Building a Social Media Following for Aspiring Authors

You’re an author. You’ve written at least one book, and you possibly have a few more on the way. You’re looking for an agent. You’ve secured an editor. You have a publishing contract. You’re at the very beginning of a beautiful and meteoric rise in the publishing world, but then someone suggests you focus on your personal brand. Your author brand. Because as much as publishers like to think they are the main reason someone picks a book off a shelf, it’s more likely because of the author name (though the title and the cover can help too).

Where do you go first? Out of the plethora of social media options available, which is going to net you the most bang for your buck? Which is going to be the most efficient and effective use of your time?

Where To Go

Instagram and Twitter are essential for establishing and maintaining a following. Instagram should be used primarily for shelfies and aspiring-author content. Once you’ve been published, it’s a great place to showcase covers or fan art or to document the publishing process and talk about what you’re doing now (readings, speaking engagements, etc.). Creating a dedicated Facebook author page will allow you to cross-post content between Instagram and Facebook, so lean heavily into the stories features on both for unpolished fun and behind-the-scenes moments. A presence on Goodreads is good to have, but it’s not essential. Update or create a profile. Be available for author chats. Post blogs and book reviews. Being active there is as easy as cataloguing the contents of your shelf and rating what you read.

What To Do

Be consistent. Post two to three times a week when first starting out on whatever primary platforms you choose. That’s no easy task, especially if you’re using multiple social sites, writing, working a day job, working two jobs, going to school, or raising a family. Before starting your social media presence in earnest, stockpile content. When you’re at a conference, workshop, or other event, take plenty of photos. Social media is a written and visual medium. Facebook especially loves video. When all else fails, shelfies will do the trick every time.

Don’t care about how many followers you have. And don’t buy followers. Instead, find your core audience, no matter how small at first, and engage them. Ask them questions and get to know who they are. Don’t just post a question and walk away. Don’t ignore the comments. You have to be interested as much as interesting.

Pick a platform and tailor your brand. Your brand should be reflected by the platform you choose and the genre you write in. Once you’ve established a brand, don’t be afraid to experiment, especially by leaning into standard social media convention. Eighty percent of the content you post should not be about your book; instead, it should be about writing, publishing, other books, etc. Twenty percent of the content should be about your book, or books, which averages out to about once a week. If your book is newly published, then you can reverse the 80/20 rule for a few weeks before and after publication.

And Finally

Don’t read negative reviews. Don’t respond to negative reviews. And don’t ask people to buy your book. If they buy into you as an author, if they buy into your brand, and if your craft is solid, the social media presence will sell your books for you.

You CAN Make Your Editor’s Life Easier!

Let’s be honest with each other, shall we? There is a lot of controversy around editors and what they’re really like, and some rumors even say they are evil, manipulative people only interested in making money.

The most important thing to remember about an editor is that they are people too (no, they are not perfect); they do have feelings. Having to deal with the stigma surrounding their profession, as well as their actual work, can be pretty overwhelming. Shouldn’t authors want to be helpful, especially for someone they will be working so closely with? Newsflash: you CAN make your editor’s life easier! Here is some advice that will allow you (as a writer) to ease the weight on your editor’s shoulders.

One of the simplest things you can do as a writer that will help your editor (whether it is a developmental or copyeditor doesn’t really matter; you can do this for all your editors) is to proofread your manuscript. No one wants to read something riddled with spelling and grammatical errors—not even an editor. If you wouldn’t put it on a store shelf that way, then don’t send it anywhere like that. If you take even a little time to clean up your manuscript for your editor, not only will their reading experience be better, but they won’t have to spend as much time fixing simple errors.

Another pretty important thing to keep in mind: you will help everyone, including yourself, if you keep an open mind. Your editor understands that your book is your baby and that you will be damned if you let anything happen to it. But if you can’t be open to change, no matter how little or big, then what is the point of being there? Even the greatest authors went through edits, some drastic, some not so much. Editing is an essential step in publishing any book, and yours is no different. So keeping an open mind is essential to your survival, as well as your editor’s.

