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.


Washington DC Area – Second Day of Spring, 2018

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March 21, 2018, the second official day of spring, and here’s the view I have from my kitchen and family rooms in North Potomac, must outside Washington, DC. And, while it doesn’t show in the photos, the snow is still falling, and is forecast to continue to fall until late at night, putting most of the area on snow emergency lock-down.

Review of ‘Feasible Planet’

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Have you ever wondered what one person can do to address the serious issue of climate change, and the danger that human-generated activities threaten life on this planet? If that sounds like too ponderous subject for you, then stop reading, because you will not be interested in what follows, or in the book, Feasible Planet by Ken Kroes.

An ambitious book that gives guidelines for more sustainable living, it cannot be read in a single sitting, and has many sections that those who just want it straight forward and unvarnished—or laden with too many complicated charts and formulae. If, however, you make it through, you will be better armed to help Earth survive.

At times, this book can be a bit overpowering, and it could have, I believe, gotten the message across with fifty percent fewer charts and graphs. Having said that, I still believe it is worth reading, and actually, strongly suggest that you do just that.

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

Review of ‘The Bench’

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Jenny is the office mouse, closeted in her cubicle in a large publishing house, she lives in a world only of her literary aspirations. Then, she stumbles across a love poem by an unknown author that changes her world—not necessarily for the better.

The Bench by Kevin Farran is an enigmatic romantic novel that explores the delusions that can engulf a life, fanning flames of hope and desire in ways beyond imagining. The story follows a measured journey through one woman’s tortured mind in a way that will keep you enthralled from beginning to end.

I received a free copy of this book. I give the author four stars for a good effort to entertain and enlighten.

Review of ‘The Deepest Grave’

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DS Fiona Griffiths hasn’t had a murder case in over a year. Then, a local archaeologist is killed, beheaded, and the head is staged so that it’s staring at a fragment of Latin text. Fiona finds herself involved in a case that, in order to solve, she has to delve in battles that are centuries old, and grapple with the legend of Arthur and Camelot.

The Deepest Grave by Harry Bingham is an entertaining British crime thriller with elements of the supernatural and ancient history entwined most effectively with a contemporary crime story. Bingham presents us with a strong, yet flawed, female character who will attract and hold your interest page after page.

I give Bingham five stars for this one.

Review of ‘Open Primary: Ameritocracy’

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Disillusioned with the state of the American political process, and somewhat traumatized by her estranged father’s failed attempt to run for president, Mia Rhodes decides to upend the system. She creates a presidential primary process that is truly open—a social media engine that allows any qualified person to declare candidacy, and then lets the People decide. Her project founders until she attracts the attention of eccentric tech billionaire, Peter Colton, who bankrolls her. Once her system is up and running, though, Mia discovers that in order to change the American political quagmire, she had to undergo significant personal change.

Open Primary: Ameritocracy by A. C. Fuller takes the political system that causes all of us so much anguish head on. Humor and pathos, hope and despair, exist side by side as Mia learns that changing a dirty system often requires getting down into the mud.

If you’re still reeling from the outcome of the 2016 joke that was the presidential election, you’ll find a lot in this book to relate to, cheer for, and gnash your teeth over. This is the first book in a series that will change your view of politics forever.

This book is the Primary Colors of the 2016 election. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Stop the Slip’

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Interesting facts: falls are the number one cause of ER visits in the US, and you’re three times more likely to die from a fall injury than a firearm injury. While this doesn’t mean that we should stop our efforts to prevent firearm injuries, it does call for more attention to preventing needless injury and death from falls—mostly in the home.

Stop the Slip: Reducing Slips, Trips and Falls by Thom Disch addresses this pervasive, but little discussed, problem, with statistics and preventive measures that anyone can understand and apply. Everything from addressing clutter around your home to more intelligent selection of footwear is covered in this chilling book. Fall-proof yourself today with this handy guide.

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

Review of ‘Death and the Lucky Man’

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Alan Winters came from a not-so-lucky family, with a neglectful mother, and brothers in prison. His luck seemed to turn, though, when he won 68 million pounds in the lottery—but, not for long. Alan ended up naked, with his throat slashed, on the Altar Stone at Stonehenge. DCI Keith Tremayne and his partner, DS Clare Yarwood investigate the strange death, each having also to face pasts that in some ways were best forgotten.

Death and the Lucky Man by Phillip Strang is another fascinating adventure with Tremayne and Yarwood and the denizens of their working-class English environment. The author takes you effectively behind the curtain in a story that will delight.

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

Review of ‘Murder in the Painted Lady’

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Peyton Brooks and her partner, Marco D’Angelo, are two of SFPD’s top detectives. No case is too hard for them to solve, until a real estate agent is murdered in a high-end SF property, a painted lady, and there’s no motive, no useful evidence, and no real suspects. Peyton and Marco are working against the clock, trying to catch the killer before he or she strikes again.

