I'm currently knee-deep in improving my complete mailing list and newsletter setup so that I can start to launch improved marketing via Facebook ads. This requires all sorts of retooling for digital stationary, branding, automation, landing pages, onboarding… the whole megillah). Lots of learning curves and emails-to-customer-support to clear up the messy details.
The result will be better newsletters for everyone, significant incentives and offers for signing up, and hopefully a larger group of more engaged readers. If you're already a subscriber (one of my select few) I'll be telling you separately in more detail. (Once I figure out how to, using all-new tools…)
In the midst of all this productive diligence, just the sort of message that every writer of fantasy likes to receive was sent my way via dinner tonight:
“A way out of financial uncertainty is discovered as if by magic!”
Yesterday afternoon, the mama bear put in an appearance and our taigan leaped into “defend and insult” mode again.
Alas, this is not my own picture — I never seem to have a camera handy when wrangling dogs and bears — but it's close. Instead of woods, picture the edge of the mowed ground around the buildings. She was so full of stolen apples and pears that she didn't want to move and was calmly sitting below the first row of the overgrown orchard, admiring the view down to our cabin.
And ignoring the dog, restrained (miraculously) by the underground dog fence not 25 yards away. And the human, who added her own “Get out of here, bear!” to the ruckus.
Finally, slowly, she shoved herself up and walked upslope to the tall grass, and out of sight. I've had overindulgent dinners like that myself.
I don't mind their depredations in the orchard — we're not using those apples and the critters might as well eat their fill — but I'd be happier if her family kept a bit more distance as they ravaged the apples. What happens in the tall grass stays in the tall grass.
Maybe I should give her something to read inbetween meals.
We have bears, and we have old orchards. Naturally, we also have bears in orchards. And among the distractions for writing and publishing, we have fierce Central Asian sighthounds seeking employment.
Normally the nocturnal set and the diurnal set don't meet, though the dogs are very interested in the scent trails they can reach, within the several acres around the cabin enclosed by the underground dog fence. The main dog field out front is also the main traffic area for all the critters, as one of the highways to the stream that waters the farm where they have a good view for predators. Most of them are smart enough to check to see if the dogs are out first before dropping by. And on those occasions where we let the dogs out without checking first ourselves, they're all quite capable of running, flying, or going to ground, according to their kind.
We get a regular daytime show of deer, turkey, and groundhog. At night — who knows what they all get up to? Certainly we have raccoons, possums, and porcupines (just to cite the larger mammals), along with the occasional coyote passing through. And we have black bears out back, like most of the wooded and mountainous areas in Pennsylvania.
This year, we've been seeing a sow and two cubs. They're regulars — our bird feeders are trashed annually, and the garbage cans are a challenge. Seeing them by daylight, though, isn't so common.
But it's August… and all the trees in the old orchard that still bear fruit (apples and a few pears) are heavily laden.
Bear'd last night, and bear'd the night before, Gonna get bear'd tonight like we never got bear'd before, When we're bear'd, we're trashed as trashed can be; Our bears are members of the black bear family. *
Just two days ago I took this picture of our tidy array of bird feeders, in a photo essay about our 10-month-old puppy.
Here's what they looked like this morning.
Now, usually the black bears wake up hungry in early-mid spring and raid bird feeders (and garbage cans) before settling in to more natural food sources, and we had a visit from one a few weeks ago, right on schedule. We thought it was a young one, since it wasn't very competent. The red feeder (on the right) which came with the cabin suffered some damage but we repaired it and set everything to rights again.
This bear was rather more serious, and awfully late in the season, but then we had a very long winter, and heavy rains for weeks may have suppressed some of the usual food choices. Yesterday was the first day of uninterrupted sunshine in quite a while. Our neighbors have reported a sighting of a sow with four cubs in the area (one for each feeder?).
The dogs are always interested in the scent after a bear visit.
I picked up a camera to document the damage, and on the way back in the puppy did a cautious stalk on the slope behind the cabin. I thought he was disconcerted by the bees which were buzzing about in solitary fashion, but a closer look revealed a nice harmless Eastern garter snake slithering along — about 18 inches long and very slender.
Every now and then, one makes its way into the cabin and is evicted, with prejudice. The puppy who is usually scentless smelled musky a couple of days ago, and I'll bet he met a similar snake then and got sprayed, making him cautious now. When last seen, he was out back, working the back trail of the snake (hey, he's young and dumb) and not ready to give up yet.
We have no children, but I have immense respect for the authors I know who manage to write while babies and toddlers are under their care. I don't know how they do it.
All of my pets are older than my writing career, but last September we got a puppy to keep our other dog company, after the death of an older dog. My writing has come to an almost complete stop since.
We have friends with exotic Asian sighthounds, and when litters happen, they think of us. Our older dog, Uhlan, is a tazi, one of many names for the country-of-origin dogs that run from North Africa to western China from whom the Saluki is derived. His parents are from Kazakhstan. So when an opportunity arose for us to take in a taigan, a country-of-origin version of the Afghan hound from Kyrgyzstan, from the first litter bred in America, we signed right up and called him Hussar (as in “the bold Hussar” of the song — boy, we got that right).
We read up on how he could be expected to be about the size of the tazi, who is 70 pounds, and envisioned the two of them racing across the fields, one slender, and one more robust.
Heh. He kept growing. And growing. And GROWING.
At first, Uhlan kept him in line, as befit an 8-year old dog with a proper sense of his own worth and prerogatives. Lots of snarling and fangs, and desperate puppy dodges when the play bows proved to be insufficient excuse for outrageous behavior.
At this point, they more or less get along, except that Hussar is still a puppy, at 9 1/2 months, and terribly eager to get his older brother to play with him on any and every excuse. They pursue chipmunks in the log pile with equal zeal.
And he weighs 90 pounds, with no end in sight. That's about double the size you see him at in most of these pictures.
After my long prior post about all the learning curves for reaching my next marketing plateau, I'm finally (almost) done and have picked up my latest book (Structures of Earth) and poured another 55000 words into it, just in the last month, and finished it. I've missed it badly!
I'm just starting book 2, Fragments of Lightning. I plan to complete the first three books before releasing any of them, and have the fourth one almost done. The first book, Structures of Earth, is a prequel that takes place five years before Fragments of Lightning, while the hero is still a teenager. I expect to write quite a few books in this series, each of them complete, like a detective series. The release(s) of the first few books should happen in the Spring of 2018, one right after another.
The remnants of my 2017 plans
Republishing all titles
I've finished cutting over to ActiveCampaign from MailChimp, and created suitable landing pages on my websites for newsletter signups from various locations.
That was the last thing I needed before updating all my titles (20 of them) with:
Misc. accumulated typo corrections
Longer next-book sample excerpts
Updated contact info
Updated newsletter info
UTM-wrapped links to other books & my websites for Google Analytics
Better TOC & metadata info inside the books
Larger cover images
Improved copyright pages
No one item is important enough, but with all of that I felt it was time to finally refresh all 20 titles, ebooks & print. I even moved from Ingram LSI to Spark for various discount coupon situations in the future as part of it. With any luck, I won't need to revise these particular titles ever again.
Associated with that was getting a copy of ONIXEDIT so that I could use the same distribution tools (ONIX) used by traditional publishers with their channel partners. It is of limited immediate use (only for my PublishDrive and StreetLib partners) but just going through the process was immensely educational about the metadata and channel communications issues that go on behind the scenes in the industry. I'm ready to start transmitting using ONIX to these partners very soon.
The newly branded website just for readers
KarenMyersAuthor is up, and so are its related Facebook & Twitter pages, but I haven't produced content yet, and so I haven't announced it. I need to start getting active there.
It's been quiet on my blog here lately because I've been heads-down going up a bunch of learning curves. I've dedicated 2017 to moving up a big level in marketing, and it's been a larger task than I expected. (That always happens, and I'm always surprised.)
Psychologically, I'm an analyst, and I am attracted to and comforted by a deep knowledge of the tools and systems I use. This usually means I have a pretty good idea of what I don't know. The flipside of that is that it makes me anxious to fill in the gaps.
I wanted to keep the effort this year focused on marketing initiatives but that has a way of spreading.
Here's what I've managed so far… (you can expect specific articles on some of these in the Just for Writers section).
This stuff is like catnip to me. I love to figure out how it works, but it takes time…
Google Analytics and link sources
On the principle that you can't improve what you don't measure, I've experimented with and set some standards for wrapping links to reference articles from my sites that I post elsewhere in UTM codes masked by PrettyLinks. In other words, I pinned down how to use Google Analytics to track particular articles depending on whether the clicks came from the website, Facebook, various groups I participate in, etc., without the links themselves looking ugly.
Background website improvements
All three of my publishing-related sites (see below) are now SSL-enabled (they use https:// instead of http://).
I'm tracking all my sites in ManageWP.
All the sites have stepped up a level for SEO improvements (Yoast) and I keep an eye on Google's latest demands for mobile compatibility.
All the sites now have structured data for the basic entities (organization, person, etc.), and the new reader-oriented site has structured data for the book entities. This should result in better “knowledge cards” and other enhanced displays for Google Search results.
I create all my own book images, even the full covers (based on background art & illustrated text from my partner artists). I found the simple flat 2D images boring for some uses, and didn't like my amateur versions of 3D, and I also knew I would want more sophisticated versions of the images for Facebook advertising, so I worked with a freelancer to create four separate Photoshop automation “engines” to supply sophisticated output based on flat image inputs.
One engine supplies basic 3D images, from two directions.
Another engine creates a display of all formats for each book page on the site.
A third engine creates book bundle images, useful for Amazon AMS or Facebook ads, or for newsletters.
The fourth engine creates a casual book stack for Facebook ads.
This sort of Photoshop automation is completely beyond my limited amateur use of Photoshop, but I can use the template provided by my freelancer well enough to produce the images, and the results look nice and professional.
Typically one speaks of being surrounded by ghosts. Where I live, however, the ghosts are surrounded by us. So are the ghosthunters.
We live in an log cabin, built by Christian Baughman. In 1812 he took out a warrant for a hollow tucked into the base of the Allegheny Front in central Pennsylvania. To convert a warrant on a piece of land, you needed to survey it and make improvements, and the cabin was part of those improvements. He patented the property in 1812 and Baughman Hollow Farm came into being.
Baughman Hollow Farm was originally about 400 acres that started at the head of the hollow and spread down to the south and east. In the next generation, the farm was divided among the children, and then Dr. Robert Piper (1865-1936) began reassembling pieces of it in the late 19th and early 20th century before he passed it along to Cosmo Mannino, the “Banana King” (1879-1965). By the time we acquired the place from the Mannino estate, in the early 80s, and did a bit of reassembly of our own, it was back to about 300 acres, though no longer a working farm.
The road originally ran up the hollow on the west, turned to the right to run along the base of the Allegheny Front, past the cabin and the barn, and then turned right again to run back down the hollow, to Van Scoyoc road, at the site of the famous circus train wreck. In 1840, John Baughman, son of Christian, donated a bit of ground just above that last turn, at the head of the hollow, to serve as a cemetery. Baughman Cemetery is currently run by an association founded in 1926, and it's still active despite its small size.
It's a tiny cemetery, dominated by the names of local families who are still in the area. Their relatives come by to visit on holidays or just to pass the time, some on ATVs from the adjacent hollows down the old part of the Baughman Hollow Road which is now an internal farm road.
Our farm surrounds it entirely, on all sides. The little patch with its slumbering graves is raised above the surrounding land and sheltered by the Allegheny Front. The cemetery is closed from dusk to dawn so that everyone can rest in peace. It's a quiet, tranquil, private place, as little country cemeteries tend to be.
Or it would be, if it weren't for the ghosthunters. Or the teenagers desperate for a place to party or make out. Or the transactions in illicit substances. Some weekend nights, it feels like we get all three simultaneously.
I'm not sure which is worse, but the ghosthunters are high on the list. You see, Baughman Cemetery is famous in the community of credulity.
The Pennsylvania Ghost & Paranormal Research Team — I can't tell you how often I've wished we'd installed some microphones and speakers from the cabin so that we could respond to the flashing lights of the ghosthunters with some spooky wails from hidden locations. I know that my dogs who wake us up in the middle of the night to tell us about the shenanigans outside would agree.
(We may do this yet…)
I have some sympathy for the teenagers — I was that age once — though I have to wonder about the sensibilities of bringing a hot date to a cemetery to make out. Drunken parties are more reasonable.
But I have to draw the line at vandalism. The maintenance shed was destroyed recently, and that requires real money from real people to repair. And then there was the sit-around-the-campfire-and-tell-spooky-stories party that ended up with a burning car in the midst of our woods. We were lucky it burned slowly.
Nope, haven't seen a single ghost. All the lights, moans, and hiccups have human origins.