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I’m sure some of you could see this coming. Long story short: I’m going to be branching out with not one but two new blogs. One now, one next month. I don’t expect a lot of my Kidlit audience to transfer over, because of the new blogs’ (in one case) slightly related and (in another case) not-at-all-related subject matters, but I’m writing about them here so that you know what I’ve been up to lately and so you can see some new directions in my career. I’m also telling you about my other online dalliances so you’ll come visit me and tell your friends.

The first blog, which I’m launching right this second is an extension of the Kidlit site but for digital children’s books and story apps, called…drumroll please

KidlitApps.com!

An obvious choice, right? You’ll see and immediately recognize the playful matching header by my client Josh Ferrin. Here, I’ll be posting app reviews, tech news, developer thoughts, industry insights, and the things I learn from diving headfirst into the digital book side of publishing, both as an agent as as a former dot-commer from the Silicon Valley. My goal for this blog is to ask a lot of digital book questions from the publishing/client advocate perspective. I’m breaking it out into a separate site because I think some of you guys would quickly tire of all the tech blah blah blah in favor of my usual writing/publishing/agenting tips.

The second blog is one I won’t talk about yet. It will keep the “…lit.com” branding of the other two blogs, but it will be about a totally different area of publishing and, gasp, one that lies outside the children’s book realm. (No, don’t worry, I will never, ever leave children’s books!) This will be about a special niche that is a sweetheart love of mine, and that I am going to start working on in the near future. This change isn’t inspired by anything major, really, or anything bad. My career in kidlit is going really well. I’m super happy. I love my kidlit contacts. So why this change? I’m sick of ignoring my life’s other great passion. More on that soon. Cue the mysterious music…

Out of wild curiosity, I’d love to know what my readers think this area of publishing might be. It’s something I have mentioned on this blog before. And, no, it’s not Green Day publishing. (Though I did go see American Idiot with Billie Joe Armstrong last night… I still hate the “story” of this one, but seeing Billie Joe on a stage again gave me crazy teen flashbacks.) Or Stephen Sondheim publishing. (I wish!) There’s not a large enough market sector of books about Green Day or Sondheim to keep a literary agent productive, unless you’re Green Day’s or Sondheim’s agent, though Sondheim’s Knopf books (FINISHING THE HAT is the first) are gorgeous. Please leave your guesses in the comments! 🙂

How does that change things here at Kidlit? You’ll hardly notice. But it will change my schedule, effective immediately. Before this, I blogged at Kidlit on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In order to make these new blog ventures work, I’ll have to take one Kidlit day away. My new blogging schedule will be:

Monday: Kidlit

Tuesday: KidlitApps

Wednesday: Kidlit

Thursday: KidlitApps

Friday: Secret Project of Mystery and Wonder / The occasional article round-up, conference post, or random thing over at Kidlit

Plus, I have about two years of older posts here on Kidlit that are evergreen. I’m going to do a better job of highlighting those for my new guests while still adding content for my loyal, longtime readers. This way, I also won’t run out of things to talk about! More soon. In short, I’m ambitious and maniacally excited, as usual, and can’t wait to see what other mischief I can cause on “teh interwebs.” We’ll see how it goes, and you’ll hear more soon. In the meantime, check out my latest over at KidlitApps.com!

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I’m a huge believer in setting goals and declaring intentions, especially during the holidays, when the whiff of impending change is in the air. This has been a fantastic year for me, and I’m happily looking back at all my travel, at all the great new books that I’ve gotten under contract this year, all the fantastic new clients, and all of the wonderful editor contacts I’ve made.

What’s on the plate for 2011? A lot more sales! New clients, new friends, new contacts, new business opportunities. New travel, too. As of today, I’ve been to 27 of 50 states (plus Puerto Rico and Washington DC). In 2011, I’ll be speaking in new states (Indiana, anyone?) and new countries (the SCBWI has invited me Japan and Hong Kong!!!!!!!!). See my events page for what I’ve booked so far.

In 2011, I’ll also have a new marketing intern, I hope. Don’t forget…I’m still actively looking at applications! If you want to apply or know anyone who’s perfect for the job, read all about this opportunity here.

I’ve spent some time these last few weeks thinking and journaling about my goals. I even want to start writing again next year, after about six months off. What about your goals? What do you all want to learn, do, and achieve in 2011? Pour them out! What questions are still nagging you? Ask them! With 2010 wrapping up, what would you like to share? I’m so blessed and grateful to have this great community of readers on the blog. Get to know each other. And if anyone is still looking for a critique partner for the holidays, don’t be shy!

Check back here on Friday for my Holiday Gift Guide…books I recommend for the writers, readers, and kidlit enthusiasts in your life. (It’s totally cool to get these books for yourself, of course!)

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Questions?

I periodically interrupt my scheduled programming to probe my readers for questions that they want answered. It seems like I have a lot of new readers these days — a lot of my comments are from first timers who have never commented before — and so I want to stay on top of what you want to know.

Leave your burning questions about children’s books, the agent search, writing, querying, publishing, etc. in the comments and I will use them to spark future posts.

Also, my Writer’s Digest webinar is tomorrow! Registration is still open and I am offering a quick writing sample critique to everyone who signs up. You can register for it by clicking here. Even if you can’t make the time or date, all registered students have access to a recording and notes from the webinar for one full year. (For all of those readers asking about critique submission instructions, those are emailed to you after you register.)

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Hey all! I booked some workshops and events this week and would love to tell you about them.

The first is an exciting new opportunity from Writers Digest! On September 23rd (time TBA), I’ll be doing a live webinar program on Writing and Publishing Children’s Books. It will work much like this webinar (click here for a link to a sample workshop…but do not buy this workshop unless you want to take it…this is not my workshop, the listing for mine is not up yet…this is just an example), and will feature information from me, structured question and answer, and the opportunity to receive critiques on your writing and queries. We’re still working the details out, but this webinar will happen online on September 23rd. Anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, can participate!

Second, for all the writers in the New York/Manhattan area, I’m doing another course with the Learning Annex! The listing isn’t up on the website yet but it will be Thursday, September 30th, in the evening. I’ll post a link as soon as the information goes up on the website. Everyone who attends the class will receive a 5-page quick consultation for a MG or YA manuscript or a quick consultation of an entire picture book manuscript, depending on what they’re writing. I’ll let you know when signups are available for the class, but you can at least put it on your calendars now for September 30th.

These two things are still in progress and you can’t register yet, but do look forward to them. I’ll keep everyone posted. The webinar is a great opportunity for those people who have always wanted to hear me speak but who don’t live in a place that I’ll be visiting in the near future.

Speaking of visits in the near future, I’ve just added some conferences to my schedule! (My Events page will reflect these changes in a few days.)

In November, I will now be at the SCBWI South Dakota event, Friday the 5th through Sunday the 7th.

In December, I will be at the Big Sur Workshop held by the Andrea Brown Agency, from Friday the 3rd through Sunday the 5th.

In January, I will be at the Writers Digest Conference from Friday the 21st to Sunday the 23rd, and I’ll also be at the SCBWI New York National Conference from Friday the 28th to Sunday the 30th.

Whew! That’s quite an upcoming schedule, but I’m really excited!

If anyone has burning writing or publishing questions, this might also be a good time to ask, as I’m always looking to stock my “post ideas” box.

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My fantastic client Josh Ferrin designed an incredible new header image for the blog. It is so awesome! I am so happy. Leave your header love in the comments.

You can see more from Josh at his website.

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People were such fans of my Critique Connection post in April that I wanted to give new readers a shot at it and existing readers who didn’t find their love connection more space to find possibilities. I’m thinking of turning this into a semi-regular thing.

Remember, finding the right critique partner is like dating. Don’t try one or two and decide that critique isn’t for you or that you don’t benefit from feedback. I just went to Utah and saw the kind of passionate, supportive writing community they have there. I’m more convinced than ever before that a critique group is the secret of writers whose work is above and beyond the rest.

So keep trying. Try to find good critique partners here, try other online resources, try writing classes at your local university or bookstore, get creative. People still post on my April Critique Connection, so I’m sure there’s still interest.

If you want a critique partner: write down your name, the age range you write for (picture book, chapter book, MG, YA, etc.), your genre and anything else you want to say about your story, the word count, your email address so that prospective partners can contact you (I suggest typing it like this: mary at kidlit dot com, instead of mary@kidlit.com, so you don’t make yourself a spam target.) You can also tell people a little about how you like to work. Do you like to exchange chapters? Read full manuscripts? Do you give notes? Do you want to Skype? It’s up to you to work out communication style, critique frequency, and other rules with your new partner.

People who’ve posted on the April Critique Connection thread recently: You may want to repost your listing here to keep it most current.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve made any critique connections from April, and any other thoughts you might have. Then cruise the comments and see if your next critique partner isn’t listing themselves, ready to read your work!

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There’s a funny side effect of being an agent who blogs. On more occasions than I care to mention, I’ve gotten emails from my clients after a post, asking if the post was about them, specifically. (And, clients, if you have done this, then yes, for probably the first and only time, this post actually is about you! Now stop reading my blog and go write/revise/be brilliant!)

While I don’t make it a habit to write thinly-veiled posts about clients or writers and I don’t think I’ve said anything that would greatly offend clients or writers on this blog, this little quirk does drive home a big point: writing is extremely personal.

A writer is putting their craft, their imagination, their hopes and their dreams on the line when they sit down at the keyboard. This is a deeply sacred and important thing. No matter how far along a writer is on his writing journey, no matter if she’s writing her first book or her tenth book, the act of writing and creating is absolutely essential. And every day that I sit down to read a submission from a writer, I honor the sacred bond and trust that writers expect from me when they reach out to share their creative work. Their creative passion — even if the writing isn’t agent- or editor-ready just yet — is what makes them tick. I would never do anything to break their trust and risk hurting their creativity.

At a conference one time (and yes, this is a specific example…I hope this writer would allow me to talk about this in the hopes of illustrating a very important point that could spare the next writer some heartache), a writer told me that a creative writing teacher of hers had once taken her story, held it up as an example in front of the entire class, and completely ripped it apart. It took this writer twelve years to bounce back and type another word after that day.

Sure, this writer could’ve been overly sensitive to her teacher’s comments or excessively shy or whatever, that’s true, but it only goes to show how much power a person-perceived-to-be-in-authority has over a person’s writerly self-esteem. This isn’t something anyone, whether a critique partner or a teacher or an editor or agent, should take lightly.

People have all different levels of sensitivity about all different sorts of things. But because writing is so personal, because it deals with hopes and dreams and deep, creative desires, it is all the more fragile. People tend to be all the more protective of their writing. And I am always sensitive to that fact.

I’ve said this in my disclosures on the About Me page, but I think it bears repeating here: I will never use a specific or identifiable example on the blog unless I have permission from the writer to do so (like with questions emailed to me, the workshops or contests, for example). Stuff asked and shared at conferences is fair game because conferences are a public setting and a lot of good stories come out of live events. If I want to illustrate a craft point, I will make something up (usually exaggerated) to suit my purposes. I will never cull directly from slush or from client manuscripts.

So where do I get my post ideas? From questions people ask at conferences, from questions people ask via email, from issues that come up in the comments. Between the publishing business end of things, the craft side and the agenting side, I don’t think I’ll end up running out of things to talk about anytime soon.

And if I do discuss a particular craft issue, it is never unique to any one writer. First of all, that would make the post a lot less universal! Second of all, there really is a list of common craft traps and pitfalls that most writers fall into, if they’re going to fall. Believe it or not, but I find myself giving many of the same notes over and over. I end up seeing many of the same writing issues in 10-page sample after 10-page sample. When you read as much unpublished writing as I do, a writer’s unique strengths and challenges often match up pretty well with other strengths and challenges that you’ve seen before. So if there’s something wonky with craft, it’s usually pretty universal.

The only things that really stick out, usually — and the ones that I will obviously not blog about because of that trust I mention — are zany story ideas. The plots and premises that NOBODY has ever come up with before (usually not a good thing because they’re too out there to be widely commercial). But these types of slush gems aren’t for Twitter or the blog or Facebook. They’re just between me and Sushi.

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In much more fantastic news, Kidlit has been picked as one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers. I’m one of 5 agent blogs chosen for this honor! My readers are a huge part of this success, and I want to thank you all so much!

Here’s a link to the announcement on Chuck Sambuchino’s blog. You can also see it on newsstands in the May/June issue of Writer’s Digest.

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The Big Sur Workshop in Monterey, CA this weekend was SUCH a blast, as always. I met great writers, connected with some new and already favorite editors and got to spend some quality time with my beloved colleagues, which is always a special highlight of the conference for me. If any writers reading met me there, feel free to drop me a line and keep in touch!

As a result, though, I’m a bit exhausted this morning and find myself unexpectedly staring at over 50 new submissions that I didn’t think I’d have to squeeze into my schedule. I usually update the blog on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but I’m going to take an extra day to put together my first workshop from the idea I posted on Friday.

In the meantime, I’ve got client manuscripts to read, contracts to look over, emails to answer and a Monday to jumpstart. See you tomorrow!

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The Novel Beginnings contest is officially over and now you’ve had a chance to see the winning entries. This is what writers have done right. That’s not to say that every great submission I received placed in the top five — there were lots of submissions that I enjoyed and that had compelling beginnings — but these offered up a skillful and interesting, I hope, selection of what was sent my way.

I want to use this opportunity to debrief a little bit and talk more about novel beginnings, lessons learned from the contest, and what I could possibly do with the rest of the month on this blog, if you all are game.

In my line of work, where submissions are always streaming into my inbox like water from a faucet that doesn’t turn off, I see a lot of beginnings. In most cases, the beginning is ALL I see. Sad, but true. After reading thousands and thousands of queries, you really do start to notice the quality of the writing immediately. At a glance, I can usually tell how far along a writer is in their learning journey, how many books they read in the same genre and for the same audience that they’re targeting, how much attention they’ve given to revisions and how “ready for prime time” they are. It’s an unfair system that so much of my judgment of their work is based on the first 10 pages — or sometimes opening paragraph, if I start to notice writing problems right away — but such is life. I do not have time to stick with a book whose flawed beginning may someday yield “the really good stuff that comes near the middle.” I’d like to have unending faith in everything that comes across my desk — that the writing will get better, that the voice will become more natural, that it will find a plot — but I just can’t.

A lot of agenting is deciding which projects and which clients are worth taking a risk on and worth the time investment. Some gambles pay off, others don’t. Each project I work on is a chance that I’m taking and a labor of love, because I may spend weeks and weeks on revisions for something and it might never sell. But if I see promise and if I fall in love with it, it’s worth trying. Taking a gamble on a submission with a weak beginning, however, almost never pays off, so I don’t do it. If something fails to grab me from the first paragraph, I will, most likely, stop reading and move on. How’s THAT for depressing? How’s THAT for the opposite of what you want to hear about a book that you’ve spent moths or years of your life writing?

So nailing a perfect beginning, while somewhat artificial, is a very specific skill. And I want to help people do this well. Of course, once you nail the beginning, you also have to nail the rest of the book. If you don’t, you’ll have what I call Conference Polish Syndrome. Since conferences pay close attention to the first 10-15 pages, writers who have been workshopped a lot usually have a really strong sample… but fall apart on pages 11-20. I’ve written about beginnings before. You can check out my other post about novel beginnings from Revision-o-Rama this past December.

However, there’s nothing like seeing beginnings in action. With the contest, I hope I provided some good beginnings — ones that would catch me — and talked about what makes them work well. Now, Wednesday’s comments gave me another idea, and I wanted to run it by everyone. What about posting some beginnings that… need a little help?

I don’t want to pick from the contest submissions because that would involve me judging someone’s work publicly when they didn’t explicitly sign up to be judged. But I do agree that comments on solid, good work can only go so far. You can learn a lot from reading stuff that doesn’t work — and, more importantly, why it doesn’t work — as well.

First, I need to know if, a) there’s any interest in this and b) if anyone will step up and volunteer their beginning to be workshopped. The point here, again, is to identify what doesn’t work and why, not to judge or ridicule. That’s why, if you want to participate with a piece of your own writing, send me up to 250 words of your novel beginning and ALSO send me a short few sentences about the major problem you’re having or the major thing you’re wondering about (is: Is this too slow? Does this dialogue work? Is this too vague? Is the characterization coming across? Is this too much description? etc.) to mary at kidlit dot com. Put “Workshop” in the subject line. If you’ve already sent me something, inspired by Wednesday’s comments, please resend with these guidelines.

Let’s see if I get any submissions. If I do, the writers must understand that I will post the piece of writing and then provide my comments. Some of these comments will be constructive criticism. I will never judge outright, but I will try and pick out some “teaching moments” in the piece so that both the writer and other blog readers can learn from them.

Does this sound good? Interesting? I’ll take submissions for this until Sunday, March 14th at 11:59 p.m., Pacific. This is not a contest. I’m not awarding prizes. I just want to get some new material in from authors who are agreeing to be workshopped on the blog and who have no problem with some constructive feedback.

Doing the kind of work we’re talking about here is, as you can imagine, very time-consuming for me. I don’t want to venture down this path without first knowing that it’ll be useful to you. Also, to touch on another issue that occurred in Wednesday’s comments, if any male writers want to send me stuff, please do. I agree — it’s time to feature some male writers or male POVs here!

Finally, people have asked whether or not they can query me with the same project that they submitted for the contest. At this point, I will have to respectfully decline to see the same project. Since this entry involved a writing sample, I feel like a query with that same writing sample would be a bit redundant. If you end up revising the project you’re working on (and six months pass) or if you have a new project, feel free to query, but if you don’t hear from me about your entry within the next few weeks, do refrain from querying with it.

Edited to add: Yes, you can send in the same entry that you did for the contest.

Also, since I don’t necessarily want to be doing this for the rest of my natural life, I was originally thinking of posting one beginning a day through March 31st, the end of the month. That gives me 8 slots. If I get more than 8 entries, I will pick and choose the ones about which I have the most to say and which will be the most help to others. Either way, it is probably in your best interest to get your beginning to me ASAP, in case I receive an avalanche of entries.

Edited to add 2.0: I did mean March 14th, fixed now.

Submissions are pouring in. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that. I’m capping this exercise at eight entries selected for workshop, so that means, unfortunately, not everyone who enters will get workshopped. This was not meant to be an offer for a personal critique by me for every entry. I will only critique the 8 entires that will go up on the blog.

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