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Category : Career
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.
I’ve had a bunch of people write to ask some version of “How does a writer create a career plan?” There’s a lot of talk about it, but not much in the way of specifics.
As regular readers know, I have a background in organizational development — that is, the study of how an organization grows and changes over time. In my job as a literary agent, I’ve found it’s proven very helpful when talking to writers about their careers, since the core of it is “figure out where you are, decide where you want to go, then determine a plan to get there.” That the core of org development, and its also the core of career planning. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of specifics about that in our industry. My contention is that some agents pay lip service to “helping authors with career planning,” but many don’t really have a method for doing that. (Actually, from the look of it, some don’t even know what it means. I think “career planning” to some agents is defined as “having a book contract.”) During my doctoral program at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), I served as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the Career Planning and Placement Office. The focus was on helping people graduating in the arts figure out how to create a career plan, and that experience allowed me the opportunity to apply the principles of organizational theory to the real-world setting of those trying to make a living with words. So here are a few things I like to consider when talking with a writer…
First, I want to get to know the author. Who is he or she? What’s the platform he brings to the process? Does she speak? If so, where, how often, to whom, to how many, and on what topics? Does he have experience with other media? What kind? What’s her message? What books has
We’ve been talking about making a living at writing, and I had three people all ask the same basic question: If I’m going to make writing my career, how do I treat it as a business instead of as an art or an avocation?
First, I recognize that some writers will insist on treating their writing as an art — which is fine, and for some writers no doubt more appropriate. I represent some authors who don’t really see themselves as “business” people, but as artists, creating words that share their stories. I totally understand and respect that perspective, since some writers are, in fact, artists with words. But if it’s important to you that you generate a full-time income through your writing, and you’re pondering how to create a number of writing projects that will improve your bottom line, then you need to begin to see your writing as a business. In essence, your words are a service or product — they have value, and others need to pay you in exchange for them.
Second, determining the value of your words is tough at first, which is why I’ve encouraged authors to begin by setting a small monthly financial goal, then building up the number as you find success. If you know you need to earn, say, $2500 per month, then it’s clear the goal is about $500 per week (which sounds small when you put it that way, doesn’t it?). Thinking in that manner moves writing into more of a business model, since it reduces your work to numbers: “I need to make $500 from my writing this week.” You then begin to map out which projects you can do that will generate the cash flow you need.
Third, as I’ve said a number of times on this blog, today is a great time to be a writer. There are more readers and more opportunities than ever before,
A few years ago, I created a talk about how an author can make a living with his or her writing. I called it The MacGregor Theory (with apologies to the MacGregor who came up with all the Theory X and Theory Y stuff back in the 90’s), and over the years it’s been picked up and discussed by all sorts of writers and editors in the blogosphere. I’ve revised and tweaked it a few time, but now, with the recent changes we’ve seen in the world of publishing, it’s time I go back and revise my theory of making a living at writing. So if you’re interested…
I have five rules for authors who want to make a full time living at writing:
1. You need to have four-to-six books earning you a royalty. In other words, you’ve done some traditionally published books in the past, you’ve had some earn out, and you currently have some books that are making you a passive income.
2. You need to have 18 months to 2 years of contracts. This is much harder to do in today’s publishing economy, but if you’re going to do this full time, you probably need to know clearly what you’re going to be writing for the next year or two. If you have your calendar filled up for the next 18 months with projects that are contracted, so that you know you’re going to be generating some income, you’re at least afforded the clarity that comes from knowing what you’ll be working on.
3. You need to be self-publishing. These days, most successful authors are generating income by regularly posting new projects, earning some sort of income by self-publishing books, novels, novellas, articles, and/or short stories. With fiction, it’s clear an author needs to have a number of titles gong (having one or two books isn’t going to cut it — a series of books will
We’ve been talking about “making a living at writing,” and I had several people ask what essential tools are needed if someone is going to do more than just type up a manuscript at home. A fair question…
I suggest there are nine essential things every writer needs:
—A time to write. That is, a set time when you’re going to sit down and write every day. When I decided I was going to make my living at writing, I had a regular job, so I got up early and sat down at my computer every day from 6 to 8 in the morning. I’m not a morning person at all, so this was a sacrifice… but I had three small children, and it was the only time when I thought I could get uninterrupted writing time.
—A place to write. You may need peace and quiet, or you may do best with the buzz of a lot of people around. You may like music playing, or you may insist on silence. Some writers use a spare room in their house, others want to take in the atmosphere at Starbucks. But whatever the exterior trappings, most writers do best if they have one place and one time, when they KNOW they are going to write.
—A project to write. When you sit down to write, you’re not journaling or searching for your muse — you’re working on a project. It might be a blog post, or an article for a website, or the next chapter in your book. But when you start, you know exactly what project you’re going to work on.
—A writing goal. Many writers set a goal of creating 1000 words per day. Others set it much higher. When I was writing full time, I had a goal of a chapter per day. The trick is to set some sort of goal, so
We’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
OK, nonfiction writers. You’ve heard it before. If you really want to impress an agent or a publisher, make sure you have three things: a great idea, great writing, and a great author platform.
But more and more, platform is becoming THE way to secure a book deal.
