a hand holding a gold-tasseled, black mortarboard graduation hat in front of a university building

The MFA: Helpful in Getting Published?

Each year, over twenty thousand writers apply to one of the 350 MFA creative writing programs available in the United States. The MFA curriculum presents writers with opportunities to hone their craft, workshop with other writers, and receive mentoring from faculty. What’s more, many aspiring authors see an MFA as their golden ticket to being published. In fact, in a study of some Oregon MFA students, 84 percent said that getting published was either “important” or “very important” to their program goals.

But does an MFA actually increase writers’ chances of getting published?

In 2017, Lit Hub released an article called “MFA by the Numbers, on the Eve of AWP.” The data, which appropriately reads more like a poem than a data set, includes this witty but thought-provoking statistic:

    Estimated number of books sold by Danielle Steel, best-selling author alive: eight hundred million.

    Number of MFAs held by Ms. Steel: zero.

Danielle Steel isn’t alone; other prolific authors without an MFA include George R. R. Martin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, Colleen Hoover, and Nicholas Sparks, to name a few.

Are these authors, prolific though they are, anomalies in the world of published authors?

Last November, the National Book Foundation (NBF) presented the 73rd National Book Awards. As per their mission statement, one of the NBF’s goals is to “celebrate the best literature published in the United States.” The authors recognized by this prestigious literary award are the best of the best, masters of their craft. Is this level of mastery achieved through the rigors and experiences of an MFA program? Probably not; of the ninety-two winners of the National Book Award since 2020, only twenty, or 27 percent, have an MFA.

Another metric comes from the ongoing research of D. A. Hosek (himself a published MFA graduate from the University of Tampa). Hosek’s data includes authors published or appearing in the notables sections of the last four issues of five prize anthologies. Of those 5,459 published authors, 2,804, or 51 percent, are confirmed MFA students or graduates. While this percentage is higher than National Book Award winners with an MFA, it is still incredibly low, especially considering that one of the main goals of most every MFA program is to help students become published authors.

These numbers, while not comprehensive, still make a compelling case: having an MFA doesn’t help a writer get published.

So what is an MFA good for?

Poet Arielle Greenberg makes this argument:

    I’d be thrilled if we lived in a nation . . . where people gathered in local cafes and plazas to recite great verse and breathe it in, but the truth is, in America, this happens primarily in the classrooms and reading series and conferences and living rooms of MFA students, alumni, and faculty—and for this we should be thankful.

Similarly, in a 2021 survey conducted on some current and alumni MFA students in Oregon, becoming a published author accounted for only 32 percent of student responses. The next highest goal was building a “community of writers,” a goal reflecting Greenberg’s idealistic vision of literary gatherings.

Still, if the goal is to become a better writer, having an MFA might not be the way to go. It certainly doesn’t directly increase writers’ chances of getting published or, once published, receiving an award as prestigious as the National Book Award.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King advises writers,

    You don’t need writing classes or seminars any more than you need this book. . . . You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

The real learning, King goes on to say, happens “with the study door closed”—not in an MFA classroom.

Cover of Lobizona

Where Are All My Latinxs At?

Image: Cover design of Lobizona by Kerri Resnick, featuring art by Daria Hlazatova

The fantasy genre, particularly young adult fantasy, is (slowly) becoming more diverse. Authors like Tomi Adeyemi, Sabaa Tahir, Tahereh Mafi, and Chole Gong have written well-received and very popular fantasy novels. Yet, there are almost no fantasy novels by Latinx authors or starring Latinx characters that have entered my radar or the radar of BookTok.

I don’t mean to discount the fantastic gains other marginalized authors have made in fantasy or literature as a whole, but Black, Asian, and other authors and characters of color still need more representation in the fantasy genre. But that got me thinking about the lack of Latinx representation in fantasy and why it has yet to gain that kind of momentum in recent literature.

So here are three reasons why Latinx characters are underrepresented in fantasy literature.

    Fantasy has a long history of racism.

Fantasy fiction as categorized in The Lord of the Rings routinely erases real-world people of color in favor of representing a variety of fantastical “races.” Good guys (elves, dwarves, hobbits) are described as white and the bad guys (orcs, goblins, dark elves) are described as dark-skinned, and unlike in the real world, it is based on biological differences. But this isn’t just in The Lord of the Rings. In A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, the good guys, Spring Court, were described as having pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes while the bad guys, Night Court, were described as dark-skinned. While people love to say fantasy doesn’t see racism, it does. The fantasy system created by the author represents the author’s outlook on life: who do they see as the top of the food chain, who are the bad guys, who gets to be the hero, and who gets to be the villain?

    What does it mean to be Latinx in a fantasy world?

Latin America is one of the most diverse places on the planet with its residents becoming united and divided by language, culture, and history, not by race. So if you want to include Latinx people in your fantasy novel, it would either need to be in your own world where you can set up your own races and the history behind them or in a world similar to our own where the knowledge is there for the reader. There lies the problem. It can become hard to create a world that represents Latin America since Latin America has a messy history and development, which makes the creation of a fantasy world a little more complicated. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, clearly. Fantasy authors have everlasting imagination, it’s in the job description, and it shouldn’t pose any roadblocks when it comes to creating Latinx characters.

    There just aren’t enough Latinx authors.

In 2022, Zippia stated that the most common ethnicity of authors is White (79.4 percent), followed by Latinx (7.2 percent), African American (5.8 percent), and Asian (4.0 percent). If Latinx authors, just like any author of color, don’t get a shot at telling stories about people like themselves and the history of their culture, then there aren’t going to be stories that represent Latinx people. With Latinx authors making up only 7.2 percent of the authors publishing in 2022 that means we, as diverse readers, have to make more of an effort to read books by authors of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ authors. If we want a change, we have to show the publishing industry that we do want to read and support these stories.

Here are some of my recommendations if you want to read some Latinx fantasy literature:

    Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
    Lobizona by Romina Garber
    Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez
    Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
An ebook reader standing against a pile of printed books

Subscription Models for Digital Literature

If you are someone who enjoys or is interested in digital literature, you probably know that there are a variety of ways in which you can experience it. Be it ebook or audiobook, the number of platforms you can choose from grows as time passes. In today’s blog post, we want to present you with a brief analysis of the current market for digital literature and its characteristics, trends, and platforms with the services they offer.

One of the main aspects that is necessary to understand about digital literature (and that is a particular characteristic of the subscription-based streaming era we are living in) is that unlike its printed counterpart, digital books are streamed, not owned. This is even true for ebooks that you buy, for example, at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. You are not truly purchasing a file that you can later lend or give away or sell to someone else if you wish to. Instead, you are paying to gain access to a certain material on a dedicated platform with limited sharing capabilities.

As you do not own your copy, subscription services have to compensate by offering diverse and numerous libraries. Some of these backlist titles can be hard to access in a printed format but are readily available to subscribers of these platforms. Nevertheless, each service is different. The more traditional models, like Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, or the international Storytel, offer a robust library composed of ebooks and audiobooks that you maintain access to as long as your subscription is active, although it might not include the newest titles on the market. In Kindle’s case specifically, the subscription does not offer complete access to their Amazon library, and their book selection fluctuates as well, meaning that not all the titles are available at any given time.

Other models, like Audible (which is owned by Amazon), offer a big library of audiobooks with current releases, but you can only access a limited amount of titles at a time in exchange for a credit. The rest have to be purchased separately. This is a similar model to that of the South Korean platform RidiBooks, which has not been brought over stateside yet. This service offers ebooks and audiobooks but has the particularity that it heavily features serialized fiction that updates constantly, a type of literature that does particularly well on platforms like this or like Webtoon.

Another prominent subscription service that has risen in notoriety is Substack. The platform focuses on connecting independent authors and their audiences more directly, facilitating the process of independent publishing. This is a very tailored experience for both writers and readers. It gives the authors the ability to control how to publish their content—free, paid (minimum of five dollars a month), or a combination of both—where the author gets to choose to make certain posts available to entice the interest of the audience that might not be subscribed. On the audience side, it adjusts the experience to their own needs by offering a variety of filters while also providing the ability to check an author’s page before deciding to subscribe or not.

With subscription-based services on the rise, it’s possible to identify one notorious trend: it is not about providing the same experience as a regular book in a digital form, but rather to deliver an experience to their audience that is specially designed for them and that they could not get otherwise. Instead of trying to replicate what succeeds in the physical format, current models for ebooks and audiobooks services are trying to embrace what makes them unique. Because of this, the future seems to bring further diversification for digital literature and the models of distribution it uses.

photo of a bookshelf with arched white box with text "Inside Ooligan Press", white square centered with Ooligan fishhook logo, white text bar across bottom with words "DEI at Ooligan"

Inside Ooligan Press: DEI’s Involvement with a Book

Each department at Ooligan oversees a particular area of a book’s production; Design works on the book’s cover and interior, Digital handles the ebook version, Audiobooks scripts the book and works with the narrator or narrators to produce an audiobook version, and so on and so forth. In a previous blog post, I introduced myself as the DEI Publisher’s Assistant for Ooligan Press and gave a brief overview of my position; here, I’m back to walk you through my involvement with each book as it makes its way through the publishing process.

When Ooligan is in its acquiring phase for a book, the Acquisitions managers reach out to me if any aspect of the book will require special attention and consideration from a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion standpoint. If the press as a whole votes to acquire the manuscript, I join the developmental edit team and provide insight into issues of sensitivity and authenticity. Following the developmental edit, I join the copyediting team(s) and provide additional insight into issues of inclusive language and any other aspects of the written manuscript that need to be treated with care. I also work with the book project team and copyediting team(s) to create the manuscript’s style sheet, and I answer any questions, assist in querying the author on certain issues, and provide resources that will assist the team in making the book as equitable and inclusive as possible.

After editorial comes cover design. I work with the book project team and the Design manager to build the book’s cover design brief and provide feedback to the cover designers to make sure a cover does not portray any stereotypes or offensive images (e.g., making sure a book about immigrant stories doesn’t have barbed wire or weeds on the cover).

I then assist in creating and maintaining social media and marketing strategies to ensure no part of the book, the author’s identity, or the audience is being commodified or tokenized in the promotion of the book.

When a book is being considered for an audiobook component, I work with the Audiobooks manager in instances of underrepresented or marginalized people potentially being narrated by someone outside of that group so that DEI efforts are considered in both choosing a narrator and narrating that character’s lines.

Throughout the processes outlined above, I work closely with anyone within the press who has questions or concerns about any aspect of the manuscript, and I jump in and out of book teams when needed. Overall, our goal as a press is to publish each book with care to be as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as possible, and my position has a very heavy hand in that process. Consulting with book project teams and the different departments within Ooligan is one of my favorite aspects of this position, and I am very proud of our press’s mission to publish diverse, authentic books and the initiatives we take to make our mission a reality.

Hands forming heart with rainbow color overlay

Queer Book Labels: Are They Helping or Hurting Sales?

While cultural movements abound trying to increase queer inclusion and understanding, it’s no wonder that there has been a rise in queer books being published and, according to NPD Bookscan, a rise in queer book sales as well. It seems that being an LGBTQ+ book is a good thing right now, at least for sales. But what if, in some ways, those same labels are losing sales as well?

Consider, for instance, the pros and cons of these queer books ending up on various published “banned books” lists. When a queer book ends up on a banned books list, there is a possibility of the book gaining an audience, rather than being repressed, especially an audience that wants to fight back against this oppression and will go out to buy the books in support. This leads to increased sales of certain books.

Unfortunately, of course, not all books benefit from “banned books” lists in this way. This article argues that many books will just fall by the wayside and be forgotten. This is a tragedy, especially for all those potential readers from wherever they have been banned.

For now, however, many publishers still feel that queer books need queer labels to be discoverable. There are other aspects of the books that can be marketed as well, but according to sources in this article, a large percentage of the audience still finds queer books because they are looking for queer books. And that audience isn’t just queer people, either. This article is from 2020, so it’s a bit outdated, you could say, considering how quickly some things change, but the current trends in LGBTQ+ books being sold suggests this may still be the case.

But, even with this seeming success for the books that are making it, we publishers need to ask ourselves, is this actually what we want? Are these people just buying books because they are labeled “queer” or are they actually going to go home and read the book, process the book, and hopefully even love the book and want more like it? Is this trend actually a sign of cultural change or just a phase that will blow over like so many others have?

There are other things to think about as well, in a less philosophical vein. Are such explicit queer labels on our books actually helping reach our intended audience? For instance, this librarian warns that making queer labels too blatant can scare off some of the very people we are trying to reach because they aren’t ready or feel safe enough to walk around with an obviously queer book.

And what about people who would love these books, but aren’t actively looking for “queer” books? Some people are willing to read books with queer characters, but aren’t looking specifically for queer books. Not to mention, there is more to a book than just being queer. For some books, yes, the main point is being queer, with queer characters, and addressing various aspects of queer life, but for other books, it is the genre, the adventure, the plot, etc. that are more central, with the queer characters/stories being a bonus on the side. Are we doing these books an injustice by labeling them as queer, rather than letting them shine for their more central themes?

For now, yes, it still seems like queer book labels are not only helping sales, but one of the leading causes of their sales, despite whatever backlash might come from that designation.

But, hopefully, someday LGBTQ+ characters will be such a normal, accepted part of culture it will be an expected possibility in the books we read. Someday, we’ll be able to go out, look in any category, and find plenty of queer books right alongside their counterparts because it will be accepted that any book, anywhere, may reflect real life with real characters.

Two women on a picnic blanket, one reading, on a fall day

5 Books about Strong Women, by Women

On June 24, 2022, Roe v. Wade—the legislation that allowed women’s access to abortion as a right in healthcare—was overturned. Since then, communities of women—with and without uteruses—have been scrambling for ways to support one another during these bleak times. For some, especially for those who feel the impact of the overturn in our personal lives, a good story with a strong woman protagonist to ignite the fire within and remind us of the strength that we possess is just what we need. Strength comes in many forms and this book list explores many of them.

For this list, I am presenting to you five books about women, by women, so that as we explore these forms of strength, we too are supporting fellow women.

    1. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This beautiful creative nonfiction book is written by writer and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In this breathtaking book, Kimmerer’s ethereal prose braids stories of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the science that surrounds us in our everyday lives, and the never ending offerings that plants have within their medicinal properties. A delicious treat.

    2. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

This autobiography takes us back to the 1970s when political activist and Black Panther Assata Shakur—godmother of Tupac Shakur—finds herself in custody after a tantalizing battle with the FBI and local police. She was incarcerated for four years before flimsy evidence led to her conviction. Assata’s story is unlike anyone else’s and her personal account of the Black Liberation movement of the 1970s will teach you the strength of Black womanhood and motherhood and the reason to fight for police abolition.

    3. Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker

Bieker is Portland State’s very own MFA graduate who debuted with her book Godshot last year. While her debut had a very strong female protagonist, I’m recommending her short story collection, Heartbroke, in this article. Why? Because this story collection hosts a variety of strong women who come in all shapes and sizes. From a houseless mother in a shelter to teen girls in an online game that plays on their fate, and even a sex phone operator who chases around a cowboy in the pursuit of a better life, this is an enthralling collection.

    4. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

In The Poet X, Dominican American poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo introduces Xiomara Batista into the world—and I must say, my life has been better ever since. In this novel written entirely in profound poetic prose, Xiomara finds refuge in her own poetry while navigating through a tough teenagehood where the church is law and her Mami’s word is God. Xiomara encompasses all the strength I strive for in life.

    5. The Dragons, the Giants, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore

Last but not least, Moore’s creative memoir The Dragons, the Giants, the Women shares the gripping details of when the First Liberian Civil War broke out and how she and her family escaped. This book leads up to the life she has built for herself here in the United States and shares intimate details of the strife that she overcame in between. If you are ever second-guessing the power to behold in a woman who faces crisis, this book will convince you that Moore, and women like her, can achieve anything that is possible in a show of true resilience.

Multi-toned old style page pieces overlapping each other. Sign that says "Amplify Your Voice" in the middle

Amplifying Black Authors and Voices

Reading and supporting Black authors and voices will expand your personal library and diversify the books you’re reading. Many readers will make book-related goals at the start of a new year with the intention of reading more diversely, but can fall short of fulfilling that goal. In order to keep these self-assigned goals, readers need to consume the content, but they may not know where to start. There are a lot of Black authors who may not be popping up in online searches or while scrolling through social media.

Readers have the power to maintain a high level of diversity within the books they consume. Being on social media platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, offers unlimited access to Black authors and voices who promote books that have representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) characters and storylines. Black authors will self-promote and market their upcoming releases on social media. BIPOC book content creators and/or reviewers will provide their detailed thoughts, opinions, and ratings of books. By following, liking, commenting, and sharing the profiles and posts of these Black authors and content creators, readers can remain informed about upcoming projects and books they might have not otherwise known about. Interacting with and actively seeking out Black authors and book content creators assists your chosen platform’s algorithm in adapting to what you want to see.

The publishing industry is dominated by white people which makes it harder for Black authors to have their manuscripts be traditionally published. Many BIPOC authors will go through the process of independently or self-publishing. Once their book is published, the number of sales may sway a traditional publishing company into offering an author a publishing contract because they have proven to be successful. Those offers may take a long time and the author may not want to sign on with a traditional publisher. It’s important to make space in the book and publishing world for Black authors to share their ideas and lived experiences through their writing.

Don’t know where to go from here? Do you need help getting started? Below are a few book recommendations across varying genres to aid in diversifying reading.

Romance Recommendations (18+): Before I Let Go by Kennedy Ryan, The New Haven series by J. L. Seegars, Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Science Fiction/Fantasy Recommendations: Legendborn and Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn, Skin of the Sea and Soul of the Deep by Natasha Bowen, Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James, and The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin.

New Adult Recommendations: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

You can find these recommendations and many others through Ooligan Press’s Bookshop link.

background photo of bookshelf. arched white text box says "Inside Ooligan Press:" center image is Ooligan Press fishhook logo; text bar at base says "All About Printing"

Book Printing 101

If you’ve ever picked up a book from your local library, bookstore, or online retailer and thought to yourself, “how was this printed,” “why is the cover bound like this,” or “what are these fancy ripped edges called?” buckle up, because this post is for you. Book printing is one of the last parts of a book’s journey before it gets shipped out to your local bookstore, and there are different types of printing used throughout the industry.

Offset Printing

Offset printing is typically used for large scale commercial print runs by larger publishers, like Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Pan Macmillan, since this type of printing can be costly for smaller print runs. This is because this type of printing uses metal plates specifically created for each page. Rubber is melted onto each plate to form the interior of the book. Depending on the dimension of the pages, the plates can have anywhere from eight to thirty-two pages per plate, which means that there are often dozens of plates per book. After the plates are made, paper, often in reels, is loaded into the printer and the plates are used to transfer ink to the paper. Then the pages are sectioned, bundled, trimmed to size, and readied to be bound with the cover. The cover is printed on a separate type of paper and uses a different process than the interior because it may require specialty printing like embossing, foil, or other detailing. Once each component is complete, the whole is assembled and glued together.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is very similar to your at-home printer only on a larger, much higher quality scale. This type of printing is often used by smaller or indie publishers as it is more cost effective for smaller print runs. Once the digital file is received by the printer, they set to work trimming paper, in stacks rather than reels, to fit the printer. The pages are loaded into the machine and sent through the printer. Instead of printing with ink, digital printing uses toner and completes one book interior in order, where offset is completed in sets of pages called signatures then compiled in the right order post printing. Once again, the cover jacket is printed using a different machine and then the interior and cover are joined together using glue.

You can watch a quick video about PNW-local printer Gorham Printing’s process here: How Are Books Made?

Embossing & Debossing

Covers are their own unique print process for both offset and digital printing. Often they contain details that are not in the interior like embossing or debossing. Embossing is when the cover is pressed between two plates to create a raised design in the paper. Debossing is the exact opposite where the design is indented rather than raised. Usually debossing is combined with details like foils or metallic ink, but not always.

Deckled Edges

Those books with the ripped pages are created intentionally in modern publishing, but actually used to be considered a defect of the papermaking process. They are called deckled edges or simply rough cut pages. These edges give some books a more antique look and are simply a design choice.

Gilded Edges

Another fancy way to spice up a book’s pages are gilded edges. Foil or metallic ink is painted onto the edges of a bound book to create a more refined edge. This is often used in special editions. A really common example is the gold or silver edges found on bibles.

There are many more terms, techniques, and processes that can be found in book printing. But the basics have been covered above. The size of the print run, the details on the cover, and the overall appearance of the book depends on the ever evolving printing process.

book pages bent into shape of a heart with the text "Small Presses & Sex Positivity" over the book

Small Presses & Sex Positivity

With stores stocked full of candy hearts, bouquets of red roses, and oversized stuffed animals, it’s hard to miss that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. In 2017, nearly 70 percent of millennials surveyed by SKYN Condoms reported that “Valentine’s Day is the occasion on which they have the most sex.” With these heightened expectations around engaging in sexual activities, consider the role sex positivity can play in your life.

The International Society for Sexual Medicine defines sex positivity generally as “understanding your own sexuality and what it means for you and your relationships.” Some facets of being sex positive include prioritizing clear consent and respecting sexual boundaries, practicing safe sex, openness to learning about the human body and various sexualities, and talking about sex without shame.

For many people though, being sex positive is easier said than done. The talk about “the birds and the bees” looks different for everyone, and the information taught by formal sex education varies across the US. There also may be religious or cultural expectations complicating your efforts at being sex positive.

Small, independent presses across the country are leading the way in cultivating conversations about human sexuality through their fiction and nonfiction publications. Check out these four indie publishers promoting sex positivity, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Cleis Press

Cleis Press offers fiction and nonfiction titles focused on “LGBTQ, BDSM, romance, and erotic writing for all sexual preferences.” Their books include a myriad of erotica anthologies, relationship guides, instruction manuals, and even coloring books.
Notable books from Cleis Press:

  • Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships by Stella Harris
  • The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness by Miriam Kaufman, Cory Silverberg, and Fran Odette
  • Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry by Frédérique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander

Microcosm Publishing

Microcosm Publishing is headquartered in Portland, OR, and is a “vertically integrated publishing house that equips readers to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them.” Many of their publications offer education and advice about having more open conversations about sex, a key part of sex positivity.
Notable books (and zines) from Microcosm Publishing:

  • Consensuality: How to Love Other People Without Losing Yourself by Helen Wildfell
  • Sex From Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules by Sarah Mirk
  • Sex Without Roles: Transcending Gender by Eli Sachse

Cipher Press

Cipher Press is a publisher focused on fiction and nonfiction books by members of the queer community. Their goal is to “amplify queer voices and to champion LGBTQIA+ writers in the UK and beyond.” Cipher Press is a newer publisher, with their first book released in the midst of the pandemic in August 2020.
Notable books from Cipher Press:

  • Limbic by Peter Scalpello
  • Unreal Sex edited by So Mayer and Adam Zmith
  • There Will Always Be Nights Like This from Cipher Shorts

Thornapple Press

Thornapple Press is a Canadian publisher with its founding roots in Portland, OR. Their focus is on nonfiction books that “discuss relationships, love, sexuality, and relational ethics from unique and underrepresented perspectives.”
Notable books from Thornapple Books:

  • The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, and the Conversations We Aren’t Having by JoEllen Notte, with a foreword by Stephen Biggs, RP
  • Nonmonogamy and Neurodiversity: A More Than Two Essentials Guide by Alyssa Gonzalez
  • Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities by Kevin A. Patterson, with a foreword by Ruby Bouie Johnson
a stack of vintage black and white photographs showing children of various ages

How I Helped Publish My Grandparents’ Memoirs

I grew up hearing my grandparents’ stories in bits and pieces. Often they’d mention their families or their lives growing up, and even if it was something I’d heard before, I still found it interesting. Occasionally they’d tell me something I hadn’t heard before, in which case I was even more intrigued. As a young adult, it began to occur to me that they wouldn’t always be around to tell me their stories or answer my questions. I wanted a tangible way to remember my grandparents and their stories so that future generations that wouldn’t have the pleasure of meeting them would still have the opportunity to get to know and love my grandparents as I did.

In January 2020, I began working with each of my dad’s parents to formally document their lives and stories via a subscription publishing service. Each week, I sent them a question or prompt through the service’s website. Examples include “What is one of your fondest childhood memories?” “Tell me about an adventure you’ve been on . . .” and “What advice would you give your grandchildren/great-grandchildren?” By the end of the year, I had fifty-two stories from each grandparent, neatly organized and formatted on the website.

Once my grandparents had written all their stories, I got to work editing them. I cross-referenced and fact-checked names, dates, locations, and other details to ensure accuracy, and I edited for grammar and clarity. Then my grandparents and I spent a day sifting through boxes in their attic to find photographs to accompany some of the stories. With my dad’s help, I scanned and formatted the photos, then attached them to the stories on the website. When the interiors of the books were finished, my grandparents and I designed their covers. This whole process took about four additional months to complete.

Included in the initial subscription price for each book was one finished, hardcover copy. Receiving those first copies in the mail after all the time and effort we put into creating them was unreal. Little did we know when we started the project that it would become a way for us to connect and bond when we weren’t otherwise able to due to COVID-19. The initial months of isolation were difficult, especially for my grandparents. Having such a meaningful project to work on kept us sane. It provided my grandparents with a chance to reflect on and take a dive deep into their lives and legacies, and it provided me with the chance to get to know each of them in a much more intimate way.

Later that year, in December 2021, we had one of our first family gatherings in almost two years. Every family member received copies of my grandparents’ books, complete with personalized, handwritten notes in the front covers. It was extremely special to share them with everyone and to see their reactions. I won’t soon forget how interesting and fulfilling the process of publishing the books was, and I’m so grateful to my grandparents for their willingness to share their time and stories with me in a forever way.