Happy Birthday to Us! Overcup Press Turns Six

By Keely Burkey
Posted in Overcup Press, on May 25, 2016

Break out the bubbly, because it’s our birthday! May 17, 2010 marked the day Overcup became an official press! And what better way to celebrate than to take a look back on where Overcup began with the press’s key players. I asked founder/editor Patrick McDonald, co-founder Rachel Bell, and marketing associate Poppy Milliken some questions about what it takes to keep Overcup ticking.

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Rachel and Pat show off their books at Wordstock 2015 (photo credit Liz Crain)

How did you guys first get into publishing?

PAT: It was an extension of the work I did at Ooligan Press at PSU, which was an extension of being the high school newspaper advisor. One thing led to another...

POPPY: I’ve always been a reader and a writer. Back in high school I was one of the editors for the literary magazine. I loved the combination of teamwork and focused projects that you work on independently. I spent a lot of time looking for something academically that felt like home. When I found the PSU publishing program I realized I’d found my tribe.

RACHEL: The first job I truly loved was as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Union Square in New York City (RIP to this great store). It was the 90s and this bookstore, a stone’s throw from the East Village, was a great place to work. Any given day authors like Frank McCourt might just breeze through—not for an event but because they lived in the neighborhood. After B&N, I went to work at Adweek Magazines in the marketing department where we published three weekly magazines. It was hectic and awesome, and I was hooked on magazines. My career continued after Adweek, focusing primarily on marketing through the years. So, when Pat and I decided to start a book publishing company, it was a great to combine what I loved from my previous loves of bookselling and magazine publishing into this new independent press.

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October 14th, 2015: Officially The Tall Trees of Portland Day!

How and why did you guys first start Overcup Press?

PAT: I wanted to start a small business. I’d been publishing things with students at the graduate level for Ooligan for several years and before that with high school students on the newspaper. I wanted to work in a more professional environment, but didn’t want to start at the bottom and work my way up, so I started a small press where I was already in charge.

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Tall Trees of Portland featured artist Morgaine Faye inspects the finished product (photo credit Matt Wagner)

What do you look for when you’re acquiring a new title?

PAT: One thing we always ask ourselves is “Does this need to be a physical book?” There are so many ways that people read and access content these days that some projects don’t make sense as a book. We also consider the design elements and what we can do to make the book stand out. I think that’s something that we are making a name for ourselves: we make interesting books. Another thing that I’m thinking about is how much these two elements together combine to draw in readers when they pick up the book. I think the “Tall Trees” series by Matt Wagner is good example of that: it’s a simple but original format that readers can figure out quickly, and once you get it, it’s hard to put down. I want to make books that are super-engaging.

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Overcup author Niki Ganong at the 2015 PNBA conference

Overcup has a particular emphasis on the book as a physical object (as opposed to a PDF or e-book). Would you say that this is something particularly suited to Portland?

POPPY: I’d say it is something that is particularly suited to the types of books we publish more than where we publish them. Our titles focus on locales all over the world. I suppose Portland has a high rate of people that seek this type of book out, but I think that could be said of a number of places. Portland is also a very supportive community for people who want to take on these sorts of projects.

What’s it like to own and operate a press entirely with your spouse?

RACHEL: Owning a small business of any kind comes with challenges, but one thing that makes things much easier is we clearly separate our roles and responsibilities at the press. We identified each other’s strengths early on. Pat manages acquisitions, editorial, design, and sales. As Overcup’s only full-time employee, I’m responsible for all of the back office stuff, marketing, PR, author relations, and our intern program. Sometimes we try to have a night out without discussing Overcup, but we ultimately fail at that. Which is fine, because we generate great ideas when we’re in that mindset.

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Poppy and Rachel enjoy the fruits of their labor at The Tall Trees of Portland artist party (photo credit Matt Wagner)

. . .

Well said! However, Overcup’s continued success is also due to the quality of its products. Without Overcup’s all-star authors and designers, none of this would be possible! And how about all of the readers out there? We’re thankful for all the support we’ve received—that support helps us do what we love every day. Here’s to a successful first six years!