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Agent Spotlight: Sean McCarthy

This week's Agent Spotlight features Sean McCarthy of Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.

Status: Open to submissions.

mccarthypicAbout: “Sean McCarthy began his publishing career as an editorial intern at Overlook Press and then moved over to the Sheldon Fogelman Agency.  He worked as the submissions coordinator and permissions manager before becoming a full-time literary agent.  Sean graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English-Creative Writing, and is grateful that he no longer has to spend his winters in Minnesota.
He is drawn to flawed, multifaceted characters with devastatingly concise writing in YA, and boy-friendly mysteries or adventures in MG. In picture books, he looks more for unforgettable characters, off-beat humor, and especially clever endings. He is not currently interested in high fantasy, message-driven stories, or query letters that pose too many questions.

“You can follow Sean on Twitter for his thoughts on publishing news, the inevitable hipsterfication of Astoria, and the Mets' starting lineup.” (Link)

About the Agency:

“Sean McCarthy Literary Agency is a full service literary agency specializing in children's books of all ages.  It was established in 2013 by Sean McCarthy, and emphasizes a comprehensive approach in assisting clients with their literary careers.  We guide authors and illustrators through all phases of the publishing process, from developing manuscripts to negotiating contracts to managing foreign and subsidiary rights and everything in between.” (Link)

Web Presence:

Sean McCarthy Lit website.

Twitter @McCarthyLit.




What He's Looking For:

Genres / Specialties:

Children’s picture books through young adult, illustrators.

From His Bio (as above):

“He is drawn to flawed, multifaceted characters with devastatingly concise writing in YA, and boy-friendly mysteries or adventures in MG. In picture books, he looks more for unforgettable characters, off-beat humor, and especially clever endings.” (Link)

Via Twitter (09/2013):

“I'd love to see more funny MG or YA, though not necessarily zany or wacky. Humor via character development has a more lasting impact.#MSWL” (Link)

“For YA sci-fi, I love ms that use genre to explore contemporary themes via new perspective. More than just "cool world-building, bro" #MSWL” (Link)

“I'd also love to see a subversive literary detective ms for MG or YA along the lines of Paul Auster meets THE HARDY BOYS. #MSWL” (Link)

Via Twitter (06/2013):

“I'm still looking for a concussion-sports themed YA, or anything that's as passionate about sports as THE ART OF FIELDING #MSWL” (Link)

Middle Grade: I love adventure/mysteries with exceedingly clever word games (think THE WESTING GAME) that lets the reader play along. #MSWL” (Link)

From an Interview (08/2010):

“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.

“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.” (Link)

What He Isn't Looking For:

“He is not currently interested in high fantasy, message-driven stories, [Southern Gothic], or query letters that pose too many questions.” (Link, Link)

Editorial Agent?

“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.” (Link)


There is a page of recent titles on the agency website.

Mr. McCarthy’s clients include: Mark Fearing, Hillary Homzie, Zachariah O’Hora, Jamie Swenson, Hyewon Yum, among others.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (only).

Snail-Mail: No.

Online-Form: No.

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

“Please include a brief description of your book, your biography, and any literary or relevant professional credits in your query letter.

“If you are a novelist: Please submit the first three chapters of your manuscript (or roughly 25 pages) and a one page synopsis in the body of the email or as a Word or PDF attachment.

“If you are a picture book author: Please submit the complete text of your manuscript.  We are not currently accepting picture book manuscripts over 1,000 words.

“If you are an illustrator: Please attach up to 3 JPEGs or PDFs of your work, along with a link to your website.”

See the Sean McCarthy Literary Agency website for complete, up-to-date submissions guidelines.

Query Tips:

“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. (Link)

“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).” (Link)

“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.” (Link)

#QueryTip If you send illustrations with your pb text, I assume that's the only way you see it. The art has to be professional if included.” (Link)

Response Times:

The agency’s stated response time is four weeks.

Stats on the web are limited but show Mr. McCarthy responding to most queries within 1-6 weeks and requested material within 1-3 months.

What's the Buzz?

Sean McCarthy founded the Sean McCarthy Literary Agency in November of 2013 after seven years with the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. The agency specializes in all genres and age ranges of children’s literature.

Worth Your Time:


Interview with an Agent: Sean McCarthy at Mother. Write. (Repeat.) (08/2010).

Around the Web:

Agency not yet listed at P&E or AbsoluteWrite.

Sean McCarthy, Assistant Agent at Kathleen Temean’s site (04/2009).

Agent Chat with Sean McCarthy (notes) at Writing for Kids While Raising Them (12/2008).


Please see the Sean McCarthy Literary Agency website for contact and query information.

Profile Details:

Last updated: 11/8/13.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 11/11/13.


Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's and/or teen fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.


  1. Detailed and wonderful as usual! Thank you. Adding Sean to my list...for when I'm query ready.

  2. Another great spotlight!! Thanks!

  3. Thanks for another awesome agent spotlight. It's awesome that Sean accepts picture book authors for those who write picture books. Too bad he doesn't like high fantasy.

  4. Thank you for spotlighting Sean McCarthy. Your agent spotlights are so helpful in building a prospective list.

  5. Wonderful. Another agent to add to my query list. This is always my first place to go when researching my next round of queries. Thanks for all the hard work.

  6. I remember querying this agency. They are great for kidlit!

  7. Wow, this is a great resource for children's book authors. Nice detailed interview. Glad to know you're here!

  8. Another one for the query pile! Sounds right for my YA Comedy. Thanks so much for this!

  9. Thanks so much for the spotlight feature! There's information here that I've forgotten about myself. Well done!

  10. Thank you so much, everyone! You're welcome, Sean. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  11. I just met Sean at the NJ-SCBWI conference. I had a critique with him and found him whip smart, very friendly and encouraging. I may query him once I have more manuscripts ready.

  12. Thanks so much for this post. I enjoy learning about agents and what they are looking for.

  13. Just wanted to share the Absolute Write thread link for Mr. McCarthy's new agency: