Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Goodreads Has a Problem With Trolls and Extortion

I just learned about this today. In a nutshell, indie authors with a high visibility on social media—particularly those with progressive politics—are being targetted by extortionists. Typical message:
"EITHER YOU TAKE CARE OF OUR NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS WITH YOUR WALLET OR WE'LL RUIN YOUR AUTHOR CAREER. PAY US OR DISAPPEAR FROM GOODREADS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD."
Failure to comply with these demands results in authors getting slammed with hundreds of one-star reviews on Goodreads. The company is typically slow in its corrective actions.

All indie authors know how difficult it is to get readers to check out their work. It means putting yourself out there on social media (the introvert's equivalent of smelling sweaty socks) to get the public's attention. Many authors choose to discuss topics of personal interest to them. And if there's anything we've learned over the last few years, doing so puts a target on your back. As their audience grows, the trolls take notice.

Amazon used to have a sock puppet problem, but then it found ways to restrict reviews to verified accounts by simply making use of data it already had (verified contact info, purchasing history, etc.). Since Amazon owns Goodreads and offers potential readers easy to access links to buy said book, you would think that they would make every effort to ensure that the number one social media site for books was free of crippling attacks on their revenue stream.

Thanks to Monica for bringing this to my attention.

\_/
DED

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Lost Kin by Steve Anderson

Book cover for Lost KinAfter the events in Liberated Harry Kaspar has been relocated to Munich. As he enters the final weeks of service as an administrator for the military government, his life is good. He resides in a nice house with cushy amenities, has a former WAC girlfriend, and the locals appreciate his efforts to restore some semblance of pre-war normalcy. And then a cop shows up on his doorstep one night informing him that there's been an incident and his brother may be involved. Having not seen nor heard from his brother for several years, Harry's interest is piqued, though for a German-American, he knows this could be a scam, or worse. What follows is an investigation into a murder, black market sales of the spoils of war, and old scores that demand to be settled in blood.

There are elements of noir in this story. Harry's girlfriend has a bit of femme fatale to her which both excites and worries him. Meetings with informants take place in dark alleys and secluded rooms, forcing Harry to always be alert for the double cross. The atmosphere of downtrodden Munich is leaden with cold autumnal rain and early snow. And the American military government is seen through a lens of world weary cynicism.
She knew so many majors, colonels, and generals, all rearguard types who'd never seen combat but rode desks like gladiator chariots except their shields were their puffed-up chests done up with medals of every color, the swords their sharp tongues and stern memos, the feints and thrust their back-room whispers and leaks applied with extreme prejudice. Opponents cowered, colleagues awed, and mistresses swooned.
As with Liberated, Anderson has done the research. The deal that FDR and Churchhill made with Stalin in Yalta would soon turn out to be a Faustian bargain. I don't want to spoil it, but Anderson explores an aspect of that here as a way for the two brothers' paths to cross again.

Lost Kin is a strong finish to the Kaspar Brothers trilogy. The noir elements spice up the intriguing plot, and Anderson's characters are well-developed. I got caught up in their predicament as Anderson entwined their fates with historical events. I'd recommend the series as a whole for WW2 historical fiction fans looking for something different from that time period.

4 stars.

Lost Kin was published by Skyhorse/Yucca Publishing.
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own.

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DED

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Liberated by Steve Anderson

book cover for LiberatedIn the early days of post-war Germany, Captain Harry Kaspar has been assigned by the US military government to oversee recovery efforts in the town of Heimgau. Unfortunately, the post is already occupied by Major Membre. It seems that the office that assigned Membre supersedes the one that picked Kaspar, and obviously the major outranks the captain.

Kaspar and Membre butt heads from the start. Besides smarting from missing out on the position that Kaspar feels should've been his—he trained for it after all—Membre comes across as a self-serving opportunist, more interested in personal gain than helping this Bavarian town start over. Kaspar heads off in a huff to survey the town when he discovers three German men lying in the road, evidentially tortured and murdered. He now has a mystery to solve.

With the aid of Katarina, a former German actress, Kaspar navigates black markets, systemic corruption, the aftermath of the Holocaust, and a disgruntled conquered populace in an effort to solve the murders and right some wrongs, all while trying to avoid getting killed.

Anderson's story was born out of research he did in Munich to get his master's in history. Besides touching on prejudice towards German-Americans stateside, the book calls attention to Allied looting in post-war Europe. While it might be dismissed as stealing from Nazis, it should be noted that the Nazis stole it from innocents. Be sure to check out the afterword to get an idea as to the extent of the theft.

While the story was intriguing and rooting for Harry was easy, Liberated didn't resonate with me quite as much as the previous work—The Losing Role, a story about Harry's brother Max who fought for the Germans—did. I feel that certain characters weren't as developed as I think they could've been. Still, I liked it and plan on reading the next book in the series.

3.5 stars

Liberated was published by Skyhorse/Yucca Publishing.
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own.

\_/
DED

Friday, September 25, 2020

Die Empty by Kirk Jones

book cover for Die EmptyLance is a middle-aged man stuck in a loveless marriage and a life with no meaning. His sedentary existence has packed on the weight, both physical and mental, and he envies his successful and fit neighbor who may be banging his alcoholic wife on the sly. The Grim Reaper shows up to recruit Lance into brainstorming new ways for people to die.

Kirk Jones tells the story in second person, thus forcing you to take on the role of Lance. In chapter one, Jones dumps you into Lance's life. Jones systematically tears down Lance's pitiful attempts to find meaning in a world of soulless consumerism. Lance knows that his life is pathetic, but he lacks the self-esteem—or even friends—to find a way out of it, so he trudges on, looking for something, anything, to jolt some life back into him.

Fortunately for the reader, the Grim Reaper shows up in chapter two to give Lance a way to escape what author Danger Slater perfectly describes as "suburban ennui." Seeing this as an opportunity to escape his misery, Lance accepts.

The pace picked up, and it seemed like the story was headed in a direction I was hoping it would go, but then it veered off into a different direction. While Jones does a fine job with second person storytelling, I could never connect with Lance. Jones would write that you (Lance) would do something and my reaction was always, "I wouldn't do that." All I could do was shake my head and hope that Jones would have the Grim Reaper show up because those were the best parts.

3 stars

Die Empty was published by Atlatl Press.
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own. Now, back to hibernation!

\_/
DED

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Liminal Zone by Richard Abbott

book cover for the Liminal ZoneNina Buraca, investigator of possible signs of alien life, has heard tales of mysterious events on Pluto's moon Charon, where a science outpost studies extrasolar planets. Facing opposition from her colleagues, she nevertheless travels from Earth to uncover the truth. Once there, she finds herself working with a team of people who have many secrets. To make progress, she has to take sides in an old dispute that she knows nothing about. Can she determine who – or what – is really behind the name "selkies" that the station's staff have given to this uncanny phenomenon?

The Liminal Zone is the third book in Abbott's Far From the Spaceports series, and like the others, it's a standalone. While the first two books (Far From the Spaceports and Timing) featured the same characters, this one introduces us to a whole new cast with a completely unrelated plot. It isn't necessary to read those first two to read this one, but if you like The Liminal Zone, you should check out the others.

For those unfamiliar with this series, humanity has colonized the solar system, and artificial intelligence (AI) has come to fruition. Space travel has improved, it still takes weeks, sometimes months, to travel from one celestial body to another. As such, there's a bit of self-governance each place enjoys, and adults are very much in charge. No dystopia here.

AI entities work alongside humans and have personalities that are barely distinguishable from them. Just as the gods of Mount Olympus suffered from the same emotional shortcomings as humans, so too do Abbott's AIs. As such, people and "personas" work together, live together, and form friendships. They're each other's besties. When Nina announces to her persona, Aquilegia, that she's headed to Charon to investigate the Selkie mystery, the latter balks at going. A fight ensues, and the two of them break-up. As theirs had been a six-year relationship, Nina is devastated and feels very much alone.

All the while that Nina investigates the mystery, her encounters with other people and personas and exploration of the Charon settlement and surface, she can't help but reflect on her feelings. She's the outsider trying to fit in among a group of people. Some are paired up; some work alone. Some are friendly; some stymie her every move to make progress on either the mystery or fitting in. The story is very much an introspective journey as well as an investigative one.

Having a character journey over 30 AUs to find herself may seem unusual, but is it really any different than someone traveling halfway round the world? You go where the path leads you. I confess that I was more interested in the secrets Nina strove to uncover than her personal journey, but I chalk that up to being in a healthy relationship for 26 years. One last thing I'd like to point out is that I haven't read this much about characters drinking tea since Ancillary Justice. I kid. All of this makes for a charming read. Having taken us to the asteroid belt, Mars's moons, and now distant Charon, I'm wondering where Abbott will travel to next.

4 stars
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own. Now, back to hibernation!

\_/
DED

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Cover Story - David Drazul

I started a discussion on the topic of book covers on this blog eight years ago. I was disappointed that many indie authors were put in the position to sell their stories with sub-par book covers. Budgets tend to be tight unless the author's household income makes covering living expenses a breeze. Finding an affordable cover of decent quality can be tough. I asked several indie authors what route they took to get their covers and presented their stories here. I dug up affordable book cover designers and shared them with readers of this blog.

Today, I'm sharing my story. I'll try to keep it short.

When I finally gave up on traditional publishing as an avenue for my first novel, I searched for affordable graphic designers but couldn't find any. I was looking at $2,000—a non-starter. The pre-made covers available at the time didn't convey anything relatable to the story. I posted to an RPG messageboard I was active on at the time and found a guy who was eager to jumpstart his illustrator career. I got what I wanted for one-tenth the price.

original book cover for Armistice Day
I loved it when it was made, but I'll admit that, a decade later, it looks dated. Image design and editing software has improved so much. Textures and lighting are more realistic. You name it: It's improved.

As I've struggled to finish writing the sequel, I hoped that redoing the cover for Armistice Day might light a fire under my ass. Spoiler alert: It hasn't. Even beyond the pandemic, the rioting, and toxic politics, I've had my share of personal tragedy which has weighed heavily upon me. I decided to find a new cover anyway.

I've seen a ton of wonderful art on Pinterest and DeviantArt. I didn't want to commission a new piece, but rather wanted to pay someone for their existing art. Again, working with a somewhat limited budget. I approached one artist but was ignored. I looked through Shutterstock to see if I could find some images to purchase for a graphic designer to synthesize into something greater than the sum of its parts. No dice there. But one day while perusing through the pre-designed images over at goonwrite.com, I found it.

new book cover for Armistice Day
The original artwork is by Tithi Luadthong and was posted to Shutterstock. And the full image has been utilized as a wraparound design on the print version. It was great working with James again (He did the cover for my short story collection). I've got that old feeling of cover love again! I mean, what's not to love about a fully licensed piece of fabulous original artwork as the cover for my book?

\_/
DED

Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Cover Sale

Goonwrite.com logoThe sale is over, but I'm leaving the post up to: 1) remind indie authors that there are good/great and affordable book covers out there and 2) that this blog has a little more life to it than a Norwegian Blue Parrot. ;)

Hi all! I hope everyone is safe and sound during this pandemic. The folks over at goonwrite.com were hit with varying degrees of Covid-19, but fortunately they all seem to have recovered. One of them, David, runs a t-shirt business that had to close down as various sectors of the economy worldwide have taken a hit. To raise some quick cash, they're having a 50% off sale on his pre-designed book covers. If you're an indie author who thinks that she might be buying a cover this year (or next), have a stroll through the listings (all genres represented on the page) and see if any work for you. You can buy now and have the final work done at a later date. I have no idea how long the sale will last, so have a look this weekend!

For the record, no one here on the podlerstaff gets any sort of commission for sales nor are we compensated for posting this sale info here. I (David Drazul) just like the work they do. I've bought two covers from them: one several years ago and one just this week.

\_/
DED

Monday, July 8, 2019

Advice From a Prolific Author

Hi all. Yeah, I know that it's been two years. Can't say that I've been reading any indie, hence no new reviews here. From time to time though, I grow curious about some of the authors that I've reviewed here and wonder what they're up to. Most get waylaid by life and their writing endeavors are stuck in the proverbial muck. I can't recall why, but I was curious about Scott Rhine today.

Scott was one of our most prolific submitters—I think he's up to two dozen books. While I didn't review anywhere near the number of submissions we got from him, I did read and review four of them. I wanted to know if he ever finished the series that I'd been reading here, so I took a spin over to his blog to find out. It took a while to find, but sure enough, he did.

I snooped around some more and stumbled across a post from two years ago entitled "5 Years in the Writing Business—Revised Advice." It really is a must read for all indie authors. Scott shares his experiences with book sales, ads, tags, series vs. standalone books, giveaways, and much more. No matter what you write, it's worth checking out just to see if he's already tried out your marketing ideas. See what's worked for him and what hasn't, then see where it fits into your plans.

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DED

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Timing (Far from the Spaceports #2) by Richard Abbott

Hi all! Briefly coming out of hibernation to post a review of the sequel to Richard Abbott's Far from the Spaceports.
book cover for TimingWhen quick wits and loyalty are put to the test...

Mitnash and his AI companion Slate, coders and investigators of interplanetary fraud, are at work again in
Timing, the sequel to Far from the Spaceports.

This time their travels take them from Jupiter to Mars, chasing a small-scale scam which seems a waste of their time. Then the case escalates dramatically into threats and extortion. Robin's Rebels, a new player in the game, is determined to bring down the financial world, and Slate's fellow AIs are the targets. Will Slate be the next victim?

The clues lead them back to the asteroid belt, and to their friends on the Scilly Isles. The next attack will be here, and Mitnash and Slate must put themselves in the line of fire. To solve the case, they need to team up with an old adversary - the only person this far from Earth who has the necessary skills to help them. But can they trust somebody who keeps their own agenda so well hidden?


It was good to get back to Abbott's Far from the Spaceports series. In the first book, we're introduced to Mitnash and his AI companion, Slate. They work for the financial regulatory body ECRB (Economic Crime Review Board) and are periodically sent off-world to investigate financial shenanigans. I found Abbott's world-building solid and his take on AI refreshing (full review here).

This book adds more of the travelogue aspect of this series. Abbott sends his duo to Phobos and Mars before their return to the Scilly Isles, a cluster of settlements in the asteroid belt that was the setting for the first book. Abbott provides more detail on life on Phobos, demonstrating how the geology of the fragile moon has shaped the culture of the settlements there.

Abbott also delves more into the characters' relationships. Mitnash struggles with maintaining a long distance relationship (astronomical units!) while a local woman intrigues him. And it's not just Mitnash's relationships, but Slate's as well. I don't know how we'll imbue emotion into AIs, but in Abbott's universe, it happened and each AI has a unique personality. With their consciousness capable of living the human equivalent of decades in a fraction of the time, they seek out relationships with other AIs, hoping for a match. Mitnash is put into a situation where he has to consider that Slate's feelings are no less valid than his.

While the story remains non-violent, save for a couple of off-camera incidents, Abbott manages to build tension, primarily through the "old adversary" mentioned in the blurb. Mitnash is slowly learning that life (on multiple fronts) is seldom as simple and straightforward as it seems. There are complications during the investigation, and Mitnash finds himself in a predicament that isn't easily remedied and will hang over his head as his story continues.

4.2 out of 5 stars. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
Just to be clear. This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own. Now, back to hibernation!

\_/
DED

Monday, January 9, 2017

Suspended Animation

Fry in cryofreezer.
Image courtesy of Futurama Wiki
Back in March of 2010, I submitted my novel Armistice Day to this blog in hopes of scoring a review. I was a newly minted indie author with a box full of copies that I bought from my printer (Lulu). The book was several years in the making. I'd attended the local adult ed writers workshop for several semesters, had the book professionally edited, sent out dozens of agent queries, and after realizing I had to publish it myself, commissioned a freelance artist to make the cover. It was now time for marketing.

I figured the easiest way to get my name out there was to submit my book for review to whichever blogs would take it. I don't believe in spamming people, so I carefully researched for the right sites. At the time, indie authors were treated like vermin. Scant few blogs would review indie authors, and only a portion of them reviewed sci-fi. This blog was one of the few. In fact, it was dedicated to self-published authors.

The blog's owner, Podler, agreed to do it, but he also invited me to join him in becoming a reviewer of the blog in order to review more indie authors who deserved to be recognized. The mission was to remove the stigma associated with indie authors, just as Girl-On-Demand had done with her PODdy Mouth blog (long since retired, but still linked to way down on the right-hand column). I was flattered to be invited and immediately accepted, for I was a true believer in the cause. I joined S.B. Jung and Libby Cone, other recent invitees who'd accepted. He told me that other authors who'd been invited just didn't have the time. I didn't realize at the time how true those words were (are).

In June, after I'd had my first review published for the blog—and my book reviewed—Podler disappeared. After transferring ownership of the blog to Libby and me, he deleted his blogger account and corresponding email address, taking many book cover images with him. He left no note. There were no warning signs. He was just gone. And since he'd used a pseudonym, we had no way to track him down. All of a sudden, we new recruits were put in charge.

We scrambled to right the ship. We created a new email address for submissions, tracked down the broken book cover image links, and found the email addresses for the authors left adrift in the slush pile. I think we did a fine job.

As time wore on, real life caught up to S.B. and Libby, and I assumed administrative control of the blog (slush pile, rejection notices, etc). We invited people to join us. Reviewers came and went. We reviewed a lot of great books (and a few that fell short). We expanded the blog: links to other blogs designed to help indie authors, a list of editors, and a list of affordable cover designers. We hosted cover reveals, sample chapters, kickstarters, and author news. One author even credited us with helping her land a book deal with a publisher because of the review we gave her book. While I don't know if that's even remotely true, it was a wonderful thing for her to say, and it made me feel like we were accomplishing something. Just seeing the public's attitude about indie books change overall was great. Successful indie novels have been scooped up by major publishers and even made into movies! These days, a well produced indie novel is indistinguishable from the traditionally published.

As I came upon my sixth year on the blog and considered adding a paid review format (whereupon those that paid would get a one week turnaround while everyone else had to wait the typical amount of time), it dawned on me that it had been six years since I published my novel and the sequel was only 20% done. Yeah, I published my short stories in an anthology, but the grand series that I'd envisioned was going nowhere. Fellow indie authors that I'm friends with had each published several books in that time, and I was still working on my second book. I'd spent the last six years promoting the work of other authors instead of writing and promoting my work. This wasn't what I signed up for. I'd meant to be a reviewer on the side while I wrote, not the other way around.

As you know, there are only so many hours in a day. There's also a finite number of days in this life. Please excuse me for sounding maudlin, but 50 isn't that far off for me. I've always been haunted by that line from "Time" by Pink Floyd.
And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun
Something has to give. I'm sorry, but I can't run this blog anymore. I have to focus on my writing now.

So what does all this rambling mean after the walk down memory lane? It means this blog is going on an indefinite hiatus. There's no one available to take over as administrator, so we're closing up shop. It might not really be the end though. Richard has expressed a desire to have an outlet to publish reviews for indie books that he comes across. That seemed reasonable to me (I might do the same) so I agreed. But it definitely means that we're not accepting anymore submissions for the foreseeable future. Like poor Fry, the blog is going to be cryogenically frozen in a way. But unlike Fry, we might be unfrozen from time to time for a review. Then again, maybe it'll be frozen for a thousand years, at least until Google's server farm bites the dust.

I'd like to thank everyone who's worked on this blog with me over the years. While part of me resents Podler for abandoning us, the opportunity has enabled me to make many new friends that I never would have otherwise. And for that, I am blessed.

See you around,
\_/
David "DED" Drazul