Wide-Ranging Wednesday: ASOR, Alcatraz, and Failing Gloriously

I’m heading out west today to the annual meeting of ASOR in San Diego. As per usual, I’m pulling together a gaggle of books to keep me company on the flights and during down times at the conference.

For the flight, I’m going to read Joyce Carol Oates On Boxing as I prepare myself for a winter of rather remarkable fights starting on Saturday with the Wilder vs. Ortiz heavy weight tilt, December 7th with Joshua vs. Ruiz, and on December 14th with Bud Crawford, Mick Conlan, and Teofimo Lopez in action. I’m pretty excited.

I’ve also packed along a copy of François Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015) as I think about the practical, methodological, and ethical time of legacy data. Along similar lines, I’m carrying with me the intimidating works of Reinhard Kosselleck, but I’ll probably start with Niklas Olsen’s History in the plural an introduction to the work of Reinhart Koselleck (2012) before dipping my toes into Futures Past: on the semantics of historical time (2004) or Sediments of Time: On Possible Histories (2018). This was mostly prompted by Laurent Olivier and Marek Tamm’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019).

As per usual, at the 11th hour I added David Staley’s Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education (2019) to my Kindle on the recommendation of Richard Rothaus.

The flight to San Diego will also be a great chance to think through some strategies to promote the newest book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that is set to be published on December 1. Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is a series of reflective pieces on his life as a digital archaeologist and a digital humanist in the first decades of the 21st century. The book is part archaeological autobiography and part commentary on ways to make academia a safer place for failure.

Advanced copies of the book are in the wind and the feedback has been really positive (which I’m sure is as much a relief to Shawn as it is to me!). We were both really excited to read Quinn Dombrowski’s thoughtful review of the book on the Stanford DH blog. Check it out! 

And stay tuned to this page for a sneak peek of the introduction next week.   

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t nudge folks to read Gayatri Devi’s short essay on the North Dakota Quarterly blog on the 50th anniversary of the Native American occupation of Alcatraz. For many reasons, this event has not garnered the same public awareness as other episodes of protest in the late 1960s. That it occurred at the same time as protests by African Americans, anti-war protestors, and other movements that exposed the hypocrisy in late-20th century American political, economic, and cultural life, offers a clear reminder that the story of Native Americans remains deeply entangled in the complex critiques of contemporary America. It is hardly surprising then, that Tommy Orange’s There, There (2018) which is set in the Native American community of contemporary Oakland, looks back to the occupation of Alcatraz as a key moment in both the novel and that community’s story. Reading Tommy Orange or Dean Rader’s Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI (2011) over the Thanksgiving is a nice way to ignore the white-washed portrayal of Native Americans so closely associated with that holiday.  

North Dakota Quarterly by its Cover

Twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, by universe comes to stop as North Dakota Quarterly streaks across the sky. Suddenly, I’m managing the editing and production workflow for 90-100 pieces of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction carefully selected by genre editors. These go to copy editing and get organized into a volume before heading to typesetting. Once the volume is typeset it comes back to me and I circulate to my authors as page proofs. They almost always fine little mistakes and these all have to go back to the publisher for final revisions.

This process is time consuming and exhausting, but also very rewarding. The back-and-forth with authors reminds me of the often-intense personal and emotional investment in creative work of all kinds. The genuine excitement – even among seasoned authors – to get their work to our audience is invigorating and reminds me to take the time to enjoy my own creative work. There’s nothing more fun than opening my inbox and seeing a new issue of NDQ is alive.

One of the final steps in the production process is selecting a cover design for the new issue. Part of the charm of editorial board is that almost all the designs proposed by our publisher find some enthusiasm. As many as there are editors, there are preferences. 

Here are the three finalists for the cover of the upcoming issue. All feature a photograph from our art editor, Ryan Stander.

NDQ relies on our outstanding contributors, editors, and subscribers to thrive. If you’re interested, please consider submitting to NDQsubscribing, or downloading our previous volume for free.  

