Friday, July 15, 2011

Cynthia MacGregor - How to Write

by Cynthia MacGregor

I remember when I sold my first book. I had been writing since half-past forever but had stuck to the short form and not essayed writing a book for a variety of reasons. Lack of patience for such a long project was one of those reasons. Another was lack of faith in myself, or maybe it was knowledge of the whims and vagaries of the publishing world. Whatever the cause, I knew that writing a book was no guarantee of getting it published. And so I stuck to articles and such, till one day I had an idea for a book so compelling that I had to write it. (It was nonfiction—that’s what I mostly write—and it was a book I felt was really needed.)

I was sitting at my desk when the call came in. “This is Hillary Cige of Berkley Publishing. Is your book still available? We’d like to make an offer on it.”

I sprang from my chair as if the seat were spring-loaded and began jumping up and down in place. Have you ever tried to keep your voice calm and businesslike and professional while you are jumping up and down beside your chair, and your heart is racing a mile a minute because your book is going to be published?

I tried to project an unflappable demeanor as I asked about percentages, advance, pub date, and all the other things I felt an experienced writer would know enough to inquire about. And still I was bouncing up into the air and down again.

When I sold my second book, I didn’t jump up and down, but I did squirm in my seat and grin a lot.

The truth is, the excitement never dies. It tamps down, but it doesn’t go away. It was in 1992 that I got that phone call, and the book, my first, was published in 1993. Since then, I’ve had 54 books published conventionally (that is, in print, as physical books), and another over-50 as ebooks. I still get excited when an editor lets me know she (or he—though most of my editors over the years have been women) wants to buy one of my books. I no longer jump up and down, but my heart beats faster, my face breaks into a grin, my eyes go wide, and a surge of joy and excitement sweeps through me.

Blasé? Not me! But then, in a sense, I never grew up. I never taught myself to restrain my childlike enthusiasm. And why should I? It’s fun being able to go through life with enthusiasm and excitement. I like the feeling of being thrilled by a sale to a publisher—or by a strong royalty statement, or a complimentary letter from someone who bought one of my books and particularly enjoyed or appreciated it. Why shouldn’t I get excited over these things?! The day I take them for granted, I might as well be dead.

The same way a good sales rep enjoys the thrill of making a sale, so do I. I look forward to the next book I’m going to write…and to placing it with an editor and signing the contract. I look forward to seeing it in print (or in electrons). I look forward to seeing the sales figures and the royalty statements. And I look forward to writing the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

I’m still in touch with my inner child, and my inner child still jumps up and down at a sale, even if I don’t do it literally anymore. But, nonetheless, the excitement never dies.

~ ~ ~

Cynthia MacGregor is the author of 54 conventionally published books and over 50 e-books. She has taught writing classes for both kids and adults and enjoys helping fellow writers, especially newbies who come to her for advice and help. Among her recently published e-books are The Writer’s Guide to Paying e-Markets, The Writer’s Answer Book, and  You Can’t Learn to Write Just by Reading, all of which are available through XoXo Publishing at

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