Manuscript Submission Timing

Not every part of the year is made equal in terms of manuscript submission timing. Of course, it’s true that agents and publishers sometimes go “open” to submission and then wink “closed” on their own schedules. That’s why doing rigorous research is so important—you will want to check everyone’s submission guidelines before you send your query or submission package. Sometimes an individual is overwhelmed, on maternity or paternity leave, deciding to scale back on signing new clients, etc.

But there are definitely times of the year that are generally considered to be poor submission targets.

manuscript submission timing
You feel the urgency to submit, but there are some times you’d be wise to hold it.

Times to Avoid Manuscript Submission

We are now deep in the no-go zone: Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Agents and publishers are vacationing, sleeping, or, more likely, catching up on submissions and slush from the rest of the year. Most are either officially or unofficially closed to submissions. Most agents won’t even go out with client projects after November 1st because a publishing decision requires consensus—and consensus is out of town.

The same could be said about the end of summer. Traditionally, August has been a slow time in publishing, though I’ve heard over and over that the 24/7 business environment has gotten in the way of this summer idyll.

You may also want to be cognizant of some of the bigger publishing trade shows, which happen in March (Bologna—specific to children’s books), June (London Book Fair), and October (Frankfurt), and whenever for whatever is happening to Book Con/Book Expo. Obviously, a lot of these events have been up in the air since the pandemic, so publishing people aren’t traveling all over creation.

A note about the last few mentions, though: You cannot predict what a person is doing right down to the second, or when they will sit down to read submissions. You don’t know if they’re going to Frankfurt. You don’t know if they’re having a baby. You don’t know if they just got the flu.

Manuscript Submission Timing Takeaway

You can only do your best to prognosticate about when to submit. Just avoid Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Sometimes this means that the agent you were hoping for will go closed to submissions suddenly. That’s okay. I’d recommend having a favorite and a Plan B at every major agency, just in case.

What To Do With Downtime

As we near the biggest submission blackout period of the year, you might find yourself wondering what to do with your submission/writing/manuscript energy. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Plan the future! Work on another project. After you submit, you’ll want to keep your creative wheels spinning, so plan your next move.
  2. Revise! If you want to shoot your best shot, you’ll want to have the strongest possible manuscript to go out with. Authors admit that they tinker with already-published works in their heads as they read. You can always do another revision polish. Why not now?
  3. Read! If your writing or revision work needs a break, catch up on your reading pile. This may not seem like “active” writing or revision work, but you are gathering information about the craft and the market by reading—inside and outside of your category.

When the new year dawns and it’s time to submit, you will be that much of a stronger candidate.

If you’d like advice on your Submission Package Edit in the meantime, consider working with me as your freelance editor.

Unusual Marketing: The Great Big One by J. C. Geiger

I wanted to share a really cool video made by my old pal and partner in crime (and fabulous writer in his own right!), J. C. Geiger, whose book THE GREAT BIG ONE is out now!

This is a downright intriguing, indie-bookstore-boosting project that about from a desire to make the ultimate mixtape. Scavenger hunt. Mixtape-scavenger-hunt-old-school-throwback. Well, actually, it started as the ultimate indie music festival. In 2020. Well, that didn’t quite pan out the way J. C. had hoped. So instead he approached all of his favorite bands (hey, why not!) and asked them to write songs for his project.

And they DID.

And the project described in this video was the result. (And maybe the beginning of some exciting things.) Please check out his work, this project, and THE GREAT BIG ONE! I can’t wait to see how this plays out. If only I had something that played CDs, let alone cassettes … 😉

Story Mastermind Small Group Writing Workshop

This is a post about Story Mastermind, my small group writing workshop, taught over six months, in the comfort of home. I realize that not everyone here has heard of it, and so I wanted to let you know that applications for cohort four are now open!

small group writing workshop

Six-Month Intensive Small Group Writing Workshop

As many of you know, I’ve been devoted to teaching about writing and publishing for over a decade now (this blog started in 2009!). I have been blogging here, I’ve written a book of writing advice, and I work on over one thousand one-on-one freelance editing projects per year.

But I have always—ALWAYS—wanted to host a writing workshop. In fact, I was making plans for one during late 2019, and thinking about holding the inaugural event in 2020.

The world had other plans!

I realized that I could do more good, dig in more deeply, and truly offer a unique experience for the writing marketplace by instead pivoting to a remote workshop intensive held over six months. This fits somewhere between a really craft-focused weekend or weeklong conference (there are a lot of those) and a two-year MFA program.

And so, Story Mastermind was born. On Zoom. Just in time for the pandemic.

A Mini-MFA in the Comfort of Home

We have now run three cohorts of Story Mastermind and I am loving it. Not only the process of teaching and making my own dreams come true, but seeing our writers commit to and craft their novel drafts and picture book portfolios.

The rich discussions, guest visits from agents, editors, and published authors, and the group accountability and support have all been a wonder to behold.

So have the deliverables! Novel Mastermind students emerge from our time together with a pressure-tested and peer-workshopped novel draft, complete with submission materials. Picture Book Mastermind students have a full collection of at least six picture book drafts that they can submit confidently.

Get a Taste of the Workshop

If you’re at all interested in applying for Story Mastermind before applications are due on October 8th, 2021, I want to invite you to matching two-part workshops for the Novel Mastermind track and the Picture Book Mastermind track.

The Novel Mastermind workshop Part I is tonight, September 13th, at 7:30 p.m. CT.

(Part II will be a workshop of your submissions, two weeks later. You can register for that here.)

The Picture Book Mastermind workshop Part I is on Tuesday, September 14th, at 7:30 p.m. CT.

(Part II will be a workshop of your submissions, two weeks later. You can register for that here.)

I hope to see you there, and I can’t wait to share the magic of Story Mastermind with you.

Get Your Daily Publishing Deets

I’m always thinking of how to help writers get exactly what they need to accomplish their writing goals. It’s in this spirit that my team over at Good Story Company has created Pubdeets:, a daily, digestible newsletter of publishing industry information geared for the creative writer.

the logo for pubdeets

Examples of deets include opportunities for grants and to publish, tools and interesting writing articles, news on favorite authors, trends in the publishing industry (!!!), and much, much more. This information can be found in a daily (Monday through Friday) email newsletter and blasts out on social media (@Pubdeets).

Please subscribe! In other social news, I’m hoping to see my @Kid_Lit Twitter followers on my much more frequently updated @GoodStoryCo platform. In fact, fresh updates to @Kid_Lit are now discontinued. You can catch me and my team over @GoodStoryCo.

How to Work With Character Backstory

One of the questions I find myself discussing all the time is the issue of character backstory. When do we add it? How much do we add? How much is too much? Too little? Are flashbacks okay?

character backstory
Weave in character backstory in a way that engages readers.

How Much Character Backstory to Use

The bare minimum of backstory that you should include in your novel or picture book or memoir is this: enough to get readers plugged into the character. Maybe that amounts to ZERO backstory, if you start right away with some kind of conflict or action.

Aim for minimum viable product (from the business world), the leanest version of your character who can possibly fly. Maybe we learn one or two things about the character via telling, as is sometimes what happens at the beginning of a picture book. Maybe we don’t get any backstory at all and concentrate on present action. Maybe we get a piece of context (it’s the first day of school, the character just moved to a new place, they’re off to a practice to impress a college scout), and the rest is filled in over time.

What you categorically want to avoid is a big block of character backstory or flashback right away. My advice is always this: if you find yourself leaving the present moment to fill in backstory (even short backstory, like, “we’ve been best friends since kindergarten”), you may not be starting in the right place.

The key questions you want to answer with any backstory you include are: “What makes this character tick, and why should I care about them?”

When to Use Character Backstory

Your first few chapters or scenes should be action-heavy (with some nice introductory conflict) to get agents, publishers, and readers into your story. Once you feel that is established, you can start weaving in backstory or flashback starting in the second or third chapters. Why is the character’s situation XYZ? What is the significance of their objective and motivation? Which characters do we need to know more about in order to understand the present conflict?

BUT! Remember to keep up the balance of action and information, a crucial idea in keeping your pacing lean and mean and compelling. Whenever you give us a scene or paragraph of backstory, surround it with action, scene, and dialogue on either side.

Readers only perceive a story to be backstory-heavy and slow-moving when there aren’t injections of action and conflict to give the dense information a much-needed “lift.”

How to Fill in the Rest

Another thing to consider when you wonder how much character backstory to use, where, and when, is that you don’t have to use absolutely everything that you’ve developed. You may have done your homework and discovered where your character went to middle school and who their first crush was and how they like to relax after a long day. Some of this could wind up in your story, but some of it is for your edification only.

Sometimes, you will find that you need more depth. In that case, whole flashbacks of scenes and memories that not only flesh out your protagonist but the other characters in the story will become useful. But make sure these pull a lot of weight and deliver a lot of insight. The fewer and tighter your flashbacks, the better.

On the whole, it’s perfectly okay to leave elements on the “cutting room floor” as you prioritize action and conflict over heavy character backstory, especially at the beginning of your story.

Your opening pages are crucial for agent, publisher, and reader engagement. Hire me as your book editor for a Submission Package Edit, and I will give you insight into your query, synopsis, and first pages.

Picture Books That Show Character Change

One of the biggest challenges I encounter in my editorial practice is picture books that show character change in a clumsy or overbearing way. Picture books, more than any other category of kidlit, are about character change, a moral, or a lesson. A strong takeaway is expected because we want our young readers to be eating a little bit of medicine (the moral) with their syrup (the story). Like those cookbooks for moms who want to sneak veggies into brownies. But how do we do this effectively, without turning readers (and agents and publishers) off with too much lecturing? It’s all about character!

picture books that show character change, picture book moral
Your character CAN learn something in your story, but the best picture books that show character change are subtle and character-driven, instead of moralizing.

Picture Books That Show Character Change

As you may know from other posts about picture book lessons and writing child characters, I am not a big fan of morals delivered in a didactic way. I’m not alone. Agents and publishers cite moralizing as one of the main reasons they pass on a picture book project.

So how do we write picture books that show character change without explicitly stating the lesson? It’s a rather simple answer: let the character have some realizations and then act upon them. At the same time, do not explain what the character is learning.

Bad: “And Kim realized that sharing IS caring!”

Better: A scene of Kim sharing with her friends and finding satisfaction in it, but without this satisfaction being explicitly explained.

Better: Kim encouraging a younger sibling to share, but also without explicit explanation. (Kids love to play the teacher role, so showing a child passing on their new knowledge to someone else is a great solution!)

Use the moral you’ve come up with as a starting point. Then write three scenarios where the character can actively learn the lesson, enjoy the lesson, or pass their wisdom on. One of these will invariably be better than a straight explanation of the moral.

Unrealistic Character Change

One thing to keep in mind about picture books that show character change is that they should also be realistic. Even preschoolers know that people don’t change 180 degrees overnight.

Yes, we all hate bullies, and we all want kids to share, and we want our preschoolers to tell the truth. But you aren’t going to get anywhere near a realistic and nuanced character if: your bullies vow to never bully again; kids always share forever and ever from this day forward; and your character will never tell a lie in their whole lives, not even a little harmless one.

Honor your reader by not feeding them an overly idealized view of the world. This practice sets up false expectations. Kids are humans, too. They shouldn’t be held to these impossible adult standards for Victorian-era good behavior, not even in picture books.

Because that bully in the preschooler’s real classroom will, unfortunately, bully again. I’d much rather you strive to teach that transformation happens with little choices and in small steps, as that honors the real life process of behavioral change.

Want personalized advice on your picture book manuscript? Hire me as your picture book editor.

Unconventional Writing and Fiction Rules

Many writers wonder whether they can break fiction rules and engage in unconventional writing styles or choices and still get published. I’m of two minds here and would love to explore it further.

Want to break the fiction rules with unconventional writing? Learn them first!

Unconventional Writing

For each writing rule, there exists an example of a project that breaks it. Look no further than the beautiful Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri, which is a riff on storytelling itself, operating without a straightforward chronology.

So for the writer who asks, “Can I tell a story with a very loose, riffy chronology?” Or the writer who asks, “Can I write a 1,500-word picture book?” Or, “How about going into adult POV in middle grade?” My answer is, “Sure you can.”

But! And there’s always a but … it has to be done well. In my over a decade in publishing, I’ve realized that unconventional writing choices are made and break the fiction rules all the time, but in these scenarios, execution becomes all-important.

Fiction Rules

For the most part, fiction rules exist to help writers figure out how to tell stories in a way that invites readers in. Once you learn those rules, guess what? Then you can take a departure and indulge in some unconventional writing, should you desire that approach to storytelling.

However, the rules exist for a reason. Especially in children’s books. Some elements, like word count in picture books, are common sense considerations. Preschoolers don’t have big attention spans and often can’t read on their own. A 2,000-word picture book might strain the boundaries of what’s palatable to kids this age. Chapter books full of advanced vocabulary might scare off or alienate emerging readers. Middle grade with adult POVs that go in depth about divorce and other adult issues from an adult perspective might be better off as stories for adult readers who can more easily relate to these issues.

If you do choose to break fiction rules and guidelines in your desired category, be prepared to get some pushback. Make sure you’re making these storytelling choices for a compelling reason, rather than due to not being fully informed about the market. Make sure your unconventional writing is necessary, rather than a darling that might be better off dead.

Writing for the Agent or Publisher

I was talking to a client the other day and he remarked that he feels like he’s “writing for the agent,” rather than for the reader. And there’s truth in this, frustrating as it might be. A debut writer who needs to convince an agent or publisher that their work is worthwhile has a very high bar to clear.  It’s harder to be a debut writer than an already-published one because you have to do so much to prove yourself.

And some unconventional writing choices may be off-putting to agents and publishers, who often want to traffic in what they can sell to the biggest possible market. Stories that break established fiction rules might come across as too niche, and this might scare gatekeepers in the traditional publishing framework.

So what? Well, there’s always the option to pursue a smaller (and often more experimental or artistically motivated) publisher, or self-publish. Or forge forward and try to find a traditional home for the story.

It takes courage and determination to break the rules. Here’s to a little rebellion!

Is it a bold choice or a liability? Get a manuscript overview—including analysis of your market potential—when you hire me as your freelance editor.

Now Hiring Market Spies

Sorry to use this blog as my personal job board, but I have some very exciting stuff in the pipeline. Next, I’m hiring two assistants for yet another undisclosed project. cue mysterious music

Do you have your listening ears to the ground in terms of the book and entertainment markets? We want to hear from you!

 

Instead of posting jobs to Kidlit exclusively, I’ve started a Careers tab on the Good Story Company website. Please see this job posting for two positions there!

Now Hiring Research Assistant

I’m very excited to announce that I’m hiring a research assistant for an undisclosed project. cue mysterious music

This remote position is perfect for someone who has research experience and is interested in data, data architecture, and more, either in the corporate or start-up space. Maybe you want extra income as you work on your own writing, or need to work from home in this changing landscape.

About You

Ideally, your skills and attributes include:

  • Time management and dedication to deadlines
  • Ability to set, then meet or exceed expectations
  • Clear communication with me about timing and progress
  • The ability to follow instructions but largely work independently and take initiative
  • Reliability and trustworthiness, you will be privy to sensitive business information
  • Proactivity and love of learning—if you don’t know how to do something, you will seek out additional resources, learn what you need, and enjoy the process
  • Familiarity with the Google suite of productivity tools, especially spreadsheets,  as well as Dropbox and Slack
  • Commitment—I put a lot of energy and passion into my working relationships, and I’m only looking for people who could see being available for a minimum of two years, ideally more

Job Description

Projects will include:

  • Marketplace research
  • Amazon and Goodreads data retrieval
  • Thinking of, applying, and keeping track of keywords
  • Monitoring changes over time
  • Keeping an eye on publishing and entertainment trends
  • Making SPREADSHEETS! 🤩
  • Working closely with me and a few editorial assistants

This is not an editorial position, unfortunately, but I welcome applicants who are interested in the publishing business, as we will invariably end up discussing the industry and various client and project needs.

If you do not light up with stars in your eyes at the prospect of spreadsheets, this opportunity is not for you.

Starting pay is $12/hour with the opportunity to grow, and my needs will start at a firm commitment of 10 to 15 hours a week. You will be a 1099 contractor for tax purposes (responsible for withholding and reporting your own income taxes), rather than a W2 employee. Please understand that I am not in the position to offer employee benefits, like health insurance. This is an opportunity for US-based candidates only for legal reasons.

About Me

I’m Mary and I have been in the publishing business for over a decade. I started Kidlit in 2009, published my book Writing Irresistible Kidlit in 2012, founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013, and Good Story Company in 2019.

At Mary Kole Editorial and Good Story Company, we believe in helping all writers unlock their potential. We’re also passionate about doing good. With the Good Story Grant, we give away an award of $3,000 to two writers to enable them to take their writing projects to the next level (one grant is reserved for a BIPOC writer). I can’t wait to see what kind of creativity the Good Story Grant facilitates in the future!

I’m a female founder working my way up in the business world and building a company that makes a difference. My team is a fun and motivated crew of writers, creatives, nerds (said with so much love!) and more. Our work, from the editorial team to the marketing team, is highly creative. But we’re successful, too, and only working to become more so!

More than anything, I want to inspire anyone I work with and give you the tools and firsthand experience of what it means to run an amazing independent business. My dream for you is that you stay with me for a long time, but then maybe go on to build something yourself, using what you’ve learned!

How to Apply

This position has been filled. Thank you for your interest!