Remembering Nora Pepper

Today, on what would’ve been her first birthday, I’m remembering my daughter Nora Pepper. For those of you who don’t know, Nora was born with a very rare birth defect on this date, November 30th, in 2017. It was a complete surprise to us because her condition didn’t show up on prenatal imaging or testing. Unfortunately, hers was a terminal diagnosis. She died on December 16th, 2017.

It’s so amazing to us that we were able to capture a few precious and irreverent moments of us as a family of four. I’m holding Nora, who is six days old, and my husband, Todd, is reading to Theo, then 21 months.

The Taboo of Baby Loss

We had a little more than two weeks to create memories as a family, and include our son, Theo, then 21 months, in Nora’s short life. During that time, we hired a professional photographer, the wonderful Sarah Wroblewski of Sarah Ann Photography, to come take pictures in our home. Now that Nora is gone, these pictures have become touchstones for our family that we will treasure forever. That sounds like such a cliché, but in this case, they really are all we will ever have. They mean everything to us.

We had our favorites made into a photo album. (In the blur of grief, I just sent a big batch to Shutterfly and used their “I don’t care, just make me an album” service. It actually worked out better than expected!) Our photographer gifted us with an absolutely stunning album as well. This morning, we sat together as a family and showed both off to Theo, then talked about his sister and how much we love and miss her. The photos will be part of our tradition on her birthday for the rest of our lives.

The last year has been difficult but, ultimately triumphant. Theo is an utter joy to us, now a wild and rambunctious 2.5-year-old. We savor even the most mundane moments with him in ways that we didn’t before. My relationship with Todd, my husband, is stronger than ever. I’ve done a huge amount of inner digging, and grown into a person I never would’ve been without this experience. The editorial business is thriving and I get to do what I love every single day.

Another facet of the last year has been connecting with other loss parents. The “Dead Baby Club,” as I jokingly call it, is a club nobody ever wanted to be in, but we are. After I posted about Nora’s death, I heard from so many of you who’ve lost pregnancies, babies, or children. Nobody talks about this kind of shattering loss. Children aren’t supposed to die. It breaks the natural order.

But they do. Sadly, so sadly, they do.

When this tragedy happens, parents sometimes feel alone because it’s too terrible, too impossible to talk about. The world wants to shield its eyes and pretend. There’s a cultural taboo surrounding the topic. So, all too often, we suffer in silence, except when we meet another family in our shoes.

I love this picture of Nora. It’s a reminder that her short life was filled with all the love we could possibly give. Whether she knew it or not, she was never alone.

Coming Together

This has gotten me thinking about community, and reaching out to other loss families who have experienced the unimaginable. I remember what it was like to be broken open in the most vulnerable moment of my life, sitting there in the hospital that Monday evening, and learning that Nora would absolutely die. There’s just not a lot of support for a family on that horrible day.

As the anniversary of Nora’s birth and death rolls around, and I’m thrust back into these memories, I want to tell you about a cause that means a lot to me, if you’ll listen. This year, my family has made a donation in Nora’s honor. I’d love for you to join us, if you feel at all compelled. While I can’t personally be there to support families facing baby loss as it’s happening to them, there’s an organization that does just that.

And it does something else incredible. It provides them with tangible memories of a life gone too soon: those same kinds of photographs that mean the world to us now.

A Request in Nora’s Honor

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep is a nonprofit organization that you may never have heard of. I hope that’s because you’ve never needed them. They service any parents in a hospital setting who are facing stillbirth or neonatal death. They provide a network of photographers who will come at no charge to the family, at all hours of the day and night, and take pictures of the baby and family. These pictures are usually heart-wrenching. But beautiful. And oh-so-significant to families who may only get to spend a few precious moments with their babies.

My family didn’t personally use their services. We brought Nora home initially, because we didn’t know exactly what was wrong. We had photographs taken there. But if we’d spotted her condition earlier, we probably never would’ve left the hospital. From experience, I know how amazing it is to have pictures of my baby. I never thought I’d lose a child. But families experience it every day. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep serves them in their time of most desperate need. It supports photographers who volunteer their time and talent to step into the worst moment of a person’s life. Think about walking into that room for a moment.

Please excuse me for using my platform for a cause. But I want to help Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and enable them to do their very important work, if I can. If you feel so compelled, please make a donation to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep in Nora Pepper Macdonald’s name, or the name of any other child who survives only in your heart.

We’re thinking about you today and every day, baby girl!

