Thursday, October 30, 2008

REVIEW: Free Book Friday: Transformations

Author: Donna Barr
Genre: Fantasy
Price: $14.14
Publisher: Lulu

Self-publication has many uses and one of them is to make available niche interest fiction. I think equine transformation fantasies would have to be considered a niche. I was aware of this type of fantasy, often with a sexual component, and intrigued at a whole collection on the subject by Donna Barr. (Basically men are turned into large horses, often with humanoid heads, at some point in the story). I would confess, however, that my interest has waned somewhat by the end of nearly 400 pages (although to my mind the last story in the collection is the best).

Add to that many of the stories are set in Ms. Barr's own AU, paranormal, post-war Nazi empire (think Fatherland, crossed with pre-Raphaelite Narnia, on LSD--no heck that doesn't work either). The thing is if you are interested in seeing Barr's take in a Nazi AU I think Ringcat might be the place to start. And if you want to see what she does with a half-horse race (sans most of the fetish material) I would recommend her centaur comic book Stinz.

The author's worlds are no less vivid here but far less accessible. They are written, I think, for a client who needs no introduction to how things work in Barr's semi-dystopian Deutschland. However the feeling of not making many concessions to the reader also extends to the contemporary and straight historical stories in the mix. The prose stylings sometimes meander and dwell on scenes rather than trotting along as most modern stories do--and although the characterizations and scenarios are quite exquisite there is often not so much of an actual plot.

I would give this 10/10 for novelty and 6/10 for readability--rounding out to a solid 8/10 overall with a recognition that some readers will adore this book and others will be as confused as hell, and probably bored as well. With that in mind I would request that you enter for the free book only if you really want to read stories about men turning into horse-bodied creatures and fitted with gorgeous harnesses, or at least that you won't complain when that is what you get.... I will also throw in a bonus book, a copy of Homicide Insecticide by Orthi Rabbane.

Rating: 8/10
Reviewer: Emily Veinglory

Giveaway details!

I am giving my copy of these two books away. The copy of Transformations has a slight scuff marks from bouncing around in my carry-on bag during a flight but is still in very good condition. To win, comment on this post by Midnight, Sunday November 2nd. A name will be drawn randomly and will be announced on Monday November 3rd. If your name is announced as the winner, please email: podpeep at gmail dot com with your snail mail address. Good Luck!

Review of the New Writer's Handbook Volume 2

Title: The New Writer's Handbook Volume 2
Editor: Philip Martin
Genre: Non-fiction
Price: $16.95
Publisher: Scarletta Press
ISBN: 9780979624920

The New Writer's Handbook V2 is a collection of 65 pieces described as articles but more along the lines of short essays, or high quality blog posts--which is indeed how most of them started out before being tidied up and reprinted here. That said, the contributors all know whereof they speak, express themselves well and have something to say. Each article tends to be very brief and make one well-argued point, although a few are longer and more complexly argued. For the most part, points well worth making and of potential interest to all new and a good many not-so-new writers.

The book is broken up into the sections of motivation, craft, pitches, marketing, business, and a more mixed section for sundry other issues. The articles include some 'usual suspects' such as first versus third person and show versus tell. Others are more fresh. I particularly enjoyed Diana Glyer's piece on the writing group Tolkein and CS Lewis were in with some information about the earlier drafts of Lord of the Rings. Several other essays gave me ideas I intend to try out. A few made declarative statements that struck me as the useless tiresome over-generalisation (how I write versus how everyone must write). Even the articles that didn't impart great wisdom was entertaining. I read the whole book in one 90 minutes plane trip and found it hugely engaging. I expect tp refer back to it often.

One should not read this book expecting some kind of comprehensive guide to writing for publication. But as the editor's afterword reminds us, no such thing can really be expected to exist. Philip Martin writes: "The problem with advice: it can be overwhelming, endless, repetitive, contradictory, sometimes stretched paper-thin, and often comes from someone who wants to sell you their services." The first task of an author to to learn how to process and use advice without being too credulous or too dismissive. And the first step is to seek advice from those most qualified to help you, and least likely to scam you--and that is exactly what the handbook provides.

Rating: 9/10
Reviewer: Emily Veinglory

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: The Serial Box

Title: The Serial Bok
Author: R. W. Hogan
Genre: Science fiction
Price: $17.99
Publisher: Lulu
ISBN: 978-0-557-00777-6
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Mr. R. W. Hogan requested that I review his first novel, The Serial Box. The back-cover material, and for that matter the front cover, a picture of a blood-soaked gun on a map, scream “crime novel,” but this work is more accurately science fiction.

The book opens with a prologue describing a cold-blooded murder in Iowa, taking place on June 3, 2006. The same day in Chicago, lawyer Denny Harcourt is burying his only son, dead of leukemia at the age of seven. It takes the author several chapters to link these threads, which he does in the person of Christian Quincy. You see, Chris has come into possession of technology from the future, including a voice-controlled PDA. The device and other technology convinces Quincy that he needs to kill various serial killers before they strike.

Now, in a conventional telling of this story, the discovery of the future technology would be chapter 1, but Hogan, the author, has a stroke of genius and tells his story from the point of view of lawyer Harcourt. Quincy gets caught, of course, and requests Harcourt by name as his defense attorney. At first Harcourt thinks Quincy is a garden-variety nut, but he slowly comes to believe that his client isn’t mad at all, but a true hero.

Unfortunately, I found that The Serial Box has a lot of flaws which get in the way of the story. First, it lacks a sense of place. Hogan mailed me a copy of the book from Windsor, Canada, but the book is set in Chicago. I live in Chicago, and kept catching Hogan in glaring local errors. For example, the Cook County Criminal Court building and the County jail are at 26th and California. I know this because every newscaster in town refers to the building by that address. You will not find either the address or the name “Cook County” referenced in The Serial Box.

Downtown Chicago is not called “downtown,” it’s called “the Loop” because of the elevated trains that run around it. One of the few addresses mentioned, 117 S. Lincoln, “in an old and rundown part of downtown” doesn’t exist, and if it did, it probably wouldn’t be a rooming house for a serial killer. (One block south of Madison anywhere near downtown would be yuppie heaven.) The real shame here is that there’s no particular reason to set the story in Chicago. All the events depicted could just as easily happened in Canada or Detroit.

My second set of issues with The Serial Box was in the mechanics of the storytelling. Much of the story was told in first person by Denny Harcourt, which was okay. But, where it was not Harcourt speaking, there was a very strong narrative voice, opinionated, and which interfered with the flow of the story. Were I looking at a draft, I would suggest a quick fix would be redoing the story as a memoir by Harcourt. Also, Hogan has a tendency to let his characters talk in multi-paragraph speeches with no quotation marks or other signifiers that it’s dialog.

There are several stock characters in the book, pulled from Central Casting. We have a brilliant scientist with a comely daughter, a driven FBI agent, and an exceptionally lovely young female defense attorney. These characters aren’t very compelling or interesting, and several of them could frankly go away without hurting the story.

Overall, The Serial Box reminds me of a 1950’s science fiction B movie. That’s not to say there aren’t flashes of brilliance (there were some good B movies of that era) but as a whole the book is not terribly compelling.


Monday, October 27, 2008

New Review Site: Foghorn

The Foghorn Review blog is open to self-published submissions. They review sci fi and fantasy fiction (and art).

Matador Authors sign with Harper-Collins...

From the Press Release -- Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Matador is celebrating the success of two of its authors, each of whom has landed a three-book mainstream publishing deal. Melanie Rose and Polly Courtney, who both self published two novels under the Matador self publishing imprint, have signed a three-book deal with Avon, a division of Harper-Collins."
Matador publishing is a self-publishing imprint from Troubador Publishing in the UK. I would say they are comparable to Outskirts Press or a Wheatmark over here in the US. Definitely not a Lulu. But what strikes me most is their attention to quality of product. Kudos to the Authors for getting the book deals, but it is obvious that they and their chosen self-publisher really put in the effort on quality. Check out their site. It is very informative, and I feel that it offers some wonderful insight as to what makes a self-published author successful, specifically the cost page.

We always like to hear when self-published authors find success in the mainstream. It can happen, does happen, and we have profiled quite a few success stories here on the podpeeps, some of them Lulu authors. What they all had in common was a focus on success, a realistic business plan, an attention to detail, and most importantly: quality of product and presentation.

I hope to see more successes such as these in the coming years.

Thursday, October 23, 2008 -- Open Access Self-publishing

From the Press Release: October 16, 2008 is an open-access interactive web community for writers, filmmakers, and artists. Think of it as a literary magazine without the editors and publishers. The site provides the means to self-publish fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry, short films, photography, art, and creative multimedia. Anyone can submit and there is no selection process. The audience will respond with ratings and comments, and the most popular items will be featured on the homepage.
This is pretty much as it says Open Access, which means there is no submission process nor are there editorial services. They have a few guidelines as to length and that submissions must have "Artistic or Cultural Value." Hmmmm ... Wonder who determines that?

There is a blog and a community message board attached to the site, and they section the submissions off as would an online e-mag by Issues/Genre. So for the most part, it seems to be an elaborate artistic community venture and not really "publishing" as far as traditional guidelines would dictate. They copyright using the Creative Commons License, and again, this is more of a word/art sharing site -- No Selection Process -- No Editorial Process -- No Royalties.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Forgot One

I forgot one book in my to-be-reviewed pile. Released by ISFIC Press, it has simply The Coolest Cover Ever. You can pre-order your copy of When Diplomacy Fails here.

Upcoming Titles

After a slow spell, my to-be-reviewed queue here at POD People has filled up. I have not one but two books on the way.

The first book is Prop Wash by Betty Kaseman. It's billed as the biography of Polly Potter Ross, a woman who got her pilot's license in 1931 and spent a career flying, including bomber ferry work during WWII.

The second book is a novel, The Serial Box, a mystery novel by Raymond Hogan. Alas, I couldn't find a better picture of the cover, but it's a doozy - a blood-drenched gun.

I look forward to reading both books.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jexbo -- A New Retail Outlet for Self-published Books...

There is not much in the way of information on the site aside from a Q&A section, as it seems to be in beta at the moment. The press release states:

"Formed in 2007, jexbo,, is a new business that gives self-published authors the ability to reach their customers online for only 99¢ per month (plus jexbo receives 5% of whatever the author sells). Readers can quickly and easily find interesting and unique self-published books in various categories. jexbo gives self-published authors the ability to control the sales process, communicate directly with customers and customize a web page for marketing purposes at no additional cost."
Now this is not a Lulu or a publishing company, in fact, they clearly state that they do not print books. This site is but another retail portal for self-published authors to market their wares, and would be geared to authors who invest in small print runs and have stock to sell. They also allow ISBN-less books, and e-books. I can't really speculate on how cost effective this would be for a self-published author, when print on demand eliminates having to pay for a run or carry stock, and most POD publishers offer a distribution package that will get your book broader visability in the online marketplace, meaning Amazon and B&N. But I guess for say a Lulu creator, who does not want distribution or an ISBN, then this would be an affordable marketing portal in addition to the Lulu marketplace. I am not much of an internet shopper and the majority of my book purchases come from tried and true reliable sources like Amazon, B&N, bricks and mortar stores, and on occasion, I have a few niche stores that specialize in obscure and hard to find out of print books. So maybe this could be considered one of those. Time will tell if online marketplaces such as this actually add value for the self-published author.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Guardian wishes Bloggers a Happy Birthday

From “The Guardian” By John Naughton, Sunday October 19, 2008-10-19

“Initially, blogging had a bad press, at least in the press. Editors derided it as vanity publishing by egomaniacs. Who did these oiks think they were, imagining people would be interested in their views? Working journalists - incredulous that people would write for no financial reward - ridiculed blogging as self-indulgent insanity.”
As Mr. Naughton states in the full article, blogging has come a long way. Whilst I will agree that there is still a bit of unprofessional behaviour -- i.e. ridicule and snarking -- out there in blog land, which I don’t particularly fancy, the fact remains that good bloggers provide a world of news, views, and critical opinion: Unbiased critical opinion, I might add. Unbiased simply because most bloggers receive no compensation, and so our opinion is not and cannot be swayed. It just can’t be bought. Book review blogs in particular have made a world of difference in the self-publishing industry, offering the valuable reader critique that every writer covets.

