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 ‘Box Office Philosophy’

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Most people watch movies or TV shows merely for the entertainment, but editors, Robert Woolston and Tom Bowers have dissected top-rated movies and TV series for their philosophical content. In Box Office Philosophy they look at the underlying philosophical concepts of several well-known and popular movies and TV shows, such as The Godfather and Seinfeld, showing how the authors or directors incorporated the philosophical tenets of such greats as Ayn Rand and many of the Greek philosophers.

You don’t have to be an intellectual to enjoy, or learn, from this book. Not only does it help you better understand such concepts as stoicism or consequentialism, but it will give you a better appreciation of the movie or show. How, for instance, does The Shawshank Redemption illustrate ancient stoicism, or Pulp Fiction showcase Aristotelian ethics? The editors do not go into whether or not the intent of any of these shows was to highlight philosophical principles, but just knowing that they were more than mindless entertainment is uplifting.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book, and I strongly recommend it.

I’m in a new short story collection

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It’s been a while since I wrote a short story. So, when I was asked to do one for a tribute volume to western author Scott Harris, I jumped at the chance. Believe it or not, my story was selected to open the book – how neat is that.  A new offering from Dusty Saddle Publishing, and it’s quite a deal at only 99 cents.

Scott Harris US Marshal

Kindle version available at:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HCNK39Z

 

Review of ‘The Plant Lady Grows a Pear’

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Eden Tywyn, plant lady at Packard Falls’ Cambridge Mall, hopes she can finally get some rest. Her back-from-the-dead husband, Calib, after assaulting her, is finally behind bars, facing a long prison sentence on federal fraud counts, and she and her friend, Veronique, have survived being kidnapped and nearly killed. But, along with a hangover, she is depressed, because her vindictive mother-in-law, Camille Thorne, continues to be a thorn in her side. Camille is determined to develop the mall for profit and blames Eden and Veronique for blocking her. In addition, she seems to be engaged in a personal vendetta against Eden.

The Plant Lady Grows a Pear by Gwen Pankhurst is the third book in the Plant Lady series, following the misadventures of Eden and her eclectic set of friends as they face off against unbridled greed backed by great wealth. Action, introspection, and evil deeds are woven in a tapestry of entertaining reading—and, for dog lovers, a valiant dog who saves Eden’s life in more way than one.

This series just keeps getting better. I particularly like how the author wraps up most of the loose ends of the story; yet leaves an opening for further adventure. I received and advance reader copy of this book.

Another five-star presentation by Pankhurst.

Review of ‘Murder in 346’

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When a 73-year-old moral crusader and a 32-year-old woman are found shot execution style in a cheap, by-the-hour hotel room, DCI Isaac Cook and his team find themselves with a case that could make or break them.

In addition to having to deal with a high-profile case, Cook must also contend with an incompetent chief superintendent who is protected by an equally incompetent, but politically connected police commissioner. As the bodies start piling up, the pressure increases. They must dig into the backgrounds and current lives of influential and wealthy families, while fending off the machinations of enemies within the police bureaucracy in order ro solve the cases and prevent further murders.

Murder in Room 346 by Phillip Strang is book 7 in the DCI Isaac Cook mystery series, and in my humble opinion is the best one so far. Police procedure, bureaucratic maneuverings, and dirty deeds aplenty will keep you flipping pages until you reach a most satisfying, and somewhat surprising conclusion. Kudos to Strang for an extremely well-crafted, exquisitely paced story.

I received an advance review copy od this book. A resounding five stars!

Review of ‘The Men and the Medium’

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Lily Bancroft was a woman born way ahead of her time. Head strong and intellectually curious, she also has the psychic powers of communication with the spirits of the dead and the ability to heal. But, she lives in a time when women are only expected to marry and make a home for her husband and children.

Unbeknownst to her over-protective and domineering father, she takes part in seances at the home of Leslie, a budding inventor who allows a medium to use his home. Leslie, though unable to express his feelings, has loved her since he first laid eyes on her, but then, Percy, clerk in a brokerage house, sees her on the street, and he, too, immediately falls in love with her. The problem for Leslie is that Lily, at the first sight of Percy, falls for him.

It is at this point that the story really begins, leading to a series of failed relationships, betrayals, and deaths that shake Lily’s world to its foundations.

