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The Practice of Publishing: An Evening with Morgan Jerkins

by Emily Raboteau

This event was sponsored by a grant from Transformative Learning in the Humanities at the City University of New York and designed for emerging creative writers interested in learning more about the business of publication. It was conducted as a conversation between myself and author / editor Morgan Jerkins about her own path to publication, insight as an editor, use of social media as a networking tool, overview of the publishing landscape and tips on querying literary agents fo representation. The audience consisted of MFA students from CUNY and was open to the public.

I started the program by welcoming the audience: “Many of you are in MFA programs and have been working hard on your craft in writing workshop, honoring your ambition to be a published writer. Others of you have been working independently on your writing, with the same goal. But when do you know your work is ready to be published? How and where should you submit? Which are the right venues for your voice? Who are your potential readers? What is the best way to query an agent or an editor? How much can you expect to be paid for your creative writing? Why does understanding the publishing marketplace matter? You’re here to learn from the talented writer and editor, Morgan Jerkins in conversation me, writer and City College creative writing professor, Emily Raboteau, in a nuts and bolts conversation about the professional practice of writing.”

I then introduced our guest speaker: “Morgan Jerkins is a New York Times bestselling author and Senior Editor at ESPN’s “The Undefeated” for its Culture Vertical. Her books include This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, which was longlisted for PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, and Wandering In Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots. Her amazing third book, Caul Baby: A Novel comes out from Harper Books this spring. Morgan, one of the things I admire about your career is that you’ve worked in more than one genre, and also served so many writers as an editor, including myself, in your capacity as an editor at Zora Magazine. Walk us through your path from MFA to where you are now, including your influences as a writer.”

Morgan spoke for 25 minutes about her journey to publication, starting as an undergraduate student, including the ups and downs, the rejections, and her discovery of her voice and place as a culture maker starting in 2015 on social media, citing Roxane Gay as having opened the door for her, and finishing with a recap of her first national book tour.

I then asked her a series of questions, which I had gathered from the audience in advance. These centered around the pros and cons of self publishing, independent publishing, the role of an agent and the process of acquiring one, pointers for successful query letters, establishing voice, dealing with editorial conflicts, networking, publishing resources, and authorial “branding.”

Morgan insightfully answered these questions, sharing resources via the chat.


Emily Raboteau is the 2020-2021 Stuart Z. Katz Professor of Humanities and Arts at the City College of New York.

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