Thursday, August 5, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Sean McCarthy

Happy Thursday, everyone! Glad to see you back for another dose of “Interview with an Agent.” Today’s interview features Sean McCarthy of Sheldon Fogelman Agency. See you on the other side.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

SM: I took a circuitous route into agenting. When I graduated from college with an English-Creative Writing degree, I had absolutely no idea how to use it in the real world. So instead I went into non-profit accounting for a couple of years (it seemed to make sense at the time) before realizing that I'd rather be working with books in some capacity. I landed an internship with a small publisher through Craigslist because my supervisor happened to have similar taste in music (not the first time that indie rock has saved my life). When the internship ended, I moved on to the agency where I'm still employed four years later. When I first started at the agency, I had no idea what a literary agency even was, so I've been very fortunate to be able to grow with my position.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

SM: My primary responsibility is to be a tireless advocate on behalf of my clients, and to help them build a long-term career in publishing. That means playing many different roles over the course of a week, whether it's negotiating, pitching, consoling, brainstorming, etc, but always with a larger goal in mind.

These days, publishers expect a project to be near-perfect before it reaches them, so I like to take an active role in revising the work before it's sent out to editors. It's a significant (though exhilarating) commitment to start working with an author in terms of time and energy, so I expect my clients to be completely dedicated to their craft and professional in their approach. And while I might be just a tad biased, I think I have the best clients on the planet.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

SM: On the picture book front, Hyewon Yum's gorgeous THE TWINS' BLANKET will be coming out in Spring 2011 with FSG/Frances Foster, and be sure to also check out Hyewon's THERE ARE NO SCARY WOLVES in October for a unique, surreal take on a young boy's first steps towards independence.

Although I didn't work on the project, I'm very excited for Zachariah O'Hora's debut STOP SNORING, BERNARD! that features a sleep-deprived otter who's unable to find a cozy place to rest.

For older readers, I'm looking forward to Hillary Homzie's THE HOT LIST (March 2011/Aladdin), which is a fun, saucy take on popularity and friendship for the tween audience.

Although I'd be hard-pressed to draw too many similarities between a snoring otter and a spurned suburban teenage girl, I think these projects all share an original voice and a fresh approach to storytelling.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

SM: I work on all genres within children's books, from picture books to middle grade to young adult (and anything in between). I also work with illustrators, although it's gotten much harder to find work if you're not an author-slash-illustrator, unfair as that may be.

I'm probably not the best match for high fantasy or Southern Gothic, but I'm especially drawn to projects that are character-driven and expertly plotted.

KV: Illustrators who aren't writers are tough to take on at the moment, but what about the inverse? Are you interested in writers who aren't illustrators?

SM: Sadly, the inverse is also true. In order to consider a picture-book writer, I'd like to see at least three manuscripts, or work in different genres (e.g. middle grade).

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

SM: I know it's hard to keep up and track queries, but a little personalization in the cover letter will go a long way with me. I'd much rather be addressed as "Dear Sean" than "Dear Agent," and I'd also like to know why you think I'd be a good match for your work. Form query letters tend to get form rejections.

In terms of pet peeves, I'm not a big fan of query letters that pose too many questions about the work (please just tell me what happens).

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

SM: For all juvenile genres, I think the most important aspect of any project is the strength of the lead character. There might be similar stories out there in the market, but your characters are wholly yours, and they'll help to set your work apart.

Generally speaking, I'm drawn to off-beat humor, quirky personalities, and sparse text in picture books; boy-friendly adventure/mysteries in middle-grade (especially if the reader can solve the puzzles along with the characters); and edgy, flawed protagonists w/ dry humor for young adult. I'm also on the lookout for dystopian stories, and I'd love to find a fractured young adult novel that features an athlete w/ a concussion.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

SM: The best way to query me is to mail your submission to my attention. All of our guidelines are located on our website,

Thanks again, Mr. McCarthy, for these responses. Snail-mail-only agents can be great opportunities for querying writers. They tend to receive less queries than their e-mail-only counterparts, and as is the case with Sheldon Fogelman, they often want to see the first three chapters of the manuscript right away.

Good luck to all you queriers. And have a wonderful weekend, all.


Amanda J. said...

Oh, great interview! Thanks to you both for sharing! :)

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Woohoo! Another awesome middle grade and YA agent! Thanks for the interview, Krista. Your agent interview series has helped me immeasurably. And thank you to Sean McCarthy for taking the time to answer these questions.

You'll be hearing from me soon.

Myrna Foster said...

Sean McCarthy sounds great, even if he doesn't represent high fantasy. I'm most excited about the picture book I'm working on this week anyway.

I found it interesting that he wants to see more than one project from picture book writers. There are so many agents who specifically say they only want you to query them about one project (your best) at a time, but sometimes you have more than one that you feel is your best, especially if you write in more than one genre.

Thanks, Krista!

Jemi Fraser said...

Terrific interview - Sean sounds like a terrific agent :)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Awesome! Another one to add to my list, Krista. Thanks to both of you!


LeishaMaw said...

Great interview!

Krista V. said...

Amanda and Katrina, you're welcome!

Myrna, even with Mr. McCarthy, I think I would still just query one picture book at a time. The catch is, even if he loves the one you decide to query, he's probably going to ask to see a few other things before he offers representation.

Ditto, Jemi:)

Amy, always happy to add another agent to your list.

LeishaMaw, thanks!

Justine Dell said...

This interview was helpful!! One day I might seek out an agent for the MG things I'm writing for my daughter! ;-)


Krista V. said...

Justine, I think it's great that you're writing things for your daughter. Best of luck with that.

Sean McCarthy said...

Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments, and glad to hear that the interview was helpful! Hope everyone has as great weekend.

PS - For picture books, I'd like to see 3 manuscripts at once, assuming that they're all under 850 words. And then, if there was a connection to the work, I'd ask to see more :)

Krista V. said...

Sean, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for clearing up our picture-book-querying confusion:)

Erin Edwards said...

These sound like great contests! I'll stay tuned.

Krista V. said...

Sounds good, Erin. See you back here on Tuesday, then.

William said...

Thanks for the informative interview. I appreciate your specific comments about what you want to see in queries. I'm especially glad to see you are looking for boy-friendly adventures as that suits my novel.

Krista V. said...

Good luck with your query, William!

Hillary said...

Krista, what a wonderful interview with Sean. I'm really enjoying your blog. I love how Sean and the folks at Sheldon Fogelman Agency take a long range vision of your career, and look to what you can be in five years, ten years. Not just the now. I feel very grateful that Sean's my agent. Whether you are agented or not, I would recommend surrounding yourself with those who believe in you now and also what you can do and will do in the future. It's so crucial to find a support system of others who believe in you. Krista, I love the community that you are creating with your blog. Happy writing and reading everyone!

Krista V. said...

Hillary, thank you so much for stopping by. I love hearing a client's perspective, since that's what we're all trying to become:)