Everything at Once, and All in Good Time

Sleeping in My Jeans is officially one year out. While our official pub date is yet to be set, we’re planning on putting the book out sometime in November of 2018. To many, that would seem like a ton of time. What could you possibly do with an entire year until your book publishes?

A lot. And I mean a lot, a lot. In this term alone, the Sleeping in My Jeans team will have worked on cover design, marketing copy, back cover copy, requests for people to blurb the book, and of course, editing. It’s easy for those unfamiliar with the industry to cling onto the idea that publishing follows a very linear, step-by-step process, going from acquisitions to editing to design to marketing to pub, but the Sleeping in My Jeans team is learning quickly just how untrue that is. Here’s a little breakdown of where we’re at, and where we’re headed:

Marketing

What a lot of people don’t expect is that we’ve been marketing since the acquisition of this project. At first we were looking to determine where the book fits on bookshelves, and now we’re trying to figure out who we need to reach to get it on those bookshelves. What’s more, that marketing process will continue through to the end, and past the publication of the book.

Even after the book is available at your local Powell’s or Barnes & Noble, we’ll continue to send out applications for awards, letters to librarians in the hopes that they’ll pick up the book, and partnership requests with organizations who might be interested in what Connie King Leonard, the author, has to say. But, like the title of this post suggests, we certainly aren’t stopping with just marketing.

Editing

Another big focus for the Sleeping in My Jeans team this term is copyediting. We’ve gotten back some wonderful revisions from the author, and now it’s time to make those revisions look as good as they sound. That means that at least half the Sleeping in My Jeans team, and a number of other wonderful editing volunteers are looking closely at the manuscript to find typos, inconsistencies in language, and any grammar errors that might trip a reader up. We’ll do two rounds of copyediting, one this term, and one the next term, before we move onto typecoding and proofreading.

Design

Perhaps most exciting of all our tasks this term has been the cover design. The team worked hard to put together a design brief that would help designers understand just what we we’re looking for in this cover. That’s something that’s easier said than done. What does a cover for a suspenseful young adult novel that’s firmly rooted in place, filled with raw emotion, and offering a new perspective on the realities of homelessness that still hangs on to hope, look like?

We don’t know yet, but we’ve got a ton of great ideas.

The design team has submitted countless options which are being altered according to press feedback every week. We’ll have four total rounds of submissions, and then the covers will go to vote. The project managers and department leads will work to narrow the choices down to the three top designs, then the author will be able to weigh in, and finally, we’ll have an official vote in the Ooligan Press Executive Meeting. Then, we’ll release that cover to the public.

We’re hoping to do a cover design reveal that promises a free galley or copy of the book to one lucky participant, so stay tuned for more info!

The Sleeping in My Jeans project is trucking along nicely, and our team has hands in every aspect of the publishing industry, from design to marketing to editing, which makes for a lot of exciting new work every day. Though we’re a year out, we’ve still got a lot to do, and the team is doing an exceptional job of keeping on our deadlines, something that’s not always easy when the finished product seems so far away.

Passing the Torch: Advice from Graduating Project Managers

At the end of every winter term, students at Ooligan Press have the opportunity to become project managers (PMs) and department leads, and a year later they must pass the torch to next year’s students. As managers are currently in the process of training their successors, three departing project managers reflect on the challenges and achievements throughout their tenure and give advice to future Ooligan PMs.

Sophie Aschwanden was a team member for Siblings and Other Disappointments before she became project manager for the book. Most of the work was already done under the previous leadership, so Sophie’s job was to take charge and quickly move the book through galleys, reviews, and printing during the summer term. The book launched two weeks after school started in the fall. She recalled, “Most of the work was done, but everything needed to move like clockwork.”

Julie Swearingen was a member of the Seven Stitches team before becoming its manager. She was very familiar with the book publishing process in general, yet the immediacy of the tasks as project manager was a surprise.

Jacoba (Cobi) Lawson was given the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Ricochet River to manage, along with At the Waterline. Managing two books at the same time is unusual at Ooligan, but it has been a positive experience for Cobi, who said, “I know both of my books backward and forward at this point, and I know exactly what each author needs in terms of communication. Both authors and books are so wonderful; I want nothing more than to deliver to them total world domination.”

