Book Broker—an interview with Lisa Hagan
Agent: Lisa Hagan, LHB
Bio: Lisa Hagan Books was formed in early 2015 in order to publish and promote important works that were being overlooked by the big five. It was the big five then and now in 2021 it is the big four. With her extensive career as a literary agent working with clients from all over the world for over 20 years, Lisa has seen that there is an audience and a demand for the books that she loves in genres such as alternative health, paranormal research, and extraordinary memoir. Her goal is to create a flourishing independent publishing house to continue reaching the same wide audience of readers who are seeking the truth, who want to learn, and who want to be entertained.
For more information on what Lisa is looking for, check her out on Publishers Marketplace.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Clear and easy to understand description of the proposed book. I prefer a few sentences to a paragraph about the idea—what makes it fresh and why people will want to read it. If I am intrigued within the first few sentences of the query, I will continue reading. I need to be hooked fairly quickly or I will skim down to see who you are and if you have a good platform. I check to see if this is something worth working on to make better. We receive many queries daily; the first few sentences are vital to tell me what the book is about.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Run-on sentences—I think that is one of my biggest pet peeves. Writing your stream of consciousness and not using spell check or checking your grammar.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
Always start off the email personalized, Dear Ms. Hagan. I recommend adding an additional personal touch of mentioning books I’ve represented and why you enjoyed them. Recently, an aspiring author sent a mass email to about 100 agents and the responses the poor guy got back were brutal. And he didn’t even take the advice and sent another mass email to the same group. I did not participate.
Do your homework; there are submission guidelines available on the internet and on the agents' websites. Everything is formulaic and easy to follow.
4) How much importance do you give to comparable titles in a query letter? How do they help you assess whether a manuscript is a good fit for your list?
I definitely look at the comp titles; it is the best way to get a feel of what the proposed book is similar to. It also gives us an idea of who you think your writing skills are comparable to. I often chuckle to myself when writers compare their work to classics. And you know, maybe one day their book will be a classic. I hope so. I think too many writers use whatever the most popular title is at the moment and in the end we have to take it out before I send a proposal around to the editors. Anyone reading this interview: take a good hard look at your writing and what titles you use and be honest with yourself. Do your homework and read the books you are comping and not just the summary on Amazon.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
I have had many wonderful first time authors over the years, a handful of whom continue to write for me today. You have to start somewhere. Let me know how much you love to write, that this is your dream job, and that you’ll listen and be open to suggestions. I like to work with my authors to create the best proposal, manuscript, and platform we can.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I wish the publishers would stop buying each other up. The imprints are not allowed to compete with each other on offers. This has limited the agents and aspiring authors greatly. On the plus side, this has created terrific independent publishing houses that are publishing fabulous books and doing a great job with PR and marketing by being super creative.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I recently read Amy Poeppel’s novel, Musical Chairs. I do not represent fiction but I love to read it for pleasure. Amy took me on a journey, one that I couldn’t wait to get back to each evening. She has the ability to create strong characters that make you feel like they could be your friends. I still think about Amy’s book and am eagerly waiting for her next one.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Our Environmental Handprint: Recover the Land, Reverse Global Warming, Reclaim the Future by Jon R. Biemer. Jon’s proposal inspired me from the first page. He made me want to do more and showed me ways that I could, in 175 easy actionable steps. After years of research, he breaks it down for the reader and champions you to be better. His was a project of passion and it shows. You can find out more on his website JonBiemer.com.