With that in mind, you also have to be honest with your editor. Just because you think something is what they want to hear, it may not be what needs to be said. If you aren’t certain about something, don’t be afraid to ask. They might be right, but nothing will get solved if you don’t talk it out. If you are honest and your editor is honest in return, the both of you will have an easier and longer-lasting relationship.

You should also remember that this is still business and you need to be timely and available. This is not the time to procrastinate about finishing what needs to be finished (you all know who you are!). Don’t wait until the very last minute before a deadline. Just as you expect to hear from your editor within a certain amount of time, your editor expects to hear back from you as well.

Now with that being said, you also have to allow your editor some breathing room. They aren’t a miracle worker; the pyramids weren’t built in a day. If you start hovering over them, making demands, and watching them every step of the way, nothing will get done and no one will be happy. If you allow them to do their job, they’ll do it, and vice versa.

The last reminder I have for you is this: your editor is NOT your enemy! The biggest myth about editors is that they are evil, wicked people who only want to make money and tear apart your work. This is not true. Only a terrible editor would want to actively ruin your work. A good editor is there to help you. Sometimes change is necessary to better things and you may be leery of allowing anyone to do that. But in the long run, your editor wants to help you better your work and help you create something truly amazing. So have faith in your editor, because they have a lot of faith in you.

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.

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!

Editing Comics With Oni Press’s Desiree Wilson

In addition to her job as an editor at the Portland-based indie comics publisher Oni Press, Desiree Wilson is also a part of the Book Publishing graduate program at PSU. I recently had the chance to speak with her about her career in comics and what it goes into editing them.

—What is your background in editing? What background do companies look for when hiring comics editors?

I’ve been editing forever, but I sort of slipped into comics editing. When I was in elementary and middle school I figured I wanted to be a writer, and I was always a fan of comics, but like a lot of people I thought it was one of those jobs that wasn’t really a job you were allowed to aspire to. I started out writing novellas and short stories, and doing a lot of collaborative storytelling with friends, which I think helped lay down the foundation I needed for developing stories.

When I started at Portland State, I actually ended up in the comics studies program completely by accident. I needed one writing class to fill out my degree, and I landed in a comics writing class taught by Brian Bendis and David Walker. Through them, I met with a lot of pro comics writers and editors and basically soaked them for all the knowledge they have. I was an editorial Intern with Kelly Sue Deconnick and Matt Fraction, and later I did two stints as an editorial intern at Dark Horse Comics.

I’ve never done hiring, but honestly, with exception of the Big Two (whose ways are mysterious to me), what comics publishers look for is pretty standard, with a little bit of extra knowledge. Since comics are a visual medium, it’s really critical that an editor understand how visual storytelling works. A background in art or film helps, but failing that a really strong familiarity with comics as a medium does wonders. Like any book, comics editors need a keen sense of how to develop a story from that seed of an idea into something whole. Readers don’t see all the work comic editors do from script drafts, just the final work from the team, but sometimes we go through a dozen revisions before we start putting things down.

—Why do comics need editors?

There are a load of micro-reasons that comics need editors, but they all boil down to the same thing in the end. It’s the same as editing anything else: quality, timeliness, and clarity. Like any form of writing or art, it’s hard to see the flaws of something you’ve made without a pair of outside eyes, but I think comics have a way of making that even harder. It’s not just missing a serial comma or using the wrong stylesheet. It’s making sure that not just one person–the writer–knows the story and expresses it well enough that a reader knows what’s going on. All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit together almost flawlessly, and if they don’t you will almost always end up confusing someone or losing an emotional beat.

