photograph of New York City from above the Empire State Building at night

Some Might Say It’s Too Big: How To Identify the Size of a Press

In book publishing, we hear about the sizes of presses often. The “Big Five” are the biggest publishers in the United States. The term “small press” is used synonymously with “small business”; especially in a book town like Portland, readers like to support the little guys. When I visited Scotland with Ooligan Press last year, I was introduced to the idea of a “micro press.” And then “medium press” is thrown in there somewhere.

How are size designations for trade publishing presses made? Is bigger better? Does size really matter?

I had to confront these questions for my senior research project, which has to do with profit and loss statements (P&Ls). I won’t get too much into P&Ls here; that’s a whole other opportunity for a blog topic. All you have to know is that my project is about comparing different presses’ P&Ls, and one of the factors that I’m interested in for my comparison is how the sizes of the presses affect the structure of the P&Ls. So I had to determine the sizes of each press that I reached out to. Notably, I limited my scope to trade book publishers in the US, and the following categorizations were made specifically with that group in mind.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for dictating a press’s size, so I broadened my scope when I was searching for answers. Since book publishing is a business, I decided to search for what constituted a small business in the US. I found that the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy qualifies any book publisher with less than one thousand employees as “small,” while the United States Census Bureau includes the categorization of “very small” to describe any given enterprise and reverts back to the general 500+ employees for a large enterprise.

Ideally, “size” would include the size of a publisher’s influence rather than just the size of its workforce. Another factor that would better indicate size would be the press’s net profit However, influence is much more difficult to quantify than the number of employees, and most presses’ profits are not available for free to the public. Therefore, I have combined the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) and US Census’s guidelines to develop these qualifiers:

  1. 1,000+ employees = large publisher
  2. 200–999 employees = medium publisher
  3. 100–199 employees = small publisher
  4. < 100 employees = micro publisher

When the SBA’s and the US Census’s guidance no longer sufficed, I made the decisions on where to draw the parameters based on businesses in the US as a whole. In publishing, the majority of organizations that could be considered trade presses would fall under the category of micro based on the way I have categorized them here (86 percent of the trade presses I reached out to fall under “micro”), and the number of large publishers in the US is only six (the Big Five plus Scholastic). This categorization also doesn’t take into account the presses whose employees can be counted on two hands. Even so, very few of the micro publishers on my list even came close to approaching the next bracket, and that was my goal: to make parameters that would effectively encompass the general size of other presses in its group.

Other size categorizations could be valid depending on what specifications are used to create the labels. Some folks may consider the size of the backlist, the renown of authors in the frontlist, or the identity of the press’s founder to be indicative of size, but there really isn’t much discourse on the topic—probably because it only matters for research or legal purposes. Small businesses can get funded and be marketed differently than larger businesses because they don’t have as much cash flow. This is why I was interested in size for my research; a press with less resources may not have as robust of a P&L.

In other words, it’s not about the size of the press; it’s about the quality of the books. And support small presses! They have really great personalities.

illustrated cover art for book showing a car, a moon and city buildings. Text reads "Sleeping in My Jeans" and "Teaching Guide"

Reimagining Marketing with Curriculum-Based Teaching Guides

Here at Ooligan Press, innovation has been the name of the marketing game in the past couple years. To market a book, you’ve got to market your brand.

This is where extending outreach to new or secondary audiences reimagines a stagnant brand strategy. We’ve taken the hassle away from literary analysis and created an online, self-guided curriculum for teachers, librarians, and independent learners alike.

Marketing to Educators

We all know Ooligan is staffed by Portland State graduate students. It would seem only natural that Ooligan serve educational or academic audiences outside of the typical target consumer. So, why teaching guides? And what titles will be included in this new outreach?

Extending our outreach to educators is really all about brand strategy. Every book has a specific target audience, but teaching guides act as promotional materials that appeal to a singular audience across multiple genres. This outreach attempts to solidify a stable target audience for our press. And a stable consumer means a potential increase in sales.

With creative writing exercises, reflection questions, and interactive activities, Ooligan’s new teaching guides will appeal to educators as well as the homeschooled learner or the not-so-enthusiastic reader. Not only do these guides reinforce Ooligan’s mission of regionality, community, inclusion, and social-emotional awareness, but they also strengthen pre-existing connections with educators and the Multnomah County Library.

In fact, as Ooligan Press’s 2021-22 Marketing Manager, I was shocked to learn that the press actually had dabbled with teaching guides in the past. With curriculum-based teaching guides of backlists like Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans drowning somewhere in the deep, dark Ooligan archives, I took inspiration from the strategies of yesteryear and am seeking innovative ways to reimagine how these strategies may be more consistently and successfully implemented now and in the future.

In particular, we will be focusing this effort on YA titles. They may be fiction or nonfiction, but must teach valuable social-emotional lessons or spread awareness about key regional, historical, social, or political spheres. Think of it this way: if one of our YA titles can contribute to meaningful discussion in either a high school classroom or library setting, it is probably a worthy candidate for a teaching guide.