The Men and the Medium by Lyn Behan follows Lily’s tumultuous life through the backdrop of two world wars, the social and political transformation of post-Victorian England, and the turmoil of individual and family lives caught up in a whirl wind of social change.

The author does an excellent job of presenting the arc of Lily’s life as she drifts, often aimlessly, from one disaster to another. A well-thought-out narrative of turn of the century England and the impact that the drastic economic, social, and political changes had on individual lives.

I give the author five stars for a well-crafted first novel.

Review of ‘The Mashego File’

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When a charred and mutilated corpse is found in the remains of a smoldering fire in a small community in Kwazulu-Natal, Detective Captain Nights Mashego, assigned to Durban North Police Agency is put on the case. Soon, another burned corpse is found in the same community, similarly abused. Mashego begins to suspect that he is seeking the same perpetrators but is unsure of their motives until he discovers a link between the victims and the step-son of a high-placed police official.

Mashego is then faced with a dilemma. With evidence of high-placed police corruption, can he identify with the vigilante justice being meted out, especially considering his own actions after his daughter was raped and murdered just a few years earlier. Torn between keeping his oath to enforce the law and his understanding of the frustration of people who feel they have no other recourse, he plows ahead.

The Mashego File by Ian Patrick is a chilling narrative of crime, punishment, and corruption at the highest levels, and the responses of people who have decided to draw a fiery line in the sand. The author has created a compelling story with flawed heroes and irredeemable villains that will keep you reading and wondering until the somewhat anticlimactic ending. Most of all, you will wonder—what next for Mashego?

This is a not-to-be-missed story. I give this one five stars!

Review of ‘Rubies of the Viper’

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When her brother is murdered in Rome, Theodosia Varros inherits the family properties. An independent-minded Roman woman of Greek ancestry, she finds herself at odds with the stultifying society and the many people who wish to manipulate her. Her unlikely allies are her slave steward, Alexander, an enigmatic Greek, and Stefan, another slave who had been her friend in childhood. When she finds her own life in danger, she realizes that she must solve her brother’s murder if she is to survive. But, her enemies are many, and powerful.

Rubies of the Viper by Martha Marks is a riveting historical mystery set in the Rome of Nero, and it explores the dark underbelly of the so-called Roman civilization.

I guarantee that you won’t be able to put this one down. I give the author five stars for this great read.

Review of ‘Be Careful What You Joust For’

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House Hornbolt, a prominent family of Pentavia, is hosting the annual jousting tournament, where the most capable knights in the realm come to compete for the coveted Arwin’s Lance. The eldest Hornbolt son is favored to win, but his younger brother and sisters are not happy with what fate has in store for them. His mother, Lady Isolda, worries about all of her children, but, just days before the tournament starts, she uncovers a secret that threatens not only the peace of the kingdom, but her relationship with her husband, Garrion.

Be Careful What You Joust For by Ryan Hauge and Ivy Smoak is a riveting tale of chivalry and chicanery, with an eclectic cast of characters, each given his or her own chapter, where their lives and dreams are well told. An excellent job of world-building with interpersonal (and inner) conflicts woven in with spine-tingling action that will keep you reading until the semi-cliffhanger ending. I won’t spoil the story by revealing that ending, let’s just say, it both disappoints and entices. Disappointing because it kind of leaves you hanging, but enticing, because you’ll really want to know what happens next.

I received a free copy of this book. A very good story. I give it four stars.

Review of the film ‘This is My Year’

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Connor Miller, wannabe screenwriter, moves to LA for a make or break year in her efforts to get a script accepted. In ‘This is My Year,’ from director, James Brindle, we follow the adventures and misadventures of Connor and her friends over that fateful year.

This film is hard to categorize for someone of my generation; much like the milennials in the story, it seems to be going way, but ends up going another. That’s not a negative assessment, by the way. I found the film, like the milennials I encounter each summer in my writing workshop, stimulating and interesting. I was particularly impressed with Kanani Rose’s performance as Connor. That mask of apparent wide-eyed innocence that covers a hard mask of cynical realism that knows nothing is permanent and that life is often totally screwed up, was brilliant.

So, while I can’t tell you whether this film was a romantic comedy or a drama, I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and strongly encourage you to see it when it’s finally released. I was fortunate enough to get a sneak preview. The film is due for an October 10 release.

Here’s the link to preorder the movie on iTunes:  : https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/this-is-my-year/id1418136923

 

The Daily Beast: John McCain, American Hero, Dies at 81

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Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit

Rest in Peace John McCain

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ps://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/25/obituaries/john-mccain-dead.html

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/sen-john-mccain-independent-voice-gop-establishment-dies-81-n790971

Bravery, Courage, Combat Veteran, American Hero.

Our political views were different but I salute with utmost respect.

Take your eternal rest soldier. Your suffering is over.

Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.

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‘The Nearest Town is Purgatory’ New from Outlaws Publishing

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Get this one; my latest from Outlaws Publishing: ‘The Nearest Town is Purgatory’

Review of ’21 Steps of Courage’

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Anyone who has ever visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia, can’t help but have been impressed at the lone sentinel who marches a vigil before the tombs, taking 21 precise steps in each direction, movements crisp and definite, regardless of the time of day or night or the weather. 21 Steps of Courage by Sarah Bates is a fictionalized account of a young soldier, Ramrod ‘Rod’ Strong, who is determined to follow in the footsteps of his warrior father and become one of the Sentinels of the Old Guard, the unit based at Fort Myer, Virginia, who mount the 24/7 guard duty at the site.

The story begins with Rod on a deployment in Afghanistan where he learns that his older brother, Mike, also a soldier, is missing and thought to be in his area. Too impatient to wait for rescue forces to arrive, Rod and some of his comrades go out on their own. In a harrowing operation, Mike is rescued, but Rod is severely injured. We than flash back to his journey to become a sentinel, which is successful, but like every other soldier, he must do his part in the country’s longest war.

Mike doesn’t survive his wounds, and Rod’s injuries are so severe one of his legs must be amputated below the knee, and that is when the story actually begins. The author takes you on an emotional journey as Rod struggles with his handicap and then determines not only to recover, but to regain his position as a sentinel.

A well written and meticulously researched story—except for a couple of passages where the Purple Heart, an award for wounds received in combat action, not for heroism, is mentioned as being awarded to Rod for his heroic actions in his brother’s rescue. Except for this one small glitch, this story rings true, and I say this as a 20—year army veteran with two wartime tours of my own and having served both as enlisted an officer in my career.

Kudos to the author for presenting soldiers and war in such a realistic manner. This is a book well worth reading. I received an advance review copy of this book.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Suitcase Girl’

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When a young girl is left in a suitcase outside the FBI building in San Francisco, FBI agent Abby Kane is intrigued—not just at the unusual way the girl was delivered, but because she is a carbon copy of Abby at that age, almost a clone. Even though there’s no clear FBI interest in the case, Abby arranges to get custody of the girl in order to find out what’s going on, and what she finds has chilling implications, for national security, and for Abby’s own survival.

Suitcase Girl by Ty Hutchinson is a continuation of the Abby Kane mystery series, and also book one of a trilogy that promises even more exciting adventures. Follow Abby as she turns over rock after rock, finding slimy, frightening things under each one.

This one will cause you sleepless nights, and not just from the fact that it’s hard to put down once you start reading. The cliffhanger ending is a bit of a turn-off, but as disappointing as it is, I’m still curious to find out what happens next.

I give it four stars. It would have been five if not for the cliffhanger ending.

Review of ‘The Whisperer’

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Meredith Potts wants to end her life, so she jumps in front of Stan’s train. But, rather than ending things, she finds that for her, life has just begun. Her spirit leaves her broken body and meets the enigmatic Michael who tells her she has become a whisperer in training, a spirit whose role is to gently and subconsciously nudge the living to keep them on the proper path. Meredith finally has the opportunity to take some of the kinks out of the path of life for some who have survived; but is she up to it?

The Whisperer by A. Ireland King is a hard book to categorize. It has elements of the supernatural but is primarily a story about a distressed woman coming to terms with the path her life took, and unravelling knots of her past. A bit slow in places, it is nevertheless entertaining.

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

Review of ‘Mayhem, Murder and Marijuana’

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Mayhem, Murder and Marijuana by Arik Kaplan is a thinly disguised work of fiction based on fact about the evolution of the legalized marijuana industry in California. A fast-paced account of a controversial industry that, while not inherently violent, did attract a violent element.

