The Next Page: How Kickstarter Bridged the Gap of Publishing Conferences

In publishing, the ability to network can make or break careers. Whether you’re an author looking for representation, an agent looking for the next big talent, or an editor extending their reach into different genres or styles, networking never really becomes an optional part of the job. Though digital solutions for networking exist in the form of social media or dedicated (often private) chat channels, they are not quite enough to eliminate the barrier for aspiring or incoming publishing professionals who are looking to join the workforce.

Most publishing professionals find themselves at industry conferences at least once a year, given the chance. Whether they’re keeping up on trends or looking for a new position, the ability to attend a conference can make or break someone’s career in publishing. Tautologically, they are also very difficult to attend in person without already having a job with a press- or a publishing-adjacent company that can facilitate attendance. Travel costs, lodging, and tickets themselves are extremely cost prohibitive to some people, and that’s provided the event isn’t by invitation- or industry-only. So how, then, are incoming professionals meant to find the connections and information that would grant them access to those events, or to the industry as a whole?

That’s a question that’s too large to have a single answer, but on May 11, 2019, Margot Atwell, Director of Publishing at the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, sought to find a solution with The Next Page, a publishing conference that had no precedent. Working under the belief that, despite huge gains in the past decade, publishing “is not representative of the world we live in,” Kickstarter partnered with Fireside Fiction to try and change it with their first ever two-part publishing conference.

The one-day event, held at Kickstarter HQ in New York City, hosted some of the brightest and most respected voices in publishing today, including Portland publisher Joe Biel and former Ooligan editorial professor Dongwon Song, to discuss the future of publishing in an ever-changing landscape. The panels, in almost every sense, were very close to other publishing conferences, each about an hour long and spanning an array of four different topics: finances, representation, technology, and community building. The panelists and moderators were vetted professionals not only in book publishing, but in magazine, comic book, and web spaces, providing a colorful and varied view into today’s current publishing climate, and a not-inconsiderable audience who attended the conference at the Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn.

From left to right: Margot Atwell, Dongwon Song, Amy Stolls, Joe Biel, and Ruby sit on panel 'Paying the Way: Economic Sustainability in Publishing.'

From left to right: Margot Atwell, Dongwon Song, Amy Stolls, Joe Biel, and Ruby sit on the panel ‘Paying the Way: Economic Sustainability in Publishing.’

But what made The Next Page truly unique was its choice to livestream each panel for free to the public, requiring only an RSVP via the Kickstarter website. After following the livestream link to the Kickstarter YouTube channel, digital attendees could watch and participate in conversations through a live chat (which I was honored to be asked to moderate), send in their questions via chat or email for the panelists, and have the conference experience in pajamas in bed or sitting at their kitchen table. It didn’t require taking time off work for travel, finding lodging in an overwhelmingly crowded city, or handling all the little extra expenses that come with most out-of-town conferences.

Moreover, the addition of a digital format allowed The Next Page to truly address accessibility and the limitations barring so many people from joining the industry. Not only did they live-tweet parts of the panels, which is standard, they archived the videos for later viewing for those who could not attend, and, after reviewing concerns from participants, moderators, and attendees, ensured every video provided closed captioning for the hearing impaired. At a time when accessibility for panelists with mobility aids is often overlooked until it’s too late, Kickstarter didn’t shy away from the extra time or money it cost to ensure they were practicing what they preached.

So the real question is, why don’t more conferences do this? Whether for established professionals or those trying to find their footing, the concept of using technology to bridge gaps and lower accessibility barriers for audiences isn’t new for publishing. Having been a part of this conference, I can only think about how much stress I avoided not having to rush around a convention center, how much money I saved by participating from my home office, and how many connections I made through the live chat with participants despite being hundreds of miles away, including one that eventually landed me a gig. While I wouldn’t suggest industry-only conferences throw their doors open as free events, tools certainly exist to ensure the target audience is in attendance while also encouraging greater engagement. Digital solutions shouldn’t and do not have to be exclusive to those with the extreme financial flexibility that seems to be a prerequisite for a successful publishing career, and I hope that other conferences were watching closely.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw an abrupt shift as the world moved their classrooms, conferences, and workdays all into a digital space. It’s unclear if Kickstarter will be hosting The Next Page sometime in 2020, but one thing is certain: this conference filled a gap where it was needed, a genuine way to uphold publishing by sharing information, knowledge, and community in an industry we feel strongly about, made all the better by the earnestness with which it attempted to level the playing field. And there’s no question at all that Kickstarter walked so the rest of us—publishers, editors, and writers alike—could run.

The Next Page 2019 archives can be found via their website, and I have it on good authority that it’s more enjoyable if you stay in your pajamas.

A Guide to Projects and Planning Conferences

As seasoned veterans of the Outreach and Project Development team, we are now embarking on a journey as managers! Being team members for the duration of our first year and now coming in as managers has allowed us to see the growth and evolution of this team. With a two-fold team, we have been lucky enough to watch projects come in, engage with their development, and pass them along for a possibility in publication, as much as we have had the opportunity to coordinate the Write to Publish conference. With one year under our belts, this year comes with new challenges and hopeful successes.

The project development side of our team has been established for over a year now, and we are happy to announce that we handed off two projects to the acquisitions department during the past few months. Although we can’t go into specific detail, both projects were nonfiction. One of them was unfortunately not accepted, but the other was pitched and acquired by Ooligan!

Passing off a project and having it acquired by the press was a huge milestone for us! We are continuing to work with acquisitions to develop an effective streamlined process between our two teams. By solidifying a handoff document, we can ensure that acquisitions is provided with a substantial amount of information on the projects we pass to them. Currently, our team is working on two fiction manuscripts and has agreed to partner with an editor to create a science fiction anthology with the help of several contributing writers.

On the other side of our team, Write to Publish 2019 planning is underway! The theme of this year’s publishing conference is A Writer’s Guide to Publishing. We hope attendees will come away with a better idea of how to navigate the publishing process and how to find helpful mentors along the way.

Date: The conference will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019, in the Smith Memorial Student Union.

Presenting Sponsor: A huge thank-you to Image Comics for being our presenting sponsor. Image Comics is one of the largest comic book and graphic novel publishers in the US, and we are very lucky to have their support.

Keynote speaker: We are happy to announce that Kate Ristau, executive director of Willamette Writers and a talented author, will be our keynote speaker this year. Kate is an active member in the Portland literary community, and we’re thrilled that she can share her wisdom and insight about her experience with the writing and publishing process.

Panels and Seminars: The conference will feature six panels and five seminars. This year, we decided to change what were previously known as workshops or interactive learning sessions to seminars. We believe this more accurately describes the educational experience gained from these leader-driven sessions. We will also implement a networking opportunity in place of our usual sixth seminar to allow more community members and industry professionals to meet one another and make meaningful connections.

As we continue to work on branding for this year’s conference, we frequently reference the thoughtful feedback we received from last year’s participants and attendees. Although this is a fundraiser for our program, more than anything, we want this publishing conference to be a valuable contribution to the community. We hope to inspire and inform writers about this amazing industry and “guide” them through the process to publication.

Visit our website for more updates as we get closer to the conference!

What Comes Next: A Successful Anniversary Conference and Looking Ahead

On April 21, the Outreach and Project Development team hosted the tenth annual Write to Publish conference and raised over $2,500 to donate to Ooligan Press. We are so grateful to every speaker, attendee, volunteer, sponsor, and vendor who spent a beautifully sunny Saturday exploring the journey through publishing with us. At the conference, industry professionals mingled with aspiring writers discussing pitch techniques, award-winning authors discussed the internal workings of their craft, and participants had the chance to interact with various literary organizations in a vendor fair.

Now that the conference is over, we’re starting to envision what Write to Publish 2019 will look like as well as focusing more heavily on the project development side of the team. Spring term is always a time of transition at Ooligan Press—we, the current managers, are training our successors so they can efficiently and successfully take over the leadership of this team in June. The new managers, Brennah Hale and Zoe LaHaie, have been members of the Outreach and Project Development team since they started at Ooligan in fall 2017; both were instrumental to the success of the Write to Publish 2018 conference. Looking toward the future, they’ve already established the location for next year’s conference and tentatively booked a keynote speaker. We’re excited to see Write to Publish 2019 as program graduates and attendees!

If you attended Write to Publish 2018, we invite you to take our survey so that we can continue to improve our conference. In addition, if you have any other comments, you’re always free to email us at w2p@ooliganpress.pdx.edu.

For our projects currently in development, as always, there isn’t much we can reveal to the public, as these manuscripts are unfinished and have not yet officially been acquired by Ooligan. What we can say is that we’re very excited about all of our projects! At this time, our team has five to six projects that are all at varying stages of development; one is at the evaluation stage (we’re deciding if it’s a good fit for our team), one is at the author commissioning stage (we have an idea for a manuscript, and now we’re trying to find authors to write it), two are going through thorough developmental edits, and one is going through a final review before we send it to the acquisitions team.

The next OPD team blog post will be written in the summer by our incoming managers, and at that point we should have some very exciting updates about our projects currently in development (hopefully one or two will have moved on to Ooligan’s acquisitions team) as well as next year’s Write to Publish conference!

Crowdfunding Tips from Write to Publish 2015

Crowdfunding. This seems to be the buzzword in DIY venues. Have an awesome tech idea? Crowdfund it. Conjured up an epic game worthy of geekdom fame? Crowdfund it. Want to publish a book? Crowdfund it.

Write to Publish 2015 included an entire panel on book crowdfunding. Nicole McArdle, marketing director at PubSlush; Chris Morey, publisher at Dark Regions Press; Patrick McDonald, publisher of Overcup Press; Todd Sattersten, freelance publishing consultant; and Leia Weathington, graphic novelist, provided insight and advice on how crowdfunding works.

Here are some tips you might have missed at the Write to Publish conference:

Use the time before a campaign—Use it to gain supporters and begin promoting the idea of the project to your outside network. Promoting a campaign before it launches will allow supporters to familiarize themselves with the project and will give you time to answer any questions they may have. It also gives you the chance to figure out the nitty-gritty stuff, like shipping costs and taxes, and build that into your budget. Take some time to build a professional presentation. Don’t just have huge blocks of text explaining the campaign; make sure to incorporate some images of your company, your team, and your logo. A video presentation may be necessary, but keep it brief and try not to read off your notes in a monotone voice. Be happy about your campaign and portray a sense of urgency. Campaigns are usually pretty quick (thirty days, generally), so you don’t have time to lollygag around. Make sure your presentation reflects that. Another tip: use the correct verbiage. Words like “donate,” “pledge,” “sponsor,” and “fundraising” lead people to believe they’re getting nothing in return. Instead, try using phrases such as “supporting a project,” “helping to bring this book to life,” and “pre-ordering a book.”

Be creative with the rewards—Have no more than ten rewards, unless you have a stretch goal. Figure out the different tiers you’re going to have and be creative about them. Use smaller rewards first (like below the retail price of the book you’re trying to fund), then go up from there. Give the fans what they want, things related to the campaign that don’t cost you too much money. For example, if you’re promoting a book, have rewards like a signed copy, a personal inscription, or a custom dust jacket. Keep in mind, the internet loves images, so incorporate that any way you can, from original artwork to sneak peeks of the finalized covers.

Develop a creative marketing strategy—Plan your marketing strategies in advance. Go local, contact newspapers and blogs, see if any local libraries or cafes will host a book reading or book signing event. Contact the niche audience that the book targets. Podcasts are also a good way to get out there. Ask your current social media followers to vote on a reward and use the winner when you launch the campaign. Doing these things will allow you to feel more connected to your supporters and for your supporters to feel like they are part of the campaign.

To make sure you don’t miss our next conference, check out Write to Publish.

Conferences—Waste of Time or Worth Your While?

Ooligan Press is hosting its annual writing conference, Write to Publish, and the question on everyone’s mind is, should I go? Or rather, will it be worth it?

We all know that there’s some negativity surrounding writing conferences. Some say it’s a waste of time, that the panels will go over things that you, as well-educated and well-researched writers and artists, already know. Others harp about how they didn’t snag an agent, so why go at all? I’m not proud to admit it, but I used to be one of the naysayers.

And the sad fact is those gripes are true, with a few caveats. Some writing conferences do tend to generate the same material. These conferences tend to be skewed to budding writers and not to the more advanced ones. It may seem like the speakers are just reiterating the basics and that can be frustrating for long-time writers.

Ooligan Press’s annual conference, Write to Publish, tries to remedy that. Our conference is more than a writing conference—it’s also a publishing conference. Our panels will not only talk about the craft of writing, but also how to actually get your work out there. The straight talk about contracts and rights, the how-to-fund-your-creative-project conversation, the professional platform discussion—these are all WtP panels intended to help you publish your work. They’re also designed to give you some insight into the (sometimes mysterious) publishing world.

But, even then, why go if you might not snag an agent? Maybe you have an amazing book or graphic novel—one you really believe in—but last time you went to a conference, you didn’t land an agent and felt like it was a wasted effort. Well, I’m here to deliver some cold, hard truth. Writing conferences aren’t a place for brokering big deals between agents and authors—they’re a chance to start a conversation between agents and authors. The Pitch Roundtable at Write to Publish probably won’t land you a seven-figure book deal and movie rights, but it is a chance to talk to agents and show them your work. Plus it makes a good conversation starter later on if you ever want to query them.

So, are writing conferences really a waste of time?

I don’t think so. I know now that conferences are more than a place to learn new aspects of the industry and hone a specific craft, they’re also a place to meet people and make connections. After all, you’re surrounded by like-minded individuals: authors, designers, publishers, editors, directors, agents. Talk to them! Learn from them. Network. Don’t be nervous about it, either. All the attendees and speakers are human—they won’t drop down from the ceiling and bite your head off. It really is the best time to talk with these people. You won’t have another opportunity like it and it might give you the “in” you’ll need later on.

Write to Publish is having a social hour at Rogue Hall here on PSU’s campus. Perhaps, in a more relaxed setting and with a drop of liquid courage, the networking task might not seem as daunting.

Should you go to Write to Publish this upcoming year? Yes.

Our panelists are coming from all over the United States. They are highly trained professionals in their respected fields, ranging from marketing, publishing, and art directing, to authors, editors, and cartoonists. You’ll be in the same room with them—it’s an amazing opportunity. Plus, it’s the biggest annual fundraiser for Ooligan Press, so you’ll be helping us out, too.

Check out Write to Publish for more information about our conference.