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.