Welcome to Sweet Weasel Words, home of author Crawford Smith.
I love writing, but am not particularly fond of creating and maintaining websites, so please be patient while I attempt to beat this sumbitch into some sort of order.
My big project right now is publishing a novel called Jackrabbit. This is a historical crime novel about the latter career of Depression-era gangster John Dillinger. This criminal’s life was indeed stranger than fiction – so much so that I had to focus on only the last five months of it to keep from overwhelming myself and the reader. Check out the Jackrabbit page for details.
Greetings and Happy New Year! I haven’t been very active on this blog due to holiday travels, a nasty cold that one of my co-workers gave the entire office right before Christmas, and general laziness.
Right now, Portland is bracing for a “big” snowstorm that probably won’t happen – but if it does, I can actually devote some time to focused writing. I’m still polishing up a “short” story with the working title of Reset. The first draft topped out just north of 21,000 words, which is definitely out of short story range and more like a novella. I had originally thought about wielding a fierce editorial pen to try and trim it down to ~10,000 words, but at this point I don’t think that will happen. There are two reasons for this: 1) my aforementioned laziness, and 2) the way the story wound up left it as a possible springboard for a series. And we all love series, don’t we, gang?
I’m still trying to get my head around further promotion for Jackrabbit (more on that later, perhaps), as well as trying to clean up an older novel manuscript for a story called Fester. Tat is going to require a few bucks for the editor, cover design, etc. – so maybe after we get past tax season (and we get a refund).
I’ve also started research for a story I’ve been kicking around in the basement for a long, long time. It’s about stand-up comedians, and based on the careers of such humor luminaries as Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce and Doug Kenney. This is a monumental undertaking, and I’d guess that even the first draft would be two years in the making…so, we’ll see.
While I’m still trying to ramp up my creative activities in the new year, I have been able to post an old short story I cranked out while writing the first draft of Jackrabbit. It’s kinda weird and very silly – basically, it’s John Dillinger and his gang going up against a very unusual foe. It’s called Encounter in the North Woods, and you can check it out here.
In all likelihood, the proposed exhumation of John Dillinger is dead in the water. For those who haven’t followed my posts on this (here, here and here), I’ll give a quick capsule review.
In late July, a week after the 85th anniversary of the Biograph shooting (and also the release date for Jackrabbit), it was announced that Dillinger’s nephew Michael Thompson had obtained a permit from the Indiana Department of Health allowing him to exhume the body of his famous gangster uncle. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that this was in some wise connected with a proposed biography of John Dillinger that the History Channel was preparing. The reason for the exhumation was to determine whether or not it was really Dillinger in the grave, addressing the “wrong man theory” that has been kicking around for decades.
Not all of Dillinger’s relatives were happy about this development, and the bickering began in public forums (fora?) as well as in the courtroom. Then things started to go a little sideways. The History Channel, without comment, announced that they were bailing on the putative documentary project. Then Crown Hill Cemetery started making noises about not going through with the exhumation. More complaints were filed in court.
So here we are, largely as I had anticipated, with a bunch of legal wrangling ending in a stalemate. How do I feel about this? Well may you ask! I was agin it until I was fur it. Being a self-referential contrarian, I was vaguely opposed to the idea while it looked like it was likely to happen, but now that it doesn’t look like it will happen, I’m disappointed – and a little pissed.
“Court finds that the statutory requirements for this section of the statute are clear in that disinterment requires the cemetery owner to give consent before disinterment may occur,” Oakes’ ruling says, according to online court records, “and the statute does not require that the cemetery have a valid, rational, or meaningful reason.”
And it can be argued that Crown Hill doesn’t really have a “valid, rational, or meaningful reason.” The cemetery has said that disinterring Dillinger would be disruptive and potentially upsetting to family members of other Crown Hill residents. While that seems a valid concern, wouldn’t that also be applicable to every other exhumation at the cemetery? It’s really only a matter of degree, and if Dillinger’s exhumation would require more equipment and attract larger media attention, it seems that simple planning would mitigate many of the concerns Crown Hill cites.
In addition to being contrary, I am also somewhat conspiracy-minded. Given some of the weirdness surrounding this exhumation drama, I’m having a hard time avoiding the thought that there is more at work here than meets the eye. First of all, the History Channel pulled out of the documentary project with little fanfare and less explanation. It seems to me that even if the exhumation didn’t take place, the attendant publicity would be a boon for thier project. Second, and most obvious, are Crown Hill’s specious reasons for opposing the exhumation. Finally, and arguably the kicker is the FBI’s unprompted assertion that they really did “get their man” back in 1934 and that the body in Crown Point is really that of John Dillinger.
Now, I’ve never touted Jackrabbit as anything but a work of fiction. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had been familiar with the “wrong man theory” that the person shot outside the Biograph was really a low-level crook named Jimmy Lawrence. The novel started as a thought experiment about how that switcheroo actually occurred. One of the plot points was the J. Edgar hoover and the FBI knew that they had gotten the wrong man, but allowed it to be covered up to avoid embarassing themselves. Given all of the weirdness around the Dillinger exhumation, it doesn’t seem entirely too crazy to think that the FBI knows that it isn’t really Dillinger in that Crown Hill grave, and put pressure on the History Channel and the cemetery to put the kibosh on the exhumation.
Of course that’s just me talking my typical crazy-talk. It looks like we won’t find out for sure, at least in the short term. However, the judge in last week’s ruling dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that a clever lawyer still might be able to argue that the cemetery is compelled to carry out the exhumation. Until then, however, the conspiracy theories will continue to circulate.
Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I’ve been busy channeling the spirit of Jim Anchower.
Actually, I’ve been doing doodley-squat, which has not lent itself to creation of a post. So, since it’s been several weeks that I haven’t posted – or done much of anything else – I figured I could slap together some half-assed post about why I haven’t done anything.
Fist, I’ve almost completely stalled out on promoting Jackrabbit. This lack of activity shows: my last royalty payment was $5.62. Whoopee-ding-dong! I’ve agonized over the process before, and will not belabor the point now. Suffice it to say that indie book promotion is a time-consuming pain in the ass, and I am a lazy sumbitch – a suboptimal combination if ever there was one. Now that we’re past the Thanksgiving holiday and into prime American consumption season, I would be well-advised to get off my keister and try to wave the book around in the face of the book-buying public in the hope of a sale or two. Absolutely. First thing, tomorrow.
And while I might have been acting like a blockhead writer, I don’t actually have writer’s block per se. I just finished up the first draft of a short story called “Reset.” Although at nearly 22,000 words, the story is well past the “short” stage and well into novella territory. That was definitely not my intention; it took a long time (~4 months) for the story to find its rhythm. My goal is to trim that puppy down to about 10K words by January.
Or maybe March.
“Reset” is the result of a very intense dream I had back around April of this year, where I woke up to find that I was back in eight grade, but with all of my adult memories. I know, this is hardly an original notion, and has been covered extensively in films such as “Big” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Still, it was fun to write, and bey drastically wielding the editorial pen, I hope to make it fun to read, and eventually post it on the Short Stories section.
As for 2020, I’m not sure in which direction I intend to go. There are a couple of novel ideas I’ve been kicking around, but also perhaps a few more short stories that need to be dispatched first. We shall see.
At the urging of friends who generally know what they’re talking about, I’ve decided to put a few short stories up on the site. I was originally a little hesitant, as they’re not as polished as Jackrabbit or some of my longer or more recent pieces.
The first is The Bounce, which was inspired by a coffee kiosk I would pass every morning on my way to work. The draw of the place is that the baristas were clad in skimpy bikinis and lingerie. I always wondered what sort of weird customer interactions went on there, as well as how cold it got in the winter. (They have an awesome heater.)
Also up is Cruising with Melvin and the Furb which is largely based on something that happened in college. It’s basically a standard dumbass-fraternity-boys-on-drugs story, but it’s got a couple of chuckles out of it. The guys from Beta-Beta sure thought it was funny.
There will be more as I dust them off and/or write them.
The purpose of this blog is two-fold: 1) provide me a forum in which I can piss and moan, and 2) provide some advice so that others may not have to piss and moan as much as I. Also, I guess – 1.5) provide s repository of useful information for myself that I can use as a reference, as my memory is like a cloth bag full of water.
One piece of advice that I deliberately blew off in the runup to the release of Jackrabbit is thus: plan your book release. Give it at least three months, and preferably more. I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons. The first was that I realized late in the game that I was coming up on the 85th anniversary of the event that was a major plot point in the book, so I rushed to get the book out on that date. The other reason is that I am a lazy bastard, and really didn’t want to think about marketing and promotion ahead of time.
Well, live and learn. If I ever do it again (and I probably will), I’ll spend more time planning how, where and under what circumstances I will release the book.
One of the more interesting lessons learned has to do with the distribution channels through which the book is distributed. Based on my overall need to rush to get the book out, coupled with my inherent laziness, I decided to go with Amazon KDP for the complete publishing service. This saved a fair amount of up-front decision-making, but it did cause some problems later on. So far, the biggest of these is that many indie bookstores hate Amazon with a passion and will not carry self-published books produced through Amazon KDP – an issue I groused about in a previous post.
When I was bandying with a representative from one of those stores, he suggested that I create an account with IngramSpark to contend with the anti-Amazon bias. The issue with that is that I’d already sold my soul to Amazon and signed up for their Expanded Distribution option. This nominally provided more outlets for potential sales – allegedly large booksellers and libraries. Of course, as with most anything in American consumer culture, Some Restrictions Apply. In this case, that meant that I wouldn’t be able to use IngramSpark to distribute the book to finicky indie stores.
This begs the question: what the hell is IngramSpark anyway? IngramSpark is a subdivision of the massive Ingram Content Group, which is a huge book distributor and publishing service provider (whatever the hell that means).
Here’s the interesting part: by signing up for Amazon’s Expnded Distribution option, I’m actually having some books distributed through Ingram anyway. I found this out recently in my ongoing struggle to get Jackrabbit some shelf space in local indie bookstore behemoth Powell’s Books (as I griped about here and here). I looked into the possibility of ditching Expanded Distribution and signing up for IngramSpark, but the whole thing smacked of effort. It’s possible, apparently, but there was a whole rigamarole about relisting the ISBN number and so forth, and I don’t really see how it would necessarily boost my sales at this point. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m definitely lazy. I did, however, find a good article about why self-published authors should use both:
This has gotten wordy/whiny enough, so I am just going to sum up the important things I think I’ve learned so far:
Always Buy Your Own ISBN Numbers – This is one of the few things I got right out of the gate. Amazon KDP and other services will give you free ISBN numbers, be then they own your ass. The Bowker’s monopoly on ISBN number sales in North America results in a scammy pricing structure, but it beats the restrictions that come with a “free” number.
Use Amazon KDP for Early Production – You don’t have to shell out at all, meaning you can tweak the design, upload revisions to your heart’s content, and get it OCD-perfect before you shell out a dime. The author copies are more reasonably priced, as well.
Don’t Sign Up for Amazon; Expanded Distribution; Get an Ingram Spark Account – IngramSpark will get your books to bookstores and libraries that hate Amazon with a passion and won’t buy books from them. There are also more printing options, including more paper choices and hardback versions (Amazon KDP is paperback-only). To be fair, the Expanded Distribution network might slip a few copies to self-same Amazon-haters, but IngramSpark is probably better.
Amazon’s KDP Select Ain’t All That and a Bag of Chips – KDP Select is a program that offers expanded worldwide distribution for your eBook, as well as periodic special offers you can make on your book. However, KDP Select restricts your ability to sell your eBook through other channels (WordSmash, Draft2Digital, etc.) The offers are restricted to a handful of days within a 90-day window, so not so hotso. I’d advise going with the other ePublishers.
There: all of my recent kvetching boiled down into four pithy bullet points. My next novel is gonna go so smooooooooooth!
A week or so ago, someone suggested that I approach a small but iconic bookstore in town about getting Jackrabbit on the shelves and perhaps doing a reading. For the sake of not alienating myself further, I’m going to call the place Arnie Bang’s Books. Arnie Bang’s isn’t a local colossus like Powell’s, but has been around for awhile and has a good reputation. It’s kinda like the “Cheers” of Portland bookstores.
I called Arnie Bang’s about carrying the book and possibly scheduling a reading, and the person I talked to was very friendly receptive …until I let slip that I had published the book through Amazon KDP. At that point, she became quite frosty and cut the conversation short. When I asked as to why, I was told “Amazon is the competition!” End of conversation.
I was, as I mentioned earlier, butt-hurt. I totally understand hating on Amazon’s monstrous global retail monopoly…because I hate on it, too. So does everybody…but it’s just so fucking convenient. I try to buy local where I can – Powell’s for books, Music Millennium for tunage, Fred Meyer for groceries, etc. (The last one’s a bit of a stretch – Fred Meyer was bought out by Kroger in ’98, and they’ve really been acting corporate as hell lately. But I digress…) But if the local stores don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m shopping online the next day.
So I get the hating on Amazon bit, but the part that peeved me was that Amazon’s cut comes out of my pocket. Amazon makes their money on their markup on the author copies it sells me. Arnie Bloom’s would get their 40% of the cover price, regardless if it had been published by Amazon, Lulu Press or even freakin’ Kinko’s.
I took a look at the book, and there is absolutely nothing that indicates where it was printed. I was tempted to just go back to Arnie Bang’s and trying bullshit them into carrying the book, but at that point I figured that my integrity was more important than the handful of bucks I’d potentially make. Besides, Arnie Bang’s would end up making more per copy than I would, so fuck ’em.
I did a little research, and apparently it is not uncommon for indy book stores to refuse to carry books published through Amazon KDP. Hey, it’s their business and they’re free to run it how they see fit. And I’m free to think that refusing to stock a book based on where it’s printed is a self-defeating move. I doubt Jeff Bezos is losing sleep over Arnie Bang’s business practices, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna go back there.
Wellnow, I just finished up my first experience with buying Facebook ads to promote Jackrabbit, and I’ve come away nonplussed. And that’s being generous.
To be fair, I’ve long had an attitude problem towards Facebook. In fact, I had bailed on it entirely after the Cambridge Analytica news broke. I reluctantly joined back up when it became apparent that it would be impossible to promote the book or really do any sort of business without having a Facebook account. So I held my nose and did it.
That was pretty much my attitude when it came to running ads on Facebook. I was unhappy enough with giving Mark Zuckerberg my personal information, now I was going to have to give him some actual money, as well. We were not amused.
Still, it takes money to make money, and since there was my folding green on the line I felt that some research was required. I read a book and worked through a LinkedIn Learning course until I felt like I had a solid grasp on the basics. I set up the graphics, developed what seemed to be a good target audience, wrote some copy and submitted the ad.
It was rejected.
Facebook has a policy whereby they won’t accept your ad if the text in the graphic takes up more than 20% of the space. My response: so what? If I want to run an ad that is nothing but the words “SUCK IT, MARK” is 96 point Arial Black, what difference does that make to Facebook? Their nominal reason is that ads with a lot of text don’t perform that well, but I suspect that’s just a cover story.
Here’s another bit of Facebook advertising trivia that I found out the hard way: you can’t drive traffic from a Facebook ad directly to an Amazon listing. Do what? I figure that this should be in BIG BOLD LETTERS somewhere on the Facebook ads info page, but I had to go through the entire process of creating an ad only to have it rejected because I had to put a snippet of FB code called a “pixel” on the landing page in the ad. Not surprisiingly, Amazon is not keen on having FB pixels on their site. Go figure.
To accommodate these unexpected challenges, I changed the ad graphic to have less text and pointed the ad at the Jackrabbit page, which now included the Facebook pixel. (Jeebus only knows what that little hunk of code is doing besides tracking my click-through rate.) With these changes, the ad was accepted. I had budgeted the minimum as this was my first ad – five bucks a day for eight days. I submitted the ad and waited for the sales figures to skyrocket.
I was particularly optimistic, as the same week the ad was running, I was also had an article about Dillinger featured on CrimeReads.com, and of course I plugged the book in the article. I figured that I would have a nice little sales bump between the two promotional bits running that week. I waited until the end of the week to check the sales figures, so as not to spoil the surprise. Well, I was surprised all right: that week I sold all of three copies.
Three. Fucking. Copies.
Needless to say, I was disappointed and (obviously) kinda pissed. Even making that assumption that all three sales came from the Facebook ads and not the CrimeReads article (not really a valid assumption, BTW), that means I spent forty dollars on advertising to bring me about seven bucks in royalties.
This is not what you would call a sustainable business model.
So, back to the drawing board. If anyone is actually reading this blog, they will have no doubt detected a certain note of disappointment in my recent posts about how well my totally excellent self-published novel has been selling. Clearly, I’m doing something wrong here. So, once again I will suck it up and spend more time trying to pick apart what I did the first time around that resulted in such a miserable return on investment. No doubt that there’s some other smart guy out there willing to take my money to tell me what I’m doing wrong.
I bet they won’t even care if the text in my ad graphic exceeds 20%.
I’ll admit up front that this post is going to suffer from a marked lack of graciousness on the part of yours truly. Anyone who I offend can contact me directly, and I’ll buy you a Mr. Pibb.
This has been a frustrating week for me personally, for a variety of reasons – but instead of barfing them out in one whiny blog post, I figure I can stretch them out to two or three bitch-specific posts that will perhaps in some small way boost the Google search ranking of this site. It’s called providing content, people!
Today’s gripe: getting reviews on Jackrabbit’s Amazon site. From my research into the wild and wooly world of self-publishing, getting a variety of reviews on your book’s Amazon listing is the key to sales. If you look at a book listing, and it has half a dozen five-star reviews, and most of the reviewers have the same last name as the author, then you know you’re probably looking at a real snoozer with horrible punctuation and probably no verbs. No one’s going to want to buy that book.
Here’s where the lack of graciousness comes in: I am fortunate in that I have many friends and relatives who very generously bought Jackrabbit when it came out. To them I offer much gratitude, as well as much frustration – because getting a significant number of them to actually go on Amazon and leave a review has been like pulling teeth!
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that,” they say. “But I just really haven’t had the time lately. Maybe next week.” All this spoken in a weary tone, as if I’d cajoled them into cleaning out my basement. It makes me want to holler, “Hey, it’s just a quick review! It will take approximately the same amount of time as it did for you to post to Facebook that picture of the basket of Buffalo wings you got at the Cleveland airport!” I mean, really.
So, I keep wheedling, hinting and make veiled threats about kidnapping beloved pets or stuffed animals. It occurs to me that maybe they haven’t actually read the book. That’s a distinct possibility for the people that downloaded it for free during one of the Amazon eBook giveaways. When something cost nothing, then it’s never a high-priority. On the other hand, maybe they read it, but think it stinks. I hope not, but even so, I rather have a raft of brutally honest reviews rather.
All right, so I just try to stay patient and avoid getting too pushy (but still a little pushy, maybe). What else is there to do?
Fuggit. I’m gonna get myself a basket of Buffalo wings.
I was especially flattered as CrimeReads is a well-respected crime book blog; an offshoot of the uber-respected LiteraryHub website. Big love to them for giving me a chance to show off my writing (and, of course, flog Jackrabbit), while other, less-prestigious book review sites gave me the cold shoulder. Take that, “Uncle Bubba’s Best Bad Guy Book and Monster Truck Video Reviews”! You missed out.
Four-plus years’ worth of (occasionally) hard work has finally paid off! This week, I got my first royalty payment for Jackrabbit – a whopping forty-one dollars and forty-eight cents! Woo-hoo! Not complaining, not complaining – well, not really. It’s good to see something in the “credits” column of the Sweet Weasel Words balance sheet. The last time something showed up there was when I signed up for a PayPal account, and they deposited 39 cents – then promptly withdrew it.
So, they way I’m looking at the situation vis-a-vis trying to market and promote the book: I’ve spent nearly five years writing this book and getting it published. Now, in my foolishness, I thought that that was going to be the bulk of the effort. I realize now that it was only the preliminary effort. So the choice is to suck it up and get on with the unpleasant (for me) matter of marketing, or just walk away and start working on another novel.
This is tempting, very tempting. I’ve got at least three big-time story ideas I’d really like to explore. On the other hand, after all the effort I’ve put into Jackrabbit, I’d really like to get it the exposure I think it deserves, and maybe make a few bucks in the process. Of course, I’m under no illusion that this book is a prize-winner, or that I’ll be able to retire on the proceeds. Still, if I want people to be able to read and enjoy it (and I’ll be honest, to stroke my ego in the process), I guess I’ll have to put put off the next big writing project and start selling.
From what I’ve been able to tell, the most effective way to do this is through Facebook advertising. And I really hate the idea of giving money to Face book – hell, I resent just having to have a Facebook account at all. So be it. Needs must when the devil drives, and so forth.
At this point, I’ve got $41.48 that I didn’t have last week, so I might as well hand it over to Mr. Zuckerberg and see if he can’t turn that into at least $42 worth of additional sales. It will be fairly easy to measure the success of this endeavor, given the current sales figures. So what the hell, guess I’ll see what I can make of this.