Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 22, 2019

Agent of the Month – Susan Hawk – Interview Part Two


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.


How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?

It really depends, but can be just a couple pages, or a hundred.

Do you let people know if you are not interested?

Yes. It might take me awhile, but I do!

How long does it usually take to respond to requested material? And query letters?

I try to respond to queries within a month, often sooner. Requested materials can really range, in terms of the time it takes to reply.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

A compelling character pulls me into a story first. If I can’t feel a connection to the protagonist, and care about them in the first few pages of the book, it’s probably not for me. Often, characters seem to live in service to the plot, or to an idea that inspired the book. I want it the other way around — the character should drive the plot.

Do you give editorial feedback to your clients? 

Definitely. We work together closely to make the book as strong as it can be, before it goes on submission. I love this part of the process.

If you receive something you think is good, but not for you, would you ask another agent working at your agency to take a peek?

Yes, and I also sometimes recommend agents at other agencies, if I know someone who’d be just right.

How many editors do you submit to before giving up on a manuscript?

There isn’t a set number that tells me it’s time to set something aside. I look more at the nature of the responses we’re getting to make that determination. That said, I won’t recommend moving on until options are truly exhausted – I don’t give up easily!

What happens if you don’t sell a book?

Most of the time, the client and I start talking about what comes next. I firmly believe that good writing doesn’t go to waste, and even if we don’t sell a project, there was something worthy in the work that will improve the next project we tackle together!

Would you approve of a client who wants to self-published if they really believed in that book?

Sure. Every situation is unique, as every book and writer are, so there might be a case where my gut is not too, but in the end, it is the writer’s work and their decision to make.

What do you think of digital books?

[Hi again, Kathy! Not sure what you’re looking for here? I think digital books are just fine – is that what your readers want to know?]

Have you noticed any new trends building in the industry?

In the past couple of years, we haven’t seen mega-trends like those for dystopian novels or paranormal, from a while back. I see that as a good thing, because it means the market is open for all kinds of books. There have been a few “trendlets” – mini-trends – for various things: horror and mystery come to mind. More important than trends, I think the market is opening more and more to diversity and illustrated work for older readers, like graphic novels or GN-novel hybrids. I see these more like market corrections, filling spaces that have been empty for too long, and I’m delighted to see that growth.

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, get an agent, and get published?

You’re heard it before but, READ, READ, READ. Read in your genre and category, of course, but reading widely is crucial for any writer. Finding a writers group is also important, and gives writers both necessary feedback and vital support.

Would you like to be invited to other writer’s retreats, workshops, and conferences?

Yes, please!


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Love the quote about projects that don’t sell (because some won’t!). No writing is ever wasted.


  2. Great interview! Thanks so much for sharing with us!


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