Upcoming Writing Workshops

It’s been a while since I’ve been active on the conference circuit. There were months during my agenting career when I would travel to two or three conferences and workshops a month. It was fantastic for my frequent flyer account, sure, but I loved everything about these events because I could teach workshops, meet writers, and see the world. It was awesome.

Even though I’m not doing much speaking anymore (though I may have an event on the books for this summer, more details to come!), that doesn’t mean YOU have to stay home. If you haven’t done any workshops or conferences recently, or ever, there are a few upcoming events that I want to get on your radar.

First of all, many of you have heard of Highlights Magazine, yes? Well, you may not know about the Highlights Foundation out in Pennsylvania. This organization’s mission is to empower and educate writers. When I was agenting, I was actually on faculty for one of these events and I can’t recommend the experience enough. The Highlights Foundation has a few offerings coming up that they wanted me to tell you about.

First, in March, there’s the “Everything You Need to Know About Children’s Book Publishing” crash course, which includes faculty members Harold Underdown and Jo Knowles. If you’re interested in children’s book publishing–and I can only assume you are, since you’re hanging out on Kidlit.com–check it out. As an extra enticement, the Highlights Foundation is offering $200 off the registration price with coupon code CRASH. Take a look at the registration page to submit your information and take advantage of the special pricing.

For those of you who are in the know, there is also the Big Sur Writing Workshop, organized in part by my former employer, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Big Sur is, hands down, one of the most incredible opportunities for writers that I have ever come across. This year, it looks like they have rolled out an Advanced Master Class offering for writers which is still accepting applications. If you’ve done Big Sur before or you are confident enough in your skills, I would apply. Writers would tell us all the time that Big Sur was one of the best things they’d ever done for themselves. I can personally attest to the magic of that place, the connections you make, and the leaps you’ll take in your craft once you take the time to go.

If a March opportunity isn’t possible, there’s also a really appealing “Summer Camp at the Barn” offering from Highlights, which just sounds dreamy, slated for July. I was on faculty in the summer, and the property they have for workshops is just incredible, lush, and green. Not only will you deepen your craft, but you will get away from your daily life and reset there.

It’s my firm opinion that every writer deserves to invest in a workshop or conference at some point in their development. Why not roll a weekend or week of learning into a creative retreat? Bucolic Pennsylvania or stunning Big Sur are the perfect backdrops to take some much-needed next steps in your writing life. If you’re unable to jump on a retreat or workshop this year, keep both of these resources on your radar. They are worthy of your attention.

Building a Library

Over the years, I have shared a lot of personal stuff with you, my dear writer-readers. Pets, tattoos, moves to Brooklyn, moves from Brooklyn, moves back to Brooklyn, and finally from Brooklyn for good (oy!). I mean, I still have people ask me about Sushi, a beloved cat I lost in 2011. It’s really been an honor to show up at the keyboard and share a bit of myself, a bit of my ideas, and a lot of my heart with you every week or so.

Now it’s time for me to reveal a very exciting personal development. Don’t worry, I’m still writing here. (They can wrench this domain name from my shriveled hands in 50 years!) I’m still working with my stable of amazing freelance editorial clients, and I couldn’t be happier. But in 2016, my family is finally growing with the addition of a baby in March! The gender will be a surprise.

announcementThis news is incredible for my husband and I, because of the road we took to get here. Everyone has struggles, and this was, unfortunately, one of ours. I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. Growing up an immigrant only child in a single-parent household was very lonely, and I always imagined that I’d one day fill my home with children, the more the merrier! But then we wandered into what I can only call hell: infertility.

I have made many lifestyle changes over the years to put my health first. I’m pretty young. I’m motivated. Every single time we failed to conceive, it felt like an incredible failure of body and spirit. When infertility is suspected, the burden usually falls on the woman because a whole lot more can go “wrong” in our systems as far as reproduction is concerned. There’s basically one test for men, while women sometimes spend years investigating the equipment. Every month, I sunk into a despair that words can’t exactly describe. This went on for two and a half years. That may seem like a blip. But when a child is what you want most in the world, and deep in your heart is the fear that you may never get to have that irreplaceable human experience, time almost seems to move backward. And since all of our tests came back perfectly normal, we didn’t even have a good explanation, which was maddening.

After cycling through half a dozen doctors (“You’re young! Just keep trying! Are you sure you’re doing it right?”), tens of thousands of dollars of tests, kits, and procedures (insurance becomes real scarce as soon as they hear “infertility”), acupuncture, therapy, yoga, even chakra-alignment (I’m from San Francisco, guys, and I was desperate…), we finally washed like ragged castaways on the shores of a fertility clinic. There, they administered an easy $300 test that nobody else would do because failing it was so unlikely. And we finally had our answer: my husband has a fluke sperm issue, so rare it doesn’t have a name, and so significant that we literally have a 0.0% chance of conceiving naturally. What are the odds!

That was the best/worst appointment of my life. The best, because we finally had closure, and a game plan. Luckily, IVF and a related procedure (ICSI) are made for exactly this scenario. The worst, because don’t nobody tell me I have a 0.0% chance at anything! Unfortunately, this one was bigger than my stubbornness. And it turned out that we tried for those two and a half years completely in vain. This was a tough pill to swallow. On the bright side, we ended up doing IVF in June, had a brilliant response, and I got a positive pregnancy test on my birthday in July!

Now, as I near the third trimester, we feel so lucky. I mean, infertility was basically the worst thing I’ve ever been through, and I’m still grieving the fact that, whenever we want to have a child, we have to roll up to a clinic with our wallets open instead of doing it the old-fashioned way. In fact, because I’ve had such stunningly bad results, I no longer believe that babies happen after unprotected sex! 🙂 But there are those who have much more complex issues, who struggle for much longer. Our one IVF cycle (costing as much as a new car out of pocket), believe it or not, was pretty much the best case scenario in the advanced reproductive technology big leagues. (Most insurance counts infertility treatments as non-essential, sort of like a boob job, unless you have a great plan. But my husband is a small business owner and I’m a freelancer, so we pay handsomely for our minimal coverage.)

Now that I have that off my chest, I really waffled about writing this next part of the post. I’ve always seen my role in your lives as a guide and friend. It feels wrong to ask for anything in return because of the rich personal rewards that my work brings me every day. But I’m humbly reaching out to you now with a request:

Books are why we’re all here. And I would love to welcome our baby with a library of classic and contemporary children’s books that builds on what I’ve collected over my career. With IVF and my husband’s dream of opening a restaurant coming true this year, we simply can’t feather our literary nest. I want to flood this child’s life with love and beauty and letters. I want to greet them with good vibes (and good books) from the community I’ve created. This baby has been the dream of my heart for as long as I can remember, and now he or she is finally coming. If you have any new or pre-loved books, for any childhood stage, that you’re compelled to send along to us, it would mean the absolute world. I would personally be so grateful. Please write a note inside so that you can become a part of our story.

(I’ve removed the address here because it was for a temporary mailbox. If you are still interested in sending something, please email me at mary@kidlit.com. Thank you!)

If material things, well, aren’t your thing, I was recently reminded by a freelance editorial client of my passion for the work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where I used to volunteer while living in San Francisco. I just started training as a volunteer for the Minnesota chapter. Already, this baby has inspired so much positive change and hope in our lives. In the same spirit, maybe he or she will inspire you as we head into the holiday season, to share some joy with a few extra hearts. You can find Make-A-Wish volunteer information and links to your local chapter here.

ETA: Because somebody asked, you can find our baby registry here.

Also, I feel obligated to add that, while many options for growing a family exist, I felt very strongly, being an immigrant with only three living blood relatives in this or any other country, that I wanted to try for biological children. It’s a deeply sacred, personal choice that every aspiring parent makes differently. For example, newborn adoption costs about as much as a round of IVF (or more) and there’s a lengthy approval process that could’ve added years to our journey.

Hello, World!

Coming back to a blog after an unexplained absence is like opening up the doors to your childhood home after a few decades. It’s so familiar, and yet a little eerie, since it’s oddly unmarked by the passage of time. So instead of some big comeback post, I just wanted to say the following:

  • I’m not dead! (Thank goodness!)
  • I have taken the last six months or so to help my husband open up a restaurant in my adopted hometown of Minneapolis, MN.
  • There are new editorial services on my freelance website, namely the option for a synopsis overhaul (feedback on your idea before you sit down to write it all out) and a reader report (my eyes on your entire manuscript, but more condensed feedback, which renders the service more budget-friendly).
  • Look for more writing and publishing posts here soon.

Maybe it’s the leaves turning golden outside my window, but I feel like change and progress are in the air. I’m excited to think more deeply about craft, as I’m always inspired to when composing posts for the blog. The publishing world has changed since I left agenting in 2013, but really, it hasn’t. There have been trends that come and go, and the usual mergers/acquisitions, and whispers about the viability of this genre or that, but the soul is still intact, no matter how much everyone cried “Doomsday” about ebooks and the recession and shrinking advances and dwindling attention spans.

The reality remains that there’s always room for good stories, and there is an entire industry of people who are hungry to acquire them and bring them to readers.

The world at large has changed, there’s more conflict and suffering, more joy and hope, and I think that our stories are reflecting a more authentic reality that’s compelling to young readers. More now than ever, it’s important to honor our collective humanity and reality, even as we’re wrapping it in a blanket of fiction.

What does it mean to write children’s and young adult books in 2015? 2016? Beyond? Let’s figure it out together. I was gone for a while, and now I’m back.

Wedding and Thank Yous!

I don’t really talk a lot about my personal life on here. Sure, I talk a lot about my thoughts on writing, and little anecdotes sneak through as I’m discussing various concepts. But it’s not like I’m on here spilling my guts about what goes on at home. However, since this is a week for gratitude and family, I wanted to share that I got married in October to a great guy named Todd who I’ve known since 2011. We met in our Brooklyn neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, and it turned out that we’d been living just a block away from one another for years! The night our paths crossed, I was coming home from the tremendous Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in Utah, so I have them to thank!

Todd is a very talented chef, and in 2013, we moved back to his hometown of Minneapolis to buy a house, start a family, and open a restaurant. We bought our own slice of south Minneapolis in July, and are still working on the other two. 😉 We got married October 11th, 2014 down in New Orleans, one of our very favorite cities in the entire world. The whole thing was such a blast, and I’m very excited that the excellent photographer Sarah Becker Lillard was able to capture our day. You can see her blog post with some favorite shots here.

So far, 2014 has been the best year of my life personally, and professionally as well. I am wrapping up my busiest months as a freelance editor and novel coach. I’m very grateful to all of my clients for allowing me to come into their writing journeys, guide them, and get to know their work. I’m currently considering expanding my business to add some different services that writers have shown a lot of interest in. Stay tuned for that!

This week, I’d love to thank everyone reading this for your support. It has been an amazing journey to be able to bring you this blog for going on five years now. Wow! Have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones, and I’ll be doing the same over here. It’s such an amazing gift that we have all been brought together by the love of story and the written word. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Just for Fun: “Word Crimes”

Because my very favorite recording artist in middle school was Weird Al (yes, I was that hip in middle school), I give you a video on his take on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” It’s all about the crimes perpetrated by, oh, texting and the Internet and general numbskullery, on the English language. Of course, I’ve never encountered any linguistic butchery from any of my esteemed agenting or editorial clients, but this one is certainly good for a laugh. 😉

Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop

Happy Halloween, everyone! I’m not wearing a costume this year. Even though my boyfriend and I bought amazing Life Aquatic Steve Zissou Adidas shoes off of Etsy a while ago, we have yet to flesh out the full costume with the pale blue jumpsuits and red beanies. Maybe next year we’ll join Team Zissou. Or maybe we’ll just wear our matching kicks around the neighborhood. Because why not. The other reason I’m not dressing up is to teach myself a lesson. Every year, I vow to buy an awesome Halloween costume for the following year in early November, when they’re on sale. Every year I forget until about…early October, when everything’s expensive and everywhere is a zoo. Let’s see if a little guilt/shame will help me start planning next year’s costume early!

Anyhow. I’m writing with more important news than the contents of my shoe closet. If you’re working on a manuscript, have completed a manuscript, or are curious to learn more about children’s books, it’s time to sign up for December’s Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. This amazing weekend is the brainchild of my mentor and former boss, Andrea Brown of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

I taught at my first Big Sur in December 2009 and, after that, you couldn’t pull me away. The workshop consists of small groups of writers–two groups of five to six writers each that meet twice over the course of the weekend–led by a faculty member, either and agent, editor, or writer. Attendees get their work critiqued by both other attendees and faculty, and the low student-faculty ratio means you have a chance to meet and mingle with the agents and editors throughout the weekend.

Big conferences are great: you hear presentations, you practice your pitch, you network. But there is nothing like personalized and specific attention on your manuscript in a small group workshop setting. Even though my days of teaching at Big Sur are over–only Andrea Brown Literary Agency agents are invited, for obvious reasons–I still recommend this retreat in beautiful Big Sur, CA more than any other conference for transforming your personal writing craft and getting one step closer to your publication dreams.

This year’s faculty includes: Jordan Brown from HarperCollins, Kate Sullivan from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Melissa Manlove from Chronicle Books. Authors on faculty include Ellen Hopkins and Lewis Buzbee. Please click here to learn more and register!

In book news, check out a blog review of the book as well as an interview with me for Teaching Authors!

Update and Congratulations to Karsten Knight!

A few housekeeping mentions and a huge congratulations to m client Karsten Knight on the blog. Let’s lead with the congratulations. Karsten Knight’s second book in the WILDEFIRE trilogy, EMBERS AND ECHOES hits shelves tomorrow! Here is the gorgeous cover:

Go out and get your copy today, er, tomorrow. If you haven’t read the series yet, you’re in luck! The paperback of WILDEFIRE, the first book, is also out.

This is a multicultural romp that features a group of powerful teen gods and goddesses. If you’ve been looking for a good definition of voice, you should definitely be reading Karsten’s work. Good thing you can start tomorrow.

Other than that, I am teaching my very popular Picture Book Craft Intensive webinar on Thursday, September 6th at 1 p.m. Eastern. As with all of my other webinars, you don’t have to be available on the time and date. You will get a recording of the lecture after the fact. The webinar comes with a critique for every student, and this is a great opportunity if you’ve been craving some professional eyes on your picture book manuscript. Register here.

I’ve got a few conferences coming up. The weekend of September 15th I’m in San Antonio for the SCBWI conference, and the weekend of the 28th, I’m visiting with the Idaho Writer’s League. If I’m meeting you at either of those, I’m looking forward to it! If not and you’re nearby, please register.

ETA: Just realized the link to the webinar was broken. I’ve found it for you. Sorry about that! (Even as I posted, I had this nagging feeling that I was missing…something…)

Loving Versus Selling

This question comes from PK, who asked it during my Franco-Italian blog break:

In terms of agenting, would an agent of awesomesauce-ness like yourself consider taking on a project they didn’t necessarily love, but thought they could sell? Or vice versa? Or does it just depend on the agent?

I didn’t just pick this question because I was described as an “agent of awesomesauce-ness,” promise. This is actually an issue that I struggle a lot with. There are lots of things that I haven’t gone for that have gone on to sell. I rejected them even though I knew they had a possibility of selling. Do I wish I’d gotten some of those commissions? Sure. Especially when those books go on to do well in the marketplace or receive continued enthusiasm from their publishers. Do I live with myself regardless? Of course. I’ve long ago made it a goal to have no regrets.

