Celebrating the Most Notorious Works of Beverly Cleary

Beverly Cleary was born on April 12, 1916, in McMinnville, Oregon, about an hour outside of Portland. Beloved author, daughter, spouse, and librarian (she was even named a “Living Legend” by the 2000 Library of Congress), Cleary knew from a young age that she loved books and reading. She began writing and telling stories that kids could identify with after hearing concerns from her children at school. After publishing her first story, Henry Huggins in 1950, Cleary began her journey as a published author, writing over forty books that were translated in twenty-nine languages, and receiving countless awards. It’s easy to say that one could not go through their life without encountering her name or her stories at least once.
With her recent passing on March 25, 2021, the world has collectively mourned the loss of one of the greatest authors in our history. It all started here in Oregon, where she took inspiration from her early childhood memories growing up in areas such as Portland and Yamhill. With little pieces of home woven throughout, let’s take a look at some of Cleary’s most notable works and how they connect to her life in Oregon.

  1. Henry Huggins (1950)
  2. Cleary’s first published book followed the story of Henry, his dog, and his neighbors, including some familiar names: Beezus and Ramona. Cleary explained that her first book took much inspiration from her own childhood and the neighborhood kids that she grew up with in Oregon, as well as the kids she knew from school as a librarian. Because Cleary spent most of her time in the Portland area, the Henry Huggins book series showcases familiar Portland landmarks, including Grant Park, where Henry was well-known for hunting nightcrawlers, and Knott Street, where Henry had his infamous paper route.

  3. Beezus and Ramona (1950)
  4. The main characters in what is probably her most popular book series, Beezus, and her younger sister, Ramona, were first introduced in the Henry Huggins books. Known for their dynamic duo of personalities, the sisters have adventures all over town, even in their very own home located on Klickitat Street in Northeast Portland. Other spots around the city include the Rite Aid on NE 41st, where the Colossal Market from the books is located, and Ramona’s school, Cedarhurst Elementary, is based on Portland’s own Laurelhurst School. The Multnomah County Library even features a stonewall map titled “Walking With Ramona” that maps out the areas that are mentioned throughout the book series so you can walk along the same paths! The books also inspired the 2010 film, Ramona and Beezus, starring Selena Gomez and Joey King. The movie was a box office hit, earning over twenty-seven million dollars.

  5. A Girl From Yamhill (1988)
  6. Although not as well known as her children’s books, Cleary also wrote and published an autobiography about her childhood and early teen years in Oregon. She expresses the difficulties that she had connecting with those in her family and her struggles with learning how to read. She grew up more independent than most would have thought, and her stories are not only inspired by her childhood, but they are also a recreation of what she wished her childhood was like. Cleary opens up and brings forth raw emotions as readers take a look at the woman behind the books. Her yearning for a relationship with her mother and missing her father, who was away so many hours of the day due to his job, are just some examples of what shaped Cleary’s life as she began her writing career.

Many people know the name, “Beverly Cleary” but not everyone knows the story behind the name. With so many iconic characters and series, Cleary has given a name to the Portland area and showcased its beauty through each of her books. The rest of the world will miss her, but the Oregon community in particular will feel her loss the hardest. While she may not be able to recount these stories in person any longer, her words will live on forever and continue to inspire readers of all ages and backgrounds. She not only wrote for herself and her imagined childhood, but for every child out there.

The Magic of Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center

Portland, Oregon, has long been heralded as one of the best locations in America for artists, authors, and other creatives to find inspiration and community. Indeed, the city’s reputation has made it a hub for creative-minded folks looking for opportunities to hone their crafts and, more importantly, showcase and distribute their work to the public. For authors and artists who don’t have access to publishing technology or spaces to create, print, and publish their work, there are distinct barriers to doing what they love. However, there is an incredible nonprofit organization right here in Portland that seeks to break down these barriers and make publishing affordable and accessible to all.
Founded twenty-one years ago in a partnership between writer, publisher, bookseller, activist, and Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly and printmaker Rebecca Gilbert, the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) is a nonprofit community center that is dedicated to making the process of publishing accessible and affordable to all. According to their mission statement, the IPRC seeks to provide “affordable access to space, tools, and resources for creating independently published media and artwork, and to build community and identity through the creation of written and visual art.”
One of the IPRC’s goals is to increase the accessibility of both print and visual publishing materials in order to promote diversity and equity in Portland and beyond through the creating and sharing of art. The center describes their goal this way:

By gathering such a diverse group of people under one roof, the IPRC nourishes an expansive and productive community, and is an incubator for the independent creative spirit that makes Portland unique. The IPRC fills the community need for low-cost access to otherwise expensive space, equipment, and materials, and supports artists to create quality, innovative, and experimental work that couldn’t be made elsewhere.

So just what kind of equipment does the IPRC have? The center’s main studio (currently open by appointment only due to COVID-19 safety precautions) offers an open workspace where patrons can work on individual projects and chat with other community members. The space is home to a digital lab containing iMac computers, which have access to creative software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign; black-and-white and color photocopiers (adorably named Blanche and Stella); paper-cutting equipment, including manual and electric paper cutters; paper finishing tools and staplers; button-making tools; and a Bind-Fast 5 perfect book binding machine. Haven’t used these tools before? Either a volunteer or the studio manager will provide you with training before your first use.
Outside of the main studio, the IPRC also offers other specialized studios for different types of printing. The Berlin Family Letterpress Studio is home to a number of letterpresses, a lead type collection, and even offers a galley rental. If screen printing is more your style, you might want to check out the WeMake Screen Printing Studio, which allows members to learn and practice screen printing fundamentals, and offers all the necessary materials that are needed to make a project come to life. Finally, the IPRC Risograph Studio is home to three Risograph printers and thirteen color drums. For each of these specialty printing studios, members are required to complete introductory workshops on how to use the equipment before being allowed to access and use the technology.
The IPRC also offers workshops and classes on a variety of other subjects, including creative writing (both fiction and nonfiction), poetry, chapbooks, zines, and even bookkeeping. The center keeps an updated calendar on their website with information about upcoming workshops and events. Other programs offered by the IPRC include a year-long certificate program that combines creative writing workshops with instruction in design, book arts, and print production; a BIPOC Artist & Writer Residency which provides authors with time and space to create, as well as a stipend of three thousand dollars; and summer youth camps that offer five weeks of creative writing, printmaking, and comic workshops for youth ages five to eighteen.
Interested in using some of the IPRC’s many tools and resources for your creative projects? Learn about membership opportunities and non-member access to studios on their website. You can also donate to this incredible organization to help keep it running so that the Portland community can retain access to these incredible resources. See their wishlist on their website, and support local artists by shopping the wonderful artwork created at the IPRC’s studios.

Announcing THE STEP BACK by J.T. Bushnell

Ooligan Press is excited to announce its spring 2021 title, The Step Back by J.T. Bushnell! The Step Back will be Bushnell’s first published novel. He is originally from Sisters, Oregon, and currently lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his family. Bushnell earned a BA in journalism from Linfield College and an MFA in fiction from the University of Oregon. He has taught writing and literature at Oregon State University in Corvallis since 2007. Bushnell’s short fiction has also appeared in Passages North, Mississippi Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Meridian, Flyway, Monkeybicycle, The Greensboro Review, and other literary journals. His writing about fiction appears in Poets & Writers, Fiction Writers Review, and The Science of Story.

The Step Back is a work of literary, coming-of-age fiction about Ed Garrison, an eighteen-year-old Californian who is about to begin college in the fall of 2000. A lover of basketball and dogs, Ed originally plans to attend UC Berkeley, but when his mom announces she is leaving his father and moving across the country to live with her new girlfriend, Ed begins to fall apart. He decides at the last minute to attend the far less prestigious Sequoia College instead, hoping that he can walk on to the school’s last-place, D3 basketball team and retain some sense of the community he is leaving behind. But, in a moment of hesitation, Ed loses his shot at playing college ball and slowly becomes unmoored, unable to connect to his classmates, refusing to communicate with his mother, and losing touch with his friends and—more importantly—his father and brother at home.

As Ed navigates college life, he encounters a series of failed romantic relationships, struggles to find intellectual inspiration, and develops a passion for distance running, all while struggling to regain the sense of home he lost when his mother left. In order to grow, Ed must face his own cruelty and selfishness, and he eventually finds that certain bonds are impossible to break, no matter how neglected.

Told with breathtaking imagery and imbued with compassion, The Step Back examines the loneliness that sometimes accompanies the transition from adolescence to adulthood, which can take a true reckoning to overcome. The novel addresses concerns prevalent to its setting in the early 2000s in ways that still feel relevant today including homophobia, sexism, substance abuse, class, and toxic masculinity.

The Step Back is due to be released in May of 2021, and it will be the first work of literary fiction from the press in over two years. This makes it a special challenge for the 2020 and 2021 Ooligan cohorts and an exciting opportunity to work outside of the genre fiction the press has published recently.

More coverage of The Step Back will be available as the project develops.


Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday has been released, and that means a new Library Writers Project title will be coming your way in Spring 2021. Ooligan Press is excited to announce our next title in our partnership with Multnomah County Library: Finding the Vein by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde! This is the third title to be published through the partnership with Multnomah County Library and Ooligan Press, and we are thrilled to be working on this amazing story.

Since 2015, Multnomah County Library has called for submissions every fall through the Library Writers Project. The Library Writers Project gives local authors the opportunity to see their manuscripts published as ebooks through the library. This means that members of Multnomah County Library can check out the submissions via wonderful services like Libby or OverDrive. Ooligan Press and Multnomah County Library became partners in 2018 to feature local Portland authors and to bring ebook-only works into print as a part of the annual collection.

The collection’s newest title, Finding the Vein, is a murder mystery that takes place at Heritage Camp, a summer camp for internationally adopted children in Oregon. It follows the story of teenage camper Isaac and Detective Mikie O’Malley as they try to solve the case of a murdered camp counselor. Isaac and Mikie, the two narrators, show us two very different ways to solve a case—there’s the official way, the way of a detective, and then there’s the not-so-official way, in which Isaac’s supersmart camp friend Hal hacks into a few databases. As Isaac and Mikie start to get answers, more questions are unearthed, and they begin to realize that at Heritage Camp, murder is just the tip of the iceberg.

Get to know the author, Jennifer Hanlon Wilde:

Jennifer Hanlon Wilde lives and writes in Oregon. She is a nurse practitioner and teacher who thinks of her work as opening a kind of map to study the well-worn places where storytelling intersects with health. She also enjoys real maps, traveling the world with her family, and, as a doctoral student at Washington State University, nerding out over global health data. A robust community theater and music scene, acres of orchards, and unparalleled local cider and beer have made it a joy to put roots down in the Columbia River Gorge, but being a Red Sox fan is in her DNA. Finding the Vein is her first novel.

Finding the Vein will be available in print and ebook formats in Spring 2021, and we can’t wait for you to solve the case with Isaac and Mikie. Follow Ooligan’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for updates!

For more information about Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday, visit our book page. Check out the Multnomah County Library site to learn more about the Multnomah County Library Writers Project.

Reproductive Pairing: Books, Podcasts, and Taboos

We consume much of our media by proxy: by listening, overhearing, and exchanging stories with those around us. Constantly on the move, many of us rely on radio, audiobooks, podcasts, and music to fill the quiet spaces in the commute or morning jog. It’s easy to open Spotify or Audible and let the algorithm decide which new title to listen to or what is “trending” in the charts. Audiobooks are essential to those long summer road trips. In the style of the New York Times list “What (Books) to Listen to This Summer,” this particular compilation is a playlist with an added bonus: curated podcast-novel pairings designed to enhance the listening experience through both mediums. These pairings focus on the recent surge in dystopian novels that explore the future of women’s health and reproductive rights.

There are quite a few recent novels that deal with “dystopian futures” in which our world is threatened either economically, politically, or environmentally. Perhaps the most magnetic of these are the ones in which women’s health, bodies, and rights have been regulated and restricted by political means. These titles, like Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, do massive work in generating conversation around reproductive healthcare and women’s rights. Why is there a threat to our freedoms? What do these freedoms look like to us? How are we each impacted by this discourse? Until recently, I never had to think too much about birth control or if I even wanted to have children. Now, these topics consume the media and my mind. It’s helpful to have a fictional way to explore the potential fallout that faces us when our government makes decisions about our bodies. These novels offer context and shine a beam of empathy into a situation that has become highly politicized. Ravenous for more information, I took a dive into digital conversations surrounding health, reproductive rights, and motherhood.

Novel: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

From Portland State University’s own Leni Zumas, Red Clocks follows the lives of four Oregon women whose stories are affected by recent government restrictions on their bodies. In an imagined future, abortion and in vitro fertilization are illegal across the US, and access to adoption is limited. The lives of four women are woven together to illuminate the complexity and anxiety that comes from the loss of bodily autonomy. Zumas has her finger on the pulse of a tangible and real threat to healthcare and freedoms.

