Follow Your Gut, and Find a Trusted Editor: A Q&A With Carey Salerno of Alice James Books

03/30/2015 04:38 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2015

In this second installment of my conversation with Carey Salerno, Executive Editor of Alice James Books, a cooperative poetry press with an emphasis on women writers, Carey shares some additional insights on the future of publishing and achieving success as a writer.

I'm thrilled to be working with Carey in her role as literary arts curator for Pen and Brush, in which she is reviewing works by excellent female writers for publication. To learn more about how to submit, visit

JS: You review and publish a diversity of poets at Alice James Books (AJB). Do you believe this model can be adapted to the publishing industry as a whole? What do you believe the future of publishing holds in the next few years?

CS: We do publish a broad range of voices, yes, and this model could absolutely be applied elsewhere, though to a degree, it takes a high level of attentiveness in one's list to accomplish diversity. We are able to do it as a boutique publisher, because we focus on publishing just six books of poetry a year.

As far as the future is concerned, I continue to place all my chips down for the physical book. It is an entity that can be imitated but not absolutely replicated, so I don't believe it will ever be rendered obsolete. I do think that readers are going to continue to demand high quality from their book publishers, as they become more and more choosy about what they buy to place on their shelves. AJB strives to publish books with the highest level of complimentary aesthetics for a book's respective texts. It's been a high priority of mine since coming to AJB in 2008 to continually raise the bar for the physical poetry book. We work very closely with our designers to achieve the production of volumes that are harmonious and that please and enliven readers. There is an experience to opening a book for the first time, to running one's hand over the cover, to dog-earring its pages, and to coming across it on one's bookshelf over and again. We want to enhance that experience. The future of book publishing is, to some degree the same as it has always been, about creating work that people will deeply cherish.

JS: What advice would you like to give to emerging or mid-career writers?

CS: My advice to both groups would be the same; follow your gut and find a trusted editor. It is incredibly important, especially for women, to heed this first piece of advice, since really how many times a day are we asked to ignore our instincts? Women are incredibly susceptible to dismissing their feelings, because we are taught they aren't of value or use to us. They are not practical. We are often conditioned to value logic, which of course has its place, but really is the exhaust pipe of poetic endeavor.

After instinct brings you to your work, your own heart, your own vision, your own stake in the world, then find someone who you love and trust that can give you critique--and allow yourself to take the critique. Feedback is a critical element in the artistic process, as art is a communication between individuals: the creator and the audience. Feedback on our work gives us checks and balances. It helps us affirm that we are saying what we are trying to say, how we are trying to say it. It's hard to produce art in a vacuum. At the same time, don't create for feedback.

JS: In your experience, what is the common denominator shared by successful working authors?

CS: In terms of success in their work: heart. In terms of success in their promotion: gregariousness (whether strained or otherwise). Sharing beyond the medium within which an artist creates can be incredibly challenging, yet so often artists are expected to do just that incredibly well. It is counterintuitive for many, since the original expression occurs in the particular body of art for a reason. Book promotion is so often completely counter to the desires and disposition of writers, yet sharing work and being energetically assertive in the sharing is what often brings others toward it. Though, once the effort has been made to bring in an audience, the love affair can only be sustained if there's substance. You can't fake art. The writers I return to again and again are all writing from this wild place in the mind. Their voices sing and resonate with purpose.