E-Commerce vs. Me

My goal for these winter months has been to set up a new web site with e-commerce capability. In simple terms, I have been working desperately to get a business running online since mid-January.

It has not been as easy as I was lead to believe. It ‘should’ have been, but it wasn’t. I can’t blame it on ignorance; at least, I can’t blame my own ignorance, since I was deeply involved in web site development for years during the 1990’s. True, that was a few centuries ago in high-tech years; that industry changes radically every six months. But at least I knew what information to provide and what questions to ask.

But the agent for the hosting company  I spoke to about building the web site was not as well-informed about their product line as he should have been. So I didn’t get exactly what I wanted from having my web site built professionally.

That being said, the new web site was essentially complete other than the e-commerce page by early March (at least, I thought it was). But I was having trouble getting the audio books to load correctly into some MP3 players I was using as test platforms. That was NOT the fault of my narrator/producer; Neill did his job, and the files play and sound just fine, thank you very much.

My goal for releasing the new web site with the e-commerce page (let’s call it “The Bookstore”, since that’s what I’m calling it on the web site) WAS the first of March. But like most deadlines in my life, when the first of March rolled around all I could do was stand there and watch that deadline go whooshing by. Since I didn’t have any products to sell, there was no sense in launching the web site with or without “The Bookstore”.

But each of the three MP3 players handled the chapter files for the two novels differently; it seemed to me they were looking for different info in the metadata for the chapter files to identify the playing order.

It took me weeks to figure that out, since my knowledge of audio engineering was sadly lacking at the beginning. It was a very steep learning curve and I had a very short time in which to identify the problems and resolve the issues.

In between bouts of work with the audio files I spent a lot of time (remember, I work day and night – I’m self-employed, you see, and every self-employed individual has a real bastard for a boss) fine-tuning the layout of the web site.

It was one delay after another, and every delay added to my frustration. But they pay me the big bucks to solve problems. Yeah, sure they do. No, actually, they don’t. If I want to see any money in my life I HAVE to work, and work involves solving problems. So I solved them, one after another. There were times when I just had to wonder where all those damn problems came from. Life just can’t be THAT complicated…

Well, yes, it can.

My big disappointment with the web site is that the first agent of the hosting company I use failed to tell me about my options. I explained to him that I am an author with an international audience and that I will be marketing audiobook versions of my novels via their e-commerce functionality, and I explained to him exactly what I wanted, how many pages I needed (including a fully functional blog page) and how I wanted the site laid out and what functionalities I needed.

But what he sold me was a web site built from a template for a small ‘local’ business with a “Make a Payment” button at the bottom of each page and my phone number and street address prominently displayed all over the place. I only learned about that when the first iteration was ready for preview. That’s when I became somewhat upset and more than a little disappointed.

It took a few phone calls and emails and lots of days to get that mess resolved. And each change required another ModRequest form to be filled out and a turn-around time of four or five days before the next Preview would be available.

By the second week in March I had a handle on the audio book issues and could see launching everything during the first week of April (and yes, I will NOT be launching on April Fool’s Day. THAT would be pushing my luck just a bit too far). My last ModRequest to the web site developers was for the addition of two pages; Why I Write and a Contact the Author page. I got the notice the new pages were ready for review, but when I opened the Preview page in the web site builder tool, I couldn’t see them in the Menu Bar that runs across the top of the Home Page. Or any other page.

So I called the Mods crew and asked, “What’s up with this?” It seems the template they used (a “Local Business” template, if you can believe that) would only allow for five pages, so they added those two new pages to the smaller menu bar across the bottom of the pages. You know the one I’m talking about, don’t you? No? Well, it’s there; right at the very bottom of every page where nobody ever looks for it, or even sees it.

I became quite upset, and somewhat vocal. Though I did avoid coarse language and yelling, and I am very proud of myself for maintaining my cordial nature in the face of adversity. THAT’s when the agent (or rep, or whatever) I was speaking with explained that if I wanted all of those pages in a horizontal menu bar across the top of the page I should have ordered their “Custom Built” web site for $550.00 instead of going the cheaper rout of $114.95 for the construction. The monthly fee would have been the same as what I’m paying for the template-built site, but the upfront fee would have been higher.

It required a few moments of thought to ask him if moving the menu bar to the left side of the pages in a ladder would allow for the additional pages to be properly displayed. He said yes, and he would get on it right away. He did, too.

Had that first agent I spoke with when I commissioned the new site used even a slightly larger percentage of his brain and knew even a bit more about the product line he was selling and explained that a custom-built site WAS available I would have been tickled pink to pay for it.

But I can’t do that now, since I will be launching this site a month late WITH The Bookstore up and working and news releases and online promotion all over the place.

Don’t get me wrong; the new web site IS functional, and all the pages are there with the information I wanted. But it is NOT what I expected when I ordered it and paid for it. I AM disappointed, but that is water under the bridge right now.

The new site works and it is live at http://www.garyshowalter.net. Next week I will be adding the e-commerce page and get it laid out properly, including credit card clearing, merchant banking and all that entails, and I will test it thoroughly. Then – after the first week of April, I will have that new site moved over to my domain at http://www.garyshowalter.com and be open for business.

The first two products will be the audiobook versions of The Big Bend and Hog Valley (priced at $10.00 each). Sample files from both novels will be available as free downloads, of course, and the other novels – Twisted Key and Lonesome Cove will be added later this year, with the fifth novel probably coming out in Kindle and audiobook formats early next year. Along with the novels I hope to add canvas prints of the cover art for the novels and even coffee mugs featuring full-color imprints of the cover art, if I can find a decent mug at a decent price (I’ve looked, and I am not happy with what I’ve seen so far).

Once I’ve got the new site up and running and the first promotions are done, I will be heading up to Suwannee, Florida, to finish the work on Standing Wave, the fifth novel in the Terry Rankin series. Besides, I dearly need a break from all this business stuff I’ve been doing. I really, really need a break.

Anyone who has ever contemplated writing a novel, much less actually finished one, will never, ever, consider writing a novel to be a form of relaxation. But compared to what I’ve been through, writing Standing Wave will be a piece of cake.

About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. Those words were written a few years ago. Frankly speaking, the literary well has dried up. I now live in Dunnellon, Fl, where I amworking as the caretaker on a horse farm and looking to build a workshop here on the property where I can get back to building furniture. With any luck I will be sinking piers some time early in November and hope to have the floor joists ready for flooring by the end of the month. I'll get back to you on that.
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