction proposals are covered in detail – all you need to do is fill in the blanks. I’ll definitely be referring to this power-packed book each time I draft a new proposal!”
– Leslie Gould, Christy Award winning and #1 bestselling author

You can order a print OR a Kindle copy here. Thanks — let me know what you think!

Posted in Agents, Books, Resources for Writing | 2 Comments »

That Time of Year Again

November 6, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: That Time of Year Again

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 @BRIANRTIBBETTSmk_thumb

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be taking a
break from talking about either publishing or technology and instead focus on shamelessly plugging my favorite charity, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC). This week the local Portland news-weekly Willamette Week and the IPRC, along with more than 140 other local Portland and Oregon charities kicked off their annual fundraising drive called Give!Guide 2015. If you’re local to the Portland area, Oregon, or the Pacific Northwest, consider taking a moment to look through the guide.

Willamette Week has partnered with several local businesses and organizations to provide incentives and matching donation opportunities. Additionally, the IPRC has rounded up some great incentives from local publishers, authors, and editing services and the like. Check out the IPRC at their website or on facebook for additional opportunities to time your giving to land incentives like a free proposal evaluation from Chip MacGregor, a free developmental edit or manuscript evaluation from Lorincz Literary Service, book bundles and magazine subscriptions from Tin House and other local publishers, gift certificates to restaurants, wineries, and host of other area businesses, show tickets, and more.

Please join me this year in supporting area charities in the arts, social justice, environmental services and cleanup, and a whole host of other causes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: How do I approach someone at a conference? (and other questions)

November 2, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve been trying to catch up on all the questions people have sent in, so let me share a handful of queries: “When speaking with an editor at a conference, what is the best way to approach the allotted 15 minutes? Do I focus on the editor and the titles she’s worked on? Do I focus on my novel? Do I bring a one sheet?”

The best way to approach your time at an editorial appointment is to do some research and practice. Pitch Book CoverCheck to make sure the editor you’re meeting actually acquires books in your genre. Find out what you can about the editor’s likes and dislikes. Then practice what you’re going to say — sharing your name, your book idea, the conflict, theme, genre,and hook. Be clear and succinct, and rehearse your talk out loud, so you know what it feels like to say the words. Be ready to engage in dialogue with the editor. Dress professionally, and bring some words to show them (many like a one-sheet; I prefer the first five pages). In my view, the focus of a successful editorial appointment is your book, so think through how to talk about your book in an engaging way without sounding like just another pitch.

Another person wrote to ask, “Should I pay more attention to a literary agent’s list of authors they represent, or to their agency’s list of authors? In other words, if a Big Deal Agency has bestselling authors, how much does that mean if the agent I’m talking to doesn’t represent any of those writers?”

That’s an interesting question, since every agency tries to promote their bestselling authors. I was at Alive Communications when we represented the Left Behind series that sold 70 million copies worldwide — and while I didn’t have much of anything to do with that series, I certainly mentioned that we represented it when I was a young agent introducing myself. How much does that mean? A bit, since it means the agent you’re talking to is hanging out with successful agents who clearly know what they’re doing, even if the one you’re pitching your book to is new. That agent also gets to take your book back and talk with the more experienced people in the home office about it, so there’s certainly a benefit to working with a successful agency. But sure, you’d really like to make sure the agent you’re talking to is competent, organized, and consistent. A new agent may lack the Big Name Author you’re looking for… but he or she also may have more time to work with you in preparing your work for publication.

One writer sent this: “What would you say are the ingredients to a great novel?”

Bestselling novelist Susan May Warren and I once taught a class together on this at a conference. We said that the four hallmarks of a great novel are heroism (the protagonist does something that is considered heroic, and does it even though that type of behavior may not come naturally to them), sacrifice (the character gives up something dear to them in order to better the life of someone else), redemption (the characters go through circumstances that change them, and reveals they have become better people, having overcome past failures), and justice (good triumphs over evil). Of course, in great fiction I find that characters I care about face the big questions of life (who am I? why am I here? who is God? what is the meaning of life? who do I love and am loved by?) and make decisions that affect their lives — decisions I may or may not agree with, but which cause me to reflect on my own life. It’s that sort of reflection that allows fiction to become life-changing.

Someone asked me, “You talk quite a bit about mentors in writing and publishing. Who would you say was a mentor in your life?”

I love this question because yesterday was All Saints Day, and in the Anglican church we still talk about the saints and the people in our lives who helped shape us. So I’ll pick one: Brennan Manning. He was much more gentle than I am, and I love how he always tried to move everyone around him toward being better people. He saw faith as something real to be lived out, rather than a set of written behavioral guidelines to follow. He was aware of his own issues, but understood that his problems didn’t exclude him from the Kingdom. And he recognized that he was put here on earth – that we are ALL put here on earth – to be agents of grace, even amidst our sin and struggles. I used to be Brennan’s agent, and when I was turning 40, he shared a profound thought with me– that most people stop growing spiritually before their 40th birthday. Most guys are who they are by the time they reach middle age. So he challenged me to be a better human being by the time I was 50, and to not be satisfied with “just being okay” in my spiritual walk. Loved the man. And he was a mystic, which pleases me no end, since I think a lot of American Evangelicalism is rule-based Phariseeism, all dressed up in a white shirt and hair gel, with little concern for those who are suffering, solely focused on being “right;” and afraid of the spiritual side of faith. Brennan continually tweaked those people, but always seemed to answer them with loving, gentle grace. He left us just a couple years ago, and the two of us had lost touch, but I think the world lost one of its most powerful thinkers when he passed.

Finally, someone asked, “If you were to write a book, what would it be about?”

Well, I’ve written a number of books, but I long ago decided to set most of my own writing aside in order to work on the writing of the authors I have the privilege of representing. I do write on this blog most days, just to keep my hand in it, and I released a couple of books for working writers earlier this year (How Can I Find a Literary Agent and 101 Other Questions Writers Ask and Step by Step Pitches and Proposals). And I’ve got a plan to create a career development guide for novelists, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, plus I’ve also been stewing on some short stories about growing up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, and I have long planned to work on a book about the Great Schism of 1378 – a passion of mine for years, and one of the single most important events in the history of the church, but long forgotten by historians who prefer to focus on “war” rather than “ideas.” That’s my writing life… but it takes a back seat to my agenting life.

Got a question about writing or publishing? Send it along and we’ll try to think up an answer.

Posted in Conferences, Questions from Beginners, The Writing Craft | 2 Comments »