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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to announce that you can now get $115 off the registration price for the upcoming Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City on January 20th-22nd! I have a special speaker’s discount code that I can send you if you’re interested in going. It’s not too late to register. Not only will you see me on a panel and doing a session on the children’s market, but you can attend the Pitch Slam and get a chance to meet and attract over 60 literary agents on Saturday afternoon. That alone is worth the price of admission!

If you are interested in the discount code, please email me: mary at kidlit dot com

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I’m putting some digital-related publishing predictions on KidlitApps tomorrow, if you want to take a gander. I’m also going to be speaking on a panel about picture book apps in Palo Alto, CA this Saturday, January 14th, from 4 to 6. If you’re in the area, I really encourage you to come by and learn about it. More info here:

PICTURE BOOK APPS: A BRAVE NEW WORLD
An SCBWI SF South Saturday Series Event

Saturday, January 14th, 4-6 pm, First Congregational Church of Palo Alto

Please join us as industry insiders share their experience and wisdom around the explosive new world of picture book apps. Learn about this potential-filled market and find your place in it! A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentations.

Panelists:

Sam Berman, Co-Founder of book app developer Grids Interactive;
Alan Katz (via Skype), children’s picture book author and writer of the book app, Andrew Answers;
Mary Kole, agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency and blogger

SCBWI members $10 advance/$15 door; Non-members $20 advance/$25 door (join SCBWI to receive the member rate!).

Click here to RSVP!

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Also, I’ll be speaking about picture books and how to write and publish them in a Writer’s Digest webinar on Thursday, January 12th at 1 p.m. Eastern. You can call in or listen to the talk online, in the comfort of your home or office. If you’re not available at the webinar time, you can still register and receive a recorded version of the talk via email next week, once they put all the information together.

I’ve given this picture book webinar once before, so if you’ve already heard the picture book version, this will be the same information. However, new students and returning students alike get a 1,000-word picture book critique from me!

To register for the webinar, click here.

If you want to hear me speak in person, I’ll be appearing at the Writer’s Digest Conference in Midtown NYC from January 20th to the 22nd! I’ll be on an agent panel, will be participating in Saturday afternoon’s agent Pitch Slam, and will have my own talk about children’s writing and the marketplace on Sunday morning. Whew! It will be a busy, busy weekend, but I can’t wait to meet more of you in person. It’s not too late to register for the conference, and you can do so by clicking here.

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Finally, those of you watching the publishing business…what are YOUR publishing predictions for 2012? Other than, of course, you getting one or many steps closer toward your own writing and publishing goals. At least, that’s my prediction for all of you! :)

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This January 20th to 22nd, I will be participating in the Writer’s Digest Conference at the Sheraton in New York City! I’m very excited about this conference.

On Saturday morning, I will be speaking on an agent panel and taking agent- and publishing-related Q&A with some fellow agents and moderated by 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET editor and Guide to Literary Agents blogger Chuck Sambuchino.

Then, Saturday afternoon, I will be in a room with over 60 literary agents for the annual Pitch Slam. You will have unprecedented access to come and pitch your book to some of the brightest and most hungry agents in the business. There is a nice mix of kidlit, adult, and non-fiction agents represented (and representing!).

On Sunday, I will be speaking about today’s kidlit marketplace and how to get published there. Yep, I am all over this conference, guys. But I’m not the only fantastic speaker. The Saturday keynote is digital/indie publishing guru and adult thriller writer Barry Eisler and I just saw that Chris Baty, the genius behind NaNoWriMo, which I know some of you just finished, has been added as a speaker, too!

The great thing about the Writer’s Digest Conference is that they’re running a special holiday promotion right this minute. If you register for the conference before midnight on December 16th, you will get a $50 discount. Just click here and use the following promo code: HOLIDAYWDC

If you’re going, spread the word on Twitter and Facebook by mentioning @WritersDigest and the hashtag #WDC12

It’s not too late to book that dream trip to NYC and get your 2012 writing goals off to a strong start at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And, of course, if you’re reader and planning on going, I would love to meet you!

