Celebrating Nora Pepper Macdonald

As many of you know, two years ago today, I gave birth to my daughter, Nora Pepper. We didn’t know it at the time, but she would come to us with a very rare brain disorder called Ohtahara Syndrome. It would be the reason for her death sixteen days later. In the two years since Nora lived and died, I’ve gone through what feels like an entire lifetime.

Our gorgeous Nora girl. These pictures were taken when she was five days old, before we knew.

Losing Nora was the worst thing my husband, Todd, and I, have ever experienced. Our son, Theo, was 21 months at the time. We suddenly found ourselves reading a lot of picture books about death. An urn showed up in our living room. We went to an event put on by the Children’s Hospital bereavement department and released monarch butterflies. To this day, Theo says, “Sister Nora turned into a butterfly.”

It has been two years, today, since she was born.

Since then, Todd has started two restaurants, then left the traditional chef lifestyle. Now he works an honest-to-goodness 9-5 doing recipe development for a restaurant group in town. He cooks us dinner every night.

My editing business is having the most successful year ever, beyond my wildest imagination. I now work with eight absolutely amazing individuals. I’ve launched another company, a podcast, a forum, and a YouTube channel. There are even more big plans on the horizon.

Theodore the Goofball. This is immediately before he bowled me over into the grass.

Theo is thriving at a Spanish immersion preschool. He’s so funny. Like, so funny. And wise. We read books to him every day. He got a bunk bed this week and ran around the house, squealing with pure glee.

My family is complicated. Three months after Nora died, my father passed away from, as Kurt Vonnegut called it, “cancer of the everything.” But it brought me back in touch with my stepmother and half-sister. Three weeks ago, my stepfather suffered a massive stroke, a life-changing, and potentially life-ending event. But it brought my mother and I—uneasily, tenderly—out of a long estrangement.

And finally, we have Finn.

It’s impossible to have a bad day with Finny’s gorgeous smile.

Finn is a joy. He’s approaching 10 months. He’s always smiling. He has a gleam in his eye. He’s pulling up to stand. To be perfectly honest, if things hadn’t taken the turn they did, Finny-Doodle probably wouldn’t have come into our family.

Now we can’t imagine our lives without him.

Every year, I like to turn Nora’s birthday into a force for life and positivity, since it was the most godawful thing I’ve ever experienced (even though there were surprisingly beautiful things about it). Nora never got the chance to create a measure of good in the world, so I work to keep her memory alive.

The year she died—2017—I asked for donations to the Children’s Hospital Foundation. We were powerless against Nora’s condition, but our family raised over $20,000 to allow Children’s to help other families. Last year—2018—I asked for donations in Nora’s memory to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an organization that allows families suffering infant loss or stillbirth to receive professional photographs of their brief time together. When they sent me the stack of cards with all the names of those who had donated in Nora’s memory, I shuffled through them all and wept.

This year, I’m directing anybody who wants to do some good in Nora’s memory to the Good Story Grant. My vision is a monetary gift of $2,000 to one or more writers that the Good Story Company is offering for the first time in January/February 2020. The first grant is fully funded, but depending on donations, which have already started to come in, we may be able to offer it more than once a year. The grant is accepting applications now.

The grant’s objective is simple: My team and I will review pitches from writers about how the money will help them get to the next level on a writing project. As long as it has to do with creative writing and there’s some accountability in the form of a timeline, deliverables, and letters of recommendation, we want to hear about it. If you’d like to help me support one or more writers every year, you are welcome to donate here.

Thank you for your support throughout the years. I truly love you, my amazing Kidlit crew, and I can’t believe that you help me live my dream every single day. I’m very sad that Nora isn’t with us, but the last two years have been truly incredible, in no small part because of you, my dear reader.

Announcing the Good Story Grant

I’m going to be honest with you guys. The situation I wrote about last week with an apology for a guest’s overly sales-focused behavior really got under my skin. In defending their actions, they wrote to me: “The reality is that there are always some people, especially writers, who are not used to webinars that sell product and think they are entitled to free content.”

Yes, writers do “think they are entitled to free content.” And they are! Imagine a writing teacher penalizing writers for trying to learn. Writers deserve help to get where they want to go. That has been my mantra for the last decade.

With all of this negativity swirling around, I decided to channel my frustration into something good. And so, I’m announcing the Good Story Grant! That’s right. I’ve been giving writers encouragement and knowledge for my entire career, now I’m straight-up giving money away. 💸💸💸

good story company, storytelling, writers

Good Story Grant

I’m giving away a cash prize of $2,000 to one eligible writer who has a project in mind where money would make a difference. What I want to know is:

  • what the project is
  • what the timeframe is
  • what the deliverable would be

Make your case with a personal essay and two letters of recommendation about you as a writer, or you as a motivated, creative person. Easy peasy. You don’t have to live in the US, but you must be able to accept funds in PayPal and be 18 years old as of the grant deadline.

Please learn more about the Good Story Grant here!

I’m taking applications the end of January, and a winner will be announced on Valentine’s Day because all you need is love, right? (To all supporters of writers: I’m also accepting donations from any interested parties on the page linked above, if you want to help me flesh out this grant or make the Good Story Grant an ongoing—rather than annual—event.)

An Apology

As the season of gratitude approaches, I have too many blessings to count. And one of my biggest blessings is you, dear Kidlit reader. You have been with me for over ten years, along for the ride on the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. You make what I do on the blog (and Good Story Company and YouTube and Good Story Podcast and on every other free avenue that you can find me) worthwhile.

If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know that I provide content for writers. That’s my passion, and what I do best. You may also know that I don’t do a lot of selling. There has never been an ad on this blog, and the only things I sell are my own projects, whether that’s my book or a webinar or the Manuscript Submission Blueprint. That was a collaboration brought to me by Children’s Book Insider, and I sampled several of their classes before agreeing to make one. I loved it, and I poured my all into the class I created. I’m still very proud of it! I also think it’s offered at a kickass price point that gives a ton of value for your hard-earned dollar.

Keeping this type of integrity in a culture of “monetization” has been hard. I get advertising requests every single day for this blog because it has been around a long time, because a lot of people come to it, and because my email lists and social feeds have a lot of followers. Over and over, I say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Even my own mother keeps asking, “When are you gonna monetize that blog?”

Sorry, Mom! I will not “put the good stuff behind a paywall.” I will not launch a subscription model where I make a quick buck off of you when you forget to cancel for a few months. I feel very strongly about this, and always have. If you read my blog and have never given me one red cent, thank you! Welcome! I’m so happy to have you! My editorial practice is thriving and I’m having my best year ever, with a team of eight wonderful employees. (I know, right?!) Please enjoy the things I share with writers for free. I mean it.

Now. What’s the apology for? Well, a few months ago, a very prominent writing teacher approached me to do a collaboration. My response was in line with my values (the names have been redacted):

I was very grateful to have an opportunity to collaborate with a famous writing teacher. But my audience was and still is my first concern. So in the above response, I wanted to make sure that my writers would be respected, along with their valuable time.

The teacher called me and reassured me over the phone that “the webinar is very content rich and only the last ten minutes are spent selling.” The product was a course from this writer. This teacher said “most people don’t even notice the sales pitch.” We had a great talk and I completely gave this teacher the benefit of the doubt.

But when the webinar rolled around, I’m afraid my expectations were not met. There was valuable content, indeed, and I learned a few things, but there was also a lot of selling. Blatant, in-your-face selling. There was even discussion of the finer points of a financing option. I watched on, very disappointed, but I had been taken off as a presenter for the duration of the webinar, so I literally couldn’t come back on the line. We were on this teacher’s webinar software, not mine. And would I want to interrupt and make a scene? I was in a very uncomfortable position. I felt that my trust had been broken and that I had been taken advantage of, but I was left not knowing how to handle it as it was happening.

