Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What NOT to do when querying an agent!

Hello again from your friendly neighborhood intern. After 6 months of reading query letters, synopsis, random quotes, the first 10 pages, 50 pages, and then full manuscripts of new and published authors, I've learned a lot. The easiest way for me to pass this on to you, my fellow writers, is by telling you what NOT to do. 


  • Tell the agent how many kids you have

  • Tell the agent that your kid is why you wrote this manuscript

  • Tell the agent that your heart is so filled with love over your new baby that you had to write this manuscript

  • Tell the agent that being a mother/father is why you had to write this manuscript

  • Tell the agent that being a mother/father allows you to see what a baby would love or a child would love to read

  • Tell the agent that these are stories that you tell your baby or kid every night

  • Tell the agent that your kid wrote this manuscript and you thought it was so cute and should be published

  • Tell the agent that your kids read this manuscript and loved it

  • Tell the agent anything at all about your weird, loving, awesome family in general

  • Tell the agent that you have an amazing wife or husband on your side

  • Tell the agent that your wife/husband loved the manuscript

  • Tell the agent about the horrible accident you survived that put your writing on hold but now you have the time to write again - unless it has something to do with your story at hand

  • Tell the agent your entire sob story about what ever issues you have

  • Tell the agent that you are starving or living on the streets - unless it has something to do with the story at hand

  • Tell the agent about your drinking problem, unless it pertains to your book at hand

  • Tell the agent your age - no matter what it is

  • Tell the agent anything personal about yourself unless it has to do with publishing, writing, or your degree in writing or the like

  • Tell the agent that you have a degree in milk or anything else that is not a writing degree unless it pertains to your story at hand

  • Tell the agent because you are young, in high school, or in college means that you write better young, high school, college characters - it doesn't!

  • Tell the agent that they are beautiful, that they have a pretty face, that they have knowing eyes - creepy!

  • Tell the agent that if they pass on your work they will regret it - sounds scary or crazy or full of yourself

  • Tell the agent that your book is better than Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Scorpio Races, Shiver, or any other big book out there!

  • Tell the agent that you know that your book is going to be the next big thing

  • Tell the agent to go to your website for information about you or the book - this should all be in your query letter - and submission

  • Tell the agent that you've had big sales with your self-published book and then not include the sales - we want to know - how many?

  • Repeat words found on the agent's website - they know what they are looking for - just talk about your book

  • Tell the agent anything about your tough schedule - like you have a day job and it's so hard to get time in to write - we all have day jobs!

  • Tell the agent you met them when you did not - they do look up names at past conferences & they have amazing memories

  • Tell the agent that someone in the business recommended you if they did not - they do check

  • Tell the agent that you are a new writer, this is your first book, that you don't know what you are doing

  • Tell the agent that your friends told you to query your book - but you're not really into getting published

  • Tell the agent anything that is not professional - this is a business and you are not friends yet with the agent you are querying

The only thing you should remember is the last Don't. This is a business, a serious business. Sometimes because it is creative, and very emotional for writers, they are emotional and relaxed in their query letters. 

Remember this is a business person you are querying, not another writer, even if they've written a book. They chose to be on the business side of things. They are professional. They deal with N.Y. professionals, and L.A. professionals, and professionals on the other side of the pond. They must represent you as a professional. Make it easy on them by being professional. 

If you don't know what professional means because you are a newbie writer, a younger person, or you have never worked in the business profession for any reason, or you're too emotional about your manuscript, ask for help. Have a business person look at your query letter. Tell them it is supposed to be a formal query about your book and about you professionally. 

Take their advice, and mine, and be professional.

Good luck!
And as always,

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview with Steve Jenkins: Author of The Beetle Book

I reached out to Steve for an interview because my youngest son, Sam, is obsessed with BONES. We read this book almost nightly, and he must lay himself down next to the human body bones to measure himself against them. (And now my older son measures himself too. I guess boys must measure things??)

