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    May 23, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How much should I charge for speaking?

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    This question came in: “Ever since my book released, I’ve been asked to speak several times — sometimes at large venues, sometimes at very small places. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak. A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”

    This is a question we’ve talked about on the blog a few times. Happy to begin the conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events.

    Okay, I think the first thing you have to determine is your base pay. How much is your base pay for a one hour talk? For a beginner, it might be $100. I’ve worked with some big-name celebrities that were changing $10,000 for a one-hour talk. (Nice work if you can get it.) But let’s say your base pay is somewhere in the middle — let’s say yours is $500 for an hour, or $300 for a half hour. If you are offered, for example, $300 for speaking one time for 30 minutes to a small group, but it’s a conference and they also want  you to speak a few other times, you just have to map out the extra costs. Or say they want you to speak once to a large group for an hour ($500), then lead a workshop to a smaller group for ($300 to $500?), then sit on a panel ($150?). By thinking of your base pay and the number of times you speak, you can pencil out the fee pretty quickly.

    Of course, it might take an entire day, and some speakers do a minimum daily rate. So let’s say you set a daily rate of $1000 — that makes it easy to know what to charge. And you have to fly to Atlanta to do it, you add in travel costs, so you can say to them, “That will be a

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    May 12, 2016

    And the wiener is… The Tenth Annual Bad Poetry Contest Comes to an End

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    Like watching a kid you don’t like fall down a set of stairs, all good things must come to an end. And we here at your Bad Poetry Contest Headquarters are facing the end of the line — our time for sharing deep thoughts and showing off our sensitive side is ending. We can now go back to being arrogant, know-it-all agent jerks. With that ending, we must select one wiener from the bunch (er… “winner”) and proclaim him or her the Bad Poetry King or Queen (or, if like so many people in North Carolina, they don’t know their gender, we’ll name them “the Bad Poetry Quing” — since we want everyone to feel comfortable).

    The poems have been posted, the wisdom shared, the emotions emoted. There were some wonderful entrants this year. We had Stephanie Yuhas (who in real life writes for “Mystery Science Theater”) mulling her old keys. Marie Prys, a wonderful editor, pondering the deep mysteries of a dog park. And Jim Gullo, sniffing feet while ruminating on the smell of “Earth Mother Bisquick.” Who can forget Lydia revealing she is “100% certified lonesome and there is no remedy; my weepful-juices are sloshing off my cheeks.” That’s right. Weepful-juices. Brilliant. And Tricia, who noted that she could “smell the inside of her head,” then gazed into the bleary eyes of her lover, only to find them “blue. Blue as toilet bowl cleaner.” That brilliant image sticks with me, like the tissue that just won’t go away no matter how many times you flush.

    Those are all truly Bad Poems, offered with grace and, frequently, the use of heavy medication. I believe all of these entrants deserve you to look them in the eye and say, “Yes. You’re sensitive artists. Now go away or I’ll call the police.”

    But, of course, we wouldn’t have been able to bring you our Bad Poetry Contest for ten years (TEN

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    May 9, 2016

    The Tenth Annual Bad Poetry Contest continues…

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    It’s your last chance… If you’re a Bad Poet, you can achieve some small measure of fame by entering our tenth annual Bad Poetry Contest. But it ends this week!

    A bit of history: Every year, on the week of my birthday, we take a break from talking books and publishing, and we focus on Bad Poetry. The lousy rhyme schemes, the faux depth, the aura of “look at how sensitive I am,” and we just let it all hang out there. So if you, too, are a Bad Poet, I extend my personal invitation to go to the comments section and let us see your worst. Lousy limericks, crappy couplets, horrible haiku, freaking-lousy free verse… it’s all there, waiting for you, like a warm glass of milk at the end of a hot day.

    So don’t delay — start emoting now! Drop in and share some of your Bad Self. This year’s winner gets a huge prize: a genuine, autographed edition of my Y2K Family Survival Guide (the book that saved western civilization as we know it). What do you have to lose except your Monday morning blues? Stop in and dump your deep thoughts, people!

    -Chip

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    May 4, 2016

    The Tenth Annual BAD POETRY CONTEST!

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    I know you’ve been waiting all year for me to host my 10th annual BAD POETRY CONTEST at the blog — so here is another reason to go on living. One week from today is my birthday, and I always try to celebrate by inviting all the bad poetry my friends can muster. Just go to the bottom of this blog, hit “comments,” and post some lousy piece of doggerel as your way of joining in the celebration. It can be a crappy couplet, a crummy free verse, a lousy limerick (let’s stay away from rhyming with the city of “Nantucket”), or any other ditty you create that shows what a sensitive and thoughtful artist you are, when you don’t happen to be worrying about your lack of a book contract or whining about the bad job of marketing your publisher is doing for you.

