He's Gone

As something like a foreword, I’d like to say this took me months to write, and it still feels like it’s not enough. I’m hoping the writing and publishing of it all will help with the grief. I still feel it plenty.

Tuesday night I had a horrible dream. I dreamed that my dog Taubensee was alive, but still sick. I dreamed he had somehow come back to life after being put to sleep. And in the dream I was overcome with grief at the realization that I had tried to kill him when he wasn’t ready to die.

If you’re a pet lover, I don’t have to explain why Wednesday morning was a serious struggle for me.


Taubensee was my first pet. I adopted him in 2000, and the only things I really knew about pet ownership at the time were: 1) I wanted a dog, 2) it was absolutely essential the dog have floppy ears, and 3) I was going to name whichever dog I adopted after my favorite Cincinnati Reds catcher–no matter what.

After visiting a few shelters and not feeling that thing, I found Taubensee in the back room of the Warrick Humane Society. I was twenty; he was barely four weeks. He was so young and so new to the shelter that he was being held in the quarantine area until a vet could look him over and make sure everything checked out okay. He could be adopted, but he couldn’t be taken home just yet.

He was the tiniest, fluffiest, shivering-est, ball of fur I’d ever seen. He was curled up in a towel facing the corner, all alone.

All alone like me on my first day of kindergarten. I couldn’t even see his face, but I understood him immediately: It’s not shy or anti-social if you just prefer being alone.  If Taubensee could have taken a Myers-Briggs assessment, he’d have been an INFJ like me. There’s no doubt in my mind.


In the early days, when Taub and I were trying to work out a schedule, I’d often have to let him outside in the wee hours. I’d crawl back in bed rather than wait for him to finish his business by the back door, because he was always pokey and I was always groggy. Besides, he’d let me know when he was ready to come back in by letting out a bark or two by the bedroom window.

Until he came up with a better idea.

One night I was startled by the sound of a great thud! against the house right outside my bedroom window. It was immediately followed by the sound of something screeching and slipping against the aluminum siding. I went to the back door and found Taubensee sopping wet on the back stoop, more than ready to come inside. I toweled him off. We went to bed.

The next morning when I went out back there were puppy paw prints and streaks of mud on the siding under the window. Apparently Taub had jumped at the bedroom window during the night to get my attention. Unable to grab a hold of anything, he slid down the wall, trails of mud marking his descent. By my estimation he’d thrown himself at the house at least a dozen times.


When Taubensee was three, I witnessed him having a seizure for the first time. Watching my precious Puppybutt on the kitchen floor convulsing was horrible. I didn’t know what to do, so I pretty much just resorted to hysterics.

The seizure eventually ended, I called the vet, and in relatively short order, Taubensee was diagnosed with canine epilepsy. He took phenobarbital morning and night for ten years. It always came wrapped in a tiny treat, accompanied by a head scratch and a “Goooooood puppy!” (said in that low, dumb voice that dog owners often use).

The medicine didn’t stop his seizures entirely, but when they did surface, they were shorter and milder. I was so relieved. When a seizure did break through, Taubensee’s ability to walk was usually the first thing to go. His joints wouldn’t bend, and his muscles just wouldn’t cooperate no matter how hard he tried. Still he’d paw and lean his way as close to me as he could get.

I’d meet him halfway–well, probably more–and I’d pet him and tell him I loved him until the shaking ended. When it was all over I’d say, “Want a treat?” and he’d run to Treat Station (the place where the puppy treats were stored in the kitchen, duh) like nothing had ever happened.


For thirteen years people told me I really had something special. And I knew it was true. Taub was the Best. Dog. Ever. He never drank from the toilet. He never sniffed a crotch. He only jumped up on family. He never ran away. He curled up in a ball and slept on car rides.

He climbed in the bathtub all by himself. All I had to do was run the water, call his name, and point to the tub. He’d reluctantly climb in and await further instruction.


Taubensee had been a snorer since he was about five, but it wasn’t the loud, disruptive snore of a 200-pound human. It was a soothing, sleep-inducing reminder that your best friend was close by and everything was right.

But one night in July I noticed Taubensee’s breathing at night was really loud and labored. I called the vet, Dan took him the next morning. They did X-rays, and his lungs looked cloudy. We tried a few things, but nothing really worked and so the vet didn’t delay in referring him to a specialist. Taubensee was admitted for some tests and kept overnight. He was clearly sick, dehydrated, and malnourished.

