Saturday, September 28, 2013

Corn Update

Our container corn experiment continues. We planted about 30 seeds and had 100% germination. We've noticed a pattern. The plants do fine up until about the time they begin to develop the tassels and then things just seem to slow down.

I did more straight fertilizing this year, where last year we had such good compost that we used compost tea. Our compost this year was terrible. The pots are all completely root bound by this point, even the much larger 10+ gallon pots. This has also happened every time we've done container corn, so it means having to throw away giant rootballs and then we have to get new dirt for next season. I'm certainly ready to give up on container corn.

Of course, the biggest question is the yield, or harvest. The first year we tried this we got some corn and were pleasantly surprised. Since then, however, the yield has been terrible, even when we get a lot of ears, there are hardly any kernels. We've not had too much in the way of insect pests, though we have lost quite a few ears to squirrels/rodents in the past.

This year we've had good luck with the weather (no wind storms knocking the pots over), pests (so far, no bugs or rodent damage spotted... fingers crossed), and potential (many more ears this year than before).

We changed things this year, increasing the number of pots but planting fewer plants in each.

But the final verdict will be in once we harvest the corn.. Should be in a week or two. Had a couple of ears that seemed to be broken off so we picked them and they definitely had more kernels than prior years, but still, we're miles away from a good 'ol full ear of corn. Drat!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Blog Mentions!

Jute was mentioned on a couple of blogs:

- Dubious Quality ( one of my favorite stops on the Internet, period.

- Kindle Fire Department ( what a great resource for Kindle users!

All of this led to a "spike" in sales and I've reached my first internal/mental milestone. I'll celebrate this weekend as I'm putting the finishing touches on the Jute 2 layout.

Still haven't looked to publish on multiple electronic platforms and so at this point I should probably enroll in Kindle Select.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kindle Sales for Jute

While I'm mulling over whether or not to enroll in Kindle Select (and make my book "exclusive" to Amazon for 90 days) I haven't pulled the trigger on publishing on D2D or Smashwords to reach other sites/platforms like the Nook or iTunes.

In the mean time, however, I have not been idle!

A friend and fellow self-published author helped me get the book mentioned on a couple of websites/blogs, and I sent an email out to a bunch of folks I know, asking for Amazon reviews. Apparently that's part of the puzzle -- getting more reviews helps people feel confident in purchasing the book.

I'm up to two reviews so far. Alas.

As a result of the blog mentions, my sales more than doubled over the weekend and I actually have a chance at receiving a royalty check. The way I configured my account at Amazon, they'll send a check to me once I've reached $100USD in royalties.

So, with sales in the double digits I'm actually really happy. I know at least some of those copies went to people I don't know. Hopefully they'll like the book and maybe spread the word, or write a review. Fingers crossed!

If all goes according to plan, the next book blog post will be about life outside of Amazon, publishing via D2D to reach B&N/etc.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Chickens: New hen's first egg, Loss, Bad Habits

I figured it's about time we had a big ol' chicken update. Our original flock (pictured right) was three barred rocks, all hatched close to the same time. They got along ok, with only a little bit of pecking and hardly any bullying. Things were good.

The alpha hen, Mohawk, was always broody. Sometimes going through multiple broody cycles each summer. Seems like whenever it got hot, she got broody. Eventually that stress took its toll and Mohawk died.

With the old top hen out of the way, the former bottom hen, Cheepers, took over. The middle bird didn't seem to mind the change in management, but I'm sure she missed her old buddy. She stopped laying eggs the day Mohawk died...

Then at some point we had the brilliant idea to buy a new hen. So we brought home Cinnamon, a 14 week old golden-laced Wyandotte. This was about 3 or 4 months ago. Here she is a few weeks ago, in a "extra vivid" picture my younger daughter took for a report at school.

We did our homework, and followed the general advice for introducing a new bird to the flock... Quarantine. Then adjoining pens, then finally slipping the new gal onto the perch in the middle of the night.

The top hen wanted none of that and chased the new bird relentlessly. After a few weeks, they got along just barely well enough that we figured we could try to keep the new bird. This went on for about three months.

