An Interview with Literary Agent Sean McCarthy, by Joy Ogbonnaya

As we continue to ramp up our excitement for “Submission Shine,” our upcoming online critique intensive, we’re having a blast inviting our outstanding faculty members to chat with us. Submission Shine is an opportunity to receive critiques for multiple submission-ready picture book manuscripts, novel chapters, or portfolio pieces with one of five participating literary agents. The event will be happening January 19-21, 2023. To learn more and to register, go to Registration closes November 30!

Today we have Eastern PA SCBWI’s Equity and Inclusion team member Joy Ogbonnaya in a chat with literary agent Sean McCarthy of Sean McCarthy Literary Agency in our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say:

An Interview with Literary Agent Sean McCarthy, by Joy Ogbonnaya

Joy: Hi, Sean! Thanks for joining me at the EasternPennPoints Virtual Café. How are you feeling today and how are you enjoying the fall weather? 

Sean: Thanks so much, Joy! This is one of my favorite times of the year (I tend to wilt in hot weather), though I was hoping that my New York Mets would make a deeper run into October (though I am now gritting my teeth and rooting for the Phillies, as my wife is a fan).

Joy: Yes! Let’s Go Phillies!! *Laughs*

Joy: From reading your bio, it seems that you are mostly drawn to character. Can you give some examples of unforgettable characters that pulled you in right away? How does having a niche help you as a literary agent in selling a creator’s work?

Sean: I’ve now been working in publishing for 15+ years, and one of the few constants has been the demand for character-driven work. It will always help your work stand out, because even if someone else has a similar concept/premise, no one will ever have your specific character. Some of my recent favorite client character-driven books are Peanut Gets Fed Up by Dana Wulfekotte; the Unicorn and Yeti early reader series by Heather Ayris Burnell and Hazel Quintanilla; and the Cookie & Broccoli early reader graphic novel series by Bob McMahon. One big hint that they are all character-driven is the character’s name is in the title!  

Joy: When you think about signing on a creator, do you usually focus and decide based on the material they are pitching or are you more likely to request to see more of their work before deciding? And why?

Sean: For me, the work itself is the most important thing, so I always want to see manuscripts or dummies that are as strong (if not stronger!) than what is pitched to me. I also like to work with creators that are prolific and are comfortable working on different projects at the same time (since this is an industry where we often face rejection and have to move on from projects, even those that we loved and spent many hours working on). This is especially true for text-only picture book authors, since the trade market is so tight at the moment, and I want to make sure that we have multiple opportunities to place your work with the right editor. 

Joy: What are you most looking forward to with the Submission Shine critique sessions, and how can participants best prepare for their sessions with you?

Sean: I truthfully enjoy all the time that I get to be with writers! Sometimes publishing feels like a solitary endeavor (most of my days are spent in front of the computer reading and responding to emails, redlining contracts, or on the rare super fun days, giving feedback to clients), so the chance to connect directly with writers will be a blast. I’m also looking forward to getting the chance to see different projects (which isn’t something I usually get to do with critique sessions). I’ve found that the best critique sessions are when writers bring in a project that they know needs work and are open to different revision possibilities. 

Joy: Thanks for spending this time with me. Any last words from you?

Sean: Thanks so much, Joy! I’m so excited for the event and cannot wait to do a deep dive into everyone’s work and really explore the depths of their writing! And (sigh) Let’s Go Phillies! 

Joy: *Laughs* Whoop Whoop! Let’s Go Phillies!!! 

Sean McCarthy founded his own full-service literary agency in 2013 after working at Overlook Press and Sheldon Fogelman Agency. His clients include Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner Hyewon Yum, Mark Fearing, Dana Wulfekotte, Heather Ayris Burnell, Bob McMahon, Margaret Chiu Greanias, and Junghwa Park, among others. 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 character-driven stories or smartly paced mysteries and 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 message-driven writing or query letters that pose too many questions.

Submission Shine Critique Intensive

Whether you have multiple submission-ready picture book manuscripts, write across age categories, have a variety of illustration pieces and illustrated works, or a combination of all of the above, Submission Shine is an opportunity to talk with one agent about four submission-ready works and your writing/illustrating career as a whole.

Registration includes 

  • Four 20-minute Zoom critiques with one faculty member of your choice
  • One additional 20-minute Zoom meeting with your same faculty member to be used as either a career consultation or an opportunity to pitch additional work
  • Five peer cohort critique group meetings
  • Access to the webinar “Take Charge of Your Writerly Adventure” with Christine Carron

For more information and to register, go to

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