A Chat with a Cool Chick – Erzsi Deak founder of Hen and Ink


A Chat with a Cool Chick – Erzsi Deak, founder of Hen and Ink

What is Hen and Ink?

Hen & Ink is a literary agency catering primarily to children’s book writers & illustrators, but taking on the occasional adult title as well. We like to think it’s a literary agency with a twist as we aim to work in the traditional publishing arena, but also to encourage and develop work across cultural borders, genres, and media. In addition, as you know, I’m bringing some 25 years of experience dancing on the international stage, connecting individuals and companies with those around the globe who can make things happen – no matter where you find yourself.

Tell us about your Children and Young Adult literature background.

One of my jobs in high school in Fairbanks, Alaska, was working in a bookstore. I managed to spend nearly my entire paycheck on children’s books. Who knew in the future my passion would translate into writing and organizing the SCBWI Bologna Conference! When my book, Period Pieces: Stories for Girls, came out with Harper, I was thrilled, of course (who wouldn’t be thrilled to work with fabulous editor Rosemary Brosnan and my wonderful co-anthologist and conspirator Krstin Embry Litchman — and, of course, the talented writers: April Halprin Wayland, Linda Sue Park, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Dian Curtis Regan, Rita Williams-Garcia, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Uma Krishnaswami, Johanna Hurwitz, Jane Kurtz and Bobbi Katz!). Coinciding with the publication of Period Pieces, I was still running the SCBWI on the international front. In 2008, after 13+ years working in France and internationally as the Society of Children’s Books & Illustrators (SCBWI) international director (International Regional Coordinator), I stepped aside to work as the editorial consultant with the La Martiniere Groupe, launching a children’s fiction list in 2010 and now advising on imports for two imprints.

Where are you based? How does that affect your client base?

I’m based where I have a good internet connection. Which is good, because I seem to be on-the-road a lot, meeting with publishers and speaking with writers and illustrators. My client base is also based everywhere, as well. We have clients in Germany, the Netherlands, the US, and the UK at the moment. But location is no longer the thing it was (location location location). I’m big on staying connected with clients and don’t want anyone who’s signed with me to feel ignored. Back on a train between Fairbanks and Anchorage (still in high school), a long-gone friend told me I was such a mother hen. I was offended, of course, but now understand that it’s good for the agenting business…

Of books recently published, can you pick three that represent the type of book Hen and Ink is looking for?

Just three? Yikes. I guess the answer is no. I’m looking for terrific voice — character and authorial — and a great story well told (not shown!). I want to be in the skin of the character and I want lyrical language that sweeps me through the pages without me noticing I’ve read 400+ pages and it’s 3AM.

I tend to read ahead for La Martiniere Groupe, so books that I’ve loved (or still think about) in the recent past may be out in the last year or so or in the near future:
DIGIT by Annabel Monaghan
MY FAIR GODMOTHER by Janette Ralliston
MATCHED by Ally Condie
DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
THE HALF-LIFE OF PLANETS by Emily Franklin & Brendin Halpin
THE MEMORY BANK by Carolyn Coman
THE MORGUE & ME by John C. Ford
ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Mayberry

I liked the first book in THE HISTORY KEEPERS by Damian Dibben

What are your submission guidelines?

Open to single-page queries for all genres listed below (and maybe some not yet invented) from January to May and September to December. Normally, closed to queries May to September,. Due to timing of this interview, I’m keeping queries open til June 15th. Please query only one story/project at a time.

On one (typed) page (or in an email), please include a synopsis, a short bio with your credentials, and why your book is special. We respond well to finely tuned writing that has been clearly worked/revised and that is balanced with a sense of urgency and humor. For picture books and fiction, please make sure that your story has a beginning, middle and a satisfying end.

For picture books, please send your story imbedded in your email with the above information.. Please do not send picture book manuscripts over 1000 words.
For all projects other than picture books, please send one-page query via email to: henandinkquery [at] gmail [dot] com < . Due to volume, queries over one page (approximately 500 words) will not be considered.


·         Middle-grade = age 9

·         YA = generally age 14+

·         Crossover = YA/middle-grade project that has the potential to cross over into the adult market or vice-versa
Children’s & YA

Open to practically anything YA (ideally with crossover potential), but definitely contemporary, fantasy, steam punk, paranormal romance with an original twist – as long as we care about the character(s), we’ll keep reading. Sweet spot is middle-grades with characters to die for and tons of atmosphere and picture books to be read again and again until the bindings fall apart. 

No matter the doom and gloom that roams the bookshelves these days, I’m a little short on razor blades, so prefer dark with a dose of levity.

·         Illustrated books and apps for the very young

·         Sparely-written picture book texts with a real story

·         Chapter books for boys and girls ages 6-7

·         Middle-grade mysteries

·         Middle-grade adventure stories for girls

·         Laugh-out loud middle-grade stories for boys

·         Potential middle-grade series with characters and storyline we can’t let go of, nor forget

·         YA thrillers (with terrific romantic leads and entanglement)

·         YA dystopian and sci-fi with spark-filled romance element 

·         YA supernatural/paranormal that challenges the status quo

·         Graphic novels for children and YA

Sometimes it helps to say what I’m not interested in, so please do not send:

·         Didactic or message-driven stories

·         Picture book texts over 1000 words

·         Long passages of descriptive narrative fiction or nonfiction

·         Projects specifically for educational or institutional markets

·         Academic writing

·         Traditional fables, folklore or fairytales

·         Poetry, stories that drift, “mood pieces”

What are you excited about?


I’m excited about the two-book deal we did for author Siobhan Curham — DEAR DYLAN will be published by Egmont UK in April 2012 and her next book, FINDING CHEROKEE BROWN should follow within 6-12 months. At the Bologna Book Fair, there was a lot of international interest in DEAR DYLAN and I’m looking forward to seeing DEAR DYLAN take advantage of it’s dramatic thread as well. We now have 14 "chicks" on the Hen & Ink list and are slowly taking on more. If you’ve written to me, you will hear back — even if it feels like enough time has gone by to make for a petrified egg! Overall, interest in Hen & Ink projects is strong on both sides of the Atlantic — the Bologna & London book fairs highlighted this. I’m also excited about the possibility of participating in the agent day in London in September; speaking and workshopping in South Africa in October 2011and presenting in the Netherlands in November. I look forward to seeing clients and potential clients in New York and possibly in Los Angeles in the coming months. In addition I’ll be presenting at the SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles this August. My workshop is entitled “Pitching Your Work in the Global Market”. I hope to see all my chicks (present and future) there!


For more information about Hen and Ink, please visit their website at www.henandink.com



Interview with Varian Johnson

Most writers have a day job. Varian Johnson is no exception. He writes in the early morning and then works a full day as a civil engineer. But Varian is exceptional when it comes to his writing. All three of his novels have won awards and met with both critical and commercial success. Now hard at work on a sequel to his latest novel, Saving Maddie, Varian found a few minutes to visit about his busy work day, his inspirations and his advice for new writers.


Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?


I was born and raised in Florence, SC, but now live in Austin, TX with my wife and two cocker spaniels. We’ve been here for almost seven years, and I don’t see myself moving anytime soon.


What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?


I like to get my writing done early in the morning, when I’m freshest. On a good day, I’m up and out of the house by a quarter after six, which allows me to get about an hour and a half of writing done before I go to the day job. There are days when it’s really hard to get up in the morning, but I love the feeling of knowing that I got my writing in—I don’t have to stress about trying to find time later in the day or at night to write.


Where do you get your inspiration?

I don’t know if I get my inspiration from any one place. I’m usually inspired by stray phrases from the news or a novel or a friend or an old memory—anything that catches my interest and makes me want to question things.


Who are your favorite writers and why?

My favorite writer at the moment in Melina Marchetta. I loved her novel Jellicoe Road (2009 ALA Michael L. Printz Winner), and I’ve made it my mission to read all of her books—I’m reading her latest, The Piper’s Son, now. As a writer, I love the way she uses language, especially in dialogue. As a reader, I love the way her characters make me think. I know they aren’t real people, but I find myself rooting for then, nevertheless.


What advice would you give aspiring writers?

To read as much as you can. Then read more. Then more. And then, write as much as you can. Then more. Then more. Then revise as much as you can…and you get the drift. It’s a never ending cycle, but if you do it enough times, you begin to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.


What are you working on now?

I’m slowly but surely working on a companion novel to Saving Maddie. And in order not to jinx myself, that’s all I’ll say about that.


If you want to learn more about Varian, check out his website www.varianjohnson.com. All of Varian’s books are available for sale online or at your local, independent bookstore.