Chip MacGregor

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 publishers are excited about coloring books and devotionals, there continues to be a lot of excitement for bloggers with a big following, speakers with a huge audience, celebrities with a proven platform, and the occasional well-written memoir by someone with exceptional talent. Authors are excited about the growth of CreateSpace and similar companies, since it means they can create and sell professional editions of their own books without having to warehouse a ton of them. I think people are excited about foreign markets starting to open up (particularly China, which offers huge opportunity). And there seems to be genuine excitement in the market for deeper-life writers who are outside of denominationalism, but offering  a fresh perspective on theology from a hands-on experience (I’m thinking of Shauna Niequist, Sarah Miles,  Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Thebarge, etc.).

I’ve heard some established agents are also published in the genre they represent… Is that a conflict of interest, consider the author and agent could potentially be competing for the same slot with a publishing house?

There are differing opinions on this. Some people think it’s a conflict of interest, since the agent could conceivably promote his or her manuscript over the author’s. Others (myself included) think that argument is overblown. First, publishing generally doesn’t have certain “slots” available, to be filled by competing projects — instead, publishers  evaluate each project on its own, and either contract it or not. Second, agents often represent several authors within a genre. If an agent specializes in romance novels, for example, he or she will have several writers pitching manuscripts in that category — they’re all competing with each other for a spot with a publishing house, so this type of competition is nothing new or different. Third, and I’ll admit this is simply my own experience, I’ve never met an agent who was trying to compete with the authors he or she represented. Maybe it happens, but not with any good, qualified agents I know. All of that aside, if you’re uncomfortable with the situation, talk to the agent about it. If you genuinely feel you won’t get a fair shake, you probably need a different agent.

I realize that agents get inundated with queries and can’t respond to each one, but when they’ve sent out a request for either a partial or a full manuscript, then reject it, why don’t they do ahead and type one or two sentences that might potentially help the writer? They’ve already taken the time to read the pages!

Well, sometimes we do (I tend to try and share a couple sentences to help the author if I requested the project in the first place). BUT keep in mind that an agent is only going to take on a handful of projects — so he or she is going to reject most of the projects that are reviewed. That being the case (and get ready for me to sound heartless), those rejected projects aren’t going to make the agent any money. So every minute he spends on a rejected proposal is time and potential money lost. You’re asking him or her to invest resources in a project that they aren’t going to work on or sell. For that reason, most agents simply don’t want to invest the time to respond to all the rejections. And again, an agent is not an editorial service — if you’re really looking for a place to talk through your manuscript, you may find the most helpful place to go is an editorial service, who will read and respond to the story, characters, settings, action, dialogue, and themes.

Got a question you’ve always wanted to ask an agent? Drop it into the comments section below and I’ll get to it soon! 

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  • Dawn says:

    I had an agent request my full manuscript 5 months ago and hasn’t read it yet. I’ve made some revisions to my original manuscript and I was wondering if I should go ahead and send this “new and improved” version to the agent or if by doing so it would raise a red flag on my original submission. I’d really appreciate your insight on this.

  • Rebecca says:

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

  • Marissa Burt says:

    If an already-published fiction author wants to try writing in a new genre, do they need to query/submit with a completed manuscript? Specifically, I am a traditionally published middle-grade author and am 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 first chapters? And would an interested agent want a completed book before going out on submission or would they consider submitting a proposal? Thank you so much!

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