So, what does the process actually look like? Well, it’s taken some trial and error. First, the 2017 teaching guides from Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans had to be redesigned. While the curriculum the 2017 Oolies had created is smart and interactive, the design was not much more than a PDF-converted Google Doc with some on-brand fonts. To ensure each guide seamlessly adhered to its respective title’s branding aesthetics, one volunteer crafts a beautifully designed guide. The sparkly new Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans teaching guides are live on the Ooligan website’s Educator Portal, where access is just a simple click and download away for educators and independent learners.

The tricky bit? Creating the actual curriculum for new titles. Each teaching guide must have a particular set of interactive activities, discussions, and additional materials like comparative readings, teaching slideshows, and K-W-L curriculum worksheets.

Whew! Oolies are multi-talented, absolutely. But it’s not like all book publishers are versed in the art of curriculum building, so how the heck do we do it? With the assistance of fellow educators, our curriculum will be reviewed and given the green light. Once this happens and the curriculum has been created, a callout goes live for yet another designer to conceptualize and design the curriculum into a brand new teaching guide.

What’s Next?

Promotion, promotion, promotion.

With all this hard work, it’s crucial that we ensure these standards are incorporated into future production schedules. Project Managers now have access to a Teaching Guide Checklist to assess their title’s appropriateness for a teaching guide. In the Marketing Plan stage, project teams will begin planning for teaching guides in their Marketing and Publicity Highlights, and will begin production after blurb requests—before publication.

Oh, but that’s not all. We’ve got to spread the word. Social media promotion and community connections will be important here. So, get to work on those social media collateral callouts and continue to reach out to educators and libraries for some awesome deals on class sets. This year at Ooligan we’re all about innovation. If all is implemented successfully, teaching guides can set a precedent for a stable target audience within our little independent graduate press.

a bookshelf full of closely spaced books, with text reading "Inside Ooligan Press", the Ooligan Press fishhook logo, and text "Proposals"

What’s in a Proper (Book) Proposal?

Note: This is part of the blog series “Inside Ooligan Press”, about how we take a manuscript from an idea to a professionally published book.

So, you wrote a killer query letter and we requested a proposal package, but what does that mean? Before you go and resubmit the same query letter and call it your proposal (as MANY have done) think again!

The proposal package consists of two crucial items, submitted together on our Submittable page. They are your cover letter and your full manuscript, but let’s break it down even further. If you followed our directions with your query, you only sent us the first ten pages of your manuscript. When we request a proposal package, this is your invitation to submit the full manuscript—you got a full read request. Go you! Submit the most up-to-date, most polished version of your manuscript, preferably in a Word document.

The how and why of the cover letter are a little more complex. With your query, you provided just enough to get us interested in reading your full manuscript. With your cover letter, you are trying to convince us that you and your book are the right fit for our press, for our mission, and for our reach. You’ll want to help us envision the future for your book and provide pertinent details about how to best present it to the world—and how you plan to participate in that presentation if we publish it.

Your proposal cover letter can be a beautifully designed document organized into sections and contain striking headings, images, and mock-ups of the cover, or it can be a bunch of words on a page. While a stylized document certainly helps us envision your book and its potential future more readily, it is not required, and words alone will suffice. Just be sure to include the words we’re looking for.

First up is the content warning. This means letting us know if there is anything in your manuscript that may be triggering to a reader. Triggers vary, but the most common ones include self-harm, suicide, sexual assault, graphic violence, substance abuse, and disordered eating. If you are unsure whether something you’ve written may be a trigger, err on the side of caution and warn us. Do note that this warning will not prevent your manuscript from being read and considered: it simply ensures that the right person will be reading and evaluating it (the right person being an editor to whom the content will not cause mental or emotional harm).

The rest of your letter should include a synopsis of your book, the projected page count, a table of contents if appropriate, the genre and intended audience, comp titles, marketing ideas, and any connections or platforms you have that may be utilized for marketing and promotion purposes. If your query letter did not contain an author bio written in the third-person detailing your pertinent background information, include that here as well. Yes, this requires a little effort, but there is a reason for it, I promise.

Once the Managing Acquisitions Editors decide yours is The One, we still have to pitch your manuscript to the entire press before voting to accept or reject the project. We must convince them to see what we see, that there is potential for a successful collaboration with you and your book. We do this with a pitch presentation, which contains the information from your cover letter, along with our own in-depth market research guided by our expertise in the publishing industry. We set it to music and a little light choreography. That last bit is not true. But we do have to make a strong case for why we should publish this book and be convincing in its presentation: a solid informational foundation and an author who understands their book, has realistic expectations, and is willing to work alongside us to get the job done can make or break our case—and it is your cover letter that reveals all of this to us.

Every manuscript for which we request a proposal package gets thorough, careful consideration. But even with an excellent manuscript, the author’s work is not done. You’ve got to convince us that you and your book are the right fit for us, that you are willing to do what is asked of you and more—and that begins with creating a proper proposal.