Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

Mary and I started agenting around the same time. I remember sitting next to her at my very first conference and talking about our sales, how things were going, challenges we were facing as new agents. We’d entered publishing at the start of a crisis, a downslide from the “good ol days” of high advances and easy sales (well, at least that’s how I picture how it was). She had an energy and a passion to make the most of her opportunities that was inspiring, and she said something to me that has stuck with me ever since: If we can make it now [in this economy], we can make it any time. 

Since then, Mary has gone on to become an agent extraordinaire, author of one of the most popular children’sindustry sites, and now, author of the upcoming WritingIrresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers*:

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 clich├ęs 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 was intrigued by her new book both because she’d personally inspired me with her advice, and also because of how much her advice and knowledge already resonates on her popular website, Of course, there are a ton of other writing resources out there. So what makes this one so special?

MK: I took the Donald MaassWRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL approach and integrated novel excerpts from thirty-four books that I think are some of today's best. So I'm not just talking about voice in an abstract way, I'm showing writers examples of it, and, better yet, how each specific example works and why. Those next few steps are often missing in writing guides that stop at simply being prescriptive. I've also interviewed some published authors and big house editors to round out my own advice, so I hope to bring writers something bigger than just me on my soapbox. 

I found it an engaging and interesting read, not just for honing craft but also for its great introduction and summary about the start of the MG and YA boom to set the stage for breaking into the children’s industry as a whole. The book follows the same straight-forward and in-depth style found on Mary’s website with some really fun notebook doodle designs to set the mood. But most importantly, it steps beyond what any one post on a blog or website could answer by tackling some of the toughest questions on voice, revision, authenticity and even career-minded market writing with thorough examples and explanations. I’ve only just scratched the surface of these tricky subjects here on my own blog, and I know that while I was reading there seemed to be a constant mantra in my head of: Yes. Yep. Check. Yep.

And it’s not just a guide for writing; true to the spirit of that same energetic and inspiring agent I sat next to all those years ago, what Mary hopes readers (writers) will take away from this book is more than advice; it’s the urge not to feel stuck by what you’ve got but to take risks and make the most of opportunity to go out there and MAKE IT HAPPEN:

MK: In assigning exercises and covering the bases of the biggest craft issues, I hope to inspire writers to go back to the drawing board, experiment, and play with their work. Too often, we get locked into the words we've written because they're already there and anything is better than a blank page. We lose that sense of creativity. You are making everything up when you write. There's shouldn't be a sense of "it has to be like this" or "I can't do it this way." Of course you can. And sometimes it's that play that we indulge in once we get over ourselves and break our own boundaries that results in the best writing.
So check it out! It’s definitely a resource I recommend.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation - just downloaded it!

  2. This is wonderful! I love the bit about hoping. That's the thing that really got me to make my final decision to sign with my agent; she had this amazing optimism just leaking out of her pores when she called to offer representation.