The three project managers agreed on several challenges:

  • The handoff to new project managers is shakey. Even though you’re likely to be familiar with the book, it’s surprisingly difficult to fully understand deadlines and communication needs.
  • Even though we have resources, they aren’t always sufficient for the task. As project manager, it feels like you need to reinvent the wheel at each step.
  • Transitioning your team—especially losing key team members and orienting new team members—is a challenge that is especially difficult during the gaps between terms, where you lose momentum.
  • Often the new project manager needs to quickly build a relationship with the author, who trusts the previous PM. Quickly building a rapport is a challenge.
  • Fulfilling authors’ marketing expectations with Ooligan’s limited budget is a challenge that calls for creativity.

Overcoming these challenges is part of the job, and all three project managers felt great satisfaction in their work. They cited these personal highlights:

  • Working with the author as the manuscript transforms into an excellent book.
  • Working with such capable team members and their consistent desire to do high-quality work.
  • Receiving reviews that demonstrate the book connected with an audience.
  • Being supported by the other Ooligan Press managers.
  • Supporting the author in developing a strong social media presence.
  • Putting together a great launch event.

The three project managers have advice for future PMs at Ooligan:

Sophie

  • Understand what deadlines need to be met immediately after the PM handoff.
  • Learn to communicate and be honest with the team about what needs to happen.

Julie

  • Read your book multiple times for different purposes. A deep knowledge of the book helps to market and make sure Ooligan Press is characterizing the work to its full value.
  • Be prepared for snow, summer slowdown, and mysterious errors like e‘s becoming threes.
  • Get to know your team members’ strengths and use their skills and professional motivation.

Cobi

  • Aim high. We have so many talented, motivated people in this program. Trust them. Empower them. I have consistently asked more of them than what’s required, and they have always delivered—and then some.
  • Get to know your authors and play to their strengths.
  • Set deadlines! Talk to the department heads to figure out work flow and stick to that plan.
  • Communicate with other PMs and learn from the teams who are one term ahead of you—you’ll be in their shoes sooner than you think.

Keeping an Open Mind About Working in Niche Publishing

Generally, when Ooligan student editors think about traipsing off into the nebulous Real World to find the editing career that the publishing program has prepared them for, they imagine working in the realm of fiction or literary nonfiction publishing. In part, this is probably because this is what Ooligan prepares us for the most. Though we discuss niche and nonfiction publishing at length, we primarily publish fiction and literary nonfiction, and our professors speak from the perspective of fiction and literary nonfiction publishers, given that they tend to work at local literary presses like Hawthorne or Tin House. It’s probably also partly because this is what we want. In a perfect world, every literary connoisseur would get to edit the next Great American Novel. However, I’ve found myself in the perhaps not-so-unique position of working at a niche nonfiction publishing house since the beginning of this school year, and usually the first comment I get when I describe the work I do there is, “Wow. That sounds really boring.” Or, alternatively, “That sounds absolutely soul-crushing.

Harsh.

I work as an editorial assistant for a publishing house called Trial Guides in a quarter-long-internship-turned-year-long-something-else. Trial Guides is a tiny press staffed by fewer than fifteen people. They typically put out no more than ten products a year, they distribute their own merchandise, and they publish for the very specific demographic of plaintiff trial attorneys on the go. And guess what? Working there? It’s not horrible. My soul is still intact. I haven’t died of boredom yet, and I don’t really foresee doing so in the near future. On the contrary: though the editing work is something that I might have had trouble visualizing myself doing before, it’s something that is uniquely challenging in a way that Ooligan hadn’t necessarily prepared me for.

There’s something intuitive about editing fiction for those who actively consume it. Though copyediting is a little bit of a black-and-white process based in grammar styles and rules of consistency, we pull from our preconceptions about the shape of a story in order to edit a novel’s content. When I’m working on a manuscript for Trial Guides, editing developmentally is a completely different animal. I don’t necessarily sit around reading law books for fun, and it’s difficult to put myself in the shoes of a consumer who I’m not. It’s fun to take on a different perspective. It’s liberating to assume the point of view of an objective outsider. Additionally, a lot of thought goes into considering the acquisition of a title—a lot of agonizingly scrutinous market research. A lot of thought has to go into the way that materials are organized, into the way that people consume information, and into the way that people will be using our material as a text or a reference book. It’s fascinating to tear apart a reference book and force it to make sense. And you know what? If anything, copyediting is more fun when you’re not editing for style. Prioritizing clarity above all other things legitimizes all the gleeful ways we can rip things up and reassemble them to be more succinct and more useful.

Even though I might eventually like to be working with high literature or graphic novels or smutty romance or sci-fi dreck, I think there’s something awesome about niche publishing—textbooks, educational materials, dense materials for academics, difficult materials for specialized markets—and the way that it forces us outside of our comfort zone. I’ll tell anyone that I really adore doing the things I’m doing now, even though I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to a few years ago either. I think that it would do Oolies well to keep open hearts and minds about pursuing careers with publishing houses like Trial Guides. There’s something to be said for working in the industry doing what you want to be doing, even if you’re not exactly where you want to be yet. And hey, maybe in the future Oolies can push for classes about things like nonfiction and reference publishing or indexing so that students can confront the things that sound scary, soul-crushing, or dull early on and learn that they’re not so bad after all.

What’s Behind an Ooligan Cover?

Last winter, Ooligan students were far too busy to notice Portland’s infamous rain—-we were hard at work on one of publishing’s most demanding creative challenges: designing the cover that will grace one of Ooligan’s forthcoming titles when we send it out to greet the world.

Having worked on the editorial team for Ooligan’s upcoming young adult release, A Series of Small Maneuvers, I was keen to see the creative process up close, as was author Eliot Treichel, who eagerly awaited a chance to see the cover that would introduce readers to the book’s story of grief, survival, and growing up. Ooligan’s design students did not disappoint. In a creative process that lasted five weeks and three full rounds of individual critiques, eight different designers submitted more than nineteen covers for feedback, working with fellow students to refine their ideas into fully realized cover concepts for a final vote by the whole press.

This process was remarkable, not only because of how many Ooligan students submitted cover designs, but also because of how much the designs themselves developed through the term, evolving and improving to the point of utter transformation. Sitting in those weekly design meetings and listening as students gave each other feedback on everything from font selection to color palettes to point size, I was amazed at the dedication of these artists as, week by week, they channeled raw creative energy, tempered by constructive criticism, to forge covers so eye-catching that we only wished we could print them all. As the three finalists show, each cover offered a distinctive interpretation of Eliot’s story, offering readers astonishingly different windows into the book’s themes of coping with loss by taking life one “small maneuver” at a time:

Cover Finalists: The Top Three

  1. Stephanie_Round_3_Cover_Finalist

    Finalist cover design submitted by Stephanie Podmore, featuring paper-craft mountains and a moody, earth-toned palette.

  2. Erika_Round_3_Cover_Finalist

    Finalist cover design submitted by Erika Schnatz, featuring a cut-paper Southwestern landscape dominated by a night sky, winding river, and a lonely tent that speaks to A Series of Small Maneuvers‘s themes of overwhelming loss.

  3. Alexandra_Round_3_Cover_Finalist

    Finalist cover design submitted by Alexandra Haehnert, featuring a sailcloth cover torn in the shape of a river canyon in illustration of the book’s dramatic emotional tone.

And the Winner Is . . .

Ooligan Press is grateful to designer Stephanie Podmore for developing the cover for Small Maneuvers! As Stephanie says of her process, the concept centers on

“cut paper to represent the Southwestern landscape where the story takes place. The technique and colors are on-trend without being so overused that [the cover] won’t stand out. The simple shapes play off the even-keeled narrative tone, while the layers play off the title and theme of several small things adding up to something bigger. The depth they create hints at the journey in the book. The image is simple, yet interesting enough to look good on a large scale or as a thumbnail. The Small Maneuvers team, the design lead (Erika), and our author were all involved in perfecting the cover to best fit the story as well as the market we hope to reach.”

Look for A Series of Small Maneuvers in bookstores soon—with a cover like this one, it’s sure to stand out!

Small_Maneuvers_ed

Final winning cover design submitted by Stephanie Podmore, featuring paper-craft mountains under a moody night sky that hints at the drama that awaits readers of A Series of Small Maneuvers.

Digital Design Choices for Ooligan Anthologies

In an Ooligan blog post last fall, I talked a little about how working with Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity has been a welcome challenge for the editing department. Working with a nonfiction anthology provides a host of new demands for editors—creating cohesiveness without sacrificing individuality, speaking consistently toward a theme, and maintaining grammatical uniformity—but ultimately, it’s not just editors that get to flex their publishing muscles. This quarter, we’re dealing with the digital design of the book, which involves a lot of stylistic and logistic choices in ebook functionality for a group of students that doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience in that department.

The publishing industry is changing rapidly right now—it’s not at the same place it was even a short year ago—and the digital book market’s advancement is one of the largest factors in this forward momentum. Ooligan’s ever-changing staff of student workers and constant influx of new blood means it has, by nature, a benefit that other publishing houses might not. We get to experiment—in particular with this new digital wonderland, which constantly makes us reevaluate the way we display information. Obviously, for a book like Untangling the Knot—a book for which we have so carefully considered the way the material is edited, ordered, designed, displayed, and presented for a physical format—we wouldn’t want to do the text the disservice of a flat, static ebook.

An ebook’s dynamism is what distinguishes it as a format. Though the design limitations of an ebook are significant, what an ebook lacks in style, it makes up for in accessibility and interactivity. This isn’t a huge concern for a fiction piece, but a piece of nonfiction with footnotes and an index is ripe for experimentation. We struggled with the age-old question of footnote versus endnote for Untangling the Knot when we were first visualizing the design. An endnote could go at the end of an essay or the end of a book, and a footnote could go at the bottom of a page. Footnotes are easier to access and read; endnotes look more approachable to a casual audience. These are the limitations of a physical page, but they don’t exist in a digital format. For the physical design of the book, we went with endnotes at the close of each chapter so as to make them as readable as possible without alienating our demographic, though this is still not ideal.

The most widely used ebook file format is called EPUB and is used across almost all ereader platforms except for Amazon’s Kindle, which uses another format called MOBI. A few years ago, EPUB3 overtook its earlier counterpart EPUB2 and brought with it a whole new host of capabilities, most notably its increased compatibility with HTML functions. This includes the introduction of the aside element, which essentially allows for little pop-ups on the screen of the ereader to appear over the text in an easy-to-read bubble. This means a publisher doesn’t have to decide what to do with a footnote or an endnote, doesn’t have to sacrifice one demographic for another, and can make these notes both approachable for those who want to read them and discreet for those who don’t. An earlier format afforded the opportunity to link footnotes and endnotes from where they existed on a page to their source, but that’s ultimately the digital equivalent of flipping a page and strangely adherent to the physical limitations that a paper copy of a book might present. The further we move away from this base format, the closer we come to realizing the true potential of the digital one.

Implementation of these elements requires a fairly cursory knowledge of ebooks and EPUB formats, typecoding, and HTML, but the best part about these technologies becoming more approachable and widely used is that the platform’s capabilities are standardizing. They’re becoming easier to implement while simultaneously becoming more responsive, sensitive, and design-oriented. If you’d like to try out a different and potentially more user-friendly experience, why not purchase the ebook for Untangling the Knot and give it a read?

Untangling the Knot: The Market is Ready!

Following the release of Ooligan Press’s queer anthology Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, one question has been on my mind: is this book targeting a niche market, or has the LGBTQ niche finally become “mainstream?” There’s evidence to suggest that works centering around characters of diverse gender and sexual identity are much less niche than they used to be.

One of the greatest recent success stories is Welcome to Night Vale, a hit podcast that exploded in popularity overnight. For those unfamiliar with the podcast, the show centers around a radio host named Cecil who is openly gay and, later in the series, openly in a relationship with another man. The show also goes on to explore the complex dynamics of the relationship rather than simply focusing on a “happily ever after” when they get together. This suggests that the market is also ready for more real, complicated queer relationships like those found in Untangling the Knot.

