Posted On December 12, 2012 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The Real Lowdown on Selling with an Agent

Sara Megibow is with us today to talk about the real lowdown on selling with an agent. Once again she shares her unique perspective and this is something you don’t want to miss.

It’s not a crap shoot… But it’s not a slam dunk either.

One of my favorite things about 2012 has been learning to enjoy twitter. If you

Sara Megibow

don’t follow me on twitter, come say hi – I’m @SaraMegibow

Last week I posted, “What’s the percentage chance of landing a book deal if you have an agent?” and I responded to myself saying, “my guess right now would be 60-90%.” Soooooo many people responded to this tweet that I decided to talk about it here at Romance University. Landing a book deal for an agent isn’t a crap shoot, but it’s not a slam dunk either.

When I sign a new client, I do so with utmost confidence that I can sell the book. I don’t offer for books that need work (some agents do and they have tremendous success with that model – it’s just not my style). I go in to each and every new relationship expecting success. I would never tell anyone that I guarantee a sale (no agent in their right mind would do that), but I do offer rep with lots of enthusiasm and confidence. And yet…does it always result in a book deal? Nope.

At the end of 2012, here are some stats:
– I represent 24 clients
– 7 of these clients signed with me in 2012
– Of those 7, three of them have already landed a book deal in 2012 and two of them signed with me within the past month
– Overall, of my 24 clients, 17 are signed with publishing houses (a 71% sell rate)
– Those 17 signed clients represent 54 books which hit the shelves in 2012, 2013 and 2014. That means that several of my clients have gone on to ink second and third book deals already

So, what happens if we don’t sell a book? First I would try a second and perhaps even a third round of submissions. Like I said, I expect success so it’s no skin off my back to simply try and try again. If those submissions end in passes, then the author and I talk about shelving the book. Typically, the longest I ever submit a book is 18 months. If we do agree to shelve the work, I typically recommend moving on to Book #2 and trying again. Each author is different – some want me to look at blurbs for potential ideas before starting Book #2 and some just dive in and keep writing. In any case, we go forth with a plan after we’ve had a good talk about options. A Book #2 success story is Marie Lu’s debut novel LEGEND – Marie and my boss ended up shelving her first book and then LEGEND sold at auction in a major deal. So, even a pass on Book #1 is not always the worst news.

When I posted this info on twitter, followers jumped on the suggestion “well, how about self publishing that first book?” As an agent, I tend to advise against this path. Please note that this reflects my own personal style and other agents would agree self-publishing is the way to go. My authors with traditionally published books are seeing tremendous artistic and commercial success so I am biased toward traditional publishing. Yes, I know this paragraph is likely to get me lynched. Please stop and re-read my comments before stabbing my avatar with an icepick. My opinion is based on my experience – other peoples’ experiences have been different and they are just as valid. Their opinions, therefore, are just as valid as mine (a good lesson in publishing is to seek out advice from sources with different biases). I tend to work with debut authors and self-publishing has proven (thus far) to be generally more commercially successful for authors with a previously developed platform. You see now why I wanted to write a whole blog post about this instead of trying to share my thoughts on twitter. ; )

Ok – back to the topic at hand. So, when I sign a new client I intend to sell her or his book. It doesn’t always work out that way and my process is to try and try again and then shelve that book and move on to Book #2. Why is this important to you? Well, whether you are currently with an agent or currently looking for an agent (or perhaps might be looking for one in the future) –the reality of submissions is good to know. I’m really good at my job – I believe wholeheartedly that traditional publishing is an excellent path for debut authors and I know I have a good track record getting authors to the career they want. Still – know the stats going in – have patience, don’t feel frustrated. If you are a new writer and you sign with an agent, I’d give it a 60-90% chance that you will get a book deal.

As a quick aside, it’s pretty easy to find out the sales record of any particular agent.
1) go to their website and find out what authors they represent – you are looking for an agent who has sold books in the genre you write (don’t worry about sub-genre – as long as the agent has sold a romance novel, then you’re ok whether you write paranormal romance or historical romance or whatever)
2) Check out the agent at
My link there is:
3) Finally, if you are having second thoughts about an agent, feel free to cross-reference them on the Agents Beware list (irreputable agents and etc):

Be well, happy writing and for 2013 my wish for everyone is Expect Victory!


So . . . she’s here and she’s ready to take your questions.

On Friday, join us for a special post from one of our RU Founders!


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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21 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – The Real Lowdown on Selling with an Agent”

  1. Hey Sara,

    Thanks for another great post! While you’re trying to sell the first manuscript, what are your clients working on? The second book? Another book completely different from the first? I think it would kill me to remain idle during a sell, especially one that takes months. LOL

    I really enjoyed following your #10queriesin10tweets this year. Can’t wait to see what new Twitter fun you have planned for 2013. Are your able to give your RU friends a yummy clue?? 🙂

    Have a fantastic holiday season, Sara!


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | December 12, 2012, 5:48 am
    • Thanks Tracey –

      no, no clues yet… 😉

      Yes, typically while we wait my clients are working on another book. Patience, patience is the name of the game and even for the fastest writers I can’t speed up the timeline at all (one reason self publishing is so successful for many people is that they can control their time to press). I like traditional publishing deals and will likely continue down this path, but patience, patience, patience – I tell myself this every day. And I tell clients to keep busy and not dwell on it. 😉

      Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2012, 9:05 am
  2. Sara: “I expect success.” And that’s why you are successful. Expecting success is something I struggle with, personally, but I had someone talk me into expecting success when I entered the Golden Heart in 2011, and look what happened there. The week before the calls, I consciously thought that I wanted this–and I thought of my friends who had entered, too. I wanted it for them, as well. I got the call. Not all my friends did, but some did. So yeah, expect success. I still need to work on it.

    Posted by Ashlyn Macnamara | December 12, 2012, 7:13 am
    • That will be my mantra in 2013 – I’m going to start a hastag called #ExpectVictory (which was my college football team’s mantra in 1991 and we went to the Rose Bowl that year)

      Thanks for the kind words and *high fives* – you rock!

      Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2012, 9:06 am
  3. Hi Sara,

    Another informative post, thank you. It’s been great following your posts here this year. Maybe next year I’ll embrace Twitter.

    Have a great Holiday.


    Posted by Cia | December 12, 2012, 7:19 am
  4. Hi Sara,

    Positive mental attitude and thick skin are needed to be a successful writer. I work on both everyday.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 12, 2012, 8:33 am
  5. Hi, Sara. Thank you for yet another terrific post. I always appreciate how candid you are.

    How long would you say it takes for a publisher to make a decision once you submit a book to them?

    Thanks for being here.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | December 12, 2012, 9:06 am
    • Good question – I’ve had offers in 12 hours and offers in 23 months, so I’ll say it ranges. If there had to be a usually? I’d say 2-8 week from submission to offer.

      Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2012, 11:50 am
  6. Hi Sara – Do you rep anyone who is a digital first author and if you do – are you planning for a transition to a traditional publishing strategy?

    Should that be planned?


    Posted by Robin Covington | December 12, 2012, 9:49 am
    • Yes, Steve Vera’s upcoming urban fantasy debut DRYNN is digital only and it’s the perfect publishing plan for that author and that series – we’re so thrilled.

      Yes, digital and print should be strategized VERY carefully – both are very important. However, each author and each book require different advice/ choices/ thoughts/ etc.

      Great question!

      Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2012, 12:42 pm
  7. Thanks for another informative post, Sara! You’ve covered some topics my writer friends often ask about but agents rarely discuss – at least, not in public. Thanks for your candor!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 12, 2012, 10:04 am
  8. Morning Sara!

    Great post! I like to think I have a lot of patience, but I’m sorely lacking in the rhino skin department!

    If one of your clients books doesn’t sell, and you go around again with a different book, what happens if that one doesn’t sell either?

    Thanks so much for posting with us today – and Happy Holidays!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 12, 2012, 10:06 am
  9. I love your posts, Sara. You’re very honest with your advice and opinions and we appreciate it, as I’m sure your clients do.

    My question echoes Robin’s. Since you work with so many debut authors, what are your thoughts when you’re approached by an author that is self-published or that has been published in a digital-first format?

    Posted by Reese Ryan | December 12, 2012, 12:39 pm
    • Great question!

      If the author is previously published, then they are not a debut author. That’s the biggest thing to remember – digital only is a GREAT way to go. Self published is a GREAT way to go, but in either case, that author has a platform, a brand and sales numbers.

      If the book itself has been previously published then I pass outright. I personally don’t have interest in re-selling previously published material (whether small press, large press, self published, whatever). My boss has made an exception to this rule – she signed Hugh Howey (author of WOOL) who was self published and selling in the tens of thousands of copies of his book per month.

      If an author who is previously published approaches me with a book that has NOT been previously released, then I consider the book just like any submission – based on quality of writing.

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2012, 12:46 pm
  10. Hi Sara,

    What are your biggest reasons for not requesting pages from queries? Are there certain markets you’re on the lookout for (YA) or are you always equally looking for your genre’s no matter the market-reach? If your work is being considered by another agent, is this something worth mentioning in query or is it a moot point?

    Always trying to learn more,


    Posted by Katie New | December 12, 2012, 1:34 pm
    • Hi Katie –

      most rejections we send out for queries is because people are contacting us about books in genres we don’t represent. Second most frequent reason is that the writing just isn’t strong enough.

      As for me, I represent YA, middle grade, adult science fiction and fantasy and romance. Anything is any of those genres is right up my alley!

      If you have an offer of representation from another agent, that’s vitally important to let agents know. Otherwise, if someone is simply reading, that’s irrelevant. Great question!

      Posted by Anonymous | December 12, 2012, 2:19 pm


  1. […] have good statistics on this part of the process, but literary agent Sara Megibow (in an article here) says you have a 60-90% chance that your manuscript will sell once you have an […]

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