    For those not in the know, this contest grows from my belief that every poet has the same message, which can be subtly summed up this way: “LOOK AT ME! I AM SENSITIVE AND REFLECTIVE AND NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME! SO I’LL SHOW THEM HOW DEEP I AM BY WRITING POETRY!” (Feel free to edit that statement if you’re truly deep and meaningful.) I want you to know that I’m here for all you poets. In fact, I was once accused of being sensitive, and have occasionally been forced to reflect on something — that is, until I could grow up and get over it. Therefore, I’ve set aside the next week just for you. Write! Create! Sit and contemplate your navel! Do…um…whatever it is you poets do while the rest of us are out earning a living. Then send in your bad poetry! There are no rules, except that you don’t send in “birthday” poems. This isn’t a celebration of me aging — it’s a celebration of terrible writing, of faux depth, of deepful meaningness.

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    May 3, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How can I create great memoir?

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    For a month now I’ve been doing “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask anything you want of a literary agent. We had one person write in to say, “A memoir is a deeply personal story covering many avenues of thought. My tell-all of escaping the mental imprisionment of American Fundamental Extremism (having been inadvertently exiled because I admitted to being gay) is hard to pigeonhole. How do I determine how to present it to its broadest advantage, and find an agent who can appreciate the scope of its message?”

    Yeah, that’s too long. (The fact is, the comment was actually much longer, and meandered a bit.) But what you’re basically asking is, “How do I write a great memoir?” And the secret of success with memoir is to write it like a novel. A memoir isn’t an autobiography — who reads autobiography these days? An autobiography is a careful retelling of everything that occurred, so you’ll be spending a lot of time researching sources, and making sure each date is correct. A memoir is a reminiscence — the stories and themes that capture a place, a time, an event, a lesson, a life. So instead of writing it like a history textbook, you write it like a novel.

    That means you’re going to need to create a story arc. Not all the details will fit. You figure out which details we need in order to see your story. And the story will reveal to you where to start, and where to end, what stories will be told, and what will be left out. There will be an inciting incident, and decisions that lead to changes, because that’s what creates a story. It will have characters, whom we care about, and they’ll say and do things that matter in some way. You’ll not just talk about what you did, and what it was like, but what you

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    May 2, 2016

    Ask the agent: What if i don’t want to talk about money?

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    We’ve been doing our “Ask the Agent” series for a month now, and I still have a handful of questions to get to. Someone sent this: “I hate talking money when it comes to my writing. I wanted to do this for the art, not for money! How can I get over my reluctance to talk dollars?”

    I realize some authors are reluctant to talk about money issues, but it’s necessary if you’re going to get to know the business. When I was a free-lance writer, I noticed that publishers (both magazine and book publishers) tended to put me on the bottom of the pay ladder because I was a small free-lancer. I once called a publisher to complain that I hadn’t been paid, and the response was, “Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Guess we’ll get you next quarter.” To them, it was a measley $1500 they owed me. But to me, it was MY HOUSE PAYMENT that month. So, yeah, I eventually got over my reluctance to talk money with publishers.

    But if you’re going to talk money, that means you have to know what you’re worth (in terms of money-per-page or money-per-hour), and you have to be able to share that with others. The good news is that it gets easier to talk about when you have a pretty good feeling of your value. I mean, if you know you should be making $3000 per month, and the publisher asks you to work on a freelance project that will take two months, it’s much easier to say, “I’ll need to make about $6000 for that project” than to take a wild stab at a number.

    So let me suggest something… Figure out what you’d like to make from your writing in a year. (You need to be reasonable. Don’t say, “A million dollars” unless your name is James Patterson or George R.R. Martin.) Let’s say you think it’s reasonable for

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    April 29, 2016

    Ask the Agent: What have you always wanted to ask an agent?

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    This month we’ve been doing our “Ask the Agent” series — your chance to ask a literary agent anything you want. I’ve received a bunch of short questions (or questions that don’t require a long answer), so I wanted to take today’s blog and try to jump on several of them…

    Do you see a resurgence in literary fiction? 

    I do. What a lot of people don’t realize is that fiction is always the thing that has paid the bills at big publishing houses, and literary fiction (in one form or another) has often been the genre that created the biggest impact on the culture. Literary fiction, like all genres, will wax and wane a bit. But we’re seeing huge successes in today’s market with literary fiction.

    Are you more or less likely to take on an author who has self-published?

    Neither. It depends on the author. If an author has proven that she can sell her indie-published book, then publishers will take note of that, thus making the selling of her rights easier. But if I love a manuscript, even if the indie version of that title that isn’t selling, we may just encourage her to take it down and let us sell the book. The fact of the author self-publishing doesn’t make me more or less inclined to work with her.

