Do Your Best and Screw the Rest

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Sunday, April 19, 2020. Finally a night’s sleep. Now all of Sunday to fret about going back to the bullshit at midnight. I won’t be able to keep this nightshift schedule up. It somehow makes a part-time job seem like an overtime job. Too demanding. Sure, I’ll adapt and eventually acquire the physical endurance but the psychological endurance? Forget it. I just need to tough out the ten weeks to earn the $4K and otherwise consider the time wasted and not expect to get anywhere with TC2 or anything goddamn else until it’s over.

Not getting anywhere with anything goddamn else. Right. Like my damn Amazon ad campaign which spent its $100/month budget already not even three weeks into the month. Somehow my clicks have shot up without, of course, any accompanying sales. Why? How could this be? Wouldn’t the problem be not getting clicks, instead? Well, I didn’t get significant clicks for the first two months or so, but they increased and then I got those three sales in the first week of April (no reviews yet and the data doesn’t even show that the two print copies have even been shipped, argh! – were they cancelled?) and now I see today that my add isn’t delivering because it’s budget is blown. Should I increase the budget? Why would I do that unless it’s generating sales?

I’ve done some searching and reading and some folks even resort to thinking a competitor would click on your ad multiple times to intentionally blow your budget and kill your ad. Really? I doubt it. And certainly not in my case. You’d have to be inspiring jealously to generate that type of neurotically competitive response. The explanation for clicks without buys has to indeed reside in the description and/or the content. I really can’t see that my description needs reworking. If it’s too difficult to understand – too many “big” words for fuck’s sake – then you’re not going to like the novel anyway. But if people read the sample pages and aren’t buying then the writing isn’t catching them or, and this is the thing that makes me crazy, the price is holding them back. Lack of reviews? Well, that too.

What to do? Increase the budget? It’s not so much the spend that I’m skeptical of despite having read about folks who claim never to do anything less than break even and if they do they kill the advertising. The types that claim to make at least two bucks per click or they consider it not worth it. Yeah, right. As if you’re going to sell books as a new author without advertising. Meanwhile, I’m convinced that if you’re indeed selling authorpreneur quantities of books it’s not because of your Amazon ads but rather by the word-of-mouth interest in your books and your name. Again, the folks making money aren’t spending any money – Amazon has their titles popping up on best seller lists and Bookbub and B&N and NPR are using your book to promote themselves because you’re already selling.

Again, what to do? First of all, don’t panic. Too many clicks without sales is a better problem to have than no clicks and no sales. Barely. But clearly something about my cover and ad is working enough to compel a click. Somebody wants to learn more, somebody is enticed at least to that level. But what’s really enticing them? Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if people are impulse clicking because they think Vixy is wearing a Covid mask. Ooh, is that a book about the virus? Or, Hey, she’s wearing a mask, too. And when they pay more attention and realize it’s a SF novel they immediately move on.

WHAT TO DO? Nothing. My gut tells me that I don’t have the information let alone the sales to justify increasing the budget. Let it the ad go dark until it starts up again on May 1. I’m just too suspicious of incidental “she’s wearing a Covid mask” clicks. The irony of which – Time Crime CTP doubles or triples because of the virus bullshit – makes me want to pound my head on the table. Because it’s all about sales. That said, I read about folks who seem categorically unwilling to spend any reasonable amount of money on advertising, as if their otherwise infinitely obscure book is going to launch itself based on word of mouth. Meanwhile, as an unknown author, we get caught within the catch-22 of not being able to justify spending money on advertising because we’ve got no sales to justify spending money on advertising. Try other means, right, besides spending more money on your book? Like what? In the end, I’m thinking there’s a balance and a comfort level that we each have to respect and that’s it. Time Crime may never sell another copy and the copies it did sell (that weren’t cancelled) may never generate the review that may have generated more sales. Let it go. Don’t throw money down the drain, don’t through good money after bad. At some point, I’m kidding myself that Time Crime will take off. Better to finished editing TC2 and try again. But impatience skews my vision. The book has been on the market for 2.75 months. I’ve spent a few hundred on Amazon advertising and shipping gratis copies to potential reviewers. But they need time to read the thing. These folks are getting hundreds if not thousands of books and even if they’re at all interested in TC1 they have schedule or otherwise find time to read it. It doesn’t seem reasonable, then, to think anyone with only a passing interest in the book has read it yet. And perhaps they are intending to do so, I just don’t know. It just seems far too early to give up on everything. But also foolish to dump more money into Amazon advertising because I just can’t afford it. That is, I can’t stomach going in to work at midnight knowing whatever I earn in spiraling down the drain of advertising costs. The book has to show some capability, some potential, some indication of, if not self-sufficiency, then at least a sliver of burgeoning critical interest. It has to indicate progress even if it’s only one sale per month. I’ve written my way to a decision, then, regarding the Amazon ad budget: let it ride. The Covid crap is ending as we speak and by May 1 conditions will likely be vastly different. I’ll let the book go dark and meanwhile perhaps somebody who bought it or somebody I sent it to will read it and review it and D.S. will sign the audiobook contract and commerce will begin to return to normal (if we’re not in a Depression by the time the virus lunacy abates). And I’ll accumulate my pittance from the job instead of burning it as fast as I make it (I exaggerate). It all has to be reasonable. And patience is a virtue. And being in it for the long haul is my only hope.

In other news I’ve learned that I’m working four days a week instead of five and I only learned this by way of showing up Saturday AM for my shift as designated on my onboarding paperwork and having the computer tell me I wasn’t scheduled for that day. I wasn’t about to go home until somebody told me to so I checked the box that indicated “I’ve been rescheduled” and “punched” in. First thing I checked in with the supervisor, “The computer said I wasn’t scheduled for today but my paperwork said I was.” He said the other supervisor had fucked up all the scheduling so he didn’t know what and asked me to work the hardware section. So I did. Apparently they had a large delivery that day – that’s what somebody told me – so it wasn’t like they couldn’t use the help (I had plenty to do for once). But otherwise I don’t know. Lack of communication is the damn problem.

Moving forward, my first concern is getting paid for the time I work – I don’t want to hear and I don’t expect to hear that it was my fault for punching in off-schedule, I wasn’t needed, they aren’t paying me. That’s why I errored, if I did, on the side of getting punched in on time before trying to track down a supervisor (they’re not easy to find) to verify anything. Second, I don’t want to be caught not showing up for a shift and getting a reputation as unreliable or getting disciplined (not that they’ve given me any indication that they’d care). Third, I was committed to banking the twenty-five hours per week so as to give myself the option of quitting sooner. Fourth, I’d actually prefer twenty hours per week despite less hours delaying my financial goal because then perhaps the job wouldn’t drive me as crazy and I’d be better able to balance it with my real work.

Why do I think I’m scheduled for twenty instead of twenty-five hours as I was originally instructed? Because it struck me to log in to the scheduling program (Kronos) I set up on my phone (they had a similar system at ZCoB) and see if I could glean anything from it. Anyone familiar with such things is probably wondering why the fuck I haven’t been doing that already and my response would be (1) nobody told me that was how to determine my schedule, (2) I’ve got a goddamn written version already that takes me through this week, (3) I wasn’t told during onboarding that my schedule was variable (so I’m not going to assume that it is) and (4) neither has any supervisor so far given me any indication that my schedule is variable and that I need to check Kronos each day. Of course I well aware that labor needs especially for seasonal and seasonal part-time are subject to change depending upon need (sales) and business has sucked because of the virus so, less hours makes sense.

Who cares? Well, it wouldn’t surprise me, given the environment, that when I go in tonight (this AM) nobody even mentions that I worked when I wasn’t scheduled. Neither would it surprise me that the supervisor bumps into me and gives me the speech about it and how I’m to disregard the paperwork and rely on Kronos, sorry for the confusion, yeah, you’ll get paid, don’t worry about it, blah, blah, go work the whatever area. In short, I bet nobody fucking gives a shit besides me if I’m there at all or not. And if I didn’t need the cash for the audiobook I wouldn’t be. It’s just frustrating to endure the indifference and the learning curve and having to remind myself to hang loose. In the end, it’s just me being lousy at being employed. Twenty hours a week, then, fine.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST: What follows is embarrassing for me to post because it shows me being enthusiastic with a couple little victories that turned out to be fiascoes and failures in the end. But I’d indicated that I wasn’t going to edit these journal entries just because they made me look like a fool and and idiot. My heart was all in it, then, and the vulnerability that ensues is what it is, so be it.

