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.
A fun quiz to try.
on Just Publishing Advice:
With every sentence you write, you need to choose the correct verb.
You can choose between a strong or weak verb or an active or static verb.
Often it depends on collocation and an expectation of which verb will suit your sentence the best.
As with all aspects of writing, you are the decision-maker.
From the blog Lucinda E. Clarke:
Is it enough for us to simply elect our leaders and sit back, doing nothing, while they rule over us like autocrats? What good is it to select our politicians, if we have no control over media, police, or military? These penetrating questions are asked in Joss Sheldon’s Democracy: A User’s Guide as he explores democracy in action in a number of institutions and places around the world. Sheldon’s thesis is that we can have a greater say in how we’re governed, we just have to inform ourselves and act.
An insightful look at how democracy is supposed to work and is recommended reading for anyone who truly cares about living in a truly representative society.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it five stars.
Tesha, a priestess of the goddess Ishanna, must try and save her city from demonic forces. When King Hattu, younger brother of the Great King, comes to her city on a secret mission, he’s accused of being in league with the demons and sentenced to die. With his fate in the hands of the grand Votary, Tesha’s father, who is a strict and unyielding man, things look dire. In order to save him, Tesha must destroy her own father, using her wits and forbidden magic.
Priestess of Ishanna by Judith Starkston is an intriguing story with magic and mayhem aplenty. The author keeps the reader on tenterhooks from the first page. A very entertaining read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it four stars.
Shavi Levinger’s Noam’s Monsters is about a little boy suffering emotional trauma from being bullied. He can’t tell anyone, but he has monsters in his tummy. A very good lesson about helping children cope with anxiety and shyness, with nice illustrations, although the rhyming left a bit to be desired. I still recommend this book for parents and teachers who have to deal with children’s issues. I received a complimentary copy of this book, and give it three stars.
When abolitionists Dana Curbstone and Reverend Cal Fenton assist slave Jacob Pingram escape across the Maysville River to freedom, Pingram’s owner hires retired slave catcher Dan Basken to find and return his ‘property. But in 1833 Maysville, Kentucky, Basken is preoccupied with finding the slave girl Abejide, with whom he had a brief liaison before she was taken away to be sold. Basken is conflicted—he has begun to question the institution of slavery. When he catches up with the fugitives at the river, he must come to a decision that will change his life forever.
The Hard Side of the River by Johnny Payne is a gut-wrenching look at life in the South a few decades before the Civil War, told with a keen appreciation, not just of history, but the personal impact on the people who lived under a system that treated some people as property. This is a book that will change the way a reader looks at freedom and the rights of people to be free to determine their own destiny.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. As an amateur historian and author, I was both emotionally and intellectually impacted by the author’s deft handling of this extremely sensitive, and for some, controversial issue. I give it five stars, and look forward to the author’s next offering.
Michael Smith’s Healthy Diet for Men Over 50 contains some good ideas for men past 50 that if followed intelligently will enhance quality of life. In addition to life-style changes designed to make the most of the body’s ability to mend itself, the book also has recipes for a healthier diet. Like any other health book, though, it’s a good idea to consult your medical practitioner before making changes in your exercise routine or diet.
There’s really not that much new here, but the author has presented it in an easy-to-understand and apply way that is within reach of everyone.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and give it three and a half stars.
J.D. Cordell’s father, also J.D., was saved by a Montagnard named Dish during the Vietnam War. When the war ended, Dish continued the fight against the communists, running weapons from Thailand into the Vietnamese highlands. When J.D.’s mother, an ethnic Vietnamese who was adopted by Dish, goes to Vietnam to find him, she’s captured by his former enemy. J.D. and Dish team up to rescue her in one of the most interesting novels of the post-Vietnam period I’ve read in a long time.
D.C. Gilbert’s Montagnard is a riveting read that will hold your interest from first to last page. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it four stars.
Henry Stein is a 50-year-old master chef for the Israeli submarine force. When he’s laid off after a long career, he’s too ashamed to tell his wife or the other residents of his kibbutz. But, when he’s arrested and charged with passing classified information to a beautiful Korean-American CIA agent, his past begins to unravel.
I Am Not a Traitor by Y. I. Latz is a bizarre tale of a man who owes allegiance to two nations, Israel and Britain. He is also smitten by the lovely doctor, a neophyte spy for the CIA, who manipulates him in exchange for the information he picks up in his dining room at the submarine base. The story moves back and forth through Henry’s life, from his life as a young man in England, and the suspicious death of his grandmother, to Colombia, where his daughter is arrested and threatened with a trial for a routine traffic accident, to his experiences with the sometimes-brutal interrogators in the secret Israeli prison where he’s being held.
While the facts of Henry’s life are not in dispute almost from the beginning of the tale, where his true loyalties lie—the core theme—does not become clear until very near the end. The author’s judicious dispensation of facts is done in such a way as to keep the reader guessing. Henry is presented as a complex character, one with whom the reader will find it hard to sympathize until the stunning truth is revealed.
If you like your spy thrillers packed with false leads, byzantine plots, and plenty of intrigue, you’ll love this book. I received a free copy.
While on a dig in Peru, working for her dad, who got a call to hurry back to Egypt to continue his search for the fabled Hall of Records, Alyssa is attacked. Using her wiles and a ton of grit, she manages to get away only to learn that her father has been struck down by some mysterious element just as he was about to enter the hall. Against the advice of everyone, Alyssa, who is not quite recovered from injuries suffered when she tried to fly a plane and ended up with it in a tree, goes to Egypt to see if she can save her father’s life.
What follows is a fantastic tale of shared consciousness, the mythical continent of Atlantis, love, death, war, and betrayal that will keep you on the edge of your chair. Alyssa uncovers long-buried secrets, about the world—and, about herself. I won’t spoil the story for you by telling you what. You should go out and get a copy of M.Sasinowski’s Heir of Ra and see for yourself. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. The author melds actual history (with all its myths and belief in magic) with a created world that in many ways seems more real than its real-life counterpart.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Without hesitation, I give it five stars
Frankie Armstrong, and expat Brit owner of a UK-based security company, is living in a rented second-floor condo in Naples, Florida with his dog, Charlie. He/s in Florida partly because the warm Gulf Coast weather is preferable to England’s wet fog, and mainly to get some distance from his estranged wife. Things are going well for him until one night he witnesses what appears to be an argument between a man and a woman near the condo’s dock, resulting in the woman falling, or being pushed, into the bay; He rushes down when he hears screams, but finds no one. Later, when police find a severed arm in the bay, it’s identified as belonging to Ava Ledinsky, a beautiful resident of the condo who teaches piano. Further investigation indicates it’s a possible homicide, and that Ava has a sketchy history, possibly of blackmailing married men with whom she’s having affairs. When Ava’s sister, Lisa, comes to settle her affairs and find out what happened to her sister, she too is killed, and Frankie becomes a prime suspect.
Condo by Kerry Costello is a fast-paced murder mystery with no shortage of suspects—in addition to Frankie, every man in the Condo is a potential suspect—and more red herrings than a London fish market. The killer, though not identified, is introduced early on, and the reader is kept guessing as to who he is. This story has more twists and turns than a Coney Island roller coaster, and will keep you guessing, probably wrongly, until all the gators have been wrestled into submission.
I received a complimentary copy of Condo, and found it quite entertaining. I give it three and a half stars.
Nefer Blue Phoenix by Micah Patton is a mythical tale of a young princess who is from a race of super-powerful beings; robbed of her inheritance by a band of rebels who kill her mother and father. Haunted by dreams in which her mother appears, demanding that she kill those responsible for this travesty, she will go to any lengths to reclaim her rightful place.
An interesting story, that is unfortunately marred by too many typos and grammatical irregularities. The flow of the story is good, and character development adequate, as Anuaka goes to extremes to achieve her goals. With a better job of proofreading and structural enhancement, it could achieve a level of literary merit that accords with the author’s vision.
I received a complimentary copy of this book which I give two and a half stars to. Not a bad first novel.
Raven’s Flock by Todd Matthews is a story that dedicated gamers will love. For those unfamiliar with the gaming world, it’s a bit hard to get into—an interesting story, but not everything about is apparent at first glance.
The main character, or at least, the character that seems to be the principal, King Cain Santos is in a kind of temporal holding area in the year 2024. His adventures are amusing to watch unfold, but I came to the end of the story unsure of what really transpired. I did finally realize that Raven Spade (for whom this book is names) is actually the main character, and Santos is just a foil. Following Raven’s efforts to escape the tyrannical bonds of Columbia’s rulers and recapture the freedom of the past—therein lies the parts of the book that I found most interesting.
Like experimental fiction, I can read and enjoy stories that I don’t fully understand, and Raven’s Flock falls into that category. I enjoyed it, got a glimmering of understanding—just a glimmering, and was impressed with the author’s skill with the written word.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Read it one and a half times just to try to better understand it. I give it three and a half stars.
