By Ian VanWyhe
First, a little history. After I graduated with a degree in English, I attended the Denver Publishing Institute (DPI), a wonderful month-long seminar that provided an in-depth overview of the publishing industry, with many guest speakers from various general trade, academic, and textbook publishers around the country. There was also some hands-on work, but not as much as I had hoped.
After that, I came home to Portland, and proceeded to not find a job for around a year. Despite my willingness to bankroll my own moves, publishers in other cities weren’t interested in hiring out-of-towners, I couldn’t afford to move to another city without a job lined up, and there simply weren’t any opportunities in Portland. As I made contact with Portland publishers, particularly the founders of Ink and Paper Group (http://inkandpapergroup.com/), I learned the reason for this: the Portland State University publishing program. Though I hadn’t originally planned on attending graduate school, I talked to the head of the program, Dennis Stovall, who was patient and helpful, decided to apply to the program, and got in.
The PSU program is unique in the nation. There are a smattering of apprenticeship programs in New York, and there are various seminars such as the DPI, but there is no other program in publishing that will result in a Master’s degree, and there is certainly no other program in which the students run a functioning press. The program is a part of PSU’s writing department (which itself is a sub-department of the English department), and the degree is technically a Masters in Writing, but the program is complete in and of itself; if students don’t want to take any writing classes, there are enough classes to do with publishing that they won’t have to.
This is possible both because of the variety of publishing class offerings taught by professionals in the field, but also because of Ooligan Press. Ooligan is a general trade press, operating independently of the school and its funding, and surviving primarily through book sales. Ooligan is also completely run by students. Though Dennis and another staff member operate in an advisory capacity, all significant work-including the acquisition of new titles, editing, design, marketing, and production-is performed by students.
I feel that my time at Ooligan has helped me quite a bit. I feel like an editor now, whereas before, even after the DPI and working as a copy editor for my undergrad university’s literary journal, I didn’t have that confidence in my work before. I also feel quite capable of having in-depth discussions about the business of publishing, something that, as good as it was, the DPI didn’t leave me fully equipped to do. I’ve come to think of my time at the DPI as a primer; it didn’t give me everything I needed to know, but it taught me enough that I didn’t feel lost or out of my element when I started at PSU. And working for Ooligan is helping me feel that once I get a position at a publishing house or freelance editorial agency, I won’t feel out of my depth there.
I’ve taken four classes in the program so far. Intro to Book Publishing, much like it sounds, was a good overview of publishing as a business, touching on such topics as book design and editing, but mostly covering the acquisitions process, marketing plans, and the financial concerns of actually creating the books and knowing what books to publish and how many to print to be successful. Book Selling was an excellent class that filled me in on how the book business works at the retail level, giving information about how book selling has changed over the past century and the financial details of running a bookstore. Book Design taught me a great deal about typography, typesetting, and the many physical aspects of book beyond design, which can affect the final product. Book Editing was a fantastic class that gave me a great deal of practice and hands-on experience with the editing process.
As great as the classes have been, the most beneficial part of the program is working for Ooligan Press. Since, like most graduate programs, students cycle through in an average of two years, work is done by committees. We currently have an Executive Committee, in which all the committees get together, report to each other what they’ve been doing, and make important decisions such as the final choice of cover designs or the final decisions to acquire a new book; an Acquisitions Committee, which reviews all queries and submissions and chooses which projects to pitch to the Executive Committee; an Editing Committee, which handles all developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading required by the press (including press releases and other non-book written communication); the Design Committee, which handles the exterior and interior designs of our books; and the Marketing Committee, which is in charge of all promotions of the press and our books.
One of the best things about working at Ooligan is that, since the press is only seven years old and the student turnover makes us operate slower than your typical press, we are still working out the best way to do things and establishing methods for the future. That means I have the opportunity to help formulate the way the press will operate in the future.
I am part of the Editing Committee, which has been an excellent experience so far. In the quarter I’ve been working with the committee, I’ve proofread one of the books we are releasing in the next few months, written a page of instructions for using the Chicago Manual of Style that will be included in the Ooligan Manual we are putting together for new students in the program, helped formulate the Ooligan Editing style guide, and took part in all the small edits that came through the group. This summer I will be in charge of developmental editing for a history book we are planning on acquiring, and proofreading another which we have already acquired, along with being a consolidator for small edits. By the time I’ve graduated and am once again searching for work, I will be as prepared as I could possibly be for life as an editor.
Ooligan Press’s Web site is ooligan.pdx.edu; there you can find more details about how we operate, our books, and the program in general. Those interested in joining the program should first look over the Web site, and then look at the admissions requirements for the Master in Writing program, which can be found here:http://www.english.pdx.edu/grad_wr.php#publishing. Then they should e-mail any questions or concerns directly to Dennis Stovall, or to email@example.com.
About the Author: Ian VanWyhe spends most of his time roaming the countryside in a psychedelically painted VW Bus with a band of misfits and a sentient Great Dane, with whom he investigates reports of paranormal activities and invariably reveals them to be the schemes of creepy old men in elaborate costumes. When not being called a meddlesome kid by dudes in monster suits, Ian attends Portland State University, works at Ooligan Press, and dreams of getting paid to fix poor grammar. He is also currently interning for Stirling Editing. You can find his badly neglected blog at staffofthemessenger.wordpress.com.