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.
When two missing women are found dead, one by a child in a popular Swan Boat in a park, the FBI Behavioral Unit calls in their favorite profiler, Tracy Wenn, to help them solve it before more women are murdered. When a third woman goes missing, Tracy feels that she’s closing in on identifying the killer, but she then becomes the next target. To add a complication to her life, her fiancé is suddenly experiencing second thoughts about her line of work.
Invitation to Die by Jaden Skye will pique your interest from the first page, keep you sniffing for clues throughout, and floor you with a surprising climax. Pulse-pounding suspense and intense emotional drama on almost every page.
I give this one four stars.
Most of us associate vegan diets with social issues, but in The Effective Vegan Diet by Chef Effect the reader is introduced to a number of recipes that contain all the nutrients a body needs to be healthy.
This book exposes many of the myths about vegan diets and offers advice not only on how to cook foods that are good for you, but how to shop effectively to remove unhealthy foods from your diet. An interesting book, but it fails to warn the reader that some of the advice, such as increased consumption of citrus fruits and tomatoes can aggravate gastric conditions.
While I wouldn’t recommend adopting everything this book advocates without consulting a doctor, I still found it interesting and some of the advice useful.
I give it three and a half stars.
Cursed Magic by Antara Mann is a quick read, not because it’s a short story—which it definitely is not—but because it moves at the breakneck pace of a hundred-meter dash. Half-goddess Alexandra Shaw, with the help of her lover, the fae, Kagan, battles one hybrid dangerous demon after another, while trying to find a cure for the curse put upon her by the dastardly infiniti. The action never stops from page one, and by the time you reach the last page—which, like I said, is mercifully quick for the faint of heart, you’re breathless. If you like fantasy and speed, this is the book to read. Deliciously entertaining. I give it four stars.
When an over-the-hill comic joins his high school classmates for a 70th reunion at a posh resort near San Antonio, he and his friends have been promised that for the week they will be ‘young’ again. But, is the Social Security Administrations offer to good to be true? They’ve had to promise to forego the balance of their benefits in exchange for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but, when his classmates start dying he realizes that this might indeed be their ‘last’ reunion.
Last Reunion: An Ageless Comedy by Joe Dacy is both funny and scary. A tongue in cheek look at aging and the impact it has on the national economy, it’s also a subtly crafted murder mystery. You laugh and cry in turns as you make your way through this book.
I received a free copy and was frankly impressed with the author’s ability to keep the humor going, even when describing some pretty horrific events, all without becoming cheesy.
I give it four stars.
If you like stories that chill your blood and make you afraid to turn out the lights at night when you go to bed, you’ll love 51 Sleepless Nights by Tobias Wade. A collection of spin-tingling horror stories that explore all the things that go bump in the night and make the hairs on our arms stand on end.
The entire book can be read in about an hour, two if you’re really into being scared silly. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. If you’re the impressionable type, you might not want to be alone when you read this book.
I give it four stars.
I received a gift copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, over two years ago. For a number of reasons, I put it aside. What with the number of police shootings of young black men under questionable circumstances, along with the increase in racially and religiously motivated hate crimes, I labored under the mistaken assumption that another book about the agony of the black experience in America would only agitate my already agitated mood. Finally, though, I decided to open the covers and see what Coates had to say.
In the form of a letter to his son, Coates, an award-winning New York based journalist and author, talks about his own experiences growing up on the mean streets of an inner city, his exposure to the infinite variety of black life at Howard University, a Mecca for young blacks who wanted to get on the path to upward mobility, to his take on American history from a black perspective.
I was right that the book would be disturbing, but it was not disturbing in a negative way. It s hook me out of my own complacency, and reminded me that every generation of people of color growing up in America has its own memories; its own story to tell.
Every word of this book should be read with care, should be digested, and then passed on to future generations. It is through such sharing of past experiences that we are better able to cope with the turbulent present, and prepare for the unknown future.
Must reading, not just for young black people, but people of all colors and ages, if they truly wish to have a better understanding of who we—Americans—are, and what we can aspire to be.
I give this book a resounding five stars.
For 17 years Katherine Arthur has had conflicting feelings about her mother who, after their father left them on the prairie, seemed distant, uncaring, and remote. Now, after nearly two decades, she comes upon a bunch of letters that tell the true story of those turbulent times, and in particular, a last letter from her missing father that puts them into startlingly clear perspective. She is faced with a dilemma; can she finally forgive her mother after so much time has passed?
The Last Letter by Kathleen Shoop, though fiction, is based in part on the history of the author’s own family. Told from two perspectives; the present (1922) from Katherine’s point of view, and the events of 1905 from her mother’s viewpoint, it gives a frightening, and fresh new perspective on frontier life and its impact on the families that had to endure incredible hardships and conflict.
The first book in a series, it chronicles our past in a refreshing—though disturbing—new way. An enlightening read that I highly recommend.