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NDQ 86.3/4 by the Numbers

When every issue of NDQ is sent to the publishers, I do some basic numbers work just to try to summarize the issue a bit. It’s probably best if you don’t check my maths too carefully, but based on my casual reckoning, NDQ 86.3/4 will feature 5 essays, 6 stories, 14 photographs, and 132 poems. I posted the table of contents last week (and over the next couple of months we’ll continue to post some content from the issue here. What we’d really like you to do, however, is to subscribe!

Since we know something about our contributors, it is possible to crunch the numbers and try to get a different view of our next issue. (For some context on this kind of thing is useful, I’ve written a little essay here). A quick (and undoubtedly fuzzy) survey of first names (and bios) has produced  contributors are 57% men and 43% women, but the contributions themselves are split 51% by men and 49% by women.

In terms of regional distribution of our authors 14% of our contributors were from New York, around 10% are international, and Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California are represented by around 5% each. 4 contributors are from North Dakota and Texas. Over all, we have 31 different states and provinces represented. 

To put those numbers in context, I started to look back at the submissions that we have received over the last year or so. Our data isn’t perfect, because in some cases our editors keep their submittable inbox clean and periodically delete reviewed content that’s either been published or rejected. That being said, we still have almost 2000 submissions to consider (around 1100 fiction submissions, 400 poetry submissions, and 200 non fiction submissions). 

These submissions reveal that far more submissions come from men than women. For fiction the spit is 68% to 27% (and some that I could not determine), for poetry it is almost identical: 67% to 28%, and non fiction is 58% to 37%. To be clear, I recognize that gender (and more specifically, the gender of names) is not the only or even necessarily the best metric to understand our submitters, but the gender imbalance was a bit striking.

As far are regional numbers go, New York and California represent the most common place of origin in the U.S. for all three genres (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry). The second most common place of origin for poetry, however, is outside North America; this is the third most common place of origin for non-fiction. Fiction contributions are far less likely to come from outside of North America. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are a common homes for many contributors in in non-fiction and fiction. For poetry, we appear to be a popular destination for poets in Alabama. We attract a substantial number of fiction submissions from Illinois and non-fiction submissions from Virginia. North Dakota poets are better represented than fiction or non-fiction authors. Otherwise, our submissions come from across the U.S. and Canada.  

It goes without saying that these numbers do not reflect the diverse identities of our submitters and contributors and gender and place of residence may not even be the most important ways to understand who our authors really are. Race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and a range of other identities based on backgrounds, experiences, and human complexity makes us who we are. At its best, the poems, stories, and essays in NDQ reflect this complex diversity, and we recognize that our submitters, contributors, subscribers, and editors do as well. Looking at the numbers, however, is a useful tip of the iceberg.    

Issue 86.3/4 Table of Contents

Many readers of this blog know … or at least suspect … that I have a side hustle as editor of the century-old literary magazine, North Dakota Quarterly. It’s not a great hustle, by the way, in that it doesn’t pay me anything, but it’s increasingly become something that I enjoy almost as much as writing this blog.

This week issue NDQ 86.3/4 went off to our publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press. We’re pretty proud of this issue and excited to get it into the hands of our readers. 

Look for this issue to appear in mid to late November. As a bit of a tease, find the table of contents below, and, if it looks cool to you, consider sharing this on social media or at least telling your friends, partners, colleagues, and random strangers. It goes without saying that NDQ relies on our outstanding contributors, subscribers, and, of course, editors, to thrive.

If you write, please consider submitting to NDQ, if you read, consider subscribing or downloading volume 85 for free.  If you just want to know what’s up, then check out our blog with lots of cool content here.

