What They Fail to Understand…

… is that–in a free market–the customer is always right.

batteringram_18054_mdIt is a concept understood by many a small and large business alike across the globe, but–for some reason–when it comes to the book industry, this ‘golden’ rule is seen as brass, to be plucked from the wall, trampled upon and sneered at with startling alacrity.

The book customer, apparently, does not know what they want and cannot be allowed to choose for themselves. They must be told what to read, where and how they can purchase and how much they must pay, otherwise humanity is doomed.

In his rather well-researched blog post–consisting of many a prediction about the 2016 eBook market–Smashwords’ Mark Coker inadvertently joins forces with elitist relics of the traditional publishing world in decrying Amazon–and KDP Select indie writers–as the bane of the book industry:

“Yet despite the harm KDP-S and KU are causing fellow authors and the rest of the industry, indies continue to enroll in KDP-S to receive these privileged benefits,”

The above sentence surprised me, greatly. Smashwords was apparently founded on the premise of giving indies a place to publish and sell their work. Why not simply state the obvious: “Amazon’s KDP Select Program cuts out Smashwords completely, therefore I don’t like it.”

Coker then referenced a famous poem–on a subject that should not be trivialized by commercial comparison–inferring that KDP Select writers are likened to German intellectuals that ignored Hitler’s hideous path to power.

“No,” Coker wrote, “Amazon are not Nazis, but…”

It’s a free country; we can write what we like. Statements like the above quote, however, are why I’ve repeatedly taught my children that “bias” is the most honest word in the English language.

(I may be an indie writer without an editor on staff, but I think it’s “Amazon is not the Nazis…” or, perhaps “Amazonians are not Nazis…”)

I honestly don’t see how offering the consumer choices–in how or when they buy, or for what price–is somehow rendered as ‘fascist’ in appearance to those the free market has left behind. Neflix users are not considered ‘nazis’ but, somehow, Kindle Unlimited users are?

What many in the trad-pub industry fail to understand is that every revolution, political or otherwise, leaves some carnage in its wake. Admittedly, carnage is a terrible word and–like “hate” or “nazi”–it should not be used lightly. I’ll also allow that the rather vague notion of ‘change’ is not always for the better–as Neimoller and millions of others would no doubt attest–but in the case of the eBook revolution, I am biased in its favor.I am biased not only as a consumer of literature but also as an author.

Independent writers are now allowed to choose where and how their work is presented, as well as for how much; these are choices never afforded us before, let alone having our titles given equal billing with trad-pub authors. It is so, very sad that Amazon alone offers indies access to such options.

Who’s fault is that? Considering their collective years of experience in the industry and the amount of money they pour into advertising, I am astounded that big publishing firms haven’t invented a better mousetrap.

Consider this: I am merely an organic gardener who writes novels part time–with little more than a decade of business experience to my name–but even I know that in any free market one must adapt or go extinct. Perhaps trad-pub companies aren’t hiring creative people, aren’t firing incompetent people, are unable to change their ways or all of the above.

If trad-pubs are–as they are very fond of reminding their dwindling customer base–the backbone of the book industry, then they need to awaken from their slumber and procure new, young professionals to give them a swift spinal adjustment. They must build a platform that offers both the indie writer and the reader what no one else has. Only a re-invention of the market will attract attention away from the savings Amazon offers. And, they must do it soon. For, if they tarry any longer maybe Amazon will clone itself to Nile (with Congo to follow) in order to show some semblance of competition in the marketplace.

If Coker’s rather scary sentence regarding KDP Select writers is even partially true, then why would any writer sign up, or stay with it for more than a month? It’s elementary, Watson. The massive amount of Amazon website traffic is an enormous draw for indie writers… and something that Smashwords has yet to imitate, a fact I happen to have direct knowledge of.

When my husband and I first began to sell our indie-published Epic Fantasy series, we utilized the Smashwords platform. We were impressed with the stringent formatting standards (something Amazon could learn from) as well as the variety of proffered platforms on which we could sell our eBooks. Despite these choices, the small number of visitors was alarming; we made $143 dollars in three months, even with a sizable budget for google adwords, facebook ads, coupled with copious social media posts. We ended up in the red that quarter.

The next month, we signed up for KDP and its Select program, which required us to take our books off Smashwords… and we subsequently made $14,980 in royalties during the rest of the year (2014) with no further spending on advertising whatsoever. To this day we still make a cool $300 a month–on average–in spite the eBook “glut” and the various squabbles over Agency pricing. Like other indies we’ve felt the drop in readership in favor of more visual stimuli.

Money not only talks, but it happens to be the loudest voice in the room at the moment. Until there is a viable option to Amazon’s KDP platform, then most Select writers will (insert shocked gasp) likely stay where the customers are.

Put the issue of indie writers aside, the customer still is always right. In fact, the customer appears to dislike–very much–being told that they must give up choices for the greater good of an industry that largely turned a deaf ear towards them for decades  while simultaneously extracting huge fees for access to literature.

Not surprisingly, a mass migration has ensued. Customers turned in droves to Amazon and many indies, giddy with their initial success, began a short-sighted spiral down to the 99-cent book. Some books might be worth only 99 cents, but the majority of hard-working indie authors consider that number as much a slap in the face as charging $23 for an eBook is to trad-pub customers.

