Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


Before I get to today's interview, I wanted to share two links that you might be interested in. First, Andrea Mack, one of our followers, posted on her blog that MiG Writers, a group blog she participates in, is interviewing their agents Andrea Cascardi of the Transatlantic Literary Agency, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd,  Marie Lamba of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, and Jeff Ourvan of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, LLC this week about the market, misconceptions, and what they are looking for in MG and YA submissions. You might want to check it out. I plan to.

Second, Darcy Pattison at Fiction Notes did a post on the top literary agent for middle grade authors based on their sales here.

Today I’m super excited to help celebrate Tracy Bilen’s debut. Her YA book WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND releases tomorrow. I’ve become friends with Tracy through our Michigan SCBWI so I’m even more excited than normal to be able to share in her debut. I LOVED this book. Once I started it, I read it at every opportunity till I finished it. I don’t usually read contemporary novels but I was riveted from page one. I loved Sara, the main character. Tracy really nailed her voice and her way of handling her family situation. I wanted to know as much as her what happened to her mom.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

 In this suspenseful thriller, Sara and her mother are going to secretly escape her abusive father—when her mother mysteriously disappears.Sara and her mom have a plan to finally escape Sara’s abusive father. But when her mom doesn’t show up as expected, Sara’s terrified. Her father says that she’s on a business trip, but Sara knows he’s lying. Her mom is missing—and her dad had something to do with it.     With each day that passes, Sara’s more on edge. Her friends know that something’s wrong, but she won’t endanger anyone else with her secret. And with her dad growing increasingly violent, Sara must figure out what happened to her mom before it’s too late…for them both.

Hi Tracy. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

I live in the suburbs but I’m a country girl at heart (though I must admit I love having a bookstore within a ten minute drive!) When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy biking (with my five-year-old on a connector bike behind me) and traveling. I’m also a high school French teacher and love re-watching my favorite French movies. I’ve been writing since I was in high school myself and have always wanted to see my own book on the shelves of a bookstore or library. So I’ve worked steadily toward that goal – taking writing classes, attending conferences, and joining professional organizations such as SCBWI and RWA. It was while I was querying the second book that I had written that I came up with the idea for What She Left Behind. Writing this book was an excellent distraction from the querying process, and as it turned out, it was the one that sold!

2. Your advice to write another book is such great advice and something I’ve heard other published authors recommend. And look how well it worked for you. Your book is not only a thriller, but takes on an intense issue—abusive families. That’s why I’m dying to read it. How did you come up with the idea for your story and what research, if any, did you do to on the issue of domestic and family abuse?

The idea for the book came from an image I saw in my mind – of a girl, a suitcase, and a gun…and it just took off from there. The hardest part in doing research for this book was going to the library – I felt so uncomfortable checking out books about abusive relationships that I felt compelled to tell the librarian that it was for research….I remember her being so relieved!

3. Oh yeah, I can see feeling weird at the library since it’s such a sensitive topic. Sara is a strong character determined to find out what happened to her mom and dealing with her father’s increasingly violent behavior. And like most people in this situation, she tries to hide it from her friends. Tell us a bit about how you developed Sara as a character.

Character development was a gradual process for me. As I wrote, I felt I learned more and more about Sara and was then able to go back into the earlier sections and add details. Some details I would mention just once, but others (such as the way she twirls her ponytail when she’s nervous) I tried to weave in throughout the book. When faced with a tough emotional scene, I tapped into times in my life when I dealt with similar emotions.

4. I like the idea of going back and layering the character details in as you revise a manuscript to deepen the character. And you did such a great job with it. I loved Sara from the first page. And felt like I was right there with her. I’ve read in reviews of your book that you did a really good job balancing the romance with the mystery elements of the plot and creating Alex, Sara’s romantic interest. Share some of your tips on writing a good romance.

I’m such a sucker for romance. I just loved writing the scenes with Alex! My tip would be to go for the sigh factor…scenes that make you sigh (in a good way!) or smile when you re-read them. I also like the tips in this blog post at Dear Editor .

5. Lucky you that you loved writing the scenes. I’m still scared of writing that first kiss scene. You won a mentorship through the Michigan SCBWI chapter a few years ago. How did that help you take your novel to the next level of getting published?

Shutta Crum was my mentor for this fantastic experience. Shutta worked with me much like an editor…she helped me tackle over-arching big picture issues as well as the tiny details. Shutta read my entire manuscript at least four times over the course of the year (which was going beyond her duties!) and gave fresh insights each time. I am especially grateful to her for helping me better understand character arc. I really believe that it was this intensive mentoring experience that made What She Left Behind agent-ready!

6. Shutta’s an amazing person so I can imagine what a great mentor she was. And it’s so great to have a mentor or critique partner who can really help take your manuscript to its best level. Your agent is Kevan Lyon. Tell us how she became your agent and your road to publication. 

I met Kevan at a meeting of our local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America). From there I queried her, which led to this whole incredible journey. Kevan was instrumental in helping me make those pre-submission revisions and she’s always so on-top of things – whether it’s reading a new proposal or brainstorming about marketing – I couldn’t ask for a more perfect agent! Throughout the whole querying process I used www.querytracker.net to keep track of the queries I sent and the responses I received.

7. I know you’re doing a two week blog tour to celebrate your debut. How did you set that up and chose the blogs, especially the book review blogs, to use for your tour?

Actually most of the work was done by Teen Book Scene, which does a fabulous job setting up blog tours…I just told them how many stops I wanted to make and what types, and they took it from there. Of course, as I got other requests from bloggers, I added them into the schedule where they fit best.

8. I always wondered how author blog tours get set up. That’s great to know about Teen Book Scene setting up the blog tour for you. What are you working on now?

I’m working on another YA thriller and hope to be able to share more details soon!

Can’t wait to hear about your new project. Thanks Tracy for sharing your advice. And Happy Debut! You can find Tracy at her website , twitter: @tracybilen, or Facebook, her blog, and YA Fusion, a group blog where she participates and is doing another giveaway of her book this week.

And here's Tracy's trailer:

Tracy's publisher generously donated a signed copy of WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND for a giveaway, To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 12th. I’ll announce the winner on May 14th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

 If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

And don't forget to enter my contests for two ELLIE MCDOODLE books and my giveaway last week of CINDER, A MILLION SUNS, and THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. The links are at the top of the blog.

Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm participating in the Children's Week Holiday Hop. I can't wait to share all the awesome YA books I've chosen for the giveaway. On Wednesday next week I'm interviewing Kim Harrington and giving away a copy of her YA mystery PERCEPTION and two books in her new middle grade series PARTNERS IN CRIME. Then the following Monday I'm interviewing Christina, a 6th grader who blogs with Kristi at the awesome THE STORY SIREN and giving away a few newly released YA books.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips tomorrow and Casey's Agent Spotlights on Thursdays.

Hope to see you on Monday!

Interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez and Giveaway of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE

I'm super duper excited to share my interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez with you today. Jenny's debut novel The Downside of Being Charlie comes out from Running Press on May 22nd. As you'll see in the interview, I loved Charlie and think the story will appeal to fans of John Green and Chris Crutcher. Here's the summary from Goodreads:

Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared—again—and his dad won’t talk about it.

Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to hold his head above water in the meantime?

I just love me some realistic fiction and Jenny adds a great new voice to the genre. Her lovely agent, Kerry Sparks, was kind enough to send me an ARC and I'm going to pass it on to one lucky commenter. But before we get to those details, please meet the lovely author!

Hi Jenny. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you start us off with a bit about yourself?

Well, other than writing and reading, I love to listen to music, paint, take photographs, and hang out with my husband and kids. Also, I avoid small or crowded places. I'm extremely claustrophobic.

How did you get into writing, and more specifically for young adults?

I got into writing because I was a middle child with an older sister seven years my senior and a younger brother seven years my junior. For all intents and purposes, I was an only child and had to find ways to entertain myself. The Uniondale Public Library was down the street from my house so I’d go there and read a lot as a kid. I think this naturally led to me making up stories and writing them down. And just between us, I had a touch of the melodramatic middle child “nobody cares about me” syndrome and writing seemed to let me indulge in that wonderful self-pity.

Specifically, I got into writing for young adults when I saw the teen angst, drama, wit, and comedy that entered my classroom on a daily basis when I taught high school English. My students were a huge inspiration to me and reminded me how terrible/thrilling/awesome/and humiliating it was to be a teen. I’m always trying to capture that in my writing.

Well, I think you captured it wonderfully in your debut YA novel, The Downside of Being Charlie, which comes out next month. What has your publication journey been like and how are you feeling right about now?

The journey to publication has been difficult in that writing a novel, getting an agent, and getting a deal is a long road paved with LOTS of rejection and frustration. But it has been smooth in that my agent, editor, and publisher have been incredibly supportive, insightful, and helpful every step of the way.

Right now I feel the way you do when you just make the height requirement for the biggest, baddest roller coaster ever. You’re psyched and totally thrilled, but you also feel like puking. And a little part of you is pretty convinced you’re going to fly out of the car at the first turn and . . . well, you know. But you can’t wait.

In the story, Charlie deals with some tough issues. Weight, abandonment, bullying and more, though it's not heavy-handed. Why did you feel compelled to write this particular story? Who is Charlie to you?

I felt compelled to write Charlie’s story because I think there are a lot of teens like Charlie out there. So many of them are dealing with so many of issues. Some people might say, man, can his life suck that bad? but when I think back to my own high school days, my friends, my students, I have to say, yeah, there are plenty of kids whose lives suck that bad, and worse. They’re dealing with more than most adults can handle, and they’re dealing with it every day, by themselves, and very quietly. They become good at hiding the truth, which can be dangerous and lonely. This, I hope, is a way for them to feel less lonely. Charlie is all those kids and anyone who has felt isolated and misunderstood, and alone and overwhelmed with reality with no real understanding or knowledge or power of how to make things change.

(Anyone else get goosebumps reading that? I just love her!) Jenny, what were you like as a teenager? Did any of your own experiences make it into the novel? Any anecdotes you'd like to share?

Well, I was a peppy kind of girl . . . okay, not really. I was actually incredibly self-conscious and insecure which I played it off by scowling a lot and being all around unapproachable. Yeah, my mom was thrilled with teen me.

No specific events from my life made it into the novel, but the sense of inadequacy and, on some scale, self-loathing Charlie feels throughout the book were all feelings I dealt with as a teen. Actually, the mention of a drama student dressing up as a Smurf in the book–that really happened my senior year. But sadly, it wasn’t me.

(Speaking of teen Jenny, she's contributed to Dear Teen Me and you can read her post here.) One of the few bright spots in Charlie's life is his photography, a hobby that helps him explore his feelings. Does this reflect any particular thoughts you have on the power of art in expression and/or healing?

Oh, definitely. I think especially for people who have a tendency to be introverted or have difficulty connecting with or accepting help from others, I think art can be an incredible outlet during difficult times. I don’t think it can be a substitute for help, but I think it can help you cope.

Your voice is perfectly suited to realistic fiction. I can't tell you how excited I am to have a great new contemporary author to read. How did you find your authorial voice and that of Charlie's character?

Thanks so much, Casey. Honestly, voice is something I struggled with quite a bit at first. When I was applying to a particular MFA program (and getting repeatedly rejected), a creative writing teacher told me, the problem is you don’t seem to have a voice. You don’t know what it is. You need to find your voice! Looking back, I think I was trying too hard to sound “authorish” or “writerly” if that makes any sense. I think I found my voice when I stopped trying so hard and just wrote. Charlie’s voice seemed to come naturally, though during revisions, I did have to work on making him sound a little more “boyish.”

On a related note, there were elements of the novel that reminded me of John Green. Namely, aspects of the voice and Charlie's colorful best friend, Ahmed (Green always has a memorable side character and Ahmed is definitely that!). Was Green or any other YA author a particular influence for you?

John Green has been a huge influence because I think his books show this fantastic balance between humor and pain and love and angst and his characters are so real. I definitely aim to do that in my own writing. Another YA author that has been an influence on me is A.S. King because she hits real issues in a fearless kind of way that makes the reader stop and really think. I admire that and am a big fan of both authors.

I read on your website that you're a huge fan of music. Did you have a playlist while writing The Downside of Being Charlie? If so, do you plan to share it with fans?

I actually do have a playlist that I listened to while writing Charlie. And I will definitely post it on my website. Actually, I was supposed to do that a while back and didn’t, so I will now!

Yay! You have another book coming out in 2013 that sounds deliciously fantastic, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. The title alone has me dying to read it. What can we expect from this next title?

I’m really excited about Frenchie. It’s a story about a girl dealing with the death of her high school crush and as she does so, contemplates life and death, talks to Emily Dickinson’s corpse, hangs out in cemeteries, and take readers on an adventure through the crazy night that changed everything. I especially hope readers connect with Frenchie because she is such a flawed, warped character who is actually a lot more normal than you (or she) would think. It’s scheduled to come out in spring of 2013.

Okay, now I really can't wait to get a copy!
Last question. Where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?

You can visit my website.
And my blog.
And find me on twitter @jetchez.
Oh, and Facebook.

Thank you so much for your time, Jenny, and thank you for giving us Charlie to read and love.

Thank you, Casey!

Isn't Jenny just fantastic? I hope you're all as excited as I am about Charlie. If you'd like a chance to win my ARC, please be a follower and leave a comment with your e-mail address (if it's not public). Let me know if you spread the word in any way, which will get you an extra entry. The giveaway will run until midnight on Tuesday, May 8th, and I'll have Natalie announce the winner on May 9th when she posts her interview with Kim Harrington. 

Good luck!

Tip Tuesday #124

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's tip was sent in by Kate Oliver, author of the newly released YA novel Caterpillar. This is her first tip here, and you can find her at her blog, Notes from the Dot. Enjoy!

