Saturday, April 5, 2014

The New Birds

Ok, here they are, an olive egger in the center, to the left is a comet, and to the right of center is the leghorn:

Kids named them (left to right): Firefly, Sage, Foghorn (of course).

Three weeks old this weekend.

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Own March Madness

My day job just got incredibly busy and chaotic and as a result the entire month of March sped by in a blur. 31 days, gone in the blink of an eye!

I failed to make any time to promote my books so the montly sales was a whopping 3 copies (all on the Kindle) and no new reviews.

The last of our original flock of three Barred Rocks died. She was 6 years old and was still laying.

We brought home three new 14 day old chicks, an olive egger, a leghorn, and a sexlink/comet, their names (respectively) are: Sage, Fog(horn), and Firefly. They're in the cage with a heatlamp in the garage providing hours of entertainment.

With our drought here in California, we weren't sure if we were going to plant a garden this year. Just in case, early in the month, I tore into the task of preparing the big raised bed we have. I turned the now somewhat compacted soil and we pulled out all of the soaker hoses. Then I added many bucketfuls of compost from our finished pile and we re-ran the hoses to give us a new "drier" zone too. On Sunday, we planted a few onion starts a neighbor gave us.

All of the volunteer arugula has bolted.

I regret not having spent more time (or been more successful at) promoting the books. There are many tasks and jobs that I'm naturally good at, but book promotion is not one of them. It requires me to go far out beyond my introverts' comfort zone and so I find it very easy to neglect in the best of times. Throw in my extra busy life and it's no surprise that Jute has suffered as a result. I need to reassess the whole project and decide whether or not I'm going to devote time to it. If I am, I need to be serious about tackling the stuff I've been avoiding (Facebook page? Ugh.).

One other change in the day job is that I no longer have internet access to things like blogs or most other sites. I used to do much of my reading/writing during lunch, but now it has to wait until night, after dinner, when I'm tired of the computer. More changes to get used to I suppose!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fountain Head

Just about every day at work, I take a walk around a nearby park. It helps me so much to have a 15 - 20 min break, both mentally and physically (stretch those legs, relax those eyes, etc.).

Over the last few weeks I've been watching a crew of workers repair a broken fountain in the park. There are four guys and they've been at this project for several weeks.

Whenever I walk by, three of the guys are clustered together talking and pointing at stuff, and one guy is in the dried up fountain doing the work: scraping, digging, lifting. I admit that I have no idea what they're doing (looks like the pump was broken), but I do know that the one guy in the fountain doing all the work probably isn't doing his best job.

I'm not saying he isn't a good worker. In fact, I'm sure he is. And I bet he was motivated and worked hard the first few days or weeks on the project.

But the manager/leader/foreman/crew chief will beat that kind of work ethic right out of him.

Late last week as I walked by the foreman called the lone worker over and started pointing a pile of miscellaneous pump parts.

"What is this?" he demanded.

The worker started to reply, only to be cut off by a rough shout from the foreman.

"I said to get three blahblahblahs. What's this?"

Again the worker tried to reply, only to be shouted down again.

"What is this? What is this?"

And then I was past the fountain and the yelling faded into the background.

The other two guys, the ones that usually stand next to the foreman and help point at stuff were snickering.

I'm not a perfect manager, and it's always easier to be on the outside and point out possible errors. But I never treat people like that. What good could possibly come from publicly humiliating someone like that? At best, the worker will feel terrible about the mistake (we did not get to hear his response to his manager) and go back to work a timid, unmotivated cog in the fountain repair wheel.

At worse, the worker will quit or do an intentionally poor job.

I'm amazed when I come across people in leadership roles who don't include teaching and mentoring in their definition of leader.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

California Drought: Gardening Impact

I'm well aware that California has little to complain about. We have fantastic weather, to be sure, and easy access to sun, surf, ski, swim, fish, and just about every other outdoor activity. From where I live, it's 20 minutes to the beach, less than 1 hour to San Francisco, 4 hours to Lake Tahoe, and the list goes on.

We also have earthquakes, a very, very high cost of living, and now/yet again a very serious drought.

That graph really doesn't do it justice.

As a child of the 70's I've lived through a few droughts here already, but this one feels worse, somehow. More serious...

And with this drought comes a few lifestyle changes. We never really had enough water for everyone in the state and to keep the native/local species of wildlife intact. But things are bad now and the population keeps rising. Soon we'll have to decide/debate extremely stringent water conservation and how that is further exacerbated by the amount of water we're sending to the Delta and Bay and other places for the wildlife concerns.

And then, there's our gardens. Our lawns are the first to go, though the suburbs do love their lawns. But after that, what else can we cut? Shorter showers, sure. But many homes are not set up to catch rainwater (which we aren't getting much/any of this year) or graywater. 

I may have mentioned this before, but a few years ago a new neighbor bought the house three doors down from us and immediately installed a huge underground water storage tank. Many folks raised their eyebrows. I was very jealous, and even more so now.

I'm glad that more people will move to xeriscaping and native, drought tolerant plants for their yards, but what of the garden?

Here's what I've found so far:

Vegetable gardens usually need about one inch of water (630 gallons per 1000 square feet) per week in the form of rain (ha! it doesn't rain in CA in the summer) or irrigation during the growing season.

Interestingly, the typical lawn needs about the same!

Of course, our garden isn't very big (at least not yet), but I was surprised to hear that they both required a similar amount of water.

I'm sure driplines and mulch and smart watering can reduce the amount of water we need for our garden, but I realize now that we won't be expanding during this drought, and we'll need to look at more ways to save water.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Self-Publishing Lessons Learned Part 2 (or, What I'll Do Differently with eBooks Next Time...)

Things I want to remember for the next time I self-publish a book...

Really learn to create a full featured ebook. From the TOC to footnotes to title pages, I've got a lot to learn and master. Part of the issue is that I'm using a basic MS Word template provided by CreateSpace. Converting .doc (or .docx) to .mobi (Amazon ebook format) is NOT straightforward. There are just too many variables. For example, the Table of Contents (TOC) has been a thorn in my side. Word has a facility built in for creating the TOC, but today, many authors create theirs by hand. Which works better for ebooks depends on which tools and processes you're using to convert your book, and which formats you're converting to. My automatic TOC in Word doesn't look good at all on the Kindle.

Let's just say that I have yet to stumble upon a reasonable, repeatable, quality method for taking a regular MS Word doc with auto TOC and generate a .mobi file. Some processes require that you save the Word file as an HTML file and then do some conversion processing. I'd like to think that there will com a time when we just get to the point where you simply press a button in Word.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I'll need to remember to test my book out on multiple devices. Turns out that there are several Kindle models and there can be a difference in how the book looks on different ones.

I felt that my ebook was sub par. It worked, and contained all of the words, in the right order even, but the thing kind of felt like an afterthought. I want to do better next time, since over 75% of my "sales" went to ebook users.

Another interesting thing was how the kindle and print versions of the book live and play together on the Amazon site. Specifically, the titles of the two versions have to match EXACTLY in order for Amazon to list them together on the same page. Which should be easy. Except that one of the submission tools seems to append the volume number to the title. This got me every time, since I was publishing a trilogy. At least I know where to go to get it fixed: The team that handles these things has always responded with lightning speed and a cheerful attitude.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jute's Charmed Life Trilogy -- Finished!

Yes, I'm finally done publishing the Jute's Charmed Life middle grade trilogy. I just put the last book up on Amazon and CreateSpace.

 To celebrate, I'm giving away the first book for free (Kindle version only) on Amazon through the end of the month.

My kids have been begging for more Jute to read, but I'm not sure when or even if I'll revisit the Jute story again.

In the mean time, I'm happy to have finished, to have crossed all the t's and dotted the i's. I'm not sure how much marketing I will do for these. Marketing is a time sink, and something I've discovered I don't have much patience for. That said, without more marketing, I'll  lose money on the project. I'm not too worried about recouping my costs: cover art (I'd recommend Heidi Sutherlin as she did a wonderful job), shipping, one round of editing, etc. It's been a labor of love and so I'm happy.

I know that one way to get more sales would be to run ads on the various sites and networks that cater to ebook readers. I have yet to look into the costs, but I suppose this is where the money math begins. Is it worth spending more on ads to generate more sales?

I've sold over 100 copies of the books, and over 700 over 1000 people(!) have downloaded the free copy of the first book. I'm assuming there's a market for middle grade books written with advanced/smart readers in mind. Book 1 has received a lot of great, positive reviews. I've also gotten some confusing 3 star ratings.

For me, the next milestone with the books would be to actually receive a "royalty payment" check from Amazon. Because I did not elect to use electronic banking with Amazon, I need to meet the payout threshold ($100) before I get a check. I'm hoping that happens early this year. Fingers crossed!

Next Up: Lessons Learned Part 2

Thursday, January 23, 2014

So Close...

Aaaand here it is! The cover for the third and final book in my Jute's Charmed Life series:


Again, thanks to Heidi Sutherlin (!contact/c1a9w)!

Should have the book finished in the next couple of days, just need to go through the CreateSpace process now that I have all the parts together!