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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Interview with Grier Cooper: Author of WISH

Once upon a time, Grier Cooper and I were in a critique group together. I have watched her writing morph and evolve into something you won't want to put down! 

Grier is passionate about writing and ballet and it pours through her work. Below are the questions I asked her about her debut novel, WISH.

  •      You’re releasing your debut novel on Dec. 2nd. How are you launching?

WISH will be available in paperback and digital formats so I am planning to launch using a few different methods. There will be a blog tour beginning December 2nd and a number of guest posts and interviews on several sites that focus on ballet and young adult literature. I'm doing a countdown on my blog with posts covering different aspects of the book. I regularly use social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook, to reach readers across the globe. In early January I will host a book launch party and then begin a local tour promoting the book through author visits and book talks/signings.

  •      Who did the cover? How did you find them?

LJ Anderson of Mayhem Cover Creations made the cover for WISH. I discovered LJ through Joel Friedlander's blog and liked her work. I took the photograph of the ballet dancer (I worked for more than 15 years as a commercial photographer before turning to writing full-time) and LJ took it and did her magic, adding colors and layering in additional elements.

  •      What makes WISH something YA readers should read?

Dance has been one of the few constants in my life and my dance life has shaped who I am in the world today. Many people don’t get to experience this world firsthand and I wanted to give readers an insider’s perspective.

I also feel strongly about the difficulties of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I know the long-term implications from personal experience: my mother was an alcoholic. You learn to distrust your instincts and feelings, to play small, and to stay quiet when you know you should speak up.

Young adulthood is a time of huge transition and change even when there are healthy family dynamics. It’s a time to find your voice, to clarify who you are and who you want to be in the future. It’s not an easy road to navigate. I wrote WISH to give readers hope, to show them a path to self-empowerment, and to help them understand they can create change in their lives.

  •      How long did it take you to write this book? Revise?

I began writing WISH several years ago, in between writing a bunch of other things. The first draft took me a little over a year to write because I wrote in very short bursts. As we all know a first draft needs a lot of editing. I spent a lot of time combing through my novel and polishing it, then worked with a group of other YA writers to get feedback. My critique partners asked a lot of questions, often about things that I hadn’t thought about.

Even after the work I’d done revising and implementing some of their suggestions my novel still wasn’t quite there. I tinkered some more; focusing on the parts I felt needed more work. I'd say all totaled it took me 2-3 years.

  •     What made you choose to self-publish?

The publishing industry is changing so much and independent publishing is really growing. In today’s market it’s the author’s name that sells a book; we writers are our own brand. All writers have to do the work of growing that name through marketing and promotion, whether they are traditionally published or self-published. That is the reality. I realized if I’m going to do the work anyway, why not do it on my terms?

I also didn’t want to wait years to see my book on shelf. I have many other books in the pipeline and I wanted to keep moving forward. I’ve enjoyed maintaining my creative freedom and having the ultimate say on things like cover design. I also like knowing that after all I’ve put into it my book won’t expire or go out of print.

I’ve found the world of indie publishing to be incredibly giving and supportive, which has been a nice surprise. I’m really grateful to the other indie writers out there who share their knowledge and expertise so willingly.

  •     Why did you choose the name Indigo Stevens as your main character?

A lot of people have asked where the name Indigo came from. It’s an unusual name, I’ll admit, and there’s a story behind it. Before I tell the story, humor me and guess which of the following is true:

a. Indigo’s mom is an interior designer who named her daughter after her favorite wall accent color.

b. The name is a secret identity.

c. It’s a family name.
If you guessed a or c then you failed this pop quiz (kidding). The real answer is b, the name Indigo is a secret identity. Specifically, it is my secret identity, but only for a few weeks each year when I am a summer camp counselor. Don’t ask me why the counselors all have alter egos – this mysterious practice has never been fully explained to me, even though I’ve been working at this camp for five years now. All I know is the first day I showed up for training I was told to pick a name – although there were certain rules: I couldn’t pick a name that was already being used by another counselor and the name had to fit on the name tag.
Mostly this secret identity thing works really well, except for a few random encounters with other counselors outside of camp. At that point I always feel a little awkward because I’ve worked elbow to elbow with these people and I still don’t know their names. It feels a little funny to say, “Hey, Bluebird, how’s it going?” anywhere outside of camp.
But then again, they’re stuck in the same awkward name conundrum that I am, and when they say, “Hey, Indigo, how are you?” I just smile.

  •      This book is set in and around a ballet studio. What do you know about ballet?

