Posted On August 10, 2011 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – You’re Fired!

Sara Megibow returns to her monthly gig with us to talk about the big pink elephant in the room: Do you need an agent?  Her answers are fresh, surprising, and absolutely candid.  We never expect any less from Sara.


Just last month, a query came through the slush pile that ended like this, “I hope you love my pitch. However, if you don’t – no worries, I don’t need an agent to get published anyway.”

In other words, “Dear Agent – You’re FIRED!”

I didn’t take it personally because I tend to agree with this writer – no, you don’t really need an agent in order to get published. I like to think that I’m a great business partner for writers who DO want an agent – I certainly want to feel essential to them.  Still, here are a few of the things I do for my clients and how you could take them on (effectively) if you decide to go it alone.

1)     Editing. I read my clients’ books and offer editorial feedback. Sometimes it’s intense and I request several rounds of revisions. Sometimes my notes are just bits of polishing here and there. A savvy author can hire an editor instead – there are plenty of editors with excellent reputations and experience who work freelance (especially editors laid off from their jobs in NY).

2)     Submissions. One of the big reasons that fiction writers are on an agent-hunt is that many NY publishing houses do not accept un-agented submissions. There are ways around this too, though. Many editors attend national and regional RWA conferences and take pitches in person. You can circumvent the system by simply pitching at conferences instead of via an agent. The drawback, of course, is that this may cost more money. But, if you really feel that your manuscript is superior, you should have the same chance of signing a book deal in person as you would through representation. Of course, there are small presses that accept un-agented submissions, so you could go that route too. There are e-presses that accept un-agented submissions and they are wonderful. And, of course, one could always self-publish.

3)     Contract negotiation. My boss, Kristin Nelson, has posted an entire “Agenting 101” series on her blog about how to understand and negotiate a contract. It starts here and it’s fabulous reading! An un-agented author could negotiate their own contract (if they REALLY understand it first) or simply hire an entertainment lawyer with expertise in publishing contracts.

4)     Auditing royalty statements. Our agency has recently hired a royalty statement auditor. She checks each royalty statement against each contract to make sure every payment is 100% correct. One could absolutely do this at home – it takes meticulous care (or knowing a friend who is a CPA). Here’s an example – if your contract says you should get paid 8% of the cover price of your novel for the first 10,000 copies sold and 10% of the cover price thereafter, then it’s important to watch each royalty statement to make sure that 10,001st copy is accounted for correctly.

5)     Planning marketing campaigns. Our agency also has a marketing director on staff (*waves* to the fabulous Lindsay Mergens, a 20+ year veteran of the marketing side of NY publishing). I find it’s very useful to have a template for new authors that says “6 months before release you should be doing this…” “4 months before release you should be doing this..” “this is the date that your publicist will likely be assigned and this is the date by which buy-in should happen.” We also spend time scheduling guest blog posts and interviews, updating websites and blogs and trying out other forms of social media like twitter and Facebook. This is probably the easiest realm for savvy authors to negotiate alone. If one is very organized and motivated, one should be able to plan a competitive marketing campaign with nothing more than time and a computer.

6)     Problem solving when something goes wrong. Honestly, this is where I spend most of my time. I respond to emails, follow up on submissions, double check cover copy, nudge on deadlines, ask about payments, etc. I’m a great teammate or business partner for the author that wants to offload questions so s/he can simply keep writing. If you are super organized and love to be in control of your entire career, this is likely something you would do for yourself anyway.

My vision for my career is this – I intend to have a small list of clients and provide a ton of value-add to their publishing careers. That value add includes the services mentioned above as well as things like tracking sales, communicating about the market, capitalizing on networking and promotional opportunities, sharing best practices, planning careers, brainstorming book ideas, etc. I expect that as publishing continues to change there will be many successful authors who do not need an agent in order to succeed (and by “succeed” I mean they will create a book of superior quality and enjoy profitable sales on that book). I want to be the agent for authors who do want a business partner. I’m not for everyone and that’s 100% ok with me. If you don’t need an agent, like the author from the above query letter, be organized, professional, meticulous, educated and go for it!


So, what questions do you have for Sara about whether you need an agent or want to try it solo? Have you already thought this question and come to your own conclusion? Share with us the reasons behind your decision.

NOTE: Sara is moving today and she will be in and out of the site depending on the reality of making sure her kitchen utensils make it on the moving truck. She’s going to do her best to get to as many questions as she can.

One lucky commenter will win the following:
HIS AT NIGHT by Sherry Thomas
RITA award winner for Best Historical Romance, 2011

Love is hottest in the darkness before dawn.

Elissande Edgerton is a desperate woman, a virtual prisoner in the home of her tyrannical uncle. Only through marriage can she claim the freedom she craves. But how to catch the perfect man?

Lord Vere is used to baiting irresistible traps. As a secret agent for the government, he’s tracked down some of the most devious criminals in London, all the while maintaining his cover as one of Society’s most harmless—and idiotic—bachelors. But nothing can prepare him for the scandal of being ensnared by Elissande.

