High-Powered Publishing

Now that Charlie and I actually have his book at the printers (we were going to order one book, but in a bold move we doubled the order!), I can tell the story of The New York Times Best-Seller List. Hold on to your seats, it’s a roller-coaster ride.

In the two years we’ve spent writing this best-seller-to-be (well yes, Charles wrote, but someone had to supervise, and OK, yes that was mainly Barbara, but someone had to edit. OK, so Rory was chief editor, but only cos he had experience and has actually published a book himself. Jeesh, I can prove I was there!). As I was saying before I was pedantically interrupted, while the author and I were in our office at the publishing house week after week except during lockdown, which knocked out a few months, and not while Charles was away on multiple adventures on mountains, beaches and kloofs, we casually discussed the New York Times Best-Seller List from time to time.

Did I say office? We actually used the boardroom, so we could spread out our plans and drafts and photos and things:

– the boardroom – someone should clean the pool –

Over coffee and stone scones freshly-made by Barbara – who would phone to check they’d been delivered and not secretly scoffed, they were that delicious – we would casually throw around NYT BS List numbers. That’s New York Times Best-Seller List for those who aren’t as aux fait with these things as we are. Various numbers were thrown around and eventually we settled on these: Fifty or One Hundred. It’s a big decision. We haven’t decided yet. But then came trouble: I started reading about the NYT BS List.

I know why people warn against reading. Reading is dangerous. You find out things. I too sometimes warn against reading certain stuff. Not our book! No, you must read our book when it comes out to great fanfare, but other stuff you must be careful, cos if you read, you find out stuff.

Like how to get on to the NYT BS List. Here’s how:

There are “marketing consultancies” which specialise in getting books onto bestseller lists. For clients willing to pay enough, they will even guarantee a No. 1 spot. They do this by taking bulk sales and breaking them up into smaller, more normal-looking individual purchases, thus defeating safeguards that are supposed to make it impossible to “buy” bestseller status. In other words, they’ll cheat for you.

It’s not cheap. Here’s an example from 2013: If your book is listed at R400 retail, it might cost you about R336 a copy. To ensure a spot on the (lesser) Wall Street Journal bestseller list, you’d need to commit to a minimum of 3000 books – about R1 000 000. A million Ront. Multiply these numbers by a factor of about three to hit the more desirable New York Times list. We’re at THREE MILLION RONT Sterling. Plus there’s the crooks’ “consultancy fees” for cheating and lying and manipulating on your behalf. That was around R300 000 in 2013.

Authors who do this often reach the required pre-sale figures by securing commitments from corporate clients, who agree to buy copies as part of speaking fees, and by the authors buying copies for themselves to hand out to friends and family and to resell at public appearances.

It’s a laundering operation aimed at deceiving the book-buying public into believing a title is more in-demand than it is. People in the industry don’t like talking about bestseller campaigns, as they know any detailed discussion exposes the fact that they simply allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto “bestseller” lists. Appearing on the New York Times Best-Seller List increases sales by 13 or 14 percent on average, but first-time authors’ sales increase by 57 percent! We could sell 157 books here!

Right, so that’s what we’ll do.

Sure, we might need to sell our houses and Charles his 1979 shark-gilled Mercedes, but he says he’d get a good price for the Merc cos of the gills in the bodywork which he says are actually functionally necessary, not just babe-catchers. Myself I wonder, but I spose when one is catching older, more sophisticated babes the mating call of a loud exhaust note alone won’t cut it?

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2013 story in Forbes magazine

more from 2017. And info on wikipedia

In an interesting example of how, once you start lying you have to keep lying, and then when you’re caught lying you just say, “Well, I didn’t mean it to be taken seriously, and no-one believes I’m serious anyway,” when The New York Times was sued for $6 million by an author who claimed that his book had been deliberately excluded from the list, The Times countered that the list was not mathematically objective but rather was “editorial content;” that it’s just “free speech,” and thus protected under the US Constitution. Holy guacamole! They’re saying “Yeah we lied, but we’re allowed to lie.”

