Archive for May, 2013


May 27, 2013
Still fighting Google “aps” to get my wordaroundthenet domain name renewed.  Its a big catch-22 and I can’t even get through their automated phone service because they want a PIN I never received.  If WATN goes black tomorrow, its because of that, but I’ll keep working on it.
Meanwhile: barbecued dogs and burgers, potato chips, and baseball.
Happy Memorial Day and keep these words in mind:
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
-GK Chesterton


May 24, 2013

“Where we sell you your own book!”

In 2008, I finished my first book Snowberry’s Veil. I considered finding an agent and publisher but decided instead to use a reputable online publisher to print the book instead.  The idea was that it would give my book some exposure, give me a printed hard copy to establish myself more as a writer, and have something tangible to show to agents when I shopped another book.
I looked around a while, with a few criteria.  First, the publisher should be established, not brand new.  Second it should cost me nothing to get the book published, not once penny for a single aspect of the process.  Not editing, not submission, not art, nothing.  And third, it should produce an actual real copy of a full book with an ISBN and so on; a professional job.
I selected PublishAmerica because it fit all these criteria and it seemed to be a pretty good site.  I searched for complaints and problems and found few – all of them related to delays or misunderstandings involving royalties.  Since I didn’t expect to sell enough to see much if anything in royalties, I was willing to take a shot.


PublishAmerica works fast and is easy to publish with.  They create a cover for you, for free, they do all the typesetting and binding, they buy the ISBN and register it, and they even do a little bit of publicity at first, sending information out to newspapers and such.  Copies of Snowberry’s Veil showed up on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and so on, all around the world.  People could buy a copy online or from PA’s website.
I felt good about having my own book, and it certainly impressed my family.  I wasn’t just fooling around with writing, I had a real book with a bar code on the back, professionally bound and produced.  I was proud of my first book, and lots of friends bought one through me at the reduced price authors can get (no royalties for me at that price).


However, I noticed a few concerns right away.  First, they were trying to sell Snowberry’s Veil at over $20 bucks a copy.  I understand they had some expenses to cover, but nobody is going to buy a paperback book, especially of just a few hundred pages, for that kind of money, just nobody.  No copies sold over the internet, only a few did from me directly.  Not a single one.  And why would they?  I don’t think it is worth that kind of money, and I wrote the thing.
Another concern was that the cover wasn’t right.  As excited as I was to get the book out and happy to get the art done, I didn’t quibble when they sent me the proof, but its just poorly done.  They took a picture of a forest, tinted it blue, then hand drew some lancers in shadow into the page.  It works okay, but its nonsense for the story.  I’ve long thought that cover art doesn’t match books and it always made me wonder why writers put up with it, and now I know: they just wanted to get published.
What I requested was an image of what I consider the most dramatic and cinematic scene in the book, where knights charge across the tops of clouds.  I requested that and got misty lancers in a forest.  A group of knights roaring across a cloud toward the reader would look pretty impressive, and if I could afford to get, say, Larry Elmore to paint that for me, I would.
As it is I have another image in mind for the book that is more modest and subtle, something I can put together using available free art.
And the manuscript wasn’t quite right.  There are errors in the book that were not in my manuscript.  I edited the thing 5 times myself and my mom went over it once, and while we missed some stuff, we didn’t miss that much.  Its just mangled and I don’t know why.  Maybe they hand retyped it, maybe they changed some stuff to fit pages better, and maybe it just came down to the changing of formats.  I’ve noticed that moving Word documents from one version of the program to another, or from Word to Publisher, causes some text to change and I don’t know why.
In any case, what wasn’t expertly edited to begin with became mangled even worse and I’m frankly embarrassed I let anyone read it but me at this point.  I wish I could buy all the copies back and burn them, at this point.  People seem to like the book quite a bit despite the errors but it makes me seem amateurish and incompetent as a writer, I’m ashamed it is out there.
Now, PA doesn’t edit your book for errors, at all, and they don’t promise too, I knew that going in.  Editing is kind of expensive and I couldn’t pay for it then (or now, for that matter).  But I didn’t think it would get worse for publishing.
And the interior annoyed me, as well.  The layout and printing were fine, its just like any other book.  The problem is I did a bit of art for the book and a map of the setting in classic fantasy style. The art should have been strategically distributed through the book (as it was in the manuscript I sent them), and the map at the beginning.  Instead, to make printing easier, they just stuck it all in the middle and refused to change when I requested it.  It was a lousy way to do it, and the art didn’t reproduce well anyway.


Then there was the sales.  I didn’t mind so much not selling a lot of copies, I hardly expected to.  And I knew PA didn’t put a lot of effort into publicity or sales.  My problem is once the book was out there, they put zero effort into sales… to anyone but me.  They sent me 2-3 emails a day for years trying to get me to buy my own book.  You can edit your book and correct errors, just buy 5 copies!  You can get this put into hardback, just buy 10 copies!  You can have your book put into this book show, just buy 10 copies!  On and on it went.
And I mean this literally, I am not exaggerating, every single email from PublishAmerica was an attempt to get me to buy my own book.  And nothing, nothing they did was to get my book bought by anyone else.  Not a single effort went out from the company to help someone else buy my book once it had been set up online.  They didn’t want to sell my book to anyone else.
PublishAmerica’s entire business model is to get writers to buy their own books.  Period.  They don’t have any other plan. And that’s just a ridiculous way to run a publishing business.  I got very tired of the constant attempts in all sorts of clever ways to get me to buy my own book.  Finally about a year ago, they apparently gave up on me.  I never responded, didn’t buy any more books after a few years, and none of mine were selling (thankfully, as I noted above).
What’s worse is that their emails lied.  They would claim the book wasn’t going to be available in hardback unless I ordered it by buying books.  Later, they offered it in hardbound online and gave me a cut rate if I bought my own books (10 at a time).  They claimed that the paperback was going out of print, then later offered me the paperbacks at a reduced rate, bulk naturally.  The paperback version never was taken off the PA website or any online bookstore.  On and on it went, with outright lies told over emails to me.  It was ridiculous, I knew I couldn’t trust a thing.
Finally, they offered me the rights for my book back for 200 bucks, to “pay for expenses.”  I didn’t have the money and didn’t care to spend that much for it.  But they did recognize it wasn’t selling and I was getting so little in royalties it didn’t match the minimum before I get paid (had to earn $100, by the contract, before they’d send me a check.  If it never earned that, I never got paid – and so I never got any royalties).
I waited, and a year later, they offered it to me for $99, the expenses apparently reduced over time.  At the time I didn’t have the cash, but then this year they offered it again when I did have some money.  $99 to end a contract and get the rights back seemed like a fair deal to me, so I took advantage of the deal.  And here’s where the final absurdity takes place.
I let PA know I would take advantage of their offer and they referred me to a page.  The page?  Their usual order form.  I ordered the rescinding of our countract, for $99… but since it was their standard book ordering page, I had to choose shipping.  Nothing gets shipped, its just an agreement.  So I had to choose $1.99 in shipping to pay for the nonexistent product, bringing the price up to $109.  Still fairly cheap as contract negation goes but what a cheap, chiseling bunch of gougers.  I mean really, they’re digging around in the gutter for a few more pennies.  That’s just pathetic.
So in short, I would strongly advise everyone to avoid PublishAmerica, to never use them to publish a book, and to never consider them for a contract.  Not ever.  They have some positives, but overall, its a waste of your time and a 7 year lockdown on your book.  Just don’t do it.


So what did I do right?  Well its a good story, and I’m not just saying this because I wrote it.  Here are some reviews:

All in all, though, Snowberry’s Veil is a wonderful tale of magic, valor, bravery, innocent love, respect, and friendship. It is an excellent first novel and not only should Taylor be proud of his accomplishment, but he should give us more of these kinds of stories in the near future!  
-James Huck

If you’re looking for World Spanning Epic Fantasy, this ain’t it. A small tale about a few people, told simply yet eloquently…it may be a new genre, I’ll call it MicroFantasy. Give it a shot. 
-Mike Garfield

Like the author mentions this book is not about world-shaping events, but something you could typically imagine happening in a day to day fantasy adventure.  This is a fast-paced read with humor and action springing from the author’s detailed world setting. Careful reading rewards those who like to become immersed in an author’s imagination. I can see many adventures in the future for the Ranger of this title.

Give this story a look, you’ll like what you find
-Nick Young

“I really enjoyed it and I don’t even like fantasy”
-Arie Jongeneel

“Very well written and engaging.”
-Pastor Rob Toornstra

Edited right and with some better art and map in it, properly placed, I think this will be something you would really like to read, even if you don’t ordinarily care for fantasy.  Most of the most positive word of mouth and personal praise I’ve gotten have been from women who read it – most of them not fantasy readers.  This isn’t like your typical fantasy book.
Another thing I did right was the title.  There is literally nothing on the internet called Snowberry’s Veil except my book.  Nothing whatsoever.  I found a unique title, somehow, and that makes it easy to find and isolate in searching.  That’s pretty handy online.  And I wasn’t even very happy with the title at first.
So I’ll take the book, which a professional editor has gone through, rewrite the parts that need it, set up the art the way I want, get a good cover done, and it will show up again, on Lulu in print and on Amazon and the rest as an ebook.  Look for it hopefully later this year.
Just don’t look for it on PublishAmerica.
Here’s the blurb for Snowberry’s Veil, if you haven’t seen it before:

Serving the king as a Ranger has never been boring, but once Erkenbrand takes on the responsibility of scouting for a caravan of settlers heading to the wilderness, he faces challenges like never before.

Separated from the caravan and stripped of all his gear Erkenbrand must struggle for his life before he can see his love Thealea again. Facing the wilderness, the monsters that dwell there, and the creatures he meets, Erkanbrand is alone with only his skills and will to survive. And behind it all is a dark secret that might doom both Thealea and Erkenbrand.

Snowberry’s Veil is a departure from the usual world-changing multi-part fantasy epic, taking a more personal look at a smaller adventure. Instead of saving the world from vast evil, this is a more intimate look at one man’s struggle to survive and help those around him.

Enter a world of strange creatures, magic, and personal struggle; a fight against the harsh wilderness as well as the evil that man can bring. 


May 21, 2013

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”
-C.S. Lewis

A few random things I’ve been thinking and writing about lately:
Quentin Tarantino needs to drop all his projects and go back to his roots.  He needs to make a 70’s era period cop drama.  One that the Beastie Boys video for Sabotage evokes, a gritty one with all the sensibilities and camera shots used in the time period.
Speaking of movies, I watched a couple of James Bond movies.  License to Kill was one, and its a better movie than I remembered.  I still think it owes too much to Miami Vice in theme and feel, but its quite good except for the semi on one side to avoid a missile (why on earth would that work?).  I continue to think Dalton was the best Bond ever.
And Eric, I owe you an apology: Octopussy is better than I remembered.  A lot better.  Yes it has cheesy jokes in it, but it actually is quite good, I’d call it one of the top 3 Roger Moore bond films.
If I had a billion dollars, I’d get a retro-Sci Fi MMOG made, based on the worlds of Buck Rogers and so on.  Rocket packs, alien princesses, ray guns, brilliant mad scientists, etc. It would be wonderful fun and I think very popular.  In fact, I’m pondering writing up one of my fantasy ideas set in that sort of world instead.
Almost 15 years ago in 1990, archaeologists discovered an ossuary containing the bones of Caiphas, the high priest.  This is the same Caiphas who tried Jesus Christ before the Sanhedrin.  It was not revealed to the public until 1992 when they had confirmed the authenticity of the bones, and I hadn’t even heard of it before today.
Even the BBC has admitted that global warming has “paused” for over a decade.  Since 1998 there hasn’t been any global warming.  How long does it “pause” before they just admit its not happening?
In other global weather disaster news, ice sheets are more stable than previously believed.
Agent Coulson’s first name is “Phillip,” not “agent.”
I love how girls look when they jog with a ponytail.  It swishes from side to side and looks so neat, I wonder if it feels neat?
According to a study, the more economic freedom a nation has, the more racial tolerance it displays.  One of the few exceptions: France.
Racial Tolerance seems like a pretty uncomfortable term to me though.  You tolerate ideas you dislike; racial tolerance doesn’t strike me as a positive, really.
Australia has a show called Dirty Laundry that is a sort of Daily Show take on the news.  They have an adult rating of MA for mature audiences. They’ve been put on notice that they are going to have a change in their rating because they are… too clean.  That’s right, they have to be more filthy or they will get a more general audience child-friendly rating.
Kitty wants to be petted, really bad.  How could anyone resist?
Finally, an idea came up on the podcast “Comic Dorks” which I really think is brilliant.  Why hasn’t Hollywood done this by now?  They should make available a service or black box you can attach to your home entertainment system which allows you to get any of their films for a fee.  The cost could be pretty steep, because you have to figure lots of people will be watching the movie at once.  And they could put new releases out the same day they hit theaters for a hefty fee ($50 or more).  Get a box, invite your friends over, pay 5 bucks each to the kitty, and watch Star Wars episode VII in your living room the day it comes out.  Yes this would enrage and horrify theaters, who make their money on the later weeks of new releases, but it would be good money for the studios.  Streaming would cost a lot less than packaging and shipping out films (although digital films are a lot cheaper to ship), and it would make studios a lot of money.
The only thing I can figure that’s holding them back – other than sheer obstinance and being stuck in the 20th century – is fear of easy pirating.
*UPDATE: In a discussion on this a friend pointed out something: theaters tend to be owned by gigantic companies that have thousands of screens, and it would enrage Regal or AMC to have their exclusive ability to screen new films sapped away further by home theaters.  I suspect that in the end the studios would win (if they all did it, what could Regal do?  Not show movies?), and they could make up any losses in the revenue from streaming, but that’s just a guess.


May 17, 2013

“Around Dodge City and the territory out west there’s just one way to handle all the killers and the spoilers, and that’s with a US Marshal and the smell of … Gunsmoke!”

Doc, Marshall Dillon, Miss Kitty, and Chester
In the 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley was a big fan of the Philip Marlowe radio show, and directed his programming chief, Hubell Robinson to develop a western version of the detective show. Philip Marlowe was a hard boiled detective show, and what Paley wanted was a hardboiled western with a lawman as the star.
The result was Gunsmoke, with Matt Dillon as the main character, a US Marshall with his main office in Dodge City.  It was a huge hit, almost immediately popular with fans for a variety of reasons.  One of the main ones is that it was a western targeted at grown ups rather than the typical radio western fare which was for kids (The Lone Ranger, Cisco Kid) and it was the first western for adults.  Another reason it was popular was the quality of writing, which sets is apart from almost every show in every era, on any format.
Gunsmoke holds up extremely well to this day by being gritty, historically accurate, well-acted, well-written, and intelligent.  The setting, actions, language, characters and so on are all mature and clever.  Another bonus was that the main characters stayed with the same actors for the entire run.  
Matt Dillon was played by William Conrad, who was brilliant in the part.  In fact, had he been a more slender man he would have been in the TV show, but he always was a heavy man and was passed over for the more classically western type with James Arness (brother of Mission Impossible’s Peter Graves).  John Wayne was actually offered the Dillon part for the show, but he declined, focusing on film.  Conrad’s voice was powerful and commanding, and he had a lot of range and created a very likable, honorable, and trustworthy character.
Gunsmoke won piles of awards and accolades, especially for its historical accuracy.  The treatment of groups such as American Indians and Mexicans was balanced and thoughtful – some were good, some weren’t and all were just people.  Co-Creator and producer John Meston was a sort of deconstructionist, but he was not interested in tearing down the legend so much as historical accuracy.
So the stories often turned stereotypes and typical western patterns on their head, and the result was a more accurate type of show that actually has a more plausible, more reasonable feel these days.  Something that surprised me was how incredibly fast and deadly Dillon was.  I always got the impression that he was not so much a gunman as a good lawman, but he was both.  Matt Dillon was given respect like Bill Hickock and John Wesley Hardin in the show, but he was never cocky or certain, always careful to avoid a gunfight if he could.  And he was strictly law and order, even to his own detriment.
Gunsmoke’s cast was excellent as well, and many of them show up on other radio shows because of their skill and voices such as Parley Baer (doc) who got more work than Michael Caine in his heyday.  I’ve listened to more than fifty of the radio episodes online and even the weakest shows are very well done.
The radio show Gunsmoke ran for nine years from 1952 to 1961, with over 400 episodes.  In 1955 the TV show started up, and it ran for 20 years until it was canceled in 1975.
This show is seriously a gem, something everyone would love to listen to.  If I could, I’d get an animator and put them on Youtube now because I think people would really get a kick out of them (including the old cigarette and public service ads).

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