I also love bugs. I love to draw bugs, and read about bugs. So when I saw his new book The Beetle Book, I had to ask him for an interview.

I'm so thankful he agreed! 

Below are the questions I asked him:

   1.   You moved a lot because of your father's military career. How did this mold your books/artwork?

I did move a lot, but I was too young to remember any of it when Dad was in the army. We moved a lot later on because his teaching and research (he was a physicist) led him to several different universities. 

I can think of two ways that our moving around might have affected my work (it’s an interesting question ...). 

We lived in very different biomes. In rural Virginia, my backyard was crawling with turtles, lizards, spiders, and insects. I had my own little zoo. We also lived in Colorado, where I began to collect rocks, and in Kansas, where I got interested in fossils. So geography -- and geology --  helped inform my early interest in nature.

Moving frequently also meant that there were times when, being a shy child, I hadn’t yet made friends, and I filled the time with books. At one point, in the 9th grade, I was reading four or five adult novels a week. I’m sure all that reading has been important (critical?) to me as an author.

   2.   What's the funniest statement or question your children have had about your work?

When my youngest son was 4 or 5, he was looking at some illustrations I was doing for a book on the rain forest. He told me that when he grew up , he wanted to travel to the Amazon with me to look for animals. Then, struck by a sudden thought, he asked “or will you already be dead?” He was quite serious, but I couldn’t help but see it as black humor.

3.   Why write? 
Why create art?

It’s the thing I want to do when I get up in the morning. It’s often difficult, but it makes me happy. And I do need a job. 

   4.   What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
Usually 6:30 or 7:00. Coffee, juice, and cereal or yogurt or cheese toast. The occasional leftover enchilada. More coffee.

   5.   How did you land your first published book? What was that process like?

I was working as a graphic designer in NYC. I heard through a client that Houghton Mifflin had started a new imprint (Ticknor and Fields, later reabsorbed) and was looking for ideas. 

I’d been thinking about making a children’s picture book (my wife and business partner Robin Page had had a couple of picture books published – it looked like fun). 

I put together a couple of proposals with sample spreads (having access to graphic design tools and techniques meant that I could make sample layouts that were very slick – something that was more difficult in those days). 

Both proposals were accepted. I think a lot of it was being in the right place at the right time.

6.   Give 3 statements of advice for newbie author/illustrators.

Don’t try to figure out what sells. Write/illustrate what you’re actually interested in. This is less a prescription for financial success than one intended to keep your soul intact.

Write/illustrate to satisfy yourself, not an editor or an imaginary audience. This overlaps with the first dictum, but it’s not exactly the same thing.

Rejection, if it comes, often includes some positive criticism. Try to build on that.

7.   What is the most fascinating thing about science? What topic would you stay up until 3:00 AM watching TV to learn about?

The fact that we can actually understand so much about the way the world works. Things such as the composition of a distant star or what’s happening at a molecular level when I cook an egg. 

People have been trying to explain simple but profound phenomena for thousands of years: why are there seasons? Why does a stone fall to earth when I drop it? Science has made many of these things understandable. 

If someone could explain the nature of consciousness to me on a TV program, I’d stay up indefinitely to watch.

   8.   How do science and art go together?

At a philosophical level, they are both trying to ascribe meaning and (perhaps) purpose to our existence.

   9.   My two sons love your book, BONES. How did that idea come about?
I can’t take credit for that idea -- It was suggested to me by Andrea Pinckney, an editor at Scholastic.

   10.  Where do you go to get a great cup of Joe/Tea in your town?
Boulder has a ridiculous number of coffee shops. My favorite is the Trident, a used bookstore/coffee spot.

11.   Your father co-authored a book with you. How was that working relationship? Were there any arguments? Or was it smooth sailing?

Completely smooth sailing. That’s really a reflection of the relationship I had with my father.

    12.   Who is your biggest cheerleader?
My mother, of course. But she’d be a cheerleader if I were a check-out clerk in a big box store. My wife is my biggest informed cheerleader, with my editor a close second.

