About Mark Malatesta – Literary Agents Los Angeles
Mark Malatesta is a former literary agent whose clients have had their books picked up by companies such as Paramount, DreamWorks, Lionsgate, and HBO Max–and publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, and Thomas Nelson. As an author coach and consultant, Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents and/or traditional book deals.
Mark’s most well-known authors include Nelson Johnson, author of the New York Times bestseller Boardwalk Empire, adapted by Martin Scorsese; Scott LeRette, author of The Unbreakable Boy (Thomas Nelson), adapted for feature film with Lionsgate Entertainment; and Leslie Lehr, author of A Boob’s Life, now being developed by Salma Hayek for HBO Max.
Daniel Cohen–a filmmaker, journalist, and film critic for more than 30 years–also worked with Mark Malatesta. Their collaboration led to Dan’s book Single Handed: The Inspiring True Story of Tibor “Teddy” Rubin–Holocaust Survivor, Korean War Hero, and Medal of Honor Recipient, being represented by Trident Media–and a hardcover book deal with Berkley Books.
Dan talks about his experience working with Mark below, and his advice for authors hoping to get literary agents, including Los Angeles Literary Agents. Although Mark lives in LA, he works with authors around the world. He works with both new and established authors for all genres: fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.
Mark has delivered keynotes and talks at 100+ writer events and conferences, in the United States and abroad. He’s had articles published in the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. And he’s been quoted by people in publishing and the mainstream, including Entrepreneur.com.
Click here to see Mark Malatesta Reviews.
Mark Malatesta, Former Literary Agent – Testimonial by Daniel Cohen
After sending out the query Mark revised for me, I had the opportunity to speak with literary agents from top agencies such as Janklow & Nesbit, Trident Media, Anderson Lit, and Folio. I signed with Don Fehr at Trident and, a short time later I had a publishing contract with Berkley Books, which recently published my book in hardcover.
Before that, I sent my query letter out on my own to 30 or 40 agents and got a lot of rejections. I then found Mark online while I was researching agents. I was surprised that he offered so much during his initial consultation—for a very modest amount of money. An hour of his time on the phone or Skype and he was willing to read a big chunk of my book right up front. I thought that was extremely generous and it seemed very likely that Mark was genuine.
I also took advantage of Mark’s main 1-hour audio training. I was painting my apartment at the time, sitting among a lot of rubble. I stopped what I was doing, laid down on the floor with a pillow, and listened. I was very impressed with the depth of Mark’s knowledge, but also his casual attitude. The audio presentation wasn’t a hard sell. Instead, it struck me as something I needed to look into.
D. Cohen Success Story – Part Two
I knew I’d need to get the attention of literary agents, and that I’d have to get their attention quickly—but I didn’t know how to go about it. Although I have experience in the film business, I knew that I didn’t know the particulars of the book business. I’d made several movies, but I didn’t know the specifics of what would grab the attention of a literary agent or publisher. It was obvious from Mark’s audio presentation and website that he did know.
Although my query and book proposal were already pretty good, ‘pretty good’ and ‘very good’ aren’t the same thing. There’s an old saying, “Good is the enemy of great.” There is a difference, and it’s not so easily quantifiable. The biggest mistake you can make as a writer is to rely on your own limited knowledge. You just can’t beat the experienced eye of a professional. It’s evident in everything from home painting to plumbing to publishing.
Having the personalized agent list that Mark created for me was also enormously helpful. It was comprehensive and up to date, which saved me time and made querying agents much easier. Because of the lead-time involved with writer magazines and printed agent directories like the one by Writer’s Digest, the information is always at least 3-6 months old. You often write to the agents and get a note back saying they quit the business and moved on. Or you query agents and they say they’re not interested in your genre anymore. There’s so much online that’s simply inaccurate.
I do have to say, though, that I didn’t enjoy writing my book proposal. But I learned a lot and at I was glad to have someone like Mark guide me through that particular part of the process. And really… given the nature and extent of my book, which is more than 400 pages and took me two years to write, we got the proposal done pretty quick.
D. Cohen Success Story – Part Three
When it comes to Mark’s personality, he’s affable, approachable, down to earth and sensible without having to meet you face to face. We spent a lot of time together on the phone, and our working relationship reinforced my initial impression. He comes across exactly the way he comes across on his audio recordings and websites.
I know that inexperienced authors, or those who’ve had a bad experience with someone else, might be skeptical about working with someone they found on the Internet. But I wasn’t skeptical in the least when I listened to Mark’s audio materials on his website. Also, some of the things he said, I had already heard from other people, so I knew that I just needed help to do them—and do them as well as possible.
One of the things you learn when you make a movie is that marketing is just as important as your product. If you’re going to make it in the arts, you need help and you need to get educated in a hurry. It’s like working with a physical trainer. I had worked out my whole life and then, at one point, I started working out with a trainer. That’s when I saw about 3 or 4 years of improvement in 11 months.
I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t worked with Mark. I can’t even imagine that now though, because of the grief and detours I experienced before we worked together. It was a time-consuming pain in the neck. If you want to get the attention of top literary agents and publishers, there is no substitute for working with an insider. You can’t beat experience. And having Mark on your side is incredibly valuable.
DANIEL COHEN is the author of Single Handed (Berkley Books, a Division of Penguin Random House), published in hardcover
Dan worked with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, which resulted in representation from Trident Media. Dan then signed a publishing contract for his book Single Handed, which was published in hardcover by Berkley Books, a Division of Penguin Random House. In the interview that follows, Dan gives advice to aspiring authors about writing, publishing, and promoting books. He also talks in more detail about his experience coaching with Mark.
Daniel Cohen Interview With Mark Malatesta About Literary Agents
During this 76-minute interview, author Daniel Cohen, published by Berkley Books, a Division of Penguin Random House, gives advice to authors who want to get literary agents. Dan also talks about his work with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, who helped him get an offer for representation from Trident Media.
D A N I E L . C O H E N
Mark Malatesta: Dan Cohen is the author of Single Handed, published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin Group. It’s the true story of Tibor Rubin, the only Holocaust survivor to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. It’s an epic story that spans 80 years, two wars and three continents…with incredible acts of bravery and surprising humor.
Dan Cohen has worked as a filmmaker, journalist, and film critic for over thirty years. He has written and directed award-winning independent features, including the award winning Diamond Men, starring Robert Forster and Donnie Wahlberg. And he writes a regular column on film for an online news site. Dan lives in Santa Monica, California, and you can buy his book, Single Handed in bookstores and online.
So welcome, Dan! I’m thrilled to actually have you on and finally promote your book.