We left him in the care of the staff at the emergency vet, and spent the next couple of days in Milwaukee for a funeral. Dan’s father had passed away.

I called the vet to check on Taubensee while we were away. They’d put him on an IV, they were syringe feeding him. On our way back from Milwaukee, we stopped at the veterinary hospital to pick him up.

He wagged his tail at us, but his tail was heartbreakingly lower than usual. He was looking better because they’d been pumping him full of fluids, but he was still lethargic. Still struggling to breathe.

In the last few hours we had Taubensee at home, Dan and I carried him everywhere: outside, upstairs, downstairs, to his food bowl. We lifted him into his favorite chair. We tried forcing medicine and food down his throat, but he refused. His last night at home, I put an air mattress on the floor, and Taub and I slept side-by-side.

We took him back to the emergency vet the next day, where I explained we couldn’t get him to eat or take his medicine. When the vet tech interpreted what I was unable to say, I broke down in tears in the lobby.

Taubensee was 13, and to the best of our knowledge he died of cancer. They did a couple of different tests to try and verify what was wrong during the whole ordeal, but they were inconclusive. What we did know is there were lots of spots on his lungs, and he could hardly take in a breath. More tests weren’t going to make him feel better.

I know why they call it “putting to sleep.” Because he passed away peacefully, with his head in my lap. He looked me straight in the eye while I cooed at him, and then he became totally relaxed. His breathing eased, and Dan and I mooshed him and told him we loved him until the vet said, “He’s gone.”


January 8, 2000 — August 4, 2013

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7jEugr67r8]

I Do (and Read) What I Want

So, remember how in my last post I was all, “I’ve got ideas for this blog” and “contributors” and “news forthcoming.”

Yeeeah, no.

After further reflection, I’ve decided the last thing I want to do right now is give myself another writing project. The day job and my freelancing work provide the perfect number of deadlines for the time being.

Besides, I’m enjoying coming home from work with energy left to exercise my brain, so I’ve been letting myself indulge in books. Since moving to Champaign, I’ve read:

  • Redshirts
  • Losing It
  • Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  • Drift
  • The Night Circus

That might not seem like a lot for the hardcore book nerds out there, but eight books since September trumps my January through August average by, like, I dunno…a lot. I attribute my newfound energy and desire to read again to two things: going back to Central Time and having access to natural daylight at the new day job.

Anyway, of the eight titles listed, I’d have to say that In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin was my favorite. Despite the horrible title, it was a fascinating read. It’s by Erik Larson, the guy who wrote Devil in the White City, and it follows the lives of the reluctant American ambassador to Germany and his family at the time Hitler was coming to power

A fair number of people on Goodreads complained about how much attention Larson gave to the ambassador’s daughter’s scandalous love life. I think those people are idiots. First of all, her diary provided a first-person account of a historically significant period. Second of all, that a member of the Nazi party tried to set her up with Hitler, that she fell in love with a guy in the Russian military, that she slept with whomever she pleased in 19-freaking-33, that her escapades complicated life for her dad—those things are damn relevant to a story about the ambassador and his family.

My one caution: Because Larson quotes primary sources where he can, the prose can get a little clunky. This one reads closer to the non-fiction it is, where Devil in the White City reads a little more novel-like. Prepare yourself for grammatical structures that are a little more complicated than “See Dick run.”


What You Should Know (in Less Than 400 Words)

In the last couple of months, I’ve received emails from a few readers feigning harassment over my lack of posts here at Suess’s Pieces. So maybe an explanation is in order. I mean, it’s certainly not my intention that this blog lie stagnant for much longer.

You see, since the end of July a lot’s happened here. I quit one job, started another, put my home up for sale, and moved out of state. (Still waiting on that house to sell, so mortgage and rent right now. Hooray!) And all of that came at me just a couple of weeks after my top-secret Vegas wedding and vacation were canceled due to the death of a dear family member and the hospitalization and death of my 13-year-old dog.

I say that not to get your sympathy—we’re doing okay now—but to remind everyone out there that a real person dedicated all that free time to yanking chains at Author Solutions. And since that was a time-sucking, money-burning endeavor, continuing with regular updates about a company I despised didn’t even rank on my list of priorities.

Besides, with the announcement of the lawsuit against Author Solutions, it seemed like a good time to leave the rest of the investigating and exposing to the pros. The work to warn writers about predatory self-publishing companies continues on sites like Writer Beware and Let’s Get Digital, and the archive of anti-Author Solutions posts remains for anyone with an itch to do consumer research before they hand over their credit card info.

I’ll certainly continue to post juicy updates here and link you to relevant industry info, but it will no longer be the sole focus of this blog.

So, here’s what’s up. I am going to get back to discussing more enjoyable things on Suess’s Pieces. Things like books and writing and libraries and reading and education. I’ll also be welcoming content from others. And I don’t mean guest posts, per se. I mean adding contributors (though those contributors may write for Suess’s Pieces once or a hundred times, depending).

Submission details will be coming soon, but I can say this right now: there’s no money to be had writing here…for you or me! Ha!

5 Places to Look for Freelance Writing Opportunities

By Katie Sluiter

So you’ve decided you want your writing to earn you some money. But where do you start?  How do you find something that will pay? A good rule of thumb is to start with what you already read and branch out from there.

Local Publications

Poke around your local paper’s website for the name of the submission editor.  Years ago I submitted a piece on celebrity baby names to my local paper and was unexpectedly hired as a freelancer for their print paper.  But local publications aren’t limited to newspapers.  There are probably many local publications—newletters, magazines, blogs, etc.—that you don’t know about yet because you haven’t looked.  You may have the edge over another writer, because you are familiar with the local beat.

Online Magazines

These are generally bigger and get many submissions, but they are worth a shot. Babble, Curvy Girl Guide, AllParenting.com, etc. are some that usually offer open submissions.  Places like BlogHer takes submissions for syndication (which pays) and will often highlight work (which sends your site pageviews) Somewhere on the site you want to work with will be a “careers” or “submissions” link/button.  There you will find guidelines and pay information.  Watch social media as well, Babble, for instance, will tweet when they are looking for new writers for a specific section or column on their site.

Print Magazines

Some Large scale print magazines will run essay contests and hold open submissions for articles.  Watch for reputable, well-advertised contests, not the hidden ones in the backs of the magazines.   Real Simple holds an annual essay contest that is legitimate, for instance, and gets the writer published in the magazine and a cash prize.  Trade and scholarly journals will also have a section in the front of the magazine for calls for articles.  The English Journal, for instance, has a space devoted to what themes and subjects it is looking for to publish in future editions.

The Google

It probably sounds obvious, but searching Google for writing opportunities will bring up various communities/groups you can join.  Some come with a membership fee, some are private and you need to apply, but some are open to anyone.  For example, Linkedin has a group you can apply to be in that posts paid writing opportunities and lists companies looking for freelance writers.

Company Websites

Corporations like Best Buy have programs where they hire bloggers to do their product reviews FOR them.  You join their network and receive the latest products and gadgets to use and review.  The catch is that you need to have your own blog to work with some companies as they do not have a review site.

It is undoubtedly overwhelming for the beginning freelancer to know where to look, but remember: The opportunities are out there.  You just have to go find them.

Katie Sluiter is a freelance writer and teacher who should probably be grading papers or changing diapers but is more likely blogging, tweeting, or just overusing social media in general. She chronicles all this on her blog, Sluiter Nation.


Image credit: ba1969

iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Joan Moran

Joan Moran is a speaker and author of Sixty, Sex & Tango. After self-publishing with iUniverse, Moran ran into problems with the company. She’s agreed to share her story with the readers of Suess’s Pieces. You can learn more about Moran on her blog.

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

For more information on this series, please read “iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean.” Have a similar story to share? Contact Emily.

ES: Can you tell us about how you ended up working with iUniverse?

Moran: I looked at several publishing companies. Lulu was recommended to me and I randomly found iUniverse. I had already experienced xLibris and Harvest Moon, and neither one of them impressed me. I decided on iUniverse because of the sales person whom I encountered when I called. I called back several times over a two month period, and he asked me if I wanted to talk to someone in the company. I did and spoke to a very professional woman who had come to work at iUniverse from a publishing company. (There are many people like her working at these companies because they were laid off by the largest publishing companies in the recession.) I chose iUniverse because [the employees] are well-spoken and had a package that I thought was affordable. As Mr. Fisher did, I selected the Premiere package.

I moved through the initial editorial sessions easily, received their feedback in a timely fashion and thought all was smooth. The cover copy came, and I was pleased with it. This took about 4 or 5 weeks to accomplish. But as I was working my way through the process, I noticed that the woman I had so loved working with in editorial was no longer there, as were several other people with whom I had contact. I was passed from person to person regularly, and it became impossible to actually contact someone at the company for support.

By the time the book was completed and the sales team made their assault, I was worried. I had a similar experience as Mr. Fisher did with the email blast—submitting my own copy and working with a group of people who, in the end, had no accountability for anything. No check list in place. I called and asked for a list of those cities and places that my blurb was supposed to have appeared, and there was no record of it actually hitting those people and places. I never availed myself of their marketing services again.

ES: What problems did you have with iUniverse, and how did they attempt to resolve your complaints? Were you happy with the result?

Moran: The first time I contacted iUniverse with a complaint (before I pulled the book from iUniverse), it concerned the email blast to 6 cities, including my own. It was a fiasco trying to get anyone to be accountable for that marketing ploy.

iUniverse sales people call all the time to sell authors marketing programs, which are simply cons to get money.

The second time I called, it was about the way their bookkeeping is set up. The accounting is very poor and inaccurate. The $11 [royalties] I received quarterly clued me into the fact that they were ripping me off. Mr. Fisher had the same awakening. The actual number of books sold is hard to come by. Their so-called spread sheet is non-existent.

ES: How was your book publicized? Did you do it all yourself? Pay for them to help you market the finished product?

Moran: The book was never publicized. I only asked them to send the email blast to those six cities. I stopped giving them money after that for anything.

ES: Is there anything else you want to add? Do you have advice for writers looking into iUniverse?

Moran: I’m an the author that Penny wrote about [see the comments on this post for clarification] who was caught in the web of iUniverse. Penny got it right. What was so egregious was that when I wanted to leave iUniverse and get my files, it took me weeks of calling and emailing to get any action. And I talked to so many people, it was ridiculous. It was a maze of passing the buck with alternate players at any given time.

Then when I got the PDF file, it was useless. They don’t tell you that you cannot correct a PDF file. I already had paid them to make the file, and then they charged me again to get it back. A wasted $150. I just used my Word file that I originally submitted to iUniverse and paid to have it reformatted in a new version of my book.

I tried to get my $150 back. I called so many people that I was just plain worn out. My experience was that after publication, iUniverse is simply a boiler room to sell ineffective programs. Customers think they are professional, and they are absolutely not. iUniverse employees read from a script.

iUniverse and similar companies are middle men who take a hefty percentage of royalties before the book is sold, and then more royalties are taken out by Amazon, B & N, and others.

iUniverse is owned by Author Solutions.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

iUniverse Complaints Draw Attention, Not Results

That’s a screen capture of the comment Keith Ogorek (Global Marketing Director at Author Solutions, the company that owns iUniverse and several other self-publishing companies) left over the weekend on iUniverse Complaints: Interview with Lawrence Fisher. Isn’t that cute. He wants me to be “fair” and toss some interview questions his way.

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

Hahaha, No

I’ll give him this: it takes gall to pretend that interviewing him will benefit my readers or resemble anything even remotely close to fairness.

My purpose is to showcase real customers’ stories about iUniverse, not give the company free publicity and a chance to keep spinning tales. Their employee’s deceitful attempts to get free book reviews from me is what prompted me to fight on behalf of indie authors in the first place. And they’ve already sucked the Suess’s Pieces free publicity bottle dry.

If they want to keep lying, they can do it on their own websites and blogs. I’ll be damned if I invite them to do it here.

Fair is refunding the people you’ve hosed, iUniverse.

Fair is delivering the products and services you promise to writers without half-assing, shortcutting, and bullshitting people out of their money.

iUniverse Complaints Campaign Update

My campaign against iUniverse has garnered some attention from the iUniverse people, but so far they have failed to deliver the refund they promised to Lawrence Fisher. Instead Keith Ogorek continues to post comments on this blog and on Lawrence Fisher’s blog.

That’s not going to cut it.

Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing another interview with a writer and former iUniverse customer, Joan Moran.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank those of you who are supporting these indie authors, especially the writers at SheWrites.com who have shared these posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

The iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean

This is a difficult post for me to write. Partly because I have to reveal to you that I’ve been duped, and partly because I prefer to ignore any and all things related to my ex-husband. So I’m coming clean about my iUniverse rants.

