Mark Malatesta Interview with Story Consultant Leslie Lehr

Headshot photo of former literary agent Mark Malatesta wearing glassesDuring this interview with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, prize-winning author, essayist, and Story Consultant Leslie Lehr discusses her work. This interview, available as text and audio (click here to listen to the audio recording) shares Leslie’s advice for authors of all genres. Leslie also explains which types of authors she’s most passionate about helping, and the options she offers as a Story Consultant.

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Leslie Lehr Interview

Mark Malatesta: Leslie Lehr is a prize-winning author, essayist, and Writing Consultant with a BA from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she won a Student Emmy, and an MFA from Antioch. Her books include the critically acclaimed memoir, A Boob’s Life, which hit #1 in feminist literature the same day HBO Max optioned it as a comedy series for Salma Hayek. A Boob’s Life was selected as a 2023 Great Read for the Women’s National Book Association, and it’s been praised by People Magazine, Good Morning America, and Glamour, as well as Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Leslie’s books explore the duality of women, from the thriller What A Mother Knows, the comedy Wife Goes On, and the drama 66 Laps, which won the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize. Leslie’s nonfiction books include Welcome to Club MomClub Grandma, and Wendy Bellissimo, which was featured on Oprah. As an essayist, Lehr explores life in Time Magazine, Newsweek, Writers Digest, the New York Times “Modern Love” column (narrated by Katie Couric on NPR), HuffPost, YourTango, and in anthologies including Mommy Wars. Her original screenplays include the indie film Heartless, and she adapts books for the screen.

Leslie is the Novel Consultant for Truby Writers Studio, an independent developmental editor, and has taught in the Writer’s Program at UCLA and at conferences across the country. Her writing clients include critically acclaimed novelists, USA Today bestsellers, as well as debut memoir and nonfiction writers…and she’s a judge for the WFWA Rising Star novel contest. To learn more, visit

So welcome, Leslie!

Leslie Lehr: Thank you, Mark. I’m really happy to be here. You’ve been so helpful with my own agent experience…it feels really special.

Mark Malatesta: Oh, thank you. It’s really fun and an honor. Your resume is just ridiculous. People listening or reading the transcript of this won’t believe me, but we actually cut stuff out. We didn’t want to go too far, but it’s amazing. So, let’s get into this. I have a lot of questions for you about your work as a story consultant. But first I know everyone’s probably curious to find out how you became a story consultant, and discover what you did before that. What’s your backstory, so to speak?

Leslie Lehr: I love that you used the word “backstory.” It’s such a prominent thing in writing, and mine is that I’ve always loved stories. My parents were both college professors at Ohio State when I was growing up, and both had PhD’s, so clearly books were all over my house and I loved to read. Naturally, I started writing. I published some essays really early, in elementary school, and I had a weekly newspaper column in junior high. Then I wrote scripts for my high school TV station that broadcasts locally. Meanwhile, I was editing class anthologies and writing book-length reports, things like that. But the TV station is what inspired me to go to film school in California. And after graduating, I worked up the production ladder in Hollywood and wrote screenplays on the side. When I was in production, I worked on music videos, commercials, and a bunch of movies, including one with poet Charles Bukowski and another one with Prince, which was pretty exciting.

Mark Malatesta: Wow, that’s fun. I didn’t know that.

Part 2 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr:  It was quite an experience. Anyway, then I had my first child and everything changed. The reality of being a mom after such a big career start, as an ambitious woman, was so jarring that I vented about it in funny essays. That became my first book. So, I had another child, wrote another nonfiction book, and then I dared myself to write a novel. That’s the first novel that you mentioned  -that won a big literary prize. They flew me to New Orleans to get the gold medal.

I met my new agent there, and she sold the book to Random House. That was the same year that my first screenplay sold, and it was made into an independent film that screened around the world for about 10 years, made a lot of money for that company. By the time my novel was published, I started teaching at writer’s retreats and conferences all over the country and it was really fun. It was almost like having my own comedy show. I got to kind of be in charge, share what I knew, and really work with other writers.

I also started teaching at the Writers’ Program at UCLA, which is a serious program taught by working writers. I also started a private workshop called West Coast Writers, and the student reviews kept saying this one phrase. They kept saying I had “X-ray vision.” That’s when I realized that my screenwriting background combined with my reading and my love of prose to give me a unique ability to analyze story structure. That’s really my strength. But my students in my novel class kept asking for individual attention. You know, everyone wanted to focus on their own stories. Especially once you get going on the story. So, I started working one-on-one.

