Currently on the Bookshelf: Journey to Russia

In the midst of the political protests in Ukraine, venture to the land of Russia for a taste of science fiction, fantasy, and romance with a Slavic twist. Look for themes of deception, political corruption, and earnest, true love, along with an intense sense of nationality and pride.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.

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The Night Watch is Russia’s answer to epic fantasy with a modern twist. Set in modern-day Moscow, but with a twist, Muscovites live in a society with an ancient race of powerful members, forever feuding between the Light and the Dark, while a fragile pact keeps peace between the sides. The incredible momentum of the plot, coupled with the epic plot line, and Lukyanenko’s frank writing style advances a story that stands alone as the contemporary example of Russian fantasy.

Recommended for: An afternoon read (prepare to be hooked)

Enjoy it with: A dark ale

For fans of: Epic fantasy, Tolkien

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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Skip the movie adaptations and go straight to the novel. Applicable to our current social struggles, Anna Karenina details the repressed love and life of a noblewoman forced to choose between a subservience that allows her to hold a title, and her personal desires, which overwhelm her as she attempts to find a life that is not chosen for her, but chosen by her. Tolstoy’s reflections upon his own life, and of life in contemporary Russia, are clear throughout the novel, making it an insightful read not only into the mind of a character, but also one of the world’s greatest authors.

Recommended for: A bedside table, book club

Enjoy it with: Scones, biscuits, a daiquiri

For fans of: Romance novels, classic literature

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

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Set in the 1820’s, Eugene Onegin delves deep into a social circle of Russian life that would otherwise be unremembered. Pushkin’s poetic sense is transformed into his first prose based novel. The range of characters ensures that not only the three main masculine protagonists are remembered, but also the broad cast that goes far beyond the leading men and their ladies.

Recommended for: A late night read

Enjoy it with: champagne and wine spritzers, finger cakes

For fans of: gossip


Talking the Trade with Tony LaRocca, Author of “False Idols and Other Short Stories”


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Tony LaRocca is a carbon-based life form, animator, occasional actor, U.S. Army veteran, blogger, karaoke crooner, electrician, and chronic doodler. Originally from Basking Ridge, New Jersey, he currently resides with his family in Queens, New York. So far, he has self-published a science fiction collection, titled False Idols and Other Short Stories, both in eBook and print formats, and is currently working on a novel that will be published by the end of the year. He’s indecisive too, with his favorite book a three-way tie between Clive Barker’s Imagica, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy. By day, he is an electrician in the New York City area, and a member of Local 3 IBEW.

Read on for his insights into publishing science fiction, and balancing writing with a career.


When you began the process of writing your book, had you ever heard of self-publishing? If not, at what point in the writing process, or thereafter, did you become interested in self-publishing?
These are short stories I’ve worked on for over twenty years. Self-publishing used to be synonymous with vanity publishing, meaning authors paid the publisher to print copies of their book, which they had to sell themselves. It was pretty much a scam, and self-published writers were not taken seriously. Self publishing today doesn’t involve a monetary investment-save for an ISBN number if you want one-but some of the stigma still remains.
There used to be a large market for science fiction short stories, but that’s going back to the forties, fifties, and sixties. There are very few paying short-fiction magazines anymore, so self-publishing seemed a viable alternative.

What are the benefits of self-publishing in your life?
The biggest benefit is that I’m my own boss, at least as far as writing is concerned. I can work it around my day job, or spending time with the kids. I’m very lucky to have so many technological tools at my disposal. I write and edit on my Android while riding the subway to and from work. When I’m editing, I can listen to the latest version while walking or driving, using text-to-speech. Amazon, CreateSpace and Smashwords are very indie-friendly marketplaces, so I have full control over such things as pricing, sales, and distribution.

What is the greatest struggle you find as a self-published author? 
As mentioned before, there is still some stigma attached to self-publishing, though it’s become much more accepted than it was in the past. If my book comes up, someone inevitably asks who my publisher is, and when I tell them it’s an indie, their eyes glaze over a little. But more than that, the biggest struggle seems to be getting noticed in a vast ocean of work, both traditional and self-published.

How do you overcome the struggle?
The only way that I can see is to keep working, and create stories of the highest quality that I can. Word of mouth can be one of the greatest advertising tools out there, all I have to do is create something that earns it-like when a video on YouTube goes viral. It’s a form of eBook-Darwinism, I suppose, I just have to work my hardest at it, and hope, if my work deserves to, that it will rise to the top.

Did you work with a paid editor? If not, what were the most successful techniques you found to edit something so personal to you?
No, I edit myself, or as I like to call it, scouring. I don’t have anything against professional editors, I guess I’m just too cheap, and too much of a control freak. MS Word’s spell and grammar checkers are the basic tools, but there are things they don’t catch-such as if ending quotation marks are missing. is a great free resource, it highlights adverbs, passive verbs, “said” replacements, repeated words, and many other problems.
My scouring process works like this: I’ll run a story or a chapter through Word’s checkers. Then I’ll scan it with Edit Minion. Next, I code the manuscript into a Kindle eBook. (A fantastic tutorial can be found here: Now the fun begins. Did you ever have an English teacher you feared, one whom you felt was personally out to get you? Well, I pretend that I’m that teacher, and that I’m out to get me. I put my eBook on my phone, and I read it out loud, very slowly, looking at every punctuation mark, listening closely to every phrase. When I read something I don’t like, I make a notation. After I’m done, I load my notations on my laptop, change the manuscript, Word-check my changes, re-encode it into a new eBook, and start the process all over again. I do this story by story or chapter by chapter, until I can read it through without finding anything I need to change. Sometimes it takes four or five passes. It’s a torturous process, but the results are satisfying.

