- 50 Tension Techniques
- About Kristi Holl
- De-Stressing the Writing Life
- More Writer’s First Aid
- Time Management for Writers book list
- Writing Mysteries for Young People
- I’ve Moved! Come Join Me!
- How to Take Charge of Your Writing Life
- Three Reasons Your Writing Life Isn’t Working–and What To Do
- What’s Hindering You?
- Putting Your Writing First by Using Accountability
- Internet-Based ADD: Do You Have It?
- Habits: Anchors for the Writer’s Life
- What Fear is Holding You Back?
- Advanced Fiction Writing Blog
- Books and Writing
- Chip MacGregor.com
- Christian Writer’s Den
- CRITIQUES by Kristi
- Editorial Anonymous
- Institute of Children’s Literature
- Kristi’s Website
- Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
- Sharing with Writers and Readers
- So You Want to Be Published
- The Working Writer’s Coach
- The Writing Life
- Writing Fiction Right
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November 23, 2012
I didn’t think the world needed one more writing book—but I was wrong. The book that changed my mind is Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole.
This book answers so many of our questions about:
- the current writing market (and all the changes)
- what sells best and why
- how to target today’s major traditional book markets
- getting inside the minds of middle-grade and YA readers
- crafting characters and plots that grip a reader
- and what makes a winning query or proposal for an agent or editor.
[NOTE: The book is an in-depth treatment of middle-grade and young adult fiction. It does not cover fiction for kids under age 8 or nonfiction. This is not just a “beginner’s book.” While the book is understandable for someone just starting out, it is challenging enough for a more experienced writer, and especially helpful to anyone wanting to bring their novel up several levels so it can compete much better in the current marketplace.]
Why should you listen to Mary Kole? Well, she has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and now spends her days as a Senior Literary Manager at Movable Type. She holds her MFA in creative writing from the Universityof San Francisco. Mary blogs at Kidlit.com, named one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” by Writer’s Digest Magazine for three years running. The book is a bit like having the opportunity to sit down with an agent for a heart to heart about why some books sell and some don’t.
Mary Kole’s encouragement to slow down and really focus on the writing, the theme, and the passion in your story is very welcome. In Mary’s own words:
“That’s why I’m so excited to share this book with you. It’s about craft, first and foremost, and, I hope, it forces you to focus on what’s really important. The publishing game will always be there when you’re ready, and when you finally hit upon that amazing idea and execute it with finesse, you will have a much easier time landing an agent and progressing to a book deal.”
One big change Kole talks about is the current “blockbuster mentality” (that came about after the mega hits of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games) and why novels need to be so well crafted in order to sell today:
“The blockbuster mentality that is rampant in Hollywood and in adult and nonfiction publishing has finally come to the kidlit market. We now know that children’s books can make money, so we (agents, editors, and the finance guys upstairs who are signing off on book offers) expect them to.”
Many students have told me they love middle-grade writing, but have no interest in writing about vampires or wizards. Mary’s thoughts:
“If you want to avoid genre, though, there’s still definitely room for stories that deal with the real world of school, friends, romance, and family. In fact, some editors and agents are clamoring for strong contemporary stories where nobody has any magic powers and nothing falls out of the sky or crawls out of the ground. They (and readers) want real life, because that’s fascinating, too.”
The same holds true for YA writers who don’t want to write books with edgy violence and sex scenes. Mary’s advice is:
“Before you start writing smut and gore, though, here’s a very important point to remember: You don’t have to be edgy to write YA. In fact, that’s a huge trap that most aspiring writers of YA fall into. They try on a snarky voice, shoehorn in a paranormal element, and put their character in dangerous situations—all because they think that’s what’s selling right now. But all it does is come off as forced.”
Editors and agents are looking for “high concept” novels today. Here are some clues to what that means—and ways to get your novel this designation. Mary says:
“There are certain things that seem to get the high-concept designation more than others. Basically, it’s anything Hollywood might like: twists; surprise endings; secrets; betrayals in friendship; family ties; romantic relationships; big events like birth, death, and transformation; life-threatening danger; glamour; fantasy and superpower elements, hidden identities; big crime; conspiracy; love triangles—anything that’s larger than life.”
Writing Irresistible Kidlit has sections called “From the Shelves” throughout the book that highlight examples from current published books. A full list of these books is at the end under “Novels Cited,” and I intend to print off the list and start reading. That will be an education all by itself!
