Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 14, 2017

April Feature Agent: Holly McGhee Interview Part One

Read about Holly’s new Middle grade novel, MATYLDA, BRIGHT & TENDER. Click link and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy. I just read the first two chapters – What a great beginning!

The amazing Holly McGhee is our Featured Agent for April and will critique four first pages.

Holly M. McGhee still carried MADELINE around in 3rd grade — until Mrs. Carrier, her school librarian, tricked her into reading longer books by giving her one with her name on it, HOLLY IN THE SNOW. After college, Holly headed straight into the book world of New York City, where she has enjoyed being a secretary, an advertising manager, a sales rep (for one month), and in the six years prior to opening the doors at Pippin, an executive editor at HarperCollins. Now, as the President and Creative Director of Pippin she is dedicated to shepherding books that make a difference into the world. Someone once told her, “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” and that has proven true for her.

Holly is interested in literary fiction (middle-grade or YA) and simple picture books that say something we need to hear.

Pippin Properties has the editorial expertise required to help bring each project to its full potential, prior to submission, and they place nearly every project they submit. They are avid caretakers of their clients’ projects, marketing plans, and careers, be it picture books, middle-grade, young adult, graphic, novelty, and adult trade projects.

Interview with Holly McGhee April Featured Agent (Part One)

Are there any genres that are less interesting to you?

How about more interesting??! I am most drawn to distinctive works of For literary fiction, think of Kate DiCamillo and Kathi Appelt for middle-grade and Jandy Nelson or An Na for YA. Picture book authors and artists on my list include David Ezra Stein, Peter H. Reynolds, Sean Qualls, Doreen Cronin, and Peter McCarty, Betsy Lewin . . . The voice is more important to me than the plot, because plots are fixable; voice is harder to solve. Good dialogue can win me over too!

Do you have any story or theme that you wished someone would submit?

Something beautiful and serious too, tender & funny at the same time, about our planet amidst the universe. Or something that explains an idea I’m obsessed with: What Is Matter?

What do you like to see in a submission?

I like to see a story that is the very best the writer is capable of submitting. I’m not interested in reading until the writer has taken the story as far as he or she can . . . it’s important to remember that a literary agent only gets a first read ONCE. Make it the best it can be.

How important is the query letter?

I think it matters quite a lot. If the writer has carefully researched our agency and my personal taste, and it’s clear why she or he is submitting to me, the project moves near the top of my always-tall pile of manuscripts. If the writer offers me an exclusive look for six weeks, the manuscript goes straight to the top because I appreciate the trust in me and the careful research the writer has done.

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

The writer usually includes the first chapter with the query. If I like it I’ll undoubtedly ask to see more.

How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?

3 pages.

Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer missed correcting a few misspelled words?

No, some of my best writers are bad spellers. But it’s easy enough to catch typos so do the best you can.

Do you let people know if you are not interested in what they sent?

No, not unless it was a close one and I wanted to let them know. Sometimes I’ll suggest a different agent if I think it’s right for somebody other than myself.

How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?

I’ll request the material very quickly. After that, I try to get back to the writer within four weeks.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

I call it the “Play by Play.” When an author writes in first person present tense and walks me through every move the character makes. For example: “I walk to the window, take a paper towel, spray Windex with my left hand while rubbing the glass with my right hand when the phone rings and I set the Windex down on the shelf, ball up the paper towel and put it in my pocket as I walk over to the couch where my cell phone is . . .” You get the idea!!

Any pet peeves?

Biggest pet peeve is not numbering the pages. Or sending a pdf instead of a word doc. Referring to me personally as “Holly” throughout the pitch letter. For some reason that really annoys me!

Stop back next Friday to read Part Two of Holly’s Interview.


In the subject line, please write “April 2017  Critique” and paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page). REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED!

Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: April 20th.

RESULTS: April 28th.

Please only submit one first page a month, but do try again if your first page wasn’t one of the pages randomly picked. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Nice to meet you, Ms McGhee. Thanks for all the great tips! Looking forward to part two of your interview.


  2. Thanks for the tips! I can’t wait to read the book!


  3. I love getting to know more about you, Holly 🙂 And I’m VERY curious what is is about a pdf that annoys you…


    • lol the pdf annoys me because I often like to make notes when I’m reading on my laptop and I can’t make notes on a pdf 🙂


  4. This information is great. Thank you both, Holly and Kathy.


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