Saturday, December 20, 2008

The search goes on

Had a nice meeting with a possible new publisher. She bought the coffee and we discussed the general malaise of the print publishing industry. Definitely not an auspicious beginning. We talked for about an hour. Plenty of time for her to get to know me. Then we said Goodbye and she offered to get back in touch after the holidays. Hmmm. We'll see I guess. I'm not very well schooled in that sort of "business speak" or verbal body language. I hope she was genuine and sincere but it could also have been her nice way of saying "no thanks." Hard to tell and I hate being cynical about such things. I'm not that way so maybe I'm more vulnerable then some. On a brighter note the demand for the book continues slow and steady. One bookstore bought more copies for the Christmas selling season and some individuals have asked to buy copies. We have a friend who makes craft soaps in her basement. She's been doing this now for a few years. Once she got started and began to sell some products she quit her day job and went into soap production full time. She and I are alike in many ways. Her with her soaps and me with my book. We're both selling "some" but not really setting the world on fire. Seems like we have the same problem to, ie. attracting some notice. She puts all her money into supplies and maufacturing and has neither time or cash left over for advertising, other then on the web. Me too. No money = no advertising and very little public awareness. No wonder celebs and others get into scraps with the law and the tabloids. Even negative press is something I guess. Oh yea, the publisher did ask about a second book. I told her I probably had enough stories already for another book. Perhaps that was a good sign. The winter issue of Wolf Moon Journal is out and one of my essays is featured. Hurrah for that. Perhaps the next step in the "journey of shameless self promotion" will be publishing on Kindle, Amazon's e-reader gizmo. After a few years in the market the thing seems to have established a niche or beach head and is attracting more interest. Amazon will take all the profits, but having a potential audience of a quarter million readers might make it worth the effort. Again time will tell. Ho ho ho and Merry Christmas.
The Winkumpaw

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Grange supper

We had the best time. A friend invited me to come to their monthly grange meeting and discuss my book. So we went. We met wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed the potluck dinner. When I met the program chair lady she thanked me for coming and then said how they were looking forward to having me tell "Maine stories." Ooops. Somehow they had me figured for a performer. But when the time came I simply told them all I was a writer and my stories were in the book. No problem. I just flipped the pages and began to read. We had more fun. I embellished the reading a little and they all laughed at the right places. Once in a while the listeners would be reminded of something that had happened to them and they'd chime in. For a little while the entertainment was just our conversation. But they enjoyed it all and even invited me back. I don't think a writer and his readers could have had a much more authentic experience. It was a treat to be there in that ancient old grange hall with the wood paneled walls and folding tables, and to be greeted by people whose only agenda for the evening was to get together and share a meal and enjoy each other's company. I think it was a down-to-earth as you could get. I won't soon forget chewing the fat with those wonderful folks in that little grange hall overlooking the lake in the rural Maine. This old story teller and writer felt right at home.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A brush with death