All that posts like Coker’s tell me is that the trad-pubs of the world didn’t learn a thing from the eBook revolution, one so recent the smouldering buildings are yet visible. The bandwagon they snootily refused to board marched merrily by them. Now, like a gaggle of disinherited adult children of Old Money–flung out into the real world of the free market–the trad-pubs sit and whine about the loss of their old life. A few of them might make a valiant show for the shareholders, using outdated methods to try to break back into the market, but so far none seem interested in going out and building a rival domicile.

I would like to see trad-pubs stop complaining about Amazon and try to outfox them. Maybe they could streamline and offer readers something other than another price hike. Maybe they could offer indies a free platform to upload their work for evaluation–including throwing out their obsolete elitist system of biased, redundant scrutiny–emphasizing to potential authors quality of service over Amazonian quantity.

Customers do want good literature, but they also want the best deal (especially in an economy that is barely recovering) and in such a market as this they will invariably flock to wherever the best deal is, regardless of past loyalties, nostalgia or the misapplication of the ‘nazi’ label.

The book market landscape will likely change again when the US economy begins to show signs of full recovery. For their own sake, may the trad-pubs be ready–in that moment–to emerge from their tired cocoons to display a wonderful inclusive, innovative platform with which to dazzle indie writers and readers alike.

~ ~ ~

L. R. Styles is a KDP Select author with Belator Books

The Trap of ‘Busyness’

hanging laundreyIt’s far too easy — for most indie writers these days — to rely on the general public’s apparent understanding of the phrase “I’ve been busy” in order to put off serious work on one’s manuscript.

Every writer I know is busy with days jobs, family and practical hobbies, usually in that order, and the rest of the world seems to accept and respect this state of being, one which pushes back on the established expectation that “serious” writers must produce a novel at least once a year.

Writers of old were considered to be “writers”,and often nothing more; they could hole up in a room for days on end, working feverishly or disappear on writing trips to far-flung corners of the earth. They might not produce anything for years, eschewing phrases like: “I’m in a funk”, “I’m blocked”, “I’m taking some times for me as an artist to recharge” etc. and then be properly censured for such notions by their harder-working peers. The average indie writer of today is a different animal.

It’s been two years since I finished a novel, going on three. I have three partially-finished ones, the longest of which is the third novel in my husband’s and mine Epic Fantasy series. We hashed out the plot in note form nearly a year and a half ago, and fans of the series have been clamoring for news of it’s completion for months. I type rather lame replies to the queries on our WordPress series blog, talking about how my husband and I write in-between our day jobs, our four young children and our organic vegetable garden, answers which have been — thus far — taken (as they are meant to be) at face value, and so with a surprising amount of understanding on the part of the public… and the trap of ‘busyness’ is sprung.

I am honestly a busy person. My family, household and garden take precedence over every other inkling in my life, and I am unapologetic about it. I hang my laundry outside to save both money and the planet. I grow organic veg to feed my family with and for bartering with the neighbors for lemons & honey. I scrub my house with natural ingredients for both healthy and lesser-footprint reasons. And then comes my various freelance jobs — that pay surprisingly well — from re-wording corporate brochures to writing advertisement pieces. When my children are out of school, its time for us to dive into extra-curricular learning, whether cooking, gardening, literature or just outside exercise.

Unlike many of my peers, the internet does not steal away much of my time these days. use it for the promotion of my husband’s and my books, to look up a recipe or research stock charts (a rather recent development) but little else. Anyone in my near social circle, including family members, would gladly testify to how little time I spend on social media; I only go on Facebook once a month, if that. I hardly have time to write a monthly blog or tweet. Months go by where I don’t interact at all with the smattering of indie writing communities across the Internet, and when I do I delete about 300 read requests — maybe getting to one or two of my fellow’s novels to remark on — and then try to reply to polite inquiries on the various pieces posted there. I left off doing book reviews at all two years ago, as there simply wasn’t time.

All that being said, the one and only problem with being busy — as an indie writer — is that I tend to lean on my various daily accomplishments as ample reasons why I don’t have to write as much as I could. In all honesty, I could write more often and for greater lengths of time, but that would require a little thing called discipline… a word that has already inserted itself into every other part of my life. The rigors and echoes of time-management are present in my home, my finances, my chores, my children and even my garden, which is as it should be. Tasks get accomplished that way: laundry is finished and folded, floors are cleaned in time for meals, food is prepared properly, plants are watered fully, errands are run on time and things just fall into place.

For a long time I looked at writing as the last bastion of free-spirited creativity that I possessed, at least until I began to sell books. Now, it’s a business, and a profitable business but one I rather tinker at verses working on in a dedicated fashion. One can make all the viable excuses in the world, but the truth is that I do have more spare time in which to write… I just don’t always do it. I’d much rather spend my free time writing poetry, or knitting in my backyard, enjoying the beauty of the tree and flowers verses slogging away on the less-inspiring sections of my novels, but that’s just my writing side being lazy. And the world is full of folks that can attest that the road to ruin is paved with “I’d rather do anything than work.”

