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Tamika Burgess SincerelySicily hc c

Latinidad – Spring 2023: Sincerely Sicily

1. Saludos
2. Q&A: Tamika Burgess
3. Resources: Cricket Magazine

“Marcela and I first connected when Gallery published my debut novel in 2006, and we’ve stayed in contact over the years. I regularly checked out her website and, of course, her terrific Latinidad ezine. I’ve long admired her advocacy for and support of writers, as well as her sharp observations of the publishing biz.

So when I was at a crossroads in my writing career and desperately needed a savvy insider’s perspective, I scheduled a phone consultation with Marcela. Wow! It was all I’d hoped for and more. She began the conversation with a thoughtful and thorough analysis of my situation. She provided concrete suggestions on how I could pursue my goals. She was warm and friendly, but firm, steering me toward future opportunities, many that had never crossed my mind.

My only regret is that I waited so long to schedule my first consultation! It certainly won’t be my last.”
Marta Acosta, award-winning author of the Casa Dracula series and Marvel’s The She-Hulk Diaries 

Ready to work with a professional editor? Visit https://marcelalandres.com
1. Saludos

Publishing a book (especially a novel) can take the better part of a decade. Case in point: In 2013 Tamika Burgess attended a How to Impress Agents and Editors workshop I co-presented with Nora de Hoyos Comstock and Adriana Dominguez at La Casa Azul Bookstore. Our paths crossed again when Tamika sent me an advance copy of her debut book, the impressive and important middle grade novel Sincerely Sicily. Sicily is a standout character not only because of her moxie, smarts, and fashion sense but because she is Afro-Panamanian. Of the countless books I’ve read in the past, I can’t recall a single one written by and about an Afro-Panamanian.

Bravo to Tamika for being as tenacious as she is talented. The world has changed somewhat since 2013, but not the need for Latino—especially Afro-Latino—stories. Learn more about her ten-year journey from workshop attendee to published author by reading the Q&A below.

Helping Latinos get published,
Marcela Landres

2. Q&A

Tamika Burgess (Ta-mee-Ka Bur-jess) is a storyteller with over a decade of novel and personal essay writing experience. Born to parents who migrated from Panamá, Tamika has always taken a particular interest in writing themes that explore her Black Latina identity. Because of her passion for spreading the knowledge of Black Panamanian culture, Tamika has been featured on various websites, podcasts, and panels. When she is not writing, Tamika is somewhere cozy online shopping and listening to a podcast. Tamika resides in sunny Southern California, where she is writing her second novel. Learn more about Tamika at TamikaBurgess.com.

Tamika Burgess Headshot 1 - Claudia R. Balbuena

Q: Panamanian history and culture is masterfully woven throughout Sincerely Sicily. I learned more about Panama from your novel than I ever did in school. What kind of research did you do? Travel to Panama? Read a slew of history books? Interview relatives? How did you decide what information to keep and what to lose?

A: Since Sicily’s family history is mine, I talked with my mom to gather information. I also researched online when I needed further clarification on things she mentioned.

Once I signed with my publisher, I first talked to my editor about making sure the Panamanian history was correct, so they hired a Black Panamanian historian to verify everything. I am also friends with a Panamanian music historian, so I asked her to double-check all the music information I included.

I could have included so much more information regarding Black Panamanian history. But, I narrowed it down based on what I felt a sixth grader like Sicily, who is seeking information about her culture, would research and be interested in learning about and including in her journal.

Q: Hair—particularly braids—plays a pivotal role in the plot of Sincerely Sicily. Braids are also featured on the lovely cover and your gorgeous author photo. Did you propose the cover design or was Harper inspired by Sicily?

A: I was able to offer ideas for the cover and did make the final decision regarding the cover illustrator. But I was nit-picking everything, LOL! My agent had to step in and tell me to focus on one aspect of the cover that was most important to me and put my effort into ensuring it was perfect. So I focused on Sicily. I just wanted her to look how she is described in the book. So her braids were very important, but the illustrator had already incorporated them. So I made sure her favorite color pink was included, and her accessories and journal too. They were little additions, but I felt they were important elements in representing who Sicily is.

Q: Regina Brooks, who personifies beauty and brilliance, is your agent. How did you connect with her? 

A: I first heard of Serendipity Literary Agency at one of the Las Comadres Writers’ Conferences. I can’t remember if it was Regina who attended or an agent who worked for her at the time, but I did jot down the agency’s name. Years later, in 2019, when I was starting my agent query process, I found that paper with the agency name on it. I looked at the agency’s website and followed the submission guidelines. I sent my first ten pages in March, and a week later, Regina responded and asked to read the entire manuscript. By the end of April 2019, I had a contract for representation with her.

Q: Before signing with Regina, my understanding is you worked with a content editor and a proofreader. You and Regina went through a number of revisions of the manuscript. After signing with Harper, you and your editor, Carolina Ortiz, went through more revisions. About how many revisions do you estimate you went through between the first draft and the published book? How did the feedback differ among the content editor, proofreader, Regina, and Carolina? What did you learn from the revision process that you plan to use in your future writing? (More importantly, I hope you rewarded yourself with wine, chocolate or whatever gives you joy when you submitted your final draft!)

A: If I had to guess, I would say no less than 200 revisions. At least, that’s what it feels like to me 🙂

With the content editor, her feedback was more about ensuring I had a solid story. She recommended that I add an additional conflict plotline, and the Pollera dress conflict in Sincerely Sicily came from that feedback.

