Trust the Process at NDQ

Bill Caraher

Each year about this time, I get a few curious and anxious emails from contributors asking when their accepted poem, story, or essay will appear. I’m always excited to hear that contributors are as eager to get their work into print as we are to share it.

This summer, perhaps because the COVID situation has left us all with more time on our hands (but also because we had a little backlog of poetry for the last issue!), I’ve received more queries than ever before. In response to this, I thought I might share a bit of our process and explain how a submission becomes a contribution and then appears in our pages.

Most submissions comes to us through our submittable page where we accept submissions in poetry and non-fiction over two 3-month periods and fiction all year around. All work is then vetted by our poetry, fiction, and non-fiction editors and their associate editors, if they have them. For reviews and art, our reviews and art editors typically solicit contributions. In general, our editors have a tremendous amount of autonomy in what they select for the Quarterly. As editor-in-chief, I suppose I could veto something, but so far, that’s never happened. In fact, I feel like we’re mostly on the same page even if a particular piece doesn’t speak to me personally, I’ve never found something that doesn’t say something meaningful in general.

Once we collected the accepted works, we send our poetry, non-fiction, and essays to our amazing copy-editor, Andrea Herbst, who’s worked with the Quarterly for a years and understands how to edit gently and consistently a wide range of creative works. Our fiction is copy edited by our fiction editor because he’s like that.

When the contributions come back from the copy editor, I then send them back to their authors via email. Authors always have the option to reject our copy editors suggestions, although they rarely do. At this time, I also include our publication agreement and I request a short bio and updated address. Our publication agreement simply for permission to publish the contribution both in the paper Quarterly and in any digital forms after which all rights return to the author. I ask authors to return a final version of their work without any markup in a week to ten days. Most people do this pretty efficiently. (Some struggle a bit, of course; I’m looking at you poets.)

When I get back the final copies of the contributions, I start to assemble the issue. We can publish 450,00-460,000 characters (with a minimum number of characters per page at 1,700 characters) per issue. Usually we accept a bit more than we can publish for any one issue. This happens, in part, because we continue to accept contributions on a rolling basis. There also tends to be a bit of attrition as some authors struggle to sign the publication agreement, vet the copy edits, or sending along short bios in a timely way. As a result some contributions will get moved to a future issue. In general, we try to avoid holding material for more than one issue.

I assemble the issue with some care. First, I try to avoid any awkward juxtapositions. It wouldn’t do for a tragic story to be surrounded by playful poetry, for example. Then, I also try to find works that introduce and conclude the issue in an appropriate way. For the rest of the works, I have created an informal “tagging” system where I connect works that I think go well together and then build outward until the issue takes shape. If you’re a reader of the Quarterly, I would love it if you read an issue cover-to-cover at some point and see if you can see my madness.

Once the issue is put into order, I send it to our production and publishing partners at the University of Nebraska Press. They check all the publication agreements, the contributor files, and the like and typeset the publication. It usually takes a couple weeks depending on their schedule.

Once the issue is typeset, I start to get super excited. I spend a day breaking the issue out into individual contributions (although sometimes UNP will do that for me!) and returning them to our authors as galley proofs. Usually I beg once more for any outstanding mailing addresses for author copies, and I also ask authors for permission to publish their work on our website to promote the issue and their contribution. Most authors agree, but some would rather I not. Usually give the authors about five days to make any final edits to the proofs.

At this time, UNP also works with us on the issue’s cover and usually provides a few options for us to consider. I’ll often publish the various options on the NDQ blog.

Once I get the edits back, I compile them into a single document and send them back to UNP.

Then, I wait.

In most cases, UNP pushes the button to publish quickly and in a couple of weeks I hear that author copies are being sent out, and in most cases, I see my authors celebrating their new copies before I get a box of my own!

By this point, I’m also in full-on, promotion mode making sure that as many people hear about NDQ and the brilliant work of our contributors and editors as possible!


Bill Caraher is the editor of North Dakota Quarterly and is starting to get excited about issue 87.3/4.

One Reply to “Trust the Process at NDQ”

  1. . . . and here I thought it was all pixie dust!

    Liked by 1 person

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