How We Updated Our Mission Statement

In the aftermath of the George Floyd protests last year, our press decided it was time to take more active and progressive steps towards diversifying the books that we publish. In the fall we began investigating and discussing the best way to implement these changes, and in the winter we assembled a team to research and draft an updated mission statement for our press.
Ooligan’s Background
Ooligan Press is a trade press run by the students of Portland State University’s Masters in Book Publishing program. Our press publishes four books each year, which creates learning experiences and fosters growth so that students can enter the publishing industry with both experience and knowledge.
Most of our decisions are made together through a democratic process, whether we are acquiring a new book or voting on a cover. This is a pretty rare process in the publishing industry—and it’s somewhat unique to us—so we wanted the process for updating our mission statement to be just as unique.
Our first task was to have all of our students write a list of several words and/or phrases that they believed should be included in the new mission statement. Regardless of whether or not it was included in the final draft, this allowed the mission writing team to see various trends and learn the values of those who make up the press, which would then be reflected in the updated statement.
Our writing team was composed of eight people who met over Zoom to complete the necessary tasks until a finalized draft was ready to present to the press.
Research
In the winter, we began looking at mission statements from other presses and other facets of the industry such as publishers and printers. Our goal was to analyze a variety of mission statements in order to see what was working and what we could benefit from in terms of structure, rhetoric, etc. This may seem like a fairly obvious step, but this type of research allowed us to see all sorts of language and structures and to consider what would best fit the personality of our organization before we began writing.
We also looked at the slogans used by different corporations. Larger companies tend to focus on their brand and their outward image, so this exercise allowed us to look at effective and punchy copy that used a short number of words.
Rhetoric
One of the most delicate parts of updating a mission statement is choosing your words precisely. While our press had a largely democratic process in the fall, the writing team was responsible for choosing rhetoric that matched the unique identity of our press. We discussed, agreed, and even disagreed, respectfully, favoring words like “equity” and “inclusion” over the more simple and overused “diversity.”
Structure
Another important part of the process was finding a way to simplify our press into its key parts, to really figure out who we are and what we represent in this industry. We felt that the most pertinent aspects of our press were the student-run and Pacific Northwest aspects, but we also wanted to add in a third idea of publishing diverse authorships.
We also looked at the structure of other mission statements, paying particular attention to word count and paragraph breaks to figure out how to most effectively organize our ideas.
Concision
Mission statements are most successful when they are focused and to-the-point. A writer who is submitting their manuscript is going to read dozens of mission statements, so we wanted ours to be under one hundred words in order to keep readers engaged, while still allowing them to get an understanding of who we are.
Pledge for Inclusivity
Our main focus, which I’ve been hinting at, was to add the idea of publishing diverse authorships so that we can demonstrate our progressive values as students. This has been an emerging part of our identity as a press, and we wanted this value to be stated clearly, without being buried behind our other goals. We want other publishers to know that this is what we are going for moving forward.
Team Writing
After our research and discussion near the end of winter, we finally began writing as a team. Team writing can be quite difficult, but we set out with concrete goals and tasks in terms of rhetoric, structure, concision, and our goal for inclusivity.
Our first meeting was very discussion-oriented, and before our second meeting, I compiled the most prominent points from each writer into a draft. When we met the second time, we discussed, tweaked, and played with the format until we had several versions of the same mission statement.
An advisory board of faculty members decided on one of these versions. After we presented it to the press, we allowed each student the chance to vote on the mission statement, and it ultimately passed. We are so excited to release it later this year!
The End of A First Step
Clarity, brevity, and utility were our main goals in updating our mission statement, and our group is incredibly proud of the work we’ve done. In moving towards our values of inclusivity, however, the mission statement is just the first step. Updating our mission statement is at the core of things that Ooligan Press wants to accomplish in terms of shaping literature and the publishing industry, and our work is still cut out for us.

pile of books with no time to read

Getting Published: The Magic of the First Page

So, You Want to Be an Author

You’ve probably spent years of your life hunched over your newest novel, affectionately referring to it as your “baby.” This is the culmination of your life’s work. It’s got it all: an interesting protagonist, a brewing mystery, the perfect romance, and an idyllic setting to ground it all. You’ve eagerly sent it off to all the local publishers who have reputable connections under their belt to launch your dreams of being published. Now you are impatiently waiting for that acceptance letter to hit your inbox.
You finally hear back from those sluggish publishers, and there you see it: rejected. Rejected. And rejected, again. It feels like years of your life have been thrown away like it was a haphazard poem scribbled on a Denny’s napkin, submitted on some drunken whim.

Think Like an Editor

Each year publishers receive thousands of submissions from hopefuls just like you. According to Sophie Playle, a writer for Liminal Pages, publishers receive “between three and ten . . . of thousands” of manuscripts per year. While editors would love to slush through each and every submission for the next best-seller, it just isn’t feasible.
Imagine you’re an editor at one of your local indie publishing houses. A slush pile of submissions stares back at you every day, overflowing your submissions inbox. One of your volunteer readers acquires one manuscript among every fifty; the first page kicks off without much of a bang, and the setting is described in a way that is reminiscent of the pastoral poetry of (way) yester-year. Maybe the volunteer reader has the time to graze the second page. More rolling hills. More “a whole lot of nothing.” The manuscript is tossed into the rejection pile along with eighty to ninety percent of the other submission hopefuls.
Now, imagine you’re an editor for a mid-range publishing house. They’ve got the higher-up connections of your dreams, and a few catchy titles to back them up. Their slush pile is about twice the size, if not more, of the indie publishers’. You pick up a manuscript, eye the lengthy, adjective-laden prose, and off it goes into the rejection pile. You dive into the next submission without a second thought, just waiting for the magic.
Publishers often have volunteer readers perform the preliminary acquisitions process in order to sort through their growing mound of submissions. These readers are typically undergrad or grad students who are engaged with literature in their programs. These readers don’t have time to sift through one hundred pages of every manuscript to wait for the storm to finally brew: if the magic isn’t there from the beginning, forget about it.

Think Like a Reader

According to Michael Shymanski, one of Ooligan’s Acquisitions Managers, think of your first page as the reader’s initial impression, much like “meeting your friend’s spouse for the first time.” First impressions can be insignificant, even disastrous, or they can be absolute magic. If the magic is there, an editor will know it immediately.
It’s no surprise then that pacing is crucial. While you wouldn’t want to jump straight into all the juicy details in the first paragraph, the first impression needs to “hint at an underlying theme,” and demonstrate a “nuance that provides depth to conflict and characters” (Shymanski). You want to give away just enough so that the reader gets a sense of the story’s direction and they can’t wait to continue reading.

Creating the Magic

So how do you create that “magic”? Shymanski suggests that it’s pretty simple: be original. A submission that may need some developmental or copyediting will receive more attention if it’s “beautifully written” and utterly original.
Hammering in on the importance of the first page, Lincoln Michel, author, editor, and Buzzfeed Contributor Extraordinaire, suggests that if your story can’t captivate the editor in the first page, the chances of it capturing a “random reader” are nil. Michel suggests constructing your story backwards if all the action begins on page three hundred.
Don’t be afraid to dive deep into “diversification and experimentation of voice” (Shymanski). Let your characters shine in a new light. Keep your reader craving more. And if the magic is there, maybe that editor will turn the page.
Oh, and please read the publisher’s submission guidelines before you submit your Harry Potter fan fiction to a poetry house.

stack of papers tied with black ribbon

Competitive Pitching

All aspiring authors know how difficult it is to write a query letter that stands out in a slush pile. You stress and stress over the exact wording, trying to create something that will make agents pick your manuscript out as the next big thing. But sometimes you just need a break from the standard method of pitching your novel. If you’re looking for a fun way to get your manuscript out in the world, check out #PitMad, a Twitter event put on by the organizers of Pitch Wars.
Pitch Wars is a mentorship program that matches a writer with an author, editor, or other industry intern. It’s a chance for writers to work with someone who will read their entire manuscript and give them suggestions. These mentors help their mentees prepare their manuscripts so they’re ready for the agent showcase. There’s a ton of information on the Pitch Wars website, so if you’re an unagented writer––or just want to learn more––check it out! There’s information on both current and past Pitch Wars, #PitMad––which I’ll be going into here––and other resources for writers. It’s a great site to check out if you’re looking for an agent or just want to connect with other writers.
One of my favorite things about Pitch Wars is #PitMad. Although Pitch Wars only takes place once a year, #PitMad happens in March, June, September, and December on Twitter. Each pitch day goes from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. Writers craft a short pitch using the #PitMad hashtag, and on designated days they post on Twitter. As a writer, you can post your own pitch for your manuscript using the 280 characters Twitter allows, or you can support your favorite writer friends’ pitches by retweeting. It’s a great community event which allows you to find new writers and future novels. And if you’re lucky enough, an agent will like your tweet and you’ll be able to submit your manuscript to them.
To start participating, just write up a few tweets that you’ll share throughout the day! It helps to have a few to work with, as you’ll want to tweet periodically over the day for more chances for agents to see your work. You’re allowed to pitch a manuscript a maximum of three times a day, and it’s recommended to pitch once every four hours in order to not crowd the hashtag. More rules are available on the #PitMad section of the Pitch Wars website and will help you navigate the #PitMad days on Twitter.
#PitMad is such a fun way to jump into the exciting world of competitive pitching. It may not always lead to an agent, but it’s a wonderful way to interact with the Twitter writing community, find some aspiring authors to follow, and see what agents are looking for.

Two hands made of words grasp.

Community Outreach to Find Hidden Gems

Ooligan Press receives many unsolicited submissions through our Submittable from authors all over the world looking to get their books published. Despite the traffic our Submittable receives, however, there are times where the works we have received do not provide the press with the manuscripts we need. This is where community outreach comes into play.

As a teaching press, it is important for Ooligan Press to acquire all different types of manuscripts to provide students with a variety of learning experiences. Our submissions tend to be cyclical, with certain types of books coming to us in groups. For example, the holidays and new year often bring about an influx of novel and memoir submissions as writers wrap up their goals for the year or designate getting published as a New Year’s resolution.

These submissions are always welcome, but we are not always looking for literary fiction or memoirs at any particular time. These holes in our manuscript submissions call for some boots-on-the-ground work from the acquisitions department.

Community outreach can take many forms, such as attending book festivals or author workshops. One of our previous events, Write to Publish, was a great way for the acquisitions department at Ooligan Press to receive submissions; the event featured a panel for authors to pitch their books to the acquisitions managers. Some of our published books came directly from this event. However, in today’s digital and pandemic-ridden world, all of our efforts have been taken online.

Social media is a powerful tool for all sorts of marketing and promotion, and so this is often our first strategy to reach both readers and potential authors. One form of community outreach we’ve been experimenting with in the acquisitions department is #PitMad, which was discussed in our previous acquisitions Manager Monday blog post.

#PitMad is a great way to see what authors are putting out into the world, but maintaining a presence in local and regional writing groups can allow for a more personalized connection with writers, and can help you engage with posts and pages regularly to improve your industry awareness and author accessibility. Participating in local author’s guilds and writing workshops can also connect you with authors who may be new to the publishing world and are not sure of the best way to reach out to a press.

Additionally, community outreach from a lesser-seen portion of the press can help to humanize a publisher, making it more accessible and relatable to not only potential authors, but also the press’s readership. Often, the publishing industry can seem somewhat cold and hidden from the public. The inner workings aren’t always seen, and increasing community outreach and publicity in various areas of the press can help add personality and transparency to the organization.

Ultimately, additional submissions may require more time to work through the slush pile, but it’s a small price to pay to find the perfect author and book for your press. And making an effort to improve community outreach from the editorial, design, and acquisitions departments of the press will humanize an industry that can often come across as an unfeeling machine that doesn’t see the smaller authors and readers who are ultimately the heart of the industry.

#PitMad: Your Quick Ticket to Pub

For many new writers, the question is how to break in, get an agent, and get published. There are many tracks to getting to the peak, but the route is often long and arduous, and authors can go many months—which can compound to years—without hearing about the masterpieces on their hard drives. How can a writer get noticed and noticed fast?

Like with all contemporary remedies, the internet has a hand in getting new authors noticed.
According to Pitch Wars, the curators of the event, “#PitMad is the original twitter pitch event, where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. No previously published works. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.” It’s really something like speed dating, where agents and editors get to peruse the quick pitches and interact with authors. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be published, but you will have eyes on your manuscript’s idea.

Another key feature of #PitMad is the use of hashtags, not only to denote the genre of your manuscript, but also to let agents and editors know about target audience and authentic authorship. As we move forward with Ooligan’s acquisitions process, we looked at not only #YA, but also at #BVM (Black Voices Matter, for Black writers), #POC (People of Color), #IMM (Immigrant), #OWN (Own Voices), and many more. These hashtags help agents and publishers fill in gaps in their publication list, but also help promote diversity in publishing.

However, not all see this as a great use of time. Jessica Faust from BookEnds Literary Agency says that not only is #PitMad not the best use of her time as an agent, but also that she doesn’t consider “an event like this [as] querying.” She goes on to say that 140 characters is not enough for a full pitch. And while Faust isn’t wrong about the pitch length, she doesn’t speak for all agents and publishers out there. Writers do get picked up here, but it might be a bad idea to put all your eggs in this basket.

