Friday, September 20, 2013

Interview With Author Consultant Mark Malatesta

What is Literary Agent Undercover? Literary Agent Undercover helps authors of all genres get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals. I founded Literary Agent Undercover in August 2011, after closing my literary agency called New Brand Agency Group (more about that below).

Literary Agent Undercover offers a free weekly newsletter, insider articles, audio and video training (including interviews with top literary agents), the world’s best Directory of Literary Agents (online), an interactive Ask a Literary Agent area (online), and 1-on-1 Coaching and Consulting Services (in person, by phone, and/or Skype).

Literary Agent Undercover is for authors that fit into one of the following categories: 1) Unpublished authors just starting to write (or pitch) their book(s), 2) Self-published authors who now want to find a real (traditional) publisher, and 3) Previously published authors who’ve lost their agent and/or publisher and want to find a new one.

Exactly what do you do in any given day? Most days I get up at 5 am (thanks to 5 am Wake Up Call guru Bryce Chapman in Australia) and spend a few hours in my home office before going to the gym for a couple hours (weights, cardio, and laps in the pool keep me sane). Most authors would probably be surprised to learn that I only spend two days a week coaching, but I spend much of my time “offline” editing query letters, book proposals, etc.

I also post new content on my Literary Agents Blog each week, and make time to respond personally to every question and comment posted there. I do a lot of speaking at live events and online as well. And I coach high-level entrepreneurs with my wife, Ingrid Elfver, through Born Celebrity. Lastly, if it’s a Sunday afternoon or Monday night, there’s a good chance I’ll be watching American football. I’m a huge fan, much to my wife’s disappointment (football is the “f-word” in our house).

Why do you love working with authors?  It would be more accurate to say that I love working with most authors. After all, authors are people and not all people are pleasant. But, for the most part, authors are more attractive to me than most other segments of society… like engineers or astronauts.


Let me count the ways…

First of all, I love authors because they’re interesting. Yes, authors are often quirky (but in a good way). I love authors because they’re creative and complex (in other words, authors aren’t boring). They nurture their imaginations and dream big dreams. I love authors because they’re always expanding themselves: filling their minds with new information and ideas, exploring human nature (including their own), and trying to grow.

I love authors because they’re attracted to new people, places, and experiences… because they want to live a full life. They want to see everything there is to see, understand everything there is to understand. I love authors because they’re obsessed with uncovering, interpreting, and speaking the truth. Authors are sensitive souls, idealists, and often romantics.  They want to touch the world, make a difference, leave a legacy.

I love authors because they’re compassionate and slow to judge (good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes). And they’re humble because they know… how little they know. I love authors because they’re wise (see things that no one else can see), and they’re brave (saying things that no one else will say). I love authors because they’re “wizards” that take the invisible (heart, soul, and mind) and give it physical form through words and story.

I love authors because they give us a voice, hope, and courage… the inspiration we need to find and fulfill ourselves. They give us the strength we need to do hard things (the right things), especially when we’re afraid. I love authors because they’re rebels and renegades, frequently taking risks (sometimes for the sake of pure principle).

I also love authors because they’re fun at parties (although they might be shy at first, they can often be clever and witty once they get “warmed up”).

I love authors for their courage and persistence (their willingness to write… and write… and write… often in solitude… without recognition… without any promise of publication, wealth, or fame… for years… sometimes decades… sometimes a lifetime).

The amount of time it takes to become a writer (especially a good writer), is humbling. It takes continuous leaps of faith (and countless sacrifices) that many other professions don’t require (leaps of faith and sacrifices that most people, who aren’t authors, simply wouldn’t be willing to make).

Lastly, I love authors… because I am one. ;)

When it comes to me working with authors 1-on-1 as a coach/consultant, I can say that nothing compares to helping an author get their work out into the world. Sometimes I know that an author never would have been able to get their work out there without my help. Other times it’s simply about me helping someone get a better agent, publisher and/or book deal than they would have gotten alone.

Either way, it’s a rush.

Who are some of the best-selling authors you have worked with?  Although my author consulting company Literary Agent Undercover is only two years old, I’ve already helped dozens of authors (in the United States and abroad) get the attention of top literary agents and/or book deals with major publishing houses like Random House and Thomas Nelson. Click here to see some of our Success Stories. I’ve also listed below most of the book deals I was personally responsible for as the owner of New Brand Agency, before I founded Literary Agent Undercover (I’ve excluded TV, film, stage, and other subsidiary rights for sake of space).

NONFICTION: The Marriage Plan by Aggie Jordan, Ph.D. (Broadway/Sourcebooks); Soul Sex: Tantra For Two by Pala Copeland and Al Link (NewPage); The Husband Book by Harry Harrison (Andrews McMeel); The Women’s Guide to Legal Issues by Nancy Jones (Renaissance); Say Yes to Change by George and Sedena Cappanelli (F&W); Father To Son; Mother to Son; Father to Daughter; and Mother to Daughter by Harry Harrison (Workman); Eat Or Be Eaten by Phil Porter (Prentice-Hall); The Crisis Counselor by Jeff Caponigro (Contemporary); Get Weird! by John Putzier (Amacom); Money-Tree Marketing by Patrick & Jennifer Bishop (Amacom); Creative Selling by Dave Donelson (Entrepreneur); Fearless Brewing by Brian Kunath (Chartwell); The Dog’s Drugstore by Richard Redding & Myrna Papurt (St. Martin’s). ADULT FICTION: 24/7 and Black Valley by Jim Brown (Ballantine); Multiple Novels by Rae Foley (Simon & Schuster); BloodTrail by Michael Sullivan (Jameson). YOUNGER READERS: The Body of Christopher Creed and many other young adult novels by Carol Plum-Ucci  (Harcourt); The Finnegan Zwake Mystery Series by Michael Dahl (Pocket/Scholastic); The Young Shakespeare Mystery Series by Linda Fisher (Hyperion); The Misfits, Inc. Mystery Series by Mark Delaney (Peachtree); Multiple Young Adult Novels by Susan Rottman (Peachtree/Penguin).

Please note that I’m no longer an active literary agent—the only work that I do now with authors is in a coaching/consulting capacity. Also, “Mark Malatesta” is my birth name and “Mark Ryan” is my stepfather’s name. So, if you’re Googling me to check out my literary agent history, make sure you search for “New Brand Agency” and/or “Mark Ryan.” When I was 16 years old (and didn’t know better) my mother remarried and asked me to take on my stepfather’s name. I agreed but never developed a meaningful relationship with my stepfather, so I finally changed my name back to my birth name “Mark Malatesta” in 2007 (after I stopped being a literary agent).

What did you find was rewarding but challenging as a literary agent? The main reason I became a literary agent was to learn how to get my own books published (that’s why I named my new author coaching/consulting company Literary Agent Undercover).  When I became an agent I was just a young aspiring author (25 years old), so I viewed the opportunity as the chance of a lifetime – for a while. After a few years, however, I knew everything I needed to know to get my own books published.

That’s when I started getting a massive itch to get my own books out there. And (this is important) I hated the most important part of my job as an agent: constantly staying on top of the wants/needs of every single editor and publishing house. Since I was based in South Florida and didn’t have thirty years of experience and contacts in the industry, I was the proverbial fish trying to swim upstream every time I made calls to editors. I had to work 10x as agents in New York to make things happen.

Obviously, based on my sales record (above) I was able to do it. But it felt like a grind. Getting married a little while later really pushed me over the edge. At that point I knew that I had to “get serious” about being an agent long-term and move to NYC, or close the agency to pursue my writing and other things. That’s when I decided to close the agency.  By the way, I didn’t just “drop” my authors. I made personal referrals to other agents that I knew so none of my authors would be “orphaned.” As a result, I’m still in touch with many of my authors (not as an agent, but as a friend).

After I closed the literary agency it was several years before I thought about starting Literary Agent Undercover. I was busy working with my wife on Born Celebrity. But I eventually started missing all the things I loved about being an agent: discovering new authors; educating them about the industry; and, most important, helping them develop their projects, platforms, and pitches. I also missed speaking at events and meeting with authors face-to-face. That’s when I decided to establish Literary Agent Undercover.

Where do you see the book publishing industry heading? I love this question because most people find my take on this topic refreshing. Most literary agents and other publishing professionals are always preaching poverty because they have a victim mentality. In other words, they don’t feel empowered or have much hope.

Yes, the publishing industry is changing… but it’s evolving (in a good way).

Technology has changing the marketplace with eBooks, but authors make more per book in digital form than they do on print editions. Even though eBooks sell for less, authors get a higher royalty rate. Plus, eBooks and eReaders make it easier than ever for people to buy books. They no longer have to drive to a bookstore or order a book online and wait for it to be delivered. All they have to do is press a button on their Kindle or other eReader device.

Another thing… although there is more “noise” in the world today, along with more technological distractions and entertainment options, people are reading more now than ever before. In the 1950s, 25% of people in the US were reading a book at any given point in time. Now it’s approximately 75%.

When it comes to self-publishing, it’s fool’s good in most cases. Bookstores won’t order or stock most self-published books. Neither will libraries. Reviewers won’t read self-published books. And the only way (most of the time) to get a book on a real bestseller list like the NY Times is to distribute and heavily promote a first printing of at least 50,000 copies.

How many self-published authors have the resources to do that?

Yes, there are more self-publishing options than ever before, but literary agents and traditional publishers aren’t going anywhere. That’s because big books require industry leaders with serious marketing muscle to develop, distribute, and promote them.

Lastly, even though many of the major publishers are merging and the literary landscape is changing… the sky is not falling. New unpublished authors get top literary agents every day, and book deals.

Do you need to be at the top of your game to make it happen?


Would it be wise to get help from someone like me before developing and/or pitching your work to top literary agents?


But don’t stop believing, go self-publish, and end up selling 82 books (that’s the official average for self-published authors). Getting published by a traditional publisher like Random House isn’t luck… it’s a decision. So deepen your commitment to yourself to get your work out there.

Get educated, and work with a highly qualified professional to give yourself the best possible edge. Start now by taking advantage of all the resources on my Literary Agent Undercover website, starting with my free 60-minute mp3 training: Seven Secrets Every Author Needs to Know… to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal.

MARK MALATESTA is the author who went “undercover” as a literary agent for five years to find out how to get his own books published. During that time, Mark became a NY Times bestselling literary agent and helped many authors launch their writing careers with major publishers like Random House. The result was millions of books sold along with projects being picked up for TV, stage, and feature film (with companies like Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks). Mark’s authors have gotten 6-figure advances, been on the NY Times bestseller list, been licensed in more than 30 countries, and won countless national and international awards and honors. Now Mark is helping authors of all genres get top literary agents and book deals through his new training and consulting company called Literary Agent Undercover. Get instant access to Mark’s FREE 60-minute mp3 training: Seven Secrets Every Author Needs to Know… to Get a Top Literary Agent, Publisher, and Book Deal, weekly newsletter, insider articles, Directory of Literary Agents, interactive Ask a Literary Agent area of his website, and information about his1-on-1 coaching and consulting services. Click Here Now to Become a Publishing Insider with Literary Agent Undercover.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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