How Goodreads Helped Me Find My Memories

An unsettling thing happened when I went home to Colorado for the holidays last year. While my family sat around a fire in Summit County, trading stories and recent news, my sister asked me about a time she and I had shared that she remembered vividly.

“You don’t remember that?” She stared at me emphatically, as if asking the question would light the match to the memory that had clearly grown cold and damp in my mind. No such luck. In fact, I couldn’t recall even a portion of the memory she described to me—a memory that wasn’t from too long ago, but distant enough that it’s not tangible anymore, something vaguely familiar.

I don’t know when I started noticing gaps in my memories of things, but it became more pervasive and embarrassing in my early 20s. Large swaths of time suddenly go dark, dissolve from within me. It starts small, with a drive home from a late shift that I couldn’t really describe, to a song that sounded like something I knew but couldn’t pinpoint who it was. People waving and saying, “How are you?” who I didn’t recognize or couldn’t name. Then more of those questions:

“Remember that time?” “What year was that?” “When did you get that tattoo?” Significant portions of my own timeline were missing. I became skilled in leading conversations away from my frustration and increasing anxiety over these lost portions of time. I started leaving myself notes around the apartment.

“Don’t dry the tan, wool shirt!” “Remember your sister’s birthday is on the 13th, CALL HER.” “There is spinach in the fridge, if you don’t eat it, it will go bad and you will feel like a failure again.” While some of these were reminders about small tasks, I started to wonder if this was how my life was just going to be now. The problem for me wasn’t just why I couldn’t remember, but how I could get these memories back.

My partner and I were talking about books we had read in 2019; books that blew us away and books that we wished we had put down sooner. I knew I had read stellar books last year, but I couldn’t pinpoint those titles. I reached for my phone, as many of us who need to remember something right away do, and opened my Goodreads app. My “2019” shelf sat, neatly and chronologically ordered for me to peruse. Month by month, the books I had slogged through and the books that shone brilliantly awakened in my memory, but something else happened too. I began to remember other parts of my life in those months, what I was doing while reading The Song of Achilles, or where I had been sipping a particularly delicious sticky rice tea in Sellwood while devouring La Fronterra in June. One by one, my memories filtered back in, and as I looked further and further through my Goodreads archive, pieces of 2017 and 2016 came together before me.

It turns out, it’s not just me; our memories are getting worse and that’s largely due to the
Google effect, in which the ability to look up or search is so readily available to us that our minds have “decreased dependency on internal memory storage.” I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve been thinking of a word for something or a fact about so-and-so and just Googled it. While I was briefly euphoric at the discovery that Goodreads had carefully catalogued the past three years of my life for me with dates and metadata to support the timeline, I wonder about the accuracy of archival memory. It’s unsettling to consider that memory may become something that lives on a server farm somewhere, susceptible to be infiltrated, altered, or vanished. But there is a rather simple solution: write more. Research has shown that writing things down is essential to memory retention. Perhaps the digital cataloguing of the books I’ve read in some way has captured those memories within the pages of those books. In rereading the titles, I am able to relive those parts of my life with more clarity, and to engage again with my life through the “written” lists of how my past was spent.

How Reading Lists May Have Helped OiME Sales

The Ocean in My Ears sold out of its first print run in less than three months since it’s publication date in November 2017. It’s become one of Ooligan Press’ bestselling books. While those within the publishing industry attribute their purchases to the
Kirkus Star Review
that The Ocean in My Ears obtained, it’s likely that most of our readers found the novel in a different way: from suggested reading lists.
The Ocean in My Ears appeared in suggested reading lists from both Bustle and Book Riot for November 2017. To be clear, there’s no definitive way to confirm the source of Ooligan Press’ success with this book. However, one of the major differences between the marketing of the book—other than the aforementioned Kirkus Star Review—is the fact that The Ocean in My Ears was able to find its way onto these popular media outlets’ must-read lists.
Book Riot is well known amongst avid readers and so their reviews and must-read lists have a lot of influence on their audience. The fact that The Ocean in My Ears was put on a list for general books rather than one specific to Young Adult novels opens up the number of people who will read it and hopefully buy the book.
Unlike Book Riot’s, Bustle’s list was actually specific to Young Adult novels. While this may narrow the readership some by specifically targeting those interested in Young Adult books, Bustle is a media outlet that caters to many different types of people with varied interests, so their readership is already larger. Bustle writers create fashion, technology, food, books, beauty, entertainment, news, and lifestyle pieces. If we consider the diverse audience Bustle is able to reach, it’s likely that even with a very specific list they can reach a large number of people just based on the traffic on their site.
The truth is, there is no way to really pinpoint why The Ocean in My Ears is such a success, other than the obvious: It contains a great, relatable protagonist and a unique yet accessible storyline. But, of course, without marketing, even the best-written book with the most compelling plot will be unsuccessful because people won’t know it exists. While obtaining a Kirkus Star Review is certainly impressive and absolutely played a part in the success of The Ocean in My Ears, it can only account for some of the sales. While some readers know about Kirkus, it’s really more well-known within the publishing community. But it’s not just booksellers and others in publishing who are buying the book—it’s the average reader too. So there must be something else at work in our marketing efforts. And while Ooligan Press certainly worked hard to market this book, it’s safe to argue that being on suggested reading lists from two popular websites deserves some credit for The Ocean in My Ears‘ success.

Creating Contact Lists for The Ocean in My Ears

In my first two terms at Ooligan Press on The Ocean in My Ears team, the majority of my assignments revolved around contact lists. Contact lists are painstakingly cultivated and relentlessly revised until, from the blood, sweat, and tears put into its conception, a list of possible reviewers is birthed. This process is exhausting and often seems never-ending; like the list will be growing long after your own demise, eternal in a way you could never comprehend—at least until the pub date looms so close that The List is finally dubbed “good enough.” However, The List is important; it’s worth the work. We need these hundreds of names from different types of publications so we can contact them all in the hopes that our requests  will garner a few reviews. Those reviews are what get a book noticed. Here’s how we made our list for The Ocean in My Ears.
Thankfully, we don’t start from scratch with each new publication. Instead, we started with contact lists used previously when publishing other books. After we got that list, we divvied up sections of it, because there were quite literally hundreds of names, and began to weed out those that wouldn’t work for us. Sometimes this meant that the magazine, blog, or podcast was no longer doing reviews or creating new content in general. Other times, we found that our book just didn’t fit for that source.
Once we narrowed down the contacts we had, we began the search for even more. We knew the themes of the book and the audience we were trying to reach, so that’s where we began our search. Out of every five or so sites I looked through, I found one that would actually fit. The goal each week was to find a few dozen contacts to feed The List. Each source needs to have contact information available on their site because, as proved by many emails with either no response or an unrelated automated response, that is likely the only way you’ll obtain it. We also had to find out whether the reviewers would want a galley or digital copy. If they wanted a galley, we needed to know how many. Whether or not this information was available varied depending on the source.
The last step was to make a note of why the source worked and what they were all about. For example, is the publication aimed at young women? Do they talk about feminism? Do they only review romance novels? We repeated all of this process from the beginning again and again until the pub date was only a few short months away. Then, it was time to make use of The List.
The information we collected for The List was used to write pitch letters. I’m not sure how many we wrote in total, but I am sure it was over one hundred. I know I wrote at least forty-five. While that sounds daunting, the process is actually more painless than finding contacts. This is because we have a basic template with information about the book and author into which we plug a targeted sentence or two for our contact. If it was a publication meant to empower young women, I asked myself, “How does Meri embody a powerful young woman? Why is she a role model and why would this source care?”
This process has had frustrating results. Some of our letters and galleys were sent back beat up because the address was incorrect. For many, follow-up emails were sent more than once. Mostly, though, all of this work has been like shouting into a void just hoping to hear some sort of response. For a while, we didn’t hear anything.
Now that The Ocean in My Ears has received numerous positive reviews, I see the light. I understand something that was once only a vague concept. All of this hard, monotonous, tedious work becomes worth it when positive reviews start rolling in and you finally get tangible proof that the world sees the value in a book that’s become near and dear to you.

Manager Monday: Four Bad Habits You Learned in High School English Class (Acquisitions)

As co-manager of the Ooligan Press acquisitions department, I work on the frontline of the press, fielding new submissions from authors every day. This can be a fun and exciting job—I love the thrill of reading a great proposal and imagining we might someday publish that book—but it can also be frustrating to see writers insert simple formatting mistakes into their manuscript that degrade the quality of an otherwise interesting submission. I know the culprit of these mistakes, and we’ve all been there: high school English class.

The thing about high school English is it teaches you to write academic essays, not novels and short stories. Correct formatting for academic writing rarely overlaps with that for creative writing, and you can polish your manuscript significantly by correcting these four bad habits.

  1. Double spacing after sentences. This holdover from the days when papers were written on typewriters just won’t die. The monospace letters of typewriter fonts meant each typed character had the same amount of space around it, including the period. This made a single space after a period harder to detect, so a double space was used to clearly delineate the end of a sentence. Now papers and novels are written on computers with digital fonts that integrate variable spacing around each character to increase readability, rendering the double space obsolete. It’s not the end of the world if you use it, but you can save your editors some eye rolling and time by correcting this habit yourself.
  2. Avoiding contractions. I’ve never understood what about contractions makes them so inappropriate for academic writing, but those are the rules in that arena. In creative writing, however, contractions only help your readers—especially in dialogue. True Grit has already been written, and Charles Portis did a fine job of it, so please use contractions in at least 99 percent of situations in your manuscript.
  3. Long paragraphs. The standard rule in academic writing is paragraphs should be five to seven sentences long, but in a novel that can add up to practically a whole page. Keeping your narrative paragraphs to three or four sentences tops and breaking all dialogue out as a separate paragraph will keep your readers’ eyes moving quickly down the page.
  4. “One” as a pronoun. The avoidance of biased, informal language in academic writing requires the use of “one” as a pronoun instead of the perfectly adequate “you.” In creative writing, this sounds stodgy and aloof. There’s nothing wrong with the unaltered first-, second-, or third-person perspective in novels and short stories, so go nuts with using “I,” “you,” and “they”—your English teacher isn’t here.

None of these bad habits will doom an otherwise strong submission to Ooligan Press (or likely any other publisher), but recognizing the difference between academic writing and creative writing gives your style more authority and will save your editors some formatting headaches.

Nine Ways Business Cards Can Save Your Life

If you are a young professional and are serious about networking in your field, you probably have your own business cards. Just kidding. You probably don’t, because who carries business cards under the age of thirty? Isn’t that for stodgy old lawyers and bankers? Definitely not for the artistic among us, free spirits full of flamboyant disregard for the technicalities of the last generation’s business practices.

Maybe, maybe not. Turns out business cards can be very handy. Here are nine scenarios in which business cards could prove useful—even lifesaving.

1. Gorgeous as heck

What is the professional business equivalent of the iconic, “The name is Bond . . . James Bond”? You got it: business cards. Flipping one of those small, glossy babies out of a pocket or wallet—especially if it has a minimalistic design and a killer title including words like “expert,” “guru,” or “consultant”—is gorgeous as heck.

2. You look like you’ve got it together

The Millennial generation is constantly being underestimated. What better way to prove to that Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer that you’ve got it together and are a force to be reckoned with than to speak their language? The language of business cards. Handing someone your business card is a power play that screams confidence and professionalism. Use it as such.

3. Eliminates awkward “looking for a pen” moments

There are few things that kill a competent, professional conversation quicker than looking unprepared and flustered. When networking, people are going to ask for your contact information. Having a business card to flash means that you’re not digging through pockets and asking passersby for a pen so you can scribble your digits on a nearby napkin.

4. Makes a great conversation-ender

You’re nearing the end of a good conversation with someone in your field. You start to panic, wondering how you’re going to say goodbye to this person. How do you go about ending your conversation? “See you later”? “Be in touch”? “I love you”? Instead of potentially embarrassing yourself in front of your new contact, just flip out your business card and say, “Thanks for your time.” Then walk away tall, you professional devil.

5. Easy way to get your number to that cute person

At least two men have given me their numbers this way in the past couple of months. It is a chill, laid-back way to get that person your number. No pressure, no giving them your phone, no repeating numbers back in case they got it wrong. Just a quick flip of glossy cardstock, and you’re golden. How will they resist?

6. Bookmarks!

Have more business cards than you know what to do with? Use them as bookmarks! You can never have enough bookmarks.

7. Scatter them across the street for avant-garde marketing

Once I was walking down the road and came across a slew of business cards, soggy with street water and looking like sad, pale autumn leaves. Intrigued, I picked one up and pocketed it. Imagine if I had been a successful entrepreneur looking for my next star employee! This is a cheap and creative (if questionably effective) way to get yourself some exposure in the real world.

8. A stack of them can prop up a piece of wobbly furniture

Is your table at the local café wobbly? Have a stack of business cards handy? A+B=C, my friend.

9. May stop a bullet if carried in the right place

While I have not had first-hand experience with this (and do not suggest you try it at home), a strategically situated stack of business cards could possibly deter the odd stray bullet.

And there you go: nine ways a business card could save your life. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and be a professional.