Mark Malatesta has been quoted by Entrepreneur.com, and he’s been published in the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac as well as the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. A longtime publishing expert and advocate, Mark has created many websites–including WritingQuotes.com–which are used by authors and industry professionals as a source of information and inspiration.
WritingQuotes.com features quotes and sayings from famous and not-so-famous writers, meant to entertain, inform, and inspire writers of all genres: fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books. Mark began collecting quotes about books, writing, and publishing long before he started his career in publishing as a literary agent, Marketing & Licensing Manager for a well-known publishing company, and author coach. He’s written many as well.
In addition to quotes about writing, Mark’s written hundreds of articles. His advice for authors has appeared in the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. Mark wrote a column for WritersDigest.com as well, and he’s frequently invited to give talks at writers’ conferences and other events. Mark has delivered 100+ keynotes and talks in the United States and abroad.
Click here to see Mark Malatesta Reviews.
I got a book deal! After I started sending out my new query letter I had 6 literary agents request my manuscript in a short amount of time, which is awesome. Then, within two weeks of my agent starting to pitch my story to publishers, we had an offer. I signed a book contract yesterday. A little while later my agent told me that a TV co-producer asked for more info about my book.
By the way, the acquisition editor that fell in love with the manuscript jumped in with both feet and we just worked out our timeline for publication. She’s as passionate about getting my book out as I am, and that means everything. She read the manuscript in two days and said she couldn’t put it down. And the book is going to be published as a hardcover!
I had sent out queries before working with Mark and received zero responses. I didn’t hear from anyone—it was the sound of crickets. Even having a rejection would have been better than nothing. If they were going to give me specific feedback it would have been great, but nothing. I submitted several different kinds of queries and the last one I sent out was very formal. It was to the point and really didn’t have a lot of personality, just a dry summary. There wasn’t a lot of “voice.”
Part 2 – Mark Malatesta – Testimonial by E. Armstrong
With Mark’s help, I changed the whole format and style of the agent query and book proposal. Everything had a better flow and it was easier to follow. We added a little humor and a more conversational tone, not just facts (although the new agent query and book proposal did have twice as many facts as before). I guess writers tend to be humble and we don’t think what we’ve done in life matters much, but you need to stand out among the herd of writers. Every little bit of credibility and uniqueness counts. Just one fact or detail can be the key difference to success, even if you think it’s insignificant, which I did.
When Mark helped me rewrite my agent query and book proposal, we made it easy for agents to say: “Hey, this is what makes this book stand apart!” Mark works off the idea that you should give literary agents everything they need to be able to sell your book. Why make it hard for them? They’re busy and moving fast so they might not think of half of the things you could say in your query or book proposal. If you spell it out for them, then suddenly they go: “Oh!”
One of the reasons I was able to see (and communicate) all my value is that Mark helped me create a list of the reasons why my book and I are unique. I had to answer the question, “Why does your book have bestseller or high commercial potential?” Until I had to answer that question, I didn’t realize all the reasons. Making that list didn’t just help me communicate more of my value, either; it also gave me more confidence.
When I first found Mark online, I showed my husband his website and I was like: “What do you think about this guy? Does this look like a salesman or what?” Mark had success stories all over the place and invitations to work with him, but I understand it’s a necessary evil. You have to overwhelm the person sitting in front of the computer screen wondering what to do. It’s a huge chunk of money to work with Mark (it took me 1-½ years to save up to do it). That’s why he has to talk it up. There truly is no other way. And, it works. Mark used the same marketing strategies to help me stand out from the crowd.
Part 3 – Mark Malatesta – Testimonial by E. Armstrong
I would kick myself if I hadn’t tried working with Mark. I knew I couldn’t break that next barrier without help, professional help. Even the best books in the world can’t get in the door until someone helps you. Plus, I was really committed to getting my book out there, and I’d already spent a lot of time and energy on the book. I couldn’t just let it go away without trying the top of the line advice. Even if Mark had failed to help me get a literary agent and book deal, I would have been okay with that. Ultimately, no matter how good Mark is at getting people to read your work, you still have to produce a great book. You can’t blame anyone else. I knew that if things didn’t work out with Mark, I’d have done everything I could.
My favorite part of working with Mark was my phone calls with him. He’s calm and sincere but also very enthusiastic. You can feel Mark thinking and processing things over the phone, and he’s able to understand you with just a few words… what you’re trying to get across. I appreciate him having that insight. I also liked having to check in, having an expectation to get things done, having deadlines and always working toward something, and keeping the momentum going. Before that I had a lot of starts and stops, and I’d set the project aside. Having accountability and learning from Mark’s experience is inspiring. It’s much more exciting to know you’re on the right track instead of doing things blindly and hoping they’ll work.
If it weren’t for Mark I’d still be floundering, sending out queries. Writing the book is the easy part. Getting published after my book was written took three years, many tears, guidance from those in the know (like Mark!), and the focus of a Buddhist monk. But, if you believe in your project, wake up each morning with the thought that you’ll do one thing to keep it moving forward, you will eventually get there.
A Chick in the Cockpit (Behler Publications)
Erika Armstrong talks in an interview below, with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, about how she improved her manuscript, book proposal, author platform, and query letter. That work resulted in Erika getting a literary agent, and her book A Chick in the Cockpit being published by Behler Publications.
Here you can see Mark Malatesta reviews from more authors he has worked with. You can also see reviews of Mark Malatesta from publishing industry professionals he’s met and worked with over the years. These reviews of former literary Mark Malatesta include his time as an author coach and consultant, literary agent, and Marketing & Licensing Manager for the well-known book/gift publisher Blue Mountain Arts.
