About Me

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A few months (Weeks? Days? Time has been flying so fast…) ago, I mentioned that I was working on a secret blog and a secret project and a secret area of my agenting and life. I invited guesses. Was this Green Day related? (I wish.) Theatre or Stephen Sondheim related? (No, but I am going to see the New York Philharmonic production of Company tonight with Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Hendricks, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Cryer, and I am so excited that I literally can’t stop dancing.) People wondered if I’d be writing about all manner of stuff.

Well, wonder no more because all is revealed!

(Or, um, you could’ve gone to my personal website, www.marykole.com, and figured it out instantly, but I don’t want to ruin the aura of mystery…)

FOOD, homeskillet. The answer is food.

I’ve had the food bug for as long as I can remember, and I was blessed and lucky in my life to have three things:

  1. An amazing mother who always cooked. Always. After we immigrated from Russia, she was so happy to have access to fresh and diverse food that she cooked all the time and sent me to school with delicious, homemade food every day.
  2. A New Yorker step-dad who is a very talented gourmet cook and took us to all the best restaurants whenever we would visit Manhattan from California.
  3. The incredible experience of working in a 2-star Michelin kitchen a few years ago. (I wrote a post about it a while back…that was your big hint!)

Since then, it’s been kidlit and food in my head, all day, every day. My adult reading hobbies, aside from all the children’s books I plow through, have always been cookbooks, travel and food memoirs, travel and food anthologies, and other food/culture/travel subject books. And it was only recently that I realized — duh! — that I could also represent food books like the kind I love to read (with Andrea’s blessing, of course). So that’s what’s going on. In the meantime, I’m learning about that arm of publishing, making contacts, and doing even more food reading, even more cooking, and even more learning. Don’t worry. My love of kidlit isn’t going anywhere…I just want to add to my portfolio so that I can pursue both of my passions!

The blog I’ve been working on is pretty bare bones so far, but you can now also find me on Chowlit.com on Fridays! Bon appetit and cheers!

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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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Lullaby

I first started writing this post on May 3rd, 2010 when my cat, Sushi, sixteen years old and in kidney failure, was really, really sick and I feared the worst. With all of your lovely hopes and prayers and support, I felt so blessed and grateful when she pulled through. After that, she would get sick every few months, but would always buck up after a course of antibiotics and a week of subcutaneous fluids.

Still, nothing lasts forever, and this recent bout was different. Sushi had been losing weight pretty steadily by the time she fell ill last weekend. This wasn’t the usual infection and she wasn’t her usual, cheerful, goofy Sushi self. She stopped eating, couldn’t really get on the bed, and gave up on her litter box.

When I took her to the vet last Monday, I walked away with pain medicine instead of antibiotics, and the heartbreaking instructions to take her home, spoil the hell out of her with cuddles and delicious food, but to bring her back, and soon, so she wouldn’t have to be in pain for too much longer. In the Death Cab for Cutie song “What Sarah Said” from their album Plans (most depressing album ever, seriously), Ben Gibbard sings, “Love is watching someone die.” As much as I wanted to protect myself, drag it out, keep her alive with drugs and fluids, I knew I had to do the loving, merciful thing.

Long story short, the vet just left after a very caring home visit, and my little cuddlebug is finally at peace. My eternal gratitude to Dr. Mollica at the Carroll Gardens Vet Group. I put together the most wonderful — if I say so myself! — play list as she fell asleep. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” (Death Cab), “Magic” (Ben Folds Five), “Levon” (Elton John), “When I Fall” (Barenaked Ladies), and, finally, “Lullaby” (Ben Folds Five). Right now, as the music ebbs, I’m imagining her in one of those afternoon sunbeams she loved so much.

