Interview with

By Theresa Rizzo

Date:  February 2012


Bio: Hannah joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2011. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, summa cum laude in English and magna cum laude in Mathematics. While a student, she spent four summers working in particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, before eventually deciding her true interest was books (after side-trips into poetic theory and dead languages, among other things!). Hanna will be attending the 2012 Crested Butte Writers Conference, June 22-24, 2012.



1.Which categories do you currently acquire?  Which category has a special/constant place in your heart? 

Answer: I'm looking for all kinds of commercial fiction, especially science fiction and fantasy, romance, cozy mysteries, historicals, women's fiction, and young adult. I'm also looking for nonfiction about science or religion. Science fiction and fantasy (YA or adult) will always have a place in my heart!


2.What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?  Single spaced or double?


Answer: I think a synopsis should be 2-4 pages single-spaced. Shorter is fine, as long as it covers all the major plot points (but it should have more detail than a query!); longer than 5 pages usually isn't necessary.


3.In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?


Answer: I see a lot of similar stories in YA: not-well-fleshed-out dystopians, fantasy where the main character discovers they're really the prince/princess of a secret world, etc. I'd love to see more YA secondworld/high fantasy, YA contemporaries a la John Green, and true YA science fiction. On the adult side, there's nothing I'm sick of, but I would love to see more funny, high-concept women's fiction and upmarket romances with a strong sense of place (whether contemporary, historical, or fantastical).



4. What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good read?   What particularly grabs your attention?


Answer: I'm a very plot-driven reader. I love twists and turns, revelations of secrets, betrayals by trusted characters, unlikely redemptions, and good, tragic characters forced to make bad decisions by circumstances. Not that all (or any!) or these elements are necessary in every project, but they tend to be elements I gravitate towards.



5.  For you, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice? 

a. Voice--Terminal. The voice has to be there, and right for the book. It's hard to fix.

b. Weak Grammar--Depends on how extensive it is. Occasional mistakes are no problem, but major grammatical problems usually come with other signs of weak writing..

c. Common plot--I'm willing to work with the author on plot changes, but if the premise doesn't excite me, I won't take something on.

d. Poor character development--The characters have to be sympathetic and interesting so the reader can relate to them. More specific changes/character arc issues I'm willing to work on.

e. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)--I'm skeptical of projects that have an axe to grind. Controversial elements have to serve the story first.

f. Mediocre / uninspired writing--Terminal. I have to love the writing in projects I take on.

g. Excessive use of violence or cursing--I'm willing to work with this. It's fairly easy to fix, if the author is willing.

h. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building--Unless a project is really exceptional in other ways, I usually won't take something on which is missing a key element of its genre. I like genre tropes and seeing how they play out in different projects, and generally speaking they're common tropes because they're effective. But of course it depends on the particular project!

i. Pacing is off—plot is too slow--I'm willing to work on this. It's usually fairly easy to fix.

j. Story starts in wrong spot--I'll definitely work on this. It's easy to fix.

k. Ending is unsatisfactory--I'll take on a project and work on this.



6.  Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?


Answer: Yes, I try to respond more quickly to submissions from conferences and I offer feedback if I can. But it doesn't make a huge difference.



7.  Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?



Answer: For me, it's really mostly  about the writing itself. But I also need to get along well enough personally with the writer that we can work together. And since I'm an agent who tends to be very hands-on and editorial, I tend to "click" better with writers who are interested in that sort of agent.



8.  Do you have any pet peeves?


Answer: Not really!



9.  What are you addicted to?


Answer: Tragedy, in the Greek sense. Not necessarily sad books, but great characters forced into impossible situations. I can't get enough of that.



10. What have you always wanted to do?


Answer: I would love to travel north of the Arctic circle at midsummer to see the midnight sun. And in the winter, to see the Northern Lights!



11.  Do you have a favorite quote?


Answer: I don't really. But my favorite literary concept is Tolkien's idea of "eucatastrophe": the happy ending that occurs only when all hope is lost and things are at their absolute worst.