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During this 68-minute interview, Erika Armstrong, author of A Chick in the Cockpit, provides tips for authors of all genres. She also talks about her experience working former literary agent Mark Malatesta who is now an author coach. Mark helped Erika get an offer for representation from a literary agent, which led to a book deal with Behler Publications. Erika worked with Mark to improve her query letter, author platform, book proposal, and manuscript.
Mark Malatesta: Erika Armstrong is the author of A Chick in the Cockpit, published by Behler Publications. A Chick in the Cockpit is the first book written by a woman airline pilot captain in the modern-day era. Erika spent fifteen years earning her wings to become the pilot of a commercial 727 Boeing Airliner, with Northwest Airlines, only to crash and burn after being arrested for a crime she didn’t commit.
Erika was fully exonerated, but there’s a law that prevents anyone who’s ever been arrested, even the falsely accused, from ever flying again. As with most female disaster stories, Erika’s begins with, “There was this guy…” But Erika’s heart-wrenching tale is also funny, and it has a Hollywood ending.
Although Erika isn’t flying the heavy iron anymore, she’s still entrenched in aviation. She’s in leading-edge aviation consulting, and she’s an aviation consultant and writer for Disciples of Flight and NYC Aviation. Erika is also an award-winning staff writer for Colorado Serenity Magazine, and a contributing writer for Mountain Connection. Lastly, she’s a former editor and writer for the Airline Pilot Association.
Erika attended the University of Minnesota’s Journalism program as an undergrad, before being lured into the world of aviation. To round out her education, she attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and she has a degree in International Business, Economics and Culture with National Honor Society Recognition, from the University of Denver. You can learn more about Erika at AChickInTheCockpit.com.
So, welcome, Erika! I’m thrilled to have you on to promote your book. Can you share a little more about what it’s about? I know a lot of people listening would love to get a copy.
E.A.: I appreciate it. You did a good job summarizing it, but it’s an opportunity for people, especially women, to come into the cockpit of a plane. Women these days aren’t exposed to it and there aren’t a lot of icons out there for women. The only icon out there is Amelia Earhart, and we know what happened to her.
So, it’s an opportunity to enjoy a ride, with great stories about people and things that happen in the cockpit that you never get to hear about. It’s a great journey through aviation, but it’s also a journey discovering how people communicate, especially men and women. I had this great opportunity to be locked in a box with men for thousands of hours, so I’ve seen a perspective on men most women don’t get to enjoy.
I worked with them but I also lived in crash pads, so I had to live with them too. You learn a whole new perspective on the opposite sex. But there are a variety of topics we cover through the stories, and it’s an examination of how women changed over the years…since even the last 50 years and this whole idea of feminism and leaning in and what it’s doing to us, our families, and children and the irony that we’re all struggling to have it all, but we still need a great spouse to do it all. It’s a story by example of how we’ve changed over the last generation.
Mark Malatesta: It’s also pretty shocking and wickedly funny. I have to say, you’re a fantastic interview, and the media is going to love you. I know I’m one of the first to get you for an interview, but I love how you’re summarizing the book.
Pt 2 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: Good. The irony for authors is we communicate much better in writing. We force our authors now to get out in the world and stand behind podiums and talk about our books to get them going, but it’s something authors have to get around, the fact that we prefer writing instead of talking.
Mark Malatesta: You’re great at it, and I’m glad you’re good at that part. I know a big part of what you do, you have the women’s group, and do a lot of things to empower women and advocate for women in bad situations. I know you’ll do a great job getting out there for that as well.
E.A.: Thank you. I run a divorce support group as well, and this is an empowering story for them to lean on.
Mark Malatesta: Now that we’ve introduced your book, let’s talk about how you got there. One big reason people in my community listen to interviews like this is to break down how you became successful. The gold ring for them is when you finally found out from your literary agent that you got the book deal. Where were you? How did you respond? How has it been for you?
E.A.: All I can say is, hang in there. It’s an extremely long process all along the way. It’s not like a pivotal moment when something happens. Even when you do get the call, there’s a lot of negotiations, and you have to hold your breath while they try to figure things out.
The first thing is getting the literary agent, and so after months of pitching, and not hearing back, or hearing back but not getting the call saying, “We’ll take you,” just getting that one call… There was a gentleman who read my query, and he absolutely loved it. He called me right away and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. I can’t believe nobody snatched you up. I’m going to sign you ASAP,” which was wonderful, but there’s always a caveat.
For this one, he said he wouldn’t sign me until I had the manuscript vetted by an attorney because there were a few public incidents that happened, so he wanted to make sure he wasn’t liable, and wanted to be able to pitch to the publisher saying the manuscript had been vetted.
I had to spend $2,000 and six more weeks to get it vetted by an attorney, and had to do a little rewriting. So, it wasn’t one moment where we signed on the dotted line, there was still some work that had to go with it.
Once that was signed, my literary agent had other clients, so it took him about six more months before he could get to my project and pitch it. Finally, he dropped me a note saying, “I just want to let you know to stick around for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be pitching your book.” He started sending it out, and it took maybe ten days or so. He called me back and said, “We’ve got a couple of nibbles.”
Two days later, he said, “I got one that really likes the book,” and it took another 10 days of negotiating contracts, but I signed on the dotted line. It was a fantastic feeling after going through all those ups and downs to finally be able to post it, saying today is the day I signed on the dotted line.
Pt 3 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: I love it. A couple of things. Six months is a while for a literary agent to shop the manuscript after signing, but 10 days to get a deal is fast. So, in the big picture, six months after you signed with a literary agent to get a book deal isn’t too bad. The earliest I’ve ever seen it happen is probably just a few weeks if a manuscript is completely ready to go, but six months isn’t too bad.
Another thing, for everyone listening, on the attorney front, if you’re writing a memoir or whatever you’re doing, most literary agents aren’t going to–and sorry, Erika–most literary agents aren’t going to require you to pay to get your stuff vetted. What I always tell my coaching clients is, “Wait and see.”
