Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Christmas Dream

A Christmas Dream
by Janet Elaine Smith
(Star Publish / 1-932-99358-4 / 978-1-932-99358-5 / October 2006 / 136 pages / $12.95 / $11.01 Amazon / originally released November 2000) 

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

A Christmas Dream is a short and happily-ending novelette, as perfect for this time of year as Miracle on 42nd Street or A Christmas Story, and perhaps a little more relatable, as it is set in modern – or mostly modern times. It is as simple as the best stories usually are, and a note from the author at the end tells the reader that the story had its genesis in something which she and her late husband actually witnessed; a young boy in a McDonald’s throwing a tantrum and shouting….”All I want for Christmas is you for my Daddy!” The boy’s mother seemed hugely embarrassed, but the young man with her promptly pulled a diamond ring out of his pocket and proposed on the spot. A Christmas Dream is, as Paul Harvey says, the rest of the story. Susan, a young widow, lives alone with her young son Jeremy, and works as a secretary in a large insurance firm in Duluth. She is still mourning the death of her husband in the Gulf War, but is beginning to let go of that grief. One evening, her car won’t start – and the president of the company offers to jump-start the dead battery. Unknown to Susan, Kevin is rather attracted to her – in the most gentlemanly way, of course. The rest of this novelette follows their courtship; of Kevin establishing a relationship not only with Susan, but with her son, and of Susan coming to realize that she must let go of the past – that it is necessary for Jeremy that she do so.

A Christmas Dream is a wise and gentle book, with a lovely sense of time and place – a northern city in the icy grip of winter, a dreary place but lit with holiday lights and the rituals of the season.

See Also: Another JES website

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Lumberjack Christmas ...Revisited

A Lumberjack Christmas... Revisited by Janet Elaine Smith
(Star Publish / 1-932-99359-2 / 978-1-932-99359-2 / October 2006 / 176 pages / $14.95 / $11.66 Amazon / originally released September 2003)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

This short and charming book is really a pair of linked stories – one set in 1870, the other in the present day, linked by family ties and traditions, and by a celebration of Christmas in the deep woods of Minnesota.

The 1870 Christmas story is set in a rough logging camp, where two people have arrived: Martha, a feisty young woman has come to join her fiancĂ©e, and a young doctor, haunted by his service in the Civil War. The camp has been struck by a mysterious epidemic. Among the dead is Martha’s intended. Heartbroken, she remains at the isolated camp, assisting with nursing the sick and having not much interest or inclination to go anywhere else. Gradually, she and the doctor realize their mutual attraction – as well as considerable affection for the people they have come to know, including the outsized sawmill owner who runs the camp, and the only other woman in the camp, a young widow with three children who also serves as the camp cook. In the depths of winter, all of them need a Christmas miracle – and in the course of ensuring a visit by Santa Claus and a fine Christmas for the children, they all find it.

The modern day story centers on a young girl, also named Martha, the many-times granddaughter of Martha and her doctor of the lumberjack camp. The logging camp is long gone, but young Martha and her parents, and her grandparents are in just as much need of a Christmas miracle. Her parents’ marriage is troubled, and her grandmother is hospitalized with a mysterious ailment… even the family dog is moping. Will the magical Christmas tree, deep in the woods perform another miracle? Janet Elaine Smith has a knack for writing deceptively simple, old-fashioned stories, set in very real places, and with very sympathetic characters. Lumberjack Christmas, together with A Christmas Dream, is a wonderful evocation of the holidays.

See also: Janet's website
Interview with Janet Elaine Smith
Review of A Christmas Dream
Review of Recipe for Murder

Friday, November 21, 2008

Authors Den Redux, Part II: Book Reviews

Book Reviews for iUniverse Authors – (7/12/06 – Marketing)

Would you like a review of your iUniverse book? Visit my blog site: iUniverse Book Reviews.

My attitude toward iUniverse is unlike the horde of what I call the slap-fighters on the POD blogs and message boards. I am tiring of the snotty attitudes of those people, both the ones who have their own blogs and those who just pop up and dominate message boards created by others. I have only three negative things to say about iU: price, price, and price. They charge too much in set-up fees, book retail prices, and wholesale prices to the authors. Absolutely everything else I can say about the company is professional and positive. I have no interest in supporting competing companies, so this offer is for iU authors only.

iUniverse Book Reviews – (10/16/06 – Marketing)

Would you like an honest review of your iU book? Would you like to have reviews posted on four separate websites? What would you pay for this service? How does free sound?

I have a blog site on which I post reviews of deserving iUniverse books. The author only has to visit the site, read the submission guidelines, and contact me with a request for a review. After researching the book to see if it meets my qualifications, I will respond to the author with a physical address where the author can send the book. As you can read on the website, these qualifications are not according to genre. The selected books must meet high levels of quality, grammar, editing, and/or research. The other qualification is that the authors must not be cheaters. You can read my definition of cheaters on the site.

We all know that the proliferation of five-star reviews of POD books on Amazon, as well as on the many paid-for-review sites, are not exactly legitimate reviews. There are many more small business sites who offer the reviews as part of a paid package. You may have already discovered one or more of the following issues. (1) The best, most respected review sources are very difficult to attain for an unknown POD author. (2) Many sources that once had openings are now closed to submissions. (3) A few sources claim they will probably read the first page of your book, laugh at it, and then give it away. (4) Some sites have an open submissions policy, but make the author wait for months for a review. (5) Some websites offer free reviews, but their email communication with the authors leaves a lot to be desired. (6) Some websites offer free reviews after a long period of time, or you can pay them to move your book up the list. (7) Some sites will put a review on their own website, but will charge you just to copy and paste the same review onto another website. (8) Some sources claim the rights to your review so you cannot post the review on other sites yourself. (9) Some sources offer reviews only as a part of an expensive marketing package. (10) How good is any review that you had to pay for in the first place?

Any iUniverse author who may be interested in this generous offer is encouraged to visit the blog site. You need to read through many of the posts to get a feel for the project. This is not quite like any other review site out there. You can cross-reference reviews of the same books at Amazon, B&N, and here at Authors Den. The way I see it, you can pay the reviewers who are in it only for the money, or you can thumb your nose at them. The choice is yours.

