by Lorie Lewis Ham
Oak Tree Press just recently relocated to the San Joaquin Valley so it seemed like a perfect time to learn a little more about them. We here at KRL have reviewed many of the mystery novels Oak Tree has published, but they publish a great variety of other types of books as well. So check out our interview with founder Billie Johnson, and watch for more Oak Tree mystery book reviews & giveaways coming up soon!
KRL: How and when did Oak Tree come to be?
Billie: Oak Tree was founded in February 1998. I had been writing for about ten years, and was always interested in the business side of things, since that was my background. Then I started trying to find a publisher for one of my own projects. That experience made me think the book world surely needed another publisher!
KRL: Are you the original owner?
Billie: Yes, I am the sole-owner. There has never been a partner, investor or other entity involved….always a stand-alone.
KRL: How has it changed over the years?
Billie: In the beginning, we focused much more on new, first-time-out authors than we do now. But we found that the combination of creating a name for the author simultaneous with creating a name for the house was a very heavy lift. While we still are very open to the newbies, we also look for experienced authors, and authors who wish to bring a body of work with them.
KRL: What different types of books do you publish?
Billie: We publish more mysteries than anything else, although we also do romances, westerns, some paranormals, children’s and non-fiction.
KRL: What are your different imprints?
Billie: We have Dark Oak Mysteries and CopTales for our crime fiction; Timeless Love for romances, Wild Oaks for westerns, Mystic Oaks for paranormals of all genres, Acorn for Kids. We also have a line of self-help/how to books we call Small Books…because they are short, under 100 pages. Our non-fiction and other books that don’t fit elsewhere, we publish as Oak Tree Books.
KRL: How many books do you publish a year?
Billie: Each year we try to publish more titles than the preceding year. Last year, we did 42 titles, and 2013 should finish up with about 55.
KRL: How does one submit to Oak Tree?
Billie: The best way is to email your query letter to QUERIES@oaktreebooks[dot]com
Queries can also be mailed to 1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220, Hanford, CA 93230.
Our guidelines are on our website at www.oaktreebooks.com/guidelines
KRL: Tell us about your contests?
Billie: When we held our first contest, OTP was about the only house offering a publication deal as the top prize. Our first contest was the Dark Oak Mystery contest, and this remains a staple. The response is always great, and we have often gotten so many good ones that we had to declare a tie for the grand prize. Also, several times we have worked with an author whose novel was a finalist, but not quite a top entry. After a bit of tweaking, we could publish that one, too.
The Timeless Love contest considered all stories of romance ‘from sweet to supernatural.’ We no longer hold this contest each year, opting instead to showcase other genres from time to time.
For the more edgy crime fiction and true crime, we hold the CopTales contest, and this year’s competition narrowed the genre to the ‘Police Blotter’ thereby focusing on stories of law enforcement officers.
In 2012, we held a memoir contest, and declared a tie for top prize there. These compelling stories will be released in spring 2014.
Contests are a great way to attract attention to a specific group or genre of titles, and I expect we will continue hosting them.
KRL: Who are some of your authors that our readers might recognize? (Mostly mystery)
Billie: We have authors from coast to coast, in practically all the states. We also have a Canadian author and several who spend at least part of their year in Mexico. We do have quite a few authors here in the San Joaquin Valley…Sunny Frazier (Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries) and F.M. (Marilyn) Meredith (Rock Bluff PD series and other titles), Cora Ramos (Dance the Dream Awake), C. L. (Chris) Sweeny (Gray Ghost), Shirley Hickman (Sarah, Darlin’ and our first Young Adult title, Fall in Love with an Orange Tree or a Book, which takes on some immigrations issues facing SJV residents). In the Sacramento area we have Nan Mahon (Blind Buddy and Mojo’s Blues Band) and William Doonan (American Caliphate).
We have a forthcoming novel with John Daniel, who is from McKinleyville (Hooperman…a bookstore mystery) and we have a number of authors in the Bay Area and in Southern California….but for space’s sake, I won’t keep naming them!
KRL: Would you say you publish more mysteries than anything? And if so, was it that way from the beginning? And how and why is that the case?
