Monday, November 12, 2012

INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Briggs - Intern for Superagent Jill Corcoran

Elizabeth Briggs calls herself "...a nerd who writes YA sci-fi, goes to Comic Con every year, and volunteers with dog rescues." (I just call her a lovely online-friend and source of insightful publishing advice). She's represented by Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary, and interns for Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency.

Liz, thanks for taking the time to drop by today. Let's start with your position as Intern at the Herman agency. How did you procure that position, and what's involved?

Thanks for interviewing me! I got the position by sending Jill an email after she posted that she was looking for interns. I told her I didn't have any experience in publishing, but that I was an active member of SCBWI and an avid reader of YA and MG. I wrote that I was hoping to transition to a job in publishing, and tried to describe how my work experience gave me skills that would help me as an intern. I honestly didn't think I would get the position because I assumed most people would be better qualified than me, but I wanted to try anyway.

Jill ended up hiring someone else as her assistant, and I figured that was that. But few months later Jill needed another intern to help with the growing query pile and contacted me. She interviewed me over the phone, and I started working for her in June. Now I help her go through queries, both to reject the ones that are obviously wrong for her and to make sure she pays attention to the amazing ones. I also sometimes read full manuscripts and give my opinion on them.

That sounds really interesting! Had you had much experience reading other writer's manuscripts before you started? What are the most common flaws you see?

Nope! The only experience I had was reading published books and doing critiques for beta readers. But I think one reason Jill "hired" me was that I've read over 90 books a year for the past few years, and most of them were YA and MG.

The most common flaws I see in manuscripts are: too much backstory early on, passive main characters, and a plot that moves too slowly.

That's interesting that you mention passive main characters as a common flaw. The word "passive" gets bandied around a lot in writing circles, but I think sometimes as writers it's hard to see your main character in that way when you know everything that's happening inside their head. Can you offer some examples of the kinds of things that make a protagonist passive, in your opinion?

A passive character is one that isn't driving the plot forward. Often this is because the protagonist doesn't have a clear goal they are working toward, or sometimes other characters are making the decisions and taking action instead of the protagonist. To fix this, I'd suggest making sure your main character has an overall goal they are working toward, plus a smaller goal or desire in every scene (although they should often fail at reaching these goals - it's the trying to achieve them that matters). You can also look at your side characters and see if one of them is making all the decisions, rescuing the protagonist a lot, and so forth (in YA, I often see this with the love interest).

Since you're reading a lot of different books now, from different authors, do you find yourself drawn to any genres in particular? Or seeing any trends coming through that you're excited about?

I'm not really drawn to any genres in particular, I just look for a unique concept plus excellent writing. And I wish I knew what the upcoming trends were! Right now I'm seeing a lot of interest in YA mystery/thrillers, funny contemporary, and magical realism. Also, anything MG is in demand right now, but it's hard to find writers who can do a great MG voice.

Great insight! Excuse me while I scurry off to finish my YA thriller! *Cough* Now that you're settling in with Jill, have you found that reading all those queries and books has helped you as a writer?

It's definitely made me a better writer, probably because it's easier to see what works and what doesn't in other people's writing than in your own. It's also helped me be more aware of overused cliches in writing (starting with waking up, for example).

Is there any advice you'd offer to writer's heading into the query / submission fray?

My advice to writers is to do your research before you query, not just about submission guidelines and things like that, but also about the agent him/herself. Look at their sales, and not just how many there are, but also where they've sold to, and what types of books they've sold. For example, if an agent only sells adult mysteries, or only sells to small presses, does that work for your book and your goals? If the agent is newer, where did they previously intern or work, and do they work for a reputable agency now? If they have Twitter or a blog, do you like what they have to say? Do you like their clients' books? I think writers sometimes become desperate to get an agent and don't stop to think, "Is this person a good agent for me?" You want to make sure that the agent you sign with both has the right experience for your writing goals, and is someone you want to work with for many years.

That's all great stuff, Liz. Thanks so much! Now, as our final farewell, tell us about your book! Where are you in the process of finding a publisher? And where can readers find you if they want to message or tweet, or hear about your upcoming success?

I'm represented by Kate Testerman of KT Literary, and my novel ALTERNATE is about a teen hacker who is thrust into a war between parallel universes when she meets an alternate version of herself from another dimension. You can find me at and on Twitter at @lizwrites.

Thanks for the interview, Aimee!

Your Turn: Do you have any questions for Liz?


  1. I love this interview! Thanks for sharing! I loved the question about passive main characters... I struggle with making mine more assertive. Thanks for the reminder :)

    1. I know what you mean. Passivity is a plague on us all, I think :)

  2. Liz is one of my FAV people EVER. She's brilliant. Awesome interview! :-)

  3. What a great interview. It's nice to here someone explain what being passive is so coherently. And ALTERNATE sounds really awesome. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for it.