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  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Literary Agent Interview: Ellen Goff Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Ellen Goff here. She is an associate literary agent at HG Literary.

Hi­ Ellen! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Ellen:

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

I always knew I was interested in moving to New York to work in publishing. After college, I interned with two different literary agencies, including a scouting agency. I knew then that I enjoyed the agency side rather than the publishing house/editorial track because of how closely we work with writers and the freedom we have to choose our areas of focus. One of the internships was with HG Literary, where I work now. I loved my time with the team and two of their senior agents needed an assistant. One worked in children’s literature and the other adult fiction, so I dove in and began working and reading in both worlds in 2017. I started in our foreign rights department as well in 2018, and then in late 2019-2020 began selling my own clients’ projects. Now in 2023, I assist partner & CFO Carrie Hannigan on our agency’s finance/bookkeeping team, I’m a foreign rights associate in our rights department, and the rest of time I devote to my own growing list of clients and their projects 


About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

We’re a boutique full service literary agency, so we offer the benefits of a small personal team where teamwork and collaboration with each other is paramount, while also offering all of the services of a larger agency: royalty statement auditing, editorial focus on manuscript development, and we also have a full foreign rights department where we sell our titles in translation abroad. We have physical offices in Manhattan, and typically all go in about 3 days a week at least for each other’s company and brainstorming facetime.

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 all age ranges, and have picture book clients, middle grade clients, and YA clients – and I love the clients that hop around between those three! In terms of on the page content, I enjoy about any genre (speculative, contemporary, fantasy) and format (novel, graphic novel, novel in verse). I really appreciate projects that have a layer of humor in them even if the overall tone is more serious or melancholy. Can’t say no to a good love story, too. Lastly, I’m definitely a sucker for a happy ending, and if not happy, then at least hopeful.

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

I’m always on the lookout for a good ghost story. Can’t get enough. Books on food, as well, or with food as a focus. I love learning about a new time period we weren’t exposed to in middle grade US history, so historical fiction that highlights new, overlooked stories and characters is of particular interest to me. And it may be the foreign rights associate in me, but I’ll perk up at any stories that take us on an international journey, through space or time.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

Personally, I am not the best fit for books about cancer, or stories with gratuitous violence toward girls and women.

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?

New and underrepresented voices (often with girl power at the center) are incredibly important to me. I’m also someone who tries to keep learning new things in my own free time, new skills, languages, talents, etc. Books that teach me something, but are also entertaining and approachable, are food for my rain.

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?

I am definitely an editorial agent, and I would say most of the HG Literary team is, too. For me, I take my clients through at least two-three revisions before we go on submission to editors. First, I’ll do a big picture revision with a writer that looks at plot, characters, structure, pacing, any gaping holes or unresolved narrative arcs. Next, I’ll do a more line-edit focused revision where we hammer out the smaller details and nuances of voice, etc. We might do a third revision if necessary. I tend to start big and broad and get narrower as we go along.

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?

A query and the first five pages pasted into the email are great. I don’t need a synopsis just yet, I like to be surprised when I read for the first time, but if I like the manuscript and keep reading a requested full, I’ll often ask for a synopsis. The first five pages will have to grab me. Voice, the problem, the risks, a unique set up or environment or atmosphere can do the trick, too. I always read pages before I request, you can count on that! A good query letter won’t save pages that don’t hook me.

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

A smidge of personalization goes a long way. No “Dear Agent.” If I only have a few minutes to review queries and respond, I’ll start with the ones that reference my wish list items or my clients’ existing books. I see a lot of folks trying to fit too much into their queries. We don’t need paragraphs – save extra background info or deep plot info for a follow up conversation with an agent if they’re interested in your work.

Response Time:

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

Agents’ reading time is often slow since we all wear a lot of different hats and have to prioritize existing clients. If I have a less busy week or am on vacation, I might be able to read a requested manuscript in a week. Other times, reading a full manuscript can take months. But typically, if I like the query and the first five pages, I’ll request to read more within a couple weeks, if not that day, if it really catches me. If a writer hasn’t received any response from me or a request to read more in 12 weeks, they should consider that a pass. However, always feel free to send a nudge after 8-12 weeks, just in case Spam took the query. 

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?

I am indeed open to authors who have been published before; publishing history with independent presses can be a real benefit, especially since there are so many independent smaller presses doing some interesting and creative work. While I’m open to writers who have been published before, I will say it is easier to represent those writers on new projects going forward. It is tricker for agents to help writers try and re-publish projects that have been published before, especially projects that have been self-published. It’s often easier to start with a new fresh project if the writer is stepping into the world of traditional trade publishing for the first time.

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?