One of the best tricks many writers employ while revising a manuscript is to read that baby out loud, which helps you hear awkward dialog, run-on sentences, and so forth. And it works really well, but it doesn't help you find things like typos or missing words. The fact is, when you are reading your own work, your eye sees--and fills in--what it expects to see.

What I recently figured out is that you can get around this by loading your manuscript up on your kindle (just email the .doc file--it'll be ready to go in a few minutes). Then, turn on the text-to-speech function. Voila! That robotic little voice picks up everything (though why it correctly pronounces "wunderkind" but not "yeah" is another matter). I can't tell you the number of little errors I've found this way in my own work, and I hope this tip is helpful to someone else!

~Kate Oliver


First in case you missed our awesome news on Thursday, Literary Rambles made the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in the May/June issue! We're Number 13 under "Everything Agents."

We're so excited especially since we had no idea we were nominated or on the list until our wonderful follower Angela Ackerman of The Bookshelf Muse told us about it. Thank you all for your kind words on Thursday, our loyal followers, whoever nominated us, and Write'rs Digest. And congrats to all the others on the list.

Now onto the winner of THE FALSE PRINCE. I love this book so much that I decided to keep my copy and buy the winner one too. The very lucky winner is:


Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book.  

Today I'm excited to have a panel of 9th grade high school students with us to share their advice. I know their language arts teacher, who is very passionate about books. I'm glad my daughter's in her class, though she isn't on this panel.

Hi everyone. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your school, and what you like to read.

Nadia- I enjoy music, particularly jazz, and play the clarinet. My school is supporting and full of great kids. My favorite books are ones of adventure, mystery, and humor. Personally, I prefer anything nonfiction- it gives a greater range to the book’s potential.

Anzhu- I really like to draw and play computer games, I’m a pretty lazy guy who is part nerd. My main interests in books are sci-fi or historical fiction. The people at Huron have been very kind and nice to me, although the facilities clearly lack funds here, it’s an OK school.

Rosa- I really like playing and listening to music, I listen to mainly Indie and Alternative rock, and I play the flute and acoustic guitar. My favourite books are The Perk of Being a Wallflower and Looking for Alaska. I think Huron is alright, the people are usually pretty nice and I’ve learned a lot.

Karn- I like, Anzhu, like to draw and play computer games. I too play the clarinet and I often listen to Techno, Doo-Wop, and Classical music. My school is filled with a variety of different people and can be somewhat hard to find the right people you can click with. The books I enjoy reading are Mystery involving detectives books as well as Action books involving spies or soldiers.

2. Sounds like you are all artistic and/or into music. And yes, one of the great things about Huron is the diversity. How do you find out about the books you read? What about new books coming out?

Nadia- Usually from teacher and friend, I hate searching through the entire library for a good book. (Same thing with new books)

Anzhu- The saying goes you “shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” but that’s exactly what I do. If the cover is eye catching I’d go in and read the overall blurb and intro to get a good preview of it. New books usually have nice covers and all catch my eye one way or the other, but almost always they are a trilogy that continues from the original, I’d rather avoid them.

Rosa- Sometimes I find out about books from my friends or siblings, but I usually just find a book that looks interesting from the cover and if the description on the back sounds good I read it.

Karn- Usually, when I pick a book, it is most likely I hear about what everybody else is reading and I check it out for myself. On some occasions though I twill go to the library and look for a title or book cover that catches my eye. When I do find one, I usually just read the back of the book for a short summary and decide whether I’m going to read it or not.

3. Anzhu & Rosa, I don't think you're alone in being drawn to books by the cover. Me too. And Nadia & Karn, word of mouth is how I find out about books too. What are you reading now? What books are you waiting to be released?

Nadia- Snow Falling On Cedars. It is not my norm purposely, my teacher suggested to stray from my norm. I am not waiting for any new books.

Anzhu- Right now I’m just reading what I pick up, I’ve just started on another star wars the old republic book and ‘The call of the Wild’ seems very interesting, I’m not waiting for anything to be released, but it would be nice to get my hands on some books that didn’t have 50 holds on it or costs 30$ to buy

Rosa- I’m reading If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. I just found it sitting around my house, but it’s a good book. I’m not waiting for anything to be released.

Karn- Right now I am reading The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. So far I’m waiting to buy the sequel to the book, The Mark of Athena, so I can start it after I finish with The Son of Neptune.

4. Karn, I'm reading The Son of Neptune too, but in the audio version. And yeah, I hate when there's a long line of people ahead of me when I put books on hold. Here's what I do if I really want a book at the library. A few weeks before it's going to be out I check almost daily to see if I can put it on hold. And it works. 

Do you buy most of your book or get them at the library? How often do go to a bookstore?

Nadia- I go to the library almost always, unless I need to buy a book for school use.

Anzhu- Library all the way, if I want a new book I’ll just forget about it for 6 months, until it becomes available, I’d rather do that then blow 20 bucks on something that I’m gonna spend 2 days on and then leave on my bookshelf for the next five years.

Rosa- I get most of my books from the library and I rarely go to bookstores.

Karn- I usually buy my books, but usually from Target, Meijer, and Sam’s Club. Once in a while I will see a good book in the library and read it.

5. I love the library too. Though now I'm getting a lot of ARCs. Do you read any teen book blogs, author blogs, or author or publisher websites? Become a fan of an author on Facebook? Why?

Nadia- No. I dislike the internet

Anzhu- Nope, the internet to me is a big game station and toolbox. I’m not interested in the authors, I’m interested in what they write. I’ve never really put two thoughts into what the author who the author was, unless the book is nonfiction or a biography, then I’m curious. The closest I came to being curious is reading a book by Leonard Susskind about blackholes.

Rosa- No, I mean I have read a teen book blog before but that was just because I was bored and they topic kinda related to me. I care about the authors, but not enough to research them on the internet.

Karn- Not really- I mean I do drift onto an authors website once in a while to check for book information and releases.

6. Seeing how much homework you guys have, I can't see how you'd have much time for checking out websites or blogs. Has your teacher recommended any blogs or websites to your class or to you?

Nadia- yes- SAT website

Anzhu – not that I recall, does the SAT website count?

Rosa- Sparknotes and a SAT study website

Karn- The SAT website.

7. Yes, the SAT sites are very important seeings how you'll be taking the SAT in a few years. Are there things your favorite authors could do that would make you more likely to visit their website, their blog, or become a fan on Facebook?

Nadia- have online games!

Anzhu- no, if they add some cool concept art of the book they wrote or something similar to that it might get me interested enough to close down my online game and visit their site.

Rosa- Maybe if they put the link for their website on their books

Karn- The writer(s) can add fan artwork or some fun activities relating to the book.

8. Fun activities or games are a great idea. Have any authors visited your school? Who? Is there anything you’d recommend that an author do to make their presentation more interesting to you and other kids at your school?

Nadia- yes, but I didn’t go to it because it was during my math class (toughest class)

Nadia, my daughter thinks math is her hardest class too. So do I. Thanks Nadia, Anzhu, Rosa, and Karn for taking time out of your busy day to share your great advice.

Now I'm going to share about the books I'm offering for a giveaway this week. I've been winning a lot of books lately so I'm giving away three because I want to pass them on. I joked with Casey that I wish my luck would carry over to the lotto. Not yet. But I love books, so it's okay.

For a description of the books, click on the book title.

First up is CINDER.

I was curious about whether Marissa Meyer could put a new spin on a Cinderella retelling. I’m happy to say yes, this was unique.

First of all, Cinder is a cyborg, a part human, part metal being looked down upon in her society. Yet, she’s found a niche for herself, being the best mechanic in New Beijing. Of course that’s how Prince Kai meets her when he seeks her out to repair his robot.

But this isn’t a story about a girl trying to get to the ball. Instead there’s a terrible plague that’s claiming New Beijing’s population and also claims Cinder’s step-sister Peony, her only friend. This leads to hard choices for Cinder and for Prince Kai as he tries to save his country. Both face treachery, Cinder from her evil step-mother and Prince Kai from Queen Lavana from the Lunars. I loved this science fiction twist to the story.

While I could guess at a few of the plot points, the dystopian world mixed with science fiction, the political intrigue, and wanting to know more about Cinder and her growing relationship with Kai kept me reading. And I did not expect the ending.


I often wonder when I read a sequel if I’ll be disappointed because the first book is so good. Not so with A Million Suns. There’s no middle sag here.

Amy is coming to grips with the fact that she’s stuck on Godspeed probably for the rest of her life. With her parents frozen. What torture is that!

And Elder assumes the role of being leader. Only it’s not so easy since everyone’s off Phydus. While Elder’s busy trying to get control of the ship, Amy’s discovering clues Orion left for her. And then she and Elder must put together the puzzle together to figure out the truth about Godspeed.

All I’m going to say is Wow! Beth does a fantastic job of weaving in what we know from Across the Universe while leading us on a path of exciting plot twists to the truth. If anything, I had a harder time putting A Million Suns down.

Laini Taylor has crafted a unique paranormal story set in the fascinating world of Prague. Karou, the main character, is a blue-haired artist who lives in two worlds—the human world and going through magic portals to other worlds where she goes on missions to collect human bones for Brimstone, the only father figure she’s known. She’s desperately trying to figure out who really is and why her missions are so important.

As Karou’s world starts to crumble, she meets Akiva, another warrior. They start out with a love-hate relationship that grows into something else that feels really natural. And no love triangles. Laini Taylor is an amazing storyteller, building a fascinating world and a mystery that like Karou, we the readers, are dying to figure out.

So there will be three winners. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment on the panel discussion by midnight on May 5th. If you have a preference on what book you'd like, leave that in the comment too. I’ll announce the winner on May 7th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

Here's what's coming up. On Wednesday Casey is interviewing Jenny Sanchez-Torrez and giving away an ARC of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE. Then the next Monday I'm interviewing Tracey Bilen and giving away a copy of her debut book WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND. I still haven't got the ARC and I'm seriously dying to read her book. Then the following Monday I'm participating in the Children's Week Holiday Hop. I can't wait to share all the awesome YA books I've chosen for the giveaway.

Hope to see you on Monday!

101 Best Websites for Writers

Word has hit via the lovely Angela Ackerman that Literary Rambles made the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers in the May/June issue. We're number thirteen under "Everything Agents."


Huge thank you to the Writer's Digest staff, our readers, and anyone who may have nominated us. And congratulations to everyone else on the list. It's such an honor to be included alongside so many amazing resources. I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it!

Tip Tuesday #124

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's quick but super smart tip was sent in by Sharon K. Mayhew. You're sure to know Sharon as she's been a longtime reader and commenter, but this is her first tip submission. Please visit her blog, Random Thoughts, and check out the peer critique fest she's been running this week as well as her other fantastic posts. Here's her tip!

When I host a contest on my blog I write down the names and addresses of the winners in a writing contact address book. I also put down contacts that I have met at writing conferences in it. Keeping a separate address book for writing contacts will come in handy when you get that publishing deal you've been working so hard for. You'll have a quick source of like minded people that you can send postcards or bookmarks to when you have them made. Hopefully, they will be so pleased that you remembered them on your special day that they will rush out and buy your book.

~Sharon K. Mayhew


Before I share today's interview I want to be sure that you know about last week's interview with Jennifer Nielson and giveaway of THE FALSE PRINCE. Because blogger would not cooperate and for a few hours the post would not come up in blogger or google reader. And I totally LOVE, LOVE this book and want you all to know about it. It reminds me a lot of Megan Whalen Turner's series. And every book reviewer whose review I read loves it too. So if you haven't entered the contest yet, go here to check out the interview and enter the contest. Trust me, you want to read this book.

Next I'll announce the winner of ABOVE. The winner is:


Congrats! E-mail me your address and I'll send you your book.

One more piece of news I want to share before getting to Ruth's interview. One of our followers Laura Pauling sold her book HOW TO SURVIVE ANCIENT SPELLS AND CRAZY KINGS to Pugalicious Press. The story sounds awesome. Stop by her blog here to congratulate her.

Today I’m so excited to interview Ruth McNally Barshaw, a friend I know through the Michigan SCBWI chapter. She has four books published in the Ellie McDoodle middle grade series. Her most recent book, ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, was released on April 10, 2012. I remember when Ruth was one of the speakers at a SCBWI conference when her first Ellie McDoodle book debuted in 2007. It was so exciting to have my book signed by someone I knew. This is a fantastic series. Ellie is such an endearing character with a great middle grader voice who gets herself in messes and Ruth’s illustrations add so much to the stories.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads of ELLIE MCCDOODLE: BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER that I’m giving away:

When her teacher assigns a report about animals and all the popular animals get snatched up, Ellie McDoodle is stumped for a topic. Then a neighbor asks Ellie to pet-sit her African gray parrot and it seems her problem is solved. But when the parrot flies the coop-literally-Ellie has an even bigger problem. With help from a librarian, a zookeeper, and Ellie's own pet-obsessed family, the bird comes home-but will Ellie finish her report on time?

And here’s a blurb of ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER from Goodreads, Ruth’s most recent book, that’s she’s offering for a giveaway:

Poor Ellie. When her friend, Mo, suggests they try out for soccer together, Ellie doesn’t know her own father has just been named the coach! To make matters worse, Ellie can’t seem to get her head (or her feet) around the game. She’d much rather be solving word problems and doing other brain-bending quizzes in the Journey of the Mind club. But when both teams have their tournament on the same day, will Ellie choose soccer or school? This lively story, told in words and doodles, will have kids cheering on the sidelines for Ellie!

Hi Ruth. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.

You’re welcome, and thank you, Natalie!

