June 12, 2014

More on Chiles and Moitessier

EARLIER THIS WEEK a New Zealand reader named Zane commented on my column about Webb Chiles. He referred to my statement that “Webb is not shy of the publicity that helps sell his books.”

Zane pointed out that Webb’s three best-known books are available free on his website.

Well, Zane, that doesn’t mean he shuns publicity. Far from it. He actively seeks it. Before the start of his most recent voyage he sent out the Press release repeated below[1] to newspapers and magazines, complete with pictures of himself and his boat.

 Neither does it mean he gives all of his books away. Amazon.com still sells them in Kindle form and in printed form.  And, remember, those books go back to 1977 — they’ve already earned royalties for nearly 40 years. Furthermore, it’s not to be supposed that Webb is totally disinterested in making money. On his website he says:

“You are welcome to download whatever you want from these pages to read at your leisure or to share with others. But everything on this website is copyrighted and under current law, if during most of this century you make any money from it, I or my heirs want a cut.”

 Zane also asked: “Are any of your books available for a free download, John?”

No, they’re not. But you can go into a public library and read my books for free.

In any case, I don’t have the legal right to put my books on the internet for free. The digital rights to my books belong to my respective publishers, and it would be ludicrous to expect them to publish the books for free.

There is an important principle involved here, as expressed by a national professional body of which I am a member:   

“The Authors Guild remains committed to the notion that the digital revolution cannot come at the cost of authors’ rights to preserve writing as a livelihood.”

Zane, may I ask if you expect your car mechanic or your plumber to do work for you for nothing? Are you surprised when they hand you a bill? Do you ask them, too, why their work isn’t available free to you?

I am a professional writer who sails, not a professional sailor who writes. I try to earn a living by writing but I have yet not managed to become rich. When I was writing my sailing books we lived for seven years in a rickety 30-year-old mobile home in a trailer park on an island north of Seattle. My dear wife June, a prize-winning journalist and former editor-in-chief of South Africa’s largest parenting magazine, snagged a lowly job for $6 an hour on the local newspaper on the island, and we lived on that.

I wish I could afford to give away books to anyone who wanted one. That would be a wonderful luxury. But it’s out of my hands in any case.

Finally, Zane, you question my comment that Webb Chiles reminds me of Bernard Moitessier, and you say that you can’t think of two more different personalities. Well, good for you. You’re entitled to your opinion, and you say that Webb is a gentleman, a great sailor, and an even better writer.

Naturally, not everybody agrees with you. Here’s a book review of the Kindle edition of Storm Passage, taken from the Amazon.com website: 

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful

By Scott C on January 25, 2012

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

When the story centers on the actual voyage itself and its many challenges, it essentially works. The main problem I had with "Storm Passage" was the fact that the writer, "Webb," comes off as a self-absorbed, pompous windbag. He whines about EVERYTHING. And alternates in personality between "victim," worldly and cultured "gentleman" and "narcissistic bore bursting with boneheaded pride." He will also inexplicably throw in descriptions about himself out of nowhere — at one point mentioning his "full lips" and his "cleft chin" (which he says is his best feature). Really? Hmm. So, any interest in the story of the voyage (s) is literally sucked dry by the fact that you have to hang out with this egotistical and largely miserable person. It's too bad really, because his voyage and his achievements are extraordinary. Who knows, maybe in the years since this account he grew up a little bit.

For another opinion go to:

[1] Finally, here is the Press release detailing Webb Chiles latest proposed voyage:

“Webb Chiles, 72, five time circumnavigator and the first American to round Cape Horn alone, sailed from San Diego, California, this morning on his 24’ sloop, GANNET, beginning what will, time and chance permitting, become his sixth voyage around the world.

“GANNET is a Moore 24, the first ultra-light displacement class built in the United States.  Moore 24s have often been successfully raced from California to Hawaii, but no one has ever before attempted to circumnavigate in one.

“Chiles will sail first to Hilo, Hawaii; then make his way across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand where he will decide whether to continue west or turn east for Cape Horn in 2015.

“You can follow GANNET’s track at http://my.yb.tl/gannet; and learn more at www.inthepresentsea.com.

PS: I nearly forgot, Zane:  There are 866 columns on my blog, half a million words or so. You can find all of them on the right. All free to read, you'll be pleased to hear.  
Today’s Thought
Ah, pensive scholar, what is fame?
A fitful tongue of leaping flame;
A giddy whirlwind’s fickle gust,
That lifts a pinch of mortal dust;
A few swift years, and who can show
Which dust was Bill, and which was Joe?
— O. W. Holmes, Bill and Joe

“Do you know a man with one eye called Falconetti?”
“Not sure. What’s his other eye called?”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)



Anonymous said...

I've never seen my name mentioned so many times in one sitting. Not even my school techers used it that much in their (usually) bad school reports about me.

Auckland, New Zealand

Kenneth Sherwood said...

John, I don't think any one believes you need to give away the books. I've paid for several to my great profit. Thanks for those and the blog! I'm also an avid reader of Webb's books and blog. The observation about publicity may be true but smacks of artitude. There are some noteworthy publicity voyages in recent years, some quite suspect. I suppose Chiles' fans bristle to see him tarred with the same brush... even if only by implication.

Anonymous said...

I sail and read....Webb's accomplishments are beyond criticism in my book...as you have noted and he would likely agree you are entitled to your own take on things....

Anonymous said...

John, you're an excellent writer and I've read your books and followed your blog posts for years. Your comments about the difficulty of making a living as a writer compelled me to say you're missing the boat in a big way. You say you're a member of The Author's Guild. I would suggest you ditch their advice and look to the opportunities that exist today that make this the best time in history to be a writer. Like you, I have traditionally published books to which I'll never obtain the rights to in my lifetime. But man, a half a million words on this blog? How many books could you have written and published directly to Amazon in the time it took to post all those words here? The money is there to be made. Those who complain about the changes in the industry are the same ones who are refusing to accept that the changes are both inevitable AND in the best interests of the writer. I know, because I've made that transition and the future looks better to me than it ever has.