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.
Catalina Rodriguez and Bertie Clark have nothing in common but a love of scuba diving when they meet on the Calypso for a diving trip in the Sea of Cortez, but a tragedy during the trip, when another member of the party, Gordon Baker, on the trip with his wife and two daughters, dies during their last dive. As the dive master, Catalina feels responsible for his death, even though she learns later that he was suffering from a terminal disease, and chose to die. A certified rescue diver, Bertie also feels a sense of guilt for not doing something to prevent the tragedy. The two women have bonded during the trip, and even after Catalina gives up diving and returns to her home in San Diego, they stay in touch by phone.
Shortly after returning home, Catalina begins to suffer a string of seemingly unrelated catastrophes, but attributes them at first to stress as she tries to cope with the Calypso incident. But Bertie thinks otherwise, and is determined to help her get to the bottom of what’s going on.
The Water’s Fine by Janice Coy is a subtle, but intriguing story that defies neat categorization. The author moves readers slowly through a chain of events that become more deadly with each occurrence, weaving a deft mystery that will keep the reader guessing until the startling climax. I was put off at first by the switch from first person point of view (Catalina) to second person (Bertie), but as I continued to read, I discovered that this only heightened the tension, as I tried to solve the mystery ahead of the author’s disclosure. I failed, and the author succeeded. The answer to Catalina’s problems came as a surprise—a delightful, and skillfully-done surprise.
I received an advance review copy of this book, and I recommend it highly, even if you’re not a mystery fan. A true page-turner, it will grab your attention and hold it until the end.
I give Coy four stars for an entertaining read.
Ken Turner and his friends, after initially thwarting the government’s efforts to find and exploit the offspring of a Russian experiment in human-chimpanzee cross-breeding, find themselves still in a fight, not just for their careers, but their lives, as the power-hungry government agent continues his efforts to capture one or more of the hybrids.
Becoming Human by Kenneth L. Decroo continues the pulse-pounding action begun in Almost Human, moving back and forth between the deceptively serene environment of a politically charged college campus to the steamy dangers of the African jungle. While this one can be read as a stand-alone, I really recommend you read the first one . . . well, first, so that you’re fully in the picture. The author explores some sensitive and controversial subjects, but in a manner that provoked reflection rather than rage.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and like the first, it did not disappoint. It’s science fiction, but it reads like facts in today’s turbulent world. I give it five stars without hesitation.
Fans of the half-breed vigilante Jacob Blade are in for a treat in 2020. Thanks to the creative ingenuity of renown publicist Nick Wale and the fantastic art of Kevin Diamond, the entire series is being reissued this year with a new and exciting cover that’s sure to appeal to fans of the ‘shoot ‘em up’ western genre.
Jacob Blade was a simple farm boy living with his mother and father in Indian Territory until he came home from a trip to local markets one day and found his parents slaughtered by a group of itinerant outlaws. With his dying breath, Jacob’s father asked him to avenge their deaths, a task that he took on with relish. In the course of his quest, he discovered that there was a lot of evil infecting the western frontier, evil that he determined to help eliminate, one dead outlaw at a time.
This is just one of several series that I currently write, and is second only to the Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves in the joy it gives me to write.
The new covers give a sense of continuity to the series, and, in my humble opinion, illustrates the protagonist most effectively. I sincerely hope that readers will find them as attractive—and seductive—as I do, and welcome any comments. In the meantime, I’m currently working on another Jacob Blade adventure, with Jacob coming to the rescue of a small community of settlers in Nebraska who are being tormented by a greed rancher who wants to take their land. Keep an eye out for Sins of the Father, coming soon to Amazon.
Russell Henderson grew up on a farm with a dysfunctional family in Iowa, got his MBA from the University of Iowa, married his college sweetheart, and established himself as a wunderkind of the banking world in Chicago. He became so immersed in making money and becoming successful, though, he neglected his wife—until she walked out on him suddenly for another woman. Devastated, Russell returns home, finds it still unsatisfying, moves in with his sister and her family, still at a loss, then buys a van, and, in an uncharacteristic move for him, decides to go on a road trip. During the trip, he encounters a girl hitchhiking who introduces him to a world he never knew existed, leading to tectonic changes in his point of view.
