Experimenting with Press This, I dredged up one of my old posts that had no “likes.” The stats tell me some people read it, but no one liked it. If you read it, you may guess the reason. I was grumpier and more opinionated back in 2011.
Image from Pixabay
OK, this isn’t about gardening, and not really about writing either, but… I knew this would happen — eventually a post like this would show up in this pure and simple blog.
The Irascible Indie is back! She’s emerged from her dark and dusty corner (coughing and sneezing), insisting she must opine on that perpetual bugbear: MARKETING
I’ve just reread four blog posts from 2015, written by my grumpy alter ego, the Irascible Indie. They are mild rants about various aspects of being a self-published (aka “indie”) author. I was actually quite impressed with how well-written readable they are. Anyone who’s interested can find them here:
And now, here are the Irascible One’s views on marketing…
Not a day passes without at least one blog post popping into my reader about marketing — lists of tips and tricks, how-to articles, and stern warnings that failure to market means failure as an author. Marketing is the bitter pill you must swallow after the thrill of pressing the “publish” button.
Okay, I admit it. I have a skeptical attitude toward marketing. As soon as I see certain words — SEO, clickthroughs, keywords, analytics — I get that uh-oh feeling. After reading multiple posts about picking the right keywords and other magic formulas to romance “the algorithms,” I’m left with the feeling that the authors of those posts live in a different universe. Their screenshots (which are hard on my eyeballs) do not resemble anything I see when I try to follow their instructions.
Reading about marketing makes me feel like a kid forced to wear a scratchy woollen sweater — you know, the kind that drives you crazy and makes you want to scream and stomp your feet. It’s itchy! I hate it!
Not good enough? Okay, let’s take a look at my reasons and figure out if there’s anything to them besides a contrarian attitude.
Reason #1I hate advertising. I’ve perfected techniques to ignore ads, both in real life and online. I don’t want to inflict ads on anyone but enemies. Besides, ads cost money. Why should I pay someone to say “Buy my book!” for me?
Reason #2 I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s personal info, especially now. Look how Google and Facebook messed up with that. I’m not going there. And I don’t want to send emails that are disguised “Buy my book!” pleas to people who trusted me with their addresses.
Reason #3 What could I possibly say in a newsletter that I’m not saying right here in my blog? I’d rather spend my time writing stories, novels, and blog posts than trying to manufacture stuff for which someone would be happy to exchange their email address. And too many newsletters are offered via annoying popups. (A popup, by the way, pretty much guarantees that I’ll never sign up for a newsletter.)
Reason #4 Advertising is expensive, and not always effective. We authors (wannabees, aspiring, self-published, and indie) are a huge market for legitimate and bogus services alike. Even with a budget and plan for advertising, you need to sift through all the options, recognize the scams as such, and figure out how to leverage use the legitimate ones optimally. Unless you get it right, your ROI is likely to be poor. (See, I can throw jargon around too!) Don’t get sucked into believing that liberal applications of cash will do the trick.
Reason #5 Getting reviews to improve sales is a tricky business. For one thing, it’s too easy to offend the Mighty ‘Zon. You can’t buy reviews (not that I would), you can’t exchange books for reviews, you can’t do review swaps with other authors, reviews have to include disclaimers, etc. Even an honest mistake can result in reviews being pulled, reviewers losing their privileges, authors losing their Amazon accounts — forever. And then there’s the torturous process of finding reviewers. In my random visits to book bloggers’ Review Policy pages, I inevitably see variations on the “No longer accepting books for review” theme. Natural, organic reviews from real readers are the best, but they can be few and far between, and an author has no direct control over that process.
Reason #6 Marketing isn’t simple. That’s why trad publishers used to have staff for it. For this indie author, there are too many options, too much advice, too many services with cutesy names and acronyms. It’s all a blur, and the prospect of figuring out what might work is dizzying. I’d rather be writing, or reading. (Hell, I’d rather be cleaning the bathroom.) The answer, of course, is to select one or two of the least daunting strategies, take small steps, and refuse to be overwhelmed by the flood of advice. And keep an eye on your expectations.
There’s an idea floating around that authors who don’t embrace marketing aren’t as hard-working and “savvy” as they should be. They don’t treat their writing as a business, so they deserve to fail. I resist these labels. I’ve happily put my energy into writing, editing, book descriptions, formatting, cover design, and presenting information about my books on my blog and elsewhere. Patience is my middle name (well, not really, but you know what I mean). I’ve whittled my expectations into elegantly slender shapes. If that’s not enough, so be it.
And yes, having said all this, I know enough not to whine about my sales!
Thank you, Irascible Indie, for your views on marketing. Now, back to your dusty niche, leaving me with a nice target to wear on my blog. I’ll relay any comments to you, including those that try to change your mind (such as it is). Bring ’em on!
I’ve been gardening the same patch of land for a quarter century. You would think that means perfection has been achieved.
You would be wrong.
An old garden full of trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, and self-seeding annuals, gardened by someone not good at ruthless removal, becomes a mess. New gardeners, take note! Sometimes you have to remove (i.e., kill) perfectly healthy, beautiful plants because they’re in the wrong place, or there are too many of them, or they’re weeds. If you relent and let them be, your garden will become a mess.
In my garden, it means a jumble of plants above ground and an entanglement of roots, rhizomes, corms, and bulbs beneath the surface. Any garden project, however simple and straightforward its intention, rapidly becomes complicated and tricky.
For example, the other day I decided to cut down the old foliage of some oriental hellebores, to better display the emerging flowers, and in anticipation of distributing compost and fertilizer in the next few weeks. This is best done while the ground is relatively bare, meaning after old stuff has been removed and before new growth has covered the ground. And, of course, after any unwanted plants (sometimes called “weeds”) have been removed.
Simple, right? Except that in this garden the line between weed and non-weed has always been kind of fuzzy.
Italian arum foliage
So, back to the hellebores. Snipping the old stems close to the ground was easy, but while doing that I noticed that a nearby patch of Italian arum was encroaching on some emerging irises and the still dormant buds of a peony. I had been careless about cutting down the arum’s seed stalks (because they’re so ornamental, like little red corn cobs on sticks) and they had sprouted new plants around the original one, as well as spreading underground. I got the hori-hori knife and went to work.
Hori-hori knife and its sheath.
The young arums were easy enough to dig up and remove, but the mature arums’ bulbous roots are quite deep underground. Try digging them up without harming the irises and peonies. Too often, I heard that awful crisp snap of plant tissues breaking. Several arum roots remained below ground, and at least one iris was prematurely dispatched. At the end of the session, instead of a neatly weeded patch of ground, the area resembled a battlefield, complete with casualties.
The whole place is like this! Regular garden plants rub roots with the tough specimens I brought in because they were recommended for situations like mine — sandy soil, shade, tree roots, and increasingly dry summers. Any kind of adjustment that involves digging almost always becomes a blood and guts situation — well, okay, a battle with roots, with some unoffending plant as collateral damage.
Another annoyance this year is the crocus massacre. Over the years, crocuses, mostly purple ones, have multiplied and spread through the garden, sometimes by accident, sometimes intentionally. But now I’ve found many holes several inches deep, surrounded by broken crocus shoots, many with buds showing. The bulbs — or more accurately, corms — have been eaten. Rats, which have become distressingly numerous in this superlative suburb in recent years, are my number one suspect. I know squirrels are reputed to eat crocuses, but there have always been squirrels here, and I’ve never observed them digging up crocuses. They’re more interested in picking up sunflower seeds dropped from the bird feeder, and unlike rats, they’re diurnal. So I’ve resorted to covering the remaining crocuses with chicken wire, which is ugly and not kind to plant tissues, but may preserve them.
That’s the thing about gardening, though. Unlike many hobbies or avocations, it involves so many factors beyond the control of the person who undertakes it. Weather, soil, birds, rats, insects, and the gardener’s state of health (both physical and mental) — all these things influence what happens in a garden, but none of them is entirely under the gardener’s control.
Picking up the spade and the trowel, and committing oneself to turning a patch of land into a garden, is a momentous undertaking. Once you’ve created the garden, you must do whatever it takes to maintain it, even if that means struggles of various kinds. Frost? Cover or move those tender plants. Drought? Hoist the watering can and wrestle with the hose. Crowding and imbalance? Clip back, cut down, or dig up. Weeds? Pull and dig. And curse and pull and dig some more. Ravenous rodents? Lay out chicken wire. And so on.
Gardening is a lifelong negotiation with the forces of the natural world. Few things are more real and raw. And despite everything, worthwhile.
Chicken wire may protect these crocuses from being dug up by rats.
Some things I notice in daily life make me think, say and wonder, “Why, oh why?” Are there good reasons for these irritating phenomena? If so, perhaps someone could point them out.
First up, parking lot design.
Maybe it’s just the city I call home, but I’ve noticed a couple of things about local parking lots that never fail to bug me.
Running the Gauntlet. Why, oh why do the people who design parking lots for shopping malls or plazas insist on running all the vehicle traffic right past the mall and store entrances? Everyone has to cross that road to get from car to shops, which frustrates drivers and endangers pedestrians. Could it possibly be that the pedestrians are seen as traffic-calming devices?
The logical place for car access to parking spots is around the outer perimeter of the lot. Moving vehicles would be directed away from the places where all the customers are headed. Bollards or other devices would separate the vehicle parking area from the pedestrian zone running along the shop fronts or mall entrance. All drivers would approach parking spots from the far edge of the lot. Those who need to park close to the stores would still be able to drive to the nearest vacant spot. Handicapped parking spots would be located where they are now. But no one would have to worry about getting mowed down in their final approach to Canadian Tire, the bank, or the grocery store.
The Landscaped Lot, known by me as the Parking Lot From Hell. Here, the rows of parking stalls are separated by narrow strips containing plants — small trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses. I have two problems with this. First, the space taken up by the landscaping makes it harder than necessary to maneuver one’s vehicle without risking collisions and close calls. Teeth are gritted on arrival and departure, and many trips to one of these mazes are challenging. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more fender-benders in landscaped lots than wide-open ones.
Second, the plants deteriorate. When newly installed, they look attractive, but inevitably, many of them decline and die, going from spiffy to sad, despite routine watering and maintenance (which is not always provided). Narrow beds in expanses of asphalt and concrete can’t be called ideal environments for most trees, shrubs and perennials. Shoppers intent on spending and acquisition tromp heedlessly through them. No one appreciates these plants, especially once they start to look scruffy and battered. What’s the point? It’s a parking lot, not a park.
Old-fashioned parking lots that are just expanses of asphalt with lines painted on it work much better for the intended purpose — parking. Yes, they look butt-ugly and prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground. To mitigate this, parking lot designers could develop durable yet water-permeable surfaces. That would be more effective than the pathetic plantings. Swales and rain gardens around the edges of lots or along pedestrian walkways may also help.
This is the first in what may become a series of posts. Hopefully not a long series. Muttering “Why, oh why?” is not the best way to spend one’s energy.
Here are a couple of pictures that have absolutely nothing to do with parking lots.
A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in yet another epic struggle with tree roots.
A perennial bed that was root-free when first planted (about twelve years ago) had been showing signs of decline for several years. Plants were smaller and obviously struggling, especially the hostas. Turns out hostas don’t compete well in rooty situations; strange, considering at least some species are native to woodlands. Not woodlands of Norway maples, I suppose.
I’m pretty philosophical about the older beds in the back garden. After all, they are close to five large trees, three of them maples (1 red, 2 Norway), whose roots interlace in a network throughout that 50 by 50 foot space. Goodbye, vegetable patch. Tough plants only. But this newer bed, situated in a narrow strip of land between my house and my neighbours’, was, I thought, far enough from any tree to remain root-free. The drip-line (canopy edge) of the closest maple was safely distant, and tree roots don’t extend beyond the drip-line. Or do they?
Yes, they do. Roots roam far and wide, as it turns out. Once I discovered creeping rootiness in that new bed, I started reading up on how tree roots grow. There was surprisingly little written for home gardeners, even those who are familiar with Latin plant names. I found a lot of scientific papers written by researchers in the fields of forestry or agriculture. Their focus was narrow and their terminology over my head.
Finally, I found this — relatively comprehensible and relevant to my situation. Also discouraging. The drip-line idea is one of the fallacies. Au contraire, “it is not uncommon to find trees with root systems having an area with a diameter one, two or more times the height of the tree.”
This isn’t how it works! (Image from Pixabay)
Trees send out long, questing roots that keep on growing as long as there’s a reward in the form of water or nutrients, as in a fed and watered perennial bed. The roots run along horizontally, sending up vertical subsidiary roots ending in fine mats of feeding roots. Those are the ones that make that typical ripping sound when a spade is thrust into the soil.
So I tried a strategic strike. I dug up a clump of purple monkshoods (Aconitum napellus) and a few young hellebores at the end of the bed closest to the tree I suspected to be responsible for the root. Then I excavated down two feet and indeed found not one, not two, but three roots a couple of inches apart, each of them about two inches in diameter. Using a nifty little saw (actually intended for cutting wallboard) and a hatchet, I removed sections of these roots, one to three feet in length. Then I dumped in some compost and replanted the aconites and other plants. Thanks to cool and rainy weather, they recovered nicely.
I hope this will give the perennials in the beleaguered bed a chance, if only for a season or two. I don’t relish the thought of a full-bore rebuilding of the entire bed in the grand manner. This rather limited effort was enough for an aging gardener.
Have a close look at these two images and see if you can spot a significant difference between them.
OK, the title and the author’s name are a lighter colour in #1, but that isn’t it. No, it’s the typo in the subtitle. “A portal to the Herert West Series.” A typo on a cover image! A cover image designed by the author herself, i.e., moi.
I published this short story in September — six whole months ago — and didn’t notice that error until last night, when I ran across the cover image on some website. I was admiring how all the elements worked together, when I saw it. “Herert,” not “Herbert.” I messed up the name of the main character of my series. How bad is that?
I’ve seen typos on other authors’ cover images or in their book listings, with a mixture of pity and contempt. “Look how that poor schmuck screwed up! Haste makes waste. Ha, ha!”
OK, it could have been worse; at least the typo isn’t in the actual title or the author’s name. And the font I used for the subtitle is called Sacramento, described as “a monoline, semi-connected script.” It’s pretty, but barely legible in thumbnails and other small images. At least I spelled everything correctly in the book’s listings in ebook stores. Maybe most people don’t bother to enlarge cover images and scrutinize them.
I have, of course, corrected the error and uploaded the corrected image to the relevant sites. But it takes a while for a change to trickle through the internet, and quite a few copies were downloaded before I found the mistake. Which means the flawed image is still out there, waiting to be noticed.
I did manage to find a couple of positives in this irritating little situation:
First, it’s a reminder to pay attention. Always double, triple and quadruple check the spelling of titles, subtitles, author names and any other text that appears on a cover. Whether it was designed by you, a friend or a professional designer — before you approve it, check, check, check!
Second, those error-bearing covers may become valuable rarities sought by collectors, sort of like postage stamps with a monarch’s head printed upside down. “Ah yes, the rare ‘Herert’ edition. Very few exist.” Well, maybe if I become posthumously famous. You never know.
I hate those little plastic stickers applied to individual fruits for inventory and retail purposes.
Why? Because they last forever, like all plastics. Even after years of being moved from the compost heap to the garden, being raked up with fallen leaves or other debris, put back in the compost, redistributed to the garden, there they are, good as new, winking up at me from the soil. I found one today while in the throes of digging up the Meconopsis bed (more about that in a future post). It had to be several years old, but if I had rinsed off the dirt, it would have been pristine.
Old sticker found while digging.
Continuing to put them in the heap would lead to an ever-increasing accumulation. Once I realized this, I banned stickers from the compost pail in the kitchen. Of course, it’s only the fruits whose peels are removed before eating that contribute to this problem — bananas, oranges, melons and avocados. Peeling stickers off apples, oranges and bananas is easy, even when there are multiple stickers on one wretched banana — even organic ones, which is especially offensive. Tomatoes, nectarines and other fruits with delicate skins are not so easy to de-sticker, although the fuzz on peaches seems to prevent them from sticking as well, which means they’re easier to peel. (Another point in favour of eating peaches in season).
Once peeled, the stickers present another problem — how to dispose of them? I used to put them in the garbage, but reasoned that since I lug my soft plastics to a recycling depot (and pay a small fee to deposit them), it made sense to include the pesky stickers. So now I stick them together in clumps and put them in the soft plastics bag. Or stick them to other things in said bag. Given the small size of these little nuisances, they may very well end up in a waterway or the ocean, contributing to the problems created by micro-plastics. Melting them down and turning them into something else is the only sensible solution.
There are ways to avoid the damn things. Grow your own fruit, or buy exclusively from farmers’ markets. Trouble is, there aren’t too many banana and orange farmers in Canada. I understand there are people who collect fruit stickers, sort of like stamp collectors collect stamps. Or others who use them as little blobs of colour to create art. If you can believe this. But even those folks must have hit the “No more stickers, please!” point by now.
I’m not the only gardener/consumer to be annoyed by fruit stickers. A thorough discussion may be found here. I’m just surprised a biodegradable alternative hasn’t been found yet. Even fast food chains have almost eliminated plastic from their products. Fruit is supposed to be healthier than hamburgers and french fries, so why can’t fruit producers get their act together?
I guess it had to happen. Technology opened the gate to all those writers who couldn’t get published the traditional way. Huzzah! But there are so many of us, cranking out books by the millions, that readers are overwhelmed. Most indie-published books join the blur and go unnoticed.
Except maybe the ones that get lots of reviews. Trouble is, it’s hard to get reviews, or at least the right kinds of reviews. No friends or family members. No “I’ll review yours if you review mine” arrangements. Brief comments by readers are fine; but thoughtful, thorough reviews by “official” reviewers are best of all — and almost impossible to get. Reviewers are the new gatekeepers. (As are a few advertisers, notably BookBub, which is pretty selective about which books it will promote. You need to pay them a non-trivial sum — but first you need a non-trivial number of good reviews).