D.C.: Thanks Mark. It’s my pleasure to be here, and I owe you a lot for all your help and advice.
Mark Malatesta: It’s a great story, and you’re a great writer, so if you don’t mind I’d love to start there. I didn’t go into too much into what the book is about, and I know that the bulk of our call is going to be geared towards advice to writers on how to get their books out and be more successful. I know a lot of people listening will also want to buy a copy of your book. Why don’t you spend a couple of minutes and walk us through the story, because it is one of those one in a million stories?
D.C.: Yes, and that’s why it got written, or why I spent a couple of years working on it. When Tibor Rubin was 13, he lived in Hungry and a Hungarian National. He was captured by the Nazis and thrown into a concentration camp named Mauthausen in Austria. He survived that, and when he was 20 he was living in New York City and joined the Army. He was sent to Korea, and he actually volunteered for Korea, where he single-handedly held a hill against a North Korea assault of hundreds of Army regulars.
He was later captured by the Chinese and spent 30 months in a Chinese prison camp during the Korean War. During which time, he escaped from the camp many, many times, only to find food for the guys he was living with and help them survive the rigors of at least the first year. He returned to the US and lived in anonymity for 30 years, and then was found by a number of his former buddies, and from there a campaign that went on for 25 years to get him the Medal of Honor began and ultimately ended in his getting the medal in 2005 at the age of 76. That’s the basic story.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and it’s absolutely incredible. I’m going to have to read it again when I get a copy of the book.
D.C.: Yes, because the great thing about it is so much of it, in addition to spanning all that time, and three continents and two wars…Tibor had a tremendous sense of humor and, in fact, for two and a half years, he was in the prison camp and spent most of his energy confounding and making his captors miserable.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 2
D.C.: He had so many stunts and games and crazy things that he did to make them nuts. They weren’t like the Nazis, where they would have murdered him in a second, they were tolerant, but he did push them to their limits, and that was one of the things that was intriguing about him.
Mark Malatesta: I think that is one of the most endearing or interesting parts of this story as well for readers, and why I thought it had so much potential. You have all that darkness and struggle, but I think it has a much more marketable story because you have that other side, and you do have the humor.
D.C.: A lot of it is laugh-out-loud funny, because when Tibor told me the stories I laughed out loud, and I thought others would too. Some of the stunts he pulled were hilarious. He had endless resources for not only helping guys, and this went to things like he learned things in the concentration camp about how to survive, and he passed those along. There was a multitude of things he learned, but he also had a great reserve of humor, and I think that made it appealing to me as a civilian, because I was when I started to write the story, I’d never written a book before.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and I’m so glad you shared that, it’s important. It’s always encouraging for a lot of people listening, and it’s always empowering for people to hear that. Let’s jump to the very end of the story because as I mentioned a couple of times, everyone listening is a writer, and they want what you have basically. They want to get a top literary agent and you definitely did with Trident Media, and a top publisher as you did as well, and get the great book deal. Let’s get you talking about that for a moment, because this is what everyone is after. What was it like to get that call or email from your literary agent sharing the news? I know you’re in the movie business, and so it may not have been as exciting for you, and you might be a little jaded or maybe not, but walk us through that a little bit.
D.C.: I guess I’ve done a few things once or twice after a number of false starts. After two years of writing and struggling, and finding initially it was very hard not to get a literary agent so much as the right literary agent, or a great literary agent as you talk about. It’s a thrill. So, every time you do a new thing, make a movie, or cook a meal, or get a puppy, or have a kid, there is a thrill that’s a different sort of thrill. There is no comparing them, but it was very satisfying to get that letter and see your book has been sold, deeply satisfying, because I put a tremendous amount of work into the book.
Mark Malatesta: Did you do anything to celebrate?
D.C.: I don’t celebrate until later. I think the celebration is from within. Here I’m going to invoke another cliché that parties are fun, and I love, them especially when other people throw them. But at the end of the day, it’s the work, the hard earned joy of seeing the thing come out, and have other people acknowledge that. I’ve had that with two of the three films I’ve done, and just knowing the book was appreciated, and the story was going to get out to people, and the actual work is what makes this happen. I know it’s a terrible cliché, but it’s really true. If you don’t get joy out of that, the secondary joy of having it successful isn’t going to mean anything.
Mark Malatesta: I love that. I think you’re probably the first person to answer that question that way. You’re saying two things. One, you enjoyed writing the book as much as anything happening after its done. And two, beyond getting a cash advance and all the bells and whistles that come with it, I think the biggest reward for you is each time you’re going to see another person reading it. That is ultimately what it’s about.
D.C.: Yes, let’s face it, there’s probably a lot more money, except for very few people in the movies, and there was never even that much for me, because I made indie movies. Yes, it’s the idea of the money, and I worked in the business for a long time, and sometimes I made money and sometimes I didn’t and you hear the success stories. But at the end of the day, it has to be about the process. If it isn’t about the process, I don’t believe the work will be that good or you’ll feel that good about it.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 3
D.C.: That’s the truth.
Mark Malatesta: Absolutely, I back you up 100% on that. If you’re a writer and you are going to start losing that freshness or edge, you have to take a break or take a look at what you’re doing, and how you’re approaching it to get that spark back.
D.C.: I was completely committed to Tibor’s story. I thought about the people, and to give you one example, he lived in anonymity until he was 50 after doing these incredible acts of heroism and, of course, he was very lucky because a bullet could have stopped him at any time. But what happened is his buddies found him and spent 25 years of their lives, and died, many of them, trying to get him recognized for saving their lives.
Wasn’t the least I could do is spend one or two years trying to get that story out to people? Really, honestly when you think about it…I didn’t fight any wars. I was briefly in the Army, but I didn’t suffer in prison camps or concentration camps. Couldn’t I keep up my excitement and energy long enough to tell this story? I think that is the attitude we have to approach when taking up a project.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s talk about Tibor’s attitude; does he know the book’s coming out? What is his reaction?
D.C.: I was lucky, I met Tibor when he was about 82 I think. He hasn’t been in good health for years, and one of the reasons he consented to lengthy interviews was because up until he was 82 he was kind of able to… After he got the Medal of Honor, he was able to attend many events where he talked about his story, and mainly talked about the funny, not the heroic aspects.
So, when he decided to do this, I suppose you’d say his health was failing. After we had a couple of marathon talk sessions and I knew the basic story, I prayed on some level that he’d be strong enough for us to spend some time together, and we spent about one-and-a-half years of interviews. Now, he’s not healthy, but when I did tell him the book was going to be published about a year ago, he cried. It was heartwrenching, because he’s not healthy now.
