There was a Milky Way above me and a Milky Way below.
I’ve never seen a more breathtaking sight at sea. The sky was clear, the sea alive with life and light.
We’d rounded Cape Agulhas — the Cape of Good Hope — around sunset. Hours later, I was up for the 2am shift, and we were heading north toward Cape Town. The stars were bright, as they can only be when away from civilization. With no contacts on the radar, I turned off our running lights and all the interior lights and let my eyes adjust to the darkness.
The darkness was hard to find. A bright glow emanated from Wayfinder’s stern. I suspected the underwater lights, or the blue transom lights, but all were off. No, the glow was from the boat’s wake, which was disturbing the phosphorescence in the water. Twin trails of bright blue lit up the cockpit. The sea was on fire.
Over the next two hours, I watched the same blue trails spin off the sea’s wildlife. Dolphin came to investigate the boat, and they were alive with electricity, like zipping UFOs. A bright ball of phosphorescence that must’ve been one of the many whales we saw breaching and breathing during the day. Balls of bait fish, like great orbs of luminescence. And now this, an underwater river of blue glow, a Milky Way beneath the sea, stretching out in a line right across the twin bows of the boat.
We were going to pass through her. A lace of ethereal light. A long trail of racing fish, setting the sea aglow. Overhead, the Milky Way stretched from one horizon to the other. Below, a mirror image of phosphor did the same. Holding the rail along the bimini, I leaned out over the sea to take it all in. A near-religious experience. A sight so remote, we can only find it here, in the middle of the night, on the deck of a heaving boat, around one of the great capes of the southern ocean, with a clear night above and a hectic stirring of sea life below.
Wayfinder trudged on, plowing through this bright blue river stretching across her bows, just the first of many a voyage racing beneath her keels, the winds urging us to Cape Town, the rest of the world open and waiting, the Milky Way mocking with its vastness, with its quiet serenity.
Welcome aboard WAYFINDER. In a few days, we set sail around the Cape of Good Hope for Cape Town. In another few weeks, me and three companions will sail across the Atlantic for the Caribbean.
This is without a doubt the best cruising catamaran I’ve ever set foot on. It’s all due to the excellent workmanship by the fine men and women at St. Francis Marine.
Jamie McGuire recently announced that her CreateSpace print on demand title, Beautiful Redemption, will soon be available in Walmart stores. This is absolutely bonkers news, and just one more sign that the last bastion of traditional publishing is eroding. The announcement follows on the heels of a CreateSpace POD title becoming a #1 bestseller and being picked up by Random House for a 7-figure sum. The viability of print for indies is slowly following trends set by ebooks, and the implications are enormous.
Success in entertainment is all about possibility, not probability. No one is guaranteed to earn a living following their creative interests. What we should hope for, however, is that no one is barred from trying. For a long time, the vast majority of authors were barred from entry. We couldn’t discuss probability, because probability was zero. We fought for possibility.
Ebooks and self-publishing made so much possible, literally overnight. With the launch of Kindle Direct Publishing, anyone with a story and a keyboard could place their work right alongside Grisham’s and Rowling’s. Walls came smashing down. It wasn’t long before writers of all stripes were expecting equal sales and equal treatment, which is a testament to how quickly we adapt to monumental change.
Audiobooks have experienced explosive growth the last five years, an aspect of digital book consumption too often overlooked. But even more ignored is the power of print on demand. For a long time, I created POD editions of my works for reasons other than income. I wanted to hold the product of my labor. I enjoyed unboxing that first proof copy. I liked having those editions available for friends and family who only read in print, and it gave me something to sign and sell at small events around town. It also fleshed out my Amazon product page and made the ebook look like a bargain. All of these advantages were had at the cost of exporting and uploading a PDF. Any sale was a bonus.
When Wool took off, the power of POD became more obvious. Readers spread the word about the story, and other readers inquired at bookstores. As a former bookseller, I can tell you that when I had two or more people ask about the same book in a week, I ordered a few copies in for the shelves. This started happening with Wool. The CreateSpace printed title began appearing in Barnes & Noble and in top independent bookstores across the country. This, despite the policy of most stores to blacklist and ban any Amazon-printed title and author. Walls were being skirted by reader demand and honest and enterprising booksellers.