Forced into a marriage of convenience, Elissande and Vere are each about to discover they’re not the only one with a hidden agenda. With seduction their only weapon against each other—and a dark secret from the past endangering both their lives—can they learn to trust each other even as they surrender to a passion that won’t be denied?

Stop by Friday when our very own Adrienne Giordano writes about her “a-ha” moment as a debut author.


Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC

Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.

Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http:// submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site ( is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibow

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28 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – You’re Fired!”

  1. Hi Sara,

    Thanks for the great post. I want an agent for all the reasons you mentioned above. Working full-time along with my writing schedule has given me a healthy understanding of my limitations.

    I’m lucky in that my publisher does a great marketing campaign, even for debuts, my editor has a good feel for what the story needs to be successful, and my agent is wonderful at brainstorming and helping me through revisions.

    There’s still a lot I’ll need to do, but my team helps with many of the tasks.

    Even with all this, it’s still difficult to get enough words on the page to meet my deadline. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I didn’t have their help.

    Be eternally late, perhaps. 🙂


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 10, 2011, 4:35 am
  2. Hi Sara. Great post. You answered lots of my personal questions about my personal need for an agent.

    Now to do some serious thinking on my part! 🙂

    Posted by Cynthia D'Alba | August 10, 2011, 5:03 am
  3. Hi Sara,

    Great post and very helpful for someone who’s trying to farm out their first book and launch their writing career.

    One of the main reasons I’ve stuck to querying agents and not both editors and agents is that when I do get an agent, I don’t want to run out of editors she can sell my book to. Is this true? If say, Sourcebooks rejects a direct submission from me, once I get agented can the same book be submitted to Sourcebooks again? (with revisions based on ancient agent wisdom) or does it go automatically into a ‘rejected never to be touched again’ pile?

    Good luck with your move, may all your utensils make it home safe and sound,


    Posted by Sonali Mayadev Thatte | August 10, 2011, 5:44 am
    • Hi Sonali –

      Different agents would probably approach this kind of situation differently. For me, personally, if a writer has submitted a book to a publishing house before signing with me, then I want to know about it. If a publishing house has passed on the work already, then 90% of the time I would not submit to that house again. I very rare cases, if the manuscript were totally 100% different, I would consider re-submitting. But, essentially (for me), you are correct – a no from an editor means a no with or without an agent.


      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 1:33 pm
      • Hi Sara,

        Is that only true for a book submission or for queries also? If a query was rejected, can you as an agent re-query?



        Posted by Sonali Mayadev Thatte | August 11, 2011, 1:44 pm
        • Well, we don’t send queries to editors – we only send manuscripts. So, if a writer has sent a query and the query has been rejected then it’s not likely I would send that same manuscript to that same editor. We might try a different editor at that imprint in that case.

          That kind of decision would likely be made on an individual basis. Personally, for me, I don’t send projects to publishing houses that have already seen it (in query form or manuscript form), but there may be exceptions and there may be agents who would do it differently.


          Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 2:06 pm
  4. Sara – Once again a great post! At this point,I’m not looking for an agent but sometimes I wish I had someone in my corner that is looking out for me. This is a difficult business to navigate at times.

    Thanks for some awesome insight!


    Posted by Robin Covington | August 10, 2011, 6:49 am
    • You are so totally correct!

      Some people prefer agents, some people prefer to work without agents – publishing can go either way and be successful. I was thinking about it today and I feel that 90% of my job is managing expectations – you know, keeping my clients aware of where they are in the process, what they can (or should) be doing, what to expect and when to expect it and alleviating fears.

      Thanks again for having me here!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 2:14 pm
  5. Morning Sara!

    Great post, thanks!

    I feel like this is a stupid question, but I’m going to ask it anyway! Is it possible to have an agent for SOME of the books you write, but not every single one?

    =) Something I’ve always wondered…

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 10, 2011, 7:01 am
    • Yes, absolutely! For example, if you write young adult novels and self help nonfiction, then likely you would have an agent for each segment of your career.

      If you write only young adult novels and want an agent to shop and sell and manage 5 of them while you shop and sell and manage 5 different ones, that could get tricky (the non-compete clauses in fiction contracts may prevent simultaneous competing publication), but that’s the only legal ramification I can think of. Otherwise the answer is yes.


      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 2:16 pm
  6. Hi Sara!

    If an author takes on all of the tasks an agent would do, how much time and/or energy does she have left to write new books and promote them?

    Hope your move goes smoothly…


    Posted by Ruth Kaufman | August 10, 2011, 7:37 am
    • Good comment!

      I wouldn’t go it alone, but that’s my personality. There are lots of super organized, super analytical writers out there who prefer to be in charge of their entire career. I think those writers will flourish without an agent.

      I’m going to be the agent for the other type – the people who want to work as a team – who want guidance, support, ideas, direction, help.

      Not saying that’s better – it’s just my slice of the pie.