So bloggers, give yourselves a pat on the back. Book bloggers, who not only consider but review self-published books, you deserve more than a pat on the back. Your contribution to independent art is invaluable. It's hard work to keep a blog going. I have seen so many book review blogs come and go in the last two years. I am also intimately familiar with the struggle.

Personally, I would like to thank Emily, owner of this blog, the longest standing self-pub review blog to date. Thank you for inviting me to contribute. I would also like to thank Breenie over at breeniebooks and mrsgiggles, who both took a chance on my own rather disturbing artistic inclinations.

Authors and readers alike, pop on over to your favorite book blog and leave a comment or leave a comment here with a link to your favorite book blog. We would love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

New Hope for Self-Publishers --

New Hope for Self-Publishers – Bringing Stories to Life

Press Release states: “Plain and simple, book writers seek to get published. Book writers face the choice of whether to find a major publisher willing to take a chance on a new writer, to invest in vanity publishing, or find the right self-publishing option. This is the stage that needs the most research. Fortunately, there are companies like NewFiction who aim to help those fiction writers. What does, is not only help edit your story and get it in front of the world, but they bring your story to life. They do this in a number of ways. First, they provide original artwork to convey the message of the story. This process is followed up by bringing your story to an audio format, to accompany the written version you have provided. The audio books are enhanced with real actors and actresses who help to bring your story's characters to life. NewFiction helps authors to get their stories in front of the world, and as an author that is all you can ask.” – From PR 10-9-2008
While I love the idea that self-published authors have yet a new venue to showcase their work, I couldn’t find any information associated with cost on the actual website. The site is very nice, very professional, and the sign-up screen has all the typical legal copyright, use, and liability information:

Your Contributions
Whenever you submit any material to the Web Site (including without limitation any text, graphics, video or audio) you grant NF a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licenseable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, play and exercise all copyright and publicity rights with respect to any such work worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any media. If you do not wish to grant such rights to NF it is suggested that you do not submit your contribution to the Web Site.

By submitting your contribution to the Web Site you also:

  • warrant that such contribution is your own original work;
  • agree to indemnify NF against all legal fees, damages and other expenses that may be incurred by NF as a result of your breach of the above warranty; and
  • agree to waive any moral rights in your contribution for all the purposes specified herein.
  • In the event of any conflict between these Terms and Conditions and specific terms appearing elsewhere on the Web Site relating to specific material, the latter shall prevail.

All that is great, but most self-published authors are very cost conscious, and I know that costs will vary for such a service, but a general breakdown of services and the associated costs would be nice, even if it were variable.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lulu Distribution Shrinking

Lulu authors using Lulu have began to notice their online distributors vanishing away. Once upon a time Lulu books could be released with an ISBN and would gradually show up at most of the online bookstores. Now author report that they are only appearing at (not even etc).

Staff on the forum and chat lines seem to be saying nothing had changed, but the new books are not getting the same distribution online, and old ones are being listed as out of stock by most distributors. Hopefully answers will be forthcoming, but I am not holding my breath.

Suspicions are arising that the arrangement Lulu made with Amazon had some side effects that are not favorable to their author/customers--such as not listing books with Ingram.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Outskirts Press offers its Authors a Website Package...

From the Outskirts Blog:

Now Outskirts is not a Lulu. They are a full service self-publisher and their costs are comparable with others such as Wheatmark etc. I have seen a few books done through them and the quality is no different. Lulu offers a customizable store front to authors but it is not quite as customizable as a professional webpage nor does it have the technical support through a third party vendor that Outskirts is offering.

I am interested to hear from authors if having a webpage has helped or hindered book sales, and by hindered I mean do the book sales generated offset the cost of the webpage?

