woman walking dog down forest trail

Location, Location, Location: How to Enhance Your Audiobook Experience

As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I have less time to sit down and read a book. School, work, and daily household chores have consumed my once bountiful reading time. Audiobooks have changed that though. By listening to books while commuting and doing chores, I’m able to dig back into my TBR pile and enjoy the pleasures of books again without feeling the guilt of unfinished tasks.

The downside to audiobooks, I’ve found, is that at times I’m not as immersed in the story. This is partially because I listen to books while I drive and therefore need to focus on the road. I noticed a difference in my listening experience when I was walking my dog. Getting out of the car, and the house, and into the fresh air changed how I interacted with the story. After that revelation I started thinking about places to listen to books to enhance my overall experience.

Experience how location can change your listening experience with Iditarod Nights by Cindy Hiday. Join Claire, Dillion, and their sled dogs as they brave the Alaskan wilderness.

Since the story takes place in Alaska and showcases the Iditarod Trail, starting in Anchorage and ending in Nome, ideally you would listen to it in those places. However, not everyone lives in Alaska. Unsurprisingly, the vast Alaskan wilderness can be difficult to recreate in other parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Fear not! I have found a few places that are similar to where Claire and Dillion venture throughout the book. Most of these places will require travel, but what’s life, and books, without a little adventure?

If you find yourself near Laurance Lake in the winter, the view of the frozen lake may remind you of the frozen coastline of Nome. If you prefer to stay in town, then perhaps a walk through Mount Hood Village would help recreate Nome’s small town feel.

Feel like Anchorage is more to your taste? Visit Olympia, Washington. A city, like Anchorage, that happily resides beside inlets and forests. Stop by Squaxin Park, formerly Priest Point Park, and walk on the beach or plan a hike with your dog on McLane Creek Nature Trail Pond Loop Trailhead while you listen.

Or, maybe, you would prefer to stick closer to home. Finding a local hiking trail or wooded park would help simulate the feel of the wilderness. You can visit your local dog park (with a dog preferably, but that’s up to you!) and watch the dogs run and play while listening to how Claire and Dillion’s sled dogs fare on the Iditarod Trail.

One of the best parts of books is getting lost in the world that the author describes. Going places that look, smell, sound, or just make you think of the book you’re listening to can enhance that feeling. Take your audiobook to the next level by using your listening location to enhance your listening experience.

Two carts of cardboard boxes

How To Put Books Through The Mail

Here at Ooligan, the operations publisher’s assistant takes care of the outgoing mail from the office. Usually we send out books in ones or twos, but sometimes we send out thirty or more—it changes day to day. The ops PA has to make sure that the books arrive at their destination safely and I, as the current ops PA, am sharing the little tips and tricks I’ve developed since I’ve taken the position!

The most noticeable thing I do for mailing is make sure we have enough packing supplies. Because we’re a not-for-profit press, it’s in our best interest to make our materials stretch as long as possible. I do this by recycling packing materials as often as I can. When we get packages in the mail, I save all the packing materials that are in good condition. This ranges from packing paper to bubble wrap to air pillows, which I sort into two boxes. One box is for paper packing materials (which I try to use more often) and the other is for plastic. I also flatten boxes in good condition to use later and keep them in a stack. If it’s clear that something is on its last legs (or I have too many materials in our small storage room), I sort through what I have and recycle when possible. Sometimes the English department here at Portland State University will also have extras that they’ve collected, and I’ll take them if I have room. When I worked as a bookseller, I saw how much waste comes with shipping books, so I try to minimize the impact Ooligan has as much as I can.

When we need to mail only one or two copies of a book out, we turn to the all-important bubble mailer. This keeps the package light, which limits the shipping costs the press is responsible for. However, it’s important that books don’t arrive damaged, so if there are more than three books or if the books have to travel a long way, I’m more likely to put them in a box.