The Awakening of Russell Henderson by Ed Lehner is a sedately paced story of one man’s journey of discovery, not just of a broader and more interesting America than he knew existed, but of himself. The author slips interesting tidbits of history and geography in a compelling story that keeps its main focus on the principal character and his evolution. Despite the sedate, almost leisurely pace of the story, there is nothing boring or mundane about it.
Definitely a book to add to your library.
I give it four-point-seven-five stars, and only because it got a bit confusing after Russell had a confrontation with the hitchhiker, and she faded from view for a few pages. A small glitch in what is otherwise a book that will rival Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.
When the hidden village, shelter for Dutch Jews hiding from the Nazis, is attacked, Woulter, whose task was to guide everyone to safety, runs away in panic, leaving not only the survivors to fend for themselves, but abandoning Laura, a young Jewish girl he loves dearly. Laura barely escapes with her life, and has to go from place to place to stay out of German clutches.
Hidden in the Shadows by Imogen Matthews is a love story set in World War II, based on historical events and stories told to her by her relatives who survived.
A fascinating tale that will grab your attention from the first page, told mainly from the point of view of Woulter (in third person) and Laura (in first person), this story shows how love and determination can endure and survive even the horrors of war.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, the sequel to The Hidden Village. I give it four stars.
Rick Bellamy, a 37-year-old FBI agent goes to visit his old school regarding an upcoming class reunion. He steps on a grate, and finds himself transported 20 years into his past; a 37-year-old mind in a 17-year-old body. Think that’s complicated? What if it was a few days before 9/11, and he had problems convincing people that there would soon be a catastrophic terror attack. Then, a famous journalist shows up as a 14-year-old, and Rick’s wife, is not far behind him. The three teen/adult time travelers work to convince people they are not crazy, and discover an even greater threat to their own time, making it essential that they go back-forward to 2021 to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths.
A Reunion in Time by Russell F. Moran is not your usual time travel story. Well, it is sort of usual, but with some unusual elements. He addresses the questions of time travelers and changed history, the paradox of meeting one’s self, etc., in a most logical manner, does a masterful job of portraying the clumsiness of adult understanding of teenagers, and keeps the reader guessing from page one.
A well-written, well-thought out book. I give it four and a half stars.
After working late one night, Donna, an attractive young woman, is brutally raped in the subway. Psychologically traumatized, she seeks help. In therapy, she meets a male nurse who seems to be what she needs to overcome her fears, and a romance blooms. But, on their honeymoon, she discovers that he might be the person who raped her. Against Her Will by Peter Martin is a tense story of the trauma of sexual assault and the way various people react to it. An interesting story, it is in places a bit too predictable. The author did, however, do a fairly good job of keeping the suspense high.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it three stars.
Rosetta Barrett is a psychic detective, but she can’t tell her family or the public. Then, when a young girl and a horse are brutally killed by an aggressive driver, and it looks like it was a deliberate assassination attempt, her skills are tested to their limits. The Spirit of Prophecy by J. J. Hughes is a mystery with a bit of a paranormal and sci-fi twist—well, actually, more than just a bit. It involves a centuries-old atrocity that took place across the ocean from England, in New Mexico during the 1870s, has alien visitors with unknown agendas, and pits Rosetta against her husband who, after divorcing her, arranged to keep her away from her children.
I suppose I’d call this a piece of experimental fiction, given the fusion of genres. The author takes the reader through the story from multiple perspectives, and keeps one guessing until all—or, almost all—is revealed.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. It was an enjoyable read that engaged me from the start. I give it four stars.
Mad Mischief by Susan St. John is an interesting story; Sarah and her husband decide to go on an African safari, and she convinces him to go with the madcap guide, Max, instead of a more staid, predictable East Africa guided tour. They are already having relationship problems, and the trip does nothing to improve them. This is actually two stories, woven together in a unique way. The longer story tells the reader about the trip and their misadventures, with a shorter version, detailing Sarah’s actions when Max is arrested by Kenyan authorities for not having a work permit.
I found the author’s descriptions of the geography, customs, and people of East Africa on point, especially the actions of government bureaucrats. As I read those passages, I was reminded of my own encounters with these worthy personages when I lived in southern Africa, and had to travel to Kenya and Tanzania on business.
A delightful story that is hard to put down once you start reading, so make sure you have several uninterrupted hours before you tackle it.
I received a complimentary copy of this book.
I give St. John four stars for this entertaining read.
Most small communities hide big secrets, and the village of Compton is no exception. When village gossip, Gloria Wiggins, is found hanging in her garage, DI Keith Tremayne must peel away the layers of deceit, hatred, and intrigue that has infected the village, in order to find a murderer. But, even as he investigates, more bodies start to appear, and he fears that he might have a serial killer on his hands. The reality, though, is even more bizarre.
If you want to know what that means, you’ll have to read Phillip Strang’s Death in the Village. A captivating story that I promise you, you’ll love.
I received a complimentary copy of this book.
Another great DI Tremayne thriller. I give it five stars.
Alyssa is a member of a group of believers in witchcraft in her local community, whose peaceful life is shattered when a group of drunks, off-duty deputy sheriffs, disrupts an event they are hosting to raise money for a local animal shelter. The leader of the group of rowdies, Justin Nevel, is the nephew of the sheriff, and when the group files a complaint, he vows revenge. Nevel focuses his rage on Alyssa, constantly harassing her with threatening phone calls. In an effort to learn why she has been singled out, Alyssa performs a spell, but instead of finding an answer, she finds herself merged with the spirit of Shannon Marie Cullen, a Scottish girl caught between clan tradition and her desire to be a free spirit.
What follows this unearthly reunion is love, betrayal, bloodshed, and murder, leading to Shannon’s untimely murder at the hands of a jealous bastard son of one of her father’s primary rivals.
As Alyssa struggles to make sense of what she is experiencing through this spiritual union across space and time, Nevel ups his threats, and sets out to kill her. She is tossed between the violence of the past and the violence that is plaguing her real life, and in the process learns that she is not the only one channeling spirits from the past.
The action in Not For Ourselves by Theresa Chaze begins on a high note, and continues to escalate to a fever pitch, as Alyssa makes sense of past events, and how they relate directly to her present-day life.
Chaze does a masterful job of relating events of the distant past to the present, and grabs the reader’s interest from the first page until the satisfying conclusion. You don’t have to be a fan of this genre to appreciate the deeper meanings contained in this work, but I’m willing to bet that after reading this book, you’ll become a fan, and look forward to more from this author.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it four and a half stars.
If you’re an author, whether you’ve just finished your first book, or, like me, are working on number one hundred, the one unavoidable chore you’ll need to focus on is attracting readers—and getting sales. There are tons of books out there on how to sell books, some of them are useful, but most offer suggestions that frankly aren’t worth the time it takes to read them
That, fortunately, is not the case for 3 Weird Marketing ‘Secrets of Success’ for Authors on Amazon by Shaun Hibbs. I like the way he hooks you into the book by offering to expose the ‘lie’ that most book promoters tell, and then, taking a ‘left at Albuquerque’ as Bugs Bunny used to say in the Saturday morning cartoons, he tells you that he’s NOT going to tell you a fail-safe method for selling tons of books. Now, that got my attention, and made me wonder if reading any further would be worth my time. Because I was intrigued with his rather unorthodox statement, though, I soldiered on, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was the wise thing to do.
Hibbs describes in detail three methods for leveraging your sales on Amazon’s platforms—in fact, the book is more or less a promotion for the giant in the publishing world, something that many of us indie authors already know. Some of the things he suggests, such as finding a genre that is popular, but not overpopulated with writers, I already do with a modicum of success. In my case, I came upon this strategy through several years of trial and error. But, some of his other suggestions were new to me—my trial and error style of marketing my books hadn’t stumbled across them yet, so I thank him profusely for providing them.
As the author says at the start of the book, nothing is guaranteed. Sometimes things work out as planned, at other times, they don’t. But, the race doesn’t necessarily go to the fastest, but to the one who never stops running. That sentiment is indirectly expressed in this book.
A worthwhile addition to your writer’s reference library. I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. So, completely unbiased, mind you, I give it five stars.
Penny Summers accompanies her teacher and mentor to Brantleigh Manor in North Carolina to further her study in garden design. While touring the manor’s gardens, they stumble upon the body of her teacher’s step-father in a stream, an apparent heart attack that they think is anything but. As Penny digs into the case, she discovers the secret past of the victim, as well as of her teacher, which puts their lives in danger. An ex-navy public relations officer and basically a stubborn person who never shirks her duty to friends and justice, she pushes on despite the danger.
Malice at the Manor by J. Marshall Gordon is a finely crafted cozy mystery set in the modern South where the past is not prologue, but an integral part of daily life. With liberal doses of humor and its fair share of spine-tingling, nail-biting moments, it’s a nice rainy-day read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. A job well done. I give it four stars.
Shortly into his first term, President Matt Blake is addressing the nation via live TV from the nuclear submarine, USS Louisiana, when the broadcast is suddenly cut off. It’s followed by an explosion and the appearance of debris in the area where it was last known to be. The nation mourns the loss of its president and one of its nuclear subs, but Dee Blake, the president’s wife, schooled by him to examine all the evidence and then not trust it, is convinced that he’s still alive and the destruction of the submarine is just a gigantic ploy. The newly sworn-in president agrees with her, and assigns her to be his chief of staff with one main duty, find the president.
The President is Missing by Russell Moran is a nail-biter from page one, as it follows two story lines: Dee’s efforts to unearth the truth behind the hijacking of the sub and the kidnapping of the president, and Matt, as he tries to come to grips with his status as a hostage of an enigmatic force made up of Russians and traitorous American naval personnel.
Who is behind this dangerous and insane operation? Is it the new Russian president, a megalomaniacal despot who wants to restore the Soviet empire, or the wannabe American dictator, the president that Matt defeated in a landslide, and who has refused to accept his status as an ex-president?
I won’t spoil the book for you by revealing the outcome, but I will say that, as you read it, you’ll wonder whether this is pure fiction, or perhaps an account of real-world plans. A riveting read.
I give it four stars.
In his third book on serial killers, Serial Homicide, Book 3, R. J. Parker dissects serial killings in Australia. Six of the country’s most notorious murder sprees are discussed in detail, complete with the personal backgrounds of the perpetrators.
Not a book to read if you worry about going out alone, for as his other books show, serial murder, while quite common unfortunately in the U.S., knows no national boundaries. If, though, you’re a fan of true crime books, you just might find this interesting.
I give it four stars.
If you’ve read Lynda McDaniel’s Appalachian Mountain mystery trilogy, you’ll enjoy her prequel, which gives the back stories of Vester Junior ‘Abit’ Bradshaw and Della Kincaid. Waiting For You is a short read, spanning the years 1981 to 1983, giving the background on Abit, resident of the small North Carolina mountain town of Laurel Falls, and Della, a free lance writer from Washington, DC. Abit is a bit slow, so his father takes him out of school because he decides that it’s a ‘waste of time,’ leaving Abit nothing to do but sit in a chair outside his father’s general store and watch the world go by. Della, recently divorced, is tiring of being the ghoul friend, who finds herself writing nothing but stories about the darker side of life, and is coping with the suicide of her best friend.
The two stories proceed side-by-side, independent of each other, but moving inexorably toward an encounter between the two when Della decides to see ‘in the flesh’ an area she’s previously written about through long-distance research.
There’s no mystery here—after all, it’s a prequel, right—but it will still grab and hold your interest. If you’ve not read the trilogy, Waiting For You will only make your introduction to the trilogy all the more pleasurable.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Like the trilogy, it is masterfully written, and despite being short, packed with profound insights into the human condition. Don’t miss it. Oh, and I give it five stars.
Jerked away from sunny L.A. to the bitter cold of North Dakota, Leine Basso, former assassin, and now fighting human trafficking for SHEN, joins Derek van der Haar, former poacher, now also on the hunt for those who traffic in children, in an operation to bring down a notorious child sex trafficker in one of the oil boom towns of the Dakotas. The closer they get to their prey, the more dangerous it becomes, as they learn that high-powered men all over the country are behind the heinous happenings, and they will stop at nothing to continue raking in their dirty dollars.
Dakota Burn by best-selling author D.V. Berkom is without doubt the best, and most gut-wrenching Basso thriller yet. Bodies fall along with criminal empires, as Leine and Derek face almost insurmountable odds in their quest to bring justice—of the final kind—to men who have zero respect for life.
If you’re a Leine Basso fan, as I am, you’ll love this book. A strong, determined female heroine who not only competes in a man’s world, but prevails. This penetrating look at the problem of human trafficking in the United States, where most of the population seems unaware of its existence, will open your eyes and leave you breathless in awe.
I received a complimentary copy of this latest Basso magnum opus, and once I started reading, time stopped, but I didn’t until I’d read every last thrilling word. Do yourself a favor—don’t let this one get away.
Lucy Merriweather thinks she’s met the man of her dreams. Simon Grey is an English lord, and he owns an old castle, so despite the doubts beginning to creep into her mind, Lucy allows herself to be talked into a trip to England. From their arrival, though, the doubts begin to grow stronger, and she finally decides that marrying him is a bad idea, and she tells him so. That’s when the wheels come off her rather predictable life. Pretending to accept her rejection, Simon gets her drunk and talks her into a ‘fake’ wedding, just for old times sake. The ‘fake’ wedding turns out to be real, and Lucy learns, to her dismay, that ‘until death do us part,’ has a literal meaning, when Simon announces that he plans to kill her to lift the curse from his castle so he can get rid of it and enjoy his wealth. As they struggle, Lucy finds herself falling, and she wakes up surrounded by armed knights and under the bloody body of a dead man. The leader of the knights, a rough, tarnished knight, William Brandon, takes her under his protection, and from there, her problems multiply like rabbits. She has to deal with being 700 years in the past, being thought a witch because of her alien dress, speech, and manners, a traitor within William’s household, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Simon, and the unfortunate fact that she finds herself falling for the roughshod William
A Knight to Remember by Cynthia Luhrs is a time-travel romance with generous dashes of medieval violence and stink, but also with a more than generous helping of humor as Lucy and the past come to grips with each other.
An enjoyable read. While it has a five-star theme, there are a few glitches (mostly typos) that cause me to give it four stars.
Bain, the bastard son of a lord and a healer, is acknowledged by his father and set up a path to make him the eventual inheritor of his father’s estate. Even though he has no desire to rule in his father’s place, he is determined not to let his father, his mother, or his people down. In the domain of Lord Danza, Bain meets Phaera, Danza’s feisty only child, who is more interested in pursuing her calling as a healer than immersing herself in the inanity of court life. When the two meet, sparks fly, but their mutual interest in healing brings them closer. Phaera’s father has promised her that he will never force her to marry, but when the ambitious and unscrupulous young Mathune, who, in addition to his plans to take over all the kingdoms, sets his eyes on her, Danza feels that he has no choice but to betroth her. From here, the plot thickens. Bain, despite his humble, and questionable, origins, is seen as a s suitable alternative to the cruel Mathune. With the help of a young lord whose sexual preferences are tolerated, but not welcomed in the kingdoms, and the indomitable Phaera, Bain organizes a force to confront Mathune.
Altered Destinies by Yvonne Hertzberger is a riveting novel that is hard to assign a genre classification to. Part epic adventure, part dystopian future-earth, it nonetheless will grab your imagination, and keep you entertained for page after exciting page. Hertzberger is a master at creating alternate, but realistic environments and characters that you can love—or hate—with equal measure.
Although this is billed as perhaps her final novel, one can only hope she’ll relent and thrill us with further adventures of Bain and Phaera.
I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book, and I give it five stars without hesitation. You’ll be doing yourself a great service by snatching it up as soon as it’s released.
Alex Vane’s friend was killed by private contractors working for an intelligence-corporate conglomerate. Alex exposed the killers, but the system survived, as did the man directly responsible for his friend’s murder. Now, his friend’s widow, an expert hacker, is threatening to bring down the entire government private security contractor system if they do not comply with her demands. She asks Alex to come to Cuba to help her, where he finds himself conflicted. While he knows that some in the system are corrupt, he doubts the wisdom or rightness of destroying the entire system to punish them.
Shadow File by A. C. Fuller is a compelling read that, while fictional, is all too close to how some of the private government contractors work in real life. Heart-pounding action on almost every page. A worthwhile read.
I give it four stars.