Wednesday, January 17, 2018

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Kate Angus on Augury Books

Augury Books is an independent press based in Brooklyn, New York. Committed to publishing innovative work from emerging and established writers, Augury Books seeks to reaffirm the diversity of the reading public. Our authors have received awards such as the O. Henry Prize for short fiction, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s “Discover” Award for creative nonfiction, and the Tony Quagliano International Poetry Award. Our authors have also been nominated for the CLMP Firecracker Award, the Lambda Literary Arts Award, and have been featured on the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets’ websites. Founded in 2010, Augury Books has published and continues to publish outstanding poetry, nonfiction, and fiction by a diverse range of voices. In late 2017, Augury Books became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press. We are a proud member of CLMP, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses. Our titles are distributed by Small Press Distribution (SPD). Our editorial board is dedicated to fairness and quality of work.

Kate Angus is a founding editor of Augury Books and the author of So Late to the Party (Negative Capability Press, 2016). Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Academy of American Poets’ “Poem-a-Day” newsletter, Best New Poets 2010 and Best New Poets 2014. She is the Creative Writing Advisor for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College.

1 – When did Augury Books first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Augury Books was founded in 2010 with an eye towards publishing innovative and exciting work from new and emerging writers. That hasn’t changed. But we have expanded! We started off only publishing poetry, but in 2014 we opened up to short story collections and creative nonfiction titles. We’ve also had some editorial board turnover. A few early-days editors (Christine Kanownik and Matthew Cunha) stepped down due to time constraints, but since 2012-2013 we’ve had a pretty stable editorial board of myself, Associate Editor Kimberly Steele, and Assistant Editor Nicolas Amara. And this past November, Augury became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press so now Joe Pan/BAP is our publisher. 

I’ve learned so much! We all had to pick up various business skills (accounting, marketing, organizing, etc.) on the fly, but what I’m most aware of is how my approach to editing has evolved. When Augury was a young press, I think I had the arrogance of youth and felt more inclined to try to impose my aesthetics on the manuscripts we published; as the press and I have both aged, I find myself gravitating more towards collaboration, specifically the kind of collaboration where editorial conversations focus on how to best help our authors shape their words into the strongest version of what they want to say, rather than filtering their vision through my personal aesthetic preferences.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Meghan O’Rourke, one of my MFA teachers at The New School, asked me to be her Poetry Reader at The Paris Review and I also applied to be a fiction reader for A Public Space. Because of my experiences reading through the slush pile and learning from editors at both magazines, I felt like I had some small grasp of how publishing worked. Of course, even though I learned quite a lot at TPR and APS, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for indie book publishing, but it was a great start.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I think the role of small press publishers is to find, amplify, and nurture writers who for whatever reason the bigger publishing houses have overlooked.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
I don’t think there’s anything we’re doing that no one else is. There are so many great small and micro-presses out there and they are all doing amazing work.

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?
I don’t really have a good answer—we are constantly revising our strategies for how to best launch our books so that they can find a wider audience. I think it has to be a collaboration between author and press. An author can’t carry the weight of launching their book on their own, but neither can publishers do very much for authors who won’t reach out to whatever connections they might have. Publishers need to develop and maintain relationships with reviewers, reading series curators, institutions, etc., and keep an active presence in the lit world, but authors also need to do this work as well. I say this as both an editor and a writer: writers will always be their own best advocate. No matter how much your publisher loves and believes in your work, you have to go to bat for yourself over and over again.

Authors can help by publishing work in multiple genres, for instance, to widen their readership or doing group interviews or podcasts or writing guest posts for literary blogs or speaking on panels or guest teaching—really anything that helps put you and your words in front of a wide variety of people. Doing readings helps, both conventional readings as well as those in less conventional spaces. And collaborating with people in other art forms also.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
Both I think. I certainly take deep dives into the manuscripts we publish, doing line edits and such, but I offer my edits in the spirit of collaboration, of conversation, and I believe with the same goal shared by the author: that the final version of the book is the best possible articulation of their vision. I hope the writers whose work Augury has published would agree with my assessment of this process, but you’d have to ask them. 

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
Our books are all distributed by SPD (Small Press Distribution) so they’re available at many bookstores, as well as online. We do print on demand now so our print runs vary based on demand.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Augury is my baby in many ways, but also absolutely a group effort. Over the years, I’ve relied on our Assistant Editor Nicolas Amara and Associate Editor Kimberly Steele to do much of the production work and help make many decisions. We have also been blessed in the past with some wonderful design people—Mike Miller who has done many of our covers, and Isabella Giancarlo who did our most recent interior work. We’ve also had many great interns along the way. And now that we are BAP’s imprint, we have a fantastic new publisher: Joe Pan. This press would not exist without all of these people and the amazing selfless work they have done over the years and, in many cases, continue to do.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I don’t know that it’s changed how I think about my own writing, but it has made me much more sanguine about how and when and if my writing gets published. I know firsthand now how much goes into deciding which manuscripts are chosen and that quality of work is absolutely paramount but also other things do factor in: for example, how does this work fit into the press’s overall catalog, how many books can we afford to publish at this time, is this book too similar in some ways to something else we have recently published or, conversely, is it too dissonant with the rest of our catalog, etc. My role at Augury has allowed me to accept my own rejections more easily, and not flagellate myself as much. I now understand better that often a “No” doesn’t mean the work is bad—often it just isn’t right for that press at that time or for that issue of a journal.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I guess for me it’s irrelevant. I understand the arguments for it and against it and I think it’s a choice every editor/publisher needs to make for themselves and there aren’t any wrong answers—it’s just individual preference. Before my first book was published, I wanted it to come out on someone else’s press—both to have their support and structure, as well as their editorial input, and also I guess to have a kind of outside seal of approval, a feeling of validation from another editor and press that said “Yes, we believe in you and your work.” And I got all those things and so much more with Sue Walker at Negative Capability Press. For me it was important to have that experience of being published by someone else and I will always be grateful to Sue and Megan and the other folks at Negative Capability Press for believing in me and in So Late to the Party. But I don’t know how I will feel when my second book is done—I might, at that point, want to maintain control over the rights to my book, the distribution, being able to make e-books, etc. instead. All of that is so far away right now: I just want to concentrate on writing my next book rather than trying to predict what model of publication I’ll want to follow once it is written.

