A Season of Change at Ooligan Press

For many Portlanders, the arrival of summer brings with it warmer temperatures, sunshine, and days without rain. At Ooligan, the arrival of summer ushers in a season of change and growth for the press as a whole.

One of the things that makes Ooligan truly unique is that it not only operates as a full-fledged literary press, but it is a press that is run entirely by students who are enrolled in the Book Publishing program. We are responsible for nearly every aspect of the press—from acquisition to production—under the watchful and supportive eyes of our publisher. Students in the second year of the program are even selected to be managers to help lead project teams and departments.

Because we are first and foremost students, the arrival of summer means that our second-year students, including managers, are graduating and moving on from the program, while our new incoming managers are wrapping up their training and preparing to take over their departments for the summer term of classes.

In a traditional press, losing fifteen employees and training nineteen new ones would seem like the stuff of nightmares, but at Ooligan, this kind of changing-of-the-guard is normal—it’s simply how things are done.

The incoming managers also face a unique challenge: remote learning. Most of the graduating managers had the opportunity to attend in-person classes for almost a year before the pandemic closed campus, and as a result they were able to form these amazing connections with each other and this great camaraderie that resonates throughout the press. First-year students have had the reverse experience: they began the program with every aspect of their experience being remote, including training, and are finally preparing to attend in-person classes in September.

If there is one thing that I have learned while trying to navigate life as a student during a pandemic, it is that this pandemic has made us more resilient and adaptable than ever. When we were submitting our applications to the program, we had no idea that this would be our future or our reality. Regardless of our status as a first- or second-year student, we have adapted to every obstacle and challenge put in front of us. We have made it this far into a global pandemic, so we can handle pretty much anything. It is this kind of grit and determination that will have a profound impact on both the press and the program in the future.

Needless to say it will be interesting to see how these different experiences, learning environments, and mentalities will influence the press in the future.

Here is a list of current roles/departments that help run Ooligan Press:

  • Four project teams, one for each book we are currently working on
  • One project team for our Library Writer’s Project manuscript
  • Website Manager
  • Two Acquisitions Managers
  • Managing Editor
  • Copy Chief
  • Design Manager
  • Digital Manager
  • Audiobooks Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Publicity Manager
  • Social Media Manager
  • Three Publisher’s Assistants; two who focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and one who focuses on Metadata and Sales
A white, wooden chair with a pink party balloon tied to it.

What We’ve Learned from a Year of Hosting Virtual Book Launch Events

In an October 2020 survey of nearly four hundred marketing professionals, the event tech company Bizzabo concluded that more than 80 percent of event marketers saw an increase in audience reach as a result of the sudden shift from in-person to virtual platforms. Ooligan Press has hosted four virtual launch events since the outbreak of COVID-19. First was for The Names We Take by Trace Kerr; it was originally planned to be held in person, so the team had to pivot to a livestream. Second was Laurel Everywhere by Erin Moyinhan and the choice to go virtual was made from the start. Third and fourth were Faultland by Suzy Vitello—hosted by the press—and Finding the Vein by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde, held by Waucoma Bookstore in Hood River, OR. Both were created using Eventbrite. We have two more still ahead this year, so keep an eye out for info and dates on our platforms!
I reached out to graduating project managers Grace Hansen, Cole Bowman, and Bailey Potter who oversaw the successful launch events for Laurel Everywhere, Faultland, and Finding the Vein, respectively. I asked each of them about advice for planning future virtual events. Within a few hours, I had struck gold. Synthesized below are their replies and some guidance to get started when it is time to plan a celebration of your new book.

Know the Author

Cole pointed out that the author’s comfort is “the biggest barometer of whether or not the event will be successful” because attendees reflect the energy from the author, and “if they’re visibly nervous or clam up, it can really dampen the audience’s experience.” For all three launches, the moderators and guests were chosen to intentionally match authors with people they shared histories with. Talk to your author about their comfort level with speaking and reading live, their past public speaking experiences, and their expectations for the event.
Keeping the author at the forefront of planning should lead to conversations about the best possible ways to celebrate their achievements. Grace explained that this led to her team’s decision to have a roundtable discussion with the author and a small panel of people. They wanted those in attendance “to have more to hold on to than just the contents of a book they hadn’t read yet,” and it turned out to be a great structure; the “audience of book lovers [got] to track the entire publishing process from our author’s idea to actual publication,” said Grace. It was a prudent way to respectfully regard the heavy themes of the book.

Find a Meaningful Location

Once you have a relationship built with the author, encourage them to begin cultivating one with their local community venues. Then when it’s time, Bailey suggests they “pop the question!” Outreach efforts, Bailey added, “certainly led to many bookstores selling our book,” but “the author’s relationship with her local bookstore” is what paved the way to a successful launch.
The managers agree that finding a location three to five months before the launch event is important. Grace recalls reaching out to local bookstores only to find that “their calendars were all booked up or they weren’t doing events at all.”

Plan for Success

Commit to using a webinar format as opposed to a meeting format. They are more official and organized, Bailey noted, and they can be a bit of a built-in backup plan should the venue fall through.
Set the author up by providing them a list of questions from the moderator and an agenda for the event. Cole suggested allowing the author to choose whether or not to read from the book. “What this did,” they said, “was ensure that [the author] knew what to expect of the event itself and she felt like she was in control of at least part of it.” Being transparent about and flexible with the structure is an important part of successful communication.
Consider a few last recommendations from the managers: Decide if you’re planning a hybrid event or a totally virtual one. Create a separate link for an afterparty. Find ways to engage the audience with a giveaway, signed books, a “care package,” playlists, recipes, or anything that matches the theme of the book.

FAULTLAND's red book cover featuring a map of Portland in the shape of a piano.

FAULTLAND Shakes Up Social Media

Ooligan Press is in a flurry of excitement over all the new projects coming out in the next few months, and the Faultland team is busy at the frontlines of it all. Ooligan’s newest speculative fiction novel is the next book on our release schedule and is due to hit shelves on March 30, 2021! Behind the scenes, the team is working hard developing new ways to promote the novel online and coming up with original ideas for how to get more readers to engage with the book through the Ooligan social media channels.

Faultland is set in a near-future Portland that is rocked by a major earthquake. While not Ooligan’s first foray into speculative fiction, Faultland is unlike anything we’ve published before. Author Suzy Vitello masterfully combines future-tech and family drama to bring her “what if” landscape of a not-so-distant Portland to life before razing it to the ground. When the city is hit by the Portland Hills Fault earthquake, siblings Morgan, Olivia, and Sherman are faced with keeping their family alive following one of the worst natural disasters in living memory. Once separated by secrets and resentment, the Sparrow family realize they are now united by survival.

Right now, the Sparrow family’s survival is at the forefront of the book’s online presence as Faultland moves into the all-important social media phase of our production cycle. While each step of a title’s development helps Oolies hone their publishing skills, there are few moments in a book’s lifecycle that allow us to be as creative as social media, so our team is using this moment to put all of our creativity to good use. We knew early on that Faultland was the kind of book that could carry a strong and unconventional social media presence, and our Oolies are busily working away to demonstrate just how accurate that prediction was. The whole team is committing their efforts to creating engaging copy and images to generate interest in the book, and all the while they’re sprinkling in their favorite quotes and excerpts from our fantastic early reviewers to make their posts really pop.

While there are few specific parameters around what topics the team members are able to talk about in their posts, most have been focusing on the landscapes that the author, Portland local Vitello, creates in the book. We see the city both before and after the earthquake shatters it, filtered through the eyes of the narrators in quotes and in images created by the team. Another focus has been on the subject of emergency preparedness, with many early readers of the book internalizing the warning at the heart of the novel—that being ready for this kind of emergency can lessen the physical, emotional, and mental toll that just such an event takes on all of us. Several posts link to preparedness guidelines through the CDC, Red Cross, and other emergency agencies in order to guide readers to resources that the Sparrow siblings don’t have access to in the novel.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this social media initiative is our advanced planning for an upcoming scavenger hunt to get readers even more excited when the book launches. That’s right, the Faultland team is busy working on an emergency preparedness–themed scavenger hunt that will allow fans in the Portland area to follow along with Olivia’s journey after the book officially hits shelves. While the specific details for this initiative will remain a secret until we get closer to the book launch, the Faultland team will be centralizing Ooligan social media channels to get it off the ground and get readers engaged.

Stay tuned into Ooligan’s social media at @ooliganpress on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest news about what’s on the horizon for Faultland and to see some of the incredible work the team has put together there.

Batman comics on shop shelves

Assembling the Comics Creators Panel from Write to Publish 2020

I have to admit that working for the Events & Outreach department at Ooligan to help plan the Write to Publish conference was not my first choice coming into the PSU Book Publishing Program. While I had wanted to work on a project team for an in-progress title, I was quickly swayed by the idea of reaching out to people and creating a discussion panel for the event, and then working on questions to guide and propel that conversation.

I spent the Fall term of 2019 pitching a slew of local creators, ranging from big names to small cartoonists to publicists of comic companies and anyone else inside the industry. Some had worked at PSU and others were total longshots. In trying to create the panel, one of the more important aspects was creating a balance—trying to find a blend of authors, illustrators, professionals, etc. As the theme was “The Many Faces of Publishing,” we locked down four comics creators to form our panel: Erika Schnatz, a production designer at Image Comics; MK Reed, a local comics creator; Terry Blas, a local comics creator known for his “You Say Latino” comic on Vox; and David Chelsea, an illustrator and comics educator.

The conversation, guided by Anastacia Ferry’s questions, focused on Portland’s comics scene and the future of comics, especially in the digital realm. Erika Schnatz noted that “the scary and cool thing about webcomics is the immediate feedback you get,” as your audience is always present and just one screen away. On the other hand, Terry Blas stated, “[w]ebcomics represented the ability to put my own work out there and prove to an editor or company that I can meet a deadline,” according to Denise Morales Soto’s live tweets, showing how the internet can be a ruthless proving ground for comics.

When the conversation moved over to Portland and its unique comics scene, MK Reed said, “Portland is so book-y that it spills over and so there’s a lot of comics here as a result of that.” The others agreed that Portland was a great place to be, with David having started his career here, Erika working at Image, and Terry attending PNCA for his degree here.

To conclude, the panelists discussed the future of comics. David noted the death of the inker in the computer age where anyone can do inks with a digital stroke, and Terry ruminated on how crowdfunding allows marginalized groups to be seen and represented and ultimately funded and published via platforms like Kickstarter. Probably the most fulfilling aspect of the event for me was being able to meet all the wonderful and articulate individuals who came through for this panel. While they were very knowledgeable, they were also kind and networked within themselves. Forming it may have been stressful, but the payoff was creating an environment to discuss something we all care about.

Planning the Write to Publish 2020 conference was not something I had seen myself enjoying as much as I did, and while I’m moving on to other facets of the press now, I will definitely be attending the conference the next time it’s held.

Study Abroad in Germany

There are many reasons students choose to partake in study abroad programs, and here at PSU there are a ton of resources to help make that possible during normal times. Before the onset of COVID-19, students in the book publishing program were going to have the opportunity to study abroad in Germany beginning in 2020. Formerly, there was only the chance to expand our knowledge of book publishing on an international scale by participating in the summer term by traveling to Scotland, but the program has recently expanded its study abroad opportunities to allow students to spend a quarter taking classes at Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart.

Speaking with Dr. Rachel Noorda, Director of Publishing in our program, offered further insight into how this opportunity came about. “I had been looking for more opportunities for our book publishing students to experience book publishing abroad when I received an email from someone at the office of the Baden-Wurttemberg exchange with Oregon.” Dr. Noorda then traveled to visit and present at Hochschule der Medien in November 2019 to check it out and was impressed by all they had to offer.

Classes offered (and taught in English) range from Rights & Licenses, Binding and Finishing, Entrepreneurship, and much more. Being only two hours away from Frankfurt, this program will also offer the exciting chance to attend future iterations of the Frankfurt Book Fair. According to their website, the book fair is “the world’s most important fair for the print and digital content business, as well as an outstanding social and cultural event.”

Whenever it becomes safe to travel again, this will be an amazing opportunity for students within our program, especially because of the benefits of studying abroad. The following are some statistics from the University of California, Merced. 97 percent of students who studied abroad find employment within twelve months of graduating. Compared to students who did not at 49 percent, the numbers mean the likelihood is almost double. Students who study abroad are likely to earn 25 percent higher starting salaries, and 59 percent of employers say studying abroad is seen as valuable to their organizations. But it’s not all about your future career. Students who studied abroad claim that they feel an increase in self-confidence and a greater tolerance for ambiguity.

Although COVID-19 has made international travel and study abroad impossible for now, we look forward to a future where book publishing students are able to participate in this incredible program. There is so much value in traveling and experiencing cultures other than our own. Not only can it help you in your future career, but it can help you grow as an individual. Check out the links above to learn more about studying abroad and this specific opportunity, and stay tuned for updates on when the program will be offered again.

Announcing THE STEP BACK by J.T. Bushnell

Ooligan Press is excited to announce its spring 2021 title, The Step Back by J.T. Bushnell! The Step Back will be Bushnell’s first published novel. He is originally from Sisters, Oregon, and currently lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his family. Bushnell earned a BA in journalism from Linfield College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Oregon. He has taught writing and literature at Oregon State University in Corvallis since 2007. Bushnell’s short fiction has also appeared in Passages North, Mississippi Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Meridian, Flyway, Monkeybicycle, The Greensboro Review, and other literary journals. His writing about fiction appears in Poets & Writers, Fiction Writers Review, and The Science of Story.

