Celebrating Pride Month: An Interview with Quill Editor Tobi Harper Petrie
by Lizzy Young
Note from Media Director Monica Fernandez: PRIDE Month! It’s our favorite month of the year! And what better way to celebrate than hearing from the editor of our Quill Queer series, Tobi Harper Petrie? See below for insight into the responsibilities and duties of our Deputy Director, Marketing Director, and all-around superhero! Huge thanks to the incredible Lizzy Young, one of Red Hen’s most hard-working interns, for putting this together!
Lizzy Young: What are your primary responsibilities at Red Hen Press?
Tobi Harper Petrie: As Deputy and Marketing Director, I have a dual focus on both marketing as part of our Marketing & Media team and overseeing all departments with questions, concerns, bottlenecks, and anything else that comes up. Marketing is naturally involved with all departments at a press, so it’s a natural fit for me also to be responsible for the health of our staff and the organization as a whole.
LY: What’s the most fun part of your job?
THP: Working with our team and making magic happen for authors and their books is definitely the most fun part! We have an amazing staff team and it’s truly a pleasure to work with each one of them. Together we make miracles happen, put out metaphorical fires, and published incredible work that reflects the lives of people who rarely see themselves represented by mainstream media.
LY: What led you to create the Quill Prose Award in 2015?
THP: I was inspired by the editor, Eloise Klein Healy, inaugural poet laureate of Los Angeles and founder of Arktoi Books, a lesbian imprint of Red Hen Press founded in 2006. Arktoi was founded in response to the lack of lesbian authors in queer literature, which at the time was focused mostly on cis white gay men. When I first came on full-time with Red Hen Press in 2015, I was twenty-five and Arktoi Books had just stopped active acquisitions because Eloise had suffered complications of viral encephalitis and was in the process of relearning how to live in her body and write poetry. Red Hen’s founders, Kate Gale and Mark E. Cull, wanted to make sure Red Hen continued to publish new and exciting queer books and since my academic studies focused on queer literature, I enthusiastically came up with the plan to start Quill Books. We knew we wanted the new series to be open for any author who identified as queer and decided to start the Quill Prose Award that would provide $1,000 and book publication to the yearly winner.
LY: How would you advise authors entering the publishing world?
THP: Don’t give up! Be open to new ideas and opportunities, and don’t reject something “good” because you might get something “better.”
- Write to write, not just to publish.
- Show your work to your peers and take their feedback (if you agree with it).
- Get a professional to review your work — before submitting it to publishers or agents.
- While looking for full manuscript publication, focus on improving and submitting shorter pieces like essays, chapters, and poems, and submit them to journals, magazines, reviews, and newspapers.
- Go to readings and publishing events and make friends! This sounds like networking, and it is, but it’s more than that. Make real relationships, and promote the work of others. Community over competition!
LY: What does your ideal day at work look like?
THP: Every day is different, so an ideal day is just one where I can be as productive as possible and hopefully have no time-costing emergencies to attend to.
LY: I see part of your job is attending literary festivals. What are some of your favorites to attend?
THP: I love attending literary festivals and find it’s the best way to connect with our readers and see which books (and covers) fly off the shelves. I just attended the Bay Area Book Festival and had a great time, and even got to see some of our distribution team out in the wild since their main office is in Berkeley. I also love attending the Brooklyn Book Fair, Miami Book Fair, and Portland Book Fair, and more, as well as industry conferences like Winter Instititute, American Library Association, and the many regional book fairs. This year I’ve just attended the London Book Fair and later this year I’ll attend the Frankfurt Book Fair and Guadalajara Book Fair, all three of which focus on foreign rights. Each fair, festival, and conference gets our books in the hands of readers of all kinds, and I love learning about the reading trends of people from around the country and the world.
LY: What are you currently reading?
THP: I’m always reading a handful of books at a time as well as several manuscripts, so the books I’m reading at the moment are Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan, Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia, and I’m finishing Sinking Islands by our beloved Red Hen author, Cai Emmons.