Posted On November 9, 2011 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The Creation of an Agent’s TBR Pile

I’m a snoopy person by nature. I can watch marathons of “House Hunters” and “Property Virgins” on HGTV and never get tired of getting that peek behind everyone’s closed door. I try not be creepy – I just love to know what makes people tick. And, I’ll confess, one of my favorite things to do is to take a look at someone’s bookshelves and bedside reading tables. Did you ever wonder how an agent chooses books for their bedside table? This month, RU’s favorite agent, Sara Megibow, tells us how she picks the books that make it into her TBR pile. And, she gives away two books this month to one lucky commenter!

How an agent chooses what books to read.


You’ve all likely heard of a TBR pile, yes? Otherwise known as the “To Be Read” pile – these are books that pile up on our nightstand waiting to be read. Probably you even have a TBR pile too – on a bookshelf or an iPad. As an agent, I have to choose what I read very carefully and my TBR pile is more political than most. So, how do I choose what to read?

First of all, please understand that I read queries, sample pages and full manuscripts every week. I also read and edit manuscripts sent to me by my clients (and I have 17 clients that each write between one and three books per year). I read Publishers Weekly and Publishers Marketplace and Shelf Awareness every day (as well as Locus Magazine and the Romance Writers Report every month). I read my twitter feed, blog posts from my twitter feed and blog posts by my boss, my clients and other agents. I read for fundraisers, auctions, chapter contests and Writers Digest webinars. Then, I go home and have a stack of books on my bookshelf to…read. So, that’s where we start.

Why do I buy so many books? (Yes I do buy them. I don’t mooch for freebies even though I could get them easily. AND, I usually buy from an independent bookstore – my local indies are Boulder Bookstore and Tattered Cover) First of all, I simply love to read. So, the honest answer is – I love books so I buy them because I am looking forward to reading them. The more complex answer, however, is that I buy them so I know what is in the marketplace right now.  This makes me a better agent for my clients and my future clients.

How do I choose what to buy?

1)     I choose books (especially those by debut authors) in the genres that I represent (young adult, middle grade, romance, science fiction and fantasy). I’m looking for books recently published by major publishing houses (both big press and small press). To make life interesting, I try to read one YA book, one romance and one sf/f each week (yes, that’s AFTER all my other work is done – yikes, huh?)

2)     My top priority is to read books produced by editors to whom I would like to submit. For example, I recently sold an historical romance called A TALE OF TWO SISTERS by debut author Ashlyn Macnamara (a Golden Heart finalist) to Caitlin Alexander of Ballantine Bantam Dell/ Random House. I loved PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS by Sherry Thomas which was edited by Caitlin. So, when I called to pitch TALE OF TWO SISTERS, I could say (sincerely) “I loved Sherry Thomas’s book and I’m hoping that you will love this submission which is also a very sexy historical romance.”

3)     Frequently, once I sell a client book, I go out and buy more books produced from our new editor partner. For example, Roni Loren’s upcoming debut CRASH INTO YOU is edited by the amazing Kate Seaver of Berkley Heat. Kate also edited THE PERFECT PLAY by Jaci Burton and that book is sitting on my nightstand right now. (can’t WAIT!)

4)     I buy books when I read a fabulous review. For example, raved about SCANDAL by Carolyn Jewel. I bought it and completely fell in love with the book. So, good reviews do result in sales!

5)     I buy books that hit the NYTimes bestseller list, USA Today Bestseller list or whose sales numbers are really strong.

6)     Every day I watch sales posted at When I see something that really catches my eye (especially if it’s got a really engaging pitch), I add that title to my TBR pile and buy when it releases. For example, this middle grade sale was posted in October 2010, “Sherry Shahan’s ICE ISLAND, in which a 12-year-old girl who dreams of competing in the grueling 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race gets lost during a training run in the untamed Alaskan wilderness during a freak snow storm.” ICE ISLAND comes out in January 2012 and I’ve been waiting 18 months for it. How awesome is that  – a 12 yr old wanting to race in the Iditarod?!?!

7)     I buy books from authors I find fun or engaging on twitter (yes, twitter sells books!) Megan Hart has an awesome twitter voice (@Megan_Hart) so I bought her novel NAKED last winter. I absolutely, positively rave about this book! Sooooo glad that I followed up and bought it as it’s one of my all-time favorites.

