The Blog

What is a Rain Screen?

Today our house is sporting an exterior look that reminds me of dazzle camouflage, which was used in WW1 (and to a smaller extend in WWII) to it difficult to estimate the range of other ships.

We’re not hoping to fool the enemy, but mother nature. The stripes on our house are there to hold the siding away from the house in what is called a “rain screen”. Here’s the big idea:

Moisture is the enemy when it comes to house exteriors. If it gets trapped and can’t evaporate, it can start to rot wood and other materials. Houses usually have a couple of layers that serve as moisture barriers, like home wrapping (the black material above) and siding.

From what I’ve heard, it’s nearly impossible to prevent moisture from getting behind siding. Usually, it’s not a problem, but some siding does best when water can evaporate or drain quickly. That’s why a rain screen is used. It holds the siding about half an inch off the home wrap so that moisture can easily drain.

The stripes in the photo above are wooden boards that have been put in place to hold the wooden siding we’ll use. You can see that the walls alternate in terms of pattern. This is because the orientation of the siding will also alternate from vertical to horizontal.

It took me a while to realize why the middle section has diagonal stripes. This section will have vertical siding that could be applied on horizontal boards. Because the goal is drainage, the underlying boards must be diagonal to help with drainage.

The siding we’ll use is called Yaki Sugi and is cypress that has been charred on one side. This sort of rain screen was recommended by the manufacturer because the cypress does best when it can dry quickly.

Where is the Salish Sea?

Since moving to Orcas Island, I’ve become fascinated by the geography of the area, which is quite complicated. The island is part of an archipelago in an inland sea stretching across two countries and hundreds of islands. To describe the region doesn’t do it justice, so I created this animated GIF.

The Salish Sea extends across the U.S.-Canada border, and includes the combined waters of the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. The name Salish Sea was proposed in 1989 to reflect the entire cross-border ecosystem. Both Washington State and British Columbia voted to officially recognize the name in late 2009. The name honors the Coast Salish people, who were the first to live in the region (Salish Sea: Naming, n.d.). 

Source

The Podcast Book Promotion Strategy

I never planned to do a book tour. Unless you’re a very well-known author, they seem like a cumbersome activity with low ROI; a vestige from a time before the internet. Now, in the COVID era, they are an impossibility. I hope to do 100% of promotions for Big Enough from the comfort and safety of home. For me, podcasts are the perfect medium.

When The Art of Explanation came out in 2012, podcasts were popular, but a shadow of what they are today. I was invited to be on dozens and came to truly enjoy the process. I’m a social person at heart and love having a good conversation. When I thought about how to promote Big Enough, podcasts were always front and center. The question became: how does an author promote themselves as a podcast guest?

The first option was personal and network connections and I am now reaching out to people I know. The introductions are relatively easy. What I needed was a simple way to let them know I’m an interesting, knowledgeable, and fun podcast guest. I wanted podcasters to visit a page on my leelefever.com site and think “I MUST have this guy on my podcast!”

So I created that page. It’s called “Lee LeFever Podcast Guest” and it’s my best shot at giving podcasters a clear picture of my experience, expertise, and more. Now, when I ask someone in my network if they can introduce me to a podcaster, I can send them this link for more information. My hope is that you, dear reader, will use it too.

If you know a podcast or podcast host who might be interested in having me on to discuss Big Enough, please let me know.

Should Authors Buy Their Own Books?

In my experience, publishing a book means owning at least a few boxes of the book. These can be given as gifts, sold, used in promotions, and more. I have boxes of Big Enough sitting beside me right now. The copies I have came directly from the printer and don’t have an impact on my sales numbers. This version of buying your own books is both ethical and expected.

box of books - big enough

Some enterprising authors, however, look for ways to game the system and increase their book’s visibility by purchasing 100s or 1000s of copies as a way to boost their numbers. This isn’t illegal, but the publishing industry discourages it and has ways of punishing those who do it.

Consider the story of author Mark Dawson, who was featured in a recent article in The Guardian.

Author Mark Dawson has lost his Top 10 position in the Sunday Times bestseller charts for his thriller The Cleaner after revealing that he bought 400 copies himself to get a higher position.

