Article for Goat Rancher Magazine

Recently, I was contacted by the editor of Goat Rancher magazine and asked if I’d be willing to submit an article about choosing goats for a homestead. In exchange, they ran a free quarter-page ad for one of my books.

I was very happy to comply. Not only to promote one of my books, but also to promote my favorite breed of goat, the Kinder.

You can read the article in the March 2020 edition of Goat Rancher. More information on where to find it here.

Marketing Models

From my homesteading blog profile:

“The goal is simpler, sustainable, more self-reliant living, and a return to agrarian values.”

I am occasionally quite outspoken on the subject of the industrial versus agrarian models. Mostly I apply this to lifestyle and economics, which pretty much encompasses all of life, wouldn’t you say? Industrialism focuses on profits and consumer dependency to sustain those profits. Agrarianism focuses on the land and individual independence through stewardship and personal responsibility. Not much room for compatibility there.

As a self-published author, I’m also stuck with doing my own promotion or marketing of my work. Of course I want it to sell, but first folks have to be aware of it and then have to see that it will meet a need. So how do I do that? There is plenty of information out there on how to get people to buy stuff, but I confess I’m not completely comfortable with most of it. I once went to a marketing seminar for Mary Kay cosmetics where the presenter told us that “No” doesn’t mean “No,” it means “I need more information.” I know that when I say “no” it means NO. But if that is the typical sales mindset, then it’s no wonder why sales people always seem so pushy. But I don’t like being pushed and I don’t like to push. Call me a square, but why would I want to manipulate or coerce someone into buying something they really didn’t want or need? Yet that pretty much seems to be the norm when it comes to selling.

So how do I get information out there and promote something, yet do it in keeping with my goal of agrarian values? Is there an agrarian marketing model out there?

I set about trying to research the subject of consumer marketing models but didn’t get very far. Not because there isn’t massive amounts of information on the subject, there is. The problem was that I had to sign up to get it. This, of course, is another marketing tactic, and since I’m not at all keen on filling my inbox with more stuff that I won’t read, I didn’t bother. All I wanted was ideas for a straightforward, informational approach to let potential buyers know what’s available, but without using bait or gimmicks, or collecting information for future use. So far I’ve reached a dead end.

Homesteaders with goals similar to mine are not immune to the industrialized marketing approach. Trying to psych, prime, or pump readers up through familiar sales pitches is just as common in the homesteading community as anywhere else in the consumer world. I find myself trying to figure out how to word things without falling into the use of the typical hoopla associated with trying to sell something.

Is what I’m trying to do even possible? The last thing I want to be like is the politician who promised they won’t sling mud at their opponent this campaign but ends up doing it any way because they “have to because they’re slinging mud at me.”

Then I have to ask, will potential buyers understand what I’m doing? Or will they assume it’s just more hype because that’s the way it’s done? Are people even capable of evaluating straightforward information in relation to their personal needs? Or are we so programmed to trends and catch-phrases that our impulses dictate how we spend our money?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they’re what’s on my mind today. This is a topic I will continue to contemplate and if I come up with anything, I’ll let you know.

Promotional Gimmicks – Have They Outlived Their Usefulness?

I’ve held a number of book giveaways since I started publishing. I’ve always considered them a good way to get the word out and certainly worth the cost of a book or two. I never considered them gimmicks, however, it was just a straightforward opportunity for someone to win a free book. After all, word of mouth and a personal recommendation is a better promotional tool than advertising’s fanciest bells and whistles.

When I finished publishing the Critter Tales Series eBooks, I had the idea to ask readers to hold giveaways. They would get free copies of the volumes they wanted to give away. They simply had to host the giveaway and email me the winner’s email address so I could send them a link to their prize. It seemed like a win-win. It has been interesting that none of these giveaways have generated a lot of interest. One gal told me she’d pretty much stopped doing giveaways altogether, because they are a lot of work but no one really seems interested in participating.