If you think that is a scary title, then you should have been here for the real event. I was more scared then I have been in years. More frightened then when I was in Vietnam and getting shot at. It all happened so fast, there was no time to even think about what to do. We were pulling mooring blocks out of the river for the winter and had just begin to lift a 3000 lb granite block off the bottom when the chain fell off the winch and the barge surged or jerked and I was catapulted into the river! Just like that. I was under water and the current was sweeping me away from the barge and my friends. The water was pre-winter frigid and I was dressed in heavy work clothes, dungarees, fleece, wool shirt, and steel toed boots. Thank god we were all wearing life jackets. The PFD popped me to the surface and turned me on my back. Things were happening way to fast. The guys couldn't help. They were in the middle of the river attached to a granite block. I just couldn't believe I had gone overboard. The closest shore was 100 feet away so I made like a penquin and began flapping my arms and doing the backstroke. Oh gawd I thought. This is dangerous. I knew I'd better get to shore quickly as I was chilling down fast. Gamely I just kept flapping my "wings". I must have weighed a ton with all those soaking clothes. seemed like I'd been paddling forever...I reached the ledge and grabbed a tree branch to haul myself up out of the water, but the branch broke and I fell back into the drink. Talk about an awe heck. Next time I crawled up the darned rock. By now things were very serious. I was wet and cold and exhausted. The guys weren't having much luck either. After a couple of false starts they finally jetisoned the mooring and came to my rescue. We rushed back across the river and I sloshed my way up to the garage where I wiggled out of all the wet clothing and boots and hit the hot shower. Ahhhh. thank gawd. I can only imagine what would have happened if I'd not been wearing that life jacket. With the tide falling and the river so cold I would have been a news item in the local paper. Geeesh. So there it is. They say everything that happens in the life of a writer is "material." That must be so. There's one story in Sandbox Camp Tales about when I was in college and flipped over in a canoe and another one about a canoe trip on the Machias River when my buddy and I overturned. I guess if I wait long enough this recent brush with death will make its way into a story and whatever comes next after Sandbox. I can't wait to see what that is.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Well we did it! We posted a video clip about the book on Youtube. Friends said we should get with it and use the internet to promote the book. Hard to believe there is so much available these days. And I'm so envious of the young people who seem to know all about it. For us it took a little while and some help but the final product isn't aweful. We went to the cabin for a weekend and shot some views and a short interview. Then Bill swizzled it all on his Apple laptop, added some sound affects and voila! we were in the movies. Sort of. You can find it by going to Youtube and opening the "entertainment" category. Then search for "sandbox camp." Scroll down a little and you should see me wearing a red felt hat. That'll be it. It's the same old problem though. Trying to attract some notice and some attention just so people will know you've got something to offer. Earlier in the year I tried some mass mailings via email and sent out maybe a couple hundred custom-designed letters to B&B's and sporting camps. But I never heard back from any of them so don't know if they decided to look at the book or buy it. At least with Youtube folks have a chance to make comments (that's a scary thought) and it counts the views you get. I suspect someone will only run onto the clip by chance or if they happened to be searching for something else about Maine or storytelling. I guess a next step might be Facebook or Myspace. Hey once you head down this path you might as well keep going. I will need to work up to it though. It takes some courage I find to post these things out in the wide wide world. I wonder if I'd get any "friends" in Facebook?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

New Friends

When I wrote and published my book I never envisioned the new friends I would
make because of it. But that's just what's happened - happily for me. I have met all kinds of
wonderful folks because they've read my stories, liked what they read, and because of that have
gone to the effort of hunting me up. Only on this past Friday I hunted them up. My new friends
that is. They happen to be the ten girls and two boys that make up Mrs. Vigue's Creative Writing class at Nokomis High School in Newport, Maine. I'm not exactly sure how this all came about,
but a friend who happens to be a librarian invited me to come speak to this high school class. I'm glad he did, because we, or at least I, had a blast. The kids are learning how to write stories and they had a copy of my book as an example of some local writer who'd figured it out. That would be ME and Sandbox Camp Tales. When I got introduced I told the kids there was no need to say more because they had read some of my stories, so now they knew all about me. I told them there's a little bit of my and my philosophy and my heart and soul in every one of those stories, layed out in the open for everyone to see. So if they had read the stories then they had a glimpse inside me. From there things just got better. We beat the subject to death. We talked about language mechanics and writer's block and Archemedes and publishers and pointy-headed editors who change what we write. We examined all the dirty laundry that is writing and selling stories at the Pay-On-Publication level of the craft. When those kids asked a question it was a good one. We could have probably talked for hours and then all collaborated on a poem or some piece of fiction. Being with the kids just energized me. They have such great ideas and their enthusiasm for the works they create is contagious. Too bad we ran out of time because I wanted to tell them their work has value even if they do it only for themselves. Even if they never publish a thing or never write another word, the stuff they're creating today in that class will be with them and their friends the rest of their lives. Really I believe if you're writer then you'll write anyway no matter how your life turns out. A housewife will sneak in working on a poem between doing the laundry and going to the school bus stop. The truck mechanic will scribble in his notebook at night after supper, or the nurse will find time after her shift to fire up the PC and continue on her novel. I hope my new friends all do well in their class and that the writing skills they learn this year will serve them well whether they write TV scripts or write excuses for their kids' teachers. As a result of this visit I now know there is a pool of undiscovered writing talent
right here in central Maine, right down the hall in Mrs. Vigue's Creative Writing Class. All I can say is "Go For It Guys" ....Go for it. and oh yeah....It was great to meet you.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dog Days

Well its been a while. Book sales have dropped off at the marina, although I did have one dear lady take six copies. She said she'd be sending them out as Christmas gifts to friends and relatives who have moved away from Maine. The tourists have all gone home for the most part, so now the roads are free of traffic and the checkout lines at the grocery store are not backed up. Since Mother died on August 18 the book has sort of taken a back seat while Jean and I experience a little more freedom. A while back I sent out review copies to two Maine publishers and one copy to the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, but have not had a response from any of them. I suppose that's not a good sign. On a more positive note I've been asked to speak to a social club about what it's like to write a book and I've been requested to address a high school English class about writing in the "first person." I told the friend who asked, that appearing in front of a bunch of high school sophomores seemed a little like being invited as the guest of honor at a cannibal bar-b-q! Oh well, if my experiences can help or inspire even one person or student then its all worth it. Three regional publications have accepted stories from me for printing in future issues. This business proceeds slowly considering how the editors are working months in advance. Which means their contributors have to be writing even more in advance, so you end up trying to write about Christmas in the middle of July. My sister wrote that she has been sharing her copy of the book with her bible study group and that each person who has read the stories has enjoyed them very much. That's good news. Likewise another reader here in Maine caught up with me and said she'd read every piece and "loved them all." Certainly this book business is no way to get rich, but then again some of the personal responses and kudos you receive from friends and strangers is priceless.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bit by bit, row by row

Sales have actually been pretty good at the marina office. I find the trick is to meet people face-to-face and let them know I have a book to sell and they almost always buy one and sometimes two. That happened yesterday with a long time customer who was just coming down for a day on the water. We chatted a little and then I asked if they'd seen my book for sale. Well no, they said, What about it? So I told them and they were delighted and even bought one for their kids. No doubt about it, being what is essentially an independent writer is like being a small family owned business with all the same issues and concerns. Not the least of which is marketing your product. I've written before about how hard it is to raise awareness for your product when you have very few outlets and no money for advertising or promotion. So far the efforts on the internet have provided little response. I should have expected that considering how vast the internet is and how websites and email boxes are bombarded with ads and junk emails. Heck some of my notes might not have even got past the junk mail filters. One thing I have not tried yet is the craft fairs and flea markets. Those will all be going this fall in preparation for the holidays. The issue there again is paying for the table, which is after all how they make their money. But maybe a good one or two day craft fair would be a good place to invest a few hundred bucks. You'd sure have to sell a bunch of books just to earn back the entrance fees. I love it on Antiques Roadshow when the appraiser tells the object owner..."In a well advertised auction this object would bring in the range of ten thousand dollars." And then the owner picks themselves up off the floor. But that's what I need - a "well advertised" auction.
I suppose I could also hit the road. I read a small book once called "Yankee Drummer" which was all about John Gould's life on the road as a farm implement salesman. This took place back around the turn of the century and the early 1920's. He tells about going to the fairs and showing off they new manure spreaders and then selling to the farmers on "spring terms". Well my book isn't exactly manure, even though some might think it has more then its share of B-S.
But if you can sell cow flap spreaders at a fair maybe you can sell some books.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book sales up - publishers down

The good news is we're selling books. Not a lot, but some and in a few good places. Kittery Trading Post bought half a dozen to try. More friends have ordered some too. In two instances they were gifts to their friends. I also heard from Jessica at Maine in Print. She asked for a picture and details about the book and said she would try to include the information in the next issue. I have spoken with two prominent publishers in the state and laid things on the line with to speak. That is I let them know our publisher was jumping ship and we needed someone to come rescue our life boat. Their response was cordial and encouraging. Send us a copy the said, and so I have. Now we wait some more to see what they think and if they will get back to me. Meanwhile I've been sending out more unsolicited emails. Again this letter is pretty forthright. I've sent it to a variety of book stores and book sellers in Bangor and the Ellsworth area. The letter basically says "Here I am world. Please take notice." Oh well, its still fun. Thankfully it doesn't cost anything more then my time to hunt up the addresses and send these notes. If I send ten and get one response that would be success. Years ago in IBM we used to plan on a 100:1 ratio. That is you had to have 100 prospects that would eventually reduce to ten potentials that would become one buying customer. In those days we used to do mass mailings via the post office. Now we can just click SEND and accomplish nearly the same thing. What I like most about this though is meeting the folks. Eventually someone will call or send a note and then we can swap a few emails and get to know a little bit more about each other and our businesses. As far as finding a new publisher goes...if I don't make it with publishers in the state then I'll have to go across the boarder to NH and the rest of New England. I notice many "Maine" themed books on the shelves that have been published by firms outside the state. So that's not the worst way to go. I expect those writers also offered their works to the prominent in-state publishers and when nothing came of that, they went looking elsewhere. Or maybe the out-of-state publisher had better terms or catered to a niche market. For now it's a bit of a waiting game, waiting to hear back from the emails and from the in-state publishing houses. I have had one request to speak later this year at a local Grange meeting. That sounds like it could be a lot of fun. With a little luck it would be in conjunction with a pot-luck dinner which is one of my most favorite things.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Bump in the road

Oh oh. Things seemed to be going pretty well. Too well someone might say. I should have suspected a rat would show up eventually. They have a way of popping up. This rat turns out to be my publisher. Wouldn't you know. Well it's not all her fault....but then again maybe it is. She's going out of business. For whatever reason she couldn't keep the bills paid and the returns and low fees were killing her. Well sure, no one's in business to loose money. When you can't make it pay it's time to cut your losses and move on and that's what she's doing. But it does sort of leave us, her authors, in the lurch. For us its like we're starting all over again searching for a publisher, auditioning, selling ourselves. That's tough, because now I need to devote time to finding a new outlet for the book instead of concentrating on publicizing and selling the book. I've already started looking. Sent emails to some local publishing houses. No responses yet. And there are some online gigs which might be useful. Only the costs do go up. Bad time for that too as we are just beginning to pick up some momentum on sales. Little victories here and there. I look at it like a geometric progression. At first its just one or two readers telling other readers. But then those readers tell more and they tell even more and eventually you have nuclear fission! Or lift off. Or something good happens. So there it is. They say you should dance with who brung ya' , but when she dumps her date, you gotta drag the line and hope for the best. There are more fish in the sea and one of them is a publisher who will fall in love with my work.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Front page news

The newspaper interview came out in last night's paper. Pretty cool. Its always cool when you see your name in print. In this case the reporter's story took over half a page. The headline reads "Saco author weaves camp tales into first book." Then she goes on to tell all about who I am, and how the book came about. Then she quotes a few excerpts from the books and focuses on the one story which I told her was my favorite. She did get a few things incorrect or misinterpreted. That always seems to happen. But they were minor errors and did not affect the spirit of the piece which was basically about the fun I have had writing and publishing the book. All in all the interview was an enjoyable thing to do. The paper has a circulation of 22,500 so hopefully that many people will now know about my book and that was the goal. As I have said, this is just one more step in a "journey of shameless self promotion." I hope a few people will be intrigued enough to visit the local book store and buy a copy. Not only would it be nice to sell more books but it would be nice for the bookstore owner to sell out of all her copies. Who knows? The notoriety may catch some other folks attention and lead to some new opportunities. You never know. As my friend Winnie-the-Pooh said " You never can tell about bees."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Yesterday I was interviewed by a reporter from the local paper. Just another step in this journey of "shameless self promotion." Actually the owner of the local bookstore had suggested how it would help her and me if I could get some attention from the "Journal". She did agree to buy a few books and put them on display but thought some local publicity would help sales. Sounded good to me, so not knowing anything about how to proceed, I just sent an email to the paper. Turns out they do read the emails they get and this one caught their attention. A young woman called on Monday and invited herself here for an interview yesterday. She picked a perfect afternoon to come. Beautiful, warm sunny day on the water. We sat at the picnic table down by the river and talked about writing and - life. She was very busy taking notes. One question she asked was "where do I get my ideas?" Oh good grief. I live with my ideas. I have them all the time. They pop into my head continuously unbidden, uninvited and at really inopportune times. It was like asking when do you breathe? I suppose other writers are the same way. Story ideas are like this mulligan stew we have in our heads that's boiling and bubbling constantly, and we add ingredients to the mix every day. Some times the result is tasty and fulfilling, and other times not so delicious. But she was nice and eager and told me a story might be forthcoming within a week or two weeks. I let her take a copy of the book. If she reads the introduction she'll have all she needs to write a piece because I layed it all out in that beginning chapter - my motivation for writing the book, my goals for my readers and my apologies. I'll alert the public when the interview is scheduled to appear.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cold Calls

Today we hit the road and boldly walked into five different book shops. Hi, my name is Randy, I said to each one, and I'd like to sell you my book. (or words to that affect). Wouldn't you know, three of the store owners/ buyers were really nice and encouraging and actually agreed to buy a few copies. Hurrah. In another case the buyer was in a meeting but I got her email address and have since sent her a note. Then there was another buyer who was out to lunch. I wasn't about to hang around an hour waiting for him to return, so took a rain check on that visit. But the others went fairly well. The buyers were encouraging. They congratulated me on publishing the book and each wanted a "review" copy. That made sense to me, so I had prudently stocked ten copies in the truck. My wife says to keep track of those copies and we'll write them off as promotion and advertising. One of the owners of a small local independent book shop suggested I should try to have a story about the book in the local daily paper. I have launched an email to both the weekly and the daily paper asking how one goes about having a story written about - themselves! Hmmmm, just another example of shameless self promotion I suppose. But in every single case, the buyers today told me there was no way they would have known my book is available and applicable to their customers, except for my friendly visit. Go figure. It's no wonder publicizing a small book from a small press is so arduous. But I am encouraged and now plan on filling the truck up with gas once again and hitting the road to visit more book shops. Hey Mom....look at me. I'm a salesman.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pick me! Pick me!

Do you remember school and that pesky kid in the back of the room who was always first to shoot her arm up into the air and holler Pick Me! Pick Me! Oh no, you might have thought. Give it a rest. I remember being cajoled along with all my boyhood chums into attending ballroom dance class where we were supposed to learn a few steps, practice some social graces and round off our rough edges, so to speak. The boys would crowd around in one corner and the girls would all titter and giggle grouped in another corner. When it was time for the "gentlemen" to ask the "ladies" to dance you could read the silent message in certain girls' eyes that said "Oh don't pick me. Don't pick me." Imagine some little kid with a squeeky voice standing many rows behind the assembled mass of the football team, soccer team, baseball team, basketball team and marching band raising his hand and saying "Pick me. Over here. Pick me." Dwell on these images for a moment and you'll begin to understand what it's like for a very small book written by an unknown author to get noticed. It's darned near impossible. The problem is we're now talking about advertising and publicity and self-promotion and most new writers have neither the skills nor the experience to carry off this important part of the book publishing endeavor. How to get noticed? I wish I knew. Pick me! Pick me! Without the might and money of a large publishing house behind you or the name recognition of a celebrity author, getting noticed is an uphill struggle. We settle for a little free publicity amongst our friends. We send out some email notices to libraries. We hope one reviewer out of ten might read the book and condescend to write a few favorable lines. Craft shows, a radio call-in show, some good old ground pounding and personal schmoozing by the writer all help, but it's like trying to a bail the Titanic with a bucket. Fortunately "Sandbox Camp Tales" is a regional book with most of the potential readers living in Maine or visiting Maine. But even then getting the word out just in this rural state is a huge task. With the price of gas the way it is, I won't be driving to many gift shops, libraries and book stores. Maybe the secret ingrediant is time? Maybe if we hang in there long enough and the book gets passed around enough - maybe, just maybe we may begin to get a few orders.

Friday, June 20, 2008

About the book

Ah yes....the book. What's it about? Well a lot of things. Mostly about me growing up here in Maine and then banging around the woods and the coast with my friends. There are some stories about my family and a few essays with "deep" thoughts. The book is a collection of stories and articles most of which have been previously published in other magazines and journals. After writing and selling stories to different publications off and on for four years, my wife just said "Your pile is big enough...maybe you should do a book." And so I have. If you interviewed a bunch of families who have lived and grown up in Maine for the past sixty years you would hear many of the same stories, or very similar ones. These are the stories families tell when they all get together for a holiday, or when everyone gathers at the old lakeside cabin, or when Grandpa begins to reminisce about the "good old days." My stories are not all factual. That is they are not journalistic reports of what happened and who did what. They are all based on real events and things that actually happened to me or my friends or my family, but in some cases the facts may be blurred a little - or a lot depending on what I was trying to write about. So they are "stories" like you'd tell around the kitchen table, and depending on who's doing the telling you may get a different point of view and some embellishments. But it's all in good fun and as I have said before my goal in writing these stories down has been merely to entertain and distract folks from their daily cares, even if only for a few minutes.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dreams come true

Have you ever had a dream come true? You know - like finally graduating from school, or getting your first real job, or hearing her say "Yes" when you get up the courage to ask, or making the team or maybe finally catching the biggest scrappiest bass in the whole dang lake. Sure we all have dreams of things we'd like to do, things we'd like to accomplish or of the person we'd like to be. For a lot of us the dreams finally do come true. My dream was to write a book, and now I've done it. My dream has come true. It wasn't easy. It only took about fifty years of waiting and doing all the other things having a career and raising a family demand. All of which I have done happily and with joy. But then when I retired, the old dream came back to me and I knew if I was ever going to publish a book I should get on with it as the days and years seemed to be slipping by way too fast. In other posts I will let you know how I went about writing stories and finding outlets for them and how I've had a bit of luck and how people have helped me along the way, but for now just know that my book is a reality. Writing and publishing the book has been a sort of happy adventure, and now we're embarked on a whole other phase of publicity and marketing. Even though I've had a great time writing the stories in the book, I figure the book is not really complete until other people read it. That's what it's all about isn't it? Putting it out there and sharing what I've thought and written with others. Maybe making them smile a little or causing them to think a little more deeply about something. It's scary you know - writing and publishing a book. Opening yourself up to public scrutiny and criticism. Its a challenge to listen and read what other people may say about the words I've slaved over and worked so hard on for the past four years. But you don't get anywhere in life without you take some risks and for an apprentice writer there's nothing more fraught with angst and risk then opening the covers and letting others read what you have written. You hope they will smile and laugh and read more and finally say "Ya done good."
You hope. After all, my dream has not just come true, but I am living it. My book is finally published and it's out there for all the world to see. I'm holding my breath.