Sibling Rivalry Press and LGBT Writing
1. On your profile I noticed you gave a keynote address for the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival. Other people might have trouble with that kind of pressure. How do you overcome that?
When I was invited to give the keynote – which was actually a co-keynote address with the wonderful Theresa Davis, I was terrified. First – Google Theresa Davis. Watch her on Youtube. I was going to have to follow her? But second, I was scared because they didn’t want me to simply read poems. I wouldn’t be able to hide behind a book. They wanted me to tell my story and the story of creating Sibling Rivalry Press. This was in early 2011, when SRP was in its infancy, and it was the first time I was asked to do something other than read poetry behind a microphone. So I wrote this long speech and was going to just read it, but thankfully friends stopped me and reminded me how much I enjoy sitting through a monotone presentation. Still, I memorized what I could and rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. When the time came to give the keynote, do you think I followed my notes? No. I was pulled in all sorts of directions and already had plenty of stories to tell. Here’s the big secret about public speaking. If you know what you’re talking about, if you’re passionate about it and if you believe it in, then you’ll be fine. It doesn’t take massive amounts of preparation or memorization or pomp and circumstance – not if you love the subject.
2. What advice would you give for writers looking to create an anthology but who may not be sure how to start? What steps did you take?
Let me answer this in publisher capacity, because as publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, I receive a lot of anthology pitches. Anthologies are expensive to produce due to their size, and it’s a rule (or should be) that each contributor receives a complimentary copy. Particularly for small presses, this is financially taxing. Also, unless the anthology contains solely unpublished work, then one can expect at least a month or so of negotiating with other publishing houses for reprint rights. All of this is to say if you want to catch a publisher’s attention with an anthology, you should fine-tune your pitch. List potential and already-interested contributors, including well-known names (no reason not to dream big – you never know). Will the anthology be limited to US authors or will it contain authors from around the globe? (International shipping is killer.) Also keep in mind that the more narrow your subject, the more narrow the sales. For example, an anthology that is solely focused on poets from Alabama will sell less than a more inclusive anthology that includes poets from the southern US as a whole. That said, there’s nothing wrong with a narrow approach if the publisher can live with those smaller sales for the sake of the merit of the anthology.
Still, anthologies, while expensive to produce on the front end, can make a publisher a lot of money long term. Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion and Spirituality has sold quite well and has more than earned back its initial cost. For me, though, it’s not about money (although SRP has to pay its bills). It’s about putting out necessary books that deserve to be read, and for anthologies, it’s about creating a historical record of how we, as poets, address or reflect upon certain topics.
3. Why did you choose to create Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry? Why did you feel this work was important?
I expected, when I created Assaracus, our journal that exclusively prints poetry by self-identified gay men, that I would receive some criticism. Primarily, I expected complaints that I was excluding the LBT components of the LGBT community.
I always point out that I don’t vet people on their sexuality. If a writer feels that he or she belongs in Assaracus. I will consider them on the merit of their work. We’ve published bisexual and transgendered authors in Assaracus. But I’m also aware that Assaracus is, at its heart, a journal of the gay male poet. That’s why, when the first three issues of Assaracus were met with a degree of success, I moved quickly to announce Lady Business, which would provide a similar platform for poets who considered themselves lesbians. Initially Lady Business was to be a special issue of Assaracus, but I decided to give it its own space out of respect, though its style mirrors Assaracus (a small number of poets, a large selection of their work). While Lady Business is a stand-alone anthology of work, I do see future volumes and will most likely green-light the second volume for 2014.
4. What sort of obstacles have you encountered as someone who promotes LGBT writing/writers? What have been some of the unexpected joys?
While Sibling Rivalry Press has become known as a press that publishes, supports, and promotes LGBT projects and writers, we are not exclusive to LGBT authors and projects. In fact, several of our top-selling books have been my heterosexual authors, like Jessie Carty, Virginia Bell, and Matthew Temple (I assume they are heterosexual. I don’t ever sit down and ask an author what their orientation is). Still, it is true that the majority of our awards and media attention has come from our LGBT-oriented titles.