Book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan began investigating after Dawson revealed on his podcast, The Self Publishing Show, that he had placed an order for 400 hardback copies of The Cleaner with a children’s bookshop in Salisbury, for a cost of £3,600. Dawson said he was motivated to do this after seeing he was in 13th spot on Nielsen’s midweek chart, and that he contacted readers overseas to see if they would purchase the novel from him if he bought the books. The purchase meant the novel, published by independent press Welbeck, moved up to eighth place in the Sunday Times hardback fiction list.

Dawson’s story is a part of a much bigger picture. Book publishing is full of authors and publishers who have schemes to get books on bestseller lists. By comparison, his story is modest and not the result of a diabolical plan. As he said:

“If I was intent on ‘gaming the system’ I would have bought 10k copies, sat on them forever and been number one. (I wouldn’t have discussed it on a popular podcast, either.)”

Good point. I think the real lesson here is that if you do buy a bunch of copies of your book to boost your numbers, don’t talk about it on a podcast.

Learn more about Big Enough.

Watching The Book Data

As Sachi will tell you, I am often preoccupied with data about our business. I spend a lot of time checking websites and dashboards to see how our projects are going. I love it, but it can also become an obsession. There have been times when my daily perception of myself and Common Craft were driven by data points. A few days of disappointing data would make me want to reassess our entire direction. It wasn’t healthy and over time Sachi convinced me to take a step back.

In Big Enough I wrote about the impact of the “Merchant Receipt” emails I received when someone signed up for Common Craft:

At Sachi’s insistence, I committed to making a big change: I turned those email notifications off. Sachi insisted that what was happening on a day-to-day basis was her business. She does micro, I do macro. She’s the CFO, I’m the creative director. I needed to focus on the future and what we could do to sell more memberships.

She was right. I had become so accustomed to the endorphin rushes that each day without them felt bland and uneventful. It seemed like there was nothing to celebrate. Eventually, I regained a better outlook and took a longer view of our work and direction. It was the right decision.

Big Enough, Chapter 7, A Platform of One’s Own

I still struggle. The emails may not arrive in my inbox, but I know where to find the data. My first book, The Art of Explanation, set off a similar habit. Multiple times a day I checked the Amazon Bestseller Rank to see how the book was doing. I still check it a few times a week. Now, Big Enough is occupying that part of my brain and I’m always cataloging where it lands on the list.

A bit of promotion regarding the ebook and pre-orders pushed Big Enough into the top 45k books and it has me feeling good. For a book that doesn’t come out for a couple of months, I’m encouraged.

Learn more about Big Enough.

Pre-Order the Big Enough eBook

I’ve always planned for Big Enough to be available in all formats but didn’t realize how important ebooks and audiobooks would be in the COVID-19 era. The pandemic is changing the book market as people are staying home and looking for digital alternatives. 

Last week, the Big Enough ebook appeared on all the major book websites. The ebook can be pre-ordered and will be available on September 15th. Find purchase options

It’s not surprising that the pandemic is helping ebook and audiobook sales:

Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy said that ebook sales were up 13% in the quarter, and sales are now running as much as 50% over the same time last year. Meanwhile print sales began to soften at the end of March and took a major hit in April, Reidy said, as most bookstores across the country had closed by that point.

And people who use digital alternatives to read more books per year

The National Endowment for the Arts issued a new report and found that adults who read ebooks and listen to audiobooks consumed the most books per year: a median of 10 compared to four for print-only readers. Print reading, though, is ceding to e-book reading and audiobook listening. In the survey, 44.5% of adults said they read or listened to books in digital formats and just 25.1% of adults stating that read print books alone. 

Find all Pre-order options.

Solo Stove for Backyard Fires

A couple of years ago, I became friends with RJ, our local Fire Marshall. RJ and his wife sometimes (used to) host summer parties that are outdoors and include a fire. This is where I first discovered the Solo Stove. It had the blessings of the Fire Marshall. 

Since then, the Solo Stove has become one of my favorite products because it makes backyard fires easy, safe, and clean. I often tell people that it’s an awesome piece of engineering, for what is essentially a fire pit. It’s portable and makes it easy to have a fire almost anywhere. 

