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Word Riot Inc.: Kicking Small Press Into High Gear
Interviews

An Interview with Raphael Kadushin by Kari Kamin

Kari Kamin: We know you are an editor with the University of Wisconsin Press, but will you share what your job entails?

Raphael Kadushin: What I am is the acquisitions editor. I am responsible for finding manuscripts that I think are a good fit for us, signing them. Signing the authors and then working on sort of developing the manuscripts if I feel they need some work. Then there is another editor; they are called manuscript editors, who are in charge of line editing. I don’t do any of that. They are in charge of line editing, copyediting. Then there is a production editor, who is obviously in charge of production and layout. So there’s a lot of different editors here.

KK: I recently had the opportunity to read Paola Corso’s Catina’s Haircut, and noticed it’s published through an imprint of the press called Terrace Books. Could you talk about how that works?

RK: We use Terrace Books as an imprint when it’s a trade book. When it’s fiction or a memoir, and we want to attract a large kind of mainstream trade market. Sometimes if you have a university imprint on a book, it scares people off, or they think it’s an academic book. Most publishers have different imprints under the umbrella of the publisher, but we use Terrace Books mostly for our trade books.

KK: In 2008 you did an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal where you mentioned it’s “a great time to be in university publishing because [they are] really the last publishers who can sign a book based on its quality and not just based on the market.” Do you still feel that way? Why is that?

RK: It’s a very simple answer. The reason we have a little more liberty than a commercial press is because we are nonprofit. A commercial press really has to make money off of books to stay afloat. We essentially just aim to break even on a book, and that gives us a lot more flexibility in terms of signing books that might not sell thousands and thousands of copies, but that we feel are really good books. That was always the mission of the university presses to publish the kind of work that a commercial press would not publish because it’s valuable in its own right and it might not necessarily have the widest or largest market, but [laughs]…I’ll let you continue, and I’ll add my little speech at the end.

KK: Paola Corso’s Giovanna’s 86 Circles is a book of short stories, whereas her more recent work, Catina’s Haircut is a novel in stories. Is that a result of meager sales books of short stories tend to have?

RK: Not really. That’s sort of the conventional wisdom, but actually some short story collections sell okay. It’s just that in this case, the stories already were really connected. It seemed sort of silly not to just connect them in a more clear way. We just thought that would make more of a fluid narrative. That’s why we suggested that the author link them up.

KK: I noticed the UW press had a booth at the AWP conference this year. How else are you involved with the larger publishing world?

RK: You can’t really have a trade list without being involved in the larger publishing world. We do at least two New York media calls each year where we meet with all the book reviewers from the New York Times and so on. To be honest about 80% of my trade authors, except for the regional ones, are probably in New York or California. You have to be a part of the larger literary world to even do books of fiction. We are involved as much as we can. We work in major conferences. The AWP is great because we always have our authors reading there, signing books. We do a lot of collaborative readings and events with other publishers, and that is really crucial.

KK: The UW Press web site mentions a board made up of UW faculty that the books have to go through before publication. How involved with the press is the university?

RK: Not as much as you would think, but there is a press committee. It’s nine professors who represent the university, and we basically can’t offer a contract to any author until the press committee has voted to approve that book. The press committee meets with us usually once a month, and we present the books that we want to sign that have gone through review that month. They see sample chapters from the book. We make our verbal statement about the book. We have to get two outside peer reviews on each title. They see the reviews, a sample chapter from the book, and then they vote whether to approve the book or not. So in that sense, the university is very involved in the final acquisitions of the title.

KK: Are the professors from all different departments?

RK: Yeah. We try to get professors that correspond to some of our lists, but they are not necessarily all corresponding. We try to get as great a variety as possible.

KK: UW Press has a Facebook page. How important is it for a press to be involved in social media, particularly a university press?

RK: Every press, everybody, anyone selling anything has to be involved in social media. The question is how much of an impact it really has, and that’s hard to gage. Every book we do now, we do as an e-book, an electronic book. You know, most of our books are available on Kindle, so on so forth. You can’t avoid that. That’s just the future. What I will say, and what I was going to editorialize about [laughs] is that I think that the internet monopoly, and the way Google and their friends and Amazon, have just desponded world literature is just the worst thing that has happened to publishers and authors, particularly, in the last hundred years. What Google, Amazon, Kindle, and the whole gang, the whole monopoly does is essentially they price products so low. They devalue the products so much that authors will never see real royalties on their books ever again, and publishers will be lucky to break even. So essentially they are doing none of the work, they have absolutely no commitment to the books or the authors, and they are the ones who are essentially making the money.

KK: Do you think there’s any way to combat that, or is it inevitable?

RK: I think publishers are just blindsided. I think publishers and authors need to come together, and really fight this, really protect their own copyrights, and really protect fair pricing. Because the books are devalued when they are sold on the internet as they are for some ridiculously low price. Essentially, people feel they should be free. We are left with is a lot of really bad blogs in the end. I really feel strongly, and I don’t think people are talking enough about what the monopoly means for the future of literacy in the world. I think that’s crucial. That for me in terms of publishing books, literacy, serious writing is really going to determine the future of everything.

KK: Do you have anything to say about a rise of interest in MFA creative writing programs, but seemingly a lesser amount of people reading?

RK: It’s funny, a lot of what I see in a lot of books, a lot of projects, a lot manuscripts, people want to write a book, but have never read a book. I think there’s a real interest in writing, but there’s no interest in reading. I think that’s just an offshoot of people really seeing books as a form of exhibitionism. It’s just a longer blog, and that’s not what books are. I’m really impatient with that. I think there a lot of people going into it for the wrong reason.

About the author:

Kari Kamin is an undergraduate student at Columbia College in Fiction Writing. Her work has previously appeared in the Yahara Journal.

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