Monday, June 28, 2010

Agent Interview: Jill Corcoran, Herman Agency

Jill Corcoran studied English at Stanford University, concentrating on literary criticism. "Had I known years later that I would be critiquing others' work in both my writers critique group and as an agent, I would have cherished my educational path." But after college it took her a number of years to come into agenting. Instead she opted for grad school, attending The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and studying Finance and Marketing. "I was living in the time of Gordon Gekko," she says. "So off I went to the finance Mecca." After discovering Wall Street was not her calling, Jill worked in marketing and then ran her own consulting firm, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing.

These days she's a relatively new agent with a number of sales under her belt and more on the horizon, selling chapter books, middle grade and young adult material equally well. Deals in the works or recently sold include a chapter book series for girls; a chapter book series for boys; a fun, nonfiction MG; a quirky MG mystery; a multicultural MG; a contemporary upper MG; a MG novel in verse; and quite a few edgy YAs.

Read on to learn how Jill came to agenting, what's she's looking for, where you can meet her, her thoughts on social networking, and more.

What led you to agenting books for young readers? When and how did you start at the Herman Agency?

When I started having children and stopped working, my brain begged for intellectual stimulation. Having spoken nothing but baby talk for five years, out poured some awful picture books. Everything changed when I joined SCBWI and started taking UCLA Extension classes with Kristin O’Connell George, Madeleine Comora, Ann Whitford Paul, Caroline Arnold, Sonia Levitan and others.

Fast forward a few years and I caught a number of agents’ eyes with a poetry riddle book, of all things. I chose Ronnie Ann Herman of Herman Agency because 1) she got me as a writer,  2) she had 30 years in the business with an amazing reputation (yup, I asked around), 3) Ronnie represents many of the leading PB authors and illustrators in today’s children’s book market, and 4) most of the clients Ronnie signed back in 1999 when she started the agency are still Herman Agency clients today.

In February 2009, Ronnie asked me to join her as an Associate Agent at Herman Agency representing MG and YA authors. In April 2010, I became a full Agent having sold 10 books in the last few months and having quite a few more going to acquisition meetings in the next month or two.

You blog, tweet, agent, do events, and have a family life. Do you have any advice when it comes to juggling things?

I have to thank my incredible husband and family for being understanding and truly rising to the occasion when I travel or ignore them at home. It is hard to do it all and do it well, but my one piece of advice is only do what you love. I love my family and I love agenting, and except for housework, I spend all my hours passionately living life. I think that is what makes the juggling fun, productive and successful rather than draining. Tweeting and blogging....that’s just a natural for me because I am a social person. I only tweet or blog when I want to and never feel obligated to put myself out there.

Why do you choose to be active in the social networks? Why should writers and illustrators do the same?

I started my blog on a lark, before I became an agent. I went to the SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in 2008 and met an amazing group of friends who I am still in daily contact with today via a google group. I was the only one without a blog so I came home and started one. I wanted to have a theme for my blog since I knew whatever I put on it was a reflection of who I am, my public persona. Writing and the business of writing plus marketing were topics I knew and enjoyed talking about. I started receiving a lot of comments and learned the fun and fine art of commenting on other people’s blogs (hint-that is how you grow your following). I actually didn’t realize that commenting was an effective social networking tool, I just commented when I had something to say, but I have since discovered the power of the comment. BUT, and this is very important--don’t comment to be "seen," comment only when you have a sincere opinion or thought to share. Commenting is about the village, the community, NOT about hustling your work.

My opinion on Facebook and Twitter for authors and illustrators is try it and be as involved as you want. Do not feel you need to get your face out there if you don’t enjoy it. But, you will meet a lot of wonderful people online and you will learn a lot from them. Plus, you will probably make a lot of friends since we all share a common interest and as we all know, the kidlit biz is a fun, generous group of people.

Regarding websites, I think websites are a must for unpublished and published illustrators. If I hear of you, I want to click and see your work immediately, while your name is still in my mind. So do editors and art directors.  For unpublished writers, a nice looking website is nice but not necessary. For published authors, a website is a great tool for obtaining school visits, a way for librarians to learn about you, for your readers to write reports on you, and to share news and updates of your upcoming books.

In all, I think if you like social networking and it does not take away from your writing time, then go for it. The benefits of a strong online presence is a rapport with other writers, readers, agents and editors who will know you before you have your first book on the bookshelf, and you never know where that could lead. The writing comes first and foremost, but your blog/comments/tweets/Facebook updates/website/etc. could catch someone’s eye and they may be asking you if they can read your manuscript.

Oh, and regarding selling yourself--remember everything you put out there is public and potential agents and editors will google you before they sign you/buy your ms so THINK before you type.

You handle chapter books, MG and YA, correct? Are you currently open to taking on clients? What's your current submissions policy? Is there anything you're particularly looking for?

I am taking on new clients and looking for amazing writers. Specifically, I would love to see:
  • Teen romance be it contemporary, paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. For me, romance is about wish fulfillment---a yearning so strong the reader feels it in their heart, their soul and for upper YA, their groin. 
  • I also want truly funny books--if you can write it, I want to read it.
  • Chicklit with a unique/fresh hook.
  • Commercial literary fiction. I love literary but I am having greater success with high-concept work, so think about your hook before you spend a year or two or three writing your book.
I am not looking for high fantasy or historical fiction that ‘teaches’ a history lesson.

