Category : Career

  • September 22, 2010

    Home from ACFW … (where Sandra won Agent of the Year!)

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    MacGregor Team at ACFW 2010  Chip, Amanda, and I are all just coming off a six
    day road trip to ACFW conference, followed by visits to several publishers. It’s
    always good to get home.

    The conference was great. We had a lot of fun
    connecting with friends and associates in the world of ACFW.  I worked very hard meeting hopeful authors;
    connecting and praying with my clients; squeezing in times to confer with Chip
    and Amanda whenever possible. Between us, we taught or participated in at least
    half a dozen teaching and/or industry sessions. Chip did a great job as emcee
    of Susan May Warren’s My Book Therapy pizza party. Though I had to duck out
    early to attend a publishing dinner, I hear he helped move things along at the line
    dance lesson which followed. Here’s a YouTube link to one of the most well
    organized line dance lessons I’ve ever seen …
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNvFf7tQH0w.

    At the awards banquet, we were pleased to cheer
    for all the winners, and picked up a few awards ourselves. Our very own Jenny
    B. Jones won twice;
    once in the Young Adult category for I’m So Sure (Thomas Nelson) and again in the Long Contepmorary
    Romance category for Just Between You and
    Me
    (Thomas Nelson).

    Jenny is always a hoot, and her off the cuff
    acceptance speeches were no exception. If you weren’t there and would like to
    get an asparagus-free taste of the awards banquet, check out the liveblog at
    http://acfw.com/conference/liveblog.shtml
    led by Tyson Wynn of Wynn-Wynn Media.

    By the time the Agent of the Year was announced, I’d
    thoroughly decided there was no way I would possibly be walking up front to
    accept the award, so I was thoroughly shocked, quite honestly, when my name was
    called. I think my thirty-second-at-best acceptance remarks relayed this.

    I will admit I was asked to prepare a speech just
    in case, which I did. But learning mid-conference

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  • August 25, 2010

    On Relationships in Publishing

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    Donna wrote to ask, "Is it possible to have two agents, one for fiction and one for nonfiction, or one for ABA and one for CBA?"

    It's possible, I guess. I'm not a fan of this plan, since I think it makes it harder for an agent to do his or her job in terms of career planning. Still, some people do it. The alternative? Find an agent who fits what you do. 

    Julie wrote with this: "Some agents have a large number of clients, and represent very successful authors. But where does the midlist client fit in today's market?"

    I think your question presupposes that having a small list of clients is a good thing — perhaps better than being part of a larger agency. In my view, it's not as simple as that. First of all, I don't think most authors would know what a large or small number of clients is. I represent around 40 or 50 authors. Is that large? Not in publishing — it's fairly small. But so what? You don't sign up with an agent because he or she has only five clients, do you? You sign up with an agent because he or she does a good job, knows how to help you, is a fit for you and your work, and can help make you successful. Move from the world of books to the world of investments for a moment – Would you prefer to hand your hard-earned money to a startup guy who admits he doesn't have many clients, or to somebody with a proven track record of success? (And I"m not making an argument for going with a big agency here — I'm just trying to show the weakness of this particular argument.) Janet Grant, a friend and a very good literary agent, and I are two of the people who have been agenting the longest in CBA. We've both seen

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  • August 23, 2010

    A Mixed Bag

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    A mixed bag of questions today. Donna sent this to me recently: "Nonfiction seems to be struggling in bookstores, but fiction has been on a growth track. I heard you say one time that this disparity is due to the growth of the internet. Can you explain that to me?"

    Okay, let's call this The MacGregor Theory of Non-Fiction Struggles. First, the core of nonfiction is what we call "problem/solution" writing (or sometimes question/answer writing). A person comes into a bookstore with a problem ("I need to lower my cholesterol" or "I don't get along with my teenage daughter"), and wants a book that offers a solution to the problem ("Lower Your Cholesterol in 30 Days" or "How to Talk so your Daughter will LIsten"). They walk in with a problem, and they look for a book that offers a solution. Or they walk in with a question, and they look for a book that offers an answer. That's the focus of most nonfiction. (There ARE alternatives: history books tend to educate instead of answer, craft books offer an idea without necessarily being a "solution"). Fiction, on the other hand, is usually written to entertain, occasionally to inspire or educate. And during the current economic times, people are turning to fiction because it is basically a cheap, satisfying, and long-lasting entertainment option. (There's plenty of evidence to suggest fiction reading goes up as the economy goes down.) Anyway, with the advent of the web, people aren't buying as many nonfiction books because they tend to look to the web for a solution. (Think about it… the last time you needed to know how to make Yorkshire Pudding, did you dig through a cookbook or look it up online?) I'm not declaring the death of all non-fiction — I'm just explaining why it's struggling, while fiction is growing. 