Certainly. Agents are becoming more editorial, for a start. Editors at any kind of publisher (small or large) are becoming increasingly busy, which means they don’t often have the bandwidth to take on promising projects that might just need a lot of editorial heavy lifting. Agents help in that area and shoulder some of the initial editorial work to give projects the best chance we can at landing a home during submission. Agents are also becoming more invested in the research process to find the best homes and avenues for success for our clients’ work. If a manuscript isn’t selling in a traditional way as a novel to a large publisher, we’re knocking on all sorts of new creative doors to see where the story might have life: podcasts, film and tv, illustrated work rather than only prose, greeting cards, speaking engagements, interactive guides, articles, audiobooks, stage rights, merchandise. We are trying more than ever to imagine the different lives a project can have that go beyond just the bookshelf.

Clients:

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

A selection:

Leslie Vedder (YA – The Bone Spindle, Razorbill)

Keith F. Miller, Jr. (YA – Pritty, HarperCollins)

Anna Lapera (MG – Mani Semilla Finds Her Quetzal Voice, Levine Querido)

Adria Qui ñones (Picture Book – Mi Tierra, Reycraft)

Bunmi Emenanjo (Picture Book – I’ll See You In Ijebu, Barefoot Books)

Kealani Netane (Picture Book – Tala Learns to Siva, Scholastic)

Vivienne Chang (Picture Book – This Is Not My Home, Little, Brown)

Eugenia Yoh (Illustrator – This Is Not My Home, Little, Brown)

Emi Gennis (Graphic Novelist – What to Pack for Certain Death, Random House Graphic)

Bon Orthwick (Illustrator)

Interviews and Guest Posts:

14. Please share the links to any interviews, guest posts, and podcasts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.

N/A

Links and Contact Info:

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

Query me at

ellen@hgliterary.com

or find me at

www.hgliterary.com

Additional Advice:

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

Read widely in your area! We can’t stress it enough. If you’re querying a YA novel, you should be reading tons of YA currently out on the shelves before you even started writing. Reading in your genre and age range will help make you a better writer, and give you comps. Comps aren’t always necessary, but I can tell a lot about your manuscript from your comps and how well versed you are in the current market space for your book. Also, popular comps that don’t actually fit your tone or narrative in your manuscript will also raise flags for me when I read, so go without comps rather that forcing comps into your query that might be popular but overall might not be great fits.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Ellen.

­Ellen is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through May 20th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the 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.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or email 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.

 

 

61 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ellen, sounds like you found your calling. And who doesn't like a good ghost story?

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Excellent interview. A lot of great information to think about.

Margaret Aitken said...

Great ton learn more about Ellen and her wishlist!

S. Lee said...

Another great interview! I like the sound of Ellen's agenting philosophy.

Amo Cappucio said...

Thanks for sharing! Always appreciate hearing from agents who are open to text only authors.

Anonymous said...

Love that editorial approach!

lkrichmanauthor said...

Interesting career path and very much appreciate that editorial approach!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Interesting she doesn't want a synopsis right away.

Mary said...

Another great interview! Thank you Natalie and Ellen!

Andi Chitty said...

Great interview! I love how your agency gets creative if a traditional placement doesn't work!

Karen Rafeedie said...

Thanks Natalie Aguirre and Ellen Goff! I enjoyed learning more about your agenting style and what you're currently seeking.

Deborah Foster said...
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Computer Tutor said...

Good interview. You sound very approachable and clear on your expectations.

Sandra Cox said...

Fascinating. It takes a lot of courage to move to New York and follow your dreams.

Deborah Foster said...

Ellen,

Thank you for the insight into querying you. I did have a follow-up question - how do you feel about rhyming picture books (as long as they are done well)? Look forward to sending something to you in the future.

Anneliese Schultz said...

How did I not know about Ellen? She sounds like an excellent agent!

aschultz@mail.ubc.ca

Jayme Inman said...

I've started querying my YA novel and am happy to learn about Ellen and her approach to this industry. I'd be thrilled if she could evaluate my query leteter.

Alicia J Novo said...

It is so helpful to learn more about an agent's approach before querying. Thanks for another insightful interview. I would love to participate in the giveaway. Aliciajnovo@gmail.com

Cathy Sheafor said...

Thank you for a great interview!!

Jay Linden said...

Thanks Ellen - this is a really helpful, tell it like it is interview. Agents are book super heroes - reading all those submissions in your spare time to find the gems. You are awesome.

Thanks Natalie - you too are awesome to sustain this super helpful website. A writers champion.

Sarah Steinbacher (she/they) said...

