Alton Fletcher, author of the novel Southern Transit (not yet published), provided this review of former literary agent Mark Malatesta. Robert worked with Mark, resulting in him being offered representation by a top literary agent, Gina Panettieri with Talcott Notch Literary. Scroll below to learn more. Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews. And click here to learn more about Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author after you read the review about Mark Malatesta below by Alton
Mark Malatesta Review by Alton Fletcher
As you’ve often said, Mark, getting published and becoming a bestselling author is not about luck. It’s a decision. My experience in finding just the right agent to represent my books proves that point.
First, let me tell you that I finally had a great chat with literary agent Gina Panettieri with Talcott Notch Literary. She gets my novel, she sent me good ideas about revisions, and she sent me a contract. I’m excited. Thank you for your tremendous support. You’ve kept me on track all along the way and prevented me from wasting time and making several serious mistakes.
But it wasn’t easy getting to this point. Of course, I had hoped for the experience some of your other clients have had, where an agent calls them five minutes after they’ve sent a query, to say, “I love the concept of your book, I’ve read the first ten pages, and I think it’s so wonderful I’m sending you a contract.” I didn’t have that experience, but I’m not sure it would be any more gratifying than what I DID experience, which certainly was not by any stroke of luck. It required an unwavering decision to commit to the process that you’ve outlined on your website. In the end, however, I got offers from two agents. Gina was a perfect fit.
But that’s the happy ending to a very long, arduous story. As you will recall, I’d already been quite unsuccessful in the query process when you and I first met. I was very frustrated by getting nibbles, but no bites. I hadn’t queried many agents, nor did I get many requests for more material when I did. My approach was very basic and all too common. I went through the Writer’s Market and looked for agents that prefer my genre, researched them on their websites and tried to get a sense of whether they were truly interested in a book like mine. Then, I sent them a standard query that I had cobbled together from successful examples. That approach, and my very basic query letter, weren’t effective, however.
I also had received some feedback from a few agents that my manuscript was not yet what it should have been. That was a real comeuppance, since I thought that what I had sent out initially was pretty darn good. But it turns out that it wasn’t anywhere near ready for prime time. One agent went back and forth with me several times. He allowed me to resubmit and I made significant revisions based on his comments.
When I finally sent it back to him, I thought, “This is it. He’s going to love this.” He said, “You know, it’s better. It’s much better, but it’s just not for me.” I couldn’t believe he said that. It was really frustrating. He seemed really interested, then lost interest. It was very much like fishing. You get one on the hook and reel it in. Then you reach down with your net, and he’s gone! It was that kind of experience.
But then you introduced me to your tried and true method of preparing query letters, which gave me renewed confidence. You came alongside and helped me rewrite my query, which was too short. My previous query missed the mark by saying too much about the book and not enough about me. I also really liked your suggestion of adding the potential for endorsements from successful authors.
More important, you taught me your systematic way of researching agents, which is invaluable. That was worth the money, right there. Having in hand that prioritized list that you prepared for me with hundreds of agents all interested in my genre, and then to systematically go through it and send out rounds of queries from that list was not something I would’ve had the time to do, nor thought was possible. No author has the kind of time to compile a list of agents like that, complete with addresses and query requirements.
At that point, I was very glad we had met and that I decided to work with you. The initial commitment during our first phone call wasn’t that bad. It was manageable. But the bigger program, that was a big chunk of money. When you’re looking at the possibility of it not coming to anything, that’s a lot of money to just toss away. There are a lot of people willing to take your money and provide something of little or no value. So, I read the testimonials on your website. I think I read almost every one. They were so sincere, I didn’t have any qualms about sending you my check. Well, maybe a small one, or two. But, it certainly paid off.
After several months and many more rejections, I finally received an offer of representation. But, I had to convince the agent he should take me on, a bit of old-fashioned arm twisting. It was odd. I had submitted to him, then didn’t hear anything from him for a good while. Well, I did hear something. It just wasn’t what I wanted to hear. He finally sent me a complicated request for an extensive book proposal, and he wanted more complete details about who I am, what my platform was, what I was going to do to develop my platform. He sent a questionnaire that took an entire weekend to answer.