Mark Malatesta: I’m just so happy he was able to get that news while he is still here. Again, seeing his story come out doesn’t wash away everything he endured, but it sure is a little bit of a silver lining.
D.C.: Remember, he was talked into struggling to get the medal. So, getting the medal at the White House was his final vindication, because of all the things that happened and he did could no longer be denied. They were a fact, and that fact was backed up by his life. He was vindicated in public with a medal. So, this was just frosting on the cake. But, with me it’s about getting it all down, having it in a hardcover book, and all the things about his personality. Why was he quiet for 30 years? He never mentioned any of this to family, or wife. He talked to nobody about the things he did for half a lifetime, and so that’s part of it.
Mark Malatesta: And everyone will have to read the book to find out why, and why it took so long for him to get that medal.
D.C.: Why? Yes, it’s quite a mystery.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 4
Mark Malatesta: So, we started with the success, and the book is coming out and all that. Now, let’s go back to the beginning, and again these interviews are designed to help authors see how you got from A to Z in this whole process. Let’s go way back in time now, before you met me, long before the book deal. When did you first get the idea you might be an author one day? Was this your first book, or attempt at a book?
D.C.: I’m unusual. I started writing when I was 10 or 11, and I was a Mickey Mouse journalist. I put out a tiny newspaper in my hometown when I was a teenager. The reason I did it was so I could publish my own movie reviews. Then I edited my college paper for the same reason, because they couldn’t deny me if I wanted to write movie reviews.
Mark Malatesta: I love it!
D.C.: Then, I tried to write a couple of novels in my 20s, but I was pretty clueless because I studied philosophy and government, and your readers can take comfort in that idea.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, that probably doesn’t make for a good novel.
D.C.: No, and my background is very different. I was good at facts, and getting information, and getting people to talk, but I was crummy as a fiction writer.
Mark Malatesta: Storyteller.
D.C.: Then I turned…after working in a couple of businesses and being modestly successful…I turned my attention to filmmaking in my 30s and ended up making three indie features, one-and-a-half of which were successful. Basically, I was a screenwriter, film reviewer, half-assed journalist, and then one day I met Tibor Ruben, and I took a chance on myself and suppose taught myself, with the help of other writers, to write this book. By other writers, I mean I read Unbroken basically about four years ago before I started working on this, three years ago, and the first thing I did was sit down and read Unbroken from cover to cover, and then read it again.
Mark Malatesta: Absolutely, everybody, and I’m jumping ahead a little bit here…but that’s one great tip. Obviously, not obviously, but you’d be shocked at how many people I talk to that are writers that admit to me privately that they don’t read.
D.C.: That’s probably their biggest failure because…
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest novelists, in my opinion, Russian immigrant who never wrote in his own language and wrote in English said, “Good readers make good writers.” I’m a pretty good reader.
Mark Malatesta: I was going to ask you what type of writing you did before you wrote the book, but you already shared some of that. I don’t know if you have something to add there. But, can you add into your answer how your involvement in the movie business helped you get a step up as a writer? What did you learn there that might be valuable for everyone listening?
D.C.: I think persistence, and everybody would say that. Not repeating the same mistakes, learning from your mistakes. I started out by making a film outside the industry entirely and learned from my mistakes there. Fortunately, I was able to salvage a lot of them. And I could be glib and [just] say I read Unbroken, but I read a bunch of different things. I guess one thing I want to get across, just like screenplays, which I learned the hard way, is it’s a good idea to know you have a beginning, middle, and an end.
Structure is very important. I’ve learned this through trial and error. Don’t start stuff you don’t know how to finish, or what the end is. To me, that’s a form of masturbation that usually doesn’t work out. Once in a while, it does if you’re William Burroughs or something, but it doesn’t work if you’re the ordinary, relatively skillful, somewhat talented writer. You really need to get a structure down and know where you’re going with it before you begin. Otherwise, you’re going to spend too much time and energy. I broke Tibor’s story down to seven sections when I started, and I held with those, and they paid off in the end. Did I go too far afield from your question?
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 5
Mark Malatesta: No, I loved it. I’m always looking for pulling the unique things out of my guests. I love the film background, so I wanted to go into that a little. I always recommend a novelist, or any ordinary nonfiction or memoir writer, read the book Story by Robert McKee.
D.C.: Yes, that’s a good one.
Mark Malatesta: What I love about movies and screenplays, if you study the structure and how to write them, it’s a lot simpler because there are less words going…
D.C.: That’s exactly it, less words. But structure is even more important because you don’t have 30 seconds, you can’t put 30 seconds…
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: In a movie or it will sink it.
Mark Malatesta: You can’t meander or get lost in the character’s head too much. It’s a movie, and there must be visuals and action. I mean, it’s great to go to these other places in a book, but it’s really got to be grounded in action as well.
D.C.: Yes, the two media are very different. They’re great, but very different, and why most adaptations are very good books. For example, Pride and Prejudice or Lolita are very good examples. They don’t capture the book, they capture the little pieces of it. Even the most cerebral movies are different from most books. But you can be good at both, I think. They’re just different skill sets.
I learned movies by trial and error, but a very well-known film teacher once said to me, “You can do it the way you did it, and you kind of lucked out, and learned by your mistakes. But it’s like building, and we could give a student all the building materials of wood, hammer, saw and nails to build a house and throw him in a room, and maybe he’d build a house in five or ten years, but why should we give him the instructions?”
Mark Malatesta: Right! Get it done in six months if you can.
D.C.: Exactly. I’m not that sort of personality. However, when I started this book, I didn’t do it the way I’ve done a couple of movies, to answer your question. I said, “Wait a second, this is going to take a while, and I’m going to have to put a lot of people out, and I’m going to be doing a lot of interviewing. It’s not just going to be me and my computer. It will be me and a bunch of people, so I better do some homework.”
Mark Malatesta: Right, I like that. I’m not sure if I ever found out from you in the time we worked together…how did you get the idea for this book?
D.C.: It wasn’t an idea. I was asked to meet Tibor because they needed a screenplay. Someone was interested, even before that time, and someone apparently heard him speak and was interested in something for one of the cable networks, I think. But, then they decided it would be great to have a screenplay. But we needed a book because we needed something for people to read to know the full story. Otherwise, we’d be introducing…making this thing about not a very well-known person, though in military circles he might be known.
Basically, and I’m going to be perfectly honest with you about this, I called a friend of mine who was a successful ghostwriter who had published maybe eight or ten books. He and I spent three marathon sessions listening to Tibor tell his stories and taking copious notes.
