Founder Angela Engel talks The Collective Book Studio, modern publishing

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Angela Engel/Courtesy

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With miniature portraits of Ruth Bader Ginsburg hanging from her earlobes, it’s clear Angela Engel embraces the spirit of powerful women.

As one of the leading women in the modern publishing space, Engel’s taste in fun earrings is the least impressive thing about her. In 2019, Engel founded and launched The Collective Book Studio, an Oakland-based publishing house with a starkly different publishing model from traditional presses.

According to Engel, because traditional publishers bear all the costs of title publication, up-and-coming authors with unorthodox ideas are often overlooked. Even when granted book deals, these aspiring authors struggle with legally owning their intellectual property — their titles becoming commodities of the publishing houses that buy them.

Determined to create something different from these inaccessible and stifling operations, Engel bet everything on her method of publication. Her approach aimed to bring up-and-coming authors freedom, intellectual ownership and increased profits.

“I wanted to come together as a collective,” Engel said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I wanted to take people who are really knowledgeable within the traditional publishing space — since we understand what it means to make an arc, storyline, typography, print, layout and production — and come together to publish in a way that gives everybody access.”

Accessibility and collaboration are the core values on which The Collective Book Studio is founded. With staff who have worked in traditional presses such as Chronicle Books, HarperCollins Publishers and Penguin Random House, Engel understood the necessity of learning from tradition in order to properly disrupt the industry. 

“Sometimes the people that can solve a problem in their industry are the ones who have been in it,” Engel said. 

More than anything, The Collective Book Studio is a manifestation of Engel’s love for literature. For four years, she studied comparative literature in college, exposing herself to books from international cultures. One of Engel’s favorites of all time is “A History of Reading” by Argentinian author Alberto Manguel. Even her favorite book is about books — meta doesn’t quite cut it.

After college, Engel started as a marketing assistant and found herself being drawn to sales and numbers. She found her footing in sales and gradually ventured into the publishing space, working to amass more than 20 years of industry experience and eventually emerging as a founder of her own publishing company.

“What I always say about publishing is once you get in, you don’t really leave,” Engel said. 

Not that she ever wanted to leave: Engel shared that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, even with the sleepless nights and restless days.

“The Collective Book Studio is my biggest blessing and my hardest challenge,” Engel said. 

For Engel, there was no rulebook — no angel investor. It was up to her to decode operations and figure out how the business would function. Engel’s ambition drove her true mission: She wanted to remodel the publishing world and publish innovative content, especially pieces written by women, BIPOC authors and other marginalized groups. 

Going against the current is a difficult sport, but Engel has emerged as a champion. 

“My ‘wow’ moment was when my debut cookbook was reviewed in The New York Times,” Engel said, pride and nostalgia plain in her smile as she remembered one of the first books her company published. “I was like, ‘Okay, we’re doing something right.’”

Aside from being an entrepreneur, Engel is also a mother of three children. Being both a mother and businesswoman has taught her invaluable lessons of resilience and optimism. It’s about channeling optimism in both motherhood and career and making the best of what you have.

“I personally think you cannot separate these roles,” Engel said.

She seems to be a constant defier of expectations. Though her lifetime is one filled with books, she hasn’t yet authored her own. 

“I’ve never written a book, but so many people have told me to. And I should — I mean, I have a publishing company, you know,” she laughed. 

Engel’s dream book to pen is a vibrant, multilayered cookbook. These recipes would trace the stories of her Jewish and Italian roots, proudly showcasing her eclectic heritage through the meals of a boisterous Jewish-Italian kitchen.

“I was the oldest kid, so when I came home from school, it was my job to shake out every pasta noodle and hang it,” she reminisced. 

These moments were stories paved by passions for cooking passed down from her mother and grandmother.

“One day, I’ll weave these women’s stories in a cookbook,” Engel said. 

While readers wait on her inevitable cookbook, the rest of The Collective Book Studio’s colorful titles will continue flying off the shelves under Engel’s leadership.

Contact Vicky Chong at [email protected].