By now I’d already published a couple of novels and some big essays, like in the infamous “Mommy Wars” book and in the New York Times. And I sold a few screenplays. But I’d never majored in English. So I went out and got my MFA in fiction just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything when I was teaching. I sold my thesis as a novel and then sold a screenplay version. I shifted completely to private consulting, applying the same techniques that worked for me. That’s what’s been happening for me, as you said. I’ve been working with writers for almost 25 years, and I absolutely love my job.

Mark Malatesta: I love it. It’s funny, like there’s a part of you that seems, because you started so early in the way you did, that you were born to do this. But then you also certainly paid your dues and put it in the time. It’s the best combination. We don’t have to say nature or nurture. In your case, it’s both.

Leslie Lehr: I certainly had no plans to ever be a writer. I wanted to be a doctor. Then I wanted to make movies. Writing was just something that I always did. I didn’t know any writers. It was just something I did to get my voice out. And to give my opinion when no one really asked – I could always write it down. So yeah, now when I look back at it…

Mark Malatesta: Right. And I like the X-ray vision. I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Leslie Lehr: When I look back on it, I can connect those dots and say, oh, gosh, I guess this was meant to be.

Mark Malatesta: Right. The screenplay background is so good because not enough writers or novelists, I should say, and memoir writers, immerse themselves in that. They should. I love the screenwriting books on craft and recommend those to writers of memoir and fiction, because the beautiful thing about a screenplay is you have less words. Something important and interesting always has to be happening in a movie. In a book you can tell yourself you have room to meander a bit more, maybe too much sometimes.

Part 3 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: Yeah, but a good story is a good story. So that’s the important thing to know.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Alright, so…it’s easy for authors to get confused about different services, coaches, consultants, editors, authors. Will you talk a little bit from your perspective about the difference between copyediting, developmental editing, we can throw in line editing, story consulting, and those different things.

Leslie Lehr: That’s a really good question! Let’s do it in chronological order. I would recommend that you hire a Story Consultant when you have a brilliant idea, or when your brilliant idea isn’t working. That’s when we can save you months of frustration by providing a game plan and helping you flesh it out. If you’re further along with a story – you’ve written as much as you can or fear there are some plot holes – a good consultant will give you the tools to fix those and move forward.

Next would be a Developmental Editor, which is the way it sounds. If you break it down, they help develop your story. So, in this case, we would study your manuscript to see how the plot is working, and also how well it’s written. That’s where you get into the line work a little bit, and then we point out the weaknesses – which I like to call opportunities – to make it stronger. A Developmental Editor starts with a big picture of what you already have on the page: the structure, the shape, the characters, all the story elements. Then we focus on the prose techniques, the actual words, which is where the line editing comes in. Personally, I like to provide a clear plan for what to do next.

Then, finally, the Copyeditors, that’s the last tool in every writer’s toolbox. They correct word usage, typos and margins, everything, with a fine-tooth comb. I always imagine them with really serious magnification glasses because personally I can’t find my own typos. I just don’t see them. But there’s no point in hiring a Copyeditor until your manuscript is polished and in final form. Then they are invaluable. I always hire one, even for proposals.

Mark Malatesta: Right. I love that, and I love that you put them in that order, because I just put them all randomly down willy-nilly and definitely there’s a smart progression there.

Leslie Lehr: Yes, people will go for copyediting and then they have to rewrite, and then it’s a waste.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Now, I have a suspicion I know what the answer to this next question is going to be, but I’ll ask anyway because everyone else is going to want to know the answer and that is one of the most common questions I’m asked…what’s the best time for an author to talk with someone about their story?

Part 4 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: Well, I don’t want to be glib, but the best time to talk to someone about your story is as soon as you have a story to talk about! I used to think you had to do it all alone. It’s very lonely and now we know it’s like being a good producer. Why not get professionals and get help? People like me who have been doing this forever, we can cut through all the stuff that you didn’t have time to study. If you had another day job or, you know, had to pay the bills in another way, a professional will get you right to where you need to be. So, for instance, if you have several ideas, a consultant like me can help you pinpoint the best one, or which one to write first.

If you have a story fleshed out to some degree, a consultant can save you a lot of time by helping to develop it into a really compelling story with a strong structure. A lot of writers just like to play with the fun parts. I’m the same way. I want to get writing, play with the dialogue. But when it’s too early in the game, it’s easy to go out on a limb without a clear direction, and then you end up having to throw a lot of work away. And screenwriters, as you were talking about before, who turn their stories into novels tend to go the other extreme with flowery language and too much description and internal dialogue. They need help creating plot. But if you finish a full manuscript, it’s especially smart to talk to someone about it before taking your one shot with agents.

Because you know, in your work, if you’re going to help someone pursue a really good agent, you don’t want to waste their time. You want to get them the best manuscript, in really strong shape. Otherwise you could end up publishing yourself, an independent book that only your mom’s going to read. I’m a really visual person. In fact, when I’m writing, I have to see the scene in my head like it’s a movie and then I can write it down. Anyone, when you have a story, has to translate the vision in your head to words on the page. We don’t always know when there’s enough on the page for other readers who don’t have your same brain, to share that vision.

I think that’s a really important way to work with a developmental editor. The problem today is that anyone can publish with a click of a button. My recommendation is: don’t rush it. You know you want something of quality. And in this age of transmedia, which is one of these new trendy phrases, a book can be reworked on multiple platforms like TV and movies, sometimes gaming or even TikTok things. The quality of your story is the key to everything.

Mark Malatesta: Right, and what about, I know there are going to be some people listening we might trigger, [nervous about] talking about their story early in their process. They might have resistance to plotting or planning or structure. And they just want to be able to be romantic and flow and go like…

Leslie Lehr: Oh my gosh.

Mark Malatesta: Talk about that balance between the plotter versus the pantser, seat of the pants.

Leslie Lehr: You know, when my first novel came out, Barnes and Noble put me on a panel, I think at the Grove in Los Angeles, and it was all about plotting versus pantsing. Clearly, I am a plotter, but for me, it’s like giving a kid a curfew. They can do whatever they want until 10:00, but they’re gonna get home at 10:00 and you know they’re safe. A lot of people just write and write and write and throw things away, which is a fine way to do it. But, you’re wasting a lot of trees. They tend to think a plot means you’re bound to things, and it doesn’t. It just means, you know, you’re going to hit the beats.

When I was on this panel, I was talking to a very well-known mystery writer, a really nice woman. And she said, “Oh, I just write.” I finally got her down to like, “Yeah, but you know how it’s going to end, right?” Then she said, “Oh, of course.” That’s a way of plotting. So, I think people work in different ways. I just happen to need a little structure so I know I’m going to hit the beats I need, and I can play around in the middle. In terms of the other fear people have of working with a consultant, no one’s going to steal your story. Don’t worry, I mean.

Mark Malatesta: Oh, right.

Part 5 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: There are only so many ideas, and you can copyright your material. I always copyright my first drafts with the Library of Congress, but the thing is, ideas are easy. It’s writing it down that matters, and no one’s going to write it the same way as you. I would caution people that if you’re really not sure, and have no idea how to proceed, that’s why it’s important to talk to someone who’s professional. They won’t steer you in a direction that makes it not your story anymore. But if you tend to talk to people who aren’t experienced, they might make comments that will change the story, and you kind of get away from your first goal. So those are initial fears I would think.

Mark Malatesta: I like that. I hear myself in you. When I’m talking to an author about their story. Right before I give them a whole spiel before I give them any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback to let them know they’re safe and remind them I’m going to be asking questions and checking to how the ideas and suggestions resonate. Right? Because that’s as important to me as the idea, right?

Leslie Lehr: Yes.

Mark Malatesta: You know, not everybody does that. They’re like bulldozers sometimes.

Leslie Lehr: Naturally writers might be afraid, they don’t want somebody to steal their precious idea. I get it.

Mark Malatesta: Right. So, we just kind of hinted at this, what do you think authors should look for when they’re trying to find someone to talk to, or talk with, about their stories? Some good signs to look for, letting them know the person is established, reputable, may be a good fit for them and their genre, and any red flags you think they should look out for?

Leslie Lehr: This is an excellent question and, a really constructive point. If I was listening and a new writer, I would write these down!  I can think of five signs to look for. First, and you just mentioned it, you’ve got to have a consultant who works in your genre. Every genre has specific story beats that the writer needs to hit, and you want someone who has experience with them, or your readers – the people who enjoy the genre – will be very unhappy. That’s the most important thing.

