Kento Ikeda: Interviewing Ooligan’s Resident Indexer

Who’s the most undervalued member of a publishing team? Understandably, one might be inclined to list off those who hold positions most often outsourced to freelancers: copyeditor, interior designer, sensitivity readers, and so forth. In an industry that values creative input over analytical and technical complexity, I posit that the unsung heroes of the publishing world are the indexers, the great organizers of our age.

Indexes are an important facet of building a non-fiction book that sells. Many librarians won’t stock or consider a non-fiction work that doesn’t contain a properly compiled index, and though it isn’t usually the most exciting feature of a publication, some readers use the index as a way of gauging the breadth of material covered in informative works. As seasoned freelance indexer Maria Sosnowski puts it, “A missing index is a missed opportunity to tell someone your book is what they’re looking for.”

Indexing isn’t just a boon for the buyer. It’s a job well-suited to the analytical and data-driven minds of the industry, and it pays very well; many freelance indexers make ample yearly salaries well above the national average, with top indexers in the field even pulling three figures. Indexers usually charge per page, and those who can diligently and intelligently organize can complete thousand dollar jobs in just a few days. Indexers are also a rather organized bunch; the American Society of Indexers has numerous regional chapters, including one right here in the Pacific Northwest.

As we are a publishing house run by students, Ooligan Press considers every position a learning opportunity, and rarely contracts freelancers, but indexing is the usual exception. All but three of our titles were indexed by the wonderfully talented Sheila Ryan, a regular in the Portland indexing scene. Recently, however, Ooligan’s ranks were bolstered by Kento Ikeda, resident indexer, ebook designer, and rising star of our digital department. As he finished the index for our hiking book 50 Hikes in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests, I conducted a short survey with Kento to get his take on the duties that fell to him, and how he regarded his work in the scope of Ooligan Press.

1) Kento, what is your past experience with indexing? How’d you get into it?

I only became aware of book indexing in my first term in the graduate program. The Transmit Culture panel that term included Oregon State University Press’s Mary Elizabeth Braun, and she mentioned a book they published that was about moss, Gathering Moss: A Cultural History of Mosses. Mary Braun very kindly gave me the copy of Gathering Moss she brought with her. I looked at the index, and found this:

  • Seeds, 48-49, 148
  • Sidewalk moss, 15, 93
  • Size of mosses, 10, 14-20, 77, 84
  • Slugs, 87-89, 90, 148
  • Species, number of, 13, 15
  • Sperm, 23-24, 26, 33, 58, 160
  • Sphagnum bog, 111-20
  • Sphagnum moss, 111-21
  • Splachum, 121-24
  • Spores, 20, 27, 32-33, 43, 75, 80, 121, 130
  • Sporophytes, 11, 20, 26, 28, 31-32, 58, 123

For me, this was perfect. It was suggestive of the specificity of the topics in the books, but also suggested how interesting the specificity could be. Seeds, sperm, spores, and sporophytes? It suggested a rich, almost lurid complexity that I would have never expected. Topics like “sidewalk moss” and “size of mosses” had a comedic quality that appealed to me, enhanced by the possibility that such improbable and seemingly boring topics might actually be interesting.

It didn’t really occur to me before that somebody made the indexes in books. I could do that! So I started asking around, talking to indexers, picking up books on indexing, and doing indexing exercises.

2) Would you say indexing is an underappreciated part of the book publishing process?

I wouldn’t say it’s so much underappreciated as insufficiently understood. Publishing can be very segmented, but I think it’s always useful for people in different fields of publishing to know how the other fields of publishing work. An editor that doesn’t understand the work that goes into interior design won’t understand that a manuscript change isn’t just a several minute change for the interior designer, but might require going through the whole book again to look for, and fix, any typographical problems that were caused by adding just a couple words. Knowing how other fields works makes it easier to deliver files that are useful for the recipient and makes it easier to make and adjust production schedules.

Because indexing is a very technical and niche area of publishing, it’s one of the least understood by the rest of publishing. The consequences of this can be pretty bad. Publishers often don’t know what to ask of indexers, which means that indexers aren’t sure of what they’re supposed to deliver, making the work more difficult and the index of lower quality. Often not enough space is reserved for an index, which means an index has to be more shallow. And publishers that don’t know what to look for in an index won’t be able to tell if their index is good or bad, or won’t be able to tell if the indexer they’ve hired has done good or bad work in the past.

3) Lastly, let’s talk about 50 Hikes for a bit. Could you describe your experience doing the 50 Hikes index? Was it helpful that you were designing the ebook too?

Editing is an important part of indexing, and I had to do a lot of editing for 50 Hikes. I made a huge index to begin with, twice as long as I had space for, but I did this because it’s easier to take things out of an index than it is to add things in. Cutting an index in half is still a lot of work though! You really have to prioritize everything, so you know what you want to keep and what can go and try to figure out if there’s any other way to save space.

I’d say the main thing the index did to prepare me for designing the ebook was to remind me how much work has gone into this book. It’s something we as a press can be really proud of, and it’s a book people will really be happy to have. I wanted to make sure that I lived up to the high standard that everyone at the press already had, and making an index really made clear to me how high a standard that was.

To learn more about book indexing, I recommend checking out The American Society of Indexing.

Audiobook Production: An Interview with Ooligan Author Brian K. Friesen

Ooligan author Brian K. Friesen made an audiobook for At the Waterline, and we got the chance to hear about his process and the exciting results!

What inspired you to produce your own audiobook for At the Waterline?

I had been hearing about the recent surge in audiobook audiences, and wanted to see if I could get on that train. I thought it might give book sales for At the Waterline a boost. Perhaps it will lend my novel a sense of legitimacy by having the audiobook version available and listed beside print and ebook versions.

I’ve had people tell me that I have a good reading voice. I decided to believe them and to see if I could develop that voice a little with practice. I enjoy reading out loud and exploring stories in that way. Trying different inflections and rhythms to see what works well. Recording my own novel was invaluable to me as a reader and even more to me as a writer. The internal voice that many readers have while reading can get tripped up by awkward sentence structures and rhythms. It can be hard to hear that as a writer. It definitely helps you to detect subtle imprecise language if you read your own writing out loud (or hear someone else struggle to read it out loud).

I have mixed feelings about audiobook listening while multitasking. In my own experience with audiobooks, giving only a portion of my attention to a book robs me in a lot of ways. There are audiobooks I’ve listened to while riding my bike to and from my day job. Or washing dishes. Or filing away emails. If was being honest, I wouldn’t really claim to have “read” some of those books by the time I’m done listening to the final track. My limited ability to focus on multiple stimuli at the same time means I’m not hearing every single sentence. It’s more like listening to an abridged version of the book, even if the audiobook is unabridged. That being said, I also think that getting stories into the ears of listeners who wouldn’t otherwise pick up a book is a good thing. I wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible with At the Waterline. Ultimately, how they read it or experience it is not for me to judge. If people are getting narrative into their lives, whether it is radio theater, podcasts, or movie novelizations for junior readers, their lives are richer for it.

Had you ever done a project like this before? If so, how did that experience shape your decisions for this project? If not, how did you prepare for this project?

I’ve never done an audio project of this size before. The final audiobook version of At the Waterline is 9 hours, 24 minutes long. I have done some work with audio before. I recorded a poetry radio show for a couple years at Golden Hours Radio. They broadcast their content through Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB). They had studio space and equipment that I learned to use. I learned a lot there about writing content and speaking for a listening audience. I learned a little about equipment and recording and editing. I’ve also done some undergraduate work recording interviews with various people. I have an oral history project I did for the Oregon Historical Society. All that experience helped me with reading and recording At the Waterline. I learned about some of my own verbal tics, and how to filter some of those things out while recording: annoying breathing habits, “ums,” “uhs,” tongue/nose whistling that can happen with some consonants, repeating phrases, preambles, and general throat-clearing and nasal-sniffing grossness.

The audio recording/editing software was relatively new to me, so I had to research and learn a lot about what was available out there. I opted for free, open-source software (I mostly used a program called Audacity), which had a lot of online tutorials and forums for problem-solving. I had to buy a semi-decent microphone (I got a set of Logitec headphones with a mic wand that I could swivel out of the way. I set up a makeshift studio space in the attic of the house where I live. It took a few tries to find a decent chair that didn’t make a symphony of audible squeaks and ticks and groans. I hung carpet up to create a kind of booth, and found ways to dampen the laptop noise so I could record in front of a screen.

What was your favorite part of working on the audiobook for At the Waterline?

My favorite part was how it reopened the novel for further exploration. There were certain characters that became fleshed out more as I found voices for them. I tried out lines of dialogue in many different ways until I found a tone that I liked. Jack’s intensity came alive for me as I discovered a lower, gruffer vocal register that seemed to capture something closer to his personality. I wore my vocal chords out trying to record lines of dialogue for him. It made my voice even rougher, as I “performed” him.

