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​Giving Region a Voice

Writer's Block | March 15th, 2023

By Dr. Suzzanne Kelley

https://ndsupress.submittable.com/submit

The Ticket to Our Show Is the Book

In a state vibrant with the arts, North Dakota State University Press is proud to hold up our end when it comes to all things literary. In fact, we operate under the premise that publishing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction is a practice where all the other arts intersect.

We publish books, taking scholarly and literary manuscripts and connecting the public with that art, connecting readers and writers. Our performance, if you will, is the art of storytelling. The ticket to our show is the book.

Defining “publisher” is one of the first topics of discussion in the publishing courses I teach at NDSU. Most students arrive prepared to copy edit manuscripts, an impulse best captured by H. G. Wells, who notes “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”

But the students soon learn there is much more to the enterprise.

Likewise, many authors seem to have misguided notions. Hardly a week goes by that I do not receive a call from someone who is inquiring about how much it would cost to have NDSU Press print a book for them.

Rather than shunting the caller off with a brusque, “We don’t do that here,” I relish the opportunity to share with the caller just what a publisher does. I’m brief, but I describe how a publisher thrives on vision and mission.

As a publisher, I manage the acquisition, design, editing, production, marketing, and distribution processes. My days are full of reading and writing e-mails, signing and administering contracts, reading and editing manuscripts, working with writers in developmental matters, collaborating with designers in creative processes, developing individualized marketing strategies, and making sure our books make it through national distribution pipelines.

My priorities as a publisher are wrapped around serving three audiences: the writer, the reader, and the press (so that we can keep on making books). Calling me for a price quote means I will recommend you to a printer, with the understanding that printing is an art unto itself.

In advocating for the literary arts, I have twice sought and successfully obtained membership in arts organizations. The application, however, has not been easy. The first time, the arts board I applied to had to meet and discuss the viability of accepting a literary arts organization into the fold. The second time I applied—representing a different press—was a little easier, after all, the precedent had been set.

But even once accepted, our role for the literary arts has been a conundrum when it comes to patrons of the arts. After all, seldom will you find literary arts in the standard list of arts options: dance, film, fiber, music, performing, theater, visual, and sometimes, writing, but never the art of publishing. Potential patrons are likely to believe publishers are printers, but I took heart when a recent donor remarked something to the effect of, “I’ve supported the arts for years. It’s about time I include the literary arts!”

Our mission is to stimulate and coordinate interdisciplinary regional scholarship. Those regions include the state of North Dakota, the Red River Valley, the plains of North America (comprising the Great Plains of the United States and the prairies of Canada), and comparable regions of other continents.

We publish peer-reviewed regional scholarship, poetry, and fiction. The scope of our publications is not limited by topic or discipline. We consider manuscripts in any field of learning. Generally, our publications address regional life directly, as the subject of study.

Such works contribute to scholarly knowledge of region (that is, discovery of new knowledge) or to public consciousness of region (that is, dissemination of information, or interpretation of regional experience). In other words, we seek manuscripts that fill a regional niche, envisioning where we live, what we do, what we’ve done, and how we see our place in the world. Our vision is to give region a voice.

One way we bring our writers and readers together is with traditional book launches. The authors tell why and how they wrote a book; the readers query them about ideas and particulars.

Our biggest bash is our annual NDSU Press Party, which we hold every first Thursday of March. Our most recent offering was March 2, and we invited authors from across the United States who published with us in the previous twelve months. This event makes for quite a showing, truly a celebration of the literary arts.

Our 2023 March program included poets, a fiction writer, a memoir writer, and books of serious biography and scholarship. More than one hundred attendees also enjoyed Cat Sank Trio, with their singing before and after the readings.

Our evening of the arts—literary, musical, and culinary—is (as overheard at the party) the social event of the year. Well, it might not be THE social event, but it is a prime example of how the art of publishing books brings people together.

Authors and books celebrated at the 8th Annual NDSU Press Party

  • Field Notes, poetry by Margaret Rogal, illustrated by Mike Jacobs
  • Dust Yourself Off: The Gravel Road to a Good Life, by Tricia Velure and Tom Sandhei
  • Rethinking Rural: Reflections on Today, Insights for the Future, Matt Ehlman, ed., Antonia Gonzales, contributor
  • Surrender Dorothy, poetry by Brett Salsbury
  • The Clean Daughter: A Cross-Continental Memoir, by Jill Kandel
  • Radium, by John Enger

[Editor’s note: Suzzanne Kelley is Publisher at NDSU Press, Program Director, with a Certificate in Publishing]

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