Chip MacGregor

April 14, 2014



By Sandra Bishop
Agent and Vice-President of MacGregor Literary

Just what DOES an agent do all day?

It’s no great mystery that good agents work hard. But what we do EXACTLY is obviously not well known. I’m sure most people, if asked, would think we sit around coming up with ways to reject manuscripts, and counting our money.

At the moment I AM in money counting mode because I’m busy hunting down every last allowable deduction on the money I owe the IRS on the commissions I earned, though most times the work I do doesn’t even seem directly related to making money.

As far as rejecting manuscripts, most of my time is spent serving my authors, staying in touch with editors to keep proposals and projects moving forward, and keeping my work associates happy (i.e. “Yes, Chip, I will blog next week.”)

So, let me lift the veil a bit and show you what it is we do that no one sees. This is somewhat of a reconstruction, based on my notes and email records, of one of my work days last week:

• Left voice message with an editor to discuss timeline for author from whom they want two books; the first one in less than nine months if possible

• Wrote author to let her know we still haven’t connected, but that I’m trying.

• Called and talked with Chip about an offer, double checking that the deal points were solid and fair and in line with a deal he received recently from same publisher.

• Updated my internal document to reflect status of new offers, completed contracts, and deals in negotiation

• Called author to let him know an editor declined fiction ideas we’d discussed at a recent conference. Asked her to take another look at synopsis and let me know if he wanted to retool it, or move on to another idea.

• Left message for a sales manager to call me so we could continue to discuss possible interest in alternate version of book released in hard cover last year.

• Wrote her back asking if she’d send me the latest version of each along with title ideas.

• Helped author answer questions about a speaking engagement – suggested we ask about suspending until she is further along in completion within her upcoming deadline.

• Opened file showing proposed cover. Called author to discuss my recommended comments.

• Wrote editor to ask if they would consider submitting a title for an upcoming award.

• Wrote an author to let him know we’d received a request for his proposal, but that based on offer and that it was fair given his sales on sales of his previous books; it wasn’t looking good that, if we did get an offer, it wouldn’t likely be in the range he is hoping for.

• Answered an author’s questions asking about requesting forewords and endorsements. I suggested we get the contract settled and allow time for the editor to get the manuscript on their editing and production schedules befor pursuing so he could have timeline in mind when requesting them.

• Started email to editor to answer questions she had about an author’s platform, previous sales numbers, and future ideas.

• Took a phone call to discuss timeline and next books for author.

• Started email to author to recount highlights of our conversation. Decided to call instead.

• Called author to let her know she should sign her contract, that all is as is should be and that we’d covered every negotiable deal point.

• Phoned four editors to ask about interest in seeing proposal I’d sent several weeks back. Left voice mail in each case. Noted on my to do list to follow up with email next week.

• Sent conference call info to the manager of a sports figure I am hoping to work with, to ask if they have questions about our agency agreement.

• Lunch break – went outside to enjoy some beautiful NW spring sunshine and play fetch with my dog.

• Considered an email from a former client that though I didn’t have the time to act on her behalf, I would be happy to support her current agent’s request for rights to her books we’d place for her.

• Received author’s response to a deal memo. Wrote back letting her know I would ask for all her requests except the one requesting specification of a manuscript acceptance date, as release dates are never stipulated in contracts.

• Called editor to discuss author’s need for an extension, and to ask about their process for adding trade reviews to an author’s Amazon listing.

• Called an editor to ask if she could refer someone else at her house for a project I’m developing that doesn’t fit her imprint. We also talked about next an author I rep and discussed possible timing of next offer. She asked me to talk with author to see if she’d be willing to continue writing for them and if she should start putting together an offer.

• Wrote a publisher to suggest a final resolution to expenses he claims author has owed on books he destroyed because of accusations against the publisher that the third party didn’t have permission to include their information in the book.

• Declined request to travel to a regional conference (at my own expense) to speak to new authors.

• Prepared notes for conference call with network executives on behalf of a reality show client I am developing a book with.

• Made phone call. Discussed proposal I’d sent them prior week, and learned they would like to cooperate with us but want to know how much revenue the book will bring in.

• Started drafting a deal memo, but tabled until I gather more information from interested publishers on range of advance they might see fit to offer.

• Looked over a publishing contract for an author I’d recently added to my list. Wrote to confirm that I agreed the requested edits were above and beyond reasonable, and that the book – if edited as recommended – would not reflect the book as contracted. Told her I would reach out to the publisher to try and resolve for her.

• Called the editor, received a recording that her voice mailbox was not working. Wrote email to request phone call.

• Wrote editor I know to ask for referral to a collaborative writer about a non-fiction project

• Helped an author finalize estimate of travel costs for upcoming speaking event.

• Called editor I met with in NY last month to see if she’d had a chance to review manuscript.

• Emailed editor to forward link to an article in which our author’s book was featured.

• Took a break, decided to table rest of To Do list until next day.

• Wrote up a couple deals to report on Publisher’s Marketplace (I’m always way, way behind on this.)

• Made a list of phone calls I still need to initiate.

• Received email from our contracts administrator letting me know her review of my contract notes was ready for my approval.

• Gave author my input on the suggestions she received about story idea we’ve been discussing with her current publisher. Editorial team liked idea, but wanted some tweaks to better fit their publishing model. With some back & forth, the author and I came up with what we hope will be a more suitable storyline.

• Sent the revised idea to editor.

• Carried over undone tasks to my next to-do list.


Of course I won’t identify or discuss particular details of any of these items, but if you see anything here that raises questions about what agents do (besides the obvious), feel free to ask.


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  • chipmacgregor says:

    What my day feels like… (that’s me, juggling at a conference)

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    Wow, I was tired by the time you reached your lunch break. 🙂 Reading what you do all day deepens the level of respect I have for agents. I’m not sure I could do it! I can see why you keep lists around. 🙂

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Wow, and I thought it was all schmoozing and power lunches.

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    Whew! I’d go nuts with that! You must have a large DayTimer with a gigantic check list.

    • SandraBishop says:

      Hi Ane,

      Are you suggesting I couldn’t possibly keep a running to do list in my head? I’m so offended….

  • Sandra, I’m tired after just reading your post. You forgot to add one item–“Wrote this blog post.”

  • Guest says:

    Hey April. No. In this case, a third party wrote the publisher after the book released, claiming that the author didn’t have the right to include their story in her book. She actually did via a phone conversation and subsequent email, but it wasn’t clear enough — and not in writing in the form of a written release (writers beware) and the party threatened to sue the publisher. The publisher felt they had no choice but to pulp (destroy) the remaining books in their inventory and go back to reprint, which they have since done. In the end, we all learned something valuable, and have reached an amicable arrangement, so it ended okay — and really, no one ever got very angry. It just took time to work out.

  • April says:

    “Wrote a publisher to suggest a final resolution to expenses he claims author has owed on books he destroyed because of accusations against the publisher that the third party didn’t have permission to include their information in the book”

    Wait… Are you saying an author destroyed a bunch of books because the publisher printed their own info in it, along with the author’s material? I’m confused.

    In any case, that must be tough… being the intermediary between two angry parties!

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