Interview with Agent Mark McVeigh

Mark McVeigh recently started his own agency called The McVeigh Agency. He and his staff work hands-on with their clients to create the most polished and publishable submissions. Mark has an amazing editorial eye and has worked at almost every major house, most recently as an editorial director at Simon & Schuster. His clients have achieved many prestigious awards in the adult and children’s markets. He is also very generous of his time and helps wherever he is needed throughout many organizations in New York City. 
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?
“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.” 
-William Connor Magee

I find it amazing and wonderful that you donate your time to so many organizations. In helping others, how does this inspire you?
For much of my adult life I was a teacher, and as hard as that job was, my kids learned so much more than I was able to give them. That lesson has stayed with me. I truly believe that what you give out in your life comes back to you ten fold. There’s something totally magical about giving back. Call it karma or something else, but I am a firm believer that if you put yourself out there for others you open yourself to the possibility of good things happening to you.
There are so many great organizations in New York City that I’ve been involved with: The Hetrick-Martin Institute, The Ali Forney Center, Housing Works, and ACE, an organization founded by Henry Buhl that trains homeless men and women so they can rejoin the workforce.
Recently, you started your own agency and it is phenomenal! What encouraged you to begin your own agency and take that leap of faith?
I’ve always been an advocate for my authors and illustrators. As an editor I worked for the publishing house, but my heart was always with the artist. It saddens me that in this society so many artists are underpaid and undervalued. Now that I am an agent, I can support and foster creative people financially and editorially, which is a dream come true.
Two people had a huge influence on me both as an editor and an agent. The first person I met in this business was agent George Nicholson, a truly great figure in publishing and someone I really look up to. Interestingly enough, the second person in the industry I met was Charlotte Sheedy, an agent, like George, at Sterling-Lord Literistic. It was Charlotte who said to me, “Get off your butt and start your own agency!” George and Charlotte fostered me when I was an editor and inspired me to begin this wonderful journey. I can’t thank them enough.
There’s one other person who, through his brilliance and his fearlessness, has shaped me and my perspective on life and work: Maurice Sendak. We worked very closely together for several years at Harper, and his total understanding of the business of publishing combined with his massive talent made going to work every day a joy. There aren’t many geniuses out there, and when you meet one, I think it’s important to tip your hat to them, so to speak.
How do you encourage your clients when they’re having moments of self-doubt?
Author care can take a lot of different forms. One thing I like to do is refer them to Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird and her theory of the “shitty first draft.” I make sure to point out what’s amazing in their work. If they need tough love, I say “Keep writing and finish it!” Once it’s done, together we can shape almost anything and turn it into what it needs to be.
What motivates you most in life?
A lot of things motivate me. My clients. My family. The need to keep good books flowing out into the world. I also have my own personal gauges for success that I keep right up front in my mind, every day. I was a Brooklyn teacher for many years and it’s so wonderful when I run into my students, now grown. As a teacher it has taken years to see the fruits of my labor, whereas in publishing you see results quickly. It’s very motivating to work with clients on this side of the spectrum and see results—a sale– sooner rather than later.
You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most to writers and artists?
Write everyday! Come to an understanding of what motivates you and moves you and keep that thought or object in front of you, figuratively or literally. Read a hundred books for every one you write. And here’s a paradox: write what moves you and keep the market in mind as you do. Virtually impossible to do perfectly, but then how boring is perfection?

What did you want to be growing up?
I didn’t know. When I was younger, I didn’t have a sense of what editor/agents did, but I’ve always loved books. My parents fostered my passion for books and I think a big part of it was that my Mom was a volunteer librarian at the public library. Also, our house was a repository of books from my parents and my four older siblings, a mix of all the books from their childhoods through college years. We had tons of books lying around the house, everything from children’s books to college textbooks. If I wanted to read, I could just pull something off the shelf and read it. Fifth grade was a big year for me. I went on strike and refused to read the standard fifth grade reading textbook, then known as a basal reader, which was made up of single chapters from books. For some reason I refused to read during our reading period: my first act of civil disobedience. I just couldn’t stomach this approach to reading. My teacher finally gave in after a week or two of staring me down and all the other teacher tricks I came to know too well and let me pick my own books—real, complete books—and write a book report for each one. I never had to pick up the textbook again. It was a great victory for me and one I’ve never forgotten!

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Thank you Mark.  I truly enjoyed getting to know you and love your sense of humor, especially in the picture below.  Your passion for life and love for others is inspiring!  
If you would like to find out more about Mark McVeigh and his fabulous agency you can follow the agencies blog here and visit their website, The McVeigh Agency.

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