Creative Book Marketing for Local Publishers

This summer I returned to my hometown and one of my favorite literary communities to learn more about how small independent presses build brand awareness and market their books. Kore Press in Tucson, AZ, is well known in the community as being a leader of feminist publishing. As Kore’s marketing intern, I was given a firsthand look at how small indie publishers get creative to spread the word about their books.

I arrived at Kore in time to pick up on a backlist marketing campaign. In the past couple of years, Kore has published several wonderful books of poetry and fiction. One of the major ways Kore finds talented writers is through seasonal writing contests judged by lauded writers and poets such as Tracie Morris, Roxane Gay, Lidia Yuknavitch, and most recently, Cheryl Strayed. With books chosen by writers such as these, it makes marketing a much easier undertaking.

Publishers market their books through three types of media: paid, earned, and owned. Things such as print advertising, direct mail, and display are examples of paid media. Owned media are websites, blogs, or social media pages. Earned media are the hardest to get, and because of that, the most important. Word of mouth, Facebook comments, Twitter mentions, and reviews are examples of earned media. Getting earned media is a great way to gauge how much genuine excitement there is circulating about your press, book, or event. That’s not to say it’s all a shot in the dark, though. Marketers in the publishing industry work hard to write compelling copy about presses, books, and contests for press releases, blog posts, and social media messaging in an effort to garner excitement. This summer I saw how a press can work with a community to generate buzz about their work.

Tucson is a tight community, and I was impressed with Kore’s commitment to working with local professors, writers, artists, and makers to not only talk about their work, but also about how to make the community a more creative place as a whole. Before I arrived, Kore collaborated with a local musician and English professor to create a series of events about noise, including a performance by Tracie Morris. Kore regularly works with local printers, designers, and venues to share promotion and messaging through community events.

Working with Kore and the Tucson writing community made me think a lot about Ooligan Press and the Portland writing community. Ooligan often works alongside local authors and events, and it reminds me of what an advantage it can be to be a small press in an established literary town. I’m lucky again to live in a place with such an enthusiastic population of writers, and luckier still to live in a city that’s home to Wordstock, Powell’s, and community-oriented presses such as Forest Avenue Press. Smaller and independent publishers may not have all of the same resources of Big Five publishers, but in an industry that is fueled by creativity, smaller presses have proven that there are always new ways to reach readers.

A Brief and Incomplete Survey of Young Adult Cover Trends

I recently wandered the YA shelves of Powell’s to take note of the latest cover trends––partly as research for the cover design of The Ocean in My Ears, and partly because that’s the kind of thing I like to do with my Friday nights.

In order to focus only on the latest trends and limit the number of books I had to look at, I solely took into account books published in 2015 and 2016. Still, I ended up picking around a hundred covers. From there, I started organizing the covers.
The importance of pure aesthetic appeal in a YA cover is most clearly shown through the prominence of typography-heavy designs. The titles of these books are spread across the entire cover, and the background typically has nothing more than a splash of color or a subtle design.
These covers evoke the typographic posters that have become so popular in recent years, and this kind of seriousness sets the book apart for, perhaps, a slightly older reader. Typography is a fairly large and timeless trend, but it’s the little details that matter most here, such as choosing to use ribbon to make up the letters, or choosing to carve the title out of moss.
One other typography-heavy trend is using aligned text interspersed with symbols.
This trend, also one that is popular with literary fiction, is definitely aesthetically pleasing, but will likely get old pretty soon. Of course, there are more interesting ways to approach the trend (Learning to Swear in America incorporates minimalist, but dynamic, symbols), but these covers tend to be bland and repetitive.
Found titles, mainly sticky notes and rickety signs, are both en vogue:
The signs give a sense of place, which is an interesting element to consider. Though it’s a good way to break from the typical typographical choices, it may become difficult to distinguish one sticky note cover from the next.
Rain is a pretty major metaphor for sadness and rebirth and a number of other things, so it’s not exactly a surprising trend. But there are two particular kinds of rain covers that are oddly similar.
Dangerous Lies and Three Truths and a Lie were published less than a year apart. They are different stories, with different authors, but both covers have textured rain splattered across them, and both have the word “lie” in the title.
The other rain trend is via illustration. These books ended up looking like part of a series.
I remember when having girls on the cover with their faces cut off was the biggest thing in YA. That trend has been given new life in the form of illustrations, which is, in my opinion, a welcome change.
Of course, illustrated covers on the whole are extremely popular, but the group is so widespread there’s no point in trying to pin it down. However, there was one weirdly specific subcategory of the illustrated cover I can’t help but share: covers that have illustrated buses and titles with small insects.
These books were published within two months of each other in 2015. Interestingly, Alice and the Fly didn’t have a bus on its cover until the second edition came out in January 2016, after Mosquitoland began receiving high acclaim. Conspiracy theory? Maybe. Maybe not.
Powell’s employees are probably starting to wonder why that one woman was spending so much time staring at YA books, checking the front matter for publication dates, taking pictures of them, and then not buying them. Well, I bought a couple. A few. Several. I didn’t buy them all, okay?
Cover design for The Ocean in My Ears is the upcoming challenge for Team Meri, and I’m looking forward to finding––or creating––its niche in the world of YA covers.

