Diverse Books & Myths of Success

People will tell you that all it takes to be a successful (as in lots of people have read your book and paid you decent amounts of money to do it) author is to tell a great story. They will say to you, “Authors cannot claim readers won’t support diverse books. Readers will support any well-written story.”

Why do people tell us that all we need to do is write a “great story” when in reality that’s absolute bullshit?

  1. Willful ignorance. They’re afraid to see it any other way. They might screw up their worldview about how all people (readers especially) are not bias. “Bias isn’t a thing. Anyone telling you bias is a thing are just making excuses for their crappy work.”
  2. Profit. They are self-promoting and optimism sells better than the truth. Telling authors that everything is going to be fine gets more RT’s and less vitriol in response.
  3. Manipulation. They want authors to write diverse books, so they’ll say whatever makes that sound like a good idea.

Just a reminder: I write diverse books. I have written and published books with many different characters: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, Black, White, rich, poor, autistic, and with mental illness. I do not like to write expected, cookie-cutter stories. I prefer to write about interesting people with lives not usually represented in fiction. This is a choice I make because I *want* to write these stories and am privileged not to need book sales to feed my kids. I do not write these stories because I believe every reader will welcome them.

I have been booed whenever I’ve said, “If you want more diverse books, you have to be willing to read books that are not about you. Authors can not afford to write books if only people like their main character will read them.” I get told “That’s a cop out.” Well, I’m not copping out of anything, am I? I am actually still writing diverse books. I am actually doing the thing people beg authors to do. And I promise, my own experience shows that some people refuse to even read my books because “two girls together doesn’t do anything for me.” Well, uhm… I guess if the only reason you read a book is to get turned on, then… I mean, what is there to say to that?

So, I know first hand what happens when you write diverse books. People who identify with the main character read them. My friends read them, friends who usually never read LGBT fiction. They loved my stories and it didn’t matter that the characters were gay (or whatever). So, it is actually true that a great story will be great regardless of what label is attached to the character. I do not dispute this part of the argument. But in order for someone to know a book is great, they have to be willing to read it in the first place.

Getting mainstream readers to buy diverse books is a challenge when bookseller categories already ostracize such books into their own little group. LGBT fiction gets put into a category all its own, often with subcategories separating gay from lesbian as if books can’t have both. These are categories most straight people seldom wade into. There is an idea that LGBT characters are written for LGBT readers, each letter for itself (L for L, G for G, etc). Sorry, but my books aren’t written that way. They are diverse in their entirety. So, where do I place them? Can I convince gay men to read my story with lesbian characters? (On rare occasions, yes I have). Can I convince lesbians to read my story about bisexuals? Do Whites think of books with Black main characters as “Black books” for “Black people”? There are many questions just like these, just interchange the labels. We are a society of separations and booksellers make it easier to keep the walls up than to tear them down.

When people say, “I need diverse books so that my Asian son can see himself as the superhero.” I understand this need. I agree that such a book, (actually many books), should exist for him. But the math is fairly simple here. If you write a book with a minority main character and the only people who buy the book are people within that minority, then the profits are going to be very small. To be a “successful” book, readers of all races must want to read it. Regardless of our wishful thinking, it isn’t going to matter if the story is good or bad if a large portion of readers will not even pick it up to give it a shot.

People in minority groups have been reading characters unlike themselves all of their lives. I don’t need to tell that Asian mom that she should be willing to read characters unlike her son in order to support the diversity movement. She already does. And so do members of the LGBT community. They read the books that big publishers publish, which are mostly centered on white, straight, cisgender characters.

Of course not every reader does this. There are readers who read a variety of characters and appreciate the diversity. Of course this is not meant as a scolding of “all you people”. I’m only pointing out that there are things society needs to do better. Honestly, if you have found your way to my blog and are even reading this, you probably aren’t the problem.

So what *is* the problem? The problem is that expectations are too high, both writers’ and readers’, and frustration ensues. Writers think that because “Diverse Books” is such a big movement that they are going to find a huge readership waiting for them if they just write a great story about a minority character.

