Adria Goetz is an agent at Martin Literary Management. Adria is seeking board books, picture books, graphic novels, MG, YA, and Christian themed works. She earned her B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from the University of Washington.
Thank you, Adria!
Your education was in publishing and writing, and you even worked at a library for a while, did that influence your decision to become a literary agent? How did that all come about?
In high school and part of college I thought I wanted to be an editor, but as I learned more and more about the publishing industry and the publishing process, I quickly changed my mind. I first learned that there are very few opportunities for editor jobs in Seattle, and I’ve never had a desire to leave the Pacific Northwest. The PNW is the land of coffee and Sasquatches, and rich true crime history. AKA my personal heaven. During college, I applied to every publishing internship I heard about because I wanted to observe the publishing beast from every angle. When I started my internship with Martin Literary Management, I knew I’d found the right avenue for me. Agents get to work from home. Agents get to edit stories. And agents get to make dreams come true. The internship was only supposed to last for a few quarters, but it ended up lasting for two years because it was such a good fit. I wanted to start agenting right after graduation, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work financially. It takes so long as a new agent to get things going to the point where you’re making a livable salary. And I needed a job! I was a fresh college graduate with my wedding around the corner, and I needed something that would pay the bills. So I got a job in the Communications department of Pierce County Library. After working for the library for a while, I thought maybe a job as a children’s librarian would be a more practical job for me, so I applied for library school, and got in! It was right when I opened my acceptance letter that I knew it wasn’t the right decision for me, and I realized if I didn’t at least try my hand at agenting, I’d regret it. So I attended a publishing program at Columbia University in New York, then when I returned, I knocked back on Martin Literary’s door and asked them if they’d be willing to train me as an agent. And they said yes! So my husband and I decided that we needed to make a few financial sacrifices in order to make a career as an agent happen. We moved out of our condo and moved into a used camper on some family property. We cut out as many fixed expenses and splurge purchases as we could. And then I began my career as a literary agent. Living in a camper might seem like an extreme lifestyle change just to break into a tough industry, but the first few years of agenting are a lot like the first few years of starting a business—you typically don’t make much of a profit off of the time you invest in your projects. We also realized that we were young and poor, and had expensive dreams—traveling and adoption and buying a home being the biggest ones. After a year of living in the camper, we saved up enough to buy our first home—a Victorian home which I am still hoping is secretly haunted. I now have my own little office, or as I call it: my “writing studio.” It is a much more spacious place to work!
You’re accepting picture book submissions. What are you specifically looking for in a picture book?
I particularly love what I call “historical footnote” picture books, that build a story around lesser known bits from history. I’m also looking for picture books that capture ordinary or natural moments that feel like they’re magical—moments like capturing fireflies, bread dough rising, watching a bird murmuration, the Northern Lights, planting a seed and having it grow into a living plant, and so on. We’re surrounded by ordinary magic, and I want to celebrate it! I’m also particularly looking for picture books that explore something peculiar that happens in nature.
What about for YA? Do you have a current favorite?
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is as wonderful as everyone says it is. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton is my all-time favorite though.
You’re also looking for MG and YA graphic novels, which is exciting. I’ll reference your MSWL, but, what are you specifically looking for in graphic novels?
I’d love a really creepy graphic novel. I’m open to anything though, minus the genres on the bottom of my MSWL blog post under the section “Not Quite My Cup of Tea.”
Would you consider graphic novel texts by a writer who is not also an illustrator?
Hmm. Probably not usually, unless there were very unique circumstances.
Along with ‘secular’ submissions, you also accept submissions for Christian themed books. Is it different pitching to a Christian publisher as opposed to say the Big Five?
It’s not too terribly different, besides taking a bread and wine communion right before I send out submissions. Kidding. ☺
Here’s a get-to-know-you quiz. If you found the following in your slush, which of the two would you choose over the other? (Feel free to elaborate on why if you like.)
I’m drawn to tone-driven language, which is something that’s definitely present in Where the Wild Things Are. And though The Polar Express is clearly an iconic classic, a lot of times I’ll turn down books with holiday elements because they’re a tough sell!
I love the cheeky voice of Harry Potter. I’m actually reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time in my LIFE right now. I had one of those moms that wouldn’t let me read it as a kid because she thought it would inspire me to become a witch and join a cult or something. And as I’m reading it now for the first time as an adult who is also a publishing industry professional, I can’t believe that Harry doesn’t end up in Hogwarts until well over 100 pages into the book. The pacing in children’s fiction has changed so much in such a short time. Now, I think editors and readers would expect Harry to show up at Hogwarts by practically the second chapter.
I love Suzanne Collins’ zippy pace and clear concept, and I love a character with a rich interior life like Katniss.
How do you feel about illustration notes in a picture book manuscript?
A few illustration notes here and there are okay, but I try to include as few as possible.
What about potty humor, yes or no?
I’m okay with a pinch of potty humor here and there because I know kids love it—and we can’t forget that picture books are for kids—but it mostly makes me cringe.
If you could have lunch with any author, alive or dead, who would you choose?
Probably John Green. We both have social anxiety so we could just kind of panic our way through it together.
Favorite music or band?
I am still not over the breakup of the folk duo The Civil Wars. I will spend the rest of my life hoping they find their way back to each other for a reunion.
What’s your favorite food?
If I was on death row, my last meal would be Chicken Pad Thai. 2 stars. No bean sprouts.
Movies and/or tv shows?
Favorite movies: The Princess Bride, The Breakfast Club, Pride and Prejudice, Chocolat, Good Will Hunting, Mona Lisa Smile, and The Dead Poets Society. Favorite TV shows: Parks & Rec, The Goldbergs, Criminal Minds, Gilmore Girls, The Office. I’m binge-watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel right now and loving it.
If you could do any other job, what would you choose?
What traits does your ideal client possess?
Friendly, humble, open, gracious, self-motivated, savvy.
What is your agenting philosophy?
My mission statement is: I look for books that delight readers, that help inspire wonder and imagination, that foster deep empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, that provide rich character representation of marginalized people groups, that take the reader on an adventure, that uncover fascinating stories from history’s footnotes, that explore issues of faith and how to apply Christ’s teachings to our own life, that celebrate women and the female experience, that ask nitty gritty questions and don’t settle for easy answers, that make people disappointed when they have to close the book and go to bed, and books that add a touch of magic to readers’ lives.
What’s the hardest part about being an agent? The most rewarding?
The hardest part is having to send form rejection letters. I wish I could give everyone personalized feedback, but that would take up my entire work week if I did that! The most rewarding is knowing I’m making a lot of childhood, lifelong dreams come true for really deserving writers. It makes me feel like a fairy godmother.
What do you want to see in a query?
I think the first paragraph is the most important—it should include an introduction, a mention of the genre, title, elevator pitch, word count, and how they found me or why they’re submitting to me. I always appreciate when people include their Twitter handle, and whether or not they have a detailed synopsis or overview about their project available.
Thank you, Adria, for your thoughtful answers!
To submit to Adria, please visit MLM’s submission page and follow the directions: https://www.martinlit.com/submission-policy