The Departed Cover Reveal

I just uploaded my new short story (which is actually more like a novelette at almost 8,000 words) to Openbooks. It is *only* being released through their site.

Openbooks has invited authors to submit their Holiday themed stories to be highlighted during the month of December. (I’ll keep you updated about the actual release day, which should be December 1st.)

For now, I’m only going to tell you a little about the story and reveal the cover (which was designed by Mr. Brown).

The Departed: A paranormal romance novelette

Orin is a man in mourning, waiting for the subway on Christmas Eve night.
Natalie is a woman running for her life.
Someone is following her.

The Departed by Julie Roberts Towe

The Departed by Julie Roberts Towe

 

 

 

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Read Before You Pay

When you are standing on the shore of an ocean of unfamiliar indie authors, how do you choose a book?

It is *really* difficult to know what you are getting when you buy an indie-published book. I completely understand why readers are hesitant to step outside the big-publisher world, especially after experiencing buyer’s remorse once or twice. Indie authors feel pressured to offer their books at very low prices, if not free, just to convince new readers to take a chance on them. This strategy is so common that readers of indie-published work have begun to expect low priced books, if not free. This is not sustainable for authors.

But we get it. There is an ocean out there and we are just a single drop in it. We have to appreciate readers who are willing to jump in there and search for gems. We know that swimming through it all is time and work.

Eventually, something will have to give. There will have to be a solution that will work for both readers and indie-authors. Openbooks.com is trying to be that solution. My books have been there for a few months, so I can speak from experience about how it works.

Openbooks screens books for quality. The books do not have to be perfect, but they can’t be the nightmare that are some indie-published books on Amazon. Once an author’s book is approved, it is made available for free download in a variety of formats. Ebooks can also be delivered directly to a reader’s Kindle. When the reader begins the book, she will see an introduction to the author and be given an opportunity to pay whatever amount she feels the books is worth. Depending on the book’s length, the reader will see about two more inserted pages with links to pay. Then again at the end, readers are given an opportunity to pay. The prompts are few and far between as not to disrupt the story too much, but are necessary to encourage fair payment when possible.

I really like this idea because it offers books without risk. No buyer’s remorse. If anyone is taking a risk, it would be the authors. But it’s good for authors, too, because readers are given an easy way to pay during and after they read our books.

Openbooks gives authors about 70% of the amount readers pay, which is the same or better than most booksellers. In my experience, not all readers will pay. But more than I expected do, some paying more than the price I’ve requested.

But even more important than the pay is the community that is evolving there. Those who use Openbooks, as either readers or writers, want it to stay alive. They are supportive with book promoting, book reviewing, and words of encouragement. This is vastly different from my experience anywhere else. It does not feel like drowning in an ocean.

As for the downside, Openbooks is new and working out kinks at it goes along. The site has recently repaired an error in download calculations which caused the counts for many books to go too high. They are still working on website design changes, how books are ranked, and what categories are offered. Changes happen frequently, but most aren’t noticed by site users.

I actually find it comforting to see so many changes. It tells me the people at Openbooks are working very hard to succeed, frequently asking for user input, and taking into account what users are saying.

Their success is tied to the success of their authors and the enjoyment of their readers.

In December, I will be publishing a Christmas-themed short story exclusively through Openbooks. It might benefit me more to list this short story with multiple booksellers, but I really want to use this opportunity to encourage my current readers to try out the site and see how they like it.

Look for a blog post about that short story later this week. But for now, go to Openbooks.com and find something to hold you over until December.

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Published – Year One

My debut novel, Winter Seedlings, went live on Amazon one year ago today. Today is my 1st Author Birthday!

I look back at the past year and I am overwhelmed with what looks like amazing accomplishments. I published two novels and two novellas (one as only e-book format).

The amount of hours spent on getting those books to publication well exceeds what I would have worked at a “regular” job, not to mention that I invested my own money at every turn. Did I make enough money to warrant all that? Hell no.

Want to be an indie author? You better have another source of income.

But let’s not dwell on the negatives. It’s a celebration! My title of Author is now officially one year old! Winter Seedlings is also one year old! (And if you haven’t read it yet, you can get it at a discounted price until Friday because it’s a celebration!)

I reflect back on how far I have come (or not), and think it might be useful to make a list of what I have learned and the changes which have occurred. I’m curious to see how this list grows and changes next year.

  1. I no longer believe that writing a good book will = having a lot of sales.
  2. Diversity in books is a great movement, but not necessarily a financially profitable one for authors (<— not saying it isn’t worth it for other reasons.)
  3. Stories set in Appalachia very much appeal to readers in Appalachia, not so much everywhere else.
  4. It’s important to have a high quality book cover that reflects the tone of the story, but you’ll be lucky to earn back the money you spent to pay for it.
  5. Being honest and vulnerable when telling a story may mean the story becomes something other than mainstream. Do it anyway. Accessing painful truths is what takes one’s writing from tinkering to art.
  6. Straight people can read and enjoy, with empathy, stories about LGBTQIA characters. Even in Appalachia.
  7. When someone takes the time to tell you they loved your words, whether on a blog post, a poem, or a published work; value them endlessly. Don’t be creepy; but seriously, do not take them for granted.
  8. Know why you write. Type your reason. Print it out. Tape it to the wall so you see it every single day. Without keeping focus on *your* reason, you risk being swept up in other people’s reasons. You’ll start to compare yourself with Stephen King when you don’t even like horror. Stop.
  9. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, seriously edit. Edit in every single room of the house, on every different device you own, even hang upside down to try to see it differently and then edit the damn thing one more time.
  10. This journey is not about what you get out of it. This journey is about what you give the world. If it’s not saying something new, pushing a little harder than is usually pushed, or offering a better understanding of something often misunderstood… why do it at all?

And with that, I’m going to end this blog post and get back to writing my *next* novel. Look for it in early 2016. Until then, consider buying my other books:

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

Note to Self, On Being an Author

Note to self:

You have always been a writer, from the moment you asked your mother how to spell “I love you”. From the moment you read that poem in fourth grade which made everything make sense in a way nothing else ever had, you wanted to recreate that feeling. Metaphors were magic. You wrote for you, always. You wrote to make sense of the strangeness around you, to find God, to make peace with whatever truth revealed itself.

Eventually, you wanted to write to be published. You wanted to write about truth, but not in a journalistic way. You wanted to create fiction with purpose, to expose truths, to touch people deeply. You knew you wanted this, but not how to get there. You were nobody. You were from a small southern town. You had no education beyond high school. You had won no writing awards. You knew no other authors. You doubted yourself, not your writing.

But, a couple years ago you saw the possibility present itself. You knew you would have time to devote to writing your first novel. You began with shaking hands and a vague idea about how to get started. You were afraid to type the first words. You spent days searching for images to depict your characters, explored maps to decide on setting, and created an outline. When you finally put your fingers to the keys, your story flew onto your screen like music from a flute. It was happening. You couldn’t believe it, but it was finally happening.

Two chapters in, you knew you wouldn’t quit. You knew you wouldn’t walk away halfway through like so many other projects you had started in the past. Writing was different. It felt exhilarating. This was going to happen. One way or another, you were going to be a published author.

You asked yourself, “What do you want?”

You answered yourself, “I just want to write a book, to know I can. I want to publish it, to put it out there in the universe. I want a few readers to read it, just a few. And of those few, I want at least one to love it.”

When you read that now, what do you think? All of those things you wanted have come true. You have published two novels and two novellas. They have been read by many and at least a handful of people have loved them enough to tell you so. Everything you set out to achieve has been accomplished.

You should be so freaking proud of yourself.

So why aren’t you? Why do you now stare at your sales chart, your statistics, your feedback and desperately want something more? Do you even know what more you want? What is it? To be a bestseller? Do you want to be famous?

No. You don’t. You don’t care anything about that. Everything you wanted in the beginning is what you want now, what you already have. Please, recognize this.

I know how excited you get when someone says how much your stories move them. I also know how soon the feeling dies when you take your eyes off your own goals and begin to compare yourself with others. For every person who says they love you, there’s an author with a million readers reminding you, by their existence alone, what success “should” look like, reminding you that you did not set your goals high enough, reminding you that you are still nobody.

But for a nobody you have done so much. And for a nobody, you have created and put things out in the world which others have valued. To them, you are not nobody.

No one else is going to be able to tell you what is enough. If you don’t set that bar, there never will be one. You will always be chasing other people’s dreams and kicking yourself for failing to reach them. You are the only person who can follow your bliss, create your heaven, find peace with what comes of your creations.

Remind yourself of this. Daily.

4BookHeader

Kindle Unlimited Changed Everything

If you have followed me on social media, you know I have gone back and forth about Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select). For those of you not familiar with KDP Select, it’s a service provided by Amazon to “help” self-published authors by giving them a few promotional tools. You can publish through Amazon and not be enrolled. But if you do enroll, you have to only publish your books through Amazon.

Last year, the only question was the % you would earn if enrolled in KDP Select vs. listing your books elsewhere.

This year, there is the issue of Kindle Unlimited. If an author enrolls in KDP Select their books will automatically be listed in Kindle Unlimited (KU). For those of you not familiar with KU, it is an all-you-can-read buffet of books. Readers subscribe for $9.99 a month and read as many books from the enrolled books as they’d like. Authors are paid a cut of the money Amazon sets aside for this purpose each time a reader reaches 10% of their book. It does not matter how long or short the book is. Every read equals the same pay.

Big publishers are not faced with the choices indie-publishers must make. Major publishers can participate in KU without pulling their books from other stores. Indie-publishers cannot.

So, I had a single book, Winter Seedlings, published last year through KDP Select. It went very well for a debut novel. My first check was $75 and that was for only a couple of weeks at the end of September.

I pulled Winter Seedlings from KDP Select in January of this year and tried listing it for a month at Barnes and Noble. I sold nothing at B&N.

So when I published my second book, a sequel titled Winter Suns, in late January, I enrolled both books in KDP Select again. This time, sales were noticeably different. Though sales did pick up, they were mostly through KU, and they never reached the heights of sales I experienced with the first book.  Not only were sales not exceptional, but KU began paying less per read. Instead of the nearly $2.00 I expected, I was receiving only $1.33 per read.

Not only was I being paid less per read through KU, I was also getting very little feedback from those readers. I suspect, as many have, that readers getting books for “free” (as it seems with unlimited reading), are less likely to value the content. However, the reasons for not receiving feedback could be many.

Frustrated, I dropped out of KDP Select, and so by default I dropped out of Kindle Unlimited. Now my books were no long available on the buffet.

This time I listed both of my books with B&N, Amazon, and Smashwords which made them also available through Kobo and a number of other booksellers. With so much exposure, I was certain I was making the right choice. Even if I only sold a handful of books at each place, I would still be making more than I did through Amazon’s KU.

Right?

Wrong.

In the month my books have been listed “everywhere”, I have sold a single copy outside of Amazon. ONE. One book was sold through Barnes and Noble. Guess how many I sold through Amazon during that time?

oneThis is my one sale. You can see that I earned a total of $2.04 for the entire month I’ve been out of KDP Select.

How does that compare to before? See if you can tell what day I dropped KDP Select:

ManyThe blue lines you see are KU reads of at least 10% which trigger a payment of approximately $1.33 each.
The red lines are actual sales.

This is not sustainable.

As authors figure out that a few short books will earn them more, quicker money from 10% reads than a longer book, the market shifts to provide a plethora of quick reads. I do not object to quick reads. As a matter of fact, I’ve written a novella which comes out a week from now. I created it, in part, with KU in mind. That’s just one more area where the booksellers, not necessarily the market, are influencing the art we produce, whether intentionally or not.

Another effect is the reduction in prices of ebooks. Even authors not enrolled in KU are finding it increasingly difficult to sell books for over $5 when there’s a monthly unlimited buffet being offered for $9.99. We could say the truth, that our work is worth every penny of $7-$12 a read, but it won’t matter if readers can buy comparable books for less than $2. In an attempt to generate sales, I dropped my prices a few weeks ago. I have yet to see an increase in sales as my rankings have now dropped drastically.

I am torn as to what I should do now. I could be stubborn and not return to KDP Select on principle. I could refuse because it feels like my hand is being forced and I am resistant to being herded like a sheep.

But, not making any money sucks. And what sucks even more is not having my books read by a single set of eyes.

I think back to the first day I published my first book, Winter Seedlings. I think of all the readers who gushed over the story and made me feel like I had produced something important and memorable. I remember thinking that all I wanted was to matter to however many readers came along. I didn’t want to get rich. I didn’t want to be famous. I just wanted my book to matter to those who did, by whatever means, pick it up and read it.

So maybe I should just give it away for free. The only problem with that is the book wasn’t made for free. I had to pay someone to make a cover and I had to pay for ISBNs. I had to pay to rent a PO Box.

You might say, “Well, all of that is already paid for. So you aren’t technically losing anything by giving your books away.”

If I wasn’t going to write anymore books, sure. But I still have to pay for the cover of Silencer and haven’t yet earned enough to do so. I’ll take it out of my personal funds (as in, my family’s funds). And so what about the next book’s cover? And the P.O. Box payment due in August?

Books aren’t free to make, no matter how easy you think Amazon makes it for us. And yes, some people eek out a living at this, but most of us don’t even hope for that. At this point, all many of us want is to be able to afford the next book cover and ISBN.

I hope this was informative and not nearly the whine-fest I feel like I’ve just written. I hope authors and readers will have a better understanding of how the industry helps/hurts indie-authors.

And, seriously, consider buying one of my books or leaving a review if you’ve already read one. I’m flat-lining here.

Books

Ten Terrible Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming An Author

I have had a number of realizations since becoming an author. Many of them do not encourage me to be a better person. In addition to what is going on in the publishing world, a lot has happened in my daily life which has left me disenchanted. Reckless drivers in school zones, their kids flipping me off for driving the speed limit; things like this can make a person question if there is any justice in the world at all. But, for this blog post, I’ll focus on what I’ve realized about success in art (namely, publishing). You will find no sugar coating here.

1. You have to pay to play. This contains two points in one.

  • You have to pay. You either pay it at the front to self-publish, or you pay it at the back when a publisher (who isn’t you) takes a big chunk of your book’s earnings. Either way, you are going to fork over a lot of money.
  • Play. This is a game. There are winners and losers. You don’t have to agree with this sentiment. You can refuse to see publishing as a game. But if you do, you’ll lose by default.

2. Kindness does not pay. You can spend a lot of time building your characters into inspiring, accurate, diverse, non-offensive, non-stereotypical beings. You can form a plot to leave the reader feeling motivated, informed, and validated. But at the end of the day, more readers are going to buy the erotica story about underage sex slaves of various ethnic backgrounds performing demeaning acts which further entrench harmful stereotypes. But, hey, free speech, free market, hooray freedom.

3. “No one likes an ass,” may be true, but it doesn’t matter in the world of art. The art is what people buy, not the creator. The creator, if good at his/her/their art, is invisible to the observer. You do not have to be a good person to succeed. Actually, being a good person might just get in your way.

4. You can’t please everybody. Not everyone has the same idea about what is right and wrong. And because of that, when you create something you feel is in the right, someone is undoubtedly going to find it in the wrong.

5. When researching a topic, be wary of the loudest voices on the subject. Loud does not equal right. Loud may be passionate. It may be fueled by real life experience. You can listen. But, know that there are whispering dissenters who need to be heard, too. All voices SHOULD be heard, but don’t expect anyone to listen to yours unless you are loud, controversial, or downright offensive. To get YOUR voice heard, keep it single-minded and keep it boisterous. Restraint and thoughtfulness are for losers.

6. No one “deserves” success. Dreams do not deserve to be realized. Hard work does not deserve to be rewarded. Time, effort, heart, passion, and focus may help a person create a better product. But no one outside of that creative process owes any of us anything. Despite that, when some of us figure out that this is a game and we’re not winning it, we might turn to our followers and plead with them to support our “dream” with donations. We might offer services to other authors for those donations, such as book promotions, book reviews, interviews, and blog sharing because it is the only way we can afford to do art. Only, we aren’t profiting from our art, we are profiting from the large number of followers we have on social media. And in going this route, we lose credibility with the people who actually buy our work and subsequently lose the respect and influence critical to earning money with our Plan B.

7. Reviews lie. They f*cking lie. Mine don’t because I’ve yet to play this game, but it doesn’t matter. Reviews no longer mean anything because of the abuse by authors who buy reviews and/or exchange reviews for books which were never read. Some promotional sites require a book to have a certain number of reviews (around 20) before they will promote a book. So, what’s an author to do when actual readers refuse to give honest reviews? They create or encourage dishonest ones or plead and plead for their readers to write reviews to the point of annoying the piss out of them. The value of reviews to actual book buyers has diminished because of these acts of desperation.

8. If you want to make money, say that to yourself when you get up every morning. Because if that’s what you want, you’ll have to go after it like it’s your passion. If you want to make great art, say that to yourself when you get up every morning and do what you need to do to get it done. Just know you will likely never make money at it. You can’t put your passion into¬† making money AND making your art at the same time (unless you are wealthy enough to pay someone to handle all your marketing). Will readers be able to tell the difference between a book created to make money vs. a book created to form a magical connection with the reader? Maybe if they compared the two books back to back they would see a difference, but that will likely never happen because those fueled by money/status will make sure their books get top visibility. Most readers will buy theirs before they ever know yours exists.

9. You can’t eat happiness. Nope. You have to balance your pleasure with your obligation to feed yourself and family. Lots of people would love to do nothing but art all damn day. Some people do and actually get paid for it. But, sometimes the stars won’t align for that so you have to do what you have to do for money. I did not make this rule. If I could, I would change it and every person whose passion is rooted in creating powerful imagery to inspire and change the world for the better would be paid fairly to do so. But that’s not how the world works. I’m sorry.

10. Despite everything, it is still possible to have it all. But that is true only because ALL things are possible, including parallel universes, reincarnation, time travel, and that life is really nothing but a dream.

Now that you have read through this post, know that it is written with both a deep sadness and a touch of sarcasm. I look into this world as it rewards what is wrong and drowns out what is right and I want to give up. But I won’t, and likely neither will you. Writers have to write. That should be number 11. So, keep at it, and when you want to vent about how unfair it all is, come sit by me and commiserate.

I think I’ll make my next blog post about rainbows and unicorns.

Books

Promoting or Stealing Content?

I don’t want to write this post today, but I have been thinking about it for a few days and I have to get this out for discussion. I realize there is a fine line between sharing content to promote the original author and sharing content to promote oneself. There are some very gray areas. So, please read my views on this and consider commenting with your own thoughts.

The back story:

I was mentioned in this tweet:

This person does not follow me on Twitter, nor have they ever interacted with me before. The clear implication is that I have submitted a story to her for publication because the name of it is right there. I replied to ask for clarification. A few days later, one of the other people mentioned in the tweet answered me to say that the person was just being nice by retweeting me. But, that’s the thing, she didn’t retweet anything. She didn’t even answer for herself. So, I explained that saying I submitted stories is not the same as retweeting and then I tweeted this, which the other girl mentioned in the original tweet replied to:

I had never heard of paper.li before, but it advertises:
“Create your online newspaper in minutes. Automatically find, publish & promote engaging articles, photos and videos from across the web.”

The thing with newspapers is, they pay for content. Writers, both employed and freelance, are paid when their articles are published. It feels wrong that someone could compile a “newspaper” just by pasting links to content which does not belong to them with not so much as a “hello” to the writer. Perhaps you’ll say, but this is just for fun and not to make money. Well, the woman’s profile at this “newspaper” is clearly promoting her book.

So, what’s the difference between what is happening at paper.li and actually retweeting, sharing content to a facebook page, or reblogging on wordpress? I don’t know that there is a huge difference. I think it is how the content sharing happens. Most of my tweets are my own. Most of my facebook posts are my own. So far, all of my wordpress content is my own but if I ever do reblog something, I’ll ask permission first. If I retweet or share content, I have usually interacted with the original creator in some way. I have liked their post, commented on their post, or shared it with a comment about why I am doing so. I see this as very different from gathering together the work of others in an effort to promote myself.

Maybe you will say that paper.li is no different than pinterest, only for news. And in a way, I can see pinterest as a place where similar things happen, only it happens to designers, artists, and photographers. Some may use pinterest to gather ideas for personal use. But, not everyone does that. Sometimes links lead back to search engines and not the original work, and the ability for the creator to be credited is lost. Paper.li, as far as I can tell, does link back to the original work more reliably than pinterest, but there is still potential for abuse.

I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing that can be done, really, about how content is shared once it is put out there. I am writing this now knowing once I submit it to publish, I no longer control where it will be shared or mentioned. But I hope this conversation will bring us to a point where we decide, as individuals, to be respectful of the creators of the content we love. If we like it, we should give feedback to the creator. We should interact with them as well as sharing links to their work.

If you have no interest in communicating, even clicking a star or the retweet button, you should know compiling that content to a “paper” you create for paper.li will be seen as self-serving and underhanded. Far too often, the creators of content make little to no money, while those who compile and deliver that content reap the benefits of someone else’s work.

I welcome any dissenting comments, further thoughts on the matter, or agreements. Like I said, it’s a gray area and the problem often lies in how content is shared.