Editor, Publisher, Writer: The Scoop on Mary Kole

by Veronica Vivona
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Mary Kole is an incredible and experienced editor who has written a book called Writing Irresistible Kidlit. Mary has a strong background in publishing and that experience has given her such an advantage when it comes to her job as an editor. She helps aspiring writers achieve their dreams and loves doing it all at the same time!

A lot goes into a novel and Mary is one of those “behind the scenes” individuals who can give writers that extra edge they might need to get noticed. Mary guides, teaches, and helps in any possible way that she can. Her goal is to help authors achieve their literary dreams and does her best to get her clients to where they want to go.

We are so thrilled that we had the opportunity to sit down with Mary and talk to her about her editing process, her future plans, and her love for cats. You can check it all out below:

Q&A with Mary Kole

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I’ve been working in publishing for ten years now and it has been wonderful. I love my job. My primary focus is children’s books, and that means I’m helping to create beautiful things to inspire young readers.

I have always loved books. My parents were academics, so I grew up in a house where the walls were lined with shelves. In my house now, we have books in every room. I worked as a literary agent in NYC, and now I work as a freelance editor directly with aspiring writers. I’m a California girl living in the Midwest, and I have two very sweet but very dumb pugs and the best cat in the world. My husband is a chef and I have a very full client load, but when we’re not working, we love to spend time up at our cabin with our son, Theo.

What were you up to before you became an editing consultant?

Before I worked in publishing, I worked at several start-ups because I grew up in the Silicon Valley. But pretty soon after I graduated college, I started working in publishing and that is all I’ve really done. Immediately before becoming an editor, I spent four years working as a literary agent in New York City. That’s where I get my behind the scenes publishing knowledge, and clients really appreciate someone who has been “on the inside” and can bring that perspective to them.

What inspired you to become part of the writing business in the first place?

Other than a lifelong love of books and reading, I have always been a writer. That’s how I communicate, that’s what I like to do, that’s my version of art. Because I know what it’s like to write and the emotions invested in writing, I can understand my clients on a personal level. I like to work with people who have big dreams, and to be a small part of those dreams coming true. It’s so gratifying.

You have a writing guide book called Writing Irresistible Kidlit that discusses not only the writing side, but the business side of being an author as well. Why did you decide to write this book and how does it help aspiring writers?

I’d been writing on my blog, Kidlit.com, since 2009 about how to write novels and get them published, and a book was the natural extension of my work. It’s so satisfying to know that writers can find my book and use it and that it’s out there in the world, teaching my ideas to aspiring writers. I’d say the helpful thing about my book, in general, is that I use a lot of examples to make various points. So I’m not just discussing abstract ideas, I’m showing the reader those concepts in action. The examples make the book maybe a bit more hands on. I would love to write another one, but raising a young child makes big projects difficult to undertake!

You mentioned your blog, Kidlit.com. Why did you decide to create a blog and how does it differ from the book?

The blog actually came first. I was interning at a literary agency and was seeing a lot of mistakes in the slush, things I wish I could advise writers on. So I started the blog in 2009, with some craft articles and then Q&A from writers. A lot of aspiring writers really want to know the answers to their questions from an insider’s perspective, so a lot of people have found the blog helpful. It inspired the book, but unlike some books which are just bundles of blog articles, mine is completely new material. I still blog on Kidlit.com to this day, discussing various elements of publishing and the writing craft.

What are some of the services you offer to writers?

I do everything from a quick phone consultation to discuss material or a submission strategy, to very in-depth novel editing with notes on every paragraph. I work on all kinds of fiction, from horror to non-fiction, not just children’s books. It all depends on where the writer is in their journey and what kind of feedback might be most helpful to them at that point.

Writers sometimes struggle with recognizing the flaws in their own work. How much do you think an editor can actually help a writer?

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that working with an editor is like putting rocket boosters on their writing progress. All writers who are committed to their craft and practice it regularly will learn how to write. But it’s dangerous to try and do it alone, in a bubble, because writers are notoriously bad at analyzing their own work objectively. There are other resources, like critique groups, that writers can seek out, but a lot of people in critique groups may be more interested in getting their own work critiqued, rather than providing great critique to others. And you sometimes don’t know the experience level of the people looking at your writing. An editor is working with you one-on-one to, ideally, point out strengths, opportunities for growth, and suggestions that will take your story to the next level. Editors who are comfortable with the publishing process, like me, will even advise on next steps as writers get ready to pursue publication.

I like to joke that my goal is to make myself obsolete. It’s a terrible business strategy, but I really do want to teach a writer so much about their craft that they don’t need me anymore. I want my clients to stand on their own two feet and write confidently, but sometimes it’s very hard to make the jump to that kind of competence without professional feedback.

Knowing that editing varies for each project, would you still be able to tell us some general things about your editing process?

I like to go in “blind” and work on a project as I read it, much like an agent or publisher might just dive in. That means I don’t take a lot of context or explanation ahead of time. A writer isn’t available to stand and whisper over a reader’s shoulder, so the manuscript has to speak for itself. If it doesn’t, that’s something we work on. Time invested depends entirely on project length and the overall quality of the project. Some manuscripts need a lot of TLC in terms of foundational basics and voice, before I can begin working on higher order elements like character and plot.

A novel will take me four or five days. A picture book will take me an hour. I’ve only found a handful of projects that were “impossible” to edit, and they all had profound language difficulties. It wouldn’t have been fair of me to charge for services because the writers would’ve been better served by taking a grammar/usage class. The English language is a writer’s tool. If you’re not using the tool well, it’s not time to think about publishing yet. All agents and publishers will only work with writers who have a firm grasp of the basics.

The most enjoyable manuscripts to edit are the really, really good ones. Where the prose flows and the structure is compelling, the characters are relatable… I have to be much more creative with my feedback and work that much harder, which is challenging and very rewarding.

You are not only an editor, but you are also a writer, having worked as a freelance writer in your past. Do you ever think you’ll switch gears and become a “kidlit” writer?

There’s that old joke about bakers never ordering dessert. By the time I’m done working with prose all day, the last thing I want to do is read or write some more. Much to my detriment, since I love reading and writing!

If I were to ever write something creatively, I don’t know if it would be a children’s book. I tend to be “too close” to my own ideas and shoot them down before giving them a chance. Part of being an editor is the ability to be critical, and I’m too critical of my own work. But, maybe some essays or creative nonfiction. I don’t think I’m done writing for good, it’s just not my focus right now.

What are some of your favorite children’s books?

My son is two, so they are all picture books at the moment. I would have to say that my favorite is All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee. This book has deep meaning for my family. My son and I have really enjoyed other fun books like Toad on the Road: Mama and Me by Stephen Shaskan and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. For YA, I will always and forever have a soft spot for How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. It’s an incredible work of contemporary realistic YA. That category is a tough sell, since publishers tend to favor more “high concept” projects, but this is a good example of it done right.

Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?

I’m a pretty open book (har har) but people might be surprised to know that I hate cooking. I hate it. I’m awful at it. It stresses me out. Which is weird/perfect because I’m married to a chef! Clearly, I’m passionate about food, I just don’t like to make it. So he cooks, I do the dishes, and on nights when he’s working, I just…survive somehow. Fruit? Leftovers? But scrambling an egg for my son’s breakfast is pretty much the extent of my culinary prowess. At some point, I’ll have to work on my pancake game.

Who inspires you the most in your career?

I feed on my clients’ hopes and dreams. Ha! But seriously. I am so inspired every day by the fresh ideas and passion that my clients bring to the table. Writing is all about passion and perseverance. Those writers who do well tend to have a lot of ideas and the energy and motivation to execute them and keep working on their craft. I get to step in and help with this process, and that’s very enriching and rewarding. I’ve gotten to a level in my career where my reputation tends to attract very cool, dedicated, and talented writers. They may not realize it, but they give me so much joy!

If you could only give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

To piggyback on the above: Keep going. That may not mean “keep going on your current manuscript”, because, sadly, not all manuscripts are destined for the “big time”. But even if you fail or hit an obstacle, keep going. Keep writing, keep generating new ideas, keep learning to improve your craft. If your current manuscript isn’t working, start another. Try to write and learn every day and keep doing it.

You seem to absolutely love your career. Where do you see yourself going from here?

In ten years, I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing, maybe with another book or two published. It has taken me ten years to get here, and I am so happy. As long as there are writers with dreams, I’m here for them. I want to enjoy my family, enjoy my work, and grow as a person. Small pleasures, maybe, but they are more than enough for me. Also, maybe another cat. Don’t tell my husband!

Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?

It sounds so cheesy, but dreams really do make life so much better. Keep dreaming, keep pursuing your creative ideas. Your writing is what makes you you, and what lets you express yourself to the world. Art helps us make sense of life and truly be alive in it. It is my dream for every single person that they will create something they’re proud of. It’s amazing that I can be a small part of this process.

To learn more about Mary and the services she provides as an editor, you can visit her website, check out her blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

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