Q&A with literary agent Kate Johnson 2015

  1. KateJohnson CropTell us about yourself

I’m a literary agent at the New York-based Wolf Literary Services, and I move back and forth between Brooklyn and Bristol. Prior to joining Wolf Literary, I worked at Georges Borchardt, Inc, for more than eight years. Ipreviously edited and reported at literary magazines such as StoryQuarterly, Bookslut.com, BookNew York magazine and elsewhere, and graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

  1. What are you working on at the moment?

I always have a few projects simmering before they are ready to be submitted, but my recent and upcoming publications include an anthology called Watchlist, edited by Bryan Hurt, which gathers stories by a variety of authors on the topic of surveillance. Bryan is also the winner of Starcherone Books’ Innovative Fiction Award, judged by author Alissa Nutting, and Starcherone will be publishing his stories in September. Also on the horizon this fall is a memoir by travel journalist Carrie Visintainer, called Wild Mama. Carrie compares motherhood to a foreign country — there’s jet lag, new vocabulary, and strange customs — and shows how remaining true to her “wild ways” (from motorcycle lessons to solo travel in Guatemala) helps make her a better mother. Also this fall comes Love in the Anthropocene, a collaboration between novelist Bonnie Nadzam and environmental philosopher Dale Jamieson, exploring the effects of climate change through fiction, and investigating relationships in a future bereft of natural environments. In October, Scribe will publish the UK edition of Shakespeare, Not Stirred, a marvellously punny cocktail mashup book by Shakespeare scholars Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim. And in January comes A Hard and Heavy Thing, a startling, debut work of metafiction by Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Matthew J. Hefti, as well as a gorgeous, page-turning second novel by Helen Klein Ross, called What Was Mine, about a kidnapping that is discovered twenty years after the act. It’s a gripping read, but also a compelling look at what truly makes a good mother.

3.Who would you most like to have represented? / or who are your favourite writers (and why?)

Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Maggie Nelson’sBluets, Craig Taylor’s Londoners, Amity Gaige’s Schroder, and Timothy Garton Ash’s The File are six books that have knocked me off my feet in very different ways. I feel like I’ve been an unofficial evangelist for all one of them.

  1. What are you looking for?

I’m primarily on the hunt for upmarket and literary fiction, particularly character-driven stories, psychological investigations, unique voices, modern-day fables, international and immigration tales, magical realism, and historical fiction. I like moral ambiguity and vivid settings, from the Midwest to Moldova, and would love to read a good modern ghost story. Nonfiction-wise, I’ll read just about anything about food, feminism, parenting, art, travel, memory, Eastern Europe, and the environment, and love working with journalists. Above all, whether the story is true or “the truth” (as fiction often is), I like a good, page-turning story.

  1. What are your top tips for writers seeking representation from a literary agent?

After finishing your novel or nonfiction proposal, I recommend (in either order) setting it aside to simmer or sharing it with your most honest friends for feedback. (They don’t have to be regular readers or book people to tell you where their attention wandered, or what they didn’t find convincing.) It is hard to know when a book is “ready” — and 80,000 words does not necessarily equal “finished” — but when you feel that you’ve polished and taken the manuscript as far as you can, it’s time to submit it to agents. There are databases you can search via the Association of Authors’ Agents (in the UK) or the Association of Authors’ Representatives (in the US), which aresocieties of agencies that adhere to a particular code of ethics. Here you can also get a feel for which agents are looking for what; alternatively you can peek at the acknowledgements page of your favourite books to see which agents helped to make them happen. It’s hard work at the beginning, but sending targeted, personal queries, following each agency’s submission guidelines, and being courteous and patient (while secretly waiting in agony for a response, I know…) will pay off in the end.

Tickets on the door £5

June 25 @ 8:00 pm10:00 pm

The Lansdown,

Clifton, Bristol , BS8 1AF United Kingdom

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