It’s great to be able to speak to you both about Works in Progress which looks like a fascinating project. What can you tell our readers about it?
Thank you so much! We’re so excited to be asked to do this interview with The Short Story! Let’s get right down to answering your questions, shall we? Works in Progress is a multimedia project that was created by a group of young publishers [Delia Bennett, Nisha Emich, Hannah Reed, Alex Harrison, Camilla Lunde, Silvia Pirola, and Sydney Butler] on the University College of London’s MA in Publishing course. The book we are creating is a collection of short stories and poems, each accompanied with their own illustration and a song, which will be integrated into the book via QR codes. At its core Works in Progress is all about discovering exciting and young new talent!
Where did the idea originally come from and how did you go about putting the plan into action?
NE: I remember us being thrown into a conference room and told to think about ways we could make reading experiences more interesting (much talk of virtual reality was had), and one thing we kept coming back to was the way music can enhance the written word. Then, a week or so later, when brainstorming our publication, the idea of taking a short story collection and turning it into a multimedia collaboration seemed kind of obvious…
DB: Right away I knew that I wanted to do something that would promote young writers and artists in a new and interesting way, it was just about convincing the rest of the group that we could make this happen! I have a BA in Literary Studies from The New School in New York City, which boasts a fabulously impressive writer’s collective, so our first step was to contact all of these writers and ask them for work and to spread the word. From that point forward, after receiving over 80 submissions, word of mouth began to spread amongst various writing communities in New York and the project began to take shape!
NE: Also, the fact that we’re all in similar positions to these writers and artists helped each of us feel so passionate about the project and ensure it would be a success. We all know young illustrators, musicians and writers struggling to get their work out there after university – much like we spend all our time stressing about getting jobs in the publishing industry when our MA is finished. The project seemed like the perfect opportunity to prove that we could do it ourselves, while helping young artists on their way to discovery.
Where are the various writers, artists, and musicians from, and how did you select them?
NE: Our writers are all graduates from creative writing programs in New York – so that answer is simple enough. Our artists and musicians are a totally different story. We knew that we wanted to have a deliberate parallel between London and New York because of the connotations that these two cities have for publishers and writers, but after establishing that we opened up submissions and received work from all over the world!
DB: The selection process for our artists and musicians, to be honest, was a bit messier! But we’ve been reassured by our Professors that this would be the case for any publisher in a situation like ours, with so many incredible submissions and a limited number of stories to pair them with. We didn’t want to force an illustration or musician onto a story that didn’t necessarily fit with the theme of the piece, so this, for the lack of a better phrase, is still a work in progress.
What was the process of putting these different forms together? Did the writing inspire the music, the art, or were they disparate elements you brought together?
NE: In a sense each element is disparate as none of the work was intended to be commissioned for the project, so no story, illustration, or song are “supposed” to fit together… we wanted to bring together existing work that we felt were naturally complementary to highlight how different artistic mediums can enhance a single experience. That being said, the stories were definitely our starting point.
DB: We did have musicians and illustrators, however, who were quite keen on getting more involved with the project and have illustrated work specifically for the story we have paired them with. We’re also in conversation with a Cambridge-based musician, Tom Heath, who enjoys writing music about characters in books and their situations, so we’re hoping that we’ll be able to have him write something for us – that will be quite special.
NE: Oh yeah! What’s exciting for us as well is that while we may have had an initial strategy about how we wanted to make the project happen, we’ve had incredible responses from people like Tom who want to be involved in a more direct way. Getting to work with and represent these incredible young artists was the goal all along, so we’ve tried to be flexible with how the book has been put together.
What are you main aims for the project and what do you hope users will learn from this multimedia experience?
DB: As student publishers, our goal is for this collection to become a platform for which artists can establish themselves as authors, illustrators, and musicians. My singular hope is that our publishing peers, readers, friends and family members will look at this project and realise just how much untapped and promising talent there is – and this is just in New York City! It’s a widely known fact that publishers and literary agents sit on unending slush piles of submissions, and that getting your foot or book, so to speak, in the door is one of the most difficult journeys a debut author can embark upon. We’re so proud of our authors, illustrators, and musicians and we hope that publishing and bringing their work to light will help them in all of their future endeavors.
NE: Exactly! We wanted to create a project that was fundamentally about the young voices that are often overlooked, or misconstrued, at industry level.
Delia, you have a passion for both tech and publishing. In recent years we’ve seen the MacGuffin, short story vending machines, and speed reading apps. What next for writers, readers, and publishers?
DB: Oh, I see, Nisha gets to talk about her lofty experiences at Cambridge and I’m saddled with the one question that almost no one can answer. Let me take a second to look into my crystal ball and call up my fortune teller to ask her what she thinks the future of publishing will look like.
But really… All that I can say is that I, alongside my love of everything shiny and digital, am a purist and cannot fathom a future where physical books are no longer in circulation. Is Amazon’s rapidly increasing monopoly over the bookselling industry terrifying? Absolutely. Does this mean that I’ll live to see the extinction of independent bookshops? No. There will always be platforms like The Short Story and projects like ours that aim to push the boundaries and promote work that reiterates why it is that writers write, publishers publish books, and people pick up those books and read them.
Alongside this, I think that it will always be difficult for debut authors to secure a publisher but that self-publishing platforms and printing services will become more prevalent for entrepreneurial authors who are determined to see their work in print and profit from their craft.
And I’m not sure what the next Zoella or YouTuber bestseller will be, but I know they’ll be another niche community that arises from the depths of the internet — Tumblr, Twitter or Instagram perhaps — that will take the publishing industry by storm.
Nisha, you studied English at Cambridge and now you’re both doing the MA in Publishing at UCL. How have these experience shaped your opinions and would you recommend the courses to anyone interested in the publishing industry?
NE: Ooooh Delia gets the cool future of publishing question and I have to talk about being locked in a library for 3 years…
In all honesty, my undergraduate degree was never really part of a wider “career path” into publishing. At 18 books were just what I had the most enthusiasm for and luckily that hasn’t changed too much! However, studying at Cambridge and spending most of my time reading the canon (of dead white men) made me want to be involved in publishing material that was innovative and fresh, which is why Works in Progress is something I care so much about.
I’d also be hesitant to give too much advice to anyone on what the best route into publishing is (I am, at present, still very much unemployed). The best thing about UCL’s course is that it made me realise that I am a part of a very large network of passionate and intelligent people who all care about about the same thing: fighting the good fight against Amazon. Just kidding, I actually quite like Amazon just don’t tell any of my publishing colleagues.
If, like me, you aren’t sure what sector of publishing you’re interested in, or have no connections to speak of, the MA course gives a great overview of what jobs exist in publishing and who the right people to know are, so from that point of view I can’t recommend it enough!
NE: I’ll bake you cookies if you give us all your money!
DB: If you’re underage, I’ll nip into Sainsbury’s for you and grab you a six pack! I’ll also do this if you’re of age and just feeling lazy.
NE: See I can offer wholesome baked goods and Delia will ply you with alcohol… effective teamwork
DB: In all seriousness, this is such an exciting opportunity to become a part of, and we would be so grateful for any donations – even if it’s just a fiver. As a donor, you’ll have your name printed in the book!
NE: I guess it also must be said that while everyone involved in the project is technically “unprofessional”, the book we’ve created is something all of us are extremely happy to put our names behind and would happily want to read. We honestly believe that. We feel the ethos behind the project, the desire to discover and nurture young talent, is something worth supporting – and we hope you agree!
Delia Caroline Bennett is the marketing director of Works in Progress. An American living in London, Delia is a graduate of The New School in New York and is currently on the MA Publishing course at the University College of London, hoping to turn her passion for tech and books into a thriving career in publishing. Her literary interests lay in technical and digital innovations in publishing, YA Fiction, cookery books, and Edward Snowden’s Twitter feed. Feel free to tweet her at @delia_bennett or follow her on Instagram at @deliacaroline.
Nisha Emich is the project manager of Works in Progress. Having recently graduated from Cambridge University having read English, Nisha is on UCL’s MA publishing course in an attempt to turn her obsession with fondling books into a career. Born in Vienna to Dutch and Malaysian parents, and growing up between the Czech Republic and England, Nisha is particularly passionate about discovering and showcasing a variety of talent from all over the world. Twitter: @NishaEmich
Rupert Dastur is a writer, editor, and founding director of TSS Publishing. He studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and is Associate Editor at The Word Factory, a leading short story organisation based in London. He’s also Events Coordinator for the Society of Young Publishers (London) and Curator for WritingCompetitions.org. His own work has appeared in a number of places online and in print and he is currently working on his first novel.