Katelyn Keating, Writer, Editor, Publisher

Katelyn Keating is an Antioch alum and publishing professional who wears many hats. She’s the editor-in-chief of CRAFT, a literary journal that explores the art of fiction through short fiction, essays, interviews, and more; and she’s the operations manager of Prospect Park Books, an independent west coast publisher. Each summer, she works for the Los Angeles Review of Books as the web advisor to PubLab, and the publisher coordinator for LITLIT: The Little Literary Fair. Her personal and critical essays appear in Crab Orchard Review, Flyway, Lunch Ticket, Tahoma Literary Review, the U Press of FL anthology In Season: Stories of Discovery, Loss, Home, and Places in Between, and elsewhere.

During her time in getting her MFA at Antioch, she served as editor-in-chief of Lunch Ticket. Her critical thesis, “A Horizon of Dogs: Canids as Companions and Narrators in Contemporary Fiction,” was a 2017 Antioch University Library Research Award finalist.

I talked to Katelyn at the December 2019 residency, right after she and (fellow Antioch alum) Joshua Roark presented an Alumni at Work seminar, entitled “An Inside Look at the Contemporary Landscape of Publishing & Editorial Roles for Writers in It.” We talked about her work at CRAFT and Prospect Park Books, and the decentralization of the publishing industry, as well as the best piece of advice she’s ever received.

Barbara Platts: I’ve been in a few of these different talks about the publishing industry with agents and editors, and they can be very intimidating. You both have a very approachable way of presenting the information.

Katelyn Keating: Well, thank you! It definitely comes from the years of working on Lunch Ticket. How do you communicate with and work with a huge group, a staff of forty or more people, and everybody’s a volunteer and everybody’s also in school and everybody has jobs and you only get to see each other ten days every six months? You better have an approachable communication style or you’re not going to get very far! In contrast to agents, who may be able to sustain one or possibly two assistants, and so can’t help everyone in the room, we’re talking about something different. We were talking here today about getting jobs across all aspects of publishing, or launching your own magazine, and those are achievable goals.

BP: Do you still make time to write?

KK: In theory, I make time to write. The first year out of my masters, I did better. I had a writing group. There were four of us, and we did monthly sessions on Zoom, even though we all lived in Southern California, but with LA traffic, it’s easier to video chat. It was very much workshop-based, and almost served as an accountability group. But something happened where we had to suspend one month, and then the next month we had to suspend and then suddenly we weren’t in a writing group anymore.

I think accountability was holding me to my writing. Also, coming out of this master’s program, you know, it’s a six-month window before those student loans need to start getting paid back. I took all the work I could get. That first window of time felt manageable for writing, but the clock was ticking and when those student loans kicked in, I needed more income.

I learned of a part-time job as the production coordinator for Prospect Park Books here in town. I got that job. Then in the fall, Josh [Roark] approached me and said, “I have a halftime editorial position opening in our company, are you interested?” At that time, I was like, “I think it’s too much. I need to hold some space for my own writing.” I don’t often share this, but I was diagnosed right after graduating with several chronic illnesses that that I’d been showing symptoms of on and off for about a decade.

It was right after graduating that everything sort of hit at the same time. Basically, all of 2018 was trial and error, trying to figure out some health stuff. At that moment, the thought of taking another job [with CRAFT] made me think, “This will probably be the end of my writing for a little while,” but I had student loans and medical bills. I also knew this was a great opportunity. One of the most troubling symptoms for me was increased brain fog, like cognitive dysfunction that had already started to creep in, and it was affecting my writing. As a nonfiction writer, I was starting a lot of personal essays, but I was misremembering my own life, which was my subject matter.

This year I’ve made some good progress with my health. I have a great doctor who’s helped quite a bit. I’m back in a place where I would say, for the most part, my memory is back.

BP: Your brain fog isn’t as bad?

KK: The brain fog is less severe. I will get some fatigue. For example, after this, like talking and being on point for a couple hours, I’m probably a little slower right now than I would normally be. I just acknowledge it and now I’m having to learn how to tell people, “Hey, so I have some chronic illnesses, and I’ve got a little brain fog right now. Don’t mind me.”

The writing I did over the last year was all in service of other people’s words, and it made for a wonderful year. At CRAFT, we write editorial introductions for each of the fiction pieces we publish. I got to write all of them last year, little critical snippets, like a paragraph, about the piece. I really enjoyed it. We also edit pretty hard, so we do a lot of rounds of back and forth, developmental and line editing with the writers. That’s rewarding unto itself too.

BP: So you’re still flexing that muscle? 

KK: Yeah, working it out. I still feel a little bit fresher sitting down to work on an essay, even if I’ve been editing fiction all day. My writing has become all editorial introductions for other writers and fighting with medical insurance companies. I’ve been writing—but none of it’s creative. I’m excited for next year. I gave up one job to clear out some space. I have my goals for 2020, and I’ve got five hours of writing per week built in, so that’s good. That’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing. It’s better than what I did this year.

BP: Your preferred format is essays?

KK: I would say the thing I’m most drawn to right now is essays. I don’t write short fiction, but two of my project periods at Antioch were spent in the fiction genre, and I have about three-quarters of the first draft of a novel. Every once in a while, I do a lot of thinking about that, and it’s just percolating. There’s a plot point that I’m hung up on. I need to resolve this problem for the main character before I can get her into this next space. I write essays primarily. I think the content that would be ready for me first to try to sell a book would be an essay collection.

The most important piece of advice I got from my first mentor was to get as broad of an education as possible without diluting it.

BP: You were editor-in-chief for two terms on Lunch Ticket and also had many other roles. Can you explain why you think that experience prepared you for the two main jobs you have now?

KK: The most important piece of advice I got here from my first mentor was to get as broad of an education as possible without diluting it. Lunch Ticket, for me, was not my field study. I did it additionally. At my second residency, I went to the Lunch Ticket orientation. I became an assistant editor in nonfiction, and it was absolutely eye opening. It was an amazing experience to do those three or four months of reading, of seeing all the unpolished stuff. I was hooked. It’s such a strong lesson in synthesizing what you’re being taught in the seminars. You’ll hear how important the first page is, how important the hook is, how important it is to engage the readers and all the boxes you need to tick to get the pages turning.

For me, I definitely am someone who learns from that negative space—here are the things that aren’t working—and I’m able to identify those and now I want to reverse that and make sure I’m not doing it in my own writing. It made a huge improvement in my writing. I also did some marketing work. I learned a lot about that and finding a brand voice, speaking as Lunch Ticket, particularly when you’re working across social media platforms and needing that consistent messaging. I had never really thought about that in the space of writing, how serving on a journal would come into play. It was just phenomenal.

BP: Did you know when you started at Antioch that you wanted to be in the publishing industry?

KK: No, I did not. I definitely was under the illusion that you could still be a novelist, that that was a job. I had done my undergrad in creative writing, but more than a decade before and had followed a totally different career. I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t submitting. I wasn’t looking at what was going on in literary journals or book publishing or anything else. I figured I’d go get a master’s and be a writer, which isn’t to say that there aren’t people that do that, but writing doesn’t pay the way it used to. Publishing has changed. The six figure advances don’t exist for too many people anymore. I knew that I did want a career change. The question was, what am I going to do about it?

When it was time to apply for my third issue of Lunch Ticket, I submitted for managing editor. Because continuity is important, and I would still have two more semesters in the program, they chose me to be editor-in-chief instead. It was definitely an imposter syndrome moment. I thought, “I’m not qualified, don’t pick me.” But the system is beautiful in that there’s always every level of student in there, and you have all this expertise in the journal that just stays in the collective. I was surrounded by people who knew what they were doing. It just flowed, and it was such a rewarding experience to work with people doing something they’re passionate about.

There’s a woman who used to work on Lunch Ticket with me, a friend of mine who had gotten a job at LA Review of Books. She told me the LA Review of Books was launching a publishing workshop and I would be a great candidate for it. I was accepted and I got a fellowship, and had a great summer. The best thing to come out of it was the networking. I think we had about seventy-five speakers. I left there with essentially a Rolodex of people working in publishing at fairly high levels all around the country and the world. That led to learning early about a job opportunity I was qualified for at Prospect Park Books, and then I learned about the CRAFT opportunity. Knowing someone and having that network in place got my CV read, got me the interviews for these positions.

BP: For those of us who are particularly fond of the West Coast but want to be involved in the publishing world, do you think that’s becoming more possible?

KK: I do. I think it’s really exciting. It’s a really vibrant literary community here. Almost every night of the week the bookstores are booked with readings. There’s lots of strong, local, independent bookstores. People actually go to these kinds of events. There’s independent literary organizations like Beyond Baroque and World Stage that are giving back and workshopping and creating a great literary space here. LA Review of Books’ Publishing Workshop partnered with Hauser and Wirth galleries to start a new summer book fair, LITLIT, in 2019. I organized the exhibitors. I think I knew of at least thirty publishing ventures here: presses, some trade publishers, some nonprofits, poetry presses, boutique presses, little micro-presses, big stuff like Rare Birds and Red Hen. I thought I knew them all and there were like double; there’s more than sixty. There’s probably more than eighty. It was such an uplifting experience to be like, look at all this work coming out of this city.

LA’s game is pretty strong right now and growing. The San Francisco Bay Area is also strong. They’ve got some bigger ones like Heyday and City Lights, but also smaller independents like Two Lines Press, a translation press. Portland has a vibrant scene. I actually don’t know as much about poetry, but it feels like a lot of the bigger poetry presses are on the West Coast.

BP: You mentioned Minneapolis in your seminar, too.

KK: Yes, Minneapolis. Graywolf is there, and Milkweed, and Coffee House, and there’s even more. They’re booming with literary stuff. I feel like I’m always seeing jobs.

BP: It’s nice to see it’s a bit decentralized, not all in New York City.

KK: It’s fantastic. Denver apparently has a big growing scene with some publishers popping up. Decentralization is critical to what’s happening now. It’s expensive to be in New York, and you don’t have to be. There’s great regional stuff in the southwest. In any city you live in, there’s five or seven super qualified people to run a small press for sure. Access to distribution is always a changing landscape, but with strong players like Small Press Distribution and Independent Publishers Group and even Ingram—though it’s corporate and has bought up a lot of stuff, they’re still pretty supportive of the small presses. I don’t see that changing. I don’t see this sort of response to the Big Five fading because there’s just, there’s so much energy and new ideas coming out with people opening new publishing houses. I see a lot more mission-driven projects. And I like that. That certainly fits with what our entire master’s program here is about, and Lunch Ticket being a mission driven journal when not all are.

BP: You really took your mentor’s advice to heart. You do a little of everything.

KK: Oh yeah, it’s real! At Prospect Park Books, mostly what I do is the production coordinating. So, it’s all of the books: schedules and printing quotes and booking printers and then, once the manuscript is ready for print, getting it to the press technicians that work for the printers, and keeping things on time and managing the logistics. It uses that other side of my brain, which also helps, particularly when I was having the worst year last year and I had a lot of cognitive brain fog stuff, it felt really good to still be able to do that job well. Basically, I go to Prospect Park three days a week for like five, six hours. It’s a little under half time. And then CRAFT is a little over half time, but remote, which is lovely. And then working with LARB is seasonal.

BP: You wear a lot of hats. You’re juggling a lot.

KK: Yeah. There’s just not as many full time, stable jobs in this profession anymore. So, that is one caveat. I also spent another career doing that forty hours of the same thing, a couple of years in corporate settings and that level of just sameness was the most exhausting thing ever. This is more energizing because I feel like the different jobs inform each other and feed off each other a little bit. It’s changing hats or changing desks. I mean, it’s these same tricks that you learn. If you’re having writer’s block, change your location, turn off the computer and go sit outside and write in a notebook.

BP: What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting an MFA program, hoping to get into the publishing world?

KK: Go as broad as possible without diluting. Try to take from many buckets. I will say that’s the best piece of advice I’ve gotten in any setting. You can apply it outside of writing too. And be vulnerable I guess is the other piece of advice. You have to be real. Publishing and writing are a whole bunch of iconoclasts in the same room. And so, you have to be yourself.

Barbara Platts is an award-winning columnist and the online editor for Sweet Jane Magazine. She’s worked in many forms of journalism, from public radio to newspaper, and is thrilled to be pursuing her MFA for nonfiction writing at Antioch University. She works for Lunch Ticket on the interview, blog, and creative nonfiction teams. She lives in Los Angeles with her fiancé and two adorable pups. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @BarbaraPlatts.