Murder in the Painted Lady by M.L. Hamilton is a real nail-biter. Down-to-earth characters in the well-limned setting of San Francisco—from Knob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf—this is one you won’t be able to put down. A novella, this is a prequel to the Peyton Brooks mystery series, introducing a quirky, but strong female character.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Track Down Iraq’

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When a former comrade is captured and put on display by an ISIS terrorist group, Brad Jacobs and his old marine vets set out to rescue him. Working against the odds, and against US Government inaction and, in some cases, perfidy, they save the day.

Track Down Iraq by Scott Conrad is pure escapist reading, primarily for action junkies who like the good guys to be super good—and, guys is the operative word here, since the female characters seem to be primarily arm candy—and the bad guys to be totally irredeemable. A lot of snide side comments about anything that’s not in uniform, and a bit of uninformed speculation about the civilian agencies of government.

If you like your action uncomplicated, it’s probably a read you’d enjoy. I found occasional snippets of entertainment in it. I give it three stars.

In Memoriam – Ursula K. Le Guin: 1929 – 2018

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Chief Writing Wolf

“The way to make something good is to make it well.  If the ingredients are extra good (truffles, vivid prose, fascinating characters) that’s a help. But it’s what you do with them that counts. With the most ordinary ingredients (potatoes, everyday language, commonplace characters) – and care and skill in using them – you can make something extremely good.”

“If your manuscript doesn’t follow the rules of what’s currently trendy, the rules of what’s supposed to be salable, the rule some great authority laid down, you’re supposed to make it do so. Most such rules are hogwash, and even sound ones may not apply to your story. What’s the use of a great recipe for soufflé if you’re making blintzes? The important thing is to know what it is you’re making, where your story is going, so that you use only the advice that genuinely helps you get there. The hell…

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Review of ‘Mark of the Loon’

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When Madison Boone buys an old cottage in Sonoma that belonged to a reclusive ornithologist and his wife, her plans are just to fix it up and flip it for profit. The property has a secret, though, and some people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to uncover it—unfortunately, they have to get Madison off the property first. With the help of her friend, lawyer, Gen Delacourt, Madison begins to peel away the layers of the mystery of the Blackburne family’s estate, and what she learns could be deadly.

Mark of the Loon by Molly Greene is a delightful cozy mystery with a wacky, but loveable cast of characters—a group of witty, independent women who operate according to their own rules, and a colorful locale that is lovingly described, without becoming boring. I loved the pacing; slow and measured until you feel comfortable, and then a burst of frenetic action to get your blood pounding, and just enough budding romance to make it all interesting.

A great start to what I predict will be an even greater series. Don’t miss it. I give it five stars.

How to find stats for your blog

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I don’t pay much attention to these except in passing. I’ll notice that I’m getting about the same number of viewers or that a post has climbed to the top of my most-commented-on list. Let’s say, if I spend ten minutes a week on this, I’d be exaggerating.

But, it’s nice to know where I can look for quantitative feedback. One of my wonderful readers, Jill Weatherholt, asked where I found them. I don’t use anything beyond what WordPress offers. There are fancier options (like through Google) but this gives me everything I want. To that end, here’s where I found the stats I posted as a summary of my 2017:

First: Access the backend of your WordPress blog:

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Review of ‘Honor Bound’

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Arthur, the Wildcat Wizard, is back and as brash as ever. With his life approaching something like normalcy, and in new digs, he’s offered a job he can’t refuse from the vampire First. Honor bound to complete his new mission, but as usual, things go from bad to worse, and the bodies quickly start piling up.

Honor Bound by Al K. Line is the fifth book in the Wildcat Wizard series, and Arthur and his hat are mired in the usual controversy, with enough action to get your blood pumping and the heat flowing on a cold winter’s day.

Lots of supernatural hanky-panky to jazz up your reading. I received a free copy of this one, and it doesn’t disappoint.

I give it five stars – what else!

Review of ‘Bloody Mary’

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Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels is a tough Chicago cop, she has to be, as the highest ranking female detective on the force. When body parts start showing up in the morgue, she and her partner get on the chase of a deadly serial killer, who, for some reason, has Jack in his sights. The case is complicated by Jack’s personal life—in shambles, and a homicidal cat.

Bloody Mary, book 2 in the Jack Daniel’s series by J. A. Konrath, is a fascinating read. A strong, but nearly fatally flawed, female lead, tons of clues, most leading down blind alleys, and spot-on dialogue, will keep you flipping pages, your head spinning, and will completely surprise you when you learn the identity of the killer. I particular like the way the author takes you on a roller coaster ride when the killer is caught, gets off on a technicality, about three-quarters through the book, and then takes our hero on another bloody journey for the rest of it.

Trust me; you won’t be able to put this one down. I give it a resounding five stars.

How I Write: Roll with the Flow

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We humans love to label things. Writers are no exception, either. Take writing habits, for example, we label writers as either those who diligently map out their stories, plotters, or those who just start writing and go with whatever comes, sort of writing by the ‘seat of the pants, or, pantsers.
The problem with this is that a lot of writers don’t fall neatly into either category. Take me, for instance. I usually start my books in one of the following ways:
1. I list the chapters, and the main action in each, knowing generally how I want the story to end. As I write, though, I will often change action, or add chapters as some interesting action or event is suggested by the flow of the story.
2. I know generally how I want the story to end, and I plan the first chapter or two, and then start writing, going with the flow.
You will notice a common thread here; I always go with the natural flow of the story. Certain things just seem to logically follow other things.
Take, for example, my current work in progress, another in my Al Pennyback mystery series, featuring a retired army officer turned private detective in the Washington, DC area. Al is on retainer to a law firm, but the work they give him doesn’t take up too much of his time, so he takes cases involving people who are being put upon by the system, or who have no one else to turn to. Al is something of a knight errant, or a samurai without a master—otherwise known as a Ronin—and, he is always on the side of the downtrodden. In the current story, A Deal to Die For, his client is a spoiled rich girl, who he dislikes at first, but takes the case because she’s being falsely accused of murder.
Generally, my plan for this one was for him to prove her innocence after several false starts and a lot of time spent following red herrings. I decided that this one would be really complex, with several of the things that push Al’s buttons, like the presence of militia, and some play on 9/11, with a possible terrorist in the mix for interest. I mapped out the first nineteen chapters and began writing. The murder has already happened two days before the story begins, and Al’s task is to find the killer.
He begins working his way through the initial list of potential suspects, eliminating them one by one through diligent detective work, until he’s left with what he thinks is the most likely bad guy—only, I decided that he would really hit a wall when he learns that the most likely suspect is not what he first thought he was, and his nemeses, the militia bad guys start to crank up the heat and put his life in danger.
Now, if the militia guys are the real killers, the story’s about over, so I decided that this was too pat. In chapter 19, I have Al’s client fearing she’s about to be arrested, and unidentified bad buys tailing Al all over town. The clock’s ticking, and the stakes are cranked up to the max. I’ve kind of decided who the real murder is already, and now I’m just sending Al down a few false trails, so that when the killer is finally unveiled, readers will be surprised.
I’m now in the home stretch, and I’m planning a few confrontation scenes and some real nail-biting action just before Al finally finds the key clue that tells him where to look.
That, in a nutshell, is how I write. I go with the flow, and if the flow seems to be veering away from the rough sketch map I started with, I simply draw a new map. That is neither plotting, nor pantsing, but a combination of the two, which, being human, I will call plantsing.
So, having shared that bit of trivia with you, I will go back to my plantsing, and see what sprouts. Happy reading, and a glorious New Year to one and all.

Review of ‘Abduction: The Minivan Murders’

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Abduction: The Minivan Murders by R.J. Parker is the true story of James Daveggio and Michelle Michaud, a couple of meth-heads who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a number of young women from Sacramento, California to Reno, Nevada, even killing one and dumping her body.

A chilling story of serial rapists and murderers, the book fails, however, to live up to the hype or the cover. There is too much repetition, going over points repeatedly that could well be addressed once and done—and a lot of it is devoted to the killing spree of two other serial rapist-killers, who apparently were the motivation for Daveggio and Michaud.

An interesting book, that with less repetition, and without the hype—for example, the two were only convicted of one murder, and while they might, if not caught, have killed others, there is no evidence that they killed more than the one for whose death they were convicted.

I give this one three stars. Interesting subject, just not as well executed as I would expect from this author.

Review of ‘P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Christmas Lights’

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P.I. Penguin takes a break from decorating his house for Christmas to find out how to improve his decorations. During his journey, he discovers that the secret to a truly decorative holiday is the sharing.

P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Christmas Lights by Bec J. Smith is a delightful children’s reader, with illustrations by Indonesian artist, Adit Galih. Though in Australian English, it nonetheless is still a great way to introduce young American readers to the beauty of language.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Fly Like an Eagle’

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In Philadelphia, in 1824, Samantha Ronaldson’s father wants her to marry his older business partner in order to keep his industrial secrets in the family. Samantha, on the other hand, only wants the freedom to explore science, and she allies herself with the partner’s half-Indian son, Eagle, and accompanies him on a journey through the Flow, back and forth through time on an amazing journey of discovery.

Fly Like an Eagle by S.B.K. Burns is a difficult book to categorize. A steam punk, sci-fi novel, it has elements of the paranormal, as well as steamy romance, that offers a bit of everything for lovers of a variety of genres. A tantalizing romp that challenges historical and scientific truths, it explores the boundaries between science and spirituality in a thoroughly entertaining story that will grab and hold your attention from the first page to the last.

I give this one four stars.