This should really have the headline: One… last… grenade…

Some people have said they’re having problems buying the book from the facebook shop. (Apparently some handheld devices won’t let people buy – something to do with cookies – which I suspect is a deplorable ploy to lock people into their own systems.) Other people have said they don’t trust facebook at all.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is, I’ve published “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” to Kindle. So more people can buy it more easily, and I get to write “Descent into Hell” more quickly. To buy the book as fast as possible, I’ve even included a link – here.

There. That’s the last time I’ll mention the book for a while, although I’ll do something in the side bar to indicate how sales are going. At the moment, slothful, which is better than sluggish, but you’d have to look quite hard to tell the difference.

It will be a huge relief to some people to read that the ebook launch campaign is over. (If you’re one of those people, don’t bother reading this post – it will only extend the agony.) I must say I enjoyed pretty much all of it. I’ve done some things I haven’t done in a while and reminded myself that advertising, given the right product, is about as much fun as you can have while sober.

I’m now going to go into an Unnecessary Amount of Detail to explain why I did what I did and reveal what happened after I did it. It’s going to be a pretty dry post, but I’ll punctuate it with examples where appropriate.

From the top then.

October 31st

I published the brief on this blog. I had no idea what I was going to do after this, but as I explained in the post, a brief is a very useful device to focus the mind. The focus centres around a single thought that should be communicated (what adpeople call a “Proposition”) and all work that follows should have this at its core.

Before I go on, you should know that when something is published on this blog, it is automatically posted on the écovallée facebook page (which had about 60 likes on Oct 31) and the twitter account (which had about 220 followers at this point). People who actively follow the blog (not many, as I just moved from blogspot) are notified, presumably by email. I almost always shared the facebook posts to my facebook friends (numbering around 160 at this time).

Brief results

The blog was viewed 39 times that day

The blog post was viewed 18 times

The facebook post was viewed by 55 people

I sold 2 books (I hadn’t sold any books for the previous 13 days) – my only explanation is that the brief worked in the same way as a long-copy ad (see below)

November 1st

Woke up with a thought for a viral video, wrote it, shot it, wrote the music, recorded it, then cut it all together and published it by the end of the day. Had a blast.

Viral results

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 72 times

The blog post was viewed 12 times

The facebook post was viewed by 12 people – and I had one new ‘Like’

I didn’t log the video views, but it can’t have been many

November 2nd

I was a bit bummed that my viral video hadn’t gone global, so retweeted it to get the stats up. I followed this with a blog post linked to an interview about the book with “This French Life”. This was put up on their website the day before, but it gave me something new to publish without doing any actual work.

Interview results

By the end of the day, the blog had been viewed 109 times.

The interview post had been viewed 8 times

The facebook post had been viewed by 16 people

I made 2 sales

November 3rd

This was a Saturday, which I decided to take off, because all this time in front of a computer screen felt like a job and people with jobs like that don’t work weekends. I still kept an eye on the stats, though, because I don’t actually have a job like that. This is my life, instead.

By the end of the day the blog had been viewed 26 times.

The video had been viewed 26 times (cumulative), which is very far indeed from being viral. More like a sniff or a polite clearing of the throat that might not be anything at all.

November 4th

A Sunday.

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 38 times.

The video had been seen a far-too healthy 26 times.

November 5th

Published an ad with an offer. A creative director of mine in the States once showed me this pie chart about what makes people respond to advertising. From memory, by far the biggest slice of this pie was “Timing”. The second slice I remember being the “Offer”. Hence this execution. The idea with this launch campaign was to try a range of ads in a variety of styles. This ad didn’t have much style, but it did have something I hadn’t tried before – the money-back guarantee.

Offer results

By the day end, 38 blog views

Of which, 13 blog post views and

0 sales. A bit disappointing, but not upsetting. Because I was just about to publish…

November 6th

A long-copy ad. Ad theory has it that the more words you write, the more sales you make. This theory may have been written by a copywriter trying to keep their job, and fair play to that. I don’t particularly like writing long-copy ads. They take time. They need structuring. But I hadn’t written one for a long time and so I was happy to give it a shot. It did what the theory said it would do.

Long copy results

I got 2 re-tweets

I made 2 sales

I had 1 facebook share

I had 1 new blog “Like”

3 new twitter followers

The facebook post was seen by 15 people

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 98 times

The post had been seen 45 times

Some time ago, an agency client (who must have read a book or something) told me that people buy things for “pain or gain”. It’s a painfully slick soundbite and probably largely true. It’s also a good explanation as to why I was always very uncomfortable working in advertising – my job was to manipulate people into parting with their cash through the use of fear or greed, neither of which I think are ideas that should be promoted.

November 7th

When people talk about advertising, they’re often thinking of TV commercials or posters you see in the High Street. These are great fun and very easy to do, but something I didn’t get to do much during my career. So I did this, with a poster in mind. Obviously I did the art direction, typography and everything else, which would all be done by people with actual talent (and the ability to consume an alarming amount and range of intoxicants) in an agency setting. I didn’t expect much of a response, but it went down well – possibly the cumulative effect of the previous ad executions.

Awareness ad results

I got 3 sales

1 new twitter follower

1 new facebook page “Like”

45 facebook post views

49 blog views

21 blog post views

Obviously you could spin this to say I got 3 sales from 21 blog post views – a nearly 40% conversion rate – but this would be very misleading. So I’m not going to do anything of the sort. Stats, eh?

November 8th

Another ad classic is something called a “testimonial”. This is where someone talks about how happy they are with the product that’s being flogged. You are supposed to be convinced by this person on the street and rush out to buy your thneed (hat tip to Dr Seuss). I decided to invite people who had already read the book to give their feedback, thereby getting away without writing an ad at all.

Testimonial results

By the end of the day, the blog got 99 views

The blog post got 38 views

The facebook post got 23 views

And I got 1 sale

I wasn’t too upset by this result (it is, after all, a result), because I still had my banker up my sleeve.

November 9th

The charity ad. Many years ago, when I was working in Leicester, another copywriter was telling me about his housebuilder account. They always included animals in the ads, mainly kittens and puppies. He said they tried babies and foot traffic to the housing developments dropped through the floor – even varying the ethnicity didn’t help. So they went back to animals and the punters came back too.

Going off-brief for the first time, I decided to bring Pepito into the mix. Every cent raised by the book would be spent on the animals anyway, so I wasn’t being exactly dishonest. And I had the sneaking suspicion that it would, as the industry saying goes, “pull like a train”.

Charity results

I got 1 reblog

I got 4 facebook “Like”s

The facebook post was viewed 31 times

The facebook post was shared

The blog got 127 views

The blog post got 57 views

I made 10 sales

November 10th

A Saturday, and the end of the campaign.

The blog got 49 views

The viral video had 44 cumulative views

I made 1 sale

November 11th

A Sunday.

2 sales

In conclusion

You almost certainly know more about stats than me, so draw what conclusions you may from all of this. One thing that occurs to me, which I have suspected for a long time, is that social networking doesn’t work in the way I would want when it comes to sales. It seems great for getting people to look for missing children, and at iphotos, but I think it encourages people to be passive, their only activity being the mouse click to share (I may be out of date here – a double-tap on a screen might be the order of the day).

Having said that, there’s another ad industry expression that bears repeating: “Half of advertising doesn’t work. The trouble is, no one knows which half”.

I started doing twitter on the advice of a friend. But I didn’t see the point. Then one day we got a call from ITV asking if we’d be interested in appearing in a prime-time TV show. When I asked the Producer how he got to hear about us, he said it was through twitter. (Interesting result here, so far unpublished: After almost exactly 15 minutes of prime-time exposure on ITV, we had 1 booking. A terrifying stat in many ways.)

It wouldn’t be fair to finish without talking money. The work I put into this campaign could be very reasonably charged at £1,500. This would then be billed out by a small to medium agency at about £6,000 (that’s just for the writer – the art director, typographer and everyone else would add to that considerably). The campaign made, up to now (Monday 1am – I still don’t have that normal job, remember?) 26 sales. After fees and taxes, this leaves around €17. Not a particularly impressive result until you consider the budget was met at €0 – which gives an ROI (return on investment) of infinity.

