NA: I read that NYQ Books only publishes books by poets who have published in The New York Quarterly magazine. How does that work? Do you solicit manuscripts from these poets after they have published in the journal?
RH: We do not solicit work. We rely on two very simple concepts to select manuscripts. The first is prior acceptance for publication in the magazine. Prior acceptance gives us a good starting point for manuscripts as the editorial vetting is already done, and done at no cost to the author such as in a contest scenario. The second concept is that we also do not accept unsolicited manuscripts—an invitation must be extended. The invitation gives us a modicum of control over how many books we consider at any given time, and most importantly it allows us to better coordinate the books we are looking for which keeps the press as eclectic as the magazine. The vetting and the invitation process allow us a starting point of already knowing the author and their work.
NA: Do you then solicit poets to submit to the New York Quarterly? Or are you, as I would imagine, already overwhelmed with submissions?
RH: We work very hard to keep the selection of poems for the magazine to just that, the poem for the poem’s sake for the sake of the magazine. The way that a poet begins to get noticed for inclusion in the books is when we start accepting repeated submissions from them, then we say to ourselves, maybe we should just do a book of their work. I have found so far that having the books for that added venue is a very nice option because some people I just want to publish more of their work than publication in the magazine will allow.
NA: I also have read that the NYQ Books is a new press. How long has NYQ Books been in existence? Why was the press started? What were some of the first books you published?
RH: The concept of NYQ Books has been around since the magazine began in 1969. It was something that the founding editor, William Packard, told me was always a dream of his. Then after his death, we found several proposals for an NYQ Books in the records that had been drafted by him. The name, NYQ Books, comes from Bill. After much research and consideration and dreaming on my own part, we began the press June of 2009 in celebration of NYQ’s 40th anniversary.
We made the decision to start the press in order to provide a venue for book publication for many of our poets who have been overlooked by the more mainstream presses. We put these books into publication right alongside more established poets and are not concerned about sales statistics. To accomplish this goal, we began our idea with two basic premises.
The first premise was to say to ourselves, “Poetry doesn’t sell.” And while this statement sounds self-defeating and is open to all sorts of debate and sounds like a cry of desperate mediocrity, there is an element of truth to it which immediately removes any grand expectations that we will sell thousands of copies of each book we publish. By removing this expectation, we can publish and keep in print books that don’t immediately sell right alongside books that do, and we are hoping that eventually the press will work as a single organism, some books supporting the others—but keeping all in print.
The second premise which dovetails with the first is to publish what we want and what fits the scheme of the press as a whole, to base our decisions on the poetry itself and eclecticism of the press rather than on how well we think a book will sell or what book won a contest.
Many of the principles of the press, such as not worrying about the sales potential, reducing the overhead and risk, and maintaining the books in print have been made possible by print on demand technology which was not available in Bill’s time. As well, print on demand is more eco-friendly.
NA: What kinds of books are you most interested in reading and publishing?
RH: The goal of the magazine has always been to present anything, any style, any school, any genre of poetry to our readers—to never limit what we consider or present. And so it is with the press. I am very pleased that we have what I would consider academic type poets right alongside poets such as the experimental poet Richard Kostelanetz or a cab driver or a high school teacher. We are looking to mix it up and be known for our eclecticism. I don’t want to be known for any particular style of poetry. I want readers to identify with the NYQ Books brand when they read something from a poet that they liked, and will then turn around because of that brand and try something else, something new.
NA: How many books do you publish each year?
RH: With the publication of Adam Hughes’ Petrichor on December 1, 2010, we will have 28 books in print. That is 28 books in the 18 months since June 1, 2009—I am very proud of that fact. Our plan was to produce as many books as we possibly could right up front—to “front load” the program, to allow books to build off of the others and establish a broad, eclectic base. We need to slow that number down at this point, and I am thinking right now that we will probably settle, speaking practically, into a number like 14 a year—but we probably will not stick to that too closely since there are so many books we want to publish, given the funding and the time.
NA: What are some of the proudest moments for the press so far? Could you provide some links to reviews, blogs, awards, etc. featuring NYQ Books.
RH: It sounds hokey, I know, but the proudest moment for me personally was when that first book proof was delivered. And I am privileged to relive that experience with each and every book that we produce. To hold it, smell it, read it cover to cover after putting it together is truly something amazing. Every book is that special to me, because each one is unique and can only do what it does in the world for the word. That is what this is all about, putting the work of poets into the hands of readers. I am also very proud of maintaining the same eclecticism as we have in the magazine. I am also rather proud of the website, which I built myself. It is simple and clean and touts an author section where each author can log in and find their sales and royalties for the previous months. The authors can update information about readings, and we also have “Reviews and News” where there are links to all things pertinent to a book including awards and reviews.
NA: It’s always hard, it seems to me, to get poetry into the hands of readers. Do you have any secret recipes for doing just that? Any magic for distributing your books?
RH: Our business plan is “keep it simple.” To this end we actually limit distribution channels rather than having more. This seems counter-intuitive, but by limiting the channels, we are also limiting risk, investment, and time expenditure. If we keep those things in check, then we can produce more books, and concentrate on getting the books out to readers rather than all of those not-fun-things like inventory, sales tax, accounting, fulfillment of orders, etc. To this end we are somewhat unique in that we do not sell the books directly—no storage, no inventory, no sales tax, no shipping—let the distributors handle all of that. In addition to Small Press Dsitribution, we also have several agreements with Ingram to get the books out to a worldwide market.
NA: What is the best place for a reader to find NYQ Books?
RH: The best place is at our website, http://www.nyqbooks.org. All of our in-print and forthcoming books are listed along with links to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, and Small Press Distribution, as well as the international Amazon sites. As I said above, we do not sell directly to the reader. This reduces the risk we take on inventory, removes a very complicated accounting stream that would involve sales taxes, fulfillment, etc. Some of our books get placed into bookstores that are relevant to the author, but these vary by book and will be the topic of a new page linked to the book’s page on our website in the near future. We would also like very much to begin a relationship with independent bookstores in various major cities who would be known for carrying all of the books in the series, but this has been slow to start mainly because of the time commitment on our end to start it. I hope this is coming down the road even if it is just a few around the country.
Raymond P. Hammond is a poet and critic who, originally from Virginia, now resides in Brooklyn and works at the Statue of Liberty National Monument as a law enforcement officer half of the week and as editor-in-chief of The New York Quarterly the other half. He holds an MA from New York University where most of his classes were intense studies of poetics with William Packard at the Chelsea Gallery Diner over a hamburger. He has two books: an old chapbook of poetry, Glacial Reasoning, and a new book of criticism, Poetic Amusement.