Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 15, 2019

Agent of the Month – Susah Hawk – Interview Part One

I love this illustration by Susan Miller of a house welcoming March and Lep’s Coins’ truck speeding to place the gold coins at the end of the rainbow for St. Patty’s Day. Susan was featured on Illustrator Saturday.

AGENT SUSAN HAWK AT UPSTART CROW IS OUR AGENT OF THE MONTH FOR MARCH, DOING FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES.

Susan Hawk has worked in children’s books for over twenty-five years. She comes to Upstart Crow from the Bent Agency, and her clients include Alison Oliver, illustrator of the bestselling Baby Lit board books and the forthcoming picture book Moon; Ruth Spiro, author of the Baby Loves Science board book series; Marcie Colleen, author of the Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series and the forthcoming picture books Love, Triangle and Penguinaut!; Lisa Tyre, whose debut middle-grade novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, was a BEA Buzz Book title; Sarah Lariviere, whose middle-grade novel The Bad Kid is an 2017 Edgar Award Nominee; and Rachael Allen, author of the YA novels 17 First KissesThe Revenge Playbook and the forthcoming A Taxonomy of Love.

Before agenting, Susan worked in the Children’s Marketing departments of Penguin Books for Young Readers, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and North-South Books, where she managed campaigns for many books and authors including Eric Carle, Mary E Pearson, Richard Peck and Joan Bauer. She’s also been a children’s librarian and bookseller, and spent some time in Dutton Editorial, acquiring select picture book and YA projects for that list.

Middle-grade and YA: I’m looking for something that makes me laugh out loud, I’m a sucker for bittersweet, and I can’t resist a character that comes to understand how perfectly imperfect the world is. I want a book to stay with me long after I finish reading, and I’m looking for powerful, original writing. I’m open to mystery, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre). My favorite projects live at the intersection of literary and commercial.

In non-fiction: I’m looking for books that relate to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world.

In picture books: I’m looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and characters as indelible as my childhood favorites Ferdinand, Madeline, George and Martha.

Click for more!

HERE IS PART ONE OF MY INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN:

Interview with Susan Hawk – March 2019 Featured Agent

 

What made you decide to become an agent?

I’ve always worked in some part of the children’s book world. My first job, at 14 years old, was stocking shelves at a children’s only bookstore a few blocks from where I grew up in Washington, D.C. After college, I worked at Borders, and then moved to NYC to look for a job in publishing. I started at the Children’s Marketing Dpt at Penguin Books for Young Readers, moved to North South Books, and then Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, with stops along the way to get a degree in Library Science, work at the Brooklyn Public Library, and do some editorial work at Dutton Children’s Books. After close to twenty years, I realized that agenting was the perfect way to synthesize my passion for story and reading, interest in the business of books, and experience in schools, libraries and publishing. And nine years later, I still love agenting, especially because it’s got a bit of everything: editorial, sales, marketing, long and short range planning, and lots and lots of reading.

Do you think publishers are still interested in publishing e-books along with print?

Very much so. We haven’t seen e-books impact a category or genre on the kid’s side in the way that it has for, say, adult romance. But it’s an important piece of the puzzle, especially for YA books.

What about audio books; are publishers looking to publish an audio version with their book contracts?

Yes, especially as audio book sales continue to grow, publishers want to keep these rights, and publish simultaneously. As an agent, I want to make sure that the audio rights are used to best advantage, be that with the book publisher, or an audio one.

If a manuscript has a prologue, should that be included in the sample pages?

Yes. A related question is about prologues in general, and how often they are successful – many writers have heard that agents and editors don’t like them. In fact, we like them just fine, when they are necessary. The important question is, does the prologue give the reader important information they must have before the story begins? A simple way to “test” your prologue is to delete it (or re-title it Chapter One). If the book reads well without it, it’s not necessary and you’re probably better off without it.

How important is the query letter? 

The query letter can do so much for your book. Most importantly, it can fire an agent’s interest in your project. It’s also an opportunity for the writer to begin establishing positioning for your book in the market. An evocative tagline may later be featured on the cover; story and character descriptions can become part of attention grabbing flap copy; strong comparison titles are tools your agent, editor and sales people will use. A great query not only fuels the positioning of your book, it signals to agents that you’re knowledgeable and committed to building a strong career, in addition to being a strong writer. Why not run with every opportunity you’re given?

What would you like to see in the query letter? Should writers try to keep it short?

Absolutely keep it short. Here’s what I like to see:

  • Be sure to describe your character and their problem (the conflict).
  • Also make the stakes clear.
  • Include word count, category and genre (I like to see this in the first paragraph, in the opening of your letter).
  • Use helpful, apt book comparisons.
  • Include pertinent personal background, but again, keep it short.

Are you interested in graphic novels and author/illustrators?

Definitely! I rep a select list of both and am always looking for more.

Can someone who is not an illustrator submit a graphic novel or are they always sent in by author/illustrators?

Yes, they can. There are a lot of resources on-line for how to submit a GN text, and I highly recommend doing the research here so you put the text together correctly, but it’s similar to a screenplay.

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

Write a book or create illustrations that I’ll fall in love with! My tastes range widely and I’m looking for just about any genre or category – as long as it’s a book for kids or teens, I’d like to consider it. So, what do I tend to fall in love with?

  • I love feeling that I’m in the hands of a confident, assured storyteller.
  • I want stories and characters that are true, that feel things deeply, that move me, make me think, change my mind.
  • Books that make me laugh or surprise me with a twist or point of view I never imagined before – these will always thrill me.
  • Transport me to the time and place of that book. I want to feel totally immersed in the world of that story – be that modern day USA, a place in the past, or a world that exists only in the writer’s mind.

Here’s the thing: there aren’t tips, per se. It’s about writing a very good book, the book of your heart, and finding your agent reader. And that means doing the work, over time – which I don’t really think of as a tip.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Susan reps one of my CPs. She’s fantastic!

    Like

  2. Thanks for this interview. Susan is high up on my agents-to-query list. It was great reading what she wants in a query!!

    Like

  3. Susan is terrific and this interview is wonderful. SO informative! 😀 And that illustration is aDORable!

    Like

  4. Great interview and tips for submitting! Thanks to both of you!

    Like

  5. Susan has my full right now. (fingers crossed!) I enjoy getting to know more about her.

    Like


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