What Jamie’s deal shows is that there are other bookselling outlets available to indies. (Very large outlets, as a matter of fact.) Not long ago, Jamie gave up lucrative offers from a major publisher to move back to the indie space. She knew her publisher could not keep up with her pace of publishing, and that she could have more creative freedom, reach more readers, and earn more money on her own. She assumed she’d be giving up access to readers through store shelves, due to the blacklisting of Amazon-printed titles. Which is what makes the Walmart / CreateSpace partnership so interesting. Indie authors make decisions based on probabilities. When probability equals zero, that’s an enormous consideration. Probability just became non-zero. Time to revise our thinking.
John Scalzi recently blogged about his decision to take a long term, muti-book deal with his traditional publisher. No one can fault John for wanting the security of knowing what his income will be, at a minimum, for the next decade. But part of his reasoning, which is access to readers through bookstores, has suddenly become outdated. With change happening so fast in the industry, being locked into a 10-year deal is an enormous risk. Even worse is signing over rights that won’t expire until after you do. If Jamie can get a Walmart deal through CreateSpace, imagine what an independent John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman could do. JK Rowling showed what was possible with going indie with her ebooks. Jamie is showing us what’s possible in the print space.
I think it’s enormously prudent for authors to look at and understand trends in the publishing industry. Rather than make decisions based on what’s possible today, we should try to gauge what might be possible tomorrow or even in coming years. With Barnes & Noble posting more quarterly declines this week, it’s only a matter of time before: 1) Management there is replaced with people who want to offer what readers are interested in, rather than trying to earn profits by selling publishers marketing space. Or: 2) A bookstore willing to offer what readers are interested in takes ever more shelf space from stores that focus on merchandising and advertising.
Amazon has been the leader in this category, offering what readers want and taking market share as a result. Their bestseller lists are a measure of sales, unlike what you see on B&N.com and on the New York Times bestseller list (the latter of which changed their criteria the week before a POD work was to hit the list in order to keep it off the list). The companies blacklisting and banning books will not do well in a marketplace driven by word of mouth and reader demand. And those falsely curating their lists will find their credibility trends toward zero.
For years now, the decision to self-publish has made sense despite the lack of access to bookstores. Giving up the 70% earnings on ebooks in exchange for 12% earnings in print hasn’t made sense for most writers for a long time, especially as print readers moved to digital. I think Jamie’s deal is just a harbinger of what’s to come. Most print sales are now happening online, which makes them digital sales as well. Authors can complain about probability all they like — we’ve been doing this for eons — but the complaints about possibility will have to change. We keep pushing that conversation more and more toward an era of equal access. More barriers are being broken down, and the rubble of former walls now litters the publishing landscape. I expect this to continue.
No, “mast stepping” is not a dance you do on the deck of a sailboat. It’s the job of hoisting and placing the mast, which on Wayfinder is “deck stepped.” That means the mast rests on a plate right on the fiberglass decking.
This is a tricky job at St. Francis Marine, as it requires pulling the boat within a few millimeters of the factory. We had very high winds, and so the process was tense, but everything was handled perfectly, and now she’s ready to go sailing.
First, the boat comes out of the shed. Jaco and me with Wayfinder.
Next, the mast is counterweighted and hoisted.
High winds made this tense, but the boys did an amazing job.
Now the boat is pulled into place.
The crane was designed for a 44′ boat, and so the 50 has to get right up to the factory.
Now the mast is inched into place.
Duncan watches his latest creation come to life.
Anton, who played a pivotal role in bringing this boat together.
Running backstays keep the mast from tipping forward or side to side.
Now she’s stepped. Note the rigger at the lower spreader.
The sails are bent on next.
And the boat is ready to go in the water.
One of my favorite scenes from the entire Star Wars franchise (all three films) was the Battle of Hoth. I had an AT-AT when I was a kid, and I’d recreate the scene where Luke figures out how to trip the four-legged machinations with the tow-ropes, bringing down the seemingly invulnerable beasts.
What’s so gripping about the scene isn’t just the cleverness of the tactic, or the long odds the rebels are facing, but the grim reminder of the uprising’s cost. The man who fired the tow rope, Dak Ralter, Like’s copilot, dies when another AT-AT crushes Luke’s snowspeeder.
Tell that to the actor who played Dak, who recently Tweeted to Star Wars writer Gary Whitta that he’s not quite dead yet. This would be quite a bit of rewriting to canon, but it’s already been done in the case of Boba Fett, whose armor supposedly saved him from the sarlacc that gobbled him down in the third and final Star Wars film made (so far). All it takes for a character to be resurrected is to gain popularity, it seems. But what happens when part of that popularity is due to the circumstances of their death? And why are writers and IP holders so loathe to let these characters go?
It drove me nuts as a comic book fan. Not only did Batman (and everyone else) stay roughly the same age for fifty years, but no character was allowed to die. Ever. The entire medium suffers as a result. It becomes a farce. Superman should be dead for good. And that doesn’t mean I don’t like Superman; I just don’t like the emotional castration that comes from learning to never mourn and never worry. These characters are valuable, and so they are unimaginatively immortal.
I see it as laziness as much as anything. Writers and IP holders marvel that they’ve created a character people like and who drives the plot forward, and they seem to worry they’ll never be able to create such a character again. That lack of confidence means clinging to fictional characters long after their story arc has been told. It means recycling the same internal conflicts with zero emotional growth. It means paying homage to all the lessons the character learned, by giving them memories of those conflicts, but no real transcendence, because then we can’t play out the same proven tropes with them over and over. Batman has not yet learned that his brand of capering isn’t helping Gotham, nor that Arkham isn’t the most secure of lock-ups. It’s hard to root for a guy like that. These characters become lifetime politicians with rubbish track records. What we need is change.
George RR Martin has it figured out. He can make you love (or more likely, loathe) a character in two paragraphs or less. Then kill that same character with a single word or a few gory pages. While you’re still recovering from the loss, he’s introduced you to another character you pour your heart into. Sure, it can be as tiring as someone who keeps fruit flies for pets, but it’s emotionally honest. And no one ever read a potential death scene in a Martin work and said, “Oh, she’ll be back.” Or: “He’ll probably make it through this, somehow.”
Oh no he probably won’t.
Even as a kid I was troubled by the pandering. Every Cobra jet GI Joe ever blew up made three white puffs: The smoke from the explosion, and then the inevitable two parachutes that opened after. Here’s a war where no one ever died, ever. Not even copilots. Sure, I wish real wars were like that, but until they are, I wish my fiction reflected real life. Not only to help me feel something powerful as an adult, and allow me to get invested in the characters I encounter, but to prepare me for the heartbreak of the real world. Dak is dead, dammit, no matter what some actor Tweets. And it was a good death. I bet Luke thinks of him often.
I recently wrote a trilogy of short works in the WOOL universe, and I killed off a character at the end that some readers were kinda fond of. For every “I fucking hate you” email and FB message I got, there were dozens that just relayed sadness. Even some who reached out in sympathy. Reached out to me like I needed consoling as well. I loved that. Because these readers knew that we had both lost someone. They must’ve known it wasn’t easy on me either. It never should be. Why would we want it to be?
It should mean something when someone survives, and it only does if there’s a proven alternative. But the real tragedy is that avoiding death costs us more lives than embracing it would. Reading the umpteenth battle between Spiderman and Doc Oc deprives us of a battle between the two unknowns that would take their place. The immortal crowd out the unborn. Not letting Superman stay dead means some incredible character that more reflects the modern age, with shades of gray and complexity of character, is not allowed to rise up and take his place. The audience has a limited amount of emotional empathy to spare. So the real shame is not allowing these heroes to die at the height of their powers, or perhaps even to die in disgrace.
I’m not fond of killing characters, but I do it more often than most writers. I trust that I’ll be able to come up with another character I’ll care about who will move the plot not just forward, but off in new directions. I long for more fiction that gives me the same honest twists and emotional lurches that life provides. I want to feel, as well as be entertained. And I want to get to know all the characters not yet dreamt of who sit on the benches, waiting for their shot.
I hate it when it happens, I’m not going to lie. I bawl. I complain like anyone else. I wish it happened more often.
The revolution in the publishing industry has barely begun. That’s the takeaway this week, as a print-on-demand book becomes a #1 bestseller and the Big 5 move into Kindle Unlimited.
First, the children’s book that should be waking up major publishers in a major way. It’s called The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, and it was written and self-published by Carl-Johan Ehrlin. If you have kids, you should stop reading this and shoot over to Amazon right now to buy a copy. Using the psychology of suggestion and sleep-inducing language patterns, parents all over the world are discovering the book’s seemingly magical ability to zonk their kids out. No wonder the book has taken off.
It’s been a #1 overall bestseller on Amazon and B&N. And Publishers Weekly is now reporting on this story as the book has been snatched up in a 7-figure deal. The New York Times even had to change the rules of their children’s book bestseller list to exclude paperbacks, in order to make sure an indie book doesn’t do this again. So what exactly happened? Why is the publishing world freaking out over this? Well, it’s because this was thought impossible just a few weeks ago. But the nature of digital disruption is that the impossible becomes possible seemingly overnight.
When I toured the CreateSpace printing facility in 2011, I knew something crazy was happening. It wasn’t just the print process, which had been around a while. It was the way this printing facility was integrated into the Amazon retail machine, and the way CreateSpace maintained the startup vibe, able to pivot on a dime. Things were changing at the facility every day, even as freshly printed books zipped by on steel rollers. The paper stock was improving; the trim size options expanding; matte covers were being introduced; the ink used for the covers was improving; and even the way the books were packaged and handled was being tweaked. In the year it might take for a Big 5 print book to get to market, the POD industry will have revolutionized a dozen important techniques.
The main facility in Charleston, South Carolina is only one small piece of the puzzle. Those large Amazon distribution centers all across the United States (and in the UK) have similar print networks. And Amazon can call on its partnership with Ingram to handle some of the printing load as well. This means book production, which had moved to China, has been brought home by Ingram and Amazon. The major publishers and the New York Times do not like this one bit. The Big 5 have shunned POD as a backup solution, refusing to give Amazon and Ingram PDFs so that these two companies can handle supply when that supply is outstripped by demand. This has been shameful when books attempt to go viral but can’t because of how slowly the Big 5 print and ship their wares. The same reluctance to partner with new retail partners is showing up in their reluctance to partner with new production partners. The result is lost market share, all due to confusion, fear, and denial.
Make no mistake: Carl-Johan’s breakout success is a game-changer. Because the “digital” in digital disruption isn’t relegated to ebooks. When PDF files can be emailed, and books can be printed in minutes anywhere and then sold instantly everywhere, and then shipped same-day most places, the old chain of print-in-China and sell-in-B&N has been radically upturned. Not only is the publishing revolution moving into the print space, the indie revolution has as well. When we see authors, agents, and publishers warning writers of all the money they are leaving on the table by ignoring print, they are clinging to what they thought was their last redoubt. No longer.
I saw hints of this with Wool. The same day I toured the CreateSpace facility, a deal with S&S for the print rights were finalized by my agent. I got the email while I was watching warm books roll out large printing machines. It was a sickening day for me. Several other things had happened that week: Wool began showing up in bookstores (yeah, the POD edition). It was seen in B&Ns and on staff rec shelves at major indie shops like Powell’s. Unfortunately for me, the dream deal (print-only, 7-year reversion) came through right as something even more magical was happening. And we took the dream deal because we were getting the terms we’d asked for back before we thought POD could break out. Four years later, my POD sales blow away my trad-pubbed print sales. I could live off of self-pubbed print. That’s the reality that’s around the corner. Publishers thought they had their trenches dug in, and now here comes a volley from their flanks.
These changes do not make success more predictable or even more likely, overall. The number of works that break out like this will probably stay the same, only some of them will now come from the POD and indie side, rather than only coming from the Big 5 side. If reading overall doesn’t grow, book sales are a zero-sum game. The difference is (and the reason to celebrate these changes), more money will flow to artists and less money will flow to middlemen. Publishers and retailers will lose out, while writers and illustrators make gains.
The money flowing to this children’s book is money not flowing to some other Big 5 children’s book, and publishers know this. They also know that the print slush pile (POD) just got as expensive as the digital slush pile (KDP). That’s going to hurt the bottom line unless they can acquire these rights at a decent price and really blow up sales through traditional channels. But make no mistake: the channel that will get most of these sales is Amazon.
Speaking of the Big 5 selling stuff through Amazon, look who’s playing around in Kindle Unlimited right now. I love me some Vince Flynn. Imagine my surprise when this shows up while I’m browsing KU. My first thought was that his estate must’ve gotten the rights back and self-pubbed the ebook edition, because the Big 5 do not participate in Kindle Unlimited. Guess they do now.
Welcome to the revolution, boys and girls. It’s just about to get started.