When this other writer couldn’t get a very big advance, and he’s a big money writer and has been for years, he said, “I’m not interested.” Keep in mind, he’d been turned down, so here I am with no experience, never written a full-length work like this before, but certainly worked on many projects that didn’t come to pass. Here I am saying to myself, “Okay, I’m going to drop everything for one-and-a-half years, and I’m going to write this guy’s life story, even though the thing has been rejected by 12 publishers.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 6
Mark Malatesta: That takes a big leap of faith.
D.C.: I had never met anyone like Tibor. His story struck me as so unbelievable. Let me add this, and this is only particular to this story, but I think it’s worth noting. When I heard Tibor talk and tell the stories, I thought, “Wow, he got the Medal of Honor, so it’s probably largely true,” but I still found it hard to believe. But there were letters from about eight or ten of his buddies who had survived and written lengthy testimonials, and they were from all over the country and weren’t in touch with each other. They wrote these letters and had them notarized that basically told his story from their point of view. One of them ran to 11,000 words, and when I read those stories, they moved me in such a way that I couldn’t turn my back on this guy’s life. It was as simple as that.
Mark Malatesta: Did you need any of that to kind of…you know how it is, and I won’t name names, but there have been some famous memoir authors who have been busted for telling stuff in books that isn’t true. Did you have to use any of that to verify stuff with the literary agent and publisher to convince them that this crazy story was true?
D.C.: No, because I think the Medal of Honor gave him a level of credibility that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: But they helped me. First, I knew if something happened to Tibor suddenly, that I had those letters to rely on. I often say this, and people will probably get sick of hearing it, but there’s blood and tears on the pages of these letters. He never said, “I was a great hero.” He would tell a story of being on a hill by himself, and about an anti-Semitic sergeant who tried to get him killed, and all these guys wrote that. That was like, pretty easy to get ahold of.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: Here’s one other thing, and he’s pretty particular on this…in the process of interviewing Tibor, it accidentally came out that a couple of the guys he was with in the prison camp, and a couple from Europe who were in a camp for displaced persons with him, even a guy from the concentration camp, were still alive! I rushed to interview them, and they all said the same thing, “This guy is a hero like no other and he saved my life,” That’s what most of them said, or they said, “I knew him here or there.” I didn’t need to be convinced of the veracity of his story. Now I wrote it in a way where words are different. I wrote it in a way that dramatized it, but I basically regurgitated what other people told me.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: That’s why I was so fired up by the thing.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk a little more about author education. We touched on this a little, but what else do you have, if anything, to add that authors need to hear about educating themselves? I don’t care if it’s books on style or crafts, going to workshops, seminars, conferences, working with coaches, etc. What advice do you have for authors in thinking about getting educated, beyond just writing?
D.C.: I’ll say one thing about writing. There’s a little book I like called Stein on Writing by Saul Stein, a former publisher, and he’s probably gone now. I like that book, and think it’s a fun little thing to read. I’m not much for workshops. But now, let me address what they really need to hear, that you would be helpful in.
That is–and again, by example–when I first came to LA, I was in my late 30s, and people said in cocktail conversations, “You know, the cream will always rise to the top, and sooner or later good work gets found out and sees the light of day.” Let me make this point as strongly as I possibly can: Nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s a myth that all writers must face, along with the other reality that most writing isn’t very good. But, after they develop a level of skill, they must not talk themselves into the idea that just because their work is good, and this certainly held for me as a filmmaker, that some magic will confer publicity and success on them. That is a very dangerous, commonplace, and simply untrue. I’m sure you know that better than anyone.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 7
Mark Malatesta: You have to get people to read it. It’s like when you walk into a bookstore, how many thousands of books are in there? We all know walking into that bookstore that some books are better than others, and there are a lot of great books in there that don’t get discovered there as well.
D.C.: The funny thing is, I made a movie, one of my most successful films, and I only made a few, and they were indies, but the idea was good and really entertaining, but that didn’t help get it released and distributed. It took a lot of hard work and someone to notice. I had to learn that lesson all over again when I wrote this book.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: I think I did a pretty good job. I kept working on it to improve it, but that didn’t have anything…or not a lot to do originally with getting a literary agent and publisher.
Mark Malatesta: You know what? You’re a perfect example of this, because you have one of those stories where it’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking to yourself that if ever a story will sell itself, it’s this one.
D.C.: Yes, right.
Mark Malatesta: Right?
D.C.: I know. The thing is, those things I heard at cocktail parties and from friends, they are referred to as “canards,” they are simply the most destructive–probably–myths, because they are destructive to your ego, finally, because you say, “I did this good work, and now nobody seems to acknowledge it,” and they’re very bad to cultivate. What you need to cultivate is the idea you’re going to have to put in a tremendous amount of effort, and make allies in order to get this work in front of a reading audience, and get paid for it.
Mark Malatesta: Right. You’re very inspiring, and I’m going to write an article about how the cream doesn’t rise to the top.
D.C.: It doesn’t, and the milkman doesn’t deliver milk anymore.
Mark Malatesta: It’s just about not being naïve right?
D.C.: Yes, but what is naivety? Knowledge is power, and the people who understand that both in the film industry–and also in the fine arts where I have friends who are painters–these are things, the dirty little secrets that people don’t want to talk about, and a lot of people don’t know. It’s worse than naivety, it’s self-deception.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s talk about the best way to write a book. You can go anywhere you want here, I just try to keep people on track, and for the most part, give advice that would be helpful to writers of every genre. But, if you also have a nugget or two for people writing memoir and narrative nonfiction, let it rip.
D.C.: Yes, have the smartest people you know read your book and be perfectly honest with you. For better or worse, writing has been a theme for my whole life. I’ll tell you something else about me personally: When I’m not working on a project, making a film or writing a screenplay or even film reviews, I get more than a little crazy. I get pretty neurotic. I need writing. My writing sustains me, and I think that’s because it’s a habit of so many years.
I think, when people say, “How do you do it?” it’s a habit. B prepared to start slow, and when you have anything, whether it’s a two-page short story, or an article, have the smartest people you know look at it. You can join writers groups and do all that. I didn’t. Well, I guess I did belong to a writers group a very long time ago, but you need feedback.
Mark Malatesta: What about when you’re mapping out your book. Are you the kind of person who does a lot of that up front or…actually, you already gave this away earlier. You don’t start without knowing the ending.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 8
D.C.: It bears repeating. Listen, I tried a bunch of times when I was writing screenplays for other people,. I’d sit down and say, “I have a great beginning, so let’s see what happens.” I don’t recommend that. There may be some people who feel that way, maybe some people can write novels that way, but you certainly wouldn’t write nonfiction that way, because with nonfiction there are beginnings, middles, and ends.