The shadow side of this enjoyable exploration was that I saw flaws in the manuscript and further changes I wanted to make. By this time, the book was out, so I couldn’t feasibly start up the editing process again! I think it was Paul Valery who said, “A poem’s never finished, only abandoned.” Of course, that’s also true for novels.

What was the hardest part of the production process and what did you learn from that experience?

By the time I had all the tracks recorded and had edited out all the obvious mistakes, I thought I was done. I submitted the audio files to Audible (via www.acx.com) and Author’s Republic (who distributes to over a dozen other audiobook entities) and the audiobook didn’t meet some technical standards. I learned a bit more about how to tweak audio files so that they were consistent in their db range, their noise floor, the file size, and a number of other specifications. I started noticing more sound spikes and clicks and background noise that the mouth-breather narrator made all through the audiobook. So I made hundreds of more small edits to clean the files up and make them more presentable. In the process, I accidentally deleted sections, misnamed files and made a general mess of things. I had to re-record a bunch of scenes and get all the tracks and sections in order. I saved multiple versions of files in different places depending on where I was trying to work. I made the mistake of trying to work on multiple computers, and ended up saving files in different places and lost track of which files contained the most recent edits. I probably should have gone to the Cloud with all the work in progress and had a single place where I backed up everything I was doing, but I didn’t.

Even when I was done-done, I still wasn’t done-done-done! Some of the final files had the wrong file names, so I had to make sure all the files really contained the content that matched the file names. It seems like I learned everything the hard way. And often relearned the same lessons the hard way! So, for me—someone who is naturally un-systematic in general—editing files and submitting them three and four times to audiobook distributors took a lot of time and energy. During the three or four months I was trying to submit to Audible, I put the earlier audiobook files up for sale on SoundCloud and on Bandcamp. I sold a few that way, which was encouraging. Finally, it was accepted by a number of online carriers, including Libro.fm, Audible, iTunes, B&N Nook Audiobooks, and a bunch of others. I’m still waiting to hear back from Overdrive, which could make it available at more libraries than it is currently. You can already check it out from a number of library systems in the Pacific Northwest, which is exciting.

What advice would you give to other industry professionals (authors and/or publishers) who are interested in producing their own audiobooks?

Get help! That may take the form of gathering information from professionals who do this kind of thing for a living. Or taking tutorials on YouTube. You can find help listening to podcasts that cover audio recording and studio work. You might interview professionals over the phone. It’s going to cost you more money and/or time than you think. If you don’t have thousand-dollar bills burning holes in your pocket, you may find it difficult to pay a studio, hire a voice actor, or farm out technical work to production/marketing companies. If you want to do most of the work yourself, plan on it taking about ten times as long as you think it will.

I was a one-person-shop, and it took me nine months to complete. I had some experience with audio voice recording and editing, but I still had learning curves to navigate at different stages of this project.

You may not think you need a studio, but you do, even if it is just a space where you can cobble together sound-dampening cushions or pieces of fabric to hang in front of you (and preferable to each side of you). I’d invest in a screen/filter to place between your mouth and the microphone. Something to dissipate all the breath-heavy consonants (p, t, b etc.). I could have saved myself a lot of extra editing work if I had invested in equipment that would capture a cleaner initial recording. Audible and other companies will require you to cleanup background noise and sound-spikes if there are too many of those in your recordings.

You can do a lot of work to finally get your audiobook submitted and accepted, but that doesn’t mean that anyone will see your book or want to pay you to listen to it. Even with a growing audiobook market, it still takes savvy marketing and industry connections to get your work out there and into people’s ears. I was surprised by the blurry dividing line I’ve seen between the traditional publishing industry and audiobook publishing. They really are on different production timelines, and they require unique marketing skills. I did what I could: I joined audiobook groups on Facebook; I promoted on Twitter and Instagram; I got to know a few narrators who promoted my audiobook on social media; I became active in online forums; I contacted reviewers; I made audiobook trailers; I had contests. So far, I’ve mostly been fishing around in the dark as I try to promote the audiobook for At the Waterline. I imagine you can get more traction if you invest more money up front into audiobook production. There are studios and audiobook professionals that are more connected to the well-worn paths in the audiobook industry.

If you are a writer, you’ll want to ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice the time you could be spending writing new material. Even if you work with a professional studio, it will probably take you months of time to narrate an audiobook. As I went along, I was very torn between audiobook work and new writing. I honestly don’t think I would volunteer to do the narration on my next book. I’ve done a lot of work to promote At the Waterline, but, more often than not these days, I’m deciding to focus on other projects. I know the audiobook could be selling a lot better, but I can only do so much. If there is going to be another audiobook in my future, I’d probably put it in the hands of other people to narrate, produce and market. I’d love to watch an learn about how it is “supposed to be done!”

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.

Fearless Bookman

I had the privilege of sitting down with John Henley, a well-known appraiser of rare books in the Pacific Northwest. He has also been an adjunct of the PSU Book Publishing Program since its inception, teaching the survey course titled The Popular Book in the United States. We talked about his job as appraiser, his Oolie aspirations, and how his love of books—inspired early on by his mother—led him to a career of buying and selling them for Powell’s and The Great Northwest Bookstore.

Q: Let’s start in the beginning; did you read a lot when you were a kid?

My father was a banker, and my mother was a well-known poet, Elizabeth Henley. I grew up with a sense of books and money, so it’s no surprise that I got into bookselling. You monetize things you love. We always had classics around, and my mother read to me and my older brothers all the time. Every night after dinner we’d get maybe one or two hours of TV, and then we’d sit around and my mother would read to us for about two hours. Sometimes it would be a New Yorker article. Sometimes my mother would say, ‘Why don’t we read a story by Tolstoy tonight?’ We spent many a night telling stories.

Q: And that led to bookselling?

I got into bookselling as a teenager. When I was fifteen, I got a job at this place called Wong’s Restaurant, which was located on the Interstate across from the Royal Palms Motel. I would go in every Saturday morning and clean the place, and I got fifteen bucks and a Chinese meal out of the deal every week. Then a friend of mine said there was this thing called an underground newspaper, the Willamette Bridge, the precursor to Willamette Week. I would buy a big stack of those with ten of my fifteen dollars and sell them at Portland State, turning my fifteen dollars into thirty dollars. I knew PSU very well because my mother had taught there, so it was always like a home to me. It’s always been a part of my life.

I went downtown one Saturday afternoon to get my papers, and the Willamette Bridge had been closed up. It was just gone. I wandered into this antique store on 5th and Everett called Finnegan’s, and there was this twelve-volume set of Captain Cook’s Voyages from the late eighteenth century, first edition. I asked the guy how much something like that cost, and he said, ‘What do you got kid?’ I said, ‘Well, I got fifteen dollars’ and he said, ‘I’ll take it, just get it out of here.’ I took it home, and my dad said he thought I bought a really great treasure. So the next week after my shift at Wong’s, I went into Cal’s Books and Wares. This guy was selling Cal a book, and he handed this guy ten dollars for it. Ten dollars was big money in the 60s and early 70s. A college course cost ten dollars. So I thought, ‘I don’t want these Captain Cook’s Voyages, I’m gonna take them to Cal, and if he’ll give me ten dollars each I’ll make a killing.’ I got the books down there, and he asked me where I got them, and I told him the story. Then he said, ‘Every Saturday after you’re done at Wong’s, come here, and I’ll give you money and send you out to buy and sell books for me. If you make money I’ll give you a reward, and if you don’t I’ll pay you some wages.’ So I became a book scout. He gave me a check for six hundred dollars for Captain Cook’s Voyages

Q: Book scouting led to working at Powell’s Books?

Book scouting is how I met Walter Powell. He priced books really low, so I did more scouting there than I did selling. One day he asked, ‘Do you read all these?’ and I said, no, I was there buying. He asked what I do with them and I said, ‘I sell them to other booksellers.’ He said, ‘Will you price books for me?’ and we became fast friends within a week. I became his assistant manager and ran the Rare Book Room. He was a mentor and a dear friend, and though he wasn’t well-read and he didn’t know the value of books particularly, he was a good businessman.

Q: How did you go from Powell’s to appraising?

Powell’s changed, and I was used to the old Powell’s. It became a tourist destination, and that’s okay, but it wasn’t the same. Portland was changing. Powell’s had been a funky, interesting place, and now it’s very clean and straight and there’s not as many used books. The people that worked there had truly been a collection of dysfunctional geniuses. Poets, painters, artists, and writers ran Powell’s, and old Mr. Powell said, ‘I’ll fund it!’ He said, ‘This is like the Ed Sullivan Show, I’m calling it Powell’s after myself, but really people are coming here to see what you are all doing.’ It became a different thing, so I went off and got involved with a used and rare bookstore called Great Northwest.

Q: What are some of your favorite collections that you’ve appraised?

One was the Ray Bradbury estate, because I loved his writings as a boy, and to go through his house and through his things was an eye-opener. Doing Dr. Maya Angelou’s books and papers was likewise very meaningful to me, to hold in my hands books inscribed to her by Malcolm X and Dr. King. In some cases, I’ve appraised manuscripts from the Middle Ages that belonged to English royalty at a time when English royalty was killing itself. For a noble woman, the only private thing she got to own was a prayer book. You hold this and learn about her life. She was the grandmother of Henry VIII, her cousin was Richard II. She was right in the middle of what would later be Shakespeare’s material. It was the time of the bubonic plague. She was right there, and your mind boggles. What a period she was in! Appraising takes you to a time and place.

Q: Do you have any advice for students interested in appraising?

You have to understand markets. There’s an aspect to publishing that is appraising, and that’s profit and loss statements. When a manuscript comes across your desk, the first thing you have to think about is, what is the monetary value of this? It’s a gas to publish great literature, but great literature doesn’t necessarily sell. If you publish Your Day in Astrology or The Krispy Kreme Donut Diet, something that can appeal to people en masse, you understand what you have to do to stay in business. You also want to pick up a backlist and have books that are going to be used in colleges. The rat with the biggest tail is the book you want to get. Take some of our books, like Ricochet River. It’s not selling like it did when it first came out, or when new printings are published, but the tail is long. Ricochet River is a major piece and it works. Everyone loves teaching it. It’s multicultural, it’s interesting material, and it’s a coming-of-age and Americans love coming-of-age stories.

Q: Would you have gone to the Publishing program?

I would’ve loved Ooligan Press and to have been an Oolie. I’ve even fantasized about applying for an old man grant. I’m an alumni and an old man, give me a scholarship. The only problem is that then I’d be a student and I’d have to take my own course and teach myself. I would like to take a lot of the courses, though. All of you [in the program] are getting such an exciting opportunity to learn so much. You’ve got great teachers all across the board. Per [Henningsgaard] and all the gang, they’re fantastic. Dennis Stovall is an amazing person, and he and his wife, Liddy, built the program out of nothing. I’m very proud to be a part of this. The height of my year is to teach. For me, it’s a privilege.

Editors on Location

At the Waterline, Brian Friesen’s debut novel and Ooligan Press’s last big release, hit stores this past May. It tells the story of a strange little community that quietly exists on the shores of Oregon’s most prominent river. Houseboat and sailboat communities dot the Columbia River, just miles from Portland’s urban center, sheltering thousands of wayward men and women who choose to live atop the water. Despite the Ooligan offices standing just a few blocks from the connecting Willamette river, most of its editors had no idea these kinds of communities existed.

When one thinks about the realities of creating entertainment, the production of books lags far behind its contemporaries in terms of risk and adventure. The actor films on location and the musician records across the world. Then there is the book editor, hunched over his or her MacBook©, living or dying on the authenticity of the author’s voice, yet feeling no pressure to go out and see for themselves.

At Ooligan Press, we have the benefit of being located in the heart of the region we serve as publishers. We’re firm believers in the value of bringing personal perspectives to the table as editors. As such, when production for At the Waterline was in full sway, the editing crew decided to take a field trip to one of the Portland area’s prominent waterborne communities: Sauvie Island.

Sauvie Island’s last official census was almost 20 years ago, so its current population is not certain, though almost certainly low. Despite being just a short drive from Portland, it is well off the grid by urban standards. The state government is far more interested in conducting wildlife and environmental surveys in the area, so the communities of people who live there are usually left alone. Its houseboat communities are a near-perfect approximation of Brian Friesen’s vision and gave the At the Waterline team a chance to explore the world they’d only seen in writing. I’ve collected some of the team’s favorite memories and ideas in order to share them here:

    “[My favorite part was] seeing the houseboat communities in person. All of the boats were very different and it was very cool to see them all lined up along the piers. It also helps you imagine how the characters in At the Waterline lived: you could see where there are community gathering spaces, and you see firsthand how small their living quarters are. It was raining the day we went, and it made us all think that when living on a boat in the PNW, where it does rain a lot, much of your time has to be spent below-deck . . . .”

    —Emily Hagenberger (Editor)

    “I know the marketing process was best helped through the field trips. When you’re reading a book, you’re just there to enjoy it, but to get other people to read it, you really have to connect to that part of it that makes it special. Visiting the settings for both books was really helpful in that venture.”

    —Mackenzie Deater (Editor)

    “My favorite part was doing the corn maze at the pumpkin patch. It was over an hour of wading through a river of mud and only Mackenzie was brave enough to do it with me. Doesn’t really have anything to do with the book, but she is the [incumbent] project manager, so . . . maybe a willingness to get messy is something innate to leaders of this team.”

    —Cobi Lawson (Managing Editor)

The benefit of placing an editing team on location isn’t something that is readily apparent, as it is difficult to measure an increase in authenticity, quality, and design acuity during a production process that lasts more than a year. But if one were to observe an At the Waterline team meeting, they’d notice a certain camaraderie that can only come from a collective experience. They’d also hear the abundance of creative and extraordinary ideas that have gone into At The Waterline‘s production, from engaging marketing schemes involving riverside scavenger hunts to the creation of a companion adult coloring book (designed by the talented Riley Pittenger). A lot of big ideas are coming from that tiny team.

Perhaps most importantly, one would sense a reverence and understanding for the source material, the author’s vision, and the fascinating world of waterborne communities hidden in plain sight. Our team knows exactly what kind of story they’re presenting to the world. They’ve been there.

Passing the Torch: Advice from Graduating Project Managers

At the end of every winter term, students at Ooligan Press have the opportunity to become project managers (PMs) and department leads, and a year later they must pass the torch to next year’s students. As managers are currently in the process of training their successors, three departing project managers reflect on the challenges and achievements throughout their tenure and give advice to future Ooligan PMs.

Sophie Aschwanden was a team member for Siblings and Other Disappointments before she became project manager for the book. Most of the work was already done under the previous leadership, so Sophie’s job was to take charge and quickly move the book through galleys, reviews, and printing during the summer term. The book launched two weeks after school started in the fall. She recalled, “Most of the work was done, but everything needed to move like clockwork.”

Julie Swearingen was a member of the Seven Stitches team before becoming its manager. She was very familiar with the book publishing process in general, yet the immediacy of the tasks as project manager was a surprise.

Jacoba (Cobi) Lawson was given the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River to manage, along with At the Waterline. Managing two books at the same time is unusual at Ooligan, but it has been a positive experience for Cobi, who said, “I know both of my books backward and forward at this point, and I know exactly what each author needs in terms of communication. Both authors and books are so wonderful; I want nothing more than to deliver to them total world domination.”

The three project managers agreed on several challenges:

  • The handoff to new project managers is shakey. Even though you’re likely to be familiar with the book, it’s surprisingly difficult to fully understand deadlines and communication needs.
  • Even though we have resources, they aren’t always sufficient for the task. As project manager, it feels like you need to reinvent the wheel at each step.
  • Transitioning your team—especially losing key team members and orienting new team members—is a challenge that is especially difficult during the gaps between terms, where you lose momentum.
  • Often the new project manager needs to quickly build a relationship with the author, who trusts the previous PM. Quickly building a rapport is a challenge.
  • Fulfilling authors’ marketing expectations with Ooligan’s limited budget is a challenge that calls for creativity.

Overcoming these challenges is part of the job, and all three project managers felt great satisfaction in their work. They cited these personal highlights:

  • Working with the author as the manuscript transforms into an excellent book.
  • Working with such capable team members and their consistent desire to do high-quality work.
  • Receiving reviews that demonstrate the book connected with an audience.
  • Being supported by the other Ooligan Press managers.
  • Supporting the author in developing a strong social media presence.
  • Putting together a great launch event.

The three project managers have advice for future PMs at Ooligan:

Sophie

  • Understand what deadlines need to be met immediately after the PM handoff.
  • Learn to communicate and be honest with the team about what needs to happen.

Julie

  • Read your book multiple times for different purposes. A deep knowledge of the book helps to market and make sure Ooligan Press is characterizing the work to its full value.
  • Be prepared for snow, summer slowdown, and mysterious errors like e‘s becoming threes.
  • Get to know your team members’ strengths and use their skills and professional motivation.

Cobi

  • Aim high. We have so many talented, motivated people in this program. Trust them. Empower them. I have consistently asked more of them than what’s required, and they have always delivered—and then some.
  • Get to know your authors and play to their strengths.
  • Set deadlines! Talk to the department heads to figure out work flow and stick to that plan.
  • Communicate with other PMs and learn from the teams who are one term ahead of you—you’ll be in their shoes sooner than you think.

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 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.

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.

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?