Book Sales, Or Math for English Majors

Sit in a room full of English majors long enough, and you will eventually hear someone groan, “Ugh… math.” The topic may be differential calculus, or how to split the tab, but the sentiment is always the same. Why, the lover of words bemoans, do we have to take a break from talking about books to do things with numbers?

But perhaps your high school algebra teacher told you, as mine did, that math is everywhere. As an adult, I’ve been gratified to learn that she wasn’t pulling one over on a room full of fourteen-year-olds. Math is not only in calculus complexities and restaurant bills, baking and budgets; it can also be found in nature, arts and sciences, and even books. Because those English majors currently dividing their pizza into dollars and cents also bought the books they stayed up too late reading last night. They probably also bought the stack of books currently sitting on their nightstand, and the other stack that’s waiting on the bookshelf beyond that. Publishers know which of their books are in those stacks, and they use that information to make decisions about every part of their publishing process.

This may seem obvious. Publishers create products, so of course, sales are their guiding principle. However, as with other creative industries, workday conversations are often framed differently. During the editorial process, we talk about making the book the best version of itself. During design, we talk about reader appeal, and throughout marketing, the focus is on helping the book find its audience. One of the only places we explicitly talk about sales is during the acquisition process when we are gauging the sales potential of a new project.

Large publishers have the luxury of sales staff—entire departments that do the math of book people. Here at Ooligan, our small teaching press, we have to collaborate and integrate our understanding of sales figures and production into our learning curve.

This time last year, my colleague Elizabeth and I were in training with our publisher’s assistant predecessors, an educational process that memorably included an afternoon (little did we imagine it would be the first of many) kicking up dust in a basement room full of beautiful books. That was the first time I remember wondering, “How many books are there?”

Now, a term spent packing up our basement storage room has better equipped me to understand Ooligan’s inventory, a new interface has introduced me to the movement of books through our distribution, and I’ve received crash courses in royalties, returns, and special sales. These spreadsheets and sales reports may not be the glamorous editorial pursuits or intricate design work we pictured publishing to be, but they keep the wheels turning through every part of the publishing process.

Ooligan in the World

Here at Ooligan Press, our managers, project teams, and department specialists put countless hours of work into creating the books you see on our list. From acquisitions and editing through design and marketing, our talented colleagues sit in meetings together discussing strategies and best practices, take those conversations home to create something wonderful, and then return to our meetings the following week to do it all again.

It’s a deeply effective learning process, but there is one important piece of book birthing that it doesn’t account for: the immensely rewarding experience of bringing our books and our authors out into the world and watching them shine.

From intimate readings to established conferences and book festivals, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months arranging opportunities for the world—or at least our Pacific Northwest corner of it—to meet our books and their authors. There have been plenty of volunteer schedules to fill, promotional marketing and social media posts to plan, and boxes of books to cart to and fro. In return for that work, we’ve watched our authors delight and charm audiences while their books are admired, applauded, and carried away to new homes. So where in the world have we found Ooligan authors this fall?

Brian K. Friesen’s At the Waterline was published last May, and this summer found Brian and his family embarking on a book tour across Oregon and Washington, culminating in late summer with a much-anticipated reading at Portland’s book mecca: Powell’s Books. Later this fall, Brian also joined awarding-winning fellow Oolie author Eliot Treichel at the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wild Arts Festival, “a celebration of nature in art and books,” where both were featured authors.

Meagan Macvie’s The Ocean in My Ears entered the world in the beginning of November to glowing reviews from such industry giants as Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Book Riot, and School Library Journal‘s Teen Librarian Toolbox. It even made it onto a Bustle list of “The 11 New YA Novels You Need To Watch Out For In November 2017.” With her book generating so much enthusiasm, we’ve loved watching Meagan do the same. She began the fall season with a panel appearance at the Montana Book Festival, where she talked about picking a publisher and the advantages of going with a small press. At this year’s Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) conference, Meagan was invited to participate in an evening “Sweet and Greet” event where she signed advanced reader copies of the book and connected with regional authors and booksellers. Then, the big send-off: we celebrated Meagan and the launch of The Ocean in My Ears with 90s trivia and lots of laughter.

Meagan wasn’t our only representative at PNBA. Ooligan Press also staffed a table at this two-day conference, showcasing our books and chatting with booksellers, librarians, and other publishers about our work. Both first and second year students are given the opportunity to attend events such as this and to begin testing the waters of networking and business-to-business marketing.

Ooligan and our authors have had an action-packed fall, and it all built up to the main event of the season: Wordstock. Meagan, Brian, and the Ooligan Press team all attended Portland’s most anticipated book festival to indulge ourselves in all things literary. Brian and Meagan both had pop-up readings in the Portland Art Museum’s American Art Gallery and signed copies of their books for eager readers at Ooligan’s table. Later in the afternoon, Meagan taught at the sold-out workshop Writing YA Fiction: Bringing Young Narrators to Life on the Page, helping budding writers hone their skills. All throughout the day, you could find the smiling faces of Oolies around the festival. Students staffed our table, attended readings and panels, perused the aisles of booksellers, and even staffed other publishers’ tables as part of their various internships. Wordstock also, as it does every year, turned into an unofficial reunion for Ooligan alumni. Graduates flocked to the table to pick up copies of books they worked on during the early stages of development and to catch up with old friends.

Ooligan has been spending a lot of time out in the world over the past few months, and now we are turning our focus inward as we prepare to move out of our current offices in early December.

From the Missions to the Sea: Driving the Path of the Missoula Flood with Cataclysms on the Columbia as a Guide

There are many places in the world where one can see the dramatic effects of cataclysmic events carved into the face of the earth, if one knows how to look. Eastern Washington is one such place, and the revised second edition of Cataclysms On the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods will show you where and how to look.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by the effects of the Great Missoula Floods. But I never knew about the floods until I caught episode 1001 of the Oregon Public Broadcasting program Oregon Field Guide. The program covered the Missoula Floods in a general way with some interesting animated and visual effects, but did not really delve deeply into the geology surrounding the events, or into the detective work of the scientists who pieced together the puzzle of what happened from their observations of the geological record. Over the years since watching the program, I have happened upon sites impacted by the floods, with their attendant interpretive signs giving me just a little more of the context of the story. While visiting the national bison refuge outside St. Ignatius, Montana, I discovered that I was standing near the bottom of Glacial Lake Missoula. While on a detour coming back to Portland from Spokane, I stumbled upon Dry Falls and got to see firsthand the deep scars that the floodwaters cut into the Palouse region of Eastern Washington. And taking my young children to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, I discovered an interactive exhibit devoted to the floods that put the depth of the flood waters in perspective. But it wasn’t until I began working at Ooligan Press and found Cataclysms on the Columbia in our back catalog that I felt like I’d been given the key to unlocking a deeper understanding of the floods and the detective work it took to initially put them into a geological context.

The Great Missoula Floods were a series of geological events that took place near the end of the last ice age, between 15,000 and 18,000 years ago. At the time, there was a massive inland lake in Western Montana. At its maximum size, it was roughly 2,100 feet deep, holding more than 530 cubic miles of water. These 530 cubic miles of water were held in place by a dam of roughly 50 cubic miles of ice. This ice dam gave way and reformed somewhere between 40 and 90 times during the life of Glacial Lake Missoula. Each time the dam broke, the waters behind it were released in a massive three-day flood that scoured its way through Eastern Washington, swelling the Columbia River to over 60 times the flow of the Amazon, and erupting from the mouth of the Columbia Gorge just west of Portland. As the floodwaters spread out into the lower Columbia and Willamette Valleys, they dropped more than fifty cubic miles of accumulated topsoil and boulders the size of small houses. At the height of the flood(s), waters in the Portland area would reach a depth of 400 feet—only the top floors of Portland’s tallest buildings would have been visible.

Cataclysms on the Columbia tells the story of the Missoula Floods and their geological impacts in great detail and is the first publication to attempt to relate the geological story in a way accessible to everyday readers. Also included in the text are a general introduction to geology, sections devoted to other ancient cataclysmic floods, and the story of J Harlen Bretz, an early champion of the Missoula Floods theory, and his struggle to gain support for what would eventually be understood as fact.

The final section of Cataclysms on the Columbia follows the path of the floodwaters from outside Missoula, across northern Idaho to Spokane, Washington, southwest to the Rathdrum Prairie where the waters backed up and formed Glacial Lake Columbia, to the channeled scablands of the Grand Coulee and Dry Falls, to the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge, downriver to the Portland-Vancouver basin the Willamette Valley, and to the Pacific. Someday, maybe, I’ll make the journey myself, as the authors of the blog Ice Age Floods have done. I’ll have Cataclysms on the Columbia to guide my journey and my understanding.