Agatha Cummings opens new world for city kids
When Maple Street resident Agatha Cummings reentered the workforce seven years ago — newly divorced and with her two children finally on their own — she turned to the field she knew best; publishing.
With a doctor’s degree in creative writing, several published short stories to her credit, and previous work experience as a textbook editor, she landed a job as an apprentice agent at Durant’s Jennifer Patrick’s literary agency.
“I thought the agent’s job would be a good way to stay in the publishing field and earn a decent living”, Cummings, 47 recalls.
Boy was she wrong.
“I was a horrible agent,” she says. “I have never failed so completely at anything. Despite trying very, very hard, I just couldn’t sell”.
The one bright spot in her job was reviewing the sprinkling of children’s book submissions. Unfortunately, the agency’s focus was on adult manuscripts, and the firm’s president, Jennifer Patrick, wasn’t interested in branching into the children’s market. Nevertheless, because of her background as a textbook editor, Cummings read many of these manuscripts with interest.
One in particular, by an emerging author, caught her eye. “I thought it was a good book and very publishable, so I proposed to the president of the agency that I work with the writer on editing the manuscript,” says Cummings. “I became very involved in the project. And suddenly I thought. Oh, this is what I really want to do.”
Except for a short story she’d published in the kids’ magazine Home with Us in the early 1980s when her daughter was a toddler. Cummings had written solely for adults. “Writing adult short fiction is fun and changing,” says Cummings, “but in the end, no one reads short stories except other short story writers. So we all sit around writing for one another. On the other hand, there’s a reason to write for children other than self-expression. There is a real need to write well, to capture an audience for whom a book can make a difference. No matter how many books children don’t read, and no matter how many children don’t read books, and [no matter] how much competition there is, from soccer to television, children still do read books. Some-limes they’re forced. Sometimes they’re encouraged. But a single book can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child.”
Soon after she decided to pursue writing for children, she quit her job at the agency — but not before her former boss signed her on as a client.