I think what’s happened is that giveaways have turned into gimmicks and everyone knows it. To enter most giveaways you have to sign up, follow, like, and sometimes jump through a few other hoops. I never asked readers to do any of these things, because I don’t collect email addresses, don’t do a newsletter, and don’t try to follow up to see if I can get them to buy since they didn’t win. I’ll usually offer a discount code for anyone who wants to take advantage of it, but that’s their business.

Marketing experts say you need to get an email list going by offering a freebie in exchange for an email address. As a website visitor and reader, I know this means I’ll start getting regular emails, almost all of which are advertising for whatever they’re trying to sell. Don’t get me wrong, I think being able to have an internet business is a great way to work from home. I’m all for that. The trouble is, most sales approaches are way too pushy.

I do a lot of research on the internet, follow a lot of links, and read a lot of articles. Nothing is more annoying than just getting started and then having a pop-up block my view because it wants me to sign up for their email list. I’ll get a free copy of thus-and-such and be the first to know about all their special offers. But I haven’t even read the first article yet, so how do I know they have anything to say that’s worth signing up for? Then the same pop-up appears on every page I visit. It’s rude, annoying, and it doesn’t take long before I’m outta there. Unfortunately, this is another common gimmick.

I reckon I’m just a square. I believe that good information on my bookshelves is worth paying for, and that’s what I try to offer. I’d rather give a straightforward description of what the reader can expect and then let them make up their own minds. The trouble with modern marketing is that making money has become more important than offering a quality product or service. The consequences are that almost everyone is becoming immune to advertising and its gimmicks. I know I no longer believe the hype I read or hear in the sales pitch. The challenge for someone like me is how to get straightforward information out there; how to compete with all the marketing “noise” that fills the web. I can’t say I have it figured out, but this is what I believe in, so this is how I’ll keep doing it.

What Am I Worth?

I went to check my Kindle sales yesterday at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The numbers nearly took my breath away: 134 copies, 157, 142. Then I took a closer look and realized these were not sales, these were copies lent via Kindle’s lending program. This is where authors can allow those who purchase copies of their eBooks to lend them to others for free. Compare that with actual sales for those same days: 3, 2, and 2. Well, how would you feel if you were me?

The selling point for authors to join this program is that it lets others become familiar with your work in hopes that they might choose to buy it. But even after all those copies were borrowed, sales never went up. Sales remained consistent at 0 to 3 copies sold per day. So how am I, as an author, benefiting from this? I’m not.

I had a similar experience last summer. I was contacted by a major magazine publisher who publishes several popular homesteading related magazines plus maintains a blog on their website. They wanted me to become a regular contributor to their blog, with the caveat that they could only offer exposure, not pay. As most hungry artists will tell you, exposure carries with it the hope of being “discovered” and hence finally “making it,” i.e. being able to make a living at it. I’m not immune to this thinking, even though 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has been very successful for an indie publication. One successful book, however, does not a successful author make.

Initially I was responsive to their offer. The red flag went up when they wanted me to sign a contract. If I’m working for free, then why would I need a contract? Since I was busy with Critter Tales at the time, I was told I’d only need to contribute one or two blog posts per week to start. To start? That didn’t sit well with me so I checked out their website. I found lots of articles by a few well-known authors, but what caught my attention was that none of these blog articles had any comments. That begged the question, was anyone reading them?

So who really benefits from things like this? Amazon and the magazines, of course. They build a reputation and following for offering extensive free resources, but at no cost to themselves. They invest neither money nor time into those resources, yet they profit from them.

But why should I be surprised? This is the work ethic of our time – to make money off of other peoples’ labors, not one’s own. Doesn’t it seem ironic that those who do the actual labor in this world get paid the least, while those who do the least work get paid the most? That’s true no matter what the business.

In “2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment,” Smashword’s Mark Coker points out that a consequence of Amazon’s lending program and free books for Amazon Prime subscribers is that these are training consumers to expect eBooks for free, to the point where they complain about having to pay even a small fee for them. It’s true that there are no print costs for eBooks, but an eBook requires just as much of an author’s time to research and write as a print book. Why doesn’t that count for something? I daresay that the complainers would never dream of working for free, and likely consider themselves underpaid no matter how they earn their living.

