Birthing a KidLit Event: The Seattle Children’s Book Festival

Literary festivals have been tourist and economic drivers for decades in communities around the world. As more communities are supporting them, some organizers have found success by focusing on specific audiences, from fans of romance to young adult fiction. This focus can provide an immersive experience for a fan community, as well as an opportunity for publishers and authors to market directly to their target audiences. KidLit, a.k.a. children’s books, is one of the groups to more recently benefit from this focus. For the PNW region, there has been an absence of large events designed for children—they are typically included as tracks in other festivals such as the Portland Book Festival, and children’s book publishers and booksellers rarely take on primary roles.

Asia Citro of Innovation Press and others identified this gap and, given Seattle’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature, leveraged her community roots, company’s success, and social media reach to start the Seattle Children’s Book Festival in September 2019.

Seattle Children’s Book Festival Map

Seattle Children’s Book Festival

As a nonprofit, like most companies behind literary festivals, the SCBF used that status to provide options for attendees to purchase books at wholesale price for donation to low-income schools while attending for free. They also committed to using any profits to purchase additional new books for donation.

Donation Option Signage

The launch of this festival, with volunteers from both the community and local publishing staff, was enormously successful by many measures: over seven thousand attendees, with forty-nine authors signing and four hours of presentations. Held on the playground of an elementary school, the young attendees and their families waited patiently for autographs with a variety of authors including almost a quarter from traditionally underrepresented ethnicities.

Workshop Crowd

Some issues did arise: attendee feedback via Facebook indicated that improving the checkout system to avoid the two-hour wait is critical, as is providing access to local food sources at lunchtime. (Hangry children are not a good idea—for anyone involved!)

Now that they have attendance numbers, that will influence future location selection and food truck participation. However, since initial attendance numbers were unknown, that also kept sponsorship minimal per their post-event debrief on their Facebook page.

The festival organizers seem to have hit the basic checklist that most successful lit event launches have identified for success: VIP authors with name recognition (including Kazu Kibuishi, author of Amulet), local community support (at least twenty sponsors), a centralized location, and community volunteer participation (several volunteers identified themselves as members of the local community, representing publishers, schools, and recreation staff). Authors who participated were pleased about the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, and had positive reflections on their experiences.

Happy Author Liz Wong

Authors? Happy. Attendees? Happy. Hosts? Happy. While the SCBF sadly had to be cancelled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the founders (as well as everyone else who participated and attended) hope it will be back in 2021. After all, everyone loves a successful series!

A Quick Guide to Planning a Writing Conference

I am writing this blog post as a little time capsule that is part instructional guide and part philosophy on communicating and coordinating with people. My hope is that the future managers in charge of the Write to Publish conference will read this and get some useful information.

This blog post will be a little less reflective and a little more reactive, as I am currently still in the thick of planning the 2020 conference, which will take place on January 11 at the Smith Memorial Student Union—less than a month away (how terrifying)!

However, what I want to talk to you about, future managers of Write to Publish, is the way in which you invite speakers to participate in the conference, because I believe that is the most important part of the planning process.

The term “speakers” refers to everyone from the keynote to additional panelists, instructors, moderators, and facilitators—they go by many names and do many things, but the most important thing you need to know is that they are people who are giving you their time, often without any guaranteed benefit for them in return.

If you are planning a conference, it is vital that you take this to heart when communicating with panelists. Take the time to be engaged with speakers and show your appreciation for both their work and the unique individuals that they are.

This begins with your very first email: the pitch. The pitch is your first step—maybe your only step—and it needs to do three things:

  1. Define your vision for the conference. In other words, it should communicate what is so wonderful about your conference. This should be unique every year, but it should align with our main goal: demystifying the publishing industry. This vision should have a broad appeal to your potential speakers so that they can start to see their work aligning with it.
  2. Show how the panelist fits in with your vision. This requires you to research each individual panelist and find something about their work that connects back to your vision for the conference. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off exponentially. It shows that you are engaged with their work and that you are sincere in your invitation.
  3. Invite the panelist to the conference. This is what oftentimes is called “the ask.” Be clear about what you want panelists to do, but also be flexible. Not everyone feels comfortable with speaking on a panel; some speakers may feel more comfortable facilitating a workshop. Allow yourself enough flexibility with your program to accommodate panelists’ interests and abilities.

Now comes the hard part: the time between sending out your pitch and getting a reply. Many anxious thoughts will fill your mind, but you have to ignore them, because at this point you will be sending out so many invites that you will be too busy to be anxious about it! Take comfort in routine: research potential speaker, write invite, send invite, repeat over and over again until you have enough speakers. A comfortable number of invites for a panel is anywhere between five and ten potential speakers. Yes, I have invited ten people to participate in a panel and gotten three replies. That is normal. Don’t panic. Just keep sending invites!

It may take an hour (bless them!), a few days, or even a month, but most people will reply to your initial email. In a few cases you may have to send a follow-up. These follow-up emails should be short and polite and should refer back to your previous email. Never assume that someone intentionally ignored your email or that their lack of reply is a rejection. Many potential speakers are very busy and get a great many emails every day.

A new email pops up in the inbox. It’s a reply! Exciting but also scary. Rejection is not great, and you run the risk of it. Take a deep breath and click that email! If it is a rejection, your reply is simple: a quick thank-you and you are out. If it is an acceptance, your reply should also be a thank-you, but you are in! If the newly confirmed speaker has any questions, feel free to answer them. Always be quick to reply to their email. It shows that you are engaged, invested, and respectful of their time.

The difficult question: “Do you offer an honorarium?”

It is difficult to talk about money in any situation, especially when you don’t have any to offer. At this time, Ooligan does not offer an honorarium for speakers at the Write to Publish conference (a future goal, I hope). Write to Publish is many things—a publishing conference, a networking event, an open house for the graduate program in book publishing—but at its core, it is a fundraising event for Ooligan Press, so our budget is tight. Most speakers will understand this, but for some, this lack of compensation will be a deal breaker. Publishing is a field full of passionate people who also need to get paid; respect that. Just as we don’t have the budget to pay people, speakers don’t always have the budget to attend the conference unless they are being paid. Thank them for their time and consideration and allow them the opportunity to bow out of the conference as gracefully as possible.

A final note: Your sincerity is the most vital asset you have in planning this conference. It is your social capital—the only currency you have to offer people. Caring about the speakers and having their best interests at heart is an essential part of planning this event. Your goal should always be to ensure that everyone involved has a good time and gets the most out of their experience. If you can hold onto this idea amid all the chaos, you will do great work and hold a wonderful conference that I hope to attend.

Best of luck!

Behind the Scenes with Ooligan Press at the Portland Book Festival

The Portland Book Festival, formerly known as Wordstock, is Oregon’s biggest literary event of the year, featuring panels, vendors, speakers, and lots and lots of books. Every November, the day-long event attracts authors and publishers from near and far, and last fall, Ooligan Press was proud to be included yet again. The festival drew its biggest crowd yet, with authors such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Lauren Groff, Tommy Orange, and Emily Suvada, and featured celebs-turned-authors Tom Hanks (who held a baby on stage at the Schnitz!) and Abbi Jacobson of Broad Cityfame.

In preparation for Ooligan’s role at the festival, the publisher’s assistants (myself and co-assistant, Stephanie Anderson) are responsible for finding and training volunteers from our press to oversee our vendor booth. We then work closely with our publisher to make sure all the books and supplies we’ll need are packed and ready. The day before the event, we set up in the Mark Building at the Portland Art Museum, where the vendors are located. Each vendor is given a specific time slot for setting up to streamline the process and keep things from getting hectic. It’s strange to see how empty the second floor ballroom is before the event. It’s a far cry from what it’ll look like the next day, when the room fills up with vendors and festival-goers. This year, we had a prime spot—a corner end cap right across from Powell’s Books massive set-up.

No other literary event in Portland draws as many readers, writers, and publishing professionals as the Portland Book Festival, which is why it’s one of the most important promotional and networking opportunities for Ooligan. It’s a chance to discuss our frontlist and backlist with potential readers while both are on display, and it’s also a great time for selling books. This year, two of our YA authors joined us at the booth to sign books—Meagan Macvie, who wrote the Kirkus-approved The Ocean in My Ears, and Connie King Leonard, whose Sleeping in My Jeans recently pubbed to great acclaim.

Sometimes people who approach our table aren’t always looking to buy a book. Instead, they want to create one, and we’re always happy to provide them information for how to do so. But one of my favorite parts of tabling at the festival is when I get to talk to prospective students interested in the book publishing program and working for Ooligan Press, which, of course, I highly recommend. And it’s always fun to visit with fellow local indie publishers like Overcup Press and Pomegranate.

After a long day of cementing Ooligan’s place within the Portland literary scene, inventory is taken of the remaining books, the cash box is counted, and the books are packed up and loaded onto the pushcart with the help of some amazing volunteers. Unlike setting up, all of the vendors pack up to leave at the same time, so getting out of there isn’t quite as smooth as getting in, and waiting for the elevator can take awhile, but it’s all worth it to be a part of the fascinating and fun celebration of books that is the Portland Book Festival.

Tips for Making a Successful Event

Ooligan Press hosted its tenth Write to Publish conference in April, which is an Ooligan-run, one day conference with a mission to demystify the publishing process. This year’s conference was held in Hoffman Hall on the Portland State University campus, and I had the opportunity to work behind-the-scenes. It was my first term in the program, and I was placed on the Outreach and Development team because of my experience with event planning with Willamette Writers. It was the perfect challenge: the conference was in three weeks, I was a new student, and my role was to help as much as I could. There’s a lot that goes into making an event, whether you’re hosting a one-day event like a conference, a simple one-hour event, or an entire week’s worth of activities. What makes an event successful? These are three simple tips that will help.

Be flexible.

Right before the conference started, we needed to pick up bagels from one of the local shops that kindly donated to us. When we arrived, we found the shop closed and no sign of any bagels. The first rule of events: go with the flow and always have a backup plan. This means that when you’re scheduling a keynote speaker, have someone in mind in case the speaker falls ill or can’t make the event. In the case of the bagels, my colleague and I did a quick check of our email and figured out that we hadn’t been told the right location for pick-up. We just jumped in the car and went to pick up our bagels. No problem.

Communication is key.

Communicate with everyone. Eventbrite’s post by author Melanie Woodward discusses communication and how crucial it is. This means lots of emails and phone calls before the event to touch base with all of the participants (panelists, speakers, volunteers, etc.), and confirming everything you can to ensure there aren’t any major surprises. For example, is there a dress code? What time should participants arrive? Who should they check in with, and where? Will there be a volunteer training session? (There should be—it increases the success of events when volunteers know what they’re doing) Even better, ask the participants if they need anything or have any questions. Nothing is worse than having a disgruntled participant because you failed to tell them something important.

Market early.

It’s usually better to market more than a month before an event that will last one hour. For Willamette Writers’ large conference every year in August, we market as early as eight to nine months before the event. Start a marketing campaign. When will you post to social media outlets, and what will you say? How many newsletters will you send? At Ooligan, we’re aiming to send three or even four newsletters next year. What about marketing to alumni if you’re a college or organization? Can your panelists and participants market the event? Often, the most successful marketing comes from the professionals who participate, rather than the organization hosting the event. For example, an author will have fans who may see that they will be at an event, and attendees may go just for that author.

Events are only as strong as your plans and your organization—but remember that plans can change, so be willing to shift things quickly if need be.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more tips!

Ooligan in the World

Here at Ooligan Press, our managers, project teams, and department specialists put countless hours of work into creating the books you see on our list. From acquisitions and editing through design and marketing, our talented colleagues sit in meetings together discussing strategies and best practices, take those conversations home to create something wonderful, and then return to our meetings the following week to do it all again.

It’s a deeply effective learning process, but there is one important piece of book birthing that it doesn’t account for: the immensely rewarding experience of bringing our books and our authors out into the world and watching them shine.

From intimate readings to established conferences and book festivals, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months arranging opportunities for the world—or at least our Pacific Northwest corner of it—to meet our books and their authors. There have been plenty of volunteer schedules to fill, promotional marketing and social media posts to plan, and boxes of books to cart to and fro. In return for that work, we’ve watched our authors delight and charm audiences while their books are admired, applauded, and carried away to new homes. So where in the world have we found Ooligan authors this fall?

Brian K. Friesen’s At the Waterline was published last May, and this summer found Brian and his family embarking on a book tour across Oregon and Washington, culminating in late summer with a much-anticipated reading at Portland’s book mecca: Powell’s Books. Later this fall, Brian also joined awarding-winning fellow Oolie author Eliot Treichel at the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wild Arts Festival, “a celebration of nature in art and books,” where both were featured authors.

Meagan Macvie’s The Ocean in My Ears entered the world in the beginning of November to glowing reviews from such industry giants as Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Book Riot, and School Library Journal‘s Teen Librarian Toolbox. It even made it onto a Bustle list of “The 11 New YA Novels You Need To Watch Out For In November 2017.” With her book generating so much enthusiasm, we’ve loved watching Meagan do the same. She began the fall season with a panel appearance at the Montana Book Festival, where she talked about picking a publisher and the advantages of going with a small press. At this year’s Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) conference, Meagan was invited to participate in an evening “Sweet and Greet” event where she signed advanced reader copies of the book and connected with regional authors and booksellers. Then, the big send-off: we celebrated Meagan and the launch of The Ocean in My Ears with 90s trivia and lots of laughter.

Meagan wasn’t our only representative at PNBA. Ooligan Press also staffed a table at this two-day conference, showcasing our books and chatting with booksellers, librarians, and other publishers about our work. Both first and second year students are given the opportunity to attend events such as this and to begin testing the waters of networking and business-to-business marketing.

Ooligan and our authors have had an action-packed fall, and it all built up to the main event of the season: Wordstock. Meagan, Brian, and the Ooligan Press team all attended Portland’s most anticipated book festival to indulge ourselves in all things literary. Brian and Meagan both had pop-up readings in the Portland Art Museum’s American Art Gallery and signed copies of their books for eager readers at Ooligan’s table. Later in the afternoon, Meagan taught at the sold-out workshop Writing YA Fiction: Bringing Young Narrators to Life on the Page, helping budding writers hone their skills. All throughout the day, you could find the smiling faces of Oolies around the festival. Students staffed our table, attended readings and panels, perused the aisles of booksellers, and even staffed other publishers’ tables as part of their various internships. Wordstock also, as it does every year, turned into an unofficial reunion for Ooligan alumni. Graduates flocked to the table to pick up copies of books they worked on during the early stages of development and to catch up with old friends.

Ooligan has been spending a lot of time out in the world over the past few months, and now we are turning our focus inward as we prepare to move out of our current offices in early December.

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.

Start to Finish: Write to Publish 2017

Write to Publish 2017 happened February 4, 2017, another rainy Saturday in a month filled with rain. The inside of the conference, however, was bright and filled with eager-to-learn aspiring authors and local publishing professionals who generously spent the day sharing their collective expertise and experience.

Our wonderful attendees were engaged and enthusiastic, making the panels and workshops an invaluable, enlightening experience for everyone involved. Our always-popular “Pitch to a Professional” workshop during the lunch hour gave several attendees the chance to sit in the hot seat, so to speak, and present their ideas to active literary agents and publishers. This opportunity is first-come, first-served to our early registrants, so it’s very important for next year’s attendees to sign up early to take advantage of this program!

The Write to Publish team is very grateful to all of our speakers, donors, and vendors who helped make this conference so enjoyable for everyone. And a special thanks to Willamette Writers, our presenting sponsor; the Timberline Review, our poetry contest sponsor; and the Masters Review, our flash-fiction contest sponsor.

With the conference officially over, we’re now busy wrapping up behind the scenes, finalizing attendance numbers, and doing everything we can to prepare the next Write to Publish team (for what will surely be another successful year) as we begin to transition out of the press. Keep an eye on the Ooligan Press social media accounts and the Write to Publish website as we approach Write to Publish 2018!

Seven Stitches Pub Date and Launch Party

Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day, Oregon’s statehood, and … the publication of Seven Stitches! Ooligan Press is thrilled to bring you the third companion book of the Blue Thread Saga. Read more about Seven Stitches, then join us on Thursday at Another Read Through for the official launch party.

It’s been a year since the Big One—the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake—devastated Portland. While Meryem Zarfati’s injuries have healed and her neighborhood is rebuilding, her mother is still missing. Refusing to give up hope, Meryem continues to search for her mother, even as she learns to live without her in a changed Portland. Along the way, she struggles with her Jewish-Vietnamese heritage and what it means to honor her ancestry. After she receives a magical prayer shawl handed down from her maternal grandmother, a mysterious stranger appears and Meryem is called to save a young girl living in slavery—in sixteenth-century Istanbul. The third companion in the Oregon Book Award–winning Blue Thread saga explores how we recover—and rebuild—after the worst has happened.

Help the author, Ruth Tenzer Feldman, celebrate the launch at Another Read Through on February 16 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Ruth will be answering questions, reading an excerpt, and signing copies. Refreshments will be provided by the team at Ooligan Press.

Marketing, That Intangible Beast

We’ve started the fall term at Ooligan, and although many of us worked on projects regarding Seven Stitches over the summer, we are back at full speed, hurtling towards publication date. Here’s a little recap of where we are: the manuscript has been through all necessary editing; the cover has been designed (several covers, actually); the interior is ready; and now it’s time for reviews, events, and all things marketing.

