An Interview with Jill Corcoran: #LA12SCBWI

The sunglasses are a giveaway: Jill is based in Los Angeles.Here's my final SCBWI faculty interview before the Los Angeles conference next month. And it's with my agent, Jill Corcoran of Herman Agency. [Insert Kermit the Frog-style clapping!]

How I met Jill: I wasn't looking for a literary agent when I started following Jill on Twitter. I just liked what she had to say, and I liked her friendly style. A few months later, she tweeted about a LA Writers Roundup that would feature Arthur Levine as faculty, and I resolved to travel down to California to be part of the fun.

Jill and I hit it off at the retreat, and over time, exchanged lots of email and fellow-writer encouragement. Jill, as you might not know, is a writer and editor as well as an agent. Her first anthology of poetry, DARE TO DREAM ... CHANGE THE WORLD is just out from Kane Miller/Usborne (and it's already sold out on their site!). It features poetry from Jill, Jane Yolen, Bruce Coville and more. 

After a particularly frustrating writing setback, I reached out to Jill for encouragement. Within a few hours, she’d brought me out of my funk AND offered to represent me. This, in a nutshell, is Jill. She knows what she likes and is unstinting in her support and encouragement. 

I am really excited she'll be on the faculty of the SCBWI-LA conference. To get you ready to make the most of her sessions, I asked her a few questions: 

You've been on the faculty of a bunch of conferences. What are some ways writers can make connections with agents without coming across as being too pushy or clueless? Do you have a short list of dos and don’ts?

Jill's new poetry anthology, DARE TO DREAMI love going to conferences and meeting writers and illustrators, and I have signed quite a number of clients via SCBWI conferences. In fact, I just came back from SCBWI Australia where I signed my first three author/illustrators! My best advice is to be yourself. Don't be nervous to talk to agent and editors, they are just people and honestly it is your writing and/or art that comes first. If you are nice and personable, that is a bonus. If you are not nice, or if you're creepy or too pushy, you will probably do yourself more harm than good. Be open to opportunities but do know that editors and agents meet a lot of people at these conferences and sometimes the people who just come up and pitch become a blur. It is the ones that we connect with on a more personal level that are most memorable.
You've mentioned that you're looking for romance. Why do you think it's so hard to find well-done romance? And what are some things that kill romance on the page? 
I keep putting out a call for romance because I am having the hardest time finding manuscripts that sweep me away and let me feel that yearning and heartache that is oh so intense as a teen. Maybe it is difficult to recapture the innocence and wonder of first or even second love. Of crushes and unrequited love. Of waiting for that kiss, that touch, that moment when you no longer think straight and lose a part of yourself--for the good and the bad--to the person you 'think' you love. Of discerning between love and lust towards another person, and towards you. Of truth and lies. Of wanting to believe and not trusting your gut. I can go on and on. 
As I say on my blog, I would love to sign all different kinds of romance-- contemporary, mystery, thriller, paranormal, historical, sci-fi.....doesn't matter---it is about characters--soul-searching, groin-yearning, heart thumping, heart breaking, fast paced, laugh out loud, cry out loud, make me want to be your character ROMANCE!
What kills romance on the page? Unauthentic reactions, dull dialog, overthought writing where it reads like an adult reminiscing rather than a teen experiencing the moment, characters that I don't care about so I don't care if they get together--the dreaded 'cardboard character'.
Do you have any anecdotes about writers who stuck it out through rejections and are enjoying great success today? 
Robin Mellom is a huge SCBWI success story. Here is a fantastic writer who had 6 books under contract as a debut author--yet it took years for her to become an overnight success. In fact, Robin's THE CLASSROOM is the lead title for Disney-Hyperion this summer with an amazing 9-book floor display in every Barnes & Noble and a fantastic Disney-created book trailer that is getting placement all over the web. 
On January 10, 2012, Robin Mellom wrote a blog post that brought tears to my eyes. I am going to copy and paste it here as well as give you the link. This is what working hard, believing in yourself and SCBWI are all about!
I met Robin at a SCBWI Summer Conference....long live SCBWI!
Today My First Book Gets Published

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed today with feelings of gratefulness (and shock) as I look back on how I got to this day. I’ll recap for you, in a somewhat (not really) shortened version, my path to publication…

In 2002, my son was born and a few months later (once I got him into some sort of a napping schedule) I started writing fiction for children in my “spare” time. Within a few months, I had the beginnings of a story about two kids named Trevor and Libby who try to make it through their first day of middle school. It was a wonky little story with quizzes and interviews and diagrams. (I mention this first story of Trevor and Libby because it will come back around much later, I promise.)