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Table of Contents

Poetry Editor’s Note
Paul Worley

Seeking Beatrice
Ryan Stander

Therese and Isabelle
Rock Isle at Low Tide
Patrick Meighan

Flower of Stone
Elina Petrova

Wild Cat
Night Candles
Scott T. Hutchison

I Was Walking
Waking to Winter
Becky Kennedy

The rain
Marcus Amaker

Matthew J. Spireng

John Talbird

Mark Parsons

Hometown Visitor
Remembering My Children
David R. Solheim

American Bounty
The wolves have done their worst
John Sibley Williams

How We’ll Walk
Kevin Rabas

Waking in the city
Ira Rosenstein

The Anna Nicole Smith Poem
When Plato Shows Me the Sun
Danielle Nicole Byington

Harper and Marisol
Megan Howell

After the National People’s Congress Approved the Constitution Amendments, Which Removes Presidential Term Limits and Allows Xi to Rule China Forever
Kuo Zhang

A Drone Is Nothing Like the Sun
Jeanette Beebe

“Who Am I That I Am Not on Trial or in Prison?”
Ace Boggess

Dorothy at Fifty
Joel Allegretti

From Recent History
David Dephy

Nine Months After the Burning of Club Boccaccio
McAllen, Texas (1979)
Marlene Galván

Comfort Food
Victoria Bañales

Amalia Dillin

Today at the thrift store
Bush League in Youth Soccer
Kevin J. McDaniel

Jorgia Wants a Chapter
Storey Clayton

The Other Sister
Harry Newman

This Goes On
The Bowerbird
Angie Mason

Picture-Happy Mind
Peter Specker

Robin Gow

Dead Deer
Mattias Carosella

Not a Love Song
Donna Pucciani

Midnight Navidad
Lorraine Caputo

Heat Waves in the Ice Age
Wind Power
Robert S. King

Heat Wave with Sunflowers
Michael Rogner

Somnabulant Nation
Five and Infinite
Jane Rosenberg LaForge

Scientific Methods
James Sallis

To Call Your Own
The Cancer, Mija, is a Revenge on the Body
Spanish Lessons/ My Tongue Does Not Form the Shape of My Mother’s Tongue
Christine Amezquita

Courageous Living
Ella Alkiewicz

Baby Teeth
M. M. Adjarian

Stress Test
Gaby Bedetti

Corbett Buchly

Jodie Mortag

Cycle Unbroken
Anna Whiteside

A Week of Zen
Wendy Wisner

Child Who Won’t Sleep
Where There Is No Darkness
The Voice of Blood
Catherine Carter

A Poem to the Killing Virgin
Aaron Wallace

There is no beyond
This poem is not
Here is the watery grave
Peter Grandbois

Espejo de agua/ Mirror of Water
Palpitante semilla/ Pulsating Seed
Xánath Caraza (translated by Sandra Kingery)

When the Water Recedes
Bonnie Larson Staiger

Byron elégeti Shelley tetemét a tengerparton/Byron Burns Shelley’s Corpse on the Shore
Gábor Lanckor (translated by Gabor G Gyukics)

Collection: Yala (Land)
For my people
Nuestras Abuelas
Nii (Hermano Luna)
Sue Haglund

Nate Preus

choose not
Ignacio Carvajal

Divide the Days
John Leonard

Gale Acuff

Felix Culpa
Virginia Wiles

Saving Eros from the Middleman
Miriam O’Neal

The Last Freight Train
Lori Horvitz

Dangerous Currency
Loose Tooth
Sara Dovre Wudali

On Moving Out of My First Apartment
Michael Homolka

Brandon Krieg

The Car Wash
Gilian Neiditch

Matthew Sisson

The Museum of Egyptian History
Don Raymond

Swallow, Do Not Chew
George Ryan

Copper Jazva
Elaine Reardon

Semillas de esperanza/ Seeds of Hope
Flores para el corazón/ Flowers for the Heart
Xun Betan (translated by Sean Sell)

