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. šŸ˜‰ 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. šŸ˜‰

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 didnā€™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!

Happy Thanksgiving!

With Thanksgiving coming up tomorrow, it’s important to stop and acknowledge how amazing it is that we’re all brought here together by the love of children’s books, creativity, and making something lasting that will inspire and teach others.

Meanwhile, I leave you with two of my favorite web comics. The first is about a common writing error and, if you haven’t seen it, you might want to check your pulse as you could very well be a ghost. I present, the Alot. (I often have to physically restrain myself from sending this link to people who make this mistake to me in email.)

The other perfectly encapsulates the existential malaise of social networking and building platform. You can find this “it’s funny because it’s true” bit of wisdom here. (Speaking of which, I just wrote about platform a few weeks ago.)

I wish you all the blessings of time spent together with family and friends this holiday season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a turkey to brine…

Writing Questions?

Every once in a while, I cast around for writing questions that my readers have so I can know what’s on your minds. With my trip to Japan and Hong Kong coming up, I want to pre-load the blog with some Q&A. So what’s going on? What are you dying to know?

Do we want to talk queries? Craft? Publishing? Getting an agent? Anything. Just ask away in the comments.