Summer 2013 Update: Mary Kole has stopped agenting.
Do not query her.
“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.
Mary is a new agent at ABLA and runs the Kid Lit blog. She has also worked in the children's editorial department at Chronicle Books and is currently earning her MFA in creative writing at the University of San Francisco.
She seeks: young adult and middle grade novels and truly exceptional picture books. While she's not interested in high fantasy, science fiction, thrillers or horror, she would love to consider realistic/contemporary, urban fantasy and fantasy/adventure, historical, paranormal and mystery manuscripts. One of her favorite genres is magical realism: a story set firmly in our world, only with a twist magic, danger or something that turns "reality" on its ear.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
MK: I came to publishing through a passion for writing. Early on, I realized that I wanted to educate myself in what happens "on the other side of the desk," with agents and editors. So I started reading manuscripts for the agents at Andrea Brown, fell in love with it, and, about a year later, officially came aboard. In the meantime, I also worked for the children's editorial group at Chronicle Books to see what happens on the editorial side of things. I like to joke and call myself a "triple threat," because I have the writing, the editorial and the agent perspective. My favorite thing is to take on an incredible manuscript and put in a lot of editorial work with a client to make it even better before going out on submission.
GLA: What's the most recent thing you've sold?
MK: I recently sold an amazing author/editor debut picture book to Tricycle Press that's called Buglette, The Messy Sleeper. It comes out Summer 2011. There are some other deals in the works, including another debut author/illustrator project, but they're too fresh to talk about. Stay tuned!
GLA: What draws you to kids writing?
MK: Kids and teens don't read like adults do. Most adults read fiction before bed, to put themselves to sleep. Kids devour books, devour them again and tell all their friends. Personally, I love that sense of excitement and discovery. I try to go about my own life that way. Kids and teens have open minds, they see opportunity all around them and they think big. Also, to the kidlit audience, a book is like a friend, a confidante, something to spark their imaginations ... the books I represent could very well change someone's life. There's no better feeling than that.
GLA: You are building steam with this cool new site - Kid Lit. How did it come about?
MK: Since I started out writing, I understand what writers go through and what questions they have. I understand how valuable and gratifying it is to hear from professionals in the industry. Since I can't chat with every writer individually, I keep the blog to reach out, be approachable and provide correct, actionable and inspiring information. A lot of agents and editors seem like shadowy gatekeepers in some ivory tower. I want blog readers (potential future clients, I hope!) to get to know me and my philosophies. I've been getting great submissions as a result, things that are right up my alley.
GLA: You seek historical MG/YA works. Any time periods of special interest?
MK: I've been taken recently by the 19th century, but 20th century history is also very interesting. Historical is best for me if I get to learn about some hidden history or see a part of the US or world where something unique is going on. All historical has to be really strongly justified for me to like it, and it has to have a hook that's fascinating and exciting for modern readers. One bit of advice I like to give writers about historical fiction: even if people spoke or described stuff in an affected way in the days of yore, that's no excuse to write in a dry or stilted style. Dialogue and description still has to be fast-paced, fluid and engaging.
GLA: What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile. Other than "good writing," what, specifically, are you looking for in the kids writing world that's hard to find?
MK: Voice is essential when writing for kids. Any kind of moralizing is an immediate turn-off. The people who succeed at writing for kids and teens respect their readership and acknowledge that this time in a person's life is just as rich, vibrant, smart and complicated as adulthood is. Other than that, personally, I'd love to find a really smart dystopian YA novel, like M.T. Anderson's Feed, anything with a drama or theatre setting and a really strong, realistic boy voice for the YA market. Mysteries are always fascinating to me, too!
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GLA: Share your wisdom with us real quick. As someone who doesn't read much fantasy, help me (and other writers, hopefully) understand what kind of fantasy you want to see vs. that which you don't. On this note, what is the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal?
MK: I'm in the same boat as you. High fantasy often goes right over my head. I love fantasy that's set in our world or close to it, which I'd more accurately describe as "magical realism." Something where the fantastical element is one of the only quirks about an otherwise realistic world. I like books that hit too close to home, like they could almost happen to me. I will never end up piloting a ship through the galaxy or butting heads with dragons, but I just might develop the power to pause time one day (a girl can dream!).
As for paranormal vs. urban fantasy, the main difference with urban fantasy is a darker side, an edge, some grit. Paranormal can take place in a historical setting or attract younger readers. Urban fantasy usually takes place in a modern setting or the near future, with characters who are getting into more dangerous or sexy situations. The readership is often older teens. There's also usually a strong romance plot. It's a specific slice of the larger paranormal pie.
GLA: You just hosted a query contest on your Kid Lit blog. Looking over all those queries, what advice can you give writers?
MK: Make me care. A lot of queries don't tell me what's important to the character, what's at stake, how things go from bad to worse for them. People read to bond with people. Even if you've got a blockbuster plot, the character is still important because they're what will pull me into the other elements of your story. Focus on them. Keep things simple and brief. Also, I'm sure you have lovely children, pets, hobbies, anecdotes, pictures, friends ... but, no offense, unless they're directly related to your project, maybe leave them out of your pitch.
GLA: Describe your dream client.
MK: A dream client knows how to write very well, wants to learn about craft and revision, has good habits that keep them productive, shares work with a critique group before giving it to me, and is somewhat savvy about the publishing industry. Even after they have an agent and editor, an informed writer has an edge in today's market. There's no excuse for being blissfully unaware these days. Publishing is a fascinating industry and if you hope to work in it, start making connections, reading blogs, participating. Buy books, read them, go to author events, go to trade shows, meet other writers and authors, attend conferences. There's literally a whole world of opportunity available to you.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where writers can meet/pitch you?
MK: Yes! I love going to conferences, meeting writers, critiquing manuscripts, giving workshops and hearing pitches. I will be at the SDSU conference in San Diego in January 2010, at the San Francisco Writer's Conference in February 2010, at the Big Sur Conference in March 2010, and that's just the next few months. I constantly update the "Events and Conferences" list on my website, so check there for my most current schedule.
GLA: What's something about you writers would be surprised to know?
MK: I'm a passionate traveler. My favorite places on the planet (that I've seen so far) are Ireland, England and Costa Rica. I'd love to get to Japan, Australia and Spain someday, as well as do a road trip across America.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven't discussed?
MK: Read your butt off, grow a new butt and read it off again. Lather, rinse, repeat. A large chunk of my writing knowledge comes from my aggressive reading load. I read both published, unpublished and soon-to-be-published books. In doing so, I internalize plotting, character arc, tension, pacing, description, dialogue. Plus, for me, it's research. There's no excuse not to be reading voraciously within and outside of your chosen genre or market.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- It's Not a Bad Thing to Write Your Ending First
- Romance vs. Women's Fiction: The Differences.
- Agent Suzie Townsend Is Seeking Adult Fiction Clients.
- Do You Need Multiple Agents If You Write Multiple Genres?
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- If You're a Debut Author, Word Count Matters.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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