I grew up in a huge, brilliant, creative family in the Detroit area. I liked to draw and write as a kid and hoped to be a cartoonist when I grew up but couldn’t figure out how to get into the business. I settled for “commercial artist” instead but didn’t know what it meant (art for business promotion). I went away to college, studied advertising and psychology, and met my husband, Charlie, there, and we settled there and raised a family – four of the best kids in the world. They’re ages 14-28 right now.

Charlie was a writer, I was an illustrator, and we collaborated on lots of neat projects including my daily comic strip in the school newspaper, mini books and a few editions of a satirical newspaper. Then he got into retail management and out of writing. I worked for the university.

Eventually I quit my job to work out of my house. I wanted a family audience for my cartoony art. By the fall of 2002 I’d failed as a cartoonist (two different syndicates said I was “in”, then dropped me), rubber stamp artist (they wanted me to change my style), portrait artist (underpaid), t-shirt artist (underpaid), graphic designer (bored, underpaid), essay writer (won 6 national essay contests in a row, lost the next 6)… Writing and illustrating kids’ books was sort of my last hope. Ironically, I’d considered doing kids’ books in 1985 and again in 1992, but abandoned the idea because I was too busy. In 2002 I was still busy, but the time was right. I entered a picture book competition run by Simon & Schuster. Lost the contest, but loved the work. So I wrote and illustrated more books. It took me two more years to learn this business: I worked full time without a paycheck. It was painful. But eventually it paid off. In 2005 my first book sold, ELLIE MCDOODLE: HAVE PEN, WILL TRAVEL.

2. That’s awesome that you and Charlie collaborated. And I know he’s getting back into writing again too. You’ve certainly tried a lot of different ways to make money from your art. How did you come up with the first Ellie McDoodle story and what have been the challenges as you continued it as a series?

The first book was inspired by camp when I was a kid. By age 12 I’d gone to family camp, day camp, overnight camp with my cousin, Girl Scout camp, cabin camping, tent camping, trailer camping, private campgrounds, state parks, pit toilets, ice cold showers, fishing, frogging, skunks, raccoons, mosquitoes, making friends, losing friends – plenty of material for a book.

I started the book as a lark. I intended to show my writer friends that I didn’t have what it took to create a cartoony book for kids. I was sure it wasn’t going to work out. To my utter shock, it did work – instantly. Unlike the books I’d been doing for the past couple of years, there was no writing, then storyboarding, then drawing, then angst, then changing the writing, then changing the storyboard, then changing the drawing, ad nauseum. This just flowed from start to finish. Even the revisions were great fun, like a puzzle to be solved.

The series challenges are formidable: book 2 was scariest to write. Suddenly I was concerned with improving on the previous book and pleasing the readers, librarians, reviewers, my family, my publisher… Eventually I realized I needed to just write for myself.

Time is always a challenge for me. And quieting the demons in my head is an ongoing battle. They tell me my work stinks, and it’ll always stink…

3. That’s so weird how you wrote this to prove you couldn’t write a kid’s book and now you have a series. And I think most authors can relate to the book 2 pressures. Ellie is such a likeable character, but she always seems to get in trouble. I was worried for her the whole time while I read BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER. How did you develop her as a character and pick the problems she must face?

Trouble is what makes a book fun to read. Resolved trouble is what makes it fun to remember. I like putting Ellie in trouble, and having her resolve it in a satisfying and unexpected way.

Ellie grew out of me and my kids. I’m always getting into trouble, like Ellie, and I always have a sketchjournal handy. But Ellie is still fresh to me – I don’t know her completely, yet. Maybe when I figure her out all the way, her stories will be done.

Her problems are specific and quirky and weird, but they’re also universal. We all at some point strive to be understood, to make new friends, to make good choices. I try to keep her relevant to today’s kids, but I think if I’d read an Ellie book when I was 10, I’d have liked it a lot.

4. You do a great job making it relevant to kids. And getting Ellie into serious trouble. In BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER, all the kids are picking animals for a project in school. You did an excellent job weaving in facts about the animals that kids would think of and be interested in. Tell us how you decided on the animals and the facts you chose to use.

Thank you! I wanted to pick animals and facts that kids would love to explore more. I like to plant little surprises in the books, too. In that book there’s a flip book effect, a flying bird on the last 50 pages. In NEW KID IN SCHOOL, the first two words of the story are ‘The End’ and the last two words are ‘the beginning.’ In MOST VALUABLE PLAYER there are Rube Goldberg contraptions, American Sign Language, and Spirit Week at school where all sorts of crazy things happen.

5. In your new book, tell us a bit about the problems Ellie faces when she tries out for soccer and her dad’s the coach.

At first Ellie thinks soccer will be easy for her since her dad is the coach. She’s dismayed (like most kids would be, and like I always am) to find that unrelenting practice doesn’t guarantee immediate improvement. She doesn’t like the tough exercise workout. She doesn’t like the in-your-face teammate who’s become self-appointed captain. And she doesn’t like that soccer will interfere with her academic games schedule; she doesn’t like having to choose between the two.

6. Yes those are hard lessons and choices many kids (including my daughter) have to face. You illustrate as well as write your stories. What’s your writing/illustrating process? Do the pictures come first or the plot and words? How much more time does it take you write a book because you’re illustrating them too?

Book 1 came out as writing and art at the same time, page by page. Book 2 was the same but took less time. Book 3 was writing and art together, then revised writing, then revised art. Book 4 was writing first and then the art. At the beginning the art took as long to do as the writing. Now the art comes much faster.

The concept for a book comes to me in illustrated vignettes of joy and frustration on a subject I’d like to explore deeply. I’ll spend half a year gathering ideas and playing with themes while finishing another project. Then two months seriously brainstorming and thinking and researching and outlining. Three months writing. A month illustrating. A month rewriting and redrawing. Mash it all together, mix it up a bit, add or take away time, and that’s my process. It takes a year to produce a book but not all that time is writing or drawing. There’s off-time. And there’s double-time. Once my head is in a project it’s pretty firmly implanted and it gets difficult to think about much else.

7. So interesting to see the process since you have both jobs for your books. Your agent is Erin Murphy. Tell us how she became your agent and about your road to publication.

I’m lucky to be with Erin and EMLA (Erin Murphy Literary Agency). She has many seriously impressive people working with her. I‘ve formed deep friendships with many of them, and they’ve taught me a lot about craft, marketing, and life.

Erin found me back in February, 2005. One of her writers, Susan Vaught (STORMWITCH, TRIGGER, MY BIG FAT MANIFESTO), sent Erin to my website to read a conference sketchbook I’d just uploaded. I was halfway through writing the first Ellie book, on a dare, really, and Erin asked to see it when it was ready, if I was considering representation. Susan knew about my sketchbook and that I was trying to create a book in that sketchbook style, because it’d become a discussion thread in the huge Children’s Writers group in Yahoo groups, where I chatted and Susan lurked. The whole Ellie McDoodle creation process played out online. Without the internet, without a website, without that fabulous writer/illustrator community, I’d have no books.

8. That’s an amazing way how Erin discovered you. We’d all wish for a similar experience. You’re now marketing your fourth book. What advice can you share about marketing a middle grade book?

Don’t bother trying to do everything – there are too many options and the internet is a free-for-all. Pick a few things you want to do, and master them (as my martial arts instructor also advises). Visit schools, libraries and bookstores. Form a marketing group to share resources and ideas. Ignore reviews, Amazon rankings and social networking sites that suck up your time and give you nothing in return. Don’t be intimidated by fellow writers who seem to be marketing geniuses.

 We’re all good at some things and we all struggle at some things; maybe that person isn’t as good as you at character or plot development. Keep aware of what’s going on in the industry – read the blogs and the books and the trade journals, but don’t let that interfere with writing. Because really, that’s what matters most: Giving readers your best next book.

9. Phew! That’s a relief to know we don’t have to be good at it all. What are you working on now?

I’m working on the next Ellie McDoodle! In another month we’ll have a title and cover art. A month after that I’ll have a good first draft (which means, if it’s “good”, it’s actually a third draft). A few months later I’ll be wrapping up this book and starting the next.

It’s fun working on the next book. There are parts I love already. But it’s also quite daunting. Right now I can’t imagine how this book can come out better than MOST VALUABLE PLAYER. Still, that’s my goal.
Thanks so much, Natalie.

Thanks Ruth for sharing all your advice. You can find Ruth at her blog and website and she’s shared a few other links:

Conference sketchbook that caught Erin’s attention here
Erin’s blog.
Interesting blog by some of Erin’s debut authors here.

I’m offering a signed copy of BEST FRIENDS FUR-EVER and Ruth is offering a signed copy of ELLIE MCDOODLE: MOST VALUABLE PLAYER. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 5th. I’ll announce the winner on May 7th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:

Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm interviewing a panel of high school kids for my ASK THE EXPERT series and will also be giving away 2-3 popular YA books. PLEASE, PLEASE stop back next week and comment because my daughter's language arts teacher arranged for this panel discussion. She's an amazingly passionate person about books and I know the interview will be great. The class will be checking the blog probably on Tuesday to see who commented. I've won a lot of newly published books lately and I want to pass them on.

On Wednesday that week, Casey is interviewing Jenny Sanchez-Torrez and giving away an ARC of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE. Then the next Monday I'm interviewing Tracey Bilen and giving away a copy of her debut book WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND. I still haven't got the ARC and I'm seriously dying to read her book.

Hope to see you on Monday!

Agent Spotlight: Laura Rennert

This week's Agent Spotlight features Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.
Status: Open to submissions.

laura2012About: “Laura Rennert, Executive Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, has been with the agency since 1998. She’s something of a “literary omnivore, with wide-ranging interests. She specializes in all categories of children's books, from picture books to YA, including graphic novels. She also represents literary-commercial fiction, thrillers, psychological suspense/horror, fantasy, speculative fiction, and narrative nonfiction on the adult side.
"Laura gravitates toward the gorgeously written, the weirdly idiosyncratic, and the refreshingly unexpected. The common threads in the diverse range of projects Laura represents are conflicted, dynamic characters; a fresh, strong voice; an unusual point of view; and vivid world-building. She loves works that draw on literary traditions and reimagine them as something completely, captivatingly new. She has a special fondness for books that play with commercial tropes, but give them surprising emotional depth.
"She'd love to find fiction in all categories with an intriguing, thoughtful feminist sensibility. She'd particularly like to find middle grade, YA, or adult fiction that tells an emotionally compelling story in an unusual way – like Shelley Parker-Chan’s SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN, which reimagines Chinese history and examines gender identity and individual power with a distinctive literary voice and speculative edge; or Romina Garber’s LOBIZONA, which blends Argentine mythology and her own immigration experience to confront questions of home, identity, and belonging. In thrillers and psychological suspense/horror, she gravitates towards unreliable narrators and morally ambiguous characters. She looks for street cred and authenticity – whether of trade-craft, investigative technique, historical/geographical setting, culture, or psychology. She’s fascinated with hidden worlds and secret knowledge.
"Laura has a Ph.D. in English Literature and was a faculty member in the English departments of the University of Virginia, Osaka University of Foreign Studies, and Santa Clara University. You can find the latest about Laura on Facebook (laura.rennert.7​) and Twitter (@LitTraveler).” (Link)
About the Agency:
“The Andrea Brown Literary Agency was founded in August 1981 and has offices in the San Francisco Bay area, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
“Our agency works to bring to light the voices and perspectives of new writers as well as to nurture and develop the careers of experienced authors. Our goal, whether seeking to secure a publishing contract for a first book or a fiftieth book, is to make sure that clients are not only published, but published well.
“Our philosophy is to remain a ‘small’ agency at heart. We invest a great deal of personal care and attention in each project, and we are hands-on in all aspects of our interactions with clients. We work closely with clients in an editorial capacity and we devise a strategy at every stage of the writing process that will enable us to find the best publisher for each book. In doing so, we think about both short term and long term goals for our clients, always keeping the trajectory of a successful career in mind.
“Our agents have backgrounds in New York publishing, editing, academia, business, teaching, writing and film, and one of our strengths as an agency is that we work collaboratively. Our clients have the benefit not only of their individual agent's expertise but of the combined experience and vision of the group.
“As a West Coast based agency, we follow a tradition of West Coast innovation in our passion for discovering new voices, in our efforts to make New York publishing more inclusive of voices from other parts of the country, and in our attempt to see publishing trends that result from this broader perspective. We combine this approach with access, standing, and visibility in the publishing community at large. Our agents make regular trips to New York, attend industry conventions, and participate as faculty at writers' conferences all over the country. We ensure a high profile for our clients and actively keep our fingers on the pulse of publishing.” (Link)
Web Presence:
Andrea Brown Agency website. Publisher’s Marketplace page.
Author website.
AgentQuery, QueryTracker.
What She's Looking For:
Laura is seeking middle-grade fiction and YA fiction, graphic novels, picture books by author-illustrators, and adult literary-commercial fiction. She's drawn to contemporary fiction; genre fiction with an emotional underpinning; fiction in all categories that draws on underrepresented cultures, traditions, or mythologies; speculative fiction and alternate histories/realities; fantasy and paranormal; thrillers and horror; and subversive fairy tales. Laura’s sweet spot across the wide range of work she represents is literary voice and commercial conception.

She has a weakness for works that turn her favorite classics or myths inside out (hint, 19th-century Brit Lit, Shakespeare, Dante, fairy tales, non-western mythologies and folklore), give them an unexpected new context, and make us see them with fresh eyes. She loves picture books with wit, whimsy, and heart. She's drawn to works that tell a great story using words and images in unexpected ways, whether for younger or older readers. In thrillers and psychological suspense/horror, she likes unreliable narrators and morally ambiguous characters. She looks for street cred and authenticity (whether of tradecraft, police procedure, historical/geographical setting, psychological profile). She's fascinated with hidden worlds and secret knowledge.

Send Laura fiction with an original, unexpected point of view; a fresh, literary voice; and a strong commercial hook, and you've got her. (Via email)
What She Isn't Looking For:
“Romance, Western, Prescriptive Non-fiction, Spirituality” (Link).
Editorial Agent?
You can find a listing of some Ms. Rennert's clients on the agency website. They include Shannon Messenger, Ellen Hopkins, Mitali Perkins, Romina Garber, Tessa Gratton, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Barry Eisler, Shelley Parker-Chan, Amanda Helander, Lauren Kate, Kimberly Derting, Christina Meldrum, Lily LaMotte, Troy Cummings, Deborah Marcero, Nina Laden, Lisa Mantchev, Victoria Piontek, Heidi Woodward Sheffield, and Tammi Sauer, among others.
Query Methods:
E-mail: No.
Snail-Mail: No.
Online-Form: Yes. at http://QueryMe.Online/LauraRennert.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
Laura uses QueryManager to receive queries. Please follow the prompts in the form and complete all required fields. When submitting your query via QueryManager, you will receive a confirmation of receipt from this program.
  • All submissions should include a short Query Letter to that agent introducing yourself and including a description of your work, as well as previous publishing credentials (if any), and publisher submission history.
  • Following your Query Letter, depending on what you are submitting, you will be asked to include:
    • Picture Book text: full manuscript text typed (or copy/pasted) into the box provided in the QueryManager form
    • Picture Book with illustrations (if you are an artist and writer): attach the full dummy (in pdf format) that includes 1-2 color samples, and provide a link to your online portfolio
    • Illustrations: attach 2-3 illustration samples (in jpeg format), and provide link to online portfolio
    • Fiction (chapter books, MG, YA, adult): first 10 pages typed (or copy/pasted) into the box provided in the QueryManager form
    • Graphic novel (art and text): attach 10-20 sample page spreads in jpg or pdf format, summary/synopsis typed (or copy/pasted) into the box provided in the QueryManager form, and provide link to online portfolio
    • Graphic novel (script only): first 10 pages of script typed (or copy/pasted) into the box provided in the QueryManager form
 Please be sure to enclose a contact phone number as well as your email address.
 If you receive an offer of representation from another agency, please let us know immediately so we can respond accordingly. ​(Via email)
Please see the Andrea Brown Literary website for complete, up-to-date submission guidelines as well as the agency's Submission Advice, Dos and Dont’s, and Tips.
Response Times:
The agency tries to respond within 4-8 weeks but does not guarantee a response due to the large number of submissions they receive. If you have not heard back in 8 weeks, assume rejection. (Link)
What's the Buzz?
Laura Rennert is a highly respected agent who consistently ranks among the top dealmakers on Publisher’s Marketplace for children’s/YA. She has an amazing stable of authors, including many bestsellers and award winners, who seem very loyal and happy with her representation.
You can find Ms. Rennert at the Big Sur Writing Workshop twice a year and at other conferences listed on the ABLA website.
Worth Your Time:
Interviews and Posts:
Why Picture Books Are Important at Picture Book Month (11/2017)
Interview with Agent Laura Rennert at Amy Newman (10/2014)
7 Questions for Literary Agent Laura Rennert at Middle Grade Ninja (02/2013)
Interview with Literary Agent Laura Rennert at Krista Van Dolzer (01/2013)
INTERVIEW: Laura Rennert, Sr. Literary Agent - Andrea Brown Literary Agency at A View from the Top (02/2010).
SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency at Cynsations (01/2010).
Please see the Andrea Brown Literary website for contact and query information.
Profile Details:
Last updated: 5/24/2020.
Agent Contacted For Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 5/26/2020.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.

Tip Tuesday #123

If you missed Natalie's interview yesterday with Jennifer Nielsen, author of THE FALSE PRINCE, please click here. When it first went up, it didn't seem to post to Google Dashboard or Reader, so we want to make sure it wasn't missed. Natalie really loves this book.

Today's wonderfully useful tip was sent in by M.X. Kremzen who blogs about fascinating things here and Tweets @MXKremzen. This is M.X.'s first tip submission so please visit and offer a warm welcome. Here's the tip!
When you're writing a book that falls into speculative genres like fantasy, you're bound to make up names/words along the way. While you have liberty as a writer to play around with spelling and pronunciation, you'll probably want your readers to say a certain name/word the same way you do. This is where a site like Google Translate comes in handy. You can type any word into the text box, hit the speaker icon in the bottom right corner, and an automated voice will pronounce the word for you. For example, I have a species in my sci-fi/fantasy book, The Dark Matter Chronicles, called the Dakarrians. The name was originally spelled "Dakarian' but I found that without the extra 'r', the emphasis fell on the wrong syllable.

It's also useful for figuring out how to pronounce the names of characters in books I'm reading.

-M.X. Kremzen
Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.


Hi everyone. Before we get to the book I'm dying to share with you this week, I'll announce the winner of THE CABINET OF EARTHS. The winner is:


Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book.

Today I’m excited to interview Jennifer Nielsen about her book THE FALSE PRINCE which was released on April 1, 2012. I was so excited when I e-mailed a publicist at Scholastic and she sent me the book. Guys, I LOVED this book. Like in love with it. (Please don't tell my husband that.) It so reminded me of Megan Whalen Turner’s THE QUEEN’S THIEF series with all the political intrigue, deceit, and the main character Sage, a totally self-assured guy who’s resourceful and never afraid to speak his mind. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end.

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king's long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.

Hi Jennifer. Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

About me, hmmm. I’ve lived in northern Utah for my entire life, but I love to travel anywhere. I don’t have a firm opinion of whether hiking in the mountains beats out lounging on a beach, but I definitely think they’re both better than laundry at home! I have three kids who keep me entertained, and an amazing husband who tolerates all of my quirks. Also, it’s very important to add that I can be bribed with chocolate.

I’ve always written stories, but didn’t think seriously about becoming a writer until my adult years when I was a new mom staying at home. To fill the quiet times, I did a lot of reading. And it wasn’t too long before the reading didn’t satisfy my imagination. It was no longer enough to read someone else’s stories. I wanted to create my own. So I began writing and have never looked back.

2. I can be bribed with chocolate too. And I started writing later in life too. Sage is such a great character and has such a great voice. He always has a smart aleck response, especially when he’s talking to Conner who literally has Sage’s life in his hands. How did you create his voice and what tips do you have for the rest of us on creating characters’ voices?

Sage came to me as a nearly complete character, and writing him was more about letting his personality unfold rather than me creating anything. He still remains a powerful voice in my head, nagging me about certain plot points I’m working on, or even making comments on everyday events. A song came on the radio the other day while I was driving and I thought, ooh, Sage would hate that song.

I think for writers, one of the tricks for developing a strong voice in characters is to give them a passion; something or someone they love so much that they will fight for it, yearn for it, and commit any number of plot enhancing acts to obtain it.

3. That's great advice to give your characters a passion. Because most of us have our passionate interests too. THE FALSE PRINCE is full of deceit, political intrigue, and twists I didn’t see coming. Tell us a bit about how you plotted out the story and weaved this all in.

The basics of the story were in my mind for a long time, but I could never find the right protagonist to carry the weight of the plot. I found Sage in the lines of an Eddie Vedder song called “Guaranteed.” It said, “I knew all the rules, but the rules did not know me. Guaranteed.” That line brought to mind a character who knew exactly what game he was playing, and yet he is part of a game in which the rules are very quietly changing. Once I had Sage, every twist of the story I had wanted to tell quickly became clear to me, and I almost couldn’t write it fast enough.

4. That line is totally Sage. I hope someday to have a story I can't write fast enough. That must be such a fulfilling experience. Unlike almost any other YA book I can think of, your book is mostly centered on guys as the main characters—Sage, the two other orphans Tobias and Roden, Conner the nobleman that traps Sage, his servants Cregan and Mott. This should definitely appeal to guys. What were the challenges in writing about a mostly male-dominated world?

I didn’t think about it being a “boy story” – it was just the story that was there to be told. Because of that, I didn’t see this book as having special challenges unique to any other book. I tried to stay honest in the ways each character would behave, according to their personality and goals, and I think Sage has a great chemistry with both his friends and his enemies.

There are two strong female characters in the story: the beautiful princess Amarinda, and Conner’s spirited kitchen servant, Imogen. They’re both very important to Sage’s continuing adventures through the rest of the series.

5. Yes, I loved them both too and am glad they'll be back. But I also think it's great your story is told from a male POV.. This isn’t your first book. Your debut book, ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR, the first book in the UNDERWORLD CHRONICLES series, is a middle grade book and you have two other books in that series. What are the different challenges in writing a YA versus a MG book?

I think whatever you’re writing, it’s very important to know your audience. As readers age and mature, there are great differences between how heavy of a theme they can tolerate, what sorts of things they find funny, how strong the romantic threads of the story are, and so on.

I’ve worked with children for nearly my entire adult life, from toddlers in day care all the way up to high school students. When I was writing, I kept very firmly in my mind a picture of who I expected to be reading the book and drew upon my experiences to focus on that age.

6. Your agent is Ammi-Joan Paquette. Tell us how you found your agent and any advice for the rest of us on finding an agent.

Joan and I came together in a less traditional way. I had submitted ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR to another agent who asked for a major rewrite before he committed to signing me. I had some questions about what I should do and posted them to a group writing list. It turns out Joan was quietly lurking on the list, and when she saw my summary, she emailed me and said that if things didn’t work out with this agent that she’d be interested in reviewing my manuscript (hint: this is why writers must always be careful about what they say in public forums. Had I been complaining about this agent, or the burdens of a rewrite, I doubt that would’ve gotten a response from Joan). I looked Joan up and although she was a new agent, she was with the highly respected Erin Murphy Agency, so Joan went to the top of my list.

The agent who had requested the rewrite ended up turning me down, and almost instantly the revised manuscript went to Joan. She loved it, was enthusiastic and energetic, and moreover, seemed to totally connect with the direction I wanted to take my career. She has been absolutely wonderful, a better agent than I ever could’ve hoped for, and in her career thus far has already made some fabulous deals for her clients.

7. So true you have to be careful what you say on the Internet. And be open to a great experience of a lurking agent liking your work. I read that several publishers were interested in THE FALSE PRINCE. Tell us a little about that and what made you choose Scholastic as your publisher.

In its initial round of submissions, THE FALSE PRINCE went out to six publishers, any of which would’ve been a wonderful home for the book. Lisa Sandell at Scholastic was the first editor to get back to Joan, but because of the various travel schedules for the acquisition team, she asked for a little more time before she could offer on the book. I already knew Lisa’s excellent reputation as an editor, and Scholastic was at the top of my dream publisher list. By the time Scholastic put in its offer, three other publishers had also made offers. Joan gave notice for an auction the following day, and I went sleepless that night. Lisa immediately contacted Joan to say that Scholastic did not want to lose this book and they negotiated a pre-empt deal.

Working with Lisa and the rest of the publishing team at Scholastic has been an amazing experience. They do everything at the highest quality and I couldn’t imagine a finer publishing home for THE FALSE PRINCE.

8. I know we all dream of having an experience like that. What have you learned about marketing effectively from your experiences marketing four books? Is there any difference between marketing a MG book versus a YA book?

Shortly before ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR was released, I received a valuable piece of advice from Erin Murphy about marketing. She said that once a book goes to the final manuscript stage, 90% of what happens to it afterward is out of our control as authors.

Certainly there are things we can do to generate enthusiasm for a release, to spread word about the book, and to promote ourselves as authors – all of that is important. But there is so much we can’t control: the look of the cover, the way the publisher’s marketing team positions the release, reviews, bookstore orders, and shelving decisions.

So Erin’s advice was to put the bulk of our attention on the one aspect of our careers that we most control – which is to write the very best book we can. And once it’s in the publisher’s hands, to start on the next book and to write it the very best we can. I’ve tried hard to follow that advice. I’ll do things to promote my books, but the priority of my time is always on writing the next.

9. It's great advice and great as a writer to see that this is one area of being an author we can all control--writing. What are you working on now?

I’m just getting started on Book 3 of THE FALSE PRINCE series, and so excited for the way things are coming together. I’m also going to write the sixth book of the INFINITY RING series, a new multiplatform series from Scholastic, but there isn’t much I can do on it until later this year. However, there is lots of research to be done, and I can hardly wait to dig into that story. I think kids are going to love that series, so I definitely want to get it right when it’s my turn.

Thanks Jennifer for all your great advice and agreeing to an interview on such short notice. I can't wait to read book 2 in this series. You can find Jennifer at her website.

Scholastic generously offered a copy of THE FALSE PRINCE for a giveaway. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on April 21st. I’ll announce the winner on April 23rd. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment. International entries are welcome.

If you mention this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, please let me know in the comments and I’ll give you an extra entry.

One of the things that I love about THE FALSE PRINCE is that I've seen it described as a YA book, which is how I see it, and a middle grade book. So I'm linking it Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays which was started by ShannonWhitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle GradeReviewers:

Here's what's coming up. Next Monday I'm interviewing Ruth McNally Barshaw, an author and illustrator, and giving away two books in her Ellie McDoodle series. It's a great series and her illustrations just add so much to the novels. Her fourth book in this series is just coming out and as an experienced author, I'm sure she'll have lots of great advice for us. The following Monday I'm hoping to have a panel of high school kids for my ASK THE EXPERT series and will also be giving away 2-3 popular YA books. I've won a lot lately and I want to pass them on. On Wednesday that week, Casey is interviewing Jenny Sanchez-Torrez and giving away an ARC of THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE.

Hope to see you on Monday!