Thursday, October 6, 2011

Six Questions for Dan Cafaro, Founder and Publisher, Atticus Books

Atticus Books is a small literary press based in Kensington, MD. The press specializes in "genre-busting literary fiction." In addition to books, Atticus Books publishes the weekly Atticus Review, an online magazine of short stories, poems, electric literature, and musings on publishing and all things related to writing. Learn more about Atticus Books here and Atticus Review here.

SQF: 1. What does Atticus Books offer authors that other presses don't?

DC: We offer a haven for literature-loving loons, a place for poets to hang their halos and tune their pitchforks, and a coop that encourages storytellers to swing the door open and let it fly. 

For undiscovered authors seeking to publish short works, Atticus Review is a virtual "chops" training ground and depot for online submissions. Our journal's tagline is "six degrees left of literature," so some writers (and readers) may have to "check their coordinates and reassess their latitudes before they click away," as our EIC, Katrina Gray, so spicily put it in our inaugural issue.

After reading our publishing house's mission statement(s), you may notice that we don't take ourselves too seriously.  We embrace the dynamics of the English language with a fervor that's hard to top and a playfulness that's meant to press buttons and push envelopes. 

Atticus Books is one of those indie presses that should feel like home when you find us - and we're not bashful to tell you to mess up your room and leave the dirty dishes on the table before you enter the premises. We can use all the help we can get to keep our house in disorder.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

  • Does the work make me want to shirk that day's responsibilities and keep reading?
  • Is there a soulful, probing voice that remains hidden but resonates between the lines of text?
  • Is there an intangible essence to the writing that's hard to define but compels me to click my heels and dig deeper?

SQF: What major mistakes do authors make when pitching their books?

DC: When an author describes his/her work as literary or tells me it's the best thing he or she has ever written (and/or may ever write), I'm concerned that his/her worldview (and perhaps self-perception) might be too narrow. When an author presses a publisher for a decision or feedback, it usually is a telling sign (from the gods) that the publisher should walk away. When an author clearly has not done his homework and researched and read the published material of the house, it's disarmingly ingenuous, amateurish, and a major turnoff.

SQF: Of the books your company publishes each year, how many are by previously unpublished authors?

DC: In 2010 (our first year of operation), we published two books by debut novelists and a third title (The Absent Traveler: A Novella & Other Stories) by a previously published author. In 2011, we have published five books, ALL debut works of fiction. In 2012, we are anticipating the release of six books, including three debut titles (one novel and two story collections). Our goal for 2013 is to acquire work by female(!) writers, established or previously unpublished. We won't turn away a male writer based on his gender or inexperience alone, but it's quite competitive to secure a slot with us due to the sheer number of unsolicited submissions we receive.

SQF: What is your advice to new, unpublished authors looking for a publisher or agent?

DC: Make a decision early on that either you will play the game by the rules of the conglomerates and tirelessly seek the backing of an agent, or become an active member of the small press community, build rapport with fellow writers and independent publishers, and do all you can do to earn the respect, loyalty, and admiration of your peers.

The literary life is a small fruitful existence with many intrinsic rewards, but unless you're a trust fund baby, I strongly suggest the following: 1) Keep your day job; 2) Mentally prepare to endure as a starving artist; 3) Carve out a patchwork career in the creative arts by complying with the behaviors of this new paradigm of publishing; 4) Create an infectious, informative blog and find readers by interacting with them online; and 5) Be sincere and empathetic. Don't sell your self, be your self.

SQF: What question do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? And how would you answer it?

DC: How many rejections should a writer be willing to withstand before giving up on the dream of being a published writer? As many as it takes and then some. There are literally tons of literary journals popping up every day. They're all looking for writers to support their cause, so you have absolutely no excuse to pursue this crazy agenda alone. Your day should consist of the following tasks: read, write, submit. All together now:  Read, write, submit!

Thank you, Dan. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 10/13--Six Questions for David Smitherman, Publisher/Editor, Palari Publishing


  1. Wonderful interview, Jim...and great advice from Dan.

  2. Great interview and advice, so nice to learn more about Dan & Atticus. Love the "top three things" - a marvelous way to consider anything you're reading.