Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Emotionally Healthy Publishing Career

By Sara Megibow, @SaraMegibow

Part of the How They Do It Series

Publishers Marketplace | KT Literary Agency

Please welcome literary agent Sara Megibow, who joins us today to share some advice on how not to go crazy as a writer.

Sara is a literary agent with nine years of experience in publishing. Sara specializes in working with authors in middle grade, young adult, romance, erotica, science fiction and fantasy and represents New York Times bestselling authors Roni Loren and Jason Hough and international bestselling authors Stefan Bachmann and Tiffany Reisz. Sara is LGBTQ-friendly and presents regularly at SCBWI and RWA events around the country.

Take it away Sara...

What does it mean to have an emotionally healthy publishing career? Why is it important?

Most of the time, when offering representation to a new client, she/he tells me, “I’d like to keep writing books for a long, long time.” I interpret this to mean that the author is looking for multiple book deals over the life of their career – that they have many stories in their head and they want to keep writing and making money on their writing for years to come. I propose that understanding the processes and expectations of the publishing industry helps these authors maintain an emotionally healthy long-term career. I also propose that an emotionally healthy publishing experience results in artistically and commercially stronger careers. In short, we write better books and make more money when we understand the business.

So, what do I tell my new authors when explaining the processes and expectations of publishing?

Understand the package. 

Author and agent work together to make money on your books. Whether this is an e-book deal or a print deal, whether it’s a Big 6 (Big 5) company or a small publishing house, whether it’s for NY publishing or self-publishing or a mix of both, it’s important to understand the package. How long will we wait for an edit letter? Will the author have a say on cover design? When will the checks arrive? Avoid frustration by understanding what you’ve gotten into and if you don’t know what to expect – ASK!

Here’s an example – after an author gets a verbal commitment from a publisher, it usually takes me an additional 2-6 months to negotiate the contract. Only after the contract is signed will an author see part of their advance. So, part of my job is to explain to the author, “we have a deal on the table, contract negotiation takes 2-6 months and your on-signing payment arrives after that.” By explaining this process upfront, I help reduce frustration and confusion. Have patience when things change (as they will) and leave room in your psyche for the answer, “I don’t know” or “I don’t know yet.”

Don’t compare your book/ advance/ publicity/ sales to those of other authors. 

The second most difficult email an agent can receive says, “why does her book get X and mine doesn’t?” Many authors experience jealousy once they enter the world of publishing and I think this is natural. However, I also think jealousy can cripple a career, so watch out for it. Every publishing path is different – focus on your own writing and your own books and avoid comparing.

In my opinion, the most difficult email to receive from an author starts off, “So, I’ve been talking to my author friends…” My suggestion is to avoid taking career advice from other authors. Yes, share your experiences. Yes, share support. Yes, network and encourage each other. Draw the line when it comes to taking business advice. Author-to-author advice can be misleading because no other author is in your exact situation. Your agent is the only person other than you who is financially incented to make commercially viable decisions for your career. Agents are commission sales people so you can trust we’re thinking about your bottom line. It’s our job to give you the best advice possible.

Personally, I love to hear suggestions from my clients – we strategize together, we evaluate options, etc. So, if you hear advice and you want to bounce it off your agent – THAT’S a great idea. And, if you don’t have an agent or don’t want an agent, then vet your career advice. Make sure you’re making solid choices based on your specific situation and goals.

Don’t respond to bad reviews.

Heck, in my opinion – don’t even read bad reviews. Responding to reviews will be mis-interpreted online and can result in what I call the internet-fist-fight. This kind of drama will derail your writing and will distract readers. Avoid responding to bad reviews – avoid it like the plague.

I hope this helps. Know your processes and understand your expectations! Here’s to happy, healthy, profitable, long-term publishing careers!


Twitter @SaraMegibow


  1. Loved Sara's advice on how to handle the emotions of a long writing career. I know jealousy is common but Sara is so right not to compare ourselves with others. She's one of my dream agents and I've loved following her career as an agent and all the great authors she represents.

  2. Thank you for this informative blog post. I learned several new things that I should keep in mind as I develop as a writer.

  3. All good stuff! "Don't respond to bad reviews" is key. I went from zip to award winning speaker because I took criticism as a learning tool. No matter how great the prose and how you suffered to finish someone won't like it. Thank you Sara Megibow.

  4. Great blog; thanks for the information.

  5. Seems so simple now that you explained everything. Thanks for the informative post. I've seen pieces of similar advice on other blogs but never all put together in one tidy page.

  6. Sara, thanks for this article on an important but under-discussed topic!

  7. Excellent advice. Thanks, Sara!

  8. I have to say, I find the advice "don't talk business with other writers" to be upsetting. There are many reasons to compare business experiences with other writers that do NOT stem from jealousy--and frankly, suggesting that's the main reason a client may bring up another's person's experience comes off condescending. Publishing (including self-publishing) is such a changing world these days. When a writer is trying to gain as much information as possible for their career, why on earth would you tell authors not to talk to each other? Especially when transparent sales information is very difficult to get from publishers already.

    I'm sure that advice was well-intentioned, but I think the more information we can share as authors, the better informed we are to make decisions regarding where we want our careers to go.

  9. I agree with the last post. As a writer who is following the current self-publishing trend very closely, I am very interested in what other authors are saying.