This week, I have a guest star on my blog…literary agent Sara Megibow!
*lets loose with one of those those piercing whistles that make people cringe*
Sara did a fabulous interview with another one of her clients, Emmie Mears, about what happens once an author signs with an agent. Not long after that, we got to talking about how the experience of working with an agent can be different for those of us who are beyond the first blush of publication. Those emails evolved into this thesis we like to call a blog post.
This is Maggie and Sara’s story, and we’re sticking to it:
Sara: In April 2015 Maggie Wells sent me a query letter for LOVE GAME – a sexy contemporary battle-of-the-sexes romance starring two mature, confident, hot protagonists. LOVE GAME releases Feb 1, 2018 from Sourcebooks Casablanca and we’re so excited! Maggie is a slush pile query success story with a bit of a twist.
The twist is that Maggie’s query letter included a bio outlining her experience as a previously published author with novels from Turquoise Morning Press, Carina Press, Cleis Press, Harlequin, and Kensington. Working with an established author brings a different strategy to the table so Maggie and I wanted to share that experience.
Maggie: Back in 2014, I made a conscious decision to try to take my writing career to the ‘next level’. We all know that we have different paths and everyone’s mileage varies, but for me, the next level meant cracking the print market and wider distribution. I had already been published on digital-first platforms by publishers ranging from small press to Big 5, but the digital revolution in publishing has been a roller coaster ride. More established authors were going indie. Small press publishing rose and fell. Many authors were opting out of traditional publishing altogether, but I wasn’t ready to take it all on myself. I decided I wanted a partner to work with me as I moved into the next phase of my career. I needed an agent.
I’ve heard the arguments for and against, the success stories, and the nightmare scenarios, but this seemed like the right decision for me. I researched the agents I wanted to work with carefully. Not only do I look at how they handle books similar to those I write, but I studied their interaction with the publishing world at large via social media and blog posts.
In other words, I stalked them, but in the most professional way.
I knew that searching for an agent, then shopping the manuscript for a publishing contract is a lengthy process. I had a project I’d earmarked for querying—the book now known as LOVE GAME—knowing it might not see the light of day for years. Then, I made a list of my top choices of agent, and began the process. Less than a month after sending the first queries, I had an offer of representation from Sara – who happened to be number one on my list. Needless to say, I was somewhere beyond giddy.
Sara: Thanks Maggie! You’re so sweet –I was giddy too!
In the query slush pile I see submissions from debut authors to New York Times bestselling authors – platform is neither a deal-maker nor a deal-breaker for me. Regardless of platform, I have to love a book in order to offer representation. In the case of LOVE GAME – wow! It’s SO good and funny and sexy – I can’t wait for readers to love it as much as I do!
Maggie: Thanks, Sara! I’m excited for them to read it too!
Sara and I have had some pretty frank discussions on where my career was/is, how we can maintain momentum, and how we might push forward. I think this has been one of the most beneficial aspects of working with Sara.
We are a team. She knows when to step up, when to rein me in a little, and when to just let me do my thing. That may be where working with an author who has some publishing industry experience differs from working with a new author.
Sara: We do make a good team, don’t we? 😉
As Maggie’s agent my job is to make her more money than she would have been able to make on her own. An author’s money comes from advance, royalties and subsidiary rights deals so we talked a lot about these things on that original phone call.
First, like you said above Maggie, you asked how to “maintain momentum.”
To that end, we made a list of the books/series Maggie wanted to write and made a plan to write and sell them. It worked! In addition to LOVE GAME, we have Maggie’s PLAY DATES series launching in October 2017 from Kensington Lyrical. PLAY DATES is a trilogy of contemporary romance novels starring hot single dads. The release of these digital-first titles was strategically planned to keep momentum going while waiting for our print release of LOVE GAME.
Second, Maggie, you asked me about “pushing forward” and how to “take your career to the next level.”
