And “Interview with an Agent” returns! Today’s INTERACTIVE installment features Hannah Bowman, the newest agent at Liza Dawson Associates. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. See you down there!
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get
HB: I've been officially an agent since the beginning of
August this year--I'm still brand new. Before that I interned at Liza Dawson
Associates for eight months.
I actually got interested in publishing from the writing
side: I wrote and queried a couple novels of my own--both of which were (rightly)
rejected. So I've been there! As I was querying, I realized I was really
interested in what agents do--the editing, negotiations, and business side of
publishing--so I started looking for internships and opportunities to read
manuscripts. I interned briefly with agent Weronika Janczuk before starting at
Liza Dawson Associates.
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting
philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
HB: I'm a very hands-on agent. I love to edit and help
writers draw out their story. It's so satisfying to give writers suggestions
and have them say, "Yes, that's exactly what I was trying to say!" I
really want to be involved in every part of the publishing process, from
editing to marketing, and help my clients turn ideas and talent into long-term
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew
you to those writers and/or projects?
HB: Since I'm so new, I don't have any projects coming out
yet. I can tell you what I'm drawn to, though: big concepts, twisty plots, and
Let me break that down a little.
Big concepts: I love science fiction and fantasy because of
the world building and the big ideas in the books. When I read query letters,
I'm looking in large part for a story idea that takes my breath away. That
doesn't have to a be a speculative idea: the right romance or contemporary YA
concept has the same punch.
Twisty plots: I love the feeling when the threads of a
complex plot come together and suddenly you know where the story has to go--and
then it goes there. Revelations of secrets, hard choices and sacrifices, and
anything Tolkien would call "eucatastrophe"--a happy ending pulled
off when things are at their absolute worst and all seems lost--are all very
satisfying to me. I really like to see conflicts be pushed as far as they can
be, and I love characters who are forced to make difficult choices in
impossible situations, where there's no right thing to do.
Strong voices: I think successful fiction really comes down
to characters. A strong voice doesn't necessarily have to be snarky or funny,
but I want to feel like the character is right there beside me.
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you
definitely NOT represent?
HB: I represent all kinds of commercial fiction, especially
science fiction and fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and cozy mysteries. I
also represent all genres of YA.
I'm a hard sell on thrillers, unless they're offbeat, and on
anything that could be described as "hard-boiled." I'm also likely
not the right agent for a literary fiction project.
I'm looking for some select nonfiction, mostly about math or
science, or religion and spirituality, especially church history. I'm not the
right agent for memoirs, though.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers
avoid when querying you?
HB: There's no pet peeve that will make me put down a query
without reading it. I make my decisions based on the quality of writing in the
query and the concept of the book. That said: I'm really not interested in
hearing about what message you expect your book to teach. And, for YA queries,
if you say that your book is appropriate for YA because it doesn't have bad
language/mature themes, I'm likely to be skeptical that you're really familiar
with the YA market.
KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s
initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to
include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent
asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you
find that more assertive or obnoxious?
HB: It doesn't really make a difference to me. Usually I've
made up my mind if I want to read more before I read the pages, based on the
concept and writing in the query. Occasionally, if I'm not sure, I'll look at
the pages, but in most cases, the writing isn't good enough to convince me to
request more. In my experience, it's more common for pages to convince me to
pass than to request--but if the writing doesn't catch me, I'll end up passing
on a partial anyway, so in the long run it won't change anything.
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What
are you tired of seeing at the moment?
HB: Right now I'd love to find: a really sweet contemporary
romance, a high-concept women's fiction that revolves around one major event in
a woman's life, and a big far-future space opera. But that's by no means a
complete list--I'm open for anything great that shows up.
I'm tired of YA voices that sound the same--a little snarky,
a little insecure, but not really grounded in the personality of a particular
character. I'd love to see a really fresh voice in a YA contemporary or
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
HB: Query me by e-mail at queryHannah@LizaDawsonAssociates.com,
with just a query letter in the body of the e-mail. You can also send a paper
query if you prefer, per our submission guidelines at
lizadawsonassociates.com/submission.html, but I prefer e-queries.
My submission guidelines are also available at
Thanks again, Ms. Bowman, for these responses. And good luck
to everyone who decides to query! I imagine that will be a lot of you:)
But before you fire off those e-mails, feel free to ask any
questions you may have for Ms. Bowman in the comments below. She’ll drop in
periodically throughout the day to answer whatever questions she finds down
there, leaving her answers in the comments as well. We’ll wrap things up at
5:00 p.m. EDT (or 2:00 p.m. PDT), but until then, ask away!