What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
The outpouring of women’s and trans women’s stories of sexual assault, harassment, and workplace power dynamics as a result of the Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein fallouts has not, I’m sure, surprised any woman in our industry. But I imagine it will embolden publishers to bring even more of these voices forward. That said, there were already much-anticipated books by women slated for 2018 that speak to this trend of publishing women’s voices: Counterpoint’s own Heart Berries, a memoir by Terese Mailhot; This Will Be My Undoing, an essay collection by Morgan Jerkins; as well as And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready, a memoir by Meaghan O’Connell.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
This is kind of cheating, but I feel like the answer to this question is anything on the Soft Skull Press list under new Editor-in-Chief Yuka Igarashi. Her acquisitions are kind of blowing my mind. She’s bringing in books on topics I’ve never seen addressed (Leah Deitrich’s Vanishing Twins is memoir mixed with lyrical autotheory exploring open marriages and partnerships of all kinds, from dance to work wives) or books that take genre and turn it inside out to delightfully discomfiting effect (Colin Winnette’s The Job of the Wasp). So I basically just want to see more of Yuka’s acquisitions cross my transom!
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Oh, this question sits at an intersection of closed-mindedness and negativity I have no time for in the already dispiriting era of President Orange’s White House. The wonderful thing about the editors I work with is that I’m never tiring of the kinds of stories they’re bidding on and acquiring because they’re so forward-thinking. If you look at examples from our lists, like Vengeance by Zachary Lazar (editor Pat Strachan), Large Animals by Jess Arndt (editor Julie Buntin), or A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (editor Jack Shoemaker), these are books for our zeitgeist.
How do you work with self-published authors?
On the books side of things, we don’t. All of the lists’ editors largely work with agented authors. That said, Catapult’s incredible daily web magazine publishes short fiction, essays, comics, and more, and plenty of those writers don’t have agents.
What do you want to change about publishing?
Two things, most urgently: first, hiring people of color and other underrepresented demographics in this business must be a top priority. It’s not enough to say we’re thinking about it or that we know it’s a problem. Publishing is currently an insiders’ business; so much hiring happens without a job ever being posted. So the talent pool is limited. And so very white. We have to seek people of color candidates outside of publishing who have soft skill sets we want in our staff and whom we are willing to invest time and training to teach them the publishing industry–specific hard skills they may not have yet encountered on their career paths. The responsibility is on leaders in publishing to carve out this time to train.
Catapult’s web magazine has established a Web Fellowship specifically seeking out people of color. Here in our Portland, Oregon, offices, we’ve networked with black, Asian, and LGBTQ professional networks to ensure our job postings reach far beyond the small publishing world, and we’ve seen wider representation among our applicants as a result. It’s not enough, not even close, but we’re getting started. Other publishers are too, but it has to happen across the entire industry, at every level.
Second, health insurance for booksellers. We have got to find a way, whether it’s through lobbying for change at the state and federal levels or through the Book Industry Charitable Foundation or a James Patterson–level charity or through an industrywide discounting change like Norton’s recent shift (which gives booksellers the opportunity to get a 50 percent discount on front- and backlist orders), to enable bookstores to offer health insurance for all of their booksellers.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I love the intersection of books, daily digital publishing, and classes that Catapult offers. It feels, for lack of a better word, like a true ecosystem. We’re publishing writers at catapult.co who end up publishing books and becoming judges for the anthology we co-publish with PEN America. We publish a debut novelist who can then teach a sold-out writing class at our New York offices or online. There aren’t rigid silos, and there’s a real sense that the editors of the magazine, the book imprints, and the director of our writing classes are all looking out for one another, keeping their radars tuned for what another editor might love or a future class that might succeed. As a result, we’re simultaneously supporting and contributing to multiple steps along the publishing process.
Jennifer Abel Kovitz is the associate publisher and director of marketing of the recently merged Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press. Prior to Catapult, she founded and led 45th Parallel Communications, a marketing and publicity firm serving independent publishers. She lives in Portland, Oregon.