I read this book as a PDF sample review copy. Even though I highlighted throughout, I’m going to buy a hard copy. If you can’t buy it right now, put it on your Christmas list. (Or earmark one of those Amazon gift cards you’ll receive from someone this year.) It will make a great Christmas present to yourself! I recommend this new writing book very highly.
October 28, 2011
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
September 9, 2011
We writers all want to know what editors REALLY think about our submissions. Especially with rejections, we wish we could know what is wrong with the story.
If you want some terrific insights into this question, I’d recommend Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein. (The full title tells it all: Second Sight: an Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.) It’s a collection of speeches given to writers, plus a few blog posts from her website.
Defining Good Writing
One chapter that might give you a clue about your rejections was on defining good writing. Klein wrote about five qualities she thinks about a lot when considering whether she wants to acquire a manuscript:
- Good prose: the quality of the writing. Smooth? Clean? Lyrical? Good pacing?
- Character richness: interesting people with dimension. Do they grow and change? Do I care about them?
- Plot construction: things must happen. Logical? Unpredictable? What’s at stake?
- Thematic depth: the story says something about the world.
- Emotion: being caught up in the emotions felt by the main character (and those emotions may vary widely)
What About You?
Cheryl Klein says to be “a literary success, a finished book has to be really strong in at least four of those categories,” most importantly (to her) #2 and #5.
How about you? When you read a good book, what is most important to you? What is the one (or maybe two) qualities it must have for you to pass the book along to your best friend as a “must-read”? [For me, it's character richness. I don't care how great the writing or the plot is until the author has made me care about the character.]
August 29, 2011
Did you know that many famous authors–including such popular children’s writers as Avi–have learning disabilities like dyslexia, ADD, and ADHD?
Many of these authors had trouble in school–including failing or dropping out. Many of them were distracted and often in trouble for it. Lots of them couldn’t spell.
If you’ve ever struggled with a learning disability of some kind–yet your deepest desire is to write and be published–you’ll take heart at this list of 25 famous authors with learning disabilities. Their brief stories will inspire you (for yourself or someone you love.)
I can’t personally write about the struggles of having a learning disability while trying to write, but if any of you can, please leave a comment for other “overcomers.”
What have been your challenges? Any solutions yet?
July 18, 2011
What poverty! I can’t imagine what life would be like if I didn’t love words.
For So Many Reasons
How do I love words? Let me count the ways:
- When I’m happy or want a reward for a job well done, I pick up a good book and read for pleasure.
- If I want to know something—from how to be a better grandma to planning a trip to England—I read to learn.
- If I have a personal problem, I look to books where people have shared their struggles and ideas for overcoming.
- If I’m hurt or afraid, I turn to my journal to sort myself out and talk to God about things. By the time I’m all written out, I feel much better and often I’ve arrived at a solution to my problem.
- And I get to make a living by staying home and making up stories.
What wonderful gifts, to love to read and to love to write. Today, instead of focusing on the frustrations of revision or marketing my work, I’m just grateful for the God-given desire I have for words.
What does reading (or writing) mean to YOU?
July 15, 2011
Wednesday’s blog entitled “Unhappiness: A Positive Sign” sparked more private email than usual! Glad it got you to thinking about this.
The tension you feel at the beginning of a project–that itch to “go for it!”–seems like a positive sign to me. So what is the “unhappy” part those authors were talking about in their book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path? And, emailers asked me, why did I feel that tension after selling forty books?
Ignorance Was Bliss
During my student work for ICL, I told three of my class assignments. It was fun! I expected to sell them and kept submitting till I did. Thankfully, there was no Internet in those days, and I didn’t know any other writers who told me I couldn’t make a living at this.
I was naive, yes, but it helped! I just assumed that if I worked hard at the writing, I could have a paying career doing it. I saw setbacks and rejections as part of the process on the way to getting what I wanted. (And yes, it had to pay to make up for me not teaching anymore in the public schools.)
To answer one man’s email question, I think my excitement at the beginning is now tempered with reality. I’m not the naive writer I was at the beginning–and to be honest, I miss that phase at some points.
At this stage of my writing career, I realize that starting a new project IS exciting–but it brings other things along with the excitement:
- hard work, neck cramps, and back aches
- risks that may not pay off
- loneliness as I get closer to the deadline
- letting go of lunches, grandkid overnights, and other fun temporarily
- having the project misunderstood and/or criticized
But is this bad? NO!! It’s good to know this!
Now I have no surprises that derail me. I’m not shocked when I get bogged down in the middle. I’m not greatly disappointed by having to give up some social things so that I can get enough rest and write in the morning. I don’t expect everyone to be as excited by my idea as I am.