After two more months passed, a small publisher to whom I previously had submitted the manuscript expressed interest, but said I needed representation by an agent before they would deal with me. Another one off the hook.
I sent the reluctant agent an email to ask if he was still interested. He responded, “I’ve been meaning to get back to you. Your book is an interesting concept. It’s well-written, but I’ve got five other historical novels that I can’t sell, and I’m just not going to take this on.” That puzzled me, made me wonder why he asked me for my manuscript and all the other material in the first place.
Then I said, “Well, I also have an editor from a small publisher who is interested in my book, but he’s telling me I need representation before he’ll work with me.” I gave the agent the name of the publisher and the name of the Senior Acquisitions Editor I’d been corresponding with. He sent me an email back, and said, “Hmm. You know what? I think I would like to take you on after all.” His offer was gratifying but not ideal, and he wasn’t a top tier agent. Further, it seemed to me that I was doing much of the work that I expected him to do. Even so, I was tempted to accept his offer.
However, I hadn’t yet heard from Gina Panettieri, one of my first-tier agents from the list, who had a solid track record for selling novels from debut authors. Two months earlier, she, too, had requested a full manuscript, but hadn’t gotten back to me.
You encouraged me to call Gina, and she picked up the phone on the second ring. I reminded her who I was, and she said a series of things had come up that had prevented her from reading my manuscript. When I said I had an offer on the table, she asked me for two weeks to finish reading. After one week, you told me to call her again. Now I was the reluctant one, and I wouldn’t have called her without your encouragement. Gina was understanding but said she needed more time. Although she wanted me to give her two more weeks, I was able to get her to promise to get back to me the following Monday.
Meanwhile, I was very worried about losing the first agent. On his website, I’d read that one of his pet peeves is authors holding out for other offers. So, I was very concerned about that. You told me what to say to manage his expectations, and he responded, “No problem. Take as long as you need.”
Gina’s first question when we talked again the following Monday was, “Are you willing to work with me?” I said, “Of course. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make this the best book it can possibly be.” She said, “I’m very glad to hear that, because I think the book has real potential. It has good bones, and it’s well-written. However, it still lags in places.” And she said, “It’s also about 10,000 words too long, and I don’t like the ending.” Other than that, she loved it! She was intrigued by the story, praised the dialogue, and thought the historical accuracy was right on. Best of all, she said she was sending me a contract.
It arrived in the mail on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas to me! I had champagne to celebrate.
Without your encouragement, I’m not sure I would have made it through this whole process. There were several points at which I was ready to give up. Then, I would reach out and you would have just the right words to keep me going. I’m grateful for your expert coaching. It’s one thing to know the business. It’s another thing to be a good coach, and to encourage people through tough times. I think that’s probably the most invaluable part of this whole experience.
Through it all, you consistently made your point: Getting published isn’t about luck; it’s about perseverance—and it’s a business decision. I think you’re the first one who told me, “Don’t get discouraged. Half of your time will be spent writing. The other half will be spent trying to sell what you’ve written.” That thought really hadn’t occurred to me, and that little nuggets along with many others you offered really shone through to me.
I’ve met a lot of authors who are content just to write, who aren’t so concerned about whether anybody will ever read what they write. But, to me, unless you’re able to reach an audience, it seems somewhat pointless. Though, of course, I do simply enjoy the process of putting my thoughts into words and seeing them on paper.
Rereading what I’ve written is rewarding, to an extent, but it’s not nearly as gratifying as having somebody else read your work, and say, “Wow! That really spoke to me. I really enjoyed that.” That’s what I’m after. I’m not looking to get wealthy with my writing. I’ve just always believed I have something important to say to others through storytelling. Thanks to you, I will now very likely have that chance.
Many thanks to you, Mark, and happy holidays!
Author of the novel Southern Transit
(not yet published)
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