CANTON — Jim Ritchie is having so much fun with Southern Stories, a company that markets the works of Southern writers and artists, that he dreads the weekends.
“I can’t stand waiting around another two days for Monday to roll around,” Ritchie said, in a phone interview from his office on the square in Canton. “Last Sunday night, I was pacing the floor, thinking about what I wanted to do on Monday. I’m telling you, I’m having the time of my life with this gig.”
About nine years ago, Ritchie, 63, wrote a Lewis Grizzard-esque book, “but better,” he quipped, that he couldn’t get published. After doing a little research, Ritchie decided to publish it himself. “Shocco Tales: Southern Fried Sagas” is now in its second printing and selling well.
“As a result, I got involved with a lot of storytellers and authors and found out that there is more talent in this part of the country than you can imagine,” he said. “It seems that everybody is either writing a book or has written one and doesn’t know what to do with the manuscript. Then there are writers who have aspirations or are frustrated with the process. I mean, everybody has a story. I decided to sit down one day and see what I could to make it easier for writers.”
Six months ago, Ritchie teamed up with Jackie Niven and the two decided to develop a Web site and establish a toll-free number for ordering signed books by Southern writers from Virginia to Texas. Ritchie’s wife, Perry Ritchie, an award-winning professional artist, designed a pen-and-ink drawing of an alligator in a Southern setting that is part of the company’s logo.
About 30 authors have signed on; about 60 products are sold via the company’s toll-free number or its Web site at www.southernstories.com. The service is free of charge to the writers with the understanding that every book sold from the Web site is signed. Most authors agree to personalize books upon request.
“People like having a book signed by the author,” Ritchie said. “Also, a signed book is more valuable. And some folks like having a personalized copy. I decided to make up a fold over Hallmark-type card with our logo on it and when somebody requests a signed book with a personalized message, such as ‘Happy Birthday to Aunt Jane from John and Mary and Best Wishes from Jim Ritchie,’ it’s included on the card. If they want to later sell the book, they’re not limited.”
Ritchie and Niven, the company’s only two employees, lease an 800 service, where orders are e-mailed to Niven, who ships them from his home in Flora.
“We don’t do publishing the ourselves, nor do we act as agents, but we try to hook writers up with people who have been there, done that,” Ritchie said. “Many times, authors believe that once a book is published, all they have to do is sit back and collect royalties. Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of marketing has to be done, especially for first-time authors. Publishers don’t put a lot of marketing muscle behind their books. Authors have to get on the pony and call on bookstores, get them to stock their books. It’s really a hassle.”
Because authors typically get a very small percentage of the retail price, Southern Stories contracts discounts up to 50% on books from publishers and rebates the difference to the authors after deducting minimal operating costs, he said.
“We’re not discounters, like Amazon.com, but we don’t try to be,” Ritchie said.
Phil Hardwick, a featured author and frequent contributor to the Mississippi Business Journal, said writers soon learn that writing a book and having it published means very little if the work doesn’t sell.
“It takes constant promotion to let the public know that the book is available,” Hardwick said. “Southern Stories is a welcome addition for Southern writers, especially those of us who sell books by the hundred instead of by the million. Jim Ritchie has provided a great Web site for people who like to savor the South.”
A “peddler” with IBM during the 1960s and 1970s, Richie quit to form a computer software company. A few months ago, Ritchie sold his share to a partner, retired, and began working on Southern Stories full-time.
“John Grisham would never be a client of ours because he’s not going to sign 100,000 books that would come over the Internet,” Ritchie said. “We hope that by next year, (author) Marty Hegwood ‘graduates’ from Southern Stories. Marty’s a classic case of a guy who persevered. I think he told me his book was rejected 91 times before it was published. If that happens, we wish him Godspeed. That’s our goal, to help writers move to the next level.”
Southern Stories may consider e-publishing and plan to initiate a storytelling festival in Canton.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or (601) 364-1018.