Chip MacGregor is the president of MacGregor Literary. With more than three decades in the publishing business, he has made his living as a writer, editor, publisher, and agent, and has developed a reputation for sharing the real information with authors. There is no pie-in-the-sky with Chip – he’ll tell you exactly what you need to know in order to succeed.
Tiffany Colter is the coordinator of The Master Seminars, runs Command Performance Speakers Bureau, and writes a blog for writers called The Writing Career Coach. On that site she mentors writers in matter of business management, marketing, and time management principles. She is a columnist as well as a Daphne du Maurier Award Winner in the unpublished division. Tiffany also travels and speaks to writers and small business owners at conferences and via online webinars.
How can a writer get noticed in publishing right now?
Chip: In this tough economy, I think there are two ways to stand out.
For a nonfiction writer, you can build a huge PLATFORM, so that the publisher sees you’re going to help them sell the book. That platform could consist of a busy speaking schedule, a broad media platform, a popular blog, a wide readership online, a wide awareness due to your credentials, etc. A platform will get a nonfiction author noticed. I’ve sold a couple books recently based almost solely on the author’s platform.
For a novelist, you can create a huge IDEA. Let’s face it, mid-list thrillers and crime novels are having a really tough time these days. The one thing that can make them break out is a big, over-the-top story. You might be able to find a small deal for your standard romance novel, but a huge story idea will get noticed and help your book be set apart. As an agent, I see lots of good stories. What I really like to see are the gigantic, out-of-the-box stories that will grab me and take me for a ride.
You have recently started teaching seminars across the country called The Master Seminars, what are those?
Tiffany: They are small group seminars hosted by Chip and include a variety of speakers. Susan May Warren teaches on writing a bestseller, Lisa Samson and Susan Meissner teach on adding depth to your writing, and Jim Rubart teaches on Marketing your Fiction. These are designed to really dig deep and help writers become a master of story and marketing. There is more information at www.TheMasterSeminars.com or anyone can call me (Tiffany) at 734.474.5489 to find out more.
How did The Master Seminars come to be?
Chip: I have been asked to speak at dozens of college campuses, and a couple hundred writing conferences. I felt there had to be a way to reach out to writers with more in-depth, professional information that was focused very tightly on a couple things writers need to know about: fiction marketing and creating a bestseller. I also felt the conference experience wasn’t giving newer writers enough of a chance to go in-depth with experienced writers in a smaller setting, so I approached a couple of respected, award-winning novelists and asked them if they’d work with me to create some more personal gatherings. That was the genesis of it.
Tiffany: When Chip came to me I was already running The Command Performance Speakers’ Bureau and loving it. He told me about his idea for small seminars teaching on marketing. This was right after Chip and Jim Rubart had spoken at conference on the need for strong marketing plans for writers. When Chip told me about it the writer in me loved it.
When I started working with the various speakers we clicked immediately. Jim has an incredible marketing mind. He doesn’t have a cookie cutter plan for each person. Many writers don’t feel comfortable with marketing. Jim understands that and knows how to work around it. I thought the marketing seminars would be the most intimidating for writers, but I was really surprised by the enthusiasm once people realized that they could market without living completely outside their comfort zone. In 2010 we’ll start our other topics and I know people will be just as excited.
What are some of your upcoming events?
Tiffany: We have a seminar every month from now to August.
In February, we have writing the Bestselling novel with Susan May Warren and I’m really excited about that. Her events are the best for people who aren’t published yet but want to be. I think we’ll see some real success stories as a result of those meetings.
In March, we have our third Fiction Seminar with Jim Rubart.
The May and July events on Deepening Fiction with Susan Meissner and Lisa Samson are already getting enrollments so people are enthusiastic about developing their craft.
We also have an update list where we announce new topics, special hotel rates, discounts and other updates. The sign up is at the Master Seminar’s website [www.TheMasterSeminars.com]. All of our events are currently taking enrollments and we’d love to have some Novel Journey readers at our seminars.
How did you choose to focus on the topics you did?
Chip: You can look at any online writers’ group, and you’ll discover they’re spending a lot of time talking about marketing. But in all my years in this business, I’ve found very few people who know how to market fiction. It’s always one of the topics I’m asked to speak on, and I simply felt there was an audience that would like to explore fiction marketing more in depth. I approached Jim Rubart, a novelist and a twenty-year marketing professional, about doing a seminar with me. He agreed, and I think the results speak for themselves. The fact is, we hardly have any competition for what we’re doing, since so few people know how to talk coherently about the topic.
Tiffany: I get to talk to all of the people who are interested in our various seminars on the phone and by email. We have something for writers at every stage. For the pre-published writer who is stuck, Susan May Warren’s Best-selling Novel seminar helps you move to the next level. Adding Depth to your Fiction helps writers of all levels improve their writing, and Marketing your Fiction is the best marketing seminar I’ve seen.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Tiffany: One thing we haven’t really talked about is the level of support between participants. All of us who have been to writer’s conferences know how exciting they can be. You make great friends. You get excited about writing. The downside is they can sometimes be overwhelming because it is you, hundreds of people. You feel like you always have to be “on”. There are so many people there that you can begin to feel invisible. The thing that most appeals to me about these events, besides the content, is the fact that there are 16 participants or less. Every person is able to have personalized attention. You have a chance to build relationships and really get to know other people.
At our first event in Dallas we were working on the marketing plans for each person. We sat as a group while Chip and Jim would suggest ways to market an individual’s project. Then another participant would say, “Wow, I love the premise of your book. I write for this magazine. Can I have your email because I’d like to write an article on you?” Each person gets the vision of another person’s project. We not only build marketing plans but we also build friendships. Just last week I got a post-card announcing a book release from one of our Dallas participants and I interviewed another one for a feature article I’m writing.
Finally, our events are open to published authors and unpublished authors. We are also happy to work with people who are self-published and have e-books. Everyone who works with The Master Seminars is a writer. We welcome all writers to come.
What are some changes you see coming to publishing in the next few years?
Chip: I could go for hours on this topic. Let me do a quick laundry list of SOME changes:
1. continued changes to the delivery patterns of books
2. the shrinking of CBA as a distinct entity (and that does NOT mean the shrinking of Christian book sales)
3. a bunch of start-up niche publishers
4. a rocky road as we transition from ink-and-paper books to electronic books
5. a renewed interest in memoirs
6. a renewed interest in short stories
7. the shifting of most nonfiction to digital-only formats
8. the eventual price drop of e-readers, probably combined with other formats (perhaps also a phone, a video game, a music player, and a movie player)
9. two or three e-readers will take control of the digital market (history says to look carefully at Amazon and Apple)
10. a complete sea-change in the way we perceive and use public libraries
11. a comprehensive plan from the big New York houses for monetizing the internet use of books
12. digital books that combine text with other media (think “the newspapers in the Harry Potter movies”)
13. a new role with publishers: media editors, who create those new products
14. newspapers as a boutique item
15. more charging of fees for e-zines, a handful of category leaders
that should get you started…
Tiffany: There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty in publishing right now. I see myself as a writer before anything else and understand the frustration many of us feel right now. Despite that we are living in an amazing time where publishing is no longer the mysterious world it was even a decade ago. Aspiring writers have an opportunity to connect with accomplished writers now more than ever.
I also see more of an emphasis on looking at writing as a business rather than a single task. It used to be when you said, “I’m a writer” it meant you wrote for a paper, a magazine or wrote books. Today writing is simply one part of a multi-faceted business. To some people this is a change for the worse. Other people like the idea of writing being combined with speaking, editing or other services. What is neat is that both views of writing are now open to us. I love writing books and columns and seeing them as products generated by my writing business. It makes the process more exciting because we can take the research from our novels and turn it in to non-fiction articles that generate revenue, name recognition, and an outlet for the details we had to cut from our book.