Romantic Novelists' Association

Ask An Industry Expert: Jill Marsal

29 March 2019

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jill Marsal, of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.


Hello and welcome, Jill. First of all, many congratulations that one of your authors won the Shorter Romantic Novel category in the RNA’s 2019 Romantic Novel Awards. Can I start by asking you what store you set by literary competitions. There seem to be a lot out there!

Yes, we are very proud that Jane Godman’s SECRET BABY, SECOND CHANCE won her RoNA category. We’ve also had numerous finalists/award winners in the Romance Writers’ Association RITA awards, Golden Heart, Daphne Du Maurier, and a line-up of top NYT and USA Today bestselling authors.

I think Literary Competitions are a great way for authors to establish writing credentials and awards.  It signals to agents and editors that your manuscript has been read and stood out from the rest of the submissions to the competition and that is a good thing.   However, you don’t want the competition to be too old.  Submitting something that won a competition in 2012 probably doesn’t carry as much weight in 2019.


I notice your agency deals with a range of literary genres. How important is Romance for your company?

Our agency has a wide range of romance authors, from debut to NYT and USA Today bestselling authors.  We work in many categories of romance, including romantic comedy, historical, romantic suspense, contemporary, and category.


And, in the romance line, what type of submissions are you personally looking for at the moment?

At the moment, I am looking for romantic comedies. I also am actively looking for women’s fiction with romantic elements.


What about that all important submission? What makes you sit up and take notice?

There are several things I look for in submissions. First, I want the project to have a strong/distinct voice. I think this can really make a manuscript stand out, and a good writer can make any subject come alive with a strong voice. Second, I love to have interesting characters—people who you want to find out what will happen to them. They might introduce you to an unfamiliar world, or they might be people you identify with and relate to. And I also think it is important to have a great “hook”, interesting twists, or emotionally compelling developments that will intrigue editors and readers and make them want to keep reading—what about these characters’ situations are compelling or interesting or will make readers want to stay with them for 300+ pages?


And what about the synopsis? Do you have any tips for writing a really good one?

In writing the synopsis, I would suggest focusing on the high-level turning points of the plot. Very often, I see writers trying to cover too many details, and you can lose sight of the bigger picture. The synopsis is really to give agents and editors an overall sense of the structure of the book and plot arcs. And revealing the ending is a must—I want to know where the story is going to go, and the ending is critical in evaluating a project.


We often ask agents and publishers what they consider to be the next ‘big thing’. What do you hope to see more of in 2019/2020?

I would love to see more women’s fiction, psychological suspense, and mysteries.


Do you look for anything in an author apart from a brilliant book? (such as social media presence)

For fiction writers, the most important things are a really strong story, good writing, voice, characters, setting, and plot. I think building a social media presence is helpful, but it isn’t a critical deciding factor for fiction in the same way it can be for non-fiction.


What’s the best/worst part of your job?

I love reading and editing and working with authors to make their manuscripts as strong as possible. It is such an exciting process to be able to work on a manuscript and take it from idea/concept to completed book.  And, of course, it is such a great thing to take a manuscript on submission and then get “the call” from an editor and then be able to make “the call” to the author.  I like being a part of the process that brings readers books which can impact their lives, offer intriguing stories, take readers to places they would never otherwise experience, and entertain and inspire.


Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?

I just finished reading Liane Moriarty’s NINE PERFECT STRANGERS. Her voice and writing are amazing. The depth of her characters is fantastic, and she does a terrific job taking ordinary people and putting them in really dramatic/high tension situations. I love the way she brings these peoples’ lives to life on the page.  I would love to find new writers doing similar things.


Thanks so much for talking to us today, Jill

Find out more, including how to submit, on Marsal Lyon’s website:

Twitter: @jillmarsal 


Jill was talking to Susan Leona Fisher: