Archive for the ‘Agents’ Category

What do I need to know about agents?

November 24th, 2015 | Agents | 7 Comments

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…


How do I create a great book proposal?

November 9th, 2015 | Agents, Books, Resources for Writing | 2 Comments

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!

What you need to know before deciding on an agent

October 22nd, 2015 | Agents | 23 Comments

If you were having a medical problem, you’d undoubtedly want to get the problem diagnosed so that you can see a specialist who can help resolve the problem. (No sense going to an Ear, Nose, & Throat doctor for a kidney problem.) If your car is having trouble, you want someone to tell you what’s wrong before deciding on the solution. (No sense getting new spark plugs if your timing belt is busted.) If you were planning a party, you’d want to know the details –occasion, theme, setting, number of attendees — before jumping into action and ordering the food. Everything we do requires some planning. So if you’re an author who is deciding on an agent, could I offer two simple suggestions for you to consider as you make your plans?

First, before deciding to sign with an agent, figure out who you are and what you need. What are your strengths? (That will help you talk with a potential agent about your future.) What are your weaknesses? (A good agent should assist you with those areas.) What are the opportunities you have? What are your goals? Specifically, what things would you like an agent to assist with — contracts? negotiations? editorial help? marketing? talking through your story? speaking? handling your career? Once you have some clarity as to what help you need, you’ll be better prepared to find the right agent.

Second, before saying “yes” to the first agent who offers you representation, find out what that particular agent brings to the relationship. Do his or her skills match up with your need? What do other writers have to say about his work? What do editors and publishers think of the agent? Take a look at the authors he or she represents. Look at the types of books he has contracted. Research the number of books she has represented, and the houses those books have landed at. You’re trying to find someone who is a good match for you, and who can help you with the things you deem most important.

Here’s a tip for interviewing an agent… When you go to meet him or her face to face, ask the prospective agent to talk about an author they’ve helped grow. Bring in some specific career questions to discuss. If you want, bring a royalty report and ask them to decipher it for you. Or bring a marketing plan and ask the individual to make comments and suggestions. Or bring in a chapter and ask the agent what, specifically, could be done to improve the writing. What works? What doesn’t? Getting some solid wisdom from an agent in an interview setting can help you see who might be a fit for you, and who may not be the person you want to work with.

I’ve found that most beginning authors tend to be a bit cowed by agents — even brand new agents who don’t have much experience, or crummy agents who give bland advice. Don’t be. If you’ve spent time figuring out who YOU are and what YOU need, that allows you the opportunity to interview the agent about who he or she is, and how they can best help you reach your goals.

Interviewing agents is a two-way street — the agent is looking for writers with good talent who are going to be successful, and the author is looking for a wise, experienced agent who is going to help move them forward. Be ready for the conversation to swing both ways by knowing who you are and what you need.

How do I fire my agent without hurting any feelings?

October 19th, 2015 | Agents, Career, The Business of Writing | 4 Comments

Someone wrote to say, “I have published one nonfiction book, and have a contract for another.  But I’m not happy with my agent, and would like to change. What suggestions can you give me to make this happen without hurting feelings?”

You want advice for ending a relationship with no hurt feelings? I have none. The end of any relationship usually has some hurt feelings. If you’re decided, I’d bet that there will be some pain. But before you move forward with that, I’d like you to consider something… 

Most of the time an author wants to fire an agent it’s because some expectation wasn’t met — the project didn’t go out fast enough, the phone calls weren’t frequent enough, the money wasn’t great enough. The frustration builds, and they eventually get to the point where someone says, “That does it — I’m leaving!” But in my experience, having a good conversation can often clean up the bulk of the problems. (Not always, but a lot of the time.) So go back and talk to your agent before racing into this decision. And by the way, having clear expectations, for what both sides want, can resolve a lot of issues. Frequently a good conversation about the struggles you’re having will give the agent a better picture of how to move forward with you.

Case in point: I once had an author fire me and state, “You can never remember my children’s names!” My response was something along the line of, “Um… you have children?” I didn’t realize that part of the relationship was so important to her — turns out she felt it was critical. Now I try to do a better job of gauging what each author wants. Just so you know, there is no “one right way” to have an agent/author relationship, just like there’s no “one right way” to have any friendship. Each is unique.

So make sure you talk through the issues before you jump into a decision. With that in mind, let me offer a few guidelines for trying to move forward…

First, be clear. If your agent hasn’t emailed you frequently enough, say something like, “I’d prefer if I heard from you more often.” Get the issues out on the table. Last year I had an author complain to me about her agent. I encouraged the author to talk about her expectations clearly with her agent. She did, the two of them worked it out, and all is now well. As in most relationships, if you don’t have a clear airing of issues, it’s just about impossible to resolve the issues. 

Second, be honest. I had an author approach me a few years ago and describe this difficult event she’d had with her agent. That agent happened to be a friend of mine, and when we were chatting one time, the author’s name came up. Turns out that event never actually happened — the author was simply unhappy, and decided to make up a story in order to get out of the relationship. Hey, just tell the truth. If something happened that you didn’t like, talk about it. Perhaps there’s an explanation that will make things better. Maybe there are simply differing assumptions. 

Third, be reasonable. I know an author who wanted to fire her agent because he didn’t get her a deal in 15 days — on a project that smply didn’t merit that sort of pace. They say pride goes before a fall, so try to keep your ego and expectations in check a bit. Sometimes patience is all that’s needed — publishing is a slow business. And decisions I’ve raced into tend to be the ones I regret. A writing project, even a great writing project, can often take some time to sell. Don’t be in a hurry to change agents just because things haven’t gone as fast as you’d hoped. 

Of course, there are times where things just don’t work out. Two people don’t get along the way they thought they would, or an agent has tried and simply can’t sell a particular author. If you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not working, then talk about it with your agent. Neither side really wants to stay in a relationship that’s frustrating. In the end, you’ll need to write a polite letter that basically says, “Thanks for all your good efforts, but I’m going to go a different direction.” Make sure you’re contractually clear to move on, then try to end cleanly. Don’t burn bridges in this business.

Got a question about publishing or writing? Send it along and I’ll do my best not to screw up the answer.

Ask the Agent: What if another agent took my manuscript out already?

June 29th, 2015 | Agents, The Business of Writing | 1 Comment

This question came to my in-box recently: What is the protocol for getting an agent for a book that was agented before? I don’t think I should withhold that information, but I don’t want to put up roadblocks either. I’ve let it stop me from going forward and could use your input.


If you had an agent in the past who took your book to market but was unable to land you a deal, by all means reveal that to your new agent or prospective agent. For example, if my buddy Greg Johnson has taken a World War II novel manuscript out to all the houses doing those types of books, then I need to know that. Things with the manuscript would have to change for me to take it out to publishers. We may need to shift the story a bit, do some heavy rewrites, re-title it, or do some serious revising to make it work. So if you took this out to editors already once, it’s fine to try again, but you need to let me know what’s changed.


So if you had an agent take the manuscript out a couple years ago, and have done serious work on it to change and improve it, talk to your agent about it. Find out where it was sent, and, if you can, what was said about it. That will help him or her when they start talking to editors about it and somebody begins asking questions.

The thing to remember is that there’s no magic in MY taking a book out that everyone has already rejected. Occasionally I’ll have an author approach me with a manuscript and say, “Well, this other guy has shown it around to everyone already.” Okay… so why would I be able to land it? It’s not like I can take a book and place it with an editor who has already seen it and said “no thanks.” (And I don’t want to be surprised by having an editor tell me, “Um, Chip… we already turned this down three months ago.” It makes me look stupid, and won’t win you any friends.) So just be open about it up front. Maybe I know of some houses that haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps I know of changes at a house, so the story might now be a fit. Maybe I know of an editor at a house who is looking for exactly this type of story, but we need to change the book’s title or the names of the characters to get a fresh review. Maybe I can suggest a smaller house for you to go to, where it might be a fit. Just be open about it. And understand that if everyone has seen the book, another agent probably isn’t going to help you land a deal. At that point, you may want to self-publish, or set it aside for a season.

Ask the Agent: What if my story doesn’t fit a genre?

June 22nd, 2015 | Agents, Current Affairs | 2 Comments

I’ve been getting all sorts of interesting (if sometimes random) questions from readers lately, and wanted to offer some notes on genres, writing style, and the contemporary publishing market. Here are some questions that came in recently:

What do you do when your story doesn’t fit into the box of any specified genre? For instance, if characters and/or objects in a story symbolize something deeper, but the story can also be taken as a literal story (e.g., The Le Petit Prince or Pilgrim’s Progress), is it going to be classified as inspirational, or drama, or children’s story? Is there some other genre out there that I’m missing?

If you have a story that uses characters or objects that symbolize something deeper, you’re probably writing an allegory. And right now there is very little market for allegory. A bit, perhaps, with “business fables” that teach organizational principles, or the occasional sci-fi novel, possibly with some children’s books. But for most part, allegories are one tough sell.

I am a freelance editor and writer, so editing is what (barely) pays the bills, but I have a couple of novel projects I feel need to come out of me. However, my writing style tends to reflect the style of books I love to read—the descriptive, long-sentence style of Dickens, for example. Dickens is one of the greats, but nowadays the passive construction has a bad rap and “show, don’t tell” seems to be the motto of the industry. My question is this: is there a market for descriptive writing anymore?

The truth? Not much of one. Maybe you could capture a new audience and re-start it, but no, the culture has moved on from that style. Remember, writing is art, and art needs its own new expressions in each generation. That’s why it’s hard to go back and read James Fenimore Cooper – his prose just doesn’t work in contemporary culture. (For that matter, try going back just fifty years and reading Jack Kerouac or Ernest Hemingway – great writers, but they feel dated to most contemporary readers.) The same is true in any art – most of us probably aren’t listening to a lot of Gregorian chants or hanging wall art of medieval paintings. You might do so occasionally, because you value the artistry of another age, but few people want a steady diet of art from another era. I’m a huge Dickens fan, and love reading his stuff, but I realize he’s a tough sell in our own generation.

Would you please tell about publishers who market only to the Library Market? 

There are some publishing houses that have a direct-to-library division. These imprints usually produce expensive (roughly $35) hardcover books with sturdy bindings – perfect for the rough handling many library books get. The printed books are not carried by bookstores, though sometimes print copies can be ordered from Amazon (again, they’re a bit pricey). The ebook was formerly not commonly available, but is now often made available not long after the print release. These imprints are usually looking for topics that might appeal to schools or enthusiasts, but which would not have a broad commercial appeal. I’ve done sports books, history, and memorabilia titles with library imprints.

What would be the average number of copies they would print for an average book, or print run?

That depends on the size of the publishing house and the projected sales of the book. A small house may only print 500 copies of a book that is seen as having limited sales potential, but may print as many as 2500 copies of a book they are hoping finds a readership. A medium sized house may print as few as 3000 copies of a debut novelist, but may print 10,000 copies of a book they think will have some breakout potential. A large house may start with as few as 5000 copies of a book, will often have two or three times that in the warehouse, and has been known to print hundreds of thousands of copies on a surefire hit.

Got a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Send it in, and we’ll try to get to it this month!

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

May 26th, 2015 | Agents, Conferences | 0 Comments

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)

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

May 21st, 2015 | Agents | 1 Comment

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)

What have you wanted to Ask An Agent?

May 18th, 2015 | Agents | 8 Comments

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. 

Ask the Agent: How can I know if this is the agent for me?

May 1st, 2015 | Agents | 0 Comments

I’ve recently had a bunch of agenty questions cross my desk…

I understand the need to sell an agent on me and my work, but I also want an agent who I can work with long term.  At what point in the process is it appropriate for me to explore if we are compatible?  I’d hate to sell an agent on a proposal and then need to turn him or her down.

But that happens all the time. It’s why I encourage authors to research agents, talk to them if at all possible, and see if the two of you are a fit. This is in many ways a business partnership, so you don’t want to be linked up with someone you don’t like, or don’t trust, or you just don’t feel on the same page with. Think of it this way: You don’t want to start a business with someone you have doubts about; you don’t want to be seeing a doctor that you don’t believe knows what he is doing; you don’t want to invest money with a fund manager you feel may be incompetent. This is why I frequently tell authors that I’m not the agent for everybody – writers sometime will hear me speak at a conference and think I’m the guy they want as an agent, but if we haven’t met and talked, I may be exactly the wrong type of match for them.

So what to do? First, make sure you know what YOU need in an agent. Second, take some time to research the agents you’re talking to. Third, get a chance to talk with the agent for longer than a ten minute pitch session, so you can find out what he or she is like. Fourth, if at all possible, get a chance to meet the agent face to face, so you really get a feel for strengths, weaknesses, personal style, and match.


How important is location when selecting an agent? I’ve been told by some authors that it’s best if your agent is in NY, where they can casually trade info over drinks. Yet I’ve seen a number of agents who seem excellent except they are located in North Carolina or California. How important is it really to be in the hub of the Big Apple?

I hear this all the time – “You can’t really make a living as an agent unless you’re in New York.” Uh-huh. I used to be an associate publisher with a New York-based publishing house. Over the past eight years, I’ve done more book deals than any other agent in the US. And I live on the Oregon coast. Jane Dystel has done the next most. She lives in California. Natasha Kern has done the next most. She lives in Washington state. Laura Bradford is probably in the top five or six. She lives in San Diego. So does Sandy Dijkstra. Roberta Brown lives in Florida. Steve Laube lives in Phoenix.

Look, I’m not saying that spending time in New York isn’t important – I go back a few times each year, so I can be face to face with editors and keep the relationships fresh. But the days of wandering around the city and having three martini lunches on a regular basis? They’re done. There are great literary agencies in New York – Foundry, Trident, Inkwell, Writers House, DeFiore, Janklow and Nesbit, Greenburger, Danny Baror, etc. But there are great literary agents spread all over the country. Living in New York has not kept me from staying busy and being successful at this job.


How important is the size of the agency? Many of the agents I’m looking at seem great, however they have a staff of two or three. What happens when an agent has a personal crisis, death in the family or coma-inducing fifty-car pileup? Who takes up the slack in a tiny agency? Is it better to go mid-size or are my concerns unrealistic?

A great question. Disasters can happen with anyone, and if your agent suddenly faces problems, it can slow things down for you. But I’ve found that publishers tend to be understanding – I went through this situation several years ago when my mom had her stroke (and passed away a few days later). Obviously, stuff with most writers and publishers took a back seat while I was dealing with hospitals and funeral homes. Everyone was accommodating and understanding. The fact that I was working for a multi-person agency might have helped a bit, but not much, since other agents didn’t really have much contact with the authors I represented. There are several other agents working at MacGregor Literary, and I’m sure they’d all step in to assist if I were hit by a bus… though their knowledge of the authors and projects would be limited. Perhaps this could be a concern at a one-person agency, since there is nobody to help pick up the slack.

Questions Book Cover


Hey, do you have a question you want to ask a literary agent? You can send it to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. OR you could pick up a copy of my new book — How can I find a Literary Agent? (and 101 other questions writers ask), hot off the presses from The Benchmark Press. Find it in print or as an ebook at