Mark Malatesta Review by Silvia Foti
This review of Mark Malatesta was provided by the author of The Nazi’s Granddaughter (Regnery), as seen in the New York Times. Regnery Publishing has more than 50 books on the New York Times bestseller list, including numerous books at #1.
Silvia Foti’s work with Mark led to her story appearing on the front page of the New York Times, being contacted by the BBC for an interview broadcast to 75 million listeners, and multiple offers of representation from literary agents.
Click here to see Silvia’s review, an interview in which he shares his best advice for authors, and more Mark Malatesta reviews:
Review of Mark Malatesta Review by Silvia Foti
I just got an offer from Regnery Publishing! They’ve had more than fifty books on the New York Times bestseller list, including numerous books at #1. Harper Collins Mexico has picked up my book as well. My agent, Helen Zimmerman, has been great. I LOVE her, and I wouldn’t be at this point without your guidance and help.
It took every fiber of my being not to say yes to Helen immediately, but I followed your advice and asked for time to think about it…since I had other agents who were serious. That was really, really hard. I just wanted to scream, “Yes!” Helen said she was “completely engrossed” with the book and added, “This is a really good proposal, I’m so amazed.” She was ebullient, enthusiastic, and eager. No poker face, which I really liked.
I sent out the query you wrote in early November, and I got good responses. You said I might get an agent by Thanksgiving and it totally could have happened that way, but the agents left me waiting, waiting, and waiting. Then it was nothing, nothing, and nothing. Then the holidays came and went. You said I should send out a second round of queries. When I did, I got more responses and two offers.
Part Two – S. Foti – Mark Malatesta Review
I’ve been with this book 19 years. My early versions were horrible, but I sent them out because I didn’t know how bad they were. Every couple of years I’d send the manuscript out again and get more rejections. I knew something was wrong. At one point, a couple years ago, I got an agent to represent me, but she only showed the book to editors at Random House. Then, she said, “I can’t sell it. Your proposal is too weak, you have no platform, and you need a website. I’m sorry.”
In the middle of that, I had my first coaching session with you, to talk about my proposal and platform. I was very impressed and wished I’d worked with you from the beginning. The difference in my positive response rate with queries after we worked on everything together was like night and day. I got mostly nothing before. Once in a blue moon, an agent would respond and that was it.
Agents loved the new query.
It got a very high response rate, and some of the agents who’d rejected me before asked to review my material this time. It wasn’t just the query that did it. It was the things you had me do to make my platform better. I was blind to that. I had no idea what I was getting into, trying to get an agent. It felt like I kept walking into a dragon’s cave and getting burned.
Part Three – S. Foti – Mark Malatesta Review
I have four degrees, two of which are writing degrees (journalism and creative nonfiction), but I didn’t have a degree in how to get an agent. Now I feel like I do! School doesn’t teach the stuff I learned with you, and books about literary agents don’t give authors everything you do. You’re a guide, like a Sherpa. I felt like you were holding my hand the whole time, giving me the information I needed and shining a light on what was ahead. I was never surprised.
You’re very hands-on and methodical, and you have an explanation or packet of information for everything, from A to Z, beginning to end. I like that. I was always able to figure things out and I knew what to expect. I should say it’s a lot of work for the author. It’s not like you pay your money and it’s done. It’s not like that at all, but at least I knew what I was doing working with you. I knew I wasn’t spinning my wheels or wasting time.
I was intimidated by the platform work at first, in particular. It took a lot of time and I didn’t think I could do it. I would have never, ever, ever done it on my own. I kept saying, “Okay. Well, he knows, so I’m just going to trust him.” It was always a leap of faith. Before I started contacting agents, when I was reaching out to people to build my platform, I got discouraged by all the rejections. But that changed when Salon.com published the article I pitched to them.
Part Four – S. Foti – Mark Malatesta Review
Within a month of that being published, approximately 17,000 people shared it on social media. Then other media outlets saw it and started contacting me. The New York Times and Chicago Tribune wrote articles about me. And was contacted to do an interview for BBC World Outlook heard by 75 million listeners. Others have covered my story as well, in the US and abroad. And I’ve been contacted by people asking about the possibility of adapting the story to TV or feature film. One man I talked to, with a major studio, said it’s “Oscar worthy.”
I kid you not!
Some agents said my platform was too small, while others said it was too big, that I’d gotten “too much exposure” and there wouldn’t be enough places left to promote the book once it was published. You stayed positive and kept saying, “Keep at it.” I was like, “Okay,” and I did. That’s what led to me finally getting the article published at Salon.com. They later named my article their “Best of 2018 Life Stories.” It wasn’t easy and it took longer than a year, but everything we did was helpful.
You suggested important changes for the structure of my book as well, which was impressive. You’re not a developmental editor, but I did a lot of rewriting based on your suggestions. I felt very secure, like I was in safe hands. I had no doubt I was doing the best I could, and that if it wasn’t going to work, it wasn’t going to be because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d literally tried everything else and your coaching was last thing left for me. I knew, if that didn’t work, nothing would.
I was desperate.
