Thursday, March 29, 2007

The State of the Blogs



Although the legendary PODdy Mouth has retired from her mountainous slushpile, her vacuous void seems to be filled by the somewhat aggressive POD Critic and others who have rushed into the fray. I refer to POD Critic as aggressive because he sort of comes from the same New York publishing mold of tradition that brought so much attention to the deceased girlondemand. He seems to be saying Bring on the slushpile! in a manner that I studiously avoid. We have very little in common as POD book reviewers, and that is exactly the way it should be in order for us to offer a genuine choice to the horde of authors out there desperate for honest reviews. You can call them honest; or you can call them legitimate, as I do in the header of this blog. Whatever you want to call them, these are reviews presented with the intent of placing deserving POD books on the same shelf as good, traditionally published books. Maybe the percentage of deserving POD books is much smaller than that of traditionally published ones, but we all know that at least a few high-quality POD books have been released. In my humble opinion, the number is much higher than a few.

The higher quantity of deserving books is one of the reasons I have chosen to review only iUniverse books. Every POD reviewer needs to limit the potential onslaught in one way or another. My method is just a little more unusual. If you read certain posts on this blog, you will rapidly discover that I have no connection whatsoever with iUniverse other than four books of my own wearing that nameplate. I am a very anti-corporate person and iU is a corporation just like all the rest. I refuse to feed any of my twelve engines anything but Exxon because they make the best gasoline. When I spend a godzillion hours creating a book, I will gladly pay a little more to the company that I think makes the best print-on-demand books. Unlike many of the other review blogs, I insist on reading the actual, paper book. I am giving you a lot of personal service for free. You can wrap up a copy of your book and trot down to the post office.

Anyone considering submitting a book for review is encouraged to check out the links on this blog. You should be amazed at the choices you really have. Some write really long, detailed reviews, and some compose compact little signatures that capture the essence of your book. Many will review the common fiction genres such as scifi, thrillers, fantasy, romance, horror, etc., but you are, of course competing with many other aspiring authors for those review slots. If you are fifty years old and you have written the nonfiction work of your lifetime, I'm your man. Some reviewers accept Young Adult books, but others do not. Some will place your reviews on Amazon or B&N, but others will not. I doubt that any others will compose separate reviews for you: that's part of what I referred to earleir as personal service. Many of the other reviews are absolutely free. Mine are not, since you must pay for an author-discounted copy of your book and a few dollars of postage. Some reviewers will tell you what a mess you have made. If I do that, it will be via personal, direct email, not included within the review. Most of the other reviewers keep their identities private. Mine is available for any prospective reviewee to discover with a modicum of research. You are encouraged to research anything you want to know about me before submitting your review request. As soon as I receive a submission request from you, I will seek out whatever information I can about you and your book prior to accepting it for review. I don't really have a slushpile, and I think this is the main reason why practically all of the iU books I have read have been quite good. Yes, there have been a couple of turkeys, but unlike all the other legitimate review blogs of POD books, my supply of gobblers has been quite small.

This brings me to mention that other kind of POD reviewer. There are bunches of these out there, and, unfortunately, you have to do a lot of internet research to truly discover their real essence. To be nice, as well as accurate, I call them volume reviewers. Most of them charge real money for their POD reviews, although some try to carefully conceal this biased fact from both authors and readers. Some of them charge outrageous fees, such as the $360 Kirkus charges for an iUniverse review! If you have ever wondered why you have never heard of me directly through iU, this is the reason. Why would any author buy the cow if he knew he could get the milk for free elsewhere?

As I said to POD Critic back when he was just starting his blog, what we need is a known ring of POD reviewers. The ring does not have to be technically set up in any particular manner. It just needs to be easily searchable and available for interested authors and readers. I think it should be limited to strictly legitimate POD reviewers with no volume reviewers allowed. If you read through many of POD Critic's posts, I think you will get the picture. Anyone can churn out positive reviews of bullshit for $70. Whenever you look at a review of a POD book at Amazon, always click on the See All My Reviews link. Yes, I live right down the road from a company that shovels bull hockey on any POD author with $70 to squander on a glowing review! If you request a review from me, I shall click every link you have at Amazon and B&N, and I'll know if your earlier reviews are legitimate or not, even before I accept your book for review. If I want to buy a car, I read the specifications page of the model's road test in Road & Track. Have you read the fine print on an R&T specs page? They tell you everything from the temperature and wind velocity at the time of the test to the gear ratios in the transmission! That's the sort of information I want to read about a book in a review before I buy the product. I don't want to know the plot details, but I do want to know how it compares to other books of its type. A Motor Trend reader might buy a book after reading a review paid for by the author, but I wouldn't.

