Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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.


Happy New Year Everyone! Hope you had a great holiday season and are looking forward to a great year. I really am career-wise, on a personal level, and with the blog. I've got lots of awesome debut authors scheduled and a number of author/agent posts with query critique opportunities. I'm also hoping to work on my agent spotlights, including updating some of the old ones.

Before I get to my awesome guest post by the amazing Shutta Crum, I want to start out with my first new change.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of the month is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Yes, I finally joined this awesome group! I will keep my posts short because they will be paired by an author interview or guest post. I'll be posting the first Wednesday of the month instead of the first Monday from now on.

I never talk about my own writing on the blog so thought I'd share a bit this month. I started out many years ago as an aspiring MG and YA fantasy author. I have one completed MG manuscript and a start on a YA idea. Over the years since I have been blogging, it has taken up all of my writing time because I've also been a full-time attorney, caretaker to my husband, who has since died, and a dedicated mom. 

About two years ago, I got laid off from my job due to funding cuts, and I now have a full-time career as a contract writer. I work at home for a web marketing firm and write articles for attorney websites. Like just about all writing jobs, it doesn't pay well and comes with no benefits. But I love it, and I get a pay check every month that sort of supports my daughter and me. I can't believe I'm supporting myself this way. Unfortunately, because I don't make much money, I have to try to pick up more paying writing jobs through my company instead of using free time to write fiction like I have loved in the past. So that type of writing is on hold. 

I'm okay with this though. Living alone and already writing, I need to get out of my writing cave, not spend more time in it. It's that writer's balance issue. And I really feel this blog provides a service to so many writers that I don't mind using my creative writing energy on this instead of personal writing. So I am a writer, but just a different one than I first imagined. And I never dreamed that I could support myself doing it.

That's it for today! Now onto a fantastic guest post from Shutta Crum, who I met as a children's librarian in Ann Arbor. She has since retired, but has a fantastic career as a writer. She may not hit it big with any one book, but she keeps on selling them--something vital if you want to grow your career. Today she's sharing her advice on how she was able to do this. 

Here's Shutta!

Making it in the Middle: The Mulish March of a “Mid-Lister”

When I was a child I always wanted to play teacher, or librarian. I read a lot and valued books, but they were scarce in our household. I begged, borrowed, stole and even garbage-picked them whenever I could. So when I became a librarian and was able to be surrounded by books everyday—it seemed like I had climbed the loftiest pinnacle. I loved that job!

Consequently, years later, I went through an emotionally difficult time when I decided to step down from library management and take a half-time children’s reference position—so I could spend more time writing.  I was taught you just don’t do this! I should have been working toward becoming the library director, instead. (And writing on the side, if I had to.) And here I was back-pedaling! To top it off, all I had to qualify me as an author was two books slated for publication the following year. It was a scary decision, but one I did not regret.

Since I was in a business frame of mind—and being a librarian—I went about in a very organized fashion preparing myself for my new career. I read writing books, hooked up with SCBWI, joined a critique group and, of course, continued to read voraciously.

Also, I asked myself a very career-minded question:  How will I know when I’ve succeeded as an author? After all, this was not going to be a hobby. From the outset I saw it as a career change. So it seemed to me there should be a definitive answer to that question.

If I’d become the library director I would have marked that with a big star. Check! So . . . how might I measure my success in this new field?

At that time, I answered the question from my perspective as a librarian. I liked it when I could go to the shelves and retrieve a couple of books by a favorite writer. And I liked it when authors seemed to have a new book out every year or so. So I thought, if I can get ten books published I’ll feel like I’ve reached some measure of success. Ten books seemed like a hefty enough oeuvre to retain a following of readers, and continued consideration by library selectors. Ten was my goal.

Now, some fifteen books and many wonderful relationships with other writers later, I see that my answer was incredibly naïve. There are many ways to measure success in an art form—whether it’s emotionally connecting with just one person, inspiring others, getting fan mail from kids, creating from “thin air” something that has never existed before and that will continue to exist after the physical body of the creator is gone. There are about a gazillion ways an author can rest assured that he or she has succeeded. I know that now.

It isn’t a matter of being at the top of a hierarchy as one might be in business—for example being a library director. It’s more a matter of recognizing successes as they come along and celebrating those, while knowing that tomorrow will bring more and other kinds of successes. There is no glass ceiling, as it were, in the writing world—other than having ability and a certain mulish stubbornness that keeps you at it.

