Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Beyond the Cayenne Wall

Beyond the Cayenne Wall
Collection of Short Stories
by Shaila Abdullah

(iUniverse / 0-595-37009-8 / October 2005 / 114 pages / $10.95)

Beyond the Cayenne Wall happens to be the first book I have reviewed by an author in my own hometown. Although I used to reside literally within a mile or two of Shaila Abdullah, it is obvious that we come from two different worlds. This leads to the best recommendation I can make for the book: the quality of the writing and the intimacy of the subject matter sucked me right into it. Like many traditional Americans, I had a vague notion of the issues presented in Cayenne Wall, but Shaila's fictionalizations of a harsh reality bring these gut-wrenching dilemmas to life. The author takes the reader on a journey through seven short stories back to her original hometown, Karachi, Pakistan.
The only bad news here is old news. This book has far too many proofreading errors to honestly earn a five-star review. I would have hoped that a book that has garnered numerous, glowing reviews of the all too familiar type from the all too familiar sources would have allowed the Proofreading Police a night off. That is sadly not the case, an issue that is additionally disturbing because Beyond the Cayenne Wall has garnered far more than its share of awards and attention from traditional media, at least when compared to that of many other well deserving POD books. Aside from the obvious celebrations of cultural diversity, you would have thought someone would have mentioned the typos. Alas, that seems to be my job alone.
If Beyond the Cayenne Wall had contained four times the page count and one-quarter the error count, I would be screaming its praises from the rooftops! This is one well-written book of POD short stories! The poignancy literally drips from the pages. Ms. Abdullah knows her subject matter. She knows how to do accurate research and she knows how to write. She even designed an excellent cover for her book, and Cayenne Wall includes a glossary, something you don't often see in an iU book. I read the glossary first to smooth out the comprehension of this foreign culture, and I recommend other readers do likewise, although I never felt really lost while reading the text. As you may have already guessed, the references to hot, spicy dishes native to Karachi are numerous, but never overcooked. As a bonus, I received a bookmark for the book, and even that was especially well designed and professionally printed. Welcome to the world of POD, where we have to do all our own tasks, even proofreading. If the mere mention of a book of short stories about a culture from the other side of the world makes you yawn, wake up! Beyond the Cayenne Wall is one of the better books reviewed on this site, and Shaila Abdullah is one of the better writers.

See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review
Tabitha's Authors Den Review
Shaila Abdullah's Website

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Scarecrow in Gray

A Civil War Novel
by Barry D. Yelton
(iUniverse / 0-595-40185-6 / September 2006 / 218 pages / $15.95)

This is the second historical fiction novel about the Civil War reviewed on this blog. Convergence of Valor, a book about the development and launch of the first submarine, happened to be the very first book reviewed here. Like that book, Scarecrow in Gray concerns a particular issue of the war, as told from the Confederate perspective, and both books successfully attempt to be as accurate as possible with respect to the parts of the plot that are known entities. Both authors developed a finished storyline around certain incomplete, but historically accurate facts. No one actually knows what happened to the submarine, the H. L. Hunley, and no one knows precisely what experiences Barry Yelton's great-grandfather actually had after he entered the war in 1864. Scarecrow in Gray is Francis Yelton's compassionate, gut-wrenching, up-close-and-personal viewpoint on the war. He begins by telling the reader how the starved, emaciated Rebel soldiers looked like scarecrows the first time he sees them.

I have compared Barry Yelton's work to that of the legendary Bruce Catton in my other reviews, and I stand by that statement. Barry presents the story of Francis in much the same way that Catton told the story from the Union side in This Hallowed Ground. Barry Yelton fills his story with emotion and the realism of the moment, which happened to be the darkest in America's history. I would liked to have lived during the Civil War about as much as I would enjoy life as a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Barry D. Yelton makes it crystal clear why that statement is so true. From the departure from his wife and two small daughters to the agonizing loss of soldiers close to him, Francis adequately describes the hell of existence in North Carolina and Virginia in that brief, depressing era. The author describes the whizzing musket balls, screams of agony, and blood everywhere it does not belong. He takes you to the center of the action, but he also lets you sit around the campfire with the soldiers as they discuss the quieter, more disturbing issues of The War Between the States. Scarecrow in Gray is not long or highly detailed, but the emotions and morality the book imparts are very compelling.

