Welcome to this interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” with Brianne Johnson of Writers House! Check out Ms. Johnson’s answers to the usual questions, then meet me at the bottom for details on the interactive part. Hope you enjoy!
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get
BJ: I started at Writers House as an intern in 2007 and
absolutely loved it. I originally thought of the internship as a stepping stone
to an editorial position in a publishing house, but once I got a load of what
agents get to do, I was hooked.
A few months after my internship ended I was hired as an
assistant, and, after a few years of learning the ropes and acquiring contacts,
started selling my own projects under the excellent mentorship of my bosses. I
was promoted to Junior Agent last year and have continued to build my list,
focusing mainly on children’s literature--although I’d love to find more great
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy?
What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
BJ: I think of it as a kind of creative partnership, and
that’s my favorite part of the job. I do expect the ability to keep an open
mind and a workman-like approach regarding revisions, and so far that hasn’t
been a problem. I choose my clients for personality as well as talent, and
adore all of them--I really love brainstorming together on ways to tighten
plotlines and deepen character development and am always in awe of their
ability to breathe life into these imagined worlds. Great writing is its own
kind of magic.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew
you to those writers and/or projects?
BJ: Wesley King’s THE VINDICO just came out in June, and the launch has been great. Wesley, who
is SO much fun to work with (and very, very funny) made the coolest book trailer
I’ve ever seen, sort of documentary-style, about hiring a consultant to help
him with his book trailer, who turns out to be this abusive evil genius--and an
I found Wesley’s query letter in the slush when I was still
an assistant and loved both the idea (teenage supervillain protégées who go
berserk, a funny, morally-complex tale I pitched as The Breakfast Club meets the X-Men)
and the tone of his letter--hilarious, humble, and smart. We worked on it for
ages before we submitted it, and Wesley was just wonderful throughout the whole
process--energetic, optimistic, and willing to work hard to get it right. I
think I was as thrilled as he was when we sold it!
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you
definitely NOT represent?
BJ: Children’s lit--picture books through YA--are my main
focus, although I’m working on developing a select adult list. I’d love to find
literary women’s fiction, historical fiction, or even satirical, slightly
diabolical contemporary fiction (I love Vonnegut and Palahniuk).
I have a pretty open mind, although I don’t think I’d be a
great representative for genre thrillers.
More about my taste preferences can be found at publishersmarketplace.com/members/bjohnson,
which I update pretty frequently.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers
avoid when querying you?
BJ: I ask that writers send a query letter, bio, and the
first five pages of the their work in an e-mail. I can tell when a letter isn’t
personalized, and usually pass on those.
If I make it to the writing sample, I get turned off quickly
if I’m plunged into an action sequence immediately. I like gentler and more
creative approaches to a new world. I recommend that requestors go to a
bookstore and read just the first chapter of ten of their favorite books to
remind them of the best ways to ease into a story--an intense, complex chase or
fight scene isn’t it!
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What
are you tired of seeing at the moment?
BJ: I’d love to find more humorous MG projects. As Roald
Dahl says (in Matilda) “Children
aren’t so serious as adults, and love to laugh.” And I’m always looking for
beautiful, witchy adult fiction with an elegant touch of magical realism--a
modern follow-up to Practical Magic
or Garden Spells.
As to what I’m finding slightly fatiguing--much as I truly
love the whole “16-year-old discovers they have the magical ability to _____” plotline,
it needs a really creative spin (or truly fantastic writing) to set it apart
from what’s already out there.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
BJ: A truly kickass e-mailed query letter! And five pages
that don’t include a crazy action scene.
Thanks, Ms. Johnson, for these answers. I’m sure I wasn’t
the only one who nodded eagerly after that line about great writing and magic:)
And now for the exciting part! If you have a question
for Ms. Johnson, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll pop in a
few times throughout the day to answer any questions she finds down there,
leaving her answers in the comments, too. We’ll wrap things up at 5:00 p.m. EDT
(or 2:00 p.m. PDT), but until then, ask away!