About Mark Malatesta – ChristianLiteraryAgents.com
Mark Malatesta has helped Christian authors of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books get deals with publishing houses such as Thomas Nelson. Mark is a former literary agent and literary agency president who now works exclusively as a coach and consultant to help both Christian and mainstream authors get literary agents.
Some of Mark Malatesta’s more notable clients include Harrison Harrison, Jr., author of the New York Times bestseller Father to Daughter (Workman). And Scott LeRette, author of The Unbreakable Boy, which has been adapted for feature film with Lionsgate Entertainment, starring Zachary Levi, Amy Acker, and Patricia Heaton.
Author Karen Sargent’s work with Mark led to a publishing contract for her debut novel, Waiting for Butterflies, with Amphorae Publishing Group/Walrus Publishing. Her story was named “Book of the Year” after being selected as a finalist in two categories. Karen talks about her experience and she shares her best tips for Christian authors seeking Christian Literary Agents below.
As an author coach, Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. He’s given presentations at 100+ writers conferences and events. He’s had articles published in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac. And he’s been quoted by people in publishing and the mainstream, including Entrepreneur.com.
Click here to see Reviews of Mark Malatesta.
Mark Malatesta, Author Coach – Testimonial by Karen Sargent
I was thrilled when I checked my email and saw the news that a publisher was making an offer on my book! The Acquisitions Editor met with her partners and they discussed the manuscript because they’d never published anything like it before. But they still wanted it!
My literary start was kind of odd. I found out that the wife of someone I work with had a best friend who was a literary agent, and I had an immediate connection with that agent. I hadn’t written a word of my book yet and she encouraged me through the initial process. Then when the manuscript was finished, I wrote my version of a query letter, which, when I look back on it now, was absolutely ridiculous. Everything I’ve read about query letters since then said, “Don’t do this!” and I did every single one of those things.
My original query was awful, but I didn’t think it would matter because I knew the agent and got to bypass the normal submission process the first go around. That agent took several months to review my book and recommend some revisions. But ultimately, in the end, there were three things they wanted me to change. I did two of them very well I just couldn’t hit the mark with one of them. So that didn’t go any further. Then I really had to dive into the query letter, proposal, and synopsis process for real.
Pt. 2 – K. Sargent Success Story
I only sent four query letters out after that, before I started working with Mark. Not many, because I knew that I didn’t know how to write them. I sent them and they weren’t good, but I really didn’t know what to do. So not only was I writing poor query letters, I had no strategy and everything was wrong. Then I eventually pitched the project to an editor at a writing conference, and I used the query that Mark helped me with as a good chunk of my in-person pitch. That editor then asked to talk with me after the workshop and later asked me to send the manuscript.
The query Mark helped me put together made agents and publishers want to keep reading.My first query was too wordy. Agents would have had to read through too many things to get down to the gist of what they wanted to know. Agents don’t have time to wade through all that stuff. Mark’s final query gave them what they were looking for immediately.
I was also shocked and amazed that Mark helped me to get a positive response from a very, very well known New York Times bestselling author who agreed to let me send her a copy of my book for a possible testimonial. I’ve had several exchanges of emails with that author since then. She said my novel sounded like a great story. I was just surprised she took the time to reply at all!
When I first found Mark’s website, I was definitely floundering. I read everything and it felt too good to be true, some guy on the Internet with all the answers. I really wanted to believe it, but I also wanted to make a good decision, a logical decision and not an emotional decision. So I actually contacted some of the authors Mark had worked with to ask them about their experience, if it was worth the money.
Pt. 3 – K. Sargent Success Story
I received wonderful feedback and it was the same kind of feedback I’d give someone if they asked me that same question today. I think, when I was trying to decide whether to spend the money to work with Mark, the number one important thing for me was integrity. To me that’s everything. I’m a teacher and my husband is in law enforcement and we’re not wealthy people, and it was a little bit of an investment for me to work with Mark.
I’m in charge of our family budget and I have kids. One of them is is in college and the other one will be one soon. Being a mom you feel selfish if you take a little chunk of the family budget and invest it in something for yourself. That was a real hard decision for me. I even took a little bit of funds out of my daughter’s college fund, trusting I’d make the money back. I had to really make sure that my family wasn’t going to sacrifice in a wasteful way so I could chase what might just be a dream.
The clincher for me that made me decide to work with Mark was the introductory coaching call that I had with him Listening to Mark’s voice and the things he said, everything was in line with things I already knew or had read or just questions that were floating in my mind and I had no idea what the answers were. Mark had those answers and they made sense. So that first phone call, for me, erased my doubts and questions.
Publishing was such an unknown world to me when I started this journey, but I felt that Mark would be an anchor for me and guide everything in the right direction. It was important for me to have someone who knew the industry, that I could ask questions, and I knew that I could have confidence in him. Mark never led me anywhere or told me anything that didn’t turn out to be exactly what it should have been, or what he said it would be.
Now my whole family is invested in my books. I hardly wash dishes anymore! My husband does it. Everybody in the family has stepped in. They know when I’m writing and working on things and they sacrifice to help.
KAREN SARGENT is the author of the Christian novel Waiting for Butterflies (Amphorae/Walrus Publishing), winner of the IAN book awards for both Outstanding Christian Fiction and Book of the Year
Karen hired Mark Malatesta to help her revise her query letter, synopsis, and manuscript. As a result, she got a literary agent and, ultimately, a book deal for her book Waiting for Butterflies (Amphorae/Walrus Publishing). Her book is winner of the IAN book awards for both Outstanding Christian Fiction and Book of the Year. In the interview below, Karen gives advice to authors when it comes to writing, publishing, and promoting a book. She also talks more about Mark and their work together.