I would be in a screenplay or story, and I’m thinking about a novel now, without knowing the beginning, end, and what the essence of it is that will carry it through the all-important middle. I don’t believe in that, and think it’s a way to spend a lot of time that’s unproductive, and don’t waste paper because it’s all on the computer screen, thank God.
I think you need to have a sense of what you’re doing and where you’re going. I also think you need to take note. As I said, Single Handed was initially broken into seven sections, which made it manageable, because the manuscript was almost 600 pages when done, 600 typed written pages. That gave me the ability to edit it and also organize the material to various sections of Tibor’s life.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and this is my belief, the more you know ahead of time of what the point of the book is, and where it’s going, and what kind of structure you need to get there, the less rewriting you have to do.
D.C.: Yes, I do things along the way. I never intended it initially, for the first year, to be about his psychology. I never thought I’d be granted access to, or be privileged enough, to know why this guy did what he did, but ultimately that ended up being the subject. However, the story still maintains the seven sections. That didn’t change.
Mark Malatesta: And you still have surprises.
D.C.: Yes, and that’s why writing is so cool, if you’re any good at it, because you do discover things. The objective does change and you surprise yourself. And you have to be willing to take those turns, and that’s all good, I think. But you don’t discover those without having some structure and habits. And this goes back to Jungian psychology, which I would definitely refer anyone to if they’re looking for guidance along the way, not that I want to talk about that here.
Does that answer…
Mark Malatesta: That’s alright. Yes, and psychology is the basis of all good writing, so it’s important. We’re writing about people, and I don’t separate the two. Can you touch a little more on the one thing you said, this is a big one for me too, that most people don’t bring up…
What I find a lot, is people sit down and write a book, or many books, and they’re really not clear on what the purpose or point of the book is. This is true for both nonfiction and fiction. You described it a moment ago as there being an essence that’s going to carry your book through the middle. Could you explain that a little more?
D.C.: Okay, I’ll give it by example. When I started this thing, my objective was to tell a story of how this guy went into a concentration camp when he was 13, and learned all this stuff that later made him into a hero. Basically, from little things like getting rid of lice and chewing on charcoal when you had a horrible stomach ailment, and how those things later served him well when he was a POW, and the persistence and fearlessness.
I thought, “Okay, if I can just get that down in a narrative, that’s enough.” That was my objective, to do it in a vividly and entertaining and authoritative fashion. But I was blessed in this regard that later as I talked to others, and as Tibor and I got to become friends, it became evident to me that there was something deep and complicated about this person that made him that hero. I was very fortunate to have access through the reflections of other people, and ultimately the parts of a puzzle that make up who a person is came to… I was able to give my version of that.
Again, it’s like, “Okay, I have this objective, and I’ll be happy I can just make this exciting and cool, and the story will be riveting.” But then, the real beauty was getting to understand, at least in a theoretical sense, I have a thesis about who this human is.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 9
D.C.: Does that seem to answer that question?
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I think it evolves, right? You start with a more simplistic version of what the goal is, and then it deepens and expands from there. So, on one hand, you have a book about this one man and these historical events and this guy who is a hero. But then, the deeper you get into it, you have these bigger questions about what makes a hero. Is it something we’re born with, or something that happens to us? Is it choices we make in certain situations that arise, and suddenly it become the bigger book…the more you become aware of things, right?
D.C.: I never thought I’d get to that level, because I thought that would be presumptuous of me to try and shrink the guy down, as we used to say about psychologists.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: But I never came to it from that point of view, but inevitably and at the end of the book, I spent two or three pages, I think, talking about evolution of those ideas which became the essence of the story. But you don’t know that going in. You know what I’m saying.
Mark Malatesta: Yes.
D.C.: You had to say, “Look, this is what I’m going to do,” and then you say, “Oh my God, this came up, and this has to be a part of the story.” Even after the book was sold, I was adding to it, because once I had honed in on that, more little pieces of information that completed the picture were coming to life. And probably if I had spent another five years, even more would come to light–although you stop at some point.
Mark Malatesta: Right. I think where we can leave it at this point for everyone listening is to give themselves room to breathe, and give the book room to breathe, and know it’s going to evolve. You’re going to have to do rewrites, and especially for memoir, narrative nonfiction, and even fiction–the prescriptive nonfiction stuff is pretty straightforward–but for most other genres, if you’re doing it right, things will unfold that are unexpected.
D.C.: You know that because you see a lot of projects. Remember, I only see what I’m working on, and we’re all narrow in our scope. You see it because you talk to so many people, and this is all-important stuff you know from having done this so many times.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and that’s what I get so excited about. When I see a book like yours, and you first presented it to me, I automatically jumped to the bigger book, and what I wanted to see were those bigger themes and questions there about what makes a hero. Those are the questions that will kind of drive readers. Let’s face it, you know psychology. We’re not all necessarily selfish, but we’re all self-interested…
D.C.: Oh, absolutely!
Mark Malatesta: Not everyone wants to read about Tibor, but they’re reading about themselves through Tibor.
D.C.: Well, look, I was very lucky, and I’m just going to say, I would have been very happy to do a vivid, straight-on, just like an action film. This is what happened to him and this is how he felt. These were the amazing events and I was happy to do that. But fortunately, another unanticipated aspect of the story came to light.
Now we’ll know when the reviewers really get their hands on it, and readers look at it, and readers, you know what I mean, all sorts of readers–whether I was successful or not. I can’t tell you right now that I did the best possible job, but I did the best I could do. We will really know when this thing gets a life and make people to finally latch onto it, and say, “Yes, I get this guy and who he was as a kid, and why it might have been that he turned out to be this sort of person.”
I can give you one quick illustration of that going on at length. When he was nine years old, and this I think is in maybe page one or two of the book, his father took him by the hand and walked him over to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor had died, and part of the Jewish tradition was a dead person can’t be left alone until they’re buried, and it should happen before the next sundown. It’s always been the idea, you put the person in the ground and get back to the field and work, because survival is at stake.