Hey, did you know you can write reviews of an entire series now? Another cool change in the Amazon storefront. And if you haven’t read this series yet, it’s one that I’m proud of. The BEACON 23 series on Amazon.
Music and sailing are inextricably linked for me. When I think of sailing my first sailboat, Xerxes, around the Bahamas, I think of Miles Davis, Jimmy Buffett, Lauryn Hill, the Beatles, Jump Little Children, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nirvana, and Pink Floyd. Those were the albums that got the most play in my little marine CD player. Heck, the only thing my 12V battery was really for on that boat was cranking the engine and cranking the jams.
On Voyager, a 100′ Azimut I captained for a year, I think of Diana Krall. I remember sitting in Hurricane Hole Marina in Nassau for night after night, sitting on the back deck with a Kalik after a long day, with Diana crooning through that boat’s fine audio system.
On Tieta, a 74′ Sunseeker I took to Barbados one summer, I think of Eminem and Bob Marley. This was the trip Amber joined me on, and we wore out some CDs, again in a really nice audio system.
But nothing compares to what I’m hearing on Wayfinder, and we aren’t even done yet. First, a look at something that shows you just how manically perfectionistic this boat builder is. Because of the location of the TV, one of the speakers in the salon was going to have to go to the left of the screen. With the speaker flat, the center of the cone of sound was going to bounce off the hard glass before reaching the audience. I suggested we tilt the speaker in a bit. This is what they came up with:
How gorgeous is that? It’s touches like this and going the extra mile that make these the finest cruising catamarans on the market. And yet less expensive than many of their competitors, because we aren’t doing carbon spars, rotating masts, and daggerboards to get an extra half knot of speed or degree of pointing. Keep in mind that these boats win regattas and knock out 200-mile days on crossings while fully loaded for cruising.
Some more examples of the handiwork with the audio/video system. Check out the stainless steel mounting bracket they made for the TV:
And also the brilliant placement for the iPod docking station, which keeps the tray out of the way even when left open, so you can see the iPod:
Brilliant stuff. And with the system partly installed (the cockpit is still left to do), we decided to hook up a 12V battery and have some tunes for the last couple weeks of the build. Sorry for the lack of light. Better video coming soon. And the cell phone’s audio pickup does NOT do this system justice. It sounds amazing, and this is coming from a former high-end AV installer:
Also check out the subwoofer placement. This is going to be the best seat in the house on movie night:
The best change, though, has been to move two extra zones up into the staterooms. There are controls by each bed, so one can listen to music before falling asleep or tune in when they wake up in the morning. One speaker is in the shower, aimed at the overhead hatch. The other is over the bunk, aimed forward at another hatch. These four speakers (two on each side) positively FILL the forward deck with music, so you can hear while underway, up on the trampolines or bow seats. Not something you could do on these boats before, or on many catamarans at all.
Years from now, I’ll have memories of cruising this boat, and those memories will be paired to new albums and tunes that I discover along the way.
A dozen or so South Africans stand on the same quadrant of the traffic circle that leads out of St. Francis Bay towards Humansdorp. There’s a small rain shelter nearby. It looks like a bus stop, but there are no buses here in St. Francis Bay. There is no public transportation at all. There are just thumbs, and the choices drivers make.
I picked up my first hitchhiker here on my previous visit to St. Francis. On my way to dinner one afternoon, two women on the side of the road put their thumbs out. I stopped. The place they were going was not far from the restaurant, so I took them all the way to their destination. Often, you just take people to the nearest major intersection, and they try again. They get closer and closer to their final stop in fits and starts of generosity and good fortune. While I drove, these two women conversed in Corsi, the pops and clicks melodic and soothing. A week later, I would be without a vehicle for a few days, hungry, and out on the side of the road, walking with my own thumb out. Cars drove past, their occupants working hard to not make guilt-inducing eye contact. Some drivers shrugged in apology. Until there was the red flash of brake lights that sent me scurrying for the passenger door in gratitude.
But hitchhiking is dangerous, right? And so is picking up hitchhikers?
The most dangerous part of hitchhiking is being in a car and around other moving vehicles. The authors of Freakonomics have an excellent podcast on the topic here. And there are some stats here. Of course, there’s risk in everything, but stranger danger is odd considering that most people are murdered by someone they know, often quite well. The same goes for rape. We do an amazing job of fearing the less dangerous things. Swimming pools are murderous inventions, and yet we keep digging holes in our backyards and filling them with water.
