Friday, June 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Barrys - Independent Publishing and Strawberry Ice Cream

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

We had a pocket-full of controversy at the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. What an astounding time we live in to be a writer. Oh the drama! The chances! The changes!

Barry Eisler, whom I adore, gave a rousing speech on the choices we have in this day and age. Can’t find a way into the traditional publishing machine? Independent publishing is now a very real, very viable way to get your stories out into the world. He likened the choices we have to ice cream. In the past, it was chocolate or vanilla, baby. Big press or small press. Today? Strawberry-cheesecake shuffle. Indie pub your way to success! Or diabetes.

Barry Goldblatt, whom I adore, talked about the shadow side of Barry Eisler’s talk, something that I’ve not heard before. His argument came down to this: How much should we pay for a story? Are stories just product, or are they something more?
Goldblatt pointed out that for most of history, authors didn’t make a living off their fiction. They had the day job and wrote around it. Does Amazon and the ebook revolution help with this? At first, it might appear that it does.  However, we now have free books and 99 cent books. Is that how much stories are worth? I’ll work three years of my life, sweating and bleeding, and then end up selling the product for 99 cents because the price point has been pushed down so far.
What are books worth? I’ve read some books where I wished the author had paid me, dammit. I could name some YA angel books I’ve read, but I won’t go there. And I’ve read some books that are priceless.  Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells is one of those books. I’m sipping from her Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood like it’s a fine wine. I never want that book to end.  It’s priceless, but I paid nine bucks for the ebook.
Goldblatt echoed the Donald Maas argument, that traditional publishing pushes authors and the industry to a level of quality that Indie pubbing sometimes lacks. However, that is not necessarily the case. I write for small presses, which is just Indie pubbing with a tad more support, and every book I put out into the world has to be quality because I’m building my name. And since I’m not with a big house, and since some people LOVE to find fault, I have to make damn sure I’m putting out quality books. This takes time, sweat, and blood.  Unmedicated OCD can help with that, as well.
Will I hit it big, quit my job, and buy my own jet? Who can say? Indie pubbing, traditional pubbing, both are still in many ways a lottery. I could argue Stephen King, E.L. James, and Christopher Paolini all got lucky in way or another.
But again, what are books worth? Not much, really. I now have used copies of my books on Amazon and in used book stores. I peruse the racks of the Goodwill, books, good books, worth less than a dollar. It all fades. Writing novels is just another form of Navajo sand painting. Most likely, the winds of time will wipe away my words, no matter who publishes me.
The reality is this: I will write books. My books will find a way into the world. I wrote for twenty years alone in my basement, and I can’t do that anymore. For my brief moment in this world, I will publish my books. If the industry chooses not to help me, I’ll do it myself.
I have to say this, and I’ll yell it. I AM SO GLAD I DIDN’T PUBLISH MY EARLY WORK! I wrote a half-dozen novels that, while I love, aren’t ready for prime time. However, the books I’m writing now are.
My job as a writer is not to chase after the traditional publishing industry in hopes someone, somewhere, will throw me a bone. No, my job is to write fantastic books and get them into the hands of readers by any means necessary. 
We can’t go back to the way things were before Amazon. Does this mean the death of books? Hardly. Does this mean that voices that have been silenced in the past can be heard, however meager the audience might be? Definitely.
Suzanne Wells had her first novel, Little Altars Everywhere, published by a small press. Many people in the traditional publishing industry passed on it because it didn’t play by the rules. But her work found an audience and Wells’ career exploded with the help of a book group in Texas, or so I’ve heard. Readers decided. Let the readers decide my career, if I’m to have one.
What are my books worth? What is my life worth? It’s the same question. I’ll live, I’ll write, I’ll die. To most, my life will be worth 99 cents or nothing. To me and those around me, my children, my friends, my fans, I’m so very Mastercard. Priceless, baby. How lucky I am to live in a time where I can give my priceless gift to the world.

About the Writer: YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer. When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs. His first novel, The Never Prayer, hit the streets on March 29, 2012. Most recently, his work appears in the steampunk anthology The Penny Dread Tales Volume III and in an upcoming issue of Electric Spec.


  1. You got it right, Aaron! Well said. Follow your passion...that's where true happiness and internal success lie. Anything else that may come in whatever form it's going to come is icing :)

  2. Thanks DG! It's funny, the nay-sayers aren't showing up to nay-say. Could it be the people who have the biggest problem with Independent Publishers are the Traditional Publishing industry and everyone else just sees this as reality? I have lots of people on Facebook applauding this post. Not so many arguing. *sigh*. There went my big chance to be controversial.

  3. I don't know jack crap about much, but my experience with self-pubbing has taught me that in order to make sales (at least initially), you *have* to lower your price or no one will take a chance on you. *Most* readers won't shell out $2.99 for a debut author. I had to make the first book in my urban fantasy trilogy free in order to get sales for the other two books. When I bumped the price of the 1st book back to $3.99, sales for all three STOPPED. So, back to free it went, and it will stay there until I make it big. :-)

    Does this mean my first book is worth nothing? *I* don't think so. It has over 200 Amazon reviews with a 4.4 average rating, so it seems at least a few people like it. But economics and previous experience suggest if I want to continue selling my other books, the first one must remain free in order to attract new readers. It's not my preference, but I can't do anything about it. Facts are facts. When the first book is free, my other books sell. Period.

    I do believe that once an author "breaks out," she can up her prices (within reason) because she's earned readers' trust. Her track record proves that her words are good ones.

    It's all a delicate balancing act. The market can change in the blink of an eye. But one strategy remains pretty solid in my mind: the more books you publish, the more books you sell.

  4. What's so funny is readers don't even care who published your book so long as they're getting a good product. Only writers and publishes care. But, ultimately, who the heck are the books for? Readers! I'm with a small press currently and am actually glad I went this route because I simply don't have the money for self-publishing. So I need that safety net that can do it all for me while I simply social media my butt off and maybe pay for some marketing (which I thankfully have money for).

  5. The problem with pricing is that there are always going to be pockets of the market you miss because you price your book too high or too low. I'm wary of the 99-cent novel unless it's praised to high heaven all over the internet. I tend to stick to ebooks in my "sweet spot," which is between $2.99 and $5.99.

    But, I say this because I'm also a writer. I *want* good indie writers to be paid their worth. I even want the not-so-good indie writer to know that his or her effort was acknowledged with more than a buck. Sheesh! I give more to panhandlers on the university Drag. :)

    Ultimately, I think that indie authors should do whatever they need to do to gain visibility, and that's really the name of the game, isn't it? With so many writers entering the market, it all boils down to s/he who strikes a cord with his/her audience.

  6. I have no doubt you will mix it all together in an epic banana split, Aaron! Every writer's words are worth gold--and that gold comes in moments when even a handful of reviewers get it.

    I don't believe agents/editors are necessarily the gatekeepers they used to be anymore. Readers are. The line to becoming published has been cut--readers are the most important people to writers right now with this push-of-a-button era.

    However, a fantastic editor and a supportive team can take you places just as much as a viral self-pub story can. Everything in all of *this* is a learning curve.

    That doesn't mean to me you should just pub whatever. As you said, you and your words are being judged no matter how you've decided to put your work out there. I think every writer needs to decide their own road, and put their best foot forward.

    I like amberskyeforbes comment regarding publishing houses. I totally get Kendall's remark about marketing--we're not just 'artists' we're also business-minded folks. And it is a brave new world now, with banana splits and all the toppings.

  7. Oh, Aaron, beautifully written as always. I love reading anything you write, from YA angels stories to informative blog posts. Your advice is awesome and your personality as gorgeous as your writing!

  8. Great post, Aaron, and great comments. As already stated, there are always those who want to pick things apart. And before we had indie books to pick apart...we had trad books to pick apart. Go figger. We do what we gotta do! Write on!

  9. You know we can and have stayed up all hours to talk about this Aaron. Coming from a small publisher's perspective I would share this: do what feels right because now, in this environment, you can. Self pubbing is great if you've got the support network (please oh please get a professional editor and cover designer, not your mom and photoshop). Some folks choose a small press because they like to have someone to run down the checklist and make sure everybody's edited, formatted, sent in to the reviewers, book signings arranged, pimped and put in giveaways while the author goes back to life as usual or back to writing. Because as much as publishing now is easy, getting noticed is a million times harder. Even if it's a tiny press, having that on the spine versus being known as a self pub can get you into some stores and onto a reviewer's desk where you wouldn't otherwise be welcomed. Then again, self pub doesn't have to share the cash. It's all what you want. Pretty much publishing a la carte these days. Pick your flavor indeed.