Written by Emily Harstone March 21st, 2024

The Other Side of the Desk: Andrew J. Wilt

Most writers don’t have a clear idea of what it’s like to work in publishing. The many professionals who make publishing possible often work very hard, without much credit.

Our goal with this article, and all of the articles in this series, is to give writers a more realistic idea of what it is actually like to be on the other side of the desk, and what it really takes to make a living (or part of one), in the publishing industry.

We really want to highlight how many people have very different roles on the other side of the desk, and how many of these roles don’t pay enough (or at all).

Often authors can act (or feel like) agents and editors are the enemy, but often they are also writers themselves, and are equally familiar with rejection. I hope this series helps demystify what it is actually like to work in the publishing industry.

If you work in the publishing industry and feel like you are a good potential candidate for a future interview in this series, please send us an email: submit@authorspublish.com.

We are paying all contributors to this series, and the questions will be similar to the ones asked below. These are the questions we think readers most want to hear the answers to. If you have any additional questions you think should be added to the regular rotation please let us know by sending an email to the same address.

For our fourth installment of this series we are talking to Andrew J. Wilt the editor of 11:11 Press.

Andrew has been working in education and workforce development since 2012. From cubicles in skyscrapers to office trailers at ethanol plants, Andrew’s diverse resume includes talent development in the Pacific Northwest technology sector and apprenticeship programs in the Midwest skilled trades. He is the author of Age of Agility: The New Tools for Career Success, which is currently being used as a textbook in universities, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies. As founding editor of 11:11 Press, he has overseen the publication of over 40 genre-defying books from award-winning authors, with reviews or excerpts in The New York Times, Harper’s, Chicago Review of Books, Los Angeles Review of Books, Star Tribune, Rue Morgue, and more. Always pushing the limits, Andrew’s dedication to craft, style, and story continues to receive recognition in the literary community, earning a place on celebrated author Dennis Cooper’s list of favorite presses of the last 10 years.

We are very grateful for the time and energy and thoughtfulness Andrew put into this interview.

Describe a typical day at work.

I begin and end each day with my Kriya practice, which is a yogic meditation technique brought to the west by Paramhansa Yogananda. My morning meditation, on a good day, starts around 5:00 a.m. but it varies depending on how late I stay up meditating in the evening. My spiritual practice is the cornerstone of my life. People have asked me how I’m able to fit two-plus hours of meditation in each day while working and raising young kids, and the answer is, I’m 10x-100x more productive and centered when I meditate. I don’t think productivity is a good reason to start a meditation practice, but it is a welcome byproduct.

Around 7 a.m. I open my email app on my phone and review my inbox. There are far too many emails to respond to, so I have to triage. Emails that don’t need a reply are deleted along with other emails that are not relevant. I used to reply to every email 11:11 received, but it became too time consuming and delayed more important emails. I care a lot about people, especially those who have the courage to email a stranger about a manuscript they’ve left an imprint of their soul on, so I say a little prayer for those who I cannot help right now, and hope the right person comes along to guide them where they need to go.

I have a typical day job and start working around 8 a.m., but there is often downtime waiting for a meeting to start or a file to upload/download, and I’ll take a break to check and see if any high priority emails have been responded to and respond accordingly. I am conscious of every minute of my life and can’t bear the thought of letting it pass by unused. Perhaps it is the ever awareness of life as I’m watching my children embracing their own childhood and I’m clinging onto every moment of their innocence. Perhaps it’s because there is a constant awareness of death due to the heart condition I’ve had since birth. Perhaps it is because I spent several years unaware of so many of these things and took time for granted. Perhaps all these things.

During lunch I might review a galley proof or record sales from distributors Asterism/Big Cartel/Ingram/KDP/other invoices or look at an author’s mood board for their book cover. There’s a lot of plates being spun and my ADD brain works well juggling it all; I move in short powerful bursts and change to the next task every few minutes when I feel the energy dipping.