What about the book cover? Did you take the picture yourself or work with a graphic designer? 
I made my cover myself. The story it’s based on, “False Idols,” originally started out as an animation. I had already modeled the astronaut, and had planned out the “shot.” I modeled the alien statue, and used the rendering, along with various other digital paint effects, as the cover picture. My sister is a graphic designer, so she gave me useful input-especially about kerning the typography. When readers look for new Kindle titles, they browse through small thumbnails-so the objective, in album cover terms, is to be more “Dark Side of the Moon” and less “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Did you purchase your own ISBN, or work with a company to purchase rights and an ISBN?
I purchased my own ISBN from Bowker, because they only recognize the original purchaser as the publisher. To be honest, it is much more expensive than it should be, though it’s cheaper if you buy in bulk. I bought a block of ten, so I could use the others for future titles. The print copy needed one, as did the Smashwords version (for certain markets in their premium catalog) Kindle does not require them, which is a huge help to independent writers.

Do you have more e-Book or hard copy sales?
For a while they were neck and neck, but eBooks are now in the lead.

Did you consider traditional publishing, or did you know that self-publishing was the route that you wanted to pursue?
It’s certainly the easier route. Traditional publishing is primarily concerned with what would be the most marketable, so many quality books get rejected. This way, I can get my stories to an audience as quickly as possible.

What is the most rewarding element of self-publishing?
Sales and reviews! There is an amazing feeling of validation in a positive review from a stranger. One of my favorite compliments came from a friend: “Your book was a lot better than I expected.” It seems back-handed, until you realize that honestly, your friends will just buy your book to support you. My home-town library in New Jersey was kind enough to add a copy to their collection-that was an achievement I had always wanted.

How do you market and brand your stories? 
I have a Facebook page for the book and myself, and I’ve received a lot of support there. That got me a huge boost in initial sales and reviews, as has my blog. Later, some book bloggers gave me positive reviews and interviews, which helped me get exposure in wider circles. I have tried running an ad or two, but with lackluster success. I would say word-of-mouth has been my best ally. One cousin is even kind enough to carry a copy in her purse. Always be thankful for that initial friends-and-family push. My job is to make sure my book deserves it.

Did you publish through Amazon?
Amazon and their print-on-demand service CreateSpace (and Smashwords, to be fair) are perfect for independent authors, because all they do is take their cut for about 1/3 of your net (depending on pricing.) That’s it.

How did you decide to price your book?
Since authors sell their short stories on Kindle for ninety-nine cents, I figured a collection of nine for $2.99 would be a bargain. It also seems to be the average price for an independently published eBook.

Did you work with a company to self-publish your book?
No, I did it by myself. I do have friends and family who were very encouraging, and provided helpful input and suggestions.

What kind of support would be most helpful to self-published authors?
Since my book is highly rated in its primary category (Kindle eBooks> Science Fiction & Fantasy> Science Fiction> Anthologies & Short Stories), I would love if Amazon’s primary search system were based on average customer review, rather than highest sales. A current database of book bloggers willing to review independent eBooks would be a great help as well. There are some out there, but they’re not updated regularly.

Tony’s story is purely independent. He writes, edits, and advertises and markets on his own. His key lies in the technology that he makes work for him. Just like self-publishing is a relatively new field, the technologies that are becoming more and more widely available are the perfect tools to aid in self-publication, and make the process more bearable. It takes strong commitment to a manuscript to successfully publish a book, but doing research to find the right tools can be invaluable in the process.

To learn more about Tony’s books, head to, and be sure to check out his short story collection on Amazon, here:

Talking the Trade with John Svazic, author of “Growing the Money Tree- Financial Freedom One Leaf at a Time”


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A few weeks ago I interviewed a fiction writer with extensive experience in self-publishing. Today, we learn from John Svazic, who offers a wholly different perspective as the author of “Growing the Money Tree- Financial Freedom One Leaf at a Time.”

Self-publishing non-fiction has long been a successful venture, especially if the topic is well-defined, with a clear niche audience. Non-fiction by self-published authors must have a clear directive, and an author bio that backs up the publication.  In the case of John Svazic,  founder of ARM Trading who has traded on the foreign exchange market for ten years to grow his own money tree, this experience is clearly visible, offering readers the security they need to pick up his book for solid investment advice and strategies.
“Growing the Money Tree” is meant as a resource to debunk personal finance, which is often viewed as a complex and difficult topic that should be left to professionals.  From John’s personal experiences, as well as those of friends and family, he saw this as the wrong attitude to have.  Finding a way to simplify these mundane and often secretive tasks, John has put his findings into his latest work, Growing The Money Tree.

John has worked in a variety of roles throughout his life, ranging from a vacuum cleaner salesman, a vertical plane engineer, a professional software developer, a manager as well as a martial arts instructor.  His passion for technology, love of sharing his knowledge as well as a strong desire to help others when they feel frustrated has led him to his latest career as a book author.

Growing The Money Tree was written to give one way to show the average person how they can begin to grow their own money tree to find financial independence.

The incredible opportunity of self-publishing is the ability to find and invest in a niche, whether fiction or nonfiction, that did not exist before, and to present material to an audience as broad as the reach of the internet by pursuing a personal passion that is marketable. As such, the range of opportunities for self-publication is immense.

Read on for the insights of a non-fiction author who has found success catering to the financial market, while maintaining a high-stress day job at the same time!

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Q: What is your favorite book? 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  I have loved his work since I was a teenager reading “The Sandman” comics published by Vertigo.

Q: Do you have a day job? 

I’m a Chief Security Officer for a software company called Axonify.  That’s my main day job while I let my money tree grow.

Q: When you began the process of writing your book, had you ever heard of self-publishing?

I was aware of self-publishing before I wrote my book.  I was actually originally going to go with as my publishing host, but shortly after I started to write my book I looked at some reviews for Lulu and found that their hardcover options were not very good.  Also, my artist was confused by their cover template designer.  After a bit more research I learned about CreateSpace and Lightning Source, which is how I ended up using both of those services.  This was important, since I had a lot of legwork to do in order to use these services properly.

Q: What are the benefits of self-publishing in your daily life? 

Self-publishing was really my only option as far as I was concerned.  I wanted to write a book to share my experiences and give something to my children to remember me by. Given the topics that I cover in the book (investing, artificial intelligence and a short autobiography) I figured most traditional publishers would have turned me down and I wasn’t interested in making a new career as an author.  Given all of this, self-publishing took the pressure off of looking for acceptance of my work and instead put it on finishing my work and then marketing it.

Q: What is the greatest struggle you face as a self-published author? 

Marketing.  Hands down getting the word out about my book is more time consuming than writing the book itself.  I did struggle a bit with the writing of the book (using LaTeX to prepare the work definitely saved me a lot of hassle when working with Lightning Source, since they required very specific PDF dimensions, compatibilities, etc. CreateSpace was a lot more lenient, but they didn’t offer a hardcover format which is something that I wanted.  Learning LaTeX, finding the right commands, a good editor, adding a glossary, bibliography and index were all challenges when I was writing the book, but getting the word out is definitely a lot harder.

Finding an audience was something I thought would be simple.  Personal finance, investing and foreign exchange have a broad enough audience that I thought it should be pretty straight-forward.  Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as clear as I had hoped.

Q: How do you overcome these struggles?

I haven’t yet.  I continue to lurk on Forex forums and Reddit, looking for an opportunity to let people know about my book.  I’ve advertised on Goodreads, Reddit, Facebook and Google AdWords with no real success.  Goodreads was great for getting the word out about a book giveaway.  Lots of people added my book to their “to-read” bookshelves, but I haven’t seen this translate into any actual sales as far as I can tell.  Ads on Reddit received a number of downvotes in /r/personalfinance and /r/investing, so clearly those were not subreddits that were interested in my book.  I did get a few sales, but not enough to cover the costs of the ads.

Facebook generated a number of Likes and fans, but again just a few sales that didn’t cover the cost of the ads.  I did have some credits, so that helped.  Ditto for Google AdWords, I spent my credits and drove some traffic to my book’s website, but no real sales to account for them.  What I find has helped is letting people know about the book in subtle ways, responding to questions or even providing giveaways.  Blogging regularly also helps, as I try to blog about topics that are covered in the book.  I tend to blog about once a week.  If I miss a week, however, I can definitely feel it.  I also tweet and re-tweet interesting articles and posts to help generate traffic, so that’s also helping a bit.

Q: Did you work with a paid editor? 

I did hire an editor to go through and proofread my book.  Early access copies were also given to some friends who nit-picked anything that was missed.  These “early reviews” helped an awful lot, especially when the topic is “foreign” to the editor.

Q: Did you work with a graphic designer on the book cover? 

I worked with a graphic designer friend of mine.  It took a few months of back-and-forth to get the design just right, but that worked out well since it took my editor took nearly two months to finish reviewing my book.

Q: Do you have more Kindle or e-Book sales?

eBook sales (Kindle only, as I’m part of the KDP Select program that gives Amazon an exclusive on Kindle for 90 days) are definitely stronger than paperback or hardcover. This isn’t surprising as the price is lower, the quality is equal, and it is instantaneous.

Q: What is the most rewarding element of self-publishing?

Seeing a published book and holding it in your hand.  That is an amazing feeling.

Q: Did you publish through Amazon?

Yes, I published through Amazon’s CreateSpace service.  It’s popular because it’s easy – they literally can do everything for you if you are willing to pay them.  If you can do most/all of the work yourself then you can save a bundle since they don’t charge for anything unless you go for extended distribution.  Compared to someone like Lightning Source, they are a much more cost-efficient option for someone who can do nearly all the work.

Q: How did you decide to price your book? 

I looked at similar books in the same genre and decided to price similarly, but still within reason.  Lots of Forex and investing books carry a higher sticker price, but end up getting discounted heavily.  I stuck with a reasonable price that didn’t feel like I was gouging my readers.

Q: Did you work with a company to self-publish your book?

No.  The thought did cross my mind, but when I looked at some of these companies ( was one of them) the prices were outrageous!  I figure I saved myself at least a few thousand dollars going at it alone based on some of the “packages” that these other companies offered.  A little effort goes a long way, and it really can be done on your own.

Q: What kind of support would you like for self-published authors?

– A list of self-publishing printers (i.e. CreateSpace, Lightning Source, Lulu, etc) with a pro/con list for each
– A list of “self-publishing” resources like editors, artists, etc
– A list of tools that can be used for publishing (i.e. LaTeX, Word, Adobe InDesign, etc)
– A list of book reviewers once your book is published
– Marketing tips and tricks (in general, since there will always be special cases)
– Advice from other authors who have been successful, preferably both fiction and non-fiction authors


Speaking with John shows that the struggles of self-publishing can often revolve around marketing, even when a potential audience is found, reaching out beyond the screen can be very difficult. With both fiction and non-fiction, finding a niche and exploiting the market to publicize yourself and your book is incredibly important, as well as branding yourself and your book.

Please check out John’s work on Amazon here:




Review: “Three for Ship: A Swan Song to Dartmouth Beer Pong” by Crispus Knight


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Perhaps the most misleading element of this story is its title. “Three For Ship” is less of a swan song, and more of a battle cry. If you are expecting a carefree tale of frat brothers battling each other in a grungy basement to vintage rock, look elsewhere.

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Instead, “Three for Ship” is more of an unearthing, a grim stripping of the walls erected between the world behind the Ivy League gates of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and the real world which every depraved alcohol-soaked Greek life member will eventually be expunged into- whether gracefully, or with disciplinary action, as in the case of Chris Knight, or, as dubbed by his Chi-Gam brothers, “Balls.”

Written in the first person, Chris Knight enters Dartmouth a conscious minority student, determined not to have a minority experience. As a freshman, Chris expects to have “a Dartmouth experience,” one devoid of race, class, or other distinction. Yet the magnetism of Greek Row teaches Chris that a new social order does exist- one with rankings based on fraternity membership that dominates the campus. Here, in this new social order, Chris ekes out his identity his freshman year in hundreds of games of beer pong, the classic college drinking game, which takes on new meaning as Chris struggles to move up from the lowly “Junior Varsity” tables in the back room of his chosen frat house, to the coveted “Varsity tables.”

As Chris’ relationship to beer pong intensifies, it slowly crosses the line to his identity, and his transformation to the apathetic, alcoholic, “Balls.” Written in the third person, “Balls” has no aspirations beyond returning to the Chi-Gam basement to blackout and boot heaps of steamy vomit.

A memoir written in a timeline, “Three for Ship” is the unveiling of the darker side of Ivy League, and college culture. Battling alcoholism, “Balls,” continuously asks those around him, “Did Dartmouth do this to me? By being here was I committed to this fate?” His university becomes his scapegoat and beer pong the meaning of his life, pulling away the curtain of the elite held by the Ivy League. In the midst of the college scandals ranging from Dartmouth to Texas Tech, in which plights of hazing, binge drinking and date-rape are consistently coming to light, and college culture is being analyzed as never before, “Three for Ship” seeks to analyze one man’s college experience, and address these questions as someone who lived through the thick of it.

Brutally honest, with scenes describing locking pledges into the trunks of cars, being ruthlessly vomited on in a frat house basement, and spending fifty man hours creating beautiful beer pong tables, “Three for Ship” cannot be viewed as an epic describing the college experience, or a condemning of the Greek life system. Instead, “Three for Ship” is a memoir at heart, filled with personal reflection, but also an odd justification of the actions of the brothers of the fraternity based on the status quo. Incredibly, the tone of the novel resonates with the members of the frat house, adding an authenticity and realness to the book which is at once intriguing and disturbing. To bear witness to the destruction of a life through literature is painful to read, but the honesty and fairness given by Chrispus Knight to his college experience makes “Three for Ship” worth reading, not for the non-existent morals gained from the story, or the uplifting ending, but for the outpouring of the soul of a culture that is currently being picked at by college administration, law enforcement, and the general public.

While the subject matter may be familiar, the bleakness of the presentation of “Balls” experience creates a vastly new and interesting look at the competitive college experience. In the midst of an environment riddled with stress, alcoholism becomes the only escape for a man once obsessed with his identity, but now content with the shell of his existence as destroyed in the basement of Chi-Gam. Read from a distance, “Three for Ship” is the perfect insider’s view at a problem that is unlikely to be resolved, but will continue to be analyzed by the public for years to come.

Read without a sense of morality, only an interest in the true culture of college basements and youthful mistakes, and you will not be disappointed by this battle cry.

Number of pages: 248

Recommended for: the weekend before a college reunion, a bedside table, anyone interested in collegiate politics or fraternities

Enjoy it with: A can of Mickey’s, Zoloft

For fans of: Zoolander, American Pie

Best place to buy it:

Talking the Trade with J. L. Byers, Author of “The Broken World,” “The Road to Calvary,” and “The Thin Green Line: Five Years Behind the Counter at the Big Bookstore”


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A few weeks ago a friend asked a pressing question, one that I felt was so simple it barely needed an explanation at first. He conversationally asked, “So, if I wrote a book, how would I get self-published?”