Part Five – S. Foti – Mark Malatesta Review
Before my first session with you, you sent me a long questionnaire that might be overwhelming for some people. I thought, “He’s really thorough.” I was impressed that you asked so many questions and wondered, “What else could we possibly talk about?” But the call was illuminating. You gave me a lot of good advice about how to improve my platform, proposal, and query.
It’s almost impossible to get an agent without help. The publishing industry is so complicated and Byzantine. There are a million different ways to do things and it’s hard to know which ones are going to work for you. You need someone to break it down, show you which areas to spend the most time on, and show you the best way to do it. You need a friend in the business, someone who can fast-track you.
I’ve really enjoyed working with you, Mark. I’m grateful for your advice, energy, talent, and kindness guiding me through this crazy maze.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
SILVIA FOTI is the author of The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal, published by Regnery Publishing, with more than 50 books on the New York Times bestseller list, including numerous books at #1
Silvia Foti Interview with Author Coach Mark Malatesta (Audio and Text)
During this 59-minute interview with author coach Mark Malatesta, author Silvia Foti talks about her process getting a literary agent. Silvia’s book, The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal, was published by Regnery Publishing. The book is available in hardcover and paperback. In the following interview, Silvia shares advice for authors about the best way to write, publish, and promote a book (regardless of the genre). She also shares additional information about what is was like working with Mark as an author coach.
S I L V I A . F O T I
Mark Malatesta: Silvia Foti is a journalist, creative writer, teacher, and mother. She holds masters’ degrees in Journalism, Education, and Creative Nonfiction, and she’s been a high school English teacher and journalist. Upon her mother’s death, Silvia was handed the biggest assignment of her life, to write the story about her famous grandfather.
Silvia was raised on reverent stories about her hero grandfather, a martyr for Lithuanian independence and an unblemished patriot. Jonas Noreika, remembered as “General Storm,” had resisted his country’s German and Soviet occupiers in World War II, surviving two years in a Nazi concentration camp only to be executed in 1947 by the KGB.
His granddaughter, Silvia, growing up in Chicago, was treated like royalty in her tightly knit Lithuanian community. But in 2000, when Silvia traveled to Lithuania for a ceremony honoring her grandfather, she heard a very different story—a rumor that her grandfather had been a “Jew-killer.”
The Nazi’s Granddaughter is Silvia’s account of her wrenching twenty-year quest for the truth, from a beautiful house confiscated from its Jewish owners to familial confessions and the Holocaust tour guide who believed that her grandfather murdered members of his family. A heartbreaking and dramatic story based on exhaustive documentary research and soul-baring interviews, The Nazi’s Granddaughter is an unforgettable journey into WWII history, intensely personal but filled with universal lessons about courage, faith, memory, and justice.
Silvia and I worked together to help her improve her manuscript, pitch materials, and platform, which led to her being featured in the New York Times and being contacted by the BBC for a radio interview to be aired to 75 million listeners. Silvia then got an offer for representation from multiple literary agents, which led to her book being published by Regnery Publishing, which has more than 50 books on the New York Times bestseller list.
To learn more about Silvia, go to silviafoti.com.
So welcome, Silvia!
S.F.: Thank you, Mark. I’m so happy to be here.
Mark Malatesta: Good, me too, and it’s been quite the journey as everybody will soon see. I’m so glad you’re here and I appreciate all the work you did to get here. Let’s get right into it. Now, I know I just told everybody, at least briefly, what your book is about. Would you take a few minutes and tell everyone more since it’s an incredible story and I know a lot of people listening are going to take away your advice for writers but also want to get a copy of the book.
S.F.: Sure. Well, The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather Was a War Criminal is about a deathbed promise that I made to my mother that led me to discover that my famous grandfather in Lithuania wasn’t just a World War II hero who fought bravely against the communists. He was also a Nazi war criminal. The Nazi war criminal side of his life had been completely buried until I started looking into it.
When my mom asked me to write the book about her father, Jonas Noreika, I had no idea of what I would be getting into, that it would lead to a personal crisis, holocaust denial, and an official coverup by the Lithuanian government. Of course, I also had no idea that this little family story was going to end up being featured on the front page of The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and, as you mentioned, the BBC.
PT 2 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
So, it has been quite the wild journey. My grandfather’s nom de guerre was General Storm. He was really just a captain in the army, but he called himself General Storm. He was reported to be the highest-ranking military Lithuanian official in three cities during the holocaust. He was chief of the second largest region in the country during the Nazi occupation. He led an uprising against the communists, and he won the country Lithuania back before he was taken by the Germans, was found guilty, and was then executed.
The whole story initially seemed romantic to me until I started getting into what happened during the Nazi occupation. That was where I started uncovering all these horrific things that my grandfather was involved in. After a lot of research, the book took me 21 years from beginning to end, from my mother’s dead bed promise until its publication just three months ago. It’s been quite, quite a journey. In the end, I discovered he was responsible for the deaths of 8-15,000 Jews in Lithuania. That’s the overview.
Mark Malatesta: It’s a memoir but also narrative nonfiction, right? Two stories in one. It’s that history and his story, and then it’s your story. I warn my long-term coaching clients about this when they’re writing memoirs. It’s much more difficult to put yourself out there and do it because it’s so emotional. If you’re querying literary agents or publishers and they’re rejected your book, it can feel like they’re rejecting you.
