Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Wolves of Kioshkokwi.

Wild and beautiful.

Kioshkokwi Lake lies on the Amable Du Fond River, one of half a dozen major watersheds draining the Algonquin dome. The river goes north to the Mattawa River, and hence to the Ottawa. This part of the Du Fond is navigable by canoes and kayaks.

The Du Fond brothers, Francis and Ignace, operated a depot farm at the east end of Manitou Lake in the 1880’s. Now it’s just a grassy clearing, with a few clumps of trees, and the trail going through. It is historic country, in the ancient homeland of the Nipissings, a nation of the Algonquian linguistic stock.

Kioshkokwi means “Lake of many gulls.” The plaintive cries of the birds, glowing white dots on the calm glassy expanse of the water, can be haunting indeed. They can be seen and heard for miles. My brother and I set out at dawn on a foggy morning. The dark pines became ghostly shapes in the mist. They rapidly disappeared, yet up is up and down is down, in the weird half-light of early morning. With the compass to guide us, it was windless, the water dark and quiet. It was the start of another warm and humid summer’s day. In the centre of the lake, the sky cleared. Looking back, a billowing mass of white cotton shrouded the shore, a blanket of trees hugging the soft curves of the earth mother.

It looked like the nap of an old, much washed sweater; and it was good.

After an unsuccessful search for the ruins of an old ranger cabin on Wolfe Bay, we turned our prow southeast, rounding the west end of the lake, setting up for the southwest run to the river mouth. We hiked up and looked at the waterfall, and talked for a while with some people up there.

We found a campsite back on Wolfe Bay. Next morning, we set out for the northeast corner of the lake. That little bay has a couple of islands. We grabbed the southernmost one. This island was not large, but shallows dotted with sandy patches and clumps of grass, and the nearby shoreline; meant firewood was nearby. A short, easy canoe ride after dinner usually takes care of all our firewood needs. On the “front” of the island, a nice sandy beach, probably fifty metres long.

A holiday, we watched canoe parties go by as the day wore on. They were coming from two directions—some people came out of Lauder Lake, and parties were obviously coming up from the portage at Mink Lake, going home after the long weekend.

They headed for the boat launch and store on Kioshkokwi’s north side. By ten o’clock on that August night, it became very quiet. In the old days, we used to sit with our rum-laced coffee and listen. The tracks are gone now, but it was quite a thrill to hear a train coming up the valley. In the distance, the vague suggestion of a noise, more felt than heard.

A faint glimmer on a hillside, then another hillside lit up. As the train made its way, the blast of its horn, the rumble of its wheels were amplified, reflected by sheer rock faces and the parabolic curves of the cuttings it ran in. You could hear it fifteen kilometres away. And then as the ground quivered and shook under your butts, the pounding, shuffling monster would light up half the lake as it went by, thudding and roaring and making sparks fly from its wheels.

It gets real quiet after the train goes by, then the forest lets out its breath and the normal routine begins anew. We heard something die out there that night. We had no idea what it was. Perhaps a rabbit caught by a skulking, silent flying owl, maybe a beaver surprised in the act of tree-cutting by a bobcat, who knows? It sure makes the hair stand up on the back of the neck, sure makes the old goose pimples rise on arms and legs.

Makes you think. Animals are truly innocent of any guilt or sin. Life is such a fragile, and therefore precious thing. It is always a tragedy to die.

At some point the wolves began to howl.

“Holy crap! What the heck is that?” asked my brother, round-eyed in wonder.

The weirdest, un-holiest, loneliest, most mournful sound you ever want to hear. 

Mariomassone, Denali NPS.
“That’s just the moose,” I told him. “They get a little uptight. Another month or so and the rut begins. They call out to each other, let each other know whose turf it is.”

He accepted my explanation, and after swallowing the dregs of his coffee, went to bed. I like the sound of wolves, and have no real fear of them. Bears are so much more silent, don’t you agree? Much more unpredictable. A wolf won’t eat out of a garbage dump. It doesn’t smell good, to a wolf. Bears are omnivorous, the wolf is a pure carnivore. They might nibble grass, the vegetable portion of their diet comes exclusively from the stomach contents of their quarry. An animal of the chase, creatures of the pack.