Once I got to the point where I felt my manuscript was ready to go out to agents, I hired a proofreader to ensure the story flowed as it should, without grammatical and punctuation errors. And also free of unnecessary commas (which I tend to overuse). I just wanted to get the manuscript as polished as possible before starting the agent query process.

With Regina, my agent, her feedback was to make the story specific to Panamanian culture. Prior, the book was more general about being Afro-Latina. But in one of my many conversations with Regina, I figured out that I wanted Sicily’s story to be kind of a love letter to Black Panamanian culture, and Regina helped me accomplish that.

With Carolina, my editor, we honed in on specific details in the story, for example, making sure certain elements would feel real and relatable to readers. We also cut down on characters and storylines that weren’t needed and expanded others that were important to Sicily’s overall story.

From each, I took nuggets of information that have helped me as a writer. I now keep things in mind and include them as I write book #2. And it has paid off! Regina recently read the first draft of book #2 and told me she sees my growth as a writer.

Q: You once formed a writing group. Did the group prepare you for feedback from agents and editors? How helpful was it in your publishing journey? Would you recommend writing groups to other writers?

A: I do recommend writing groups for other writers. I met the members of my writing group at one of the Las Comadres Writers’ Conferences. Members came and went, but in the end, four of us remained. The three members were very influential in reading early versions of my book. Them just being there to bounce ideas off of and let me know what was confusing and needed to be fleshed out a little more was very helpful. Plus, we were all at the same place in our writing journeys, just trying to get our manuscripts completed and in the hands of agents. So it was good to be around people who had the same goals. Their motivation often gave me the push I needed to keep going. 

Since no one in my writing group was published, I got most of my preparation for agent feedback and the publishing process from published authors I connected with on social media and met at writers’ conferences.

Q: Next up for you is your second book in your two book contract with Harper, a middle grade novel featuring a Panamanian boy. Are you finding it easy or challenging to write from the point of view of a boy? How is writing a second novel compared to writing a debut?

A: It’s actually been pretty easy to write from a boy’s perspective. The thing that has been a difficult transition for me has been writing under contract. I started writing Sincerely Sicily in 2013. It was a hobby then, so I would write, leave it alone, and write more when I felt like it. But now, book #2 had a due date before I even had a solid idea for a story. I put great stress on myself, worrying about if I would have a completed draft by the deadline. But I’m learning to ease up on myself and just write the story, reminding myself that however much effort I put into it, there will still be a revision process that I have to go through, regardless. Reminding myself of that has helped put that fun, hobby feeling back into my writing process.

Q: What kinds of books do you envision writing in the future? As a fan of yours, and the mother of a toddler, I’d love for you to write a children’s picture book about Dia de las Trenzas or Etnia Negra. You would also be the perfect person to write a historical novel about the Cimarrones or the Powder Men or Renato, the father of el Movimiento Urbano. Just planting a seed . . . .

A: I love those ideas! I definitely want to write a picture book. I have many ideas and would love to see my words accompanied by bright, beautiful illustrations. Right now, I’m working toward building myself up as a Middle-Grade author. All of which will have Panamanian characters and include elements or be tied to Panamanian history or culture.

Q: Other than honing their craft, what advice would you give to Latino writers looking to land a book deal? 

A: The main piece of advice would be to be persistent. There will be many reasons to give up, but remember, your story is important—your representation matters.

3. Resources
Deadline: April 30
A prize of $1000 and publication by Oversound is offered for a poetry chapbook. For more information, visit https://www.oversoundpoetry.com/
Deadline: May 1
The High Desert Museum offers $3000 for a work of nonfiction that recognizes the vital role deserts play worldwide in the ecosystem and the human narrative. For more information, visit https://highdesertmuseum.org/waterston-prize/
Submission Period: May 1 – June 1
The Salamander Fiction Prize offers a first prize of $1000 and a second prize of $500 for a short story. Both winners will be published in Salamander. Salamander is a literary organization that aims to publish work by writers deserving of a wider audience at any stage in their careers as well as to focus intentionally on inclusivity and outreach to marginalized writers. For more information, visit https://salamandermag.org/
Deadline: May 15
The Fugere Book Prize offers $1000 and publication by Regal House Publishing for a novella. For more information, visit https://regalhousepublishing.com/
Deadline: June 30
Dzanc Books offers $5000 and publication for a daring, original, and innovative novel. For more information, visit http://www.dzancbooks.org
Deadline: July 24
Two prizes of $1000 each and publication in Sixfold are given for a group of poems and a short story. For more information, visit https://www.sixfold.org
Raising Mothers publishes experimental and traditional fiction, flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, interviews, book reviews, photo essays, and comic/graphic narratives. They are looking to include the voices of people (there is no requirement to be a parent) who were un-mothered, under-mothered, have toxic parental relationships; people who are adoptees, and other child-centered perspectives. For more information, visit https://www.raisingmothers.com/
Cricket magazine seeks to publish the highest quality fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction to engage their audience of enthusiastic young readers ages 9-14. Editors consider unsolicited submissions from writers of every level of experience. They have particular interests in stories that explore themes of identity (gender, race and ethnicity, neighborhoods, beliefs and traditions); citizenship and global cultures; scientific and technological exploration; and the creative spirit. For more information, visit https://cricketmedia.com/
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“We’re building mountains, not molehills, and it takes a long time to do it, and I find that most writers—when I teach a writing workshop—think their book is done and it’s just not. You’ve got to get it [written], and then have smart people give you feedback, and then spend another year or so working on it, and then you’ve gotta do that again. And again. And it’s just not done yet. But we want it to be done so badly, we convince ourselves it must be.”
—Garth Stein, https://www.garthstein.com/


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