Mark Malatesta – Creator of the Directory of Literary Agents
The Directory of Literary Agents, created by former literary agent Mark Malatesta, is one of the most popular literary agent databases. It includes detailed information about all book agents in the United States, those looking for new authors or seeking new clients. Mark initially created the literary agent database that supports the directory for his author coaching clients. That’s because (you may have experienced this) other literary agent directories and databases (print and online) are too often incomplete or outdated.
Prior to creating The Directory of Literary Agents, Mark Malatesta served as a literary agent before eventually becoming president of the agency. During his time as a literary agent, Mark sold books to well-known publishers such as Andrews McMeel, Barron’s Educational, Amacom, Ballantine, Contemporary, Broadway, Hyperion, Peachtree, Entrepreneur, Harcourt, F&W, New Page, Pocket Books, Random House, Scholastic, Penguin, Prentice-Hall, Renaissance, St. Martin’s, Sourcebooks, Simon & Schuster, and Workman.
Mark is currently using his experience as a (former) literary agent to help authors get top literary agents and book deals, as an author coach and consultant. Since 2011, Mark has helped hundreds of authors launch their book publishing careers or take their existing publishing careers to the next level. Writers of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.
Click here to see Mark Malatesta Reviews.
Mark Malatesta Success Story – Brad Harper
Mark, the day you said would happen, has happened. My agent, Jill Marr with Sandra Dijkstra & Associates Literary Agency, got multiple publishers interested in my novel, A Knife in the Fog, and I just signed a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books.
When it was confirmed I had an agent, I opened a bottle of wine, got some nice Irish cheddar cheese, and my wife and I celebrated. I had three bottles of wine set aside: one bottle for when I got the agent, one for when the book sells, and the third one for when the book is published. Each bottle, of course, is a better quality of wine. Life could not be better.
My agent is very easy to work with, quick to respond, and very enthusiastic about my work. We talk a little bit about personal things as well. I don’t feel like I’m having a conversation with my dentist. She did give me some feedback on things that she wanted me to change in my manuscript, before offering me a contract. I think, among other things, she wanted to see how easy I would be to work with.
Mark, before I found your website, I got no response at all from my query letters. No interest. Nothing. Well, I take that back. One agent was interested in my concept, but then she said my story wasn’t exciting enough. She wanted me to mimic the voice of another author. That’s when I decided to get help and stumbled upon your website. As a retired physician, I know there are things you should use consultants for.
Pt 2 – BH Success Story
I didn’t know how to shape my query and you gave me perspective. Let me use an analogy. When I was in medicine, I would sometimes send a patient to another physician, and there was a standard format to use. I’d make the information concise, relevant, and useful. I only gave the other person what they needed. And I wouldn’t give the same presentation to an otologist that I’d give to, say, an oncologist.
I didn’t know how to do that when writing a query letter. A friend of mine had lent me one of her books about query letters, but I needed help to learn how to be concise and provide agents with information relevant to them. Information that would help them decide, quickly, if my novel was something they’d like to consider further. That’s the help that you provided. You taught me how to think like an agent.
Writing and telling a story is art but, once that story has been told, it’s a product. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Leonardo da Vinci lived off the proceeds of his work. You can be an artist, but artists also have to live. So, I had no issues whatsoever in shaping my idea, my concept, into something that would make other people want to read it. They can’t do that unless you get it in their hands though, you know?
I thought about self-publishing my book, but I knew I’d probably just get a couple thousand people at best to read that way. And, most self-published authors spend most of their time marketing, marketing, marketing. That doesn’t get my juices flowing. My dream is to get on an airplane, see somebody reading my book, and hear them tell me how good it is before I tell them I’m the author. It would be one of those fantastic moments that you put a gold frame and then put it into your treasure chest of favorite memories.
One of the most important things you gave me, Mark, was validation. That I wasn’t being totally unrealistic. You showed me the best way to pitch my product, but you also reassured me that I wasn’t wasting my time. You helped me hone my skills, and you were an excellent sounding board – you still are. It’s nice to have somebody to talk to about my writing in ways that I can’t talk to my wife. You’re a professional who knows the business and always gives me reality-based feedback. That’s extremely useful.
Pt 3 – BH Success Story
I know that I was one of your greener clients, and you were always very accessible. I would send you a little something about what was happening, and you’d always get back within a day or so. And you were always encouraging. I never felt like I was getting an automated or template response. It was always personal, from Mark to Brad, and I always felt like you were in my corner.
I was also impressed that you helped me secure so many testimonials. Eight well-known and bestselling authors agreed to blurb my book. My agent told me right up front, “You’ve done your homework; this list of people willing to give you blurbs will get editors’ attention.” If I was William Faulkner or Stephen King, I wouldn’t need anyone like that, but I’m not William Faulkner or Stephen King!
I’m just a 65-year-old, unpublished author. My agent is taking a risk with me. Agents and publishers can’t afford to lose too many times. You know what you call an agent or publisher who takes on too many unsold or underperforming books? You call them unemployed. Having well-known authors and experts willing to review your work gives you credibility, and it shows agents and publishers that you can help sell books.
The list of agents you compiled for me was also huge. It saved me months of time and made it so that, when I got a rejection, I’d simply say, ‘Okay, batter up, who’s next?’ I didn’t have to go back and start rummaging through those hard-to-navigate-and-often-outdated-and-incomplete directories to try to find more people. That made getting rejections, and getting more submissions out, a lot easier.
Signing up to work with you wasn’t a financial burden for me. I mean, it was a significant investment, but my wife and I talked it over. I wouldn’t have done it without her support. She saw how important it was to me to try to make it as a writer and said, ‘Well, you know, let’s go for it.’ It was a joint decision, and we decided it was an investment in this new career of mine. So, we did it.
I knew, Mark, after my first coaching call with you, that you could help me, and that I could trust you. You didn’t just give me a sales pitch. You listened. You were thoughtful. And your advice was appropriate. As an author, you can only get things to a certain point on your own, using advice from books and websites. Even great ones like yours. Thank you for everything. We have come a long way, my friend.
B R A D . H A R P E R is the author of A Knife in the Fog and Queen’s Gambit, published by Prometheus Books/Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Globe Pequot, the trade division of Rowman & Littlefield
Brad worked with Mark Malatesta as an author coach/consultant, which led to Brad getting literary agency representation with Jill Marr of Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, who then got multiple publishers interested. Brad ultimately signed a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books in New York, distributed by Penguin Random House.
Authors published by Prometheus include Steve Allen (the first host of The Tonight Show), John Maynard Keynes (one of the most influential economists of the 20th century), Nietzsche (the philosopher), and Isaac Asimov (the science fiction author). In the interview below, Brad shares tips for authors about how to write, publish, and promote a book–and he talks more about his experience working with Mark.
What Other People Are Saying About Mark Malatesta
Brad Harper Interview with Mark Malatesta, Creator of The Directory of Literary Agents (Text and Audio)
During this 72-minute interview with Mark Malatesta, author Brad Harper talks about how he got an offer of representation from Jill Marr of Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, which led to him getting multiple publishers interested, and a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books in New York, distributed by Penguin Random House. In this interview, Brad shares suggestions regarding the best way to write, publish, and promote a book. And he talks more about his time working with Mark.
B R A D . H A R P E R
Mark Malatesta: Brad Harper is the author of A Knife in the Fog, a crime/mystery novel. Think Jack the Ripper meets Sherlock Holmes’ Arthur Conan Doyle. Brad and I worked together to help him get a top literary agent, Jill Marr with Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, who then got multiple publishers interested.
Brad ultimately signed a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books, located in New York and distributed by Penguin Random House. Authors published by Prometheus include Steve Allen (the first host of The Tonight Show), John Maynard Keynes (one of the most influential economists of the 20th century), Nietzsche (the philosopher), and Isaac Asimov (the science fiction author).
Prior to becoming a writer, Brad was an Army pathologist. He has more than 200 autopsies to his credit and, like most physicians, he’s a big Sherlock Holmes fan.
In Brad’s debut novel, physician Arthur Conan Doyle is invited to take a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees, with the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Dr. Joseph Bell–Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes–agrees to work with him. The two are joined by Margaret Harkness, an author who knows how to use a Derringer as well as she knows the dank alleys and courtyards of the East End where she resides. Pursuing leads through London and Whitechapel becomes infinitely more dangerous for the trio when the hunters become the hunted.
Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Chamber, says A Knife in the Fog is ingenious in its premise and plotting, impressive in its unique forensic precision, and infectious in its overflowing passion for the subject matter.
Mary Roach, bestselling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, says the novel stands apart, both for its nuanced, sympathetic portraits of the victims…and for its informed medical and forensic detail…that it’s crafted a deftly paced, expertly plotted work that transcends genre and speaks to the heart of every reader, mystery buff or not.
Laurie R. King, author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and Island of the Mad says, “Ardent feminism and cerebral detection face down the Ripper in the fog-shrouded streets of London: a feast for lovers of historical crime!”
Gordon McAlpine, author of Holmes Entangled and Woman with a Blue Pencil says, “The dark streets of London’s East End have never felt more real or more dangerous.”
And, lastly, Kirkus Reviews says, “Delightful chemistry, plummy prose, and believable period detail lift Harper’s debut above the throng of forgettable Baker Street imitators.”
Brad is Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, and he served 37 years of active duty. During his Army career, in addition to his clinical experience, he had four commands, beginning with the 67th Combat Support Hospital, in support of the Bosnian peacekeeping mission, and culminating as Commander with an Army Health Clinic in Italy.
Brad has received more than half a dozen awards including the Legion of Merit, with Oak Leaf Cluster, and an award from the Knights of Malta (the only non-Italian to ever receive this award) for his support of the Italian Army. When Brad served as Command Surgeon in support of U.S. Special Forces in Colombia, he had a $1.5 million bounty on his head. I bet his wife is happy those days are behind him
Dr. Harper and the love of his life, who he met in Junior High, have been married 45 years. They live in Virginia, have two grown daughters, and Brad dresses up as Santa Clause in his hometown each Christmas. You’ll see why when you visit his website at bharperauthor.com.
I’m so excited we finally get to do this.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 2
BH: Mark, it’s been a long road, and thank you for helping me get here.
Mark Malatesta: I’m so thrilled. Not everybody makes it, but it’s sure fun when you do, right?
BH: Yes, it is. I just got my complimentary copies recently, and when I opened up that box, I thought, “Ideas, thoughts in my head, it’s become a physical, real book,” and that was a very special moment. By the way, I delivered both of my daughters, and so it was very similar to that, bringing the book out of the box. As my wife told me when I delivered our first child, “Finish what you started.”
Mark Malatesta: That’s a great comparison, and you’re one of the few people that can actually make that comparison. You’ve done it. So, let’s get into it. I know that I already told everybody briefly what your book is about, but I want to get into if you think there’s anything important I left out about that, or if you want to talk first about anything else you have going on now. I know you just spoke at Killer Nashville, you’re heading off to speak at a week-long retreat in Ireland, your book is going to be shopped around at the Frankfurt Book Fair, you’ve got stuff going on with your audiobooks. Is there anything you want to talk about with that or anything else about the book that you want to share?
BH: Certainly. First of all, I just want to make clear to everyone who’s listening, that $1.5 million bounty on my head is no longer valid.
Mark Malatesta: That’s very good to get out there.
BH: No, as you said, lots of things are happening. It’s sort of like, I don’t know, people talk about “overnight success,” and I’ve seen authors with overnight success the same way a farmer [sees it]. One day, the silo is empty, the next day the silo is hopefully full, but what you don’t see is all that labor that goes from point A to point B, and now things are coming.
As you said, I just reviewed the cover for the audiobook with the audiobook company that won the bid–there were three companies that bid on that, and I just can’t say enough good things about them. I was involved in selecting the narrator for the story, and now I’m doing the final approval for the cover. That’s been very exciting and listening to this gentleman–his name is Matthew Lloyd Davies, he was with the Royal Shakespeare Company–and his Doyle, when I heard it, chills went up my spine to hear this trained actor voice…the words I’ve had in my head, and I said, “That’s the voice of Doyle right there.” It was just great.
Gee, what else? As we mentioned previously, I found there’s a huge network of Sherlock Holmes fans very excited about my book coming up, and [they] have invited me to speak at meetings. It’s a great way for me to get known in that community. They talk to each other, they network, they have a podcast called, “Sherlock Holmes.” It’s really a wealth of opportunity for me to get out there that I didn’t even know existed when I first started. Gee, what else?
Mark Malatesta: Well, and you know, we’ll spend the bulk of the time kind of giving authors your best advice about writing, publishing, and marketing a book, but before we slip into all of that, is there anything–I love your writing, so I want to really help push your work. I want to get as many people listening to this to read your work that might be interested. Why don’t you talk for a couple of minutes about the story itself? Anything that you think might be interesting to those listeners?
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 3
BH: Okay, certainly. Well, I have three major characters that work together. There’s Arthur Conan Doyle, there’s Professor Bell, that you mentioned, and Margaret Harkness. I found, over time, the three of them kind of took on three different aspects of the human personality. Doyle is ego: Everything has to be just right, he’s the one who follows the rules very closely. Professor Bell is super ego: He’s the one who makes decisions, who balances society’s rules with what needs to be done at the moment. And then Margaret, she is pure id: She says what she feels at the moment, acts on impulse. I found that having dialogue–I wouldn’t say dialogue, because dialogue means two people–having conversations with the three of them going back and forth, having to introduce a third person into the conversation creates a certain amount of tension that I enjoyed and was able to play off of.
Oftentimes, I’d use Margaret as a person to take sides or to put a fresh perspective on what these two gentlemen are talking about. So, I just found the three-person conversation to be a neat juggling act. It kept me focused, as a writer, and hopefully keeps my readers engaged as well. The research I did was just fascinating to me. I fell in love with a book written by a gentleman named Richard Jones. Mr. Jones was a postman in the White Chapel area, and you notice all of these plaques mentioning, “Oh here, the Ripper did this,” or “This body was found here,” and I became interested. Over time, he started his own walking tour company and has written two books on Jack the Ripper.
I booked a private tour, just him and myself, and we spent three hours walking through White Chapel at night. He gave me some really good details which were not even in his book, which I was able to work into mine. One was when the fifth victim, Mary Kelly, when her body was discovered, at the same time, the New Lord Mayor of London was being installed less than one mile away. So you have all of these people who have shown up dressed in their best to witness the grand ceremony of the Lord Mayor with his ermine robes and his chain of office, and as the rumor spreads through the crowd, thousands of people left to observe the removal of Mary Kelly’s body, so I contrasted those two scenes.
I don’t know this for certain, but my conjecture is they were close enough that the people standing in the courtyard silently could listen to the sound of the cheers and the music of this formal ceremony less than one mile away, and contrasted that with Mary Kelly’s body being moved. I thought that was one of my most effected scenes, and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t walked those streets with Mr. Jones. Another thing I put in was I had Professor Bell, at one point, do handwriting analysis of the notes signed, “Jack the Ripper.” Afterwards, I found a notice in the Irish Times that said in point of fact that Bell was consulted by the London Metropolitan Police and performed this very handwriting analysis that I thought were works of my own imagination. To see how my conjecture was reality was really kind of thrilling to me.
Mark Malatesta: I really love the three parts of the personality. That’s not something we used as part of the pitch, is it?
BH: No, it isn’t. That’s only something that came to me as I analyzed it later on. That was not intentional. I wish I was that smart!
Mark Malatesta: That was my next question: Was that planned, or did you figure that out halfway through, or after the fact?
BH: You know, Stephen King, he says oftentimes, he doesn’t know what his book is about until it’s finished. This is something that only after the fact, after I had polished it and written it all and had it accepted by my literary agent did it come to me that that’s how the three personalities worked off each other.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Yes, King is very organic. He figures it out as he goes and likes to be surprising. Other people plot every little detail from the beginning. Most people are somewhere in the middle.
BH: I’m probably 80% plotter and 20% pantser. I say a book is a journey, and the first thing I think of is how the book should begin. Then I think of how the book should end, and I say, “Okay, what stepping stones, what bridge do I need to build to get from the beginning scene to the final, and for the final scene to make sense?” That guides me. So, I do plot out major events.
For my second book, I was finishing up a creative writing program, and we had to do a story bible. So, I spent a month on the story bible on book two, where I put what are the important events at this time, and of course, my heroine, Margaret, she’s in book two, so I didn’t have to do a lot about her, but my other characters, I did biographies of them and I interviewed them. I got their likes and dislikes, so I had a very firm idea. It took me, well, from the beginning, sitting down to write until this moment, took me five years. It took me three years until it was good enough to get a literary agent. This book, book two, I was able to write in about three months.
Mark Malatesta: Wow.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 4
BH: I’ve gotten a lot better, and, point of fact, early next year, the book is due as part of my two-book contract with Seventh Street. Once my literary agent gets it back to me with her thoughts, I think I’ll work on it for another three or four weeks, and it should be ready to present to my editor, and we will get at it. That’s the other thing–the editor at Seventh Street that I worked with was just fantastic. I feel very green at this whole process, and how they deferred to my judgment, to my artistic sensibilities, was both gratifying and a little bit frightening.
Mark Malatesta: It’s a two-sided sword, right? I’m glad you shared that, because a lot of people are scared of that. The rumors are, “Oh, you’re going to lose all creative control,” and this and that. It’s not that way if you’re with a good publisher.
BH: Well, all I can say is my experience has been if we disagreed, they finally yielded. If I was very firm about it, they would say, “Okay, it’s your book,” and they did help quite a bit, believe me. There was one thing, I had an afterward, because I’m a real history nerd and I wanted to put in some of the historical background on my three major characters. My first editor, he took that out, but the copy editor, the one at the end, she allowed me to put it back in, and we polished it up. I think the book is that much better for it. But, no, they didn’t take it from me and ghostwrite it, no. It was a very collaborative effort, but at the end, they said, “It’s your book.”
Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s flash back to the day you got the news and you knew that you got the deal. Kind of relive that. What were you doing that day? How did you get the news? What have you done, if anything, to celebrate yet? That’s what everybody listening…they want to live that, so share your version.
BH: Okay. Well, my literary agent said that there were five publishers that were interested, which I just…honestly, I couldn’t grasp that five publishers were interested in my story. Then, Seventh Street, well, there was a closeout date, and a week before the closeout date, Seventh Street offered us a two-book deal.
Mark Malatesta: That changes things.
BH: They said, “He’s about to go on vacation for a week, so tell me yes or no right now.” I said, “Yes.” That didn’t take me but about two-tenths of a second to make that call. So, it was what they call a pre-empt, which I had never heard of, but she pre-emptively closed off the bidding on the book, because we had an offer that we, as Don Corleone said, “an offer that we could not refuse.” It was just too good to be true.
Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I just want to explain to everybody, so they understand this. The better your literary agent is–and you got a good one, as you know–the more successful your literary agent is, the bigger potential they believe for an author’s book, they’re more likely to create an auction and put a deadline on things. They’re not usually going to be that aggressive, but sometimes they will. A lower-level literary agent would never do that in a million years, and they couldn’t, even if they tried, because they wouldn’t have that kind of clout with publishers.
BH: Wow. Jill is excellent. She listens to me, and we talk about our families. She has a son who is big into baseball. So, it’s not like going to the dentist. We have a personal relationship. I just saw her down at Killer Nashville again this year. We met there two years ago, and at the awards dinner. She invited me over to her table, one reserved for her clients, and I told her afterwards, “You know, in high school, I never got to sit at the cool kids table, so this is really great.”
Mark Malatesta: And just so you know, half of that–I’ve told you this in various ways over our time working together, half of that is you. You’re very gracious, you’re very kind. You just do all of the right things personally and professionally, so you’re going to attract people and opportunity and all kinds of things. That’s not everything, ultimately, it’s mostly about the work, but boy, that sure helps. People like me, in the industry, we appreciate people like you.
BH: Well, thank you very much. I told my children–I worked in customer service, I waited tables and other things to get through college, and I told my children, “If you want good customer service, be a good customer.” That never hurts. But, honestly, Mark, when you started working with me, I could not conceive of me being where I am, it’s really just amazing. So, when Jill told me that she had pre-empted, and we took that offer, I took my wife out to my second favorite restaurant in the world. My favorite restaurant in the world is in Venezia, Italy, but I couldn’t fly there overnight.
Mark Malatesta: That’s coming later, when you get the movie deal or something.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 5
BH: Yes. So, we went to the second-best Italian restaurant in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and had a wonderful dinner and a bottle of very nice wine. I’m a little bit of a snob when it comes to Italian food after I lived there for two years. When I go into a restaurant, the first thing I look at is not the menu–I look at the wine list. If the wine list doesn’t cut it, then I know the food won’t be that good, either.
Mark Malatesta: You’ve got to share your story about your three bottles of wine, because that’s fantastic.
BH: Okay, okay. I have three bottles of very fine Italian wine.
Mark Malatesta: Well, you only have one left, right?
BH: Yes, I only have one left, that’s right. So, I had one, which is what I had the night of this, and then the second one, when the book was complete and went to the press, and then when the book comes out, just after I come back from Ireland, the third, I’m going to have a very fine French champagne.
Mark Malatesta: Very nice, and each one gets more expensive as you go, I’m guessing, building up to the climax.
BH: Yes, indeed.
Mark Malatesta: Alright, so, let’s get into your advice for authors and thinking back, we start at the end, with all of the happy stuff, the happy ending, but let’s go back to the beginning of how you got there, and your journey as an author long before the book deal, long before we ever met and did anything together. When did you get the idea that you might be an author one day?
BH: Well, a little bit over five years ago, shortly after I retired from the army, I wrote a fan letter to Mary Roach, who has written a number of books, science for the lay public. My daughter gave me a book called Packing for Mars. I wrote her this really nice email, and I said how interesting it was, and as a retired pathologist I thought the medical and scientific detail was very sound, and she wrote me back, to my surprise.
She said, “Oh, that’s great. Your background sounds interesting. Do you have any ideas for my next book?” Well, that’s the last thing I would have expected. My next-to-last job was in the Pentagon on the staff of the Army Surgeon General, and one of the things I did was coordinate human research within various military agencies. So, I said, “Well, you know, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on with human performance, trying to be able to grow blood out of a 55-gallon drum in the field, that sort of thing.”
I had done some research with the U.S. Army Research Center for Infectious Disease, where they work with Ebola virus, that sort of thing, so I said, “There’s just a lot going on that doesn’t get much press, and they’d be happy to talk to you.” I was still just recently out, so people would still return my emails, and I got her in to see some people, and it took off. Long story short, she showed me the process of gathering information to write the book. To me, writing a book was just so foreign to anything that I’d ever done, I couldn’t conceive of it. So, she made it look not easy, but something human beings could do.
She’s very funny and smart, but she’s not Wonder Woman, she’s a human being, and I decided, “Well, if she can do it, maybe I can as well.” I had this idea in the back of my head for two or three years about how there was a four-year gap between the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, and the second one, The Sign of Four, and Doyle only got £25 for the first Holmes story, and had to give up the copyright. He was so angry at how he was treated, he just said, “Well, that’s it. I’m never going to write another crime story.” So it was only four years later after he wrote the first one when a magazine publisher convinced him to write some more, and he went back to it.
That was a very famous meeting, by the way. Him and Oscar Wilde were at the same dinner, and there was an American publisher named Stoddard for the Lippincott Magazine. He offered them each £100 to write something, anything, and so Doyle wrote, The Sign of Four, and Holmes came back from the dead, if you will, for the first time, and Oscar Wilde wrote, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I conclude my book with that meeting, and I put in some dialogue that probably didn’t happen, but it was a nice final touch to the story, I think. So, the Ripper murders were in 1888, right in the center of this hiatus, so I conceived of a story where Doyle could get involved in the hunt for the Ripper based upon the techniques he described in the Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, to explain why the Ripper suddenly stopped without ever being caught, and why Doyle eventually returned to writing Sherlock Holmes.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 6
Mark Malatesta: Nice. I’m surprised it was only five years ago. You’ve come a long way in a short time. I know, five years, it’s relative, but that’s amazing. It’s heartening, I think, for people who haven’t been at it for that long that might think people started 10, 20, 30 years ago, so that’s great.
BH: Yeah, well, I’m 67, so I didn’t have a lot of time to waste. When I got started, I just decided, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to go all out,” and I was truly terrible when I started, but I was persistent. There’s a Zen saying which I’ve used many times in my life when I was facing difficulties. It says, “You will try, you will fail, you will try again, you will fail again, but you will fail better.”
Mark Malatesta: That’s good, that’s good. It’s never too late to start. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this–I’ve got some author coaching clients in their 80s and 90s. I’ve got one that’s 96, one that’s 97. I love sharing those stories because that makes the people who contact me who are, like, 71, and they’re trying to rush me or saying they don’t have time, I’m like, “Oh, you’ve got plenty of time, plenty of time.”
What writing did you do before the book?
BH: Well, I used to write an awful lot of poetry. In high school, I would write love poems. I didn’t have a social life in high school. I was on the swim team and other things, and the band, and I was very shy with girls at the time, but I would write love poems and sell them to the football players who did have girlfriends for 25 cents each.
Mark Malatesta: So, you were a ghostwriter.
BH: Yes. I was so shy, in fact, I read a book on palmistry, so when I went to parties, I would say, “I know how to read palms,” and I would have a line of girls there for me to hold their hands. When you’re shy but smart, you work with what you have. I got a lot of handholding, anyhow. Then, when I was deployed to Bosnia, I started writing this newsletter to send to the families back in Wurzburg, Germany, where the unit came out of, just to let them know what was going on, and for them to get a feel for who their service members’ commander was. I was from a different part of Germany. I was in Heidelberg, and the commander down range got relieved, so at the last minute, they said, “We need somebody to go down there and take over.” So I did.
No one in Wurzburg, where the unit was stationed, knew me. So, I started writing a newsletter every couple of weeks to send to the family support group in Wurzburg and say, “Oh, this is what we had for dinner the other night. We played soccer with a local military unit. We did some work with the local orphanage.” So they could see, like I said, what their husbands and wives were doing down range to feel more connected to them while we were all separated. I enjoyed it. I was told that I had a nice tone of voice to it, and a number of family members came up when we finally came back home and hugged me and told me how much the newsletters meant to them, and I really appreciated that. I decided, “Well, you know, maybe I have some future as a writer,” but I never thought that I’d go as far as a book, that was just a ridge too far at that time.
Mark Malatesta: Right, and then a five-year journey when things started getting serious. Now, I’m going to qualify this, because I don’t want to scare some people off, scare them away from writing, because your background is unique. You did take some very serious steps and approach your writing in a formal way, and we’ll get into that in a second, but there are many authors that I talk to in these interviews that never did that. It’s just totally self-taught, and they managed to make it as well, so that’s possible too. Let’s dive into–I’m a big fan of studying and getting mentors and things like that, so talk a little bit about your author education, the various things you did from books you’d read, or events you’d attend, or people you’d work with, programs you’d participate in, that whole thing. What do you think authors should think about things like that?
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 7
BH: Well, I think the first thing that you need to do is join a local writers’ group. It’s great to have other people who, I guess, suffer from the same pathology that you do, sort of a support group. But, also, they can tell you–oftentimes, they’ll have writing courses, they’ll bring in local experts who have been successful and can teach. Depending on what genre you’re in–since I write crime, mystery, I’m a member of the Mystery Writers of America, as well as Sisters in Crime.
They allow men, so we now call it, “Sisters and Misters in Crime.” In fact, four months ago, they were able to arrange a private tour of the Library of Congress that was just amazing. If you’re ever in D.C., that is just the most beautiful government building that I’ve ever seen. At the end of our tour, they took us to a back room, and we got to look at first editions, and I found out that Truman Capote wrote, In Cold Blood in longhand, and we were able to examine that manuscript in his own handwriting that he used, things like that just blew me away.
Then, the contacts I made–my character Margaret, fortunately for me, she moved around a lot. At one point, she lived in America, and one of the other authors on the tour with me, she writes a series about a female Pinkerton agent, which I didn’t know there was such a thing. So, I thought, “That would be a great job for me to give her when she arrives in America, to help make ends meet and put some interest into whatever story might come from that.” So, those connections are great.
Then, there’s a couple of good books–there are many good books on writing. There’s one, the name of the author I can’t remember right now, called, The Author’s Journey. It’s a takeoff on Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, and it’s very good about the different stages of a story you need to fulfill for the reader to feel like a complete story has been told. Robert McKee wrote a book called Story, and it’s directed towards screenwriters, but writing to me is writing, and I would say that it was very informative to me.
Now, I took a writing program with Full Sail University, an online associate’s program, and most of my classmates want to be either screenwriters or game writers, I’m the only prose writer that I know of. Studying screenwriting was very useful to me. Screenwriting talks of, number one, your dialogue has to be very succinct, there are no wasted words. The second thing is, as much as possible, show, don’t tell. In a novel, I can tell you what the character is thinking. On the screen, you have to show that.
A great example that I like to give is the most recent movie, Murder on the Orient Express. At one point, Hercule Poirot is going to the scene of the crime. He’s in Cairo, and he steps on a fresh pile of camel dung. Well, you know, Hercule Poirot is meticulously dressed, everything is always perfect. So, this beautifully waxed shoe is now in what? So, he looks at it for a moment, and what does he do? He pulls it out, takes the other shoe, puts it in there, mashes it around, so now they’re exactly the same. That tells you, in that one moment, that for Hercule Poirot, things are either black or white. They’re either this way or that. He is not a man who sees shades of grey.
Mark Malatesta: And it’s so much more interesting than just telling the reader what he’s like.
BH: Exactly, exactly. I said, “That was just brilliant.” In that one five- or six-second flash, you get a complete feeling of who this character is, how he sees the world and himself. If you can write a scene like that, you’ve really done something. Gee.
Mark Malatesta: Is it Chris Vogler, The Writer’s Journey? Does that sound right?
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 8
Mark Malatesta: Okay. And it’s Robert McKee [who wrote Story] so people get that right, so they can find it on Amazon. That’s one of my favorite books. If you’re getting that book, don’t cheat and get the abridged audio version, you’ll miss half of it.
BH: Oh, that is a great book, I highly recommend it. Then, Stephen King wrote a good book called, On Writing. It was highly recommended by a couple of people that I respect, and when I first started reading it, I thought, “Why is this so highly recommended?” because the first half is an autobiography.
Mark Malatesta: Right, it’s memoir.
BH: The last half, he gets into rules for writing, which are very good. After I read it, I realized why: You see how hard he worked to become the writer that he is, so his message to anyone that wants to be a serious writer, is “It ain’t easy. It wasn’t easy for me, and it won’t be easy for you.” The most telling moment for me was when it’s Friday night, the transmission has gone out in his car. He’s teaching English at a local high school, and his young child just spiked a fever of 102. He has enough money to either take his child into the doctor or to fix his car, so he can go into work on Monday. What does he do? That’s what that man went through to become the writer that he is today. So, he’s telling you, “Okay, if you really want to be serious at this, you’re going to have to work pretty darn hard, because I had to work pretty darn hard.”
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk about writing the book next. Try to talk out of both sides of your mouth here. What’s your best advice as to writing a book, and you’re trying to kind of, as much as you can, give general information that will work for people writing any genre, but then you can also slip in, of course, some tips specific to writing fiction or crime, mystery, etc.
BH: Okay. Well, I forgot to mention earlier something about getting with writing groups. You want to be with people that challenge you. I used to play chess a lot, in fact, competitively, and I always preferred to play someone who was better than I was, because that upped my game. Sting, when he was just starting off as a musician, said that he always wanted to be the worst musician in the band, because the other members of the band improved his craft, and then once he became the best musician in the band, he would go and look for another band. So, you want to be with people who have the same goals and desires that can kind of sharpen you and keep you on the edge, and who spur you, who motivate you, who challenge you, and that will help you to go farther and faster than you would on your own.
Mark Malatesta: Brad, I just can’t stress that enough. That’s probably one of the most important things. I don’t know about you, but I know with me, I’m very antisocial at times. I enjoy certain people, certain situations, things like this, my clients, but then I’m really private and quiet. It’s like, you kind of have to go out there and kind of get feedback on your stuff, and so many writers, they just don’t want to leave that safe, warm, cozy bubble just working on the writing, writing, writing But they’re not evolving, or getting their work out into the world, because they’re just stuck in that comfort zone.
BH: Definitely, and then once you write it, send it out there. Okay, it’s not going to be Faulkner, but then, only one person can make that claim. Use rejection as feedback. I was turned down by 79 literary agents before I got the yes, and thank goodness the other 79 said no, because the literary agent I have is the perfect one. I would say that I wasn’t ready, really, until about the 73rd or 74th.
Mark Malatesta: I’m scared to ask, why is that?
BH: I don’t think I was ready. I don’t think my writing was ready yet.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 9
Mark Malatesta: You were revising it as the submissions were going out?
BH: I had a couple of literary agents who looked at it, and looked at the entire manuscript, in fact, and gave me some feedback, and I just couldn’t get it to what they wanted, but I was still better for the experience than if they had just said, “No,” and didn’t give me anything further. Well, I speak five languages, and the way I learn a language is I’m what the Spanish call sin vergüenza, I’m without shame. If I’m talking to someone in Spanish, I make a mistake and they correct me, I thank them, because they made me better.
So, every time I show something to someone now in writing, some of it is subjective, but if someone can give me an idea or suggestion which I agree makes it better, then that’s great. I don’t own a single word in that dictionary. I’m using them, I’m raking them for effect, but there are people who have been doing this for decades, or, I have my perspective, other people have different perspectives, and I’m grateful when people share theirs with me.
Gee whiz. When I was in medicine, when I was in clinical medicine before I went into pathology, I used to follow the golden rule, and I treated my patients the way I wanted to be treated. Some of the cruelest things I ever did to people was treat them in the way I wanted to be treated. One day, I realized that I had my background, my beliefs, my core values, my way of looking at the world, but different patients from different backgrounds didn’t share those.
So, I went to the platinum rule, and said to treat people the way they wanted to be treated, so I had to solicit from every encounter, “What is it you desire from this outcome?” So, when I’m writing, and people will give me their perspective, I don’t disagree with them. I listen, and I try to learn from that. Even if I don’t change anything, if I understand why they thought that the way they did, that makes me a s better writer.
One review I got back–I’ve had several very good reviews–one review that I got back was not very good, and they said that my ending was somewhat contrived. I’m in a book group, and we just went through some of the great mysteries of the early 20th century, the great golden era, and the way they wrote mysteries, characterization really was not the point; it was giving the reader a puzzle, and then solving that puzzle.
The way I approached my stories, I was a little more interested in the characters and the society than the puzzle itself, and so I realized that this particular reviewer was looking at it from that perspective, the old golden age perspective. From his point of view, I thought his criticism was completely valid. So, that made me a better writer for the next time.
Mark Malatesta: That’s interesting. I love that platinum rule nuance, treating people the way they want to be treated, not necessarily the way you want to be treated, that’s a good distinction–the key to your happy marriage too, I bet.
BH: Oh, definitely. So, writing, you have to figure out what the story about, and I say plot is what happens, story is why you care. You can say, “The king died. A week later, the queen died.” Okay, that’s plot. “The king died. The queen died of sadness,” that’s a story. Now, you’ve put some significance to the event. David Mamet was once the show runner for I think it was Hill Street Blues, and so the way these series work, is one writer can’t write every episode, so you have one head runner, they’re called the show runner, and then you have staff writers who will do different episodes.
David Mamet said, “Every character who is more than a walk-on, if they’re more than the pizza delivery guy, you’ve got to be able to answer these questions: What do they need? What’s their motivation? Why now? What has changed in their life? What happens if they don’t get it? What are the stakes? If you can answer those questions about each character that you bother to give a name, then you’ll have characters that your ready will actually care about, they can understand, that they will relate to.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 10
Mark Malatesta: And that holds true–I want to make sure everyone gets this–whether you’re writing crime fiction, a romance novel, general fiction, middle grade, young adult, it doesn’t matter.
BH: Yes. There are different theories about what stories there are, and I say there are four major stories: coming of age, good versus evil, boy meets girl, and redemption. I think the redemption stories are the most powerful. When you look at the Rocky movie, the first one-third of the movie is showing you what a total bum this guy is. I mean, he’s an enforcer for a local loan shark, among other things. So, when he calls himself a bum, you believe it, because he believes it.
So, when he gets this offer to fight Apollo Creed and he rises to the challenge, it really means something to you, because you see the arc that he travels, and that journey from being that total bum to the man that can go the distance with a world champion. That was just a great story. Star Wars, now, remember my four categories: boy meets girl, good versus evil, coming of age, and redemption. Star Wars has all four stories in that, and that’s why I think it’s such a powerful, powerful story arc, if you will, franchise, because it has all of that wrapped up in one story.
Mark Malatesta: And all those things motivate different people, so there’s more there to suck everyone in.
Mark Malatesta: I like to warn people against not overplaying the good versus evil. I have a very smart author I’m working with and she has a fantasy series, and man, I use this in her pitch, but she was explaining to me how she is tired of everyone overdoing the good versus evil, and she said she wanted to do something different. So, her novel is based on what happens merely based on purely one character’s incompetence. I thought that was so smart. There are so many other things that you can use, right? Or, somebody makes a mistake, we build something around that, but the typical good guy, bad guy, it’s hard to make that fresh.
BH: I’d be interested to read that story.
Mark Malatesta: Right? Alright, so let’s jump into…let’s see. Let’s talk about publishing a book. So, obviously, there are really just two main choices when it comes to publishing: You try to go traditional and get a publisher like a Random House or a Seventh Street or something like that, or you do it yourself, or there are a million different variations or hybrid publishers or whatever, but it’s someone else is financing it, or you’re financing it. So, why did you decided to go traditional?
BH: Well, let me see. As to which way to go, I’m lazy first of all, I had to learn how to write a book, and anyone listening to this broadcast will agree, that’s hard work. Writing a book requires a craft that can be taught, to a certain extent, and some of it you just absorb through sleeping with great books under your pillow every night, having read hundreds and hundreds of books.
Mark Malatesta: I thought you were going to say, “sleeping with great writers.”
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 11
BH: Ah, well, no, my wife wouldn’t sign off on that program–besides, a lot of them are already dead. No, but by reading lots and lots of good writing yourself, but also read some bad writing. I volunteered to be a judge for a writing contest with a local writers’ group, and it’s true, by the third page, I knew exactly how well this book was going to go. I had a feel, by that time, what kind of writer this was, what their voice was, what their strengths and weaknesses were, and three pages was more than enough. So, I had to read the first 50 pages, and so the other 47 pages, if it was really bad, I would be making notes why this is this bad, and reading bad writing made me a better writer, because then I was more alert to it when I would write.
So, there’s something to be said for that. Okay. I would say, what are your goals? Some authors can make a ton of money going Indie. At Killer Nashville, we had two speakers there who both can make up to $100,000 a month off their self-published books. They have a big series, they have a huge following, they’re making good money, they wanted to have complete control. There was this one guy, he said, “To be honest with you, I’m an average writer. Half of you out there probably write better than I do,” and after I looked at his stuff, I’d have to say, “Yeah, I think you’re probably right.” Not bad, not great.
Mark Malatesta: But he’s working it.
BH: Yes, he’s making good money at that. Myself, I didn’t want…I don’t know. Sure, somebody wants to write me a large check for movie rights, I’d probably cash it, but I wanted, at my age, I wanted the validation of being traditionally published, although, like I said, there are some great writers who are indie. The second thing was, there are more gatekeepers to be traditionally published, and I didn’t trust myself, or even an editor I could hire, to get it up to the standard I thought it could be. I will honestly say that my editor at Prometheus–Seventh Street is part of Prometheus–he got my book at least two levels higher than it was before, and I wouldn’t have had that kind of back-and-forth with an editor for hire.
Mark Malatesta: I love that, and I wasn’t expecting that. It’s usually, “I want the validation, I’m legit, and I want to reach as many people as possible.” Sometimes it’s the money. You want people to read something that you put so much time into that you think they’ll enjoy. I love hearing you talk about that personal pride in wanting to create the best product that you can. I love that, I love that.
BH: Well, you know, if I were an experienced writer, I might have gone indie, but I’m not. A lot of writers started off as journalists. So, I mean, they’ve got the grammar down, they know when to use a semi-colon and a dash and all that good stuff that I had to learn on my own. I came kind of late to the game, and if you get a literary agent, that opens up so many doors that if you’re in indie, you don’t have. I forget where I did the interview, but somewhere or other I may have mentioned that I had three different audio companies bid for the rights to the audiobook, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have had that kind of experience if I had gone indie.