Easy, right? But as I started to explain my answer, I realized how vague my response was. How would you know whether you should be self-published in the first place? Why wouldn’t you pursue traditional publishing first? Which company would be best? Would it depend on the genre you wrote in? How would you market your materials?

All of these questions swirled in my head, until finally I gave up my explanation, and said I would get back to him. I felt inspired to create a series of interviews with self-published authors from these questions, and to create a resource for those interested in self-publishing, those in a marketing rut, and people wondering what the true day-to-day lives of self-published authors are like.

The following is the first in a series of interviews, which will hopefully begin a dialogue on self-publishing, and create a resource for those interested in self-publishing to use by creating a network of known self-published authors interested in talking about their trade!

Jesse L. Byers is an author by night. By day, he works in billing and finance for a Fortune 500 company, but his journey to this point in his life, where he “prefers to keep a low profile, maintain his library, and do what many others should do– live each day to the fullest,” has not been easy. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, he grew up poor, living in low income housing and attending inner city schools. In his teens, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he held a variety of retail jobs before becoming an ordained minister, “like so many other mail-order screwballs” and finally began publishing his novels. He dabbled in politics, volunteered on local and presidential campaigns and even ran for office himself. Today he resides in the suburbs of Los Angeles and has left religion, writing and politics in the past. He was gracious enough to be interviewed on a variety of topics relating to self-publishing!

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Q: When you began the process of writing your book, had you ever heard of self-publishing? 
A:  My first book, Broken World, was written well before the advent of resources like Infinity or Amazon KDP.  I tried traditional publishing and watched the rejection letters stack up.  I knew of vanity presses but they were very expensive at the time.  I began to consider self-publishing as an option because seeing my book in print was important to me; it was a goal and a dream.  As I began to research vanity presses I came across iUniverse, Infinity, etc., and they started to become a more viable option for self-publishing than had previously been available.  I made use of iUniverse for Broken World and moved to Infinity for cost and efficiency when I wrote its sequel Road to Calvary and my third book, The Thin Green Line.

Q: What are the benefits of self-publishing in your life, how do you make it work for you? 
A:  The main benefit for me is the freedom and control.  With my work I get to tell the story the way I want to tell it, decide the look of the book and how it’s presented to people.  I know editors are there for a reason; sometimes you need someone to say “no” but for that isn’t an issue.  I’ve no notions of becoming wealthy off these books, I’m not laboring under an illusion that I can make this a career and therefore need the guiding hand of an expert.  Very few writers can achieve that.  Writing is something I love.  Seeing my book in print  is a success in and of itself.  So to have complete control over that process, from first words on the page to final print edition in hand, it’s a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Q: What is the greatest struggle you find as a self-published author?
A:  Getting noticed.  As I said, I don’t expect to become wealthy but I still want to sell books.  I want people to notice me and my work and read my stories.  It’s a big world out there and there are ads everywhere you look.  Everywhere, someone is advertising something and the proliferation of self-published authors makes it easier still to get lost in that mix.  That’s not a bad thing, the more written works available to people the better.  But managing to get people to notice your work in a sea of millions is exceedingly difficult.

Q: How do you overcome the struggle?
A:  Social media has been an indescribable blessing to folks like me. I’ve bought newspaper ads and website banners but none of it translated into recognizable sales or attention the way things like
Facebook and Twitter have.

Q:Did you work with a paid editor? If not, what were the most successful techniques you found to edit something so personal to you?
A:  I used a professional editor on my first two books.  The person was a friend who agreed to do the work as a favor though she normally gets paid for it.  Being a friend she could be brutally honest and I didn’t have any reservations about following her professional opinion as well as personal feelings.  I didn’t use an editor for The Thin
Green Line.  I did the editing myself, both copy and style.  For various reasons there were intentional editorial “mistakes” left in the book here and there.  (Much of the book was originally written as blog postings and the “mistakes” were left in to preserve the original style of those postings, so I’m not really as bad an editor as I might
seem.  I explain this on my web site.)

Q:What about the book cover? Did you take the picture yourself or work with a graphic designer?
A:  As I’ve said, I value complete control over the process.  The covers to all three books were conceived by myself.  The basic concept was my own design and the professionals supplied by the press did the actual work.  The exception would be my second book, Road to Calvary. The cover was a photo I took and manipulated.  It’s somewhat simplistic but it was intended to be.

Q: Did you purchase your own ISBN, or work with a company to purchase
rights and an ISBN?
A:  In all three cases it was supplied as part of the process by the press.  It speaks to the ease of the process available to authors like myself these days that we don’t have to hassle with minutia such as this.  We can remain focused on the more creative aspect of the process.

Q: Do you have more e-Book or hard copy sales?
A:  e-Book, definitely.  My most recent book, The Thin Green Line, was published initially only in trade paperback and after judging the response to it I chose to make an ebook version available as well.  It was a wise decision.  The downloads are more than triple that of the hard copy sales.  The royalties are higher off ebooks and I think people are more willing to take a chance on a book when its available at a lower cost.  Thin Green Line retails in trade for $13.95 and $3.95 in ebook.  If you spend $14 on something and its awful, you’re going to be upset and feel cheated.  So maybe this unknown quantity isn’t worth your time or money to take that chance.  But $4?  The morning coffee at Starbucks costs more than that.  You can probably take that chance without feeling its too much of a risk.  I know I’ve sold my book because its available in ebook form when it might not be moving at all if it were only in trade.

Q:  What is the most rewarding element of self-publishing?
A:  Seeing my book in print.  A writer writes because they have something to say, a story to tell.  You sit down and you spill your heart and soul onto the page and breathe life into the characters and create a world and tell these stories.  Then you have them bound and available for people to read and enjoy.  Or hate.  Or just feel a big blah towards them.  Doesn’t matter.  They still see it, they read it. Something you worked so hard to create has been experienced by someone else.  Writers today are extremely lucky and blessed that they have the plethora of self publishing options available to them now.  When you consider the untold numbers of people over the years who may have written stories and never seen them published or just dumped them in a drawer to rot or just never got the chance to tell their stories, it’s an unspeakable tragedy those people never had the options available to us today.

Q:  How do you market and brand your stories? 
A:  Social media has been an unbelievable boon to the indie writer.  Twitter seems to be a major source of “free” revenue and traffic.  Follow this person or that, this company or
that, tweet and retweet, your name is out there and suddenly you have the notice of hundreds if not thousands of people who might just retweet you and so on and so on.  It all points to your name, your Facebook, your website and ultimately your book.  Beyond the time invested in tweeting and updating the website or Facebook page, there’s no money expended and you’ve got free advertising.  The majority of sales on my third book, The Thin Green Line, came by way of Twitter.

Q: Do you ever go on book tours?
A:  No.  I’m just not that big.  If somehow my books went crazy and I started selling enough to make the money to justify such a thing I would of course but it’s not even on the horizon.

Q: Did you publish through Amazon? 
A:  I did not.  I researched it and chose to go another way.  I still prefer a press that offered me the opportunity to see my book in physical form.  That being said, if that isn’t an issue for an author, I see no reason whatsoever not to use Amazon’s KDP program.  I have a friend who made use of it and its served him well.  It’s an incredibly
easy program to use.

Q: How did you decide to price your book?
A:  There are pricing ranges suggested by the press.  Final choice is yours so you have to consider certain things carefully.  You look at other works of similar genre, length and you work from there.  You also consider the fact that if you’re using a self publishing method you’re likely to be an unknown quantity so you want to price your work accordingly.  You and your mother might think your work is priceless but the average reader who has never heard of you might only be willing to pay $5.

Q:  Did you work with a company to self-publish your book?
A:  iUniverse for the first book, Infinity for the next two.

Q: What kind of support would be most helpful to self-published
A:  Frankly, a little more respect and recognition by more mainstream outlets.  I know that’s a tall order but if self published “indie” authors could be recognized as real talents there might be more options available to them.
Look at it this way:  if a musical act rents a studio and cuts an album, they’re considered an Indie Band and acknowledged for their artistic talent and creativity, unhindered by the suits a a label.
Likewise, a filmwriter or director cobbles together some rusted cameras and makes a low-budget movie and they’re hailed as an Indie Darling and lauded for their artistic integrity.
Somehow, when a writer uses a service like Amazon or Infinity or other self publishing method, they’re considered a hack telling a poorly written story nobody wants to read.
But no one wanted to hear that band until they made their own album. Nobody wanted to see that movie until that director made it himself. Indie talent is rewarded in other fields but scoffed at when it comes to writers.  I worked in a bookstore for five years.  Every book in there from a big commercial publishing house was chosen because someone thought it was good enough to be a seller.  Not all of them are.  Not many, in fact.  A great many of them are considered awful, unreadable.  Yet they got published in the traditional way.  And yet there are many self or indie published books that are magnificent reads, wonderful stories and great works of literature.  They may have been rejected numerous times by traditional publishing houses. Sometimes, the pros are wrong. If mainstream media or print recognized that and began to cover indie authors more then there might be  better recognition for them.  More outlets might arise for them.  Publications or web sites may spring up devoted only to finding and promoting the indie/self published authors of the world.  They might begin to sell better and things like editorial services and marketing services might become more affordable.  In the end the more unpolished indie authors might be able to take advantage of these options and become better and the really good ones out there could become better still.


If you’re interested in checking out Jesse’s work, check out his website here:

and his latest work, The Thin Green Line, available for sale on Amazon here:

And be sure to follow him on Twitter @ThinGreenLine



Call for Self-Published Authors to be Interviewed!

Have you self-published? If the answer is yes, we’d love to hear from you for an interview series about everything self publishing.

What do you like about publishing your own work? What’s challenging? What are the biggest obstacles? How do you edit your own material? Who do you turn to when you need advice? 

We’d like to create a series of interviews that shed light (and solutions!) on some of the toughest self-publishing problems, and the most rewarding pieces of the job.


If you’re interested send an email to with a short bio. 


Let’s work together to create a great resource for people entering the world of self-publishing, and those who have already published many successful pieces!


Currently on the Bookshelf: Translation Temptations


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Translations (done well) can enrich our own experiences with the sounds, sights and feelings of other cultures, all without leaving the warm knit blanket gracing the couch. Grab a macchiato, a sweater (or perhaps a beret) and enjoy these foreign reads brought to English.


Image credit Tuppus via Flickr Creative Commons


Mysteries by Knut Hamsun

“But what really matters is not what you believe but the faith and conviction with which you believe…”

Reminiscent of modern Russian literature, Mysteries is a Norwegian translation centering in a small, unkempt (and very cold) Norwegian city, and the presence of a single man who has the audacity to bring upset to the town. A study in personality and presence, Mysteries brings a taste of Norway to the English market a few years after the  Millennium trilogy left us wanting more from Scandinavia.

The Same Sea by Amos Oz

“I wrote The Same Sea not as a political allegory about Israelis and Palestinians. I wrote it about something much more gutsy and immediate. I wrote it as a piece of chamber music.”

Indeed, the author delivers. While this allegorical exploration of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict draws heavily on specific places and violence associated with the region, the strength of the prose, and its common human links, make it a more powerful exploration of conflict on a global level. The book is written in a unique prose, which flows like a combination between poetry, and intense dialogue, with interludes from a narrator come to clarify the intersecting storyline between a father and son, and two women, who bask in the quiet of a war-torn place during a war-torn era.

Hardboiled and Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

“She was still there inside me now, just as she always was: a life put on hold, a memory I didn’t know how to handle.”

Two love stories that are distinctly Japanese unfold across the pages of this translation. In many ways, this book can be read as a translation of Eastern love into Western terms, which makes it a valuable introduction for first-time readers to contemporary Japanese novels, because what translates better across the oceans than the shared language of love? Respect and loss are also observed, with a distinctive reverence for those departed, and cherishing of those still in Japan, and still on this Earth.



Harry Potter on the Subway, and a Lonely Woman drinking Gin at the Bar: Prompts and Ideas for Productively Overcoming Writer’s Block


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We all have those moments. You’ve been waiting all week for the chance to write, and now, at 10 AM on a crisp Saturday morning, at your local cafe with a steaming latte to your left and notebook to your right, nothing is coming. You’re blocked, stumped, and the eagerness to write that you held all week is evaporating, just like the steam cascading up from your coffee.

Image via Miss Pupik on Flickr

Writer’s block can be a good thing. It offers us a moment to look back at what we’ve written and evaluate it, and to delve deeper into our characters. This can be a strong moment for character development and understanding, a chance to hammer out details on personalities, settings, and descriptions, without feeling constrained by the framework of your story.

The way to overcome writer’s block is to write through it. Don’t feel tied to your story, or to a minimum word count. Feel tied to your characters and your scenery. Instead of working through plot points and continuing with your story, write out these scenarios and prospects. Get out of your own head and into your character’s with these scenes. And remember…

While you’re working, don’t go back. No erasing or changing. These are not polished stories, they are snippets. Grammatical errors are okay. Incomplete thoughts are okay. You don’t have to be coherent with the rest of your story.

Don’t set a limit to the number of words. When you set out to write a novel, you do not set out to write a “127,842 word novel.” You set out to tell a story. Treat these exercises the same way. You are writing to overcome writer’s block creatively, by gaining insight into the realm of your story.

Don’t feel limited by the current range of your fictional or nonfictional world. Want to write a new character? Do it. Writing is a craft. It’s something improved by practice, just like a musical instrument. Do not feel limited by what you have written so far, by the parameters of reality or fantasy that your story occurs in. Breach out of what you expect from yourself as a writer.

The following scenarios are the perfect writer’s block jumpstarts:

1. Put a character at a bar. What bar do they go to? A swanky hotel or the dive bar halfway down the alley? What are they wearing? Who are they there with? Who do they talk to? What drink do they order? When do they leave? With whom do they leave? Write a conversation they’d have with a stranger. Who approaches them? Do they approach others? Repeat this exercise with a few characters. Blend them. If two of your characters are at a bar together, what happens? Do they ignore each other? The purpose of this exercise is to expose dialogue, morality, and motives.

2. Archetype your characters, or put them into a fairytale. This exercise is somewhat diluted, but very fun. Make your characters pure archetypes. The evil stepmother. The naive debutante. Alter the personality of one character and see how the others interact. What is it about your characters that draw them to each other? Are your characters archetypes? How are your characters unique? Put your characters into a fairytale. Choose a well-known tale that you’re familiar with. Say, Cinderella. Now choose your story, as an example we’ll use Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Dobby will play Cinderella for our purposes.  Dobby’s magic slipper is a sock. Instead of being given by his fairy godmother, it’s given to him by his malicious master, Lucius Malfoy. Harry Potter is the magic prince, Dobby’s love, the one he would die for… the stories are so different, yet broken down into elemental pieces, they connect on levels you would not expect.  How does this change the story? What would the outcome of a well-known fairytale be with your characters? This is almost a brainteaser as much as it is a writing exercise. Exploring this type of brain-bending transformation gives new perspective on characters and settings.

3. Change your setting. Drastically. Then write your story as if in this setting. This allows you determine the subtle elements of your story and what they add or detract from the plot. Choose Siberia. The streets of New York. Using our Harry Potter example, does Hogwarts become a yurt in the midst of the tundra? Or FAO Schwarz in the middle of the city? Is the environment of Hogwarts what gives way to such incredible magical learning? If Harry, Hermione and Ron were constantly faced with the New York subway and eight million Muggles, how would their story be different? How do your characters interact with the setting? Is the setting integral to your story, and if not, how can you make your setting unique to your characters and the plot of the story? The harder to transcribe elements of the places in your story to other places, the more deeply ingrained your characters are in their world. This is a good thing, as the setting can often be another character, adding mood and drama to a plot.

4. Choose a few characters and strand them, whether on an island, a volcano, or some completely supernatural scenario where their chance of survival or return to civilization is minimal. How do they cope? Are there sacrifices? Who gives to the cause? Who takes from it? In the vein of Lord of the Flies, scenarios like these can establish character weaknesses and strengths, egos, and senses of validity. In times of crisis, true colors are revealed. Do you know your characters well enough to predict how they would act at the end?

5. Write the ending. If you are on page three of a five-page short story, or page one of what you hope will be the next great American novel, write out the end. It may be predictable, or far-fetched, but it can help you to understand where your characters are going, or where you want them to be. If you have an idea of a novel for a young wizard boy sent to a magical school, how does it end? Think of the incredible range of possibilities and write down a few scenarios? Much like working backwards, this can help you to visualize where your characters are now compared to where you’d like them to be with the final stroke of your pen.

Sometimes, going beyond the realm of your original story plan is the only way to break the monotony of writing. While it may be a shift away from your goal, these prompts are meant to overcome writer’s block while developing characters, setting and storyline, and exposing the links that can be missed when writing purely for plot. Do you have any other suggestions or prompts for ways to overcome writers block?

Review: The Beach Chair Diaries by Janet Spurr


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The Beach Chair Diaries is a memoir of feelings. These feelings do not come from the author, though her experiences on the sand “from Maine to Maui” are chronicled, but rather it takes the reader back to those flashes of toes-in-the-sand, sun-screened bliss we take away from the sun, the sand, and the ocean at the beach.

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From built surfers in Hawaii to the elite yachtclubbing brethren of Massachusetts, The Beach Chair Diaries is a romp around a world confined to the borders of the beach, away from the concrete jungle and laptops. It is carefree and joyous, a companion made for a glass of sangria and a breezy night. If you’re looking for substance and deep metaphors, look elsewhere, this memoir holds true to its catchphrase of being a fun read- not something to pore over for hours at book club, but rather to enjoy as a personal reflection on times outdoors, perhaps when the weather is colder and the sun does not shine as bright.

The collection is divided into twenty short stories, each filled with generalizations of life on the seashore, and the yearning when we are taken away from it. The writing is strongest when describing the transcendental qualities of a day at the beach, and the way that age does not draw us away from our childhoods- at fifty we are just as likely to hop on as surfboard and paddle away as at fourteen- though perhaps now more allured by the man teaching the lesson than the rental paddle board.

Before picking up the memoir, expect fun and casual glimpses at an author’s life by the seashore, not an intense rollercoaster of emotions and morals. If you’re craving a return to the summer months, and a carefree afternoon, Beach Chair Diaries is the read for you.


Number of Pages: 144

Recommended For: a beach chair morning, the heart of winter, a late, humid summer night

Enjoy it With: sangria, wine, sunscreen

For fans of: memoirs, the beach, lifestyle reads

Best place to buy it:



Currently On the Bookshelf: Gypsy Wanderlust and Rum


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Even in the hardest of times, books have the power to transport us away from our troubles, and give us a glimpse of the outside world, beyond even the most heartbreaking moments, and let us be free- if only for a few lost hours.

Currently on the bookshelf is a list of books we’re loving, which you should, too!



Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

“In the first few seconds an aching sadness wrenched his heart, but it soon gave way to a feeling of sweet disquiet, the excitement of gypsy wanderlust”

Nothing rivals Bulgakov’s ability to intertwine the past, present and mystical. Featuring an over-sized tomcat, the devil himself, and Pontius Pilate in the heart of Judea, Master and Margarita is a Russian classic brought to English in careful translation that doesn’t lose the heart of the piece.


Night Film by Marisha Pessl

“I hate how the people who really get you are the ones you can never hold on to for very long. And the ones who don’t understand you at all stick around.”

Marisha Pessl is known for her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics and after many long years of anticipation, her next novel, also featuring a young female heroine caught in the throes of familial drama and naiveté emerges into the sunlight. Pessl’s writing is provocative. It makes the reader crave to turn the page, though the writing is so interesting and the plot so well-woven you don’t want to miss a thing.


The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

“Like most others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles – a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other – that kept me going.”

Make it a double. Read the classic whirlwind adventure of the eccentric yet brilliant Hunter S. Thompson and then watch the film. While panned by critics, Depp’s performance is a homage to the writer (one of his close personal friends). On set, Depp would leave a chair out for Thompson, with his favorite drink and smokes. The film is worth seeing for the beautiful scenery and depressing love story of lavishing and languishing, but requires the beauty and flow of the book to be truly appreciated.