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Writing Irresistible KidLit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers

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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 cliches 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.
Mary Kole's candid commentary and insightful observations, as well as a collection of book excerpts and personal insights from bestselling authors and editors who specialize in the children's book market, are invaluable tools for your kidlit career.

If you want the skills, techniques, and know-how you need to craft memorable stories for teens and tweens, Writing Irresistible Kidlit can give them to you.

240 pages, Paperback

First published November 6, 2012

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Mary Kole

5 books31 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 138 reviews
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
254 reviews48 followers
October 23, 2015
Perhaps I beat a dead dog by reading writing books. I have a long list of goals when I do but actually realizing them requires an elusive, intangible application of knowledge, call it skill or talent if you like, a lament I’ve made at the start of one of these reviews at least one other time. The process is worthwhile and satisfying though - call me old-fashioned. I also sincerely believe writing can be taught. I just hope it does not take 10,000 hours of practice or a million words of tenacious writing. I’m willing to sell out in a shorter amount of time, people! After at least ten years of weekends, I’m not even half way there!

I’ll show some restraint, I hope, and some decency, with a quick review:

Writing Irresistible KidLit contains useful knowledge, especially if you enjoy reviews of the basics and the semi-basics. A lot of it was familiar: character, plot, imagery, big ideas. Most of that was not specific to writing for the middle grade or YA markets, which did not surprise me. About twenty pages at the beginning addresses the middle grade and YA markets and the mindsets of those readers. It was not exhaustive, but it was thoughtful. Although I read The Horn Book regularly, I benefited. One of the best things were the excerpts. The examples, mainly from her clients’ books I believe (the author is a literary agent), were often interesting, even illuminating.

It’s worthwhile, but don’t let reading this eat into your writing time, though that’s always true, isn’t it?
Profile Image for Ashlee Willis.
Author 2 books177 followers
September 27, 2013
Ok ... THIS is an awesome book. There is advice here for any writer who is seeking to WRITE young adult or middle grade fiction. I emphasize "write" because so many books now focus on publishing, promoting, platform, marketing, pitching, etc., etc., ETC.!! This book, however, focuses solely on writing in its purest form - the CRAFT of writing. The advice is wonderful, thoughtful, and so clearly written that no writer could read this book and not walk away with something gained from it.

Kole does an excellent job of pinpointing the areas that writers need to work on the most - the important things - and then clearly illustrating how to shape your own writing accordingly. She gives loads of examples from her own "shelves" to help get her point across in each chapter. Another great thing is the lists of writing exercises that accompany many of her sections, which - if completed - are an enormous help in grasping the ideas she is trying to get across.

VERY in-depth look at writing for children and teens. I loved the differences that Kole makes between MG and YA as well - because there IS a difference and it is important to understand it before you begin writing in either of these groups.

Recommend, recommend, RECOMMEND!!
Profile Image for Pedro Fernández.
Author 13 books706 followers
December 15, 2021
Libro de estudio. Lo leí en preparación del primer libro de Mexicanas que hicieron historia y me ayudó mucho. Creo que ayuda a entender el mundo de la literatura infantil y juvenil, desde los puntos más básicos hasta los temas, estilos, narrativas y voces narrativas. Para mí, sobran los capítulos de cómo vender tu libro a un agente.
Profile Image for Patti.
461 reviews23 followers
January 27, 2013
I had the dubious honor of receiving one of Ms. Kole's form rejections last summer. And after finishing this book I know why. In the second to last chapter she discusses queries/submissions. And to quote her:

If you're only getting form declines, something's not working, and I'm betting it's your writing sample. Yes, your writing sample. Not your query, as so many writers hope. We can overlook a heinous query if the writing is brilliant, but never the other way around. (pg 259)

The good thing is, is that the entire book before this quote give us concrete examples on how to stop getting those form rejections. How our writing must sing, be fresh, deep and true, all at the same time. There is something to the adage one must write a million words before becoming an real writer.

There were a lot of things in this book that opened my eyes. Her chapter on Big Ideas, Characters, and Plots held so many gems I can't list them all. My daughter gave me an appalled look when she saw me underlining sentences in red. But it needed to be done.

The only reason why I've given this book only four stars is because I really wished she'd have put a chapter about revision in there including a look at how she approaches revising her clients' books. But maybe she's saving that for book 2. I can only hope that after applying and incorporating her thoughts on writing, the next time I query Ms. Kole, I'll at least get a personalized rejection. I'll consider that a success.
Profile Image for Robin.
Author 1 book354 followers
March 11, 2020
This is a thorough, top notch writer's guide. Mary Kole brings years of solid experience and insight to the art of writing literature for younger audiences. She highlights specific kid lit categories, and shows how to craft stories that meet their criteria. In terms of characterization, plotting, tone, length, etc., she shows what to do as well as what not to do in order to make your writing stand out in a very competitive market. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Melanie Kilsby.
Author 2 books275 followers
March 17, 2017
This was such a great resource and was an insightful guide for writing KidLit.
I wish there wasn't swearing (which took me a bit to hurdle through), but the examples she gave through literature that was on the market today, and the way she explained how to craft Literature geared towards kids, was superb! It confirmed what I was doing and helped me to achieve things I never truly considered thoroughly.

Profile Image for Kita.
Author 3 books24 followers
August 28, 2013
Most books for writers are written by writers, which makes sense of course. Writing Irresistible Kidlit is written by an agent. She offers an interesting perspective. For example, she includes several lists of clichés that she sees all the time in the slush pile (plot clichés, character clichés, opening scene clichés etc.)

And she has lots of tidbits of good advice, like:

"Never be satisfied with the level of conflict you've engineered. Always twist it, always find a way to make it worse... But be careful - high stakes should never slide into histrionics. Melodrama happens when big emotions clash with a too-thin underlying Objective."


"In an effort to technically dodge the "Show, don't tell" bullet, a lot of writers have taken the external route to conveying character emotions: rumbling stomachs, beating hearts, twisting guts... and on and on.... If I were to go on an actual stage and check my watch or tap my foot to convey impatience, a director would yell at me for being way too obvious. But novelists do this all the time."

Some of the book was geared to beginning writers (lots of basic definitions), but I think writers at any stage could learn from it. And she offers a lot of advice that isn't just relevant to YA and MG authors.
Profile Image for Claire Caterer.
Author 2 books62 followers
May 31, 2013
I used to devour books on writing. Now I rarely pick one up, mostly because I realized I needed to spend more time doing the writing and less time reading about doing the writing. But I attended a lecture by Mary Kole at my local SCBWI chapter conference last fall and was intrigued enough to buy her book. And really, no matter where you are in your writing career, this book has lots to teach you.

Kole gives real-world examples of what she's talking about in terms of published YA/MG novels. She offers advice on each topic from other writers and editors. And she gives you exercises to do-- but not hippy-dippy exercises that don't apply to your work. She has you think about these topics in terms of your own novel.

She writes concretely and specifically. She doesn't tell you how to write a best seller--just how to write your best story. I can't recommend this book highly enough--just go read it. You won't be sorry.
Profile Image for Audrey.
133 reviews7 followers
February 16, 2017
Fantastic. Don't make my mistake and read it after you've written your first novel. Read it first. How-to for everything.
Profile Image for Sarah.
248 reviews5 followers
November 3, 2012
Wow. Like the title states, this really is "The Ultimate Guide" for writing "kidlit."

A few things I loved about this book:
- Ms. Kole uses excerpts from 35 kidlit books to illustrate the writing craft techniques.
- The whole book is a lesson on good "voice." Her book uses a conversational tone that made it feel like she was just sitting at the table teaching me.
- The market sections. She gives an overview of the YA and MG markets, the YA and MG mindset, and the business side of getting your book traditionally published.
- The craft sections. She talks about how to come up with a "big idea," great storytelling, developing irresistible characters and plot, and "advance kidlit," like using imagery and setting, word choice and voice, and authority and authenticity.

I'm going to read it again with a highlighter and sticky notes in hand. It is truly the YA and MG writer's bible.

Go forth and read!
Profile Image for Terri Lynn.
997 reviews
April 25, 2016
This is okay if you want to write middle grade and YA fiction but is too serious and stuffy for me. It is like reading an encyclopedia article by a PhD. Stuffy and boring and dull, oh my! There is a lack of examples. If you are looking for an interesting, conversational guide that is full of examples and real help, this isn't for you. Move on along.
Profile Image for Danielle Burns.
85 reviews18 followers
December 12, 2017
Read this How-To Book with a notebook by my side. I’m so glad I did, otherwise it would have been twice it’s size with all the post it tabs I would have wanted to add!

The author (a US literary agent) reinforces all the old themes about setting, characterisation & theme but does so with practical examples from well known US kidlit along with insightful comments from other literary agents & publishers.

There are exercises to complete at the end of each chapter and although I skipped a few most of them were very worthwhile even if they just reinforced my own work in progress while others set me off on exciting entirety new tangents.

Hopefully my messy jottings in the notebook will reveal even more nuggets once I can decipher my own handwriting!

After hearing this book recommended by a local literary agent I set out on a book hunt. I did eventually get my hands on a copy for 2 weeks through inter library loan before I finally found a much thumbed (& filled with pencilled notes) second hand copy at a city op shop. I’m glad now that I put in the effort as this is definitely a book to add to the reference shelves of any aspiring MG/YA writer.
Profile Image for Robert Skidmore.
131 reviews7 followers
May 20, 2023
One of the best books I’ve read on writing in general

So fantastic. This book covers every aspect of working craft in depth with examples. This is definitely one I’ll turn to again and again.
Profile Image for Tamara Hajdu.
100 reviews
April 8, 2022
Don’t be deceived by the daggy cover. This is highly useful. It should be titled “common errors agents see repeatedly in their slush piles and how to fix them”.
Profile Image for Lia Marcoux.
721 reviews7 followers
March 8, 2015
I really enjoy Kole's Kidlit blog, but the book seems to focus more on writing that sells than writing craft (which is great for someone seeking that practical guide). Kole is an experienced professional with a successful list, so she obviously knows her stuff, but a couple of those commercial guidelines (which are not her fault) made me sad. Bitter emphasis entirely my own: "Try to give all issues, like experiencing racism probably, to secondary characters. And pack your YA with romance because girls can't get enough of that crap."

After a certain point she probably could have started referring to "Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham" as "Alvin Ho". And maybe use fewer fonts. But this does seem like it would be a great tool for someone trying to get their book off the ground, at any level of experience.
211 reviews
January 10, 2016
This book was recommended to me by a writer friend and I devoured it in a matter of days. It is excellent, filled with great reminders of stuff I already know but sometimes forget, and many new-to-me ideas as well. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is seriously interested in writing publishable fiction, especially if you already have something in the works that you want to improve. I am nearing the end of the first rewrite of the novel I am working on, and this book has me totally energized with fresh ideas on what I want to do in my next round of revisions!
Profile Image for Dianna Winget.
Author 11 books107 followers
September 18, 2015
This is an excellent book on writing, and I've read my share of craft books. I love Mary's examples and how she's able to put you in the mind of both middle graders and young adults. I would highly recommend this helpful aid.
Profile Image for Anyta Sunday.
Author 89 books2,574 followers
January 15, 2013

It's always great to get the basis drummed into you again and again. I particularly liked the examples, my only qualm with it is that it has increased my 'to read' pile by another 20.

Need more reading time!!!
Profile Image for Courtney.
Author 4 books111 followers
March 17, 2013
This is a must-read book by the awesome agent Mary Kole for anyone writing for children. She is a master, and loved her words of encouragement at the end, too. My favorite quote: Novels are written one word at a time, and every word is a choice.
Profile Image for Andrew Shaffer.
Author 43 books1,391 followers
September 29, 2013
If you're thinking of writing YA/MG fiction, you need to read this book. Even if you write it already, I'm sure you would enjoy it as well.
Profile Image for Toni Suzuki.
165 reviews35 followers
February 2, 2021
I went into this book hoping that the advice it contained would be geared a bit more specifically towards writing for kids and young adults. The first chapter delivered exactly what I wanted!

Unfortunately, everything after that was general writing advice. And though all of it is solid and true advice, as someone who has read several craft books at this point, none of it was new to me.

Also, some of the points made in the book, especially related to the market at the moment, are a tad dated. Do be aware of that while you're reading.

If you are a beginner writer who plans to write YA and MG books and hasn't read any craft books yet, then this one would be great to start with! However, if you're a more experienced writer, then the majority of the book will just be repeating what you already know.
Profile Image for Olivia Cornwell.
Author 3 books11 followers
October 15, 2017
This was really useful to me. I've read writing books before, so a lot of the material was familiar to me. But I wanted that YA/MG "setting," since that's what I write. It was a helpful read, in understanding what teens/middle graders feel and experience (since, I suspect, I had a vastly different growing-up time than the average person). Some of that, though, I was iffy on (I was concerned, for example, that young adults/kids find a fascination in dark stuff like death and suicide and such???? Why?!), but it was interesting to learn.

I felt like calling YA/MG books collectively as "kidlit" was odd. It felt kind of like it was making it seem young and light and inconsequential (if that makes sense) when it's the farthest thing from it.
Profile Image for Maggie Holman.
Author 7 books21 followers
January 21, 2018
Mary Kole really knows what she's talking about! This book has completely turned around how I was approaching my children's and YA writing. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Each chapter contains relevant, useful and insightful information about writing and about the book world. Kole doesn't just tell us things from her own point of view. She refers throughout the book to contextual examples from current books to support her points, and asks also writers and agents for their thoughts and contextual choices. I'll always have this book within easy reach when I want the best children's and YA writing advice!
Profile Image for Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Author 63 books46 followers
January 13, 2022
An excellent craft book, whether you write MG and YA or not. I did like the emphasis on MG and YA books, especially the examples of how to get it right. There are so many things I liked about this book that it’s just simples to say: go and read it.

My only issue with this book, and perhaps that’s just me, is that she advises against writing series as it’s the publisher’s choice and not the author’s. there’s huge focus on traditional publishing in this book that doesn’t work for indie authors.

A must-have in the fiction writer’s library.
Profile Image for Linda Judd.
Author 1 book13 followers
October 15, 2017
This is a wonderful guide for story crafters and writers. Even though its aim is for Middle Grade and Young Adult, the development of characters is the same for any genre. Mary Kole has brought to light every aspect of creating characters with specific examples from published books, all works of novel length. Lots of examples, to cover plot development, that even the young reader would appreciate.
Profile Image for Clare Bird.
516 reviews5 followers
January 2, 2020
I was given this book as a gift my brother- who has been consistently cheering me on in my endeavor to become an author. I enjoy writing YA and felt like Mary Kole had great advice. I found it a slow read, not because it boring, but because I really wanted to let it all soak in and be beneficial to me. I made sure to add the books she provided examples from. I'm excited to see the changes in my writing and approach to plot and even querying.
Profile Image for Chris Norbury.
Author 4 books67 followers
January 23, 2022
A solid beginner/intermediate level how-to-write book with a focus on getting an agent and publishing traditionally, but I was hoping for much more on the specific craft side of writing for MG and YA. The book had some good tips for writing for kids but not enough to warrant reading through all the agent/query/pitching chapters. The author's points were well illustrated with examples from many different books.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 138 reviews

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