Category : Deep Thoughts

  • March 20, 2013

    Why did you become a writer?


    Someone wrote to say, “I’ve never seen you answer this question… What moved you to begin writing?”

    I’ve always been a words guy — I started writing as a child and never stopped. My mom said that, when I was in first grade, I came home and announced, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a book guy.” So I guess I had to live up to that promise. I’ve been writing ever since. My life has been intertwined with words. My first real job in college was as a copyeditor for a junior high science teacher’s magazine. I later worked for newspapers, then back to magazines, and eventually to books. I can’t not write. There are stories inside me, or stories I see, and they simply must be told. I love working with authors to help them tell their stories. Words are what move me. Thanks for asking. 

    On a related note, someone asked, “As a writer, what keeps you going through the setbacks and disappointments?”

    I suppose a lot of writers will tell you that writing is therapy – and I suppose it is for me, in a way. But I’ve kept writing because I still have stories to tell, I still have things to say. I rarely feel the setbacks I’ve faced were because of my writing. Rather, they were in spite of my writing, or maybe they were at odds with my writing. So I kept writing until I could convince the people who made the mistake of saying “no” in the first place.

    And let’s face it – most “disappointment” authors face is really the simple act of rejection. Writers hate to hear the word “no.” But I’ve never been one who allowed “no” to get in the way of accomplishing what I wanted. So while I’ve had more than my shares of “no” as both writer and agent, I’ve continued writing because that’s

    Continue Reading "Why did you become a writer?"
  • February 25, 2013

    What does an acquisition editor do?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Can you explain what an acquisition editor is, and how that’s different from a regular editor?”

    As the name implies, the main role of an acquisitions editor is to acquire manuscripts for the publishing house. That means he or she knows what sort of books the house wants to do, and in the role will talk with agents, read the proposals that are sent in, perhaps go to conferences to meet face-to-face with authors, and evaluate everything in order to identify the manuscripts the house should pursue. Understand that most good acquisition editors are actively going out to hunt down authors and projects and ideas — not just sitting in an office and reacting to what’s sent to them.

    Another author asked a similar question: “Are people hired into that type of position? Or does one have to ‘work one’s way’up to do that? What is the usual period of time/experience required to do that?”

    Most new editorial hires start out as editorial assistants, working with an editor to assist with general office stuff. There’s not necessarily a major in college for becoming an editor, so we see a lot of English and Journalism majors, but also Business, History, Marketing, and Communications grads hired into the role. They learn the process of what a manuscript goes through in order to become a book. Then they are graduated to assistant editor, where they learn to actually edit. Then usually to associate editor, where they can begin to learn how to acquire. Eventually they become a full-fledged editor (in case you know of any editors who are only partially fledged). Most editors have two roles: to acquire books and edit them. At some houses they have “Acquisitions Editors,” whose sole job is to acquire new titles — in most cases others will do the actual editing of the manuscript. So yes, you work your way up. And the

    Continue Reading "What does an acquisition editor do?"
  • February 8, 2013

    How can I find my writing voice?


    I’ve had several questions recently on finding one’s voice… so I turned to good buddy Les Edgerton, author of the brilliant ebook Finding Your Voice…

    Writers’ Isolation

    I’ll wager that most of you reading this do something else to earn your daily bread. Which means that for most of your waking hours, you’re among non-writers. That’s probably true even if you’re self-employed or stay at home with those small citizens roaming around the living room who bear your last name and a smaller version of your nose. If your main source of social contact happens to be your significant other, he or she probably isn’t a writer either.

    Further, most of the people you work in the office or on the assembly line with—or break bread at noon with—or meet in the coffee shop after work with—more than likely aren’t writers—chances are they probably aren’t readers either. Oh, sure, casual readers, but not readers to the depth you’re a reader.

    What does this mean to you as a writer?

    Only this—it’s easy to begin to think of your own potential readership as being comprised of the same kinds of folks you see at work or at play or bearing a strong resemblance to the family next door. Non-writers and nonreaders or casual readers, mostly. Unless you lease a rent-controlled co-op in the Simon & Schuster building.