In real terms, it will all buy Pepito three bales of hay.

A few years ago, I played piano for one hour in exchange for 40 bales of hay. It remains my most profitable gig so far.

And finally

There is one more thing. If sales continue at the current rate, I will start writing Part Two of “écovallee behind the seams“, entitled “Descent into Hell“, on May 1st 2015. I apologise for any distress this may cause. Especially to Nige, one of the most enthusiastic readers any writer could hope to reach.

Five years ago next week, we saved Pepito from the abattoir for the princely sum of €2,000.

He’d spent his working life pulling gypsy caravans full of tourists up and down the hills of the Dordogne. We thought he’d enjoy an easier life carrying suitcases for guests in the yurt camp we expected to open the following April.

We didn’t know he’d been put to work far too young, which permanently damaged his back. Or that he had arthritis in his legs. Or that, without a microchip or papers, he should have been given away or sold for his meat value of €800. And we couldn’t have imagined it would be years before the campsite was finally open.

We only knew that we wanted a working horse instead of a tractor and Pepito came along at the right time.

A very hungry horse

But apart from pulling a stubborn pine tree from the old pig woods and a little harrowing, Pepito has never worked in écovallée. Instead, he has eaten – acres of grass in the Summer, and tons hay in the Winter.

The only trouble is, hay is expensive. Last year, after a very dry Spring, Pepito’s hay cost €5 a bale from our local agricultural supplier. This year, they’re selling bales of this essential, life-giving feed for €6 each – even though it is more plentiful. It may not sound much, but it’s a crushingly huge increase for us, considering Pepito will eat one bale every day until the grass starts growing again in April.

Animal attraction

We don’t regret saving Pepito from the slaughterhouse. He doesn’t plough the field or carry luggage as we intended, but he does keep the grass down without the use of fossil fuels – and he does create mountains of manure for the veggie patch.

He is also the star attraction for many of our younger guests – and one reason why some families choose écovallée over other yurt camps. This big-bellied, gentle horse, will come running from the far corner of the valley at the sight of an apple, a carrot or a stale baguette held high, and stand patiently while his hair is turned into plaits.

He’s a beautiful, friendly beast we wouldn’t want to live without.

Pepito’s turn for some love

Even though écovallée has been a success since we’ve been open, all the money after tax has been reinvested in the campsite – on infrastructure like the spectacular solar shower, off-grid grey water treatment, perhaps the world’s most beautiful compost toilet, wooden floors for the yurts, new covers, furnishings and more.

Now the bulk of our work is done, it’s Pepito’s turn to receive the attention he deserves. Not only does he need good hay and oats to get through what might be another bitterly hard Winter, but we’d love to build him a field shelter to give him the option of getting out of the wind and rain for the first time in his life. The wood for the frame is waiting. We just don’t have the resources for walls or a roof.

How you can help

The reason we are making “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” available now, instead of waiting for a publisher, is to raise funds for Pepito. The €1 you spend, after fees, will keep him in hay for over two hours. For every 10 people who buy the book, we can feed Pepito for a whole day.

As the book describes, it was never our intention to be poor. Some people will say we shouldn’t even be keeping a horse. But we want Pepito to end his years in écovallée and we will do everything we can to make that happen.

We can do this together

One of the many things our experience has taught us is that living the sustainable, self-sufficient life is almost impossible for one small family unit. The sensible, practical way forward is through community. The community should ideally be made up of people living in the same area, sharing skills, tools and whatever support is necessary throughout the year. But thanks to the Internet, that community can include people from around the world.

If you can spare €1 to help feed Pepito, please do so. If you would like to buy a whole bale, better still – you will receive one copy of “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” for every euro you spend. Your money can be redeemed against a holiday of any length at the écovallée yurt camp, at any point in the future. And you will receive a book that, as one reader puts it, is “€1 very well spent”.

We’re not a charity. We’re just a family doing our best to get through the Winter with our horse – which will be all the easier with your help.

Hay or nay? Say yay today!

