A Lucky and Successful Launch for ELEPHANT SPEAK

This is the third and final blog post for Elephant Speak in Ooligan’s Start to Finish series. Read the first and second posts for a full picture of this book’s journey to being published!

The month of March 2020 will likely be remembered by Americans as the month when everything we accepted as normal got turned on its head. How strange it is to reflect on events that only transpired two weeks previous to my writing of this post. I speak not only for myself as project manager but also for the book’s author, Melissa Crandall, and for Roger Henneous’s family when I say we are extraordinarily lucky to have enjoyed a four-stop book tour for Elephant Speak: A Devoted Keeper’s Life Among the Herd in the first week of March. With gratitude, I’d like to share some of the joys of Melissa’s book tour in Oregon, which made for a successful launch week that we will all remember for a long time.

The publicity phase for Elephant Speak ramped up during the week before the launch, with features on the book and on Melissa’s upcoming tour. This included an informative feature by Amy Wang in The Oregonian and an article in The Bulletin by Brian McElhiney that highlighted bookstore events scheduled in the newspaper’s own town of Bend (also the hometown of the one and only Roger Henneous). On Tuesday, March 3, the day of the book’s release, Melissa arrived in Portland prepped for a busy week. On Wednesday, she appeared on both AM Northwest and Afternoon Live, where she was interviewed about the book. Her interviews are archived by each show and discoverable on KATU’s website.

Later that evening, our Elephant Speak launch event was hosted by the iconic Powell’s City of Books on Burnside. Melissa presented the book with warmth and perfect poise, sharing photos of Roger and the elephants as she spoke and answering a variety of questions with intelligence and humor. She thanked Ooligan Press, her traveling cohort, Roger’s family, and the rest of the crowd (an estimated 130 people in all), then signed every one of the fifty available copies of Elephant Speak, leaving me to get up and invite anyone who wanted books that night to Rogue Hall, where we would be able to sell a few more books from Ooligan’s own stash! The lesson of the tour was this: don’t underestimate the number of books you may have the opportunity to sell, especially at author events. We carried an extra box of books to each event after that, and we were glad we did.

Thursday saw a small group of us accompany Melissa to the Oregon Zoo, where she joined the regular Asian-elephant keeper’s talk by introducing the book about Roger Henneous’s life and career as a keeper and discussing his familiarity with current residents Rose-Tu and Shine. A past colleague of Roger’s and a few zoo staff who remembered him showed up in support and conversed with Melissa in the gift store while getting their copies signed. They passed on their good wishes for us to take to Roger in Bend.

Bookstore events on Friday and Saturday were held at Roundabout Books in Bend and Sunriver Books in Sunriver, respectively. Roger Henneous and his wife RoseMerrie, together with their daughters and other family, came out for both events. The Henneouses have all but adopted Melissa into their family, which is apparent as soon as you see them all together. Roger humored us by signing books at these events, making for a very special finale.

This project has taught me what the greatest powers of small presses are: focused attention on a few projects (instead of hundreds each year), strong author relationships, and intimate knowledge of a book’s story and content. These factors made all the difference in Ooligan’s ability to support Melissa, market the book to reflect its true focus, and get the book out to the right audiences via publicity and events. My last tip to all (which is especially applicable to nonfiction) is to define a book’s mission before release and then make it news. If you can’t say why your book is special, no one’s going to fill in that blank for you.

Thank you to all my fellow Ooligan managers and project-team members who helped Melissa bring this book to life. The message from Roger was this: “Crackin’ job, kids.”

What’s Your Bookshelf Worth?

I have a confession: I hoard books. I know the problem is bad because my cat keeps knocking over the teetering “to read” pile on my nightstand. Over the years, I’ve gotten some books I think are pretty cool, and I became curious about how much my collection was actually worth. Through a chat with the friendly folks in the Rare Book Room at Powell’s, I got a better idea of what collectors look for and what gives used books value. When I got home, I grabbed my copy of Choke by Chuck Palahniuk and put my lessons to the test.

This may seem pretty basic, but the condition of a book affects its value. The more “like new” a book is, the more it’s worth. Some things that may detract from its value include writing or highlighting in the book, dog-eared pages, a cracked spine, and a dust jacket that’s missing or torn.

I looked over my book: it had its dust jacket (with a couple of stains), the pages weren’t bent, and the spine was strong. So far so good!

Edition And Printing
The front matter of a book (the pages before the main body) includes a ton of information. If you haven’t ever looked at front matter before, pick up the book nearest to you and follow along while we look at edition and printing. While edition and printing may seem interchangeable, they’re subtly different. Edition refers to the version of the book—books that look exactly the same are usually the same edition. However, a book in its first edition may not be in its first printing. For example, I got momentarily excited when I discovered that my Harry Potter hardcover box set was first edition, but it turned out each book was far from its first printing.

The edition and printing information are located on the copyright page, which also includes other metadata about a book, such as its ISBN and information about its genre. Near the bottom of the page, there is usually a string of random-looking numbers. The lowest number in this sequence is the printing. Some publishers do this differently, and some books may not have these numbers. Don’t worry if you can’t visualize this or if it doesn’t make much sense. This article has some great examples and gets into the nitty-gritty.

Back to my copy of Choke. It clearly said “first edition,” and it was also a first printing—collectors call this a “first first.” Things were looking up for its value!

Signed vs. Inscribed
I love owning a book with the author’s signature, whether I get one signed after going to an event or stumble across one in a bookstore. But not all books signed by their author have the same value to a collector—signed books are worth more than inscribed books. As exciting as it is to see your name in your favorite author’s handwriting, this is an inscription, and it has less value than an author’s signature alone.

I opened my copy of Choke, and there was Chuck Palahniuk’s signature at the bottom, along with a personal note to the previous owner. My copy is inscribed, not signed, but it’s still more valuable than a copy without an author’s signature.

Market and Rarity
A book has to appeal to a collector for them to want to buy it. Here’s a list of some of the most expensive books available for sale. They’re all early editions, incredibly old, signed, and/or written by renowned authors.

I decided that it was time for me to part ways with my copy of Choke, so I took it into Powell’s to sell it. The person working the buying counter told me that since there are a lot of signed copies of Palahniuk books in Portland, it’s worth less here than it may be in another city, but they still offered me enough in-store credit to add another book to my “to read” stack.

Now you know too! What gems will you find on your bookshelf?

Fearless Bookman

I had the privilege of sitting down with John Henley, a well-known appraiser of rare books in the Pacific Northwest. He has also been an adjunct of the PSU Book Publishing Program since its inception, teaching the survey course titled The Popular Book in the United States. We talked about his job as appraiser, his Oolie aspirations, and how his love of books—inspired early on by his mother—led him to a career of buying and selling them for Powell’s and The Great Northwest Bookstore.

Q: Let’s start in the beginning; did you read a lot when you were a kid?

My father was a banker, and my mother was a well-known poet, Elizabeth Henley. I grew up with a sense of books and money, so it’s no surprise that I got into bookselling. You monetize things you love. We always had classics around, and my mother read to me and my older brothers all the time. Every night after dinner we’d get maybe one or two hours of TV, and then we’d sit around and my mother would read to us for about two hours. Sometimes it would be a New Yorker article. Sometimes my mother would say, ‘Why don’t we read a story by Tolstoy tonight?’ We spent many a night telling stories.

Q: And that led to bookselling?

I got into bookselling as a teenager. When I was fifteen, I got a job at this place called Wong’s Restaurant, which was located on the Interstate across from the Royal Palms Motel. I would go in every Saturday morning and clean the place, and I got fifteen bucks and a Chinese meal out of the deal every week. Then a friend of mine said there was this thing called an underground newspaper, the Willamette Bridge, the precursor to Willamette Week. I would buy a big stack of those with ten of my fifteen dollars and sell them at Portland State, turning my fifteen dollars into thirty dollars. I knew PSU very well because my mother had taught there, so it was always like a home to me. It’s always been a part of my life.

I went downtown one Saturday afternoon to get my papers, and the Willamette Bridge had been closed up. It was just gone. I wandered into this antique store on 5th and Everett called Finnegan’s, and there was this twelve-volume set of Captain Cook’s Voyages from the late eighteenth century, first edition. I asked the guy how much something like that cost, and he said, ‘What do you got kid?’ I said, ‘Well, I got fifteen dollars’ and he said, ‘I’ll take it, just get it out of here.’ I took it home, and my dad said he thought I bought a really great treasure. So the next week after my shift at Wong’s, I went into Cal’s Books and Wares. This guy was selling Cal a book, and he handed this guy ten dollars for it. Ten dollars was big money in the 60s and early 70s. A college course cost ten dollars. So I thought, ‘I don’t want these Captain Cook’s Voyages, I’m gonna take them to Cal, and if he’ll give me ten dollars each I’ll make a killing.’ I got the books down there, and he asked me where I got them, and I told him the story. Then he said, ‘Every Saturday after you’re done at Wong’s, come here, and I’ll give you money and send you out to buy and sell books for me. If you make money I’ll give you a reward, and if you don’t I’ll pay you some wages.’ So I became a book scout. He gave me a check for six hundred dollars for Captain Cook’s Voyages

Q: Book scouting led to working at Powell’s Books?

Book scouting is how I met Walter Powell. He priced books really low, so I did more scouting there than I did selling. One day he asked, ‘Do you read all these?’ and I said, no, I was there buying. He asked what I do with them and I said, ‘I sell them to other booksellers.’ He said, ‘Will you price books for me?’ and we became fast friends within a week. I became his assistant manager and ran the Rare Book Room. He was a mentor and a dear friend, and though he wasn’t well-read and he didn’t know the value of books particularly, he was a good businessman.

Q: How did you go from Powell’s to appraising?

Powell’s changed, and I was used to the old Powell’s. It became a tourist destination, and that’s okay, but it wasn’t the same. Portland was changing. Powell’s had been a funky, interesting place, and now it’s very clean and straight and there’s not as many used books. The people that worked there had truly been a collection of dysfunctional geniuses. Poets, painters, artists, and writers ran Powell’s, and old Mr. Powell said, ‘I’ll fund it!’ He said, ‘This is like the Ed Sullivan Show, I’m calling it Powell’s after myself, but really people are coming here to see what you are all doing.’ It became a different thing, so I went off and got involved with a used and rare bookstore called Great Northwest.

Q: What are some of your favorite collections that you’ve appraised?

One was the Ray Bradbury estate, because I loved his writings as a boy, and to go through his house and through his things was an eye-opener. Doing Dr. Maya Angelou’s books and papers was likewise very meaningful to me, to hold in my hands books inscribed to her by Malcolm X and Dr. King. In some cases, I’ve appraised manuscripts from the Middle Ages that belonged to English royalty at a time when English royalty was killing itself. For a noble woman, the only private thing she got to own was a prayer book. You hold this and learn about her life. She was the grandmother of Henry VIII, her cousin was Richard II. She was right in the middle of what would later be Shakespeare’s material. It was the time of the bubonic plague. She was right there, and your mind boggles. What a period she was in! Appraising takes you to a time and place.

Q: Do you have any advice for students interested in appraising?

You have to understand markets. There’s an aspect to publishing that is appraising, and that’s profit and loss statements. When a manuscript comes across your desk, the first thing you have to think about is, what is the monetary value of this? It’s a gas to publish great literature, but great literature doesn’t necessarily sell. If you publish Your Day in Astrology or The Krispy Kreme Donut Diet, something that can appeal to people en masse, you understand what you have to do to stay in business. You also want to pick up a backlist and have books that are going to be used in colleges. The rat with the biggest tail is the book you want to get. Take some of our books, like Ricochet River. It’s not selling like it did when it first came out, or when new printings are published, but the tail is long. Ricochet River is a major piece and it works. Everyone loves teaching it. It’s multicultural, it’s interesting material, and it’s a coming-of-age and Americans love coming-of-age stories.

Q: Would you have gone to the Publishing program?

I would’ve loved Ooligan Press and to have been an Oolie. I’ve even fantasized about applying for an old man grant. I’m an alumni and an old man, give me a scholarship. The only problem is that then I’d be a student and I’d have to take my own course and teach myself. I would like to take a lot of the courses, though. All of you [in the program] are getting such an exciting opportunity to learn so much. You’ve got great teachers all across the board. Per [Henningsgaard] and all the gang, they’re fantastic. Dennis Stovall is an amazing person, and he and his wife, Liddy, built the program out of nothing. I’m very proud to be a part of this. The height of my year is to teach. For me, it’s a privilege.

No-Nonsense War Stuff: Author Sean Davis Reads at Powell’s Books

I had the pleasure of listening to author, veteran, and artist Sean Davis read to a standing-room only crowd at Powell’s Books last night. Bibliophiles, friends, veterans, and fans trickled into the bookstore and settled into the Pearl room for the event. I arrived a little early so I could enjoy perusing the seemingly infinite isles of treasure at Powell’s before grabbing a seat. When I moved to Portland from Florida, Powell’s was one of the first places I felt at home in. I have a soft spot for its stacks and quirky odds and ends, a sentiment that Sean echoed while speaking with the audience.

The audience at Sean Davis's reading

Sean Davis reads at Powell’s City of Books

Cushioned by the warm atmosphere created by chatter, books, art, and coffee, Sean read to the crowd from his memoir, The Wax Bullet War: Chronicles of a Soldier and Artist, and spoke with them about his experiences as a soldier and the difficult transition to a civilian lifestyle after returning home to Portland. In honor of Memorial Day, Sean chose to read three passages from his book that centered on his friendship with Simon, a close friend and fallen comrade. The three excerpts revealed glimpses into Sean’s life right before, during, and after the war. The “no-nonsense war stuff” was balanced by Sean’s sharp wit and wry humor, which ranged from jokes about holding the world record for longest flight while naked to an especially candid response to one audience member’s question: “Now that you’re home, what do you want?”

Other questions aren’t as easy to answer. Having experienced a vastly different lifestyle, culture, and structure, it’s natural for many people to consider soldiers as experts on war and their associated politics. It’s not hard to believe that they, having seen so much, know the answers. But in truth, the experience of war often raises more questions instead of answering them. Sean talked about how they don’t tell you in training how closely you’ll be interacting with civilians, especially children. You don’t come home with all the answers. The important lesson to take away isn’t really about war or politics at all. When asked what war was about, Sean said, “I don’t know. But we tried to do some good.”

If you haven’t had the chance to see Sean read live, I highly encourage you to do so. The wit, humor, and compassion that Sean puts into his events is truly inspiring and moving. He’s an incredibly nice guy who, despite his traumatic past, is friendly and approachable. He wants to share his experiences so that people understand the nature of war and the impact it has on the lives that it touches. You can read more about Sean and his writing process in “An Interview with Sean Davis” and in “My Name is Sean Davis and I wrote The Wax Bullet War.” Sean’s next reading will be at Ike Box in Salem, Oregon, at 7:00 p.m. on June 4th.

From Jackie O. to Flower Child

On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a reading for Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s just-released title The Ninth Day at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton. The Ninth Day is Ooligan’s most recent publication and is a companion novel to the Oregon Book Award-winning novel Blue Thread.

As the current project manager for The Ninth Day, I may be just a little bit biased, but I love to see Ruth at literary events. Her readings are always informative and interactive, and they usually involve some sort of costume change and props. To help get her audience in the mood for this event, Ruth came dressed in a 1964-style “Jackie O” costume; over the course of the reading, she gradually transformed from a proper lady into a wild hippie flower child, complete with flowing floral wreath for her head and a tie-dyed dress. During this transformation, Ruth read several different sections of her novel, introducing everyone in attendance to the story and teasing those that haven’t yet read the book with a suspenseful scene from the dramatic climax. At one point while she was reading, I looked back and noticed several Powell’s customers had paused their shopping to hear what was happening onstage. Clearly Ruth had won some new fans.

Ruth Tenzer Feldman reading at Powell's

If you missed this event but still want a chance to meet Ruth and get your book signed, you can catch her on Sunday, December 1st at the Oregon Historical Society’s annual Holiday Cheer Author Celebration, where she will be signing copies of both Blue Thread and The Ninth Day. That event will be held at the Oregon Historical Society at 1200 SW Park from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. You can also see her read again on Monday, December 16th at the official launch party for The Ninth Day. The launch will take place at the historic Koehler house, located at 732 NW 19th Avenue. Although this building currently serves as home to the law firm of Kilmer, Voorhees, & Laurick, readers of the series will better recognize it as the fictional Josephson house, home to Miriam and her family in Blue Thread. Attendees of the event will have the chance to enter a raffle for a full classroom set of The Ninth Day for the teacher of their choice.

For more updates on The Ninth Day, be sure to check out the Start to Finish page, where you can read weekly updates about the production process. To keep in touch with Ruth Tenzer Feldman, visit her website and be sure to sign up for her newsletter to get a free e-book of Florrie’s story, which takes place in the time period between Blue Thread and The Ninth Day.