I have no illusions that my own complaints will change a thing. If anything, the trend will not only continue, but get worse. I can only decide what to do for myself and my own work. Even if no one else thinks so, my time is valuable to me. My free work is on my blog, where I willingly share the ups, downs, lessons and how-tos of homesteading. For my books, well, if I ever hope to be a professional writer, then I’d better start acting like one now. If that aspiration fails, then at least I will have not cheapened myself and my work. I will have given it my best shot.

The Challenges of an International Giveaway

I was daring with my last giveaway, and opened it up to worldwide entries. The challenges to this not only include higher shipping, but also customs, duties, and import taxes. These must be paid on the receiving end, and there is no way to accurately calculate what they might be. Amazon offers estimates for them, but admits the estimate may or may not be accurate. (See “About Customs, Duties, and Taxes.”) That got me wondering if I couldn’t somehow order through a different branch of Amazon if need be, say in the UK or Germany. I queried the CreateSpace community, and heard from someone who had indeed done this. That was hopeful.

The non-US winner turned out to be in Australia. Australia, however, doesn’t seem to have a branch of Amazon, but the overseas shipping from the U.S. didn’t seem too outrageous. Still, I didn’t want my winner having to pay anything to receive their prize, so I looked for an online bookseller in Australia who took Paypal.

To find that I used GetTextbooks.com. It’s a great site for finding where any book is being sold online and for how much. It searches by ISBN, author, or title. The book I wanted to send was listed at TheNile.com.au, so I contacted them and they were very helpful. They accepted Paypal and had free shipping to the recipient from their US warehouse. Book price included import fees. All I needed was the recipients postal address and phone number to fill out the forms.

The total cost was a little more expensive than buying it in the US ($20 USD for a $12.95 book), but it was worth to me it because this was a giveaway prize. Plus with Paypal there are no currency conversion fees, and I’ll get a little bit of it back in royalties. So it all worked out very well in the end, and I would definitely do a worldwide giveaway again.

Update: I chatted with an Australian on the CreateSpace community forum and learned that import fees aren’t applicable for purchases under $1000. I also learned that since this was a prize, it was technically a gift, not a purchased item. Therefore it could be declared a gift on the Customs Declaration form and be exempt from import fees. I’m recalling that the same applies to gifts sent to Europe.

361 Copies Short of 5000

Honestly? I’m amazed 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has sold as many copies as it has – 4639 to date. And that in a little over eighteen months. Sales have slowed, however. Perhaps it’s the time of year, perhaps it’s the economy, perhaps it’s simply saturated its market. Interestingly, it still ranks in Amazon’s Top 100 in its two categories, #73 in Sustainable Living and #17 in Sustainable Agriculture. I confess I’ve done nothing to promote it these days; I’m too busy working on Critter Tales. It would be nice to reach 5000 copies sold some day, and perhaps it will. Whether it does or not, it’s been an encouraging accomplishment for this first time indie author.

New eBook & New Approach to Discount Codes

gardening_for_goats350x233Here it is, book 6 of my eBook series, The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. This newest one is entitled How To Garden For Goats: gardening, foraging, small scale grain and hay, & more. I find myself writing them whenever I take a break from Critter Tales, whenever I finish a chapter or section. Reception by my small audience has been great so far, and of course I’m pleased about that.

Regarding my discouragement from offering the introductory free code to my 5 Acres blog readers, I decided to take a different track. I announced it on my blog, of course, but this time I offered to code to a different audience. I’m a member of two goat email groups and figured they would likely be interested. So as a means of introducing them to the series, I offered the code to these groups. I didn’t get a lot of reviews, but perhaps trying to trade free copies for reviews is not the best reason for offering them. Perhaps thinking of it as simply a means of advertising the series is a better approach.

Expectations are often an emotional killer. I should know better, but find myself relying on them anyway. So much better to do for the doings sake with no specific expectations attached, especially when people are involved. That never fails to help me enjoy what I’m doing and take pleasure in the little outcomes whenever they occur. I like life so much better that way.