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 Last Bastion of Civilization: Japan 2041 by Andrew Blencowe is not non-fiction, but it takes facts and events from history, and weaves them into a fictional narrative that might best be described as ‘fictional journalism.’
In this series of fictional essays, Blencowe takes on many modern-day assumptions about politics and society, as he traces the rise of Japan to the status of the world’s sole super power by 2041. Well-written, it will disturb many, but not, I think, for the right reasons. The debunking of much of much of accepted political wisdom hits the mark, but the views expressed regarding people and cultures of color are disturbing because they follow the thinking of many who see the world divided between superior and inferior races. One can’t be sure that this expresses the author’s views, or if this thinking is attributed to the characters writing the essays, but it is no less disturbing for that.
Despite being unsettled by the tenor of the book, I found it interesting reading. Contained in the ethnocentric diatribes are a few nuggets of wisdom. If you have an open mind, and are able to read past some of the racist assumptions, you just might enjoy this book.
I also found it intriguing that the only two nations that good consistently good marks in the book are Japan and Germany. While Japan comes out on top of the hierarchy, the Germans are not far behind, and are held out as the only two nations that read the tea leaves correctly as the 21st century matures.
I give the author high marks for his use of prose, but have to subtract a few for the obvious biases contained in the book. My net rating is three and a half stars.
Chicago homicide detective, Tom Mankowski, has had a strange tattoo on the bottom of his foot since birth. He has thought little of it until he investigates a violent murder and finds that the victim also has a number tattoo on his feet. Now, he wants to know why.
The List by J. A. Konrath is a techno-thriller that will keep you amazed and awake as you flip the pages following Mankowski from Chicago to the West Coast, where he finds others like him, people who’ve have tattoos on their feet, and who, like him, were adopted. An eclectic cast of characters totally unlike those in other Konrath mysteries, this story has tension, danger, and a big dose of humor.
You won’t be able to put it down.
This was an easy five-star read!
When Nick Carter, a former Marine Recon expert now working for the PROJECT, a special agency that reports directly to the President, is assigned to provide security to Selena Connor, niece of a wealthy man who was slain for his money and an unsuccessful attempt to acquire an ancient text supposedly containing the secret to immortality, he didn’t know what he was getting into.
When attempts are made by armed Chinese to abduct Selena, the stakes suddenly get higher, and Nick finds himself at the epicenter of a plot that could lead to war with China.
White Jade by Alex Lukeman is a riveting thriller of international intrigue and violence that will keep you turning pages until the chilling climax. This story of unbridled lust for power will also keep you awake long after you’ve finished reading it.
I give Lukeman four stars for this one.
In most traditional history courses that American students are exposed to, the contributions and roles of women and minorities are often overlooked, or at best, only given cursory mention. Dominique Atkinson’s groundbreaking book, The Women Who Changed the Course of History, changes that in a fundamental way.
From Eve, the so-called Mother of Mankind, to 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Atkinson explores the pivotal role a few remarkable women played, and continue to play, in the world’s affairs.
From Eve’s ‘fall from grace,’ she discusses the origins of the misogynistic male mindset regarding women and their role in society from its beginnings. Eve, who was tempted by the serpent to taste the fruit from the ‘tree of knowledge,’ is characterized as the reason for humanities suffering and the expulsion from Eden. My only complaint about this offering is that the author failed to mention that since Eve was the first to acquire ‘knowledge,’ women had a head start on men in the intelligence department, a fact that is reinforced by the different reactions of Eve and her mate, Adam, to their dilemma. Even as written, however, it goes a long way to making sense of the male reactions to women who broke out of the expected mold over the centuries.
Atkinson offers detailed portraits of several women who, throughout our history, have refused to allow themselves to be pigeon-holed and treated as ‘less than fully human.’ Women like Cleopatra, Marie Curie, Benazir Bhutto, and Hillary Clinton, who, rather than allowing themselves to be defined by men, defined themselves, and in so doing, initiated changes that reverberate long after they’ve gone from the scene.
For anyone who wants an alternative look at the history we’ve been spoon-fed most of our lives, I can think of no better book to begin the process.
I give this thoroughly engrossing book five stars.
Former college professor Keri Locke is now a rookie detective in the Missing Persons Unit of LAPD’s Homicide Division. Still haunted by the abduction of her daughter four years earlier, she throws herself into her cases, while still seeking answers as to her daughter’s whereabouts.
When a high school student, daughter of a US Senator, fails to arrive home from school, she and her partner investigate. They uncover secrets in the girl’s life that lead everyone else to believe she has merely run away, but Keri is unconvinced, and despite being told to drop it, continues to investigate.
A Trace of Death by Blake Pierce is a spine-tingling mystery/thriller that you absolutely will not be able to put down once you start reading. The way the author switches back and forth from Keri’s first person point of view to the kidnap victim’s third person view only adds to the suspense, and makes the denouement all the more satisfying.
I give this book four stars.
When young Olivia’s father died, he left 80 acres of land in Michigan to any of his children willing to cultivate it. Olivia decides that she wants that land, but she has a problem; she’s only 17, she’s female, and it’s 1840, a time when women are expected to concern themselves with finding a proper husband and raising his children. Not to be denied her dream, she convinces Mourning Free, the son of runaway slaves who does odd jobs for the people in her small town, and who she has known since they were both small children, to accompany her as her partner in the venture. Because of their racial differences, of course, he must pose as her hired man.
In Michigan, Olivia and Mourning start to make a go of it, and develop more than friendly feelings for each other. A neighboring family, though, has other plans for Olivia, plans that end in tragedy.
Olivia, Mourning by Yael Politis tells the story of Olivia and Mourning as each endeavors to cope with the often prejudiced and unrealistic expectations of a society in transition. It’s a story of irrational prejudice, irreconcilable views on gender roles, and the strength of the human will, set against a realistically described social backdrop. The characters, though flawed in many ways because of their upbringing, inspire empathy and admiration as they struggle with society’s strictures and their own fears.
This is a book that, once you start reading, you’ll find difficult to put down until you finish, And, after you’ve finished, you’ll want to know more.
Some readers will not like this book because it ends with something of a cliff hanger. It is, nonetheless, strongly written and is a good portrayal of the era in which it’s set. In many ways, most of the problems, including to a limited degree what happened to Mourning Free, are implied if not explicitly explained, and it does set up well for the sequels.
I give the author three and a half stars.
Nora Rushton, a 19-year-old, with the power to heal, must conceal her ability lest she be accused of witchcraft and killed. Her father, devastated by the murder of his wife for being a witch, tries to keep her locked away in their house, but her urge to help others causes her to disobey from time to time.
Otakatay, is a half-Sioux, half-white outcast, a bounty hunter, his quest to earn enough money to complete a quest he has set for himself, he has turned into a killer of innocent women at the behest of a white man with a vendetta against witches.
Their paths cross when her father is killed, and the town’s richest man is determined to make her his trophy wife, and someone else has put a price on her head. Otakatay has been hired to kill her, but finds that he can’t, and instead decides that he will protect her, even if it means losing his own life.
Lakota Honor by Kat Flannery is a chilling tale of prejudice, betrayal, and violence, set in the old West. Two people sharing similar stigma as outcasts, take different paths that wind up intersecting, and discover that love can heal old wounds and help in forging new beginnings.
This is not your typical western. Even with the supernatural element, it’s not as vapid as some of the genre-fusion novels, such as Cowboys and Aliens. Trust me, you won’t have to be a western fan to enjoy it.
I give it four stars.
When Asger Vad, his wife, and son are found shot execution style and posed around a table looking at a doll house, and their 11-year-old daughter is missing, Danish police inspector, Daniel Trokic is sent to Alaska to participate in the investigation. He teams up with Angie Johnson, a half-Native American, half-white homicide detective in the Anchorage police department. Together, the two race against time to find the girl, while bodies start piling up, and a nearby volcano decides to get a bad case of indigestion.
