Plow, Sow, Reap

My regular monthly blog is up for Western Fictioneers. You may see it here or read it below:

I’m a writer, so it seemed time to drop the boring words.  Consider this heading chicory coffee and beignets drafted on my birthday while sitting in New Orleans.  Boring words and strong black coffee to resume sometime later in cold New England.

Plough: Creating a fallow field is the goal of a marketing plan.  Marketing Plan has some heavy and cumbersome connotations and I think we are better off if we just think of finding ways to turn over the earth – till our field – to make our efforts yield that much more.

Two clear examples presented themselves in the past month.  Ken Farmer blogged for us (2/19/15)   on “Expanding Markets.”  Punchy message:  you’ve got an e-book or a p-book, make it an a-book.  That’s tilling your field. (About how to do that, more below.)

A second is a theory I have – not yet proven – that our books hold more in their stories than the genre limitations forced upon them.  First limitation is “fiction” and then even more narrowly most of us get pigeonholed as “Western.”  (In a more querulous mood, reserved for days not my birthday, I might argue we bring a lot of that down on ourselves.  We are segregated by the separation we define.)  Yet the stories we tell hold the great and important themes that corporations are trying to project in their marketing and public relations. (Corporations defined as all organizations, religious, social, or commercial, that try to mobilize an external public to adopt –“buy” – their program.)

I have proposed to banks and money management firms to use Telluride Promise as a format for discussing how to choose advisors you trust and what banker to do business with.  Every Soul Is Free may be the format for discussing the conflict between calling (career) and family; how to transfer values across generations; and the quiet power of women in decision making.  No contracts yet, but I believe I am creating one hell of a fallow field.

To support my belief, look at the Wall Street Journal, 2/25/15, B1, “I Don’t Have a Job. I Have a Higher Calling.”  The article makes my point with its sub-head: “ …firms…step up talk about changing the world.”  In our stories, every one of them, there is a nugget that can be built into the discussion of a theme.

To induce you to believe it is a good bet, worth a try, I point to David Whyte.  A poet.   For God’s sake, there is only one harder choice for commercial success than being a western writer.  David is America’s corporate poet.  I commend you to his website to explode ideas in your own mind about how this works for you.  (Enjoy David’s poetry, but click down Speaking/Client List to see my point proved.)

Sow:   Ken Farmer decided to do his audio books, did them, and now he has already reaped the results.  I have long since planned to do an audio book, so I was impressed with Ken’s alacrity in going straight to product he could sell.  I wrote Ken, asking him to tell us how he did it.  Here is his slightly edited response:

“Sign in with your Amazon password and join ACX.  If you’re the author of your books listed on Amazon, that makes you the ‘Rights Holder’ (RH). You can create your audio version one of two ways. I recorded it myself and uploaded it chapter by chapter to ACX.  They Quality Control check the file and, if it’s acceptable, it will go live on Amazon, iTunes and Audible in about a week. Alternatively, if the author is not qualified to be the narrator he posts a request on ACX for narrators to audition.  The fee can be (1) a flat fee per finished hour (PFH), anywhere from $200 to $400 PFH, depending on the experience of the narrator…negotiable; (2) A revenue share (RS).  ACX pays 40% – if exclusive. They fix the price based on number of finished hours. My novels range from 7 to 9 hours and are priced at $19.95. If an outside narrator is selected, all the narrators I know record and edit the novel in their own in-house studio and send the files to the RH for approval and then to ACX.

“One thing is vital. The narrator must speak the writer’s words with total conviction…Storytelling. If the narrator doesn’t love your work, it will probably suck.

“I built my own digital audio workstation (DAW) at my house for less than $300. I have the advantage that I’ve been a professional actor and VO artist for over 40 years. Narrating a novel is Voice Acting (storytelling). I teach Voice Acting Workshops four or five times a year (next one March 7 in Gainesville, Texas) – a six hour intensive for authors and actors on how to break into the VO business and how to create Audio Books.

“I just wish I had started sooner.”

Despite Ken’s writing that he was going to finish eight more of his own (he’s already done four) before he branches out to do other folks, I asked him for a quote.  He gave me one, so I propose you assume he is open for business, if you are interested. Get more detail on Ken here and on the workshops here.

Ken’s $300 DAW is remarkably straight forward:

• Blue Yeti mic with articulating arm and pop filter.

• WavePad Master software.
• Sound deadening: two sheets of foam board 2′ x 3′ (from Walmart) plus a twin size  foam mattress pad. Cut the mattress pad to fit the boards and glue them together.  (You still need a fairly small room).
• Twelve inch notebook for text (Ken has used Kindle, but he finds the  bigger screen to be better.)
• Main PC monitor for the wave form

In February, I mentioned I had joined “Query Tracker.”  To date it has turned up no leads, but I did discover one agent whom I think it plausible to contact.  The ball is in my court.  Also I have secured a referral to a seriously interesting agent, not through QT, but I will use it to track my contact efforts.   Another service, “Writer’s Relief,” has interested me enough to pursue.  They have a submission process with writing sample.  They just notified me (on my birthday, I assume it is another present) of my acceptance. I’ll let you know more as I go through the process with them.

Reap:   This is always the most fun!  In last month’s blog I mentioned Pen-L Publishing’s Kindle Promotion.  To create a Valentine’s Day special, Pen-L dropped the Kindle price to 99 cents on all books in their catalogue and asked their authors to promote them down their channels.  Pen-L reports: “For the books included in the promotion, comparing Dec. 13 through Jan. 13 with Jan. 14 through Feb. 14, sales went up almost six-fold; income went down 20%.

We’re not comfortable releasing specific numbers but … this gives you a good idea. We did not include the two titles whose authors conducted paid promotions online during these periods. Christmas was also a confounding factor as the Dec-Jan. sales might have been boosted by the holiday.

“The more important data is still to come. The purpose of this promotion was not to boost income but to boost sales, which may lead to a longer-term lift in sales for those titles. It’s too soon to tell if this is the case. April 14 we’ll look at the post-promotion sales and be better able to conclude whether the intervention had the desired effect.”

My summary: effort works and lower price leads to lower income, the hope is every promotion fixes a cobblestone in the longer path.

On a personal note, my meager Facebook efforts have led to one small result: 16 wonderful friends wished me a happy birthday; one mentioned they had read Every Soul Is Free.

In last month’s “Results” I invited all of you to send me some tangible help you have received from Writer’s Digest in your career – and at what cost.  Zero.  That may be a measure of the power of this blog, but I actually believe it is a true measure of the degree to which Writer’s Digest actually helps writers.

 I mentioned that this blog will force me to work on my bio.  I have not yet made it past the starting point: Telluride Promise gained the quarterfinals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. The League of Utah Writers awarded the Gold Quill, Grand Prize for best novel published in 2014, to Every Soul Is Free.  Edward’s third novel is finished and out to a publisher.  He is at work on his fourth.

2 thoughts on “Plow, Sow, Reap

  1. Good morning. You obviously made much better use of your time while having beignets and coffee than I did.

    Rich and I enjoyed speaking with you and Anne in New Orleans. I am going to forward your blog to my son.

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