The Online Review accepts all independently published books in any format for review. To submit your book, click here.
Death: A Subject Worthy
By Mark Westfield
Are you prepared to die? Are you comfortable with the concept of dying and the afterlife? If you knew you only had a short time to live, would you change your life? These are important questions that ultimately should be discussed by everyone, not just philosophers or theologians; nevertheless, many people are reluctant to ponder these questions- until tragedy strikes them or their loved ones. A far better approach is to face these questions in advance by reading Death 101: A Workbook for Educating and Healing by Sandra Helene Straub
According to the author, the text is a workbook written for a broad spectrum of professional counselors, caregivers, and “those in the throes of grief.” It begins with a discussion about what the author calls “death education,” or thanatology, the study of dying and death. In each subsequent chapter, Straub discusses the various issues related to death and dying, offering valuable information, personal examples, and third party testimony to explain it from different vantage points. Each chapter is plainly written and easy to read; in addition, the author presents a variety of activities along the way- questions and answers, word associations, impromptu writings, etc.- designed to give the reader a greater understanding of death and the issues surrounding it.
For example, in the first chapter there is an activity called “What If�” in which the reader is asked a series of questions relating to death, such as, “What if you just learned that you were to die in one hour, what would you do?” Or “What if you had to sacrifice yourself for one thing, what would it be?” In a later chapter titled “The Grieving Process,” there is an activity that instructs the reader to look at an empty chair, imagine a deceased person sitting in it, and write what comes to mind. Both these exercises are designed to get readers to open up so that they can explore their inner feelings and gain a greater understanding- not only of the issues involving death and sorrow- but also of their own subconscious fears and misapprehensions about life.
There are literally hundreds of exercises like these in the book, and in each chapter the author provides a full range of sage advice based on her experience as a “death educator;” she also quotes famous writers, psychologists, and poets on the subject. In the closing chapters, she gives critical information on the practical aspects of death education, including chapters on “Death Preparation: Guidelines and Vital Documents” and “Medical Ethics and Legal Issues.”
Despite the gravitas of these subjects, by the end of the book, the reader is uplifted not depressed, prepared not confused, and enlightened not frightened about the ramifications of death and dying. This in and of itself is enough to highly recommend Death 101, not only to professional caregivers but also to anyone who wants to come to terms with the inevitable conclusion of life.
Humorous Satire Reveals
By George Randall
If Niccolo Machiavelli were alive today, he would be the first to endorse Ed Rychkun’s laugh-out-loud satire Corporations Stripped Naked: How’s Your AQ Today? According to the author, AQ stands for “Asshole Quotient,” and he maintains that any employee who wants to work his (or her) way up the corporate ladder and succeed in business must not only become an asshole, but also cultivate his asshole quotient and view his fellow employees as assholes.
At the outset of the book, Rychkun makes it clear that he bases his information about the corporate world on his own personal experiences and how he “climbed the ladder of success” to positions of power in major companies, including IBM. He also informs the reader that although he is poking fun at the corporate world and satirizing its power structure, there is truth to almost everything he says.
In the first chapter he sets the stage with his “Eight Laws of AQ’ism.” The first law states categorically: “There exists a natural tendency within any corporation for any individual to classify another as an asshole.” The remainder of the laws illustrates how in time any corporate employee learns to accept, cultivate, and ultimately maximize and exploit his AQ. Throughout the chapters, the author substantiates his claims by offering numerous examples, charts, and cartoons illustrating the inevitable progression to perfect one’s AQ.
Along the way, the reader is treated to a pantheon of corporate stereotypes with names like Franklin Hardass, Angus Steadfast, and Slink Whirlwind. Hardass represents the most successful of the stereotypes not only because he is intellectually and emotionally well suited for success in a corporate structure, but because he follows the Eight Laws of AQ’ism without recrimination or self-reflection.
Unfortunately, this Machiavellian formula for success is not without drawbacks: “High AQ’s have a tendency to become more destructive over time. The absolute extremes include a dictatorship with power or a babbling idiot without power. Even worse is a senile old has-been with power. As mentioned before, through the phenomenon known as inter-assholism, any company can ultimately achieve a state of asshole saturation, where everybody thinks, infers, tells or treats everybody else as assholes.”