I've been a dancer since I was five years old so I've spent decades (I won't say how many but more than two) in dance studios. I received my training at the School Of American Ballet and performed with companies including San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Today I still enjoy writing and blogging about ballet as well as attending performances.

  •      Which character is most like you in WISH?

I’m a bit like of many of my characters. I have aspects of Indigo’s emotional sensitivity, Miss Roberta’s work ethic and perfectionist tendencies, and Becky’s supportive nature. I wish I had more of Monique’s sass and Jesse’s laid back attitude.

The cool thing about creating characters is that even though I come up with the initial vision they eventually take on a life of their own. I’m often surprised by some of the things they say or do and I’ll think to myself wow, I never would say that to someone. Which is strange since the idea came out of my head. But it’s what the character would do, not what I would do.

  •      How difficult or easy is it to self-publish?

I'd advise anyone who is considering self-publishing to develop a solid plan before starting. This process is not particularly complicated but there are a lot of details to manage so organization is key. It's a process I've thoroughly enjoyed although it's been a lot of work. Essentially you're doing the job of four people when you self-publish. I've written and edited the work, researched and hired professionals to help me create the finished product and I've done all of my own marketing and PR....which means I wrote another novel's worth of content! Oh yes, I also built and maintain my own website. However, I think it's amazing that today's technology makes these things possible.

  •    Where should your fans send mail? Email?

The best way to find me is by email: You can also find me on Twitter (@griercooper) and Facebook.

  •      Is there a sequel in the making?

I'm happy to say that this is a planned trilogy and it's already in the works.

  •      Coffee? Tea? Chocolate? Or all three?

I enjoy all three...although chocolate is a rare treat and I drink tea during the winter. When I was younger I never thought I'd get into coffee. A friend told me that would change once I became a parent. She was right... but I stick to one cup in the morning.

  •      Is it difficult to put your work out there?

It's a little nerve-wracking because you never know how well it will be accepted. A famous musician friend once told me she never pays much attention to what people say about her work because she always makes sure to do her absolute best. There's peace of mind that comes along with knowing you've done your best. you can't do any more than that, right? So you put it out there, let it take flight and move on to the next project.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

QUERYTRACKER: Why you should.

So you finished your novel…now what? 

Once you've revised and believe it's the best it can be, you must query. 

But querying agents and publishers is a big job. It's a full time job and for someone who is trying to revise a novel, it's nearly impossible. 

I tried to keep track of querying, a few years ago, by writing the name of the agent down and the date. But I soon realized that I was no good at coming back to that piece of paper and recording anything.

Then I thought I'd just keep my emails in a folder marked QUERY. But my computer got stolen and I lost all that information.

Finally a writer friend recommended: 

QueryTracker | Free Database of Literary Agents and Publishers

QueryTracker is a place for writers that are ready to find an agent or publisher for their book. 

What I love about QueryTracker:

  • Organization: you can organize your letters and responses easily
  • Knowledge: you can see which agents are open right now and which agents are closed to querying
  • Community: you can see what other authors say about agent/publisher responses
  • Cheap: you get a lot for less money
  • Search Engine: you can search agents/publishers by genre
  •  Alerts/Reminders: you can set these to tell you when to check in with agents you've queried or when an agent will be accepting queries again
  • Profile: you can share information about yourself with other Query Tracker members

Once I joined QT it made my querying life much easier. Now, when I receive a response I log it into my Query List (which can never be stolen from me.) 

QT will also close out any queries you have going once they've passed the agent's allotted time frame for requests. 

QT uses emoticons to keep track of requests - partials get a half smile - full requests get a full smile. I like this part the best because I finally have some full on smiles in there!

If you are intrigued I suggest you go to QueryTracker and watch the video What is QT?

Good luck and happy querying!

Friday, October 3, 2014

PITCHWARS - PITMAD - WRITEONCON - Know these words writers!

If you don't know these words - PITCHWARS - PITMAD - WRITEONCON - and you're a writer….shame, shame, shame. 

Actually, only a few weeks ago I had never heard of them. Now, I've gotten full requests from entering these contests and conference. 

Let's start with #PITCHWARS (which you can find on Twitter) 

You'll want to google Brenda Drake and go to her website Pitch Wars - Brenda Drake | Brenda Drake

Brenda is the brainchild of PITCHWARS - which has a slew of talented, agented authors, offering up their time and knowledge to help un-agented writers get their manuscripts ready for querying. 

If you have a completed manuscript and/or you've been rejected by agents, or have not tried yet to query an agent, PITCHWARS is for you. 

The mentors are mad scientists. They help you with revision, cutting pieces here, suggesting other parts there. And in 3 short months your work will be in it's best shape of it's young life. 

Now, for #PITMAD - Also one of Brenda-the-awesome's ideas. #PitMad - Brenda Drake | Brenda Drake Here you elevator pitch your completed manuscript in under 140 characters. Agents watch the pitches and if they LIKE one of yours you query them.

You've got to be ready to pitch at least once per hour but no more than two. You want to give other writers a chance and not seem too pushy.

PITMAD is where my query madness began. I got LIKED - and so started my query process. 

Last tally: 16 queries - 5 request for fuels - 1 partial - and 2 rejections. I wouldn't have had the guts to query without PITMAD! 

What about #WRITEONCON?

Go to | WriteOnCon is an Online Children’s Writers Conference created by writers, for writers.

This is a free summer conference in virtual space put on by writers for writers. It's too late this year, but it's amazing! You'll want to participate next year. 

It's very fast paced and you must know which agents are speaking and when - calendar you phones to ding you when they begin or you'll miss out on the open Q & A's. 

Here you will upload your Query, First 5 pages, and or your First Chapter. You can upload all three and link them so that if a secret agent stops by and likes your query they can quickly click on a link to your pages. **DON'T forget to do this!

You'll also get comments from fellow writers. They will critique your work and some will offer to partner up in virtual critique groups. The writers I met in WRITEONCON helped me make my query much stronger. 

So there you have it - three words every new writer must know! 

And, even if you're not ready to pitch or snag a mentor, you can snoop and watch the madness on Twitter. This might just help you get the guts to join in and get critiqued!

Good luck!
As always,

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Writer on the MOVE -- how to connect with other writers when you're the newbie in town...

UGH --- What is it about moving that takes the pencil out of my writing hand? Ever since I moved to Bend, OR six months ago I've been slow going. 

Maybe it's because I don't feel settled? I don't have a writer group…I miss my old one! 

Or I have too much on my plate with kids going to two different schools and meeting new parents? 

And what about geography? I never seem to know where I am or where I should be going. I seem to always be caught in a round-about.

I'm guessing it's a bit of all of the above. Moving is tough and stressful. It can knock you off your A-game. So what's a writer to do? 

Get researching…that's what!

There are plenty of places for a lonely new writer in a new town to find writer friends. I started with an easy search: Writers in Bend Oregon. Up popped a few interesting websites.

So, now I've joined some new writer's groups and met some new interesting writers. And I almost have my writing flow back…almost.

The kids are back in school, so I have time to write back. And I'm slowly getting my writing groove again. 

If you are a writer in transition:

  • Reach out
  • Tell people you are a writer
  • Ask for help finding other writers
  • Go to your local bookstores and read the bulletin boards - critique groups advertise there
  • Search Writers in your area
  • Search SCBWI meetings in your area
  • Be positive - you will get your groove back


Sunday, August 31, 2014

KEEP CONNECTED - Aging Writers, Young Protagonists

It's back to school time for most of the US and so as many a Mom of kids, I was sitting in the hair salon waiting for my two boys to once again look presentable on their first day of school.

There were a ton of magazines spread across a glass table in front of me -- from modern homes to puppy love every topic was covered. But the one that caught my eye was Seventeen Magazine.

Being a writer of teen fiction, I am ashamed to say that I haven't read this magazine in years. As I shuffled through the pages, I was immediately drawn into my old teen world. Memories flooded my head, ones I hadn't thought of since I was 15-years-old.

Teens have changed since I was one of them. And I wondered, how can I represent them in the best, in the truest light, if I don't know what's going on right now in their world.

Yes, teens change, but they stay the same too. The problems are similar to the ones I had back in the 90's. But the words, the outfits, and the technology is different. 

While I was flipping the pages I not only got a better sense of me as a teen, but I got some writing ideas and ways of describing feelings my main character would use in her world. 

Writers age. That's a good thing because we have more experiences to draw from when we write. But it can also date our writing where it's not interesting to a teen of today. 

Do your homework when you are writing teen characters. Read what they read. Flip through the magazines they order. Check out the clothes they wear. Listen to the words they use. These things will help you create a more authentic teen of today and beyond.

That day in the salon, I used my cell phone to order 17-Magazine. I laughed when I had to input my birth date in order to receive it. I'm sure 99% of the people ordering are aged 12-17-years-old. But I can't wait for my first issue! 

Anything that helps you, as a writer for teens, bring you back to that state of mind, those feelings, that drama and pain of feeling left out is good for your writing. I encourage you to find the teen magazine that appeals to your younger days and read it from cover to cover.


More Teen Magazines:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

8 Easy Steps for Choosing the Title of Your Book

At the annual SCBWI LA Conference I learned: Titles matter

I never really thought much about the title of the book I've been writing and revising for the past year. I have a working title, yes, but I figured that was enough. Turns out, I was wrong!

Sarah Davies, founder of Greenhouse Literary Agency, spoke about titles and she blew my mind. Well, at least she made me think more about titles than I ever had before.

One of the most profound things she said was when reading queries the title is a big deal to her. It MUST create the feeling of the book. If it doesn't, it doesn't hook her. 

For many of you writers, who work with a working title, this might just change your mind too. Or at least make you think!

If the title affects an agent in that way, it must be affecting the writer. If your title is boring, lacks interest and has no hook….maybe that reflects in your writing? I wonder...

Think about the title of your favorite book or movie. Now, play with it. Try to change it and see if it still feels the same to you.


The Sound of Music

This title creates a certain feeling inside my heart. But what if I changed it? 

The Noise of Music
The Racket of Music
The Notes of Music
The Sound of Melodies
The Sound of Notes

None of these quite hit the same feeling or have the same appeal as the original.

How about another one? 

The Dark is Rising

It feels ominous. Something is coming up from below. What if I changed it to:

The Black is Rising
The Ink is Rising
The Gloom is Rising
The Veiled is Rising
The Dark is Coming
The Dark is Climbing
The Dark is On It's Way
The Dark is Surging

None of these give the same scary feeling as the original one does. I can't quite picture what might happen in the book. 

What about my book? 
Working Title: ANIMALIA

The title has been used before in a children's book and in a science book. That shouldn't matter to agents as they are different genres, but does it say anything about the book? Unfortunately…no, it does not. You can't guess anything about the book from that title.  

But how do you come up with a title? How can we play with the title and come up with different concepts? Different feelings?

One way is to go to your manuscript. Pull random pages and read. What interesting words pop out at you? Are there reoccurring phrases? Are some words scary? Happy? Loving? Hateful?

Step 1: Pull out random pages of your book. Some from the beginning, middle, end.

Step 2: Read paragraphs, skipping around and notice interesting words or phrases.

Step 3: Write down all the words that really pop, that really get to the root of your story.

Step 4: Hang them up around your office or bedroom - step back about 4 feet - which words pop out? Underline them.

Step 5: Connect the dots. Which words, when put together, make an interesting title? Which words feel right about your story? 

Step 6: Make a list of potential titles.

Step 7: Ask friends and strangers which titles would make them want to pick up the book and read?

Step 8: Start using the most popular title now!

Many words popped out at me from the beginning, middle and end of my book. These are the words that I underlined in Step 4:

  • Hide
  • Pelt
  • Experiments
  • Twisted
  • Revolution
  • War
  • Sever
  • Skinned
  • Payton Whitworth
  • Monstering
  • Camouflage
  • Hybrids
  • Poison
  • Teeth
  • Fangs
  • Mutation
  • Scale
  • Genetics
  • Betrayal
  • DNA
  • Kiss
  • Morph
  • Secrets
  • Feathers
  • Evolution

Titles that came to mind:
  • The Poisoning of Payton Whitworth
  • Skinned Kiss
  • Skin Secrets
  • The Secrets of Our Skin
  • The Monstering of Payton Whitworth
  • How Deep is Your Skin?
  • Fur, Skin & Feathers
  • The Evolution of Payton Whitworth
  • The Skin Wars
  • Payton Whitworth Phase One
  • Teeth to Fangs, Skin to Scales
  • Deep Twisted Feathers
  • The Twisted Kiss of Evolution

The Final One I am working with:

SKINNED: Payton Whitworth - Phase One

Now, once this book finds an agent and an editor the title will, most likely, change. With their help we will brainstorm again and again until it is perfect for the book and the market. 

But, for me, this title works. It gives me the feeling that I need when I speak about this book. It helps me mold the query letter and synopsis into something stronger than it was when the book was called plain Animalia.

I hope this insight to finding a title helps you as much as it helped me.

Until I blog again…

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gearing up for the SCBWI LA Conference 2014

 Hello fellow writers! I am getting ready and getting excited for the SCBWI LA Conference. 

Will you be there?

