In this installment of my Author Up Close series, I share a Q&A with debut author Catherine Adel West. Catherine and I are social media friends, and I’ve been impressed with the way she has navigated becoming a debut author during this unprecedented time. Her novel, Saving Ruby King, which Kirkus calls “a multilayered love letter to South Side Chicago’s African American faith-based community,” tackles the complex topics of faith and family and the secrets that can bind or break them.
Saving Ruby King debuts on June 16, and even in the midst of a busy launch, Catherine took the time to offer great advice to writers about making their query letters stand out, researching genres, and publishing during a pandemic.
GW: One of my favorite parts of this series is hearing author origin stories: the stories behind what propelled them from people who only thought about writing, to people who actually wrote and either queried or published a novel. What’s your author origin story?
CAW: It took me five years from beginning to end to write the rough draft of Saving Ruby King. It was the first book I ever wrote. Originally, it was a short story idea, and at a wedding I was speaking to an old college classmate, and she suggested I write a book. I had NO experience, but I had two degrees in journalism and figured how hard is it to write a book? Turns out it’s incredibly hard to write a book. Go figure!
Saving Ruby King started out as a hobby, became a passion, and soon turned into an obsession. Once I finished what I thought was the final draft (turns out I had at least 10 more versions to go), I began querying. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, but luckily I had fantastic friends in my corner who are also writers. They helped me further hone my story and develop my query letter. One friend, Kevin Savoie, was instrumental in helping me navigate the querying process. I had many close calls with agents, including an R&R, and was feeling discouraged when I decided to again participate in #DVPit—a contest for POC/marginalized writers—in April 2018. After an offer of publication from an indie press, I notified the other agents with whom I had full manuscript requests, and Beth Marshea of Ladderbird Literary offered me rep, and I happily accepted Beth’s offer. It took me nine months to land a literary agent.
I went with Beth as she had such a passion for my story, and I knew I could always trust her to have my best interests at heart. After a round of edits, we went on submission and my book was acquired by Park Row/HarperCollins within six weeks!
From writing to publication, I’ve had astounding highs and lows, but I’m so grateful for where the journey has led me thus far. [Read more…]