To pack books in a box, it’s important that the books will move as little as possible. I always test to make sure that the books fit comfortably inside without bending or overlapping each other since this will bend or warp the book over time. I start the first stack by laying them flat at the bottom with two books spine to spine. Then I alternate the books vertically; the binding is a bit thicker than the pages alone so you save space if you flip them every layer (kind of like stacking three-ring binders). Then, I fill the remaining space with paper or air pillows until the books won’t move inside the box. I do indeed shake the box before I seal them to make sure they won’t move. Finally, I double-tape every seam on the box to make sure it won’t pop open if it hits a bump on the road. If I’m reusing a box that has barcodes on it, I use a thick permanent marker to draw a line straight up and down to fill in the space between the lines in the barcode; this makes sure they’re not scannable anymore, just to be safe. If I can’t find a box that will work, I’ll swap out a box that’s holding something in storage or put two boxes together. I’d rather take the effort than have the books not sit comfortably.

I do the best I can, but if you’re really wanting to go above and beyond when you send books in the mail, check out the tips in Joe Biel’s book A People’s Guide to Publishing! The tips he and Microcosm have developed are the most in depth I’ve ever seen.

Happy packing!

rainbow coming out of dark clouds

Double-edged Sword: The Erasure, or Harmful Portrayal, of Bisexuality

When it comes to the discussion of LGBTQ+ inclusion within literature, we can see that progress has been made, albeit not nearly enough. With the expansion of queer inclusion in literature and digital media, new issues arise, such as perpetuating stereotypes. Speaking in terms of specifically bisexual characters, these issues often result from them being portrayed as a means of creating a specific type of character rather than for the purpose of positive representation.

It’s fair to say that coming out in any aspect totes along its own unique and frustrating labels and assumptions from those outside of the community. In my experience, the bisexual identity comes with being ostracized, not only from the straight, cis-gendered community, but also from their LGBTQ+ family as well. One of the biggest stereotypes is that bisexual individuals are “promiscuous” and, likely, unloyal. While this is not the case, the portrayal of bisexual characters across different media platforms only serves to preserve these damaging reservations about the orientation.

On the other hand, there is yet another negative form of stereotypes. Where there is no general sexual frivolity in a bisexual character, there may instead be the assertion of “confusion.” This is particularly true in cases where the audience is led to believe (not know, as this usually happens through suggestion instead of saying the words out loud, which is a whole other issue in and of itself) that a character is bisexual, but they tend to end up with the opposite gender. While this is fine in theory, the issue we’re faced with is the perpetuation of the stereotype that bisexuals are just “confused” or “experimenting,” and that when they settle down, they will inevitably choose a “straight” relationship. For a recent example, I think back to the Marvel/Disney show Loki. The Disney+ show led some fans to think that Loki might (finally!) end up in a relationship with another male character (although, I hold my reservations about Owen Wilson being a match with Tom Hiddleston—but that’s neither here nor there). However, what ended up happening was the rug being pulled out yet again for hopeful, queer audience members and pandering to the straight, cis-gendered community (I’m trying to be vague so that I don’t give any spoilers). Even though many people know that Loki is bisexual, there is a blatant lack of that part of his identity in his character’s representation, which is problematic, especially from such a large platform as Disney.

Literature can be just as challenging. Consider the novel Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. The story revolves around Zoe, a bisexual woman who eventually becomes estranged from her husband. In the resolution, Zoe falls in love with another woman. And while this certainly happens in real life, the problem with this novel is that, rather than restating Zoe’s bisexuality, she is instead described as just being a lesbian all along, or worse, having been “turned gay”—which is even more disheartening.

While it is clear that the world is not the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago when it comes to acceptance, we still have a long way to go. All members of the queer community still have to face external biases against their orientation, internalized homophobia, transphobia, and more; however, there is a double-edged sword that bisexuals face between those inside their community and those outside of it. The stereotypes that come along with the orientation led others to mistrust them, and it negatively affects their ability to have stable relationships. Only through changing the script when we represent the LGBTQ+ community can we come closer to a world where we not only accept, but also truly celebrate, all identities.

Stack of six books with their spines up

Do More Followers on Social Media Equal More Book Sales?

Authors often depend on their social media accounts as advertising tools, hoping to gain fame and sales from their posts. The more followers, the better the chances that advertised products—in this case, books—will sell successfully. But it turns out that having millions of followers is still not a guarantee of a rise in sales when authors or celebrities post about books, which is puzzling given the usual advertisement history within social media. To all appearances, there should be a correlation between the number of followers one has and the number of books a person would sell, particularly when compared to other products when their gain in popularity or their sales numbers reliably skyrockets just from one post. But not books. What is behind this mystery?

