As part of the Writer's Digest October Platform Challenge, participants were asked to contact an expert for an interview. I immediately thought of fellow chicken keeper, blogger and book author, Lisa Steele from Fresh Eggs Daily fame. Lisa was kind enough to share her thoughts on chicken keeping, putting that passion into words, and how to put them together to create Fresh Eggs Daily-the Facebook Page, the Blog, and the Book. Thank you, Lisa!
Here's what Lisa has to say about the clucky, wonderful world of chicken keeping.
On Chicken Keeping
Do you have a most memorable moment as a chicken keeper?
I didn't have the nerve to try hatching our own chicks until we had been raising chickens for several years. But once I finally did, that moment when the first chick broke through the shell and I realized that I had helped to create a new life was really game-changing for me. I've since raised several batches of both chicks and ducklings and that feeling never goes away. It's just so miraculous that in just 21 days an egg goes from being 'just an egg' to being a living, breathing chick is amazing. And then to think that just 20 weeks later or so, that chick will start laying eggs of her own. Mind-blowing!
What’s your funniest chicken story?
My husband's car got side swiped in a parking lot a few years ago and the insurance adjuster came out to our house to do an estimate of the damages. We were standing around in the driveway and he was taking quite awhile with the paperwork, so I told him I would be right back,, and went down to collect eggs. I came back with a basket of eggs and asked him if he would like some. He looked in the basket and said, "So the chickens lay them and you just go get them and bring them back to the house and eat them? Just like that?" So I said, "Well, we usually cook them first, but yes, that's pretty much how it works!" He seemed amazed that they didn't need to be inspected or processed or something I guess.
How do your chickens feel about their celebrity status on the Fresh Eggs Daily blog? And, in your book?
You know, at this point my chickens have been photographed and posed and filmed and carried around so much, they really don't blink an eye at any of it. They have figured out that anytime strangers arrive with film equipment, that means extra treats for them! And they're all about that. I have a few favorite hens (Violet our Lavender Orpington, Annie our Australorp and Charlotte our Australorp) who I know I can grab and sit and do an interview with while I'm holding them and they'll sit for ten minutes or an hour without making a peep.
I'm working on a third book now and my editor was talking about using 'stock chickens' and I cautioned him that my readers and fans know my chickens by name and won't really take too kindly to a book with chickens they don't recognize in it! So while my chickens don't consider themselves celebrities, they certainly are in the eyes of those who follow their daily adventures!
Do you have a very vocal chicken or “spokes chicken” that has a thing or two to cluck about her experience being one of the Fresh Eggs Daily flock?
I don't have a clear alpha hen. My oldest chicken, Charlotte, is an Australorp (a notoriously docile breed), so while she enjoys a bit of respect just for her age, I'm not sure she's really the alpha hen. They all seem to get along very well – although all the Marans I've had are stand-offish and all the Ameraucanas I've had are mean and love to peck the others, especially at bedtime. But as for one spokesperson, I would say that would be Violet. She's a gorgeous Lavender Orpington. She always catches the attention of anyone who comes to visit our flock – and she is more than happy to get a little air time or be my model for the day. She's not too chatty, but she loves being the center of attention.
Can you share your “FIRST EGG” story?
Funny story. My husband and I were patiently awaiting our first egg from our very first flock of 6 chickens back in 2009. Then one morning, finally, there was an egg in the nesting box! I was so excited, I might have squealed, and I ran to the house to call my husband at work (he was in the Navy stationed at the Norfolk Navy Base back then). He picked up the phone and I blurted out "Orange Chicken just laid her first egg!" There was completely silence for a minute and then my husband said, 'Um, I have people in my office and you're on speaker phone, can I call you back?" Apparently he was in a meeting and waiting for someone to call in to conference them in – and thought that's who it was when I called. He said it took him a VERY long time to live that one down!
Read about how Lisa Steele put her passion to work for her.
On Blogging and Writing
Do you have any writing experience prior to the Fresh Eggs Daily blog? If so, can you describe that background?
I had chicken keeping experience but no writing experience. In fact, I used to work on Wall Street, if you can believe that. I think I might have taken one Creative Writing class back in college,eons ago. But I've always been really creative and loved to write and draw and paint and build things,so this'career' is much more suited to me.
What prompted you to start a chicken keeping blog?
I had started my Facebook page about a year before I started the blog. We had gotten our first chickens and I was posting photos of them on my personal Facebook page – and finally my friends started saying, "We're unfriending you if you post one more picture of a chicken!", so I picked a name out of the air (Fresh Eggs Daily) and started a chicken-centric Facebook page where I could share my chicken photos with people who would appreciate them.
People started following and asking questions, and I soon realized that I was answering the same questions over and over day after day. The problem with Facebook is that once something moves off the first page, it's virtually impossible to find, so a blog just seemed a much more organized, efficient way to archive some of the answers to the questions I got asked all the time. I figured I would write up maybe 20 or 25 posts on the common topics and be done with it and then just be able to direct readers to the links when they asked questions. Well, nearly five years, more than 600 posts later, I still have more topics I want to tackle!
What role did your chickens play in that decision?
Obviously the chickens played the starring role in the decision to start both my Facebook page and my blog. I grew up across the street from my grandparents' chicken farm and raised chickens as a kid, so I guess this really is my destiny.
How did you attract followers? Sponsors?