Open for Submissions – (11/10/06 – Publishing)

The iUniverse Book Reviews blog is open for submissions.

The blog for free, legitimate book reviews for iUniverse authors has, as of this moment in time, an opening for the next book to be read and reviewed. There are currently no books waiting to be read and selected for review. Respond now and be the first in line. If your request for a review is selected, the first book that arrives is the first to be read. Visit the blog and read the submissions posts for more information. You can also read more of my reviews at Amazon, B&N, and here at Authors Den.

Book Reviews Made in China – (2/12/07 – Publishing)

Do you remember the Made in USA promotional concept that used to be touted so proudly at Wally-World? Do you also remember when it began to dawn on you that that statement was no longer exactly the truth?
Welcome to the new world of book reviews! There are a zillion books now being released using technology and marketing that did not exist in 1997, and every author of these books is looking for someone (anyone?) to review his or her new contribution to the World's Greatest Novel Contest. Where there is a buck to be made, there is an American ready to make it. No, these reviews are not actually sweated out of children in China like the entire electronics department at Wally-World, but they may as well be.

There are at least seven types of sources for reviews of the multitude of POD and small-press books. Don't forget the many new, individual authors who have come upon the brilliant idea to create their own imprints just so the potential reviewers and booksellers will not recognize the publisher's name. I don't have much respect for this sneaky little horde, but that's another story.

(1) There are the traditional print sources that will laugh as they take advantage of the author's desperation by selling her book on the Used page at Amazon for selfish profit. If you think they want to read your latest iUniverse book, I have a bridge to sell you.

(2) There are a few well-established online sources that might be interested, if you're very lucky or put Anna Nicole Smith's name in the title.

(3) There are numerous small, genre sites that will review your book if it meets their specifications and interests. Some of them will even post a copy of the review at Amazon, or allow the author to do so.

(4) There are the genuine sweatshop equivalent pay-for-review sites. Many of these disguise their real purpose by offering free reviews, too, but how accurate can these free reviews be? If it walks like a duck....

(5) There are reviewers at Amazon that post thousands of reviews. Are they paid? Who knows? Have they actually read every book they review? Who knows?

(6) How many of the reviews posted at Amazon and elsewhere are by friends and relatives of the authors? How many of these have actually read the books?

(7) At the end of the trail, there is the De Facto POD Review Ring.

The reviews of POD books at and and the other Ring members have nothing in common with Chinese sweatshops, the profit motive, or favors from friends. These two blog sites have very little in common with each other, either, and there is nothing wrong with choice or variety. Each site handles the task of slush pile management with a methodology indigenous to the goals set by each of the website proprietors. POD-dy's site requires the author to request a review via an electronic submission of the material. If POD-dy likes the first line of the first page, she may read the rest of the page. If she likes the first page, she may read the first chapter. A very few of the books submitted to her are actually read to the end, and a very few of these receive reviews posted on the website. In contrast, Tabitha explains many detailed elements required for review acceptance. When a request is received, the author and her book are immediately researched online to see if the requirements are met. Once these are found to be satisfactory, Tabitha notifies the author for a copy of the actual book to be submitted.

As a reader, I would not hesitate to accept whatever book has been reviewed by Tabitha or POD-dy as having a genuine Made-in-the-USA label. Much like those ever-more-elusive reviews in established publications, the books have actually been read with critical eyes by POD-dy and Tabitha. More and more of the reviews of POD books we see from those other sources every day may actually be coming from China.

The De Facto POD Review Ring – (5/2/07 – Publishing)

Are you looking for a review of your POD book? We may have what you are seeking.
Eight reviewers of Print On Demand books have joined together to form a blog ring. One of these sites currently has twelve reviewers. Some of them have only one. Some require that you submit a genuine, published POD book. Others accept digital formats. Some review only limited genres. Others will read most anything. All offer honest, legitimate reviews for authors and their readers. This is the no-fluff, no-flim-flam, no-spin zone for POD books.

If you want a glowing review in which the reviewer acts as if he hasn't seen the hundred typos and boo-boos you left between the covers in your haste to become a real, published author, then look elsewhere. If you just want to stand back and insult those who have tried while you claim that all POD books are nothing but trash, then please don't waste our time gracing our blogs with your presence. If you think you can quit your day job tomorrow, after your review has been read by the most famous agent in the publishing industry, you have another think coming. If you think we won't notice your Third Grade grammar or the tractor-trailer tire tracks through the middle of your plotlines, then you, by all means should not submit your book to one of us!

For those of you who have read this far, and have provided your own private questions and issues with the correct answers, then we, indeed, may be your Holy Grail. The slap-fightin' fatheads who despise POD books still won't like you. Not a single book may be sold at Amazon, no matter how much credibility you may think we (or you) have. The chain store clerks may still treat you like an insurance salesman; the newspapers will go on printing without you; and Larry King will never mention your name. If you submit to one (or more) of us, you can tell your author friends that you have at least approached the gauntlet. You may even want to submit to a bunch of us and brag that you actually ran through the gauntlet.

A new feature has just been added to my blog site. The Review Ring Chart provides the potential gauntlet runner with a quick-reference guide to The De Facto POD Review Ring. From this chart, you should be able to discover most of the information you seek about us within moments. You absolutely should follow the links to the blogs to read far more extensive information about each of us and what we do, but the chart should start you out on the right foot. Just take a deep breath and click the link.

IAG Stands for Independent Authors Guild – (11/8/07 – Publishing)

A group of authors is in the process of forming a new Independent Authors Guild. Come on over and join us on the ground floor!

Our goal is to create new marketing avenues for self-published books. This brand new operation is still in the process of setting up its website, newsletter operation, and message board. You are being directed to the iUBR site, where you will find a somewhat critical introduction to IAG. Links from this critique will lead you to the IAG Message Board in Yahoo Groups, as well as to a very simple, two-page website that is currently in transition to another server. You can read the history of the group in the critique, comment at iUBR if you want, and move on over to the Yahoo Group. You can locate the upcoming, work-in-progress IAG website from the IAG Yahoo Group. Thank you for your patience. Like I said, the concrete foundation is still wet! Watch your step!

