Reaching Unconventional Contacts

Welcome back to Finding the Vein by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde, Ooligan’s third title in the Library Writers Project, our partnership with Multnomah County Library. Ooligan’s first mystery title follows two detectives, a teen sleuth and a police sergeant, as they and their respective partners-in-crime (or in-justice, as the case may be) investigate a camp counselor’s death. In addition to the multiple potential murderers and classic mystery genre red herrings, Finding the Vein is filled with comedy and heart.

When we developed the marketing plan for this book, we included unconventional contacts that were appropriate for the themes in Finding the Vein. These included adoption associations, libraries, book clubs, and summer camps, in addition to the typical contacts that a project team collects such as national and regional publications and magazines, independent bookstores, individual bloggers and book reviewers on social media, and podcasts. Our question was this: How do we reach the unconventional ones? Thankfully, some of the libraries are already taken care of through our partnership with LWP: Multnomah County Library purchases a few copies of the LWP books as they are published to distribute among Multnomah County’s library branches. For the adoption associations, other libraries, book clubs, and summer camps, though, we needed to get more creative. Due to COVID-19, our options were limited because we didn’t have the usual physical collateral that teams include in a sales kit.

We decided that we needed to design something versatile that could be used both physically and virtually in both our marketing and social media campaigns, and we came up with the idea of designing a summer camp–themed postcard. We have a small budget set aside for collateral, which we haven’t used yet, so this is a completely doable strategy. First, we’ll send our contacts an email that informs them of the forthcoming Finding the Vein, gives a summary of the book, describes why it may be of interest to them, and encourages them to tell their colleagues about it. If we get a response, we will send them a physical postcard; that way we don’t waste any by sending them to contacts who won’t be interested or informed of its relevance beforehand. Hopefully we will receive more sales through these connections. At most, we may receive a couple of reviews or an announcement in a newsletter out of our efforts, both of which would be fantastic to have from these more specialized contacts.

The additional benefit of designing a postcard is that we can use it virtually as well. I’ll be sending it to Jennifer, the author, in case she’d like to use it during her email preorder campaign in the early spring of 2021, as well as for usage on her website and blog. They can also be printed out and used as flyers, so we’ll be sure to send the independent bookstores and libraries on our contact list a virtual copy as well. Lastly, the design can be used as an image on social media. Through the combined usage of the postcard design, we are essentially creating an immediately recognizable image that nearly every one of our contacts (and their associates) will eventually see in some format. This ensures that if they or a member of our intended audience sees Finding the Vein on a bookshelf or an online store, they will be that much more likely to purchase it, and in turn, tell others about it.

I’m excited to see how our postcard campaign moves forward, and I can’t wait to see its results!

Finding the Vein will launch on April 20, 2021, in both trade paperback and ebook formats. To learn more about the Library Writers Project and how to submit work to the Multnomah County Library, please visit their website.

The Mystery Behind the Mystery Genre

Overseeing the process of publishing Ooligan’s third title in our partnership with Multnomah County Library and their Library Writers Project has been a whirlwind of mystery and excitement so far. From designing the cover to crafting our marketing plan, Finding the Vein has shown how different the publishing process can be for different genres. As a reminder, Finding the Vein is written by Jennifer Hanlon Wilde and is about a murder at a summer camp for adopted international children. After a well-liked counselor mysteriously dies, camper Isaac and his new friend Hal—a duo not unlike Sherlock Holmes and John Watson—begin to theorize with their fellow campers what could have happened. Sergeant Mikie O’Malley is called to the scene to investigate the case and, due to the nature of the camp, is reminded of her recent discovery that she and her father are not biologically related. Soon, both the amateur and professional detectives come to the conclusion that Paul was murdered. The question is how. All parties involved slowly realize that there is more to Heritage Camp than meets the eye, and the murder is just the beginning.

As the LWP team saw last year while researching the romance genre when working on Iditarod Nights, it can be difficult but also incredibly rewarding to learn how to publish a new genre. Like every kind of genre fiction, we knew that the mystery genre has a large audience, which would be great for Ooligan to break into. We just needed to get there. How? Well, that’s part of the mystery.

Working as detectives, the LWP team investigated the best ways to design the cover—the first step in order to properly reach the desired audience. We researched popular design decisions for mystery and thriller books, finding that dark and misty forest photographs and all-caps sans serif fonts would set the scene of this title perfectly while still meeting the expectations of mystery-book lovers. With this in mind, our designers got to work. What came out is a beautiful cover design that not only solidifies Finding the Vein as a mystery book to its audience, but one that looks like it belongs to the same collection as the two previous LWP titles, The Gifts We Keep and Iditarod Nights. In addition, the design is lighthearted enough to fit the other aspects of Finding the Vein, such as the comedic interactions of the endearing characters, the setting of a summer camp, and themes such as identity and learning what it means to be LGBTQ+.

In regards to marketing, Finding the Vein proved again to be educational to the LWP team. We needed to rethink how to reach our desired audience, so we began researching mystery book bloggers, reviewers, podcasters, and book clubs. We searched for adoption associations, summer camps, and LGBTQ+ media that may be interested in other aspects of the book as well. We are excited about what kinds of attention Finding the Vein may receive once we start inquiring about blurbs and reviews from all of our collected contacts!

In addition to the above-mentioned progress, Finding the Vein has undergone a developmental edit, a heavy copyedit, a medium copyedit, and has been prepared for the design process via XML typecoding. Next up, we’ll see the finalized galley, finish up the social media strategy plan, and do a print proofread.

Finding the Vein will launch in April 2021 in both trade paperback and ebook formats. I can’t wait to see how this title progresses through the publication process and to finally hold it in my hands. For updates on this title and others, stay tuned to Ooligan’s blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. To learn more about the Library Writers Project and how to submit work to the Multnomah County Library, please visit their website.

Too Many Cooks? Management at Ooligan Press

There are a lot of things that make Ooligan a unique press. Most of these traits are externally visible—it’s student run, it’s regionally focused, it’s small. These attributes aren’t unheard of in the publishing world, but they do necessitate an internal structure that is also fairly unusual. Ooligan’s entire workforce is made up of students, many of whom balance jobs and internships as they attend their classes and finish different projects for the press. It would be easy to allow things to fall through the cracks, which is where Ooligan’s uncommon managerial structure comes into play.

Most presses operate under similar systems of management, in which individual departments oversee either in-house teams or freelancers who usher a book through each aspect of production. Often these departments are headed by one or two people. Ooligan has several department managers who most closely correlate to positions you would find in a standard press, including a digital department lead, a design lead, a social media lead, a marketing lead, a copy chief, a managing editor, two acquisitions leads, and two publisher’s assistants. For anyone keeping track, that’s ten department managers. There are independent presses all over the country that operate with an entire staff of fewer than ten people, let alone ten managers. But the truth is, Ooligan doesn’t operate with ten managers: it operates with seventeen. In addition to the department leads, each of the five books that are in production at any given time has an individual project manager, and there are also two managers in charge of outreach and events.

One of the major ways in which Ooligan’s organization diverges from that of other publishing houses is through the use of project managers. Rather than being attached to a single aspect of production, each project manager is instead primarily tasked with keeping their assigned book on track through the entire publication process, during which time they also serve as the first point of contact for their book’s author. Project managers oversee teams of around five people who do the majority of the day-to-day work for their books. Ooligan’s department managers—whose equivalents in other, more standard presses usually have dedicated teams—actually oversee the execution of tasks that are completed by teams of volunteers within the press. So while the majority of people working for Ooligan spend most of their time working on a specific book for a dedicated team, they also help with larger-scale projects for other books under the supervision of the department managers.

In addition to ensuring that there are multiple people to hold accountable for the completion of tasks, Ooligan’s unique structure also guarantees that the production of the press’s books is an especially collaborative process. Most large decisions are made democratically, and it’s virtually impossible to be completely uninvolved with any of the books in production. The collaborative nature of the press is especially important given that it is student run. This gives everyone the opportunity to gain experience in different departments, which often yields more creative and comprehensive results. It also prepares Ooligan students for potential careers in alternative forms of publishing, including publishing collectives, in which collaboration plays an important role. With so many revolving parts, it’s no wonder that Ooligan, a small press, operates with over a dozen managers while still keeping the cooks from overrunning the kitchen.

Taking the Plunge: Assembling an Academic and Professional Portfolio

In the graduate program in book publishing at Portland State University, our graduation requirements are slightly different than those of other master’s degree programs. Instead of defending a thesis, we must participate in a three-part process in order to be eligible for graduation. This includes submitting a portfolio, composing a research paper, and completing an oral exam. The entire process spans the first half of the student’s last term in the program; after a student turns in her portfolio, she is given ten business days to research and write her paper, and the oral examination follows about a month later. For many of us, these final steps toward graduation are daunting and seemingly impossible, but ultimately we prevail. I should know: after months of losing sleep over the content of my portfolio and research paper, I recently passed my oral exam.

        Like many students, I feared the portfolio submission the most out of all the graduation requirements. The Ooligan workroom contains a trove of portfolios from alumni, and although they are meant to be used as examples and inspiration, I found them more intimidating than helpful. Some are heavy and dense, with several hundred pages of text. Others are impeccably designed and produced, almost indistinguishable from the books you’d find on the shelves of a bookstore. Although flipping through the pages of these portfolios made me question my abilities in making my own, it also comforted me to see that there is no single formula for a successful portfolio. After all, the content of any portfolio is entirely dependent on the experiences of the student; as someone who has focused primarily on editing and marketing, my portfolio has little in common with those of the designers in the program. And that’s okay! We all take different routes in this graduate program, and the portfolio is a reflection of our unique choices and experiences.

