Why You Need a Literary Agent: Novelist Bernadette Pajer Interviews Her Agent, Jill Grosjean

Emerging writers often ask me if literary agents are necessary in today’s publishing world. I say, emphatically, yes! Why? Because after the current turbulent evolution of publishing stabilizes, traditional publishers will continue to exist and play a vital role in the production of books. And why do I believe that? Because most writers want to write. Just write. We know we must help market our books, and that is time-consuming enough, but most of us don’t truly want to do the job of a dozen industry professionals.

What these new and improved traditional publishers will look like still remains to be seen, but they will certainly be bombarded with submissions and look toward literary agents to speed their search for high-quality manuscripts. Publishers, being businesses, will also still try to maximize their profits, therefore, writers will continue to need agents to fight for their interests.

(Do writers need an outside edit before querying agents?)

But the top reason writers need literary agents has nothing to do with by-passing slush piles or negotiating contracts. The top reason is moral support. The road to publication can be long and lonely and filled with doubt. A really good literary agent has judgment, experience, and influence. Said agent is passionate about the manuscripts taken on, boosts writers’ confidence with his/her belief in them, commiserates about declines, and remains steadfast against all odds. A really good literary agent continues to study the market and changes with the times and helps navigate his/her writers through it all.

I’m lucky. I have a really good literary agent. Her name is Jill Grosjean of Jill Grosjean Literary, and I recently asked her a few questions I thought emerging writers might want to know.



(Left: Novelist Bernadette Pajer. Right: Literary agent Jill Grosjean.)
Guest column by Bernadette Pajer, author of the Professor Bradshaw
Mystery series, which includes A SPARK OF DEATH (July 2011) and
FATAL INDUCTION (May 2012). A graduate of the University of
Washington, Pajer is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America,
Sisters in Crime, Northwest Science Writers, and the Seattle7Writers.org.
Research is Pajer’s favorite activity, and she happily delves into Seattle’s
past and the early days of electrical invention as she plots Professor
Bradshaw’s investigations. Pajer lives in the Seattle area with her
husband and son. Visit Bernadette Pajer on the web at: bernadettepajer.com


Bernadette: Why did you become a literary agent?

Jill Grosjean: I was a bookseller for many years and actually was hired to work at a literary agency from a contact I made at the bookstore. While at the agency I realized I could put my knowledge of published books to work on this side of the business, namely helping writers become published authors. After five years, I opened my own agency and since then have worn all the hats associated with running one’s own business.

Bernadette: What future do you see for literary agents?

Jill Grosjean: There’s no denying that publishing has undergone changes and even though I work alone, I’ve had to make some changes in how I work. I’ve always taken on books that I love and hope to sell, but with the challenges facing the industry, I’ve had to realize that there will be books that will never find a traditional publishing home. That was a difficult realization. Not that I’ve given up trying to get all my clients a book deal, one even took ten years, but we did finally sell, and her second came out May ’12 with a third in the works! (BP: She’s talking about me!)

Bernadette: How do you decide which writers/manuscripts to represent?

Jill Grosjean: It all begins with the query letter. If it sparks my interest, I’ll ask to see the manuscript, I always read with the same hope: please hold together all the way through, or let it be something I can fix. Once I’ve read through the manuscript, I ask myself two questions: does the book have universal appeal and do I want to know what happens to these characters the next day? If the answers are yes to both and the manuscript held my attention and made me want to get back to reading it when I had to put it down to deal with whatever else has come up in my work day, then I know there’s something there. I’m rather stubborn and once I take on a book, I pretty much am mated to it for life, so it has to be something I love.

(In the middle of querying? Here are some helpful tips.)

Bernadette: What’s the most important thing a writer should consider before contacting an agent?

Jill Grosjean: For me, the author must have a finished book. Not a first draft, but a version they have read, edited and even put aside for a while and then re-read and re-edited. Only then do I believe the author is ready to begin the search for an agent. I know from conferences I’ve attended that authors think lining up an agent is something they need to do early on in their writing, but until you have a finished product for the agent to review there’s no need for an agent.

Bernadette: Was there ever a time in all the non-selling years that you considered giving up trying to sell my work?

Jill Grosjean: No, I never considered giving up! (BP: And that’s the top reason you need a really good agent!)


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