Editing Comics With Oni Press’s Desiree Wilson

In addition to her job as an editor at the Portland-based indie comics publisher Oni Press, Desiree Wilson is also a part of the Book Publishing graduate program at PSU. I recently had the chance to speak with her about her career in comics and what it goes into editing them.

—What is your background in editing? What background do companies look for when hiring comics editors?

I’ve been editing forever, but I sort of slipped into comics editing. When I was in elementary and middle school I figured I wanted to be a writer, and I was always a fan of comics, but like a lot of people I thought it was one of those jobs that wasn’t really a job you were allowed to aspire to. I started out writing novellas and short stories, and doing a lot of collaborative storytelling with friends, which I think helped lay down the foundation I needed for developing stories.

When I started at Portland State, I actually ended up in the comics studies program completely by accident. I needed one writing class to fill out my degree, and I landed in a comics writing class taught by Brian Bendis and David Walker. Through them, I met with a lot of pro comics writers and editors and basically soaked them for all the knowledge they have. I was an editorial Intern with Kelly Sue Deconnick and Matt Fraction, and later I did two stints as an editorial intern at Dark Horse Comics.

I’ve never done hiring, but honestly, with exception of the Big Two (whose ways are mysterious to me), what comics publishers look for is pretty standard, with a little bit of extra knowledge. Since comics are a visual medium, it’s really critical that an editor understand how visual storytelling works. A background in art or film helps, but failing that a really strong familiarity with comics as a medium does wonders. Like any book, comics editors need a keen sense of how to develop a story from that seed of an idea into something whole. Readers don’t see all the work comic editors do from script drafts, just the final work from the team, but sometimes we go through a dozen revisions before we start putting things down.

—Why do comics need editors?

There are a load of micro-reasons that comics need editors, but they all boil down to the same thing in the end. It’s the same as editing anything else: quality, timeliness, and clarity. Like any form of writing or art, it’s hard to see the flaws of something you’ve made without a pair of outside eyes, but I think comics have a way of making that even harder. It’s not just missing a serial comma or using the wrong stylesheet. It’s making sure that not just one person–the writer–knows the story and expresses it well enough that a reader knows what’s going on. All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together almost flawlessly, and if they don’t you will almost always end up confusing someone or losing an emotional beat.

Comics are such a unique medium because there are usually multiple people working on a single title throughout its life, and making sure those pieces come together well is critical to the success of the book. When you edit a regular book, you often get a reasonable amount of downtime with that specific title as you wait for the author to rewrite 100,000 words based on your suggestions, but comics isn’t quite like that. A comics editor carries that book almost constantly: when the script gets turned in, it usually needs minor edits and then it goes to the artist; when the artist turns in pages, they need approvals before it gets colored and lettered; when colors and letters come in, they have to be checked for errors, and colors have to be balanced if they’re over-rendered. There’s logos and covers to deal with, marketing and publicity to discuss, and the ever-present deadlines to enforce.

I’d be lying if I said most of my day wasn’t spent keeping everyone up to date on deadlines and making sure things are processed in a timely manner.

—If possible, could you walk us through the steps you take when editing a 22-24 page serial comic?

This is a hard question, because each of the teams are different. I have a couple books with a single creator, and they really just stick to their workflows. I check in with them weekly, give them deadlines, and the rest is on them to turn in the work on time. If they’re late, the book gets pushed back.

For a monthly book, we have hammered out the script and the entire arc before it goes on the calendar with a release date. I know what each issue is going to be, and the team gets to work. Usually there are at least two or three revisions to each individual script, but sometimes there are none…and sometimes there’s not even a script, just an outline. Some teams finalize the script and work independently, delivering the final files to me to get to the letterer; other teams send me each stage (script, pencils, inks, colors) and I act as the go-between to get the pieces to the next point in the assembly line.

Ideally, I get the first two or three issues of the book in before the release, and the team is allowed to work at a kind of leisurely pace with that lead-up time. The Reality™ is that it rarely works that way. Life happens, work happens, and creators are often working on more than one project, sometimes with multiple publishers. The best I can hope for is the ideal, but there are weeks when I’m actually just hoping to get all the final assets in a couple days before we go to print, and buying our production department brownies to thank them for cranking out the final touches in time.

—What are some unique aspects of editing comics that one might not see elsewhere in the publishing world? How is it different? How is editing a comic different than, say, editing a novel?

The major difference in editing a comic and editing a novel is that the final product often doesn’t have many of your hallmarks. When you read a novel, you can sometimes see the touches of the editor in the way a phrase turns or the way the story flows, but in comics it’s harder to detect. There are so many fingerprints on a comic that usually the editor’s influence gets drowned out by the dialogue and art and vibrancy of colors, and honestly I think that’s how it should be.

One of the neat things about comics is the simultaneity of it all. In novels, you can get a lot of serious downtime (and you can in comics, too, especially in early stages), but once a comics project gets rolling, provided there aren’t problems, you get a lot of processes happening at the same time. I’ll have an artist drawing the interiors of a future issue, a letterer and a colorist working on copies of the same inked pages from the current issue, the writer working on the first script of the next arc…all at the same time. It’s a lot different than sending a DE pass to an author and waiting a month or two to get it back.

An Interview with Connie King Leonard

Connie King Leonard is the author of Sleeping in My Jeans, a YA novel about a teen girl who has to live out of her car with her mother and young sister. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Connie to discuss what inspired her to write a book about being homeless, what message she hopes it will send, and the unique protagonist at the center of it all—Mattie Rollins.
How did you find Ooligan Press?
I saw an announcement in a Willamette Writers newsletter from Ooligan Press and went to the website. Ooligan was looking for work set in the Northwest dealing with a marginalized population, and I felt Sleeping in My Jeans fit that criteria. I checked with writer friends and found Ooligan had a good reputation as a reputable publishing press.
Your novel is fiction, but it rings true. Do you think it represents real stories of women and girls on the streets?
I do. Women and children are sometimes victims of domestic violence, which puts them in a vulnerable position—particularly if they don’t have the resources to afford to live on their own.
But abuse isn’t the only reason women end up in the street. The loss of a job, a major medical expense, and countless other catastrophes can destroy their ability to meet basic housing expenses. Even families with two adults working full time find themselves with financial problems.
What inspired you to write Sleeping in My Jeans?
I set the story in Eugene because I could visualize Rita parking Ruby in different areas of town, and I thought the best place she could leave Mattie and Meg after school was the city library.
The story was inspired by a sixth grade student I had in science class. Teaching kids to come prepared for class was one of our school goals. That meant bringing your binder, book, and pencil. I checked every day to make sure my students had what they needed.
One boy, I’ll call him Johnny, was a good kid and worked hard in my class, but mid-year he quit bringing his science book. I’d remind him and he would nod that he understood. One day, I said, “Johnny, I want you to go home tonight and look through your room for that science book.”
Johnny whipped his head around and said, “There are five of us living in a camper on the back of a pick-up. My science book is not there.”
Students in middle and high school do not always share the hardships and problems in their lives like elementary students. Even when teachers ask kids if they are okay or need help, older kids don’t open up like little ones. Johnny’s outburst was a shock. I was sick, disgusted with myself for not being in tune with my students.
I got Johnny another science book, but I have never forgotten him, because he taught me a huge lesson. The farm where I grew up in North Dakota was small and poor, but I always had a roof over my head and food on the table. I was privileged.
Why did you choose to write Mattie as biracial?
I am glad to see more wonderful stories being published about kids of color, which is great, but I still don’t see many about biracial kids. From my first idea for this novel, I pictured Mattie as strong, brave, and biracial and couldn’t think of her any other way.
What do you hope your book will achieve?
I want kids to know they are not alone in their struggles, whatever those hardships may be. In Mattie’s case, she has a small and beautiful family, but she lives in extreme hardship. Other kids problems are different, yet sometimes they feel like they are the only kid in school that doesn’t have a perfect life. Mattie is strong and resilient, and I hope kids learn from her determination to strive for a better life.
I also want people to be aware of the lack of affordable housing and know that not everyone goes home to a warm house or even a small apartment. Some of the students in their school may be living in a car, camped in a tent, couchsurfing between family and friends, or living in a shelter.
I hope my readers will enjoy Sleeping in My Jeans and will care about Mattie and her family as much as I do.
Do you have any suggestions for how to get involved with aiding homeless and domestic abuse survivors?
My biggest suggestion is to be aware that the person sleeping in a doorway is a human being. He/she may have serious issues that you and I can not help with, but that person deserves our compassion.
Many people now use the term “houseless” instead of “homeless”, because the new term recognizes that the tent on the side of the freeway or the beat-up minivan parked on a back street is someone’s home. I am training myself to switch terminology.
Lastly and maybe most importantly, we need to fund affordable housing as well as shelters for victims of domestic violence, teen runaways, families in need, veterans, and people with addictions and mental illness. It is a huge task, but one that is being tackled by some great organizations. St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene is doing an amazing job of providing housing options for people in all sorts of circumstances. Food for Lane County and the Oregon Food Bank are two other organizations that provide immense help to so many people in our state.
A portion of the sales of Sleeping in My Jeans will be donated to St. Vincent de Paul for the building of a youth house for houseless teens.

Tin House Editor Tony Perez on the Editorial Process

Tony Perez, acquiring editor at Tin House, talks through his editorial process: from first acquiring a manuscript, to developing, editing, and eventually publishing it. Perez touches on the hardest parts of the editorial process, the not-so-glamorous takes of an editor—negotiating his daily tasks and tight deadlines, the late night panicked emails, and the back and forth. He likens it to putting out a series of small fires. But he also explains the moments that make it worth it, from his team at Tin House and his relationships with writers, to obtaining the right manuscript and seeing its potential realized.

What is your role at Tin House? What are the details of your position within Tin House?

Being that we are such a small company, everybody wears a lot of hats here. Generally, I’m an acquiring editor, one of two right now. My job is to read submissions (needle in a haystack) and find the ones we want to publish. At that point, it’s a matter of what we want once we acquire a book—going back and forth with a writer until the book is in the kind of shape we’d be proud to publish—then sort of hold their hand through the publishing process until it’s ready to go. That means working with the marketing team and working with the art department on the cover to position the book in the world.

How did you get into editing at Tin House?

I fell in love with short stories first and then literary magazines. That’s what attracted me to Tin House. I interned with the magazine first, and that’s when the book division was starting. When I finished my magazine internship, I interned for the book division back when there were only two employees. I carved out a space for myself doing fact-checking and proofreading. As they expanded, they needed another person, so I got hired on as an assistant editor. We were so new that it was a great and odd situation to be in.

Is working in editing and publishing something you’ve always wanted to do?

In college I studied literature and journalism, and I did an undergraduate creative writing program called The Kid Tutorial at the University of Oregon. I knew I wanted to work with books somehow. I had some aspirations to be a writer—a pretty lazy one.

There was a time when I thought I’d go to grad school, but the more I did this, the more I thought it was a good vocation for me.

What would a day in the office look like for you?

It really varies day to day, which is something I really like about the job. There was a time when a lot of my day was spent reading; unfortunately, nowadays it seems like I have less time for that in the office and it ends up getting done at home. I usually come in and spend time answering emails for the first couple of hours, and then it depends on what kind of project I’m working on at the moment.

It’s really all a matter of spinning plates. I usually try to carve out a couple of hours each day doing the developmental editing of whatever project I’m working on at the time, and then fitting writing copy, developing a big mouth list, or writing letters to potential blurbers. Hopefully, I can squeeze in some time to read submissions. It’s good if I can break the day up in blocks and get focused time for each of those activities instead of scrambling back and forth between them.

What’s your editorial process like, from acquiring a manuscript all the way to the finished, publishable form?

When we’re acquiring, I like to have a blunt conversation with the agent and author about what I think needs to happen, so by the time we jump in it’s not surprising to them when I send notes and marked up manuscripts.

The first step is the bigger, broader stroke edits—moving pieces around, looking at the structure, looking at various plot lines, characters and their motivations. It usually starts with a four to five page letter outlining what I think needs to happen. I take a crack at that before I’m operating on the line level.

Usually, I’ll send them those notes and they send me a revision. From there, we start going back and forth on line edits, depending on if I think the changes they made are satisfactory. There’s always some give and take. You pull one thread and another comes loose. It takes an average of four passes before the manuscript is ready for the copy editor, sometimes fewer, sometimes far more.

Once I’ve gone through the developmental edits and line edits, we hand it off to someone with a fresh set of eyes—a stable of copyeditors that we use. They go through and mark it up, and I look over those edits to see if I agree before I send it to the author.

Then we lay it out. The art department takes a crack at it and we hand it off to another freelancer, a proofreader. That’s when it comes down to the real nitty gritty—typos that are left, weird formatting, bad breaks, orphans, widows—the kinds of things that readers aren’t paying attention to but can throw them off while reading. At that point we already printed galleys (the non-proofread versions are what we send out as galleys). Then it’s a lot of fine tuning.

There’s usually about six months from galleys to when final books are ready, and because writers and editors are finicky, neurotic people, there are always moments when you wake up in the middle of the night, panicked, thinking ‘No, that sentence should read this way!’

It’s a lot of back and forth and second guessing until I finally rip the manuscript out of their hands, or Nanci and Sabrina [marketing and publicity] rip the manuscript out of my hands. Then we send it off to the printer.

I wanted to ask a little bit more about your acquiring process, if you read the manuscript and find one that fits Tin House and speaks to you, is there anyone you answer to, or anyone you ask ‘do you agree with this?’

Because we’re so small and operate as a team on everything, if I love something and I can’t get Nanci, Masie, Sabrina, Diane, and Jakob on board, chances are it’s not going to do well for us. Our business model is infectious enthusiasm. I have to be able to advocate for it in a way that makes sense to them. They have to be able to see the vision for it. I’m lucky to work with open-minded people that generally trust each other, and so while they don’t have to technically sign off on anything, I would never feel good about publishing a book if they don’t agree with it.

What’s your approach to giving constructive feedback to a writer?

It’s more just reading what the author needs. Some writers really appreciate blunt feedback and want to know what works and what doesn’t work, and sometimes it takes better bedside manners, which I think I have. I’ve certainly made the wrong call before, especially with the kind of work we publish; it’s very personal and intimate. There’s a bit of hand-holding that has to happen, but for the most part I’ve been really lucky with the people I work with. If you’re engaging with them and talking about what’s interesting about their work, what’s working, and why you think it’s working, then in my experience most authors are willing to hear feedback. Oftentimes when I point out a place that I don’t think is working and make a suggestion, it doesn’t matter to me if they take my suggestion or not—if they find their own way, then great. It needn’t be whatever I came up with.

Going back to trying to negotiate your day with some developmental editing, copywriting, and all the facets of editorial work, how do you personally balance the workload?

I’d say not particularly well. It’s easy to jump right into whatever seems the most urgent and fun at the moment, or whoever is breathing down your neck hardest, but I basically make a list at the beginning of the day of what my priorities are and try to work my way through it. It rarely happens that I get everything crossed off. A lot of the time it feels like putting out whatever fires need to be put out, which is difficult when the kind of editing that I’m interested in doing takes real focus and engagement with the text. When I get to that part of the job, I do really need to turn everything else off, which can be a challenge. I shut the door, turn off the computer, sit at my non-computer desk, and try to block everything else out.

What’s one of your most memorable moments as an editor?

There’s lot of small and exciting moments—like the first time our books were in The New York Times
or nominated for an award—but I remember reading Marlene van Niekerk’s manuscript and feeling like it was a masterpiece, like it was the kind of book that I should have studied in school. I thought, ‘this is an important writer.’

Is there anything that has surprised you about editing?

The fun part is being surprised manuscript to manuscript. I’m surprised by my capacity to be surprised by new writing; when it clicks and your mind starts to reel, it definitely makes it fun and worth it again. It tends to come in dark moments when you think you can’t take anymore.

Is there any advice you’d like to give others interested in entering the publishing field?

Being in the industry, the people that I know and respect are voracious readers, interested and curious about the world. They have a diversity of interests and are well-read in the classics and contemporary works.

Read diverse, international literature and translations and try to get a real sense of everything that’s going on in the literary world and the world at large.

As far as how to get a job, internships are good. I know that not everyone can afford to do it; I still think this industry is classist in that way.

Interview: Hagen Verleger on Book Design and Project Suhrkamp

“The cover of my Book of Scotlands (2009) is emblazoned with the motto: ‘Every lie creates a parallel world. The world in which it is true.’ One day, searching for Suhrkamp covers (I love the didactic restraint of their postwar design), I stumbled on just such a productive lie: graphic designer Hagen Verleger’s ‘Project Suhrkamp,’ in which he imagines a series of fresh covers for the revered publishing house. Like all the best design, Verleger’s work—systematic and yet sensual, austere but playful—proposes an alternative world in which things could be radically better, and asks us to imagine the conditions under which his lie might become truth.”
This is how Nicholas Currie (also known as Momus), writing in Frieze, introduces Hagen Verleger’s “Project Suhrkamp,” a personal project in which the book designer reimagines the cover designs for a number of book series published by the German publishers Suhrkamp and Insel. Verleger’s alternate Suhrkamp rejects the use of images on book covers and finds other means by which to make books compelling and beautiful. I interviewed Verleger to better understand the design thinking that went into Project Suhrkamp.
Kento Ikeda: What inspired Project Suhrkamp?
Hagen Verleger: Sometime in 2004, Suhrkamp, a major German publishing house, changed (or rather: completely abolished) some of their then-legendary book cover designs, many of which were originated by Willy Fleckhaus during the 1960s and 70s when Siegfried Unseld was Suhrkamp’s publisher. The way that these redesigns came about and were received (poorly, that is) inspired “Project Suhrkamp”—which essentially is my own take on the idea of a redesign of Suhrkamp’s book series. In my spare time, I started with a new approach for “suhrkamp taschenbuch” and by the time that was finished, I had already been thinking about which series to do next. My aim was to show that it is indeed possible to create something new that sets itself apart from its competitors while at the same time carefully acknowledging the past. And of course, the whole project is also not to be taken too seriously, but rather with a wink. At the end of the day, one can say, it’s both a critique of what could be called “profit-driven paradigms in contemporary commercial book cover design” and an exercise in design itself.

KI: What made you choose Suhrkamp and Insel for this project?
HV: I chose Suhrkamp (founded 1950) and Insel (founded 1901) for the above-mentioned reason: the redesign processes they went through. Apart from that they are two of my favourite publishers (at least when looking at non-independent, commercial ones). Suhrkamp is known for focusing on 20th century German literature, foreign language literature, and humanities. Many of their titles are considered standard academic reading, and the way that Suhrkamp has shaped German post-WWII intellectual life has even been referred to as “Suhrkamp-Kultur” (Suhrkamp culture). (Interestingly, some time after the launch of “Project Suhrkamp,” I was lucky enough to work on some actual Insel-Bücherei covers via another design studio that I used to collaborate with every now and then. Unrelated to the project, but a funny coincidence nonetheless.)
KI: Could you say something about the work of Willy Fleckhaus and Rolf Staudt for those (like myself) who are not very familiar with their work?
HV: Wilhelm August “Willy” Fleckhaus (1925–1983) was a German designer, journalist, and teacher (at the art academies in Essen and Wuppertal), active mainly in the field of book and editorial design. He is often referred to as one of the most influential German graphic designers during the period of 1950 through 1983. Fleckhaus is especially known for his work—together with Heinz Edelmann (1934–2009)—on the seminal youth magazine twen (published between 1959 and 1971) as well as for his designs for some of Suhrkamp’s most iconic books series—”Bibliothek Suhrkamp” (1959), “edition suhrkamp” (1963), and “suhrkamp taschenbuch” (1972)—as well as the paperback range of Insel Verlag (1972, redesigned in 2011). It was not until 2004 that Suhrkamp, sadly, decided to change the cover design and typography of both “edition suhrkamp” and “suhrkamp taschenbuch.” Rolf Staudt, on the other hand, was head of production editing at Suhrkamp (1967–2001) and Insel, and closely worked together with Fleckhaus.
KI: What do you think is lost in the “profit-driven paradigms” of book cover design?
HV: Often (not always) there is a side effect to streamlining and rationalization: arbitrariness. When cover design is dictated by the finance and marketing department, there is only so much that art directors, book designers, and production editors can do. There seems to be no time for thinking and contemplation anymore.
What comes to mind also is the primacy of (often rather random stock) images—as if people don’t trust a purely (typo-)graphical design solution to work anymore.

