Graduate Insight: An Interview with Kait Heacock

Fri, 21 Aug 2015 16:00:14 +0000

As a 2012 Ooligan graduate, Kait Heacock has made a graceful transition from the Portland publishing scene to Overlook Press in NYC. She is a fiction writer and works as a book publicist. She has been published in the Portland Review, Tin House’s Open Bar blog, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn’s Sunday Stories section, among other publications. With all she has going on, we consider ourselves lucky to catch her for a few questions!

How did you select Portland State University for graduate study? Can you describe the work you did with Ooligan Press?

After finishing undergrad, I took some time off to gain work experience and sort through what I wanted to do next. I knew that writing would always be the biggest factor in my life, but I needed to find a “day job.” I knew I didn’t want to teach, but I was interested in the idea of working as an editor so I could stay close to books. I chose PSU’s program because of its length and full immersion in the publishing process. I looked at summer certificate programs that would have been quicker, but what I really wanted was the opportunity to learn the industry in as in-depth a way as possible.

My work at Ooligan focused on editing. I was the acquisitions editor for Sean Davis’s The Wax Bullet War and transitioned into the project manager the first two quarters of the book’s life at Ooligan. That was my first time working closely with an author, and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with than Sean. I felt truly honored to help bring his story to the public.

Did you have any internships or job experiences in Portland’s publishing community?

I was an editorial intern at Tin House Books—great experience, amazing staff, and some wonderful authors, including the one and only Kevin Sampsell, who served as something of a mentor to me during my time in Portland (and still does). The summer following my graduation, I worked as a publicity, marketing, and sales consultant for Roosevelt High School’s Writing and Publishing Center. I helped launch their first book, Where the Roses Smell the Best. This was my first time working in publicity, and it led me to where I am now.

You’re working for Overlook Press, an independent, general-interest publisher that puts out about one hundred new books each year in a wide range of genres. What is your role at Overlook Press? How did you pick that opportunity?

I am a publicity associate, which means that it’s my job to talk about books. Pretty great, right? I manage around ten titles per season, sending galleys and press releases to the media, planning book tours, attending industry conferences, and managing social media. I originally worked at a non-profit when I moved to NYC because I have a background in that field and knew it would be easier to find a job in that sector than in the ultra-competitive world of publishing. From there I transitioned into another publicity consulting job, this time for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and their first published book, Greenwich Village Stories. After my contract ended with them, I knew I wanted to pursue book publicity full time, which led me to Overlook.

There are plenty of differences between the smaller, student-run Ooligan Press and Overlook. Have you found any similarities?

Overlook is a small press. We have about fifteen employees. Working in a small office environment made the most sense to me since my background is with independent presses. The small staff affords a lot of room for collaboration, which was an important experience I had at Ooligan. We also publish a little bit of everything, from literary fiction to memoirs and biographies, thrillers to children’s books, and young adult novels to cookbooks. The variety reminds me a lot of Ooligan, where I worked on a debut novel, a poetry collection, and a memoir, among other [projects].

Can you tell us a bit about your experience moving from the publishing climate of the West Coast to that of the East Coast?

Working in the East Coast publishing industry, I immediately feel the decades-long legacy of traditional publishing. Though Overlook is an independent press, our publisher managed Penguin UK for twenty-five years, so we’re very much a part of the legacy. Everything feels bigger here. My first book launch was at Strand Books and featured a reading with John Leguizamo. I sat right behind his wife and kids. After the reading, I walked through the busy streets near Union Square and had one of those surreal moments where it felt like my life was a movie—like, how did I end up here? That being said, I admire and miss the spirit of West Coast publishing. Places like McSweeney’s, Seal Press, and Tin House (which also has an office in Brooklyn) make me excited about where literature is moving. I miss the Best Coast and its do-it-yourself, zine-making pioneer attitude.

You are currently working on a debut collection of short stories. How does your own writing influence the ways you see yourself fitting into the publishing world? What will you be doing in five years?

Working in publishing is an extension of my writing. I think, talk, and write about writing most of the time, so working in publishing means surrounding myself with people who share the same passion as me. Perhaps most importantly, since I consider myself a feminist writer, I want that to shape my professional choices as I continue in my career. There are great disparities in the publishing industry between the genders, namely that women make about $25,000 less than men, even though we account for 74 percent of the workforce. As I fight as a female writer to have my voice heard, I hope as a publicist to do the same for other female writers.

In five years, I will be writing. I can’t say anything else for sure. Writing is and always will be the constant in my life. I’ll wait to see what else happens as it comes.

Thank you for discussing the disparity of female representation in the industry. Do your feminist ethics influence what you read? What are you reading right now?

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. I’ve been participating in the #ReadWomen2014 campaign, which has been a wonderful experience. It’s a very simple concept that asks readers to consider the ratio of books they read by male and female authors and to spend a year reading books by women. Participating in it helped me realize how important it is to diversify my reading habits. There are so many books out there. How strange that so many of us only read those written by white American/British males.

Is there one Overlook title that you feel especially excited about?

I have had the great pleasure of working with Deirdre Franklin, animal rights activist and founder of Pinups for Pitbulls, Inc., a non-profit that promotes education and awareness of pit bulls through pinup-style calendars. Overlook recently published a book collecting ten years worth of photos and stories about the organization, Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls. She is an amazing woman with a heart for animals, and I’m happy to say that, out of our time working together, we’ve become good friends. She is the best author a publicist could hope to work with.

Any advice for other Oolies as we graduate and head into the industry?

Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams, but don’t expect for a second that just because you took the risk and pursued them everything will fall into place. I dreamed of moving to NYC to work in publishing for years, and I will never regret that I went out on a limb to follow this dream. But this has also be the hardest year and a half of my life. Sometimes you have to take the first three steps before the universe shows up to meet you. Nothing worthwhile comes easily.

You can follow Kait and her writing on a variety of platforms, including her personal blog, her Twitter account, and even on Bustle.

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