Agent Spotlight: Mary Cummings

 


Nov. 20, 2020

We are excited to feature agent Mary Cummings, with Betsy Amster Literary, who represents picture books, middle grade, and young adult. Read about her wishlist and enter to win a Golden Query Pass using the Rafflecopter widget below (a Golden Query Pass puts your query at the top of her reading list).


Tell us about your background and how you came to agenting.

For many years I was Education Director at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. At the Loft I curated an annual festival of children's literature, with many publishing professionals serving as speakers and master teachers. I also selected judges from among the top children's book editors in the country for the McKnight Award in Children's Literature. These contacts formed the foundation of my editorial relationships when I joined Betsy Amster's agency to represent kidlit. (I had hired Betsy on numerous occasions to teach workshops at the Loft). 

 

What types of books are you looking for these days?


My website, cummingskidlit.com, supplements the agency website, amsterlit.com and has a wishlist plus submission guidelines. In a nutshell, I tend to favor books with a sense of warmth and optimism. I'm especially seeking fiction about friendships and family relationships, and lyrical nonfiction about the natural world and science. I love the mountains and the Western landscape and would love to rep a book with that setting. I've sold several #OwnVoices projects and am seeking more, to broaden the visions and stories available to young readers. Picture books and middle-grade novels tend to be what I'm most drawn to for representation. 

 

How would you describe your agenting style?


I'm an editorial agent. I like to work with both emerging and established writers and author/illustrators to help them polish their work to make it vibrant and exciting and marketable. 


What are some common mistakes you see in queries and sample pages?  

 

Common mistakes include blanket queries ("Dear Agent" or "Hello"), incorrect spelling ("Betty Amster," "Mary Cummins") and poor punctuation in both the query and the manuscript (this is an instant decline for me). Sometimes the query and sample pages arrive in 6 or 8 point type, making it more than a little difficult to read - which tends to hasten the project into my trash bin. Sample pages sometimes include an over-long prologue to a novel. It's not always evident in the first page or two what kind of book this is or what's at stake for the characters, and that's a big problem. Even if these things aren't fully revealed, the reader needs some strong hints through both voice and plot elements. 

 

What excites you most about a manuscript?


As to what excites me most in a manuscript, to add to what I've already mentioned, I would have to say the voice. The overall tone of the story, and the sensibility shining through that creates and captures characters in a world, has to strike a chord in me. 

 

What is something most people don't know about you? 


I'm wild about opera. 

 

What's the best way to query you?


Please follow submission guidelines on cummingskidlit.com when querying me. Be sure to avoid sending attachments, as your query will be deleted without being read. I always like a bit of bio info, including information on any experience you have with kids or teens, your writing background, occupation, where you live, platform data, etc. 

 


Mary Cummings joined Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises in 2008 to represent books for kids and teens. Among her sales are board and picture books, chapter books and novels by such authors as George Shannon, Elizabeth Verdick, John Elkins, Loretta Ellsworth, Ariel Bernstein, Angela Dalton, Hannah Voskuil, Joy Keller, Dawn Young and others to such houses as Abrams; Knopf; Henry Holt; Imprint; FSG; Feiwel & Friends; Philomel; Viking; Random House; L,B; HarperCollins; Walker; Wiseman S &S and Candlewick, among others. 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. This is so helpful!! Thank you so much:) Also, I loved the response: “I’m wild about opera”

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  2. Great interview!

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  3. Great interview!!! It really caught my attention. I went to Mary's website and love all the things she represents.

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  4. Mary is one of my "dream agents" :)

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  5. Great interview! It's such a help to us querying writers to read about agents and what they're looking for!

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  6. I like the details on what makes Mary reject a MS right away. Good to know.

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  7. Great tips for a successful query! I love Mary's wishlist, which puts her at the top of my list!

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  8. Great tips! I've got something perfect for Mary's mswl. Will definitely query her!

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  9. Lots of great information here. Thank you!

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  10. This was so helpful! Now I must revisit my funny opera picture book manuscript! Mary sounds like a delightful agent.

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  11. Wonderful. Thanks for letting us get to know Mary!

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  12. Great interview. I enjoyed getting to know Mary a little bit better.

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  13. Thank you for this information interview! Yipes about the letters in 6 or 8 point type! I think this is one of the errors folks can avoid by taking a look at a printed draft of something that is going to be experienced in print form.

