Doc McGhee, literary agent

Hang with me for a series of seemingly unrelated factoids. 

  1. Y’all know who Doc McGhee is, right? He was Mötley Crüe‘s manager way back in the day and pretty much made them rich and famous. (Oh, shut up. You know I’m a Mötley Crüe fangrrrrl. But Mick Mars does look a little, um, ready for a nursing home, doesn’t he?)

  3. In early November, Amazon “suck[ed] up to literary agents” in a bid to kill its monsterly image. Really? They need literary agents to kill its monsterly image? Who’d’a thunk it?

  5. Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette all announced they would be holding off releasing ebooks of new (hardcover) titles by six months. The brilliance never ends.

  7. Stephen Covey just told Simon & Schuster to fuck off.  Well. I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly what he said.

  9. There is one thing an unknown or midlist self-published author can’t get that s/he needs most.

  11. There is only one thing a bestselling name-brand author has but doesn’t need at all.


I’m not going to explain any of this stuff. The graphic should make it, well, graphically obvious. Take the above seemingly unrelated items, throw it in with this, and see what you come up with. Assume the writer has not himself arranged for the actual production of his manuscript into print and electronic:




Pop quiz: What word is nowhere to be found in the above flowchart?

I think there’s one agent out there who already knows all this and is slowly, steadily—over weeks, months, years—training his blog readers to start thinking this way.

The difference between how agents work now and how this could work is that a writer would interview agents and hire one (as s/he would an attorney or CPA), as opposed to becoming a supplicant for the agent’s approbation/validation. Agents who now work as if they’re doing writers a favor may not deal with this system well.

On the other hand, even though this is my own plan, I can see that it could land us right back where we are now if writers won’t let go of the thought that they’re powerless and/or only incidental to the book creation process.

Writers, listen up: You’re the creator. There’s power in being the originator of content. Use that power and take control of your own destiny. It’s your work. Take responsibility for its dissemination.

6 thoughts on “Doc McGhee, literary agent

  • December 18, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    That is so…seductive. Really. The power of controlling your whole artistic endeavour? *bitesknuckle*

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Doc McGhee, literary agent | --

  • December 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I love the William Wallace call to arms (d’you supply the blue woad, too?) but I wonder how this would work.

    As I understand it, an author sends out inquiry letters to various agents. I don’t know the precise etiquette, but let’s assume that the author can mail to multiple agents. Any agent who passes on the representation is a lost cause anyway. No matter how much power the author has (as the creator and owner of both the asset and the talent to produce future assets), no author would want to be repped by an agent who didn’t like the author’s style/work/etc.

    So even if multiple agents say, “Wow, I really like your synopsis!” would they actually allow the author to interview them in a variation of the “beauty contest” (the process when a potential client talks to several law firms)? I find myself thinking that only an author already deemed “valuable” (because she’s the former governor of Alaska, perhaps?) would have that sort of market power.

    But there is an odd sort of process that authors get to engage in, and that’s the research into which agents to send the inquiry letter to — some agents may present themselves poorly on their websites or in the Writer’s Handbook, and thus lose even the option to be wow’ed by the author.

  • December 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    This is really me thinking aloud, like my perfect bookstore post. There are lots of holes. I haven’t even begun to delve into variables. The big point is that it’s the agent part of the industry that’ll carry the day, because they can negotiate contracts, understand the distribution system (if it’s even intact, which is one of those variables), and can and do do a lot of the work that editors used to do.

    Another variable I simply didn’t feel a need to address is that a writer could hire an agent to do any one of those things on the list or a combination of them or all of them, but it would be more of a cafeteria plan.

    Another hole I was thinking about is that Doc McGhee and his ilk take on acts that have worked hard and distinguished themselves somehow. Motley Crue was already well known in LA. They were creating glam metal all by themselves, and they had relatively accessible music.

    So as I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that what might happen with this kind of paradigm shift is that agents will take on writers who A) have already produced the book, B) are, in fact, decent business people and marketers and really just need distribution/marketing help so they can continue to write, C) have proven that their books do have an audience, and D) have some charisma and personality.

    And after thinking about this a while (post posting, natch) I’m not really even sure it’d work too well with the current manuscript submission process.

    I am out of blue woad today. 😉

  • December 18, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    This really makes sense to me. I think we may well be heading toward a cafeteria / self-help method for publishing books. Hire an editor, hire a designer, hire a publisher, hire an agent, etc. It won’t be a cafeteria where everyone wants to eat, but it could serve up some valuable options to some writers.

    As I see it, the distribution deal is the toughest nut for the self-pubbed author to crack. Without access to that (and *you* would know if a self-pubbed writer has any chance to crack that on her own), the number of books you get out into the stream of commerce is going to conservatively 1% what you’d get with a distribution deal.

    Absolutely a distribution deal takes a huge chunk out of the author’s potential take. So if a writer has an unusual property, getting the modest word-of-mouth & independent bookstore sales (numbering in the 1000s) may be the best way to get to a commercial publisher and thus the distribution deal.

    Which reminds me (thinking like a lawyer) that while there are different ways to self-publish, retaining the rights to resell the manuscript is critical for any author who thinks her book may be the oddball hit. If a “self-publishing” outfit (like Dellarte?) retains the rights to second-generation publishing, that’s takes away the value to the author of all her hard work getting the book sold.

  • December 30, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    And that discouraging feeling is one of the many reasons why I don’t bother anymore. I’ve got a great novel (okay, still in progress, still needs edits, but I can’t have THAT many followers if there wasn’t something good about it, right?)

    I’ll get my own readership. Do my own publication, and if I fail, it’s totally on me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *