Introducing Odsburg: Finding the Surreal amongst the Everyday

You know how everyone from a small town has a deeply ingrained sense of being watched by neighbors, family, and their friend’s abuelita? In a small community, no personal business is ever truly personal. The baristas at the only coffee shop in town have your order memorized; meanwhile, the dating pool somehow intertwines parents with their kids’ teachers, and then spills into the local bar, where a memorial service is being held. How about those old folks down the street whose lifelong feud is imbued with power by a peculiar last will? If you’ve never before lived in a place like this, then allow me to welcome you to the small, fictional town of Odsburg, Washington.

Ooligan Press is proud to announce our upcoming title: the thought-provoking, skin-crawl-inducing, non-cannibalism-condoning novel Odsburg by Matt Tompkins, to be released October 29th.

First, a bit about the book. Odsburg is a novel compiled by the town’s local socio-anthropo-lingui-loreologist, Wallace Jenkins-Ross, yet he isn’t the main character. He’s the guide to this quirky locale, but the main character is the town itself, composed of its citizens, its pet parades, the local pharmaceutical company, and a variety of Washington wildlife. The voices of Odsburg’s residents are collected in the form of transcriptions and found documents, which has presented a unique challenge for Ooligan, pushing us to consider more complicated design and editing techniques to best convey the story.

As the manager for Odsburg, I have the responsibility of making sure each aspect of this book’s production is on track and working to benefit the book and the author. We acquired this book right when I started as a project manager, and now, one year in, I still feel it’s been a difficult book to grasp. In the simplest terms, it offers readers so much lovely and strange content—depictions of loss, aging, hunger, and the questionable place of pharmaceuticals in the world—that it isn’t a story that lends itself to a one-line description; yet that’s exactly what my team and I have attempted to capture during the marketing phase of the book’s production. Distilling the essence of a book into copy that will be enticing to reviewers and readers alike is never an easy task, and it’s even more difficult with a book whose mission is to both confound and familiarize readers with the surreal and the strange in an otherwise mundane small town.

At this point, Odsburg has undergone a line edit, two rounds of copyediting, and a proofread. During this time, we’ve also worked to create and integrate found documents and miscellaneous design elements to mirror the texture and voices this book contains. It’s been an intricate collaboration between editing and design as we’ve tried to figure out what we can bring to life from this town while maintaining logical and textual consistency within the book. Developing this book for publication couldn’t have worked without the immense talent our press has captured recently (for example, the gorgeous cover is a testament to the skills of our amazing designers Hanna and Jenny), and this process is sure to provide both a test of our publishing skills and a wonderful opportunity for creativity as we move forward.

We’re wrapping up a busy spring term as we continue working on marketing, design, reviews, and social media, all while trying to find out just how many people we can get to believe in the town of Odsburg. It’s rare to work on a novel that you genuinely enjoy and want to read, give as a gift, and possibly buy extra copies of, but so far, Odsburg is hitting all these marks. Keep your eye out for Odsburg (as Odsburg will definitely be keeping an eye out for you)!

Is freelance editorial work right for you?

As the publishing industry evolves, media and publishing independents have witnessed the dissolution of the full-time copy editor. Among magazine, news media, and book publishing entities, an in-house copy chief is often considered a luxury of days gone by. The expense of the full-time position is often too difficult to justify, and the responsibility of clean copy can fall on in-house production teams.

Enter the outsourced editor—the freelancer. Everyone needs an edit, and freelance work in a variety of editing formats often goes to the bravehearted independents. Hence, the world’s copy editors of 2018 often find themselves living the dream of the remote entrepreneur, the freelance copy editor.

According to an article in World Economic Forum, “freelancers represent 35% of the United States workforce … freelancing is on the rise worldwide.” And when numbers of independent contractors continue to grow among the labor force as a whole, those numbers may be even higher among professional editors.

“We are still at the leading edge of a once-in-a-century upheaval in our workforce,” states the October 2015 Monthly Labor Review for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The freelance surge is the Industrial Revolution of our time.” And whether as a side hustle or main squeeze, freelance work may be in your future, too.

And why wouldn’t editors try going it alone? It’s the American editor’s dream. Freelancers responded voluntarily to an unscientific poll, and offered what they viewed as the most beneficial aspects of their own experiences in the field:

“Most editing work requires a certain level of concentration that is almost impossible to achieve in an office environment,” wrote one respondent. “Being able to work from home, set my own hours, and be more selective about the projects I work on are by far the best aspects of freelancing for me.”

“Being able to set my own rules and guidelines,” another editor wrote. “I dislike following house style rules, especially if they make no sense whatsoever. Also, I have a chronic illness, so being able to work from home is vital.”

However, freelance editor testimonies also convey more complicated scenarios than these. At a glance, freelancing appears to offer attractive alternatives to the traditional office cubicle grind, and in many cases it does. But the reality is that there’s more to freelancing than meets the eye.

Being your own boss requires self-discipline and time management. Freelancing can often require the editor to edit work immediately as it becomes available. Fast-breaking copy can require the entrepreneurial editor to juggle life around the edits, not the other way around.

Regarding marketing and business promotion, freelancers claim the best means of advertising and growth is still via word-of-mouth reputation established among repeat clients and relationships developed over time. And while landing a full-time, steady position as an editor has become less likely, the opportunity to nurture long-term relationships with a few key clients can add up to a healthy revenue stream for a small business. However, when a freelancer delivers shabby work with lackluster results, they develop a poor reputation and do not last long as independents.

Just as any house marketing professionals would, freelancers make use of all the free marketing tools available to them—all social media vehicles within reach. They use Facebook, Twitter, and others. Freelancers also attend industry seminars, writer conferences, and stay abreast of changes in the industry. And it’s not all fun and games. Editors commented that the return on time invested in marketing can feel negligible.

Other potential pitfalls:

“There’s certainly a level of anxiety that comes from pursuing an inconsistent line of work. I’ve also had clients that expect far too much of my time for the rate they are paying me. I think it’s often hard for people employing freelance editors to remember that their project is probably one among many for that editor, and that because most freelance workers don’t have taxes or benefit costs withheld from their pay, the rate they’re paid ends up being far less than it may seem.”

Freelancers also need to maintain the standard in premium editorial services and the prevailing wage among the professional community. Editors advise the following:

“In the vein of pricing, I set my prices based on [Editorial Freelancers Association] standards, but even if I put that in a contract, about 50% of prospective clients still don’t understand the parameters for ‘reasonable prices.’ Many clients will try to argue or haggle over estimates, despite my contract specifically pointing to the EFA.”

“Don’t expect to get your best clients right away. It takes a lot of work and shameless self-promotion to get a solid list of clients. Until then, you should probably have another job on the side, because you won’t make beans for the first couple years.”

Additional editorial advice:

“Don’t let anyone refuse to pay you for training. I once, quite regrettably, sunk hours into unpaid training for a client who had a particular way of doing things. The training was so specific to their process that it was hard to transfer the skills I acquired for that client’s work to other projects.”

“Get qualifications, business experience, and a portfolio before even considering it. I prepared for six years before becoming freelance.”

“Have a business goal that will attract people to you. Find that one thing that makes you stand out.”

Whatever your entrepreneurial ambitions with editorial work might be, do your research, learn your market and its potential, and be persistent. Good editors make good writing happen.

The Hybrid: When the House Style Guide Creates a Frankenstein

Opinions are like. . .you know: everybody’s got one. House editing style guides and preferences are no different. Browse through any random collection of imprint house publications, periodicals, or online articles, and you’ll witness a menagerie of guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), the Associated Press Stylebook (AP), and a smattering of personal preferences seemingly chosen at random. The resulting style format can resemble an amalgamation of spare parts—something akin to a Frankenstein’s monster of house style. The curious aspect is the specific, obscure details individual editors decide to take a stand on—the hills upon which they choose to fight and die.

The minutia editors sometimes battle over regarding their in-house style guides is often actually arbitrary. As Amy Einsohn identifies in her seminal work, The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications, an editor’s chief concern is consistency. Unless a specific punctuation format, page layout issue, or capitalization question muddles an author’s intended message, the specifics of style are subjective. What matters most is developing a house style that nurtures familiarity for readers, a reliable format that endears readers to a publisher’s signature style.

Consider The New York Times, one of the most successful newspaper publications of all time. Many aspects of the paper’s articles adhere to AP style; some do not. The paper’s headlines, for example, resemble a format closer to CMOS regarding capitalization, but the effect is one of the Times‘s most endearing characteristics. The purpose of a house style guide is to engage repeat readers with a given consistency of style.

The concept bears keeping in mind the crucial constituency Einsohn defines: Copy editors must serve the author, the publisher, and the reader (3). An editor’s process begins with the careful initiation of her relationship with an author. “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change,” (178) writes Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in her classic work, Frankenstein, and an author experiencing the inner conflict of style choice changes made without their consent can feel personally slighted at the abrupt modification. When an author’s submitted manuscript is suddenly rearranged into a formatting style contradictory to their comfortable darlings, the sudden shift can feel like a wound.

With this in mind, consider the ongoing struggle between prescriptivist and descriptivist grammarians. Carol Fisher Saller writes in The Subversive Copy Editor, “The sad fact is, in spite of their enthusiasm for imposing rules on other people’s copy, copy editors are not always aware that some of their long-held rules are controversial or have even been discarded” (51). In other words, building a monster of style choices harvested from CMOS, AP, and personal preferences doesn’t have to be a blasphemous move away any be-all end-all of standards. A copy editor has to know the rules to break the rules, but as long as the resulting publication serves the constituency, the product isn’t broken.

So, copy editors of the world, as you build your own house style, feel free to unearth your preferences from a range of sources. Borrow a head from here, an arm from there, and bolt it all together into your own, unique monster. As long as the house style guide serves the writer, the publisher, and the reader with a consistent, reliable format, a hybrid of styles is nothing to fear.

Editor as Cowhand: Rounding Up the Wild West of Journalistic House Style

When a freelance journalist completes an article and passes it on for copyediting, the reluctance can be palpable. Writers pour their heart and soul into their work, and freelancers submitting work for periodical publication are no different. Placing one’s precious composition into the hands of another requires a delicate, tactful dialogue.

Every newspaper and magazine has a dedicated house style, often an amalgamation of Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style, and preferences determined by in-house staff. From a copyeditor’s perspective, in-box article submissions can carry a vibe akin to the Wild West, with authors throwing around rambunctious punctuation all willy-nilly: random ellipses with ambiguous intent, dashes dropped seemingly at random, and the mother of all punctuation faux pas, the exclamation point! What’s a periodical copyeditor to do?

Just as in any professional relationship, one key to success is communication. In the venue of the periodical, numbers of contributing writers might amount to dozens or hundreds. This is where contact lists, trends, and communication interface. When observable trends in malformed writing occur, copyeditors keep notes of recurring errors and play them back for the infringing writers with clearly articulated examples of correct and incorrect usage. Doing so without placing blame or judgment, and without pointing fingers to specific names or egos, can alleviate formatting errors happening repetitively and streamline efficiency in an organization’s ability to publish fast-breaking items. Effective editors communicate clearly and often.

Additionally, knowledge is power. There is no benefit to a copyeditor hoarding information or maintaining a false sense of authority by withholding style preferences from contributors. Editors who share house style manuals with their writers and incrementally check in for reiteration of key stylistic nuances diminish the necessity of nitpicking punctuation placement and allow greater opportunity for organizational editing. Well-formatted stories afford the ability to restructure the ideas contained therein.

Another important technique is the side-by-side collaborative edit. In the digital age we often exist and interact virtually, but personal interaction still reaps great rewards. The ability to spend fifteen minutes in conversation over a writer’s work can unlock doors to clarity and eliminate pesky errors from weaseling their way into published work. It’s a given that meeting in person isn’t always possible, especially when writers might submit to magazine offices on opposite coasts. However, often when writers see their work combed through with fine attention to detail for the first time, they approach their own final read-throughs with increased reverence and attention to detail.

Communicating, sharing information, and collaborating: these three aspects of copyediting periodical writing can help round up the wilderness of contributing authors and nurture an efficient process for moving journalistic articles from ethereal ideas into publication faster and with better form. When writers and editors work together in uniformity and keep the common end-goal in mind, everyone benefits. When relationships of trust and open dialogue are established, all parties involved can reach their full potential and produce crisp, clear copy.

Controlled Chaos: Tips for Conducting Interviews

If you’re a blogger, a freelance writer, a journalist, or even a student with Ooligan Press, your chances of needing to interview someone at some point in time are pretty high compared to the general populace. Some people have the foresight to prepare by majoring in journalism or doing an internship. The rest of us pretty much make it up as we go. For the untrained legions, here are some tips to help your interviewing experience go smoothly.
Practice with people you know. The first real-time interview I conducted was with my brother. It’s nice to interview someone you know well, most notably because you won’t be nervous. It’s very low-risk, so you can focus on the conversation instead of the butterflies in your stomach. If you’re planning to interview someone you don’t know, I highly recommend conducting an interview with a good friend or family member first. Be sure to treat it like a real interview for maximum effectiveness.
Prepare like crazy. This is the time to unleash your inner perfectionist. The first thing you should do is research your interviewee and their profession. This will allow you to choose an angle from which to approach the interview, which I recommend doing. Make sure it’s interesting, then fashion your questions according to that angle. I interviewed my brother about how he prepared for auditions, and I talked with singer-songwriter Ginny Owens about the intersection of art and faith in her work. Unless you exult in winging it, I also recommend actually writing out your questions ahead of time.
Record real-time interviews. I have outstanding typing-while-listening skills, and I successfully typed during my over-the-phone interview with my brother instead of recording it. Since it worked so well, I used the same technique later when I interviewed Ginny Owens, whom I’d never met before. As it turns out, she talks a lot faster than my brother. I had trouble keeping up, which distracted me from the actual conversation. Next time, I’ll record the interview so I don’t miss anything. (As a side note, don’t forget to let your interviewee know that you’ll be recording them, and make sure they’re okay with it.)
Be flexible. Since you prepared like crazy, you’re free to be flexible during the interview itself. You’ll still be asking questions, and your interviewee will still be giving answers, but insofar as you’re able, treat the interview like a conversation. Keep your eye on the clock so you don’t abuse their generosity, but be willing to go off script; anything can happen, and actively listening and responding will allow you to ask follow-up questions if your interviewee says something you weren’t anticipating.
Give yourself plenty of lead time. Conducting an interview sounds simple enough: you think up some questions, you ask the questions, and you type up the responses. But there’s more to it than that. Interviews might get rescheduled. They might require some follow-up later. Transcribing the recording will almost certainly take much longer than you think, and when you’re done with that, you still have to put it in some kind of order or incorporate it into an article. That can take a while too. So unless you enjoy being stressed out, give yourself plenty of time between the interview and your due date.
I hope you find these tips useful when you schedule your next interview. I learned most of these the hard way. You’re welcome.