Chip MacGregor

September 6, 2016

MacGregor Literary celebrates ten years!


This week marks the tenth anniversary since I started MacGregor Literary. I’d been working as a publisher with the old Time-Warner Book Group, got the axe not long after the sale to Hachette, and realized I was being given a chance, in my forties, to remake my life.

The fact is, I’m a lifer in publishing. I got my first job in the industry working at Clearing Magazine back in the 70’s as a part-time copy editor (and, um, the fact is, I didn’t really know what a “copy editor” was when I applied). But I stayed at the Mag (a monthly for junior high science teachers, now part of Ranger Rick and the World Wildlife Federation), became a staff writer and eventually the managing editor. I kept my hand in writing and publishing forever — managed the newspaper at my graduate school, wrote hundreds of articles for magazines and newspapers, coordinated the print resources for a couple organizations. No matter what job I had (I taught at a college, worked on staff at a church, hosted a syndicated radio show, did some consulting, even spent a year starting a speech team at a high school), I was always writing.

My big break came when I was out of work, waiting for my first book to come out, and wondering when I was going to have to grow up and get a real job. I was in my thirties, had three kids, and was trying to find a way into the system that was traditional book publishing. Out of the blue, a guy by the name of Steve Halliday approached me. We’d gone to the same church, and Steve was building a reputation as an excellent ghostwriter who was connected with important people in publishing. I’m not sure who told him to talk with me, but he gave me an extra project he had that needed some help. I did some writing and editing, and Steve seemed to think it was okay. Then he introduced me to an organization in Atlanta that needed some other writing projects completed — Walk Thru the Bible had a publishing arm in those days that worked with pastors who wanted to create study guides. It was my introduction to the world of Christian publishing, and I would end up doing 40 books for them over the next several years. The pastor would send me his sermon series on cassette tape, I’d turn each sermon into a chapter, create an introduction and conclusion, and — voila! A book!

Steve also introduced me to John Van Deist, a guy who had been a publisher in the past, and who was just then starting up a new venture — Vision House Publishing. I became their de facto editorial department, and we discovered some great projects, including Alice Gray’s bestselling Stories for the Heart and Philip Gulley’s Front Porch Tales. (A true story: I took that manuscript home to read on a Friday, and was told the famous newscaster Paul Harvey had recommended we review it. I read it the next day, and called John at 10 PM that night to say, “It’s midnight at the author’s home in Indiana — call him, get him out of bed, and convince him to sign… this book is going to put us on the map.” I was right. Philip is still writing great stories.) That company eventually got bought out by Multnomah, and later became part of the Random House universe.

My work got noticed, and I started getting calls from speakers who needed help with their books. I worked with Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Chuck Colson, Jack Hayford, Bruce Wilkinson, and a bunch of other famous speakers. Some of them, such as Bruce Waltke, had me co-author their book. One of them, Howie Hendricks, a longtime professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, had a series of talks on the prophet Elijah, and asked me to fill out the rest of the book with my own stories on the prophet Elisha… then the publisher produced the book without my name anywhere on it. (They’d even tweaked the stories inside, so that a cute story about going for a drive with my son morphed into Howie going for a drive with his son. Ugh.) But all along, I kept my head down, worked hard, got better as a writer, took the jobs offered to me, and met great people.

Eventually I was at Book Expo and met Carolyn McCready, a VP of Editorial who was looking for an acquisitions editor. I worked for her at Harvest House for a few years, then got invited to lunch by an agent, Greg Johnson, who invited me to come join him at Alive Communications, a literary agency in Colorado. I always told Greg it took me about two seconds to say yes — working with authors was what I’d enjoyed most. Back when I had been in my doctoral program at the University of Oregon, I had a graduate teaching fellowship and worked in the office of Career Planning, focused on assisting all of those students graduating with advanced degrees in the arts, but who had no place to turn. (When you’re getting an MFA in violin, or a master’s in poetry, or a degree in dance… how do you shape a career plan?) The resources we created back then are still in use today, and in fact I still ask the authors I work with to use a career mapping tool I first designed in the 1980’s. So I took my materials and became an agent with Alive, learned the ins and outs of agenting, and worked for years with a great team under the leadership of Rick Christian. I represented hundreds of titles in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and it was my success there that allowed me to eventually start my own company.

Still, this story wouldn’t be complete without my mentioning the writing organization ACFW. Ten years ago, just as I was leaving Time-Warner, I had been asked to speak at their annual writing conference. I had to call them, explain that I was no longer at Time-Warner, and offered to let them replace me with someone else. (I didn’t want everyone to show up and be disappointed by having to listen to “the guy that used to be a publisher but now is out of work.”) They were very gracious, said that I still had a good reputation in the industry, and bestselling author Rachel Hauck (whom I now represent) told me that they’d be happy to have me remain as a speaker. So I went, did my talk, and was able to announce in front of 500 people that I’d just returned to agenting and was starting my own literary agency. That conference led to my signing a number of great authors, and pretty much put me on the map. Nowadays when people ask me why I’ve represented so much Christian fiction, I point to that conference — it’s who I was with when I started. (The funny thing? I’d never done much fiction before.)

