Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 15, 2021

January Agent of the Month – Jim McCarthy

Jim McCarthy

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Jim McCarthy interned for Dystel, Goderich & Bourret while studying urban design at New York University. Upon graduating, Jim realized he would much rather continue working with books than make the jump (as he had originally intended) to the field of city planning. Eighteen years later, he remains at DG&B as a VP and agent.

Action/Adventure, Children’s, Commercial, Family Saga, Fantasy, General, Historical, LGBTQ, Literary, Middle Grade, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, Thriller, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult.

Non-Fiction: Biography, History, Journalism, LGBTQ, Memoir, Pop Culture

As an avid fiction reader, his interests encompass both literary and commercial works in the adult, young adult, and middle grade categories. He is particularly interested in literary fiction, underrepresented voices, fantasy, mysteries, romance, anything unusual or unexpected, and any book that makes him cry or laugh out loud. In addition to fiction he is also interested in narrative nonfiction whether it be memoir, historical, science, pop culture, or just a darn good polemic.

I’m always looking for fresh voices–whether that means authors from underrepresented communities, new takes on old tropes, something that hasn’t been seen before, or all of the above. I love a great humorous novel, but I’m also not afraid of anything that’s extremely dark. I’m always on the lookout for great fiction of any stripe but do gravitate towards YA and the fantastical–still, that doesn’t mean I’m not very open to realistic adult fiction and anything in between.

At this exact moment, I would particularly love to find fantasy or sci-fi in non-Western settings, sagas of family or friendship in the vein of Mary McCarthy’s THE GROUP or J. Courtney Sullivan’s MAINE, queer stories of any kind (particularly if yours has an asexual, non-binary, or intersex lead), and a super fun mystery.

Jim wants to see more

Children’s nonfiction

I’m probably NOT+ your go-to for political or medical thrillers or police procedurals or stories involving time travel (with very rare exceptions). And while I love YA fantasy, I have a strange aversion to stories about fae/faeries.

Fun facts about me:I’m a giant theater geek, so if there are any other nerds out there that these names mean anything to, these are the current playwrights whose work is, for me, unmissable: Lynn Nottage, Annie Baker, Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Amy Herzog, Stephen Karam, Suzan-Lori Parks, Samuel Hunter. If you can compare anything you do to anything they’ve done? Please send my way.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to

Please send your query in the body of an email along with the first 25 pages of your project (either in the body or as a Word attachment).

Guidelines & Details



How did you find the opportunity to intern for Dystel, Goderich & Bourret while attending college?

I was lucky enough to see a job listing on my school’s database and sent in a resume. I knew I wanted to work very broadly “in the arts,” but I had no idea at the time how determinative sending in that resume was because here I still am 21 years later.

What was it about the work you were doing for them that made you want to ditch you career plans and stay with them after you graduated?

Books felt otherworldly to me. I was naïve or perhaps simply uninformed enough that I had never really given a whole lot of thought to where they came from. I remember walking into the old St. Mark’s Bookshop (RIP) and pulling a book off the shelf and seeing Jane and Miriam’s names in the acknowledgments and feeling this sense of wonder and awe that these people I now worked for had their names in real books sold at real bookstores. That was one of the first moments that I started to piece together the power and influence of agenting, and I wanted that for myself. Then there were the moments of finding great things in the slush pile and bringing them to Jane and Miriam’s attention. And when they sold projects I had recommended, I started to believe that I might be able to really make a go of it. One last story: there was a day early in building my own list when I met a burlesque performer in the morning and a former translator for Mao Zedong in the afternoon, both about their potential projects. They were both amazingly interesting people whose backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. That breadth of stories that are out there continues to be my driving inspiration.

Do have a limit on the number of clients you will represent?

I don’t have a number so much as a feeling. One of the most important things about agenting, in my mind, is client care. As long as I feel that I can continue to answer client questions within 24 hours, read manuscripts within 2 weeks, and make them feel cared for and attended, I’m comfortable with signing one more person on. There are moments through a year that those timelines might get a little wonky, especially around vacations or holidays, but those are always my goals.

Any story or themes you wish someone would submit?