When we’re taking about degree of difficulty with yours, it was twice as hard because your book is two stories in one. It’s not just your story. There are some books that aren’t as difficult to write, but this one also being so personal and emotional, with the identity crisis you had to go through…I can imagine why it took so long.
S.F.: Yes. My background was in journalism, and I had been a journalist for 20 years when my mom asked me to write the book. I initially just imagined it as a third-person biography of him. I kept getting a lot of rejections and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I even ended up switching careers for this book. I decided to become a high school English teacher to have summers off to write it.
That helped but it still wasn’t enough. I kept getting rejections and thought there must be something wrong with me and my writing. So, I got an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. When I did that, that was a big turning point because they said, “No, no. This should be memoir. You should not write this as a biography. You need to make this your journey of discovery.”
That was a watershed moment because in journalism, I had only been taught to write in third person very neutrally, keeping myself out of the story, not getting personal, and here now I was in a new school and they were telling me, “No, you’re supposed to be personal. You’re supposed to put yourself out there.” So, that was a complete shift in my style of writing.
Mark Malatesta: And you also then had to challenge yourself to write a more difficult type of writing, making your work read more like a novel or movie and less of an investigative report.
S.F.: Right, that’s what creative nonfiction is. It’s taking a true story and adding all the fictional dramatic techniques to it. That’s what I learned with the MFA. Somebody described creative nonfiction to me as riding two horses at the same time. One horse is keeping everything true with all the research, but then the other horse is making it all interesting using those dramatic techniques.
Mark Malatesta: The good news when you’re doing it, though, as I can put a positive spin on anything, is that you are working off the truth. You always have those lines to color within. If you’re writing a novel, you can do absolutely anything and that can be a little too much freedom.
PT 3 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: That’s true. I had so much material on my grandfather, that my mom had collected, that it was a mountain of information to get through. So, then it was what do you pick out of this mountain to put in the book?
Mark Malatesta: Congratulations again for getting there. You and I both know how hard it is. So many people have no idea. I mean, you know this, from our work together…I’m constantly reminding people from the first moment, it’s probably going to be brutally hard. There’s a good chance you won’t make it, but you absolutely might.
Right before this interview we talked, and I reminded you how much I believed in your story and that I would have fallen out of my chair if it hadn’t happened. I feel the same way about you getting a movie deal, but, even then, it wasn’t easy. It didn’t happen overnight. Will you relive that because that’s what all the writers listening want to experience.
Just relive a little bit what was going on before you got the news of the first real offer from the first literary agent, and how that unfolded because you had multiple literary agents interested. Talk about your journey from that point on to when the serious interest came in, to the point of you actually getting the literary agent and book deal, and what, if anything, you’ve done to celebrate.
S.F.: So, I sent out all the query letters and finally, after having shaped the query letter with your help, was getting real responses. I can’t remember how many, but lots of literary agents.
Mark Malatesta: It’s okay. We don’t need to scare people with those numbers. [laughter]
S.F.: No, but I’m just saying, the good news is lots of literary agents were asking for the manuscript. So, that was a big win.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, we were halfway home.
S.F.: Right, that at least they were even asking to read. I was amazed they were asking me to send the manuscript at this point. Finally, four said they wanted to represent me, and I was like, “Oh, my God. What do I do now, Mark?”
Mark Malatesta: That’s a good problem to have.
S.F.: Yes. So, then with your help, I interviewed the literary agents and we talked it over, and then I finally picked. I was in the driver’s seat, and I got to pick the literary agent I wanted to represent me of the four that were offering. That was phenomenal compared to everything that I had gone through before I met you. That was huge. She took me on and then strangely, she sold the book in Spanish first. It came out in Spanish first.
Mark Malatesta: That was Harper Collins, right?
S.F.: Right, Harper Collins, Mexico took it within a few months of her sending it out, but then it took longer to get the English publisher. So, the English publisher came a few months after that and it ended up being a Christmas story. I got the offer from the publisher on Christmas Eve. I was just crying. I literally got down on my knees and said, “Thank you, God. Thank you, Jesus.”
Mark Malatesta: Right. It was a Christmas miracle.
S.F.: So, that was just amazing. The celebration was Christmas and the biggest present I could possibly get which was a publisher. That was huge.
Mark Malatesta: I love it. They are a great publisher. There are so many publishers that authors typically don’t know of. I mean, they know Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Random House, etc. But there are many publishers like yours with extremely great reputations, really powerful, but they aren’t household names, but man, they sell books. 50 New York Times bestsellers. That says something.
S.F.: Yes, I love Regnery History. They’ve been phenomenal. Really, really good.
Mark Malatesta: Did you do anything to celebrate, or you’re not that kind of gal?
PT 4 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: No, we just kept it at the Christmas celebration, just raised a glass of champagne on Christmas. I mean, that was a lot. I had my family around me and so we just add that into it.
Mark Malatesta: Right. One of my clients said his wife bought him a Jaguar.
Mark Malatesta: I think that was already kind of partly in the works, but that was kind of a good timing thing to pair it up. I was like, wow, that’s nice.