The comma omissions and other minor infractions kept the Proofreading Police busy writing tickets, but that is the only issue that keeps Scarecrow in Gray out of the solid five-star category. I was not overly impressed with some of the bland compositional style, either, but I make that statement very carefully. Much of what I call bland may be just the author's attempt to accurately replicate the attitude of a very depressed soldier and narrator. As with most of my reviews, I also allow extra credit for longer books with more detail than this one offers. For instance, there was one particular passage that bugged me in the audacity of its brevity. The author says that Francis carved a rather detailed inscription into a makeshift wooden headstone as if he completed a long, arduous task in ten minutes! I have no other complaints at all. This is a very professionally presented first effort. The cover is well designed and suited to the storyline. The plot is easy to follow, the characters are accurately developed, and the author's vision of his subject matter imparts the result of thorough research. If Scarecrow in Gray did not affectionately remind me of This Hallowed Ground, I would not have said it did. It does.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Interview with the Author

D. A. Welch

Debra A. Welch, author of Flashback, currently resides in South Carolina. She has worked in several related computer programming and management fields. Her first novel is set with the beautiful island Low Country as a backdrop. Deb Welch has been quite successful with the location tie-in promotion of her book. Read the interview to discover how she did it.

Tabitha: What inspired you to write Flashback?

Deb: Hypocrisy… it angers me, harms people and damages our world. Regardless, I’m an optimist with a creative streak. Writing is an outlet for my feelings; I envy artists and musicians.

Tabitha: Were you at all concerned that potential customers might confuse your book’s title with Timothy Leary’s famous book?

Deb: Confusion with Timothy Leary’s autobiography never dawned on me; Flashbacks was written in 1983. To some, he was a thought-provoking man. To others, he was just provoking, but he forced us to think outside the box. I admit that Timothy Leary fell off my radar screen along with his orbiting ashes.

Tabitha: Define for us exactly what constitutes The Low Country.

Deb: The coastal region of South Carolina is called The Low Country. Here is a passage from Flashback that explains the term: "From Hilton Head Island to Myrtle Beach, the entire coastal area of South Carolina is known as the Low Country. It’s named for the topography. The region is flat, and much of it is wetland that gently melds into the sea. The terrain includes marshes, tidal basins, and estuaries flowing eastward toward the sounds that separate the barrier islands from the mainland."

Tabitha: I would expect that the obvious tie-in with an actual geographic locale would generate interest and, hopefully, spur book sales. Have you reaped any specific benefits from your subject matter and/or subtitle?

Deb: Despite the distribution challenge faced by POD authors, brick and mortar bookstores in Charleston, Beaufort, and Hilton Head Island have stocked Flashback in the local literature sections. Along with intense promotion and sincere groveling on my part, the Low Country subtitle helped put Flashback on their shelves. The area is a tourist destination and visitors gravitate to books featuring the Low Country.

Tabitha: I see from your Authors Den page that you had a local television interview last August. How did you secure such an interview and how was the experience? Do you think it helped your book sales?

Deb: In August, I appeared on WJCL/Fox 28 News in Savannah, Georgia. A press release announcing a Beaufort book signing triggered the interview. Trish Hartman, the anchor and producer of a morning news program, invited me to appear on her show. The interview went very well and it had to create interest in my book. Here’s a frustration many POD authors experience. Two weeks before the interview, I sent publicity kits to three bookselling chains in Savannah announcing my television appearance and I followed up with phone calls. The day before the interview, I visited the bookstores to sign their Flashback stock. No one had ordered the book. During this live broadcast, I couldn’t tell Savannah residents where to buy my book locally; the stores and I missed sales opportunities. Where have all the entrepreneurs gone?

Tabitha: The brief descriptions of the weather or scenery of coastal South Carolina add a nice touch to the beginning of each chapter. Have you envisioned Flashback as a screenplay?

Deb: Absolutely! I’d love to see a movie version of my book. With adaptation, the location, plot, characters and dialog would make a great screenplay. Your review stated Flashback could be a Lifetime Channel movie with an R rating. Nora Roberts did it with Carolina Moon and others. Why not D. A. Welch with Flashback?

