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Review of Mark Malatesta by Author L. Lehr

This review of Mark Malatesta was provided by the author of A Boob’s Life, now in development by Salma Hayek for an HBO Max TV series. The book is published by Pegasus Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster. It’s been featured on Good Morning America as well as in Glamour Magazine, People Magazine, and more.

Click the following links to see Leslie’s review, an interview with her in which she shares her best advice for authors, and more Mark Malatesta reviews:

Mark Malatesta Review by Leslie Lehr

After following your advice, my book was acquired by Pegasus Books, the prestigious PW gave it a great review, and Time Magazine asked for an excerpt.

Head shot photo of long-haired brunette author LLAs a writing consultant who crafts query letters as part of my business, I know how to hook an agent. But your expertise was invaluable in agent-related decisions that followed. I learned critical things, including how to best communicate with my agent, how to get her re-engaged, how to make a decision about staying with her or leaving, how to help her sell the project, and how to get to the point where she ended up calling me a “dream client.”

Prior to that, I felt like I’d done everything possible to help my agent be successful pitching my book: research, revisions, communicating clearly, being patient, and trusting the process. I already had strong television interest, but that’s unreliable and wasn’t enough to convince publishers. Then, finally, after three years with this project, and after I worked with you, I got an offer.

It was validating because I identify as an author, not just a writing consultant. While I was having trouble selling the book, there was this low-lying depression under everything else I did. I knew I was a good writer, but I wondered if I was crazy to feel so passionate about this idea. So, it was great having that “Oh, my God” moment, and seeing my agent so happy because she worked so hard. Now she sees me as persistent rather than a pest. Prior to that, I didn’t know when I was being helpful vs overstepping.

Now I understand it was mostly a matter of learning how to communicate and keep my emotions to myself, understanding this is a business. But, like you said, working with an agent is a personal relationship as well. I had to keep reminding myself to respect that anything could be happening on her end, and, unless she said otherwise, she was doing her best and I needed to keep doing my best, while completely dependent on her.

LL – Review of Mark Malatesta – Pt 2

It’s ironic that when I made the decision to “just” do what I could and let go of worrying, I got the text with the offer. I jumped up and down, screamed and put champagne in the fridge. Seeing the announcement on Publisher’s Marketplace was even better. My agent described the book to sound more brilliant than I dared to imagine.

Women in red bra on book cover for ABL by author LLAs writers, we’re so close to our work that self-doubt and a lack of perspective are often part of the artistic journey – especially when changing hats to the sales side. And when we don’t sell a book right away, we tend to feel like it isn’t good enough and we’re not good enough. It’s devastating, because when you start doubting the value of your work, you often start doubting yourself and whether you have the tools to deal with an agent.

Authors don’t want that, not just because it’s painful, but because it’s counter-productive. We need to sound important and impress agents so they respect our work. We want to be cool and confident, without communicating self-doubt, because otherwise the agents follow your lead and feel the challenge to place it. That’s what I was hearing from my agent before I spoke with you. Later, she admitted she’s never stuck with an author that long or sent their work to that many publishers.

The advice you gave me included things I hadn’t thought of doing, I was too lazy to do, and I was afraid to do. Your tips ultimately got my agent back on my team to sell the book and call me a dream client. With your advice I was able to be more patient, practical, and considerate while communicating with my agent. I was able to make a logical plan to decide between the risks of staying versus the risks of leaving. You also helped me see how to share things she might find helpful. I used to just email a nudge and run away.

LL – Review of Mark Malatesta – Pt 3

Another thing you got me to do was look differently at the positioning of my book. The author questionnaire you had me fill out, that we then talked about, gave me a chance to revise the project to have a stronger orientation. When I talked to my agent again about it, and I mean really talked to her on the phone, not just emailing her like a coward, I had more confidence and a better package for her to send to publishers.

Before you and I talked, I read your newsletter and everything on your website. I wrote reams of notes about things to do. But when we spoke during coaching, your tips were personalized. You suggested ways to reword things and, in terms of platform, you shared ideas to quickly improve my platform prior to publication, to show agents I was willing and able to get interest and exposure and sell books.

I liked that when you and I got on the phone, you had read all my stuff, knew exactly what I was talking about, and it felt like we were friends. And, with your platform-building suggestions, you showed me how to address people the way a publicist would. You made it seem like I could do it on my own, and I actually explored going in that direction. That made the book real, and it resulted in a more attractive pitch, opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of where and how the book would sell. And now that I have a hardback book to show off, the TV deal is moving forward with a “based on” credit.

The niche you have helping people get agents is just—nobody else does it like this. Writers ask me for advice about publishing all the time and I say what has worked for me and lot of the same tips writers can learn at seminars. It’s all good basic information, but not specific to any one project. I now recommend you to my clients as soon as they are interested, whether they are just starting, or when they are about to give up.

You’re the only one who exclusively helps authors get agents, and you’re the only one who’s helped hundreds of authors get agents. Thank you for believing in my book, and for helping me share the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part!

LESLIE LEHR is the author of A Boob’s Life: How America’s Obsession Shaped Me―and You, published by Pegasus Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster and now in development for a TV series by Salma Hayek for HBO Max

Leslie Lehr Interview (Audio and Text) with Mark Malatesta, Former Literary Agent

During this 83-minute interview with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, author Leslie Lehr talks about her journey to get her book, A Boob’s Life, published by Pegasus Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster. Her book is also now in development for a TV series by Salma Hayek for HBO Max. Leslie shares suggestions for authors of all genres about how to write, publish, and promote books. She also talks about her experience working with Mark.

Mark Malatesta: Leslie Lehr is the author of A Boob’s Life, a memoir that reveals the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part. Her book is also the basis of a TV series in development for HBO Max by producer Salma Hayek, who called A Boob’s Life “Original, thought-provoking, and with an elegant sense of humor…a must-read.”

Leslie is serving as an executive producer on the show, and, as if that isn’t impressive enough, Good Morning Americahas listed A Boob’s Life as a Must-Read…Glamour Magazine has it on THEIR Top Ten Must-Read list…Katie Couric announced that her book expert, Zibby Owens, host of the popular podcast, Mom’s Don’t Have Time to Read Books, has included A Boob’s Life in her list of books that helped her survive quarantine…and People Magazine just included A Boob’s Life on their Best New Books page.

In addition to authoring A Boob’s Life, Leslie is the prize-winning author of seven books. She’s also an essayist for The New York Times “Modern Love” column, and she’s the Novel Consultant for Truby’s Writers Studio.

Leslie and I worked together to help her get her book deal, which she’ll tell you more about. But, mostly, I’m going to get her talking about her best advice for authors–the best way to write, publish, and promote a book.

And, as you can imagine, I’m going to get her talking more about her book, A Boob’s Life.

To learn more about Leslie, go to

So welcome, Leslie!

L.L.: Thank you, Mark. I’m really honored to be on your show.

Mark Malatesta: Oh, my pleasure and boy, that was a mouthful. All the accolades and things happening. It’s good we did this now. In a couple months, you’ll have a ton more!

L.L.: I hope so. Thank you.

Mark Malatesta: You’re amazing, so I’m really looking forward to this. This is a fun one and saying that title five times, I was trying to keep a straight face here, but we can have fun. So, let’s get into it. My favorite thing to do is start by talking about your book. Even though I gave people some sense of what it’s about, it’s much more fun to hear you talk about it. And I’m sure everyone else will agree. So, share a little bit. Take a few minutes just to tell everybody what the book is about.

L.L.: Well, the subtitle of A Boob’s Life is How America’s Obsession Shaped Me – and You. It started one night when I got out of the shower. I hadn’t written a book in, you know, my last novel had been a few years. I had breast cancer and went through all the treatment. The right side of my brain came back pretty quickly. I work with writers and I’m very analytic, so I began crafting story structure, but the left side of my brain just wasn’t popping.

Then, one night, I had finished with everything I was working on. My husband and I had just moved to this gorgeous condo for a couple of years kind to celebrate that I had survived. It was a romantic night, our first night in. We were surrounded by moving boxes, and when I got out of the shower, I thought my boobs were crooked. I was so upset that my husband accused me of being obsessed. I thought, “No, no, no. I’m a girl. I can’t be obsessed with breasts.” He said, “Calm down.” So, we watched TV and a famous comedian on TV made a boob joke. I did not think it was funny.

Mark Malatesta: Oh, no.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 2

L.L.: Yeah. Date night was off, and my husband went to bed. I wanted to call my doctors to fix my boobs and then I thought, “Wait a minute. Are they broken? What’s the deal?” And I realized I could trace my entire life being a little girl wanting breasts: being a teenager looking at cheerleaders and my dad’s Playboys, then hiding my chest to get a job, then showing it to get dates. Then there was breastfeeding and breast cancer.

I went in the other room and started looking at my old scrapbooks. It was amazing looking at the newspaper and magazine articles and my pictures I had put in. I saw a picture when I was three years old, and my sister was one. We were with my mom and all of us were in red bikinis. Actually, the shot is in the book. Because I looked at the picture, it cracked me up because my sister could not keep this red strip of fabric over her one-and-a-half-year-old nipples, right? And I realized that if I knew at three years old that this was a kind of a taboo thing, that something was going on.

So, I started doing research and thought, it turns out all this stuff happened kind of around when I was born that made America totally obsessed with breasts in a different way than it had been before and Hollywood, of course, influences the country. So, I just knew that night I had to write this book and I did it as a memoir but with political analysis of the culture kind of chapter by chapter. So, there’s a lot of humor and there’s a lot of facts, and it’s this really unusual kind of book that made it very difficult to sell and that’s why I came to you.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: So, now, I’m thrilled that it’s going so well. It’s like, I just knew it was a book and for so long, I thought, Maybe it’s not a book, you know, because like, my first literary agent didn’t like it. She said, “I don’t care about boobs,” and she went on to a bigger literary agency to handle bigger people. I immediately got a new literary agent, but she had a lot of trouble selling it. I just worked really hard on this book. It took a lot of years to get out and now, it’s like the little boob book that could. So, I’m excited about it.

Mark Malatesta: This one is so interesting on so many levels. I want to reassure other authors listening that not every book has to be this sensational, a high-concept thing. You’re fortunate yours is, and you still needed to be a good writer to get here, but on the face of it, I’m sure even people listening to the intro were thinking, “Oh, this is just going to be lfun or funny,” but the second you start talking about it, they probably say, “Wait, there’s some seriousness to this too,” right?

L.L.: Yes. Just being about boobs makes it high concept, but, when I started it and Googled breasts, you’d find breast cancer and breast feeding and chicken recipes. Now, when you Google boobs, it’s porn and people would think, “Oh, funny, but maybe it’s a magazine article.” I mean, I got so many rejections over so many years that I realized, in this case, the high concept thing did not help it sell at all.

Mark Malatesta: It’s crazy. I mean, in a good way, one of the many nice things about it is everybody is going to have a story they want to share with you. Everyone is going to have an opinion. And, for sure, everyone is going to be talking about it. They are not going to be able to help themselves.

L.L.: I’m all about it. I mean, people don’t talk about their boobs and that’s one reason why people will relate and also why it was hard to sell.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: But like book clubs and, you know, and I do have a lot of serious messages in it, you know, by the end. Salma Hayek, before even the book was published, I heard from her and, I mean, it’s going to be a comedy series now. So, we worked it all out. Obviously, I’m a novelist normally, so I used a lot of novel techniques in the book as well.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 3

Mark Malatesta: And for anyone who is curious, like if they Google it, they will find some of kind of the movie coverage and announcements and things that get a little bit into kind of what it’s going to be like for anyone listening to this before it comes out, right? I’m amazed no one has done this yet. I mean, honestly.

L.L.: Well, boobs, I mean, when I first read it, boobs were weird, were like too risqué and then suddenly, history continued, and they were no longer very risqué. So, yeah, it’s been a really interesting ride and like I say, right now, it will take a while for the TV thing to happen. These things are slow, and they are not a sure thing, which also, I mean, so many editors and publishers rejected it even while I had all this TV interest.

Some hype was attached to it pretty early on. I mean, it took a while for things to evolve and get a show runner, but publishers did not care. Normally, a book will be on the bestseller list and then the film people will buy it, but this was very different and publishers, they know how much of a gamble that Hollywood is, and that does not guarantee a success.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: So, it was all about the book.

Mark Malatesta: Well, they certainly care, and I hope it get their attention but not as much. It’s always harder than authors think it is. That’s for sure. It sure wouldn’t hurt having that interest early on.

L.L.: No, I thought, I mean, it gave me hope. It made me feel how important life is. So, it was helpful.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Okay. You can talk about this a little bit if you want, like how things unfolded. I know everybody listening is going to be curious. You just talked about it a little bit. “Wait, this kind of happened, then this,” but relive that a little bit like how then things unfolded where you went from having just this book you wanted to sell and then kind of the steps that kind of led to this success basically and what you’ve done to celebrate, if anything.

L.L.: Oh, my gosh. That’s so many questions. Well, I originally, most literary agents now, unless you’re a first-time novelist or just starting out who ended up writing the whole book, most literary agents want obviously a query letter and a proposal. My literary agent was trying to, the literary agent that I got after my first literary agent didn’t care about it. I got this new literary agent. She immediately loved my query letter and helped me worked with a proposal, which literary agents do, but literary agents only get paid on commission. So, she tried to sell it with the proposal and got so many rejections.

As I said, literary agents only work on commission, so they are investing a lot of time and energy and if it isn’t easy to sell, a lot of times, they will just give up or wait six months. There’s really only, you probably know best, like five big publishing houses. They all have, with all these little imprints and the editors kind of move around a lot and you can only give it to one editor at a house because if someone has seen or heard of it then it’s old news and it’s already been rejected. So, it has this stamp of disapproval.

So, I was constantly updating the proposal. I even changed the name once then changed it back. I put pictures in, I put pictures out to help my literary agent get it out there. I mean, I poured through Publisher’s Market and you have incredible resource within your websites that are very helpful exploring who has been selling what kind of books and what kind of literary agents she looks to. I was constantly giving her new lists and finally, she stopped talking to me and I decided I was just going to write the whole book. It was already completely planned out.

As far as the TV thing, it turns out somebody, one of my writing clients who I didn’t know very well at all, wanted to read my manuscript in progress. So, she was actually the first one who read the whole thing and said, “You know, I have some friends in the business.” I was like, fine, whatever. Nothing’s happened.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 4

L.L.: I had nothing to lose and of course my literary agent who was not successful also thought, “No, this is not how you do it,” but she wasn’t selling it and there wasn’t any money changing hands. So, I just let this friend shop it around. It’s called a shopping agreement, a new thing in Hollywood. It’s a way to not pay option money, but it also helped me get much better option money later when my literary agent was back engaged, thanks to you, and it gave me a great lawyer and a great film agent.

Anyway, so I had the book then, but my literary agent kept sending out the proposal and I kept saying, “Send out the manuscript.” But editors and publishers, they don’t have time to read full manuscripts. It’s a lot and you have to wait for them. It’s a long process and there was a period of time when she did not get back to me because she was working with people who are making her money and that’s when I had this huge crisis of faith because the book had already been out.

She had some editors at that point and that meant that a new literary agent would not be interested, and I wasn’t sure how much could I change it to make it new, how long would I wait? I started writing another book, but I still really believed in this project and did all this research on publishing it myself. I kind of feel like, gosh, I know you didn’t ask this question yet, but for me, the difference was everyone who says that they can independently publish a book, “Oh, it’s $10,000 or it’s $15,000 if you pay for warehousing or whatever.” it’s really far more than that because you need marketing, you need publicity.

A lot of people who write science fiction or romance novels or a series of books do it as a business. They do it because they are good at marketing and that’s not why I write. I write because I want to have something to say and I feel really passionate about a story and I work really hard to make every word, every sentence, as well written as possible. And so, for me, my decision was to self-publish because I believed in it and I couldn’t believe anyone was going to do it.

But I thought, before I do that, I’m either going to spend a lot of money publishing it and I worked really hard with my consulting business to save up money so that I could either self-publish it. Or I could put that money towards publicity and marketing when somebody else published it because nowadays, it’s really, you need all the help you can get because with all of the social media, everyone is expert at different things.

