FAULTLAND's red book cover featuring a map of Portland in the shape of a piano

FAULTLAND’s Digital Launch

On March 30, 2021, Ooligan Press launched Suzy Vitello’s debut adult novel, Faultland, with a virtual launch party that not only celebrated the book itself, but also it’s journey from an idea in Suzy’s mind to a beautiful novel that is already gaining wide acclaim. During the launch, Suzy answered questions, did a short reading from the novel, and engaged in an insightful conversation with fellow author and moderator for the evening, Monica Drake. Special guest Laura Hall of the Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization also joined the conversation, giving expert insight into the protocols that the city of Portland has in place to keep people safe in the event of an earthquake like the one that happens in the book.
Like many other publishers, our team was somewhat nervous about launching a book virtually, but Faultland‘s launch far exceeded our expectations. So much of the work that goes into a launch event like ours happens well in advance. We created collateral and built partnerships with bookstores to promote the book and hand out Faultland postcards that they could give to their patrons. We set up an Eventbrite page for attendees to register for the launch. which allowed us to incorporate a randomized drawing for our raffle item based on ticket sales. We promoted the launch—both online and in-person— for weeks leading up to pub day, and secured some stellar advance reviews to really get people interested in the book. All of this hard work paid off: at the events’ peak, one hundred and twenty people were in the Faultland audience ready to celebrate the book’s launch and engage with the author. While the sales numbers for the book are yet to be determined, if enthusiasm is a barometer for success, then we certainly succeeded with this launch!
More than anything else, we knew that having secure and reliable technology was going to be our biggest hurdle for this digital launch. For this, we tasked one intrepid Oolie with overseeing the technical aspects of the Zoom room. He was in charge of the recording, admitting participants, sifting through the audience Q&A, and running an ongoing chat with the audience that highlighted the speakers’ works and directed the attendees to resources mentioned during the event. Other Oolies were at the ready, live-blogging the event and bringing even more attention to the incredible conversation happening between Suzy and our guests. My job was to play the role of facilitator, which allowed me to step in and introduce the speakers and keep an eye on the flow of the event. Because I was able to monitor the time and let the speakers know when it was time to move on, there was less pressure on them and they were able to focus on their conversation and, of course, the book itself, instead of watching the clock.
Above all else Suzy’s natural charisma and her history as a writing teacher ensured that the event went off without a hitch. The audience was immediately drawn in to the playful banter she had with writer and longtime friend, Monica Drake. Together, they navigated difficult audience questions, told charming stories of their “coming up” as young writers, and discussed the finer points of Portland safety protocols with Laura Hall. Through it all, Suzy’s love for her newest book shined brightly. The acme of it all was being able to celebrate the triumph of seeing her book on shelves and sharing that with an audience who was eager to recognize her dedication to bringing it to life.
There’s something so bittersweet about a book launch at Ooligan; it’s a culmination of everything that has gone into creating a book: the months of research, editing, development, marketing, and countless hours of Ooligan student work. Like the changing of the seasons, it signals the end of one book project and the emergence of a new one. We are so excited to start on our next book project, but the Faultland team (and everyone who has worked on the book) will undoubtedly be touched by the work that we put into Faultland for years to come. Now that the book has officially launched, this will be the last Faultland start-to-finish and I’m so proud to leave it on such a fantastic note.
Faultland is now available for purchase just about everywhere books are sold. You can find your copy at Ooligan-favorite online retailer bookshop.org. If you missed the event, you can still celebrate the launch by watching the recording on our Facebook page!

Indie Portland Bookstores During COVID-19

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many small businesses are facing hardships due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures. In Portland, however, small independent bookstores are changing the way they operate in order to stay open. Below is a list of local booksellers that are using their online presence to their advantage during these difficult times:

While this is not an exhaustive list, these are some of the stores that are staying open due to the patronage of their communities.

How are they operating behind closed doors? Most of these stores are now offering free shipping and, in some cases, free delivery or curbside pickups. However, these models are continually changing as the guidelines and procedures for safe transactions continue to be updated. Many of these small stores do not have a robust online catalog, which means that in order to get your books, you must speak directly with an employee in the store who can let you know what they have in stock and make recommendations. In this way—even though they don’t have the backing of larger chains who might have more employees available to ship books—these small independent stores are giving customers the service and care they always do, and making the extra effort to keep their communities safe.

Another thing to consider is how these companies are advertising to their customers during this time. We know people are not supposed to leave their homes unless it is essential, so how are stores getting the word out? Social media has been a key component in this process, beyond just a simple telephone call. As more and more people find themselves stuck at home with little else to do but skim their phones, these stores have utilized their advertising on social media platforms in order to keep the word out about their options. From posting funny quips to sharing ideas for family-friendly reading activities, these stores have been going above and beyond to reach their communities, all while fielding business in a challenging new way. A few of the bookstores have requests on their websites for customers to be patient when it comes to ordering and receiving their books. For a lot of people, that is no problem at all, because there is a lot of time to wait for a book these days.

Their ability to adapt is a testament to the ways independent bookstores go above and beyond to stay in business. During all of this chaos, it’s still important to be able to sit down and read a good book—and as people are stocking up on necessities, they’re starting to consider that as well. So as you consider the small businesses you’re supporting during this time, keep these bookstores in mind.

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?

Instagram Introduced Alt Text

Alternative text and tags are something of a recent phenomenon on social media. In the past few years, Twitter has introduced alternative text for people who were sharing images on their accounts, making them more accessible to users with visual impairments. To read more about that, check out this article. Recently, Instagram introduced their own version of this. Adding this alternative text is somewhat of a necessity for a platform that consists entirely of image-based content.

Instagram updated their system last year by creating an automatic version of alt text that basically looks for visual clues and then writes a description that can be read out loud. But that method isn’t always accurate. That’s why they’ve created alternative text that users can place on their own images. It’s important to point out that there were some users (most of whom had a significant number of followers) who were doing this sort of work before any of this was introduced, simply by adding image descriptions (often in brackets) at the bottom of their captions.

There are just a few quick steps to take to include alt text when you’re posting an image on Instagram. Find them below.

  1. Select your image like you typically would, and write your caption.
  2. At the bottom of the caption screen there’s a little button that says “advanced settings.” Click on it.
  3. Click on “write alt text.”
  4. Write your alternative text, typically a description of the photo, and select “done.”
  5. Now you’re ready to share your image!

Why is it important to take these steps? We live in a world that was created for those who are seeing. Think about it: How many times a day do you pass a sign or an advertisement? Probably more times than you can count. The internet is a place that can break those barriers, and it’s slowly becoming more and more accessible. But, of course, we all have a role to play here. Taking the time to add this text to your image can give your followers a fuller experience of your work. And who doesn’t want that?

To read more about Instagram’s introduction of alternative text, check out this blog post they wrote in November 2018.

Styles Clash

I began working as an editor for the Portland State Vanguard, PSU’s student-run newspaper, over the summer, and while there are a variety of similarities between editing books and newspapers, the steepest learning curve I encountered was in the differences in house editing styles.

It might sound odd if you’re not already an editor, but the differences in style guides at publishing houses can be a tedious affair if you’re not at least a bit fluent in the main English-language house styles.

Like most book publishing companies in the US, Ooligan Press mostly adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style when it comes to editing decisions. Grammar, punctuation, diction, and more: all of these details are often decided by whatever the most updated of CMOS states. At the Vanguard, though, we use a variation of AP Style, similar to what most national papers often use.

One major difference between Chicago and AP is how numbers and number-centric icons are rendered. For example, on actual numbers themselves: In Chicago style, the style I “grew up” with, all numbers below one hundred are written out. However, in AP Style, all digits (0–9) and the number ten (10) are written out, while anything higher than those would be written in their numeral form.

LeBron James scored ninety-three points last night. (Chicago)

LeBron James scored 93 points last night. (AP)

Another instance that tripped up a neophyte editor like myself was the assortment of differences between how ellipses and em dashes are rendered in each respective style. AP Style often calls for one space followed by three consecutive periods and another space, as opposed to a space between all periods in Chicago style. This difference is best understood with an example:

I’m sleepy . . . but ready to hit the road. (Chicago)

I’m sleepy … but ready to hit the road. (AP)

To compound this editorial burden, the Vanguard closes spaces before and after words.

I’m sleepy…but ready to hit the road. (Vanguard house style)

I can tell you firsthand that the reason for these decisions usually has to do with space on a page; there simply isn’t enough room for all of the content sometimes. What this taught me was to closely examine whatever medium you’re working in as an editor. Is what you’re editing going to be read on large newsprint with small text? Will it be published online or in print, or both? Understanding why publishing houses choose to customize their style guides often depends on what exactly the publisher plans to print.

Titles in print are published in different ways, again depending on the house style the publishing house uses. Quick examples using television titles:

“Stranger Things” (AP Style)

Stranger Things (Chicago)

At the Vanguard, we’ve recently opted to go with italics for all television titles—same as Chicago. Again, this has to do with the concept of space, or rather, conserving as much as we can on the page. If we at the paper went back and forth between using AP Style most of the time and using Chicago when it’s convenient, you would end up with an inconsistent looking newspaper.

Ultimately, becoming fluent in both Chicago and AP Style will help a new editor build a professional skillset readymade for the freelance world. Being able to work in both frames of mind will not only expand your career prospectives but also train your eyes and brain in a sharp, rigorous way.

Try New Things

I’ve only ever applied to two colleges in my life. Which, if you know me at all, will seem like a drastic deviance from my general personality. You might say, based on this knowledge, that I’ve “always known what I want to do” or that I’m “really good at making decisions.” The first one less than the second but really, neither apply.

My original plan, before applying to the Masters of Writing: Book Publishing program here at PSU, was to take a year off, work, and generally exist in a space other than an educational institution. I spent the spring, summer, and fall after I graduated doing just that, and if we’re being honest, I kind of hated it. Maybe it’s the structure of classes or the comradery of late nights and finals or the fact that I just really love learning, but I was ready to get back into a classroom and work toward my next goal. But mostly, it’s the fact that I value the stories we are able to share through books and that I want to be a part of that process in whatever way I can, promoting voices we don’t hear often enough.

Actually applying for the program took a long time, especially curating the writing sample and writing the personal statement, so plan ahead. (If you’re interested in knowing more about the admissions process, check out the Ooligan site here.) But once you’ve completed all the things and have been accepted into the program, what can you actually expect?

Every student’s experience is different. Yes, there are core classes that every Ooligan student has to take, but after those are done and even while you’re in them, you can start to tailor your studies to better fit your goals. For me, that means taking a lot of marketing classes and trying to do social media projects for the books I’m working on. For someone else, that might mean taking every editing or design class they can find. I think that’s one of the real strengths of this program; the ability to adapt your learning to the areas you’re interested in while still having opportunities to gain new skills in areas that might be underdeveloped or unfamiliar.

For example, I don’t really consider myself an “editor,” but I’m actively seeking out opportunities where I’m able to expand those skills. That’s probably one of the best things about this program. The ability to try new types of projects, which I highly recommend, is just one way the program prepares you for the publishing industry. Where else are you going to get an opportunity to do both marketing and editing in substantial capacities?

Aside from the general courses, it’s really the work in lab and studio that I’ve found offers the most flexibility in tasks. One week you might be sending emails to potential review outlets, the next you’re taking pictures of collateral, and the next you’re copyediting a section of an upcoming title. Even with all of these small opportunities, after a few terms, you’ll hopefully get a sense of everything you’ve accomplished. I haven’t found much, as of yet, that brings me as much joy as seeing a book I’ve worked on, even in the smallest of ways, out in the world for people to see. If you have an inkling that you too may feel this way, publishing, and, more specifically, a program like the one Ooligan offers, is right for you.

The Value of an Ebook

While we could go around for hours about the costs of an ebook version of a book versus others, there’s another part of the general consumption of ebooks that should be discussed. Perceived value is just as important as actual cost.

Books, in general, take lots of steps before they become published. There’s the acquisitions process, usually multiple rounds of editing, marketing and social media planning and execution, and, of course, the design of the book’s interior and exterior. There’s also everything that comes after the book: royalty costs, employee paychecks, rent, etc. Most of the blogs I read talked about these costs as a part of the profit a publisher makes. Similarly, most of the articles talked about the fact that because digital books don’t cost money to store and ship, they’re able to cost less. And I get it, I really do. But I’ll argue that that’s just one small piece of the much bigger puzzle.

If you do a quick google search of “paperback vs. ebook pricing,” you’ll undoubtedly find a plethora of articles, blogs, and opinions on the pricing of ebooks. But I don’t think that’s the question that needs to be asked. There seems to be a clear difference between the consumer’s perceived value of a physical book and that of the digital version of that same book, but it seems to be more of a matter of how ebooks, now that we’re fully into the digital age, fit in the market that’s already incredibly saturated. Even though consumers and authors alike subscribe to the belief that ebooks should be cheaper than other versions, like fantasy author Scott Marlowe, perceived value doesn’t seem to be about the work that goes into creating the title. Cost is important to think about since it’s the consumer that’s purchasing or abstaining from titles, and price can really affect their decision, but perceived value is also affected by many other instances that go into the decision to purchase a book.

As Brooke Warner writes for Huffington Post, it’s important to look at books, even the ebook version, for the story and not the format. After all, when we read, though our experiences may change some based on where and how we’re reading, it’s really the actual story that we’re invested in. While cost can affect a consumer’s decision to purchase a particular title, as Warner says, it’s often not the book we’re paying for, but the experience we receive while we read. The value of the ebook is in more than just the format, it’s in the ease of being able to purchase the next book in the series at 2 a.m. when you need to know if your favorite character does the thing or whether the love interest you stan is going to make it. Or it’s filling what empty spaces you have left on your shelves with the colorful covers of all the books you swear you’re going to read.

There’s extreme value in any format of a book because it’s usually not the physical book that you’re invested in. Rather, it’s the stories’ struggles, triumphs, laughs, and frustrated tears that keep readers coming back again and again.

Why the Publishing Industry is Thriving (Not Dying)

When I told friends and family that I would be pursuing a graduate degree in book publishing, I was met with varied reactions. Some people thought it sounded wonderful—the perfect niche degree for a bookworm like myself. Many others were surprised and pessimistic: “Isn’t that a dying industry?” I admit it made me question my choice at times. Was I really about to go thousands of dollars into debt to hopefully get a career in an industry that would soon cease to exist? But I’m grateful I trusted my gut and pursued my passions, because, as it turns out, the publishing industry is far from dead. In fact, more people than ever are reading. The industry has adapted with the changing world and new technology. Audiobooks and ebooks have expanded the book format, increasing accessibility. Bolstered by social media, celebrity book clubs have become popular again, as Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson join Oprah in encouraging people to read. Now is an exciting time to be in publishing.

Some have claimed that print is dead, but the 687.2 million books sold in 2017 suggest otherwise. According to Publishers Weekly, unit sales of books have risen 10.8 percent since 2013, and are up nearly 2 percent from last year. It’s not the biggest jump, but with so many forms of entertainment vying for our attention, even a small amount is a reason to celebrate. Growth is also being seen across several genres, with sales made through retail and club channels rising 3.5 percent. Literary fiction saw sales increase by 2.1 percent, hardcover sales by 3.6 percent, and paperback sales are up 1.5 percent. Juvenile nonfiction saw the biggest gain, up 7.8 percent from last year. This is especially promising because it proves children are still reading despite access to iPhones and iPads. Instilling a love of reading in children is the best way to create future adult readers. Even poetry is showing signs of life. Rupi Kaur’s collections of poems (Land of Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers) have sold over three million copies combined. You can’t argue with stats like these.

Another thing I hear is that nobody joins book clubs anymore. Oprah paved the way for celebrity book clubs when she launched hers in 1996 (persevering past the James Frey debacle), but few have ever taken advantage until recently. Instagram and the popular bookstagram hashtag may have something to do with it. There are currently 23.9 million photos associated with the hashtag. Hermoine herself (and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador), Emma Watson, launched an online book club in January 2016 called Our Shared Shelf that recently promoted Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries. With nearly 48 million followers on Instagram, Watson has a wide reach and the potential to create millions of new readers. Her club already has the largest following on Goodreads, with nearly 220 thousand followers in addition to having 358 thousand followers on Instagram. Last year, actress Emma Roberts also founded an online book club called Belletrist, which features a new book as well as an independent bookstore every month. Over 188 thousand people follow Belletrist on Instagram, and Robert’s 12.3 million followers aren’t too shabby either. Reese Witherspoon’s online book club, Reese Witherspoon Book Club, has 459 thousand followers (her personal account has a following of nearly 15 million) and chooses a new book every month. Witherspoon’s recent book-to-TV adaptation, Big Little Lies, was a huge hit for HBO, with a second season underway. Another Witherspoon book club choice, Little Fires Everywhere, a New York Times bestseller, will soon be a series on Hulu, after an intense network bidding war.

Then there is the so-called digital threat. When ebooks first hit the market, people gasped and said it was the end of print, but print sales are actually outselling ebooks, and the publishing industry has instead embraced and adapted to new formats. If people don’t have time to read, they often have time to listen. Audiobooks are perfect for passing time spent stuck in traffic. Ebooks are light and easy to carry, can hold multiple titles, and can make reading a 1000-plus word book much more enjoyable. Genre fiction has become especially popular on the ebook format, with many readers devouring mystery after mystery and romance after romance on their ereading devices. The number of people checking out ebooks from the library has risen. A survey conducted by digital library checkout app Overdrive found that fifty-eight library systems across the country have each loaned out over a million ebooks and audiobooks combined. Some are even exceeding 2 or 3 million. The Multnomah County Library system reported a 28 percent growth in ebook and audiobook loans from 2016 to 2017. It makes sense that ebooks and audiobooks would be popular at libraries, as it’s hard to beat the convenience of not having to physically pick up and return books.

Overall, the book format hasn’t changed much since the invention of the printing press, but the book publishing industry has adapted to changing times and has taken advantage of new technologies. Social media provides visibility in a crowded marketplace. Oprah, Reece, and the Emmas use their celebrity as a tool for encouraging more people to read. Libraries provide access to ebook and audiobook titles for millions of readers. Print sales are on the rise, proving that print is most certainly not dead. As long as people still love books (and the numbers suggest they do), the publishing industry will continue to thrive.

Getting Started If You’re Not an Editor

Not sure where to start? Don’t know what a style guide is or why it’s important? Generally confused?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should first know that you’re not alone. Secondly, know that there are some wonderful resources you can turn to when you are confused. The Subversive Copyeditor by Carol Fisher Saller has been helpful for my own understanding of editing, specifically copyediting. If you’re curious about editing, finding books by editors can be useful in learning about the craft. Similarly, your colleagues are great resources for when you have questions. To get you started, here are five tips that are good for any type of editor to keep in mind.

    1) Get to know the style guide. If you’re working for an established company, they’ll likely have some rules already in place. That’s exactly what a style guide is—a set of rules (these can always be broken, but it’s important to understand them first). Whether they work exclusively with the Chicago Manual of Style or take what they like from several different style guides, you’ll need to know what references are necessary to edit the manuscript assigned to you. (Note: there are also in-house styles in addition to a general style guide.)
    2) Do your research. After you’ve gotten all of your references and are able to sit down with the text, questions will probably arise. When this happens, you’ll want to determine whether the answer can be found with a quick browse through your guides or on the internet. If not, you may need to get clarification from another source.
    3) Don’t be afraid to ask. Communication is key! Once you’ve determined that you can’t find the answer on your own, ask someone. If necessary, query the author, since they’re the most knowledgeable about their particular manuscript (though this should not be your first stop). Your colleagues or other professionals in the field are also excellent resources when you have questions about changes you’re making or need information about how to resolve an issue.
    4) Know your assignment. What type of edit are you doing? Usually, you’ll be presented with a particular kind of edit: copyedit, proofread, or line edit. Once that is established, you may need to know what level edit you are tasked with. (For a general guide of copyedit levels check out The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn.)
    5) Give the author a reason to trust you. Quality communication with the author is a must. Regardless of whether you disagree with them or they with your edit, it’s important to keep arguments civil. Saller believes you can, and should, set up this sort of relationship by making sure there is clear communication from the outset. This will help you and the author throughout the entire editing process. After all, this is something they’ve spent months or, more likely, years creating.

These tips will help you get started and give you a general know-how. But for the nitty gritty stuff, I recommend seeking out and familiarizing yourself with the guides you’ll be using during the actual editing process. Those are the resources you’ll use to find out if you should use the Oxford comma or spell out numerals. If you want to find out what these processes are like from someone who has worked as an editor, check out books that will give you insight into their experiences. And remember, your colleagues wherever you’re editing are going to be instrumental in your information gathering, so seek them out.

Of course, now that you’ve learned all of this, it’s time to get started on your editing project. Good luck!

The Generosity of Time: Editing at Small Presses

Editing processes at small presses often differ from those at the Big Five and their imprints. A manuscript acquired by one of the Big Five is one in an assembly line of hundreds. A manuscript acquired at a small press is like a first-born child—they’re spoiled with attention by their admiring parents.
Here at Ooligan, we only publish three books a year. Every manuscript we acquire is treated with extra special love and care, and receives developmental edits, line edits, and several rounds of copyedits. Editing at Ooligan is also a learning experience for the students who run the press, and every round not only improves our books, they also make us better editors. It’s a system that works—proven by the starred reviews and awards Ooligan books have won over the years.
Ooligan’s system is also similar to many other small presses that aren’t graduate programs. In the article “The Half-Open Door” from What Editors Do, Graywolf executive editor Jeff Shotts describes the benefits of the time and patience of the editing process at his house, which generally publishes just thirty books a year. It’s a large contrast to the Big Five publishers, which print around three thousand titles a year. Those titles may only see one or two rounds of edits before heading to the printer—not for a lack of love from the editor, but from a lack of time and resources, which are spread thin over dozens of books. “Literary editing requires a patience that most commercial publishers cannot afford,” writes Shotts. This is especially true in cases of extreme publishing—a practice many large publishers use to churn out books as quickly as possible in order to fill year-end gaps in product. “What smaller, independent, and other nonprofit publishers can’t provide in terms of high advances or expensive marketing resources, they can make up with the generosity of time.” It’s time, Shotts explains, that allows editors to work closely with authors to create a high quality book, even if it doesn’t end up being the most lucrative. He adds that a book’s success should be measured by its impact on readers, not by sales, though indie publishers aren’t immune to success.
Because many small presses only publish a few titles a year, they get to be pickier about what they publish. They aren’t driven by current trends, but instead by the quality of the content and the feelings it stirs in their editors. Editors are able to devote their time and resources to the books they feel passionate about and the authors they believe in. Authors are encouraged and praised. A relationship between an author and editor can be formed, as opposed to the “musical-chairs world of big-time publishing,” writes Graywolf founder Scott Walker in his article “Editing for a Small Press” from Editors on Editing. A world “in which an author’s book is liable to have three or four editors…between the times the book is accepted and published.” At Ooligan Press, project managers work closely with authors and take part in not just editing, but all other aspects of the publishing process, including marketing and design. Ooligan’s staff changes when new students enter and when they graduate, but the enthusiasm never wanes.
Editing requires loving what you do, no matter if you work for a Big Five publisher or a small press run by two people or one run by students. But the benefits of small press editing cannot be denied. It’s something for authors to consider when pitching proposals: Do you want your book to be one of three, or one of a thousand?