Write the best book you can, and don’t hold back, and if your literary agent brings it up, you deal with it then, and if the literary agent doesn’t the publisher might, and they might handle it in house, and they might pay a lawyer to vet it. It’s not something most authors have to worry about up front.
E.A.: Yes, and it was part of the negotiating process, because the literary agent wasn’t that firm on it, but he said it would be that much easier for me to walk into this publisher’s office and say, “This woman has put everything into it, all the boxes are checked, and we checked the facts, and have a law firm that will stand by it.” It was part of his pitching process to the publisher. I figured I had gotten to that point, so I might as well push it that much further down the road.
Mark Malatesta: You were wise to do that. You definitely want your literary agent as confident as possible going in. If it’s not easy to sell the manuscript, they’ll keep pushing and fighting because you’ve done your part. Did you do anything significant to celebrate? Was it champagne or a trip to Vegas?
E.A.: No, I have kids, dogs, and chaos of life, but just being able to walk around for three weeks on a cloud was well worth the effort.
Mark Malatesta: Yes. Let’s go back in time to the beginning and share with everyone how you got there, long before you found me or had the book written. When did you first get the idea you might be an author one day? Is it recent, or a childhood thing?
E.A.: Like most authors, I’ve always been an avid reader. I went to college the first time for journalism and wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to be out there, writing about the world. With me being that young, I didn’t have a lot to write about in my own life because I hadn’t lived yet. I ended up getting sucked into aviation, my third year of college, and once I got in I never turned back.
I always wanted to write, and tried as much as I could, even in the dry world of aviation writing, some newsletters and staying in it on that side. One great part of having to commute to my job is I would spend hours sitting in airports waiting for the next flight to get a ride to work, and so I was able to read a book a week at least…and, don’t tell anyone, but once we get the plane on autopilot, we have a few moments to read a chapter or two.
Mark Malatesta: As long as you’re not sleeping, I’m fine with that.
E.A.: We’re awake, and we sit there for hours with autopilot on, paying attention, but we can also sneak in a few words. I didn’t really get back into my writing until I went back to college again. Even getting back in the swing of writing research and term papers, and that type of thing got me back in the swing of the discipline of it.
I had this event in my life happen, and I didn’t want to talk about it or think about it for 10 years, but it kept brewing in my brain. Finally, I was at a cocktail party, and we were going around the room telling everybody what we did for a living, and I would always give this long story of how I was a pilot and now I’m home with the kids, etc.
I decided, when it got to my turn, saying right now I’m a stay at home mom. And this woman looked at me and rolled her eyes and said Gloria Steinem would be so ashamed. It was breathtaking to hear her say that, because I know every mother out there has a story before kids.
Pt 4 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: Right.
E.A.: For her to diminish that, I thought there are enough women out there that I’d like to get going, and tell a story about what life is like for women going through society needing to have a career to feel like a whole woman. So, that little comment was the trigger.
Mark Malatesta: It sounds like a scene out of one of those housewives reality shows.
E.A.: Yes, it took my breath away, she was so rude about it. It’s weird, the things that can trigger authors to get started.
Mark Malatesta: Do you have anything to add to how you got the idea for the book or writing you did before?
E.A.: Kind of what I was saying. I had this crazy event, and truth is definitely stranger than fiction. I always had this thing in the back of my brain that I didn’t want anyone to know and kept it secret, but it had completely changed my life. Finally, I got to a point in my life where I had compartmentalized it, and put it in a good spot where I could analyze it better. It was very cathartic to start writing about it.
Once I got started on it, I knew I really wanted to do this and get the story out there. That’s when I started and attended a couple of writer conferences and hired a coach to read a few chapters at a time and get some feedback. I started the whole process of getting into the whole idea of publishing. I knew nothing when I got started, and all the other options of self-publishing and other options out there start flooding your brain, and it gets overwhelming and confusing. You realize writing the book is the easy part, and everything else after is the hard part.
Mark Malatesta: What do you think authors need to know about getting their “author education,” because a lot of authors I interview that have had success have no formal background, no journalism degree or anything like you, but you did some of that? Can you talk about what you think authors should do on their journey? There are things like writer’s conferences, workshops, seminars, consultants like myself, etc. So, what do you think authors need to do to get educated?
E.A.: When you start delving into it, you truly get many different opinions. What I was finding was I was getting opinions from people who didn’t actually have real life experience. Even the writing coach I got afterwards, and I have to laugh now, because my editor, everything she’s changing now, is what that writing coach had wanted me to put in.
Mark Malatesta: Oh, no.
Pt 5 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: I know, but you live and learn. But to have somebody who’s done it, and especially someone like you, Mark, who has seen both sides, and have that real-world experience, and can give really true advice based on real life facts, and I love that you’re brutally honest about what authors need to do. You don’t sugarcoat it, you get right to the point, and that’s what authors really need. You have to grow some really thick skin, because you’re going to get a lot of negative feedback but you need it. Sucking is part of going through this process, and learning, and making it better.
You have to accept when you start off, your stuff will suck, but if you can get to the right people to guide you, and get it in the right order and words, the core story can shine over the rest of the junk you’re trying to get through. Definitely writer’s conferences were extraordinarily helpful. I didn’t want to spend the money, but just having the panel of experts up there giving outlines of good ideas was helpful. Yet, when I went to start pitching my story, and sending out the query, even with all that information, I still wasn’t getting any feedback. So, having that personalized attention, that one person pay attention to your manuscript, your project, and proposal was pretty important to me.
Mark Malatesta: Maybe you’re referring to an earlier draft, but your stuff was really good by the time you got to me, and definitely didn’t suck. Maybe early on when you’re writing your first draft, but you’re a really good writer.
E.A.: I appreciate that.
Mark Malatesta: I sugarcoat things a little, don’t I?
E.A.: You do, but in the end, you’re like, “Okay, this is what you need to do, and get it done.”
Mark Malatesta: Yes, there is no way around the truth.
E.A.: There isn’t.
Mark Malatesta: One thing I’ll also say, is there is always low-level and high-level advice, and authors are often smart enough to figure out a few things. The reasonably smart authors will figure out, “Let me be smart and invest some time and money and get help.” But they don’t often take the extra step and see the gap between the range of people out there. So, you might have someone offering services, but has that person worked at the highest level in the industry?
Have they worked on projects published by major publishers or on bestseller lists? Legitimate ones, not just Amazon, but the New York Times and things like that? Are they really familiar with your genre? I don’t know what happened with your writing coach, but one or more of those things might have been missing, and you can invest time and money, and end up with the manuscript worse than before because of it.
E.A.: Right, it’s the superficial advice you get. If you’re paying for someone’s advice, and they don’t delve in and look at the whole project, you’ll get a piece of advice on one aspect of it, but as far as the whole package… It’s why I think you were able to help me with the query, because you took the time and went through the manuscript and proposal, and made sure I had the right elements on all the platforms that followed a theme. What I was getting before was bits and pieces of advice, but when you put it all together it was kind of a jumble. So, being able to line up all those thoughts and ideas, and pitch in the right direction, was the turning point for me of getting it out there and getting someone to look twice.
Mark Malatesta: I love it. The best parallel of that is that my wife and I do entrepreneur coaching and personal branding, and entrepreneurs will change their whole business name, and something really important that they’re doing based on one five-minute conversation they had with someone who knows nothing about them and their business. It’s the same stuff you’re talking about. It’s like the psychiatrist call in radio show where they give you important advice after you talk for just 60 seconds.
Pt 6 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: Right, and because you read my stuff, you knew some of it was a little sarcasm and humor. My query had been so dry and professional and you were like, “This isn’t you.” You allowed me to take that personality onto the next platform where I didn’t think I should, but it was a key to getting someone to look at it.
Mark Malatesta: That’s a good teaching point. I firmly believe your query and proposal should be written in the same voice and style of the book. If the book is funny, communicate that voice right away, and if you can get a literary agent to laugh, cry, or be surprised, then you’ve gotten your foot in the door.
Mark Malatesta: What is your best advice for authors on how to write a book? You can go anywhere here, and I’ll just say, try to give advice–because we have people of all genres listening in–that would work for anyone writing any genre. And if you have something specific to memoir that would be great too.
E.A.: That’s another thing I learned going to writer’s conferences. I’d hear how these authors had routines for writing, and so I always felt I had to do that, or you’d hear that you’d have to write every day. So, I would write every day, but the days I didn’t feel like writing, it was junk. You have to learn within yourself what truly works. Don’t listen to anyone else and do your own thing.
Writing for nonfiction and fiction are a little different. I’ve done both. You tap into a completely different part of your brain for either one. While I was writing the memoir, I truly needed silence and quiet, to close my eyes and put myself into the scene. Once I was there, the writing flowed. It would sometimes take a while to get into the scene, and some stuff happened years ago, and so I really had to dig deep into my brain to get myself into that moment again.
Fiction is more freeing and fun, but I still need that meditation to get into that characters thought process, and think how they would act. Even writing fiction, I still find myself going back to what I know, and still had to draw in pilots and women pilots cause it’s what I know. So, even when you’re writing fiction, you fall back into the things you come across in your own world.
Mark Malatesta: You have a novel?
Mark Malatesta: I think the big difference is the scope. Your book is memoir, so it’s like writing a novel. In that space, you’re telling a story, and you have to immerse yourself in it and probably need slightly bigger chunks of time to write than someone writing a self-help book or something. It’s easy to compartmentalize with a book like that and just focus on one topic at a time, right?
E.A.: Right. So, some of the chapters I knew I had to write I knew I had to tap into that stuff I put in a corner for so long that I didn’t even want to think about. To know I was going to have to write about it, I would get sick to my stomach.
Finally, when I was able to say, “Okay, I need to do it”, and go in my room and get it done, and once I started and dealt with the feelings, the writing became a better connection between my hands and brain, and process through the emotions. It’s almost like a meditation, you need to do and get it done.
Pt 7 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: Did you talk to your lawyer–this might be an issue for people–who vetted the manuscript if and when you should contact whoever is written about in the book, who might have an issue about what’s written there, or did you leave it alone?
E.A.: The attorney was very helpful. I had to go back and change almost everything, and maybe there are only two or three names in the book. I never used last names, but my place of work and almost everything had to be changed.
Mark Malatesta: Okay.
E.A.: Yes, so we’re concerned about some people in the book coming back. We did as much as we could to make it vague and non-specific, and even changed dates and times of events. They were adamant about it, and the publisher will also have to deal with it, but we’ve done, I think, everything we possibly can, and we’ll have a caveat in the beginning. It turned out to be important that we get it right, but it wasn’t hard to change. He said some scenes had to be a bit more vague, but most of them were public events happening in the real world, but I was giving more inside information to it.
Mark Malatesta: Okay. Let’s talk about publishing a book. Everyone knows there are two choices, you can try and get a traditional publisher or you can self-publish. For everyone listening, especially those on the fence, trying to decide which way they want to go, can you explain your thought process, and why you went for a traditional publisher?
E.A.: Yes, traditional publishing, as you know, has gigantic and improbable barriers. What I was finding, when the literary agent was pitching, was that publishers seem to want a formula that’s already out there. It’s hard to present a completely new and different idea or story, and they want to know, “Where on the bookshelf am I going to put this?”
