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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Joint Interview: Author Cathey Nickell and Agent Keely Boeving

I’m excited to learn how indie picture book author Cathey Nickell found her agent.

Plus, I would like to welcome Keely Boeving, agent with WordServe Literary.

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, you have two chances to win one of Cathey’s picture books. To WIN this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

Hi Cathey! Congratulations on your two indie picture books. Did you oversee all aspects of publication? Both books have received numerous awards. How did you discover the right award possibilities for each book?

Hi Manju! Thank you for including me in this feature. Yes, I handled all aspects of publication for my two picture books—Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car and Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn. I didn’t use a vanity or hybrid press, but instead hired my own editor to proofread the stories, and I found my illustrators through searches on the SCBWI website. Bill Megenhardt (for the art car book) and Emily Calimlim (for the yarn bombing book) were a joy to work with, and both created the digital book files that we uploaded to a printing company. I decided to publish my books through offset press, instead of print-on-demand, in order to get the printing, design and paper quality that I desired. As for finding award possibilities, I discovered a group called the Alliance of Independent Authors, and I followed their “ALLi Watchdog Desk” list that vetts and ranks book contests according to their legitimacy. If anyone is interested, that list can be found at:

Cathey: Before querying your middle grade manuscript, did you research agents? Why did you decide to send your manuscript to Keely and later sign with her?

Oh yes, “research” was my middle name! I spent oodles of time on Manuscript Wish List and on agency websites to find agents who were looking for contemporary middle grade stories like mine. I also did a good bit of research on my agent, Keely Boeving, prior to querying her. I looked her up on Publisher's Marketplace, and I liked the deals she had made for another middle grade author whose writing has a similar feel to mine. I also liked that Keely was listed in the "top 100 dealmakers" on PM, because this gave me confidence in her ability to negotiate and close a contract. I queried her in the traditional way by following the submission instructions on the WordServe Literary website. My query included a pitch for the book, the first five pages (with no attachments), and the word "query" in the subject line of the email. A month later, Keely wrote back and requested the full manuscript; ten days after receiving the full, she asked to schedule a phone call, and she made the offer of representation on that call. I’ve always heard that you need an agent who champions your book, and I found that in Keely. I’m thrilled to be working with her, and she has exceeded my expectations.

Hi Keely! Why did Cathey’s middle grade manuscript appeal to you?

Hi Manju! Thank you for letting me be a part of this interview. I fell in love with Cathey’s manuscript because of the voice. The main character, Bee, is so full of energy and enthusiasm that I knew I wanted to stick with her and see where this story went. It also has a really unique STEM angle that I hadn’t seen explored in a middle grade novel before, so I was intrigued. Once I started reading, I fell in love with Bee and her family—especially her sweet relationship with her grandfather—and I knew I wanted to represent this one.

Cathey: Could you share why you wanted to tell this story?

My story focuses on a specific environmental cause, and the premise leapt into my mind one day and wouldn’t let go. From the very start, I could envision the hook, the characters, the setting, the story arc, and the title of the book—even before I began writing. I interviewed numerous experts on the subject, read books, watched documentaries, and I’ve enjoyed learning how we can all work together to make small changes at home that could create big results for our planet. It’s been a fun journey, and I’m excited that the manuscript is out on submission. I know it’s a long shot, but my fingers are crossed!

Keely: What’s on your manuscript wish list? What qualities do you look for in a manuscript that makes it a good fit for your client list?

I represent a wide range of projects, both adult and children’s, but right now I’m focusing on building up my children’s list in the area of middle grade. First and foremost, I want really good stories, the kind that pull at your heart and also make you laugh out loud. I’m looking for contemporary novels that explore current issues from a unique lens; and I really love books that come from diverse perspectives and voices. I want children to be able to see themselves in the pages, maybe for the first time. I love books that explore themes of family, growing up and figuring out who you are, and anything that teaches me something new about the world.

Thanks very much, Cathey and Keely!

Cathey Nickell is a Houston-based author and elementary school speaker. She is the author of two successful indie picture books, Arthur Zarr’s Amazing Art Car and Yazzy’s Amazing Yarn, which has offered her the opportunity to present about writing and creativity at more than 100 elementary schools, bookstores, and children’s museums in Texas and other states. Cathey has a background in journalism and public relations, a Master of Arts, and is now writing middle grade novels that she hopes to someday see on bookshelves. She is an active member of SCBWI, Writers' League of Texas, and Independent Book Publishers Association. Find her online at or as @catheynickell on Instagram and Twitter.

Keely Boeving is an Agent with WordServe Literary. She began her career in New York working as an assistant editor at Oxford University Press before moving back to her home state of Colorado in 2014. She now lives in Denver with her husband and their boy/girl twins. Keely represents adult nonfiction books in the areas of health and wellness, business, parenting and family life, social justice, and books for the Christian market. In the children’s market, she represents middle grade, picture books, and the occasional YA novel; she loves stories that feature characters who are quirky and complex, and books that allow children to see themselves in the pages, perhaps for the first time. You can find out more about her at and find her on Twitter @KeelyBoeving.

Prize offer: For two chances to win one of Cathey’s picture books, read this post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is June 25th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support. Request to join us by hopping over to our FB page.

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