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 ‘The Scent of Distant Worlds’

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Cassie Clearwater, a Seminole, has forsaken the traditions of her tribe for science and has won the position of science officer aboard the interstellar exploration ship, Far Traveler. When they arrive at a dark, forbidding planet many light years from earth, which they name Obsidian because of its blackness, Cassie learns the wisdom of things her grandfather told her just before his death, things like ‘travelers to strange lands must keep an open mind,’ and ‘trust your heart when your brain is confused,’ when they encounter strange plants and animals which she suspects are intelligent.

 

The Scent of Distant Worlds by W. D. County is a deep science fiction novel that explores the complexities of encounters between entities whose systems of communications are incompatible, and how intuition and the intangible elements of trust and love can succeed where hard, objective fact fails.

 

A thoroughly riveting and interesting book, particularly when the author switches to the alien (non-human) point of view. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Infernal Curse’

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Half-goddess Alexandra Shaw is only days away from attaining her full goddess status, but things are not looking good. Demonic and vampire incidents are on the rise, and her nemesis is still after her—only, now, it’s her magic he wants. Can she and her sidekick, the fae Kagan Griffith prevail?

 

Read Infernal Curse by Antara Mann and find out. Book two of the Half-Goddess Chronicles picks up where book one left off, and keeps the magic flowing. Exciting from beginning to end. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it four and a half stars.

Review of ‘Ghost Country’

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In a post-apocalyptic United States, survivors, huddled on a beached ocean liner in a Mississippi port, must not only contend with gang attacks, hurricanes, famine, and an army of religious zealots, but with a tyrannical president who seems bent on finishing the destruction of the world. Loyalties, values, and courage are tested to the limit in Ghost Country by JK Franks. Fairly well paced with good character development. Not a bad read.

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

Review of ‘Blue Bears’

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When a courier is caught transporting tactical nukes, called Blue Bears, through the Republic of Georgia, the CIA sends their resident agent, Randy Sawyer, to work with Georgian Special Forces to find and terminate the seller—and the buyer, a mad Saudi billionaire out to start World War III, and establish a terrorist caliphate. External enemies are not their only problem, they must deal with betrayal within their own ranks.

 

Blue Bears by Dan Andreescu and Don McQuinn is a spine-chilling international thriller that will keep you nervously flipping pages. Taut drama and suspense make this a must-read for thriller fans.

 

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

Review of ‘Shadow of the Jaguar’

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Dr. Martin Stokes and his daughter Nancy are in the Amazon basin in Peru, on the verge of finding a lost city mentioned in a conquistadores’ ancient manuscript. When an armed group of narco-traffickers kidnap Nancy and threaten to kill her unless he leads them to the site of the city, Stokes calls on his brother, Lou for aid in rescuing her.

Leine Basso is dispatched to find and rescue Nancy, but is forced to take her own daughter April along on the mission. April, who has worked with the anti-trafficking organization as a counselor, has no experience in the field, and Leine is worried that she will have to take care of her as well as concentrate on the job at hand.

In the jungle, Leine and April find things have gone from bad to worse, and don’t know who to trust. With greed, deceit, and perfidy at every turn, they are challenged just to stay alive.

Shadow of the Jaguar by D. V. Berkom is another offering in the stellar Leine Basso series, and they just keep getting better. If you like your heroines strong, focused, and uncompromising, you’ll love this one, and it it’s your introduction to this character, it’ll whet your appetite to go back to the beginning and read the preceding volumes.

This one will grab you by your attention span and pin you to your chair until, soaked with sweat and panting, you reach the end.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, couldn’t put it down until I finished it, and give it five stars. Heck, I’d give it more if I could, but five’s the limit.

Review of ‘Hometown Boys’

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Burned-out junkie Troy Ingram murders an elderly couple, and when he’s nabbed by the cops, confesses that he did it for revenge against their niece, Kelly Durrell, who spurned him twenty years earlier. When Kelly comes home to Morrison, Illinois from Denver, she finds his story less than believable, but everyone, including her own family, are all too willing to believe it. Troy’s lawyer thinks that someone else was behind the murder, and enlists Kelly’s help to find out just who that is, setting in motion a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the brains behind Troy’s murderous rampage.

 

Hometown Boys by Mary Maddox is a tightly-woven, intense thriller that explores the dark side of small-town America as we follow Kelly in her investigation of the crime. This book will keep you on the edge of your chair.

 

I received a complimentary copy of one of my more enjoyable reads so far this year. I give it four and a half stars.

Review of ‘Space City’

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At sixteen, Neil Ericson tries to join the Air Force, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. When that fails, he’s invited to join an academy on Space City, a space station beyond the moon. Soon after arrival, he befriends another student, and together, they face the daunting challenges designed to prepare them for—who knows what. In addition to challenges that can literally kill them, they also must contend with traitors in Space City who are selling out the human race.

 

Space City by Jared Austin is a fast-paced sci-fi story for young adults that will also appeal to older fans of the genre. The ending was a tad disappointing, but it was still a worthwhile read.

 

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

Review of ‘Accidents Happen’

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When Tabitha tries to help an injured boy, an advertising sign falls and kills her. Mort, a soul collector comes to get a soul, only, it’s the boy, not Tabitha, who was supposed to die. In the kerfuffle that follows Tabitha and Mort’s souls switch bodies, leading to cosmic confusion. Tabitha must now wait for Death to sort things out with the higher powers. She’s assigned to take over Mort’s soul collecting duties, guided by Cooper, another soul in limbo, until her fate is decided, and what follows is mirth and madness on an ethereal scale.

 

Accidents Happen by Sharon Karaa is a madcap, other-worldly adventure that follows Tabitha and Cooper through a series of misadventures that lead to some interesting conclusions. A thoroughly entertaining story, marred only by a few confusing character name switches (which I assume were errors not caught in editing) and the description of Tabitha as an orphan despite the prominent role her mother plays in the story.

 

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Panacea’

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Dante Emerson’s daughter Ella suffers from incurable cancer, and he’ll do anything to save her – anything. When a mysterious man offers him a ‘cure’ in exchange for his help in raiding a secret government facility, he jumps at the chance. The cure, though, turns out to be worse than the deadly disease, he’s forced to watch his little girl turn into a monster. As if that wasn’t enough, a dangerous group of monsters known as the Scorned want Ella for themselves, and are willing to kill to get to her.

 

Panacea by Z. J. Frost is a chilling, action-packed story of demonic possession and government perfidy. A nice, icky little tale that horror fans will enjoy, even if the ending is a bit of a letdown. I received a complimentary copy of this book.  I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Deepening: First Contact’

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Kelly Brewer’s First Contact, the first book in The Deepening series, will grab you by . . . well, whatever part of your body you consider most sensitive, and squeeze every drop of laughter out of you possible. Kyle, a former Marine turned mega-rock star, is off for a galactic tour with his band and his soon-to-be wife, Mercy. An oddball combo, they face even more oddball situations as Kyle must decide what to do to save humanity. Do I have your attention?

 

I won’t go into the plot because that would spoil it for you. Just know that this is a wacky mixture of sci-fi, sociopolitical commentary, and odd doings on a galactic scale. If you like to be entertained while you’re inspired to think—that’s right, it is possible, folks—this is a book I would definitely recommend. Told in dramatic scenes like a fast action movie that has a lot of quick cuts from one dramatic scene to another.

 

Kept my attention from beginning to end.

 

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

Review of ‘Murder Mansion’

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Donna is the new owner of the Painted Lady Inn, and she’s determined to get it rehabilitated and make it a success. She hits a snag, though, when a corpse is found in one of the upstairs rooms. What would have stopped others in their tracks only makes her more determined to succeed, so she sets out to solve the murder.

 

Murder Mansion by M. K. Scott is the first book in what promises to be an interesting and entertaining series. Well-developed characters and humor inserted as deftly as strawberries atop a chocolate cake will keep you reading.

 

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

Review of ‘Genecaust’

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When a plot to use genomes and microbiomes to murder specific individuals or groups using genetic markers is discovered, Meret Mather is tasked to use her genomic consulting company to ferret out those behind the plot and prevent its implementation. Special Agent Granger Hawking, point man in the field, tasked with finding the people, is captured, and Meret must help rescue him.

 

An interesting ‘what-if’ techno-thriller that will please fans of the genre. Replete with technical details, it comes across in places as a bit dry, then makes up for that dryness with some decent action scenes.

 

I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Looking for Humboldt & Searching for German Footprints in New Mexico and Beyond’

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In popular media’s representation of the American West, and even in the history books, the contributions of many groups are glossed over, and in some cases, even omitted, and while many of these groups have been people of color, some have not. The Germans are but one example. In her book, Looking for Humboldt & Searching for German Footprints in New Mexico and Beyond, German-American author Erika Schelby fills in some of the blanks. An in-depth look at the contributions of Germans to American development, Schelby’s work goes far beyond the story of Alexander von Humboldt, the man who put New Mexico and the American southwest on the map—an actual map that he presented to Thomas Jefferson—and looks at the intricate and often conflicting relationships among the European powers before the twentieth century and how they impacted the development of the United States.

