Many years ago, I had a micropress called Tiny Hardcore Press. I published small but mighty books that could fit in your pocket or purse. There was a steep learning curve, because running a press is incredibly challenging, especially when you’re a one-person operation. You’re responsible for everything! You acquire the books, draft the contracts, design the books and covers or find someone to do that work. There is the editing, and working with a printer, going over proofs, promotion and publicity and, of course, distribution. I learned a lot of painful lessons, many of them at the post office, but I published some incredible books from generous writers who entrusted their work with me, no small thing. At the time, I was a junior faculty member making not a lot of money and funding the entire endeavor out of pocket. I could only do so much, and I always wondered what it would be like to run a press with meaningful resources.
As I learned about publishing from the writer’s perspective, I came to understand how very different publishing is from writing. The craft, the work of writing is the creative part, the labor of love, the leap of faith. Publishing, finding an agent, submitting your work, preparing it for publication and publicity, that’s the business end of things. I started thinking about getting back into publishing books a few years ago. Last year, when I mentioned the idea to my agent Maria Massie, she immediately forged ahead and before I knew it, we had interest from a couple publishers and now, here we are. Roxane Gay Books is an imprint of Grove Atlantic.
Grove Atlantic is also creating a fellowship. The fellow will spend half their time working with me on the imprint and half of their time working, over time, with each of the departments at Grove Atlantic to learn the ins and outs of publishing. We aren’t requiring a college degree or years of experience, so that hopefully, interesting candidates won’t face the normal barriers they might encounter when trying to break into publishing. It is, I hope, a small step in the right direction.
There are serious structural problems in publishing. The industry, as a whole, is incredibly white and populated by people from upper middle-class backgrounds. We this at every level, from writers to editors to production designers to publicists. While women dominate the industry, they don’t necessarily dominate executive positions. Pundits try to explain this whiteness and access to generational wealth as a pipeline problem, as if there are no people of color and/or working-class people who are interested in publishing or who have the necessary experience. That is a fantasy, at best. It is the laziest possible explanation, one that shirks responsibility and reflects a resignation or commitment to the status quo.
The barriers to entry in publishing are, largely, economic. Entry-level pay is wildly inadequate, especially in New York, the seat of the industry. Frankly, the solution to this problem isn’t a fellowship, however well-intended. The solution is a financial commitment from every major publisher to raise entry level salaries so people without the support of generational wealth can enter the industry. The solution is pay transparency so that pay is equitable across all demographics. It’s embarrassing how easy it would be to solve this problem once and for all. And it is telling that the industry still does so very little.
Temporary measures are just that… temporary. They convey a real lack of interest in sustainable change. I am thrilled to have an imprint and I am excited to see what other new imprints, like Phoebe Robinson’s Tiny Reparations Books are going to publish. But a couple of imprints led by black women will not change the character of publishing. These imprints are not evidence that publishing is evolving and they won’t be until the industry makes this kind of initiative the rule rather than the exception.
I’ve been talking about diversity in publishing for more than a decade and it is not a subject I have a particular interest in talking about. I would rather talk about my actual writing and the other work I do. I’d rather talk about pop culture or my puppy who weighs eight pounds but, undeterred by reality, thinks he is a guard dog. Not only have I been talking about this for more than a decade, alongside my peers who have been doing the very same work, the conversation has not changed. An essay about the whiteness of publishing that was written in 1995 could be and is being written today. We are still having to prove that yes, publishing is still very white. We still have to listen to nonsense complaints about how it is impossible for white people to publish because all the book deals go to writers of color. All the while, the progress that is made is inconsistent and incremental.
I do not know what the future holds for publishing but I do know that for now, at least, I will stake a claim to a small corner of the industry. Since the announcement, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the imprint. I will be the acquiring editor and I will be hands-on, while collaborating with Amy, the fellow, and the rest of the incredible team at Grove Atlantic.
People have tried pitching me books via Instagram DM, Facebook messages, and e-mails to both me and my own editor at Grove Atlantic, Amy Hundley. I’ve also gotten a lot of questions about the kind of work I intend to publish so I will try to share what I am looking for.
I am going to publish books I love from interesting writers. That could, of course, mean anything. I am looking for beautifully written, compelling books that challenge, delight, and entertain readers. I love literary fiction but your story has to have an interesting plot. Things have to happen! I want books I simply cannot put down and that, when I finish, I can’t stop thinking about. I love stories about difficult women. I welcome your so-called unlikable protagonists. I enjoy dark, gritty stories but I am also open to happy, joyful but unsentimental stories that reflect faith in the overall goodness of humanity, Ted Lasso, but a novel.
I will consider novels, short fiction, memoirs, essay collections, and nonfiction. Most genres are welcome but my tastes skew not only to literary fiction but also to contemporary romance, and science fiction and fantasy. I am always open to being surprised but I will not likely be drawn to stories about sad white people marriages or autofiction. I am not interested in police propaganda narratives. Historical fiction, Westerns and the like will be a hard sell and there are other imprints that are a better fit for those stories. Only non-fiction will be considered on proposal.
Poetry is a vital art form I love, but I am not considering any poetry, without exception. Sorry, poets! I am also not considering young adult fiction, for now, but that may change in the future.
This is not an imprint that will try to be everything to everyone. Universality is not the goal.
Roxane Gay Books prioritizes excellent writing from underrepresented writers and does so, proudly—Black writers, writers of color more broadly, queer writers, writers with disabilities, working class writers, women writers, all of us who live at the intersections of these identities.
I hope to develop deep relationships with writers and help them navigate the process of bringing a book into the world from manuscript acceptance through and beyond publication. I am interested in working with writers who understand that publishing is a business and are willing to approach it as such. The writers who will be best suited to this imprint will want to actively promote their book and will do so without apologizing or diminishing their work as if it doesn’t matter. They will be confident in their writing or, like many of us, (ME) able to project confidence while dealing with overwhelming self-doubt.
There are no fees for submitting a manuscript. All RGB authors will receive an advance. I will respond to every submission though I cannot respond to every submission personally. I will respect your work and the time you have put in to get to this point. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a large social media following or a platform. You do not need blurbs from writers for your manuscript or proposal because it is ridiculous that the market would ever expect that for an unsold project. It is an unnecessary hoop and there’s no need to jump through it for me. You don’t need to hire an editor to edit your manuscript before you submit though you do, of course, want to send excellent, well-developed, polished work.
All I really care about is what you put on the page.
Submissions will only be considered via Submittable. I will not consider e-mail submissions. I do not ever do business in DMs. I hope to respond within three months but may take up to six months.
I will be accepting both agented and unagented submissions though I cannot promise I will always be open to unagented submissions. It depends on volume.
Nonfiction proposals should be submitted as a PDF. A non-fiction proposal should include:
your project title
a one-paragraph summary of your project
author biography and statement as to why you are best-qualified for this undertaking
a table of contents, including a brief summary of what each chapter or section will cover, a market analysis that identifies your intended audience, comparative titles that have already been published
one or two sample chapters so we can get a sense of your narrative voice
I will open to submissions on July 1st at gay.submittable.com.
Please submit a cover letter and full-length manuscript as a PDF.
Please submit a cover letter, and as a PDF, a 1-3 page summary of your book, and the first three (3) chapters of your manuscript. If we want to see more, we will request a full manuscript. If you’re submitting a nonfiction proposal, please send a cover letter and the proposal as PDFs.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a cover letter should say, please don’t overthink it. Open your letter with a 1-2 paragraph description of your book; think back cover copy with a bit more substance. Then, introduce yourself. Who are you? Where, if at all, have you been published? Why were you compelled to write this book? Why do you think this imprint would be a good fit for your work? And then, bring the letter to a close. Your cover letter doesn’t need to be long. You don’t need to do anything but talk about yourself and your writing. Good luck!