This is the final post from our December guest blogger Meagan Macvie. 49 Writers was pleased to sponsor Meagan’s southcentral Alaska book tour this month.
I was nearly forty when I got serious about writing creatively, and once committed, I did so with a fierce urgency. I left full-time employment, joined writing groups, attended conferences, hosted readings, and was lucky to get into a marvelous graduate program, Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop. My creative thesis, which began as a loose collection of semi-autobiographical vignettes, emerged three years later as a novel-in-progress called Conspiring to Be Meri.
I graduated in 2014 with a Master of Fine Arts in fiction and worked another year on the novel-in-progress. The process seemed long—so much revising and re-thinking, editing and polishing—but I was determined to improve my skills and write the best book I possibly could. In summer 2015, I researched and selected agents, and cautiously began sending out queries. A few responded but nothing materialized.
By fall 2015, nearly six years after I’d left my full-time job to pursue writing, I was feeling defeated. I had published a few stories in journals, but most of my efforts had gone into writing the stalled novel. Was the story terrible? Was the writing awful? What was I doing? Publication seemed like a dream destined to stay out of reach.
Looking back, the novel wasn’t yet ready to query in 2015, even after all that work. The first chapter wasn’t good enough, and the truth is, I was still discovering the story and my own voice. One day, I called and lamented to my good friend and amazing writer Carrie Mesrobian. She encouraged me not to give up and suggested I consider pitching directly to Portland State University’s Ooligan Press.
Carrie had been asked to blurb one of Ooligan’s young adult titles—Eliot Treichel’s A Series of Small Maneuvers—and thought my book would be a good fit for the press. Carrie had read my manuscript and knew the story took place in Alaska. She said the press published books set in the Pacific Northwest, written by PNW writers (I was living in Washington).
I looked up Ooligan, read their submission guidelines closely, and found out about their annual Write to Publish conference, a one-day event focused on the business of publishing. The conference was mere months away—January 2016—so I registered and signed up for a pitch block with the Ooligan Press acquisition editors.
Next, I wrote a NEW first chapter, revised the manuscript AGAIN, and prepared my pitch. I made snappy business cards to help me network and put “writer” in big letters on the cards, which made me feel legit. I practiced my pitch aloud with a friend, highlighting points I hoped would convince the acquisition editors that my manuscript was perfect for the press.
Write to Publish turned out to be a fabulous introduction to the world of publishing (summarized here). The pitch went better than I expected and led to a partial manuscript request. That was followed by a full manuscript request and eventually an offer to publish contingent on a full press vote (more about the process here). Ultimately, I signed a contract with Ooligan Press and the novel-in-progress became my debut, The Ocean in My Ears.
From the energy I felt during the pitch to my subsequent conversations with the publisher, I connected with the people at Ooligan immediately. We share similar values and aesthetics. I wanted a press that cared about me as a writer and person. One that focused first on the literary quality of the work and second on the manuscript’s marketability. I wanted to be with people who saw the possibilities in my work, who encouraged me to take risks and were willing to take those risks with me. Ooligan exceeded my expectations.
There aren’t many university presses out there doing what Ooligan does. As a student-run press, the staff is energized, creative and excited to try new things. I was nervous about being a first-time author, and I liked the idea of working with other learners. They offered me a solid contract, and I began an amazing 18-month process that included several rounds of intensive (incredible) developmental edits, choosing a title, designing a cover, and producing a gorgeous finished book.
I loved the experience! Maybe you would, too….
Ooligan Press publishes literary and genre fiction (including young adult). If you think your work might be a good fit, check out their submission guidelines and these pro tips staff provided just for this article:
- Follow the rules. Every publisher is going to have a different way they want queries submitted, but to the best of your ability, follow the guidelines. Breaking from a publisher’s preferred submission method doesn’t help your manuscript get attention, it shows that you’re not willing or unable to follow instructions, which can be a red flag for editing and marketing in the future. Focus on making a stand-out query—we personally get very excited when we see a query with a punchy synopsis, interesting comp titles, and a real connection with our press’s interests.
- Focus the synopsis. Pick one storyline that gets to the heart of the manuscript. Bringing in too many elements can quickly distract from what makes your manuscript special.
- Three critical things. Cover in the synopsis the setup or background of the story, the conflict, and what the conflict inspires in the main character.
- Position your manuscript. Do your research on our backlist—is your manuscript a good fit? Letting us know that your book has a similar tone or theme to another book shows us that you know why you’re submitting to Ooligan. Also, position your manuscript within the market. Give us two titles that, when combined, would give the same feeling as your book. (Stay away from large-name authors or books, though. It’s hard for us to get a sense of the market we’d be looking at if you compare yourself to Harry Potter.)
- #MSWL (our Manuscript Wish List). We are particularly interested in a good YA titles at the moment and some science fiction (particularly near-future or climate change-inspired). But really, we like to see all things that fit our submission guidelines! We love working with authors because they’re incredibly creative and come up with things we wouldn’t have imagined ourselves.
- Choosing Ooligan. Why us? Not only should we have an idea how your book fits Ooligan’s interests, we should also know what about our press appeals to you. Don’t be afraid to mention your connection with Meagan and this article!
Meagan Macvie was born and raised in Soldotna, Alaska. Her debut novel, The Ocean in My Ears, is set in her hometown. The novel was published in 2017 by Portland State University’s Ooligan Press and was a finalist for the 2016 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. In their starred review, Kirkus calls The Ocean in My Ears an “unforgettable journey to adulthood.” Meagan is a former government communications director and college composition instructor who now writes full-time and teaches writing workshops through her local schools and libraries. She earned her MFA in fiction from Pacific Lutheran University and a BA in English Literature from the University of Idaho. Her work has appeared in Narrative, Barrelhouse, and Fugue, as well as the regional library anthology, Timberland Writes Together. In 2017, her short story, “Dinosaur Guys,” was awarded second place in the Willamette Writers Kay Snow Writing Contest. Meagan now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter, as well as a dog, two goats, and seven chickens. Find her online at meaganmacvie.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @meaganmacvie.