The Release of Rhythm in the Rain

Rhythm in the Rain: Jazz in the Pacific Northwest is officially available online and in bookstores all throughout the Pacific Northwest. We at Ooligan Press would like to take a moment to thank Classic Pianos and wonderful pianist Tom Grant for helping us launch this beautiful book into the world. It has been a crazy and long journey ushering Lynn Darroch’s new book from the acquisition phase to its official launch, but now that it is available to readers, it is a process that we can all agree was fulfilling and well worth the wait.

Wednesday, March 2 will see Darroch do yet another reading at Powell’s City of Books at 7:30 p.m., so for those of you who have not yet had an opportunity to purchase a copy and meet Darroch in person, or if you just simply can’t get enough of what this book has to offer, we will hope to see you there. Between the book’s launch party, our sales booth at Portland Jazz Fest, and the countless fans and contributors that all of us on the Rhythm in the Rain team have had the pleasure of meeting with over the past months, I know I can speak for all of us when I say that interacting with you has been the absolute highlight of our experience.

So, as the proud project manager for Rhythm in the Rain, I would like to give you all a heartfelt goodbye as I sign off with the last Start to Finish post for this particular project. I will also urge you to keep checking in with these posts, as the twentieth-anniversary reissue of Robin Cody’s Ricochet River is sure to be filled with exciting news as we prepare for that project to see the same success as this one.

Socially Conscious Book Buying

The other day, I was walking around Powell’s City of Books on Burnside. I had been given a gift card over the holidays and was finally putting it to good use. Weaving between the shelves, loitering far too long in front of the small press section, I slowly and steadily accumulated a modest pile of books. My arms started to feel heavy with the weight of words. I was a very happy nerd.

Until I brought the books to the register and laid them all out for the cashier. Norman Mailer, Nicholson Baker, Tim Kinsella, Truman Capote, and Colin Winnette all stared up at me: a bouquet of very white, very male, and (with the exception of Capote) very straight authors.

“Hi!” they said in unison.

“Oh,” I said back.

“What?” said the cashier.


I became very self-conscious about the whole situation. I wondered if the cashier was judging my reading choices. Did he think I was some college freshman buying novels off an antiquated literary criticism reading list? Did he think I was blind to the fact that
the publishing industry was stacked against anyone who did not fall into a very specific racial and sexual binary? Did he think I was the reason The New York Times 2015 Summer Reading List was 100 percent white?
Probably he was just wondering when I would decide to hand him my gift card and make room for the next customer.

The thing is, I’ll bet the cashier didn’t think anything of my reading choices. I know I wouldn’t have, before studying book publishing at Portland State University. Not many readers think about the publishing process. They don’t realize that it is just as susceptible to human error or bias as any other business or organization. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for example.

The fact is that before an author of any diverse or underrepresented background can get their book published, they need to get it past a probably white agent, a probably white acquisitions editor, and then get picked up by a probably predominantly white publishing house staff. Whether it is out of real prejudice or some honestly misguided belief that it wouldn’t sell, these books probably aren’t going to get very far.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t buy Nicholson Baker’s books? Of course not, Nicholson Baker is amazing. Seriously, have you read The Size of Thoughts? But it does mean that we should be actively supplementing our literary diets with alternative voices, different worldviews, and wider perspectives, not only for our own intellectual and emotional benefit, but to send a message to the gatekeepers of the publishing industry: We want more of this!


Let’s do a little exercise, just for fun. (Because I’m a grad student, spontaneous writing exercises are what I consider fun now.)

Get a piece of paper and a pen. List your ten most recent favorite reads … ready, set, go! Now, put a mark next to the books by white authors. Now put a mark next to the books by male authors. Now the ones by straight authors.

If you’ve got even a couple of books left unmarked, congratulations! You are the future of book publishing. Keep doing what you’re doing (and maybe comment and let everyone know where you’re finding these books)! If not, try reading some Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, some Sia Figiel, or some Allison Green.

Untangling the Knot: How Do We Approach Successful Sell-Through?

There’s a massive amount of planning and production that goes into publishing a book, but the work doesn’t stop once a title is launched and alive in the world. Ooligan’s latest release, Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, was published at the end of February, and the project team behind the book is now working on the “sell-through” stage—ongoing promotion to raise awareness and help sell the books that are now sitting on shelves.

Untangling the Knot—an anthology of essays from twenty-six contributors and an editor—is blessed with an abundance of authors eager to participate in public events and readings that have become an important aspect of the book’s sell-through strategy. Aside from encouraging stores to stock and promote books, readings allow Untangling the Knot‘s authors to connect with their friends and communities while sharing the powerful essays they contributed to the collection.

The book’s launch party at Portland State University included readings from several authors, and with a topic and contributors that span beyond the Pacific Northwest, recent events have been held in cities across the country. During the 2015 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in April, three contributors held a reading at Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis. Later that month, two contributors held a reading at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. The geographic reach of readings is generally restricted to the home turf of a single author, making Untangling the Knot a lucky example of how readings can spread the word and help sell books.

But sell-through includes a lot more than readings. Getting books on the right shelf with the best profile can connect the title with readers who have somehow missed other promotions. Untangling the Knot has received just this kind of boost as a featured book on the New and Recommended Nonfiction shelf at Powell’s City of Books. This shelf, part of the highlighted browsing section on the first floor of the famous bookstore, provides ideal exposure for new titles, particularly from small publishers. Larger publishers have the ability to purchase this kind of exposure at national bookstore chains through their marketing budgets, but the support and recommendations of independent booksellers are a vital part of sell-through for all Ooligan Press titles.

And finally, now that the book has been released, the Untangling the Knot project team is pursuing literary award competitions to enter. Based on deadlines for different award submissions, this part of sell-through can take up to a year after publication, but this strong collection of essays on a topic of importance to LGBTQ and ally communities across the country has real potential for recognition. Sell-through is an ongoing process, and the awareness an award can raise for a title—even a year after publication—can have a significant impact on a book’s continued success.

So look for Untangling the Knot at readings and in bookstores across the country, and hopefully you’ll hear more about this book over the next year as readers and reviewers continue to learn and find inspiration in its essays. And if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, pick up a copy now from Powell’s or Amazon.

Conversation with Ooligan Alumna Dehlia McCobb

Dehlia McCobb graduated from the Portland State University Book Publishing program in 2010. Now she spends her days just north of the PSU campus in the Rare Book Room at Powell’s City of Books. We caught up with her to find out what it’s like having possibly the coolest job in Portland.

What is your job title?

I’m a used book buyer and a member of the used book buyer team at Powell’s. There are a number of us who rotate shifts on the buying counter. I’m part of that team, but I spend most of my hours in the Rare Book Room, and that’s kind of a unique position. I’m really the only one of us who spends that much time in here.

What does an average day in the Rare Book Room entail?

Every day, we have an average of five books that come in, and we sell about five books. It really rotates, but it’s kind of a small collection so it’s noticeable change. I usually gather up books that came in the day before and prepare them to be put on the retail website. I look over the condition and I write up detailed notes on every book so collectors—especially collectors who can’t come in and look at the book in person—have an accurate description of what they’re getting. I also take photos of the books for the website. It’s partly that and partly customer service. We have people coming in all day long. Some people are just here because they have questions about rare books or have questions about evaluating books they have at home. I also help people who are interested in purchases. It’s a little bit of everything.

How did you get such a cool job?

I have worked at Powell’s for almost twenty years. I started in 1995, and I discovered I was really interested in used books and older books. When I first started working with rare books—maybe eight or nine years ago—I was just so excited to see them when they came in. Part of it’s the unpredictability. Because the books in this collection come to us from people who bring them to us, we just absolutely never know what’s coming through the door next, so there’s always that element of mystery and surprise to it all. I really enjoy that. I started working with the person who was full time in here before me, then when he left I started spending more time in here. It was a gradual transformation.

What is your favorite book in the Rare Book Room?

One of the best ones was a book of poetry by John Keats that once had been owned by Jack Kerouac, so it had his name in the front and had some passages underlined in the back that he had actually mentioned in his On the Road journals, so it seemed like he probably was carrying it around at the time of On the Road. And we’ve just had some really great autographs over time. We had a book signed by John F. Kennedy once. We have a book now that was signed by Eleanor Roosevelt. There are just so many.

What’s something many people don’t know about the Rare Book Room?

I guess that rare books don’t always have to do with age. We define “rare” as something that’s both scarce and in demand. It can actually be something recent as well as something older. Older books are more likely to be scarce, but newer books can be scarce, too. For example, the first book in the Harry Potter series is very highly sought after right now. I get lots of questions from people who see newer books in here and ask what the word “rare” really means.

Did any of your classes in the Book Publishing program or projects through Ooligan Press specifically prepare you to work with rare books?

There is a class called Archaeology of the Book and it does go into some of the same topics. As part of that class we went to the Multnomah County Library and Lewis & Clark College, and they have really great rare book collections.

Do you have any advice for students who are interested in rare books?

