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 Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Tanya Guerrero here to share about her MG contemporary HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA. It sounds like a page-turning story that will pull at your heart. And it’s set in a fantastic setting—the Philippines.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Pablo is homesick.

He’s only twelve years old, but he’s lived in more countries than he can count. After his parents divorced, he and his mother have moved from place to place for years, never settling anywhere long enough to call it home. And along the way, Pablo has collected more and more fears: of dirt, of germs, and most of all, of the ocean.

Now they’re living in the Philippines, and his mother, a zoologist who works at a local wildlife refuge, is too busy saving animals to notice that Pablo might need saving, too. Then his mother takes in Chiqui, an orphaned girl with a cleft lip—and Pablo finds that through being strong for Chiqui, his own fears don’t seem so scary.

He might even find the courage to face his biggest fear of all…and learn how to make friends with the sea.

Hi Tanya! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Hi! I’m Tanya Guerrero, a Filipino-Spanish MG author based in the Philippines. In my free time, I love to bake sourdough bread, grow my own fruits and veggies, collect houseplants, and of course read. I also volunteer for an animal welfare organization, and have my own mini-rescue at home, with three dogs and twenty-five cats, (yep, you read that right!)
My writing journey started in my late thirties, I guess you could say I was having an early mid-life crisis of sorts. I’d always dreamed of being an author, but all my life, I was convinced it was an unattainable career choice. As I was nearing my forties, though, I thought why not give it a shot?

2. That's awesome that you took the leap. Where did you get the idea for your story?

Travel has always been a huge part of my life. I have no real memory of it, but I got my first passport when I was only a few months old. And when I was quite young, my older sister and I would often travel solo from the Philippines to Spain to visit family. When my parents separated, I went to live with my maternal grandparents in Barcelona for a couple of years, and even though I’d been to Spain on vacations, living there full-time was a pretty big adjustment. I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, and the lifestyle was so different to what I was used to. And just when we were settling into our lives there, we moved to New York City to live with my mom. That was an even bigger adjustment. I knew nothing about American life and culture other than the TV shows I’d seen. For the longest time, I felt like an awkward immigrant kid who didn’t quite fit in. Between the ages of twelve and eighteen, I went back and forth, between Manila and New York City quite a few times.
Although there were a lot of advantages to this kind of childhood, the one negative aspect for me was anxiety. I worried a lot about everything. So that’s basically what inspired HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA, and its main character, Pablo.

3. That's great that you could tap into your own feelings. Your story is set in the Philippines and you currently live there. How has that helped you get the setting and cultural aspects of your story right?

As someone who grew up in three different countries and traveled extensively as a child and adult, I’ve always found tons of inspiration in the places I’ve lived and visited. Paying attention to the sounds, the smells, the colors, the textures of a particular setting is so important in getting to know the heart of a destination and the heart of its culture.
Though I am half-Filipino, for a big chunk of my life, I lived away from the Philippines. So when I moved back to Manila at the age of twelve, I felt completely removed from my own culture—like a foreigner even though my father is Filipino. 
Because of my unique situation, I broached my setting and characters in a very specific manner. I purposely made Pablo, half-Spanish and half-American to reflect my mom’s side of the family and the many years I lived in the US. The way Pablo feels disconnected to his life in the Philippines, mirrors the same feelings I had when I moved back. Through his character, I show what it was like to learn, to discover, to appreciate the Philippines, its culture, and especially the Filipino people.
Living in the Philippines, definitely helped me make the setting as vivid and authentic as possible. There are plenty of details I included to make sure that readers who have never been to the Philippines, might feel more connected, more familiar with the place, as if they’ve taken a short trip, or watched a documentary about it. I hope that it’ll encourage American kids to become curious about other parts of the world besides their own.

4. People who have read an ARC of HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA are raving about it and saying that they couldn’t put it down. I think it can be harder to make a contemporary story a page turner. How did you do this and what are your tips for other writers?

Admittedly, contemporary MG books are not as easy to sell as other sub-genres, like fantasy or mysteries. For me, what is essential in a good contemporary story, is that sweet spot that hits just the right amount of heartbreak, heartfelt emotion, humor, adventure—all wrapped up with a big dose of hopefulness at the end. I also think it’s important to include a high-stakes plot element, since in contemporary stories, there usually isn’t a villain to propel the plot forward.

5. That's great advice. Did Pablo come to you as a fully formed character or did he grow as you wrote his story?

When I first started envisioning Pablo’s character, he came to me quite fully formed. However, since I am a pantser, many of the nuances of his character came to me as I was writing. I find this method to be quite effective in creating a multi-layered character, because he/she/they can grow in a realistic manner as the story progresses.

6. What was a challenge that you had in writing your manuscript? How did you overcome it?

I'll be completely honest here. When I started writing HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA,
I had this fear that readers would be turned off by a book set in a different country with a lot of Tagalog and Spanish dialogue. But as soon as my ARCs went out, and I started getting reviews, I was surprised that readers could really relate to Pablo's story, despite all the cultural differences and language barriers. It's made me a lot more confident about writing in settings outside of the US, as well as including as much non-English dialogue as I want.

My publisher did end up requesting a glossary in the back of the book with Tagalog words and phrases, so that readers can look stuff up should they want to, as they read along. It’s not a necessity to enjoy the story, but it’s just an additional resource that teachers can also use an an educational tool.

7. Your agent is Wendy Schmaltz. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

It took me two books to get my agent. The first book I wrote got nothing but rejections. Gosh, I must have gotten at least a hundred! My second book though, was a lot more encouraging. I received plenty of partial and full requests, one of those was from my agent Wendy. She only took a couple of weeks to read my entire manuscript, and afterwards, we had a phone conversation which led to an offer of representation. Once I had my agent, I was feeling a lot more hopeful that becoming a published author could possibly become a reality for me.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA was the third book I wrote, my first two were YA books that went on sub with a couple of close calls, but ultimately ended up being shelved. I had gotten feedback from one editor that my voice seemed quite young—more juvenile than the YA market. So I decided to give MG a chance. In a way moving to a different age group kind of refreshed my creative juices. I wrote the draft fairly quickly, in about three to four months. And when my agent read it, she felt quite strongly that it was polished enough for submissions, (I edit heavily when I draft). It initially went out to six editors and after six weeks it went out to two more. One of those editors adored it, and requested a call with me to discuss a revise and resubmit she wanted to suggest. I loved her ideas, so I rolled my sleeves up and revised the first fifty pages. About three months into subs, my agent got the call that they loved my revision and that acquisitions had an offer.
So that’s basically how I decided to pursue writing, and how my journey to becoming a traditionally published author happened. All in all, the process took about five years.

8. That's awesome that you decided to try to write MG instead of YA and actually did it. How are your planning to market your book? How are you planning to promote it in the U.S. given that you live in another country?

Living outside the US is definitely a challenge when it comes to promoting a book published in the US. However, there are so many resources online these days to help get the word out, whether it’s book reviewers, book bloggers, trade reviews, platforms such a Goodreads, etc. I also interact with as many teachers, librarians and readers, as possible on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Skype visits are also a way for me to connect to kids at schools around the world. It’s also helped immensely to be part of the 2020 debut groups, The Roaring 20’s Debuts and Class of 2K20 Books, since we support each other’s books, schedule Twitter chats, organize promotional mailings and giveaways. Ideally, I’d also like to do some events and conferences in the US. This year, I’ll hopefully get to do that once or even twice so that I can meet with readers and educators face to face.

9. You are the secretary of the Class of 2K20 Books, a debut group of MG and YA authors. How did you find out about and start this group? When should an author who signs a book contract reach out to a debut group for their year and how do you find these groups at their beginning stages?

As I stated above, I’m a member of two debut groups, but I am secretary of the Class of 2K20 Books. I joined The Roaring 20’s Debut group pretty soon after my book deal announcement, when I saw some chatter about it on Twitter. Once I was in the group, I connected with a few MG authors, and we’ve had an ongoing Facebook chat ever since. One of the authors, is Janae Marks, whose debut, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON, came out on January 14th. She asked me if I was interested in becoming co-admins of the Class of 2K20 Books, (a smaller debut group with only 20 members), and I immediately agreed. It’s been a wonderful support system, and as an author living outside the US, an amazing way for me to get the much needed promotion for HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA.

I would recommend joining a debut group as soon as possible, because it really is the best way to make author friends and to find the support that is necessary during your debut year.

10. I totally agree that joining a debut group would be so helpful .What are you working on now?

I actually just finished my second round of revision for my next book, ALL YOU KNEAD IS LOVE, which will be published by FSG BYR in 2021. Here is the short synopsis that was included in the Publisher's Weekly announcement:
The middle grade novel is about a 13-year-old girl of Filipino and Spanish descent who goes to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona to escape a domestic violence situation at home, and who finds new friends, rediscovers family, and uncovers a hidden talent for bread baking. 
My main character is named, Alba, and I hope readers will love her as much as they love Pablo.
In between revisions, I also have a WIP, which I’m hoping will be my third book. It’s a historical MG set in 1986 with a sprinkling of magic and fantasy. Hopefully, you’ll hear more about this soon! 