Number Two is kind of more on an emotional maturity level, you know, a comfort level. Personality wise, make sure you feel comfortable, and do check them out. Google them and see what they write and what they like to do or what they look like even, if you’re more comfortable with some people than others. Or someone older or younger. And then also, if you can chat with them by phone, that can make a big difference. You want somebody who’s excited about your story and who knows how to keep it as your story, not theirs. Not somebody who’s a bully. You also want someone who’s enthusiastic.

Number Three would be there are a lot of consultants out now who’ve completed a training course to do this as a career, but they’ve never written a book or they’ve never weathered the ups and downs of publishing. That is happening a lot. They may be avid readers and really smart, but these people are often more of a coach, and they may be working off of a checklist.

Mark Malatesta: Oh my gosh.

Leslie Lehr: So, I would caution you, depending on what you’re really looking for, that if you really are serious, you want a professional who knows plot as well as prose. The way to check this out is to look at books they’ve worked on, read praise from former clients, and find out what kind of books those people were writing.

Number Four, be wary of the ones who brag about an independently published book they’ve worked on that won dozens of awards. Right now, many of those awards are won by paying big entry fees. It’s a whole new industry to itself.

Mark Malatesta: Vanity things that don’t mean anything.

Part 6 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: Exactly. Vanity has turned into independent publishing, which is a good thing. So, I don’t want people to feel horrible about that. I’m actually hoping that as independent publishing gets more respect, those books will qualify for more legitimate awards. But awards that traditionally published books get are more respected. In terms of things to look for, there are also editorial companies and high-profile consultants with wonderful newsletters that I highly recommend, who will delegate the real work to editors who are fresh out of graduate school. Here is where the English majors come in working on a line editing level, and these can be really great, depending on what your budget or your goal is. But you get what you pay for, so be wary of a bargain.

And I think were you asking about red flags or?

Mark Malatesta: Yes, if you can think of any.

Leslie Lehr: With those five things to look for, I would say the main warning signs are very similar to what you said. If someone says they work in every genre, that’s a red flag. I mean, how can someone have that much knowledge and skill at every single genre? When someone charges very little, you have to wonder how good they are, how many hours they have to work, how many clients they need to make a living wage? And if they’re a big company that’s going to give you one page of editorial notes after a quick read, I don’t know how helpful that’s going to be.

Mark Malatesta: Right. I always suggest…talk to a few people if you need to, to feel good about it, you know?

Leslie Lehr: Referrals or, oh, you mean…yeah, I suggest talking to a few consultants. I welcome that because once I’m working with them, you know, we’re in it! I don’t want you to have any hesitation.

Mark Malatesta: Right, figure it out first.

Leslie Lehr: Yes, and then once you know what you’re getting into with me, I’m happy to work with you. We can both relax and do the work. Also, referrals are really helpful. If you know somebody who’s already worked with someone, they’re going to know best. Like, I refer you all the time.

Mark Malatesta: Right, right. I was thinking about that.

Leslie Lehr: Yes, I refer to you all the time.  I know what they’ll get because I’ve had that experience, so…

Mark Malatesta: Yes, and I was going to drop this in somewhere along the way, this is the perfect moment… one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview with you is there are things you do that I don’t do. And there are some things you do that I do, but it isn’t as deep for me. Like, there’s only so far I’m going to take any author with developmental stuff. I’m very big picture. I can see some things, but, nine times out of ten, if someone is asking how they should raise the stakes or make their character more relatable, etc…well, that’s where you…I have my limits that way.

Agents are like that. I’m more like an agent. I try not to be cryptic like some agents, but agents will give you that, usually the high-level advice, unless it’s a former editor turned agent and then you might be lucky and they’ll give you a lot of hands on editorial. If an author needs something significant in their story, I think about you. I know you can’t handle all of them, but…

Part 7 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: No, but everybody can benefit from an editor. I always appreciate your opinion as well, because you look at it from a completely different angle. I think that’s important.

Mark Malatesta: Right. Now let’s talk about some of your success stories. We were talking earlier about working with somebody who knows what they’re doing, right? Well, one of the ways you figure that out, I tell my coaching clients when we’re looking at agents, who should I query first? I’m like, well, it doesn’t matter as much to me if the agent is in New York, if they’re old or young, if they’re a big agency, if they’ve been an agent a certain amount of time, if they’re a member of the agent’s association. I’m like, let’s look at successes.

