Q & A With Agent Jim McCarthy

We had so much fun with our series of Q &As with the featured guests at our YA A to Z Conference that we wanted to do another series for the 2011 Agents Conference! This week we bring you the first in the series, with agent Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. Check back every week to learn more about our amazing lineup of agents and check out the 2011 Agents Conference here! (Or register here!)

How did you get started in publishing?

I needed a job the summer after my freshman year at college. I sent out 40 or so resumes. Stacey Glick was the first person to call me, and within three days I had accepted the position. I had no idea it would lead to anything, but here I am 12 years later. Every time I tell this story, I feel older!

What’s the average number of submissions you receive in a month?

A few hundred? I haven’t really gone in for a close count lately, but I think it’s around 500 queries a month.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice about the world of publishing, what would it be?

Write with passion. More and more lately, I see things being written with the hope of being “on trend.” I get flack for saying this sometimes because people find it disingenuous, but I swear that writing with true enthusiasm is more powerful and positive in the long run than looking at this purely as a commercial enterprise.

Who was your first client?

My first client was actually a pair—a delightful couple who had written a fabulous and fun Valley of the Dolls style epic look at the fashion industry starting in the 60s and covering the following decades with style and aplomb. I’m still disappointed that I wasn’t able to sell it, but the market just wasn’t there for it at the time. I was hoping Tilly Bagshawe was going to revive the genre, but it just didn’t take off like I (or, presumably, Tilly) hoped.

What was the first project you sold?

Right at the beginning, I was lucky to find Victoria Laurie. Since selling her first book, Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye, we’ve gone on to place 24 books together, and she’s become a New York Times bestseller!

What do you love most about your job?

It’s so corny, but honestly, nothing beats calling a first time writer to tell them that they’re going to be a published author. That first deal is a little slice of heaven.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?

Well, first, I have to say that writers are so much more educated about the publishing process than they were even five years ago which is truly lovely to see. Great information is so much more accessible now than it ever was before. If there’s a downside to that, it’s only that writers can get caught up in comparing themselves to other authors too much. Starting to panic because they didn’t hear back as fast as their Facebook friend or wondering why their advance isn’t as high as someone they follow on Twitter. An editor last week shared the best piece of advice I’ve heard for authors lately: “Don’t compete and don’t compare.” It’s great to be informed, but you still need to focus on yourself first.

What is a little known fact about yourself?

I don’t know that there’s much that isn’t widely known. I’m a compulsive oversharer. I’m also a hypochondriac, a theater geek, and think the world would be more beautiful if it were draped in plaid.

What book are you reading right now?

Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. I loved his collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. I won’t lie: this one is a little slow going for me since the banking sections are so far outside my realm of knowledge or interest. But the fantastic writing just can’t be denied.

If you could have a beer or coffee with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?

Trying to think of who would be the most fun, I’ll go with Dorothy Parker. Cynical, spiteful, and clever beyond measure: that’s my kind of people.

Beer or coffee?

–Diet Coke. Little known fact: Diet Coke is the elixir of the gods.

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