Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Writing Irresistible Kidlit - An Interview with Mary Kole

There's a new book out about writing kidlit that you'll want to put on your Christmas wishlist this year! WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers.

It's by the fabulous Mary Kole, who happens to be the agent of equally fabulous Apocalypsie Emily Hainsworth (THROUGH TO YOU).

Here's the official description:


Writing for young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG) audiences isn't just "kid's stuff" anymore--it's kidlit! The YA and MG book markets are healthier and more robust than ever, and that means the competition is fiercer, too. In Writing Irresistible Kidlit, literary agent Mary Kole shares her expertise on writing novels for young adult and middle grade readers and teaches you how to:

  • Recognize the differences between middle grade and young adult audiences and how it impacts your writing.
  • Tailor your manuscript's tone, length, and content to your readership.
  • Avoid common mistakes and cliches that are prevalent in YA and MG fiction, in respect to characters, story ideas, plot structure and more.
  • Develop themes and ideas in your novel that will strike emotional chords.

I had the chance to read this recently, and I found myself nodding in agreement on pretty much every page. Mary covers a variety of writing craft issues and gives the kind of tips that beginning writers will find VERY helpful.  And thanks to the variety of strong examples from published works, even seasoned authors will find inspiration and helpful exercises to improve our writing.

Personally, I found it interesting that Cole recommends against excessive "physical telling" in favor of more "interiority" and internalized her suggestion to use "characterizing details" to underscore a character's "core identity. These are things I had been doing instinctively, but in the future I will include these types of things in a more strategic approach when I draft and revise.

Find out more about Mary Kole and the book at her website. And now for an interview with Mary.

There are many books on the market about how to write novels and get published. What made you decide that writers needed another one? If writers could only buy one book to help them write irresistible kid lit, why would they choose yours and not another?

Why write this? You mean, other than my selfish dream of wanting to publish a book? :) I have always loved the Don Maass approach in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL of analyzing popular book excerpts in tandem with teaching writing concepts. I learn a lot from thinking about how and why a writer is doing something in a specific passage instead of just memorizing a rule like "Show, don't tell." I thought it would be really interesting (and fun!) to pair the writing concepts I've been teaching with real life examples and that's what I wanted to bring to the conversation.

The book lists and examples you compiled are incredibly helpful. How did you go about putting these together?

I thought of my favorite MG and YA books across different genres and got to think about why each one resonated with me so much. For example, THE HUNGER GAMES is a masterclass in pacing and BEFORE I FALL makes an unsympathetic character likeable. I thought of all the concepts I wanted to cover and made sure that I had specific examples to do it. Then I got to reread thirty-five of my favorite books and take copious notes. That was the most dizzying but also the most gratifying part of writing the book.

As an agent, your reading time must be especially precious. How do you find a balance between reading submissions, working on client’s books and keeping up with what’s new and noteworthy on the market?

There's no set formula for my day-to-day reading life. Sometimes I have a free gap and I can focus on submissions. Other times, I have a lot of client work that I need to dig into. There are days when a negotiation or sale takes up my time. Then there are the days when I need to read a hot upcoming book or check in with editors about what they're seeking. It's a balancing act and I do the best I can. It sometimes feels like barely controlled chaos!

Writers often excel in some areas and are lacking in others. In your opinion, can all elements of craft be learned by hard work and practice? Or are there certain things one must just have an instinct for?

There are a lot of storytelling elements that can be learned with sufficient practice, but all writers have their personal challenges. Whether it's having to work extra hard on dialogue or remind yourself of tension and pacing all the time, I don't think there's a single person out there who doesn't have a blind spot. To me, character seems like the most difficult to master if it doesn't come naturally. There are so many moving parts to creating a vibrant human being on the page. But the good thing about writing is that you can practice your craft anywhere, anytime, and every time you write something or read something, you are learning.

There are many accepted rules of writing, (i.e prologues suck, start with action, adverbs are evil) but it’s also said that rules are meant to be broken. What kind of rule breaking can you overlook – or even applaud – and which broken rules make you cry into your cornflakes?

I note in the guide that the rules I cover aren't the end all and be all, and there are definitely exceptions. That said, however, I think there is a distinct line between writers who break rules because they don't know them, are lazy, or think they happen to be the exception, and writers who know the rules and then make a conscious decision to break them, with sound reasoning behind each choice. No matter what kind of pianist you want to be, whether classically trained or wildly experimental, you still need to use a standard piano with 88 keys to get to where you're going. I advocate for intelligent rebellion. :)

I know you get this question all the time, but what emerging trends do you see as far as genres? Are there any particular gaps that you are looking to fill on your list?

Contemporary realism with romantic elements! The problem with that is that it's a much broader, more generic category than, say, paranormal romance. It can be anything, and that's why writers struggle with this answer. The good news is that we're in a trend valley right now, without any one "big thing," which should inspire more people to focus on THEIR story idea instead of looking around to see what everyone else is doing.

What effect are recent changes such as publisher mergers and the expansion of the New York Times Bestseller List going to have on publishing? Do writers need to worry about these changes?

As I mention in the book, you're going to have to start thinking about your story's commercial potential. There's going to be less and less room for people to take a chance on a "small" idea because everyone is under pressure to find the next blockbuster. Every successive blockbuster we have in the marketplace will also be expected to sell bigger than the last. The good news is that a lot of upstart small publishers and digital alternatives are springing up, which might actually be able to reach a more niche audience better than publishers who are chasing ever-increasing slices of the "mass market" pie.

If you could go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would you say?

Work less and live more. Otherwise you'll end up boring. I think the same goes for writers. We all need to step away from the screen and chase some unrelated-to-writing-and-publishing inspiration to keep ourselves fresh. This industry is small and connected, and sometimes it feels like our work comes out of a giant echo chamber.

Thanks Mary!


Lenore Appelhans is the author of LEVEL 2, coming out with Simon & Schuster on Jan 15, 2013. She blogs at Presenting Lenore.


  1. I'm enamored of "I advocate for intelligent rebellion." Also that advice at the end sounds much like something I say a lot, which is "live a life worth writing about." Here's to stepping away from the screen!

  2. Great interview! Love your advice, Mary and would love to win your book as well!

    ~ B.J. Lee

  3. Very informative interview, would love to win your book. Thank you for being so generous and gracious.

  4. Loved this interview, loved the webinars, love Mary's blog. No matter the format,Mary always delivers great advice.

  5. Enjoyed reading interview, pithy and direct, like your blog. Am eager to read your book!

  6. I loved the interview. Elizabeth Jane, if I win plz

  7. Great interview. I am eager to ready your book. I've enjoyed your webinars in the past.


  8. Enjoying the insights into the craft. Keep them coming and the interviews that give us the glimpses. ~julia ruck

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