KI: The Project Suhrkamp cover designs don’t use imagery, and instead use “content-related colour schemes and patterns, or even with the book’s actual first page of text set on the cover.” Could you give some examples of how you chose colors or patterns for specific titles?
HV: For the series “Insel Taschenbuch Liebesgedichte” (above) for example, which are collections of love poems by various authors, I abolished the author portraits and instead introduced a series of very simple patterns—which are borrowed from traditional ways of weaving (twill bindings) and metaphoricially show the intertwining (i.e. interweaving) of two individuals/lovers.

Another example would be the series “suhrkamp taschenbuch” (above): Here, for instance, the type size of the author’s name and the book’s title (both foil-stamped onto a rough, natural linen cloth) are defined by the length of the longest line—which in turn defines the height of the text that starts on the covers already and leads inside the book. These covers are thus content-related insofar as their layout is determined by the actual length of their titles and author names.

KI: What was your design thinking when it came to typography? Was the typography similarly related to content?
HV: As for the typography (in terms of choice of typefaces), my aim was to establish a tie to the above-mentioned designs by Fleckhaus—as the whole project is also a reverence to his work—and to use typefaces traditionally associated with the publisher, such as a specific Garamond variant (as seen in my versions of “Basisbibliothek,” “Basisbiographien” (above), and “Studienbibliothek” (below) for example).

KI: Some of the pictures in the gallery show the books at a size and angle where the texture of the book covers becomes a focus of the picture. What role did texture and material have in this project?
HV: Materiality plays a crucial role in my opinion, because a book is not simply a text (or a somewhat random form of neutral content), but an actual object, an artifact that is explored not only with the eyes, but with almost all senses really (except for tasting maybe): we hear the sound of the pages as we turn them, we feel the different qualities of papers, the weight, and then there is, of course, the smell. There are many decisions to be made, material-wise: Does this book or this series need a rough uncolored cloth, a glossy cardboard, or a subtly embossed textile-like paper?

KI: The gallery includes images of book covers on tablets. What was the thinking behind the inclusion of ebooks in this project, and did ebook cover design require any special consideration?
HV: For “edition suhrkamp digital” (above), a relatively new series with (from a design perspective) rather questionable covers, I decided to translate key elements of the original print series (think centered typography and horizontal lines for structure, as in “edition suhrkamp”) but then add functionalities to it that honour the digital format, such as elastic/fluid layouts and responsiveness, or a night mode with inverted colors for reading in dark spaces (below).

KI: What advice would you give to students studying book design?
HV: Whenever I’m asked something like this I usually reply with what one of my professors once told me: Be like a sponge, absorb everything. As simple as that sounds, it is really wise in a way. Also, read a lot; study completely different things; collaborate; make the books you wish to see in the world.

Hagen Verleger is an independent Berlin-based graphic designer, editor, and researcher working mainly for artists, cultural institutions, and publishing houses. His main focus is on book design, typography, and editorial design. In addition to client work, his self-initiated design and research work centers around topics such as authorship in design, metaphors of the human memory (especially the palimpsest), and ephemeral typography. Hagen is founder and editor of the publication series “A Magazine About.” He is currently a guest researcher at the Dutch postgraduate institute Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, The Netherlands, and is working on a PhD project in the fields of philosophy and media studies.

Perfect Pitch

The Write to Publish conference on February 4 will feature the opportunity for first-time as well as experienced authors to pitch their books to professionals in the field for the third time in a row. Potential authors will have five minutes to convey their concept and two minutes to get advice from real-life publishers and agents. Experienced pitch participant Joe Biel, founder and co-owner of Microcosm Publishing, will be with us again receiving pitches and advising authors. Based on his experience as a publisher—Microcosm receives one book proposal each day—as well as last year’s pitch event, Joe has advice for authors gearing up for the pitch.

The most important element of a successful pitch is to succinctly explain the concept of the book. This is high-level thinking that shows the benefits and emotional payoff of reading the book for the agent, publisher, and reader. It is not about the beautiful sentence structure that took years to realize. So if you’re tempted to say “but if you just read it you’ll understand,” then work harder at articulating the overall concept. You have five minutes for the pitch. It’s the merit of your concept that indicates a strong book, and that should take a few seconds.

Make your pitch to a publishing professional who works in your genre. For example, Microcosm Publishing is interested in nonfiction that empowers readers to change their lives and their worlds. If your book is a fantasy, mystery, or children’s book, find the pitch publisher closest to your work. While publishers and agents are often interested in a broad range of topics, you’ll get the best results from someone who works with your subject.

Next, do your homework on comparables. Know the bookshelf your book will sit on and understand that your book has a literary context. The publisher or agent you talk with will be an expert in the genre and is listening to hear that you know how your book relates to the field. At the same time, do enough research to have clarity on the unique aspects of your book. No publisher wants to publish the exact same book twice. Position your work with at least three comparables that demonstrate you know both the commonality and uniqueness of your work within the field.

Finally, publishers don’t expect the book to be perfect. Authors, especially first-time authors, need to understand there is no such thing as a finished book. Developmental editing will happen, the title will be worked and reworked, and the cover art will be carefully considered. It’s normal for your book to be a work in progress and for you to make mistakes. Approach the pitch as you would a conversation with your publisher. Take a deep breath, leave behind your nervousness, and expect a thought-provoking dialogue on both strengths and weaknesses of your book.

Ooligan Press is grateful to Joe and the publishing professionals who take time to participate in the pitch to a professional session at the Write to Publish conference. Following Joe’s advice will give you and your book the best possible session: the perfect pitch is focused on communicating the heart of your book. Remember the love and excitement of your biggest concept and let that be the center of the pitch.

Interview with Brian K. Friesen

Recently, I was honored to conduct an interview with Brian K. Friesen, one of Ooligan Press’s newest authors, about his experience editing his manuscript with Team Rivers. Editing is one of the most intimidating and misunderstood areas of the publishing industry for aspiring writers, and Brian was happy to help demystify the process for those who are apprehensive or curious. His book, At the Waterline, will be available in stores in May 2017.

Hilary: Did you add any scenes to the novel during the editing phase that you ended up loving?

Brian: There are many scenes that only exist because Ooligan editors pushed me to keep exploring more, keep developing characters more, and keep being alert to underlying motivations in every interaction, in every scene.

One of my favorite added scenes is the final one in the novel. After it was written and then edited a couple dozen times, I thought it was a good possibility for the end of a section late in the book, but I still wasn’t ready to settle on one thing for the ending if something else might present itself. I kept drafting various possible endings just to make sure. I liked a lot of what I came up with, but it was opening up too many new details when the novel was already done. Cobi, one of Ooligan Press’s project managers, helped convince me that the ending was already there. So I polished it up and now that final, inevitable sentence lands just right and brings the reader right back to the beginning again. The journey of two of the main characters culminates in that final line. It comes full circle. Without somebody else’s perspective, I think I would have missed it.