8)     There are so many awesome agents out there! When I’m at conferences, I try hard to meet (and drink with) as many of these fun people as possible. Naturally, we end up talking books. I write down their suggestions and support my agent friends. So, if I know the agent, I will likely buy the book.

9)     During my almost-six years in publishing, I’ve met some charming authors who are just fabulous people. Not my clients, but fabulous people. I buy their books too. SWEET ENEMY by Heather Snow hits shelves in Feb 2012 and Heather is one of the nicest people on the whole planet. I’ve already pre-ordered two copies and I will hunt her down and get them signed.

So, that’s about it. Books produced by editors at imprints to which I’d like to submit, books written by authors who have worked with editors I know, books I find from reviews or sales announcements or some form of social media (twitter and blogs mostly) and books by authors to whom I have some personal connection (via conferences, other agents , etc). That’s my list. And the end result is – I know what kinds of books are being written and sold right now in each of the genres that I represent. I know comparative titles, “hot” concepts and popular voices. And there is a huge pile of great stories waiting for me each night when I get home from a long day of work.


What is in your TBR pile? How do you find the books that end up on your reading list? Any books you can recommend to Sara?

On Friday, Leanna Renee Hieber talks about  Writing Adult vs. Young Adult Fiction


And for one lucky commenter, Sara will give away two books this month!

The Secret of Cypriere Bayou by Jana DeLeon

For Olivia Markham, laMalediction is the ideal setting in which to complete her work. But something is sending a chill up the usually fearless author’s spine. There are the unearthly noises, the sliding panels, the hidden passageways…and John Landry, the sexy caretaker who seems less than welcoming.

John has work of his own to do and he doesn’t need the distraction of a mysterious beauty claiming the old mansion is cursed. But he can’t ignore the fact that someone is doing everything to scare Olivia away – permenantly. Working together to uncover laMalediction’s alarming secrets and root out the evil stalking them, John finds Olivia impossible to resist, and he knows it’s only a matter of time before something unexpected – and undeniable – happens between them

Bayou Bodguard by Jana DeLeon

One remote bayou mansion was holding tight to its secrets……

Bodyguard Brian Marcentel knew Justine Chatry had a job to do, but so did he. He’d been hired to keep her safe – from whatever lurked behind the walls of a long-neglected mansion. And yet, the beautiful researcher insisted on helping him investigate every suspicious noise and following him through the murky bayou as he tracked down trespassers. All of that paled in comparison, though, to his greatest challenge: trying to resist her when the fear took over and she looked to him for protection.

Still, no matter how fiery their attraction, there was something about this frustrating, sexy woman that seemed so familiar. But trying to penetrate her secrets was like trying to keep her out of his arms. Or out of his bed.

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 @SaraMegibowHow an agent chooses what books to read.


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40 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The Creation of an Agent’s TBR Pile”

  1. Sara, thank you for the wonderful insight into your buying process. Even though you’re drenched in the publishing business, I love that you’re still buying books for the sheer pleasure of reading them.

    While at RWA this summer, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Heather Snow while attending a reading at Lady Jane’s Salon. She IS a sweetheart!

    Thanks again for the Twitter tip on Theresa Meyers’s THE HUNTER!

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | November 9, 2011, 5:30 am
  2. Sara, thanks for your insights into your reading. I also try to read a selection of genres from romance, lit fict, MG, chick lit, YA. Many are ones that have been recommended or I’ve heard about on radio & TV book club slots or authors I’ve already enjoyed. One of my fav YA Sci Fi novels is The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. Edge of the seat stuff!

    Posted by Madeleine | November 9, 2011, 6:29 am
  3. Sara – I have to say that rely so much on personnel recommendations and trusted review sites. With my Kindle, I now have access to so many books and the selection can be overwhelming. I also make sure that I read out of my genre fairly frequently – I think it sharpens my writing skills.

    Next up in my pile . . . “MidWinter Prince by Harper Fox and “Model Marine” by Candace Havens.

    Do you have an e-reader?

    Posted by Robin Covington | November 9, 2011, 6:43 am
  4. next up for me is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins and THE HUNTER by Theresa Meyers. 🙂

    Happy reading to you!

    Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 7:48 am
  5. Hi Sara – Wow, this is such an interesting look at how busy you are! (Which I know was not the intent of the post. But still.)

    I read books by the publishers I’m targeting, almost exclusively. The only variance is if it’s a book by someone I know and I want to support, much like you. 🙂

    An interesting aside, Jana DeLeon is a chapter mate and she raved so much about working with Harlequin, it really solidified my desire to publish with them as well. I just finished reading The S Before Ex by Mira Lyn Kelly — and may I say is one of the most awesome titles in existence. It’s my favorite of the recent RIVA books.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | November 9, 2011, 8:07 am
    • My pleasure!

      As a pre-published author, your approach is 100% perfect! Know the books by a publisher you intend to pursue – GREAT WORK!

      I love working with Harlquin. Tiffany Reisz has three single title books coming out next ear with them (THE SIREN and two sequels). She also has 2 additional enovellas coming out with them next year. Harlequin is perfect for the uber-professional author who writes quickly and smartly (is that a word? yikes – too early still).

      I love Kristan Higgins (Harlequin) and Megan Hart (Harleuin) and Tiffany of course (

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 9:20 am
  6. Thanks for a wonderful post, Sara! Like you, I try to read books my friends and favorite authors have written. Happily, that number is growing! (Not so happily for my TBR pile, though.)

    This is a topic close to my heart. I’m an obsessive reader; always have been. I read for enjoyment, but I also read for work.

    I moderate Barnes & Noble’s Mystery Forum, where I host visits from authors all the time. I TRY to read all of their books, but it’s hard to keep up. I buy a ridiculous number of books considering that I do get a lot of free books from authors and publishers. I try to read all the books sent to me, too, but again, it’s hard to keep up.

    I mentioned to a published friend that it was taking me forever to finish the story I’m working on. She said, “That’s easy – stop reading until it’s done. You need a deadline.” Well, she’s right. That would definitely work. But how do I stop reading? It’s like breathing.

    My TBR pile is kind of famous with the regulars at B&N. I’ve posted pictures a few times. It fills four large bins and a small bookcase. That’s not counting the books stacked on my bedside table.

    I try to keep track of the books I read, but it’s really hard. I started compiling a list at B&N (anyone can see it by clicking on my name there). Due to technical glitches there, I now maintain a reading list on Shelfari. It’s pretty scary to see all those books in one place!

    Sara, I’m glad to see you are still able to enjoy reading even though so much of your time is spent reading for work. I always wondered if editors and agents ever found time to read just for fun!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | November 9, 2011, 8:24 am
    • Thanks for sharing! Your TBR pile sounds legendary – that’s WONDERFUL! And I imagine that your list is an absolutely fabulous resource for the mystery readers.

      Folks – THIS is why bricks and mortar bookstores are SOOOO valuable. I’ve shopped at amazon (although I am not buying anything from them this year – I’ve changed all my online buying to Powells). There is no way you’d find a person with this kind of knowledge of books at amazon. You have to go in to stores/ libraries for this kind of in depth quality.

      GO YOU Becke!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 9:22 am
      • *blushes* Barnes & Noble thanks you. And I thank you.

        Full disclosure:

        I’ve been unable to add books to my B&N profile, a glitch the techs haven’t been able to fix.

        Because of this, I started compiling a list of books I’m reading and RECENT additions to the TBR pile. (I’m not even going to attempt to go through all the ones that have been in the pile for while.)

        I picked Shelfari because I loved the visual of the bookshelf, and because it was easy to use. I was chagrined to discover it is now run by Amazon! Oh well…

        Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | November 9, 2011, 9:30 am
  7. Hi Sara. I never thought about agents reading books edited by editors they want to pitch to. Writers read up on editors they want to query, why wouldn’t agents. Makes perfect sense.

    And, wow, you read a lot! Your eyes must be so tired at night. LOL.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 9, 2011, 8:45 am
    • *big smile*

      Works for me. I’m sure not every agent does it, but I sure do.

      Here’s another example – I am in utter awe of Kate Sullivan of Little Brown Books for Young Readers/ Hachette. Her books are incredible. I know this because I read ASH by Malinda Lo (YA fantasy) last year and fell in love with it. I looked up the editor and it’s Kate. So, I bought another book that Kate edited (THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger – contemporary YA) and it was literally my next favorite book of all time. So, Kate Sullivan is high on my submit list for my YA clients.

