"When I first tried to get into publishing in my early 20s,” said Nadxieli Nieto, executive editor at Flatiron Books, “there just weren’t positions for people like me.” As a result, she took an unconventional path into publishing. She began her career doing marketing for subsidiaries of the Economist.
But Nieto, who holds an MFA in poetry and creative writing from Syracuse University, always knew that literature was her calling. She pursued art book publishing with various indie and university presses, working on books and illustrated anthologies with what she called a “social justice through line.” In 2004, she edited Carteles contra una guerra, an art book against the Iraq War that won the prestigious Premis Ciutat de Barcelona. Several of her collaborative artist books can now be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum.
Nieto also began editing literary magazines, serving as managing editor of the annual Noon and editor-in-chief of the journal Salt Hill. The experience of “working in small teams, on shoestring budgets” taught her to wear many hats. “You learn how to budget, how to create P&Ls, how to work with vendors and designers and negotiate across the process,” she said. One of the most exciting aspects of working in the world of literary magazines was getting to work with emerging writers, many of whom are still “getting their legs and finding their voice.” Even now, she counts herself “a big fan of lit mags.”
Nieto has also coedited three anthologies with author Lincoln Michel: Gigantic Worlds, Tiny Crimes, and Tiny Nightmares. “I’ve always been interested in playing with genre,” she said, noting that she was eager to “create an anthology series that allowed both genre and non-genre writers to play in the same sandbox.” The all-star roster of writers who have contributed to Nieto and Michel’s anthologies includes Ted Chiang, Danielle Evans, Samantha Hunt, Jac Jemc, Stephen Graham Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Carmen Maria Machado, Amber Sparks, and Lynne Tillman.
In 2017, Nieto joined PEN America as director of literary awards. During her tenure, the organization recognized such authors as Weike Wang and Sandra Cisneros, whom Nieto credited with inspiring a new generation of Latinx writers. Eventually, Nieto knew she would rather create books than just celebrate them. “Giving big checks to writers at a party is fun,” she said, “but I found that I wanted to get back closer to the source of the art, to the making of it.”
In April 2020, Nieto left PEN America to join Flatiron as editor-at-large. Her appointment came shortly after Flatiron’s publication of American Dirt, the bestselling novel written by a white author about Mexican immigrants, sparked debate about racial equity within the industry. The decision to hire Nieto was praised by the organization #Dignidad-
Literaria as “a solid step in the right direction.”
Nieto said she was drawn to the position at Flatiron because it offered “the opportunity to build a highly curated list” that “focused on and celebrated writers of color.” She currently serves on the board of Latinx in Publishing, a network founded in 2015 that supports Latinx book publishing professionals and promotes Latinx literature. “When you work in this industry, you quickly become aware of all the barriers to entry,” she said, “and so naturally I started to focus on advocacy.”
Nieto also hopes to mold Flatiron into a house that gives “passionate support” to authors of color—debut authors, as well as midcareer authors, who often don’t receive the same kind of hands-on attention and encouragement from their publishers as new writers. Editing both literary fiction and narrative nonfiction, Nieto enjoys seeing “the ideas I’m interested in get teased out through different approaches.” She has found that Flatiron gives substantial freedom to authors who “like to play across genres,” so that “a novelist can also write an essay collection and vice versa.”
Nieto has several recent acquisitions that she’s excited about. Monica Brashears’s debut novel, House of Cotton, slated for winter 2023, “blew me away from the first page,” she said, with its “incredibly sharp and imaginative” take on the Southern gothic genre, refracted through a contemporary Black perspective. “When you fall in love with a book, you move heaven and earth to get it.”
This fall will see the publication of My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson, a writer and producer for the TV series The Chi and Narcos. Nieto said the novel, a bildungsroman about a queer Black man in 1980s New York City, epitomizes the kinds of books that she likes working on best. “It’s both heavily researched and incredibly sexy,” she explained, “with a main character that just grabs you from the first page.”
Nieto also recently acquired Jean Crae’s debut memoir In My Remaining Years, Wendy Chin-Tanner’s debut novel King of the Armadillos, and Jessica Hoppe’s recovery memoir First in the Family.
Though the decision to hire Nieto and the list that she is building are significant steps forward for Flatiron, Nieto feels there’s a lot of work left to be done throughout the industry in increasing diversity. “I believe I can still count on my fingers the number of Latinx editors acquiring for the adult fiction market,” she said. There have been many new Latinx hires, but there have also been several departures, “and when there are so few of us, every loss counts.” She worries that without “substantive changes” like liveable wages, the industry will continue to lose Latinx editorial talent.
Nieto believes that Latinx employees, and employees of color more generally, should be present “at every state of the process, from editorial to marketing and publicity to sales.” Without changes to the publishing infrastructure, the burden to improve the industry falls on the shoulders of individuals who “will, inevitably, burn out.”