I’d rather you have a really good agent that’s committed and successful in your genre that lives in South Florida than one in New York that’s maybe not as good a fit. It all starts with just the successes, who has them. So, talk a little bit about some of those things because to me, I’ll just be direct and say…the way we know we can trust somebody isn’t if they look a certain way or have written a clever article, but what results they’ve helped people get. So, talk about some of those things that have been the most exciting for you, transformative for you and or your clients. High points, or even some of the struggles if you want.

Leslie Lehr: Alright, well… I can’t name too many names because a lot of my clients want to be confidential, and I totally respect that. But one recent success is a novel called Above the Salt. This was a manuscript by an award-winning poet and novelist, already. Pretty successful. She really wanted to take her new project to the next level because it was a personal story, and she’d been researching it for a decade. Now, her writing was absolutely gorgeous, but I got the manuscript at 540 pages.

She was dying to get this incredible agent who actually referred her to me. But she needed to cut over 100 pages and she needed to build a structure, especially to bring out a love story. It’s an epic historical novel in the Civil War. So, it covers 100 years and it’s just this gorgeous story, but it was tricky. I needed to help shape it, and then she revised it into a stunning masterpiece. She sold it to a really prestigious publisher, and it debuted as People Magazine’s book of the week.

Mark Malatesta: Wow.

Leslie Lehr: You should have seen my office. It was…pages everywhere, a puzzle. It was a really fun puzzle to help put back together. I gave her an outline with lots of notes and she made it happen. Another client I have is a former film critic at The Washington Post who obviously knows story, but faced the opposite challenge. He had a short manuscript based on his family history. His mother was a spy in Rhodesia and it needed to be fleshed out. He was trying to decide, was it memoir or a biography? Was it a novel? It was really fun to figure out the kind of story he really wanted to tell so that he could go ahead. He’s actually working on that revision now.

I’m also working with an author, it’s a bit more of a mentorship thing, on the fourth book of his detective series, which is really fun because I’m helping him bring in the love story again, which is kind of ironic. I have also written detective, so that’s really exciting as well. I just finished work on, with a young comedian, on a coming-of-age story, and I have a debut author in Australia writing a steampunk historical fantasy. I don’t usually work on fantasy, but this was so wonderful, and it was really historical and creative. I just loved it, so I’m really eager to see his next draft. And then working with a Canadian screenwriter adapting to a novel, she’s really smart and dedicated.

Just last week I did a couple of short phone calls with, I brainstormed with, a champion basketball coach, and the widow of a theater critic who are both interested in in writing memoirs. Often I can pul back to help them see the real story, why it’s important to write.  There are a lot of great stories out there. For me, that’s obviously the high…I love the variety. Every day there’s something fun to work with. And I really love helping people bring a dream to life. It’s like magic, you know. There’s nothing, then poof: there’s a book. Of course, there are also struggles. One is that it does take time and patience and dedication, but mostly we don’t have any control over traditional publishing once the project is written. That’s when we…

Part 8 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Mark Malatesta: Right.

Leslie Lehr: We go to you because we just don’t know what’s up from a business sense. But I have to say from my perspective, when it’s written well, the odds are far higher. And also, we have so much to be proud of because writing is really important. We get to tell our stories and also it’s art. We’re making art that will last long after we’re gone. So that’s the big thing for me.

Mark Malatesta: I love that, and I’m going to tease you a little bit here because you have quite a range you just talked about, and yet you said we can’t be good at everything…but we can be good at a lot.

Leslie Lehr: Yes, we can try.

Mark Malatesta: As a coach, and when I was an agent, I literally was open to pretty much everything. But certain genres, like if I get into like hardcore literary fiction, that’s not my strength or I’m not attracted to something that is so literary it is going to have a tiny audience or you know, certain things. But is there anything that’s on your no-go list? Like, “Oh, I absolutely don’t do something that’s too graphic or too religious or too political.” Like, are there, for anybody thinking maybe working with you or reaching out that like, certain things you absolutely don’t do?

Leslie Lehr: I like to work with the stuff I like reading. I’m reading lots of books, seeing lots of movies and also, I know these beats really well. The ones I don’t work with are the ones that I don’t enjoy generally, which are horror or crime. I don’t work with straight sci-fi or straight romance. I don’t work with inspirational or self-help or children’s books. And if I’m not passionate about a story, even in the genres I love, I’ll definitely refer writers elsewhere. My goal is that I want to help writers be in the 1%. I mean, 90% of book sales go to the top 1%, and I want to see those writers be in that 1%. The genres and non-fiction topics that I’m comfortable with, that I have fun with, that I love, those are the ones that I prefer to work with.

