Friday, 26 August 2016

ONE ON ONE WITH LITERARY AGENTS: SARA MEGIBOW

ONE ON ONE WITH LITERARY AGENTS
SARA MEGIBOW


To have Sara Megibow here for this interview is a joy I can't describe in words. Sara is one of the most special people in my cyber life. Back in January 2016, when I started Query Process, she was the first literary agent I started to follow on social media. She was the first literary agent who replied to my Direct Message on Twitter. And I was like, OMG, literary agents actually reply to messages! She was the first literary agent who very promptly, within 3 days, replied to my query letter for my second book of Yin Yang Series. And requested me for the partial manuscript. She rejected the manuscript, and now I clearly understand why. But the feeling it generated in me was unforgettable. I danced on Something Big song of Shawn Mendes. It's like a Yogi is trying to find the God and sees the first glimpse of Him. It might take Yogi years to reach his goal, but now he knows, it's TRUTH. It was that kind of feeling. The process works! And therefore, I am so happy that she is the first literary agent I am interviewing for my One on One With Literary Agents interview section on Bestseller Story blog. 

Kirtida: Hi Sara, first thanks so much for taking out time for this interview. I am an author from India. Back home, we hardly hear about literary agent’s role in publishing a book. There are few agents, but as most of the publishing houses, including Big 5 of India accept unsolicited manuscripts, authors approach the publishing houses directly.
Only after I moved to USA, I realized the extremely important role literary agents play in publishing industry. And to be honest, now I understand why there is a much better quality control of books in USA. The literary agents with their razor sharp eyes and knack for picking books that have a Unique Selling Point do bring a lot on the table.
Tell the readers what is the best way to approach literary agents? Is querying the only way? And what is the best way to approach Query process?
Sara: Thanks Kirtida! Yes, the process of querying a literary agent can be overwhelming and opaque – I’ve worked in publishing for over 10 years and queries are still one of those things about which I get the most questions from writers.
One important thing to remember is that my week is broken down like this: 95% of my time is spent on my current clients – shopping their books, negotiating contracts, selling subsidiary rights, etc. Only 5% of each week is spent reading queries and/or sample pages. My mom still thinks I sit around with a mug of coffee and read books all day while nothing could be further from the truth!
Another important thing to remember is that my query slush pile is not filled with junk. The queries I see are very good. Publishing is incredibly competitive, though, so I’m looking for queries that represent something truly exceptional – a book that demonstrates superior craft and a story that I fall head-over-heels in love with. Queries that get a “no thank you” are still good and the writer should feel proud of themselves for their hard work.
Here’s my process: I receive roughly 25,000 queries per year. If the query demonstrates superior writing and a unique pitch then I ask to read the first 50 pages of the manuscript. From 25,000 queries I ask for 800-900 of these sample pages. If the sample pages are amazing to the point that I Just Can’t Stop Reading, I ask to read the full manuscript. Last year I read 63 full manuscripts and I’m on track to read about 45 this year. After reading the full manuscript I either pass or offer representation and I only offer representation if I absolutely love a book AND have a strong strategy for making money for the author on that book. I’ve passed on books that I know will make money but that I just don’t love and conversely I’ve passed on books that I love but I don’t know how to make money on them. In 2015 I signed 4 new clients and in 2016 I’ve (so far) signed 7 new clients. Yes, the odds are staggering but in 10+ years in publishing I still find the query process to be the most effective in terms of finding new clients. The vast majority of my clients came from the query slush pile.
Some of my most recent clients include:
Margaret Rogerson, author of THE GREEN WELL – a young adult fantasy that sold to Simon & Schuster this past June.

Frederick Turner, author of APOCALYPSE – an epic science fiction poem that sold to Baen Books over the summer.
Spencer Ellsworth, author of A RED PEACE – the first in a science fiction space opera trilogy that sold to TOR just last week.

Kirtida: Tell us something behind the scenes about being a literary agent and your relationship to books. 
Sara: I’ve always been a reader and lover of bookstores and libraries. Curled up on the couch with a good book is my happy place. 
Something behind-the-scenes. Hmm. My husband is a musician so I try to be the kind of agent I’d want his band to have. I communicate with my clients frequently and celebrate every success with them. Publishing is a hard business – just like music is a hard business – so I want to be the kind of agent that helps my clients feel supported and happy.

