Tuesday, July 11, 2017

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Brianne Johnson

From Publisher's Marketplace: “I started at Writers House as starry-eyed intern in 2007 and worked my way up to Senior Agent over several years. I LOVE what I do, and am cultivating a pretty omnivorous list. My main focus is children’s books, but I also love some select adult fiction and offbeat nonfiction-—see below for a more precise breakdown.

I’m extra-crazy-picky with taking on picture books, but I do love them and rep them. I would love a great picture book series, like a Fancy Nancy or a Knuffle Bunny—something where we could see fabulous, memorable characters encounter a variety of new circumstances. My tastes tend to run toward the funny, here—very sweet, gentle picture books are just not for me. The same goes for chapter books. I’m particularly on the lookout for humorous, entertaining chapter books that also have some kind of educational angle to them, something that could be brought into a classroom to supplement the new Common Core Standards, and ALSO something a kid would gleefully reach for, themselves.

I’m also very interested in seeing illustration work for cover design and picture books, and would love to take on a great new author/illustrator.”

And now Brianne Johnson faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books? 

The entire Harry Potter series. Everything from the well plotted mystery within each contained book, to the steadily-building, overarching conflict stretched over the entire series, to the thorough and rewarding world building, to the cozy and often whimsical execution. I just think it's marvelously done.

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. It goes to show that the historical genre can be just as fun, funny, and relevant as contemporary stories.

The Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block. The combination of beautiful magical realism with gritty realistic subjects, and particularly the exploration of chosen family set in a fully realized counterculture environment, just makes those books an absolute delight.
Can I get a bonus round?  It’s SO hard to pick just three!  I lovvvvvve Roald Dahl.  And Shel Silverstein.  And for recently-published work, I’m really into smart middle grade like Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7’s and Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow.

I know the last paragraph is cheating.  I’m not sorry! :-)

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

 I actually watch almost no TV, but when I do, I like Game of Thrones, Planet Earth (I could listen to David Attenborough read the phone book) and man, did I love Stranger Things.

For movies, my favorites are Almost Famous, Forest Gump, Practical Magic, and pretty much all vintage Disney movies.  I am pretty much always singing a Disney song to myself.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client? 

Smart, talented, imaginative, professional, responsive, prolific.  A good balance of creative and business-minded.  Someone who truly loves writing.  There are so many people who just want to have written a book, and far fewer who truly enjoy the work of writing; who always want to take their writing craft to the next level.  This is a tall order, but I am truly searching for the best storytellers in the world. 

And it’s a huge plus when I love talking with them on the phone, whether it’s scheming about a future book, hashing out a tricky editorial note in a brainstorming session, or hearing about how they’re currently drafting in their dog’s dogbed, or how they are hiding in the pantry to talk to me so that their children would leave them alone, or how they’re finishing their edits while on tour with their jug band. I aim to represent authors for the longevity of their career, and I’ve repped many of my authors for years and years. So I suppose that’s all to say that warm, witty, wonderful weirdos make the best clients of all!

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?  

Right now I am probably most excited about literary debut middle grade that is unafraid to tackle enormous life-or-death themes in a modern and original way.  I especially love a unique execution, such as an epistolary novel, a story told out of order, or some other unique perspective or framing device. 

I also love a witchy book in ALL genres.  I’ll go for beach witch, goth witch, earth-loving nature witch, cut-a-witch-in-high-school witch, elbow witch (okay, I made that one up).  In any case, there are NOT enough good witch stories out there.  If you’ve got a witch story, TRY ME.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

Knowing that I can discover, polish, and introduce exciting new talent and important stories to the world, stories that normalize difference and increase empathy and understanding, is wildly exciting to me, especially since children’s books can be so formative in a person’s life.  I have the ability to gather and amplify an incredible group of storytellers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and work to create big-hearted and inclusive books that will hopefully help kids feel more connected, more empathetic, and more accepting of themselves and of others. 

My least favorite thing is passing along rejection in all forms, but it’s a reality of the business.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read.  Read.  And then read some more.  Especially if you’re writing middle grade, you have to read SO much to really understand the middle grade voice, which is a delicate and crucial thing to absolutely nail.  And read recently-published middle grade.  Childhood favorites are okay, but if you want to sell your book to a trade publisher you really have to read books that have been published within the last two years.

My other advice for writing more literary middle grade is that you should be able to distill huge and very important emotional truths contained in your work for yourself in a concise sentence.  What is your book really about?  What are you trying to say?  It’s not enough to write a good story if you want to get noticed.  Your story must not only be great in a technical sense, but it also has to make the reader feel a certain way, very powerfully.  It’s the books that not only entertain, but that aren’t afraid to ask the big questions, questions that linger in a reader’s heart and mind long after the book has been read, that truly achieve the kind of immortality that most writers seek for their work.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I would have an elaborate three-course tea with Shel Silverstein aboard his ramshackle houseboat, The Evil Eye.  Talk about a witty, wonderful weirdo—his brain is delicious, and I would love to hear him talk about just about anything.  I would thank him from the bottom of my heart for his poetry, wax philosophically about The Missing Piece, and yell at him good-naturedly (and perhaps throw a scone or two) about The Giving Tree, a book I love to hate.

1 comment:

  1. The universe is an amazing connector...I am a children's author, looking to write my first business book, so I looked up Michael Levin, CEO of Business Ghost, to find his Chief Creative Officer, Bree Barton, who is represented by none other than your guest literary agent, Brianne Johnson. Your article popped up and here we are! After reading your super interview with @SecretAgentBri I am convinced she is a perfect match for my children's character series, @SophieGWanderlin THANK YOU for begin the connector in a universe full of possibilities!!! HUGS!!!


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