Local publisher Dark Horse Comics also seems to feel that the market is ready for stories revolving around characters of diverse gender and sexual identity, due to their recent acquisition of CLAMP’s Legal Drug and Drug & Drop titles. Despite the obvious drug connotations, the story is actually more of a supernatural thriller and queer romance. Though the sexual orientations and gender identities of the characters have not yet been specifically addressed within the story, it’s clear that these characters are a part of the queer community. The series doesn’t feel the need to limit the characters or the audience’s ability to connect with them by giving them labels. CLAMP, the four-person team that wrote and drew Legal Drug and Drug & Drop, are strong supporters of the belief that love is love whatever form it takes. It only makes sense that they would create situations that allow the audience to interpret their cast of characters as bisexual, gay, questioning, pansexual, transgender, gender fluid, or even nongendered.

Of course, Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast and Legal Drug and Drug & Drop are comics series, whereas Untangling the Knot is a nonfiction anthology. However, the popularity of inclusive media is very encouraging. If nothing else, the success of this media proves that there is an audience that is ready to engage with stories that include gender and sexual identity in a story as more than just labels or stereotypes. Mainstream or niche, the market—no, the audience—is ready.

Editing Anthologies the Oolie Way

Each project that we take on at Ooligan Press is uniquely challenging to its student workers. At this very moment, students in the graduate program are dividing their attention between books on historical nonfiction, young adult fiction, and single- and multi-authored literary nonfiction in both long and short forms. Because Ooligan is staffed by graduate students who are in and out of the publishing house in a short two years or less, most of us don’t end up working on books of the same genre twice. That means most of us working with the edits for Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity were confronted with the new challenge of editing a varied collection of twenty-six distinct voices into one cohesive anthology.

What we’ve come to learn is this is a fine line to walk—maintaining a singular theme and vision while simultaneously staying true to the particular vision of each individual author. It was made all the more challenging by the fact that Ooligan’s managers usually serve during their last year in the publishing program, meaning this project had two different managers. Despite their common goal of creating the best book possible for Ooligan, it is impossible that they would have the exact same vision for the book, and it’s easy for the wires to get a little crossed. Especially considering that the managers in this case must ultimately adhere to the wishes of the book’s editor, Carter Sickels, who also has a different perspective and a different vision for what the book will become.

Untangling the Knot is an anthology that we requested and accepted new submissions for a little over a year ago. It confronts the idea that gay marriage may not be the end of the equality debate in America, and it was originally supposed to approach this topic with a more academic sensibility, exploring the hard facts behind the marriage debate and the reality of what acceptance in America really looks like right now. While some of the admissions initially adhered to this idea, there were not enough of them to fill a book, and a second round of submissions and a broader approach yielded a batch of essays with a more personal tone and less scholastic rigor. This meant that pieces that had been accepted earlier needed to be revised for the more informal direction the book would end up taking, which is where the challenge, made even more difficult by the simultaneous turnover in project managers, really comes in.

One of these pieces vexed us right up through copyediting—it was a pivotal piece, essential to the ultimate goal of the text and chock-full of important facts and information. It was, however, loaded with lengthy citations and formal language. Ultimately, multiple rounds of editing were required to humanize the piece, to make it warmer and softer around the edges. Again, it was a fine line to tread to maintain the author’s perspective, convey all the right facts, and make it more approachable for the shifted marketing demographic. Authors provide well-meaning opposition given the threat they believe that we as editors pose to their babies, and this is the case for single-authored novels or nonfiction pieces as well. However, multiplying that struggle twenty-six times, trying to make twenty-six pieces into one, is bound to create conflicts even unlike those facing us when we crafted We Belong in History, an anthology of poetry by teenagers. The important thing is that each author is ultimately satisfied with their contribution, but now, thanks to the edits and to Carter Sickel’s skillful compilation, the book has a natural flow and progression, from the introduction to the final piece.

In addition to the thematic difference, there were conflicts of uniformity in the technical and grammatical edits we did. And even though those are less of a strain to deal with, they still hinder the production of the book, threaten the anthology’s internal consistency, and strain the editors. Given that we are working with twenty-six extremely intelligent, opinionated authors who not only have an idea for how their pieces should feel and flow, but also how they should look, they needed to be consulted for each and every edit, down to the last altered comma. It’s almost impossible to say whose styles should be altered, whose vision should be sacrificed, in the name of the Ooligan appearance and in the name of appealing Ooligan design, and our ultimate goal is to maintain as much of the authors’ original flair as we possibly can.

At this point, all the anthology pieces are finished with editing and only proofreading remains. We’re certain that following the book’s design, everything will come together just as seamlessly as any other Ooligan title, and Untangling the Knot will be another beautiful release.

Ooligan Typecoding Mysteries Revealed

Right between the better-known processes of editing and design, Ooligan manuscripts also undergo a process called typecoding. Just now, for instance, we are in the midst of finishing our edits and typecoding for our upcoming title, Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Relationships, Marriage & Identity.Typecoding—also referred to as XML coding or extensible markup language coding—is similar to HTML tagging, and it involves distinguishing each header, citation, paragraph type, font style, etc. in the completed manuscript with a distinctive tag. In XML, tags or markup are distinguished from book content using the > and the < characters, and everything within these symbols is used, either by the designer or the computer, to determine the style of the text within. A backslash (/) is used to denote where a particular use of markup ends. All tags come in pairs—if there’s a beginning, there has to be a matching end somewhere.

At Ooligan, the tag <para> is used most often; it denotes a standard paragraph in a text-heavy manuscript. The tag <emphasis> would denote the use of italic styled font, and the tag <emphasisbold> would denote bold styled font. Much like HTML coding, markup is layered, and things can become a bit sticky when sets of tags aren’t closed out correctly. Incomplete tags are forever the bane of a typecoder’s existence—one missing character could muck with the formatting of an entire piece. For instance, <para> would occur at the beginning of a paragraph and close with a </para> at the end. Paragraphs are fairly short bits of text, and it’s easy enough to remember to close those out, but paragraphs are nestled within <article>s or <chapter>s, and a typecoder must also remember to close out a section so that the computer knows where to break and start all over again. Likewise, a forgotten closer for an <emphasis> tag means unchecked italics for the rest of the document. This can seem straightforward until the scope is multiplied a hundredfold. Applying tags to tens of thousands of words' worth of manuscript is a long, arduous process, and it’s easy to miss a backslash and jeopardize the coding in the entire piece.

Above is an example of a typecodedsegment of one of our recent books, The Ninth Day, as it appears in the XML file format. Note where the corresponding opening and closing tags.

The purpose for typecoding in the manuscript preparation process is threefold.

  • It prepares the book for the designer. Typecoding only occurs when the bulk of editing is complete—a typecoded manuscript is close to its final form. Generally, the final step of the editing process—proofreading—is meant to fix errors that were introduced by the designer. That said, the typecoded document is what the designer uses to create the interior book design. We at Ooligan use InDesign to design our manuscripts, which means we use InDesign styles to keep our interiors consistent. When the books go to design, tags will correspond with styles, either automatically within the program or manually by the designer. Tags are a more effective, more efficient way of transitioning to styles than trying to eyeball a Word document for italics or small caps or different levels of headers. It generally means that the designed manuscript will contain fewer errors during the final proofread.
  • It prepares the book for the creation of an ebook. XML can be read by a computer when packaged with an accompanying cascading style sheet (CSS). A style sheet tells an XML document how each tag should appear and how it should be formatted. It is what dictates the appearance of HTML on webpages, what makes a <header> on one website distinct from the header designation on another, and it is what automatically transitions a piece of XML coding like the one above to a polished and complete e-book.
  • It provides the press with a single, consistent file format that transitions easily between different iterations of software and that does not easily corrupt. Prior to the standardized use of typecoding at Ooligan, we kept final designed InDesign files of our books on file to revisit when the time came for a reprint or a redesign. The problem with using InDesign files for this purpose is that different iterations of InDesign do not necessarily read older files. InDesign files are also large and easily corruptible, and styles sometimes don't transition well between versions. XML can be used with any iteration of InDesign without trouble and never loses its formatting integrity because it is all one flat, easy to work with style. It can be paired with different style sheets, its appearance can be easily changed, and it can be opened with any computer, even if that computer is not equipped with Word or InDesign. It is an excellent and long-lasting universal file format.