How We Updated Our Mission Statement

In the aftermath of the George Floyd protests last year, our press decided it was time to take more active and progressive steps towards diversifying the books that we publish. In the fall we began investigating and discussing the best way to implement these changes, and in the winter we assembled a team to research and draft an updated mission statement for our press.
Ooligan’s Background
Ooligan Press is a trade press run by the students of Portland State University’s Masters in Book Publishing program. Our press publishes four books each year, which creates learning experiences and fosters growth so that students can enter the publishing industry with both experience and knowledge.
Most of our decisions are made together through a democratic process, whether we are acquiring a new book or voting on a cover. This is a pretty rare process in the publishing industry—and it’s somewhat unique to us—so we wanted the process for updating our mission statement to be just as unique.
Our first task was to have all of our students write a list of several words and/or phrases that they believed should be included in the new mission statement. Regardless of whether or not it was included in the final draft, this allowed the mission writing team to see various trends and learn the values of those who make up the press, which would then be reflected in the updated statement.
Our writing team was composed of eight people who met over Zoom to complete the necessary tasks until a finalized draft was ready to present to the press.
In the winter, we began looking at mission statements from other presses and other facets of the industry such as publishers and printers. Our goal was to analyze a variety of mission statements in order to see what was working and what we could benefit from in terms of structure, rhetoric, etc. This may seem like a fairly obvious step, but this type of research allowed us to see all sorts of language and structures and to consider what would best fit the personality of our organization before we began writing.
We also looked at the slogans used by different corporations. Larger companies tend to focus on their brand and their outward image, so this exercise allowed us to look at effective and punchy copy that used a short number of words.
One of the most delicate parts of updating a mission statement is choosing your words precisely. While our press had a largely democratic process in the fall, the writing team was responsible for choosing rhetoric that matched the unique identity of our press. We discussed, agreed, and even disagreed, respectfully, favoring words like “equity” and “inclusion” over the more simple and overused “diversity.”
Another important part of the process was finding a way to simplify our press into its key parts, to really figure out who we are and what we represent in this industry. We felt that the most pertinent aspects of our press were the student-run and Pacific Northwest aspects, but we also wanted to add in a third idea of publishing diverse authorships.
We also looked at the structure of other mission statements, paying particular attention to word count and paragraph breaks to figure out how to most effectively organize our ideas.
Mission statements are most successful when they are focused and to-the-point. A writer who is submitting their manuscript is going to read dozens of mission statements, so we wanted ours to be under one hundred words in order to keep readers engaged, while still allowing them to get an understanding of who we are.
Pledge for Inclusivity
Our main focus, which I’ve been hinting at, was to add the idea of publishing diverse authorships so that we can demonstrate our progressive values as students. This has been an emerging part of our identity as a press, and we wanted this value to be stated clearly, without being buried behind our other goals. We want other publishers to know that this is what we are going for moving forward.
Team Writing
After our research and discussion near the end of winter, we finally began writing as a team. Team writing can be quite difficult, but we set out with concrete goals and tasks in terms of rhetoric, structure, concision, and our goal for inclusivity.
Our first meeting was very discussion-oriented, and before our second meeting, I compiled the most prominent points from each writer into a draft. When we met the second time, we discussed, tweaked, and played with the format until we had several versions of the same mission statement.
An advisory board of faculty members decided on one of these versions. After we presented it to the press, we allowed each student the chance to vote on the mission statement, and it ultimately passed. We are so excited to release it later this year!
The End of A First Step
Clarity, brevity, and utility were our main goals in updating our mission statement, and our group is incredibly proud of the work we’ve done. In moving towards our values of inclusivity, however, the mission statement is just the first step. Updating our mission statement is at the core of things that Ooligan Press wants to accomplish in terms of shaping literature and the publishing industry, and our work is still cut out for us.

Transcending “Business As Usual” in Publishing

This is a call to action for publishers, editors, and writers alike to think boldly and critically when engaging with social justice movements, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement. Public relations and optics should not be the sole motivation for an ethical operations practice. You might be hoping for an explicit outline of anti-racist strategies in the style of White Fragility––this is not that. The process of unlearning privilege and integrating anti-oppressive ethics into one’s life is messy and cannot be articulated in a how-to format. Committing to being a white accomplice is to subject yourself to discomfort in order to reconcile hundreds of years of complicity.

Publishing, like all areas of industry, has much to aspire to in terms of racial equity. In Portland and the Pacific Northwest specifically, publishing houses must represent the vast, rich histories of the region’s Black and Indigenous writers who have been historically underrepresented in literature while simultaneously pushed out of our cities. Because those who create, engage with, and publish literature are very real people, the industry is rife with the social problems that plague our greater society. We must share stories about the flooding of Vanport that displaced Black Portlanders in the early twentieth century. We must document the modern and historical narratives of the Indigenous tribes of Oregon whose people lost their lives and their land to white colonizers. Literature provides us a safe space to learn, reflect, and evolve. We cannot do this without amplifying the voices of Black and Indigenous communities in all forms of media.

The current uprising and weeks of protests make one thing apparent: “business as usual” has never been a justification for inaction. Posturing through performative allyship (posting a black box) or demanding emotional labor from the Black community during times of mourning reifies the misconception that it is the onus of Black folks to tell us how to do better. If publishers are only concerned with their viewership as it correlates to generating income, the consumer should and will hold them accountable. During a global pandemic, when we are all relying on social media to provide us with factual information (when news conglomerates continue to fail us all), we are navigating through an exponential amount of noise. As of this current socio-political moment in American history, brands and businesses need to take pause.

