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Mar 29, 2021

Agent Spotlight Series: Ellen Goff

A warm welcome to Ellen Goff, Associate Agent at HG Literary. 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 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. She is also a Foreign Rights Associate on HG's foreign rights team. Ellen runs a YA writing group and workshop in NYC.

CritiqueMatch: Share a fun fact about you. 
Ellen: Fun Fact: I am a Second Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. Needless to say, I’d love to see books about girls in martial arts kicking butt!

CM: Black Belt—consider us impressed! How many authors do you represent? How has your author list changed over time? 
Ellen: I currently represent 6 clients (1 YA author, 1 MG author, 1 illustrator, and 3 picture book writers/illustrators). My focus has definitely shifted a bit young recently toward picture books because they just make me smile, as well as toward illustrated projects and graphic novels (even if they go darker and don’t make me smile!). I think graphic novels give me the same feeling as watching my favorite childhood cartoons. I have immense respect for animators and illustrators.  

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers? 
Ellen: I’m most definitely hands-on with editing and shaping a manuscript before I send it to editors. Every manuscript that lands on my desk needs editing in some way; there’s no project that’s 100% ready. I think this is a super important part of an agent’s job, as well. And I just love to read and edit! I can’t help it. I want projects to be the strongest they can be before I hand them to editors. 

CM: Any noteworthy publishing trends in the last three years? 
Ellen: I’ll be one of the agents to tell you never to follow a trend! By the time we’ve identified trends, we’re usually already at the end of them. It’s so much more beneficial to focus on writing stories that you’re excited about and pull from your unique perspective as a writer in order to create creative work that is wholly YOU. Besides, trends tend to come back around eventually. Vampires never truly die, do they? 

CM: What areas of the market do you think are in high demand right now?
Ellen: While I’ll always discourage trend-chasing, we are seeing a high demand for, and interest in, graphic novels recently. I think the combination of text and visual elements creates a nice, new reading experience for readers. We all lead busy lives and don’t always have the patience or mental bandwidth to sit down with a novel-sized book with only text, and stories that have illustration components provide a fresh landscape for the eyes and mind. 

CM: Can you share a client success story, from their query/introduction to you all the way to publication?
Ellen: I just sold a picture book at auction for my newest clients. They queried me by way of a referral through my colleague’s existing client (never hurts, which is why writers should definitely grow their writing communities!). It was an author and illustrator team, and they had a pretty polished dummy that was just so wonderfully cohesive in how the text worked with the images that I might have believed only one person worked on it. We edited it for a couple of weeks, went out on submission on a Monday, and had an auction by Friday. Everything aligned due to the duo’s teamwork and energy and just good luck. They had a clear story/personal connection to their manuscript, and that came through in the picture book, which editors picked up on and loved. The authenticity within, and devotion to, their project shone in their pages. 

CM: Name a book you recently read and can’t stop thinking about. 
Ellen: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Not the most recent, but its plotline is just so succinct and clear and flows with precision.

CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Ellen: That we’re always reading. Most of our 9-5 is devoted to admin, client management, and communication with editors, art directors, etc., and sending submissions. We do almost all of our manuscript reading and editing for our clients after work hours or on the weekends. Hence why we don’t always have the time to dive in to our query inboxes and respond to everyone.  


Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • Ellen is interested in all genres and formats of YA, especially anything spooky, historical fiction, and graphic novels. For historical fiction, she wants to learn about times, places, and communities we’ve previously overlooked. 
  • She has a soft spot for Shakespeare as well as southern gothic stories that remind her of her home state of Kentucky.
  • Ellen is always on the lookout for illustrators and author-illustrators working on projects within any age range.
  • Any project that falls between YA and Adult (college-aged characters welcome!) 
  • Anything with food in it! Books about food, books with long food descriptions, illustrations of food…

        2 Client Examples
        • THIS IS NOT MY HOME, January 2023, Little, Brown
        • THE BONE SPINDLE, January 11, 2022, Putnam

        Query Tips

        Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

          • Personalize! This makes me look closer at your query. 
          • Submit projects that are too long for the age range/genre. This tells me you haven’t edited as closely as I might like you too. 

          Submission Guidelines:
          Please send your query, full bio, and the first 5 pages of your manuscript (copy+paste) in an email to