And that’s when I found you, an expert at literary agents because I was like, Do I leave my literary agent and have no literary agent? Do I try and get a new a literary agent? How do I get her to call me back? And she’s a really smart literary agent. I got her because she has a great track record and is really smart. But she was spending a lot of time and not getting any results for me. I was brought up to be all business and so I found you.

I don’t even know where I found your name. I must have been Googling around on the Internet and I found your website. I read everything. I listened to all of your free materials and finally, it was like, “Oh yeah, okay. I’m going to take one more stab at this,” and deciding what to do really. I came to you because I had a literary agent problem.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 5

L.L.: We talked and honest to goodness, Mark, I had to do so much work. Updating and polishing and refining my proposal Redoing my query letter and sending you sample chapters. I invested so much time on making sure this was a package that was so attractive that I could convince you that it was worth a literary agent’s time. Once I did that, I realized I had invested all this time and then I was like, “Gosh, do I really want to pay money? I’m not making any money on this…to get an expert?”

Then I realized I’d already invested years of sweat equity in this book and I really care about this book. If I wasn’t going to invest in it, why should a publisher? So, when I talked to you, it was just amazing. I mean, sometimes, it comes down to these tiny little things that I would never have thought of.

You really helped me decide how to not only talk to my literary agent but also kind of timing wise, I wanted to know when should I do this. Then, also, how to make, you didn’t like tell me what to do, but I also knew that I could kind of assess out her response to my new methods of communication. Then [I needed to] decide if I wanted to try to get a new literary agent instead. You also felt like this could be a book. I think part of the problem with this book was it isn’t just a straight memoir. It’s also not straight nonfiction. It’s a cultural analysis with a lot of factors.

The book also has seven pages of foot notes, and 16 pages of colored pictures and a lot of fun facts and humor, but also a lot of really personal stuff. So, it wasn’t an easy sell for any publisher because their distribution people like to know. Oh, this goes on the memoir shelf. This goes on the fiction shelf, and also, I’m not famous enough to sell a memoir. This isn’t a novel, and I never had a bestselling novel. My novels have done well. They’ve earned out but I’m not a name.

So, this was a really hard turkey thing to sell, and after I worked with you I was able to get my literary agent excited about it again. It still took another nine months, but she really, I was able to work more with her than expect her to do all this stuff and be upset and angry at her. Then she was able to try again and send it out. God bless her, she sold it, and now, we’re talking all the time. She just helped me get a famous comedienne to voice the book trailer as a friend and she got me a great literary agent for the book deal. And, of course, having the book deal helped solidify the deal with HBO Max.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: She got me a great lawyer and now, it’s snowballed and she’s like, “So, what’s your next book?” I’m like, “Well, we’ll talk about that later.” I mean, it was so many years of living in anxiety of, Am I crazy? This is not a book. Do I need a new literary agent? Why doesn’t my literary agent call me back? I mean, for once, I had a bottle of champagne in my refrigerator for a year hoping to pop it. There are so many little steps along the way that finally when it was released in different stages of contract and it sold through COVID. I got the contract the first week of the shutdown, so I never got anything physical and then the whole thing has been during COVID.

So, it has been a really unique situation. Also, no book tours. Publicity people are learning all new different kinds of things. But now, I’m constantly buying those little bottles of champagne. Like when the People magazine came out, I went to the good chocolate store and now, we have good chocolate and little things like champagne so I can kind celebrate every moment and just try to remember what this is like.

All that hard work and listening to experts like you made all the difference in the world and I’m just really proud of myself that I made the decision to invest in myself in that way and to find the right people to help. I just can’t thank you enough.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 6

Mark Malatesta: My pleasure. I’m so happy. It’s like I’m just smiling as you kind of walked through all that because I have so many authors out there, like I’m thinking about my long-term coaching clients. They are in the trenches, right? You’ve been there and you know, it’s like 800 times you’re thinking, Am I crazy? This is stupid. It’s not going to work. I should quit. You were right on the cusp.

L.L.: Yes.

Mark Malatesta: And it was really complicated. It would have been so easy for you to bail and I’m just glad you didn’t.

L.L.: Thanks. Me too, it’s just amazing. It’s a little embarrassing because I’m thinking, I should pitch articles to the writer’s magazines, but then I have to talk about all the failure I had until I called Mark Malatesta.

Mark Malatesta: [Laughter] No, no. You can leave in any details you want, leave out some of the others. You do what you need to do. And let me throw out a couple of clarifications for people listening. I kind of make notes about a couple of things along the way as we go. One is that it is possible to work with more than one literary agent on a project, if things don’t work out with one.

One of my favorite success stories is from a woman who worked with a top literary agent. He shopped her project all around town and I told her what I tell everybody: “Oh, man. It’s virtually impossible, like 99% chance you can’t get another literary agent. It’s damaged goods now, especially if that literary agent sent it out to more like three, four, five, six places.” But she pulled it off, got a new literary agent who sold her book. It is possible. That’s what I told you, right? It’s really hard though. So, if there’s any way to make it work with the one you’re with, it’s better.

And then, for nonfiction authors only, they need book proposals. If you’re writing fiction, you really don’t need one. And, if you’re writing nonfiction, even memoir, some literary agents will require you to have the book finished, but some won’t. I’ve had a couple people get literary agents for memoirs that were just partially written. When we talked originally, wasn’t your literary agent previously going out with this, not as memoir, but as narrative nonfiction?

L.L.: Out of the box, it was narrative nonfiction and she was like, “No, this is memoir except she required a proposal and I was surprised because I thought memoirs didn’t need proposals. I thought that was strictly a nonfiction thing and I definitely had not written the book. She wanted to sell it off the proposal and get me paid to write it.

Mark Malatesta: Got it.

L.L.: That is normal and with novels, generally. I mean, I’ve always, that’s not true actually…I had one novel I sold from the outline, but I already had a track record.

Mark Malatesta: Yeah, that’s why.

L.L.: You do need a full synopsis and other elements of the package. It’s not a formal proposal. You don’t need comparable titles and a marketing plan and things like you do for nonfiction. They are such different animals though, proposals and all the sales materials than the actual writing part. So, the more you can write off the real thing, at least having sample chapters, no matter what you’re writing, is important.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 7

L.L.: So, that’s part of the proposal or if you’re selling a novel because they don’t know, if you haven’t written it, they want to know that you can finish it if you’re a new novelist, but otherwise, yes. All literary agents have different requirements. That, I think, is a really important thing that you stress. It’s like, spell their name right and do exactly what they say to do. And also, I write query letters as a side business because I’ve been doing it for so long.

It’s not about, “Will you marry me and be my literary agent.” It’s about, “Would you like to read more?” I mean, it’s really a seduction of literary agents and you have to put on your best dress and be showered. That’s what you do when you require people to show me this, this, and this. It’s like you’re requiring people to be ready and professional and polished because that’s how you need to look when you approach a literary agent.

Mark Malatesta: Right. And I like what you said about the query. It’s not getting a marriage proposal off the query. We’re just trying to get to first base, really.

L.L.: Absolutely.

Mark Malatesta: So, now, let’s go way back in time, way before you even met me. Like, when did you first get the idea you might be a writer?

L.L.: I never thought I would be writer. I mean, I always liked to read and if I look back, I realize, oh, yeah. I actually was writing, even publishing little stupid things in elementary school. I wrote like The Hastings Hot Lunch from my junior high, things like that, but I was mostly a reader. In fact, I’ve taught at UCLA writing classes and I’d see the biggest weakness, those people who want to write who aren’t reading.

Then I went to film school. I wanted to work in Hollywood. I ran a TV station in my high school in Ohio. I grew up there. I came out to LA and I was in production. I would see things that I thought I could do better that weren’t really out there. So, I started writing scripts on the side. That was hard as a woman because people wouldn’t believe I had written them. I finally got an indie made, but mostly, when I had my first child, there was just no way to keep up with either production or being in the Hollywood thing without childcare.

So, I actually had read a novel, and I thought…that book is from the wrong point of view. It would be so much better if it was like I was starting to read as a writer. I thought, I’m going to try and make this worthwhile. I’m just going to try and write one book. Actually, at first, I started writing essays complaining about stuff because I couldn’t believe how weird it was to be home as a mom and what life was like. That was my start as a writer.

The New York Times “Modern Love” essay really is kind of the basis of this book and I’ve had essays and other anthologies because it’s really just to get my, the thing, you know what I get, but then I thought, Oh, I can publish a book. Maybe I’ll do another book. Books are so much more satisfying because it’s oddly you. When I couldn’t get a literary agent for my first book, I entered a contest and won. That got me Villard/Random House, but it didn’t make my life. The next book wasn’t any easier to sell.

Every book is a new experiment. I’ve had a bunch of different literary agents because I had the wrong literary agents a lot or they just liked that [particular] book. I always wanted a nurturing literary agent and I’ve never really had that with this book. That’s why I had a disconnect with this literary agent because she really connected with the material, but she wasn’t someone who would help me decide what to write next. So, I learned how to talk to her. So, for me, I mean, motherhood made me, okay, I’m going to take writing seriously and once I started finding some success. It’s really a way to, for me, it kind of gives me a mission in my life.

It’s like I do all this other stuff for money. I mean, I love working for writers but for me, writing lets me have a voice in the world and that’s what I like the most about it. I didn’t have an intention to be a writer. But I mean, when you read my intro, I’m thinking, for a spouse, if you live long enough, you get enough stuff together that sounds really good because there’s a lot of pain in between all of those publications, but now, I mean, every single one is like, I mean, having something in the Library of Congress is just, it can’t be more thrilling. It makes your words last and for me, it’s just the most exciting thing.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 8

Mark Malatesta: I know I’m jumping a little off script here, but I’m personally curious and it’s something I would have asked you about later anyway. Did you kind of find it challenging or more rewarding or a little bit of both when you made the transition from writing fiction or cultural critique essay stuff to what you’re doing now, which is putting yourself out there with your personal story?

L.L.: Yup. Personal essays are your story, but I think there’s a big difference between autobiography and memoir. It’s like my life is a house and I’m letting you look in one room of my house. I’m not exposing people in my life who are vulnerable and once I am, I allow them to change their names. That said, I’m never writing another memoir.

This one, it definitely comes to a point but honestly, I was like, I didn’t let my mom read it until the week before it came out. There were a couple of things that have happened in the past that I wrote about and she was like, “No, no, no.” She was so upset and I thought, Okay, I’m sticking to fiction. In fiction, I get sympathy and emotional truth of something and it’s much more freeing.

Here, I was really limited. Like with the boob book, there are a lot of people who have had giant boobs and have issues. I was only able to talk about those with people I know and in statistics because that wasn’t my experience, but I hope to hear more about that and let people be aware. For me, writing this book is the only way I could talk about women through all the stages of their life was to use my life as an everywoman example.

In this way, it’s just a unique way to have boobs as the lens to show how American culture has treated women and how we judge ourselves and we judge each other. And then I was able to do all this research on breast cancer and self-care. I’m working with Stand Up to Cancer now. In fact, there’s a big video going out that had some embarrassing pictures in it, but it’s like it gave me this avenue to explore so much stuff.

So, I felt like it wasn’t just me and also, when you write about yourself, I feel like even in fiction when we’re writing, the images on our head, translating them into words on the page, it’s a whole different thing. So, the Leslie in this book isn’t exactly me. It’s the character that’s the closest to me so that I can say, curate all the experiences necessary to prove my point about this issue and in the TV show, the main character’s name is Leslie. And her boobs are going to talk.

Clearly, my boobs don’t talk, so I have to completely separate myself from that character. Many people write lots of memoirs, but that’s not me. This was just the way I needed to write this book. In fact, my next book is another novel. It is based on real events and I waited until a couple of people died. It’s a period piece and I’m compressing things. I get to use perspectives of different characters in it that I wouldn’t know if I told the real story.

I much prefer fiction, but A Boob’s Life was just, and, in fact, you’ll see the first chapter kind of sets it up…but then the second chapter is the most narrative and beautiful writing because it’s before I had any awareness. It describes this diving board scene when I was six. It’s a passage that most people love. Then the story expands and expands and kind of funnels into the ending. Definitely, I’ve applied everything I know about fiction.

Yeah, it’s weird. I have a lot of people from where I grew up reading the book now. A lot of guys that are transcript that are kind of, hmm, I wonder if they will know I changed his name or what are they going to think of me now. But I just have to believe that for me, having faced an illness, I’m like, we’re going to die and if it takes exposing my life, so what? It’s just my life. I’m not ashamed of anything. I’ve done the best I could all the time and I think that we all, when we know better, we do better, and writing for me has been a way to really examine the life of women and men and in culture, and I feel like that’s why I write. It’s been a great full circle.

Mark Malatesta: God help any man who had tried to write this book. Oh, my, goodness.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 9

L.L.: Yeah. I think men are, like there are people in my life, some people who are no longer with us who are in the book and there are also dark parts of the book. I’ve been told by people that, “Wow, you were really nice to him.” I’m thinking, You know what, we’re all creatures of this culture and I think we can’t change the culture. We can’t change biology. With this book, I found that men look at a woman’s chest within 200 milliseconds of them entering the room.

That’s biology, but the way it has been manifested into buying advertising dollars and even, I mean, going into other details of the book about breast disease and plastic surgeons, blah, blah, I feel like you can’t change biology. Our job here is to make more people and continue our lines genetically, but if we’re just aware of how we treat ourselves and treat other people, judge ourselves and other people and how to stay healthier and all that kind of stuff, life would be a lot more fun for everybody.

Mark Malatesta: I love it. There are two gems in that last little segment like one that implied that you had an awareness working on this project. You’re really kind of thinking about your reader and it being kind of their journey and their story as much as yours, right? I mean, I’m rephrasing…

L.L.: Absolutely.

Mark Malatesta: I think you’ll agree with that, and that so many memoir authors are just not. They are just presumptuous, thinking, Oh, my life and my story are so interesting that people are just going to read it. But no, you have to earn it every second from that opening line and make it as relatable and relevant to that reader as you can. The fact that you’re looking for some meaning in there too. Even though there is humor and things, your character is different at the end of her journey, the same way that the readers could be. Seeing life a little differently, that being the heartbeat of memoir, right?

L.L.: Yes. In fact, I was talking about that with my husband last night. My initial goal writing this was figuring out why I’m obsessed and was I going to fix my breasts or not. That was the big overall question and then later as history progressed, it was like, oh no, this is a much bigger story than just me. I was talking to my husband last night because I thought people would think, Oh, I’m so sorry with everything you went through.

There are 19 chapters. Two of them are about breast cancer and it’s like I feel like, no, it’s not the worst thing in the world but I didn’t have the most tragic story. Yeah, it was not a good time, but many people have many so-much worse things happen. And even with all the rollercoaster events in my life, I’m not saying that I’m the best or the worst at anything. I’m just saying, here’s my experience and it makes me understand these things and my experience was so influenced by this other stuff.

This other girl was doing this, and this other girl was doing this, and I don’t know. I mean, I have a sister and a mom, obviously. My sister and I both have two daughters. Nobody talks about their boobs and everybody has got a boob story and it has been impacted by seeing cheerleaders and pretty women and women with breasts who draw advertisers who support TV shows and wanting to be beautiful. It’s so important and I’m part of the problem. I want to be beautiful, and breasts are part of that package, being a woman.

People who have reconstructions like to spend years and a lot of money in paying to have breasts again, it’s such a bigger deal. We take it for granted and so I wasn’t trying to be, I’m better or worse or I’m special. It was definitely using me as an example of an average woman who has gone through stuff that many women go through and all these stages of life so that we all can kind of reflect. I’m really looking forward to talking to book clubs and other women and getting their response.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 10

L.L.: Amazon has my book under women’s history and feminist theory as well as personal memoir because it’s not just the story of one person. It’s really, I think memoir for women, there’s so much history out there that’s men. For women, memoir is the way that we hear our stories, and our story is intricately related to men’s. So, it’s really another way to look at Americans and men and women in our lives.

Mark Malatesta: I’ve got another compliment for you that’s also a tip for the aspiring memoir writers out there. You have this honesty coming through. People can feel you’re just being authentic and real. You have to do that to write this kind of story or it’s not going to work.

