Ed note: This is the second post in our "Meet the Press" series for which poet Nin Andrews will interview editors of small presses. Today Nin interviews Peter Conners (photo), publisher of BOA Editions -- sdh
NA: I would love to start by asking you to describe BOA Editions in a very general sense. Tell me how many and what kind of books you publish every year.
PC: We typically publish 10 books per year: two translations, one Poulin contest winning book, two books of fiction, and five books through our Continuum Series which focuses on poets who have already published at least one previous book of poetry.
NA: Can you tell me a little bit about the translations you publish?
PC: We publish poetry translations through our Lannan Translations Selection Series which is supported by the amazing Lannan Foundation of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Lannan Foundation is a quiet hero of independent publishing and, in the case of BOA, allows us to publish two collections of contemporary poetry in translation every year. It won’t surprise any of your readers to hear that: A) There is an astonishing dearth of contemporary poetry translations in this country, B) It is vital for American readers, professors, poets, etc. to have exposure to the work of contemporary world poets, C) Poetry translations don’t sell very well. So we take pride in our translation series and view bringing these books to American audiences as an important part of our mission. You can check out a list of BOA translations at the bottom of this page.
NA: BOA is a small press that has made a name for itself. What has made BOA so successful? (Feel free to provide links to interviews, reviews, etc.)
PC: Publishers succeed because of the books and authors that they publish. BOA has thrived for 34 years because we’ve published outstanding books that reflect a catholicity of tastes. All of the awards, reviews, accolades, etc. start with an author putting their vision into words. Once that happens, the work of the publisher kicks in: helping the author edit their work, making a beautiful final product, and getting it to as many people as possible. BOA’s success is built on 34 years of publishing works of singular vision and then working as hard as we can to get those books into the world. You can read more about BOA’s mission and history here.
NA: How do you find new authors? Do they come to you with their unsolicited manuscripts? Do you seek out certain writers? Do you run contests?
PC: All of the above. We have at least one open submission period per year for poetry (our Continuum Series), fiction, and translation. The A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize contest for first books of poetry is open from August 1 – November 30.
We also keep our ears open for potential projects all year around – so manuscripts also arrive via referral or solicitation.
NA: I heard an editor recently complain that he reads a lot of what he calls “MFA manuscripts” these days. He says they are well-written but uninspired. Do you know what he’s talking about?
PC: I certainly know what he’s talking about in terms of “well-written but uninspired” manuscripts. As an editor, those are the hardest ones to grapple with: you spend time with them, you read them, consider them, and you wonder at how something so well-wrought can leave you so cold. But in the end, as an editor, there’s little you can do to fix a “well-written but uninspired” manuscript. You can’t edit duende into a manuscript. That said, BOA has way too many gifted authors with MFAs to pigeonhole grad programs in that way. There has always been more bad writing than good. Who has time to assign blame? If a manuscript works, we’ll do our best to publish it. If it doesn’t, we move on.
NA: Has working in publishing changed you as a writer?
PC: Absolutely. I wish every writer could work in publishing for a few months. One of the best lessons I’ve learned is that different books fit best with different publishers and no matter how bad you want to force an indie to act like a corporate publisher or vice-versa, it’s not going to happen. At this point, I’ve published books with big publishers, tiny publishers, and publishers in-between, and I’ve managed to maintain good relationships with all of them. The key is not to dump your expectations at your publisher’s doorstep. Tell them what you want, but also listen to what they’re capable of doing. If your needs don’t fit their capabilities – look for a different publisher. Working in publishing teaches a writer about the intersection of their dreams with the realities of the publishing model. It can be a tough pill to swallow, but if you pay attention you can also save yourself a lot of stress along the way.
NA: What is the most exciting aspect of working for BOA? What are the challenges presses like BOA face?
PC: I’m a literary being: I read, write, edit, review, discuss… live literary. Working at BOA allows me to make a living as part of the world I love. What could be better? I also thrive on making connections between people and BOA gives me tons of opportunities to do that. I do it on the macro level: connecting an author (via their work) with readers, critics, professors, peers, etc. I also get to do it on the micro level of connecting one individual with another individual through the common thread of BOA. Once those connections are made, BOA becomes larger than any one individual – it becomes a shared experience sparked by literature.
The challenges BOA faces are the same, and just as tedious, as with any not-for-profit organization: money. Money buys more staff that can do more work on behalf of our books. It’s a simple calculation: 5 people can accomplish more than 2 people. At BOA, we manage to accomplish an amazing amount with limited resources. But I can’t help dreaming about how much we could accomplish with a little more change in our pockets. Then again, not-for-profit literary publishing affords a remarkable amount of independence that many people in corporate publishing (especially editors) would love to have. There are always tradeoffs.
NA: Can you tell me about the books that are forthcoming this year? Provide some links to interviews, reviews?
PC: We’ve stepped up our communication game this year by launching the BOA blog.
We update the blog a few times each week and also link it to our Twitter and Facebook accounts. In other words, if you want to know about BOA – right up to the minute – check out our blog and follow us through our FB and Twitter accounts. All of our new releases are noted there along with reviews, interviews, and links to all things BOA. We also have a really sleek web-store that features our new titles and offers special deals on books.