Now, I also have a super special holiday gift for you guys. Speaking of Chuck Sambuchino and the new 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, I have two copies to give away!

Inside this handy volume, you will find articles on craft, writing, submitting, and landing an agent, interviews with kidlit glitterati like M.T. Anderson and Meg Cabot, and updated listings for agents, publishers, and magazines that take work from children’s writers and illustrators. If you want to land an agent or find a market for your work in 2012, this is the book for you.

I highly recommend it. In fact, you will see a familiar face featured on the back cover, and an official blurb from me that reads:

Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market is the most complete, trusted, definitive, and inspiring source of publishing opportunities for children’s writers and illustrators working today.

It’s true. Not only did I lend my mug and stamp of approval to the book, but I have two articles featured inside. One is about writer’s conferences, like the Writer’s Digest Conference this very January in NYC, and how to make the best of your investment in them (whether it’s your first or your fiftieth), and the other covers my three favorite craft issues: Voice, Character, and Authority, with lots of juicy annotated examples from my favorite MG and YA books on shelves.

So if you want to see examples of Voice that works — an especially tricky topic that lots of writers struggle with — pick up a copy today! This elegant guide is crammed full of useful information and updated agency, publisher, and magazine listings to make your quest toward publication a no-brainer. Let 2012 be the year you really MARKET your writing!

Because I want you to have an awesome writer’s holiday gift this year, either for you or for a loved one, I am giving away two free copies of the 2012 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET to two writers randomly selected from the comments. Leave a comment below (make sure to include your email address in the comment form, though know that only I will be able to see it and it won’t be published on the site). Deadline for entries is midnight, Tuesday, December 20th. The winner will be announced in Wednesday the 21st’s blog, and then I will ship your copy to you next week. (US residents only, please.)

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Upcoming Workshops

Just in case you missed ABLA’s Big Sur Workshop in December, I’m writing to let you know that there’s another Big Sur in Monterey in March. The ABLA agents and a select group of editors will gather with attendees to workshop their writing over an intense and productive weekend in a beautiful location. I have participated in the workshops since 2009 and can tell you that it’s an amazing and transformative weekend for attendees. I see writers take real leaps in their craft each and every time. This workshop format is extremely hands-on — you’re in a group of only four or five attendees — and that kind of close writing scrutiny from faculty and fellow writers is invaluable.

Mark your calendars now for our first 2012 Big Sur, which will take place March 2nd through the 4th in Monterey, CA. Registration is now open. You can learn more and sign up here. Even though I’m not listed as one of the agents on faculty (an annual glitch), I will be there!

There’s also another intensive workshop on my radar, and that’s the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop that’s taking place in Pennsylvania in the middle of March. I had the great pleasure of participating in a Highlights workshop in the summer of 2010 and highly recommend this one to writers who can spare the week and are serious about their craft. The Foundation has opened a brand new conference center on their idyllic plot of land up in rural Pennsylvania, and this year’s Whole Novel Workshop leader is beloved novelist Helen Hemphill. The deadline to sign up is December 21st! You can find out more about it here.

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It is with great pleasure that I share the following pictures from my wonderful visits to the Tokyo and Hong Kong SCBWI chapters. The first picture is me and the group from Tokyo. We met at the lovely Yokohama International School the Saturday before Halloween and then spent one long day talking about the marketplace, queries, craft, and the submission process. The Q&A session included concerns for the Aussie writers in attendance (there were several!) and, of course, curiosity about the digital changes coming to the publishing industry.

Overall, a talented group of writers and illustrators — and quite a few guys representing the SCBWI in Tokyo! (You don’t usually see a large male population at children’s writing conferences, though that’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful male children’s writers, both published and aspiring.) This brave crowd, well, braved about seven straight hours of talking, first pages, query analysis and Q&A from yours truly…

And then we all went out to dinner to celebrate the end of a long day! The only person missing from the above sea of beautiful faces is Holly Thompson, the intrepid leader of the Tokyo SCBWI chapter, as well as the author or the exquisite verse novel ORCHARDS, out from Delacorte.

Holly was kind enough to take me to the Sankeien Gardens in Yokohama after a more relaxed day of one-on-one critiques on Sunday. Because so much of my Japan trip revolved around food, here’s a picture of me from that afternoon with a soba noodle trio. I’m so grateful to her and all the SCBWI Tokyo members for the hospitality!

I’m so blessed to work from home and be able to add travel time to my conference duties. After ten nights in Japan, I flew over to Hong Kong on Thursday, November 3rd. There, I was greeted by Mio Debnam for critiques first thing Friday morning, then a delicious Shanghainese lunch. What a lovely introduction to a city that’s all about food. I would’ve posted a picture of the sea cucumber and abalone that we devoured, but it was gone too quickly. (A heads up: Sea cucumber does not stay on chopsticks well, and therefore doesn’t make very graceful eating. Sorry, Mio!)

On Saturday, I did another marathon day of talks, first pages, query critiques, and Q&A with the Hong Kong members. Here we are, below:

Everyone is looking pretty relaxed in those plush leather chairs. I’m glad you can’t see my feet in this shot, because this is probably after I took my shoes off. (That’s Kole Code for: “Now I mean business…”) Something about public speaking always makes me want to go barefoot.

I eventually shut my mouth and put my shoes on for a lovely post-conference dinner at the China Club with Mio, several members of the Hong Kong chapter, and Kathleen Ahrens, the International Coordinator for the entire SCBWI. She has the fascinating job of helping regions all over the world develop chapters and programming, and I also owe her a huge debt of gratitude for this amazing opportunity.

Here we all are at dinner. Mio, our gracious hostess, is wearing red in the back, and Kathleen is my gray-attired bookend on the opposite side of the bottom row. It was fantastic getting to know these writers over delicious soup dumplings.

Overall, the trip was wonderful. Truly the opportunity of a lifetime. And it was so great to meet writers in the larger SCBWI community. I’m still processing everything — and trying to find the energy to upload all of my pictures to share with friends and family.

Just as I was ready to go home this past Wednesday, my overseas adventure refused to sink quietly behind the International Date Line. My plane from Hong Kong took off in bad weather and suffered some kind of damage. They tried to fix it in the air for a few hours but were unsuccessful. The pilot decided he didn’t want to risk the trans-Pacific flight back to San Francisco. The plane was full up with enough gas for a 12-hour flight — a long-ish haul for a 747 — and we were too heavy to land, so we flew out over the ocean and dumped fuel for about two hours. That was a bit unnerving. In case anyone doesn’t have the memo, I’m an uneasy flier (even though I do it at least once a week…and, because I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently, I was home a day before jetting off to Southern California for the weekend, got back yesterday, and am flying again tomorrow). With jet fuel spraying out of the wing right outside my window and the plane shuddering from the aforementioned bad weather…let’s just say I was a bit on edge.

Long story short: We returned to Hong Kong, were rebooked on new flights, and I was back in the air about seven hours later c/o Singapore Airlines. I’m so happy with how it went, overall, and the United’s decision to turn around and be safe, even though it was the longest day I’ve ever had (40 hours). And that little hiccup was nothing compared to the absolutely tremendous time I had exploring Japan and Hong Kong and meeting my fellow children’s book enthusiasts across the globe!

I’m still having trouble sleeping because of jet lag, but I’m back stateside, baby, and ready for Big Sur, client business, and lots of new and awesome projects in my inbox! :) If you’re still curious about my food adventures, head on over to my older post from Chowlit. I plan to add a Hong Kong edition tomorrow, if I ever get all those pictures organized…

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My darling readers, hello! I loaded up some content and have had the blog set up on auto-post for about a week, so it feels wonderful to actually be writing to you “live.” If you want some food-related details from my trip to Japan (I’ll do a larger round-up for the trip on here, as well, but probably after I get back), you can check out my foodie blog, Chowlit.

