Thoughts on Mark Coker’s 2018 Publishing Industry Predictions

January is a time for making forecasts and predictions, and Mark Coker of Smashwords certainly did not disappoint. I have a lot of respect for Mark Coker, not only for being one of the pioneers of indie publishing, but for continuing to share his data and insights with us over the years.

That said, I have many much opinions.

Mark gets a lot of flak from authors for his anti-Amazon stance, which is nowhere crystalized quite so perfectly as his 2018 publishing industry predictions. Seriously, half the post is a massive litany against Amazon’s publishing practices that systematically recounts just about everything he sees wrong. It’s quite impressive.

Perhaps the most inflammatory thing he says is this:

Authors who now derive 100% of their sales from Amazon are no longer indie authors.  They’re dependent authors.   I suppose we have indie authors and de-authors now.

Here’s the thing, though: he isn’t wrong.

Back in 2010, when self-publishing was still considered by many to be the “kiss of death,” I read a post on a writing blog (I think it was Writer Beware) that said, basically: “if you’re taking the indie publishing route instead of traditional publishing, that makes you self-published. So call yourself a self-published author, because you are one.”

At first, I was really pissed off at that blogger. Couldn’t she see that there was a huge gulf between indie publishing and self-publishing? A year or two later, though, I had to concede that she had a point. I was bringing my own baggage to the table by insisting that indie publishing was separate and distinct from the dreaded “self-published” label. Today, I don’t give a damn whether or not a book is self-published, and I don’t think most readers do either.

It’s the same thing with Mark Coker’s “indie authors” and “de-authors.”

The truth is, if you depend on only one publisher or publishing platform for all of your writing income, then by definition you are dependent. It doesn’t make a difference whether that’s a traditional publisher or Amazon. If you want to be independent, then you have to cultivate multiple income streams from multiple sources. It’s that simple.

You’re still a self-published author, whether you do savvy ebooks and print-on-demand editions. or whether you did a 5,000 book print run with a vanity press that sits in your basement from now to eternity. You’re still a dependent author, whether you’re making a killing on Kindle Unlimited or whether you sold your copyright to a Big 5 publisher for a mess of pottage.

However, while I agree with Mark on that much, I disagree quite strongly on his conclusion that the government needs to break Amazon up. Oh, no. Hell no. It’s not different this time, Mark. The Luddites are still wrong.

The biggest publishing story of 2017 was that Amazon’s biggest enemy is… Amazon. Because it turns out that when you stop paying authors for single-book sales and instead pay them shares out of a massive fixed pot, it incentivizes scammers to find all sorts of interesting ways to game your system. And if your business model depends on automating as much of your website backend and customer service as possible, you can’t fix the scamming problem without pissing off indie (and not-so-indie) writers everywhere.

It’s going to take a while for all this to shake out, but I do believe that indie writers will come out on top—so long as Amazon’s competitors in the publishing world step up and actually compete.

Stop whining about Amazon, Mark, and bring your damn website out of the late 90s.

With that out of the way, here are Mark’s predictions, with my thoughts.

1.  2018 will be another challenging year for the book industry

Has there ever been a year in which this hasn’t been the case? Long before KDP, Smashwords, or any other epublishing platform was invented, all of the best books have been up on the internet for free. Movies, TV, video games—we’ve always competed with these things for reader attention, and always will. I don’t see anything that makes 2018 different in that regard.

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the book industry will stabilize and grow—not as measured by traditional metrics like Nielsen Bookscan, but in non-traditional metrics like the Author Earnings Report. Why? Because books are counter-cyclical, and we’re already overdue for the next recession. The stock market is melting up, the yield curve is flattening, inflation is already hitting real estate, healthcare, and education, and the geopolitical situation is a nest of potential black swans.

I don’t think 2018 will be the year when shit hits the fan—I expect that will happen in Trump’s second term, sometime around 2021 or 2022. If nothing else, the tax cuts have applied palliative care to our economy. But the debt will continue to grow, the deficits will get worse, and inflation is going to hit the average consumer in a massive way this year.

All of this bodes well for books.

2.  The glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks will get worse

Please, Mark. The Tsunami of crap was never a problem to begin with. Like I said above, long before epublishing was a thing, the best books ever written in the history of the world were already available, for free, through sites like Project Gutenberg.

