A Season of Change at Ooligan Press

For many Portlanders, the arrival of summer brings with it warmer temperatures, sunshine, and days without rain. At Ooligan, the arrival of summer ushers in a season of change and growth for the press as a whole.

One of the things that makes Ooligan truly unique is that it not only operates as a full-fledged literary press, but it is a press that is run entirely by students who are enrolled in the Book Publishing program. We are responsible for nearly every aspect of the press—from acquisition to production—under the watchful and supportive eyes of our publisher. Students in the second year of the program are even selected to be managers to help lead project teams and departments.

Because we are first and foremost students, the arrival of summer means that our second-year students, including managers, are graduating and moving on from the program, while our new incoming managers are wrapping up their training and preparing to take over their departments for the summer term of classes.

In a traditional press, losing fifteen employees and training nineteen new ones would seem like the stuff of nightmares, but at Ooligan, this kind of changing-of-the-guard is normal—it’s simply how things are done.

The incoming managers also face a unique challenge: remote learning. Most of the graduating managers had the opportunity to attend in-person classes for almost a year before the pandemic closed campus, and as a result they were able to form these amazing connections with each other and this great camaraderie that resonates throughout the press. First-year students have had the reverse experience: they began the program with every aspect of their experience being remote, including training, and are finally preparing to attend in-person classes in September.

If there is one thing that I have learned while trying to navigate life as a student during a pandemic, it is that this pandemic has made us more resilient and adaptable than ever. When we were submitting our applications to the program, we had no idea that this would be our future or our reality. Regardless of our status as a first- or second-year student, we have adapted to every obstacle and challenge put in front of us. We have made it this far into a global pandemic, so we can handle pretty much anything. It is this kind of grit and determination that will have a profound impact on both the press and the program in the future.

Needless to say it will be interesting to see how these different experiences, learning environments, and mentalities will influence the press in the future.

Here is a list of current roles/departments that help run Ooligan Press:

  • Four project teams, one for each book we are currently working on
  • One project team for our Library Writer’s Project manuscript
  • Website Manager
  • Two Acquisitions Managers
  • Managing Editor
  • Copy Chief
  • Design Manager
  • Digital Manager
  • Audiobooks Manager
  • Marketing Manager
  • Publicity Manager
  • Social Media Manager
  • Three Publisher’s Assistants; two who focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and one who focuses on Metadata and Sales

Pitching in a Pandemic

I’ve read the New York Times article. It certainly doesn’t look great to be sending out media and sales pitches as if all were normal, and as much as I admire the work being done in the #booksareessential campaign, the image of someone holding a book up to their face to mimic a mask makes me a bit uncomfortable. Books are essential, but they are not N90 masks.

As a society in this pandemic, our hierarchy of needs has shifted. Physiological and safety needs are not a given; anyone who has had to go to five different stores to find toilet paper or has had to call the unemployment office for days on end can tell you this. I am telling you this.

To sit down and construct a publicity pitch feels utterly frivolous—more than usual. I love the work I do because I get to communicate with people every day about the books that Ooligan has created. I get to connect with media outlets and people who write stories that I admire and tell them a story of my own about our most recent title, yet right now I struggle to contextualize the necessity of the work I do in the wake of this pandemic. I am not an essential worker, but the books I am tasked with informing people about are still launching and I need to continue with my pitching.

So, after some long reflecting I came up with a few rules to live by in the weeks and months to come.

  1. Don’t act like all is normal. Address the person you are pitching with this in mind. Send them your best wishes and tell them to take care. If ever there was a time to truly personalize and value the human you are speaking to over email, now is it (but in all seriousness, you should be doing this outside of pandemics too). In times like this, small signs of caring can make a big impact.
  2. Be generous with follow up deadlines and emails. With everyone working from home, emails are piling up in inboxes. It is easy to lose track of those you have replied to and those waiting for a reply. We can’t possibly know what is going on in the world of the person who is receiving our email, so be kind when following up on requests.
  3. Avoid the typical pitch-writing techniques. Be clear and communicative about your goals. Speak to your shared interest and try to be helpful. For example, if you want your book on a listicle or gift guide, help the media outlet you are pitching by having something already prepared. Work right now is stressful for everyone, and if you are being helpful the chances of your email being welcomed are greatly improved.

And please remember that books are essential, but they aren’t the essentials. Books can give comfort in difficult times and allow for us to feel connected when environmental factors like this pandemic keep us apart, but they do not usurp safety and health. Avoid hyperbole and do not overstate the importance of your book. There will be many days in the future for that!

Proofreading in a Pandemic: How the Editorial Process is Carrying On in Corona

When we first got the notice that spring term would be completely remote due to COVID-19, there was a palpable sense of panic as to how we would operate as a press without our day-to-day interactions. And largely, we’re still navigating a world where launch parties are done virtually, all of our meetings are held on Zoom, and we are unable to access our physical offices on campus.

I was training to become the 2020–2021 Managing Editor for Ooligan during this time, and I was terrified about conducting all of my mentorship online. There’s something concrete about in-person interaction that just isn’t replicated through a laptop screen. However, as I got further into my training, not only were there plenty of benefits to learning how to do editorial work via Zoom, I realized that not much about the editorial process itself has changed because of COVID-19. While many aspects of the publishing industry are still adapting to these evolving circumstances, the way editors utilize programs such as Microsoft Word Track Changes and Google Docs has set them up to not just survive during a pandemic, but thrive.

Email

First of all, most of my communication is done through email for the press. I send out mass emails asking for volunteers to help with editing assignments, and I communicate with my editors through that same medium. Not only that, but email is the primary form of communication I utilize with authors as well. We are fortunate that a couple of our authors live locally, but for our authors who are farther away, Zoom meetings and email chains have leveled the playing field, and location and proximity don’t matter as much anymore.

Track Changes

The Track Changes function in Microsoft Word makes editing a straightforward process for both the editor and author. When you work in Track Changes, all the alterations made to a manuscript are tracked in a different color than the body text, and can either be rejected or accepted. Accepted changes are automatically assimilated into the overall document. Track Changes also allows you to leave comments and make longer suggestions for, or ask clarifying questions to, the author. Using the “Accept” and “Reject” buttons, authors can flow through the suggested changes in sequential order, allowing them to breeze quickly through the document. For a more in-depth understanding of Track Changes and using the feature to work with an editor, check out this great resource from Liminal Pages.

Google Docs

Yet another wonderful asset is the Google Suite of applications, primarily Google Docs and Google Sheets for our press. These documents make collaborative editing so much easier because they’re automatically shared with everyone in our organization, so anybody can access and contribute to them. For each manuscript there is an accompanying style sheet, which details project-specific things to look for or note, and the style sheets are sent out with editorial assignments. Whenever someone finds something new, they can add it to a mass-shared document that all editors will see and be able to implement. Additionally, our editorial timelines are recorded on Google Sheets and all of the managers involved with the editorial process have the capability to see them and make changes as we work through the real timeline of the book.

With all the other responsibilities an editor has (meetings with the press and with authors, overseeing the timeline of each book, possibly editing outward-facing materials for the company), there is little time in the work day for the editing itself. Another benefit to working remotely is subtracting the time expense of a commute and the constant interruptions of in-person office work—there are simply more hours in the day to do the editing work itself. While I miss the physical presence of my cohort, there are a lot of benefits to conducting editorial work remotely, as well as several avenues that make remote editorial work simple and sustainable. Looking forward to a post-COVID day, pursuing a hybridized approach for book editing would be a smart decision: some in-person time to allow for human connection and networking, balanced with a healthy amount of remote hours to allow for focus, streamlined communication, and space to get the work done.

Books and COVID-19

There have been a lot of changes to consumers’ buying habits since COVID-19 hit the United States in March. Here’s an overview of how the publishing industry has transformed over the last few months.

Book Buying Trends

Unsurprisingly, there has been an increase in fiction focusing on pandemics—specifically the 1918 flu pandemic. Fiction sales overall have gone up, while nonfiction has taken a hit. This can be attributed to the general desire for escapism during times of stress, and nothing is more stressful than a pandemic that’s affected the entire globe. People are looking to fantasy worlds so they don’t have to think about their current reality.

There has also been a massive spike in game and puzzle sales. People have probably hit a limit with how much Netflix and YouTube they can watch, and have turned to these classic games as a way to pass the time while social distancing and in quarantine. Some publishers found themselves overwhelmed by this increased demand, and companies like Galison had to stop taking new orders entirely in an effort to fulfill older orders.

