a group of six people standing shoulder to shoulder in a conference hall

Expanding My Understanding of Publishing at the PubWest Conference

Although I’ve been learning a lot about the different facets of publishing at Ooligan Press and in the Book Publishing Program, I wanted to learn more. So, when I heard the 2023 PubWest Conference was happening in Seattle, I jumped at the chance to attend.

The Publishers Association of the West (PubWest) is dedicated to offering professional education, providing publishing-related benefits, creating opportunities for members and associate members to do business, speaking as an advocate for members, recognizing outstanding achievement in publishing, and providing a forum for networking to their publishing and associate members from across the United States and Canada. Founded in 1977 as the Rocky Mountain Book Publishers Association, the association initially focused on supporting publishers in the West; it now consists of members across the US and Canada and even overseas.

This year’s PubWest Conference was unique in that it overlapped with The Book Manufacturers’ Institute’s (BMI) Book Manufacturing Mastered Conference. BMI supports book manufacturing leaders in their work to drive the promotion, efficiency, and growth of book markets for readers and educators in North America. Established in 1933, BMI’s early roots are connected to the “Employing Bookbinders of America” which started out in the early 1900s as a group of bookbinders in the city of New York.

Being a collaboration between BMI and PubWest, the theme of this year’s conference was, fittingly, collaboration.

Kicking off the conference was a panel on Book Manufacturing in 2023 and Beyond. The panel consisted of Angela Engel (The Collective Book Studio), Bill Rojack (Midland Paper), Joe Upton (Gasch Printing), Tim Hewitt (Friesens), and Moderator Matt Baehr (BMI). My knowledge of the production side of making books was severely lacking, so this panel was incredibly illuminating. I knew peripherally about supply chain issues caused by the pandemic, but I hadn’t realized how drastically the process of manufacturing books has changed. Book manufacturing capacity peaked in 2000, and it’s now 75 percent less than pre-2000. Seventy-five percent less! Capacity, scarcity of supply, decreased options, and labor issues were all discussed. The key takeaway from the panel was that publishers and printers are partners and they need to communicate, collaborate, and make compromises for everyone to get what they need.

Being interested in marketing and publicity, I attended a workshop on How to Read Your Market. The panel consisted of Joe Biel (Microcosm Publishing), Richard T. Williams (Independent Publishers Group), Robert Sindelar (Third Place Books), Bob Durgy (BR Printers) and moderator, Sidney Thompson (Independent Publishers Group). Topics that were discussed included Amazon, brand, fandom, niche markets, the impact of the pandemic, and the impact of the changes in book manufacturing. Again, it was awesome to hear from not only publishers but also printers and booksellers on the trials and tribulations of the book industry.

I was particularly interested to see the results of the PubWest Book Design Awards. As the current publicity manager, I’m responsible for submitting our books for awards, and I had submitted one of Ooligan’s titles for the adult trade non-illustrated category. I was disappointed that our title didn’t win, but the competition was fierce. So many excellent, innovative, and beautiful books were featured at the awards and passed around the audience.

I also appreciated attending Indigenous Voices, a panel on indigenous publishing featuring Terri Mack (Strong Nations Publishing) and Tess Olympia (Sealaska Heritage Institute) and moderated by Doug Symington (Friesens). It was inspiring to see the work that Terri Mack had done with Strong Nations Publishing. The advice she had for publishers was to take great care and have attentiveness with indigenous books—from pairing cover artists from the same communities as authors to making sure permissions are granted for the stories being published. Tess Olympia was equally inspiring with her work at the Sealaska Heritage Institute. Among other contributions, they have substantially increased literacy in Alaskan communities through the Baby Raven Reads program.

The conference ended with Speedy Spiels, in which eight speakers had six minutes each to speak to the topic of collaboration. It was a riot! Some gave quick presentations, some sang, and one speaker even did a magic trick. It was a great way to end the conference.

Getting in-person insight into the behind the scenes of publishing and mixing and mingling with book professionals was a fantastic experience. It’s a truly special industry and kind of magical when you think about it: all the hard work, creativity, ingenuity, artistry, craftsmanship, editorial insight, marketing, publicity, the blood, sweat, tears, and love—everything—that goes into making books.

photo of full bookshelf with white arched text box reading "Inside Ooligan Press:), the Ooligan Press fishhook logo centered, white text box across bottom of image reading "The Project Team"

Inside Ooligan Press: Your Book’s Project Manager

After working closely with Ooligan’s Acquisitions department, you’ll build a relationship with your book’s Project Manager. The Project Manager is like a tour guide, chaperoning your manuscript through the publishing process. As various departments work with and around the manuscript, the Project Manager ensures things stay on schedule—or at least as close to on schedule as possible. The Project Manager doesn’t do it alone though; the book project team plays a critical role in getting your book into the hands of readers.

The team is responsible for crafting many essential documents. For example, with guidance from the Marketing department, the team creates the book’s marketing plan, which is the foundation of how the book will be promoted up to publication, during its launch, and for the approximate year after publication. This document also includes critical pieces of copy such as the back cover description, the author bio, and the book’s overall hook. The Project Manager is responsible for communicating the marketing plan to the author and guiding the team in readjusting as needed based on the author’s feedback.

As the marketing plan is implemented, the team is also responsible for creating the promotional materials themselves. Team members create social media posts, including copy and images, which Ooligan’s Social Media department posts across the press’s social media accounts. The team’s familiarity with the book—its subject matter, themes, characters, etc.—enables them to create meaningful and relevant social media posts. The team is like the book’s best friend; they’ve gotten to know the book well and want to see it be successful. The farther along we go into the book creation process, the more deadlines and tasks need to be juggled, so the Project Manager stays on top of communicating expectations about what deliverables are needed and when.

As the big day approaches, the team hones in on getting ready for the book launch. Think of your favorite book launch event. Maybe you loved it because of the free swag or the yummy snacks. Maybe the interview with the author was memorable, the questions diving deep into the who, what, and why of the book and its creator. Everything that goes into a book launch has to be planned ahead of time, and this is where the team and the Project Manager really have a chance to shine. Flyers and posters for the event, engaging questions for the Q & A, free goodies for the audience, and a space to actually hold the event—all of these things and more are the focus of the team and Project Manager in the months, week, days, and even hours leading up to the book launch. It’s normal to have a lot of questions as publication day approaches, and the Project Manager is still your go-to person to help you as the author before and on the day of your book launch.

After your book is finally out in the world, the hard work of the team and Project Manager continues to pay off as Ooligan posts about the book on social media and applies to book awards applicable to your book. Because Ooligan is a student-run press, the team and Project Manager will soon continue on their way, joining other book teams, participating in different classes, and graduating. Ooligan’s graduate program is only two years long, but in that time, each of us puts our heart and soul into making the books we work on the best they can be and helping our authors have the best publishing experience possible.