Battle Stations by Roger Jewett follows several people through the onset of World War II. The principal character is Captain Andre Troost, who worked with the British navy, escorting freighter convoys from the Atlantic midpoint on their voyages to England. He is, like many military men who spend a lot of time away from home, having marital difficulties, which are only compounded when he’s promoted to rear admiral and reassigned to Pearl Harbor, shortly before the Japanese attack. Several other characters, including Troost’s son, a navy flight school dropout, meet and interact as war breaks out, from the dark days of the near destruction of the U.S. Pacific fleet, to the turning point in the war when the U.S. knocks out much of Japan’s carrier force.
Fictional, but based upon true events, Battle Stations takes the reader into the reality of war, not a romantic endeavor, but the gritty, frightening, bloody encounter between men—and women—sent by nations that often don’t consider the human cost when deciding to go to war. This book looks at war through the eyes of some of those humans who have to pay the cost.
I received an advanced review copy of the book. It is recommended reading for anyone who wants to experience the reality of combat. The author knows his stuff.
I give this story five stars.
Peter O’Keefe, owner of a PI agency, is a man with issues. After his wartime tour as a marine, he flirted with drugs and alcohol, before his friend Mike Harrigan talked him into become a gumshoe, a gig that ended up with him running an agency, doing odd jobs for Mike’s law firm, while at the same time, trying to maintain a relationship with his 10-year-old daughter, and a failed marriage.
When Mike introduces him to two men, investors in a mink farm who believe that they’ve been victims of a Ponzi scheme, and they want Peter to find the con man who bilked them and see if he can recover their money.
Peter finds the mink farm, and much more. The scam artist, Lenny Parker, is missing, and his wife, a spoiled woman who happens to be the daughter of one of Peter’s clients, is busy selling their assets and preparing to disappear as well. As if that’s not problem enough, Peter stumbles into a gruesome murder of the two remaining workers at the farm, and the dreadful realization that Parker’s wife is next on the hit list. His efforts to save her then puts him directly in the cross hairs of the mob boss who has been funding Parker’s scam with heavy influxes of cash—and cocaine.
Mink Eyes by Dan Flanigan is a hard-boiled PI novel in the style of the pulp mysteries of the 40s and 50s, with enough gun battles, car chases (and horse chases), and bloody bodies to keep even the most jaded mystery fan satisfied until the stunning climax.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and give it five stars for its sheer chutzpah.
Eighteen-year-old Jai a squire in 14th century England, in a time of magic and mystery, is best friends with Lady Amelie, daughter of the ruler. When he starts to have visions, such as a yellow door in the woods that only he can see, Amelie takes him to the kingdom’s mage, who informs him that this is a sign of his fate—that it implies things both positive and negative. Jai is then faced with a dilemma. There are things that he knows, about Amelie for example, that he cannot reveal. His faith and courage are tested to their limits.
Jai’s Vision by noted author Pairas O’Cionnaorth is a short tale for younger readers that is filled with wise and sage advice that is subtly inserted in a tale of mysticism and valor. My only complaint about the story is that ending sort of leaves things hanging insofar as Jai’s future is concerned, but it is still a fascinating little read.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book, and found it quite entertaining. I give it four stars.
British journalist, Neil Ingleby, goes to Greece to do research for a book, and to get as far away as possible from the woman who dumped him. He meets Dutch sailor and vagabond Pieter Van Loon and French agent provocateur Charles Pol, who is also a barbouze, or ‘false beard’, and quickly finds himself caught between an army of French defectors and an angry army od Arab nationalists. The line between objective journalist and revolutionary participant becomes blurred, and Ingleby’s life is on the line.
Barbouze by Alan Williams is a riveting thriller in the style of John LeCarre that will keep you glued to your seat, as the action builds inexorably to a surprising climax.
I received a complimentary copy of this book, and give it four stars.
Addison Shaw inherits a strange pen with which he can write (ink) himself into the consciousness of anyone at any time in the past, and when he dies, he returns to his body. With his fellow inker, Jules, he’s pitted against the machinations of an ancient tyrant who is bent on controlling the world. When Julies is trapped in the body of an ancient Incan princess, Addison realizes that the only way to save the world might be to destroy it.
Die Back by Richard Hacker is a time travel story with an interesting twist, and with enough suspense to make it worth plowing through the dense text.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it three stars.