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Publishing Interviews: Agent Sara Megibow & Author Miranda Kenneally

Today we have an awesome feature: Author Miranda Kenneally interviews her agent, Sara Megibow!

Miranda: What YA book(s) do you think every writer should read before querying you?
Sara:  In general, I encourage writers to do as much research as possible before querying any agent. It's a tough balance because, of course, a writer writes. A writer lives in the world of art and words and large mugs of coffee. Stepping over to the business side of publishing can be daunting. Someone who googles "publish my book" will likely end up with a bunch of incorrect information. That's one reason literary agencies have websites - we try to post correct and helpful information!!

So, what does that have to do with reading YA novels before querying? Well, a well-educated writer would likely have reviewed the Nelson Literary Agency website before sending in a query. While there, they might have noted our YA author clients. I think it's a wonderful idea to read Nelson Agency client books before submitting to us. Of course, this can get daunting if a writer is querying lots of agents, but I still think it's a fabulous idea. For example, before querying me,  I recommend reading anything by Ally Carter, Sarah Rees Brennan, Simone Elkeles, Lucienne Diver, Mari Mancusi or the fabulous Miranda Kenneally. Yes, you can put this information in the query letter itself ("I recently read RULES OF ATTRACTION by Simone Elkeles and I really liked its edgy contemporary voice" or something like that).

In addition, there is information about me that you won't find on our website. Let's call it super-secret-insider info. Thanks to the amazing YA Highway for inviting me to this interview so I can share these juicy tidbits with you all!! Here goes - I represent all sub-genres of young adult literature. So, my personal suggestion would be to read across genre. Before querying any agent, read 3-4 novels that are selling well or getting great reviews or that you've heard about via word of mouth. Also, choose books released in the past 2 years so you know what is contemporary and read books by debut authors so you know what it takes to break in to the market. Some of my favorites: contemporary young adult (THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by AS King or TWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler), dystopian young adult (MATCHED by Ally Condie or DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth), young adult fantasy (ASH by Malinda Lo or THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley are on my all-time favorites list), and a few others (GIRL PARTS by John M. Cusick or REVOLVER by Marcus Sedgwick).

It's nice (although not required) to receive a query letter that clearly states "since you love Robin McKinley, this YA fantasy might be right up your alley." I don't consider that brown nosing - I consider that good research. Or, "since you represent Miranda Kenneally, I think you might like my fun, romantic contemporary YA novel XYZ." This proves to me that you've picked me, specifically, to potentially represent your work (not just me-out-of-a-phone-book). This is exactly what I do when submitting novels to editors! I match books to editors based on what I read at home. 

Photobucket Miranda:  What originally prompted you to ask for sample pages for SCORE?  The original query letter is below.
Sara: This query has tremendous voice. Words leap off the page and yell "READ ME!" 
My name is Jordan Woods, I’m seventeen, and last year, I blew it in the final seconds of the Tennessee state championship football game. This year, I can’t let that happen or I’ll never get a scholarship to play ball in college. I have a lot to prove, what, with an NFL star for a father – a father who doesn’t think I should be playing football. Why wouldn’t a famous quarterback want his kid to follow in the family footsteps?

I’m a girl.
Sara: Brilliant! What a hook! And what a great way to introduce the hook!! *smack* right between the eyes. :)   I immediately think "original , unique, fun and FULL of personality!"
But I’ve been playing quarterback since I was seven, so everyone’s gotten used to me by now. I’m a normal teenage girl. Well, as normal as I can be. I mean, obviously I think Justin Timberlake is a mega hunk, but I’m also over six feet tall and can launch a football fifty yards. Other ways I’m not normal? A girl who hangs with an entire football team must hook up all the time, right?


I’ve never had a boyfriend and most people think I’m gay. Hell, I’ve never even kissed a guy. But that might be about to change because the hottest guy, Ty Green, just moved here from Texas. Just the sight of him makes me want to simultaneously fly and barf. It turns out that he’s also a quarterback, and he’s a hell of a lot better than me. Last year, Ty led his team to win the Texas state championship.
Sara:  Great character development here. It crossed my mind that a football-playing heroine is different than other heroines on the market. So, shopping a book like this could go one of two ways: Editors might think "Different = Cool!" OR, they might think  "Different = can we market it? will readers buy it?" 

These delicious details about Jordan really convinced me that this was a book that I was going to demand to read. This is an example of how tremendous writing really captures my attention!
And I’m scared. What if Coach gives my position away? What if Ty isn’t interested in me? The worst fear of all? What if Ty distracts me from my dreams of playing ball in college?
And why is my best friend, our star wide receiver, acting so strangely all of a sudden? 
Sara:  Ha Ha! Excellent twist here! Romance, intrigue, girls, boys - I love it! Honestly, Miranda has already convinced me to ask for sample pages. I'm not sure I even read any further in this query (although it is nice that she references Ally Carter later.  This proves to me that she did her homework about our agency)
SCORE, my 67,000-word YA novel, explores when it’s okay to make compromises in life, and when to take risks. My protagonist writes poetry (it’s a hobby that she keeps hidden from her teammates), so some sections of the manuscript are written in verse. While Catherine Murdock’s DAIRY QUEEN series also focuses on a female football player, my novel is different in that my protagonist doesn’t just decide to play football one day. Football is the only life my protagonist has ever known. When this new guy moves to town, she begins to explore the femininity she has rejected her entire life. She also faces a serious struggle with unrequited love, though not in the way you might expect.
Since your agency represents Ally Carter, I thought you might be interested. I also believe you’ll enjoy the love story. I attended American University, where I studied creative writing and literature. As a tomboy who grew up playing football during recess and didn’t get her first kiss until the age of sixteen, embarrassingly, I am highly qualified to write this novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Miranda:  In today’s market – what do you think matters more? Hook or writing ability?
Sara:  Superior writing is the first thing I look for in a submission. Period. It is, in my opinion, the most important quality of any book. This is why it's soooooo hard to answer questions like "will a spaceship YA sell?" or "will a kangaroo YA sell?" Truly - a spaceship-flying-kangaroo-young adult novel CAN sell if the writing is really terrific. Conversely, a hook may capture my attention but if the writing isn't superior, I will still pass on offering representation. This is especially important to understand when it comes to "hot" genres - magicians saving the world (5 years ago), vampires (3 years ago), dystopian (last year). Simply writing a story in one of these sub-genres won't convince me to ask for sample pages or offer representation. The hook must be compelling, but it's the writing that convinces me to keep reading.

Miranda:  If you can’t sell an author’s first book, then what happens? 
Sara:  Well, it's hard to describe, but take it from me - I'm heartbroken too if an author's book doesn't sell. Yes, I know these books are your babies, but they sort of become mine too. So, I really give it my all to find the right editor partner. If necessary we will do 2 and 3 rounds of submissions - everything possible to make sure that all angles have been tried.

If a book doesn't sell, then we can do a couple of things - edit and send it out again to different editors at different imprints. (This is not always possible though. Many times a pass by one editor means a pass by the entire house) Also, we would only do an edit if there were specific things that we agree need to be changed. If that's not the answer, then we can put the book away for a while and try for another book instead. Sometimes it's an author's second (or even third) book that sells. Finally, in this age of self publishing, we would also discuss the possibility of creating the book as an ebook and going it ourselves. As you can imagine, there are logistics upon logistics upon logistics with that avenue. But, it IS something our agency discusses. 

Miranda:  In today’s market, do you think YA books should have strong crossover potential to the adult market?
Sara:  An excellent question.

I think crossover books are great, but I don't choose books/authors to represent based on that aspect. I really do represent authors based on my passion for the book and the writing. I think it's important for authors to promote themselves in a variety of markets, but I don't think changing a book in hopes of hitting as many markets as possible is necessarily a deal-maker. I have heard that 33% of young adult novels are purchased by teens, 33% by adults buying for teens and 33% by adults reading for themselves so the genre itself has crossover potential already.