What I can offer you is a starting point. Throw everything away. Reimagine your mission, broaden your scope, hire Black staff and Black contributors. Don’t circulate redundant narratives of the white experience. Commit to doing more than a sensitivity read and if a manuscript reeks of an oppressive voice, leave it in the slush pile. Sometimes we have more questions than answers. I urge you to begin with Audre Lorde’s Questionnaire to Oneself, then push further. What have you, as a representative of your writing community, done differently in the last thirty, forty days? If you could quantify your anti-racist labor, could you sustain this work for a year? The rest of your life? Are you actually reading the resources and texts that you’re recommending? Have you budgeted your future earnings for reparations? Do you understand the necessity of abolition? Are you listening?

The How and Why of Mission Statements

With thousands upon thousands of publishing companies to choose from in the United States, it can be daunting for an author to know where to start. Who will provide them with the best experience? Who can devote the resources needed to create their product? Who has the expertise to make the book the best it can be? Who can most effectively reach the book’s target audience?

Now flip this situation around. With millions upon millions of people in the United States who think they have the next New York Times best seller, how can a publishing company find the diamond in the rough? What can a publishing house do to ensure they are receiving submissions for books they actually can and want to publish?

The most effective way a publishing house can convey this information to an author is through the company’s mission statement. Mission statements are not by any means specific to publishing houses. Any organization, from a multibillion-dollar corporate conglomerate to your kid’s sidewalk lemonade stand, needs to have a compass guiding its decision-making process.

Within a publishing house, a mission statement typically addresses a few key topics. For example, Ooligan Press’s current mission statement falls under the title “Our Interests,” dictating that our press looks for books that are regionally significant works of literary, historical, and social value to the Pacific Northwest. In addition, Ooligan Press is concerned with comprehensive representation and with sustainability.

In three simple paragraphs, authors can now see what Ooligan Press is interested in publishing. Does your book talk about sustainable practices? We’re interested. Does it take place in the Pacific Northwest? We’re into it. Is the author from the PNW? We’ll check it out. Is your book actually a cookbook or children’s book? Sorry, we can’t help you.

By having a mission statement, a publishing house narrows its focus to become an expert in the field. If we tried to publish the several dozen different types of books out there in the world, we would be mediocre at all of them. But by focusing on what we can accomplish within our financial and staffing limitations as a teaching, trade publisher, we can ensure that each book we acquire will provide adequate learning opportunities for our students.

But our jobs aren’t done when the last period is added to that final draft of our mission statement. We must work as a press to uphold and apply those values, and we must make a conscious effort to revisit our values as the nature of the world—and of publishing—changes.

Publishing companies have an amazing power to facilitate change and to shed light into the dark corners of the human experience. And because of this, we all have a responsibility to do what we can to help make the world a more enlightened place, one page at a time.

The Evolution of Ooligan’s Backlist Titles

At the core of any successful publishing press lies something very important: a mission statement. This declaration of intent and focus is how a press presents their goals and values to the public. Not only does this serve as a guideline for the future pursuits and acquisitions of titles within the press but it provides authors with a guideline for potential manuscript submissions. General audiences tend not to follow specific presses and often aren’t aware of the mission statements of the presses from which their favorite books are published. Even so, there are trends within each press that are more obvious to their employees.
Ooligan Press currently states that it “aspires to discover works that reflect the values and attitudes that inspire so many to call the Northwest their home.” While many of our current and backlist titles include Pacific Northwest locations and themes, Ooligan has not exclusively published these types of titles in the past. One of the neat things about Ooligan is looking at the different books we have published over the years and how certain trends have evolved. Ask any current Ooligan student what they think our publishing trend is today, and they would probably say “water” due to the large number of books published about rivers, oceans, etc. However, not every student knows that we have published books about historical figures and other countries.
One of the earliest books published by Ooligan Press was Abraham Lincoln: A Novel Life by Tony Wolk, which was followed by Good Friday and Lincoln’s Daughter, both continuations of the Abraham Lincoln series. This unique trilogy combines historical facts with fictional characters and a time-traveling Abraham Lincoln. While these books were published between 2004 and 2009, Ruth Tenzer Feldman started the Blue Thread series three years later. Blue Thread, The Ninth Day, and the recently published Seven Stitches also have a common theme of time travel. Feldman’s books continue the Pacific Northwest theme while also emphasizing protagonist diversity in gender, race, nationality, and religion.
Between 2005 and 2008—prior to a stronger focus on the Pacific Northwest—Ooligan Press published four books about Croatia that spanned fiction, history, and poetry. These titles include The Survival League; Zagreb, Exit South; American Scream: Palindrome Apocalypse; and Do Angels Cry?: Tales of the War. Not only are these books unique in their locality but they also provide a cultural awareness of a country and its historical events that many Americans may be unfamiliar with. American Scream also stands out as a backlist title because of its side-by-side presentation of the original Croatian and English translation.
While this is just a brief overview of diverse backlist titles, they show a fascinating progression of the Ooligan Press publishing mission. With such a variety of backlist titles, it will be interesting to see what is published in the next several years.