New series alert! I’ve been hoping to feature literary agent interviews on my blog for quite some time and I finally have my first post to share: an interview with Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency! Like anything I do though, Gifs are involved, so below you’ll find out more about Molly’s career as an agent, what she’s looking for now and a few choice Gifs to describe her job. Enjoy!
1. I know it’s different for almost every agent I’ve ever spoken to so, how did you get into agenting?
I worked for years in various roles in children’s publishing, and then I took a few years off and had children, moved from New York to London, and thought about what I wanted to do next. Jenny Bent and I are old friends, and she approached me about joining the Bent Agency. I had no experience as an agent, but I had plenty of publishing experience, and the idea of trying something new was really appealing after being away from the industry for a few years. I joined the agency in 2012.
2. What are the top three things you look for in a query/any tips for querying authors?
Well, thoughtfully-chosen comp titles are always really useful. Obviously “for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and HARRY POTTER” isn’t helpful at all, but if the comp titles are books that were original/unusual themselves, or books that I’ve said I particularly enjoyed, I’ll always be intrigued. I always appreciate when authors use the query letter to tell me more about their book than about themselves — I see a lot of queries are more life story than pitch. And if there’s a specific reason an author is querying me, I like to know — whether it’s because they enjoyed a book by one of my clients, or they feel they have something in common with me, or they remember something useful/amusing/embarrassing that I said on Twitter.
3. What are some things that will make you stop reading requested material?
Just one thing will make me stop reading: feeling bored.
4. What do you look for in a story? What really grabs your attention?
I look at writing even more than I look at story. I love language; I love feeling like a writer has chosen every word carefully. Craft is important to me as plot. That said, I like stories that make me forget that I’m evaluating them. Anything that draws me in to the point where I’m just enjoying the ride is special.
5. Anything in particular you’re looking for right now?
I’d love to find a witty MG adventure or fantasy that will appeal to both American and overseas publishers. And for a long time, I’ve been interested in writing from the South Asian diaspora — I’d love to find a YA project that feels like Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.
6. Do you have any trend predictions for what’s next in the kidlit world?
I think there’s a real openness right now to perspectives that feel fresh and different to publishers, and a desire to think about the readers who don’t often see themselves in MG and YA fiction. Books that would have been considered ’too niche’ a few years ago are getting a lot more visibility. My hope is that that’s not a trend, but a shift in the way we think about publishing. It’s long past time.
7. Describe your ideal client.
Talented, patient, resilient, responsive.
8. Anything exciting coming up for your clients?
Too many things to mention! I’ve been sitting on a bunch of deal announcements for various reasons (did you know some publishers won’t let a deal be announced until the contract is signed? And I’ve sold a few on proposal that I’ll announce when we have full drafts to share with foreign publishers). I sold one at auction to an editor who described it as ‘the meta-YA project of my dreams’; another is from one of my clients who already has a wide audience for their YA fantasy. My client Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in the UK and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (I’ve been practicing pronouncing that) in Germany, which is hugely exciting. Kendra Fortmeyer’s debut HOLE IN THE MIDDLE comes out in the UK this summer, and I think it will establish her as a really powerful new voice in YA. And much more. I could kvell all day about my clients!
9. What’s your favorite/least favorite part of being an agent?
The day I forced myself to admit that I will never, ever catch up on my reading was a tough one. There will always be more submissions to read. For someone like me, who basically gets high on completing tasks, this is a grim fact.
On the other hand, there’s nothing like the thrill of finding gold in my submissions. I remember reading an incredible manuscript on a flight from London to New York once — with no wifi on the flight, and none of those seat-back phones you used to find on airplanes — and asking the stranger sitting next to me to read a page of it, because I had to share my excitement with someone. I wish I’d got her address so I can send her an ARC when it comes in.
10. Describe being an agent in three GIFS.
Molly Ker Hawn represents authors who write for the young adult and middle grade market.