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Tanya. You can find Tanya at:

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Book Depository and other outlets, but will release on March 31st, 2020.
Please make sure to add it up on Goodreads here:

I can also be reached through my website:

And social media:

Tanya has generously offered a pre-order of HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA 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 March 21st. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog or follow me on Twitter, 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 International as long as The Book Depository ships there for free.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Saturday, March 14 I am participating in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop 

Monday, March 16 I have an interview with author Beverly McClure and a giveaway of her YA contemporary GABE'S GUARDIAN ANGEL

Monday, March 18 I have an agent spotlight interview with Ann Rose and a query critique giveaway

Monday, March 25 I have an interview with debut author Alechia Dow  and giveaway of her YA sci-fi THE SOUND OF STARS

Hope to see you on Saturday!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It sounds like you were able to pour a lot of your own experiences and fears into this book. I also moved around a lot, living in several countries, and while it's a great experience, it's also scary starting over again and again.

Greg Pattridge said...

What a great sounding plot! I have put this one high on my list of books to read soon. Thanks for the insightful interview.

June McCrary Jacobs said...

Congratulations on your debut release, Tanya! This was an interesting interview, Natalie and Tanya. I love the cover art and the subject matter for this book. Thank you for sharing it for MMGM.

Danielle H. said...

I just read about and added this book on Goodreads this morning and I love the setting and plot. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/612139428500144128/tanya-guerrero-interview-and-how-to-make-friends

Ilona Bray said...

Thanks for sharing info on all the revising that went into this book! I look forward to reading the final version.

Pat Hatt said...

Traveling so much and having all those experiences sure must make it great to look back on for writing indeed.

DMS said...

Interesting to learn where the idea for the story came from and I always enjoy reading about people's paths to publication. This sounds like a great book! Best of luck to Tanya. :)

Maria Antonia said...

Thanks for the interview. I always love hearing how books come into being!

Patricia T. said...

Fascinating interview. I really believe readers enjoy books set in different countries, as they learn so much about the culture.And, I'm excited to see anoth book about the Philippines--not too many out there. I also like how Pablo conquers his fear by helping a girl with a cleft lip -- rarely seen in books. Also enjoyed learning about your journey as a writer.

Jenni said...

This sounds like an amazing book. I'm always excited to see more books set in other countries. I loved hearing about the inspiration for this book and Tanya's journey as a writer. Another great interview!

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This book sounds absolutely wonderful! I also appreciated the discussion about the road to publication and about publicizing a book while living outside of the US. Thanks for the great interview!

Mary Preston said...

Happy to read a book with a different language throughout.


nashvillecats2 said...

Most enjoyable interview Natalie. made excellent reading.


Claire Bobrow said...

Great interview! This book sounds amazing, and I can't wait to read it. Congrats, Tanya!

Debra Branigan said...

I am so glad that you chose to make this a MG book. I look forward to reading and sharing with my favorite MG reader. I would love a reunion with the Tagalog language. It's been awhile. I think it important that children get a chance to experience other cultures, along with their language and books are one way to do that. Thank you for the interview and the chance.

Rosi said...

I always enjoy reading your interviews. This sounds like a really wonderful book. I always feel hopeful when another pantser has success. I will pass on the giveaway. Buried in books here. Thanks for the post.

Brenda said...

Sounds like a wonderful premise and one that will resonate with quite a few kids. I especially love that you drew from your experiences growing up. Have a lovely week Natalie.

tetewa said...

Enjoyed the interview today, I always like finding new authors. Sounds like a good one! tWarner419@aol.com

Sue Heavenrich said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview! I like meeting new authors, and am looking forward to reading this book - and the next!

Empty Nest Insider said...

Though Tanya must have had a very difficult childhood moving from country to country, she seems to have made the most of her experience. It's impressive that Tanya also found the time to be secretary of the Class of 2K20 Books, as well as a member of another MG-YA group. She sounds like a multitasker like you, Natalie! All the best with your new book, Tanya!


Rachna Chhabria said...

Congratulations on your book, it sounds super!

Crystal @ Lost in Storyland said...

I'm excited to learn about this book because I have Filipino friends who would love to read a Filipino #OwnVoices MG book! Thanks for sharing about this book and your writing journey, Tanya!

Natalie, I follow you on Twitter.