Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 29, 2019

Agent of the Month – Susan Hawk – First Page Results


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.


Half-Truths by Carol Baldwin – Young Adult

It’s too quiet.

Mack opens the door to Reid’s Soda Shop and, except for the jangling bell, I don’t hear a sound. No kids pushing to find a spot on the tiny space that Mr. Reid brags is the best dance floor in Crossroads.


I turn to Mack. “I thought you said the club was coming to celebrate!”

[SH1]COMMENT: I do love a short, sharp opening line. But here, I’m not sure you really need. I had a hard time sorting through the action: It’s too quiet, but they’re not inside yet, so how do they know? Given that she’s talking about what’s happening happening inside, I assumed that’s where she was – so then I was confused and had to re-orient myself to her walking in with Mack. That’s an awful lot of thinking to ask the reader to do, in the first two lines. What if it’s:

 Mack opens the door to Reid’s Soda Shop and, except for the jangling bell, I don’t hear a sound. No kids pushing to find a spot on the tiny space that Mr. Reid brags is the best dance floor in Crossroads.


     I turn to Mack…

Mack shrugs. “Guess they had better things to do, Kate.”

“Their loss,” I muster a smile. “Now that I’m president of 4-H things are gonna start hopping.”

“Maybe they had second thoughts ‘bout not electing me another year.” Mack hooks his thumbs through his belt loops.

I want to stick my tongue out like when we were kids, [SH2]COMMENT: Maybe something else here? His twinkling eyes don’t really preclude her sticking out her tongue, do they? but his twinkling eyes tell me he’s hiding something. A coin falls in the juke box, a record drops, and Bill Haley belts out my favorite song, “Rock This Joint.” [SH3]COMMENT: I don’t think teens will know this sogn. A couple lines later we get placement in time (1952), so then we know that this is an old tune. But again, then my mind is wandering back to this. What if it’s “A coin falls in the juke box, a record drops, and my favorite song fills the room. Or have this moment follow the info about 1952.

“Surprise!” Lola Mae and Josh crawl out from underneath a table in the back. [SH4]COMMENT: Why don’t they yell Surprise when she comes in? This feels a bit awakward – they yell surprise while they’re still under the table? And then they have the awkward moments of crawling out? Lola Mae hauls out a poster that has CONGRATULATIONS, KATE! 4-H CROSSROADS PRESIDENT, 1952 scrawled in big red letters. Other club members pop out from hiding and bombard me with hugs.

I punch Mack in the arm. “You were fooling me the whole time!”

“Ow!” he rubs his arm, pretending to be hurt. “You’re awfully strong—for a girl, that is.”

I punch him again.


 I’M COUNTING ON YOU by Patrick Thornton – MG Contemporary novel

“So you’re going to be man of the house again,” Stan, my best friend since kindergarten says with his usual goofy expression.

“Very funny.” Kind of funny, since I’m a girl. But I don’t laugh. “I gotta go. Thanks for hanging,” I tell him.

He tilts his head sideways and jerks on an imaginary noose. I don’t laugh at this either and his face goes serious. “Your dad’s going to be okay.” Then adds, “Your mom too.”

“Yeah,” I say wishing I knew that to be true.

“Okay. See ya tomorrow,” he says as I go inside.

Tomorrow I say to myself as I go upstairs to my room and sit on my bed.

The chart I made matching up the two time zones—here in Virginia and there in Afghanistan where Dad will be—is on the wall. I’ll use it to know what time it is for Dad when I’m getting up in the morning or having dinner or whatever. [SH1] COMMENT:    This is a tell. Instead, why not have her actually using it – show us as she makes the calculation about the time difference and use that as an opportunity to let her feelings come out, organically. (She could still do this, even though he’s not gone yet.)

For now, I just want to turn my brain off. I want to put the war—what could happen to Dad, what could happen to all of us—out of my head. [SH2]: How can you show us this, rather than tell? She wants to do this, but does she?

“Think fast!”

I look up just in time to grab the video game flying at me before it hits me in the chest.

“Nice catch.” Dad stands in my bedroom doorway wearing his National Guard uniform, all brown and green camouflage. There’s an American flag on one shoulder and his MP patch on the other. People say I look like him. I got [SH3]: Is there another way to describe this with more verve? Just ticking it off the list isn’t as interesting as it could be. [SH3]: Is there another way to describe this with more verve? Just ticking it off the list isn’t as interesting as it could be.

[SH4] COMMENT: It’s at this point on the page that I become more interested in this story. I wonder how this would read if you cut the first part, up to this line. “The chart I made…”, and if you let her use the chart, so we can see her feeling in motion. In other words, cut everything with the friend. We only see him for a couple lines – could he be introduced later? his dark, curly hair (mine’s a little longer and most of the time under a baseball cap). Got his dark eyes too. I’m in pretty good shape from lots of sports. You could say I’m the girl version of my dad. I love that. I’m hardly any version of my mom. My bed creaks when he sits down next to me. In my hands is the new Xbox game we’ve been waiting for.


Clique Bait by Chris Friden – YA

Annie Body was an anybody.

