Posted On August 8, 2012 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The Girlfriend’s Guide to Being a Debut Author

Don’t you just love to get to sit down with your fellow writers and dish about all of your combined knowledge and experience.  It is true that no one quite understands you like a fellow writer. So, here’s our chance to sit down with three authors and a very savvy agent to get the down and dirty on being a debut author.  Ssshh . . . you have to pinky swear not to tell anyone . . .

Girlfriends’ Guide to Being a Debut Author

I’m sitting in the lobby of the Anaheim Marriott – site of the 2012 RWA National

Sara Megibow

Convention. Since many of you here at Romance University are romance writers, I am going to share a bit about the panel I was invited to join. Sending a big shout out to you who are walking past me as I type and a cyber shout out to those of you who are at home in your jammies.

The Girlfriends’ Guide to Being a Debut Author: the Stuff No One Ever Tells You

Roni Loren (bestselling author of CRASH INTO YOU), Miranda Kenneally (author of CATCHING JORDAN), Kristen Callihan (author of FIRELIGHT) and I talked about an author’s debut year and answered questions from a packed room. It was a fantastic panel – one of the best I’ve ever joined – and the questions and enthusiasm were outstanding! The scope of our discussion was book deal to book – from the moment your agent says “we have accepted this offer” to the moment your mom can buy a copy at Barnes & Noble. What happens to an author between book deal and release date? What makes that debut year awesome and awful?

Kristen made an excellent point that learning to communicate with her agent and editor were two steps that really helped smooth out her debut experience. Debut authors receive edit letters, contracts, deadlines, blog tours – a whole world of logistics and pressure that can feel new and overwhelming. Learning who to ask with what questions, how to ask, how to clarify and how to push back helped Kristen stay sane and creative enough to keep writing Book #2.

Roni talked about social media and how important it is to budget time. She also said that being authentic online and focusing on media that interest you (Facebook, twitter, blogging, etc) will keep the relationship between author and follower fresh and engaging. Roni started her incredible blog 3 years ago (a full year before signing with an agent or getting a book deal) and she feels it has paid off in friends, contacts, networking and readers (her blog is Having her platform up and running before signing her first book deal helped her feel connected and prepared.

Miranda listed things she “didn’t know that she didn’t know” before her first book. She talked about co-op and how a publisher pitches books to B&N, amazon, independent bookstores, etc. in hopes of being chosen for the top spots for visibility. Those links on amazon that say “Customers who bought this item also bought…”? Yup – that’s advertising space paid for by publishers! Most everyone in the room gasped when Miranda revealed that juicy detail. And it’s true – marketing and co-op are planned behind-the-scenes and involve steps most authors don’t realize. Knowing these elements of what-makes-a-book helped Miranda understand the process of book sales (and what was at stake with each marketing meeting).

As for me? I talked about four things – money, frequency of communication, control and the amount of time if takes for contracts:

#1 – Remember that advance money is usually split into three payments and spread out over 2-3 years. An author pays taxes on advance money and also pays their agent, so most people are not retiring to Maui with the sale of their first book.

#2 – Many debut authors feel some amount of anxiety about the frequency of communication from their editor and/or agent. My message was “relax and enjoy your debut book!” Most editors communicate infrequently after presenting the initial offer – they are working on this year’s books and will get back to you closer to your book’s deadline. And agents are working hard behind the scenes to sell your subsidiary rights, negotiate a kick butt contract and plan publicity. So, be patient and know you’ve got a team behind you that’s super excited about having you on board.

#3 – Control. I talked about the fact that some new authors feel an unsettling lack of control over the process and their product. Release dates change (and change and change again), covers and titles change, edit letters are rushed to authors and then there is radio silence while the final book goes into production. Back cover copy and publicity plans are frequently presented to the author in their final form (no input needed or…expected). My message here was that this is normal. Normal!

#4 – Last of all – I addressed the shock that some authors feel when it takes 3-9 months to finish a contract. One attendee said, “I expected to see the contract faxed to me right after I said yes.” This is a common misunderstanding and it’s also common to hear of authors who are frustrated over the wait. Don’t be frustrated – be happy that we’re taking the time to comb through the contract and fine-tune it to your career. Expect to sign 3-9 months after saying yes and then there will be less anxiety.

Miranda, Kristen and Roni agreed that their debut year was incredible. They said holding their book with their name on it was a dream come true. So, take our secret insider hints about that first year and enjoy it!

You can follow my fellow panelists here:
Roni Loren

Miranda Kenneally

Kristen Callihan

It was nice to meet so many of you at the conference! Happy writing and see you at the next one,


Okay newbies –  what else do you want to know?  Are you an experienced author? What would you add to the list?

On Friday, the fab Joan Swan is here to talk about storyboarding.



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.


Similar Posts:

Share Button



26 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The Girlfriend’s Guide to Being a Debut Author”

  1. Thanks, Sara! Although I only managed to listen in a little while, I loved your Girlfriend panel. Too bad I didn’t have this information two years ago. Could have saved me much anxiety. The after-offer silence IS unnerving. 🙂

    I’ve run into the “what to ask your agent vs. your editor” issue a few times. And now that I’m writing the last contracted story, I’m starting to wonder about how the two option books work.

    Tell me, do we ever stop fretting? 😉

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 8, 2012, 4:31 am
    • Hi Tracey –

      great question!



      We never stop fretting, but I think it’s important to know that the process is normal. What you experience is likely similar to what most authors experience and it’s a result of the process being wonky. The people still love you!

      The option book = yup, you guessed it. More waiting. 🙂

      Posted by Anonymous | August 8, 2012, 6:41 am
  2. Sarah, great post. And I’m in the jammies crowd. Sounded like a workshop I would have been in the front row.

    I’ve had my first book published this summer with two more coming in November. Even without an agent, or maybe because (smile) I can’t believe, I’m so busy after the sale. Writer’s write books, correct? Yes and no.

    Thanks for giving us a peek into National’s. Atlanta 2013.

    Posted by Lynn Cahoon | August 8, 2012, 4:51 am
    • Thanks Lynn –
      great point!

      Going from writing a book at your own pace to being under deadline to write is a huge shift for many authors. Sounds like you are busy (and happy) and writing a ton – right on target! Nice work!


      Posted by Anonymous | August 8, 2012, 6:42 am
  3. Hi Sarah,

    Even after a sale, don’t sit back and relax. As the first one sells, hopefully the next question is where’s the next book.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | August 8, 2012, 5:36 am
  4. Thank you! I wasn’t able to make that panel, and so it’s so great to get the recap here. There were several things I didn’t know, the biggest being #4. Thank you!

    Oh, and it was great meeting you, Sara, in person at RWA (it was in the lobby and I was with Janice Hardy and Jami Gold)

    And Roni, it was great meeting you in person after conversing online 🙂

    Posted by Angela Quarles | August 8, 2012, 6:44 am
  5. Morning Sara!

    I’ve been lucky enough through RU to hear a great deal of the debut authors process – and no doubt, their advice is to just keep writing! Instead of sitting home, waiting to hear from agent, editor, contracts etc…just keep doing what you do, and write!

    Thanks for yet another great post – wish I’d been in Anaheim with y’all! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 8, 2012, 6:49 am
    • Thanks Carrie –

      yes, I agree with that advice 100%. Just keep writing.

      It’s such a rough process and at the end of the day, it’s not likely to change. So, take long walks, keep writing and celebrate each success along the way


      Posted by Anonymous | August 8, 2012, 7:48 am
  6. Wish I could have attended that panel discussion – this is excellent information! Maybe one day I’ll be able to use it. 😉

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | August 8, 2012, 9:47 am
  7. Thanks for the recap, Sara! I was there–front and center with Janice Hardy–but now I can share the great information you all provided with others.

    I’m generally not a big fan of panel-type workshops because most of the time is spent yammering, but you all did a great job sharing real, solid information. Thanks again!

    P.S. And it was great to meet you!

    Posted by Jami Gold | August 8, 2012, 11:32 am
  8. Sara – Great post! After my book was released in June, my biggest shock was the amount of time promo took. it was hard to find time to write or anything else.

    Now, it’s learning a new skill set – writing on deadline.

    Any advice?


    Posted by Robin Covington | August 8, 2012, 11:35 am
    • Good morning Robin –

      excellent point! Roni Loren talked about this a lot on the panel and she talks about it a lot on her blog too. I will say that many authors realize it’s too much and therefore do less promotion when the second book comes out – so we do strive for a better balance once we realize the amount of work it is.

      On the other hand, some authors simply budget 2 hours per day for it and do it that way. I don’t know a ton of people with 2 extra hours though, so my guess is this is the minority of the time.

      One reason I shop to the publishing houses that I do is I know they have our backs. So, I prefer to rely on their marketing and publicity team for more of the work and let my authors write. But, that’s just my style and everyone is different.

      Posted by Anonymous | August 9, 2012, 6:56 am
  9. Hello Sara,

    Your posts are always so informative. I had no idea the contract process took 3 to 9 months. Have you ever had an author back out of a contract because they wanted more control and/or had issues with the editorial input?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 8, 2012, 11:55 am
    • Good morning Jennifer –

      The harsh reality is that if an author of mine wants more control the answer is either “no” or “you are welcome to shop for agents.” That’s why I’m really picky about with whom I work and sign very few clients – because these are things we discuss in advance. My authors are clear that this process feels out of control and if that’s not ok, they should skip this process all together.

      As for editorial input – everyone is different. Some want more, some want less – that’s totally discuss-able. We talk about the end product a LOT – before, during and after submissions and before, during and after book release. Great questions!

      Posted by Anonymous | August 9, 2012, 6:58 am
  10. Sara, thanks for such concrete information.

    Here’s what I’ve been wondering: Has the pace of traditional publishing been affected by the increase in self-publishing?

    Posted by MJ | August 8, 2012, 3:14 pm
    • I will say that Penguin (Signet/NAL/Intermix – whatever the heck imprint I’m dealing with now, LOL) sold translation rights of one of my titles to a Japanese publisher a few months back. My husband wanted to know when we would get the money. I told him not to expect it until 2013 – based on my previous years of experience. Lo and behold, we received the check last week. So I would say … maybe yes!

      Posted by Diane Farr | August 8, 2012, 11:53 pm
    • Diane- great tidbit, thanks for sharing!

      MJ – there’s a long answer to that one. On the one hand, yes – everyone values getting books to market more quickly. But, on the other hand, no – getting books to market quickly is usually not in the best interest of the book. In my experience, self publishing doesn’t threaten traditional publishing at all. It does give great insite into other ways to make books, but for the most part (again, in MY experience), the things that work about the process for self publishing is because those products are different – self published books aren’t vying for pre-order, co-op, foreign translation sales, film sales, long lead reviews, etc. Traditional publishing success has a lot to do with those things, which is why the process for traditional publishing, while frustrating, works better for that market.

      Make sense? That was a wonky description, but the answer really is: self pub works for self pub books and trad pub works for trad pub books. While trad pub is learning lots of great ideas from self pub, there are few of those processes that trad pub can or even wants to integrate.

      One great success story is the ebook novella tie-in. Many of my traditional publishing partners have started contracting ebook only novella tie-ins and those are working VERY well. For example, Penguin publishes the LOVING ON THE EDGE series by Roni Loren (CRASH INTO YOU and MELT INTO YOU). They also produced STILL INTO YOU – a shorter, novella length, ebook only, lower priced tie in. One might argue this decision was influenced by the success some self published books are having with the lower price point. It was a great experiment that readers are consuming (buying) and loving (reviewing well).

      So, cheers all around!

      Posted by Anonymous | August 9, 2012, 7:04 am
  11. Mostly want to say thank you again for a fun and informative panel.

    Q – when is an unpublished book DEAD, or can it ever be resurrected? I’ve got one my agent sent around a few years ago. Although I got some very positive rejections, I know now that I am a MUCH better writer than I was at that time, and could improve it immeasurably. Yes, I have and continue to write new material now; I do know better than to cling to old material.

    But it would it ever be worth my time/energy to do a major edit and send it out again, after XX many years, or is it totally dead until and unless I sell something else and they ask, “What else ya got?”

    Posted by Beverly Diehl | August 9, 2012, 9:29 am
    • Great question Beverly –

      Each book and author and situation is different. For me myself and I (not speaking for anyone else here) – if a book has been shopped, I would not send it out again. Most pub houses keep a database by title and author name and they cross reference to see if it’s been read before in advance of reading.

      That’s a tough stance, but my gut says it’s probably on the shelf for now – especially if you are working on something new. Focus on the new book is my suggestion. Hope that helps!

      Posted by Sara Megibow | August 10, 2012, 12:12 pm
  12. Great article! It’s great to see that everyone shares similar anxieties and issues.

    Posted by Emmie Dark | August 21, 2012, 2:07 am
  13. I am a newbie author that has just received word from a publishing house that wants my manuscript–with a contract on its way. I have no agent, nor any idea on how to get an agent. How can I look/research for someoneone to hire? Also, is there any advice on how to read a contract? Thank you so much for a very good article. Wish I could have been there (RWA) this year.

    Posted by trish dechant | August 22, 2012, 8:51 am

Reply to Robin Covington

Upcoming Posts

  • Feb 26, 2018 Hook, Line, and Thinker
  • Feb 28, 2018 Kindle Worlds Asked and Answered
  • Mar 2, 2018 One Series and a Multitude of Lessons





Follow Us