It follows the activities of a number of personalities involved in the trade, from innovative entrepreneurs looking to make their fortunes to drug dealers trying to balance their illegal trade with an entry into the legal market. This tale has murder and mayhem aplenty, and an eclectic cast of characters, and is quite entertaining.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I found it interesting, if not profound or surprising. It’s a good look at human greed and avarice, and shows that money is, if not the root of all evil, it certainly plants the seeds.

I give it three stars

Review of ‘Death by a Dead Man’s Hand’

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Released after serving 17 years for the murder of his brother after a gold heist gone awry—from which half the loot was never recovered—Ethan Mitchel is killed in a church, and the evidence initially indicates that his murderer is his dead brother. DCI Keith Tremayne is not fooled. He knows that dead men don’t kill. The problem, though, is that he has too many possible suspects, and no real evidence against any of them.

Death by a Dead Man’s Hand by Phillip Strang is another offering in the DCI Tremayne series, and it continues the tradition of good British mysteries. Good descriptions of police procedure without burdening the reader with excessive detail, and well-developed characters with whom we can relate. Oh, and a well-plotted, tightly paced story that holds your interest for page after page.

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

Review of ‘Chasing Hindy’

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Addeline ‘Addy’ Verges is an up and coming patent attorney who dreams of bringing a groundbreaking energy technology to the world. She has just become the youngest partner at her prestigious patent law firm, when the wheels start to come off her world. First, she and her hydrogen-powered Mustang, Hindy, are attacked as she’s towing a hydrogen balloon advertising her firm and highlighting her commitment to green technology, and then she’s sent by her firm to Vietnam where she meets Quinn Moon, a Korean scientist who claims to have invented a new technology that allows cars to be powered by water.

There are many who wish to see that Quinn’s technology is never realized and are prepared to do anything to achieve their desires, including killing Addy and Quinn if necessary. Chasing Hindy by Darin Gibby is an ambitious novel that explores the lengths to which governments and other organizations will go to protect their privileged positions, and the power of dedicated individuals to stand against them. A pulse-pounding story, it sucks the reader in from the first page, and never lets up until the stunning climax.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Be Careful What You Joust For’

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House Hornbolt, a prominent family of Pentavia, is hosting the annual jousting tournament, where the most capable knights in the realm come to compete for the coveted Arwin’s Lance. The eldest Hornbolt son is favored to win, but his younger brother and sisters are not happy with what fate has in store for them. His mother, Lady Isolda, worries about all of her children, but, just days before the tournament starts, she uncovers a secret that threatens not only the peace of the kingdom, but her relationship with her husband, Garrion.

Be Careful What You Joust For by Ryan Hauge and Ivy Smoak is a riveting tale of chivalry and chicanery, with an eclectic cast of characters, each given his or her own chapter, where their lives and dreams are well told. An excellent job of world-building with interpersonal (and inner) conflicts woven in with spine-tingling action that will keep you reading until the semi-cliffhanger ending. I won’t spoil the story by revealing that ending, let’s just say, it both disappoints and entices. Disappointing because it kind of leaves you hanging, but enticing, because you’ll really want to know what happens next.

I received a free copy of this book. A very good story. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘You Dear Sweet Man’

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Advertising is propaganda. Not propaganda as in the message spread by the Church in the olden days, but that of Lenin and his ilk; the shaping of a message—often based upon a lie—to move people in a desired direction.

When Charles Hamilton, CEO of BurgerBlast, Inc., wants a new ad campaign to reverse his companies declining revenue he encourages his board to come up with a campaign, Energized, they enlist the help of two computer animators to create a ‘thinker’ ad, an animation that draws the viewer in to concentrate on their ‘new’ message. Now, Fast’n’Fit, Inc., formerly known as BurgerBlast, Inc., has a new ad on the subway featuring the seductive but sophisticated Samantha, a sex film star with a deadly secret ability to control minds, one person at a time. Her target is Bobby Fastow, an overweight, depressed supervisor in a newspaper print shop who is seduced into the ‘world’ of her ad.

You Dear Sweet Man by Thomas Nevaiser is a short, but enticing, story of how ads can pull viewers in all the wrong directions. A compelling read that, though fantasy, is all too real in its description of how companies use advertising to push an agenda that’s not always good for you.
I received a free copy of this book. Once I started reading, I was pulled into the story, unable to extricate myself until the end.

I give this one five stars for a captivating story.