Interview with Author Consultant Mark Malatesta

What is Literary Agent Undercover?

Literary Agent Undercover helps authors of all genres get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals. I founded Literary Agent Undercover in August 2011, after closing my literary agency called New Brand Agency Group (more about that below).

Literary Agent Undercover offers a free weekly newsletter, insider articles, audio and video training (including interviews with top literary agents), the world’s best Directory of Literary Agents (online), an interactive Ask a Literary Agent area (online), and 1-on-1 Coaching and Consulting Services (in person, by phone, and/or Skype).

Literary Agent Undercover is for authors that fit into one of the following categories: 1) Unpublished authors just starting to write (or pitch) their book(s), 2) Self-published authors who now want to find a real (traditional) publisher, and 3) Previously published authors who’ve lost their agent and/or publisher and want to find a new one.

Exactly what do you do in any given day?

Most days I get up at 5 am (thanks to 5 am Wake Up Call guru Bryce Chapman in Australia) and spend a few hours in my home office before going to the gym for a couple hours (weights, cardio, and laps in the pool keep me sane). Most authors would probably be surprised to learn that I only spend two days a week coaching, but I spend much of my time “offline” editing query letters, book proposals, etc.

I also post new content on my Literary Agents Blog each week, and make time to respond personally to every question and comment posted there. I do a lot of speaking at live events and online as well. And I coach high-level entrepreneurs with my wife, Ingrid Elfver, through Born Celebrity. Lastly, if it’s a Sunday afternoon or Monday night, there’s a good chance I’ll be watching American football. I’m a huge fan, much to my wife’s disappointment (football is the “f-word” in our house).

Who are some of the best-selling authors you have worked with?

Although my author consulting company Literary Agent Undercover is only two years old, I’ve already helped dozens of authors (in the United States and abroad) get the attention of top literary agents and/or book deals with major publishing houses like Random House and Thomas Nelson. Click here to see some of our Success Stories. I’ve also listed below most of the book deals I was personally responsible for as the owner of New Brand Agency, before I founded Literary Agent Undercover (I’ve excluded TV, film, stage, and other subsidiary rights for sake of space).

NONFICTION: The Marriage Plan by Aggie Jordan, Ph.D. (Broadway/Sourcebooks); Soul Sex: Tantra For Two by Pala Copeland and Al Link (NewPage); The Husband Book by Harry Harrison (Andrews McMeel); The Women’s Guide to Legal Issues by Nancy Jones (Renaissance); Say Yes to Change by George and Sedena Cappanelli (F&W); Father To Son; Mother to Son; Father to Daughter; and Mother to Daughter by Harry Harrison (Workman); Eat Or Be Eaten by Phil Porter (Prentice-Hall); The Crisis Counselor by Jeff Caponigro (Contemporary); Get Weird! by John Putzier (Amacom); Money-Tree Marketing by Patrick & Jennifer Bishop (Amacom); Creative Selling by Dave Donelson (Entrepreneur);Fearless Brewing by Brian Kunath (Chartwell); The Dog’s Drugstore by Richard Redding & Myrna Papurt (St. Martin’s). ADULT FICTION: 24/7 and Black Valley by Jim Brown (Ballantine); Multiple Novels by Rae Foley (Simon & Schuster); BloodTrail by Michael Sullivan (Jameson). YOUNGER READERS: The Body of Christopher Creed and many other young adult novels by Carol Plum-Ucci  (Harcourt); The Finnegan Zwake Mystery Series by Michael Dahl (Pocket/Scholastic); The Young Shakespeare Mystery Series by Linda Fisher (Hyperion); The Misfits, Inc. Mystery Series by Mark Delaney (Peachtree); Multiple Young Adult Novels by Susan Rottman (Peachtree/Penguin).

Please note that I’m no longer an active literary agent—the only work that I do now with authors is in a coaching/consulting capacity. Also, “Mark Malatesta” is my birth name and “Mark Ryan” is my stepfather’s name. So, if you’re Googling me to check out my literary agent history, make sure you search for “New Brand Agency” and/or “Mark Ryan.” When I was 16 years old (and didn’t know better) my mother remarried and asked me to take on my stepfather’s name. I agreed but never developed a meaningful relationship with my stepfather, so I finally changed my name back to my birth name “Mark Malatesta” in 2007 (after I stopped being a literary agent).

 

How does having an agent benefit an author?

There are many benefits to having a literary agent. The most important one is the fact that 95% of traditional publishers like Random House don’t accept unsolicited submissions from authors. If you send them your material, they’ll return it to you unopened. Literary agents are essentially gatekeepers that read (on average) more than 1,000 pitches each month from authors. Then they take the best of the best and work (for free) until they get you a book deal (and collect a commission if they’re successful).

Here are some other reasons to work with a literary agent:

Agents Know Exactly Who to Send Your Book To

Book agents are familiar with individual publishers and their lists. Agents are also intimate with the preferences, strengths, and weaknesses of individual editors at publishing houses. That knowledge will allow your agent to submit your book to the perfect editors at the best publishers for you.

Publishers Will Take Your Work More Seriously

Top agents have access to senior editors and other publishing executives due to the agent’s track record of success. This allows agents to pitch books face-to-face (sometimes with the author present), submit books to publishers simultaneously, hold auctions, and get deals done faster.

You’ll Get Better Contract Terms

Book agents are skilled negotiators who can get you larger advances and higher royalty rates, multi-book deals, bonuses for any awards or special recognition that your book gets, a bigger promotional budget, hardcover and paperback edition commitments, an earlier publication date, etc.

Your Agent Will Troubleshoot Any Problems

Agents handle any challenges that come up during the publication or post-publication process, so you don’t have to. For example: editors that are difficult, fired, laid-off, or retire; title changes or bad book cover design; bad reviews or publicity; poor book sales; changes in the industry or marketplace; etc.

Your Agent Might Bring You Extra Book Ideas & Book Deals

You might not be aware of this, but top book agents often bring their authors ideas for new books. Sometimes those book ideas are something the agent came up with. Other times, the ideas are something an editor with a publishing house came up with. There’s never been an easier way to get a book deal.

What can authors do before they seek an agent that will help them get one?

My answer to this question will make some authors very happy; it will irritate others. That’s because I’m going to say something that many authors won’t be expecting and might not want to hear.

Here it is…

Learning how to write a bestselling book often has a lot less to do with talent than most authors realize.

Yes, talent is overrated.

And that’s not just my opinion.

If you want to know how to write a bestseller, you probably don’t need more natural talent. You need a writer’s education. And I’m not talking about some literary, highbrow, ivory tower education made up of academia and MFAs (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m talking about a practical, down-to-earth, reality-based, how to write a bestseller education. And that type of education is made up of seven simple parts.

Which one(s) do you need to add to your repertoire?

HOW TO WRITE A BESTSELLER – 7 STEPS

Conscious Reading

You can’t learn how to write a bestselling book without reading a lot… but I don’t just mean reading bestselling authors in your genre that you admire. You should also be reading bestselling authors in your genre that you don’t like. And, you should read bestselling authors in other genres.

You also need to read consciously. When you’re reading purely for pleasure, you can permit yourself to get lost in a author’s story or style. However, when you’re reading for business(how to write a bestseller), you should be studying the context of what you’re reading.

Pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling as you’re reading. Peek “behind the curtain” where the author is busy pulling his/her strings. Try to deconstruct what’s happening, and why. When you feel something, try to figure out what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.

Writing, Writing, Writing

This should be obvious, but some writers think they can learn how to write a bestselling book without paying their dues. In other words, you can’t learn how to write a bestseller without spending thousands of hours writing. I’m talking pure volume here.

A good idea for a bestselling book isn’t the same as a good idea for a bestselling book in the hands of an experienced writer.

Rewriting

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is measuring themselves (mainly) by how much writing they’ve done. But it’s not just volume that matters. It’s quality. And the best way to improve the quality of your writing is rewriting. Unfortunately, hard work alone doesn’t always lead to extraordinary results. It has to be the right hard work.

