An Interview with Erin Wood: Publisher, Essayist, and Booksmart Business Woman
By Liz Larson, Fiction Editor
In the past three years, I have been lucky to work with two inclusive and diverse publishing organizations: Arkana and Et Alia Press: A Small Press for Big Voices. Both are located in the heart of Arkansas—where good words find good homes.
Below is a Q and A with Erin Wood, the Et Alia Press publisher responsible for one of the most dynamic and contrasting book catalogs in the region. (Be sure to check out Et Alia’s website to familiarize yourself with the variety of Lit this small southern state of Arkansas offers its readers: https://www.etaliapress.com/)
Erin, thank you so much for answering Arkana’s questions!
What drew you to Et Alia in the first place? You joined it in 2010 and then took sole ownership in 2018?
In 2006, I moved back home to Arkansas, and in 2009, I graduated with my master’s in professional and technical writing with a nonfiction focus from UA Little Rock.
A grad school professor shared that he and a partner were thinking about starting a small press. In part because I previously practiced law, they asked if I’d be interested in joining them to do the startup work, draft author contracts, and do some editing. I knew basically zero about publishing other than what I’d learned during three years as the managing editor of the academic journal, Literature and Medicine (which used to be housed at UAMS). I truly learned on the job. Only a few titles came out during the first several years. Soon, though, I wanted to turn my full focus to it, had a solid vision for it, and took it over solo. I’ve fine-tuned its focus to nonfiction writing with preference for subject matter and/or authors with strong Arkansas connections. To me, if you’re going to publish 3 to 5 books a year, there’s an endless supply of material to captivate right here in Arkansas. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to learn more about my home state and its people and to build community.
On your website you state, “Et Alia is a small press based in Little Rock, Arkansas, with publishing interests in three areas:
Local Histories: preserves and expands cultural memory in its diversity, especially valuing neglected and alternative histories.
Health and Wellness: places special emphasis on physical, spiritual, and environmental well-being; the series also gives voice to practitioners of holistic and alternative medicine.
Emerging Artists: gives voice to talented first-book authors.”
What made you choose the above as your press’s priorities?
So much that I enjoy reading falls into these categories, and it feels like there is so much necessity and possibility in them all.
Looking at local histories offers the opportunity to consider Arkansas stories that perhaps we haven’t heard about before. As a native Arkansan who “lived away” for some time, I’ve come to see my relationship with my home state as not dissimilar to a long-term or familial relationship. Relationships are complicated— so many layers of history along with what is said and unsaid. And yet it is possible to wish some things were more understandable, or different, and to love at the same time. It is possible to hold both these things inside ourselves when we think of a person or a place. I am always anxious to look more deeply at that with regard to Arkansas.
Regarding health and wellness, this is such an underpinning for every human being throughout our entire lives. Not only are health memoirs my favorite reading material, but this subject matter feels intensely personal. I’ve had twelve surgeries, including nine abdominal surgeries, experiences that led me to create Scars: An Anthology. Also, having lost a baby and birthed our daughter at twenty-three weeks’ gestation, it is important to me to be part of the conversation about childhood illness and bereavement (such as with books like Adam Gets Back in the Game, authored by the bereavement program coordinator at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Greg Adams, and just published in September 2019, and The Moon Prince and the Sea by Daniela Rose Anderson). With age and massive life-changing experiences, I am also eager to delve deeper into learning about consciousness and spirituality.
Emerging authors? It is so fulfilling to be part of the process of helping authors get to print for the first time. I’m always honored when authors place trust in Et Alia as a partner in the publishing process.
What does Et Alia do differently than the many presses in its cohort? I mean, you don’t seek to be like the big five publishing houses, or do you? What can a small press do that the large monoliths can’t?
The personal relationships with authors feel really great. In fact, I often say in introducing a new author who has just signed a contract, “Please welcome _______ to our Et Alia family.” Maybe that comes across as corny, but that is how it feels to me and that’s the sense of community that I strive for. Family being the ones that you actually want around!
What has been one of your more inventive ways to publicize and market your authors?
Honestly, I think authors sometimes feel like they need to get super creative in order to have the big idea that will sell loads of books, but what I’ve found most important is the good-old-fashioned getting out there, reading, appearing, and discussing. While I do sit down with authors to create a marketing plan, and that looks a little different for every author, the tie that binds is daily toil. It is rare to sell tons of books at once and it is more likely to happen by plugging away, and taking advantage of every opportunity to talk about your work. Podcasts, especially, seem to work well for spreading the word, as does being a conference speaker. I think perhaps this is because these venues offer a chance to get more than a soundbite or a text snippet about someone, instead providing the opportunity to see their heart a little and understand their work in more depth. Also, as of more recently, I do suggest that authors hire a publicist and/or that they have a well laid-out plan for how they plan to market their book. I’m a one-woman shop here, and I can help push books out but marketing is its own full-time job. I think most small press leaders would agree that sales are extraordinarily dependent on author platform and motivation. Authors often have the best ideas about how to market their own books!
What was your biggest learning aha!?
I’ve had many. We could be here all day! I’ve seen books get ruined in high humidity and water gushing out of a drain pipe at a festival. I’ve failed to check a shipment only to find out after it was too late for credit that the pages were printed in the wrong order. I’ve grossly underestimated how long it would take to edit a book on more than one occasion, leaving me anxious and scrambling.
I’ve priced books too low a couple of times. Our books are printed in the US and we sometimes cannot compete with large publishers printing in China. Unfortunately, those are the prices that consumers are adjusted to, so that can be difficult to overcome. It is especially noticeable when it comes to color printing, which Et Alia does a lot of.
Sometimes, you just have to say, “I’m doing my best!” and be proud of that.
What are you looking forward to now that you are an established presence in the publishing field?
Is that true? I don’t know. But if it is, I just hope that what Et Alia delivers through our titles is subject matter that helps readers marvel and that enables them to look at something they may have passed over before or think about someone’s story in a different way, whether that is insects in the leaf litter at their feet, the buttons on their queer friend’s jacket, someone’s story of living through a natural disaster, or the contents of their favorite auntie’s handbag.
Women Make Arkansas explores the meaning/importance of women-owned creative businesses in Arkansas. What do you find particular to your own creative endeavors? What is similar to those other creatives in your own world?
I think many creatives can relate to the challenge of finding (making!) time for their work. Like many writers who also support their work through other aspects of their careers, I have to consistently remind myself to do my own writing too. I’m a slow writer. So slow. My last published piece about a young friend’s death to cancer and her resurrection through the unexpected medium of moss required a lot of research on moss and took me nearly three years to write. (https://catapult.co/stories/my-friend-died-of-cancer-but-lives-in-moss)
I’ve been working on my current essay for about a year. To me, the revision is where interesting things really start to happen and it can take dozens of drafts for me to feel that I’m approaching something meaningful. Every writer’s process is a little different, of course. I’m trying to remind myself (again) that I can write short and that good things can happen without requiring huge chunks of time. Since big time blocks seem hard for me to come by, I’m trying to adapt my work to the writing time that I have available rather than not doing it at all.
Another similarity to many of the women in Women Make Arkansas is that as we progress down our creative path, we are striving to close the gap between what we picture or imagine in our minds and what we can actually create with our hands. Closing that gap is not only about practice and learning about our craft, it is also about having the patience and fortitude to ride out the inevitable frustration that is an essential part of the creative process.
Finally, so many of these women bravely shared the stories of their lives. I don’t separate my personal from my professional life too much, nor do I really imagine one without the other. I found this to be true for many of these creative women, and it reminds me that our art is much more rich and profound when we reveal the personal through it and allow the personal to deepen our art.
Where is Et Alia in five years?
There are loads more submissions than I can publish and fund, so I would love to provide a curated author-funded imprint, wherein carefully-selected writers fund their own books but have all of the other benefits of publishing with a small press (such as editing expertise, printing and distribution forums, publishing and marketing guidance, an established website and following, etc.). Stay tuned!
It feels like Et Alia Press and the journal, Arkana, have similar missions, but different venues. How are these diverse, marginalized voices best expressed and what needs to be developed moving forward?
It is cool to hear you say that since you’ve worked for both, Liz! Really, I just publish what I’m most interested in as a reader. I think diverse, marginalized voices do a perfectly good job of expressing themselves if those in the position to broaden the spectrum of what is available in print do what they can to allow the margins to become mainstream. When something other than the same old stuff is what we come to expect, isn’t that more exciting? To me, it is about providing readers opportunities to understand that if they remain curious for what may be unexpected, they will be rewarded. I hope more writers who feel that their voices have been pushed back, muted, or tamped down will continue to share their work and find Et Alia and Arkana, or other venues where they feel received and heard. We’ve got work to do and it’s time to let these voices echo!
Again, a huge thank you to Et Alia Press and Erin Wood for doing what you do to invite Arkansas voices to the table and taking that often neglected next step of letting them be heard.