Today we have literary agent Shannon Hassan of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency on the blog. Thank you so much, Shannon, for participating in this interview!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Shannon: I started my career as a corporate/licensing attorney and then decided to follow my heart into publishing, where I became an acquisitions editor. Becoming an agent was a natural progression and combined my skills and passion. I am so pleased to have joined Marsal Lyon and couldn’t be happier with the agency and its approach to helping writers achieve their publishing goals.
Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?
Shannon: I believe the author/agent relationship should be a true collaboration with open lines of communication. In terms of what to expect after signing, I will first go through the manuscript and offer editorial suggestions and help brainstorm ways to improve any areas that aren’t working. Then comes pitching and submitting to editors (and, of course, a waiting period that can feel like an eternity to authors). During that process I always keep authors in the loop with how editors are reacting. After that comes negotiating the deal and the contract terms, offering guidance and advocacy on marketing and publicity, keeping track of the publication process and payments, looking at the big picture, and overall being a strong advocate for the author over the course of his or her career.
Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?
Shannon: To me, “voice” means the style, tone, and personality of your novel. The unique way that only you can tell the story, which can really make or break the reader’s experience. One example would be To Kill a Mockingbird—would the story have been as compelling, or the message quite as powerful, with a different voice?
In terms of how to strengthen voice, I would say it has to feel natural and not be forced. I am always looking for fresh, original voices, but there also must be a high level of authenticity for me to keep reading.
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Shannon: I think reading is crucial for writers (and for agents too!). Read books in your genre to help you gain an understanding of your target audience. And then read books outside your genre to expand your worldview and keep your writing fresh.
Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?
Shannon: I’d like to see more fiction that crosses over between commercial and literary, in other words something with a strong hook and compelling storyline that draws you in and keeps the pages turning, but that also widens your perspective on something, whether a piece of history, or a way of life. I’d also like to see more middle-grade fiction that is reality-based or with one foot planted in reality.
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Shannon: Yes, I look forward to receiving queries at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about my interests at http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/sejohnso/.
Please include a query, short bio, and 10 sample pages, preferably by email.