However, there is a funny phenomenon I’m noticing as we throw ourselves into this next phase: we are swimming without a net. This is not to say that we—both as a project team or as Ooligan in general—do not understand marketing. But marketing is that intangible beast that doesn’t have the same deadlines as editing, cover design, interior, and the like. We can contact bookstores about events and are told different deadlines for each. One will want six months notice, another four months, and some won’t even respond. We have lists of reviewers to reach out to, with the knowledge they may not respond either.

Because Ooligan is a small student-run press, we don’t often get the same response to a review request as other publishers. A layman might ask why we even try to have a major magazine, newspaper, or website review our book. The answer is two-fold: because we are a teaching press, so we have to use this book as an example of what we will need to do “out there”; and because any and all marketing we can secure for our book, our author, and our press is good.

And truthfully, marketing is fun. We have our launch secured for February 16! We are contacting bookstores across the Oregon Coast, Bainbridge Island, and Washington D.C.! We are utilizing social media, where hashtags like #choosekind, #weneeddiversebooks (#wndb), and #yalit will help readers identify Seven Stitches as a book they need to read. We are pushing for a massive Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter campaign, connecting it to themes from the book about social media and social welfare.

We are finally at the stage where we have a solid, tangible book, so let the intangible marketing smorgasbord commence!

Memories Portland Launch: Feminist Pub Trivia

I was nervous to start the Ooligan program this term, but when my project team told me our first task was to launch Memories Flow in Our Vein by hosting a feminist pub trivia event, I knew I was in the right place.
Though Memories Flow in Our Veins launched at this year’s AWP in March, the book’s Portland launch was on April 21, surrounded by the warm and open atmosphere of the Belgian pub Bazi Bierbrasserie. Somewhere around fifty people showed up for the event; the tables were packed, and even the bar was full of trivia contestants. Ooligan students, professors, friends, the CALYX team, and even some strangers scattered here and there chatted over beer and pub food while waiting for trivia to start.
Memorable team names included Michelle Obama’s Arms (because why not?), My Interesting Lady Friend (yes, that’s a reference to Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and impressively, two separate Susan B. Anthony puns.
The Memories team had worked hard to ensure that questions were difficult, diverse, and interesting. Consequently, when teams were asked what kind of fluid ancient Roman women wore to improve their complexions, there were some unusual responses. Of course, the actual answer was also weird—the sweat of gladiators—but the fluids brainstormed by my team were significantly more disgusting. If I had been worried that there would be tension or uncomfortable competitiveness, it was quickly dismissed with everyone’s reactions to this question.
We really did try to make these questions difficult so that no single team would have all the answers. The group I sat with won third place, but no one on the team had any idea when the first woman ran for president, let alone what her name was. (For those interested, it was women’s rights activist Victoria Woodhull in 1872.) My group had only discussed possibilities from the twenty-first century, perhaps thinking that if people have such a problem with Hillary Clinton today, nineteenth-century politics wouldn’t have even allowed for a female candidate. It turns out we just haven’t made as much progress as we thought.
For those who weren’t up on historical facts about women’s rights, there were questions about sports, politics, literature, science, and pop culture. If you didn’t know what kind of creature Nettie Stevens used to determine biological gender through chromosomes (mealworms), you might know instead the hashtag that Star Wars fans used to call attention to the lack of merchandise that included female protagonist Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (#WheresRey).
Because anything can be a marketing opportunity, we shamelessly plugged Memories Flow in Our Veins right before we got to the trivia category focusing on Memories and CALYX. Teams were allowed to buy the book and then flip through for answers, and since many of us are college students, we know how to quickly navigate through front and back matter. Though each group performed admirably, the team from CALYX scored the highest, to no one’s surprise. (To their credit, they graciously declined their prize of Ooligan backlist books and merchandise, granting it instead to the runner-up.)
For many of the Memories team members, the feminist pub trivia event was the culmination of a long, sometimes hectic but ultimately fulfilling process. Some of them are graduating at the end of this term, so launching the book was as much a goodbye as it was a celebration. For me, so new to the program, it gave me a glimpse of what I can look forward to in the next couple of years: hardworking students, supportive professors, a feeling of camaraderie, beautiful books, and hopefully more Belgian beer.
The Memories project team members, past and present.