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?

A Quick Guide to Planning a Writing Conference

I am writing this blog post as a little time capsule that is part instructional guide and part philosophy on communicating and coordinating with people. My hope is that the future managers in charge of the Write to Publish conference will read this and get some useful information.

This blog post will be a little less reflective and a little more reactive, as I am currently still in the thick of planning the 2020 conference, which will take place on January 11 at the Smith Memorial Student Union—less than a month away (how terrifying)!

However, what I want to talk to you about, future managers of Write to Publish, is the way in which you invite speakers to participate in the conference, because I believe that is the most important part of the planning process.

The term “speakers” refers to everyone from the keynote to additional panelists, instructors, moderators, and facilitators—they go by many names and do many things, but the most important thing you need to know is that they are people who are giving you their time, often without any guaranteed benefit for them in return.

If you are planning a conference, it is vital that you take this to heart when communicating with panelists. Take the time to be engaged with speakers and show your appreciation for both their work and the unique individuals that they are.

This begins with your very first email: the pitch. The pitch is your first step—maybe your only step—and it needs to do three things:

  1. Define your vision for the conference. In other words, it should communicate what is so wonderful about your conference. This should be unique every year, but it should align with our main goal: demystifying the publishing industry. This vision should have a broad appeal to your potential speakers so that they can start to see their work aligning with it.
  2. Show how the panelist fits in with your vision. This requires you to research each individual panelist and find something about their work that connects back to your vision for the conference. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off exponentially. It shows that you are engaged with their work and that you are sincere in your invitation.
  3. Invite the panelist to the conference. This is what oftentimes is called “the ask.” Be clear about what you want panelists to do, but also be flexible. Not everyone feels comfortable with speaking on a panel; some speakers may feel more comfortable facilitating a workshop. Allow yourself enough flexibility with your program to accommodate panelists’ interests and abilities.

Now comes the hard part: the time between sending out your pitch and getting a reply. Many anxious thoughts will fill your mind, but you have to ignore them, because at this point you will be sending out so many invites that you will be too busy to be anxious about it! Take comfort in routine: research potential speaker, write invite, send invite, repeat over and over again until you have enough speakers. A comfortable number of invites for a panel is anywhere between five and ten potential speakers. Yes, I have invited ten people to participate in a panel and gotten three replies. That is normal. Don’t panic. Just keep sending invites!

It may take an hour (bless them!), a few days, or even a month, but most people will reply to your initial email. In a few cases you may have to send a follow-up. These follow-up emails should be short and polite and should refer back to your previous email. Never assume that someone intentionally ignored your email or that their lack of reply is a rejection. Many potential speakers are very busy and get a great many emails every day.

A new email pops up in the inbox. It’s a reply! Exciting but also scary. Rejection is not great, and you run the risk of it. Take a deep breath and click that email! If it is a rejection, your reply is simple: a quick thank-you and you are out. If it is an acceptance, your reply should also be a thank-you, but you are in! If the newly confirmed speaker has any questions, feel free to answer them. Always be quick to reply to their email. It shows that you are engaged, invested, and respectful of their time.

The difficult question: “Do you offer an honorarium?”

It is difficult to talk about money in any situation, especially when you don’t have any to offer. At this time, Ooligan does not offer an honorarium for speakers at the Write to Publish conference (a future goal, I hope). Write to Publish is many things—a publishing conference, a networking event, an open house for the graduate program in book publishing—but at its core, it is a fundraising event for Ooligan Press, so our budget is tight. Most speakers will understand this, but for some, this lack of compensation will be a deal breaker. Publishing is a field full of passionate people who also need to get paid; respect that. Just as we don’t have the budget to pay people, speakers don’t always have the budget to attend the conference unless they are being paid. Thank them for their time and consideration and allow them the opportunity to bow out of the conference as gracefully as possible.

A final note: Your sincerity is the most vital asset you have in planning this conference. It is your social capital—the only currency you have to offer people. Caring about the speakers and having their best interests at heart is an essential part of planning this event. Your goal should always be to ensure that everyone involved has a good time and gets the most out of their experience. If you can hold onto this idea amid all the chaos, you will do great work and hold a wonderful conference that I hope to attend.

Best of luck!

Events and Outreach: What’s That?