The great news is, my readers are smart, tough, savvy, and honest. Almost immediately, I started hearing about how people did not appreciate this webinar. I reassured those who wrote to me directly, and this led to some really good conversations. I am so grateful that my readership trusts me enough to be honest with me, even when they need to tell me something tough. People wrote me some brave emails, and I’m so honored to have gotten to engage with my readers on that level. That means you guys care, and that level of engagement is so hard to find in today’s busy world.

Initially, the writing teacher expected me to send four follow-up emails, but after the content of the webinar, I decided that I didn’t want to engage further. I sent one email, reluctantly, after prodding from their team. But the backlash from my readers kept coming. Even now, almost two weeks later, I’m hearing about it. So I knew I had to take a tougher and more honest stand.

I wrote to Teacher and Co. and gave them a taste of the feedback. I expressed my disappointment and reminded them of our initial conversations about the balance of content and selling. Staying silent about it would’ve been perhaps more diplomatic. After all, I’m not here to start beef or make enemies. That’s why I’m not referring to the teacher or the event by name. The people who attended this webinar and were disappointed will know what I mean. But staying mostly silent while dealing with it behind the scenes did not feel right. It also allows this predatory marketing practice to continue.

So now I’m apologizing to you.

You, my dear reader. Your time, your attention, your support—these precious things mean everything to me. I am sorry to those who joined this webinar and were disappointed. You trusted me, and I steered you in the wrong direction. We all make mistakes sometimes, and all I can hope for is your forgiveness. I was operating on the best information I had at the time.

For those who took this webinar and happened to buy the class, I do want you to enjoy it. I do not want you to regret your decision after this post. I do hope that it’s a valuable resource because—again—I think this writing teacher has a lot of good things to say. I still think this teacher’s book is a valuable resource. (This teacher may not think I’m so hot after this, though!) I hope that the payoff in all of this is that you get some good tools for your toolbox. I can only hope that it has been created with integrity and attention to detail.

Safe to say, it will be a long, long time before I entertain another collaboration.

The questions of whether or not to write this post, and write to the teacher, have been weighing on me for two weeks. I know I can’t feed my family “integrity” for dinner, but I feel a lot better to have been open and honest with you. In life, there’s the easy thing, and the right thing, and they’re often not the same. Thank you so much for hearing me out!

Full disclosure: I was offered a revenue sharing arrangement for this webinar, which is standard for this kind of collaboration. I have declined any royalties and have been paid absolutely nothing. In 2020, I do plan to launch a very specific paid course (for aspiring editors) and an ebook, both of which will be offered for sale. I will also offer a few one-off paid classes for a well-known online learning platform. But all of these are being produced by me—up to my high standards—to be as content-rich as humanly possible. I continue to offer a few paid webinars per year that include manuscript critique as a justification for the payment. Any links you see to content on Amazon or Manuscript Blueprints are affiliate links that give me a small royalty payment—at no additional cost to the reader. I shoulder over $100 of web hosting costs per month to keep several websites running, and this allows me to offset some of that investment. Other than that, I make my living as a freelance editor, by being paid for my services.

Announcing Good Story Company

It is with great excitement that I’m announcing several new things today! This has been in the works for a while, so if I have seemed busy or stressed or looked tired, this is why! Without further ado, I present to you Good Story Company! Please take a second to watch this video and subscribe to my new YouTube channel (yes, I’m that guy now).

My new idea for a company serving writers and helping you craft a good story is, for now, threefold. First, we have GSC, the umbrella company that my team and I have put together.

Good Story Company

A content company providing services for writers. Most of them are free, for example, a writing forum (that survey from a few weeks ago makes more sense now, right?!), a blog, a podcast, and lots of inspiring and craft-focused content.

good story company, storytelling, writers

You can check out the Good Story Company website here. As well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Crit Collective

Crit Collective is a FREE writing forum focused on ONE THING: helping you find your writing partner. This is a writing forum but not a general writing forum. This is a writing partner forum. It serves one function only—connecting writers to other writers, critique partners, beta readers, sensitivity readers, etc. It’s like online dating for writers!

crit collective, writing partner, writing critique, critique partner

I’ve done “Critique Connection” posts on Kidlit over the years, to great success. People have found their writing connections via those posts, and some critique relationships that started there are still going strong. How cool is that?

Now I’m starting a free forum to do the same. We got over 100+ responses on the survey and tried to listen to as much feedback as we could. Now it’s all about getting writers on the forum so that you can find your people. A forum is nothing without its users, so check it out!

Good Story Podcast

Finally, for now, I’d love to introduce you to the Good Story Podcast.  People have been bugging me for years to do a podcast. And in the last year, I have done some awesome interviews in webinar format. But one thing I don’t like about the webinar format: only registered students get the content. I want to give this content to EVERYONE because I work hard to interview amazing writers and thought leaders.

So now I’ve launched a podcast called Good Story Podcast. Absolutely free, absolutely interesting, all about writing, revision, the craft, and the business. And to show you that I mean business, I’m kicking it off with my first interview: Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and writing teacher. Have a listen here:

I’m working on getting the podcast listed everywhere that you get your podcasts. In the meantime, let me know what you think!

storytelling podcast, podcast for writers

I’m so, so, so excited to present all of this to you. I have been talking to writers, teaching writers, and helping writers for over ten years now, and this is absolutely my life’s work and passion.

THANK YOU for all of your support over the years. I would be nowhere without you guys, my Kidlit readers, the original crew. We’ve been through so much over the years together, and I really wouldn’t be the person or the editor I am today without you. Yes, beautiful YOU!

I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING!

Writing Forum Survey

I apologize for the repeat interruption! We will be back to the novel opening workshops on Monday, the 21st. Today, I have another survey. I’m hard at work crunching the data from the Published Author Poll, which I deployed over the summer, and I think you guys are going to love the findings.

Here, I have a slightly more targeted survey, aimed at writers who belong to any kind of writing forum or community online. Is that you? Please take three minutes to share some of your thoughts with me. Any input you have is going to be greatly appreciated.

Seeking Audio and Video Person

I interrupt our workshop critique to put a call out: I’m looking for someone who can help me with audio and video. This would mean doing some light video and audio editing (adding some music, graphics, etc.) to standardize files to a house style and optimize them for several purposes.

I’m also looking for someone who rocks at making audio and video sound and look great, who knows how to compress it for online use, and excels all of the other stuff I’m not experienced or talented enough to do.

I have some A/V projects in mind, and some A/V needs! Join my team.

The work would be part time, you will be paid either on a flat fee per video or audio file, or hourly. Please send your compensation requirements. If you or anyone you know has experience with YouTube videos, podcasts, and all of the other things people are doing to create a professional audio and video presence online, send them my way!

Inquiries to: mary@kidlit.com

Subject line: Audio/Video Application

Published Author Poll

I met up with the lovely Weronika Janczuk the other day and we got to talking about data. There isn’t really a lot of data from aspiring writers on how hard they actually work toward getting published. How many manuscripts have they written? How do they receive outside critique and support for their writing?

Since I have the eyeballs of many writers here on Kidlit, I decided to create a survey for published writers of all children’s book categories. Tell me about your journey. The survey is for my personal use only and your identifying information will not be shared. I do ask for words of wisdom and may post those on the blog, but otherwise, I’m just looking for raw data. (For a cool survey that’s a few years old and centers around middle grade, click here.)

That data (numbers only) will be turned into a handy dandy infographic.

Agented and published writers are welcome to take the poll below!

Now Hiring Administrative Assistant and Seeking Referrals

Less than a year after hiring several editorial assistants and a social media and marketing manager, I’m growing and hiring for Mary Kole Editorial again! Now I’m looking for a dedicated administrative assistant to help me with the day-to-day logistics of my business. This will be a part time position (20 hours or so per week, unless need increases).

I’m also looking for editors, ghostwriters, and proofreaders for referrals of overflow work. I find myself turning work down if a project isn’t a perfect fit for my team, and would love some qualified editors and proofreaders to recommend. Sometimes my clients also look for ghostwriters. This is an opportunity to receive referrals. I’m especially looking for excellent proofreaders, ghostwriters, and editors who specialize in non-children’s fiction.

