Reviews of Mark Malatesta, Author Coach
This review of Mark Malatesta was provided by Jeri-Anne Agee, author of The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes book series. Jeri-Anne’s work with the former AAR literary agent turned author coach led to her being represented by Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. They sold her book to Skyhorse, named the fastest-growing small publisher in America by Publishers Weekly, with 56 New York Times bestsellers.
The Mark Malatesta review below, by Jeri-Anne, is accompanied by an interview (audio and text). During the interview, Jeri-Anne shares more details about her experience working with Mark, along with suggestions to help other writers be successful.
Jeri-Anne Agee – Mark Malatesta Reviews – Literary Agent Undercover
Mark, after you helped me get represented by Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, they got me a contract with Sky Horse Publishing, the fastest-growing small publisher in America according to Publishers Weekly. They have 52 New York Times bestsellers!!! It’s very exciting because Sanford J. Greenburger Associates was one of my favorite agencies and I get along with my agent very well. She gets everything about my writing and, although she’s a new agent, she has more than 30 years of experience in children’s publishing—and she helped me flesh out the manuscript.
I can’t stress enough, honestly, how working with you was 100% the only reason this happened. I talked to a lot of people before I found you. Many of them said you don’t need an agent if you’re writing books for younger readers. Later, I found out that wasn’t true and started researching agents online. That’s when I found your agent directory and everything else you. I knew basically nothing at the time. I was clueless and I would have bombed out with agents if I’d approached them alone. Looking back on it now, I see that I learned so much.
Our work together was awesome, starting with the questionnaire you sent me before our first phone call. You asked so many questions that it was a little overwhelming and intimidating at first, but once I started working on it everything was fine. It was also clear from all the questions that you wanted to help me, and you later used my answers to improve my query. You know exactly what agents are looking for, and obviously it worked!
Jeri-Anne – Pt 2 – Review of Mark Malatesta
I also didn’t know anything about the different book genres for younger readers like chapter books, juvenile, middle grade, and young adult. That really helped. Another thing that really helped was the agent list you created for me, and you showing me how to format everything correctly. I wanted to get everything right and I was using a lot of brainpower on that. You showed me a shortcut that saved me lots of time.
Everyone has a dream of getting an advance and being published. That’s because authors know, if you really want to make a self-published book work or be a big deal, you have to work your ass off. I did that with my first book. I traveled to book shows and schools, entered contests, and all that good stuff. I had no help—it was just me doing everything. Later, I worked with a small publisher but that wasn’t much different.
Here’s the thing…
When you write a book and it’s done, you can’t spend all the time in the world publicizing that book. You also need to start on the next one. You don’t have time to be selling that first book all the time. Plus I have a husband, three kids, and four dogs! Having a life was a huge motivation for me to try and get an agent and a major publisher. I wanted to focus mostly on writing, and I wanted to talk to someone who’s knowledgeable about the industry who could help me get to the next level.
Jeri-Anne – Pt 3 – Review of Mark Malatesta
Because I’m very busy, I also have to say that the agent spreadsheet alone was worth every dime I spent to work with you. The amount of time that saved me, having all the information I needed at my fingertips, was huge. It makes it easy to see what each agent wants since they’re all different. It also makes it easy to keep sending out queries, even if you’re discouraged because it’s not happening right away.
You were up-front with me and said getting an agent might be a long process and it did take a long time, about six months, but you were always accessible. You’re also very professional, extremely knowledgeable, and super easy to work with and bounce ideas off of. You never said anything that wasn’t true and you didn’t promise to do something and not follow through. Everything was just as described.
I was never disappointed in you and that was a relief. My husband would say I’m a bit of a sucker because I’ve been party to some things that weren’t so legit over the Internet at times and paid money for some things that were disappointing. After I got so much out of my first call with you, I talked to my husband about it. He was skeptical at first because he’s heard me say things like that before.
Jeri-Anne – Pt 4 – Review of Mark Malatesta
You didn’t strike me as someone who was trying to pull one over on me though. You seemed like the real deal. And you sounded sincere when you told me that you don’t invite most people to do more with you. The other big thing for me was the testimonials on your website. I visited some of those authors’ websites and saw what they said about you. I knew that if I decided to work more with you and I was successful working with you, it would be the best decision I’d ever made.
And that’s exactly what happened…
To the authors reading this testimonial getting an agent is like anything else in life, like trying to get a great job or be a high-performance athlete. If you want to be successful, you go the best person you can find, with the right experience, who can help you be better. Investing in an introductory coaching call with Mark is a no-brainer. Then you can see how it goes and figure out if you’re a good fit to do more.
I just can’t say enough about the experience and how working with you has been the best investment I’ve ever made by far. I’m telling every writer I know. Not everybody has that kind of money lying around, but if you can make it happen and you’re passionate about your writing, there’s really no reason not to do it. I guarantee you’ll get something out of it and find it valuable.
Thank you, Mark!
JERI-ANNE AGEE is the author of the chapter book series The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes published by Skyhorse, named the fastest-growing small publisher in America by Publishers Weekly with 56 New York Times
Jeri-Anne Agee Interview with Mark Malatesta, Founder of Literary Agent Undercover
During this 78-minute interview with Mark Malatesta, Jeri-Anne Agee talks about how she got a literary agent for her chapter book series, The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes. Jeri-Anne worked with Mark to improve her query letter, synopsis and first manuscript, which resulted in her being offered representation by Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Jeri-Anne’s literary agent then sold her book series to Skyhorse, the fastest-growing small publisher in America according to Publishers Weekly, with 56 New York Times bestsellers. For your convenience, this interview is available as both audio and text.
J E R I . A N N E . A G E E
Mark Malatesta: Jeri-Anne Agee is the author The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes, published by Skyhorse Publishing. Publishers Weekly has called Skyhorse the fastest-growing small publisher in America, and they have 56 New York Times bestsellers.
Jeri-Anne’s book, The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: The Gift, is the first title in a planned chapter book series about growing up in the Deep South, with all the charm and humor you’d expect from the region. Birdie Mae Hayes is a witty and lovable 8-year-old living in a small town in Alabama with her mama, daddy, and little brother Bubba.
Birdie Mae was born with what she describes as the worst superpower ever. For as long as she can remember, Birdie Mae has been able to tell when something “bad” is about to happen. An awful sick feeling comes over her, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s not something Birdie Mae likes, or wants, and it’s something she can’t stop.
When Birdie Mae gets “that feeling” about the school bully, on the first day of school, she knows her start as a third grader isn’t going to be good. Birdie Mae tells her mother about her premonition, and that prompts a visit with her Grandma Mae, who explains her special “gift.” Once Birdie Mae confirms it’s not the type of gift you can give back, she accepts it for what it is, with a promise from her grandmother that it will get easier to deal with. After a showdown with the school bully, Birdie Mae finally makes peace with her new friends…and her intuition.