There’s still plenty of opportunity for new authors. The Childlike Empress still needs a new name. The Nothing is not going to swallow Fantastica. If you know how to swim, you can still swim just as well, whether the water’s ten or ten thousand feet deep.

3.  Barnes & Noble is sick and will get sicker

I can see this happening. I haven’t been following Barnes & Noble too closely, but they failed pretty hard with the Nook and their corporate troubles haven’t been good for the bottom line. At this point, though, Barnes & Noble is dead wood that needs to burn in order for something else to come up in its place.

4.  Kobo’s sales will falter

I don’t think they will. Kobo is much bigger in the international markets than Amazon, and the economic problems are worse overseas than they are here in the States (which means that conditions are better for books). I think Kobo will do just fine, though I’m not sure that Smashwords books on Kobo will do as well.

Kobo is still innovating, with things like Kobo Plus and the promotions tab on KWL. Mark Lefebvre had a good run, but I think it’s a good thing that they’ve got some new blood coming in. I predict that Kobo will do just fine.

5.  Devaluation pressures will persist

Again, I completely disagree with Mark Coker on this one. Ebook prices for indie books have actually stabilized over the past few years, and with increasing inflation, I predict they will tend to rise in 2018, though not in a dramatic way.

Once you get below a certain price point, competing on price really doesn’t make much of a difference, and I think a lot of successful indies understand this. Also, books are not fungible. When I make time to read, I don’t want just any book—I want that book. So long as it costs me less than a good meal, price be damned.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that all else being equal, power readers are drawn to lower-priced books. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that these power readers are king makers, but it’s not too far from the truth. That said, the way to get around this is to run periodic sales and promotions, just like any other industry.

Come on, Mark. Just because your book is $5.99 doesn’t mean you can’t mark it down to free or 99¢ every once and a while.

6.  Single-copy ebook sales will decline

On Smashwords, perhaps. I’m not convinced that they will generally.

For the entertainment value, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to buy a book (especially an indie book) than it is to buy a video game or a movie. Because of that, books tend to be counter-cyclical. The real economy is not doing as well as the official numbers say: households are still under massive pressure, with debt at unprecedented levels and wages shrinking as adjusted for price inflation. I predict that this trend will continue in 2018.

I haven’t seen the data on this, but if I had to speculate, I would say that power readers tend toward subscription models for books, whereas casual readers tend toward single-copy book sales. I would also speculate that power readers are less responsive to economic shocks than casual readers—they’re going to read whether or not their pocketbook is getting squeezed. Again, I haven’t seen the data for this, but if I had to plant a flag, that is where I’d plant it.

Are single-copy sales cannibalized by book subscriptions? To an extent, yes, but I think we’ve already hit something of a floor. If the economic pressures on the middle class worsen and we see an influx of casual readers into the market, I think single-copy sales will start to bounce back. As I see it, there’s a lot more room on the upside than the downside.

7.  Romance authors will feel the most pain from KU

Can’t speak to that, as I’m not a romance author. But based on Amazon’s missteps in 2017, I think KU will actually see a decline as authors continue to flee and scammers continue to dominate. Again, I don’t see much more room on the downside for things to fall.

8.  Large traditional publishers will reduce commitment to romance

And large traditional publishers will continue to shove their heads up their backsides, so no one in the indie publishing world will care. Kris Rusch wrote a much more lengthy analysis where she says as much.

9.  Email list fatigue

Totally disagree. The guys over at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast discussed this recently, and the conclusion they came to is that authors who claim that email lists don’t work as well as they used to are doing it wrong.

That said, I could see a bit of a shakeout as readers who have signed up for every author’s list go through and cull their inboxes. And I could also see a stabilization and/or decline in sites like InstaFreebie that offer free books in exchange for signing up for an author’s list. But I don’t think this will translate into declining effectiveness of email lists generally.

In contrast, I predict that email lists will continue to be the most effective marketing tool for the vast majority of authors, myself included. My list has never been larger, and never been more effective at selling books.

10.  Pressure will build to drop author royalties

I could see this happening. That said, the pessimists in the industry have been predicting this for years, and I don’t see why it would happen now. In fact, if it did happen now, it would create a great opportunity for competing publishing platforms.