For SCBWI members and published Chapter Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult authors, please email a query plus the first 10 pages of your manuscript to: No attachments, please.

For a single author who writes YA and/or MG and PB, I rep the author’s YA/MG and Ronnie reps his/her PB. When an author signs with me they are signing with the Herman Agency and they will benefit from both Ronnie’s and my expertise, dedication and effort.

Are there any upcoming events you're doing where writers could meet you?

The easiest way to meet me is at this summer’s SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in LA. I’ll be on the faculty critiquing manuscripts, and hanging in the lobby with friends late into the night. Please come by and say hi. Below is a list of conferences where I will be speaking for the remainder of 2010:

    •     July15-18--SCBWI Northern Cal Summer Workshop
    •     July 30-August 2--SCBWI Annual Summer Conference in LA
    •     September 11--SCBWI Utah/S. Idaho Boise Annual Conference
    •    October 23--Mid-Atlantic (VA/DC) Annual Fall Conference

Could you tell us about some of the recent or upcoming titles from authors you represent to give us a feel for your list?
Sherry Shahan's PURPLE DAZE, a provocative free verse novel set 1965 Los Angeles in which six high school students navigate war, riots, love, rock 'n' roll, school, and friendship, to Kelli Chipponeri at Running Press Kids, for publication in Spring 2011.

Robin Mellom's debut DITCHED, pitched as THE HANGOVER for teens, in which a girl finds herself lying in a ditch the morning after her prom with no memory of the last 12 hours which includes a disappearing prom date, a Tinkerbell tattoo, and a dog-swapping escapade, to Christian Trimmer at Disney-Hyperion, in a two-book deal, for publication in Winter 2012.

Ralph Fletcher's AKA ROWAN POHI, in which a 16-year old boy assumes a new identity in a desperate attempt to shed one life and create another, to Dinah Stevenson at Clarion.

Janet Gurtler’s THE WEIGHT OF BONES, a twist on MY SISTER'S KEEPER for teens, in which a brainy high school freshman embraces yet resents the shadow of her beautiful, popular,volleyball-scholarship-bound sister. But when the senior is diagnosed with bone cancer, it drastically changes both sisters' lives, as a lead title to Sourcebooks Fire.

Is there any general advice you'd like to offer writers seeking publication today?

Don’t rush out to find an agent or send your books to editors---learn your craft and revise the heck out of your manuscript. Also, as I said before, try to write a book with a unique and engaging concept. I know writing is often organic and for some of us the concept comes as the book is being written, but there are wonderful writers who are writing boring books. If you are going to spend the time, sweat and tears writing/revising/subbing, try to think of a concept that will stand out to editors/agents/readers, and even Hollywood.

I look at manuscripts as both works of art and as products to be marketed. I know some authors think that is cold but my view is shaped by my education, work experience, and writing life.

An author’s passion and hard work creates the art. But, the book must impel customers to part with their dollars. This practical view of creativity helps me understand what is publishable. It helps me choose publishable manuscripts and direct them to the appropriate publishers.

Oh, and on the one thing that goes hand in hand with writing and subbing--rejection--I have one thing to say...

F*** Rejection!
Write the best book you can.
No really, go back and look at it with a critical eye.
Revise some more.
One, maybe two...three, four, five more times.
And then believe.

Believe in your words. Believe in your creation. Believe in yourself.
Now get out there and submit. Rejection is part of the process.
Deal with it and move on.

Where to find Jill online:

Helpful blog posts by Jill for aspiring writers:


Christina Lee said...

YAY Jill! Fabulous interview and what a rev up about rejection! *standing straighter*

P.S. Alice, I am across the pond in Cleveland! ;-)

Dorraine said...

Excellent interview, Alice! Thanks for sharing Jill with us.

And, Jill, thanks so much for the splendid, candid advice. Sometimes we writers think the process of finding that great agent is more luck than anything, but it comes down to a great fit for both author and agent. And having a great book that will sell.

Especially loved your advice about moving on in the face of rejection.

Continued success to you and your authors!

Julie Musil said...

LOVE her rejection comments!

cindy said...

jill is the best! congratulations to you and your authors on every success! thanks for a great interview, alice!


What great advice! I always love what she has to say. Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview!

Kelly Polark said...

Amazing interview and congrats to Jill on her success!!

claudia said...

Love your last paragraph!

Unknown said...

Great interview! Thanks Jill and Alice!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. Jill, I had no idea you were a newer agent. I've heard so much good things about you that I assumed you'd been an agent for years. You're a good example of the power of social networking. Can't wait to read some of the books you've agented. I'm a tad sad my book is high fantasy.

creative children said...

Nice post about "Agent Interview: Jill Corcoran, Herman Agency" for all creative children, it helps a lot in how to guide our child's in their creativity stage. hope to see more soon, Thanks!

Angela said...

Jill & Alice
wonderful interview...I've followed Jill's blog since her pre-agent days, but after reading this interview I feel like I know her so much better.
Have fun in LA!!

Julie Hedlund said...

Great interview! I loved the sane comments about social media and blogging. And of course the rejection comments!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great tips!