Fulfillment is the F-Word: Camille Baker
Querying is a f*cking ride. Revisions are a m*otherf*cker. Publishing can be a f*cking let down. The bottom line is....
This SH*T isn't easy!
But soon there comes a day when you know you have something special in your hands. Something that won't make you cuss at your inbox, slam down the laptop lid, roaring a loud obscenity, or shout "f*ck this" over and over in your head.
Because you found your new F-word.
Fulfillment. F-U-L-F-I-L-L-M-E-N-T. Fulfillment.
You know this manuscript is the one. You've slapped, stomped, and beaten it into the best it can be. CP's love. Beta's love it. YOU love it. So now it's time time to send that baby off for someone else to love it.
And that's exactly what author Camille Baker did.
1. Welp, the first question for these sort of things usually is the ‘how did you get your agent’ question, but YOUR debut is coming out this JULY. So please tell us all about your journey to that point (querying, going on submission, publication offer).
My first go at querying was Fall 2017. It was the third book I’d written, but only the first I’d successfully revised. The summer prior I had been accepted into the Writing in the Margins mentorship program (RIP), in which I finally learned how to revise. With the best story I’d written yet, I participated in #DVPit. I got a handful of likes on my pitch, went out with a first round, and they all turned into rejections. Nine no’s, and I was done with that manuscript. Dramatic, but that brief foray into querying made it clear in order to endure that hell, I needed to be 100% confident in my manuscript. I wasn’t for that one, so I moved on to the next idea. And the next. And the next. I didn’t attempt querying again until May 2020 with Have We Met?. I experienced the normal doubts about the effectiveness of my query and first pages when the quickie rejections came in, but I believed the hell out of that story. I signed with Samantha Fabien in July, we went on sub after a light revision together, and I landed with my editor Alicia Clancy at Lake Union in August.
2. Unfortunately, there have been a few online blow-ups of publishing professionals that have made authors cautious (more than usual, perhaps) when seeking agent representation. What would you say makes for a healthy, functional agent-author relationship?
I find the variety of agent-author relationships so interesting! There are countless ways to have a healthy and functional relationship, so I’ll just include what I’ve found works for me. I feel completely comfortable bringing concerns or questions to Samantha, and she’s timely with her responses. She is proactive about furthering my work without me having to ask, i.e. looking into opportunities to sell rights. Even after the book deal, she is still involved and stays cc’d for easy access if I ever need to tag her in. Sometimes we’ll get an email from someone on the pub team and I don’t see the notification for hours (or I’m not able to respond), then I’ll check and Samantha is already on it. And overall, I just love the feel of our relationship. It’s like being business partners with the most encouraging champion of my work I could ask for.
I highly recommend Deadline City podcast, season 4 ep 2: Agent Avenue. How Dhonielle and Zoraida discuss discovering their needs in an agent, I think writers should adopt that mindset sooner rather than later.
3. Have We Met? is categorized as Women’s Fiction/Romance. Did you always plan to write in that genre? If so, what draws you to it?
Aha, no. I’m very much a cynical romantic, and I’m in awe at how romance authors convince readers to root for these complex characters. I love the build-up of tension as two (or more *wink*) characters figure out how they fit together. When I really got hooked on the genre, I thought, “No way I can pull this off.” But, as it happens, the more you read a genre the more you pick up on the beats that drive the story. Once I got the idea for Have We Met?, it was the most fun drafting experience I’ve ever had.
The categorization as Women’s Fiction/Romance is...a story. I wrote what I thought was a romance. Then as I was readying to query, I got feedback it was leaning women’s fiction. I literally changed the genre depending on who I was querying LOL. Samantha embraced this and subbed to editors suitable for both genres. When it came to the book deal, my editor Alicia’s vision included enhancing the women’s fiction elements to make it more balanced. Another interested editor would have kept it rooted firmly in romance. In the end, I shared Alicia’s vision. And since I plan to write in a variety of genres and have a women’s fiction I put on the backburner for Have We Met?, Samantha and I agreed it was a smart career move.
4. Regarding the previous question, how do you think the adult writing space differs from the kidlit writing space? Do you think adult lit is harder to break into than kidlit?
Since I’m a kidlit reject I’m gonna say NO it’s not harder to break into adult, but I have no idea if statistics would back up that claim. I imagine it ultimately depends on the story you have and timing and the gatekeeping rigmarole.
Kidlit’s perpetual shenanigans on that bird app aside, I think compared to adult lit those involved in kidlit spaces consider the impact of novels more. There’s a sense of responsibility there. Of course, this examination was led by people from marginalized communities who have been harmed by false narratives. BIPOC kidlit authors blazed the path to breaking into traditional publishing with diverse and inclusive books, and honing my skills as a writer while being in the kidlit space has definitely impacted me. From my perspective as a reader, it seems the adult lit space has started to follow suit. However, my lens is extremely zoomed in to the diverse books. Anyway, I’m watching the flurry of movement authors are making between the two spaces and it’s intriguing me and my homegirls.
5. The Romancelandia crew runs deep and has a huge and very loyal readership. However, recent conversations have pointed out that this genre is not without its faults when it comes to showcasing romantic relationships outside of the white-white pairings. As a Black author writing a romance with a Black lead, where did you seek your inspiration? In what ways do you hope this resonates with readers who share the identity of your character?
I was drawn into romance by Black authors. Alyssa Cole, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Katrina Jackson… With them as my introduction to romance, along with incredible Black authors in other genres writing nuanced Black characters, there was never a question of if I’d write a Black lead for mine. There’s something incredibly powerful about writing lead characters that would fit in with your family and/or friends.
Resonating with readers is the ultimate goal. You know when you’re reading a book and there’s a line or thought expressed and you go, “yesss, THAT.” I hope readers who share the identity of my character find a moment or two like that within the pages.
6. What tips would you give to writers regarding romance tropes, creating sexual tension, romantic conflict, and the such that keeps a reader turning the pages? How do you balance romance with plot and character development?
I should emphasize this book is literally the first time I’ve been successful in keeping the plot moving so...pass. For balancing everything, I did my best based on story intuition and then my editor came with her sharp eye and basically said, “we need an emotional scene here, another friends scene around this point, etc.”
So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t balance ha. But I do have recs for recent books I’ve read that do amazing with these things. For sexual tension and enemies to lovers trope - Act Your Age, Eve Brown. Just, perfection. Balancing with plot and character development - Honey Girl. It has character development so vulnerable it hurts. Romantic conflict tied with character development - How to Fail at Flirting. Ah, the ending is extremely satisfying. Sexual tension + enemies to lovers + forced close proximity + page turner - Trust Falling for You. Proven to cure reading slumps.
7. Do you know when you’re at risk of burnout? What’s your form of self-care?
I don’t think I do! Writing-wise, I’ll usually fizzle out after a big push to finish a draft or revision. But once it’s done, I just take as long a break as I need. Thankfully, I’m naturally lethargic. Like, I’m fine with lying around in bed all morning and then relocating to the couch to lie around some more. You know the type of person that retires but then finds another little part-time gig or pyramid scheme to get into? Yeah, I’m not that person. So my risk of burnout is fairly low.
My self-care for the last six months has been pole dancing. It’s great to have a hobby that I haven’t monetized (yet. jk...unless?) and it’s amazing to see my body be able to do things it couldn’t days or weeks ago. When progress in publishing may take years to realize, pole dancing is like...give me a few hours and I can figure out how to do that move! Unless it’s strength-based, then I’m going to need to do some more pull-ups so give me a week.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. The Cover for Have We Met? nails the knowing smirk and shows off a pretty poppin’ shade of orange-red lipstick. So, in a battle of the lipstick shades. Tell us what occasion you think each shade is best for.
Reds: One of my favorite interpreting instructors didn’t interpret without her red lipstick. So I always associate reds with harnessing your abilities and confidence, then kicking ass in whatever endeavor you set out to do. Debut day, red is definitely for debut day.
Pinks: Pinks have range! It’s for the first bottomless mimosa brunch post-panic at the disco, running errands if you don’t want to commit to bumming it, or positioning yourself for a book-worthy meet-cute.
Berries: Anytime you want to be cute but you don’t want to be approached. A MUST HAVE.
Nudes: I still haven’t found my nude shade, so whatever occasion it’s for, I haven’t experienced it.
The Wild Cards (blue, green, neons, etc): For when you feel artsy and want to attract elongated looks with thinly veiled awe that you can pull the color off.
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
BIPOC authors should try to care less about everything* except their writing. There’s always some new nonsense happening with [insert white author] and honestly, it has brought me so much peace to decide to just...not care. Or at least not engage in Twitter’s way of caring. I only have a limited amount of things I can care about and it’s pretty much taken up by my loved ones, systemic oppression, and artists/things that inspire me.
But to the authors who aren’t able to not care, thank you for the work you do!
10. Your dream author roundtable discussions includes....
It definitely includes it happening in person because I miss that so much. It can be simultaneously streamed too for accessibility. I’d put Nic Stone as the moderator in discussion with: Jason Reynolds, Akwaeke Emezi, Alyssa Cole, Jacqueline Woodson, Beverly Jenkins, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Candice Iloh, and N.K. Jemisin. I have to cut myself off because that’s already a lot of people for a roundtable. It’ll need to be at least two hours. All of their minds amaze me. And the range of talent there!! Can you imagine?? Okay, I’m gonna go find a youtube/podcast/IG chat I haven’t seen by one of the aforementioned to hold me over.
Thank you for having me!
Bio: Camille Baker writes novels featuring characters as diverse as the world she inhabits. She is a proud Buckeye, sign language interpreter, and novice pole dancer. Have We Met? is her debut novel. Nomadic in nature, she lives mostly in Chicago or San Antonio.
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