Today on the blog we have agent Shannon Hassan from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Prior to this interview, Shannon and I sat down for coffee, so I can tell you from my face-to-face encounter, Shannon is personable, smart, and funny. The whole package!
Shannon has been an agent for three years, which is good news for writers seeking an agent, because she is currently growing her client list. Please know, her short time as an agent does not mean she is a “newbie” to the field of literature or contracts—she has years of experience as an acquisitions editor at Fulcrum Publishing and also years as a corporate attorney.
KT: Hi, Shannon! Thank you for meeting with me and for agreeing to answer my “fast five” questions.
SH: Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog, and for your kind words! So Marnice to meet you and have you as my neighbor. J
KT: ICE BREAKER: You’re clearly one smart cookie! You earned a BA in Journalism and Economics at George Washington University, a JD at Harvard Law (Harvard!), and then you worked as a corporate attorney at a Park Avenue law firm—so please settle my burning questions. Which is better—cats or dogs? Dogs Pasta or sushi? Pasta Subway or bike? Bike!
1. KT: Imagine we could strap into a time machine (ours can be a Tesla instead of a DeLorean) and travel back to your middle school and high school days—what books would we see on your night stand (and what else might be there)?
SH: Well that would send me back to Texas in the 80’s, when I had big bangs, ha! The first book I fell in love with was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Another favorite was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I also read a lot of Stephen King—I’ve always been an eclectic reader.
KT: Also I know you have twelve-year-old twins—what are some of their current favorite titles?
SH: All Four Stars, Pax, When You Reach Me, The Land of Stories, The Crossover, and Book Scavenger. I enjoyed those too!
2. KT: Some writers spend hours crafting their query letter (and they should!); others simply whip something together (yikes). I’m sure you can tell the difference. What are three tips you can give writers on query do’s and three tips
· Ask your critique group to give you feedback—it is impossible to have perspective on your own query letter after you’ve immersed yourself in writing the novel for so long.
· Mention one or two “comp” titles—books that have been published recently (in the past couple of years) that show the type of audience you are hoping to reach.
· Show your voice. I don’t mean write the letter in one of your character’s voices (that never works!). But do give a taste of what the voice of the story will be. For example: if your story is humorous, then get that humor across in the query.
· Don’t write a long lead-in about yourself or why you wrote the book, etc.—just get right to the hook.
· Don’t tell us every minor plot point—your query should be a concise, engaging blurb like you would see on a book jacket, not a synopsis.
· Don’t forget to proofread. First impressions matter!
3. KT: Taste is subjective, but great writing trumps all. For example, I would have said I’m not a fan of dystopian, but then I read (and loved) Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (and of course I love the obvious dystopian leaders, Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, etc.). What are your favorite genres?
I love a range of genres, and my list for MG and YA includes everything from contemporary realistic, to humorous, to historical, to suspense, to romantic, to adventure and fantasy. See part two below on what these stories have in common….
KT: And part two—the important question (drumroll please)—what hooks you when reading a manuscript?
SH: A fresh voice and compelling, authentic characters! If you give me amazing characters that leap off the page and into my heart, then I will pretty much read about them doing anything.
A couple of my recent wish-list items include a page-turning historical in the vein of Laurie Halse Anderson or Ruta Sepetys, something that plays with narrative structure in the vein of Challenger Deep, and quirky stories with humor and heart.
4. KT: Your bio shows that you represent authors who write middle grade and
SH: I am not actively acquiring picture books or chapter books, but when I have existing clients who want to work on those things, I will represent them. But if you are looking to make your debut with a picture book, then I am probably not the right agent for you. For nonfiction, I am interested in narrative nonfiction and memoir from authors with strong platforms.
5. KT: Writers love to feel like they have the inside scoop—like they know you. Please tell us a little known fact about you (other than the fact that you ride an adorable purple cruiser with basket and all).
Well let’s see…I love to travel. Since our twins were barely out of diapers our family has been to some far-flung places like Easter Island, the Galapagos, and Iceland.
Thank you, Shannon! It is a pleasure getting to know you! Please provide your query instructions below:
I look forward to receiving your queries at email@example.com. Please email a query letter + 10 pages.
Thank you again Kim. It was my pleasure!
Shannon Hassan, an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, has worked in publishing and law for more than a decade. She represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, and select nonfiction. On the kid-lit side, she is looking for fresh MG and YA, and is open to a range of stories as long as they have authentic, memorable characters: contemporary stories with humor and heart, adventures, thrillers, and mysteries, original fantasies (with one foot grounded in reality), page-turning historicals, as well as nonfiction from authors with a strong platform.
A few of Shannon’s recent or soon to be published YA and MG books include THE WORLD’S GREATEST ADVENTURE MACHINE, a middle-grade adventure by Frank L. Cole (Delacorte/Penguin Random House), DIE YOUNG WITH ME, an adult/YA crossover memoir by Rob Rufus of the Blacklist Royals (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), DIAL EM FOR MURDER, a YA suspense novel by Marni Bates (Merit Press/F+W), IN 27 DAYS, a speculative YA novel by Alison Gervais (Blink/Harper Collins), and a quirky, realistic middle-grade novel (working on the title!) by Dusti Bowling (Sterling Kids).
Before becoming an agent, Shannon was the Acquisitions Editor at Fulcrum Publishing, and prior to that, a corporate attorney at Arnold & Porter in New York. She received her JD from Harvard and her BA from George Washington University. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.