So, seeing that the famous list that everyone wants to get onto is not objective factual content, the Times assumes the right to exclude books it doesn’t like from the list! So, the august ‘paper of record’ is saying something like: “Well, this IS a ‘best-seller’ list (more or less) IF we think the book should be a best-seller. It has little to do with whether or not it actually has ‘sold best.'”

And talking of cheats, Mitt Romney crassly boosted his book’s sales figures by insisting that his book tour hosts buy at least $25,000 worth of copies of his book before he would speak at their gatherings!

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Pikkie’s Book is HE-ERE!

We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )

OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more? Indeed – Pikkie reminded me of Johann Lodewyk Marais and Anita van Wyk Henning.

He has published it as an eBook – and I have now received my hard copy too.

I had the privilege and fun of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote it, as one of his proof-readers. It was a blast! I climbed his mountains without getting breathless – except occasionally from laughing, as we relived the olden daze..

Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here: ‘

. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you:

– 5109m above sea level – the Drakensberg’s highest peak is 3482m –

And this is the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more to come!

.

.

Those of us who climb Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drive to within an hour or two’s leisurely walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And there’s way less oxygen available up there! After reading some chapters I had to go’n lie down for a while.

Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get the book on takealot.com – )

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Riposte and Touché:

Pikkie appointed a fellow-mountaineering Pom John as another of his proofreaders. This John asked ‘What’s it with you Saffers and exclamation marks?’ I puffed myself up and replied the problem was not that we use too many; the problem was that Poms use too few!

John’s rejoinder was, “Not true. We use our national quota. It’s just that we allocate almost all of them to teenage girls.”

Oooof!!

Bad enough we lost the Boer War, but now THIS!!!!

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The EM Diet

A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!

– Platberg panorama –

Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.

I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations which were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!

Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !

John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:

‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)

Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!

My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’

My attack was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:

‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’

Ooof!!!

I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.

Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.

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A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.

New Book Coming!

Johnny Vassilaros is a courageous mensch. And an author. And I can’t wait! If you love Durban, get your copy. Write to – littleboatsandbigfish@gmail.com –

Foreward by Advocate Peter Rowan
I have known Johnny since 2003. I have spent many long hours with him, in meetings, in consultations, in Court proceedings, in open debate and in argument (even between us). He is a man of the utmost integrity. He is a man of high intelligence, a man of conviction and undeniably strong character. He has values and standards to be admired, a man of good, fair and even judgement, a family man, a music lover, a historian and environmentalist. A spade is a spade, and he calls it that way. Nothing in the civic domain is done for his own ego, or his own pocket. What he does is motivated by distinguishing between principles of right and wrong, and then, resolutely pursuing what is good for the situation that lies before him. He is disciplined, tough and unrelenting in pursuing his goals.

The nucleus of this book is the story of the Durban Paddle Ski Club, of which Johnny found himself as chairman, during the most taxing period in its history, and which was to have a profound effect on the plight of a most valuable public asset – Vetch’s Beach. This book has many interesting stories to tell. It brings colourful characters back to life by their amazing and often insane deeds in their pursuit of big fish on their little boats. And then, the anecdotes, historical facts about Durban, the pioneers of this city, shipping, the once dreaded “Bar” and shipping disasters off our coast, only a few life spans ago. For the fishing fanatics – just read it!

– Johnny Vassilaros and Pete Rowan – men of principle –


But this book is more than that. It also covers a most serious topic, that being the biggest and most expensive and controversial coastal development in the history of this city – the Point waterfront development. Having read the book, all I can say is “Wow!” The meticulous attention to detail and irrefutable accuracy on the facts is immaculate. Yes, some 250 pages are devoted to the tragedy of Vetch’s, where those who would like to know what truly happened, should read and read again. Johnny does not mince his words. He slaughters politicians, prominent municipal officials and powerful businessmen, decimates major role players from certain water sports clubs, all so justifiably, through their unethical deeds committed throughout the long Point waterfront years. If you don’t know who these individuals are, read about them in this book.

But the author doesn’t go at people simply for the sake of doing it. He acknowledges good and good people and good deeds. He despises bad or useless incompetent people, and most of all, reveals the wrongdoings, the corruption and skulduggery, all of which, we see aplenty in his book. He also provides more irrefutable facts, explaining how all this has led to the loss of the watersports clubs’ premises and the cost to the ecosystem at Vetch’s. 

Johnny writes both from the head and from the heart. He adds comment which is well founded, and where he castigates the unfortunates and criticises others, he does so because it is relevant to the story he unfolds. His words amount to fair and justifiable comment and criticism, made for the public good, all within his constitutional rights and freedom of speech. The events that he describes involved matters that could so easily have been laid to rest around a table with sportsmen and women, as we were all meant to be, acting reasonably,  in the interests of all our wants and needs of our respective sports. That’s what reasonable and civilised people with any sense of decency and good sportsmanship would have done.

But that was not to be. Not this bunch with whom we had to deal. Six individuals, who, as a committee, snuck off and formed a “Point Watersports Club”, with a “constitution” not remotely relevant to the aims and objectives of the water sports clubs, and, most importantly, in total contradiction to a legally-binding agreement they had all previously signed. And, staggeringly, with no mandate from their members and without any of them having any inkling that this was going on. And yet, this continued for years and the members still say nothing to this day.

How much in litigation costs did all of this amount to for the clubs, and ultimately the members? Johnny raises this in his book. I would conservatively estimate that between this “PWC”, whoever they may be, the DUC and the Durban Ski Boat Club, must have paid in the region of R5 million if not more. Look at what it cost the Paddle Ski Club and Save Vetch’s Association to save the beach, whilst others stood by – millions. What a waste! And how much irredeemable human and tangible destruction took place whilst all of this was going on?

And for me, one of the most dramatic standout points. How and why and on whose mandate did Hall, Kidger and Donald come to give away, in 2015, all the clubs’ rights to invaluable freehold property, to arguably own the highly valued land on which they were to build their clubhouse? Were these self-appointed directors simply dancing to the tune of the developer, giving away land that was worth millions, without a murmur? One can only be left wondering whether anyone was ever rewarded, for this act of “high treason”. No matter how one looks at this, it stinks. Rotten to the core. Should we not all be digging deeper into this? If we do, some people might just land up in jail. Johnny’s book lays this bare. Read it with care.

There is one last thing that needs to be published. The man I chose, during difficult times to put my money on, ahead of a multitude of erstwhile friends, the Geriatskis, and all of those who paddle with them. When I teamed up with the Geriatskis, paddling and socialising with them at DUC, it became one of the most motivating factors in my life. It was pure fun and pleasure. What camaraderie, banter amongst, what I imagined true friends to be! But when crunch time came, when it was clear that Hall was leading them down the garden path, and I started to ask questions and take a strong stance, where were these people? It seemed easier for them to step back and drift with the tide or blow with the wind.

Taking a strong value judgment call or a moral stance, or simply for the stark ecological sake of saving the beach, was not for these folk. But they paddle across that stretch of water, saved by others making huge sacrifices, day in and day out – conscience free, having done nothing to save the reef they so guilelessly now use. They went along with Hall because it was convenient and expedient. As tough and as sad as it has been breaking away and being excised from a strong group of wonderful erstwhile friends, and sad as the lonely situation is that I have now found myself in, I would suppose a gregarious fellow by nature, I wouldn’t swap Johnny Vassilaros and his solid principled fishing ski guys as friends for any one of these fickle souls – in my view, may they forever hang their heads in shame every time they paddle across the Vetch’s basin. Read about it.

I associate myself with all the facts set out in this book and with the words of the author, having been part of the action and privy to the multitude of documents and the voluminous court papers, which I still have in my possession. I am in the privileged position of being able to support or refute either the content of the book or any further comments that may arise. I challenge those who disagree with the content to revert, by way of constructive written exchanges, and back their views with adequate proof. I also challenge any one of you to take us to Court on whatever cause of action you may wish to rely upon.  

I salute this man, Johnny Vassilaros, for his tenacity and his courage in disclosing the truth. He is a man who I would want alongside me if ever we were to go to war. 

Advocate Peter Rowan SC       (Durban February 2020)

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Explorers 10. Smith

Here’s another real explorer!

Andrew Smith (1797-1872) – British army surgeon, traveler, collector, author, committee man and naturalist. As a boy he was apprenticed part-time to a medical doctor while studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Sent to the Cape Colony in 1821, he was stationed in Grahamstown until the middle of 1825. During these years he made a study of the natural history of the frontier region and the customs of the Xhosa people. After visiting Smith, Cape governor Lord Charles Somerset created the South African Museum in the building of the South African Library, and appointed Smith as its superintendent. He solicited specimens for the museum and published lists of donations in the Cape Town Gazette and African Advertiser. Soon he also published the first and only installment of A descriptive catalogue of the South African Museum in which he described the mammals on exhibition. A separate pamphlet provided Instructions for preparing and preserving the different objects of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms. In December 1826 the Cape of Good Hope Horticultural Society was formed, with Smith as joint secretary. So, in charge of growing the dagga plants. Kidding!

In 1828 Smith went to the north-west border of the colony to investigate conflicts among the various groups of people living in the region. The political nature of the mission was disguised by presenting it as a scientific expedition, consisting of Smith and some locals to guide him. He reached the Olifants River, the copper deposits of Namaqualand, the Orange River, which he explored to its mouth, and returned to Cape Town.

The first general scientific society in southern Africa, the South African Institution, was then founded in Cape Town. Smith was elected as joint secretary and served as joint vice-president (ha! maybe there is something to my dagga theory!?). They appointed P. Jules Verreaux and launched the subcontinent’s first scientific journal, The South African Quarterly Journal. Smith wrote on birds, on ‘Observations relative to the origin and history of the Bushmen’, and on ‘Contributions to the natural history of South Africa, etc.’ He later wrote a series of ten articles under the title ‘An epitome of African zoology’, in an effort to promote the study of natural history in the colony.

In December 1831 Smith was sent on another diplomatic mission combined with a scientific expedition, this time to visit the Zulu chief Dingane and report on the nature of his country. The party went via Port Elizabeth, then to the vicinity of Umtata, then down to the coast near present Port St Johns. They reached Port Natal (now Durban) in March 1832. There Smith met H.F. Fynn, who accompanied him to Dingane’s kraal. He was the first well-known collector to investigate the birdlife of coastal Natal, where he found many new species. In an interview with the Grahamstown Journal upon his return he described the fertility of Natal and its potential for settlement. This praise was noted by men who became the ‘Voortrekkers’ who sarie’d voort and settled in Natal during 1837-1838.

The Cape of Good Hope Association for Exploring Central Africa was established to organise a scientific expedition into central southern Africa, to be financed by public subscription. Smith was elected joint chairman (kidding! – he was chosen as the leader of the expedition). They went to Lesotho and visited chief Moshoeshoe; then to Kuruman, from where the missionary Robert Moffat accompanied them to the kraal of the Matabele king, Mzilikazi, near Zeerust. On they trekked, eastwards along the southern slopes of the Magaliesberg to Hartebeestpoort, then northwards to the tropic of Capricorn. The expedition returned to Cape Town in February 1836 with a huge collection of natural history specimens and drawings. Smith published his Report of the Expedition for Exploring Central Africa.

Around this time Smith met the young geologist Charles Darwin when the second voyage of the Beagle touched at the Cape. Darwin corresponded with Smith about how the large animals in South Africa lived on sparse vegetation, showing that a lack of luxuriant vegetation did not explain the extinction of the giant creatures whose fossils Darwin had found in South America. Darwin frequently mentioned Dr. Smith in his writings, and sponsored the Doctor to gain membership of the Royal Society in 1857 despite the Doctor fighting with a nurse at the time (see below).

Smith was ordered to return to England. He took his private collections and the expedition’s collections with him. After exhibiting the latter in London for a year they were sold and the proceeds paid to the Association that had financed the expedition. In his spare time, he wrote a monumental and authoritative work, Illustrations of the zoology of South Africa, published in five volumes in 1849. It contained descriptions and coloured plates of the mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes by Smith, and the invertebrates, mainly beetles and marine crabs, by S.W. Macleay. Many of their new species have stood the test of time. This established Smith’s reputation as ‘the father of South African zoology’. Among others he described 64 taxa including 24 snakes and 37 lizards, the most by any author of this group, and 79 species of South African birds, again the most by any author.

– Illustrations by Charles Davison Bell & GH Ford –
– map, plate , portrait and title page –

In 1843 Smith married his housekeeper Ellen Henderson and that same year was elected a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. In his career, he became director-general of the Army Medical Department.

Following huge losses of soldiers during the Crimean War (1853-1856) he became involved in a bitter controversy with Florence Nightingale, who had quite rightly criticised the poor treatment soldiers got from military medical men, the horrid lack of cleanliness, never mind sterility, and the generally inadequate medical arrangements for the campaign. Although he was (predictably, it’s the military and the ‘gentlemen officers’ thing!) exonerated from blame, Smith probably realised Florence was actually right, as he then persuaded the government to build the first fully adequate military hospital and training school for military medical officers near Southampton; about that time, Nightingale also started the Nightingale Training School for nurses and midwives, in London.

Smith, now Sir Andrew Smith KCB, resigned his post in May 1858 and began writing an ambitious work on the ethnography of the whole continent of Africa. He presented thousands of specimens from his personal natural history collection to his alma mater the University of Edinburgh. Then, following the death of his wife towards the end of 1864 he lost interest in his writing project and spent the last years of his life as a recluse.

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The Cape shoveler and Karoo thrush still carry his name.

– spatula smithii and turdus smithii –

wikipedia and http://www.oiseaux-birds.com; Jane Carruthers’article; Biographical Database of SA Scientists; Undiscovered Scotland article; S2A3 biographies of SA Scientists; vanriebeecksociety; biodiversitylibrary;

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sarie’d voort – I imagine them sallying forth singing sarie marais

KCB – Knight Commander, Order of the Bath; I wonder if Florence Nightingale organised that he got this – after her accusations of unsanitary conditions under his watch!? Kidding!

No Respect . .

. . for their own natural history!

Book Borer.jpg

They found it by boring but they wouldn’t have found it boring – we all love reading about ourselves. If they’d navigated to the right page they’d have found their ancestors – or cousins – in here.

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2020: Clearing out old books during the April 2020 lockdown, I found the author’s autobiography. A fascinating man. An English schoolteacher, he took a teaching job in Rondebosch on the spur of the moment and stayed in SA all his life.

Sydney Harold Skaife (‘Stacey’) D.Sc FRSSAf. (12 December 1889 – 6 November 1976) was an eminent South African naturalist. His career and educational publications covered a wide field. He was also a teacher, school inspector, broadcaster, and conservationist. Of his many achievements his greatest was probably his leading role in the creation of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. He lived for most of his life on his smallholding ‘Tierbos” in Hout Bay. He was a prolific author of scientific and popular books (mainly detective novels written for Huisgenoot under the pseudonym Hendrik Brand). More here and here.

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