Finding Joy in Freelance Copyediting

There are many challenges when it comes to freelancing. Finding clients, setting your rate, and navigating communication channels can be daunting. While most of these difficulties can’t be avoided, some of the stress they cause can be offset by making freelance work a joyful pursuit. Allow me to share what my part-time freelance copyediting experience over the past four years has taught me.

Communicate Clearly and Constantly

I don’t think there’s a limit to how much stress can be avoided by communicating clearly, both upfront and throughout your professional relationship with your writer. Things that are highly important to discuss initially include:

  • Your rate and payment method.
  • Time needed to complete the edits.
  • Type of edit desired and style guide preferred.
  • Means of delivering materials to one another.

I have also found it useful to ask my client questions early on about their familiarity with Track Changes and markup language, and there are some technical questions I ask as well, like whether they use a PC or a Mac computer, which helps me know how to respond should they have trouble with formatting after I’ve returned the draft.

Favor Compassion Within Professional Boundaries

Once you have parameters set and feel at ease about everyone’s expectations, it’s important to maintain a compassionate approach to the editing process and your relationship with your client. It is easy to grow annoyed when a writer “checks in” just a tad too often or if they continue reaching out with follow-up questions after your initial agreement has been met. But chances are your client, especially if they are debuting their first book, is just nervous, and that’s an opportunity for you to be a professional source of guidance and acceptance.

Pay attention to how you communicate in your comments and edits. Use uplifting language and ask questions rather than making assumptions. Cultivating your author-editor relationship takes constant care, but if you do it right, you may wind up with a lasting connection.

See Greater Returns on Your Investment Through Referrals

I’ll be honest. Before coming into the Ooligan program, I didn’t have a professional website or portfolio anywhere on the internet. I haven’t even marketed myself as a freelancer on social media. All of my business has come through the referrals of authors I have previously worked with in some capacity and their networks, and projects have varied from self-published novels and memoirs to children’s books, from essay anthologies to sales copy.

This has been successful through keeping up with former clients, following their book projects, and celebrating milestones alongside them. Because of our connection, when they go on to attend writing conferences and meet other aspiring authors, there is always a chance that could turn into more editing work for me.

(Disclaimer: I actually would recommend setting up a website or e-portfolio for yourself if you’re just starting out or want to freelance full-time. Do as I say, not as I do, eh?)

Play to Your Strengths and Passions

I believe that any job can be exciting if you can modify it to fit your personality. For me, as a former high school teacher and computer tutor, this looks like being intentional in my efforts to clear up any confusion my writers may be experiencing. Whether it’s providing insights into obscure grammar rules or showing them helpful tricks in Microsoft Word, I use my background in education to add an extra layer to the feedback I provide.

This doesn’t have to be a service you verbalize or explicitly include in your agreement with your client. Personally, going the extra mile by educating makes the task feel worthwhile, much like it did when I used to work in a classroom. You will need to think about the interests or experiences in your life outside of editing that made work joyful and get creative in how you can incorporate them in your freelance endeavors.

Don’t let freelancing just be something that has to be done to make ends meet. If you can add value to the work by following these tips and more, you may find that the money isn’t even the part that makes it worthwhile.

How to Build Community with Other Editors

Editing can be a lonely profession. The number of in-house editing positions has declined in recent years, and more and more editors are working as freelancers. This means editors spend a lot of time at home, toiling away in Track Changes with only Merriam-Webster and The Chicago Manual of Style for company. But although editors are a notoriously introverted bunch, we all stand to benefit from a little social connection. What happens when you run into a truly perplexing problem—be it a difficult client or a questionable comma—and you need to turn to other editors for advice? Where can editors go to receive mentoring and to swap war stories? This post outlines some of the ways in which editors can connect with each other—virtually as well as in person—in order to grow as professionals and build a sense of community.

