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.

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