    Andrew wrote and said, "I couldn't help but read that letter you received the other

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  • August 23, 2010

    A Mixed Bag

    by

    A mixed bag of questions today. Donna sent this to me recently: "Nonfiction seems to be struggling in bookstores, but fiction has been on a growth track. I heard you say one time that this disparity is due to the growth of the internet. Can you explain that to me?"

    Okay, let's call this The MacGregor Theory of Non-Fiction Struggles. First, the core of nonfiction is what we call "problem/solution" writing (or sometimes question/answer writing). A person comes into a bookstore with a problem ("I need to lower my cholesterol" or "I don't get along with my teenage daughter"), and wants a book that offers a solution to the problem ("Lower Your Cholesterol in 30 Days" or "How to Talk so your Daughter will LIsten"). They walk in with a problem, and they look for a book that offers a solution. Or they walk in with a question, and they look for a book that offers an answer. That's the focus of most nonfiction. (There ARE alternatives: history books tend to educate instead of answer, craft books offer an idea without necessarily being a "solution"). Fiction, on the other hand, is usually written to entertain, occasionally to inspire or educate. And during the current economic times, people are turning to fiction because it is basically a cheap, satisfying, and long-lasting entertainment option. (There's plenty of evidence to suggest fiction reading goes up as the economy goes down.) Anyway, with the advent of the web, people aren't buying as many nonfiction books because they tend to look to the web for a solution. (Think about it… the last time you needed to know how to make Yorkshire Pudding, did you dig through a cookbook or look it up online?) I'm not declaring the death of all non-fiction — I'm just explaining why it's struggling, while fiction is growing. 

    Andrew wrote and said, "I couldn't help but read that letter you received the other

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  • July 19, 2010

    Making Money through Articles

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    Kerry sent me this question: “Is it realistic to think an author can still sell articles and get paid for them? It seems like magazines and journals are all moving to unpaid, web-based forms.”

    I started out in magazines, and I still think magazine, journal, and e-zine writing is a viable way for an author to make some money. No, it's not as easy as it once was… but when was making a living as a writer ever easy? If you're looking for ways to generate income through your writing, don't feel you've got to land a book contract — focus on writing short articles. My experience has been that I made more money in less time creating articles than in writing books.

    It's best to go to magazines or e-zines you already know, so you're familiar with (1) the sort of articles they publish, (2) the most likely reader of the 'zine, and (3) the length and tone of the articles. By going to the website of, say, Redbook magazine, you can find out what they buy, how long they want each piece to be, and what their interests and requirements are… but you might not really get a feel for what the voice is in that particular magazine. 

    Once you have targeted a magazine, you create an article for them. Have a clear topic, find out who is the decision-maker, and send them an email. Put the title of your piece in the "subject" line. Tell the editor very simply who you are, what your idea is, the details of the piece (word count, etc), and why you're the person to write it. Keep it short, and under your name list a handful of links to other articles you've written. 

    This really isn't rocket science, but it takes some work. Magazines have a tendency to do business with the same writers again and again (like every other sort

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  • June 17, 2010

    Ten Notes for Today's Writer

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    1. Lots of big news this week, including something nobody seemed to have sniffed… THOMAS NELSON WAS BOUGHT OUT by an equity company, Kohlberg and Company. Remember, Thomas Nelson is one of the largest Christian publishers in the world, and they were sold just a few years ago to the guys at InterMedia (one of the pioneers in cable TV, InterMedia made the interesting step of pulling the company out of being publicly traded, and went back to being a private company). Anyway, the previous owners had financed a big chunk of the purchase, and Kohlberg must have seen Thomas Nelson was going to make them money, since they paid off the $219 million loan (go ahead and read that figure again) and took control of the company. 


    2. Wow. And it didn't stop there – they had the good sense to keep Michael Hyatt, perhaps the brightest mind in CBA, and the man who has restructured the company and made it both leaner and more focused, AND they brought on Jane Friedman as a board member. Some CBA people may not recognize the importance of that, but Jane used to be the boss at HarperCollins, the owner of Zondervan, before that was the Executive VP of Random House, and before that Publisher at Vintage . I'll tell you there isn't a publishing professional who doesn't respect Jane — she's one of the best, most experienced minds in contemporary publishing. An incredible addition, frankly.