Sara: Tell us something behind the scenes about being a writer looking for a literary agent.
Kirtida: This is the first time I am answering a question on this blog. Feels different :) 
I am less than a year old in publishing industry, learning the rules of the game. In the USA industry operates differently and much more effectively. I spend most of my non-writing time studying the industry. And so far, it has been great learning. There are days when I feel despondent and then my husband cuss his Maker why he came home for dinner. But most of the days, query process is fun. Part of the game. 
I meet a lot of writers, who are extremely helpful. I meet literary agents online, finding out how book business works. I attend writer’s conference, another thing I never saw in India. 
What I learnt early, thanks to Carly Watters’s book  Getting Published in the 21st Century: Advice from a Literary Agent is that literary agents are real people who are as passionate about books as authors, if not more. And then I met some wonderful people, like you, on Twitter, who validated my belief that agents are vivid readers and die-hard book lovers. 

Kirtida: Tell us about your most recent success story.
Sara: To me, every book is a success story. My authors work so hard – putting blood, sweat and tears into each and every one of their books. From the moment they press “send” it’s our job to get those books into readers hands. The day I walk into a bookstore to buy a client’s book – that’s my favorite day.
Still as you asked for a success story so here’s one for you… 
Karen Fortunati came to me via the query slush pile in early 2015 with The Weight of Zero – a contemporary young adult novel with an intense and hopeful look at mental health issues. I asked to read the full manuscript right away, offered representation shortly thereafter and submitted it to the editor at Delacorte/ Penguin Random House on an exclusive that same week. Two weeks later we had an offer for publication and the book debuts in hard cover this fall – October 11, 2016.
This book has been a whirlwind! Karen is amazingly talented, hard working and brilliant – she’s a joy to represent and I can’t wait to get her book in readers’ hands. The Weight of Zero was featured in Seventeen Magazineand Kirkus reviewed it saying, “An honest, informative, and ultimatelyoptimistic novel about living with mental illness.
The Weight of Zero and Karen’s debut as an author is a success story I’m proud to share. Follow her journey on her website:
(Kirtida: I have read the Advance Review Copy of The Weight of Zero and as a Clinical Psychologist, I have made it an agenda to recommend the novel to as many readers as I can reach. This book is THAT good. Entertaining, informative, emotional-- all at the same time.) 

Sara: Can you share a success story from your writing career so far?
Writing my debut novel #iAm16iCan has been the most exhilarating experience of my writing life. My father Parukant Desai is a poet, professor of Hindi literature, and a literary critic with several awards and accolades, so literature was the dinning table discussion at our home. My poems were published in newspaper when I was 11 years old.
Later I went on to study Clinical Psychology and Dramatics. And followed it with a Diploma in Screenplay Writing from the most prestigious film school of India FTII, Pune.
I was working for Indian Television channel ZEE TV writing popular TV show for a major production house when the idea of writing my novel #iAm16iCan POSSESSED me. It was inspired by a brutal gang rape that took place in Delhi in December 2012. I use the word possessed because the people around me can vouch that I was ghostly. The library of my house looked weird to my friends with so many books on rape.
In retrospect, I laugh at many of those things, but while I was writing the book, it was like I would sit in a restaurant with friends with a voice recorder. They are talking amongst themselves. I am talking to my characters.
But I have never experienced something so extraordinary in my writing life before this book. And the best part, I wrote the novel thinking it’s a stand-alone. But there was one scene in the last chapter of the book that my most trusted Beta readers objected to. They said, the scene is good, but not part of the book. One of them suggested, I should write another book with that scene as the first scene. And that gave me my second novel.
When I send the book out to journalist, fellow authors, and media people back in India, I received overwhelming response. Some major film personalities like Anjum Rajabali, a screenplay writer of blockbuster socio-political thriller movies, supported the book, and stood behind the cause.
Generally a novelist makes a novel, in my case, my novel made me a novelist.
I quitted my job, moved to USA with my husband, and plan to pursue my dream of getting published. So far, so good.

Sara Megibow is a literary agent at kt literary, llc
She represents authors who write middle grade, young adult, romance, science fiction and fantasy and will answer professional questions as time allows on twitter @SaraMegibow
Sales and clients are listed here:

Related Post:

Kirtida Gautam is a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming Psychological Thriller #iAm16iCan. The novel questions Juvenile Justice System of India and raises opinion AGAINST rape culture. 
Follow her on Twitter @KirtidaGautam 

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