Today, we have Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management on the blog. Thanks, Jim, for being here!
Amy: How did you become an agent?
Jim: Knowing how hard people fight to get into this business, I feel a little bad about this answer. I really tripped into this profession. The summer after my freshman year of college, I was broke and needed a new job. I sent out about 40 resumes. Stacey Glick of DGLM was the first person to call me back. I interviewed the next day and had the job the day after that. When I first came in, I didn’t even know what a literary agent was. I just thought, “I like books!” So for the next three years, I worked here on and off, and when I graduated from school, a position had just opened up. Fifteen years later, here I am!
Amy: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?
Jim: The wonderful thing about becoming successful as an agent is that people know your name and associate you with some of the wonderful projects you’ve had the chance to work on. The only downside to that is that sometimes you can get a little pigeonholed. I think people associate me with very commercial, very otherworldly fiction—paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi… And in truth, I always am and always will be looking in those categories. I will always want to find my next Richelle Mead, Victoria Laurie, Michelle Rowen, Mark Henry, Alyssa Day… But I’d also love to see more literary fiction, adult fiction, middle grade, and realistic fiction. I’m also very open to nonfiction, including in the YA realm, which I know a lot of people don’t think of very often. People can look to clients of mine like Geoff Herbach, Ramsey Hootman, or Gae Polisner for a broader sense of what I might like to find.
Amy: Jim, I know that you represent Richelle Mead, who recently had the first book in her Vampire Academy series made into a movie. What was it like to see a book that you had worked on take that journey?
Jim: This was the first project of mine to actually hit the big screen, and it was a crazy process. There were a lot of ups and downs along the road to release, but at the end of the day, I’m thrilled that it happened. The movie may not have been the success we hoped it would be, but it helped sell a whole bunch of books and expose new readers to a series that I adore and am exceedingly proud of. Also, I was able to visit the set with Richelle and Erin Berger from Penguin. Besides them being the best travel buddies a person could ask for, stepping onto the set and seeing this world that I had worked with so much over seven years suddenly created was inexplicable and a total joy. There may have been a tear. MAYBE.
Amy: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?
Jim: This is probably the single most important aspect of fiction writing to me, and yet it’s the very hardest to teach. A lot of submissions come through that are solid and display total aptitude but lack that extra something needed to stand out. It’s a question of making sure that you’re not just dictating a series of events but really bringing them to life. Take a look at Stephanie Perkins’ novels. Anna and the French Kiss is exceptional because the voice is so utterly perfect—this glorious mix of nerves and exuberance, introspection and curiosity. More than anything else, I just wanted to spend more time with Anna because I was so charmed. Or on the complete other side, look at someone like Toby Barlow who managed to pull off brilliance in a literary adult novel about werewolves written in verse. In verse! His third-person narration crackles with suspense and anguish. The writing alone is a master class in mood, tone, character development… And it’s IN VERSE. I finally read that book a year ago, and I still can’t get over it.
Amy: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Jim: I’m always open to submissions, and I encourage anyone to query me. I read all of my own slush and try to respond within a week (barring spam filter screw-ups, vacations, or sudden onslaughts). Happily, DGLM is a collaborative agency, so there’s also a lot of passing material back and forth. Most of us have been here so long that we know each other’s taste well enough to guide the right projects along where appropriate.
You can follow Jim on Twitter here.
You can find out more about Dystel and Goderich Literary Management here.