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Students discover the editor within, and get the word out

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Does anyone have a piece of paper?" Dennis Stovall asks as he looks around the room.

One student offers a press release she wrote for her assignment, but rescinds the offer when Mr. Stovall says he's going to rip it up. Another student gives him a white scrap. Stovall tears off a piece.

"This is how you tell the grain of the paper," he tells the class, and puts the scrap on his tongue. The paper curls at both ends. "You can see that the grain runs up the trough of the paper. You'll want to do this with your books, because the grain should run with the spine." Sometimes, he says, printers cut corners and run the grain crosswise.

Around the room, future publishers take note. They are part of a new program at Portland State University in which the students actually become publishers at Ooligan Press, a "teaching press." Other graduate-level publishing programs focus on work in large firms, while this one is aimed at small and mid-level publishers.

For 15 years, Stovall ran a small literary press called Blue Heron Publishing, and like most people in the business, he learned as he went. He and his wife started Blue Heron in 1985 on a shoestring budget with the "Writer's Northwest Handbook." When they sold the press, they had 42 titles in print. Now he sees himself as holding the small-press torch aloft.

"With the massive changes in publishing," Stovall says, "there is a tremendous negative pressure on literary culture. And to reinvigorate the center of literary culture, you have to reinvigorate the edges." The small press, he says, serves as a "conscious incubator of talent." Now he hopes to start some new incubators while at the same time giving students ideas about how to make a living in the creative arts.

A career possibility opens up

Branwalather Bond hadn't thought much about making books, least of all for a career. "I just needed a new elective," Mr. Bond says, "and Publishing Demystified fit into my schedule." Now he plans to be a nonfiction acquisitions editor at a small or mid-level publishing house.

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