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 9:25 am
  8. I’ve found that as I’ve started to read more e-books that reviewers, Twitter and friend recommendations have a big impact on my TBR pile The Happy Ever After and Wicked Pixie blogs are going to make me go broke. 🙂

    Posted by Avery Flynn | November 9, 2011, 9:36 am
  9. Hi Sara,

    I read a lot of non-fiction. I just finished Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaccson. Very complex guy. I wonder, if his parents hadn’t gone with the flow and tried to force him to fit in the box, how things would have turned out. Everyone marches to a different drummer. Sometimes you have to get out of the way.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | November 9, 2011, 9:44 am
  10. Hi, Sara –

    Thanks for another great insight into an agent’s world today!

    My TBR pile is a little different than it was before I began writing. Although I still read fiction, especially books by RU Visiting Professors and other authors I know, I read a ton more non-fiction now. Not just research and writing books, but books on business, marketing, creativity, education, psychology and whatever else catches my fancy at a given time.

    Right now, I’m really into books by folks like Seth Godin and other “new economy” business types. I’m still surprised how entertaining non-fiction can be when written by the right person!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 9, 2011, 9:45 am
    • So true!

      I loved THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN by Anne Fadiman. Lots of great nonfiction out there.

      And of course – my client Miranda Kenneally will have DEAR TEEN ME out next fall from Zest Books (

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 11:43 am
  11. Sara must have the reading speed of a Mach 4. That’s so much reading every week! When is there time to do anything else?

    But I do admit I’m jealous Sara can buy so many books… especially from an indie! How awesome!

    Posted by Feliza | November 9, 2011, 12:58 pm
    • Indies rule!

      I’m twitter friends with Blue Willow Bookshop (TX), Mysterious Galaxy (CA), Powells, Boulder Bookstore and Tattered Cover. That’s where I try to send my money.


      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 1:16 pm
  12. Hi Sara!

    What a great list of books…can’t wait to add some to MY TBR pile. I guess I never thought agents and editors would read for relaxation. I always figured oh, something mild like sky-diving or spelunking….=) My TBR pile(s) is reaching epic proportions. Ever since the big blizzard two years ago and I had NO NEW BOOKS TO READ, did I start my own pile.

    I generally also read a couple different kind of books at the same time. The Hungry Girl cookbook, Nora Roberts The Next Always and Larry Brooks Story Engineering (as well as some online class homework) are all in a pile by my bed.

    If I could just get three more hours in a day…..



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 9, 2011, 2:12 pm
    • Oooo, see now that’s where I tend to fail in my reading. I can’t read more than one book at a time. In fact, if I’m doing a hard line edit, I hold off reading anything else until I’m done.

      Go you!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 9, 2011, 2:19 pm
  13. I’ve definitely read books by authors I’ve met online, who have been supportive, great to chat with, have great blogs or given fantastic workshops.

    I love supporting debut authors.

    I rarely buy books because they are on a bestsellers’ list. I don’t know. That gets me interested to find out more, maybe, but not to buy.

    Posted by PatriciaW | November 9, 2011, 2:32 pm
  14. Hi Sara,

    I’ve always got a few debut authors in the reading mix. Like Carrie, I read several books at the same time. They’re scattered in different rooms of the house. Carrie and Becke and I exchange romances in the mail, and I glean ideas from my friends’ Goodreads lists, too. There’s a woman who works nights at the gas station near my house. I only know her as Kitty, but she’s always reading something interesting. We’ve started swapping books, and she’s given me a list of her all-time fave reads.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 9, 2011, 2:56 pm
    • I had a dinner party last night with friends who were talking about all the print books they buy in addition to the ebooks. Like, if they like it on ebook they go buy the print version too. LOVE THAT!


      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 10, 2011, 11:46 am
  15. Sara, this was an amazing post to read. I love that an agent is as book-crazy as those of us who write them. I actually do not write in any of your preferred genres, but your love of reading is so wonderful, I had to leave a comment. My TBR pile is part friends from my two on-line groups, park word-of-mouth and 60% mystery, romantic suspense, and anything that goes bump in the night, including two willing bodies. I read ten fav blogs, four of which are group blogs and love following the women in each group, even out of my preferred genre. Great historial romance, even western, lots of paranormal (w/o goblins and vampires thanks) and tons of books reviewed on many of the blogs I read. When we are blessed to work at what we love, it shows in everything we do, and your love of reading shines. Great for your clients! Thanks again 🙂

    Posted by florence fois | November 9, 2011, 6:37 pm
  16. Sara – Thank you for being with us today!

    I think everyone picked up a book or two to add to their own TBR pile . . . I did!

    I’ll pick the giveaway winner tomorrow!

    Posted by Robin Covington | November 9, 2011, 7:19 pm
  17. Hi Sara! *waving*

    This was a really interesting topic to hear you speak about. I can’t believe you have that much time – people tell me I read fast but I don’t get through three a week!

    I read a lot within my sub-genre (erotic romance) to see what’s out there, plus Regency historicals because I love them. After that I just kind of pick up stuff I think is cool. Of course, my Twitter buddies are putting me in the poorhouse because I love to support my friends!
    — Cassandra

    Posted by Cassandra Carr | November 9, 2011, 8:43 pm
    • I’m that way too – I support author friends. Heck, I even buy copies of my own clients’ books even though I have piles of them at the office straight from the publishers. To the poorhouse we go!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 10, 2011, 12:01 pm
  18. Thanks for the mention, Sara! 🙂 And I find your process so interesting. Guess I never thought about how precisely you’d need to choose books to make sure you cover it all.

    I have The Perfect Play on my pile too. And what’s funny is I recently read Erin Quinn’s Haunting Beauty and LOVED it. After finishing, I read the acknowledgments and realized Kate edited that one too, lol. Guess it’s good to have similar tastes to my editor. 🙂

    Posted by Roni Loren | November 9, 2011, 8:44 pm
    • Hi Roni!

      Kate has excellent taste, what can I say. *winks*

      She also edited SCANDAL by Carolyn Jewel which is one of my all-time favorites.

      happy reading!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 10, 2011, 12:02 pm
  19. My TBR pile is ridiculous and I’m in awe of your ability to do that much reading. 🙂

    My current TBR pile consists of books by authors I like (the Second Sex by Beauvoir, With a Little Help by Doctorow, The Female Eunuch by Greer, etc.) and several free promos, and then a stack of ‘easy reads’ (romance, erotica, and other commercial fiction). I have two to three books going at once, but the TBR never seems to get any smaller!

    This month’s big challenge: reading Ulysses.

    Posted by Alyssa Palmer | November 9, 2011, 8:52 pm
    • Wow – literary fiction on one day and erotica the next. That’s awesome!

      I read ULYSSES but it’s been a while. I also loved THE HEROES by Joe Abercrombie – a honking huge epic fantasy of about 700 pages. loved it!

      Posted by Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) | November 10, 2011, 12:04 pm
      • My bookshelves tend to flummox casual viewers. Beauvoir next to Linda Lael Miller? It’s shocking. (technically not, given that I alphabetize by author last name. ;))

        I haven’t read THE HEROES, but I shall take a peek on Amazon and read the blurb. Then it might get to live in my TBR pile.

        Posted by Alyssa Palmer | November 10, 2011, 6:55 pm
  20. Thanks for the great posts, Sarah et al.

    My reading is mostly YA fantasy now, to see what/who I’m up against. *faces wall, teary eyed*

    But along with City of Fallen Angels and Libyrinth, I have The Twyborn Affair (Patrick White, Australian Nobelist) and Jersey Goil Janet Evanovich’s Twelve Sharp on the pile. 😉

    Posted by Chris Kelly | November 11, 2011, 2:26 pm
  21. Thanks for the post Sara, I think you know me by now I devulge frequently what an awesome agent you are *disclaimer* lol that is not my agent yet.

    At the present time I am editing a YA PNR novel therefore I am reading mostly within that genre…but I as of late have been fascinated by sci-fi and your amazing soon to be author Roni Loren took me into the world of adult ER, which inspired me to write my own which I just finished few weeks ago (cheers)

    Megan Hart Roni is responsible for that too, I was looking for a specefic type of romance/characters and she introduced me to the amazing Megan Hart books, I started of with TEMPTED and was in love so I got NAKED which made me a life long fan, I’m a pretty dedicated reader once I love the author, especially authors I learn so much from.
    Megan style is a dash of humor but the sensuality flows really well.

    Posted by Keisha | November 11, 2011, 6:17 pm
  22. And the winner is . . . . Alyssa Palmer!

    Posted by Robin Covington | November 12, 2011, 7:01 pm

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