In Conversation with Katalina Watt
Posted in Neem Tree Blog on March 25, 2021
Katalina Watt is an author and publisher based in Edinburgh. She currently works in Audio and Digital for Canongate Books, an award-winning independent publisher, and as Audio Director for khōréō, a quarterly magazine of speculative fiction elevating voices of immigrant and diaspora authors. She received the Literature Alliance Scotland Next Level Award for future leaders in the book industry in 2020. Her fiction was Longlisted for Penguin Write Now 2020 and has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Haunted Voices, Unspeakable, and Extra Teeth.
Hi, Katalina! Thank you so much for speaking with Neem Tree Press. Could you tell us a bit about your journey into publishing?
I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2015 with an English Lit degree and obtained my first role in publishing through Creative Access working in audio for Little Brown Book Group, part of Hachette. It was an excellent introduction to publishing and I received immense support both from Creative Access and my colleagues at Hachette. After that, I moved to Canada and worked for a couple of years in bookselling and events for an independent children’s bookshop, which gave me valuable insight into the North American market.
When I returned to the UK, I did my MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. While completing my masters I worked in events and bookselling for local award-winning Golden Hare Books. This was a great opportunity to become immersed in the local literary community and meet generous authors, readers, publishers, and booksellers.
At the tail-end of postgrad degree I was offered a position at Canongate Books in their audio and digital department. I’ve been there since 2019, undertaking my new role as Audio and Digital Executive at the start of 2021. I joined the newly formed khōréō team as Audio Director at the end of 2020 and we launched our first issue in spring 2021.
What do you love most about working in audio? Which elements make it unique from other publishing roles/departments?
Working in audio is a hybrid role which means in a smaller team you get to hone skills across editorial, production, sales, rights, marketing, and design. I really enjoy working closely across departments in-house but also externally with producers at studios, audiobook narrators, literary and talent agents, and of course with authors. Audio is an adaptation and casting the right voice for each project is one of my favourite parts of the role. The performance of the narrator can bring the story to life and make you relate to the text in a new way. At the best of times, it’s like bottled theatre.
Audio is an area of publishing which continues to grow and innovate. As well as audiobooks we have thriving communities around podcasts, audio dramas, and other forms of immersive narratives. I’m hopeful publishing will collaborate more with other industries such as interactive theatre, tech, and video gaming to find new exciting avenues for digital storytelling in the future.
For someone starting out in their first publishing role, what advice/tips would you give them?
– Keep an open mind about your future in the industry and think outside the box. There are many transferrable or overlapping skills for different roles and departments.
– As a former bookseller and event organiser, I’d advise attending and getting involved with events! Many festivals, conventions, and bookshop events are taking place digitally and there may be scope to get involved with aspects such as programming, chairing, and bookselling. It’s a great way to understand the market, network within the industry, and chat directly with readers about what they’re excited for and why.
– Reach out to folk in the industry with specific questions if you’d like to. Social media can be helpful for this and most people are happy to chat or point you in the direction of resources or other connections. However, ensure you’ve read their previous interviews/articles and are asking something specific e.g. if you’re interested in Publicity and are approaching a publicist, find out what authors they’ve worked with and research their campaigns to help you craft specific questions.
– Stay up to date with industry news and learn about different roles and departments to see which may be a good fit for you. Read The Bookseller but also newsletters like The FLIP, In the Read, and podcasts such as Publishing Insight.
– Get involved with networks such as The Society of Young Publishers, Publishing Hopefuls, and BookMachine, and newsletters such as The Indie Insider, The Publishing Post, and The Publishing Planet to name a few. This is an industry built on interpersonal relationships, but there’s more than one way of networking. Find what’s comfortable for you.
As a woman of colour in the publishing industry, what are some of the unique challenges you’ve had to face that your white colleagues have not?
Race is often more visible than other identity markers but my experience in publishing is inherently linked to the intersections of my identity – many aspects of which have also been traditionally marginalised and underrepresented alongside race. My experiences will echo those of other women of colour, but we are not a monolith and I think it’s important when discussing EDI to remember that.
In my time in publishing the conversations around accessibility and representation have become more transparent, more nuanced, and the improvements more tangible. I’m grateful there are more people in positions of power, influence, and decision-making who reflect a wider range of backgrounds and experiences. That being said, we still have a long way to go and there’s plenty of research and resources which break down the data to show us the work we need to do.
What are you most proud of in your publishing and/or writing career so far?
In 2020 I was Longlisted for the Penguin Write Now programme for my fiction, and I was also awarded the Next Level Award for career development by Literature Alliance Scotland. Both these programmes have supported me with growing my creative and professional practice. I’ve worked with talented mentors and industry connections to shape my future career plans and received training to hone and develop my skillset.
As a mentor myself, I’m passionate about sharing knowledge and resources and creating opportunities for emerging writers and publishers, therefore I’m immensely proud and grateful to have received this support and guidance.
Favourite book(s) you’ve worked on at Canongate?
Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden narrated by the author
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith narrated by Marli Siu
The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd narrated by Tilda Swinton and Robert MacFarlane
Forthcoming titles in production:
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles narrated by the author, winner of the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
The Startup Wife by Tahmina Anam
Finally, I’d love to know which books have had the greatest impact on your life?
This was such a difficult question but here is a selection of books I find often find myself gifting and recommending and certain passages or images have stayed with me years after reading:
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
Sabriel by Garth Nix
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Thank you so much for giving such thoughtful, detailed answers, Katalina. We’re excited to continue following your career!
Katalina can be found on Twitter @KatalinaWatt. We’d also love to connect with you @neemtreepress.
Thank you all for reading. Keep an eye on our social media pages for upcoming instalments of Publishing Insiders. We have lots of wonderful interviewees coming up soon!