Book Reviewers Wanted – (2/2/08 – Publishing)

Is anyone interested in becoming a book reviewer at iUniverse Book Reviews?

iUBR is the premier legitimate review site for iUniverse authors. Books are reviewed here from the standpoint of a total, honest critique. I started the site in July 2006 for the sole purpose of reviewing those iUniverse books that deserve attention from more readers. iUBR has no relationship to the company, and all reviews (and interviews) are provided free to the authors selected for the services.

I would like to expand the number of books that can be reviewed on the site. Recent visitors to iUBR can see that a second reviewer has recently been added, but I would really like to have many more qualified reviewers. If you are interested, please visit iUBR, examine the various pertinent posts and contact me. You can do that by making a comment on the blog, commenting here at Authors Den, or by sending a direct message to ice9 at e-tabitha dot com. Thank you.

Attention POD Authors Seeking Reviews – (4/25/08 – Marketing)

As of April 1st, 2008, iUniverse Book Reviews is accepting submissions from POD imprints other than iUniverse.
We now have a team of six experienced, talented, and specialized reviewers at iUBR. You can request a review either of two ways. Send a message to ice9 at e-tabitha dot com or post a comment with your website or contact address to any post at iUBR. It never hurts to do both, just to make certain that I receive the request. Click the links in the left column of the website to learn much more about our team and what we do at iUBR.

There is a massive amount of helpful information for POD authors contained in these links to posts both inside and outside iUBR, so take your time and stay awhile. The post entitled How to Strip-Search a Book explains our procedures in detail; however, the five satellite reviewers offer individualized versions of this process. The satellite reviewers compose only one review instead of three or four, as I do, but their cut-and-paste reviews are posted on additional websites. Talk about personal service! Please note: requests for reviews by Lulu authors will be referred to our associates who specialize in reviews of Lulu books. Thank you.

Have You Visited PODBRAM Lately? – (8/15/08 – News)

POD Book Reviews & More (PODBRAM) has come a long way since we began operations as iUniverse Book Reviews a little over two years ago.

Since its inception in July of 2006, we at PODBRAM have worked diligently to refine our goal of being the best POD review site on the web. Recent features have been added that should make the site easier to navigate. We have a remarkably experienced and diverse team who select only the most promising books for review. All reviews are posted on various other sites, as well as at PODBRAM. Some of the reviews are customized in content for other sites, some are posted as is to other sites, and some are composed individually for each site.

You can apply for a submission to PODBRAM by sending a message to me at ice9 at e-tabitha dot com. Requests are generally handled within a couple of days, and some within minutes, if you catch me online with the team members at the time your submission is received. We accept books from practically all genres of all publishing types, from self-published to traditional; however, we lean somewhat away from poetry, pornography, and children's literature. Each team member has generally favorite genres, so occasionally a submission has to be rejected simply because the reviewers interested in that genre are already overwhelmed at the time you submitted. We try to select our reviews carefully, seeking particularly noteworthy books that have received minimal previous attention.

Even if you are not seeking a review, pay us a visit to see the articles we are posting. Our most recent additions have been an extensive story from one of our team members about her POD experiences and from another about questionable five-star reviews. New reviews and articles are generally posted every few days. Links to particularly relevant websites are always included with these posts. The long list of links down the left column will take you deeply into the world of POD, from how-to articles to marketing advice to author interviews to lists of other legitimate, free reviewers. Come see us, ya'll!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Authors Den Redux, Part I: Book Sales

Book Sales – (1/27/04 – Marketing)

There is an elephant in our refrigerator that we rarely mention when discussing the sales, or lack thereof, of our books.

You may have been reading on numerous Internet message boards very heated discussions that have invariably turned into childish slap-fights over why POD authors are treated so derisively by traditional publishers, reviewers, the media, and even the reading public. We as POD authors tend to read these with the same intensity that we watch the aftermath of traffic accidents on the freeway. We are very glad that we happened to be driving in the other lane, but we still want to know how badly someone else was injured. We also want to know how and why the tragedy occurred. As self-published authors, we want to know more than anything else on earth why our books are not selling in the numbers we had expected. We want to know about the failures as well as the triumphs. At least one of the slapping authors is usually one whose books either have not been out long enough or the author has not done enough research of the problem or spent enough time and/or money on promotion, or someone who is kind enough to defend the rights of others in the pursuit of their publishing goals. The antagonist is usually a mean spirited, know-it-all, holier-than-thou personality type. He insists that he knows all about how POD publishing is nothing but a scam; POD is a process, not a type of real publisher; 99% of all POD books are poorly written and edited and ready for the dumpster; nobody is a real author until they have released a book with an established, traditional publisher; and/or that POD books nearly always sell so poorly that anyone who releases a book with an established, mass-market, accept-every-manuscript, POD company is a sucker of the most obvious type.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? I am sick of reading these diatribes, and you probably are, too. I cannot speak for you, but I am tired of reading about it because there is one ominous presence in our modern culture that has ruined it for all of us that is never mentioned, although I sincerely think it is truly embedded within the minds of some of those presenting the nicer side of the argument. The antagonistic side just shows its level of fatheaded ignorance by not mentioning it. Of course they are aware of it. Their usual intention in the first place is to start an argument. If they told the whole truth, there would be no fight. The people starting these heated discussions are just massaging their own egos. I am going to drag the vampire out into the sunlight. The ominous presence is the way that American corporations for more than thirty years have systematically controlled the consuming public for the creation of unfathomable profits. The key is not simply that business is in the business of making money, and that's the way it has always been. The key is the way the corporations have slowly, carefully, and deliberately strangled the life out of the middle class since the first hint of economic downturn came to America in 1970. The Sixties really were a special time. If you were born after the Baby Boomers, they don't even want you to know this. They want you to think that life in these United States has always been this way. They want you to think you have to buy $100 sneakers made by children in Southeast Asia for two bits an hour. They want you to think that the job market has to be founded on quicksand. They want you to be so absorbed with selfish consumerism and celebrity worship that you never see what they are doing behind the curtain like The Wizard of Oz.

