The Magic of Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center

Portland, Oregon, has long been heralded as one of the best locations in America for artists, authors, and other creatives to find inspiration and community. Indeed, the city’s reputation has made it a hub for creative-minded folks looking for opportunities to hone their crafts and, more importantly, showcase and distribute their work to the public. For authors and artists who don’t have access to publishing technology or spaces to create, print, and publish their work, there are distinct barriers to doing what they love. However, there is an incredible nonprofit organization right here in Portland that seeks to break down these barriers and make publishing affordable and accessible to all.
Founded twenty-one years ago in a partnership between writer, publisher, bookseller, activist, and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and printmaker Rebecca Gilbert, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is a nonprofit community center that is dedicated to making the process of publishing accessible and affordable to all. According to their mission statement, the IPRC seeks to provide “affordable access to space, tools, and resources for creating independently published media and artwork, and to build community and identity through the creation of written and visual art.”
One of the IPRC’s goals is to increase the accessibility of both print and visual publishing materials in order to promote diversity and equity in Portland and beyond through the creating and sharing of art. The center describes their goal this way:

By gathering such a diverse group of people under one roof, the IPRC nourishes an expansive and productive community, and is an incubator for the independent creative spirit that makes Portland unique. The IPRC fills the community need for low-cost access to otherwise expensive space, equipment, and materials, and supports artists to create quality, innovative, and experimental work that couldn’t be made elsewhere.

So just what kind of equipment does the IPRC have? The center’s main studio (currently open by appointment only due to COVID-19 safety precautions) offers an open workspace where patrons can work on individual projects and chat with other community members. The space is home to a digital lab containing iMac computers, which have access to creative software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign; black-and-white and color photocopiers (adorably named Blanche and Stella); paper-cutting equipment, including manual and electric paper cutters; paper finishing tools and staplers; button-making tools; and a Bind-Fast 5 perfect book binding machine. Haven’t used these tools before? Either a volunteer or the studio manager will provide you with training before your first use.
Outside of the main studio, the IPRC also offers other specialized studios for different types of printing. The Berlin Family Letterpress Studio is home to a number of letterpresses, a lead type collection, and even offers a galley rental. If screen printing is more your style, you might want to check out the WeMake Screen Printing Studio, which allows members to learn and practice screen printing fundamentals, and offers all the necessary materials that are needed to make a project come to life. Finally, the IPRC Risograph Studio is home to three Risograph printers and thirteen color drums. For each of these specialty printing studios, members are required to complete introductory workshops on how to use the equipment before being allowed to access and use the technology.
The IPRC also offers workshops and classes on a variety of other subjects, including creative writing (both fiction and nonfiction), poetry, chapbooks, zines, and even bookkeeping. The center keeps an updated calendar on their website with information about upcoming workshops and events. Other programs offered by the IPRC include a year-long certificate program that combines creative writing workshops with instruction in design, book arts, and print production; a BIPOC Artist & Writer Residency which provides authors with time and space to create, as well as a stipend of three thousand dollars; and summer youth camps that offer five weeks of creative writing, printmaking, and comic workshops for youth ages five to eighteen.
Interested in using some of the IPRC’s many tools and resources for your creative projects? Learn about membership opportunities and non-member access to studios on their website. You can also donate to this incredible organization to help keep it running so that the Portland community can retain access to these incredible resources. See their wishlist on their website, and support local artists by shopping the wonderful artwork created at the IPRC’s studios.

The Library Writers Project and Ooligan Press: Meet-Cute!

Although there is still some controversy over whether listening to an audiobook is a comparable experience to reading a book, the furor that arose when ebooks launched has mainly subsided. Many American readers are comfortable switching between electronic text and hard copies to read their books, depending on the context and the purpose of the material. Ebooks have not replaced print books, despite dire predictions—ebook market share has stayed under 30 percent, depending on the genre. For most publishers, print copies (including those produced through the print-on-demand model) are released around the same time as ebooks. Many self-publishers, however, only release ebooks.

So what’s the big deal about bringing an ebook to print?

Ooligan Press has been working on learning the answer to that through its partnership with Multnomah County Library (MCL). Every year, MCL’s Library Writers Project (LWP) is open to local Oregon authors for submission of their self-published works, and the top entries are chosen by librarians and acquired for the MCL collection as ebooks.

In 2018, Ooligan Press began coordinating with the LWP to annually choose the best book to take through the traditional publishing process and bring to print. There are many qualifications we at Ooligan look for: circulation numbers, stand-alone status, and subject matter. The first book we selected in 2018 was the literary fiction title The Gifts We Keep by Katie Grindeland, which Ooligan then published in April 2019. The next selection was Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday, which will be published on April 14, 2020.

Each of these books went through another editing process with the Ooligan team, during which language was refined and character arcs were tightened. The editors and authors put time and consideration into developing the stories and communicating with each other. Ooligan staff then had to design the cover and the interior layout, proofread the interior, research and design a marketing campaign, negotiate with printers, distribute review copies, update all the data in catalogs, and promote the launch event. Along the way, we considered the following questions:

  • How does this benefit MCL? It makes available for loan quality print versions of titles that have already proven popular as ebooks. The copies of The Gifts We Keep flew off the library’s display shelves within a week of launch in April 2019. Staff and readers were excited to see a title they enjoyed being validated and made more accessible through print publication. Many library patrons who didn’t read ebooks were now able to read a popular title. (Addressing accessibility issues is a core value of most public libraries, and not everyone can read ebooks, for various reasons.)

  • How does this benefit the author? Renewed attention to a previously published book means more readership for less time invested, and the boost in sales for an established title means it is more likely to eventually earn royalties, along with possible interest from agents and publishers if the author writes more books in the future. If the author has other published titles, there is often an increase in circulation of those titles too.

  • How does this help Ooligan? The students at Ooligan Press generally move through the program in two years, while the average title at Ooligan takes around a year and a half to publish. Because the LWP titles require less time for development, they can be turned around in closer to a year, making it easier for students to follow the whole project. MCL also provides a guaranteed market for these titles, and the sales benefit the program because an audience is already established. This is also better for the environment, as there is less chance of wasting paper by printing too many copies. Ooligan also sees an increase in circulation of other backlist titles as a result of this partnership. Data is still being gathered on whether there is a circulation change specific to the library’s other LWP titles.

It’s a win for everyone—the best kind of happily-ever-after. Here’s to smarter printing and partnerships with libraries! Want to know more? See what the Library Journal said when the partnership began.

Divide and Conquer: Management at Ooligan Press

The entirely student-run Ooligan Press is divided into several tiers of management, including team members, project managers, and department leads, all of whom are overseen by Portland State University faculty.

When students take publishing studio or lab, they always start as team members assigned to a current book project overseen by a project manager. Book projects change throughout the academic year as our books get published, and before each quarter begins, the students fill out a survey to indicate which projects they’re most interested in working on.

One special exception is the outreach and events team, which doesn’t work on a book project. Instead, this team manages our annual Write to Publish conference, which aims to demystify the publishing experience for local authors and other community members.

Team members perform a wide variety of tasks specific to their current project, including creating social media content, contacting potential reviewers, and giving feedback throughout the book’s development. They collaborate with one another and complete tasks assigned by their project manager.

Through this process, project managers develop valuable supervisory and multitasking skills. They communicate expectations for a book’s design, social media content, and other collateral. Project managers also keep in contact with the book’s author, providing editorial feedback and requesting information about book launches, readings, and other events related to the promotion of the book.

Working alongside project managers are the department leads. Ooligan consists of five traditional departments that oversee different facets of the publishing process: acquisitions, editorial, design, digital, and social media. All editing, design, digital, and social media content created for Ooligan receives two or even three stamps of approval—from the project manager, the department lead, and sometimes the publisher—before being published. The editorial, design, digital, and social media departments all ensure that content created for Ooligan meets our quality standards. Additionally, each department holds weekly meetings attended by members of the project teams. Attending different department meetings fosters a deeper understanding of the publishing industry as a whole.

Acquisitions functions a little differently in that it doesn’t oversee the current projects Ooligan is working to publish but instead looks toward the future of Ooligan, evaluating and accepting manuscripts from authors who submit proposals to us. Interested authors can submit a query letter to Ooligan Press here. Ooligan exclusively accepts digital queries.

The outlier department is operations, where two publisher’s assistants manage distribution of Ooligan’s titles, update backlist information, and do miscellaneous odd jobs around the press. They do not hold weekly department meetings. To use a theater analogy, the publisher’s assistants can be thought of as the “lighting crew” of Ooligan: they work behind the scenes, but their work is important to making sure the show (in this case, the publication of books) is successful.

Ooligan is a complex working master’s program that seeks to teach by doing—what better way to learn how publishing works than by publishing a book? Hopefully this has been an informative crash course on Ooligan’s managerial system.

Goodreads Says Goodbye to Free Giveaways

Goodreads, the Amazon-owned social media site for bibliophiles, introduced a major overhaul to its giveaway system in early January. Previously, giveaways were free to host, making them a popular and cost-effective marketing tool for indie authors and publishers. Readers eager to win free books would browse the giveaways page and enter any contests that caught their eye, resulting in lots of exposure for books that might not otherwise get seen. The only cost to the host of the giveaway was that of the book (or books) and shipping.

With Goodreads’s new system, however, there’s no such thing as a free giveaway. Goodreads now offers two pricing tiers for authors and publishers who want to host giveaways: the Standard Package, which costs $119, and the Premium Package, which costs $599. Both packages allow hosts to give away up to one hundred print or Kindle versions of one book; if an author has multiple books, they will need to set up (and pay for) a separate giveaway for each one. With the Standard Package, anyone who enters a giveaway will find the book automatically added to their “Want-to-Read list,” and anyone who follows the author or the book will receive a notification about the giveaway. The Premium Package includes the same perks as the Standard Package, but Premium giveaways will show up on the “Featured” section of the Giveaways page, guaranteeing more visibility.

According to Goodreads, the new price points “reflect the marketing value” of the Giveaway service. However, while $600 might be a small fraction of the marketing budget for one of the Big Five, it could prove to be a barrier for indie authors and small presses. When the change was first announced, editor Andrew Liptak observed that Goodreads Giveaways were entirely democratic, listing books from indie publishers “alongside their heavyweight competition.” Now, “spending $200–$600 to give away one’s books just doesn’t make sense, especially when [smaller publishers and independent authors] can go onto their Twitter or Facebook pages and essentially run the same contest” for free.

One of the primary benefits to running a giveaway on Goodreads is the guaranteed exposure to new readers—a perk that authors who run giveaways on their own social media accounts are missing out on, and one that Goodreads has been careful to highlight in announcing the new system. However, some indie authors have pointed out that in the past, the exposure generated by hosting a giveaway on Goodreads has not directly affected the book’s sales.

New York Times bestselling author Chuck Wendig wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread that the move “feels like a gut-punch to authors.”

Of course, indie authors and publishers aren’t the only ones affected by the new rules: with fewer people creating giveaways, there are fewer books for Goodreads users to win. The same discoverability that benefits authors on Goodreads also benefits readers, who could find a book through a giveaway that they might not otherwise have heard about.

The new Goodreads Giveaways have only been live since the beginning of the year, so it remains to be seen how big the impact will be.

Short Stories and Small Presses

Short stories have long been considered something of a necessary evil in the world of publishing. It is a truism that “short stories don’t sell,” and the major publishing houses are usually reluctant to take on any anthology that doesn’t feature at least one superstar author. A small-scale press, on the other hand, can be an ideal fit for short-and-sweet literature—indie publishers tend to value quality over mere profitability, and they are more likely to take a chance on new writers and unconventional forms of storytelling.

One of the best ways to get a short story published is to submit it to a literary journal or magazine, most of which operate out of their own dedicated presses. In fact, it’s common for aspiring writers to break into the literary world and start building their reputations by submitting their work to such journals. Many famous authors—such as Mark Twain, John Updike, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Raymond Carver—began their illustrious careers this way. Even several of the writers published by Ooligan Press have contributed short pieces to various literary publications, including The Bushwick Review in New York City, San Francisco’s ZYZZYVA, famed feminist journal CALYX, and the cutting-edge online magazine Guernica.

Ooligan Press itself has developed discerning taste in anthologies, which has proved to be one of the most flexible mediums for showcasing the diverse voices of the Pacific Northwest. Ooligan’s most recently published example is Untangling the Knot, a provocative collection that explores the often mixed opinions about same-sex marriage within the LGBTQ community. Ooligan’s next anthology coming down the pipeline is Memories Flow in Our Veins, a joint project with CALYX, Inc., celebrating forty years of writing from the best women authors in the country. The tradition continues with Ooligan’s most recently acquired manuscript—a family-themed short-story collection by emerging writer and Ooligan alumna Kait Heacock. A complete list of the press’s anthologies can be found on its website.

Graywolf Press is another small publisher that has made a name for itself in the short-story market. Originally a press dedicated exclusively to poetry, Graywolf has since diversified into the full range of genres and acquired a reputation for producing high-quality literature. Short-story collections from Graywolf Press consistently win the Bakeless Prize for Fiction and garner rave reviews from big-name publications like Publishers Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, Library Journal, and The Huffington Post.

If there is such a thing as a perfect union between the small-scale publisher business model and the short-story genre, then Pushcart Press has surely achieved it. Pushcart Press is the publisher of the Pushcart Prize series, which annually collects the year’s best short stories, essays, and poems produced by small presses all over the world into a single volume. With this one book, readers gain access to some of the highest-quality literature available from the most innovative indie publishers. In recognition of this legacy, Publishers Weekly has dubbed the Pushcart Prize one of the most influential players in the history of publishing.

The big houses in the publishing industry often regard anthologies as throwaway extras, but small presses dedicate just as much time, labor, and love to their short-story collections as they do to full-length works. In fact, the little publishers seem to be the biggest supporters of the short-story genre—journals printed out of their own presses are the primary medium for shorter works and emerging authors, and the foremost short-story prize not only accepts submissions exclusively from small presses but is itself run by an indie publisher. It seems fitting that smaller-scale presses and short stories would work so well together.

Interview with Reading Frenzy Proprietress Chloe Eudaly

Reading Frenzy in North Portland is a must-visit stop on any literary tour of the city. Part bookseller, part art gallery, host to lively and stimulating literary events that showcase celebrated local authors and illustrators, the store is a haven for book, graphic art, and zine connoisseurs. Here, the owner provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at her business and passion.

Chloe, how did you get into the book business?

Books and libraries have been my sanctuary and escape since I was little. I was a quirky, precocious, and often lonely kid growing up in a small, rural Oregon town. Books gave me a window to the outside world. The Central Library became my second home as a teenager. At eighteen, I discovered the world of zines and underground comics, which I became immersed in as a reader and contributor, and never really looked back. In my early twenties, I was a collective member at the now-defunct radical bookstore, Laughing Horse Books, and I also did a stint at the oldest used bookshop in Portland, Cameron’s Books. Those jobs gave me a basic overview of the book business. The impetus for opening Reading Frenzy was threefold: I wanted to provide an outlet for the kind of literature I was into, create a gathering place/trading post for local writers and self-publishers, and I needed to invent a job for myself that didn’t fill me with despair.

Your bookstore is sometimes described as an art gallery, with books as the art medium. What is your process for deciding which books to carry?

Reading Frenzy has always been a challenge to describe succinctly. Zine shop, comic shop, bookstore—nothing quite summed it up. I used to call it “An Independent Press Emporium” but that’s fallen by the wayside and now I just call it a bookshop. I have some basic criteria: independently published (with a few exceptions, especially in the kids’ section), books that are nicely designed and produced as well as having compelling content. I’m most interested in radical and outsider perspectives, self-taught artists, and writing by people who have lived the experience they’re writing about, rather than researched and/or observed.

Can you describe your relationships to your authors?

We’ve hosted nearly six hundred events and sold the work of thousands of indie, small-press, and self-published authors, so I’ve got lots of great stories. The most satisfying experience for me as a bookseller is putting the right book into the right hands. My favorite stories are the ones where in the course of simply doing my job, I helped someone find their voice, make an important discovery, take a leap, or believe in their work. I just learned that one of my favorite artists who we’ve been carrying for more than a decade was inspired to start self-publishing after visiting Reading Frenzy for the first time. I take very little credit for this, as it’s incidental to what I do, but it does make me feel good about what I do.

Can you describe your relationships to publishers? What are some of the highlights and frustrations of working with local, small, or independent publishers?

We’ve worked with a number of the same indie publishers for most or all of our existence. I’d say we’re mutually appreciative of each other’s efforts. Reading Frenzy has been through some serious rough patches in our twenty-year history. Nearly all our publishers have been supportive and willing to work through them with us; there are a few notable exceptions, which is unfortunate because if they had stuck by us, we’d both be selling more books now. But I don’t really have any consistent complaints, things go wrong, you deal with it. We’re pretty nimble.

What are some of your favorite Ooligan titles you carry or have carried?

I’m a big fan of Michael Munk’s The Portland Red Guide, and not just because a friend of mine miraculously identified me in a photograph among a sea of people at a protest against the first Gulf War! It’s so important that these stories of activism and resistance are preserved and passed down because history will pave over them if we don’t. We recently did a Veterans Day event with Sean Davis, author of The Wax Bullet War. After listening to the veterans share their stories, I realized they are also part of a marginalized group that needs to be heard from. They also reaffirmed my belief in the healing power of creative self-expression, specifically writing.

What’s the best-selling author or title you consistently carry?

That would have to be my friend Sean Tejaratchi’s publication, Crap Hound, that he started the same year we opened (1994) and I took over publishing in 2005. This year we’ve sold dozens of the locally published pamphlets How to Talk To Your Cat About Gun Safety and How to Talk to Your Cat About Evolution. Both This is Portland: The City You’ve Heard You Should Like by Alexander Barret and Sarah Mirk’s recently published Sex from Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules have been consistently selling out.

Reading Frenzy is located at 3628 N. Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR, 97227. Follow them on Twitter @rdngfrnzy, on Facebook, or sign up for the mailing list and shop online at Reading Frenzy.