Agent Advice: Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Chip MacGregor, founder of MacGregor Literary in Portland, Ore. GLA had the opportunity to sit down with Chip at the Harriette Austin Writers’ Conference.  In addition to Chip’s many years of agenting, he is also the author of several books and a veteran of the publishing industry.

He is seeking: While his clients write in a variety of genres in adult fiction and nonfiction, each writes from a Christian perspective. Though the agency does represent new, unpublished writers, Chip prefers to receive first contact with a writer through a referral or at a writers’ conference. See the agency’s full submissions page here.

 

Chip MacGregor.

 

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

CM: I did a series of books with Simon & Schuster called The Exorsistah, by Claudia Mair Burney, about a teenage African-American girl who realizes she has power over the supernatural world. I also just did a book with Zondervan called Devotions for Thinking Christians, by Lael Arrington and Kelly Kullberg. Rather than being about shallow little things, it’s trying to examine the great thoughts of our contemporary world and Christendom and offering them in little bite-sized chunks for people.

GLA: You deal a lot with Christian fiction and nonfiction. How is the Christian market evolving today? 

CM: This is the golden age of Christian publishing. For the last two years, publishing has been flat overall, but Christian fiction is not only growing—it’s the fastest growing segment in all of publishing (these past two years). Five years ago, we basically had one category—Christian fiction, which started to segment between contemporary romance and historical romance. But in the last few years, we’ve begun to see much more realistic stories, and were seeing great divisions in terms of segmentation. We’re seeing suspense, supernatural thrillers, futuristic and speculative fiction. There’s a huge array in terms of different kinds of genres. Look at mysteries—we now have historical mysteries, contemporary mysteries, cozy mysteries. We’re starting to see a lot of segmentation in the marketplace.

Christian nonfiction used to really be dominated by pastors of large churches who were writing on particular issues. What we see now is much more thoughtful writers coming in. We see, for example, spiritual journey and spiritual memoir. That’s led to a number of people saying, “Here’s my spiritual journey,” and these are people who are really known for their writing. They’re not pastors or Christian celebrities—though those books are still around. It’s led to a lot of reflective work—and that’s exciting because we’re starting to see better writing.

 

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GLA: A lot of people self-publish their books, but the quality in most self-published works is not up to snuff. Will you consider self-published works? If so, what qualifications do you look for in such books?

CM: I’m happy to look at a project that’s self-published, but what I find is that a lot of self-published work is self-published for a reason. A publisher really wasn’t interested in the book because it wouldn’t sell well in the general market. Perhaps the idea wasn’t big enough. Everyone (in publishing is looking for a writer with) a great idea, a great platform and great writing. But the fact is, the thing that’s missing most often is great writing. We see a lot of good writing, a lot of OK writing, a lot of so-so writing. Great writing is the very first thing I look for in a self-published book.

GLA: What do you think is the most common mistake writers make when they give a short in-person pitch to an agent?

CM: You should be able to tell me what your book is about in a simple, nontechnical sentence. If you can’t explain it in a simple, nontechnical sentence, then you probably haven’t spent enough time thinking about the idea.

GLA: What’s your best piece of advice?

CM: At writers’ conferences, people sometimes come in looking for the secret—the secret to getting published. Writers need to know the secret to getting published is simply to become a better writer. The fact is, I don’t know of a great writer that’s unpublished. What I see currently are all these writers so focused on marketing—and I know we’re market-driven more than ever before. “Get a platform. Where are you speaking?” I realize that’s a reality of today’s marketplace, but nothing excites an agent or editor or publisher more than finding someone who’s a great writer.

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