I know the harder aspects are just part and parcel of the writing life. You acknowledge them when they happen and move on. They’re no longer a big deal–and to me, that’s a very good thing.
July 13, 2011
Have you ever considered the fact that unhappiness is the first step along the writer’s path?
“Toddlers are bursting with the anxiety and helplessness of having feelings that they can’t get anybody around them to understand. They don’t even have the right words in their heads yet – it’s all emotion and frustration. That’s also an accurate description of writers in step one.” This is how Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott describe the first of their Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: the journey from frustration to fulfillment. [I highly recommend this book, by the way.]
This unhappiness may feel like an itchy feeling under your skin. It may feel like an urge to change something. Call it restlessness or discontent or creative tension. “Unhappiness,” say the authors, “to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”
Message in the Misery
If you’re starting to feel that itch to change something in your life, you’re moving into Step One. Maybe you don’t feel unhappy exactly. Maybe you’re just restless. But if this tension is trying to tell you that you’re a writer who should be writing, it can very quickly turn into discomfort and then misery if you don’t pay attention to it.
Even published writers in a long-time career can feel this unhappiness or tension when it’s time to make a change. “Every important turn on my writer’s path has been preceded by unhappiness,” Nancy Pickard admits. “The more major the turn, the worse the misery.” (I can certainly identify with that! I get bored first, then I itch to try something new or more difficult or different, and then I get fed up with whatever I’m currently doing.)
If you’ve been writing for a long time, this unhappy first step on the writer’s path may have more specific origins. It might be the misery of being in a day job you’d give anything to quit so you could write full-time. It might be the misery of a writer’s block that just won’t budge – perhaps for months. It might be the misery of when your proposal has been rejected by a dozen editors or agents-and your spouse has told you to get “a real job.”
What About You?
There are many signs, according to these authors, that you are in the first step along the writer’s path (the first of seven). Can you identify here? What does the beginning of a project – or the beginning of a writer’s life – feel like to you?
I had always assumed that the beginning (for other writers) was a time of great excitement, a happy eager time. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who felt just the opposite!
How about YOU? How do YOU know when it’s time to get creative?
June 6, 2011
I have a confession to make. Being a children’s writer has taken away much of the joy in browsing the children’s sections of book stores.
Oh, I love book stores themselves–the brick ‘n’ mortar kind, plus anything online. But if I want to enjoy my book store visit, I avoid the children’s section. Until recently, I thought I was the only one who found the experience intimidating.
Book Store Phobia
I was reading in Eric Maisel’s book Deep Writing about a much-published, midlist women’s fiction author who wanted to “break out” and write a really solid book, but one that also had commercial success. “She finds her first step appalling but necessary: to spend an afternoon in a chain book store strategically browsing bestselling women’s fiction. She knows just which inner demons this visit will activate–feelings of envy, a vision of herself as a failure, a sense that others can effortlessly play a game whose rules she either doesn’t understand or refuses to understand.”
This phobia struck me early in my writing career, thirty years ago while I was still a student at the Institute of Children’s Literature. It happened when I did my assignments on studying the markets, reading children’s magazines and books. As instructed, I browsed book stores, seeing what kids liked and what publishers were doing.
At first, it was fun, but eventually I realized I was dreading the book store visits and magazine reading. It had stopped being fun. Instead, it left my already shaky self-esteem even lower. I couldn’t imagine ever studying my craft long enough to be able to write like the books I was reading.
After being published for several years and finding my books on the shelves in stores, I fully expected the “I’ll never be good enough” feeling to pass. But our minds, when left to themselves, are tricky things! If I found my books on the shelves, I’d wonder why they hadn’t sold. If I didn’t find my books on the shelves, I hoped they were sold out, but I never had the nerve to ask if they’d ever been on the shelf in the first place.
Back in the Saddle
The phobia seems to be a thing of the past–almost. While browsing now, I remember that the book I am holding is probably a collaborative effort between the author and his/her agent and editor. I remind myself that it undoubtedly went through a gazillion revisions even after it sold. Even if the process is intimidating, we need to know what is being published in our field. In other words, it’s like the book by Susan Jeffers that says Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
Does anyone else deal with this book store phobia? I hope it’s not just me!
May 30, 2011
I’ve been thinking about these questions this week as I’ve journaled and worked through the book Writing For Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal To Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was astounded at the relief (and practical help) I found simply through journaling.
