Interview by Nathan Sturgis (PWR class of 2014)
As the head of MacGregor Literary, what led you to your current position as a literary agent? What other jobs have you had in the past and how did they prepare you for your current position?
I’ve spent most of my adult life in publishing. I was an editor and senior editor at a couple of publishing houses, and eventually was named a publisher at Time-Warner. I worked as a literary agent for several years at another agency, then started my own agency eleven years ago. Having worked as a writer, editor, and publisher have all informed how I represent an author.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Finding a great, fresh voice and helping him or her get published. Still the most fun thing I do.
You are also an author of more than two dozen books. What is something you’ve learned as a literary agent that affected your writing?
I’ve learned to remind myself that I have to focus on my audience. The more I do that (or make sure the authors I represent do that), the better the results.
You’ve coauthored several books with other authors. What is that process like?
I collaborated on a bunch of books as a writer, and as an agent I have kept collaborators busy by helping them find projects they can work on. I have always liked collaborative writing, but it’s not for everyone. You have to be able to mimic another person’s voice, understand their points, give shape to the story, and figure out what to leave in and what to cut out. The best part of the job is that you learn so much about new topics. Each book is a new learning experience.
What was your first byline–the first piece of writing you had professionally published?
A letter to the editor when I was a child — to my local newspaper. In fifth grade I created a school newspaper, since our little school had never had one.
What is your favorite book that you’ve helped publish?
There are too many to count. But I’ve always been proud of the books I wrote, including 40 Ways to get Close to God (and, for the writers who are reading this, check out Step by Step Pitches and Proposals, which isn’t artistic, but has proven itself a helpful resource to authors who are trying to figure out how to create a book proposal.
Is there any specific type of book you will be looking to acquire at the Taylor University Professional Writing Conference?
No . . . but that’s not unusual. Normally I’m looking for great voice more than I’m looking for a specific type of book or genre.
In a nutshell, what knowledge or skills do you want to pass on to conference attendees?
There is value in writing, not just in getting published.
What books have influenced your life?
Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus, Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Please name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about it.
Tom Bodett’s The End of the Road. You may only know him as a guest on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” or as the voice saying “We’ll leave the light on for you” with Motel 6, but Tom Bodett’s novel is funny and charming and brilliant. It’s a great book to see how to tell an interesting and touching story.
Chip will be teaching three sessions at the conference:
The Perfect Nonfiction Book Proposal
The Perfect Fiction Book Proposal
Finding and Working with an Agent