Comics are such a unique medium because there are usually multiple people working on a single title throughout its life, and making sure those pieces come together well is critical to the success of the book. When you edit a regular book, you often get a reasonable amount of downtime with that specific title as you wait for the author to rewrite 100,000 words based on your suggestions, but comics isn’t quite like that. A comics editor carries that book almost constantly: when the script gets turned in, it usually needs minor edits and then it goes to the artist; when the artist turns in pages, they need approvals before it gets colored and lettered; when colors and letters come in, they have to be checked for errors, and colors have to be balanced if they’re over-rendered. There’s logos and covers to deal with, marketing and publicity to discuss, and the ever-present deadlines to enforce.

I’d be lying if I said most of my day wasn’t spent keeping everyone up to date on deadlines and making sure things are processed in a timely manner.

—If possible, could you walk us through the steps you take when editing a 22-24 page serial comic?

This is a hard question, because each of the teams are different. I have a couple books with a single creator, and they really just stick to their workflows. I check in with them weekly, give them deadlines, and the rest is on them to turn in the work on time. If they’re late, the book gets pushed back.

For a monthly book, we have hammered out the script and the entire arc before it goes on the calendar with a release date. I know what each issue is going to be, and the team gets to work. Usually there are at least two or three revisions to each individual script, but sometimes there are none…and sometimes there’s not even a script, just an outline. Some teams finalize the script and work independently, delivering the final files to me to get to the letterer; other teams send me each stage (script, pencils, inks, colors) and I act as the go-between to get the pieces to the next point in the assembly line.

Ideally, I get the first two or three issues of the book in before the release, and the team is allowed to work at a kind of leisurely pace with that lead-up time. The Reality™ is that it rarely works that way. Life happens, work happens, and creators are often working on more than one project, sometimes with multiple publishers. The best I can hope for is the ideal, but there are weeks when I’m actually just hoping to get all the final assets in a couple days before we go to print, and buying our production department brownies to thank them for cranking out the final touches in time.

—What are some unique aspects of editing comics that one might not see elsewhere in the publishing world? How is it different? How is editing a comic different than, say, editing a novel?

The major difference in editing a comic and editing a novel is that the final product often doesn’t have many of your hallmarks. When you read a novel, you can sometimes see the touches of the editor in the way a phrase turns or the way the story flows, but in comics it’s harder to detect. There are so many fingerprints on a comic that usually the editor’s influence gets drowned out by the dialogue and art and vibrancy of colors, and honestly I think that’s how it should be.

One of the neat things about comics is the simultaneity of it all. In novels, you can get a lot of serious downtime (and you can in comics, too, especially in early stages), but once a comics project gets rolling, provided there aren’t problems, you get a lot of processes happening at the same time. I’ll have an artist drawing the interiors of a future issue, a letterer and a colorist working on copies of the same inked pages from the current issue, the writer working on the first script of the next arc…all at the same time. It’s a lot different than sending a DE pass to an author and waiting a month or two to get it back.

Rehousing History: Finding a New Home for Our 1885 Chandler & Price Letterpress

We’re only a few months into 2018, but Ooligan Press has already seen a lot of changes this year. We’ve released our long-anticipated hiking guide (50 Hikes is available in stores and online now!), created a new project team, and much more. However, one of our most significant changes was kept behind the scenes. During the break between fall and winter term, we moved offices.

Ooligan Press has always lived in Portland State University’s Neuberger Hall, but we’ve been anticipating a move ever since the university began announcing building remodels. Despite the building’s many quirks and charms, Neuberger was due for a refresh and closed its doors in early December. When the dust finally settles and the doors reopen, Ooligan will move into a new, beautiful office designed to fit our needs—but this upgrade required some creative maneuvering to keep things running in the meantime. Last term, boxes were meticulously packed and labeled for either our temporary office or deep storage. Some supplies even lived in managers’ cars during the winter break. There was one item, however, that needed special attention: our 1885 Chandler & Price letterpress.

This stunning piece of publishing history was acquired from the PSU art department over ten years ago. It was set for removal from campus, but Ooligan saved and restored it to working condition. Over the years, many students have taken the opportunity to experiment with printing and created collateral for titles and events. Unfortunately, our temporary office doesn’t offer us enough space to continue housing the press. We were faced with two options: move it into deep storage to gather dust during the remodel or find it a new home where it could be cherished.