    What does an author do if she has great word-of-mouth network, but still is struggling to build a social media platform? 

    My advice would be to preach patience. A strong social media platform can be developed, but it takes time. Perhaps too many authors are impatient and want big success right now.  The fact is, if you’ve got a great word-of-mouth network, that should pretty easily translate into a strong social media platform, given some time and effort.

    Are agents taking on more culturally diverse projects?

    I think everyone is publishing is trying to. We’ve all been

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    April 28, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda / Ask the Agent: Using Wattpad as an Author

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    1We’re doing an Ask the Agent series, and a few questions came in about Wattpad, the website that allows writers to upload and share their work with readers. Authors can upload entire books at once or they can upload chapters or scenes. Many use Wattpad to get feedback from readers as they write, and some have developed pretty substantial followings.

    Here are the questions that our reader asked:

    Does sharing your work through Wattpad count as self-publishing? Does it affect how traditional publishers see you?

    Can Wattpad be a powerful marketing tool or a risky way to show unpolished work?

    If you use it, would it be better to share just the first part of your book (so that you don’t give away the ending) or the whole thing?

    I remember a few years ago, my friend was seeing some really great success on a HarperCollins-owned website called InkPop. The site was similar to Wattpad in that you’d upload your chapters as you wrote them and get feedback. The only difference was that InkPop promised that if you got high enough in the ranks, a literary agent would review your work. They even had an example of a young writer who had received a really nice HarperCollins book contract—all because of this website.

    My friend climbed really high really fast. Within a month, she was near the top and received the coveted agent review. But in all truth, her book was hastily written. She had uploaded the first bit on a whim, not thinking it would go over. And then it did. And then she felt pressured to hit the agent review deadline. So even though I was giving her feedback as she went, she didn’t have time to polish and perfect. She put forth a manuscript that wasn’t her best.

    Now, I think if any writer is on the cusp of getting a free review with an agent, he/she

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    April 26, 2016

    Ask the Agent: What do I do when I get a bad review on Amazon?

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    We’re doing “Ask the Agent,” when you can ask anything you want of a literary agent. Someone wrote to ask, “What do I do when I get a negative review on Amazon? I just got a terrible review on my most recent book, and it’s not fair.”

    It’s one of the things unpublished authors don’t realize… once you put something into print, it’s there forever. If you say something stupid, you’re stuck with it. You can go to the person and apologize, but the words are still out there, waiting to be discovered by millions of other potential readers who will never get to hear your personal explanation or apology. I know… I’ve been there. 

    Writing is a scary thing.

    I’ve often done fairly blunt assessments of books and events in publishing, and at times I’ve hurt people’s feelings. But I never set out to do that. I mean, it’s not like I saw the book, didn’t like the author, and decided to toast them just for fun. When I’ve said something was weak or badly written, it was because I was trying to offer an honest evaluation of a project. But that’s not universally practiced. Let’s face it — plenty of people ONLY want you to stay something nice. Or to say something awful. 

    So if you’re asked to review a book that’s bad, what are you supposed to do? Lie about it? It seems to me like the best thing to do is to be honest but as gracious as possible, speaking the truth (or at least the truth as you see it) in love. 

    Unfortunately, a bad review like that can hurt an author’s career (to say nothing of the author’s feelings). So I find that when I’m asked to review a book for a friend, I tend to simply stay away from reviewing a book I didn’t love. That means the title will get a falsely-positive

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    April 25, 2016

    Ask the Agent: Can you explain how my agent gets paid?

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    Someone wrote to ask, “Can you explain how an agent gets paid? Does the publisher send the author’s checks to the agent? Or does the money go to the author, who writes the agent a check? And is all this done before or after taxes?”

    Happy to explain this. Traditionally, when it was time for the publisher to send money, they would send the entire amount to the agent, who would then deduct his or her commission (the standard is 15%) and send a check for the balance to the author within ten days. This was the system that was in place for years, and many agencies still work with that system. The strength of it is that the agent knows the author has been paid, and paid the full amount. This is all pre-tax money, so at the end of the year the agent would send a 10-99 form to the author, detailing how much money was paid.

    When I started working as an agent 18 years ago, I was working for Alive Communications in Colorado, and they used a different system — divided payments. With that system, the publisher cuts TWO checks. The first is sent directly to the author, for 85% of the deal. The second is sent to the agent, for 15% (along with some sort of evidence that the author has been paid his or her amount). To my way of thinking, that was a better system. The author got paid faster. There was less bookkeeping for me. I didn’t have to fill out the 10-99’s. And, most importantly, I would never get a phone call from an author saying, “Hey, you big doofus — the publisher says they sent you my money two weeks ago! Where’s my check?!” I’ve found too many fights in business occur over money, and I prefer that the authors I represent feel as though we’re on the same side,

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