Mark Malatesta: Right.
BH: For me, it was the right answer, but this is Brad Harper talking, my world view. In my book, at one point, I mention that Doyle soured on the crime genre, but he did say, “If I only write one book, it better be a good one.” I’m working on a second book, I never thought I’d get a two-book deal, but if the only book I ever put out is the first one, A Knife in the Fog, I want it to be the best book I could possibly make it.
Mark Malatesta: How did the two-book deal affect you? Is that making it easier for you when you’re writing the second book, like, “This is fun and I’m safe and sound,” and you enjoy it, or does it stress you out? Or a little of both?
BH: Well, you know, I wasn’t sure I could write one book, so now I have to prove to myself I can write two.
Mark Malatesta: It’s in your contract!
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 12
BH: Yeah, yeah, but, you know, it was validating. I’ll be honest, the advance I got wasn’t that large, but I think, probably the acquisitions editor was probably given a top level of what they could offer a debut novelist, so his way of getting around that was offering two books and just doubling the amount with the hope that the second book would be good. I have the same hope but having done it once and gone through all of that, I have the confidence I can do it again. I’m very happy with the plot, and hopefully my literary agent gets it back to me with enough time I can finish up whatever comments she has, and then Dan and I at Seventh Street will go hammers and tongs and polish it up.
Mark Malatesta: So, let’s talk marketing for a second, and I like asking open-ended questions, because it gives you more freedom–your best advice for authors when it comes to marketing. It can be anything, again, from your perspective, that an author should be thinking about or doing early on as a writer….thinking about marketing, or once they’ve gotten a book deal, or once their book comes out. What’s your best advice, things you’ve learned along those lines?
BH: Well, maybe the best time to ask me is after I’ve done the book launch and I analyze my successes and failures. I would say one thing: You’ve got to have a good online presence, have a very good website. People will probably only go to it once, but if it’s very good and gives them information about you, that will peak their interest. Remember, you’re not selling books, you’re selling yourself, and putting in the time and investment to have a good online presence is like that farmer building the silo. As soon as he puts the crops in the field, he better start thinking about what happens when he comes to the harvest.
So, building that silo, building connections, reaching out to people, making connections in the industry that can help you down the road, that’s a smart to-do. You coached me on that very well, so that by the time I was ready to go to a literary agent, I had some big names who were willing to read and blurb that book. Believe me, Mary Roach being number one, of course, because I’d worked with her and my literary agent said that it showed that I’d done my homework and I was taking this very seriously.
Mark Malatesta: Good, and what you were just saying, that all goes hand-in-hand with if you’re putting yourself out there as a writer to learn different things, attend different things, meet people, and get better at the craft at the same time you’re making some of those marketing connections.
BH: Oh yeah, and I found out, to my surprise, just because you wrote a book, bookstores will not roll out the red carpet for you. I approached several, and their first question was, “Well, are you local? If not, how are you going to market this in the local community? How many people can you guarantee will show up to buy your book?”
Mark Malatesta: And you’re thinking, “Wait, wait, that’s your job.”
BH: Yes, so my book tour list got a lot shorter very quickly. A lot of decisions now, a lot of purchases, are done online. I want to support independent bookstores, because that was my dream growing up, was having one of my own, and I think they are keepers of the flame. But there are reviewers who have large followings. Reach out to them, make an advanced reader’s copy of the book available to them, and if they like it, they can certainly help you.
Mark Malatesta: I don’t remember, you didn’t have the website before you went out to your literary agent, did you?
BH: No, I didn’t.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 13
Mark Malatesta: Okay, I just want to settle people down. I know some people freak out. As a fiction writer, it’s great if you already have a website or you have 30,000 people on Twitter or this, that, and the other, but you really don’t have to have that. I mean, if you do get some of those things, like I helped you do–and I don’t get into how we did that on these kinds of calls, but [I show authors how to] get well-known people to agree to accept a review copy of [their] book later.
Those things can help but, fortunately, if you’re a fiction writer, it is 80% about the book, and then if you have some cool stuff about your background or some cool things you’ve been doing to build your profile that are associated with the book, that’s great, but it’s not the end of the world. If you’re a nonfiction author, then it’s a dealbreaker. Who you are, and your platform is 25% to 50% of it.
BH: Another thing I would say is although some bookstores wouldn’t host me personally, working with a young lady who is an author herself, she does branding, we put together some display boxes that they’ve agreed to put up that will help promote my book. The best thing is, I can only be the for a couple of hours, that display box will be up there for two weeks before the book comes out, stimulating interest and give something for them to talk about with the sales staff.
Mark Malatesta: Nice. What kind of display box? Like a table display?
BH: Okay, well, it’s going to have some fake newspaper headlines with my picture on it, some stuff about Jack the Ripper, pictures of Conan Doyle at that age, Professor Bell and Margaret Harkness, it’s going to have a bloody knife and a skull.
Mark Malatesta: Is this like a standing floor display kind of thing that holds books?
Mark Malatesta: Oh, wow! Holy cow.
BH: Yes, so I’m putting it all together, and then I’ll tell them that everything there, all the props, you can keep to use for future displays or promotion, and the one in Richmond, she’s already seen what the pack consists of, and she loves it.
Mark Malatesta: Wow, that sounds amazing.
BH: If you become friends with the bookstore owners, they will talk you up to their customers.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. Alright, so let’s dive in a little bit and talk about what we did together, from your perspective – every author, every book is different. Just talk about that a little bit, why did you reach out to me in the first place? Some people do it after they’ve sent out hundreds of queries and gotten nowhere. Other people are a different personality and they’re like, “I just want to do it right the first time and give myself an edge.” Where were you at that point?
BH: Okay, well, I wrote what I thought was just this amazing book, and I thought Hollywood would beat down my door at the chance to make a movie out of it, and that sort of thing. So, I wrote three or four literary agents, giving them this great opportunity with this fantastic book that I had, and four of the five didn’t even answer. An assistant said, “An interesting concept, send me a query letter.” Well, I didn’t even know what a query letter was or how to format it or anything, and so I quickly asked a friend of mine who was a writer, “What’s a query letter?” and she showed me one that she’d written. She writes children’s books, so that wasn’t a whole lot of help. So, I got a book for writers and how to submit, so I sent a couple back and he never responded. Then, I got a couple of others that just said, “Please, kindly, go away.”
I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about. So, I think I queried eight or ten literary agents, and I could tell that it wasn’t working, so that’s when I came across your advertisements and said, “Well, I’ll check this out.” I’d used professional help to write the books, so I thought, “I need a completely new skillset now to market it.” When you write a book, it’s craft, once it’s a book, it’s a commodity, something to be sold, and you’re competing with video games and movies and Netflix and all of these other distractions people have, so how do I make my books something that people are going to want to invest in, with the hope that they’ll get their money back?