Karen Sargent Interview With Mark Malatesta – Getting a Literary Agent
During this 68-minute interview, author Karen Sargent talks about the things she did to get an offer for representation from a literary agent, including her work with author coach Mark Malatesta. Karen’s book, Waiting for Butterflies, is winner of the IAN book awards for both Outstanding Christian Fiction and Book of the Year. It is published by Amphorae/Walrus Publishing.
K A R E N . S A R G E N T
Mark Malatesta: Karen Sargent is the author of the novel Waiting for Butterflies. [published by Amphorae Publishing Group/Walrus Publishing, and named “Book of the Year” after being selected as a finalist in two categories.]
When a fatal accident takes Maggie Blake’s life before her role as wife and mother are fulfilled, she discovers a mother’s love doesn’t end just because her life does. Longing for her family after her death, Maggie becomes a “lingering spirit” and returns home where she helplessly witnesses her family’s spiral downward in the aftermath of her passing. Maggie’s husband, detective Sam Blake, consumed by guilt from past mistakes tries to redeem himself. Rachel, her teenage daughter, silently drowns in her own guilt as she secretly believes she is responsible for her mother’s death. Olivia, five years old and full of innocence, is the only one who can sense her mother’s presence. Maggie has limited interaction with the physical world after her death and she’s restricted by her family’s grief and lack of faith. But she’s determined to keep an important promise and protect her family before her time runs out.
Karen Sargent is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers organization with a bachelor’s degree in English-Secondary Education, a master’s degree in Teaching Rhetoric and Composition, and several years’ experience teaching literature and writing at the high school and college levels. Her students have earned publication, scholarships, dinner at the governor’s mansion, and (for 14 years in a row) all-expense paid trips to Washington, D.C.
Karen lives in Missouri with her husband and two daughters where she has served multiple terms as president of regional and state English teachers’ associations, and she’s served nine years as an instructional coach for her school district. Karen frequently develops and presents workshops, and she’s presented at numerous state and regional English and education conferences.
She’s also received regional and state teaching awards. In addition, Karen served four years as editor of the K-12 student publication, Missouri Youth Writes. She completed the Missouri Writing Project as a grad student, which is affiliated with the National Writing Project and she’s a member of the Missouri Writers Guild. You can learn more about Karen and get a copy of her book at KarenSargent.com.
K.S.: Thanks, Mark. I’m really excited to do this interview with you today because my publishing journey has been a wild ride. And, we’re at a place I never thought I would be. I suspect anybody listening to this might be looking to go on that journey, and I’m just glad to have the opportunity to encourage them.
Mark Malatesta: Wonderful, I love that you’re bringing that energy. As you know, my goal is to plug your book and, along the way, help authors. If we can do both those things, we’re doing great. Thank you, and it’s always a wild ride. There are freak stories, but it’s never like a straight, direct path to publication, right?
K.S.: No, apparently not. It’s interesting too when you’re in a position like I was when I finished writing my book, and then started to try to get into the publishing world. It was such a totally unknown world. So, it’s been fun trying to get familiar with it.
Mark Malatesta: Well, it’s fun now that you’re on the other side.
K.S.: Yes, absolutely.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 2
Mark Malatesta: All right. So, let’s do this, to start these kinds of interviews I always like to make sure that, even though I read your lengthy and impressive biographical material, is there anything important I left out about you or the book that you want everyone to know?
K.S.: Well, readers are probably really bored listening about me, so I won’t go on any more about that. I think the one thing I would add about the book is, and I think maybe this is my literature background as an English teacher. When I wrote the story, I really tried to make it more than a story. It’s fiction, but there’s truth in the tale. The characters work through really serious life issues. The death of a spouse and death of a parent, a teen in crisis. So, I hope when readers read Waiting for Butterflies, they feel like they’re getting more than a story. Something that might speak to them. That’s about the only thing I’d add, because the book description is great. You helped me write it!
Mark Malatesta: [Laughter] Well, thank you. I’m going to ask you a curve ball question now. You can go as deep as you want with this or keep it short and sweet. There is some controversial material in your book. Did you think about that going into it? I’m of the opinion that, you know, some of the stuff that’s scariest for us to write, or we’re not sure we should write, is often the best. Do you feel that way? Were you worried about it? Are you still worried about it?
K.S.: I am still worried about it to some degree. The controversial issue, to be more specific, is the fact that my protagonist is a ghost and my genre is Christian fiction. And, if you’re going to publish in Christian fiction, it’s difficult if you’re presenting anything that isn’t really tightly aligned with biblical teaching. So, the ghost element there, you know, is a little obstacle that I gave myself. I didn’t really know that, at the beginning, when I started writing this, that that was going to be an obstacle…
Mark Malatesta: You weren’t trying to be controversial.
K.S.: I really wasn’t. But as my book started getting closer to finished, at some point the idea dawned on me. I thought, Gee I wonder if I’ve done something wrong here. And so, it really did pose a conflict in some respects, and it was really interesting. It was also an issue for some literary agents. I had a few say, “This going to be a hard sell to Christian publishers.” But, at the same time, I had some literary agents who were very complimentary of the idea. They didn’t express concern about that controversy.
Now that the book is being published, there’s that element. When readers read that, are there going to be people who are believers who are going to take issue with the fact that Maggie is a ghost? Of course, there are those book reviews that get posted on Goodreads. I don’t know. Is that going to reflect poorly there? That’s on my mind a little bit, would it keep somebody from picking up the book? So, yeah, I think there’s controversy there, and I hope I don’t necessarily pay for it. I didn’t dive into it that way.
Mark Malatesta: I don’t think it will be a big issue, and I think every author has to deal with it. That’s why I brought it up. You have to know what you want, and what you’re going to stand for. What you should never do as a writer is try to please everybody because that’s impossible.
K.S.: That’s good advice.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 3
Mark Malatesta: I think it’s a good point for people to talk to someone and figure out there’s a range for how to deal with things like that. If you went further with it, it would have been a bigger problem. But you didn’t. You did it in the friendliest, safest way there was to do it. I think that was smart. Whether you did it consciously or subconsciously.
K.S.: Well, I had to decide to if I was going to be true to the story, because I could have taken out the faith element, mainstreamed it, and not had any problems with the fact that my protagonist was a ghost. But I also felt like there was a faith element that was part of the story. So, that was something I had to think about. I wanted to be committed to my original intent. I maybe would have entertained revising if I didn’t get somewhere. But I wanted to follow through with my original intent and see what happened. So, here we are.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Okay, I should have asked you this first. Let’s look at the very end. You finding out you got the publisher, because that’s the goal for everyone listening. Well, most people listening, they’re obsessed right now with getting a literary agent and publisher. So, let’s talk about you with the publisher, because that’s already happened. Walk everybody through where you were in your day and in your head, leading up to when you got the news and how you responded to the news.
K.S.: Well, I’m just going to tell you up front, my story is a bit boring. I wish I had all this excitement to share with you, but I was just sitting at my kitchen table late one afternoon, checking my email. When I opened it, there was an email telling me I had an offer from a publisher. I’d like to say I yelled or laughed or cried or even got goosebumps. But, honestly, I went numb…and just kept looking at the email.
Mark Malatesta: [Laughter]
K.S.: I kept thinking, Wow, this is happening. My family was home, my husband and my two girls. I probably didn’t even tell them for a couple hours.
Mark Malatesta: Really…
K.S.: Yes, I told you my story is not very…I was just really happy to internally absorb it…
Mark Malatesta: You were in shock.
K.S.: I really was. It was almost like, if I say this out loud, it’s not going to sound true. But, if I say it out loud, it makes it true. I don’t know. I can’t explain my state of mind. It was just, you know, a little bit crazy. I eventually told my family and, of course, they’ve missed a lot of meals and washed a lot of dishes so this could happen. So, they were super excited to celebrate. And now I just kind of say things every once in a while, like, “You’re having dinner with a published author.” I have no trouble saying it now. At first, I didn’t have that great huge celebration. Like you said, I think I was just in shock.
Mark Malatesta: Some authors can probably relate to this, some not so much, if they haven’t started the process. Some of my clients, when they finally get a literary agent or publisher, they’re somewhat deflated because it’s such a hard journey to get there sometimes. It can take so long it’s almost anti-climactic. But, usually, for those people, if you check in with them 30 days later, they’re excited. They’ve gotten their second wind.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 4
K.S.: I would tell friends, “Oh my gosh, my book’s getting published!” They’d be all excited and I’d be just standing there looking at them all excited. So, it was funny. Now I’m extremely excited. Maybe I’m a little bit strange.
Mark Malatesta: Well, it’s part of the writer personality, to be strange, so you fit right in. [Laughter] Now, let me ask you this, since this interview was meant to be a case study that other authors can learn from and model. Let’s go back to the very beginning, way before the book deal, way before we even met and started working together. When did you first get the idea that you might be an author?
K.S.: Well, I think I’m one of those people who has always wanted to write. I just remember, you know, as a little girl, I loved learning to write, learning to read. I read a lot and I was just a big daydreamer in the car. I loved long car rides because I created all these characters and worlds in my imagination. That was long before all the technology that distracts children from doing that today. I’ve always wanted to write and I always played around with it. I actually, in fourth grade, had a poem published in Jack and Jill magazine.
When I was in high school, I had a short story published in a little church magazine for teenagers. So, I always piddled around with the idea. It just took me a long time to commit to it. I remember, probably in my 20s, I don’t know if I read this or heard this, but it stuck in my head, that you can’t really write anything until you’re about 30, because you haven’t lived long enough to know what to write about. I kind of laugh at that and say, “Well, I didn’t wait till I was 30, I waited until I was in my 40s. But I finally got it done.”
Mark Malatesta: I’ve heard that before, too, and I think it depends who you’re writing for. There are some pretty amazing 20-something-year-old writers, but they’re typically writing for that same age group. I think that makes it easier.
K.S.: Yes. Well, I think at every stage of life, you’ve got some life experience, you know, you’ve got something to say.
Mark Malatesta: Even if it’s just angst, you know.
K.S.: Right, right. Which I read a lot of as a high school teacher.
Mark Malatesta: When did it get serious for you? Starting the first novel?
K.S.: Well, I’m trying to think…
Mark Malatesta: Was it in your 20s?
K.S.: No, it wasn’t. To be really honest, the idea for this particular novel, gosh, it would be 17 years ago, but then it took me about 11 years to start writing it, and I wrote the first half of it in about three months. It just came really quickly. It was pretty easy. But then one of my daughters had a serious illness. The creativity stopped. For about five years, I didn’t write any more. Then we got to a point where my brain was a little bit freed up and I could get back to the creativity, and I finished it in about another three months.
Mark Malatesta: I love it, it’s often not like that…a straight path.
