Guest Interview: Melanie Huber Speaks With New York Quarterly Editor Raymond Hammond

Today’s interview with The New York Quarterly‘s Editor Raymond Hammond is brought to you by the prose editor of Leaf Garden and her own blog, Melanie Huber.

New York Quarterly is a literary magazine I’ve read off and on for several years, but the organization also publishes books.

Without further ado, please enjoy Melanie’s interview with Raymond Hammond:

1. What made you first decide to venture out into the poetry book publishing game?

Our founding editor, William Packard, had always spoken of an NYQ Books and his wish to make that happen. Shortly after his death we found several proposals that he had written over the years and we knew books were in the original charter, so it was always something in the back of my mind as well.  With the onset of one off printing and the subsequent increased quality of that industry, it became viable to begin thinking about setting up an imprint. We bounced around several ideas for a couple of years and then when the 40th anniversary came around in 2009, it seemed like the perfect time to do something like this and a fitting gesture to both the magazine as well as Bill.  So beginning in the first weeks of January of 2009 I set about releasing the older ideas we had bounced around and just made the decision to go full steam ahead with a non-profit model.  Just to do it.  By June of 2009 we released our first book.

I would like to add that in addition to the nostalgic value, I think having a press is important because it allows you to provide another venue to the poets, and to publish more work of those poets than we ever could in a hundred issues of the magazine.  There has always been at times those submission packages where you read it and want to publish the entire packet, and everything else you can get your hands on by that person.  Now we can do that.

2. I know your stance on contests, you are doing this without requiring authors to submit to contests…

You are correct, we do not believe in or run contests.  We invite our authors to publish a book from the list of poets who have already been published or accepted for publication in the magazine.  This means the vetting has already been done and we already have an established relationship with the author before embarking upon the journey to book publication.  And more importantly, it did not cost the author a dime to get noticed.

About a year or so ago I was speaking with one of our authors who told me that their first book would have never been published if it had not been for a contest.  Really? I then began asking around.  It was then that I realized how accepted the practice of the book contest path to publication had become. I was astonished, and saddened, and deeply disheartened. I knew that contests had become prevalent, but what disheartened me was to think that the book contest route has seemingly replaced the editorial route to publication in the hearts and minds of so many people.  I mean I know the editorial route to publication was a bitch and certainly lamentable for many reasons.  But contests require the same amount of energy to get noticed, offer the same if not narrower opportunity (contest=1 winner, editorially we see hundreds of poet’s work a year), get you the same result if you are lucky (book publication) all while costing you tons and tons of money. And to be clear, if you enter a contest you either win or you might as well have not entered—it is all or nothing.  Whereas with the editorial process you may not “win publication” the first or even the tenth time around, but you got noticed one way or the other—you are in the back of someone’s mind that makes the decisions, not just a guest judge.

I just do not believe in solely passing the plate in the choir loft, others have to want to keep the church doors open or there is no point in having a preacher or a choir.

3. How are you managing to stay viable?

K.I.S.S. – we keep it simple.  We are an all-volunteer non-profit.  We keep overhead to a minimum, there is no office space to rent, no salaries to pay, every dime that we get goes to publishing either the magazine or the books, and every dime we receive from the sale of those books gets returned into the upfront costs of producing another book.  The money just rolls right back into the program.  Because we use print-on-demand, we do not have large press run costs, we do not have to warehouse the books once they are printed—we simply print what we need at the moment.  We also do not sell the books directly, we only sell them through our distributors, so again, no press run, no warehousing, no fulfillment, no shipping.  And when you think about this even further, no direct sales means sales tax is kept to a minimum, accounting is kept to a minimum, everything is simpler and more manageable; therefore, cheaper; therefore, viable.

4. Contests seem to be the bread and butter of most small presses, it’s how they are able to publish what small amount they do publish and keep going, so what hopes and goals do you have for 2011?