I took it to my first writers’ meeting at the beginning of 2003 and there I met other children’s book writers. They invited my to join their critique group and I met with them every other week. I also met with another children’s writing group on opposite weeks, which met on the top floor of Barnes & Noble on Friday nights. Since my husband worked nights, I took the baby with me and rocked him in his stroller while I read my Trevor & Libby story out loud hoping he’d sleep long enough  for me to get some feedback from these oh-so-helpful people.

I’ll stop for a moment here and say, I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for those critique groups. They studied their craft and loved sharing their knowledge—I am so incredibly thankful for them.

Once I had a story, I submitted my Trevor/Libby book to editors and received great response, even worked on a major re-write of the manuscript with an editor, but in the end…no contract.

Eventually, I went on to get an agent and while we were subbing, I wrote another middle grade book. We submitted both books over the course of two years, getting “close” a few times. Again, I worked with an editor on re-writes for Trevor/Libby (two rounds) for about ten months. When it was in great shape and the editor was happy with it, she took it to the meeting. Woohoo! But found out the publisher wanted to focus on YA now, not middle grade.


I’ll be honest. Even though I’d gotten many rejections over the years, I’d finally come to the moment where I was devastated—totally, utterly devastated. I cried. For days. I ate so much fried chicken I didn’t think I’d ever eat it again. (I have, but it still just isn’t the same.) I thought for sure my opportunity to get published had passed. I was ready to give up.

But my writing friends encouraged me. They told me to keep knocking at the door. And to be patient.

So I got back to work and started writing again. I can’t really explain why, but I started writing…and kept writing…like Forrest Gump running across the country.

I wrote a serious teen book.

I wrote a middle grade science fiction book.

I wrote a funny girl chapter book.

Run, Forrest, run!!

Again, we got close several times, but still…no contract.

But even after all those years, everyone along the way was so encouraging. One editor even contacted my agent to say she loved my writing and she felt it was going to happen for mesomeday…but I just hadn’t found my project yet.

Well…one day my agent said she’d heard from an editor that they were looking for funny teen fiction.

“That’s you. I think you can write funny teen. Try it.” I vividly remember my agent saying that to me. She had so much belief in me, I wanted to do it just so I wouldn’t let her down!

So I started writing my sixth book, DITCHED. I wrote like crazy, and that book came out of my brain in about five months. It was an absolute blast to write. After submitting it, we had interest within a few weeks (to my shock) from three different publishers.

And within the month, I had a two-book deal from Disney-Hyperion.

[insert heaving and sobbing]

But it all came full circle. (Like, massively full circle.) After I got my book deal, I drove down to Comic-Con in San Diego to have lunch with my agent and meet my editor in person. He’s a super polite (and Oh My God incredibly wonderful) person and during the conversation he happened to say, “So tell me about the first thing you ever wrote.” I mentioned the wonky Trevor & Libby story—about the weirdness of the quizzes and interviews and diagrams. He about fell out of his seat. He said they’d always wanted to do a “mockumentary” for middle grade. I was like… “I can totally do that.”

And in June, Trevor & Libby will get their own book: THE CLASSROOM, the first book in a 4-book series.

So today is about ten years in the making and many people helped me along the way. If it weren’t for the encouragement of this kidlit community (writers, editors, agents) I’m convinced I wouldn’t have kept going and this wouldn’t be happening to me right now. So, if it’s possible, I’d like to hug the entire children’s book world and give y’all a big smoochie kiss. Lean in a little closer to your computer screen…Muah! Xoxo THANK YOU!

I hope you love DITCHED. It took a while for this story to come out of me and I wanted you to know why. :-)

More about Jill Corcoran

Follow her on Twitter: @jillcorcoran

Jill's blog

Jill's formula for a query letter

Where to start your story