Ooligan Press hosts sixth annual Write to Publish conference

Ooligan Press hosted the sixth annual Write to Publish conference on Jan. 31, which aimed to aid and empower emerging writers by unpacking an oft-complicated publishing industry.

The event drew dozens of literary enthusiasts to 45-minute panels and workshops that ranged in subject from creating a professional social media platform to how to maximize marketing potential via book design techniques.

Attendees also had an opportunity to pitch their manuscripts to a literary agency and several local presses.

Planning begins nearly a year in advance and is produced through the work of the Ooligan Press student staff. Brandon Sanford acted as this year’s co-project manager for the conference alongside fellow graduate student Melanie Figueroa.

“This year we have quite a few students, but it’s definitely still way more non-students,” Sanford said. “It’s more of a general publishing conference at this point, rather than being about Ooligan. It’s about using our know-how and connections to spread that know-how to the public, things like how to negotiate a contract successfully.”

Write to Publish began as the brainchild of a couple Ooligan Press graduate students in 2008. Initially an open house night for the public, it functioned as a way to fundraise and draw attention to the budding program.

The event was so successful that it has evolved into an annual conference that attracts a diverse body of talent from around the country to share their insights into various facets of the publishing world.

Previous years have had specific themes, such as last year’s conference which featured panels and workshops specific to the young adult genre.

“Sometimes the theme influenced how many people came.” Sanford said. “This year we moved away from themes and are focusing on just the technical aspects of making a business in the publishing world. In previous years what to expect was about 50 attendees, give or take. We have definitely already hit that mark this year.”

Write to Publish is unique in its vision; its focus is well-rounded and intends to help writers better understand the full scope of the publishing industry, rather than just the craft of writing.

Sanford and Figueroa dedicated themselves to bringing in professionals whose collective knowledge spans the industry.

This year’s keynote speaker was John Mutter, the former longtime executive editor of bookselling at Publisher’s Weekly and co-founder and editor-in-chief of Shelf Awareness, a trade publication featuring a daily e-newsletter with reviews, media coverage and publishing industry news.

Shelf Awareness Pro has an industry circulation of more than 33,000 and its version for consumers has a circulation of approximately 300,000 readers.

With a focus on wide scope, Ooligan Press has brought in over 20 professionals with specialties ranging from publicity and editing to design.

“We tried hard to go for not just diverse topics, but also not reusing the same speakers for every panel, to really add to the experience,” Sanford said.

A running theme throughout the seminars was perseverance. Panelist and Late Night Library co-founder Trevor Martone told the story of an author who pitched his manuscript to Laurie Liss, then an assistant literary agent.

Liss’ boss wasn’t accepting new manuscripts at the time, but she listened to his pitch and, after reading the book, decided to go to bat for him. That little book? Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County.

“Listen, you’re not a sellout when you believe in your writing and you try to get it out there,” Martone said. “I would say the most important things you can do are believe in yourself and in your writing, and you can promote yourself without feeling dirty. You can find the way to do it that’s best for you.”