Chip MacGregor

December 21, 2012

Is it legal to strangle my publisher?


Someone just wrote to say, “I can’t believe it! I spent an entire week writing a piece for a digital magazine that insisted they needed it on a tight deadline, skipped my daughter’s play, ignored family meals, then stayed up all hours writing. I got it done, turned it in, and the publisher is saying they’ve decided to run it… next month! Will I go to jail if I shoot him?”

Ah, the joys of the writing life.

True story: A publisher once hired me to do a fast-fix on a book. “I need this by Thursday morning,” he told me. “If I don’t have it by Thursday, I could be out of business.” His exact words. 

So I took it, banged away, and met my deadline. I stayed up all night two nights in a row, grabbing coffee and blearily going through the manuscript line by line, fixing the problems and getting the book ready for publication. I finished at 4 Thursday morning, grabbed a couple hours of shut-eye, then drove an hour-and-a-half to the publisher’s office in order to turn it in by hand as they opened their doors. Mission accomplished. The publisher gave me a hearty thanks as I set the disk on his desk, and I headed to a coffee shop to try and stay awake for my drive home.

The following Wednesday, I’m at a breakfast meeting in the city, and who do I run into but Mr. Publisher. “Hey,” I say to him, “I haven’t heard from you — what did you think of the manuscript?”

He looked at me for a second with a blank look, then said, “Oh…you know, I haven’t gotten to that one yet.”

So I strangled him. Right there on the spot. Shoved several of those heavy restaurant pancakes they’re always serving down his evil throat. (Okay, not really. But I wanted to.)

The publishing business. It simply works on a different clock than the world of magazines and newspapers. But you live with their deadlines, so you write the best you can, turn it in, and hope they remember to publish it.

Often people ask why a book publisher needs a manuscript for a year before it hits store shelves — the reason has little to do with production (they could have hard copies in a couple weeks) and much to do with sales and marketing (they want to know how to pitch it, get it in front of bookstore owners, support it with quality marketing). All of that takes time, so an idea you have today, which takes you six months to write, and your agent six months to contract, and a publisher a year to produce, and the accounting people six months to get you a statement… means you may not be seeing much money on that bad boy for a couple years. This is all changing as we move to more and more toward ebooks, which can come out quickly and rely on more word-of-mouth. (The weakness of that system? We’ve seen too many bad ebooks that required better editing, and there have been too many ebooks that simply died because nobody had a plan for marketing and selling them.) Still, you can expect deadlines to tighten, things to be needed more quickly, magazines and books to be produced faster… and more of this sort of frustration to arise. 

Sorry to hear this happened to you, my friend, but it happens to all of us who write for a living. And no, I doubt you’d go to jail for shooting a publisher (though I understand it’s still a misdemeanor in some states). 

Share :


  • Rachelle says:

    An insanity plea from a writer is redundant, isn’t it?

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    As a magazine publisher I run into this all the time. Here’s my perspective.

    Let’s say 10 people pitch article ideas. I give them the guidelines and deadline, but say, “sooner is always better.”

    One person submits their article before the deadline. Their article will be in the next issue.

    Three people submit on the deadline. I use the articles in the order received until the issue is full. Any extras are placed in queue for the next issue. If the issue isn’t full, I look through my archives and other publications for content I can repurpose. I do this the morning after the deadline. The content for the issue is then firmly set at that time. We wrap up the edits and begin the layout phase.

    The day after the deadline, two people ask for an extension. I say we’re accepting content for the next issue. One submits the next day and the other one gets mad and never does, saying I’m inflexible.

    Of the four remaining people, one will submit a week or even months late and I’ll never hear from the other three.

    In an ideal world, every article I receive by the deadline, I’d publish in that issue — and in an ideal world every writer would submit what they pitch, by the deadline and follow my submission guidelines.

    • Daisy Rain Martin says:

      I love this. One of my goals for 2013 is to be published in magazines and paid! I’ve had two articles published in an online magazine that doesn’t pay, but I have appreciated the exposure. Every little tidbit like this is helpful. Thank you, sir.

  • Mary Vee says:

    Teen daughter and I laughed our way through this post. Came to the conclusion that some antiquated laws such as strangling publishers, spitting on the sidewalk, or not hunting whales in Oklahoma simply have never been removed from the books for the purposes of testing new recruits.

  • Renee Gray-Wilburn says:

    This is too funny. I think we’ve all had our moments…

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    Well, of course I doubt you would go to jail for shooting a publisher. Insanity is already established by the fact you’re a writer.

  • Daisy Rain Martin says:

    In regard to your comment, “…they want to know how to pitch it, get it in front of bookstore owners, support it with quality marketing,” ummm… where is THAT publisher? Now, I love my publisher, and I would never think of strangling him. He’s dear, and he gave my little book a life. But I’m the one who has sold over 500 copies since June and am planning on a whole new blitz after the new year. I know, I know… 500 copies. Nothing much to write home about, but a wise man told me that teensy weensy writers like me who write memoir MIGHT sell a thousand books. And I’m halfway there in a very short time. (His name may or may not have been Chip.)

    In other news, I have read through a ton of information on this here blog, and I must say that everything you have ever written about marketing a book is true. I’ve used many of the strategies you’ve suggested. I’ve gotten speaking gigs, done community events, beefed up my social media, and have now had two articles published in an online magazine. Very little money–more and more exposure all the time. So, thank you for some very solid and sound advice.

    Appreciate you, brother!
    Daisy Rain

  • Karen Morris says:

    While it’s unfortunate you had to go through that experience, I’m sure us readers appreciate your time in the trenches. And that you survived the misery and are as successful as you are certainly gives us hope.

    Merry Christmas, Chip. Looking forward to a bright 2013.

  • Cameron Bane says:

    Strangling, no. What one COULD do is tie them to a chair and force them to listen to a nasally high school sophomore read aloud “the really good parts” of Eragon over … and over … and over …

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.