On a final note: Money is always a concern for self-published authors, and in the beginning, we all know that the balance sheet is usually in the red and it takes a while to recoup start-up costs. Most Internet service providers offer free web-page space to their customers. If one were savvy and had a web publishing program, a website in this fashion would be a very cost effective way to market your name and your books. So check your options thoroughly and understand your specific needs before you incur any additional third party marketing costs.

Disclaimer: This author has no personal experience with Outskirts Press and this post is not an endorsement for or against the services provided.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

" Introduces Print-On-Demand Programme for Books"--Dusk Peterson

That's the headline in the press releases section of Amazon UK. You can see the news here. Alas, the press release doesn't make clear whether they will be offering a self-publishing option similar to Amazon US's CreateSpace program.

One important item in the press release: "For a limited time, will provide free setup for publishers with POD-ready PDF files."

Dusk Peterson writes fantasy stories on friendship, gay historical fantasy tales, and contemporary gay fiction. Occasionally, a heterosexual love story will appear as well. Peterson's stories are often placed in dark settings, such as prisons or wartime locations. Romance and friendship, especially male friendship, are recurring themes.

To booktrailer creators: YouTube now offers individualized video statistics -- Dusk Peterson

Sign into your account and go to Account > My Videos > YouTube Insight. My thanks for the heads up from Morris Rosenthal in this blog entry.

Dusk Peterson writes fantasy stories on friendship, gay historical fantasy tales, and contemporary gay fiction. Occasionally, a heterosexual love story will appear as well. Peterson's stories are often placed in dark settings, such as prisons or wartime locations. Romance and friendship, especially male friendship, are recurring themes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Self-Pub-Friendly Review Site--veinglory

"Gotta Write Network reviewers read big, small and self published books in the following genres: Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal and Erotica." They also run the Authorfest which I attended this year. I actually appear on the photo-page here--can you see me?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Halloween Happenings -- Book Signing

…with our very own Joseph Sweet author of Hell 101 and The Fall.
If you happen to be in Watertown NY on October 18th from Noon to 3:00 PM, stop in an visit Joe, have a book signed, get your spook on, and slam down a bit of cider.

Burrville Cider Mill Presents: Afternoon with the Authors Saturday, October 18, Noon till 3pm,

At the Burrville Cider Mill, 18176 County Route 156, Plank Rd. Watertown, NY
We reviewed Joe last year during our Halloween open call. His book titled “Hell 101” was well received, and his new one “The Fall” is available on Amazon now.

Good Luck from the Podpeeps and gnaw on a few bones for us.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Review of Alanya to Alanya

Title: Alanya to Alanya: Book One of The Marq’ssan Cycle
Author: L. Timmel Duchamp
Genre: Science fiction
Price: $19
Publisher: Aqueduct Press
ISBN: 0-9746559-6-7
Point of Sale: Amazon

L. Timmel Duchamp is co-founder of Aqueduct Press, which “dedicates itself to publishing challenging, feminist science fiction.” I found Alanya to Alanya lived up to that assessment.

The book opens in Seattle in February, 2076. The Marq’ssan, an alien race, arrive and, after issuing a warning, blanket the world in an electromagnetic pulse which fries all but military-grade microprocessors and puts the world into chaos. At the same time, they have demanded each country send three female negotiators to meet with them. Professor Kay Zeldin is plucked from apparent obscurity and shipped off as one of the negotiators. It turns out that she has personal history as a spy working under Robert Sedgewick, who is now Chief of Security in a much more repressive America.

To say the “shock and awe” of the Marq’ssan (referred to in the book as “The Blanket”) doesn’t produce the desired results isn’t much of a spoiler. America in particular and much of the world in general is ruled by “Executives,” men (mostly) who have been biologically modified, presumably to make them more capable of analysis. It also greatly reduces their sex drives. There are several other, inferior classes of people, “service-techs” and “professionals” (like Zeldin) and the world’s standard of living for non-Executives has fallen greatly.

Much of the narrative in Alanya to Alanya is given over to various negotiation sessions and/or people discussing politics. For reasons that I don’t understand or buy into, humans refuse to believe the Marq’ssan are an alien race, instead thinking they are human terrorists. This is slightly more credible in that the Marq’ssan use technology to appear human, but the power required for the EMP pulse alone should be a tip-off. Also, despite a century of progress, human space travel seems stuck at current levels if that; for example, there is no mention of a manned orbital presence.

I also found Duchamp’s worldview and politics a bit weak. In an era where we have women winning Silver Stars for combat, her women are at times too passive. In her defense, she got into feminist science fiction as a result of an incident in 1970 when she went off to college, the first in her family of small-town farmers. She tried to get admitted as a composition student, but that was simply not open to females. She back-doored her way in, and got a composition of hers played at a recital. She then expected that mark of approval to get her formally into the program.

Her male professor told her that the only reason the (male) performers played the piece was that they wanted to sleep with her. He then asked her out for a beer, and admitted that he'd like to sleep with her too. Coming from a small town, she took him at his word, said no, and never composed music again. So I’m prepared to cut her a little slack in the world-building department.

Having said all of that, Duchamp’s female characters are people I care about. The novel’s deliberate pace seems to work at building suspense, and her trick of neutralizing technology seems to add to the narrative power. Overall, it’s an interesting work, although not quite my personal cup of tea.

Rating 8/10

Free Stuff, Take 2

Since the blogger "toughturtles" has not responded, and by the power vesting in me by Emily Veinglory, I hereby declare "Amy" (comment # 43 - just below "toughturtles") as the winner. An email is going out to her today.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

New Package from Lulu--veinglory

Lulu is a nice one stop shop, but they do take their time boxing things up. Just as well I didn't pay for overnight shipping given that it takes them the better part of a week to even get the box out the door.

Anyway, a couple of books from old favorites here, a couple of punts on the off chance it might be good. More about each of these later....

Friday, October 03, 2008

Free Stuff Warning!

We held a drawing on Monday for a free book, and the blogger "toughturtle" won. However, we've not heard from him or her as to where to send the book. So, if I don't hear by Monday, I'll pick another name.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

POD for magazines -- Dusk Peterson

"MagCloud enables you to publish your own magazines. All you have to do is upload a PDF and we'll take care of the rest: printing, mailing, subscription management, and more.

"It costs you nothing to publish a magazine on MagCloud. To buy a magazine costs 20¢ per page, plus shipping. For example, a 20-page magazine would be four bucks plus shipping."

The actual magazines they're showing in their catalogue are priced lower than that, interestingly. Details are in their Help section, and you can also read customer discussion. Here's the founder's introduction in a blog entry.

(News via if:book and Rightreading blog.)

Dusk Peterson writes fantasy stories on friendship, gay historical fantasy tales, and contemporary gay fiction. Occasionally, a heterosexual love story will appear as well. Peterson's stories are often placed in dark settings, such as prisons or wartime locations. Romance and friendship, especially male friendship, are recurring themes.

Well Now ...

Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl told the Associated Press that US writers were "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture", which he said dragged down the quality of their work. "The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining."
Well now, I have to admit, the majority of my reading material comes from abroad. But this is only because I prefer an antiquarian style and approach to the language, and I also tend to favour psychological and philosophical stories that span time and dimension: what I mean by that is that they are not so influenced by the dominant socio-political and pop cultures of the day. I do in that case have to agree to some extent that mainstream and pop-lit in America can and does appear too isolated and too insular, but mainstream and pop-lit should not be used to define the entire literary culture of a nation, especially a nation as diverse as the US. Artists are influenced to a great degree by the culture and climate they live in and are subsequently affected by. Artists, including writers, are the historians of culture really, so I tend to disagree with such broad sweeping statements. I can even vehemently disagree when a literary work such as Frank Herbert's "Dune" encompasses a world-view which is relevant still, profoundly so, in today's world political climate.

Comments are open: Let us know what you think or just let us know your favourite American Literary Icon. Mine, well, it’s a tie between Poe and Lovecraft. Neither won the Nobel Prize, but both were and are considered genius and influential -- their contributions to literature -- invaluable.