Faculty Interview: Estee Zandee

Interview by Alex Mellen (PWR class of 2014)

What was your first byline—the first piece of writing you had professionally published?

It was a book review, published on a Christian book review site that is no longer available. I wrote several more of those quickly after.

How old were you?

12 years old.

How did you get such an early start in the professional writing world?

It’s my mom’s fault. 🙂 But seriously. My mom is a freelance writer of 15 or more books—I lose track. Anyhow, I think she noticed that I liked books and reading, and the book review gave her the opportunity to reinforce my writing skills. Two years later, my mom negotiated an agreement with me which resulted in my submitting to a teen book-writing contest. That’s really when I fell in love with writing and editing.

How did attending Taylor University expand your skills and opportunities?

One of the most unique things about the Professional Writing program is that it teaches students a variety of writing styles and skills that apply to so many careers. At graduation, I had a binder full of feature articles, business pieces, creative writing, reviews, and scripts. And most of them had been published. The publishing industry can be a challenge to get into, so having a such a list of real-life experience goes a long way.

Second, I believe college in general teaches students how to learn. That skill helps you no matter what you do in life. Knowing that you can face a challenge or an assignment completely outside your comfort zone and come out the other side all the better is encouraging and inspiring. Learning is something that we have to do, not only to grow our skill sets but also to curate our character.

What advice would you give to teen writers eager to see their names in print?

I’d say go for it. There are so many opportunities available to them no matter how young they are. There are competitions, magazines, and publications that are looking specifically for their young voices. I’d also remind them that it’s a misnomer that writing is a solo task or a lonely activity. We all need editors and proofreaders to craft our writing to its full potential, so share your writing and have it edited before submitting.

How did you get your job at Zondervan? What does your work there look like from day to day?

When I first started looking for jobs, I sent a lot of emails to publishing professionals whom I had met and made personal connections with. I offered to take on freelance work or help them out with their slush pile and, if it was professionally appropriate, I requested to intern with their company. That led me to a hybrid publishing company where I took on a full-time position. More networking and a reference letter helped me land my position with Zondervan.

Are you acquiring at this conference? What can writers ask you about in a one-on-one session?

Company policy limits acquisitions to agented authors. For authors represented by agents, we acquire nonfiction adult books. But I’m more than happy to be a sounding board for authors looking to polish their pitching skills and looking for an editorial perspective on their book concept.

One of your conference topics is “From Proposal to Publication,” during which you’ll look at all the steps to publish a book. Do you have a favorite part of the process? If so, why?

I love the acquisitions stage and concept development. If everything’s working smoothly, there can be a lot of excitement at that point—the author is nervous but proud to be presenting their idea, the agent is gung-ho about it, and the acquiring editor is enthralled by the potential of the project. Ideally, the chemistry is on point. And then there’s this dynamic, collaborative dialogue between author and acquiring editor where they brainstorm and ideate together to refine the book concept and take it to the next level. There’s this clash of perspectives and a gentle pushing-each-other-forward to solve challenges creatively or try something unorthodox. Sometimes the book that was contracted is a far reach from the book that arrives on the store shelf, but the ultimate hope is that it’s so much better.

Name a book, nonfiction or fiction, that is not directly about writing but has taught you something about writing or editing.

I think it changes depending on what I’m reading or what I’m working on. Lately, it’s been Essentialism by Greg McKeown. That book helped me think through the kind of professional I want to be. It doesn’t talk about writing specifically, but I found several of the principles to be so helpful to the development of my career, my work ethic, and to the craft of writing.

Right now, I’m reading Grit by Angela Duckworth. Maybe even more than other professions, writers have to be gritty and hopeful, with a clear sense of what they want to do with their skill in order to achieve success, so I’ve found this book fascinating and insightful.

Estee will be teaching two sessions at the conference:
Telling it Slant: Developing a Marketable Nonfiction Book Concept
From Proposal to Publication


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