Book Broker – an interview with Anne Hawkins
Agent: Anne Hawkins, John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.
Preferred genres: Literary and commercial fiction, including mystery, suspense, and thrillers. Serious nonfiction on such topics as history, nature, and public policy
Bio: Anne Hawkins is a partner with John Hawkins & Associates, Inc. Founded in 1893, it is the oldest literary agency in the USA. Anne's eclectic list runs from thrillers to literary fiction to serious nonfiction. Some of her bestselling authors include John Gilstrap, Tasha Alexander, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, and Taylor Stevens. In her spare time, she enjoys good food and performance art. Opera, ballet, and symphonic music are among her favorites.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Clear concept, intriguing storytelling, memorable characters, and great writing.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
I'd like to say, "lack of the above," but that's a bit snide. The number one warning sign for me is sloppy prose, whether in a query letter or in the sample chapters. After reading about a paragraph, I know that the project is nowhere near ready.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
I think personalization makes an agent sit up and take notice that authors have done their homework on the types of books that a particular agent represents. Here's an example of an author effectively describing her book:
"It's coming-of-age upmarket fiction for lovers of Bittersweet, with shades of Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin."
This hit home to me, since I represented Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's Bittersweet, and Gail Godwin has been one of our agency's clients for decades, although I have not personally represented her. I requested the manuscript and found that the author's description was spot-on.
4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?
I can't give you three specific scenes, but the trope of a character being called back to his hometown because of a death in the family is certainly one of them. Two other pet peeves of mine are unnecessary prologues and front loading the opening chapter(s) with backstory.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
I don't think an "about me" paragraph is necessary unless it is relevant to the book in question. In the case of non-fiction it's important to state the author's credentials to write about a particular subject and to outline the author's platform. For fiction, awards are good to note as is participation in prestigious writing programs. (Think Iowa, Breadloaf, etc.) Occupation and/or life experience should only be mentioned if they are relevant. For example, if an author is a volunteer handler of search and rescue dogs, and she is writing a mystery involving those dogs, that's important. If that same author is an accountant, that's not.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I wish there were more places within the major and mid-sized publishing houses to submit any particular book. Mergers and acquisitions have reduced the number of suitable imprints, and rules set by the publishing conglomerates about submitting to competing imprints within their organizations have further limited submission opportunities.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin. It's a story of the enduring quality of female friendship
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Answering this question would put me in a whole lot of trouble, since I consider all of my authors exciting in one way or another.