ast year, I signed with literary agent Stephanie Phillips of SBR Media. She was a new agent, but came highly recommended by a few of my author friends. After having self-published around thirty novels, I knew exactly what I was looking for in an agent. I needed someone who could assist me in more ways than simply securing traditional deals. After one phone conversation with Stephanie, I knew she was the right one for me. She understood the uniqueness of the indie market, but also had insight into traditional publishing as well. Signing with her has been a joy. Not only did she help me obtain my first traditional book deal, but she’s assisted me in my self-published releases; and more than that, she’s become a trusted confidant and friend.
That’s why I’m excited to introduce you to her.
WOW: Hey, Stephanie! Thanks for sitting down with me for this interview. I know things have been super busy for you lately. Why don’t we start out with you telling me a little bit of your story. What made you decide to become an agent?
Stephanie: Hey, Amber! Of course. I always have time for you. Well, prior to becoming an agent, I worked for a small press as a marketing and project manager. When they announced that they were going out of business, two of my authors came to me and asked if I would consider being an agent. I already knew a lot about publishing, and they insisted I would be good at it. I did some research and found it was similar to what I was doing combined with my blog, beta reading, and then helping authors through the publishing process. Seemed like a no-brainer!
WOW: Awesome! I, for one, am so glad you made that decision. So, all the authors you represent are self-published, right?
WOW: What benefits are there for self-published authors to sign with an agent, other than landing a traditional publishing deal?
Stephanie: If you’d like to have your book sold to a foreign press, it’s more likely to happen with an agent. Some audio deals as well. Typically, Hollywood won’t come knocking on an author’s door by themselves. They want to work through agents and will contact them regarding the selling of screen rights. Also, there’s some career development and general directions that agents can help with as well. Not everyone I represent wants traditional publishing. It’s definitely different for everyone, and that’s okay. That’s what agents are here to help with.
“I look at the writing only. We can work on social media and rankings.”
WOW: Then what do you look for when deciding to take on a self-published author? Rankings? Reviews? Social media followers?
Stephanie: Honestly, for me, I look at the writing only. We can work on social media, reviews, and rankings. But if I don’t like the writing or the story, I don’t typically give it a second glance. I’d rather like an author’s writing rather than how many followers they may have. That’s probably not the same for every other agent out there, though. I’m sure I’m in the minority in this aspect.
WOW: Can you give me some insight on what it takes for an agent to pitch a self-published author’s project to a Big Five or traditional publisher? Also, what are the chances of having a self-published book picked up traditionally?
Stephanie: Every publishing house is looking for the next big thing. Who knows when the next Harry Potter, Fifty Shades, or Hunger Games will come along? Did you know Harry Potter was turned down by many when it was being shopped around? You just never know when the next diamond in the rough might come across your desk.
Pitching to the Big Five is serious business. Depending on the imprint you’re pitching, they each have different rules. Some want the full manuscript; some want samples; every one of them wants a full synopsis spelling out the book from beginning to end in four pages or less. The pitch has to catch the editor’s eye. They see thousands of submissions a year. You must stand out in the crowd in order to be picked up—that’s for sure.
If you’ve previously published a title, the chances of it being picked up by a publisher after the fact are rare. It would need to have gone viral or made the New York Times Best Sellers list for a publisher to consider taking something that’s already been released in the market.
“Pitching to the Big Five is serious business.”
WOW: What are some of the challenges of being a new agent?
Stephanie: Wow. This list could be a mile long. As a new agent that wasn’t mentored under an established agent, I’ve found that I don’t have the door marginally opened for me. I’m starting from scratch and working my way into the industry. Proving my worth—not only to the houses, but to my authors as well. There are a lot of things that are very new to me, and I’m still figuring out how to do things the best way. I want all of my authors to succeed. Finding the best way to help make that happen along with them is going to be the key to both of our successes.
WOW: What advice do you offer your authors for helping them expand their reach?
Stephanie: Find someone in your genre and partner with them! There isn’t an author alive that can write enough material to keep all the readers in the world busy. You can share! Partnering with other authors who write similar books as you and in the same category will help build both brands and garner new readers from both. Adding more authors to that pack will continue to help it grow. Jealousy cannot be part of this mix. It has to be done for the right reasons, and each author has to be willing to support the whole group. Otherwise, it won’t be helpful for anyone.
“The first contract we received for an author I’d been working with for a few years was a teary-eyed moment.”
WOW: Share some of your favorite moments of the last year of being an agent.
Stephanie: Oh, gosh. Let’s see. I think the first query I received outside of the authors I knew was pretty cool. The first contract we received for an author I’d been working with for a few years was a teary-eyed moment. The first traditional deal contract was the best. It felt like we’d really arrived then. I could say, “Hey! I have a trad deal we just signed, sealed, and delivered.” People start looking at you differently when you can say you actually have signed deals. Makes you more legit, I suppose.
One of the coolest things though: my daughter’s teacher (currently in second grade) messaged me about writing a book and wanted some advice on what to do and asked if I could help her. Even though what she’s wanting to do is outside my scope of representation, I was flattered.
I love helping people, and being an agent is one of the best jobs for that. There’s been so much happening over this past year...I hope the future for SBR Media continues to have as many successes as we’ve had in the first year.
WOW: I second that! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Stephanie. This was fun and also very insightful. I’m sure you gave all authors, both indie and traditionally published, something to think about.
Amber Garza is the author of the Playing for Keeps series as well as many contemporary romance titles, including Star Struck, Tripping Me Up, and Break Free. She has had a passion for the written word since she was a child, making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music and talks about her characters like they’re real people. She currently lives in California with her amazing husband and two hilarious children who provide her with enough material to keep her writing for years.
Amber loves to connect with her readers. You can visit her at www.AmberGarza.com or find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.