Tuesday, March 3, 2020. I received my first monthly sales report from Ingramspark, this from Lightening Source UK – I didn’t know they reported separately from the U.S. – and lo and behold I sold five hardcovers in the U.K. in February. That defines the other five hardcover sales as being from the U.S. You can’t win a war without information and oftentimes I feel impossibly embattled by the veil of data and lack of data, the obfuscating effect is the same. How to market and sell TIME CRIME effectively when I never know which end is up with what works and where and what doesn’t?
Meanwhile, with sales at zero for over two weeks – who in hell knows how I sold five copies in the U.K. earlier in the month? – I’m forced to reevaluate and reassess my strategy. The facts are that my pricing is high, intentionally because I’m keen to neither give my sh*t away nor get ripped off by the system, but it may be that it’s holding me back. At some point price becomes a barrier between my KDP ad clicks, say, and possible buyers gagging on the price. I don’t know for certain, all I can do is search the web, research from as many angles as I can, try to sift out the dubious sources and opinions from the valid. What’s valid? I’m left with my intuition because for whatever reason book pricing, eBook or print, is a wildly varying state of affairs. Perhaps it’s to do with indie publishing and KDP wrecking any standards of normalcy or reliably sustainable business models, I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t f*cking know!
A lot of the advice says price your book according to what the KDP recommendations are – there’s a beta app on Amazon now that allows you to click a button and they suggest a price along with showing you a chart that supposedly communicates reliable data to support it. So that your titles, as compared, they claim, with books “similar” to yours – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean besides genre, page count and trim size (and I’m not certain you can use this function with Amazon paperbacks, mind you, because I didn’t look for it) – ought to be priced thusly if you expect “maximum return” or whatever their language is. Ack. This is how Amazon distorts and controls the book market beyond all reasonableness. My first inclination, after all, is that the numbers don’t apply to TC1 as much as they apply to, say, Johnny hack-job amateur wannabe with a nine-book series of pulp garbage so-called sci-fi that he wrote in six months and who’s satisfied to “sell” it by way of giving it away. You know, free on Kindle. Or $9.99 for the whole f*cking nine book series, so that you’re going to sell books for a damn dollar? Sorry. I’m not competing with that market. Which is no market at all.
Why it is that so many people just want to be paid attention to rather than paid with real money is beyond me. As if I’m going to spend a year researching and writing my novels, then $6,500 dollars and at least several more months working with a professional editor and book designer only to publish the thing as a damn giveaway or at some indecently silly arbitrary price designed to just get the thing in a reader’s hands while I lose my ass financially. Oh, well, hold on, you say: you’ve got to suffer with such things in the beginning so as to build an audience, get reviews and otherwise build your platform for you other books. Keep writing and publishing and finally, after what, three books that you’ve spent $20,000 and four or five years of your life working on, you’ll have a platform from which to sell them and make some money back. Okay, $20,000 at $2.00 profit means I need to sell 10,000 books. Which seems reasonable. For one year for one book. Reasonable, that is, if I’m prepared to surrender to the idea that pouring myself into novel writing for a pittance of compensation, so as to maintain a hobby-style non-business makes any sense. It doesn’t.
Yet I write. I struggle to get the books written, edited, designed, priced properly and marketed. I’m willing to pay to play. I’m doing the research, putting in the time and taking it on the chin until my heart tells me I’ve reached the vanishing point of this dream, this vision of being a professional, sustainable authorpreneur. Right now it appears hopeless and I’m thinking just about everybody doing this is feeling or has felt the same way. I’ve read that most indie titles sell less than 100 copies. Today I read that they sell less than 250 copies. What’s the damn difference? – such sales figures aren’t. Sales figures, that is. 250 copies is equivalent to zero copies over the life of a book. Sure, one of those 250 readers may be a person of influence and by way of their platform, perhaps one’s book can be catapulted into sustainable sales in the tens of thousands per year by association. It happens. How often? Statistically, I’m sure it’s, again, close to zero. But we wannabes, we doomed writer types just keep writing. And writing and writing and writing. Because it’s what we do. And then we blow our hard earned cash on indie publishing ourselves. Ouch. It hurts. We suffer. Yet we persevere. It’s lunacy. We’re crazy. I’m frigging crazy.
