Interview with Agent James McGowan

Today is June 13, 2019, and on the Mathiseverywhere blog we have a special guest: one of my wonderful critique partners, James McGowan!

James always has great ideas, is helpful and kind, is so generous with his time, and has a stellar list of up-and-coming authors that we’ll get to see great things from soon!

James McGowan is Literary Assistant and Social Media Manager at BookEnds Literary Agency. He is actively building his list in fiction and non-fiction picture books, YA, and adult literary/upmarket fiction, and mystery/suspense/thriller. I don’t know how he has any time left with all he does, but he’s taking the some today to share his insights on the kidlit world with us!

James McGowan

First of all, what is your favorite thing about the kidlit world?

I’m always thankful I write picture books—the online picture book community is one of the most connected, positive, and supportive literary communities I’ve seen. It’s such a small community, and everyone is connected, friendly and generous with their knowledge, time, and praise.

I totally agree. One of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of. Now of course, to the numbers! If I said, “Numbers in publishing,” what comes to mind?

Numbers are everywhere in publishing. I think I shout into the void at least once a week “I majored in english!!” All jokes aside—math is everywhere in publishing. From advance, royalties, copies sold, marketing, budgets, etc. etc. Numbers are a big part of the industry, and for anyone looking to stake their claim on a small part of it should be comfortable with crunching them once in a while.

Well, looks like you’re doing great, despite majoring in English 😉. What’s it like working at BookEnds? I mean, it looks awesome and hilarious, but tell us more!

You pretty much summed it up. It’s awesome and hilarious. The BookEnds agents are some of the punniest people I know, and being connected to an industry and medium I love all while working alongside them has been great. I’m incredibly thankful to learn from them everyday as I embark on my own agenting journey, and they have guided me every step. It can be challenging to get started as an agent and to really get your feet planted, but they’ve been incredible in helping me gain a foundation of knowledge, and the skills needed to curate a dynamite list of clients. I’m lucky to be a part of that team.

Speaking of, how did you get your job at BookEnds?

The BookEnds Team likes to joke that they couldn’t get rid of me after I interned, and that’s generally true. I clicked with the team (back when it was half the size it is now), and they were gracious enough to continue bringing me back. Now, I’m Assistant, Social Media Manager and Agent at BookEnds and it’s been a thrill to be apart of the agency’s incredible journey.

Can you tell us about your mascot dog at BookEnds? When/why/how did he come to be the mascot, and what’s it like having a mascot?

Buford is Jessica Faust’s family dog, and he spends most of his spare time lounging on the office floor (or fighting for Jessica’s reading chair). He’s pretty great to have around. Who doesn’t want to work with a doggo?

Awww Buford!

I can see these epic chair fights as a great intro to one of the YouTube videos that you and Jessica Faust do. I have always adored those videos—so helpful and funny—can you tell us about their origins? How do you guys prep for them?

Thanks so much! Funny story is: I was dead set against them. I didn’t want to appear on camera and it wasn’t my idea. Then Jessica Faust pressured me to film one, and we’ve just had a blast ever since. We hope they’re refreshing and helpful and we are always, always taking questions or suggestions.

Readers, if you have questions for agents, send them James’ way! James, you’re a query master. Yup, I’m officially giving you that title—we’ll have to meet up for the knighting ceremony—any advice you’d like to share about queries?

Ha! I don’t know that this is true. I don’t have much to add to the query-advice-landscape, but my best line is to read literally any back cover blurb for a novel in your genre (or out of your genre). They need to have enough information to compel you to buy and read. Same goes for your query.

Okay, on to your own writing. Give us the breakdown of your writing style, how do you go about writing your stories?

I have a (generally) three-draft process. My first draft I try to get the beats of the story down: general plot, rising action, climax, solution. My second draft is about polishing that, making it something different and unique and compelling. Then my third draft is about amping the humor, streamlining clunky passages, etc. etc. This does not count the 9 million tweaks of line-editing I do after it.

With picture books especially, it does feel like 9 million edits, doesn’t it? Ok next is something I’ve been dying to know. You love chickens, write about them, have them on your #mswl, where’d that come from? Why chickens?

Hahaha! Well, I went on a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii where there are literally thousands of chickens just roaming around the island. I kind of just got obsessed. They’re glorious lil creatures.

And for the record– I very much am looking for a chicken book. After years of obsessing, I finally came up with my own pb concept, but I want one on my list!!

Kauai chickens

You hear that #amquerying friends? Send your chicken books to James McGowan; he’s a wonderful, hardworking agent. How do you balance everything: work, writing, family?

I really do not know. I am incredibly organized? Slightly obsessive compulsive. I’d credit it to that, I think.

Ha, no wonder we work so well together; I’m super obsessive too! What got you into writing?

I’ve always loved to write, but I never really had the courage to DO it until I listened to the audiobook of BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert. Everything seemed to clink. It’s really one of the most incredible books and I suggest every writer read or listen to it.

Finally, if you got the chance to spend an afternoon with your favorite author, would you rather: go outside and fly a kite or sit by the fire and have tea?

Sit by a fire and have tea.

Thanks everyone for joining us today, and a huge thanks to James for sharing! I hope you all discovered something cool in our discussion. If you did, share in the comments, share the post with friends, and of course, connect with James on social media!
Twitter: @jamerrson & @bookendslit
Instagram: @bookends_literary
Facebook: BookEnds, Literary Agency

31 thoughts on “Interview with Agent James McGowan

  1. Nice interview, Kaitlyn. Thanks for the inspiration, James. I just might have to send you my chicken picture book. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Doooo iiiiiit! James, Cindy is one ofmmy “Murray’s Honorable Mentions” CPs who has AMAZING rhythm and fantastic editing skills, on top of great story ideas of course. Might be a match made in heaven, especially with a chicken story!😍

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I submitted to BookEnds in April. There were so many good agents to choose from, I chose another. But learning how much James loves chickens, I may have to send my chicken story to him if the first agent sends me a rejection. Is this a no from one is a no from everyone agency? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I was the same, I have loved Bookends since I started researching agencies, and I sent to both Tracy and Natascha at different points (this was before James of course). I absolutely adore Golden Wheat, where I found my home, and the thing they have in common is they amaze me daily with their generosity and work ethic. As for subbing, you can definitely sub another agent there if one says no, but they’re pretty good at passing it on if it’s a better fit for someone else in the agency. I’m pretty sure Natascha just tweeted yesterday that she signed TWO people that James passed to her because they were awesome but more her style. I just love that!


  3. What a great post, Kaitlyn! It’s always great to learn more about agents and of course, James sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great interview.
    I also love the YouTube videos, except they kinda make me hungry. 🙂 Alll that food talk in the beginning.

    A chicken story….hmm. I’ll get on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! I always ask that question because I know it would be hard for me to choose, I love playing but also cozy fire and tea. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here ha. So glad you enjoyed it, maybe you and I can go fly a kite someday! Though Kiara at three is already better at it than I am, sooo maybe we’ll bring her along to help me ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great interview! Now that I’ve returned from my 5 day/3 state visit to New England, I found the time to comment.
    Clarifying question: Does James write AND represent PB or only represent YA and up? If it’s the latter, I may finally have the inspiration to dust off that novel and rewrite – revise it. I’m not sure revise is the correct word because it will likely need to be written from scratch to meet my current vision.


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