Big News!

Last week I hinted on Twitter and Facebook that I have big news to share. A lot of clients, personal friends, colleagues and people who I’ve talked to at conferences already know this, as it has been in the works for a while, but now I want to make it official on the blog:

In July, I’m moving to Brooklyn to open up an East Coast office of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency!

Today is a fitting day for this announcement, as it finishes up my last week of classes for my MFA degree. (I’ll turn in my thesis over the summer, which I can do from anywhere, and then I’m done!) I’m typing up all my loose ends and getting ready for the big move.

Since not everyone knows how ABLit works, let me break it down. Our agency has a central office in the San Francisco Bay Area but we all work independently. That allows us to dedicate ourselves and all our attention to our clients. No daily office grind, no “big, imposing agency” vibe. Last year, we had an agent in Japan. Right now, one of our agents is in Chicago and three of our agents, a few interns and our subrights co-agent are in Southern California.

But it has been a while since we’ve had a dedicated presence on the East Coast. I’m very excited to be stepping up!

I’m making this move for a number of reasons, some personal, some career. I feel like it’s the right time for me to dive into NYC and immerse myself in the publishing scene. I’d love to make strong bonds, lasting relationships and more friends in the industry. It’ll be great to represent ABLit in New York and it’ll also be a fantastic asset for my clients. Finally, my boyfriend and I have been doing the cross-country long distance thing for a year and it’s time for me to finally join him.

I love being so close to Andrea and my Bay Area colleagues. They have been around the corner (some of them literally!) ever since I first started reading for ABLit two years ago and I have learned so much from being so close. I can’t imagine where I’d be without every single one of them. They are truly fantastic, inspiring and wise. I’ll miss them, my friends and my family — as well as my beautiful home city of San Francisco — so much, but this is the time for me to take my show on the road. I will still fly back all the time for meetings, family, friends, and the Big Sur conferences, which I absolutely adore.

Send a toast and well-wishes my way…I can’t wait to bring you more good news, more posts, more insight and more kidlit as I take this next step in my career!

(Okay, but I am still here in the Bay Area for a few months, so if anybody wants to make that a physical toast-and-well-wishes, you know where to find me!)


A word about Sushi: Since Sushi has been such a presence on the blog in the last few weeks, I can now say that this is why her recent illness was so stressful. As I keep an eye on her, I need to know that her health is good enough to survive a taxing move across the country, too. She was always part of my plans in NYC and I hope she stays that way. All signs point to “yes” so far. Thank you for all your continued Sushi love!

Tennessee auction update: Where do I begin? My full manuscript auction ended last night, with a highest bid of $2,800. Demand for this item was so high that I offered a full manuscript critique and phone call to the top 5 highest bidders, at the lowest bid amount of the 5 ($2,125). If all 5 highest bidders want to participate, that means my item will raise over $10,000 for Tennessee flood relief. I am floored and more than happy to do the extra critiques. I immediately got on the phone with Victoria, one of the auction organizers, last night and we just kept going in circles of “Dude…” and “Thank you”/”No, thank you!” I really hope I can swing a trip to Nashville sometime this summer to meet the organizers. Mandy, Victoria and Myra are heroes. They are doing so much good, and I’m honored to be a part of that. Congratulations to the winners! I can’t wait to read your manuscripts!

Tennessee Auction Update

Hey all, here’s my post from Tuesday, edited with today’s information:

My query critique sold over the weekend (to fabulous blog reader Marybk, who got it for herself as a Mother’s Day present! Yay!). I’m so thrilled to be able to help (with your help, of course) the flood victims in Tennessee.

Next up from me is a full manuscript critique that you can bid on until midnight, central time today: Do the Write Thing for Nashville. (Direct link to the item here.)

This opportunity includes:

  • One full manuscript (up to 100,000 words, please) critique of a YA or MG novel
  • A 30-minute post-critique phone call for the winner to talk about the notes and answer any publishing or career-related questions

My critiques are in-depth and thorough, as many readers would know from the workshop series I did on the blog a few months ago. Now imagine that for your whole manuscript! Plus, I don’t know you personally and have no other goal beside making your manuscript the strongest it can be, so you’ll get honest, professional, constructive, helpful feedback that’s not sugarcoated. I want you to grow as a writer and really get to that next level.

So head on over to the blog and bid on my full manuscript critique. You have until midnight Central time today to bid. I’m so grateful to all the people who are bidding over there and changing lives with their generous donations!

Check in with the blog tomorrow for the promised BIG NEWS!

Do the Write Thing for Nashville

My favorite thing about children’s publishing is that it’s really a community, above all. I don’t know of a more supportive, loving and nourishing group of people, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.