Podcast Episode: “The Abortion Wars, Part 1: The Last Clinic in Missouri” on The Daily
The Daily takes a look at two different midwestern states tackling abortion legislation in opposing ways. This first episode in a two-part series explores what Missouri is doing to erradicate all abortion clinics in the state and how that affects residents of the state. As a companion to Red Clocks, this podcast offers a real-time look into the current political movement in some states.

Novel: Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah

Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah

In Before She Sleeps, Shah imagines a not-so-distant future where men vastly outnumber women. The government regulates reproduction, requiring women to take multiple partners in order to reproduce faster to “save the planet.” Yet some women resist. This novel shines a light on the dangers of gender selection, seclusion, and authoritarian control.

Podcast Episode: “The Abortion Underground” on Science Vs
Science Vs uncovers the painful history of America before Roe v. Wade and interviews two revolutionary women who ignited a movement for women’s health and reproductive education in the 1970s. This podcast puts the facts in front of the taboo and infuses fact and science into a debate that is often overwhelmed with emotion. Similarly to what Shah has done, Science Vs gives voice to the revolutionary women who take big risks for what they believe in.

Novel: Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

In Motherhood, Sheila Heti explores the meaning of motherhood: what our mothers teach us and what motherhood or the pressures to become a mother can imply for each of us. This book was particularly relevant after I heard women around me talk about their decisions about whether or not to have abortions, get IUDs, or even adopt children.

Podcast Episode: “What If You Regret Becoming a Mom?” on The Cut on Tuesdays
“When the baby comes, you’ll change your mind.” But what if motherhood isn’t for every woman? This episode of The Cut examines motherhood, choices, and personal identity through candid and truthful conversations with mothers and those who chose not to go that road. As a companion to Motherhood, this podcast follows up with more honest perspectives from women in various places in their lives on a subject that we don’t often get to dissect so boldly.

Why Authors Should Obsessively Read Submission Guidelines

Let’s take a moment to picture the perfect scenario: You think up a million-dollar concept. You sit down one night and write an entire, error-free draft in one go, and then publishers fight to the death over the rights to publish your book. Next comes the movie contract, and before you know it, you have your own section in bookstores and Universal is tearing down yet another section of the park to build your world for all to see. Perfect, right?

Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that publishing is not only more mysterious than that, but also harder than that. So we’ll look at the world as realists instead of optimists: You think up a character, plot point, scene, world—something that sparks a book idea—labor over the project for weeks or months or years, probably scrap it at least three times, finish your first, third, tenth draft, and finally feel ready (enough) to query agents or publishers, depending on your publishing goals. Once you find that agent or publisher, there are definitely more steps (maybe including an adaptation, if you’re lucky), but the sad truth is that the majority of writers don’t make it past this query stage.

I don’t say this to discourage you. In fact, I’m here because I want to encourage you to do everything in your power to make it past this hurdle. Because I want you all to succeed, I’m here to share a publishing secret with you—a way to persevere and get past this stage in the publishing process so you can eventually see your book baby out in the world.

The secret: Read the submission guidelines. Then read them again. And a third time, to be as thorough as possible.

Why should I do that? you may be asking. It’s simple. Not only does reading the submission guidelines tell you something about the agent or publisher you’re trying to impress, but it also tells that agent or publisher something about you. Don’t believe me? Here are five reasons you should obsess over submission guidelines:

  1. It shows the agent or publisher that you’re serious. Plenty of people can blindly copy and paste their query and email a whole chain of agents and publishers, and we always know. Each agent or publisher has specific things they want included in the query (e.g., pages included, pages pasted or attached, a short bio, a synopsis, etc.), and if you know those guidelines in and out, you’ll be able to personalize your query to their tastes. Take your querying journey just as seriously as you want publishers to take you.
  2. You won’t waste anyone’s time. If you’re sending queries en masse, you’re likely sending them to agents or publishers who don’t represent or publish the type of book you’ve written. Not only does it waste your brain space to hit send on that email, but it also wastes time on the receiving end.
  3. You may discover something you don’t like about the agent or publisher. Maybe you heard of them through the grapevine, but a little research about their submission guidelines tells you that you shouldn’t work for them. This doesn’t mean they’re bad people by any means: maybe you write in multiple genres and they only represent one of those genres.
  4. You’re a professional, so you should act like it. There are a lot of mysteries in this industry, but submission guidelines are not one of them. They give you insight into agents and publishers. Any professional writer who is serious about their career needs that insight, so take advantage of it.
  5. They’re there for a reason. As someone who has crafted submission guidelines on multiple occasions, I’m here to tell you that I don’t spend my time on them for nothing. The genres I do or don’t take on depend on how confident I am in my ability to sell those genres and lead those books to success. If you want a successful career—maybe one that leads to those adaptations I mentioned earlier—the first step is finding someone who really knows how to champion your book, and you’ll only do that by reading the submission guidelines.