Letting the fire die down, I laid there quietly on my little tarp. A clear, starry night.

I listened for a long time to the snoring of my brother, and the calls of the wolves of Kioshkokw, for they are also our brothers.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Selling Stock Photos: Doing it or Just Talking About It?

Unusual in a world of clones.

Years ago a buddy bought a $110.00 market guide, issued yearly, for professional photography. 

It cost money for film and developing, a darkroom took up space, and he never shot a photo because he thought he always had to have that award-winning shot. Otherwise it just wasn't worth his while.

This same guy, a nice enough guy, went to the annual photography show at the local arena. It was put on once a year by the members of the local photography club, a group that included many professional photographers, people who owned studios and camera shops and had photos in contests all over the place. 

They would tell you, “This picture won twenty-five bucks at the fair,” and “This one won a hundred dollars in the Fictitious Contest…”

There were people who had learned to make money with photography.

My buddy signed up for courses at the local college, where he studied boudoir photography, much to my own envy of course, as he had all those relatively beautiful live models to work with.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, live models. You see, these young women had the dream of modeling, which they thought would be a good career, right? They were acting on their dreams.

So my buddy took photos of the girls, in the studio, in their homes and apartments and out in remote locations. As I recall, the shots involved a lot of girls with lifted arms and hair streaming in the wind, and ninety-nine percent of the time, pretty much fully dressed.

Everyone was all very naive and not very rich, and not all that good-looking in some cases. In any case, they all knew what my buddy was really after!

I’ve only met one or two guys like that in my entire life. For the most part it’s all talk, but this guy was a bit of a grabber. The girls knew that too.

But the point is that none of it actually went anywhere. He was poor, and so were we all. And it takes practice to get good—I mean, really, really fucking good where you stand any chance at all of making a sale, or being able to organize a show, like the pros in the photo club, none of whom were internationally known, none of whom were rich or anything like that.

It takes a lot of practice to get good.

Now, today that guy is in a remarkably different position—if he wants to be. Because now, with a digital camera, some live models, some remote locations, some props and costumes, that very same guy, who has had the last thirty years to get good—and I mean, really, really fuckin’ good—well now that guy can upload his pictures to a hundred stock photo sites, and if his photos even approach the kind of talented amateur and professional art on places like DeviantArt, then he stands a real chance of making a sale.

That’s why be bought that $110.00 photo market guide in the first place—because he  dreamed, and because he did act. He wanted to be a professional photographer. He didn’t act enough. He didn’t do the right things—like get a counter job at a photo shop where he would have fit right in, learned a lot about the business, and made himself two or three hundred a week while doing all of that, and have professional equipment available to him for the first time in his life.

This has relevance for me, ladies and gentlemen, because at the time, I was making all sorts of amateur videos, with borrowed cameras, some from the college, and as I recall, I borrowed Sony ‘brick’ cams from my Uncle Steve, and some other guy who shall remain nameless. I made duplicate tapes, audio and VHS, for a buck each back then, mixtapes, motivational speakers on tape for the car and such. People would pay hundreds of dollars for a set of tapes and then they were so precious they didn’t want to leave it in the car, right? It wasn’t for resale or redistribution, just for the record.

Those little films were fun to make. I used home VCRs for editing more than once, with all of their short-comings. I did all that stuff before Wes Stroud and Mantracker, I know they’re good guys and everything, but at one time I wanted to ‘do something’ with film-making. True story, ladies and gentlemen; I wanted to make wildlife films. But the idea that someone will come along with a pocketful of money and grab one of my books as ‘a film that I simply must make’ is pretty ludicrous if I’m not doing anything to make that happen.

And there are ways to make it happen. You would have to want it bad enough, to do it yourself, go that extra mile, shake a lot of hands and make that deal, whether it’s with rented or borrowed equipment, or with cultural grants, or even that most unlikely of happenings, private investors.

What do I know about film-making? Not much, in my humble opinion.

Ultimately that other guy fell by the wayside and that’s just how life is.