His father told Tibor he had to stay with the dead body. Tibor had seen Frankenstein at the local movie theater and he was absolutely terrified about the dead coming back to life. The experience of staying with a dead body by himself for an entire day gave him tremendous confidence. He realized the dead body wasn’t dangerous, ghosts weren’t going to come and grab him, and it wasn’t going to rise up and strangle him like Frankenstein, and it was a tremendous education and life experience that later bore fruit. So, this, right away from the beginning when Tibor told me this story, I said, “This is a scene,” and that’s your job as a writer.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 10
Mark Malatesta: Right, and this is how you tie it all together, because you have a million fascinating events that you could have written about Tibor, but the more you honed in and got clarity about the themes of the book, you then knew which ones were more important, and what order to put them in.
D.C.: Then, and you know this because you’ve done it so many times, when you do your rewrite what you do is make the boring parts shorter, and you expand this part and it all becomes…I’m going to use this word here, but I’m going to try and use it in context. It becomes fiction, and movies and even documentaries are fiction, because you place the emphasis on the time and space you spend on an incident as true as it is. Then that collides with other important incidents, and so you’re cutting and pushing time together in a weird way where 70 or 80 years of a guy’s life is in 300 or 400 pages. That’s not reality that is created, and why I say this is narrative nonfiction is because you are creating a reality that is different from the reality we experience on a moment-to-moment basis. And that, in plain language, is about editing and what every writer has to know at some point. And get to know the material so you can edit it in such a way that it’s exciting for people.
Mark Malatesta: That’s such a good point and deep topic. There’s another great article in there. We’re constantly warping reality because…if I write an article, or you write a book, or someone writes a screenplay for a movie it still…it’s 100% truthful, but not 100% reality because of the different emphasis we put in time and space on certain events, and the lack of emphasis we put on others creates a false reality.
D.C.: The writer doesn’t want to think about it in meta terms, that is, metaphysical terms. But what is it on a moment-to-moment basis? What is important and what’s not? This, other than discipline, is the essence of any creative narrative medium. What is important? What do we need to know? What will make us excited? It makes us excited to hear about a little kid who is shivering, and then what happens is in this story, the second or third time Tibor had to do this, the blanket that covered the dead body fell off the body, and Tibor said, “How the hell did that happen?”
He was taking a nap and woke up, and there was the dead body in front of him, now uncovered. That scared the living daylights out of him, because he thought this time the spirits had come back. Then, he fought his fear of leaving, which he was forbidden to do, and approached the body. He saw the hands, the mouth open, the eyes staring up, and that’s when he really overcame his fear. That’s what the reader needs to know. When you talk to your people and contrive your story, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, these are the things that will essentially make someone want to read the next page.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: That’s what turned me on as a writer, I said, “Man, I’ve got to get this out.”
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 11
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I love it. What is the most important, and what is the most interesting?
D.C.: Yes, what makes this person different. That’s how I started, and it’s what you discover. That changes your path, but it’s okay. It doesn’t create an accident, it creates an opportunity.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk about publishing for a second, and we don’t need to spend a lot of time on this…
D.C.: No, that’s what we’re here for, to help people see the massive leaps that have to be made after the book is written.
Mark Malatesta: That’s true, and so when you were at that proverbial fork in the road, where self-publishing is one way and traditional publishing with publishers like Random House is the other way…what was going through your head? And why did you choose to go the traditional publishing path?
D.C.: I wanted someone to pay me for my work. I wanted my work to get out to the widest possible audience, and I think some people, and you know my wife does this, she helps people self-publish and edits their work, but these people have followings, and they’re preachers or speakers or known figures in a certain field, and they self-publish because they know they’ll do a seminar or classes, or do a speaking tour, and part of those classes, and tours, and events people are required or requested to buy their books. Those books can be self-published to a fair degree of success.
But things like what I’m writing require marketing, hopefully by organizations that are knowledgeable and professional. I wanted professionals behind my book because I didn’t know how to market it. I couldn’t market, I’m just one person. Certainly, you can do all those things. I did one of my movies nobody was interested in, and we got it out there somehow and busted our butts and dragged it all over to a million festivals, but when I had a distributor at Lion’s Gate, they sold many DVDs and got it onto all the major TV and cable, etc. You know what I’m talking about, right?
Mark Malatesta: Yes! And no matter how you do it, you’re going to wear two hats, one is writer and one is promoter. Again, we talked about emphasis before, and where do you want the emphasis? Do you want to spend more of your time writing or promoting?
D.C.: Right, and you’re going to have to do a certain amount of that anyway. You’ll be doing interviews and talks, and helping to market it. You know, Mark, when we wrote the book proposal for literary agents, and you guided me through it, you alerted me to the fact that when it comes to nonfiction, publishers want you to provide a marketing plan. When I heard that, it bounced off my head like someone threw an eraser at my head and it bounced off. I thought, “That’s their job!” You said, “Well, it may ultimately be their job, but when you come through the door with something they don’t know about, they want to know what you think, why you did it, and who you think will read it, and what possible way is there for them to make people want to read it.” I had to learn that lesson.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I always tell people, “Yes, it’s the literary agent’s job to sell your book, but guess what? We’re all busy in life, and not just literary agents, but all of us. We’re busy and if we have someone who makes our life easier by giving up a book proposal that’s ready to go, that will be more appealing to a literary agent than someone who has a great story and no book proposal, or a bad one. It’s the way it is.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 12
D.C.: You know, and I’ve learned that the book proposal…book proposals are used by experienced writers who are professionals and been published to get their next book off the ground. But if you’re a starter, the book proposal is introducing you and your skills, and [literary agents] may not want to read a 400 to 600 page manuscript, they want to read all the relevant things in the proposal. That is the synopsis, why I wrote it, why I’m qualified to write it, and then why I think people will read it.
Now, when you’re three or four books down the line, and maybe even two or three, then this is you essentially refreshing their memories as to who you are, and why you’re so good, and why you need to get an advance. That’s a different world. But when you have that first book, and some people will get money, like if you’re a well-known doctor or scientist, that might help you get an advance. But, in my case, I was unknown, and needed to introduce myself and [that was] why working with you on the book proposal was so important.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and a lot of people have the misconception, “If my book is finished, I don’t need a proposal. Why would I need to outline what it’s about and have chapter summaries, etc. when the book is done, just read the book?” Well, it doesn’t work that way. A literary agent will want to read the book proposal to see if they want to read the book.
D.C.: Right, and the publisher is going to want to read it too. In my case, I’d say my literary agent has a particular format he adheres to. I didn’t know I was going to get this guy when I started, and so about 10% of the proposal was changed, but 90% was what you guided me through, and you said, “This is what you do, write this, this and this,” and I followed suit. But you’re crazy if you think you’re going to write the book, and they’re going to read hundreds of pages and say, “Let’s go.” They’re going to open up that book proposal if your query letter is strong enough, and then say, “Is this something I can market? Is this good enough? Does this person have their act together to where they can articulate what they’re doing?”