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  15. A wonderful interview. I loved hearing specifics about what you are looking for.

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  16. Thank you for this post! I’m a big fan of the Loft here in Mpls. :)

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  17. I love reading agent interviews. It really helps when submitting.

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  18. Reading about Mary always makes me want to submit to her.

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  19. Thanks for this helpful interview! I'm definitely working to be sure my MC's voice and struggle is evident in the first few pages.

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  20. Thank you for sharing your insights.

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  21. I plan to submit to Mary Cummings soon! Thank you for sharing this interview with us!

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  22. It's been a few wks since I got over to this site & wow, I love the new look! Way to keep it fresh & easy to navigate, KidLit411! And I don't blame any agent or publisher for not continuing to read a story or query letter if there are misspellings & obvious grammar errors! Spellcheck was created for a reason. Thanks for the interview! (And I hope I didn't misspell anything in this post, LOL!)

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  23. Thanks for sharing this fabulous interview!

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  24. Great interview! Thank you for the wonderful insight.

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  25. Great interview and thanks for the valuable information.

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  26. Great interview, thank you so much for sharing your insight, Mary!

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  27. Thank you Mary for sharing. I especially enjoy hearing about agent/editor's background.

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  28. Mary comes across as a very friendly and understanding person - two absolute pluses for an agent!

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  29. Thanks for your interview Mary Cummings with Kidlit 411.
    I look forward to submitting my work.
    Couplets and quartrains with lyrical notes, oh my!

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  30. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview,
    I always sweat over the answer to "What does this agent want in my query?" These interviews give me a hint!

    Also, I know what you mean about the mountains in the Western landscape. I'm from there, and it's pretty enough to house fairies!
    In fact, I have a tall tale written in that setting. Maybe it's time for me to pull it out, dust it off, and see if I can polish it up.

    Thanks again!

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  31. Thank you for providing great insight!

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  32. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your expertise. I love that you help other writers.

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  33. Great interview, Mary Cummings. Your list of desired topics is wide enough for any writer. I'm eager to submit to you. Since I've never been out West I can't give you mountains, but I live in Michigan, and I can give you the Great Lakes and lots of sand dunes to climb and many types of trees and flowers.

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  34. I’m always glad to hear that agents enjoy taking on an editorial role, thanks!

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  35. Would you be interested in an early middle grade GN in a western landscape? I’m still working on revisions, but I’m keeping a list of agents to query when I’m ready.

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  36. What great insight into common mistakes! I’m excited for you this rafflecopter opportunity !

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  37. Thanks for highlighting Mary Cummings. A great opportunity that I couldn't pass up.

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  38. Wow, I’d love to win a leap to the top of this agent’s pile. So many parts of Mary Cummings’ bio made me say yes, yes, yes, she’d be an awesome agent for my mss.

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  39. Great interview. And such cute books.

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  40. Thank you for the interview and the opportunity! I appreciate learning more about the business side of writing for publication.

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  41. Thank you for this opportunity, and I love Ms. Cummings' MN roots. The class I took at the Loft when I lived in Minneapolis years ago was so valuable--such an amazing place!

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  42. Opera ~ who would have guessed? Great interview, thank you!

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  43. Wonderful interview. Thank you, Mary!

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  44. Opera! My favorite part! Thank you both for a great interview!

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  45. This was a great interview and gave me some insight!

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  46. Great interview, Mary. Thank you for sharing.

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  47. This article offers great insights. I have been considering querying Mary and would love to win a Golden Query Pass. How exciting!

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  48. Thank Mary for the great insight into writing that interests you.

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  49. Thank you for this post! It's always nice to get to know an agent a little more personally as well as what you're looking for in a query.

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  50. Thank you for the informative interview. I am querying a picture book about opera that I hope you enjoy.

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  51. Thanks you for the tips. I write lyrical nonfiction and look forward to checking out your website

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  52. *Googles famous opera singers to pitch PB bio* lol

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  53. Thank you for a great interview. It's always interesting to hear what is on an agent's current wishlist :)

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  54. Thanks so much for the information. Great interview!

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  55. I'm glad you're drawn to books with a sense of warmth and optimism. They make the world a happier place.

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  56. Thanks, Mary! Books holding warmth and optimism are some of my favorites!

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  57. Wonderful interview! Thank you so much for sharing!

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