For almost exactly five years, I’ve been so incredibly lucky to share my life with two amazing cats. I lost Smokey to old age in July 2009, and it tore me apart to see Sushi fade from the same so soon after. A heart without a pet to love is truly a lonely thing, and I miss both of them so much. I always will. If this strikes a chord, please donate to the Humane Society of the Silicon Valley, the non-profit shelter that gave me both of my wonderful girls. I love them and every moment they’ve given me has been a joy and a gift. Even on this very sad day, I swear, I live an incredibly charmed life, in no small part because I got to be Sushi and Smokey’s “forever home,” as they say when you adopt.

I’ll let Ben Folds take it away perfectly because, well, he always does:

Goodnight, goodnight, sweet baby
The world has more for you
Than it seems
Goodnight, goodnight
Let the moonlight take the lid off your dreams.


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I promise not to get all weepy and new-age-y on you — I am Tough Agent Lady! (Some of the time…) — but there’s this amazing photographer called Meg Perotti who works in the SF Bay Area and she posted a wonderful, inspiring image on her blog to ring in the New Year. (MK trivia time: I love photography. I have written for a photography trade magazine called Rangefinder. I’m better at appreciating it than doing it myself, but I am an absolute sucker for a stunning photograph, especially portraiture, which is how I fell in love with Meg Perotti’s blog in the first place!)

It’s a bit small here but if you click on it, you can blow it up, print it out, and look at it often, because that’s what I’m doing. I know that New Year’s Eve was, like, a week ago, and everyone is already over it and back to work and slogging through and waiting for the next vacation, but, dang it, there’s too much that’s good and creative and powerful about life to let it streak by unnoticed!

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the bottom of this picture is the beeeeeeautiful city of San Francisco, which I will be visiting next week.

I got a nice month’s break from traveling in December and now it’s back to the skies. I’m flying to ALA in San Diego today for some fun, meetings, and face time with my Southern California colleagues Kelly, Jen, and Jamie. Then on Monday I’m up to San Francisco to see family and friends and to meet with my NorCal colleagues, Andrea, Laura, and Caryn.

For a belated Christmas present, I’m taking my mom to go hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak next Friday. (I think this Gilbert lady wrote a book? Something about eating? Just kidding. It’s pretty hilarious, actually: my mom just discovered EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I’m all like, “Remember that whole collective ommmmmm hovering over 2006? No? Oh well!”) Then it’s back to NYC for a whirlwind!

On January 17th, I’m doing my last Learning Annex class for now. It’ll be in the evening, somewhere in midtown Manhattan, and you can find a link to the event here. If you’ve already gone to one, this will be the same material: an overview of the children’s publishing marketplace. Come out, see me, and get your work critiqued! Next weekend is the Writer’s Digest Conference (see you at the Pitch Slam!), then Digital Book World (more on this next week), and the NY SCBWI. (I’m not speaking or giving a workshop, I’m doing the roundtable critiques on Friday, so I’ll be around all weekend, but I’m not doing any Saturday or Sunday sessions that people can show up for. You’ll just have to find me. Hint: I’ll be near the coffee…) That’s all within two weeks, folks!

Whew! It’s no wonder I’m finding so much calm, solace, and inspiration from Meg’s lovely thought for 2011! I hope you all enjoy it. See you next week with ALA updates.

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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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Digital nesting dolls: MacBook Pro, MacBook, iPad (in black case, nuzzling Kindle), Kindle, iPhone.

Here’s a list of the computer stuff I had last week: MacBook Pro, MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. Plus, the black sheep of the Mac family: Kindle. The MacBook Pro is my “desktop” computer; it sits on my desk in my home office. The MacBook is my travel laptop. The Kindle is my submissions reader. I love flicking through requested fulls on it, as I tend to skim more when I read on the computer, and the ereader focuses my attention.

In April of this year, I let myself get swept up in the iPad tsunami that rushed through the media. It didn’t help that my boyfriend is a Mac fanatic and wanted to get one first thing. So we went and stood in line on the first day, having reserved our iPads online the previous week, and participated in what can only be described as a circus of consumerism.

