Having published their inaugural titles in 2015, Brighthorse Books is a brand-spanking new venture from novelists Jonis Agee and Brent Spencer. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the press currently considers poetry, short fiction, and novel manuscripts through its annual Brighthorse Prize. By utilizing print-on-demand technology, Brighthorse also offers authors a 50/50 split on net book-sale profits, which, as most starving writers know, is pretty darn sweet.
More importantly, Brighthorse Books has hit the ground running with its initial trio of prize-winning titles. The novel Leaving Milan, by Elizabeth Oness, shares the quiet and powerful story of Harper Canaday, a young woman with more strikes against her than she deserves, who desires nothing more than a better life than the one she sees out her apartment window in a depressed Midwestern town. Rick Christman gives us Searching for Mozart, a collection of poetry both straightforward and poignant exploring the pain that lingers when a soldier returns home from Vietnam.
Maggie Boylan “a spiky little burned-out sparkler of a woman,” stars in Michael Henson’s The Way the World Is, a devastating short fiction collection about the incestuous relationship between local law enforcement and drug dealers as well as the clients they both share—hapless and resourceful addicts, of which Maggie is queen. Henson’s collection is easily the best fictional account of the widespread meth and Oxy wreckage in Appalachia since Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.
The reading period for all three contests began on February 19, and Brighthorse will remain open for submissions until August 16, 2015, so you can enter now! For Ploughshares, Brent Spencer explains the genesis of Brighthorse, what goes on behind the scenes, plus their plans for expansion in the future.
Kate Flaherty: The first question for any new independent press has to be why? What made the two of you agree to take the plunge into publishing?
Brent Spencer: Over the years, as writers and as teachers of creative writing, we’ve seen many manuscripts that should be published but don’t always find their way into print. At a certain point, we looked at each other and said, “Why don’t we publish them?” We’d each had experience as editors, and I ran a university press for several years, so we thought that, together, we might have the necessary skillset. We also wanted to find a way to give our graduate students in creative writing real-world experience as editors.
KF: Starting out, were you ever concerned you might not get enough high caliber entries for your initial contests? Or that you’d get too many? Describe your first year jumping into the prize pool with three simultaneous awards.
BS: I was the managing editor of the Iowa Short Fiction Award years ago, and I remember being surprised at how many good manuscripts came in. We counted on that happening for submissions to Brighthorse, and it did.
KF: While Brighthorse has no specific geographical parameters in its submission guidelines, your titles stand out not only for their quality, but also for their setting. Do you think it’s coincidence all three are set in the Midwest or Great Plains? Is publishing the unsung stories of the Midwest and Great Plains part of Brighthorse’s mission? Why or why not?
BS: Our reading process is blind, so it’s pure chance that the three winners are from the Midwest and Great Plains. We haven’t checked, but it may be that a higher percentage of writers from these areas submitted, thinking their books might have had a better chance with a press from the region. Our interest is in publishing the best writing we find, no matter where it’s set or where the writer calls home.
KF: Explain how students and interns participate in the editorial and marketing process at Brighthorse. Where do these students come from? What do they contribute?
BS: We love our staff, which is comprised of graduate students in creative writing from the Creighton University MFA program and from the MA and PhD programs in creative writing at The University of Nebraska—Lincoln. We try to involve them in every stage of development. They’re the first readers for submissions. They weigh-in on cover designs and other editorial decisions. They help with marketing, too. We basically match their talents to the tasks at hand.
KF: What was your rationale for splitting net profits 50/50 with authors? Do you think this helps motivate authors to take a greater interest in their own marketing and self-promotion?
BS: We think traditional publishers don’t pay writers enough, especially in the age of print-on-demand technology, which has driven down the cost of publication so dramatically. A 50/50 split seems to us more fair. We also provide the author with ten free copies and extra copies at cost. We hadn’t thought of the 50/50 split as a way of getting authors to become more involved in marketing their books. Our authors are doing a lot for their books, but we don’t know if that’s why. It’s a challenge to get the word out about new books from a new press, so everything helps.
KF: Do you plan to expand your contests into the realm of memoir, essay, or short-short? Do you plan to publish other titles besides the prize-winners? What’s coming up for Brighthorse?
BS: We do. We’re planning on adding a creative nonfiction contest and on publishing a yearly book of poetry by an Irish poet. We’re already publishing books outside the contest winners. Our first one will be a collection of short fiction by Lon Otto called A Man in Trouble. We’ll follow that up with a book by Daryl Farmer. Lon’s a Minnesota writer, so I guess you could say we’re still in the Great Plains with that one, but Daryl lives and works in Alaska. We’re well into the second year of the contest, and we’re seeing submissions from around the world. The whole process of brining good books to readers is still very exciting for us.