The truth is that the economy here in St. Francis Bay couldn’t operate without a network of hitching. The jobs and those who need them are kept distant from one another. I’ve never seen such heartbreaking wealth disparity in my life, nor such set boundaries for keeping people apart. Boundaries both physical and cultural. It makes me want to cry every time I drive past the township. It’s a jumble of homes straight out of District 9. And that’s not to paint these people as miserable; there is joy in the townships. Children kick soccer balls back and forth, and adults laugh at jokes. There is smoke from good meals. There is joy, but also a very difficult and brutal lifestyle that involves walking miles every day for work and dragging branches and driftwood even more miles to cook and warm homes.
Not far away, you have gated neighborhoods on manmade canals. You have mansions that sit idle save for two weeks out of the year. There are philosophical and economic discussions to be had here, but those discussions don’t help people who need work get to work today. In the here and now, what helps is a tap of the brakes. That red glow on the side of the road is as warm as any hearth.
I see long dotted lines of women walking from the Cape back toward the township or the circle beyond. The distance is enough to make your FitBit pass the fuck out. I see a cluster of men standing on the side of the interstate with folded bills in their hands and pleading looks on their faces. The money says, “I’m not going to rob you.” The look says, “If I don’t get a ride, how am I to live?”
I pick up one man on my drive to Cape Town, and we have half an hour to chat. Most drives are short, and you just get a name, where they grew up, what they do for a living. Roger and I had enough time to talk about his family. He was visiting his parents, which was why he was so far away, but usually he hitches twenty kilometers every day to get to his job with the park service. He works on a platform station looking for signs of fire. He has a wife and two kids, and he beams when he talks about them. I drop him off near an overpass. When he offers me the money for the lift, I decline, and again his look tells me everything.
You can stay busy picking up hitchers here. On that six hour drive to Cape Town, I picked up half a dozen people, always someone holding out money, which was a sort of ticket never torn in two. Never accepted, but the it showed intent. One day, I was heading to the boatyard to check progress, and the weather was just spectacular. This was back in May, on my previous visit. On this occasion, I picked up three women at the Cape. Housekeepers, whom the owners of these estates could not live without. We were nearing the circle, where I would drop them off and they’d have to wait for the next car to come along, but I decided, Fuckit, I’ll just take them all the way to Humansdorp. It’s just twenty minutes, and I’ve got the time.
The ladies were thrilled. And as we were about to drive through that circle heading out of St. Francis, I joked that we had room for two more (we didn’t really). That’s when they pointed and tapped the headrests and asked if we could pick up their friends. One of the women had luggage, so I got out and popped the boot. While I did, these five women somehow squeezed into spaces meant for three. My rented VW Polo was bottoming out with every pothole. The six of us laughed and chatted all the way to Humansdorp, and when I got out to retrieve the luggage, I had to go through a congo line of embraces. Bus tickets have nothing on gratitude lik.
Yesterday, I had this crew with me.
The only danger we had from hitching was me operating a camera while driving a manual from the right side of the car while going however fast kilometers mean on the wrong side of the road. Or dying of laughter. We all had the giggles. Except for the lady in the middle seat in the back. Middle seats suck everywhere in the world. There’s nothing funny about them.
Today I’ve got some errands to run. I’m damn lucky to be able to run them when I want, where I want, without having to walk and hitch. Over the course of my life, I’ve hitched dozens of times. When I lived in the Bahamas, traveling by sailboat and without a car, it and walking were my only choices. The only thing that’s ever happened to me by hitching is making new friends and feeling an immense sense of gratitude. Most people in the world are awesome. Most things we do have an element of risk. We just tend to ignore statistics where convenient. Just as we find it convenient to ignore people and treat them like statistics, even when the math doesn’t add up.
I don’t need your money. Seriously, I’m set. I’m going to write about my travels no matter what. But people have asked, so here you go.
In addition to giving you an update on the boat’s progress, I thought I’d show you what my typical day is like here in St. Francis Bay, South Africa.
It starts when I wake up to this. It’s the view from my bed at Sands Resort in St. Francis Bay. The service here is remarkable. Hot water bottles in the bed at night, a wonderful staff, and a view to die for.
The first thing I do every morning is my Five Tibetans. My favorite spot is down on this landing, with the waves crashing beneath me and the sun rising right between the railings. Glorious.
This is the spread that awaits me upstairs for breakfast. Yogurt, fruit, cheese, lemon water, and some meats. Delicious. They cook a hot breakfast to order as well, but I’ve never had room.
Alistair is the magician making WAYFINDER’S hull so pretty. He also did the custom paintjob on the paddleboards.
This is one of the paddleboards he painted for me. When the surf lies down, I can walk it right out of my room, down the steps, and into the sea.
I was so impressed with the care Alistair puts into every piece of tape and every coat of paint. This is a true artist who just does commercial work to pay the bills. When he isn’t airbrushing a motorcycle tank, he’s hitting the surf. The guy is amazing.
The finished product. Logo designed by my cover artist, M.S. Corley.
The unveiling of the Mark 2 designation.
The finished logo. LOVE it!
The trampolines going on!
And they’re on! So comfy. Love these tramps.
The mast arrived from Cape Town. The yard built the special rig used to haul the masts the seven hours down the road. There was a scare on the way back this time. A drive heading the opposite direction in a rig fell asleep and swerved into the other lane. The van hauling the mast and genset had to pass on the wrong side of the road! (Which, for most people reading this, was, in fact, the right side of the road!)
The genset going in.
The electrical work is so damn tidy. I love it.
We spent a lot of our day today working on this new davit system. Which had better work, dammit!
Here’s the slip where they’ll launch the boat in a couple weeks.
After I leave the yard, I head to the harbor to have dinner at my friend Mauro’s restaurant. This is a view from his flat. That’s a TAG 60 in the background. WAYFINDER will go into the slip just to the right of it. That’ll be my home in a couple weeks.
Mauro is a scammer. You go to his restaurant, and he makes you cook! Last time, he made me cook my own pizza. This time, it’s Belgian waffles. This was my first time cooking with a scale and doing it in grams. I loved how that worked. I’m hooked.
The view the other direction. Check out the beacon!
Then I wake up. And it’s another beautiful day in South Africa. Time to go to the boat yard and see how the boat is coming along!
After 40 days in the Kindle Unlimited program, and after going through my first royalty statement that includes KU pagereads, I have a few observations.
First, a little background for the uninitiated: Over a year ago, Amazon launched an ebook subscription service known as Kindle Unlimited. For $9.95 a month, readers could enjoy unlimited access to over a million ebooks. For authors, the program was contentious, because it required making those titles exclusive with Amazon. You couldn’t sell them elsewhere. This was the price of admission.
To entice their bestselling authors to try the program, Amazon allowed several dozen indies to keep their titles in KU for a limited time without the exclusivity requirement. I was invited into the trial, and I could see the benefit of being in the program immediately, but it wasn’t clear whether my readership was best served by being in KU or not. When the time trial expired, I pulled my ebooks out of KU. Looking back, I can see that this was a huge mistake.
A month and a half ago, Amazon changed the way they pay authors in KU, moving to a per-page-read method rather than a flat fee (once 10% of an ebook was read). The idea was to reward reader engagement with longer works, rather than pay short story authors the same amount as novelists. As a data geek, I was dying to test this program out and see what difference it made for earnings, reader engagement, and sales rank. Entry to KU would require me being exclusive with Amazon for at least 90 days. With several of their competitors in disarray, and with KU free of competition from books by major publishers, I thought now was a good time to give it a go.
Even though the new KU seemed to reward novels over short stories, I immediately began publishing shorter works and making them available in KU. I wanted to see if short fiction — an area I’m fond of and have made a career exploring — was still viable in KU. After joining the program, I released several titles in the 7,000 – 12,000 word range. KU is no longer as generous when it comes to short fiction, but the pay-per-page estimates seemed fair to me. I went all-in with my backlist novels, and I published my new short stories.
I knew within a week that I’d made the right decision to join KU. My KU ebooks saw an immediate boost in ranking. Not only were the page-reads mounting, but the sales of those ebooks were also on the rise! This was like advertising that I got paid for, and advertising that led to more paid sales. The only cost was exclusivity.
I’ve written at length about exclusivity, but I’ll sum up here what might seem paradoxical at first: You can sometimes reach more readers by making your products available with fewer vendors. By concentrating sales in one location, sales rank gets a boost and more reader reviews are compiled in a single place. This means more visibility and more word-of-mouth sales. It can also mean more readers.