13.   What's the oddest/funniest thing you've gotten in the mail from a fan?

I get wonderful collage illustrations from children. Some of them are quite odd, but always endearing. There are too many quirky ones to pick out a single example.

14.   What medium do you like to work with and why?
Cut-paper collage. I’m not a great draughtsman, and collage leverages my experience as a graphic designer. Plus, I love paper. 

    15.   Who has influenced your career? Any teachers in your past? People in your present?

Don Ensign, one of my design instructors in college, who went on to be an employer and friend, was my first and most important mentor.

Ivan Chermayeff, a designer and artist for whom I worked when I was in my twenties was also a big influence.

I took illustration classes with Jim McMullan, whose lessons about work and artistic integrity have stayed with me.

Robin (my wife) is a constant source of ideas, suggestions, and gentle criticism.

16.   How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

Uh… buy my books? Bring me up in their conversations as frequently as possible? Send $? Sorry, don’t mean to be flip. Just a hard question to wrap my head around.

    17.   If you could go back in time, what would you change about your work…why or why not?

I’d spend more time on some of my earlier work – sometimes I let it out the door before it was really ready.

18.   Which book gave you the most difficulty, and why? Which one was the easiest?

The hardest was a book I just finished (The Animal Book), a 200+ page book about many aspects of the animal world. Partly because of its length, partly because it took lot of time and effort to come up with an organizational scheme that made sense. 

I don’t feel as if any of them was really easy.

19.   What one word best describes you?

20.   What's it like working with an editor? Is she involved from the start, all the way through the process?
I’ve worked with the same editor -- Margaret Raymo at Houghton Mifflin -- for almost 20 years. 

She’s involved from the start. I discuss book ideas with her and often (though not always) rely on her first reaction. 

She does the things that one expects an editor to do, but her real gift is being able to look at/read a proposal and rough layout through the eyes of a young reader and question things that aren’t clear or that raise more questions than they answer.

     21.   How many books do you have published? Are there any favorites?
I’ve written or co-written 31 books (12 with my wife Robin Page, one with my father). 

Favorites: What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, Actual Size, Move, Life on Earth

Too early to know whether the most recent books, including a couple in production, will be favorites.

    22.   Any big news?

Not really. But that feels kind of like good -- if not big -- news.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Interview with Danyelle Leafty: Author of of WIND AND WINTER

I met Danyelle through Facebook. I created a writer's of children's books group and her husband, Jadean, posted her newest book review there. 

I liked it so much I reached out to him to ask her for an interview. Yes, sometimes it gets complicated. But it worked out! 

Thanks Danyelle & Jadean! You both rock.

Below are the questions I asked her:

1.     You do not use an outline when writing a book. Do you know the ending? Or do you let your characters take you on a journey?

It depends. Sometimes I know how the story will end before I start writing the book. Most of the time I just have a vague feeling that all will end happily. Details as to how things end tend to flesh out as I go. But, yes, the characters are definitely in charge of the journey.

2.     How do you know when a book is finished and ready to be published?

Externally: when I find myself tinkering with unimportant prepositions and such. 

Internally: by honestly evaluating whether or not this is the very best I can do for this story at this stage of my writerly development. I have been known to delay releasing projects because sometimes the honest answer is no.

3.     What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?

As late as possible. :D My stomach is fairly persnickety, so breakfast foods depend on what I can stomach. As of now, about all I’m up for in the morning is hash browns.

4.     What's the funniest/oddest thing anyone has ever said about your books/writing?

My oldest (he was about five or so at the time) asked why I hadn’t written any of my story in English. >.< In my defense, he was reading chapter books at the time and not upper MG. :D

5.     Is there anything on your writing desk that is a MUST have before you can write? 

Me. :p Seriously, though, all I need to write is my laptop, my characters, and myself.

