Laurel Boruck graduated from the Portland State University publishing program in June 2014. In her first year with Ooligan Press, she worked on marketing for We Belong in History, The Ninth Day, and The Wax Bullet War. In her second year, she transitioned into the role of project manager for The Wax Bullet War. Now Boruck is a marketing coordinator at Zeal Books and DC Jacobson & Associates. She kindly spent a few hours after work answering questions about her time at Ooligan and what she’s been up to since she graduated.
What drew you to Portland State’s publishing program?
During my final year as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, I took a class called Literary Editing, which I absolutely loved. I started looking into publishing programs—and there really aren’t too many—and discovered PSU’s program. After I graduated, I took a couple of years off and worked at Nike while I sorted through my grad school options. During that time, I visited the program so I could check things out. I was really impressed by how collaborative everything seemed. There was a strong sense of community among the students, all the instructors I met were open and engaged, and I appreciated the balance between classroom learning and the hands-on learning that happens at Ooligan Press. Of all the programs I looked at, PSU was the only one that incorporated the kind of tangible experience that Ooligan offers.
Did you want to specialize in sales and marketing when you began the program?
No—it was a complete accident! When I started, I was interested in editing (though not as dead set on it as some), and I was really interested in agenting. I hadn’t given a second thought to book marketing. In my first term, Abbey Gaterud put me in the now-defunct external promotions department, which did marketing for the press, and then I jumped over to the marketing department, which I co-managed for two terms. When I applied for summer internships, I applied to all kinds of departments, but the one I landed ended up being in marketing.
Once I started doing more marketing and publicity work, and as I got further along in my studies, I discovered that I really enjoyed it. And that’s still true! Book marketing is both creative and strategic; you have to be able to come up with out-of-the-box ideas, but you also have to be able to crunch numbers and think tactically. When I worked at Nike, my job involved a lot of spreadsheets and numbers, which wasn’t my favorite part of the job—but I was pretty good at it, and I learned a lot of skills that have served me well in publishing. As it turns out, I actually like working with numbers, strategy, and processes (especially when we’re talking about books!) as long as I get to do creative stuff too. And it’s tough to get bored, because you get to do such a variety of things and work on a huge variety of books.
You work with both a literary agent and a publisher. What are the similarities and differences between the two? What does a day in the life of Laurel typically look like?
My work is divided into two functions, but it all happens under one roof; the agency and the publishing company are separate but related entities. My boss, the president of the agency, pitched the book that is now Space at the Table to publishers, but each one reluctantly turned it down. He thought it was an important book though, so he started a publishing company to publish it (and any future books we decide on—we’re already working on the next one). In both capacities, my title is marketing coordinator.
On the publishing side, I do pretty typical marketing tasks: I solicit reviews, do media outreach, work on advertising, create marketing plans, and manage our social media. On the agency side, I do a variety of things. Ninety-some-odd percent of our authors are nonfiction, so most of our books are sold on proposal rather than on a full manuscript. I do a lot of proposal development. That’s part editorial and part marketing—it’s just that we’re marketing to publishers rather than consumers. I also sit in on marketing calls with our authors’ publishers so that I can step in and help when needed. It’s not typical for an agency to have a marketing person on staff, so it’s been fun to see how I can benefit both our authors and their publishers through the marketing process.
You worked with Zeal Books to Kickstart their first title, Space at the Table. What was that process like?
It was definitely a learning experience. None of us had ever run a Kickstarter campaign before, so there was a fair amount of “Well, the people on the internet say this is a good idea, so let’s try it” happening. Alan Scott Holley did a lot of the legwork on researching and implementing the campaign. We had really engaged authors, which was huge—the day we launched, they were in the office making calls to everyone they could think of in their networks who might be able to help support or share the campaign. We also just had a great response to the book and its message; we were constantly amazed by how many people came out of the woodwork to express their support. Now that the campaign is over (and successfully funded!), we’re planning to sit down and write up everything we learned so we don’t lose that knowledge.
What advice do you have for students just beginning the program at Portland State?
Try as many different things as you can, and don’t write something off until you’ve given it a go. Meet as many people as you can. If there’s someone doing work that you think is interesting, whether that’s someone at Ooligan, a conference, an internship, or anywhere else, just ask them about it! People are generally nice and love to hear that someone is interested in the things they’re interested in. Networking is so much easier if you think of it as expressing genuine curiosity rather than going for a cold sell. Cultivate relationships with your instructors and your classmates. Challenge yourself to do things that are just a bit beyond your comfort zone. And have fun!
You can find Laurel Boruck on her website, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.