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Debut Author Interview: Tamika Burgess and Sincerely Sicily Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Tamika Burgess here to share about her MG contemporary Sincerely Sicily. It’s gotten rave reviews and deals with issues like crushes and angst about going to a new school that many middle graders can relate to as well as dealing with discrimination as a Black Panamanian. I can’t wait to read it.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

From debut author Tamika Burgess comes the captivating and empowering story of Sicily Jordan--a Black Panamanian fashionista who rocks her braids with pride--who learns to use her voice and take pride in who she is while confronting prejudice in the most unexpected of places.

Sicily Jordan's worst nightmare has come true! She's been enrolled in a new school, with zero of her friends and stuck wearing a fashion catastrophe of a uniform. But however bad Sicily thought sixth grade was going to be, it only gets worse when she does her class presentation.

While all her classmates breezed through theirs, Sicily is bombarded with questions on how she can be both Black and Panamanian. She wants people to understand, but it doesn't feel like anyone is ready to listen--first at school and then at home. Because when her abuela starts talking mess about her braids, Sicily's the only one whose heart is being crumpled for a second time.

Staying quiet may no longer be an option, but that doesn't mean Sicily has the words to show the world just what it means to be a proud Black Panamanian either. Even though she hasn't written in her journal since her abuelo passed, it's time to pick up her pen again--but will it be enough to prove to herself and everyone else exactly who she is?

Hi Tamika! Thanks so much for joining us!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I am a HarperCollins debut middle-grade author. Besides writing, I enjoy binging TV shows, listening to true-crime podcasts, and online shopping. During the day, I work at a K-12 school in the Student Services Department, assisting mild-moderate special needs high school students. 

Growing up, I always enjoyed writing, as it came naturally to me. In 2012, I read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder and was so captivated by the story and the writing that I told myself, “I have to do this too.” And in 2013, I started the first version of what would become my debut MG novel, Sincerely Sicily

2. Where did you get the idea for Sincerely Sicily?

Sincerely Sicily is loosely based on my experiences growing up and came out of a need for representation and understanding. As a child, I didn’t fully comprehend how to explain my Black Panamanian background when people asked, “What are you?” Being asked that question, coupled with the fact that I was growing up in a predominantly white community as a Black Latina, I often felt out of place. My peers were all the same, and not only was I of a different race, but my culture was entirely out of their understanding.

I always wished for a point of reference, someone I could point to and say, “I’m just like them.” But characters in books, movies, and TV shows didn’t look like me, nor did their experiences resemble mine. So I wrote the book I needed and would have loved to read as a child.

Your Writing Process

3. Every kid needs that point of reference. It’s good you’re providing it to kids who share your backround. I read that your book started as a picture book and that you later decided to write the story as a middle grade novel. Why did you make this decision?

As I was writing, I realized I had so much I wanted to say, and that would not work for the 500-word requirement that picture books currently have. Because I wanted to reach a young audience, I settled on middle-grade because I feel that is when we start really learning about ourselves and discovering the world around us.

4. I also read that it took you ten years to write Sincerely Sicily. I think many of us have had a similar experience, including me. Share what your process was for writing and editing your book over this time period. What did you learn that will help you complete a manuscript faster in the future?

When I started writing, I was very focused on completing my manuscript. But after a few years, my desire for it fizzled out. I would work on it occasionally, then would leave it alone for months.

Finally, in 2017 the manuscript was done, but I didn't know what to do with it. Then in 2018, I realized I needed to complete what I started. So I paid a freelance proofreader, got my manuscript as polished as possible, and then started the querying process. That led to me signing with my agent, Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency, in 2019 and then signing with HarperCollins in January 2021.

Going through the process, I have learned the importance of feedback and community. While writing Sincerely Sicily, I was a part of a critique group. But after a while, everyone moved on, and I struggled to find another group. Writing is sometimes a lonely process. So having people who can relate to what you’re experiencing is important, and I found it to be beneficial as I start the writing process for my second middle-grade novel. 

5. I’ve also gone through periods where I had to set down my manuscript for months due to my family and full-time job. Sincerely Sicily is loosely based on your life. Did this make it harder or easier to write Sicily’s story? What advice do you have for other authors who are trying to write a story based on their own experiences or a character like themselves?

Loosely basing the book on my life made the process very easy. Sicily’s parents have some qualities of my parents, and her brother is similar to mine. Other characters in the book are based on people I have known throughout my life. 

I advise writers to write based on their experiences and pay attention to their surroundings. That quirky thing that a sibling or friend constantly does can be used in your writing. That one-liner or corny joke your dad always tells, incorporate that. Using real-life examples in your writing makes the story realistic and relatable. 

Your Road to Publication

6. Your agent is Regina Brooks. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

Years ago, I attended a writing conference, and a Serendipity Literary Agency agent was on one of the panels. Back then, I was in no place to submit my manuscript, but I did take note of all the literary agencies I came across so I could research them when my manuscript was done.

Fast forward to 2019. I was finally ready to query agents. I started in February of that year and researched and queried agents looking for manuscripts like mine. I kept getting responses from agents that my writing was good, but they were unsure of how to handle the topic my book centered on. (I was glad those agents were honest about that). After a month, I found the paper from that writer’s conference years prior and researched Serendipity and Regina Brooks. Two weeks later, she responded and asked to see my full manuscript, and by May 2019, I had signed my contract with her. 