Events and outreach: if you’re a new or prospective student of book publishing, chances are you’ve come across this term once or twice when looking into the program or researching the publishing industry in general. The term itself can be a bit vague, since it can encompass a lot of things. I didn’t know exactly what it was either when I first started at Ooligan. At the time, I knew it had something to do with a conference, and since I’m an avid convention goer, that was enough to hook me in. But once I started working with the team, I got a better sense of what it was, how important it was, and what it meant to be a part of it.

Outreach is a vital element of every press. There is always a person or a team (depending on the size of the press) dedicated to connecting with the community, generating exposure, and creating interest in their books, their authors, and their brand. They are the ones in charge of contacting people and networks outside of the press to review their books, feature their books and authors on their platforms, and keep the community well informed, happy, and, most importantly, interested in their list—past, present, and future.

Through outreach, a press can get its name out there, keep its titles and authors relevant and in people’s minds, and continue to bring traffic to the press, which results in more books and hopefully more sales. By facilitating interaction with people outside of the press, outreach makes publishing appear more personable. You could almost consider outreach a form of very targeted marketing that, rather than focusing on a particular book, is directed at the press and all involved in it.

So, what does this mean for Ooligan Press specifically? Well, Ooligan’s events and outreach team has one major responsibility, and that is putting together the Write to Publish conference, an annual one-day event dedicated to demystifying the world of publishing. That means that we’re the ones contacting sponsors and vendors, procuring food donations, creating panels, and deciding on a conference theme. We handle the press release, the social media campaigns, and anything else having to do with the conference. Write to Publish is important for a lot of reasons. It’s Ooligan’s main fundraising event of the year, and it’s also the place where we help local authors get together and learn about all things writing and publishing. We give them an opportunity to network by providing a space where they can introduce themselves to various local presses, which in turn helps those presses by giving them a little more exposure.

In addition to organizing the conference, this team also holds many other responsibilities, such as putting together outreach campaigns with local libraries and schools to generate interest in the press and our books; hosting Ooligan Press’s annual writing contest; and working on many other exciting behind-the-scenes projects.

So, if you’re an incoming Ooligan student or someone wanting to find their place in publishing, remember events and outreach. If you like working with books and people and you enjoy the rush of bringing something to life, this might be the place for you.

It’s Pub Year: Now What?

My project team was excited to start Spring term here at PSU, as it meant we were one step closer to publication date. We’re working on Ooligan’s final Spring release, a memoir entitled Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War, by Rosa del Duca. (For more background on the book, check out this post.) After first reading the manuscript for the memoir way back in 2017 during the acquisition stage, we’re looking forward to finally seeing the book process come to fruition in a tangible way.

At this point in the book’s development, the vast majority of editing work is done. We’ve cycled through developmental edits, copyediting, and proofreading. There’s still some tinkering of the manuscript going on, but generally speaking, the book looks very similar to its final form. (For more info on editing, take a look at other blogs on that topic.) Among many other steps, we’ve already outlined a marketing strategy, sent sales kits to representatives, received blurbs from other authors and individuals whose work is relevant to the book’s themes, and printed galleys. Galleys, also known as ARCs (Advance Reader’s Copies), are initial print copies of the book that will be sent to reviewers, bookstores, newspapers, and other types of publications; they are not for sale. Galleys are a great way to get a sense of what the book will look like in print form before we order the final print run of the copies that will be available to the public.

We’re also done with the design aspects of publication. Many outside the publishing industry don’t realize that book design is far more than creating a compelling cover, and also includes extensive work laying out the interior (i.e. how the text itself looks on the page). Interior designers’ work can be painstaking; they are not merely copying and pasting the manuscript into a document, but meticulously selecting fonts, layouts, and combing through each page to make minute adjustments to the text’s positioning to ensure a smooth reading experience.

Marketing and social media are important focuses right now. On the marketing end, we’re requesting reviews, setting up author interviews, and generally finding creative ways to connect the book to people and communities we think would resonate with Rosa’s story. It’s not always easy to spread the word about a book, no matter how great it is, because there are so many things vying for readers’ attention in this day and age. This is where a good social media strategy comes in to complement marketing efforts. We break down our campaign into multiple phases, starting with bringing awareness to the book and its main themes and, particularly in the case of Breaking Cadence as a memoir, our author’s background and résumé. We weigh the pros and cons of transmitting certain information on each social media platform based on typical user demographics and the formatting of the particular platform and think about how best to aesthetically represent the book in a consistent way. We also brainstorm the most important things we want to highlight in our posts, identify key people and organizations to reach out to, and ultimately, how to best engage our audience. When you see a social media post from a publisher, the content may look simple, but a lot of work has gone into its development. (For more information on book marketing, check out our past blogs on the topic.)