Social Media
Unsurprisingly, one of the best ways to connect with other editors is through social media. Joining online editors’ groups will enable you to tap into vast networks of editors from all over the world—many of whom are sitting at home alone, faces illuminated by the bluish glow of their computer screens, just like you! There are various Facebook groups specifically for editors, the most prominent of which is probably the Editors’ Association of Earth. Boasting over ten thousand members, this robust online community includes various forums and subgroups where editors of all stripes come together to share tips and tools, ask each other for advice, vent their professional frustrations, and have a good chuckle over language-related jokes and memes.

It’s also a good idea to maintain an active presence on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, which allow you to follow other editors and publishing professionals and maintain a solid network. (It’s worth noting here that Merriam-Webster has an insightful, entertaining, and often combative Twitter presence—all editors should follow this sassy dictionary.)

Editors’ Associations and Guilds
While communities on social media are fun and free to take part in, editors should also consider joining professional associations. These usually cost money to join, but the benefits are often worth it. One of the major editors’ associations is ACES: The Society for Editing, which hosts an annual conference (although the 2020 conference was sadly canceled due to COVID-19) and offers membership benefits that include a free listing in a freelancer directory, access to the society’s quarterly journal, and discounts on editing-related conferences, publications, and tools. Membership costs $75 a year for regular members and $40 a year for students.

Another organization to consider joining is the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). The cost of membership with the EFA is steeper: $145 a year (or $260 for two years), plus an initial processing fee of $35. However, the EFA does offer some valuable perks, like discounts on editing courses, access to the EFA job list, and—in some regions—discounts on healthcare.

And then there are local editors’ associations, which offer more opportunities to get to know local editors and network face-to-face. For example, editors based in the Pacific Northwest might consider joining the Northwest Editors Guild. Membership costs $65 a year, and benefits include access to an online job board, local networking happy hours, and mentoring sessions with more experienced editors.

Conferences
Another great way to meet editors, writers, and publishing professionals is to attend conferences. In addition to the annual ACES conference, there are a variety of editing- and publishing-related conferences held across the U.S. every year (pandemics notwithstanding). These include large-scale national conferences like AWP, along with smaller local conferences like those hosted by PubWest and Willamette Writers.

In Conclusion
No matter what kind of editor you are, you’re never alone! By reaching out to other editors through social media, professional associations, and conferences, you can grow your professional network and develop a support system of like-minded word nerds.

The Next Page: How Kickstarter Bridged the Gap of Publishing Conferences

In publishing, the ability to network can make or break careers. Whether you’re an author looking for representation, an agent looking for the next big talent, or an editor extending their reach into different genres or styles, networking never really becomes an optional part of the job. Though digital solutions for networking exist in the form of social media or dedicated (often private) chat channels, they are not quite enough to eliminate the barrier for aspiring or incoming publishing professionals who are looking to join the workforce.

Most publishing professionals find themselves at industry conferences at least once a year, given the chance. Whether they’re keeping up on trends or looking for a new position, the ability to attend a conference can make or break someone’s career in publishing. Tautologically, they are also very difficult to attend in person without already having a job with a press- or a publishing-adjacent company that can facilitate attendance. Travel costs, lodging, and tickets themselves are extremely cost prohibitive to some people, and that’s provided the event isn’t by invitation- or industry-only. So how, then, are incoming professionals meant to find the connections and information that would grant them access to those events, or to the industry as a whole?

That’s a question that’s too large to have a single answer, but on May 11, 2019, Margot Atwell, Director of Publishing at the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, sought to find a solution with The Next Page, a publishing conference that had no precedent. Working under the belief that, despite huge gains in the past decade, publishing “is not representative of the world we live in,” Kickstarter partnered with Fireside Fiction to try and change it with their first ever two-part publishing conference.

The one-day event, held at Kickstarter HQ in New York City, hosted some of the brightest and most respected voices in publishing today, including Portland publisher Joe Biel and former Ooligan editorial professor Dongwon Song, to discuss the future of publishing in an ever-changing landscape. The panels, in almost every sense, were very close to other publishing conferences, each about an hour long and spanning an array of four different topics: finances, representation, technology, and community building. The panelists and moderators were vetted professionals not only in book publishing, but in magazine, comic book, and web spaces, providing a colorful and varied view into today’s current publishing climate, and a not-inconsiderable audience who attended the conference at the Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn.

From left to right: Margot Atwell, Dongwon Song, Amy Stolls, Joe Biel, and Ruby sit on panel 'Paying the Way: Economic Sustainability in Publishing.'

From left to right: Margot Atwell, Dongwon Song, Amy Stolls, Joe Biel, and Ruby sit on the panel ‘Paying the Way: Economic Sustainability in Publishing.’

But what made The Next Page truly unique was its choice to livestream each panel for free to the public, requiring only an RSVP via the Kickstarter website. After following the livestream link to the Kickstarter YouTube channel, digital attendees could watch and participate in conversations through a live chat (which I was honored to be asked to moderate), send in their questions via chat or email for the panelists, and have the conference experience in pajamas in bed or sitting at their kitchen table. It didn’t require taking time off work for travel, finding lodging in an overwhelmingly crowded city, or handling all the little extra expenses that come with most out-of-town conferences.

Moreover, the addition of a digital format allowed The Next Page to truly address accessibility and the limitations barring so many people from joining the industry. Not only did they live-tweet parts of the panels, which is standard, they archived the videos for later viewing for those who could not attend, and, after reviewing concerns from participants, moderators, and attendees, ensured every video provided closed captioning for the hearing impaired. At a time when accessibility for panelists with mobility aids is often overlooked until it’s too late, Kickstarter didn’t shy away from the extra time or money it cost to ensure they were practicing what they preached.

So the real question is, why don’t more conferences do this? Whether for established professionals or those trying to find their footing, the concept of using technology to bridge gaps and lower accessibility barriers for audiences isn’t new for publishing. Having been a part of this conference, I can only think about how much stress I avoided not having to rush around a convention center, how much money I saved by participating from my home office, and how many connections I made through the live chat with participants despite being hundreds of miles away, including one that eventually landed me a gig. While I wouldn’t suggest industry-only conferences throw their doors open as free events, tools certainly exist to ensure the target audience is in attendance while also encouraging greater engagement. Digital solutions shouldn’t and do not have to be exclusive to those with the extreme financial flexibility that seems to be a prerequisite for a successful publishing career, and I hope that other conferences were watching closely.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw an abrupt shift as the world moved their classrooms, conferences, and workdays all into a digital space. It’s unclear if Kickstarter will be hosting The Next Page sometime in 2020, but one thing is certain: this conference filled a gap where it was needed, a genuine way to uphold publishing by sharing information, knowledge, and community in an industry we feel strongly about, made all the better by the earnestness with which it attempted to level the playing field. And there’s no question at all that Kickstarter walked so the rest of us—publishers, editors, and writers alike—could run.

The Next Page 2019 archives can be found via their website, and I have it on good authority that it’s more enjoyable if you stay in your pajamas.

A Worthwhile Visit from the Author of Elephant Speak

What were you doing in 2014?
Five years ago, Roger Henneous granted author and friend Melissa Crandall permission to begin work on a book that would detail his life and experiences with a special herd of elephants at the Oregon Zoo. Writing a biography takes incredible patience, and finishing one takes true dedication. Alongside its spirited author, Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd enjoyed its first appearance in the spotlight this October at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Fall Tradeshow. During the “7 Coming-Up” author showcase, Melissa shared with booksellers the story of how she met Roger and the elephants’ former matriarch, Belle (read the speech on Melissa’s blog). Fresh advance reader copies had their spines stretched one by one as Melissa signed first pages and gave copies away with her thanks to all the attendees, many of whom shared connections with the Asian elephants of Portland.
While many Ooligan authors reside in the Pacific Northwest, Melissa currently lives on the other side of the country, in Connecticut. From Ooligan’s perspective, she existed solely on the other end of email threads and phone calls until her recent visit to Portland, which became an important turning point in this book’s journey. Melissa visited with Roger and his family, celebrating the book’s role in strengthening their friendship. She then spent a full day working with elephants Rose-Tu (daughter of Me-Tu) and Shine (previously Sung-Surin and current herd matriarch) and their present-day dedicated keepers. By the time I met Melissa for the PNBA Tradeshow the following morning, her clarity of purpose was rejuvenated by the joy of these reunions. As a result, so was the purpose of Ooligan and Elephant Speak.
With four months to go until publication, it is a wonderful thing to be excited about this book. The major tasks ahead of us depend on that excitement. Before the holidays, Elephant Speak will be proofread and the interior design will be finalized (all photos included!). Project management tasks will consist largely of communicating with those who are contributing blurbs and reviews, building awareness of the book on social media, and planning the book launch alongside Melissa’s tour of Oregon bookstores and other locations in March. I am grateful to have a team of people who, having just read the book for the first time, understand the story’s leading themes of sacrifice, love, camaraderie, and growth, all of which continue to guide our positioning of Roger’s story within the larger context of animal caretaking practices, human-animal bonds, and wildlife conservation.
Thanks to the strong start given to this book project by my talented predecessor, Monique Vieu—along with the enthusiastic support of our long-distance author and the newly admitted excitement of Roger himself—we can now look forward to the final steps of preparing Elephant Speak for its winter debut.
Ooligan, on three! That is, March 3, 2020.

Five Important Lessons We Learned from Freelancing

Do you like making your own schedule and choosing your own projects? Are you someone who doesn’t mind being home all day and is probably also a night owl? Chances are you’ve thought about being a freelancer, perhaps for design, editing, or marketing. The publishing world, like many other industries, is increasingly relying on outsourcing work to freelancers, especially since the technology is available to make this process easy. There’s certainly a demand for freelancers, and best of all, you would be working for many different companies, organizations, and publishers, both large and small, rather than limiting yourself to one job, one set of responsibilities, one type of product.

But you’ve probably also heard that it’s incredibly difficult to make it in the freelance world. Being responsible for your taxes, your health insurance, and your ability to bring in enough income is a daunting task. These are tough questions to figure out, but if you like being both boss and employee, then don’t let the challenges outweigh the rewards. While we can’t possibly tell you all there is to know, we’ve both been in the business of freelancing in publishing-adjacent fields for a few years now, and we’ve provided five of the most important lessons we’ve learned the hard way.

A bit of background on us: Jenny primarily works in freelance graphic design and book design, though she occasionally does a bit of social media and editing freelance work as well. Adrian’s specialty is in freelance copyediting and building custom ebooks. In the past they also freelanced as a traditional illustrator.

  1. You have more connections than you think, so use them proactively.

    Jenny: I got my first big freelance job because I noticed that an organization I had connections at could use graphic design and social media help. The day after a simple inquiry and meeting, I was asked to draw up a proposal for the kind of work I’d be willing to do as an independent contractor. I’ve received steady work from them for almost two years now and have been offered other freelance work because of my time there. Take the initiative; the worst they can say is no. Other jobs have come from listening to friends, family, and coworkers. By just offering your services, even if your first clients can’t pay you much, you’ve opened yourself up to a whole new network of potential clients down the road. And, if they’re your friends or your relations, they’re far more likely to brag about you and your skills to others.

    Adrian: I bid for work regularly on Upwork (formerly Elance), but the best jobs have come from laborious networking and from existing connections. My first solid freelance copyediting job was a novel passed along to me from a writer/editor friend in New York who had worked on a previous book in the series. I got an email from the author out of the blue saying his editor had recommended me. This is how you build your client base: you don’t only advertise your services to writers—you also cultivate relationships with other editors and publishing professionals. So be proactive about widening your professional network and keeping those relationships strong. Focus on a long-term foundation of credibility and integrity, not a short-term payoff. You never know who is going to think of you when they’re swamped and need to pass off a project. Make these same efforts with your clients. An author’s trust is not lightly given, and they’re likely to come back to you or recommend you to their community if you’ve cultivated a good rapport with them. It’s not just your direct connections who will bring you work; it’s the people they know, too.

  2. Be flexible, but also know your boundaries.

    Jenny: Last-minute projects and lots of nitpicky edits are often part of the job. However, you should always be aware of the fine line between being “nice” and being a doormat: remember that you’re a professional and the relationship with your client has rules. You’re the boss now, so you have to be tough, even though it’s hard to confront someone about money. Communicate in writing about how much you’re expecting to be paid and when, what exactly you’ve agreed to do, and what the timeline for a project should be. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if the project is turning out to be a lot more complicated than you initially thought.

    Adrian: One of the earliest lessons I had to learn was how to say no. People will ask you to work for free. They will ask you to work for experience or exposure, or to wait to be paid until after a book is published. They will want you to copyedit their 100,000-word memoir for a flat rate of fifty dollars. They will attempt to argue your rate down at the end of the project. You’re a professional; the first step to being treated like one by other people is to treat yourself like one. Be clear about your boundaries from the start and stick to them. You know that anonymous quotation—”what you allow will continue”? It’s 100 percent true. Be consistent. If you take weekends off, don’t respond to client emails on weekends. Don’t let anyone convince you your time is worth less than it is. If you encounter rate resistance, refer to the common rates listed by the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). Ask for what feels right for your experience level, and don’t suffer bullying.

  3. Present yourself professionally, but be honest about your abilities.

    Adrian: Know your limits. Don’t misrepresent yourself or your abilities to a client because you’re afraid to say no or because you’re desperate for experience. Never agree to more work than you can handle. There are a lot of writers out there who don’t understand the magnitude of the editorial process or the differences between levels of edits. And when you offer both editorial and ebook services like me, there are often writers who think you’re going to handle everything from developmental editing to copyediting to designing an ebook in a matter of days, especially if you’re foraging for work on a highly competitive platform like Upwork. The EFA has a quick guide to types of editorial work that you might invoke for clients who don’t quite seem to know what they’re looking for. Talk with the author about their needs; if what they want sounds more like a developmental edit than the copyedit they’re asking for, tell them so.

    Be crystal clear about what you’ve agreed to do, and don’t get caught up in the excitement of getting contacted for a job. Stay realistic, and if you realize partway into a project that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew—maybe the book needs a heavy copyedit, not a light one—be honest. You should handle yourself professionally, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an automaton. It’s okay to tell a client that the manuscript requires more work than you anticipated, or that you’ve got too much on your plate, or that you’re not going to be able to meet a deadline. Always offer a solution: Negotiate a new timeline or rate, or if someone approaches you with a project you don’t have time for, defer it to a colleague. Your colleague will appreciate it, and maybe one day they’ll return the favor.

    Jenny: It might seem counterintuitive to admit that you don’t know how to do something, but there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know how to do this,” as long as you follow up with, “but I’m willing to learn or find out how.” You’ll never know how to do every single thing a freelance job calls for, because every company and project varies. I recently completed a job for a Portland publishing company where I was asked to prep a PDF file for Amazon’s First Look feature. Had I ever done that before? No. Did I know how? No, but a five-minute Google search was all it took. Editing, graphic design, marketing, writing—they’re all different jobs, but all of them ultimately come down to knowing how to problem solve. And how do you learn how to problem solve? Be curious. Ask questions. Stop worrying about what your client thinks about you and figure out what you need to get a job done.

  4. Keep a detailed record of your projects.

    Jenny: This includes how much you charged, contact information, whether or not you were paid for a job, and how you were paid (by check, cash, Paypal, etc.). Make yourself an invoice sheet and send one to every client you take on, so both parties have records of how much is owed. For tax purposes, I also keep records of my business expenses, copies of business-related receipts, and a record of how much of my income I should be putting aside for taxes. A sidenote: be knowledgeable about the business aspect of freelancing—do your homework! Read up on what you need to get started; it’s not as simple as telling the world that you’re open for business.

    Adrian: Find or make an invoice sheet and use it. Keep copies and make sure you have them backed up somewhere. I also utilize contracts on long-term projects to explicitly detail my editorial responsibilities and specify the agreed-upon rate and deadline(s). It gives the author and me a sense of security, establishes a legal relationship, and helps prevent misunderstandings down the road. You can find sample editorial contracts with a Google search to tweak for your purposes. When you’re freelancing, you’re a small business. You’re accounting and marketing and everything else. Thinking in those terms as soon as possible will go a long way.

  5. Imposter syndrome is real—but it doesn’t have to be.

    Jenny: When you’re just starting out, you might have a lot of self-doubt: Am I allowed to charge that much for a proofread? I think my client is wrong, but I’m afraid to tell them. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to think you’ve made a mistake. When I start to doubt myself, I imagine what I’d say to a friend who’d just asked me those questions—somehow, it’s so much easier to give advice to someone else than to tell it to yourself. You’ve done your research into average rates, and you deserve to be treated like a professional. You think your client is wrong, so you should send a nicely worded email asking about it. Finally, remember that even if the worst happens, it’s not the end of the world. There will be other clients, other projects, and you’ll improve with every challenge, every frustrating moment.

    Adrian: It’s so real! And it’s perfectly normal. Respect yourself, accept where you’re at, and don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues and mentors questions. When my editor friend deferred that first copyedit to me, I was so unsure of myself that I consulted her and former coworkers constantly about how to handle problems in the text. Most of the time, they confirmed the solution I’d already pulled from memory or The Chicago Manual of Style, but that process helped me learn to trust myself. Once, when I was nervously, noncommittally fumbling over an oral translation in class, my Ancient Greek professor said something to me that lodged itself in my philosophy: “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loudly.” All you’ve got is your best, so give it confidently. And, as Jenny said, if the worst happens, it happens. Own up to your limits and mistakes. There will be other opportunities. No matter how they turn out, you’ll learn from all of them.

Submit to Read at the Oregon Writers of Color Spring Showcase

Literary Arts and Ooligan Press (part of Portland State University’s graduate program in Book Publishing) are seeking submissions from writers of color for the Oregon Writers of Color 2020 Spring Showcase.

The showcase features many of Oregon’s most talented diverse writers and is designed to connect these artists with the publishers seeking to hear their voices. This is the fourth installment of this series, which is intended to evolve beyond an annual event and promote a larger, more holistic conversation and tangible results for diversity in book publishing.

Publishers are often the link between writers and readers, and with both sides advocating for more diversity in books, publishing professionals have an enduring responsibility to sustain conversations and catalyze action toward intersectional representation and inclusion. Years of unequal representation in literature will take time to change, but Literary Arts and Ooligan Press vow to accelerate the transformation by helping to dismantle white bias and privilege in the culture of publishing by amplifying, spotlighting, and celebrating the undeniable talent of diverse voices.

Submissions from writers of color in Oregon will be accepted starting today through Thursday, March 12. The submission should be about one page (no longer than 500 words) and can be a work of poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama, or young readers literature. If selected, we will ask you to read your work at the showcase. With an hour of readings followed by an hour for mingling and connecting with local publishing industry professionals, this is an entertaining and enriching night for all attendees.

This event will be held on May 20, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. in the Literary Arts space in downtown Portland (925 SW Washington Street). If you are interested in participating in this event, please email your submission to Ooligan Press at alumni@ooliganpress.pdx.edu by March 12.

Submit to Read at the Oregon Writers of Color Spring Showcase

Literary Arts and the graduate program in Book Publishing at Portland State University seek submissions from writers of color for the Oregon Writers of Color Spring Showcase.
On Thursday, May 24, Literary Arts and Ooligan Press (part of Portland State’s graduate program in Book Publishing) will host the Oregon Writers of Color Spring Showcase, emceed by Reema Zaman, the 2018 winner of the Writer of Color Fellowship from Literary Arts. This event will feature many of Oregon’s most talented, diverse writers and is designed to connect these artists with the publishers seeking to hear their voices. This is the second installment of this series, which is intended to evolve beyond an annual event and promote a larger, more holistic conversation and tangible results for diversity in book publishing.
Publishers are often the link between writers and readers, and with both sides advocating for more diversity in books, publishing professionals have an enduring responsibility to sustain conversations and catalyze action toward intersectional representation and inclusion. Years of unequal representation in literature will take time to change, but Literary Arts and Ooligan Press vow to accelerate the transformation by helping to dismantle white bias and privilege in the culture of publishing by amplifying, spotlighting, and celebrating the undeniable talent of diverse voices.
Submissions from writers of color in Oregon will be accepted April 6–22. The submission should be no longer than a page and can be a work of poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama, or young readers literature. If selected, we will ask you to read your work at the showcase. With an hour of readings followed by an hour for mingling, talking, and connecting with local publishing industry professionals, it is set to be an entertaining and enriching night for all attendees.
This event will be held on May 24, 2018, at 7:00 p.m. in the Literary Arts space in downtown Portland (925 SW Washington Street). If you are interested in participating in this event, please email your one-page submission to Lisa Hein at lisa.hein@ooliganpress.pdx.edu by April 22.

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.

Write Around Oregon: A Quick Overview of Writing Conferences within the State

When thinking about a writing career, the first words that come to mind are usually not “conferences” or “networking.” While it’s a romantic notion to imagine authors holed up in cabins producing great works of literature all on their own, the truth is that the writing community is vibrant, collaborative, and surprisingly social. Writing conferences in particular have become an indispensable resource for anyone looking to stay connected to what’s current in the industry. Literary culture is constantly evolving, and conferences and other large-scale gatherings offer writers, publishing professionals, and other producers a chance to connect and learn from each other. Listed below are some of the great writing conferences around the state that Oregon authors should be sure to check out.

  • Oregon Writers Colony Annual Conference: For writers looking for something different from the usual large-scale conference atmosphere, the Oregon Writers Colony Annual Conference is a perfect fit. The Oregon Writers Colony is a community of writers that provides workshops, advice, companionship, and access to a writing retreat on the Oregon Coast. The annual conference is held in spring every year. This year, the 2017 conference took place on May 5–7 at the author-centered Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon. Check out their website for more information.
  • South Coast Writers Conference: Located in Gold Beach on Oregon’s southwestern coast, the South Coast Writers Conference celebrated its twenty-second anniversary in February of 2017. It is described as an “eclectic” gathering of writers of all genres and experience levels. The conference is cosponsored by Southwestern Oregon Community College and the Gold Beach Visitor Center. Organizers work to schedule this two-day conference each year during Presidents’ Day weekend, but keep an eye on the Southwestern Oregon Community College website for updates about next year’s event.
  • Terroir Creative Writing Festival: Sponsored by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County, Terroir Creative Writing Festival aims to build a strong local literary presence while also making connections to the broader writing and publishing community. With writing and publishing workshops, speakers, readings, and a festival bookstore, all those interested in contemporary writing are encouraged to attend. The 2017 festival took place on April 22 at the Yamhill County Campus of Chemeketa Community College; information about the 2018 event will be updated on the Terroir website once available.
  • Willamette Writers Conference: Because Willamette Writers is the largest writers organization in the Pacific Northwest, it’s no surprise that this annual conference gathers writers of all kinds—including fiction, nonfiction, memoir, stage, screen, and web—for a three-day conference in Northeast Portland. Whether a writer is new to the scene or a seasoned veteran, the event offers programming varied enough to appeal to the different stages of a writing career. The Willamette Writers website outlines the schedule in detail, but writers can expect to meet with teachers, speakers, authors, agents, editors, and producers that can advise them on their work and the writing process as a whole. The 2017 Willamette Writers Conference will be held from August 4–6 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel in Northeast Portland.
  • Wordstock: More than just a conference, Wordstock: Portland’s Book Festival is a celebration of books, authors, and bibliophiles in general. The festival is hosted by Literary Arts, an invaluable hub for the literary community in the Pacific Northwest. According to the Literary Arts website, last year’s festival featured more than one hundred authors presenting at various onstage events, pop-up readings, and workshops. With food, drink, live music, a large bookfair, and so many events, Wordstock is proof that literary culture is not only alive in Oregon but flourishing. The 2017 Wordstock festival is slated to take place on November 11 in and around the Portland Art Museum in downtown Portland.
  • Write to Publish: Hosted by Ooligan Press—the student-run, nonprofit press affiliated with Portland State University’s publishing program—Write to Publish is centered around “demystifying” the publishing industry for emerging professionals looking to get their work out in the world. Though the event touches on the craft of writing and hosts various workshops and panels, the spotlight is on helping new publishing professionals, writers, and other artists learn to successfully navigate the publishing industry. The 2018 conference marks the tenth annual installment of Write to Publish, so attendees can be sure to expect big things from next year’s event. Write to Publish 2018 is projected to take place next spring in downtown Portland, but be sure to keep checking its website for updates.