At the time I started my Facebook page and blog, backyard chicken keeping was just beginning to take off. It's a booming niche right now and many more pages and blogs have been popping up year after year. I think I had a distinct advantage though starting when I did because there really weren't many of
us doing it at that time – and the fact that I focused on natural methods, and talked all about old-timers methods and old wives tales really resonated with so many people who were raising chickens in part to know what they were eating and ensure they were feeding their families the healthiest food they can, so alternatives to conventional medications and antibiotics really spoke to my readers.
My blog quickly became one of the most well-read sites focusing on backyard chickens and my readership just continued to grow, as did my Facebook following. My Facebook page has nearly 600,000 likes right now and is THE largest chicken keeping page by a long shot. Sponsors quickly started to notice my following. I did have to pound the pavement at first of course, reaching out to companies and trying to convince them to work with me, but now my reputation and popularity has made it so that usually I am sought out by the companies.
From the beginning, I have been very picky about the companies I work with, I only recommend good-quality products – most of which I personally use myself – and my readers have come to trust what I use and recommend. And companies realize that. It's a win-win because I certainly couldn't afford to sit at home and post cute chicken photos on Facebook all day! I need to earn a living, like most of us do, and I am very fortunate to be able to do it from my kitchen table, doing something I really enjoy and am passionate about.
Can you please describe the transition process from blog to book? Was is easy? Difficult? Do you have any helpful advice for that process?
My first book, in many ways, is a compilation of my blog posts, but of course even though the information is the same, a book reads one way and a blog reads another, so the rewriting process took month and months. I had a wonderful editor and because of her tutelage, I have become a better writing in general as a result of writing my books. My second book on ducks was a lot more original content since I really haven't written much about ducks on my blog, but I find the process of writing to be extremely challenging, rewarding and almost therapeutic, so I enjoyed that process just as much.
One downside to 'rewriting' your blog into a book format (and I find that foodie bloggers who write cookbooks face this as well), is that fans might feel cheated if they follow your blog religiously, then buy your book and don't find much fresh, original content. Others feel that there's no need to buy the book if they can access all or most of the content online. But I still believe in real, honest-to-goodness paper books. I actually refer to my own books on occasion! I just find the format far easier to reference things than searching on google or on a blog.
What is your best advice for putting your passion(s) into a book?
I truly believe that you have to be passionate about what you are writing about. If not, it will show through in your writing. You don't have to be a perfect writer, you don't need formal training in journalism or English, you just have to have a way of telling a story or relaying your knowledge to others in a way that engages them and makes them want to read more.
Was it easier the second time around when writing Duck Eggs Daily?
In some ways, writing my duck book was easier. Since it was with the same publisher as my first book, I knew the 'drill' - the timelines, deadlines, formats they wanted etc. But in other ways, it was more difficult because I felt that there was pressure on me to surpass my first book and do an even better job. After all, I wasn't a rookie any longer! My first book has sold exceedingly well - #1 in Bird Care on Amazon for much of the time since its release – reaching a sale rank of #625 (out of more than 8 million books sold on Amazon) at one point – so I had set the bar high for myself!
Are you pleased with the reception your books have received? Reviews?
Both books have done very well, I can't complain. They have held the #1 and #2 spots in the Bird Care category on Amazon at times, which is pretty remarkable. I actually find that 'selling' my books to my Facebook fans and blog readers has been a bit of a challenge, since as I mentioned earlier, they are happy with all the free information they can find on my blog. To combat that, and reach a wider audience, I have been fortunate enough to have been asked to speak and sign books at the Country Living and Mother Earth News magazine fairs which has been to standing room only crowds to my sheer amazement! And when I arrived at the bookstore to sign books at the Mother Earth News fair, I was told they had already sold out! Before I could even sign a single copy!
It has been pretty humbling to stand up and speak to rooms full of chicken keepers, many who have been raising chickens far longer than I have, and have them sit and nod and agree with my advice and then come up afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed my talk.
The one downside to all of this has been dealing with a few really nasty people who purposely leave hateful reviews or comments about me or my books purely to try and discredit me. I try not to get discouraged though – as my husband has said time and time again, "Who cares if a handful of people don't like you? Many tens of thousands more do!"
I actually got some very good advice several years ago from P. Allen Smith. He said, you aren't successful until you have some haters. People don't bother hating those on the bottom. So I try and just let it all roll off my back and keep doing what I do best.
Do you have any parting advice on writing in general?
If you enjoy writing, then write. Write Facebook posts, write in a journal, write a blog. If you want to write a book, check several publishers websites for the submission guidelines and submit a proposal. You should focus on publishers who specialize in the type of books similar to what you're thinking about writing. (Search Amazon or your local bookstore to get some leads on publishers)
And above all, don't give up. I was turned down by three publishers before my book became a reality. I kept pushing and I'm glad that I did. Writing my books has opened doors that I would have never imagined. I've appeared on television, I made a nice living as a freelance writing, and I am able to sit at home at my kitchen table, doing what I love – and hopefully making the lives of backyard chickens better,one flock at a time.
And, there you have it friends-Lisa's advice in an egg-shell! You can learn more about the wonderful world of chicken keeping by visiting Lisa's blog:ww.fresheggsdaily.com
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and advice with me, Lisa. I wish you continued success as an author and am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for you. Cluck, cluck, cluck!
All photos courtesy of Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily.