Mary Cummings
Agent for Kids Books

Tweaking the middle-grade novel


Different agents have different outlooks and different ways of working with clients. I only take on projects that I really am excited about, and that are in very good shape. I use my experience and insight to work with authors to open up other possibilities for manuscripts to be even better.

I take an editorial approach, but exactly what that looks like depends upon the client’s needs and the particular manuscript. Sometimes a manuscript is too long and I’ll suggest areas to cut. Sometimes the chapter endings need to be sharpened. Sometimes there are fuzzy passages or unclear transitions. Or other issues.

Here’s what author Hannah Voskuil had to say on how we worked together before submitting her engaging, suspenseful novel manuscript to editors:

"Mary suggested edits to my middle grade novel that proved extremely valuable. One useful change she proposed was to make the Horus character, whom I originally had written as an adult, a child character. It wasn’t a difficult change to implement, but it solved numerous problems. I wished I’d thought of it! She also offered insights into how to maintain momentum throughout the story: punching up the chapter endings, focusing less on minor characters that didn’t forward the plot, and building out others that did. The robot character WindUp, and by extension WindUp’s owner Peter, became more fully imagined under Mary’s guidance. I also really struggled with finding a good title, and I credit Mary with developing a memorable one. "

Here’s the note from Melanie Nolan at Knopf, which arrived with their offer notice:

"HORUS ticked all the best boxes for us when it comes to charming, affable middle grade. Peter and Tunie are such likable characters—earnest and relatable, with demons of their own to chase, and the set up in the museum, the curse, the mummy, and the kidnapping all add up to a suspenseful, accessible young mystery. We were smitten! Though we both feel the story would benefit from some revisions—chiefly, developing some of the plot strands, and setting up the mummy and the curse in a more careful way—the essentials are all here, and we'd be delighted to make an offer to publish the novel here at Knopf, with Allison to edit upon her return in January."

Used with client and publisher permission


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