from Suzzanne Kelley, Publisher / Editor in Chief
At NDSU Press, we accept manuscript submissions year-round. There are no fees to submit manuscripts for publication consideration, and we seek works in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. This past year, from January 1 through December 31, 2020 , we received more than one hundred manuscripts and about a dozen manuscript proposals for publication consideration.
Searching through this lot for the best manuscripts requires a considerable amount of reading and due deliberation. While I am on a constant search for the best scholarly and literary works, I must also be conscientious about balance in filling out our catalog for each year. We cannot publish only poetry or only fiction, and we choose not to publish only scholarly works. We can select only six to ten works for publication annually.
As we are completely self-funded—reliant upon sales and donations for all our operations—I must also be aware of what kinds of books will situate well in the market and how the balance of our creative and scholarly works can produce a return on investment.
Paying close attention to scholarly research and literary contributions, all within the parameters of the mission of the press, is more than a guess-and-by-golly proposition. The process requires being mindful of where we have gaps in knowledge and what kinds of works can reach an interested audience, and we must be aware of current pricing trends in printing and distribution. The process also recognizes that while our production schedule mirrors those of big publishers like Random House, we are not publishing on the same commercial scale. Our mission is generally focused upon scholarly, intellectual, and creative works of regional interest. Like a puzzle piece, each acquisition must contribute to the whole picture, balanced in content and profitable.
A crucial element to getting things right in our acquisitions process is to follow the professional standards of peer review for university presses. The best practices for peer review, as proposed by the Association of University Presses, may be found here.
Our process for manuscript acquisitions—in accord with best practices—has four stages, each building upon the other for making the final selections.
- In-house review, wherein I make a first determination about whether a manuscript meets our mission for publication and has a potential market or audience.
- Blind peer review, wherein two experts in the field—unknown to each other and to the author—make an assessment about manuscripts that have passed muster for stage 1. At this stage, I rely upon professionals knowledgeable about the scholarship and/or writing style in the manuscript. I have worked with reviewers who are located locally, within our state, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. Peer reviewers provide a summary overview of the work, noting strengths and weaknesses, gaps or omissions, and they make one of the following recommendations:
- Accept (manuscript merits publication; some revisions may be requested)
- Reject with invitation to re-submit (manuscript does not merit publication in its present form but has potential; requires substantial revision)
- Reject (does not merit publication)
- Consultation with the author, wherein—if the reviewers have recommended publication or resubmission—the author and I go over each of the reviewers’ observations and recommendations. The author and I map out a plan for addressing the recommendations, and we develop a timeline for the author to deliver the revised manuscript.
- Certification by the Editorial Advisory Board, wherein I make a summary report, providing our board members with descriptions of the reviewers’ areas of expertise and experience, the reviewers’ comments, the author’s response, and a copy of the manuscript. The Editorial Advisory Board, comprised of faculty and lay-persons at large with a variety of backgrounds and expertise, scrutinize the submissions, ask questions related to content and catalog, and—if everything is in good order—affirms that we have followed all of the standard university press peer review procedures. The board’s certification determination reads as follows:
I certify that [manuscript title], having undergone the peer review process, has scholarly, intellectual, or creative merit for publication with NDSU Press. I further find that this work contributes 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).
Following all of these steps keeps us on our toes, and by sheer number of submissions, I am not always able to render a quick response to writers. This is our process, though, and it is thus far working splendidly. In fact, in the next few days, I will be sending two nonfiction manuscripts to our Editorial Advisory Board to seek certification for that fourth step of the acquisitions process.
If you would like to become one of our blind peer reviewers and assist in this important process, I invite you to visit our online submissions portal at Submittable and add your area of interest to our Manuscript Reviewer Database.
Dr. Suzzanne Kelley is assistant professor of practice and editor in chief for NDSU Press. She directs the Certificate in Publishing program and manages all aspects of NDSU Press operations. Suzzanne is a graduate of University of Texas–Austin, summa cum laude, with a BS in Applied Learning & Development. She holds an MA in History from the University of Central Oklahoma, where she was honored with the Edward Everette Dale Graduate Student Award. Suzzanne graduated from North Dakota State University with her PhD in History, and she has been working in publishing since 2002, first with scholarly journals and then in book publishing since 2005. She is a member of the honor societies Pi Lambda Theta, Phi Alpha Theta, and Phi Kappa Phi, where she is the immediate past president. Suzzanne is at present serving a second term as president of the Midwest Independent Publishers Association.