Mark Malatesta: Silvia is like, “I have to talk to my family. What’s going on here?” [laughter]
S.F.: Yes, this is a little different for me. I think we upgraded the champagne from like $5 to maybe $20.
Mark Malatesta: Definitely, that will do it. Now, since what we’re talking about today is a bit of a case study other authors can learn from, I’ll get you sharing your advice and tips for writers [of all genres], and, if you want, for authors writing in your genre. We’ve already touched on a couple things that way. It doesn’t matter if they are writing fiction books or a romance novel, or whatever. Writing is writing. The best way to write a book, get it published, promote it, all of that. So, when did you first get the idea that you might be a writer or author? Did you know when you got into journalism or when you were four years old and wrote your first novel or something? When did you get that first inkling you might write a book?
S.F.: I always wanted to be a writer, even as a child, and by 8th grade my grade teacher said, “You should be a writer.” Ever since then, I set my heart on being a writer and through high school I knew I wanted to be a journalist because that’s what a lot of writers do. I became a journalist and I guess I had been a journalist for about 10 years before I started writing fiction. I had two mystery novels published and they did okay. Very small publishers. I didn’t have a literary agent. I had already started getting rejections then. I then got really involved in running a writer’s conference for mystery writers called Love is Murder. That was where I started meeting a lot of people in the business and sitting through a lot of workshops.
Mark Malatesta: You were just absorbing everything.
S.F.: Right. Absorbing it and understanding how hard getting published really is. That it’s not a matter of just sending it out and bim-bam-boom, it’s done. My second mystery novel came out in the middle of my working on this book. With this book, I thought the story was really big and this is it, the story of a lifetime. I felt like I had a grounding as far as knowing this was the book I really wanted to put everything into.
Mark Malatesta: I love that name, by the way, Love is Murder, for that conference. It’s a great title for a cozy mystery. I’m sure it’s been used.
S.F.: Yeah, it did well and then it fell apart. I think it was around for 10-15 years. I was with it for about seven, the last seven.
Mark Malatesta: I used to run around and speak at those all over the country when I was a literary agent. Nowadays, people find me easily on Google.
Mark Malatesta: I have a curveball question for you. I’m just curious. Do you feel like a writer at this point? It may sound strange, but some of my clients, I won’t name names, even those published with major publishers, often say, “Oh, I still don’t really feel like a writer.” It’s just one of those things. It can be validating for other authors listening to hear that, but you’ve been at it so long you’ll probably say, “Yeah, I’m a writer. I’ve done it all my life.” Do you feel that way?
PT 5 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: I do feel like a writer, and I really feel like I earned the title. The MFA in Creative Nonfiction, of course, is a real degree, and I have a master’s in journalism. I have two writing degrees and now, with the publication of this book with a really nice publisher with a real New York literary agent, I feel like a writer now. I do.
Mark Malatesta: Good. Normally, next I would ask about various types of writing you did before you wrote the book. We already touched on that and how you got the idea for your book. So let me ask you this, getting into your writer education, because I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but most published authors don’t have MFAs.
They’re self-taught for the most part. A lot of them have not even worked with a professional editor. They’re doing it the painful way, but there are a million ways to get there, but can you just talk for a minute about your MFA experience? You don’t have to name names. It sounds like, overall, it was a positive experience for you. I’ve also heard horror stories of people can sometimes not being that nice or that helpful, and how the experience can break you down as much as it builds you up. It sounds like, for you, it’s been a good experience.
S.F.: Yes. I mean, I was in my late 40s getting it. So, by that point…
Mark Malatesta: You were better prepared.
S.F.: And I had been a journalist already for 20 years.
Mark Malatesta: You were tougher by then.
S.F.: Yeah, and I was on a mission to get my book published. So, I was doing it. They let me have this as my thesis. So, that was a big deal. They don’t usually let writers do that because they want them to expand to something else. So, I’m glad I got in when I did, but almost nothing I wrote during that period is in the book. It’s completely changed since then, but I needed all that training to add in the suspense, and since pacing does not come naturally or getting all the connectors in between. There’s a lot of technique everybody takes for granted, unless you’re in the field. I don’t normally talk about this because it’s like talking about how the sausage is made. Nobody really wants to hear about it.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
S.F.: But, to me, this book would not be here unless I had learned all those techniques. I’m a big reader and I’d read lots of books on writing and how to write fiction and all that. I feel like I read all of them. You recommended one I hadn’t read when we were going through my manuscript, and I really loved that book. It was one of the steps to get to where I was, but it wasn’t the final one. You still have to do a lot beyond that, and the MFA doesn’t teach you anything at all about the business. It does teach you about the writing and the technique, but it does not prepare you at all for getting a literary agent and publisher. You’re completely on your own again when you get to that.
Mark Malatesta: That’s the part where I’ve heard most of the negative stuff from authors where they were like, “Man, I didn’t learn anything about publishing. These people, they won’t share any information about their literary agent or anything.” It’s hard.
S.F.: People are very protective of their literary agents. “Wait, I gave my right hand to get my literary agent. You’re not just going to get it just like that.”