Amazon may be the big dog in the publishing industry, but they don’t have their house in order. The KU scamming scandals of 2017 demonstrated this quite clearly. If Amazon were to cut author royalties, it would hurt KU authors the most, and really bite Amazon in the ass long-term.

It’s not a bad idea to have contingency plans in place, in case something like this happens. That said, I don’t think Amazon’s position is strong enough to pull it off.

11.  Audiobooks will be a big story in 2018

This, I can see happening. From what I can tell, audiobooks are experiencing explosive growth, which will continue as more competitors like Findaway Voices find a place in the market, and more indie books come out of their exclusivity agreements with Audible. I really need to figure out how to put out audiobook versions of all my books.

12.  Audible will face increased competition

This is already happening, and I believe it will continue. Perhaps we will see more pressure to raise author royalties for audiobooks than we will see pressure to lower author royalties for ebooks.

13.  Readers will still pay for books worth reading

Yes, indeed. In other news, the sun will continue to rise in the east, people will continue to grow old, and teenagers will continue to believe that they are the very first ones to discover human sexuality.

14.  New subscription services will be introduced

I’m very interested in this one. Mark is in a much better position to see these things coming than I am, and if he’s right, that would be very big news indeed.

Will it be a game changer? I don’t think so, but I half expect to be wrong. Right now, my books are on Scribd and Kobo Plus, and I haven’t seen much of an effect, but subscription services tend to shake up every industry where they take root, and ebooks aren’t an exception.

That said, I don’t think that any new book subscription services will dramatically change my own indie publishing business in 2018. I hope to be proven wrong.

15.  Calls will grow in the US for antitrust action against Amazon

Fat chance, Mark. If anything, Walmart and Home Depot are going to eat Amazon’s lunch. The “Amazon effect” has been greatly exaggerated: truth is, the retail sector is just full of dead wood after a decade of easy credit, stock buybacks, and government bailouts.

Trump is going to defy expectations and win a second term. The Republicans may lose the House in 2018, but I don’t think they will. As for the Senate, almost all of the seats up for election are currently held by Democrats. The Russiagate narrative is coming apart, the Clinton Foundation is once again under investigation, tax cuts are coming, and #MeToo is causing the Left to eat their own. I think the Republicans are going to have a good year.

If calls for anti-trust action against Amazon grow, they will fall on increasingly deaf ears. Thank goodness.

16.  Indies will reassert control over platform

More to the point, Twitter and Facebook will generally decline, while sites like Steemit and Weme will pick up the slack.

If indies do take control of their own platforms, it will be through things like blogs and email lists, which runs contrary to Mark’s prediction in #9. However, I half expect a shakeup in social media to lead to a mass migration of authors to some new site, once the first movers experience huge success.

I’m not sure of this one. It could go either way. Barring the rise of the next Facebook, I think Mark may be right. But I consider it just as likely that we see Facebook go the way of MySpace as something else takes over.

17.  Indie authors will take a closer look at podcasting to reach new readers

Not a bad idea. I doubt it will take off generally, but a few authors will certainly find new opportunities here—especially authors who are also invested in producing their own audiobooks. Could shake things up a bit.

Overall, while I tend to disagree with Mark’s 2018 predictions, he raises some interesting points to consider. Here are some predictions of my own:

  1. I will continue to write new books.
  2. I will continue to publish new books.
  3. A lot of new readers will discover my books.
  4. My email list will more than double.
  5. I will fall behind on this blog more than I should.
  6. I will continue to listen to Sabaton.

Response to Correia’s awesome rant on fans vs. authors

So Larry Correia wrote an awesome rant the other day about fan entitlement and writing professionalism. The thing that set him off was a discussion on his author Facebook page where a bunch of readers were castigating Patrick Rothfuss for taking 6+ years to write his next book. A bunch of them started arguing that authors have a moral obligation to their readers to finish their books, and Larry called bullshit.

Do I have opinions? Why, yes, thank you for asking.

For the most part, I think Larry is spot on, especially about how free market capitalism is the best solution to this problem. Basically, books are just a product—nothing more, nothing less. Readers buy the product, and authors create it. When a reader buys a book, that’s all they’re buying. When an author writes a book, that’s all they’re creating. The free market works things out. The problems only arise when readers think they’re entitled to something more than what they’ve bought, or when authors think they’re entitled to more than what they’ve earned.

As a libertarian sci-fi writer, I could go on and on about the virtues of the free market and how capitalism is the best and most righteous economic system ever invented by man, but for now I’ll save that zeal for my fiction. In particular, there’s a short story recently I wrote for a $12,000 writing contest that is sure to lose because it shows just how evil and destructive a universal basic income would actually be. But I digress.

I know people mean well. I know people think they are helping. I know that you think it is a compliment. Maybe the first couple hundred times, but then after that it becomes a continual droning whine.

If a writer still bothers to post on social media to interact with their fans, and they post about them doing anything, literally anything other than writing, somebody inevitably is going to jump in and say “YOU SHOULD BE WRITING!”

The really sad part you helpful entitled types don’t get is that other stuff non-writing stuff is a vital part of the creative process. Since most of what authors do is in their heads, they never really stop working. So when I’m shooting guns, or painting minis, that is the activity that I do to uncork my brain, so that I can go put in another day of creating imaginary stuff tomorrow.

Authors either have a life outside of writing, or they burn out. Or, alternatively, they just check out and don’t interact with their fans anymore. Because even though there are a hundred cool fans for every entitled whiny douche, the entitled whiny douche is the one that sticks out.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I’m not at a point in my career yet where I have thousands of rabid-at-the-mouth fans screaming at me constantly to get back to work, but I can definitely see how it gets old.

Also, writers genuinely do need to refill the creative well from time to time. To an outside observer, it might look like we’re dicking around, but in reality we’re noodling out our next story, so that when we do sit down to write, the words actually come.

If you think that writing is as easy as sitting down at a keyboard and mashing out words, you might as well kidnap your favorite author, break his legs, and chain him to a typewriter in your basement.

To My Fellow Authors

Get your shit together.

Seriously, act like a professional. In any other job in the world, if you wasted all your time fucking around and didn’t get any work done, you’d get fired. Writer’s Block is a filthy lie. I couldn’t have Accountant’s Block. Oh, woe is me, I can’t make these spreadsheets because I’m just not feeling it today—FIRED.

But if you’re honestly working, and you’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got, you don’t have to take shit off of entitled douches.

The trouble with writing is that it isn’t always clear when the work is done. I’ve had multiple award-winning author friends tell me at conventions that they’re impressed with how prolific I am, and yet I never—NEVER—feel like my work is done.

I totally agree with Larry that if you want to write professionally, you have to treat it like an actual profession. Right now, I’m retooling my writing process so that I can put out two or three times as many books. “Writer’s block” is not an entitlement or a badge of honor. It’s a disease.

This YouTube video is the best take I’ve seen on the subject. I watch it over and over again, sometimes every day. Whenever I don’t think I can meet my next deadline. Whenever I feel like there’s something repelling me from sitting down to write. Rewatching this video gives me a burning desire to finish my WIP, look that resistance in the face, and scream “rest in peace, motherfucker!” I swear, I should get that woodburned on a plaque and hang it over my desk. Best motivation ever.

Screw writer’s block. Screw all that artsy fartsy crap. There’s nothing quite so awesome as looking at your name on a book cover and thinking “yeah, I wrote that.” It never gets old.

I remember a couple years ago when I ran into a really successful author, dude was on top of the world, just got home from a successful book tour, latest book was a huge hit… and he was bummed. I’m talking super depressed. Why? Because Lone Douche in the Wilderness had just ripped him apart on Facebook, and that negativity was enough to screw up all his previous happiness.

Do not give douchebags power over you. Don’t ever let people impose their arbitrary and capricious rules onto you.

To be frankly honest, this is one of the reasons why I don’t do social media anymore. Not because I have a thin skin or can’t take criticism. Not because of a specific instance where someone was a douchebag to me, either. Rather, it was more of a recognition that if I didn’t change course, I would become that douchebag—if indeed I hadn’t already.

There’s something about our current iterations of social media that seems to bring out the worst in people. Twitter in particular is insanely toxic. Future historians (and historical fiction writers) are going to have a heyday writing about all of the online meltdowns of our most prominent cultural and political figures, right up to President Trump himself. It’s a daily occurance at this point, sadly. And yet, the more I look at it, the more it seems that the only winning move in social media is not to play.