6.     Please share 3 words of advice for the newbie writer: 

Live, Laugh, Write.

7.     Where do you go to get a great cup of Joe/Tea in your town? 

I’m fairly boring and drink mostly water. It keeps my book fund healthier that way. :p

8.     Many of your books involve fairy tales. Why fairy tales? What draws you to them?

I love fairy tales because they have the power to be devastatingly beautiful and true. 

Children know better than anyone in the world that dragons exist, things are not always what they seem, that knights and heroic maidens are needed now more than ever, and that doing good is not always easy and life is not always fair.

Fairy tales give us something higher to reach for while, at the same time, reaching deep down inside of each of us and pulling out what it means to be human. 

Also, I think in metaphors, and this works well with fairy tales.

9.     What do your children think about your writing? Any of them characters in your books?

My children want to be writers when they grow up, and know that writing is very important—to their mother and in life.

While no one character encompasses any of my children completely, there are bits and pieces of them in many of my books—particularly in BITTEN.

10. Who is your biggest cheerleader?

My Beloved Spouse Creature.

11. What has been the best way for you to get the word out about your books?

I haven’t really been focusing all that much on marketing my books yet. For now, I’m working on building up a decent backlist, although I will be doing more marketing-wise with my next release.

12. When do you come up with new ideas? Morning? Afternoon? Night? And why do you think that is?

I haven’t really noticed a specific time. Mostly, I get mugged by new characters when I’m not doing anything in particular. That’s how all stories start for me. 

The idea usually comes after the character has sufficiently captured my attention. I do know that I edit better during the day and write better during the night. I think that’s because editing requires left brain skills while writing uses my right brain a little more.

13. Share with us the best teachers or writer's courses you have had or taken.

I’d have to say Dave Farland’s (Wolverton) seminar on editing. It probably sounds weird, but his editing class made my writing grow much better and faster than it ever had before. I also learned a lot about the business side of writing too.

14. If Hollywood said they wanted to produce one of your books as a movie, which one would it be and why?

I would hope that BITTEN: A NOVEL OF FAERIE would be the one they chose. 

It’s the only book I’ve written so far that has a somewhat contemporary setting. It’s also the book that has the most me in it, if that makes sense. Plus, I’d love to see how they handled the firebird.

15. Who would play the lead roles?

Full confession: I’m a bibliophile with four kids that have the combined energy power of a tribe of caffeinated gerbils. So I don’t get to see many movies, and don’t really know many names. >.<

Whoever they chose to play Cherrie would need to be able to convey quiet intensity while at the same time being able to handle a spunky faerie (Thorn) who will pretty much do anything to save her world.

16. What one thing do you wish you knew when you were starting out as a newbie writer?

That it’s all right to fail. 

I think a lot of us put such an emphasis on getting things right and as close to perfect as possible, that we sometimes forget the value in making mistakes. And that mistakes can be corrected.

17. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

Just keeping reading awesome books and sharing them with their friends. 

I was a reader long before I ever started writing, and as the industry’s changing, I appreciate—now more than ever—learning about new books. 

I write for kids, and I firmly believe that if we can light that reading spark when they’re young, then we all win. J

18. What is your blog about?

My blog is currently a wasteland thanks to a couple of viruses—I’m looking at you, Flu—and Life™. It has mostly been a place where I talk about writing and share books I enjoy. I’ll hopefully be relaunching it in the next couple of months.

19. What one word best describes you?


(Nice word - I just may have to steal that one!)

20. Any big news?

I’m excited to be launching the first book in a brand new series on the 20th of May. 

I’ve always thought it was kind of unfair that the ugly stepsisters tend to get the short end of the stick, so when Bettony (Ugly Stepsister Extraordinaire) came to me with her story, I jumped on it.
Bettony’s story will be the opening salvo in the creation of The Secret Stepsister Society, because even ugly stepsisters deserve a chance at having a happily ever after.
You can learn more about that here~ 

~Collector of dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers~