Awards, Awards, Awards

Ah, awards season. A time of wins, losses, prizes, and registration fees. It’s a time when you must be comfortable with chaos surrounding you and you have to keep your memory as organized as your Excel sheets. But alas, this year has added yet another hurdle to the seemingly never-ending sprint, and that is COVID-19. Everyone has been uprooted by the pandemic in more ways than one. It seems to have affected nearly every facet of our lives, and rightfully so. If we don’t take the proper precautions, there will be even more unnecessary deaths than there have already been. Across the world, we are just trying to adjust to the “new normal” with no training wheels. But how has it impacted the awards season for book publishers? I’m glad you asked.

It’s chaos. Utter chaos.

Rules are altered, deadlines have been changed, and payment methods vary from award to award. It forces a person to practice multitasking on another level. But that’s what is asked of a publisher’s assistant. Like the publisher, we need to be able to switch and manage completely different aspects of the industry in a snap, moving from metadata entry one minute to working with marketing on the next social media campaign the next.

All in all, that’s what it means to work for a press. All of us have to juggle multiple tasks that don’t always seem to connect, but somehow these different tasks create a book. Without marketing at Ooligan Press, we wouldn’t have any clue who to sell the book to. Without digital, we would have no way to display our product. If we didn’t have an editor who also handled some coding, there would be typos in our books and no ebooks, and without design, the covers would all be gray. We’re all divided up into different groups with varying tasks that push and pull at our progress of creating a wonderful book that is, generally, written by a wonderful person.

So, why are awards so important to publishers if they don’t add to the book-making process?

Awards are specifically meant for post-pub, and a lot of independent presses depend on winning in their category in order to continue making other books. Ooligan Press likes to focus on some of the more well-known contests such as the Oregon Book Awards and the Foreword Indies because they tend to offer a more substantial monetary award while also creating deals for publishers that enter multiple titles. But Ooligan has also started turning its focus toward awards that support book diversity, especially as we start to publish more books with LGBTQ+ protagonists. Along with the monetary profit that can come with winning awards, many of these contests also bring more publicity for the book, bringing more buyers. So in the end, the chaos surrounding you and having to keep your memory as organized as your Excel sheets becomes extremely worth it when you think of what it can bring to the press.

A New Department at Ooligan

At nearly every press, there is a room that is stacked high with cardboard boxes.

For people in publishing, a certain feeling may be invoked by this image. I feel it myself. A book unread is a sadder sight than one unloved.

As a publishing student rounding out my final year in grad school, I have found that bookstores have become bittersweet places for me, especially now that I am aware of a book’s progress among the shelves. I now track them, from their start as new releases to their final days on the discount shelf. When a book disappears after that final stage, I know not to assume that it was sold.

For those unfamiliar with these things, that room in every press is meant to hold books that are to be sent out. How long a book is sitting in this space can determine its future at our press and in our backlist.

As passionate as we are about the industry we love, we are still operating as a business. Book sales sustain it.

And in this industry, some books sell well while others don’t. New titles in particular have only one or two boxes in that back room. Other books have more. Some boxes have even begun to collect dust. Some boxes have been sent out and returned with corners folded in and packing labels torn off.

Sometimes the books we love as publishers don’t end up selling as well as we would have liked. I find it important to note here that a book’s not selling well is rarely a sign of its quality. Some factors (like marketing budgets) can be determined, while others remain pure happenstance. Either way, most unread books exist because somewhere along that lifeline between a press and its readers, a connection was cut and a book didn’t make it to readers in time.

Markets move quickly; sales determine our place in them and whether we can remain there for longer than the “new release” phase. In book publishing, we have a very finite period of time to make a first impression on readers: it is about three months pre-launch and five to seven weeks post-launch. Additionally, over three-quarters of these outreach efforts are directed not at readers but at intermediaries like book reviewers, media outlets, and booksellers.

Currently at Ooligan, we are trying to extend this period of time. My position as a manager is transitioning to take on this project.

How do we do this impossible task? By engaging directly with our readers. Media has an expiration date on timely content, but readers experience time differently (more on this soon). We are currently working on planning several strategies to engage readers. This project is somewhere between mass communication and community building, and it involves creating a brand-new publicity department at Ooligan. As for the day-to-day, I have been working on creating various newsletters that include curated content made especially for Ooligan readers. With this work, we hope to build a more direct relationship with the reading communities that we provide books for. In doing this, we hope to extend the shelf life of our books for a longer time than what the present market and media space can offer.

These newsletters allow for us as publishers to speak about our books and how they came to exist. If you would like to receive newsletters from Ooligan, please contact publicity@ooliganpress.pdx.edu. Our newsletters go out biannually and are tailored to our readers’ diverse reading interests.

One final thought:
A book is a time object that captures its author’s consciousness in the moment in which it is created. A bookstore is therefore a space filled to the brim with people displaced by time. And an author can capture the imagination of readers two decades or two centuries after their book has been released. So, if an author can speak through time and a reader can listen, then why can’t a publisher pull a book back from the past and speak a little about it?

Know Better, Do Better: Editing for Authenticity in Our Spring YA Title

Ooligan Press is proud to announce our upcoming title The Names We Take, which will debut May 19, 2020. Written by Washingtonian first-time author Trace Kerr, this young adult postapocalyptic novel follows Pip, a tough seventeen-year-old girl, in the wake of a devastating plague. After swearing an oath to never leave anyone behind, Pip takes the twelve-year-old Iris under her wing. A tragedy forces the girls to navigate the shattered remains of Spokane and its outlying areas, where they meet a third girl, the headstrong Fly. As Pip, Iris, and Fly negotiate their identities and relationships, their circumstances grow more dangerous. Pip quickly learns two things: first, that never leaving anyone behind is easier said than done; and second, that her friendships are the key to finding meaning in life beyond survival.

The Names We Take faces down its darker elements—including violence, bigotry, and abuse—with both unflinching realism and hope. Importantly, it portrays the struggles of two main characters who fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Because these identities do not exist as a monolith, and also because this is a book intended for a YA audience, Ooligan chose to incorporate authenticity readers (sometimes called sensitivity readers) into the editorial process.

Authenticity readers are specialized editors who often step in when authors are writing characters whose identities and experiences they do not personally share. These readers check for inaccuracies, unconscious biases, and insensitive language, and they usually have personal experience related to the identities of the manuscript’s characters or to the events that transpire in the manuscript. Because there is no one way to relate to a given identity or experience, best practices generally dictate that books with sensitive material require multiple authenticity readers. For this process to be effective, editors and authors must be receptive to the feedback they receive.

Part of the beauty of working with a collaborative press like Ooligan means that, in addition to the three people who performed formal authenticity reads, Ooligan was able to solicit the opinions of press members who were not on the team for The Names We Take but who were still willing to point out potential sensitivity issues in the manuscript without doing formal sensitivity edits.

Many of us at Ooligan—including the book’s author—had never experienced an authenticity read before this one. As a learning experience, it was invaluable. This process has also sparked a lot of important conversations about how the press will structure its editorial timeline moving forward. Beginning as early as the acquisitions process (when books often undergo developmental edits), the press will now consider whether or not a book requires authenticity readers, at what point in the editorial process these readers will be brought in, and how to synthesize the authenticity edits in the most effective, efficient way. It’s a responsibility the press takes seriously. The work of authenticity readers has thoroughly enriched The Names We Take in content, voice, and message, and we know the same will be true for many future books—at Ooligan and beyond.

We look forward to sharing The Names We Take with you soon! Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for further updates.