Query Letter Submission Opportunity

While I’m no longer a literary agent, I still want your query letter submission for an upcoming project! Aspiring writers are desperate for feedback on example query letters, and to see what their peers are working on. Reading real, live queries is one of the best ways to learn about query writing. But a lot of writers don’t have a venue to share their letters or read other people’s work.

I’m looking to change that. But I need your help!

UPDATE: I am still looking for submissions in the nonfiction (not nonfiction picture book), adult memoir, adult literary fiction, adult fiction, and self-published categories. My children’s fiction query needs have been met! I am also looking for a short nonfiction book proposal example if anyone wants to share.

Are you currently working on a query letter? Have you successfully used a query letter to get literary agent representation or a publishing deal?

query letter submission, query letter callout, seeking query letters
Help me help other writers, and submit your query letter examples!

I am seeking submissions of successful query letters AND query letters in progress to use for a teaching resource. For query letters in progress, I will provide feedback on every letter that I select for inclusion in this resource as my token of gratitude for your participation. Everyone whose query is selected will receive access to the teaching resource.

I’m especially looking for queries in the following categories:

  • General fiction query
  • Literary fiction query
  • Genre query query (fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, romance, etc.)
  • Memoir or creative nonfiction query (for any audience)
  • Nonfiction query (in any category, eg, business, reference, parenting, etc.)
  • Short nonfiction book proposal example
  • Self-published project query

UPDATE: I am still looking for submissions in the nonfiction (not nonfiction picture book), adult memoir, adult literary fiction, adult fiction, and self-published categories. My children’s fiction query needs have been met!  I am also looking for a short nonfiction book proposal example if anyone wants to share.

The queries will be used for a paywall-protected teaching resource only, they will not be published or distributed widely on the blog. Since this is a project in progress, I will provide more concrete information only to people who are selected. You will need to provide written/signed permission for me to reproduce your query letter and provide annotations. (If you don’t want to give permission, that’s not a problem, this post simply isn’t for you.) If your query is in a category that I have already filled, or it does not fit the needs of the project, it will not be selected and I will, unfortunately, not be able to provide the complimentary critique.

If you are submitting a successful query letter that has earned literary representation or a publishing deal, please mention that. You are welcome to crow about your agent’s name, book title, etc. I can include your name and project title in the resource, or omit identifying information. The teaching resource will be released in early 2019.

Query Letter Submission Instructions

Please send your query letter as a Word doc or docx attachment (not a PDF, because I will annotate in Word) or share via Google Docs to:

mary@kidlit.com

The updated submission deadline is December 14th, 2018. I will respond to every submission. I will ask until late January to turn around on query annotations, so, unfortunately, the query critique opportunity is not for queries you’re planning to go on submission with, like, tomorrow

Now Hiring! Part Time Social Media and Web Marketing Associate

As my editorial business has grown (and grown, and grown), I have slipped behind in my social media and web marketing engagement. It’s time to fly the surrender flag: I can’t do it all by myself! You may have noticed that I’m also hiring an editorial and research assistant. Five years into my business, I can admit it freely and happily… There are only three things I like to do at Mary Kole Editorial: Edit, edit, and edit. There’s not a lot of room for anything else! So I’m looking to hire a part-time social media and web marketing associate to help support my business.

Laptop? Check. Coffee? Check. Facebook/Twitter/Insta? Check. I’m looking for someone with social media and web marketing tools and skills!

About You

Top priority is given to candidates who have professional SEO and social media marketing experience, whether self-taught or, ideally, corporate. Be prepared to discuss your success metrics. My ideal fit is someone who already works  in the startup or marketing space, or manages a portfolio of small business clients and does social media support as their primary gig. Any existing access to SEO tools like Moz, etc., is a big plus. Of course, publishing and/or writing experience counts here, but it isn’t the first thing I’ll look at, as this is a specialized position.

You must be comfortable with updating and maintaining profiles/pages on all of the major platforms. You will be creating content once or several times a week (negotiable) and stay on top of engagement. You’ll also be checking in with each platform regularly, managing responses, and identifying opportunities to grow profile presence.

About The Job

This blog has ten years of evergreen content that can be mined and packaged into “From the Archives” material. I’m interested in freshening up the SEO optimization for my most popular posts, as well as keyword research to make sure I’m not missing any opportunities. This is Phase I.

Once you perform an overhaul, the job becomes a maintenance gig: checking in with existing platforms, engaging with users, generating new social media posts and content (except new Kidlit blog posts, those are always going to be my territory), and otherwise keeping things fresh. This is Phase II.

