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Sara Megibow Interview – Part Three

Welcome to the third and final part of our interview with Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency, where we talk fantasy specifics.

With amazing clients in the genre such as Michael R. Underwood (Geekomancy), Betsy Dornbusch (Exile), Eleri Stone (the upcoming Reaper’s Touch), and Steve Vera (the Drynn series)—as well as those mentioned earlier in the interview—Sara is perfectly placed to talk about what she looks for in a fantasy query that has the potential to sell.

Not only that, but she also gives us a few hints as to what us fantasy writers might look for in an agent.

Your ‘10 queries in 10 tweets’ on Twitter is a fantastic resource for aspiring authors, showing you diving into the slush pile and keeping followers informed of what does and doesn’t make the grade, and why. So what is it about a query that makes you request a partial or even a full manuscript?

Sara MegibowFrom the outside looking in, the query process seems crazy. It *shouldn’t* work. It’s impersonal. And, it’s tough on writers. Believe me, I know this and struggle with it too; I wish there was time to critique queries and sample pages and full manuscripts when they come in. My default answer is, “If I was your literary agent, you’d want me shopping subsidiary rights and rounding up great publicity leads and not critiquing the slush pile.” But even that feels heartless to all the talented writers out there who get the ‘no thank you’ standard rejection letter.

So, here’s what I will say about queries—they DO work (or, at least, they work for me; other agents might have a different process). All my clients, except one, came from a query letter out of the slush pile. So, I know great query letters translate to book deals. That being said, what am I looking for? What results in an ACCEPT?

Exceptional writing and a unique story. I want the query letter to sound like the back cover of a novel. It should be short, sweet, intriguing, engaging and make me want to read more. Of course I want to know who, what, where, when and why, and those details should reflect the author’s authentic narrative voice.

Here’s a helpful tool: if you write young adult fantasy, go to the bookstore and pull 3-5 young adult fantasy books written in the past 2 years and published by major NY publishing houses. Read the back cover copy. THIS is what you are going for. Same thing if you write fantasy for adults: go to the bookstore and find 3-5 adult fantasy books published in the past 2 years by major publishers and read the cover copy. That’s what your query should sound like.

On Twitter, I run #10queriesIn10tweets and #5pagesIn5tweets as a public service to help writers learn more about the query process. So, if you’re on Twitter, stop by some time and perhaps I’ll share more juicy tidbits.

Also, here are some excellent additional query resources:

Evil Editor
The Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents—Successful Queries
Galleycat—Successful Query Letters for Literary Agents

Aside from your Twittering, your agency seems to be that rare breed that remains accessible to unsigned writers by providing a hell of a lot of content to help them improve their craft.

Kristin Nelson was one of the first agents to begin blogging on the world of publishing way back in 2006 with Pub Rants (still going strong), while your Submissions Coordinator Anita has another fantastic blog, Word Café, offering tips, tricks and advice for the aspiring author. You guys truly stand out from the crowd on this score.

What motivates you to give so much away to writers that you may never end up working with?

That’s a great question. We know that the query process is daunting and feels inhumane. Kristin’s motto has always been to pay it forward by providing helpful content to writers. So, she blogs and Anita writes articles and I tweet and we really are simply looking to support authors on their journey. Paying it forward—that’s what motivates us.

What should writers—especially fantasy writers—look for in a literary agent?

Fantasy writers, in my opinion, should be looking for an agent who sells fantasy novels. If you write fantasy for young adults or middle grade audiences, make sure the agent reps young adult and middle grade books. If you write fantasy for adults, then make sure the agent reps fantasy for adults.

In addition, I would recommend looking for an agent who reads and enjoys fantasy novels for fun too. This is definitely a good question to ask an agent when she/he calls to offer you representation.

Finally, I would personally advocate for an agent who attends some conferences—World Fantasy, WorldCon, ComicCon, Nebulas, etc—these conferences are great places to learn about the industry and meet with industry professionals and it’s nice to know that your business partner is a part of it. This year, I attended San Diego ComicCon. Last year, it was World Fantasy and New York ComicCon.

So, in short, fantasy writers should be looking for agents who love to read fantasy and who have successfully sold fantasy novels. Of course, they should also be, in general, a good agent. If you want two helpful sites that share lists of legitimate literary agents and not legitimate literary agents, read: Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors.

Sara Megibow - The Hero and The Crown (cover)And finally, why fantasy?

This might be the hardest question yet. I suppose it’s like asking “why chocolate?” or “why coffee?”! My first fantasy love was THE HERO AND THE CROWN by Robin McKinley—this was 4th or 5th grade and I’ve loved fantasy ever since. My bookshelves are packed with books that make me smile: Naomi Novik’s TEMERAIRE series, Carol Berg’s TRANSFORMATION series, and books by Patrick Rothfuss, Scott Lynch, Carrie Vaughn, and Brandon Sanderson.

I can pass by a clothing store any day of the week and not spend a dime, but bookstores are my crack. I spent over $2000 at Boulder Bookstore last year and that’s with an office full, floor to ceiling, with free books shipped to us every day. So, perhaps it’s an addiction and perhaps it’s a passion. In any event, I’m thrilled that fantasy is my life.

A HUGE thank you to Sara for taking the time to talk with us in such detail about her role! I hope you found it as entertaining and informative as I did.

If you’re a writer about to embark on that frightening next step of querying, be sure to check out the Nelson Literary Agency for more information, as well as tips and tricks on the whole process. You can also follow Sara on Twitter @SaraMegibow.

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One Comment

  1. Tim says:

    $2000 at a bookstore?! (My wife would sooo kill me!)

    Thank you so much for sharing!

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