Monique Antonette Lewis is the founder of At The Inkwell, a New York City-based supporter of published writers through feature articles, book reviews and readings.
Loren Kleinman (LK): You're a writer, a journalist and curator of At the Inkwell reading series, which has gotten quite a lot of press in NYC. Can you talk about the idea behind the series and how you rolled this out?
Monique Antonette Lewis (MAL): After I received my MFA degree in creative writing from Wilkes University, I was looking to recreate a writing community of my own. I wanted to immerse myself as much as possible, because I didn't feel fulfilled in my day job as a financial news editor.
I wanted to write articles that help people and it's becoming more difficult for authors to sell their books to readers. My articles could help them reach the audience they're looking for.
Initially I signed up to write feature articles on authors for Examiner.com. When I went to an open house at the home of Charles Salzberg (co-founder of New York Writers Workshop) in Manhattan, on New Year's Day in 2013, I met lots of writers and scheduled interviews with them. They referred me to other published authors and one of those writers was Jamie Brenner, a romance novelist. I told her my goal was to do book reviews and host readings and she said, "You don't need Examiner." And I thought, she's right!
My mom came up with the name, At The Inkwell, and I designed the website in two days. I didn't leave that chair for an entire weekend, working nonstop on no sleep. I wish I could say the same for my writing!
I approached KGB Bar with a proposal to host readings. I had had a prior relationship with hosting readings at the bar in the summers of 2011-2012 under my former reading series and workshop, The Writer's Corner.
At The Inkwell had its first reading (romance night) on March 8, 2013 at KGB Bar. Shortly after that, I started writing book reviews, but I couldn't keep up with the demand on my own. Today I have nine book reviewers from Seattle to D.C.
LK: What have been some of the challenges of kicking off a reading series? Any divas yet?
MAL: I had a big learning curve. My original idea was to give readers a mix of genres in one night, whether it was poetry, fiction or non-fiction. That didn't work for the crowd or the author. Once I booked a dark humor writer with a literary adult novelist and the crowd didn't respond to the former's writing. He was really disappointed, and I felt awful because I should have booked him with writers in the same genre. A few months later, I did just that with the same humor writer. He sold books and people laughed at all the right parts. I was happy to have a successful do-over with him.
I have had a few divas and when I encounter such people, I remind myself that I can't please everyone nor should I take their rude behavior to heart.
LK: Often writers are greeted with small audiences, poor acoustics and lack of preparation at readings. After all that work to get booked, a crowd is the most important and often shows that the curator worked to promo the event. What does At the Inkwell do in terms of promo and what value can writers expect from reading at this venue?
MAL: The beauty about my series is the space. People always say how much they love the environment at KGB Bar and how perfect it is for a reading. The venue has to be inviting and welcoming to an audience or people might not return.
At The Inkwell is one of 13 running series at the bar, and I have to promote the readings on my own to compete with readings across the city. I tweet and post about each reading on Facebook along with email announcements. I also make sure to book one to two authors who will bring a large crowd.
My series has been really promising for authors in terms of attracting large crowds, reaching a new audience and selling books. At KGB Bar, the author keeps 100 percent of all proceeds.
Finally, the reading series has connected writers to literary agents. One NYC agent signed a writer who read in my series.
LK: How is At the Inkwell different from every other series in NYC?
MAL: Most series cater to one specific genre but my series showcases a variety of genres and sub-genres. I have had readers of historical fiction, memoir, young adult, playwriting, screenwriting, poetry and more.
LK: How can writers apply to read in this series? What's been the calibre of writer you've featured so far?
I have featured bestselling writers to emerging writers including Kaylie Jones, Peter Kline, Beverly Donofrio, Andrei Guruianu, Kimberly Elkins, Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Ross Klavan.
Published writers can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to read in New York, or email@example.com to request a reading in San Francisco at Alley Cat Books. We book readings months in advance so the earlier a writer reaches out to us, the better.
LK: What's next for Monique Lewis and At the Inkwell?
MAL: I hope to finish the final revisions of my novel this year and get a short story published. It's difficult to manage alongside At The Inkwell and a full-time job, but I think it can be done.
I just launched a second city in San Francisco for the reading series and I have plans to add Seattle and Denver by the end of the year. My goal is to have a national reading series in metropolitan markets like Austin, Boston, Iowa City, Miami, Portland, Washington D.C. and more. I don't know of any literary series that is national and it would be amazing to start with At The Inkwell.
Check out Loren Kleinman at lorenkleinman.com.