    And why wouldn’t you see your audience that way? After a while, it’s only natural to imagine most people in the country itself are pretty much like the folks you see every day.

    Well, most folks are . . . but those aren’t your readers, usually.

    Your reader is yourself.

    Write This Down!

    I’ll repeat: Your reader is yourself.

    Or someone much like yourself.

    Someone who shares your interests, knows just about the same things as you do, has close to the same intelligence, has a reading background and history similar to what you’ve
    Continue Reading "How can I find my writing voice?"
  • January 2, 2013

    How are literary agent's roles changing in the new world of publishing?


    I’ve had a number of people write to me in response to my recent post about 2013 publishing predictions, asking how I felt the role of literary agents is changing. It used to be that an agent basically offered four benefits: (1) an editing/sounding board for writing and ideas; (2) access to publishers; (3) contract and statement assistance; and (4) some type of career advice. There are a bunch of other ideas people bring up (such as “maximize the advance!” and “be the tough guy when things get ugly!”), and no doubt several other iterations of the ideas above, but I think those are the four big content areas in which agents have generally served.

    But now we’re in a new era. The way books are produced, marketed, delivered, and sold to readers has changed considerably over the past few years. The sales channels are completely altered. Publishers have overhauled their staffing and methods. New jobs exist that didn’t used to exist, and old ones have faded out of existence. The advent of digital publishing has not just created this new product called “e-books,” but have helped reshape the entire industry. So it only makes sense that a literary agent shouldn’t be doing his or her job the same way it was being done ten years ago. To that end, I thought I’d try to offer thoughts on how I see an agent’s role in contemporary publishing.

    First, a good agent is still doing editing, but perhaps even more book and project concepting. Idea development and packaging are an essential part of the role now. Your agent needs to be talking with you not just about “how to do an ebook,” but how various projects and packages fit into your overall business plan.

    Second, I think the notion of an agent giving an author access to publishers has evolved into an agent as interactor — networking with various publishing types,

    Continue Reading "How are literary agent's roles changing in the new world of publishing?"
  • January 1, 2013

    How did you get started in your writing career?


    Someone wrote and asked, “How did you go about the business of becoming a writer?” Since it’s a holiday and the start of new year, I thought this would be a good time to re-tell that story. 

    For years I tried writing in dribs and drabs, trying to get an actual “writing career” going. I had started working in publishing as a copyeditor at a magazine, and had done quite a bit of magazine writing, plus some newspaper writing and lots of chapter editing, but I could never get over the hump and get my own book done. So I edited, and wrote some, and worked for magazines and newspapers and journals, sometimes running the publications for organizations. Then two articles I stumbled across in the course of my reading changed my writing life.

    The first was an interview with Thomas Wolfe in Esquire magazine. Wolfe, the author of such books as The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and The Man in Full, was shown resplendent in a white suit, hat, and spats. The caption read, “Thomas Wolfe on his way to the office,” or some such thing. Notably, his office was in his home. Wolfe would get up, get dressed, and go into a spare bedroom to write — just as though he were heading off to an important publishing luncheon in a downtown New York restaurant. In the article, Wolfe explained that, to him, writing was a business. So he treated it as a business. He would begin writing at nine every morning, and would write until noon. Then he’d take ninety minutes off for lunch. Wolfe noted that he didn’t wait for inspiration to strike him – instead, he would sit down, read the last few pages of what he’d written the day before, and begin to type. By simply approaching writing as a business, he got much more done. After lunch, he returned

    Continue Reading "How did you get started in your writing career?"
  • December 31, 2012

    My Publishing Predictions for 2013


    Okay, time for my big publishing predictions for 2013…

    1. Some of the large publishers will buy up the smaller micro-publishers who have succeeded in niche markets. (This only makes sense. Penguin/Random House are merging, and want to expand their reach. Hachette is perhaps the most forward-thinking of the companies, and must see the opportunity. It’s possible HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster will combine forces, and they are two companies who have always sought to maximize niche markets. MacMillan does as well. So look for some of those guys who started in their garage a couple years ago to cash out.) 

    2. Literary agents will re-define themselves. (This has already begun to happen with some multi-person agencies. The growth of e-books and the opportunity authors have to self-publish means an agent, to demonstrate value, has to prove he or she can assist with self-publishing, with marketing and sales planning for a wide variety of projects, with career development for authors who are working with traditional publishers as well as publishing their own books, with contract evaluations in an age of significant intellectual property rights changes, and with business management. An author isn’t just a writer any more — he or she is a self-proprietary business person, and good agents will re-define themselves in order to assist with that change.) 

    3. E-book royalties will grow. (E-publishers are already paying in the 50% neighborhood, so traditional publishers are going to have to be competitive. I can see one of the Big Six boosting e-royalties to 30%.)

    4. Several of the major and mid-major publishers will move to strictly digital catalogs and royalty statements. (Think of it: At many of the larger houses, they’re still hiring people to print off stacks of paper and stuff them into envelopes. Welcome to the 80’s! This is a change that’s way overdue. And there’s limited value in expensive book catalogs any more — a digital
    Continue Reading "My Publishing Predictions for 2013"
  • December 8, 2012

    Brilliant Predictions from 2009


    So a few years ago, I posted “predictions” for the future of publishing. I clearly don’t have the gift of prophecy, but thought it would be fun to go back and look at what I had to say, and how my predictions panned out. This is from Dec of 2009:

    1. Borders will survive, but Barnes & Noble will take over. Um… wrong. Borders, a fun but poorly managed business, is gone. B&N has taken over, but we’ll see if that lasts.

    2. A major author will self-publish. This seems comical now, with everybody self-publishing, but at the time there was a question if established authors would try self-pubbing or remain exclusively with traditional publishers. Score a small one for me.

    3. Ebooks will more than double in sales. Ha! It didn’t take a genius to figure that out, apparently. Ebooks have doubled, doubled again, then doubled again. Now the growth is slowing, but it’s still the future. I was right, but a blind man could have picked this horse.

    4. Authors and publishers will offer a lot of free ebooks to boost readership. Again, this seems stupefyingly obvious now. So I was right on the basic idea. I just didn’t realize a million wannabes would glut the market with crummy free books, and therefore dilute the value of free ebooks.

    5. Libraries will move to ebooks. Well… who knows? They want to, apparently, but publishers are worried about usage and lost revenues, so it’s still not clear how libraries are going to work (or if we need all of them, in an age when anybody can google a topic on their laptop). No points for me on this one.

    6. Apple will create an e-reader. Um… score big on that one. This prediction was made before anyone had heard of an iPad, by the way. Again, it might be obvious now, but at the time it was a guess

    Continue Reading "Brilliant Predictions from 2009"
  • November 20, 2012

    What are the best books of all time?


    Someone wrote to say, “A couple years ago you talked about the important of reading great books, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you offer a reading list to authors. What books would you recommend?”

    Hmmm…. Okay, I think I did this once before, but here you go. I did some work on this, and I now present The MacGregor Recommended Reading List for Writers…

    Ancients (old books writers ought to at least have read once): Homer’s ILIAD and ODYSSEY; Sophocles’ OEDIPUS REX; Euripides’ THE TROJAN WOMEN and ELECTRA; Herodotus’ THE HISTORIES; Thucydides’ HISTORY OF THE PELOPPENESIAN WAR; Sun Tsu’s THE ART OF WAR; Aristophanes’ LYSISTRATA; Plato’s SELECTED WORKS; Virgil’s THE AENEID

    Classics (the classic books that every writer should probably be familiar with): Augustine’s CONFESSIONS; Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY; Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES; Shahrazad’s THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS; Machiavelli’s THE PRINCE; Miguel de Servants’ DON QUIXOTE; Shakespeare’s COMPLETE WORKS; John Donne’s SELECTED WORKS; Galileo’s DIALOGUE CONCERNING THE TWO CHIEF WORLD SYSTEMS; Hobbe’s LEVIATHAN; Descarte’s DISCOURSE ON METHOD; Milton’s PARADISE LOST; Moliere’s PLAYS; Blaise Pascal’s PENSEES; Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS; John Locke’s SECOND TREATISE ON GOVERNMENT; Daniel Defoe’s ROBINSON CRUSOE; Jonathan Swift’s GULLIVER’S TRAVELS; Voltaire’s CANDIDE; Henry Fielding’s TOM JONES; Laurence Sterne’s TRISTRAM SHANDY; James Boswell’s LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON; Thomas Jefferson’s BASIC DOCUMENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY; Hamilton, Madison, and Jay’s THE FEDERALIST PAPERS.