So, for something as simple as getting it in the right category, it’s very important for a publisher. Even when I was pitching literary agents, and they were giving me the same criticism, I started thinking about self-publishing. I think self-publishing is hard all around, but if you have a specific niche, I think you have a better chance of self-publishing.
Mine was a bit broader, and for me, I wanted the challenge, and figured if I was going to do this and get this story out there, I was going to take on the whole giant publishing world. I kept pushing, and knowing if I could get these filters you have to put out there, the query and proposal, and if I could just get those right so someone would take an extra second to look at it, I knew I could kick open a door somewhere.
That’s why I decided to go forward with the traditional route. But I’ve seen some self-publishers do really well. But, in either form, you’re going to have to do most of your own marketing. Even at the big-boy houses like Simon & Shuster, they still expect their writers to do their marketing and set up book signings, and all the social media platforms. So, it doesn’t matter anymore, they expect you to do all that.
Pt 8 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: The big thing for you, or how I looked at it through my eyes with you and got excited about working with you is, as you said, your project had that broad potential, meaning it’s the kind of story where there’s literally millions of people who would buy and read that book. If you have a project like that, the best way to reach that many people is through a bigger publisher because they have the money to finance the printing, distribution, and bigger promotion with media, etc.
It’s true what you said about literary agents and publishers wanting the formula, but I always tell people you have to ignore that, and write what you write as best you can, what you’re passionate about. Then think about, “How do I make it more marketable?” Those quirky projects no one has seen, literary agents and publishers have a lot of resistance to, those are the ones that often create new trends. It can be harder to get them out there, but oftentimes those projects have even more potential, and that’s partly why I’m so excited about your book.
I don’t see why you got so much blowback from it, because it’s a memoir and that’s a huge category. The only thing unique about it is who you are and what you went through, but that just makes it more marketable.
E.A.: Right. The thing that scared them the most is the thread of domestic abuse in there. That really caused pushback with a lot of these people who were like, “We don’t want to deal with this, or want that topic in there.” I even had one say, “Can you take that out?” I’m like, “That’s the whole pivot of the book.”
Mark Malatesta: Right.
E.A.: There was a lot of frustration in that, and it’s still an important topic, and I know we don’t talk about it a lot and it’s a clichéd image of what that is, and I know millions of women are going through different types of abuse, and it happens quietly behind closed doors. It was frustrating having the publishers, and even literary agents, push back on that topic. The book isn’t physically about that, but there was a thread in there they wanted taken care of.
Mark Malatesta: That actually pisses me off that they’d do that. I’m thinking, as you’re saying this, I have another client, and she got a great literary agent and the literary agent asked my author to fly to New York and meet everyone at the agency, and I’ll interview her soon. But we had a real difficult time getting her book placed as well, it had had that theme running through it also, and I’m wondering if that’s part of it.
E.A.: Could be, yes. It’s a touchy subject. So, we had to present it in such a way that… It’s true, it wasn’t the book, or what it’s about, but it’s an event that changed everything thereafter. So, we were able to break through that barrier.
Mark Malatesta: I’m glad you didn’t make it a primary theme.
Mark Malatesta: Let’s talk about marketing, and you touched a little on this. What advice do you have for authors that will work for writers of all genres about what they need to think about or do to better market their books? Maybe someone is in the process of writing their book now, and so what can they be doing now, or they just finished the book, you can go anywhere here so what do you think?
Pt 9 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: I can’t believe I’m saying this, because people would say this to me, and I remember rolling my eyes. You really have to get out there and start using all the social media platforms. I’m a very private person, and was uncomfortable sharing anything on Facebook among people who weren’t directly family and friends. But, I finally started using it and it’s the only way to start spreading your message.
So, something as simple as having Facebook, and spending a little money using their advertising to get out there is important. I had my daughter help me get on Instagram, and I’m on Twitter, even though I don’t care for it because what author wants to be limited to 140 characters, but it’s important to get your name out. And the branding thing, it’s really as simple as getting a logo out there and start using it so people can identify a symbol with what you are, and it takes a long time.
So, after I finished the book and started going to conferences, and realizing I really have to get out there before I even start pitching literary agents, I had to put the manuscript aside and dig in on the social platform. Everybody kept saying I had to start a blog, but instead of doing that I pitched my stories to other platforms I already had an audience. I was able to get my stories out on a bunch of aviation platforms, and they started asking me to be a regular contributor, and I now have followers, and in any given month now I can have 300,000 people read my articles.
I went from nothing to that in a couple of years. So, something as simple as posting on Facebook every day, no matter how silly it is, as long as you have your symbol and name out there, and people occasionally share your stuff, it starts to spread the word. It truly is important and has to be done.
Mark Malatesta: And the sooner, the better. You need to understand it’s a lifetime thing, and you’ve never fully arrived with your platform, but you consistently are getting more exposure being out there. And the more you do it, and find the small ways to build your platform that fit your personality, experience, skill set, it becomes kind of fun.
E.A.: It is, it’s fun, because I see I have regular followers. You also get a few new stalkers in your life, but for the most part, everyone is fun and they email you and want to connect, and so it’s fun making a connection out there with people around the world. Just having a LinkedIn account and meeting pilots on the other side of the world, and them asking for advice is fun, and it spreads like wildfire. Someone in Africa asks a question and they’re like, “I’m going to tell my friend,” and it spreads to parts of the world that you wouldn’t have thought. Getting an international market isn’t as hard as it used to be, and so if it’s out there, you might as well use it.
Mark Malatesta: I love it. Your book is going to rock. You have the whole aviation community that’s going to spread the word virally, and women in general, and the domestic abuse angle, the media will be all over it.
One other tip, and I want to make sure this didn’t get lost in there, because you shared so many valuable things, is what you said indirectly… you got smart early, and started going after people of influence, like the people with the aviation magazines that already have a big following, and you connected with that smaller number of people, and it lets you get more reach then trying to go after individual book readers, which is a big mistake lots of authors make.
Pt 10 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: Yes, you might as well not reinvent the wheel. People are already out there and on social media for years and years, so you might as well jump onto their platform. Just be consistent, and they’re not going to come and ask you. You need to go out and pitch to them and tell them why, and start sending them the stuff, and bug and annoy them. Get your name out there so they’ll give you a chance. And if you start connecting with their readers, they’ll ask for more.
By using their platform, like NYC Aviation when I’ve started to write stories, they’ve got 200,000 people internationally. Why would I want to get everyone steered towards mine when I can put my name on theirs? You still absolutely have to have the website before you start pitching: You have to have something out there when a literary agent says, “Okay, let me look up Jane Doe,” they want to find you out there somewhere. Sometimes literary agents are good with helping you, but they expect you to already have it done when you pitch to them.
Mark Malatesta: Right. And when it comes to websites, it’s more important to some authors than others. In the nonfiction space, and this won’t be all memoir authors but some, because you have the aviation angle, it would be beneficial to show literary agents and publishers, “Hey, we can help sell a lot of books through the aviation angle.” And, because you’re an expert and known in that area, then you better have a website and those things working for you, because it helps.
But if you’re a fiction author, or a different type of memoir author, you don’t necessarily need the website right away. I would say, if someone has the means to create that they should. It absolutely can’t hurt.
E.A.: Yes, exactly. Even if you can get your name on another site, so if they Google your name, you’re still coming up somewhere out there.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s talk about what we did together, because it was the last step before you got the book deal. I want to do this so it’s not you giving me a testimonial. It’s simply you sharing the biggest revelation, learning, or “aha” moments you had during the process. Some of it is what I taught you, but some of it might be internal stuff you figured out along the way. Let’s start with what were you hoping to accomplish when you had your first call with me, and what motivated you.
E.A.: I was at a really low point in my pitching process. I had sent out a bunch of queries and not heard anything back. I’d rather have criticism than nothing, but I was sending it out into the world and not getting anything back. I really needed an educated set of eyes that had experience in this and knew exactly what to look for, to look at the whole thing.
I think the biggest thing in working with you was when you asked me to put together the top 10 reasons my book had commercial or bestseller potential, and mine was 18 reasons. And then making me go back, and defining each reason in a sentence or two, and finding 18 reasons why. Just that process of researching, and comparing and contrasting, I was able to pull out what’s different from what’s on the market, and having that as part of the proposal helped significantly.
I think the other theme throughout the whole thing, which you were able to help me define, is getting the voice to transfer through all the platforms. I felt, I’m a pilot, and think linear, and assume the query letter had to be dry and professional with just the facts, and so that’s how I was trying to do it, and not letting a voice come through. So, when you helped me with that query, and I saw it come back, I was like, “This is funny, he’s letting me put this in here? Is this okay?” I have to admit, Mark, I was still nervous it wouldn’t work, but I started sending yours out, and immediately started getting feedback.
So, just being able to draw it all together, and get the theme of my voice and story out there was the key. I couldn’t do it myself because I was too involved, and couldn’t see it from the outside looking in, and that’s what I needed. It was expert advice to look at it and pull out the best qualities, and pitch those ideas.
Pt 11 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: I love that you’re the first person to bring this up during one of these interviews, that piece in the proposal, and I know people are wanting to know more about the 18 reasons your book had bestseller high commercial potential, so I want to talk about that a little more. For everyone listening, that’s something unique I do in my book proposals. I tell people, my coaching clients, you don’t need 18 reasons, but you need anywhere from 10 to 21 reasons, and more than 21 would be overkill.
Basically, I explain it as if you had a literary agent pitching your book to editors, and say they’re doing it by phone, they’d call editors at Random House and Simon & Schuster etc. and say, they get a voicemail, you’re not going to leave a five-minute pitch on a voicemail. You’re just going to say, “Hey, it’s so and so, and I got this new project for you.” Give them like a one or two sentence description, and maybe one sentence who the author is, their credibility. Then if the person doesn’t call back, or maybe they do and say, “I’m kind of interested, but I’m on the fence, tell me a little more.”
They’re trying to figure out if it’s worth you sending them the proposal. These are the kinds of things if I was still a literary agent that I’d be sharing with that editor. It’s the concise bullet form version of your pitch, the critical essence of the whole proposal, which is the most differentiating things about the topic of the book, the writing style, how it’s different and similar from other things, how you as an author are different, and all that in bullet form. It really helps you crystallize what you’re doing, and it helps you see, like you said, Erika, really see what your book is really about, and how it’s different, and what makes it special.
E.A.: Right, and it was really hard to come up with a snappy summary of one sentence. So, being able to take this, and put it into one little funny sentence was fun, and pulled out the highlights of the book and made it much easier to pitch. I know these literary agents and publishers have to digest so many proposals, you want to make it easy for them to digest, and that’s what did it.
Mark Malatesta: You even had a Top Gun reference in there.
E.A.: I did. Really? Really, Mark? But, it worked and was perfect.
Mark Malatesta: Now, it’s been a while, so if you don’t remember it’s okay. How would you describe the difference between the typical query letter model, or book proposal template that’s popular, with what I do and what we came up with? How would you describe it?
E.A.: I think my first attempts at the query letter and book proposal were vague. I was trying to fit into the publisher’s idea of a formula, but it wasn’t drawing out what was unique about this particular book. I was more saying, “Here’s why my book has the right formula for you,” but it was vanilla, and didn’t have the icing on it.
I think we got the specifics out of it, and just having a promotional marketing plan, and taking a look at how we can pitch this, and using the aviation world and what’s already out there. So, just a different look at the whole package deal of the book, and not just the story, but the online and print media, all the endorsements we can get…
Mark Malatesta: And some you did get.