L.L.: Thank you. Yeah, I’ve heard that word before and for me, it’s a little confusing because I kind of don’t understand how I would hide myself. I mean, I’m talking about my boobs here. There are a couple of chapters in there that my literary agents actually said, “No, you can’t gloss over that part of your life.” Clearly, something happened there, and I had to say, “But it has nothing to do with my boobs.” She was like, “Oh no, it totally does.” Okay. I mean, why would I pretend to be something else? My whole point is, what do I got to hide? I’m just a human being like anybody else who has boobs.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: Thank you.

Mark Malatesta: Yeah. It makes me think of Dr. Ruth a little bit. I mean, you’re so not Dr. Ruth, but what she did for the sex conversation, maybe you’re going to do with the boob conversation, right?

L.L.: Wow, thank you. That’s a great comparison. I’d be thrilled to be the boob expert.

Mark Malatesta: I know it’s not just about boobs, right? You can think about these broader themes, about identity and things like that.

L.L.: Yes, and I’ve updated it. One of the great things about the publisher that my literary agent was able to find, thanks to her sticking with me because of how you taught me to talk to her, was that this was released during international women’s month. I was also able to promote it during breast cancer month, which was a few months before that, and also, I was able to push the printing date until after the most recent elections so I could make it a real, a much bigger story than just about one life, but about Americans, kind of show all sides and how it all works.

So, it was very helpful to find the right kind of publisher that was really interested in exploring the theme, not just the memoir for this particular book. It was great. The biggest drag for me is updating the statistics all the time. Now, that the time has changed here. Now, it’s completely up to date in 2021, but it starts in 1960 really. It clearly dates me. Glamour magazine, that’s a younger audience. Good Morning America, that’s an older audience. People magazine is kind of everybody, so I’m really glad it’s speaking to women of all ages because that’s really the point.

Mark Malatesta: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it affects everybody, a huge age spectrum.

L.L.: Yeah, we all have boobs and boys like boobs at every age.

Mark Malatesta: Some smart guy is going to write like the male equivalent to this at some point.

L.L.: Yeah. The problem is most guy’s stuff, you can’t see from a distance.

Mark Malatesta: It’s not quite the same.

L.L.: Breasts are actually an organ since they literally turn blood into milk, but there’s no medical specialty. So, it’s this weird beauty thing that’s just, I was really surprised nothing had been written like this that really encompasses the whole thing. That’s why it was so hard to sell and that’s why I needed you because people didn’t know how to sell it.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: But it worked out. Thank you.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 11

Mark Malatesta: My pleasure. Let me jump ahead a little bit here to kind of your advice for writers. I kind of break this down into three parts: writing a book, how to publish a book, and then promoting and marketing the book. Let’s start with your best advice for authors on how to write a book. I slipped a couple of memoir tips in already, but for any genre, any writer of anything, what are some things that have worked for you, some things that maybe you shared with other writers that you’ve learned along those lines for the best way to write a book.

L.L.: Well, learn your craft is the most important thing. I mean, there’s a lot of people that, I mean, you hear this like between pantsers and plotters. I’m clearly a plotter and that’s how I work with other writers. I work not only on the structure but on the sentences. It’s like this book lasts forever and as I said before, I don’t just do a book every five months. It’s a business but first, I treat it really like an art and it’s something that I care about every word.

So, I say learn your craft and part of that is just reading. Read as much as you can and then also, get help from people who know more than you do and practice. I always think, it’s like, I’m really having trouble right now, Mark, because I’m so eager to get back to the writing of my next book. I feel like that’s going to be even better because somehow. I feel like every day that I write, I’m better than yesterday.

I feel like that’s the most important thing and also having passion for the subject. This book would not exist had I not had enough passion to keep my butt in the chair and keep coming back to it, and keep trying to get attention for it and keep polishing it up and contact experts like you through all those years. I mean, this book, I started it in, gosh, I think the incident, again, the book happened in 2015 and by 2016, I had a proposal and was talking to my literary agent and then got the new literary agent.

So, it has been a five-year journey and had I not really cared about what I was writing, I have a lot of clients that come to me with like three stories. I can easily write down the structure and say, “This is the story that will work. This one, you need help with, but unless they have three stories they are really passionate about, if they just want to write, they are not going to have the passion to really stay with it, to care to make it work, to figure out what’s the best point of view, what’s the best style. It takes your heart and soul. So, I think caring and craft are really the most important things in terms of the process.

Mark Malatesta: I have the utmost respect for authors writing fiction and memoir because it’s just harder. There are just so many ways for it to go sideways and not that any other type of nonfiction is easy. All writing is hard, but man, what direction somebody should go in with their prescriptive nonfiction book or business book or self-help book, it’s a lot easier to get people on the same page about that than fiction memoir. Just, you’ve got to be all in to make it good. It’s too hard.

L.L.: I agree and for me, nonfiction is more like homework. I’ve written nonfiction books. Once you decide what it is, you just write it. That was a tricky thing with this book because there’s so much creative writing in the memoir of personal stuff that I then transitioned into the analysis.

Mark Malatesta: Right, there are so many layers.

L.L.: Yes. It was very complicated to write. I agree. I think nonfiction is easier than the others. But it’s also, for me, not as satisfying.

Mark Malatesta: Right. You need that big narrative arc. Like, a lot of people come to me and they say, “Hey, I have this successful blog and I just want to turn it into a book.” It’s not as easy as just stitching those blog posts together.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 12

L.L.: Yes. Every single chapter is designed as a film story with an entire beginning, middle, end, and an evolution of how I thought and what I learned about the world where the world was. It’s like any novel. Every chapter needs to have that full-on structure and then the overall book has a greater structure that leaves you in a different than where you started. I agree with that completely.

Mark Malatesta: Were you a little bit conscious, hyperconscious, or not conscious at all when working on this thinking about kind of TV or film adaptation or was that just kind of a lucky accident that happened or is that part of your original design?

L.L.: That’s an interesting question because I went to film school at USC one time ago. I thought I was going to produce my business. They actually interviewed me recently and said, “Well, were you always planning to write books that go into it?” Originally, I just didn’t think I could do it. The scripts weren’t working out and I wanted books because I like to read books, but then I definitely wrote books thinking this will be a good movie.

In fact, my last novel, What a Mother Knows, I immediately wrote the script for. I thought this is a way to, I definitely saw it as a movie and I’m a visual writer. I have to see a scene in my head before I can actually translate it onto the page. With this book, no. I had zero. I didn’t see it at all as anything.

Mark Malatesta: That’s so funny.

L.L.: Yeah, then Salma was like, “Oh, well, do this and this and this.” I just thought, okay. We had showrunners say, “This could be so many seasons.” The biggest challenge has been, are you going to start at the beginning or start at the end with flashbacks. So, structure has been everything, but there’s so much material. If it’s set up right, it can go a lot of different directions but definitely this one, I did not have any other objectives. I just thought, This is a book I have to write. That said, my next novel, I certainly see as a movie. But this one, no.

Mark Malatesta: You can’t help it with what’s going on now. It’s funny. Most people instinctually would think, “Oh, feature film is the greatest,” but not necessarily. It’s kind of nicer. You end up having a TV series that runs for multiple seasons. I’d take that over the other.

L.L.: For sure. I’m thrilled. I’m really lucky. A lot of hard work and a lot of luck.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Let’s talk about publishing book for a little bit. There are really just two ways to go. One is with the traditional publisher and one is self-publishing. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that pretends to be other things, hybrid or whatever, but really, it just comes down to are you paying for the pleasure and privilege of seeing your books in print or someone else doing it. Why were you so committed to going traditional, with this project and your others?

L.L.: Two reasons. One, I’m lazy. I want somebody else to do all the work with the publishing part.

Mark Malatesta: Let’s just reframe that and say you’re meant to do other things. You don’t have to do some of the other stuff.

L.L.: Yeah, I just want to write. My expertise is in writing. I know I’m a good writer. I may not write stories that everyone loves to read, but I’ve worked really hard for a really long time down to the sentence level and even all my rejections, wow, this is a great writer, but for me, I’m not an expert publisher. I’m not an expert marketer. I really spend a lot of time talking to different independent publishers, different hybrid things and definitely, I don’t think it’s a bad default because you can make a more money especially immediately, you get 100% or a much higher percentage.