To be sure, anyone who has ever worked in a corporation will be able to identify with this phenomenon (as well as almost everything else in the book). And although the author gets us to laugh at the absurdity of it all, he also makes a very serious point about the ruthless and destructive nature that has become part and parcel of profit-driven corporations in today’s culture.
Housewife Risks Marriage
By J. E. Laine
A mother’s intuition that the child she gave up years ago is in imminent danger sets the stage for the highly-charged emotions that ignite Heather, the latest novel by Wells Earl Draughon.
When suburban-Boston housewife Ruth Simpson’s maternal instinct compels her to reach out to the teen-age daughter she gave up for adoption long ago, it sets off a search that threatens her idyllic marriage and opens a door to a past too painful to acknowledge. Convinced her daughter is in trouble, Ruth tracks down the adoptive parents only to find her gut feeling is correct: Her daughter is a runaway, just as she too had been two decades before.
Consumed by worry for her child and overwhelmed by years of guilt for abandoning her, Ruth hires a detective, then takes to the rancorous streets of New York herself to search for her daughter. Torn between her need to find her only child and fear of losing the man she loves, Ruth finally confesses the years of secrets and lies to her husband, causing a rift that may never heal. An unplanned pregnancy and race to an abortion clinic adds to the drama, but a series of coincidences eventually leads to a happy ending and the promise of wonderful new beginnings.
As usual, Draughon uses his skill at building blocks of words to form vivid descriptions, such as weary hands “congealed on the steering wheel,” and a wind “that snapped at his face like an icy whip”. And, he has a knack for realistically relating the conflicted internal dialogues that rage in people whose lives are in turmoil.
Draughon’s words flow smoothly but they skate over a thin plot line whose twists are easily anticipated. Flukes of coincidence force readers to suspend belief long enough to accept that life’s messiest predicaments can be resolved quickly and neatly.
That assumption skids off track a bit, but accompanying a woman on her journey to make amends for a regrettable past still is an interesting trip.
Dealing with Questions
By Robert Moss
Coming to grips with death from a philosophical viewpoint often requires years of study and introspection; dealing with death on an emotional level is always heart-wrenching and agonizing; but knowing the right thing to say to someone who has just lost a loved one may be the most imposing problem of all. In Reflections on Death, Dying and Bereavement: A Manual for Clergy, Counselors and Speakers, William A. Smith takes on the daunting task of illuminating all three topics while at the same time offering a practical guide for those in the profession of giving spiritual solace and advice to people in need.
In the introduction of his book, Smith, who studied to be a priest early in his life and later received a PhD in philosophy from St. John’s University, admits that even trained priests are often surprisingly inarticulate when a loved one of the deceased asks the inevitable question: Why did God take my husband or wife or child? Rather than relying on the usual platitudes, or worse, saying something inappropriate, the author believes it is up to the professional counselor to give the deceased person’s “relatives and friends some explanation or analysis of the mystery of evil and suffering in the world.”
In order to do this, Smith believes it is necessary for counselors to not only understand questions on immortality and death, evil and human suffering, and grief and bereavement, but also be able to translate these weighty subjects into language that can ameliorate the pain and anguish of those who have lost loved ones. For help he enlists some of the greatest theologians and philosophers of all time, including Plato, St. Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. In each chapter, he encapsulates their philosophies and offers some of their most insightful quotes regarding life and death. To his credit, he also offers the wisdom of atheistic/agnostic philosophers like Nietzsche, Freud, and Camus.
In a more practical vein, he recounts real life stories and examples of individuals who have had to deal with the loss of loved ones in their everyday lives. In the final chapters he discusses the hospice movement and gives tips to the clergy on how to deal with funeral directors.
Throughout the book, the author does not impose his own religious beliefs on the reader; in fact, he is very ecumenical in his approach to the various theologies and philosophies he discusses and never strays from his main objective: to offer spiritual and professional counselors insight and advice on how to deal with death and the issues surrounding it. Moreover, the book is very well written, easy to understand, and concise- perhaps too concise. It is only 88 pages long, and some of the topics need more in-depth analysis and explanation. Nevertheless, it is a must read for anyone who wants to better understand death and the exigencies of those in need of counseling.
