Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Agent Chole Seager/Author Brianna Bourne Guest Post + Query Critique & Book Giveaway on 9/20/21
  • Crystal Orazu Agent Spotlight Interview & Query Critique Giveaway on 9/22/21
  • Kristin Ostby Agent Spotlight Interview & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/11/21
  • Agent Melissa Nasson/Author Alex Perry Guest Post + Query Critique & Book Giveaway on 10/18/21
  • Ginger Clark Agent Spotlight Interview & Query Critique Giveaway on 10/25/21
  • Danielle Chiotti Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 11/15/21

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • All Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated in 2023.


Today I’m thrilled to have agent Molly O’Neill here. She is a literary agent at Root Literary.

Status: Open to submissions.

Hi Molly! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Molly:
1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

I actually became an agent exactly two years ago this week! This week also marks my 15 year anniversary of working in the kids/YA publishing industry. So while I’m on the newer side as an agent; I have a deep background in the industry and bring a lot of different skill sets to my approach. The first 5 years or so of my career I worked on the Marketing and Publicity side of the business at Clarion Books and later at HarperCollins (it feels like yesterday, but it was such a different time! We were all trying to understand what these new-fangled things called blogs were. And I spent many a phone call telling authors that, yes, it would be a good idea if they set up a website so they could be found on the internet); then I moved to the Editorial side the industry for a number of years (some of which were particularly intense years, since one of the first projects I signed up as a young HarperCollins editor was a dystopian trilogy by a then-unknown author named Veronica Roth! :)

After working as an editor , I briefly side-stepped into a 2-year stint at an Executive at hybrid tech/publishing start-up; when that role ended I knew I wanted to come back into books, but from a different angle than any of those I’d already explored. Agenting seemed the natural way to bring all those seemingly-disparate layers of my career together, and I dearly love the work of building books and bookmakers and careers all at the same time.

About the Agency:
2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Root Literary is a new agency founded by veteran agent Holly Root. Currently there are three of us full-time: Holly, Taylor Haggerty, and myself. Our clients benefit from our proven skills in identifying talent, negotiating advantageous deals, and advocating for our books all the way from submission to publication. We offer our clients broad-based industry insights as well as individualized strategic thinking to empower each author to define and pursue their own unique path to success. We love what we do, and we do it best in partnership with authors who combine skillful storytelling with the drive to build a lasting body of work. We’re also a future-focused agency, borrowing tools and systems from the tech, sales, and start-up industries to help maximize the impact, efficiency, and global reach of the work we do on our clients’ behalf.

What She’s Looking For:
3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I represent middle grade and YA, both fiction and nonfiction. I represent illustrators who do work across the full publishing spectrum (picture book illustrations, jackets/covers, spot art and interiors, etc). I represent a number of illustrators who are also authors. And while some of my author clients write picture books, they typically work in other genres, too; I’m not actively seeking clients who only write picture books. I also selectively represent clients in a handful of adult genres/categories.

4.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I love a book that makes me laugh, in any category. I’d also be thrilled to add a great love story to my list, one that feels sweeping and epic and memorable, with stakes that somehow rise above ordinary high school life. Epic friendships, vibrant settings and/or smart world-building thrill me, as do stories that play with our accepted notions and understandings of things like memory, time, faith/belief, science, or language in unexpected ways. I’m on a perpetual hunt for magical realism (and authors who understand that magical realism isn’t just a synonym for fantasy); for stories that bend and meld genres; and for dance/theatre/arts-themed books, or any story that pulls the curtain back on a microcosm of tween/teen experience. And it’s vastly important to me that the books on my list thoughtfully represent the diversity of the world that and uphold the common dignity and humanity that we all share; if that’s something you’ve likewise aimed for in your writing, you should send it my way!

What She Isn’t Looking For:
5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I’m not seeking picture book texts unless you are also an illustrator. Otherwise, I’m pretty open, and it thrills me to no end when I get surprised by/fall in love with books or types of stories that I didn’t even know I was looking for, so I’m hesitant to put too many parameters on my inbox.

Agent Philosophy:
6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

A dedication to the craft of writing always impresses me: I like to say that a common thread between all of my clients is that they are perpetually growing, evolving, and challenging themselves to become better authors and illustrators today (and tomorrow!) than they were yesterday. I also think it’s important that my clients care as much or more about the young readers they’re writing for than they do their own fame or success -- that sense of purpose can help steady the course when a client might otherwise lose heart or get frustrated by the inevitable highs and lows of a creative career.
As an agent, strategy guides me -- the strategy looks different for each of my clients, because the work that each one is doing is different, but if you’re my client we will always spend time thinking and talking about the why behind each of the choices we’re making about your career. I also care about helping my clients to thrive as creatives and successfully balance the complex layers of having a creative/professional/sometimes-public life, so we tend to talk often about navigating the many steps of one’s career as an author/illustrator beyond the first “yes.”

Editorial Agent:
7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

Yes & no! Having been an editor for a number of years, editorial muscles are ones that I can flex easily. However, as an agent, the kind of editorial work I’m doing is very different than an editor  will later do, and just because I was once an editor doesn’t mean I’m trying to overstep my role & do their jobs for them. Most of my “editorial” work would better be described as early-stage developmental work -- trying to help the author/illustrator identify the heart of the story they are telling and how that awareness should impact the shape of the narrative. That same understanding of what the creator feels is most important about their story in turn guides me when I think about who would be the right editors to submit to, who would potentially know how to support that author and/or illustrator’s work. I’m also using my knowledge of the industry’s trends, evolution, and history to help a reader think about how to set apart their story in distinctive ways, so that it has the best possible chance at finding a publishing home, and, ultimately, readers.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)
8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

9.  Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

Not a dislike, but I do have a preference, if you’re a novelist. If you have one readily available, please send a synopsis along with your query and first ten pages (and since someone will surely wonder: the synopsis “counts” separately; you don’t have to reduce the sample pages to less than ten to include the length of your synopsis); it’s not essential, but I do find it a useful tool. And this is definitely a personal taste--my colleagues Holly and Taylor don’t find synopses useful in nearly the same way I do, which just goes to show that there are a million different kinds of readers, even among publishing professionals.

Response Time:
10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

I’ve just re-opened to queries this week after moving over to Root Literary, so I don’t have a precise gauge on this yet.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:
11.  Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

Yes, but with the caveat than an author has to be willing to see self-published work with new eyes. If you’re inviting agents and publishers into the process, it requires a different flexibility than working own your own. Traditional publishing means a collaborative process, which in turn often means re-thinking and re-defining what it means to reach an audience and tell a story that resonates. For authors who have published with smaller presses, their next book likely needs to be one whose themes will connect with a larger audience (rather than being niche or overly regional) in order to successfully make the leap to a larger house.

12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

If anything, I think the role of an agent has become more important, in helping clients navigate the myriad of possibilities and determine how best their goals can be served by the different possibilities available to them. I also think that agents tend to have an granular understanding of the industry and its players and evolutions--historical, present, and future--from being immersed in it day after day, year after year, that’s hard for a writer to gain from the outside looking in, and that expertise is part of what an agent shares with their clients.

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

I represent:
       Remarkable educator and Nerdy Book Club / Nerd Camp co-founder Colby Sharp. (His debut, THE CREATIVITY PROJECT, comes out in March so you should all go pre-order it right now!);
       Ambassador to School Libraries and great friend to book creators, publishers, and readers alike, John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu);
       Middle grade author Lynne Kelly whose utterly wonderful SONG FOR A WHALE comes out in March 2019;
       Debut Iranian-American YA Author Adib Khorram whose DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY should be one of your most anticipated reads of Fall 2018;
       Temre Beltz whose middle grade THE SECRET STORY OF BIRDIE BLOOM is one of the books I most want to travel back in time & give to my own past kid-self (Winter 2019);
       Author-illustrator and naturalist Emily Dove, who is currently illustrating SPENCER AND VINCENT, a tale of two jellyfish brothers coming in Spring 2019;
       Debut author K. J. Reilly’s WORDS WE DON’T SAY, a powerful contemporary YA;
       Insta-famous illustrators like Taryn Knight (AKA Taryn Draws) and Joy Hwang (AKA Mom is Drawing); and other artistic author/illustrator talents like #KidlitChat co-moderator Blythe Russo; writer/maker/educator Emmy Kastner;
       and many others you’ll hear about soon!

Links and Contact Info:
15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

Additional Advice:
16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

Give yourself permission to take creative risks; they can pay off tremendously! And even if they don’t, you’ll have grown as a writer/illustrator by stretching yourself, and growth can only get you closer to your goals!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Molly.

Molly is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follower button if you're not a follower) and leave a comment through February 3rd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.

Profile Details:
Last Updated: 5/19/2020
Agent Contacted for Review? Yes
Last Reviewed by Agent? N/A

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com
Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.


  1. Thanks, Natalie, for another great interview. Molly is articulate, insightful, and clearly passionate about her work. We're lucky to have this opportunity to win a critique from her, so thank you for that too!

  2. Writers should care about who they are writing for. Disappoint those readers and you'll have one short career.

  3. Great interview! I found it especially interesting how Molly approaches editorial notes as a former editor. I see how it would be important to stay in the agent lane. Thanks!

  4. I think that Molly's background as an editor is invaluable to the agenting process. I've been fortunate to work with editors in workshops and often they have a diffferent perspective from agents. Someone who can blend both is who I want to work with as a writer.

  5. Wonderful interview. Love the advice to take creative risks. :)

  6. This was an interview I definitely wanted to read every word of! I love that Molly is open to a bit of genre-bending.

  7. Molly certainly sounds like she is the perfect fit for her job as a literary agent. She has some great titles forthcoming from her clients, too. Thanks for the informative interview.

  8. Great to get to know you, Molly! You're definitely on my query list for later this year. I'd love to be entered in the drawing, sarapbowers(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. Molly is so right about the new and very important role an agent plays in this "free-for-all" publishing world. It's so confusing for an author and so time-consuming that a good agent is invaluable to help us navigate these uncharted waters. Thanks for introducing Molly to us, Natalie.

  10. What a wonderful blog feature! And thanks to Molly for being willing to share what she looks for. I'll definitely be following--even if I never take an agent, reading this is educational.

  11. I prefer to get input from people I trust. Flying solo is one of the things I dislike about self-pubbing. Some people are good at being the boss, but that's not me.

  12. Thanks for another great interview, Natalie! It was helpful to read that Molly thinks an editorial agent (even one with her solid background) should not replace an editor, and that everyone should do their own job to turn the manuscript into the final book.

  13. I found Molly through her MSWL (shared interests in memory as a story topic!) and have been impressed with her agent presence. This interview was very informative, and I especially found her comments about keeping the readers in mind very valuable. It's so easy to forget that there are other people out there when you're head-down writing a book, and when you do remember, it's too easy to focus on the critiques and lows, I think. This sounds like a very healthy mindset!
    I would love to win a query critique from Molly as she has been on my to-query list for as soon as this WIP is polished! I've also posted this interview on my Twitter (@kaylen_wade). Thank you for this post!

  14. Thank you for this great interview, Molly and Natalie!

  15. It's nice to meet you, Molly! Appreciate hearing about your work and journey. I need to pass this along to a friend who might be interested in submitting.

    Natalie, appreciate you hosting the interview. Thanks for all you do to keep us up to date. I'll pass on the giveaway. Have a great week! :)

  16. A really interesting interview, always good to hear about life from the agent side of the fence.

  17. Thanks for a great interview. I'd like to be considered for the query critique. laurenbsalvador@gmail.com. I've retweeted as well. Thanks.

  18. Another great interview, Natalie! And thanks to Molly for the detailed responses.

  19. This is awesome! Molly read my full two years ago and she's amazing.

  20. Terrific interview. I'd love to be entered into the giveaway for a query critique :)

  21. What an interesting interview. So nice to meet Molly. Thanks for introducing her to us, Natalie.

  22. Thank you for the interview (and the query giveaway)--love the great reminders that we write with a purpose and to keep in mind those people I am really writing for--the "twice exceptional" students who I fell in love with my first year teaching and every year after.

  23. Great interview! I didn't realize Molly had done so many different jobs in the publishing world.

  24. Great interview. I met Molly at Prairie Writer's Day years ago. Excited she is now an agent. (Shared link on Twitter and FB) :)

  25. Thank you for another great interview. It's inspiring that Miss O'Neill has tons of experience in so many aspects of publishing.

