Agent Spotlight: Hilary Harwell



Happy Tuesday and welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight!


Let's keep this little introduction short and sweet, shall we? Nothing more annoying than a rambing, purposeless, meandering, redundant, repetitive, wordy introduction before an awesome agent interview, am I right? You won't get that from me on this blog. Certainly not. No way. As a picture book author, I know every word counts and I am always economical in my writing. I would never intentionally write fluffy, silly, superfluous introductions that would likely frustrate readers. Can you imagine if I were that dense? Ha! Never. Absolutely not. Nope. Especially if those long introductions served no other function than obvious, cheeky attention-getting shtick--alright, alright...enough of that.


In all seriousness, I'm very pleased to share another Agent Spotlight with you today. Hilary Harwell is an agent with KT Literary, representing children's and young adult authors who is actively acquiring picture books. Is she on your list? Put her on your list. Like yesterday.


As a thank you for reading this interview, Hilary is doing a pretty rad giveaway so don't miss out!


Well, it seems this introduction is finished. Good thing there's no extra content slowing down and preventing you from jumping right into the interview. Wouldn't it be terrible if Brian just started up all over again--okay, okay...


Here's Hilary!

My boundless optimism, my adaptability, my editorial eye


What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?


A must have? Hmm…. Some Fizzy Lifting Drink for celebrating my latest sale. Or creamer. Decisions are hard.


What are some of your favorite things about working for KT Literary?


The incredibly supportive network of agents I get to call my colleagues. Our stellar industry reputation. Our annual agency retreats – they’re such a fantastic way to network and connect with clients and bring the agency together as one big group.


In terms of picture books, what is your priority for client building as 2021 begins?


I’m really focused on signing author-illustrators from traditionally marginalized groups.



I love open communication between myself and my clients. Something not working? Let me know. I also love when clients can be objective about their work and can take feedback gracefully. I’m very editorial and enjoy open dialog about my feedback with my clients.


What are three picture books published recently that you would have LOVED to see in your inbox?



OUTSIDE IN by Deborah Underwood



JUST LIKE ME by Vanessa Newton


JASPER & OLLIE BUILD A FORT by Alex Willan


When thinking about queries, what is a pattern you’ve noticed that you would call a “common mistake” that you’d like to see less of?


This seems fairly obvious, but I see so many submissions that don’t follow our agency’s guidelines. We ask for a query and the first 3 pages pasted in the body of the email. No attachments.



Beautiful language, a concise pitch with both character, conflict, and plot, a good sense of the market and what makes your project stand out, and strong comp titles. Personalization is nice, but it's definitely not a make or break for me.


If you decide to pass on a project do you encourage authors and illustrators to resubmit after significant revision? If so, how much time is appropriate before a resubmission?


This is really on a case by case basis, but yes it does happen sometimes if I feel a project is close but not quite there. It also depends on what I have on my plate when the submission comes it. And again, there is no expected amount of time to revise. Everyone works in their own way, at their own pace. Though I will say, a two day turnaround would probably make me pause and think twice about whether or not the author really understands the revision process.


What are some essential questions an author or illustrator should ask themselves before they submit to you?


Wow. This one made me stop and think. I’m a super easy-going person, and unless you’re one of my kids and have crossed me for the last time, I’m usually pretty friendly too! Essential questions sounds a bit too serious for me, I suppose. But for the sake of fairness, I guess my answer to this question can tie easily back in to the things I look for in an ideal agent-client relationship. If you can answer yes to those, and have polished your project to a gleamingly high sheen, then by all means, send it my way.


If we could put on “Hilary Harwell eyes” to look critically at our stories, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?


One thing? Gosh, that is a really tough one. When I read editorially, I’m experiencing the project in a very holistic way and sensing deficiencies/areas for development(for lack of a better term) that are keeping that project from really soaring. All of the elements have to be working in unison – voice, pacing, tension (tension is a BIG one for me), action and dialog versus exposition, strong sense of place/setting, fully-realized characters, strong plotting. There are so many elements to good storytelling and the way I approach the editorial process makes it tough to nail down just one.



loves pairing with her clients to help hone and elevate their projects, and help guide and shape their publishing careers. She’s a strong, determined advocate, has a keen editorial eye, and loves falling in love with books and championing them to editors best-suited to reading them.


Thank you so much, Hilary!


Thank you for stopping by, kidlit fam! Hilary has generously offered to give away a picture book manuscript critique to one winner for this post. If you'd like feedback for one of your picture books, see details below to toss your name into the digital hat!




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The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, February 16th at 9AM CST

The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, February 16th and announced on Twitter and Facebook



About Hilary Harwell

(Pronouns: She/Her, Salutation: Ms.) As a proud member of the KT Literary family, Hilary represents children’s and young adult authors. She joined the team in 2016 as an assistant to both Kate and Sara and began taking on her own clients in 2017. Hilary is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she earned a degree in Anthropology. She went on to work in the back office of a major Swiss Investment Bank for eight years before deciding to trade numbers for letters. When not reading or editing or writing stories of her own, Hilary likes to hike the Rockies with her family and dreams of one day owning her own horses. As an agent, Hilary partners with her growing list of clients to develop their projects in preparation for submission and strategizes to help them build long-term writing careers as published authors. She’s highly communicative, empathetic, and supportive as an agent–tailoring her approach to each client’s unique needs, acting as a strong advocate, and helping them navigate the business side of publishing their work. She’s actively acquiring middle grade and young adult projects across all genres; picture books, chapter books and graphic novels by author-illustrators. More about her interests can be found at Manuscript Wishlist. Recent sales can be found on Publisher’s Marketplace.


Brian has been consumed by Dennis. Yepp. That's it. That's the bio. You can learn more about Dennis next week on Tara Lazar's blog on the cover reveal post for THE BOOK OF RULES. Hopefully Brian will be burpped up by then because he was really looking forward to it. Dennis makes no promises. He also includes no hidden emoji codes. What a monster...







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