K.S.: Right, because life really interferes.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, I was going to say. Life often likes to get in the way, and I really don’t know how, you know, there are a lot of writers. If they start when they’re young, right before jobs happen and relationships happen, and careers and marriages and kids happen. If you start before then, I can see how you might have a chance at making it early. Then I work with a lot of people who are retired, and they now have time to do it. But I really admire the people that start in in the middle years, and figure it out, and get up at 4:00 a.m. to get it done. You must have had to make quite a few sacrifices to get it done.
K.S.: Well, I’m not one of those 4 am people, but I wish so much that I were. I really want to be that person. I admire those who are…
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 5
Mark Malatesta: No, you don’t. It’s no fun.
K.S.: [Laughter] I didn’t even know four o’clock comes twice a day. But, one thing that really helped me was I’m a teacher. So, the schedule I have, summer allows me time to write. And the second half, you know, when I finished the second half of the book, it was just a crazy winter, we had 21 snow days. A lot of those snow days joined a weekend. So, it was just crazy, we missed so much school, but that’s actually when I wrote most of the second half, on snow days. So, it was my teacher’s schedule that really helped me find the time to write. You know, with the career and the kids and all that. That helped.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s jump now to your “author education.” Some authors are English majors, get MFA degrees. You’re obviously in the academic world, but when it comes to, let’s say, studying other novelists’ work and learning from that, or reading books about craft, the business of publishing, or websites and blogs, networking, taking classes, hiring anybody to help you…what kinds of things did you do that way and what’s been the most helpful?
K.S.: Well, I think the first thing I would really say is, in terms of just trying to prepare myself to write, other than having my English degree and my bachelor’s and master’s in English, and in writing, I really didn’t do anything. Other than teaching for as many years as I have, and I teach honors literature and honors writing. That gave me the skill to understand and appreciate a good story and author’s craft and critiquing writing. That whole process, to the point of me deciding to write my book, was probably the best.
Mark Malatesta: You paid your dues that way.
K.S.: I always say I became an English teacher because I loved to read and write. But once I started teaching, I never got to do that for myself. In the long run, it definitely paid off. I really hit my book solo. But I would not recommend that. I’m actually working on my second manuscript now and I have discovered there’s so much support out there. I’m in two different online critique groups, and I’m active in a writer’s guild now, and I’ve been going to writers’ conferences and I follow some blogs on writing. There’s a lot out there and it is easy to Google things like the top 50 blogs on writing, and they’re instructional. There are a few of those I follow faithfully. I’ve also got a stack of books that I read along the way. Some of them I read before I started my manuscript and they helped give me courage to finally do it, like Stephen King’s book on writing.
I know most people know about that, but I absolutely loved it. And Jerry Jenkins has a book about writing for the soul. He is also a Christian author, but his book applies to any genre. It was really good, too. So, those were a couple of resources I would definitely recommend. It’s so important to get plugged in and the Internet makes it easy. I’m also in a couple Facebook discussion groups with authors, some are published and some are not yet.
My formal education, it didn’t consist of much before I wrote my first manuscript. But now that I’m working on my second one, I’m really connected, and that’s one of the things that I would recommend people do. Get plugged in. There’s so much support out there and I really missed those opportunities for support and critique and feedback because I wasn’t plugged in. And, I learned, writers are generally pretty generous people. They really feel sorry for the rest of us who are going through things.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 6
Mark Malatesta: Exactly. It can speed up the process getting plugged in in that way. And it makes it so much more enjoyable. I talk to authors every week who say they feel completely alone. I tell them, “I’m glad you reached out, because it’s that simple. You don’t have to be alone.” Alright, let’s dive into your best tips for authors in the process of writing a book, and you can frame that however you want. You can give a couple of tips for fiction authors or for authors in general, and whether it’s about someone who’s on their third book or first book, just starting their first book, halfway through.
K.S.: The number one thing that I would tell authors is just write. Don’t catch yourself. Don’t doubt your ability. Don’t doubt your story. I’ve discovered, and I know I’m not alone in this, now that I talk to other writers, fear rules the writer’s life. So, get used to it and don’t let fear stop you. I know, for myself, it took me 11 years to write my book. The biggest part is to start writing. I was afraid and thought, What if I write ten pages and there’s not really a story, it sounds good in my head but doesn’t sound good on paper?
Then, when I finally did start writing, there were times I thought, Oh my gosh, this is so awful. It’s not what I want it to be. I can’t write and I’m not a writer, and who’s going to want to read this? And then it isn’t so bad. You finish the book and you’re like, Oh my gosh I did this. Then new fears start, like, Oh my gosh I’m never going to get a literary agent, I’m never going to get a publisher. This is a waste of my time, I should throw it in the trash. All those crazy fears.
I thought, I know I’m not alone in this. I talk to so many people who have the same fears. What if nobody reads it, or worse? What if they read it and they hate it? The fear doesn’t stop. So, especially at the beginning, just don’t let the fear stop you. It’s going to be there. It just is, because we don’t want to fail. And you know, we’ve got this big dream and we know we want it so badly to happen. You can’t let fear be part of that.
The other things I thought about, just about every time I really seriously thought about quitting, were things like, I’m not cleaning my house, I’m not taking care of my family as much not spending as much time with them. That mother’s guilt really came in. I’d get to those points of discouragement, but then something good would happen. It might have even been an encouraging rejection from a literary agent, something that would let me know, keep going, you can do this. To be honest, when I found you, I was seriously ready to bail on the whole querying process.
I found your website and I remember thinking, Okay, maybe I can do this, maybe there’s help out there. I’ve got a quote I keep close to me that I printed off on a piece of paper, and it’s a little bit long. I’m going to give a real short version. It’s by Robert McKee and he’s a master storyteller and trainer. The short version of his quote says, “Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear.” The quote goes on to say that, more than anything else, the world demands writers have courage.
I looked at that a lot to see what I was feeling was normal. Have courage. The other thing is what we talked about before, the controversy of me writing about a ghost in Christian fiction. I recommend authors make sure they know the boundaries of their genres. Some have certain formulas or boundaries. If you’re going to write romance, there’s a certain formula for romance. So, make sure you stay within those boundaries, though it might feel like the opposite of creativity.
When you’re a brand-new author trying to break into the market, you don’t want to give yourself more obstacles than you already have by going outside the boundaries. There are books that do that, but save that for the time being. Give yourself every shot at reaching that literary agent and the publisher.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 7
Mark Malatesta: I tell my clients that. For example, a young adult novelist I coached had his book formatted more like a play than a novel, the way he did his dialogue. He fought me about it for like ten minutes on the phone, and finally, I said, “Do whatever you like. My fee is the same. This is going to increase your chances if you change it. It’s not a big deal. Change the way it’s formatted or look like you don’t know how things are done. Send it out like that and you’ll look like you’re not an educated author. Literary agents won’t trust you.”
K.S.: Right. It’s funny the things we get attached to, that, in the long run, don’t matter. I found that in my own experience. I think at some point I finally realized that I have got to let this go. You know what, it really was okay to let it go.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk about your best tips when it comes to publishing a book. Very simply, you know everyone listening knows there are only two ways to go about publishing. Either you’re paying for it or someone else is paying for it. And that’s the publisher. Anything that involves you paying isn’t traditional publishing. So, why did you choose to go the traditional path? I don’t totally bash self-publishing, but I think ninety 99.9% of the time it should be a last resort for people. Why did you try traditional?
K.S.: Well, I’m really not a prideful person, but this is one area I think pride dictated. I really wanted to know my book was good enough for a traditional publisher. I don’t know why that was so important, but that was the bottom line. I have friends who are self-published, who have gone through that process, and they have a book with their name on it. I didn’t feel like that was the route I wanted to take. I wanted to take the traditional route.
I’m not opposed to self-publishing, but there’s a lot of stuff that’s been self-published that’s giving the self-publishing process a bad name. There’s probably a right way to do it with a product that’s professional. But I don’t think that happens a lot of the time. So, self-publishing sometimes has a negative connotation. That’s my personal opinion. But there are some good self-published works, and some become New York Times bestsellers like The Shack. It started out as a self-published novel. It’s just awfully easy to self-publish…
Mark Malatesta: I wouldn’t call it pride. It’s just that you know every book with a publisher like Random House is at a certain standard. You know, if it has their name on it, there’s a certain quality factor. It’s more the exception when you’re dazzled by the quality of a self-published book. I think it slips, and, again, it’s just that, not that there isn’t great stuff out there with self-publishing, it’s just that anybody can do it, you know. They just need a credit card, or they just need to stick it on Amazon…it isn’t vetted by anyone.
K.S.: You said so eloquently what I was trying to say, thank you.
Mark Malatesta: That’s teamwork! Alright, let’s talk about marketing. Before we did this interview, we were catching up and I was asking you what you’re up to lately with marketing. So, open-ended question here. You’re further along than most people listening. You have a different perspective on marketing. So, for authors who don’t have a literary agent or publisher yet, what advice can you give them? What should they either be thinking about now, or doing now, that you think would be helpful?
K.S.: They say you can’t start marketing too soon. I absolutely agree. Start yesterday. One of the things I struggled with, that I think most people that were in my position struggle with, is getting their website going. Everybody says, “Get an author website.” But I felt like such a hypocrite. It’s like, okay, I’m going to make this author website, but let’s be real. Who’s going to look at it? Why would they, you know? I really struggled with that whole concept. But, at the same time, when you’re trying to get a literary agent and publisher, they want you to have an online presence.
I started focusing on my target readers, and my book is, you know, women’s fiction. So, I started thinking of wives and moms and started a blog. It’s called The Mom Journey and Confessions Along the Way, targeted to people who might be potential readers someday.
I used my 20 years of success and failure as a parent. I post weekly and pick a confession, something I’ve experienced as a mom, and I write about it in a way that hopefully others can relate to. Establishing relationships with people who could be potential readers. I never one time mentioned my book, ever. So, I had my blog going for about four months, I think, by the time I got my book deal.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 8
Mark Malatesta: How long were you posting?
K.S.: Every Tuesday night. I stay consistent with it. After the first four months, I had about 150 followers, which isn’t a lot. But, as a nobody, I mean, why would anybody follow my blog? So that was kind of cool. I was watching that grow a little bit. But, when I got my book deal, I went ahead and did my author website.
Then I did video announcements to my followers saying, “Hey, I’ve got something so exciting to tell you.” And, actually, for a couple of weeks prior to the video I would just say, “Hey I’ve got big news coming and I can’t wait to share with you.” I put that teaser out there. So, when I posted the video, it was like, you know, a two-minute, three-minute video, I told them, “Oh my gosh, my book is getting published.” And I gave them a real quick teaser about the book.
On the first day, my website got 648 views because so many people went to that in my video. That was so cool, all these people I built this relationship with. You know the whole 150 of them, that doubled, I mean almost instantly, and they shared my video like crazy. The video had over 4,800 views in the first 24 hours which, again, that’s not a huge number. But, considering I’m really a nobody, that was huge to me. So, it was a journey. It is a journey. We all start with zero, you know.
So, my advice would be that online presence, if there’s a way to think, not about you, not about your books, but think about your audience and find a way to engage them and build that relationship. Then, when the book deal comes, hopefully, you can parlay that into something more. I get more followers to my blog and website every week now, I’ll have three more followers or seven more followers. So, it’s happening and growing.
There’s so much to learn about marketing. It’s overwhelming. But I would like to recommend a couple of online resources that have been super helpful. The first one is Build Book Buzz. And the second one is Selling for Authors. Both of those sources I gleaned a lot of information and ideas from. But you have to be really careful. Don’t be like me and feel you have to do it all, because I was kind of thinking that.
I finally was able to narrow it down, to you know, your research and talking to other people about what strategies would be the best and my big focus now is building my email list. So, I’ve got direct contact to people who could be potential readers. That’s really where I’m focusing my time. If you Google how to build your email list, you will see nine thousand things. But really, if you look, there are sites that will help you understand [what’s best].
Mark Malatesta: You didn’t say it exactly this way, but there’s this thing you did at some point where you just made the commitment, and you decided, okay, I’m going to do this marketing thing. You got off the fence with it. And there’s this other part of you that I know from talking with you off air. You making the process fun for yourself. It can be a grind, it can be overwhelming. But you’re choosing to make it as enjoyable as you can. And doors keep opening because of it. When you talk to people and you reach out and you’re submitting articles, you’re getting a better response than somebody who’s resenting the process.
K.S.: I just read a quote a couple of days ago and it said, “It seems like the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 9
K.S.: That’s really been true in this in this sense.
Mark Malatesta: One of my favorite quotes is, “Creativity follows commitment.” It’s amazing how quickly we can figure things out, once we decide we’re going to do something.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk now about what you and I did together, getting to this point, so everyone can get a better idea of how author coaching works. I mean, you know, my style. I might not be the right fit for everybody. But even if someone already knows they don’t want to work with me, they can understand the benefit of coaching and how it works. When you reached out to me, I think you said earlier in the call, you were frustrated and near quitting. Talk a little bit more about that and what were you hoping to accomplish with me, when you set up that first call with me.
K.S.: Well, it was very clear to me I was clueless. Publishing was a new world, and I was lost in it. I didn’t know there were people out there who could help me navigate that world. When I found your website and started realizing what you did, I knew I needed somebody to help me. It was one those things where your website just popped up and then you popped up again and again. When I finally hit that, I checked you out and started looking at your website and read your different resources. To be honest, I kept looking at it, thinking, This is too good to be true. You know, if it sounds too good to be true, it must be too good to be true. But I kept going back, there was a draw. One of the things that started to convince me that maybe it was as good as it seems was the audio recording on your website, the seven secrets one.
There was another one you had with an author [that I listened to as well], a coaching call. I listened to the whole thing and took notes. You were talking to her about her specific book and, oh my gosh, I learned so much from that. That was really a big thing that helped me lean in favor of going into a working relationship with you. But it still wasn’t good enough. So, I looked at the authors on your website who had worked with you are now published. I’m a teacher and I work on a teacher’s salary. Working with you was an investment for me. Those authors and success stories assured me you were the real deal.
So, I finally decided to do the initial coaching call, because, when I listened to you, it was so helpful. I thought, Okay, I’m going to do this, but I’m just doing the introductory coaching call, that’s all I’m going to do. And then, after that first hour on the phone, I knew we were starting a long-term relationship. It was so extremely helpful and all that cluelessness I felt, where I was just floating, went away. I couldn’t get grounded in anything because everything was so unfamiliar. Talking to you settled all that. Even though I had lots of questions, I knew somebody was going to give me the answers, and they would be the right answers. And I knew your motives were pure. That’s why we’re here.
Mark Malatesta: Thank you, I’m speechless. That’s really well said, and I appreciate it. A lot of times, somebody will email me or leave a comment on one of my sites and they’re like, “What’s the catch?” I’m like, “What do you mean? I’m not asking you for anything. Use the free content on my websites. A tiny percentage of the people who do that end up doing more with me. That’s okay. I get it. I know what it’s like out there.” That’s half the reason I give away all the free stuff, because you have to, in this environment, for people to trust you.
K.S.: The thing about it, too, is there’s a lot of free stuff out there, and a lot of people, but it varies in quality. The stuff you make available is just top notch. It’s great.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 10
Mark Malatesta: How can you tell the difference, as an outsider looking in? What makes you see that one is quality and one’s not?
K.S.: I don’t know if I would have seen it as much before I went through the process. I think one of the things would be shallow versus deep. I see some resources and they say, you know, do this, do this, do this. And I read it, and I say, “Okay, I know I need to do that, but how do I do that?” Or, “What do I do with this?” I felt like the material you provided answered a lot more questions and gave me a lot more guidance.
Mark Malatesta: Got it, and how many queries had you sent out if any, before we talked? I don’t remember.
K.S.: Four very bad ones, very bad ones.
Mark Malatesta: [Laughter]
K.S.: I tried so hard. I’m an educator, so I’m all about learning and getting educated. I tried so hard to figure out the query process, and part of it was there’s contradictory information. You know you can do this in the query. The other one says, never do this in the query. I’m going, what am I supposed to do in the query? I gave it my best shot.
The funny thing is, I have to laugh, you know, whenever I really learned how to do a query, all these things you’re not supposed to do. I think I did every single one of them in my query. So, I think back to that, I think, Oh my gosh, I’m so mortified. I mean it was so bad, Mark. I used the phrase “I’m pregnant with a book idea and I’m ready to give birth.” It was bad. I was trying to be creative, then I found out later that’s such a cliché in the writing world. It was just sad. I mean, I shouldn’t even admit that in public. Geez…
Mark Malatesta: You’re not the only one. My favorite query letter of all time, back when I was a literary agent, was a one-sentence query. The body of it was handwritten and it said, “Just read it!!!” It had three exclamation points. [Laughter]
K.S.: Well, you know, with somebody who’s been through the process, and they’re just frustrated at that point…
Mark Malatesta: That’s the feeling. I felt like I was probably literary agent #937 that author had contacted. Alright, now, let’s do this…if you could give, from your perspective, and I’m not fishing for anything specific here, give people a little more concrete idea of what happened during that first introductory hour call with me. In layman’s terms, how would you explain it? Obviously, there was the questionnaire you filled out first. That was lengthy, and then there was the hour phone call. How would you explain that process to people who are curious?
K.S.: We talked through the information in the questionnaire. You told me, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do with this, and this is how we’re going to use that.” I remember, too, when we went through my autobiographical stuff, because I’m not a published author. I am unknown. I have no connections. It felt like, who’s even going to give me a second look, based on that author bio? But you were able to say, “No, people are going to look at this because you’re an English teacher and you have all these things.” I came away thinking, “Maybe I can do this, maybe this can happen.” So, as far as the specifics of that first phone call, it was a good one. I just know it was enough to make me say, “Yes.”
Mark Malatesta: I do want to clarify something here. Inevitably, at least once a week, I get someone who will email me or post a comment and say, “I don’t think it’s going to be worthwhile for me to sign up for an introductory coaching course, because I don’t make any money and I’d barely be able to pay for the call, so I wouldn’t be able to do more with you.” I say, “Listen, I don’t care. I’ll help you as much as I can during that hour, and that can be a lot.”
I enjoy working with someone like that as much as I do those who can work with me long-term, because just one call can make a big difference. So, if someone is thinking about doing a call like that, they don’t have to do more than that. Karen, you did, because it was the right thing and you were financially able to do it, but you could have just as easily just done the one call, taken the recording, implemented everything we talked about, and been better off than before the call.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 11
K.S.: I definitely would have been better off. Like I said, when I listened to the free phone call that you had on your web site, I took notes just from that. So yes, even though I can’t remember all the specifics of our first phone call now, [since it’s been a while], it was definitely worth every penny.
Mark Malatesta: I do those intro calls that way, but some people don’t. Other service providers do introductory “coaching” calls but they’re really just teaser or sales calls. You don’t get much or anything out of them. The only reason they do the calls is to get you to do more. I work hard to make my calls meaty, to really help people. That way, if it’s not a good fit for me to do more with the person after that first call, or the person can’t afford it, they get a lot value out of the one call. Okay, next question. What are you most proud of at this point?
K.S.: The fact that I didn’t quit, that I persisted, even though there were a lot of times when I wondered if it was worth the time and energy.
Mark Malatesta: Right, that’s half of it. Some authors say, “I don’t need a cheerleader, I just need these other things.” I silently think, Well, you’re probably going to need me cheerleading for you at some point, because I’ve seen it again and again. Iit doesn’t matter how strong you are. You know, somebody who’s like, “Well, I’ve got a good mindset for this because I’ve done sales all my life.” Then they’re crying after the first 40 queries and only one person is looking at their manuscript.
It really takes a strong stomach to keep going. I have one author, I probably shouldn’t tell everybody this, that was joking about jumping off a bridge. At the end of the day, he got a literary agent, but he sent out over 600 queries to get there. Someone might think, Oh my goodness. Let me give up right now if that’s what it’s going to take. I say, “Hey, he got there. That’s all that matters. And, if you get a literary agent, it doesn’t usually take 600 queries!
K.S.: Are we going to talk about some of the things you had me do during the coaching process itself, after the introductory coaching call?
Mark Malatesta: Yes, that was my next question. What do you have to say about that, that you think would be interesting or helpful? Whether it’s what we did with the query, researching literary agents, or the strategy? Absolutely anything.
K.S.: Okay, great, because there are just some things with your process that I would like to talk about because they’re interesting. I also thought they were kind of strange, so I want to talk about them. The first thing you wanted me to do was get author endorsements, contact some authors willing to [consider] giving me a blurb if I got published. I thought, What New York Times bestselling author is going to say, “Oh sure I’ll blurb your book, you unknown, unpublished author.”
But I followed you blindly and did exactly what you said. I remember being so skeptical about that, but I sent out my first couple of emails and just a few hours later I got my first reply from an author. It was very encouraging. Ultimately, I got five yeses and two maybes. I thought, Oh, that’s easy. And, much to my surprise, when I got my book deal the authors all kept their word!
Mark Malatesta: You followed up already?
K.S.: I did, yes. And it’s so cool that I have a blurb from a New York Times bestselling author of over 30 books, and some of those books have been made in the movies.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 12
Mark Malatesta: You didn’t tell me that…
K.S.: Sorry about that. But yes, I’ve got my blurbs and my publisher is ecstatic. They can’t believe it. So that is really exciting.
Mark Malatesta: I always get my clients to do that first because it’s the hardest thing. Some authors don’t want to do it because they aren’t expecting it. And they’re skeptical. But, if it works, the little bonus that comes out of doing it is, you probably felt this way, it helps you believe that maybe literary agents and publishers will respond positively as well.
K.S.: Right. And, not only that, but I think that was my first little indication of how supportive writers are of one another. The bottom line is those authors care about me, and they were excited. I got really sweet emails back from them, and I’ve got one more New York Times bestselling author. She said to follow up, she’s coming off a three-month book tour, and to contact her again. If that one happens, I will do backflips.
