As Emily Dickinson once said, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.”
Judith Utz has a passion for all things reading and writing. As a writer and owner of a publishing company as well as a PR business, she took her love for literature and built platforms for herself within the community where she can not only review and share books she loves, but also communicate with other professionals in the field. She also pays a great deal of attention to queer literature and uses her platforms to share positive representations of the LGBTQ+ experience.
What’s your name and what do you do?
Hello, ChicpeaJC! My name is Judith and I am a professional writer, owner of a small publishing company called Open Ink Press, and a literary PR maven at A Novel Take PR.
How did you get started (as a writer and as the founder of A Novel Take and Open Ink Press)?
I am a huge reader and lover of books. Always have been, always will be. In 2012, I was voraciously reading everything in sight and at that point in my life had a lot of time on my hands to devote it. But what I lacked was a community of book lovers like myself. It wasn’t enough to read the books…I wanted to talk about them too.
It was the age of blogging then – literally you just bought a url and started typing – so I decided to go looking for that community online by creating my own book review blog. After a few months that site took off and by 2016, I had a team of reviewers, a dedicated monthly author interview podcast, and had branched into reviewing a multitude of genres – Memoir, YA, Thrillers, Romance, and my personal favorite, LGBTQ+ Fiction. I also had found an amazing community of like-minded readers, writers, publishers, and more.
That review site really solidified so many book related relationships for me that when I pitched a dedicated Queer Romance column to HEA USA Today (USA Today’s Romance site) it was picked up immediately. Then in 2017, Teen Vogue gave me the opportunity to really elevate queer narratives through the creation of a Queer YA column. In addition to those two, I have also written almost exclusively about Queer Literature for The Mary Sue, LGBTQReads, and Frolic Media.
Open Ink Press and A Novel Take PR are really just extensions of my love of books and the community I found as a blogger. Open Ink was created in 2016 as a space to tell meaningful stories, the ones that mainstream publishers had told authors would never sell. To date, Open Ink has released three collections and has one waiting distantly on the horizon.
Similarly, I created A Novel Take PR in order to help authors and publishers find readers and gain traction for new releases. I also help to elevate author brands, provide social media strategy, and really innovate the book release experience. Through A Novel Take, I really have hit my stride and enjoy getting relevant, meaningful books into the hands of those who will most benefit from them.
What inspired you or motivated you to start focusing on LGBTQ+ literature?
My entire life I have gravitated toward Queer Fiction, and more recently, toward Queer Romance. I grew up in the 90s, when queer characters existed in books but were definitely not considered mainstream. Mercedes Lackey, Francesca Lia Block, Poppy Z. Brite, and so many other authors were able to elevate the queer experience at that time through their intentional inclusion of queer characters and for me it was just electric to see that those characters existed. My hope is that through my writing, publishing, and PR work, I’ll be able to do the same for others. I want to give writers and readers of today the opportunity to see themselves reflected in national publications and on larger stages than ever before. I want readers to have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in what they read.
How do you feel about the attention (or rather, lack thereof) paid to LGBTQ+ literature?
Literature and the mindsets of people are changing and broadening every day. I interviewed an author of queer fiction recently who claimed that the books he wrote today would have required a great deal more clarification and explanation had they been written ten years ago. The queer vernacular just wasn’t common at that time and teens and adults would have needed explanations for things that are today part of everyday conversation. Similarly, the Romance genre never had a national platform on which to shine but now many large publications – the Washington Post, NPR, New York Times, Seattle Review of Books, to name a select few – are all hosting dedicated Romance columns, and including Queer Romances in their reviews. The inclusion of Romance and within that, Queer Romance, is so very gratifying. It gives readers an opportunity to see couples of all kinds finding love and getting a happy ever after and it also allows for conversations to occur that wouldn’t otherwise.
What have you learned through your work with LGBTQ+ literature (professionally or about the community itself)?
For me, the most important lesson learned through my work with LGBTQ+ fiction, and LGBTQ+ Romance in particular, is the importance of creating positive representations of the queer experience. Of creating queer characters that fall in love and have happy endings. Of crafting queer narratives focused on the positive and inspiring parts of life. Too often in literature, queer characters are relegated to sidekicks or to tragic figures. Being able to find characters and situations that elevate the positive parts of being queer, that is just so very meaningful and necessary.
You mentioned living in Hoboken. How long have you lived here?
I’ve been in Hoboken since 2009. It has certainly changed a lot in the last ten years!
Do you have a favorite hangout spot in Hoboken or Jersey City?
I am one of those people who could eat the same thing at the same place every day forever and not think to change it up. Luckily I have really good friends in Jersey City who like to force new restaurants and bars on me otherwise I’d probably have scurvy. They recently introduced me to a BBQ place called Hamilton Pork (honestly I laugh every time I say that name and if you live in JC you know why!) which is FAN-TAS-TIC. So much meat! I also love Grind Coffee (excellent lattes) and the old world charm of the bar at Corgi Spirits.
In Hoboken, summer or winter you can always find me at the Biergarten or Bwe Cafe. I also adore Choc-o-pain because the croissants are the most authentic I’ve ever tasted outside of France.
Do you have some advice you’d like to share with fellow writers (writing tips, publishing info, recommendations, etc.)?
Of course! Helping authors succeed is one of my favorite parts of my PR work. Here’s a few tips and tricks authors can use to get ahead.
1. Be proactive. One thing that I have learned as a writer and PR professional is that you have to go after what you want. It’s super trite, yes, but every single professional writing opportunity I have had, I have gone after myself. In writing and publishing, as in any industry, you have to be proactive. You have to actively work to engage like minded people and you have to try everything you can to make what you want work. I would suggest researching publications that you enjoy and would like to see your writing showcased in. Then track down the editor in charge and pitch the hell out of it.
2. Stick to a routine. Writing is a tricky business that requires a lot from the writer in terms of mental energy and time. My best advice to avoid burnout and to actually achieve your goals would be to create a daily routine to manage your time and expectations. Then you need to stick to it. Limit the amount of time you are on social media. Check your email only twice a day. Weave dedicated writing time into your day. Take care of yourself by doing something other than writing. But above all, be consistent and stick to the routine you create otherwise it is too easy to find yourself coming up with excuses for why you shouldn’t be writing.
3. Find a group of critique partners who are willing to be honest. Syncing up with other writers in the same genre is such a great thing to do. It will give you a built-in support network and allow you to brainstorm, discuss technical aspects of writing, commiserate about setbacks and breakthroughs, and more. It also provides you with a group of alpha readers and editors who will help you smooth over issues in manuscripts and give you honest feedback.
4. Join a nationally recognized writer’s organization such as Mystery Writers of America or Romance Writers of America. The cost to join groups like these is nominal and provides so much support for writers – legal advice, contacts in all areas of publishing (editors, copy writers, publishers, agents), access to tools and discounts, workshops, local chapter meetings, and so much more.
1. Choose one social media platform and use it. A lot of authors I work with try to manage their presence on a million social media platforms which can be exhausting. So if you can’t keep up with the time required to update all of them consistently, and you aren’t in a place where you can hire a PA, my advice is to always choose just one platform and to be active on it. Maintain a presence. Engage with bloggers and reviewers. Meet like-minded people. Discuss the things that are important to you in the book community and outside of it. Don’t become a promo machine, instead focus on using this platform to make yourself as an author and a person shine.
2. Make it easy for people to find you. As an author you are your brand. You want people to find you so make it easy for them. Your social media handle(s) should be your author name and should be consistent anywhere that people could possibly want to find you: social media platforms, website, email account, online forums, etc. They should all match.
3. Create a newsletter and don’t be ashamed to ask people to join it. Readers who have bought one book and loved it are more than likely to buy more so my advice is to be sure to set up a newsletter list and actively use it as a selling tool when new books release or relevant events you’re attending take place (such as signings, panels, workshops, conferences).
4. Network. Talk about your book to whoever will listen. Take names, make contacts, keep in touch with anyone who expressed an interest in reading your work. At least at the beginning, when things are more manageable, you really want to engage with readers and reviewers and cultivate an online reputation as approachable and willing to engage. Then reach out to those people and thank them when they actually read your book and discuss it. This goes a long way toward cementing future readers and cheerleaders of your book.
Where can people find you and your work?
I love hearing from readers and industry professionals alike! You can find me here:
Publishing: Open Ink Press
PR: A Novel Take PR
And if anyone wants to hit me up with book recs or just to talk books? Feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find Judith Utz on Instagram – @writerjudithutz