The knots we knit
C. R. Resetarits

Threads from the Heart Sky
Michelle Donahue

Playing with Cages
Clelia O. Rodríguez

The Photographer
Sofiul Azam

Self-Portrait as ICE as Teenager
Little Dream
Nicholas Reiner

Lullaby For Bones
Saint Pocahontas
Trickster Story
Jenny L. Davis

Ensnared In Heaven’s Nets
Kathleen Gunton

Jane Blanchard

We, the Many
Marie-Andree Auclair

Vivian Wagner

Magician’s Assistant
David B. Prather

Brief Elegy for William Harrold
Kenneth Pobo

Obituary: Salvatore Cacosa
John J. Trause

A short poem for my wife, my mother, and my unborn daughter
Special Education, ACT prep, and Hephaestus
Writing with the Devil
John McDonough

For my daughter
Tradition and the Individual Talent
Olivia Lawrance

Red Schwinn
Nicholas Mohlmann

Wearing Sadness
Kip Zegers

After Chemo
Norita Dittberner-Jax

Ordinary Language Philosophy
David Hargreaves

critical invitation
Carl “Papa” Palmer

Sonnet for a day like today
Sonnet at that time of year
William Joel

A Tax Thicket: 26 U.S.C. §§
Thomas E. Simmons

End Notes
Rob Kenagy

North Dakota Quarterly

I’ve been trying to stay on top of the North Dakota Quarterly website and blog this summer. This involves making sure that we have at least one post a week and keeping track of changes to our subscription website at University of Nebraska Press and our submission website via Submittable. Fortunately, I’ve also had some help from colleagues on the editorial board who have offered some thoughtful “Short Takes.”  NDQ 86 1 2 cover  1  dragged

This week’s posts at NDQ are pretty special. On Tuesday, I posted the introduction to our special issue on the late William H. Gass and, today I posted a rather long (by interweb standards) interview with the author. In the interview he touches on Gass’s friendship with William Gaddis, the Beats, and some of the leading lights in post-modern literature in the late 20th century. Both are by Crystal Alberts. 

These two article introduce a special section in this issue of NDQ that is a tribute to William Gass from some of his closest colleagues and admirers. It’s definitely worth checking out and while I’m proud of every issue of NDQ, I’m particularly proud of this one. Check it out.


I’ve been thinking a good bit about ephemera lately and how to distinguish between things that should be kept and cherished and things that have value in the moment, but there’s no particular reason to keep them in our lives and world. I always think of newspapers and magazines as ephemera. They are useful to read on a lazy Sunday, but are best kept (and slowly altered and recombined and sifted) in our memories than on the end table in the living room or in a stack near the most comfortable chair in the house.

A few things promoted me to think about the ephemeral.

First, one my goals for North Dakota Quarterly was to make the entire run of the journal available on various online platforms. The idea is that people could delve back into the Quarterly and find overlooked gems or return to reflect on an essay or story. To that end, I’ve linked to a bunch of the NDQ archive online and made it available via the HathiTrust, the archives has seen a good flow of traffic, which is heartening, but only about 5% of the visitors click through. 

One of the things that I’ve come to realize about little magazines is that they have an ephemeral quality to them. The desire among some members of my editorial board to produce NDQ in paper was grounded not in the persistence of the medium, but, in someways, in its ephemerality, in parallel with magazines and newspapers, compared to the easy persistence of digital formats. 

Second, I read a few posts lately about the carbon footprint of websites and the emerging low-tech green web. I’ve toyed with the idea refashioning my blog as a static site. This is partly because static sites are lightweight, quick to load, and widely compatible with even the most simple devices and use less energy. I also wonder whether I a very lightweight static site would complement a version of my blog where I produce a single post per day and that post to overwrites the previous days post. This would create a more ephemeral quality to my web writing. The ideas and text would be accessible for a day and then vanish (or move onto a more permanent home in an article or a conference paper or something else).  

An experiment like this would both be liberating for me (as I could be more provocative when I am less worried about the archive of my site being easily accessible forever), but I also could write more in the moment with less responsibility to trace some kind of coherent arc of thought.

Less selfishly, it would also celebrate the vibrancy of media ephemerality not as producing idea that don’t persist, but as a way to create ideas that only persist within the person who reads them and are not burdened by reference to a particular text. 

Finally, I started think more about the tension between possessions and things. The idea that we possess a thing implies its persistence. An embrace of the ephemeral, on the other hand, privileges the momentary utility of an object. As various popular voices have urged us to minimize our possessions and maintain a trim and tidy personal space, it seems to me that they’ve drawn greater attention to the value of ephemeral objects that are useful and then passed on or discarded once they’ve served their immediate purpose. On the one hand, this might create a world where there are fewer things encroaching on our space. On the other hand, personal austerity rarely is possible without access to a wide range of services and objects that are ready to use, but also at arm’s length. Useful and ephemeral things appear in our lives and disappear back into the margins when their purpose is fulfilled. (I’ve argued, playfully, that pickup trucks are like that. Despite being a symbol of bourgeois excess, they are often useful, and truck owners often share their vehicles with a community of friends and neighbors who, for various reasons, do not want to burdens of truck ownership.)   

Download NDQ 85 for Free

One of the things that makes me a kind of terrible publisher (and editor) is that I love to give stuff away. In most cases, this doesn’t matter because the editing and production of the work in question is a more or less sunk cost.

In other cases, it DOES matter. We’re giving away volume 85 of NDQ. The hope is to attract subscribers, contributors, and supporters (even if they just buy a paper copy of NDQ 85 having found the download engaging enough to read). My hope is that we can develop enough of a subscriber base over the next two or three years to allow us to release every volume of NDQ as a free download. Here’s I’m following the idea of unlocking the commons that folks like Jason Kottke and Tim Carmody have bandied about lately. In a nutshell, the idea is to encourage folks to subscribe not to get access to content, but to support making content available for more and more people. I want to work with our new publishers at University of Nebraska Press to set some realistic subscriber targets for making at least one issue a year available as a free download. Since many of our potential subscribers are also contributors, I feel like there is a real benefit to expanding the access to the Quarterly and developing a sense of community among readers, contributors, and subscribers.

So here’s my official blurb on making volume 85 available for free download. Check it out, if you want. I think it’s pretty great, but, as I said, I’m kind of a terrible publisher (and editor). 

Little magazines like North Dakota Quarterly are so resilient and enduring because people contribute to them, people subscribe to them, and people read them

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To celebrate all the people who have helped to make North Dakota Quarterly possible, we’re very happy to release the entire volume 85 as a free download. Go here to download it. (If you’re not sure you can handle the commitment of a free download, you can sample some of the great content in this volume here.) 

We also have reopened poetry and non-fiction submission until the end of the May with another reading period scheduled for September 1 – November 30. Send us your poetry and non-fiction! Fiction will remain open throughout the year as always. Go here to submit.

As NDQ moves forward, we’d love to be able to share the contents of each issue for free, but to make this happen, we need have a healthy base of subscribers.  So, if you can and you like what we do, please subscribe. Also, while you’re at it buy a copy of NDQ 85!

NDQ in Review

The penultimate thing that I do before submitting an issue of North Dakota Quarterly to our publisher, the University of Nebraska Press, is write my editor’s notes. Since I’ve only done this twice, I don’t have a very firm grasp of the genre, and I’m never sure whether I should be lyrical and poetic or matter of fact. As a result, I tend to be awkward, but in some ways this is how I roll.

Here’s my Editor’s notes for NDQ 86.1/2.

Editor’s Note

Projects like North Dakota Quarterly depend on their community to survive. The members of the NDQ community offers us their writing, and they give us their time by reading what we write, edit, and produce. In some case, they even give us material support by subscribing to the journal.

In 2017, we decided to suspend accepting new individual subscriptions to NDQ. We were worried that budget shortfalls would make it difficult to service new individual subscriptions while still maintaining our longstanding institutional subscribers. It was a tough to decide to continue to accept institutional subscription, but we felt that each volume in a library might reach more readers than those in individual hands and, in this age of austerity, that it would be hard to convince libraries to renew a dropped subscription. We also hoped that our individuals subscribers would come back to the Quarterly when we regained our financial footing.

