“Open yourself to rejections. It’s baked into the publishing cake and many aspiring authors naturally burn out because of it. But if you don’t let it control you, seek advice you may not want to hear, really listen and wring every bit of learning from rejections, then I guarantee your writing will be better and you will put yourself in a good place to get published.” -Lynn Johnston, Lynn Johnston Literary
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings 20-25 literary agents and book editors to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 29th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 24 – 26, 2022, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our visiting agents and editors here.
An Interview with Lynn Johnston
Lynn Johnston is a literary agent representing mostly nonfiction since 2001. The books on her list have been called “firebreathng” and “righteous” by the New York Times, “exuberant” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “a godsend” by Publishers Weekly. Among them are New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today bestsellers; Books for a Better Life Award finalists; winner of the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award; Grammy nominee for Best Spoken Word Album; Porchlight’s best business book in Personal Development & Human Behavior; and numerous “best of the year” accolades. Her clients includes many debut authors who rely on her guidance to set them up for careers as authors. Before working in publishing, she held various management and marketing roles and has served on the board or staff of notable non-profit organizations, including Dress for Success, Bottomless Closet and the American Bar Association. She currently serves on the membership and small business committees of the Association of American Literary Agents and on the advisory board of the Woodstock Book Fest. Johnston has an MBA and BA in Philosophy. Born in Saigon, Vietnam and having resided in Florida, Texas and Chicago, she lives and works in New York City.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Lynn Johnston: A book is a business but it’s also a very personal thing for the author. We’re not dealing with widgets. My approach with clients recognizes that a book is a product, from which we are making money, as well as their baby, which transcends monetary value. We can talk about things on an objective level but I won’t bat an eye if you cry, either.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
LJ: I look for the whole person. Beyond the project itself, I want to understand why the person is writing the book, what they hope to gain from it, how eager are they to promote it, what makes them unique to write this particular book, how well we work together, how we communicate, how they deal with adversity. That last one is key. When we have setbacks, I want to know that we are going to be a good team.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
LJ: Open yourself to rejections. It’s baked into the publishing cake and many aspiring authors naturally burn out because of it. But if you don’t let it control you, seek advice you may not want to hear, really listen and wring every bit of learning from rejections, then I guarantee your writing will be better and you will put yourself in a good place to get published.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
LJ: I see the industry opening up in ways it never was before to underrepresented voices, backgrounds, topics, platforms and formats.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and you want everyone to know about?
LJ: I’m excited about all of my authors and projects 😉 No really. Almost every project I work on has a social justice vein to it. Sometimes it’s not obvious but it’s there.
Click here for more information on the 2022 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.