Thursday, November 15, 2012

Interview with an Agent: Holly McGhee

Very pleased to share another installment of “Interview with an Agent” with you. This one features Holly McGhee of Pippin Properties, Inc. Pippin is one of the premiere agencies for children’s literature in this country, so all you children’s writers out there, get ready to add another agent to your lists!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

HM: I grew up in farm country, and even as a teenager I knew I wanted to live in New York City, so I did an internship here during college for one semester at the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. I knew I had found my people--both in terms of New York City and publishing--I just felt like myself.

I opened the doors at Pippin in 1998, after being an executive editor at HarperCollins for some time. The reason was simple: I wanted the chance to bring any project I loved into the world, without having to ask permission from a committee. Plus, I’d loved making deals since I was a kid--there’s beauty in a perfect deal, and a deal can be perfect for many and varied reasons--no two negotiations are ever the same, either.

KV: Quick note: If you’d like to know a little more about Ms. McGhee’s background, check out the short bio* at the bottom of the post. Okay, back to the interview!

How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

HM: My personal and professional life are pretty much integrated--and I expect the same level of commitment from my authors that I expect from myself. I see the relationship as a journey--there has to be freedom--freedom to explore every kind of book an author dreams of making--picture books, middle-grade, young adult, graphic, adult--freedom for the author to define themselves--to disregard any perception the audience may have about who they are…and that same freedom is core to my relationships--we must trust one another and speak our minds, and get to the essence of what’s meaningful to a particular author--that’s where the good books come from.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

HM: Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of the Sugarman Swamp is in Advanced Reader Copies already (ARCs). It’s her funniest novel to date, but don’t let her fool you--there’s plenty to consider underneath the humor. When Kathi approached Pippin several years ago, she had the dream of writing a literary novel, and what drew me to her writing was a scene she had written about the death of an old, old loblolly pine tree--it hit me hard, and that’s all I needed to read to know she could make her dream come true.

And next fall comes Jon Agee’s Little Santa--I was immediately smitten by a picture of a chubby young Santa in a full-body hooded red snuggly!

And with Sally Cook and her adult baseball book with Ray Negron, Yankee Miracles (published September 3, 2012), well…Sally was the author of the first book I sold in 1998. Not only do I love baseball but I was moved by the story of this teenage boy who was caught spray-painting a Yankee Stadium wall by George Steinbrenner, and was allowed to repay the damages by becoming a batboy--he’s now been with team for the past four decades--that one was a no-brainer for me.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

HM: Our primary focus is on children’s books of all kinds: picture books, middle-grade, young adult, and graphic. But we follow the authors: we’re the experts, they’re the bosses--if a story starts out or becomes an adult book in the making, that’s how we pitch it. I also have a special affection for books that are honest and portray the world as it really is--no pussyfooting around--be brave! Think David Small’s STITCHES too, which was an important book for me personally and professionally.

That said, it’s impossible for me to shut the door completely on any category--saying absolutely no is not in my DNA--I’m too curious!

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

HM: I do not like super large art attachments on the e-mails at all--just send us a link to the work or a few chosen images.

To Whom It May Concern shows a lack of research, and that laziness will in all likelihood show up in the work too.

More than three paragraphs in a pitch just isn’t necessary--if I get bored with your query letter I’ll be bored with your work too, probably.

Remember this: The World Owes You Nothing; You Owe the World Your Best Work. You only get the chance to make a first impression once. Would you show up for a dinner date with spinach on your teeth--not if you can help it! Show us your best right out of the gate.

And my worst pet peeve: an unnumbered manuscript. If you want to hear a scream cry from East 38th Street, just send me an unnumbered manuscript. I mean, COME ON PEOPLE!! No excuse for that.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

HM: I’d like to see a story that is as funny as Conan O’Brien, or as riveting as The Secret Life of Bees, or as honest as Mary Karr’s LIT. My son, who’s seven, can’t get through a day without reading Tin Tin, Bone, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Something like that would be just fine too--I love graphics. Most important, I’d like to see a book that matters.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

HM: Via e-mail--go to the Submissions tab on our website:, and follow the directions. The tips on the left-hand side of the page are important too. We are honored to be given a one-month exclusive as well, and we typically read those queries first.

Thank you, Ms. McGhee, for these insightful answers. I hope this interview sends at least a few books that matter your way.

Have a great weekend, all! I’m out!

*Holly McGhee opened the doors of Pippin Properties, Inc. in 1998, after a twelve-year career with positions ranging from assistant to advertising manager to executive editor. Although being an agent started out as a hobby, it quickly became a passion and it remains that to this day. Among Holly’s celebrated clients are Kate DiCamillo, David Small, Doreen Cronin, Jandy Nelson, Kathi Appelt, Harry Bliss, Peter H. Reynolds, Sujean Rim, Jon Agee, and Holly’s very own big sister, Alison McGhee. Holly lives with her husband and three children fifteen miles west of the Lincoln Tunnel, and she also writes under the pen name Hallie Durand.


Stephsco said...

Thanks for sharing! It's always so interesting to hear directly from professionals in the industry.

Emily said...

Thanks for another great interview post, Krista. I just added Holly to my query list--she sounds amazing!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Stephsco!

Emily, she certainly does. And Pippin's a FANTASTIC agency.

Myrna Foster said...

Wow. That's an impressive list of clients, and I loved her answers. Thanks, Krista! I'll be querying her soon!

Escape Artist Linda said...

Hi Krista! Gosh you're doing well getting such a wonderful bunch on your blog!!

Holly is super special!
I had some contact with her a while back and she was kind, generous, wonderfully clever and just super supportive! A very special person!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Linda, the ladies at Pippin actually came to me this time! Normally, I like to do the inviting, since I want to be able to vouch for the quality of the agents I interview, but if agents represent authors whose names I'll recognize, they're more than welcome to look me up:)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Oh, Myrna, I forgot to respond to your comment! Yes, you should definitely query Ms. McGhee. I think you two would make a nice fit.

Deirdre said...

Your agent interviews are amazing! Thank you for doing it and participating in pitch wars- woot! Have a great weekend :)

Marcia Mickelson said...

Thanks for the great agent interviews you post. It is always wonderful to learn these details.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

My pleasure, Deirdre and Marcia. Thanks for reading! (And Deirdre, good luck in Pitch Wars!)

Shallee said...

You've always got the greatest interviews, Krista. :) Thanks to you and to Holly!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

No problem, Shallee. Thanks for stopping by!

Karen lee Hallam said...

Thanks for the interview, Holly and Krista.
I was searching Holly's name, and lo-and-behold, you have this great interview. I always appreciate your interviews and your blog.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

My pleasure, Karen! Thanks for stopping by!