To buy your book(s), visit the écovallée facebook shop and click on the sock monkey. Then enter the number of books you want to buy and pay with paypal. You will receive your copy (or copies) by email within moments. With all of our thanks.

To those of you who have been fabulous enough to buy the book so far, please take a moment to leave a comment on this post today.

All I would say is: Be honest. If you think the book is badly written, or not worth the €1 cover price, please say so. If you think everyone should read it, whether they’re leaving the country or not, say that instead.

Or whatever else springs to mind and keyboard.

To those of you waiting for something other than ebook marketing, you won’t have to wait long. Tomorrow will be the last post on the subject, except for the Impressive and Dramatic Conclusions I’m going to draw on Monday.

Copy (for those on hand-held devices) reads:

Click here to read how one family’s green dream turned into a living nightmare.

It’s one hell of a way to spend €1.

Moving abroad is probably the biggest financial and emotional risk you will ever take.

Get it right and your days should be filled with fine weather, good food and great company. But get it wrong and your dreams of a better life could turn into a living nightmare. You could lose everything you’ve worked so hard for, and return to your home country broke – and heartbroken.

What could possibly go wrong?

You could be mis-sold a property by an unscrupulous estate agent who’s trying to make money for a friend, and enlists the help of a complicit lawyer to seal the deal. You could be promised every help by the local mayor, who waits for you to move lock, stock and barrel before telling you: “No”. You could be ripped off by almost everyone you meet, even your fellow countrymen and women, who are only too happy to take money from a hapless new arrival.

In short, if something can go wrong, it might do just that.

How can you protect yourself?

Books, magazines and TV shows on moving to a new life in the sun can give you a false impression of the dangers that lie ahead. But there are a number of practical, low-cost precautions you can take to help save yourself from ruin.

You can explore online forums like angloinfo and talk to people who have already made the move. You can search for blogs by those who have gone ahead of you. And you can read books like “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” by Alex Crowe.

A cautionary tale of dreams and reality

This new ebook tells the real-life story of Alex, his partner Clare, and their two young children, as they said goodbye to suburban life and hello to rural France.

They left Brighton in August 2007 in search of a better, more sustainable life. Planning ahead, they took a business idea with them (for an eco-luxury yurt camp) that would provide money for themselves, plus tax revenue for the local commune – and had the full support of the local mayor. Or so they thought.

Within months, Alex recalls sitting in a meeting with that mayor:

He told me he did not support the project. He told me our land was non-constructible – always was and always would be… That nobody wants yurts or compost toilets… And that my French was terrible…

Seven minutes away by car, I pictured my partner and our two small children playing happily in the lounge of our rented house, blissfully ignorant of the fact that our Big Green Idea had just come to a shattering end. Christmas was less than a month away. How could we possibly enjoy that? The last few moments in that office remain the most desolate I have had in France.

It’s not all bad news

Despite the callous treatment by unfeeling French bureaucrats, the book also describes the many positive changes the family made. Alex and Clare’s relationship went from strength to strength, their daughter thrived in her new school, learning French in a matter of months, and they developed an impressive number of new skills as they turned a neglected field into a productive smallholding.

Priceless experience – for just €1

Although this 55-page pdf doesn’t go into detail about the exact forms you must complete and government offices you need to visit (leaving that job to Alex’s blog), it does give an overview that anyone moving to France will find invaluable. And serves as a useful guide for people moving to other countries, especially those with young children.

At €1 – less than the price of ‘un petit café’ – it’s an investment that is guaranteed to pay dividends.

The story doesn’t end here

“The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” is the first of three planned ebooks under the title: “écovallée behind the seams”. The second installment, “Descent into hell” will only be written when 1,000 copies of Part One have been sold.

It’s an experiment in crowd-sourcing finance you can become a part of in just a few clicks.

Buy your copy right now

To buy your copy of the ebook, just click on the sock monkey in the écovallée facebook shop here. Pay with paypal and your pdf will arrive within moments – despatched from a yurt in the middle of the French countryside.

If you like what you read (and Alex sincerely hopes you do), persuade your friends and family to buy the book, and you could help write a happy ending to what has been a very challenging story.

Fortune favours the brave, they say. It favours those even more who are forewarned – and forearmed – by this €1 ebook.

When you spend €1 on “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance”, you’re not saying goodbye to your hard-earned (or easily inherited, or simply found on the street) cash forever. Because you’ll get it back the moment you book a holiday at the écovallée family yurt camp.

Every cent.

You won’t even need to book a whole week – a long weekend or midweek break qualifies for this 100% refund – and that’s 100% guaranteed.

All you need to do is click on the sock monkey in the écovallée facebook shop, pay with paypal and, within moments, the book’s yours. Not such a gamble now, is it?

Terms & Conditions

There are no Terms & Conditions. I hate Terms & Conditions. The only joy I ever had with Terms & Conditions was re-writing them whenever a lawyer tried to re-write the copy on one of my ads. Tsk. Terms & Conditions.


*Turning the headline efficiency up a notch or two this week for reasons that may become clear. There’ll be a few more executions (adspeak for ads) over the next few days, then Impressive and Dramatic Conclusions.

Craig McGinty from “This French Life” emailed the other day and asked if he could interview me about the book for his site.

If I’d said no, I couldn’t have posted this link and the world would have missed an opportunity to hear me with a cold.

You may be interested to know I’m keeping track of the results of this no-budget marketing push and promise to draw Impressive and Dramatic Conclusions some time next week.

A note before I begin: The following posts will be focused on trying to sell more copies of my book.

I don’t know how I’m going to do this yet. So to help, I thought it’d write myself a “Brief” (this is a hangover from the 18 years I spent working as a copywriter). You can’t do anything without a brief. Professionally, they’re often written by fiercely intelligent people with degrees in marketing who can earn vast amounts of money and drive company sports cars. They’d be horrified to learn that, as soon as the “creative team” (typically a copywriter and an art director, although this was changing as I left the business in 2007) have read the brief, it is cast aside and sometimes never referred to again. (Except for the “Proposition”, which is explored well beyond the bounds of plausibility.)

This is probably not a very good brief, but it will suffice. If you’re going to do your own marketing, just copy the headings and spend some time writing the necessary information underneath. “Suits” (the client-facing people who write briefs in agencies) – please feel free to criticise this brief in the comments section. Or tell people what is missing.

C R E A T I V E     B R I E F


People thinking about moving to France. Adults 18-60 & young families.


écovallée behind the seams Part One: “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance”, a 50pp pdf describing one young family’s journey from suburban Brighton to rural France.


Alex, Clare & their two young children left England to live in France and create a sustainable life, with a dream of building a smallholding for food, and running an eco-luxury family yurt camp for money. Part One tells the story from before they had the Big Green Idea, through the move to France and what happened during the first year of being there. It is a cautionary tale of hopes and dreams dashed against the wall of unfeeling French bureaucracy. In short, they were lied to, ripped off & left penniless in months. The only reason they survived was thanks to the help of the English community – the people Alex came to call “mafia”.




Dreaming of a new life in France? See what a nightmare it can be.


Part One contains real experiences of buying property and trying to start a new business in France. It also covers practical aspects, like registering a non-French car and joining the social security system. But France doesn’t operate in the same way as, say, England. Assumed rules of fairness, honesty and decency do not apply. Instead, even people you’d expect to trust can end up plunging a knife in your back, with a small smile on their face. Essential reading for anyone considering making the move – to France or to the self-sufficient lifestyle. A bargain at €1.






Link to the écovallée facebook shop.


I forgot to include the section “Mandatories”. (Oh the irony.) This is where logos etc. are listed. Much of it seems like common sense, but it’s essential to have on the brief. (Hence the name.) Real life example: In 1992, when I was working in Leicester, an artworker was bollocked by a suit for not including an address on a press ad for a housebuilder client. He picked up the “copy sheet” and threw it at the suit, saying: “It’s not on the f*cking copy sheet”. Needful to say, every copy sheet for the rest of my career included every image, logo and piece of punctuation that was intended for the ad.

Then, if someone tried to give me a hard time for something that was missing on an ad, I could say: “Well, it’s on the copy sheet.”