Literary Agents…the questions you didn’t ask! Featuring – Michelle L. Johnson!

Well, we’ve hit upon quite the diamond here at the YA Bookcase, because agent Michelle L. Johnson of Inklings Literary Agency has been gracious enough to answer our Questions You Didn’t Ask series, where we’ll be connecting with different agents and gauging the responses we get!

 So without further ado, please give a warm welcome to Michelle!

Michelle L. Johnson is a literary agent, the founder of Inklings Literary Agency and has a business administration background in addition to a lifetime of working with books (sales, editing, and writing) and authors (marketing, promoting, event planning). She is also a script/story consultant for an independent film under production in Halifax, NS.

Before founding Inklings Literary Agency, she was with Corvisiero Literary Agency. She has spent many years in the editing field for private clients and multiple independent publishing houses.

She has also owned and operated a Writers’ Center and Bookstore in Virginia Beach, organizing numerous special events for authors and artists alike.

To read more about Michelle and her submission guidelines, check out

Okay, now here’s the low down on some questions you might not have thought to ask…

If a story holds you throughout but ends badly is that enough for you to give it a rejection, or would you request a revise and resubmit, or would you still be willing to offer representation?

This has actually happened to me, and the answer is that I would ask for a revise and resubmit. If I love the premise, and the characters, and the writing, it is always worth a story-line tweak.

How do you feel about anti-heroes in novels?

I am a BIG fan of anti-heroes. The greatest thing about them is that they are fully rounded characters with enough good in them to pull the reader in, and enough bad that the reader can’t help but watch – like a train wreck. I love characters who make readers like them despite their inherent badness, and leave readers questioning themselves.

What do you think are the most important things a writer can do when you have them on submission (I.e. social media, blog interviews, etc)?

It is important to be patient, above all else. Submission can be an emotional roller coaster and is full of long periods of time to wait for feedback. Write the next book while you’re waiting.

As far as social media goes, the one mistake I see a lot of authors making is that they look to connect on social media with other authors. That is great for support, but it isn’t other authors that will buy the books. Authors need to reach out and find their readers – read other books in their genre and chat with the people who have read them.

It is important NOT TO post on the internet about receiving requests and rejections from houses. Everything posted creates a digital timeline that never goes away. So if the author is on the second round of submissions, and an editor checks out their blog and sees that six months ago the manuscript was rejected, that editor might think ‘why am I the last one to see this?’ or ‘wow, nobody else wants this, maybe I don’t either…’

Would you turn down a fantastic novel if you didn’t quite connect with a writer’s personality? How important is this?

Yes. It is very important to me that I am able to get along with my authors. It is a professional relationship, but I intend to be working with them for years to come. If a writer comes off as pompous, or pushy, or frantic, or something else that I don’t think I want to work with (like melancholy), chances are very good I will decline their submission.

Similarly, if as an author I submit to an agent and they are crabby and unresponsive or even condescending, I would not sign with that agent.

What happens if a client’s first book doesn’t sell? Would you still consider other manuscripts from them, or would you cut that writer loose?

I would always consider other manuscripts from them. Even though we do tend to sign on a book by book basis, it is the full career that is our focus.

What is one book you loved? What about one book you hated?

A book I’ve loved? Only one? *brain explodes*

I’ve never hated a book. There have been books that I didn’t like the writing style and therefore only read a page and a half, but I didn’t hate it. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t pick up a book I wasn’t likely to enjoy.

Wait. Correct that. I truly loathed my grade ten algebra text book.

How involved do you think an agent should be in the editor/author relationship?

I like to be kept in the loop through the editing process, but I don’t have anything to do with it really. At that point of the manuscript’s life it is really between the author and the editor. If an author asked my advice on anything, of course I would be happy to help, but otherwise I stay out of it.

When attending conferences, what is your favourite way to be approached by an author (if at all!)?

Is there a favourite way? I just prefer everyone to be themselves. Come on over and say hi. I love talking to authors. There is not much better than talking to someone about the one thing that puts the sparkle in their eye. The excitement is contagious.

Off the top of your head, what five words describe a good novel?

Didn’t want it to end.

If you could meet any famous novelist (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

Stephen King. I grew up on his books and he has done so much for writers.

J.K. Rowling. Because she is amazing.

What? You didn’t say just one…

So there you have it folks…things you want to know, and the answers from the agent you want to hear it from.  Remember, books aren’t just about great queries and opening pages…you need to keep it going right to the very last page,

Thanks so much Michelle for taking part in YA Bookcase interview…and we hope summer is treating you well!

P.s.  For those who don’t know…coffee might help…


8 thoughts on “Literary Agents…the questions you didn’t ask! Featuring – Michelle L. Johnson!

  1. I was glad to see your answer #1. It's nice to know my novel doesn't have to be PERFECT, and that some flaws can be forgiven. (Assuming I'm willing to fix the imperfections.)


  2. Thanks Fiona and Michelle! Wonderful and insightful interview!!!

    Um, guess I should start sitting on my hands each time I get a sub request… O.o It's just so damn exciting!!! *blushing* #guilty


  3. This is exactly what I was thinking regarding posting stats on submissions; I wouldn't want anyone to know how much or how little I'm getting requested or who's passed/how many people have passed on the book. I share that stuff privately with people who might want to know, but I don't want it searchable. Glad to hear that I've been being what I thought might be overly cautious for a reason! 😀


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