So, I went to you, I listened to your podcasts and they seemed very informative and had some good information online, I thought, “This is good stuff.” So my wife and I talked it over and we talked to you. It was a bit of investment for us, but we decided if I want to be serious about this, I need to invest in it, just like I invested in my writing, and we made the joint decision to go for it. I also figured as well-known as you were, as long as you’d been around, if you weren’t on the up-and-up, that would have been found out, and you never promised more than you could deliver, but everything you promised, you did deliver.
You stood by me, conversations with you were easy, and I never felt like I was getting a boilerplate response. You gave me great feedback on the first 50 pages of my book, and so, I just said, “Well, you know more about this than I do,” and it worked out.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 14
Mark Malatesta: Do you remember, not drilling down into too many specifics, but do you remember…I don’t remember, so if you can’t, it’s okay, but do you remember what was most strikingly different to you about the query letter we went out with versus the one that you’d sent out?
BH: Well, number one, the synopsis was a lot tighter. The second, my credentials on why I would be a credible author for this subject matter, and then, just the intro was…I mean, the first two sentences had a good hook, promising what the rest of the letter delivered.
Mark Malatesta: Get them to read the rest of the letter.
BH: Exactly, it was a nice transition into the body of that letter, and it flowed.
Mark Malatesta: Alright, let’s see here. What have we not talked about? Oh, this is one of my favorite questions, I like to throw this at people, it’s a little curve ball. What’s the one thing you’re most proud of as an author?
BH: I would say…well, when I got that book out of the box and my name was one it.
Mark Malatesta: That’s usually the one.
BH: It was pretty cool.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk about this: There are a lot of authors, and I’m not talking about me specifically, a lot of authors will think of themselves as creatives or artists, and they should, right, but that sometimes creates a disconnect where sometimes an author won’t think that they should have to, or they won’t even register that they should maybe invest in themselves and their writing as a business that way. What is it about your background, or what is it about your thinking that that wasn’t an issue for you, that you’ve decided to do things like that?
BH: Well, okay. I was 29 years old when I went to medical school. I was in infantry at first, and one day I had a bad outcome with an army doctor, and I decided I could do better than that guy, so I decided I would go to medical school. So, I got out of the army, I did a year and a half of pre-med after I already had an undergraduate degree, once in med school, that’s four years, did an internship in medicine, and then four years of pathology residency. So, all together, the moment I made the decision until I was a board-certified licensed physician was about 12 years.
So, working hard to achieve a long-term goal is something I’ve done most of my adult life, and so this was another goal, it was another skillset to be acquired, and I knew that there were things I didn’t know that I needed to know, so I just applied the same discipline, the same mindset, to acquiring that skillset that I developed earlier in life to become a pathologist. Besides, to become a pathologist, I also had to learn to be a hospital commander and a staff officer in the Pentagon. So, throughout my life, I’ve been redefining myself, getting new jobs thrown at me, new roles to absorb and perform at, and so becoming a writer was just one more step in that long process.
Mark Malatesta: I know there’s certainly a percentage of successful–some really successful, some of the most successful authors that are probably lone wolves. They’re just totally introverted, keep to themselves, figured out everything along the way. All I know is that whatever it is, whether you want to be–a pro tennis player or a successful writer or whatever it is–you can definitely increase your chances, the more people you let in there that know what they’re doing to kind of help you see what you can’t see and successfully overcome the things that you can see that are problems that you just can’t figure out on your own.
BH Interview with Mark Malatesta – Part 15
Mark Malatesta: You can’t, certainly, become a doctor on your own, so that’s good training. Anybody that’s been through something like that, it’s kind of second nature for you, right? So, do you have anything else, like any other random things that I haven’t asked you about? Any final thoughts for authors? Any thoughts about anything else that might help them or might be interesting to them?
BH: Oh, geez. I would say that if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to work at it. Neil Gaiman is a great writer. He’s also a great writer about writing, and he said, “You can’t edit a blank page.” You’re going to get a lot of rejection. Again, Jeffery Deaver, who is the President of the Mystery Writers of America, and he was one of our speakers, and he wrote the novel, The Bone Collector, which was made into a great movie, and he still gets rejections for some of his short stories. I mean, this is a guy who has made millions as a writer, and still, he says he’ll write a story, but it wasn’t what they were looking for. That’s okay, if you’re a good writer, you learn to save stuff.
I had to write a screenplay in my writing program, and I just submitted an anthology for Sisters in Crime, I made it into a short story based on the criteria they were looking for. So, all those rejections, all those poems or short stories you write, or flash fiction, don’t throw anything away, it could come up later on. But, I would just say just write, and write for the pleasure of writing, write for the pleasure of craft and seeing yourself grow. If you write that for your fulfillment, then whatever else comes is just gravy. I’ve had a wonderful ride, it’s been five years, and I was never, ever unhappy. I got frustrated at times, and of course, all of those no’s, I wish one or two had been yes’s earlier on, but in the end, it was yes when I was ready for it to be yes, and I am very happy with how it turned out.
Mark Malatesta: I love it. I want to recap for everybody, I love that part about you, it’s one of the unique things. It’s not just about getting more words on the paper, because that makes too many people–that’s good enough for them. I can’t stand that. I love the growing part. That’s the thing that actually makes you as happy or happier as the getting more words on the page, and, in the end, getting it out there, because otherwise, what’s the point? Writing for yourself is where it starts, I think, with most people, and that’s a wonderful thing. But that only lasts so many words or so many years. You need an audience.
BH: I think so.
Mark Malatesta: Well, thank you so much for doing this. I so appreciate you. Anyone listening to this is going to know that you took time to really prepare and tried to give them things that are going to help them, so I’m really grateful to you for that. I know your interview is going to help a lot of people.
BH: I certainly hope so. I have been uniformly amazed with how kind writers are to other writers. I’ve had so many people go out of their way to help me with this first book, take time out of their busy lives to take a moment with me, and it’s been very gratifying. If I can give back, I’m very pleased to have that happen. And, it’s been a real pleasure, again, talking with you, Mark, as it always is, even when you tell me things that I don’t want to hear. Thanks for staying with me throughout this amazing ride. They say at the end of every journey, a new one begins, but I’m going to pause for a little while and savor this moment as long as I can.
Mark Malatesta: Oh, good, and you’re in the club now. You’re published, you’re connected to me now forever, like it or not. So, I’m looking forward to seeing more good reviews for you coming out, and you know I’ll be doing my part to promote the book.
BH: Thank you.
This interview with Mark Malatesta was recorded with Brad Harper, who worked with Mark to improve his manuscript and pitch materials. That led to representation with Jill Marr of Sandra Dijkstra & Associates, multiple publishers expressing interest, and a two-book deal with Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books in New York, distributed by Penguin Random House.
More About Mark Malatesta, Former Literary Agent and Creator of The Directory of Literary Agents
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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