There are too many new scenes to count, really. I love one toward the middle of the manuscript that introduces a young woman, Emma, in a surprising moment with a character I thought already made his grand exit from the book. But there he was showing up to speak like a proverbial Greek chorus, ushering in a shift in the narrative. It came out of left field, and it is brief yet intimate and revealing. It came very late in the editing process, and it is one of the most poignant and purposeful scenes in the whole novel for me.

To offer a little perspective, I recently did a file comparison between the final document of the manuscript and the version I first submitted to Ooligan. After all of the content we cut and all the parts we added, I noticed that roughly two-thirds of this final version is completely new content. That’s pretty amazing to me. The themes and characters are the same, but they are much more thoroughly realized.

Hilary: Did any minor characters become more important, or did any major characters become less important?

Brian: Two minor female characters ended up becoming much richer, more complex, and essential. My original draft definitely would have failed the Mako Mori test. Emma was significant only in relation to the main male character. She was a romantic reward for him after he grew the hell up. I was encouraged with each new draft to find out more about her. She now inhabits the second half of the novel as a fully realized character with a journey of her own.

Hilary: What do you feel like you have grown most on as an author?

Brian: I’ve definitely grown in my ability to accept input from others with my writing. I had no idea how inspiring the influence of other voices could be. I’m better able to trust in the instincts of readers and editors, and I have other minds to thank for pushing me to develop characters and scenes that I wouldn’t have otherwise. This may seem like pandering or preaching to the publishing choir, but I really mean it.

The largest takeaway for me is a broader understanding of editing: there are different pairs of editing glasses to wear at different stages of a writing project. I am prone to editing mostly at the sentence level and get really hung up with inner criticism. Turning off the editing mind to consciously develop or explore is often very difficult. Those editing muscles are working hard to reveal what needs improvement and what is falling flat. Some people might be able to edit as they go and are very lucid and flexible in that way. I have moments like that, but learning to be free is not a straightforward thing. You are never going to remove all the psychological and physical and economic obstacles in your path. And if you did, you might not have anything interesting to write about, anyway.

I found it liberating to place myself in the hands of the editors and readers at Ooligan Press, giving myself permission to compose new content, develop existing content, and adjust the tone of a section, knowing that a team of thoughtful, discerning editors was there to take at least some of the critical burden. They were a support rather than an obstacle or a threat. It ended up being a formative experience for me and essential to the novel. Most things are better in the context of a community. It turns out that this book is definitely one of them.

Hilary: What was the greatest challenge you faced?

Brian: The choice to turn to the writing for ten minutes here and there while also being prepared for interruptions from the people I love sometimes makes a creative existence seem impossible. It is one thing to prioritize responsibilities in your life in an abstract way, but to live them is quite another. It is not easy to be emotionally available as a husband, father, brother, and employee. There is so much to be attentive to, and I am not very good at being intellectually and emotionally present all the time. I couldn’t always spend as much time with the manuscript as I would have liked, since I try to avoid neglecting the people I love over work. My day job suffered at times, and that’s not good. It’s such a privilege to have a full-time job.

I might say that the greatest challenge during the development of this novel was good old-fashioned physical weariness. Maybe that’s not a very interesting answer. It’s like if someone asks what the hardest part of being in a marathon is and you say, “The hardest part was all the running, when I would rather lie down and go to sleep instead.” I did fall asleep a lot while writing late at night. I’d get to the end of the day and it was already late, but there was more writing to do, so I’d just stay conscious and write until I wasn’t conscious anymore. I would jerk back awake and read what I had written in a semi-unconscious state and marvel at the turns of phrase. I should start keeping a list of those sentences, now that I think of it. Or maybe I should get more sleep. That’s an unhealthy way to end the day, and I recommend it to no one. It’s less dangerous if you are writing on the couch or propped up in bed rather than sitting at a desk. That way you don’t have as far to fall. Oh, that’s terrible. Maybe you should edit out this part of the interview. Instead, just have me say, “There weren’t any challenges. I only write when I’m feeling inspired.”

Hilary: Do you have any funny stories from the time you spent working with your editors on the manuscript?

Brian: There was some back and forth about a scene where two characters meet, and I got stuck wanting the introduction to play out in a way that I thought was funny and playful. It was essentially the trope from bad romantic comedies in which the clumsy, lovestruck guy meets the girl and makes a buffoon of himself, only my scene was having the opposite effect on the readers. It’s funny to me now. I dialed back on the young man’s self-conscious, creepy interactions with the girl and turned the manuscript in again and heard back that pretty much everyone on the editing team disliked the main character in that scene. So I dialed back more and resubmitted it. “No, we still hate him,” was essentially the answer. I’m glad that they persisted. It’s a much better section now, and there’s more depth to the humor now that the section is not trying so hard to be funny.

Hilary: Which part of the novel are you most proud of now that it’s finished?

Brian: There is a section I really like that takes place around Thanksgiving. A couple of stories are woven together in that section in satisfying ways. There are two Thanksgiving meals happening at the same time, and I love how they work back and forth to capture how a holiday can play out in spite of everyone’s best intentions. There is that unique kind of intimacy and vulnerability around the holidays. In that section in the book, a handful of characters come to a potentially devastating crisis point. It had to get worse for them before it could get better. I really felt that section captured the crux where longing and disappointment could drive the narrative forward.

Hilary: If you were to start a new novel today, what would you approach differently after this experience, if anything?

Brian: I’m glad for this question, because I’m working on another novel and I’m already finding myself digging some of the same pits that I fell into the last time around, so it’s a good time to regroup and consider the possible answers to that question. I’m playing around with lots of characters who have their own stories, and I can see that I am putting off some structural commitments. I’m also treating first drafts too much like late drafts. Too much messing with the rhythm of sentences and choosing specific, significant words when I don’t even know who the characters are or what makes them tick. I’m going to throw most of this work away before I figure out what this next novel really needs from me. I’d like to limit the amount of time I spend obsessing over every single sentence every single day. It’s so easy to get lost in the weeds and mistake that for doing the important, careful work of an artist. I’d like to be able to relax my critical standards a little more at first and pace myself knowing that first drafts don’t have to be polished at the sentence level. I know large chunks can be dropped altogether, and that’s harder to do if you’ve brought all your creative and critical faculties to bear on first drafts. If you are working with clay, you are going to have to be willing to throw away those first few ashtrays and warped bowls. Anne Lamott said it much better in Bird by Bird: “You have to give yourself permission to write those ‘shitty first drafts.'”

Going forward, I would also like to be more conscious of the bigger picture and purposefully set aside time to consider the work as a whole. That might look like sketching rough outlines and adjusting as I go, throwing out the ones that aren’t working, or moving index cards around on a big piece of carpet. I’ve got a long way to go. No doubt I’ll do things the hard way!

Hilary: Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring authors now that you’re almost published?

Brian: Run away! Take up photography instead! Watch Breaking Bad again! Find out if you are really just interested in consuming entertainment rather than producing it. There are plenty of great TV shows to consume out there, and they keep coming, don’t they? When will they make the last good TV show and be done with making things that I don’t have time to enjoy? And now there’s a series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m eager to see it, but I’m even more interested in hearing anything and everything that Atwood has to say about it.

I’m only partly kidding about running away. The biggest thing I would say to aspiring writers is that writing is hard work. You can’t sustain the fantasy that it should somehow be otherwise for you because you are more special or more committed than other aspiring writers. At times it can be a thrill and it feels more like play, but we are easily deceived by whatever pleasures or rewards writing can offer. Exhilarating work is still work. Is it work, or is it play? And the answer is yes. Does it sometimes feel like it comes easily or naturally? Yes. But did it really come easily? No. Writing doesn’t offer the rhythmic endorphin hit you get scrolling down the screen clicking on memes. Are you up for the work it is going to take to become successful as a writer? It is going to be harder than you think. You are submitting to a process that you can’t fully control. There is more control if you self-publish, but even that is going to introduce hard work. Probably harder than you think. If my next novel can’t find a home, I’ll self-publish it in some capacity and then move on to the next project.

Another thing that comes to mind is the particular environment you are trying to learn and grow in. I’m finding my new work being nearly smothered by this post-2016 landscape in America. If defiance toward the powers that be helps get you motivated, great. Write something beautiful as an act of resistance. Make sense of who you are and what you have to say by writing. It’s going to be hard in the coming years to even hear yourself talk as an artist in America. Gravity is pulling people toward—or against—self-preservation. Words like peace, safety, and empathy are becoming politicized. Some things that need to be said take longer than anyone has time for.

As far as becoming a writer goes, Mark Twain’s advice to someone who asked if they were a gifted writer was to go write for five years, and then they would be closer to an answer. I wrote for more like thirteen years before getting a novel-length work published, though I wasn’t writing that whole time. So waiting a set period of time for an answer to whether you are going to be a talented writer or not is a bit dubious. Of course, Mark Twain was winking at us, as he often does. The truth is that there is no answer. There is only the work that is in front of you to do or not do.

An Interview with Zach Dodson

Zach Dodson is an author, illustrator, book designer, and professor who cofounded Featherproof Books in Chicago in 2005. His book Bats of the Republic is an illuminated novel published by Doubleday in 2015. He is now a professor at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, where he teaches hybrid storytelling and leads the master’s program in visual narrative.

What value can a publisher (especially a small publisher) add to warrant somebody going through the traditional publishing process rather than self-publishing?

It depends on the small publisher and on the book and on the author. It also depends on your goal in putting out a book. What’s the measure of success? For some writers, the measure of success is, “I did it. I wrote a book.” For others, it’s, “I wrote a book I can hand to my friends and family” or “I wrote a book, and it’s on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.” And for some, it’s, “I wrote a book and it’s in the New York Times Book Review.” The measure of success should always be taken into account.

With Featherproof, we have a built-in audience—people who follow us as a press, as a brand. We’re willing to do the PR and marketing stuff. We were lucky enough to get distribution, so that’s something else that we brought to authors. After a number of years of establishing ourselves, I feel like we became a bit of a farm league. A few editors in New York watch Featherproof, and our authors—Amelia Gray, Blake Butler, Lindsay Hunter—have gone on to sign contracts with the big publishers.

How did you create the brand that was Featherproof?

We were young, and we had a lot of energy. We had no connections to New York or the publishing industry, and all our friends were in punk rock. So we were like, “Why can’t we do a record label, but for our books?” So we did it, knowing nothing about it, and we made many mistakes over the years and slowly figured things out.

I think design helped in terms of making the brand. And 2004 was also an earlier day for the internet, but we weren’t shy about having a big presence there, when that wasn’t such a ubiquitous thing. We also toured the country with vans multiple times and did all sorts of public events and public readings in Chicago.

Arts journalism has been hard hit in recent years, especially with respect to newspapers. Has this been a problem for you in terms of how you get books out into the world?

I don’t think, especially at first, we were ever worried about coverage in the major, standard outlets for arts media. Of course, it seems distressing that the number of those outlets is shrinking, but I think more and more people are caring about books, talking about books, writing about books, and sharing books. It just happens in different ways.

Bats of the Republic got a good review in the Washington Post, and I don’t think there was much of a jump of action around that. But then it was in the Morning News Tournament of Books, and it had a huge jump.

I think that 82 percent of the time, the reason somebody reads a book is because somebody they know says, “You should read this book.” It takes years for that kind of word of mouth to actually work. It’s disheartening in a way, because there’s no way to force that to happen. But it’s heartening in a way, because it means that the one thing you can do is write a really good book—a book that’s good enough that somebody will read it, and at the end, turn to somebody else and say, “You have to read this one.” So I think it’s empowering; the best marketing you can do is write a good book.

To read a longer version of this conversation, please visit StephanieArgy.com.

Interview with Tin House Publicity Manager Sabrina Wise

Sabrina Wise, publicity manager at Tin House, explains how her work is similar to “literary matchmaking,” connecting the right book to the appropriate audience. Her days consist of crafting pitches, communicating with her in-house team, and searching for a potential audience to help authors build their platform. For anyone who has ever wondered about the publicity side of book publishing, read on to better understand the inner workings of her position.

What are the details of your position within the company? What does publicity work entail?

I’m the publicity manager at Tin House, which means I get to talk about books for a living. It’s my job to pitch digital media, print media, and radio; secure reviews; plan book events; and help our authors build their platforms—whether through interviews, personal essays, or making the most of social media. I collaborate and coordinate with our wonderful sales and marketing director, as well as editors and designers. Finally, I’m the point of contact for media personnel and for our authors once the promotional process starts. Often my job feels like literary matchmaking: connecting the right reviewer to the right book, the right interviewer to the right author, and the right bookstore to the right event.

At the core of everything is the deepest admiration for our authors. They imagined these books and made them whole, and I want to craft pitches that do them justice. The first step is to spend hours and hours and hours with each book, so as a lifelong reader, I’m pretty darn happy.

What would a day in the office look like for you?

Every day is different. I try to set aside mornings for pitching, since most of the reviewers I’m in contact with are on eastern standard time. Afternoons are for checking in with authors, building mailing lists, drafting press materials, and everything else. Yesterday I sent pitches about Claire Fuller’s new novel Swimming Lessons and Morgan Parker’s poetry collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, researched media contacts for our forthcoming how-to book Grow Your Own, and drafted announcements for our upcoming flash fiction contest centered on Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots. I also made lists. Always, there are lists.

What’s one of your most memorable moments as a publicist at Tin House?

Memorable moments abound, but here’s a favorite from this month. We just celebrated the release of Regina McBride’s Ghost Songs: A Memoir, and media responses have been fantastic so far—it’s an Oprah.com editor’s pick, a Glamour best book of fall, and a Paris Review staff pick. But in all the excitement, nothing’s compared to sharing Regina’s joy over a rave review in her hometown newspaper. For me, it was the most satisfying moment of the whole launch.

What are some of the places you’ve interned at prior to working at Tin House?

During college, I was an editorial intern at McSweeney’s. It’s been so exciting to see where the rest of my McSweeney’s “graduating class” ended up: some of them now work at magazines I pitch to, and we cross email paths just long enough for virtual high fives.

After moving to Portland, I was a publicity intern at Hawthorne Books. I count that internship as the luckiest professional thing that’s happened to me—it was a phenomenal introduction to the literary community in Portland and a crash course in all things book publicity.

How has prior experience prepared you for your position at Tin House?

Working in book publicity at Hawthorne and Pomegranate prepared me pretty directly for what I do now—so did being a reader. But work experience outside publishing has also been useful. Right after graduation, I served with AmeriCorps as a college access coach for high schoolers, and the skills it takes to engage a classroom of twenty students—all of whom learn differently, care about different things, and gaze at you with differing levels of skepticism—are bizarrely similar to the skills I use when pitching a book to twenty different editors. I loved being a cheerleader for my students, and now I get to do the same for my authors.

What’s a myth you’d like to dispel about working in publicity or publishing in general?

Myth: To get a “real job” in publishing, you have to move to New York.

Is New York the national hub for publishing? Yes. Are there more publishing jobs in New York than Portland? Absolutely. But there are fierce, wonderful independent publishers outside the Big Apple, and being part of a smaller publishing community can really have its benefits. In Portland alone, there are more publishers than I can list: Hawthorne, Pomegranate, Ooligan, Forest Avenue, Atelier26, Timber Press, Future Tense, Octopus, Overcup Press, Dark Horse, Perfect Day, Beyond Words, Tin House … it goes on. The out-of-the-box creativity and mutual support here is incredible.

What are some aspects you like about Tin House?

While Tin House publishes known greats like Joy Williams and Charles D’Ambrosio and (next summer!) Margot Livesey, there’s also tremendous support for new voices. Alexis M. Smith published her debut novel with Tin House, and so did Claire Fuller, Pamela Erens, and many others who’ve gone on to powerful writing careers. It’s great to be linked up with Tin House magazine and the writers’ workshops, which bring in a steady stream of exciting new work. And because we’re a small team and publish about eighteen titles a year, we get to obsess over our books.

We also have—objectively—the best tote bags in the business.

Why did you go into publishing? Is working in publicity and publishing something you’ve always wanted to do?

I’ve been a reader and writer for as long as I can remember. Books changed my life (they still do!), and I know I’m not alone. But for a while, I felt torn between my bookish, writerly side and the part of me that likes reaching out and making connections and chattering with other humans. Then, as an intern at McSweeney’s, I learned what book publicists do, and it all came together. I realized I didn’t have to choose sides.

What are your future goals or plans within the publishing world?

I’m really happy at Tin House, so right now my plan is to keep at it and to never take this work for granted. To find creative new modes of storytelling, help authors build their platforms, and tie our books into the conversations that matter.

Is there any advice you’d like to give to students interested in entering the publishing field?

Seek out hands-on experience and be fully present for it. If it’s possible for you to take on an internship, do it! You’ll build the practical skills you need for a job in publishing, you’ll learn by osmosis, and you’ll start building your literary community.

That said, it can feel like you need a very specific background in order to go into publishing—like you need to have grown up surrounded by books and literary conversation and be able to take an unpaid internship as a young adult. If that’s not your situation, the doors aren’t closed to you. It’s never too late to immerse yourself in books, to go to literary events and build friendships in the literary community, and to volunteer with local organizations when you can. Whatever bit of experience you find, pour yourself into it. Showing up—really showing up, with the full force of your energy and creativity—makes all the difference.

How to Create a Peculiar Transmedia World

I caught up with Randall Jahnson recently to talk about the world of transmedia storytelling—or, as it turned out, the peculiar world of transmedia storytelling.
First, a bit about Randall. He’s taught film and new media classes in Portland for several years, including one coming up at the Northwest Film Center in early 2017. A working screenwriter for thirty years, he’s best known for The Doors, The Mask of Zorro, and Tales from the Crypt. His feature script about pop singer Dionne Warwick is slated for production in November. He also wrote the story for the award-winning video game Gun (2005).
So, what is transmedia storytelling? Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture (2006) and Spreadable Media (2013), defines it as “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.”
PW: Okay, Randall, walk me through this.
RJ: One of the things about new media is that it’s participatory-based. People want to participate in your stories. They want to be able to find the forum and discuss it with other people who are into the same stuff. And they may actually want to influence the story’s creators, or simply chime in. They want to be heard. And I think that’s a strategy that you as the creator have to begin with. You have to have that in mind at the very beginning. Let’s say it’s a world that I’m building, as opposed to just a straight narrative. Where are they going to enter the story narrative? We’re looking at a dimensional kind of storyline, and there may be multiple entrances to this story. There’s no beginning and no end. It’s an ongoing thing, and you can enter at any point and join the parade.
PW: So how do you do that?
RJ: You’ve got a lot of tools at your fingertips now, and you can integrate them: animation with live action, with text and still photographs, music—maybe some sort of collage that pulls you in for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s not film and it’s not animation, per se, but it’s engaging. It’s cool. I want to see another one. It doesn’t necessarily advance like a novel.
I look a lot at children’s books. They have definite formats: visually driven, usually highly illustrated, and a little bit of text. Stories are self-contained and immersive. And I think there’s something there in terms of these short little narratives that are fun to venture into, and boom! You’re out. They’re fun little desserts or snacks to have.
PW: Do you think children’s literature transcends children?
RJ: Totally. Some of the best literature around has been children’s books and YA stuff, too, like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011). He’s a guy who went to USC film school, and he made his living for quite a while making trailers for other authors’ books. He finally figured out, “Well, hell. I’m just gonna write my own.” So he started collecting these old photographs at swap meets and flea markets, and he went through boxes and boxes of them and found these really strange, anomalous photographs. Then he contacted other curators and bought some of their photographs, and ultimately he settled on about a dozen of them that, collected together, gave him the notion for Miss Peregrine’s. So the novel was illustrated with those photographs. He made the book trailer, and he did this mini-documentary, or essay, I would call it—it’s a filmic essay about these old mansions in Europe that he visited as research for Miss Peregrine’s. And the camera glides around and it’s creepy and moody and compelling. It makes me want to go back, read the book, and start again.
What’s fascinating to me is that he created this central narrative, but it was spawned by visuals—old photographs which became a novel which became a film which he diverted and created documentaries around and promotional things for. And suddenly it’s a brand. And this is a really interesting use of all the tools. So what is he? Is he a filmmaker? Is he a novelist, an essayist, a documentarian? He’s all these things.
PW: So when you talk about dimensions, it sounds like it’s not just the story that needs them—the storyteller needs them too. At least, if you’re going to build a world.
 