Readers, for their part, want books with characters like themselves to be more than simply written. They want those books to be bestsellers, to win awards, and be in the hands of their peers. They don’t want to have to sift through an ocean of books to find the indie-author writing what they’ve asked for. They want the book they want, but they want it to be popular, easy to find, and mainstream. Authors alone cannot make that happen, not even with a kick-ass story.

There is a lot of work involved in changing our world into one with diverse books. Authors begin that work by creating the stories. But that is only a tiny part of what happens next. The people holding the most power are the readers begging for diversity. Our success depends on whether or not they are willing to seek out, support (as in pay money for), and promote the stories they want. Are they willing to suggest a book with a minority character to someone not in that same minority? I hope so.

I hope we all grow as readers. I hope, as an author and a reader, I push a few hesitant folks into enjoying stories about characters not like themselves. I hope more authors will create diverse worlds in their books, worlds which reflect our own reality. I hope this movement grows until there is no longer under-representation of any group.

But I will not lie to you and say good stories will sell no matter what. I will not tell you, readers, that you have no role to play here. Slowly, we authors will gravitate toward diversity as the mainstream audience slowly comes to meet us halfway. It takes both of us and it won’t be easy for either. But we’ll get there.

Advertisements

The Departed – A Christmas Gift to Readers

The Departed is a Paranormal Romance novelette of only 8000 words. It begins on a subway platform. It is Christmas Eve night. Orin has just left his sister’s Christmas party. He is ready to go home where he can resume mourning the death of his wife which occurred nine months prior. He isn’t thinking about the possibility of encountering a strange woman who will enter the train in a mad dash to save her own life. He isn’t thinking about what he would do in such a situation. But soon he will have to decide.

This new release is now available for download at Openbooks. It is free to download and free to share to any device, including those you are giving as Christmas gifts. There will always be an option to pay what you think it was worth any time after reading it.

Here are ways you can help support my work at Openbooks:

  1. Simply going to Openbooks to download my book(s) is showing that my work is desirable.
  2. Writing an honest review after you read it also really, really helps by getting it onto the Top Rated list. The Departed can’t even be on that list until it receives at least two reviews. So, even if you don’t like it (which I think you will, but it’s ok if you don’t), please consider letting me know why with a review.
  3. Paying any amount, however small, helps The Departed (or whichever book you choose) move up the bestseller list. It also lets the people at Openbooks know that their investment in promoting The Departed, or any of my work, is worth their time.

Authors keep 70% of every payment readers make. This is a very generous amount. Authors are able to access their portion of those funds almost immediately. So, your contribution (though not necessary) does help the authors. This is an excellent opportunity to accept some Christmas love, and to reciprocate simply by accepting it.

The Departed by Julie Roberts Towe

The Departed by Julie Roberts Towe

 

 

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.

how-it-works-bc60c846347a6f1342526e1d575b5eff

Happy Ending or Die in a Fire

Romance is a popular book genre. Romance novels follow a predictable pace toward a predictable happy ending. They are light reads which leave the reader feeling optimistic in the end. I have read many romance novels in my life and enjoy them when I do, so I get the draw. I understand why they are important. I understand why, now that e-readers make reading more private, many men are beginning to read them.

But my books are not romance novels. I love romance *a lot* and so I typically include lovers in my stories. I write about relationships, but not with the intention of leaving you on cloud nine in the end.

I’m taking some time to write this blog post now because I often see people complaining about books which do not have a “Happily Ever After”. I see people complaining about characters dying because they are targeted for their race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc as if the author is actually the murderer just for having written such a storyline.

And this brings me to a conclusion I feel I need to proclaim: I do not write books to make readers feel good. (Though you will sometimes)

Additionally: I do not write books *solely* so you can see yourself in the pages. (Though you will sometimes). I aim, mostly, to make the reader see how not to be the villain.

When I set out to write Winter Seedlings, Jute and Allie were meant to move off to Illinois and open a little bookstore on the corner of some downtown street. That’s what I wanted to happen. Two girls in love finding a happily ever after. But Winter Seedlings was never a F/F romance novel. From the very beginning, Winter Seedlings was about childhood sexual abuse and how challenging it is to define love because of it. Jute withdrew herself entirely from intimacy while Allie did the opposite; she believed her only value was in how well she pleased others sexually. I wanted to explore what would happen when those opposite forces collided together. In the end, Winter Seedlings was meant to give those who have never experienced the trauma of abuse a glimpse into the psychological effects it sometimes causes.