  26. Spot on interview! Molly O'Neill would be an ideal agent.

  27. Really appreciated the advice and encouragement - great article!

  28. It was great learning more about Molly. She seems like a wonderful agent and I'm excited that she's accepting queries again. Thanks for the informative interview.

  29. I've heard a few agents speak about working with authors to grow their careers. This always resonates with me. Having someone help you plan career goals and think through what you really want to accomplish as a writer is one of the advantages of having a great agent. I'd love to be entered in the critique giveaway -- thanks!

  30. Great interview! I wish I'd seen this before I already queried! It's so valuable to know an agent's preferences! I'd still love a query critique😊

  31. Great interview! I love Molly's "big picture" thinking. I'm taking the leap from published nonfiction to fiction, and would love to work with Molly to help grow as a writer and storyteller. I really appreciate the consideration of a query critique!

  32. I appreciate these Spotlight Interviews. Keep them coming!

  33. Molly sounds like a great agent. Wishing her the best at her new agency...

  34. Thanks for the great interview! Angelecolline(at)yahoo(dot)com

  35. Great to see the Root agency take on more agents. They have fabulous clients!! *crossing lots of fingers and toes for query critique* Great to read about you, Molly!!

  36. Molly's interview was simply amazing! I loved her honesty and in-depth responses. I would be so honored to win the query critique! Thank you, Molly!

  37. Thanks for the interview! I would love a query critique!

  38. Thanks for the tips--what a great interview. I'd love a query critique!

  39. I'm happy to have stumbled upon your site! I plan to query Molly later this year and would love a critique. Thanks for the helpful information and the contest opportunity!

  40. Thanks for another great interview and a chance to have my query critiqued.

  41. Thanks for the thorough and enlightening interview, and for the chance to win a query critique! I shared this post on Twitter (@AngieSDickinson). :)

  42. Thanks for the interview. I'd love to have my query critiqued.

  43. Thanks, Natalie. This was a very thorough interview! I'm sure a lot of writers will find it helpful.

  44. Excellent and very informative interview! First-time reader, but excited to dive into the archive and looking forward to updates!

  45. Thank you Natalie and Molly for this great interview. Molly, you've given the best advice to writers:

    "Care as much or more about the young readers they’re writing for than they do their own fame or success"

    "Give yourself permission to take creative risks"

    Very inspiring! (nadine.rajeh2@gmail.com)

  46. Thank you for the great interview! My email address is Shannon.balloon@gmail.com

  47. Thanks for another great interview, Natalie. I was just looking at Root Literary the other day. They have a long line of great books they represent. Molly O-Neill sounds like a great agent. I would love a query critique.

  48. What a great interview! Love it!

  49. Great interview! I love how she's open to exploring different books. Thanks for the interview!

  50. What a great interview. Molly has certainly worked in a lot of areas of the book world! Thanks for sharing. :)

  51. This was such a helpful interview, and I love Molly's passion for the books and authors she represents. A query critique would be great! I've shared this post on my Facebook page as well.

  52. Love these agent spotlight interviews!

  53. Thanks for this insightful interview. Molly is "so on target, so direct."

  54. Great interview! So thankful for the insights on querying and working with an agent.

  55. Excellent interview!

  56. Enjoyed the interview. Please enter me in the query critique contest. lagilliam@comcast.net

  57. Followed and shared on Twitter! I've admired this agent from afar for a while and would love a critique! Thanks! arianneleavitt@gmail.com

  58. Thank you Natalie for this insightful interview. Molly seems like a lovely agent to work with--truly passionate about her work. Email is gzbooks10[at]gmail[dot]com

  59. Another great interview. Thanks for these! Molly sounds like a wonderful agent.

  60. Another helpful interview, and very timely--Molly will be part of an agent panel at the SCBWI conference. Now I have an inside scoop. See my Twitter post @kathwilford.

  61. Great interview. Thanks Natalie and Molly!
    my email is ashleigh_galvin (at) hotmail.com

  62. Thanks for the opportunity b/c Molly sounds fabulous! I retweeted. My email is: Feltenk@hotmail.com

  63. Loved this interview! And thanks for the links to read more about Molly. Please enter me in the contest. My email should show on my Google profile. Thanks for the opportunity.