Then disaster struck.

Our middle hen, Mathilda, died. She got sick and then lethargic and then even sicker. It was sad and nothing at all like Mohawk's clean quiet death.

Now we're back down to two hens. The good news is that Cinnamon laid her first egg yesterday (so tiny!) and even with the chasing and flapping, the alpha hen hasn't drawn blood or started plucking poor Cinnamon's feathers.

Here's a picture of three eggs. The leftmost is Cheeper's regular egg. The rightmost is Cinnamon's first egg. Note the darker color. The middle egg is Cinnamon's second egg. We hoped that by getting a different breed of chicken, we'd get slightly different colored eggs so we could tell them apart. Sigh.

The bad news is that now Cheepers is taking on the role of rooster, climbing down off the perch incredibly early each morning and doing her best (and loudest!) rooster impersonation. She's still laying eggs, though. What an odd time.

Now we're not sure what to do. Cinnamon is still very afraid of Cheepers. Cheepers is waking up the neighbors at sunrise. We're allowed to have three hens here, but honestly, I'd kind of like to start all over with three peeps like we did the first time. I'm not sure getting another hen or pullet is the right move here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Self-Publishing Lessons Learned

Self-publishing a book involves lots of steps and tasks across a few different skill sets. I won't pretend to be an expert, or to be able to do a perfect job explaining it all. There are entire books and websites and communities dedicated to self-publishing.

Instead, I'll talk here a bit about my experience and what I learned.

Mainly, there's so much more to it than just writing the book...

For example, you'll either need to be a graphic artist/illustrator, or hire one to make your cover. If you're not an editor (or even if you are!) you might want to hire one to review your book.

You may be a writer, but are you good at desktop publishing and layouts? Do you know what a gutter is? If not, you'll need one.

Do you read ebooks? If not, you may need to bring in an expert to help you create the ebook version of your book.

And then there's actual act of publishing... Do you want to join KDP Select, Amazon's exclusive publishing system? What about publishing to platforms other than Amazon? D2D or Smashwords? What about the printed version?

In all, I counted about a dozen things that I either had to know, learn, or hire out. I could do the layout myself, and I muddled through the various publishing steps (or, rather, I'm still muddling through). But I couldn't make my own cover, and I'm a firm believer in not editing/proofing your own work.

And then there's marketing! This is most definitely not my strong suit. Arranging blog interviews/tours. Getting the word out. Finding places to show off your book. This is all alien stuff for me. Things about which I should have done (and am doing) much more research.

At least now that I've been through the cycle once, I can take the lessons I've learned and the friends I've made and apply them to books going forward.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Finally! I Self-Published

I've mentioned this many times before... I've been working on some books I wrote for my daughters as part of Nanowrimo. I used to find the strangest things in their pockets when I would wash the laundry, and I started daydreaming about what a young girl would find so interesting about the random objects. And then, the idea was born.

I actually started this stuff way back in 2008 and I've finished writing all three books.

But I never really did anything with them.

Well, I finally got around to it and I've published the first one! It feels great to check that box on my 2013 "to do" list that's been hanging around all year. My younger daughter will be thrilled to see it up on Amazon (Kindle version here, print version coming soon) as she's been my biggest cheerleader on this project. She even got her 4th grade teacher to read a draft to her class! (and I've met some 4th graders who were in the class and they had such nice things to say, even the boys!)

Along the way I've had a lot of help. I've hired an editor (hi Cassandra!) and a cover artist (hi Heidi!). I've had lots of help from other self-published authors, especially Jason Letts and Raymond Masters. And of course lots of friends and family have put up with my requests for readthroughs and feedback.

At some point I decided I was going to publish this "just for me." And by that I mean that I'm not expecting any success. I'll be lucky (and shocked, and incredibly grateful) to sell even one copy. And that's ok. It might not even resonate with the target audience (4th - 8th grade girls, especially the smart ones) but I'm still happy to have followed through.

I am going to go into more depth on some parts of the experience in later blog posts, but for now I'm grinning ear to ear.

Now that I've gone through the whole process once, I figure book 2 should be a snap!