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Events

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I’m teaching a class on “Writing Irresistible Kidlit” at the Loft in Minneapolis. If you happen to be in town, check it out. It’s on April 12th at 1:30 p.m. to 4:30, and you can learn more about it here. Hope to see you!

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Every year, I advocate for the Big Sur Writing Workshop, one of the best in the United States. I’m biased because I used to work with the fabulous agents of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and was on faculty for several years. However, I truly believe in this intensive, hands-on, close-knit, workshop model for a conference, and every writers needs to experience it at least once. This spring’s offering is March 7th to 9th in Seaside, California. Learn more about it and register here.

If you’re based in the Midwest, you will likely have heard of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Their depth and breadth of writing programming is quite impressive, and the events are put on by a diverse and interesting group of writing and publishing professionals, called “Teaching Artists” at the Loft. This spring, they’re doing their annual Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conference on April 26th and 27th in downtown Minneapolis. Details have yet to be posted but I’ll be speaking about pitches and queries that weekend, which I’m really excited about. Keep an eye on this page for more information.

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It has been a while since I’ve opened up the blog to a Critique Connection. Writers are always asking me how to find critique partners so I periodically make a post where y’all can introduce yourselves in the comments and hang your “I’m looking for a critique partner!” shingles.

It’s simple: Comment below, list your email address (I recommend spelling things out like “mary at kidlit dot com” just so it’s harder for people or bots to spam you), and describe your project, the genre, the audience, whether it’s finished, and what you’re looking for out of a critique experience. For example:

Hey! I’m Mary (mary at kidlit dot com) and I’m working on a 75,000 word YA about space hamsters and the women who love them. I’d like a critique partner who vacuums my living room and cooks me dinner, but I’d settle for someone to give me feedback on my first three chapters.

Only try not to be a cheeky monkey in yours. Leave a comment or browse them and reach out to people who might be a good fit for your work. There are no guarantees here, but I’ve heard of several groups who have met and mingled as a result of these posts, so I keep doing them occasionally to give writers a chance to connect.

In other news, there are two workshops that I highly recommend, one through a lot of personal experience. That one is the Big Sur Writing Workshop put on by my former agency, Andrea Brown. It is truly phenomenal, a hands-on opportunity for close, personal attention on your pages from talented faculty and other writers. The registration deadline was last Thursday but there just might be more room, so it never hurts to double-check. If not, you should put this one on your radar, and know that it recurs every December and March.

Also on the west coast and a bit later in the summer in case you can’t get into Big Sur or need to scrape together pages or finances is the Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop. I haven’t had any experience with this program personally but it is another interesting option to consider if you’re looking for the kind of intensive manuscript attention that’s a huge help for writers working on their craft.

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Hey all, this is a quick note that I have an upcoming Writer’s Digest Webinar on the ever-popular subject of picture books. If you’ve taken this one before, a lot of the content will be pretty much the same, but condensed and updated. The big difference is that, instead of manuscript critiques,  I will be doing a long Q&A at the end, so this is your time to come and ask any questions you want about the marketplace and the craft. For any of you who have been hesitant about the price, this one is priced more attractively since there is no critique portion.

It’s on February 21st at 1 p.m. Eastern. A computer is the only thing you need in order to participate. If you can’t make that date or time, you can still register and you will still have the opportunity to ask questions. All questions get answered and every registered student receives the presentation and the Q&A PDF via email after the event.

Find out more and register here.

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I’ve done several posts on writer’s conferences (some are here), and I know that the big NY SCBWI is coming up. What I want to hammer home to writers about to go to their first or their hundredth writer’s conference is that it’s all about what you make out of it, much like writing-related programs and work experience. Many people go to conferences in the wrong mindset, and it can impact their experience in a bad way.

For example, they put a lot of emphasis on their pitch session, thinking that whether or not they get a request will mean the conference either was or wasn’t worth the money, respectively. Or they enter a conference-sponsored contest and hang all of their hopes on winning. Or they expect to corner a visiting agent or editor and sell them on the book. It’s very rare that these American Idol moments happen at conferences, and expecting them is setting yourself up to have a bad time should the stars not align.

But before you think I’m trying to talk you into shooting low, remember that it’s very rare indeed for the stars to align. And even if you make a connection with an editor or agent, it’ll most likely be long after the conference when they’ve finally had a chance to read the manuscript they requested from you at the event. Because that’s how it has always worked for me: I request and read later, not at the table, while the writer is nervously staring at me.

Your primary job at a conference, therefore, isn’t to walk out of there with a book deal (though I can’t swear this has never happened), it’s to be cool, personable, and open to the experience. Most importantly, it’s to be without agenda. I know this sounds lame. You are paying a lot of money to be there, you’ve likely taken time off work or away from your family. You have a manuscript burning a hole in your hard drive. You don’t yet understand that publishing moves slower than molasses unless you’re one of the very few debuts that’s destined to set the world on fire. While it’s important to have a dream and a strong motivation, it’s more important not to only be there in obvious service of it.

This means chatting with your tablemates at lunch about things other than you project (though you can definitely discuss it). Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or learn about another genre. This means introducing yourself to visiting authors, agents, and editors without immediately launching into your pitch. (Most of my most successful conference matches have come from writers who chatted me up about something random, had a good sense of humor, and were very casual-yet-professional about getting a card and following up with business later.) This means using your pitch session as a fun practice exercise in distilling your ideas instead of The End All And Be All Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity you might think it is.

Expectations are hard in that they’re always present and always tied to emotion. Writing expectations, especially, because they have to do with something so personal and creative. But everyone has a different path to publication and a different path once published. Any of my clients will tell you that having a book out in the world is great but (and there’s always this but) nothing like they expected or imagined. The house is late in processing your payment. Your book does unexpectedly well or poorly. You get questions from readers that blow your mind. Your book gets banned because of one word from a school library. Your next book isn’t picked up or you end up scrambling to write a sequel because of demand. Your editor leaves. You switch houses. Your house announces a huge merger with another house. And on and on and on. Everyone is in a long learning curve together in this publishing business, and every time I think I’ve seen or heard it all, a new story emerges that changes my perspective on it.

The best way to go to a writer’s conference is to temper your expectations, be casual and professional, make a good impression by being friendly and curious, and take as many notes as you can on sessions that interest you. I recommend conferences 100% but I have been to hundreds of them and can tell you now that one isn’t going to change your life. That’s not to say that you won’t get an idea, have an “aha!” moment, or meet someone who is going to be part of your journey. Go into the experience with your head in the right place and be open to anything.

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This Thursday, June 14th at 1 p.m. Eastern, I’m teaching my first ever webinar on crafting characters for MG and YA novels! This is something I consider very important to any novelist’s toolbox, and so I’m very excited to give you the opportunity to join me. I’ll focus on rendering complex protagonists, secondary characters, antagonists, and give YA writers a special section on chemistry and relationships in novels–that romantic element is absolutely something you have to think about if you’re trying to enter the teen market these days. This webinar draws heavily on content I developed for my upcoming book–WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT–which won’t be out until October (from Writer’s Digest Books). Here’s your chance to get a sneak peek!

You’ve probably seen some of my posts about webinars in the past, and the same rules apply here. Registered students can call in via phone or log on with their computers to experience the webinar. Even if you can’t make the time of the webinar, you will get a recorded file of it that you can view for up to one year after the event. All registered students, regardless of whether or not you can attend live, get the following benefits:

1) Every question you ask will be answered, either during the webinar or after.
2) Every student receives critique. For this webinar, you can send in up to 500 words of character description or interaction from your MG or YA novel for critique…this will help you really hone in on your character development and relationships.

Sign up for the webinar here. This will probably be my last one until the fall, so hop on this opportunity while you can!

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On May 19th, I’m speaking to the wonderful group at the SCBWI Central California. This day of fun and learning is for picture book illustrators and authors, and it’s the first of its kind for this region. My talk will address both illustrators and writers and, even though it’s called Illustrators’ Day, I know that almost every picture book writer I’ve ever read could learn a lot by thinking like an illustrator, so come one, come all!