People can always come and ask questions. We love to explain about the older books in here, and I do a tour once a term for the Intro to Book Publishing class, where I answer the initial questions of what is a rare book, where do the books come from, and I get to point out some of the showpieces in here that are exciting. I can answer anything from questions about specific books in here to how to look after your own books if you have old ones or just want to take care of them so they don’t get damaged. We can also answer questions about how you can find out prices on your own if you have an old book in your collection and you’re wondering if it’s valuable or not.

You can visit Dehlia at Powell’s City of Books, located at 1005 W. Burnside Sreet. The Rare Book Room is located on the third level and is open to the public daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Events and More

Now that Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before is out in the world, we’ve been putting all our energy into preparing for upcoming events. Karelia and Elisa, owner of Another Read Through, were a huge help in setting up the official launch. We celebrated the book’s message and insight into growing up gay in the early 90s, specifically in Oregon. It’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come and what had to be done back then to pave the way for the recent strides towards equality for everyone. Karelia read and signed books, and we also had a representative from GLPAN there to discuss the anti-gay Ballot Measure 9 featured in the book. Additionally, we were excited to host one of the lawyers responsible for overturning the ban on gay marriage in Oregon back in May. This panel of activists did a great job answering the audience’s questions about the equal rights movement then and now!

This coming Thursday, November 20, we invite you to join us in a more relaxed celebration of the release of Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before. In the nostalgic spirit of the coming-of-age novel, set in Oregon during the politically charged years leading up to infamous anti-gay Ballot Measure 9, we will come together at Jones Bar for an author reading, raffle, and 90s themed dance party. The bar will open early for us at 7:00 p.m., food and full bar available, and music. Everyone twenty-one and over are welcome. We hope to see you there!

If you aren’t able to make it to Jones, Karelia will also be reading at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing on Tuesday, November 25th at 7:00 p.m..

We’re Published!

Friday marked the official pub date for Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before, and we couldn’t be more excited to see where the book goes from here. Even before the thirty-first, Amazon was shipping out pre-orders, and we’ve already started seeing reader reviews and ratings roll in—some of them from as far away as France. More and more readers have been adding the book to their “to-read” lists, and we plan to reach out to them this week to let them know the book is now available for purchase in stores and online from Powell’s,Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Karelia is doing her part to get the word out by saying “yes” to interviews that come her way. She discussed her personal connection to the story and how she and Triinu aren’t exactly the same person with Late Night Library. She talked with one of the Oolies working on the book to answer questions for PDXX Collective. And finally (for now), she wrote a guest blog for Powell’s that will pop up any day now.

It’s impossible to talk to Karelia about Forgive Me without asking questions about the antigay Ballot Measure 9 that Oregon faced in the early 90s. If you’d like to learn more, she plans to address many of these questions, as well as how the battles fought then are so closely connected to those being fought now, during her official launch at Another Read Through on November 16th.

It’s Showtime

The launch is swiftly approaching, so remember to mark your calendars for December 16! You can also RSVP on Facebook. Since the launch is so near, the Ninth Day team has been wrapped up in event planning. Stop by the Koehler house next Monday to see how our efforts this term have paid off.
If you haven’t RSVP’d on Facebook yet, the launch begins at 7 p.m. at the Koehler house, currently home to the law firm of Kilmer, Voorhees, and Laurick, at 732 NW 19th Avenue. Ruth will be reading, signing books, and participating in a brief Q&A session. And if you’ve been following either my updates or Ruth’s career, you know that her readings are never dull affairs.
In addition to finalizing the details of the launch, we are also swiftly nearing the time when the production process ends and the book moves from production (i.e. “sell-in”) to the sell-through period. To that end, a few people on the Ninth Day team have worked up a sell-through plan over the last few weeks. Such plans include possible awards to apply for and other ways to reach out to the audience for the book. In Ruth’s case, next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, an important cultural and political turning point in American life and an integral aspect of her novel. She will be promoting the book throughout the year, and while these posts may not be around to cover all of these upcoming events, Ooligan certainly will.
I will be back next week to talk about how the launch went—and to reveal some details about an exciting panel that Ruth will be moderating next spring—but why don’t you come see for yourself?

Event Planning Time

We received notice this week that Ruth’s novel Blue Thread has been reviewed in the most recent issue of Lilith, a Jewish feminist magazine, just in time for Hanukkah this year. It is especially gratifying to see reviews are still coming in after publication, particularly since the Ninth Day team has spent a significant amount of energy this term identifying potential new reviewers and following up with those we have already contacted.
Aside from contacting new reviewers, our tasks for The Ninth Day have become very launch-centric. We are working to secure snacks and prizes for our activities. As I mentioned last week, we will be raffling off a classroom set of books to an interested teacher, and we have been brainstorming the most effective way to execute that plan. The launch already has an event page on Facebook (link:, so be sure to RSVP and let us know you’re coming!
We will be posting more launch details as they come in, so be sure to check back soon.