If you were an author and you had to choose between 1,000,000 sales to readers in the state of Illinois and 100,000 sales to readers all around the world, which would you take? Arbitrary designations of where readers come from are just that: arbitrary. The total number of readers is what should matter. This is especially true considering the fact that Kindle ebooks can be read on practically anything that has a screen. More and more readers are moving to cell phones for their consumption, and even Apple devices can read Kindle ebooks. What’s more, I don’t put DRM on my works, so they can be downloaded, converted, and read as epubs or PDFs. By concentrating my works in a single place, I’m not making them unavailable to anyone; I’m just amplifying the signal of all those purchases and reader reactions. It’s a funnel, not a sieve.
I’m doing something more important than this as well, something that the last 40 days highlighted for me. I’m ensuring the best possible reader experience with ebooks. I see people all the time bemoan what might happen if we put all our eggs in one basket. Not only does this ignore the fact that I own the eggs and can move them at any time, it ignores the damage we do by trusting our eggs to bad baskets.
What is the collapse of Nook doing for the adoption of ebooks? Barnes and Noble goes back and forth on whether or not they’re going to support their own device. That causes those who bought a Nook to become wary of committing to buying more digital books. And what about Apple’s refusal to make iTunes a web-based store rather than an application? This makes sharing links and buying ebooks more difficult across devices. And let’s not even start on B&N’s storefront. Or Google’s hubris when it comes to dealing with authors.
Indiscriminate business partnerships does not move the industry forward, and making my ebooks available at places that don’t provide the best reader experience does not help my career. When I saw that KU was going to help me reach more readers —and more than make up lost income from all other outlets combined — I was swayed. But it was when I blogged about unlimited access to ebooks with readers, and heard what kind of experience those readers were having with KU, that I saw why it was important for me to only make my works available at top-notch retailers.
The reason is this: I want greater and greater ebook adoption. I want more and more readers to move to ebooks. It is the artistic medium, the environmental medium, the democratic medium, the literary medium, and the indie medium. The best way to increase the adoption of this superior medium is to ensure that readers have a great experience. The Amazon storefront and their Kindle devices are the absolute best experience for readers. I know a prominent supporter of the big publishing houses who recently admitted that despite his rhetoric, he uses a Kindle and shops on Amazon, because both are so much better. What he can’t see is that being open about those advantages is the only way to get other retailers to raise their game. And it’s the best way to get consumers to jump in and partake in this form of entertainment as well.
Another way to think about it is this: When Guinness allows a bar to sell their beer, this comes with a commitment to excellence. Guinness’ reputation is at state. Barkeeps learn how to provide a proper pour, and Guinness reps will drop in to make sure things are going smoothly. A bad experience is not worth it to them to say, “Let’s sell our stuff everywhere, no matter what.” That’s how you lose control of and dilute a brand.
Major publishers messed up royally by not throwing their weight behind Amazon in order to sell as many books to as many readers as possible. Fear of upsetting existing retail accounts caused them to hurt their authors, their readers, and themselves. The battle for control — out of a fear of what might someday happen — moved those awful consequences from a hypothetical future to a very real present.
The same is happening with a lot of indie authors. Fear over what Amazon might do in the future is hurting growth of a better reading medium today. The smart (and selfish) thing upon realizing this would be for me to put my works in KU, not say a thing, and enjoy all the benefits of a large slice of earnings coming to me from a limited pool of funds. But that’s not something I care to do. I’m here to tell you today, that as an indie author, you might want to give KU 90 or 180 days to see for yourself. You might want to promote the heck out of Kindle devices and the Amazon storefront. This company knows how to pour a great ebook. When a company comes along that does it better, you can bet I’ll be jumping ship. They’re my eggs, and they’re going to go into the best basket(s).
How we promote reading is important as authors. The more people we get reading on the democratic medium, the medium that allows artistic freedom of expression, the medium that ships electrons and not fuel-costly paper, the better our tradecraft as writers and pastime as readers will be. Right now, the best experience for readers, and the way to reach more of them, is through Kindle Unlimited.
This isn’t a commercial for the service; this is professional advice from someone who has tried both routes with a keen eye on the data. Try it for yourself and see. If you ask me, KU is a KO. I just wish I hadn’t waited until the later rounds to realize this.
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