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

It’s also difficult to write because the story is not linear, and explaining to you what’s happened to me since I wrote my first book review on Suess’s Pieces last July won’t be simple. Please bear with me.

For several months now, I’ve suspected that my ex-husband was behind the drama leading to my open tirades against iUniverse here on my blog. Some of the communication I had with the authors requesting book reviews just didn’t sit right with me. And, although I couldn’t really prove it, I knew deep down I was being played. Used.

Without much in the way of evidence to call out my ex on his backhanded badgering, I pretty much just went off on iUniverse and the individual authors in order to vent my frustrations and try to discourage any further interaction with them.

Not that it worked.

Some of you probably thought I was taking it all a little too seriously, but in reality I wasn’t prepared to go public with my conspiracy theory. I offered little in the way of explanation for my outbursts. I figured it would have made me look like an insane ex-wife with a grudge to blame my ex for what was going on with all these authors. General venting on my blog was all I had.

Then by chance (or perhaps not by chance at all) a man I once knew left this comment on my April 18, 2012 blog post. A light bulb went off, and that was all it took for the rest of the pieces to begin to fall into place.

As I kept digging deeper for confirmation of my suspicions, I became more enraged with every telling morsel I found.

This is my story. This is my attempt to explain to you why a woman who has never even written a book would waste her time trying to encourage writers to become skeptics of the self-publishing world in general, but these companies in particular: iUniverse, AuthorHouse and AuthorSolutions. (AuthorSolutions is the company that owns iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Trafford and xLibris, and it is connected to Hay House’s imprint, Balboa Press—the corporate incest is relevant. I think you’ll see why as you read on.)

How I Got Started Writing Book Reviews

A self-published author named Georgia Brock contacted me on Twitter in June 2011, asking if I did book reviews on my blog. It seemed a little odd to me—since I wasn’t a known reviewer—that a complete stranger would reach out to me for an evaluation of her book. But I figured self-published authors probably struggled a lot trying to get attention for their books, and my blog was relatively well-established.

I agreed to review Brock’s It Started on a Garden Tour if she provided a review copy, and I announced on my blog and on Twitter that I was planning to accept more titles. A couple of authors who were already online connections asked if I’d take on their works. Of course, I agreed. Those two or three authors are not in any way related to this tale.

Between July 3, 2011 and September 3, 2011, I wrote a total of five book reviews on Suess’s Pieces where the books were directly connected to AuthorSolutions and iUniverse.

  • It Started on a Garden Tour (AuthorHouse)
  • Just Another Eylsian Sidetrip (AuthorHouse)
  • The Velvet Thorn (iUniverse)
  • Maximum Speed: Pushing the Limit (iUniverse)
  • What on Earth Are We Doing Here? Exploring the Case for Human Suffering (Balboa)

In August of 2011, I received an email from a social media publicist at AuthorSolutions. She explained to me that I had agreed to review one of her author’s titles, and asked me if I would be willing to look at another. I agreed and let her know that from then on she could just send me additional titles. No point in wasting time on formalities.

What Triggered My First Meltdown

About a week after I made this agreement with the social media publicist, I wrote “When Book Reviews Attack!” This veritable snarkfest of a post resulted from requests coming to me through various authors’ Twitter accounts and blog comments. They were getting out of line, in my opinion. So I spelled it all out for them, lest any other authors think about asking me for similar ridiculous favors.

That meant sending a retraction to the social media publicist I mentioned earlier. I needed to let her know I’d axed the free reviews on my blog. I thought I’d send her a quick message on Twitter.

Looking at her Twitter profile, I discovered a tweet she sent to my ex-husband in her timeline, and I stopped cold. I wasn’t in the habit of following him on Twitter, so it came as a surprise to me that they knew each other. I chalked it up to coincidence because the company hails from nearby Bloomington where he went to school. I did not care to look into it any further. My wont is to avoid my ex and any people I know to be connected to him. I unfollowed her, and things were relatively quiet for the next few months.

Divorce is Ugly

I suppose now is as good a time as any to fill you in on how I came to be happily divorced. I filed with the court on July 10, 2008 because I could no longer stand being in his company. But for several months prior to that, I’d been trying to work it out with him.

“Trying to work it out” included a few sessions with a counselor at the pretty, white, suburban church we’d been attending. Those sessions were all very much the same: me crying with a box of tissues by my side, the counselor asking soothing and non-accusing questions, and my ex-husband flapping on while his pants idiomatically ignited into white-hot flames.

The whole experience left me disillusioned with the idea of church and rather offended by that church in particular. Promises to “protect me” (whatever that meant) amounted to nothing more than the coddling of an unremorseful man.

At one point after I’d filed for divorce but before the 90-day waiting period was up, I remember telling my ex-husband that he couldn’t go to that pretty, white, suburban church anymore. Essentially I was saying that I was getting the church in the divorce. You know, the way some couples fight over who gets to keep the condo or the SUV.

I had no intention of ever going back to that church; I just couldn’t bear the thought of him using it as a social club for getting jobs and networking on Sunday mornings. I had my suspicions he was lying to me when he agreed, because the church was comprised of moneyed families and sucessful businessmen and women. And my ex-husband? Well, he was a public relations professional without a job.

Putting the Pieces Together

After a few months of pleasant blogging without the annoying pokes of iUniverse authors, two new authors started blipping on my radar. That’s how “OMFG, iUniverse Authors!” came to be published on April 18, 2012.

The first author merely commented on an old post. I bristled at his unfounded comment, but didn’t become truly angry until a second iUniverse author engaged me on Twitter. People who self-promote the way she did—by baiting me with talk of something I’ve expressed interest in only to lead me to irrelevant, self-promotional crap—are what’s wrong with social media marketing, in my opinion. I took screen shots. I posted them. I swore.

At least five different people said to  me, “I knew you were passionate about this iUniverse thing, but I had no idea.”

In hindsight, I was terribly hard on the authors, even though part of me suspected they weren’t actually the ones leaving the comments and hitting me up on Twitter. It seemed more like the work of a hack publicist, not someone truly vested in sharing their life’s work with the world.

But I didn’t care, because if these authors weren’t directly responsible for the communications, they were indirectly responsible for not monitoring how their online reputation was being managed.

Five days passed before the fateful comment I mentioned at the beginning of this post was submitted on “OMFG, iUniverse Authors!” When I saw it and saw the commenter’s unmistakable name, it only took a second for me to start connecting the dots. Four years ago, the commenter spoke in front of the congregation at that pretty, white, suburban church.

I have no idea what he spoke about anymore. Maybe it was an upcoming event or program. But it doesn’t matter now anyway. Seeing his comment on my blog, I no longer doubted that my ex-husband had been using me and my goodwill to get free book reviews for his clients. And the absurd requests—like the one asking me to take my picture with a book at the race track?—I think that was all him too.

What I Know vs. What I Think to Be True

There are some things I will never be able to prove. For instance, I don’t know that my ex was the one composing those comments and tweets*. I do know, however, that someone at AuthorSolutions left a comment for me under the name of Georgia Brock. Georgia Brock, you’ll recall, was the author of the first book ever reviewed on Suess’s Pieces.

I have Gmail. That means I have tons of space, killer search functions, and no reason to ever delete any of the emails I receive. That’s why I still have access to Disqus comment system notifications from 9 months ago.

You see, Disqus records the IP addresses of those leaving comments on my blog. That IP address can then be looked up easily online. This is what ip-lookup.net tells me about, the author of the comment in question.

If they’re writing comments for clients, might they also be Tweeting for their clients?

Also, do you remember the social media publicist who I discovered had tweeted to my ex-husband? That connection wasn’t a coincidence. I’ve since checked out the ex’s Twitter profile and confirmed that he works with her at AuthorSolutions.

AuthorSolutions’ Global Marketing Director? Well, looks like the pretty, white, suburban church has a rather effective Good Ol’ Boys club at work among the congregants. Based on his job title, I’m assuming he’s my ex’s current boss.

Considering that I went back to my maiden name after the divorce and considering that I had no meaningful  contact with the Global Marketing Director of AuthorSolutions while I attended the pretty, white, suburban church, I doubt he had any idea whose blog he was commenting on. If he did know who I was…well, I hope someone steals his favorite cufflinks or something.

My Self-Publishing Convictions

I still stand by all of my incessant rambling about the pitfalls of self-publishing and iUniverse in particular. Because even when you remove my ex-husband from the equation, I’ve read an overwhelming number of self-pubs that are lackluster, typo-ridden atrocities.

