The Venture of Our Lives: Year 1
October 7, 2012
For better or worse, for richer or poorer, this is the day it all began. October 7. The Caleb and Linda Pirtle Website was launched and finally went live. Actually, Caleb and Linda Pirtle had been a year in the making before it ever saw the light of day.
I had been attending the Northeast Texas Writer’s Conference in April of 2010 when Rusty Shelton spoke about social media and marketing in the digital age. He was a young lion, a gracious guru of the new technology that was working its way into the mainstream of America, especially in publishing. As soon as I found out that Rusty had worked with the branding of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” I knew I wanted to steal every word he said.
Rusty was in the process of opening his own company in Austin, Texas – Shelton Interactive – and he said something that stuck with me. The problem most authors have, he said, is that they build nice, beautiful Websites, stick their books on them, and nothing ever changes. The secret, he said, was building a Website to promote books, make sure it was stuffed with new content every day, and give visitors a reason to keep coming back. Always something new, he said. Always give them something new.
I forgot the conference. I spent the rest of the day talking to Rusty. Over the next several months, my wife Linda and I began working with him and his talented team at Shelton Interactive to launch our own company, which became Caleb and Linda Pirtle.
His team built the site. He gave us the social media guidance and marketing ideas I needed to get started.
Linda and I were fortunate to partner with Stephen Woodfin, an attorney, an iconoclast, and one of the best damn writers I ever read. He, like the rest of us, was trying to break into the world of publishing and would never shy away from knocking the door down if necessary. Just find him a door. As Stephen always told me, “I went to Baptist Seminary to get the Lord on my side, then became an attorney to make sure the devil was on my side, too.”
So that’s how it began: Linda was a retired English teacher, high school principal, and school administrator. I had written all of my life for newspapers, magazines, a couple of TV movies, and a publishing company. And Stephen had reached the point in life where he would rather write than lawyer, although he wisely kept his day job.
I knew little about eBooks. I had never read any aBooks, bBooks, cBooks, or dBooks. So why bother with eBooks? Twitter was an abomination. I was sure that there was something in the Bible against it. If not, there should be. As someone who had always been paid by the word, I saw little future in writing anything with less than 140 characters. I was too embarrassed to even mention the word “blog” in public. It sounded like a mad dog disease and was probably incurable.
So on October 7, 2011, we officially began. Shelton had built us a beautiful site. It was easy to navigate. It impressed me. I sat there looking at Caleb and Linda Pirtle on my computer and felt like I was sitting in a Lamborghini and afraid to hit the accelerator, not sure just how fast it would go or how easy it would be to wreck.
Stephen and I originally thought that Caleb and Linda Pirtle would be a book publishing and marketing firm. And we did publish some fine eBooks for such outstanding authors as John Crawley, Lana Lynne, Jack Durish, Jory Sherman, Andre le Gallo, Maryann Miller, Don Newbury, Jim Ainsworth, and Mike Looney.
In time, however, we realized we could play a much more important role in the industry by working with other authors and helping them promote their books.
Along the way, Stephen and I wrote a few books ourselves. And Linda, bless her heart, designed the manuscripts for both eBooks and print copies in case the author wanted to have some printed. She had always been fascinated with art and design.
So now I could watch her sit down every morning, smile, as she always does, jump into the middle of a design program she had never seen or heard of before and start mumbling like a sailor who had one too many Scotch whiskeys to drink and one too few men to fight.
But she learned a lot. And so did we.
Rusty had said that blogging was the fundamental foundation for building a site. Blog every day, he told me. So I blogged every day. Stephen blogged about three times a week. Then he saw the light, got salvation, and now he, too, blogs every day.
