THE ORIGIN OF OAK PAW PUBLISHING
*Make goals. Keep the path fluid, because life will surprise you with challenges and opportunities. That was the mindset that helped birth Oak Paw Publishing.
Founder Liz “Stormy” Stein is a nontraditional student at Illinois Wesleyan University. They took a decade off from attempts at higher education, but upon returning to school planned to be an English teacher, hoping to spend a few years teaching English as a second language in Japan while writing on the side. With a single round of field placement in Bloomington, Illinois, she decided that being an advocate for neurodiverse and otherwise marginalized students was something that she cared deeply about, so moving to Japan was abandoned. A year later, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia. She already had a handful of neurodiverse diagnoses that she was managing fairly well, but finding out the physical issues would be progressive was a lot to process. Brokenhearted, they realized that they would never be able to provide the full presence and energy in a classroom that they wanted. It was time to pivot.
During the semester of medical leave when she underwent multiple surgeries, Stormy saw an email from Wesleyan’s Petrick Idea Center, introducing the “Titan New Venture Challenge”, a program where students could pitch business ideas to a panel for the chance to win money towards starting said business. She brainstormed, and realized this was the perfect opportunity to start a company that would allow her to work from home or anywhere in the world, had technology already to help accommodate issues like the arthritis in her hands, and most importantly; she could help teachers and students with a love of reading.
The name “Oak Paw Publishing” is a nod to her beloved late grandmother “Nonnie”, who loved trees (especially oaks) and Stormy’s retired service dog Grace (the paw).
When the Titan New Venture Challenge rolled around, Stormy didn’t win, but was not terribly surprised. They realized that while the idea had potential, they were woefully underprepared. They were encouraged to apply again in the spring semester for a similar funding event.
Stormy thought long and hard about what she wanted the important things, the things that would set Oak Paw Publishing apart, would be. She wanted to offer titles in print, digital, and audiobook format as often as possible. She wanted to see about dyslexic-friendly fonts being utilized to make reading more friendly to people who had struggled all through school, like her younger brother. She wanted to platform authors and poets of every marginalized community, but especially the neurodivergent community, as many folks there struggle to work within the rigorous structure of traditional publishing.
When the next funding event came around, they were ready. They had a stronger pitch, and it matched the message of “Do Well, Do Good” that had been set by Illinois Wesleyan University. Stormy was amazed to win $500 of seed money. It was used to pay for a year of the business website, ISBN’s and barcodes.
Stormy launched multiple anthologies and opened general submissions, then began to look for others to help build this company. They had to be willing to learn, open minded and open hearted.
Another round of funding competition arrived, and Stormy won $1,000 from the Titan New Venture Challenge. She brought on a poetry editor, an erotica editor, and a marketing editor. Contracts with a graphic designer, a cover artist, and a poet were put into place.
And that’s where we are now. The origin story will continue to grow with a strong foundation to work from.