Covers of famous true-crime books in a collage

Shedding a Light on Victims in the True Crime Genre

Interest in true crime has been on the rise since the mid-2010s. Hundreds of podcasts, documentaries, TV shows, and books have all emerged for the consumer to learn about legendary serial killers and cases like Ted Bundy or the O.J. Simpson case. Surprisingly though, fascination with gruesome crimes has been a part of societies for decades, if not centuries, and research shows that nearly 85 percent of consumers are female. Just in the past fifty years, books such as The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule and Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland by James St. James have flown off the shelves. While many of the books focus on the murders, madmen, and crazed, one wonders how the survivors and victims, who are generally women, walk in a world where their deepest traumas are made permanent on ink and paper.
Michelle McNmara was obsessed with the Golden State Killer (she even coined the name) and worked with the police in Sacramento, CA, to find them. For the last six years of her life, she worked on a true crime piece called I’ll Be Gone in the Dark that detailed her work to find the serial killer and rapists while also telling the stories of the survivors. Ms. McNamara unfortunately passed away before it could be finished, but it was later published with the help of her husband, Patton Oswalt, and detective Paul Holes. Due to this, the reader sees editor’s notes and rough versions of the author’s writing, giving them insight on how she chose to write the stories of the victims and survivors. The author made it clear that the research took a psychological toll on her, but rather than focus on the killer himself she made sure to place the victims “at the center of the story instead,” according to the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her ultimate goal was to show the strength of those who faced these traumas rather than the man who caused them. It offered those individuals a voice that was usually overshadowed by the public’s fascination with the perpetrator.
Ann Rule, a renowned true crime novelist, is best known for her book A Stranger Beside Me. This autobiographical and biographical piece details the demented killings of Ted Bundy and her time working at a sucide hotline call center with him before discovering who he really was. From 1980 to 2014, Ms. Rule published over thirty true crime books and was well-respected as a victims’ advocate who, like Michelle McNamara, focused on them. In a statement from the president at Simon & Schuster, Ann Rule’s decision to center her books around the victims “reinvented the crime genre and earned the trust of millions.”
With studies showing that a majority of true crime consumers are women who are often interested in the psychology of the perpetrator and the strength of the survivors, it’s clear just how important it is for a victim’s story to be heard. The researcher and social psychologist Amanda Vicary concluded that women wanted to read about “survival, whether it was preventing or surviving a crime.” There is a desire to read about the trauma of the survivors and victims, not only because it shifts the light away from the killer, but because it allows the consumer to understand how to avoid the situation themselves.
By being sensitive to the victim and allowing their voice to be heard, a true crime author can provide information for the reader without dimming the impact that the assailant had on their lives. The goal of the true crime genre is not to glorify these wrongdoers or give them an opportunity to share their side, but rather to teach us—the consumers—just how crazy the world can be and how it can alter a person’s life forever.

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.

Presenting Breaking Cadence

Ooligan Press is proud to present the memoir Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War by debut author Rosa del Duca. This thought-provoking memoir details Rosa’s journey from enlisting in the military to becoming a conscientious objector.

Seventeen-year-old Rosa, a small-town girl, sees few options for her future. Living in poverty is a prison that’s hard to escape. When a recruiter from the National Guard comes to her school offering a college education at the price of one weekend a month and two weeks a year, she’s given a thread of hope—a path to a brighter tomorrow. Her mother is apprehensive, but the recruiter assures her the most dangerous thing Rosa will do is fight forest fires, so she consents. Then 9/11 happens and the world changes.

Rosa is thrust into an internal conflict between her own morals and the love of her military family. Honoring her contract means serving in a war she believes is wrong. Fraught with self-doubt and guilt, Rosa decides to become a conscientious objector.

Becoming a conscientious objector isn’t simply saying no to war and walking away. It’s a complicated decision shrouded in public shaming, and for Rosa, a decision not made lightly. Her memoir gives us a glimpse into the female military experience and the effects 9/11 had on our young recruits. In sharing Rosa’s journey with you, we hope to spark a conversation about the issues surrounding teen recruitment and the pressure to remain silent and follow orders, and we also hope to help humanize conscientious objectors.

Rosa’s book is available starting May 21, 2019. Don’t forget to check out her thought-provoking podcast for a deeper discussion about recruitment and conscientious objectors. Through interviews with other conscientious objectors and activists, Rosa explores recruitment and conscientious objection from all angles, encouraging everyone to join the conversation.

You can find Rosa on tour in the San Francisco Bay Area at one of the following events:

276 Village Square
Orinda, CA 94563-2504
Tuesday, May 21, 2019, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Reading and Q&A
3036 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Sunday, May 26, 2019, at 6:00 p.m.

Reading and Panel Discussion Featuring Bay Area Iraq War Veterans
1537 North Main Street
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Saturday, June 8, 2019, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Nonfiction Publicity vs. Fiction Publicity

The tricky thing about book publicity is that there is no exact formula—no preset way to promote a book. That’s because no two books are the same, and so no two publicity campaigns are the same. However, depending on the type of book, we can use some general guidelines as a starting place. Nonfiction sales have been on the rise as of late. As book publicists, we must embrace current market trends and learn how to use them to our advantage.

Here at Ooligan, we publish all kinds of titles, both fiction and nonfiction. At any given time, chances are we are working on promoting at least one of each. We can’t treat fiction and nonfiction books the same when creating marketing and publicity campaigns for them, because they are different by nature. So what are the key differences when promoting a nonfiction title as compared to a fiction title?

One perk of promoting a nonfiction book is that they have clear, strong pitching platforms. While fiction books tend to be more vague, nonfiction titles have a more defined target audience. The easier it is to pinpoint your target audience, the easier it is to frame your promotional message.

Nonfiction titles are also good to pitch to news media, including TV, radio, and podcasts. This is because they provide information on their respective topics. If the book provides new information or a new perspective on its topic, it can easily be converted into a spotlight or feature story.

Speaking of podcasts, they have thrived as publicity tools in recent years. It turns out that over half of adults in the US have been listening to podcasts, and this type of platform is expected to continue growing in the future. Regular podcast listeners also tend to be more active on social media than non-listeners, so the odds are greater that they will act as grassroots intermediaries in helping to spread the word about your book.

The last important thing to remember when conducting a publicity campaign for a nonfiction title is to focus on timelines. This includes key dates, events, and other timely news topics. If the topic at hand can be connected to any holidays, important anniversaries, or other current events, use these to your advantage and pitch your book in relation to these dates. This can also sometimes apply to fiction titles, but nonfiction themes often have stronger ties to particular dates than fiction books.

Similarly, nonfiction authors make excellent interviewees. If you write a book on something, you are assumed to be an expert on that subject. Simply put, journalists love to interview experts. This expertise can also extend to additional feature stories, expert commentary, and other byline articles. This is especially useful if your author already has their own platform in their given field. For example, Jeff Alworth (author of Ooligan’s latest nonfiction title, The Widmer Way) has his own popular beer blog and corresponding Twitter presence that came in handy when promoting his new book.

So remember that while fiction and nonfiction books should be treated differently when creating a publicity campaign, each has its own advantages. When working on a nonfiction title, plan according to timeliness, utilize your author as an expert, and take advantage of news media, because in this era, the truth is more valuable than ever.

Introducing Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War

We’re preparing for a busy season at Ooligan Press, with three titles coming out in as many consecutive months beginning in March. Our final book of the school year, Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War by Rosa del Duca, is set to publish on May 21. It’s a thought-provoking memoir that not only communicates Rosa’s path to becoming a conscientious objector in the military but also serves as a conversation-starter around a number of pressing topics.

Rosa’s first encounter with the military came at age seventeen, when she was a high-school student in a small town in Montana. Stuck without a way to pay for college and to break free of confining family dynamics, the National Guard recruiter that came to her school seemed to offer the perfect solution: a straightforward path to continue her education while training one weekend a month, and two weeks during the summer. She did the math: she’d be ten percent soldier, ninety percent civilian. It was the year 2000, and the recruiter assured her that the most dangerous work she’d be doing was fighting forest fires. A year into Rosa’s contract, 9/11 changed everything. As the US entered the War on Terror, she began to comprehend the increasing disparity between the American military’s agenda in the Middle East and her own principles. Ultimately, she realized that in order to live by her own ethics, she needed to seek conscientious objector status.

We’re excited to share this memoir for a number of reasons. It’s unique in offering a female perspective on the military experience, as well as a before-and-after perspective of the impact of 9/11 on the military and our society as a whole. Moreover, many people are familiar with conscientious objectors as pertaining to the Vietnam War but have less exposure to those who sought this path in more recent conflicts. And because the War on Terror is ongoing, the issues Rosa raises still resonate soundly today. This book has a dual purpose, then, in sharing her extraordinary story and sparking discussion around relevant issues like teenage military recruitment tactics and the moral quandary between honoring a commitment and not wanting to compromise your core values. You also don’t need to have a background in the military to engage with this book; Rosa’s journey to find her voice and identify her true path in life will resonate with readers beyond a military context.