And we can depend on our authors submitting at least one blog a week. Understanding the importance of diversity, understanding the importance of providing a venue for other writers, we have also reached out to include regular blogs by Bert Carson, Christina Carson, Jo VonBargen, Jenny McCutcheon, Julia Robb, Gay Ingram, Frank C. Etier, Kathryn Elizabeth Etier, R. S. Guthrie, Robert Lowe, Maria Granovsky, Patty Wiseman, Vangie Woodfin, and Grady Jane Woodfin. Some of their words will make you laugh. Some will carry you into a distant and romantic past. Some will inspire you. Some will make you fighting mad. A lot of them will make you think. A few will even educate you and help you walk through the quagmire of digital publishing. And they all make you glad you took the time to read them. I guarantee it.
The blogs made a difference. But then, Rusty was accurate with every idea he pitched our way. He had Amber McGinty to hold our hands during the rough spots, and we kept her wringing her hands. She has a place in Heaven. We kept her in Purgatory long enough. Will Ruff kept plugging up the holes and hammering in the changes, and we always had new ideas, which always required new
changes.Whitney Burnett has come on board to keep the ship afloat and running in the right direction. Susan Savkov, Lord have mercy on her soul, is still trying to teach us to be social in social media and walk us past the land mines. Of course, Stephen still likes to blow them up. And in Mount Pleasant, Alecia Stringer is fighting our battle on Facebook and in email marketing. All of these techno people, most if not all under thirty, speak a digital language that’s as foreign to Stephen and me as waterboarding, and it’s almost as dangerous.
In the beginning, we were fortunate to have a handful of visits a day to the site. I was usually so disappointed that I didn’t even bother to look at the analytics. I preferred ignorance. Ignorance did not give me headaches or heartburn.
As we wind down year one, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has grown beyond our expectations but not our goals. Our unique visits are in the thousands, and we welcome far more visitors in a single day than we once did in a week, far more visitors in a week than we once did in a month. Rusty had given us a number, said hit it, and your site will have value in the marketplace. We hit it, then passed it. New goals are a lot more ambitious than the old ones were.
As of today, October 7, 2012, we have posted 1,376 blogs, and the tweets, primarily because Bert and Christina Carson invited us to participate in Triberr, have run into the millions almost on a daily basis. We have friends on twitter we will never meet, but they seem like family. We help them, and they help us, and I believe that’s what it’s all about in the world of eBook marketing and promotion. No competition here. People read more than one book. Let’s all sell them one. We’re not in this alone. Nor should we be.
Nothing ever stands still. Not for long anyway.
Allison Bright has climbed aboard Shelton to re-design the site and make it work even better, and we are changing our theme line to “Connecting Readers, Writers, and Books.” We are adding new bloggers every week. We are introducing new contests every month. And we are launching a new program that allows authors to post their novels as serials on the Website. It’s simply a new and innovative way for us to help writers build their names and their brands. We’re back to the soap opera days, and everybody loves a good soap. Even Linda has decided to serialize the novel she has begun. It’s called The Mahjong Murders. I’m glad she’s writing it. I can’t spell Mahjong.
A new year awaits us. God only knows what lies ahead. Most of it hasn’t even been invented yet. But thanks to all of you, the first year has been a great one.
During these past twelve months, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has published the following books:
For Stephen Woodfin: The Sickles Compass, which became The Warrior with Alzheimer’s, Money Is Thicker Than Blood, The Promiscuity Defense, God’s Love Sucks: Confessions of a Born Again Vampire, Last One Chosen, a Top 5 Finalist for Best Indie Book of the Year, Next Best Hope, and The Revelation Effect.
For Caleb Pirtle III: Place of Skulls, which became Golgotha Connection, Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk, Other Voices, Other Towns, Chasing Love and Other Ghosts, Trail of Broken Promises, and Champions: Great Moments in the History of Alabama Football, an audio book.
For Jack Durish: Rebels on the Mountain.
For Lana Lynne: Sunbeams at Twilight.
For Andre le Gallo: Satan’s Spy
For Maryann Miller: Open Season
For Jim Ainsworth: River’s Flow
For Mike Looney: A Quiet Hero
For Don Newbury: When the Porch Light’s On.
For the Kilgore Historical Preservation Foundation: Echoes of Forgotten Streets, Vision of Forgotten Streets, Life on Kilgore’s Unforgettable Streets, and A Boom for the Ages.