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.
When Madison Boone buys an old cottage in Sonoma that belonged to a reclusive ornithologist and his wife, her plans are just to fix it up and flip it for profit. The property has a secret, though, and some people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to uncover it—unfortunately, they have to get Madison off the property first. With the help of her friend, lawyer, Gen Delacourt, Madison begins to peel away the layers of the mystery of the Blackburne family’s estate, and what she learns could be deadly.
Mark of the Loon by Molly Greene is a delightful cozy mystery with a wacky, but loveable cast of characters—a group of witty, independent women who operate according to their own rules, and a colorful locale that is lovingly described, without becoming boring. I loved the pacing; slow and measured until you feel comfortable, and then a burst of frenetic action to get your blood pounding, and just enough budding romance to make it all interesting.
A great start to what I predict will be an even greater series. Don’t miss it. I give it five stars.
I don’t pay much attention to these except in passing. I’ll notice that I’m getting about the same number of viewers or that a post has climbed to the top of my most-commented-on list. Let’s say, if I spend ten minutes a week on this, I’d be exaggerating.
But, it’s nice to know where I can look for quantitative feedback. One of my wonderful readers, Jill Weatherholt, asked where I found them. I don’t use anything beyond what WordPress offers. There are fancier options (like through Google) but this gives me everything I want. To that end, here’s where I found the stats I posted as a summary of my 2017:
First: Access the backend of your WordPress blog:
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Arthur, the Wildcat Wizard, is back and as brash as ever. With his life approaching something like normalcy, and in new digs, he’s offered a job he can’t refuse from the vampire First. Honor bound to complete his new mission, but as usual, things go from bad to worse, and the bodies quickly start piling up.
Honor Bound by Al K. Line is the fifth book in the Wildcat Wizard series, and Arthur and his hat are mired in the usual controversy, with enough action to get your blood pumping and the heat flowing on a cold winter’s day.
Lots of supernatural hanky-panky to jazz up your reading. I received a free copy of this one, and it doesn’t disappoint.
I give it five stars – what else!
Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels is a tough Chicago cop, she has to be, as the highest ranking female detective on the force. When body parts start showing up in the morgue, she and her partner get on the chase of a deadly serial killer, who, for some reason, has Jack in his sights. The case is complicated by Jack’s personal life—in shambles, and a homicidal cat.
Bloody Mary, book 2 in the Jack Daniel’s series by J. A. Konrath, is a fascinating read. A strong, but nearly fatally flawed, female lead, tons of clues, most leading down blind alleys, and spot-on dialogue, will keep you flipping pages, your head spinning, and will completely surprise you when you learn the identity of the killer. I particular like the way the author takes you on a roller coaster ride when the killer is caught, gets off on a technicality, about three-quarters through the book, and then takes our hero on another bloody journey for the rest of it.
Trust me; you won’t be able to put this one down. I give it a resounding five stars.
We humans love to label things. Writers are no exception, either. Take writing habits, for example, we label writers as either those who diligently map out their stories, plotters, or those who just start writing and go with whatever comes, sort of writing by the ‘seat of the pants, or, pantsers.
The problem with this is that a lot of writers don’t fall neatly into either category. Take me, for instance. I usually start my books in one of the following ways:
1. I list the chapters, and the main action in each, knowing generally how I want the story to end. As I write, though, I will often change action, or add chapters as some interesting action or event is suggested by the flow of the story.
2. I know generally how I want the story to end, and I plan the first chapter or two, and then start writing, going with the flow.
You will notice a common thread here; I always go with the natural flow of the story. Certain things just seem to logically follow other things.
Take, for example, my current work in progress, another in my Al Pennyback mystery series, featuring a retired army officer turned private detective in the Washington, DC area. Al is on retainer to a law firm, but the work they give him doesn’t take up too much of his time, so he takes cases involving people who are being put upon by the system, or who have no one else to turn to. Al is something of a knight errant, or a samurai without a master—otherwise known as a Ronin—and, he is always on the side of the downtrodden. In the current story, A Deal to Die For, his client is a spoiled rich girl, who he dislikes at first, but takes the case because she’s being falsely accused of murder.
Generally, my plan for this one was for him to prove her innocence after several false starts and a lot of time spent following red herrings. I decided that this one would be really complex, with several of the things that push Al’s buttons, like the presence of militia, and some play on 9/11, with a possible terrorist in the mix for interest. I mapped out the first nineteen chapters and began writing. The murder has already happened two days before the story begins, and Al’s task is to find the killer.
