Chip MacGregor

November 24, 2008

A Miscarriage of Justice


Okay, so the new People Magazine is out on store shelves… The one promoting "The Sexiest Men in America." I'd just like to point out that they list 25 guys in that issue, and they failed to mention me.


How can this sort of thing happen, you ask? Beats me. A clerical error, perhaps. Or a vast, right wing conspiracy. However, my sources tell me this, like everything else in this country, is the work of George W. Bush.

All right — I just had to get that off my chest before my lawyer contacts them. Now let me get to some of the more general queries people have sent my way recently…

Ashley wrote to ask, "How many queries do you get each day, and how many of those do you accept? How many times in a month do you ask to see the full manuscript?"

In 2008, I've received an average of about 175 queried proposals per month. Of those, I'll ask maybe 10 to send me the full manuscript. Of those, I might choose to represent one or two.

Gwen asked, "As an agent, do you value the full person and relationship as much as the person's writing? For example, if you agreed to represent an author, and they didn't make you any money, would you remain friends with that person? Would you keep them as a client and encourage them in ways to be successful?"

There's no way to answer that question without sounding self-aggrandizing, so get ready… Yes, I value the person as much as the person's writing. Most of the authors I represent become personal friends, and we work together for a long time. I try to represent people for the long haul — not just for the current book. And we're creating books together, not just locating money sources. In many ways, a good agent is a business partner with an author, offering writing advice and friendship and perspective and maybe even some life coaching, not just contract negotiations and manuscript sales.

People often ask what an agent is looking for, and that's an easy one to answer: a great idea, expressed through great writing, by an author with a great platform. But I'll admit I don't end up representing every good idea I see. I really have to feel comfortable with the writer, to LIKE the person, or I'm probably not going to represent them. Life is too short to work with jerks (which is probably why I've been turned down by some authors). I also want to fall in love with the person's writing. If the author is someone I like personally, and someone I know is talented at writing, I'll go a long way with them. Right now you could survey the authors I represent, and you'd find some of them are people who haven't made me much money (or, in a few cases, any money). But that's just the publishing business — and frankly, we're going to see much more of that in the near future, as the economy forces publishers to become even more picky. So, yes, I generally keep the relationship going with clients if we're friends and I believe in their work. And certainly we talk about ways they can be successful — that's the agent's job.

And Mel wants to know, "Is there ever a time where you decide to move on and terminate the agent/author relationship?"

Sure, that happens. I'm not trying to imply in my answer above that an agent won't sometimes stop representing an author. That happens — and it's usually due to one of two things: Either the relationship has been damaged in some way, or the agent has just come to the conclusion that he or she can't do anything to help the author. Sometimes an author will decide they need to moe on. Maybe the relationships gets damaged (though my experience is usually that's due to a communication gap). If I reach a place where I feel I've tried everything, we've worked through several projects, and nothing has sold, then I might say to the author, "You know, this doesn't seem to be working. Perhaps you should begin the process of finding another agent who can take you in different directions. I can't seem to help you move forward." Nobody really wants to stay in a business relationship that's failing.

Tim wrote to ask, "As an author, is it worth the $240 per year for me to subscribe to Publisher's Weekly?"

In my world it is. I'm not sure it's a great expenditure for you as an author, Tim, but it's the best way I know of to stay on top of the industry. I love PW — it helps me know what's going on, educates me about various markets, gives me examples of books and titles and covers to show me what the trends are, and offers me dozens of quality book reviews. Still the best source for understanding the industry, in my view. BUT, if you're an author who isn't feeling all that much of a need to connect to the industry, then you might find the price a bit steep.

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