Push to Publish 2020 Interview: Gabriel Cleveland

Gabriel Cleveland

This year’s virtual Push to Publish Conference will include all of the great tips, trends, and connections that writers have gotten from this popular, in-person event—but now from the comfort of your home. Below, we talk with Gabriel Cleveland, the managing editor of CavanKerry Press. Gabriel will be speaking at the panel Publishing Opportunities for Poets.

PS: Tell us a bit about your background and what you’re doing now.

GC: I am a poet with an MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College with years of service in the field of caregiving for people with increased physical and/or psychological needs and the current Managing Editor of CavanKerry Press.

PS: How did you get into publishing?

GC: After 5 post-grad years of trying and toiling in unrelated and aforementioned fields, I joined CavanKerry during a period of transition with a referral from the head of my MFA alma mater, working as an assistant to the other staff, especially Publisher Joan Cusack Handler. It has long been my pursuit to apply my studies practically, and I adopted the role with a fervency that allowed me to quickly take on more responsibilities, and… here we are!

PS: What trends are you seeing in the publishing industry?

GC: I don’t have a thorough answer for this. We are a tiny, independent, nonprofit press, so our scope is limited, but within our own organization, we have consistently pushed for community involvement and equity among readers, writers, and industry as a whole. With a mission of publishing work that is accessible and understandable to all adult readers, as well as a requirement that our authors give back to their community with multiple free outreach programs a year, we have been setting the bar higher and hoping to establish that trend in the wider publishing world.

PS: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since the pandemic?

GC: During the pandemic, obviously a lot has transitioned to digital and, where possible, publishers are pushing more virtual editions of their books, but it seems that physical books haven’t received the death knell that some expected. Rather, the pandemic has highlighted the resilience and innovation of the industry as a whole to serve their clientele with the emergence of new online retail outlets and more remote events.

PS: What do you think writers should avoid when approaching editors or agents?

GC: I can’t really speak to the agent side of things, but when approaching editors, I think writers should pay close attention to meeting the needs of the editor/publisher they are seeking to work with, while retaining their own voice. The English language is nothing if not full of cracks and made of rubber, and there’s a lot that can be accomplished within a publisher’s constraints to craft a work that presents the individual’s world in a genuine, tangible way. When working with an editor on a project that’s slated for publication, especially if that editor is established with the publisher who will be releasing the work, the writer should keep an open mind when receiving feedback. A good editor will sharpen the blade rather than seeking to replace it, and while the process can be a challenge, having the patience to consider the guidance of an editor as valid and possible for improving the work as a whole can really draw more poignancy out of a manuscript while remaining true to its initial intent.

PS: What other advice do you have for writers looking to get published?

GC: It’s trite, but read from a variety of presses to learn their aesthetics, as there’s no hard and fast rule for what the publishing world as a whole is looking for. That said, contrast in your manuscript is important. Sparks of light, hope, or humanity can make a bleak collection of work more palatable, while also making the depths of that collection that much more impactful. Likewise, a narrative devoid of struggle, pain, or obstacles will at the very least come off as unrealistic and at worst be seen as nothing more than fluff.