My royalties on a book, it’s not that great. I’m trying to right now encourage people to post reviews on Amazon so that sales can get higher. But for me to allow professionals to do the heavy lifting in terms of not only the printing, I mean, this book was copy edited by so many different kinds of editors before it even got close to press. We went through so many phases just because these people are professionals. It’s going to perfect on the page. That’s a guarantee with a good publisher.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 13

I mean, I had one book published that wasn’t so great because my editor left and it had no supervision, but this book it had, I mean, I can’t do that level of expertise to make the product as good as it can be. I would never have had this incredible book cover. I mean, it’s this vintage woman in a pointy bra and you don’t see her face. It’s really objectification, but it’s this gorgeous vivid red blue. I would never have come up with that good of a cover on my own.

And then to figure, just this small publisher, Pegasus Books, but they are distributed by Simon & Schuster. Major. I mean, it may have a small part of the warehouse, but they are in the warehouse. They have all the distribution. I don’t have to pay for warehousing. I don’t have to pay for printing. I don’t have to figure out how to get it in the stores, when to get it in the stores. I mean, I left the experts do the heavy lifting and I could focus on writing until it’s time for me to pitch in with the marketing.

When I did all the research of independent publishing and hybrids, it was exciting to think, well, I could get a much better return and I certainly would have done that and I totally respect people who are good at that and can do it, but for me, it was just a real relief to not have to do all that because it’s just, I’m just old-fashioned and it’s just easier for me. I’d rather make less money at the beginning and earn it out by pushing the book and continuing on to write another book instead of spending my whole life trying get the book out.

Mark Malatesta: Yeah. The odds of getting the movie, the audio, the international editions, the foreign translations, like all that stuff is so just much higher if you’re with a traditional press.

L.L.: Absolutely, and having somebody else believe in your book. Just the fact that an editor at a legit publishing house believes in your book gives me so much faith in it and it helps me write my next one. It helps me talk to people who are interested, and it helps me get People magazine and Best Books. It makes it real and for me, it just would have been an uphill battle because I am much more of a humble, shy person. I’m a writer. I’m a hermit. I talk to people in my head. To go out and say, “This is such a great book,” I would have been shy about that and the book would have suffered, I think, had I published it myself.

I would have done it just because I believe in the book, but it would not have any of the press. I’m going to be talking to a university in a couple of weeks. I’m hoping it will be a text in many universities. It will be in Psychology Todaysoon. It’s like these are kinds of things that I would not have pushed for. I would not have the confidence to do [them] personally just because I would not have been able to tell my own stuff so much. It’s a personal decision. There are big publishers and big literary agents for a reason, and I’m all about that.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Well, it’s so much easier going out when you have all that third-party credibility. Like, this person said this, this person said that with it. If it’s just you…

L.L.: Yeah. To even say on Instagram, somebody contacted me and said, “Hey, would you like us to review? We do this and then we do placement.” It’s like they were asking me to pay them to do those things. I thought, that’s a business. There are a lot of people who get paid to do reviews and I don’t want to have to deal one-on-one with all those people. I want my book to get reviewed because it’s a good book and because my publisher and people who are experts at publicity and all the work I’m doing to help market it, to get it out so people know about it like it enough to post and say good things.

Mark Malatesta: Right. So, you have, as you know, a ton of good marketing things going on and blurbs coming in. I read some of that in the intro. So, let’s talk a little bit about that. You’re a perfect person to talk about this because you’ve done multiple books, but what’s your best advice for authors regarding what they might think about how to think. What to do either prior to getting a literary agent when they are thinking about marketing and promoting in the future and/or building their platform and/or when the book is about to come out or once the book is out. Like, wherever you want to go in that realm, what are your best thoughts there?

L.L.: For fiction or nonfiction or both?

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 14

Mark Malatesta: Anything, regardless of genre, just from the marketing promotion side of things.

L.L.: I would say start early. You have to be known as a credible writer. Whether you’re writing about a subject or a novelist, you’ve got to have a website and I would say start networking early. I’m really bad at this. It’s exhausting. I actually called my doctor last week. I’m so busy with all this. It takes so much out of me, but it’s so important. You have to be your own book’s best advocate and for me, I did a lot of research.

I started posting about breasts years ago because I thought when I start getting a literary agent, I want publishers to know that this isn’t just, oh, this book came out of thin air. This is a topic that I’m concerned about or if you’re writing a novel, I was posting about subjects in the novel and pictures from the novel and putting it on Pinterest and things. I think you have to. They are going to look at your numbers to see how your platform is. Most of us aren’t celebrities and don’t have a platform. But if we’re active and we’re engaging with people, really spending time being a presence, they can tap into that.

Also, I was very aware of who I know who would help me write blurbs. Also, I did a ton of research. I took a lot of webinars about how to do Instagram, how to do newsletters, how to do all these things. The problem is there are so many people selling these ideas of the business that you have to be really selective and talk to people who used the business and make decisions. I would like to have one person who does everything for me, but I settled on really getting help from people who are really experts on certain areas and saving my money for people who are really, really good at certain things that I thought were the most important.

For instance, I have a very active Instagram feed. I asked everyone on FB and got a college student who does work for nonprofits and I pay her very little money that she’s very happy with to guide my feed and make it beautiful. I’m sending her material and she’ll say, “Well, that’s really better.” She knows how to make all those funny cartoons. Now, I do too, because you have to learn how to do that.

But just to have someone who’s always there for you…but then like during launch months, I have help from somebody who really knows how to deal with social media of all the platforms and coordinate. I also talk to marketing people. Fauzia Burke. I’ve used her book and I’ve talked to her about what shall I talk about in my newsletter, how many links are okay, and it is bad, because I used to do this newsletter as focusing on my work as a consultant and I had so many links to other fun, interesting things about writing and I was sharing them away from my website where I’m trying to find clients.

I think it’s like being a Hollywood producer kind of you need to get experts in all the departments and put them together to sell your product. It’s a business. This is something that my mom taught me. I write thank you notes to everybody because it’s personal and that’s actually something that you taught me in dealing with my literary agent. Even if you call a store and someone’s really grouchy, you don’t know if they got into a car accident that morning or if their kid is sick.

It’s like, we are human beings. Everything is personal. So, I try to get experts but then I also try to make everything personal. I just think if you know what your goal is, if you’re trying to get a literary agent or a certain literary agent, you can engage with them. A lot of the young ones are certainly on Twitter. You have to know the kind of book, how you want it to sell, where you want it to sell, and start thinking about it early.

Even with your book covers. I used to tell, for self-publishing especially and with my other books, I’ve gotten the rights back to a couple of them to reprint myself. I would think, Hmm, how do I want my cover to look? What do I want the title to be? You don’t always have control of those things, but you have to really have tunnel vision for it.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 15

L.L.: The marketing part is very difficult and, for me, I work really hard so that I can keep some cash reserves and invest in myself. If I’m not going to invest in myself and get experts, then I’m wasting my time writing, because you just have to do that these days. The world is big, everybody is talking, and you want your voice to rise above.

Mark Malatesta: Yes, and platform is one of the biggest rabbit holes. You can get lost in there. Like you were saying earlier, there are five million people out there that will try to spin you in 500 different directions. Whether it’s with free content, what you should do, or pay. It’s way more important for the nonfiction author. I don’t want fiction authors to freak out, but literally, you can kind of get away with nothing [when it comes to platform] as an aspiring fiction author.

I mean, if you have a platform as a new fiction writer, that’s great. But you really don’t need it to get a literary agent or a publisher. But for nonfiction, it’s like what you said. I tell anyone I talk to as a coach, I say, “Listen, there are going to be some literary agents you are going to see that don’t have websites. Some of them aren’t even in social media or some don’t have a website but just a LinkedIn profile.”

The first thing that’s going to go through your head when you see that is questions and concerns about how successful can that person be, right? If you’re writing a nonfiction book and you’re supposed to be knowledgeable about your topic, and you’re promising literary agents and publishers you’re going to do a heck of a lot to promote it, well, a website is a good start.