Thank goodness for folks gifted with frankness for situations like these, who give advice that can be recalled, even now, with fondness. In this situation, my grandfather would have said:

“So, you’d rather starve than work?” “No.” “Then get off your ass and get workin’.”

Or, my personal favorite: “If you say you want to do it, then do it… or you’re just lyin’ to yourself.”

It boils down to me asking myself: How much do I really want to finish this book?

Answer: if I really want it done, then I will make time to do it.

Well, after stalling most of the morning, getting all my other chores out of the way, I left myself with little alternative but to do exactly that, and get several pages under the proverbial belt before vegetables must be found, picked and prepared for dinner.

* * *
L. R. Styles is a writer with Belator Books

The Power of Picture Books

children reading under a treeChildren’s reader books, or “picture books” tend to be somewhat overlooked in the busy Realm of Literature. I was guilty of such oversight myself… until I began to have children. But, even then, I simply read through “readers” like most parents would, patiently enduring the infantile prose until the children moved on to more interesting material.

Several years ago, however, one of my middle children began kindergarten and my husband and I discovered–to our utter consternation–that she strongly disliked reading. Now, she loved stories and hearing them read aloud; she’d follow along with me as I read to her; she’d trace and draw letters on paper just fine and she likewise understood the correlation between the letter’s shape and the sounds each made. The action of sounding out letters out loud, however, made her balk–every time–to the point that she began to resent the action of reading altogether. Her father and I were baffled, to say the least; our two older siblings hadn’t any trouble with phonics reader books at her age.

Our daughter’s teacher was not as concerned. Test results showed that she had no ‘learning disabilities’ whatsoever.

“Every child learns differently,” the teacher told us. “Just spend extra time reading with her, until she gets comfortable with it.” And so I did. We read together in the backyard garden, away from the hearing of others. I watched as she would gulp, swallow and fight her way through the sentences, until I finally had an epiphany. My daughter had no problem understanding the words, nor recognizing them, nor seeing them. Her problem was she didn’t like reading for herself. The rather infantile phonics books that her older siblings had used held absolutely no appeal for her… not on little bit. I spent the next day trying to come up with a solution, looking for phonics games or flash cards, but my searches yielded little results for help with “normal” children who just don’t like to read out loud.

Early the next morning however, I realized that an obvious solution already lay within reach.

“I could write her a story,” I thought, as I poured out my first cup of coffee. The idea seemed almost too easy. Children’s picture books were not something I’d ever considered writing, due to their assumed simplicity. However, as I sipped my coffee that morning, a plot began to form in my mind. I squinted out the kitchen window, catching sight of far-off rolling hills, just visible over the industrial buildings on the outskirts of our city neighborhood. A story might work, I thought, if it focused on a little girl  going on a journey, using as many colorful descriptions as possible, and also if I mentioned  some the things she most liked. If I could capture my daughter’s imagination and tap into that inherent Narcissistic strain–a thing all humans possess–then she might just want to read for herself. If the story could somehow hint that avoiding one’s problems was not the solution, that would be icing on the proverbial cake. My husband liked the idea immediately.

I began crafting a story for Sara that day, using the recommended spelling lists provided by her teacher, as well as consulting numerous online articles by children’s book professionals. Late the next night, I carefully copied out my scribbled story and stapled the pages together. My oldest daughter was charmed by the story; she inked a little drawing on the front of it, one picturing her little sister in her favorite dress and backpack, walking along a road with flowers growing along it.

The next day, as my middle daughter sat down with a phonics book–with that same, pained expression–I sat down with her and held up the stapled papers.

“What’s that, Mommy?” she asked.

“It’s a new book,” I told her. “I’m going to read it to you.” My daughter gave me a wide smile. She snuggled up to me and looked at the words on the ‘cover’.

“That’s my name!” she said, sitting up again; her eyes grew wide. “And, that’s my backpack… and that’s my red dress!”

I smiled.

“I wrote this story, just for you. It’s called Sara and the Land of No Letters.

My little girl gave me the biggest smile I had ever seen, and I mentally kicked myself for not thinking of this book sooner. We settled in to read. When we were finished, I gave her the story and told her we could read it again, if she took care of it. She carried it to her room and put it on the special shelf where she kept her precious paper dolls and jewelry box. The next day we read it again, but this time, she wanted to try to read her story by herself. With some whispered hints from Mommy she managed to finish the whole thing, without a grimace, a swallow and nary a gulp. In school, she drew pictures of the scenes of her book from memory and brought them home. She read her story twice a day for a week and gave the family an unprecedented performance, with hardly a mistake in pronunciation, showing confidence in reading for the first time. Mommy hugged her and gave compliments, blinking back tears of real relief.

The teacher was highly impressed; she listened to my daughter read through her story and gave her high praise. Later, she told me that the story was engineered perfectly–as it encouraged parents to read it with a child first; she also liked that it included the right blend sounds and ‘everyday’ words children would need in order to “springboard” them on to other books.

“You should publish this.” the teacher told me. “And, you should more of them.” At the time my husband and I were in the middle of writing our Epic Fantasy fiction series, so I put that idea on the shelf and let my daughter keep her story for herself. True to prediction, she branched out to other books with ease, borrowing her older sister’s C. S. Lewis books (sometimes without permission), pouring through The Hobbit and asking for me to find her some more reading material online.

Today, my little girl’s Reading Comprehension scores on annual tests place her three grades ahead of her peers in aptitude and vocabulary. Likewise, her scores in math, science and social studies began climbing the moment she lost her ‘fear’ of letters, and her teachers couldn’t be happier. As I watch her now, sitting in the corner happily reading from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I know that my respect for the ‘simplistic’ picture book has grown exponentially.

Sara and the Land of No Letters was just published this week, and is available on Amazon. My oldest daughter did the colored illustrations for her sister’s book, a thoughtful gesture we appreciate very much. We have two more Sara books planned for publishing: Sara and the Land of No Numbers, and Sara and the Land of No Rules.

~ ~ ~

L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

To Each {Writer} Their Own

Writers That Cook.fwThere’s a very good reason why many a writer has–at one point or another–chosen to shrug on the mantle of “recluse” and then acted accordingly. Whether it was Hemingway closeting himself in an attic with a dozen cats and a few cases of booze, or Thoreau living off the grid, sleeping in fields, wandering and mulling lines aloud to himself, or the prose-wielders that merely shielded themselves behind pen names and wrote under the seemingly innocuous employ of “housewife”… writers know that they are susceptible to distraction. And–in this–I am no exception.

Being a recluse would indeed be a relatively easy solution to today’s distractions, but it has several unromantic drawbacks. One could disappear and refuse to answer emails, phone calls, or do anything else other than write, pretending the outside world does not exist… however, one then runs the risk of isolating/ignoring family and loved ones, possibly resulting in not being present for important occasions or–Heaven forbid–a tragedy. Hemingway–to name but one example–could probably have wallpapered the walls of his attic with several sets of divorce papers.

Also, there is the lack of accountability; left to one’s own devices, one could conceivably fritter away the time on non-writing endeavors. Against such arguments a writer must weigh the merit of a distraction-less environment to complete a book (which is by no means a guarantee). For me, the responsibilities of Family, Home and Garden are far more weighty than gaining a small amount of notoriety for myself, or even procuring more of the slim amount of the eBook market that my husband and I already possess (approx. $250 a month in repeating royalties).

All compare and contrast of writers in isolation aside, less-extreme measures do exist; several of my fellow authors embark on writing ‘trips’ once or twice a year, during which they blog almost constantly and–more often than not–return refreshed, with a fair amount of real work accomplished, as well as an impressive slew of photographs. Not everyone can afford such inspirational trysts, however.

My husband and I frequent a nearby Panera restaurant, once a month or so when our oldest daughter  can get away to babysit for a few hours. In an empty corner, we sip hot coffee and munch pastries, sharing a set of earbuds and listening to my recording of the latest book-in-progress (we use Audacity to record). Doing so allow us to edit, prune and graft more quickly and with less distraction than simply reading a word file out loud. In lieu of taking our attention away, the people in the restaurant around us merely galvanize us to work harder; they might be fans, after all… or future types thereof. Our presence acts as a curiosity in of itself; a few discreet inquiries by members of the nearby knitting club moves the needle of hourly web stats a bit further to the right.

In my daily writing grind, however, I cannot boast of rising early in the morning in order to write. Indeed, we do often awaken in the dawn-lit hours, but at that time of day it is difficult for me to form spoken sentences, let alone written ones that would successfully pass the hawk-like gaze of our editor.

The house must be routed from bed, fed and sent on their way, whether for schooling or to work. My ample vegetable garden requires a morning watering schedule and weeding that eats a good hour up. Then comes laundry, washed carefully and hung outside to dry in keeping with our smaller-carbon-footprint goals (which saves us $50 a month in electricity)  and then comes vacuuming, dusting and mopping. I have found that I rather like having a clean home, for not only ourselves but the odd impromptu guest, which seem to appear in tandem with the tomatoes ripening.

Finally, I come to the writing hours. Each day I get 3-4 hours of uninterrupted writing moments. It is then that I delve into the carefully-woven realms, spiced with humanity and action, tears and laughter, work and play all wound about  a column of reality… but not quite touching it. It is absorbing work, and if I did not glance at the clock every so often, my family would arrive back home to find me still under the pergola typing away, with the cleaning not completed, the laundry half-done, the garden wilting and dinner not even begun.

It is with reluctance that I stop writing to work with my hands, but it is essential to the books that I do. My main characters are nearly always common, working folks that are frankly familiar with rain, dirt, sweat, discomfort and disappointment. None know what it is like to be idle, and likewise none are arrogant. If writing what you know is essential to good fiction, then I could not know, unless I worked alongside such imagined companions with my own two hands.

Call my other work distraction, call it experience… call it what you will. I remain yet unashamed of not being able to devote all my time to writing. The books my husband and I write are few and far between; indeed, it takes us a year or more to produce one, but each title is sprinkled with reality, real experiences and poignant, tangible details that most folks–regardless of age, culture or creed–can relate to.

They are written with care and envelope within their twists and turns many a weekend discussion on the merits of one plot point or another, before both writers arise from the booth to return to the role of Parents, Husband and Wife.

To each his own. What works for you, so do… and let neither the scorn nor scoffs of another deter you.

~ ~ ~

L. R. Styles is an author and co-author of fiction with Belator Books

I should be writing…

sick_man_24338_md… but I got sick last week.

“Sick” is hardly the word, really. This state of being seems to have hearkened straight from an unabridged Charles Dickens story… having a body desperately ill, wracked by ceaseless bouts of coughing and all the while drawing ragged breaths through an inflamed esophagus, that refuses to be comforted by either medicine or tea.

Sick, indeed.

I came by this virulent guest honestly enough; my husband and children were struck with it first, after an innocent visit to a park on President’s Day. The fever made itself present within 48 hours and my workload effectively doubled. Our  book was paced on hold as I made restorative soups, disinfected surfaces and doorknobs like a mad woman, soothed feverish heads and doled out an herbal tisane during the day and medicine at night.I fantsied myself quite the nurse and bustled about to make certain the laundry didn’t pile up, but the novel was not far from my mind.

A scene in our latest book became all the more real to me during this process for the hero of our epic fantasy series was–at the time we all fell ill–enveloped in the grips of a virus, while imprisoned in an enemy island fortress.I made copious mental notes as my husband ran the course of his illness and eventually grew well enough to return  to work. The virus made its way through our four children, and then paused. I dared to hope that I had downed enough Vitamin C and Echinacea to have withstood its invisible power.

But, it was not to be. With a feverish  brain I lay abed, inwardly forming arguments to rain down on the heads of the parents–if I ever found out which they were–whose naivete had allowed sick children go to a public park and infect their neighborhood. Ours was merely one house among many along our street to feel the viruses feverish brush.

As I tried to sleep in such circumstances, I keenly wanted to write… to pay attention to the character I had left in such limbo. What woe he must feel, to be ill, hundred of miles from home and at the mercy of uncaring captors. I felt grateful for the warm confines of my bed and relative quiet of my home and tried to imagine the scene where Lord Asher recovered.

But, there the concentration ended, as well as what energy I possessed. For over 2 weeks I have not written a word on the story. Other things have been lost, the children piano lessons have been delayed, my garden ignored and my supply shelves ravaged, but thankfully, we’ve emerged from the fog of influenza unscathed and with added immunity.

Though my cough yet remains, I am back, once more filling the breech of words between “unfinished novel” and “completed manuscript.”


L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

You Might Be a Good Writer If…

… someoBook Piratene pirates your books.

I’ve spent much of the morning sending out DMCA Take-Down Notices to not one, or two, but three torrent sites this morning. So far, two have responded with partially-heartfelt apologies and expressed an intention of removing the offending links ASAP.

This is not the first time such a thing has occurred to us. Since my husband and I launched our novels on Amazon in late February of 2014, our books have popped up on torrents and sharing sites loquaciously dubbed “The Kingdom Saga;” the latter word rather amused me as we are neither Icelandic–or spoken word artists–but, I digress.

As much as I actively work to remove these illegally-posted copies of our work, a small part of me is slightly flattered by distinction. It took some effort on the part of the pirate to copy the work, format it, post it, type out our names and copy the book’s description from its legitimate Amazon page. As an added bonus, on such sites our novels sit next to the pirated works of wildly-successful authors like Stephen King and John Grisham, imparting to me a sort of surreal sense of accomplishment, however temporary.

Such flattery quickly fades, replaced by the full force of the initial insult. Each time I see a torrent, I see the number of downloads and shake my head at the lost revenue. Rather than inspiring anger, however, such feelings merely fuel my understanding of the DMCA language, and how to apply which sentences to whom.

L. R. Styles is an author with Belator Books

What is it about Books, really?

I read a particularly heartfelt essay in early 2011 that explored a writer’s personal book memories, expounding on the many reasons why paper books were important in spite of the modern-day acceptance of their digital counterparts. The essayist listed some of her fonder memories of packing books in a suitcase to read over the summer and climbing a tree with a paperback wedged in her back pocket.

After I finished reading the essay, I noted how the writer’s musings paralleled my own experiences. Nearly everyone I know–who has ever read a good book–remembers when they first read it, where they were sitting (or standing) while they read it and most remember all the characters and (most of) the minute details the good author penned.

While I enjoyed reading the essayist’s delightfully varied book memories, she came just short of really explaining why many folks cling to the paper medium in a sort of desperate nostalgia. I’ve heard the “book smell” argument, the tactile-feel-of-the-page rebuttal, the defense of the cover, the full-page illustrations argument, the ease-of-use pleas and the cases presented for paper books being one of the last “unplugged” items. I have not, however, heard or read about why a physical hold-it-in-your-hand paper book really appeals to humans.

To me, it is because the contents of a paper book defies the physics of its appearance. Without the aid of electricity (and with little to no fanfare) what seems to be a bunch of squiggly lines–on pieces of pressed wood pulp, slapped together with industrial glue—is in actuality an invisible treasure chest, just waiting to let that golden glow out onto the face of the reader upon being opened. A good book is the closest thing to real magic that a logical person can experience. Opening this unassuming recyclable shape sets the imagination loose… no film, soundtrack, digital screen, online platform, remote or batteries needed. It is a self-contained, self-perpetuating parallel universe that can contain knowledge, opinions, poetry… or an entire realm of fictional creatures entirely consumed in their own lives, waiting to begin or continue their respective journeys.

Just the act of reading provokes the most profound memories, which is something I’ve not only witnessed in others but have experienced, myself. My first memory of books was of my father reading The Hobbit out loud–to my brother and I–by the flickering light of a campfire (a thing which just made the trolls and goblins all the scarier.) The Lord of the Rings followed in the summers—and winters–to come, interspersed with the Chronicles of Narnia, The Princess & The Goblin, Robinson Crusoe and many other tales. My parents gave us paper and colored pencils to draw with while we listened at home, or laundry to fold; my mother would knit or sew as the stories filled the air, while the television–in the corner of the room–sat dark and silent.

In middle and high school–during which I discovered how heartily I disliked the company of my fellow youngsters—my parents remedied my abject loneliness with piles of books; Austen and Forester; Peters, Wodehouse and Shute; Stevenson and Defoe; Doyle, Dumas and Durrell… such minds were these! Such stories did they write on this strangely bland medium of paper and ink. I began to look upon these writers first as visionaries, and then friends, teachers and finally, muses. Like the essayist at the beginning of this piece I, too, began carefully selecting books to take with me various places and even scaled (numerous times) a nearby alder to sit among the breeze-blown branches and read.

That is the reason many are so disinclined to stop regarding paper books as “real” books despite the advances of technology, social movements toward anything labeled “green” and the very real threat of younger generations growing up with all-digital libraries. It is not a thing so singular as ‘smell’, or ‘touch’ but it is rather the entire experience of opening printed paper pages—with no flash animation–and yet one is still able to ‘see’ a full realm billow out of the object, the details of which (if the writer knows their stuff) engage all of the senses… and is powered only by the brain.

Books are literally the stuff dreams are made of, only tangible.

Can eBooks ever really capture that unique experience? As an eBook writer and proponent I can only say “I hope so.” EBooks continue to sell globally in the billions of dollars, so I assume at least a few million folks-with-money think they come “close enough.” It is true that most eBooks need assistance in order to make up for the loss of paper smell and physical page-turning, such as swiping animation, music, digital bookmarking, images, re-flowable text and other bells and whistles.

But, hope is not lost, for there be one more asset in the digitized book industry’s arsenal… a transition between the old and the new: the audio-book.

It is a category within publishing that seems to still sell extraordinarily well, and in this I am not surprised. The voice carries a weight to it, soulful inflections that digital text (nor computers) cannot plausibly imitate… yet. Handy to load on one’s music player/phone and listen to during commute/ travel/ waiting-in-line, audio books seem to be the most popular when read by someone with a voice that can spark the imagination… one that re-captures that ethereal, memory-laden notion of “real” books being read aloud.

It is that still-burning desire for paper that led several of our epic fantasy series fans to request that we offer our series in paperback. Once considered a daunting quest–for a small operation like ours–the POD system proffered by CreateSpace made this dream fulfill-able, helped along by the somewhat recent decrease in printing costs. For about $11 retail we were able to put out the first of our Kingdom Isle series in a 304 page paperback last week, doing the formatting with InDesign and Fireworks for the cover art. We are not only pleased with the result as it appears online, but once the first proofs made it to our doorsteps, we experienced that unique sensation of holding the full weight of our work in our hands.

You can see (and buy) our very own out-of-book experience Here.

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L. R. Styles is an author at Belator Books

Once more, into the Books!

50012_library_mdFreelance work acts much like a word ‘vampire’ on the mind of a fiction writer. To be fair, reviews, articles and copy-laden ‘crowd sourcing’ jobs make up the bulk of available work these days… but, just as much as these rigorously tight bits of employment put money in one’s pocket, they also strip away a few petals from one’s personal Stash of Inspiration.

After a particularly busy fortnight of submitting various pieces, entries and bids—from articles and advertisements, to logos and corporate presentations—I found that my fingers had lost their vigor, and my mind was given to wandering. The non-retina screen of my laptop reflected a rather wan expression back to me in the dim light of the living room lamp; I normally find that particular light “charming” with its near-natural glow… but now it seemed to embody a sickly sort of glimmer.

I rubbed my eyes and pondered the best course of action. The digital page I stared at fairly begged to be written on, its voice merely one among the three fledgling novels my intrepid laptop harbors within its quasi-metallic maze. One of these–at least–must be completed before the end of the year, when it will be edited, formatted and InDesign’d into a shape recognizable by global eBook consumers. These things I knew and thought of and yet, still no words would come.

Setting my laptop to ‘hibernate’ I walked around my home, absently picking up stray jackets, shoes and books, calling attention to chores left undone by young folk–who really aught to know better by now—my hands finally going through the motions of making my nighttime cup of tea. My eye fell upon a paperback–left casually on the counter–a bookmark within still valiantly holding its owner’s place. Sipping the tea I picked up the book, and smiled at the title. My teenage daughter recently discovered the Cadfael mysteries, a favorite series of mine in high school. I had not read them in ages.

As I stood there–skimming the pages with half-thoughtful fondness–I began to read. I continued reading as I walked around locking various doors and closing window blinds. I read in the laundry room, switching clothes from washer to dryer with one hand. Nestled comfortably in bed I sipped my now-tepid tea with little notice, thinking that the aging 12th century monk was transplanting wintergreen a week earlier than I thought was called for and wondering why his good friend Hugh Beringar–the sheriff– was hovering just outside the wicket gate with a foreboding look upon his dark brow.

Good books have a strange phenomena embroiled in their pages. Not magic, but a coaxing sort of promise that feels its way along one’s arm and shoulder–stealing up to the ear ever so gently–all the while making its case in clear language, laced with a dash of ‘lyrical’. Good prose does not beg to be read, nor does it demand. You simply find yourself reading it, and subsequently words become enjoyable again. I read through the novel before drifting off to sleep, my catalog of aulde English (not to mention my inspiration) more than partially restored. Next morning, the more commercial projects were hurried through in favor of once more stepping into the proverbial breach, that ominous chasm between the blank and the book.

You must pursue it,” said Cadfael with sympathy. “You have no choice.”*

slender floral dividerL. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

*Dead Man’s Ransom, by Ellis Peters.

Writing of Comfort

Comfort… a thing at times overlooked in this novel age of the supernatural thriller and intense crime drama. Intensity sells, or so I’ve heard, especially in our favored genre of Epic Fantasy but—to me–it is a thing best displayed by small moments of respite in the prose. Comfort is a universally sought after thing, and when found it is enjoyed with wordless displays of emotion. It can be a lull in the driving rain or the oft-overused calm before the storm; it can be a seat by the fire after the battle is won, or a warm cup of sweet drink for the night watchman on a chilly evening.

Comfort provokes a particular sigh… one of neither relief nor sadness, but appreciation.

The simplest things seem to quantify what humans view as “comforting.” In my mind, the word is best embodied by a weathered Adirondack chair that sits in a sunny corner of our backyard. It was built over two days by our children—with some help from Mommy—as a birthday present for my husband and made entirely from reclaimed wood. Using a pair of my husband’s old jeans (for a custom-fit) we tracked down a free pattern on the Internet, traced lines on the cobwebby boards, found wayward galvanized screws and hauled the compound miter saw out from the garage.

As I looked up—about to saw the first cut—four pairs of eyes met mine. A mixture of wonder and eagerness lay behind those large safety glasses slipping down the slender noses. Their expressions lent the entire project a buoyancy that transcended the materials and imbued themselves in the finished product. What comfort the chair was meant it give it thereafter exuded with unapologetic frankness and does still, sitting in the dappled sunshine of a late California afternoon. A man of multitasking brilliance, my husband needed only a bit of encouragement to tempt him out of doors to the enjoy the charms of our little urban oasis. The worn depths of the chair provided just that, let alone the idea it was crafted by loving hands while he was toiling out in the forbidding Realm of Work. The look on his face–as he sinks into the chair–makes me smile, every time.

Moments like these require no quatrains of verse to describe but they have often inspired them. Poets and writers of literature alike have lauded comforts both sweet and simple, from seeing a field of flowers to enjoying a good meal, or even just hearing a peasant’s song. Because of comfort many great writers have penned some of their best pieces… such as my favorite poem by William Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper.

Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang

As if her song could have no ending;

I saw her singing at her work,

And o’er the sickle bending;—

I listen’d, motionless and still;

And, as I mounted up the hill,

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.

O’ fellow writers, forget not to place within your pages a few moments of comfort. It is a peerless thing to use when touching a chord with your readers… and beautiful in its simplicity.

L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

Indie Writer & The App

Way back in March of 2012, Forbes columnist Alex Knapp wrote an article called “Are Apps the Future of Book Publishing?” in which he voiced marked enthusiasm for ground-breaking eBook apps. 80,000+ hits on said article notwithstanding, there isn’t much being penned these days about throngs of authors diving into the app fray.

One may very well still ask: “will apps indeed take over the ePub/Mobi mainstays of individual eBook titles?” Many an author on my considerable list of contacts wonders if the effort/expense of making their titles into apps is even worth it.

Take, for instance the most popular apps downloaded on the iPhone, free or otherwise. According to several websites I visited (Googling “most downloaded apps 2013”) a few apps that find free eBook titles for you were among the top ten. There are apps that categorize eBooks, read eBooks and promote eBooks, but I had a hard time locating eBooks-turned-into-apps on any general popularity list. I did, however, notice a blurring of the already-thin line between “enhanced” eBook ePubs and eBook apps, a trend that seems to be gaining strength among younger consumers.

A handful of traditional publishers have branched out into creating apps from books, from re-doing classic novels–with manuscript notes and author interviews–to redefining novels entirely by including story-board like images, interactive pages and audio along with the prose. Authors with Amazon already have a kind-of, sort-of app for their titles via the Kindle-for-PC app, Kindle-for-iPad app and others.

As an indie author, I love the idea of making each book title into an app. Such individualization—to me–really helps focus on the feel and tone I envisioned for each book when writing it. Just being able to include a soundtrack, font and old-school decorative printing flourishes makes my mind whirl with ideas, and such is the case for many of my fellow authors. Feedback excitement for branching out into Novel Apps is almost palpable when I send ’round my queries on the subject, but the tangible evidence for such work being done is sadly lacking.

I’d love to get my ebooks into apps!” a fellow writer wrote back. “Tell us how that goes!”

Another wrote: “I’ve heard of companies that can do it for you—for a truckload of casheroo. Let me know if you find a good DIY app maker…”

Truckload of “casheroo” indeed…

I found several dozen companies that can take my eBooks and make them into apps for me at a hefty price. The cheapest reputable company I found was approx $350 per title (extras like interactivity aside) and only if I did ten titles. That’s approximately $4K out of pocket–which might be nothing to a publishing house–but is actually quite a bit of coin for a couple of virtually-unknown indie writers using free-yet-time-consuming services like WordPress & Twitter to market themselves.

That being said, what are some options for cash-poor, plot-rich indie writers that want to leap into app-making?

To start, you’ll need to take stock of your current sales and download data, free and paid alike. A platform I’ve found lately—that does just that—is App Annie. I was able to link my Amazon Kindle storefront and Kindle novels to this platform and get a one-glance graph by title and month to help me determine the most popular novels and the most active weeks. And…. it’s free. (Huzzah!)

Once you’ve soaked in the myriad data you can determine which titles should be apps and which you can feasibly ignore ’til later.

DIY app-making is an industry still in its infancy. Platforms without strings are limited–to say the least–and sparsely populated. It seems—to the average indie writer—that this void in self-service is some kind of publishing house-led conspiracy… but there are good reasons why app-makers charge so much. The work is time-consuming and exacting. Folks that purchase apps want a svelte, professional product thus—as in DIY eBook producing—scathing “bad” formatting reviews appear like great gobs of guano let loose by the Seasgulls of Snark wheeling overhead, cackling to themselves as writers run for cover.

But, hope is not lost. Meandering around the net–looking for an answer to my app problem–I thought I discovered a “bridge” solution, for lack of better word. ePub Bud touts to be a free DIY platform for writers to create ePubs of their work, and convert it into various forms… not unlike Calibre, but–apparently–a little less complicated. The ePubs created with this system should resemble apps and–when formatted “correctly”–behave like apps on tablets. Albeit bare-bones in appearance, and only offering a slender array of fonts, ePub Bud seems to give indie writers a DIY solution to their “do we make an app” problem . Books are compiled in chapters. Drawbacks include a loss of formatting, which must be redone once each chapter is copied and pasted. I was however, able to keep my pretty little divider image at the end of each chapter, something that touched my old-school-publishing heart. Whether due to my being a novice at app creation, or the rudimentary nature of the platform, I was not really able to make anything that was better than the ePubs I generate with Calibre.

After tinkering around with Epub Bud for two weeks—working on one title—I stumbled across a generous loophole in the Adobe InDesign system.

Like most indie writers/designers I’ve often looked wistfully at Adobe products, dreaming of the day I could afford such gorgeously professional software. Someone brilliant at Adobe figured out that–while they make a lot of coin on the few folks that can afford their software–they were missing out on a greater pool of consumers willing to pay a monthly fee for cloud access to the Creative Suite. Students, high school or college, can get fairly cheap access to a lovely modern invention called Creative Cloud, for a mere $19.99 per month. My oldest daughter is a junior in high school and interested in a career she can tele-commute to. I suggested learning InDesign, bought her a Student pass to CC and an account with Lynda.com and promptly hired her to do an eBook layout . Under the periodically curious eye of her mother, she began converting one of our ePubs into an much-better enhanced ePub within in a matter of days, with embedded fonts, anchored images and the correct formatting for a polished eBook. The main issue was the ePub format itself; the chapters flow together,thus—as in Epub Bud—one is required to make separate documents for each chapter. InDesign further requires separate documents for covers, meta data, TOC (Table of Contents), copyright info and image files. I will say that the Lynda video course on using InDesign to make an ePub (while slightly outdated) still proved detailed and extremely helpful.

Apps however are a different animal. The Folio Producer part of Creative Cloud proved challenging, even for the combo of my savvy teen’s mind and my old-school-eBook mentality. After a week of tinkering and watching a library of you-tube how to videos, we got a workable app, with suave user-interface, a tasteful number of interactive photos and charming publishing embellishments, but the layout issues gave us pause. Before apps can be created on this system, they must be “approved” by the Adobe Folio Producer platform. Now, I agree with this , as no company would want inferior/ non-workable apps floating around with their name attached to it. The only frustrating part is the denial message does not tell which document(s) have the issues, thus requiring a hunt & peck type strategy which eats up a considerable amount of time.

But, Time—that capricious ally–is what I have to spend. When said issues are resolved, I will post the completed project links up for perusal.

~ L. R. Styles is a writer for Belator Books

Update: Since posting this article, a flurry of ensuing remarks have shown up in various parts of The Web, more against the idea of eBooks apps than those in the “pro” category. The quips and outright request of readers especially caught my attention, decrying the use or need for eBooks apps. An issue we’d not even considered came up as foremost in the arguments for giving up our app quest: storage space. Limited device storage space makes it a precious commodity, one that app designers would do well to consider. We have and after a series of grave discussion have put our eBook app plans into the “it was a good idea, but…” box on a dusty shelf in the closet.