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.

Review of ‘Crime: A Small Town With Big Secrets’

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Crime: A Small Town With Big Secrets by Michael Ace Smith starts with a fascinating premise: an English family, the Kings, with deadly secrets they wish to conceal, relocate from the UK to a small town in the US. Soon after they arrive, there is a strange murder, and somehow, they are linked to it, and their lives begin to unravel.

Like I said, a fascinating premise. Unfortunately, there was entirely too much telling and not enough action and showing to really hold my interest. I found it difficult to keep reading, but kept hoping things would perk up somewhere, anywhere, in the book. Alas, they never did. And, even though there was a good surprise ending, it would’ve been so much better if I hadn’t had to wade through the heather to get to it.

I give this one three stars, with a prediction that this author will improve with experience and one day will surprise us.

Review of ‘Forbidden Cure’

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Chris Ravello, an ex-NYPD cop, has a supposedly incurable and debilitating disease, and nothing the doctors have tried seems to work. He learns of a radical new treatment being developed by an eccentric researcher, and decides to give it a try, even though it could kill him if it fails. Against the advice of his friends, he signs up, and after receiving the treatment finds himself changing. He’s not sure who—or what—he’s changing into.  To complicate matters, his former partner is assigned a medical crimes case that is way beyond his capability to deal with, and he calls on Chris for help. Coincidentally, it seems that there have been several unexplained deaths of patients who underwent the same treatment as Chris.

Forbidden Cure by William Rubio is a medical thriller that explores the ethical dimensions of unlicensed medical research, but there are also elements of pure thriller with the introduction of a jailed serial killer who is obsessed with Chris and who claims to have information that Chris’s wife did not die as he thought, but is still alive.

This book has the makings of a hit, but the author never seems to be sure which story he’s telling. Worse, the book ends without resolution of any of the issues raised, leaving me frustrated and feeling a bit cheated. We don’t know the outcome, or even the potential outcome of the questionable procedure performed on Chris, we don’t know what happened to his wife, and the crime is not solved.

The author writes well insofar as his grasp of the language is concerned, but needs to understand that thriller fans want resolution. When a book ends and you’re left scratching your head and wondering what just happened, it’s unlikely you’ll be interested in reading a sequel.

I give this one three stars for the quality of writing only. Story structure, though, is unfortunately sub-par.

Review of ‘El Pombero’

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El Pombero by Jackie Goldman is hard to categorize; it’s kind of a romance novel, kind of a come-to-terms with life story, and kind of an adventure. Heather, the narrator, is talked into going to Venezuela by her friend, Jay, whose brother died there in a freak accident. In addition to visiting the site, Jay wants to meet the Venezuelan woman who alleges that his brother fathered her child. As Heather tells the reader all this, we learn that she, too, has a brother she’s never met.

The story moves at a measured pace as Heather discovers more and more about herself and comes to terms with her life.

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

Review of ‘The Collapsing Kingdom’

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Raised on stories of his grandfather and great-grandfather’s heroism, Brandon never thought that one day he’d be called upon to be brave and fearless. But, one day, the kingdom starts turning gray, and certain spots are disappearing. Brandon’s in trouble at his school for questioning the teacher’s lectures, and when he plays hooky to find proof that he’s right, he’s chased by the school security guard.

The Collapsing Kingdom by Benjamin Ellefson is book three in the Land Without Color series, and it continues to grand tradition of its predecessors. Really neat illustrations support a fascinating story that has subtle lessons on the importance of self-confidence and a good diet. Great reading for young and old alike.

My kudos to the author for a great series.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘The Great Sugar War’

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Young Otto is lost at sea. When he comes ashore, he finds himself in the middle of a great conflict, in a strange land where everything is gray. The two sides, the Kingdom of Color and the Kingdom of Shapes, each accuse the other of starting the war, but Brandon finds that a third party, aided by legions of sugar soldiers, is manipulating events. He must defeat the sugar soldiers, outsmart the war inspectors, and stay out of the gnome jail.

The Great Sugar War by Brian Ellefson is book two in the Land Without Color series. Great illustrations and a compelling story that, along with the action, has subtle lessons on the importance of a proper diet. The author knows how to keep a reader interested in what’s happening and anxious for what’s to come.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘The Black Lotus Affair’

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When an operation went wrong, top spy Kiko Ochisan left the spy agency and decided to concentrate on improving her sword fighting skills. But, when several bodies are found on the outskirts of Tokyo, one of them her former partner, she decides to investigate. An enigmatic stranger appears in her life with on offer to help, but, can she trust him?

The Black Lotus Affair by Lina Vine is an interesting action spy thriller that follows Kiko and her strange companion as they penetrate a murky organization set on a dangerous course. A well-executed novel of suspense and intrigue that I recommend for fans of the genre.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Land Without Color’

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Alvin got a mysterious pack of gum for his birthday, and, as boys are wont to do, he blew the biggest bubble he could. That bubble floated him away and deposited him in a strange land where there was no color, and he finds himself the only person capable of bringing the color back. Of course, along the way he has to deal with a two-headed dragon, a sneaky king, and all manner of other challenges.

The Land Without Color by Benjamin Ellefson is intended for young readers, and contains, not so subtly, advice on the importance of eating properly, but I found it entertaining—maybe it’s because I’m entering my second childhood. Wonderful illustrations and the non-preachy style make this a great book for your young reader—or, perhaps, even yourself.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘Illustrating Nature’

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Illustrating Nature: How to Paint and Draw Plants and Animals by Dorothea and Sy Barlowe is a comprehensive guide to depicting nature in a variety of media. A handy reference guide for beginning and experienced artists, it covers equipment, materials and techniques in a thorough way.

I received a copy of this book as a gift, and I highly recommend it. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Immortal Gene’

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An ace homicide detective with a great partner, and about to get married, Jake Wood has it all. But, when a friend is in trouble in the Amazon, Jake goes to his rescue, only to be injured and wake up from a coma 18 months later, changing—not just into someone else, but something else. He learns that his fiancée has married and his partner transferred, so he sells his house and moves on. But, the past catches up with him. Someone is after him, and his old partner is asking for his help to catch a vicious serial killer. In the process, he finds out that he has been experimented on, and now those who did want to erase him.

The Immortal Gene by Jonas Saul is an interesting read. Though billed as a mystery, it’s actually more science fiction thriller. Fairly well written, but the inconclusive ending—possibly a teaser for the sequel—feels like a cheat.

I enjoyed it, though not as much as the author’s previous book. I received a complimentary review copy of this book. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Secrets of the Island’

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All families have secrets; some are benign or funny, others not so much. Meg O’Reilly has been keeping a secret from her older children, the twins, Harry and Harriet, which she’d been planning to share with them on their twenty-first birthdays. But, Harry and Harriet, on April 21, 1943, are serving their country in North Africa as the Allies try to push the Nazis off that continent in preparation for the move on Italy. In the meantime, her father, Herbert, discovers another family secret that rocks his world, and at the same time, Harry and Harriet get caught up on an encounter with a Nazi soldier and a British spy that gives the two of them a current secret that shakes up their lives.

In Secrets of Island by Linda Hughes, the reader is taken on a strange and torturous journey through the lives of several families, mainly the O’Reilly’s, as secrets are brought to light, causing each member of the family to reassess his or her place in the grand scheme of things.