I use the Life Journal software, password protected, and I found it so helpful, coupled with the exercises in the book. Writing means a lot to me for many reasons: a way to heal, a way to make a living, a way to connect with readers, and a lot of fun.
So I have this question for you:
What does writing mean to you?
To kickstart your thinking, here are some famous writers’ opinions. Ray Bradbury is quoted as saying: “Writing is survival… Not to write, for many of us, is to die. I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”
What does writing mean to you?
Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said: “Writing is a matter of necessity and that you write to save your life is really true and so far it’s been a very sturdy ladder out of the pit.” She sees writing as a safe and strong and dependable way out of a pit.
Again: What does writing mean to you?
February 21, 2011
(Bear with me–today is nothing but shameless self-promotion! The Table of Contents with sample chapters is at the bottom.)
If you liked
then you’ll love
You won’t actually find bandages or medicine in More Writer’s First Aid. But in 48 short chapters, you will find cures for dealing with disappointment and jealousy, writing despite physical and emotional pain, banishing procrastination once and for all, and combining writing with parenting (from infancy to adulthood.) “We’re all in this together” has been Kristi’s constant reminder to readers of her first book and her blog. (Read sample chapters below in the Contents.)
Kristi has had nearly 40 books published in 30 years of writing, taught writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature for more than 25 years, and has guided, mentored and taught hundreds of aspiring writers (both as an instructor and blogger for more than 55,000 subscribers.) “I started writing on an Iowa farm, very isolated, with no Internet and no other writers around,” Kristi says. “It’s not about how talented you are–and it’s not who you know–that gets you published. Most often the published writers are simply those writers who refused to quit. I can help you persevere until you publish.”
In addition to the uplifting encouragement you found in Kristi’s first book for writers, More Writer’s First Aid e-book includes:
- eight more articles (48 versus 40) to inspire you [See Contents below]
- a new “family matters” section on combining writing with parenting children from birth to adulthood
- advice on current time management issues like e-mail and information overload
- portability for today’s modern reader–keep it handy on your computer’s desktop
- live links within the chapters leading to referenced books, classes, websites, and authors
Only $12.95 (pdf) requires Adobe Acrobat
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE (immediate direct download)
“More Writer’s First Aid should be within easy reach on every writer’s desktop,” says published author Patricia Curtis Pfitsch. “Kristi’s insight and advice guide us around the subtle traps of our 21st century life that can derail even the most talented writer’s dreams.”
“Author Kristi Holl knows what counts and what works when it comes to ‘getting the writing done!’ She not only provides action steps but she is also sensitive to a writer’s emotions, family obligations, and personal challenges,” says Karen O’Connor. “Written in a conversational style as though she is sitting across from you over a cup of tea, Holl encourages all writers to honor themselves as artists and to live in a place of mindfulness–taking our lives and our writing one day at time. I’m inspired and know you will be too.”
Only $12.95 (pdf) requires Adobe Acrobat
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE (immediate direct download)
“Whether you’re a starting-out writer or well down the published road, you’ll find a ton of value in Kristi Holl’s book,” says published author Sherryl Clark. “Her wisdom, born of long experience as a writer, is like a guiding light. This is the book you need for good and bad writing days!”
I ENJOYING THE WRITING LIFE—EVERY DAY!
Honoring the Writing Process
Dealing with Disappointment
Striving for Contentment
Breaking the Procrastination Cycle
How Tight Is Your Bow?
Joining a Work in Progress
Writing through Physical Pain
Mentors or Tormentors?
Mindful or Multi-Tasker?
II WRITING HABITS THAT HELP YOU
Change: Making It Stick
Counting the Cost
Focus: the Power of Scheduling
Getting the Writing Done
Undo It Yourself
Timing is Everything
E-mail: the Hidden Enemy
Finding Time: Pruning before Prioritizing
Procrastination: Have You Tried An Unschedule?
The Power of Writing Things Down
III A WRITER’S EMOTIONS
Write What You Love
Facing Your Creative Fears
Stages of Writing
Sorting Out the Voices
Conquering the Green-Eyed Monster
Give Up Your Perpetual Maybe
Dealing with Rejections and Setbacks
Writing after Major Losses
Get Your Fear Shot!
IV FAMILY MATTERS
Set Boundaries to Write More
Creativity and Noise: Do They Mix?
Hats Off to Mom Writers
Writers: Always Working
Busy—or Crazy Busy?
Writing through Relationship Struggles
Combining Babies, Bylines and School-Age Children
Writing during the Teen and Early Adult Years
Running on Parallel Tracks
Cherish the CommonplaceNewer Posts »