Four takeaways from lunch with an agent

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with a real-life literary agent. This was pretty exciting for me because up until this point I’ve actually never met an agent. I’ve really only ever interacted with them via the internet. Also, I use the term interact loosely. I mostly mean ‘I’ve only read their blog/article/tweet.’

I digress. Sara Megibow was our speaker. She’s an agent who works here in Denver for Nelson Literary LLC. She was a great person to speak because she brought great energy to the hour plus we spent with her. I’m kinda intimidated by agents (they have so much power!), but she is not an intimidating person in the slightest. She obviously loves books and publishing and that shows. I found a lot of what she said to be helpful, but here are my four big takeaways:

1. Publishing the old fashioned way is still alive and well

The big debate (or one of the big debates) in the book world is whether or not self-publishing is the new way to go. Ms. Megibow broke it down for us. It’s a definite option for some people, but publishing the old fashioned way is still alive and well. Agents are important, too. They find you a publisher, obviously, but they also do things like negotiate the ebook, audio, and international rights. And the movie rights (ooo!). They also help get you reviews in those niche publications (or snazzy ones like Entertainment Weekly). When you have a publisher, they take care of a lot of thing “in-house” such as marketing for the book, so you’ve got all those people in your corner, too. There are some pros to self-publishing, but Sara’s obviously still a firm believer in the traditional way. People are making money (not buckets of money, but still) and books are being bought. And hey, it’s working. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

2. The most important thing for your novel to have is a strong narrative voice (bells and whistles be damned)

Some of the questions tossed around were “should my book have ____?” Fill in that blank with whatever trope from Young Adult fiction you want. Love interest? A vampire? A zombie? A sassy best friend? For Ms. Megibow, the answer is ‘no.’ So what does your novel need to have? For her, it’s a well-developed world and a strong narrative voice. Basically, if you strip away all the bells and whistles, is there still a good story? The answer should always be yes.

3. Different strokes for different folks

What works for one agent does not always work for another. Sara was upfront with the fact that she passed of Maggie Stiefvater’s ‘Shiver’ trilogy, which became a bestseller and now she has a pretty good book deal for herself with Scholastic. Sara says she doesn’t regret it though because it simply wasn’t her thing and that Maggie’s success is good for Maggie. An agent can only represent what they really love and since books are totally subjective, not everybody will love everything. So when the time comes to find an agent, you gotta find someone that’s right for you because that’s when the magic happens (this also kinda sounds like dating).

4. Take the time for your craft

So there’s a lot that goes on in trying to get your book published. You have to have the format right, word count, summaries, outlines, query letters, elevator pitches, (you get my drift I think), but it’s also important to take time for your craft. Or simply, take time to just write and improve as a writer. As was illustrated in my second point, it’s the story that ultimately sells. As writers, we should never shy away from dedicating some time to it.

Last but not least, she said something that really stuck with me and made me hopeful (and like I said earlier, you need lots of hope in this process): “the only people who don’t get book deals are the people who give up.”

So on that high note, I’m out.

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