Maggie’s previous books are amazing! They are ebook-only or ebook + POD so for us “pushing forward” meant increasing her market penetration by landing a print deal with a major publisher (done! The LOVE GAME series will have its exciting print release from Sourcebooks with extensive bookstore and library distribution). Taking Maggie’s career to the “next level” also meant inking those profitable subsidiary rights deals (done! The entire LOVE GAME series was sold to audiobook for simultaneous release).
Now let’s flip the tables. What does a previously published author bring to the table for an agent?
To start with, Maggie already had an understanding of publishing processes. Like she said above, LOVE GAME was earmarked for querying knowing that it would be a while before release. This demonstrated to me that Maggie understood the traditional publishing production timeline. Understanding publishing processes up front meant she could focus right away on writing those delicious books. Debut authors experience a steep learning curve (rightfully so!) when going through their first production cycle and Maggie didn’t have that hurdle.
In addition to her understanding of the traditional publishing process, Maggie had an established brand (sexy, contemporary romance starring mature protagonists) and a robust social media presence.
Maggie: But even with my previous experiences, Sara has provided a wealth of in-depth knowledge about aspects of the business.
Sara: When we originally talked about LOVE GAME I was able to discuss format, distribution and subsidiary rights with an eye toward profit. But, you’ve been a major player on this team too, Maggie – we are stronger together because your experience adds to mine.
Look at what you’ve done in terms of networking with other authors and your brilliant Margaritas Facebook Page and social media plan. Do you want to talk about that? These are great examples of YOU bringing value-add to the relationship.
Maggie: By the time I started working with Sara, I had stopped chasing the social media trends and settled into what works for me. I use my Facebook reader group for interacting with readers, and Twitter to chat with other authors. I maintain my own website, blog weekly, and have a steadily growing newsletter list. All of these things can be a boon to an author, but also take time away from the writing. Sara is great about providing marketing support and brainstorming, but mainly she helps keep me focused on the most important part of marketing my work—writing the next book.
Sara: YES! Writing the next book is a huge piece of the profit strategy. Our goal is to make money on books… then write more books and make money on those books too!
Maggie: It all comes down to time, knowledge, and access. I think those are some of the most important assets an agent can bring to an author.
Sara: “Time, knowledge and access.” These are three big reasons why authors DO choose to sign with agents.
Time: An author pays their agent 15% of monies received (from advances, royalties, subrights). My time investment as an agent includes tasks like editing, submissions, strategy, tracking payments and royalties, answering questions, being a liaison between author and publisher, organizing marketing, negotiating contracts and selling rights to audio publishers, foreign publishers and Hollywood, etc. I want to be worth that 15% an author gives up so I keep me client list small and focus on being “value-add.”
Knowledge: An agent’s knowledge of the publishing business is a tool for making money for their clients.
Access: Many publishers still only accept submissions from agents. Also, opportunities for subrights deals (audio, translation, Hollywood) heavily favor agented authors.
Maggie: What are some of the traits (aside from that ‘gotcha!’ manuscript) that you appreciate most in a client?
Sara: 90% of my clients came to me the same way you did, Maggie – through the query slush pile. You’re right – I’m looking for that “gotcha manuscript.”
Once we get past the amazing-manuscript-offering-representation phase I appreciate a client who is professional (example: turns in books on time) and kind (example: says thank you to our hardworking teammates). Professional and kind go a long way in this business! I hope a client has a social media presence, although it’s not a deal-breaker if they don’t. I do, however, expect them to keep an updated website once we ink a book deal. Finally, all my clients are passionate and I appreciate that trait because it inspires me.
Maggie: In short, the author + agent relationship has been a revelation for me, even though I came into it as an experienced author. Having a partner like Sara by my side has expanded my career horizons—not just because I made it past a ‘gatekeeper’, but because she helps me view each project through a wide-angle lens. While I am focused on writing the next book, Sara and I are planning next steps beyond typing ‘The End’ in a manuscript.
Thanks so much for joining me here, Sara. I love being on Team Megibow and having you on Team Awesome!
Follow Sara on twitter @SaraMegibow
Learn more about what Sara is looking for here: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow/