SCBWI San Francisco/South Bay Agents Day

Great news for San Francisco Bay Area writers! The SCBWI San Francisco/South Bay chapter is holding its Agents Day event on August 12th. While spots are selling quickly and critiques are all sold out as of this writing, there is still a little time left to snag tickets to the all-day extravaganza*. Early bird pricing is in full effect through June 30th, so grab it while it lasts!

San Francisco, Golden Gate, Bay Area, writing workshop
I’m going going, back back, to Cali Cali…

I’ll be kicking off an action-packed day with an intensive 90-minute workshop on my absolute favorite topic: character interiority. This is a workshop I’ve given only once before, and I’ve pretty much redesigned it based on feedback from the first class (given at the Loft Literary Center here in Minneapolis in July of 2016). Then I’ll be doing critiques and a faculty panel in the afternoon. The organizers for this event are fantastic, and I couldn’t be more excited.

On a personal note, I haven’t been home since 2013, so it’s going to be so wonderful to catch up with old friends and colleagues, and share the gorgeous City by the Bay with Theo. Life is topsy-turvy for us this summer. We are remodeling our home and moving for four months to a temporary rental. A family vacation is the shining beacon keeping me sane and hopeful through it all.

*”Extravaganza” not guaranteed but I will do my best to deliver one! 🙂

Loft Workshop in Minneapolis

If you are in or near Minneapolis, please come see my workshop on Interiority: Exploring a Character’s Inner Life. This topic is always on my mind. I find myself constantly commenting on interiority (thoughts, feelings, emotions) in client manuscripts. There isn’t a protagonist out there, in my humble opinion, that couldn’t stand to be developed more fully from the inside out.

This is an in-depth three-hour workshop where we’ll really dive into my favorite fiction craft topic. I hope to arm you with some inspiration and knowledge so that you can dive into your protagonist more confidently and deepen your own craft as a fiction writer.

The Loft is still taking registrations and you can find more information here. I’d love to see you on July 23rd.

Charity Auction and Fun Writing Tool

This is less of a craft post and more of an update. Last month, my husband and I signed on to a restaurant project called Parella that will be opening in the vibrant Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis this summer. I’ll be acting as the wine director, as I’m actually a certified sommelier, which is a fun piece of trivia. Not to worry, I’m still editing almost full-time with a robust list of clients. If you’d like me to help you with any manuscript, query, or publishing conundrum, please see my editorial website.

In other news, I’m participating in an auction and donating a 30-minute phone or Skype consultation with the lucky winner about anything manuscript- or publishing-related. NAAlley.com, along with authors and publishing professionals from around the world have come together to raise awareness of violence against women, as well as show support for an amazing and courageous young lady, Queena–the Bloomingdale Library victim. Back in 2008, Queena was a vibrant eighteen-year-old with a full scholarship to her dream college and her whole life ahead of her. She was returning books to the local library when she was beaten, brutally raped, and left for dead in the swamps behind the library. Queena suffered multiple brain injuries and has lost all motor skills, including speech, vision, the ability to walk, talk, or feed herself.

Now, seven years later, she still requires round-the-clock care and is confined to a wheelchair, but she makes strides every year and can communicate with eye movement and various sounds. Medical expenses and therapy cost over $70K every year, and we want to show Queena how proud we are of her for never giving up.

The Quest for Queena is hosted by www.NAAlley.com and will have various reader and writer related items up for bid. 100% of the proceeds will go to Queena and her family for the therapy that helps Queena progress just a little more with each new year.

Some of the items up for bid include:

    • Critiques from literary agents Sara Megibow & Cassie Hanjian.
    • Author education courses and consultations from Authors Training Authors, Stand up-Stand Out-Rake It In, Plot Whisperer, Mary Kole, and more.
    • Top rated publishing and writing software from Save the Cat, Scrivener, & Vellum.
      Design & promotional services from Lola’s Blog Tours, Forward Authority, Colbert Creative, BookGraphics, and StoryFinds.
    • Editorial consultations & services from respected industry pros.
    • Autographed books from Leigh Talbert Moore, Brenda Novak, Livia Blackburne, Lydia Kang, Lori M. Lee, Therese Walsh, and so many more!
    • A VIP pass to UtopYA writers conference.

These are just a few of the amazing items and services. Please visit the auction website starting April 27 to bid all week long. Now is your chance to get an excellent deal while supporting a worthy cause at the same time.

On Friday, May 1, NAAlley.com will wrap up the event with a Facebook party, in which all final winners will be announced, as well as more prizes and author visits given away.

To learn more about Queena, please visit JoinQueena.com.

Finally, if you struggle with adverbs, I just heard about this easy-peasy tool called “Adverbless” where you can copy and paste your document into an online window and it points out all of those pesky adverbs for you. Give it a whirl, and remember that friends don’t let friends use adverbs. 🙂

Secrets to a Good Fiction Logline

When I talk about crafting a fiction logline, I mean a quick and effective sales pitch for your story. It is the same as the “elevator pitch” or your snappy “meets” comparison (Harry Potter meets Where the Wild Things Are!). However, not everyone’s book fits the “meets” way of doing this, so they’re left with constructing their own short sentence to encapsulate their work. That’s where things often get hairy.

fiction logline, fiction pitch, how to attract a literary agent, novel logline, novel pitch,
An epic novel pitch session is about to go down.

Most Writers Struggle With the Fiction Logline

If you think queries and synopses are hard, loglines are often a whole new world of pain for writers. Boiling down an entire book into four pages? Doable. Into a few paragraphs? Questionable. Into a sentence or two?! Impossible.

Or not. The first secret to crafting a good logline is that you should probably stop freaking out about it. If you can get it, good. If not, you can still pitch an agent or editor with a query or a one-minute summation of your story at a conference or if you do happen to be stuck with them in an elevator. Nailing it in one sentence is more of an exercise for you than a requirement of getting published.

How to Write a Great Fiction Logline

That said, my surefire way to think about loglines is as follows:

1) Connect your character to your audience

2) Connect your plot to the market

Let’s examine this. First, begin your logline with your character and their main struggle. This is a way of getting your audience on board. For example, with Hunger Games, Katniss would be “A girl hell-bent on survival…” or “A girl who volunteers herself to save those she loves…”

Now let’s bring plot into it. When you pitch your plot, you always want to be thinking about where it fits in the marketplace. At the time that the first Hunger Games was published, dystopian fiction was white hot as a genre. That’s not so much the case anymore, but if I had been pitching this story at that time, I would’ve definitely capitalized on the sinister dystopian world building.

To connect the plot to the market, I would’ve said something like, “…in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” This says to the book or film agent, “Dystopian! Right here! Get your dystopian!”

Putting Your Novel Pitch Together

So to put it together, “A girl volunteers herself to save those she loves in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” That’s a bit long, and not necessarily elegant, but it definitely hits all of the high notes of the market at that time, while also appealing emotionally to the audience. (Volunteering for a “fight to the death” contest is a really ballsy thing to do, so we automatically want to learn more.)

Notice that here, even the character part involves plot (it focuses on Katniss volunteering).

Fiction Loglines in Character-Driven Novels

If I’m working on a contemporary realistic novel, the “plot to market” part is less salient because we’re not exactly within the confines of any buzzy genre. That’s fine, too. You should probably be aware early on whether you’re writing a more character-driven or plot-driven story. The Hunger Games nails some strong character work, but I would argue that it’s primarily plot-driven, or “high concept.”

With character-driven books, the former part of the logline construction becomes more important. Let’s look at Sara Zarr’s excellent Story of a Girl. The title is pretty indicative of the contents. It’s literally the story of a girl, and the girl is more important than necessarily each plot point that happens to her.

With character-driven, I’d spend most of my time connecting character to audience. I’d say, for example, “A girl from a small town struggles with the gossips around her who refuse to forgive her past mistakes…” This is the girl’s situation for most of the book, and part of her biggest “pain point” as a person. Then I’ll need to indicate the rest of the plot with something like “…must step out from the shadows of her reputation and find out who she really is.”

