Between jobs, classes, homework, and Ooligan Press, graduate students in Portland State University’s Book Publishing program are busy as hell.
But there’s one Oolie who puts even the best of us to shame.
Name: Melanie Figueroa
Origin: Placentia, California
Alma mater: California State University, Long Beach
Bachelor’s degree: English Rhetoric and Composition (and a technical writing certificate)
While the last installment of “Evolution of an Oolie” featured an Ooligan newbie, it’s time to hear from a veteran who’s just completed her degree. In addition to being a straight-A, working student, and one of Ooligan’s Write to Publish project managers, Figueroa completed internships at Dark Discoveries Magazine, Ex Libris Editing, Forest Avenue Press, and Late Night Library. She also manages her own blog, The Poetics Project, which publishes daily.
Figueroa is what this program is about.
Why did you decide to apply for this program?
I knew for a long time I wanted to work in book publishing. Even though my technical writing background gave me a lot of in-depth knowledge on editing and organizing documents, I didn’t have practical trade skills. The idea of being able to work at a press while learning about the industry really intrigued me.
What was your favorite class?
Introduction to Book Publishing. It’s a great perspective on the industry as a whole. It helped me shape my own goals for a career in publishing. You get to create your own mock publishing house, sift through query letters, and see what it really takes to make it.
How did your experience as a project manager for Write to Publish prepare you for a career in publishing?
I made a lot of connections. I held myself more accountable for the work I was doing than any other school assignment I’ve ever done because the conference was a real, live event. Publishing is all about managing your time, managing authors and designers and editors, managing deadlines and multiple projects. It was like a test run for my future.
What was the most rewarding part of that experience?
Before one of the attendees left, she came up to the table that most of the Write to Publish team was sitting at and personally thanked us for a great day. She had left the Pitch Roundtable session with two people requesting that she send along her manuscript. She was ecstatic, and that made it all worth it.
How did internships contribute to your graduate experience?
Working for Late Night Library, specifically, put me in contact with many industry contacts—authors and publicists. You just get to know the landscape, and internships help you put all the skills you learn at the press, and in classes, to use. They also help flesh out a resume. There are so many avenues this degree can take you down—nonprofit work, editorial, marketing, design, technical writing—and internships give you a taste of them all.
What advice would you give incoming students?
Get involved. What you get from this program is entirely based on how much you’re willing to put into it. Design covers even if the Adobe Suite terrifies you. Go to acquisitions meetings and read manuscripts and form an opinion. Don’t be afraid to look foolish, because it’s the only way you can find out what you’re good at.
On a scale of one to ten, how damn sick are you of people asking what your plans are after graduation?
Speaking of which, what are your plans after graduation?
My plan right now is flexible, and I think that’s the way it has to be. I grew up in Southern California, but I have a soft spot for the Bay Area, which is probably one of the largest publishing hubs outside of New York. I’m trying to get my foot in the door, and I think something that Ooligan prepares you well for is the ability to be flexible. You leave the program being somewhat of a “generalist,” even if you excel in certain areas more than others.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years, I hope to be in a management position at a publishing house, in marketing or publicity. Writing, also, is something I think I’ll never fully give up on. I like the idea of being a freelance writer and putting more of my own work out into the world.
Best of luck, Melanie.