Sibling Rivalry Press was founded in 2010 by Bryan Borland and is based in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are the only press, large or small, to ever win Lambda Literary Awards in both Gay Poetry and Lesbian Poetry. The American Library Association has honored 22 of their titles (including three top-10 favorites) on its annual list of recommended LGBT reading. While they champion their LGBTQ authors and artists, they are an inclusive publishing house and welcome all authors, artists, and readers regardless of sexual orientation or identity. They publish work they love. Merit trumps category. Devin Koch, the managing editor of the minnesota review interviewed Bryan Borland to find out more about the press in regards to their process with work they have published and information for those who want to send manuscripts to Sibling Rivalry Press.
DEVIN KOCH: What are some writers and collections that you have published or will be publishing that excite you? I’m always in need for new reading material.
BRYAN BROLAND: When I’m asked this question, first, I reach back into our previously-published titles and mention a few that people might have missed. I want people to read Jane Summer’s Erebus, which is the most unique book we’ve ever published. Poetry-journalism, I’d call it, about the author’s search for answers surrounding the death of a friend in a New Zealand plane crash. It’s beautiful and haunting. I want people to read Michael Klein’s When I Was a Twin. Michael Klein is one of our greatest living writers. His poetry is musical and conversational, and no one writes about loss or ghosts or memory better. I will read every word this man ever writes. I want people to read Prime: Poetry & Conversation, which featured an all-star lineup of gay, African-American poets selected by Jericho Brown: Saeed Jones, Rickey Laurentiis, Phillip B. Williams, L. Lamar Wilson, and Darrell Alejandro Holnes conversing between one another and sharing their poetry. Along that same line, I’m thrilled to be publishing a second book using that model: Subject to Change: Trans Poetry & Conversation, which was edited by H. Melt and features Cam Awkward-Rich, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Christopher Soto, and beyza ozer. Juan Felipe Herrera, our most recent Poet Laureate, called this book “revolutionary, a culture and power border-smasher & a piercing examination of brilliant, painful, and transcendent Trans consciousness and experience.” When you get a blurb like that from a poet like that, you repeat it everywhere. And the thing is, it’s true.
What is the funding you receive toward supporting the press?
Our funding comes from book sales and tax-deductible donations from readers.
In terms of book sales, we make the majority of our funding through sales from our online store at www.siblingrivalrypress.com. If you want to support an independent press, always, always, always buy books directly from that press if you’re making a purchase online. Yes, you might have to pay a little more for shipping and you might not get as much of a discount as you would from major retail websites, but the profit goes directly to the press and to the author. We do sell our books through major online retailers, but we have very little control on the discounts they give, and they take such a large percentage themselves that we see very little profit. For example, if we sell a book for $12.00 in our online store, we make a profit of about $9.60, and the author gets a 30% cut of that. If the major online retail websites sells the same book, they generally sell it for a little less. In this case, let’s just say they sell it for the same price of $12.00. We make a profit of $2.30, and the author gets a 30% cut of that much smaller figure. There’s a big difference. We do make the choice to continue selling our books in those venues because accessibility is as important as anything to us, but I also think it’s important to inform readers of how the financial side of things break down. If the only way you can get books is through those major retailers, of course, do that. But if you have the means, please buy directly from the presses.
A smaller portion of our funding comes from donations. Our publishing house is fiscally-sponsored by a great organization called Fractured Atlas. Fractured Atlas allows us to accept tax-deductible donations that are then funneled into the press. We also operate a 501(c)(3) private foundation called the Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation. This is a separate entity from Sibling Rivalry Press, the publishing imprint, but it allows us to accept tax-deductible donations directly in order to fund specific, not-for-profit programs like the Undocupoets Fellowship.
How did Sibling Rivalry Press become associated with the Undocupoets? Can you elaborate on this amazing fellowship and the press’s stance on diversity as a whole?