The one or two good self-published works I’ve read don’t convince me that self-publishing  companies are improving the industry; they just convince me that exceptionally capable authors occasionally succeed against all odds.

And remember: I say all of this not as someone with a dog in the traditional publishing vs. self-publishing fight, but as a reader. As one of the people everyone in the publishing industry is supposedly trying to win over.

I think too many authors who self-publish aren’t skeptical enough when it comes to shelling out their money. So in days to come I’ll be posting interviews with people who have used iUniverse and wanted to share their experiences.

Why am I singling out iUniverse if I think all self-pubs need to try harder? Well, not to sound like I’m eight years old…

But they started it.

*9/5/12 I do, however, know now that the Author Solutions publicity team did create Twitter accounts and post updates on behalf of their clients. This was verified by an anonymous employee.

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

OMFG, iUniverse Authors!

For an update on this story about iUniverse authors, read The iUniverse Rants: Coming Clean.

This post was imported from Suess's Pieces and may contain broken links and missing images

A couple of iUniverse authors are acting up again, and I thought I’d write about it today. While it might seem more humane just to let these folks fade into Internet oblivion, it’s a welcomed distraction for me. So let this be a lesson to anyone else out there who is thinking about a) sending me pitches for a self-published book disguised as a “real” social media conversation or b) writing comments on a months-old post without actually reading the post.

The lesson is: find out who you’re irritating first.

Oh wait, I should do one of those “previously on Suess’s Pieces” things, shouldn’t I?

The iUniverse Backstory

  1. I used to review books on this blog.
  2. Many were written by indie authors, several were published by iUniverse.
  3. Most of the books were shitty. I mean so shitty that when the iUniverse dude offered to send me a bunch more titles to prove some of them actually had merit, I was all, like, oh hell no!
  4. I began to feel the authors were expecting a little too much from me, the only girl in the world giving their tomes the time of day. When one author whose book was slated for a review asked me to take a picture of myself with her book at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I lost my shit.
  5. I effectively stopped doing book reviews by telling authors they now had to pay for my time, and I hoped beyond hope that the iUniverse people would finally leave me alone.

They did. For a while.

Then one day last week, this random comment shows up on one of those old iUniverse posts of mine. Joy of joys, it was from an iUniverse author who chastised me for tarring all iUniverse titles with the same brush.

Got right up in my craw, it did.

Tip for Authors: Want to sell me on the merits of your book? You’d have better luck sending me a review written by your mom.

I responded to the commenter a few days later, thinking I was done with that mess for another 6 months or so until the next poor soul decided to type “iUniverse reviews” in his favorite search engine. But then today I had the following exchange on Twitter with someone who turned out to be an iUniverse author.

At first, I thought she was genuine about her concern for the tradeswomen of Ohio. And because I’m a raging feminist who believes in things like the right to choose my own health care and the Fair Pay Act, I responded to her. I wanted to learn more about their cause, maybe offer them a little solidarity. (For someone as cynical as I am, I am still really stinking gullible sometimes.) Anyway, when she finally sent me the correct link, I landed on the front page of her blog, where every post is either about her or her iUniverse book.


Trying to trap me into discovering your book is not going to sell me; it’s going to anger me. If some PR “guru” suggested you promote your book in this fashion (or worse yet, if someone in PR is doing this on your behalf), congratulations!  You have officially been hosed.

The best part? Girlfriend only had 72 tweets on record at the time, so I decided to check out her tweet history and found half a dozen other tweets that were pretty much the same only with different @mentions tacked on the front.

The Moral of the Story

I kind of side-stepped this issue when it last came up because, although I knew I was being a bitch, I didn’t want to be that bitch. I didn’t want to be the one to wreck the dreams of everyone who thinks that self-actualization only comes with a publishing contract. But that last remaining scrap of goodwill is gone from me now, and I’m just going to come out and say what needs to be said:

If you have to pay someone to publish your book, odds are it isn’t marketable. And if it isn’t marketable, that’s probably because it sucks.

Now, maybe your whole book concept sucks. Or maybe it’s just not ready for general consumption yet. Maybe there’s potential, but you need to do more work? If that’s the case, rushing the publishing process by paying someone to ignore industry standards is the last thing you should do.

