I often share the many benefits of living in the Twin-Cities, a place where the literary community continues to grow and thrive. So imagine my delight upon getting a chance to hang out one afternoon with Steve Woodward of Graywolf Press. Not only did we nerd out over all the great literary happenings in town and the books that we love; we also found ourselves deep in conversation over social media and its affect on today’s publishing. It was at that moment I knew Steve would be a great fit for the Red Sofa Chats. And as you’ll see below, he’s already worked on many amazing projects. Enjoy! And thank you Steve!
Steve Woodward is Associate Editor at Graywolf Press. He holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan, where he received Hopwood Awards in both fiction and nonfiction. Authors he has worked with at Graywolf include Susan Steinberg, Ben Stroud, Alan Heathcock, Carmen Bugan, Shann Ray, and Benjamin Percy. He is editor and co-founder of Menagerie, an online magazine that focuses on hybrid forms, and has also worked at Michigan Quarterly Review and the Bloomsbury Review. He has spoken about publishing and independent presses at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, the Loft Literary Center, the Flathead River Writers’ Conference, Writers at Work, and the University of Minnesota, among other places.
1. Why did you choose to become an editor?
I’ve always wanted to understand the process of publishing from as many angles as possible. So that meant doing things like getting involved with literary journals, volunteering at a book review, and working at a bookstore. It also meant, for me, getting an MFA to understand the writer’s process, and post-graduation, realizing that teaching didn’t engage me directly enough with books. That led me to internships with small presses: Milkweed and Graywolf. You could say that I’ve been working toward being an editor since I first realized that people wrote, edited, and collaborated to publish the books I adored.
2. Are there any projects you wish you could have edited?
When a book comes out that I loved but lost, there’s a part of me that wishes I’d been able to have a hand in it, just for the thrill of working with an author whose work I really connected with! I had that feeling when a book went elsewhere recently—a dark, violent portrayal of life in a Pacific Northwest harbor town near the turn of the century called THE BULLY OF ORDER by Brian Hart. But knowing I’ll see it on shelves before too long is consolation. Good books will out.
3. What are you reading right now (for personal reading, for fun)?
This list is endless, as it should be! But here are a few.
YOU ARE ONE OF THEM, Elliott Holt
THE MAN IN THE EMPTY SUIT, Sean Ferrell
NIGHT FILM, Marisha Pessl
4. How do you utilize Twitter? How do you believe it has changed the way we go about publishing books?
Twitter is a godsend for publishing folk outside New York. It gives me access to an ongoing conversation about books, authors, publishing in general, and more. I use it to follow people I’m interested in, both inside the industry and out, and have come to know some people first through twitter before meeting them IRL, as they say. The speed of social media has obviously changed reporting on major news events, and that same speed of information exchange has resulted in the advent of things like instant ebooks, and in publishers shortening the length of time they take to publish a book, especially when it relates to current events. But I think that this has also stoked readers’ hunger for books that take more time in the incubator and that stick with you long after you finish reading, which are the kind of books we champion here at Graywolf.
5. If you had a crystal ball, where do you think (or hope) publishing will be in 5 yrs?
I don’t think a crystal ball is necessary to see the trends: continued consolidation, increasing pressure on books to perform within a short period of time, decreased willingness to take artistic risks on the part of the big 5 (which may be fewer in number by then), and continued evolution of digital forms. I do think, though, that we’re seeing a continued resurgence among the small presses, who are getting stronger as a result of larger houses chasing blockbusters and devaluing mid-list and emerging authors that don’t fit the mold. And that’s a trend I’m willing to bet will continue over the next five years.
To our readers, what are your thoughts on the trends Steve discusses? How do you see it helping your own writing careers?