Luckily, we found a lovely new home for the press! The c3:initiative is a non-profit operating organization that serves as a platform for critical inquiry and supports artists in creating work focusing on social introspection. The press and its accompanying type collection has been sent on a “permanent loan” to c3:initiative’s sister campus, Camp Colton, located in Colton, Oregon.

This new home ensures that the press will be continue to be accessible for PSU students and opens it up to rural and artist communities as well. According to director Shir Ly Grisanti, “The press and type collection look so beautiful in their new home, and we can hardly wait to get printing!”

We are excited to see such a lovely opportunity for creativity come from our move between offices. If you stop by to visit the press in its new home, let us know!

How to Apply to Publishing School at Portland State University

Many of you may know that Ooligan Press is a teaching press staffed by students pursuing master’s degrees in the Department of English at Portland State University. Students lead the way in every step of the publishing process with guidance provided by expert faculty. Are you or someone you know interested in joining our program? As the second-year Book Publishing program graduate assistants for the 2017–2018 academic year, part of the work we do for the program includes outreach to potential applicants. We love this program and think it’s really special, but we also know the admissions process can be a bit daunting.
With the Fall 2018 application deadline approaching on April 1, we thought it would be helpful to discuss the application materials in detail. All applications are reviewed by a committee, and we asked committee members to provide us with best practices that prospective students can employ when preparing their application materials. In addition, because we each took different paths to graduate school—Elizabeth entered the program directly after earning her undergraduate degree, and Lisa spent a few years in the “real world” before finding a passion for publishing—we’ve included our individual approaches to the application process. Excluding academic transcripts, the application has three major components, which are discussed below.
Personal Introduction
Application committee’s recommendation: Write a personal introduction that speaks directly to what you want to accomplish with a degree in book publishing. Are you interested in editing, digital, children’s books, sci-fi? There is no one way to write this personal introduction—publishing is made up of people with varied interests and skills—but target it to our program and what draws you to PSU.
Elizabeth: I was fortunate enough to have some supportive undergraduate professors guide me while I was writing my personal introduction. Their two main pieces of advice were to avoid an anecdote about loving to read and to stay very focused on this program. I spent a ton of time on the Book Publishing program’s website so that I would know as much as possible before writing. When it came time to write, I mentioned specific classes and faculty to help illustrate my goals. If you’re still in school or in contact with past professors, I highly recommend that you have them review your introduction; they’ll help you gauge how effective it is.
Lisa: I was anxious about the personal introduction—so anxious that I bought two advice books about writing graduate admissions essays. They ended up being only marginally helpful, though, because publishing occupies such a unique and relatively small space in the field of graduate studies. The best thing I did was look at description on the Book Publishing program’s website and break the personal introduction prompt into the following three questions:

  1. How do my experiences make me a strong candidate?
  2. Why am I interested in this specific program?
  3. What are my goals after I achieve this degree?

