Literary Spotlight: Agent Sara Megibow

Hello Beardies,

For a while now, I’ve been trying to secure an interview with a literary agent to be able to share with all of you.  After several “Tweets” over several weeks, I finally received an agent who was kind enough to agree to one.

Today I am excited to bring you The Bearded Scribe‘s first ever Literary Spotlight featuring Sara Megibow, an Associate Literary Agent at the Nelson Literary Agency.

Photo by Daniel Hirsch

Sara has been with the Nelson Literary Agency since early 2006.  She was promoted in early 2009 to Associate Literary Agent, and is now actively accepting submissions of her own.  From sexy romance to epic fantasy, Sara has loved reading since picking up her first copy of The Hobbit.  She lives in sunny Boulder with her beat-boxing husband, adorable son, and two fuzzy cats.

Oh, and I found out she’s a fellow born-and-raised New Englander, which is, as we say there, WICKED awesome!

Without further ado, here is my interview with Sara:

The Bearded Scribe: What influenced your decision to become a literary agent and what training or qualifications are needed to enter the field?

Sara Megibow: Thanks Joshua for inviting me here for your interview!

I graduated from Northwestern University with a women’s studies degree and worked for several years as a corporate trainer for GE. Publishing fascinates me because I love books – there’s really no more complex answer than that. We’re part of the entertainment industry, but its definitely not the glamour that attracts me to this work. I simply love books.

As for qualification – most literary agents are entrepreneurs (true of me also). Remember that we’re commission sales people who must be comfortable going a long time (years usually) without steady pay so we tend to be risk-takers interested in a challenge. Honestly, I wish I’d had a law degree – so much of my job is contract negotiation and the nuance of contracts is hard work.

The Bearded Scribe: If you don’t mind, describe a typical day in the life of a literary agent.

Sara Megibow:  Great question! 90% of my time is spent serving my current clients (I have 21 of them and hope to get as big as 25 some day). I plan submissions, negotiate contracts, plan publicity & promotion campaigns. I sell subsidiary rights (audio, film, foreign translation and hopefully gaming rights soon) and audit the royalty statements for all sales. Mostly I answer questions and respond to emails all day long – it takes the effort of dozens of people to make and sell a book and coordinating their questions, ideas, concerns and feedback is time consuming. Yes, I also read new submissions (query letters, sample pages, submissions from conferences, full manuscripts), but that’s the minority of my time each week – maybe 10% or so. I also read one romance novel, one young adult novel and one science fiction/ fantasy novel per week, but that’s all on my own time (those are the genres of work that I represent so I try to keep current on what’s in the market)

The biggest misconception people have about a literary agent is that she or he is at work combing through the slush pile and reading material. That’s just not true – my job is to support my clients and that’s what you want your literary agent doing for you too.

The Bearded Scribe: What advice would you give to my readers who are about to go—or have already gone—through the process of Querying agents? (General DOs and DONTs that aren’t necessarily found in Submission Guidelines.) Are there specific things to avoid that you would say receive an automatic “No” from most agents?

Sara Megibow: Many agencies work differently and have different submission guidelines, so there aren’t any general sweeping rules. READ an agent’s submission guidelines before sending anything – that’s a given. My rules are likely different than someone else’s rules and sadly yes, you need to tailor your submission per agent.

So, this is MY response and it may not be true of other agents:

  • query one book at a time. If you’ve written 17 novels that’s great and it’s a conversation to have after I offer representation. In the query letter though, pitch one book only
  • only submit a fully completed manuscript. Here’s an insider secret – not only must it be fully complete, it needs to be ready to send immediately. That seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times we request a full and the writer emails back to say “great! I’m completing edits now and you’ll see this submission next month.”
  • have patience. There are tons of great ways to make a book – I only represent one of them. My goal is to take debut writers and sell their books to a major NY Publishing House (that covers big presses and small presses, but in general they are companies that pay an advance for print and electronic rights). There are oodles of great reasons to submit your work on your own to an independent press and there are oodles of great reasons to self publish. However, if you’ve done either one of those things before querying me, know that it’s an automatic no thank you. Once your rights have been exercised somewhere, I am not interested in trying to re-sell. This is different from many agents so read the agent’s guidelines before querying. In fact, we’ve already seen one exception to this rule at our agency – my boss signed Hugh Howey (Wool) but he was selling a LOT of copies of his books per month and she loved the book. 
  • this is an obvious one, but continues to be the #1 reason we send out rejection letters: KNOW your genre. If you imagine walking into a bookstore, on what shelf would you find your book? This is super easy for most of you, but for you newbies, this is absolutely step number one (after writing the book). Do you write young adult fiction? Did you write a romance novel? Is this sf/f for adults? You don’t have to be able to toss around industry terms like I do, but you should know what you’ve written.
  • do your research. It’s been said before, but it’s that important. Writing your book is your #1 job. After that, it’s doing your research. Here are some great sites for new writers: (the associate of AUTHOR’S representatives–NOT literary agent representatives and NOT editors’ representatives) (a great place to learn about an agent before submitting) (to find agents who represent your genre of work) (cross reference a literary agent here to make sure they are legitimate)

The Bearded Scribe: Describe your ideal project.

Sara Megibow: That’s a tough one because the answer is never really all that satisfying. I want to read a book that’s written with superior quality and has an engaging and unique story. I represent young adult and middle grade fiction, romance novels and science fiction and fantasy for adults so as long as it’s in one of those genres, the content itself is irrelevant to me. I see a ton of good books in the slush pile – even very good books. But, I’m looking for exceptional writing.

The Bearded Scribe: What is your favorite book? And given the overall genre of this blog, what is your favorite Speculative Fiction book?

Sara Megibow: Favorite book of all time? The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  🙂

In current speculative fiction, my favorite is probably All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear. Also, it’s important to give a shout out here to Michael Underwood, debut author of Geekomancy, which hit the shelves last month. He’s a client and an example of speculative/ urban fantasy author who just blows me away with his genius. Needless to say, I’m a huge fangirl.

The Bearded Scribe: Is there anything else that you would like to share with The Bearded Scribe‘s readers that I did not ask you (and you wished I had)?

Sara Megibow: Honestly, no – this was a wonderful interview that covered great topics. Thank you again!
I just want to again say “Thank You” to Sara for the opportunity to pick her brain, especially after learning she rarely does interviews!  🙂
If you would like to connect with Sara–either for querying or just because you think she’s a wicked cool cat (which she totally is!)–you can do so via the following mediums:
Publishers Marketplace: Publishers Marketplace is the biggest and best dedicated marketplace for publishing professionals to find critical information and unique databases, find each other, and to do business better electronically.  Visit Sara’s Publishers Marketplace Page to find out if she represents the genre in which you write and also to find out more about querying criteria.
Twitter: This is a real great way to connect with Sara–it is how I did.  I think it’s great that more and more authors and publishing professionals are using this medium to connect with clients and fans alike. Follow Sara Megibow on Twitter @SaraMegibow–and be sure to tell you that @beardedscribe sent you! 🙂
Facebook: Like Twitter, a Facebook page has become a staple for connecting with Fans and Followers.  Be sure to “Like” Sara’s Facebook Page for updates directly in your newsfeed!
{On a side note, please be sure to visit The Bearded Scribe‘s Facebook Page, too!}
Thank you all for tuning in, and until next time…


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