To bring his African-inspired fantasy novel to life, author Antoine Bandele turned to Reedsy for an editor who was up to the task.
Finding an editor with experience in African fantasy
With my second self-published fantasy book, By Sea & Sky, I wanted to leave the slow-paced epic tradition of my first book behind and focus more on swashbuckling action. To help me with this shift, I decided to seek out a new editor: someone with experience in fast-paced fantasy. When I heard about Reedsy on a publishing podcast, their freelancer marketplace sounded like the perfect place to start.
Out of all the editors I found on Reedsy, Fiona McLaren stood out to me the most. In particular, her work on Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone — which draws inspiration from elements of West African mythology and culture — really caught my attention. It meant she was somewhat familiar with what I was writing: fantasy fiction based on the motherland. Her editing samples and our first phone conversation only solidified my interest. I let her know that my main concern was getting the fast, action-led pacing just right, and with that, I hired her for a developmental edit.
Learning to balance pace with other story elements
When I first read through Fiona's feedback, it was like seeing my manuscript with new eyes. Through her notes, I realized my draft was too dialogue-heavy and that the setting had fallen into the background. She pointed out several instances of “white room syndrome” and places where I had flown over a scene at the expense of character development. In the early stages of my writing I used dialogue as a way to create that high pace I was looking for, but as a result I skimmed over the surface of my characters and how they interact with their surroundings.
To weave in more character development and scene detail, Fiona recommended several craft books, which helped me to expand my toolkit as a writer. One of these books was about “active setting,” a technique which enabled me to add detail on African lore and mythology without sacrificing pace. It takes world-building beyond simple descriptions of surroundings and ties it into character work as well as scene pacing.
Although Fiona’s experience with African fantasy was a part of why I hired her, the value in that was less about what she added to the story and more about what she didn’t. Most of the research and knowledge came from me. Fiona showed me how to breathe life into the mythological elements and weave them seamlessly into the story. Unlike other editors I’ve encountered — who believed there wasn’t a market for African inspired fantasy — I didn’t get any negative pushback from her. She respected the culture and saw the untapped potential for new stories in a Western-dominated market.
Antoine’s got a ton of strengths as a writer in general, but for By Sea & Sky he particularly nailed both the authentic diversity and his wild, unpredictable world full of adventure and deep themes. I was incredibly lucky to have read one of Tomi Adeyemi’s earliest drafts of Children of Blood and Bone and talk over editorial suggestions with her and a fellow editor friend. Antoine is reaching for that same impact, and he definitely deserves it!
— Fiona McLaren, Editor
Since its launch, By Sea & Sky has been featured across all sorts of online media including a 4-star written review on Discovery, and appearances on the Written in Melanin, Write Direction, and Black & Yellow podcasts. A few weeks after my launch, it even hit #1 in Amazon’s African American fantasy category and #5 in action and adventure!
I’m really happy to see so many people enjoying the story, in particular, all the positive feedback on my setting. Readers tell me they can really picture the imperial airship where my story takes place — that they can feel the hum as it rises into the air. All of that is owed to Fiona and her eye for active setting. By Sea & Sky is the first book in a series, and I’ll definitely work with her again for book two.
Buy By Sea & Sky here and hire Fiona McLaren for your book here.