Lit Agent, Jim McCarthy — Wants Horror

By Jeff Rivera Comment

Jim McCarthy is Senior Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, the agency best known for discovering author and now President Barack Obama. In our interview with him he talks about how, despite the economic changes this has been the best year ever and what writers should never do when approaching him.

What’s your official title and why are you the best agent in the universe?
Senior Agent at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. And I don’t think I’d ever say I’m the best agent in the universe. I think I’m the best fit for certain authors. There are folks whose books I connect with intimately and whose needs I understand

What have you done to brace yourself for the economic changes to the industry?
This is going to sound loathsome, but I’m having my best year yet, and I think that’s true of all of my colleagues at DGLM as well. Things are changing in the industry, and houses are being more conservative. Ebooks are changing the industry and marketing/social networking are more important than ever. But in terms of our approach, we’re still keeping our noses to the grindstone, working as hard as possible, and staying as on top of news as we can. In terms of what authors can do, my advice is the same as always: keep your day job. It’s not what anyone wants to hear, but it’s a volatile business. If you’re questioning whether or not you’re ready to support yourself on your writing full time, it’s probably not time. When it is, you’ll know.

What do you think about all these technological changes happening? How have they changed the marketplace?
I’m probably less convinced of there being a significant impact on the market at this point because of ebooks. Right now, they’re still only 4% of the market. Sure, they’re growing fast and as new formats come out, there will likely be a new degree of interaction and multimedia functionality. What I always come back to, though, is that whatever format they take, we’re always going to primarily be in the business of the written word and that there will always be readers, even if there are other mediums competing for attention.

What’s hot now, what are editors looking for? And what type of manuscripts and proposals are you currently looking for that never seem to get?
I always have such trouble with these questions. I want to see whatever it is I’m not seeing. That is to say, I want something fresh and different. Me? I’d love to see a renaissance in great horror fiction, and I’m always a sucker for a great ghost story. Most of all, I want to see people who are writing what they want to write and not trying to fit a perceived market.

What’s the best way for writers to approach you? And what’s one of your pet peeves when writers query you?
E-mail is by far the easiest way to get to me. Two things I hate: when people start their queries, “What if …” It’s a tired gimmick. And when people address me “Dear James.” It’s Jim, anywhere and always.

And finally, what is something about you that very few people know?
I drink two to three liters of Diet Coke a day and am excessively fond of Dolly Parton (those two things are unrelated).