Monday November 14, 2011. I had contacted the second round of retailers that Ari had emailed me:

  • Larry’s Market in Milwaukee
  • West Point Market in Akron
  • McGinnis Sisters in Pittsburgh
  • Di Bruno Bros. in Philly
  • Fox and Obel in Chicago

Steve E. at Larry’s Market asked for a sample and info including pricing. After discussing this with Angie and clunking through the math of food costs and mark-ups, we’ve decided our food cost on the h-cheese is $11.75/lb or something and we should be able to tweak it down to $10/lb. We’re asking $20/lb. to retailers. If they mark it up 50% like Kelli at Plum said they like to do, then they’d be at $30/lb. to their customers. Since I’ve received fucking NO response from ANYBODY in Ann Arbor besides Tommy Y. after weeks of waiting, I’m going to have to assume that nobody is fucking interested in this town. Frankly, I find it damn unbelievable that I can sell several hundred fucking pounds of headcheese in this town and no food retailer thinks it’s worth selling.

Unattachment. To your fucking desires. Anger management. All these things are harder than frozen shit when you’ve put so much effort into something and believe in it like I do. AND get the good feedback and legitimate sales that I’ve earned. While I’d like to say “fuck Michigan in the ass” I suppose I’ll just ease back on the throttle and focus on the out-of-state opportunities. I just need a couple customers. But if not, then I need to let it go and be good with it.

I’m in USDA-production tomorrow to make h-cheese for the three samples I need to overnight. More money spent. Here’s my info page that I’m sending with each sample:

Alyssa:

Humble Hogs headcheese is hand crafted in Ann Arbor, Michigan from pasture-raised pork. We are proud to be a USDA-inspected facility.

Our pig heads are brined overnight in a solution containing salt, herbs, spices and honey, then simmered for over five hours in more herbs and spices. I make each terrine by hand, carefully dicing the beautiful meat, fat, tongue and snout (and sometimes a small amount of skin) and combining with fresh parsley, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. The flavor is clean and porky.

It is delicious sliced and served with fine mustard, your favorite pickle and toasted crusty bread. It is also scrumptious when browned in a skillet – it makes a great hot sandwich on toasted bread with grilled onion, bell pepper & Dijon (as many of our food cart customers will tell you) – or as an accompaniment to eggs or hash browns.

The terrine is available in two sizes @ $20/lb (+ shipping):

  • 14.5 oz. “baby” terrine (very cute)
  • 4.5 pound large terrine

Terrines are shipped fresh overnight or frozen per request.

Best Regards, Keith & Angie Ewing, Owners

I’m having us both sign these. The personal nature of the letter seems to fit with the artisanal nature of the h-cheese, at least to me. I’m honestly a little taken aback by the world’s indifference to the drums of my destiny to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald yet again. I sort of thought that I might finally be getting over the bone-crushing, back-breaking, balls-out first phase of hell that the start-up has been. But of course, that’s all I’ve ever been good at: start ups. It’s the post-start-up phase that always seems to snap my back with some unexpected and absurdly fucked-up shit from brainless morons with no other function in life apparently than to be roadblocks to folks like me with things to do and places to go. Listen to me being cocky and not humble. Ack. I’m just disappointed. I guess I should appreciate the silence. The alternative might have been some withering criticism or bitching about the price or both.

So, after production tomorrow, and with USDA-Mike’s approval on the packaging for shipment, I’ll shipo the terrines overnight and for cripes sake I’d like to get a response. IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? I’ll have only two heads left in the freezer and if I crap out on all these retailers, I guess I’ll probably only need them if Ari sends me more contacts and a few want samples. Wow. The thought of shooting blanks with my wholesale vision just really leaves me stumped. I need to do a vog for this phase of hh. Then, I need to generate some money to get this credit card paid down. Hell and blood…. Update – I got a request for two samples from Di Bruno Bros. in Philly – one for each of their stores. Emilio seems pretty skeptical but said “If Ari sent you my way, I am sure that it would be worth my checking out your product.” So that’s all five of my baby terrines from today’s production accounted for with out-of-state shipping.

Update: I’m going to cut the terrines in half and ship those as samples – much more cost effective and I think it still makes for a suitable sample size. I’m rationalizing this idea because I heard back from who I’m calling “m” at zcob today and he wants to do another tasting. He apologized for not getting back with me; something about the deli getting “busy.” As I mentioned, the whole zcob tasting experience has not been very zcobby, though I guess I don’t know what to expect. Maybe a response within a couple weeks that says “thanks but no thanks,” or explains why in fact they need more sampling and tasting? Is that too much to ask? I’m just trying to cope with it and stay positive. I’m envisioning a “yes” and here’s the vog for the zcob tasting:

Humble Hogs

Vision-of-Greatness for Nov. 30, 2011

The ZCoB Headcheese Tasting!

Prouds:

HH cart revenue has exceeded $21K as of October 17, 2011!

HH obtained our USDA-FSIS Conditional Grant of Inspection – Est. 989 is live!!

Keith has received great support from Ari regarding the Est. 989

HH headcheese got into the Oct. 20th Zing-Deli tasting! (Ari said it was “well-received, more details to follow”)

HH mac & cheese was the Michigan Daily’s “winner” in the Le Creuset Cook-Off at Mark’s Carts

3409 is still leased and bringing in the mortgage payment.

We’ve continued to refine and focus our phycomythologies.

We’ve maintained mindful healthfulness.

We’re using our guides.

VOG:

I’m shaking hands with Ari, Paul S., Rick, Grace, Marshall and the other tasters at ZCoB – we’re all very happy and excited over the results of the h-cheese tasting: HH headcheese has earned a new place within Zingerman’s Deli!!!! Quadruple WOW! What a DAY!! It feels like a combination of a blast off and a homecoming for me and Angie and even Ari, because I know he feels good about this new part of our relationship and about how far his help and his writing have gotten us. We all feel like it’s a good fit and that it’s so much fun to be doing this with each other – ZCoB + HH!!

We’ve of course discussed pricing and we’re happy all around on the structure of our “agreement” – the ZCoB folks are just as warm-hearted and considerate and fair as they always have been. HH and ZCoB have a square and fair deal that will be sustainable for each of our businesses. Ari and the Deli co-managing partners and staff seem really amped to sell the terrine and also to put the locally famous Headcheese Hoagie on the sandwich board so HH can kick-ass right through this fall and winter and into next year keeping HH fans happy and acquiring thousands of new headcheese fans.

Angie and I walk out into the Deli courtyard and just breathe in the fresh fall air and stand in the sun amongst all the happy noshing folks enjoying Zingerman’s food, and we just feel amazingly energized, joyous, thankful, legitimized, fulfilled, complete and at home with our food now a part of the ZCoB family. Some of our customers even recognize us in the courtyard and the deli and say “hello” and ask what’s going on, and we get to tell them that they’ll soon be able to get an HH Headcheese hoagie here at the Deli, because Zingerman’s has just agreed to sell our wonderful product. Our small little group of fans and appreciators seem as happy as we are! The connection I have to the pigs can continue on in this way – I don’t have to depend on the cart to sell headcheese – I have what feels like a real full-time year-round business in HH now. What joy and expansiveness we feel – I text the big news to my brothers and Angie calls her sister and her mom and Nikki and then I call my Dad and Mom – they all rejoice in their own way with us and we arrange to celebrate at the RH on the weekend for dinner. My brother Kev feels empowered and great because he contributed so much and has seen the action from the beginning – it makes him feel like good things are coming his way too.

Meanwhile, me and Angie grab some Zing’s bread, cheese and salami, then walk to Casey’s for beers – we’re so excited but we feel embarrassed just standing around the ZCoB and we want to celebrate on our own just a little – what’s happened is just so damn amazingly great! We’re now scared shitless in all the best jazzy ways possible – boy have we got work to do NOW!! AWESOME, JUST COMPLETELY AWESOME – Ann Arbor has indeed been so good to us!!

Plum Time!

Yes, exclamation point, because “K” (the Deli Buyer) at Plum Market, which is arguably the best grocery besides Whole Foods in Ann Arbor in my opinion, wants to try selling the h-cheese! Like I told Ari: “Holy Crap!” About two weeks had gone by since dropping off a sample, and I sent K a “follow-up” email, couched in terms of it being okay to get a negative response, since I hadn’t heard from her. I really felt like she might not be getting back with me because it sucks to have to tell somebody “no.” But this was her response:

Keith, thanks so much for getting back to me, I’m sorry it took me so long to reply, it’s been pretty hectic back here getting all set up for the holidays. I actually really liked your headcheese, it’s much better than the one we currently have. I was just concerned about the retail that we would have to charge for it. However, with the price you currently have, I think it would be a little more do-able. I might have to wait until after this coming week to order any, if that’s okay. When do I need to have an order in to you for the following week?

Awesome. Totally amazing and really surprising – I had lost some confidence in the silence that followed the sample submission. As I said, it’s difficult to send your creation out into the world and then just wait for a response – for some reason I instantly begin doubting my skills, talents, the taste of the h-cheese, the price, the packaging, the business climate and my own sanity. Who the hell do I think I am asking experienced food sellers to put my creation along side the other famous, not-so-famous, old, new, proven, unproven, established, jazzy, classy, and otherwise professional stuff on their shelves? For cripes sake, they’ve got Niman Ranch and Zingerman’s in there!

In the end, I really believe it’s just this purpose and vocation I have discovered that keeps me chugging and taking that next step no matter how scary. Springsteen sang “I can’t tell my courage from my desperation” and I don’t think it matters at certain points in your life – you just have to keep following where your heart, guts and guides are leading you; you have to surrender to it. But I don’t think I’m alone at all in this fear of success – the fear of following your heart and in living out your myth. Coehlo, in The Alchemist, talks about the fear of seeing your dreams come true – as if the dream is better when it remains a dream. The crystal shop owner never accomplishes his life-long dream of going to mecca because he’s somehow afraid of being disappointed. He’s taught himself to cherish the dream over the reality because the dream is under his own control – he can make the dream into anything he wants, with no flaws, no disappointments, no surprises, no struggle, to risk of being hurt in some way. Many of us do this and don’t believe we can live out our dreams and still be happy – in the end we don’t trust our own dreams, therefore we don’t trust our own heart and there you have it: we are betraying our heart. I try to remember to keep dreaming new dreams.

Anyway, back to the h-cheese at Plum Market: it means so much to me to have accomplished this aspect of hh – it legitimizes hh in the way that the food cart never has and never could for me. My heart just swells and I feel like all cylinders are firing when I’m working this wholesale part of the business and I need to recognize that and accept it and be okay with it and not feel guilty for not wanting to keep the cart going or for not wanting to develop it into a restaurant or whatever else it is that doesn’t seem to connect with my heart and myth – I can let that stuff go no matter what the expectations of others or what I might THINK are the expectations of others. I also need to get better at not attributing intention. Silence doesn’t always mean failure or lack of interest. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it’s just people being busy or forgetful. That said, I don’t think I need to be so apologetic about getting back with folks after a reasonable period of time which for me feels like two weeks.

In the end, not being in control of other people’s taste buds won’t kill me. I know I’ve got a good niche product, and I know that it’s not a blockbuster; I’m in a very narrow market but that’s okay for now at least. One thing at a time. I had an email from one of the markets that Ari referred me to in Akron, OH. The guy was concerned about there not being a market for h-cheese because he didn’t recall ever being asked about it. He’d taken some chances on some “neat” and “unique” products before and had “mixed results.” There was a concern that he’d have to buy a case and end up throwing them away. All stuff any food retailer (or any retailer period) would be legitimately concerned about. It inspired me to respond with a lengthy mini-manifesto, which I enjoyed writing. It helped me get down on “paper” what had been swimming around in my head:

L, thanks so much for the reply. Regarding the market for headcheese, I think it’s an amazingly engaging niche – at least for me selling headcheese “hoagies” and the cold terrine from my cart. The name gets attention and inevitably there’s an interesting conversation with a customer who may be intrigued because they’ve heard of it, but don’t really know what it is. “What is headcheese?” is a question I enjoyed answering multiple times a day, every day from the food cart. (There was only one day all season when I did not make a headcheese sale). Or they’ve NEVER heard of it (mostly young folks) and we taste and we talk and I love the look of surprise and joy on the first-timer’s faces when they recognize the taste of pork and pork fat, especially when it’s fried up. Customers don’t often know what to expect but pork, as you know, pleases so many people and this is to me one of the purest and most meaningful ways to enjoy it.

 I sold approximately 300 lbs. of headcheese in the six-month food cart season we just finished. 98% of it was griddled for the hot sandwich and probably 75% of those sales came after my customers tasted a small sample. (I enjoy the Zingerman’s approach of encouraging folks to try-before-they-buy). It was the intrepid foodies that plunged right in without tasting. There were also a surprising number of folks who had experience with it from their parents or grandparents having made it. Or the Europeans who just seemed pleased that they could enjoy something they knew and loved from across the pond – I had customers from France, Germany, Scotland, England, Asia and even a regular customer (and meat-lover) from Iran.

 L, I don’t think you can sell this product without having employees who are passionate about it. It takes patience to explain how it’s made (some folks find it a little “scary” but intriguing enough to ask about it). And all versions are so different – mine is a very pretty terrine and as I’ve mentioned, it’s been described as “clean and porky” when served chilled – it is not a heavily spiced, seasoned or vinegary version.

 To take it beyond curiosity level into a successful purchase takes careful salesmanship, but the connections I’ve personally made with this approach are very rewarding. This product comes from my heart and from a connection to the animal and its welfare, and what it gives to us. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny. I call it “new heritage” food because it’s from our past, it’s survived for a reason but, like so many heritage foods its image may have become tarnished or distorted due to poor quality and indifferent marketing (or no marketing). My customers have without fail seemed to enjoy the story, the flavor and the connection to something of heritage – they just seem so pleased to have discovered or re-discovered something from the past that is so good in the here and now. If I’ve kept you too long, I apologize – I could talk about it all day.

 Just know that there are no minimum orders – I’d ship a single “baby” or large terrine to you at a time if you’d like. The terrines keep very well refrigerated for over a week, maybe two if they are not in and out of refrigeration. They freeze well. This is the only product I’m selling wholesale – my other food is retail from the food cart (braises, roasts, mac & cheese, soups, desserts, etc.) The headcheese is where my heart is, thanks for listening and best of luck with your market!

I like the term “New Heritage” at least for now. We’ll see if it sticks or fades out. Oh, I did change my mind back again regarding shipping sample terrines – I’m not going to cut them in half – the terrine needs the label on it and if I cut it in half I can’t put a label on it, and it seems like at least several of these retailers want enough sample to allow for more tasters to be involved. When I see the h-cheese in the deli case at Plum (and get a check) it will be “official” regarding my first whole sale customer transaction. I can’t wait to take a picture of the h-cheese in the case – I’ll have to make sure to record that it indeed happened because there’s obviously a chance that it doesn’t sell and they quit buying it. Meanwhile, I’ll try not to worry about that; one problem at a time. Until then, I keep shipping samples and gaining confidence. It’s good to remember what Ari says “Success means having better problems.” Here then is to what I consider my biggest success to date: getting the opportunity to place my product in a high-quality grocery amongst some of the finest food producers in the world with the opportunity to connect to a much larger group of enthusiastic patrons. Wow.