Tabitha: In my reviews of Flashback, I commented on the beautiful cover. Who designed the cover? Did iUniverse create it strictly from your ideas, or did you supply the artwork or other elements? Are you satisfied with the cover?

Deb: The Flashback cover image was a collaborative effort between my husband and me using two different photos. I submitted the front cover design to iUniverse and received positive feedback. When the iUniverse Publisher’s Choice committee became involved, the problems began. I received a proof that I flat-out rejected. The font had become over-stylized, unreadable and sissified. The title and subtitle had been moved into the sea oats at the bottom of the cover. After much debate and correspondence, we compromised. I approved the cover design you see to gain the coveted Publisher’s Choice designation, but I still believe the title font is weak and the subtitle is too obscure.

Tabitha: Have you expended much effort seeking out an agent, and have you had much success in that regard?

Deb: Flashback was my first attempt to write a novel and I had much to learn about the process. I made a conscious decision to minimize the pain and maximize the lesson. Based on Flashback feedback, my efforts were not in vain and I’d like to find an agent for my next book. Right now, I’m learning how to find one. Any suggestions?

Tabitha: Flashback has received three honorary notations from iUniverse: Publisher’s Choice, Editor’s Choice, and Reader’s Choice. Do you feel as if any of these has aided your book’s success?

Deb: When I decided to publish my first novel, I had no literary credits so I needed every iota of recognition. The iUniverse honorary notations gave Flashback and me legitimacy. The awards are tiered and I earned them sequentially.

Editor’s Choice was given for outstanding editorial quality. After submitting my initial manuscript, I received honest, painful, and valuable feedback from iUniverse editors. Within four months, I completed two major rewrites and shortened the manuscript considerably before earning Editor’s Choice. I’m proud of the result. I’ve read books released by traditional publishers that would not meet the standards set by the iUniverse Editorial Review Committee.

Publisher’s Choice was awarded for cover design. The honor gave my book an eight-week spot on a local Barnes & Noble New Release table. During those eight weeks, Flashback appeared on the local fiction table instead of the New Release table. Regardless, my book was in a Barnes & Noble store and that is not an easy feat. I advertise Flashback’s availability at my local Barnes & Noble and visit the store frequently to sign copies of my book. When the store runs out of stock, which they often do, I ask them to reorder.

Reader’s Choice was awarded when 250 books were sold, one-half through non-author purchases. It proves a smidgen of commercial success, one achieved by authors who pound on doors and promote their work. I refer to these honorary designations in every promotional piece I create. I’m aiming for the iUniverse Star program: 500 books sold and a Kirkus book review.

Tabitha: From reading certain statements on your various web pages, it appears that you like to express your opinions concerning certain hot-button political issues of the day, and there is an undercurrent within the theme of Flashback. Have you received any particular feedback, of either a positive or negative nature, from the political views you have subtly expressed?

Deb: In the initial draft of Flashback, I was not so subtle with my opinions. The iUniverse content editor strongly suggested I tone down the rhetoric to avoid alienating readers. Apparently, I took his advice to heart, because no reader has taken issue with any political, religious, or feminist undercurrents. What fun is that?

Tabitha: Did you attend writer’s classes or workshops before releasing the book? Did you hire a professional editor or proofreader?

Deb: I did not attend writing classes but I read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White sits on my computer desk. I purchased content editing and proofreading from iUniverse. The content editing service greatly improved the quality of my book. The proofreading service added to the quality, but iUniverse and I missed some errors.

Tabitha: Your bio pages indicate that you are quite computer literate, and I would think this skill has helped you immeasurably in your various book marketing endeavors. Would you care to elaborate on this issue?

Deb: I use my computer skills to create flyers, event signs, mailing lists (e-mail and snail mail), publicity kits, press releases, bookmarks, ad layouts, bookstore lists, and promotion plans. I’m a techie to a fault. The mechanics of word processing, Web design, graphic layouts, Internet research, and data management are my comfort zone. I spend too much time on easy tasks when I should be writing my next novel or pounding on new doors for Flashback sales.

Tabitha: Did you consider other publishers before you selected iUniverse?

Deb: I compared LuLu and BookSurge services and pricing before I chose iUniverse. I did not seek a traditional publisher for Flashback.

Tabitha: How satisfying has your experience with iUniverse been?

Deb: This was my first attempt to publish a book, so I can’t compare iUniverse with other publishing organizations. Overall, I am satisfied with their service and feel positive about the company. I’ve already mentioned iUniverse plusses and minuses. Add a plus for professional, courteous, and responsive employees. Printing and binding quality is top notch. I’d recommend iUniverse to other self-publishing writers.

Tabitha: What is the most significant thing you have learned as a POD author? Do you have any advice to offer to new or prospective POD authors?

Deb: First, I learned that retail bookstores don’t want to stock or sell POD books. Second, I learned that retail bookstores don’t want to stock or sell POD books. Third, I learned that retail bookstores don’t…. So I advertised for bookstores, negotiated to get shelf space, and followed up incessantly to maintain a presence in a handful of stores. I also learned that is great. Despite POD fulfillment, Amazon delivers and delivers quickly. The challenge is attracting buyers. I have several direct links from various Web pages. Along with retailers, Amazon appears on my bookmarks and all printed and electronic material.

Tabitha: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What genres do you like to read?

Deb: Wow! I could go on for pages. I dislike the term genre because it pigeonholes books. Flashback is classified as romantic suspense; I read books by several authors within that genre, but I gravitate to authors beyond the category. J. D. Robb’s In Death series is a favorite. The Plum series by Janet Evanovich is entertaining mind-wash. Vince Flynn novels are favorites for political intrigue. Every John Grisham novel teaches me another lesson about our flawed legal system. I read novels by David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, Michael Crichton, John Sanford and Tom Clancy. I’m not a James Patterson fan. Laurell K. Hamilton became too grotesque and I tired of her ramblings. A very long time ago, I read every Ian Fleming novel; all Bond movies pale in comparison to Fleming’s thrillers. Some favorite classics are Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, Fountainhead, Stranger in a Strange Land, Tale of Two Cities, Gone with the Wind, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Tabitha: What have you been reading lately?

Deb: I just finished Lone Survivor by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. It was a great book, but a sad and frightening account of our involvement in Afghanistan. Recent noteworthy reads were Kite Runner, Water for Elephants and Innocent in Death. I plodded through God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and I’m working on Black Swan, but I keep falling asleep. Theoretical non-fiction writers should take a lesson from John Stossel. A few years ago, I ripped right through Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.

Tabitha: Yes, I admire Stossel’s style, too. What sort of educational experience do you have, and is it relevant to your writing or the subject matter you have chosen?

Deb: Having attended parochial school, I could diagram complex sentences by the fifth grade. I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper and took electives in creative writing. I graduated with honors, began working full-time, and took undergraduate courses in business administration and advanced writing. I don’t have a college degree.

Tabitha: What about your work career? Has your choice of profession influenced your writing?

Deb: During successful careers in retail, information science, and property management, I developed important business and expositive writing skills. I also learned by doing: computer programming, systems analysis, managing budgets, directing projects, solving problems and leading people. I didn’t wait for someone to teach me; I just learned. In March 2005, I put an item on my ‘to do’ list. Right after balance bank statements, I added write novel. Once it’s on the list, it becomes a goal. I started writing a book that had been swirling around in my head for two years. It became Flashback: A Low Country Novel.

Tabitha: Are you currently working on another book? When and where will the next release by D. A. Welch be available? Will it be a sequel to Flashback?

Deb: I’ve started a Flashback sequel and it must become a higher priority. A few chapters have made their way into my word processor and my mind is constantly churning through plots and sub-plots. I hope to finish a manuscript and find an agent by June 2008.

Tabitha: Do you have any further books in the pipeline?

Deb: After I write the Flashback sequel, I must decide if the characters deserve another novel. Much of the future depends on my publishing options. I can’t finance a writing career forever.

Tabitha: What’s next for Debra Welch, the writer?

Deb: What’s next for Deb Welch, the writer, is still uncertain. As a person, I’ll continue to enjoy my Low Country life, travel with my husband and spend time with family and friends. I’ll read voraciously. If I don’t write other novels, I might try short stories and see where that takes me.

Tabitha: Do you have any final remarks to address to your readers or our audience?

Deb: Keep reading… anything and everything. Visit my website!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

St. Hubert's Stag

by John Richard Lindermuth
(iUniverse / 0-595-32869-5 / September 2004 / 144 pages / $11.95)

John Richard Lindermuth's second novel has earned five stars by just a whisker of antler velvet. The cover, a slightly annoying lapse in proofreading, and the lack of a statement of time and place for the setting of the story are its only faults. The error count could be somewhat lower, but it is not large enough to cause serious damage. There are several deer on the cover; however, they are all does. The star of the show is a massive black buck with a large enough rack to impersonate Bambi's dad. A photo or other image of a lone buck standing proudly in the moonlight would be far more appropriate to fit the storyline. When I began reading St. Hubert's Stag, I thought the setting could have been in the 1930's, but by the time I got to the mention of a $50 down payment on a computer, I wondered if the author had placed the deer hunters in The Eighties, or even The Nineties. Anyone needing a computer now would just put the $498 on a VISA card at Wally-World! Mr. Lindermuth told the readers they were in 1830 in Pennsylvania as his earlier Schlussel's Woman begins. Why not at least name a state and a decade? This unnecessary mystery left my mental imagery out in the cold!

That's enough complaining. John Lindermuth has improved upon his first novel. He still revels in that special ability of his to display a highly developed vocabulary that so fluidly accompanies dialogue spoken by uneducated hicks. Whatever the time period, St. Hubert's Stag is definitely set a century or more later than the mystery developed in Schlussel's Woman. This book is a slow potboiler of family secrets and emotions. The story takes place in an unidentified small town in which Americana is personified by the importance to the residents of the first day of deer hunting season. Since this is much like the small Southern town in which I grew up, the meanings behind the story's backdrop were quite easy to follow. The book surrounds the lives of a very traditional American family whose past is meticulously unveiled as the story progresses. Think of it as American Beauty for rednecks. An experienced deer hunter goes out on the mountain in search of one last kill. Before the story is over, the grandson has been lost in the woods, the sons have a few important issues to mull over, and the local Catholic priest tells the story of St. Hubert's Stag.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Waiting List

Please note: The Waiting List is closed as of 12/22/07. Thank you for your support.

As suggested by an enterprising author, I have set up a waiting list for reviews. The last thing I want to do is to commit to reading and reviewing books that may gather dust on my bookshelf simply because I never find the time to read them. I would feel distinctly guilty if someone sent me a book in good faith and I never fulfilled my promise of a review. Therefore, a waiting list has now been added to iUniverse Book Reviews. If you request a review, I shall research your book to decide if I want to accept it for review, as always in the past. Instead of sending you an address to which to send the book, I shall reply to your message, and you can reply back if you want your book placed on the list. If so, your title will be added to the queue, and I shall notify you in plenty of time in the future as to where to send your book. This will assure that those on the waiting list will get their proper place in line, even while the submissions are offically closed. Until such time as I get at least somewhat caught up on my reading, this will keep your books, and my guilt over commitment, from stacking up on my bookshelf. Thank you for your support of iUniverse Book Reviews as the leading source of critical, honest reviews of iUniverse books.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Not a Phoenix

Attention! A new POD blog has recently (September 2007) been launched that at first may mislead you into thinking the infamous POD-dy Mouth has arisen from the dustbin of blog history. This new Poddymouth blog offers a perspective that I think all current and potential POD authors should read. This new blog is not a review site. It is a discussion of the business side of POD, a side I think a lot more new authors should heed. Watch out for the slap-fighters!

Update: As of 4/17/08, this blog has been removed by the author.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Valley of Death

by Gwynne Huntington Wales
(iUniverse / 0-595-41889-9 / March 2007 / 418 pages / $23.95)

Getting right to the point, this is one of the more professionally composed and edited books reviewed on this site. Gwynne Huntington Wales is a fan of spy fiction from the cold war era. Two examples would be John le Carre's The Spy Wo Came in from the Cold (1963) and Smiley's People (1979). In my other reviews of the book, I compare it favorably to Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October (1984) and Ian Fleming's James Bond series (1953-66). For the record, the Clancy and Fleming books still reside on my bookshelf, but I have been less enamored of the le Carre style. As you might imagine from reading my own material, I tend to fly far off the left wing with Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson. I like Denny Crane better than Captain Kirk simply because Kirk is just so straight-arrow military in his disposition. As with many other books I have reviewed, the main reason you may want to read The Valley of Death is that I give it such a high rating even when the subject matter and style are a little too dry and right wing for my taste. I have to say overall that Gwynne Huntington Wales has made the grade. He's a member of the club. You won't mistake The Valley of Death for one of those stinky old POD books you have read so much about.

As a critic, I have to tell you what I found wrong with the book. I have exactly three complaints, four if you count the adjectives dry and military stated above. The title should have been Aardvark or Agent Aardvark for many reasons: (1) The Valley of Death is too generic and it may cause readers not to be able to find it in search engines; (2) the secret agent lead character has such a memorable name; and (3) Aardvark needs to have many more adventures, just like Jack Ryan, Smiley, and Bond. My second complaint is with the cover. It does nothing to cause me to buy the book. The red on black text in the marketing blurb is difficult to read (sound familiar?). At least you can see from the photo on the back that Gwynne is not a girl. My third complaint is far the most serious of all; however, fans of the genre may tell me to get back on the bus to Hunter S. Thompson's ranch. I found the compositional style in the consistent, matter-of-fact, third-person, past-tense to be a bit boring. Remember that I don't like Captain Kirk much, either, so you may have every right to feel that I am just full of it, that this sort of story needs that official, military precision. You may very well be correct in this context. I hope you know that I am protesting too much with my complaints. This is the most professional-looking book I have reviewed that has been published utilizing the optional editing services of iUniverse. The error count is commendably low, I love the lead characters, and the plot is so topical that most readers will wallow in the realistic possibilities of the storyline.

Remember that episode of Seinfeld where they went backwards through the timeline? That's what this review is doing. CIA Agent Vandermeer, code named Aardvark, has been sent to Iraq in November 2002 to track the path of a canister of nerve gas discovered by a British intelligence agent. The story begins in what Aardvark nicknames The Valley of Death because it is a hidden valley in which nothing seems to be alive: no animals, no plants, no bugs. The canister has been stashed by the bad guys at the bottom of a lake, which of course, contains no fish. The villains are bringing the canister up from the lake bottom for an obvious purpose. The question is who are they going to use it against and where are they going to use it? My favorite part of the story is that Aardvark has been participating in an abstinence-only program for the past ten years, and now the CIA introduces him to a new girlfriend of Middle Eastern descent who is a double agent. The adventures of Aardvark and Sophia make Bond look like a promiscuous rake, and this is where the author really shows us his magic. Gwynne Wales has created a new American Bond for contemporary America.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Future of POD

After my extended rant last week, it may seem as if things have quieted down a bit here at iUniverse Book Reviews. The lull is simply because I have been reading a 400-page book and my reading time has been somewhat limited lately. The Proofreading Police walked off the job in boredom and disgust as I delved deeper into Gwynne Wales' The Valley of Death. I suppose I'll soon be denigrating this book's title and cover because that's about all that's wrong with it. The book's about as topical as a CNN Special Report, and it's not badly written, either. Look for the reviews to appear over the next few days. The interview with Deb Welch should follow soon after the review of The Valley of Death.

What's with this business of stating A Novel on the cover of many of the iU books I have been reading? Do you think the buyer might be a little confused? Maybe he thinks it's a hamburger. I know: it's a DVD wearing a thick, bulletproof vest! Am I supposed to read this thing? It looks sort of like it might be some sort of fictional reading material. Have you seen those stupid chrome taillamp surrounds on the latest new cars? What's up with that? Hey, Maybelle, it's a taillamp! Golllleeee! Do you think maybe I can open this thing up and read some sort of story? If we don't have a subtitle, do we have to just make one up? Gollllleeee!!

