I was all dreamy over Ooligan Press after pitching my book at the 2016 Write to Publish Conference. Then this happened…
Ooligan’s amazing Acquisitions Editors, Molly and Bess, emailed in March that they were excited about Conspiring to be Meri and wanted to pitch the novel to their executive committee. I had no idea what that meant, but took it as a forward step in the [very very slow and painful] publishing process.
I wasn’t invited to attend the pitch and aside from being asked to send a long version of my bio, there was nothing for me to do, so I tried to put the whole [very very slow and painful] publishing process out of my mind.
The pitch was scheduled for Monday, April 4. That day I’d randomly agreed to take part in a local reading event, so I spent the morning practicing and preparing my reading selection in my friend Grace’s kitchen while she made macaroons.
Mostly though, I was preparing myself for Ooligan to say no. This included taking a lot of screen shots of inspirational rejection quotes. I kept imagining the executive pitch as a boardroom of serious people sipping ice water from clear plastic cups while discussing the flaws of my manuscript. These imaginary Water Sippers were mostly surly old men in suits who said things like, “Bah!” and “Great Scott!”
By noon, I’d convinced myself the deal was a bust. I even psyched myself up for having to turn them down, believing if they did offer to accept the book, it would be contingent on changing the time period from 1990 to present day and removing all swearing and sexual references.
I still don’t know much about the actual executive pitch, but the bit I do know came from a blog post by an Ooligan committee participant. Reading his experience was, for me, surreal and somewhat unsettling.
The manuscript he was talking about in his post was MY BOOK–the story of my heart! Then there was this line: “there were many who were opposed” to acquiring.
I wondered about those naysayers and their reasons, even after the email arrived with the thrilling news that Ooligan’s executive committee had voted collectively to acquire my novel.
Still, the deal wasn’t official.
The next step in the [very very slow and painful] publishing process was signing the contract and since I don’t have an agent, this part was MEGA STRESSFUL. Luckily, I have several stellar writer friends familiar with contracts and publishing who generously advised me through the process (THANK YOU Carrie M., Suzanne S., Scott N., and Lisa H.). I quickly learned what a fair contract should contain (great insights available at Authors Guild website) and used the information to negotiate terms with Ooligan’s wonderful publisher, Abbey.
We agreed to contract terms on April 21, the day Prince died. I was wearing all black that day and thinking about how Prince influenced music and challenged the world. I guess that’s what most artists aspire to do–to express and provoke, and to engage with people in a meaningful way.
A month after I signed the contract, a most awesome thing happened. I received my developmental edit note from my project team via talented project manager, Hayley. This was an indescribable moment, you guys. The team had taken so much care with the novel, reading and discussing and compiling fifteen pages of smart, insightful feedback. I actually cried. For all of you yet-to-be-published writers out there, I wish this same loveliness for you.
Publishing with a university press is no path to riches, that goes without saying, but this opportunity to work with and learn from Portland State University’s Ooligan Press is priceless to me. Seriously. I’m not being cheesy. The thing is, Ooligan isn’t just publishing my book. They’re giving me a chance to share a story that’s important to me–a story about community and girlhood in Alaska in the 1990s. My hope is that the story provokes a larger discussion about community and girlhood in contemporary rural America. This conversation is what matters to me.
Thank you, Ooligan Press, for believing in my story.
Currently, I’m in the midst of revising, which is a heavy lift, and I worry that my output won’t measure up to the quality of the project team’s input. But here’s the thing: all my stupid worries haven’t helped me AT ALL during this [very very slow and painful] publishing process. There are no surly men in suits sitting in a boardroom ridiculing my writing, and even if there were, giving them my energy isn’t helping me.
Writing and publishing = super hard work. Everyone knows that. My job is the same as it has always been: to focus on the work. The art. The story. This is true for all of us, no matter where we are in the process.