Divide and Conquer: Management at Ooligan Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Many Cooks? Management at Ooligan Press

There are a lot of things that make Ooligan a unique press. Most of these traits are externally visible—it’s student run, it’s regionally focused, it’s small. These attributes aren’t unheard of in the publishing world, but they do necessitate an internal structure that is also fairly unusual. Ooligan’s entire workforce is made up of students, many of whom balance jobs and internships as they attend their classes and finish different projects for the press. It would be easy to allow things to fall through the cracks, which is where Ooligan’s uncommon managerial structure comes into play.

Most presses operate under similar systems of management, in which individual departments oversee either in-house teams or freelancers who usher a book through each aspect of production. Often these departments are headed by one or two people. Ooligan has several department managers who most closely correlate to positions you would find in a standard press, including a digital department lead, a design lead, a social media lead, a marketing lead, a copy chief, a managing editor, two acquisitions leads, and two publisher’s assistants. For anyone keeping track, that’s ten department managers. There are independent presses all over the country that operate with an entire staff of fewer than ten people, let alone ten managers. But the truth is, Ooligan doesn’t operate with ten managers: it operates with seventeen. In addition to the department leads, each of the five books that are in production at any given time has an individual project manager, and there are also two managers in charge of outreach and events.

One of the major ways in which Ooligan’s organization diverges from that of other publishing houses is through the use of project managers. Rather than being attached to a single aspect of production, each project manager is instead primarily tasked with keeping their assigned book on track through the entire publication process, during which time they also serve as the first point of contact for their book’s author. Project managers oversee teams of around five people who do the majority of the day-to-day work for their books. Ooligan’s department managers—whose equivalents in other, more standard presses usually have dedicated teams—actually oversee the execution of tasks that are completed by teams of volunteers within the press. So while the majority of people working for Ooligan spend most of their time working on a specific book for a dedicated team, they also help with larger-scale projects for other books under the supervision of the department managers.

In addition to ensuring that there are multiple people to hold accountable for the completion of tasks, Ooligan’s unique structure also guarantees that the production of the press’s books is an especially collaborative process. Most large decisions are made democratically, and it’s virtually impossible to be completely uninvolved with any of the books in production. The collaborative nature of the press is especially important given that it is student run. This gives everyone the opportunity to gain experience in different departments, which often yields more creative and comprehensive results. It also prepares Ooligan students for potential careers in alternative forms of publishing, including publishing collectives, in which collaboration plays an important role. With so many revolving parts, it’s no wonder that Ooligan, a small press, operates with over a dozen managers while still keeping the cooks from overrunning the kitchen.

Students in the Workplace: The Gray Area of Being Both a Student and a Professional

As the halfway point of my time here at Ooligan draws near, my effort in learning and my effort in applying that knowledge has started to even out. It is in this balancing that I’ve found an experience that is unique to Ooligan Press: navigating the murky waters of career development by simultaneously being a publishing professional and a student still gaining the knowledge and experience needed to break into publishing after graduation.

I will admit that even though I joined this program in order to get practical skills and make connections in the publishing community in Portland, I still approached classes my first term as I have during the rest of my school career—intent on getting good grades, maybe to a fault. I didn’t balance my priorities correctly for what I wanted to get out of this program; I focused on papers and readings before taking on projects within the press. While this approach can be especially helpful for those who want to continue on in academia or who are in this program for the theoretical insights it can offer their other skills, I lost sight of trying to build my skills as an editor as I shied away from taking on more publishing work in order to do my best as a student.

However, after attending conferences (#networking, am I right?) as a staff member of Ooligan Press, my perspective shifted from “making it a learning experience” to “representing myself and my press to other influencers in the community.” As one of the acquisitions managers for Ooligan Press this coming year, I was invited to a reading that was hosted by Ooligan Press and Literary Arts. It wasn’t until I got there, though, that I realized it wasn’t like the panels or readings I’d been to before where I’d viewed Ooligan Press as part of a graduate program. The event drove home the fact that Ooligan really was a publishing press focused more on serving the authors than the students participating in it.

This has been backed up by some fantastic teachers who realize that even though we are grad students looking to earn good grades, we are also here to gain skills and experience—and subsequently, they treat us like we are getting training in the workplace, not participating for a grade. In the classroom, I have learned to hold myself on a higher level and see these teachers not as authority figures whose every word I have to listen to but rather as more experienced colleagues. In doing so, I have built a better rapport with them.

While there have still been times when I’ve worried more than I should have about the outcome of a paper (though realistically, I’d done all I could at that point), and there have been teachers who prioritize academia and insist we do reading assignments, there are also benefits to being closer to a student than a full-fledged professional employee. I have felt more comfortable asking for feedback on my work than I would have at a job, because I don’t feel like it affects my professional appearance—I am here to learn, so I’m going to take every opportunity to do so. Ultimately, I came out of the last term viewing myself as a capable employee and will be approaching the rest of my Ooligan experience as such.