If you ask Ardre Orie her profession, she’ll tell you that it’s unequivocally to tell stories.
While on what she called “the Tyler Perry workout plan,” she initially started her business as a media production company so that she could house her plays that she wanted to eventually turn into movies. But as she worked on her own stories, the phone started to ring.
“I started getting calls asking if I could write books for other people,” Ardre says. “The first client was from VH1. So then, I started getting other calls — VH1, MTV, BET, Centric, WE tv, all of that. And the problem was that people needed a way to publish their work … So that got me thinking: Well, here’s the problem, and I know that I have a solution.”
She created a publishing company, 13th & Joan, publishing her own work through it for two years before it evolved and published other people’s stories. Ardre says her company is needed for one major reason: The publishing industry currently has no black-owned major publishing houses. She hopes she and her team can help fill that void.
“What makes us different, without a shadow of a doubt, is that anybody can learn to carry out the publishing process,” Ardre says. “But everybody does not have the ability to craft a story that is worthy of industry standard approval. And so, because I’ve been writing for over 30 years, I know how to make a good story, I know how to make a writer out of a person that’s not a writer.”
And although Ardre had a love for storytelling when she started 13th & Joan, what she didn’t have at the time was a guide on how to start her business.
“I think that there is no blueprint,” Ardre says. “There is nothing that’s been handed down that says that this is how this is done. And so, you find yourself kind of establishing a lot of procedures. … I wouldn’t call it a failure, but you find yourself amidst a lot of developmental opportunities.”
Ardre used profits from a previous business, a cosmetics company, to fund her publishing company. Then, every dime she made for seven or eight years, she says, went back into the business.
“We didn’t have startup funding, we didn’t have seed funding, none of that,” Ardre says. “So one huge thing was not paying myself for years. … And that was a sacrifice that I was willing to make because I believed in what I was doing so much that every dollar was reinvested and reinvested. I did not take a dime.”
Recently, Ardre has been working to further impact how stories from our community can get out into the world. Black men, especially her husband and son, were the inspiration for her newest initiative, 100 Seeds of Promise.
“You know, I looked at my husband look at my son. Neither of them has books, and I’m the book lady … If these stories (of black men) don’t get documented, what is that going to mean for the men that come after you? What’s going to happen to those stories? So that concerned me.”
Ardre’s company is now accepting 100 men — 25 per quarter — into the publishing program that will help them write, publish, and market their books.
‘We’re looking for a variety of stories, we’re looking to make sure that people understand the stories from men of color are not just one type of story,” Ardre says. “We write mystery. We write sci-fi, you know, we write everything.”
As 13th & Joan continues to hopefully grow into a massive publishing house, Ardre has learned one thing when it comes to making money in entrepreneurship: Do it with love or not at all.
“When you starve yourself for a very long time, one of two things is going to happen: either you’re going to be so hungry that you will be willing to eat anything or you’ll be willing to endure until you find the meals that you want,” Ardre says. “So I had starved myself for such a long time as an entrepreneur. … It allowed me to understand my work and what I could contribute and bring to the table.”
This interview is part of a Black History Month series highlighting black business owners. You can find more here.
Top image: Courtesy of 13th & Joan