Saturday, April 23, 2011

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Susan Hawk

Susan Hawk is a literary agent with The Bent Agency. Here is her official bio:

For the past 15 years, I've worked in Children's Book Marketing, most recently as the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and previous to that as the Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. I was lucky to work on many different books during that time ranging from Eric Carle's Baby Bear, Baby Bear to Betsy Partridge's This Land Was Made for You and Me, to Nancy Werlin's Black Mirror, as well as the work of Mary E Pearson, Richard Peck and Joan Bauer.

While at Penguin, I also worked for a time in Dutton Editorial, acquiring projects for that list. My favorite part of that time was being able to read new submissions -- I love the thrill of finding something wonderful and imagining where it can go.

I’m looking for books for children only: young adult, middle grade, chapter books, picture books, graphic novels and narrative nonfiction. Within those categories I’m interested in many things – mystery, science-fiction, historical fiction, fantasy (especially fantasy based on fairy tales), realistic fiction, boy books, humor, romance – but what the books I represent have in common is strong story-telling, a unique, sometimes slightly off-kilter voice, and memorable characters that stick with me long after the book is finished.

Susan was born and grew up in Washington, DC; she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

And now Susan Hawk faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Hard as it is to answer this question, it is so much fun to consider…but I can’t pick just three!

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

House of Stairs by Bill Sleator

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I loved these books deeply as a child. As it turns out, all of them were published by imprints of Penguin, which is where I found my first job in publishing. Every time I went to the bookroom, where we stored copies of backlist titles, it was like walking back into my childhood. I frequently recall scenes and characters from these books, and they are as vivid as a photograph still.

Other books that have that same vivid quality are Tangerine, Hole in My Life, Getting Near to Baby and When You Reach Me. I recently read I Capture the Castle and I think it might be the perfect book for me – it’s written in an utterly delicious voice; filled with funny, curious and deeply felt characters. It’s gorgeous.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Crooklyn is funny, sweet and sad, the perfect blue Sunday movie. Sense and Sensibility gets at the sister relationship so well. Invasion of the Body Snatchers still creeps me out. Tootsie and Young Frankenstein always make me laugh. Local Hero’s oddball charm gets me every time. For storytelling with heart, Finding Nemo.

We just finished watching Battlestar Gallactica, which I loved. It took us forever to get through it, but it was worth it! Now we’ve begun Mad Men, which I’m very enamored of. The uncut version of Downton Abbey just arrived; I’m in heaven watching this. I adore cooking shows and there aren’t many I don’t like, right now Top Chef Masters is front and center.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

My ideal client is a talented and imaginative writer, who is willing to go deep into their story and characters. Ability to laugh at life makes you good to work with, and makes for good writing too. I also appreciate someone who understands that publishing is a business, and has done their homework.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I look for characters that feel like no one else, and who wiggle right into my heart. I want to be glued to the page, dying to know what’s going to happen next. I’m a sucker for bittersweet, and stories about people who come to see the world as a perfectly imperfect place.

Right now, I’d love to find a great middle-grade mystery. I’d like to see some YA historical fiction a la Phillipa Gregory. I’m also looking for illustrators who write stories as well.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

Finding something new and wonderful is always a thrill. Sharing excitement about successes with a client is great.

Rejection is a hard part of agenting, but while that’s my least favorite part of the job, it does give me insight into something writers struggle with, which is useful.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

• Be patient. There are very few overnight success stories in publishing.

• Find support. Reach out to writers in your community that feel simpatico to you. You’ll get great feedback on your writing, as well as friends to celebrate and commiserate with.

• Do your research, but be true to yourself. It’s important that you understand things like the categories children’s books are published in and the ways that you can promote your own work, but never focus on these kinds of issues more than your own writing – that’s at the center of your work and it should always come first.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

PG Wodehouse would keep me laughing all the way through any meal!


  1. That's such a coincidence that Susan's favorite books were from the imprint where she got her first job.

    Glad to hear she represents middle grade fantasy.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.