I have several big projects coming up that will need an extra marketing boost, so support around these will be crucial. Long-term, I’m interested in maintaining, engaging, and growing my social media audience, and making sure the blog functions well to a) serve new and existing Kidlit readers, and b) dovetail with my editorial website. You’ll be working primarily with my Kidlit family of profiles, though this online presence is tied to my freelance editing business, Mary Kole Editorial, which is my primary revenue generator.

I’m hoping to monitor your concrete progress and strategize together using tools like Google Analytics. Marketing can be an art, rather than a science, but accountability and results are important here.

Logistics

Initially, our “warm up” period may involve more work, as you spruce up and fine-tune what already exists. Then, I hope to establish a maintenance relationship of several hours a week. That’s why I’m looking for candidates who already work in the space or manage a portfolio of other clients, ideally, because this isn’t going to be an especially meaty part-time position on its own.

Pay is negotiable, whether monthly flat rate or hourly. I have some numbers in mind but I’m very open to hearing your pitch. You can break your pricing out into separate fees for Phase I and Phase II, if that helps. This is a 1099 contract job. It can be performed remotely, but candidates must be legally eligible to work in the US. I’m looking for someone who can start immediately.

I’m specifically not looking for spam from dodgy overseas SEO companies. I get enough of that, as is. Since my primary audience is smart and literary, and I’m asking for new content, I’d prefer someone with impeccable English skills. Please be sure to demonstrate that you’re a real US-based professional who’s interested in this job in particular.

Please submit your social media and marketing resume, a cover letter with your proposal for my specific situation, and your pay requirements. Thank you very much for your interest!

Submit to: mary at kidlit dot com

Deadline for Submissions: September 7th, 2018

Seeking Editorial Assistant: Mary Kole Editorial is Hiring!

Updated: THIS OPPORTUNITY IS NOW CLOSED TO APPLICANTS. THE POST REMAINS FOR REFERENCE ONLY. THANK YOU!

Whew! The time has finally come for me to train and work alongside a talented and passionate fiction expert in my editorial practice. Business is booming and I would love to expand my offerings and availability with a specialist in proofreading and manuscript analysis.

I will continue to be the primary editor on every project, but I am looking for someone to do proofreading work, research comparative titles, and otherwise support me and my clients. I will train you in my editorial approach, including the concept of interiority, so that you may become proficient in applying my principles to manuscripts down the road.

Familiarity with my work is a big plus. Ideally, I am looking for a long-term relationship with the right individual.

About You

The ideal candidate must be well-read in the current marketplace, with a focus on picture books, middle grade, and young adult, but, ideally, with wide interests elsewhere as well. I work on genre and literary fiction outside of the kidlit space, and have recently been doing a lot of narrative nonfiction, for example. The ability to reference contemporary published titles in an informed way is key. (The ability to read quickly while retaining information is also a huge bonus!)

Proofreading is a large component of the job, so the ideal candidate will be proficient in grammar, usage, and formatting. English training at the college level (or above) will be given top consideration. Also key is the ability to summarize what you’re reading so that we can discuss projects. Eventually, providing micro- and macro-level feedback will become a bigger part of your role. In terms of editorial work, you must already have some affinity for giving constructive response to writing in progress, but this skill will be developed according to my editorial philosophy.

From a logistical standpoint, I’m looking for someone with good time management skills, who is very communicative, can set and then meet (or exceed!) expectations, and is otherwise honest, punctual, and responsible. You are going to be a key part of my business, and so I want you to think of this as more than just a side-hustle.

Just the Facts

It’s okay if you’re still a student, but I hope to work with someone who has a good handle on their other time commitments. Student schedules tend to fluctuate, but reliability and availability are key for me. I’m busy year-round!

I love entrepreneurial, self-starting personalities, but I ask that you not engage in any other freelance editorial work during your tenure at Mary Kole Editorial. It’s perfectly fine with me if you have another job, even in a related field, but you will be contractually excluded from acting as direct competition.

Pay is hourly, and you can expect to work up to 20 hours per week, but the ideal candidate would have bandwidth for more hours, if needed. I can guarantee 10 hours of paid week per month during our training, though my goal is to transition to approximately 20 hours (or more) per week.

Training is paid, and there is a 30-day probation period before the official hire. The pay is $16 per hour with room to grow, paid twice a month. You are a 1099 contractor responsible for filing your own taxes. Unfortunately, I am not in the position to provide any employee benefits.