But I like it. I like working on my manuscripts from start to finish. Mostly. Because sometimes it’s a damn torture to ramp myself up to the writing and the editing. But I wouldn’t trade this stuff for any of my old jobs, my forays into soul crushing employment. This is good. Even the tweaking and the toiling at the tedium of typos and copyrights and pricing. Pricing. I changed it. After grinding through yet another round of web based “advice” I’ve concluded it’s time to experiment and by way of my gut and my pride and my data and the bottom line of my profit per book per format, I’ve come up with the following, which I’ve implemented as of today. Amazon rushes such prices changes right through the system, they’re already live as we speak; Ingram, slowpokes that they are for whatever reason, requires me to wait until March 6. So, dear readers, get ‘em while you can; get your preferred format of TIME CRIME at the unheard of low, limited time discount price of:
- eBook: $9.99 (slashed from $12.99)
- Paperback: $17.99 (slashed from $21.99)
- Hardcover: $31.99 (slashed from $38.99)
Now, in the beginning, before I almost instantly updated the book with typo corrections, Amazon and B&N had all the versions on a discount. I don’t know why updating the thing causes it to go off sale pricing and I could ask and perhaps I will but goddammit I don’t really f*cking care as long as I can get a price that seems fair to both my readers and myself. I was careful, for instance, to keep my royalty for each format no lower, give or take a few cents depending upon the country, than $2.00/copy. Christ, that seems to me, given what I know about royalties, the absolute minimum. I know authors and musicians can make as low as $1.00 per copy off their work but I’m not there yet. So be it. I’m trying things. Experimenting. What do I have to lose at this point besides more money? Nothing more if the damn book isn’t selling. Zero sales begets zero sales, it’s that simple. I’m giving it a month, folks; that is to say, after the sales of TIME CRIME go through the roof this month be prepared for the price to go up! Hey, I can dream.
Two or three posts ago I promised everyone a list of tunes (these are in no particular order) for the TIME CRIME movie series soundtrack:
- Arvo Pärt – Estonian National Symphony Orchestra – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
- Rhythm of the Heat – Peter Gabriel
- Avalon – Roxy Music
- Future In the Past – Chickenfoot
- Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye – Roberta Flack
- All Fired Up – Pat Benatar
- Animate (Live R40) – Rush
- Mystic Rhythms – Rush
- Wonderful Life – Black
- The Sun Won’t Set – Anoushka Shankar/Nora Jones
- Traces of You – Anoushka Shankar/Nora Jones
- Save Your Love – Jefferson Starship
- Learning to Fall – Chickenfoot
- I – Heaven & Hell
- Unsaid – Anoushka Shankar/Nora Jones
- Maybe In a Million Years – Caterwaul
- Dry Bone Valley – Mastodon
- Colony of Birchmen – Mastodon
- Small Things In Heaven – Caterwaul
- Time After Time (Annelise) – R.E.M.
