Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 27, 2019

September Agent of the Month First Page Results




At Writers House Hannah’s had the privilege of working closely with a variety of extraordinarily talented bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators of works ranging from very young picture books to middle grade and young adult. She is a junior agent seeking clients who work in primarily those genres, but looking to make exceptions in lifestyle/cooking/health.

Young Adult:

She especially loves realistic and witty YA (that includes drama, romance, comedy, thrillers, mystery—or hybrids of these!), but she’s open to elements of magic. Hanna is almost 100% voice-oriented and love (flawed!) characters and relationship driven plots: true-to-life fiction with larger-than-life personalities. A big, sexy concept never hurts, though!

Setting is secondary to characters and relationships for her, but she loves when it’s almost a character in itself. Seamlessly incorporated cultural bytes (music, food, art, language, books, and specific family traditions) are always good. She also loves innovative modernizations and re-tellings of Shakespearean and other stories, or even movies.

Middle Grade:

Hanna looks for funny and dramatic (or both!) MG novels about friendships (including those with animals), outcasts, and the complexity of individual families. Brave or whimsical adventure stories starring unlikely characters and underdogs are great. She still looks for honest, funny, and unique voices here, and that MG trifecta of heart, smarts, and humor.

Picture Books:
While she is presently focusing on acquiring older formats, in general, she looks for artful, human, and/or hilarious picture books and artwork driven by expressive characters. She seeks illustration with something fresh going on (or that pays homage to a classic with its own modern layering). Hanna additionally is a fan of tender/gentle picture books. Voice remains a top priority across the board; that includes in artwork. Be yourself!

Years experience: 6

GENRES & SPECIALTIES: Fantasy/science fiction, Juvenile fiction, Mind/body/spirit, Health, Travel, Lifestyle, Cookbooks, Children’s books.



Hotdog’s Last Hurrah by Dale-Marie Bryan – Middle Grade

Leave it to Hotdog to be his bad self in of all places, Goodland, Kansas. Eyes locked with the dachshund under Mary Todd, Bert’s pink Lincoln, Xander brooded on his belly, bare legs frying in the blazing sun. (Whoa, that’s a lot of names in a first couple sentences. Take your time to orient your readers in the scene before introducing them to so many things.) 

Hotdog was supposed to be “painting” sunflowers on a canvas in the grass eighty feet below the World’s Largest Van Gogh. Instead he’d streaked away, yanking his Invisi-Leash from Gramps’ hand.

Xander marveled that a thirteen-year-old dog could even sprint that fast. Especially in a painter’s smock with a paint brush Velcroed to it. Heck, he was nearly the same age, but compared to Hotdog, he was a total tortoise! (Not usually a fan of exclamation points, but this kind of works.) Still, Hotdog had always been more human than hound.

“Hey buddy,” Xander wheedled now, swiping his damp hair from his sweaty face. He’d learned a calm, friendly approach worked best with the old boy. But the more Dracudog (Is this Hotdog?) bared his fangs, the more Xander’s “calm and friendly” became “cranky and fed-up.”

Usually Hotdog strutted his stuff at his blog events, scarfing up his fans’ attention like prime rib. This time he was panting hard, licking his grizzled chops. He’d already smeared most of the mustache Bert had carefully drawn on his curled lip. VERY carefully, since he kept snapping at her pet-safe eyebrow pencil. (Again you are throwing too much at us. Now we learn that he’s a celebrity dog, but finding that out in the midst of this action is overwhelming. Who is Bert?)

Now Bert charged up in her orthopedic sandals, her chartreuse toenails glaring at Xander from between the straps. Snatching off her cat’s eye sunglasses, she crouched low to bellow under Mary Todd. (The fact that the car also has a name is way too much in conjunction with the other names, but a very fun detail for later. We need origins to these details in order to recall them.)

Hotdog Franklin Bratweiler, (Hahaha) Mommy is NOT HAPPY. Stop being a pain and come out. Your fans are waiting!”

So much for calm and friendly.



The writing here is strong, and there seems to be a fun and universal dog story to be told. That never gets old in middle grade! Unfortunately the first page is so overwhelming that I probably wouldn’t get very far if this were a requested submission, just because of confused frustration. We are introduced to five characters in the first two sentences—one of them isn’t actually a person, but a car with a human name that belongs to another character we know nothing about. The idea of a celebrity blog dog/Insta star stirring up trouble is great for MG—the dog element is timeless and the blogger element is fresh and timely, but the action and intros need to be paced out so readers can digest what’s happening.



SHORTCAKE! by Janet Frenck Sheets – (Picture Book, first page)

This is Polly.

She does not want a cracker.

She wants some strawberry-studded, whipped-cream-covered, almond-crusted, sugar-dusted, fresh-baked shortcake from the Sweet Treats Cafe. (Yum! Again, fun and sensory language that adds to the prior line. When we find out she doesn’t want a cracker, we want to know what’s up. This clearly tells us what she wants.) Funny, fun intro that subverts a truism, and I know many agents and editors discourage art notes, but I encourage them sparingly. Here, all it would take is [a parrot] or [Polly is a parrot)

But nobody understands. (And sets up an obstacle/conflict!)

“Polly want a cracker?” asks a boy, wiping whipped cream from his chin.

“Polly want a cracker?” asks a girl, biting a fat strawberry.

“Polly want a cracker?” asks the carousel man, rushing by with a stack of shortcakes. (These irritations help readers empathize with Polly)

“No!” Polly squawks. “Want that!

Someone hands her a cracker.

Polly glares. (This made me laugh) She makes a plan.

“Breakfast time!” says the shop owner, opening Polly’s cage. “Polly want a cracker?”(We so clearly can see why this would send Polly over the edge. The last straw.)

Whoosh! Out flies Polly. She loops. She dips. She dives. She zips to the cafe. (Nice action)

“Shoo!” screams the waitress, dropping her tray of shortcakes.  

“Duck!” yells the waiter, falling into the berry cart.

“Catch her!” bellows the chef, spraying whipped cream everywhere. (Consistent scene.)

Swoop, scoop, swoosh!  [Illo.: Polly grabs some shortcake.]

“My shortcake!” wails a white-haired lady. “My strawberry-studded, whipped-cream-covered, almond-crusted, sugar-dusted, fresh-baked shortcake! Stop, thief!”

Too late. Polly’s gone. (Nice cliffhanger. Wondering what happens next.)



As you’ll see, I had many good things to say about this. The author has a good understanding of the picture book form—the voice is consistent and the story is funny, interesting, subversive, suspenseful, and creates ample opportunities for illustrations and expressive characters—love that, and I’d think of commercial-leaning editors to send it to. My only real critique as to why an agent or editor may not pursue this is that while the conceit is smart (“what if Polly doesn’t want a cracker?”), it may not be the book for more artful or literary taste.



SERENITY-JOY’S SEARCH FOR SUPERSPECTABULISTIC by Valerie Bolling – 500-word Picture Book

Serenity-Joy loves words.

She loves to read them.

She loves to write them.

Most of all …

She loves to invent them.

If only she could invent time …

More time with Mommy.

[Serenity-Joy looks through her journal: Magni-velous has a drawing of a robin’s egg. Awe-mazing has a drawing of a red mushroom. Specta-bulous has a drawing of a seashell.]

Serenity-Joy can’t invent time, but she can invent a word for Mommy. Usually, she combines two words, but Mommy deserves a special treat for her birthday. So, Serenity-Joy adds a phenom-unique twist to specta-bulous and [writing new word in journal] …  voila! Now she needs to find something superspectabulistic.

“Nana, can we go to the park, so I can find a gift for Mommy to match the new word I just invented? Superspectabulistic!”

“Yes, my word-fairy, as soon as this birthday cake sings.”

“How long?”

“Patience is a wonderful thing, Serenity-Joy. If we rush the cake, as your mother would say, ‘It won’t make melodious music in our mouths.’”



There’s a lot happening here for a 500 word picture book. There’s the protagonist who likes inventing words, then an undertone of an absent parent, and a new character with Nana, and a quest to find something that fits. Honestly, I think young picture books work better to focus on one or two central threads. While this is character-based, our character is only characterized by a hobby and the sympathetic circumstance of not having enough time with her mom. While those details make her unique and sympathetic, they don’t really tell us who she is—I love when a character’s voice and personality come through, even in a short book. The line-by-line writing here is strong; I didn’t have anything to point out technically, but I also didn’t love any detail enough to actively comment, so there’s no manuscript markup for this one.


THE KINGDOM OF eX by Marcia Dalphin Williams – MG –  44,443 words

Chapter 1 – Into the Woods

It’s time. Our house is quiet except for the gentle ticking of our wall clock. Early, early morning. I hear the wood frogs croaking outside so there must not be any owls about. It’s amazing that there are still hopeful frogs in June, but it’s been so cold this spring. I’m tiptoeing in my socks to my black mud boots by the door. (For some reason, at this line, I had the feeling this story should be told in the past.) Trying not to wake anyone, especially my sister or my golden retriever, Chari. Chari is named after Charidotella, the golden tortoise beetle. He was named by my Dad and (We don’t need to know this at this moment.) always wants to come, but that would be a disaster. He is anything but slow. My mom would make me take him. I trip on a bone.(Chari’s?) It skids. I slide. All is quiet.

I picture everything in my backpack –  my scientist checklist:  Magnifying glass – Check. Net – Check. Cell – Check. Small cage – Check. Flies – Check. Water – Check. Snickers bar – Check. Cookies – Check. Socks – Check. Gaiters – already on top of my boots. (How about instead of all this, just “I’d have invited Suki, but” The dialogue feels stream of conscious. While we want to know the narrators inner thoughts, he/she should not be reasoning them out on the page, as you risk boring readers by slowing the pace.)

I might be up in the woods for a while. With any luck I’ll catch a boreal chorus frog today. I know it’s not extinct. It’s been a couple of months since I told my Dad about it. Suki and Jorge will both want to see it. They’re my squad for sure. In fact, I picture Suki chatting a mile a minute, jumping in the pool to help me look. I don’t know why I didn’t invite her. Probably because I know her parents would object to such an early morning adventure. They don’t trust her or me, I think. The last time she joined me in our forest hide-a-way her dad caught her coming back home with mud on her shoes. They grounded her for a week.

I slide my boots on and wrap the gaiters around the top. When I was little, like five, I didn’t even need to worry about ticks in our forest. Then they just started exploding. People can get Lyme disease and it’s nasty. Dad said it was from climate change and the warming that’s all around us. Despite that, so far my pool stays cold enough in the spring to allow frog tadpoles to grow. Even though he was pretty absent, talking around the world about his cure for the emerald ash borer, I miss my dad a lot. (Quite on-the-nose. Let’s learn this through scenes, actions, and conversations instead of being directly told.) It’s been only a few months, but I think about him every day.



This feels like a bit of an early draft to me, for the stream-of-conscious feel of the writing. The first person present tense reads as a bit stiff to me, and I get the sense the writer is feeling out her story by writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this isn’t a page to be shared with an agent or publisher. I can see there are interesting elements—a nature-interested child (refreshing in the world of tech), an absent parent feeling, a dog, friends, sneaking out on an innocent adventure, and mention of timely concepts like climate change. Yet I don’t feel entirely drawn into the story, because I feel the narrator is still figuring out what it is. It feels bit more like a diary entry or exercise than a true narrative that I must continue reading.


Thank you Hanna for sharing your time and expertise. I enjoyed reading your comments. Good job!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kathy, not sure if it’s on my end, but I’m not seeing the first page results.


  2. Ditto. I can’t read the first page results.


  3. Sorry June. I was struggling with some things on my end.


  4. Kathy, thank you for the agent interviews and the first page critiques. It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how agents react to manuscripts. Plus a huge thank you to Hannah Mann — your comments are helpful and encouraging. I’m grateful for your generousity in reviewing our work.


  5. I agree. Love the insight she gave. Very interesting and useful. Thanks for posting.


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