In other words, if you want to learn how to how to write a bestselling book, you have to design your “writing time” to your specific needs. For example, most writers spend most (or all) of their writing time doing one thing: writing. And they spend very little (or no time at all) rewriting. Some writers do this for ten years, write ten books during that time, and never get published (because they didn’t write ten good books, they wrote ten first drafts).

Studying the Craft of Writing

Most writers understand that they need to spend time studying the craft of writing, but I want to encourage authors to do more… expand their range of study to new areas.

Read books that might not seem (at first) to apply to you like books on humor, suspense, story, mystery, horror, romance, etc. If you want to learn how to write a bestselling book, start by having a more eclectic approach in what you study. This will make your writing richer, no matter what genre you’re in.

Here are a few books to get you started:
 10 Best Books for Writers.

Studying the Business of Writing

If you consider yourself a “creative artist” you might resist this idea or be intimidated by it. Don’t be. Check out this one simple resource to help you get more educated and stay plugged in: Publishers Marketplace.

If you want to become a bestselling author, it will show you deals being done, who’s doing them, and more. 40,000+ publishing professionals are part of this community. There’s a free newsletter you can subscribe to as well. And there’s a paid option that gives you access to even more goodies.

Case Studies

One of the best shortcuts to learning how to write a bestselling book is case studies… learning how other bestselling authors became successful. The act of writing books, proposals, and query letters takes a lot of time. Don’t experiment. Take advantage of those who’ve gone before you.

For example, let’s say you need to write a query letter to get a literary agent. You might have read a book or two about query letters, but you’ll write a much better query letter if you have a case study to look at first. In other words, a before and after example of a query letter that eventually led to success…with a detailed explanation of the changes that were made, and why.

Case studies let you see what you would have done differently than the subject. This process of focusing on different scenarios and evaluating different solutions is powerful. That’s why the “case method” is used by top universities around the world like Harvard and Yale.

Studying theory is great, but it’s much more beneficial to see that theory applied in real-life situations that resulted in success. Guessing is for the amateur. Case studies are for the professional writer who wants to learn how to write a bestseller.

Coaching and/or Consulting

If you want to learn how to write a bestselling book, coaching is possibly the most important piece of the puzzle. It requires the biggest investment, but it can also save you years of wasted time and lots of money working with editors and/or publishing companies that aren’t the best fit for you. Virtually every bestselling author has had some type of coaching, for good reason.

If you want to learn how to how to write a bestseller, you’ll need some help to see things that you’d never see alone. And you’ll need help overcoming things that you can’t overcome alone. Coaching is about discovering shortcuts, being held accountable (for some people), and having someone on your side who’s actually already “been there and done that”.

No one can guarantee you’ll write a bestselling book, but this 7-part process is as close as you’ll get to a proven formula. These are the things that you can actually control (unlike natural talent or ability, if there even is such a thing).

Focus on them.

And, make sure you’re dividing up your time properly based on what you really need… instead of what you want (don’t neglect one of the areas above that you know you should be focusing on). If you want to learn how to write a bestseller, you need to treat your writing more like a business… and less like a hobby. I don’t mean to take the romance out of writing, but a balanced writer’s education is the key to helping you write a bestseller.

And that’s pretty romantic in my book.

 

MARK MALATESTA is the author who went “undercover” as a literary agent for five years to find out how to get his own books published. During that time, Mark became a NY Times bestselling literary agent and helped many authors launch their writing careers with major publishers like Random House. The result was millions of books sold along with projects being picked up for TV, stage, and feature film (with companies like Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks). Mark’s authors have gotten 6-figure advances, been on the NY Times bestseller list, been licensed in more than 30 countries, and won countless national and international awards and honors. Now Mark is helping authors of all genres get top literary agents and book deals through his new training and consulting company called Literary Agent Undercover. Get instant access to Mark’s FREE 60-minute mp3 training: Seven Secrets Every Author Needs to Know… to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal, weekly newsletter, insider articles, Directory of Literary Agents, interactive Ask a Literary Agentarea of his website, and information about his1-on-1 coaching and consulting services. Click Here Now to Become a Publishing Insider with Literary Agent Undercover.

 

©Mark Malatesta & Literary Agent Undercover. All rights reserved.

 

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