I’m looking for my right-hand guy or gal to help me with my growing business, so that I can do the editorial work I love more easily!

This remote position is perfect for someone who has experience as a support person and administrative assistant, 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.

Ideally, your skills and attributes include:

  • Clean written communication–you will be writing on my behalf sometimes, and that means clear, error-free, delightful copy
  • 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, Dropbox, DocuSign, and Slack
  • Some basic graphic design skills using Canva and templates
  • 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

Projects will include:

  • Tracking and following up with potential client inquiries
  • Bookkeeping, issuing client agreements, generating invoices, and tracking payments
  • Reaching out on my behalf to marketing opportunities
  • Responding to inquiries on my behalf
  • Helping set up and update various marketing elements like email newsletters and webinars

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.

Starting pay is $15/hour with the opportunity to grow, and my needs will start at 20 hours a week (as a minimum, never less) though they  might increase to up to 29 hours a week. You will be a 1099 contractor for tax purposes (responsible for withholding your own income taxes and reporting them), 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. (I sadly had to turn down many qualified editorial applicants from abroad during my last hiring event.)

I’m looking for cover letters and resumes sent in the body of an email or as an attachment. Please use the subject line “Assistant Application” and send to mary@kidlit.com. The deadline for applications is Friday, June 7th, 2019 at midnight, Central. The next step is a phone interview for qualified candidates. Since we will be working very closely together, the personality fit factor is important here. I welcome all applicants! The position would most likely start at the end of June or beginning of July.

If you’re interested in being an editorial, ghostwriting, or proofreading referral, please use the subject line “Editorial Referral” and send to mary@kidlit.com. There is no deadline on this request.

Surprise! Welcome Finn!

Here’s a post that I’m thrilled to write. On February 7th, we welcomed Finn Mikhail Macdonald to the world. He joins big brother, Theo, who is three years old today.

Those who’ve been following know that our daughter, Nora Pepper, died in December 2017 after being born with a very rare and completely surprising birth defect. But my husband, Todd, and I knew we weren’t done building our family. Or so we hoped. We never learned our recurrence risk for Nora’s condition, despite doing whole genomic sequencing, the most comprehensive option available. Our odds were either 1 in 4 of a repeat (if the condition was inherited), or 1 in a billion (if it was a random mutation) of being struck by the same lightning twice. But there was no way to close that gap.

When you’re hit with such a devastating loss, and medical uncertainty, you can’t help but think, “Was our healthy child the fluke? Or was our unhealthy child the fluke?” And then, “Could we go through this again, if it happened? Are we brave enough to try?”

Well, we tried. And the pregnancy was its own special kind of hell, because Nora’s condition doesn’t show up on imaging or any kind of prenatal testing (since we never found the gene responsible, we had nothing to test for).

So I had to basically have a baby and see if it … worked. Brutal.

Happily, Finn seems healthy, as far as we can tell. He’s very different from our sweet Nora. He cries, he eats (and eats!), he opens his eyes, and he seems very engaged with the world around him. In other words, a typical newborn, just like Theo was.

The second Finn was born and screamed and latched immediately, a huge weight was lifted. Worry and heartbreak that I didn’t even realize I’d been carrying around for so long dissipated. I can’t describe how happy we were, and still are, to have this beautiful new creature join our family.

To be totally honest with you, the end of 2017 and into 2018 was devastating. Not only did we have the worst surprise of our lives when Nora was born and passed away in December 2017, but I lost my dad to cancer in March 2018. This was also a surprise. He sincerely thought he had more time. They both departed way too soon. It was too much. I was numb for about six months. That’s why Finn has the middle name Mikhail. That was my father’s name, the Russian version of Michael.

At least our Finny has two amazing guardian angels watching over him.

And, of course, two furry ones. (Token pug picture of Olive and Gertie…)

Thank you to everyone for following this saga. I kept the pregnancy a secret for the most part. I learned the hard way not to count my chickens. Hearing congratulations for Nora and then condolences two weeks later was very hard. So I didn’t want to say boo about a baby until there was one. Well, boo!

It was such a thrill to have the same photographer who took our Nora pictures, Sarah Ann Photography, back to chronicle this new arrival. We also got to share Finn with the incredible NICU doctor who cared for Nora, which felt so gratifying. It was such a wonderful way for things to come full circle. I hope that now we can close out one tumultuous chapter of our lives, and begin an exciting new one.

Launching the Manuscript Submission Blueprint!

For over a year, I have been working with Laura and Jon over at Writing Blueprints to create the Manuscript Submission Blueprint, a system of information that gives you everything you need to know to assemble a manuscript submission to literary agents and/or publishers.

Now, you may or may not know the following about me: I do not commercialize this blog lightly. I get requests oh, probably every day for guest posts, contributor posts, advertising links, blah blah blah. The blog gets a lot of traffic and is prominent in the children’s book space, so plenty of people find it … and they all want me to help them sell stuff to you.

In 99.99% of cases, I say no. In fact, I only directly sell three things on this blog (and I try to keep it as unobtrusive as possible): My book, my editorial services, and any webinars, events, or conferences I’m personally involved in. You will notice that all of these are my things. I also use affiliate links to Amazon and Writing Blueprints. But that’s it. Otherwise, I only recommend a book or a resource if I find it myself and love it. Never because someone else asks me to boost it.

Why? Integrity. Because I genuinely love writers. I genuinely love to teach and be a helpful resource. And I genuinely love to help children’s book writers make their dreams come true. I also really care about having your trust. I can’t do that if I’m shilling for anyone who emails me. Instead, I write long and (I hope) enriching craft articles for “nothing” in return and that’s exactly how I like it. I could’ve monetized this blog halfway to Mars by now with ads and guest posts. But that money wouldn’t be worth it because the blog wouldn’t be true to itself, true to you, or true to who I am.

So when Laura and Jon approached me to create the Manuscript Submission Blueprint, I was naturally skeptical. Were these Blueprints good stuff? Truly helpful and informative to writers? Were they fairly priced? Did writers get good value for their investment? Was there a ton of useful information, and was it quality? Was the system easy to use? I took a few of the classes and … loved them! Like, I was blown away by what was being offered for the price. In short, Writing Blueprints met all of my fussy criteria, so I agreed to develop the Manuscript Submission Blueprint.

What’s Writing Blueprints?

You may know Writing Blueprints from using one of their other products. They are the same brand as the Children’s Book Insider newsletter, and offer interactive online processes for writing middle grade and young adult (taught by the amazing Alice Kuipers), writing picture books (from Laura Backes), self-publishing (from Theresa Funke) and more.

What is the Manuscript Submission Blueprint?

The Manuscript Submission Blueprint is ALL ABOUT MANUSCRIPT SUBMISSION TO AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS. From the process of researching your market, to composing a query letter, to putting together various submission requirements, to actually getting out into the world. It is everything writers in any category and with any kind of project (not just children’s!) need to know to get their work out into the world, told from the perspective of yours truly, a former literary agent with ten plus years in the publishing business.

Practically, it is a longform class that you can take at your leisure in your own home. It consists of videos, written materials, handouts, even a spreadsheet. It’s set up like an online course that you can start and stop whenever you want. (In fact, the interface they use is one of the things that really drew me to creating a Writing Blueprints system. It was really easy for me to use as I test drove some of their other Blueprints.) You pay one price to buy it, and then you own access to it forever. You can use it and watch it and rewatch it.

This has been a labor of love I started in November 2017 (watch out for several different haircuts, ha!). I recorded about ten hours of video instruction, wrote 35+ handouts, interviewed the amazing John Cusick for bonus material, gave feedback on sample query letters, developed two webinars, and much more.

Now it is FINALLY available. I really put a ton of work into it, and I am very proud of how it turned out. I hope you enjoy the Manuscript Submission Blueprint!