A final element of the process that’s currently ongoing is the Breaking Cadence audiobook. We are quite fortunate to have an author, Rosa, who has experience in radio and other recording (including an excellent podcast, Breaking Cadence: Insights From a Modern-Day Conscientious Objector), and who can take on the labor-intensive project of creating an audiobook recording. Given that Breaking Cadence is, of course, a memoir, listening to the audiobook in Rosa’s voice will provide an excellent companion option to reading her story in print, and we’re excited to make use of her talent in putting this option together.

Only one more month to go, and we can’t wait. Pick up Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War on a bookshelf (virtual or otherwise!) near you on May 21.

By Word or By Bird: Acquisitions through Twitter

In acquisitions, a lot of the manuscripts we receive come unsolicited—we have never heard of the author, but they’ve looked at our submission guidelines and think their work fits with what we publish. We wanted to try a new approach to reach new audiences and expand the circle of writers who already know and submit to Ooligan.

As we are both primarily internet-dwelling creatures, exploring Twitter was a natural progression. And from the time we spent on Twitter, we noticed a large community of agents, editors, authors, and more using the platform to broaden their reach and visibility. The community of writers and publishing professionals on Twitter is vast, but there were a few aspects of the engagement that we thought could help us spark new connections, particularly manuscript wish lists, Twitter pitch events, and personal branding (find us @alyssalschaffer and @joanna_shwaba).

Agents and editors use the Twitter hashtag #MSWL to share concepts they’re looking for (or hoping for) in the submissions they receive. This isn’t meant to act as a writing prompt, but rather to match agents and editors up with writers who are already working on something along those lines. The tweets from individual agents and editors get filtered onto their own profiles on the Manuscript Wish List site. This is a great way to get a feel for what particular agents are looking for, and whether they might be the right fit for you.

Twitter pitch events are designed for authors to tweet out pitches of their book; agents and publishers then like the tweet to express interest in receiving a proposal for that pitch. It allows authors to be seen by a large number of agents and publishers at once, and helps industry professionals find more new voices in a short amount of time. The #PitMad contest (run by the same people who do Pitch Wars) is one of the most well-known, particularly because it’s used for all genres and interests. However, there are many Twitter pitch events that focus on specific niches or demographics, such as #DVpit (for marginalized authors), or #SFFpit (for, you guessed it, science fiction and fantasy).

Less official, daily interactions and, by extension, personal branding on Twitter can also lead to important connections. We’ve devoted a lot of thought and energy into what we tweet and how we engage with people (if you don’t believe us, take a look at our DMs—we send each other drafts to make sure our tweets fit our individual brands). Twitter is a great space to have casual interactions, both personally and professionally, because it allows you to participate in a kind of digital networking. Angie Thomas, author of the bestselling YA novel THE HATE U GIVE, found her agent and her place as a powerhouse in the industry through an agent Q&A.

Over the last year, we’ve experimented with a few initiatives in an attempt to engage with a larger audience of authors, and honestly, we’ve received mixed results. While we didn’t get as many submissions from the pitch events we participated in as we may have expected, we did see more the longer we engaged. When we did a whole week’s worth of #MSWL tweets leading up to our last #PitMad, we saw more people asking questions about Ooligan and what we’re interested in. Similarly, we’ve posted Twitter threads every term for the last year as a call for submissions, and each term, we’ve seen more interest. Although our initial payoff was low, we’re starting to see more online engagement and more consistent submissions.

Though increased submissions and higher visibility for the press are certainly our main goals with this kind of initiative, the real acquisitions are the friends we’ve made along the way. The writing and publishing community on Twitter is a great place to find connection and support.

(And remember: our #MSWL will always and forever include a space opera or steampunk Oregon Trail, so if that’s something you’ve got up your sleeve, please send it in to our brilliant successors, Taylor Thompson, @taylormegon, and Karissa Mathae, @KMathae. They’ve promised to keep a lookout.)