Every now and then, members of our community, friends, and colleagues come together to mount a truly heroic effort in the face of disaster. My client, Amanda Morgan, and a group of other writers (including the fabulous Victoria Schwab) have witnessed the flood devastation in central Tennessee firsthand…and they’re doing something about it.

These wonderful ladies — with donations from many people — are putting on an auction over the next few days. You can check it out here:

Blog: Do the Write Thing for Nashville
Facebook: Do the Write Thing for Nashville

How it works:

Exciting book/publishing/writing-related items are posted every day and interested parties have exactly three days to bid in the blog comments to win the item they want. The highest amount bid by someone in comments wins the auction item. The winner pays by PayPal, gets a receipt for their taxes and receives the critique, book, phone call, or whatever, that they bid on. All auction proceeds go to the Community Foundation of Central Tennessee to provide disaster relief.

Here’s where I’m hoping you come in.

I have donated the following items and they will become available over the course of the auction:

  • one query critique
  • one PB manuscript critique
  • one YA or MG manuscript critique (of one manuscript of 100,000 words or less, please. This one is really special, guys. I have never offered a full manuscript critique before because they are so in-depth and time-consuming. You won’t get another opportunity like this unless you become a client!)

My auction items will become available over the next several days. If you love Kidlit, if you’ve ever wanted to be critiqued by me, if you want a really in-depth look at your manuscript, if you’ve got some spare tax refund cash lying around, even if you’ve never heard of me but love to help people in need…please bid generously to support the writing community and the greater community of central Tennessee.

So check out the Do the Write Thing for Nashville Facebook page and blog to see if you can bid on a critique from me or any of the other fantastic items generously donated by my colleagues in publishing. I can’t wait to see all the good we can do together. Now go and bid on something, the first items have just been listed. None of my items have popped up yet, but keep checking back, and bid on some other goodies in the meantime.

To all the writers who blog and Tweet and Facebook and post on Verla Kay and Absolute Write: please get the word out about this auction and about the items I’m offering (not in an annoying, spammy way, though, please). Even if you can’t bid on an item, lend a helping hand by spreading the word!

Think of Me, Think of Me, Sushi

Bizarre post title, right? I don’t often get personal on the blog (there are many more exciting, writing-related things to talk about!) but I could really use some cheering up this morning. Almost exactly a week ago, my cat Sushi (whose name I love to insert into popular lyrics, as you can see, above) got sick with an infection and stopped eating. She’s an older kitty — maybe 14, though I don’t know for sure because I adopted her — and some health problems are par for the course, but she got sick so suddenly that I’m really having a hard time coming to grips with it. I’m just not ready to lose her, less than a year after I lost my other kitty, Smokey.

She’s been to the vet and has quite a collection of medicines that I’m hoping will make her comfortable and heal her right up, but I don’t know if it’s looking good. She still hasn’t eaten on her own and the longer that lasts, the less chance of recovery. In lieu of a blog post today — I doubt I’d have anything intelligent to say, as my thoughts are elsewhere — I want to ask for some good energy and some well-wishes for my beloved Sushi, seen here.


Any Love Connections?

I am using up a valuable Monday post to make sure you all are reading and checking the Critique Connection post. There are about 90 people on there who are looking to find a good critique partner. It’s overwhelming, I know, but read through them. And let me know if anything you find through that venue works out!

Speaking of overwhelming, my schedule has been INSANE. I’ve loved meeting all of the blog readers (and welcoming any new ones!) I met these last two weeks. However, three consecutive weekends of travel (NYC, Dallas and Reno/Tahoe) have really taken their toll. I’ll be back with a new post on Wednesday.

Critique Connection

A comment from Marybk on my last post reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to do again. It can be hard to find critique partners who are focused on learning, growing, and who also write in the same area as you do. I’ve always wanted to make sure my readers have access to critique partners if they need them.

A fair number of critique relationships these days happen online. Partners exchange manuscripts, give notes, talk on the phone or on email. It often takes several tries with several partners to get a good and mutually constructive relationship going. You want to look for someone who knows what they’re talking about, that can articulate not only what doesn’t work in a piece of writing but why, you want someone you can get along with, and someone whose writing you think is good and that you wouldn’t mind reading over and over.

I can’t guarantee that I can facilitate match-made-in-kidlit-heaven-style critique partners for everyone, but I did want to make sure you guys who are looking for crit partners had a venue to post. I have all of your questions from the last few days in mind and will get back to writing regular posts soon, but for now, let me make this a personals board for the critique-partner-less.