When we walked into the echo-filled glass lobby of the Apple store in the Meatpacking district in Manhattan, all of the dozens of gathered Apple employees cheered. I felt like a rock star. The only thing missing was paparazzi as I made my way to the third floor. About $700 later, I had my iPad, my case, and a sincere “Congratulations!” from an Apple employee. They wouldn’t let us leave until they’d shown us exactly how excited they were to have our money. Some were giving out handshakes, others high-fives. It was a rush!

But it didn’t last. The only thing I wanted from my iPad was a MacBook replacement. The iPad weighs 1.5 pounds, about two pounds less than the laptop, and slips easily into a purse. More battery life means I don’t always have to lug around the charger.

While iPad fit the bill in terms of its portability, it let me down in all other areas. I edit manuscripts using Word and its Track Changes function. A lot of other agents and most editors do this. Pages, the word processor on the iPad, doesn’t have Track Changes or a similar function (yet…Pages for other Mac platforms has Track Changes, but I haven’t heard wind of an update like this for iPad). So I can’t bring manuscripts to edit when I travel with iPad. And the backlit display, even though I turned the brightness down, hurt my eyes after long periods, so I couldn’t use my iPad for submissions, either.

The other issue was the keyboard. When I took the iPad with me to editor meetings, I would then have to spend hours, in some cases, correcting typos and getting the notes in order afterward. Every third word or so would be illegible, and sometimes I lost whole swaths of my notes just because I was trying to type quickly…and looking at my hands the entire time!

The iPad was good for presentations. I’d have my talks loaded on it and would scan through them at the flick of a finger as I spoke. It was light enough to hold in one hand or prop up on a podium. I also loaded my clients’ artwork on it and showed art to editors that way during meetings.

But, even though it was useful in two small areas, it still wasn’t doing everything I wanted. So what did I do? For most trips, I brought my iPad (for presentations and art demos), my Kindle (to read submissions on the matte e-ink screen), and my MacBook (to edit client manuscripts with Track Changes).

Instead of getting a gadget that replaced two others (ereader and laptop), I wound up using three gadgets. In wanting to take a step forward and be more efficient, I’d ended up taking a step back. And it’s not like travel is a small part of my life — I’m flying every single weekend from October to December. The same with meetings — it’s a rare week if I don’t have anything scheduled with an editor.

So last week, when the new MacBook Air debuted (less than an inch thick, a full keyboard, long battery life!), I finally did what I should’ve done a lot earlier. I sold my iPad and my MacBook, and defrayed over half of the Air’s cost. So after an interesting six month experiment, I’m back to two: my Air for traveling and meetings, and my Kindle for reading requested material. I figure that I can put my talks on my Kindle and scroll through them that way, and that I can give editors an art show on my Air.

I can’t say I’m pleased with the iPad, overall. And I really dislike apps. I think most apps, unless you need them for a specific work function, embody exactly what I experienced by adding the iPad to my life: they make things more complicated instead of more simple. I like to make grocery lists on the backs of index cards. Sure, there’s an app for that, but do I really need to take every single aspect of my life to the digital realm?

I don’t mean to sound hopelessly old-fashioned. I grew up in the Silicon Valley and, in fact, a lot of the people telling me that I need these apps and widgets in my life are friends and former colleagues. But I don’t care. Nor do I need a gadget that’s, basically, one giant store made to sell me things I don’t need. Let the app developers make their millions (I hope, by licensing my clients’ books!), but leave me my analog grocery list.

I could’ve probably held on to the iPad in order to track how ebooks, book-related apps, and book-related games are developing, but it’d be collecting dust for a while that way. In my opinion, the iPad is ahead of its time and trying to usher in a technological revolution that most people (publishers) aren’t ready for, and some people (me) just don’t want. The revolution is coming, of course, and I’m staying on top of it because agents in this new digital world have to and their clients need them to, but I’ve decided that the iPad and all of its bells and whistles really doesn’t belong in my life.

