John Verlenden, author of the not yet published novels Three Women of Tahrir and The 800, provided this review of former literary agent Mark Malatesta. John worked with Mark to improve his manuscript, pitch materials, and platform resulting in representation with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. 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 John.
Mark Malatesta Review by John Verlenden
WhenI got an offer for representation from the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, I was in the middle of buying a house and my wife was in the middle of getting a job. I was also in the middle of writing my next book, which was great, because my agent’s comments about my first book helped clarify what I should do with the second book.
I’m a very serious writer, so I was only interested in top agents. I’d been looking at agents for a long time, and I’d always seen the Sandra Dijkstra’s Agency at the top of the list. I had sent a query to them about my novel before, but it didn’t light a fire. So, when I got an offer from them, this time, with your help, I was tremendously excited.
It wasn’t just that my agent was enthusiastic about my work. She also understood it. I thought, “Holy cow! I’ve got someone, but I’ve also got someone who’s extremely high quality.” I would have felt good getting any agent but getting an agent withthe Sandra Dijkstra Agencymade me feel ten times better.
I’ve been working as a writer for a long time. And, like every writer, I’ve endured many, many, many comments about how I could be better and whatnot. I’ve always tried to act on those comments and finally seeing it come to fruition was deeply satisfying. My wife and I arealways looking for reasons to celebrate, so we went to a French restaurant someone told us about and we had a great night out.
The query letter I had worked up before I found you was a piece of self-effacing humility that was entirely out of touch. When you showed me your letter, I was embarrassed to show it to my wife. It said things about me that I’d never say about myself. She said, “Let me see it.” I was sitting on the end of the couch, preparing for her gales of laughter. Instead, she said, “This is you, John. This is you!”
I said, “Really?” She said, “This is who you are. He’s seizing upon it in a way you’ve never been able to. Thank God you got somebody to write this darn letter, because you’d never say those things!” I replied, “Yeah, well, don’t you think it needs some tweaks?” I was still looking for her to say, “Well, yes, it’s a little over the top.” But she said, “No. There’s nothing untrue in this letter.”
Now I get it. I mean, if I was an agent, that’s what I would have wanted to see. It’s just that when you’re an aspiring writer and nobody knows who you are, it’s hard to look at things objectively. You can read all the books about getting an agent and you can go to writers’ conferences – I did both those things – but I still had a hard time placing myself in the seat of an agent. I think every writer has a hard time with that.
It also takes time to learn how agents work. If you’re busy making a living, like most people, you think, “I don’t really have the time to invest that I need to. Let me give it a shot, see if I can send 10 more letters out and get somebody interested.” When nobody is, you collapse into despondence, put the manuscript away, and start writing something new. Meanwhile, all this old work is dragging behind you like tin cans on the tail of a dog.
Collaboration is the way to go, that’s where the best work is being done. The ability to collaborate, the openness to collaborate, the willingness to collaborate, and then learning how to be a good collaborator is crucial to every kind of success. Artistic success and business success. It took me a long time to learn that. You might be an individual creative genius, but you also need help.
Writers bravely try to entertain readers and sometimes they stand up to the winds of an unthinking culture. They also sometimes think you need luck or a “big break” to get published. You might think, “Maybe it will happen if I give a public reading or go to a writer’s conference.” That does occasionally happen, but you can also do other things to make it more likely you’ll get a break.
A lightbulb went off for me when I heard you talking about how getting published isn’t luck, but a decision. I thought, “My God, he’s right. I need to get this luck thing — this lady fortune smiling, or not smiling, over me thing — out of my head. I need to take charge of my literary career, and I need help. I need THIS guy’s help. I’m going to go for it. If it’s a waste of money, big deal.”
I’d already wasted oodles of time. I’d read a lot of other people’s materials, and I’d had editors write and say they’d be glad to work with me for so much per hour and whatnot. In your materials, you seemed to be filling a niche for many, many, many writers. And it seemed you could help me move along in the very difficult business of getting an agent. I thought, “I’m signing up.”
Anybody who takes time to listen to your materials or read your columns is going to get the message pretty quickly, that your coaching isn’t just a way to soak money out of poor, wretched writers willing to pay all sorts of money for all sorts of services that never actually deliver. Your coaching is grounded in your experience as an agent, and you’ve now helped more than 100 authors get agents.
I knew the kind of help I needed before I found you. I just didn’t think I was ever going to find it. I’d probably told my wife for the hundredth million time, “I’m really going to stick it out this time and figure out how to get an agent.” Then I came across your materials, and I thought, “This is different.” I knew exactly what you were doing, that you had the knowledge I needed, that coaching with you was my chance.
You’re filling an important niche. Really, it was a stroke of genius on your part to do it. There are so many authors trying to get agents, looking for someone to help them. They need somebody offering a service like yours, somebody who has been an agent, yet you’re the only one I know whose whole business is built around doing it. I knew you’d tell me how to be savvier and present myself the best way to agents.
When we talked the first time, it was clear you care a lot about authors, and you were truthful with me. You said something like, “You might not get an agent for your first novel, it might not happen right away.” I thought, “That’s a hard thing for me to hear, but, if he just wanted my money, he probably wouldn’t have said that.” If I’d heard anything less than that from you, I would have thought twice. If I’d thought, in any way, I was being sold a bill of goods, I would have backed away.
When I saw the work you’d put in to generate my Excel spreadsheet of agents, and how you’d clearly identified agents who were most likely to be receptive to my query, I thought, “Wow, that alone is worth every bit of time and money I’ve invested in this.” I’m like a lot of writers, constantly journaling this, that, and the other thing, and that’s how I used to keep notes about agents and my progress with agents. It was a terrible system. “Where’s that note? Which journal is it in? And, which page is it on?”
Having the Excel sheet really, really helped, because I could prioritize the agents. I could easily mark down little bits of information. And I could actually find the information. I was already familiar with a lot of the agents on your list, from my past research, and I was glad to see that a lot of the agents I thought were good, were on the top of your list. The gears started grinding together in a good way at that point.
I appreciate your knowledge and support, and I’ve enjoyed my time with you. I’ve won prizes for my writing and had creative writing teachers say, “You’re a phenomenon waiting to happen.”
You helped me MAKE it happen.
Author of the not yet published novels
Three Women of Tahrir and The 800
(not yet published)
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Do You Want to Be Like John Verlenden Who Provided this Review About Mark Malatesta?
Do you want to be like John and get represented by a top literary agency like the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency? Click here to get instant access to the Free Resources on our websites for authors and click here to find out how you can Schedule an Introductory Coaching Call. Mark Malatesta is founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover, helping authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals. The above review of Mark Malatesta, Author Coach was provided by author John Verlenden.