Liza Dawson Associates
My Manuscript Wish List®
I represent adult fiction on the speculative fiction spectrum, all the way from full-on genre SFFH to mainstream/literary fiction with speculative elements. I’m particularly drawn to projects and authors who have potential to thrive on either side of the genre divide. I also represent select adult nonfiction projects, and the rare non-speculative novel. I love kidlit and graphic novels, but I don’t represent them at this time.
I’m a theme-driven reader, meaning I love for fiction to have an argument or driving train of thought in the same ways that essays do– though I’m generally turned off by overly tidy answers or solutions. I’m drawn to fiction that pays close attention to its worlds, cultures, and subcultures, and to characters who are deeply embedded in their worlds. I have a poetry background, which has given me a taste for formal/structural play, and for writers with distinctive line-level prose, whether it’s ornate or austere. Outside of work, I read a lot of romances and classic mysteries, and I love to see elements of those genres in the mix. Here’s some more specifics on what perks my ears up in fiction:
- Genre-mashing and genre-blending.
- Plots revolving around diplomats, ambassadors, and translators; plots starring someone with niche expertise, where their expertise strongly colors the novel; culture shock; diaspora and third-culture stories; gossip and storytelling; puzzle and discovery plots.
- Nonhuman intelligences that feel distinctly nonhuman.
- Speculative takes on big topics like ethics, justice, and gender, where the speculative element opens up possibilities that don’t exist for us here and now.
- Moral and narrative worldviews other than the white, Western, Christian, capitalist worldview– whether speculative or rooted in real-world culture.
- A strong grounding in fact: historical settings, portraits of subcultures, surprisingly accurate descriptions of niche skillsets. I’m a nerd and I love to learn things.
- The feeling that reality is squishy– cults, manipulative relationships, unreliable narrators, surreal elements.
- I’m drawn to horror elements, especially folk, weird, and gothic horrors. I like to feel unsettled, but I don’t like to feel scared, anxious, or disgusted.
- Queer and trans characters and sensibilities, especially anything that pokes holes in tidy categories. Also, butches.
- Elements of satire, farce, and deadpan humor.
- Social commentary or criticism.
- Collective action, indirect resistance, and other kinds of under-discussed heroism.
- Fertility, pregnancy, and parenthood, especially when sidestepping tired tropes around motherhood and patriarchy.
- Folkloric elements or tone, though I am a tough audience for direct retellings.
- Sentient houses.
- Nested stories.
- Werewolves, if handled in a literary and theme-driven way.
And here are some things that often don’t work for me:
- Prominent military elements, especially anything that requires me to pay close attention to fight or battle scenes, or root for empire.
- Thieves and assassins.
- Romantic elements driven solely by horniness or love at first sight; I need to see the emotional connection first and foremost.
- Vampires, elves, D&D-style “races”– though I do have a soft spot for orcs and goblins, when handled deftly.
- Chosen ones and magical bloodlines.
- The Hero’s Journey.
- Elemental magics, or any other magic system with rigidly defined “types.”
- Speculative elements revolving around sleep, dreams, or memories.
- Dystopias that are the patriarchy but worse, or colonialism but happening to white people.
- Please do not send me: Graphic on-page child harm, evil baby stories, or copaganda. If you are not sure if your novel falls into one of these buckets, it’s OK to ask.
My main areas of focus are: craft/DIY books; science and nature nonfiction, especially touching on ecosystems and plant/animal intelligence; and informational nonfiction with a strongly queer or non-white lens. I’m very interested in knowledge traditions other than the white, Western scientific tradition. I’m also open to memoirs, essay collections, and hybrid forms.
I ask for a query letter and first three chapters pasted into the body of an email. I respond to every query sent to my official inbox, so feel free to nudge after a month or two. Please check the agency website to see whether I am open to unsolicited queries.
I always appreciate seeing more work from BIPOC authors, queer and trans authors, disabled authors, working-class and poor authors, non-US authors, and authors from other marginalized and underrepresented communities. I do my best to give personal responses to marginalized writers, as I know this business can be demoralizing.