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Mar 1, 2021

Agent Spotlight Series: Hannah VanVels

A warm welcome to Hannah VanVels, literary agent at Belcastro Agency! Hannah’s life is consumed by all things bookish, and she can usually be found curled up with a good cup of coffee or a glass of wine. She earned her BA at the University of Michigan and holds MA degrees from Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago. In addition to agenting, Hannah owns a freelance editing business. Hannah has worked various book-related jobs including a stint as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, a freelance editor for scholarly and academic essays and journals, and most recently as the acquiring editor at a young adult imprint with HarperCollins Publishing. Hannah loves working closely with authors and coming alongside them to make their vision come to life on page. She lives in West Michigan with her partner, two German Shepherds, and two cats.

CritiqueMatch: Share a fun fact about you. 
Hannah: Before I started in publishing, I was an archaeologist.

CM: Once you make an offer of representation, what happens next?
Hannah: Once I make an offer of representation, the standard time to give agents still considering a writers’ work is two weeks, but I’m always okay to wait longer if the author needs more time. If they decide to accept my offer, we get started with goals. We have a goal-setting meeting including their dreams for the manuscript I offered representation on and their overall writing goals and how we can work to achieve them together. We work on a few rounds of edits back and forth to prepare for submission, and then we send their manuscript out into the world to editors.

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers? 
Hannah: Extremely. As a former editor myself, the editorial process is in my blood! My clients and I do a few rounds of editing before we prepare for submission. For new projects, I’m also as involved as my clients desire. I love working with authors to develop content and to help them pull out plot and character arcs from an idea that they’ve had simmering in their head for a while! 

CM: What areas of the market do you think are oversaturated more recently?
Hannah: Young adult is fairly saturated at the moment, and publishers and agents alike are being much more selective with YA.

CM: What areas of the market do you think are in high demand right now?
Hannah: Middle grade, picture books, and graphic novels. I represent both middle grade and picture books, and these areas are very strong right now.

CM: Can you share a client success story, from their query/introduction to you all the way to publication?
Hannah: I’ve connected with many clients through Twitter pitch contests, especially DVPit. For several of my clients, our relationship started with just a Tweet!

CM: Name a book you recently read and can’t stop thinking about. 
Hannah: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was the moodiest, most atmospheric, most beautiful book that I’ve read in a while! I’ve recommended it to so many people! 

CM: How is your agency addressing the need for diversity and inclusion in publishing? 
Hannah: This is the main focus of Belcastro Agency. We are very intentional about representing authors from marginalized backgrounds, making ourselves open and available for questions, panels, and workshops aimed at marginalized communities. 


Query Tips

Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

  • Cast a wide net and include new agents who have solid mentorship
  • Be afraid to follow up on your query! Eight weeks is a good time to follow up.


Wish List

First and foremost, I'm building an inclusive list with a variety of voices and genres. I love working on #OwnVoices stories, and I'm looking for BIPOC voices, queer voices, disabled voices, and generally, voices from underrepresented backgrounds, regardless of genre.

Picture Books
  • Celebrations of cultural and family traditions
  • Creative books that pique curiosity and imagination
  • Poetic, lyrical books that show emotional resilience
  • Nonfiction focusing on biographies or eras that have been historically overlooked
Middle Grade
  • Fantasy inspired by myths, folklore, or legends, particularly those that are non-western in origin
  • Historical focusing on BIPOC stories and historically marginalized voices and characters
  • Contemporary
  • Adventure
  • Science fiction that is accessible
  • Horror or paranormal
  • Young Adult
  • Contemporary. Evergreen themes: body positivity, self-love, coming-of-age, girls supporting girls, friendship and friendship breakups, and slow-burn romances
  • Romantic comedies. I'd love to find more #OwnVoices ace, aro, and trans-led stories in this space
  • Fantasy that is character-driven
  • Thrillers 
  • Horror
New Adult/Adult
  • Commercial contemporary that straddles the line between YA and Adult audiences
  • Horror
  • Fantasy
I am NOT a good fit for:
  • Epic fantasy with dragons and elves
  • Overt Greek and Roman mythology-based retellings
  • Bigot learns a lesson at the expense of marginalized people
  • Word counts longer than 125k
  • Titles that have been previously published