Saturday, January 8, 2011

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Holly McGhee

Pippin Properties, Inc. is an agency devoted primarily to picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels, but we also represent adult projects on occasion. They are always on the lookout for writers and illustrators who take the challenge of creating books seriously and are willing to give the publishing world nothing less than their very best.

After a twelve-year career in book publishing, with positions ranging from assistant to advertising-and-promotion director to executive editor, Holly M. McGhee founded Pippin Properties, Inc., an agency devoted to the management and representation of the finest authors and artists at work today. Her fascination with making books began in 1991, when she was appointed Associate Publisher for Michael di Capua's imprint at HarperCollins.

She is also the author of Dessert First, Just Desserts, and the upcoming Mitchell's License and No Room for Dessert under the pen name Hallie Durand. 

Click here to read my review of Mitchell's License.

Holly McGhee has said, "My vision for Pippin is captured best by the cultivation of the bonsai tree—intense devotion to detail and beauty, with elegance and mystery taking precedence over size. And with fastidious care, the bonsai lives on through generation after generation. Someone I respect enormously once said to me, 'you can go large, or you can focus.' To this day Pippin remains focused on representing unparalleled work by the finest authors and artists writing and drawing today, be it picture books, middle-grade, young adult, or adult literature."

As always, for more information about Holly McGhee and other literary agents, I highly recommend my friend Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Holly McGhee faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I can’t say my three absolute favorites, but here are three books that have been on my favorite list for a very long time: The Juniper Tree by Lore Segal and Maurice Sendak, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (her only book!), and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

I can’t answer for television because I hardly watch any (except baseball), but for movies, among my favorites are Harold and Maude (really stuck with me), Waiting for Guffman, and The Man Who Came to Dinner. More recently, I loved Secretariat (saw it with my husband and three kids—we all loved it).

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

~Talent: It all starts with talent. From there, I look for:

~Trust: We’re the experts you’re the boss. But you’ve got to trust us and we have to be able to trust you.

~Heart: A must.

~Humility / Gratitude: I think it’s important to remain humble, for there are always writers greater and lesser than yourself. And I think it’s important to remain grateful, too, for being able to do what you do every day.

~Work Ethic: This goes hand in hand with our company philosophy: The world owes you nothing; you owe the world your best work; in other words, Don’t settle. We won’t, either. We’re ruthless when it comes to making the most extraordinary books possible.

~Humor: We like to laugh!!

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

A story that breaks my heart and then glues it back together again, even if the glue job isn’t perfect, or a story that gives me those great big belly laughs that make me snort and make my eyes run.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing is changing people’s lives by helping usher stories that mean something into the world. My least favorite is telling my authors to “shelve” it. But I do it anyway because they rely on me to be the gatekeeper, and to tell the truth about the work as I see it.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

~Be discriminating but don’t be precious about your work.

~The only way out is through. (from Julia Gillian, by Alison McGhee)

~Don’t. Rush. Ever.

~Keep your head down and your hands busy.

~The truth is forever changing. (from The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo)

~There are a thousand people right in line behind you, ready and willing to take your place.

~Remember these things. Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though they were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters. (Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write )

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I would have one more lunch with Fred Marcellino, who died way, way too early. He was a client of Pippin and we only had a few years together, and he was one of the most amazing artists and human beings I’ve ever met. What I would give to have him call me right now and say “Can I come over and get some advice?’


  1. Somehow, you always get our interviewees to say the most interesting, non-agenty things. A superstar agent who loves baseball?? AWESOME!

  2. Great interview. I loved "Don't. Rush. Ever."

    And Literary Rambles is a great resource for researching agents. Looking forward to your next interview.


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