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La Jolla Heroines: Margret McBride finds her strength in promoting others’ stories

Literary agent and La Jolla resident Margret McBride started her company in La Jolla in 1980.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The Margret McBride Literary Agency, formed in La Jolla in 1980, has seen hundreds of books published via major companies. McBride also has served on the La Jolla Playhouse board for about 20 years.

Much of La Jolla’s early advancement was fueled by prolific philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. But many more women have followed in being important benefactors to La Jolla. This series by the Light highlights local women who have worked for decades to further the evolution of La Jolla and areas beyond.

La Jolla resident Margret McBride forged her own path to success by sharing the stories of others.

She started her company, the Margret McBride Literary Agency, in La Jolla in 1980 after several years in publishing. The agency has seen hundreds of books make their way onto shelves via major publishing houses.

McBride also is a former member of UC San Diego’s library board, directing the UCSD Writers Conference, keeping her love for literature local.

To further ensure that stories are spread through the community, McBride has served on the La Jolla Playhouse board for about 20 years.

She spoke to the La Jolla Light about her impact on the literary and arts worlds and their impact on her.

Q. We read that you enjoy featuring stories with a strong female protagonist. Why is that important to you?

A. “I think a lot of women are afraid to speak up. ... I want women to speak out. I want us to create situations where they will speak up and be their own guide.”

Q. Have you found that your work as a literary agent and in publishing has helped you discover your own voice?

A. “Yes. Because I was allowed to be at [editors] meetings, speak my mind, it gave me more confidence about trusting my own taste, trusting my own opinion.

“There was this one very obscure book written about an Oklahoma oil family, where they had all this wealth. … All the other editors were like, ‘Oh, this book is disgusting.’

“So I championed it. I said, ‘This book is gonna sell.’ … It sold 90 percent of books printed [most books sell 50 percent of what’s printed]. Then the book was made into [the TV show] ‘Dynasty’!”

Referencing another of the most popular books she represented, “The One Minute Manager,” McBride said, “Something like that, where I didn’t take no for an answer, that also built my confidence.

“It just made me feel like, ‘Just go with what you feel.’ Someone said, ‘How do you know when you have a great book?’ and I said, ‘I can feel it under my stomach.’”

Q. What’s your advice to the next generation of female leaders?

A. “Talk to a lot of people who are really good at what they do. Find out how they got started, find out what got in their way, what was this big hurdle that they had to get over.

“People who achieve things take a look at their points of failure. You have to help yourself before other people can help you out.”

Q. What got in your way? How do you get over hurdles?

A. “When I don’t have any experience, I’ll have to find out all the steps, everything that you expect out of that job. And I’ll do it.

“Take the initiative, do it your own creative way, with your own personality.”

Q. Talk about your work on the board of La Jolla Playhouse. Why is it important that we invest locally in the arts?

A. “I love the theater and I know what the theater does for people that film doesn’t do, that television doesn’t do. It’s that one on one. You can’t get away from the impact of someone saying something on the stage vs. something in a film or on a television show.

“Theater is so important to people, and it makes you think about things you wouldn’t think about before and it has a certain power.”

McBride, who once trained to be a repertory actress before pursuing publishing, said: “When you’re in the audience, you have an impact on what’s going on on the stage. When the audience is with the actors, it’s this fabulous symbiotic relationship.”

Q. How does that thought dovetail with your work as a literary agent?

A. “When I’m reading a manuscript, I am pretending I’m the reader who just bought this book. I think: ‘What is that reader going to feel? How’s [he or she] going to connect with the book?’

“No matter what you do in life, nothing is separate. You are the integration of all your experiences.”

Q. What do you worry about? What do you wish La Jollans paid attention to?

A. “I think a lot of people are very passive. … Why is it that we don’t have this attitude of, instead of being quiet, ‘Tell me more ... about your country [or differing opinion], because I’m curious.’

“Get to know the culture and the thinking of people and have a conversation ... instead of saying, ‘That’s not right’ and closing the door.”

Q. What do you want your legacy to be?

A. “From the time I was a little kid, my mother said to me and my six sisters: ‘You come to this world, you see what it is. Your job is to make this place better than you found it.’

“That always goes around in my head: ‘How can I make this better? How can I help this situation?’

“I do it through the books that make an impact.” ◆