        Although no portfolio is identical, I found that there are certain steps one can take in order to create a portfolio that is both professional and unique. The first is creating an outline. It’s difficult to tackle the portfolio without having a clear vision of the content you want to include. I organized the projects in my portfolio by first writing down every course and internship I participated in during my time in the program. Then, I dug through my computer as well as my physical collection of completed assignments to find my best work from every class and internship I took part in. It’s important to be picky and keep your audience in mind—you only want to include work that you’d be proud to show a prospective employer or freelance client. The goal is to convey the quality of the work you produce, not the quantity. Once I knew exactly what I wanted to include in my portfolio, I organized the projects by type; I lumped all of my marketing, editing, and sales work into separate sections. These sections and their content make up a skeleton; the next step is to build up the flesh of the portfolio.

        Creating context for the content of the portfolio is almost as important as the projects themselves. For every piece I included in my portfolio, I gave a short description of the assignment and class it correlated with as well as the expectations for the project. The goal is to avoid confusion and answer any questions your reader might have when examining the work you’ve included. Your projects should tell a story of your journey in the program, and your explanations and reflections should serve as the reader’s guide. Like any story, your portfolio should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Your introduction should bring up questions that your content will attempt to answer, and your conclusion should convey a sense of finality while at the same time looking to the future. Of course, these aren’t requirements for the portfolio, but I found them to be helpful ways to look at the portfolio-making process. There is one requirement that can’t be overlooked, however: editing. Edit, edit, take a break, and then edit some more.

        Although I spent a lot of time stressing over the completion of my portfolio, I’m happy with the finished product. It certainly feels good to have a collection of my best projects in one place, instead of floating around my hard drive and various drawers in my desk. Perhaps the best part about completing my portfolio for my master’s degree, though, is that its value extends far beyond its purpose for the graduate program. It is a physical representation of the skills I have gained throughout my time in the book publishing program, so it is especially useful for prospective employers. As I apply to jobs and work on gaining more clients for my freelancing career, I have found my portfolio to be an indispensable resource. Whether you’re a student in the publishing program or not, I encourage you to stop fearing the creation of your professional or academic portfolio and give it your all. The time, effort, and stress is worth it in the end.

Andrea Bennett Guest Poet Post: “Pinball ≈ Prose Poetry”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Andrea Bennett, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!

Pinball ≈ Prose Poetry

A couple of my favourite poetry books—Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons, Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets—are composed of sonnet sequences, sonnets that knit together over the course of the books to create their own sort of narrative arc. Sometimes I set out to write sonnets just like this, but they never manage to stay sonnetsinevitably they melt together, losing line breaks, metre, even their prescribed turn. They become prose poetry. No trace left of any Berrigan or Hacker, except, maybe, in the approach to narrative.
Last year, trying to explain prose poetry to first-year creative writing students (What’s the difference between it and microfiction?), I fumbled trying to articulate the workings of prose poetry’s narrative. (“It’s like, you know, a David Lynch narrative instead of, um, Toy Story?”) Eventually, I settled on pinball. The narrative is the path of the ball, pinging around, setting off blinking lights if it’s lucky. The end of the poem comes whenever the ball sinks down the drain.
As the poet, your job is to wield the flipper, keep the ball in play for a while, aim for the targets, handle bonus balls if and when they appear. As the reader, your job is to follow what you can, and see what stands out in post-game reflection. Don’t treat it like a horse race or the Indy 500. Let go of the need for traditional narrative closure or catharsis. I gave some of my students prose poems by Matthea Harvey, Lorna Crozier, and Ben Lerner to study, and we talked about what blinked. The metaphor seemed to hold well enough.
Maybe this is too conservative a way to approach poetry, but I don’t care. The drive of a human to construct a narrative is about as strong as the drive of a human to see a face in an electrical socket, or a doorknob, or embedded in a ceiling’s plaster crack. I feel a little marquee of joy whenever a narrative, traditional or not, slides into place.

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Andrea Bennett writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in several Canadian literary journals and cultural magazines. She was recently nominated for a National Magazine Award and the Journey Prize, and has previously been shortlisted for the 2010 and 2011 Matrix Litpop Awards, as well as the 2011 EVENT Magazine Nonfiction Contest. She is an associate editor at Adbusters magazine, the News Columns Editor at This Magazine, and she moonlights at PRISM international.
Andrea’s poem “Beaches” will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books will be available April 1, 2013.