Interview with literary agent Jill Marsal.

Today, we are lucky enough to have Jill Marsal of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency on the blog! She has some wonderful advice for writers and will even tell us what she is looking for in submissions right now! Thank you, Jill, for being here with us!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Jill: When I was in high school, we had a career day, and one of the speakers was a literary agent.  I had never heard of agenting (this was before the movie Jerry Maguire), but I thought it sounded terrific.  I loved reading – fiction, non-fiction, all types of books – so that afternoon I went home and got out the phone book and started calling local agents to see if I could get a job.  I started with a small agency and loved it and knew I was “hooked” on agenting.


Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Jill: The author/agent relationship should be a collaboration- the agent should understand the author’s goals and work with the author to help her or him reach them.  Obviously, a strong manuscript is critical to getting published so a good agent should offer editorial feedback to help make manuscripts or proposals as strong as possible.  It is a very interactive process to get a manuscript “ready for market.”  And good communication is critical to a successful relationship.  In my view, the author-agent relationship should be a long term partnership where the agent helps grow and develop an author’s career and is there to answer questions, offer advice, and be the writer’s advocate.


Me: What are you looking for right now in submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Jill: I would love to see more women’s fiction and stories about women, stories of family, friendships, interesting relationships, Southern fiction, or multi-generations, and all types of romance, including romantic suspense, historical, contemporary, and category romance. I am also looking for mysteries, cozies, suspense, and thrillers that keep the pages turning and have an original hook. I also like general commercial fiction and welcome a dramatic storyline and compelling characters in interesting situations or relationships. If you have a novel that has a highly original concept or voice, please send!

On the non-fiction side, I would like to see more current events, business, health, self-help, relationships, psychology, parenting, science, and narrative non-fiction. I want to find projects which will move readers or leave them thinking, which make provocative arguments or share interesting research, or which offer useful, new advice.  I am not looking for memoirs or YA at the moment.


Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

Jill: My neighbor is a scientist who goes to Antarctica to research and track killer whales, and it sounds fascinating.  While I don’t think I will ever make it quite that far, I would love to go up to Puget Sound to see killer whales in their natural habitat one day.  I love dolphins, whales, seals, and other marine animals.


Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Jill: R.E.S.T.!  Read, edit, share, and talk.  It is so important to know what is working on the market – read published books in the genre you want to write and analyze how the successful authors are crafting their stories and making them work.  Are there “rules” for the genre?  How does the author create deep POV? Do the characters have strong story arcs?  What makes you care about them?  How does the author keep pacing up? How do they establish setting?

Very often, new writers will open a story with a lot of “set up” and backstory to try and give readers all the information they need to know before the actual story gets going.  Really examine your work to make sure there is no big “information dump” in the beginning, that you have strong pacing out of the box, that you are showing not telling, and take what you have learned from studying other authors and apply it to your work.

And then, after you have studied these things and applied them to your manuscript, share it with someone who can give you feedback- a critique partner or writing group or someone who can offer meaningful feedback is invaluable.  Often, a fresh set of eyes will help you see things about your work in a new way and help take your manuscript to the next level.  And talk about what is working, what isn’t working, and why so you understand the feedback from your reader.


Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Jill: Yes, please email a query to



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