Thursday, 2 July 2020

Joshua Bilmes

Please see Joshua’s blog for more information about what he’s currently looking for. Also, feel free to be personal!

Joshua is the President of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. He has been an agent for almost 30 years, having made his professional debut at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in 1986.

His path to owning his own literary agency started in high school, when he sent monthly letters to the editor of Analog, the leading science fiction magazine, critiquing each issue. These letters so impressed Betsy Mitchell, the magazine’s associate editor, that she offered Bilmes the chance to do freelance readers reports and other work for her when she joined Baen Books shortly after its inception (Betsy eventually left Baen for high-level positions at Warner, Ballantine/Del Rey and other major sf/f imprints and now guides the sf/f program for Open Road Media and freelances at Betsy Mitchell Editorial Services). Joshua Bilmes and the publishing industry took an immediate liking to one another, and he started at Scott Meredith soon after graduating from the University of Michigan with a BA in History.

While his path to becoming an agent went through the science fiction genre, his interests were and are far broader. In the mystery genre, the Hardy Boys led to the Three Investigators, and from there to Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, the 87th Precinct and John LeCarre. He became a Variety junkie during high school and read it every week for as long as there was a weekly Variety. His college degree in history introduced him to The New Republic, and he now also reads The New Yorker. He keeps up on pop culture with Rolling Stone and spends fifteen hours a week reading newspapers. There’s always time for a good movie, and tennis and Australian Rules Football are often his background music.

A debut mystery novel, MARY’S GRAVE by Malcolm McClintick, which became Bilmes’ first sale in the summer of 1986. By the end of the 1980s he had commenced work with Charlaine Harris, Elizabeth Moon, Simon Green, Tanya Huff and other current mainstays of the JABberwocky list. While at Scott Meredith, Bilmes also helped out with the accounts of major agency clients like Carl Sagan and P.G. Wodehouse. After Scott Meredith passed away in 1993, Bilmes was promoted to Vice President, gaining important managerial experience.

In 1994, Bilmes struck out on his own to establish JABberwocky Literary Agency, which in recent years has become the world’s leading literary agency for science fiction and fantasy.

The biggest JABberwocky clients in the agency’s third decade are Charlaine Harris, Brandon Sanderson, Peter V. Brett and Jack Campbell.

Charlaine Harris has been with Joshua Bilmes and JABberwocky since 1989, when Bilmes sold Real Murders, the first book in the Aurora Teagarden series, which is now a series of TV movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.  Prior to the Hallmark adaption of Real Murders, Alan Ball and HBO adapted the author’s Sookie Stackhouse novels into the award-winning and incredibly popular True Blood.  In 2009, an unprecedented 9 Sookie Stackhouse books appeared simultaneously on the NY Times bestseller lists. By the end of 2015, global sales for Charlaine had surpassed 36 million copies, with books sold into 35 languages.

Brandon Sanderson was headed to greatness even before being selected to complete Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, which accelerated his rise. Sanderson has written #1 NY Times bestsellers in multiple series in multiple categories, including Words of Radiance, the 2nd in his Stormlight Archive series for adult fantasy readers, and Steelheart, the debut of his Reckoners series for young adult readers.  Bilmes discovered Sanderson after meeting him at a Nebula Awards banquet, several years prior to the sale of his first novel.  Sanderson has sold over 7 million copies in 30 languages.

Peter V. Brett outsells both Charlaine Harris and Brandon Sanderson in Germany!  Brett has been #3 on the Sunday Times of London bestseller list, #4 on the Der Speigel list in Germany, and #13 on the NY Times list.  He’s sold well over 1 million books in his Demon Cycle, and is published in 20 languages. Bilmes worked with Peter V. Brett for several years, helping Brett to turn the earliest ideas for the series into a major debut in the fantasy genre.

Jack Campbell is a pseudonym for John G. Hemry, a retired US Naval Officer who first met Bilmes at a convention.  He called JABberwocky upon receiving an offer for his first novel.  Bilmes helped Hemry navigate the transition to writing the Lost Fleet series under the Jack Campbell pen name.  The series hit the NY Times bestseller list, and over 1.6 million Lost Fleet books have been sold, in ten languages.

And as successful as all three of those authors are, Joshua happily admits to being proudest of representing The Speed of Dark, the Nebula Award winning novel by his long-time client Elizabeth Moon. This is one of those rare sf novels that transcends the genre audience. Starting with its selection by United We Read Kansas City, it has been chosen for multiple other community wide reading programs across the US at locations which include the Ohio State University, Clemson, Rutgers and the Howard County libraries in suburban Baltimore as well as many private reading groups. It is now available in a 10th anniversary Ballantine Reader Circle trade paperback edition.  Elizabeth Moon is a NY Times bestselling author with over 3.3 million books sold, in over fifteen languages.

JABberwocky clients have won the Nebula, Hugo, Agatha, Anthony, Aurora, Stoker and many other major awards.  Simon R. Green and Tanya Huff are other JABberwocky clients to sell in the millions of copies, with Green a NY Times bestseller in multiple series and Huff’s work the basis of the “Blood Ties” TV series.

Moon is also a NY Times bestselling author. Other JABberwocky clients to reach the Times list include: John Hemry (aka Jack Campbell) for the “Lost Fleet” military sf series and Simon R. Green for his Nightside and Secret Histories series.

Besides True Blood, other media adaptations of work represented by JABberwocky include the TV series “Blood Ties” based on the Blood Books by Tanya Huff.

In recent years, JABberwocky has grown significantly.  In 2012, the agency moved to an actual office after 18 years as a home-based company, and two years later moved again into midtown Manhattan, steps from Times Square and Grand Central. JABberwocky now has four agents, two dedicated foreign rights agents, a COO, and a growing e-book program with over 200 titles from agency clients.  In 2014 and 2015, JABberwocky sold almost 30 novels for 15 debut authors, including the agency’s first-ever romance sale (A Lady’s Guide to Ruin), reflective of the diversity of interests represented by the large agency staff.

With the success of the agency and his long-time clients, Joshua is no longer the main point of contact for newer writers via unsolicited queries, but does still solicit material from aspiring authors he meets at the conventions and conferences which he attends.  Please see the bios of the other agents for full details on what everyone is looking for.

Other relevant links: Joshua’s Real Blog

I’m excluding work by my own clients here, but…

Favorite fantasy: LITTLE BIG by John Crowley
Favorite sf novel: HYPERION by Dan Simmons
Favorite mystery: THE SECRET OF THE OLD MILL by Franklin W. Dixon, because it was the first

Favorite director: Stanley Kubrick
Favorite movie not directed by Kubrick: Superman, The Movie
Other Favorites: Goodfellas, lots of Tom Cruise, Bull Durham, The Empire Strikes Back
Favorite movie theatre: Loews Astor Plaza (1974-2004) Obituary
Favorite film composer: John Williams

Favorite football team: Michigan Wolverines, and the Pats for as long as Tom Brady is QBing
Favorite NL team: NY Mets
Favorite AL team: Toronto Blue Jays
Current Tennis Players to Watch: Jack Sock, Milos Raonic, Vacek Pospisil

Favorite Metropolitan Area to Visit Bookstores: was Washington DC, in a post-Borders age nowhere, really, which is hard to get my head around
Borders Visited: 238.  After L.E. Modesitt’s 310ish, this may be 2nd place for most visited by someone who never worked for the company.  All gone now.
Favorite bookstore hang-up: Snooty indies with crappy sf sections

Favorite Song: Hotel California
Favorite Ringtone: What’s a “Ringtone”?

Favorite Groceries: Whole Foods Markets
Favorite Whole Foods: Bellevue, WA, Austin, TX, Venice CA
Favorite College Thing I Can’t Stop Doing: Eating at Uno’s
Favorite Drake’s Cakes: Yodels