We became associated with the Undocupoets Fellowship through our connection with Christopher Soto AKA Loma. We’d published their first chapbook, Sad Girl Poems. Through that process, Loma and I learned that we shared a dangerously-wonderful compulsion: when we have an idea we believe in and when it makes us feel electric and when we believe it’s just right, we move forward. We find a way to make it happen. When Loma, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Javier Zamora originally ran into a few roadblocks with some other potential big-name partners (red tape, hoops, etc.), Loma figured they could ask me to be involved and of course I’d say yes immediately. The Undocupoets Fellowship is exactly the reason we started SRP and the SRP Foundation. We believe that the written word can save lives. As our mission states, “It can speak to people who have themselves felt like monsters and say: you are not alone, this is not monstrous. It can disturb and enrapture . . .” And there are certainly enough institutions making it their business to make people feel like monsters. So our business, then, is to resist. Our business, then, is to share this space we’ve created and pass around the microphone. Our business, then, is to participate in the market of visibility and voice.
How much does a cover letter sway you? Do you take someone more seriously if they are more readily published?
Because we receive so many manuscripts each year during our open-submission period that runs from March 1 through June 1, we absolutely depend on cover letters. In lieu of a traditional cover letter, we ask writers to answer specific questions. For our 2017 submission period, we asked writers to 1) identify who was waiting on their work (i.e.. who are you writing for) and to 2) define their role as an artist in these turbulent and dangerous political times. Because resistance and survival were on our minds, we were looking for something very specific this year. In other years, we’ve been a little more playful. We’ve asked questions like, “If your manuscript were made into a film, what song would play in the closing credits?” Or “What poem or page from your manuscript should we read aloud right now?” And then we’d actually do just that. An author’s response to these questions tells us a great deal about how they view themselves and their work. Alternatively, if an author doesn’t follow our instructions or refuses to answer the questions, that also tells us a great deal about what a working relationship would be like with that person. After all, signing a publishing contract is not too unlike entering into a marriage. It’s a multiple-year-long close working relationship. You better be ready for that (on both sides).
As far as whether we take someone more seriously if they are more readily published…not necessarily. We’ve had a lot of success publishing writers at the beginning of their careers. Ocean Vuong. Saeed Jones. Kaveh Akbar, just to name a few. These writers had some publishing credits, but not a long list at the time we signed them to contracts. What they did have, though, was a passion for their art and a willingness to interact and be part of the larger literary community. That’s what impresses me. These writers were either joining conversations or, even better yet, starting conversations. They were asking hard questions and speaking with a voice that reached across a void. These were writers building bridges with their public personas, in their private lives, and through their work. There’s a reason why SRP changed the literary landscape over the last ten years. It wasn’t the press and never will be. It was the writers.
In terms of edits, do you approach the author in any way for changes? If so, how do you do it?
Our process is this. We accept a manuscript. We give a firm deadline to the writer to submit a final version of that manuscript to us. We correct clear errors ourselves—misspelled words, etc., but in terms of content or changes of substance that are questionable or perhaps have some intent behind them—we’d never make those changes without the author’s consent. We’ll communicate those questions to the author, and they always have the final call.
What sets Sibling Rivalry Press apart from other presses?
My husband (the poet Seth Pennington) and I run SRP from our kitchen table in Little Rock, Arkansas. We stay here because there’s nothing else like SRP here. That both enhances us and gives us purpose. Arkansas sets us apart. We know the importance of visibility.
In being an editor, do you have any advice or knowledge in which you can bestow others on who are want to pursue a career like yourself and for those who are wanting to submit their work to the press?
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get involved in your literary community in some way. If you feel excluded from your literary community, create a new one. Even if it’s in your apartment or in a library meeting room. There’s someone out there who needs you and your work. There’s someone out there who needs you to listen to them, or to help them find their own voice. We don’t write in a vacuum. We’re all on this road together. If you are an editor or a writer, don’t build walls. Break them the fuck down.
Bryan Borland is founding publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press. His most recent collection of poems, DIG (Stillhouse Press/George Mason University, 2016), was a Lambda Literary Finalist in Gay Poetry and a Stonewall Honor Book in Literature as selected by the American Library Association. He is winner of the Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award and a Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, with his husband and co-publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, Seth Pennington.
Devin Koch is a poet from Nebraska. He is an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. He is the managing editor of the minnesota review. His poetry has appeared in Laurus and is the winner of the Marjorie Stover and Vreeland award. Find him at devinhkoch.com