11– How do you see Augury Books evolving?
Well, we just made a really big change a few months ago. This past fall, we became an imprint of Brooklyn Arts Press. The transition from being fully-independent into being nurtured as a small wing of a larger press has been very smooth and we all (Augury and BAP) are really excited about our future collaborations with the books we’ll be publishing!

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
I am so proud of all the books we have brought out into the world. My biggest frustration is figuring out how to find a wider audience for our authors. 

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
We definitely admire Wave Books, Slope Editions, Octopus Books, Flood Editions and Milkweed Editions, Ugly Duckling Presse, Four Way Books, Alice James Books, and others like them. I don’t know that we modeled ourselves on any of them precisely; rather, we loved the work they were publishing and felt inspired to—like them—help bring beautiful books out into the world.

14– How does Augury Books work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Augury Books in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
I don’t know that I see us as being in any specific dialogue, although I guess on a certain level all presses and journals are engaged in a larger conversation with each other and with writers and readers. We do seek to support and collaborate with other presses, and with writers and editors we aren’t formally affiliated with. I think the most obvious example of this is our new affiliation with Brooklyn Arts Press—as BAP’s imprint, we are collaborating with them through conversations, through sharing resources and ideas and networks and events, and through sharing table space at AWP and other conferences. We’ll also be participating in an offsite reading at AWP this year organized by Switchback Books that also involves BAP, Saturnalia, and Black Ocean. And Augury Books is also part of the Small Press Union, a wonderful resource-sharing  and support network created by Lynne DeSilva-Johnson of The Operating System. I think that it’s an absolute imperative for small presses to be supportive of each other, and there are many ways of doing this: we can be supportive of each other by organizing and/or attending events, by purchasing each other’s books, by helping publicize things (events, publications, reading periods, fund raisers, etc.) for each other and by offering practical help by working tables for each other or doing shipping or paying more of the table costs if we’re not able to be there in person. There are a lot of ways of being part of the literary community—we’re all in this together, although we all also have our own individual responsibilities and constraints so we may not be able to be in it together in exactly the same ways.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
We definitely hold launch parties for all of our new titles and we try to do readings occasionally for other things as well—collaborative readings offsite at AWP and the occasional showcase reading when we have enough Augury authors in the same place at the same time. I love launch parties: they’re like a wedding or a baby shower—a wonderful way of celebrating something new and beautiful and welcoming it to the world. While I do like public readings both to hear work in the author’s own voice and also as a social occasion, I admit I engage more deeply when I’m reading a book alone as a silent solitary act rather than being in a crowd where the work is read aloud to me.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Our titles can be purchased online so the Internet is part of our distribution. And we accept only accept submissions online so the Internet is also how we find new books to publish.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
Yes we do! In fact, we have an open reading period during January this year. We aren’t able to accept anthologies or works in translation, for various business reasons, nor do we accept novels (I love novels but don’t feel qualified to edit or market one), but other than that we are open to submissions from writers at any stage of their career.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
It’s hard to narrow down our catalog to just three books, but I’ll talk about a recent title in each of the three genres that we publish.

Poetry: Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Lesbian Poetry, is one of our titles dearest to my heart. I’ll quote Christopher Soto’s lovely review of this collection for Lamba Literary where he calls this book “a love letter to our shared queer of color community” and notes that “titles of many poems in the collection are literal translations of the word gay. Many of the original words, before being translated, are derogatory in their original language. Thus, Arisa White repurposes that pain and inscribes it with love, tenderness, poetry. ‘You’ becomes witness to the beauty held in what was once called derogatory. ‘You’ is able to witness the act of reclaiming language.”

Fiction: Sara Schaff’s Say Something Nice About Me, a finalist for CLMP’s Firecracker Award for Fiction, is a fantastic collection. Sara’s prose is luminous and sharp, and the stories in the collection explore the risks taken—and illusions created—by her characters at turning points in their lives, trying to grapple with how to live in the unknown. I’ll quote Dan Choan’s assessment of her work her, as he says “The stories…intertwine in complex and fascinating patterns. They are all explorations of the meaning of human connection…Say Something Nice About me is a thoughtful and provoking book, the beginning to a great career!”

Creative Nonfiction: Randall Horton’s Hook, the winner of the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s (GLCA) 2016 “Discover” Prize for Creative Nonfiction, is a gripping story of transformation. This memoir by the poet, musician (Heroes Are Gang Leaders) and educator Randall Horton charts his early years as an unassuming Howard University student turned homeless drug addict, international cocaine smuggler, and incarcerated felon, and the redemption he found through writing. The book is structured as a multilayered narrative bridging both past and present through Horton’s memories, as well as his correspondence in letters with the anonymous Lxxxx, a Latina woman awaiting trial. To quote the GLCA judges, “Randall Horton delivers careful rough-hewn, poetically-charged language at the service of a memoir that runs against the grain of a typical ‘recovery’ narrative. What results is searing commentary, social critique under the guise of a memoir within a memoir…[T]his text has the potential to speak to people for generations.”

No comments: