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


Monday, November 25, 2013

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING ROUTE: Mostly Pros and No Many Cons

 Many of you know that I am revising my latest book, ANIMALIA. And during this process, I have been asked many times, "Why don't you self-publish?" Well I'm going to answer that question and hopefully a few more.

So why don't I self-publish. The answer is first, I want to see if I can do it the traditional way. I want to see if my ideas and writing are good enough to snag the interest of an agent, and then a publisher and an editor. 

And honestly self-publishing scares me. There's so much you have to know, to learn, and to do that I know I would stop writing for a time in order to learn it all. I'd have to promote myself. Where? How? I'd have to learn that too.


When it comes down to it, I am a writer, not an editor, not a publisher, not a promoter, not a distributor. I just want to write.


But maybe the most compelling reason I am going the traditional route is an email I received from my mentor. I will list the important parts below.

Here's what he said:

  • An agent will find you the right publisher, and when dealing with that publisher, will not only try to get you a bigger advance--but will try to nail down a two or three book deal, giving you momentum, cash, and confidence.  


  • An agent will know how to work the contract--given the publisher--finessing the sub right: movie, audio, e-book, etc.  Agents actually do earn their money.  It's to their benefit, of course, to make the best deal for you.

  •         A publisher wants every book to succeed, and they'll pair you with an editor who will push you to develop the novel even more than you can imagine, and produce the best version of it--work on the novel hardly stops when the deal is signed.  

  • A publisher shepherds the book all the way through to a finished version, from developmental drafts, to ms. copy, to copy-editing, etc.  It's painstaking and hard work.

  •         It's important that your book appear on a kids' list. Your book needs to get to the right people--the reps who know how to sell kids books and to whom, the reviewers who can best help the book, and those contests and awards that can really help a book take off.   


  • Perhaps mostly importantly of all for kids' books, they'll help you get to the librarians.  Libraries are a huge part of the kids' world, not only the sheer number of books kids librarians buy, but getting those books into the hands of readers who will then use word of mouth, etc.  It's a vital link for kids' books.

  •  Now, to the money.  Yes, under an alternative deal, you might, as the author, get more $ per book sold than with a traditional publisher.  But you will, I assure you, sell far fewer books.  Agents and publishers do so much more than most people think.  And what they do makes a huge difference.


So there you have it from my mentor to you as to why I will be traditionally publishing. Choose wisely my fellow writers. And know what you are getting yourself into whichever route you decide.


Good luck!
Write~on,
Angie

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2014 Writer's Retreats

Book your retreats now for 2014. Below is a simple list of what's coming up in the next year. Whether you want to serve up some yoga with your prose, surround yourself with writers of adult fiction, children's writers, or romance or mystery writers, there's a retreat for you. Fly to an amazing far away country or hike and write in your own city. But get out there and enjoy yourself while upping your craft.





I hope to see you out there writing, making new friends in the muse, and enjoying your craft.


Write~on
Angie

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

REJECTIONS: Nooooooooo!


This topic was requested by one of my writer friends who just received a rejection. You can do it, man! I believe in you!





Okay, so you, the brave writer that you are…you wrote a book. You poured your heart and soul. You used your own experiences. You cried. You loved. You even killed your babies. You then wrote a query letter, attempting to express your bleeding heart book in 8 - 10 sentences. You accomplished this and you are proud of it. You write a kick-ass synopsis too. 


And then you did your agent research. You used query tracker, and writer's digest, listened to writer friends and took notes at conferences. You chose your favorites, those agents you feel a kindred spirit with. You write what they like. You know you would work well together.  


You go to their websites. You learn what they want in a submission. You do exactly that. You press the send button or the button they have to accept queries. You know it will take 4 - 6 weeks to get an answer, if you ever get an answer at all. But it could take 6 months. You wait. You bite your nails. You workout excessively. You eat chocolate by the ton. You drink to much wine or beer. You cry…what did I do? Was it ready? Was it perfect? You can't sleep….



Then one morning you wake to an inbox email with your favorite agents name in the from slot. You stare at it. Your heart races. This could be the day you get your dream agent. This could be the day the world discovers you as the amazing author you are. This could be the day your book goes to the Number One Best Sellers List and then gets made into a movie! (If you're going to dream…dream big!)



You click on the email. And eagerly read the first line…




Dear Author,
Thank you for your submission, but after careful consideration I must decline. blah, blah, blah… You see nothing else after that.







You drop to the floor. You lie there staring at the ceiling wondering what in the h-e-double hockey-sticks you are doing with your life. Why do you even try? Why not just self-publish like everyone keeps asking why you're not doing???








Not sure if this is just me….or if you've experienced this same feeling of REJECTION? It's probably just me, but in the case that you too have done this and felt this way, I'll go on.






Agents reject books and projects for various reasons. Here are a few:








  • the agent is full - they have topped out at the maximum clients they can handle well

  • the agent is the middle of a movie deal and they don't have time too take on a new writer

  • the book is in a genre that has so many titles coming out later that year already (i.e. vampires, zombies, aliens, dystopian…)

  • the book has a great hook but the writer's execution is not at the level of the agent's current client list

  • the dialogue is wrong, just wrong

  • the agent already represents someone who writes about zombies, vampires, aliens, etc…

  • the agent is having a baby

  • the agent doesn't connect with the main character in an emotional way

  • the book is good, the idea new but the writer needs a lot of editing work

  • the book is good, the idea new, but the writer is not precise in execution of the idea

  • the book has an interesting hook but the writer chose to talk about his/her own life issues in the query letter

  • the agent just did not connect with the book

  • the agent does not like horror, or books about aliens or devils or angels

  • the agent loved the book, read the manuscript and then face-booked the writer….and the party photos or context are not something he/she wants to represent



As you can see there are many reasons an agent might decide to reject your book. Sometimes it's your execution. Sometimes it's the agent. Sometimes it's the market.



Sometimes you party too hard and show evidence on Facebook!







Advice to you: Keep trying. And if you are getting the same type of rejections, double think about your manuscript. But if they are varied, try new agents. Start at the less experienced agents and work you way up from there.

Oh…and check your photos that are on the web! 



As always
Write~on
Angie



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Intern advice on: REAL DIALOGUE

Dialogue people! Lets talk dialogue. So you've got a great hook, a descent query letter, and interesting synopsis. I'm reading…

Then I get to your first dialogue line and it's over. Dialogue is one of the most important things in a manuscript. It's how we, the reader, get to really know your character. And it's how an agent determines your writing ability, or lack of it, quickly.

Good dialogue should move your story forward. It should show the mood, and/or emotion of your character. It is also an amazing way to show tension between two characters. Or tension around a specific situation. With all that dialogue should do, it should not knock the reader out of the story. It should not be an info dump. It should flow.

People don't talk like robots. They don't talk in full sentences. They don't stay on subject. And they don't say boring things just to get information to the reader.







So what's a writer to do about dialogue? Eavesdrop! Sit your butt in a chair somewhere and listen in on people talking. Take notes. 



1. Pay attention to subject changes

  • how was it done?
  • were there any pauses?
  • did someone notice something then switch subjects?
  • what is the body language?


2. Note individual ticks
  • does someone say um or like a lot?
  • is anyone fiddling with something while they talk?
  • where is their attention? 


3. Age differences
  • speech changes when there is an age difference in the ones talking
  • how does a 40-something speak with an 80-something as opposed to a 10-year-old?
  • does the body language change with an age change in companion?


4. Dialect
  • where are you? 
  • different parts of the country have different words for certain things. 
  • social status also changes dialect
  • note what the people are wearing - do you think they are upper class? working class? lower class? This may not feel PC but it matters when you want to write true characters in certain areas.
  • time also matters - what year is it? words change over time - cool-daddy-o is now cool.


5. Accents
  • these can be over the top or subtle.
  • depends on where you are in the country or world
  • also depends on social status again - someone who has had voice lessons will not have such a southern drawl.




Below are some real people conversations that I've overheard. I keep a notebook with quotes. I have labels too. 
  • age range
  • sex
  • where
  • time
  • date
  • dress


Examples:

1. "You think, oh…I already know about security." - (woman in airport 50's dressed in a suit)

2. "Everyone else is flying coach, so yeah." - (same woman)

3. "And right now they are…in the winter?"
"Yeah."
"Oh lovely, oh how lovely."
"Yeah, England's very expensive. A friends' daughter got married there a year ago. And says its very expensive, yeah."

4. "So tired, thank you sweetheart, appreciate that." - (40's - female to husband)

5. "So there could be X opportunities out there for me." - (30's to friend)
"Laid off, there yeah go. Same difference by the way." - (40's male at olive garden - east coast)

6. "I'm just wild. I mean maybe I'll have two dinners tonight." - (20 something in coffee shop on cell phone)


7. "This espresso is yuck! It's garbage." - (20 something coffee shop to friend)



So from the examples you can get a little sense of how real people talk. They switch subjects rapidly. 

Sometimes it makes no sense unless you are the two people in the conversation and have context. Your characters will have context, so you can allow them to jump subjects often without explanation.

And notice there are no run ons. They are quick sentences without a lot of fluff. People who know each other don't have much explaining to do when they talk. Most of your characters will have known each other - so you can't use dialogue to inform the reader of too much back story. 

Use dialogue wisely!




Remember: Real people do weird things. They don't speak properly. Their minds jump around. They notice something else in the middle of a thought and end it, abruptly. 




Get your dialogue right, because it's very sad when I get very excited about an idea, keep reading and then have to put it down, and move on to the next manuscript because your dialogue does not ring true.





You can do it!
Write~on
Angie







Friday, November 8, 2013

Book Passage Luncheon Nov. 2013

Book Passage is an independently owned local bookstore. I've attended writer's workshops, SCBWI critique groups, and author book signings here. I've had coffee in the cafe, and browsed the books and gifts. But I've never gone to a luncheon there until today.






The staff was amazing. The food wonderful and the drinks kept coming whether it be wine, water, coffee, or tea. 



And when the owner took center stage I was smitten. Truly, Elaine Petrocelli, the founder and president of Book Passage since 1976, has a gift with words and humor. 

And apparently so does her husband, Bill. At the age of 75, he has just been published. His book, The Circle of Thirteen, is definitely on my reading list. 


But my list is not the one I want to talk about today. Elaine's list was passed out during lunch. And while we munched on sandwiches and Cesar salads, Elaine spun the magical, historical, and comical tales of each of her beloved books.




She indeed made me want to purchase all of them! Unfortunately my pocket book did not allow that to happen, but I did in fact buy seven books today. Four for me, and three as gifts.







The added hooray of the day was 10% of our sales goes back to our PTA for Old Mill School. Thank you Book Passage!!







Here is a partial of Elaine's Book List: (If you'd like to know more, please contact book passage at 
Featured Events | Book Passage)






YA Teen Fiction: 

  • Rowell, Rainbow: Eleanor & Park
  • Yancey, Rick: The 5th Wave
  • Skovron, Jon: Man Made Boy
  • Goldman, Karne & Moseley, Rachel: Jordan and the Dreadful Golem
  • Allende, Isabel: Maya's Notebook
  • Shepherd, Megan: The Madman's Daughter

Middle Grade Fiction:
  • Gaiman, Neil & Yong, Skottle: Fortunately, the Milk
  • Cooper, Susan: Ghost Hawk
  • O'Brien, Annemarie: Lara's Gift
  • Choldenko, Gennifer: Al Capone Does My Homework
  • DiCamillo, Kate: Flora & Ulysses
  • Hill, Kirkpatrick: Bo At Ballard Creek
  • Kinney, Jeff: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck
  • Voigt, Cynthia: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things


Beginning Readers:
  • DiCamillo, Kate: Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
  • Kennedy, Caroline: Poems to Learn by Heart
  • Pinkwater, Daniel: Mrs. Noodlekugel & Four Blind Mice

Children's Picture Books:
  • Barnett, Mac & Jon Scieszka: Battle Bunny
  • Casteel, Seth: Underwater Dogs, Kids' Edition
  • Daywalt, Drew: The Day the Crayons Quit
  • Floca, Brian: Locomotive
  • Hansen, Doug: Aesop in California
  • Jenkins, Steve: The Animal Book
  • Lee, Mark: 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street
  • Rinker, Sherri Duskey: Steam Train, Dream Train
  • Weisner, David: Mr. Wuffles!

Fiction:
  • Allende, Isabel: Maya's Notebook
  • Eggers, Dave: The Circle
  • Gaiman, Neil: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Munro, Alice: Dear Life
  • Petrocelli, William: The Circle of Thirteen
  • Tartt, Donna: The Goldfinch



Today was a great day at Book Passage! I hope all of you get to attend the next book signing or take a class in the near future...if not here, then at your locally and independently owned book store in your town. 

Write~On, Angie









Monday, November 4, 2013

GREAT QUERY LETTERS OR BUST

Intern thought of the day:

OMG if one more query letter goes on and on and on and on and on and on...I will literally freak out. 

Okay, now that I got that out of my system. Here's what you need to do or not need to do, in your query, to get agents to want to read your manuscript. 



  • Do you know what an elevator pitch is? 


From the looks of the queries, the majority of you don't. An elevator pitch is a pitch in which you could give an agent or producer in an elevator ride to the next floor.  



  • What does an elevator pitch mean? 
That means that you have to tell that agent or producer what your story is in less than 5 sentences. 3 preferably. 



  • How can I write an elevator pitch?
If you have a smart phone, hit the record button and pretend one of your friends just asked you what you are writing about. Play it back and write down the most solid, precise sentences you used to describe your work.

You can also call yourself at home and leave yourself a message about your book.

If you can't do this on your own, and you need an audience to make it real for you, get a friend to ask you questions about your book while you record your conversation.




  • Your query letter should be one real page double spaced- not longer because you think since you are emailing it we can't tell. 
We can tell. We can. So double check!




  • Do not state random things in your query. 
I mean if you are writing about ghosts, do not say you have a degree in architecture. That has nothing to do with ghosts. 

Keep your bio to a few short, precise sentences that have to do with writing or the subject you have written about. Nothing else. I mean it!



  • Do not tell us who inspired your work, especially if it is your daughter or son or husband or wife or grandfather or grandmother or daughter of your best friend…
Ask yourself if any of this matters. Go ahead. Ask yourself right now. Does it matter to you that I became a writer because of my Grandfather who lost his legs and gave me a stuffed monkey? NO. If it does, you're weird….and maybe we should talk.



  •  3 sentences - three!!
Right now tell me about your book in 3 sentences. Not 3 run on sentences. Not 3 cheating sentences. Write down 3 precise about your book sentences. 

Now expand on them. Fill in the missing links in between. You should end up with about 8 -15 very precise about-your-story sentences. 

That's it! Send that. Nothing more. I'm serious.





  • Get a friend to write your query.
After you have a query or a very good synopsis, ask a friend, preferably a writer friend or someone in the industry to work their magic on it. 

I am going to show you two query letters. They are mine about the same book. The first one I wrote. The second one, my query-whisperer friend, Victoria wrote for me. 

Which one works for you?



Query Examples:


9 days before I run.
            I have leopard skin on my neck and two peacock feathers growing from behind my ears. Even though the bright plumes bring out the blue and green of my eyes, and the furry spots, the dark reddish undertone of my hair, it's enough animalia for me. I like my human body. I am one of the last in my town. I still have most of my flesh and bones.
"99%" is typed in big bold red numbers on the front of the black pamphlet I hold. Below that, "Animalia – the new animal cruelty." I open it to the bulleted story.
  2013 the first human ear grows out of the back of a mouse.
  Hailed as a miracle. Doctors realize if they can grow human skin on mice, they can grow mice skin on humans.
  2019 The first human with tiger skin grafted to his arms appears on talk shows.
  2028 The first cheetah legs transplanted on a female track star.
  Animalia is born.
  2064 to date: 387,000 animals mutilated so the 1% can look good, run faster, fly higher and escape human disease.
I am the 1%. I’m the problem. I’m the privileged. But I was born on the inside to stop it.

Animalia is a 61,000-word sci-fi survival love story grounded in contemporary times. I am querying you because I am hopeful that my writing is a page turner like Jay Ahser's 13 Reasons Why and a fully imagined yet realistic world like Maggie Stiefvater's Scorpio Races. Lewis Buzbee has professionally edited Animalia.



Revised Query by the query-whisperer:

I am the privileged. I am the problem. I have leopard skin on my neck and two peacock feathers growing from behind my ears. The bright plumes bring out the green in my eyes. The furry spots accentuate the red undertones of my hair. To date, 387,000 animals have been mutilated so the rich can look good, run faster, fly higher, and escape disease. My mother wants me to get more, but it's enough animalia for me. I like my human body. I want my flesh and bones. No one else does. But I was born on the inside to stop them.
            In 9 days I run.

ANIMALED is a 61,000-word sci-fi thriller set in a fantastic, yet realistic world. Lewis Buzbee has professionally edited ANIMALED.




Queries are tough to write. They are difficult for writers because it's not how we've been thinking about our book. We've been in the trenches with our characters and to ask us to blurb quickly about them is hard…almost impossible for some of us. 

But getting a second opinion can help you see what you need to keep and what you need to delete.



Good Luck!
Write~on
Angie 

Friday, November 1, 2013

What I learned at the Tahoe Writer's Retreat

So I've told you the who, where, and what about the Tahoe Writer's Retreat - but now I will share what I learned. I'll bullet point the topics and then give you the bit of information about it.

Besides the most beautiful place I've been around Lake Tahoe, this writer's retreat helped my writing in brand new ways. 

Maybe it was because I was open to hearing what I needed to hear this time. Maybe the stars aligned. Either way, I am grateful. I came home recharged and ready to revise, rather than defeated and wondering what I am doing with my life.

Thank you Nevada SCBWI!





  • Ethnic groups represented in books:
Do you notice different ethnic groups in books?
If you do, what and how are they typically represented? Do you see a pattern? If you are a writer and do not see an ethnic group represented well what can you do? 

1. research. If you are not in the ethnic group you are writing about, make sure you do your research.

2. ask questions: Kids know a lot about what they don't see in books. And they want to tell you. Ask them what they've never seen in a book about a particular ethnic group.

3. buy books: Purchase books with ethnic characters on the covers, in the stories. Read. Incorporate your ideas. 





  • STAKES
The stakes in your story must be high. Life or death situations - not always literally - but something must be at stake for your main character. And it's best if all of your characters have something they might lose if things don't go the right way.

1. choose your character arcs carefully

2. keep your story from becoming predictable

3. watch your subplots - they should move the story forward

4. hurt your characters - they must go through pain and a lot of it so the reader gets on board

5. pick a narrator that challenges you - don't make it easy - choose the odd choice

6. ask yourself why you chose your MC - if you don't know - it's wrong

7. know your focus of the book - what is driving it - why are you writing it?




  • Story Structure
There are many types of story structures - but they all seem to have the same things in common.

1. introduction
2. rising action
3. climax
4. falling action
5. resolution

First you show your character in the now. Then something triggers her to action. What will your character do next to try to remain the same? A surprise perhaps moves them along toward a new goal. Or kicks them off of their path. The choice comes soon after - either the main character will go to the right or go to the left. Both paths must have great stakes - a negative and a positive for each. The climax is the result of the choice. Then the consequences come and all characters should be affected. The last part, the resolution, is the new world for the character.






  • Sarah Davies - Greenhouse Literary 
Sarah spoke on the panel the last day and I also had the pleasure of sitting down with her while she critiqued my first chapter. Sarah loves writers. She wants to nurture them and their careers.

She chose the name greenhouse for her literary agency because what does a greenhouse do? It gives soil, water, and heat to growing plants. It nurtures them. That's her philosophy.


What she is looking for:
  • not so much genre - but great writing
  • strong voice
  • fresh concept
  • well developed craft
  • potential
  • someone she can work with

Sarah also said something to me personally that I want to share with you.

PRECISION: be precise!

She said "sometimes my writing was a bit clunky and imprecise. Sometimes the reader isn't quite sure what you mean or what you are referring to."

This struck me where I needed it to. When I write, I world build. But because I know the world so well, I assume that others reading it will "get it." No so. I need to be precise. 

Now that I know that I do this, I've gone through my chapters and I see it. It's an easy fix, but without someone pointing it out to me I wouldn't have ever changed it.

Check your precision. Make sure each sentence matters and makes sense to your reader. 



  • E.B. Lewis - Illustrator
I am not an illustrator, although I do draw and paint. So listening to E.B. Lewis talk about his process was fascinating to me.

E.B. does one on one internet classes for illustrators who want to have their work critiqued by him.

He will interview you via email and then let you know if he thinks the two of you would work together well. And if he thinks he can help you hone your craft. 



  • Elizabeth Law - editor
Elizabeth is currently working with clients one on one. She does line edits as well as big picture ideas and character development.

You can email her for pricing and schedules at ELAWREADS@Gmail.com





  • Tahoe Mentor Program 
The Tahoe Mentor Program has had many success stories and you can find them online at 

Generally how it works:

1. Mentors give deadlines

2. They read your work and give feedback - line edits as well as overall story

3. You will meet with them at two big retreats and then a few more times in-between as your and the mentor's schedule allows

4. When you decide to try out for the mentor program - you choose two mentors to apply to

5. You will work hard for 6 months

6. You will learn to hurt your characters

7. You will have fun

8. The mentor program is on an 18 month cycle

9. You will be able to Skype with your mentor

10. At your final retreat - you review your entire manuscript and revisions made. (and drink a lot of wine)




  • VOICE

When you can see yourself in the work - but your voice / style can be opposite too.

Tip: If is sounds like writing = rewrite it!

Voice is harmony. 
It's when the reading disappears and the voice is all that's left.




  • Querying Agents

My best advice to you is to wait until you get multiple green lights. 

Green Lights:

1. You feel it's ready.

2. Your critique group feel it's ready.

3. You've gone to a writer's retreat and the critique group there thinks it's ready.

4. You've had a critique head/mentor ask you why you're not sending this out yet.

5. You've met with an agent and he/she says it's ready.




Good sites to visit before you query:
















So there you have it my writer friends. Use this blog as a tool to help your writing become query worthy. 


As always,
Write~on
Angie