He begins working his way through the initial list of potential suspects, eliminating them one by one through diligent detective work, until he’s left with what he thinks is the most likely bad guy—only, I decided that he would really hit a wall when he learns that the most likely suspect is not what he first thought he was, and his nemeses, the militia bad guys start to crank up the heat and put his life in danger.
Now, if the militia guys are the real killers, the story’s about over, so I decided that this was too pat. In chapter 19, I have Al’s client fearing she’s about to be arrested, and unidentified bad buys tailing Al all over town. The clock’s ticking, and the stakes are cranked up to the max. I’ve kind of decided who the real murder is already, and now I’m just sending Al down a few false trails, so that when the killer is finally unveiled, readers will be surprised.
I’m now in the home stretch, and I’m planning a few confrontation scenes and some real nail-biting action just before Al finally finds the key clue that tells him where to look.
That, in a nutshell, is how I write. I go with the flow, and if the flow seems to be veering away from the rough sketch map I started with, I simply draw a new map. That is neither plotting, nor pantsing, but a combination of the two, which, being human, I will call plantsing.
So, having shared that bit of trivia with you, I will go back to my plantsing, and see what sprouts. Happy reading, and a glorious New Year to one and all.
Abduction: The Minivan Murders by R.J. Parker is the true story of James Daveggio and Michelle Michaud, a couple of meth-heads who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a number of young women from Sacramento, California to Reno, Nevada, even killing one and dumping her body.
A chilling story of serial rapists and murderers, the book fails, however, to live up to the hype or the cover. There is too much repetition, going over points repeatedly that could well be addressed once and done—and a lot of it is devoted to the killing spree of two other serial rapist-killers, who apparently were the motivation for Daveggio and Michaud.
An interesting book, that with less repetition, and without the hype—for example, the two were only convicted of one murder, and while they might, if not caught, have killed others, there is no evidence that they killed more than the one for whose death they were convicted.
I give this one three stars. Interesting subject, just not as well executed as I would expect from this author.
P.I. Penguin takes a break from decorating his house for Christmas to find out how to improve his decorations. During his journey, he discovers that the secret to a truly decorative holiday is the sharing.
P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Christmas Lights by Bec J. Smith is a delightful children’s reader, with illustrations by Indonesian artist, Adit Galih. Though in Australian English, it nonetheless is still a great way to introduce young American readers to the beauty of language.
I give this one five stars.
In Philadelphia, in 1824, Samantha Ronaldson’s father wants her to marry his older business partner in order to keep his industrial secrets in the family. Samantha, on the other hand, only wants the freedom to explore science, and she allies herself with the partner’s half-Indian son, Eagle, and accompanies him on a journey through the Flow, back and forth through time on an amazing journey of discovery.
Fly Like an Eagle by S.B.K. Burns is a difficult book to categorize. A steam punk, sci-fi novel, it has elements of the paranormal, as well as steamy romance, that offers a bit of everything for lovers of a variety of genres. A tantalizing romp that challenges historical and scientific truths, it explores the boundaries between science and spirituality in a thoroughly entertaining story that will grab and hold your attention from the first page to the last.
I give this one four stars.
When police detective Brad Hamilton finds an old letter at a murder scene, he has to call on history professor, Connie Cobb, and her sister, Rebecca, for help. The letter, which refers to the famous Mecklenburg Declaration, a declaration of independence from England by the government of Mecklenburg, NC, supposedly dated two years before the Declaration of Independence, suspicion falls on historical document validators in the area who might have wanted to take it from the victim.
Declaration of Liberty by Lisa Walker is the second novel in the Cobb Sisters mystery series, that follows Connie, Rebecca, and Brad as they undertake two lines of investigation; one to try to determine the identity of the killer, and the other to determine the authenticity of the letter. While it contains interesting historical information, including historical flashbacks relating to the individuals mentioned in the letter, and police procedure as Brad and his fellow officers trace the victim’s movements in the days before his murder, the pacing of the narrative is rather monotonous, and the flashbacks misleading—and, called into question by the final test of the document’s authenticity.
Although an interesting story with an interesting cast of characters, and not too bad, it could have been much better without the flashbacks.
I give the author three stars for the promise shown.
Roger Murphy and Dan Galveston decide to chuck their mind-numbing cubicle jobs and start their own investigation agency. Using often questionable tactics, they succeed in getting ever higher-paying jobs, until a computer hack on behalf of a toy company plunges them into a job that threatens not only their livelihoods, but their lives. A seemingly simple computer break-and-enter job turns up a connection to a shady security company that Galveston once worked for, and a plot to manipulate the world’s energy supplies, taking our erstwhile heroes on a chaotic journey to the far corners of the globe as they struggle to stay one step ahead of forces that threaten to eliminate them.
Flapjack by Daniel Ganninger is the first book in the Icarus Case Files series. The madcap adventures of two sometimes bumbling detectives who go up against a determined band of bad guys, relying on their wits—and a lot of luck—to prevail. There are a few rough spots, like the main character’s name being changed momentarily early in the book—a problem often encountered in a story with a large list of characters—but, despite a few proofreading glitches, it’ll keep you entertained until the end.
I give this premiere story three and a half stars, with the feeling that it’ll only get better with time.
September 11, 2001 saw a resurgence in the United States of nationalism (the belief that one’s country is better than all others), thinly disguised as patriotism (love of one’s country), which has, since the 2016 elections, only grown worse. Illegal by John Dennehy is a memoir by a young American, following the author’s journey of discovery, beginning with the reelection of George Bush to his second term, when Dennehy decided to leave his home country to find true meaning in his life.
In Ecuador, a country in the throes of profound political change, Dennehy meets Lucia, an activist, and begins to discover the meaning of national and personal identity; a journey that begins and ends at the same place. Along the way, the author offers insights into the inconsistencies that exist in an increasingly globalized world that recognizes the free flow of money, goods, and ideas, while at the same time, restricting the movement of people.
A compelling story of the meaning of culture and nationality, and how one person learns to cope with them. A must-read for anyone who wants to begin to make sense of a world that sometimes seems to be going mad.
I give Dennehy five stars for this one.
After her aunt’s funeral, Gracie Andersen’s alcoholic uncle gives her an odd gift—a collection of old books that includes the diary of her cousin who had been killed in a hit and run accident 20 years earlier. It is clear to her that he wants her to find the truth of the ‘accident,’ but before she can get more details from him, he’s killed in a suspicious ‘accident.’ To add to her troubles, her dog kennel is suffering one tragedy after another, and someone wants her to stop prying into the past; chief among them, her annoying cousin, Isabel.
Family Matters by Laurinda Wallace is an interesting cozy mystery that follows Gracie as she begins to uncover family secrets that Isabel wants to keep hidden. She and Isabel have never gotten along, but she’s shocked to learn that, not only is Isabel somehow involved in the 20-year-old death, but the death of her uncle as well. The closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous her life becomes, until the case reaches a conclusion that will come as a complete surprise.
A well plotted mystery, but the author could have done a better job of pacing, rather than the rather monotonous rhythm throughout. Not a bad first book, that I give three and a half stars. The author shows promise.
Happy holidays to everyone.
DI Keith Tremayne and his partner, DS Clare Yarwood are attending a local theatrical group’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar,’ When the actor portraying Caesar is stabbed in Act 3, and the body is removed from the stage, little do the two cops know that they have just witnessed an actual murder. There were seven actors on the stage, and Tremayne soon realizes that two of them are killers, but which two? When more members of the troupe die, the stakes are pushed up, and he and Yarwood have to work overtime to nab the killers before even more people die.
Death and the Assassin’s Blade by Phillip Strang is a tense thriller. Clues abound, as do suspects, but it takes some dogged police work, and lots of luck to catch the killers. As you follow along, you’ll be subject to the same misdirection as our protagonists, and, in the end, be just as surprised as they are.
A great read for a cold winter’s day. I received a free copy of this book. I give this one four stars.
A strange blast in a small college town triggers a blizzard, which is followed by an infestation of ‘crabs,’ Curious at first, they soon turn deadly. College professor, Dominic Daniels, and a small group of survivors must decide whether to try to stick it out in their tenuous safe havens, or make a run for it and contend with the ‘monsters,’ who came with the snow.
They Came With the Snow by Christopher Coleman is a short horror story that stretches the limits of the imagination. Leaving much to the reader’s imagination, it is a shocking judgment of government overreach gone too far. A book that can, mercifully, be read in about half an hour, and one that you will long remember. No pun intended, but this one will chill you to your core.