      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 2:23 pm
  7. Hi Sara,

    Your letter from an aspiring author shows how people view the publishing business. Write a book, submit it, accepted (as is),bestseller list, sit back, and cash the checks. Nothing to it. Agents play a crucial part in the process. How many hours do you put into a book before its published?

    Good luck with the move,

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | August 10, 2011, 7:51 am
    • Good question!

      It differs client to client of course. I’d say minimum 40 hours before it goes to submission – with editing, strategizing, marketing (getting a website up before submissions is important to me, although other agents do it differently), communicating with the client and setting expectations and answering questions.

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 4:11 pm
  8. Good morning, Sara!

    First, I totally sympathize with the moving as I seem to do it on a frequent basis. As long as the wine opener makes it, don’t worry so much about the other utensils. 🙂

    I like the idea of viewing the author/agent relationship as an equal business partnership. However, by the very nature of author submissions to–and subsequent rejections from–agents, the process is still very much about agent approval on the front end. Do you envision a future in which agents will gain their clients through avenues they don’t currently?

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | August 10, 2011, 8:46 am
    • Good question, and the answer is probably yes. I’ve tried, in the past, to troll and actually go out to cyberspace LOOKING for clients. But, it never seems to work for me. I get too behind on my slush pile, I don’t respond to what’s in my inbox quickly enough, etc.

      Also, I try very hard to read submissions from conferences quickly – I think that’s a wonderful avenue for finding an agent or client.

      Yes, I agree that it can feel (from the writers perspective) that the process feels agent-heavy (or, as you put it, like it’s weighted for agent-approval). The trick is that, no matter how overwhelming the process feels, it still sorta works. I am looking for books that I can sell to publishing houses (otherwise I have no income). The publishing houses are looking for books that readers will buy (otherwise they have no income). Yes, some great projects get missed in the slush pile. But, for the most part I have clients that I am successfully selling. So, despite the fact that looking for an agent can be fraught with rejections, it’s part of a system that works at least 51% of the time.

      Again, it’s a great reason to skip the agent, but as an agent myself, I don’t have the analytics of how to make the process work without an agent. Make sense?

      In essence, I represent “the machine” and I know how to make “the machine” work (even in these changing times). But, there is a ton of opportunity for writers who want to operate outside “the machine” – I just wouldn’t be the one to ask. Savvy agents are looking for other ways to find clients that will sell, but we will also continue to use the avenues that have worked as long as they keep…working. 🙂

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 4:18 pm
  9. Good afternoon Sara,

    Great info as always. I’ve always thought of an agent as an important team member in the publishing world. What do you think of the 3-line online pitches that seem to be gaining popularity?

    What’s your most important kitchen utensil? Other than the wine opener.


    Posted by Joan Leacott | August 10, 2011, 2:09 pm
    • I love those pitch things! I’ve done a twitter pitch contest and LOVED the submissions I saw. I asked for a bunch of sample pages. Alas, no offers out of the pile, but it was still fun.

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 4:53 pm
  10. Hi Sara,

    Thank you for an enlightening column. I’m firmly in the “I want an agent” camp. All the things you do for the author…wow.

    Hope your move is going smoothly,

    Posted by Anne Francis | August 10, 2011, 9:13 pm
  11. Publishing is so complicated today, I wouldn’t dream of working without an agent. Of course, for so many of us the question is not whether we want an agent, but whether we can ever find an agent who wants US! 😉

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | August 11, 2011, 9:04 am
  12. Great post, Sara. The passive guy blog recently mentioned the changes in the publishing industry and the need for various participants to redefine their roles in order to continue to succeed.

    I’d be thrilled to have assistance in the areas of contract negotiations, royalty statement auditing, and marketing campaigns.

    Especially marketing, right now! Whew, lining up places to blog and advertise and whatnot really takes me away from what I really want to be doing, which is writing.

    Sounds like your career will continue to be in good shape. The services you’re offering are what many authors are still looking for. Great!

    Rose Maybud

    Posted by Rose Maybud | August 11, 2011, 1:37 pm
    • Thanks Rose –

      Like I said, I’m a great fit for some authors and probably not a great fit for others depending on what they want in their career. But, there’s lots of opportunity for all, so *cheers* to that!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | August 11, 2011, 4:56 pm
  13. Ruth Kaufman – you’re the winner for the drawing! Send me your snail mail address at



    Posted by Robin Covington | August 15, 2011, 6:02 pm
  14. Sara said: I’m going to be the agent for the other type – the people who want to work as a team – who want guidance, support, ideas, direction, help.

    This totally sums up the reasons I continue to query agents when I see so many other emerging writers going it on their own. No judgment on them, but I want that collaborative/team feel with my career. It’s what I’ve experienced in theatre and in my past professional life in mental healthcare. That’s how I work best. Even though being repped is just the first step after that fabulous ms is finished, I think it also can be a milestone that enhances a writer’s attitude toward her work. I’m glad publishing is evolving into a place where either model is available.

    Thanks for your perspective, Sara, and you have my sympathies on moving. I just did it last year with 2 little ones under 5 and said never again.


    Posted by Jennifer Barber | August 15, 2011, 11:29 pm

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