Under a Black Sky by Inger Wolf is a finely-tuned murder mystery, featuring a conflicted, flawed character, and an almost science-fiction locale. Rich descriptions and evocative dialogue are the hallmarks of one of the better mystery writers I’ve encountered in a number of years.
Like the frozen landscape of Alaska, this novel has no ornamentation, just bare bones good reading.
I give Wolf five stars for this book.
Less than ten minutes after arriving for her first cruise, a dead body is found near the ship’s bar. There’s speculation that the victim, a clerk in one of the ship’s stores, was murdered. Millie had previously worked for her husband’s PI agency, and decides to investigate the crime. This gets someone on board the ship upset, and she gets threats, but with a new-found friend, she persists, even though her new boss is one of the prime suspects.
Starboard Secrets by Hope Callaghan is a humorous cozy mystery with an interesting cast of characters. This is a quick read that can be done in one sitting, and is actually quite entertaining.
I give this opening salvo in the cruise ship cozy mystery series three and a half stars.
When Lindsay Bosworth was 19, she was still a virgin. Then, three frat brothers of her fiancé, Drew, gang-raped her, videotaped it, and posted it to the Internet where it went viral. Three of her so-called best friends came forward and said that she’d been drunk and invited it, and to minimize the scandal, her US Senator father had her packed off to a mental institution for four years, where she was to be kept in isolation. She did, however, manage to see a copy of the tape, and to her shock, saw Drew sitting watching, and doing nothing. Even worse, she learns that her rapists were never prosecuted.
Lindsay, though, is no longer just a victim. Once she’s released from the institution and back home, she’s determined to see that her assailants will face the consequences of their actions. The problem, or problems, though, are many. Drew is now her father’s chief of security, with the mission of providing her personal protection, and her father has decided to run for president. Lindsay is not a ‘problem’ that must be managed for the sake of his campaign. To add to her angst, someone is taunting her, and even trying to kill her. Who can she trust?
A Harmless Little Game by Meli Raine is an interesting thriller on many levels. On the one hand, it exposes the lengths people will go to in their quest for political power, even at the expense of those closest to them, while on the other, it shows the power of the Internet to be used for evil purposes. The story proceeds with grim determination as Lindsay slowly comes to grips with her situation, and learns who her true enemies are—but, more importantly, who her friends are. Riveting dialogue and blood-chilling narrative keep the reader flipping pages. My only complaint is the cliff-hanger ending, that leaves the reader wondering, what next?
I give this one four stars.
When Lexy Baker is offered a job as a fill-in pastry chef at a trendy resort, she sees it as a great way to combine work and pleasure, and spend some quality time with her fiancé, Roger, and her grandmother, Nan. It would be ideal, except for the testy head chef, Alain Dugasse, whose temperament and harsh treatment of the kitchen staff grates on her. Then, Lexy finds Dugasse, face up near a dumpster behind the kitchen, with a chef’s knife in his chest, and she becomes the number-one suspect in his murder.
With her grandmother, and her octogenarian friends, who belong to an amateur sleuthing club, Lexy sets out to solve the crime before her vacation ends with her behind bars.
Bake, Battle, & Roll by Leighann Dobbs is a humorous, but at times, chilling, cozy mystery set in the backdrop of the culinary world. Sandwiched between the episodes of her search for an elusive killer, Lexy takes time out to canoodle with Roger and prepare dishes that, on paper at least, sound scrumptious.
A delightful summer read. I give it four stars.
Learning My Words A-Z is another nice little picture book by Piaras O. Cionnaoith. This one introduces basic reading skills with notes for teachers at the end. Because of the British spellings, it probably would be of only marginal utility for American readers, and a couple of the definitions in the teachers’ notes section are misleading, e.g., for ‘fire’, the effects of fire are given as the definition, rather than a precise definition of what fire actually is.
Despite these shortcomings, it’s still an interesting book.
I give it three stars.
Outlaw Publishers, a small publisher based in Texas, has just published the second book in the Daniel’s Journey series, western stories for younger readers. The first, Wagon’s West: Daniel’s Journey, the story of a wagon train journey through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, was published in April.
Daniel’s adventures, however, don’t end with a wagon train trip. My plans are to follow young Daniel as he grows up in Oregon in the late 1800s, maybe all the way to maturity. The purpose of the series is two-fold; first, to introduce younger readers to the western genre, a uniquely American literary form, and secondly, to show that the American West was populated by more than steely-eyed cowboys and lawmen, dastardly outlaws, and Native Americans fighting to retain their land and culture. There were families as well, including children, and I’ve often wondered what life was like for them. In this series, I’m using my imagination, backed up with a lot of research, to create that world for myself, and hopefully, for a lot of new readers.
In book 2 of the series, Wagons West: Trinity, the little town of Trinity has been established near the ranch owned by Daniel’s parents. it too is experiencing growing pains, as people of different backgrounds learn to live together. I also explore the issue of women’s rights in this story, something that I imagine actually might have happened in a few places considering that the first woman to vote in the US voted in Wyoming.
If you have young readers in your household, or on your gift list, consider introducing them to the western. I’ve tried to ensure that these books contain no material that would be harmful to younger readers, but at the same time, make them interesting for adult readers as well.
I would love getting some feedback, on the books as well as the concept. And, if you happen to like what you read, a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your blog would be most appreciated.
Dublin is on edge after the failed rebellion against British rule. Jimmy O’Flaherty is keeping his head down, just trying to make enough money to buy passage for him and his mother to America. Then he meets Kitty Doyle, who he thinks is a trouble maker, while, she thinks he’s spying for the English. The problem is, they fall in love.
Liberty Boy by David Gaughran is a story of English-Irish conflict from a street-level perspective. Chocked full of the history of the time, with gritty dialogue and entertaining characters. Interesting historical fiction.
I give Gaughran four stars for this one.
Max Stormer is a top athlete in the small town of Pinecrest, but he’s also a free spirit who doesn’t take too well to regimentation. Aidos is also a free spirit, but she’s not yet been really exposed to the real world, living as she does in a cabin in the woods with her reclusive father. She is, however, wiser of the world than many who live in the city. He soon introduces her to other youth in the area, who are as taken by her guileless wisdom as he is.
Max and Aidos’s paths cross when he catches her ‘observing’ him and his friend, and he’s instantly drawn to her. When powerful economic forces are on a course to destroy the pristine wilderness that Aidos calls home, the youth of the area come together and reject the hypocrisy and greed of their parents.
Stormer’s Pass by Benjamin Laskin, though it has young people as the main characters, is not a typical YA book. And, even though, it shows young people on the road to maturity, it’s also not a coming-of-age novel. What it is, though, is a competently-crafted story that shows the power of change, trust, and faith—primarily the faith one has in one’s self.
A bit choppy in places, but overall, a well-written story. I give it three and a half stars.
Learning My ABCs: Animals A-Z by Piaras O. Cionnaoith is a short picture book that helps youngsters learn the alphabet, and at the same provides interesting and fun facts about select animals. A great book, with only one criticism, the author describes a group of quails as a ‘convoy,’ when, if I remember from my hunting days, is actually a ‘covey.’ Besides this trivial little error, this is an excellent book that I highly recommend for your youngster who is just beginning his or her reading journey.
Despite that error, I give the author five stars for a wonderful little book.
Charlie Cooper is not your everyday, average detective. In fact, she’s not a detective at all. She’s a 29-year-old, underpaid precinct secretary working for the Boston PD, with a ton of bills, a ratty car, and a nonexistent love life. Then, her boss asks her to go back to her hometown of Springston and snoop about to see if she can find out how her small town is tied up with a major Boston drug case.
Back home, she has to deal with her nutty family, a couple of wacky sidekicks, and a drop-dead-gorgeous undercover Springston cop who gets on her nerves—oh, and with someone who is trying to kill her.
Jammed by Deany Ray is a deliriously funny mystery with a wacky main character that you will fall in love with. Like war, which is hours of boredom interrupted occasionally by seconds of chaos and panic, this book is pages and pages of wackiness and humor, broken up with a few pages here and there of spine-tingling action.
If you like a laugh along with your mystery, give this one a try. I give it four stars.