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    October 20, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Boxed Sets, Memoirs, and Querying Questions


    We’ve been spending the month of October doing “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent…

    I had an agent at a conference request my full manuscript. That was five months ago, and he hasn’t read it yet. I’ve made some revisions to my original manuscript… do I send the “new and improved” version to the agent, or is that a red flag that my original submission may not have been strong enough? 

    Sometimes it takes awhile for an agent to read and respond to queries — even requested ones. The focus for an agent is usually on serving the clients he or she already has, rather than on finding new people, and events (such as the busy fall book season) can slow things down even more. Still, five months is a long time, in my book. I think you’re fine sending an email that says, “You’d asked to see this one several months ago. I know you’re busy, but I’ve been spending my time rewriting and improving my manuscript, so I think it’s much stronger now. Would you prefer to replace the existing version you have with my new, improved version?”  Some agents will probably hate this, but to me that seems a fair question to ask.

    USA Today bestselling boxed sets are the “hot new thing” in the indie world. Do publishers care?

    From my experience, every publisher likes to see that an author has hit the USA Today or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, and if you’re in a boxed set that hit the list, you can legitimately call yourself a “USA Today bestselling author.” So that’s great! Do publishers care when it’s a boxed set of twelve titles selling for 99 cents? Um… not very much. As I said, they’re always glad to see a proposal from a best-selling

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    October 18, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Were you really hit by a tornado?


    So… it’s been a bit of a weird weekend. On Friday, the little town I live in on the Pacific Coast was hit by a tornado. It came in off the ocean, tore right through our small downtown, damaged trees and homes, and demolished several buildings. My old office, where MacGregor Literary resided up until a few months ago, was hit. Holly Lorincz, who now runs her editorial company from that office, was in the building, had her windows blown in, 130 mph winds roar through her space, and is alive though very shaken. (She was with her ten year old son, and the two of them were nearly blown away.) My good buddy, the crime writer Steve Jackson, was on the second floor of a building that was badly damaged, and survived by diving under his bed. They’re lucky they didn’t wake up in Oz. And the really odd thing is that we simply don’t GET tornadoes here. It’s not usually warm enough, so there haven’t been a dozen tornadoes in Oregon in my lifetime that have done any real damage. Then this happens. So, as you can see, there’s been a lot activity here, and it’s partly why I’m a bit late with this blog. Since we’re doing “Ask the Agent” all this month, I’ll invite you to send in your questions in the “comments” section below…

    I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut on places like Facebook and Twitter. Can you be too opinionated online and ruin your chances of getting a contract?

    Sure you can. I’ve had to remind young people that posting weird stuff on Facebook is going to be seen by future employers, and I’d say to authors that posting over-the-top stuff online can bother people. (I speak from experience. I’m generally a conservative, but I think Donald Trump is a pending disaster, and my talking about it online has damaged some

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    October 13, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Credentials, Genres, and Weird Agent Advice


    We’re spending the month of October on “Ask the Agent,” where writers can send in any questions they have of a literary agent. Today’s questions…

    I am a fiction author, published under my own name. I also want to publish a few nonfiction works with my name and credential since it makes sense for credibility. Is that doable? Will I be able to use the same author page on Amazon?

    Of course that’s doable. There are plenty of writers who publish both fiction and nonfiction. And you can certainly do both on your Amazon author page… but you may not want to. Understand that fiction and nonfiction have completely separate audiences, so you can’t expect your fiction readers to be interested in your nonfiction writing. That’s why some writers use two separate personas and separate websites for their fiction and nonfiction work — different readership, different expectations, different approach. (I should also add that, in my experience, it’s tough to do both kinds of writing well. Nonfiction is all about telling; fiction is all about showing. Few writers really master both, in my view.)

    If a published novelist wants to try writing in a new genre, do they need to submit with a completed manuscript? I am a traditionally published middle-grade author, now working on an adult biblical fiction project. My current agent does not represent religious titles, so I will need to query agents that represent Christian fiction. Should I wait to do this until I’ve completed the novel? Or am I able to query with a synopsis and sample chapters? Would an interested agent want a completed novel before going out on submission or would they consider submitting a proposal?

    In today’s market, a writer jumping from children’s fiction to adult fiction will probably have to have a completed novel to get contracted. That’s not a sure thing (if you’ve had great success as a children’s book writer,

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    October 11, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Names, Trends, and Agents


    We’re doing “Ask the Agent” all this month — your chance to ask that question you’ve long wanted to run by a literary agent. It’s been nice to see so many people send in their questions. If YOU have a question you’d like to ask, leave it in the “comments” section and I’ll get to it later this week.