If you don’t want to wait until May to learn more about Rosa, she also has a highly-rated podcast that’s been releasing episodes since October. In addition to her prowess as a writer, Rosa has an extensive background in radio and music and uses her talents to the fullest advantage in this medium. Her podcast features interviews with other conscientious objectors, activists, and individuals involved in the legal process of war resistance, as well as further reflections on her military experience. It’s an engaging and eye-opening companion to the memoir, and I hope you all check it out and join the conversation.

The Perks of Aural Media

When it comes to aural media, I find that I’m a little behind the times. Until very recently, I had somehow avoided the phenomena of podcasts in favor of what I still consider a more reliable form of narrative, which is the audiobook. I grew up listening to audiobooks in the car during road trips and at home on the weekends when Mom put us to work cleaning the house. I remember very distinctly the little portable cassette player with a retractable handle that I carried up and down the stairs before I graduated to a smaller one that used headphones and clipped casually to the waistband of my sweatpants. We still have the fifth and sixth Harry Potter books on cassette, though certain tapes are guaranteed to unravel if you try to listen to them now.

The thing is, I love audiobooks. I love the way my imagination thrives off the words in my ears. I love that I feel like I’m back in kindergarten at story time. I love the way many narrators create voices for the characters or have an entire cast read the book as though it were a play. And I love all of this about podcasts too.

Audiobooks have saved me from abject boredom on the fourteen-hour drive between my hometown and the city in which I completed my undergraduate degree (a trip I made between four and six times per year for those four years). Now, in my graduate studies, they save me time by letting me listen to class materials while I do necessary things like grocery shopping and laundry and suffer the two to three hours per day that is my commute. They are almost too convenient to be real since most libraries have access to lots of downloadable audiobooks.

But people keep talking about podcasts, often with such glowing and reverent adoration that I felt like a stick in the mud for not listening to any, and now that I have, I get it. It’s still a story, but there’s something more immediate about a podcast, more personal, as if you, the listener, are part of a conversation as opposed to a silent member of an audience. Podcasts feel alive, engaging in their immediacy in a way that only a truly talented audiobook narrator can compete against. As if that weren’t enough incentive to listen, podcasts are almost always free and you can download and listen to them immediately. In fact, it’s probably one of the many reasons podcasts became so popular so quickly. It’s essentially personalized radio, where the topics discussed are catered to your interests. If a good history podcast turns your cranks, there is no reason to sit through an hour of people talking about cats (unless that also turns your cranks), especially if you aren’t paying for either of them.

The truth is, the only problem with both of these forms is that the other form exists. Now that I’ve discovered several fantastic podcasts, I want to dedicate as much of my listening time to them as I once did to audiobooks, something physically impossible since there are only so many hours in a day. And yet both industries are still growing at astonishing rates, with many publishing houses opening audio divisions each year (with Ooligan being one of them in the near future!). When you consider the benefits, it’s easy to see why they are growing. The constant problem with print books is the growing competition for people’s eyes and attention, but aural media is something you can participate in without taking time away from anything else, which is perhaps why more and more people are turning to them. The future is looking bright for aural media, and like all technology, I expect it to evolve into something even more amazing.

Marketing on Air

Since fall of 2013, Ooligan Press has been trying to find the best ways to get Untangling the Knot into the hands of readers. It’s the same conversation our teams have about every book we take from manuscript to marketing: How can we identify readers who will be interested in this book? How can we reach them? Where do they get their information?

We often separate marketing plans by different forms of media: print, digital, and broadcast. Of course, a marketing team wants to hit every available outlet, but depending on the type of book, it makes sense to use resources wisely and put certain focus on certain types of media.

In December and January, we hit print and digital media hard—we sent galleys to dozens of print and digital media outlets, both LGBTQ-focused and not. As our launch date (March 5) neared, we needed more than reviews. We needed conversation. This, in fact, is what the marketing logic of Untangling the Knot has always been. The book itself is a conversation about marriage equality, comprised of twenty-six different experiences and opinions. Outbound marketing is still king: reviews sell books. Period. But with a book like Untangling the Knot, we’re not just marketing the story, we’re marketing the effect the content could have—the conversation of the book. This is where broadcast media comes in.

Broadcast media is able to, especially in the age of the internet and the podcast, combine outbound and inbound marketing. A conversation, rather than a single-authored review, about a book seems to open the space around the book for input from all four players involved in book marketing: the reader, the author, the media, and the publisher. We looked high and low in our search for appropriate broadcast outlets. We sent galleys to Good Morning America, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and All Things Considered. But the best connections to come out of our search were local. Both Late Night Library and Wild Planet Radio have been incredible in helping us publicize the book in that specific, conversation-building way.

We reached out to Wild Planet Radio (WPR), the only 100-percent queer radio station in the US, which launched exactly a week before Untangling the Knot. The day before their own launch event, Bobby Harsell, the creative director at WPR, invited us to come by the station (housed in the Q Center on Mississippi Avenue) to chat about Untangling the Knot. I was especially excited about the meeting because it sparked a new connection for Ooligan Press. We’ve published three books with LGBTQ themes in the last year, most recently The Ghosts Who Travel with Me this past June. A connection with an LGBTQ radio station with a potentially national reach will be an important one to maintain.

We met with Bobby, Thomas Elisondo, and Rhiannon Flowers from WPR. They let me gush about how much I love Untangling the Knot, and we talked about ways in which they might help us publicize it. A writer herself, Rhiannon is working on launching a podcast, Poison Pen, on which she’ll host authors and talk about their work. I asked her what makes air media such an important force in information distribution. She said, “That is the gift of radio and podcasts—they are mostly free, and their main drive is simply to connect, inspire, and inform each other on things we find important, interesting, and entertaining . . . this art form helps spread the word in a beautifully personal way.” This, too, is my favorite part about marketing—it’s more than selling books. It’s finding and fostering connections. It’s discovering and creating new ways to get books into the hands of readers, not just because it means more books sold, but because the readers might be changed, ignited, or soothed by the content. Air media is an outlet that fosters this kind of marketing by building conversations around books and their messages.

Check out this episode of Late Night Conversation about Untangling the Knot with authors Mel Wells, Ben Anderson-Nathe, and editor Carter Sickels.

Check out the conversation Rhiannon Flowers and I had on WPR about the book and Ooligan Press, and stay tuned for more from Rhiannon and Wild Planet Radio—they have some really exciting projects in the works.

Goldie-Oldies: Nostalgia in Literature and Radio

In Allison Green’s unconventional travel memoir, The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, nostalgia is a running theme. Green devotes just as much time to journeying down memory lane as she does to retracing the famous trout-fishing trip of sixties counterculture writer Richard Brautigan. The Ghosts Who Travel with Me lovingly describes Green’s golden memories of the sixties, which she was too young at the time to truly understand or enjoy; of Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, one of her favorite books as a teenager; and of her own ancestral places and forebears. Green’s literary pilgrimage through Washington and Idaho becomes a quest to reconnect with these formative events, people, and places as an adult.

Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that Allison Green likes to connect with her audience through the medium of radio, which many have declared outmoded in this age of internet podcasts. Few are now alive who remember the golden age of radio, when families gathered around the living room radio every evening instead of the television set; however, most people can easily recall listening to their parents’ favorite stations as children—and many remember the battles that ensued over the radio dial when they reached adolescence and developed their own opinions about “good” music! Radio is familiar, comfortable, and steeped in personal memories—what better venue for Green and The Ghosts Who Travel with Me?

Despite the dawn of the digital age and the old-timey patina that good ol’ radio has acquired as a result, according to an article on the Slate website, terrestrial radio is in no danger of going extinct. In fact, it wouldn’t even qualify as endangered—over 90 percent of Americans age twelve and up still tune in to a traditional radio station at least once a week. This is because terrestrial radio still has several advantages over those newfangled podcasts: it costs listeners nothing save the one-time expense of purchasing a radio unit; it is more accessible to a broader range of people than podcasts, for which internet access is a necessity; and it is several times more profitable for station owners and content creators.

Instead of replacing classic radio, podcasts are increasingly being used to serve niche markets or even to supplement radio programming in some capacity. For instance, podcasts have proven to be an excellent method of disbursing radio content to people who either missed a broadcast or don’t live or work within the original station’s range. Allison Green herself has taken advantage of this alliance between the old and the new. Earlier this summer, she was interviewed by Kate Raphael of Berkeley, California’s KPFA 94.1 FM for the show Women’s Magazine, and by Marcia Perlstein of Port Townsend, Washington’s KPTZ 91.9 FM for the show Under the Rainbow. After the original broadcasts were aired, both stations posted podcast versions of Green’s interviews to their websites, effectively doubling their audience.

The combination of terrestrial radio and internet podcasts unifies the past with the present and the future, much like Allison Green did on her literary pilgrimage through Brautigan’s Idaho. No matter how far technology advances, or how much we grow up, we will always have a place in our hearts for the goldie-oldies.