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Vacation!

Hey all! I’m going on vacation! Later today, I’m jetting off to Ireland and Scotland to drink Guinness, eat fish and chips, flounce around haunted castles, drink Guinness, delight in authentic brogue, and otherwise have a great time. I’ve been to Dublin before, but never to Edinburgh, so this will be an exciting trip that mixes old favorites with, I hope, new ones. I also have a client in Scotland…and we are, of course, cooking up appropriate shenanigans.

Long story short: I will not be monitoring the blog, reading comments, responding to emails, or doing any of my usual deskbound stuff until the week of September 13th, and even then, you’d be wise to give me some time to catch up on all my correspondence.

I do have posts scheduled for the duration of my vacation, so the blog will carry on in my absence. However, if you are new to Kidlit.com and have never commented before, your comments will go into my moderation queue until the week of the 13th and won’t be posted on the site until I have a chance to check them out.

You can still query me and send me emails and all that good stuff, just know that I’ll be blithely ignoring them until I get back to New York.

In the meantime, don’t forget to sign up for my Writer’s Digest webinar, which is happening on Thursday, September 23rd. You can enroll by clicking here. It’s the next best thing for all of you who have been waiting to see me live…and you don’t have to leave your pajamas! If you have to miss the live event itself and can’t call in, you can always register for the webinar and have access to the recording of it for one full year.

I pledge to answer all questions posed to me, either during the seminar or later, in writing, and, as a registered student, you will get a critique of the first 500 words of MG or YA novel or the first 300 words of your picture book manuscript, depending on what you’re writing. If I get a good turnout for this webinar, Writer’s Digest will host me again, and  you know how much I love getting teaching opportunities, so tell your friends!

Speaking of Writer’s Digest, if you pick up an October issue or order one online, you’ll find a mini-profile of me in the “27 Agents Looking for New Writers” cover feature. I’m on the “annual hot list”! Hot dog!

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What better way to commemorate a big day than with embarrassing photographs? I wrote this post ahead of time, so I didn’t have to add to an already-hectic morning. Right now, I’m probably rolling out of bed, shoving Sushi in her carrier, and trying to get to the airport with my boyfriend, who has been kind enough to come out and celebrate my last week in California with me. All my stuff is shipped, all my remaining stuff is in storage, and San Francisco is wrapping itself up in its foggy coat and wondering why it feels so lonely.

mary_brooklyn_ho_2

(I think I’m technically pointing west here, instead of east, but whatever. I don’t know why, but I have always loved this picture of me on the S.S. Balclutha at the Hyde Street Pier. You can see the Coit Tower and the Transamerica Building through the rigging behind me. Arrrrrrr!)

I’m headed from my longtime home of San Francisco:

mary_ca

To probably the only other place I could ever call home…New York!

mary_ny

(That’s not a picture I’ll ever get to take again. Now you know why I wasn’t what you’d call “popular” as a kid. The whole “smiley face t-shirt, grunge-era flannel” combination was not as unusual as I’d like to think.)

I’m keeping a residence in California and will be back often to see family, friends, go to meetings, do Big Sur, and all that jazz. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to many new adventures and new successes as your east coast kidlit representative.

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I’m today’s interview subject on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s absolutely fantastic blog, Cynsations. Please check it out. What a wonderful early birthday present. :)

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Fantastic agent Colleen Lindsay asked a really interesting question on Twitter a few days ago. You can find the conversation, including a few of my comments, if you scroll that far, here, or on your own by searching Twitter for the hashtag #agentpay.

The conversation was triggered by a hypothetical question that Colleen posed: What if we paid agents by billable hours instead of by a percentage of the sale?

I won’t lie. I sometimes wish that I was getting paid by the hour instead of by the sales percentage. Why? Well, as I’m getting started, I am spending a lot of time developing projects. It’s a learning experience for me, as well as for the writer. And some of those projects have not gone on to sell. In fact, throughout my career, there will be projects that don’t end up selling. There might not be as much of a market for them as I originally thought, or it might not be the right time for them to cross the transom. For whatever reason, there will be unsold projects in my career…just as there are for any agent.

And, sure, it would be nice to see some cash for the billable hours I’ve spent on these projects. But you know what? I place a very high value on a learning experience. It’s almost impossible for me to be disappointed or bitter about something if I’ve learned from it. I try to seek out like-minded writers for clients, those who want to learn and grow and turn into publishing success machines, as much through their touchdowns as their fumbles (I know nothing about football, can you tell?). Of course, I’d much rather sell a project than sit around singing “Kum ba yah” and learning, because I have responsibilities to my clients, but still. These experiences are really important. I’d feel strange charging for them.

I think the sales percentage system works. Especially at the beginning of an agent’s career. Not only does this weed out the agents who are not hungry, not passionate, not crazy enough to work for, basically, free for a few years just to launch themselves, but it breeds a drive and determination that is an asset to any client. And it armors newer agents for the long haul, it gets us into the right mindset so that we doggedly serve our authors long after cash starts coming in.

If publishing were to, for some crazy reason, start the precedent of agents charging by the hour, here are the pros and cons, in my opinion. Remember, this is purely hypothetical.

Newer agents, in the short term, would be able to feed and clothe themselves. They’d still make a pretty decent salary and get rewarded for all their editing, counseling, advising and development work. The short-term benefits would be great for the agent. (Benefits? What’s that?) However, the barrier to entry for using an agent, for a writer, especially a debut writer, would be very high. They’d have to invest thousands of dollars into launching their writing career — and that project might not sell, after all, so those costly hours would be for nothing.

Except, of course, learning experience, but I doubt someone who has sunk years or their life and thousands into it would feel as peaceful as I do, with my hypothetical by-the-hour wage.

I predict there would be huge backlash against the system of literary agents. If big houses persisted in only accepting agented submissions, there would be great unrest among writers. Loyalty between agent and writer would also decrease. Writers would begrudgingly pay their agents to “break into the business” and then might dump them once they have an “in” with a publisher, to avoid the agent’s steep hourly fees.

The problems would only get worse for established agents with established clients. These clients would have a reputation. They’d be able to make income off of subrights or foreign sales, they’d be able to sell subsequent books in a series, they’d be able to sell books on proposal. They’d need their agents more for negotiation than matchmaking and introductions. Their agents, then, would be doing much less of that really hardcore developmental, editing, and counseling work. That’s really what eats up the hours, folks.

Of course, established agents would have many more clients and much more of the business-end work of negotiation, contracts, selling subrights (A movie contract, by the way, can weigh in at about 300 pages! That’s a lot of pleasure reading!), so they wouldn’t suffer necessarily, but getting the deals and selling books would take less time for their established writers. They wouldn’t get as much reward from the sale itself.

With billable hours, unless the established agent raised their rates, they’d also have less opportunity for that out-of-control growth that every percentage-based worker dreams of. They could find the next Jo Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, but they wouldn’t have a right to a percent of that runaway success…they’d still be plodding along at whatever dollars per hour.

So in the short term, billable hours could benefit rookie agents. But it could also make them lazy and never instill in them that marvelous drive and hunger. I’d take my passion any day over silly things like shelter from the elements or job security. Some jobs, you draw a salary just by showing up every day and doing whatever someone tells you. (There are some agents who receive a salary for office duties or subrights work, depending on their agency, but they also get a percentage of sales, so this is not meant to disrespect my colleagues at other agencies.)

Other jobs, where you’re getting paid only based on your successes, you either have a mental breakdown or you become more invested. Me? I like the challenge. I like the risk. I like working my butt off. It makes me a better asset to you than if I was getting paid, sale or no. It makes me more determined to sell.

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