How Latinas get published
By Carmen Gray
The winding road of moving a novel from manuscript to print can be daunting. As an emerging writer, I had one big question for investigating this topic through a Latina lens. Is there one certain path to getting your book published and is that path different for Latinas than it is for others? I had the pleasure of interviewing four very different but all very successful Latina writers and the answers were enlightening.
As Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of award-winning novels like Mexican Gothic and Gods of Jade and Shadow, stated, “Writing is not a clear career path, there is no linear progression. I’ve been a full-time freelancer for just over a year.”
There’s a reason she’s only just become a full-time writer: it takes a very driven and resilient person to hold down a full-time job while cranking out a novel, but it is especially harder for a woman. Women, for the most part, are not paid equal salaries in the majority of career fields as their male counterparts, and women of color are paid even less. That means it is harder for Latinas who are the main breadwinners of their families to take on this feat. Silvia, being the one in her family to ensure that the bills were being paid, had to continue working full-time at the University of British Columbia (where she earned an MA in Science and Technology Studies) up until January 2022, even after she was a best-selling author for a few years.
Now that she does have the luxury to write full-time, she spends her days working but not necessarily writing, as there’s proofreading, editing, social media blurbs and reading for research. She found her agent after sending out a novel at the behest of a fellow science fiction writer to an editor he knew at a small British press. The editor requested her manuscript and made a small offer. Silvia then sent out a letter to a handful of agents and got a reply from her “dream agent,” Eddie Schneider of the Jabberwocky Literary Agency in New York.
Silvia has a new book coming out this summer called Silver Nitrate, which is reviewed in this issue [see Critica, p. 68]. She describes herself as “Mexican by birth but Canadian by inclination,” and now lives in Vancouver. She emphasized that being a successful writer means you must persevere and you really must do so in the face of a demographic equality gap that has begun to close only in the last 15 years. “There must be constant pressure put on staffing editors who are empowered to accept more manuscripts from diverse authors,” she said.
One of the only ways to get published by a big press is to find the right agent, since many publishing houses don’t consider unagented manuscripts. Literary agents hold the key to getting your novel in the right publisher’s hands and to launching your career as a writer. Finding a literary agent is no easy feat for any writer, and there are very few Latina agents. It can be especially challenging for a Latina writer to land one who understands her vision and ideas that aren’t always mainstream.
Zoraida Córdova, author of The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina and the Brooklyn Brujas series, had some great advice on finding the right agent and persevering as a Latina author. Born in Ecuador and raised in New York City, she offered, “When you are looking for an agent, I learned you should have the ability to say no. Just because you get one book offer for a price, you can look at all the offers and not be low balled. Find an agent that sees your value. Be honest with the stories you want to tell.”
Zoraida began her publishing journey in 2012 when very few other Latino authors were writing fantasy. But she wanted to write novels that created more options for her readers, with Afro-Latinas and indigenous Latinas specifically in mind. She mentioned both Cake Creative Edition and Electric Postcard as inclusive publishing companies which create literary projects with mostly Latino kids in mind. Like Silvia, she feels she has found her dream agent, Suzie Townsend with New Leaf Literary & Media.
Zoraida is currently working on an adult fiction story and told me her writing process goes like this: she researches her work, creates an outline next and when approaching a strict deadline, she gives herself a goal (must finish x amount by x date). She often turns in her work with the knowledge that the editors will send it back with revisions. She said she “works in layers, tackles the characters and plot and then will add to it with each revision.” I liked that approach.
Katie Gutierrez, whose second novel More Than You’ll Ever Know quickly became a bestseller, couldn’t agree more with the idea that change has to start at the editorial level to be more inclusive in order to accept more diverse work. Born and raised in Laredo, Texas (with family that hails from Mexico), she feels agents need to continue to search out different voices and be active participants in the process from manuscript to publishing.
Like Silvia, Katie also agreed that a full-time writing career is not going to earn an author a consistent income. She took the risk in 2015, with the support of her family, to take time off to write full time. It eventually paid off, but she stressed that writing full time is both a luxury and a hustle. In fact, she worked on More Than You’ll Ever Know in 2017 during pregnancy, finishing the first draft when her daughter was a year old. She then edited it for 18 months, finishing the final draft just in time for the birth of her second child. In September 2020, she landed every writer’s dream, a two-book contract. She was taking phone calls from editors while breastfeeding! Katie used Publisher’s Marketplace to look for agents, but ultimately through Manuscript Wishlist she found Hillary Jacobson at CAA.
Xochitl Gonzalez’ heritage comes from two Latino cultures. Her father is Mexican while her mother is Puerto Rican. In her book, Olga Dies Dreaming, she centers the story on the perspective of a successful boricua living in Brooklyn, New York. I related to her secret weapon when it comes to staying motivated with writing: apply to contests and workshops in order to give yourself a hard deadline for your work. It also helps to know you are writing for an audience. Before she became a full-time writer, she had a schedule of waking up early to write and would also work on the weekends to keep the writing going.
Her route to publishing her first book was through a friend of a friend, who she met in a writing conference. The agent, Molly Glick (also at CAA) asked to see the novel and it moved quickly from there. Xochitl’s book got a lot of press because people already knew her and were following her success journey. She is currently excited about her newest book project, Anita de Monte Laughs Last. She agrees with the other writers that I interviewed: Latinas are highly underrepresented on the leadership side, but Xochitl believes it is looking good for Latina authors, saying, “We have been seeing a crest since American Dirt. The protesting about that book actually did lead to changing things.”
Publishing a debut novel is a complex process and committing to this path is challenging for most emerging writers. The road from manuscript to publication varies for everyone, but thanks to the progress in the last decade and a half, we are closer to a level playing field in acquiring a savvy agent as Latina writers. There is still more work to do to continue keeping representation and access on leadership level, but we’ve come a long way, bebé!