Authors Beware of deals that seem too good to be true – they are just that!

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There’s been a number of articles on various sites about publishers who hook unwary authors into contracts that give nothing in return. Many indie authors have fallen into this trap—I include myself, unfortunately, in that number.

 

When I was working on my first book length manuscript, a book on leadership that I was encouraged to write by a young man who worked for me as my speech writer when I was U.S. ambassador to Cambodia (2002-2005). After slaving over the manuscript for nearly three years, I went searching for a publisher.

 

I encountered an ad from PublishAmerica, a Maryland-based small imprint that, unlike the many vanity publishers advertising at the time, touted the fact that they PAID authors for their work instead of asking for payment. Knowing, or at least suspecting, that the book I’d written would have limited appeal, it didn’t sound like a bad deal, so I submitted it.

 

A few weeks later I received an email advising me that my book was accepted for publication. Attached to the email was a contract. Naïve in the ways of publishing, I unwisely didn’t have that contract read by a lawyer before signing it. From what I’d read, it didn’t seem to bad – the advance was paltry (a mere $1.00), and I was locked into an 8-year commitment. But, the book would be published, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

 

It was published, but from that point on, it was a nightmare. The cover was somewhat amateurish—even then, just learning the art of designing book covers, I could’ve done a better job. The price was a bit high, I thought, but again, I was new to all this and didn’t know any better. I was encouraged to buy copies for myself at a measly discount from the inflated cover price. The royalties were also small; something like 8% of the cover price (compare that to the 75% you can get publishing it yourself through the Kindle Direct Program, or even the rather generous percentage you get when you publish a paperback through CreateSpace). They did, at least, list it on all the major book-seller sites; Amazon, etc.

 

Surprisingly, there were a few early sales, and I even got it included in a couple of libraries (The U.S. State Department Library, and my college library, to name two). A few people I met at conferences, who had read it, also informed me that they’d purchased copies to use in their management training programs. Despite this, my royalty checks over the past eight-plus years have yet to exceed $50. Looking back, when I compare this to the $100 per month I get through KDP, and an average of $30 per month through CreateSpace and other sales of paperbacks, I can see that what seemed at the time to be ‘too good to be true,’ in fact was just that.

 

The eight years in the contract are up now, and you would assume, as implied in the contract, my book rights belong to me. Guess again.

 

PublishAmerica changed its name to AmericaStar, in an effort, I believe, to attract foreign indie authors, but its practices remain the same. It does nothing to promote the books it accepts, beyond importuning the author regularly to buy copies, and lately it has done something that seals its fate as far as I’m concerned.

 

Over the past 60 days, I’ve been getting emails from AmericaStar nee PublishAmerica, informing me that the company is getting out of the publishing business and going full time to book promotion. In doing so, it plans to sell the rights to the books it holds to another ‘Indie’ publisher, but I can get them assigned to me for a modest fee of $199—it said in the initial emails that this was to cover the cost of removing it from selling platforms, etc.

 

At first, I couldn’t believe they would have the gall to do something like this, so I just ignored the first four or five emails. Then, they said, if I couldn’t afford $199, for a few days I could get my rights back for a mere $149. Again, I ignored them. A week later, another email, informing me that I had only two days to BUY my rights back, and they were doing me a big favor by reducing the cost to $99.  Thoroughly steamed by now, I just filed the emails away and went on to other projects.

 

The latest are . . . funny, pathetic, I’m not sure how to characterize them. I now have 24 hours to obtain the rights to my own work for $79. If I fail to do this, someone else (as yet unknown) will own the rights to my book, and they can’t promise what the buyer will do with these rights.

 

Thankfully, I’ve self-published scores of books since my first mistake, and while I’m not on any best-seller lists, and not getting rich from it, I’m enjoying fairly regular sales, and getting some pretty solid reviews. As for buying the rights back to my own work—I’m in wait-and-see mode. If the last email is correct, I will probably be hearing from the mysterious new publisher someday soon with a request that I buy my book, or something equally ridiculous.

 

I’ve written that book off as a lost cause, and a lesson learned. Never were the words caveat emptor more appropriate.

The solar eclipse wows the Big Apple

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Asnycnow Radio

Viewing the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse on Park Avenue, NYC>

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Review of ‘Murder is only a Number’

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DCI Isaac Cook and his team are after a woman who is stalking London, killing men, and carving a number in each victim’s chest. They know the identity of the killer, but are unable to ascertain her motive, or find her. Cook is on the hot seat, at odds with a new commissioner at the Met, who is after him as much as the killer.