- Never Gonna Die – Choirboys
- Silently Falling – Chris Squire
- The Ghost In You – Siouxsie and the Banshees
- Trinidad – Eddie Money
- Never In a Million Years – Laura Branigan
- One By One, the Stars Were Going Out – David Cross & Robert Fripp
- The Deception of the Thrush – King Crimson
- Savage – Eurythmics
- Heaven (Must Be There) – Eurogliders
- Mawwal-Doha/Rais Al-Bahir – Charcoal Gypsies
- Let Her Dance – Bobby Fuller
- Baby’s On Fire – Brian Eno
- One Room Country Shack – Buddy Guy
- Manna and Quail – Caterwaul
- Tempest – Tool
- Descending – Tool
- The ConstruKction of Light (Part One) – King Crimson
- I Said a Prayer – Red House
- Giza – Hagar/Schon/Aaronson/Shrieve
- Cello Suite No.1 in G-Major (S. Bach), transcribed for violin – Rachel Podger
- Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles
- Hyper-ballad – Bjork
- All Mixed Up – The Cars
- Once In My Life – The Decemberists
- Let Down – Radiohead
- That’s Alright (Alternate Take) – Fleetwood Mac
- Epitaph (KC50 Single #30) – King Crimson
- Planets of the Universe (Demo) – Fleetwood Mac
- Invincible – Tool
- Ghosteen – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Hollywood – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Galleon Ship – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) – Kate Bush
- Jig of Life – Kate Bush
- Derby Blues (Early Live Version of Cowboy Song) – Thin Lizzy
- Unknown I – Robert Fripp
- Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly) – Icicle Works
- Sweetwater Pools – Screaming Blue Messiahs
- For Earth Below – Robin Trower
- Silver Raven – Gene Clark
- Peace Piece – Bill Evans
- Palaces of Montezuma – Grinderman
- Wild Old Dog – Patty Griffin
- Let the Mystery Be – Iris Dement
- This is the Sea – Waterboys
- Paris In the Rain – Waterboys/Mick Scott
- You And I: Cord of Life/Eclipse/The Preacher (Alternate Take) – Yes
- The Last Beat of My Heart (Live) – Siouxsie and the Banshees
- Gran Torino – Kyle Eastwood
- Twisted Highway – Erika Wennerstrom
- Here Again (Live Alternate Version) – Rush
- 2112 (Grand Finale – Live From the Vault) – Rush
- New York Serenade – Bruce Springsteen
- Pound For Pound – The Bad Plus
- Mother’s Song – Justin Kauflin
- The Weapon (Live Grace Under Pressure) – Rush
- Building God – Tennis
- Multiple Truths – Melechesh
- Elegia – New Order
- Born To Go – Hawkwind
The list is neither static – I continue to tweak it, deleting and adding – but a great many of the songs seem perennial and most have, obviously when you listen to the lyrics, something to do with time and a sense, in my interpretation at least, of romantic myth. But some are just there for the emotion or mood they invoke, as long as it somehow connects, however obliquely, to the nature of TIME CRIME. And of course, as I indicated, this is far too much music for one film – it’s and 8-hour playlist according to my music service, Qobuz (yes, I am a big proponent of FLAC and hi-res music!). Anyway, I can’t count how many jam sessions I’ve enjoyed with this list which is especially fantastic at high volumes.
Now, I’m an audiophile of sorts (on the low financial end) with a Bluesound system hooked to my Paradigm tower speakers and subwoofer. And don’t even get me started on the sh*ttiness of vinyl – I collected records when that was still the only thing you could get besides cassette tapes and I’ve studied the business, I subscribed to an audiophile magazine in high school circa 1979-83, rejoiced at the introduction of the compact disc, worked in recorded music retail for years (in Michigan and New York City) and I have no tolerance for the vinyl fetish folks who think a noisy, heavy, usually warped hunk of vinyl playing at a variable speed (ever hear of “wow & flutter”?) accompanied, inevitably by the sound of frying bacon and Rice Krispies (groove noise) or at least noise, period, is anything at all to do with audiophile quality sound. MP3s? Don’t go there. The twenty-five years of misery us audiophiles endured between, say, 1990 and 2015 when music suddenly and horribly became “free” and at the same time of incomparably lousy quality (if you’re of that so-called Napster generation I especially despise you) is over. Enough said.
I read somewhere that if you’re going to blog and expect to get somehow ranked well, or what have you, on the web search engines, then you should prepare to generate posts in excess of 3,000 words. Hmm. 3,000 /500 single-space-words = 6 pages of post. That’s a lot. Even for me – in my first handful of years journaling I routinely generated five-plus pages of single-spaced blather a day. But then I also stuffed my journal entries with photographs which I no longer feel compelled to do. And I transcribed what must have amounted to hundreds of pages of quotations from the books I was reading. Because I’m the kind of seeker who seeks answers in texts, by way of the written word. Other folks, other seekers, as the wisdom traditions suggest, require said wisdom by way of the spoken word. Still others, perhaps only by way of images. Anyway, if I’m going to reliably post that kind of word count then I think it best to do it right; that is, I think I ought to give my readers – that’s you! – the highest quality, most authentic experience they can have. Not writing for writing’s sake but writing that means something to me, that tells the story from when I began journaling sometime in January 2010, soon after I was fired from my big corporate job (it’s part of the DOP, don’t worry) to now, when I took this journaling thing public, when I took it to the people. There are expletives. There are, again, photographs and quotations that I have not asked for permission to use, though everything, and I mean everything I cite is always properly cited. If you don’t know, there’s a difference between citing works and obtaining permission from the publisher to republish excerpts from them.