Mark Malatesta: Right. I’m truly not challenging on this next question. I just want to get you talking about it….every coach, consultant, editor is different. It’s my favorite question to get when somebody asks me. They’re like, “Hey, Mark, they are millions of coaches, so what’s so special and different about you and your process?” It’s my favorite question. It wasn’t the first time somebody asked me that, I wasn’t prepared. But, after that first time, I had a good answer. So, you’ve done this a while. What is it about you and your process that you get nerdy excited about because it’s something you feel you do different or better than other people in your space?

Leslie Lehr: I am really excited about this because I’m refreshing my website now to focus on the consulting because I just love it. It’s really fun, and I do know what my strengths are because I’ve been doing it for so long. Plenty of editors and consultants can point out the problems. I’m different because I can solve those problems, especially on a structural level. I offer both the highest level of technical knowledge, plus I have personal experience from writing in all these genres. Beyond all this experience teaching and consulting, I have two superpowers. One is finding the gold of your story. I really like helping writers see what it is that makes the story special to you, so that you have the passion to keep going it. Also, then you can take advantage of the best parts of your story to make it shine in every page. That’s also true of non-fiction, particularly with the book proposal.

My other superpower is what I always focus on: creating a bulletproof structure. This is where most writers fail. And it’s really important to have a strong structure so that your characters can prompt the narrative drive that keeps your readers dying to know what happens next. That’s what I can do. I can help you plan out how to make a strong structure and then everything else is like, you know, decorating a Christmas tree. Once you have it solid, or building a house, you have the plans and then you can decorate it. That way you know it’s going to work.

Part 9 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Mark Malatesta: I love that! And I know that we got a little bit into this a moment ago, I realized now I was getting ahead of myself when I was asking what types of projects maybe aren’t the best fit. But let’s get you talking a little bit, are there, and you may have already answered this, so you can skip it, but are there any particular projects you’re most looking for? But also, let’s weave into this what types of authors? So, maybe, what type of person, right, separate from the genre? Certain types of people, how they think or how they operate, how they approach things, that are a better fit for you or even some of those that it’s like that’s probably not a fit?

Leslie Lehr: I think for me it’s pretty simple. As a consultant, I can work with writers at all levels of experience. First, just playing with the story concept, I can give offer suggestions, I can refer to other books, and provide approaches on an organic level. As a developmental editor, I am a better fit for authors who really want to step up to a professional level. You’ll need a certain understanding of basic prose, and I don’t mean that to work with a development editor, you have to be published. I would say more than half of my clients are not yet published, but they are dedicated to the craft. They want to write better. They know it’s going to take time to do it, and they’re willing to do the re-write.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

Leslie Lehr: You know, I’m not going to do it for you. I’m not a collaborative writer. I’m not going to. I’ve ghostwritten a little bit. I don’t find it very fun. If I’m going to write, I want to write my own stories. If I’m going to help you write, I want to help you write your story. So, that’s it.

Mark Malatesta: That makes sense. I like that.

Leslie Lehr: Personality wise, I have a wide range of clients. I tend to be liberal. So, if you’re really conservative politically, that might not be a good fit unless you’re working on something completely unrelated. You know, a love story to touch up, whatever. I’m happy to work with to you and focus on the page.

Mark Malatesta: Alright, I love that. So, let’s get into a little bit the different services you’re offering right now. I know we got a little sense, abstractly. You talked about story development or consulting. You talked about story consulting. You talked about some developmental stuff. But can you get more specific? Drill down, like here are the different things that that you have going? And what would be somebody’s first step, you know?

Leslie Lehr: I generally work three ways, and you’ll find this information on my website consultation page. I work by the hour with a package of hours, or on a full manuscript. On the hourly basis, we can discuss what your goals are and how to achieve them. If you’re already working on a project or are frustrated or stuck, we can solve the problem and plan next steps. A lot of clients are torn between writing a novel or a memoir. And as a person who’s done both, I can help with that too.

