Pen Friends ~ Today we have a very special guest, Hannah VanVels, once an acquisition editor for Harper Collins Blink, and now a literary agent. Don’t miss her thoughts on publishing, tips on querying, thoughts on the slush pile, and her current wishlist!
SP: Hi Hannah! First, congratulations on joining the Corvisiero Literary Team! I’m excited to have you on the Spinning Pen for our first ever AGENT interview!
As I mentioned, Hannah has worked as an acquisitions editor with Blink YA Harper Collins, and now as a Literary agents, which means, we get double insight, yay! Before we get started can you tell us something about yourself & how you got into the publishing/book world to begin with?
HV: Yay, thanks SO much for having me! I’m a former archaeologist and academic who came into publishing kind of by mistake. I had finished graduate school, had a mountain of student loan debt to pay off, and thought, I don’t want to stay in academia, so what do I do now? I always LOVED reading, so I got a job at my local Barnes & Noble. I worked there for a few months, and I loved being surrounded by books, but customer service is HARD. A position opened up at Blink for an editorial assistant. I applied and that was my first professional dip into publishing. I moved up from there and started acquiring for the imprint a few years later!
SP: As you transition from Editor to Agent, what are some of the major differences you are seeing between acquiring a story ready to submit to a publisher and an acquiring a book ready for publishing to give to the world?
HV: That’s such a good way of putting it. One adjustment is where I’m standing on the front lines. As an editor, I could look at recent deals and use that to see where the market was going. As an agent, you have to trust your gut a lot more since there really isn’t a “rights report” for writers signing with agents. I absolutely love it so far. I love being able to put together my own diverse list of writers, and I’m so excited for the world to meet them.
SP: What is one thing you loved about being an acquisitions editor? And now, what is your favorite part of being an agent?
HV: I loved being a book’s champion. From reading it on submission, to pitching it at acquisitions, doing edits, giving cover direction. I loved working with authors to put their best foot forward to make their story come to life! I especially loved working with debut authors and sharing in their excitement. Now as an agent, I live in that excitement all the time. I also love working in different age categories. As an editor, I worked mostly in YA, and now as an agent, I’m excited to work in picture books, middle grade, YA, and adult.
SP: What is it about a manuscript/story that makes you scream YES? What turns you off?
HV: I’m a sucker for a character-driven story! An immediate turnoff is a story filled with nothing by clichés. It’s okay to use clichés as a starting point, but turn them on their heads and give us something fresh.
SP: Are you open to submissions? If so, which genre/story line are you currently dying to find in your inbox?
HV: Yes! I’m actively building my list now. First and foremost, I’m building a diverse list with authors and stories from a variety of backgrounds. I keep my MSWL up to date, and I am always tweeting about what I hope to read!
SP: What’s your view on the slush pile?
HV: I find it very therapeutic to go through the slush pile, if I’m being honest! Perhaps it’s because I’m still a green agent, but I’m always hoping to find a hidden gem in there! On the other side, there are some things that are easy passes for me. First is not knowing your comparable titles. Publishing is a business, a very personal business, but it’s still a business. Because of that, I expect writers to understand the market and where their book fits in. Related to that is wordcount. Knowing the expected length of the genre you are writing in is a necessity to understanding the business-side of publishing.
SP: Is there anything you are tired of seeing?
HV: Retellings that add nothing fresh. ☹
SP: How hands-on are you with a client? What’s your M.O.?
HV: I’m very collaborative. Maybe because I was an editor before an agent, but I always love doing a big-picture edit and polishing up that manuscript until it shines. I love brainstorming solutions, pointing out what I loved, showing what needs a bit of finessing, and, in general, being my authors’ biggest fans.
SP: What do you want to know about a prospective client? What should authors ask you (or a prospective agent who is offering representation)?
HV: I want to know what other projects you’re working on! I’m hoping to help you build a career as an author, not just sell one book for a million dollars (though, to be real, that would be fine too ). Mutual trust is important as well as respect. Being a writer can be stressful and personal, and I want my clients to feel comfortable enough with me to freak out to me and know that I’m here for them. Authors never have to sign with the first agent who offers rep, so I would really encourage them to go with the best fit for them and their goals in terms of what the agent reps and how they vibe together.
SP: Are you the kind of agent/editor that must be grabbed by the first line/first paragraph/first page?
HV: As an editor, I would sometimes give manuscripts the benefit of the doubt. After all, it made it through the intense screening process of finding and agent, and I trusted my agent friends. As an agent, I just have way too many manuscripts in my inbox to keep reading if something doesn’t grab me. Giving myself permission to DNF gives me the time to find the stuff that does grab me.
SP: Now to lighten things up: (optional)
SP: Hannah is an early bird/night owl? Last minute / week early? Tons of RED/lots of smiley faces? Katniss or Princess Buttercup?
HV: Early bird! Week early! SMILEY FACES! Katniss!
Current dream vacation spot?
HV: I’m in the cold Midwest right now, so bring me somewhere warm with palm trees and a drink with an umbrella in it.
Would you rather be a professional: Marine Biologist? Spy? Opera Singer? Brain Surgeon?
HV: Marine biologist. Fun fact, I love sea creatures. I was able to feed stingrays on vacation last winter in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve been obsessed with stingrays ever since.
Current fictional crush?
HV: Poe Dameron
Favorite childhood book?
HV: The Animorphs series!
SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Hannah! You can connect with Hannah here: @hannahvanvels on Twitter
Thank you Hannah, we can’t wait to see which new clients & books you bring to the world!
Nova, YA Author