Q & A With Agent John Cusick

Today we feature the second in our lineup of Q & As with the amazing featured authors, agents, and editors of our upcoming YA A to Z conference. For more info about the conference, click here. And keep checking back here for more great Q & As throughout March and up to the conference on April 15 and 16!

How did you get started in publishing?

After college I knew I needed a day job to support my writing habit. I’d been a permissions assistant at Wesleyan Press and thought I’d like to be an editor. In the end I interviewed for an assistant’s position at a boutique juvenile literary agency. The interview was a complete disaster. The agent argued I didn’t really want the job and I insisted I did. We actually resorted to shouting. Two weeks later he offered me a job. I’ve been a happy agent with Scott Treimel NY for two years.

What’s the average number of submissions you receive in a month?

It varies, but on average we receive 400 queries a month. Of these we’ll request maybe five full manuscripts. In 2010 we signed seven new clients, a few previously published and a few we met at conferences.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice about the world of publishing, what would it be?

Follow submission guidelines and value criticism. Trust me when I say editors and agents want you to succeed, get published, and make a million dollars.

Who was your first client?

My first was and is the phenomenally talented Judy Ann Sadler, whose kids crafts books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. She’s also a wonderful human being: an agent’s dream.

What was the first project you sold?

I sold my first book February 16th, 2009 (my birthday). THE BLENDING TIME by Michael Kinch (Flux, September 2010). We’ve since signed a two-book deal for a Blending Time trilogy. Mike is my second-ever client, has a boundless imagination, and his correspondence leaves me in stitches.

What do you love most about your job?

Working with authors, developing stories and helping others hone the craft. I was surprised to discover how much I also enjoy negotiating. Contracts are like word-puzzles where a single pronoun can spell disaster; the language can be dry, but it’s fascinating, too.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?

All writers want their characters to be relatable, but too often I see generic everyman protagonists. Their reactions are typical, their personalities flat. They react, rather than propel the action. If I’m going to spend three-hundred pages with a character, I want her to be unique, memorable.

What is a little known fact about yourself?

When I was eight years old a tree fell on the house where I was sleeping, caving in a portion of the roof and landing, literally, on top of me. A branch scraped my forehead before burrowing through my bed, the floor, and the ceiling of the kitchen below. I was less than an inch away from being crushed. Perhaps as a result, I now live in the city, far from any potential leafy assassins.

What book are you reading right now?

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO SURVIVE THE APOCALYPSE by Lucas Klauss (Simon Pulse, 2012). Lucas flattered me by asking I review his book for a potential blurb. So far, I’m totally engrossed.

If you could have a beer or coffee with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?

I’d love to spend an evening with the late Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita and Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, which I reread every year or so. He strikes me as one of the few happy geniuses. He felt life was richly textured with meaning, and defined art as “beauty plus pity.” That’s a lovely worldview to emulate. (I also share his embarrassing weakness for alliteration.)

Beer or coffee?

Coffee for me. Vlad prefers black Russian tea.

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