An Interview with literary agent Molly Ker Hawn

I had a lot of fun interviewing fellow writer Kelsey the other week - so now it's time to turn the whole thing around, and get some insight into publishing from the other side. Those of you following along will already know that my books are represented by The Bent Agency - specifically by Molly Ker Hawn, who has a pretty snazzy resume. In her own words:

My time in the children's publishing industry has been varied, including editorial roles at Chronicle Books and Dial Books for Young Readers, early social media development for a major teen magazine, and serving as National Programs Director at the Children's Book Council, the trade association of American children's book publishers. I've also been a bookseller, and I'm a past board member of the United States Board on Books for Young People.

In her current incarnation, though, she's my kick ass agent, and she's kindly agreed to answer a few questions about life, books, and how it's all going. So, here we go!

SPC: An obvious one to start with: what kind of stuff are you on the look out for at the moment? Or, perhaps better, what are you open to beyond what it already says on your agency's website?

MKH: I'm especially interested in middlegrade fiction right now -- funny, smart novels that ask interesting questions and don't condescend to the reader. I'm also cautiously interested in New Adult, but anything with paranormal romance elements isn't really for me. (Thanks for reminding me that I need to do a blog post about my 2013 wishlist)

SPC: If there's one thing to avoid when contacting agents - and when contacting you -  what is it?

MKH: Querying before your manuscript is ready. And by "ready" I mean "revised, critiqued by honest readers with experience or at least avid interest in the YA/MG market, revised again, polished, put away for a few days, and then determined to be absolutely the very best it can be."

SPC: There's a lot of change going on in publishing, with ebooks and self publishing taking off like never before. Worried?

MKH: Worried? No. Watching the landscape like a hawk? Absolutely.

SPC: You're an active Twitter user. Should writers commit time to building a presence online before they even have an agent?

MKH: Only if they feel they can do it authentically and really engage with other people online. A broadcast-only Twitter account is aggressively boring; generic blogs about the writing process are a dime a dozen. Viewing social media as a way to meet other writers and publishing professionals is a better way to approach it; then you'll have a built-in a audience you genuinely connect with when you're ready to start telling the world about your book launch.

SPC: You work in the UK for an agency based in the U.S. Is there much difference between the two? Should U.S. based authors feel free to submit to you?

MKH: There are some differences. One key thing to remember is that if you live in a country where your agency doesn't have an office, there can be tax implications for the payments it remits to you. But in terms of your relationship with your agent, being separated by an ocean doesn't mean you can't forge a productive connection. Realistically, even if you live in the U.S., you might live 3000 miles from your U.S.-based agent. I represent authors in the U.S. and the U.K. and am happy to receive submissions from any author, regardless of where they live.

SPC: Less boring question: What's the last book you read and loved?

MKH: LOVED loved? CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. Masterfully plotted, incredible historical detail, and a voice that grabs you and doesn't let go. My favorite book of 2012.

SPC: Favourite book when you were a kid?

MKH: Oh, I had tons. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (actually, the later books in Montgomery's series were my real favorites). Susan Cooper's DARK IS RISING sequence. Lloyd Alexander's CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN. The Newbery-winning JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson. THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS by William Pene Du Bois.

SPC: You've said before you're a pretty hands on, editorial agent. In general how much input do you like having in clients' books?

MKH: It's not about how much input I like having; it's a question of whether and how I think I can help the book be even stronger. Some clients' projects need more development than others. I do enjoy the editorial process, but not for the sake of getting my hands on something -- it has to be necessary for the work.

SPC: Winter is here! You're snowed in the house and the kids are sitting quietly, requiring nothing. The power's out, so no computer for you - which books would you hunker down with?

MKH: WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin. A magnificent novel, made even more magical when it's snowing outside.

SPC: Anything else you'd like to share? Bribery requests? Opinions to expound upon? The floor is yours.

MKH: I was reading queries this morning, and so many of them were good, but just not quite right for me -- and I felt, as I often do, so regretful that I couldn't respond personally to each one to explain why I was turning it down. Authors put so much work into their queries and their manuscripts; I see that and I appreciate it. It's such a leap of faith, sending your work out into the world, and I'm grateful that so many writers are brave enough to do it. (Especially you!)


Thanks to Molly for taking the time to answer these! You can follow her on Twitter as @mollykh - and if you're querying her, remember to check out her Querytracker page (found here).for up to date information on response times. 


  1. "cautiously interested in New Adult."

    That gives me hope. Although most of my writing is YA, my current story is a 18-yr-old college freshman. But I believe the voice fits into YA too. Molly was already on my to query list, so I'm happy to hear she may consider NA.

    1. Hi Suzi - glad it was helpful! It's interesting seeing NA become more and more widely used. I think especially where it overlaps into YA there's a chance with any agent who already accepts the latter.