The Shuffling Madness

I began working with Ooligan my first term as a grad student at PSU. Way back in April, I had a bit of chip on my shoulder. I’d been writing, getting published, and editing the work of other writers for a variety of small press journals for around twenty years. Additionally, I’d spent the prior seven years working in sales and marketing, managing accounts and designing and producing content marketing pieces. All of these experiences together led me to believe that I had little to learn about the workaday life of someone in publishing. I planned to do my time in the program, receive my proverbial sheepskin, and launch a new career in the field of my desire.

My first two terms went completely according to plan. I took Book Marketing and Book Sales, two subjects I could readily apply my background to. I worked in the Marketing department at Ooligan. Then over the summer I took an online grant writing course as an elective and spent the remainder of my time split between Ooligan Acquisitions and Marketing. I headed into the fall feeling good. I was about to take over managing the Acquisitions department for Ooligan, as well as the position of editor in chief at Portland Review, the independent, student-run literary quarterly that’s been published out of Portland State since 1956. I would be taking Book Editing and Intro to Publishing as well, but I wasn’t sweating my course work. Those were two classes that I “could probably teach,” according to one of the other editors at Portland Review. I was soon to find out how wrong she was.

I set a ridiculous timeline for Portland Review: from the start of the term on September 30th, we would have fifteen days to cull through our backlog of roughly two thousand submissions, edit for content and copyedit, design the cover and interior layout, and get it to the printer in time for our scheduled launch party on October 31st. It bears mentioning that I booked all of this knowing full well that we were going to be a brand-new team of full-time students inheriting an office still in boxes with a budget for the following year due on the same date we were set to release our first issue. It seemed like a challenging, yet reasonable schedule: something that would be totally doable, based on the fact that there would be eight of us editors, and we’d have around twenty-five volunteer readers.

I cut my editing teeth in the world of very small independent presses. It’s a world that bears little resemblance, in terms of process and intensity, to the professional world of editing for publication. I am also generally the kind of person who jumps into any new project without waiting for or reading the directions. As a result of my background and nature, I was laboring under a cloud of severe misapprehension: I thought the industry-defined work of acquisitions, developmental editing, and copyediting were all one job, a job I called “content editing.” I also thought that what the industry defines as “proofing” was “copyediting.” From my experience in micropress, zine, and online journal publishing, I’d taken on this assumption as standard. Needless to say, expecting that each section editor would naturally carry these assumptions themselves, not to mention complete their assigned tasks independent of direction or instruction, proved foolish. I inadvertently presumed that most people work like I do and figure things out as they go along. I thought I could assign responsibilities and expect members of the editing staff to work out the details on their own and let me know if they ran into problems.

Thanks to taking that book editing course (the one I supposedly could have taught) in conjunction with our first term of production at Portland Review, I’ve been disabused of many of the assumptions I carried with me into the Book Publishing program. As a team, we are looking at what worked and didn’t work in this last month and developing a structured procedure to use in bringing the next issue into the world. We’re establishing clearer roles and responsibilities based on what I’ve been learning in both Book Editing and Intro to Book Publishing.

Despite my arrogance and ignorance, we managed to get advance copies of our fall issue back in time for the launch events we had scheduled at Rogue Hall on campus Halloween night and the Independent Publishing Resource Center on the first of November. The readings were well-attended and roundly praised. We sold some merchandise, some back issues, and most of our modest advance print run. Now we just have to proof the thing, finalize the design, and get the final to the printer for a delayed launch on the day of this post: November fifteenth. The chip on my shoulder is gone. The process of putting out the fall issue of Portland Review in conjunction with the classes I’m taking has taught me more about publishing than I’ve learned in twenty years of participating in the industry. For that, I am thankful.

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