It’s almost impossible to say. I’m trying to be more conscious of what I am requesting because I don’t want to limit myself from finding things I might fall in love with. For instance, I’ve said in the past that I don’t want to see time travel stories or books about faeries. Meanwhile, I represent Kosoko Jackson’s YESTERDAY IS HISTORY which features time travel and comes out this month (January 2021), and the most recent author I signed sent me a novel about faeries that I read in one great gulp and fell head over heels for. So I can be wrong about what I don’t want to see for sure. In terms of what I DO want to see…it’s tough to pin down. I’ll say that I respond incredibly well to stories that are built around rich relationships—chosen families, unshakable bonds, feelings of community. I love reading about how people relate to each other. Give me compelling characters with interesting dynamics, and I’ll be delighted.

Did you ever pass on a manuscript that you wished you hadn’t?

For sure. But in the grand scheme of things, when I look at books I passed on that other people sold, I try to remember that if I didn’t see what made that book special, I was never going to be the right advocate for it. The one that truly pains me, though, is a project I passed on because of format alone. I had been told for years that short story collections were impossible to sell, and I took that too much to heart and let a brilliant collection go because I didn’t believe in myself to be able to sell it. It was published to much success, and I keep a copy of it to remind myself to take the chance and make the offer no matter what if my belief in the material is unshakable. So the lessons I try to hold are to shake off the successes that slipped through my fingers and grab more tightly at any writing I love whole-heartedly.

Which do you lean more towards: Literary or Commercial?

It’s such a cop-out, but I think I’m pretty down the middle. I love a commercial hook, but I’m also a sucker for small, literary, and beautiful.

Since you also have an office in California in addition to NYC, do you think that it helps your agency acquire more deals for movie deals for your clients by having an office Los Angles?

We do seem to be having more success across a wider number of co-agents and with a higher number of deals done directly with producers. This is still a business of relationships, and the more people we know and have access to, the better we can connect projects with the right advocates, so it’s certainly been a boon.

Do you think Covid-19 has hurt the publishing industry?

A complicated question. Undoubtedly, it has been incredibly hard on independent bookstores who are really the lifeblood of publishing. So I’m hugely concerned by decreasing sales outlets not to mention the ongoing consolidation of publishers. At the same time, people have turned to books quite a bit this year, so sales are rather encouraging. In that way, I do believe that living through this plague has highlighted the durability of the written word.

Do you feel it is better for an author to focus on one age group and genre?

Nah. Something I repeat to clients is that in order to break your brand, you first need to have made your brand. If everything coming from you is scattershot and fans can’t identify what you’re doing, that’s going to be too tricky. BUT. Once you establish yourself as one kind of author, there’s so reason not to branch out into other categories, especially if those different threads of your career are distinctive and easily followed.

If you had a MG or YA author who writes a picture book, would you represent them with the book, pass it on to someone else in your company, or tell them they will need to find another agent for that book?

This is something that’s come up quite a bit recently. This month also sees the publication of my client Livia Blackburne’s I DREAM OF POPO illustrated by the incomparable Julia Kuo. It’s a project where I had to learn a lot in order to represent it well, but I loved Livia’s text so much that I knew I couldn’t let it go. My sincerest appreciation goes out to her for trusting me with it, and we’re about to see the fruits of those labors realized. I’m also lucky in that I work with a number of hugely talented agents who can add guidance and support as I learn my way around a new category.

What do you like to see in a submission?

I like my queries tight, clean, and direct. I want to see just enough to make me go on to the sample. The pages are really the deciding factor.

How important is the query letter?

It’s really important, but also? I think its importance gets a bit overstated. Ultimately, you need something that compels the reader on to the sample. That doesn’t take a lot of tricks or gimmicks. The more your query is tight, professional, and straight-forward, the more likely it is to convey me on to the pages.

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for anyone who takes the time to personalize their query. If they can point to something on my list that makes them feel like I could be a match, I know that they’ve put real thought into choosing me, and that makes it harder to say no.

Do you let people know when you are not interested in their submission?

I do. My policy is to respond to every submission. I won’t pretend that things never go astray. Sometimes that’s a spam filter interfering. Other times, it’s entirely my fault. But the goal is always a 100% response rate.

How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?

Typically, unless it’s a vacation or holiday, I will respond to queries in under a week and manuscripts within four weeks. However, you catch me at a time where I’m running slower than usual, so I ask for up to eight weeks for the moments like these when things get a bit backlogged.



In the subject line, please write “JANUARY 2021 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2021 January  – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED! Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page.

Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: January 22nd. – noon EST

RESULTS: January 29th.

Talk tomorrow,




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