Mark Malatesta: I’ll add that they’ll read the query letter, and most likely they’ll read a couple of paragraphs to see if you can string a sentence together. Then, they’ll read the book proposal, but they won’t even waste the time on the book proposal unless they know you can write.
D.C.: Yes, and that you can get their attention. That was my issue going in, and as you pointed out to me after I listened to your great audio, that explains why query letters are so important. I said, “Okay, I think this guy really knows what he’s talking about.” I looked through the website and was very impressed. I thought for all the time and effort I put in, the small amount of money to have Mark, who I didn’t know, read the first 50 pages and comment on my query letter was an absolute revelation to me. It really helped me out tremendously.
Mark Malatesta: I love it. Let’s jump to promotion, and again, you can go anywhere you want here. What do you think authors need to think about when it comes to promotion while writing their book or say while they’ll shopping for a literary agent or once their book is coming out. What are a few things you think they need to think about for marketing? You already mentioned a little bit that even if you have a good publisher, you’re still going to need to do some marketing. What other tips do you have?
D.C.: I was very lucky, and got a top literary agent, as you’d call them. The first thing he said is, “I haven’t read your entire book, but I read enough to know…” This is after he read the book proposal, and said, “I haven’t read the whole book, but I read enough to know I want to do it. It’s well enough written that I want to try and get it out there.” But he was also realistic and said, “You know, a lot of things don’t sell and I can’t tell you why or why not, it just doesn’t happen.”
But, I think probably, you have to think about who is going to want to read this. I thought, “Who wanted to read Unbroken? Who wanted to read Boys on the Boat?” Then I went and looked at however many other military memoirs there were, and in this particular case Jews are big readers, and this guy was a Jewish hero, but the irony was about the story.
In my case, and again, everybody is different, but here’s this guy who couldn’t speak English well when he started out, and he was kind of ethnic, and certainly a foreigner, but the guys who came to his aid were all Christians from the south, and there was a bond between them. So, I thought, “This is an inspiring story on some level, in addition to its other virtues, and people like inspiring stories.”
I think all your writers have to decide what it is about that story of theirs that makes it compelling. Does that make sense?
Mark Malatesta: Yes.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 13
D.C.: Marketing is bringing out to people, whether it’s cereal, cosmetics, or vitamins, why is this essential to me? Who will this be essential to?
Mark Malatesta: So really, getting more aware of who your target market is, and the different segments, and in a real way, how is that target market organized in ways you and/or your publisher can go after to help promote the book?
D.C.: I wasn’t good at that, I just had a vague idea. That’s why you kind of have a sense of that, because you’ve been around the block and seen it so many times. That’s why, I think, writers and filmmakers and painters have to make allies. They need voices, and you also need people who are authoritative to disabuse you of your wrong ideas.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things we did together. This is kind of an extension of what we just talked about. Some of the epiphanies, revelations, discoveries, you had during our work together so people listening can get more tips, and at the same time will get a sense of what it’s like to work with me. Walk people through your perspective on what we did together. There is the abstract part of staying motivated and meeting goals, and then there are things like the query letter, book proposal, and literary agent research. What did you learn along the way?
D.C.: We have to reserve a moment to talk about the bad literary agents at the end of this.
Mark Malatesta: You can start with that.
D.C.: Let me finish with that, and I’ll start with the good first, and then the bad and ugly. The good was you refocused me. When I first listened to your thing, I said, “Wow, top literary agent.” I had a couple of pretty bad literary agents interested that weren’t helpful. Scam artists. And because you worked in the field, you were able to shortcut the process and rapidly… I guess I started with you in the fall of 2013, and my book was sold in April 2014, and in the scheme of things, that’s pretty fast.
I followed your instructions to the best of my ability, and listened, because the consequences of not listening would have been disastrous, and who knows what would have happened and how quickly it would have happened had I not gotten some help, because nobody around me could help. The only person who might have helped was that writer I was talking about who published eight or ten books. But, if I came to him and said, “I just finished that book on that subject you pulled out on…” Do you think he was going to help me? He would likely give me the worst advice or steer me in the wrong direction.
Mark, you were an advocate who had the best interests in mind, both because of your business, and also because you knew and…given when you read the first 50 or so pages, you knew I had gotten it to a certain level. You knew it was probably marketable.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
D.C.: I read a lot of bad screenplays and journalism, and people send me stuff, and I’ll always read someone’s stuff if I have time, especially screenplays, and writers need someone to say, “This isn’t where it needs to be, and you really need to go back and do X, Y and Z, and put more time in, and call me later.” But then, they need someone to say, “Don’t go to these literary agents, because they’re not very good for this reason.” And you don’t even know all of them, but you have to somehow edit out the dead wood.
Mark Malatesta: A key is you must get enough literary agents interested, so when you do start getting your first offer, you can leverage that against the others and create more interest. Then you have multiple offers, and then…guess what? You don’t have to know which literary agents are going to do the best job for you at that point. You just have to know which questions to ask to figure that out.
D.C.: And if you do get multiple literary agents interested, you’re in a rarified…you probably hit all the right notes and are in the rarified environment that very few people ever get to. That’s the truth, is it not, Mark?
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 14
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and half the reason that’s so true is no-one thinks that way. The initial goal is, let me find a literary agent, and I’ll feel lucky. So, authors trickle out their queries, and don’t go out in an aggressive way, and they also don’t have the insider knowledge of how to play the literary agents against each other to have multiple interest and not piss them off kind of thing. There is a real art to that and it’s the same art a literary agent uses ironically to get multiple publishers making offers.
D.C.: We had a few interested, but when we got the guy I ended up with, and I’m not mentioning his name because I don’t want to start an avalanche of paper going to his office, I was shocked I was at the top of the heap, literally.
Mark Malatesta: Right!
D.C.: Now, should I digress into the bad literary agent experience? Are we ready?
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and, by the way, to chime in here, initially if I’m working with a coaching client and they get an offer for representation from a great literary agent, their instinct is to sign with that person immediately. I’m like “No, no, no we’re going to play the field a little.” The literary agent won’t know it, but we don’t know, is that literary agent just going to send out three submissions for you and give up or 30? Are they really going to represent you or is their assistant going to do most of it? So, you can’t just jump. The same way you don’t propose to somebody after a first date.
D.C.: Yes, although people have done it before. We’ve all seen Robert DeNiro play that part. This is a story worth repeating and one day when I…a little further down the pike…I’m going to write this as a narrative as a warning, because I think it needs to be done. Initially the guy who introduced me to Tibor was a well-known rabbi in the LA area, even though this isn’t a religious matter, nor is the book. He had known Tibor, Jerry Ruben, and this guy also knew a literary manager who once in a while called him and said, ‘Hey Jerry, is there anyone out there who has a book I’d be interested in?’
This woman lives in the northern part of the country far away from New York and has an established literary management company. She’s not a literary agent, she’s a manager. Jerry referred me to her, and she called me, and it was Christmas 2013. No, it was before that, I think. She said, “I got your manuscript and I love it. Your writing is terrific, and I want to sign you right away.” I signed with her and here is what happened. Suddenly she was snippy and tough over the phone. I hardly knew her, and she said, “I want my husband to look at this and he’s a writer who has been published,” and indeed he’s been published a number of times and a pretty good writer.
She said, “This needs to be rewritten. It’s really bad here and you have to tighten this up.” Some of her advice was quite good. My original draft was too heavy on history and I got that right away. She turned me over to her husband, and they started to work this thing, “Well this needs to be done this way…” They confused me because I got mixed signals. I went and looked at a lot of books they published online, and they were lousy books.
I also had this feeling, there was a process where they found somebody with a story, or maybe it wasn’t the original source, but it was a second source down the line, and then somebody ghostwrote. I don’t want to say it was the husband, but that’s how I got turned over to this person. I felt this business plan taking place, that my project was going to get rewritten by someone else, and then that other person was going to take the credit for it, or I was going to have to pay them a lot of money.
Fortunately, I stuck my feet in the sand and they fired me as a client. Thank God! I will one day write this coherently on a step-by-step basis on how this process occurred, and how I got completely taken in, and suddenly my writing stunk. She was tough, “This isn’t good enough, you’ll never get it, you shouldn’t think about self-publishing unless you go with my husband. What a crock of shit.”
Mark Malatesta: Somebody else…that could kill their confidence and career.
D.C.: It did kill my confidence, because the first thing out of her mouth was, “This is so well written, and I’ve only read x amount.” Suddenly, in a few weeks, it’s not good enough. Talk to Bill, Bill is experienced. Bill is nice and said, “Do this and that, and it was a back and forth nightmare, and I managed to escape from it.” But that was the absolute low point of my writing experience.
Dan Cohen Interview with Mark Malatesta – Pt. 15
Mark Malatesta: It’s like they gave you the bait and switch… We’re running out of time, and so let me jump to the next question. I can talk to you all day, but we’re running late. I’m going to combine a couple of questions. Number one, and I think this is evident through some of the things you talked about, why do you think it’s a good idea for authors to invest in getting help, and based on your last story, get qualified help? Why is that important, and what got you over your initial skepticism that made you trust me enough to work with me on that first call?
D.C.: First, there was a complete difference in the way you approach things to the way this company I just mentioned approached things. First, you delivered so much material for free, and your site was so rich in content that whatever skepticism I had, after I listened to your free audio, I thought, “This guy knows what he’s talking about.” The initial consultation was a tremendous deal compared to, I had another literary agent, too, that was pretty crummy, compared to what I had been hearing out there, this isn’t a big investment. This is information I need to know.
I wasn’t skeptical about you when we began at all. And our first consultation reinforced my instincts that you were a pro, and knew what you were talking about, and you need allies. If you have the allies to begin fine, but I didn’t have those allies. The movie and book business are very different. I wasn’t skeptical in the least. Your website was so full of content and now there’s even more stuff, and you can learn so much, and I thought you were very generous to give that much information away for free.
Mark Malatesta: I tell people, that’s all preparation, and everyone thinks, “Wow, this is all I’ll ever need.” No, it’s not, it gets you to phase one, and if you’re really going to go from good to great, like you said, you do need that one-on-one help too.
D.C.: Because then it’s particularly your project. Is this project ready? You can tell someone, and other people can too, but certainly you can tell somebody if their material is ready. Yes, your website is very general, but there’s a tremendous education to be had there, I think.
Mark Malatesta: I appreciate that, and obviously you came to the call prepared to share things that will actually help people and to just sell your book. But I enjoyed our time, and I really could spend another hour with you, but we’re out of time. Do you have any last final thought or advice?
D.C.: I think we covered everything thoroughly. I would just say, finally, if you’ve gone this length of time and gone through all the trouble, you need to consult a professional. That’s my take on it.
Mark Malatesta: Authors get so discouraged by that, when they hear the statistics of some literary agents getting over 1,000 queries a month. That part is discouraging and depressing, but the good news is it’s less than 1% of the authors out there who actually get real help, and so you can immediately cut to the front of the line and increase your chances if you take a couple of extra steps that most people don’t know about.
D.C.: And if you need remedial work on your project, you put in a lot of time, so bite the bullet and get the remedial help. I think you’d be the first one to tell somebody that this…
Mark Malatesta: Right, I do, and it’s tough sometimes because it’s the last thing I want to tell someone on an introductory coaching call with me. They’re like, “I want to sign up for your program and I know someone who did it and you helped them get a literary agent.” Then I have to say, “No,” or at least, “Not yet.”
Depending on their budget, [they might want/need to] go find a writer’s group or work with a freelance editor. You pay whatever it is, but I’m not going to work with someone one-on-one in a big program unless I think they have a good shot [of getting a literary agent]. If I know I can get literary agents reading their stuff, then they’re in the game.
I should know by now if they can or can’t…
D.C.: You do know. I don’t, but you do.
Mark Malatesta: At least 95% of the time I know, and that’s about as good as it gets.
D.C.: Exactly. So, it was a lucky strike that you and I met and, of course, I think I’ve done some homework, and here we are today, in a two month short period of time from now, this will be on bookstands.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and by the time everyone is listening to this it might be…at least it’s available for pre-order, so if you’re listening to this right now, go get a copy of Single Handed: The Tibor Ruben Story right now. Thank you so much Dan for doing this. I love promoting my authors and I know everything you shared is going to help people.
D.C.: I hope so. I hope they enjoyed our discussion.
This interview was recorded with Daniel Cohen, who worked with former literary agent Mark Malatesta and got a representation offer from Trident Media. Dan’s book, Single Handed, is now published in hardcover by Berkley Books, a Division of Penguin Random House.
More About Mark Malatesta – Get a Literary Agent
Mark Malatesta is the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this popular How to Get a Literary Agent Guide. He is the host of Ask a Literary Agent, and founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover. Mark’s articles have appeared in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac.
Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. His authors 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.
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