Tanya Olson lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and is a Lecturer in English at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County). Her first book, Boyishly, was published by YesYes Books in 2013 and received a 2014 American Book Award. In 2010, she won a Discovery/Boston Review prize and she was named a 2011 Lambda Fellow by the Lambda Literary Foundation. Her poem 54 Prince was chosen for inclusion in Best American Poems 2015 by Sherman Alexie.
I love the optimism of this section and the way it makes it sound like poets have a lot of options in the matter. Let’s admit that for most poets, publishing with a small, independent press is a matter of necessity, not choice. I confess I had no big presses knocking at my door, but there were a couple of smaller presses asking about the manuscript of Boyishly. YesYes Books was the first to bite and they proved themselves the right press for me. So maybe for poets, the question should be why one small press instead of another.
One way YesYesBooks impressed me was the way they found writers. They went to readings, asked editors for names of people they had heard or read that excited them, and generally tried to find books to publish by finding poets whose work they were interested in. That sort of old-fashioned, beating the bushes method requires an investment of time which reflects a certain seriousness about literature, but also led me to believe the press was more interested in the work as a whole than a manuscript in specific. When a poet sends a manuscript to a contest, that’s all the press knows- that collection of poems on a page. Since YesYes solicited work based from me after hearing me read and reading earlier work, I felt like they had a more thorough understanding of me as a writer and were responding to that rounder profile. That made the acceptance feel more like they were investing in starting my career as a poet than they were in one specific book. YesYes bets on the poet more than the book and I appreciate that investment.
YesYes also feels more like an “investment” press than a “I liked your manuscript” press in the way it treats poets. YesYes regularly puts a little cadre of poets with new work together and sets up shop for a week in a city; there the poets read together 5-6 times over the course of a week. This obviously isn’t a money making move for the press, but a growth move for both the poets and the press. Again, it feels like more of a long-term investment in career and poetry than it does an attempt to sell books.
Does that mean you as a poet have to look for the same things I did? Do you have to find what I found in YesYes to be happy? Of course not. But, I would suggest all poets (maybe all writers) ask themselves what they want for themselves as writers. I knew I wanted to be a poet more than I wanted a book, meaning I was after a lifetime of writing, growing as a writer, and exploring what writing can do. A book might be part of that journey, but it wasn’t the whole journey, an end in itself. YesYes matches that goal for me and the great thing about the sheer number of small presses right now is, there is likely a press that will match your goals, if and when you know them.