Here’s the official information from the SCBWI:

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SCBWI California North/Central’s 1st Illustrators’ Day (for picture book authors, too!)
DATE: May 19, 2012
LOCATION/TIME: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Rancho Cordova City Hall, 2729 Prospect Park Drive, Sacramento 95670

Join us for an exciting day with inspiring presentations, a first look panel discussion, a promo card contest, and an optional oral portfolio critique (extra charge). Our featured speakers include:

Rotem Moscovich, the brilliant editor/art director with Disney/Hyperion
Ashley Wolff, the talented author/illustrator of Miss Bindergarten and Stella and Roy fame
Mary Kole, the wonderful Andrea Brown Literary Agent based in New York

Member: $85
Non-Member: $90

The day includes:

Promo Postcard Contest (entries due May 1st)
First Look Panel Discussion (entries due May 1st)
Portfolio Display (bring your portfolio on conference day)
Nurturing Portfolio Critiques (an additional $35)

The talks at the conference will be the following:

Gestalt, or 1+1= More: Words and Pictures in Picturebooks
Rotem Moscovich, Disney/Hyperion
We’ll take apart the elements of a picture book, including pacing, page turns, and structure. Looking at examples together, we’ll discuss how the two main components—illustrations and text—work together to create more than a whole.

Creating in Words and Pictures: How to Craft Successful Picture Books
Mary Kole, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
A talk for picture book writers and illustrators that focuses on hook, story, character, voice, thinking like an illustrator for writers, thinking like a writer for illustrators, and how to write picture books that prevail in this challenging market.

Author, editor, illustrator, art director–A Book Has Many Parents
Ashley Wolff, author/illustrator
The only names on the jacket are the author and illustrator, but It takes a (small) village to make a book. I’ll look back at memorable collaborations over a 30 year career.

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN, so click here to sign up.

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If you’re a picture book writer and anywhere near Sacramento on May 19th, I hope to see you there!

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So, Bologna is over. VinItaly, the world’s biggest wine trade show, which I happened to be in Verona for completely by accident but which, of course, I also attended, is over. I don’t have to walk around another ginormous expo center until I see my nemesis–the Javits–for BEA in June. Although, if we’re being totally honest, it would behoove me to walk around and around and around the Javits for weeks to shed the evidence of a three-week-long European food and wine binge from my hips. Hello, jeggings!

But this isn’t a post about me expanding my booty food an wine horizons. For that you can check out Chowlit. This is a post about me expanding my children’s foreign market horizons. I have to say, right off the top, that none of this insight would be possible without ABLA’s incomparable foreign co-agent Taryn Fagerness. My colleague Jenn Laughran and I watched her pitch at meeting after meeting with something approaching awe. Girlfriend was meeting foreign publishers, scouts, and movie people from dawn to dusk, then somehow marshaling the energy for Bologna’s extracurricular parties and dinners (and…gelato excursions…oh, the gelato excursions).

Some of you eagle-eyes may have noticed that I’ve updated my Wish List (look in the sidebar to your right –>). This has to do with Bologna, sure, but, frankly, an overhaul was overdue. Some things have stayed (like heartbreaking MG voice, edgy YA, issue book), but others are new or edited.

Here’s the news that was heard up and down the halls in Bologna: the market has shifted away from paranormal and (most) dystopian, and we’re in a bit of a trend valley at the moment. I’ve been saying this for a few months at conferences, and it’s nice to have that opinion resoundingly confirmed. Contemporary realistic is on the rise, though I still have my doubts about it. I’ve been hearing editors request contemporary realistic for a year or two now, though not everyone can convince a more trend-minded house to actually buy it. Sure, we’re all sick of paranormal and dystopian, but not all publishers have been able to put their offers where their mouths are with contemporary. When I get more evidence of this, I’ll fully buy the contemporary “trend” we’re all talking about.

Another mini-trend: thriller. So you’ll see it added to my list, though with a caveat. Thrillers need to…thrill. A lot of the manuscripts that cross my desk with the “thriller” pitch are predictable, with low stakes, not enough action, and characters that aren’t sympathetic or worth my care. This is a problem. I’m sure we’ll see more excellent examples of YA thriller as they’re published, but to see something dark and psychological and irresistible, check out I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, pubbing next month from Little, Brown. I hope thrillers take off–I love suspense and surprise in my slush.

Light sci-fi has been a buzzword for about the last year, but I’m not seeing a lot of sci-fi publishing and doing well, so I don’t know if houses are jumping all over it like they said they were going to. There’s always demand for fantasy and action/adventure, especially in middle grade. Speaking of which, I saw domestic and foreign editors and scouts alike begging for more meaty middle grade. Movie people, too. Good MG is very difficult to write, I think, because it’s such an in-between time in a person’s life and therefore true character and voice for this age group is very difficult to nail. It’s also a lot less “sexy” than YA, especially market-wise, so maybe a lot of aspiring writers think that MG is “slumming it.” I wish they wouldn’t. Sure, the MG world is missing a lot of YA’s glamor, but the opportunity to publish in it is very much there.

Finally, while there are a lot of original and licensed properties being published overseas that originated there, the US and the UK really lead the charge for creating new content. A lot of the books that come out in smaller territories had their starts in the English-speaking publishing world. Exceptions with a lot of native material are probably Italy, France, and Germany, though they do buy a significant number of US/UK properties. In the English-speaking world, we are the big publishing deal, folks. So let’s make it count and put out some awesome books that will thrill not only local readers, but the world at large!

Overall, an invigorating fair with lots of interesting people and ideas swirling around. And gelato. Did I mention the gelato? Thanks to my colleague Jenn, as well as Jo Volpe and Kathleen Ortiz from Nancy Coffey, who were my constant companions. Now I’m going to eat a bunch of kale and pretend that most of those meals didn’t happen…

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We still have space available at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur workshop that’s happening March 2nd to the 4th in beautiful Monterey, CA. Guest editors this time around include the fabulous Lisa Yoskowitz of Disney-Hyperion, Sharyn November of Viking/Penguin, and Julie Romeis from Chronicle Books. We’ve also got film agent Brandi Rivers from Magnet Management in Los Angeles if you’re writing a screenplay or are otherwise interested in Hollywood. If you’re writing anything from picture books to young adult, come on down and hone your craft with four intensive hands-on workshops throughout the weekend. Learn more about the weekend and register here.

As for me, I’m up to something hands-on and intensive before Big Sur weekend. I’m not quite ready to make the big announcement yet, but you should be able to guess my news from these pictures. Here’s the first clue that I posted to my Twitter back in October. It’s me mailing something very important:

Hmm. What could it be? Here’s a new clue. This is what’s my desk looks like these days:

Actually, that’s a lie. My desk is nowhere near this orderly. I cleaned it up a little for the photo. Either way, I’m getting away from the point. I’ll do a proper reveal of my news in a few weeks, but I think you can figure out what I’m working on. Just for the hell of it, the first person to guess correctly in the comments will win…whatever this project might be…whenever it’s available! ;)

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This Thursday, February 9th, I’ll be teaching a Middle Grade and Young Adult Craft Intensive webinar at 1 p.m. Eastern.

This 90-minute webinar will focus exclusively into the craft of writing fiction for the middle grade and young adult audience. I’ll talk about the marketplace, strategies to really make your novel stand out in the slush, character, plotting, tension, description, setting, voice, submissions, queries, and much more. This is only the second time I’m teaching this webinar that’s specific to MG and YA novel writers, so if you missed the one I gave in September, this is your chance to hear it. You can sign up by clicking here.

The personalized benefit of my webinars, as many of you already know, is that they include a critique from me for every registered student. For this one, I will read and critique the first 500 words of your MG or YA novel (one project per student, please). Instructions for submitting will come when you register for the webinar.

If you’re having scheduling issues with the time or date, don’t worry. You don’t need to be available on the exact time and date to still benefit. By signing up, you will receive a recording of the webinar (emailed about one week after the original webinar date), you will have the same chance to ask questions as the other students, and you will still get your critique. So sign up even if this Thursday doesn’t work for you!

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