Okay, sorry to fill the page with my history, but I sometimes have people ask how I became an agent, and I always tell them, “I’m a book guy.” I’ve always been a book guy — and I’m coming up on 40 years since I started that first job working at a magazine. The lessons I learned have stayed with me: work hard at the craft; keep improving as a writer and don’t settle for sameness; look for opportunities; choose to spend time with talented people; let others take the credit; share what you know; help others along the way… Those are the things that have helped us be successful. And, um, we have been very successful. Over the past eight years, the company has reported 648 book deals — which puts our agency in the top ten literary agencies in the country, in terms of numbers of books sold. We’ve had authors on every major bestseller list in the US, I’ve lost track of how many award-winners we represent, and this whole thing has been one fun ride. Most of all, we’ve had a chance to work with good people, and do good books.

When I started the company, I tried to set up the vision right away: Books that make a difference. We’ve attempted to do that — to represent good writers, who craft great books, and many of those books make a difference in the lives of readers. I’m proud to have been doing this for ten years, and I’m looking forward to doing this for ten more. My thanks to Steve Halliday, John Van Deist, Carolyn McCready, Greg Johnson, Rick Christian, ACFW, longtime assistant Marie Prys, my old boss Rolf Zettersten, fellow agents Amanda Luedeke, Sandra Bishop, Erin Buterbaugh, Holly Lorincz, Brian Tibbetts, and all the authors who I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. Ten years of success is a great track record for any business, and I realize I wouldn’t be here if it had not been for all of you. Thanks!

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  • johnvonhof says:

    Best wishes for the next 10 years. I enjoy your blog posts and reading more of your story.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      My old roomie at writer conferences checks in to say something! Thanks, Jon. Always good to see your name pop up!

  • Terri Picone says:

    Great story, Chip. I appreciate your humility about your journey and your genuine willingness to help others who also love story. All for the love of books!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Like everyone on this blog, I do love books, Terri. I know you do, too. Thanks for coming on to say something.

  • Traci Hilton says:

    “work hard at the craft; keep improving as a writer and don’t settle
    for sameness; look for opportunities; choose to spend time with talented
    people; let others take the credit; share what you know; help others
    along the way… ”

    This is a perfect recipe for a satisfying and successful career in whatever a person chooses to do (I expect, at least) and it is pretty well reflects what I have been going for over the last six years or so.

    I’m so glad for your success and glad to have had the chance to get to know you!

    Congrats on ten years of MacGregor Literary and a bright future!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks very much, Traci. I left off some of the other tips: “always cut out early so somebody else has to pay the tab; always hang out with the talented people in the back of the room so they’ll think you also have talent; always flush with your foot…” Let me know if you need other bits of wisdom!

    • Traci Hilton says:

      “always flush with your foot” I have this as a tattoo. It is extremely important.

  • Joe Lewis says:

    Hi Chip, This was a fine piece, maybe one of your best and I’ve been checking in here for quite some time, long enough to be bumbed out when you shut down for a while. Sure, your marketing blogs are nuts and bolts helpful but what use is that if a promising writer gives up. “Okay, sorry to fill the page with my history,” rather than self indulgent, I find it generous. Often times struggles and change are more tolerable and less discouraging when someone who’s experienced the same challenges as you and succeeded is willing to share those experiences, instead of holding themselves out as “cool.”

    Joseph Max Lewis –

    • chipmacgregor says:

      You made my day, Joe. Thanks for reading the blog (even though we all know the best part was always “Thursdays with Amanda”), and thanks for the kind words. I appreciated reading this.

  • Kiki Hamilton says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Chip, and for 10 years of success! I’m always motivated by the reality of ‘I put my head down and did the work’ and then seeing the payoff. Here’s to 10 more successful and fun years! 🙂

  • rachelhauck says:

    I love this! Wow, you’ve done so many great and interesting things! And congrats on 10 year of MacGregor Literary! It’s an honor to be a part of it all. And I think I said, when you called to ask if we still wanted you to speak, “I’ll hunt you down if you don’t show up.” Yea, so there, just setting the story straight. ;p

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Ha! The fact is, I tear up every time I tell this story. It was Rachel (and the leadership at ACFW) who were being incredibly gracious to me, and they’re the reason I was able to get out of the gate so fast. I’ve always appreciated the grace they showed me. (By the way, at that panel I got to interview Lee Hough, who I had helped hire and train at Alive , and who turned into one of the really great literary agents. I’ll never forget that he came over right after the panel and gave me a big hug, welcoming me back to agenting. I miss Lee and his graciousness.) Thanks for saying something, Rachel. Love you! Have always appreciated how lucky I am to represent NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR RACHEL HAUCK.

    • rachelhauck says:

      It’s a good thing you played the glockenspiel in the 8th grade. That’s all I’m saying… Ha! It’s an honor to be your friend and client, and sister in the Lord. Thanks for being such a blessing and voice of wisdom in my crazy publishing life! RH

    • chipmacgregor says:

      For those who don’t know, Rachel Hauck has glockenspiel envy. I played it in my 8th grade band, and she’s been jealous of me ever since! :o)

    • rachelhauck says:

      ACK! You promised you’d not tell! ;p

  • Virginia Tenery says:

    Congratulations, Chip.

  • Laura Domino says:

    Congratulations on ten years of a successful agency. And 40 years of a successful career.

  • jillmariewilliamson says:

    I enjoyed the history, Chip. Congrats on ten years!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Jill! And everyone, if you’re not reading Jill Williamson’s books, you’re missing out on a great storyteller!

  • Diana says:

    Wow, talk about going around the block…you’ve gone around the world, so to speak. I loved reading your story. People have stories. If one has a memory, then one has stories and I love hearing them. Thanks for sharing all that.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Appreciate that, Diana. The family is from Scotland, so yeah, I get to go around the block a bit. :o)

  • Happy 10th! Despite not also having killed a bear with your bare hands, your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Congratulations on your anniversary! Very much enjoyed reading about your journey. I have a question about your career planning tool. Is that available anywhere online or for sale? In addition to ghostwriting and editing, I’m a professional resume writer, and in today’s changing world, with companies trending to contract work and more people becoming independent contractors — good tools in the tool belt are essential.

  • Kelly says:

    Congratulations, Chip, on the big 10! And thank you for sharing your story. It’s inspirational and powerful to see how your hard work and love of writing shaped your path. You’re clearly a relationship guy as well as a book guy. I respect that. Best wishes on the next 10.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Kelly. And yes, I’ve always been a relationship guy. I find it hard to not become friends with the author I work with. They’re simply great people.

  • Please never apologize for telling your story. We fiction authors LOVE stories. These are examples of how though it is important to have a life plan, you also need to be professionally agile enough to adjust as the world around you shifts–especially in today’s book world. Congrats on the 10 years. Hope the next 10 are at least as productive and successful!

  • Allen says:

    Honest and modest, you gave the credit and thanked everybody, That is nice. You forgot to mention that you are the # 1 Selling agent overall on Publishers Marketplace. Now that is not a stat to ignore. If I can sum it all out with one word. Perseverance.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      The truth is, I wouldn’t be in this place without great people helping me (see Marie, above) and great authors I get to work with (see Vicki and Jodie, above). No false modesty — that’s the God’s honest truth, Allen. I’ve done great, and I’m grateful.

  • Jodie Bailey says:

    Love this read! I’ve heard it in pieces here and there, but wonderful to read as one. So glad you are “a book guy” and so much more! Congrats on a decade, and thanks for letting me be a part of it!

  • Vicki Hinze says:

    Wishing you a very happy anniversary and many more fulfilling years of success!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Vicki! (And for those who don’t know, this would be bestselling author Vicki Hinze, who has published DOZENS of great novels!)

  • Bonnie says:

    Congrats, Chip, on ten years at your agency, and almost forty years in the industry! Great to hear where your path has led you and blessings on many more years!

  • Gayla Grace says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I always enjoy reading how agents got started. Congratulations on 10 years!

  • M Prys says:

    What a great post. Proud to have been a part of MacGregor Lit. Way to go, Chip!

    • chipmacgregor says:

      For those who don’t know, this is from Marie Prys, a fabulous editor who I’ve basically forced to work with me at every stop along the way — publishers, literary agencies, editorial companies… she’s one of the best editors I know, and probably my favorite person to work with ever. Love you, M!

  • Loved reading more of your story, Chip. And thanks for sharing your lessons learned over the years. So valuable and inspiring! Congrats!

  • Chip, thank you so much for sharing! I loved your story and your “never give up” attitude. Makes us believe there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Congratulations and many blessings!

  • Congrats! God had a plan for you, and you were willing to be his servant! I love hearing about people’s journeys. Blessing and prayers for many more years.

  • Theresa Lode says:

    Chip, this was just great. I love hearing people’s stories and yours is especially fun. Warmest wishes for a wildly prosperous next ten years. And a big ole raspberry to Howie. (Ooooh, not very nice of me, I know.)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks, Theresa. I’ll admit it felt a bit like I was just yakking about myself, but I’m glad you liked the story.

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