Working with an editor is going to be a part of your drafting process.
Whether you are hoping to traditionally publish your book or self-publish, working with an experienced editor helps you elevate your story and shape it into the strongest possible version of itself. The revision process can feel grueling, but your editor is there to provide another critical set of eyes and help guide you along the way.
The right editor will understand your vision and allow you to say “no.”
While your editor is going to point out areas for improvement and make suggestions on how you might change your story, at the end of the day, the book is yours. If you don’t agree with an edit or it doesn’t feel right, you’re not obligated to take it. Editing is ultimately a collaborative effort on both sides.
In today’s interview, author Vanessa A. Bee details the ways she prepared herself and her manuscript for publication, to great success.
OUR SPECIAL GUEST TODAY IS…
Vanessa A. Bee
Her debut experimental memoir, Home Bound, is available for order now!
In this singular and intimate memoir of identity and discovery, Vanessa A. Bee explores the way we define “home” and “belonging” — from her birth in Yaoundé, Cameroon, to her adoption by her aunt and her aunt’s white French husband, to experiencing housing insecurity in Europe and her eventual immigration to the US.
What is one thing you wish you had known about the publishing process before going through it yourself?
To be honest, I hate surprises and had done a lot of research before even querying my agent. I knew it might be difficult to get an offer from a publisher. I knew advances could be low, especially as a Black debut writer. I also knew that some publishers hang their writers out to dry when it comes to marketing the final book. If anything, I entered the publishing process with low expectations that were ultimately exceeded (to my surprise).
One piece of advice that did come handy came from my friend Pete Davis, who urged me to not be afraid of standing my ground during the editing stage of the book because, at the end of the day, it would be my name on the spine of the book. I did not quite realize that I was allowed to disagree with my editor, who by the way, is both excellent at her job and very kind a person. It went against my instincts to express when I felt strongly about certain edits. But I am glad I ultimately followed Pete's advice.
How did you get your literary agent? What was the querying process like for you?
I blind-queried my literary agent via email after researching Publishers Marketplace for agents who might be a good fit for my (then-potential) memoir. The process was shockingly painless, which I understand to be unusual. I had done a little bit of Googling around and understood that getting a response to my query email alone might take months. Landing an offer might take even longer.
But I got lucky. I queried 7-8 agents in two batches, a few days apart. My agent, who was in that second batch, made me an offer on the day he received my email. That led to an offer from a second agent. I made my choice based on their personal client lists, their literary agencies' client lists, and their sales records, all of which could be garnered from the Publishers Marketplace database and their agencies' websites.
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How do you balance finding time to write and managing other obligations and responsibilities?
I work a sometimes-demanding 9-to-5, which required me to pick at my book drafts in the early mornings and late nights. I also wrote for long stretches on the weekends. It was exhausting at times but I love the craft, and in the moment, it felt fine — good, even. I am hardly writing now, with a 10-month-old baby and book tour well underway. But I am hoping to incorporate it into my routine again when this season of travel ends.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? What's your drafting strategy?
I'm definitely a plotter. A lot of my initial marinating happens lying down, eyes closed, either on the sofa or in bed right before going to sleep. Next, I generally to jot down concepts and diagrams in my notebook, which tends to stimulate additional ideas about the structure of the thing. If the essay or chapter is fairly complex, I follow with a rough outline. The longer the pieces, the easier it is to get lost in the writing. Can't hurt to have a map of the argument at the ready. Only then do I start drafting on my laptop. I edit and edit and edit, before obtaining feedback from trusted readers. Then, I edit some more, chiseling until the essay or chapter sounds right, which can take me anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years.
What is the most memorable writing tip or technique that you have heard, and how did it influence your process?
I am not sure where I heard it, but reading my work out loud while editing has become an essential part of my process, particularly when working on long form essays. It's a great way to gauge the rhythm of the piece, and catch errors or parts that aren't working.
This is great
Thank you very much for this article. It was a nice quick read and it’s great to hear a successful writing story. This made me less nervous about the querying process when I’m ready. I’m still working on my fiction draft. What suggestions do you have if my fiction work overlaps into various categories? In searching for a potential category to describe my work to a literary agent it may not exactly fit into the traditional categories. Do you have suggestions on how to best describe a novel that’s character driven but also what I would call “educational fiction?” The novel also educates the reader. Thank you!