Friday, October 8, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Susan Hawk

So excited for today’s interview, which features Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency. This is an interactive interview, so Ms. Hawk will drop in periodically throughout the day to answer your questions in the comments. More information on that below. Check out Ms. Hawk’s responses to the usual questions, and then I’ll meet you at the bottom!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

SH: I worked for over 15 years in children’s book marketing. A little more than two years ago, I realized that it was time to try something different--I knew that I wanted to stay in children’s books, but learn something new.

This coincided with the birth of my second child, so I took some time off, and during that time I considered agenting. Then I saw a post on a neighborhood parenting e-mail group from Jenny Bent. She had just opened her own agency, and was looking for readers. I got in touch, we hit it off and after awhile, she asked if I’d like to start working as a children’s book agent, and here I am! I couldn’t be luckier than to have landed with Jenny, and the first nine months of agenting have been exciting.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

SH: For me, everything begins with the book. When I read something and can’t put it down, that’s when I know I’ve found something that I want to represent. And then, it’s my job to communicate that feeling, and to connect an author with an editor who shares this feeling about the book. Essentially, this is what I did in my previous life marketing books, and as a librarian--I’ve always enjoyed sharing books I love.

So much of the work in publishing is collaborative, I think to an extent that many don’t recognize (it’s hard to tell from the outside), and I really enjoy that kind of work. That’s the kind of relationship that I establish with my clients. The key to any collaboration, of course, is open communication from both sides.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

SH: I have four clients all of whom are revising and writing now. Their work runs the gamut: a middle-grade book about a lovable iconoclast called Baloney Boy; to a YA romance set in a world that has much in common with medieval Arabia; another about the long hot summers of childhood, solving a family mystery and taking that first peek into the adult world; and the last a YA with some paranormal aspects, about a boy who must save his sister’s life, which is hard to do when you’re already dead.

There’s a feeling that I think we all have, when you sit down with a book, crack open the pages and an hour passes in what feels like five minutes. You’re in a world that you don’t ever want to leave, with characters you hope to know forever. The projects above are all very different, but have one thing in common--I didn’t want to put them down.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

SH: I’m open to just about anything, my reading tastes are broad. I’d love to find a great mystery, and I’m looking for humor. Sci-fi is at the top of my list. I’ve always read fantasy, but I’m not looking for epic, high fantasy right now. Historical fiction is another favorite. I love boy books. I’m very picky when it comes to paranormal and romance, and am looking for something in those genres that feels fresh.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

SH: Really, for me, it comes down to the strength of the writing. I’m less concerned with the query itself, than I am with the sample pages that the author attaches, so be sure to include your first ten pages.

To avoid pitfalls, it’s best to look closely at an agent’s submission info, which should always be available online--if you make sure to follow the instructions there, you’re in good shape.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

SH: What pulls me into a book faster than anything else is that magic combination of great concept and authentic voice. I’m looking for exciting stories, told in a compelling way, with characters that are true to life. I’m drawn to the quirky and unique and have always loved books about people who see things just a bit differently. But story is key, I do want something to happen to those lovely characters!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

SH: E-mail me a query letter that briefly tells me about you and your book. Include the first ten pages of your material in the body of the email and send to For more on querying me, see

Thanks again, Ms. Hawk, for all of this great information. Your passion for your clients’ work is wonderfully apparent. That is what we’re all looking for, after all--an agent who is as passionate about our writing as we are.

If you have a question for Ms. Hawk, feel free to leave it in the comments. Please note that I’ll be cutting questions off at 4:00 p.m. EDT (which is 1:00 p.m. PDT), so don’t dilly-dally!


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great interview!

I would like to know if Susan is into issued-based YA books. What about YA thrillers and suspense?

LS Murphy said...

As always, a fantastic interview!

I'm curious to know if there is a particular sub-genre in YA that Ms. Hawk has seen an excess of, besides vampires.


Charity Bradford said...

Is Sarah strictly YA? My sci-fi novel would fall into the New Adult category.

Susan Hawk said...

Stina: I'm definitely looking for YA thrillers and suspense. I don't think that editors are particularly looking for issues books right now, but it all depends on the strength of writing; I'd certainly look at something strong in this area.

LS Murphy: I'm seeing a lot of dystopic right now as well. Editors are still looking for this, but must be fresh.

Charity: I'm looking for YA and middle-grade right now.

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for the interview and for the link to her agency for more information! I like that sample pages are more important than the actual query, and I love that Ms. Hawk has worked with Richard Peck. He's one of my favorites.

Ms. Hawk, would you mind sharing some of your favorite YA and middle-grade authors with us?

lotusgirl said...

Nice interview. It's good to get to know Ms. Hawk a little. I'd like to know how editorial she is.

Susan Hawk said...

Myrna: It's always so hard to choose! Some of my favorites are MT Anderson, Nancy Werlin, Elise Broach, Mary Pearson, Elizabeth Partridge, Jack Gantos. From my childhood, I loved Katherine Paterson, John Bellairs, Sid Fleischman, Zilpha Keatley Snyder and E. L. Konigsburg.

Lotusgirl: I'm fairly editorial, but it depends on what each project needs.

Krista V. said...

Great questions, everyone, and great responses!

Questions for Susan: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

Krista V. said...

A question I should have squeezed in between the previous two: Or do you just jump straight to the pages and make your decision to request from there?

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Great interview! Thank you both!

Susan, what are some story elements you're seeing too much in your MG and YA queries right now (e.g. vampires)?

Myrna Foster said...

Thank you!

Susan Hawk said...

Krista: I always read both the query and the pages. As I said above, it always comes down to the writing in the pages for me -- someone could write a great query, but obviously, if the pages themselves aren't compelling then it's not going to work. But I do read the query because I want to see what the author's premise is, what their background is, etc.

Conversely, I've read queries that don't work that well, but the pages are much better. I think that's because query writing is really a different kind of writing -- it's marketing copy. Coming from a marketing background, I'm familiar with that, but not every author has that skill and although it is good to have, it's not crucial to the process. But being a great writer is.

Which is why I always read both!

Alex said...

If someone has been offered representation already but has not yet had a chance to send their work to an agent much higher on their query list I.e. you, would you want to see their pages.

I was waiting for this interview to come out in order to compose the best query possible. Low and behold you don't even put that much stock into the query!

Susan Hawk said...

Katrina: I think this is an extension of the paranormal thing, but I'm seeing lots of superpowers. Time travel is fairly common (but I'm a sucker for that). And as I said above dystopic is also coming up frequently.

Susan Hawk said...

Alex: If you're considering an offer of representation from an agent, you can query another. I'd make sure to let the second agent know the time frame within which you need to decide on your existing offer. If you've already accepted an offer of representation, than I wouldn't query another agent.

Krista V. said...

And that's a wrap! Thanks again, Susan, for sharing your expertise with us. And thank you, readers, for coming up with all the great questions I didn't think to ask:)

LS Murphy said...

Another great interview! Thanks, Susan and Krista.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks, Susan and Krista. :D

Tricia C. said...

Excellent interview. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions!

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, LS and Stina!

Tricia, Susan's responses were very informative, weren't they?

Jude said...

Great advice here. I always love hearing how agents got started in the business--they come from all sorts of backgrounds :)!

Krista V. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jude!