I wrote Winter Seedlings for people who did NOT already know what it’s like to be abused.

And maybe I’m wrong for having approached it that way. Maybe I should have created it in a way that was light and fluffy and left everyone feeling warm inside.

But honestly, I was pretty upset about the issue. I didn’t want people to read it and walk away feeling like they hadn’t a care in the world. I wanted them to walk away feeling very, very thoughtful. I wanted them to care about what happened to those characters in a way that would stay with them in the real world where they could make a difference in real lives.

The same was true for Silencer. I tackled a lot of tough issues in that novella. Race, police brutality, mental illness, grief. Silencer is the kind of book that is meant to get inside you and twist you up, make you feel what you don’t want to feel so you’ll walk away with a lot more empathy when it’s over. It’s not written to make you feel good. And it’s absolutely not written because *I* as an author want bad things to happen to minorities or the mentally ill.

Not everyone can read books like I write them. Not everyone wants to dig so deep and work so hard emotionally. I don’t blame them. If you’ve lived your life with a certain pain, the thoughts of rehashing it through fiction can seem like torture. I do make an effort to avoid minimizing the bad things that happen in my books as if those bad things are easy to get over, and I make an effort to write from the victim’s POV and not the abuser’s. I avoid sensationalizing trauma for those who feed off hurting people. But I know my efforts can still, at times, not be enough. I respect anyone who says to me “I couldn’t read your book because it was too triggering”.

I have pulled my books out of LGBT fiction categories because most booksellers market that category like romance. Initially, I don’t think I had a clear understanding of where my books fit in. I still don’t. But, I have gained a better understanding of *why* readers read certain genres, and that has helped me know where my books do *not* belong. If a bookseller has a Psychological Fiction category, that’s usually a safe place for me to set up residence.

So, what have you learned from reading this? Hopefully, you don’t read it and think I object to your reading preferences, or your need for a HEA (happily ever after). I think you should be able to reliably find the books you are seeking and shouldn’t have to read books that upset you.

BUT, I also think that you shouldn’t complain about the existence of books which do not have a HEA. Complain if the author categorizes such books as romance, yes. Complain if the trauma is sensationalist and the storyline lacks empathy, but don’t complain just because someone dared to write a tragedy.

Oddly enough, I’ve actually been knocked for one of my books ending in a way that was “too tidy”. I don’t know what readers want from me. 😉

If you are an author, cherish every reader who “gets you”. Because there will always be plenty of others who would only use your book as a doorstop, or perhaps as a projectile aimed for your head.

My final thought: Let’s all try to see the best in each other.

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

Click the books, buy the books, read the books, review the books. Thanks!

Just When I Was Ready to Quit Writing

Something happened Friday that deserves mentioning in a blog post. It was an example of so many truths which are important for writers and readers alike. And even though, just today, I read a post advising authors NOT to talk about how hard it is to sell their books, I’m going to write this anyway.

Writing a good book does not, by itself, translate into many sales. So the idea that low sales imply a book is terrible, therefor authors shouldn’t mention it, is problematic. Sure, you shouldn’t walk up to potential buyers and say, “My book sales are shit, please buy one.” That would be terrible advice. But right here, right now, I’m talking to authors, readers, and writers. I’m not trying to sell you anything (though I’m not going to be offended if you buy something anyway.) So here it is.

Last week was the one year anniversary of the publication of my first book. I had officially been an author for one year. And despite having four books on the market, all available at multiple booksellers, and despite those books having received no negative feedback, they were simply not selling well.

Last week, for the first time since becoming an author, my sales chart on Amazon flat lined. That means, for an entire month, I had ZERO book downloads. Sure, I had stopped marketing my books because of some things that happened this summer. (You can read about that here.) But, it’s still an unsettling feeling to see a straight green line instead of spikes of red.

In addition to sales flat-lining, I had run into some snags with the book I am currently working on. Mostly, they were problems all in my head, brought on by a combination of unfortunate events which I won’t go into. Suffice it to say that I just didn’t feel up to writing the story. I didn’t feel like I was the person to do it justice. I also didn’t feel like my current works would make enough money to pay for the cover of the next one. I had no confidence the current book would sell enough copies to be worth the effort in writing it, even if the final product was awesome.

Then this buzzing insect of doubt multiplied. I began to doubt if I was a good writer at all. I thought maybe it was pointless to keep writing, even if only for a handful of people. I wondered if my stories were truly capable of helping anyone. Were readers really understanding what I was trying to say or did my words fall short? I felt completely disconnected, like my books were calling out into the crowd and no one was answering.

Last Thursday, I contemplated quitting. I thought, “I’ll quit writing. Instead, I can help my daughter set up her ebay account. We can sell vintage doodads and make a couple hundred dollars a month.” I had let myself settle into this idea of changing my daily writing routine, giving up, letting it all go. Maybe I’d sew some patchwork dogs or quilts or whatever. It was depressing, but felt necessary.

I didn’t say any of that aloud. I never would do that before my decision was firmly made. I have always jumped into things with both feet and given it everything I have until I’m drained and empty. I don’t beg to be filled up if it isn’t happening on its own. If it doesn’t happen, I just walk away and never look back. I am never going to say, “You have to do xyz for me or else!” No. I prefer honest achievements, not pity money.

I only tell you now about how I was feeling because something happened to change my mind. I am not going to quit writing.

Friday, I was eating pizza at home with my kids when my phone vibrated to signal I had a notification. It was an email from Openbooks.com saying my book, Silencer, had been reviewed. I set the phone down and finished eating my slice of pizza despite a lump in my throat. I knew in my heart the review, good or bad, would either solidify my choice to quit writing or complicate the matter. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be complicated. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the review at all.

After taking a sip of my tea to wash down the last bite of pizza. I picked up my phone and clicked through to see the review. (You can also read the entire thing here, but first stick with me for this tale.) I noticed it was written by another author, but one I had never had contact with at all. He definitely owed me nothing. If anything, I was competition to him.

I read the beginning sentences of the review:

I downloaded this book on a Friday morning expecting to finish it next week but I made the mistake of reading the first couple of chapters and could not put it down, so I ended up finishing it in a day. In other words, it’s a page-turner. I had to know how things would end up for Rhoda, Ben, and Nanshe because I started caring about the characters ….

I stopped reading and covered my mouth to hold back the sob I was about to make while I hurried into my bedroom and shut the door so my kids wouldn’t see my cry. I crawled into bed and cried harder than I’ve cried in months if not years. I couldn’t even read the rest of the review for trying to process the conflicting emotions I was feeling. I had felt so alone, defensive, exhausted from the pressures of self-promotion, doubtful about my message or my right to spread it. I had felt hopeless, alien, and nearly mute despite the hundreds of thousands of words I’d published. I was terrified to pick up my phone and finish reading the review, but I did. Here it is in its entirety:

Passionately-crafted, intense and fast-paced novella by Stanley Laine

I downloaded this book on a Friday morning expecting to finish it next week but I made the mistake of reading the first couple of chapters and could not put it down, so I ended up finishing it in a day. In other words, it’s a page-turner. I had to know how things would end up for Rhoda, Ben, and Nanshe because I started caring about the characters and despite Rhoda and Ben’s personal struggles, their endearing nurturing instincts trumped everything, a common thread they both share and recognize in each other, so I needed to know what happened to them. Julie Roberts Towe is a really gifted writer, she has a special way of drawing you into the scene where you feel like you are in the setting with the characters and you want to speak to them or act on their behalf. I think she could do wonders even with a more mundane storyline. This is a very fast moving book because it is a novella so it’s designed to be that way, and while it fits in the psychological, historical and drama genres it is also an action story, so expect a quick moving plot and some intense uncomfortable-ness. It’s meant to bother you, and it should bother you. I’ll just say without throwing out spoilers that from the moment the dryer is turned off I became pissed off at this story, because it was right about that point that I fell into the trap of wanting a sappy ending, but instead I got what the author intended, to show the desperation of the situation and its wild outcomes.

I could barely breathe. I know, at this point, you non-writers may not understand why. This may seem like the surest sign of my mental breakdown, but it was not a breakdown. It was the kind of tears a person sheds when they see their spouse return from war. It was the release of pent up fears that can only be let loose when the danger has passed.

I cried until my pillow was wet, and I left my face buried in it to cry more. The reviewer understood what I was trying to do. My words alone, not my book promotion or my sales pitch, but the story itself and only the story got my meaning across. Every single nuance I hoped to add was noted and appreciated. My message was received and valued. It was *everything*, EVERYTHING, ever.y.thing!

It was, ultimately, a validation of my purpose.

It is now Sunday, and I still get tears in my eyes when I think about how close I was to quitting.

Readers, there are books you love. And I am 100% cool with those books not being mine. I’ve had many people say to me, “I could not finish your book because it was too difficult emotionally”, and I get it. But, there *are* books you love so, so much. If you feel that way about a book, please tell the author. Please, please, please. Most of us have no chance (or desire) of ever becoming wealthy off our work. But we do it anyway for one reason: to connect with you. Our books are meant to be read, enjoyed, felt, thought about; all of which are invisible things to us unless you tell us.

Sometimes a single, sincere clap from the audience is enough to help the musician perform the next ballad.

And authors, you don’t always know the effect your book is having. We can convince ourselves of anything, so maybe we should relax and give things time.

More than anything, this week has taught me that maybe I’m an okay author, but I could certainly do better as a reader. I am very behind on promoting the books I have loved this year. Look for some posts about them soon.

And thank you, Stanley Laine, wherever (whoever) you are for not keeping your thoughts to yourself. ❤

Free Book Coupons and Contests

I have a few giveaways to tell you about.

First is the one that expires tomorrow, June 6th.

You can buy Winter Seedlings at Smashwords for free with this discount code: XS38Q

Click the image to go to Smashwords and get this free e-book:winterseedlings

I also have two giveaways going at Goodreads. I’m giving away one paperback copy of Winter Suns (the sequel to Winter Seedlings which can be read as a stand alone book), and 3 paperback copies of my new novella Silencer.

Click here to go to Goodreads and enter to win Winter Suns.

Click here to go to Goodreads and enter to win Silencer.

I am hoping to generate some reviews and would appreciate feedback. But, don’t feel obligated. Enjoy! 🙂

I’m Writing a Prequel to Winter Seedlings

I am writing, right now (relatively speaking), a prequel to my Winter Seedlings book series.

The main reason I am doing this is because I want to offer a permanently free novella (e-book only) to introduce the Winter Seedlings characters and get new readers familiar with my writing.

My second reason for writing a prequel is to give Allie her own voice. If you are familiar with Winter Seedlings, you know Allie is the best friend and love interest of my main character. She makes a lot of mistakes and they are not little mistakes. Allie makes huge, irreversible mistakes. But most readers have pointed out that even though these things happen, they understand why Allie does what she does. So, I don’t know that Allie *needs* her own book.

But then, yes, she does. In Winter Seedlings, Jute tells the reader what Allie is like. The reader witnesses Allie doing exactly what Jute predicts she will do. But does Jute know all there is to know about Allie? No, she doesn’t.

So, my readers are pretty excited to read from Allie’s POV and I am excited to write it. Actually, I already have. In a single week I cranked out over 20,000 words (it’s a novella, remember). I have only the finishing touches to filling in some scenes and a ton of editing before it’s ready to publish.

The tricky thing, though, which I realize as I edit, is how to satisfy my readers who are wanting “more Winter Seedlings” and avoid spoilers for new readers. Much of what is revealed about Allie in Winter Seedlings happens over time in the book and it wouldn’t be the same if the reader is already aware of the specifics of her life. But those specifics exist and I can’t pretend they don’t.

Jute thinks Allie is desperate for men’s approval. We see Allie play out this role again and again. But maybe there is a twist which will not negate Jute’s POV. Maybe Jute is right about what Allie wants, but wrong about her reasons for wanting it.

Keeping this balance is a real challenge. But I love challenges and I love these characters. So, look for this novella to be out before the end of summer. If you want to know more about Jute and Allie before then, you can always read Winter Seedlings in the meantime.

Books by Julie Roberts Towe