Here, then, are the two bits “Mental Hum” and “Market Forces” (separate headings is the format I’ve always used for changes in subject matter or tone or mood or topic, what have you) that inaugurate Day of Pigs (DOP1 2010-11 is the nomenclature I will use for each subsequently annual volume – I crammed only the first two years together).
The headings have never been arbitrary but these days, after a decade of working at it, I no longer compile the headers into so-called chapters, least of all generate a Table of Contents at the beginning of a year’s journal document. So be it, I’ve simplified a little over the years. But back then, sometime in 2010 when I started (I didn’t start dating the journal entries until later, you’ll see) I was just winging it, as they say, and writing willy nilly whatever came to mind. Again, I never considered it a diary because I was both working through my anxieties in the form of written auto-therapy and also learning and talking to myself and writing to my secret, inborn reader, if you will – that reader that wasn’t and, for all I know at this point because who knows if anyone is reading this now, never will be. Be assured I’ll make at least a cursory attempt at editing this stuff if it’s too nakedly revealing or embarrassing but since it’s too much work to edit myself everyday (besides by way of my work on TC2) I’m likely going to find myself just cutting and pasting, footnotes and everything, come what may, catch me if you can. Hey, I’m not here to steal other writer’s work at all but rather to write what interests me and on a good day somebody else, heaven help me. Again, everything that isn’t my own, original work, is cited – I’ve done my very best over ten years to happily, enthusiastically and as professionally as possible give credit where credit is due. I’d love to have my notes serve to promote the work that I’m citing, hell, we’re all in this together as writers!
Otherwise, please, enjoy the modern and antique vintages of these posts; I look forward to somebody, someday, getting some value out of the story – the departures, trials and returns – that reside within.
DOP1 – Introduction – Mental Hum
“In the book of life, each page has two sides. On one side are our aspirations; on the other side is what is meant for us. Seldom are the two the same.”
A friend once showed me this: tie a small heavy object – a metal fastener, like a nut or bolt for example – to a string, dangle it over a person’s head or the outstretched palm of their hand and get them to talk about something they like – anything at all. The object, of its own accord, will begin to move in a circle. Ask them about something you know they don’t like, and it will stop moving. Go back to what they like, and you get the spinning nut again….
DOP1 – Market Forces
The heat of the day invaded the cab of my truck like a swarm of bees and I endured the familiar compulsion to gasp for air. It was August in Houston. I had read somewhere that the heat and humidity here in the Gulf Coast is “like a clammy hand over your face.” For me, it’s just another thing about this part of the world I haven’t gotten used to; along with the traffic, muddy beaches, thick-stemmed Bermuda grass and paradisal palm trees. I haven’t gotten used to farmers markets either. The friendly earnestness and immediacy, the sense of doing the right thing for the people of this earth and the planet itself never seemed to make up for the underwhelming selection and hit-or-miss quality of the goods. I would find myself leaving with a small bag of tomatoes, or underripe peaches, or a mediocre bunch of green beans, or worse yet an undewhelming loaf of bread and then still having to do all my other grocery shopping somewhere else, somewhere air-conditioned and infinitely more conveniently stocked with everything I needed. The facile atmosphere here, the easy-going graciousness of these events, always belied the logistical difficulty smoldering beneath the whole affair, the bone-crushing work of the farmers who harvested and hauled their hard-won boon from the land only to have to drive it fifty or a hundred miles into the fourth-largest, notoriously traffic-packed city in the country. And then our efforts, the shoppers, who’d have negotiated the same maddening vehicular gauntlet, albeit from some suburb, like me, or perhaps some downtown high-rise, scheduling our day around this little opportunity to make a difference, only to find the prices high and the selection slim. But here I was, Tuesday afternoon, already sweating in an already overheated parking lot next to Rice University Stadium, making my tentative and tender footed way towards a small cluster of white-canopied food stalls, people and cars coming and going, trying to believe in this. It was my second visit.
On my first, it hadn’t taken long to walk around the u-shaped configuration of vendors – there were only ten or twelve tables – and feel underwhelmed. One cannot complete one’s grocery shopping at a farmers market. Today, near the entrance, the local animal shelter had set up some cages containing dogs – all panting. It was too hot for them, even in the shade, and I felt like an animal shelter should’ve known better. Next to the dogs, a keyboard player, apparently the entertainment, hadn’t plugged in yet. Nonetheless, I was determined to give my experiment in farm-to-fork eating, or more accurately, farmer-to-fork eating, a worthy effort. I bought some green beans, leeks (I should have known they’d be too woody this late in the season), tomatoes, a loaf of bread (looked good and tasted bad), a pastured chicken, and a carton of farm eggs, their large shells tinted in pastel blues, pinks and greens.
I didn’t expect to see a pig farmer. I asked him if he had any shoulder cuts, which I enjoy roasting. He asked me how big of a shoulder I was looking for. I wanted a five or six pounder, which he didn’t have, but it prompted a polite lesson from him regarding the difference between the butt and the picnic portions. He pointed to a diagram of a pig on the table top, which I found both helpful and confusing – I was glad to learn more about pork, especially from a pig farmer, but I wasn’t sure I understood everything he was talking about – butt versus picnic? Reading cookbooks and gazing into meat cases at grocery stores hadn’t yet turned me into a butcher.
Digging into a large cooler behind him he gathered up some thick, oblong, frost-covered slabs and unceremoniously clunked them onto the table. “I do have shoulder steaks,” he said. I took the opportunity to nab one his sample-sized pieces of sausage – on toothpicks – and chewed. I wasn’t interested in sautéing the thin steaks, or braising them; I wanted pork I could slow roast and then “pull.” I was also taken aback by the fact that the meat was frozen – for some reason I assumed, ridiculously in this heat, that the meat would be fresh.
He could tell that he hadn’t sold me, and I guess I could’ve asked for chops or loins or ribs, but it didn’t occur to me, I was stuck on the concept of slow roasting some farm-to-table pork. I asked about whole belly, confident that a pig farmer would have a lot of bellies for sale. No, he only brought sliced fresh bacon to the market. He said a whole belly was about eight or ten pounds, and they came with or without the jowl – I just had to call him later in the week and he would let me know what he still had available to bring to the market next time. A little frustrated, but still interested, I took one of his business cards and left for home.
Things had seemed expensive that day, and nothing I was taking home from the market looked any better than I was used to seeing at my organic grocery – some of the produce, wilting even in the shade, had in fact looked worse. The selection at the market was limited, it was thirty miles in Houston traffic to get there, and it was only open on Tuesday evenings between four and seven o’clock. In that sense, my farmers market experience here hadn’t been any more inspiring than the farmers markets I’d been to elsewhere – it still seemed like the product didn’t justify the logistics and the price. I could get a week’s supply of groceries, along with kitchen cleaners, freezer bags, wine, beer and lunch at Whole Foods Market up the street, and still feel confident that I was buying organic and even “local” food. Except for pork – the best Whole Foods had to offer was from Canada. But I was trying to practice what I was starting to preach. Like many who have confronted their food-consciousness – how they feel about what they eat – I decried the horrors of what I was learning about industrial agriculture. I was determined to begin making an effort to help shorten the food chain and support small farms.
Two weeks went by and I was still thinking about pork belly. I had glanced more than once at the business card I took from the market: Allen Harrison, Harrison Hog Farms, Beasley, Texas. There’s a website, and it has a no-frills simplicity and a home-spun, unprofessional authenticity, reflected as much in the unselfconscious grammar, that seemed appropriate, somehow, for what I took to be a busy family-run farm:
Harrison Hog Farm began with the raising of a few pigs for our own personal consumption. Realizing what a tasty product we had, not to mention a healthy alternative to the other white meat. We decided to make our pork available for America’s tables.
The straightforward business idea and the plain prose seemed in line with the reading I’d been doing regarding the small-scale livestock farmer – folks eager to sell directly to an interested public. And I realized that they may be almost as new at selling to people like me as I was at buying from people like them, which made me feel less intimidated. I decided to call Allen – I ordered an eight-pound belly and two cheeks, which I planned to pick up that coming Tuesday at the Rice University market.
Allen’s products are frozen hard as a rock but that Tuesday, as he pulled the belly I’d ordered from his cooler, he handled it carefully, as if it was fragile, indicating I do the same, explaining that they had a tendency to separate otherwise. The cheeks were frozen and vacuum packed, and weighed about two pounds each. It was starting to hit me how different this was going to be compared to what I was used to, and I needed to get my feet under me. Allen obviously wasn’t going to bring his entire meat locker to the market. Neither could he set up a grand meat case – temperature-and-humidity-controlled – with tidy displays of glistening loins, chops, ribs, butts and bacon. I would have to be willing to play by these new rules which, of course, were actually closer to the old rules, before the supermarkets and the middle-men got in between the farmer and the consumer. I’d become very used to a variety of fresh pork available any day of the week; maybe not the variety of cuts and offal that I’d been reading about so earnestly in my favorite cook books, food journals and web sites, but quality versions of popular cuts, nonetheless.
With Allen, you pre-order what you need through his website, or call him on the phone. Maybe you learn a thing or two from him about cuts of pork in the process. Maybe he doesn’t have what you need that week, or for two or three weeks. Allen will pull your vacuum-packed, butcher-papered, frozen-solid pork out of a big plastic cooler or one of his two residential freezers (if you visit his farm), and weigh it, if he hasn’t already. You pay him, cash only, about two dollars more per pound than you would at regular retail. He’ll sell you his own sausages too.
Timing and planning are important parts of the process which, though initially frustrating given my I want it now middle-class American upbringing, begins to make sense when I think about how much planning and timing has always been part of farming and eating. Now, with an appreciation of seasonal eating becoming more common, we know that year-round availability of any food, meat, fish or vegetable is sort of a silly concept. There’s nothing wrong with getting in line with how the seasons work. It can make coming up with ideas for dinner easier because it limits some of your choices – you can’t prepare just anything anymore, right? What’s so bad about that? Same thing with buying my pork from Allen, I think – a little planning on my part isn’t so difficult, and the rewards have been worth it: the meat tastes great and I feel good about where it came from. There’s the experience of talking to a farmer which, as a life-long urbanite and farmers market irregular, I don’t do often. You put your cash directly into the hand of the guy who produced the product, which of course I don’t do often either. It’s what I call “joy exchange” – the buyer and the seller exchange with each other the knowledge and appreciation of the product – there’s no mystery middle-man to blur the authenticity of the experience. Allen seems to enjoy it. I hope he doesn’t get burned out or jaded by his experience – I hope he’s making enough money to make it worthwhile for him to keep coming to the market. Heck, I’ll drive to his farm or the slaughterhouse to pick up my stuff if I have to, because it looks and tastes great. Just like he said it would. The color of the meat is a rosy red, not the off-white or pale pink you may see in the supermarkets. It wasn’t bred for leanness, and it certainly wasn’t injected with chemical tenderizing solutions. It comes from within an hour’s drive of Houston.
Allen’s pigs are a Yorkshire-Hampshire cross. He has access to a local, state-inspected slaughter facility which, if you’ve done any reading about the sorry state of the small-scale slaughter industry, has been decimated by what is referred to as “vertical integration” of the business of pork production. The handful of very large hog producers and processers, places like Smithfield, Cargill and Tyson, have attempted to essentially own the entire process – from birth to death and beyond, so to say. The only thing they don’t own, at least not yet, are the dwindling number of rendering plants that dispose of animal carcasses, but the market place is making that business unprofitable too.
Anyway, if you’re a small-scale farmer like Allen, raising a
small number of pigs a year and you want to sell your product to the public,
you’ve got some challenges that the huge, intensive-farming operations don’t
have. The big guys have spent decades engineering out the very challenges that
Allen, and others like him, are reintroducing to hog farming.
 Diane Wolkstein, “Layla and Majnun,” Parabola, Spring 2010, Vol. 35, No.1, p.37.