Here’s how I see it: If I go into a project thinking, “This is commercial crap but I think it will sell and so I’ll offer,” my head and heart are going to be in a different place. I’ll never bond with the project–or the author–in the same way as I do with those projects and authors of mine that I love unconditionally for their creativity, artistry, and merit. And if I see flaws in the project, even before I go on sale with it, I bet some of those editors that I’ve pitched will be thinking, just like I was, “This is some Grade A commercial crap and I don’t really want to publish it.” The difference, of course, is that publishers are looking to make money and the editor may make a “go” of the acquisition anyway, even with a fluffier book that is mostly meant to generate revenue or capitalize on a trend, and my “I think I can sell this” prediction comes true. But it’s not the same as championing a more “long shot” project successfully, or seeing a book that you’re head-over-heels with come to fruition. And you better believe that when an editor gushes about a project to friends and booksellers, it won’t be BEACH BLANKET BONANZA, or whatever. It’ll be one of the books that they acquired out of love, not money.

Maybe that’s what could eventually drive me out of the agent game, but I have to fall in love with a project. I can’t do the “this is crap but it will sell” thing. This question made me think of that scene in Love, Actually (please forgive me), when aging rock star Billy Mack is recording a shameless moneygrab single, turns to his manager, and says, “This is shit, isn’t it.” His manager replies, “Yep. Solid gold shit.” But who wants to have shit on their record, at the end of the day? I know I can’t feast on my principles or use them to pay my bills, but for now, I know what love feels like with a project, and that’s what I’m chasing. It’s very hard to find, but nothing really measures up to when you do.

The truth is, I’ve tried taking on projects like this, that I thought were a good bet to sell and that I wouldn’t mind representing. Maybe I’m just a really bad judge of what’s commercial, but they never went anywhere. Maybe it was the project. Maybe it was a saturated market. Maybe it was a downturn in the really fluffy/paperback original/beach read sector that went the way of the chick lit. The fact is, I know what happens when I go to sell a love project, and I know what happens when I go to sell a commercial-but-I-can-live-with-it project. I’d much rather spend my time on the former.

Plus, I’m building relationships with clients that I hope will last across multiple books. I have high standards for my authors and illustrators, and I love watching them work and grow. If I take you on with only mild enthusiasm for you and your work because I’ve got dollar signs in my eyes, I worry it will be a false type of relationship from the get-go, and that’s not particularly fair for either of us.

There are plenty of great projects that go on to get published without my help–most books on shelves fall into the category, actually! And I’m happy to let them go. Not all things are for me. Not all things are awesomesauce enough for me to want to read them five or seven times (as I’ve read some client projects over the course of multiple revisions). Not all things are going to inspire me to an enthusiastic pitch. Not all things are going to connect with my target editors like I want them to. And maybe I’m just one of those people who has to have love at the expense of commerce. Of course, the best of both worlds is to have a book I’m desperately in love with that goes super huge in the marketplace. I’m happy to report that this feels really good, also!

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

2011 has been a very interesting year for me, and I hope it’s been a fantastic one for you. I’m ready to relax for a few weeks and then hop right into what I hope is a tremendous 2012. Let’s make some books, live to the fullest, and see what adventures lie just around the bend!

I wish you lots of holiday love, warmth, time with family, good eats, laughter, creativity, and peace.

This Christmas, since I’m spending the month of December living in beautiful Napa, my family is coming up to visit and we’ll be sunning ourselves by a mineral hot springs pool. That’s right…a Christmas swim in 100 degree water. It’s going to be bliss!

CWIM Winners!

The winners of the 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, are…

Erik Metz
Laura Burdette

Email me your addresses at mary at kidlit dot com!

For the rest of you, it’s still not too late to treat yourself or the kidlit writer and/or illustrator in your life to this fantastic, info-packed book. It makes great pampering for yourself or a fabulous gift for others…or both. And don’t forget to review it on Amazon and Goodreads!