Bonus: if you’re reading submission guidelines and are stumped on what some of the lingo means, check out Writer’s Relief, where they have a post about how to interpret submission guidelines. Happy reading!

The Indie Presses of Portland

In Portland, there’s an independent press for every sort of project you can imagine. More importantly, each press has a unique mission statement that will help you, the writer, find the best match for your personal and creative goals. Let this guide to local indie publishing houses help you decide where to submit your next piece.

  1. Tin House: Although they were part of the literary world for years beforehand, Tin House officially became an independent press in 2005. Tin House publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as out-of-print and underappreciated books. Titles include Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by David Naimon and Ursula K. Le Guin, Pretend We Are Lovely by Noley Reid, and Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett.
  2. Overcup Press: Overcup specializes in nonfiction books with a strong design element, including books on travel, art, literary nonfiction, and design, as well as epicurean titles. Their titles include Volcanoes, Palm Trees & Privilege: Essays on Hawai’i by Liz Prato, 99 Ways to Make a Pipe: Problem Solving for Pot Smokers by Brett Stern, and The Tall Trees of Portland by Matt Wagner.
  3. Perfect Day Publishing: Perfect Day Publishing has been an indie press in Portland since 2011. They focus on emotional stories in the form of literary nonfiction, essay collections, and memoir. Titles include Stranger in the Pen by Mohamed Asem, What About the Rest of Your Life by sŭng, and Yeah. No. Totally. by Lisa Wells.
  4. Microcosm Publishing: Microcosm Publishing began as a record label in 1996 and has transformed into a press that focuses on building skills, exposing hidden stories, and fostering creativity through nonfiction books and zines about self-improvement, gender, and social justice. Recent titles include Chainbreaker Bike Book: An Illustrated Manual of Radical Bicycle Maintenance, Culture, and History by Ethan Clark and Shelley Lynn Jackson, Coping Skills: Tools & Techniques for Every Stressful Situation by Faith G. Harper, and The Practical Witch’s Almanac 2019: Expanding Horizons by Friday Gladheart.
  5. Forest Avenue Press: Forest Avenue Press was founded in Portland in 2012 and largely publishes adult literary fiction related to Oregon and the surrounding area, focusing on works that involve activism or that put new twists on fairy tales and folktales. Titles include Parts Per Million by Julia Stoops, Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum, and The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge.
  6. Future Tense Books: Future Tense Books began in Spokane, Washington, in 1990, briefly moved to Arkansas, and settled in Portland in 1992. This press focuses on publishing the work of groundbreaking authors in the form of novellas, story collections, and novels that go in unexpected directions. Titles include I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) by Tatiana Ryckman, Liar: A Memoir by Rob Roberge, and Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson.
  7. Burnside Review: Burnside Review, formed in 2004, puts out a journal issue every 9–12 months in addition to publishing full-length books of poetry and chapbooks through their contests. When their submissions are open, they accept fiction and poetry to be published in their journal. Titles include Such a Thing as America by Sarah Blackman, The Volunteer by Andrew McAlpine, and MEOW by Mark Baumer.

And, of course, there’s our very own student-run Ooligan Press.

Inspired yet?

Realizing You’re Part of the Problem: E-Waste

I do a lot of reading online. This shouldn’t feel like a hard-won conclusion, and yet it is something I have only started to notice recently. I work at a book press, and yet more and more, the role paper plays in my life has diminished. When I was going to Danebo Elementary School in 2005, I came to class outfitted with clean paper notebooks, folders to fill with my paper assignments, and binders to hold it all together. Today I use my laptop to take notes, which I save to Google Drive along with all my other assignments, which I turn in to my professors via D2L (Portland State University’s online learning management system), where I find my assignments, schedule, and syllabus. The books I read for work and pleasure are almost always downloaded onto my phone either as EPUB files or as audiobooks. I carry almost no paper with me and feel righteous frustration when handed a paper syllabus.

