Monday, December 5, 2011

December Mystery Agent Winners!!!

That's right! Our agent of awesome has her winners already chosen! First off, let me introduce you to our fabulous December Mystery Agent....

Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates!!!!

Hannah answered a few questions for us so we can get to know her -

OA: Is there anything specific you’re just dying to get your hands on?

HB: I’d really love to find a big, epic space opera (think Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga), a YA high fantasy in the vein of Tamora Pierce, a sweet, funny contemporary romance or women’s fiction, and a quirky YA contemporary in the vein of John Green or Maureen Johnson.

OA: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to queries or submissions?

HB: No pet peeves, really! I just want a query letter that tells a story itself and that’s so vivid that I have to read more.

OA: What is your favorite part of being an agent?
HB: Getting to work with amazing authors. I love doing revisions with clients and watching their books get better.

OA: What book are you currently reading?

HB: Fiction-wise, I’m in the middle of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, which is beautifully written and just envelops you in the fantasy world. I’m also reading Shantung Compound by Langdon Gilkey, a nonfiction book published in the 1960s about Americans in a POW camp in China during World War II, which is a fantastic description of how people interact under pressure (and a great source of character inspiration for writers!).

OA: Do you have any fun client or agency news you’d like to share?

HB: Our agency is always excited about our authors’ successes. Among other things, last month Robyn Carr’s newest romance debuted at #1 on the New York Times mass-market bestseller list, Rob Ziegler’s debut SEED (Night Shade Books) received a starred review from Publishers’ Weekly, and Sarah Prineas’ new middle grade fantasy WINTERLING (HarperChildrens, January) made the Winter 2011-2012 Kids’ Indie Next List. Plus Rachel Neumeier’s THE FLOATING ISLANDS, Jennifer Sattler’s PIG KAHUNA, and Charles Stross’s RULE 34 all made the Kirkus Best Books of 2011 list. And that’s just a sampling!

OA: Any last thoughts for queriers?

HB: The key things for me when I’m reading a query are: 1. Who’s the main character, and why is he or she interesting/appealing?; 2. What’s the plot, and how will it surprise me and take my breath away?; 3. What’s the setting, and what interesting elements of it make it seem real? If I see a compelling, three-dimensional character in a well-realized setting (whether it’s realistic or speculative) with a page-turning story to tell...I’m hooked.

Now - on to our winners!!! Hannah had a wonderful surprise - she picked not 3 winners...but 4!! And included a ton of awesome comments as well. So I'll turn the blog over to her :D


These were a fantastic bunch of pitches! Pitching is really hard, so I'm very impressed, and it made my job much harder. In the end, my decisions were very subjective (so other agents may feel differently), as they were influenced by my own preferences both in story concept and pitch style. I'll try to give you some insight into my thought process, though.

As I read the pitches, I had two basic criteria in mind: 1. concept and 2. structure. By concept, I mean both the concept of the book and hints at interesting setting or worldbuilding that come through in the pitch. By structure, I mean how elegantly the pitch was written and how well it expressed an interesting narrative. A one-sentence pitch is just telling a story in a very short form, and that story is generally expressed by first, the description of a cool concept, and second, a clue as to where the plot goes from there (the structure).

In terms of concept, the things that I found were the most important were hints at worldbuilding (from something as simple as an unusual name or description), and that the elements in the pitch made sense together and shared some logical connection. You want to hint at enough elements of the world that it's clear the concept can carry an entire novel, but you don't want the pitch to feel like a list of cool stuff that doesn't quite cohere into a story.

In terms of structure, I found that the most effective pitches were short and specific. It's very hard to distill a story into a short pitch, but almost universally I found that the longer pitches seemed less clear and exciting. Your pitch doesn't need to contain everything, or even most of everything, in your story, but only the real narrative heart of it. I also generally prefer pitches that either have some kind of reversal or show how the stakes are raised dramatically partway through the story--otherwise the plot seems flat to me. But it's important that the description of the reversal or stakes be specific, or the story doesn't stand out.

Again, this is all very subjective! It's relatively easy to say which pitches worked for me, but harder to explain why. And I was really impressed by all the entries, so it was hard to pick just three winners (I actually cheated and picked four). Congratulations to all of you on your great pitching skills!

Without further ado, the winners:

Third place (query critique):

28. Siege of the Heart (historical romance) (Bluestocking)
7. Woven (YA paranormal fantasy) (David P. King)

Second place (partial request):

19. Thief of Hearts (historical romance) (Elizabeth Michels)

First place (full request):

43. Wandering Star (YA sci-fi) (Kendall A.)

Please send your materials to me at and mention that they're from the contest.

And thanks again, everyone, for participating!


Congrats to the winners!! And a HUGE thank you to Hannah for being our Mystery Agent this month!

If you'd like more information on Hannah and the Liza Dawson agency, check out the links. Thanks again everyone!!

Hannah's blog
Liza Dawson Associates


  1. Woohoo! Congrats, Bluestocking! CP love ♥

  2. Congratulations to all the winners!

  3. Awesome interview! Thank you, Hannah, especially for the great breakdown of a pitch. Congratulations winners!

  4. If there's anything I need help with, it's my query. Thank you very much and congratulations to the others. Best of luck to you all! :)

  5. Thanks Lori! And thanks to Ms. Bowman and all the ladies at Operation Awesome for making this contest happen!

  6. Congrats to the winners! Great pitches :)

  7. A giant thank you for this opportunity goes out to Ms. Bowman and Operation Awesome! Congratulations to the other winners. There were some fabulous pitches listed for this contest. Great job everyone!


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