On my drive home, around 4pm, I’ll talk to an author or editor or another publisher—hands free, of course 😉

After my kids are in bed, around 8pm or so, I’ll do a video call with an author or work on editing a book or do an interview (like right now, ha!) and respond to as many emails as possible.

All of this varies throughout the year because many evenings in January are spent doing taxes and royalties are paid in January and July, which is quite a task. Also—when we open submissions it’s… a lot. Sam Moss and Hanna Guido do such a wonderful job reading manuscripts.

Before my night meditation, I’m usually able to whittle down the outstanding emails to under 100. Today, I am at 52. When I wake up there will be more.

What do you spend the bulk of your time doing?

I probably spend the most time writing emails. The publisher’s role at this level is more like a project manager. Each book I’m overseeing is at a different stage in the publishing cycle so I’m checking in with artists, graphic designers, editors (or at times I am the editor), copy editors, reviewers, blurbers, cross checking everything with the author, etc. etc. But also, I’m emailing with people who are interested in translation rights, or indie bookstores w/ consignment orders, emailing with the folks at our distributor, Asterism, or simply wishing an author a very happy birthday. I spend a lot of time writing my emails, no matter the length. I want the recipient to feel my presence in every sentence.

Does this job pay your bills?

I’ve hinted at this in some other interviews, but I’ll come clean. I have not been paid by 11:11, and that is by choice. But this isn’t to say that 11:11 hasn’t helped me pay some bills. Let me explain.

I’d rather invest the profits 11:11 makes back into the company so we can print higher quality books, sell merch like t-shirts at-cost, and share more money in royalties with the author. There have been years where we haven’t made a profit, and other years where we have, and it’s getting close to breaking even completely. Last year was a good year and let’s say we hypothetically made 50k in revenue. Our expenses would be around 48K, so that leaves 2K in profit, which we need to spend on a print run in January. So, $0. Break even. And that’s always been the goal. We are just now working on filing the paperwork to be a 501c3 nonprofit, and I’ve been putting it off because it takes a lot of time to do that paperwork. 11:11 was founded to publish books, so I saw anything that got in the way of that as a distraction. But I’m lucky to have some helpers this year 🙂

Additionally, I’ve never wanted 11:11 to view our titles as “units-sold” like how the big publishers see their books. Our books are unique, and a lot of care is put into each one. There may only be a few hundred people who read one of our titles, and that’s ok because the right readers always find us. Our goal is to reach those people who will be impacted and carry the impression of one of our books with them the rest of their lives. A few years ago, we received an email from someone who was going through chemotherapy, and they told us that 11:11 books helped them through this difficult time in their life. That’s the kind of impact we want to have. $ is only a tool and too much can make your mind foggy. Besides, it’s always the scrappy and underfunded organizations who history remembers for taking risks and beating the odds.

Back to finances, some books are profitable. Others are not. But my livelihood isn’t based on book sales (since I’m getting a paycheck from my day job). Some presses have gotten in trouble when they invest a lot of personal finances into a book, the book tanks, and they’re scrambling to make back their investment. I won’t get into it here, but broadly, small presses are not big presses so when a small press tries to use the same business strategy as a big press it almost always fails.

On the other side of things, people have come to us with large sums of money and asked to be published with 11:11, and it’s the kind of money where I could quit my day job and only focus on their book for a whole year, but that’s not why I started 11:11 and it goes against one of our founding principles: to publish based on the strength & integrity of the manuscript. We’re not a pay-to-play press and maybe those presses have a place, but it’s not at 11:11.

Likewise, when someone comes to me and says so-and-so press is offering them $[deal] to publish their book, and what can we offer them? I tell them we can’t compete with their first offer because Art should never be about the money. We try to be very clear and up front about this with authors when we begin working with them. How it works is we typically do a video call with each new author after they’ve read our contract so we can talk about our publishing process and answer questions. And just like any interview, they are also interviewing us, and it needs to be a good fit for both of us. When it’s a good fit, we get some pretty amazing results.

Even though I haven’t accepted a paycheck from 11:11, I have been asked to speak at universities and events and sometimes that pays. I have also gotten freelance work and taught courses in publishing, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without 11:11.

