How We Updated Our Mission Statement

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

Two upright female hands, one black and one white, holding pinkies

Why Representation Matters: Symbolic Annihilation and Publishing

Recent months have shown a growing commitment to support BIPOC writers and creators in the publishing industry. While major publishers like Hachette have made gestures towards supporting marginalized groups, publishing as a field is still far behind where it needs to be in order to truly foster equity. While these conversations are continuing to unfold, it’s heartening to see that some organizations are starting to take steps to increase equity and support marginalized voices on a structural level. Ooligan Press is among a growing number of independent publishers actively working to bolster marginalized people by providing a platform for their voices and adding positive representation in their catalogues.
What is often left out of conversations surrounding equity and representation in media is the why of the conversation. Why do we need more diversity in publishing? While some may consider it self-evident that we need more representation, the answer is not nearly so simple. Numerous scholars have dedicated their entire careers to understanding why people need to see themselves represented in stories, so a blog post like this one could never adequately address (or even summarize) the complexities of the problem at hand, but these complexities shouldn’t deter us from the conversation. I want to offer an explanation for one aspect of this problem, in the hope that it will help equip those in a position to address issues of equity with a cogent reason why we should be actively providing more representation in publishing. This reason is symbolic annihilation.
The term “symbolic annihilation” refers to the erasure of people—specifically categories of people like women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community—from popular media. As Robin R. Means Coleman and Emily Chivers Yochim explain in their article on the subject, “symbolic annihilation points to the ways in which poor media treatment can contribute to social disempowerment and in which symbolic absence in the media can erase groups and individuals from public consciousness.” More simply, symbolic annihilation is what happens when the lack of representation of a group affects their real-life empowerment in the public sphere.
In an article written in 1976, the researcher responsible for coining the term, George Gerbner, argues that the role of symbolic annihilation is to maintain inequality on a structural and social level. By not allowing the representation of marginalized groups, “tastemakers” and other wielders of cultural capital not only strip people within these categories of their identities, but deny that identity’s place within the larger cultural context. Gerbner argues that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence.” This denial can, and does, have lasting effects on the psychological and social well-being of people in marginalized groups, as detailed in a 2011 Opportunity Agenda study that shows the ongoing effects of poor and non-representation on the lives of Black American men.
In 1979, Gaye Tuchman expanded Gerbner’s approach to include the insidious ways that symbolic annihilation reaches beyond the limitations of mere exclusion. Tuchman’s definition includes omission, trivialization, and condemnation as ways that symbolic annihilation manifests itself. These forms of symbolic annihilation are particularly harmful, as they present potential role models for people who need them in ways that are demeaning and often predatory. This kind of representation distort a subject’s conception of what it means to be part of a group.
A study was conducted in 2012 to understand the ways in which representation of gender and race in children’s television shows impacted self-esteem. It revealed that of the four groups that took part in the study—Black girls, Black boys, white girls, and white boys only the group of white boys’ self-esteem was not negatively impacted by the experience. In their discussion of the study, the authors cite the representations of racial and gendered stereotypes in the TV shows as the force behind this change. The study effectively shows the consequences of Tuchman’s trivialization and condemnation forms of symbolic annihilation at play as poor media representations distort the self-image of these children.
While the term was first applied to television in the 1970s, its impact is applicable across all media types, especially those that have as formative of an influence on culture as books. While publishing’s position as a taste-making entity has received some criticism in recent years, it remains a multibillion dollar industry and has worked to shape culture for as long as the book has existed. For this reason, publishing is an important medium in which to combat symbolic annihilation, both in what we produce and in who we hire. It is our duty as publishers to not only provide space for marginalized groups, but to defend the voices of the people within those groups. We are the media and passivity is not an option.

Normalizing Queerness: Tips on Inclusive Editing for the LGBTQ Community

The role of an editor is to ensure throughout each stage of the editing process that the writer communicates their view of the world to the reader in the best way possible. With such a responsibility, editors should look at the ways in which the language and manuscripts they edit affect the world around them. Editors should look at how the representation of life and people on the page shape and change society’s understanding of real people in the real world. To gain further distance on the path towards impartial inclusion, here are some tips for inclusive and mindful editing in regards to the LGBTQ community:

  1. Ask members of that group how they would like to be referred to. Having someone in a position of privilege assign a name or term to a minority group can lead to further misunderstanding and misrepresentation. No one knows how to better represent and write about a group than a member of that group and hearing their real-world experiences will only deepen the authenticity of the story.
  2. Look for manuscripts that show structures other than the typical male-female relationship. The existing representations of gay and lesbian relationship in literature is a step in the right direction but simply not enough to truly represent the depth and range of human sexuality. Editors can look for manuscripts that don’t just normalize homo-sexual relationships but bisexual, transgender, intersexual, asexual, and pansexual relationships as well (to name a few).
  3. Look for manuscripts that don’t solely focus on a character’s sexual identity or how other characters are not accepting of it. If the story focuses on a gay male character’s career, the editor can make sure that the author talks about his sexuality in a way that does not make the reader assume his gayness as a detriment to his career. Unless the manuscript specifically discusses the horrors of sexual prejudice or historical homophobia, editors should look to ensure that the character’s gender identity or sexuality is discussed in a way that does not label it as abnormal.
  4. Try not to assume heterosexuality when not specified. When writing queries to the author or making suggestions in the manuscript, the editor can reference the character’s “partner” or “sexual relationship” as opposed to their “boyfriend” for a female character or “girlfriend” for a male character. This way of normalizing the homosexual and de-normalizing the hetero- will place the terms on a level playing field that does not assume one as superior to the other.
  5. Avoid terms such as “the opposite sex.” This assumes the gender binary of male/female and excludes the multitude of other gender identities that do not fall under the strict male/female understanding.
  6. Employ the use of gender-neutral pronouns. By using the singular “they/their/them” in place of the traditional he/she, the reader will not automatically assume the gender of a character, allowing space for the author to include genders that fall outside the male/female binary.
  7. Avoid referring to transgender peoples in terms of pre- and post-operation and only mention any sort of operation when absolutely pertinent to the story. Again, ask how transgender peoples want to be referred to, and use that name and pronoun. Note that this is usually the post-transition name, even when talking about the person before the transition. Taking this into consideration, editors will want to avoid reducing the transgender experience to a single surgery, as the process takes months if not years, as opposed to the commonly-misconstrued notion of it happening overnight.
  8. Turn the focus from a person’s appearance as the primary indicator of gender or sexual identity. Don’t reduce the character to their appearance and whether they dress as a “typical male” or “typical female.” Instead, writers and editors should allow space for persons to define themselves through behavior and personality as opposed to appearance.