Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 25, 2022

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



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



Do you give editorial feedback to your clients?

Always. We’re an editorially focused agency. We want the manuscript to be in the best shape it can be when it hits an editor’s desk so they have less to work through. They’re busy, too. I think every agent does 2 or 3 large edits with every existing client or new client, on debuts or on next novels.

How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)?

Email is best—there’s a lot of info in publishing. We’d forget everything on the phone.

Once you submit a manuscript to a publisher, how often do you communicate with your client during the submission process?

We will often pass along rejections from editors during this stage, IF the client wants to see them. Otherwise, we might check in about what they’re going to work on while they wait. Going on submission is a marathon, not a sprint, and involves a lot of waiting on both the part of the writer and agent. We might help brainstorm new ideas, or pass along promising leads from editors. But generally, it’s a slower time of communication.

What happens if you don’t sell a book and the author wants to self-publish a book? Would you be okay with that?

If we don’t sell a book, after a couple years of really trying, we might put the book in a drawer and come back to it and focus on a new one in the meantime. It won’t necessarily benefit the writer to self-publish that first one if we’re trying to traditionally publish the second. Authors typically publish or have a book out one at a time, once a year for novels or maybe twice a year for kidlit titles. And your agent will be focused on getting your next manuscript on the desk of editors at the publishing houses. Writers usually sign with agents to get traditionally published, so it’s much easier to see one path through before shifting focus and effort. We have many clients though who started in self-publishing, and then switched to the agent process to get traditionally published. We welcome all backgrounds.

Do you seek help from other agents at your agency to get suggestions on editors and/or publishers to submit to for the clients you sign up to represent?

All the time! We’re collaborative at every point in the process. We all have a grasp of different editors we meet, so we’re constantly recommending names and imprints. We even read our clients’ manuscripts for each other if an agent is stumped about where to take a revision for a client. We rely on each other to pool our collective knowledge, especially during deal negotiations and solving problems for clients. Our authors have an agency team behind them, not just one person.

Would you ever send a manuscript to another agent at HG Literary if it was good, but not what you want to represent?

For sure! We do this all the time. If it didn’t quite click but we see the merit, or if we’re just so swamped with our own workload but we know the writer would be a great addition to our team and we recognize their talent. My colleagues pass around manuscripts all the time, which is why often a rejection from one agent means a rejection from the entire agency. You’ll see that policy a lot on agency websites.

What do you think of digital and audio books? Are they part of every sale these days?

Absolutely. Often traditional publishing contracts for print editions contain clauses for ebooks and audiobooks at the same time. They can make up great portions of total sales numbers.

Do you handle all foreign/film rights contracts or does your firm have someone else who will be handling those contracts?

Our agency is lucky enough to have an in-house foreign rights team. Our VP and Director of Foreign Rights, Soumeya Roberts, and I lead our foreign rights department. We try and retain translation rights in our clients’ contracts and deals so that we can sell those translation rights ourselves. On the film side, we work with film-coagents who help us pitch our clients’ books within the film community.

Do you see any new trends building in the industry?

We always recommend never chasing trends. By the time you see one in deal reports or on the shelves, it’s passed! Generally, we’re seeing a move toward joyful and fun and heartwarming titles lately. Perhaps warm and comforting content to help keep our minds at ease in the current news cycle of the world and with the impending winter. Romcoms, lighthearted snippets of life, romances.

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, secure an agent, and get published?

READ widely and find a critique group of writers in your community; the writers you “grow up” with might be the published authors next to you on a publishing panel or at a book launch one day. Also, find a couple of trustworthy beta readers who will read your full manuscripts and give you honest feedback. These beta readers won’t necessarily be your best friends. They will be other writers who understand editing and how to offer helpful feedback. Also, truly don’t give up. If anything, just shift focus to new projects that excite you. It took me 5 years and 5 manuscripts to find my own agent for my writing, and I work in the heart of publishing.

Would you like to attend other conferences, workshops writer’s retreats?

Yes, I love attending these. Something about everyone traveling to a common destination for a common goal is energizing and hopeful.


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks, Kathy.


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