The author provides an in-depth history of the Great Lake area of Michigan, and interesting insights into life during the turn of the century. At times, the author does a bit too much telling, but, thankfully, it does not disrupt too much—and, every tidbit is fascinating. I did take issue with the author’s use of the word ‘dray’ to describe a horse rather than the open sided carriage used for transport—as a writer of westerns, such things pop out at me. But, this one small mistake can be forgiven since the story was, on the whole, absorbing.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Maharishi and Me’

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For six years, Susan Shumsky served as a personal assistant to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. She was associated with his movement or residing in his ashrams for a total of 22 years. She was present for many of his more famous meetings and associations, such as that with the Beatles, and she tells her story in Maharishi & Me, a candid, no-holds-barred personal look inside the reality of this enigmatic man.

The author tells how she was transformed from a shy teenager to the self-confident author she is today, but her journey was not without pain and setbacks. The highs and lows are treated equally in this compelling narrative, which is one of self-discovery as much as biography.

As someone who came of age in the turbulent 60s, and, like the author, discovered Buddhism—although, in my case it was as a GI in Vietnam—experienced the illusion of freedom of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and questioned my role in everything, I can relate to the what Shumsky has to say in this book.

For a fascinating look back in time, I highly recommend this book. I received a complimentary copy for review.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Individutopia’

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In 2084, there is no such thing as society. The cult of the individual reigns supreme. But, for one individual, one day the path to self-discovery reveals itself. Individutopia by Josh Sheldon is a dystopian tale that takes the current obsession with individualism to its ultimate extreme. Most of the world’s wealth is owned by a few individuals—does that ring any bells?—and the individual is allowed earn just enough income to survive, but never to be able to escape the heavy burden of debt. Renee Blanca, the last baby born to two people who actually talked to each other, begins to question her place in the world, and begins to rebel against the many restrictions on those individuals who are mere work units for the benefit of the less than one percent who own everything.

You’ll not miss the parallels with our current existence, and hopefully this book will make you think about the path we’re currently on, and what you, as an individual, can do to restore society to its rightful place.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I have to admit it elicited strong emotions, not all positive—but, not against the author or the story, but the fact that it all rings too true—I still give it five stars. A must read in today’s world! Make sure to get a copy of this one when it’s released.

Review of ‘The Elixir’

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A poltergeist reanimates the corpse of gangster Al Capone, and then that of a vengeful spirit causing accidents on Chicago’s streets. Could things get any worse for Bud Hutchins? You bet your silicone-covered magic wand they can—and do. Maeve, a zombie, werewolf, priest who Bud is trying to bring back to life—or un-life, never quite sorted that one out—gets pummeled by the poltergeist and now needs emergency treatment, but Bud’s a bit preoccupied, what with having to transport around the city, with Ivy Zheng, a spunky PhD candidate who is helping him to discover who murdered Ivy’s friend.

This is just an appetizer of what’s in The Elixir by J.B. Michaels. An urban fantasy/mystery/thriller with more improbabilities than Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The book has a few typos, and is a bit jerky—in tempo not mentality—in places, but is still an entertaining read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Death by Honeymoon’

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While on their honeymoon in Barbados, Cindy and Clint’s idyllic interlude is interrupted by tragedy when Clint is found drowned in the surf. The local police quickly call it an accident, but Cindy’s not so sure. Back in New York, facing off with Clint’s family, who had objected to the marriage, and some of his friends who don’t seem to care much for her, she discovers that there were things about her new husband she didn’t know—dark secrets that could have caused someone to kill him—and she’s determined to discover the truth. She soon finds herself targeted, so she goes back to Barbados to do her own investigation, not just to honor Clint, but to save her own life.

Death By Honeymoon by Jaden Skye is a romantic mystery that, though it is a bit heavier on the romance than some mystery fans will prefer, will still, I believe, please. Some of the mystery elements are too obvious but given that the main character is a total amateur, it somehow works.

A nice read during the turbulent, indecisive summer weather currently plaguing both coasts.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Iron Curtain Killers’

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When the Soviet Union was founded in 1922, its founders described it as a ‘socialist paradise’, free of the decadent western crimes, which, like everything else Stalin and his ilk did, was a big lie. Russia and the Soviet Union have, for instance, had serial killers since even before there was a Soviet Union, and the police there struggle to find and capture them just as much as their counterparts in the West, often under the yoke of official denial of their existence.

Iron Curtain Killers by Michael Newton and RJ Parker is a detailed account of 26 serial murder cases ranging from 1960 to the 21st century, including one case that remains unsolved to this day. This book is not for the squeamish, but it shines new light on a region that was for long under the shadow of the Iron Curtain.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Ike and Kay’

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Ambulance driver, Kay Summersby, is assigned to drive two-star general, Dwight Eisenhower, in 1942, in the run-up to the invasion of the European continent. The relationship soon becomes more than professional and threatens to up-end both of their lives.

Ike and Kay by James MacManus is a fictionalized account of the true wartime relationship of the American supreme commander and his British driver, a story that made headlines at the time. MacManus has penned an account that rings true and adds new depth to a little-remembered anecdote of the period.

A captivating read. I received a free review copy of this book, and I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Myth of Love’

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If you’re a fan of 1940s style pulp fiction you’ll like The Myth of Love. If you’re the type who like reading about Eastern mythic stories, you’ll be into The Myth of Love. Despite being a bit discombobulated by some of the formatting issues in the book, I was sucked into the story, only stopping when it got so late I had to quit and get some shut-eye.

The Myth of Love by Randy Neiderman is a fusion of noir mystery and eastern mythology that follows the adventures of two gods who sacrifice their immortality to experience human love. Reincarnated as an alcoholic PI and a Russian dominatrix, Jimmy and Sasha (One and the Second in their pantheon of gods) must find each other and fall in love in order to fulfill the Myth. Their quest sets off a conflict between opposing forces in the pantheon, with one side trying to kill them in order to restore the status quo in the universe and the other making the supreme sacrifice in order to protect them.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty is, regardless of your genre preference, once you start reading this book, you won’t be able to stop until you see how it ends.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Orange Curtain’

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People are being killed in an affluent high-rise known as the Orange Curtain. Homicide Detective Max Cusini finds a perplexing situation—his main suspects don’t match the description of the killer or killers, and when a murder takes place that doesn’t match the M.O. of the first killings, he finds himself looking down a rabbit hole, and his life—and sanity—at risk.

The Orange Curtain by Chris D. Dodson is an interesting mystery, marred only by an overabundance of typos and generally choppy pacing.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I made my way through it, despite the typos, and sadly can only give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Just Different Devils’

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A sassy, irreverent Texan, Hetta Coffey lives on the edge of legality on a boat in Mexico. When she’s offered a mysterious charter, she talks her best friend Jan into coming along for the ride. The two soon find themselves face to face with Hetta’s bete noir, Nacho, a man for whom she has conflicting feelings. He’s up to something, but they can’t figure out what. Oh, and there are missing mariners, oysters full of pearls, a murderous giant squid, an amorous dolphin, and a sexy kilt-wearing Scot making Hetta’s life even more complicated than it normally is.

Just Different Devils by Jinx Schwartz is funny, provided you can laugh when dismembered corpses are being described in gruesome detail. Well, maybe not so much detail, but what is described is gruesome. And, did I mention that while you fight to keep from spewing your lunch, you’ll be laughing your hind end off? You will, I promise. Hetta is my kind of hero, heroine, or whatever the proper term is. She lives life to the fullest, takes no prisoners, and makes no apologies. Yay, Hetta!

Loved this book, and I’m willing to bet that, unless you’re brain dead and totally without a funny bone, you will too.

I give it four and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Sensual Retiree’

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Just about a year into his retirement, at age 65, Joan Thompson’s husband, Phil, suffered a massive heart attack and died. Alone now, Joan sells her house and moves into a seaside retirement village, where she discovers that life, and sex, don’t come to an end after 60.

The Sensual Retiree by Gordon Smith is a delightful story of aging and how to do it gracefully. I couldn’t put it down.