• “Making Your Book Awesome”: Nick Courtright & Atmosphere Press

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 3 comments

    More than six years ago, Nick Courtright walked into our writing center in Austin, Texas, for an interview and walked out as a WriteByNight writing coach and consultant.

    Since then, Nick has been a very busy man, publishing two books of poetry, taking over as co-editor at Gold Wake Press, and launching his own hybrid press, Atmosphere. Through it all, he’s been a valuable WBN coach and consultant.

    And as of late 2018, WriteByNight partners exclusively with Atmosphere to offer WriteByNight clients the chance to bypass the slush pile and get their book straight into the hands of Atmosphere’s executive editor: Nick Courtright.

    Nick and I recently had the chance to chat about Atmosphere, WriteByNight, our partnership, and the future of both of our organizations.


    Four years ago you launched Atmosphere. Not to be too general, but how’s it going so far?

    It’s going great! Each year has been better than the year before it, and I feel really confident that this will be our best year yet. It’s funny, because unlike some publishers who start with big-dollar ambitions, I started Atmosphere Press almost accidentally. I was working with a talented poet who didn’t want to endure the ordeal that is literary publishing’s ceaseless rejection tornado, and because I had years of experience in putting out books with Gold Wake Press, I asked him what he would think of my publishing his book for him. That was how Atmosphere was born — out of service to an author — and from that accidental origin something really wonderful has been built. I’m the author of two books myself, and I think the core value that Atmosphere started with — helping authors — is a big differentiator for us.


    How would you describe Atmosphere’s publishing model? What can a writer expect when working with Atmosphere?

    A writer can expect a really personal experience, coupled with a truly rare amount of control over the project. We don’t go to press with a text or a cover the author doesn’t approve, and that is uncommon in publishing, in which the press often has the right to dictate outcomes more forcefully. In our model, though, we view ourselves as professional advisors and skilled artisans more than we view ourselves as the “bosses” over the book, so that really opens things up to positive discourse. Because we are selective, and only work with authors whose vision we respect, this allows us to take a more collaborative approach. And also, because the projects are author-funded, with the author receiving 100% of their sales proceeds, it allows us to be really open with authors because we don’t have any additional financial incentive to steer them down one road or another: we can just be helpful.


    You have a staff of editors, designers, publicists, etc. What is your role, and how involved are you (meaning you specifically) with each book and writer?

    Every book that we publish begins and ends with me, as I always help authors understand the lay of the land prior to working together, and I always help with finalizing each book and coming up with a strategy for the author get it into the hands of his or her audience. In between I often will work with authors on book design, and sometimes on editorial decisions, but I always try to match authors with the editor and designer who I think is most well-suited for their project, whether or not that is me!


    Is there one title in particular a writer should read if he/she wants to get a sense of what you’re on the lookout for?

    This is a tough one, because we are open to all genres! If you are a fiction writer, I really like Graham Guest’s philosophical masterpiece Winter Park, for nonfiction Rashad Daoudi’s How Not to Sell is insightful and thought-provoking, and for poetry They Are Almost Invisible by Elizabeth Carmer (a WriteByNighter!) is strange and wonderful. And then we have a bunch of great children’s books, too… this question is too hard to answer! Because we really care about our writers, we tend to love every book we do.


    You’ve been a valuable WriteByNight coach and consultant for more than six years now. How is it for you to work with writers on process as opposed to product?

    It’s definitely a different game, as process involves a lot of coaching and skill development, while product is more about the rubber hitting the road, and also about saying goodbye to the impulse to keep making changes. I really love both parts of the writerly endeavor, and there’s always a special magic that happens when a manuscript starts to become a book. I always find it thrilling when that 8.5″ x 11″ Microsoft Word monstrosity starts to look layout-wise like something you’d find on your bookshelf.


    This new WBN/Atmosphere partnership seems a natural step: We help writers write, you package that writing for readers. Can you talk a bit about both the overlap between the two and the ways you keep them separate? When you work with a writer in book coaching, for example, is there a voice in the back of your mind wondering if this project might be right for Atmosphere?

    I am always on the lookout for manuscripts that could be a future Atmosphere book, whether it be on our Submittable account, through submissions in my reading@atmospherepress.com email, at a reading at a local coffee shop… so yeah, I definitely see that possibility when I’m talking to WBN writers.  Sometimes that end product is a long way away, though!

    When I think of WBN, I think of teaching in a way that is different than it is with Atmosphere; with Atmosphere it’s more of a positive business partnership, whereas with WBN I feel my job is to help someone get to where they want to be, which, often, is a place where they’d be able to enter into a business partnership with a publisher, regardless of what that publisher is. In both, though, teaching — whether about writing, or about publishing — plays a big role. After all, I was a college English professor for twelve years, so teaching is never far from my mind!


    What should a writer expect from you in writing coaching and self-publishing coaching? And what do you expect from your WBN writers?

    A writer should expect a lot of honesty from me, but not the mean kind. I think I’m pretty good at delivering difficult news in a way that makes it palatable, haha. For example, if a whole novel would be better in third person than in first, I can help ease a writer through that monumental revision, with him or her hopefully feeling energized and excited about the possibility, rather than horrified and overwhelmed. I also like to keep the mood light, to have a lot of laughter in the sessions. Writing can be a very solitary task, and sharing it with someone else can be a bit nerve-wracking, so I always try to make the process as enjoyable as possible.


    How have you seen WriteByNight grow and change over the time you’ve worked with us? What do you see in the future for WBN and Atmosphere? And, hell, for publishing in general?

    I love WriteByNight, and I’m really thrilled that it’s grown and has provided such a remarkable service to so many people. I remember first walking into the old WBN office in Austin, Texas, all those years ago, and since then I’ve had the privilege of working with writers from all around the world on poems, speeches, case studies, novels, short stories, dissertations, you name it. It’s made me really good at adjusting for time zone, haha.

    As for the future for WBN and Atmosphere, I am just thrilled when WBN writers “graduate” their manuscripts to being ready for the big leagues of being published, and it’s wonderful to help that big, long-awaited dream come true.

    As for publishing in general, I’m excited that Atmosphere Press is part of a new wave of publishers who value authors, rather than just seeing them as a means to an end; just like the music industry was revolutionized over the last twenty years, with labels no longer being able to take advantage of musicians, I see this happening now for authors. I’m grateful to be a part of that.


    Thanks for reading! To learn more about what WBN and Atmosphere can do for you, request a free consultation


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    John Liebling

    What a novel idea; honesty, transparency, and kindness towards fiction and non-fiction novelists.

    John Liebling

    Coming along slowly. Perhaps in August or Sept Writebynight and Nick can help with publishing. I am also outlining ideas for my second book which will be primarily political. Each of the five main characters: David, Ima, Dafna, Nephesh, Ko’ach can become new characters, new stories by tweaking their history . . . which allows for the addressing and solving a variety of political problems. Manipulation of time will be my constant thread. Within each book the main characters will change. Readers will try and guess which character is Nephesh and which one is Ko’ach . . . because they… Read more »

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