Murder is only a Number by Phillip Strang is the third book in the DCI Cook thriller series. The author takes the reader step-by-bloody-step through a chilling tale of murder and revenge, with a background of bureaucratic intrigue, that will keep you flipping pages until the end.

This is a bit more disturbing than the first two books in the series, but it provides more background on the main protagonist, as it explores his struggles with balancing his professional and personal lives. The antagonist is chillingly portrayed, but with a measure of empathy that makes her supremely real—and, all the more frightening.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Sister Witchcraft’

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Mimi AuClair moved from L.A. back to her home town of Lafay to reopen her grandmother’s tea shop. Her older sister, Sybil, is not too happy about the prospect, much preferring that her two younger sisters not upset her nice, normal suburban existence with her husband and two young daughters. To add to Mimi’s problems, the Jigg sisters, owners of the town’s other tea shop, are determined to prevent the competition. The Jigg sisters, Mimi learns, are witches, who also are on the town council, and are willing to go to great lengths to sabotage her grand opening. She’s not completely helpless, though, being a witch herself, and from a long line of witches, and she has her grandmother’s familiar, a wise-cracking black cat, to help her. Things go awry when a customer, the town troublemaker, dies from poison at the opening, and the police, at first, suspect her.

Sister Witchcraft by J.D. Winters and Dakota Kahn is a short book; it can be read in less than an hour; that is thoroughly delightful. An interesting cast of characters, and scenes that would play extremely well in an animated movie, will make you wish it was even longer.

I read this book on a dreary, rainy day. The weather and witchcraft gave me goose pimples, but Mimi’s antics kept me laughing. If you’re looking for a short, entertaining read, get this book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Loose Ends’

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A young girl is kidnapped in broad daylight. Her mother hires California ‘Cal’ Corwin, an ex-cop turned PI, to find her. As Cal delves into the case, she finds herself in a face-off with a shadowy crime figure, and family secrets that someone might kill to keep secret.

Loose Ends by D. D. VanDyke is a fun read, with plenty of action, and a flawed protagonist who must struggle with her own demons as she works to rescue the kidnap victim before she becomes just another statistic, and others die. Hard-nosed dialogue and colorful settings will keep you reading until the climax. Corwin is a character that you might not like too much, but you’ll find yourself hard-pressed not to cheer for her as she fumbles and stumbles her way through a case that’s not what it seems at first.

I give VanDyke four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Big Numbers’

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Stockbroker Austin Carr is about to be killed in a most unusual way, he’s strapped into a deep-sea fishing rig, trussed and helpless, and about to be dragged to a watery grave by a giant bluefin tuna. In what’s also a somewhat unusual technique, the author, without identifying Carr’s assailant, flashes back three weeks and takes the reader through the events leading up to this in media res opening.

The reader learns that Carr’s wise mouth and often questionable choices during this time has created a rather long list of people who might want him dead, and it’s only as one approaches the last third of the book that the identity of the would-be killer becomes apparent, from which point, the story proceeds to a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Big Numbers by Jack Getze is the premiere offering in a mystery series about a wise-cracking stockbroker who can’t stay out of trouble, and who is just one step away from being a ‘broke’ stockbroker. The main character is flawed, and all too human, thus loveable, and the setting adds to the story.

An entertaining story. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Murder at the Bellamy Mansion’

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Historic preservationist Ashley Wilkes, honeymooning with her husband, Jon, agrees to take on the job of restoring the historic Bellamy Mansion. What should be a routine job turns deadly when a sniper shoots one of her contractors, and later, a body is found in the mansion’s old cistern. Someone’s stalking anyone trying to preserve the old mansion, but can Ashley determine who before she becomes the next victim?

Murder at the Bellamy Mansion by Ellen Elizabeth Hunter is a slow-paced, yet tense mystery, that moves with a southern rhythm, but stings like a yellow jacket. The settings are well limned, and the characters, from my own experience in that region of the country, credible.

This makes for a nice weekend read. I give it four stars.

 

Review of ‘Transitory’

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Nate Maddox, taking a well-earned holiday on a distant moon, is reliving events from his past, when a stranger with murderous intent interrupts his vacation. With the help of mysterious strangers, he tries to determine the identity and motives of the killer, while evading him, only to learn that his true enemy is closer than he’d ever thought.

