Lang Hall

University of Northern Iowa students recently gained rich experience in the publishing field thanks to two professors in the Languages & Literatures Department. 

During the Spring 2022 semester, students in Jim O’Loughlin’s craft of fiction class collaborated with students in Adrienne Lamberti’s course in professional writing, which Lamberti defines as “any kind of communication that helps to get a job done.” O’Loughlin tasked his students with writing four episodes of a story in serial fiction format on a new platform called Kindle Vella. The format involves publishing a single larger work, one small portion at a time.

“I like trying to do a public-facing project,” said O’Loughlin, who is also the head of the Languages & LIteratures Department. “It shows people who want to be writers part of the work that's involved with that, particularly some of the effort at the end — taking something that's good and making it great and making sure your work’s really professionally formatted.”

O’Loughlin was intentional in requiring his students to write four episodes for their serial fiction because the first three episodes on Kindle Vella are free for everyone to read. Starting with the fourth episode, readers must purchase tokens to unlock the content, giving the student authors the ability to make a small amount of money from their original stories.

Believing that the platform is a great way for writers to put out their work, O’Loughlin prefers this method since it allows students to maintain more control over their stories than if they were working with a publishing company.

While the craft of fiction students spun their original narratives, Lamberti's students created promotional campaigns for the creative writers' works. They also designed the authors' badges that are displayed on Kindle Vella and helped with light editing throughout the stories. Some students were enrolled in both classes, offering an opportunity to experience publishing from several angles.

The two classes operated on different schedules, but O’Loughlin believes this was a good way to introduce students to the real world of publishing.

“With the novel I just published [“The Cord”], I had one phone call with the publisher, and then all our discussions were over email,” he said.

Every team of professional writing students had its own ideas about how to promote the student authors and drive traffic to the serial fiction projects. Two professional writing students, Maddy Fisher and Jaye Haines, took a unique approach. Rather than creating one promotional Instagram page for each of their authors, they created one account that would promote all of the authors they’d been assigned. They called the venture (and the Instagram account) Spinning Stories Press. Some of their posts included author Q&As, while other posts educated the audience on how to use the Kindle Vella platform.

Since both students are interested in publishing for their long-term goals, their class project was a perfect fit.

“I’m a book addict, so I want to see other people become book addicts,” said Haines.

Haines and Fisher are thinking about continuing Spinning Stories Press if Kindle Vella takes off.

“The idea was that they would have something that lasted after the semester ended,” said Lamberti. 

The Languages & Literatures Department already oversees publications such as the North American Review — the oldest literary magazine in the country —  and the student-run Inner Weather magazine. Joining these publishing initiatives is Purple Paw Press, a literary press recently created by the department to showcase work by faculty and students.

“It keeps the publication activity in-house, instead of having students create projects in classes or in student organizations like the English Club, and then sending those pieces outside of the department to be published,” Lamberti explained. “It allows students to experience not only the writing side and the editing side, but also the publication side. It's all-in-one.”

Lamberti said that discussions about a press have occurred for a couple of years, but the earnest work began in the fall of 2021. For its inaugural title, Purple Paw Press will be publishing a collection of entries from a recent statewide high school writing competition. Entries ranged from poetry to exposition in English and French, and winners of the contest will receive scholarships if they choose to come to UNI.

“We were hoping not only to use Purple Paw Press for our current UNI students but also to show prospective students what we have to offer as a department,” Lamberti said.

Lamberti’s students contributed to the press’s logo design and the collection's cover design, using visual communication strategies they had learned in class. They got to see how a literary work goes through every stage of the publishing process while staying within budget.

Purple Paw Press’ “2021-2022 Iowa High School Writing Competition” will be published at the end of June. Winners of the competition will receive their own copies, and copies will be shown to prospective students during their visits to the department. Efforts are underway to make copies available via purchase on demand from Amazon.