A Conversation With Literary Agent Jill Grosjean

July 2, 2017 Musings

Let’s take advantage of a break in our Southern summer thunderstorms for a little 4th of July weekend time on the veranda with literary agent Jill Grosjean.

Bring your mint julep and pull up a chair. Let me introduce y’all to Jill:

Jill Grosjean has been a literary agent for twenty-two years; the last seventeen as the head of her own agency.  Prior, Jill managed an influential independent bookstore.  She also worked at a top advertising agency and in publishing.  Jill’s interests are mysteries, women’s fiction and literary fiction, both contemporary and historical.

SBM: How do you describe what you do as a literary agent?

JG: I’m the next step after a writer “finishes” their novel.  I read it as an editor, offering up editorial suggestions and getting the manuscript into the shape it needs to be in in order for it to be submitted for publishing consideration.  Always remembering that it’s my reputation on the line.  Editors read my submissions because they know from previous submissions that it will be worth their time.

SBM: What should a writer be looking for when selecting a literary agent?

JG: Someone they can see working with for however long it takes to find their book a publisher.  I tell all my clients I can’t predict when their book will get an offer, all I can say is that I will keep trying.

SBM: What are the misconceptions writers have about literary agents?

JG: That every book will find a publisher.  It’s a sad statement of fact that many truly worthy books fail to connect with a publisher.  Doesn’t mean I stop trying.  One novel in particular took 10 years to find a publisher, and the author went on to have four novels in her series published.

SBM: What makes for a strong query letter?

JG: Three paragraphs – introduce the book, introduce yourself and tell me where you see your novel fitting in in overcrowded markets.

SBM: What are you looking for when you begin a new manuscript?

JG: Writing that pulls me into the story so much so that it keeps me away from the other manuscripts in my office.

SBM: What are three turnoffs when you read a manuscript?

JG: Typos, sloppy writing and repetition.

SBM: How important is it for a debut author to work with an independent editor before submitting their work to you?

JG: Every manuscript needs to be in the best condition possible before submitting to an agent, whatever that means.  Working with an independent editor or the author editing and editing again.

SBM: Do you ever turn away qualified manuscripts?

JG: If you mean qualified manuscripts in genres I represent, sometimes.  I do turn away manuscripts that I don’t feel I would be the best agent to represent them.

SBM: How many submissions do you receive on an annual basis?

JG: Two-thousand.

SBM: Yikes! How many viable submissions do you receive in a year?

JG: A lot less.

SBM: How many new authors do you accept in a year?

JG: It’s not based on numbers.  I take on books that I love and hope to sell them.

SBM: How many clients do you represent?

JG: Two dozen or so.

SBM: And how long does your representation last?

JG: There’s no time limit.

SBM: That was a point of discussion in our initial conversation, after you finished reading All Things Unusual, and given my previous experience with a literary agent, your response influenced and impressed me.

SBM: What is most enjoyable about your work?

JG: Working with committed writers who understand, with my input, how difficult it is to get a book published, and want to be in it for the long haul.

SBM: What do publishers value about literary agents?

JG: Publishers appreciate that Agents only send them the best submissions.

SBM: As a child, what’s the first book you fell in love with, and why?

JG: Harold and the Purple Crayon, probably because it felt real to me.  So much so, I took a lipstick from my mother and drew on the walls of my room!

SBM: The power of the written word! Thank you, Jill.