Aptly enough, I wrote most of my personal introduction during a brainstorming session on the flight back from my trip to Portland to check out the PSU campus. It was a fun, inspirational visit, and the words flowed easily. When the time came to write the formal essay, I had a wealth of notes to choose from to create a cohesive statement for the application committee.
Writing Sample
Application committee’s recommendation: Writing samples are diverse in content, which is completely expected given the broad range of applicant experiences. Some applicants include academic writing because they apply while still at their undergrad institution. Some include creative writing. Some applicants include professional examples, like editing samples or marketing writing, because they are coming back to school after several (or many) years in industry. And some people don’t include “writing” at all—designers and web developers submit samples of this type of work all the time. You can include many different kinds of work or choose to submit writing from one field. The main thing is to show your best work in an academic, professional, or creative sense so that the committee can see what kind of work we can expect from you during your time in the program.
Elizabeth: The writing samples definitely stressed me out the most with this application. I was concerned that I needed samples that reflected the publishing industry, but I had limited internship experiences. I ended up using two works of writing from my undergraduate classes. I paired a critical theory paper with a short creative nonfiction piece. I was applying for the program as an aspiring editor and hoped to show a grasp of writing style and analytical ability.
Lisa: I was out of school for a few years before I applied to the program, and I didn’t have anything from my time as an undergraduate that was relevant to include as a writing sample. Instead, I drew from my work as an editor of human resources manuals and a communications specialist. My submission was diverse in nature; in addition to editing and professional writing samples, I included poster designs and an email marketing campaign. I had also recently completed a writing course at Story Studio Chicago, so I rounded out my submission with two fiction samples that came out of my work in that class.
Letters of Recommendation
Application committee’s recommendation: Letters of recommendation can be from a wide variety of sources. Professors, bosses, colleagues, editors, or mentors, just to name a few. Show the committee that you have people in your corner that can speak to your initiative, quality of work, thought process, integrity, or community involvement. These letters support the other pieces of your application, so ask people who can speak to the qualities you highlight.
Elizabeth: As an undergraduate student, it wasn’t a stretch for me to ask three of my professors for letters of recommendation. However, professors are busy people and get many requests for letters during registration periods, so you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to help you. I prepared a set of notes for each of the professors I approached. I included information about the program, my goals, and a few relevant things I had done as an undergraduate student. Additionally, I made my request three full weeks before the application was due to give them ample time (professors procrastinate too).
Lisa: It didn’t seem appropriate to reach out to my undergraduate teachers (I studied theater performance, for one!), so I instead focused on my professional contacts. My boss and two of my coworkers were kind enough to write me recommendations. A forewarning: if you’re asking people to craft a letter who aren’t used to writing this type of recommendation, give them a thorough breakdown of what is expected in this sort of letter and as much advance notice to write it as possible.
We hope this was helpful for those of you considering applying to our program. Anyone with aspirations within the publishing field is encouraged to apply—the work we do here provides a hands-on experience that is not replicated in any other graduate program.
Portland State University’s graduate program in Book Publishing allows prospective students to begin courses during the Fall, Winter, or Spring terms. Applications for the Fall 2018 term are due April 1. For more information, please visit our website.

Editorial Therapy: An Unconventional Theory

The dreaded “self-edit” acts as the bane of most writers’ existence. After pouring yourself into a carefully crafted piece for so long—draining blood, sweat, and tears in the process—it can be overwhelming to then restructure, reformat, and (oh please, no!) cut out portions of text. You’re attached to the writing, you’re invested in the experience, and you’re determined to share your story with the world—so why do you now need to edit it? New studies are proving, however, that this dreaded “self-edit” can actually prove therapeutic, in the same vein as writing and art therapies. Shaping a personal narrative is therapeutic in its own right, but the act of further cultivating and honing this narrative through a self-editing process can lead individuals to completely reprocess their own understanding of the world around them.

“The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go. . . . I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”—Dr. James Pennebaker, social psychologist

The notion of editorial therapy is a new one, but the therapeutic impact of honest and free self-expression has long been proven. On a basic level, proofreading and editing can act as a soothing therapeutic release and mental escape, leading to an internal sense of calm and well-being, especially after completion. On an even deeper therapeutic level, self-editing (writing—and then rewriting—your own personal narrative) has been proven to elevate happiness, effect behavioral changes, and ultimately lead to a more honest perception of your own personal reality, as opposed to the inflated narrative originally written by 3 a.m. candlelight. By taking the time to view how your narrative comes across to others, you are able to actually become honest with yourself and the story you are trying to tell, leading to self-reflection, honest assessment, identification of problems (and their sources), and an overall healthier reflection on yourself and the reality in which you live.

If we argue that writing in and of itself is a form of therapeutic release, it follows naturally that editing would also prove therapeutic in that it provides the opportunity to alter how that therapeutic release will come across to a reader. In terms of self-editing specifically, it also provides the opportunity to be sure that what you’re writing on the page is actually what you’re trying to say. In those late-night binge writing sessions, it is easy to romanticize and sentimentalize all that is on your mind. Through a self-editing process, it can be difficult to move past those feelings and objectively view the writing in front of you (which you are likely incredibly attached to, 3 a.m. angst and all). Yet the act of self-editing can help any writer move past this sentimental “inner voice” and toward more streamlined writing, focused on honest, deliberate intent. It is only through this that perceptions are altered, meaning behind experience is found, and the deepest sense of truth is told. Editorial therapy through self-editing allows us to uncover the truth, finally understand it for ourselves, and communicate it to others in the most effective way that we, as writers, can.

“Old No. 1” and Me: A Digital Romance

Last month, I became the new lead of the Ooligan Press digital department, and I’m thrilled because I’m a huge fan of the work we do in digital. I’m proud of the websites we oversee: Ooligan Press, our Publishing program, and the new and evolving Oregon Authors site. But my real passion is ebooks. I love reading them, I love making them, and I love the potential that they offer us as publishers and as readers. At the same time, I recognize that digital can be off-putting for those who are passionate about printed books, and so I’d like to reveal how I fell in love with digital publishing.
The romance unfolds in an unlikely spot: the rotunda reading room of the American Antiquarian Society, where I first made the acquaintance of a 240-year-old printing press named “Old No. 1.”
For those who aren’t familiar with it, the American Antiquarian Society is a treasure of an institution in Worcester, Massachusetts; a learned society and research library, the AAS has preserved over three million books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, and other printed material created in what is now the United States, dating from the first European settlement to 1876. The AAS was founded in 1812 by a man named Isaiah Thomas. (If you’re a basketball fan, no, not that Isaiah Thomas; and if you’re an old basketball fan, no, not that Isiah Thomas either.)
This Isaiah Thomas was a Revolutionary War printer who published a newspaper called The Massachusetts Spy. It strongly supported the cause of American independence—so much so that the British authorities referred to Thomas’s printing office as “the sedition factory.” Thomas heard that the British were planning to shut him down, and knowing how important it was to keep the flow of information going, he moved his press from Boston to Worcester to keep it safe on April 16, 1775 in the dead of night. Many years later, Thomas donated that press to the American Antiquarian Society. “Old No. 1,” as Thomas described it in the donation documents, now resides on a balcony above the reading room of the AAS.
In 2014, I spent a month at the AAS doing research for a nineteenth-century detective adventure called A Person Known to Me. The project is an experiment in mixing different forms of storytelling in a single integrated narrative whole, and I realized that to combine the many types of of media that were part of the project, I would need some programming skill. Using resources suggested by Derek Sivers, including the book Head First HTML and CSS, I began to teach myself programming. By day, I was a researcher in the library, paging through nineteenth-century dime novels, newspapers, and other gorgeous resources unearthed for me by the AAS librarians; by night, I was a fledgling student of computer programming.
One day, as I sat working in the library, I looked up at Old No. 1 in its balcony perch and thought about how much precious information regarding the American Revolution it had conveyed. In that instant, I was struck by the power of what I had been learning during those evenings spent poring over my programming books. Anyone who was willing to spend some time, like me, could now build a virtual printing press. Any of us could follow in Thomas’s footsteps and take on his mantle of publishing responsibility and civil action.

My path after that moment delivered me to Portland State University, where my focus has been on digital technology and what it can do for publishing. (I define “publishing” in the broadest possible sense, incorporating as many forms of media as are necessary to tell a story well. To see some wonderful examples of journalistic use of this kind of storytelling, check out “Snowfall” from The New York Times and “Hell and High Water” from ProPublica.)
What possibilities exist down this road for even longer-form narratives? What would Isaiah Thomas have been able to do with all of this, if he too had known HTML and CSS? And how can we in the digital department and at Ooligan Press honor and advance that heritage?