It's my pleasure to share a conversation I recently had with Kate Angus, who is a founding editor of Augury Books, as well as the Creative Writing Advisory Board Member for The Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities and a teacher at the Gotham Writers' Workshop in New York.
Kate has joined Pen and Brush as a Literary Arts Curator, and has been instrumental in supporting the launch of the organization's new programming (learn more about our open call for literary or visual art submissions at PenandBrush.org).
Here are some of Kate's insights into the need for publishers to support diverse voices, how the Internet has impacted the way we read, and how emerging writers can find success (hint: keep writing!).
Janice Sands (JS): Augury Books is committed to publishing innovative work from emerging and established writers. What led you to create an independent publishing house? What changes did you feel must be addressed by the publishing industry?
Kate Angus (KA): Augury Books was born, in great part, out of frustration. My cofounder and I were tired of feeling as if the publishing world was a series of locked doors that could only be opened if you had the right key -- which was often a personal "in" with the editors in addition to a strong manuscript. Our editorial board has shifted over time, but our priorities have stayed the same. It's important to us to be a home for diverse voices so we primarily seek work from people outside the circles we know. When I look at our catalog, I see that over 80% of the work we've published was unsolicited and 70 percent is from writers who were strangers to us before we selected their manuscript from our slush pile.
When I read our submissions, I try very hard to identify my own unconscious biases and make sure that I'm not shunting aside work because it's about something that doesn't echo my personal concerns or because the author's aesthetic tropes aren't the same ones I use in my own writing. There's a natural impulse to respond strongly to work that resonates with my own life and is written by people similar to me, but I think it's important for editors and publishers to actively seek out new voices and work that speaks to experiences they have not had.
JS: What are the biggest challenges facing the publishing world right now? In other words, what keeps you -- and your friends in the industry -- up at night?
KA: Sales. It's not a glamorous answer, but it's true. I don't know any publisher who doesn't worry about this. Sometimes I'm asked if I think all the free content on the Internet has stopped people from buying more books. I think it's possible, but I hope that the readers who only stick with free online work are balanced out by those who discover authors through online publications and then seek out their printed work. And certainly using the Internet to sell our books directly to readers (rather than going through bookstores, which take a hefty percentage of the sales) has been incredibly helpful.
I don't worry that the Internet is training people not to read -- quite the contrary, I think people are reading more now than ever before -- but I do worry that we are reading more shorter, stand-alone pieces and fewer long, immersive pieces. This does affect book sales. I teach undergraduates and one of my students recently told me that, "Ever since social media, I've found it harder to read things over 140 characters." Of course this is just one person and anecdotal, but I do worry sometimes that the more comfortable we become jumping from blog post to short news article to Twitter, the less frequently we are drawn to engaging with long-form work - a novel, a memoir, a full-length manuscript rather than the individual poems or short stories or essays that it contains.
JS: Why did you decide to sign on as a Literary Curator for Pen and Brush?
KA: I support their mission. I believe very strongly in parity and in fostering emerging writers' voices. Pen and Brush was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to keep doing this, but with their resources behind me.
JS: What advice would you like to give to emerging or mid-career writers?
KA: Keep trying: honestly, this is the most important thing. Keep writing, keep revising, keep submitting your work, keep reading other people whose work inspires you. Everyone gets their work rejected -- even famous writers started off with rejections; they weren't solicited from the gate by The New Yorker and The Paris Review. It's not a race, even if sometimes it feels like it is. There's a great quote by Colette that I used to have taped to the wall near my desk where she said, "No one asked you to be happy. Get to work." Your work is to keep writing.
JS: In your experience, what is the common denominator shared by successful working authors?
JS: It's no surprise that publishing has seen many shifts in the last few years with the move to e-readers and other digital platforms. What do you foresee as being the next wave of the industry?
KA: I truly can't imagine. More podcasts? A greater trend towards new books coming out mostly on e-readers accompanied by a limited run of Book as Object tangible printed copies? That said, every prediction I've ever made about the future has been wrong.