Which is not to say that I don’t want to keep in touch with my fans. That’s what this blog and my email list are for. But speaking as a reader for a moment, when I buy a book, I’m not trying to strike up a friendship with the guy who wrote it. I’m just buying a book. Neither am I particularly interested in hearing about whatever social or political cause set them off on a rant today. I just want to read the damn book.

It’s called free market capitalism, and it makes everything so much simpler. If a book looks interesting, I’ll buy it. If I like it, I’ll buy more from the same author. It’s cool and all to feel like we have a connection, but at the end of the day, it’s just books. And readers. And the free market.

Anyways. That’s my take on Larry’s epic rant. Writers and readers, be excellent to each other. That is all.

To escape or to engage

A couple of weeks ago, I finally sat down and wrote a (semi-) formal business plan. It was an enlightening experience. I’ve kept it all organized in many different ways, but writing it all down in one place allows me to step back and take a wider look at what I do.

No business plan is complete without a mission statement. Here is mine:

To write and publish fiction that serves the truth, expands minds and hearts, and empowers my readers to be better men and women for reading my books.

To serve, expand, and empower. All of the books that have profoundly affected my life, from Ender’s Game and Lord of the Rings to The Neverending Story and A Wrinkle in Time, did those things.

“That’s very high and lofty, Joe, but what about just writing damn good stories that entertain people?” I don’t actually see a contradiction there. All of the best stories I’ve read that served, expanded, and empowered me were only able to do so because they entertained me first.

Entertainment is an important part of what I do. So is escapism. I have no idea how J.R.R Tolkien voted in the 1930s and 40s, nor do I care to know. I have a pretty good idea how Orson Scott Card voted in the 90s and 00s, but not from reading Ender’s Game. Sometimes I read authors for their politics (Ringo, Heinlein, Correia), but I didn’t read The Last Centurion to decide how I would vote in the last election; I read it because leading a stranded cavalry division across a post-apocalyptic Middle East sounded like a damn good story.

The surest way to kill a good story is to try to cram a message through it. The best stories never do this. They serve as a mirror that allows the reader to see themselves more clearly, whoever they may be. That’s what makes them timeless.

The world is becoming an increasingly scary and violent place. In the coming months, I expect that things will get a lot worse. This puts me in an interesting position. Should I try to write stories that engage with what’s happening in the world, or stories that provide an escape from it?

Or is there a contradiction between the two?

There’s a lot of outrage on social media from people who are trying to engage with the problems they see in the world. Unfortunately, the louder their outrage becomes, the more they seem to be part of the problem and not a solution to it. That’s part of why I deleted my Twitter account and radically scaled back my Facebook usage.

Does lashing out at injustice really make the world a better place? Adding outrage to outrage, pointing out everything that’s wrong? There’s a time and a place for that, sure. But there’s also a time and a place to disengage.

When times get hard, people need an emotional escape. That’s why they turn to things like sports, or movies, or books. But when this media instead tries to engage by bringing in politics or social justice or whatever, it deprives people of their escape. We see it all the time with the virtue signalling in Hollywood, or the issue dropping in TV and movies, or whatever the hell ESPN has become.

I don’t want to go that route. Not with my books, not with this blog—not with any aspect of my career. It’s tempting, sure, and I’ve flirted with it in the past, but it’s time to pull back. I may be convinced of my own views and opinions, but that’s not why I write. You don’t serve the truth by forcing it on other people. You don’t expand minds and hearts with moral outrage. You don’t empower people to become better by telling them that they’re wrong.

With the way the world is going, I think the best thing I can do is to focus less on trying to engage with it and more on providing an escape from it, through my books. Ultimately, I think that’s a better and more effective way to change the world.

Thoughts on the violence in Charlottesville

No one is right in any of this.

I tend to lean to the “right,” but it’s a completely different “right” than any of the protesters at this event. Constitutional conservatives and classical liberals are both increasingly endangered species in this country, and that’s a problem. Nothing in our Constitution supports Nazism and white nationalism.

Radical Islamic terrorism is evil, and needs to be called by its name. So does White supremacist terrorism and neo-Nazism. So does Black supremacism ala Black Lives Matter. So does neo-fascism and radical anarchism ala Antifa. All of it is evil. All of it needs to be named and recognized as such.

We live in a world where words and hate speech and so-called “micro-aggressions” are called violence, but where real violence is legitimized if it’s in the service of political ends. This needs to stop. The first step to stopping it is to call evil by its name. No one in Charlottesville this weekend was on the side of truth or righteousness. They were both fighting for two sides of the same evil coin.

Sarah Hoyt thinks this is our Fort Sumpter moment. I disagree. It may be our Harper’s Ferry moment, but I thought that the Oregon standoff was one of those, and apparently it wasn’t. Perhaps it’s just another wake up call, like the Washington DC baseball shooter who miraculously failed to kill any of his targets.

Regardless of what kind of moment Charlottesville was for this country, we need to wake up and take a step back from the brink.

I’m actually quite optimistic about this. None of those bozos represent the vast majority of us. We’re better than that. We’re the country that saved the world twice, from Nazism and from Communism. Yes, we don’t have a perfect track record, but Churchill was right: you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after we’ve tried everything else.

There’s a lot of scary stuff happening in the world right now, but I’m actually not too alarmed. We’ve been through worse. We’ll pull through this, “we” being those who are prepared. If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.

Take care of yourself, dear reader. And thanks, as always, for reading.

The thousand year view

How will your life impact the world in a thousand years?

It’s an easy question to dismiss. After all, how can one person possibly shape the course of history? Even if we accept the impact of certain great men, how can we have the hubris to think that we might one day join them?

But the truth is that our lives have more impact than we realize. Each one of us is literally a product of our ancestors. Their decisions, for good or for evil, have put us where we are today. We also have a hand in shaping the people we come into contact with. That impact can be felt through multiple degrees of separation—and how many degrees does it take to encompass the world?

In the year 1017, Europe was rising out of the ashes of the Viking age. Kievan Rus was ascendant in the east, vying with the Romans who dominated the religion and commerce of Europe (we know them today as the Byzantines). However, tensions were rising between Constantinople and the bishopric of Rome, where one of the last vestiges of the Roman state in the West would soon break communion and form the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, an apocalyptic Muslim death cult known as the Fatimids had swept from North Africa all the way to Baghdad, the cultural and scientific capital of the world. From the harsh steppe wilderness of central asia, the Seljuk Turks were building an empire that would save Baghdad from destruction, while in China, the Song dynasty had invented the first paper currency.

In short, it was a completely different world. How different will things look a thousand years from now?

By the year 3017, we will probably have established an independent colony on Mars. Other parts of the solar system will probably also be colonized, and we may have even begun our expansion to the stars. After all, faster than light starship drives are about as fantastic to us as cars, airplanes, and space stations would be for medieval serfs.

It is highly unlikely that the United States—or any other country, for that matter—will exist with its current borders. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that the majority of countries extant today will even exist at all. China is probably an exception, but let’s not forget that China is a civilization pretending to be a country.

Pessimists will say that there’s a good chance humanity won’t exist at all. They point to things like climate change, pandemics, and global war as challenges we may not overcome. But in the last millennium, we faced all those challenges and rose above them (little ice age, Mongol hordes, black plague). Same with the millennium before (extreme weather and crop failures of 535-536, Muslim conquests, plague of Justinian).

So how will your life impact the world a thousand years from now? What sort of impact do you want your life to have? How have the things you’ve done today brought you closer to leaving that legacy?

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few weeks. I want to impact the world through my books, but it’s unlikely that most of my books will still exist. My family and descendants will, though. I want to leave them with the best foundation I can. Here’s how I plan to do it:

Step One: Master the Basics of Provident Living

Provident living is more than just learning how to do your laundry and keep up with the maintenance of your car. It’s learning how to live sustainably, with a degree of self-reliance that can see you and the ones you love through hard times. It’s all the stuff I’ve been writing about in the Self-Sufficient Writer blog series.

I’ve made a lot of progress in this area, but there’s still a lot of progress left to make. Here are the next few steps I want to take in this area:

  1. Establish a rotating 90-day food storage for dry goods.
  2. Establish a herb garden.
  3. Expand food storage to canned goods.
  4. Buy a chest freezer and expand to meats and dairy.
  5. Plant a garden and expand to fresh fruits and vegetables.
  6. Learn how to can.
  7. Learn how to hunt.
  8. Begin keeping livestock (chickens, goats, etc).

A lot of these steps are going to have to wait until I have my own land, which brings us to:

Step Two: Live Debt-Free and Own the Place Where You Live

When you live on someone else’s land and owe them a portion of your labor, that’s a form of serfdom. In both historic and modern times, this has been the norm for the vast majority of people.

It shouldn’t be.

When my ancestors came from Europe to the United States, one of the first things they did was buy land. There was a reason for this. In the old country, they were serfs. They paid the corvée. They were not free.

They knew that unless they lived on land that they owned, in a home that was theirs, their children would not be free either.

We’ve enjoyed a century of prosperity in the United States. It’s led us to believe that home loans and mortgage payments are normal. They aren’t. When your home is the collateral for a loan you’ve taken from the bank, and you spend most of your adult life paying it back to the tune of 250%, that is a modern form of serfdom.

Until you own it outright, your house is a liability, not an asset. And in some places, true ownership is impossible. After all, if the government has the power to seize your house for non-payment of taxes, did you really ever “own” it to begin with?

It’s a similar thing with debt. All debt is a form of bondage. “Leverage” is when someone else has control over you or something that belongs to you. Unless you can get out from under it, you will never truly be free.

If most of your life is spent in serfdom and bondage, the thousand-year impact of your life will be muted.

The Habsburg dynasty started with a small castle on the top of a hill. From that starting point, the family went on to shape the development of Europe into the modern world. The castle was so important in that effort that the family took their name from it.

I know how to live debt-free. I’ve been doing it for several years. But I do not currently live in a place that I own. That is my overriding goal: to own the place where I live within ten years.

The government isn’t making it easy. Neither are the central banks. A decade of 0% interest rates has ravaged the middle class. As a direct consequence, home ownership rates are dropping to historic lows. 70% of Millennials have less than $1,000 saved for a down payment on a house, while at the same time, the helicopter money from the Fed has inflated a new housing bubble larger than the one that burst in ’08. In California, Google employees with six-figure incomes are living out of RVs because they can’t afford to buy a house.

It’s brutal. These are the same economic pressures that led to the rise of medieval serfdom in Europe. But there are also opportunities, for those who know how to take advantage of them. Which leads to:

Step Three: Build Multi-Generational Wealth

Poor people buy luxuries. Middle class people buy necessities. Rich people buy investments. If I want to leave something behind for my children and descendants, I need to master the skills of investing and managing wealth.

This goes back to the thousand-year view. The biggest impact I’m probably going to make on the world is going to be through my children and descendants. Raising them will be the most important investment I can ever make. I want to give them a life of opportunity, so that they, like me, can make a thousand-year impact on the world.

This is what my ancestors did for me. My Mormon ancestors crossed the plains in the Willie handcart company so that their descendants could grow up in Zion. My first-generation immigrant Czech ancestors invested in Texas farmland that still pays a small dividend to their descendants (greatly increased now because of oil royalties). There are many other countless others who made great sacrifices so that I could enjoy a life of privilege and opportunity. I’m sure that’s not unique to me.

We seem to have forgotten, here in the United States, how important it is to make sure that our children enjoy better lives than we have. To some generations much is given, while of others much is required. I fear that we are transitioning from the former to the latter. Nations are born stoic and die epicurean, surrounded by mountains of debt.

This is why it is so important to build wealth: not for your own personal consumption, but for the security of your children and descendants.

The most important investment you can make is in your education. If I’m going to develop these skills, that’s what I need to do: invest in my own financial education.

I also need to learn by experience, so I’m taking $100 of my book earnings each month and investing them. I’ll probably experience a couple of big losses, but that’s called paying tuition. The knowledge I gain from doing this will hopefully help to accomplish this goal: to build wealth that will bless the lives of my children and descendants for generations to come.

A lot of things fall into perspective when you take the thousand-year view. When you focus on the challenges of the present, it’s easy to become pessimistic, but when you take a clear-eyed look at the future—not just the immediate future, but the long-term future as well—you cannot help but take an optimistic view.

How will your life impact the world in a thousand years?