Literay Agent Interview & Giveaway with Mary Cummings

We are thrilled to be hosting literary agent Mary Cummings of Betsy Amster Lit on our blog this month. Scroll down for Mary's interview and your chance to win a "skip the slush pile" query pass.


Hi, Mary! Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us about how you got into agenting and your favorite part about being an agent?

For many years I was education director at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. In addition to heading up programs of classes for adults and kids, I was in charge of the annual McKnight Award in Children’s Literature, choosing judges from top editors in the field. I also curated an annual festival of children’s literature, with presenters including editors, agents, art directors, authors and illustrators. Those experiences and relationships were the foundation for my joining Betsy Amster’s agency.

As to my favorite part of being an agent, it’s finding highly promising manuscripts and suggesting changes to make the work richer and deeper – then opening up doors that authors and illustrators can’t open on their own, to get the project out as a book and into the hands of thousands of kids.

What specific projects are you currently interested in and what themes are you tired of seeing?

I encourage writers and author/illustrators interested in submitting to me to review my website ( as well as the agency’s website, to read articles I’ve written, to see books I’ve agented and to review my wishlist and submission guidelines. Love themes are of great interest to me, whether as picture books or novels (board books only if series). So, Happy Valentine’s Day and send me your love books!

The misfit-whose-difference-is-really-an-asset is a theme I’m tired of seeing. Short stories pitched as being picture book texts. Novels with cliché themes and openings. Meta-narratives are too abundant in my inbox and are generally difficult to sell.

What do you look for most in a client?

Someone with an engaging, distinctive, splendid manuscript! Beyond that, professionalism.

How many polished manuscripts do you prefer an author to have ready if they query you?

No set number. If I’m told there are 13 more waiting to be seen, I’m likely to be skeptical that they are of top quality – and I’m likely to think this is an impatient person. I do like to have a holistic sense of the writing interests of my clients so I’d like to know about past publications and current projects.

If an author signs with you, what can they expect to happen next? In other words, can you tell us a little about your agenting process or give us a peek behind the wizard's curtain?

Some agents acquire new projects and may wait several months before pitching to editors. I don’t do that. I turn down hundreds of manuscripts for every one that I want, and once I take it on, I’m excited to get going and get that manuscript out to editors.

Would you consider yourself a highly editorial agent?

Yes. Sometimes a manuscript needs only tiny tweaks but more often I’ll suggest substantive changes to the author involving cuts, new sections, perhaps a new title, etc.

Are you a career agent or do you work book by book?

With new writers, I almost always work on a single book basis but sometimes will rep two projects at the same time.

What happens if you don't like a manuscript that a client is in love with?

Because I work on a single project basis, this isn’t an issue. But writers should know that the agent needs to be the one to decide if a manuscript is ready to submit and is suited to the marketplace.

Outside of the books you've represented, what are some of your favorite books?

Wow. Some recent titles: THE SHORTEST DAY (Susan Cooper, illus. Carson Ellis) THE SCARECROW (Beth Ferry, illus. The Fan Brothers) YOU ARE HOME (Evan Turk) JOURNEY OF THE PALE BEAR (Susan Fletcher) THE WILD ROBOT (Peter Brown). As for older books: GOODNIGHT MOON is one of the very greatest. I also love ON THE DAY YOU WERE BORN (Debra Frasier), BLESS US ALL (Cynthia Rylant), THE CHICKEN PROBLEM (Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson) and SO many other picture books. Some novels I’ve adored for years: GOING THROUGH THE GATE (Janet S. Anderson) and WIND RIDER (Susan Williams). So many more!

What's your biggest advice for querying authors out there?

Be ready. Don’t submit until your work is as polished and wonderful and dazzling as it can be. Patience is tough, but you must have it.

More about Mary:

Mary represents fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry for children and teens, from picture books to middle grade and young adult novels. She has a broad range of interests (see wishlist on but is particularly seeking picture books with love themes (love for parent, for another, for the world in general) and middle grade novels set in the real world of present day or near past. In ya novels she’s looking for a strong, but not romantic, bond between main characters. In literary nonfiction, her areas of interest include lyrically written science, arts, nature, mindfulness, and social awareness issues. “I’ve sold to a broad range of publishing houses, including, among others: HarperCollins; Feiwel and Friends; Little, Brown; Abrams; Knopf; Henry Holt; Imprint; Holiday House; Farrar, Straus Children’s; Running Press Kids; Peter Pauper Press; WorthyKids; David Godine; Philomel; Viking; Random House Children’s; Walker; and Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster.” Learn more about her: and

**GIVEAWAY** Enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win a "skip the slush pile" query pass for Mary Cummings. The winner will be drawn randomly and notified via email once the Rafflecopter has closed. Please note: entrants should familiarize themselves with Mary's wishlist (above) and have a submission ready manuscript before entering. Good luck!

Link to enter:


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