Let’s take Billie Eilish as an example. A celebrity with nearly a hundred million followers on Instagram and six million more on Twitter easily could sell millions of books, right? Yet, her self-titled book, Billie Eilish sold about sixty-four thousand copies, according to NPD BookScan, a number much lower than expected, given the number of fans and followers she has all over the world. According to the New York Times:

Every book is different, an individual work of art or culture, so when the publishing industry tries to forecast demand for new titles, it is, however thoughtfully, guessing. Because there are so few reliable metrics to look at, social-media followings have become some of the main data points publishers use to try to make their guesses more educated.

The number of followers can greatly influence the decision of publishers or their willingness to pay an advance for a book deal. Sadly, followers are seen more and more as unpredictable gauges when it comes to book sales.

It is important for publishers to consider an author’s platform, including social media, radio shows, YouTube channels, or guest appearances on TV. There could be several reasons why a large social media platform does not equal substantial book sales. Let’s examine three types of authors: the first group has the more traditional authors whose main occupation is writing; the second group includes established celebrities and movie stars; the third, a younger generation of singers or influencers. It is usually the second and third groups that have a larger social media following. It could be that their followers mostly consist of people interested solely in their music or movies and other products these fledgling influencers advertise, such as cosmetics or clothes or other items they find interesting and share with their followers. Reading might not be the followers’ favorite pastime, so when celebrities post about their books, if it’s not the right audience at the right time, the books simply won’t sell the projected number of copies.

For the sake of comparison, we will look at a few celebrities and examine their book sales numbers to demonstrate that a large social media presence is not a guaranteed success when it comes to book sales. In addition to Billie Eilish, Justin Timberlake, with fifty-three million followers, sold about one hundred thousand copies of his book Hindsight in the last three years. Tamika D. Mallory, with around one million followers, sold about twenty-six thousand copies of her book, despite getting paid over one million for a two-book deal. Publishers are in a constant state of wonder about followers. How engaged are they? How much attention do they actually pay to posts? There is an increasing awareness about followers not being as engaged with posts in general.

Furthermore, it is sometimes the celebrities themselves who might not be as engaged with their books and, therefore, with their posts. It’s not enough just to post; some book contracts now specify how many posts are expected or required from the author in order to engage followers more. Also necessary are frequent and heartfelt explanations on why the book was written, how it fits into the authors’ lives, what they hope to gain by publishing this book, and what inspired them; all those things can further penetrate the surface when followers look at posts, and they might be able to relate more to the books if the posts have emotional elements woven into them. Authors and publishers tread the murky waters of social media, hoping that somewhere between traditional and innovative advertisement their gamble will pay off.

Backlist to the Future: The Weight of the Sun by Geronimo Tagatac

By Rebekah Hunt

The Weight of the Sun, a short story collection by Geronimo Tagatac, is one of my favorite books on our backlist. The stories are set up as separate pieces in a compilation, but they share a common thread that connects them all. Initially, I found the transitions between stories jarring and disorienting. Upon rereading, I found that I still do; however, the disjointed rhythm lends a surreal quality to the experience that I find appropriate to the author’s storytelling style. The experiences he relates are meant to be jarring and surreal because life is that way.

In the story “Archangel,” a young woman stops the main character at a cafeteria and asks if he reads Hemingway. This moment sums up the impression the collection left on me: it’s a lot like Hemingway. The prose strikes the ear like heavy drumbeats, but there is an ethereal quality as if one is hearing a war party receding into the distance. Mundane and everyday settings take on a mythic quality as they are filtered through the minds of characters who are not mundane themselves. There is always a strong and vibrant sense of place, the dialogue is sparse, and we learn the most about the characters from how they relate to their surroundings.

While the style is reminiscent of Hemingway’s short stories, these stories have more heart. Where Hemingway is objective and shies away from emotion, Tagatac places you in the character’s shoes and forces you to feel what they feel, particularly when it is painful. And this collection is fraught with pain. Farm laborers, dancers, cooks, soldiers, children left alone with strangers; these are the people whose experiences we take on, whose pain we feel, who live in the same world we live in, and yet seem to live more in it than we do.

The author is thoroughly acquainted with pain and seems to seek, through his prose, to make others acquainted with it as well. But he doesn’t try to create schmaltzy, tear-jerking moments or lead us into any kind of realization about ourselves. He simply evokes pity. Not pity in the negative, insulting sense that the word has taken on in recent years, but pure, honest pity for the suffering of other people. While the characters are not like us, are in situations we will never be in, and have experiences we cannot relate to, their plain, simple, brutal, beautiful humanity binds us to them and speaks a language we cannot ignore. The language of humanity. The Weight of the Sun tells the story of what it is to be human.

Weight of the Sun


What Happens Before a Book Pubs?

The book publishing process often remains a mystery to those outside the industry. The exact process for how a book gets from one step to the next within a certain amount of time usually varies from press to press. Some people might expect that things get done relatively quickly, perhaps in a year or less. Others believe that publishers simply move on once the book is completed. For authors, it might seem like an eternity of waiting for news and working to spread the word about their book on their own. The last couple of months before a book is officially published is a very important and busy time for a publishing press.

At the average publishing house, these last few months are spent ensuring that the title gets printed, arrives at the warehouse, and that the early copies are received at the publishing house. At the same time, the marketing and publicity work continues as it has for the past several months. The specifics of what this looks like depends on several factors and varies from press to press. Some factors to consider include the resources that the press has access to, whether the author has published before, how popular the press is expecting the book to be, and many others. There may be a dedicated fanbase for an author and their upcoming title, but if the press doesn’t have many resources, the amount of marketing it gets will be lower.

Here at Ooligan, the Love, Dance, & Egg Rolls team is hard at work preparing for our pub day. The first thing we have been working on is promoting the book across our social media platforms. Each member of the team has created their own posts on various topics that are aimed at generating excitement for the book. We have had the pleasure of focusing on the representation of and aspects of Filipino culture, including food and dance. We are also keeping an eye out for any mention of the book that we were not already anticipating. We love seeing publicity for the titles that our authors have worked so hard on.

As for the rest of the press, we are encouraging everyone to like, comment, and share the posts on their personal accounts so that we can boost the content and generate more viewers. We also have other members of the press who help keep an eye out for how the book is looking online. They are all great contributors to the creation of this book.

We have been very excited to plan the launch event for this book. This event is a great way to celebrate the author and everyone’s contributions that helped bring this book into the world. We are gathering ideas and determining their feasibility in order to make this event the best it can possibly be.

The publication process varies with each publisher, and this is just a glimpse into a small portion of the process. In some cases, this process can last up to two years. Of course, Ooligan Press is a small press made up of almost entirely students, so how we are able to get our books out into the world is different. How some publishing houses like the Big 5 do it may remain a mystery.

unfocused picture camera

Prepping Your Author for Interviews

Interview season is finally here. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Where do I even begin?!” Don’t worry—Ooligan Press has you covered.

Let’s start with the basics. Start by creating a list of background questions that are most likely to be asked, and work with your author on preparing answers for them. These questions are often formalities to establish your credibility, create rapport with the interviewer, and set the stage for more important questions later. By anticipating these questions and ensuring the author is comfortable answering them, your author will be able to get through these faster and therefore increase the amount of time that can be spent on the more critical questions that follow.

The next step involves promoting your book (and your author). It’s important to plan for the types of opinion and perspective questions the interviewer might ask. Knowing that more difficult questions are coming helps you prepare your author and prepare their responses, which can be used as opportunities to promote your book and your personal brand.

Here are some tips and suggestions to keep in mind when thinking about how to best prep your author for their upcoming interview:

  • Make a list of questions you would ask if you were interviewing yourself or the author.
  • Prepare answers that give the opportunity to reference the book—themes, key selling points, or anything else you want people to take away from or remember after the interview.
  • Don’t try to fully “script” or memorize your responses to the basic questions about education, general interests, employment (or self-employment), history, etc. Instead, prepare a mind map or fact sheet that lists the background questions you’re likely to be asked, along with the key ideas and connections you want to make for the book. Be sure to use a large type size so that you can glance at it during the interview.
  • Avoid full sentences when organizing before the interview. Instead, jot down the main ideas and phrases you want to include in your answers. Sentences encourage your author to read their responses rather than to respond in a confident and enthusiastic tone.
  • Never read your answers! Instead, review your cheat sheet beforehand and have it handy to quickly glance at during the interview. This works especially well when using Zoom or with virtual interviews.
  • Make sure you and your author are on the same page! Set up a meeting before a publicity interview to discuss key selling points and other topics to ensure consistency.

