Conversation with Ooligan Alum Kate Burkett

Kate Burkett completed Portland State University’s graduate program in Book Publishing in June 2013. From her new home in Fort Collins, Colorado, Burkett talked a bit about what she’s been up to since graduation and reflected on her time in the program (spoiler alert: it was very productive).

What drew you to PSU’s publishing program?

I was living in Kansas City, Missouri, working at a gas station with a film and English degree. I was researching publishing programs, and I was just so excited about the innovativeness of Ooligan. It seemed different than a lot of the other [options]—especially the work study aspect of it. You’re getting work experience while you learn about editing, marketing, design… It offered so many different specialties.

When you arrived, what did you think you wanted to focus on, and did that change at all?

I was very excited about editing when I first joined the program. I wanted to be a screenwriter; that’s why I was a film undergraduate. I found that I just really enjoyed talking to people about their stories and helping develop them, and so developmental editing really appealed to me. Then actually I found that I really enjoyed marketing. I love taking the great works that people create and helping get them in front of the right people. It feels very fulfilling.

Your redesign of Ooligan backlist title Speaking Out was chosen for the new edition. Can you tell me how that project came about? What did you hope to accomplish, and how did it feel when your design was selected?

It felt great. Speaking Out was one of the first titles that Ooligan Press did, and from what I understand, I don’t think they had a robust design department [then], so once the program got bigger they wanted to redesign it with people who were more skilled in that area. In Advanced InDesign, the class was tasked with redesigning the book. Honestly, I worked on it a lot. I got really into it. I was really excited about making the book more user-friendly, more student-friendly. The text was super small in the original one, and the way it was organized just didn’t make sense to me. You know when you take undergraduate courses, and you get assigned these textbooks, and sometimes… I just wanted to make it as easy as possible. Speaking Out is a really great book—but I wanted to make it easier to read and to redesign some of the graphics.

And that you did! You also had a hand in Start to Finish, right?

Yeah, I actually created Start to Finish! Another student, Jonathan Stark, and I had similar ideas around the same time for how to promote Ooligan’s books and get people to keep coming back to the website. We joined forces and improved upon each other’s ideas, and then I designed and coded the pages, [as well as] the application that automates all the moving parts on the page.

What else about your Ooligan experience was especially useful or instructive for the work you do now?

Probably one of the number one things was being the digital content manager. At the time, a lot of people had just left that group. We’d just gotten the new website redesign out, and I was teaching myself how to code and make e-books. I learned a lot by taking what Ooligan Press is and using it to teach myself how to do things. I learned the value of teaching myself. Not to take away from anything in the program, because there are really great teachers there, but as a manager—being responsible for what came out the other side—it was character-developing, in a way.

I also taught two one-hour digital courses—I do a lot of digital work now, and that introduced me to the field. Changed my life, basically.

What are you up to these days?

I work for an online company called Booktrope. They’re based in Seattle, but their employees are all online. I do layout design for them, I do interiors, and then I turn those interiors into e-books. I also do some book marketing for them. It’s kind of a unique publishing house; it’s set up into teams—kind of like Ooligan Press, actually—where there’ll be a marketer, a designer, an editor, and an author for a project, and they all work together using an online platform. I’m currently working on a book that’s coming out on July 21st, called Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure by Michael G. Munz. It’s kind of a comic fantasy [along the lines of] Terry Pratchett.

I’m also working on launching a website, the
Interrobang Collective
, with two other Ooligan graduates: Lorna Nakell, who is a really great designer, and Poppy Milliken, who’s a great editor and interior designer. We met through Ooligan, and we’re launching this business to help each other get additional work—to help each other out. So instead of floating off on our own, we can use our complementary skill sets to reach more authors together.