RoadRunner Press Opens in Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s literary legacy goes way back. Think: Will Rogers’ wry social commentary or John Joseph Mathews’ sagas about life on the Osage Nation.
More recent times have given Oklahoma readers: S.E. Hinton’s young adult classic The Outsiders or Michael Wallis’s rich historical narratives about Route 66, Pretty Boy Floyd or his latest on the American folk hero David Crockett.
More times than not, however, these Oklahoma authors have had to head east to have their books published. But a new, small publishing house in Oklahoma City hopes to change all that.
We sit down with Jeanne Devlin, editor of The RoadRunner Press of Oklahoma City, to learn what an intrepid group of book-lovers is up to in our fair state.
TK: What is The RoadRunner Press?
DEVLIN: The RoadRunner Press was founded in late 2010, and it is a small, traditional indie publishing house based in Oklahoma City that specializes in young adult fiction, as well as select regional and national titles in general fiction and nonfiction.
When I say a traditional house, I mean that just like Random House or Simon & Schuster — or any of the big six in New York — we pay authors advances, we handle publicity and marketing for both the authors and their books, and we work to build our authors over time into household names, so we can sell not only their newest books but their back list for years to come.
Our Fall 2011 list includes two young adult novels, a nonfiction book, and a 2012 David Fitzgerald Oklahoma Wall Calendar. We did the latter because bookstores asked for an Oklahoma calendar, and we are committed to doing projects about the people and places and history of Oklahoma and this region.
TK: How did you get involved with The RoadRunner Press?
DEVLIN: The founders of the company were looking for someone to head up the business who had both editorial and book industry experience, and one of them knew of my work and contacted me. For me, it’s a dream job: working with authors (many from Oklahoma), working on both a regional as well as a national scale, and having the chance to bring the voices of this region to the world—too often publishers look only to the coasts. It’s been hard work, but it’s also been such fun and so satisfying, especially since for many of our authors this is their first book to be published.
TK: Every day we read headlines in the newspaper about Borders closing or the death of publishing because of eBooks. Why would anyone want to get into the business now?
DEVLIN: The same variables that upset some — the rise of eBooks, the growth of Amazon, the closing of Borders, the advent of social media — we see as positives for a small press like ours. Our books would get lost in most chains. We need the wonderful hand selling that is done by indie bookstores such as Steve’s Sundry in Tulsa or Full Circle Books in Oklahoma City or Brace Books in Ponca City. That said, we also do business with Hastings and Barnes & Noble, among others. Amazon allows us to be available nationally, without over-extending where we can’t reasonably support the books just yet. Social media allows us to inexpensively grow the tribes of fans for each author. And eBooks provides an inexpensive way for us to introduce new authors to many more readers than would otherwise have bought their first books.
Ironically, I have been predicting newspapers would go digital since back in the 1980s as an adjunct professor at Oklahoma State. It would have been silly to think it would never happen to books.
In both cases, it did not have to be a death knell for newspapers or books—had newspapers dived into the digital world 30 years ago they would rule the Internet right now and the rest of us would be spared so many sites with unvetted information. The same holds true for books. We will always have printed books—but there’s a place for eBooks, too, and that demand is still in growth mode and will be for some time to come.
TK: How many books do you publish a year?
DEVLIN: We’re doing the four projects for 2011, including young adult novels by Barbara Hay of Ponca City (Lesson of the White Eagle) and M. Scott Carter of Oklahoma City (Stealing Kevin’s Heart), and we have about 10 books on the schedule for 2012, along with a couple of calendars and bringing both of our current YA novels out in trade paperback.
TK: What kinds of books do you do, and why?
DEVLIN: We focus on young adult fiction, mainly because we remember how we were formed by the books we read as teens. Our goal is to publish page-turning young adult fiction that will help young people on their journey through life. That said, we are also publishing nonfiction titles where we see a need. This month, we’re bringing out Letters to a New School Teacher — Advice from America’s Best Educators. We did this book because we treasure the teachers we had as children and we believe public school teachers, and teachers in general, have become the scapegoats for the state of America’s schools. We contacted the Teacher of the Year in each of the 50 states, so they could share their single best piece of advice in book form.
TK: Could you tell us a little about the two young adult novels that are out now?
DEVLIN: Barbara Hay’s Lesson of the White Eagle was written for reluctant boy readers. A boy witnesses a childhood friend commit a crime against a Native American—and he’s driving the getaway car. As he grapples with whether to come clean with his parents and the police, a mystical white eagle takes him back in time to witness the horrors the Ponca tribe faced on its forced removal to Oklahoma. The book introduces Chief Standing Bear, one of America’s first civil rights activists and someone whom Ms. Hay believes has been sorely overlooked by history. The book was written as boy fiction, but thanks to a very feisty girl character, girls will enjoy it, too.
M. Scott Carter’s Stealing Kevin’s Heart is a completely different book. It is a contemporary tale, with a twist on the boy-meets-girl scenario. SLJTeen said it “deserves five stars.” And the 4-star OU Daily review said the suspense became so great, the reviewer had to turn to the end to find out what happened before she could finish the book. The story introduces Alex Anderson and Kevin Rubenstein, the most unlikely of best friends, but that’s just what the handsome football player and the Jewish brainiac have been since childhood. When Kevin dies in a motorcycle crash, Alex’s grieving upends his life, and he is sent away to a camp for troubled youths. There he finds his way back—thanks to a group of misfits, a girl with a secret, and the most unselfish gift a person could give another.
TK: Where can our readers find the books?
DEVLIN: Steve’s Sundry in Tulsa is the oldest independent bookstore in Oklahoma and one of the best. Your readers can find them there or at Barnes & Noble. They can also keep up with the latest news about these authors or The RoadRunner Press by friending our Facebook page or at www.TheRoadRunnerPress.com. Both authors also have websites, where they often feature free reads or chapter excerpts: www.BarbaraHay.com and www.MScottCarter.com.