Lastly, it is important to emphasize to your author the importance of how you say something, not just what you say. It isn’t just your message that improves when you anticipate and prepare for your interview. The more you prepare, the more comfortable you’ll be during the interview, and your comfort instantly communicates itself to your interviewer as well as those reading, viewing, or listening. With anticipation and preparation, your responses to the interview questions will not only be on-point and relevant, but your delivery will also communicate your confidence, likability, and enthusiasm for your book. With a little anticipation and preparation, you’ll emerge not only as an expert, but as a likable expert!

Did COVID Bring Certain Death or New Life to Independent Bookstores in the PNW?

After reading a Vox post about how independent bookstores were weathering the pandemic, I wondered how indie bookstores are doing now that we are coming closer to a post-pandemic normal.

In March 2021, Angela Haupt of The Washington Post wrote, “Some independent bookstores prospered during year one of the coronavirus pandemic … Others decided to call it a day. And for others yet, it’s too soon to predict which way the plot might twist.”

It looked grim in March of last year, with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reporting that 20 percent of independent booksellers across the country were in danger of closing. But in April of this year, the ABA reported that eCommerce has almost doubled compared with April of last year. How is this possible?

Bookstore owners had to think on their feet to come up with creative solutions to stay in business during the lockdown. Michael Keefe, publicist for Annie Bloom’s, said,

As soon as the lockdown was implemented, the volume of online orders increased dramatically, and we had to quickly familiarize the rest of the staff with the process. Another service we added in March of 2020 is local delivery to customers within three miles of the store … And we rapidly transitioned to hosting events online … We hosted our first livestream reading on April 2, 2020. Since then, we’ve hosted dozens more and will continue to do so for the immediately foreseeable future.

Lori Carroll, the new owner of Jan’s Paperbacks, was able to host a Facebook Live with an author in France, something that had not been considered pre-COVID.

Things were also changing for Rachelle Markley, the owner of Crooked House Books and Paper. She said that walk-in traffic dropped off, but luckily she had always been selling online, her biggest presence being on Etsy. During March of last year, she fully expected not to make it when people were “hoarding beans and toilet paper;” she did not think that people were going to open their wallets and start buying “weird collectible books,” yet somehow the pandemic has been really good for online book sales. As Lori put it, “many were able to pivot and do the online thing” because they were closed to the public.

Some booksellers even found unexpected positive outcomes from their COVID experience, such as Annie Bloom’s, who experienced an outpouring of community support. Michael said that their customers know that “by supporting small businesses, neighborhoods remain vital.” Lori said that after going on FOX news and being featured as one of the few bookstores left open to the public, she had an outpouring of support from her community and people just wanted to give her money: “One man told me to close my eyes and put out my hand and he put a one hundred dollar bill in my hand and walked away.”

As I read these stories, I thought about what indie bookstores have in mind moving forward because of this new COVID way of living. Michael said that plans are always in flux and changing, and that “adapting to a pandemic is an extreme example!”

Lori, Rachelle, and Michael all expressed that they missed the face-to-face interactions with their book fan customers. Michael said, “One of the best parts about being a bookseller is talking with customers in person and placing a great book in their hands. Hopefully, those days will soon return!” Rachelle said she missed going to book fairs but enjoyed hosting a dealer invite event, which was a great success. Lori emphasized that every bookstore is different and will each have unique solutions coming out of the COVID shutdown. Rachelle said she was “anticipating huge loss” and is “ridiculously grateful” nobody lost their business and that booksellers here in the PNW are still here. Perhaps Michael summarized it best: “It appears that indie bookstores have, for the most part, weathered the storm.”

Perhaps some may close, but Portlanders know that it would be a blow to their community if their independent bookstores were to shut down for good. Despite the anxiety of the future, COVID has brought innovation and new life to the independent bookstores of the PNW, which have been fittingly described as a tenacious bunch with creativity and passion for what they do.

Dorothy, click your heels three times: PNW indie bookstores are back! Better yet, go to indiebound and find out ways to support your local independent bookseller.

Acquisitions Outreach in the World of COVID

As one of the acquisitions managers for Ooligan Press, one of my main responsibilities is to look through the queries that come through our Submittable account. When it comes to acquiring novels, a lot of people imagine a never-ending slush pile that is a revolving door of unsolicited manuscripts. While that’s certainly true for larger presses, for smaller players like Ooligan, our pool tends to be much smaller. One area of acquisitions that people often don’t consider is the outreach that is involved with seeking out these submissions. With that being said, COVID has understandably decreased the number of submissions that we have received.

As a learning press, we also have a responsibility to ensure that the press has the opportunity to vet manuscripts for a potential pitch. If we don’t have anything in our slush pile to share with the press, then our team misses out on the chance to review a raw manuscript. So what has the acquisitions process looked like for Ooligan during the pandemic? Without a steady stream of queries flowing through our Submittable, the acquisitions team has had to make an even greater effort to scout authors who have the material we’re looking for. Like every other department, we have our own deadlines and schedules to adhere to, and like many other industries, we’ve had to shift things around and adjust on the fly in order to accommodate the new changes.

A lot of our recent work has revolved around searching for material. Over the past year and a half, our team has scoured the internet for various avenues where we can post our calls for submissions. This process involves searching for writing groups (both local and otherwise) and exhausting our contact lists to find viable sources. Even when we have received submissions, we found that many of them either didn’t read our submission guidelines correctly or that the ideas hadn’t been fully fleshed out.

We’ve also worked with our social media team to brainstorm new ideas for getting those calls for submissions into the world. My co-manager participated in PitMad, the Twitter event for publishers and agents to find material. While that didn’t result in any queries, it helped us better understand the process and some of its limitations for us as a small press based in the Pacific Northwest.

Now that we’re transitioning back to a more in-person environment—or at least one that is comfortably hybrid—I’m excited to see what will come next for us as a press. At this point, anything is possible! As always, if you have any thrilling ideas, we’d love to hear them! Our Submittable is always open.

US Audiobooks, Audible, and Exclusive Rights

We have watched the music industry slowly change over the past fifteen years from hard copies of albums to digital songs sold individually for a low price point, and now the industry has moved into subscription services, the most popular of which is Spotify. For those who wish to consume books in audio format, many offerings within the US are simply not serving consumers in the most desirable way.

While Audible has a slightly better selection of books and obtains new works at a higher volume, the format of Audible only allows subscribers a limited number of books to listen to through its NFTs. Users obtain access to a large number of free books, but most new releases and highly-desired audiobooks are only obtainable through the Audible credit system, where users gain one credit per month of paid subscription. Because books can cost between one and three credits, the amount of newly released audiobooks available for the basic subscription is still quite limited.

Many avid audiobook readers are now moving to Scribd, a site that functions similarly to the Spotify model. Scribd is roughly the same monthly cost, but you have the ability to listen to audiobooks or read ebooks at a mostly unlimited capacity. Scribd has been compared to Netflix in that it may not have every new book as it hits the market, but it offers a great variety for the voracious audiobook consumer at a better price point than Audible.

If audiobooks are so popular, why are they not offered in a similar capacity to the digital music industry by the largest US retailer and producer of audiobooks? While there are costs involved in the production of audiobooks that are time-consuming, the audiobook market is clearly approaching the same issue that the digital music industry faced during the time of illegal downloading services like Napster and Limewire. The hesitancy towards moving to a more open model of consumption is creating piracy issues that are infinitely more destructive to the industry than an overhaul of the current model.

Audible is also guilty of damaging the industry through its “Audible Exclusive” program (also referred to as “Audible Originals”), in which it obtains the rights to certain audiobooks and makes them only available through the Audible program. This means that libraries are unable to obtain copies of these audio manuscripts for the public, which is an excruciating blow to the accessibility that libraries and book programs across the US attempt to maintain. The monopoly of manuscripts for profit is not a new phenomenon, but it is a bleak one that doesn’t bode well for the industry at large.

As the Amazon problem grows larger and larger, we see it slowly taking steps at monopolizing art and literature, often at the expense of both authors and consumers. As Scribd continues to grow, there is hope that other options for avid audiobook consumers will continue popping up and that the accessibility of literacy that is so inherent to the audiobook format will remain easy to obtain for everyone.