And if you asked the sophomores at Civit Heights High, they’d say that she would never be a somebody. [SH1] COMMENT: I wonder if this would have more impact if the line breaks worked differently – like this maybe? Annie Body was just like her name – Anybody. If you asked the sophomotrd st Civil Heights High, they’d say she’d never be Somebody. Just look at the facts. She didn’t have a bestie. Only a few likes on her selfies. Her posts were always thread killers. Her nickname…etc. Look at the facts: she didn’t have a bestie, only got a couple of likes on her selfies, and her posts were always thread killers. Her nickname (Anti-Body) was well deserved, because the only viral thing about her was the ability to immunize the student body from fun.

The way she shrugged and shrank around the school, you’d think she didn’t care. But the truth was, Annie Body chose to be as background as blank wallpaper. [SH2] COMMENT: If so, why does she have a social media presence? Do these things conflict? It was so much easier to pretend to be indifferent, than to admit to others’ indifference of her. Only she knew that she secretly slogged through school hoping to be noticed, for any reason, good or bad.

And two months into fall semester, it finally happened. Sitting by herself in a cafeteria cubby,[SH3] COMMENT: What’s a cafeteria cubby? slurping on the last dregs of chocolate milk, Annie’s notice came without warning.

Thwappp! A slap––more of a punch really––that answered Annie’s prayers solid in the face. It’s force spun her from her seat and sprawled her out on the linoleum floor.[SH4]: This is a small point, but if she’s in a cubby – which I’m imagining as a booth – wouldn’t she kind of bounce into the back of the booth and sor of slump there (rather than falling all the way to the floo)? I ask as a way to remind you to think about your blocking. You don’t want someone falling out of your text on page one because they can’t picture the action. Her cheek burned, skin stung, and head whomped with shock. In a fog of confusion, she weakly [SH5] COMMENT: Weakly repeated below.Don’t underestimate the power of reading out loud, or better yet, having someone read it out loud to you. Your ear will catch this kind of thing. folded her knees beneath her and straightened her dress, weakly organizing herself to composure before looking up.

Midge Peering stood over her, camera phone poised: “Smile.”

Annie backed onto her hands. Could it be? Had the student body president really just hit her?

“I said smile.” Midge commanded.

Reflexively, and with deference to popularity, Annie smiled as she was told.

But not for, Midge. No, for herself.

A somebody had at last noticed the anybody.


THE WAY IT IS, 1959 by Patricia Nesbitt – MG  historical

“Patsy, stop that infernal daydreaming,” Mother said. The words whooshed out of her like air from a punctured bicycle tire. [SH1] COMMENT: Nice description. Then after a sharp inhale, “Don’t you drop that sheet in the dirt!”

“Yes, ma’am.” I grabbed the wet sheet corner and sniffed the unmistakable scent of Clorox. Boy howdy, it was easier to live in my daydreams sometimes. Mother never understood that. She was all business and in charge. [SH2] COIMMENT: This is a tell. How can you show us this, and her feelings about it, in action? Don’t let your character pull out of the scene, not here on the first page, and start talking to us. Stay in the moment. After ten years, I knew that to be gospel true.

I swiped away a sweat mustache with the back of my free hand, then licked the salt from my lips. Lordy mordy. Mother thinks August and chores go together like bread and mayonnaise. She would have a hissy-fit for sure if I let go of the sheet.  Good grief, didn’t I know that.[SH3] COMMENTS: I like your voice, but here it’s stating to feel overdone, at least to my ear. Don’t think we need the last line, especially.

Perspiration dripped onto the lenses of my glasses. Do they make glasses with windshield wipers? I pushed the mother-of-pearl frames up for the umpteenth time and wished I’d pulled my hair into a ponytail this morning. It hung thick around my neck and shoulders like the Cowardly Lion’s mane in The Wizard of Oz.

I slouched and tracked a blue jay. It landed on top of Daddy’s fig bush and called out in protest to the merciless sun. Tarnation, I guess Mr. Blue Jay doesn’t like the heat any more than I do, but he only sits there. No chores for him, not like me.[SH4] COMMENT: These three paragraphs feel repetitive – making the same points about it being hot and boring. You can tighten here and get us to what’s going on for your character sooner.

The sweet scent of honeysuckle drifted towards me from branches draped over the fence behind the clothesline. Daddy’ll be home in a few hours, I thought, and pressed my lips together. That uneasy-butterfly-feeling began in the pit of my stomach as it did every day around 5:30.[SH5] Comment: Now I’m interested.

Susan, thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise with us. We can all learn from your comments. Keep in touch and make sure you let us know when good things happen.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Ahh, I sent in my first page before the deadline and attached a Word document and believe I followed the directions carefully. My name is June Sullivan. I’d be grateful to know what I might have done wrong to miss out. Thank you.


    • June,

      You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s chance. I throw everyone’s title in a hat and pull out four for the agent to critique. Why don’t you send it in for April?



  2. This is really helpful. I’m making some changes to the first page of my draft based on some of the tips I see here. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very thoughtful critiques. I love that most are how can you show not tell. It’s what we’re always working on, right? Thanks so much ladies this was a fun read! And for those that put their query out there, kudos, and keep working!


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