Monday, October 29, 2007

On temporary Haitus

Readers/Authors;

I have sixteen seventeen pending query emails that I have yet to respond to; sorry guys, I'm truly working on it.

However, my parental unit has fallen gravely ill again; and I've got to make arrangements for a developmentally disabled sibling. I'll be back reading as soon as humanly possible, but it wont' be immediate.

[Update] I'm back reading; sorry for the delay. I'm working on a set; and Robert is reading two as well. Aside from parental issues, I've also had a large event to worry about and attend and now things have calmed down sufficiently that I can look at books again... As for all of you awaiting a response on your query; please be patient, I have four more books to burn through before I request more.

I will however make this statement; a number of the review requests are ... uh ... questionable to say the least. It's unlikely I'll consider reviewing a book by someone who cannot follow the simple guidelines for submission; and please make your description more than just a few words. You are in essence selling a book to us; just as you would your readers. We currently have seventeen queries to choose from; so you really need to make yours stand out! :)

Steph

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Henry Baum; North of Sunset

North of Sunset is one of those books that sort of creeps up on you. You’re reading along, and suddenly you realize that you are reading something amazingly well written. I really enjoy being wowed by a self-published book. It doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, I want to make sure every book I come across that’s of excellent quality gets the credit it deserves.

Michael Sennet is a world famous Hollywood actor. Gifted and gorgeous, women swoon over him, people automatically respect him; and he floats through his world as if everything orbits around him; and to some degree, it does. He’s used to getting his way, so much so he is bored by it; Michael is not emotionally equipped to deal with anything disrupting his universe, with anyone telling him ‘no’. Two significant things happen to Michael… two things that come out of line with his universe; two things that bring Michael to cross paths with a cold-blooded killer, but only after becoming one himself.

Curt is the “Vanity Plate Killer”. His M.O. is to go after people with vanity license plates. He has is own motivations, his own ideas. Curt is writing a book about his exploits. He’s proud of his accomplishments. And then he discovers that someone is copycatting his killings. Michael and Curt are two characters from opposite, but oddly similar, pitiless worlds; both vain and superior, both essentially the same.

The characters of North of Sunset are extremely well portrayed; from Michael’s quiet slip into insanity—his foibles and his flaws, to the studies of his wife Cheryl and her selfish blindness, to the careful descriptions of the other broken souls that populate Michael’s unforgiving universe. There are no random, unmotivated actions in this book. There is a depth to each character; a believability that is rarely found in any writing these days.

Truth be told, this is quality writing. This is an experienced author, who knows his stuff; understands how to present a book, and does so professionally and with significant skill. I think you should go out and buy this book and read it. It is extremely good.

Five Medallions, hands-down.

Author: Henry Baum

Publisher: Lulu.com (February 23, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1411656563
ISBN-13: 978-1411656567


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Erik Hare; Downriver

Popey is a Hopneg. A Hopneg, in the book Downriver by Eric Hare, is a small gnome. Popey has been rudely awakened by the powerful influence the Giants (we humans) have on his world and over the welfare of his people. We ‘Giants’ keep spreading out, and the Hopnegs have to keep moving… Popey wants to find a way to fight the giants so his people are not consistently at their mercy; but his people are resigned to the traditions, and follow the ways they’ve always followed ~ subject to ancient rules imposed upon them by their ‘book’.

Popey defies this paradigm of tradition imposed by the ‘book’; he feels it necessary to expand his horizons, and to find ways to help his people by exploring the world beyond his own. So he sets out to find a way to fight the blundering Giants, who uproot his people again and again.

He finds a wise traveling companion on his journey, Shajee. Shajee has a myriad of lessons to teach Popey; helping him to better understand the Giants and their world, teaching him about his journey and ultimately to better understand himself.

Downriver is a less a young person’s fantasy as it is a book of life-lessons. It doesn’t preach, the lessons it provides are subtle and wise; and it applies to a broad audience of young people.

It took a while for me to get into the flow of the book, and it is not because of the writing. The writing was quite good. The problem was the formatting. This is a perfect example of how a good book can be brought down by questionable formatting and a lack of editing. I very nearly put the book down—but I did not. Why? Because ultimately, the story carried itself.

Given a thorough editing, and having the book reformatted, this book would be more than exceptional for its category. It’s a heartwarming, whimsical, but true-to-life fantasy. It takes a setting and characters that are charming and sweet; and then blends in the realities of life that we are faced with; from our most basic priorities, our decision-making, to taking responsibility for our choices.

I give Downriver 4 medallions.

Author: Erik Hare

Publisher: AuthorHouse (October 10, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1420887165
ISBN-13: 978-1420887167


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ten Questions for a Cover Designer

Odyssey Reviews caught up with cover designer Cathi Stevenson and we lobbed our ten questions at her:

Odyssey Reviews: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background, and what compelled you to become a book cover designer?
I've always been interested in design and advertising and it seemed no matter what careers I embarked upon, I always ended up back in this industry.


Odyssey Reviews: What genre of book do you enjoy designing for most?
I like non-fiction because I like the structure that is usually involved in the design of non-fiction, although it competes with my love of grunge, that I rarely get to do.

Odyssey Reviews: What are, in your opinion, the most important qualities for a great book cover?
There are just so many things that can contribute to a good, strong design and it's not always possible to employ every one on the same cover. Ultimately, it's what works for the market. While a brooding, artistic painting might get rave reviews and be the perfect design choice for one book, the same design could hurt the sales of the book beside it. Sometimes, just a plain cover with the title grabbing the browser's eye is the recipe for success. It depends on the market and on the book. It's often a balance, but the main thing is that the cover looks professional. Nothing will do more harm to a publisher's image than something that looks like it should be on the front of a fourth-grader's history project.

A good case study in this is with The Little Book That Beats the Market (Wiley, 2005). It wasn't doing very well at all until they redesigned the cover and coordinated it with their marketing efforts. After the redesign, the book became a hit and much of the credit has been given to the new look.

Odyssey Reviews: In your opinion, what are the worst mistakes an author can make in designing his or her book?
Using clip-art, or 3d images in the wrong way; unprofessional fonts; layouts that don't work and colors that cause "visual vibration," making it impossible to look at the book for more than a second or two. And clich├ęs! I'd like to start a petition to encourage self-publishers not to use any more handshakes, keys, chess pieces or puzzle pieces on their book covers. They were fine a few years ago, but the market is flooded with them, now. Unless of course the designer can come up with a fresh approach to using them.

Odyssey Reviews: How do you come up with a cover concept?
It's usually a collaborative effort between myself and the publisher. I read the book's synopsis, we discuss the target audience and I often spend hours studying book covers in bookstores and online.

Odyssey Reviews: What is the weirdest book cover you’ve done?
I didn't do it, but one guy wanted me to create a cover with no title or author name.

Odyssey Reviews: What is the best way for an author to choose a cover artist?
Take a look at the designer's samples. With digital technology where it's at today, usually an online portfolio or website is adequate. And study what's in the marketplace for your particular genre so you know what you're looking for in terms of design.

Odyssey Reviews: Hiring a cover artist can be an investment. What tips do you have for authors to keep the cost manageable?
Some designers charge a flat rate, so that's something to look for, but the number one thing that causes projects to go over budget and take longer than they should is disorganizing. Get your ducks in a row before you get the designer to begin working on the project. It might seem easy to change a title, add a quote, make editing changes after layout, create new barcodes or adjust a spine, but it's time consuming and most designers will charge you for these things. Not to mention the fact that it could cause you to miss deadlines, and add a lot of unnecessary stress on everyone.

Odyssey Reviews: What are the three most common problems you see in other book designs?
Mostly amateur issues. People not kerning the titles (kerning is the spacing between the letters). Sometimes you'll see the letter W or Y and it looks like it belongs to a different word it's so far from the next letter.

Too many fonts or badly chosen fonts. Stick with one or two font families for the entire project. If you study books produced by the larger publishing houses you'll see they rarely break this rule.

Poser. I'm sorry, but unless the Poser elements are taken into another program such as PhotoShop and given a new life, Poser characters should stay in the gaming world, unless your book is a gaming book for teens.

Odyssey Reviews: Do you have any other special tips, anecdotes or advice for first time authors?
Keep an open mind and study book covers before you begin. With the Internet you can find covers designed back in the 1800s right up to ones not even released yet. Look at hundreds of them. Visit the sites of Random House and Time Warner Books and Simon and Schuster and all the bigger companies and then check the New York Time's best sellers' lists for the past few years. Get a feel for what the public is buying. Take the job of project manager seriously, because essentially, that's what a self-publishing author is.

Cathi Stevenson is from bookcoverexpress.com. You can find samples of her work there. Thanks Cathi, those are great answers!

Author Notice

Odyssey Reviews is not a service to provide positive blurbs for the back of a book cover.

Odyssey Reviews is a review service for the people who buy self-published books.

Self-published books are significantly costlier than traditionally published books. We, as authors, have an obligation to our buyers and readers to make sure that what we are asking them to pay more money for is worth it. It is unprofessional and even an insult to expect a reader to pay good money for something that isn't up to par. There are a lot of bad books out there, and the Odyssey Reviewers are here to sift through them and review them for exactly what they are. If your book is good, it will stand up for itself, if it has flaws, we will point them out. We don't sugarcoat it, unless there is a good reason to.

If you are unhappy with your review, then we will keep it here on the site alone. We will most certainly not retract an honest review.. We only post on Amazon or other booksellers upon request of the author or if they are 5-medallion books. As of today, we will no longer edit our reviews once they've been posted. Our reviews are based on what we read, nothing more. We react to the book as any reader might. So, please keep that in mind before you submit. If you are seeking only raving reviews, you need to be sure that your book merits them; especially when submitting to Odyssey Reviews, because you can expect only honesty from us.

We don't ask for money for our reviews. We hold all authors to the same standards; and we all have similar expectations when we accept a book for review; 1) some effort to edit and prepare the work for general distribution; 2) a cohesive, decently written story; 3) a professional package (cover, content, etc). These are not unrealistic expectations; they are the same expectations any reader would have when they're looking for a book to buy. Those are the basic things any author should strive for.

An author should understand that submitting their work for review anywhere may expose their work to reactions that they may not expect. Getting negative reviews and comments is part and parcel of the publishing world. You either have to learn to take the criticism and grow from it as an author, or perhaps rethink exposing any more of your work in the public eye.

Thank you.

Monday, October 1, 2007

D.A. Welch; Flashback: A Low Country Novel

In D.A. Welch’s Flashback: A Low Country Novel, Navy SEAL Nate Dunlevy comes home to South Carolina a tormented man; suffering from vivid flashbacks of a traumatic event during the war. He meets Eve and falls in love, however Eve comes with a troubled background as well; namely an obsessive religious fanatic ex-boyfriend who seems hell-bent on objectifying and hurting her. Nate’s desire to protect his lady from this misguided, dangerous man leads him into a hornet’s nest; a religious extremist group that has hate-listed Nate, and the three other people who’ve become embroiled in the consequences of Eve’s bad judgment.

In truth, this is a romance novel. Instead of the existing attractive photo on the cover, it could have done just as well with the well-known image of the shirtless man embracing a swooning woman with a heaving bosom. It fits right into the formula of a romance novel; flawless beautiful people who come together (figuratively, literally and always simultaneously) with the pat set of challenges that keep them just slightly apart enough to keep the reader turning the page. The side-story of the militant, questionably motivated killer religious group was entertaining, it did help pad out the expected romantic dance between the four main characters, and provide a platform for Nate’s stealthy skills.

Nate is the Sensitive SEAL, the specimen of a perfect man, chiseled, beautiful, and tormented. All of the characters are torn from the pages of magazines, dressed in fashionable clothes, plopped into trendy homes and careers, conveniently blessed with the requisite issues to hinder them just that little bit. --this portion removed per author's preferences--

As for flashbacks; this book has little to do with them. In fact, as far as Nate’s trauma and personal torment go; there is little follow-up besides a couple of physical episodes and some therapy sessions that focus more on Nate’s sexual issues [edit] than dealing with the flashbacks themselves.

It’s not that this book isn’t enjoyable. Flashback: a Low Country Novel is an easy, rainy-weekend read. It is well written, decently edited, with some stunning visuals of the low country topping each new chapter. The problem is that it was never quite believable, and as a reader, I could never quite feel fully absorbed into the story. Being someone who doesn’t care for this genre of book, I feel like I would be wrong to give it the 3.5 medallions I’d like to give it. So I give the book 4 medallions for all those romance-book addicts out there.

Author: D.A. Welch
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (April 25, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0595412718