Look for more of my conversation with Randall in a future post. (Portions of this interview have been edited for transmedial clarity.)

Interview with Alumnus Melanie Figueroa

Melanie Figueroa, an Ooligan Press alumnus, explains how the press influenced her career following Portland State’s graduate program. At twenty-four years old, Figueroa moved to Southern California to pursue a job with Quarto Publishing Group, where she learned what it means to be part of a medium-sized press working as an editorial project manager. Figueroa is currently learning to navigate her new job by drawing upon experiences from her time at Ooligan Press. I initially contacted Figueroa for my own curiosity; I wanted to know how Ooligan Press had shaped her future: this is her story.

Why did you go into publishing?

I got into publishing the way I think most people probably do: I love reading. I always have. In high school, I started writing angsty poetry—that’s the only kind of poetry there is for a high school student—and in community college, a professor recommended me for a job as a tutor at the writing center. Writing and reading were things that I naturally gravitated towards, and so for me, I always planned on making a career out of books—even if I wasn’t always sure just how to do that.

Can you tell me more about the publishing company you work for? How did you come across this specific publishing house? What makes this particular publishing company different? What kind of publishing is done here?

I work for Quarto Publishing Group USA, but specifically for their Walter Foster and Walter Foster Jr. imprints. The Quarto Group is what I’d call a medium-sized publisher; they have a total of four offices across the United States—and a whole other team working out of the UK, where they got their start. Across all their imprints, there is quite a range of titles, so I’ll just focus on the imprints that I work for.

Walter Foster publishes instructional art books for adults, while Walter Foster Jr. publishes children’s books and kits that cover a broader range of subjects from art, crafting, history, and more. The books are very accessible and fun, but the real reason I was drawn to them was because they’re not books you simply read and put on a shelf. They’re books that inspire you to create and learn. Some upcoming titles that I’m excited about, for instance, How to Be a Blogger and Vlogger in 10 Easy Lessons or 101 Things to Do Outside, help children use their imaginations, or in the case of the latter, get outdoors.

When Walter Foster was hiring for my position, they had postings up on industry job boards, like Book Jobs. I believe that’s where I first heard of Quarto, though I recognized some of their authors immediately—like Gemma Correll and her Doodling for Cat People.

What are the details of your position within the company? What does editorial work entail?

I got hired on as an editorial project manager, which means that after a title is acquired, I usher it through each stage until it reaches production. Every book is different. Many of Walter Foster’s books start out in-house. An editor sees that there’s a market for something—people are really into crafting right now, for instance—and then decides they want to make a whole book with crafting projects a parent can do with their kids. Generally the editor already has an author, or even multiple authors, in mind at this point. I help contract the author and any freelance illustrators we might need; I make sure everyone’s meeting deadlines. As the text and images start coming in, I edit and tag it for the designers.

My main focus is on our licensed titles, but I also coordinate our children’s titles. Walter Foster has a long-standing relationship with Disney, and we often do books that teach people how to draw different characters. Since these books may require a certain level of confidentiality—if a movie hasn’t been released yet, for instance—I generally write the text for these titles myself rather than contracting out. It’s fun, creative work. I love film, and being able to combine the two is a dream. The licensing aspect of the job involves some networking, more so than other editorial positions. Licensors like Disney have meetings where they reveal upcoming projects and meet with licensees. There’s an expo in Las Vegas every year; you get to meet people and get a feel for whether or not you can work together to create something new.

Can you give me a brief description of how an average day at the publishing house looks?

Most of us start our day by checking emails, reviewing our calendars, and writing a list of tasks that need to be prioritized. There’s usually a meeting to attend, one for editorial, acquisitions, or production. But beyond that, we each have our own areas of focus. I might be copyediting a manuscript or researching and mapping out a new title. We have designers who work in-house, while others deal with our printers or make sure our books are being talked about. Sometimes something timely comes up and you have to put everything else on pause to take care of it. Last week, for instance, I did this to put together some materials our publisher could bring with her to Frankfurt. It’s important to be flexible and manage your time wisely.

How has Ooligan press prepared you for your position at this publishing company?

I wouldn’t have been hired for this position if it weren’t for Ooligan. When the publisher at Walter Foster called and offered me the job, she told me that they were initially looking for someone who had worked in publishing longer—not someone who was fresh out of college. But during the interview process, I convinced her that I knew about the industry and that I could do the work. I credit that to Ooligan’s unique program, for being able to immerse myself in the work at an actual press while attending classes that taught me everything from copyright law to the basics of InDesign. When I was in the program, I was a project manager for Ooligan’s annual Write to Publish conference. I can’t tell you how crucial that experience was for me. It gave me confidence in myself and taught me how to wear many hats.

What are myths you’d like to dispel about working in the editorial department?

I think there’s this myth that people who work in editorial, especially for books, are meek and quiet. Yet so much of an editor’s job requires that person to be able to give critical feedback about a project, or in the case of an acquiring editor, the confidence to pitch an idea and stand behind it. You can’t do that if you’re afraid of your own voice.

Is working in editorial something you’ve always wanted to do, or did you come to that conclusion during graduate school?

Working in editorial is something I’ve always wanted to do. However, I used to think I would only be happy editing fiction. That was before graduate school. People always say, “Do what you’ll love and you’ll never work a day,” and what I loved doing was reading literary fiction. I quickly realized that spending all day editing the books you love reading at night was a surefire way to stop loving them. At least for me, it was.

Was it difficult to obtain work within the editorial department following graduation?

I didn’t find it difficult to land an interview, but I do think it’s really important to be clear about how graduating from a program like Ooligan sets you apart. It’s also important not to rely solely on your experience in the program, to get out there and find internships to supplement all the learning you are doing in class. The most difficult part, I think, is geography. If you’re not living in a publishing hub like New York, then you might have to find other types of work using your editorial skills.

Is there any advice you’d like to give to students interested in entering the publishing field?

Again, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of internships. It’s not just about padding your resume. Portland is such a small place—everyone knows everyone. When I interned at Late Night Library, I met book publicists from publishing houses all over the US. I volunteered at LNL’s booth at AWP in Seattle, and there too, I met so many of the authors who we had helped promote and professionals who work in the industry. These are people I’m still in contact with. Just put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to shake a stranger’s hand—to learn from the people you’ll meet throughout the program. I met Mary Bisbee Beek when I was project managing Write to Publish; she not only helped make that event a success but she was also one of the first people I went to for advice when Quarto called me for an interview. We spent almost an hour on the phone prepping. Where else, besides Ooligan, do you meet someone like that?