In summation, #PitMad is a way for you to meet agents, publishers, and even writers in the Twitter community. Pitch your idea of your manuscript and wait for the likes to roll in. It may not be a total success, but it’s a quick route to get there if you remember to also query for real on the side. As an acquisitions editor for a press, I’ll divulge a few pro tips to writers: pitch in the morning (and think about Eastern Standard Time), pin the post to your Twitter page, and post the pitch a few times, but don’t spam. Use the hashtags, but don’t embellish the truth. Add realistic but known comp titles—not comp TV shows or movies—to your post. I’m less likely to go for “Casablanca x Fifty Shades” than a more grounded “Love, Simon x The House on Mango Street.”

The How and Why of Mission Statements

With thousands upon thousands of publishing companies to choose from in the United States, it can be daunting for an author to know where to start. Who will provide them with the best experience? Who can devote the resources needed to create their product? Who has the expertise to make the book the best it can be? Who can most effectively reach the book’s target audience?

Now flip this situation around. With millions upon millions of people in the United States who think they have the next New York Times best seller, how can a publishing company find the diamond in the rough? What can a publishing house do to ensure they are receiving submissions for books they actually can and want to publish?

The most effective way a publishing house can convey this information to an author is through the company’s mission statement. Mission statements are not by any means specific to publishing houses. Any organization, from a multibillion-dollar corporate conglomerate to your kid’s sidewalk lemonade stand, needs to have a compass guiding its decision-making process.

Within a publishing house, a mission statement typically addresses a few key topics. For example, Ooligan Press’s current mission statement falls under the title “Our Interests,” dictating that our press looks for books that are regionally significant works of literary, historical, and social value to the Pacific Northwest. In addition, Ooligan Press is concerned with comprehensive representation and with sustainability.

In three simple paragraphs, authors can now see what Ooligan Press is interested in publishing. Does your book talk about sustainable practices? We’re interested. Does it take place in the Pacific Northwest? We’re into it. Is the author from the PNW? We’ll check it out. Is your book actually a cookbook or children’s book? Sorry, we can’t help you.

By having a mission statement, a publishing house narrows its focus to become an expert in the field. If we tried to publish the several dozen different types of books out there in the world, we would be mediocre at all of them. But by focusing on what we can accomplish within our financial and staffing limitations as a teaching, trade publisher, we can ensure that each book we acquire will provide adequate learning opportunities for our students.

But our jobs aren’t done when the last period is added to that final draft of our mission statement. We must work as a press to uphold and apply those values, and we must make a conscious effort to revisit our values as the nature of the world—and of publishing—changes.

Publishing companies have an amazing power to facilitate change and to shed light into the dark corners of the human experience. And because of this, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to help make the world a more enlightened place, one page at a time.

Knowing Your Audience: A Quick Guide to Improving Your Query

One of the most common issues acquisitions editors find when reviewing queries is that an author’s target audience for a book is too broad. While it would be incredible if your book ended up in the hands of nearly everybody because someone like Oprah picked it for her book club, for most books that’s not the case.

Ensuring that you are aware of your reader before you query your book will help not only your agent (if you have one), but your publisher continue to strengthen the concept of your audience and transform it into a marketing profile.

Marketing profiles are used fairly often in publishing and other businesses as a way to imagine who exactly a product will be sold to. More importantly, it helps marketing teams imagine what unique aspects of a product will make people want to purchase it.

Identifying your audience in a broad sense can be helpful when initially imagining the concept for the book, why you want to tell that story, and who you want to tell it to. But when querying, if you are able to tell editors that your reader is a part of a specific age group, socioeconomic status, education bracket, or even if you can describe their interests, it becomes easier to understand who this reader is and why they need your book. For a quick reference on how to build your target audience profile, check out steps 4–7 in this article.

Oftentimes, developing a target audience can reveal interesting information about how to get the book into the hands of the reader. For example, if members of a target audience are likely to listen to podcasts, then the marketing plan for the book should include some reviews by podcasts they probably listen to. If the book is about a character going off to college, publication should be planned around the time of high school graduations, and the marketing plan should focus on adults and parents in the reader’s life who might gift the book.

When a query comes in with a well-developed target audience, it makes the book seem more viable to the editors. Being able to picture the audience as a specific person—almost like a character—helps generate ideas for a marketing plan, which leads to a better pitch and better acquisition.

One of the most important factors in a successful book pitch is building a case for who the reader is and why they will read the book. At Ooligan, we spend a bit more time to describe not only why they will buy the book, but why they will open it in the first place, and what will drive them to keep reading. Imagining the different reasons for each of these scenarios will allow you to picture what will make your book sellable beyond just its content.

All of this will help you build a better case for why your book should be acquired in your query. Taking these steps will also show that you are an author who is aware of your audience and how your book should be marketed, which publishers love!