Notice that here, even the plot part involves character (it focuses on the more subtle work of figuring herself out rather than, say, battling to the death).

Both are solid loglines because both communicate the core of the story and the emphasis of the book (plot-driven vs. character-driven, genre-focused vs. realistic). Try this two-step exercise with your own WIP.

Want help with pitches, queries, or your submission package? Hire me as your novel editor.

Getting the Most Out of a Conference

I’ve done several posts on writer’s conferences (some are here), and I know that the big NY SCBWI is coming up. What I want to hammer home to writers about to go to their first or their hundredth writer’s conference is that it’s all about what you make out of it, much like writing-related programs and work experience. Many people go to conferences in the wrong mindset, and it can impact their experience in a bad way.

For example, they put a lot of emphasis on their pitch session, thinking that whether or not they get a request will mean the conference either was or wasn’t worth the money, respectively. Or they enter a conference-sponsored contest and hang all of their hopes on winning. Or they expect to corner a visiting agent or editor and sell them on the book. It’s very rare that these American Idol moments happen at conferences, and expecting them is setting yourself up to have a bad time should the stars not align.

But before you think I’m trying to talk you into shooting low, remember that it’s very rare indeed for the stars to align. And even if you make a connection with an editor or agent, it’ll most likely be long after the conference when they’ve finally had a chance to read the manuscript they requested from you at the event. Because that’s how it has always worked for me: I request and read later, not at the table, while the writer is nervously staring at me.

Your primary job at a conference, therefore, isn’t to walk out of there with a book deal (though I can’t swear this has never happened), it’s to be cool, personable, and open to the experience. Most importantly, it’s to be without agenda. I know this sounds lame. You are paying a lot of money to be there, you’ve likely taken time off work or away from your family. You have a manuscript burning a hole in your hard drive. You don’t yet understand that publishing moves slower than molasses unless you’re one of the very few debuts that’s destined to set the world on fire. While it’s important to have a dream and a strong motivation, it’s more important not to only be there in obvious service of it.

This means chatting with your tablemates at lunch about things other than you project (though you can definitely discuss it). Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or learn about another genre. This means introducing yourself to visiting authors, agents, and editors without immediately launching into your pitch. (Most of my most successful conference matches have come from writers who chatted me up about something random, had a good sense of humor, and were very casual-yet-professional about getting a card and following up with business later.) This means using your pitch session as a fun practice exercise in distilling your ideas instead of The End All And Be All Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity you might think it is.

Expectations are hard in that they’re always present and always tied to emotion. Writing expectations, especially, because they have to do with something so personal and creative. But everyone has a different path to publication and a different path once published. Any of my clients will tell you that having a book out in the world is great but (and there’s always this but) nothing like they expected or imagined. The house is late in processing your payment. Your book does unexpectedly well or poorly. You get questions from readers that blow your mind. Your book gets banned because of one word from a school library. Your next book isn’t picked up or you end up scrambling to write a sequel because of demand. Your editor leaves. You switch houses. Your house announces a huge merger with another house. And on and on and on. Everyone is in a long learning curve together in this publishing business, and every time I think I’ve seen or heard it all, a new story emerges that changes my perspective on it.

The best way to go to a writer’s conference is to temper your expectations, be casual and professional, make a good impression by being friendly and curious, and take as many notes as you can on sessions that interest you. I recommend conferences 100% but I have been to hundreds of them and can tell you now that one isn’t going to change your life. That’s not to say that you won’t get an idea, have an “aha!” moment, or meet someone who is going to be part of your journey. Go into the experience with your head in the right place and be open to anything.

SCBWI Central California Illustrator’s Day

On May 19th, I’m speaking to the wonderful group at the SCBWI Central California. This day of fun and learning is for picture book illustrators and authors, and it’s the first of its kind for this region. My talk will address both illustrators and writers and, even though it’s called Illustrators’ Day, I know that almost every picture book writer I’ve ever read could learn a lot by thinking like an illustrator, so come one, come all!

Here’s the official information from the SCBWI:

***

SCBWI California North/Central’s 1st Illustrators’ Day (for picture book authors, too!)
DATE: May 19, 2012
LOCATION/TIME: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Rancho Cordova City Hall, 2729 Prospect Park Drive, Sacramento 95670

Join us for an exciting day with inspiring presentations, a first look panel discussion, a promo card contest, and an optional oral portfolio critique (extra charge). Our featured speakers include:

Rotem Moscovich, the brilliant editor/art director with Disney/Hyperion
Ashley Wolff, the talented author/illustrator of Miss Bindergarten and Stella and Roy fame
Mary Kole, the wonderful Andrea Brown Literary Agent based in New York

Member: $85
Non-Member: $90

The day includes:

Promo Postcard Contest (entries due May 1st)
First Look Panel Discussion (entries due May 1st)
Portfolio Display (bring your portfolio on conference day)
Nurturing Portfolio Critiques (an additional $35)

The talks at the conference will be the following:

Gestalt, or 1+1= More: Words and Pictures in Picturebooks
Rotem Moscovich, Disney/Hyperion
We’ll take apart the elements of a picture book, including pacing, page turns, and structure. Looking at examples together, we’ll discuss how the two main components—illustrations and text—work together to create more than a whole.

Creating in Words and Pictures: How to Craft Successful Picture Books
Mary Kole, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
A talk for picture book writers and illustrators that focuses on hook, story, character, voice, thinking like an illustrator for writers, thinking like a writer for illustrators, and how to write picture books that prevail in this challenging market.

Author, editor, illustrator, art director–A Book Has Many Parents
Ashley Wolff, author/illustrator
The only names on the jacket are the author and illustrator, but It takes a (small) village to make a book. I’ll look back at memorable collaborations over a 30 year career.

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN, so click here to sign up.

***

If you’re a picture book writer and anywhere near Sacramento on May 19th, I hope to see you there!

Bologna Wrap-Up

So, Bologna is over. VinItaly, the world’s biggest wine trade show, which I happened to be in Verona for completely by accident but which, of course, I also attended, is over. I don’t have to walk around another ginormous expo center until I see my nemesis–the Javits–for BEA in June. Although, if we’re being totally honest, it would behoove me to walk around and around and around the Javits for weeks to shed the evidence of a three-week-long European food and wine binge from my hips. Hello, jeggings!

But this isn’t a post about me expanding my booty food an wine horizons. For that you can check out Chowlit. This is a post about me expanding my children’s foreign market horizons. I have to say, right off the top, that none of this insight would be possible without ABLA’s incomparable foreign co-agent Taryn Fagerness. My colleague Jenn Laughran and I watched her pitch at meeting after meeting with something approaching awe. Girlfriend was meeting foreign publishers, scouts, and movie people from dawn to dusk, then somehow marshaling the energy for Bologna’s extracurricular parties and dinners (and…gelato excursions…oh, the gelato excursions).

Some of you eagle-eyes may have noticed that I’ve updated my Wish List (look in the sidebar to your right –>). This has to do with Bologna, sure, but, frankly, an overhaul was overdue. Some things have stayed (like heartbreaking MG voice, edgy YA, issue book), but others are new or edited.

Here’s the news that was heard up and down the halls in Bologna: the market has shifted away from paranormal and (most) dystopian, and we’re in a bit of a trend valley at the moment. I’ve been saying this for a few months at conferences, and it’s nice to have that opinion resoundingly confirmed. Contemporary realistic is on the rise, though I still have my doubts about it. I’ve been hearing editors request contemporary realistic for a year or two now, though not everyone can convince a more trend-minded house to actually buy it. Sure, we’re all sick of paranormal and dystopian, but not all publishers have been able to put their offers where their mouths are with contemporary. When I get more evidence of this, I’ll fully buy the contemporary “trend” we’re all talking about.

Another mini-trend: thriller. So you’ll see it added to my list, though with a caveat. Thrillers need to…thrill. A lot of the manuscripts that cross my desk with the “thriller” pitch are predictable, with low stakes, not enough action, and characters that aren’t sympathetic or worth my care. This is a problem. I’m sure we’ll see more excellent examples of YA thriller as they’re published, but to see something dark and psychological and irresistible, check out I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, pubbing next month from Little, Brown. I hope thrillers take off–I love suspense and surprise in my slush.