There have been far more joys than obstacles, and, in fact, I can’t think of any obstacle that hasn’t ultimately fallen away. It was a challenge to get noticed by our local, conservative-leaning daily newspaper, but after Library Journal named Assaracus as a “Best New Magazine,” the newspaper ran a story on us and didn’t shy away from the term “gay,” which they’d been known to do. Universities and college library which were hesitant to subscribe to Assaracus came around, and now we’re housed in schools like Notre Dame and Canisius.
The joys come from feedback from LGBT writers of all ages, young and young-at-heart, who tell us that they are so glad to see a safe space for LGBT authors. I’ve heard from poets who didn’t write for years because after the 70’s and early 80’s, some gay-friendly venues disappeared. I also enjoy watching friendships develop between authors. SRP is a family, and I feel like a proud daddy when writers we’ve published hit it off. Another joy: I love to see LGBT-allies and family members support their loved ones when a book is published. Southern grandmothers cheering on gay grandsons – that’s cool.
5. What tips would you give to a young LGBT writer who is looking to promote his or her work? What resources would you suggest?
This goes for all writers: for getting published there’s no greater resource than Duotrope.com. As far as promotion, though, the best thing any writer can do is become a part of a community of authors, or, better yet, communities (plural) of authors. For example, if you are published in a particular journal, read the journal from cover to cover and support the writers who appear alongside you. Some of my best literary friendships (that have carried over into mutually beneficial professional relationships) have come from emails exchanged between otherwise strangers saying, “Hey, I really liked your work in our issue of So-and-So.” Also, don’t be afraid of open mics. Don’t be afraid to reach out to authors you admire and enjoy (even the absolutely famous) – you never know when they’ll write back. And most important to my own story, if you pretend you know what you’re doing long enough, eventually, people will start to believe you.
Specific to LGBT writers, though, I will say don’t be afraid of the label of gay poet or gay writer. Those labels fall away if your work is solid. Labels can help an audience find you, but the only thing that will keep your audience around is if your work holds up. I’ve said that I like to use the label of gay poet not to box myself in, but to build a box, bust through the top, and stand on it so that everyone – not only an LGBT readership – notices me.
6. What’s been the greatest personal and professional challenge you have encountered as an LGBT writer? In your opinion what has been your greatest success?
I live in a small town in Arkansas. Population 700. And I’m very happy to say that I don’t feel, as an adult and as a writer, that I’ve had many challenges due to my identification as a gay man. I’m a son to my mother. I’m a partner to my love. I’m a daddy to our pets. I’m a publisher to my poets and writers. I’d say that normalcy is my greatest success, because, as a kid, I don’t think I thought I could have a “normal” life. But the world has changed, or my perception as to what I deserve has changed, and I’m lucky enough to share a home with a wonderful man who reads poetry to me, who makes me breakfast, and who brings me flowers from time to time. What’s my greatest success? Loving. And being loved in return.
7. What’s the next big step for you?
My second book, Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, has just been published, and I’m quite proud of its success thus far. My dad, who passed away in 2009, gave me a thousand dollars to start Sibling Rivalry Press ten days before he suddenly died. The new book is my gift to him, to his memory. Assaracus is still going strong. 2013 will be the biggest year yet for SRP in terms of number of titles. Life is good. Business is good. My partner, Seth, and I have filed paperwork to create a nonprofit foundation that will operation alongside (but separate from) SRP. Personal experience has taught me that one of the biggest challenges facing writers is the economics of travel. Promoting a book or oneself as writer requires attending book fairs, conferences, traveling to bookstores, and networking with readers, editors, publishers, and fellow authors. We envision the nonprofit, which we’ve named the Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation, assisting with the travel costs and other expenses of literary events. Not to mention we want to put on literary events around the country. And the world. Dream big, remember?
Bryan Borland is author of the American Library Association-honored My Life as Adam and editor of the Library Journal – honored Assaracus. He is founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press. His latest book, Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, was released in November.