I am looking for US-based candidates at this time, who are able to legally work in the US. Within that parameter, the job can be performed remotely from anywhere, though I will ask that you be available for check-ins with me during my business hours. I am on Central time. I do not discriminate against anyone who wishes to apply–all are welcome! The only necessary tools are a computer with Microsoft Word and Internet access…as well as your passion, knowledge, willingness to learn, and creativity, of course!

How to Apply

Please write a cover letter that explains why you’d like to work as my editorial and research assistant. Make sure to discuss your most relevant experience and how it qualifies you. Include a recent resumé. Be sure to note your availability and location. I’d prefer if you copy and paste this information into the body of an email. Yes, I’m evaluating how well you follow directions.

I hope to use the month of August to make a decision, but depending on response volume, I reserve the right to go into September! I will respond to every submission, but please give me up to two weeks after the deadline for applications, below, before checking in. The next phase of the process will involve a phone interview and sample editorial work.

THANK YOU FOR THE INCREDIBLE INTEREST! THIS OPPORTUNITY IS NOW CLOSED TO APPLICANTS.

I can’t wait to work with you!

Callout for Successful Query Letters!

Have you gotten an agent or a publishing deal with a compelling query letter? Would you mind sharing that letter with me so that I can use it in a very exciting class that I’m teaching? (I can’t reveal the class just yet, but stay tuned for news this fall.)

I am always on the lookout for awesome examples of query letters, but I obviously can’t use a query from my agenting days without the author’s permission. If you’d be willing to generously allow me to reprint your query in an online class and discuss its strengths, I would be so grateful! (I’ll even throw in access to the online class for free to the writers whose queries I end up picking!)

This callout is for queries you’ve used successfully to get an agent or a publishing offer. They can be in any category or for any genre.

Please email them copied and pasted or as attachments to: mary at kidlit dot com

Thank you so much for your willingness to share your awesome queries with the next generation of aspiring writers!

Seeking Writing Service Providers!

Do you (or someone you’ve worked with) provide non-editorial services to writers? Services can include:

  • Graphic/cover design
  • Book layout
  • Formatting for Kindle/ebook publication
  • Book production
  • Self-publishing consulting/services
  • Marketing/PR
  • Social media support
  • Ghostwriting
  • Illustration

This is an opportunity to be included in a resource guide.  I’m always getting requests for ghostwriters, cover designers, book formatting, etc.

Please contact me at mary@kidlit.com or leave links in the comments. For all service providers, I will ask for examples of successful work you’ve done, so be prepared to talk about your services, your experience, and give a sense of your pricing. If you’re a writer who has used a service that you are THRILLED with, please spread the good word and let me know. Thank you so much.

Gratitude and Rest

The holidays always seem to put people in a reflective mood, and I am exactly that kind of sap! So if you want hardened writing advice for the next few weeks, you are out of luck.

The holidays are upon us and this year, I have so much to be grateful for.

No joke, my gorgeous blog readers, I have had the best personal and professional year of my life: We built basically a new house in a four-month renovation; my son, Theo, continues to be a daily joy; I got back to conference speaking, which was always a deep love for me; I was lucky enough to work with over 300 talented freelance editorial clients, and they continue to sign with agents and sell books and otherwise made me very proud; and we started on the journey to expand our family.

A baby girl is joining us in December. Terrible time of year to meet the ol’ health insurance deductible, of course, but we couldn’t be happier! This was the year that all my dreams came true, honestly.

I’m taking some time away in December to do the newborn thing again, but I am one of those terrible people who can’t sit still, so I will have a limited slate of clients continuing with me. The blog may be a bit quieter, or my updates might happen at 2 a.m. Who knows?! After that, it’s back to business as usual in January, helping writers everywhere make their dreams come true for 2018!

I’ll send out an email blast once I’m back to scheduling my regular slate of clients, so if you’d like periodic updates, sign up in the sidebar.

Happy Holidays to you and yours, and I wish you blessings and joy this season. Now let’s eat some pie.

Advice for Beginning Writers: Writing in Pencil, Not Ink

It’s not often that I get to give advice for beginning writers, so I embrace the opportunity when it arises. The title refers to the idea of thinking of writing in permanent terms, versus being more flexible. The reference to pencil and ink is metaphorical, of course. You can write in whatever medium you want!

