Thursday, June 12, 2014

Agents Like Us - Brianne Johnson

Brianne Johnson from Writers House is here today to share all her agenting secrets and slushpile wishes! She's seeking out queries for children’s books, adult fiction and offbeat nonfiction.

Check out her query guidelines here and follow her on Twitter @SecretAgentBri. Her answers are below in bold. 

Brianne on Agenting

  • When writers query me, I really wish that they would do some research (mostly, by reading interviews like this! Thanks Valerie :)) and tell me why we’d be a good fit, specifically.

    And, this is a bit more unusual, but I’d also love to know what some of the driving themes behind your story are. What made you write this particular story? I want to know!
  • My favorite part about being an agent is I really love a collaborative editorial process, and consider myself a very editorial agent. One of my favorite moments in the job is getting back a draft from a client that is much stronger, and knowing in my heart that it’s finally ready to submit!
  • Rules and trends aside, what I really look for in a story is tremendous heart, and a deep personal stake in the themes addressed—this is really what makes for the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Hard-earned wisdom. Humor. Unexpected twists. Natural dialogue. A unique hook.
  • Whenever I make a book deal, I call my author! Making “That Call” is one of my very favorite parts of the job. It’s always exciting, and it feels so satisfying.
  • I really wish I saw more historical fiction (MG, YA, or adult) set in unusual times in the slush. I love the Regency and Henry the 8th’s court, but come on—it’s a big wide world out there! I’d also love a historical fantasy or an alternative historical.

    I’m also a sucker for gorgeous language, strong settings, and untraditional love stories—Francesca Lia Block’s WEETZIE BAT books are some of my favorite YA books ever. I come across a lot of slush with a strong pitch and great story ideas, but that fall a little flat on the attention paid to the language, and the underlying heart.

Brianne On Clients
  • My ideal client would be hardworking, receptive to revision, clearly communicative, brilliant, and prolific!
  • What I love most about my current clientele is that they are all of the above :)
  • What I want most for any client is for us to succeed together—to be able to sell their work strongly, and allow them to comfortably quit their day job and write full time (if that’s what THEY want).

Brianne On Life
  • If I weren't an agent, I'd probably be running/working in an indie bookstore in a little waterside town, so I could talk to people about books ALL day long and read by the water on my days off :) OR possibly teaching pottery full-time (I teach on the side now, for fun, it’s a nice physical counterbalance to reading and writing all day.)
  • My favorite (non-client) book is oh, that’s too hard! I’ll just have to tell you what I’m reading right now (I like to juggle books) 11/22/63 by Stephen King (a fantastic alternative historical novel!) BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by April Genevieve Tucholke, which is a little Stephen-King-like, actually, really delicious YA horror. I recently finished THE SECRET HISTORY, which frankly blew me away (I liked it more than THE GOLDFINCH! Shhh…) And Noa Wheeler of Holt was horrified to learn that I’d never read Tamora Pierce, so she leant me her copy of ALANNA, which is awesome! Alanna was the original Arya Stark!
  • Secretly, I'm terrified of sleep paralysis—when your brain is awake but you can’t wake up your body. It happens to me when I nap every once in a blue moon. Terrifying!
  • My secret boyfriend is Ben Franklin is my Boyfriend in History! I find him fascinating.
  • I have a total girlcrush on Rihanna, because she does what she wants * snaps fingers *
  • Sometimes, when no one is around, I ponder the age-old question of “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?” #deepthoughts

    Actually :) I love to fall into an audio book + quilting wormhole, where I have been known to lose many hours of time.
  • My favorite drink is a New Orleans-style Sazerac.

Want to see more Agent Interviews? Check them all out here.


  1. Thanks for the interview, Brianne and Valerie. I'm working on a YA fantasy set in Ancient Persia, and it always makes me smile when I read about an agent looking for something beyond Regency.

  2. This is a fantastic interview! Thank you Valerie. Thank you Brianne, loved your answers, thoughtful and fun - a nice combination.


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