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.

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Review of ‘Watercolor Made Easy: 30-Minute Landscapes’

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Watercolor Made Easy: 30-Minute Landscapes by Paul Talbot-Greaves is a comprehensive guide to painting landscapes in watercolor, compositions that can be completed in 30 minutes or less. This handy how-to book is useful for beginners and experienced painters alike, and will add new life to your art.

I purchased this book from Amazon several years ago, and have read it several times. I finally decided to post a review to let other artists know of this valuable book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Painting Water in Watercolour’

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Whether you’re a beginning artist, or a more experienced one who wants to expand your techniques, Painting Water in Watercolour by Terry Harrison is a must-have for your art reference library. Harrison offers a cookbook of detailed techniques for painting any water scene, from puddles in a country lane to a raging surf. The series of 30-minute exercises and the step-by-step projects at the end of the book will have you painting fantastic marine scenes in no time.

I give Harrison five stars for an amazingly effective book.

‘Vixen’ nominated for Readers Choice Award

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Vixen  I am excited to announce that my novel, Vixen, has been nominated for the Readers Choice Award in the Historical Fiction Category. I encourage all of my readers to go to www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting/ and go to category 14 (Historical Fiction) and vote for it. Vixen can be found near the bottom of the category page. Your vote will be greatly appreciated. Again, a reminder, go to    www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting/ and vote.

Review of ‘Writing at Work’

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Writing at Work: Professional Writing Skills for People on the Job by Edward L. Smith and Stephen A. Bernhardt is a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to improve writing skills at work. It covers everything from grammar to improving the appearance of your writing. I use this book in connection with a summer writing workshop on professional writing that I conduct for select college seniors interested in careers in foreign affairs. I’ve found it to be a handy guide, in conjunction with a style guide, to assist students in the task of improving their writing skills.

Whether used for teaching others, or as an individual self-help guide, for the young professional, this book should have a prominent place in the reference library.

I give this handy reference five stars.

Review of ‘Not Before Midnight’

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Lake County, Oregon Sheriff Bud Blair is in the dumps. His dog, Molly, is dying, and Nancy Sixkiller, his fiancée, has dumped him. When his friend and old partner, Del BeBe, needs his help to protect a preacher who is being targeted by Muslim radicals, he comes back to life. Bullets fly and emotions are aroused as Bud and Del team up with the new and old women in their lives, and have to deal with FBI agents (some crooked) and a rogue biker gang bent on murder.

 

Not Before Midnight by Rod Collins is the fifth book in the Sheriff Bud Blair series, and it is a great read if you want to be entertained with a fast-paced mystery that combines epic descriptions of Oregon’s  high country, old-west attitudes, and exciting gunfights.

 

I received a free copy of this book, and give it a resounding four stars for the sheer entertainment value.

Review of ‘L-2011’

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In the summer of 2011, riots broke out in London in response to the police shooting of a young black man under questionable circumstances. As the riots continue, two on-line personalities take to the airwaves, battling for the future of the city. Chester George, a masked man whose identity is unknown, uses YouTube to call for general anarchy by the ‘real’ citizens against corrupt authority, while Sadie Hobbs, a controversial blogger and TV reality star calls for the ‘normal’ citizens to rise up and take the city back from the ‘feral’ thugs.

While the shooting incident and subsequent rioting are actual events, from that point on, L-2011 by Mark Gillespie, is pure alternate history. What if, it asks, the riots never stopped? It then follows events, from a national level to the viewpoint of Mack Walker, a 16-year-old Scot, newly arrived in London from Edinburgh, as he gets caught up in the course of events and joins the crowd for the final showdown that will determine the fate of a nation.

A twisted tale, L-2011 not only shows the sometimes-corrosive effect of social media, but delves into the psychological state of those affected. A chilling story that will cause you to think about the current state of the world we live in, and ask yourself, ‘what if this is not fiction, but reality waiting to happen?

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Extreme Heat Warning’

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FBI agents Roger Dance and Paul Casey must reopen what they thought was a closed case. Killers, James Devon and William Patterson, with high-level help, have escaped on the eve of their trials, and their trail leads to the teeming streets and steaming swamps in and around New Orleans. The two agents, with the help of a band of angels, must brave voodoo, corruption, and doubt as they pursue two of the deadliest perps they’ve ever encountered.

Extreme Heat Warning by Vicki Graybosch, et al follows them as they cope with things they were never taught at Quantico. This is book 2 of the Shallow End Gals series, and I have to admit the plot is fascinating. The prose, however, tends to choppiness, and the switches from third to first person are confusing at first. A bit too much telling, and not enough showing for a story that begs to be ‘shown,’ with the exotic locales and quirky characters—main and supporting.

I worked my way through it, and, unfortunately, found the ending a bit too murky for my taste. I give this one three stars, but must admit, it does show promise.

‘Vixen’ Nominated for 2017 Readers Choice Award

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Vixen  I am excited to announce that my historical novel, Vixen, has been nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Award in the Historical Fiction category. Please go to www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-vote/ and cast your vote. It will be greatly appreciated.

Review of ‘Frozen Past’

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Fairfax County homicide detective Jaxon Jennings is burned out, has been since the murder of his child and the breakup of his marriage. When the body of a young boy is found under the ice of a neighborhood pool, and he and his partner are called to investigate, his past comes back to haunt him. With the lives of a group of local teens on the line, Jaxon must get control of himself to save them—and himself.

Frozen Past by Richard C. Hale is a thriller with a flawed hero and a merciless killer, and action that moves at a frenetic pace from explosive start to even more explosive finish. Once you start reading this book, you won’t be able to put it down, and when you’re done, you’ll never look at your quiet suburban neighborhood in quite same the light again.

I give this one an easy five stars.

Review of ‘Mindspeak’

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Lexi Matthews is a 17-year-old with two secrets she conceals from her classmates at her elite boarding school—she’s the daughter of a famous scientist, and she is able to influence others with her mind. When Jack DeWeese arrives as a new student, Lexi’s life is turned upside down. First, Jack heals her broken wrist with a touch of his hand, and secondly, he seems to know all about her and her secrets. When her father disappears, and she finds herself being pursued by someone who is able to get inside her mind, her relationship with Jack enters a new phase, and she’s not sure if she can trust him, or anyone else for that matter.

Mindspeak by Heather Sunseri is a science fiction thriller combined with young romance, with a plot that is as twisted as your mind will be as you read it. An interesting, and thought-provoking, read.

The ending left a bit too much out. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘5th Floor Below’

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While conducting research on space debris at a top-secret facility near Haifa, Dr. Naama Kashti is exposed to an unknown substance that triggers rapid changes in her body, leading to the belief that she has stumbled upon the secret to immortality. Her discovery causes shock waves around the world, with foreign intelligence agencies and the world religious communities shaken to their cores.

5th Floor Below by Manahem Misgav is a riveting techno thriller that follows Naama and her friends and family as they come to grips with a discovery that can change the history of humanity, but that also causes seismic changes in their personal lives. A fascinating story translated from Hebrew, it has a few glitches, no doubt caused by slight errors in translation, it combines futuristic sci-fi with international intrigue and voyages of personal discovery. I was also a bit disappointed at the inconclusive ending.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Roller Coaster in Tehran’

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Amalia Tavon is a wife and mother. She’s also an expert roller coaster engineer and an adventure junkie. When she’s forced to join Mossad in order to save her family from financial ruin after her husband loses out on a risky venture, she finds her roles in conflict. Sent under cover to Iran, ostensibly to help build a giant amusement park, she finds that the true targets of her mission are not the inhuman animals she’s been led to believe they are. When her eldest son is killed in Israel under suspicious circumstances, her sense of loyalty is put into question, and in order to survive, she finds that she must deceive not only her Iranian targets, but her Mossad bosses.

Roller Coaster in Tehran by Y. I. Latz is a suspenseful thriller, with all the requisite ‘James Bond’ moments, woven in with the profound human consequences of having to live a lie. A chilling book, with a surprise ending, that you won’t be able to put down.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Black Arts, Tarts, & Gypsy Carts’

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The Summer Sea Carnival is coming to the magical island of Bijou Mer, and Prince Harry has decided that it would be nice if the royal bakery had a booth at this year’s festivities. Imogen Banks, witch-in-training and master baker, jumps at the chance to help run the booth, in order to avoid Prince Harry—Hank to her—because of her strong feelings for her being all complicated by the fact that he’s engaged to be married . . . to someone else.

Things quickly get out of hand when the famed necromancer, Madame Zerna, is found sawed in half in the magician’s tent, and her arch-rival, Rhonda, is found standing over the body with a bloody saw in her hand. Rhonda appeals to Imogen for help, and having previously been wrongfully accused, Imogen understands her friend’s dilemma and decides to try and clear her name.

In Black Arts, Tarts & Gypsy Carts by Erin Johnson it’s always darkest before the dawn, and only slightly overcast afterwards. You’ll fall in love with Imogen and most of her friends, especially Iggy, the irreverent flame who helps her bake some of the most amazing dishes, and you’ll roundly boo the villains—as soon as you figure out just who they are. Johnson has a way of masking the bad guy (or gal) until the very last minute, so the reader is as surprised as Imogen when the mask comes off.

This is book 2 in what is quickly becoming my favorite mystery series. I received a free copy of this book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Frontier Justice’

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A review of Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Richard Dunning. Done quite a while ago, but still worth a look. Go here.

Review of ‘Aetna Adrift’

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Jack Holloway, orbital station manager over the isolated moon, Aetna, has a relatively good life. Under the control of Unity, a soul-sucking bureaucracy that controls every aspect of its citizens’ lives, Jack supplements his income with a little smuggling that helps citizens maintain a semblance of individuality. Then, Tim Randall, a senior Unity executive, is sent to take control of Aetna, and the killing begins. Jack is dragooned into Randall’s plans—which he does not understand—and is forced to decide just where his loyalties lie.

Aetna Adrift by Erik Wecks is a thrilling space epic that portrays the individual against the bureaucracy, with stunning action scenes and deep-dives into the human psyche. With a hero who is far from perfect, arrayed against faceless, soulless bureaucrats, it is as visionary as it is contemporary. But, most of all, it is entertaining. Hard to put down once you start reading.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Inauguration Day’

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While I found the theme, and plotting of Inauguration Day by Peter G. Pollak somewhat interesting, the obtuse writing tended to make it hard to keep reading. To be fair to the author, the story of an about-to-retire secret service agent being tasked by the president to do just ‘one more job’ is interesting, and there are the requisite action scenes, but I got a sense that whoever edited it wasn’t paying enough attention. I’ll give Mr. Pollak credit for this, even though I found the writing not quite up to par, I soldiered on through the entire book, because I was curious to see what would happen.

I received a free copy of this book. The author has some good ideas, but they just weren’t expressed as well as I’m sure he’s capable in this particular book, so I can only give it three and a quarter stars.

Review of ‘Stop Licking That’

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Stop Licking That by Karin Mitchell is a hilarious, but ultimately truthful and useful look at the insanity of parenting. Anyone who has raised children will instantly identify with the situations she so humorously describes, and find the list of strange tips, tricks, and oddball facts at the end as useful as they are entertaining. If you’re a parent, or about to become one for the first time, you will absolutely enjoy this book.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Plant Lady: Twigs to Villainy’

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Eden Tywyn is happy with her job, tending plants at Cambridge Mall in the little town of Packard Falls, but she’s getting the urge to move on, trying to keep one step ahead of her late husband’s family and her past. When the unpopular mall manager goes missing, believed dead in a plane crash, money comes up short in the mall’s accounts, and there is evidence of sabotage at the facility, the owner asks Eden to help her find answers. Not the most social of people, she’s unsure of how to proceed, but is motivated by the fact that the mall’s security manager is looking at her with suspicion.

The Plant Lady: Twigs to Villainy by Gwen Pankhurst is an amusing cozy mystery, with interesting characters and a relatively complex plot. While the current crime is tied up neatly at the end, just enough of Eden’s past is inserted to whet a reader’s appetite for sequels.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Lucifer’s Odyssey’

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If you enjoy the ‘what-if’ structure of alternate history novels, you’ll be thrilled by Lucifer’s Odyssey by Rex Jameson, which is alternate theology. This tale of the fall of Lucifer, the angel who defied Jehovah and was exiled to earth, where he ruled the Underworld, is an eclectic combination of science fiction, fantasy, and alternate theology that, while it will probably be disturbing to those who adhere to more traditional religious beliefs, will entertain readers who are willing to read with an open mind.

An epic start to a series that explores the religious cosmos with an astonishing array of ‘what-if’ scenarios, it is filled with excitement and humor, with an underlying tone of ‘this is just as possible as the traditional explanations.’ If you like to be challenged, this is a simply must-read book.

It slowed down a bit at the end, but I still give it four stars.

Review of ‘New York Deep’

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Josh Reed and his team are tunneling beneath Manhattan to extend the subway system, when they hit an unusual crystalline wall, made of some unknown substance. When they break through the wall, they find beyond it a vast, empty space, or at least it seems to be empty. But, Josh detects an energy in the space, something he doesn’t understand, but that affects him deeply. Then, he finds himself pursued by the CIA, and the other members of his team mysteriously missing. He is forced to rely on his best friend and boss, Lionel Parker, to solve the mystery, not just to save himself and his team, but his estranged wife and son, and the rest of humanity.

New York Deep by Andrew J. Morgan is a sci-fi tale of time travel and other dimensions that moves at a breakneck pace as Josh finds himself traveling back and forth through time, and with each trip, coming closer to unveiling the secret that lies deep in the earth beneath Central Park.

Once you start reading this story, you’ll find it hard to put down, and the ending will leave you breathless.

I give this one four stars.