Chip MacGregor

June 17, 2010

Ten Notes for Today's Writer


1. Lots of big news this week, including something nobody seemed to have sniffed… THOMAS NELSON WAS BOUGHT OUT by an equity company, Kohlberg and Company. Remember, Thomas Nelson is one of the largest Christian publishers in the world, and they were sold just a few years ago to the guys at InterMedia (one of the pioneers in cable TV, InterMedia made the interesting step of pulling the company out of being publicly traded, and went back to being a private company). Anyway, the previous owners had financed a big chunk of the purchase, and Kohlberg must have seen Thomas Nelson was going to make them money, since they paid off the $219 million loan (go ahead and read that figure again) and took control of the company. 

2. Wow. And it didn't stop there – they had the good sense to keep Michael Hyatt, perhaps the brightest mind in CBA, and the man who has restructured the company and made it both leaner and more focused, AND they brought on Jane Friedman as a board member. Some CBA people may not recognize the importance of that, but Jane used to be the boss at HarperCollins, the owner of Zondervan, before that was the Executive VP of Random House, and before that Publisher at Vintage . I'll tell you there isn't a publishing professional who doesn't respect Jane — she's one of the best, most experienced minds in contemporary publishing. An incredible addition, frankly.

3. Novelist (and longtime friend) Joyce Magnin, best known for her wonderful "Bright's Pond" novels with Abingdon, has started a company to help new novelists get their manuscripts ready. This isn't just another editorial service — take a look at her website. You'll come away totally impressed:

4. If you're a married woman (or you have any married women in your life), they can be part of a research project on intimacy being done by respected CBA speaker/writer Sheila Gregoire of Canada. If you’re willing to participate, it’s right here:… I think it's an important study that is going to turn into a book, but I want you to be aware it is a little, shall we say, intimate.

5. Mark wrote in to ask, “In 100 words or less, what is the best writing advice you ever received?”

For me, that's easy… On page 71 of Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" (3rd Edition), they give this advice: "Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs." In the words of E.B. White, it is nouns and verbs that "give to good writing its toughness and color." In his insightful work "On Writing," novelist Stephen King goes into great detail on this advice, pointing out that any reader can understand a combination of a noun and a verb: "Mary sighs." "Computers crash." "Books illuminate."

In my experience, authors (particularly novelists, but ALL authors) tend to use adjectives and adverbs to dress things up when they can't find the right word. But that's nothing more than lipstick on a pig. The right word is what good writing is all about. If you want punch and strength in your writing, write with nouns and verbs.

6. In light of my blog yesterday on collaborative writing, Danny wants to know, “What should a collaborative writer be paid on a project?”

 It depends on the project. In the annual WRITERS MARKET book produced by Writers Digest Books, they have an annual report on what collaborative writers, editors, copyeditors, and all those other freelance publishing jobs should be paid. It’s usually near the front of the book. Do yourself a favor and check the most recent edition so you’re up to date.

7. And Dale asked, “As a collaborative writers, should I ask for a 50/50 split on the income from the book?”

Again, that depends on the project. In terms of splits, I've seen everything from a straight work-for-hire (in which I'm paid a flat fee to do the work, with no percentage of advance and royalties) to a 60/40 split (I got the 60% because the "author" didn't have any actual facts or stories or material or message… he was, on the other hand, cuter than all get out, so I wrote the book and he talked about it). I keep seeing people say "fifty-fifty is the norm," but collaborative authors should be aware that there is a huge range of alternatives. (And, let's face it, I love getting questions from someone named "Dale," since it allows me to make "Chip and Dale" jokes.)

< font size="4">8. One other thought: On some high-end projects, the collaborator might be asked to have a cap on his or her money. For example, I once did a deal where I was paid 33% of advance and royalties, but my earnings would cap at $100,000. (It fell just short of that, unfortunately. Another $90,000 and I would have hit the cap.) My advice: Don't agree to a cap unless it's high.

9. And Toni asked, “As an agent, how do you deal with the idea of hearing ‘no, this isn't what we want’ all the time?”

A thought to keep in mind: EVERYBODY experiences rejection. And all of us feel a bit deflated when we hear someone say "no thanks," even if it turns out to be a project we didn't really want to do anyway! As an agent, I face rejection nearly every day. I'll send out a bunch of proposals for authors I represent, and it could be that the majority of publishers who look at those proposals will say "nope." That doesn't matter…I'm just looking for ONE publisher who will say "yes!" What I've found is that the more time I take making sure the proposal is strong, that there's a market for the project, and that it's a fit for the people I'm sending it to, my percentage of "yes's" goes up dramatically. 

The thing about rejection is that a writer has to divorce the emotion from the decision. A publisher didn't reject your idea because they disliked you, they rejected it because they don't like your idea, or they don't see the need, or they don't think the writing is quite ready, or they already have a similar item in the works, or… or maybe because they're all too stupid to see the obvious timeless quality of your work. (But probably not.) So divorce yourself from the notion that "the publisher doesn't like me" and start thinking about "how can I make this work?"

10. And a word of encouragement in this busy writing week: I think writers often give up too easy. The fact is, writing is hard work, and it generally doesn't come easy, and I find far too many writers who, upon discovering the work involved, simply give up. You know what? If you don't want to work hard, get a job at Wendy's. And if you can't take any rejection, you should probably stay out of publishing. Just write in your journal and occasionally turn something in to your church newsletter. That way your feelings will be protected and you'll never get hurt. (You'll also never get published, but that's the choice you're making.)


Share :


  • wow..nicely said. While writing, we should be clear about the message and deliver the right content 🙂 That’s more important in writing i believe.

  • Dayle says:

    Great advice, as always.

  • Wait a second, Katherine… If you checked our website, you’d find these words: “Regretfully, we cannot invest in the staffing needed to handle the vast number of unsolicited queries and proposals that have begun flooding in. For that reason we will no longer return unsolicited manuscripts sent to us, even if a self-addressed stamped envelope is included.”
    This isn’t just a matter of “politeness.” It’s also a matter of staffing, and money, and the investment of time and resources.

  • Re #10:
    I’m willing to work hard. I can take rejection. What’s discouraging to me is waiting months after submitting a query and never getting any response at all, even to a brief and very polite follow-up email. And yes, I am talking about your agency (among others). And yes, I acknowledge the possibility that cyberspace message-thieves may be to blame.

  • Donna Marie says:

    I always appreciate the no-beating-around-the-bush approach you have, Chip. Life’s too short for anything else, especially coddling.
    Also, I think a couple of people took offense to your “Wendy’s” remark, because it wasn’t taken as it was meant. I highly doubt you were inferring that Wendy’s work isn’t “hard” work, though it’s hard physically and sometimes emotionally, but unless you’re in management, it’s not as mentally challenging as constructing something as complex as a WELL-written novel, and it doesn’t require the same kind of emotional stamina that an aspiring author has to endure.
    The choice is whether you truly want to be a published author or if you prefer working for a living at something else, choosing to dabble at writing more as a hobby. Point well taken 🙂

  • Laura Droege says:

    I’m glad that the Kohlberg&Co. people kept Michael Hyatt and brought in Jane Friedman. I read both Hyatt’s and Friedman’s blogs, and I have been informed and impressed by their knowledge and insight in the publishing industry. Smart move, K & Co.
    Personally, I think working fast food is a lot less mentally draining than writing. Maybe that’s because I’m taking a break from rewriting the 6th draft of my novel: turning all those adjectives and adverbs into nouns and verbs. Difficult. Hm, maybe I need to check out Joyce’s website!
    Thanks for all the information, Chip.

  • Wow, this was a jam-packed post! My mind is spinning.
    To those who work at Wendy’s, I offer a tip: Use Murphy’s Oil Soap to spot treat those grease spots and throw into your laundry. Takes the grease right out.
    I don’t know how to get lipstick off your ham.

  • Chip,
    You really put a tremendous amount of quality content in your posts.
    I feel that item #10 on your list deserves a whole BLOG to it (if not a series).
    Perseverance is such a necessary trait to accompany the passion of writing.

  • Stevie Rey says:

    Wendy’s is hiring!!??? LOL! Thanks for the encouragement, Chip. I won’t give up. Interesting coincidence that you should mention collaborating. I’ve been looking for a partner but I haven’t been able to find anyone just yet. If you know of anyone, let me know. Jerry Jenkins was busy. (hee, hee. not kidding!)
    I appreciate all of this knowledge you’re pouring into my brain, Chip. Keep it coming. I’m fairly new to the writing world and my ignorance is rivaled only by my stubborn pride, the likes of which there is apparently NO KNOWN CURE! 🙂 Thankfully He loves us anyway.
    Grace and Peace,

  • Carla Gade says:

    Interesting news! Great advice! It took a while for me to stop putting lipstick of a pig, so tempting.

  • patriciazell says:

    Chip, you’ve hit on one of the challenges that writers, especially Christian writers, face–emotions. Our feelings often get in the way of pragmatism, and that is a shame. For those of us who have yet to be “discovered,” getting a book published is a long shot in this climate. I know I will surprised if I find an agent and a publisher for my book, but I am still going to give it my best effort. I’ll be diligent to do my part, and the rest is up to God.

  • Phoebe says:

    I met Joyce at a conference, and it wasn’t long before she became my writing coach. She was an excellent teacher and really helped me strengthen my weak spots. She’s fun, easily approachable with questions, and good at helping a young writer understand what needs fixed. She really knows her stuff!

  • Pam Halter says:

    I’ve known Joyce Magnin for about 8 years. We were introduced at the Greater Phila. Christian Writer’s Conference in 2002. We became friends and she is not only my friend, but also my writing partner. I can’t tell you how much she’s helped my writing! I’d like to join Chip in encouraging everyone to check out her site and read about what she’s offering. She’s an amazing teacher with good insight.

  • Alicha says:

    Good post, Chip! Humor AND wit!

  • Chris Taylor says:

    Dang, someone beat me to it. If you have worked at a fast food joint, you would know that it IS hard work! Not fun. Cleaning grills, racks, floors, tables, BATHROOMS(!), trying not to ruin clothes with grease, getting burned, dealing with customers, always being shorthanded during the busiest parts of the day…….

  • Bethany says:

    I’m surprised at you, gentle sir.
    Wendy’s IS hard work.

Leave a Reply

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