As evidenced by the number of large writing events held around the state, Oregon’s literary culture truly thrives in a social setting. Beyond conferences, authors can connect with other writing professionals on a smaller scale through opportunities such as workshops, residencies, and writing groups. Even the most solitary of writers can benefit through collaboration, and the Oregonian writing community is here to help.

Did we omit an important Oregon writing conference from this list? Email the details to oregonauthors@ooliganpress.pdx.edu!

“Conference Season: Write in the Pacific Northwest”

Summer is upon us, and with it comes conference season. There is a spattering of writer’s conferences throughout the year, most of them small-scale, but the warm, golden days of summer are simply packed with events to keep you in the air conditioning and away from the beach.

Conferences are unique events where writers, agents, editors, and freelancers all come together to geek out over books, talk shop, and scope out potential partnerships. If you’re serious about publishing, I highly recommend you make room for the occasional conference in your budget. But don’t try to attend all of them! I spent a year as a serial conference groupie and got so burned out that I toyed with the idea of never going to another conference ever again in my entire life. Ever.

But the fact is, conferences are good places to learn and network. So I took a break, and now that I’m back in the game, I pace myself. I pick and choose which conferences to attend, and during the event, I remind myself that I don’t have to go to every session. And who knows? While I’m playing hooky from Workshop C, I may run into that person I wanted to speak with, who might contact me in the future for a gig. True story, folks.

When looking for a conference to attend, you’ll find there is no shortage, but how do you sift through the Google search results to find the conference that’s right for you? Here at Ooligan Press, we’ve done the sifting for you. So whether you’re an extrovert who considers conferences a joyful time of networking, or an introvert who grudgingly grants them the status of necessary evil, we have the scoop on regional conferences happening this season.

Upcoming Regional Conferences

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference

  • When: July 28–31
  • Where: Seattle, WA
  • Base Price: From $475 (member price). Scholarships no longer available.
  • Website: PNWA

World Domination Summit: From Book to Idea Academy

  • When: August 11
  • Where: Portland, OR
  • Base Price: $59
  • Website: WDS

Willamette Writers Conference

  • When: August 12–14
  • Where: Portland, OR
  • Base Price: $279–$499 members / $324–$544 nonmembers
  • Website: WWCon

Oregon Christian Writers Summer Conference

  • When: August 15–18
  • Where: Portland, OR
  • Base Price: $525 members / $560 nonmembers / $350 students under 23. Rates valid until July 20.
  • Website: OCW

Write on the Sound Writers’ Conference

  • When: October 1–2 (preconference September 30)
  • Where: Edmonds, WA
  • Base Price: Various; $150 for main conference.
  • Website: WOTS

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Oregon Annual Fall Retreat

  • When: October 13–16
  • Where: Sublimity, OR
  • Base Price: TBA
  • Website: SCBWI

The Neverending Online Backspace Writers Conference

  • When: Various
  • Where: Online
  • Base Price: $225
  • Website: BKSP

This is not, of course, an exhaustive list, but it does include most conferences taking place in the Pacific Northwest this summer and into the fall. You should note that there may be additional costs added to the base registration fee if you sign up for things like optional sessions or meals. On the other hand, many conferences have scholarships or reduced rates for students. We have noted a couple discounts, but they are not always advertised. So be sure to check the website thoroughly, and remember that there’s no harm in contacting the organizers to ask.