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Meet the Agents: Shannon Hassan

Louise Ahern

This year, at the Write on the Red Cedar conference, we tried something new. Instead of flying one or two agents in for our attendees to pitch to, we compiled a list of awesome agents that were willing to take a look at queries from our attendees. Over the next few months, we'll be posting interviews with some of these agents. This month, we're talking to Shannon Hassan!

Shannon Hassan is an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She brings a depth of business and editorial experience to her role as agent, having 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. 

Before becoming an agent, she 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.

Follow Shannon on Twitter: @ShannonHassan.


How and why did you become an agent?

Like many, I’ve had a life-long passion for books. I started my career as a corporate/licensing attorney, and then decided to follow my heart into publishing, where I became an acquisitions editor, and then an agent. I really love my job!

What's the best query you've ever received and what made it stand out?

This brings up a good point because I’ve received queries for some truly amazing-sounding stories only to find that the manuscript does not live up to the pitch. Yes, it is important to give time and attention to writing a solid query, but the manuscript really needs to be in great shape first. 

As to an example of a great query:

Dusti Bowling sure got my attention—her query was for a middle-grade novel about a spunky girl without arms and a boy with Tourette syndrome solving a mystery in a dying Western theme park… Intrigued? I was too!

In the query, Dusti did a nice job getting to the hook, knowing her target audience, and allowing her voice (and sense of humor) to shine through.

And now the book, INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS will be released this fall! 

Can you tell us about something that's recently sold for one of your clients?

I’m excited about Jennie Liu’s debut GIRLS ON THE LINE, in which a teen pregnancy puts two orphan girls in contemporary China on a collision course with factory bosses, family planning regulators, and a bride trafficker. It is gripping, authentic, and a conversation-starter. I’m happy that it found a great home with Lerner.

Are you also a writer or do you just love books?

I am just focusing on my authors’ work right now, which I really enjoy!

I would like to write someday, but my life is full right now with agenting, raising teenage twins (!), and the lure of the Colorado outdoors.

What are dying to see in your inbox?

I’d like to see more untold stories of amazing women who made their mark.

To see what I’m looking for generally, here’s my manuscript wish-list:

Thanks very much for the interview!

Thanks to you, too, Shannon!


Do you think you have what Shannon is looking for? Check her links for more details on what she reps and how to submit to her!

Five Questions with Elizabeth Heiter

Louise Ahern

Elizabeth Heiter is a familiar face in the CCWA. Not only has she taught workshops at our last two Write on the Red Cedar conferences, she has also given many of our monthly workshops. This month, Elizabeth is talking all about suspense. You're not going to want to miss this one!


1.     What is your favorite part about writing? The most challenging part?

I’ve got several favorite parts: I love it when that first spark of a story appears and I can’t wait to dive in and build it into a novel.  I also love when I’m working on the story and the words are flowing so fast that my fingers can barely keep up on the keyboard.  The most challenging part probably varies by book, but I also think that the challenges of writing and the challenges of being an author are two different things.  When it comes to purely the writing, sometimes it’s the balance in the writing: layering in everything you need for the plot and the character growth and the themes and making sure you’re still able to pull out the strong emotions.  And sometimes, it’s the balance with your life: finding time and energy to write amidst all of the other commitments.  But the joys of writing far outweigh the challenges.

2.     What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? How did you overcome it?

Hmmm…maybe it’s because I’ve always regarded writing as something that was special and mine and I guarded it fiercely, I haven’t felt the need to overcome bad advice.  Whenever I get writing advice, I think long and hard about whether it’s the right advice for me.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, but I think one of the most important things about this business is knowing yourself and your goals.  A lot of people have advice, and even when that advice is coming from industry professionals, they’re not you, at this time in your career with your particular goals.  I do think that one of the things I felt pressure about was when I got opportunities that I felt weren’t the right direction for me; they were great opportunities, but they didn’t match my career goals, and I turned them down.  Choosing the opportunities that are best for you – and advocating for yourself – can  be challenging, and I do think that being on the same page with your agent (if you have one) from the start can ensure that you have another advocate who can handle issues that pop up for you.

3.     Looking back, what did you do right that helped you become an author?

I think one of the things I did right was to stay true to myself.  I turned down great opportunities, because they weren’t right for me, but I also worked with editors to transform opportunities into things that would work for me.  As in any business, I think it’s important to find the right mix of being steadfast about the important things and flexible when you can.  I also think that the biggest thing I did right was to believe in myself and to chase after my goal no matter how many times I heard “no.”  Nine years of rejections before selling was disheartening at times, but I found ways to reward myself for forward motion and to find new opportunities and most importantly, to keep writing.  It’s a job, but it’s also a passion, and it’s important never to lose sight of that.

4.     What would you change or do differently when it comes to your writing career?

I think that if I could, I would get to know more people face-to-face from my publishing house right from the beginning.  The same is true of other industry professionals, like reviewers and bloggers.  There’s nothing like personal contact to get you and your books front of mind, and knowing the people who are working on your books makes it easier to chat about things, both when they’re going right and when they’re going wrong.  On that note, I plan to attend Bouchercon this fall and visit the MIRA office in Toronto where my new editor works.

5.     What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on promotions for my latest thriller, STALKED, which is already on shelves, and for my upcoming romantic suspense miniseries, BODYGUARD WITH A BADGE, POLICE PROTECTOR and SECRET AGENT SURRENDER, which are coming this summer.  I’m also writing a brand new standalone thriller (and waiting to hear news from acquisitions on that!).  And I'm coordinating with a group of authors on a fun suspense anthology I agreed to be part of; that one is already contracted, but I can’t share details yet – they’ll be coming soon!


Join us this Wednesday, May 3rd, at Schuler Books & Music in Eastwood at 7pm for Elizabeth's workshop!

Meet the Agents: Abby Saul

Louise Ahern

This year, at the Write on the Red Cedar conference, we tried something new. Instead of flying one or two agents in for our attendees to pitch to, we compiled a list of awesome agents that were willing to take a look at queries from our attendees. Over the next few months, we'll be posting interviews with some of these agents. This month, we're talking to Abby Saul!

Abby founded The Lark Group after a decade in publishing at John Wiley & Sons, Sourcebooks, and Browne & Miller Literary Associates. She's worked with and edited bestselling and award-winning authors as well as major brands. At each publishing group she's been a part of, Abby also has helped to establish ebook standards, led company-wide forums to explore new digital possibilities for books, and created and managed numerous digital initiatives.

A zealous reader who loves her iPad and the ebooks on it, she still can’t resist the lure of a print book. Abby’s personal library of beloved titles runs the gamut from literary newbies and classics, to cozy mysteries, to sappy women’s fiction, to dark and twisted thrillers. She’s looking for great and engrossing adult commercial and literary fiction. A magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College, Abby spends her weekends—when she’s not reading—cooking and hiking with her husband. Find her @BookySaul on Twitter.


How and why did you become an agent?

While exploring options with several internships during college, I really clicked with the one I had at a literary agency in Chicago. Spending the summer reading manuscripts, writing reader's reports, and learning about publishing as a business (rather than just a way to be around books) hit all of my buttons and made me know that publishing was for me! After graduation, I started out in New York on the production side of publishing, which taught me how books were made, then ultimately came back to Chicago to work at a commercial publisher. While there, I was offered a position at the agency where I interned during college and so made it back to the agenting side of the business. Everything about it - the editorial work, the business and negotiation skills, the client management, finding new amazing books - is everything I want in a job, and I'm so lucky to have discovered the career that's right for me!


What's the best query you've ever received and what made it stand out?

This is such a tough question because I get at least 200 queries a week (!), and the best queries just do it right... which means they aren't necessarily memorable. (Some of the bad ones, on the other hand, I'll remember forever!) A professional and good query will do everything it needs to do in a way that makes the story stand out and the query itself fade away. I've found the majority of my current clients through the query inbox, and their queries are ones that are short, sweet, and are pitching me great books. They wrote queries that focused on the book and had obviously been edited and read a bunch of times. My biggest advice on queries is to take your time perfecting it. You've spent so much time on the book - don't wing the query!

Are you also a writer or do you just love books?

I am not a writer of books. I am a writer of pitches, editorial letters, informative articles, supportive emails, thank you notes, and contracts. By that I mean, I learned early on that I'm an excellent reader and an excellent editor, but that I don't have a book in me. I just help writers get their books out!

What are dying to see in your inbox? What are you tired of seeing?

I am dying to see an amazing, female-driven historical fiction set in a "new" time period (ie, not World War II). And I'm tired of seeing projects in genres I don't represent. I know that's not helpful trend-wise, but it honestly hurts my heart when people have wasted their time and mine by sending a query that's going to be an instant no because I don't do science fiction, or young adult, or whatever. After you take your time on your query, take a tiny bit more time to make sure you're sending the query to someone who represents the project you've written.

Thanks, Abby!


Do you think you have what Abby is looking for? Check her site for more details on what she reps and how to submit to her!