Obsessive Love Leads
By Peter Lewis
Part modern romance, part murder mystery, Always by Well Earl Draughon, is the story of a young man named Ben who falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful young woman named Donnella. The problem is Donnella is being held captive by a rich and powerful old man named Ashe who, decades earlier, had fallen hopelessly in love and married a beautiful woman also named Donnella. Unfortunately, the older Donnella spurned his love and divorced him, but Ashe never got over her and “always” held onto his love.
This love turns into a twisted, sordid affair that involves murder, cover-up, and deception. At the center of the story is Ben, who unravels the mystery step by step as he rescues the young Donnella from Ashe. In the process, he not only risks his own life, but endangers his family and friends. And he does it all, of course, for love! Throughout the story, however, he wonders if Donnella is going to return his love in the idealistic, all consuming way that he desires, or reject him because he is not of her social status.
The author ties all the loose ends together in the closing chapters with a Perry Mason style court case, and readers who like their endings clearly resolved will not be disappointed. What is disappointing, however, is that the characters in the story are little more than literary devices used to push the plot forward. They never seem real or three dimensional and are almost always predictable in their actions. In addition, the dialogue is dated and contrived, in some ways reminiscent of old television shows where unseemly characters are referred to as “creeps” or “lugs” that should be “clobbered” for their indiscretions. For example:
That aside, aficionados of romance novels or murder mysteries will have a good time cruising through the PG-rated landscape of Always.
|Independent Book Publishers Forge Ahead
As They Battle Conglomerates for Readers
By J. F. Miglio
According to a recent survey by the Publishers Marketing Association, “Independent and smaller publishers in the aggregate have annual sales of between $29.4 billion and $34.3 billion- approximately 15% to 27% greater than the reported base for the entire publishing industry.”
In addition, the report states there are over 73,000 small companies and independent publishers in America today with between one and ten active titles in print. What this means is that independent book publishers are flourishing and readers are buying their books in large enough numbers in a variety of niche categories to give corporate conglomerates that control the major publishing houses a run for their money.
This is not surprising, however, since major publishing houses today are more concerned with optimizing profits than promoting a diverse range of ideas or discovering new talent. And the best way for them to achieve higher profits is to use marketing strategies that promote the following categories: best-selling authors with successful track records, celebrity authors with large followings, and formula books that fall into genres that produce high sales figures.
Of course, one could make the argument that large publishers have always followed this strategy. True enough, but not to the extent that they do today. In the past, when major companies like Simon & Schuster or Little Brown were independently owned, they made more of an effort to discover new talent, take more chances on innovative or unique material, and publish books that did not necessarily fit into a specific marketing niche. In today’s environment, independent publishers are the ones who are filling this need. They are the ones who are taking the industry in a more populist direction, creating new markets, and offering a broader range of subject matter.
Of course it is not all clear sailing for independent publishers, and there are many obstacles they must overcome on the road to profitability, most notably, promotion. How do small companies or self-publishers promote and publicize their books without spending a fortune on marketing and advertising? Not an easy task to be sure, but not an impossible one either. It requires a lot of time and hard work, clever marketing ideas and ingenuity, and most of all, good word of mouth about the book itself. This is where organizations like the Publishers Marketing Association can play a part. PMA is the largest nonprofit organization in the country designed to help independent publishers promote their books. Its executive director is Jan Nathan, who has been with the organization since its beginning in 1983. The Online Review was able to get in touch with the busy executive director this past month and discuss Small Press Month with her as well as the state of independent publishing in the United States today.
OR: Where do you see small press books and independent publishing headed in the next few years?
JN: Continued growth, in some areas more than others. Technology is a key to our industry, and the technology that was developed five or six years ago, known as print on demand (POD), has been both a boon and a bane to our industry. It is a wonderful technology in that it allows publishers to keep books in print year after year. They may only be selling 200-300 books a year, but they are still selling, and in that regard the technology is spectacular. It is also being misused, telling people that it is an inexpensive and quick way to enter the traditional world of publishing, which it is not. A publisher just can’t go to print with ten books and expect to get picked up by Barnes and Noble. Another downfall of this technology is that it is allowing too many people to produce something that has the shape of a book, but it is not a book. It hasn’t been well thought out, or properly written or designed.
