Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Natural Born Writer (a guest blog)

November 20th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

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

Can the Audiobook Save B&N?

November 20th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

That Time of Year Again

November 6th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

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.

And for an Additional Fee, We’ll Build a Machine to Read it for You as Well

October 29th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Publishing & Technology: And for an Additional Fee, We’ll Build a Machine to Read it for You as Well

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 machine learning, curated content, and discoverability. This week in Digital Book World Yasmine Askari reported on the launch of Canadian company Intellogo and their machine-learning based software’s potential applications in the publishing industry. According to the article, the new software will use machine learning to help publishers compare manuscript submissions with their current and back catalogs as well as using consumers read lists to custom tailor offerings by reader preference.

As anyone who has struggled to find good comps for a potential project can attest, this might be a fantastic new tool for editors in evaluating potential projects. Then again, it might be another step toward the automation of already tenuous positions. Regardless, it’s sure to help further maximize profitability forecasting, erroneous or otherwise.

What seems far more chilling is the idea that machine learning can use algorithms to mine our preferences and customize what we see as available for purchase. Discoverability is the core of successful book marketing. Using machine learning, tweaked as it will inevitably be to showcase content that is most likely to drive sales, will inevitably narrow the titles presented to readers rather than expanding it. And, If this argument seems a little too familiar, refresh yourself with another look at Mike Shatzkin’s oft referred to post Do ebook consumers love bestsellers, or does it just look that way? In which he argues that commerce (as expressed through a variety of factors) and not consumer preference, is the primary driving force behind the continuing success of best sellers, in terms of discoverability.

Literary Jetpacks for All!

October 14th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Publishing & Technology: Literary Jetpacks for All!
Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literarystock-photo-jetpack-businessman-in-flight-271332893. 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 innovation, “publishing’s jetpack,” and the Dutch “Renew the Book” competition. If you are of a certain age and inclination, then you probably remember eyeing Jean-Luc Picard’s Kindle-like reading device with understandable envy. You may have even been pleasantly surprised to see that one piece of twenty-fourth century technology appear at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But would you really call the advent of the e-reader a revolution in the way books are used and enjoyed? Setting aside the incredible leaps in technology that it’s taken us to get to the age of the smartphone, tablet, and e-reader, it’s still difficult to see the ability to read digital text as “publishing’s jetpack.”

As Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, Edward Nawotka reports in an editorial in this month’s edition of his newsletter, something more disruptive, more pillar-shaking, may be on the way if the Dutch Publishers Association’s “Renew the Book” project yields the results that it has the potential to. Five companies are about to relocate to Amsterdam for forty days and forty nights of non-stop innovation. In the end, the winner will take home a prize of 15,000 Euros. Let’s hope they actually create something akin to a literary jetpack with that money. I for one am ready to take to the literary skies. For more information on the contest and the participating startups check out this article on the Dutch News website, or

An unsung hero

October 10th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Unsung heroes are all around us.

Look at you and I, with our publishing contracts, rubbing shoulders with famous writers at glamorous conferences, and agents who know their business and find promise in us. People look up to us as heroes. We have the best jobs in the world!

Heroes also feed the poor, teach the less fortunate, and enable those with special needs to live fulfilling lives. If you do those tidbits of selflessness and many other acts of kindness, yes, you’re a hero.

My brother is an unsung hero. A pastor of a small church, he took your stories and reference books and used them to teach his assembly. He has no book contracts, no glamor, no rise in fame. He served his congregations for a higher calling, and asked for nothing. He fed the poor. He cared for the weak. He taught his family morals and to love others.

Now, he’s dying.

Late stage IV melanoma. He’s 37, with a wife and three children under 13. He has but a few months to live, and with cutting edge treatment, perhaps a year. But it’s spreading too fast.

I humbly ask that you consider using your giftedness to, in some small way, encourage and bless my brother. You would help bear the burden of someone who would be embarrassed and probably mortified if he knew I were writing this because he, in his words, always wanted the spotlight to shine on Jesus alone.

If you’re interested in sending a book or a note of encouragement, a text or video message, email me at and I can send you his information.

Francis Chan, Randy Alcorn, and many others have been a huge encouragement to him this week. Here’s your chance to be a hero to one of the good guys.

Follow his story here: Christopher Leavell


And here: Go Fund Me



Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 IMG_9833-1winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at


Double Posting for a Negative Return

October 1st, 2015 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Publishing & Technology: Double Posting for a Negative Return

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 using social media platforms to drive engagement with audience, a common misconception about posting duplicate content to LinkedIn, and the ramifications of doing so.

Earlier this year LinkedIn opened up its long form publishing platform to all members (formerly it was only available to LinkedIn’s “influencers” – I’m still not entirely sure what the distinction meant). Almost immediately a flood of “fresh” content swamped the social media platform as a significant chunk of LinkIns 340-million strong user base rushed to repost identical copies of material they’d already posted on their company website or professional blog. Yes, several authors and prospective authors did so as well. This was a mistake for a variety of reasons.