The Step Back is a work of literary, coming-of-age fiction about Ed Garrison, an eighteen-year-old Californian who is about to begin college in the fall of 2000. A lover of basketball and dogs, Ed originally plans to attend UC Berkeley, but when his mom announces she is leaving his father and moving across the country to live with her new girlfriend, Ed begins to fall apart. He decides at the last minute to attend the far less prestigious Sequoia College instead, hoping that he can walk on to the school’s last-place, D3 basketball team and retain some sense of the community he is leaving behind. But, in a moment of hesitation, Ed loses his shot at playing college ball and slowly becomes unmoored, unable to connect to his classmates, refusing to communicate with his mother, and losing touch with his friends and—more importantly—his father and brother at home.

As Ed navigates college life, he encounters a series of failed romantic relationships, struggles to find intellectual inspiration, and develops a passion for distance running, all while struggling to regain the sense of home he lost when his mother left. In order to grow, Ed must face his own cruelty and selfishness, and he eventually finds that certain bonds are impossible to break, no matter how neglected.

Told with breathtaking imagery and imbued with compassion, The Step Back examines the loneliness that sometimes accompanies the transition from adolescence to adulthood, which can take a true reckoning to overcome. The novel addresses concerns prevalent to its setting in the early 2000s in ways that still feel relevant today including homophobia, sexism, substance abuse, class, and toxic masculinity.

The Step Back is due to be released in May of 2021, and it will be the first work of literary fiction from the press in over two years. This makes it a special challenge for the 2020 and 2021 Ooligan cohorts and an exciting opportunity to work outside of the genre fiction the press has published recently.

More coverage of The Step Back will be available as the project develops.

Nurturing Key Relationships in Publishing

Writing a book is hard. Finding the right publisher for your book is even worse. But what’s the most difficult part of being an author or publisher? Maintaining important contacts.

Relationship development is key to promoting an author or publisher’s success. According to Jasmine Briggs at Forbes, “people are what make or break” such professional careers. Why is this important? On the publishing side of business, communicative relationships can determine the success of book sales, the continuing care for an author, future partnering decisions, and much more. Nurturing the relationship that is forged between author and editor, publisher and reviewer, and so forth is important as these forces are what can help you, not just in the moment, but in the future as well. As Authority Publishing states, “if you want their help, you need to ask them.” A publisher with a bad relationship with a certain author can’t simply reach out to ask them for new material. Similarly, an author with a bad relationship with their editor or publisher can’t just ask to move forward with a new project. So how can authors and publishers maintain great professional relations with one another? Here is shortened list from Forbes that may be helpful:

  • Adjust your mindset. In short, relationship development should be an important part of your week. Whether this means following up on that email from six months ago or returning a phone call you would rather ignore, you should do it. Start making it a point to talk to people you work with. Colleagues, friends of friends, etc. Have genuine conversations with them, and you might be surprised how they can help you develop in your career.
  • Know the power of influence. After you expand the circle you talk to professionally, you will begin to notice how these relationships change you. You might be more confident in the workplace or have more connections that benefit you than you did before. This is good! Maybe this will help you find a mentor or connect you with a better author, editor, or publisher.
  • Utilize social media. This may seem self-evident, but social media is a beast. Professional relationships are usually made through LinkedIn, but even Facebook groups, author Twitter support, and Instagram book promotion can be essential to developing and maintaining relationships. Not only can you connect with new people that can help you, but you can promote your business or book in the process. This allows you to grow in your business while simultaneously growing your network.

The success of an author, editor, or publisher relies heavily upon their social influence, which is why nurturing relationships between them is so important. If a publisher really likes how one author always reviews books for others in their genre, they should be sure to maintain that relationship. Similarly, if an author appreciates how a publisher promotes and sells their book, they should work hard to keep a great working relationship with them. So if you ever find yourself losing touch with your author or publisher, send out a friendly email. Remind them you’re still on their radar. Update them on what you’ve been working on, and maybe even see if they have any new connections for you. Take them out for coffee if you can. You might just be surprised where you can lead each other.

Ooligan Press Statement

Ooligan Press stands in solidarity with the entire PSU community in calling for justice and accountability in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more. Black lives matter.

We commit to doing our own work to better our practices as a publisher to amplify BIPOC voices in a systematic and accountable way. To that end, we commit to acquiring at least 25 percent of our titles from Own Voices writers each year. We will begin this work immediately, knowing that publishing books is a long arc with powerful results.

For the time being, Ooligan Press social media platforms will be used to share BIPOC voices, resources, books, authors, and direct calls to action. We commit to using our platform in this way beyond the current moment, and to amplifying Own Voices wherever possible.