Right now I’m in Hong Kong, getting ready for my one-on-one critiques with the members of Hong Kong’s SCBWI chapter. How exciting! I just flew in last night and can’t wait for my first real taste of the city (I’m writing this from an airport hotel, so I haven’t really been “outside” yet).

Before I rush off to breakfast (a weird idea for those of you reading this on Thursday afternoon), let me remind you that it’s officially that time again. Sure, it’s time to put in your 1,667 daily NaNoWriMo words, but I mean something else here: it’s time to sign up for Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur Writing Workshop!

There is still space available for this year’s December 2-4th, 2011 weekend at the beautiful Big Sur Lodge. Fabulous faculty include Jennifer Hunt, VP and Editorial Director for Penguin Group/Dial Books, Diane Landolf, Senior Editor at Random House Books for Young Readers, Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books, NYT Bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins and award-winning author Carolyn Marsden. Not to mention the wonderful agents from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (if I don’t say so myself)!

The conference takes place at the gorgeous Big Sur Lodge in the majestic redwoods of the Northern California coast. During a Big Sur weekend, you get intense, hands-on feedback for your work, a chance to meet editors and ABLA agents, and the feeling that you’re on a writing retreat in one of the most serene and inspiring places on the planet. Plus, my colleagues and I will be there, with bells on, to welcome you to our favorite weekend of the year.

You can find more information on the weekend here. If you can’t make the December Big Sur, we are also meeting in Monterey the weekend of March 2-4th, 2012.

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In July, I offered a picture book craft intensive, focusing very specifically on writing for the youngest readers. It was my first “specialized” webinar and it was an overwhelming success. (Thank you so much to everyone who listened to that one! I’m digging into critiques for it right now!) On September 15th at 1 p.m. Eastern (that’s next week already, can you believe it?!), I am offering a Middle Grade and Young Adult Craft Intensive webinar.

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. It’s the first time I’ll be focusing exclusively on MG and YA, so even if you’ve taken one of my webinars before, you will be getting brand new content. You can sign up by clicking here.

The bonus 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. 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 the time or date doesn’t work for you!

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First Lines

As you can tell, I’m a little late posting my first line thoughts because the SCBWI LA conference is in full swing and I’ve been busy running into, I think, every single person I know.

So instead of trying to force any analysis, I will drop the names of the finalists and then dissect their work and pick a WINNER on Wednesday. First, let me thank everyone who commented and shared their work. Such a supportive community! So much great feedback! Here are the first lines that caught my eyes from those submitted:

Crystal
Silvia
Lyla
Stephanie Garber
Kathryn
Amy D.
Kayla Olson
Karen O’Donnell
Kait Nolan
Ashley E.
Miles

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I just spent a lovely weekend in Montpelier, VT for the VCFA Children’s Writing MFA mini-residency. Did I mention it was beautiful? No? Here’s a shot of their cute little capital building (“cute” and “little” are perfect adjectives for Montpelier, the smallest state capital and the only one without a McDonald’s, as six different residents, yes, six, told me):

Isn’t it gorgeous? We had a relaxing weekend of hanging out on the veranda at the Inn at Montpelier, mingling with the locals, meeting current VCFA students and alumna/ae, listening to readings and pitches, and otherwise drinking in the creativity of this little hideaway town.

