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 ‘Snapped’

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After completing FBI training, former sheriff’s deputy, Jade Monroe, is assigned to a Midwestern office of the bureau. When a series of murders in Houston, TX cause local authorities to think they have a serial killer stalking their streets, Jade and her partner, J.T. Harper are dispatched to assist them in apprehending the person responsible for some really gruesome crimes.

The list of victims continues to grow as Jade and J.T. work tirelessly to identify the perpetrator. Jade goes against the common wisdom—that the killer is male—and insists that they are looking for a woman. When she identifies a potential suspect, she makes herself a target, and is taken hostage. The clock, at that point, really starts ticking as J.T. and the bureau pull out all the stops to recover her. But, Jade has her own cards to play.

Snapped by C.M. Sutter is book one in the Agent Jade Monroe FBI thriller series. It is fast-paced, with all the hallmarks of good mystery writing. The reader is given all the information up front, the mystery being, can Jade stop the killer before she herself becomes a victim. The action in this story takes place against the backdrop of Jade’s search for the man who killed her father, a highly respected policeman himself.

This a series to keep an eye on. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Not What She Seems’

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Steven Ashton is a billionaire from New York, looking for a place to get away from it all. Emily Grant is a single mother on the run from the law. A chance meeting in Nevada, and again in a small midwestern town is fateful for both. Steven finds himself falling for her, unaware that her traveling companion, Richard, is controlling her and planning to set him up for a scam.

At their paths continue to cross, Steven finally learns that Emily thinks she killed her abusive husband, and is, with Richard’s help, trying to elude the law. The more he learns, though, the more he’s convinced that she’s a victim, not a killer, and that Richard is a dangerous man.

Not What She Seems by Victorine E. Lieske is a chilling thriller about victimhood, and the danger of falling for first impressions. As Steven wrestles with his feelings for Emily and her son, Conner, and Richard falls ever deeper into the dark recesses of his tortured mind. A final, fateful encounter is being set up, that will shake their beliefs to the very core of their being.

Lieske plots a tricky story that will hit you between the eyes with its surprise ending like a cinder block. She lives up to her bestseller billing.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘First Strike’

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The only son of a famous admiral, Second Lieutenant Michael Sheridan finds himself, along with a group of untried Marines, fighting for survival on a distant planet in Earth’s war with the Kurgans. Worried about the noncombatants caught in the crossfire, Sheridan quickly finds that nothing is as he has been led to believe.

First Strike by Richard Turner, although a science fiction story set in another galaxy, is a tale of man-to-man combat that will get your pulse racing. It deals with the human dimension of warfare in a most provocative way. All in all, a nice read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Alexander Hamilton’

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Alexander Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the West indies, came to the U.S. when it was still a colony. Handsome, intelligent, and possessed of a fiery temper, he quickly became caught up in the dispute between those in the colonies demanding greater freedom and the English crown.

Hamilton kept his brutal childhood walled off from public scrutiny, so most of what we know of it is conjecture based upon the few existing documents. His role in the war for independence, and the subsequent creation of an effective, strong central government has been more extensively documented, as has been his untimely death in his forties after a duel with the fiery vice president, Aaron Burr.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is an extensively-researched volume that traced Hamilton’s life from his birth to his death, with commentary on his contributions to America, including a central bank and his push for a strong central government. Ever a polarizing figure, he was loved by some, abhorred by many, including Thomas Jefferson, who was a strong proponent of a weak central government, with most of the power vested in the agrarian sectors of the country.

Hamilton was alone among the Founding Fathers in his vocal and public opposition to slavery, due perhaps to having witnessed the evils of the institution on the sugar plantations in the West Indies as he was growing up. This book goes into his duel with Burr in great detail, positing that, despite his fiery temper and support of dueling as a young man, his religious convictions had turned him against it, and he deliberately did not shoot at Burr, allowing his opponent to fire—Burr, as fiery tempered as Hamilton, obviously had no objection to going for a kill shot.

After reading this book, only the most jaded reader and confirmed anti-Hamilton person will fail to appreciate the contributions this man made to the nation we live in today. If you want to enhance your understanding of American history, this book is a must-read.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘From Garden to Grave’

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After two years of hunkering down in her apartment, Verity Hawkes is drawn out of her solitude when she receives a call from a lawyer from the village of Leafy Hollow, informing her that her aunt is missing. She travels to Leafy Hollow to take over her aunt’s landscaping business. When one of her clients ends up dead, Verity is a prime suspect. If she is to avoid being confined to a space worse than her apartment for much longer than two years, Verity has to solve the crime.

From Garden to Grave by Rickie Blair is a delightfully funny cozy mystery set in a small Canadian village. Populated with a cast of quirky characters, including the protagonist, it has all the twists and red herrings you’d expect from the genre, and is a thoroughly entertaining read. This is the author’s first book in the Leafy Hollow Mysteries series, and if this is anything to go by, this series will be a hit.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this author four stars for this one, and look forward to future offerings.

Review of ‘The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’

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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated by George Long, is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. This compilation of private notes to himself and his ruminations on Stoic philosophy gives a kaleidoscopic view of the Roman Empire during his reign. A hard slog unless you’re a history buff, Long’s use of archaic English (using language reminiscent of the King James version of the Bible) can cause the reader to pause to make sure of his or her understanding of a passage, can challenge many modern readers. Nevertheless, this is an interesting look at a time long past, and is worth the effort it takes to read it through.

I give it a solid four stars.

Review of ‘Bite of a Vampire’

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Emily Johnson is a PI who specializes in catching cheating spouses. Her life changes when she witnesses a vampire attacking one of the spouses she’s tailing. When she meets Michael, a ‘good’ vampire, she’s plunged into a world of supernatural madness, and she’s not sure she can survive.

Bite of a Vampire by Anna Belsky is a paranormal romance that follows Emily as she and Michael, with the aid of an ancient vampire hunter, set out to find and defeat an evil vampire who is breaking all the rules of vampire protocol. Along the way, she finds romance can really take a ‘bite’ out of you.

An interesting story, but the grammar really needs polish. I forced myself to read it all the way through, and found the plotting not too bad, but some really intensive proofreading would improve it immeasurably.

I received a free copy of the Kindle version of this book.

I can only give this book three stars.

Review of ‘A Still and Silent Sea’

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When she was 12, Gracie Stratis’ father, Roger, took her and her 4-year-old brother, Russell, on an archeological dig in Scotland. The dig unearthed some ancient Viking artifacts, including a striking cross with a dragon motif that seemed to speak to Gracie.

When Russell’s nurse and one of the workmen on the site steal the artifacts, and kidnap Russell, Gracie can’t get her father to pay attention. So, the intrepid soul that she is, she sets out to rescue Russell and retrieve the artifacts herself.

A Still and Silent Sea by A.S. A. Durphy is a prequel to the Gracie Stratis detective series that introduces Gracie and provides a lot of the background information that explains some of the more arcane elements of the series.

A short read, it’ll keep you turning pages until the end.

I give this one five stars. It was a fascinating read.

Review of ‘Most Dangerous’

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In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND analyst and former DOD official, leaked the 7,000-page secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. This action ignited a series of actions that led eventually to the Watergate burglary and Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. Ellsberg, who had been a committed cold warrior until he became aware that the government had been misleading the American people on the Vietnam War for more than 20 years, had a crisis of conscience that finally led him to violate his oath of office and commit a crime in the interest of the peoples’ right to know.

Most Dangerous by investigative journalist, Steve Sheinkin, is a powerful look at what happens when those in government put personal pride and ego ahead of their responsibility to live up to the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers and to respect the right of their ultimate bosses, the American people, to know what their government is doing in their name.

The book includes interviews with many of the people who were directly involved during this turbulent period in our history, as well as excerpts from the media and official documents. It’s a must-read for anyone who is interested in how government often really works.

A well-written book, its weakest part comes at the end when the author compares NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who leaked classified files exposing NSA’s programs of spying on Americans’ communications to Ellsberg. While both leaks exposed what were, in fact, government’s misdeeds, Ellsberg, unlike Snowden, made a valiant effort to correct the problem from inside government, and when that failed and he made the decision to leak the information, stayed and faced the legal consequences of his actions, which included being put on trial. Snowden, on the other hand, shows no evidence of ever having tried to deal with the NSA situation inside the system, and after he leaked the information, fled the country and sought asylum in Russia. For me, this weak comparison of two very different people who took vastly different paths did a disservice to Ellsberg, who was more in the mold of the Civil Rights pioneers who violated unjust laws, and took the consequences, even when they ended up in prison for their stands.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Alternate Facts

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An ‘alternate’ take on Comey’s getting the axe.

Asnycnow Radio

A cartoonist’s take on the firing of the FBI Director.

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Review of ‘The Healer: Box Set, Volumes 1 – 3’

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Hope is a young woman with a secret; she had the ability to heal others, and helps her father, a doctor, with critical patients. She is unaware that there are those who know of her secret, including two warring gods who compete with each other for her love, and a fallen god who wants her for less-than honorable purposes. Forced into a dream-like state, she lives her life as Mikomi, princess of an empire and the Healer of the world. As Mikomi, she joins forces with a rebel group against her evil father, but falls prey to a ‘friend’ who has her own deadly secret. Finally, when the veil between life and death is weakest, Hope/Mikomi must face her fate.

The Healer (Box Set, Volumes 1 – 3) by C. J. Anaya is a three-volume set of books that follows Hope/Mikomi through her battles, physical and metaphorical, as she fights evil and finds love. I previously read book one in this set, and was impressed with the author’s plotting and facility with the prose. She’s created a strong character who, surprisingly, holds up extremely well through three books, and a fantasy/science fiction world that, while unbelievable, is acceptable.

Her treatment of Asian culture, and the melding of ancient lore with popular modern Western culture is very well done.

This is a good starter set for young adult sci-fi/fantasy fans.

I give this set four stars.

Review of ‘A Wolf by the Ears’

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When you grab a wolf by the ears, you can’t hang on and you can’t let go. Gracie Stratis, former diplomatic security agent, now private eye, is still recovering from her wounds, and is trying to impress her new boss, PI Walker Wuhl. A client, Zach McClung, walks in and says he’s being framed by his boss for something he didn’t do.

Gracie and Walker take the case, but their biggest challenge will be keeping their client alive long enough so he can pay their fee. He’s being chased by a pair of color-coded assassins and their henchmen, who are more than willing to include the two PIs in their body count. They want something Zack has innocently taken, but he’s given it to Gracie, and, while she wants to get rid of it, she knows that she can’t.

A Wolf by the Ears by A.S. A. Durphy is the second offering in the Gracie Stratis mystery series, and it’s noir fiction at its best. Witty dialogue, hard-bitten action, and bad guys you just love to jeer at.  On top of all that, you’re treated to a heroine who is a take-no-prisoners, kick-butt, bundle of neuroses who talks to ghosts. What more could you ask for?

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

Review of ‘The Hyperion Web’

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A shadowy organization, The Hyperion, launches a deadly attack on the United States. Unlike previous terrorist attacks, though, no one claims responsibility, or issues a public statement. The president is worried, because the effect of the attack is putting him in a position where he might have to resign and turn the Oval Office over to his vice president, a man whose politics is markedly different from his own.

He turns to ex-NFL player, ex-Special Forces soldier, Jack Crockett, now a one-eyed mercenary for hire, to find and punish the perpetrators. With the help of an intelligence agent he rescued from a group of thugs, and a behemoth of a former Marine, Jack dives into the murky waters of international terrorism, where he becomes the shark looking for prey.

The Hyperion Web by D.P. Mitchell is a tense, high-stakes drama set against the backdrop of international and domestic intrigue, high-tech warfare, and double dealing aplenty. This story has elements of The Manchurian Candidate and Rambo and is only marred, in my humble opinion, by the frequency of head hopping among the vast cast of characters. That won’t, however, keep you from enjoying it.

I give it four stars.

Roses

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Asnycnow Radio

Paintings of my favorite flower – the rose.

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Review of ‘Darkest Voyage’

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The war for peace has gone on far too long, and hopes for galactic peace grow ever dim. General Vuro, head of Prossia’s military must choose an option that, though necessary, is likely to produce an outcome that pleases no one.

Darkest Voyage by Raphyel Jordan is a space combat epic that almost makes my list of recommended reading. The theme is okay, but the editing and grammar leaves much to be desired. The characters are almost there – a bit predictable, and wooden in places. The author has a grand idea, but it’s executed in a less than grand style. He nonetheless shows promise.

I received a free copy of this book, but regrettably, I can only give it three stars.

Review of ‘Cover Design Secrets That Will Help You Sell More Books’

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Writing a book is difficult; marketing it is even more difficult. But, the bear of being an indie publisher is getting a cover for your book that helps enhance the writing, and helps in the marketing; in other words, designing a cover that has the WOW factor. Cover Design Secrets that will help you Sell More Books by Derek Murphy just might be the book to help you achieve that golden chalice.

Simple, easy-to-understand principles of coming up with a book cover design, regardless of genre, that will draw readers to your book, this book is a handy addition to any indie author’s reference library.

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

Review of ‘Secrets of a Vampire’

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A free-spirited type, Alexandra looks for love in all the wrong places. One night, while on a boring date, love comes looking for her in the form of a trio of vampires, Bronson, the alpha vamp, Dominic and Lisette, his followers, are drawn to her. Worse, she finds herself drawn to them. After absorbing the weirdness of discovering that vampires are not just urban legends, she learns that she is descended from a long line of powerful witches and these three, along with many others, seek her out because she can help them find something—a stone that will allow vampires to walk in daylight.

Secrets of a Vampire by Martha Woods is a young-adult paranormal romance that melds ancient legend with popular contemporary culture in a story that is part adventure, part tale of the attraction between unlikes. Lots of both adventure and romance as Alex learns to use her heritage, while trying to survive against those in the unhuman world who would do her harm.

I received a free copy of this book. It’s a nice story if you happen to be a fan of romance novels with an other-worldly theme, although it drags a bit in the middle, and for my taste, there could have been less romance and more adventure.

I still give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Surrogate’

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Paul Medved, a former MACV-SOG soldier, works as an undercover narc in Pittsburgh. He’s been undercover so long, he’s one of the force’s most effective operators, but he’s no longer able to go back to being a regular cop. The drug war in south Florida and the Caribbean is heating up, and DEA is hot to get one of the main players behind it, Haiti-based drug kingpin, Herve Villafranca. They request operational assistance from Paul. At the same time, another government agency learns that the drug cartels are involved in international terrorism, and they want Paul as an asset to track down those behind it all. Paul takes on this job as well, but soon finds that it’s a challenge playing the triple game.

Surrogate by Regis P. Sheehan is a chillingly real story of the nexus between illegal drugs and terrorism. It reads as if it was ripped from the daily news. Although, there are a large number of digressions as the local history of places or organizations is given, this only slows the flow of reading a tad. The story would still be entertaining without them, but they weren’t unappreciated.

All in all, an entertaining read. I give it four stars.