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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Writer's Etiquette : Rules for you to Follow

Writer's Etiquette: Rules for you to Follow

Your friendly neighborhood intern here. I've been listening very closely and watching queries and trying to figure out why some writers who have such great talent still get rejected. And I think I have some ideas or answers.

It is true, that agents look for VOICE over everything. And then the checklist goes down from there. How well edited is the work? How professional is the query? What online presence does the writer have?

But there are other things that can get a strike against you as a newbie or even an experienced writer. 

This is what I've seen:

  • No name included at the bottom of your query: 
I have no idea why a writer would do this, but it happens a lot. And then when I check the email to see if a name appears, sometimes it doesn't. Be sure to include your name, and make it easy for us to find it.

  • Your Google/Facebook/Linkedin Picture is not professional:
You might have gotten a YES on your writing, but are you a YES professionally? We do check your pictures. Please no photos of any kind unless you look professional. This means tidy, smiling, and dressed not in ripped clothing!

You have to look like someone we'd want to do business with. You have to look like someone that we'd send to speak with children and teens. 

Do you? Check your photos! We do.

(PS - Check your photo that comes across in emails - this one is forgotten a lot from the looks of them in our query box)

  • Have a professional EMAIL account. 
The best email is one that is your name. This makes it easier for us to know it's you.

This means no odd names or words that make it hard for us to know who is sending the email. 

  • Be kind to other genres
We know that there is an abundance of vampire, zombie, apocalypse, dystopian, fantasy, contemporary, actually all genre manuscripts out there. 

Do not be the writer who puts any of them down. 

Do not start your query with this line:

This is not another vampire book...
You'll love to know that this is not about zombies...

We love all genres, and all books, and many of the vampire, zombie stories have made lots of money and touched many readers lives for the positive. 

Do not put them down.

  • Being too friendly or too brief in your query.
For some reason some writers think a super short, super friendly, nonchalant, email is best. It's not.

This is a business and we need info about you, the book, and your successes as a writer.

Remember, we are not friends...yet. Do not email us like you would your buddy. 

  • Double checking if we have read your query. (Unless you have an offer of representation)
Every agent gets slammed with query letters. Hundreds of them a day come into the in box. It takes time to read them all. And we want to be sure that every query gets the time it deserves before a decision is made. 

Do not be the writer who checks in unless you have an offer of representation.

On every agent's website they say they do not have the time to reply to every submission. They also give a time limit. If you don't hear from them in that amount of time, assume that you have been rejected. 

If you get an offer of representation, please let the agent know so they can bump your manuscript up the list in order of reading.

  • Thanking the agent for a rejection
This happens rarely, but it's very nice. I see them in the in box. And then we think that that writer is professional, and a nice person, maybe even someone we'd like to hear from again.

You don't have to say thanks for a rejection, but know this. If you receive a rejection, of any kind, that means you were in the running for that YES. 

It means you were really read and looked at and there was something about your work worth an email back. You might want to say thanks for the encouragement. Because that's what it is. 

A rejection took time to be written, and sent to you, at a time in an agent's career when there is no time! You're getting close to a YES. Feel encouraged!!

  • It's not an age thing.
Stop telling us how old you are or where you are in your career. It doesn't matter. No one cares if you are a newborn or an old fart. If your writing is awesome you will hear from us. 

But telling us more than we need to know right now can turn us off. No one wants to read more than they have to. And again, we are not friends just yet. You don't know how old I am. I don't want to know how old you are. I also don't want to know if you are retired, retiring, or own your own business, or don't have the time to write because of your job, or you have 3 jobs, or you're in college or high school. It's all irrelevant! 

Okay. That's it for now. If I notice any other things that you should or should not be doing in the query box I will report.

Good Luck to all of you!
I hope you get that YES!!!


Saturday, June 22, 2013

What agents want: VOICE

What agents want: VOICE

I've been to so many writer's conferences, and retreats. And what every single agent says they want is Voice.

Voice: (Dictionary Definition)

• the distinctive tone orstyle of a literary work orauthor: she had strained and falsified her literary voice.

 • a particular opinion or attitude expressed: a dissenting voice.

It really doesn't matter what genre, or subject.





The market moves from dystopian to sic-fi to contemporary to vampires and zombies and back again. Some agents will say, "Dystopian isn't moving right now, so please don't send it." But, if a dystopian comes across their desk with VOICE, they snag it.

Do you know what VOICE means as a writer? You may think you do....and I think a lot of you think you do, because the query letters and the first pages I read at Andrea Brown lead me to believe you think you know what voice is. 

You don't.

Here's how I've come to think of VOICE:

Do you have a friend that no matter what the sentence would be, even if you didn't see who was talking, you'd be able to recognize it was he or she talking?

I have a friend who always says odd phrases like, "You're as cool as a cucumber." Or, "As witty as an owl." So anytime I see a text with some odd phrase I know it's her.

Do you think about things in a way that no one else does?

What do you think about a flower? Are they beautiful? Do they remind you of childhood, or do they remind you of coffins? Where does your mind go when someone offers you a rose? First date? Or death of your Grandfather? Or psycho stalker, who kept sending red roses to your front door?

In one manuscript I read, the author wrote about a flower box. She described it beautifully. Her writing was amazing....BUT it had no voice to it.

Example: (this is not her writing, so it's not as wonderful as hers was...)

The flower box at the top third story window, three stories up had magnificent purple violets aiming with all their might for the sunny skies above.


It's an interesting sentence, but it's fact. It's all fact, and nothing else. Yes. There is a flower box. It's at the top of the building. It has purple flowers in it growing toward the sun. 

Do you care? Should I care as a newbie agent looking at your work. Would I? NO! Because it has no voice....


Now if you write this instead:

The flower box at the top third story window, knocked the wind out of me. It was three stories up, too high for me to climb. I couldn't even think about putting my foot on a ladder, let alone attempt a 3-story assent. But it had magnificent purple violets, ones I hadn't seen since the dream, and the end of everything I ever knew that was real in this world. I wanted so badly to go back there, back in time, to that place before they came. I stared at the flowers. Were they real? Or was I imagining them? They were aiming with all their might for the sunny skies above, just like me. How I wish I could pluck just one and keep it hidden forever to remember. But being caught with a flower now was a crime. So who had them? And who displayed them so blatantly? I had to find out, and the door was open. 



This gives the reader more of a sense of the character and what a purple flower might mean to her. You get that she longs for the past. That she is afraid of heights, and that she is a little reckless or bold. 

I've noticed that a lot of new writers, or writers having written their first novel, write like journalists. They give a lot of facts in a beautiful way. And, it's great writing. But what they are lacking is voice.

Look at one of your paragraphs....and now rewrite it with how your character thinks, feels, sees the world. They see it differently than anyone else. Show us that. 

Do not list a bunch of descriptions.

Give your readers VOICE.

The other place I see a lot of first time novelists missing great places for Voice is dialogue. When your main character or another character is talking...what is your main character thinking?


"Jump!" she said.


"Jump!" she said. I figured it was another one of her games, but then a black snake slithered out from under the slide, and I started to trust her again. I shouldn't have.


Not every part of your dialogue needs a thought, but when it's a big one, one that you know your main character would be thinking about, you should let the reader read her thoughts. 


Here's an example of my own writing, and the lack of VOICE and then the addition of VOICE.

Which one do you prefer? 

THE LINK: (Middle Grade Fantasy Novel)

1st try:

I am freezing, tippy-toeing about ten feet behind my Uncle, in my bare feet, on the cold earth. Yes, my bare feet, no shoes, no hat, not even a jacket, I'm going to freeze to death, and he doesn't even care. I think he'd actually prefer me in nothing but deer pelts, but there was no way that was happening, even if they did bring out the red flecks in my green eyes. On the balls of my feet, I hop around wet leaves, sticks, slugs and small snails, trying not to cut my heels, or kill anything in the process.

"Seita Blakshak!" 

Revision 1:

If I took off now. If I ran as fast as I can, full speed, and jumped off the edge, I’d splat on the boulders below. My body’d break. An arm sticking out here, a leg bent over there. They’d find me weeks from now, mostly eaten away by coyotes. Only my eyeballs would be left to bury. The coffin’d be so small the pallbearer would carry it in one hand.  And, they’d use a spoon to shovel dirt over it.

"Seita Blakshak!" Uncle’s voice booms like a bear. 

I leap forward, trying to keep up even though I’m freezing. I tiptoe behind him, in my bare feet, on the cold, hard earth. No shoes, no hat, not even a jacket, I'm going to freeze to death, which wouldn’t be a bad ending, boring but painless. But that’s not the point. Uncle doesn't even care. He doesn’t care about anything not Indian.

He even wanted me to wear old deer pelts, like they used to do during ceremonies. There was no way that was happening, even if they did bring out the red flecks in my green eyes. That’s what Mom would have said, anyway. She would have wrapped those skins around me with a belt, braided my brown hair, painted my cheeks, and said how beautiful I looked. She could turn anything sour into sweet. Not this though. Not now. This is unfixable. No, I’m the unfixable.

"Faster," Uncle says.


Which one do you like better? Which one gives you a better sense of who Seita is?

I think the second one shows you more of Seita's voice. You know, the one inside her head. The one you don't let others hear in your life. But when you are writing, this is the voice you should be allowing others to hear. 

Readers want to get inside the head of your main character. They want to know their secret thoughts and feelings. Reading is the equivalent to spying. It should feel like the reader is overhearing or viewing something private, something not usually seen or heard.  

VOICE - you have a unique one. Your characters have one, now be brave and write it down.

Good luck!
As always,
Write~ on

Friday, June 21, 2013


Query letters are the toughest for me to write! I'm sure if you are a writer you have banged your head against your desk while trying to write one. (If you haven't, I kinda hate you!) 

And after reading over 1,000 query letters as part of my training at Andrea Brown, I am still horrible at writing my own. 

I suggest, if you are having the same problem, go check out Query Shark ~ 

The agent running that site shows the good, the bad, and the really, really ugly queries. Then she critiques them. 

What I have done, to help me write my own, is I copied a few of the great ones on that site. You can find them on the left side of the Query Shark blog. Then I put my own characters and plots into them. 

It's a great exercise, and will help you get closer to your own awesome query letter.

Think of it like this: 

Remember going to a museum and seeing all the young artists copying the great paintings? That's you now, a young writer, or a writer with a query problem, copying the great queries. You will get better the more you do.

I also suggest finding your top 5 jacket covers - you know the info on the book you might purchase. It's the hook, the paragraph or so about the book that hopes to lure you to whip out your credit card. Copy those too, inputting your characters names, and plot.

Both of these exercises have helped me to become a better, stronger, more precise writer of the infamous query letter.

I'd love to see your successful query letters! Helping other writers also helps you become a better writer. Post any queries you'd like to share in the comments below. You never know, I just might fall in love with one and pass it onto my agent.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Interview with Corina Vacco: Author of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN

I met Corina via facebook. I checked out her book and then reached out for an interview. I believe this type of book is something we all should read. It'll make you think about where your kids go to school and what might be next door to your home too. 
Corina gives tons of great advice and inside information about herself and her writing. She even lets us see her query that got her the YES!

Thank you Corina! You rocked it out.

Below are the questions I asked her:

1. You chose to write about toxic school sites in the US for your first novel. This topic is a scary and very serious one. Why did you choose this to be your debut? 

This book chose me. My characters demanded that their voices be heard. They were brilliant and angry and strong, and I couldn’t escape them.

2. Why should readers read this book? 

You should read MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN because it’s dangerous and thought-provoking. And because it will usher you into a world you may never experience first-hand. And because it’s story about finding your voice when the powers that be want to silence you.    

3. Describe your writing style: 

I’m a brooder. I do a lot of thinking before I actually sit down to write. Some people might call this procrastination, but to me, it’s the important work of laying a compelling foundation. 

I’ll usually converse with my characters (inside my head) until they feel so real I have dreams about them. And I’ll spend a lot of time imagining my setting until I feel it’s the perfect, intoxicating mixture of ugliness and beauty—I especially love to write settings that become characters. 

Once all those essentials are in place, I write everything else pretty feverishly.

4. Where do you go for a great cup of Joe/Tea in your town? 

Guerilla Café in Berkeley.

5. What interesting fact did you find during your research that is not in the book? 

There’s lots of stuff about the history behind the landfills that never made it into the book. In particular, facts about Love Canal, like how a company called Hooker Chemical dumped 21,000 tons of toxic waste in the ground and then sold the land to the Niagara Falls School District for $1.00, and how a school and neighborhood were then built on top of the contaminated land—you’d like to think things like that would never happen today, but readers send me similar stories of present-day pollution from all over the country. I just read an article about a New Jersey daycare that was built inside an old thermometer factory contaminated with mercury. It boggles the mind.

6. Give a few words of advice to newbie writers: 

Revise, set the book aside, and repeat. 
Multiple times. 
For years, if that’s what it takes. 

Every moment of work, every scene you write and then cut, every rejection letter, every critique group meeting, every line edit, every conference keynote speech you've witnessed, every bit of interesting dialogue you overhear on the train, every hour you spend thinking through a plot issue—it all coalesces into something magical when the time is right. You will know when your book is ready. You will feel it.   

7. What is your writing process like? Do you outline? How many hours are you butt in chair? Etc… 

I do write outlines, but I rarely stick to them. My characters always end up taking the story to places I wasn’t expecting. I mostly write at night for long stretches. A minimum of two hours, sometimes six. But I don’t write every single day. I need breather days to think and rejuvenate.

8. How many rejections did you get before you got a yes for this manuscript? 

Ten (or thereabouts) over a period of three years. With MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, I was very fortunate. Almost every query I sent was met with a request for a full. And yes, rejection letters followed, but many of the agents were kind enough to offer extensive feedback that helped me take my book to a whole new level. I took their feedback very seriously. I always paused my query process until I’d made the recommended improvements.   

9. Do you have an agent? If yes, why? If no, will you query one for your next book? 

No, I don’t have an agent at the moment. My book won the Delacorte Prize, and eligibility requirements stated that authors must be unagented. 

I’ve been quite satisfied in my dealings with Random House, and I’ve had the generous support of two fabulous editors, so I’m very happy. 

But trust me when I say I now have a profound understanding of what agents do for their clients each and every day. I will be querying agents in the hopes of finding representation for my new manuscript!

10. What do you think of query letters? And may we see yours? 

I really enjoy writing query letters. It’s the waiting for response part that gets to me! Below is the query I used for MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN. Please note, I left off the last paragraph, since I tailored that to specific agents.
Dear XXXX:
We live by the best landfill ever. I flipped my dirt bike there once. Plus I’ve got a sketchbook full of uranium monsters. My friend Cornpup likes to show off the weird bumps on his back for a dollar. And Charlie, he’ll drink red creek water on a dare.
What is it like to live near one of the most dangerous landfills in the world? I spent a year interviewing residents of a small, polluted town outside Buffalo, New York. I recorded what you might expect: a good deal of fear and resentment. But the most fascinating voices, the images that still haunt me, belonged to a group of children who defended their mysterious “mountain” as a beloved source of lore and adventure. These voices inspired MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, a YA novel that has uncovered magic in a most unusual setting. Imagine an industrial wonderland filled with crumbling factories, tumor-covered frogs, dark buried objects, and dead zones where even rodents won’t tread. Imagine this place not from Erin Brockovich’s point of view, but as seen through the eyes of a boy who is addicted to the thrill of landfill culture.
Rocked by his father’s recent death and his mother’s sudden eating compulsion, Jason Hammond spends his nights breaking into abandoned steel mills and walking barefoot through green sludge with his two best friends. The boys eagerly embrace pollution and it feels good to live on the edge, at least until Jason makes a devastating mistake on a night of spontaneous vandalism. Later, when contamination rumors suggest closure of the boys’ favorite swimming hole, Jason channels his frustration into pencil sketches of ice goblins, mutant birds, and chemical wars. His complex collection of landfill mythology, inspired by strange phenomena at a nearby toxic dump, is a powerful weapon in his battle against a rogue chemical facility. But there is a problem: Jason has become a catalyst for change, and change is the only thing he really fears.   

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

7am. Banana bread.

12. How many revisions did this book go through? 

About eight big ones, and lots of tinkering in between. Most notably, I threw my first draft in the garbage and started over, which was painful, but necessary. 

Then I decided I didn’t like third person omniscient anymore, so I rewrote the whole thing in first person. 

Then I decided the book was too episodic—it was broken into sections for winter, spring, summer, and fall—so I condensed the story into a single summer. 

The hard work was well-worth it, and the evolution my book was exciting to witness.

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

For me, success is knowing that my book has found an audience and that my readers enjoyed the story. Reviews on Goodreads or Amazon are always appreciated, but I especially love it when readers contact me directly through my website...and if you do, don't forget to ask me for a signed book plate sticker!  

14. Will you be speaking at any conferences? When and where? 

I’ll be on the debut author panel for the SCBWI San Francisco North and East Bay Region’s annual conference in Oakland this October. I was also invited to speak at the Green Party National Meeting in Iowa City at the end of July.

15. What one word best describes you?


16. Any big news? 

I just found out I was selected to do a reading and sit on a YA panel at Wordstock in Portland, Oregon this October. It’s the Pacific Northwest’s largest literary event, so I’m super excited!