SCBWI Exclusive with... Juliana McBride, Agent, Rebecca Friedman Literary Agency

Juliana McBride began her career in New York City at Random House in 2000. After a decade working with all the in-house and third-party publishers, she and her husband (and twin daughters) embarked on their second act in California, producing and selling wine. She never gave up her penchant for good stories though; enter act three. Juliana loves honest stories that explore relationships and make her laugh in commercial and literary adult fiction, young adult fiction, and middle grade fiction.


Q: What was your path to agenting?

A: Well, my first job when I graduated from college was at Random House. I worked in the sales and marketing departments for 10 years, mostly in National Accounts, from 2000 to 2010. Then my husband, twin baby daughters, and I embarked on a cross-country, life-changing move to Northern California, before the days of remote work options. So, for the next decade I worked alongside my husband at our small winery, and raised my kids. Queue the pandemic, which gave me an opportunity to reassess how I wanted the "third act" of my professional life to unfold. I really missed the world of books, where many of my friends still worked. Rebecca (of the Rebecca Friedman Literary Agency) and I had been assistants together "back in the day". And many of my friends who are editors urged me to consider this path to agenting. So in 2021, I made it happen. While the editorial part of agenting has been entirely new to me, I still essentially sell books every day, and I love nothing more than championing great stories and creating great relationships with both editors and clients. 

Q: What elements does a manuscript need to have for you to consider representation?

A: What a great question! I only (at this point in time) represent fiction from very select middle grade to young adult. (I also represent adult fiction). So first it has to fall into one of those buckets. And then, I really like to be surprised, to be honest. I don't want to figure out the whole plot in the first 5 chapters of the book. But more importantly than that, I have to be drawn in by the voice and at least one of your characters has to really imprint themselves on my brain or in my heart in some way. I am drawn to contemporary stories that have something to say about current affairs without being "issue" books, coming-of-age stories that honestly feel fresh, and I really like cross-genre (horror, thriller, romance) and speculative elements as well. I also love humor in a story! If you can make me cackle (or cry), I'll probably want to make an offer. I'm a truly empathetic reader. I am not a great fit for high-fantasy stories that take place in other worlds, but speculative grounded stories do resonate with me. 

Q: How do you work with your clients?

A: Good, clear communication is really important to me and anyone that I work with. I always meet with potential clients on a zoom call first to assess if we have the right chemistry before making an offer of representation. I'm open about my vision for the manuscript and what kinds of edits I think might be needed before we even sign a contract. I look to work with clients who have vigorous and established critique partners and beta readers already in place and have experience workshopping and receiving critical feedback. We will usually do at least one editorial round before we get ready for submission. Much of my work is via email, but depending on the client, sometimes there are phone calls and video calls along the way as well. I'm entirely transparent when it comes to submission lists and welcome collaboration from my clients if they have dream-editors or strong opinions on the process. And I also am very transparent and honest about passes and all communication that comes from editors. It's not for the faint of heart, this takes a lot of patience and grit and can often be heartbreaking- so clients have to know that also before signing on. I wish I had a crystal ball...but I don't, so we just put in the work and do the best we can and work our hardest to find the right fit for each story. My clients and I generally have patience, trust, and a little bit of humor with each other. 

Q: What's on your manuscript wish list?

A: Right now, I'd love a good "dark academia" story in YA or MG. A cozy mystery in a unique setting for MG or YA would also be super fun to work on. If you're writing a rom-com, I need the com to be as strong as the rom, and for the story as a whole to have depth. Generally though, I'm always looking for stories grounded in contemporary settings with a strong hook. Sometimes I think it's also helpful to state what's NOT on my MSWL. And that would be science fiction, and dystopian stories, generally speaking. I've made no secret about my love for a little bit of magic, but it really has to feel entirely fresh and be rooted in logic. And I'm always going to be a sucker for truly heartfelt characters. 

If your manuscript fits Juliana’s wish list, SCBWI members can query her through September 1!