I know that many of you probably cringed as you read Dreams For Sale. The truth is not always pretty, but, as they say, it does set you free. Let's cut to the chase, shall we? When iU offers one of their better promotional offers of free books, the legendary Select Package may remain the best choice for most authors. This is particularly true when the book in question is a large one, and the deal strengthens if the author has an event in mind at which he can kick off the sales of his new release. The current offer from iU is a measly $50-off and five free books. Big woo. This is not much of a bargain. When the company has offered twenty free books, the choice has been much more tempting. One of the things that spurred me to post Dreams For Sale is iU's steady price increases, not only for their packages, but for the books themselves. When I saw that latest $599, that was the last straw for me. The price eight years ago was only $99. My first book, released in December 2000, was 368 pages for $18. My fourth, released in June 2006, costs $22 for less than 300 pages. See what I mean? For now and always, the worst thing about iU is its corporate greed!

Not only is the company making far more per author, the number of books released annually has multiplied, making it tougher and tougher to promote and market your POD book. The el cheapo methodology introduced so successfully by Lulu is adding massively to the number of competing POD books for sale. I call the whole thing a rotten deal multiplied. The publication cost, retail cost, number of competing books, and limited access to marketing that actually works have conspired to grind a POD author into despair. The stinky horde of smart-mouth slap-fighters isn't helping things, either. What's an unknown author to do?

One of the points I wanted to make in Dreams For Sale is that Amazon sells such a huge percentage of the total POD books sold. Why not just let them be your only retailer? I cannot think of much of a reason not to do just that. CreateSpace could be the new wave of the future for us all. I am not a fan of Lulu for several reasons. First of all, I think authors have quite enough to do without spending time and effort on issues of formatting and production. Secondly, if you calculate all the nickel-and-dime options you have to add to sell your book at Amazon and reach other results offered by iU in their one-shot price, there is not that much difference. My third reason to avoid Lulu is that you still face that booger of a too-high retail price when you sell from anywhere outside the company website. Yes, with every stinking price increase, iU's greed quotient steps further into an unacceptable level. My personal answer to myself has always been that if I am going to spend a ridiculous number of hours on something with my name on the cover, I prefer to pay a little more to have it look as perfect and professional as I can. That's why this blog is called iUniverse Book Reviews.

I hate corporate buyouts. I hate downsizing, outsourcing, Wall Street, Alan Greenspan, and every ridiculously overpaid CEO in this once great country. I love Michael Moore and populism in general. I am probably the only certified car nut in America that loves both Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook! That's why you need to read my first book, Plastic Ozone Daydream. You have never read about or thought about Corvettes in that way before! AuthorHouse does not have a sterling reputation, and I shudder to think what they might do to my beloved iUniverse. iU has always been the Mercedes of POD. Remember that the Daimler Chrysler marriage didn't work out so well, did it?

CreateSpace deserves a much closer look, at the very least. From what I have been able to ascertain from their website, the royalty paid works out to about triple what you would get from an iU book, and you have the option of pricing it lower, if you desire. Better still is the notation that Amazon may choose on their own to discount your book while still paying you the officially agreed upon royalty. That in itself is quite a bit better deal than iU offers. When iU cuts the price to Amazon, the author takes the hit. The leading negative for me at least would be the formatting issues. I am not sure that I would ever want to get involved in that. If I did choose to do my own formatting, I can tell you that I would lean heavily toward CreateSpace and away from Lulu. I say this purely because Amazon is the #1 sales outlet. The details of the production process as they apply to Lulu and CreateSpace would be of little consequence to me. The big deal is having your book for sale at Amazon for a good price. The second most important issue should be the amount of royalty the author receives from each sale. I understand that if an author plans to sell his book mostly outside the confines of the major online retailers that Lulu may be worth considering. For me, it isn't.

Yes, I do think it is next to impossible to get your book released by a major, traditional publisher. You may snare a small, boutique publisher without the necessity of winning the lottery, but the little guys generally offer deals a lot closer to those of the subsidy publishers than you might think. You still need to do your own marketing at your own expense. You can at least maintain total control of your book's editing and content at iU. Why not release exactly the book that you want, when you want? Is this not the best reason on earth to utilize the services of iUniverse? For the time being, I am currently working a lot harder at being a book critic than I am an author, so I am not currently working on a book project. If I was, I would be researching the hell out of CreateSpace.