Sara Megibow is a literary agent from the Nelson Literary Agency representing primarily genre including romance, science fiction/fantasy and young adult/middle grade books. Not only has she midwifed some of our favorite books—our own Michael R. Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY, Tiffany Reisz’s THE SIREN and Jason M. Hough’s DARWIN ELEVATOR—but she’s been educating the world about publishing and writing on Twitter for years! Sara runs the fantastic #5pagesin5tweets Twitter series, where she looks at the first five pages of a submitted manuscript and tweets about it. We asked her share advice on what’s needed before you query a literary agent. -NG.
Think of your manuscript as a canvas. A painter steps in front of a canvas to craft a painting. That painter uses different brushes, different colors, different techniques, even different kinds of paint to create her/his art. This is how I think of writing. Same thing–the writer has different tools at her or his disposal to tell a story. That writer can use dialogue, back story, conflict and plot, world building, body language, action/reaction and any number of devices to tell a story. When I’m reading submissions, I’m looking for balance. No one is getting a rejection simply because paragraph two on page three has too much dialogue. Rather, the overall storytelling in the first five pages is what I’m evaluating.
Some words I’d use to describe excellent submissions I’ve read over the years: effortless, authentic, surprising, engaging, unique, balanced.
As far as my advice for the Book Country writers who want to query me one day:
#1 – Keep doing your research. If you are a writer and you are querying me, then I assume you are interested in having a book published. If that’s true, then the more (accurate!) information you gather about publishing will help. Book Country is an excellent resource! Also, here are some more wonderful and accurate resources for writers:
#2 – Keep reading. Read books in your genre that have been published in the past two years by major New York publishing houses. Especially read books by debut authors as that gives you an idea of what it takes for you to break into this world.
#3 – Keep writing! The only way to fail at publishing is to quit. So, keep writing. Try a writing conference, join SFWA (for SF/F writers), RWA (for romance writers), and SCBWI (for young adult, middle grade and picture book writers), find a critique group, attend a publishing lecture—anything to inspire you in your writing and help you learn about the craft.
#4 – Support your local independent bookstore. If you are serious about getting published, then understand how important these bookstores are to your future. If we lose bookstores, we lose the ability to break out new authors as bookstores are our most important asset for discovery. Please avoid walking into a bookstore, speaking with a bookseller, walking out and then ordering that book from home instead. This is not only rude, it’s disintegrating your ability to get published. Your local indie is a two hour drive away? Then shop at Powell’s online or Mysterious Galaxy online or Boulder Bookstore online. Buy print books, buy electronic books, buy audio books—buy books for yourself, for your kids, as gifts, for teachers, for librarians, for friends, for housewarming parties. And whenever possible—support local.
#5 – You’re ready to query me? Go for it! I am actively acquiring and I’m hungry for those query letters. Bring ’em on! Make sure your manuscript is 100% ready and make sure it’s in a genre that I represent. Read our submission guidelines at www.nelsonagency.com and read sample query letters on Kristin’s blog. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter, @SaraMegibow—I say a lot and some of it may even be useful.
[This is the first part of our publishing tell-all interview with agent Sara Megibow.]