My most popular service is the package of hours, which I call The Jumpstart. It’s generally four hours that begin with me studying everything you have or what I request from you. Then we work back and forth. I’ll ask you to do a couple of things and then I’ll read them, and we’ll work together to nail the premise line of your story and also a solid outline. That way we’ll give you all the character issues and all the elements, the tools that you need to move forward on your own. That’s The Jumpstart.

Then I offer a full manuscript consultation, that takes me four to six weeks and I only do one at a time. Because once I’m in your story, I am in it. I’m dreaming about it. I’m really trying to figure it out. Its full immersion. So, you end up with an in-depth report and several chapters of line editing.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

Part 10 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: The most popular part, this is another thing that’s unique about me, I will create a proposed outline for your next draft. And then of course, we’ll have an hour or so to talk about it, to clarify any issues, and then you can email me indefinitely. I always keep my client work for at least a year. Then you can just write the next draft. Other things I can do all the time, Jumpstart or hourly, but the manuscript is a much bigger deal. And anyone can reach me. I have a lot of people who will email me through the contact page of my website just to say they don’t know what they want, so we can talk on the phone about that to decide. My website, as you said, is, and my Gmail address is

Mark Malatesta: Right.

Leslie Lehr: Of course, if anyone listening, you know, reaches out, let me know that you were referred by Mark Malatesta and you’ll jump way up in line.

Mark Malatesta: Alright!

Leslie Lehr: I just would want to know a little bit about your genre, maybe a premise line, and what kind of help you’re looking for, if you know. As I said, if you’re not sure, we can set up a short phone call because I love talking about stories. That’s what I do.

Mark Malatesta: I love it. Alright, this is great. So, I think that’s everything unless you have any other additional things you wanted me to ask you about, or any last words of wisdom.

Leslie Lehr: I would just say you have to enjoy the process, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I should say that because I would throw it to you. You can help them make things happen, you know from the other side, right?

Mark Malatesta: Right, and not everybody enjoys the process. That’s okay…

Leslie Lehr: No.

Mark Malatesta: I don’t know who said it first, it was a famous female writer, you probably know who it was, but she said the only thing she likes about writing is when it’s done.

Leslie Lehr: Oh, yes. I feel the same about exercise.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

Mark Malatesta: I feel bad if people feel that way about writing, and I have a similar one for people that tell me, “But Mark, I might send out all those queries and I might not get an agent.” And I’m like, “Well, if you don’t send them out, you certainly won’t get an agent, right?”

Leslie Lehr: True, you know, that’s a lot like the power of intention. I’m a big Wayne Dyer fan: if you know what the target is, you’ll take those steps to hit it.

Mark Malatesta: Right.

Part 11 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Leslie Lehr: I don’t always love writing. I mean, I’m not running to the chair, but when I have other stories to work on, that makes it more fun. If I have a bowl of popcorn, that helps too. Got to get your butt in the chair.

Mark Malatesta: Yes, always having a next step. And I have another thing with authors I learned. You know, we have the law of attraction and positive mindset and all that. I realized one day, I mean those things are good and I’m definitely that way, but you don’t need that either. You just have to send the stuff out. I had a lady, she got an offer from an agent. She confessed to me that she was super negative. At that point in the process, she was just humoring me, sending more stuff out. I said, “Thank you for telling me this. I’m gonna write an article about it.” And I did. You can be a super negative Nelly. You can be the most cynical person, doesn’t matter. Send out the queries. You still might get an agent, right?

Leslie Lehr: Yes, it’s all about taking action.

Mark Malatesta: Yep. Same thing with the book. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to do it all alone. Like you said, you just got to take the next step, and then the next one reveals itself and then maybe you get to the happy ending.

Leslie Lehr: That’s right, one page at a time.

Part 12 – Leslie Lehr with Mark Malatesta

Mark Malatesta: Alright. Well, thank you for agreeing to do this. I know you’ll get people reaching out to you through this interview, and I’ll be continuing to send people your way as well, separate from that. And thank you for packing everything into this audio. I know your information will help people keep going.

Okay everyone, this is Mark Malatesta, founder of The Bestselling Author, with story consultant Leslie Lehr. You can learn more about Leslie at And if you’re interested in a private 1-on-1 coaching call with me (to talk about getting a literary agent), visit

Lastly, if you’re listening to this interview, or reading the transcript, and you’re not yet a member of my online community, register now at for instant access to more information (and inspiration) like this, to help YOU become the bestselling author you can be.

Remember, getting published isn’t luck, it’s a decision.

See you next time.

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