I’m just super excited. You know, the whole process with that, it’s just really neat. Another thing was the list of literary agents you provided, I spent 18 hours going through agencies, trying to find literary agents, and I made my own list. I thought it was pretty good, but your list was great. The way you sorted it, I knew who the top literary agents were, the ones to go after first, those who were best for specifically me and my book.
When it came time to send out queries, you had helped me write a really strong query letter too, so I felt confident. I sent out my first round of queries, I might’ve sent five or six or seven the first day. I remember at about 11:00 p.m., I started hitting send and 9:00 am the next morning, I had my first reply from a literary agent asking for the first three chapters. That blew me away, because my sad little query that I sent out before never even got so much as a rejection. This time I immediately I got a request so that was really exciting. I had known all along you were the real deal, but every step confirmed it even more. And, as you know, throughout the process, I got more requests for chapters and full manuscripts. The query letter absolutely worked.
I also received rejections, but I’d brag and say I got the best rejection letters. I really did. I got form rejections and some literary agents didn’t reply at all. But I also got a lot of encouraging and personal replies. I even had one literary agent who called my book a very good property. She said she would love to be able to consider it, but she wasn’t taking fiction anymore. She then recommended another literary agent. That was encouraging. And, you know, that’s because the query letter really got literary agents’ attention.
Mark Malatesta: I didn’t learn this fully until two years ago or so. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but we’re always learning if we’re paying attention. About two years ago, one of my authors said he noticed the quality of his rejections improved while working with me. I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Well, before, I would get form letters, across the board. Now, so much more of the time I’m getting really thoughtful, kind, encouraging, letters.” I thought that was interesting, a sign of respect for the pitch from literary agents.
K.S.: The authors that literary agents think are closer to getting a literary agent or publisher, they want to give them that little extra encouragement sometimes.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and it can help.
K.S.: It really does. Another lesson is this, it ties back to the endorsements. I learned from you through that process that sometimes you need to ask for things. I use that experience now when I have a question, I don’t understand something, or I want to ask someone a favor. I find out who to ask. It might be an author I’ve been following, or anybody else who pops into my mind. Maybe the owner of one of the writing websites I follow. I send them questions every now and then. It’s amazing how willing people are just to support and help. So, if you need a favor, you need information, find somewhere to go. I’m not shy about that at all anymore.
Mark Malatesta Interview with Karen Sargent – Pt. 13
Mark Malatesta: That’s the first time, I think, in my years doing this, I’ve heard someone say that or say it that way. I love it. You’re a more empowered and supported author now. You have more of a “can do” approach. If you don’t know something, you can always find someone who does know. It’s that simple.
K.S.: I’ll use a little story, but it may not be huge. It’s huge to me, though, about the whole ask thing. There’s a particular magazine that reviews books in my genre. That magazine goes out to retailers who purchase products for Christian bookstores. I emailed them and said, “Hey, how can I get my book reviewed?”
My book then ended up with the editor and I just sent the form email for the website. One Saturday afternoon, the editor emailed me back, and we started this great little email conversation. It ended up with us finding out we were going to be at the same conference at the same time, and she wanted to meet. So, big things can come from asking. And you don’t have anything to lose.
Mark Malatesta: Nothing to lose. I love it. Wow. Alright. You’re a dynamo and I’m so happy everything’s going the way it’s going for you. There are many more good things to come. We’re coming up now on the end of the interview now. Do you have any last thoughts, suggestions, or wisdom for everyone?
K.S.: Well, I want anybody listening to this to know you’re the real deal. I also want them to know you are not paying me a penny to say any of this, because I feel like I’m going to sound like you did, whenever I felt like I was trying to make a decision. You know, everything I’m saying is completely honest and on the up and up. I also say if authors are doing their homework, and they have any questions, and they want to know more about working with you, I would absolutely love to give back, pay it forward, like people in the writing industry have done for me. They can contact me through my blog, or my website, asking me any questions whatsoever I would be glad to help them make a decision.
For me it was a decision that resulted in me achieving what was a lifelong dream. That’s the biggest reason for anyone listening, and I just want to reinforce my experience and hope other people get to have that same experience. It feels really good to be here. You know I wrote a book, but we got it published, Mark. I don’t know if could have done this on my own, or if I could have…well, I don’t think I would have. I think there may have been a point for that manuscript to have been filed away and forgotten by now. Honestly, I do. So, I am forever grateful for the work that you put into helping me find success.
Mark Malatesta: That’s twice you’ve made me speechless. It’s gracious beyond belief and incredibly kind of you.
K.S.: Hey, I’m a teacher. That’s what I love. Helping people.
Mark Malatesta: Thank you so much. And thank you for working hard to provide value to everyone during this interview. Some people would just want to come plug their book. You’re trying to make sure people understand my process and see that. And you came sharing a lot of tips for everybody that are going to help them. So, yes, doors are just going to keep opening for you. With that approach, that’s for sure.
K.S.: I hope so. Thanks, Mark.
This interview with Mark Malatesta was recorded with Karen Sargent, who worked with the former literary agent. As a result, Karen’s book, Waiting for Butterflies, is now published by Amphorae/Walrus Publishing–and it was winner of the IAN book awards for both Outstanding Christian Fiction and Book of the Year.
More About Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta is the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this popular How to Get a Literary Agent Guide. He is the host of Ask a Literary Agent, and founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover. Mark’s articles have appeared in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac.
Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. His authors 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.