By Melinda Ruth
“We started out all wrong, did it how everyone tells you not to do it.” In a small classroom, Seth Pennington sat at the front of the room. The desks were arranged in a square while Seth addressed the room. He came to our Editing & Publishing classroom to explain how Sibling Rivalry came to be, and how they thrived in a diminishing publishing industry.
Sibling Rivalry is a small independent publisher based out of North Little Rock in Bryan and Seth’s house. They have since become a beacon for minority writers everywhere.
“In 2010, Bryan was publishing in Ganymede, a New York City based literary journal for gay men. The creator of Ganymede offered to make a book of Bryan’s poetry. He was going to create a press to make it look official.”
But two months later, he was gone.
“People started talking to Bryan, wondering what was going to happen to their work in Ganymede.” Bryan went to New York to arrange a memorial issue and reading, celebrating Ganymede’s legacy while also mourning the loss of it.
It was there that Ocean Vuong, who had been published in Ganymede, asked Bryan if he would publish a small chapbook for him. And Bryan did. In the meantime, Brain started a new literary magazine, Assaracuss, which was the only gay men’s poetry journal at the time.
“I went to UALR” — University of Arkansas in Little Rock– “to study with my friend, poet Nicole Brown. There I met Bryan through an anthology reading about being gay and religious.” Bryan and Seth clicked, and it wasn’t long before Seth took over design for Sibling Rivalry, in which he designs 99% of the covers.
Bryan and Seth are full-time paralegals in Little Rock, a job that while demanding, allows them to do what they love–publishing.
“We wanted to invest in Arkansas.”
And they did.
Sibling Rivalry is recognized by the Library of Congress where they are included in the rare book and findings room. They are also the independent press to win a Lambda Literary award in Gay and Lesbian poetry.
But that’s not as important as their commitment to their community.
“Our main focus is on minority groups. We wanted to find something common in the language of people who have been othered. We want to believe in the work, but we want to believe in the people most.”
Seth and Bryan worked with poet Randi Romo, a queer activist who started as a spoken word artist, then worked their way to the page. Bryan and Seth worked with them on craft, execution, manuscript building, and more until their book, Othered, was released.
In June of 2019, I went to a wine bar to attend the launch party for “Stonewall 50,” a book of poetry celebrating the fifty-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots which catapulted the LGBTQ+ civil right movement. I was able to meet Randi Romo and listen to other minority poets read their work.
As an indie for-profit press, Seth and Bryan are able to be involved with their writers in a way that most presses aren’t. “We don’t want a board to undermine decisions.”
In addition, they created the Sibling Rivalry Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to lifting the voices of minority poets, such as Undocupoets, a coalition run with Amazon for undocumented poets to help offset the costs for submissions and events.
Seth and Bryan are also working in conjunction with Queer Arts Arkansas to try and bring more queer artists to Arkansas, hoping to put their home state on the map for queer artists.
Since they’ve begun, Sibling Rivalry has published chapbooks by poets such as Kaveh Akbar, Saeed Jones, Carl Phillips, Franny Choi, and more.
So how are they able to do all of this?
Sibling Rivalry works with a print-on-demand system run through Ingram in Tennessee. They use Lightning Source, where they can fix errors between printings without investing in a lot of stock. This not only allows them to minimize stock, but also cut the costs related to big publishing.
Sibling Rivalry’s chapbooks typically cost around ten to twelve dollars and thanks to their system, Sibling Rivalry is able to afford a generous royalties package of around 30% with copies. “Ninety cents of every dollar we earn goes back into the press. The other ten cents goes into funding book launches and other projects.”
Although they are on a hiatus for 2020, Sibling Rivalry typically reads manuscripts–both chapbook and full length–from March 1 to June 1. While they tend to be poetry focused, Sibling Rivalry also publishes fiction and non-fiction. Instead of the traditional reading fee, Sibling Rivalry has you purchase one of their books.
“Choosing a publisher is like choosing a family. We want writers to support each other. If money is a barrier, the fee is dropped.”
As Seth prepared to leave, he parted with a promise of things to come. “We hope to do more in the future.”