Welcome to another installment of our series of interviews with indie publishers in which we ask them to let us take a peek behind the closed doors of the publishing world and roam around there a bit. We discuss with them the current state of the book publishing industry, their personal histories and plans for the future. All this to help you understand how much effort and dedication goes into every published book.
Today, we introduce you to Christine Stroud, a poet and the editor-in-chief of Autumn House Press.
Christine has published two chapbooks, The Buried Return (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and Sister Suite (Disorder Press, 2017). Stroud’s poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Hobart, Ninth Letter’s first web edition, The Paterson Literary Review, Cimarron Review, The Laurel Review, and many others as well as in several anthologies.
We talked with her about her work at Autumn House Press and her thoughts on indie publishing in general.
The Nonconformist: You’re the current editor-in-chief of Autumn House Press. Can you tell us a bit about its origins?
Christine Stroud: Autumn House was founded in 1998 (long before my time) by the poet, Michael Simms. Michael started the press in response to commercial publishers reducing the number of poetry titles. Over time, Autumn House started publishing fiction and nonfiction titles as well. In its twenty-one years of existence, Autumn House has published over 100 titles, including full-length collections of poetry, short stories, and essays as well as memoirs, novels, anthologies, and poetry chapbooks; developed an online literary journal, Coal Hill Review; partnered with amazing organizations in southwestern PA and beyond; and much more. I started as an intern with the press in 2012. Over the years, I took on more responsibility, and in 2016, I became editor-in-chief. It’s been a lot of fulfilling work, and I can say confidently there’s no other place I’d rather be.
At its core, publishing is work of the heart, and our hearts are subjective.
NC: What do you look for in a submission? Does a perfect submission even exist?
CS: I’m always looking for work that surprises and absorbs me. We receive a lot of incredible work by a combination of emerging and accomplished writers, so a manuscript that stands out is one that I don’t want to stop reading, one that I want to immediately share with my co-editors. That may be a manuscript that’s formally experimental or approaching a familiar topic in a new way, but the common thread is a strong and original voice.
As far as a perfect submission, sure, I’ve read a few I’d call perfect though I’m sure other editors might disagree. At its core, publishing is work of the heart, and our hearts are subjective. To that end, my suggestion to all writers is to strive for your sense of perfection, not what you think a publisher might want to see.
NC: How do you manage to reconcile the sensibility of a poet with the critical eye of a publisher?
CS: What a delightful question! I actually think poets, because of their sensibilities, make the best editors. Poets are watchers, observers; we notice the little things and have great attention to detail. These traits are essential in creating a meaningful poem as well as being a talented editor.
My suggestion to all writers is to strive for your sense of perfection, not what you think a publisher might want to see.
NC: What is it like to be an indie publisher these days? How do you find a balance between your everyday life and publishing duties?
CS: It’s an interesting and exciting time to work in publishing. There have been a number of changes over the years that give me a lot of hope for the future, including the growth of eBook and audiobook markets and the increased success of indie press books. I think it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the development at times, but I’m trying harder to appreciate the incremental and steady changes that happen here day-to-day.
Finding a balance is difficult. Over the years, I think I developed a fairly healthy work-life balance, and if work affects my writing, I think it’s the amount of work I do, not the type of work I do. I feel fortunate to have a full-time job doing what I love, but as I think anyone who works a forty-hour work week in any office would agree, it’s tiring. On the other hand, the work I do often inspires me to take more risks in my poems, to push myself, and that’s vital.
NC: Who inspires you as a poet and who is your role model as a publisher?
CS: I’m constantly being inspired by poets. Most recently I’ve been in awe of Margaret Ross and Richard Siken, and every poet that we publish as Autumn House (it’s staggering the talented poets I get to work with here). I find myself returning to books by Ross Gay, Li-Young Lee, Gary Young, Mary Oliver, and others. I also love Poetry Daily’s work and the access to voices I may not otherwise encounter.
Reading The Subversive Editor by Carol Fisher Saller made a significant impression on me and how I approach editing. I also deeply respect the work of all indie press editors, and obviously, my mentor at Autumn House, Michael Simms.
Poets are watchers, observers; we notice the little things and have great attention to detail.
NC: If it’s not a secret, what are your upcoming projects and plans for the future?
CS: I’m most excited about our upcoming publishing partnership with the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics; the partnership will culminate with us publishing a first or second book of poetry by an author of African descent. It’s a great way for us to worth with and support an organization we’re really admire. The book will be released in September 2021.
Photo: Courtesy of Christine Stroud