You don’t have to look hard to find lists of rules and other admonishments directed at hopeful review-seeking authors. They look a lot like the submission guidelines and how-to-approach-publishers advice of the trad pub years. Some of these lists are lengthy and detailed, and a few verge on the offensive. Reading them conjures up a caricature of a desperate author approaching the enthroned reviewer, crawling on hands and knees while pushing a copy of their book along the floor with their nose. (And if your book is taken up by the reviewer, don’t even think about emailing to ask when the review might appear. Just. Don’t. Do it. Ever).
This is part of a bigger phenomenon associated with the self-pub revolution — the author as pest. It seems we’re a pretty annoying bunch: spewing out books full of typos and grammar no-nos, issuing endless “Check out my book!” tweets, approaching acquaintances with book in hand and big salesman’s grin on face, and bothering beleaguered book bloggers just like we did the beleaguered acquisitions editors of days gone by. (Remember all those tales of mail rooms crammed with unsolicited mss?) Maybe creativity generates a ferocious hunger for attention that overrides good manners. Book bloggers and reviewers have reacted predictably to the deluge of review requests by hedging themselves about with rules, just like publishers did.
But hey — at least now we writers are free to throw our books into the public arena. That’s way better than slinking back to our writing rooms to entomb the rejected manuscript in a cardboard box that once held dog food. The toughest gate has been breached. So what if there’s no sure-fire path to success? (There never was, actually). And a few of us have managed to get our books noticed, clearing the gates like so many hurdlers.
I just finished processing today’s load of solicitations for funds masquerading as personal letters, full of smarmy sentences such as, “We know you’re passionate about [their cause] and want to be a part of making the world a better place,” followed by several more paragraphs of similar verbiage and a separate sheet with suggested dollar amounts to donate. Then there are the employees of call centres who, after interrupting your supper, writing or blog-reading session, inevitably start off their spiel by asking, “How are you?” As if they care.
This kind of hypocrisy is extremely irritating — dressing up appeals for funds to make them look like friendly, personal attempts to reach out and befriend. While I’m scribbling out my name and address on the paper junk mail before chucking it in the recycle bin, I can’t help but recall the advice I’ve read in countless blog posts about how authors should present themselves on the internet. Never say, “Buy my book.” Not even, “Please buy my book.” Don’t be annoying — instead, create content readers find so fascinating, they will rush to seek out your books without any appeals from you.
Isn’t this a kind of hypocrisy, though? Let’s face it — most of us indie authors started blogging for one reason: to create an “author platform” from which we could launch our book marketing strategies. After a while some of us figure out that almost all the folks who follow and read our blogs are other authors, and selling books to them works about as well as selling sand to desert dwellers. By that time we may also have found other reasons for blogging — making connections with fellow authors, creating a body of writing in the form of our blog posts, and so on. But in the background is the refrain, even if faint, “Look at my books, check out my books, please buy my books.” Otherwise, why do we display our books’ cover images in our sidebars, complete with links to where they can be bought?
I admit it — I hate advertising of all kinds. That’s one reason I kissed television goodbye decades ago. I’m an expert at avoiding click-bait on websites, and if the first or second thing I see on a website or blog (yes, even fellow writers’ blogs) is a pop-up plea to sign up for a newsletter, I’m gone. When it comes to advertising my own books, I put myself in the place of the recipient of such appeals and imagine them doing what I do when I recognize a sales pitch.
Writing — creating good quality prose or poetry — is a demanding art, with perfection always receding into the distance. Some writers manage to turn themselves into marketers as well. Good for them. I don’t happen to have a natural inclination for that aspect of the book business, so am walking the indie author path in my own fashion.
Sadly, my 6-year-old HP Pavilion laptop, which has been a reliable and helpful tool, has bitten the dust. A black screen, and single flashes from lights near the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys meant CPU failure. I’m writing this post on a borrowed computer.
On Monday I’ll get acquainted with the new machine, and (of course) Windows 10. Why Monday? Because part of the setup process will be data recovery from the corpse.
One lesson learned: back everything up. Even though I have copies of my really important documents in “the cloud,” a whole lot of stuff that didn’t seem all that important (but is) exists only on the now inaccessible hard drive. Hopefully recoverable.
So get an external hard drive, set up a cloud account, and do regular backups. Especially when your machine is getting on — 3 years and older, I would think.