Chip MacGregor

June 14, 2013

Here's to one of the good guys in the business


A dozen years ago, I was working as a literary agent with Alive Communications in Colorado Springs, and we had a great group of people all pitching in. Rick Christian (the boss, and the guy who basically began the notion of a literary agent working in CBA), Greg Johnson (now the President of WordServe), Kathy Helmers (a principal with Creative Trust Agency in Nashville), Andrea Heinecke (then my assistant, now a literary agent in her own right), Alice Crider (who worked as my assistant, then became an editor at Random House), as well as several other good folks. We had hired a new guy, Lee Hough, who’d been working as an editor for a mid-size publishing house, and came in with a great book sense.

Lee had heard this story, about a wealthy art dealer in Houston who had befriended a homeless African-American man while volunteering at a meals program. It was a great human story  — the art dealer’s wife was dying of cancer, the homeless man had lived an incredibly hard life, he would eventually step in and take over the ministry that the art dealer’s wife had started, and somehow the characters all came together to help one another. Lee saw the value in it right away. He thought it was a one-of-a-kind, life-changing story of redemption and change.

Unfortunately, nobody else in publishing seemed to agree. I watched Lee pitch that book to house after house, continually getting turned down, people questioning the facts of the story or the salability of memoir in the Christian market. It seemed like week after week, as we’d gather for our Tuesday morning staff meetings, Lee would say he was still pitching that book, still believed in it, still trying to encourage the author to hang with him. I’m not exaggerating when I say most of us would have given up. (I might have actually said that to Lee, truth be told. There are only so many times you can be told “no thanks” before you have to wonder if you’re wrong and everyone else is right in this business.) Lee was having none of it. He worked on that project for a couple years.

I eventually left, after a bunch of good years, in order to become a publisher with the old Time Warner Book Group. And one day, as I was catching up with old friends, somebody told me that Lee had finally sold that book. The story I heard at the time was that, after a dozen revisions, Lee had finally strong-armed the folks at Thomas Nelson to give it a shot. It wasn’t a sure thing. It certainly wasn’t a huge deal. But it was a wonderful story, my longtime buddy Lynn Vincent had stepped in to write it, and they were going to try and make it work.

Good call. Same Kind of Different As Me released in 2006, and has rarely left the bestseller list since. It hit #1 on the CBA list. It made the New York Times list. It got the authors into every major media market. I don’t know how many copies it’s sold — the number must be in the hundreds of thousands by now — but it’s still out there, selling, and I just noticed yesterday it’s back on the bestseller list again. And it’s all because an insightful guy, and a bulldog of an agent, saw the value and decided he had to keep pushing to get that book published.

Lee is one of those guys who had a couple jobs, but really found himself when he became a literary agent. He was good at it — diligent, competent, caring, friendly. He knew books and words, told the truth, and was fair with everyone. More than that, he was a good guy. I don’t know anyone who dislikes Lee — and, um, that’s saying something for a big-time agent. (That said, he was NOT much of a party guy. I once took him to 99-cent margarita night… and he ordered iced tea.) But he has a great smile, always loved his kids (we both have a Molly), fell head over heels when he met Paula, and worked as hard as anyone at this business to achieve success as an agent.

I’m thinking of this because I just got word that today is Lee Hough’s last day as an agent. His cancer is back, so he’s going to give it up and let somebody else read the manuscripts and fight over contracts. He’s fought off his brain tumor for a couple years, but the doctors say there isn’t much fighting left to do. (You can read all about his situation at Caring Bridge — just type in his name, and you can also leave him a note of encouragement.) Rick tells me Lee wanted to call everybody and tell them, but that’s not possible. And I didn’t want him leaving the industry without everybody taking a minute to appreciate the good work he has done for authors and publishers and friends.

So, on his last day, I want to say thanks, Lee. Thanks for being one of the good guys. Thanks for setting a good example. Thanks for reminding us all it’s possible to be both a good agent and a good human being. I’m going to encourage everyone who reads this blog to pray for Lee and Paula, as they move forward. Love you, my friend. I’m going to go hoist a margarita in your honor (though I think we’ve both moved past the 99-cent versions), and remember the good times we had together. You’ve made a difference in the industry, and you’ll be missed.



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  • Keri Wyatt Kent says:

    Great tribute to a great man, Chip. You’re a terrific storyteller, thanks for writing this.

  • Chad R. Allen says:

    Thanks for this tribute, Chip. You’re right. Lee was one of the good guys, and I will sorely miss him.

  • Jackie M. Johnson says:

    I agree! Lee Hough is a stellar human being and “one of the good ones.” One of the BEST.

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    I’ve heard Lee Hough’s name over the last couple of years, and of what a wonderful man he is. I never heard a negative word about him. I am so sorry to hear what’s going on with him. Chip, thank you for giving me a better picture of this man. I will be praying for him and his family during this time.

  • Mary Weber says:

    “Thanks for reminding us all it’s possible to be both a good agent and a good human being.”


    I was introduced to Lee at last year’s ACFW conference, and as I sat down at the table with him, I suddenly lost all interest in pitching my 2 chapters of an otherwise unwritten novel. I just wanted to hear him talk. Because amidst the hustle and bustle and excitement of new people and business and information, there was a sense of God’s presence and passion about him that brought life to a stand-still.

    Every phone conversation I’ve had with him since then has been that same experience. As if business needs to get done, yes, and he’s so dang incredibly good at it, but the heart through which he does it is steeped in the Father’s love, and that’s what he’s really all about.

    This is the legacy Lee has in my life both as my agent and friend. Kind words continually spoken from the heart of Jesus that whisper, “I believe in who God’s created you to be.”

    Working with him has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I told him last week that my prayers for him and his family were wailing on heaven’s door (because, seriously – forget the whole polite knocking thing). And they are. Continuously.

    Thanks for writing this incredible tribute, Chip.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I”m not surprised at your story, Mary. Lee always understood the importance of respect, and there’s a settled spirit about him that I have long appreciated. Good of you to comment. Thanks.

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Well, I never met Lee, and now I feel I’ve missed out. I did, however, love Same Kind of Different as Me. The work he put in to get that book published–that says a lot about the man. Praying for Lee and his family.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Yes — there were other books, but that’s the one that personifies Lee’s work in my mind, Robin.

  • katie says:

    Hi, this is Katie Hough, Lee Hough’s daughter. thank you so much for writing that tribute to my amazing dad. I know it will make him smile as it did me too. I really enjoy hearing other’s stories about my dad! thank you again. It really meant a lot to me and to my family!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Hi Katie – I”m really glad you came on to comment. You may not remember me, but your dad and I worked together for a few years at Alive, I also have a boy and two girls, and my two girls are also named Molly and Kate! (And I think your brother is Cole, while mine is Colin – all the names were close.) I’d like for all three of you to know that other people in this business loved and respected your dad, and found him to be a man with a great heart. I’ve always been proud to call your dad my friend. I’m sorry for this current hard time, and I’m not the type who is going to through some bible verse at you, as though it were a bandaid to make this stuff better — it sucks, and I hate it, and I don’t understand why this sort of thing happens to a good guy. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. So we celebrate in the days we have, and the people we love, and those who loved us. Remember the good days, because there were plenty of them. Praying for you and yours to feel peace in the midst of it all, Katie.

    • katie says:

      thank you very much for your kind words, chip. it does help to hear stories and think of all the good times! I was sad to hear, though, that my dad turned down a .99 cent margarita! lol. Life is not fair and I hate it, I hate that this is happening more than I can explain but I love seeing all the love and support for dad and paula! it makes me happy!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Alas, it’s true, Katie… I took your dad over to the Chapel Hills Mall when the two of us worked together. I’d been waiting for two weeks for the (now closed) restaurant to offer their 99-cent margarita night. To be fair, they were terrible, watered-down margaritas. But still… they were 99 cents! And Lee ordered an iced tea, much to my chagrin. I think I was forced to drink several, just to make up for his faux pas. :o) He once told me, “I used to be more fun.” It was good that, later in his life, he rediscovered some of that fun. I know he loves you dearly, since he used to tell me that.

    • katie says:

      my dad has always been fun….he just didn’t always know it! 🙂

  • Edwina Cowgill says:

    Chip, what a beautiful tribute! I never had the privilege of meeting Lee, but have heard of him through various writing circles. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

  • Cindi Mc Menamin says:

    Thanks, Chip, for remembering Lee on his last day as an agent. I met Lee at the Mount Hermon Christian Writes’ Conference back in 1997, I think, before I was published. I remembered his name (and still remember his smile) because his was the NICEST, most GRACIOUS rejection letter I’d ever received. I remember personally thanking him for it. You’re right, he is definitely the one who comes to mind when I think of “the nicest guy in publishing.”

  • Beth K. Vogt says:

    I first met Chip at the CWCWC years ago — I walked in with a pitch sheet for a nonfiction book idea and another pitch sheet for a fiction idea. He picked them both up, looked at me, and said, “Pick one.” Wise man. Several years later, when I landed a nonfiction book contract with MOPS, Lee was my agent by default because he was then the MOPS agent. He was encouraging and gracious — which seem to be bedrock attributes of his character. Joining others praying for Chip and his family.

  • Annie Freewriter says:

    I want a double portion of his spirit. This book is a significantly important read. Also, when I get discouraged about my book not getting out there, I want someone like Lee on my side.

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    Wow! I chatted a bit with Lee last year at ACFW, and though I’d seen him several other times at conferences, this was the first time I had the chance to meet him. And we live in the same town! 🙂 Such natural charm and effortless charisma. He chided me for not attempting to seek representation with Alive when I said I once dreamed of Alive being my agency but I needed to sell a few more books before that would be a possibility. Then, when I told him representation with Sandra at MacGregor just happened, he nodded and said to never discount God’s plan. Amen to that!

    It’s heartbreaking to hear of the return of the cancer, and also of Lee leaving the industry. Quite a legacy is being left, and so many have been impacted in some way by Lee’s influence or work. Chip, thank you for posting this and for offering up such a great tribute to a great champion in the publishing industry, with a lot in the CBA.

    Lee, your life speaks for you. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. You *will* be missed.

  • Cecelia Dowdy says:

    What a wonderfully moving tribute. I met Lee once at ACFW at an agent appointment. He was very kind and gave me some helpful advice about my wrting career. I’ll continue to pray for him and his family.

  • Normandie Fischer says:

    Wonderful testament to a life well lived.

  • Paula Hough says:

    Thank you Chip. What a gift! I plan to show him your tribute today. He loves you and will be deeply moved by your words.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Paula, I’m really touched that you’d come onto the blog and read this. I think Lee is simply one of the best human beings I know. I loved working with him, and I’m heartbroken over this. Give him a big hug from me, and tell him I said I love him.

  • Jeannie Campbell, LMFT says:

    Well said, Chip. Our prayers are with Lee and his family.

  • Cheryl Andrews says:

    What a wonderful tribute to one of the most honorable men we know and we are happy to see that his colleagues feel the same. My husband and I have been friends with Lee for most of our lives and we can absolutely attest to the fact that he is one of the good guys. Thank you for writing this today.

  • Randy Ingermanson says:

    Lee is a great guy. I met him back around 1998 at Mount Hermon when he was still an editor. Later on, he became my agent and I’ve worked with him for something like 8 years now. He is universally liked–by writers, editors, other agents. He’s fought a hard battle for the last couple of years, and it’s very hard to see it end this way.

  • Jennifer Lyell says:

    Thank you for doing this, Chip. It expresses so well the sorts of things I’ve been telling others over the past few days and I hope will foster more prayer for Lee and Paula. As one who has acquired many titles from Lee, partnered with him through successes and challenging situations, I can say that he truly is one of the very best.

    This just really sucks.

  • Mary Kay says:

    Sad news about a great guy. Same Kind of Different is a gift. Lee is a gift! Thanks for this, Chip.

    Mary Kay

  • Amy Leigh Simpson says:

    Lee is such a great guy, and a wonderful encourager. Very sad to hear this, but thank you for the update and the fine tribute to the man and his work.

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    I’ve prayed for Lee for the last two years. We’d been so hopeful, but praise God, we’ll be able to see him again one day and spend eternity with him. Think of all the stories we can share! This is a beautiful tribute, Chip.

  • Charles Marshall says:

    Very moving, Chip. Well done.

  • Lynette Sowell says:

    I’ve only met Lee once, and that was at ACFW one year. I’d just finished an editor appointment and saw Lee at the table behind me. He didn’t know me from Annie, but I thought I’d tell him hi anyway, introduce myself and let him know that I’d been praying for him and it was good to see him at conference. He marched around the table and gave me a hug, thanking me for praying for him. Sweet, kind man by reputation and in person. The world needs a lot more like him. He’s still in my prayers. Thanks for letting us know.

  • Camy Tang says:

    Nice tribute, Chip. I first met Lee at an ACFW (back when it was ACRW) conference and took his branding workshop, which is where I figured out my brand and tagline. He was a great teacher. I’ll be praying for them.

  • I absolutely love Same Kind of Different As Me. So thankful Lee didn’t give up on it. May God wrap him and Paula in his arms of love and keep them there through the coming days. A beautiful tribute to your friend, Chip.

  • Susan Meissner says:

    Lee is a true gentleman and an honor to know…This was a lovely tribute, Chip, Same Kind of Different as Me is a fabulous book. I am so glad he fought for it. He will leave his mark here on the planet in wonderful ways.

  • Though I never met Lee in person, I feel like I know him because of all the stories I’ve heard, not just this one but from many of my colleagues. God bless you, Lee. And thanks for all you’ve done.

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