L.L.: Absolutely, and sometimes, people are more private and there are so many associations. You don’t know which ones to join. I’ve made mistakes. I mean, I actually am listed with somebody and I ended up going with somebody else. You have to really shop around. If you’re writing fiction, though, you can so easily post for views of other people’s book and authors will engage with you. You can be friends with them. You can follow them. They will follow you back and then you’ll meet other people who, later on, can help you. It’s just amazing how things really do circle back. It’s a long road being a writer.

Mark Malatesta: Right. So, your situation, I should have said this at the beginning of the call but it kind of leaked out anyway in a good way, I think. People are saying, wait a minute. This is unconventional because most people, authors, come to me and their goal is to get a literary agent. You already had one. Let’s talk a little bit about what we did do together, your perspective. Whatever you want to talk about, in a way that people can understand somewhat kind of what we explored, how that was beneficial.

L.L.: Well, we talked about like a number of things. Mostly, I was at that point where maybe it’s not a book or I’m going to publish it myself and I just thought…

Mark Malatesta: Well, thank goodness we talked you out of that.

L.L.: I know. Well, it’s such a big learning curve for me and I’m just not a sales or businessperson. I’m just not. So, I just thought, Maybe it’s old fashioned, but I’m not really in this for the money upfront because it’s only a couple of dollars a book, but it’s like this book is really important to me and I want it to be, if I can do it with you, I will. I didn’t know you existed. I wish I had. As I said, I’ve had different literary agents. It would be great if I had one a long time.

I mean, I write really good query letters. So, I can always sell somebody on the initial thing, but it’s the follow-through that makes the difference. It’s the relationship with literary agents and literary agents are just like everyone else. My last literary agent, I was with her through several literary agencies. She kept jumping around. She’d take me with her, but my last book would stay at the last literary agency and she could only afford to take bestsellers with her. I had been sick and hadn’t written anything in a bunch of years.

My last book, I was in chemo. When it came out, I wasn’t able to promote it. Like I said, she didn’t care about this one, so I did write a good query letter. I’m good at that. Then, I got to save it. I was so frustrated. All those nightmares you hear of your literary agent not returning your call and how long should I take, I kind of believed that you’re wing-walking. Don’t jump off on airplane unless you’ve got another one…you can jump off an airplane.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 16

L.L.: I was so nervous about, I mean, I hated her for a while because it’s like, I didn’t get it. But it was my bad. I was doing it wrong. They work on commission. I think that’s what people don’t understand. Literary agents work really hard. Editors move around a lot at these companies, and they need a sure thing. It’s a gamble. People are investing and giving you so much time.

And so, I was just really frustrated and like you said, I thought I could get a different literary agent, but once they saw the list of who I had been to, the field would have been small for them to send it unless I changed the book again or waited another year. I was ready to do that. I had a list of a couple other literary agents that I investigated. [They were] from sources that were on your site and from [me] following them on social media, and asking other people who their literary agents were. Learning how to communicate with this literary agent made all the difference in the world to me.

Also, I had a plan and, also, you helped me a lot with, if I was going to make the book a success whether it was with a literary agent or doing it on my own, you really were able to look at ways that I could make this a bigger book. I mentioned a lot of celebrities in my book and a lot of people, a lot of women. I thought, if I could get them to say something about the book or like now, I want to get into universities, and you really had a lot of smart things to say about how to reach out to strangers.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: For me, I think I learned so much about communication from you and these are tips that I am now applying still every day on my social media accounts. I mean, I’ve reached out to people that I would never have dared to before because now I know how to do it in a way that is nice and friendly.

Mark Malatesta: You don’t feel all sleazy, cheesy, salesy doing it, right?

L.L.: Yes. Clearly, it’s a business for everybody but we’re people first. There’s a fine line between that. How do you be personal without being personal? You have a lot of really smart things to say about that. Like I said earlier, it came to me to make the decision and the way I was able to finally communicate with my literary agent.

Now, I know how she communicates. I know her preferences and I can do that, but I still had to decide, was it worth it because she still was, I don’t know…and I could try again…and blah blah, blah. But she was willing, and I really was able to say some things and she was fine about me leaving. I said, “Look, I don’t know if maybe blah, blah, blah.” I don’t remember the whole conversation, but it all came from your help.

We would have ended on good terms, which was so different than I would have said, but you helped me make it so that we were going to be friends. No matter what happened, the door is open and so I could make a decision if I wanted to move on because she had done her best. So, it was working it out in a way where it was like, well, I’m just going to have more faith and keep urging her on.

She did have other stuff going on and other books. People are making her money and I have zero negative to say about her. I get it. I mean, this is not a hobby. It’s a business and these people are working on commission. It’s not only that, but you also don’t get paid right away. I mean, it takes a long time. The payments are staggered, and they are based on royalties. Royalty statements take months to come out.

I feel for literary agents. It’s a really hard thing. So, anything you could do to make it easier and for me, everything that came from you. I mean, I have a file of notes from you that I look at a lot because for me, it’s all about communication because I was like, I’m the creative and then when I deal with other people, it’s business. It’s a different kind of business and the business also evolves.

You’re one of those people who keep up with the changes and that was very helpful for me to know that I could do it this way or this way. It’s not old or new. You can really deal with people in ways that really are about relationships.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 17

Mark Malatesta: By the way, it’s not that you’re bad at all. Most literary agents are just so busy and they are not in your shoes, so they don’t know. I’m a writer ,too. So, I know [from] when I was a literary agent, and now I do the author coaching. So I get it, but it’s like they should really, in the beginning, have guidelines with you. I do this in my long-term coaching with authors.

The first thing we talk about, once we have a commitment to go forward together, I did this as a literary agent, we spend a good 10-15 minutes talking about, here’s how it’s all going to work. Here’s how I do it. It’s not a right or wrong thing, but this is based on my experience. Here’s how I’ll communicate. Here’s how I’m going to do this, so you don’t have to worry or wonder about that. I think you deserve to know that. We can both hopefully enjoy the experience more if we have that foundation, right?

That’s so common sense, right? Literary agents would do better if they did some of that early on because then they would get less things blowing up or less drama or less stress with people, but I don’t know. Not everybody does that. I do it partly out of self-preservation. It’s not I’m a great guy. I do that because it makes it easier for me, too.

L.L.: Yes, expectations lead to resentments, but the problem with the literary agents, Mark, is that, as you know, and the reason why you have this fabulous business, is it’s hard to get a literary agent. So most people don’t have the opportunity to choose between three literary agents depending on who sounds best in that conversation. With most of us, we jump on the first literary agent who says yes.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Yes, and then you’re so afraid to kind of like say the wrong thing or say too much, this or that, and then you get passive-aggressive. It’s downhill from there.

L.L.: Totally. I like to stand up to call her on the phone and have to have coffee and really work up the courage because I was clueless. Until I had some guidelines of, okay, here’s a better way to work with a literary agent. Then it was like okay, I’m just going to do everything Mark says. It made it a lot easier.

Mark Malatesta: Right. I’ve got a couple more things for you. It’s not your first rodeo. You’ve been in the industry and so you know there’s a lot of shady stuff out there. Did you have any skepticism, reservations, anything when you found me online before you kind of took that first step with me or like you said earlier, you just saw enough in the content that you just kind of trusted it at that point?

L.L.: Well, yes and no. First of all, I would say that even in my day job as a writing consultant, there’s so much competition out there and I really feel like there’s a lot of people who are cheaper than me and you kind of get what you pay for. I know a lot of people end up with me because people who spend a lot of time marketing and have newsletters and stuff, they are busy doing that and they can delegate.

I know people who are reasonably priced and really have college kids doing the real work or recent graduates. In the consultation business and even query letters, proposals, people reviewing your stuff, it’s like if someone can do it that cheap and that fast, how deep are they looking? How much experience do they have? Have they published their own stuff?

And then there’s your thing, it’s not a big field of people who have this unique set of skills that you have, and you have all this great stuff on your website and also the [audios] I find even more helpful than the website. The free material, of course, is great. I thought, Oh, I’ll just do that. I think you had like a free couple of minutes of talk that I also use. I know it changes and I don’t know what you do now.

Mark Malatesta: Yeah, I don’t have that, but I do answer questions for free online on my FAQ page.

L.L.: That’s what it was. Just having some sort of opportunity to engage with you.

Mark Malatesta: To find out I’m a real person.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 18

L.L.: Yes, and then the requirements of what you need for authors to set up for that first hour with you are huge. I thought, Wow, I have to work so hard. I’m working really hard. I’m investing all this time into this opportunity and he wants…it’s like he totally knows what I need to do and what is important for me to have, to present so that he can see what I’m trying to sell to a literary agent. I think the combination of that, even that limited little access to you, hearing you and seeing was very different than someone just putting up a shingle and saying, “Hey, go on Writer’s Market. I have something.” The generic stuff, I had already done all that.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: You can Google how to get a literary agent. But when you talk to somebody, and I’ve read the testimonials of all the people on your website who had gotten literary agents, I then looked at their books and then I looked at where their books were placed on the publishers. I did the research, and I did not consider anybody else to help me with this problem. It was a problem I didn’t know that I could get help with. If I was going to do it, I was going to be really serious and take advantage of every valuable moment of your time by being ready and knowing that you have these high bars of this was a serious thing. It helped the legitimacy of it, for sure.

Mark Malatesta: Thank you. I mean, I love working with everybody, but it’s fun because I don’t get to work with as many people like you that I put in that higher level category where you have more experience, you’re already accomplished, and you have kind of more challenging kind of nuanced problems, right? I mean, that’s harder but that’s more fun because I know that not as many people can help with something like that.

L.L.: Yeah. Plus, me, ego wise, I’m like, why do I need help? This is like, I have published books. I’ve had literary agents before. Why do I need help? And yet, I was at a dark place. It’s like, am I not a writer? I went to a therapist and I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe I’m totally wrong and I’m worthless,” but to know that there is somebody out there with the level of success that you had and experience, seeing it from the other side, that made a huge difference to me.

And just the cleverness of how you started being a writer and then figuring how to sell your own stuff, that’s the kind of outside of the box thinking that I needed because I did not know how to do that. Once I could identify my weakness, I was able to find a pro like you. Yes, it’s probably easier just to say people who are brand new, I would guess I was a harder client for you also because also, it would have been very easy for us to fail. I thought so.

Mark Malatesta: No, that was a high degree of difficulty, seriously, but that’s part of what makes it fun if it works out, right?

L.L.: Oh, my gosh. Look at how it has worked out.

Mark Malatesta: That’s what I’m saying, that’s my favorite kind of success story. Obviously, I can’t reveal names, but I talked to, very recently, another woman with a similar situation to yours, but she was just looking for confirmation. She was like, “I’m leaving my literary agent because she hasn’t sold my book,” but once she realized she probably can’t get another one for that book, now she’s singing a different tune. Like, “Oh, help. Let me see how we can maybe fix this.”

L.L.: We’re not the best judge of our own stuff, but I refer everybody to you now. Everybody has friends like, “Talk to Mark, he knows.” It’s like, you can’t be your own editor. We are too close to our material. I don’t even see my own typos and I print everything up to go through the draft. I can’t see them. I see what I want to see and so it’s critical to get somebody like you.

Mark Malatesta: Thank you. Do you have any last words of wisdom for all those authors out there that are hoping to follow in your footsteps?

L.L.: One thing that my dad always taught me is you can’t fail until you quit. If you have faith in you, you got to keep at it, work at it, and believe in yourself, and you have to invest in yourself and get somebody. When you need an expert, you need an expert. That’s my advice.

LL Interview and Review of Mark Malatesta – PART 19

Mark Malatesta: I like that. I’m about to turn 50 and I don’t know. The writer in me, and the coach, thinks it’s the worst thing as a writer to not make it, knowing you didn’t do everything you could to try. If you’re too afraid to fail, like you said, you’ll fail. If you’re not putting it out there, you’re going to fail for sure. Put it out there, yeah, maybe you still will fail but you might make it.

L.L.: Yeah, and you can always write something more. It’s like you just have to believe in yourself. But for you to turn 50, I would think it would be a really proud day because of think of all the people you helped, it’s so important for us to have a voice in the world. I really believe that, and you helped so many people do that because otherwise, we’d be just all sitting on our work and nobody would get to read it. We need people who can facilitate that. I hope on your birthday, you sit back and look at all the books you’ve helped get published and feel like the quality of life.

Mark Malatesta: I am. Thank you. It does get you reflective, right? Coming up from my almost ten-year anniversary in August this year that I’ve been doing this, I remember when I started, it was on my first intro MP3, I haven’t had one client yet, just crafting that initial intro MP3. It’s still the same one, by the way. I never had to change it. A slight update to it but it works, so it’s still there. Basically, I was talking on there, the idealist I am, saying, “Ten years from now, my goal is to have helped 100 authors get literary agents,” and it’s actually [several hundred] now.

I was telling my wife recently, you get better and you get faster. The more time that goes by, I get even more successful people who are at a higher level that I’m able to work with in my long-term coaching. So, my new goal now is on my next ten-year anniversary to be at 1,000. I want to help three times as many authors make it in the next ten years, as I did in the first ten. Then, I’ll likely go write more of my own stuff.

L.L.: Right, but it’s not like how many. It’s how good it is.

Mark Malatesta: Oh, they are all going to be good…

L.L.: I mean, for me, it’s all that power of intention too. It’s like you have a goal. This works for me in writing. If you have a goal, you see it’s going to be a book, you see what you’re going to do with your career, and then you can take the steps to make that happen. But if you don’t believe it’s going to happen, you’ll never take those steps.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

L.L.: So, bravo and congratulations.

Mark Malatesta: Thank you.

L.L.: What are you going to do to celebrate?

Mark Malatesta: I don’t have any idea yet. It’s still the time of COVID. I remember it was March 4th last year, three days after my wife’s birthday. We went and got massages together. We had a nice dinner. Three days later, it’s a little over a year now. We’ve only left the house a few times. I don’t know. I would have to get creative what I can even do for my birthday, but we’ll have fun.

L.L.: Yeah. It’s a good thing.

Mark Malatesta: Well, thank you again for doing this and congratulations. It’s incredible. I meant what I said earlier. I mean, you’re just getting started. It’s still the early days, like the great reviews and things are going to keep coming.

L.L.: Yes. I hope it snowballs. A Boob’s Life, yeah, it’s very exciting. So, thank you so much for helping bring it to life.

Mark Malatesta: My pleasure, and I hope you know how hard it was to resist kind of coming up with at least one or two jokes along the way with a title like that, but I’m restraining myself. Oh, my goodness. I feel for you. It’s a good thing you’re married. My poor wife is married, and she gets all kind of stupid guy comments on social media. So, you’re in for it with this book. Anyway, thank you for sharing everything you did for authors, and thank you for the love regarding my work. I know that your advice is going to help a lot of people. Thank you.

L.L.: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

This interview and review of Mark Malatesta were provided by Leslie Lehr, author of A Boob’s Life, now in development by Salma Hayek for an HBO Max TV series. The book is published by Pegasus Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster. It’s been featured on Good Morning America as well as in Glamour Magazine, People Magazine, and more.

Mark Malatesta is the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this guide on How to Get a Literary Agent. His articles have appeared in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac. He has spoken at 100+ writers conferences and events. And he answers author questions (no cost) at Ask a Literary Agent.

As founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover, Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents. His writers have gotten book deals with traditional publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, and Thomas Nelson. They’ve been on the New York Times bestseller list; had their books optioned for TV, stage, and feature film; won countless awards; and had their work licensed in more than 40 countries.

Writers of all Book Genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books) have used Mark’s Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on his List of Literary Agents.

Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta.

See More Mark Malatesta Reviews –

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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About Mark Malatesta

Photo of Mark Malatesta - Former Literary Agent MARK MALATESTA is a former literary agent turned author coach. Mark now helps authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals through his company Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author. Mark's authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the NYT bestseller list, and published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here for Reviews of Mark Malatesta.

About Mark Malatesta

Photo of Mark Malatesta - Former Literary Agent MARK MALATESTA is a former literary agent turned author coach. Mark now helps authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals through his company Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author. Mark's authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the NYT bestseller list, and published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here for Reviews of Mark Malatesta.
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