Another way people are dealing with the increased time spent at home is by baking and cooking. With no restaurants open except for takeout, people have shifted to home-cooked meals. This correlates with a direct rise in cookbook sales as people look for new recipes to try out in the kitchen.

With schools closing, parents began buying a lot of juvenile nonfiction, which was a direct reversal of trends in adult categories. This trend is due to the increase in homeschooling. So topics like teaching materials, history, science, language arts, and other activity books are now seen as essential by parents across America.

Bookselling

Physical sales of books have obviously decreased with the closing of bookstores around the world. Barnes & Noble and many independent bookstores have turned to curbside pickup in an effort to keep selling. They’re also managing to fulfill online or call-in orders.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Amazon announced they weren’t going to prioritize book orders in an effort to keep up with demand for other items they deemed essential. As a result, there’s been a significant decrease in book sales from Amazon.

Luckily, a little more than a month before the pandemic hit, Bookshop launched online. Marketed as the “Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire,” Bookshop hopes to provide an alternative to Amazon for online book buying by helping indie publishers and bookstores, with a percentage of sales going directly back to them. In just over eleven weeks after opening, Bookshop raised over $1.5 million for indie bookshops and managed to capture over 1 percent of Amazon’s book sales—something the CEO, Andy Hunter, thought would take three years. As of early August 2020, Bookshop has raised over $5.8 million for independent bookstores.

It’s too soon to tell how things will pan out in the long run for our buying and selling habits, but it is clear that things will probably never be the same as before the pandemic hit.

Marketing a Sensitive Book: Is It Ever Okay?

In my previous blog post, “Book Marketing for Good: The Importance of Reaching a Young Adult Readership,” I explain how different it is to market a book versus a more mundane product like a bottle of soap. What I mean by that is that it is unlikely for someone to feel offended, targeted, or triggered by looking at a marketing plan for hand soap—not impossible, but unlikely.

Our team here at Ooligan is working tirelessly to launch our upcoming fall title by debut author Erin Monyihan. In large part, this means working on our marketing strategy. We’ve come across quite a few obstacles regarding our intentions and how we wish to be understood while presenting Laurel Everywhere.

To help you understand what I mean, here is a short description of Laurel Everywhere:

Severe loss. For Laurel Summers, those two words don’t cut it. They don’t even come close. After a car wreck kills her mother and siblings, the ghosts of her family surround her as she wrestles with grief, anger, and the fear that she won’t be enough to keep her dad alive either.

We as a press believe in this novel; we think it will have the power to open young adults’ minds and help them become more empathetic and understanding when it comes to loss and grief. That said, we know this book may not be for everyone. We understand that it covers trauma and loss, and we understand that it will not represent everyone’s experiences of loss and grief, as everyone’s experiences are different. As we create our marketing plan, the big question we keep asking ourselves is this: How can we market this book without making anyone who is grieving or experiencing a similar trauma feel like we are targeting them for our gain, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the article “Profiteering and Loss: Should you market your brand during coronavirus?,” Daisy Atkinson lays out three acceptable circumstances in which to market sensitive or triggering products:

  1. There’s currently a strong need for what you’re offering.
  2. You have a valuable message for consumers.
  3. You’re not hurting anyone.

As Atkinson notes, “you can market yourself successfully in the eyes of the consumer even in crisis: As long as it’s considered. As long as the product or message is beneficial. And as long as you play fair.”

As part of our market research, we looked at all types of media (like podcasts and blogs) that talked about grief, and we also looked at groups on Facebook. What was disappointing to see was that these Facebook groups often had messages that warned against trying to sell medications or items that would supposedly “help people grieve.” This would be in direct violation of the rules laid out by Atkinson above.

As long you practice mindful marketing by maintaining pure intentions, you do not blatantly disregard warnings, you take into consideration how you may come across to a variety of people, and you try your best to avoid triggering or offending any of your potential audiences, it is acceptable to market something you believe in—even if it does contain sensitive material. That doesn’t mean it will be accepted by every person, but you still need to do everything in your power to make your mission clear and to spare those who could be harmed in the process.