Mary Cummings represents fiction and poetry for children and teens, from picture books to middle grade and young adult novels, including contemporary and historical, humor, mystery, fantasy, and multi-cultural. (No children’s nonfiction, please.) Cummings served for fourteen years as education director at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where she organized an annual festival of children’s literature and selected judges for the prestigious McKnight Award in Children’s Literature. She represents both career writers and newcomers.
1. What are you looking for in YA submissions right now?
Many teens feel “different,” or try hard (desperately hard) to fit in to avoid feeling different. Who’s the real me? How much difference is okay? These are core and daily preoccupations. Books for teens that allow imaginative exploration and portraits of “difference” are particularly interesting to me. Whether the main character deals with difference that’s physical, or because of some extraordinary ability or circumstance that sets him or her apart, I’m looking for an interesting story – in both ya and mg - about how that difference has its drawbacks and (unexpected) advantages for the character. Especially in mg, I like characters with warmth, charm, accessibility, poignancy, humor, and grit, who grow and change in interesting ways along the story’s journey. I typically like an element of fantasy woven into the familiar world, but have delighted in a great range of work by my clients, from realistic fiction to high fantasy.
2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?
Immediate turn-offs: a) attachments (don’t send!) b) impersonal, mass-mailed queries (“hello”) c) sloppiness and lack of professionalism (takes various forms, including such spelling and address errors as “Dear Betty” or “Ms. Cumming” or “I’ve decided to turn my hand to writing for children” or “Dear Publisher”) d) queries lacking sample writing, per our guidelines e) creepy sender email names f) stories with cliché elements (kid waking up to mom’s call, protagonist in first paragraph being assaulted and cursing, reader alerted to appearance of protagonist as she glances into a mirror, the crush with mysterious green eyes, etc.).
3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?
Let me first say what the story should not have. Vampires and zombies: I’ll take a pass. Overtly religious content: not a fit for me. Dark themes, abuse: probably not. Moody romances that overshadow the multiple relationships in a teen’s life: no. The story needs to have consistency, flow, momentum, engaging voice. I’ve seen manuscripts start out wonderfully, with amazing characters – but the author can’t sustain the “lives” of these characters and shifts too often to subthemes or new characters, or doesn’t find solid footing as either mg or ya. I respond to a great range of work, so it’s hard to be specific, but my breathing changes and I have a “Wow. WOW” feeling that I always pay attention to.
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