Monday, April 15, 2013

Agent Sara Megibow On Whether You Still Need an Agent

Today I have with me Uber Agent Extraordinaire Sara Megibow. Yes, I have dubbed her such. She is not only AMAZING at what she does, she is super nice to boot. She's agreed to take time out of her very busy schedule to answer some pressing questions I've heard plenty of writers discussing lately. So without further ado, here is the interview:

1.  The market is rapidly changing as we all know. How is the agent's job changing with it, or is it?

Great question and thanks for having me here today! I imagine that, as with most questions about publishing, this answer will vary greatly from agent to agent. I tend to represent debut genre authors (Stefan Bachmann of the middle grade fantasy THE PECULIAR, Miranda Kenneally of the contemporary young adult CATCHING JORDAN, Roni Loren of the contemporary erotic romance CRASH INTO YOU, etc), so my answers will be skewed to those markets.

For me personally, when someone says "rapidly changing market" my thoughts go to electronic book sales and subsidiary rights.

What does "rapidly changing market" mean in terms of ebook sales? Growth. We've seen huge growth in the ebook market since I started working in publishing in 2006. The impact of that growth affects my job in many ways - this won't be an all-inclusive list, but here's an overview:

         In 2012, Stefan Bachmann's book sales (remember - he writes middle grade fantasy) broke down to 94% print sales and 6% ebook sales. Conversely, Roni Loren's book sales (for contemporary erotic romance) were 33% print book and 67% ebook sales. How does this affect my job? Well, I need to know this stuff. It's important to know the numbers, the trends and the impact for my clients and their books. We see ebook sales growing tremendously, but it's also important to know in which genres that growth occurs and in which segments growth is perhaps plateauing. Ebook growth in the past couple of years has affected my day-to-day job to include: negotiating contracts that include important ebook language and ebook royalties, crafting publicity plans for my clients that focus on print sales AND ebook sales (or just ebook sales for clients with ebook-only releases), weighing ebook-only deals with p&e deals (print and ebook) and researching the impacts of cover design, metadata, release dates and pricing on ebook sales.

What does "rapidly changing market" mean to subsidiary rights? Opportunity. Subsidiary rights (to an agent) means film, foreign rights, audio rights, gaming, merchandise, etc. Possibly as a side result of the growth in ebook sales (or possibly due to the gigantic increase in pop cultural success coming from books like HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES) - I've seen tremendous increase in opportunities for my authors to make money on subsidiary rights. I have more interest from Hollywood for film and TV sales than ever before and for a wider range of books (romance, erotica, New Adult, middle grade - etc.). CATCHING JORDAN by Miranda Kenneally was optioned to producer Nick Wechsler last year, and I have more big Hollywood news coming soon. I'm selling more audio rights and making more money for my clients on foreign rights. Tiffany Reisz's ORIGINAL SINNERS series knocked 50 SHADES OF GREY off the #1 bestselling spot in erotica in the UK and Stefan Bachmann's THE PECULIAR is a bestseller in Germany and Switzerland. So, how is my job changing? Basically - I am spending more time shopping, organizing, planning and promoting subsidiary rights sales for all my clients whether they write fantasy or erotica and whether they are debut authors or international bestsellers.

As a side note, many times when writers ask agents about the "rapidly changing marketplace" they are asking about self-publishing. Self publishing is a wonderful trend that has seen tremendous success in the past few years. This trend doesn't affect me much though as I don't tend to represent previously self-published titles. My inbox is still stuffed full of authors looking for traditional publishing deals and that's the model I, personally, tend to prefer. For example, Jaleigh Johnson came to me via the traditional email query letter in December and we sold her debut middle grade fantasy in 12 days in a significant deal to Random House. So, self publishing works for a lot of authors, but it's not a trend that's affecting me much right now as the traditional model is still working for me very very very well.

2.  Many are going the self publishing or Indie route. We've examined the pros and cons in a series here on this blog. What would you say to those that choose this route?

Awesome! Seriously - the success stories are inspiring and heart warming. It's not a segment of the industry that I pursue as I am still rabidly in love with traditional publishing. But, some of my clients are self publishing ancillary works - for example, Juliana Stone is publishing a New Adult,  THE STILLNESS OF YOU, under the name Julie Bale and is very happy with that decision. One big benefit self publishers have (at least in my limited experience) is control - they can control content, length, release date, cover, editing, pricing, metadata, promotions, publicity, audio rights, etc. For authors who prefer a lot of control in the process, I imagine this is a powerful and wonderful feeling. If someone who is not a client says to me, "I've decided to self publish" I say great! If someone who is not a client says to me, "I've decided to traditionally publish" I say great! If that someone IS a client, then my answer is a bit more complex as all clients receive in-depth, personalized career planning. Still, your question is "what would you say to those that choose this route" and my answer is, Great!

3.  Here's the big one! Why do we still need an agent?

That's an excellent question! You don't.  :)

Many authors don't want agents and if you don't want an agent, then don't get one. Personally, I want to work with people who WANT to work with me and I'm sure it works the other way around too. This question doesn't offend me at all and it's an excellent one! Here are some reasons why you *might* still need an agent:

There are publishing houses and imprints that only accept material from agents. However if an author has no interest in submitting to those houses, then having no agent is no loss. In general, I would say if an author wants a traditional publishing deal, they want an agent. If an author wants a small-press publishing deal or to self-publish, they don't need an agent (although she/he may want one anyway).

As an agency, we provide serious and thorough contract negotiation. However, anyone can hire an entertainment lawyer (just make sure to hire one that specializes in publishing contracts). If you are self-publishing, then there are fewer contractual issues to worry about. But if you are print and/or e-book publishing with any publishing house - big or small - then the contract is a complicated document that most people need explained and/or negotiated for them.

I provide editorial feedback, career planning and publicity/promotions help - but an author can hire an editor, make their own career plans and pay for a publicity team.

Our agency audits royalty statements for our clients and tracks license payments, advance payments and royalty payments. An organized author can do that for her/himself, especially if they have an accounting background.

The big question is subsidiary rights. Can an author shop their own foreign, audio, gaming, film, TV and merchandising rights? That I don't know. I wouldn't want to have to do that on my own, however there are some very savvy people out there and if this extent of sales floats your boat, then I imagine it can be done. Perhaps the savvy author could hire their own foreign co-agent and travel to LA to meet with film co-agents? Again, I don't know the answer to that one. My gut response in today's market (and that could change next year, next month, next week) is that if an author wants to exercise their subsidiary rights then they need an agent.

Hugh Howey didn't have an agent when WOOL went viral as a self published e-book, but he has one now (my boss, Kristin Nelson). Kristin has closed foreign deals for him, a print-only deal (very rare) and a significant film deal with Ridley Scott. Courtney Milan DID have an agent (again, my boss - Kristin Nelson) when her self published e-books hit the NYTimes bestseller list. If an author wants to self-publish, they don't need an agent, although these are two good examples of authors who wanted them.

So, that's my answer. Why do you still need an agent? If these additional services would be of benefit to your author career then you may need an agent. If these services would not benefit you, or you simply don't want an agent, then you don't need one.

WOW! Thank you, Sara, for being so forthcoming and explaining things so well. 

Want to know more about my guest? You can find her in the following places: 

Sara Megibow
Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency

on twitter @SaraMegibow

and on publishers marketplace:


  1. Thanks for the awesome interview, Sara and Lisa. I love Sara's agency because she and Kristin are so on top of all the important issues regarding contract rights and the changing publishing times.

    I think Sara's answer on why people not going with the big publishers might still need an agent is really right on. Those foreign, movie, and other rights would be too hard to find and negotiate with without an agent.

    Sara and Nelson Literary Agency would be my dream for an agent.

  2. Great interview, Lisa. This is really interesting stuff. Now I have a better sense of all that agents do.

  3. This is a great interview Sara and Lisa. It's given me more to consider as I figure things out.

    I know Sara is an awesome agent. She sold Christina Lee's amazing NA novel. She's awesome for realizing how brilliant the book is. It was cool reading about her thought process on the topic of emerging trends. That's what NA is right now.

  4. Great interview! There is so much that agents need to be aware of and on top of...WOW!

  5. Great interview. Thanks for all the useful information. After a lot of thought, I was coming to the same conclusion - that with my current publisher, my main interest in an agent might be subsidiary rights. However, if I sell to different publishers, an agent could be invaluable.

  6. Because there are so many changes--constant changes--and so much to keep up on I see where the right agent can really help the author. It's a partnership and when it's a good one, it can mean wonderful things happen for both parties.

    I enjoyed Sara's comments so much. Thank to both of you.

  7. Terrific info. Thanks Sara and Lisa for a mini-seminar. The mind reels.

  8. Wow, totally fascinating. Thanks Lisa and Sara!

  9. This is why I love, Sara! Down to earth and straight forward.

  10. It is a informative post....thanks for sharing with us....letting agents in B4