Transitory by Ian Williams is fun-to-read, escapist entertainment. Great dialogue and interesting action, and the aliens are intriguing—though their motives are a bit difficult to define. A good way to spend a lazy afternoon.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death’

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A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death by J.R. Archer is a multi-layered book. On the surface, it’s a collection of stories of man’s best friends and how we relate to our canine companions. Below the surface, though, is a complex dissection of the roles that animals play in our lives and us in theirs, coupled with philosophical and ethical questions that readers must answer for themselves. There is a premise in the book that animals communicate telepathically, not only with each other, but with humans, who might or might not realize it. The author provides the ‘voices’ of the animals in a way that makes sense, and the way they communicate ranges from the seemingly basic and instinctive, to intellectually evolved. These are animals that are at once in our service, but also portrayed as more advanced, and more at peace. The themes in this book are heavy, and the reader should expect to run the full gamut of emotions. Evoking the deepest of existential quandaries through the eyes of our four-legged friends, J.R. Archer has crafted a tale that will be easily relatable while making you ask the tough questions.

The book is well-written and well-edited, and the characters are well-drawn. The humans in the book are at varying stages in their lives, and each is facing a conflict of personal struggle of some kind. The role that dogs play in their lives is different for each, but the dogs often take on the position of empathetic but removed observer, asking spiritual questions and pontificating on the motivations and fears of their ‘masters.’ I put ‘masters’ in quotes because, as previously mentioned, this book will make you ask who the truly evolved life form is. The setting compliments the chaotic nature of the humans’ world, and Archer paints a New York City that is bustling and unforgiving. The stories move along at a quick pace, and it was easy to get through several in a sitting. While the subject matter is tough, the book itself is digestible. This is a book that will grab your attention, but refuses to hold your hand. While each character’s story arc ends in a satisfying conclusion, readers will find that many of the queries raised in the book will have to be answered by the readers themselves. While this is a book that will appeal most to animal lovers, there is something here for everyone. This is easily a five-star read.

I received a free copy of this book.

Review of ‘Cleaver Square’

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On a bleak winter day, the body of a child is found near the Old River Lea. As DCI David Morton struggles to identify the dead child, he finds himself torn between doing what’s right and what’s legal.

Cleaver Square by Daniel Campbell and Sean Campbell is the second book in the DCI Morton series, and it continues the great storytelling that was the hallmark of the first book. Intense drama and thought-provoking situations will keep you reading, and will make you think.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Blank’

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Lincoln Delabar was born without a face; quite literally, a smooth expanse on the front of his head, with only two holes where his nostrils would be, through which he breathes and takes sustenance, liquids which he cannot taste. But, as with all things, when a door closes, a window opens. Lincoln, or Blank, as his father dubbed him, has other abilities. He can sense electrical energy, enabling him to ‘see’ things around him, and he can ‘connect’ with people who touch his face, an action which enables a two-way sharing of memories.

As Linc, his favored name, reaches puberty, he develops friends and contacts beyond his mother and sister—his father having deserted the family because of his inability to cope with both Linc’s deformity and his power—including his uncle, Joey, who is hiding some dark secret, Tuck, a neighborhood boy with whom he develops a close and enduring friendship, and a girl who is able to look past his lack of a face and see the real him.

But, he has enemies, too. People who hate him for what he is, and those who fear him for his ability to ‘see’ them.

Blank by Richard C. Hale is not your usual novel. While all its main characters are teens, the theme is decidedly adult, as they struggle with a serial rapist/killer, drug dealers, and high school bullies who sometimes go way too far. It’s tempting to call it a coming-of-age novel, but it’s not that either. What it is; a darn interesting and intriguing read, handled in such a way that you find yourself believing that such a creature could actually exist.

A five-star premiere to what I predict will be a series that will acquire a cult following.

Review of ‘Sons of My Fathers’

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With General Sherman’s Union forces closing on Atlanta, 19-year-old Ulysses Simpson and his father, Bayliss, on leave from their Confederate units, set out to avenge the death of a younger member of their family slain by a band of deserters, an action that sets the Simpson clan on a course that will have a significant impact on future generations.

A hundred years later, Ron Simpson, having enlisted in the army during the Vietnam War, and trained as a helicopter pilot, traumatized by news of the massacre by US forces at My Lai, is faced with a decision—does he honor his oath to serve his country, no matter what, or does he follow his own conscience, and his desire not to kill.

Sons of My Fathers by Michael A. Simpson is a mostly true, multi-generation, family saga that explores the stress that can be put on a family when personal values conflict with the expectations of society or the organization to which a person belongs. Using the backdrop of the Civil War, a conflict that pitted brother against brother, and threatened to fracture the nation, the author contrasts that period with the Vietnam War at the height of the anti-war movement, when citizens began to question the wisdom and integrity of those elected to lead the nation. Using historical sources and family recollections, Simpson takes the reader inside the internal conflicts that rage when the decisions and orders from those in leadership veer from the personal moral codes of individuals, and show the need of individuals to take personal responsibility for their decisions and actions.

In today’s climate of moral ambiguity and political uncertainty, this book is food for thought. In addition, it’s a highly compelling read that shows the personal anguish of war and its impact on those called upon to fight; providing lessons that can help navigate the treacherous waters that we face, not just in war, but in every facet of life.

I received a free copy of this book, and found that, once I started reading, I was unable to put it down. This is not just a war story, nor is it your typical coming-of-age novel. It’s a blueprint for living a life that has meaning, and being able to respect the one person who really matters in life—yourself.

Without hesitation, I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Bucket List’

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Leah Clarke thought she had her life finally in order. Then, a new neighbor moves into the house next door, and it turns out to be her old childhood friend, Damon Holling, who she hasn’t seen for five years. When she learns that he’s terminally ill, with just a year left to live, the two of them set out to complete a bucket list of all the things they’ve ever wanted to do. In their pursuit, Leah discovers that their friendship is much more than she’d ever realized, and learns some valuable things about herself in the process.

The Bucket List by Emily Ruben is sort of chick-lit, but with a difference. Instead of a light, frothy story of young love, it’s a story about discovery and coping with loss. The author takes the reader inside the minds of the characters, making you cheer for Damon’s recovery—despite the fact that it’s made clear that it won’t happen—and sad when the inevitable happens. At the same time, it leaves you with a feeling of hope as Leah learns to love herself in the process of falling in love with Damon.

A sad subject written about in hopeful, though very direct and hard-hitting terms, this story will stick in your mind long after you’ve closed the book.

I received an advance review copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Killer Music’

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PI Cooper Harrington met record company exec Grayson Taylor less than a day before he—Taylor—is found brutally murdered. Taylor’s widow hires Cooper to investigate in tandem with the Nashville police, and working with his friend, Chief of Detectives Ben Mason, he uncovers dirty dealings in the record industry, political corruption, and a murder who, if not caught, will kill again.

Killer Music by Tammy L. Grace is an interesting mystery that explores the sordid underbelly of the recording industry, and despite being a bit choppy in places, will keep you entertained from start to finish. There are plenty of red herrings and useless clues, until Cooper finds the crucial clue that holds the answers to the crime. His problem: he has little time to unmask the killer before someone else dies.

I received a free copy of this book, the author’s first in this series. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘It’s About Time’

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A small fishing boat with two occupants disappears in Japan’s Devil’s Triangle. Years later, a famous quantum physicist is assassinated just before making an important speech. His bodyguard and fiancée, Angela Mercy, failed to protect him, and while pursuing his killers is caught up in a strange cloud of fireflies and is mysteriously transported to . . . the future. There, she’s enlisted to stop a merciless tyrant on a quest for immortality and world domination.

It’s About Time by Lyle Howard is a time travel mystery, that’s actually more about the mystery than the phenomenon of time travel. Filled with gory action scenes and snarky dialogue, it will almost make you ignore, if not miss, the sci-fi elements. The book is also full of surprises and twists that sneaks up on you like a green mamba dropping from a banana tree.

A fun read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Ketogenic Diet’

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Ketogenic Diet for Beginners by Emily Mayr is a step-by-step guide to weight loss through adopting a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to reset the body’s mechanisms to burn fat and help reduce weight.

The author takes readers through the process, explaining the scientific background of the diet regime, and offering recipes and meal schedule suggestions.

As with most changes in diet or other health-related routines, this method should not be undertaken before consulting your health professional.

An interesting book that will add to your knowledge of nutrition and health.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Digital Velocity’

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Police Detective Ethan McAllister is getting tips from an anonymous source that have helped him solve a number of crimes. He gets a tip, warning that an elderly lady is in danger, and when he and his partner arrive on the scene, they find her dead, and are confronted by the perpetrators who have not made their escape.

McAllister, who comes from a family of cops, is injured, and in addition to having to endure continued razzing from his older brothers, must decide what to do about his anonymous source, cyber expert Lexi Donovan, who discloses her identity when she visits him in the hospital, and protect her from his police colleagues aa well as a determined killer who seems to be stalking him.

Digital Velocity by Reily Garrett is an interesting book. Part police procedural, part mystery, it explores the outcome of criminals employing cyber techniques in their dastardly pursuits. Some interesting interpersonal and family dynamics, and lively dialogue. The cat-and-mouse play between the killer and the team of Ethan and Lexi makes this a worthwhile read all on its own.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Learning My Letters’

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Learning My Letters: Writing Skills A – Z is the third book in Piaras O. Cionnaoith’s picture books for teaching writing and drawing skills to early readers. An interesting little book that shows both upper- and lowercase letters, how to construct them, along with pictures of things that begin with that letter.

A useful book for introducing children to writing the alphabet and learning new words. My only complaint is that in the Kindle version, the labels of the photos are in a very light type that was a challenge for my elderly eyes.

A worthwhile addition to your child’s book shelves.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Snow Globe’

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When Maggie Kincaid started having strange dreams, she broke her engagement with Michael, a man she thought she loved, but discovered that she didn’t really know. Obsessed with her, he begins a relentless pursuit that causes her to flee from city to city in a vain effort to escape him. When Michael turns his attention to her sister, Julie, Maggie decides that it’s time to stop running. Law enforcement, despite a number of restraining orders, has not been able to help her, and the dreams featuring her deceased grandmother, and her effort to get a message to Maggie, get worse. After Michael kidnaps Julie and tells Maggie that if she doesn’t return to him Julie will die, she takes matters into her own hands, becoming the pursuer instead of the victim, following him from New York City to Washington, DC, in the hopes that she can finally bring her nightmare to an end.

The Snow Globe by Tony Faggioli is a riveting thriller that deals with the issue of stalking, the limitations of the legal system to curb this life-shattering crime, and how one person, with determination and persistence, can take control of her own life.

Overlaying the human aspects of the story is a bit of paranormal activity that is only partially explained—but, this is not a deal killer. Characters bring to mind real-life people, despite the paranormal aspect, and are easy, if a bit uncomfortable, to relate to.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘I Know Your Every Move’

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Trying to put her dark past behind her, Sophie is working for a women’s crisis center in Manchester. But, one day, the sinister text messages start. Has someone from her past finally found her? The messages are strange, and troubling, but Sophie is determined to no longer be a victim.
I Know Your Every Move by Diane Ezzard is a troubling story of predatory stalking, and how it can up end a person’s life.
An interesting story, that’s unfortunately far too cluttered with the mundane details of Sophie’s day – from what she eats to what she wears. I was also unable to completely sympathize with the main character, who has a history of making bad decisions about the men in her life, and a seeming inability to learn from her mistakes. In the end, it was a bit disappointing.
I received a free copy of this book, and even though I read it to the end, I was left feeling that even with all the details that had been provided, some important points were left out. I give it three and a half stars, because the author shows promise, and with more experience will write a story that will capture not only my imagination, but my interest.

Review of ‘Offenbunker’

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The time is the 1960s, and America is still recovering from WWII, the Korean War, and waking up in 1946 to discover that its WWII ally, the Soviet Union, is actually its enemy. The CIA, formed partly out of the wartime OSS, is locked in a deadly struggle with the KGB in now-divided Berlin, and is losing the battle as its agents keep getting burned. A group of intrepid spies, some of them veterans of recent wars, are brought together to find out why the CIA is always on the losing side, and learn that there is a high-level mole within the CIA itself.

Against this backdrop of cold war intelligence skullduggery, a military hero is asked to oversee security of a super-secret facility designed to ensure government continuity in the event of nuclear war, a facility nicknamed Offenbunker. The Soviets, of course, want all the details of this facility, and they order their CIA mole, not just to get the details, but to sabotage it.

Offenbunker by A. G. Russo is a novel of Cold War intrigue and betrayal, as agents of both sides lock horns in battles, personal and professional. The narrative is a bit choppy in places, almost like stage directions, and some of the characters are a bit cliché, a lot like the depictions in movies filmed during the 1960s, given to a bit of hyperbole when they speak. Historical information is also dumped in large quantities, often at the beginning of a chapter, and I found this disrupted the flow of reading. It would’ve been preferable to have this data given out more naturally as the chapter progressed.

While this is not a bad book; it’s certainly an interesting subject; it’s not the author’s best work.

I give it three and a half stars. I received a free copy of this book.