With issue 86.1/2, we once again welcome individual and institutional subscribers. At the same time, we recognize that not all of our readers can afford to subscribe to NDQ or haven’t decided whether to support our remarkable community in a material way. As a result, we’ll do all we can to make the content of NDQ available to everyone on our website. If you like what we do, however, and can afford an NDQ subscription, we ask that you do subscribe to support the community of readers, writers, and editors who make NDQ what it is. At the same time, if you like what you read, we encourage you to submit your creative work. Finally, let us know what you think of the Quarterly, whenever the spirt moves you, by dropping me a line at billcaraher@gmail.com.

Finally, we hope you enjoy this double-issue’s remarkably diverse content which includes five stories and five essays as well as over 50 poems. The final section of the issue is a tribute to the late Bill Gass edited by Crystal Alberts. The range of moods, styles, and themes present in this issue of the Quarterly traces the contours of our community, and I look forward to continuing to do my part to ensure that it thrives.


The final thing that I do before sending an issue of NDQ to our press is to review our content to get a sense for how the volume breaks down.

Volume 85, which is out at the printers looked like this:

UNP measures the length of a volume by character counts. Volume 85 was 430,000 characters. So, by character, NDQ 85 was 52% non-fiction largely owing to the special section on the Humanities in the Age of Austerity. 29% fiction and 18% poetry. By number of contributions, it was an even 12% for non-fiction and fiction and 76% poetry. Men wrote 75% of the content, which is too high, but basically representative of our pool of submissions. This is something that we need to fix.

The first double issue of volume 86, numbers 1/2, will clock in at around 425,000 characters (whatever that means) and include 5 short stories (32% by character count), 6 non-fiction pieces (21%), and 51 poems (20% which is probably inflated a bit since even a short poem counts as a page or 1700 characters), plus a section guest edited by Crystal Alberts on Bill Gass (26%). There are 48 authors (71% by men), and 76 submissions (68% by men).

Thinking about Publishing at NDQ and The Digital Press

As my post yesterday probably suggested, I’m thinking a good bit about the practice and theory of academic publishing these days. In particular, I’m interested in how digital media shapes workflow, logistics, and the character of both archaeological and more broadly academic knowledge making. My work with The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota Quarterly have increasingly become central to this research in ways that I had not anticipated.

So this little update today is both an effort to get my thoughts in order about how publishing and editing really works and to keep people interested in both NDQ and The Digital Press in the loop on what’s been going on with these projects.

1. Proposals. Recently I’ve received a couple of pretty exciting proposals to review and we’ve been able to give some pretty positive feedback to the proposers. There has been some pretty interesting recent conversation about book proposals in the field of ClassicsandClassical Archaeology (co-authored by a pair of Digital Press authors!). This got me thinking about the current way that publishers acquire manuscripts and the role of publishers, editors, and authors. I’ve resisted producing a standard questionnaire for prospective authors and, instead, have asked my individuals proposing to The Digital Press to produce “a 3-5 page document that outlines the book’s content, as well as its length, format, audience, relationship to existing publications. It’s also helpful to present the qualifications of the authors (or contributors) and a prospective timeline.” I’m not sure that this slightly more free-form proposal process necessarily produces better proposals, but I like to think that it introduces the relationship between press and the authors as more familiar and a bit less structured by a set of fixed expectations that dictate the value of a project.    

2. From Proposal to Manuscript. In particular, I’ve thought a good bit about the liminal zone between when a proposal is accepted and a manuscript is delivered. As an author currently navigating that zone with my own book, I can attest to the feeling of being unmoored and adrift, but still in the harbor. There’s an expectation that the book “will happen” but at the same time, the anxieties of producing something that the publisher, reviewers, and community finds valuable.

This is a pretty stressful place and judging by conversations with my colleagues, I recognize that any number of book projects find themselves smashed against the shoals long before the final manuscript can be delivered. I wonder whether the structural division between the publisher and the author have something to do with this ambivalent space. I’ve marveled at the generosity, for example, of my editors at North Dakota Quarterly who often work closely with authors during the revision process for articles and stories and feel extraordinary gratitude toward Paul Mullins and Chris Matthews at Historical Archaeology who shepherded my first effort to write an article on North American archaeology through the revision and publication process. My hope is that my press can be aware of the risks of the post-proposal, pre-manuscript experience and work – somehow – to make it easier to navigate. 