But I did have a very interesting consultation with a client the other day. He wanted to discuss an idea. Usually, when I sign someone up for a call, I want to see some pages, an outline, something… But this writer didn’t even have that. A total “blank slate,” he called himself. Maybe you recognize yourself in this description.

advice for beginning writers, how to write, writing attitude, writing advice, fiction advice
Embrace the impermanent draft and let your ideas scatter to the wind.

Advice for Beginning Writers

This got me thinking. I rarely work with someone at the very, very beginning of an idea, though I’d love to do it more often! The consultation was really fun! As a person who has been in publishing for almost ten years, sometimes I take the simplest advice for granted because I’ve given it thirty thousand times. But perhaps this is a mistake.

As we wrapped up this particular call, I decided to pass along something that, to me, was beyond obvious. I said, “Remember, nobody is looking over your shoulder as you write. At this stage, you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s totally fine. Write whatever you want. If it doesn’t work, open another draft and start over. Generate material without putting any pressure on yourself that these particular words, in this particular order, have to be ‘it.'”

My client loved the advice, and I was a little humbled. Maybe, I realized, this is something worth sharing on the blog, since it’s definitely not as obvious to a lot of writers as it is to me. (One of the pitfalls of giving advice for a living is you forget that everyone needs to hear something for the first time!)

Writing in Pencil

So, in a nutshell, remember that the draft you’re working on will likely not be the draft that will be immortalized in ink. Your word processing document will have a Save function, and a Delete function, and all of these tools that will help you make progress. But there is no Publish function. (Alas! I know, it’d be nice, huh.) So as you’re working on your draft, take some of that pressure off to make those words, in that particular order, perfect.

“Perfect” is such a damaging notion, and it stops a lot of writers in their tracks before they even begin.

Instead, open a document and sketch out a character outline. Open another document and write the first few sentences of an opening scene. Open another document and make a bullet list of what you’re envisioning for the climax of the story.

If you’re early in the writing process, play around. If what you’ve written sucks, and you’re sure it sucks (instead just being overly critical), delete the document. Or keep it. A basic Word doc is smaller than 100kb. That’s not going to take up much room on your hard drive.

And remember, nobody’s watching. Take the heat off yourself. It’s okay to struggle, and it’s okay to succeed. It’s okay to delete and it’s okay to add. The only thing that’s not okay is nipping yourself in the bud before you give yourself a chance.

Even if you’re very early in your project, I’d love to brainstorm with you and support your process. Hire me as your writing consultant, and let’s get you off the ground together.

Taking Questions

Man ponders mysteries while writing with sandwich in foreground
I have so many publishing and writing questions, I haven’t even touched my sandwich!

So there’s a new look for the blog. And talk of videos. Helpful headings now break up the endless streams of text. Things are good in Kidlit land. But Kidlit wouldn’t exist without questions from dedicated blog readers. I have about 300 notes for blog post ideas that I’ve been sifting through, but I also want to be responsive to what you want to learn about.

So I’m Asking You…

What are your burning writing craft or publishing questions (or both)? I’m thinking of doing a video in the next few weeks of opening pages for novels. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in this area, and I know a lot of writers are endlessly curious about the topic.

So what might you want to know? I’ve put a blast out across social media and will answer my favorite three questions in an upcoming video post.

But don’t stop yourself there. What else do you want to know? What’s on your mind as you get into the swing of writing in 2017? How can I be of service and address some sizzling conundrums?

Leave your thoughts on first pages and/or any other questions in the comments. Click the handy bubble in the top right corner of this post. Thanks!

If you’re fine on the general front but have very specific questions about your WIP, I also offer private consulting services. Check out the link for my editorial website.

New Site, New Video Content!

Woohoo! I made a video, y’all! I was so inspired by my Facebook Live experience with WriteOnCon, which was super-duper fun, that I’m going to start shooting some of my blog posts out behind the woodshed… Just kidding! I’m going to start shooting some of them as videos. (The WriteOnCon video will be available to repost here in March, and I’m really excited to share it with you. It’s an hourlong Q&A about the craft of revision!)

What You’ll See Here

In this video, I’m talking about the recent changes to the website, the impetus behind those, and my passion for creating this content and sharing it with you, my lovely readers.

Why I Recorded This

I really want to get my old readers and new visitors excited about the site, which has been around since 2009. My hope is it’ll be around for many years to come. I can’t do it without you, though!

What’s Next?

Help me keep a good thing going. If you have any questions that you’d like me to answer, in a blog post, or a video, please post them in the comments below. Let me know if you like the new website format, too!