The plan is to keep building our catalog. Build as large a catalog as quickly as possible to build the name of NYQ Books and so that the books all work together for sales—so that there is a unit of NYQ Books to promote, not just a few books.

Since January we have released 3 books, with a fourth coming out this week, then 2 more in the immediate weeks after that.  Plus we have 3 more ready and waiting to be released over the next several months.  And then for the remainder of the year we are probably looking at about a dozen in the hopper at minimum. We should end the year with approximately 20 new books all total.

5. How are you able to publish so many books?

It is simply a matter of perseverance. To this point I have done the bulk of the work on most of the books. A few books have been laid out and designed by some friends of the poets, but under our direction.  We have a wonderful cover designer who steps in on the covers that give me pause to do, and we just got another computer outfitted so that one of our other editors can assume a majority of the layout work.  Another key ingredient is organization. We have a 25+ page reference manual that each author is given at the beginning when the book is accepted for publication.  This manual takes them through everything from our philosophy, to legalities, to how to proof, to what happens after the proof is accepted–start to finish.  The more organized the author is in preparing the manuscript and the more they know what to expect along the way, the more efficient our production time can be.

The last reason we can publish so many books lies in the simplicity and economics of it all.  Again, low overhead, print on demand technology, no warehousing, no shipping, simplified accounting, etc.  The simpler one keeps all the ancillary things, the more one can get done.

6. How does the long tradition/philosophy behind the NYQ factor into your decision making regarding book publishing?

One of the philosophies of NYQ, to publish regardless of status in the literary community, contest winnings, school of thought, station in life, accomplishments, sex, race, religion, etc., provides us a great base from which to draw.  It also keeps the book series as eclectic as the magazine of which I am very proud.

And the simplicity and economics of it all allows us to publish a book that might now sell many copies right alongside a book that will sell hundreds if not thousands of copies. To be able to choose the book based upon the quality of the poetry rather than a forecast of sales, and keep it in print, is paramount to running the book program in the spirit of the magazine – the poetry first, always.

Thanks to Melanie for conducting the interview with Raymond Hammond and for Raymond for participating. Both of you rock for participating in the Indie & Small Press Celebration! You’ll be seeing more from Melanie later this month, so stay tuned.

Raymond Hammond; Copyright Amanda J. Bradley

About Raymond Hammond (from NYQ):

Raymond P. Hammond is a poet and critic who, originally from Virginia, now resides in Brooklyn and works at the Statue of Liberty NM 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.


  1. Melanie Lynn Moro-Huber says

    Oh thought I should mention this too, Raymond’s publishing model seems to be working because two NYQ books made it into the best-sellers list at SPD publishing for Feb.

  2. Interesting interview! It’s sad to see that most people believe contests are the way to go to get published. I like that they publish a variety of poets.

    • I used to think that as a teen. But now I know better. I really like that there are contests, but at the same time I don’t. NYQ is a really great magazine. I’d like to check out some of the NQ Books Next.

      • I can see Raymond’s point of view here concerning contests, we’ve spoken at length about them over coffee. It is great he is able to promote poetry and poetry books without them, but at the same time I can completely see how smaller presses without the history NYQ has to do them in order to stay viable. Also, many contests do offer a nominal prize amount beyond what you sell on your own and for some reason awards seem to legitimize an author, maybe not in a long-term sustaining sort of way but on a resume, for instance, when a writer is trying to get a teaching job, I’m afraid these things might count for more than they should.

        Also, I’ve noted the most common award for a winning first poetry book is 500 dollars, and that’s up front without having to sell a copy, but every bit does help in todays economy. That being said, Raymond is completely right in mentioning if you don’t win then the contest really didn’t do anything for you but lighten your pocket. And the odds of winning?? Well, I don’t have a statistical break down but I imagine they odds probably are not nearly as bad as the odds of winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning but probably not as good as choosing a publisher you have already established an editorial relationship with.

        There is also reading fees some magazines are starting to charge. This is a rather depressing thought, having to pay someone to read your work…