Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 22, 2021

January Agent of the Month – Jim McCarthy – Interview Part Two

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



Any pet peeves?

I don’t like people being overly familiar. Again, it’s incredibly lovely to reference things I’ve said online or projects I’ve worked on, but we’re not already friends, so try not to be too aggressively friendly.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

The most common mistakes are the small ones—misspelled names or letters addressed to the wrong people. They happen. They won’t ruin you forever, so if you do make that kind of mistake, remember there are other agents out there, and we all make mistakes.

What are your feelings about prologues?

I don’t have especially strong feelings about prologues. They’re hard to get right, and some people use them as an excuse to dump backstory in somewhat clumsy ways. But first chapters are also really hard to write. If your book needs a prologue? Write a prologue.

Do you have a place where you keep writers up-to-date on what you would like to see? Blog?

I’m on Twitter more than I ever mean to be. So even as I try to wean off it, you can likely still find me @jimmccarthy528

Do you give editorial feedback to your clients?

Absolutely. If a book is already sold to an editor, I don’t jump in before it goes to the editor, and I respect the editorial process. But when anything is going on submission, I am absolutely editorially involved and actually find it to be one of the most exciting parts of the hob,

What is your typical response time to email/phone calls with your clients?

Again, I try to respond same day as much as possible or within 24 hours, even if it’s just to say, “I need more time with this. More soon.”

How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during the submission process?

I’m an emailer. I always have been. I will use the phone, yes, but it’s not my most preferred method of communication. During the submission process, I try to let it be client-guided. Any information I have (who has the submission, how long they’ve had it, what responses I’ve gotten), it is the client’s right to know. But some people want to know everything while others want to pretend nothing is happening, so I reach out on a need-to-know basis but ask that my clients reach out to me any time they want more information.

What happens if you don’t sell a book? Would you drop the writer if he or she wanted to self-publish a book you could not place?

I tend to be pretty doggedly determined to make things work. There are definitely times when something doesn’t sell, and a client and I haven’t been able to find a mutually agreeable next project. But more often, we continue to work together and try to sell a next book together.

How many editors would you go to before giving up on a manuscript?

This number is totally different based on age, genre, and category. An adult literary novel could go to dozens of houses and imprints. A category romance can go to maybe ten. So this number is a bit of a moving target,.

Would you ever send a manuscript to another agent at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret if it was good, but not your style?

I can, I do, and I have!

What do you think of digital and audio books? Are they part of every sale these days?

Every deal these days includes ebooks. Increasingly, publishers are trying to hold onto audio rights, though that’s always a matter of negotiation!

Do you see any new trends building in the industry?

I’ve been talking about the resurgence of horror and the paranormal for a while now. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part because I do super want it to happen.

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, secure an agent, and get published?

Try to find an online community to work through some of the hardest parts of the submission process. It can be brutal out there, and the easiest way to stick it out is to find other people who have been through or are going through the same things you are. Also, do your research. There are so many brilliant agents out there, but there are also some bad news bears, so really look into anyone you’re going to be approaching.

Would you like to attend other conferences, workshops writer’s retreats?

I’m open to invitations!


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks for the great information, Kathy!


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