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. ❤

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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

Collide, Spin, Wobble, Steady

You might have noticed, or perhaps not, that my blog posts have become fewer and farther between. They have also been pulled closer to my personal life and less about the world around us. This is not only true of my blog posts, but also Twitter and Facebook.

I am an activist at heart, literally being led by my heart to do what I do and say what I say. Do I expect all the cookies? No, not even *a* cookie. But, for those gathering receipts, you should know I was writing about religious tolerance and diversity back when I had to write letters to editors with a pen and paper. I didn’t do it constantly, and I didn’t do it perfectly. But I have always believed that by pointing out the flaws that exist in our society, even exposing my own flaws, I was helping people understand their part in the harm that resulted from them.

Words mattered because they had power to change people’s hearts. Words could show people of different races, religions, geographical locations, sexual identities, etc. that they are not opposites but similar. Words could show you the humanity of those often seen as a only label.

I believed that about words. And then I didn’t.

On June 4th I released a novella entitled Silencer. It was inspired by a man who set himself on fire to try to change the hearts of the people in the racist town where he had grown up. He had done so almost exactly one year to the date I released the book. I took from that real life tragedy a need to address two issues: racism and mental illness. In Silencer, there was also a corrupt police force.

The following day, on June 5th, the McKinney, Texas Police Department was called to a neighborhood pool just a 20 minute drive from my house. There, a police officer was caught on film throwing a young Black teenage girl to the ground and pressing his knee into her back, then drawing his gun on other Black teens.

Social media lit up and I lit up with it. I was so tired of White people claiming they weren’t racist when I heard, with my own ears, those very people saying racist crap. So, I took to Twitter to lay bare every racist thing I’d heard since we moved to this part of Texas two years ago. That caught the attention of someone working for World Have Your Say, a radio talk show hosted by BBC. He contacted me and asked if I’d like to be interviewed on that Monday’s program.

Initially, I panicked and wanted to throw up. I didn’t want to do the show for these reasons:
1) I am from southern Appalachia with an accent often associated with ignorance.
2) I am not an expert on ANYTHING.
3) I am White and did not want to take the place of Black voices speaking on this issue.

But I finally decided to do the program because:
1) I live in the area near the pool and I have insight to how racism presents itself here.
2) There would be a Black lady on the panel, so I was not the only voice.
3) I was an author with a newly published book dealing with racism. Not doing the show would be saying to myself, “You aren’t serious about your work; you might as well quit writing and get a job at a Dairy Queen or something.”

So I did the show, but I refused (and still refuse) to ever listen to myself on it. I *still* feel all the things I felt about not wanting to do the show. And I was still feeling them a week later when Dylann Roof, a young White racist, shot up an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine people.

I talked to my mother the morning after. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, couldn’t make my body move the way it should, couldn’t not cry. I said to her, among many other things, “I feel like I didn’t do enough. I was silent when I shouldn’t have been. I know I’ve spoken up a lot, but it wasn’t enough. I think we have to do something. We can’t keep thinking it’s just good ol’ boys being good ol’ boys when they say racist things.”

And I could have taken to social media right then and pushed for what was in my heart, because I felt it was FINALLY time for every single White person to examine themselves and realize they were complicit in the murders of those Black church members. In some way, we had all stood by and allowed racism to be part of our culture even when we knew it was wrong.

But then the third strike hit me and rendered me mute. Something I did not expect took place, leaving me feeling so alone and worthless. Most of the people I grew up with, most of the people I knew from the south, began to rally around the Confederate Flag. Soon protecting that flag was all anyone cared about. They cared with fervent hostility and borderline paranoia. In the heat of that melee, nothing I said would have mattered.

What I needed to do to was speak out against systemic racism. What I needed to do in my very core was point out the harm people were doing in a way that would make them want to stop doing it. But no one was listening.

For a while, I simply posted images of beautiful Black faces to my Facebook wall, not only those beautiful physically but also those who had achieved great things. I know my Black friends and those with multiracial families appreciated the gesture, but I don’t know that it had any effect on the overall problem. By that time, I’d already slipped off the ledge.

Speaking of mental illness, there have been many times in my life when I struggled with anxiety and depression. At age 42, I’ve come to be very self-aware about what is going on inside my head chemically. I no longer panic because I’m panicking. I no longer become sad because I feel sad. I just wait it out, optimistic that it will pass. Eventually.

I was so sure it would pass that I didn’t even make it an issue. I was sad. Okay. Fine. Life goes on. Right? I put one reluctant foot in front of the other reluctant foot and I did what was necessary around the house. But I gave myself permission to withdraw from social situations as needed, and that included social media. The world would go on without me, and it did.

Now, I am trying to come back, thoughtfully. I have spent many weeks analyzing my own actions over the years and contemplating ways to prevent similar failures. I have come to accept that I am part of the problem, but to also see that I am trying not to be. And if I am trying not to be the problem, then perhaps I have some value among others who are trying not to be the problem, too. I once again believe my voice matters, in a small enough way to break me out of my silence.

So expect to see my name come up more often on WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook. Expect that I will once again share my observations and thoughts about the ways we treat each other. Expect that I will try to inspire us both to be better people.

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

A New and Shiny Book

Look what I received in the mail today:

Paperback copy of my new novella, Silencer.

(You can click that photo to buy one of your own.)

I am so happy with how it looks. The cover feels very historical fiction, 1969, psychological thriller. The e-book version will be released in just a couple of days (June 4th). I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of it.

Silencer Giveaway at Goodreads

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Silencer by Julie Roberts Towe

Silencer

by Julie Roberts Towe

Giveaway ends June 13, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

Silencer will be released June 4th. There are a number of deals going on.

  • You can pre-order the ebook at 67% off at Amazon, B&N, and other booksellers. That means it is now only 99 cents! It will go back to regular price after its release date.
  • You can enter to win one of three paperback copies at Goodreads. (Click the Enter to Win button above.)
  • There will be a surprise one day ebook giveaway in the weeks to come. The coupon code will be shared on my blog the day of the giveaway; so the only way to know about it is to see it here. Be sure to follow this blog so you don’t miss it.

Thank you all for your support, feedback, and inspiration! ❤

Preview Silencer on Wattpad

I am still finalizing my formatting and editing my final chapters of Silencer. I will be uploading my final draft to Amazon on May 25th. In the meantime, I will be sharing some of the first chapters on Wattpad. Today I added the first chapter. This weekend I will add the second. Click here to go to Wattpad and check it out. Be aware that it may be triggering as it deals with suicide.

For those not familiar with Silencer, it is my third book, a novella. Details:

Suicidal thoughts had comforted Rhoda since she was a child. She never actually wanted to die. But that changed on a cool autumn day in 1969 when the lifeless body of her infant daughter was pulled from the banks of Clinch River. Distraught, Rhoda set out on a journey to get as far away from War Gap as she could. With bus tickets and the use of her exhausted legs, she made it all the way to Grand Saline, Texas. She fell on the ground in the middle of nowhere and placed a gun to her head. Only, it wasn’t the middle of nowhere. It was one of the few farms owned by a Black family in all of Van Zandt county. It was also the location of a recent murder fueled by racism. Rhoda was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was she?

Until June 4th, the book is only 99 cents! After the release date, it will be $2.99. Pre-ordering will save you money and help push Silencer up in rankings. I appreciate every bit of support.

Cover Template

Silencer Cover Reveal

Silencer is my third published book and my first novella. Here is the description:

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Suicidal thoughts had comforted Rhoda since she was a child. She never actually wanted to die. But that changed on a cool autumn day in 1969 when the lifeless body of her infant daughter was pulled from the banks of Clinch River. Distraught, Rhoda set out on a journey to get as far away from War Gap as she could. With bus tickets and the use of her exhausted legs, she made it all the way to Grand Saline, Texas. She fell on the ground in the middle of nowhere and placed a gun to her head. Only, it wasn’t the middle of nowhere. It was one of the few farms owned by a Black family in all of Van Zandt county. It was also the location of a recent murder fueled by racism. Rhoda was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was she?

***

When I began writing Silencer, it was intended to be a novella. But as I got to know my characters, I really hated to part with them so quickly. The what if scenarios plagued my mind night and day until I was convinced I could stay true to the original idea while expanding their storyline.

After months of trying out different plot twists, I became frustrated. I almost shelved it, thinking I may never finish it. But then the most obvious solution hit me. I would pick it up again and finish it as the novella it wanted to be. Let me assure you, it is a much more edge-of-your-seat ride as a novella than it ever could have been as a full length novel.

My cover artist, Mr. Brown, had completed the cover design months ago after I assured him in December that I’d have the novella finished by February. So once I decided to stick with the original plan, everything was ready to fall into place. Today I listed Silencer at Amazon for pre-order. I expected it to go live tomorrow, but it is already live and ready to order!

If you buy it now, you will not be charged until it is delivered on June 4th. Also, if you buy it now it will give Silencer a boost on the sales charts on day one which will really help in promoting it. So, thank you so much if you pre-order before the release date!

So enough with all these words, here is the cover reveal to Silencer (click the image to go to Amazon and buy it!):

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Cover Template