Agent Advice: Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary

Editor’s note: Lilly contacted me in June 2010
and said she had taken a hiatus from agenting.
So don’t be surprised if you query and hear
nothing back.


“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary in San Diego. Lilly is an attorney now “using her powers for good” as a literary agent with Full Circle Literary (co-founded with Stefanie Von Borstel). 
Seeking: “A wide range of nonfiction, driven by a compelling narrative voice (even if it’s a how-to). She is interested in YA, and is open to reviewing chick lit or literary fiction. As a rule please know that Full Circle does not represent genre fiction (thriller, mystery, romance, suspense, horror, western, historical), poetry, or screenplays. She also takes on some graphic novels. A sampling of her recent sales include Raina Lee’s karaoke book Hit Me with Your Best Shot (Chronicle Books), Joseph Sommerville’s Rainmaking Presentations (Palgrave), and Cal Patch’s Patternmaking (RH/Potter Craft). Lilly particularly enjoys books about pop culture, crafts, the rest of the world (with a soft spot for the Middle East), music and the performing arts, and topics that connect with a female readership.”


: How did you become an agent?

LG: I joined a law firm/literary agent straight out of law school, so I quickly learned the art of finessing a publishing deal, protecting authors’ rights, and understanding what the market responded to.  I met Stefanie, then a fellow agent at the company, and upon realizing our shared vision for a young, energetic agency, we joined forces to launch Full Circle in 2004.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

LG: This week I’m selling renown hypnotherapist Debra Berndt’s Let Love In (calling all single girls!) to Wiley. Other recent sales in the past couple of weeks include Baby Sing and Sign by Penny Warner to Three Rivers

GLA: Online, your fiction “wants” say “multicultural, literary or by referral only.” What does this mean exactly?  Does this mean any adult fiction not multicultural or literary can only be submitted through a referral?

LG: Yes.  We have really done quite well within nonfiction and children’s, so that’s our main focus for new clients. As avid fiction readers ourselves, we are open to representing fiction and certainly do on occasion, but we prefer that it fall within our pronounced interests.  There are so many fantastic agents out there aggressively representing fiction, so we’ve tried to outline what ‘s likely to get strong consideration with us.

GLA: You just attended the Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors conference.  Besides writers being too nervous, what is the most common mistake(s) you see writers making during an in-person pitch?

LG: That’s a great question, Chuck, thanks for asking!  I think the mistake of the pitch is to read.  You have 5, or possibly 15 minutes with an agent.  This is their chance to see you as a person.  Many of us (at the very least I can say this is true for myself) feel it’s important to connect not just with the work, but with the author.  Your work will speak for itself once we have a chance to sit down and read it – take this time to make eye contact with us, show us why you’d be easy and wonderful to work with, show us your passion for your project.  And to qualm the nervousness, remember that, no matter how agents behave, without writers we have no job!

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GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting? For example – an adventure novel set in Iran.  A nonfiction book proposal about massage therapy…

LG: I am very interested in doing more books that will preserve our environment and that introduce readers to “green” issues in a non-cliche way.  I’m also interested in hip crafting books.  I would love to do some children’s, YA, or middle-grade books about the middle east.  Multicultural books are appearing about a variety of ethnicities, but I’m not seeing them about Middle Easterners as much as I’d hoped.  I’m also interested in pop culture, always and forever!

GLA: Do you consider yourself to have any weird quirks as an agent?  In other words, have you ever been on an agent panel and heard all the other agents agree on something while you yourself thought differently?

LG: I seem to differ with my colleagues on the likeability of an author.  I came to publishing from law because I don’t want to work for a client just because they’re a client or they pay me.  I wanted to work for clients because I believe in them and their work and because we have an energetic partnership.  I feel that one of the benefits of running my own company is the opportunity to handpick who I work with, and I make use of that privilege regularly.  In other words, I’m not a Diva Management Firm.  I take the author and book as a full package!

GLA: You look for multicultural fiction, and books set in the Middle East are of special interest. Concering these submissions you see, what are the most common places where writers go wrong?  What makes you stop reading a multicultural fiction submission?

LG: The biggest mistake I’ve seen is people who want to write about the Middle East because they think it’s a hot topic, but then not educating themselves enough about it.  For example, one woman submitted a project to me that just briefly mentioned a heavy dresser that the character’s parents had brought over during the Revolution.  Well that caught my eye, because people who left Iran during the Revolution did so under duress, traveling over mountains by car or animal, or leaving all their worldly possessions and hopping on one of the last flights out of Tehran.  This is a fact that cursory research would have uncovered.

Another common mistake is folks who present genre fiction to me.  Even if a genre novel takes place in the Middle East, my interest in those doesn’t surpass my need to stay within what we can sell well for you!

GLA: I know your co-agent, Stefanie, reps kids books, but do you as well?

LG: Yes, I do.  And readers may not know this, but Stefanie and I work together on all the projects at Full Circle – many agencies have one agent designated to a project, but we pool our resources to give authors the strongest footing going forward.  Even if I acquire a project for us, they will benefit from Stefanie’s superior years in the children’s book industry.

GLA: What are you looking for in a graphic novel?  What are the elements of a perfect GN query?

LG: In a graphic novel (I have yet to take one on!), I’m looking for stylized, professional artwork, but more than that – a fresh, compelling story.  My mind was opened to graphic novels after reading Marjane Satrapi’s incredible Persepolis.  I myself hadn’t realized how emotional and powerful a graphic novel could be as a medium to tell a tale until the moment I opened that book.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet you?

LG: I don’t have any on deck at the moment, but we try to keep an updated list on our website.

GLA: Any blogs you want to plug?

LG: Yes!  Two in particular. First, ours – Secondly, our author Jon Yang. He’s the author of the Rough Guide to Blogging, and his insights are hilarious. To be honest, I first found him as a blogger online, and that’s how we parlayed the first book deal. His YA novels, beginning with Exclusively Chloe, are forthcoming from Penguin.

GLA: Other bit of advice on something we haven’t discussed?

LG: Yes! Did you know Kirkland Vodka is actually Grey Goose, produced for generic packaging? You can thank me later.


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