OR: It seems there is a wide disparity with independently published books. Some are very good and should be picked up by large publishers whereas others are not very good and need a lot of work.
JN: Yes, unfortunately what happens when self-published books are bad, some people believe that they are reflective of the whole industry. Which isn’t fair to those people who have been developing independent publishing for 20 some years and doing everything right- and competing head to head with Simon and Schuster and HPJ.
OR: How are you going to be involved in Small Press Month?
JN: We’re always involved with that. We work jointly with the Small Press Center in New York, and it is a way of bringing recognition to an industry that shows that independent book titles are wonderful titles. We have the niche titles, the titles that people are looking for. We can’t promote a mainstream novel the way a major publishing house can, but we can promote the heck out of a niche title.
OR: What methods do you use?
JN: Every publisher is very, very independent (laughs) and very different in his or her approach. What generally happens is when an independent publisher comes into being the author knows a certain aspect of an industry. As an example, an eating disorder book came into being because a woman had an eating disorder. Then she removed herself from it and came up with a whole line of books about overcoming the disorder. And what she did was connect to all the therapists, all the clubs, and all the newsletters that dealt with eating disorders. Since she knew the address or location of anyone who had an eating disorder or who treats eating disorders, she could market directly to these groups by using standard mail, email, sending books to therapists, etc. I mean she’ll sell 20-30,000 books a year using these methods, and she’ll continue to sell her book year after year. And so, the independent is the master of the backlist whereas a major publishing house is the master of the front list and sells most of its books over the first year when the title first comes out. As a result, the independent company may end up with sales of 250,000 books, but it may take ten years to arrive at that number.
OR: Are nonfiction books generally easier to market than fiction?
JN: Yes, with the exception of specialty fiction. Mainstream fiction is much harder to market and more difficult when attempting to compete with major companies.
OR: Several years ago Rocket books and electronic books were becoming the hot new trend. Whatever happened to them?
JN: They died on the vine. First of all, they were too expensive. It didn’t make sense to download a book on an electronic product that cost $300 when you could buy the same book for $19.95. Secondly, there’s more to reading than just getting words on a screen. Reading is a tremendously sensual experience- the feel of the paper, the smell of the paper, the design of the book. These things are absent from electronic books.
OR: Have independent bookstores been helpful in buying small press books?
JN:Some yes, some no. Independent bookstores are trying to survive. So what do you do when you are trying to survive? You try to get good deals on John Grisham books and those that you know are going to sell. But some of them are very good at taking care of certain target markets. For example, if you had a bookstore in a place where there were a lot of runners, then you would want to keep up to date on all the latest books about running and romance the independent publishers who deal with running books. Even big stores like B&N and Borders are buying independent books that deal with specialty subjects. After all, they have a lot of shell space to fill up, and they are filling it up with a lot of small press books.
OR: How about libraries? Are they buying small press books?
JN: Librarians love to buy small press books. They love to find unique titles and buy them.
OR: What about books by self-publishers?
JN: What is the difference between a self-published book and an independent book? Many authors began as self-publishers and then became small press companies. The problem is self-published books have a negative connotation attached to them because sometimes self-publishers don’t take the proper steps to edit or design their books. In fact, we just put together a list of ten steps you need to follow to be a legitimate book publisher. And if you are not willing to follow these steps, then you are not a publisher.
OR: How valuable is it for small publishers to get reviews for their books?
JN: A review is extremely helpful to anyone who publishes a book, but it may not be a review in Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal. It may be a review in a running magazine if the author did a book on running, or it may be a review in a newsletter, or another type of publication.
OR: So what are your best tips for publishing a book?
JN: The first one is to really study the marketplace before you write a book and decide what differentiates your book from what is already out there. Authors often make that mistake. They think their books are unique when they really aren’t. Secondly, you should give yourself every chance in the world by getting your book both professionally edited and professionally designed. Some people feel that the tools they have on the computer are enough to properly edit and design their books, but they are not enough. You cannot be the writer, the editor, and the designer of a book. After that, you need to sit down and use a reverse pyramid, to see who is the potential buyer of your book and how do I reach that person. Then you also need to look at which buyers parallel your target buyers and try to reach them. Sometimes you reach them through libraries, sometimes you reach them through direct mail, and sometimes you reach them from speaking in the back of the room. But each book is unique and each book needs a marketing plan.