Mark Malatesta: Right. What about editors? Remind me, I think you worked with one or more editors along the way, developmental, as you didn’t need a copyeditor, but did you do something like that?
PT 6 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: Yes. I thought I was a pretty good writer, but I still needed some professional editing help too. I did end up getting developmental editor who really helped me reshape the story. It’s a very complicated story structurally. I had to figure out the story arc and what the climax was, because it’s not just a chronological story of my grandfather. It’s more of a chronological story of me discovering who my grandfather is and that means his life is completely out of order in the book. The thing that connects us is my own journey of discovering who he is.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, that’s the real climax. We know a bit about what he did going into the story, but it’s your journey that’s building most of all.
S.F.: Right, and you have to put yourself on the page, like your emotions. That was very hard for me, to get so intimate with my feelings, but that’s the promise of memoir and that’s one of the reasons people love them so much.
Mark Malatesta: Right. I brought up the editor thing just because you’re at one end of the spectrum. Like I said, most of my authors don’t have MFA degree and haven’t gone to writers conferences. They haven’t worked with an editor, either. They haven’t done any of that, plus you’re a journalist, so I don’t want them to be intimidated. I like that other writers can see you’re a journalist with an MFA degree and you still hired an editor.
That can be good, or working with someone like me can be good. Any one of those things just makes you better and gives you a better chance of producing the best product. Not to minimize it by saying it’s a product, but at the end of the day, the best version of your book and story you can create, that’s going to reach the most people. I love that you’ve done all that.
S.F.: Yes, and I mean, every time I got rejections after having done all this, I was like, “Wow. You’re not impressed that I have an MFA?” No.
Mark Malatesta: That’s why I tell a lot of my clients, I probably told you this too, I’ll joke with my clients usually when they start looking at the literary agent list or working on their platform, and say, “If you hear humility and paranoia in my voice, then you should be humble and paranoid too.” It’s just that hard. The second you start getting cocky in this industry, forget it. You’re going to get another lesson and reminder that you should never do that.
S.F.: One thing I learned sitting through all those writers conferences is that when it’s a rejection, it’s me, not them. I went back to myself and said, “What did I do wrong and how can I get past this?” I never blamed them. I always blamed myself.
Mark Malatesta: It’s tricky. That’s definitely the more productive way to look at it, but sometimes it’s not so much a problem or that you made a mistake, as much as there may be an opportunity to do something more or something that could get you to your goal. And, sometimes, it’s absolutely them, just so you know.
Mark Malatesta: They can be crazy. I won’t name names, but one literary agent, she’s successful, has sold stuff. She recently told one of my clients, “Hey, you made a mistake writing your novel. You wrote your novel in past tense and all novels are supposed to be written in present tense.” What is she smoking? That makes no sense. A.) You can do it either way and B), most novels are written in past tense not present tense.
S.F.: I agree.
Mark Malatesta: My client was freaking out. I was glad to be there to tell her, “No, that literary agent’s just crazy.”
S.F.: It’s funny, when you get a phone call from a literary agent, you think, this is it. You’re going to get an offer. But I had a phone call from one literary agent who talked to me for an hour about what she did not like about my book. That was it.
Mark Malatesta: Right, those make no sense to me. Either that person is really nice, in that they’re trying to give you that feedback and there’s nothing in it for them. Or they’re just not successful or they need to get a life.
PT 7 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: Yes. I mean, to her credit, I did take notes and I did address what she didn’t like, but at that point, I didn’t send it back to her because she made it clear she didn’t want to see it again. I was like, “Okay.”
Mark Malatesta: Alright. Let’s shift into your advice for writers about writing a book. Again, you can share general things that would work for writers of any genre and/or some tips specific to memoir. I’m not fishing for anything in particular. I’m wide open since all types of writers will be listening to this or reading the transcript. Authors who are seasoned, beginners, and writing all genres. What are your best two or three things you think might help everyone?
S.F.: It’s so much. I guess the main thing is don’t give up on yourself. You really, really have to believe in yourself. Some of this is just self-esteem, believing you’re worthy of getting your book published. I had decided, and again, this is from sitting in all those writers conferences, not to self-publish. I made myself a promise that no matter what, I wasn’t going to self-publish.
I mean, a lot of people do it and it’s fine, but I really wanted to get the validation of a real publisher and so that already was setting a bar at a certain height. Then I set the bar at a big publisher. I didn’t want a small publisher because I’d already done the two mystery novels with very small publishers that didn’t need a literary agent. So, at that point, I wanted a real literary agent, as that’s the only way you can get a big publisher.
That’s what they use literary agents as gatekeepers. I’d already set my sights on that. Those are high bars. Those are really high bars and once you set those bars as a nothing less than, then you have to figure out how to reach them and that’s when I said I’m going to do anything I have to do to reach them. I had tried to do that for years and years without your help. By the time I came to you, I was humbled, flattened, and desperate.
Mark Malatesta: You were coachable. That’s the ideal client, not one who thinks they have it all figured out but haven’t done anything yet. That’s good.
S.F.: Yes. At that point, I’d really studied your website. It takes hours and hours to read through everything. So, I’d done all that and thought about it for several months. I did actually get a literary agent before I got you.
Mark Malatesta: I forgot all about that. Now, talk about that a little bit, so people can understand what you mean by that. That raised the degree of difficulty for us exponentially because the last thing literary agents want is like a pitch from somebody who’s like, “Hey, I’ve had a literary agent before who couldn’t sell my book, but I really think you might.” It’s hard enough to get them looking in the first place, let alone with that baggage. So, yes, talk about that for a minute.
S.F.: I had gotten a literary agent and she was excited about the project. She sent it to a few publishers, and nobody wanted it. At that point, though, I didn’t even have a website. With you, it was light years away from that, but I did manage to get a literary agent, and then of course about four months later, I was like, “How’s it going? What’s going on?”
She said, “I’m sorry, Silvia. Your problem is you need an author platform, and you at least need to get yourself a website and I can’t sell your book. I’m going to give it back to you. Bye. Have a nice life.” About a month after that, I finally called you. I had already been researching you in the midst of all that, but when I got rejected from her, I thought, “Oh, my God. This cannot get any worse.” That’s when I came to you.
PT 8 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
Mark Malatesta: What was more work, getting your MFA or doing my program?
S.F.: I would say equal but different.
Mark Malatesta: I know the MFA was more work.
S.F.: No, really. In some ways, your program is like, at some level, an MFA, and how to get published is learning a lot of tricks of the trade and how to approach. It is a very serious endeavor and you really do need to know what you’re doing.
Mark Malatesta: Your platform comment is what got me thinking about all the work. That’s the biggest time investment.
S.F.: That’s huge.
Mark Malatesta: I love your self-esteem suggestion, by the way. Do you have one or two tips for things you’ve done over the years or through the process that helped you keep believing and keep your head straight because I know a lot of authors who would say, “Yeah, I get that in theory but pulling that off consistently is another thing.”
S.F.: Well, Mark, I would say therapy for me.
Mark Malatesta: I was going to joke earlier that there’s one more thing you probably needed to invest in to do this book to be able to see it clearly, because it could not have been an easy book to write.
S.F.: No, it wasn’t. I didn’t go into therapy to write a book, but when you go into therapy, you do eventually raise your self-esteem from the way you were raised. That played a big role. I can’t underestimate that. Other than that, I don’t know. I do a lot of journaling. Raising self-esteem is really not something you can put your finger on.
I did read a lot of self-help books, but how do you get yourself to the point of saying “I deserve this” is really complicated and tricky, and it really depends on how you were raised in so many ways. And so, then if you have to get beyond how you were raised to me, the answer, after having done so much of it, is therapy because therapy is reparenting. I would say to me the self-esteem was raised through therapy. I don’t know how else I did it.
Mark Malatesta: One thing I learned a while back, I have an article about this somewhere, and I’m not saying you are, I’m just making a point, is that you can be the most negative person on this planet and have zero belief in your ability or zero belief that you are going to get a literary agent or publisher, and you can still get one. I loved figuring that out. One of my clients showed me. After she got a literary agent, she admitted, “I never thought I would get a literary agent. I’m the most negative person, but, Mark, you just told me to keep sending this stuff out, so I did. Nothing is going to happen, I thought, but I kept going and oh, look, now, I have a literary agent.”
I told her it was okay. She took consistent action. That was a great lesson for me to share with authors because there are a lot of times you may not believe. We don’t have to be super optimistic every second of every day, but if we keep taking action like she did, we can make it. It’s about consistently asking yourself, “What’s the next thing I can do?” Even the most skeptical person, if they do that, still might make it. I love that.
S.F.: I love that too and that’s what I loved working with you. You have so much structure to it. It was like step 1, step 2, step 3. You showed the path of how to do it and then it got to be where you’re working on two lanes at the same time. While you’re doing this, you might get a rejection here, but in the meantime, you’re working on this and you’re getting a win there.
Mark Malatesta: Right, keep the momentum.
PT 9 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: Yes. That consistency is everything. Having a coach in your corner helps because you have someone telling you. I’m a very structured consistent person anyway, I think.
Mark Malatesta: And self-motivated.
S.F.: I think I am, but you could keep moving and moving and moving but you might not be moving in the right direction or you’re not making the right move. That’s what the difference is working with you. I finally felt like, Oh, this is what I should have been doing.
Mark Malatesta: Right. I’ll confess. I just started working with a personal trainer and I thought I was so smart before that. I’ve been working out for years and I’ve read books and I’ve done this, tried this and tried that. I think I’m doing great and I’m just like thinking, “Okay, I’m just going to have two sessions with this guy just to refine my strategy. It’s already really good.” Oh man, my world is upside down now, in a good way. Now I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. I was being so ineffective. Now I’m working less hard and getting where I want to go faster. What took me so long?” That’s just how it is. We’re human. That’s how we do it.
S.F.: Well, when you work with someone who has done it before, that’s already a huge thing, and you’ve done it lots of times with authors. You’ve probably seen every possible variation in the puzzle.
Mark Malatesta: Every time I start thinking that, I have a new story and experience that makes me realize no. Yes, for the most part. But there are still surprises.
Mark Malatesta: Okay, you already talked about why you wanted to go with a traditional publisher, so I won’t belabor that. As far as promoting a book, what are your tips for authors writing any type of book, if you have anything in mind. You have been through the whole gamut now. Is there anything you think would be helpful for authors to think about or do as they’re writing their books, while they have a literary agent, or once their book has been published? You were saying, one thing you shared indirectly, was like, “If you have a nonfiction book, it would be a good idea to have a website up before you go out to literary agents.” That’s one. What other things do you think writers should be thinking about?
S.F.: The website is big. So, you do have to get a website up.
Mark Malatesta: I saw your website upgrade. It looks fantastic.
S.F.: Thank you.
Mark Malatesta: I saw the changes.
S.F.: Yes, lots of changes. A website is a big leap forward, but a blog is also good. Setting up a blog and then once you start a blog, if you can get it published somewhere like at a newspaper or magazine, that would be really good.
Mark Malatesta: You started doing op-eds, too. One of the reasons we had success [with literary agents] is you followed my suggestions early on about that. Most authors don’t want to do it or they’ll tell me they hate the idea but I get them to do it anyway. You got an article published on a website that’s not a household name, Salon.com. You got an article published there and it was shared by 17,000 people, in 30 days, which led to The New York Times seeing it and doing a feature article about you, which led to the radio interview with BBC it being a whole lot easier to get literary agents taking you seriously.
S.F.: Yes, and I had my journalism background. When you said I have to get some articles published somewhere, I was like, “Uh-oh.” I had an internal groan, but you said I should do it.
Mark Malatesta: Even with your journalism background, I think that part was new to you where you were wondering, “Where do I go? Where do I start?” Like most authors, that wasn’t something in your wheelhouse.
PT 10 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: No, that was new. I did go through rejections with the op-ed. I was like, “Wait, why is this not working?” So, again, it was a lot of rewriting and refiguring, and that was a learning curve too, but once I finally did get accepted by Salon.com, that was a big breakthrough and then The New York Times. A Russian correspondent in The New York Times, so that he was seeing me all over Russia. I was on Russian TV then.
Mark Malatesta: And you were like, “What?”
S.F.: He asked, “Did you know?” I said, “No.” Then then said, “Apparently, they took your Salon article and just made it into TV news stories. Would you be willing to do an interview with me?” So, I ended up doing an interview with a New York Times correspondent from Moscow. That’s what ended up becoming front page news story in The New York Times. That was helpful but not the end all, be all. It was good but I [still did more to make my platform bigger], then some literary agents didn’t like that [I’d gotten some of the publicity].
Mark Malatesta: I was just going to bring that up, that fine line where you’re asking, “Is this going to be too much or not enough?” I told you that some literary agents would say you blew it because you already got your story out there, but if we didn’t do that, they would have said you didn’t have a platform and wouldn’t have wanted it. You just have to do it. Then you saw there were plenty of literary agents who were like, “Oh, man, we love that you’re demonstrating your ability to get it out there and promote it, and that shows us people are actually interested in your story.” It’s worth it.
S.F.: Yes. So, I guess, based on all that, I would say to get as much press as you can and then once you get a book deal, try to save your press until the book comes out.
Mark Malatesta: Right, the bulk of it.
S.F.: The bulk of it, yes. That’s what I’ve been doing. Since the book came out, I’ve been getting press too. It is still moving.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s talk now about what we did together. I appreciate this. You snuck in a bunch along the way, showing some of what we did together. What are two or three things that you found the most helpful or valuable from what we did together that you haven’t talked about yet, if anything?
If there’s anything left, then I have other topics for you, but do you have anything along those lines to help people get a better sense of what I do and how I do it? [My coaching] isn’t right for everybody. I know that, but I like being able to help the ones that maybe it would be right for, so they can see that.
S.F.: Well, I trusted your advice. I really appreciated all the experience you had not just from being a literary agent but from working with so many of them and then working with so many authors getting literary agents. I don’t think even most literary agents have as much experience as you do working with authors and how to get a literary agent. I really just learned to trust that, and I loved how structured you were. There was a new lesson for every new step.
I liked talking with you and then reading your packets and then going through the stuff, talking back with you and circling back. You’re always available for any questions along the way which meant so much. I felt like I was not alone anymore and that I could turn to someone because it’s so confusing. It is really so overwhelming, and the business is Byzantine.
Mark Malatesta: Right. That word comes up a lot. True.
PT 11 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
S.F.: You have the big picture and you understand the range of responses that are out there. Just like how we were talking about author platform. How much is too much and how much is too little, and literary agents complaining why you’re already in The New York Times. “What are you going to do after you’re published?” In talking to you, you were ablet to talk me off the ledge and say, “Oh, no. They are not all going to be like that.” That was good.
Mark Malatesta: Right. The trust thing. By the way, I have to thank you for that. It’s one of those things. It’s like we were talking pre-interview, right? We were talking about there are some difficult things in life and trust is everything. I can do everything right and be there for someone like you’re describing. That’s who I am and what I do, but if somebody doesn’t trust the way you did, it can go sideways. The person might doubt and then make a misstep, and then that misstep might lead to them being really frustrated or not meeting a goal. I know wasn’t easy, but you being open that way was half of why you made it, and I’m thankful because not all my clients are. It’s hard.
