Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 18, 2022

November Agent of the Month – Ellen Goff – Interview Part Two



Ellen graduated from The University of Chicago with a BA in English, a minor in Cinema and Media Studies, and a focus in Creative Writing. Ellen has worked everywhere from The White House under the Obama administration to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At HG Literary, she assists partner and agent Carrie Hannigan on all children’s titles from picture books to middle grade to young adult. Ellen’s own list consists of YA writers and illustrators, as well as middle grade and picture book writers. She is also a member of HG Literary’s foreign rights team.

Fiction: Action/Adventure, Children’s, Commercial, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Historical, Horror, Literary, Middle Grade, New Adult, Picture Books, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult

For picture books: Ellen is looking for author-illustrators, and projects that highlight the sparse and simple.

For MG: Ellen is looking contemporary realistic MG, also MG with hints of magical realism. Humor is a must!

For YA: She is interested in all genres and formats of any kind of YA. She especially likes anything spooky, historical fiction, martial arts, graphic novels, and novels-in-verse.

Older YA: The stuff you’re not sure is YA but not sure it’s adult either (anything you might label “New Adult” like Red, White, & Royal Blue)

Non-Fiction: Ellen might be convinced on a nonfiction project if it involves food. Cookbooks, History, Humor, Illustrated, Travel.

She has a soft spot for Shakespeare as well as southern stories that remind her of her home state of Kentucky.

Favorite sub-genres: Gothic, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction YA, Southern Gothic, Speculative Fiction, horror

Here are some of Ellen’s favorite things:

YA (of any kind)

Novels in Verse

Middle Grade Humor

Graphic novels

Spooky stuff (ghosts, vampires, lore)

Gothic/Southern Gothic

Southern settings

Shakespeare-inspired & retellings

Historical Fiction (only YA)

Inventive Cookbooks


Ellen runs a YA writing group and workshop in NYC.

To Query: Please send your query and the first five pages of your manuscript to



What do you like to see in a submission?

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.

How important is the query letter?

It’s very important. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and typos happen, but we often don’t have time to read your pages in depth. So we look to the letter to guide us on whether we’ll take time to dive into the sample pages. How engaging a query letter is and the narrative flow of it tells me A LOT about how well the manuscript is written and how well a grasp an author has on their own story and plot arcs and character profiles.

Would you have a sample of a good query letter or a link to one you saw on the Internet that would help writers?

This is a pretty good quick and dirty reference sheet, just based on a brief glance:

Do you have any tips on how to find comps to use in a submission query letter?

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. Walk into bookstores, look at their displays, too.

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

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; a good query letter won’t do all the heavy lifting.

After you request more, how long do you think it will take to respond?

Agents’ reading time is slow and getting slower; we all wear a lot of different hats and have to prioritize existing clients. If I have a slow week or am on vacation, I might be able to read in a week. Other times, reading a full manuscript can take months.

Do you have any pet peeves?

Gratuitous murder or violence toward girls and women. It’s almost 2023! We can have narratives without.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

I see a lot of folks trying to fit SO much into their queries. We don’t need queries that are paragraphs and paragraphs long – save extra background info or deep plot info for a follow up conversation with an agent if they’re interested in your work. My eyes only have so much stamina.

What are your feelings about prologues?

My question is always, why can’t it just be a first chapter? Does it need to be labeled a prologue? If it’s a prologue because it flashes back in time, why are we spending time where our main protagonist isn’t? Is the prologue really so crucial we must delay getting to see the here and now of our main character? Often delicious backstory and context are best revealed in snippets scattered throughout the story. That layering will add nuance; at the beginning of the novel, we don’t yet have context for the info you’re giving us.

Do you have a place where you keep writers up-to-date on what you would like to see? Blog?

Manuscript Wishlist is a great website and resource for this kind of thing. Also, our agency’s website! I occasionally post MSWL items on Twitter, too.



In the subject line, please write “NOVEMBER 2022 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you put your name, the title of the piece, and genre: a picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult, Non-fiction, contemporary, historical, Sci-fi, fantasy, 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).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2022 NOVERMBER FIRST PAGE  – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

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.


DEADLINE:November 22nd. – noon EST

RESULTS: December 2nd

PLEASE NOTE: THERE WON’T BE A DECEMBER AGENT OF THE MONTH. ELLEN IS THE LAST AGENT FOR THIS YEAR, so make sure you submit your first page before the holidays.


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks, Kathy.


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