The “Publishing Roundtable: Writers, Agents, and Editors Talk About How to Get Your Work into the World” event was held on Wednesday, May 15 at 2 p.m. in INTS 1111. The event was hosted by UCR Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Susan Straight, with around 30 students in attendance. The panel of guest speakers included Tod Goldberg, Sarah Bowlin, Olivia Smith and Alex Espinoza.
The event started with Straight greeting everyone in the room and making sure that there were enough seats for attendees. Straight said, “This is one of my favorite things to do on campus, it’s everyone from different departments, from the sciences to the arts. This (event) is for everybody because everybody wants to write.”
Bowlin, a former editor at New York’s Riverhead Books and Henry Holt & Company, was the first to speak about her experiences. Bowlin quit her editorship after growing tired of having to “beg” people to take a chance on the book and sitting in on meetings all day. “I wanted to be the first line of advocacy for a writer. Yes, I have to handle the business aspect of publishing, but (agents) are the first line of defense,” she elaborated.
“I think I have 600 unread emails. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I really like getting to know the material so I know what I’m working with. And that’s why agents are important, but sometimes I find gems in the slush pile,” Bowlin added when describing the process of choosing material (books) she wants to sell as an agent. After Bowlin said this term, Straight explained that the “slush pile” used to be a pile of submissions from authors that agents or publishers received via mail, but after the advancement of the internet that pile has turned into a “virtual slush pile.”
Smith is co-founder and executive editor of Unnamed Press, an independent publisher of literature based in Los Angeles. Her experience was different as a smaller firm competing with the “Big Five,” which are the big name publishing companies, such as Penguin. Her company publishes 12 titles per year, which gives enough consideration to each title. “I prefer to work with agents, since they know what I like. I’m much more likely to open that email, than to go try to look through the slush pile, which is kinda scary to think about, since there’s thousands and thousands of submissions,” Smith mentioned.
Espinoza, a UCR alumnus, spoke about the publishing process of his two novels, “Still Water Saints” and “The Five Acts of Diego Leon.” He kept going to writers’ conferences and writing, but it was hard since as an author, success is never guaranteed. He met his current agent at one of those conferences. “I remember calling Susan (Straight) saying ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’” he recounted. But despite his doubts, he was shocked at the amount of money he was offered.
Goldberg is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 books and director of the Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at UCR. He found relative success with his first book, but after it received bad reviews, he started writing books he “would want to read” rather than books meant to make a profit. Goldberg mentioned that the life of an author was like a rollercoaster; sometimes there will be success and failure. “If you go about life feeling like you deserve something, instead you’re going to get something served,” Goldberg joked.
“What I want you all to see is that there are many layers of publishing but what is important is the story behind it. If you’re doing it for the money, only few people will achieve that,” Straight concluded.
The workshop ended with the panelists taking audience questions. This workshop was the last of the creative writing department’s events for Spring 2019 quarter.