Chip MacGregor

June 21, 2008

Making Money, Attending Conferences, Creating Books


A heapin’ hunk o’ questions came in while I was on vacation, so let me catch up with them.

Mike wrote to ask, "Could we talk about making money through publishing in ways other than writing books? Like manuscript critique, reading submissions for publishers, writing reviews, etc. Do you think there’s value in these sidelines?"

There’s certainly value in these endeavors, Mike, but in most of them there’s not much money. Let’s put these publishing activities into two categories: the EXPERIENCE group, and the INCOME group…

In the EXPERIENCE group, an author finds ways to get more involved with the industry, learn about the craft, and make connections. To that end, he or she can write book reviews, create a column in a local newspaper, review movies or restaurants, read submissions for an agent or editor, participate in a blog, send an e-zine, regularly post articles on a web site, and send in a short piece for a book of collected essays (like the Chicken Soup or God Allows U-Turns books). All of those are great ways to get some experience and exposure. None of them will pay much.

In the INCOME group, a writer can set up an editorial service, offer to critique manuscripts for a fee, do copy editing for publishers (who are always looking for good copy editors), create magazine articles, do some collaborative writing, help authors strengthen their proposals, do contract evaluations (if you know what you’re doing), or take a job with a publishing-related company. That could mean working part-time doing office work for an agent, or helping a marketing company with author tours, or even taking a job at Barnes & Noble. When I was a free-lance writer, I wrote study guides for people. I have a friend who works for a travel company and writes traveler-related stories. Another friend puts together a newsletter for one of America’s largest home builders, another is paid to write articles on local businesses for the Chamber of Commerce, still another edits the trade journal for concrete workers. I was talking with an author yesterday who edits web content for one of the largest tele-com firms in the country. It’s all word-related, so you’re working on the craft, and it all helps pay the bills. It’s tough to make a living at writing. For most real-world writers, this is how they help put food on the table.

Gail wrote wanting to know, "I see you’re going to speak at a writers’ conference later this summer. How often do agents typically attend conferences? Once a month? Once per quarter?"

It depends on the agent. Some agents don’t like talking in front of groups or being approached by a bunch of newbies. They find other ways to invest their time. But I enjoy speaking and hanging out with a bunch of writers — probably because I remember being one of those people sitting in the back row, not knowing anybody. People in the industry have been very good to me, and while I can’t represent everybody, this is one way of giving back. Still, it’s a sacrifice. I’m not paid much, they work me long hours, and it’s a couple days away from my real job, which is running a literary agency.

I’ll be at the Philadelphia writers’ conference in August (, and I was just asked to pinch-hit for another agent who had to drop out of the Oregon Christian Writers’ conference (a good regional conference in the Pacific Northwest, I had to do it, since I’m an Oregon native — Go Ducks!). The only other conference I’ll attend this year is the ACFW conference, happening in mid-September. The American Christian Fiction Writers conference moves around, but is in Minneapolis this year, and I’ll tell you right now it’s the best annual Christian writers’ conference going. Great instruction, superbly organized, a wonderful group of people attending, and their awards are beginning to gain some recognition in the industry. Oh, and they’ll be doing their author signing this year at the Mall of America! Check them out at (They also have started a blog that talks about things like "how to get the most out of a writing conference," so I suggest you take a look, even if you’re not attending ACFW.)

On a related note, Ed wants to know, "Do agents go to conferences on their own dime in hopes of snagging a new client?"

Occasionally they will, especially when an agent is at the starting stage of his or her career. But for an established agent, the conference will usually fly them in, ask them to meet with 15-to-25 writers, speak at a couple of workshops, maybe participate on a panel or lead an ongoing class, and then pay them about $300. That’s just not much money for a couple days of my life (put into real-world terms, I’d only have to do one $2000 contract to earn that sort of money). It’s the one-on-one appointments that really wear on you — especially when you face an over-eager wannabe author with a bad idea who doesn’t want to listen to your ideas for improving his work. Still, I enjoy the give-and-take with most writers, it often gives me a chance to visit with authors I represent who live in the area, and you’re right — there’s always the possibility that I’ll see a dynamite idea or meet a great writer at a conference. In fact, let me offer some examples…

Mark Bertrand is a guy I’d read online for months before meeting him a couple years ago at ACFW. He was clearly a good writer, and MUCH smarter than me, so I was looking forward to shaking his hand at the conference. We met, I discovered he’s a great guy (the type of person I wished lived closer so we could hang out together), and we started working together. Mark just signed a three-book deal with Bethany House. Susan Meissner is one of the best novelists in CBA. My wife was a fan before I was, and introduced me to her work. I loved her voice and stories, and I was thrilled to meet her at a writing conference. We ended up standing next to each other in the security line at LAX, started talking, and… she just signed a two-book deal with Random House. Susan Page Davis is one of the busiest writers in the business — she currently has four or five different publishing houses asking to work with her. And Susan just walked up and introduced herself to me at a writers’ conference a couple years ago. I could see immediately that she could write, and she’s been a joy to represent. And let me use one unpublished author — Gina Holmes runs the very popular Novel Journey web site (, interviewing incredible writers… but I warn you: if you visit once, you’ll be hooked for life). We met at a conference in North Carolina several years ago. She walked up, introduced herself, and we started talking. She’s funny, charming, and her knowledge of the craft is scary good. Gina is also a fine writer. She isn’t published yet, but she’s got the gift, and will be soon enough. These are just four examples of the benefit I get from attending a conference. 

Dom wrote to ask, "What is BEA? I heard it just happened in LA."

Correct. BEA is Book Expo America, and is the big book show of the year. It just took place at the LA Convention Center. Lots of industry events, all the publishers showing off what’s new, huge discussions about the changes happening in the industry (more on that in my next post), and the usual amount of hand-wringing about the economy, Borders, indies going under, the cost of paper, etc. If you really want to know "what’s now" in the world of publishing, BEA is one of the best things you can attend all year.

And that leads me to this question from Donna: "How many books get published each year?"

I’m going to use some info that was just released at BEA to answer this question. Bowker announced that in 2007 there were 276,649 NEW titles released last year, up about two thousand from the previous year. They also noted there were 134,773 short-run and publish-on-demand titles created last year, so there were a total of 411,422 books published last year. That means 2007 offered the most new titles in the history of publishing. (Stop and read that sentence again.)

The Zogby people also did a study. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Random House commissioned them to survey the book-buying habits of 8000 American adult readers. What they found was interesting: 14% buy more than twenty books per year, about half buy fewer than ten books per year, and more people buy online (43%) than anywhere else. There were a number of fascinating little tidbits in the report (for example, NPR is the biggest single influencer of book-buyers, and Jon Stewart influences more decisions than Oprah Winfrey), and you can get the whole thing on the Zogby site (

Hey, and may I close by tooting my own horn? The folks at Seekerville have presented me with an "Award for Excellence" for my blog. Woo-hoo! Thanks very much.

If you’ve got a publishing question, bung it along and I’ll respond.

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