 

Seen through the eyes of someone who came to age in a different cultural and educational environment, Looking for Humboldt gives a much-needed fresh perspective on the country’s history that will enhance our understanding of past and current events.

 

This is not a dry recitation of events, people, and dates, but a lively look at a most fascinating, but little understood, facet of U.S. history. Highly recommended. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Tipping Point’

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When Garth Wainwright and his lawyer girlfriend go skiing in Aspen with Thomas Burke and his wife, Burke is killed in a freak accident, that Garth is convinced was not really an accident. As he delves into the mystery, Garth learns that things at CapVest, the high-end property sales and development company he works for, are not all as they seem. Underhanded corporate dealings are taking place, and when other people start dying, hostile corporate takeover takes on a whole new meaning.

 

The Tipping Point by Walter Danley is a down-and-dirty look at the shady side of the corporate world, where power corrupts everyone and everything, and the quest for power and money makes people do the most incredible things. The author writes about the corporate world with authority, and does a credible job of weaving in the non-corporate factors, although, I found his Israeli hitman a bit off the mark. But that’s just me. I’m sure most readers will find this a great read—I know that, for the most part, I did.

 

I received a complimentary copy of this book.

 

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Paranormal Nonsense’

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Tempest Danger Michaels is a man who not only has an unusual name; he has a most unusual occupation. He’s a paranormal investigator. It’s a field he got into by mistake, when he decided to become a private investigator after getting out of the army, and the newspaper copy editor, looking at the name of his new agency, Blue Moon Investigations, placed it under paranormal investigations instead of private investigations. Even though he does not believe in the paranormal, when this turned out to be a lucrative sideline, he stuck to it.

Now, a third body with its throat slashed has been found, and the media is calling it the work for a Vampire Killer, a perfect job to enhance his reputation, if he can solve it.

In Paranormal Nonsense by Steve Higgs, Tempest takes on the vampire case pro bono, while concurrently looking into a room-wrecking poltergeist, solving a Big Foot sighting, and juggling a hectic love life—oh, and dealing with a runaway dog.

Funny, frightening, and full of surprises, this is the first book in a series that I predict will be a big hit with mystery fans.

I give Higgs four stars for this fine first effort.

Review of ‘Train Games’

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Rhona Boroff, clad in her red vinyl coat, takes the subway to work at the literary agency, and on the train, plays a game. She identifies a likely male, gets his attention, and then invites him to meet her later that evening at a local watering hole. During the meeting, where she gives a false name, she initiates intimacy, induces the man to pleasure himself manually, and provides him with a lubricant to facilitate such manipulation. There is, however, a problem. The lubricant contains the poison thallium, which is fatal when ingested, and very, very uncomfortable when absorbed through the skin.

 

Unknowingly, Rhona’s therapist, in trying to pull her out of her social isolation, is enabling this activity. When the first victim shows up at the ER, and the poison is luckily diagnosed, the police are on the case. When a second victim shows up and has been poisoned under almost identical circumstances, they know they have a potential killer on their hands.

 

Train Games: The Girl in the Red Vinyl Coat by Claude Brickell is an interesting story. It starts off well, and builds the suspense chapter after chapter, especially after it appears that the police are closing in. The dialogue and situations all fit the mood of the story, but I feel that the author cheats a bit with the inconclusive ending—particularly after the police detective in charge of the case has actually made contact with Rhona, and is pretty sure she’s the perpetrator. Up until the last four or five paragraphs, this was a first-rate story, and while some might not find the ending jarring, I did. For that reason, I can only give this story three and a half stars, but that’s just a personal bias I have against bad guys getting away when all the evidence points at them. Had the cop not laid eyes on her, the ending would’ve been less jarring.

 

Despite my rating, I still recommend the book. Except for that one thing, it’s extremely well done, and worth reading. I received a complimentary copy of this book, with no request for or guarantee of a review.

Review of ‘Child of the Dust’

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An inevitable consequence of American military presence abroad has been liaisons between American GIs and local women, resulting in mixed race children who are often not accepted by their mothers’ cultures, and who find it difficult to adjust to life outside that culture. In no conflict has that phenomenon been more glaring than the decades long Vietnam War. In Child of the Dust, Tom Wascoe gives us the story of Rich, an American soldier, who meets and falls in love with Linh, a young Vietnamese woman who works in the military PX. Linh becomes pregnant, Rich is shipped back to the U.S. before they can marry, the communists win the war, and from the story unfolds slowly as Rich and Linh, though still in love with each other, live their separate lives.

 

This is a poignant story, showing in stark terms the anguish on all sides of this issue; the American wracked with guilt who tries to move on; the foreign woman, alone and often shunned by her culture, trying to survive; and most importantly, the ‘child of the dust,’ the children born to these relationships, torn between two cultures, neither of which ever fully accepts them.

 

The author writes with a sense of ‘having been there,’ that will pull you into the story and hold you in its iron grip until the end. The characters, even those who act badly, come across as real people, and the history is, in as far as I can remember that far back, accurately described.

 

It has been said that those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While there are parts of the past that will probably always be repeated, this glance backwards might just point out a few things that we could do differently.

 

A great read which I give four stars.

Review of ‘Project Kickoff’

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Project management expert Hassan Osman, in his book, Project Kick Off: How to Run a Successful Project Kick Off Meeting, offers a three-step method to ensure success of your project initiation. A very short book that covers the actions necessary before, during, and after a project kick off meeting, this book also provides free templates that can be used to keep track of the actions that are essential to keep a project on track and get buy-in from all stakeholders, from members of your internal project team to the customers to whom the project is being pitched.

 

The author takes advantages of his many years of experience in managing projects, his failures as well as his successes, to take the mystery and confusion out of running a complex, multi-dimensional project.

 

Written in plain language that is easy to understand, it outlines relatively simple steps that can be mastered by neophyte project managers and serves as a handy guide for more experienced individuals.

 

I give it four stars for its usefulness.

Review of “Grimoires, Spas, & Chocolate Straws’

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After exposing the perfidy to the king, Imogen Banks, her boyfriend, the former Prince Hank, and their friends have been banished to Badlands Island, a place that is infected with monsters that the king also banished there. Out on a monster patrol with the local defenders, Imogen falls in a raging river and is swept downstream, where she’s saved by a member of her brother Horace’s Badlands Army. She implores her savior to take her to her brother, who, despite his enigmatic and sometimes violent nature, she still wants to find. He shows her the Badlands Army encampment, but reneges on taking her to see Horace.

Later, when friends suggest a spa vacation, Imogen is all to ready for the diversion. But, as often happens with our heroine, when they arrive at the spa, a dead body appears, and Imogen, Hank, and the crew set about solving the murder.

Grimoires, Spas & Chocolate Straws by Erin Johnson is book 8 in the Spells & Caramels series, and not so surprisingly, given the fantastic job the author has done with this improbably plot, it does not disappoint. You’ll be delighted as Imogen, her flame—yes, literally a fire—Iggy, Hank, and a whole host of believably unbelievable characters, including a vampire in love with a sorceress, frolic, fumble, and finesse their way from the frying pan to the fire to the baker’s shelf.

Kudos to Johnson for keeping the interest going for eight books. Looking forward to number 9. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Mythicals’

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When Jack March, an out-of-work, alcoholic journalist attends a diplomatic function, he stumbles into Deborah Bright, who has had an accident that threatens to expose her for what she really is, a fairy wearing a body suit to make her look human. Jack just happens to see her as he removes the suit, exposing her wings before she flies away. He’s not sure he’s not suffering a drink-induced hallucination, but he responds by shouting out what he’s seen to the assembled crowd.

 

This drunken incident plunges Jack into a world he could never in his wildest moments have imagined. He learns that there are literally thousands of mythical creatures living among them, disguised as humans, prisoners from other worlds, sent to the planet to atone for their crimes. With the threat of exposure, the Mythicals, as they call themselves, set out to neutralize him. He’s given a choice, become an Ally and work with them, or be exiled to another world where others like him who wish not to be allies are kept.

 

Things get even harrier when Jack learns of a plan by one group of Mythicals to eliminate most of the population of the planet because they are viewed as a ‘terminal’ species. To add to the peril, another group, knows as the Pilgrims, are planning to take over the planet and make it their home.

 

Mythicals by Dennis Meredith is a fascinating blend of fantasy and science fiction that will grab your attention and hold it until the exciting conclusion. In addition to the science fiction elements, the author skillfully explains the existence of many mythical creatures, including leprechauns, pixies, ogres, and vampires. A story with humor, mystery, action, and danger, it’s a great winter read; the perfect book to settle down with in front of a blazing fire.

 

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