Have you found that authors are receptive to their books being turned into e-publications?
Curry: It’s really hit or miss. Some people are really into it. We made a list of all the books we were interested in pursuing back when we started in 2011, and there are probably at least three books from that original list that we still haven’t been able to convince an estate or a technophobe author to trust us, basically. So that’s difficult. But just as often people are so thrilled that the work is getting back out there, or that there’s a chance for a small university press’s book to get to a non-academic audience.
Gould: And we’re not as worried about it as we were. We figure we’ll win over everyone eventually. And in the meantime there are plenty of people who do want to work with us and are interested. We offer an extra boost, especially because we guarantee a number of sales. And there’s also a halo effect around the books that we pick—they sell more in their print editions too because we pick them.
How did the partnership with Coffee House Press start?
Curry: Emily had said, “We should do print.” And I said, “No, we shouldn’t. Everything about print is too hard. We can’t do it. I don’t want to. Let’s stop talking about this.” But a part of me was intrigued. We had kind of reached this plateau where it was like, okay, we have this core group of people…
Gould: …and a brand that we’d built based on all of the many books that we’ve picked…
Curry: …but we felt like the people who liked to read e-books, and the people who were really into weird, transgressive books by women…maybe we had maxed it out. Maybe we needed to be able to reach more people…
Gould: …and have a bigger platform for our voice and our vision, and we could only get that by doing print originals.
Curry: So Chris Fischbach [the publisher of Coffee House] was in touch and mentioned that he was looking for freelance acquisitions editors because they were trying to expand their list, and get more voices, more diversity, and he asked if I knew anyone.
Gould: We had thought about trying to become an imprint of a more mainstream publisher, and had even had some meetings, but the timing wasn’t right for it. But Chris and Caroline [Casey] at Coffee House just immediately got our vision, and it fit really well with the other books on their list.
How do you find your titles for the imprint? How, for example, did you acquire your first title, Problems by Jade Sharma?
Curry: I went to grad school with Jade. We had a seminar class together where we sort of became friends, and I read the manuscript and thought, “This is really good.” And then I left school and we kind of fell out of touch. When Emily and I started putting this imprint together, I asked Jade if I could read it again because she had finished it. And I thought it was great. I just knew. I just knew it was right. So Problems came in through grad school connections. And then Emily and Chloe Caldwell, who wrote our second release—I’ll Tell You In Person, a collection of essays—have been Internet friends for a long time.
Gould: Chloe’s manuscript came to us in a much more traditional way. We didn’t ask whether she had something—her book was out on submission and we bought it. We’ve already signed up a third book and are looking for a fourth. We’re sort of cultivating some authors who we have picked in the past for Emily Books.
Curry: We’re always asking what people are working on as gently as possible.
Gould: We try to nag people in a way that we hope feels loving and not oppressive. And not like, “So…are you done with your novel yet?” Because that really is not a fun thing to hear. But there are definitely a few people who we are courting. And we already have a little network of agents who know what we like and are sending us stuff. But our whole thing is underrepresented voices and sometimes those people don’t have agents...
Curry: …so we do have open submissions.
Are you looking at mostly fiction and nonfiction? Are you going to publish poetry?
Curry: Coffee House has such a great poetry list, and we like poetry, but I’m not a poetry editor. I wouldn’t feel great trying to edit someone’s poetry collection.
Gould: Definitely not. Our first two acquisitions pretty much represent the range of what we do: Ruth is a good fiction editor, especially close autobiographical fiction, and I’m a good editor for personal essays. We’re both probably decent editors for other kinds of more experimental things, which our third book definitely is. We’ll find our way. Our editorial process is also very collaborative.
Curry: We are different people and have different strengths and weaknesses, and I think, like Power Rangers, we work together.
Gould: We’re greater than the sum of our parts.
What’s been the most challenging part of taking Emily Books from digital to print?
Gould: We’re still trying different things in terms of how we’re going to get to a sustainable future.
Curry: I think the hardest thing is making money.
Gould: We’re striving towards a model that is good for readers and authors and publishers and booksellers. Somebody is inevitably getting chopped in the equation. Our model is basically that we’ve found this audience and we market directly to it, and we try to grow that audience. And I think there’s a lot of potential for that model. I just worry about how we’re going to sustain it without ever partnering with the Amazons and Apples of the world, which is the one thing we haven’t done so far. We’re publishing books in a traditional way with Coffee House—obviously those books will be sold through all channels—so in a way we are not totally outside of the system anymore. Until now Emily Books was this very pure, untainted thing that was kind of punk rock: a book-publishing project equivalent of a zine. We were only selling things in a way that we felt was ethical. And everyone else whom we’ve talked to about how to make your indie project work was like, “Oh, we do it via Amazon affiliate links,” or “We do it via a grant from Amazon,” and we’re really bored of hearing that at this point. So we’re picking our battles. Our number-one priority will always be to get authors’ voices out there, and we’ll do whatever it takes to sustain that.
Cat Richardson is the managing editor of Bodega Magazine and a poetry editor at Phantom Books. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Narrative, Tin House, and elsewhere.