Interview with Agent Mary Kole - by Donna

Today kicks off banned books week and is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. We’d love to have you leave a comment this week on the blog about a banned book that made a difference in your life. Let us know what you would have missed without the opportunity to read this choice. We’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, I have a wonderful treat for you. My agent, Mary Kole, has graciously agreed to answer a few questions. Mary is featured in this month’s Writer’s Digest magazine’s Hot List of top agents seeking new talent and her website,, is a wonderful resource for new and experienced children’s writers. So please welcome to YAMuses, Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Mary Kole…

1. What led you to agenting books for young readers?
I've always loved books and especially kids' books. They're written for people who are experiencing so many new and exciting things in their lives, and the right book at the right time can quite simply change a young person's life and turn them into a lifelong reader. There are very many brave jobs that give people an opportunity to do good...medicine, the Peace Corps, teaching. I happen to also want to do good, but I want to do good while curled up with my cat, a good book, my coffee and my laptop.
2. Your blog and website was recently named one of the best websites for writers by Writer's Digest Magazine. You're also active on Facebook and Twitter. Why is a web presence important to you?
I have eight brilliant colleagues and, as the newest agent among them, I wanted to get myself on the map. That was my initial motivation. But when I started blogging and speaking at conferences and otherwise interacting with writers, I figured out that I really do love teaching and talking about writing and giving advice. So the blog and my Twitter are great for me, professionally, but they're also a joy to run, personally. While I disagree with the notion that ALL aspiring writers need a blog -- blogs only work if you can keep up with them and give your readers valuable content -- I do think that online presence is important, and something everyone should consider and try pursuing. For me, it was a natural fit. I grew up in the Silicon Valley and built my first website when I was 11. It's gone from the web now, thank goodness, so no one can find it, but the web has always been a passion of mine.
3. Based on my experience, I would describe you as an "editorial agent." Would you agree?
Absolutely. These days, as lists tighten, you have to make a really strong case for the editor and the acquisitions committee, so a submission has to come in wearing a suit and tie, and carrying roses. I'm very much interested in the novel craft and love working with clients on revisions. It has become a very important part of the process.
4. Your website does a great job of describing the kinds of manuscripts that catch your attention. Could you tell us more about your tastes or do you have any new interests?
I'm very much looking for new MG and YA voices. For MG, I'd love creepy, sweet, literary, or high concept and high adventure books for both boy and girl readers. For YA, I'm looking for a few different things. I'd love to find the next contemporary standout voice, like Sara Zarr or Laurie Halse Anderson, but I'm also looking for murder, ghosts (the creepy, under your skin kind), betrayal, romance, friendship, unique paranormal (no vampires or werewolves or angels, please), dystopian, thriller, horror, urban fantasy, fantasy (light, more like Cashore than Tolkien), light sci-fi, and any strong, commercial, character-driven story that will stay with me long after I've stopped reading. I'd especially love to find a truly edgy YA, and not something that's just edgy or sarcastic for the sake of being edgy or sarcastic. I've sold a lot of picture books in the last year and am being really picky. Author/illustrators are my favorite types of picture book creators to work with.
5. The Andrea Brown Literary Agency has long been located in California, but you recently moved to New York. Are you enjoying the New York book scene and how is it different from California?
I'm a very social person, so being in the heart of publishing is fantastic. There's always lots to do, and there are always people to see and meet. In California, I read for one literary agency, worked for ABLit, went to the San Francisco Writers Conference a few times, worked for Chronicle Books and sold books to Tricycle Press. With the exception of a few literary agencies, I've either worked for or sold to all the big Bay Area opportunities for children's books. Now that I'm in New York full-time, and not just on my monthly visits, I can really immerse myself in all the various publishers and get to know them on a deeper level. It's great.
6. If you could change one thing about the children's literature world what would it be and why?
If I could change one thing about children's literature, it would be the fact that it's currently easier to be a debut than to be a repeat author. I'd rather have my clients sell book after book. I take the longview. I'm glad that so many new voices are hitting the shelves, but I do wonder what the effect will be down the line, once all those debuts want to build their careers and publish additional books. That's not to say, of course, that editors and houses don't build publishing programs for their authors. They most certainly do! I just wish all writers got this kind of investment. As is, I see a lot of once-published writers who are frustrated in trying to sell their subsequent efforts. That's no way to build momentum. In publishing, each book is a risk, and that risk becomes much less attractive when an author has sales numbers to their name. In these recession years, most authors are carrying around numbers that aren't that great. It's sexier to invest in the debut author, who has unknown potential. I think that's an understandable (from the publisher's standpoint) but dangerous attitude, but I don't think it's unique to children's books.
7. What do you enjoy doing outside the world of children's books?
I love to travel and cook. Luckily, I get invited to conferences and get to travel quite a bit for work. I also work from home, so I have a flexible schedule that allows me to shop for interesting ingredients and cook when I want. Another favorite thing, as you can probably guess, is to travel somewhere new and eat in delicious restaurants. I'm a huge food snob. I'm always on the hunt for a new place to eat, like Anthony Bourdain but without the snark.
8. Are there any upcoming events you're doing where writers could meet you?
My schedule in the next few months is out of control! In October, I will be in Ohio for the SCBWI on October 9th, then I'm going to Wisconsin for the SCBWI on the 15th, and then to Florida on the 21st for the Florida Writers Association. In November, I'll be in South Dakota the weekend of the 5th, also for the SCBWI. In December, I'll be at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency's Big Sur Workshop in California the weekend of the 3rd, and then it's pretty quiet until January, when I'll do the Writer's Digest Conference and the SCBWI Winter National, both in New York City.

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