Light sci-fi has been a buzzword for about the last year, but I’m not seeing a lot of sci-fi publishing and doing well, so I don’t know if houses are jumping all over it like they said they were going to. There’s always demand for fantasy and action/adventure, especially in middle grade. Speaking of which, I saw domestic and foreign editors and scouts alike begging for more meaty middle grade. Movie people, too. Good MG is very difficult to write, I think, because it’s such an in-between time in a person’s life and therefore true character and voice for this age group is very difficult to nail. It’s also a lot less “sexy” than YA, especially market-wise, so maybe a lot of aspiring writers think that MG is “slumming it.” I wish they wouldn’t. Sure, the MG world is missing a lot of YA’s glamor, but the opportunity to publish in it is very much there.

Finally, while there are a lot of original and licensed properties being published overseas that originated there, the US and the UK really lead the charge for creating new content. A lot of the books that come out in smaller territories had their starts in the English-speaking publishing world. Exceptions with a lot of native material are probably Italy, France, and Germany, though they do buy a significant number of US/UK properties. In the English-speaking world, we are the big publishing deal, folks. So let’s make it count and put out some awesome books that will thrill not only local readers, but the world at large!

Overall, an invigorating fair with lots of interesting people and ideas swirling around. And gelato. Did I mention the gelato? Thanks to my colleague Jenn, as well as Jo Volpe and Kathleen Ortiz from Nancy Coffey, who were my constant companions. Now I’m going to eat a bunch of kale and pretend that most of those meals didn’t happen…

Big News and Big Sur!

We still have space available at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur workshop that’s happening March 2nd to the 4th in beautiful Monterey, CA. Guest editors this time around include the fabulous Lisa Yoskowitz of Disney-Hyperion, Sharyn November of Viking/Penguin, and Julie Romeis from Chronicle Books. We’ve also got film agent Brandi Rivers from Magnet Management in Los Angeles if you’re writing a screenplay or are otherwise interested in Hollywood. If you’re writing anything from picture books to young adult, come on down and hone your craft with four intensive hands-on workshops throughout the weekend. Learn more about the weekend and register here.

As for me, I’m up to something hands-on and intensive before Big Sur weekend. I’m not quite ready to make the big announcement yet, but you should be able to guess my news from these pictures. Here’s the first clue that I posted to my Twitter back in October. It’s me mailing something very important:

Hmm. What could it be? Here’s a new clue. This is what’s my desk looks like these days:

Actually, that’s a lie. My desk is nowhere near this orderly. I cleaned it up a little for the photo. Either way, I’m getting away from the point. I’ll do a proper reveal of my news in a few weeks, but I think you can figure out what I’m working on. Just for the hell of it, the first person to guess correctly in the comments will win…whatever this project might be…whenever it’s available! 😉

Middle Grade and Young Adult Webinar This Thursday

This Thursday, February 9th, I’ll be teaching a Middle Grade and Young Adult Craft Intensive webinar at 1 p.m. Eastern.

This 90-minute webinar will focus exclusively into the craft of writing fiction for the middle grade and young adult audience. I’ll talk about the marketplace, strategies to really make your novel stand out in the slush, character, plotting, tension, description, setting, voice, submissions, queries, and much more. This is only the second time I’m teaching this webinar that’s specific to MG and YA novel writers, so if you missed the one I gave in September, this is your chance to hear it. You can sign up by clicking here.

The personalized benefit of my webinars, as many of you already know, is that they include a critique from me for every registered student. For this one, I will read and critique the first 500 words of your MG or YA novel (one project per student, please). Instructions for submitting will come when you register for the webinar.

If you’re having scheduling issues with the time or date, don’t worry. You don’t need to be available on the exact time and date to still benefit. By signing up, you will receive a recording of the webinar (emailed about one week after the original webinar date), you will have the same chance to ask questions as the other students, and you will still get your critique. So sign up even if this Thursday doesn’t work for you!

Writer’s Digest Conference Discount

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

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