Behind the Scenes with Ooligan Press at the Portland Book Festival

The Portland Book Festival, formerly known as Wordstock, is Oregon’s biggest literary event of the year, featuring panels, vendors, speakers, and lots and lots of books. Every November, the day-long event attracts authors and publishers from near and far, and last fall, Ooligan Press was proud to be included yet again. The festival drew its biggest crowd yet, with authors such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Lauren Groff, Tommy Orange, and Emily Suvada, and featured celebs-turned-authors Tom Hanks (who held a baby on stage at the Schnitz!) and Abbi Jacobson of Broad Cityfame.

In preparation for Ooligan’s role at the festival, the publisher’s assistants (myself and co-assistant, Stephanie Anderson) are responsible for finding and training volunteers from our press to oversee our vendor booth. We then work closely with our publisher to make sure all the books and supplies we’ll need are packed and ready. The day before the event, we set up in the Mark Building at the Portland Art Museum, where the vendors are located. Each vendor is given a specific time slot for setting up to streamline the process and keep things from getting hectic. It’s strange to see how empty the second floor ballroom is before the event. It’s a far cry from what it’ll look like the next day, when the room fills up with vendors and festival-goers. This year, we had a prime spot—a corner end cap right across from Powell’s Books massive set-up.

No other literary event in Portland draws as many readers, writers, and publishing professionals as the Portland Book Festival, which is why it’s one of the most important promotional and networking opportunities for Ooligan. It’s a chance to discuss our frontlist and backlist with potential readers while both are on display, and it’s also a great time for selling books. This year, two of our YA authors joined us at the booth to sign books—Meagan Macvie, who wrote the Kirkus-approved The Ocean in My Ears, and Connie King Leonard, whose Sleeping in My Jeans recently pubbed to great acclaim.

Sometimes people who approach our table aren’t always looking to buy a book. Instead, they want to create one, and we’re always happy to provide them information for how to do so. But one of my favorite parts of tabling at the festival is when I get to talk to prospective students interested in the book publishing program and working for Ooligan Press, which, of course, I highly recommend. And it’s always fun to visit with fellow local indie publishers like Overcup Press and Pomegranate.

After a long day of cementing Ooligan’s place within the Portland literary scene, inventory is taken of the remaining books, the cash box is counted, and the books are packed up and loaded onto the pushcart with the help of some amazing volunteers. Unlike setting up, all of the vendors pack up to leave at the same time, so getting out of there isn’t quite as smooth as getting in, and waiting for the elevator can take awhile, but it’s all worth it to be a part of the fascinating and fun celebration of books that is the Portland Book Festival.

Wordstock 2015: Talking About Books

On an early November morning, I awoke eager to divide my day working for Literary Arts in the morning and Ooligan Press in the afternoon. After a quiet MAX ride, I made my way to the lobby of the Portland Art Museum’s historic Mark Building, where I found two other Wordstock volunteers awaiting instructions. Wordstock began as a small nonprofit in 2005, but it has been on hiatus for the last two years. Later that day the Portland Art Museum would open its doors to Literary Arts’s relaunch of one of the Northwest’s largest festivals of readers, writers, and publishers. At 8 a.m., people were already hiking up to the third floor to unpack their tables, books, banners, and bookmarks for the book fair. I had been to the Portland Art Museum a few weeks prior for the bonsai exhibit, where gnarled bark and carefully guided limbs elicited a kind of quiet awe in the crowd.

But on this rainy Saturday, the Mark Building was already vibrant, filled with a steady hum of words, coffee, and excited book lovers and industry professionals. Nicole and Julie, my fellow volunteers, and I were given the task of “wristband distribution and line management,” which meant we did our best to answer questions and welcome readers, while putting wristbands on a steady stream of rain-drenched patrons. While I had originally hoped for a position near one of the writer events or workshops, I ended up truly enjoying greeting many of the eight-thousand-plus people who attended this year’s Wordstock.

After my shift ended, Julie and I climbed the stairs to the third floor, where we paired our most serious reading faces with wigs, fedoras, and plastic pirate accessories for the photo booth. Picture bookmarks in hand, we headed into the book fair where, after a quick goodbye to my new friend, I joined fellow colleagues and students, commonly referred to as “Oolies,” in representing Ooligan Press. I began working at Ooligan in late September, and the experience has already changed how I think about books. I still have a lot to learn, but where I once only thought about books in terms of reading and writing, I now think about books in terms of reading and writing and the book publishing process: acquisitions, editing, design, sales and marketing, and social media.

Over the course of the next two hours I had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm about what I’ve learned so far in Portland State University’s student-run publishing program with prospective students, “talk shop” with other industry professionals (including an editor at Tin House), discuss craft with A Series of Small Maneuvers author Eliot Treichel, and, best of all, recommend my favorite Ooligan titles to fellow readers. In my opinion, one of the best aspects of working at a publishing house is the required reading. Reading Michael Munk’s The Portland Red Guide, Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s Blue Thread, and Allison Green’s The Ghosts Who Travel With Me and getting to call it “work” makes me giddy.

As Wordstock 2015 came to a close, I realized that I never did make it to hear any of the talks. Instead, I spent the day in a room crowded with people talking animatedly about literature, which, for a bookworm like me, was second only to curling up on Wordstock’s iconic red wingback with a good book, a cup of tea, and the soft drum of the rain.