    3. Novelist (and longtime friend) Joyce Magnin, best known for her wonderful "Bright's Pond" novels with Abingdon, has started a company to help new novelists get their manuscripts ready. This isn't just another editorial service — take a look at her website. You'll come away totally impressed:  www.joycemagnin.com/Site/Narrative_Destiny.html


    4. If you're a married woman (or you have any married women in your life), they can be part of a research project on

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  • May 17, 2010

    A Bit About How I Got into Agenting

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    William wrote and asked, “Can you tell us why you became an agent?”

    Okay…I got into agenting by accident. I was making my living as a freelance writer, collaborating on books with some great Christian speakers (David Jeremiah, Bruce Wilkinson, Howard Hendricks, Joe Stowell, etc). I had worked as an editor, and knew about writing books, so I felt confident about the "word" side. But something had always stuck in my craw—the fact that when I did my first book
    deal, I simply didn't know what I was doing. The editor called me on the phone, made me an offer, and…I was stumped. I had no context for deciding. Was this a good deal? A bad deal? Normal? Incredible? No idea. So I said yes, wrote the book, and started doing my research on the "business" side.

    Over the next couple of years, I got a great education. I learned about printing and publishing. I studied contracts and read up on intellectual property rights. I did my doctoral work in Organizational Development, so I'm fairly well organized, and good at seeing the big picture. I began doing talks at writer conferences about "how to make a living writing" and "how to get your writer's business going." Pretty soon writers were asking me things like, "Would you take a look at this contract?" and "How would you handle this publishing situation?" In essence, I became an agent without realizing that's what I was doing. (And I was doing it for free!)

    The thing is, I have always had a heart for mentoring/discipleship. It's sort of been my ministry, and since I've spent my life as a words guy, I was naturally drawn to helping writers with things like career decisions, contracts, and proposals. And I suppose if I have a strength (a topic that could be debated), it would be simply that I get along with people. So pretty soon I

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  • May 2, 2010

    What a novelist needs to know about marketing

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    Jay asked, "In your view, what are the essential things a novelist has to understand about marketing?" 

    I talk about marketing a lot, Jay, so let me see if I can simplify it…

    1. YOU

    Author, YOU are responsible for your marketing. Not the publisher. Not the agent. You. The publisher and agent will both help, and they ought to bring something to the table or they aren't doing their jobs. But the book is yours – nobody else knows it as well as you do. Nobody else is as enthusiastic or as committed to it. Nobody else has as much riding on it. So give up any illusion that the publisher is going to take over your marketing – I'm just not seeing that very much any more. If you don't take charge of your marketing, it won't happen. 

    Just reading over those words, I realize that, for many authors, this is tough to hear. But I'm serious — I never hear an author say, "Gee, I'm thrilled with the marketing my publisher is doing on my book." Instead, I generally hear authors grousing about the crummy marketing or the little work being done. And my response from now on is going to be to tell the author to change his or her perspective. Start being appreciative of the few things your publicist gets right. Start saying "thanks" more for the fact that your publisher is doing ANYTHING. And then just go do the rest of it yourself.

    2. PLAN

    To do that means you're going to have to educate yourself. Just as you've had to learn the ropes of how to write well, I think most of us are going to have to learn how to market well. You'll have to pick up a couple of marketing books, maybe attend a marketing class or seminar, and do some digging to figure out what makes a good marketing plan.

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  • April 22, 2010

    Agent Questions (and cool news!)

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    Darlene asked an agent question: "I've been working with an agent I was introduced to at a conference, but I'm not sure she knows what she's doing…nor do I know what she should be doing for me. It seems like I basically did the deal myself. Can you help me?"

    Sure. A good agent should (1) give you career advice, (2) introduce you to people you don't already have connections with, such as editors and publishers and marketers, (3) offer wisdom on book ideas and writing, (4) help give guidance on your marketing, (5) negotiate your contract [and do a good job of it], (6) ensure contract compliance, and (7) be your insider — the person who knows the industry and offers some experienced wisdom, serving as your advocate when necessary, taking on the hard issues and conversations when necessary. I suppose many times the agent also serves as the author's friend and encourager, though that doesn't always happen. If you ended up basically doing the deal yourself — well, that's a shame. It happens sometimes, but you probably need to have a conversation with the agent and clarify expectations, Darlene. 

    Bobbie asked this: "How do agents feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?"

    Well, I TRY to get back to people within three weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I'll admit that I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). Those folks have forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Sorry if I sound cranky, but I got two of these today, from two people I’ve never heard of. My first reaction is to say something snarky like, “Okay, if you’re

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