First off, the power of LinkedIn’s size as a platform naturally affords it a better ranking in search engine results for identical content (yes search engines can tell when identical content is posted on more than one site). Because the LinkedIn version of the identical post ranks higher than the original posting on the author’s site or blog, the search engine will naturally lower the rank of that other site or blog for all postings, regardless of content. Additionally, duplicate content sends a message to your already converted fans that you couldn’t be bothered to put together new content of value prior to re-engaging with them over social media. It’s considered a bad practice for a wide variety of other reasons, but we’ll save those for another post someday. Suffice it to say, that if you are going to spend time building your platform as an author try to make each effort a unique and directly engaging one. Your fans will thank you and reward you for it (along with the search engines).

Permissionless Innovation

September 24th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Publishing & Technology: Permissionless Innovation

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 wattpad, the concept of permissionless innovation, and the ongoing expansion of the world of fanfiction. I have been fascinated with the world of fanfiction for a couple of years now. But it was a recent post from Jane Tappuni on the Publishing Technology blog and her application of Benedict Evans’s logic regarding the concept of permissionless innovation to her analysis of the success of Kindle and Wattpad, and specifically the following comment that got me interested in writing about this topic this week. Tappuni says:

“Not only does the concept of ‘permissionless innovation’ explain the success of Kindle and Wattpad, it also explains why so many publishing-focused start-ups fail. While Wattpad has focused on being the network that hosts an entirely new form of content, many publishing start-ups instead want to take publishers’ content and put it on another platform. This makes them dependent on publishers who need to be convinced the start-up has the right business model, will take care of their content and will provide a financial return that’s comparable to a traditional retail sale before they hand over the right to sell their IP. Instead of innovating, they end up negotiating.”
Having dabbled a bit in “publishing-focused start-ups” myself, I can tell you, with great sincerity, that the reluctance of publishers to license content for innovative methods of delivery is a major barrier to entry, and hence to innovation in the publishing world. A certain amount of caution regarding the undercutting of their primary come-to-market strategy is understandable. But, the degree to which traditional publishers have generally blocked the use of their IP from anyone hoping to legitimately apply technological innovation to written IP has not only hampered innovation, it has limited their ability to take advantage of emerging technologies and the developers who need both IP and investment to get those technologies off the ground.

The Argument for Metamedia

September 9th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Publishing & Technology: The Argument for Metamedia

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 the prematurely forecasted death of the codex and the emergence of “metamedia” and the “bibliographic” writer. I recently was afforded the opportunity to peruse an advance copy of Alexander Starre’s forthcoming title Metamedia: American Book Fictions and Literary Print Culture after Digitization due out this fall from the University of Iowa Press.

In the book Starre examines a new phenomena in contemporary American literature, a rediscovering of the print book as an artistic medium in and of itself. Starre argues that this trend, as exemplified by a fusing of design and text, is a direct reaction to the proliferation of e-book readers and the ongoing conversation surrounding the digitization of reading.

He looks at Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and other works, Jonathan Safran Foer’s books, and a variety of offerings from McSweeney’s, attempting to establish these works as metamedia for the way in which they challenge traditional notions of the way in which books (and authors) communicate with readers. He argues that these works are expanding on our ideas of the book, or the text, as a flat communicative device.

Unfortunately, while Metamedia provides readers with an excellent investigation of what is at play (and in some ways at stake) in these works, it does little to advance its assertion that what is happening is truly a new development in the world of publishing. Except for the fact that these works may represent initial forays into metamedia territory for “serious” literature, they are no more revolutionary (or reactionary to the digital delivery of text) than the pop-up books you may have read as a child.

Reading the Cloud

September 3rd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Publishing & Technology: Reading the Cloud

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 e-readers, cloud-based computing, mobile apps, and the Fabrik cloud e-book reader.

When I recently broadened my role with MacGregor Literary, from exclusively dealing in translation and other subsidiary rights to representing new works for publication (for clarity’s sake, I am not open to unsolicited manuscripts at this time), my reading for work increased exponentially. Initially, I was content with reading manuscripts directly on my laptop. But, over time this became an issue as more and more of my time was spent in the office “working.” And less and less “relaxing” with my family. I solved the problem by borrowing a rarely used Kindle from a friend and downloading my work reading as PDFs onto the device. I could then “relax” with the family, while “working.” For some reason the change in device represented a change in my behavior to the observers (who spend half of their time exhibiting second-screen behavior of their own). I have been happy with Kindle, but my friend has been making noises about wanting it back soon for an extended trip out of state, so I find myself with a problem.

Recently, I finally broke my iPhone4. And, while perusing the available upgrades at my mobile provider, I was enticed with a bundled deal that would allow me to also pick up an Android-based tablet for very little extra money. So, I dove into the internet and began looking up Android-based e-reader apps in the hopes that I might find something that mirrored the features of the Kindle that I enjoyed while being compatible with the tablet that I haven’t necessarily committed to purchasing yet.

While reading through Android Authority’s 15 Best eBook reader Android Apps article, I happened upon the Fabrik cloud-based e-reader app, which also appears on several top lists for 2015 Android apps. Initially, cloud-compatibility wasn’t even on my list of considerations in looking for an e-reader or e-reader application. But, the more I think about it, and the more I examine the price differences between smartphones and tablets that seem completely based on the amount of storage available on the various devices, the more cloud-based reading seems like more of an inevitability than a convenient option. I may be too old to ever completely trust the cloud with my music collection, family photos, or books. But for manuscripts that may never see publication and books in which I am interested enough to read, but perhaps not to keep, it may be the next big thing to push me toward the sky.