SDSU Writers’ Conference: Six Questions with Literary Agent Jill Marr

Jill Marr

Jill Marr, Literary Agent

1. What’s the best advice you can give to writers who are right now polishing their pitches, query letters and first 10 pages of their manuscripts in preparation for the upcoming SDSU Writers’ Conference?
I think that the best thing a writer can do is to have some trusted beta readers go over their content prior to the conference, so that agents and editors are not the first to read. Most writers tend to work in a vacuum and can possibly miss errors or content issues that might come up. It’s good to get another set of eyes on your work.

2. Can you share one of the worst opening lines from a query letter that you’ve received?
It’s never a good sign when someone immediately downplays their own work in the query. I don’t like over-selling (telling me the book is the next best-seller, would be a great movie, etc.) but I actually had someone open his query letter by telling me that 25 other agents had already passed on his project so he was really hoping I wouldn’t be number 26. I felt bad for the guy. But why bother reading on?

3. How about one of the best opening lines?
I love it when I can get a sense of the author’s voice in the opening of a query letter. Sometimes that means kicking things off with a memorable line from the book or something fun about the character or the story that pulls me in immediately. Rather than start the query with the nuts and bolts (I have a suspense project that is 76,000 words and blah, blah) it’s great to approach an agent or editor with a couple of lines that reflect the overall tone in which the novel is written.

4. What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader? 
I was a reader-in-training before I actually read! My father read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to me when I was a little girl. I remember being so enthralled with the idea that a young girl like Lucy could simply walk through a wardrobe and experience such adventures! I lived vicariously through her as my father read, and I was hooked on books from then on.

5. If you had to pick only one, what’s your favorite book?
I’ll have a different answer for you every day. But today, it’s Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. My birthday is on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day — and for some reason that association inspired a life-long fascination with WWII and the people of “the Greatest Generation.” I love that Hillenbrand took one man’s story and through his experience paints a portrait of the entire war. She’s a talented, remarkable writer. And I always enjoy an inspirational story about human resilience. Unbroken is nonfiction that reads like a novel — a truly inspiring read.

6. What do you hope to find at the Annual SDSU Writers’ Conference?
I’d love to find the next Dennis Lehane. But I’m realistic. If that’s not possible, I’ll take the next Gillian Flynn or Harlan Coben.

For more information about the SDSU Writers’ Conference, visit neverstoplearning.net/writers