Detroit Homicide Detective Jill Zanos and her partner, Detective Albert Wong, are called to the scene where a young woman is found dead, shot in the head at close ring. As they investigate, the suspects keep piling up, each shown to be at the scene around the time of the murder, and each with a motive, but how do they separate the wheat from the chaff, and nab the true murderer? One way, a rather unorthodox one at that, is Jill’s ‘gift’ bestowed upon her by her mystic Greek grandmother, and as they work methodically through the case, her ‘gift’ keeps pulling her in different directions.
The Donut Shop Murder by Suzanne Jenkins is a short read, but, man oh man, is it riveting. False trail after false trail, clues sprinkled like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs lead them up one false trail and down another, until, BINGO, Jill figures it out. Even she is unsure just how her gift works, and believe me, you’ll be surprised at the conclusion.
This one is one of the best one-hour reads I’ve encountered so far this year, and I recommend it highly for all mystery fans. An easy one to give five stars to.
Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner is a very short, but entertaining book with some nice illustrations and poems about the every-day life of children. While some of the poems might be a bit too complicated for the youngest, every child can enjoy the pictures, and there are lessons to be learned if read slowly and carefully.
An excellent book to introduce poetry to young children.
I give it four stars.
Bread, aka, money, is one of the reasons people kill. But, in Sourdough Wars by Julie Smith, it’s the actual come-from-an-oven type of bread that is the motive for murder. The heir to a sourdough empire is murdered on the eve of auctioning off his cryo-frozen sourdough starter. Lawyer Rebecca Schwartz and her partner decide to represent the estate of the deceased and, oh by the way, try to find out who killed him.
Sourdough Wars by Julie Smith is a tongue-in-cheek cozy mystery that rises up from page one and envelopes you in the aroma of good food and even better story-telling. An eclectic cast of characters, and the author knows how to put them through their paces to keep you entertained page after delightful page.
Three cheers and five stars for this book.
After a rocky start at Thomas Jefferson High School in Pinewood, Colorado, Emma Lovett is finally settling in. She and her best friend, Leslie Parker, are happy not to be stumbling over corpses, but the idyllic live is not long lasting, for soon they find the body of a student in the gym, an apparent overdose, which is soon discovered to be ‘murder most foul.’
Emma and Leslie, of course, feel obliged to investigate—after all, they did solve t he case of the janitor’s murder. This time, though, the stakes are higher. They have to deal with mysterious newcomers, a fundamentalist preacher with a snake fetish and a deadly secret, and a bit of jealousy from Emma’s newfound(?) love.
Without spoiling it by telling you too much, I’ll just say that Kelley Kaye’s Poison by Punctuation, book two in the Chalkboard Outline series, is every bit as good as book one, and I strongly recommend it. A strong, but sometimes conflicted, female heroine, with an even stronger, and slightly flawed, female sidekick, it moves like a game of dodge ball—things hit you when you least expect them to.
I give this one five stars.
The FDA sends Dr. Bill May to fast track approval of a new drug that supposedly eliminates the need to sleep. The problem is, though, N-SOM has some hidden, and extremely dangerous side effects. One of those effects, a psychotic killer, gets May and the daughter of the drug’s inventor in his sights. Can May survive long enough to make the dangers of N-SOM public? You’ll have to read Disturb by JA Konrath to find out.
A gripping medical thriller that will keep you awake—pun intended—and cause you to forever take the TV ads from big pharma with a large shaker of salt. This one is one of the author’s best to date.
I give it four and a half stars.
Love Letters Home: Love in a Time of War by Chapman Deering is a tale of love and separation during World War II, based upon a trove of actual letters the author found from a USAAF soldier to his fiancée during the period 1942 to 1945.
Ruth LeBlanc’s life as a freelance commercial artist becomes turbulent when her fiancé enlists in the army air corps as an engineer. They had only been seriously dating for a few months at the time of his enlistment, and with him about to be shipped overseas, they become engaged. During three years of separation, they begin to experience the inevitable changes that occur when one goes off to war and the only bridge connecting them is the letters they exchange. Ruth experiences the same angst that lovers have experienced in war-time as she realizes that both are being changed.
Through their exchanges of letters, the reader is taken inside the ups and downs of their relationship as Ruth must decide between following her heart or sticking to her ideals.
A nicely done first novel that explores the human cost of war from an intensely personal perspective.
I give it four stars.
DCI Isaac Cook is at a critical point in his relationship with his fiancée, Jenny, when an unidentified corpse is found in a local park. Personal plans have to be put on hold when there’s a murder to be solved. Isaac and his team pull out all the stops to ID the John Doe, but when they do, the mystery only deepens. They discover that the dead man had been working as an escort under one name, but was actually someone else entirely, and was involved with a married woman whose previous lover died under questionable circumstances, and who is married to a shady defense contractor who is very possessive.
Intrigued? Well you should be. Murder in Hyde Park by Phillip Strang is yet another fantastic offering in the DCI Cook series, about the British-Jamaican police inspector who has to fight internal police bureaucracy and politics as much as he has to fight crime. Despite all obstacles, false trails, and red herrings, though, Isaac and his crew persistently unravel the tangled threads of the crime until they end up at the door of the killer.
If you are, like me, a fan of this series, you’ll be taking action right now to get this one. If you’ve not read them before, as soon as you finish this one, go back to book one and start educating yourself.
Mystery at its best. I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I’m a great fan of the character, so I can’t say in all honesty that my review is totally unbiased. It is honest, though. I give it five stars.
Leine Basso, formerly a government assassin, has tried to distance herself from her former profession by applying her skills to aiding SHEN, an organization devoted to fighting human trafficking. But she is also obsessed with finding Salome, a freelance assassin whose skills match her own, but who prefers working on the dark side. When she gets news that Salome has resurfaced and is planning a new deadly operation, Leine once again severs ties, this time with SHEN, her daughter, April, and Santiago Jensen, the love of her life. Operating with former black ops colleagues, Leine moves from London to Los Angeles in an increasingly desperate search for the elusive Salome, both of them leaving a trail of bodies in their wakes.
Absolution by best-selling author D.V. Berkom is yet another spine-tingling thriller featuring one of the genre’s most exciting kick-ass female heroines. Page after page, the author builds the suspense to a fever pitch, as Leine realizes that Salome is manipulating her in an effort to kill her, and that she’s willing to go after those closest to Leine to achieve that goal.
This is a book you won’t be able to put down. I’ve read all of the Leine Basso series, and have to say, without hesitation or reservation, that this is the best of the best. It has everything a reader expects to find in a thriller, and more.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book, and I give it five stars. Read it, and you’ll immediately see why.
Octogenarian property tycoon Gilbert Lawrence has been a recluse for thirty years since the disappearance of his wife, with his only contacts with the outside world through his solicitor, Leonard Dundas and his housekeeper. When he’s found stabbed to death in his front garden, DCI Isaac Cook and his team are left with a crime that has murky motives and no shortage of suspects, but no way to point a conclusive finger at any of them.
Murder of a Silent Man by Phillip Strang continues the riveting saga of DCI Cook and his ability to balance the demands of the police bureaucracy while maintaining his professional integrity. A story that moves with a sometimes measured, sometimes erratic pace as more bodies start cropping up and the hand of organized crime reveals itself. The trail to the killer moves in a serpentine way, uncovering other evils along the way until it ends at the most unlikely destination.
If this is the first DCI Cook mystery you’ve read, you’ll be motivated to go back and read earlier books in the series, but if, like me, you’re a fan of this character, you’ll just be satisfied that all is right with the world.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book. I loved it, and I can guarantee that you will as well. Another five stars for Strang and his amazing cast of characters.
When she’s assessed as infertile, a young woman is ejected from her clan (sept) and adopted by a merchant sept. A Guardian, whose job is to locate and eliminate anyone carrying a deadly plague which threatens the very survival of humanity, is assigned to keep watch over her because she holds a secret within her mind, and if she remembers what it is—and who she is—it can also threaten humanity’s existence.
The Dream Sifter by Candice Bundy is an interesting story with an almost-believable universe, and the author does a good job of helping a reader suspend disbelief. Characters evoke empathy, and in some cases sympathy or antipathy. She also built a compelling mystery with lots of subtle hints and revealed it at a crucial point in the story. Unfortunately, she ended the story on a cliffhanger that is only resolved in the sequel to this book, which is unfair to readers who had invested so much of themselves in the characters and their situations.
Well crafted—except for the cliffhanger. I’ll give it three and a half stars. I received a complimentary review copy of this book.
Book two in my Jacob Blade – Vigilante series now has a brand new cover. It’s still available, though, at the same great price of 99 cents. Check it out:
High school can be a traumatic time, but that’s usually for students. But when southern belle, Emma Lovett, after getting a divorce and going back to school to get her teaching degree, at her first job in a Colorado high school, she experiences trauma beyond her wildest imaginings. When she finds Melvin McMannus, the school’s night janitor, with his head bashed in, the seamy doings in the school’s underbelly start crawling into the light, and she finds herself at the epicenter of events that threaten to spiral out of control. With her new bestie, Leslie Parker, another English teacher at the school, she sets out to solve the murder, and in the process gets herself neck-deep in the putrid politics of a small-town school, and even perhaps a bit of romance on the side.
Kelley Kaye’s Death by Diploma is, in a word—well, three words actually—a rollicking read. Generous helpings of humor, a dollop of suspense, and as chaotic a cast of characters as mystery lovers could ever crave. As a cozy mystery fan, especially the excellently crafted British cozies, I have high standards, that many authors just don’t live up to. Kaye, on the other hand, not only met my expectations, she exceeded them.
I received a complimentary review copy of this outstanding book, and am happy to bestow upon it five stars.