Life at The End of a Dirt Road
Growing Up On The Far Side Of The Ranch
Do you have a story to tell? If you can you tell that story in an interesting way you may have an ingrown book. In this article I will be telling you about my story and how it found its way into print. Along the way, I hope to encourage and inspire you to write your book and tell your story.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in the country or to live on a working cattle ranch? It was my good fortune to grow up on a cattle ranch far from town and in my book, Life at The End of a Dirt Road, I share this unique experience with others. Much of the book is written from the perspective of the kid on the ranch and humor was my grease to keep things flowing.
Thanks for dropping by and I hope you find something of interest or use as you read on.
All photographs in this article are my own.
As for the picture above...it's the cover of my book. It features a black and white photo my mother took of me a few years ago (perhaps 60 ) with my trusty BB gun and a dead bird (poor thing). I combined this photo with a contemporary photo I took on the ranch at the end of a dirt road. If you do Photoshop you can create your own cover for your book.
What Others Say About My Book
My book hasn't earned a lot of money but I didn't write it with money in mind. I'm not averse to earning money with it but I wrote it to share some unique experiences. The greatest reward from the book hasn't been something that I can put in a bank. The unsolicited feedback from people who read my book has been my prize. Following are some reader quotes from emails sent to me or forwarded to me by others. Reading the feedback will also give you some hints about the content of the book.
The picture above is from the ranch as morning mist rises from the Shasta River. Did I mention a river runs through it?
Michelle said: "I traveled to DC yesterday and read most of 'Life at The End of a Dirt Road.' I could not put it down! I actually laughed out loud several times on the plane and received strange looks from fellow passengers. Having been raised in a rural environment, I can relate to some of the stories. What a great book!"
Bob said: "I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. Being city born and bred I had very little knowledge about farm life, and you filled me in a most enjoyable fashion. I found your book to be witty, funny and indeed a sense of poignancy ran through the pages."
Damian said: "I read Life at The End of a Dirt Road from cover to cover, what a book. Please tell Chuck I thought the world of the book."
Sue said: "I got your book yesterday and wasn't going to pick it up Wrong! I just thought I would read the foreword and accidentally read through chapter 6. I had to force myself to put it down so I could get some laundry done."
Henry said: "After reading the book which I thoroughly enjoyed, I found your photography on your website and fell in love with the quail as they are favorite birds of mine."
Warren said: "I started reading your friend's book to my younger boy last night and he really enjoyed it, thanks! It was great for my 'city' guy to hear about a different lifestyle not involving things with an on-off switch."
A teacher who was given a copy by a friend said: "Thanks so much for the book. I have already used two sections for models of descriptive narrative for my 4th graders. It is inspiring also in that your friend is a local writer and this is his first book. Good stuff."
Marv said: "Finished your book and thoroughly enjoyed!! What a marvelous walk down memory lane. So many of the things you mentioned brought back fond memories --- everything from sling-shots, BB guns, stupid chickens and sheep, chores, hunting, cattle ranches, cats, dogs, etc., etc. A REAL joy! Well done and the humor was great also."
In addition to the feedback above, you can read some read some reviews on Amazon here..
My Book on Amazon
I Accidently Wrote a Book
The image above is a view from the ranch with Mount Shasta reflected in the lake.
I didn't set out to write a book. My internal itch to write about my ranch experiences began in college when I realized my life experiences were different from most other people. During my working career I was too busy to write a book but then the day came when I had grandkids. Grandkids can inspire grandparents in a number of ways but my grandkids were growing up in the city and their life experiences were vastly different from mine. Not only did they grow up with telephones and television, but they were growing up in a cement and asphalt urban environment while I grew up in the country at the end of a dirt road.
The grandkids liked my ranch stories and I was able to take them to the ranch where I grew up and could see how they enjoyed their country experiences. I also noted that when my parents passed away they took their experiences and stories with them. With these observations in mind, I decided that I would record my ranch experiences so the grandkids would have some memory hooks when I was gone.
So my "book" didn't start out as a book, it started out as a journal of experiences and stories primarily for the grandkids and family. It never entered my mind that I would publish what I was writing.
About the time I began to record my ranch stories we were at the point where we were going to have to sell the ranch I grew up on. With the parents gone I was one of four brothers that owned the ranch. None of us were ranchers and we had homes and careers far removed from the ranch so we leased it to a cattleman who ran his cattle on the ranch. This helped us pay some bills and taxes but there was no money for serious maintenance. The other brothers were urging me to sell but I had great difficulty letting go of the ranch I loved. Finally I agreed to sell and, ironically, was given power of attorney to handle the sale. At this point, my ranch experiences and memories were tumbling from my mind and onto the pages of my journal. In fact, much of my writing at this time was like a therapeutic journaling to help me deal with the loss of the ranch I loved.
By the time I neared the end of my "journal," it looked very much like a book but I still only thought it would be of interest to the family. Much of it was deeply personal and I wasn't sure I could share it beyond the family. My intention was to clean it up and then print it out for the grandkids. I gave the rough manuscript to a friend who does some writing to review. She caught a lot of my typos and grammatical errors and made some good suggestions and encouraged me to consider publishing it. She said parts made her laugh and parts brought a tear to her eye and that was the first time I realized my writing had touched someone else. I appreciated her advice and worked on cleaning it up but still with only the family in mind as the target audience.
When it was apparent that the ranch was about to be sold, I gave a copy of the rough manuscript to the principals of Stillwater Development who were about to become the owners of Nelson Ranch. I wanted the new owners to have some of the history that was lived out on the ranch. The Stillwater people read the manuscript and began to share it with others and send me feedback encouraging me to publish it. I toyed with the idea but dismissed it. I decided they were probably just being nice.
Finally the Stillwater people invited me to a meeting where they said that if I published the manuscript as a book, they would pay half the cost of publication. That's the point at which my family journal became a book. I decided that if they were willing to put money where their mouth was, I may have written something with an appeal beyond my family.
That was also where the hard work began. If I was going to put something out there with my name on it, I wanted it to be a quality product. I started re-writing the entire manuscript, attending writing seminars and reading books about writing.
In my working career I had occasion to write training bulletins, general orders, procedure manuals and business letters but never anything with a hint of humor or emotion. I knew my book had to carry my sense of humor and that I had to touch the reader's emotions so they could feel something of what I felt as I wrote. The reader had to feel something if they are to really share my experiences. I wrote and re-wrote the book sentence by sentence with thesaurus in hand. I think it was Mark Twain who said something like, "the difference between a word and the right word is the difference between lighting and a lightning bug."
How Do I Get This Thing Published
On the right is one of my favorite camping and fishing holes on the ranch. That's the Shasta River.
I've already confessed that I wrote my book the wrong way. A professional writer would start with an outline and flesh it out into a well organized book. I didn't do that, my book started out as a journal of stories and experiences that I later organized into a book. A "proper" book is like a seven course dinner with an organized flow from appetizer to dessert. My book was more like a pizza with all the good stuff there from first to last bite. In any event, now that I had decided to publish a book my problem was, "How in the world do I get published?"
I went to many publisher websites. I paid special attention to publishers who specialized in books of a similar genre, humor, country life, etc.. The message I came away with in the end was the same from every publisher I visited. They all said something like "We don't accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you want us to review your manuscript, become a famous author first."
There are many professional writers who could probably tell you how get past the discouraging front door of publishers but I decided I would skip that grief and self publish. Now, self publishing houses are as abundant as mushrooms after a rain so how do you pick one? I won't bore you with all the publishers I considered but I'll tell you what criteria I had in my search for a publisher.
My criteria for a publisher was simple:
1. Reasonable cost
2. Quality end product
3. Must be able to include the many photos which were important to my book.
4. I didn't want a basement full of books to sell.
After considering several publishers, I settled on AuthorHouse. They published at a competitive price, they could handle my many images and they sent me several books so I could see their published end products. Fortunately today, most if not all publishers are "print on demand" (POD) so you don't have to order a large number of books or end up with a basement full of books. The technology today allows books to be printed as needed.
I could have paid AuthorHouse to edit my book but decided to hire an independent editor. I'm glad I did as he did a great job, catching more typos and wording errors and making helpful suggestions along the way. Most important, I had control of the process. In the end I had a work that I was comfortable publishing with my name on it. AuthorHouse would have created a cover for my book but I was able to create my own in Photoshop because I had an idea I wanted to pursue.
One error I made was to publish the book in two formats. One book was 9x6 in size with black and white images but I wanted a larger version that could show some of my images in color, something like a table-top version. Printing in color was expensive and the price of the book was VERY expensive. Very few of the large books have sold because of the price. The text of both books is the same but the last few pages are different. The small (reasonably priced) book has a series of family photos that tend to tie in with stories in the book. The larger (high priced) book with color photos ends with a photo essay of the ranch. Unless money is no object, I recommend you buy the small black and white version. You can also buy it in the Kindle version.
It's Called Marketing
That Means You Have to Try to Sell Your Book
Marketing or selling your book is where I am weak. Unless you are a famous person or your book is "discovered" and pushed by a famous person or large publishing house, sales can be difficult. I much more prefer writing to selling, both are hard work but writing is more fun.
I found my book sells well in Siskiyou County, California. That's the county where the ranch is found. People who identify with the rural life style or local history love the book and several bookstores carry it up there. However, most of the testimonials above are from people who have never been to the area. People from every venue enjoy the book but it's expensive to get the word out..that's marketing.
I have done very little to market the book as marketing is expensive and/or time consuming and these days I invest my time and limited resources in photography. I've been invited to give a talk here and there and always sell some books at such events but your book will have to sell in the thousands not hundreds to start earning significant money. If you decide to write "your" book you may want to put some thought into how you would market it. It may be a great book but there are millions of great books coming out every year. If your book fits into a niche, like exercise, bicycling, raising horses, etc., you can target that niche with your marketing.
My advice is to go ahead and write your book. It will be a lot of work but the experience is good and you will meet interesting people along the way. Be realistic about becoming rich and famous. That's not likely to happen but you will profit in other ways from the experience. Perhaps it's just important to get your story out there. My book has paid for itself but it remains to be seen if it will generate income. I'm not particularly worried about income as I have achieved what I started out to do...I've documented life at the end of a dirt road for my family....and anyone else who might be interested.
By the way, this Hub is marketing...see, you can do this too.
Do You Have an Ingrown Book?
I've told you my story. Do you think you have a story you could tell in a book?
Here's Where You Can Buy My Book
Pssst.....this is that marketing thing I mentioned earlier
My book comes in a 9x6 paperback size with black and white images, an 8.5 x11 size with color images and in Kindle format. You can purchase all three versions from Amazon. It is also available in eBook file format from eBook vendors. You can also purchase them from just about any on-line book or eBook seller.
The books are also available from the publisher, AuthorHouse in their on-line bookstore here. Just search by the name of the book or Chuck Nelson.
More Amazon Gift Ideas
My Fine Art Photography Website
I have a fine art photography website (Chuck Nelson Photography) where you can view my diverse photographic interests. I have a gallery dedicated to vintage vehicles and buildings, galleries for landscapes, waterfalls, birds, wildlife, painterly photography and a variety of other specialized subjects. Mount Shasta and various northern California scenes are prominent in many of my galleries. Most of the galleries have background music if you play them as a slideshow. This allows you to kick back and listen to the music as the images flow by. Many of the images are from the ranch at the end of a dirt road.