I know this is a super long answer, but I want to end by saying that money can be made in publishing, but you have to publish marketable books. I don’t want to discourage or scare anyone off if they want to be a publisher. YA sci-fi and fantasy series sell very well, as well as trade horror and romance—sci-fi too. Basically, genre fiction or being on the cusp of what’s trending with the greater reading public (and anything that could be sold to a streaming service to be made into a TV show). If you know what you’re looking for, you could make a career out of it and get paid more than the piddly salary a big 4 will pay you as an editor. Seriously. I know some people who made a pretty good living riding the 50-Shades erotica knock-off train 10 or so years ago. But I’d rather publish books that are on the forefront of literature, pushing the boundaries of what a book can/should do, because that’s what is interesting to me. If your heart’s not in what you publish it shows and I only publish what resonates with my heart.

What do you think makes you good at your job?

Deeply caring about every book I work on, and I know Sam and Hanna (editors at 11:11) really care about the books they work on too. When you care about something, it shows in your work.

Here’s another example. I’ll go to used bookstores and estate sales specifically for researching cover design. I’ll pull every book off the shelf to examine the cover. Some of my favorites I’ve picked up have been college writing manuals from the 1970s, completely worthless now because we don’t use typewriters, but because there’s a design element on the cover or interior I’ve never seen before that drew me in. And that’s our goal for our book covers, to make a cover so compelling that it physically changes where someone is walking in a bookstore.

I’ve found that successful publishers have a good balance of business sense (what many creatives lack) and understanding of craft and literature/Art (what many people in business lack). It also helps to be kind, approachable, humble, and offer help when asked.

What is a common misconception people seem to have about your work?

We pass on many books that should and will be published by other presses. We accept less than 1% of the manuscripts we receive during our open reading period. Just because a press or journal passes on your manuscript or story or poem doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just might not be a good fit for the issue or the press at this time. Keep submitting. Keep revising. Don’t take it personally. Don’t give up.

I need to say that one more time. Don’t give up. Don’t take it personally. Keep revising. Keep submitting.

What is an aspect of your job that might surprise most people?

It’s likely surprising how often we as a publisher face rejection. It’s common for writers to share how many times a work has been rejected by literary journals or publishers, but we as the publisher also face this same rejection from independent bookstores, reviewers, and media organizations. There have been several times when a prominent media outlet has asked to do a story on us and backed out when other news stories became more popular.

Have you ever considered quitting your job, and why?

There have been difficulties in publishing, but each one has been a lesson I needed to learn and has been by far worth it, even if I really (really really) wanted to throw in the towel. If I had given up, I would have missed some important life lessons. I don’t want to mention anything specific, only that there is only light and joy on the other side of a dark tunnel.

What is the best part of your job?

I love talking with authors about theoretical concepts which often make it into the design of their books. In 2023, we published a book called Stealth Anxiety Megamix by Mike Corrao with a sandpaper cover, which destroys the books on their side when placed on a bookshelf. Another fun one is Jinnwoo’s book Little Hollywood, which comes with cut-out paper dolls. David Leo Rice has a chapbook that accompanies his collection Drifter called The Hate Room and as the story gets more intense, blood appears to be dripping down on the pages. Little things like that offer a more engaging reading experience. I love these little design elements that encourage readers to rethink how stories are told. 

It’s also fun when we find a book that we all really like, we have no idea if anyone else will like it, and a lot of people end up liking it. A few of these are: Gut Text by Mike Corrao; One or Several Deserts by Carter St. Hogan; An Archipelago in a Landlocked Country by Elisa Taber; and Drifter by David Leo Rice.

If you are a writer, how does your work impact your creative writing?

Yes! Writing is how I got into publishing. So, the writing came first and publishing second.

Publishing and creative writing live in different places in my brain. I write with the lights off and edit with them on. The friends I’ve made in the publisher role inspire and encourage me to keep writing, so I don’t get stuck on the other side of the desk. That’s important. I don’t want to get stuck too long on either side.


We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat