Friday, October 28, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Hannah Bowman

And “Interview with an Agent” returns! Today’s INTERACTIVE installment features Hannah Bowman, the newest agent at Liza Dawson Associates. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. See you down there!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

HB: I've been officially an agent since the beginning of August this year--I'm still brand new. Before that I interned at Liza Dawson Associates for eight months.

I actually got interested in publishing from the writing side: I wrote and queried a couple novels of my own--both of which were (rightly) rejected. So I've been there! As I was querying, I realized I was really interested in what agents do--the editing, negotiations, and business side of publishing--so I started looking for internships and opportunities to read manuscripts. I interned briefly with agent Weronika Janczuk before starting at Liza Dawson Associates.

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

HB: I'm a very hands-on agent. I love to edit and help writers draw out their story. It's so satisfying to give writers suggestions and have them say, "Yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say!" I really want to be involved in every part of the publishing process, from editing to marketing, and help my clients turn ideas and talent into long-term careers.

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

HB: Since I'm so new, I don't have any projects coming out yet. I can tell you what I'm drawn to, though: big concepts, twisty plots, and strong voices.

Let me break that down a little.

Big concepts: I love science fiction and fantasy because of the world building and the big ideas in the books. When I read query letters, I'm looking in large part for a story idea that takes my breath away. That doesn't have to a be a speculative idea: the right romance or contemporary YA concept has the same punch.

Twisty plots: I love the feeling when the threads of a complex plot come together and suddenly you know where the story has to go--and then it goes there. Revelations of secrets, hard choices and sacrifices, and anything Tolkien would call "eucatastrophe"--a happy ending pulled off when things are at their absolute worst and all seems lost--are all very satisfying to me. I really like to see conflicts be pushed as far as they can be, and I love characters who are forced to make difficult choices in impossible situations, where there's no right thing to do.

Strong voices: I think successful fiction really comes down to characters. A strong voice doesn't necessarily have to be snarky or funny, but I want to feel like the character is right there beside me.

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

HB: I represent all kinds of commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and cozy mysteries. I also represent all genres of YA.

I'm a hard sell on thrillers, unless they're offbeat, and on anything that could be described as "hard-boiled." I'm also likely not the right agent for a literary fiction project.

I'm looking for some select nonfiction, mostly about math or science, or religion and spirituality, especially church history. I'm not the right agent for memoirs, though.

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

HB: There's no pet peeve that will make me put down a query without reading it. I make my decisions based on the quality of writing in the query and the concept of the book. That said: I'm really not interested in hearing about what message you expect your book to teach. And, for YA queries, if you say that your book is appropriate for YA because it doesn't have bad language/mature themes, I'm likely to be skeptical that you're really familiar with the YA market.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

HB: It doesn't really make a difference to me. Usually I've made up my mind if I want to read more before I read the pages, based on the concept and writing in the query. Occasionally, if I'm not sure, I'll look at the pages, but in most cases, the writing isn't good enough to convince me to request more. In my experience, it's more common for pages to convince me to pass than to request--but if the writing doesn't catch me, I'll end up passing on a partial anyway, so in the long run it won't change anything.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

HB: Right now I'd love to find: a really sweet contemporary romance, a high-concept women's fiction that revolves around one major event in a woman's life, and a big far-future space opera. But that's by no means a complete list--I'm open for anything great that shows up.

I'm tired of YA voices that sound the same--a little snarky, a little insecure, but not really grounded in the personality of a particular character. I'd love to see a really fresh voice in a YA contemporary or paranormal.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

HB: Query me by e-mail at, with just a query letter in the body of the e-mail. You can also send a paper query if you prefer, per our submission guidelines at, but I prefer e-queries.

My submission guidelines are also available at

Thanks again, Ms. Bowman, for these responses. And good luck to everyone who decides to query! I imagine that will be a lot of you:)

But before you fire off those e-mails, feel free to ask any questions you may have for Ms. Bowman in the comments below. She’ll drop in periodically throughout the day to answer whatever questions she finds down there, leaving her answers in the comments as well. We’ll wrap things up at 5:00 p.m. EDT (or 2:00 p.m. PDT), but until then, ask away!


Write Life said...

Krista, I love your interviews with an agent!
They're so fantastic!!! : )

Unknown said...

"if you say that your book is appropriate for YA because it doesn't have bad language/mature themes"

People have actually written this in queries??? That's too funny. :D

Thanks for the great interview, Krista and Hannah.

Janet Johnson said...

Ditto with what Stina said. :) And great interview!

AnnaBanana said...

Krista, great interview!! Thanks so much for doing these!

I have a question for Ms. Bowman. It's about the (dreaded) synopsis. :) Most of us writers cringe when we have to write one and (worse) send one along with a partial or full request. My question is – do you ask for a synopsis, and, if so, how much does it factor in? Since it’s darn near impossible to inject voice, tone, style, etc into a synopsis, a writer’s hope would be that the manuscript itself is taken into consideration first, and that the synopsis is just there as a back up.

Joy said...

Krista, thank you as always for facilitating helpful online "events" like these interviews.

Hannah, thank you for taking the time to participate today! I'll be lurking throughout the day in case I think of further questions :) but for now:

I agree with Stina above about putting such an odd statement about YA (no language/mature themes) in a query letter.

However, it seems that so much of YA now relies on more adult themes (and of course, adult language), and as the manuscript mama of a YA contemp that DOESN'T employ those devices, I wonder if mine fits in with what's in the YA market now, or if it sticks out because of a LACK of those things.

Could you give some examples of current (maybe even successful) YA contemp lit that keeps it a little "cleaner"? Or is my manuscript a bicycle among fish, so to speak?

Thanks again!

Hannah Bowman said...

Hi guys! Thanks for reading. I'll be back later, but I'll answer a couple of things now.

AnnaBanana: I do request a synopsis along with the partial. But I know how hard they are to write, and I don't expect it to showcase your writing. I look at it only to see what's going to happen in the rest of the book. Sometimes it will make a difference in my decision--if it looks like the plot falls apart halfway through, for example, or if the partial was slow and the synopsis also suggests that not much happens. But my decisions are really based on the writing in the manuscript, so I wouldn't worry too much about the synopsis.

Inky: I absolutely think there's room in the YA market right now for "clean" books. Not every book should have adult themes! It's just important to remember that the defining feature of a YA isn't that it's a "clean" adult novel, but that it really speak to teenagers.

I would say that Maureen Johnson's YA books are great examples of clean YA contemps (and paranormals, in the case of her newest, The Name of the Star). There's nothing gritty in them.

Thanks for your questions! Keep asking; I'll be back later to answer more.

Anonymous said...

Is there any kind of historical fiction you're particularly interested in, or doesn't it matter? I've been very selectively querying for my Russian historical fiction saga (the second half of which is set in 1920s Manhattan) because I know sagas spanning many years and containing many characters aren't as popular as they used to be. Are you interested in historical fiction set outside English-speaking countries?

Also, do you have a preference between hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi/futuristic books?

Laurel Garver said...

Great interview, Krista. I also have a question for Ms. Bowman:
You listed religion/spirituality among your nonfiction interests. I'm wondering if you'd also have interest in YA fiction with with religious themes, along the lines of Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost. (In other words, for a mainstream rather than CBA market, with some edgier elements). Thanks so much for your time!

Filigree said...

Wonderful interview, Krista.

Ms. Bowman, you're on my list to query, because of your statements about worldbuidling and big stories. Would your religious interests keep you from working with mms featuring atheist and agnostic protagonists? And would you represent a writer who has both mainstream adult SF&F stories (suitable for Del Rey, DAW, etc.), and erotic SF&F aimed at Carina or Musa? I'm still trying to decide if I want to split my genres between two pen-names, or keep one and just go with an e-publisher that doesn't require agents.

Either way, I'm sure you'll be a fantastic addition to the agenting world, and I hope to read your clients' books soon.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Already some great questioning and answering going on! So cool!

Here's one more I have for Ms. Bowman: You mentioned on Tumblr that you're not looking for MG at the moment. But what if you take on a YA author who then decides to write an MG? Would you try to sell it (assuming you thought it was a good fit for the market at the time), or would you advise her to seek additional representation for her MG work?

Hannah Bowman said...

Carrieannebrownian: I'm willing to look at any historical fiction. I particularly like mysteries and romances, but I'm also happy to consider big sagas. I love Sharon Kay Penman, who writes both medieval mysteries and medieval sagas. Historicals set outside of English-speaking countries are no problem.

I like both hard and soft sci-fi.

Laurel Garver: I would love to find a YA contemporary with religious themes, as long as it's appropriate for the mainstream market.

Filigree: Atheist or agnostic protagonists are no problem, as long as they're convincing and right for the story. I wouldn't be the right agent for erotic SF&F, but I'd be willing to consider representing mainstream stories by a writer who also writes erotic stories.

Krista V.: If a client I've taken on for YA decides to write MG I'd be happy to try to sell it--I'm just not looking for it right now.

Thanks again! Keep the questions coming!

Robyn Lucas said...

She sounds like an awesome agent. Too bad she doesn't rep MG :(

Thanks for the interview

Shallee said...

Great interview, Hannah! I love reading about your agenting preferences. :) You gave such awesome advice on my last manuscript, and I'm excited to be able to query you when my new one's ready! I hope the agenty side of life is going great for you (and all the other parts of life too).

Thanks for hosting, Krista. I love your agent interviews!

S.S. said...

Thank you so much Krista and Hannah for the interview!

Quick question: You stated you were really looking for space opera. Any other type of sci-fi that rocks your socks off?

Cassie Mae said...

Great interview Krista!

A have a question for Ms. Bowman. You say you don't rep. MG, and I have a protag that is 14 years old. I've been told that this floats in the middle of MG and YA. Would this be too young for you?

Hannah Bowman said...

S.S.: Any and all sci-fi!

Cassie Mae: It really depends on the book. Feel free to send me a query!

Cortney Pearson said...

Great interview! It's always nice to hear specifically what an agent is or isn't looking for.

jjdebenedictis said...

Thanks for doing this, Ms. Bowman!

Do you have any advice for writers wanting to make their SFF fresh and innovative without making it inaccessible? The problem with doing something new always seems to be convincing others that this weird, new thing is still marketable!

Jodi R. said...

Thank you Krista - wonderful interview, as always!

Thank you as well, Ms. Bowman - these interviews are invaluable to us! I have a quick question:

- What is your definition of "high concept women's fiction"? I know I've asked on here before about that - I seem to be very thick-skulled when it comes to genre definitions, but I also find that diffferent agents have different definitions themselves!

Thanks in advance -
Jodi R.

Hannah Bowman said...

Thanks for all the great questions!

jjdebenedictis: I think there's a lot of room for weird new concepts in SFF. The key thing for me is characters: writing characters that readers can relate to, even if they're aliens, or robots, or dealing with completely impossible situations. The characters' reactions and relationships should feel real, and, ideally, the unusual details of the setting or concept should be explained from the perspective of the main characters, so that, no matter how strange things are, they feel grounded in imaginable experiences.

I think a great example of a successful, highly innovative book is Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL, which was totally different than anything else out there, but has sold extremely well. I think for things that are new and unusual, the bar is set even higher, so the writing has to be really exceptional.

Jodi R.: I define high concept as something that can be described in a single sentence that makes you immediately want to read the book. My ideal high-concept women's fiction would center on one big, unusual event in the main character's life. So, for example, I would call the movie The Kids Are All Right high-concept women's: a lesbian couple's kids look for the sperm donor who helped conceive them. The story's about what happens to the couple's relationships all as a result of that one choice.

The point is that I tend to prefer contemporary stories that are very plot-driven like that, as opposed to quieter stories about everyday life. I want something really shocking to grab my attention, and then I want to see how the characters handle it.

I'll be back once more if anyone wants to get more questions in under the wire!

S.S. said...

Fun question: If you were on a deserted island, stuck with only (oh dear!) 3 novels. Which would they be and why?

Kelly Bryson said...

Krista and Ms. Bowman- thanks so much for this wonderful interview.

And I'm going to squeeze in a question right before the buzzer:)

Ms. Bowman, is Liza Dawson a "no from one of us is a no from all" agency? Please say no, just this once;) Thanks- and I loved the eucatastrophic quote from Tolkien. Thanks!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's a wrap! Thanks for all the awesome questions, everyone! (Glad you snuck that last one in, Kelly:) ) And of course, thank you, Ms. Bowman, for spending the day with us!

Hannah Bowman said...

Last couple questions:

S.S.: This is *hard*! Um…Lord of the Rings, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Bleak House. A fairly eclectic mix!

Kelly Bryson: We're not strictly "no from one is no from all." It's unlikely that you'll get a different response from querying a different one of us, unless you've heavily revised the query or the project or it just wasn't the right genre for the agent in question, but you're certainly welcome to try!

Thanks, everyone, for the great questions today! And thank you, Krista, for hosting! It's been fun!

Kelly Bryson said...

Thanks Ms. Bowman:) And thank you, Krista. How do you do all you do? :D

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Krista! You know I love these, and Ms. Bowman sounds like she'd be great to query. And thanks, Ms. Bowman, for answering questions!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Kelly, for one thing, I don't have four kids that are old enough to be going in four different directions. That makes a big difference. And I do have this time-turner some girl named Hermione lent me, but I probably shouldn't have mentioned that part...

Myrna, I think Ms. Bowman would be a great agent for you to add to your list, too.