Do you think this has nothing to do with why your book isn't selling? Do the corporate mergers have nothing to do with why your manuscript was immediately thrown in the trash by every traditional publisher you sent it to? Does this not also apply to your books that reviewers sell for personal profit on Amazon, and other sites without even reading them? Ten years ago you at least had a prayer of getting your manuscript into the slush pile without hiring an agent. Today, that's how difficult it is just to get an agent, and without one, your book goes straight to the pleasantly titled Marketplace at Amazon! In spite of all the arrogant egomaniacs telling you how your writing, which they have never read, must show incompetence or else you would land a traditional publishing contract, this is the real reason for the explosive growth of the author-paid, POD publishers. Quality and diversity have been squeezed out of every pore of our consumer culture. The anaconda cares for nothing except short-term profits. If a ghostwritten celebrity autobiography will sell the quickest, then that's what the snake allows to live. It cares nothing for redeeming subject matter or quality writing or the furtherance of art. Snakes can't read and neither can the rats the snakes feed on.

While disparaging anything that concerns psychology, sociology, or many of the other social sciences, the corporations have learned how to effectively use them to control us. The American public, in its own way unique to our time, is as brainwashed as any culture in all of human history. We hoot and holler so much about our freedoms that we never see the forest for the trees. We are so busy convincing ourselves that it is our right to buy the tabloid trash at the checkout stand that we never realize how many of us must really be buying it! When we learn how many thousands a photographer was paid for an embarrassing photo of a celebrity, we need to extrapolate truly how many copies of the trashy tabloids must be selling to consumers. When we witness the extreme success of some of the tackiest shows on television, we must wonder how many quality programs never make it to the airwaves. When we know how many of our consumer goods are manufactured by young women and children in sweatshops, why do we keep buying more and more of them at Wally-world? Why do we keep choking down McCardboard burgers, washed down with overpriced sugar water? Are we really that stupid?

There is a method to this madness, and you can read more about it in my own POD books. I know how the pythons and anacondas have so easily succeeded in their asphyxiation of American culture. We must fully accept our own part in this psychotic nightmare before we can stop it. This is what we must learn before we can turn the tide. This is what I call The Last Horizon.

Book Sales - Part 2

The hard part is securing a contract with a traditional publisher. The elephant we are discussing is the invisible force that keeps our books from being read and accepted by traditional publishers. We are held at arm's length from the readers to a much lesser degree. Buyers and readers care only that the book is about a subject they want to read. Nothing else really matters to them. Yes, of course it is true that the major POD publishers have opened the floodgates for any hack that wants to claim authorship. We as individual writers can do very little about that, other than making sure that we are not the ones releasing the junk with the bad grammar, sloppy editing, or rambling content. We also cannot help the simple mathematical issue of the cost of printing our POD books in low production numbers. We can only do the best we can with this wonderful new technology that has been offered to us. The great majority of us can only shove the elephant away from the peanut butter when we reach into the fridge for our POD snack.

In spite of all the negative harassment we have to read from the many arrogant buttheads who seem to thrive among us, we can succeed in offering the right peanut to the elephant, and that nut can be a POD book. I have personally had an excerpt from my first book published in a pachyderm compilation, and that came about directly because a member of the big gray fraternity read it in my POD book. Not only has this happened, but also you can read more of my writing coming out in another compilation in three months. Yes, you guessed it: Pachyderm Press rides again! The next time you chuckle at a slap-fight between a POD author and his seeming nemesis, just remember this story. You most likely know why you chose to release your book with a POD publisher. The elephant was more than happy to occupy your refrigerator and eat your SkippyJifPeterPan, but he had no intention of taking the morsel you offered. You can get his attention, but first you have to get him out of your refrigerator!

Lord Satan’s Legacy – (11/28/04 – Publishing)

The man who called himself Lord Satan made very few friends at Author's Den, but let's give credit where credit is due.

I just read of the death of Solomon Tulbure right here on Author's Den. I have followed his career of computer hacking and hate-mongering since his first book, Christianity Exposed, was released. Yes, he certainly made a lot of people angry, including members of the AD organization, with his rants and inflammatory posts on several author message boards. Yes, he did manage to garner more negative reviews concerning the lack of editing in his books more than any other author in history. Yes, he probably was writing in what waa a second language to him. Could you have done that? As a student who flunked more than one foreign language course, I know I could not begin to write a book in a second language.

Tulbure's books have sold a lot better than any of mine, and they probably have outsold your books, too. His second book has specifically outsold all of mine together many times over. Did Solomon know his way around a computer and the internet? Does Anne Rice know a few things about vampires? The simple fact is that Solomon succeeded handsomely where most of us have failed miserably. Yes, he may have been a bit unscrupulous in his methods, but if you worship the bottom line, he succeeded. He knew how to stir people up. He knew how to entertain the members of any message board. He knew how to sell books by an unknown author. Isn't that what we all want to know?

Amazonian Computers – (12/2/04 – Marketing)

Assessing the true availability of a POD book can be a labyrinthian nightmare or just a computer nerd's fantasy.

We all want to track the availability, sales, and marketing of our books as accurately as possible, but we can easily be led down many blind alleys that look like promising horizons. The availability statements you see at online retailers are not all created equal. Some are a lot more accurate than others. For instance, B&N online used to be the best source of iUniverse books; i.e., they shipped the fastest. After the bricks-and-mortar corporation took over the once independent online operation, their availability statements seemed to get lost in the ozone. Recent experience has shown that B&N cannot always ship directly as stated, but Amazon can. I read recently that iU books are sent directly to B&N from Lightning without going through Ingram. What does this mean in the real world of book ordering? The answer is far from clear.

Many websites offer price and availability comparisons of books. After experimenting with most of these over a long time period, I have assessed the realistic value of these sites. Addall is far and away the best, showing accurate information for the several retailers that matter. Best Web Buys displays mostly the same info as Addall, but less of it. Best Book Deal offers many additional store listings, and Price Scan shows your book listed at many online sources you never knew even existed!

The secret to understanding all this malarky is to realize that all of these individual listings are simply restated from Ingram/Lightning. Amazon and B&N are likely the only two that actually buy POD books and store them in their own warehouses. All those hordes of additional listings are just direct feeds from Ingram/Lightning. When Amazon and B&N say a book ships in 24 hours, they have a copy in the company's own warehouse. When they state 2-3 days, they have to get a copy from Ingram's warehouse. When the stated time is longer than 2-3 days, Ingram does not currently have a printed copy in their warehouse. One detail I have never been able to satisfactorily unravel is the matter or multiple Ingram warehouses. At one time it seemed that POD copies could be in certain, but not all, Ingram warehouses. Now it seems they are generally in the TN warehouse only. What's with the new 1-2 days statement at Amazon? I wish I knew. Is the book in a different Amazon warehouse? Is it in a different Ingram warehouse?

We all know there is an Ingram stock phone line? What is its direct relationship with AllDirect and NetStoreUSA, the only two sites from which I am aware that POD stock can be tracked online? It is possible that AllDirect tracks only stock in the TN Ingram warehouse, but NetStoreUSA tracks stock in all Ingram warehouses. Some of my research supports this theory, but some also refutes it.

I encourage anyone who wants to learn more information on this subject to join my New Authors Yahoo Group. The main purpose of the group is to disseminate and trade this type of information that seems to be so desired, yet so elusive.

Book Sales 2006 – (6/12/06 – Marketing)

Everyone go out and buy Ann Coulter's Godless! This has got to be the most honest, truthful, helpful, literary tome to come along in decades! After all, it is #1, isn't it?

If you want to sell books, you must make sure the writing is first-rate. Do all the research you possibly can before you submit your manuscript to the publisher. That includes double-checking all the facts and data that you plan to present. The next thing you want to do is to hire the best editor you can afford. All those aggravating little typos in your self-published or POD book will upset your readers. The final issue you want to address is the cover. Notice how the cover of Godless leaves no question what the book is about or what sort of person wrote it. The cover even features a nice photo of the attractive person who wrote the book. What more do you want?

We could hope for enlightenment without the ravings of a lunatic. We would like to think all that time we spent composing and editing our own books was not wasted. We would like to think that Americans would like to read how much more all Americans are alike than we are different. We could hope that the divisive nature of a corporate political system had already run its course. We would like to hope that there was a better America waiting in our future. We would like to feel good about America again, wouldn't we?

This whole concept has been a pipe dream of mine for many years now. I jokingly told someone recently that I write books because I am on a mission from God, the same God that sent The Blues Brothers on a mission. I suppose that is a true statement. Why else would I write the sort of books that I do? Certainly not for the dollars, the reviews, or the recognition, because I receive very little of any of those benefits. My books represent a ridiculous number of hours doing research, composing, editing, and designing covers. I bet many of yours do, too, and none of us are using God or religion for personal gain. I certainly am not. I say that I am on a mission from God because it is a Blues Brothers reference, and that is the type of material I write. I certainly mean no disrespect to this or any other deity. Many of us write for something other than money.

Ten Things POD Authors Should Remember – (1/13/07 – Publishing)

There are several common improvements or pitfalls, depending on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, of which any POD author should be aware.

As an iUniverse author and reviewer, I have discovered a number of issues that often block a POD author's attainment of perfection. Although I review iUniverse books, I am in no manner affiliated with the company. In fact, iU does not even acknowledge my existence as a prospective reviewer of their product. Presented here are ten, somewhat obvious, book production elements that all authors should consider before submitting their works to the publisher. These things that can only improve the resulting book are listed in the order in which the author is most likely to encounter them.

1. Consider the packages offered, and understand that there is no free lunch. Just because one company charges less up front does not make them the best deal in the long run. Most of the options and higher-level packages offered are not worth the asking prices. The retail price of your book at Amazon should be heavily weighted in your decision, as should the online availability details.

2. If you are computer literate and of an artistic bent, design your own cover. Understand that when the publisher does it for you, they are utilizing an assortment of photos and other graphic elements of which they have on hand. If you let them design your cover, sooner or later you may discover another book with the same photo that is on your book's cover! The presentation may be altered, but it will be the same photo nonetheless.

3. Don't shortchange your book of all the many extraneous elements you have been seeing in traditionally published books all your life. Include a photo of yourself, credits for the cover photo and/or design, Acknowledgements, Dedication, Afterword, Table of Contents, Glossary, Bibliography, etc. In other words, you have written a real book. Make it look like one.

4. Carerfully utilize your computer's spelling and grammar check of the entire document. Believe it or not, I have read iUniverse books, which seemed at least, as if the author had skipped this critical step.

5. Proofread the entire text more than once. The most effective method I have found is to have someone read the text along with you simultaneously. One or both of you must be in the computer document. The second person can be reading a printed copy. The only reason not to use the printed copy is the printing cost. Every author needs a cheap laser printer and a supply of junk paper on hand anyway. Yeah, I know, it's the laser cartridge that costs out the wazoo. That's why I said you can proofread more economically using two computers. Here is the important part: one person reads aloud and the other follows along silently. Only one person, and it does not matter which, is allowed to make changes to the manuscript during the process. You want to confuse yourself silly? Ignore this last rule.

6. Believe it or not, I have discovered that the most prevalent editing mistake made by iU authors is the deletion or repetition of the most common of common words. These are the mistakes that are most likely to slip by the proofing process described in #5. These mistakes are the result of two separate causes, so you want to watch out for both. The first is when the author has, at some point in the creative process, changed his mind about the sentence structure and forgotten to proofread the altered sentence. The second type is the result of the writer just buzzing along at warp speed in his typing, while not noticing that he used the common word twice or accidentally omitted it. My opinion is that our brains just buzz right past these boo-boos when we read anything, and the proofreading (of) our own precious babies is no exception. Here is a brief list of the words of which you should pay particular attention: the, of, have, had, a, an, and, is, was, etc. Get the picture?

7. This one should be obvious beyond belief, but I have encountered it in more than one iUniverse book. Write your name exactly the same way in and on every element of the book, its cover, the promo materials, and all subsequent books! Do you have any idea what not doing this does to the Amazon search mode for your books?

8. Be extremely cautious when you select your title, subtitle, and the way you state your name. If you want to be confused with another book or author, that's your business. If you want people to go straight to your book from Google or Amazon, that's also your business. The point is simply to know what you are doing before you do it. It's always a good idea to run a few practice searches just before submitting your book. This hint is placed late in the process for this reason. If you are Howard J. Smith, you never know when Howard K. Smith might have just released the worst book of the century!

9. Begin developing your promotional materials the day you submit the manuscript. If you have not already begun this process by this date, you are already handicapping yourself.

10. Begin your mailing list, whether by snail or email, as soon as your submission has been officially accepted. Remember that you don't have the luxury of pre-release promotional programs afforded to traditionally published books. The best you can do is make sure that the most potential buyers possible know about your book as soon as you are certain that the publication is a done deal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Splendid Concubine

My Splendid Concubine
by Lloyd Lofthouse
(iUniverse / 0-595-45843-2 / 978-0-595-45843-1 / December 2007 / 380 pages / $21.95 / $19.75 Amazon / $3.16 Kindle)

Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

In 1854, a British customs official named Robert Hart travels to China to take on a new position. Intrigued by his early experiences with the Chinese culture, Hart meets Sir John Bowring, Governor of Hong Kong, who advises him to study everything around him and to learn something new everyday. The young man takes this advice to heart, even though he soon discovers that the rest of the Westerners in the consular office view the Chinese culture with disdain and superiority. His first employer, for example, chastises him for trying to learn Mandarin, saying, “It is their place to understand us. We don’t have to understand them.”

Hart soon discovers that while the British officials dismiss the Chinese as superstitious heathens, there is one part of the Chinese culture they are quick to appreciate: the taking of concubines. This is only one hypocrisy among many he observes, and Hart notes that, “on one hand the Europeans and British are shoving Christianity’s message of brotherly love down the Chinese collective throat with the barrel of a rifle. At the same time foreign merchants, mostly British, are selling opium to the populace.” Hart hopes to rise above such behavior but finds himself sorely tempted by repeated opportunities to indulge himself with Chinese concubines. Young Hart fights his own natural tendencies, struggling to maintain the ethical high ground.

Then he meets Ayaou, a fiery and courageous girl from the lowest sector of Chinese society, the boat people. Their startling and memorable introduction during a violent local revolt sparks a passion that takes the young Englishman by storm. Willing to bankrupt himself if necessary, Hart attempts to buy Ayaou from her father, (who is selling her to provide for the rest of his family), but circumstances whisk her away. Before he can regain control of the situation, Hart is compelled to buy Ayaou’s younger sister, rather than let the girl fall into unsavory hands. Ashamed and embarrassed, Hart is caught between his own Christian beliefs and the worshipful, persistent attention of his new young concubine. Meanwhile, he is desperate to locate Ayaou, who was sold to the violent and unstable American mercenary soldier Frederick Townsend Ward.

Lloyd Lofthouse has created a rich cast of characters against the exotic and fascinating backdrop of nineteenth century China. Young Robert Hart is a sympathetic character who earnestly seeks to balance his Christian beliefs with his growing love of the Chinese culture. As Hart learns, so does the reader, for the author has skillfully woven lessons of the Chinese culture into the plot and setting. The girls, Ayaou and Shao-mei, are individually defined as characters and truly believable as sisters. They are both sensually mature and playfully young. In one scene they squabble with jealousy, and in the next they present a united sisterly front against the poor, confused British man who loves them both. As for the world beyond this love triangle, author Lofthouse has populated Hart’s corner of China with pirates, dangerous mercenaries, opium dealers, and one philosophizing eunuch servant. My Splendid Concubine is a stunning debut for this historical novelist, who spent years in China researching the life of the real Robert Hart before fleshing him out into a character who will connect across the centuries to today’s reader of historical fiction.

See Also: Dianne's High Spirits review
Lloyd's Concubine website
Lloyd's extensive Authors Den site
Concubine reviews at B&N

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The End of an Era

Okay, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but I have been in a transition mode lately with all my websites. The time has come, mostly due to technological changes, for me to revamp my whole system before it decides to revamp me first! My long-running e-tabitha website was created using FrontPage 98 on a Windows 98 computer, and the problems maintaining the site have begun to overwhelm me. From a second front, we have my site at Authors Den. There is no problem technically with AD, but I have clearly outgrown the site with my web presence in the last year or so. I was ready to dump AD a year ago, but Matt offered me a deal I couldn't refuse. Now I have to let it go simply because I can no longer adequately utilize Authors Den. My other sites are sucking up all my time these days. I want to send out a hearty thanks to AD for the web presence it helped me develop. As I have stated in at least one previous post, Authors Den is the best way I have found for a new author to develop a strong web presence.

My e-tabitha site has become much more of a technical nuisance. If you have been visiting the site regularly, I am sure you have noticed that changes and updates have dribbled off to practically nothing during 2008. As I developed the site into a bigger and bigger monster, it became increasingly obvious that it desperately needed a reorganization. The style and navigation of e-tabitha have both become more than a little haphazard. Due to the Windows/FrontPage 98 nightmare that I knew was in development, I have let e-tabitha sit idle and ignored for most of the past couple of years. I have already set up a pair of new websites at Blogger to replace the material at e-tabitha and continue my e-tabitha URL. After much deliberation, I decided to use Blogger for all my sites for the simplicity of operation this concept allows. Many of my problems with the old e-tabitha have stemmed from the operation of a FrontPage 98 site being so incongruous with that of a Blogger XP site. The whole thing has rattled my brain! Tiddlerosis is getting its own Blogger site and the new Nonfiction in a Fictional Style site at Blogger will have its URL changed to at the end of the year. (The name will stay the same, while the URL changes, the opposite of what has happened with iUBR/PODBRAM.) All the political and miscellaneous material will be moved to my Floyd M. Orr blog. This plan gives me about six weeks to split all the material from the old site into the new ones. I plan to begin 2009 with four Blogger sites, all with the same look and style, instead of one huge site that has been built in the same manner as Frankenstein's monster!

You can see from my recent rant that I have become quite disgusted with the changes B&N recently made to their website, so I shall write no more reviews to be posted at B&N. I shall continue to write reviews for Blogger News Network, where the readership is considerably larger than that of the B&N book pages, so writers still get a good deal when they submit to the PODBRAM dunking tank. Of course submissions still appear on Dianne Salerni's High Spirits review page and Malcolm Campbell's The March of Books review page, so we are still the best free, legitimate review site on the web! If any of the PODBRAM team members wish to post a review at B&N, that's fine with me. I'm just not going to personally waste my time with a site that has so callously diminished years of work that I have posted on their website.

Over the next few days, I shall post extensive articles here at PODBRAM that are presently on the Authors Den site. When my AD contract runs out in a couple of weeks, I intend to just ignore it and continue my work here at PODBRAM. Most of the pertinent articles I have written for Authors Den have already been linked from PODBRAM, but I want to re-post all of them now so that I can be certain that they remain available to all the PODBRAM readers. These articles will be split into two large posts at PODBRAM: Book Sales and Book Reviews. Look for them soon!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Purusha's Urn

Reliquary for the Universe
by John Robert Johnson
(Global Book Publishers / 0-981-82220-7 / 978-0981-82220-4 / September 2008 / 372 pages / $17.95 / $16.15 Amazon)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM
The Fifth Element meets Contact in this science fiction novel describing a cataclysmic disaster of universal proportions. In 1970, an archeological expedition encounters an anomalous artifact: buried in an Iraqi ziggurat: a reliquary depicting a strange, bejeweled world resting upon the trunks and tusks of elephant-like mammals. The four-foot urn is engraved with a bizarre combination of ancient writing and refers to the ancient Hindu god Purusha, from whose body the Universe was created. It might have been the find of the century except that everything about it is wrong—the wrong location, the wrong shape, the wrong time period, the wrong religion.

Fearing a hoax, Aaron Koppernick, the head of the archeological team, smuggles the urn out of the country. His intention is to conceal it until its origins can be determined—but his curiosity gets the better of him and, predictably, he opens it …

Koppernick’s act of human curiosity sparks off a horrendous event which takes nearly 40 years to manifest—an event which will eventually involve his son Niklas, a Nobel-prize winning astronomer, Niklas’s estranged wife Anna, who works at a SETI observatory, a sinister government security agent, and a hair-raising warning from outer space. Everything the reader thinks he or she knows about the universe will be turned upside-down as the deadly consequences of a dead man’s actions reveal themselves.

Author John Robert Johnson writes with a simple style, geared toward the reader who prefers his prose unadorned and uncluttered, yet his book is populated with realistic characters who behave in ways that are familiar to us. Universe bubbles-within-bubbles, extra-terrestrial contact, and even a little bit of religious terror provide the trappings on a story that takes an obscure theory to its logical conclusion. The cover illustration is beautiful (and increasingly meaningful to the reader), and there is even a drawing of the urn provided.

There is little to complain about from a technical point of view. Editing errors involve mainly typos or paragraphs that lack indentation—nothing that would detract from the reader’s overall enjoyment. The climax, however, includes a bizarre chase scene that is, in its own way, just as anomalous as the finding of that urn in the ziggurat. New characters are introduced at the last minute, primarily to pump up the level of tension for the climactic scene, but they do little to complement the plot line and probably should not have been there at all. Readers enjoying the story line up to this point will forgive this small misstep and probably pretend (as I did) that it just did not happen.

Purusha’s Urn is a science fiction novel worthy of a close look for armchair astronomers and philosophers—a chilling glimpse at just how small and fragile our world (and universe) might be.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

God's Thunderbolt

God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana
by Carol Buchanan
(BookSurge / 1-419-69709-9 / 978-1-419-69709-8 / June 2008 / 416 pages / $18.99)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

At first, or even a second, glance this historical novel might appear to be a simple Western, an action-packed account of good guys versus bad guys and wild adventure on an even wilder frontier, as uncomplicated as an old B-western movie. But it is a more subtle and complicated narrative, part courtroom drama and police procedural, and a closely observed portrait of an isolated community, a community nearly as alien to Americans of the 21st century as something from another planet – Virginia City, Montana, during the last years of the Civil War. Virginia City is a mining camp, a temporary place of shacks and tents, tenuously connected to the greater world by a stage line and by men on horseback carrying messages. It is a dirty, brawling place, of mostly men, searching for gold in the rocky creek-beds, or prying it out of holes painstakingly grubbed in the ground, and taking their comforts where they can. It is winter in Virginia City – blizzards descend from the mountains without warning, and the author makes clear how very comfortless a place like this could be, huddling by a wood-burning stove, having to use outdoor earth-hole privies. Nonetheless it is a community. Some of its residents being former soldiers, of the Union or the Confederacy, some have brought families; all have set aside their previous lives or professions in the quest for gold. They get along as best they can, each with their own memories and secrets to hide… until the discovery of a dead body. The body is that of a young man, well liked and popular in Virginia City – and it becomes clear that he was murdered. His shocked and grieving friends and kin begin looking into the circumstances of his death, thereby pulling the loose end of a string of coincidence that begins to unravel everything they thought they knew about each other.

That growing sense of horror is particularly well done, as men like Daniel Stark, a well-born young lawyer come to the mines to get enough gold to get his disgraced family out of debt, begin to realize that many of the robberies and murders that have occurred in and around Virginia City have been committed by an organized gang. The horror is compounded when Dan and his friends and colleagues pursuing justice realize that those perpetrating such depredations are well liked, even trusted members of the community … and that his life, the life of the woman he is coming to love, and those of his colleagues are endangered by even attempting to take a stand against lawlessness and pillage. It is a gripping and detailed read, the story of well-meaning men who respect the law, having to take their courage and their future in their own hands, at a time and in a place where there was no law, no means at all to protect life and property, other than what men and women of honor could do for themselves. The characters are efficiently drawn, but the sense of place is even more convincing. There is no way to mistake God’s Thunderbolt for a B-western movie adventure – this vivid and carefully researched account was made for someone who really wants to know what the Old West really looked like.

See Also: Celia's BNN Review
Carol Buchanan's website

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Up for Renewal

Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex, and Starting Over
by Cathy Alter
(Atria Books / Simon & Schuster / 978-0-743-28840-8 / 0-743-28840-8 / July 2008 / 322 pages / $24.00)
Your friendly book critic curmudgeon had been reading several long, serious books, and I had a positive intuitive feeling about this new release when it popped up through the Amazon Vine Program a few months ago. This review has been delayed due to the many technical difficulties I have been experiencing with my computer systems over the past couple of months. Clicking the Amazon link in the title will take you to my earlier review, but you have to search for it deeply into the more than a hundred reviews of this book by a familiar author. Although it is a book clearly aimed at those who sometimes wear skirts, I certainly was not disappointed at all by the pervasive quality of Up for Renewal.
My Amazon review was one of the more complimentary ones. I attribute this to the fact that I was impressed by Ms. Alter's very polished, concise writing style. I would guess that most of the other Amazon reviewers were either Vines looking for free new releases or critical women scrutinizing the plotline in comparisons with their familiar tonnage of chicklit. Maybe Up for Renewal did pale for them under the harsh light of realism, but I didn't view the storyline quite that way. I saw a silly premise deftly underlined by a writer who had already scored gobs of professional experience within the plot she was composing. This is only Cathy Alter's second book, but she has been contributing to women's magazines for years, and her intense knowledge of what she has written rips off the pages of this delightful little book.
The plot may be ridiculous on its surface, but Ms. Alter carries it brilliantly. She decided to set up a passel of magazine subscriptions, follow their advice religiously for a year, and report the results. The premise gains a little depth when you realize the author is honestly approaching her life choices with at least a little more analysis than the subtitle indicates. Cathy is a mature woman and she acts out her fantasy intelligently. Anyone who has ever read the cover of Cosmopolitan knows what drivel lies within, but Cathy has managed to seek the high road in both her life and the silly plot long before the last chapter has been read.
There is one negative aspect I want to mention, and that is the fact that Cathy Alter has obviously led a very comfortable existence all of her life. The effect is somewhat like watching an episode of Friends when you know those youngsters could not possibly afford the NYC apartments that serve as the show's set. Of course Ms. Alter could get away with some of the nonsense she describes in the book simply because she has never known anything less than a socially and economically sheltered upper-middle-class existence! Any whining at all from Ms. Alter should be tossed aside by the reader as being completely without merit. She's a wonderful writer, but she doesn't deserve a scrap of sympathy for any of the petty annoyances or bad choices in her life.
The reason I am so impressed with Up for Renewal is that Cathy Alter composes her material in exactly the same manner as I have tried to write my own books, maximizing the impact of the material with tight editing and as little verbosity as possible. Cut to the chase. Show us the DNA. Tell us what we really need to know about the subject. Provide the reader with much to ponder long after the reading has been completed. You can see where Cathy has been providing tautly edited articles for magazines. It's as if she has made every word count, and I think that is a highly valuable commodity in a writer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Sirena by E. G. Lopez
(iUniverse / 0-595-48605-3 / 978-0-595-48605-2 / February 2008 / 278 pages / $17.95)

Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM

This is an initially lyrical but at the same time, strangely disjointed book, tracing the fortunes of a Hispanic family in New Mexico and Colorado. It opens with a retelling of an eerie legend, about a haunted spring in the Moncayo, the wild mountain highlands between Soria and Zaragoza - the Rocky Mountains of old Spain. It continues as a rambling generational saga of the Valdez family, beginning in the early 19th century, when the state called New Mexico was truly a distant province of Spain and later Mexico itself. The experiences of the various generations throughout the 19th century and into the 20th are limed in spare but telling details; the lives, labor and loves of those men and women. Their devotion to their land and their families, the uneasy relations with the Anglo element, and the alien culture that eventually swamps ‘la Gente’ is told with authority and sensitivity; these people were the ancestors of the author. He knows them well, but the distance from them enforces economy in telling their stories.

The narrative begins to fray when it comes to his own generation; Sirena becomes discursive, talky, and overly analytical. Still interesting for its insights into the experience of Hispanic-Americans, especially for the author’s proposition that the 20th century draft offered an escape to young Hispanic males, an escape from limited options, dead-end jobs, and at worst - petty crime. But Sirena unravels completely in the final chapter, with a lurch into apocalyptic political forecasting; a vision of a nightmare America, where - under the guise of dealing with illegal immigration - all Hispanics, no matter of what status, income or profession - are rounded up or arrested, and sent to Nazi-style labor camps, overseen apparently by employees of that modern bug-bear, Blackwater. The story concludes with an improbable fantasy of a Sobibor-like prisoner revolt in one of these labor camps The author contemplates this grotesque situation happening seamlessly, without protest or resistance and with the complete agreement of the rest of the United States, which has the effect of rather ruining an otherwise sympathetic and interesting family saga.

Editor's Note: E. G. Lopez is the father of Kermit Lopez, author of Cibolero.
See Also: Celia's BNN Review

Technical Difficulties

Some of you may have noticed that PODBRAM has recently been uncharacteristically inactive. We are currently experiencing technical difficulties in our attempts to post further reviews here at PODBRAM. We have three reviews in various stages of completion, but some peculiar combination of our computers and the Blogger server is interfering with our progress. We hope to have these problems sorted out within a day or two. Please continue to visit PODBRAM periodically to see if we have returned to normal, but don't stand around waiting for the next book review. Go vote today!

Special News Bulletin: The review you see posted above is not an optical illusion. We're back already!