Love the comp advice! :)

Sarah Steinbacher (she/they) said...
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Sarah Steinbacher (she/they) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
O. the expat mom said...

Thanks Natalie. This was a great interview! Ellen sounds like a very dedicated agent who loves her job.
Ogunday@hotmail.com

Liz A. said...

It seems like many books focus on the same time periods (in historical fiction). It's fun to read books that focus on different eras.

Angie Quantrell said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Ellen! Great interview!

Kellie Byrnes said...

Great interview as always, thank you. So great to learn about Ellen and her background, interests, and way of working. :)
kelliejanebyrnes@gmail.com.

Valinora Troy said...

Interesting interview as always! Thanks for sharing!

@melissa_trempe said...

Loved reading your interview and I'm happy to see you're open to all genres! You represent Kealani... We're in a 2024 PB debut group together and she is wonderful! :)

Amy Houts said...

I enjoyed learning about you. Best wishes with your work. amysase@gmail.com

msanchez said...
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msanchez said...

What a wonderful interview! I have an exciting YA action/adventure chess novel that incorporates history into the world building that I think Ellen would enjoy. I'd love to be considered for the query critique giveaway: michellesanchez.writer@gmail.com

Elizabeth Varadan said...

What an interesting interview. I learned a lot. I found especially interesting the changing role of an agent: the shift to an editorial role.

I like ghost stories, too. Can't read enough of them!

Pam Webb said...

I’m impressed by Ellen’s diverse background and reading her website I like how she appreciates Shakespeare. I am interested in having my middle read historical novel query entered for the critique.

Anne said...

I enjoyed reading about the creative paths agants might take for something that's not selling. That's real dedication and care.

CJ Penko said...

Well she sounds awesome. I posted to twitter. Thanks so much for sharing!

Kimberly Y said...

So much great information. Thanks!

nancywestbooks said...

Thank you for another great Agent interview! I'm finding that these really come in handy when querying agents!I especially enjoyed reading this interview with Ellen, and I'm excited to read her client Leslie Vedder's new book, The Bone Spindle.

Lauri Fortino said...

So nice to learn more about you, Ellen!

Kim A. Larson said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing, Ellen!

Angie B. said...

Thanks for another great interview!

Biz said...

Great advice.. thank you! I love how agents are becoming more editorial. Please include me in the query give-away. elizabethchestney@gmail.com

Rosi said...

Thanks for another really helpful interview. I tweeted the link. Thanks for the opportunity.

Evie R. said...

It is always fun to read about an agent's background, interest, etc. I love all of the info! Would love to be included in the query critique giveaway. :)

E. T. Charles said...

Another great interview. I'm always happy to learn about new to me agents and agencies. Thanks so much Ellen and Natalie.

Emily Winter said...

Fantastic interview! I just love reading these. I would like to enter the giveaway. My email is emilyhrouton@gmail.com

Judith L. Roth said...


Interesting note about looking for other creative doors through which to tell the story... Thanks for sharing!

Bri Lawyer said...

Thanks for the great interview Natalie and Ellen! I appreciate the querying tips!

Becky said...

Great advice about queries!

PMDooling said...

Great interview! It's always so helpful getting querying advice!

Laya said...

Thank you Natalie and Ellen. Great Interview! I love that you search for other outlets and formats for clients' work. lasword (at) rcn (dot) com

Larissa Brown said...

This is my first time visiting this site, and it's so great. Ellen, I really enjoyed hearing about your love for your career and for helping authors. I'm just starting my query process for my YA fantasy, and this kind of interview helps so much.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi Natalie...

Another informative interview, Natalie. Ellen, thanks so much for your insights and information on your wishlist.

I always enjoy this feature on your blog!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Hi Larissa, so glad you found Literary Rambles. I hope you'll visit often. Good luck with querying.

Jennifer P. said...

Very helpful query advice. I am guilty of sometimes packing too much into my queries and need to improve on that. Thank you for offering a query critique to a lucky winner!

Tammy Waldrop said...

Thanks for an insightful interview. Always appreciate an agent giving candid advice.

Unknown said...

Wow. I'm so glad I found this interview! Great information!

Phyllis Hemann said...

Enjoyed learning more about Ellen and her agenting style! I also shared this interview link to Twitter.

Sarah Skolfield said...

Interesting interview! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Contest: My first inquiry response from a newbie to Ms. Ellen Goff. I don't want to be anonymous.
Francis Edwards, creator of Children's Tunnel Books.
They are a 3D pull out accordion peephole book.
The Tunnel Books will be showcased at FRANKFURTER BUCHMESSE INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIR October 18th to 22nd under the umbrella stand of Ukiyoto Publishing.
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THANKING YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.