3. Peer Review. One of the most exciting things at present is that The Digital Press has three books currently circulating for peer review: two books and one edited volume. All three works represent significant investment on the parts of two authors and the editor as well as the press. As a result, peer review is less about whether the piece should be accepted or rejects, but rather how we can work to improve the manuscript to make into the strongest book possible for the author and the publisher. The reviews continue to be anonymous (or at least the reviewers are not known to the authors), but the review process becomes a chance to develop, improve, and nuance the manuscript.

4. Workflow. I’m completely invested in a publishing workflow these days, particularly for North Dakota Quarterly. The movement of an accepted manuscript through the pre-production process is neither completely automated or completely person. The accepted manuscript hits my desk, goes out to my copy editor (at least for non-fiction and poetry, our fiction editor handles his own copy editing as part of the revision process). While manuscripts are out at copy editing, I produce publication agreements – by hand – for each contribution. This can take a few hours. When I get the copy edited manuscripts back, I return them with a publication agreement to authors and  for a short (<50 word) bio and the mailing address for their author copy of the Quarterly. With any luck, I get both of those documents, but in about 30% of the cases, I don’t. I have to ask (again and again) for a bio, negotiate challenges associated with signing a digital document, and beg for mailing addresses to send author’s copies.

Because we won’t run a piece without a contract and a bio, I can’t finalize the order of the issue. The entire issue gets sent to our publisher, University of Nebraska Press, with all the finalized author agreements. They do layout and then return the proofs to me to circulate back to my authors for final approval. I compile any edits on the proofs and return it to the publisher. Then the volume goes to print.

The process of publishing involves constantly reinforcing the roles of publisher and author through our separate roles and the different timelines in which our work proceeds. The biggest challenge for me, for example, is managing the rapid progress from final manuscripts to final proofs. The different times of engagement and expectations complicate and humanize the workflow. Authors have delays associated with travel, internet and email access, challenging editing issues, and the need to arrange the content in the issue in a way that makes sense. It goes without saying that a small number of contributions take the most time.

5. Sales and Subscriptions. I’m incredibly fortunately to have a bit of cushion for both The Digital Press and NDQ. It’s not enough to allow me to ignore sales and subscriptions, but it means that they aren’t a daily worry. That being said, I’m excited whenever The Digital Press makes a sale (or two) or ticks over a particular benchmark for the number of downloads. Right now, for example, we’re chasing 500 downloads for Eric Burin’s Protesting on Bended Knee, and we’re doing all we can to maintain a steady stream of sales. The goal there is one book per day. 

With NDQ, we simply have to have subscribers. The subscribers will fund production, and with any luck, will eventually generate revenue that will help the Quarterly expand and innovate. We’re coordinating some email blasts, a subscription drive (particularly to ensure that folks who have historically subscribed to the journal renew their subscriptions, and also looking to some other ways to generate revenue

Yesterday, I thought a bit about how the commercialization of digital creative content can become exploitative, but how it is also a strategy toward sustainability in a world with fewer resources for the humanities and more and more competition. Considering new models for publishing that combine new ways to work with authors, contributors, and publishers might be the way toward a more sustainable future.    



Unlocking the Commons: Tim Carmody, NDQ, Amazon, and the Digital Press

There is a ton of tech writing on the internet these days and some of it is really good. None is better, I think than Tim Carmody who wrote really great pieces for The Verge and Wired back in the day, and now partners with one of the original bloggers, Jason Kottke, to produce a regular newsletter called Noticing that blends content from Kottke.org and the rest of the web. He also has a Ph.D. in Comparative literature from Penn.