POST IN THE COMMENTS ON THIS ENTRY ONLY IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A CRITIQUE PARTNER. Put your genre (fantasy, paranormal, realistic, etc.) and your audience (picture book, MG, YA, etc.) and what you want to work on (a complete manuscript of XX,000 words, a partial, a query, etc.). Let’s see if we can’t make any matches here. The worst that can happen is you could share your work with someone, get some notes, and decide it’s not a fit.

ETA: If you see anyone here that you think might be a good fit, leave a comment with your email address or a way to get in touch with you. I can’t look through the comments and match people up, you should take the lead if you think anybody’s stuff sounds good to you. Use this as a personals board! Lots of people are looking for critique partners… now reach out to each other and try to connect and run with it!

First Workshop Selection Posted Tuesday, March 16th

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!

Contest Redux

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.

Grand Prize Winner, Novel Beginnings Contest!

As promised, today is the big reveal of the Grand Prize winner for the Kidlit Novel Beginnings Contest! Without further ado, I present an entry by Mary Danielson, a (light) paranormal/mystery YA called THE SHERWOOD CONFESSIONS. This entry embodies the voice, tension, and intrigue that I like to see at the beginning of a novel. While we haven’t gotten a scene yet — which I’ve always said is very important at the beginning of a novel — I think that one is coming, just by the set-up. Find out why this book sounds compelling enough to read “from beginning to end.”

The funny thing about Mary Danielson, today’s winner, is that she actually entered the contest twice. For my initial judging, I like to keep entries anonymous. Lots of my frequent readers — whose names I recognize from comments and the like — enter the contests, so I don’t want to be biased when reading their entries. Either way, I whittle down the entries to about the top 25 or so without looking at names. Then I start to really analyze the top choices. And, by some incredible stroke of either luck or genius, two entries from this selection of the top 25 (out of more than 400!) belonged to Mary Danielson! And both entries were so good that it was difficult to choose just one to place among the winners that I’ve posted here.

Read on to find out what caught my eye… twice!


Five weeks before his disappearance, Miles St. John pushed me up against a locker and kissed me. Hard.

I really enjoy the voice here. And we have a disappearance already in play. There’s a lot of action in this sentence, and that “Hard,” for emphasis, is a nice touch.

This didn’t exactly make it into the police report. A lot of things didn’t. Not that night, not our plan, and especially not this little fact: I could have saved him.

Lots and lots of mystery! And the danger element of lying to the police. And the high stakes idea of her being able to save him. There’s immediate tension!

Even the reporters, who descended on Verity with their news vans and power ties, didn’t discover our secret. They badgered witnesses and dug up rumors, but still not a single tabloid mentioned my name.

And this character has managed to fly under the radar. I want to know a whole lot more about that.

In a few hours, I could be away from it all. Suitcases and secrets in hand, I could get on that plane to Texas and never be caught. Those stories would stand and you people could go on guessing and wondering, your theories swirling around and around until pretty soon everyone loses interest. It would be yesterday’s headline.

It would all be a lie.

Now she’s running from it, “suitcases and secrets in hand.” But will she get away with it? Will it be a clean severing of ties? And what will the emotional ramifications of all this secrecy be? I’m already so invested in this character’s story and I’ve only read a few sentences.

And if there’s anything my time at Verity Prep taught me, it’s this: a lie, even one that no one suspects, will do more bad than good every time. So, this isn’t going to be like before. I’m telling the truth now.

Lots and lots of tension again. My question from my last comment — about the ramifications of her lie — still stand here. I find that when the reader thinks something, and then the author mentions it and picks up on it, that’s a really well-written manuscript. I was just thinking about how the lie would impact her, and then it turns out Mary has thought about it too, and mentioned it right as it bubbled up in my brain. There’s the risk here, also, of this character finally telling the truth. I’m guessing this is the “confessions” part of THE SHERWOOD CONFESSIONS. What does this have to do with her impending escape? There’s also tension with the mention of “before” that piques my interest, and I want to know more about Verity Prep, where they’re apparently teaching whole lessons on lies and scandal instead of calculus and chemistry.

Not just about Miles, but about everything – the robberies, the fire, the curse.

And there’s a CURSE! *swoon* I want to know about all these things, but especially the curse.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Uncle Dash says that the best quality in a good journalist is that she gives all the facts – from the very beginning, when things first get fishy, all the way until the villain’s confession.

I also like that she’s a journalist. If I hadn’t know this, I would still have noticed the way she talks about reporters and the news, abov,e and guessed that it was one of her interests. It’s cool to see a character’s narrative through the lens of their passion, and her interest in journalism is clear even before she says it outright. Good voice here, too.

So, here it is – from my beginning to his end — the confessions of Evie Archer: amateur sleuth, freak of nature, and criminal mastermind.

Great button for this excerpt. I want to know about all three of these roles that she’s taken on for herself.


So there you have it, folks! Congratulations to all the winners and the entrants… it takes a lot of guts to share your writing and put it out there into the world. I’ll do a bit of a “deconstruction” post for this contest on Friday, with some of my lingering thoughts on novel beginnings. Thank you all for playing along with this great exercise!

First Place Winner, Novel Beginnings Contest

I’m very excited to share the First Place winner of the novel beginnings contest. This is a contemporary MG story and one that I think will have you cracking up and loving the voice. It’s by Anita Nolan and is called ELLIE AND THE KING. Read on to see why I picked it.


Lisa Marie Presley and I have a lot in common. Maybe it’s not obvious, since she’s older than my mother and has been married to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage, among others, and I, at the age of thirteen, have been married to no one.

This is a great opening line and paragraph. It also sets up an interesting problem. The narrator says they have a lot in common, then goes on to outline how they couldn’t be any more different. And yet…

But we both have Elvis for a dad.

Ah, there it is! The moment I was hooked.

The only difference is—her dad really was Elvis.

My dad, on the other hand, just thinks he’s Elvis. Okay, maybe he doesn’t really believe he is, but he plays along with the people who play along with him pretending to be Elvis.

I don’t think I have ever read a plot conflict about an Elvis impersonator, er, tribute artist. 🙂 I love her thoughts on him and his audience, how he plays along and they play along with him, it sums everything up in a tight little sentence.


Don’t get me wrong. I love my father—I do. He ‘s taken care of me since my mother left when I was three months old.

But sometimes I wish he were a normal dad, with a normal hobby, like woodworking, or golf, or creating sculptures from tree trunks with a chain saw.

No, my dad wants to be Elvis. How humiliating is that?

Thank you, Dad. Thank you very much.

Love the Elvis nod at the end of this mini-section here. While there are moments where the voice strains just slightly into overused “sarcastic teen” territory — “Whatever” or “How humiliating is that?” — we do get some nice humor here, and some odd details (“creating sculptures from tree trunks with a chain saw”) that show us a true, idiosyncratic character. We also get a little family history here, but not too much. The big lesson in this contest so far — don’t weight the beginning down too heavily with backstory and exposition. See how little other writers are doing and how it feels like just enough.

“I’m adopted. It’s the only possible explanation.”

The Piercing Pagoda kiosk at the mall provides excellent cover for my friend Lindsey and me while a group of kids from school—the popular ones—stroll past, but I duck lower anyway. I don’t know why I worry, because I’m one of the more invisible people at school. But if anyone connects me with the man dressed in full Elvis regalia standing across the way, my name will flash through every IM in Cranford Middle School, and possibly the entire state of Pennsylvania.

Locates the reader, gives us a snappy line of dialogue and grounds us in the scene and the moment that’s happening. We also get a little bit more context for this character and her social life, or lack thereof. I like that we jump into scene quickly.

Lindsey glances at the older ladies—it’s always older ladies—lined up to meet my dad, and shakes her head. “There’s only one problem with the adoption theory. How do you explain your eyes?”

That is the problem. I’ve tried to convince myself that I look nothing like my father—and I don’t—except for my dark green eyes, complete with little blue flecks. I guess the adoption theory can’t be right, but as my father bursts into song, I wish it were.

The challenge of how to describe the physical traits of a first person character is a constant one. Here, the writer does a good job of giving us some physical detail that works into the story. This is an icky trick that all first person writers have to do at some point, and this is a rather elegant solution. (I also love the “it’s always older ladies” aside. Good voice.)

The kids from school hang at the edge of the crowd, pointing at Dad and laughing. My face flushes and I have a hard time swallowing. I wish Dad would keep the Elvis stuff out of the mall and away from anyone I know.

Gram says I shouldn’t be embarrassed. Everyone has a few skeletons hanging in their closets. Unfortunately for me, my skeleton is the one dressed in gold lamé singing Love Me Tender in front of the Cinnabon.

What a terrific image to end the excerpt on! And there is great interiority here, so Ellie’s big predicament — and moment of panic at the mall — is beginning to be very clearly felt by the reader. There’s also tension. They’re hiding. The popular kids are on the prowl. Dad is gyrating. You get one guess, and one guess only, about what could possibly happen next. And with this voice and this sense of humor, I really do want to see it unfold after reading this snippet, don’t you?


The contest concludes tomorrow with the announcement of the Grand Prize winner. Thank you to everyone for reading these entries and commenting. Keep your thoughts comin’!

Copyright © Mary Kole at Kidlit.com