Behind the Scenes with Ooligan Press at the Portland Book Festival

The Portland Book Festival, formerly known as Wordstock, is Oregon’s biggest literary event of the year, featuring panels, vendors, speakers, and lots and lots of books. Every November, the day-long event attracts authors and publishers from near and far, and last fall, Ooligan Press was proud to be included yet again. The festival drew its biggest crowd yet, with authors such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Lauren Groff, Tommy Orange, and Emily Suvada, and featured celebs-turned-authors Tom Hanks (who held a baby on stage at the Schnitz!) and Abbi Jacobson of Broad Cityfame.

In preparation for Ooligan’s role at the festival, the publisher’s assistants (myself and co-assistant, Stephanie Anderson) are responsible for finding and training volunteers from our press to oversee our vendor booth. We then work closely with our publisher to make sure all the books and supplies we’ll need are packed and ready. The day before the event, we set up in the Mark Building at the Portland Art Museum, where the vendors are located. Each vendor is given a specific time slot for setting up to streamline the process and keep things from getting hectic. It’s strange to see how empty the second floor ballroom is before the event. It’s a far cry from what it’ll look like the next day, when the room fills up with vendors and festival-goers. This year, we had a prime spot—a corner end cap right across from Powell’s Books massive set-up.

No other literary event in Portland draws as many readers, writers, and publishing professionals as the Portland Book Festival, which is why it’s one of the most important promotional and networking opportunities for Ooligan. It’s a chance to discuss our frontlist and backlist with potential readers while both are on display, and it’s also a great time for selling books. This year, two of our YA authors joined us at the booth to sign books—Meagan Macvie, who wrote the Kirkus-approved The Ocean in My Ears, and Connie King Leonard, whose Sleeping in My Jeans recently pubbed to great acclaim.

Sometimes people who approach our table aren’t always looking to buy a book. Instead, they want to create one, and we’re always happy to provide them information for how to do so. But one of my favorite parts of tabling at the festival is when I get to talk to prospective students interested in the book publishing program and working for Ooligan Press, which, of course, I highly recommend. And it’s always fun to visit with fellow local indie publishers like Overcup Press and Pomegranate.

After a long day of cementing Ooligan’s place within the Portland literary scene, inventory is taken of the remaining books, the cash box is counted, and the books are packed up and loaded onto the pushcart with the help of some amazing volunteers. Unlike setting up, all of the vendors pack up to leave at the same time, so getting out of there isn’t quite as smooth as getting in, and waiting for the elevator can take awhile, but it’s all worth it to be a part of the fascinating and fun celebration of books that is the Portland Book Festival.