Adirondack Kids Father/Son Authors Story

So here is part one of my email/blog interview with children’s book self-publisher Gary VanRiper.

Question: Did you try to have the first Adirondack Kids book published by a traditional publisher?

Gary’s reply: We did approach a regional publisher who expressed interest in our story, but who explained the company was already some two years out on other contracts and so would not even be in a position to consider our manuscript for several years. I must say, the publisher was incredibly helpful to us as we pursued publishing our book ourselves and did become our main distributor. Our nine titles are among the some 300 in their catalogue, and have been consistently among their top ten best sellers. (See Publishers Weekly February 2, 2004, page 25)

Question: What was your writing background prior to Adirondack Kids? Had you done much writing either for kids or adults? published or unpublished?

Gary’s reply: I have been writing The Adirondack Kids® series with my son, Justin, since he was in the third grade. We have released one book a year for nine years. He is a sophomore in college now. For most of my adult life, I had been writing and taking photographs – but always for the non-fiction market. I also co-owned a community newspaper for seven years and wrote feature stories, a weekly editorial and a column on birds – even winning Press Club awards. But until I began working with Justin, I did not know if I could write fiction. What I discovered was that the years devoted to non-fiction, and particularly journalism, helped keep the stories moving forward and with authenticity and with a bare minimum of excess baggage. It wasn’t until after this happy discovery that I came across a quote from my all-time favorite writer, Annie Dillard, who years earlier had emphasized, in the words of her interviewer, “the necessity of journalism skills for creative writing majors.” “Journalism teaches you to think of the reader,” Dillard said. “The trouble with people who major in creative writing is they often think the point of writing is to impress people, instead of to appeal to people. For (creative writing majors) the ideal courses to take are journalism and literature.” (from Lunch with Annie Dillard, By Malcolm Lawrence, April 30, 1982) I read this, and cheered.

Question: Were you a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)?

Gary’s reply: No. I did not join the SCBWI until very recently, mainly because of the way I perceived those who self-publish tended to be classified. Even now, with more than 100,000 books in print and having spoken at conferences and libraries and at countless public and private schools, we do not yet qualify for the level of membership at the national level which allows us to sell our books at SCBWI events or to be listed in their speaker’s bureau. Why I am glad we finally joined is because of the connection and interaction we have enjoyed with SCBWI members at a local chapter level and with members on-line. And we have less of an inferiority complex now, having been validated by multiple thousands of those people who matter to writers the most – a large and ever growing number of loyal and enthusiastic readers!

My response to Gary: You are quite right about SCBWI. I still remember sitting in a small group of local writers as we discussed ideas for a regional SCBWI conference. I suggested that people would be interested in hearing about self-publishing (this was before I was one of THEM). The one writer said, “Isn’t that a little like pretending to give people financial advice and then telling them to play the lotto, because after all, some people hit it big!” That was pretty much a conversation stopper. ha ha…. It’s funny to me now or it would be funny except that SCBWI seems to be even more against self-publishing at a time when I’ve heard editors (even at SCBWI conferences) say that self-publishing is worth considering.

But you are right that SCBWI has many excellent writers/speakers who provide inspiration and guidance. I had the pleasure of hearing Paula Danziger speaking at the first SCBWI event I attended… no wonder I got hooked. In recent times, my favorite speaker is Laurie Halse Anderson, followed very closely by Linda Sue Park.

Question: Has the ratio of who did most of the writing changed from your early books when Justin was fairly young till now?

Gary’s reply: Our system has remained essentially unchanged throughout the decade. One book a year. During the summer through early fall we talk about potential subject matter and do any necessary ‘live’ research. This includes visiting a locale and taking lots of photographs (some to be used as references for our illustrators), conducting interviews and taking notes. All along the way we are brainstorming an outline. Specific action and potential dialogue between characters begins to emerge all of which is used during the winter months to actually write the book. The outlines are usually detailed and strong. I hammer out the draft while Justin hammers on me. The book is published in late winter and released sometime in the spring. And then the process starts all over again.

During the early years we could often sit down side by side and always proof read the day’s work during our daily reading time. He is in college now, and so interaction is much more limited, especially during the winter – although the Mac computer’s built in webcam and iChat features have been helpful. Because sales were brisk, there was pressure early on from some retailers to produce more material more quickly – but my desire was to spend time with Justin and keep it fun while together we learned how to write fiction. In fact, we entitled one of our talks as, The Three R’s – Reading, (w)Riting and Relationships.

Adirondack Kids' Authors and Interior IllustratorHere’s a photo of the father/son Adirondack Kids Authors, Gary and Justin VanRiper with wife/mom Carol VanRiper who juggles interior illustration (since book 4), speaking engagement coordination, internet sales, and more.

Gary also commented on my blog observation that Adirondack Kids Press appeared to not participate in the Amazon Advantage program, saying:

We did try Amazon Advantage when we first began publishing and soon discovered for us it was just that - an advantage to amazon. We did sell some books on the site - but amazon would request copies from us piecemeal - pretty much only as they received a request. So - we stocked the books and then paid premium postage to get them out to amazon quickly in onesies and twosies and threesies. There was absolutely no advantage for us to continue with amazon - it was much too cumbersome and expensive. So we stopped.

But there has since come a new problem, and we are only now beginning to explore what option(s) we may have to deal with it. Some unscrupulous book dealers have in the past listed our books for sale through amazon for over one hundred dollars per copy. (I think the most expensive one listed right now is around 80 dollars). And in the past we have seen notes claiming our books were rare and out of print. A parent from out-of-state called just this past week after being on amazon and was wondering if a particular title was still in print and if “yes”, was it available at a reasonable price! We have no idea being listed on amazon this way how many people have been discouraged and been led to a dead end regarding our work.
So - for the record – ALL of our 9 titles are in print - (and have been without any interruption) – and ALL are available at the regular cover price. ALL we can say about amazon advantage for now is - buyer beware.

Note to readers, anyone interested in purchasing or receiving information about speaking engagements, the website is:

Okay…. for those of you interested in learning more, check back in another few days.


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