What’s more interesting to me lately is his interest in the economics of good writing on the web. As a writer, editor, and a publisher, I have long relaxed in the relatively luxury of academia which has given me the security to do creative work — whether through my professional writing, my blog, my editorial role at North Dakota Quarterly, or my work as publisher at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota — without having to get too far into the weeds of funding and finance. At the same time, I do realize that if these projects are going to have a life beyond my own energies and attention, some kind of sustainable model will have to exist to support them.

Carmody has proposed and developed a model that he calls “unlocking the commons.” It is predicated on the idea that a project – like his new newsletter on Amazon – needs a certain amount of support to exist. Carmody is a freelance writer and, from what I gather, he earns his income from his writing. At the same time, Carmody is aware that locking content behind a paywall or the like makes it difficult to demonstrate the value of the content and difficult for supporters and authors to share their work. In fact, it actually reduces the impact of any content produced by making it less visible and less likely to influence a larger community. In this way, Carmody is following arguments long held by the open access community who see the value of creative work not in its narrow and immediate monetary value realized through subscribers, but in its expansive potential to inspire and influence a wide range of audiences. By unlocking the commons, subscriber support allows Carmody to develop his ideas, write, and produce his work, and once it is supported, the work is available freely to anyone who wants to read it. He and Jason Kottke modeled this approach with Kottke.org’s membership program, which apparently worked.

For his new newsletter on Amazon, the threshold for unlocking the commons and making supporting Carmody to produce one newsletter per week was 200 subscribers at $5 per month. If he manages 400 subscribers at $5 per month, he’ll write two articles per week. You can subscribe and support the newsletter here.

This project is interesting to me for two reasons.

First, NDQ has a money problem. Right now, it’s not existential, but it is limiting. We have a great publishing partner in the University of Nebraska Press, and moving forward, they will handle subscriptions and most production for the Quarterly. The goal is that as we rebuild our subscriber base, we can break even for UNP and, then, with a little help from our community, generate some revenue. In the meantime, we rely on three sources of revenue: a small endowment that provides us with enough to copy edit the journal, a funding “backstop” provided by donors and income generated by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, and surplus energy provided by our editors and editorial board. This is enough to keep our head above water and to survive the occasional emergency, but isn’t really enough to innovate in a sustainable way. 

Recently, several editorial board members suggested that we install a reading fee for submissions. Other members of the editorial board pushed back arguing that the submitters and contributors MAKE the journal and they shouldn’t be charged for that privilege. While I’m not entirely convinced by this argument, I share its broad sentiment that submissions should remain free as a way to encourage the widest possible range of potential contributors. Moreover, ideologically, there’s something democratic about allowing anyone to contribute and, practically, I think even a modest reading fee might discourage contributions from marginal writers especially in the global south.

What if instead of a reading fee, we included a link to a Patreon or Memberful account or created a formal NDQ newsletter using Substack subscription. To be clear, these wouldn’t be subscriptions in a formal sense — that is money provided in exchange for a product — but they’d unlock the commons and make more of the same creative content that typifies NDQ. More than that, the synergy between a funded newsletter and the regular publication of NDQ will be complementary. After all, the print version of NDQ is what makes us NDQ.

The second interest that I have in Carmody’s new project is that we built The Digital Press, in part, on Amazon’s print-on-demand infrastructure. Whether we like it or not, the world still loves paper books, and the ability to distribute our paper books from the nearly global Amazon marketplace is a massive advantage to a small press like ours.

At the same time, we realize that using Amazon is problematic. First, it limits our reach to small book sellers in the region who have not really warmed to Amazon’s direct sales to retailers. Second, Amazon’s labor practices and corporate culture are in many ways antithetical to the values that we have at The Digital Press. Thirdly, our relationship with Amazon’s production system, platform, and marketplace is completely outside of our control. Of course, as our catalogue expands, we will likely have other opportunities to partner with distributors, but at present, we’re stuck with Amazon whether we like it or not.

Carmody’s regular columns exploring Amazon as a company will offer us insights into both the present and future of the current distribution model for The Digital Press.