Billie: Yes, we definitely publish more mysteries than anything, and it has always been that way. The biggest reason is because these are the stories I like to read, and especially in the early years, I ended up reading them all, usually several times before we got to press. Also I think the market is more receptive to mysteries from indie houses, indie authors. There are many bookstores that specialize in mystery books, and many conferences and contests and publications that focus on mystery and crime fiction…this genre seems to have a more fully developed support system. And I never tire of these stories which, IMO, are about justice and righting wrongs…and I suspect there are a lot of readers who agree!
KRL: What is the process from beginning to end of a book being published by Oak Tree?
Billie: Once we are interested in a title, we ask the author to complete a Marketing Questionnaire to get a feel for how he sees himself in the book promotion process, as well as how he sees his book being marketed. Assuming we are in synch on this area, we sign an agreement with the author. Most books are released within nine months of the contract signing, though some are coming along much sooner now. A few go longer than a year, but again, we strive to set a timetable that works for the author as well as OTP, and is the most advantageous release date possible.
Then, while we are developing the cover design and getting the text into book layout format, we expect that the author does many preliminary things to strengthen his name recognition and fan base. About half way through this period, we start sending out the text for early reader reviews to use in further promotion, and getting the meta into the various databases so the wholesalers and retail buyers can see the information.
When all the ‘parts’ are ready, we go to press…and voila! Another title is born!
KRL: What are some of the things you look for in your books and authors?
Billie: Beyond the obvious of wishing for a very good book that will be popular with readers, we look for an author who will become a congenial part of our OTP family…someone who is eager to interact with the others, to share info and advice and tips. We like people who are easy and fun to work with, and try to avoid those we suspect of having ‘prima dona’ tendencies. And we look for people who are willing and eager to help us promote their books, and generally this involves a certain level of computer and internet savvy…or at least a willingness to learn.
For books, we like stories that inform us, especially on topics we might know little about. For example, last spring we released Mariachi Murder, an interesting love triangle gone wrong, but the backdrop world of a mariachi club and its performers added a fresh and engaging dimension. We have an author who is a rabbi and her novel, Unleavened Dead, reveals many things about Judaism’s practices while still keeping the mystery in the front and without getting preachy.
Our children’s books have an educational edge. We have five titles with Beryl Reichenberg (who is from San Luis Obispo, by the way) and all have a good message for children presented in a fun way. Jetta’s Journey (whose author, Denise Solters, lives in Cayucos) informs us about the training and life of a service dog and how important that is to people who have special needs. Carol Alexander’s The Big Squeal takes place in the same area where Abraham Lincoln lived and lawyered as a young man, and so informs present-day kids with fun and unique things about the sixteenth president.
KRL: I understand you recently moved to Lemoore–how and why did that come about? Where were you based originally?
Bille: I grew up in Central Illinois, and lived in the Los Angeles area for almost 30 years, during which time I started Oak Tree Press. I loved LA and California, but in late 2002, I moved back to my hometown due to family issues. I was never really content there. The family stuff eventually resolved itself, but the idea of a cross country moved was daunting and years passed…OTP keeps me pretty busy, so time certainly does fly away. Then in March of 2013, I learned that my landlord was selling my building and I would need to move. While lamenting this upset to a friend who lives in Lemoore, she surprised me with the offer to be a roommate. Needless to say, I began packing that day!
KRL: What are your future goals for the company?
Billie: We are always on the lookout for ways to grow the company. E-books are now a big force. We are also looking at adding a new line or two to our existing imprints to go into other markets.
Promotion is always a big thrust, and we plan to use this advantageous central location to its fullest, targeting things where OTP can participate and showcase our titles. Presently, we are finishing up the planning for WORDFEST in Portland. This is the premier west coast books expo and when it opens the first weekend of October, we will be there in booth 1001! Stop on by!
Two weeks after Portland, we will be at the Visalia Taste of the Arts Festival. We are also participating with the Kings/Tulare writers to revitalize that group. Among our plans, there is the co-sponsorship of a writers’ conference in the spring of 2014.
OTP’s promotions manager, Jeana Thompson and I have been discussing the possibilities of a ‘blog talk radio’ program, and we also hope to expand our advertising reach. Name recognition is the first and more difficult barrier for authors and titles, so it warrants the best and strongest attention.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Billie: Yes, I would like to thank Kings River Life for the support they give our authors and titles, and all other writers too. It is a wonderful boost to be included in a publication that showcases the arts…and KRL does a great job!
Check out our reviews of Oak Tree authors, and many other mystery reviews & articles in our mystery section! We have several more Oak Tree authors coming up soon!