I feel virtuous for saving paper, but this issue might not actually be as cut and dry as we think. According to Alison Moodie’s 2014 article for The Guardian, “Is Digital Really Greener than Paper?”, it’s more complicated than that: “More than 65 percent of paper in the US was recycled in 2012, making paper the nation’s most recyclable commodity. Over the past century, forest coverage in the northern part of the country, from Minnesota to Maine, has actually increased by 28 percent.” Turns out a big reason your bank has been pushing you to “Go Green, Go Paperless” is to reduce costs. This article claims there just weren’t any studies comparing the sustainability of digital and paper media. But while paper’s relative sustainability may surprise you, wait until you hear about e-waste.

Digital media certainly seems sustainable. It’s “reusable” and makes other materials obsolete (I haven’t had an alarm clock, a flashlight, or a calendar that wasn’t part of my phone in six years). Yet more and more, smartphones and other electronic devices are treated like disposable objects. The average American keeps their cell phone for only eighteen months before discarding it. Cultural and manufacturer practices support this. Companies end maintenance to operating systems that support older devices. Overseas factories make the cost of production relatively inexpensive, and lack of know-how makes repairs to older or even gently used devices expensive and inconvenient. My last phone died when I spilled water on it—once. I went to my service provider, and they immediately started the process to get me a new one. The only place they could send it for repairs was back to the manufacturer, but a refurbished phone is considered a piece of junk in a culture where the newest device is a status symbol.

This has a cost. Despite US regulations about proper e-waste recycling, 60 percent of e-waste ends up in landfills. These leach toxic materials into the environment. Of the materials that are recycled, 30 percent are still unusable and end up getting thrown away.

Since I grew up during a time when the internet, social media, and personal devices were becoming a part of everyday life, the materiality of these things has been invisible to me. I only recently thought to wonder if the internet was the result of more than just magic (spoiler: it is). It took my sixth phone and second laptop for me to see my personal devices as material objects and to wonder where they went when I was done with them.

This is a much more complicated issue than what I have presented here, and I encourage you to do your own research. On an economic and cultural scale, we need to change how we interact with electronics before we can label them sustainable. Read more about those here. On a personal and local level, there are things you can do! Do your research about where to recycle old devices locally. Green Century Recycling is a good option in Portland. When your device breaks or sustains minor damage, try taking it to your local electronics repair shop. Or maybe try iFixit.com to find user-made repair guides and challenge yourself with some DIY projects.

Right now iFixit is teaming up with the Repair Association to lobby for right-to-repair laws in the state of Oregon. Learn more about it here. Add your name and start fighting e-waste.

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.

Branding for Authors: Is It Authentic?

Branding is a word heard a lot in the publicity department of any company—what’s your brand? What makes you recognizable? What’s that Instagram aesthetic, that tone in your tweets, that marks you as distinctly you?

Authors are, in a sense, a business unto themselves. In a digital age when personal presence is what sells the book on social media, it is critical for authors to have a consistently branded page or account for users to follow and engage with. But this consistency, this need to post only certain tweets or pictures, might be considered the epitome of the “social media as a false reality” argument. Does having a consistent brand make someone inauthentic online?

The need for authors to put themselves—rather than just their books—online comes from readers’ desire to really connect with the writer behind the stories that they’re reading. Now, fans can not only rate the book on Goodreads, but they can also feel as though they are participating in a community to help build the author up and promote their book. This is especially true in the young adult genre. With the internet making young people feel increasingly disconnected from the world, any kind of interaction and community they can participate in makes a huge difference in how they feel they are impacting the world.

With fans out there ready and willing and even longing to participate with authors on social media, engagement and presence become absolutely necessary. But it can quickly go from a few fun responses to an overwhelming flood of things to post, like, retweet, and reply to. The more an author is engaged with, the more they (and, subsequently, their book) are boosted in SEO (search engine optimization). The more an author engages with their audience, the more engagement they’ll receive. Branding helps control this overwhelming social media presence. Not only does it give the author a clear vision of what to post, but it also saves them time when they jump online and have to figure out what to share and engage with.

Fans love consistency, whether they know it or not. Seeing a consistent Instagram feed draws users in. Seeing consistent opinions and shared book news on a Twitter account attracts followers. A brand essentially helps an author to create and keep this consistency without losing their mind. So is this brand inauthentic?

Not at all. Brands take one dimension of someone’s personality and show that to the world. Just because other dimensions of that personality aren’t on display doesn’t mean that one side isn’t real. In fact, if we were to post everything about ourselves at all hours of the day, the chaos that came out of it would quickly destroy our social media following. Fans follow authors to see the author side of them, and there’s nothing inauthentic about that.