From 2019 to 2020, we did rounds of revisions on my manuscript. I spent much of the 2020 quarantine working on editing and revising. Then at the end of 2020, Regina felt the manuscript was ready to go out to publishers. In January 2021, I had two interested publishers, and by the end of the month, I decided to sign with HarperCollins. 

7. What was something that surprised you about the process of working with an agent or editor?

I didn’t have a problem with any of my agent and editor’s revision suggestions, so overall, the revision process with both were a great learning process for me. I was surprised about the topics and things that caught their attention that they felt needed more detail or could be cut out completely. I will remember and consider the things I learned during the revision and editing process while working on manuscripts in the future.


8. You worked in advertising for six years before making a career change to writing. Has your advertising background helped you when deciding how to market your book?

No, because my past advertising career was based in print retail advertising. I am pushing for more online or in-person marketing and promotion for Sincerely Sicily.

9. How are you planning to promote your book? What advice do you have for other debut authors about creating a plan to market their first book?

Honestly, since this is my first go-round with this marketing and promo thing, I am doing things my editor and agent suggest. I also have some author friends who have suggested a few things. I plan to do school and library visits and bookstore events in order to speak directly to my target audience.

My advice to other debut authors is not to let the process stress them out. Authors can follow many marketing plans online, and it’s easy to get caught up in trying to do everything. The main thing I have focused on is doing what I am comfortable with and what will not cause me to feel overwhelmed. 

10. That’s great advice not to let marketing stress you out. What are you working on now?

Next, I am developing some picture book ideas and writing my next middle-grade novel. Both will include Panamanian history or cultural elements.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Tamika. You can find Tamika at:

Purchase SINCERELY SICILY: bit.ly/3OewSSB

Add on Goodreads: bit.ly/3DtGeXZ

Subscribe to Tamika’s newsletter: tamikaburgess.com/newsletter

IG and Twitter: @ TameeksB

Website: https://www.tamikaburgess.com/

Giveaway Details

Tamika and I are offering an Amazon e-book giveaway of Sincerely Sicily for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by January 21st. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or Tamika on her social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This e-book giveaway is International.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog. 

Upcoming Interviews and Guest Posts

Monday, January 16 I have an agent spotlight interview with Kortney Price and a query critique giveaway and am participating in the Winter Wishes Giveaway Hop

Monday, January 23 I have an interview with debut author Megan Reyes and a giveaway of her MG fantasy Heroes of Havensong

Wednesday, February 1 I have an agent/debut author guest post with Claire Friedman and M.K. Lobb and a giveaway of M.K.’s YA fantasy/mystery Seven Faceless Saints

Monday, February 6 I have an agent spotlight interview with Lori Steel and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!



Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

That's very inspiring that Tamika stuck with her novel over a 10-year period and sold it! Congratulations to her!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

When it comes to marketing, always focus on what you are comfortable with.
Tamika, bet you're glad you returned to that story!

Valinora Troy said...

Great interview! It's always fascinating (and encouraging!) reading about an author's journey to publication. All the best of luck to Tamika!

Computer Tutor said...

Darling title and the topic is compelling. Best of luck with your debut book!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'd don't know why people don't get mixed heritages or understand why someone can be that particular color. I had a friend who was half Black, half Cherokee, and it was such a fascinating combination.

Patricia T. said...

Congratulations, Tamika! I've seen good press about your book, so it was fun to read the interview to learn more about what prompted you to write a novel based on many aspects of your life. Agree that it is a perfect MG read -- but am glad to see you will also share stories in picture books because young readers need to read stories about mixed heritages.

Liz A. said...

I know what it's like to have a writing group dissolve. Glad you got the book finished anyway.

Suzanne Warr said...

I'm also inspired to hear that this novel was in the works for so long, and still found its way to the spotlight! Congratulations, Tamika!

I love this cover and also love that Sicily uses her journal to help herself process and grow. I was super attached to my journal as a kid and still journal pretty much every day, but that's not something I see reflected in characters very often. Congrats and good luck with this lovely debut!

sburdorf said...

Love your honesty, Tamika. The writing process is so unique to each person and I loved how your journey was a slow process and that you learned so much from it. Thank you for sharing with us.

Greg Pattridge said...

I'm reading Sincerely Sicily right now and loving it so far (Please let someone else win the e-copy). Great insights in the interview, especially about the long 10 year path to get the story published. Best of luck with your debut, Tamika!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

The thought of going to a new school terrified me. My dad was offered a wonderful job and my fear of leaving my status quo made him say no. I feel bad about it as an adult, but love him extra for caring putting me first.

Carol Baldwin said...

I tweeted and follow your blog. This looks like a great book. Congratulations, Tamika! Thanks for the opportunity, Natalie.

Sandra Cox said...

Many congrats, Tamika. Love your cover.
'Lo, Natalie.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

It's a pleasure to meet you, Tamika. What an amazing book you have here. All the luck with this release. It is much-needed in today's society.

Natalie, I am a follower of your blog. Thank you for this interview.

Nick Wilford said...

The book sounds excellent. It's good you stuck with it and got it to where it is today.

Rosi said...

I'll be looking for a copy of this. It sounds great. Thanks for an interesting interview.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats! Sometimes it can take a long time to get a book where you want it.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Kate Larkindale said...

Congrats on finishing that book, Tamika! Sometimes it does take a long time and it's easy to get distracted from it, but you pushed through to the end.

Tonja Drecker said...

Always interesting to read about another author's thoughts and journey. Congrats on pulling through and getting it done, Tamika!

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