Monday, April 16, 2012

YA/MG Agent Series: Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates

Due to the incredible amount of interest in my interview with literary agent Adriann Ranta, I've decided to do an entire series focussing on YA/MG agents. And you're in for a treat--today's interview is with super-agent Hannah Bowman, who has kindly offered to answer further reader questions, if there are any, in the comments section (Not in real time. She'll pop in later. It is a MONDAY, after all. Girl's gotta work). 

Hannah Bowman is a literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency in New York, having joined the agency in 2011. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, summa cum laude in English and magna cum laude in Mathematics, and spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory before deciding her interest was books (I’ll say it for you—holy crap! Now that’s a job change!). She briefly interned with agent Weronika Janczuk before joining the team at Liza Dawson Associates. And hold on to your hats, people—she’s on the lookout for young adult fiction, among other genres.

Michelle: Welcome to the blog, Hannah! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. My first question, since everyone is thinking it: What made you decide to go from particle physics to literary agenting? Seems like a big leap, career wise, to say the least.

Hannah: I was a science- and math-type (although I always loved, loved, loved to read) through high school. I went to college planning to be a mathematician, but by the end of my freshman year I'd declared a double major: math and English. I missed English classes too much to stop taking them! As I went through college, I ended up more and more interested in books, literary analysis, and the process by which good writing becomes great writing.

After college, I tried my hand at writing and querying a couple of (ultimately unsuccessful and never-to-be-published) novels, then realized I would be happier and more productive on the other side of the desk!

Michelle: What is the best part of being a literary agent, in your opinion?

Hannah: Working with incredible authors! There is nothing more exciting than the feeling of opening a fantastic client's new project and preparing to be swept off your feet.

...But calling an author to tell them an editor loves their book and wants to publish it is a close second!

Michelle: What are you actively looking for right now? In terms of YA fiction, what subgenres do you lean toward?

Hannah: I'm actively looking for basically all types of adult genre fiction and YA. I'm always particularly keen to find science fiction and fantasy (and all subgenres thereof), fantastic women's fiction and contemporary and historical romance (think OUTLANDER!), and possibly cozy mysteries. I'm also looking for some select nonfiction, mostly popular science.

In YA, I'm hot to find a great contemporary, a great thriller, and (always) high fantasy or science fiction with a strong YA voice. 

Michelle: Is there anything you’re sick of seeing in the slush pile?

Hannah: Tricky question--just about anything can work if it's done in a new or great way. That said, it's hard to sell me on anything paranormal right now--vampires, guardian angels, etc.--and I'm really not looking for dystopians (even if they're pitched as science fiction or futuristic!)

Michelle: Do you have any instant turn-offs or pet peeves that will lead you to reject an author?

Hannah: Nothing that will lead to instant rejection--I've signed clients off queries that break some of the so-called ironclad "rules." But in general, if your reason for why your book is why is because it teaches any kind of lesson or because it doesn't have "adult" content in it, I think you're approaching the genre in an unproductive way.

Michelle: When reading a manuscript, how do you decide if you’re going to offer representation?

Hannah: I have to love it. From the first sentence, I have to be hooked and want to keep reading. I have to be disappointed when I get to the end of the partial, and desperate to get the full. (I have been known to check my query inbox every hour or so if I'm waiting for an exciting full to come in.) And as I read the full, I have to keep getting more and more drawn in by the story, so that I growl if anyone makes me put it down. I have to be disappointed to reach the end of the manuscript. And I have to keep thinking about it when I'm not reading it. 

True story: I have one client who queried me on a Friday. I requested the partial, read it on Tuesday, and immediately requested the full. She sent the full Wednesday morning (I was stalking my inbox waiting for it) and I read the whole thing that day and contacted her not five hours later to set up a call.

Of course, it's not always that fast! Sometimes I'm too busy to read the fulls right away, and sometimes it takes a couple of days of thinking about it--of the manuscript just not getting out of my head!--before I'm sure. Sometimes I think the book needs a revision before I can take it on. But ultimately, every client I take on is because I feel that someone out there *needs* to read their book.

Michelle: Is there a project coming out soon that you’ve represented and are excited about?

Hannah: I've sold two books and I'm so excited for both of them!

RED RISING by Pierce Brown is an epic science-fiction novel--think ENDER'S GAME on Mars--coming from Del Rey/Random House in Fall 2013. It's also already sold in the UK and for translation in Spanish, German, and Chinese.

And Rosamund Hodge's SUNDERED, a stunning high-fantasy reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, will be coming from Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins in Winter 2014.

I think both of these books have the potential to be real game changers in their genre.

Michelle: What is the best way for authors to contact you?

Hannah: Query me by email at I respond to all queries--usually within a few days, but if you haven't heard from me within a month of sending your query, please resend it.

Michelle: Again, thank you so much for doing this, Hannah! It was an absolute pleasure.

Readers, look out for the next agent interview on Wednesday April 18th!


  1. Great interview, Michelle! I love these stories so much, even though I don't have to query anymore:-D

  2. Great interview, Michelle and Hannah. So interesting to read different agent's perspectives.

    Adding Ms Bowman to my query list.

    1. Yes, I agree. Great interview, ladies. I'll also be adding Ms. Bowman to my query list.

    2. I too will be adding her to my query list.

      Thanks for posting these interviews, Michelle. Very helpful and informative.

    3. No problem, Sara! Glad you find them helpful :)

  3. What a wonderful interview! I'll second Aaron and add Hannah to my query list.

  4. I have a question for Hannah. You say that in order for you to offer representation you have to love the book from the first sentence and want to keep reading. What is it exactly that makes you fall in love with a book? (eg. stand-out voice, artful writing, unique plot,etc). Is there one thing in particular that you look for?

  5. Fun interview, Michelle! Given that Hannah is looking for YA Contemporary, I'll have to send my query her way once I'm finished the book. :)

  6. I know Hannah must be busy, but I also have a question to ask. What's the best piece of advice you could offer to aspiring writers?

  7. I'd like to ask Hannah a question, too. :-)

    What do you think are the future trends/topics/genres in YA publishing for 2014/15? Are publishers asking for particular types of manuscripts?

    Many thanks in advance of your response, Hannah.

    Thank you Michelle for such a great series of blog posts.

  8. Answers to your questions!

    @Julia: Honestly, I have to love pretty much everything. Plot, characters, concept, writing, voice. That doesn't mean the book has to be perfect--I'm happy to work with authors and I edit pretty heavily--but I have to see potential in all those areas.

    @Sara: My best advice for writers is keep writing and keep reading! It takes most writers several books to learn the craft and write something that will sell successfully. And the best way to learn what good writing sounds like, and how to imitate it in your own voice, is to read lots of successful books in your genre, and figure out what you like, and what you don't like, about them.

    @Amaleen: That's the million-dollar question! I'm afraid I don't have a really solid answer--we're in between trends at the moment and I don't think anybody really knows what's coming. There's a general sense that dystopian and paranormal are crowded at this point. I think there might be a resurgence in YA contemporaries and (I hope) in YA science fiction, which has started to develop a little out of the dystopian trend.

    But ultimately--don't write to the trend, write the manuscript you want to write, and write it well. Every trend is started because of one book that felt new and fresh and readers responded to.

    Thanks again, Michelle, for the chance to do this interview!


    1. Interesting and insightful answers, Hannah! Thanks again for doing this interview :)

  9. Wow, she sounds like an awesome agent!

    Thanks for the interview, Michelle. :) Very informative.

  10. Great interview. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Thanks for the response, Hannah!

  12. Thanks for the great advice, Hannah. :)