Sunday, December 9, 2012

Steve Yates and University Presses

Born and reared in Springfield, Missouri, Steve Yates is an M.F.A. graduate from the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas. He is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction; and his collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, will be published by University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013. His fiction has won two fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission and one from the Arkansas Arts Council. Yates has published short stories in TriQuarterly, Southwest Review, Turnstile, Western Humanities Review, Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Valley Voices, Harrington Gay Men's Literary Quarterly, Nebraska Review, Texas Review, and many other journals. In Best American Short Stories 2010, one of his stories was honored among the “Other Notable Stories of 2009.” His first novel, Morkan’s Quarry, was published in May 2010 by Moon City Press. Portions of the novel were published first in Missouri Review, Ontario Review, and South Carolina Review. He is assistant director / marketing director at University Press of Mississippi in Jackson and lives in Flowood with his wife, Tammy.  

MWG: Welcome, Steve, thank you for talking with us today about what you are offering at the MWG Conference in 2013. You are going to be speaking about working with university presses. So, what's your experience working with a university press?  

Steve: My collection, Some Kinds of Love: Stories, is the winner of the 2012 Juniper Prize in Fiction and will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press in April 2013, right about when we meet. So you can read more about my working with UMASS Press at , and my impressions about entering fiction contests are at .

 But I don’t just work with university presses. I work at a university press, since 1998 at the University Press of Mississippi, where I am now assistant director and marketing director, and before that from 1994 to 1998 at the University of Arkansas Press, where I was publicist and then assistant marketing manager.

MWG: What types of books do university presses generally publish?

Steve: That question is exactly what I am hoping to help your writers answer. “How to Parse a Press” is a presentation I have been honing at University Press of Mississippi’s eight supporting state universities, helping scholars, writers, and faculty to understand better the many ways to divine what a university press is looking for and what it does well. Each of the 134 university presses in the Association of American University Presses is a niche publisher with often very different core competencies. I want to show seekers in the Missouri Writers Guild ways to determine what those core disciplines and competencies are at a press, and how to perceive the right working fit for a manuscript.

MWG: That sounds great and very useful! Do you submit to a university press in the same way you would submit to an agent or mainstream publisher--in other words--find guidelines online and follow them? DO they generally accept submissions year round or only while the university is in session?

Steve: Our submission guidelines at University Press of Mississippi are posted at ; and many other university presses post them similarly at a press website. But we’ll slow down a bit in my talk. Pounding out submissions without care and thought damages the writer’s reputation and sours editors. Writers can save a lot of time, postage, and heartache if they will plan, research, read books from a prospective publisher, and then submit in a targeted fashion. Improving the aim of MWG writers is what I hope to do. University Presses are different all over, but most accept submissions of nonfiction and scholarship within the press’s core disciplines pretty much year round. And not all university presses are tied to one university. University Press of Mississippi, headquartered in Jackson, is supported by Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi University for Women, University of Mississippi, and University of Southern Mississippi. This makes UPM very affordable to support, and doesn’t tie us to the schedule of any one campus. Similarly at other university presses, the students and faculty may be on break, but somewhere in the McIlroy House or in the Paul B. Johnson Building, there’s a light on, and a university press publisher at the desk working hard to deliver great content to the world.

MWG: I think conference attendees are in for a real treat, and for something different than we've heard before! What are the benefits of working with a university press?

Steve: Commitment. University Presses operate with a committed passion and understanding: the books we publish are the best scholarship and writing in our core disciplines or about our state or region. And often no other publisher will touch them. Take this biography, the first biography of Mississippi John Hurt . Now serious blues fans and scholars of the blues, they know who John Hurt was. But no large publishing house in New York could afford to publish this book. The scale of a big New York publishing firm means that sales of 3,000 or fewer copies of a book—that’s a death knell; that writer is written off! But university presses have a small, niche scale, and an expertise that can bring this United Kingdom scholar’s book to the world, to Mississippi and well beyond, successfully for all parties, I might add. There’s a great interview with the author at . And if we have time, I’ll tell you a story he told about his first book signing, one that propels me any time I get weary. Commitment, like pilgrims on a great journey, sharing knowledge, that’s the advantage. Anywhere else can often be just spreadsheets, units, bottom lines, and dollar signs.

MWG: Any disadvantages?

Steve: Most of the disadvantages occur when the marriage between the author and the publisher lacks communication. Publishing is a marriage in which all parties recognize the value and pursue the mutual goal of developing and exporting a body of content to the widest possible market. It very much involves communication and agreement upon expectations. I work hard and our editors at UPM work very hard to help keep an author grounded in reality and focused, while we collectively, author and publisher, make the very most of each author creation. Yet, and understandably, authors dream at a scale that is sometimes profoundly make believe. Since 2008 and the great recession, publishing has changed more in those few years than in all the years (since 1994) that I’ve been in it. Borders is gone. The Kindle is a massive force. When I came to Mississippi in 1998, there was a journalist called a book editor at 13 major southern, metropolitan newspapers. Now there is only one, Greg Langley, at the Baton Rouge Advocate. And yet, sometimes authors still want to get a spot on the Oprah Winfrey Show (also gone, by the way), or want to do something advised by a daughter, brother, or friend who is an author, even though that author/friend published with Random House in 2001. 2007 is a thousand years ago in publishing years! And we’re not Random House, thank God, and Random House, is not UPM. Yet, it’s very understandable. We all rely on our loved ones and peers to guide us when we enter new territory. As a writer who has published two books now, I deeply identify with the struggle to understand a new realm, manage dreams, and recognize that the world has a scale. Publishing may be very different than you or your peers ever conceived. I’m from the Missouri Ozarks, though. So conquer the holler, take the hill, spy what’s beyond, and then decide what real and happy success can be. All the disadvantages come when the partners, author and publisher, never see eye to eye on the scale of reality.

MWG: I can see that I need to attend your talk. Just your interview is inspirational! So, what will you cover in your talk at the MWG conference?

Steve: “How to Parse a Press” is really about perceiving what a university press is, what it wants, and what it can do. I’ll be showing MWG writers some tips on the ways in which university presses communicate what matters to them and what they seek.

MWG: Anything else you want to add?

Steve: I’m just really honored that Steve Wiegenstein, author of such a great novel, Slant of Light, would even think about asking me home to Missouri to talk with Missouri writers. I love helping scholars and writers down here in Mississippi and all over the country and world. But to help someone from my home state, in any small way, I’ll travel a long, hard road for the chance to do that for a Missouri writer.

MWG: Thank you for your time. We look forward to seeing you in April.

Steve: Sure, I can hardly wait to be on home turf. Thank you.


  1. University press books can be priced higher than expected for page count, also be sure they will do e-book versions if that's important to you, or allow you to get the e-book version out yourself. Otherwise, great (and prestigious) choice for publishing. Looking forward to the conference!

  2. Linda,
    Thanks for the comment. (I'm a bit behind on responding! :) These are great points and hopefully the type of things that Steve can clear up for us at the conference. I know a few people who have been published by university presses and most have been so happy with the individual attention. :)

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