Visit me at Frolicking Through Cyberspace

You may already know about picture book author Heather Ayris Burnell's smart, informative blog and website Frolicking Through Cyberspace, where amongst other things, she talks about writing, chronicles her own adventures getting published, and is creating the Monster List of Picture Book Agents.  She also interviews people – and I was delighted when she asked if I'd be interested.  The interview went up today, here's a preview of some of her great questions:

It's a tough, highly competitive market, especially when it comes to picture books. Why do you choose to represent picture book authors?
What elements do you think a picture book needs to be successful?
There is such a variety of picture books, are there certain types you prefer to (or not to) represent?

For answers and more of the interview, please visit her site:

I hope everyone enjoys.  Thanks for having me Heather!

Intern Needed!

I’m looking for an intern who loves to read books for children, especially middle grade and young adult, and is interested in picture books as well. If you’re a fan of books by MT Anderson, Mary Pearson, Nancy Farmer, Gennifer Choldenko, or Jack Gantos; if you couldn’t put When You Reach Me, The Westing Game, or Shade’s Children down -- your tastes and mine will likely be a good fit. This internship is remote so you don’t need to live in NYC, and it’s a 10 hour a week commitment.

Send an e-mail to Explain why you want the internship and something about yourself, or include a resume if you have one (but it's not necessary). Include two lists: the last ten books you read and your ten favorite books of all time.

There are usually a great many applicants and the application period will close fairly quickly: watch this space and twitter (@susanhawk) for details.

Querying: A Guide to Knocking My Socks Off, Part II

Hi all.  We’re back for the second intern post on querying.  Again, a big thank you to the interns for these!

Query Polish

Working as one of Susan’s four intern/readers is a crash course in queries. In my first ten weeks, I read about 350 of them. As you might expect, they ran the gamut in terms of quality. What struck me, though, was how much better many of them could have been with a few simple tweaks.

Your query introduces you and one specific polished project to an agent. But a good one multi-tasks, and understanding that can help you strengthen yours. Here, four roles a query plays, and how to make the most of them:

A query is a business letter. Start with a greeting and the agent’s name. This sounds elementary, but plenty of people don’t do this or simply write “to whom it may concern.” This is not a positive first impression. In your query, you’re basically proposing a business partnership; don’t be overly formal—or too familiar. Use standard English, including conventional capitalization and spelling. (Again, obvious, but . . . ) Include your phone number and email address. Finally, make sure you sign your letter. I’ve been surprised by the number of queries I see in which the writer does not include his or her name anywhere in the email. Susan replies to each, and it’s awkward if she has to guess your name from your email address. (“Dear LuvsCats . . .”)

A query is an amuse-bouche. It’s not a meal; it’s not even an appetizer. It’s one of those carefully crafted singular bites (an “amusement for the mouth”) served on Top Chef and at fancy restaurants to get diners excited about the upcoming meal. A good query makes an agent eager to read your full manuscript. That’s your goal, to get that request. Therefore, a solid query is brief and focused. You may be tempted to share why you wrote your story, how you’ve included Important Themes and Necessary Life Lessons, and why you feel passionately called to Write (with a capital W) despite family pressure to be a ferret farmer. Imagine an agent reading hundreds of queries a year, and perhaps you can see how this information is superfluous and, frankly, distracting. Queries are difficult to write because you need to be able to describe the essence of your project in a powerful, concise way. Get in. Get out. Make the agent hungry for more.

A query is a pop quiz. It shows the agent you did your homework. Note the word “show.” You don’t need to tell the agent what you’ve learned. (“With the success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, today’s ‘young adult’ novel is popular!”) Show your market knowledge with thoughtful comparisons. (“My contemporary fairy tale for middle graders might appeal to fans of Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs.”) Of course, your query will include your project’s genre and word count and this also offers a simple and effective way to show the agent you know your stuff. For example, if you use a genre that doesn’t exist or the length is way off—“BOB THE CAT, my Middle Grade YA thriller novel in non-fiction verse, is complete at 10,034 words”—it raises red flags.

A query is a mirror. It reveals more about you than you might realize. If you write, “say hello to the next J.K. Rowling,” it's another red flag. Providing detailed marketing plans or suggesting the perfect actress to play your protagonist in the film version of your novel does the same thing. (Remember the goal of the query? Stay focused.) Describe your project with care. You might call your hysterical middle grade novel a “lighthearted adventure,” for example, and let the agent discover for herself that it’s a true knee-slapper. Too often, writers hype the hilarity and under-deliver.

When you query, you’re essentially saying you’re ready to be a professional, published author. Those almost-pros are working hard at revision and reading voraciously—in their genre and everything else—to improve their craft and understand the market, sure, but also because they love words and stories. Their passion and commitment—as well as a quiet confidence—resonates in their queries and sample prose, and reading them is a true joy.

Querying: A Guide to Knocking My Socks Off, Part I

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would be asking some of my amazing interns to write something for the blog.  In a happy coincidence two interns sent me their pieces within hours of each other; both write about querying, and what they’ve seen – and learned – as a result of reading queries.  Here’s the first, the next will follow on the 13th – and taken together this is a boodle of good advice on the best way to query.  Thanks amazing interns!

Three things I've learned behind the scenes

As one of Susan's interns, I read a lot of queries and manuscripts. And in these last few months, I've learned so much about what goes on behind the scenes at a literary agency - stuff I wish I'd known a little more about when I was querying my own manuscript a couple of years ago. So I'm going to share three things I've learned as a literary agency intern (and as an agented author, too): three things that I think you should know as a writer and query-er.

1. There are so many queries to read.

I always guessed from the size of the YA blogging community that a lot of people want to become writers. But I didn't understand just how many until I logged into Susan's inbox for the first time, and then started spending time in there every day. We get a lot of queries from a lot of writers.

The problem with this is that it takes a lot for a query to stand out. I might read five or six or ten queries for a YA fantasy, and three or four queries for a boy MG just in a couple of hours. The good thing about this is that you, as a query-er, can do some easy things to make your query not just shine, but blow me right out of my computer chair.

Research. Spend a couple hours trolling the web for advice. Find out how to structure your query, what to say, and what not to say. Susan's blog is a great place to discover this, and there are others, for instance Query Shark ( A quick Google search will give you enough articles and blog posts to learn from for the rest of your life, if you wanted.

Ask a friend or two to read. This is hugely important. Post your query on a site that offers critiques, such as the Absolute Write query forums. Or just ask your best friend/husband/co-worker to give you some feedback. Chances are, your first or second draft isn't as gripping as you think - and some ideas from friends or strangers will definitely push your query to the next level.

From my side of the inbox, it's so easy to tell (I repeat, so easy to tell) which authors have dedicated some time to these two simple steps. Their queries are clearer, more concise, and so much more exciting. Do the work; it'll pay off.

2. But agents WANT to fall in love with your story.

Querying is a beastly process. I get that. But. The best thing about it is that agents really, really want to find stories to love. I'm just an intern, but I want to find lovable stories, too. I plunge into the inbox with my sleeves rolled up and my treasure-radar on, hungry to find that query or two that snaps up my attention. I know that Susan is even MORE excited to find queries and sample pages to adore.

As a query-er myself, I forgot that. I thought agents were sharks, monsters, query-chompers that swallowed me whole and then spit up endless rejection letters into my inbox. But take heart. We're looking for you. We want to fall head-over-heels for your characters, sink into your eerie or beautiful setting, and get sucked into your blockbuster plot line. We love stories. That's why we're here.

3. Revise, revise, revise.

I don't know about you, but I was kind of a delusional query-er. I had this idea that, after I'd revised my manuscript and polished my query, my book was all done. All I had to do was find an agent, go on sub, snap up a book deal, and relax. I first found out how delusional I was when I signed with my agent and she said Now we are going to revise. A lot.

I'm learning again the key role of revision as an intern. When I fall in love with a manuscript, I write an exclamation-filled email to Susan, explaining the juicy and beautiful parts of the novel that I LOVE - and then explaining the things that didn't quite cut it for me. Basically, we don't read with rose-tinted glasses even if we're obsessed with your book. We want it to be the best it can be; often the full manuscripts we request are just a glimmer of the best they can be - full of potential, but in need of a good polish.

My advice to you, as a veteran of revisions: seek critique. Thirst for a good revision letter. LOVE your agent when she tells you she thinks your manuscript needs some work. Most of all, understand that your work as a writer is never done. Actually, it's just beginning!

Queries Re-Opening!

Yes, it’s official.  I will be re-opening queries on February 13th!  This is a bit later than I originally said and I apologize for any confusion this has caused.  January shaped up to be a very different month than I thought it was going to, so I need a bit more time to get things in order.

I truly appreciate everyone’s patience and interest in querying me, and am looking forward to the 13th!