Authors who write well receive advances instead of paying deposits. Authors who have something worth publishing don’t pay extra for professional proofreading packages. Authors with great stories to sell don’t pay additional fees for mediocre cover art. And authors who write well don’t have to beg or trick people into helping them promote their books.

Good or bad, real publishers agree to print marketable books because that’s how they make money. And, good or bad, vanity presses agree to print unmarketable books for a fee because that’s how they make money.

Any questions?

Author Solutions and iUniverse Complaints Index

National Book Foundation: Oops Our Bad, Now Kindly Withdraw

Turns out I’m not the only one eating my words these days, thanks to the folks running the National Book Awards. Did you hear about this? YA author, Lauren Myracle, got THE phone call. She was notified that her book, Shine, had been nominated for the National Book Award.

Then they called her back five days later and were all, “Oops, no it’s not! But we’ll keep your book on the shortlist anyway. Our bad.”

Here’s a snippet from the NY Times:

Lauren Myracle, an author of young-adult literature, was named to the shortlist last Wednesday for her book, “Shine,” a novel about the experience of a gay teenager who is the victim of a hate crime. Shortly afterward the National Book Foundation corrected itself, saying that Ms. Myracle’s book was not meant to be a finalist but that it would stay on the five-book shortlist anyway.

You’d think that’d be the end of this odd little story, but it’s not. The National Book Foundation then asked her on Friday to withdraw Shine to “preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work.”

Heh. Wonder how that’s working out for the people at the NBF. Way to put the onus on the author there, NBF. Classy!

They were mum to reporters about the whys and hows of the original mistake of including the book on the list, and they’re equally tight-lipped about why they asked her to withdraw, reversing their original decision to let the nomination stand.

As far as I can tell, Myracle has been nothing if not magnanimous throughout the ordeal. As reported in the article, she even got the National Book Foundation to make a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation.

That’s why yesterday I bought her book for Kindle.

Five Dances With Death

For the record, this is a free book review. I even paid for my copy of Five Dances myself. For an explanation of why I agreed to do another free book review after vowing not to do them ever again, read yesterday’s post, “Words are Yummy.”

Five Dances With Death: Dance One. Austin Briggs. 2011. Helvetic Press.

If stories of human sacrifice and Aztec magic are your thing, then I recommend Briggs’s work of historical fantasy, Five Dances With Death, without reservation. Go and buy it now. If you’re not necessarily into that sort of thing, you might want to reserve judgment until you’ve read the full review.

Five Dances tells the story of the protagonist, Angry Wasp, a warrior of a small Aztec nation searching for his kidnapped daughter while his people are being threatened by both the arrival of the Spanish and the stifling reign of Montezuma.

An integral part of the storytelling in Five Dances revolves around Wasp’s wife’s expertise in black magic. She teaches him to navigate the Void, leading to several out-of-body scenes in the book. If I’m honest, these scenes were difficult for my brain to process. Rather than take them for what they were and maintain my reading momentum, I’d get hung up on the allegory asking myself, “But what does it all mean?” And though it may well have been that way by design, I found it slightly discouraging. I felt a little lost at times—not a feeling I particularly enjoy as a reader.

That said, I was always relieved to return to the more straightforward narration, and I found the bits of action enthralling. Sacrificing humans to appease the gods? Cutting out their beating hearts? That’s some fascinating stuff, folks, and Briggs writes the blood and gore very well. Without being too over the top, his depictions made me wince as I imagined what it must have been like to have lived in that place at that time.

Which brings me to more praise for Briggs’ work. If you visit his website, he explains that he spent “10 years researching the history of the Aztec Empire and the Spanish conquest.” I totally believe it. Five Dances illustrates a mastery of historical context.

(A quick aside: while I was gathering affiliate links to include in this post, I noticed one Amazon reviewer mentioned a glossary at the beginning of the book.  It would have been nice to know that before I started reading. The Kindle apparently skips forward beyond this section. So, Kindle owners? Turn back a few pages when you open the book. You’re welcome.)

A final word. If you know me at all, you know that I’m rather vocal about my loathing of self-published works. They are notoriously full of typos, sport atrocious cover designs and commonly lack substance. Not the case with Five Dances With Death. I mean, I did notice a typo, but it’s nice to be able to attribute that to inevitable human error rather than absolute carelessness for once. And, yeah, I’m looking forward to Dance Two.

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