What makes it work is ventilation. It’s designed to optimize air flow and burn hotter than a normal fire. There are holes around the bottom of the stove that pull fresh air into the chamber and circulate it to feed the fire from the bottom and sides. Sometimes it seems like the entire thing is filled with fire.

Solo Stove claims that it’s a “smokeless” fire option and I think it comes close. The heat it produces burns up particulate matter before it rises, which leads to less smoke. It’s made from stainless steel that can take a beating too. 

The only thing I don’t like is that it holds water when it rains and creates a messy slurry that drips when moved. This is the version we have. It’s not cheap, but it’s supposed to last a lifetime. 

The Search for Smart House Siding

For our house project, we are constantly looking for materials and products that we call “smart”. Today, smart often means something electronic, like a doorbell or light switch. In this case, smart means something different to us. We want our house to be made from sustainable materials that last multiple decades, are resistant to rot, and require very low maintenance. The dream is to identify beautiful products that last. To us, that’s smart.

From the beginning, we liked the idea of the house having a dark exterior, maybe even black. The idea of a dark, modern home, set in the pacific northwest woods seemed perfect. It’s easy enough to paint a house black, but we started to look into other options.

If you picture a Japanese village in your mind, you’re likely to imagine buildings with a dark brown or black appearance, with a lot of character. This appearance, comes, in part, from an ancient Japanese method of charring wood to make it more resilient. The final product is called “yakisugi” or “shou sugi ban”. The Japanese found that charring the wood gave a unique character that made it last longer. Today, people all over the world are using the same method for their homes.

Charring the wood does a few things.

  • It dries the wood and removes the carbohydrates that attract bugs, making it more bug resistant
  • It creates a fire-resistant barrier
  • It strengthens the boards
  • It reduces maintenance because it never needs to be painted. Over time, the wood remains strong even as appearance ages and takes on a patina as the underlying wood shows through.
  • It creates a look that’s both rustic and contemporary

We looked at composite siding like Hardie but felt it looked conventional and required painting. We started to ask around and found a company in Oregon called Nakamoto Forestry that specializes in yakisugi siding for a price comparable to Hardie. In talking to them, it became clear we’d found the product and source we needed.

A couple of weeks ago, the siding arrived on site. It was packaged in what could be described as a Japanese level of care, with each set of boards wrapped in wax paper, all stacked perfectly. The delivery person said it was the best packing they had ever seen.

One of Two Pallets

The process we chose was “gendai”, which means that after the wood is charred, it is brushed once. The wood itself is Japanese cypress or “sugi”, which Nakamoto claims is the only species that should be used. We chose the shiplap style board. Once the siding arrived we got our first look and it matched our expectations. It was black, with the character of charred wood.

For now, the siding is patiently waiting in the garage as the exterior is being prepared. In a matter of weeks, it will be applied and we’ll get to see it in action. I think the sugiyaki is going to be beautiful and smart for a long time into the future.

Here’s my amateur 3d model of how we expect it to look:

To see more posts about the house project, check out the house category.

Saying Thanks During a Pandemic

One of the first big challenges of marketing a book is getting endorsements or “blurbs” from influential people. It’s stressful because you are not only asking favors of people you admire, but you’re sharing the book for the first time. It’s easy to feel nervous about their perceptions.

I made a list of about 15 people and contacted them via email. To my surprise, nearly everyone responded. Some didn’t have time, but the majority agreed to read an early version of the book and provide an endorsement that’s used in at the beginning of the book and in marketing on bookseller websites, my website, and more.

I took on this project in February of 2020, expecting the book to come out in May. With the blurbs approved, I asked for each endorser’s mailing address and planned to send them a thank you card. Then, the pandemic hit, and the book’s release got pushed to September. I wanted to send them something as a thank you, but a card didn’t seem as safe as it once was.

So I made an animated gif for each person, using Common Craft artwork, and included it an email. Along with the gif, I included a photo of their blurb in the book. Here’s how it went:

I hope you are well. Normally, I’d send a card to say thanks for endorsing Big Enough, but I think we’re all better off using bits instead of atoms these days. So, I made this as a thank you:

Closing the loop on the endorsements is one more thing off a very long list. So, hooray for that and the people who took time to work with me on the blurbs.

lee lefever headshot

About Me

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

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