One thing that struck me about the program is how dedicated the students and faculty are. (Hanging out at the Saturday BBQ were Walter Dean Myers, Tom Wynne-Jones, Coe Booth, M.T. Anderson, and more…what an amazing roster of talent!) But I did notice something that bugs me about MFA programs, and about establishing a writing habit in general. This is something I saw much more in my MFA program, and I don’t know to what extent it exists at VCFA, yet this weekend did get me thinking…

A lot of alumni coming back to Vermont felt liberated, as if they could think, breathe, create again. For them, their time at the program was such a richly creative time, and one where they were pushed by their advisers and classmates to really put in the work and get some writing done. Apparently, some of them stopped writing or wrote less or felt less driven after graduating.

The same thing tends to happen to people who can only write between 6 and 8 a.m., or people who can only use a certain computer, or people who can only go to such and such coffee shop, or sit in this one seat, or wear those pajama pants. Having writing habits and a writing ritual and ideal circumstances for creative work…that’s all good and fine. In fact, having these habits and requirements is much better than having no writing practice at all.

But there’s also a hidden danger. What happens when you leave the MFA program? When your seat is taken? When the dog eats your pajama pants? I know perfectly wonderful writers who have been driven into a serious block when their (self-created, mind) requirements aren’t being met. Which brings me to the idea of creativity as this fleeting thing, and my disdain for the idea of writers having some temperamental muse.

No. Here’s what you do: you sit down and you write. First, you pay attention to what your mind is saying are your requirements (this mug of coffee, that chair, these pants). But what’s more important is that you establish a daily practice of writing. When something goes wrong and your coffee shop closes because they’re resurfacing their floor, you don’t go into a creative tailspin…you go home or go to the library or sit outside and you keep writing. When you graduate from the MFA program, you don’t go into a creative funk, you rally your former peers into a new critique group and you keep going. (VCFA people: please know I’m not talking about you…if anything, I’m thinking so much more about my own MFA experience!)

When you start showing up for work without these obstacles (self-created, again) weighing you down, without a checklist for the Ideal Creative Environment that the world must meet before you can write, that “muse” (your work ethic, actually) will start showing up, too. You will, in effect, train yourself to show up creatively every time you show up physically to the page.

Just write. Write when it’s easy. Write when you don’t wanna (I didn’t wanna blog yesterday, so this entry is a day late…we can’t all be perfect). Write when it’s raining. Write when everyone else on the freaking planet is at a picnic and you can’t go because you know you have to write. Don’t rely on that program or those pajamas or this coffee shop. Rely only on yourself. Practice discipline.

Always evaluate your writing habits and try to determine whether they’re helping you in the long term or hindering you. Keep an eye on what you think you need and what you really need. Rally yourself. And when yourself is feeling cranky, rally a community around you. (May you all be blessed enough to create the kind of peer group that they have at the VCFA, truly an awesome thing to behold!)

The writing life isn’t a simple thing, but the good thing is humans can be taught, and creativity can be trained to flow, as long as you make yourself available to it and focus your work ethic.

Speaking of which, here was my community for the weekend:

(l-r: Sam McFerrin, editor at Harcourt/HMH, Julie Scheina, editor at Little, Brown, Kristin Daly Rens, editor at Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, me)

Thanks to the VCFA for hosting us and for all the hard-working MFA students! Now send me your stuff! :)

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As you probably know, I teach webinars for Writer’s Digest. I did two general session ones and now I’m zeroing in specifically on picture books! I’ll talk for an hour and a half about the craft of picture books, answer questions, and include a critique of your full picture book manuscript (up to 1,000 words) in the price of admission.

The webinar is Thursday, July 28th at 1 p.m. Eastern. Even if you can’t make that time, it will be recorded and you can listen to it after the fact. You will still get a critique from me and the valuable information all about picture books that I plan on divulging during the presentation.

Register for it by clicking here and tell all your PB friends! For those of you who are writing for older readers, I’ll be doing a special YA webinar in September, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

If you want a bundle of great information on writing for kids and teens — including access to one of my previous webinars, the CHILDREN’S WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS MARKET book, issues of Writer’s Digest, and craft books — check out the Writer’s Digest July Kit of the Month, available only while supplies last!

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