    I am recently divorced and I really would prefer to use my maiden name on my books. Should I use my maiden name for all communication? Change my name on my blog, Facebook, twitter, email, etc.? And should I do that immediately?

    As an agent, my sense is that’s a personal choice. If you want to use your maiden name, then use your maiden name. There are plenty of writers who LIVE with one name, and WRITE with another. Usually it’s because of a choice like this — using a married or maiden name, frequently after a divorce. My one bit of advice would be to keep some continuity with your marketing — ONE name on all your writing, at least at the start of your career.

    What is a hybrid author?

    In publishing, we use the term “hybrid author” to describe a writer who publishes some titles with traditional publishing houses, and some titles independently. Both of those routes have strengths and weaknesses, so it’s too simplistic to suggest (as some do) that one is good and the other bad. The hybrid author tries to gain the benefit of both avenues.

    I know you do both Christian books as well as non-religious books, but as a Christian, nonfiction author, can you tell me what is exciting about CBA nonfiction these days? 

    I can try. Understand that this is always changing — what’s working right now may not be working in six months; and what’s dead today might become the next big thing tomorrow. But right now I’d say that CBA

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    October 6, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Platforms, Pen-names, and Dreams


    We’re taking the month of October to do “Ask the Agent.” So what’s the question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here are some that have come in recently…

    Recognizing I have started to build my platform much later than I should have, do I give up on sending my manuscript to an agent until a platform is built (years later…) or is there a situation where sending out a proposal is valid? Should I be working towards self-publishing instead?

    You’re asking several questions here… First, building a platform is important to nearly every author, so it probably has to be done. Second, building a platform takes time, no matter where you’re starting. Third, don’t spend too much time worrying that you got a late start — instead, start where you are. Fourth, there are some tricks for increasing your platform that might be helpful (including borrowing the platforms of those who have gone before you), so spend some time looking at strategies. Fifth, there are certainly times when your book can land in spite of your platform, though I’ll admit those opportunities seem to be harder than they used to be. An experienced agent or manager might be able to help you with those choices. Sixth, you’re going to evaluate each project and its fit in the market — so if there’s an audience for your book, and it’s the type of project an agent represents, it might indeed be worth sending. And seventh, self-publishing could be an option that works best for you, so don’t view it as some sort of failure. Indie publishing is simply an alternative to traditional publishing, not a compromise.

    If you find a manuscript has potential do you give notes to improve the salability of the manuscript?

    Love this question. And my answer is “it depends on the situation.” If an author I don’t know sends me a proposal, I generally

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    October 3, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Publishers, Proposals, and Agents


    We’re going to take the month of October to focus on “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to talk to a literary agent about. I’ll tackle a bunch of the questions that have come in so far, and you can feel free to add more questions in the comments section below. Let’s get started…

    When you send a proposal to a few publishers, how long do you wait until you send to somebody else? Do you wait for an answer before sending to others? Is there a grace period?

    I get this question frequently, and while I can’t give you any definitive answers, I can offer some guidelines… If you send a proposal to an agent, most will tell you they try and get back in touch with a response within a couple of months, so depending on the time of year, let’s say it will be six to twelve weeks. Of course, all of us go on vacation or simply get into a busy season, and sometimes projects back up — but remember that “looking at proposals from authors we do not represent” is almost always going to fall behind “working on a project from an author I already represent.” Still, that’s a reasonable time frame. As far as waiting before you send to someone else, I can honestly say that I don’t care if another agent is looking at your work. I mean, I’m not the agent for everyone, so if you want to talk to another agent and let them review your work, that’s fine with me, though I realize not every agent will take that approach. That said, I do think if you haven’t heard from an agent in a couple months, it’s fine to check back and ask if they’ve had a chance to review it. And, let’s face it… if an agent has had your proposal

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    September 28, 2016

    Ten Bookstores in Five Days (a guest blog)


    I used to think that the answers to everything could be found in books.

    Now the internet has all the answers…or does it? I rarely find depth in Google offerings. So when I want to research something, I still turn to books.

    San Francisco is a city full of independent bookstores, both for new and used treasures. I usually have my eight or so favorite bookstores that I go to time and time again. But this time it was different. I deliberately went to unexplored bookstores in neighborhoods new to me.

    It was a joyful time. I loved the unexpected finds.

    After all, at Dog-Eared Books, I couldn’t have known that I wanted a history of women’s strength training with the title of “Venus with Biceps.”

    Or that at the art museum bookstore I needed a book called “Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk.”

    I delighted at finding book-related wisdom. In the Self-Help section of Green Apple books by the Golden Gate Park was a hand-lettered sign: “Aren’t all books self-help?”

    The Green Apple book cart at their main store on Clement Street had other wisdom: “Think before you speak. READ before you think.”

    I wanted the wallpaper in the backroom of Adobe Books that had the pattern of shelves of books.

    The wonderful thing is, even when I do the tour next time, there’ll be new treasures as well as old ones.

    How joyous!

    Pile of books on a black background

    Kathleen Colvin is a historical fiction writer, focusing on real women who have made a difference in the world. She wants you to know that her home has more than 2000 books on shelves in every room of the house.

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    September 26, 2016

    What makes a great first line?


    brick green no smile b:wIf you’re not familiar with me from my previous blog posts here (I stopped months ago) or my wildly popular Twitter account (where I’ve tweeted exactly six times in the past two years), my name is Erin Buterbaugh and I was an agent at MacGregor Literary working out of beautiful Denver, Colorado. My favorite piece of the agenting process, apart from the vast cash payouts, of course, was the editing/story development aspect of the job—I loved helping my authors make sure their manuscripts were in the best possible shape for showing, so the craft/mechanics side of writing seemed like the perfect area to focus some of my blog efforts on.

    First lesson—never end a sentence with a preposition, the way I just did. (Second lesson—once you know the rules, do whatever the heck you want, the way I just did!) I’ll try to split my time pretty evenly between the mechanics side and the story/writing side of things so this doesn’t become “just” a grammar series, but until people stop sending me submissions in which the commas are outside of the quotation marks, I’m going to carry on reminding people of the rules Miss Stinson tried to teach them in 9th grade.

    Since this is the first post of my new blog presence, I thought it would be fitting to look at what makes a great first line of a book. I’m sure you’ve read the same lists I have on Buzzfeed of the “21 Greatest First Lines in Fiction” or “The 100 Best Opening Lines of All Time,” etc., so rather than re-print all of those tired old “It is a truth universally acknowledged that it was the best of times and the clocks were striking thirteen” lines that everybody picks for their lists, I thought I’d pull some on my favorite first lines from children’s literature and look at some of the lessons they teach about great

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    September 21, 2016

    What have you always wanted to ask an agent?


    I started this blog nearly ten years ago (we’re coming up on the ten year anniversary for this blog), as a way to simply answer the questions writers have about the process. Some people wanted to ask about writing, others about publishing, still others about marketing. Writers asked about careers, they asked about proposals, and they asked about contracts. Lately we’ve had a ton of people asking about indie publishing and working with Amazon to become a hybrid author.

    Over the next couple of months, I thought we’d do an “ask me anything” segment. So… what have you always wanted to ask a literary agent? I’ve got a backlog of questions, but I thought I’d begin by simply asking the people who read this blog a question: If you could sit with me over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine somewhere, and ask anything you wanted, what would you want to know? What would you like to chat about?

    Drop a question in the “comments” section below, or send me an email at chip (at) macgregorliterary(dot)com, and I’ll try to offer short answers to your questions. You can ask about books, about proposals, about writing, career planning, marketing, platforms, proposals, or anything else. If I don’t know an answer, I’ll ask someone who does. If they don’t know, I’ll just make up something that sounds good. (Or maybe I’ll ask someone else.)

    So there you have it — October is gong to be “ask the agent” month. Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled questions yearning to breath free. I’ll do my best to get you a good response.


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    September 19, 2016

    The most overlooked marketing opportunity…


    I try not to always blog about book marketing, since I don’t want this blog to sound like Johnny-One-Note (though I would say between 60 and 70% of the questions I’m sent have to do with marketing and publicity), but sometimes there are topics that are just screaming to be talked about. Recently I’ve seen a TON of blog posts on various writer sites about marketing opportunities, and many of them say the same things (get into Pinterest, learn to maximize Google ads, etc). I’ve yet to see a single blog post on what I think is one of the great under-utilized marketing opportunities…

    Did you know that every fall, all the bookstores in your part of the country get together for a book show? The bookstore owners show up, and there are author interviews, publisher displays, book-and-retail educational classes, and all sorts of exhibits aimed at helping people get to know (and sell) more books. It’s the series of regional bookseller trade shows, and you’ve got one coming to your area sometime in the next two months.

    Hey, print book sales have made a comeback, so publishers have renewed their commitments to regional shows. And the movement to support local artists has boosted the interest in the fall regionals. These are unlike BEA, where you have to travel to Manhattan, spend $300 per night on a hotel room, and wander through the massive Javits Center for days on end. There are fewer people, a lot of smaller presses, and an emphasis on authors and publishers in your part of the country. And as an author, you’ll be face to face with local bookstore owners, so you can talk to them about their customers, hand-sell your book, and maybe arrange for an in-store event. Some of the regionals even have smaller wine-and-cheese gatherings (at least one of the conferences is doing meetings in author homes), so that there’s potential for

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