Jeri-Anne Agee is also a southern girl, born and bred, a graduate of the University of Alabama with degrees in public relations and communications. She spent the early part of her career in the financial industry, and served as the Senior Vice President of a private wealth management firm. Today Jeri-Anne is a full-time writer who also enjoys speaking at schools, book fairs, and festivals, and doing radio, newspaper, and magazine interviews.
Jeri-Anne is a member of the National Association of Professional Women and SCWBI, and one of her books is the recipient of a Mom’s Choice Award and a Royal Dragonfly Book Award. Jeri-Anne lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband, three children, and three rescue dogs. You can learn more about Jeri-Anne and buy her book [everywhere books are sold].
Mark Malatesta: Welcome, Jeri-Anne.
JAA: Thank you so much, I’m so excited.
Mark Malatesta: Oh good. You have to be a good radio show guest, no pressure, with the communications degree and all that, right?
JAA: Hopefully, hopefully.
Mark Malatesta: Alright, let’s dive right in. I know I just told everyone listening briefly what your book is about, and a little bit about you. Is there anything important that I left out? Anything you want to add?
JAA: I don’t think there’s anything important you left out. I think that just the overall theme of this first book is sort of the introduction to her clairvoyance, and where it came from, and something that is hereditary and passed down to the women in the family. And her just sort of coming to grips with that, with the help of her grandmother. And so, it’s a nice little introduction to what all may happen in the future with Birdie Mae Hayes and her clairvoyance. So, the first book is really introducing that, and her understanding it a little bit more, and some fun things that kind of happened with it.
Part 2 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Right. Now, is that a big thing in the south, the clairvoyance and things like that? Because sometimes people, you know what I mean, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t?
JAA: It’s not. I mean, I don’t know if it’s necessarily a southern thing. It has been something that me, my grandmother, my mom, we always said we have really good intuition. I wouldn’t say it’s clairvoyance, but a lot of intuition in our family, and we’ve always been “listen to your gut” type of people. So that’s kind of where it came from.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s be sexist here. Do you think women are better at that than men, period? I think they probably are, in some ways.
JAA: Honestly, I think yes, only because I think women do tend to listen to their gut, or to their intuition, and they have a good sense of intuition. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s just being mothers, daughters, sisters, or what. I think men are more fact, and what they know or see, rather than what they feel, maybe a little bit.
Mark Malatesta: Right. My wife always seems to know what I’m up to.
JAA: Yes, we do have that knack.
Mark Malatesta: It’s funny, we have good a connection that way. We read each other’s minds a little bit. I’ll be thinking about something, and she’ll just start talking about it, it’s really bizarre.
JAA: Yup. I mean that’s one thing that people don’t realize happens all the time, and if you think about that alone, it’s kind of interesting.
Mark Malatesta: Mm-hmm. And I think it’s incredibly interesting that as we were prepping for this call, getting online, we started this, and you let me know something I didn’t yet know that this had actually turned into a two-book deal. Were you surprised when that happened, and how did you get that news?
JAA: I had talked so much with my literary agent about presenting this as a series, and we kind of went back and forth. I believed it would be a series. In my mind, it’s a fairly long-running series, and she did as well. But, being a literary agent, when she was submitting to different publishers, she wasn’t necessarily totally pushing the series.
Mark Malatesta: Oh, really?
JAA: Based on different publishers, she left it out there as a possibility.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, because some are friendly to that and some are not.
JAA: That’s exactly right, and that’s what she did. I think the biggest thing that happened for us that we were excited about is when it made it to the acquisition table at Harper Collins, and then it was a big meeting, 20 people in the room. They couldn’t agree on the actual target age, and that’s why they passed, but because it made it that far with Harper Collins, that gave such, it gave me even more to work with as far as trying to get published and other…
Mark Malatesta: Like leverage you mean?
JAA: Yes, it gave me a lot more leverage. So that was nice. I mean it was a disappointment when they turned it down, but it wasn’t as big of a disappointment as I thought, because I thought, “Wow, it made it that far with that specific imprint of Harper Collins children’s chapter books…”
Part 3 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: It’s a tough, tough one to get into, but having made it that close, I wasn’t as disappointed as I was hopeful, honestly.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and even if you have a literary agent who’s pushing your book as a series, it’s one thing to present it that way, and publishers are interested in the idea. It’s another thing entirely for them to commit to one or more books in a contract because they can buy into the series and go, “Yes, great it’s a series, but we’re still only going to give you a contract for the first book and see how it goes.”
JAA: Right, and this one was actually two books with the option to do more.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: So, if the first two do well, I feel certain they’ll continue on with the others, so that’s good.
Mark Malatesta: I love that. So, I got a little off track there, in one way. I usually start these interviews, these success stories or case studies, with the very moment it all happened, kind of the gold ring or brass ring that everybody listening is looking for. Like, you’re a couple of steps ahead of them, so walk everybody through what it was like. First, where you were, then what you were doing, and how you reacted. How did you feel when you got the news that you got such a good literary agent? And then all over again, when you got the news about the book deal. Which I know probably at that point, if I recall, was a little more anti…no, it was getting the literary agent that was a little anti-climactic, because it took a while. But walk everybody through what that was like.
JAA: Sure, and some people might think it took a while. I think maybe I was just looking at it differently and had known a little bit… I learned enough about the industry to realize it’s not. It doesn’t move super-fast, but when things happen, they happen, and then it moves onto the next phase. So, once it happens it’s fairly organized. But what was interesting, with mine, is when I got my literary agent, I lucked out, and she’s at a great firm, one of my top 20 firms out of like 300 or however many, gosh, I guess it was probably…
Mark Malatesta: Oh yes, there are hundreds.
JAA: Yes, a lot, and it was in my Top 20. It turns out she was a fairly new literary agent, and was there about a year, but she had been in children’s publishing for 30 years with Simon & Schuster and Scholastic. That was huge for me, that she had all of that knowledge, all those contacts. She had contacts with basically all the big publishing companies.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: And, so, she was really excited about it. She loved the book and got the idea, and that is so important. Other literary agents were also really good. They would say, “Hey I love this book, I see where it’s going. It’s not for me at this moment,” and they would give great feedback too.
Mark Malatesta: That’s interesting. By the way, I just want to add for everyone listening, and so you understand, most of the time they don’t do that, they don’t give that type of feedback…
JAA: I know.
Part 4 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: It’s a sign of respect, like they respect your query, they respect your writing enough to do that, because they don’t usually.
JAA: Well, and it’s interesting, the literary agent that signed me is now my publisher. She left the agency and she’s now the Director of Children’s Publishing at my publishing company.
Mark Malatesta: Oh, wow, okay.
JAA: Yes, so when she called me to tell me that she was leaving, and what she was going to do, we were jokingly saying, “Well, maybe our work is done here, and maybe you’ll just publish my book.” She said, “Well, that’s exactly why I’m calling you. I want to get over there and get settled but I do want to move forward with your book.” So, there was that moment which was a very exciting moment.
But I was also like, What does this mean? How long is it going to take? Is she serious, kind of thing? And then, as soon as she was moved over, I gave her two or three weeks, and she contacted me, and she said, “I definitely want to make an offer. I got the paperwork going, and we’d love to work with you and an offer will be coming this week.”
So, I just remember I was outside, and I was on the phone and she called, and said that, and it was almost… Because I waited, you know, and not super long, but it was something I wanted so badly, and then when she said that it was like, I hate to say I was a little bit in shock, but I didn’t react like jumping up and down.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Right.
JAA: And telling everyone.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: Because I sort of just wanted it to sink in for a little bit. But then the more… It almost was like me walking around for a few days, saying, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually going to be published, you know?”
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: And so, it was such a great feeling, it really was, because it’s been since I started sending out query letters and stuff, not even a year and it happened, I think. So, it wasn’t a huge time. I mean, some people might think that’s a long period of time, but in this industry, I think that’s fairly quick to most.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, it’s all relative.
JAA: It is.
Mark Malatesta: It’s nothing in publishing, compared to somebody who is going to pull the self-publishing trigger. It’s like, “Great, you can do that in 24 hours, but then what?” It’s slower with the traditional publishing industry because there’s a real foundation there.
JAA: It’s the foundation, and yes, they have to be sure that it’s something that they really love. I self-published the first book before I got a literary agent. That book is now going to become the prequel. So, having done that, and interviews, and traveling, and book visits, and book fairs, and school visits, even my publisher said, “You’re so far ahead of the game, because you have that experience.” She said, “Whether you did that on purpose to be prepared for this point doesn’t matter either way, but you’re definitely ahead of the game as far as getting out there and promoting yourself and the series and talking to kids, and getting feedback from kids and parents and teachers.” It was all such positive feedback that I decided to go the traditional route.
Part 5 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Right. So, let’s go back to the very beginning. When did you first get the idea that you would even maybe write a book one day? Is it something you had your whole life? Not necessarily this one series, but simply being an author.
JAA: Yes, and it is kind of something I’ve had my whole life. I have been reading just anything I can get my hands on since I was about 11 years old, and still do. So, I think anyone who is an avid reader like that at some point thinks, “Can I do this?” or, “I’d like to do this,” kind of thing. I think for years I thought of myself as maybe writing a novel, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought, I’ve got three kids, I’ve got so many stories of my own from my childhood, stories my kids have told me, and I’ve got so much information, and whatever, for a children’s book. And, basically, the idea came from my own childhood, as well as stories from my children. So, it was almost like a light bulb moment, and the title, the story, everything, just sort of popped into my head one day, honestly. I just kind of started jotting down some notes and…
Mark Malatesta: How long ago was that?
JAA: That was in about January of 2013, maybe.
Mark Malatesta: Okay, it’s like some people I… Yes, it’s like just a few years, and other people have been at it for like, 30, you know.
JAA: Right. Right.
Mark Malatesta: But I prefer your way.
JAA: Right. It came along at the same time that I was sort of in the process of doing a semi-early retirement from the financial industry. So, it came at a good time for me to have some time to sit down and write, and actually see, “Okay, what have I got?” Then, once you write, and you see what you’ve got, you think, Okay, is it any good?
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: That’s kind of when I brought in friends and family, and they raved about it, but again, it’s friends and family. That’s really when I went with the self-publishing route, because I wanted to find out from other people, is it good? That book actually ended up winning four international awards, so I thought, Okay, if this small book can win four international awards from me just submitting it, then I’d like to do more with it, and I think there is more that can be out there with traditional publishing. But, I did go and do school visits, I traveled all at my own expense, but I felt like it was something that if I was serious about getting published, I wanted to have that experience going into it.
Mark Malatesta: Right. I love that. I mean it’s so good for many people listening, not that everybody should necessarily go self-publish as a first step, but I love the idea of that kind of commitment. That you’re really into it, you enjoy the writing, and you enjoy getting out there, and speaking, having a conversation with people about it, getting feedback and…what did you learn? Did you learn anything from that process to make anything better, or you just got good feedback, that was validation? There’s no right or wrong…
JAA: It’s interesting, the most important thing I learned was when…I read and spoke to so many schools, and I did book fairs that I spoke at, two different book fairs…a big one in Decatur, Georgia and there’s a big one in Orange Beach, not Orange Beach, Orange County. The biggest thing I learned was how to speak to people about writing, and the main thing is they had so many questions, especially the children, and just from their questions alone, I learned a lot of stuff. And they even helped me along the way.
Part 6 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
I’d say, “Hey, what do you think about the second book? What do you think it should be called?” And they loved participating in that. And so, getting their information, and their questions, I mean that really taught me a lot. And I’ll tell you, the biggest thing I learned is, when I was reading my book to children, I realized when I’m writing or finished writing a chapter or whatever it is, I need to read it aloud as if I’m reading to children, because it is amazing how much changes as far as punctuation, context, the way it’s explained…
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: But if you can write it as if you’re going to read it out loud, it seems to flow so much better. So, that’s one of my biggest things is after I’ve written a section, or a chapter, or whatever. I’ll go back and read it aloud, as if I’m reading it to someone. And it’s amazing how much that cleans it up.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, I mean that’s a good exercise for all writing, but in particular when you’re talking about picture books and chapter books…
JAA: That’s another thing that we didn’t talk about that I think personally, and you tell me, I think that getting a children’s chapter book or picture book or whatever it is, it’s actually a little more difficult to get published today because there are more people out there that want to write them. But it’s certainly not impossible, and I can attest to that. But I know that novels alone, gosh there are so many opportunities out there for people that have even thought about writing something. Whether it’s a short story, a novel, whatever it is, that they want to put out there. I mean, I always tell people, just do it, just start it. Just sit down and start writing and see what kind of motivation you get.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, it’s really true actually. Ironically, books for younger readers is one of my most successful categories, something that kind of caught me by surprise, but it definitely is harder in one way because they’re so short. Just from that fact alone, like, it’s less work, right, if we’re talking about a picture book or a chapter book.
Mark Malatesta: So, it’s easier not to do them well, but it’s easier to produce that many words and finish as opposed to like a 90,000-word novel or something. And so, every mom from here to kingdom come during nap time can be cranking out a picture book and giving it a go.
Mark Malatesta: And men too, I’m just being funny, you know.
JAA: Yes, I know. And I knew I wanted to do a chapter book, a classic chapter book, and my big influences were Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I had the chapter books I grew up reading, and I wanted something that was sort of classic that wasn’t necessarily, you couldn’t really put a time on it, and it could 1950 or 2015. And so, it’s just classic reading with valuable lessons and some humor and, to me, that’s easier to write than trying to keep up with, “Well, do they have cell phones in the book?” or something like that, that will date it. If you keep it sort of classic, just children’s books, I think they can stay on the shelves forever.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Yes, it all depends on the genre. Like, if you get into the Young Adult space, that can be the kiss of death, or you have less people you can pitch to that way because that’s all kids want to read about, stuff that’s right now.
Part 7 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: And it’s clearly right now, but it all depends. What I always tell people, like, one of my clients said to me recently, “I want to write a new book, which genres are hot?” I said, “You need to write what you write, you can’t just go write paranormal romance or something because you think that’s hot right now, because next week it won’t be.”
JAA: Right, exactly. And that’s what I think, what I tell people is write about something you love, or you’ve got a great creative imagination, that’s what I tell people I talk to all the time, and I tell the kids too. I start out and tell them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Several of them raise their hand, and, I don’t know if it’s because I’m there, but they’ll say, “I want to be an author,” and I’ll say, “Well, the great thing about that is you don’t have to wait until you grow up, you can start now.”
There are lots of young authors out there who have had their books published. They say, “How do I do that?” And my advice to them is, “Just start writing, start writing anything you want, whether it’s on a notebook or on your iPad, on a computer,” and I say, “It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence. Anything you think of that you want to write about, keep those notes, eventually you’re going to have something, and the great thing about fiction is it’s all in your mind. It’s all creative, there are no boundaries.” They love hearing that, and that’s what I guess my biggest advice for anyone writing is, there are no boundaries, you can write whatever you want.
Mark Malatesta: Since you’re on that track, let’s jump ahead. I was going to ask you about that. Do you have any other…what are your other tips for anyone who is writing? And, it doesn’t matter, it can be any genre: it can be specific to fiction, or chapter books, or any other genre. Do you have anything else?
JAA: When I first started with my first book, I had ideas that I wanted to be in the book, and so I sort of started writing down, sort of CliffsNotes in a way. It was, “Okay, I want this to be in there, I want this to be in there,” and I literally had pages of ideas. I didn’t end up using them all. I actually saved some for the next book, but that was kind of the way for me to sort of get it organized in my head. What would be in the book? What would the main thing be about?
With the first book, I think nailing down obviously the characters, and what role they were going to play, and the setting, that my books would take place in the same town, the same school, the same house, the same playground, and all of that. So, with me, the first book I had really set that groundwork, so that’s all sort of already there, and now I can just expand on it.
So really, with the first book, I think if you think about setting the groundwork, or setting what’s the story going to be about, once you’ve got that, take the characters and develop them… Who are their friends? Are there parents? Who are the main people in the story going to be? And then, just start writing it honestly. It doesn’t have to be exactly what you’re going to send out, just get something down on paper that you can then go back and edit.
I’m the queen of driving in my car, and thinking of an idea, or being in the shower and thinking of an idea and having to grab my phone and either record something, send an email, run downstairs and jot something down, whatever it is, because you’re always going to be thinking of it once you start. You’re always going to get inspiration and think of things. Oh, that can be in my book!.
Part 8 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: But I’ve not done a big outline. A lot of people do outlines, and I may start doing that the more experienced I get. But with these books, I think they’re so close to home for me and I’ve got so many… The book is not a true story by any means, it’s definitely fiction, but a lot of the stuff in the book is based on, in some form or fashion, on something that’s happened in my life, or my kids’ lives. Not every single thing, obviously, there are things in there that are completely fictional. But that’s something else. People try to think of…what am I going to write about? And if there’s something even in their lives that they think, Oh, I can turn this into a story, type of thing. There are just so many ways, and so much inspiration if you’re serious about it.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Yes, and with some of that, I think you will probably start. It happens naturally, right? It’s just vision. And the more you do this, or the more an author does this, the more you’re going to see before you even start writing a book.
Mark Malatesta: You’ve been through that process and it kind of evolves. On one hand, some people outline a lot, and some don’t. But it’s kind of like creativity, or inspiration versus efficiency. The more you can see something before you begin, or plot it out, or map it out, it just makes it more likely you’re going to have to do less rewriting along the way. But other people hate that, they don’t want that. They feel confined doing that and just want to explore.
JAA: Yes, I get that. I’ve heard about authors doing an outline. I think I was reading something about James Patterson. Obviously he probably has such a system in place now, he can crank out those books like one every couple of months. But it’s almost like homework to me. I feel like when I’ve got to sit down and kind of create an outline, I kind of lose interest. But if I can sit down and just start typing whatever is coming out, because I think I’m organized, but I’m also extremely creative, so that goes hand in hand when you’re writing.
But I lean on the creativity part more than the organizational part, because I feel that’s going to come if I’ve got the material in my head, or in my notes, and I’m just trying to expand on it and write, and write as much as I can about that specific area, or whatever subject I’m on at the time on the book. But you’re right, I think the more I write, I may come up with some sort of system, who knows. It may just be that I sit down and just start writing again. But the only other thing I’ll say about that, that you touched on, too, is before I actually wrote even one word, I had this story in my mind for a while that I sort of mulled over…
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I would ask people, “What do you think about this?” It’s interesting, because now when I meet people and they know that I’ve self-published, and now I’m going to be traditionally published, I get more people asking me, “What do you think about this?” which I actually enjoy as well. I’ve heard some really good ideas, and so hopefully I can inspire some people to do what they want to do and not be afraid to just try it.
Part 9 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Right. I like that. Let’s see, what about your author education? Obviously, anyone listening to this knows you worked with me, and so you invested in that part, and learned some things from my website, and then more working with me one-on-one, and we’ll get into that more later… But what else did you do leading up to this point that you think might have prepared you, or made you qualified to write a book as far as just reading things about craft, workshops, conferences, anything like that?
JAA: Yes. Probably the very first thing I did was I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators which you mentioned earlier, the SCBWI, and that’s just a plethora of information for children’s authors and illustrators. That was kind of the first thing I did. And once you’re a member of that, then there are conferences. I think there are maybe four conferences each year, there are workshops. You have your local regional areas, and they’ve even had workshops here in Nashville. They have them all over, so there was that.
There was also obviously working with you. I met a publicist, too. We became friends, and so talking with her. It was more joining that group, reading like you said, conferences, workshops, traveling to book fairs. But prior to that, as far as writing, I did major in communication with a Public Relations degree, and when I was in the financial industry for 22 years. I typically wrote training type documents, white papers for financial institutions type of thing. So, I did have a little bit of training and writing over the years, but no real creative writing.
Mark Malatesta: Right, right, two different things.
JAA: Yes, two different things. I mean, I did… But, I think, joining any sort of group, any sort of new authors, or anything like that, helps tremendously. There are so many resources when you do that.
Mark Malatesta: And I think it’s a great tip for people. There are so many different genres, but depending what you’re writing, there are…sometimes some of those good organizations like for children’s books, like SCWBI, are great. For mystery writers, there are great organizations, for the romance writers there are great organizations, fantasy and science fiction writers, great organizations. Similarly, Christian authors. There isn’t going to be something for everyone, but…
JAA: Yes, right, but I mean it’s close. I mean, most anyone could fit in one of those groups. It’s definitely something to check out, because I mean there are…you can get people to proof your writing…you can be in touch with published authors and get their advice. It’s amazing how much people are willing to help if you just ask.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: It really is. I mean, I think when you and I were working together, and we’ll get into that whole process…but one of the things you had me do was contact successful children’s authors and ask them, “If I am ever published, would you be willing to read this manuscript?” And there were some pretty good authors out there that I got responses from.
Mark Malatesta: Were you surprised by that?
JAA: You know, I was a little surprised, especially some of the ones that I couldn’t necessarily get in touch with, like I couldn’t find an email or something. But I found one for a literary agent or publicist or whatever. So, I was actually surprised when I would get responses back from them. I thought, “Wow…”
Part 10 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Those people forwarded your messages?
JAA: Right. Right, and so I think I ended up with about seven or eight children’s book series authors that all agreed that they would do that at some point in time. So, adding that into my query letter, which you suggested, I think was a big selling point as well.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. Yes, and that’s one of my favorite things to do with people, and obviously I won’t share the secret sauce of what goes in the letter and how to do it here, but it’s one of my favorite things. Because yes, everybody knows platform is so important. Your ability to show you can get exposure, and help sell books somehow. Other authors will build a website, try to get a big following on social media, try to get out there in a big way as a speaker, maybe get published articles, things like that. But not everybody can do those things, or it takes forever.
Mark Malatesta: By simply reaching out to well-known authors who have big platforms, suddenly you can have a big platform because you’re connected to people with big platforms who are potential promotional partners.
JAA: Yes, absolutely. And social media is huge: Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. All those are huge platforms to get the word out and get more followers or things like that. I think you touched on that as well when we worked together…
Mark Malatesta: Let’s circle back to the self-publishing versus traditional. In a nutshell, let everybody know, okay, so you self-published, but obviously you wanted something more, or at the very least something different, and then you decided to go traditional. Explain that a little bit so people can understand that side.
JAA: When I first came up with the idea, and when I mentioned earlier I wasn’t sure if this even good, that’s really why I decided to go the self-publishing route. Now, going that route can be as simple as going through the Amazon publishing, and I forget what it’s called at the moment, KDP or something like that, and having it self-published through Amazon. There are a lot of different companies out there that do it. And there is an expense. Just because you’re self-publishing doesn’t mean there’s no expense, especially if you need illustrations or editing. You don’t have to go through any of that expense though if you’re going to do it strictly on your own.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I chose a company that helped me with editing, and with illustrations so there was some cost involved. It can be as much as you want to spend, really, because they have different packages of marketing and whatever. The bottom line is you’re the one that’s really trying to sell your book, and I’m only one person. It’s a lot of groundwork if you really want to get it out there. You have to stay out in front of people: social media, and in person, travel around, enter competitions, contests and different book fairs, and get any speaking engagements. And there is a little bit of cost involved with that.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: So, when I did all of that, and I was definitely determined to see it through, at least until I felt comfortable enough with, “Okay, this is what I wanted.” So, what happened was, I did go through it, and I won the four awards and all that. And then I thought, This could be so much bigger than I am capable of doing,. That’s when I said, “I’ve got to give it a shot going with a traditional publisher,” and that’s when I found you.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Part 11 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
JAA: Now, traditional publishing is obviously, once you get, once they say, “Yes” and you get a contract, I mean, they do everything. You’re writing, but they then pick up the ball. You’re still active, and they were thrilled that I had already traveled to book fairs, and to schools, and talked to children, because I said that’s something I love to do. So, they were thrilled with that, because that makes it easier for them to set up publicity if you’re willing to do it. And being a published author, a traditionally published author, they can actually charge a fee for me to come for school visits. When I was doing school visits when I was self-published, I did it all for free.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I did after a while have some schools offer to pay me, even fly me. I had one private school in Tampa that had asked to do that. And, by the time it got to that, I had been doing it for about a year, and I had already started the process of trying to go the traditional route, so I didn’t go to a lot more of those speaking engagements. But that is what I love about it. I think if you have time to do that, then it really just depends if you want to do it, if you have time to do it locally on your own dime, great. The more you can do it, the more experience you have, and you’re going to learn more. If you don’t, and you want to go the traditional publishing route, and it’s just going to be them setting it up for you and telling you when to be somewhere on what day and at what time, kind of thing.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, it’s like they’re, of course, your publisher is going to want you to do all those things you were doing before. The big difference is like, in my mind it’s three things. You’re doing everything you did before, but it’s a little different, and there’s more potential upside in three areas. One is obviously money, like if you have a bigger publisher printing more books, distributing more books, you’re potentially going to make more. But then you also have more reach, like, you can have a lot more people. This is what drives most authors more than anything…they can have more people reading their book and enjoying it or benefiting from it. And then the third huge one is that this way, traditionally, you probably have more time to write then you would if you were just hustling, doing it all yourself.
JAA: Yes, I mean that’s huge, and one reason I did decide… I mean, you just hit on a key point there, one reason I did also decide to go the traditional publishing route, aside from the fact that I didn’t think there was ever any way I could get my book out to where I wanted it to be by myself. I don’t have the contacts they have.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: They can get the books into, like I said, Barnes and Noble, Target, Wal-Mart, anything. I mean, my book was available on my website, on Amazon, on Barnes and Noble, but I’m not sure you could go and find it in a store necessarily.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: And then, even though they were available there, it was difficult to advertise that. So, with this, of course, it’s going to be in all of the stores, and so it’s going to be so much easier to promote myself, and for them to promote. But yes, that was just a huge thing for me, the writing piece if you’re writing a series. So, if you write a book, you write it, it gets published, you promote it. If you write a series, you write it, it gets published, you’re promoting, but you still need to be writing.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Part 12 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
JAA: So, if you’re doing that with traditional publishers, they do a lot of the work for you, so you do have time to write. If you’re doing it self-published you’re really… It’s a pretty big commitment to try to write another one, and still promote the first one, and then know you have to promote the second one and write another one, if it goes that route. So, that was the big thing, not having time to write.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. Let me ask this… I always want to ask anyone I’m doing one of these success stories with, for them to share a couple of their best tips when it comes to marketing. Whether it’s marketing stuff you do before you get a literary agent, or after the book comes out, so anywhere on that spectrum. But, one thing I want to key in on and get you to talk about, because you said this earlier and it’s kind of unique, you actually, when you self-published and you were doing marketing, you said you actually like it.
JAA: I do.
Mark Malatesta: A lot of authors don’t, and so I want to get you talking about that. What is it about you, or what you trained yourself to think, that’s made you kind of enjoy that process?
JAA: Well, I think personality-wise I can’t lie and say I’m a people person.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I mean, I love children. My husband says, “Kids and dogs, they all love you.” So, I do have a great connection with the kids. When I go in there and their faces light up, they have a visitor. I’ve got three children of my own, so I’m comfortable around kids…just being there and hearing their questions, that’s just something I love. That is my favorite part. But also, promoting it via Facebook, promoting it via LinkedIn, or any of the social media, or literally contacting friends and relatives and saying, “Hey, it’s on Amazon, go check it out and write a review,” kind of thing. Obviously, you have family and friends that can go buy a book on Amazon, and then write a review, and that helps tremendously.
I had a good time trying to get more reviews on Amazon and going out. And I got to do book signings at schools, and parents would come up and say, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you’re still here, my daughter has been talking about your book. Since you’re here, we want to get three copies for the cousins and whatever.” So that is fun, being able to sit there at a table and sign a book for somebody’s cousin, or brother, or daughter, whatever. I think that’s just part of my personality. And because I love the story and I love what I wrote, it’s easy for me to promote.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and a piece of that, there is one part of that, that people do have control over and you’ve done it with instinct, but there are so many different ways that you and other people can market their work. What you’ve done is gravitate naturally toward, and everybody should do this, the things you’re best at, that you enjoy. And so, it’s like, you love being with your audience, and getting out there, and meeting with them…
Mark Malatesta: And speaking with them, so that’s fun. And there are other people who they’re not going to like that, and they shouldn’t do that. Like, you seem to like doing the social media stuff right?
Part 13 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Others might hate that, but they can write articles or start a blog, or there are other things. Like you can have somebody who is totally introverted who hates people who can still promote their book.
JAA: Well, another thing you can do, even as a self-publisher, I mean, depending on how serious you are because it’s not…I mean, even with self-publishing, they can be extremely successful. You don’t have to be published by a traditional publisher to have a publicist. And a publicist can do a ton of stuff for you. If you’re not the type that wants to be out there, or maybe don’t necessarily want to do interviews, or radio interviews, there’s so many other things they can do. There are articles they can submit to magazines.
Mark Malatesta: Yes.
JAA: I mean, there are so many opportunities out there. Either way, I just didn’t have the time or money to pursue that on my own the way I wanted it to be done. And my idea with this, when I told my publisher, “If this is going to work, the money will come.”
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I didn’t write that first one to get rich. I wrote it to see if I could have a career as a writer, honestly, if I had something. But finding your website obviously is what changed everything for me. I mean, it really did. It was the one thing that I don’t know, I don’t think I’d be here where I am now had I not found your website, honestly. So, I’m giving you too big of a big head there.
Mark Malatesta: Oh, don’t worry. I’ll take that, and again, yes, let’s get talking about that, and I will talk about it quite a bit because it’s not about me. It’s about everyone listening. There are many people on my email list, but a very tiny percentage will listen to this… Well, everybody should be utilizing the free stuff on the website and all that, of course, but then there’s the small percentage of people who will go, “Hey!” Like, they’re listening to you, and hearing your success story, hearing how everything is changing for you, hearing about our process, and what we did together. That can help some of those people figure out that maybe they want to get that kind of help too. Whether it’s with me or someone else, it’s about team. Not doing everything alone, right?
Mark Malatesta: And so, you have me on your team, and I’m there in the background. Like, I haven’t said this yet, but during this call when you told me what happened with your literary agent and all that you know at the end of this interview, off grid, I’m going to be talking to you about that situation, and figure out what you should do next, you know.
Mark Malatesta: But it’s about having a team, right? We all need it. I have coaches and consultants for some of what I do. So, let’s talk about what we did together so everyone can get a better idea of how author coaching works, and, in particular, how I do it. Let’s start with whether you tried to get literary agents before we worked together or not. I don’t remember.
JAA: Yes, it was interesting, and it was interesting because I, not knowing how difficult it can be to get a literary agent, I think I sent, I sent a couple of emails out, not really knowing what I was doing. When you send someone an email, you kind of in your mind think they’ll respond. They’ll respond when they get a chance kind of thing. Then there’s just nothing, or there is sort of a form letter rejection thing.
Part 14 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
The more I read, I thought, “Okay, this isn’t…obviously I’m not doing something right here.” The biggest thing when I found your website was literally just searching for literary agents for children’s books, a children’s book agent. That’s how I came across your website. I read through everything I could on there, and that’s when I said, “I’m just going to sign up for the introductory coaching call to have the call with him.”
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: When we had our first call…which I have told so many people about…because, like I said, I’ve had so many people say, “I’ve got this idea for a book,” and I actually have one friend who has actually written a book, and I’ve given him your information… I said, “I mean, it will be the best hour.” I said, “There’s a little bit of work up front, the questionnaire and everything, but it will be the best work you’ve ever done, because he really puts a lot of time into it.” Deciding to do that first call with you, just that call alone convinced me, “Okay, I want to do more. I want to work with you, and see if you wanted to work with me, if you thought there was something there” kind of thing.
Mark Malatesta: I’m glad you said that, because a lot of people don’t understand that. There are a lot of companies, like the vanity publishers. They’ll work with anyone who has a credit card…
Mark Malatesta: I’ll do that for that first call, because I can help anyone during one call, but, like you said, it’s a “feeling out” thing. Some people say, “I don’t need that call, I just want to sign up to do more with you.” I say, “No, you need to do that call, because I don’t know if we’re the right fit to do more. And you don’t either, honestly.”
Mark Malatesta: You need that “first date” to figure that out, and I like being able to show people what I can do and make sure that they’re the right fit. I don’t know, I’m picky, too, and I believe in good matches.
JAA: Yes, absolutely!
Mark Malatesta: Not everybody is the right fit.
JAA: I tell people, “Just have the call with him, because even if you don’t end up working together, it will be some of the best information that you get in just that one-hour phone call.” You and I decided to work together, but what I didn’t expect [in the long-term coaching] was how much work really you were going to do on my behalf, meaning helping with scripting my query letter, giving me this fabulous Excel spreadsheet of 300 plus children’s literary agents, and how to get in touch with them, and all that good information.
That alone was just priceless, having that at my fingertips, which is exactly what I worked off of. And as soon as we had my query letter and that list…it was actually fun for me. I enjoyed reading about the literary agents and submitting to them. I had like a goal for myself, because you look at the spreadsheet of 300 and you think, “Oh my gosh,” and I’m not a form letter type, I didn’t want to just blast out…
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I approached it a little different than some people. I literally customized, like basically every single one, and sent them out. I had a goal for myself like, “Okay, I’m going to send out 25 this week” kind of thing. I think I ended up, from February through June, sending out probably close to 300 query letters before I got a literary agent…
Mark Malatesta: Wow, that many! Okay.
Part 15 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
JAA: Out of all of those, I did have a bite from maybe 20 or 25 literary agents. Then, and it’s funny, too, because as I said, I was expecting an email back from them or whatever. I had someone respond, I think it was nine months after I had sent my query letter in, saying, “Yes, I’m interested, I’d like to see your manuscript.” I was like, “Sorry, I’m already represented.” But it was interesting. You just don’t know who you’re going to hear from, or how quickly. I think there were one or two that responded the same day. It was kind of an exciting time, because I would open my mail and be like, “Okay, I had this many, do I have any responses?” And I’d have a name pop in, and kind of get that nervous excited feeling before you open it.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: So, for me, it was kind of a fun process because I wasn’t to the point of being discouraged. There were so many literary agents out there, especially when you get outside of even children’s books. There are just more and more and more. I think, if you’re diligent about that query letter and who you’re sending to, and dot your i’s and cross your t’s, then especially if they’ve worked with you, there is a very good chance they’ll find a literary agent.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I tell everybody, “There’s no guarantee, but it’s your best chance.”
JAA: That’s exactly right.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. Sometimes an author is about to start with me, and asks, “What’s the likelihood that this will happen?” I say, “I can’t tell you that. Anyone who tells you that is lying or overpromising. All I can tell you is you’re going to have your best chance. You will know that we did everything we could, and then we have to see what happens. We don’t have control beyond that.”
JAA: Yes, right. Had I sent those queries out and got nothing back, it wasn’t going to be the end of it for me. I was going to go back to you and say, “Okay, what do we need to change? What in the query letter may not be working? What do we need to add?” So, I wasn’t going to give up, even once I had exhausted that list. One thing that was interesting, out of all of those queries I sent, I think there were maybe 20 that wanted mailed manuscripts, the rest were either emails or online forms. That took some of the time and work. Some literary agents said, “Send a query letter and that’s it.” Others said, “Send a query letter and the first five pages, and a synopsis.” I don’t know if people realize that you write all that.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: Or both of us together. The synopsis, the query letter…we kind of edited them together and made changes. But I mean, everything I learned about that whole process, you taught me. You’ve got, and I forget how many seconds you said to get a literary agent’s attention with your email, with your first line of your query letter, or whatever it is. And so, it was little things like that that you kind of learn as you’re sending them too. I found myself reading about the literary agents a little bit more, to sort of see what they’ve published, what their bios said. I like to read their bios before I send queries. Not everyone obviously has to do that. I mean some people can send out 10 at once if they want to. But for me personally, I felt more comfortable sending them one at a time, taking my time with it.
Part 16 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Right, some people, they’re just like, “I’m just going to send out a ton, and the right ones will let me know who they are because they’ll be interested and respond.” Other people are like, “No, I want to be more careful and really research them, and spend a lot of time, and just pinpoint really the ones that I think are the best fit.” Either way, it works.
JAA: Well, and it’s such a great spreadsheet that I was able to take it in sections, “Okay, these are the top 50…”
Mark Malatesta: The really good ones, right.
JAA: The top 50 I wanted to start with, and so I spent a lot of time on those. Once those were done, I’d take my next group. And there are literary agents at the same firm. It’s interesting, that when I got my literary agent, I never actually sent her a query letter. I queried another literary agent at her firm, and she came back to me and she loved it. She absolutely loved it, but she said, “It’s not exactly the right fit for me, but I copied another literary agent here at our firm that I think may be a good fit for her.” That’s all it took.
That literary agent immediately said, “Yes, I’m interested.” So, even if you’re sending it to a literary agent, and even if that literary agent doesn’t necessarily want to represent it, it doesn’t mean they’re not thinking of someone else in their firm possibly, especially depending on what firm it is. And some of the bigger firms, I don’t think they do that as much as some of the smaller firms, but that was interesting to me as well. So, that’s kind of another little outlet that could happen that some literary agent may think…
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I’ve seen that happen quite a few times with my clients.
Mark Malatesta: A couple of things I want to say, just from listening…I loved that, because every once in a while, and it’s all relative, right, and I feel for any author who’s struggling, but sometimes if I’m talking to somebody, and they’re really feeling sorry for themselves because they sent out 100 queries and haven’t gotten there yet… I can’t feel too bad for them, because there are people like you, right, willing to send out 300 or more to make it happen, and that’s what you did. So then, it’s like, “Well, you know, look at her.” The beauty of it is now if you sent out 300, that means you got started querying lower level literary agents. But it didn’t matter. You still ended up with a top literary agent through that process, which I’m really happy about.
JAA: Yes. I mean I was thrilled. And it’s like I said, I took my time. I ended up sending out those query letters over four months…
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: And I have just never really been on top of it. Just because it took me that amount of time, obviously doesn’t mean it would take anyone else that amount of time. But it is, it’s just kind of work at your own pace and see what you get. Then it’s how motivated you are, how serious you are, how much time you have to spend on it.
Mark Malatesta: Right. So, let me ask you one last thing, and then we’ll wrap up, because I know we’re running out of time and I’m sure you have places to be. Just walk people through, a little bit, that introductory coaching call that you did with me, for somebody who’s considering it…because that’s always the first step, right?
Mark Malatesta: Somebody might do more with me if it it’s a fit, might do more beyond that, but that’s really the first thing. Can you just explain to people a little bit what happened during that call, and how you experienced it? How you see the value of that, and how might that help someone?
Part 17 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
JAA: Yes. The call was extremely important. There were a couple things. I felt so comfortable doing the call with you. I didn’t realize how much you were going to prepare beforehand. And, if I’m not mistaken, that’s when I had gone through the whole big questionnaire and stuff, that was before that call right?
Mark Malatesta: Right, yes. For everyone listening, basically, if someone has a query letter draft and a synopsis, and I’ll look at the first 50 pages of a manuscript, and then there are many questions on that questionnaire as well. It can sound like a lot of work, but it’s designed to help you. It’s me extracting information from you that is going to enable you to make the query letter, your manuscript, and other things better whether you do more with me or not kind of thing. That’s the whole point of that.
Mark Malatesta: It’s not a “get-to-know-you” call. It’s a “let’s-do-the-work call.”
JAA: Yes! Absolutely, and that’s what I liked about it. If anybody gets that questionnaire, and they look, and are like, “Oh my god, this is going to take forever,” it doesn’t. Once you sit down and answer the questions, you’re going to have to put some thought into it, but it’s so worth it. When you and I had our call…and another thing I loved about the call was that it was recorded…so, I didn’t have to worry too much about taking notes. It was just you and I chatting, but you had done your homework by reading however many pages of the manuscript, and then reading through the questionnaire, and so you were already caught up with me from the very first time that we talked, basically.
So, when we had that call, it was working. It wasn’t just a “tell me about yourself” kind of thing. I got so much valuable information out of that. I knew, within the first 15 minutes of the call, that I wanted to work with you. But I think it was, it was an hour, and an hour that has more valuable information in it than I can even tell you. Especially for someone who is just starting out in this and who doesn’t know what to expect. Those are the people I think, if they’re serious about writing, or if they’ve got a desire or they’ve already written something… I tell everyone, “It’s a no-brainer to do the call.” I mean, it’s going to do nothing but benefit you.
Mark Malatesta: I’ll tell you, ironically, the best person for me, and I mean those people are good too, but the best ones are the ones who have already had literary agents or publishers before and had something bad happen, or they need a new literary agent.
JAA: Oh, yes!
Mark Malatesta: Those people realize, even more…because there are some people in the beginning, and you know how it is. Like you know you have a good idea, and you know you’re a good writer, and as you said earlier, “Oh, I’ll send out the emails,” and people will respond.
Mark: There’s that piece, that naivety in the beginning, and not realizing how hard it is. I chuckle because I’m constantly humbled. This is all I do, and I sometimes work with people on their query letter, and it’s just the sound of crickets, or crickets for a while, or just rejection letters.
Part 18 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: You can never get cocky in this business.
JAA: Well, and I think it’s because, and what you explained so well during the initial call, and everything is, and it’s not to make anyone think, “Oh gosh, is this really for me?” I think they receive, and gosh I forget how many query letters…
Mark Malatesta: Over 1,000 a month for some literary agents.
JAA: Yes, and so, just getting one response is like a win. It’s like, “Hey, I got their attention, I actually got this person’s attention, and that means I can possibly get someone else’s attention, and someone else’s attention.”
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: Yes, I mean, even if you get somebody to respond with a rejection, that, to me, was a little bit of a win, because I thought, “Okay, I got their attention enough, that they didn’t just delete.” Especially the ones who would say, “I really liked it, but…” kind of thing.
Mark Malatesta: Right, then you know it’s not a form letter.
JAA: Yes, I got several of those, and some with tips, or “Maybe you should try this or that.” Those were the ones that made me think, This has to be something, or they’re not going to take the time to actually respect me enough to give me these pointers. They don’t know me at all. I just really went into the whole experience with as positive an attitude as I could have. And knowing I was committed to this for the long term was key.
I think, if it’s something, you’re just thinking, I may want to try this, absolutely, still have the call. You may get super excited and be super committed after that. If it’s something where you’re like, “I’m going to do anything I can to make this happen, no matter how long it takes,” then absolutely, no-brainer, do the call, and hopefully you can work together and go from there. I mean, it really is, the query letter is so, so, so key.
Mark Malatesta: There are also some people I talk out of doing more with me. I can just tell they shouldn’t be investing a lot of time, or any money, to try and get a literary agent or publisher. They have maybe this story or something, that it’s really more personal, and something they needed to write for themselves. It’s not a very commercial thing. I could probably talk them into trying to make it commercial, and get it out there. But if that’s not right for them, I’m not going to do that. Just go self-publish in that case.
Part 19 – Mark Malatesta Review and Interview with JAA
Mark Malatesta: Whatever it is, figure that out, and take the next step.
JAA: I can’t express enough that this is not just you trying to work with everyone and just get another client. You have everyone’s best interest at heart with the people you’re working with. You want to make yourself look good, and you want to make them look good. And you can tell in that, if they do the prep work in the phone call, whether they’re serious. Do they really have something? Is there a fit? Do the two of you work well together?
Mark Malatesta: Right.
JAA: I think it’s so important to go through that, regardless of whether you’re 100% committed or you just think that you want to try this kind of thing. I think that call is just a no-brainer.
Mark Malatesta: Thank you for that, and I’m so thrilled for you it’s working out. I mean, such a great publisher, 56 New York Times bestsellers, and I bet you most people listening haven’t even heard of that publishing company, but that’s the world we live in. Amazon has their own major publishing imprint, and not everybody understands that, but it’s a different landscape. Do you have any last thoughts or advice for everyone?
JAA: I think it’s all about where you are in your life, where do you see writing playing a role. Is it a hobby? Is it something you want to make a career? Is it something you just love? But what I tell everyone is, “If it is any of those things, then do it, because you love it. Do it, and have fun with it. Don’t make it a chore. Some of it will seem like it at times, when maybe you’re trying to find a literary agent, or sending out query letters. But it’s all for an ultimate goal that you’re after.” I tell everyone to have fun with it and write, write as much as you can. My thing is just write, write down your ideas. You don’t have to have any sort of summary format or whatever, but just keep at it, and keep positive about it.
Mark Malatesta: I love it. I love your positive energy. I love you sharing all the ideas and advice with everybody. And, of course, my favorite thing about these calls is helping you to get the word out about your books. I hope everyone is going to go and do that. Look it up online everyone, The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes, and get a copy.
This interview and review of Mark Malatesta were provided by Jeri-Anne Agee, author of the children’s chapter book series, The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes. Jeri-Anne was offered representation by Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, who sold her series to Skyhorse, the fastest-growing small publisher in America, with 56 New York Times bestsellers.
Mark Malatesta is the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this guide on How to Get a Literary Agent. His articles have appeared in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac. He has spoken at 100+ writers conferences and events. And he answers author questions (no cost) at Ask a Literary Agent.
As founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover, Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. His writers have gotten book deals with traditional publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, and Thomas Nelson. They’ve been on the New York Times bestseller list; had their books optioned for TV, stage, and feature film; won countless awards; and had their work licensed in more than 40 countries.
Writers of all Book Genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books) have used Mark’s Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on his List of Literary Agents.
Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta.
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