Add caption
So, my conclusion is a simple one. What I need to do, is to set aside a weekend, put a few images in a folder clearly labelled ‘pro pics’ and sign up for a marketplace or two—a stock photo company, and just see if I can make a sale with some of the more esthetically-pleasing landscapes I’ve been doing lately.

Over the last year, I have browsed any number of stock photo sites, where I viewed something on the order of 150,000 or more images. There are some surprising shots in there, and one wonders why anyone would ever load it up. Yet at the same time, it is entirely possible that someone with very specific requirements would want that photo—it’s that unique in its category.

I was looking for something specific, and when I came to something I loved but couldn’t immediately use, I sort of remembered that and went looking for it and similar shots later.

As to whether there is a market for digital landscapes, it’s hard to say, but when someone does want one, and if your stuff is any good, then your chances are as good as anybody else’s.

Unless of course they’re not signed up—in which case their chances are nil.

Here are three links from my first search:

Sign up to Contribute to iStockPhoto

Shutterstock Become a Contributor

Sell Your Images BigStockPhoto

Note: always read the terms of service.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Open Shortened URLs, and Analysing Blog Traffic.

George Boole, artist unknown. (Wiki.)

There are a number of free and handy tools for independent online publishers.

When analyzing web traffic on my Blogger blog, I see some shortened URLs. I’ve been blogging along for three or four years now without paying much attention to them, but it would be kind of nice to know who that is, right?

If a story gets fifty hits and half of them come from a shortened URL, then that’s half your readership, and mostly likely a social networking site where the author posted, or it was automatically fed, or where someone else had reposted or retweeted the author’s post.

Otherwise it represents search engine traffic, which is an automated search by categories and key words by someone looking for something specific, and for whatever reason your name or your content came up. This happens if someone uses the same key words in your search as you put in your tags, the title, the author name, and of course the content of your post. Every site and blog has a ranking, and you want to be ranked as high as possible because few people will ever go past the first or second page of links on any given search.

An example of this is if a site is about carpentry and some carpenter is looking for work—he might type in ‘carpenters’ (or contractors, home-builders, etc) when searching for a job opening. Some list of names comes up, and most likely he makes his own list of addresses and phone numbers, and it’s helpful in his job search.

Now, if the author only had a hundred and fifty connections on that site, or friends, or followers, then this demographic group might bear some closer attention. In comparison with a social site where the author has two thousand ‘friends’ and where the author got maybe two or three hits on the same story, this is a good group because they are interested in your particular content.

If you are developing a website or a blog for its own sake, say you want to run a magazine or something, a newsletter or website, possibly as an adjunct to sales or promotion, then content is king.

Not all sites and blogs are created equal, and so they don’t have equal appeal to any given demographic group. (Your site can be tightly focused on one small niche or with wider content; it may appeal to a wider audience or readership.)

Facebook might be more popular with one age group, and a website like Instagram might attract a much younger crowd. Twitter followers are different than Pinterest users, and each of them represents a different set of opportunies and pitfalls.

There is a tool for opening short URLs. It’s a URL ‘opener’ and it traces the link back to its original destination and tells you who they are and displays the URL in question.

Now you know if the bulk of your traffic is coming from Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Twitter, Wattpad, Facebook, et cetera..

If you have two thousand connections on LinkedIn and get maybe one percent of your traffic from there, then building up your list on the platform is less effective than adding forty or fifty people on another site, where the exact same story got twenty-five hits or reads.

Also, some platforms may have peak hours, and different readers may be all over the world, where the time zones are different, and I bring that up because I just noticed traffic from the U.S., but then there was traffic from China, half the world away. There are something like a hundred million English speakers in China, so that is something to think about. 

(That traffic was on another blog, as you can see by the content this one is relatively new.)

And now you're analysing me. That's not so hard, eh?

Here is a link to a page with two or three other link opening services. There is also a service where an author or webmaster can get their own shortened URL, in case yours is unusually long, or if you have something really cool in mind.


The Art of Analysis

There are several stories on my blog that come up regularly in the stats, even though I haven’t posted them anywhere recently, sometimes possibly even not in months or years.

Certain stories come up all the time. If a story is getting twenty or thirty hits a month for no effort on the author’s part, and if that traffic is sort of building, then the author or webmaster is doing something right.

In this particular case it would be the subject matter, it would be the key words, but more than that—and this is important when gaming those all-important human algorithms, is that people are interesting in this particular content, and more than that, with this one particular tool I can now find out where those people are finding that content.

Then I can do several things at once.

What I can do is to build up that ‘audience’ and post more of that particular content. Not only that, but we can go looking for other social platforms where more of that particular demographic group seems to hang out.

It’s all done on an experimental basis, and of course that takes time. But over time the author builds the network, his presence on different social networks, and over time the readership grows.

Right? None of this might get quick results in the short term, but in the longer game it does seem to work.

Using a few simple ideas, I took another blog from 5,900 hits total in about June of 2012, and about a year and a half later, within the next twenty-four hours I will have my 100,000th hit on that particular blog. What can be done with one blog or website can be done with another, each targeted to different groups, whether by ages or interests, needs, aspirations, hobbies, consumer categories or whatever.

I can predict that with some accuracy, ladies and gentlemen. 

I have more questions and no doubt the average reader will too. Let’s face it: there might be a hundred things I haven’t thought of yet, and if I was doing a bit of a better job on some of those unknowns, maybe I’d have a million hits by now.

I should point out that it is purely an assumption that blogging or having a website helps to sell a book or anything else, although conventional wisdom is that it is an important aspect of an author marketing themselves and their works. Conventional wisdom isn't always wrong, but perhaps it is more a question of doing it well.

It’s definitely experimental, but an experiment is designed to get data. It gets you a new fact, maybe even more than one. Maybe you get two facts. I’m just sayin’.

A blog, on its first post, with no network or readership built, would be lucky to get a half a dozen reads from friends and family. Even a simple blog has the potential to get hundreds of thousands or even millions of hits in a year. A couple of days ago I got 341 hits, and today only 166. That’s a lot better than six hits in a day or a week.

That much is obvious, but it took me three or four years to figure it out and to get it this far.

Simply put, a well put-together package, over time, will do better than something with no thought and no foresight put into the actual content, (and the readers are who you want to reach with your blog or website, right?)  And there is also some timing, analysis, et cetera.


Here’s George Boole, who is really cool, and he is credited with laying the mathematical groundwork for the computer revolution.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Killing off a Pen-Name?

Photo by Lothar Spurzem.

I have a pen-name with a couple of titles. He’s never sold a book although he has given a few away and ‘sold’ books with Smashwords coupons. These actually do count as sales, an important factor to consider in ‘gaming the algorithms,’ but only on the Smashwords site, (and that’s just guesswork.)

But to kill off this particular author might be a wise idea. He’s not generating any heat, any traction, and the longer he sits there the colder those books get. I don’t have any real plans to write anything more for him. 

It’s kind of a vicious circle. If I could keep feeding him material, and keep blogging along on some subject of interest, he might still make a go of it. It’s a bit of work for a guy who’s not selling any books…there is that.

Those books need new marketing images anyway. I’ve known that for quite some time.

If I took those books over, one crime novella and one thriller novel, it’s not that far out of my known genres. 

I already have a couple of mystery novels. Those readers are somewhat likely to cross over into another crime story; or a thriller, because the mysteries are also historical. They’re already halfway there. I’ve been thinking about it for months, and Christmas is coming…thought processes just sort of revolve around in my head. But I need a sequential sort of list before I really do anything about it.

My books have at least some sales, and carry some minor weight in the ‘product presentation algorithms’ that govern what a given customer might be presented with in the automated bookshelves we’re all familiar with on Amazon, iTunes, etc. The books at least have some readers, and those readers are more likely to be presented with one of my books because they have already bought or downloaded a free one.

So this is how my mind works.

I would add two more really nice products to my own list. The kid could still live—an option is to sign him up for an affiliate marketing program such as the one at Smashwords. All he has to do—all I have to do, is when I read a book, do a quick 350-word book review on his blog, attach his affiliate code onto the end of the book’s buy link code, and voila! The kid has reviewed a book, made his recommendation, and who knows, he might even make more sales with other people’s books than he has made on his own. (I have virtually no thoughts on affiliate marketing or how to go about it.)

The process of re-branding might be more complex than it sounds. All I have to do is put my name on it, right? But the metadata is important. Three years ago, when I published my first two titles, I practically ignored it, but it’s important because it’s attached to the ISBN number. I don’t really know how it works, behind the scenes electronically*, but essentially you have to change that data. For obvious reasons, this must match all the way around. The name on the cover, inside the book, the bio, the name listed on various platforms, and the ISBN number listed for example at Collections Canada ISBN service, Bowker’s, or places that assign free ISBNs such as Smashwords. I don’t know what sort of problems that might engender.

The books are in Smashword’s Premium Catalogue, and I would hate to mess that up over the long haul…sometimes you just don’t know what to do and the obvious answer is to procrastinate.


What I am finding, certainly for this vintage-racing/plot to kill the Pope in 1938 sort of story, is that night-time racing shots, with a handsome driver’s face in the right sort of car and environment are hard to find. So now we look at alternatives. What about a girl with a gun? What about a couple of German WW II snipers on the roof of the Vatican? Some images are easier to find than others, and many of the readers are sophisticated enough in terms of historical knowledge that they can tell the difference between a Schmeisser and a Thompson. They know what a Wehrmacht uniform looks like, and they know what a U.S. Ranger from 1968 ought to look like.

This leads me to my next question, for surely these are all questions, no matter how inelegantly phrased.

Can I possibly re-title the book? Yeah—obviously, but if so, then what? I mean, what? Without any ideas, there is essentially no image to look for because I can’t quite visualize it in my head.

I need key words to search with and a stock photo provider with an appropriate image. I’ve already looked at over three thousand and it doesn’t look easy so far. I’ve saved exactly two links in a .doc file I use for the purpose.

(You’ve got to have a system, ladies and gentlemen.)

I could visualize that racing driver and his mechanic racing down some twisted cobbled road at eighty miles an hour in the dead of night just fine. I have not found any really good images so far.

Re-branding a couple of titles isn’t going to be the work of a moment, but in terms of one of my other pen-name's books, well…there might be a couple more out by Christmas.

There is definitely some thought involved, and the whole thing would be a process. What I am looking for is a logical sequence of events, and for right now, the marketing image/title is a stumbling block. It is a major hurdle, ah, ‘when ya got no money.’

I could still go with the ‘girl with a gun on the cover.’ There is a girl or two in the book. They have guns too, (and they know how to use them) but the racing driver is the real character study in that he is politically and somewhat morally oblivious—in Europe, in 1938. (There has just been the Anschluss between Austria and Germany, and everybody but our racing driver knows Czecholslovakia is next.) I wrote the book about him more than anything. Everything else is just window dressing to make it fun for the readers. I’ll be honest with you, it’s not that profound.

Basically, all he wants to do is race and has given up everything else to do it, including the heroine.

So why not a guy with a gun? If the book is pitched at males, an action shot, a guy with a gun and a hot babe might be just the thing. A simple portrait of a male figure with a gun…it had better be pretty iconic, and who knows, maybe there is an image out there that would work.

The real problem is that the focus of the book is on a racing driver.

This doesn’t necessarily rule out women readers, although a really good picture of an intelligent looking woman, one with real class might intrigue them. The picture had better be good and the blurb even better, (something I’m not particularly known for.)

I might play down some aspects of the book in the blurb. The product description is not carved in stone. I would simply play up the girl rather than the racing driver with a whole new blurb. You can only go so far with that without being ‘overly misleading’ about the book.

Obviously this isn’t going to happen all at once, and luckily, it’s only two titles. The novella also might require quite the unique little image.

It’s an interesting challenge if you don’t know what you’re doing!

*That pesky asterisk. Smashwords knows instantly if you’ve pooched your ISBN number, which implies some connectivity with ISBN providers of an official nature such as Collections Canada.