There are 15 of us coming from Oregon this year. I am so happy to have some other Oregoneons around. But I am also looking forward to meeting up with San Francisco, Pittsburgh and LA friends!

If this is your first big conference, relax. It's fun and you will make it through with tons of new, helpful information. This is my first LA conference. But I went to the NY SCBWI Conference two years ago and so I have some suggestions for you for this conference in LA.

  • Wear comfortable/stylish shoes - you will be walking and in some cases jogging to your next destination. Wear shoes you can move in without twisting an ankle, yet still look business casual.

  • Please NO workout clothes! Yes, yoga pants are cute and comfortable…but not appropriate for meeting an agent, editor or publisher.

  • Be RESPECTFUL not only to the agents, publishers and editors, but to your fellow writers. Do not interrupt another writer because you really, really want to meet the  agent they are speaking with. You will look rude to both. You want to show that you are professional, not pushy.

  • Remember this is ONE conference. You will get a chance in your writing career to meet professionals in your industry many times. This is a huge conference and so many of you might not get to personally speak with the one agent or publisher or editor of your choice. That's okay. All is not lost. 

  • This is a LONG HAUL. Writing is a career and this is one of several meetings you will attend. Show your best self, but if you make a mistake, don't beat yourself up. You will have other opportunities to prove you are professional and courteous. 

  • DO NOT shove your manuscript into the face or hands or purse or jacket of any of the professionals at the conference. 
Just don't!

  • DO take notes. Keep a small notepad in your pocket or use NOTES on your iPhone. You might be standing in a small group with a professional giving great tips. Don't walk away without making some notes. You will forget by the end of the long day.

  • If you are going to ASK A QUESTION, make it a question for all, not just about your book in particular. Everyone there wants a private consult on their book, but that's not what this conference is for…unless you purchased the private consult. Be respectful of your fellow writers and do not put a professional on the spot about your project. It will not help your cause.

  • FLOSS after lunch. At one of the conferences I attended I did not check my teeth after eating spinach. I was chatting with a director at Penguin for a while, the whole time with a huge piece of spinach in my two front teeth. How embarrassing! FLOSS! FLOSS! FLOSS!

  • And while we are on this subject, Breath, Breath, Breath! You will be drinking tons of coffee, so brings tons of gum or mints. I once was having a conversation with another writer and her breath was so coffee heavy I had to back up. You don't want your first impression to be bad breath! 

  • If you are going to give your BUSINESS CARDS out, be sure to include everyone you are in a group or having lunch with. There will be newbie writers at this conference and it's scary for them. If they are sitting next to you and you hand your card to 4 writers and not the newbie, it hurts. I know from experience. If you don't want to give your card to everyone, then wait and privately give it to that one special person. But try to be inclusive at all times if possible. 

  • If you are seated near a NEWBIE WRITER, or pass by one, say hi. Ask them how their conference is going and what they write. We are supposed to support one another. And you never know, that newbie writer could be the next NY times best seller tomorrow! Or an agent in the future. Be kind…always.

  • Know that even though these agents, editors and publishers will be open to your submissions after the conference, they are looking for the best of the best. Do not query too early in your writing process. Take your time. They want your best, most revised work. Do not waste this opportunity. 

  • I have noticed that some newer writers think the only people they should try to get to know at conferences are the speakers. This is so false. GET TO KNOW THE WRITERS. The writers at this conference are serious about their craft. They will most likely be published next. Make new friends there and they may last a lifetime with invaluable insight. 

  • Bring a WATER BOTTLE. Keep it full. You will be thirsty from all of the talking and all of the walking. 

  • LAYERS - dress in layers. Going outside in LA will be warm, hot even. You want to be able to remove a sweater and have a tank underneath. Inside will be cool, cold even. Tie a scarf on your purse incase you need it.

  • Be ON TIME! 

  • NO Jealousy toward other writers! If you are envious of something a writer is doing or has done or knows….ask questions. No jealousy at all about anything is helpful to you and the whole conference. Support each other - no excluding anyone for any reason. Be open to someone new no matter how different they are from you and your world will grow. 

  • Manners. Manners. Manners. Say excuse me when you are trying to pass by someone. Say please. Say thank you. Manners go a long way for everyone. Hold the doors open. Scoot over. Offer a seat. Be helpful. Smile. 

  • SUPPORT other writers. Buy their books. Read their blogs. Talk to them about how they got their agents. Go see the illustrations. 

  • Have FUN! Join in. Dance. Cheer. Laugh. The energy of this conference is up to you, to all of us. Let's make it awesome!

See you there!