Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And now...a word from Susan Hawk

I asked Susan Hawk, the new children's book agent at the Bent Agency, to do a guest blog to introduce herself and let you know a little bit about what she's looking for. As you all know, I am thrilled to pieces to have Susan join the team here. Over to Susan....

This is Susan Hawk, the new children's book agent at The Bent Agency. I'm happy to introduce myself here and tell you something about the kind of books I'm looking for.

I’ve been in children’s books for over 20 years, and I’ve worn a couple hats in that time. Actually, the first job I ever had was at The Cheshire Cat Bookstore, a children’s only bookstore, in Washington, DC. It was run by a group of former librarians and educators who knew and loved children’s books. Did you ever have a librarian or bookseller who understood exactly what kind of book to set aside for you? I think it’s one of the best things in the world – to have someone hand you a book that just transports you. And that’s what you’d find at The Cheshire Cat. (I was a fan long before I worked there; the store was a few blocks from my house, and my orthodontist just above it, so I spent many an afternoon there, purchasing a post-orthodontia-Judy Blume-pick-me-up.)

I mention this because it feels like where it all began for me. I re-stocked the shelves, so I touched almost every book in the store. It was here that I saw not only how many truly wonderful books there are in the world, but I saw how happy books can make a person – happy to give, happy to receive, happy to read. And from that time on, books have been a big part of my life.

Fast forward. I moved to New York after college and began working in marketing for kids’ books at Penguin and North-South Books. I left publishing to go to Rutgers library school, and worked in a few libraries on the way. I returned to publishing, and began running the Library Marketing department at Penguin. At that point, I became interested in the editorial side, was able to wear two hats for awhile, and acquired for Dutton Children’s Books. I moved to Henry Holt, where I ran the children’s marketing department. I worked on many wonderful books over the years, 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.

My daughter was born two years ago, and I took some time to be with my kids. I knew I’d go back to working in books, but was ready to try something new. I was considering agenting when a post on a neighborhood parenting list-serv from Jenny Bent caught my eye. She had just started her own agency and was looking for readers. We had coffee on her stoop and agreed that in exchange for me reading, she’d answer my questions about the business. Time passed and we kept talking about agenting. When Jenny suggested that she’d like to add a kids’ book agent to her company, I couldn’t have been more pleased, and here we are today! I feel incredibly lucky to have connected with Jenny, who is smart, funny, so knowledgeable about the business, and who has been incredibly generous to me of her time and wisdom.

Now enough about me – on to what you really want to know: what I’m looking for!

My interests are broad and I’m reading in lots of areas. I plan to work with authors of middle-grade and YA books, both fiction and non-fiction. In the latter I’m looking for something commercial and topical – think of Chew on This. In fiction, I would love to find a wonderful new mystery or historical fiction. I've always been a fan of fantasy, though not really epic, high fantasy. Science-fiction is a particular favorite and I wish there was more of this for kids. I'm interested in boy books, and seeing something that really makes me laugh would be great. I don't run across many things in which religion plays a role, so I'm looking for that as well.

More than any particular plot or genre though, I’m looking for wonderful characters (the kind that you come to know so well that you're still chatting with them long after the book ends) and a unique, arresting voice, wrapped up in a great story. Story is key -- I can never resist a good plot and strong pacing. My tastes run more towards the literary, but I think the best books can’t be typified as either commercial or literary, they are just the sort of books that you can’t help but swallow in one gulp, while never wanting them to end.

I think it’s helpful to know who some of my favorite books and authors are, so I’ll list some here, in no particular order: MT Anderson, Elise Broach, An Na, Adele Griffin, Gennifer Choldenko, Nancy Farmer, Jack Gantos, Katherine Paterson, John Bellairs, Sid Fleischman, Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

So that’s a bit about me. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing your submissions! For information about submitting, please visit:


  1. Congratulations in the new position Susan, and good luck!

    It's good news for me too, as you and I like a lot of the same things--I just can't find enough science fiction, fantasy and history for my 10-year-old son (and okay, for me too LOL) Funny is always a favourite, no matter what genre.

  2. Congrats on your new position. It's a shame I don't write MG or YA, but I know a lot of authors who do so will direct them to this blog and the Bent Agency website. It's so nice to read about someone who has such a passion for books.

  3. Congratulations on your new journey, Susan! I know you are going to be a great success. Miss you at Holt!

  4. Science-fiction is a particular favorite and I wish there was more of this for kids.

    I am so glad to hear this! I recently blogged about the need for more SF in MG books on my blog Ink Spells, which is all about finding great books for MG advanced readers. And I'm writing a MG SF book as well, so I will definitely be querying in the future.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I have a question for both of you. A few weeks ago Jenny Bent passed on a upmarket mystery of mine but said she'd look at a revision. Before turning seriously to that revision, I am finishing a fifth draft of a middle-grade sci-fi novel. I want to submit the MG to the Bent Agency and resubmit the mystery. Should I send the MG to Susan and the mystery to Jenny? I haven't seen or have missed whether Jenny is still looking at juvenile fiction.


  6. Congrats!

    I'm a YA writer, and I love learning how people in the business developed a passion for kid lit.

    And this was an excellent line:
    "purchasing a post-orthodontia-Judy Blume-pick-me-up"
    What a mental image!

  7. Jenny, thanks for posting for Susan!

    Susan, I love hearing your path to becoming an agent. Seems like such a natural flow, though I'm sure you hadn't predicted it for yourself at the time. Funny how those things work!

    I wish I'd had my own personal book curator as a kid. What a dream!

    I'm currently revising/polishing a YA social sci-fi, but it won't be ready for another handful of months. Until then, I'm going to read up on your faves – though I'm already a Nancy Farmer fan. :)

    I know what you mean about sci-fi. It would be great if an excellent character scribe like John Green would take on the genre.

  8. yes, super congrats. passion for books is the most. THE MOST.


  9. So glad you've found such a wonderful job!

    I completely agree with you that the best books can't really be typified as literary/commercial/genre/what-have-you. My favorite books span everything from literary classics to genre fic, adult to MG, but what I remember about all of them is the characters.

    The characters who've stayed with me the most over the years are Atticus Finch; Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins; Claidi from Tanith Lee's Wolf Tower series; and, of course, the wonderful little Frodo Baggins.

    Rachel Heston Davis
    Up and Writing

  10. I loved the Cheshire Cat! What a fantastic training ground. Thanks for this post.
    Augusta Scattergood

  11. Your description of the Cheshire Cat bookstore was so delicious I could taste it. I only had one such place in my life - the antiquated library on St. Simon's Island, Georgia. A rural Washingtonian, I spent one summer there, in a different world. The library felt like a curio placed upon a shelf and forgotten; the Albert Payson Terhune books I checked out had not been opened since the early 60's. (This was in '89.) It was a tiny, dark, and dusty place, and I loved it with all my heart. It felt like mine alone--and it nearly was. Thank you for the journey back into memory, it had been awhile since I last visited that place.

    BTW - As a YA writer with a novel that's thisclose to ready, I will definitely be querying you soon!

  12. Hi Susan! Congratulations on your new position and best of luck! I find this blog very helpful as it has many answers to many of my questions! Thank you so much! I will definately be following it!

    It would be an honor if you can take a look at my new blog for children!

    I would love to hear your comments!

    Best Wishes,

    Jimena Pinto-Kroujiline

  13. Many thanks to everyone for your comments – some thoughts:

    Susan Quinn: just read your great post on Inkspells about why isn’t there more scifi, saw a list of some scifi I didn’t know about and must get reading! I’m tempted to say that some of this has to do with trends – publishing can be the sort of business where people jump on bandwagons and one of the biggest bandwagons in the last 10 years or so has been fantasy, not scifi. That’s probably part of it, but not all of it. After all, fantasy being big doesn’t require scifi to be diminished. I remember having to do book reports in 4th grade on genre. Scifi was one of the toughest for me, largely because there were hardly any books in that genre, that I could find anyway. So we might be talking about a “trend” at least 30 years old…and that indicates something else is going on.

    I heard an interesting piece related to this on the radio the other day (of course, can’t now remember the speaker’s name…), talking about the way scifi has to reflect the public’s general knowledge of science – in other words, the boundaries of suspension of disbelief shift all the time, because what we commonly know about technology, space, medicine etc changes. Perhaps this relates as well? Speaker was talking of movies, but I think this is the case here too.

    Another thought: in some ways, children’s books is a women’s profession – most editors are women, as are teachers, librarians, and – I think – authors. So, the adult gatekeepers in children’s lit are women. I think it’s fair to say that many, but not all, women are less comfortable with science. There are plenty of exceptions to this of course and I’m absolutely certain that women can write scifi as well as anyone else, but maybe this has something to do with it as well?

    Anyway, I’m delighted to see so many folks interested in writing scifi for kids, and as Susan Quinn says in her post, kids are so steeped in science, and Star Wars etc, it’s time. I look forward to reading your submissions in this area!

    Writerperson: Jenny does look at YA, but not middle-grade, so yes, I think it’s best to send her your revised ms, and send the MG to me. We ask that you do not submit to us simultaneously with the same project, but you’re welcome to send her an adult project and me one for kids at the same time. Also, if you’ve received a pass from me, you are welcome to then submit to Jenny, and vica versa, as long as it’s a project we are both looking for – see the website for more on this:

    Margo: it is indeed funny (and good) how you end up places you never thought you would – they are often the very best places. How much less interesting would life be, if you could see every possibility at once?

    I better sign off before I end up writing a whole ‘nother blog post here, but many thanks again to everyone for your wonderful responses!

  14. Susan Hawk - thanks for the extensive response! You make some very interesting points. Regarding suspension of disbelief, I think you are right that the general public's knowledge of science has to be factored in - which is why I think there is a growing amount of Science Fantasy. It's almost as if anything is seen as possible in science, which I think is a reflection of the fantastically fast pace of change in the science world. We (the public) can hardly keep up.

    And your very interesting point about women as the main gatekeepers (and writers) of children's lit is valid. But I do hope for some kind of revival in kidlit SF, with one or two popular MG SF books bringing the genre to the fore. I think this will pull in more MG SF writers as well.

    I'm putting the finishing touches on my MG SF book and hope to start querying by the end of April. I look forward to hearing what you think of it!

    Thanks again for the comments!

  15. Hi, Susan! Congrats on your new position! It's good to know that your looking for authors who write for children of all ages:)