What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I dislike the term “trend,” as it suggests authors and publishers copycatting bestsellers. But rather than “trendy” publishing for 2016, I see a very cool and very important movement toward high-concept stories (always popular) starring often underrepresented races and orientations. I’m thinking of books like The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie (which the author summarized as “Lesbians. Pirates. Kaiju”), Rahul Kanakia’s Enter Title Here, about an Indian-American teen who could give [House of Cards’] Frank Underwood a run for his money, and the sci-fi coming-of-age novel Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
Right now I’m working with several authors on fantasies set all over the world—Tokyo, Cairo, St. Petersburg— and in fictitious worlds inspired by ancient China and Japan. I’d love to represent even more bold, fantastical tales that take the reader to somewhere other than medieval Europe. Whether it’s a fast-paced action/adventure or a coming-of-age set in small-town America, I want a story where the stakes feel intensely personal.
Though there are already several books out there set on food trucks and in restaurant kitchens, I have a soft spot for the culinary world and always enjoy a good chef-y read.
I’m also obsessed with Serial, HBO’s The Jinx, and Making a Murderer on Netflix. I’d love to see teen and even middle-grade stories that explore crime and the criminal justice system.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I often ask editors this question, and the answer, understandably, is almost always, “I’ll consider anything— if it’s great.” I try not to give a blanket “no” to any particular topic. However, the market is a bit saturated with certain types of stories. A dystopian novel has to be extraordinary to catch my attention these days, as does a paranormal romance (where, say, the love interest is a vampire, mermaid, angel, etc.). Personally, I shy away from poetry, sports, and talking animals, though this is mostly personal preference. And again, I’m excited to read any manuscript that makes me feel something profound, no matter the topic.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Young adult and middle grade continue to be rapidly expanding markets. There is a push to publish diverse voices and characters, which makes kids’ and teen fiction one of the most exciting places to be. Every year I see new kinds of stories and authors pushing the boundaries when it comes to style and subject matter. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, A.S. King’s I Crawl through It, George by Alex Gino—these kinds of books simply didn’t exist when I was a kid. The unfair assumption that writing for children is simplistic or shallow is fading, and I think middle grade and young adult are where some of the best and most innovative writing exists today.
John M. Cusick is an agent with Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management, representing picture books, middle-grade, and young-adult novels. He is also the author of the YA novels Girl Parts and Cherry Money Baby (Candlewick Press) as well as a regular speaker at writers’ conferences. His clients include New York Times bestselling author Tommy Wallach (We All Looked Up, Simon & Schuster), Courtney Alameda (Shutter, Feiwel & Friends), and Hannah Moskowitz (A History of Glitter and Blood, Chronicle Books). You can find him online at www.JohnMCusick.com and on Twitter (@johnmcusick).