E.A.: Exactly, and yes, that’s something we’re currently working on again, because a lot of people won’t give endorsements until you have advanced reader copy, and so that’s an ongoing project I didn’t realize I’d be working on. I think we did a better job of putting the chapter summaries, highlighting better what was in each chapter, and getting the story across quickly, even though it’s a 110,000 word book, to be able to quickly get it across to the literary agent and publisher.
Pt 12 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: Right, and I think overall, what usually hits people is there’s so much more detail you can add to a book proposal that you don’t know how until… The flaw I see in most templates out there is it’s the four basic sections in a book proposal: about the book, the target market, the competition, and the author and promotion. Without a bunch of different subheadings in each of those sections, you’re left scratching your head wondering what to write, and end up communicating only 30-40% of your value rather than the full 100%.
E.A.: That right there was the key, we were only getting across about 25% of the ideas of the book. And something as simple as having the content laid out a little better, in a more interesting way, and starting off the proposal with something a little more interesting was key. It was a fun process even though it felt like almost as much work as writing the darn book. But, it’s a good way to go through it, so you can have a better explanation inside yourself to talk about your book. It’s a good writing process, doing this other side job to get it done.
Mark Malatesta: I don’t think we did a lot with the book itself. Did we do a little something at the beginning? I can’t remember.
E.A.: We did. The introduction changed completely. There were scenes later in the book you thought were more gripping to draw the reader in. So, we pulled out one of the pivotal scenes and put it in the front of the book and reduced it…
Mark Malatesta: A prologue.
E.A.: A prologue, a little teaser to the story. So, you set it up to, what’s this book about? It’s not what you think. It was fun to rebalance it that way, and work back to draw the reader to the pivot point again. Just having that one element change can make or break a book. Just getting the reader into the first few chapters, and getting them hooked and going.
Mark Malatesta: I think, last thing, and we touched on a lot, but the literary agent research part, what was different for you is you researched literary agents and sent out a bunch of queries before we worked together. How was that different for you in how we worked with literary agents and the spreadsheet I sent you?
E.A.: Authors are so excited when they finally get their book done and want to send the query out right away. I was so excited, and would Google literary agents, and grab a few and send them out. There was no method to my madness, and I sent them out with any tracking. So, your spreadsheet was enormously helpful, and I was able to print it out and make notes, because every literary agent asks for something different, and all have their own requests, and I was able to make notes of what I sent, and their response, or if there was no response I could track it better.
Mark Malatesta: These are silly things, right? One reason authors quit is the literary agent research piece, where they’re using some online resources, or print books, and send out 20 or 40 queries, and it’s not happening. And because the literary agent research part is so overwhelming, that’s when they stop. Having hundreds of literary agents that are a good fit for you on a spreadsheet, where you don’t have to think about that anymore, and just focus on getting the queries out really helps.
E.A.: Yes, it’s half the battle knowing where to send it to. Just weeding out the people who won’t look at it, because every time you go to a new website, you have to find out, do they accept this genre? If they do, truly how much do they work with it? It was nice to have the spreadsheet and be able to quickly find out they do this and have had success. Half the headache in the beginning is just having that done.
Pt 13 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
Mark Malatesta: Right. You’ve done a ton, especially in the last year as an author. What is the one thing you’re most proud of? Don’t be overly humble, because the thing you might be shy about sharing might be the one thing someone needs to hear.
E.A.: Yes. For me, at one point, I truly quit. I said, “It’s never going to happen, it’s too much, and too overwhelming.” There’s so much you have to do to get there. When I started writing the book, I had the pie in the sky dream of writing the book, and it was going to sell itself. When you get done, and then say, “What do I need to do?” and you look at everything you need to do, it can be daunting.
At that point in my life, I was a single mom, and had owned a horse boarding business, and running it by myself. I was working 124 hours every two weeks at my other job, and I was stressed, and felt hopeless, and given it up. But there was still something inside me, a few weeks later, that said, “Get your ass out of bed and pull the book out again, and get what you need to keep this going.” I knew in my heart it was a good story, an unusual story.
I had this fabulous book club, and we read all these different books, but nobody has ever read anything quite like this. I knew my book clubbers would love it, and I found something inside me that kept me going, and being able to get the right resources to pull you through is what you need, or at least what I needed, to have someone like Mark who is so enthusiastic about it to finally say, “This is good.” We just need to get it in the right order, and get it out in the world.
That made all the difference, and so, thank you, Mark.
Mark Malatesta: You did it. I tell people I just have to show up and recognize the talent and ability, and pull it out of them. But I love that answer. I interviewed someone else recently, and she’s sold around a million books so far, and it was funny because she had a similar story. It was like: Quit, and then that little voice making that decision being the difference sometimes between getting a literary agent or publisher or not, getting the book out and selling a million copies or not. Just that one little conversation in your head, and how you respond to it, can be the one thing that makes all the difference.
E.A.: It is, truly. There are resources out there, and the crazy thing is it’s hard to find the right one, but boy, you find the right one and it can turn your life around. Life turns on a dime.
Mark Malatesta: I think you’re answering my next question. What made you feel it was a good investment? Again, I won’t say investment in me. When people say that, I always correct them and say, “No, you’re investing in yourself and your book.” What finally made you decide it was a good investment? What do you think authors need to think about? Again, it’s not about whether they’re working with me or someone else, but the principle of investing in yourself as an author. Why is it critical and why did you do it?
Pt 14 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: When I was starting to look for coaching help, you were all over social media, and your websites are hyperactive. You don’t have just one aspect of help, it is a whole package, and you have such enthusiasm. So, just reading the success stories on there, and how thrilled you are watching your clients succeed is exciting to watch.
I had spent so much time and money at that point, and I had this huge debate of why would I spend another penny more. I thought, “I’m so close, how could I not, after putting all my heart and soul into this, how could I not do this one last thing to get my book out?” I knew I had to try and if it failed, it failed. But I could rest easy, because I then knew I had tried everything, and if it wasn’t going to happen, it wasn’t meant to be, but I had to try.
Publishing is hard, I don’t care how good your book is. Getting out there, especially for your first book, is enormously hard. So, having someone like you, Mark, who has seen it from both sides, to just get that new light on it, and highlight what’s good, and point out what’s bad, is all part of it, and getting it right so we can get it out there.
You’ll know in your heart if you’ve got the story you want out there, and if the story is worth the investment. For me it was!
Mark Malatesta: You talk about my enthusiasm, and I’ll always be humble in this business because, as you said, it’s hard. Even when it happens with my coaching clients, I still feel lucky because it’s that hard. Sometimes, you get lots of literary agents and publishers making offers, and sometimes you just get one, and sometimes you do everything you can, and it still doesn’t happen.
But, like you said, there are no guarantees, but if your project is important to you, then knowing you did absolutely everything you could to make it happen, and then if it doesn’t, then self-publish. But at least give it a shot. Again, it’s sometimes the difference between getting it out and selling a million copies, or just getting it out there at all.
E.A.: Yes, I wanted to borrow your enthusiasm, so I did.
Mark Malatesta: Let me ask the skeptic question. No one likes talking about it, but we know there are a lot of scams out there. I’m not naïve, and I have authors question and challenge me all the time. They don’t know me and find me online and wonder, “Who is this Internet guy?” It doesn’t matter how many testimonials I have, people still email me to see if I’m a real person and legit. What skepticism or reservation did you have before your first call with me?
E.A.: Yes, and I have had a few scams myself: Send me money, and I’ll read your stuff and send it back, and suddenly they have your money, and you never hear back from them. I’ve had that happen a couple of times.
Mark Malatesta: Wow!
Pt 15 – Erika Armstrong with Mark Malatesta
E.A.: The very week I ended up calling you back, I had an editor pitch to me, he’d read my manuscript, given me expert feedback, and thought the most important thing was for my manuscript to be grammatically correct, with no errors. It was a $5,000 commitment to do that. I had myself convinced it was because the manuscript wasn’t perfect that I wasn’t getting more call backs when, in fact, it was as simple as not having the right query letter.
That same week, I was seriously contemplating giving this guy $5,000. I thought, let me step back and think about it. If I can’t get someone to read my manuscript, what’s it matter if I have a couple of commas missing? But I had myself convinced, and he did a very good job convincing me. But I was able to step away from it for a few days and say, what you need is the packaging to get it through the door.
Yes, I definitely checked you out and said, “Here comes another used car salesman.” But I finally got a hold of you, and you were very down-to-earth, and in this industry attitude is everything. If you can maintain a positive attitude, and still give good advice, and point out the good and bad, but still have a positive attitude about it, it’s really important.
The query letter we generated is such a positive. Of course, you want to be out there, and be positive in the literary agent’s eyes, but to actually get it across in word and writing is important. You had a good attitude, and every time I Googled something, your content was one of the first 20 listings on the search site, and so you are established, and that’s important. You’ve been around a long time, and that, in this world, is really hard to do. Lots of literary agents and publishers come and go, but you seemed to have stuck around through it all.
And you started on the other side by being the person to pitch as a literary agent, so you know how it goes. That knowledge and experience is worth the money.
Mark Malatesta: I appreciate that. I get people once in a while saying you market yourself a lot, and you make offers for things, and you don’t just provide free content. I’m like, yes, it’s a business and here’s what you need to think about… If I’m good at marketing myself, don’t you think I can help you market yourself better? Then the light bulb goes on.
Mark Malatesta: You don’t have to like it, or be comfortable with sales and marketing, but you do have to understand and have a healthy respect, if not admiration, for someone who knows how to do it because that’s the game. You need to promote yourself in a way that isn’t bragging, but lets people know what you have to offer. That’s what I have to do to have a successful business, and what you have to do as an author.
E.A.: Right, and you should brag, you have to brag in this industry.
Mark Malatesta: Right. Thank you so much. Is there anything else, any last words of wisdom or anything to say that I didn’t ask about?
E.A.: Not really, I think you covered it all. For all the authors out there, I know it’s a lonely world, and just put your heart at ease to know there are many of us out there feeling like you, and just don’t give up. Accept it’s going to be a long process, and get the outside help you need, and get coaches like Mark to come in and give you a different perspective, and keep going, because it will happen. If you believe in it, it will, and so hang in there, that’s all I can say.
Mark Malatesta: Thank you again so much for doing this. You’re a great writer, and also extremely gracious. I know your book is going to light it up, and I can’t wait to see what happens. Thank you for coming to this interview, not just pushing the book, which you should do, and I’m going to push it again in a second. But you obviously put a lot of thought into a lot of advice that will help everyone, and so thank you so much.
E.A.: Thank you too Mark, I appreciate it. Good luck with all your changes and experiences out there.
Mark Malatesta – Author Coach – Former Literary Agent
Mark Malatesta is the creator and curator of the popular How to Get a Literary Agent Guide at GetaLiteraryAgent.com, as well as The Directory of Literary Agents. He is the host of Ask a Literary Agent, and he is the founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover.
Mark has helped hundreds of authors get book deals with traditional publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, and Thomas Nelson. His writers have been on the New York Times bestseller list, had their books optioned for TV and feature film, won countless awards, and had their work licensed in more than 40 countries.
Writers of all Book Genres have used Mark’s Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get Top Literary Agents at the Best Literary Agencies on his popular List of Book Agents. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta.