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July 2013

Peter LeavellPETER LEAVELL, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest with his book, Gideon’s Call. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books and interviews historians, where he finds ideas for new novels.

ACFW Journal Extra: MORE Other Voices

Editor’s note:In his new ACFW Journal column, “Other Voices,” author Peter Leavell talked with Chip MacGregor for input on the publishing industry. You saw the main article in the July issue of ACFW Journal. Now, for your greater enjoyment, read more of Peter’s interview with Chip in this ACFW Journal Extra—and get the full scoop!

In the column, I asked Chip about what’s selling now. Here are the rest of his thoughts on that:

Chip: One interesting exercise is to track the top 20 novels on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists, to discover what Christian fiction readers want. It’s pretty clear they like emotional romance stories (Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis, Lynn Austin, Tracie Peterson) and exciting-but-not-racy suspense novels (Irene Hannon, Dani Pettrey, Dee Henderson, Joel Rosenberg).

I don’t think authors want to chase a trend (like the emotional romance or exciting-but-not-racy suspense selling now). By the time your book is written, that trend will probably be on the way out. Instead, focus on the story you’ve been given, even if it at first seems like your story may not be trending.

But my best advice is “stay away from advice from people like me.”

I also asked him about whether he treated authors differently than he would clients in another business.

Chip MacGregor and friends(Sitting with Chip is, in the center, Amanda Luedeke, a MacGregor Literary agent, and on the right, Holly Lorincz, Chip’s assistant.)

Chip: I have done organizational consulting and fundraising, interviewed people on the radio, taught at colleges, and served on some church staffs as an executive/organizational type—I’ve learned people want to be heard and helped to succeed.

One could argue that writers are artists, and therefore need to be treated with kid gloves. I haven’t found that to be completely true. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, with all the talents and foibles we all possess. Each is unique. Like all relationships, it takes work to figure out how to be friends and work together. So no, I don’t think I have a certain method or tone I take with every writer that is unique from the rest of my life.

Finally, I asked Chip a hodge-podge of questions that, while interesting, didn’t fit into the main thrust of my ACFW Journal column. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth asking—and answering. For instance, I asked if he had a superpower:

Chip: I don’t need sleep. I can go for hours—deep into the night in discussions, then up early for a breakfast meeting the next day. Some people who work with me love that; others maybe wish I had a different set of skills.

If Chip MacGregor were to write another book, by himself, what genre would it be?

Chip: Well, I’ve written a number of books, but I long ago decided to set most of my own writing aside in order to work on the writing of the authors I have the privilege of representing. I do write on my blog every day, just to keep my hand in. And I’ve got a plan to create a career development guide for novelists, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. I’ve also been stewing on some short stories about growing up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, and I have long planned to work on a book about the Great Schism of 1378—a passion of mine for years, and one of the single most important events in the history of the church, but long forgotten by historians who prefer to focus on “war” rather than “ideas.”

Family obviously plays an important part of your life. Do they have a role in your work?

Chip: My daughter Kate works for me part time, and has really good editorial skills. It wouldn’t surprise me if she winds up in the business full time someday. My son Colin has a journalism background, works for a law firm, has done various projects for me over the years, and is way smarter than me when it comes to writing and literature. He’s great to talk books with. And my daughter Molly, who may be the best writer in the family, is a hoot—but she’s working on her PhD in Europe, is planning to save the world from hunger, and hasn’t really been involved in the business much.

What social media tips do you have for authors?

Chip: If social media is part of your overall marketing strategy, look for numbers. Generally, a big platform translates into getting the word out. But, give yourself plenty of time, so it’s not rushed. Have a plan, so you don’t end up wasting time on Facebook and calling it “marketing.” Use a calendar and be organized. Know what makes a good tweet. Figure out how to get your blog posts noticed and re-posted by others. Keep your writing voice in everything you share. Know your readers, and build your blog and tweets around them.

Who is your role model, and why?

Chip: Brennan Manning. He was much more gentle than I am and I love how he always tried to move everyone around him toward being better people. He saw faith in Christ as something real to be lived out, rather than a set of written behavioral guidelines to follow. He was aware of his own issues, but understood that his problems didn’t exclude him from the Kingdom. And he recognized that he was put here on earth—that we are all put here on earth—to be agents of grace, even amidst our sin and struggles.

I used to be Brennan’s agent. When I turned 40, he shared a profound thought with me—that most people stop growing spiritually by their 40th birthday. Most guys are who they are by the time they reach middle age. So he challenged me to be a better human being by the time I was 50, and to not be satisfied with “just being okay” in my spiritual walk. Loved the man. And he was a mystic, which pleases me no end, since I think a lot of American Christianity is rule-based Phariseeism, all dressed up in a white shirt and hair gel—no concern for others, solely focused on being “right,” and afraid of the spiritual side of grace. Brennan continually tweaked those people, but always seemed to answer them with loving, gentle grace. He left us just a few months ago. I think the world has lost one of its most powerful thinkers.


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