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Part of our Experiences in Publishing series

Kwak photo

Gene Kwak’s debut novel, Go Home, Ricky!, is primed to be one of the buzziest literary debuts of the fall. Whenever such a unique and captivating novel enters the marketplace, especially when it’s a debut, people wonder about who helped usher the manuscript to publication.

In Kwak’s case, it was editor Tracy Carns at the venerable independent publishing house The Overlook Press, now an imprint of Abrams Books. Like many projects, the manuscript took some time to get to Carns’ desk. “There were a lot of great responses early on followed by near misses,” says Kwak of the often grueling submissions process. “And then there was a bit of silence, which made sense because it was the beginning of the pandemic.”

When he received the offer from Overlook, Kwak was caught off guard and then almost immediately overjoyed: “Not only had they published one of my heroes, Charles Portis, but they also have a track record of publishing POC, from Avni Doshi to Rowan Hisayo Buchanan to August Wilson.”

Indeed, it was one of those virtuous moments when the book found the right fit. The pandemic slowed some parts of the process down, understandably so, but soon enough Carns and Kwak got to work on edits. “It was more big picture editing. Tracy trusted my vision,” Kwak explains. The same went with other production departments too. “Everyone was very transparent and communicative with me. Whether it came down to production schedules or cover comps, they listened to my opinions, and we worked in a truly collaborative fashion.”

That can be rare with bigger publishers, whose stricter deadlines lead to a succession of production deliverables, often with the author being kept abreast but otherwise not necessarily given final say on certain choices like the cover design, for instance. Kwak offered an example of how the cover design process went down: “Once we were close to the cover, I threw out a color combination that hadn’t been presented, but once we all saw it, we knew it was the one.”

Aroundthe time of our conversation, Go Home, Ricky! entered the prerelease stage of book production, when preorders and organic hype from friends and fans alike can really make a book. Marketing and publicity is ramping up, and Kwak does mention the all too common anxiety and worry that authors go through as their book enters the marketplace. “I know a lot of people feel nerve-racking anxiety. But I’m feeling pretty grounded right now.”

In the end, as his October 19, 2021 publication date nears and the positive response begins to bubble to the top, Kwak has realistic expectations and his mind on straight.

“To be honest, I’m just going to enjoy the ride.” Withs so much on the way, why bother entertaining those anxieties when you can enjoy this, your words published and enjoyed by readers?