I give it four stars.
I live in a diverse neighborhood, and it’s never more apparent than during the winter holidays. Some of my neighbors don’t celebrate, some go for the minimalist look, and some go hog to the wall. I don’t celebrate, but the wife does, and now that we have grandchildren, it’s kind of obligatory. The wife did a tree and streamers for a while, but with just the two of us, it got kinda boring, so she’s now restricting the decoration to a single, simple wreath on the door, and we go to our daughter’s house for the other stuff.
What I do like, though, is going around the neighborhood just before December 25 and snapping photos of some of the more notable displays. I share a couple of them with you.
Through stubbornness and utter disregard for others, Gavin Roy turned an isolated valley in New Mexico into one of the richest mining and ranching areas in the Old West. He bent everyone, man or woman, to his will—or destroyed them—except for his rebellious son, Clay, and the beautiful woman from New York that he took to his bed after the death of Clay’s mother.
Stranger by acclaimed author Clifford Irving is an epic tale of the western frontier, and the men and women who made it great, told from the point of view of one dysfunctional family and their relationships—among themselves, with others around them, and with the land itself.
Irving, who served 2-1/2 years in prison for his faked autobiography of Howard Hughes, is in fine form in this tale of the Old West with a slightly different take on a beloved genre. There are no white hats versus black hats, and the hero doesn’t kiss his horse and ride off into the sunset. In the real west, people loved and hated, lived and died, and life was sometimes short and brutal, and true to his style, Irving pulls no punches.
Burned out and suffering from PTSD, former Green Beret and security contractor, Harper Knox has retired to his parents’ farm to grow grapes and get his life back together. His old comrade, Ted, lures him back into the fold with an offer of a security job, protecting a scientist involved in a controversial AI conference in Seattle. A routine protection job turns deadly when Ted’s killed, along with the two assailants, former prostitutes with a strange symbol burned into their bodies.
Harper and Ted’s cousin, Italian mercenary, Francesca Daly, seeking answers, stumble into a plot that threatens more loss of life, including their own, while dealing with the sparks that fly between them.
Turn or Burn by Boo Walker is a chilling thriller that looks at domestic terrorism and dangerous religious fundamentalism in our midst, a phenomenon that is every bit as deadly as international terrorism, but often not acknowledged. Compelling, and believable, characters and spine-tingling action on every page. You can’t put it down.
I give it five stars.
John’s in a dead-end job, only staying because of his devotion to his wife and son. When a sick man enters his shop, life takes a distinct downward turn, not just for John, but for the whole world. What’s causing people to turn into flesh-eating zombies? John goes on the run with other survivors, but can he really do anything?
Swarm by Alex South is a zombie apocalypse novel set in London. Despite being a bit choppy, it’s an interesting take on the subgenre, with its focus on the individuals impacted by the ‘plague.’ Chillingly graphic descriptions of zombie attacks might be a bit much for the fainthearted, but zombie fans will eat it up—no pun intended.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Because of the choppy prose, I give it three and a half stars.
Called to an isolated max-security hospital for the criminally insane, DI Skelgill catches the eye of a notorious female serial killer. When the killer, a nurse who was accused of killing scores of her patients, escapes, taking her psychologist with her, Skelgill and his crew undertake a plodding, systematic chase, culminating in a surprise ending that caught me completely unawares.
Murder in the Mind by Bruce Beckwith is a classic British murder mystery, written in an almost dry, nonchalant style—matching the principal protagonist’s personality—with plenty of red herrings and wry observations. It starts slow, as British mysteries are prone to do, but keeps moving relentlessly until the good guys prevail, and the bad ones are put where they belong.
I give this one four stars.
When the manager of a homeless shelter is murdered, DCI Isaac Cook and his team are in search of Big Greg, a mysterious homeless man who doesn’t fit the normal pattern of a street person. When more people die, they learn that Big Greg has a secret and a mission, and the intelligence to pull it off right under their noses. To add to Cook’s misery, when a Member of Parliament becomes one of the killer’s victims, the pressure from above threatens to derail his investigation.
Murder is the Only Option by Phillip Strang is another offering in the DCI Cook series. Fascinating characters and convoluted plots, against the backdrop of a modest sized English city, will grab and hold your interest on every page.
Dat Isaac, he one sharp copper, mon! I received a free copy of this book, and I give it four stars.