    Moderns (a change here — we get into the modern version of the novel): Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; Stendahl’s THE RED AND THE BLACK; Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER; Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR; Dicken’s THE PICKWICK PAPERS, DAVID COPPERFIELD, HARD TIMES, THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP; Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE; Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS; Anthony Trollope’s THE WAY WE LIVE NOW and THE WARDEN; Herman Melville’s MODY DICK; George Elliott’s THE MILL ON THE FLOSS; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s FAUST; Gustave Flaubert’s MADAME BOVARY; Selected poems of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Continue Reading "What are the best books of all time?"
  • November 12, 2012

    What is an agent looking for?


    Someone wrote to ask, “What do you look for when you are considering representing a new novelist?”

    I suppose every agent is looking for the same basic components in reviewing a proposal: a great idea, expressed through great writing, supported by an author with a great platform. Those are the general issues an agent considers when reviewing any proposal, in my view.

    But more specifically, I’m always looking for a strong voice in the writing. Is it fresh? Does it stand out? Is it something that makes we want to continue reading? Is there personality that shines through? If I can find a manuscript with a strong voice, I’m always much more apt to continue reading. And I guess I’d also have to admit I’m looking at the writer, not just the writing. I don’t represent any high-maintenance people, so I often insist on meeting an author before I agree to represent him or her. I want to make sure we’re comfortable with each other (I’m not a fit for everyone). Occasionally I’ll have an email exchange with an author and we’ll seem to be a match, but then we meet and the vibe isn’t right. So I value being eye-to-eye with an author, and having a chance to visit if at all possible.

    On a related note, someone wrote to say, “I’ve been told by a well-known author that publishers look more for a novelist’s ability to sell books (i.e., the author is an established speaker, or someone in the media) than they do for the ability to write books. True?”

    I would say that’s an overstatement. Certainly publishers are looking at writers more and more with an eye toward “platform,” and there are some qualities the publisher will appreciate. (Is the author an expert? Can she get major media attention? Does he have connections with a source for selling large quantities of books?) But with fiction, I find

    Continue Reading "What is an agent looking for?"
  • November 9, 2012

    How can I get noticed?


    We’re sticking with answering a bunch of shorter questions for a few days…

    One author wrote and noted, “As I research book publishing, I’m intrigued by the ‘platform’ thing. And as I think about how to build my platform, I’m having a hard time discerning whether publishers would consider my platform attractive or small potatoes. I edit a professional magazines (10,000 readers), help manage an advertising agroup (500 advertisers), am busy with the local Chamber of Commerce (another 500 members), contribute to a popular blog site, have access to a handful of other groups, and have been invited to submit articles to some very popular websites. Is that enough to get an editor’s attention?”

    That certainly sounds like the start of a good platform. Of course, some of the “platform” issue will depend on what you’re writing and who you’re writing to. If all of your professional contacts are finance related, and you’ve written a romance novel, publishers may tend to discount the value of all those contacts. But if you’re writing a book that speaks directly to your contacts, I imagine publishers would find your data base of people interesting. There’s not really a magic number that you’re trying to hit — other than to say “the bigger it is, the better they’ll like you.” However, you’re really beginning to think like a publisher when you approach your platform this way. How many people do you already reach? How often? In how many ways? How can you approach them about your book? Those are questions to talk about with a prospective publisher or agent.

    Another wanted to know, “If my book is published with a small house, what are the chances it will get into Target or Wal-Mart? Do those companies only buy books from big publishers?”

    Wal-Mart and Target use book buyers to select the books they sell. The larger companies have full-time sales staff dedicated just to

    Continue Reading "How can I get noticed?"