This is because while writing can be fixed or edited and the idea can be tweaked, platform has to happen organically.
It can’t happen by chance. It can’t be bought. It’s about hard work over a period of time and it’s something that only the author can bring to the table.
So what do impressive social media stats look like?
Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.
A decent nonfiction author platform has a handful of the following components:
If you have a website or blog your monthly unique visitor count should be at least 30,000
(a unique visitor number of 100,000 is likely to secure a book deal)
If you have a Twitter account your followers should be at least 10,000 (and you should have stats that show considerable growth over the past six months)
If you have a Facebook page you should have at least 8,000 likes (along with Insights that show your past and projected growth)
If you’re a public speaker you should speak at least 30 times a year and you should shoot for a newsletter list of at least 10,000
Publishing Is More Competitive Than Ever
Needless to say, these numbers aren’t easy to achieve, and I’ve seen a number of authors who HAVE these numbers come away without a book deal.
But on the flip side, I’ve seen authors with the bare minimum of the above components land a book deal because they also had great writing and a great idea.
So yes. Platform is HUGE. It’s an absolute must if you write fiction. But never underestimate the power of strong, moving writing and a great,
I think we can all agree that writing is an art form. It’s an expression of oneself, after all. And it requires a huge dose of raw talent—talent that must be refined and polished and crafted over years of study and dedication.
It’s no different than dance or ceramics or music or any of the other arts. And sure, sometimes it comes in the form of a nonfiction how-to manuscript. Sometimes it comes in the form of a news article. Sometimes it comes in the form of a really splendidly written Tweet. But it’s still art even if it’s not hanging in a gallery or moving people to tears.
And yet have you ever noticed how, unlike other artists, most writers put pressure on their art?
They expect it to be profitable.
They expect it to advance them.
They expect it to become that side business that eventually becomes a full time business.
And if they don’t see any of these things happen, they wonder why they’re writing at all.
Why do we do this? Why do many writers (especially newer ones) look at their art like they would investments or a retirement plan? Why do we expect so much out of it?
You don’t see this with most dancers. Most dancers are happy to dance and for them that happiness is enough. They don’t have this need to justify their art by pointing toward how much money it’s made them or how often they’ve been part of a professional production. They just like to dance. And dancing is enough.
You also don’t see this mentality with many potters, either. Sure, they might have Etsy shops and they set up tables at farmer’s markets, but they don’t look at their yearly earnings and question whether or not thy should be doing what they’re doing. They just do it because they love it.
So why are writers different? Why do we
In today’s publishing market, there are a handful of things I think every author needs to know about marketing. These are all things you can think through, and though none of this is going to be earth-shattering or terribly “new” to you (my guess is you’ve heard much of this before), sometimes we can think about choosing certain marketing strategies or ideas, then lose track of the bigger picture. Or we assume the publisher is going to take care of things, when in fact they’re busy worrying about the new 50 Shades novel they’ve just released, and they’re waiting for YOU to market your own book. So let me offer a big-picture look at marketing your book in today’s environment…First, you have to know yourself. What are your strengths at marketing? What do you do best? What is your message? How do you define your brand? What are the elements of marketing you love to do? The fact is, if you know your core competencies, know what you do well and what you’re comfortable with, you’re ahead of most authors who are just trying ideas they’ve heard from others. So think back through your history, and make a list of the areas where you were good and comfortable and successful with your marketing. What are the resources you have available to you? Next, make a list of the opportunities you know you’ll have — the people, places, organizations, media, and venues you know you’ll be able to count on.Second, you have to know your weaknesses. What are the typical problems you have with marketing? What are your struggles? What do you NOT enjoy? What are the roadblocks you face? (Hint: often these include lack of money, lack of time, and lack of expertise.) As you think through the problem areas, you’re trying to clarify both the strengths and the weaknesses, the resources and the roadblocks that are
People are always curious to know how I became an agent. Did I intern with the agency? Did I apply and get hired? Did I go through a special program? Did Chip owe my dad a favor?
I’ve found there are usually two paths to working in publishing. One involves getting the right internships and then getting hired on afterward. And the other involves just being in the right place at the right time.
For me it all happened at a book signing in 2008. In Fort Wayne, Indiana.
I was working as an admissions counselor at a university at which Chip was a visiting professor. My friend, who happened to be a student there, kept telling me about this big-time agent who was on campus and how I needed to meet him. But despite it being a very small school, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who he was.
(Now, in retrospect, I had seen him around campus. But with his goatee and pressed dress shirt, I assumed he was the new Pastoral Ministries prof.)
So the only way to be sure to meet him, my friend decided, was to trap him at an author book signing.
At the time, I (ashamedly) didn’t recognize the name of the author holding the book signing (Chip tells me it was Lisa Samson), and I honestly didn’t know very much about Chip or the role of an agent. But I DID know that my friend had told me he was epic. And that he had worked with Britney Spears’s mom. Which, let’s be honest, was enough to get me really wanting this to happen.
I mean, what else could come of it than me being Brit Brit’s bestie?
So, off we went. We walked in to the store; my friend located Chip; and then I took a breath, walked up, and introduced myself.
He said something sarcastic.