Fizzy Fangirling – An Interview with John Cusick

Hello my sweets!

Today I bring you an interview with the freaking amazing literary agent John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary!!

JMC Promo Photo

He’s also the author of the upcoming CHERRY MONEY BABY, which I am sort of obsessed with.

That’s right. HE’S A DOUBLE THREAT, KIDS.

John is one of my very favorite lit agents on Twitter, and has been ever since he forgave a burst of my verbal incontinence last year during a Twitter pitch party.

Aside from being witty and a fount of information, he’s an all around good dude, and let’s be blunt here: A snappy dresser.

Seriously. The lad is dapper.

ALSO! Mr. Cusick here will be joining all the fun at this year’s Midwest Writer’s Workshop where I will likely fangirl with fervor.

He’s been warned.

Read on and see why he is, in fact, the cat’s pajamas.

1. Let’s hit the basics. How long have you been a literary agent, and what dragged you into this crazy business in the first place? Also, what kinds of stories do you rep?

I started as an agent’s assistant in 2007 and began rep’ing clients soon after that. I came to NYC wanting to be a writer and looking for a job to feed my habit. I sort of fell into children’s agenting, but immediately fell in love and now I’ll never leave. I represent everything from picture books through y.a. (And, I donno, maybe New Adult. Maybe. Someday.) I like all kinds of stories and my list is eclectic. I have contemporary realism, sci-fi, historicals, mysteries, horror, action/adventure. I love stories that get at some deep emotional truth, flawed protagonists, and villains with vulnerability. And I love a good page-turner. When all these things combine…magic.

2. When you are diving through the slush, what it is you are looking for? What kinds of things give you all the agenty feels? 

First and foremost I’m looking for that standout idea, that crazy notion or heartbreaking conflict that really makes a query leap off the page. For instance: Edwardian art student gets kicked out of school for posing nude. Awesome! Teen fairy prostitutes in an urban fantasy universe. How could I say no? Girl battles demons in a monster-hunting S.W.A.T.  team across modern day San Francisco. Um, yes. (All three of these are real client projects sold in the past year.)

3. So, you have a book coming out. An awesome book. That’s full of awesomeness. Tell us a little bit about CHERRY MONEY BABY and why we must all add this to our To Be Read list.

CHERRY MONEY BABY tells the story of scrapper Cherry, who’s grown up relatively happy in her trailer park, ready to marry her high school sweetheart Lucas—until she unwittingly saves the life of a glamorous Hollywood actress named Ardelia Deen. It’s a story about unlikely friendships and redefining who you are, expanding your horizons. Here are three of the (many) reasons you want to read it: A) Fancy dresses. B) Fast cars. C) Tons of swearing.

4. How do you think agenting differs for you as an agent who also is an author? (That question sounded terribly serious.)

It would take pages to answer this fully. The short version: I know what it’s like on both sides of the table. I know what it’s like to write a novel, hitting on that awesome idea, struggling through the interminable middle, biting your nails while you wait for feedback. I’ve been there, and I do it everyday. And I also know what publishers are looking for, the kinds of stories that will break out and grab attention. Doing both has taught me how to conceive, construct, and revise a story until it absolutely shines. And I know what a writer needs to hear when things aren’t going so well.

5. What is your very most favorite part of agenting? What part makes you cry sad bunny tears?

I love finding great projects. I love calling up an author to say we have an offer from a great house and a great editor. I love when an editor calls me to say she loves something, that she’s connected to a story the same way I have. I love sharing that obsession and enthusiasm. I guess it’s the fan boy in me.

The sad part is when a great project just isn’t right. That near-brilliant dystopian that, frankly, just isn’t going to sell right now due to market saturation. I don’t know about bunny tears, but waiting to hear back from editors when a manuscript is on submission definitely makes me lose sleep. Sarah Davies and I have a little agent god we pray to before we go out on sub. Sometimes he is kind, sometimes cruel.

6. You, good sir, are coming to the Midwest Writer’s Workshop at the end of July! I’m only slightly geeked out to meet you, just so you know. What can the good people expect from you at MWW? What will you be bringing to the Hoosier set?

First of all, I’m very nice. I’ve never made anyone cry (knock on wood). I’m also very candid and transparent— I will answer all questions as truthfully and thoroughly as I can. Finally, I’m here for you, the author. Say hi to me. Do tell me about your project. Do ask me questions. I’m at your disposal (as long as I’m not, you know, trying to visit the bathroom or something).

7. Last year, I made a delightful fool of myself to you on Twitter during a Twitter pitch party. That’s not a question. I owe you a drink for that… Perhaps this can be an example to readers that you agents aren’t terribly scary beasts who throw lightning bolts at over-excited writers? Sure. Let’s go with that.

You so totally didn’t! (I won’t say no to a drink, though.) Here’s the Twitter Takeaway: agents are people too. We’re just like you! Except we keep the still-beating hearts of rejected authors in the liquor cabinet. Next to the belladonna and pigs’ blood.

I’ve actually formed some great relationships via twitter. I met my client Sharon Biggs Waller (author of that awesome Edwardian art student book, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY) via Twitter, and keep in close touch with fellow agents and editors there as well. Though Twitter really isn’t the place to pitch an agent (or corner them into an endless and unsolicited Q&A session), it’s an informal atmosphere where you can get to know your favorite publishing peeps. I like it, anyway.

8. What is one brilliant gem of advice you wish everyone who is planning to query you should know?

Go to GreenhouseLiterary.com and read our submission guidelines. Quality aside, I tend to not be the right agent for sports stories (baseball’s the one with outs, right?), quiet coming-of-age tales, or picture books over 800 words. Tend being the operative word there. Finally, here is a never fail format for query openings. Feel free to use liberally:

Dear John,

(Character) is a (character description) in (place), when (thing happens that kicks off the story).

9. You are one of the fabulous people behind Armchair/Shotgun. Tell us a little about it?

Armchair/Shotgun is a literary magazine. We come out once a year and publish short fiction, poetry, and artwork. Two things that make A/S a bit unique: firstly, we are a print-only publication. Though we do have a website we update regularly (armchairshotgun.com), our entire magazine is available only on paper. We just sorta like it that way. Secondly, we consider all our submissions anonymously, meaning when we read your story, we don’t know your name, education, background, or gender. We judge on merit alone. As a result, we typically publish a mix of newbie and veteran authors alike.

10. Now, because you have wandered into the realm of my blog, it is time to share with the class an embarrassing or hilarious story. Bonus points if it’s industry related, and a gifted fruit basket if it involves accidental nudity.

When I first started as an agent’s assistant, one of my tasks was walking the boss’s dog. The dog was a 110-pound American Bulldog named Petey. Sweet as could be, but a little tough to handle at times. The embarrassing part is: he twice totally freaked out the actress Rachel Weisz in the East Village. Once when she was walking her baby in a stroller, and another time when he almost went to the bathroom on her shoes. I should mention I have a huge crush on Rachel Weisz. I think Petey blew it for me, though.

Fizzy here again!

Oh, Petey. You scampy pup.

So that’s Mr. Cusick, kids! Ain’t he grand?

You should tell him so in the comments section, 😉

I will leave you now so that you can all go follow him on Twitter, prep your queries, preorder CHERRY MONEY BABY, and subscribe to Armchair/Shotgun.

*nods officially*

I hope you all are doing fabulous!

Until next time,

Peace, Love, and Bulldogs

15 Comments

  1. Oh, huzzah.

    I’d like to confirm that Mr. Cusick is indeed a stand-up dude. I accidentally pitched my adult novel to him at WDCE in 2012, and we ended up chatting about Buffy, because he is just that awesome.

  2. This is a great interview! I never knew about Petey, but I could give that dog a good home. Always wanted a bulldog.

    Mr C is as great as he’s cracked up to be. I should know. I work with him.
    Regards, Sarah ‘Greenhouse’ Davies.

  3. You’ve totally got me convinced that Mr. Cusick is grand indeed. I mean, anyone who can make a bull dog pee on Rachel Weisz’s shoes on command…..what’s that? Oh, he *didn’t* want the dog to do that?….well, never mind then. 😉

    Just a little request, next time you interview someone interesting, please don’t use a GIF of Captain Jack saying “fucking awesome” because it gets me totally sidetracked with Doctor Who and Torchwood thoughts. Kidding!

    Have fun at the Midwest Writers Workshop! I’ll be waving hello from Bloomington (IN). 🙂

    • For a hot second there I panicked like, “OMG I OFFENDED WITH PROFANITY!”

      And then you went into the geekery and now I know…you are my people.

      PS. I have a hard time getting past the Castiel GIF…

  4. Great interview. He is an awesome dude. I’ve been fortunate to hear him speak at the NJ SCBWI. Carole

  5. Did you hear that squee from all the way across the US? That was me. Everyone on Twitter knows that John is my agent crush!!!! Love this interview. My only complaint is that there weren’t enough pictures of John.

    Seriously, John, is such a giving force to the writing community. He even help me out of a very horrible situation. I read all his books and he’s a fabulous writer, as well. BUY HIS BOOKS!!!

  6. Ignore all typos – I just woke up. Love you too, Summer!!!!

  7. I now wish I was going to MWW. Alas, I have not the fundage yet. ONE DAY.

    Cusick is definitely one of my favorite agents to follow on twitter. He’s always nice, honest, and open to asking non-troll-ish questions. Plus, like he said, he gets BOTH sides of the coin. That’s a huge plus in my book. Keep up the good work man!

    P.S. That Shia gif? Hilarious.

  8. He is the most awesome agent and I love him so. : ) Lucky is the writer who has John on her/his side.

  9. Great interview! I love following Mr. Cusick, and he’s a Buffy Fan??? :::swoons::: I’m definitely in agent like.

  10. Well, he just sounds delightful! I can’t wait to meet him at MWW! Thanks for this interview!

  11. Wow! I don’t have anything witty enough to add to this sparkly awesomeness, except thank you for sharing!!!! And I gotta go check my twitter feed to be sure I’m following Mr. Cusick.

  12. Hoorah! Incredibly timely. Looking so forward to meeting you at MWW, but if there’s a bulldog leashed under your table, I’m going to be nervous.

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