Cort Fernald on the editorial work of a writers guild

The Nebraska Writers Guild published the multi-genre anthology Voices from the Plains in 2017. The second Voices from the Plains, also multi-genre, is forthcoming later this year. In 2019, the NWG will publish a chapbook-sized anthology of poetry. Talk about  editorial work from start to finish. In your answer, discuss all aspects of publishing—soliciting submissions, readers, copyediting, layout/design, publishing, distribution, readings/events.

I had conceived the idea of the Nebraska Writers Guild putting together an anthology more than two years ago. It seemed a perfect fit. Wayne, as the president at the time, was onboard from the start. But it was a tough sell to other members of the board of directors. Not that they were against an anthology under the Nebraska Writers Guild imprint, just that it had not been done and they were not sold on the book succeeding. I am from the DIY Generation, and I was willing to contribute my time gratis on the project. My formatter, who does my novels, as a favor to me agreed to format the anthology gratis. And in the Guild, we have so many talented people. Victorine Lieske did the cover for the first anthology. And when we put out the call for submissions, the response was phenomenal. I collated and edited (just a little tiny bit), set the style, and put together the running order. The evaluation on the first edition was done by Faith Colburn and myself. There was a style we maintained, and a determination to remain neutral in matters of politics or religion or other modern manias. We did that, and achieved a very good mix of poetry and fiction and nonfiction, in all writing disciplines save screenwriting. I wanted a screenplay in the anthology as we have quite a few screenwriters. And we have a screenplay in the upcoming edition of the anthology.

The first Voices from the Plains was published mid-December 2017, 68 authors, 468 pages and it was an immediate hit. Yes, we made back the money we put out for professional proofreading and the cover photo. We were in the black. But more importantly, the anthology energized the guild members to come out to readings and signings and show people what they could do. Wayne set up a lot of the readings and signings, and we were featured at The Bookworm in Omaha, Francie & Finch in Lincoln and bookstores and libraries across the state. NET radio did a little feature on the anthology. And Consider This, a television production from the University of Nebraska-Omaha communications department, did a half hour on the anthology.

It was natural that we follow up the first Voices from the Plains with a second. That edition is in production now. The editorial process has changed a bit, adding Johnnye Gerhardt to the evaluations. But the response was just as strong. We are projected to have 510 pages with selections in all genres from more than 70 Nebraska Writers Guild authors. The majority are new writers, exhibiting the breadth of good writing done by guild authors. This edition will be out on December 1st.

Voices from the Plains 2017. Voices from the Plains 2018. Why not, we thinks, do a poetry chapbook. And that is the genus of this Spring Poetry Chapbook. My role will be limited on this project. I believe Kara Gall is leading the charge. I believe the call for submissions will go out around the first of the year. The projected publication date is the end of March or first week in April. This will be just in time for the Nebraska Writers Guild Spring Conference.

In a recent Board Members huddle, it was talked up about a mid-summer genre specific anthology, such as an all-Romance, or Thriller, Chiller, Suspense, and Mystery anthology.  The possibilities are endless when you consider the talent among the members of the Nebraska Writers Guild.

With your successes with Voices from the Plains 2017 and Voices from the Plains 2018 and the in-the-works Spring Poetry Chapbook 2019, and a possible mid-summer genre specific anthology, will the new Nebraska Writers Guild Publishing imprint keep to multi-author volumes in the foreseeable future? Will the imprint delve into other formats, such as calendars and single and multi-page broadsides? Will the imprint expand and become a publishing house that publishes single-author books and chapbooks? What will the Nebraska Writers Guild Publishing imprint catalog look like in 2019, 2020, and beyond? How does this new evolution of the good work the NWG does follow the “Excellent in Writing Since 1925” idea? How will the Guild continue to support, inspire, and empower members that have included such authors as Willa Cather, Mari Sandoz, John Neihardt, and Bess Streeter Aldrich?

The answer to the first series of questions is yes, with qualifications. While the Guild has spoken of branching out into the publication of other books, ebooks, we have only just decided to seriously look into other formats such as calendars, a bi-annual literary magazine, chapbooks, and broadsides. And yes, we have briefly discussed the possibility of our Nebraska Writers Guild imprint publishing individual authors from the guild.

At the present time the group committed to these publishing projects are dedicated, but small and overworked. In 2019 the guild should start to recruit volunteers for the various tasks involved with the production of a paper book and ebook, such as copy editing, proofreading, formatting, marketing, and distribution. The more we can keep it in-house and at a lower cost the more we can expand our imprint. That is probably a couple of years away. But, it is a goal that would definitely benefit the members of the Nebraska Writers Guild.

Talk about your role in the organizing work that creates opportunities for Nebraska writers. You mentioned the NWG Fall and Spring Conferences, anthology readings for Voices from the Plains, the Annual State Fair Booth, and the Western Nebraska Writers Intensive, as places that energize Guild members. When Guild members come together, how do such events build community, enable networking, and inspire writers to practice and professionalize their craft? 

The Nebraska Writers Guild has grown substantially in the last two years. That is due to a concerted effort from Wayne Anson to take the guild to the six corners of the state. Readings, conferences, the State Fair booth, and writers intensive activities are all well-known events that have always taken the guild to the less than well-traveled areas of the state. The membership rolls have shown there are writers out there who may not join the guild because it seems to have always been centered around Omaha and Lincoln, or cities and towns along the I-80 corridor. We have no barriers now. We look to put on events from Scottsbluff to Sarpy County, north as far as Norfolk and south to Kimbell or McCook.

How do you define chapbook? I consider a chapbook a small version, with a limited number of pages, of a book. This differs from the historical definition of a Chapbook. They were a cheaper publication, without hardbound cover, and pulp pages. But I think now they are slim versions either stapled bound, stitched, but occasionally perfect bound.

What makes a good chapbook? I do not have any prejudice about chapbooks.

Number of chapbooks you own: The poetry chapbooks I own the edition done by the late David Hufford, a Nebraska Writers Guild author.

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I follow all poets from the Guild.

Chapbook bio: Cort Fernald is a professional writer/editor and a facilitator and member of the Nebraska Writers Workshop. He has published four novels and is the managing editor for the 2017 and 2018 Voices of the Plains anthologies and the Nebraska Writers Guild’s poetry chapbook, forthcoming in April 2019.

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