A former student and Project Manager at Ooligan Press, Sarah Soards graduated from Portland State University’s master’s program in book publishing in June 2014. She now runs her own freelance publishing business dubbed Sword and Dagger Publishing Services. Sarah was gracious enough to answer a few questions regarding her time at Ooligan, her current career path, and how the two have intersected.
What brought you to PSU’s book publishing program?
I actually took a few Ooligan classes as an undergrad: Intro to Book Publishing, Book Editing, and Copyediting. I thought the classes sounded interesting, and I had always been curious about the production side of a book. So after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I kept thinking about those Ooligan classes. Honestly, those three classes stand out the most in the clutter of my undergrad; they were well-taught, practical, and really fun. I wanted more of that type of education—a hands-on and academic approach. So I applied, and here I am!
What was your favorite project you were able to work on while being a part of Ooligan, and why?
Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before was such an amazing experience. I was able to work with the project almost start to finish. It was so incredible to work with Karelia on such a deep, gorgeous, funny, personal story. I got to be part of the numerous iterations of it and see it grow into this incredible piece of young adult literature. It was such an amazing team effort as well, and the investment really shows—the book was well-reviewed, went on tour with Tegan and Sara, and was nominated for a LAMBDA!
You recently created a company called Sword and Dagger Publishing Services alongside a fellow Ooligan alum. Tell us a little bit about what it is that Sword and Dagger does and what the inspiration was behind it.
Sword and Dagger Publishing Services is a full-service publishing firm. We offer editing, design, marketing, manuscript preparation, and self-publishing services to our clients. A family friend approached me and wanted me to take a look at this manuscript he had been sitting on for ten years. It needed a fair amount of work, so I enlisted Sarah Currin-Moles (my future business partner) for advice and help. We ended up partnering on the book, giving it a developmental edit, and Sarah copyedited it. My friend was super happy with the book, so we thought to ourselves—we could do this on a regular basis! It was literary fate really; my last name is pronounced “swords” while her last name means “dagger” in Irish. It naturally all fell into place after that. We both work on a little bit of everything, but our strengths really complement each other, and it’s been fantastic working with her.
How have you enjoyed your time as the cofounder of your own business so far? What has the experience been like?
It has been a blast so far! We’re working with some really interesting clients right now, and really looking forward to future projects. It’s been quite fulfilling to help people out and to utilize what I’ve learned from Ooligan. I think the most challenging aspect of owning your own business is making sure you have enough discipline. There isn’t a boss telling you to get to work or if a deadline has passed—the only person making you accountable is you. The other difficult aspect is that there isn’t anyone to turn to when a difficult issue comes up. For example, if a client decides to break contract or decides they don’t like the work you’ve done, you have to be very diplomatic. Because your decision affects not only your representation, but that of your business as well. It’s a learning curve, but luckily Sarah and I are able to bounce ideas off of one another and support each other.
What part of the book publishing program best prepared you for the work you are currently doing?
The ability to be flexible and adapt into any situation. Ooligan really teaches you how to think on your feet and be creative. You work with such a variety of people with different experiences—it really makes you think about your own strengths and weaknesses and how you can contribute to a project or workplace.
What would you say to a current Ooligan student hoping to start his or her own publishing-related business in the future?
I know this is beating a dead horse, but networking is so important! Especially in a city this small, you definitely want to reach out to anyone who could help/support you in beginning a business. Figure out what the knowledge gap in the market is—do tons of research! Lastly, keep business cards with you at all times; you never know when they’ll come in handy.