In the Spotlight :: Mary Kole of Kidlit

 

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A few years ago I was introduced to Mary Kole at a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators function. She had just graduated from college and was working as an Associate Agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  Mary spoke to a room of children’s writers about the children’s book industry and what changes she saw within the industry and what we could do to get our work noticed and published.  She was very dynamic and you could tell she was going places!  Fast forward a couple years, and she now runs a website Kidlit.com that has inspired thousands of aspiring writers with articles on the writing craft and getting published. Writer’s Digest named one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers”  every year since its inception in 2009, and her success online led to a book on the art of writing novels for teens: WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT, out now from Writer’s Digest Books. (Purchase it from Amazon or from the Writer’s Digest Shop.) Her webinars for Writer’s Digest and various appearances at writer’s conferences and events (from Japan to South Dakota!) have reached thousands more writers in person. (Source: Kidlit.com).

I had a chance to speak to Mary about the children’s book industry and what aspiring authors can do to get published.  She provides some great resources and take a moment to check out her services if you are in the need of editorial assistance with any of your work.

 

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How long have you been in the children’s publishing industry and what changes have you seen over the last few years?
I’ve been officially involved in children’s books since 2008, when I worked as an editorial intern in the children’s department at Chronicle Books. I then went on to be a reader and then agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, which handles children’s books exclusively. Over the last few years, I’ve definitely felt the effects of commercialization on the children’s book industry, which used to operate more in a safe little corner, publishing books geared toward teachers and librarians. Once children’s books began to be financially successful in the mainstream on a much larger scale than I think many thought possible, the overall nature of the business began to change. Books were published in mass quantities, series were snapped up, advances increased, and the industry attempted to recreate the runaway success of, say, HARRY POTTER. Such is the nature of trends. They flare up and then fade away. I think the market has corrected into a more conservative place these days, especially after the 2008/2009 recession and new digital changes to the publishing model.
 
What are some mistakes children’s writers make and what are some suggestions you have for newbies?
Some writers don’t read in order to avoid unduly polluting their creativity, or whatever the excuse is. I think this is a big mistake, as there’s a lot of experience that you can gain for your own writing by reading the work of others. This also teaches you about what successful writers are doing and what’s going on in the current publishing marketplace. This brings me to my next point: many writers just start submitting without researching what they’re doing, why, with who, all that. They cut straight to “I’ve finished a manuscript, I need to query now” instead of going to conferences, learning about the industry, reading agent and editor interviews, getting a critique group, learning to revise, etc. There should be a good deal of time and research separating “finished manuscript” from “submittable manuscript.” In fact, believing this statement (rather than thinking you might be the exception to the rule) is a good place for newbies to start. :)
 
Why did you decide to start offering editorial services and why is a good query letter so important?
Throughout my career as a literary agent, one part of my duties always stood out as my favorite: working directly with writers. That’s why I love the blog, loved writing the book, and love speaking at conferences. All are platforms for me to interact directly with the people I love to teach. They’re also the people I understand, coming from a writing background myself. When it became clear that I would be moving from New York City to Minneapolis to start a life with my fiancé, the prospect of agenting from afar and keeping up the same contacts as I had in the city became less appealing. So I decided to go back to my passion of working one-on-one with writers and give freelance editing a go. I’ve been at it since late 2012 and I have never been happier, professionally. That said, one of my most popular services is a query review. A query letter is an intimidating thing for people to write because it involves boiling down one’s hard work into foreign things like “sales hooks” and an “elevator pitch.” I think people make queries 10000% more complicated than they have to be. They’re about describing your character and plot in a way that makes the reader care. That’s the crux: “What’s the story and why is it important to me as a reader?” If you do this adequately (and without freaking out too much), you’ll be ahead of a lot of your competition in the slush (trust me), and the agent will scroll down more quickly to look at your pages because you will have caught their attention. And that, right there, is the goal.
 
Any news you want to share with Penelope’s mates?
In the nine months since moving to Minneapolis, we have set a wedding date (this October in New Orleans!), bought two cars, another dog, and a house. My fiancé is a chef and we’re also actively looking for restaurant spaces. I feel like everything has been news! Maybe one day I will have something new and big to share, professionally, but everything on my plate, including a growing roster of awesome editorial clients, is keeping me happy and busy. That’s not to say there isn’t room for more. I’m always looking to work with people who want that extra insight into their writing and potential next steps. You can learn more about my services at marykole.com!
Good News!  Mary is offering Penelope’s mates a 15% discount on her services if you mention the article when contacting her. The offer is good through September 1st.

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