A savvy author might notice that there is a ton of crossover potential in terms of marketing, promotions, networking, support, education, readers, etc between romance books and young adult books. I do encourage my YA authors to join the Romance Writers of America (RWA) organization in addition to SCBWI. Both are excellent resources!!!

Miranda:  What do you look for in an ideal client?
Sara:  An ideal client would be someone who submits a completed manuscript - 100% finished and ready to go (although most do still go through some revisions). This client would already have an author website up and running (a simple one is fine - name, bio, headshot, links to other online presence like twitter or Facebook, title of book and maybe a News page. Professional and simple. It does not have to be expensive, but it does have to be nicely done). Also, an ideal client already has some social networking/ social media activity - this could be a blog, twitter, Facebook, an online critique group, etc. We find these outlets to be particularly useful in connecting with YA readers (which, of course, I am thinking about the very second I sign a new client).

Other than those things, an ideal client might be someone who already knows a bit about publishing - someone who understands upfront that it's slow and much of the creative process does end up in someone else's hands (cover art for example).  This person might know about the ebook revolution and some of the opportunities and hurdles ebooks present.  Finally, I like clients who are professional and polite - this is particularly important once that client is signed with a publishing house (yell at me, not the editor - that's the law). :)  Really, what it comes down to is finding the right match - it's just as important that an author adore their experience with their agent as it is for me to find the "ideal" client. It's a tough enough business - might as well have team members that we enjoy!


Thank you Sara and Miranda for such an informative interview! 

Miranda is the author of SCORE, a contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot boys, coming from Sourcebooks Fire in late 2011. She enjoys reading and writing young adult literature, and loves Star Trek, music, sports, Mexican food, Twitter, coffee, and her husband. 

PhotobucketSara has been with the Nelson Literary Agency since early 2006. Her first responsibilities included reading the query letters, sample pages and full manuscripts that were submitted for representation. In early 2009, she was promoted to Associate Literary Agent and is now actively accepting submissions of her own. From sexy romance to epic fantasy, Sara has loved reading since picking up her first copy of The Hobbit. Sara has a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a B.A. in American History from Northwestern University. She lives in sunny Boulder with her beat-boxing husband, adorable son and two fuzzy cats.  

You can follow Miranda at her website, on Twitter or Facebook, and visit Sara on Facebook, Twitter, the Nelson Literary Agency website, or Publishers Marketplace

Kate Hart

Kate is the author of After the Fall, coming January 24, 2017 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A former teacher and grant writer, she now owns a treehouse-building business in the Ozarks and hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know interview series.

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  1. Great interview! Especially love her answer about crossover potential, and how it's great, but not make-or-break.

    And I saw the query on the Guide to Literary Agents blog yesterday, so I am already dying to read this book! (I love football, personally.)


  2. Wow. An explosive interview. I felt like I should be in a class, taking notes :) I really liked the author to agent interview, the specific examples, and the knowledge that Sarah Megibow makes digestible to non-agent readers. I've read a lot of posts where agents give advice, but this one definitely had information that I hadn't heard before! Great job!

  3. Yay what a great interview! Sarah gave me a critique of my first three pages as part of a GLA webinar, and it was so helpful. She just has a knack for breaking things down so that they're easy to understand.

    I read the query for Score too, and I can't wait to read it. I think there needs to be more books with girls in sports.

  4. Reading these agent interviews never gets old. I like to see what agents are reading and why they like certain stories. As a reader, this is great insight. The more I hear about a book the more likely I am to read it.

  5. Amazing interview - and wow, I love that query for SCORE!

  6. I love learning something new from an outstanding interview. Fantastic questions with answers to match. I think I'm gonna go and buy me a copy of SCORE now.

  7. AUGH, awesome interview Miranda and Sara!! I can't wait for Score! I've have the distinct honor of hanging out with the uber fabulous Miranda K when we went wild on DC at ALA, lol.

    From reading the opening of Score, I love Jordan's voice, and I love the subject matter she has created.


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Item Reviewed: Publishing Interviews: Agent Sara Megibow & Author Miranda Kenneally Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kate Hart