That said, we all know authors who are one book wonders. The debut book shines and is gobbled up everywhere, and then nothing. Or nothing for years and years.

So what does it mean to make it in the middle—to be consistently published, but perhaps not to the same acclaim as others? Sometimes it’s hard to see that as a success. (We are always hardest on ourselves.) At other times it’s been a source of pride—and wonder. Check!

I no longer worry about measurements (nor objectives and goals). I write to please only myself. And if I happen to please readers along the way, that’s the colorful cranberry relish on the Thanksgiving table—something sweet and delightful that augments all the other dishes.

No one starts out wanting to be middling. But making it in the middle is a happy place to be. So here are a few tips about being a successful mid-lister.

1.  Be flexible. This means be willing to work with an editor on revisions, suggestions, etc. Try things he/she may suggest. If it doesn’t work, be honest about it. But most of all he/she wants to know: can I work with this person? So make it an enjoyable experience for the whole team. Your editor wants to enjoy his/her work as much as you do yours.

2.  Be experimental. You won’t become a continually published author if you’ve only got one basic story. Sure, some of us do series. But experiment, your editor wants to see fun, new ideas. And if you’ve accomplished #1 above, your editor will want to see you expand your range, as well. I write board books, picture books, middle-grade and young YA. That range is also what has made it possible for me to average a published book a year.

3.  Be trustworthy and upfront. This goes with #1—keeping your team happy. My editors know when
a book with a different company is coming out, so there’s no conflict. Keep everyone informed.
4.  Be trusting. This, too, goes with #1—keeping your team happy. Don’t nag your agent or editor. Sure . . . sometimes it seems like the Taj Mahal is being rebuilt during the lengthy gaps between communications. But the wheels are moving.

5. Be helpful. Once a book is out do all you can to promote it. Do public speaking, teaching, writing posts and articles for magazines. And have a social media stance. Make bookmarks and postcards. (Your publishing house may, or may not, be able to help with these costs.) And promote other authors, as well. Let your editor see that you’re a hard-working member of the team, and the children’s lit world in general.

6.  Be a devourer of the work of others. Read—a lot! Study the award winners. Read reviews. Look to see what’s being pushed in the market place. Meet with like-minded folks who tear apart technique and who discuss all those down and dirty details: voice, POV, pacing, mood, plot, etc. Along with this, be a listener. Really try to understand how others are trying to help you when they critique your work. In short, don’t stint this education that you need in order to do your job well. If you were doing brain surgery, you bet your sweet patootie you’d be up on all the latest techniques!

7. Be industrious. You have to trust that another book will be sold, so that means that you have to have another book ready. Do NOT take years in between! Editors move around to other publishers. Agents come and go. A relationship you may have one year, may be gone the next. So don’t take five years to get another manuscript ready to go into the pipeline. Keep honing your craft and flattening your butt (by keeping it in your chair). Sure, life happens and sometimes gaps are unavoidable. But once you get back in the saddle. Stay there!

8.  Be brave. If this is the life you want, then stand up for it. Demand time from your family and loved ones to be able to make your art. Set boundaries, and surround yourself with people who will support you and honor your work. (I know. This is often the most difficult thing to accomplish, but accomplish it you must.)

9. Be mulish. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this. With the right tools, the willingness to educate yourself, and the time to work—you can do it. A mule is a hard-working breed that is a cross between a female horse and a male donkey. It has a certain flair from the wild beauty of horses, and a deep intelligence from donkeys. Fling that mane! Be mulish.
*******************************More about Shutta*******************************
Shutta’s latest novel is WILLIAM AND THE WITCH’S RIDDLE (Knopf). Many of her books have made best book lists, or were listed for state awards. Her picture book THUNDER-BOOMER! (Clarion) garnered four starred reviews and was an SLJ Best Book, a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book and an ALA Notable Book. And of MINE! (Knopf) the N. Y. Times said, “. . . a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.” More about Shutta and her books at: www.shutta.com. And on Facebook at ShuttaCrum
Here's a blurb of WILLIAM AND THE WITCH'S RIDDLE from Goodreads:
A charming re-imagination of “Sleeping Beauty” in which a boy must solve a witch’s riddle in order to save his family and end a centuries-long curse.
William and his little brother, Pinch, have been left alone at their home atop the mountain ever since their mother disappeared and their father went to look for her. When William is visited by a mysterious witch named Morga, it seems their lives might be in danger—unless they help the witch solve a riddle and find a dark family heirloom.

William sets out on a quest that leads him into the heart of the Old Forest. There his mother rests in the deep sleep of an ancient curse, her only companions a boy who wakes up a different size every day and a tiny yellow dragon who can dream storms into life.

Can William solve Morga’s riddle, or will he unleash Morga’s curses upon the world?
Shutta is generously offering a copy of WILLIAM AND THE WITCH'S RIDDLE 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 through January 21st. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is for U.S. and Canada. 

Agent Query Critique Contest You Might Be Interested In

Agent Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency has an awesome query critique contest. FYI this contest announcement has a link to the post with the rules. This is follower Kristin Bartley Lenz's agent.

WriteOnCon Is Back

I recently heard that WriteOnCon, the online conference for writers' in children's publishing, is back with new organizers. The conference is scheduled for February 2-4.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, January 9th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Mark Gottlieb and a query critique giveaway

Monday, January 16th, debut author Jennifer Torres will here with a guest post and a giveaway of her multicultural MG STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN

Monday January 23rd, I'll be interviewing debut author Brianna Shields with a giveaway of her YA fantasy POISON'S KISS

Monday January 30th, debut author Celeste Lin will be here doing a guest post with her agent Rosemary Stimola and a giveaway of Celeste's MG THE BRIDE FROM HUNAN

Hope to see you on Monday!


L. Diane Wolfe said...

The middle means you are consistent. You have a steady flow of income, steady flow of output, and you are keeping your fans happy.

I'm sorry you don't have time for personal writing anymore. But you do support yourself with writing and very, very few people can do that.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Welcome to IWSG, Natalie. I feel bad that you don't have much writing time. You are doing so much for other writers and the writing community in general.

Nice to meet Shutta Crum, loved her tips, they resonated with me.

S.P. Bowers said...

Measuring yourself as a writer is hard. Hubby and I have had discussions about this. What is success? I guess it's up to the person and what they want out of it. I love librarians!

Natalie, Happy new year! I'm wishing you the best year possible. Thanks for this blog, It is a huge help to the writing community. I hope I'm not alone though in saying that if you need the time for your personal writing we'd be okay with that. Sometimes you need to do things for yourself.

Unknown said...

Natalie - I'm so glad to hear you're getting writing work, and it's great to know you have a bit more time to devote to the blog that's such a great service to writers. 8 years ago I was starting to write and always came to this blog to investigate agents. I never imagined I'd actually know one of the bloggers!
Shutta - Great advice! I especially like the part about being flexible (though if you are and your agents/editors aren't, it's not so fun). I totally believe in writing to please yourself! I wish I could get to the publishing-one-book-a-year threshold though.
(Don't put me in the drawing as I live too far away.)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You're still a self-supported writer and that is just amazing. And I know how you feel. I'd rather put my energies into others and the IWSG than write for myself.
Welcome to the IWSG, Natalie!

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica Lawson said...

Thanks for the personal updates, Natalie~ it's great to hear what's going on with you as a writer! Love this post about the midlist~ great tips and advice from Shutta. This book (and her others) sounds fabulous!

Side note~ I'm so glad to hear that WriteOnCon is back. I loved that conference :)

Tamara Narayan said...

It must feel good to make a living by writing even if it's not always the kind of writing you most like to be doing! I enjoyed Shutta's interview as well. Lots of good advice. We have to be mulish. And here's my address, just in case: tamara (dot) narayan (at) gmail (dot) com

Jemi Fraser said...

Yay you on supporting yourself by writing! Not many people can say that :) Completely awesome!

Love Shutta's attitude and courage! Always good traits for a writer :)

Buffy Silverman said...

Inspiring others--that's a measure of success that both you and Shutta have greatly achieved with your writing and giving.

Gwen Gardner said...

I love Shutta's story! Thanks for sharing it. I so much agree that just being in the pack (of publishing authors) is awesome.

It's wonderful that you get to stay home and do what you love, Natalie. It's not always about the money. Nourishing the creative soul is important.

Sadira Stone said...

Thank you for this very informative and encouraging post. I especially love the bit about flattening one's butt! I wish both Natalie and Shutta health, happiness, and writing success in 2017. If nothing else, the coming year promises us much to write about!

Danielle H. said...

Great post, Shutta! Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to read your book!! I shared on my tumblr blog: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/155396118512/iwsg-and-shutta-crum-guest-post-and-william-and

Kristin Lenz said...

I've learned so much from Shutta over the years - grateful to be able to see her in person a few times a year!

Good idea to share my agent Carrie's latest query critique opportunity. She does them on a regular basis via her blog:

And Natalie - what you wrote is so true - writing is writing in so many different forms. My social work career has melded into freelance writing for non-profits/social service agencies, and I'm grateful to be able to do this type of work too. Happy New Year!

cleemckenzie said...

I've followed you for a long time and have seen how you weathered these storms in your life--and there have been some gales. I'm so pleased to hear about your writing success.

I loved reading Shutta's post, too. Flexibility seems to stand out for me. I'd be in piece by now if I didn't bend and flex.

Happy 2017 to both of you.

Stephanie Faris said...

Isn't it funny how our goals and dreams change over time? We're still writing--just in a different way. I related to this so much!

mshatch said...

Hope you find some time to write for yourself more this coming year, Natalie, and thanks to Shutta for stopping by. The Witch's Riddle sounds like a ton of fun :)

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I too have shifted focus to freelance writing over doing my own thing. Not only for the money but also the satisfaction of getting work done and helping others. Writing comes in different forms. Congrats Natalie and Happy New Year.

Shutta Crun, you are writing, supporting yourself and living a happy life. Those are essential milestones too many ignore for other things not nearly as healthy in the end. Congrats my dear on your accomplishments and wishing you many more in the future.

2017 IWSG January Co-Host

Crystal Collier said...

Natalie, you are a strong woman and have faced some amazing challenges. Thank you for sharing a little more about yourself.

Miss Shutta Crun (love the pseudonym), wonderful to meet you! Thank you for the fabulous advice. We all go in with a bit of naivete, eh? Else why would we jump in to begin with? ;)

Chemist Ken said...

Great to hear you've joined IWSG, Natalie. I miss seeing you at the SE Michigan SCBWI meetings. If I had more time, I'd stop by the Ann Arbor meetings too.

And as far as Shutta's advice, if I had had any idea what I was getting into when I first began writing, I'm sure I would have run away screaming. But now I'm hooked, so that's that.

Heather M. Gardner said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing your writing story with us. It can't be easy, but it sounds like you're making it work. I hope it continues to be profitable for you and your family.
Heather M. Gardner
Co-host- The Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Cynthia said...

Welcome to IWSG, Natalie! I admire how you've kept your blog going after all these years while taking care of yourself and your daughter through your writing abilities.

Congratulations to Shutta on her new book!

Gerardine Baugh said...

Hi Natalie!

Condolences on your husband’s death, and cheers on how you were able to write articles for attorney websites: I have zero knowledge of legal workings, but it is my goal to find a way to make money writing from home. I am really happy to have found you through IWSG. I will now continue reading through your Blog. Wow-

I will be printing out Shutta's list I love #9. Be mulish.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Welcome to the IWSG! It's wonderful to have you!!!
And it's great to get to know a little more about you. It's so great that you can support yourself and your daughter through writing. It rarely is what we ever first planned, but that's life.

And hi to Shutta. Great tips!

Dee Knabb said...

Natalie, what a writing journey you've had. It's inspirational. I will follow IWSG.
Shutta's story is brave and gutsy too. Nice tips.

Carrie Pearson, children's book author said...

Thanks for all you do for the writer community...insecure or secure, mid-listers, newbies, and oldies alike! I think the commonality among all is a desire to put good work into the world and you and LR are fostering this! Love your tips, Shutta. Always learning from you...

Bish Denham said...

Welcome to IWSG, Natalie! You are indeed a writer, whether it's fiction or not. As long as you are happy/content that's all that matters.

That's some great advice from Shutta and William and the Witch's Riddle sounds like a fun read. I've tweeted about it!

Unknown said...


I appreciate and applaud your generous attitude toward the writing life. Lots of us have roles in the writing world besides writing new books. But your golden support, information, encouragement and voice enrich the whole writing climate where good art is being committed. Applause.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Natalie,

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Nice to see you at the IWSG!!!! YAY! and WELOME! Thanks for sharing your life with us. And for featuring all the amazing people you do...

SHutta's interview was very informative and her energy is certainly visible... Congrats to her and her works!

Penny said...

I follow by email. Thanks for the post. I think my daughter would really like this book.

Marilyn said...

Thanks for the post, Shutta. Great advice for any writer, no matter where he or she is in the writing process. And WILLIAM AND THE WITCH'S RIDDLE sounds like a great book. Cant wait to read it!

Unknown said...

Yay Natalie, so glad you've finally joined IWSG! It's the only reason I still blog :-) And thanks for the guest post, Shutta. I'd love to make it to the mid-list!

Natasha said...

Great post!
I follow by email.
This book sounds like a great read!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

jean602 said...

Sounds like a good book.

Sue said...

Great, inspiring post, Natalie and Shutta! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

Unknown said...

Would love to win this book! I've always loved books with witches! monicachess26(@)gmail(.)com I've also tweeted about it for a 2nd chance: https://twitter.com/ChessmoreMonica/status/817745097144107008

Denise Covey said...

Natalie, welcome to IWSG. I knew some of that about you, but it was great to get to know you a little more. It would be wonderful to achieve everything we want, but as Shutta says, that might look different from what you first imagine.

What a great interview with Shutta. One of the best. I really related to it. I feel a bit like a one-book wonder, but I'm putting in the hours and the effort and hope I can eventually get a book a year out there. Not easy in anyone's books! Happy New Year!!

DMS said...

I learned a lot about you, Natalie! I love that you are so easy-going and flexible when it comes to changes with work. Having a good attitude certainly helps! :) Wishing you the best of luck with more writing jobs that help pay the bills.

Wonderful to hear from Shutta. Her advice was great! I would love to win a copy of William and the Witch's Riddle. Thanks for the chance. :)

Empty Nest Insider said...

Natalie, I'm glad you've joined the IWSG! You've been through so much and have such a positive attitude that you'll be a great asset to the group! I hope with your busy schedule that you've found time to take care of yourself, since you've devoted so much time and energy to taking care of your husband and your daughter. Shutta said she writes for herself and you deserve to do something for yourself too.

Happy New Year!


MunirGhiasuddin said...

I want to write about the hardships of being in America and trying to keep up with the culture of India as well( I am from India and was twenty years old when I left home). My parents were smart enough to send me to an English medium school in case I got married to some one who is working in England and or the USA. The thing is, it is not just the language, a lot of things are different and I would like to write about the differences. My fear is that some people might not like it if I write about the difficulties of being an Indian woman.

Shutta said...

Hah, Crystal! It's no pseodonym I'm lugging around. That's the name my parents bestowed upon me! Believe me, if I could make up my own pseudonym it would be a little less bizarre. Lol. And hugs. Shutta

Shutta said...

Thank you, Rachna.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Shutta! Glad everyone is enjoying her post.

Suzanne Warr said...

First, one thousand and one hugs, Natalie! I so admire your courage both in being okay with this shift and in sharing it. I can really relate to the challenges inherent in rolling with the curves life throws!

And a big thank you to Shutta, too! That post was amazing, and just what I needed. My brain was a sponge, soaking it up. And no, that's not weird at all. ;)

Email is spartan underscore writer at yahoo dot come. Have a beautiful week!

erica and christy said...

Natalie, I'm so glad you shared about yourself and joined the IWSG. I'm a newbie too. I'm sorry to hear about your husband, and I greatly admire your optimism, courage, and openness. Your blog most definitely has always been helpful to me. And I'd also heard that about Writeoncon! That's where I first got started and met all my blogging friends in 2010. Best, Christy

Unknown said...

Shutta, so enjoyed your post full of top-notch insights. I made goals too! In the beginning, I set my sights on 100 story and article sales, then worked hard. Today, I've stopped counting at 350+. Love you and your writing!

Arf2-D2 said...

Sometimes I like reimaginings of classic stories. This one sounds like a fun one - and a bit different from others

Arf2-D2 said...