S.F.: You make it easy to trust you, though, I would say. First, before even signing on with you, I spent hours and hours going through all the material that you offered just for free and then you do have that introductory hour also which is also a good trust-builder. You have a lot of ways to build trust, but then, after that, it’s up to the author to just really understand it. I don’t think there’s anyone else like you out there, not at this level. I really don’t.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
S.F.: I looked, too. As far as I’m concerned, you’re it. I thought I had enough self-esteem to approach you and say that I deserved help. That’s big, too.
Mark Malatesta: That’s an interesting way of putting it. I think that’s true because sometimes I’ll get an email from someone and they’ll sign up for the intro call and admit to me, “I’m really embarrassed I’m signing up for this. I’m a successful this or that, and I’ve had a book published with St. Martin’s Press and I shouldn’t have to do this.”
S.F.: It is hard.
Mark Malatesta: The more we can mastermind and put our heads together is just going to increase our chances. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s just giving you a better chance. I’m not a dummy for hiring a personal trainer. I want to do a better job and enjoy it more. What’s wrong with that? That’s normal.
S.F.: Right. I think some of the allure of publishing is author works by herself to find a publisher.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, the genius writer who just sends out her work and people just read it and the world is wonderful. Yes, I would love that. In my business too, if everyone who came to my website was totally coachable, committed, had already been successful, had a massive platform, and was a billionaire…wouldn’t that make life wonderful? Sure, but you know what, that’s not the real world. We have to sort through the muck and figure it out.
S.F.: But the perception is, because in most movies, nobody really shows an author slogging through trying to get published. There’s nothing magical about that. It’s just author who gets and idea, then there’s a little scene at the typewriter, paper flying out of the printers, and sending it out. Even now they don’t send it out. They just email and maybe get three rejections before getting a deal. In the movies, that’s how it is.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, or maybe it’s over years and sending out tons of things, but it’s just writing and sending out the things and then the magic happens. It’s like it’s not the platform building. It’s not like all those other pieces you talked about that kept increasing your odds. It’s very one-dimensional.
PT 12 – Silvia Foti Interview and Mark Malatesta Review
Mark Malatesta: Any final thoughts? It could be absolutely anything, thoughts or wisdom for people listening that might give them an advantage, make it more likely they will follow through like you did. I don’t mean with me. I mean pursuing their dream as you did.
S.F.: I guess don’t give up. Just keep trying. Do what you think you have to do and if you think you can do it on your own, I will say try to do it on your own if it can work. Some do, so it’s not impossible or if you have anybody in the business who you can at least talk to, that’s always good too. You just have to keep trying and trying and trying and not give up. You’re going to get so much advice along the way, and you have to sort of screen what advice you want to listen to, but all I can say, Mark, is I’m so grateful I signed up with you because I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have your help.
Mark Malatesta: Thank you. You’re one of my stars. I’m so glad we were able to do it. I love it. My two big takeaways from you for people, 1) Steady action, just keep taking action. You’re doing something to move forward and 2) It’s not just writing but other stuff like getting out of your bubble and the not being alone. It doesn’t matter where you find them but listen to other voices in the writing community.
It could be writer’s conferences. It could be a writers group. It could be an editor. It could be someone like me. It could be anything, but like having those other voices because those two things help carry you. If you’re often introverted and not getting out of your shell enough it’s hard. Even if you have help it can be hard, right? Take steady action and surround yourself with lots of people. It still might be hard, but at least you’ll be more likely to make it.
S.F.: It’s a hard business but life is hard. I guess that’s what makes it so special if you do achieve it. You know that it was a huge achievement.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. Alright, I think that’s a great place to leave it, thank you again for doing this, and congratulations again. Thank you also for preparing the way you did for this interview. On two ends, one, you really brought thoughtful stuff to help people. I also appreciate the way you helped people see more about what I do.
This interview and review of Mark Malatesta were provided by Silvia Foti, author of The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal, published by Regnery Publishing, with more than 50 books on the New York Times bestseller list, including numerous books at #1. The book is available in hardcover and paperback.
Mark Malatesta is the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this guide on How to Get a Literary Agent. His articles have appeared in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac. He has spoken at 100+ writers conferences and events. And he answers author questions (no cost) at Ask a Literary Agent.
As founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover, Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. His writers have gotten book deals with traditional publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, and Thomas Nelson. They’ve been on the New York Times bestseller list; had their books optioned for TV, stage, and feature film; won countless awards; and had their work licensed in more than 40 countries.
Writers of all Book Genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books) have used Mark’s Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on his List of Literary Agents.
Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta.
See More Mark Malatesta Reviews – Literary Agents Los Angeles
Here you can see Mark Malatesta reviews from more authors he has worked with. You can also see reviews of Mark Malatesta from publishing industry professionals he’s met and worked with over the years. These reviews of former literary Mark Malatesta include his time as an author coach and consultant, literary agent, and Marketing & Licensing Manager for the well-known book/gift publisher Blue Mountain Arts.
- Author Coaching/Consulting Clients
- Writers Conference Coordinators
- Writers Conference Attendees
- Other Authors