The only way POD authors and books will gain any genuine, lasting respect is to earn it. If we don't care enough to edit and proofread the hell out of our books, how can we expect readers to truly enjoy reading them? In case you haven't figured it out already, when I review an iU book I'm looking for professionalism above everything else. I want to hold a book in my hand. I want it to be not a vanity-press book, not a Print On Demand book, not a self-published book, but just a book. POD Critic and a few others will shove your plotline, characters, and dialogue through the ringer for you. Certainly I shall do some of that, too, but not as diligently as others will. We as authors, readers, and reviewers are offering our humble services to you. You can take the bait and risk being told what kind of writer you really are, or you can take your credit card down the street. They will be quite happy to tell you whatever you want to hear. Can you handle the truth?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Romance, Riches, and Restrooms



Romance, Riches, and Restrooms: A Cautionary Tale of Ambitious Dreams and Irritable Bowels by Tim Phelan
(iUniverse / 0-595-38544-3 / May 2006 / 268 pages / $19.95)

Cue up
The William Tell Overture, please. A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty... Who was that running man? That was Tim Phelan, Kemo Sabe. Indian call him Running Man with Fire in Caboose! Him not need horse. He already got the trots.

Yes, sports fans, this book really is about the most secret of subject matter, the squirts, the trots, the Mexican two-step, the runs, to the bathroom, that is. Tim Phelan has written a memoir in which only the names of those who have known Pepe le Pew intimately have been changed. Mr. Phelan has been congratulated for his guts, but not for his intestinal fortitude. He has been spotted with his precious backpack loaded with emergency apparel clutched closely to his chest as he sprints toward the exits in a somewhat awkward running style. Did you know he was a triathlete? I'm not kidding: he can run with the best of 'em. He almost turned pro!

Aside from training for the big triathlon, chasing girls, trying to build a high-powered career, successfully building a high-powered neurosis, and single-handedly keeping Pepto-Bismal in business, he found the time to write a book. It was a book only he could write, and no one else dared to write. The jokes are numerous, and the embarrassing moments, as well as a bunch of other stuff, are out of control. If you think a twelve-year-old buying rubbers for the first time is funny, how about a handsome, eligible bachelor trying to escape the corner drugstore with Fleet enema products in the bag? The author has it bad and he will try anything at least once. If you think Steve Martin and Sarah Jessica Parker had a funny scene in L. A. Story, then Romance, Riches, and Restrooms will leave you rolling on the floor. Try not to laugh while you read the book in your personal library room. You might not want to roll on that floor!

Aside from the obvious powder-room embarrassment and laughter, this is a somewhat serious book for those genuine sufferers of IBS. If you have it, or know someone who does, Tim Phelan's tale of woe has been written specifically for you. The storyline will relieve some of your anguish with joy, and let you feel very much not alone in your embarrassing little private world. Mr. Phelan has obviously joined many others in an official capacity to aid others inflicted with IBS. Contact information for the national societies and organizations concerning IBS are listed in the back of this very professionally composed, arranged, and edited book. As for the dreaded typographical error count that I so diligently monitor in all the books I review, Romance, Riches, and Restrooms has true star power. This book has been as perfectly proofread as any POD book I have read. Congratulations, Tim, you have come officially out of the closet, the water closet, that is!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Submission Guidelines

In case you haven't noticed, until now there has not been an official statement of the submission guidelines made readily available to visitors. The information has always been present, scattered throughout several pages, but now that the site has grown up, I think an official guidelines post has become necessary. As this post passes from its front-page viewpoint, I shall add a link to it that will always be available to new visitors. I still highly recommend that any author seriously considering a submission should go back and read the earlier posts that deal with the subject in detail. This is just a simplified version of my opinion on the matter.

How do I request a review for my book?

Place a comment on any post on the blog or send a message to ice9 at e-tabitha dot com with a request that you desire a review of your book. Include a direct email address at which you can be contacted. Please do not use an address at MySpace or some other monster-sized site. Your real name and/or the title of your book are optional as long as I can find this information from the email or web address you send. I shall respond promptly to the email address you have provided.

Do you review only books published by iUniverse?

No. This was the case when the site was established back in 2006. We added additional reviewers in early 2008, and now all self-published POD imprints, except Lulu, will be considered for review. Lulu Book Review offers a similar, free service to Lulu authors. Click the link in the left column of this site to visit Lulu Book Review.

Does the genre of my book have to fall within any particular category?

No. Any book will be considered if it fits all the other acceptable parameters.

Does my book have to be a new release?

No. Any iU or other self-published POD book from 1998-onward is eligible. Lulu authors will be referred to Shannon's Lulu Book Review.

What types of books will you not accept for review?

Cheaters and those written by Gomer Pyle and edited by Ernest T. Bass. You can find many descriptions of cheaters in the other posts on this blog, but the basic idea is that if you write a book about a dead blonde from Mexia, you need not apply. Ditto for any book with a celebrity's name in the title, any book that implies a connection with any famous book or characters, and any get-rich-quick schemes.

Do you accept any electronic formats or unpublished manuscripts for review?

No. I shall send you my address and you will send me a published copy of your iUniverse book. An author's signature on the title page is always appreciated. The books are read and reviewed in the order they are received in my mailbox.

Will I receive the standard personal-service package of four separate reviews and email updates on the status and progress of my reviews?

Yes, as long as I do not get swamped with a backlog of books to review. If that happens, I shall have to decide at that time what I can do to remain on schedule.

Will you sell my book on Amazon or elsewhere after the review has been completed?

Absolutely, positively no-way-Jose! As an iU author myself, I find that practice despicable. I shall keep your book displayed on my bookshelf until I think of a reader who I am quite sure will read it and like it. I may give some books to libraries eventually, but so far, I have not done so.

Where can I read other reviews you have done, so I can decide if I like your style?

You can, of course, read all the reviews on this blog site. You can also find entirely different reviews I have composed for the same books at Amazon, B&N, and Authors Den. You can even go to Amazon and round up the reviews I have posted there and read them all at once!

Read all the posts concerning submission guidelines.

Friday, March 02, 2007

My Summer Vacation

My Summer Vacation by Hannah R. Goodman
(iUniverse / 0-595-39430-2 / May 2006 / 144 pages / $11.95)

Hannah R. Goodman is a new writer of informative novels for young adults. Her two books parallel those of Lyda Phillips. In fact, the two authors even know each other. Like Ms. Phillips, Hannah writes short novels that surround the lives of teenage characters who have serious underlying issues. My Summer Vacation is her second novel. My Sister's Wedding (not reviewed here) received accolades galore, and this second book is a continuation of the life of sixteen-year-old Maddie Hickman. The married sister's history of alcohol problems weighs on younger Maddie's mind as she prepares for a quiet summer at camp with her friends.

The pack of friends at the coed, creative-nerd camp have plans that do not include quiet. Two of the boys in Maddie's clique put up their dukes over one of the girls, and both get thrown out of camp for fighting. This is a clique of teenage Counselors in Training, not a bunch of ten-year-old boys, so a brawl over a girl gets everybody's attention. Catfights of a similar, but less phsyical, nature will break out among the girls, too, so Maddie has to seek solitude elsewhere. She finds it in a final-year camper (not a CIT) with Tourette's Syndrome and a love for the classic rock of his parents' generation. The teenage soap bubbles keep on developing as the teens learn to deal with the sudden passing of loved ones, addictive personalities, and the kissing of other people's boyfriends. It may not be Meatballs, but My Summer Vacation is a quick, lighthearted read, even with the trials, tribulations, and tragedies.

Hannah R. Goodman has approached the subject of enablers with humor and delicacy. Yes, some of the lead characters in the story are the psychological enablers of family members who just cannot seem to get their acts together. Although it never bellows from the pulpit, the book is intended to provide insight to teens who may be facing similar issues in real life. My Summer Vacation offers entertainment and enlightenment suitable for teens and their parents. It's too bad that the second novels of Hannah Goodman and Lyda Phillips cannot be packaged and sold together at a much lower price. The two summer camp stories for girls would double the insight and double the fun for the appropriate teen readers who most need them, but at $23 for about 250 pages, iU's price structure is still the company's Achilles heel. I have heard that Ms. Goodman is working on the acquisition of a more cost-effective publisher, but in the meantime, this book fills a need that I'm sure exists within many troubled families, for whom the price should not be a deterrent. Hannah Goodman is an ex-high school English teacher who has experience with troubled teens that climbs out from between the lines of the story.