Here are my current Giveaway Contests

April Showers Giveaway Hop through April 20th

These Feathered Flames through April 24th

Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews and Guest Posts w/ Debut Authors & Query Critique Giveaways

Agent Peter Knapp and Author Daniel Aleman Guest Post and Query Critique and Indivisible Giveaway on 5/5/2021

Tina Dubois Query Critique and How to Save a Queendom Giveaway on 5/10/2021

Joyce Sweeney Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/14/2021

Michelle Hauck Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 5/19/2021

Agent Maura Kye-Cassella and Author Sam Subity Guest Post and Query Critique and The Last Shadow Warrior Giveaway on 5/24/2021

Agent Janna Bonisowksi and Author Casie Bazey Guest Post and Query Critique and Not Our Summer Giveaway on 6/2/2021

Katherine Wessbecher Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/7/2021

Allison Hellegers Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/26/2021

Agent Chloe Seager and Author Brianna Bourne Guest Post with query critique and You and Me at the End of the World Giveaway on 9/20/21

Agent Spotlight Updates

All agent spotlights and interviews have been updated as of 7/15/2020, and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for them to be fully updated again in 2023.


Today I’m thrilled to have agent Mary Cummings here. She is a literary agent at Betsy AmsterLiterary Enterprises.

Hi­ Mary! Thanks so much for joining us.

About Mary:

1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent. At the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, I was education director, where for seven years I curated an annual festival of children’s literature and hired many of the top editors in the children’s book world to serve as jurors for the McKnight Award in Children’s Literature.

Betsy sometimes offered workshops at the Loft in writing memoir and other nonfiction. I liked her

pragmatism, her humor and ethics and when I left the Loft in 2008, it was a great move to join her to represent projects for kids and teens at the agency.

I have particular love for picture books and for middle grade novels, though I also represent young adult novels, middle grade nonfiction, chapter books and sometimes board books.

About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Some agents sign projects then “keep them in a drawer” for a few months (or more). I don’t do that. If I take on a project, I want to get going pitching. I only take on manuscripts that I love and have passion for getting out into the world as books and into the hands of kids. I also focus on picture books. As a result, I take more risks than many other agents, particularly with new authors or different kinds of stories that may not be of the tried and true varieties.

I loop Betsy in when there is an offer from a publisher. She negotiates publisher contracts and communicates with authors when payments come into the agency, sending an email noting that “we’ve received $X from X publisher; less the agency’s 15% commission, you’ll be receiving a check for the balance of X.”

What She’s Looking For:

Please see

3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I do the full age range, but focus particularly on picture books and middle grade. It’s hard to generalize because I’m often surprised by what delights and engages me – and, as the saying goes, “it’s all in the writing.”

4. Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

Lyrical picture books with lots of heart. Stories that help kids see ways to be better human beings. Stories that “open up the world” for kids. Contemporary middle-grade, including books with magical realist elements, with a confident loner protagonist.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

Work for adults, including work with a protagonist beyond high school age. Vampires, zombies, gore, etc. are not for me nor are most unicorn “glitter” types in picture books. Rhyme for picture books is tricky (see related article). More detail on what I’m looking for and not looking for on that website.

Agent Philosophy:

6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

Nurturing writers, seeing their development, is really rewarding for me. Sharing in their joy when their manuscript is accepted for publication, and when the book comes off the press, is a big reason why I do this work. As to the books I want to represent: books that I can feel proud of having been a part of getting out and into the hands of kids. That ranges from lyrical picture books with lots of heart to hilarious, wild humor to contemporary novels with magical realist elements.

Editorial Agent:

7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors? 

Yes. I want writers to have their manuscripts in the best possible shape before querying, but usually there are things I will see to strengthen the story. In a board or picture book, that may be a single line or word because the picture book as a form is so spare and “naked” that everything needs to be vivid and strong and balanced. I may have thoughts about expanding or about cutting, too. For longer works – chapter books, novels and nonfiction middle grade – I’ll typically work with the author on “big picture” reactions about the overall qualities of the manuscript, as well as on things like the opening and closing, making characters more vivid, and avoiding flat or clichéd language. Sometimes the author does a single revision for me but more often several before I feel it is in shape to be submitted to editors. I’ll often come up with a different title, too – which could be changed again during the publication process.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

Contact me at: For picture books, please embed the full text. For longer works, embed the first three pages. If you are both author and illustrator, provide a link to your portfolio. In your query, include a bit about your project, note if you have other manuscripts available, and list some bio info as well as experience with kids, plus writing or other experience. NO ATTACHMENTS! They will be deleted without being read.

9. Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

It’s discouraging when people send attachments because, per agency policy, they are deleted without being read. So, you may have an absolutely wonderful manuscript and we both lose out because I never see it! I dislike when people misspell or write sentences that they clearly haven’t proofread because there are typos or the wording doesn’t make sense. It suggests the individual is sloppy and probably hasn’t done a credible, professional job on the manuscript. I dislike it when people send a query but don’t embed the requested writing (full picture book manuscript or three opening pages of a longer work) because I’ve heard many great pitches and ideas – but it’s the quality and character of the writing that has to carry it out. I also dislike it when people skip the query letter and only provide the manuscript; I want to know something about who wrote the story, the individual’s background, and why I’m being approached.

Response Time:

10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

This varies depending upon my other obligations and activities. It could be a day or two or a month or a bit more.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

11. Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them? 

I don’t represent authors hoping to have a self-published project go on to be republished by a large press. I do represent some authors who have had work published by small presses and want to work with me on a new project to have it published by a larger house.

12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

In some agencies, yes, because of the changes you indicate.


13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

I represent career writers such as George Shannon, Ariel Bernstein and Elizabeth Verdick as well as new writers hoping to publish a first or second book. That mix appeals to me. Among my new authors with forthcoming books are Melissa Martin (THOSE ARE NOT MY UNDERPANTS!, Random House), Rachel Tawil Kenyon (YOU KNOW HOW TO LOVE, Philomel/Penguin), J. Theron Elkins (A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR SANTA, Zondervan/HarperCollins), Ariel Horn (DO NOT GO IN THERE!, Imprint/Macmillan) and the just-published (March 2019) LITTLE THINGS (Peter Pauper Press) by Nick Dyer.

Interviews and Guest Posts:

14. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.

Links and Contact Info:

15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

Contact me at: For picture books, please embed the full text. For longer works, embed the first three pages. If you are both author and illustrator, provide a link to your portfolio. In your query, include a bit about your project, note if you have other manuscripts available, and list some bio info as well as related writing or other experience. NO ATTACHMENTS! They will be deleted without being read.

Additional Advice:

16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

Keep writing. Get help and feedback from a range of people (writers’ groups, classes, contests, etc.). Be willing to revise and revise to polish your ideas and your story and your words. Be patient. Do your research before querying agents. Be professional. Keep hope.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Mary.

­Mary is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follower button if you're not a follower) and leave a comment through April 27th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.


  1. Thank you for this great interview! And thanks to Mary for taking the time to share her thoughts. I would love to have a critique from her. Please enter me in the giveaway. Thanks!

    1. Oh, and I will also mention this on Twitter right now! :)

  2. Mary Cummings was already on my "to query" list, so I appreciate this extra insight into her approach and process.

  3. Thank you so much for this insightful interview!

  4. Yeah. It's unfortunate when people don't read the instructions first. Nice interview.

  5. I always enjoy your interviews. Catgiery at gmail dot com.

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  7. Thank you, this is a great interview!
    I mentioned this contest on Twitter.

  8. Great interview! Thanks so much for sharing! Shared on Twitter. angelecolline at yahoo dot com

  9. Great interview and opportunity! I mentioned it on twitter.

  10. Thanks for this interview! Mentioned on twitter @HeyJali. On my "to be queried" list!

  11. Excellent and informative interview. Thank you! Mentioned on twitter (@SturgellDraws). Email at sturgellillustration(at)

  12. Thanks so much for this great interview, Natalie and Mary! So much good advice and insight into your process, Mary. Really appreciate it! Mentioned on Twitter!

  13. Terrific interview. Full of great information. Thanks for the post. I will pass on the giveaway since I won recently.

  14. Thank you for this interview! I shared on Twitter.

  15. Thanks for sharing so many tips. Great interview!

  16. Wonderful! Thank you both Natalie and Mary. We writers/queryers are so grateful. I've given this a shout out on twitter too.

  17. Great interview and opportunity :0)

  18. Mary sounds like a wonderful agent! I especially like that she takes more risks than many other agents. Thanks for the interview, Natalie. I shared on Twitter @CathyLMurphy

  19. Leaving a comment for Theresa MacGown who could not leave a comment.

  20. Thanks, Natalie, for this informative interview. And thanks, Mary, for letting us learn more about you. Consider me entered into your query critique give-away, with fingers crossed.

  21. Mary sounds like a fabulous editorial agent. Would love a query critique from her! Thanks for doing these contests. Shared on Twitter @CatMallette and on FB account, Catherine Mallette.

  22. Thanks, Natalie and Mary for an informative and helpful post! As a retired third grade teacher, I have a love for excellent children's picture books.

  23. Thank you, Natalie, for this useful interview. Thank you, Mary, for the specificity. I would love to work with such a professional, passionate, and editorial agent.

  24. What a great interview, and thanks, Mary, for being so open!

  25. Thank you Natalie and Mary for such a great informative interview. I would love to have the opportunity for a query critique. I shared on Twitter, @jkrubini too.

  26. Since I'm in the researching and submitting to agents stage, it's always interesting to read how they work and what they prefer. Thanks for the interview, Mary and Natalie.

    Since I'm finishing up a travel memoir, my query is different than for children's books, so I'll wait to win a query critique until later. :-)

  27. It's nice to hear about an agent who still accepts picture books from nonillustrators. So many agents are no longer interested.

    I'm posting a link to this interview on Twitter.

  28. Thank you so much for this post. This has been so helpful. I found it when I was researching Mary Cummings before sending her a query. I just followed and shared it on Twitter and I would love to be entered to win the query critique.

  29. Thanks Mary and Natalie for an inciteful interview..great information for aspiring authors. I would love a critique. Please enter my name and will share on Twitter.

  30. Leaving a comment for Laya Steinberg

  31. Thanks so much Mary and Natalie for this query critique giveaway!

  32. I am betting that even though the policy is for no attachments to be sent that a lot of people do not follow directions. That does stink that they have to be deleted, but I can understand why the policy was put in place.

    Thanks for sharing.

  33. Thank you both for an insightful interview. I'd love the chance at a query critique. I was about to query Ms. Cummings, but maybe I'll see if I can gather her thoughts on my query letter first! (Also I'll share this on Twitter)

  34. Thank you so much for this wonderful interview! I'd love a query critique.

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