Welcome to the #Latinx Panelist interviews! It is the Last day of Let’s Get Lit Book Fest #Latinx Week. The rest of the fest will continue to take place over the next 6 weeks and will support and highlight marginalized authors of different communities, you can check here who else will be featured by other bloggers soon! It has brought me great joy to have this opportunity to work with authors who I love and support, so let’s hear what they had to say about their experiences in the industry, their advice for writers and fond memories they have had in publishing! ❤
In today’s post, I will be interviewing Panelists Claribel Ortega, Aiden Thomas, Romina Garber and Natalia Sylvester!
Q: Please introduce yourselves and explain what experience you have in the writing industry.
Claribel: My name is Claribel A. Ortega and I’m the author of the recently released middle grade paranormal fantasy, Ghost Squad. I’m also the co-host of the Write or Die podcast and have worked in and around the publishing industry since 2014.
Aiden: My name is Aiden Thomas and I am the author of “Cemetery Boys”!
Romina: Hi, I’m Romina, & I’m the author of the forthcoming LOBIZONA (Wednesday Books, 8/4) & the NYT & internationally bestselling ZODIAC series (Razorbill).
Natalia: I’m the author of two novels for adults, CHASING THE SUN (2014) and EVERYONE KNOWS YOU GO HOME. My debut YA novel, RUNNING, will be out this July from HMH books! It’s about a Cuban American teenager whose father is running for president, just as she begins to realize that he’s not the man she thought he was.
Q: What’s something about the publishing industry that you wish you knew when you first started out?
Claribel: How challenging it would be, although I don’t think that knowing how hard it is compares to actually going through it.
Aiden: There is honestly so much I wish I knew. I got into publishing almost immediately out of graduate school. While getting my MFA, they really didn’t teach us much, or anything, about how the publishing industry works. When my book was selected to be published by Swoon Reads, I was unagented and really got a crash course once I signed with Macmillan and joined Twitter!
I think the biggest thing I wish I had known about were pitch fests, especially #DVpit and #PitchWars. They’re both such incredible programs, I think I would’ve been able to get into publishing sooner if I knew about those really fantastic resources like that available to writers.
Romina: This is actually advice I passed on to Tomi Adeyemi, which she later quoted for Writers Digest, so I’ll let her say it:
“If I could go back, I would’ve told myself that I will be published one day and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. (Of course, one of my very wonderful writing friends Romina Russell —author of the ZODIAC saga—did tell me this, but I was too dumb to listen to her when she did—lol—so be smarter than me and take her wonderful advice now).”
Writer’s digest Article
Natalia: That as writers we have more power than we realize. When I was first starting out, I just felt so lucky to even be in the same room/sentence/company as others in the industry that I underestimated my own value and was constantly afraid of making waves or ruffling any feathers. Thankfully, I got over that real quick and learned to surround myself with people who I shared a mutual trust and respect with. But it was a journey!
Q: Do you have any challenges you’ve faced, personally or professionally, in the industry as a Latinx author that you’d like to vocalize?
Claribel: I think as a Latinx author, we’re often overlooked. There aren’t many of us being published, so it’s difficult to find the courage to speak up when you feel like your position could be in danger but without speaking up, there will be no change. Things like foreign rights deals, can be harder for us to get as well, and it can be discouraging but I keep pushing forward in hopes that it will help open doors for others who come after me.
Aiden: I’ve had a really wonderful experience, both personally and professionally, being within the publishing industry. I think maybe the biggest difficulty I’ve had is finding a community that shares my marginalizations. While I’ve found really wonderful community with writers who are queer, trans or Latinx, there aren’t many people I’ve found and connected with who have all three. When you have so many different marginalizations that make up your identity, sometimes I feel like I don’t completely fit in.
Romina: The very book I’m promoting has been a lesson in perseverance. I queried an earlier version in 2008, & I was told US readers weren’t interested in stories about Argentine immigrants. So I set it aside, & over time, I watched the situation worsen for immigrants in this country, culminating in the separation of families & caging of children. That’s when I knew I had to use my platform to amplify what’s going on.
Funny enough, it was Tomi who—in my darkest moments of drafting, when I thought I couldn’t do it—gave me the push I needed. She reminded me that our words are our weapons, & writing is how we fight.
Natalia: As a Latina immigrant I’ve often encountered people who assume that they know what an “authentic Latinx immigrant” story is, which sadly means we are constantly having to push back against stereotypical narratives that would otherwise be imposed on us for the consumption of a white gaze. I feel very lucky to be able to write and publish books that celebrate the nuances and complexities of our community and experiences, but there’s still so much work to be done, and so many other voices that still need to be supported and included.
Q: Did you come across any surprises in the making of your book?
Claribel: I never thought I’d debut as a middle grade author so that was a big surprise! But almost nothing about my publishing journey has been what I expected, it’s all been a very surprising ride and I’ve done a lot of learning.
Aiden: Getting “Cemetery Boys” was such a learning experience from the very start until even now, I feel like it’s been a series of nonstop surprises but in a really great way! I think the most rewarding thing is learning more about book bloggers on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. They’re always turning out such incredible content, and they’re my favorite way of discovering new books and voices!
Romina: I had originally outlined LOBIZONA as a standalone, yet once I started writing it, I realized I’d actually outlined a couple of books. Thankfully, the publisher was onboard for more!
Natalia: When I was writing RUNNING, what most surprised me is how fun it was to write! I know that shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I love writing. But my previous books dealt with more difficult topics that felt necessary and healing to write. With RUNNING I got to have a little more fun, add a little more humor, as I wrote the twists and turns that Mari encounters throughout her dad’s presidential campaign.
Q: Do you know any helpful facts about the industry common writers might not know about?
Claribel: Be willing to be flexible, it’s the single most important thing I’ve had to do. You never know how your path is going to look and once you’re on it, there will be a billion curve balls. Learning to adapt is not just a good skill to have it’s essential.
Aiden: I think people truly have NO idea how LONG everything takes in publishing until you’re in it! Folks will be like “oh yeah, everything takes forever” but they really have no idea! And things can change so quickly. It can be really difficult to navigate! And the most important thing is to have open communication with your team. My editor, Holly West, is incredibly patient when it comes to asking my constant questions, including “when will — happen?” and I am so grateful.
Romina: I don’t know about facts, but I do know what’s worked for me. Here are 3 quick tips for aspiring authors:
1. When I started writing my first novel, I didn’t tell anyone about it. I trapped my story within my ribcage so that no one could take it from me. Day by day, I secretly fed it more words, until it grew so big that my chest could no longer contain it. That’s how I knew I was ready to share it with someone. Once you know you’re ready to share your story, my advice is to find a reader who is more constructive than critical. Sharing your early words with the wrong person can backfire & shut you down for a bit—trust me, I’ve been there.
2. Every time I’m on a panel with other authors, we discover we build our novels in completely different ways—& that’s a beautiful thing! For my part, I always begin my books with Setting because of something Alan Watts once said: we’re not born into this world, we’re born from it. In other words, our land, culture, & family exist before we do, & they inform our identity. My advice is to experiment with various processes until you find the one that best suits you. Just remember there’s no one way to do it!
3. Being a writer can make for a solitary life, & something that can be amazingly therapeutic is being part of a supportive group of people who can commiserate with you properly. The best thing I did for myself & my writing was start a critique group with other aspiring authors; though we wrote in different genres, what linked us together was being at the same stage of the creative process.
Q: Do you feel like your writing paves the way for others in your community?
Claribel: I am not sure if it has but I hope it does help.
Aiden: I’m not so sure I’ve “paved the way” for others in my community because there have been a lot of queer/trans/Latinx authors who came before me. I like to think of it more as wedging my foot in the door and pushing it open to help get more folks through. My hope is that by writing my stories, it creates more opportunities for other marginalized writers to break into publishing. I’m not here to lead the way, but I am here to support my communities and help carve out space for their stories.
Romina: I hope so. I think what’s most helpful are umbrella organizations that bring authors together—like Las Musas & Latinx in Publishing—so we can support each other & lift up new voices in our communities.
Natalia: I think every voice adds a richness to our community and ends up opening doors for even more to make it through.
Q: What were some of the best surprises you’ve had getting into the industry?
Claribel: All the incredible friends I’ve made, from agents to authors to bloggers and editors, I’ve met some of the most incredible, helpful and kind people in this industry and I’m really grateful for them.
Aiden: Meeting people and making friends, honestly! It’s been really amazing to have a platform with which I can meet other writers, authors, publishing professionals and book bloggers. I’ve met so many awesome people and I’ve made genuine friendships with such wonderful people, it’s been the best part!
Romina: THE FRIENDSHIPS. Hands down, the best part of being an author has been connecting with so many incredible people. Probably the vast majority of my friends are fellow authors, readers, book bloggers, librarians, booksellers, & publishing peeps. I wouldn’t trade this community for any other.
Natalia: The incredible connection, not just among readers but fellow authors. I never dreamed that some of my closest friends would be authors, but this journey bonds us and makes it so that we’re eager to celebrate one another for the love of books and our amazing readers.
Q: What experiences have you had that you’d like to avoid repeating?
Claribel: So many. I was catfished by my first “publisher” (there’s an entire blog post about it on my website) and of course there have been many instances of racism and gaslighting especially in the online community which were hurtful and hard to deal with.
Romina: I hope I never again let someone shut me down—whether it’s a reader, or a gatekeeper, or myself.
Q: Do you see yourself staying in this industry for a long time?
Claribel: Yep, I couldn’t really imagine not writing or being part of the community. I’m here to stay.
Aiden: I certainly hope so! I have so many ideas for books bouncing around in my head that I want to wrangle onto the page. These include different genres, adult books, and I’ve even got a couple ideas for middle grade novels. As long as people want to read my stories, I will keep writing them!
Romina: I hope so. I can’t imagine doing anything else!
Natalia: I sure hope so! Years ago I was so focused on just getting my first book published, and I’m constantly in awe of the fact that I’m about to publish my third.
Q: Do you have any advice for people just getting into this industry?
Claribel: Have interests and goals outside of writing and books. Find a community of writing friends you can truly confide in, and don’t place all your worth on your productivity. Take breaks often and remember the reason you got into this in the first place: for the love of storytelling.
Aiden: Find your people! Publishing can be really cut throat, both personally and professionally. I am very lucky in that I am very close with the other Swoon Reads authors and having them there to listen to me vent, commiserate, or answer my billions of questions has been absolutely essential. I would be lost without my Swoon Siblings!
Romina: It took me almost a decade to get published. I wrote five completed novels before ZODIAC, & every single one of them was rejected. If you’re an aspiring author reading this, & you’ve also been broken by rejection, don’t give up—hold on for your YES.
Natalia: Read as widely as you can. Start building community early. When you surround yourself with others who are also working towards your same dream, you learn from one another, you pick up on one another’s best habits, and you cheer each other on in moments you might otherwise quit. Other writers are your community, not your competition.
There will be more author interviews coming up so stay tuned!