Q&A With John Cusick

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Q&A With John Cusick 

Another Q&A to start off 2024 is with literary agent John Cusick. Some of John Cusick’s many authors he represents is Laura Sebastian, Sierra Simone & Julie Murphy among many others. He was kind enough to connect me with Sierra & Julie. I can’t wait to see who else he connects me with in the future. I enjoy doing Q&As with agents, publicists, and anyone in the publishing industry because they also help authors get their stories out into the world for us to read! 

Q: John, how long have you been a literary agent and when did you realize it was your dream to be one? 

A: Literary agenting snuck up on me! In school I worked for my university’s independent press as a permissions assistant, and discovered I liked the business of books, but after graduation finding a job in editorial was next to impossible (at least it was for me). I must have gone on a dozen interviews before one fateful day I answered an ad on CraigsList to be a personal assistant / dog-walker for a children’s book agent. Working at my first agency, I got a bird’s eye view of the industry and children’s books specifically. I had worked there maybe a month before I realized agenting was the right fit for me. I loved working closely with writers to develop their material, seeking out the perfect editor, and advocating for creatives.

Q: I did a Q&A with a literary agent in the past. What is your favorite part about being an agent? What is the difference between a literary agent and a publicist? I know both of their jobs is to get an authors work out into the world and represent them. 

A: My favorite part has to be advocating for creatives. Writing is an artform, but publishing is a business, and as an agent it’s my job to help a writer make money with their work. Where a publicist will help spread awareness about a book once it’s published (or just about to be), an agent’s role is slightly more behind the scenes: an agent helps the author secure a book deal with a publisher, and then works to ensure the author gets the best of their publisher’s attention and efforts (publishers employ their own publicists, and sometimes hire outside publicity firms). In practice, being published can have more than monetary value to an artist, it can be a dream come true, and getting to be integral to that process is extremely rewarding. 

Q: How would new authors who want to get their stories out into the world, want to have you represent and help them get their work out there?

A: First, I would say, make sure I work with the kinds of books you write. Simply Googling an agent’s name will usually lead you either to their agency’s website or to a website like Publishers Marketplace, where the agent’s wish list and submission guidelines will most likely be posted. There’s no sense wasting your time or an agent’s by sending manuscripts in a genre the agent doesn’t represent. Next, make sure your project is ready to share with an agent. For fiction, that means you’ve written a complete novel and worked either on your own or with others (a critique group, a freelance editor), to polish your project until it’s as good as you can make it. Finally, and this is the trickiest part, you’ll need to have written a commercially viable book. That means that I (and by extension a publisher) think a large number of readers will want to pay money for your story. A commercially viable book is not only well-written and full of compelling characters and scenarios, it also gives readers what they’re looking for at this cultural moment. As an example, there was a time where stories about teens struggling with chronic or fatal illnesses were popular in the Young Adult category; that’s less the case now, and so even a very well-written story on this topic may have difficulty finding an excited publisher (the above is an illustrative example, and not intended to be a commentary on actual trends, btw).

Q: If you wanted to become an author, would you represent yourself as an agent or would you want someone else to be your agent?

A: I don’t have to answer this question in the hypothetical, because I am an author! I’ve had several different agents during my career, but I’ve never represented myself. The reason for that is simple, and one of the reasons I think almost everyone needs an agent: it’s extremely difficult to be objective about your own work. I can edit manuscripts all day long, but when it comes to improving my own stories, after a certain point I need an outside point of view I trust to give me guidance and feedback. Separately, it’s also a lot easier to advocate for someone else than it is to advocate for yourself, I find.

Q: I know you represent Laura Sebastian, Sierra Simone & Julie Murphy. Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I who else you represent as their agent?

A: Certainly! I’m very proud to represent a diverse group of NYT bestsellers and award winners across age categories, including NYT bestselling YA fantasy author Joan He, Stonewall and Lambda award-winner Abdi Nazemian, the brilliant artist and author Eric Chase Anderson, the second-most-produced playwright in American schools, Don Zolidis, and Stranger Things staff-writer and author of the YA historical adventure MEDICI HEIST, Caitlin Schneiderhan.

Q: How would someone go about being a literary agent? Would they need college? 

A: A lot’s changed in the industry since I started. Now, internships—most of them paid—are more the norm. Most industry assistants have had experience from at least one internship. There are university-level publishing courses, like Colombia’s and NYU’s, and I do think these courses can be educational, a resource for networking, as well as resume builders. However, going to school for publishing isn’t a requirement to work in the industry. I’d suggest anyone interested in getting into publishing check out the Young Publishers Association ( a member-run organization featuring informational seminars and networking events for anyone new to the industry or looking to get started.