OR: What independently published book comes to mind when you think of one that went on to become a big hit?
JN: DOS for Dummies (laughs). What bigger hit could there be than that! I mean the author started by driving up and down the highway selling his book from his pop-up van. And initially, everyone told him that his book wouldn’t sell because no one wants to be called a dummy.
OR: What about in the fiction department?
JN: One of the great stories is Tom Clancy, who went to a company that just published nonfiction military history books, and he convinced them to publish his book The Hunt for Red October. It was just the right timing, and eventually Putnam bought the book from his original publisher. And once the author becomes big, he usually stays with a big publisher because a small publisher does not have the money to do the promotion and publicity that a large one does.
OR:Finally, what is your overall impression of the small press business?
JN:It’s an exciting world! I love the people. They are all entrepreneurs and you cannot be in a room with these people and not be excited.
In Honor of Small Press Month
The Small Press Center and Publishers Marketing Association (PMA) have joined together this March to honor Small Press Month with their eighth annual month-long promotion of independent publishers. The theme for 2004 is “Let Every Voice Be Heard! Support America’s Independent Small Publishers.” One of the highlights of the month will be the second annual “How to Get Published Day” on March 4. Additional support has been provided by Book Sense and the American Booksellers Association; Consortium Book Sales & Distribution; the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses; the Independent Publishers Group, the National Book Network/Biblio; Publishers Group West; R.R. Bowker; SCB Distributors; and Small Press Distribution.
Karin Taylor, executive director of the Small Press Center, says, “Now in its eighth year, Small Press Month continues to honor the quality of work being produced in independent publishing, a part of the industry that is growing at a tremendous rate.” Jan Nathan, executive director of the PMA, added, “Independent publishers are making a huge impact, and Small Press Month actively promotes all of their work. With an estimated 70,000 independent publishers in this country, they are the real pulse of publishing. “
These publishers, and the million plus titles they produce, form the core of the industry. In addition, independent publishers are publishing unknown authors, enhancing the careers of established writers, constantly taking risks, exploring innovative ideas and, through their diverse titles, reaching new audiences. Individual expression is the driving force behind these publishers.
What’s happening during Small Press Month?
The Small Press Book Fair, the country’s leading book fair for independent publishers, will take place at the Small Press Center in midtown Manhattan, March 27-28. Over 200 independent book and magazine publishers take part, and special events include literary panels and book arts demonstrations. Admission is free. For information call 212-764-7021 or visit www.smallpress.org.
16th Annual Small Press Book Fair
The 16th annual Small Press Book Fair will be held Saturday, March 27, from 10am to 6pm and Sunday, March 28, from 11am to 5pm at the Small Press Center, 20 West 44th Street in Manhattan, New York. Drawing enthusiastic crowds of up to 3,000 each year, the book fair is one of the main events held during Small Press Month and provides hundreds of independent publishers with an eclectic forum to display and sell their books and magazines. This year there will be a special focus on literary publishing.
Special events will include readings by small press authors; a literary caf�; a co-op bookstore; an exhibit and program on Emily Dickinson, the Small Press Author of the Year; and seminars on publishing. The Small Press Center will also present the Poor Richard’s Award to an individual who has made a significant contribution to independent publishing. Last year’s recipient was George Plimpton, longtime publisher of the Paris Review.
Publishers can still register to secure prime exhibition space at the event. The Book Fair is a wonderful, cost-effective opportunity for independent presses to sell and promote their work. In recent years, display tables have sold out.
Small Press Month is celebrated every year in March. It was co-founded by the Small Press Center and Publishers Marketing Association to promote independent publishing. Throughout the month, bookstores, libraries, and publishers sponsor events to bring attention to a vibrant and essential sector of the publishing industry.
Admission to the Book Fair and all special events is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.smallpress.org or call 212/764-7021.