I’ve been a long-time fan of the YouTube videos with James McGowan, Jessica Faust, and other agents at Bookends Literary Agency and am thrilled to be interviewing James about his career as an agent and a writer. But before we move on to the interview, here’s a brief bio about James and his work.
James McGowan began his career right where he is: at BookEnds. He joined the team as an intern in the summer of 2015, and as the joke goes, they couldn’t get rid of him. He has worked in all departments at the agency and is now a literary agent representing a talented list of award-winning authors and illustrators. James’ list focuses on illustrated projects for young readers (board books, picture books, chapter books, and middle grade) as well as adult nonfiction and mystery/suspense novels.
In addition to being an agent, James is a children’s author. His debut picture book Good Night, Oppy! launched from Astra BFYR in 2021. He is born, raised, and currently living in Staten Island, NY. He is a professional snacker, a huge fan of Jeopardy!, and fluent in sarcasm. To learn more about James, his wishlist, or upcoming client books please visit the BookEnds website or his personal website. To send a query, please use QueryManager. And to find a growing archive of thoughts no one asked for, follow James on Twitter and Instagram.
Dorian: Welcome, James, to The Mixed-Up Files! Can you tell us about your path to becoming a literary agent?
James: This is the most boring story since it was pretty linear. I realized I wanted to work in publishing halfway through undergrad, and hit the ground running on applying to internships. And, like anyone applying to a publishing internship knows, I had very little luck. Except for BookEnds, who scheduled an interview, asked me for a reader’s report, and pretty soon offered me the summer position. I instantly loved the team at BookEnds and we all clicked really well. I interned with them for a second semester, and a few weeks after I graduated college, I asked Jessica Faust if she had any openings. By the end of the month, she brought me on as her assistant. From there, I just climbed the ranks to agency assistant, worked in every department at the agency, and in 2018 I started taking on my own clients. I could not imagine myself working anywhere else.
Dorian: Not boring at all! Please tell us about Bookends and how our readers can access all the agency’s informative videos on YouTube.
James: Sure! BookEnds is a literary agency consisting of nearly a dozen agents and a dedicated support staff. We represent everything in fiction and nonfiction for the youngest to the oldest of readers. Our team is super collaborative and devoted to our work. We also are dedicated to educating and informing authors about the publishing industry. We know that it is sometimes not the most transparent business, so through our Blog and YouTube channel, we hope to arm authors and illustrators with everything they need to know in order to succeed. You can find us at www.bookendsliterary.com and on YouTube!
Jessica Faust and James McGowan having an animated conversation in one of their YouTube videos.
Dorian: What middle-grade books influenced you the most when you were growing up, and what contemporary books do you wish had been available then?
James: Growing up, I read a ton of series. I loved being invested in a long series of books and awaiting the new one every year. I read anything Rick Riordan wrote, of course. I also was a huge fan of Jenny Nimmo’s Charlie Bone series, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I read the Spiderwick Chronicles, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time. I loved Louis Sachar. I was (and continue to be) obsessed with RL Stine.
I’m really excited by the middle-grade books publishing now, though. There is a lot more available to children in all genres, and it’s exciting to see new representation in this age range. I hope this middle-grade boom creates even more lifelong readers.
Dorian: R.L. Stine was an obsession in our house, too. I remember racing to the bookstore after school with my daughter when a new Goosebumps book was coming out. What genres, themes, or subjects are you mostly looking for in manuscripts?
James: In middle grade, two things I’m super excited about right now are middle-grade horror and humor (contemporary or otherwise). Bonus points if you have both! I love stories about a band of friends coming together to accomplish a task; I love sibling stories; I’d love to see a book celebrating cousin relationships; wacky humor at a summer camp or school or afterschool program. Fun set-ups and settings. My door is pretty open! I want to be surprised.
Dorian: Please tell us about your picture book, Good Night, Oppy and if you have any other projects in the works.
James: Yes! OPPY was such a fun project to work on. I’ve always been a lover of space exploration, and the Mars Rovers are the epitome of brilliant human engineering. When the news broke that Oppy’s mission was complete, I just had to write something. Everything came together pretty quickly, and the book launched (ha) in September of 2021. I enjoyed that process so much, I’ve been working on a couple more space projects that I hope I’ll get the opportunity to share with everyone soon.
Dorian: What tips do you have for writers who are in the querying stages?
James: So many tips, but my best one is to keep moving forward. Send new queries out as rejects arrive, research other agents, learn more about the industry, read new books, work on the next thing. Publishing is not an industry for staying still.
For those interested in books and publishing, I highly recommend you check out the blog and videos! Thanks, James, for taking the time out of your busy schedule for the interview!