Agent Advice: Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Associates

This installment features Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Associates, Inc. She is seeking: Anne has an eclectic list, ranging from thrillers to literary fiction to serious nonfiction. She has particular interests in science, history, public policy, medicine and women’s issues. She is not looking to represent self-help, new age, erotica, how-to, advice/relationship, horror, Westerns, category romance, action/adventure, science fiction, fantasy, or juvenile.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring long-time agent Anne Hawkins of John Hawkins & Associates) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Anne Hawkinsof John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.

She is seeking: Anne has an eclectic list, ranging from thrillers to literary fiction to serious nonfiction. She has particular interests in science, history, public policy, medicine and women’s issues. She is not looking to represent self-help, new age, erotica, how-to, advice/relationship, horror, Westerns, category romance, action/adventure, science fiction, fantasy, or juvenile.

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GLA: Why did you become an agent?

AH: My brother-in-law John Hawkins recruited me for several reasons. He knew that I was a great lover of books and had, in fact, taught English in the past. Also, he had seen me negotiate in an entirely different field, and that gave him confidence that I could handle the business aspects of the job.

GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.

AH: I've cut deals for any number of my established authors, and it's always a thrill to see their careers grow and flourish. Your readers, however, might want to hear about the sale of a first novel. It started with a cold-call e-mail query that intrigued me. I asked for a synopsis and sample pages, and I was simply blown away by the quality and originality. fter reading the full manuscript, I immediately offered representation. This book, The Informationist, by Taylor Stevens, sold to Sarah Knight of Shaye Areheart Books and will be a lead hardcover title in Winter 2011. So far, it has sold in six foreign language markets, and CAA [Creative Artists Agency] is currently marketing it to film interests.

(How to write a novel synopsis.)

GLA: Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?

AH: I have two wildly different books coming out in April—Kristy Kiernan's third novel, Between Friends (high-concept women's fiction), and Michael Pewtherer's Wilderness Survival Handbook, a guide to outdoor survival with minimal manufactured equipment. One of the great things about my job is the variety!

GLA: What are you looking for right now when tackling the slush pile?

AH: I'm always on the lookout for "reading group" books, whether fiction or nonfiction. These are books that, while entertaining, also have ideas and content worth discussing.

I also love historical fiction, but it is so difficult to find one that hits on all cylinders. Writing good historical fiction is challenging because, in addition to the hurdles that all novelists face, historical authors also have to do massive research, incorporate historical detail in an interesting way, and craft a convincing voice that is suitable to the period.

GLA: You don’t work with much genre fiction, other than thrillers and mystery/suspense. With particular regard to thrillers, do you prefer any subgenres, such as legal, psychological, or supernatural thrillers, etc.? Anything you tend to stay away from?

AH: In thrillers, I'm looking for strong characters, outstanding storytelling, and an original concept. Too many queries give me that "been there, done that" sort of feeling, so I don't pursue them. Truth to be told, I like thrillers that don't fit neatly into any subgenre. The Informationist, mentioned above, is one of those. Both the editor who acquired it and I remarked that we hadn't seen anything quite like it before. That said, I find legal thrillers a tough sell in today's market, and I just don't care for any sort of fiction with supernatural elements.

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GLA: One of the nonfiction areas you represent is biography. What is essential to a solid biography proposal?

AH: That's a really tough question. "Serious" biography most often requires serious author credentials. Think of Robert Caro's multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson or David McCullough's biography of John Adams. "Lighter" biography, such as Seabiscuit or Longitude, often categorized as "niche history," requires only a compelling voice and exacting research.

Of course, the proposed book cannot treat an individual whose life has been documented many times already. And the subject has to be of interest to a substantial readership.

GLA: Is there anyone in particular about whom you’d love to see a biography written?

AH: I can't think of anyone specific offhand, but as Justice Potter Stewart said: "I know it when I see it."

GLA: I read in an interview you did last year that you take on a number of “cold queries.” Agents seem to differ across the board in terms of whether or not they think authors should personalize these types of queries (i.e., “I see you rep Author X, so I hope you will be interested in Manuscript Y”). How do you feel about this? Do you prefer cold queriers jump right into the pitch, or does a little personalization go a long way?

AH: By all means, personalization goes a long way. If a query letter begins with something like, "I'm a huge fan of your author Tasha Alexander... ," I'm predisposed to read on.

(How to write a query letter.)

GLA: How can writers maximize their success in this changing industry?

AH: It goes without saying that a writer must hone his craft to the highest level possible. Once that's accomplished, however, a writer needs to put on his business hat and devise a smart strategy for gaining representation and eventual publication.

If I could give unpublished authors one piece of advice, it would be this: Learn as much as you can about the publishing industry, how it works, and who the players are before beginning the query process. Publishing is a quirky business, and things often happen in a nonlinear fashion. The author who adopts a learn-as-you-go philosophy runs the risk of making costly, even disastrous mistakes.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you? (Find a list of writers conferences on Chuck Sambuchino's page.)

AH: DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) Writers Conference, April 10-11, 2010; American Independent Writers Conference (Washington, D.C.) June 12, 2010; Anhinga Writers Conference (Gainesville, Fla.) July 28-31.

GLA: What is something about you writers would be surprised to hear?

AH: I played the bassoon professionally for many years.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

AH: Don't assume that everything you read online is true. Some writer-friendly websites do offer accurate, up-to-date information. Others perpetuate wild untruths. As a case in point, I Googled myself and discovered, among other curious things, that: 1) I am a top agent for horror fiction (I have never represented a single horror novel), and 2) I am one of the top ten agents for YA fiction (In my entire career, I have represented only one young adult novel). Get the picture?

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This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
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